Fishing was in the news this week (on the Kenai Peninsula, there aren’t too many weeks when fishing isn’t in the news) but with the start of salmon fishing approaching, now would be an ideal time for Kenai Peninsula stakeholders to sit down together and discuss the upcoming season.
This week’s news centered on the personal-use fisheries on the Kenai and Kasilof rivers, which have certainly been a bone of contention in recent years as they continue to grow in popularity. According to date from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, 35,989 people applied for personal-use permits — an all-time high. Fish and Game found the most concentrated personal-use angler effort to be on the Kenai River, with an average of 1,653 permits fished each day. Kenai River dipnetters harvested more than 404,000 fish. Certainly, anyone driving through Kenai in mid to late July can attest to the pressure on that fishery.
Addressing challenges in the dipnet fishery brings us back to our initial point — that now would be a good time for river guides, charter skippers, set-netters, drift fishermen, recreational anglers, personal-use and subsistence users, processors and fishery managers to get together and talk about issues likely to crop up this summer.
Fishery managers are again going to be challenged to conserve king salmon while still providing harvest opportunity for more abundant species. And those who harvest fish will be pushing for every opportunity available to wet a line or set a net.
Most of the time, when all the stakeholders are in one room, the meeting is confrontational, such as a debate over an allocation measure at a Board of Fisheries meeting.
But in recent years, we’ve seen instances where members of various groups have gathered in public forums or worked together on a task force, and the dialogue in those settings has been positive and productive. It’s harder to play politics with fishery issues when the people who will be impacted — a human face to the issue — are sitting at the same table.
With changes to the fish board in the works, we hope local recommendations, such as those submitted by the Kenai-Soldotna Fish and Game Advisory Committee, which has made an effort to have balanced representation, will carry more weight.
Fishery management is about fish and balancing competing user groups. But those user groups are made up of people, and the more faces we can put with any given issue, the better our solutions are going to be.