Political meddling, entitlement feed Cook Inlet fish wars

  • Saturday, March 7, 2015 6:26pm
  • Opinion

As fishery management and politics continue to collide, Kenai Peninsula residents’ thoughts will inevitably turn to the upcoming season.

Recently released fishery forecasts and Department of Fish and Game management actions indicate the upcoming summer is likely to play out similarly to last season, with various restrictions in place to conserve weak king salmon runs while still providing harvest opportunity for commercial, sport and personal-use fishing.

While fishery managers on the Kenai Peninsula do their best to balance competing users, over the past several years, interest group from other regions of the state have gained more and more influence over how the peninsula’s fisheries are managed. The trend continues this year, as a bill in the Legislature introduced by Sen. Bill Stolze of Chugiak would make personal-use fishing a management priority. Essentially, the area’s sport and commercial fisheries would be restricted before any restrictions would be imposed on any personal-use fishery.

The measure reflects an attitude of entitlement among the thousands of Alaska residents who come from other parts of the state to dipnet on the Kenai and Kasilof rivers. We frequently hear that attitude from visitors to the Kenai reflected in comments that Fish and Game should be managing salmon runs so that the sockeye happen to hit the river on the weekends so that visiting dipnetters may scoop them up, or that all commercial nets should be kept out of the water so that tourists can catch more kings.

Many of these perceptions ignore some basic facts, such as that the salmon will hit the river when they darn well feel like it, and not according to anyone’s schedule.

Unfortunately, some of these misperceptions are fueled by user groups here on the peninsula as well. Old grudges die hard, and there is a tendency here to vilify other users of the resource as less responsible or less conservation-minded.

The results of divisions here on the peninsula are another part of the problem as those interests from other regions — which don’t generally have so many competing user groups — are able to present a united political front, whether it’s pushing Board of Fisheries proposals or lobbying the Legislature.

In recent years, there have been attempts from different users here on the peninsula to work together to find common ground. While it may seem that those efforts have been slow to produce results, a continuing dialogue among resource users on the peninsula is essential to ensuring all user groups have an opportunity to harvest salmon.

Otherwise, we’ll continue to see our own divisiveness used as a political wedge, and it will be a loss for the entire peninsula.

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