Personal use, sport anglers need equal voice on board

Many of the folks who choose to live in Alaska are here for quality of life opportunities, especially the opportunity to hunt and fish.

More than half of all Alaskans live in the Cook Inlet region where the Kenai River supports the state’s largest sport and personal use fisheries. This one magnificent river puts food in family freezers and cash in hundreds of registers and creates life-long memories for hundreds of thousands of residents and visitors. 

While only 1 percent of the total harvest of fish and game in Alaska comes from personal use and sport fisheries, that 1 percent generates more than a quarter of the state’s economic values derived from fisheries.

Kenai River Sportfishing Association, or KRSA, was formed more than 30 years ago with a mission to ensure the sustainability of one of the world’s great sport fisheries — the Kenai. Fish do come first in our world — I am proud to say that the Kenai River has more habitat-friendly infrastructure for anglers and homeowners than just about any other location in the world. At the same time, while dealing with the annual influx of anglers, one half of the available area for sport fishing is closed to protect spawning and riparian fish habitat. Fishery conservation is at the heart of what we do as an organization.

KRSA is also one of the most effective voices speaking on behalf of the state’s personal use and sport anglers. In tandem with other major personal use and sportfishing organizations in the state, including the statewide Alaska Outdoor Council, the Chitina Dipnetters Association, the Southcentral Alaska Dipnetters Association, the Mat-Su Fish and Wildlife Commission, the Fairbanks Advisory Committee, the Kenai River Professional Guides Association, and the Southeast Alaska Guides Organization, we took a stand to oppose a nomination to the Alaska Board of Fisheries. After listening to the candidate’s testimony in public hearings, each group made their concerns known through letters and by contacting legislators.

Public discourse is the basis for our system of government. This is a right afforded to all Americans, one we engaged in, just like other groups of concerned citizens who might be interested in education or workers’ compensation. It is also the right of those groups and individuals who supported the appointment. But failing to succeed does not give them the right to call our motives into question. Or to level the charge that the 30 legislators who voted against the confirmation were somehow misled.

I have worked with legislators on many issues over the years. I have won some and lost some, but I can honestly say that our legislators are well informed and make decisions based on the information they receive, the wishes of their constituents and their personal beliefs. To imply anything else is disrespectful to them and the elected office they hold.

Here are the reasons we opposed this confirmation. This is the same information we gave to legislators. It was presented to those that voted against the confirmation as well as those that voted for the nomination.

• The open seat traditionally has been a sport/personal use seat from Anchorage.

• Today the board has three commercial, two sport/personal use, one subsistence, and one vacant seat. It is important to maintain a balance on the Board of Fisheries of three commercial, three sport/personal use, and one subsistence.

• The candidate’s strongest and most vocal supporters were from the commercial fishing interests who have a long history of opposition to sport and personal use fisheries.

The candidate should be thanked for his willingness to serve and appreciated for his past efforts to conserve aquatic habitat, but from our perspective and others, he was not the voice to best represent the interests of Alaska’s largest city and the interests of personal use and sport anglers statewide.

A final point I would like to address is the talking point in some media opinion pieces that KRSA spent a “great deal of money and manpower with its lobbying team.” KRSA does not have a paid lobbyist and only one board member traveled to Juneau to discuss our concerns with legislators. In the week leading up to the vote, I was in Washington, D.C., advocating for passage of the 2015 Sportsmen’s Act and the National Fish Habitat Conservation Act.

It is ironic that these inaccurate statements are even being made as an as-yet-unidentified sponsor of this nomination took out in statewide media support ads while KRSA spent no money on any type of public outreach or marketing. To be clear, opposition to the candidate was in no manner a vote against the person, clean water or fish habitat. It was a vote for the rights of personal use and sport anglers to have an equal and balancing voice on the Alaska Board of Fisheries.

Ricky Gease has been the Executive Director of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association since 2004. He recently served as a commissioner on the national Morris Deal Commission on Saltwater Recreational Fisheries Management and on the Governor’s Transition Team for Fisheries.