This October, the Alaska Board of Fisheries took unprecedented measures to avoid holding their next Upper Cook Inlet regulatory meeting on the Kenai Peninsula. Despite requests from the Kenai Peninsula’s legislative delegation, every Municipality on the Peninsula, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, multiple citizens’ advisory boards, fisheries organizations, and countless private individuals, the board chose to cater to the desires of a small but influential group of lobbyists from the Mat-Su, the Kenai River Sportfishing Association (KRSA), and the handful of other shell organizations they have spawned over the years.
This special interest group has perpetuated the offensive narrative that the Kenai Peninsula is an unsafe place to hold a regulatory meeting. Thanks to this good ole boys’ club — a group that could be accurately dubbed the “Sportfishing Syndicate,” Kenai Peninsula residents have again been disenfranchised and cheated of the chance to participate in this regulatory process which is supposed to ensure the sustainability of our fisheries and the best interests of the Alaskan communities most dependent on them.
I have lived, worked, and fished on the Peninsula my entire life but have only recently been involved in fish politics. There are many things I’d rather do with my time than participate in this fish fight, however as a third generation East-Side Setnetter I feel compelled to be involved or watch my very sustainable fishery be eliminated by this dishonest group operating under the guise of “conservation.” They seek to eliminate commercial fishing and create their view of a sportfishing mecca in Cook Inlet. While it may help to line the pocketbooks of a few, these goals do nothing to improve the diverse economy of the Peninsula, our habitat, culture, the lives of our residents, or the quality of our salmon returns.
When I started down this road I underestimated this Syndicate’s political connections and power. Through its influence within Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, Department of Natural Resources, and the Department of Fish and Game, this group has blocked meaningful discussion of environmental issues on the Kenai River. It has controlled the BOF appointment and regulatory process, maintained control of citizen advisory boards such as the Kenai River Special Management Area Advisory Board (KRSMA) and the local ADFG advisory board, maintained a nearly full-time — albeit legally questionable — lobbying presence in Juneau, and is currently fighting a legal battle to put a resource allocation initiative on the voting ballot. Numerous allegations of illegal activity and Alaska Public Offices Commissions (APOC) violations have gone largely uninvestigated. This all while KRSA maintains the status of a charitable 501c3 “educational nonprofit” organization.
This latest BOF work session — like the March regulatory meeting — was nothing but a game of charades for this group.
I watched at the March 2014 meeting as those running the show manipulated the agenda, encouraged vote-trading by board members, intentionally misled well-meaning participants, snuffed public testimony for use of the word “family,” and threatened board members who considered opposing this Syndicate’s desires. I watched some board members rush off to this Syndicate’s catered “war room” during breaks to strategize for the next round of what was supposed to be a public process. I watched this Syndicate shamelessly employ blocking tactics to limit the public’s exposure to board members. I watched as citizen-generated, common sense proposals were ignored while nearly all of the sweeping changes to my fishery came through strategically planned board generated proposals. These proposals were presented and passed on short notice and with no public input — often based on inaccurate information due to lack of participation from ADFG which is itself bogged down in this political quagmire.
Our state leadership is aware of this problem. Governor Parnell’s staff observed these actions last winter and promised Alaskans like myself that “we would be hearing more about this in the near future.” I’m still waiting, watching, and wondering — does our current administration have the grit necessary to stand up to these powerful special interest lobbies? If, in my small foray into politics I encountered this type of corruption, what is happening in the other highly lucrative resource sectors of our State’s economy?
I can only wonder if the best interests of Alaskans, our communities, and our environment are being upheld when such blatant corruption is allowed to run rampant in full view of our elected officials.
Alaska is rich with natural resources and has countless development possibilities on the horizon. Looking forward I see incredible opportunities for our state and its people, however I also fear the risk of irresponsible development when the best interests of Alaskans are sacrificed for political expediency. What might seem a great opportunity can quickly turn into our worst nightmare if not responsibly vetted, regulated, and managed by our State government — through agencies such as DEC, DNR, and ADFG — the very agencies compromised by this Sportfishing Syndicate.
During this election season, I encourage all Alaskans to discuss these issues with our candidates and to hold our elected leaders responsible for developing and maintaining strong state institutions structured to resist exactly the type of corruption I have witnessed. At a time when many of my friends and neighbors find themselves answering the door to multinational corporations using the buzz phrase “eminent domain,” I would appreciate some assurance that the best interests of Alaska, our citizens, and our environment is forefront our leaders’ minds.
Todd Smith a Cook Inlet setnet fisherman from Kenai.