Respect for our resources.
It’s a sentiment we Alaskans proclaim to embrace, but sometimes, it seems, it’s an ideal we have trouble living up to.
Case in point: the sockeye salmon sport fishery at the confluence of the Russian and upper Kenai rivers.
Don’t get us wrong, we’re thrilled to hear that the fish are in, and just as happy to see people from across the state come for a visit to catch them. The visitor industry is a crucial part of our local economy, whether those visitors are coming from near or far.
But if you walked through the Russian River Campground just a week ago, you would’ve seen a nearly pristine place to spend the night after a good day of fishing.
If you walk through the campground today, that isn’t the case. Where campsites were recently neat and tidy, the area is now strewn with empty cans and food wrappers.
Then there’s the fishing itself. Certainly, many anglers are able to land their limit and move along, sure to handle the fish with care and dispose of the carcass properly.
But there are too many fishery users who don’t show the same respect for a salmon run that has sustained people for thousands of years. You don’t need to look too hard to see fish handled carelessly. Fish that are to be caught and released, for example, should be landed quickly and never removed from the water. But how many times do you see an angler drag a fish up on the bank, rip out the hook and kick the fish back into the water?
The issue is hardly unique to the Russian River fishery; Kenai and Kasilof residents have been witnessing similar behavior in the annual personal-use fisheries for years. Salmon fever hits, and common courtesy is forgotten in the frenzy.
The truth, of course, is that the people who most need to hear this message are not reading this editorial. Indeed, you can generally find a person engaged in a detrimental practice doing it within sight of signs posted asking people to avoid that very practice.
So, what’s the solution? More enforcement? More education? A combination of those things?
For example, volunteers with the Stream Watch program have spent countless hours on the Kenai River over the past two decades, promoting good stewardship practices. And the Legislature has allocated funding for an additional State Wildlife Trooper presence on the Kenai Peninsula this summer.
Hopefully, more outreach and more enforcement will make a difference. But our last question is this: for a state so proud of and dependent upon our natural resources, shouldn’t we know better?