Fish board wants review of fish habitat permit process

The Alaska Board of Fisheries is preparing to move forward on a formal motion asking the Legislature to review the state’s fish habitat permitting process at the request of 13 Cook Inlet-area stakeholders.

The group, who made the formal request when the fish board met in Homer earlier this month, wants the board to ask the Legislature to update Title 16, the section of Alaska statute that covers the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s responsibilities.

Currently, Alaska statute states that the commissioner of Fish and Game shall issue a permit unless the activity is “determined to be insufficient” for the protection of fish and game resources.

That phrase is the crux of the problem, being fairly vague.

The subject first came up at October’s fish board work session in Soldotna. At that meeting, dozens of people testified in favor of the proposal to have the board ask the Legislature to clarify the language.

Several wanted ADF&G to assume a stream contains anadromous fish even if it is not listed in the state’s Anadromous Waters Catalog, which only contains about half of documented streams.

The discussion continued at a joint meeting of the fish board’s legislative and habitat committees that took place before the regular meeting in Homer, where additional supportive testimony was taken.

Three board members drafted a letter to the Legislature, including Robert Ruffner, former director of the Kenai Watershed Forum.

The draft letter was submitted to the board at the Homer meeting, outlining three basic ideas, which were improving the public notification and public comment process, the presumption of anadromous waters and the need for better defined enforceable standards.

“The board recognizes the broad responsibilities of the Legislature to promote economic development and the wise stewardship of resources for all Alaskans,” the draft letter states. “The board finds that clear delineation of Alaska’s unwavering promise to protect salmon and fisheries habitat establishes a consistent and predictable business environment that will help all individuals and corporations wishing to do business in Alaska.”

While it is not directly stated, the last several years of controversy over PacRim Corporation’s plans to destroy several miles of salmon habitat in the Chuitna River drainage to mine coal, plans which were not dismissed outright by the state in an ongoing legal dispute, undoubtedly played a role in the effort.

The board meets again in Kodiak in January.

Cristy Fry can be reached at