Opinion: Vincent-Lang pulls rug out of Upper Cook Inlet fishery management

Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang pulled funding for the Cook Inlet offshore test fishery that was supposed to begin on July 1.

That project is an integral part of Upper Cook Inlet fishery management, providing research and management staff with inseason data on run strength and stock composition and is an important tool for monitoring this complex fishery. This project has occurred annually since 1979 and, according to ADFG, “The southern OTF project has increasingly become one of the most important tools Upper Cook Inlet fishery managers utilize to make inseason fishery management decisions.”

So why would Vincent-Lang rob managers of this important tool? Federal overreach of course. His favorite dog whistle.

After a decade of litigation, management of salmon in the Cook Inlet EEZ will be under federal management for the first time this season and Vincent-Lang has chosen to cancel the OTF because he would rather starve federal managers of valuable inseason data to manage the fishery then do the responsible thing and collect and provide the data.

In doing so, Vincent-Lang has purposely thrown uncertainties into this season’s management and fisherman that have been struggling for decades to hold onto fishing opportunity may very well come out on the short end. He will say it had to do with funding, but this is his refusal to put the resource and fishery first as he would rather watch federal managers struggle without the valuable OTF data.

It seems like almost weekly, Vincent-Lang blows his federal overreach dog whistle as if he’s amped up on Red Bull and stimulants, ready for any situation where he can blow that thing. This is a toxic ideology that he shares with Gov. Mike Dunleavy. It ignores rational thought and results in bad decisions like the current one.

It was a long circuitous path to get here but its origin lies with the politicization of management of the Upper Cook Inlet salmon fishery. I’ll skip the history and details of the litigation and North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) decisions since most know the story, but will highlight that Dunleavy and Vincent-Lang have laid land mines the whole way including putting the NPFMC in an impossible position since they refused to work with federal managers to implement co-management.

Read dog whistle. This action forced the council to do what nobody wanted to happen — the closure of the drift fishery in the EEZ. This must have thrilled Dunleavy as it coincided with a new oil and gas lease sale in the federal waters. Just get rid of this pesky fishery and make way for oil and gas, his favorite industry.

Luckily, the drift fishermen prevailed in court and the fishery didn’t close. Vincent-Lang’s actions have been grossly irresponsible, but this most recent action is beyond reproach and quite childish, like he doesn’t want to share his LEGOs.

He’s the commissioner, the head of ADFG and he’s supposed to trust staff that administer the programs that are essential for research and management of our fisheries even though in this case, NMFS will be managing.

The Cook Inlet commercial drift fishery is part of this region’s history and identity but, unfortunately, its viability is hanging by a thread from years of cuts to fishing time.

Personal ideology should never be part of fishery management, but Vincent-Lang continues to exercise it and his latest actions sting especially bad.