Fishery stakeholders share concerns

Kenai Peninsula salmon fishery stakeholders addressed a variety of issues at a Senate Resources Committee hearing in Juneau Monday, including changes to the Board of Fisheries, concerns about certain salmon runs and research needed to better understand them.

The committee is holding three hearings on Upper Cook Inlet salmon in Juneau, with some participation via teleconference from other legislative information offices, or LIOs, in the state. Testimony is by invitation only.

Kenai City Manager Rick Koch was one of several speakers to raise concerns with the current Board of Fisheries process.

The board meets to discuss each fishery in the state on a three-year cycle, and in January and February held its Upper Cook Inlet meeting.

Koch noted that some of the proposals changed dramatically from how they were submitted by the public, to the final version passed by the board.

“Even if I agreed that each of those actions came to a positive result … I’m still offended by that process, and I think all Alaskans should be offended by that process,” Koch said.

Rod Arno, from the Alaska Outdoor Council, suggested that the Legislature needed to get more involved in the Board of Fisheries process and ask more questions during board member confirmation hearings. However, Arno said he didn’t think the board process itself needed to change.

Kenai Area Fisherman’s Coalition Chairman Dwight Kramer said he thought the state should change to having a paid, professional board of fisheries, a change he and others have suggested previously. He also suggested dedicated research staff for the board, and additional research on Upper Cook Inlet salmon issues in general.

Megan Smith, one of three fishers representing the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association, echoed Kramer’s request for more research.

Both Smith and Kramer suggested a focused research plan similar to what was done farther north with the Arctic Yukon Kuskokwim Sustainable Salmon Initiative.

Ideally, that would include a review of stocks, habitat and management, Kramer said, and provide a road map for future research efforts.

The AYK plan was written by top fisheries scientists and managers in Alaska and Outside.

Smith also supported the request for dedicated board research staff, she said.

Bruce Knowles, from the Matanuska-Susitna Borough’s Fish and Wildlife Commission, said the borough received $2.5 million in fiscal year 2014 for fisheries research and habitat work at the northern end of Cook Inlet, and was making the same request for fiscal year 2015.

The participants also talked about each of the user groups in Cook Inlet.

Kenai River Professional Guide Association’s Andy Szczesny talked about guides’ history on the river and role locally, while others talked about the commercial and personal use fisheries, and Koch aired some of the city of Kenai’s concerns with the influx of people on its beaches each July.

The hearing resumed Wednesday at 3:30 p.m.

According to the schedule, fishing groups and other organizations were expected to testify Wednesday, including United Cook Inlet Drift Association, Kenai River Sportfishing Association, Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association, Kenai River Watershed Forum and the Alaska Salmon Alliance.

Friday’s hearing will look at the management side, with presentations from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Sen. Cathy Giessel said the department will talk about its current research efforts in Cook Inlet as well as management.

The hearings can be seen at http://www.360north.org/ or http://akl.tv/.

Molly Dischner is a reporter for the Alaska Journal of Commerce.

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