A remarkable thing happened at the Board of Fisheries meeting last week: Several user groups collaborated with Alaska Department of Fish and Game staff and fish board members to write a conservation plan for a Kenai River fishery.
On Monday, the fish board approved a re-write of the management plan for Kenai River early run king salmon. The proposal, which implements a variety of conservation measures for the early run, was put forward by three groups which, while falling under the category of sportfishing user group, have not always agreed on fishery management practices — the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, the Kenai Area Fishermen’s Coalition and the Kenai River Professional Guides Association.
Representatives of the three groups, along with Fish and Game staff and fish board member Robert Ruffner, spent a great deal of time and effort revising the original proposal. Ruffner then championed the proposal to the board, which passed the measure unanimously.
That’s not to say there aren’t concerns with the measure, and it may need to be amended when the board looks at Upper Cook Inlet issues again in three years. But it is an example of how the fishery management process in Alaska is supposed to work, allowing fishery stakeholders to propose changes, and an open and transparent process for discussing those proposals.
And it appears that the fish board did a good job in sticking to that process throughout its two-week Upper Cook Inlet meeting.
That’s not to say that every user group was thrilled with every decision, or that there wasn’t any of the rhetoric of past fish board meetings, such as the accusations that sport fishing was “under attack” by the board when commercial fishermen were given the potential for additional fishing time.
We’re also aware that bringing competing user groups, such as sport- and commercial fishermen, into the same discussion makes compromise more challenging.
But the work on a new early run king plan is an excellent start — and something we might not have thought was possible after the last Upper Cook Inlet meeting three years ago.
We hope the dialogue between user groups continues outside of fish board meetings. Whether it’s renewed support for the local Fish and Game advisory committees, community roundtables, chamber of commerce panel discussions or some other forum, it is in all users’ best interests — as well as the best interests of the fish — to build on the progress made over the past couple of weeks.
We are well aware that it is almost impossible to completely separate politics and stakeholder competition from the fisheries management process, but we look forward to seeing continued collaboration on issues crucial to healthy Kenai Peninsula salmon runs.