What others say: Rotating Board of Fish meetings would solve location battle

  • Monday, December 14, 2015 5:50pm
  • Opinion

The Alaska Board of Fisheries last week voted 5-2 to hold the board’s next meeting on Upper Cook Inlet in Anchorage, snubbing both Gov. Bill Walker and Kenai-area politicians who had hoped for a meeting on the Peninsula.

Walker had strongly pushed for a Kenai meeting, and local political leaders had gone so far as to offer the statewide board free rental space to hold the meeting. Their argument was that because the Central Peninsula is the hub of the Southcentral Alaska commercial salmon fishing industry, as well as home to guided and personal-use fisheries on the Kenai and Kasilof rivers, the meeting should accommodate local residents.

However, opponents of a Kenai meeting argued that the event should be more accessible to Anchorage and Mat-Su residents, who in sheer number are the largest users of Cook Inlet fish.

Both sides have valid arguments. The Kenai hasn’t hosted a Board of Fish meeting since 1999, which many people there believe is unfair. A recent editorial in the (Kenai) Peninsula Clarion opined as much, saying the board didn’t take local concerns into account when deciding to again hold the meeting in Anchorage. The drive from the peninsula to Anchorage is a long one, and hotel rooms aren’t cheap; there’s no doubt that a meeting in Kenai or Soldotna would indeed allow local residents more of a say in the process.

But the Mat-Su region has never hosted a regular Board of Fish meeting, despite the fact that this area is home to more than 100,000 people — many of whom count on the inlet’s resources themselves. If anyone has reason to quibble with the location, it’s Valley residents. Although driving to Anchorage isn’t quite the same challenge for us as it is for Kenai residents, it’s still no picnic to cross the flats in the winter.

Let’s also not forget that Cook Inlet doesn’t just border the Kenai Peninsula, but the Mat-Su and Anchorage as well. The inlet is just as much in the Valley’s backyard as it is in the Peninsula’s, so the argument that a Kenai meeting would be bringing it closer to the resource holds little water.

The Board of Fisheries process is one in which all Alaskans are urged to participate through a variety of ways. In addition to the board meetings, there are also local advisory committees whose job it is to weigh in on board proposals. Folks can also submit written comments for the board to consider. It’s also true that people who are able to attend the two-week meetings do get more of a say in how regulations are eventually crafted, and this is a concern the board should take seriously.

We think the board made the right decision to keep the meeting in Anchorage. However, in future years it would be wise for the board to consider a rotating meeting schedule between Anchorage, the Valley and the Peninsula. Because the board meets in three-year cycles, this would mean each area would get to host the meeting twice a decade. That doesn’t seem unreasonable and sounds like a pretty fair compromise that would benefit all.

The process isn’t broken, but it could probably use some tweaking in order to ensure all residents of Southcentral Alaska believe their arguments are given equal weight.

— Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman

Dec. 13

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