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Local governments want Kenai fish meeting

As the Alaska Board of Fisheries begins its work session in Anchorage today, it will consider requests from the Kenai Peninsula Borough and cities of Kenai and Soldotna to meet on the Kenai Peninsula in the future.

The board considers Upper Cook Inlet management issues every three years. It’s going on 20 years since the board held a full meeting on the central peninsula, despite being home to some of the largest salmon-producing rivers and associated fisheries in the region.

The borough assembly and Kenai and Soldotna city councils passed resolutions last week to request that the board convene on the peninsula for its next Upper Cook Inlet meeting, scheduled for 2020. The board will likely consider the request today.

The board also will consider a proposal that would direct fishery managers to restrict opportunities for all user groups more equitably when salmon escapement goals are in danger of not being met.

Karen Craig, of Kenai, submitted the proposal. She said she’s concerned that commercial fisheries bear the brunt of conservation when salmon returns are low.

Craig points to commercial fishing closures this July during a sluggish late-run sockeye return to the Kenai River. The run ended up making escapement, though run timing was late and Fish and Game restricted commercial fishing periods as a way to boost escapement numbers. The in-river sport fishery and personal-use dip-net fishery at the mouth of the Kenai continued without restriction during that time. Craig said she’s particularly concerned about the growth in the dip-net fishery and what she sees as Fish and Game’s reluctance to restrict that fishery.

“The Department of Fish and Game doesn’t have any directives to manage the dip-net fishery. They can shut them down. They don’t,” Craig said. “Even when the escapement hasn’t been met, they’re still fishing for three weeks straight.”

In Fish and Game’s written response to Craig’s proposal, staff notes that, though the department does tend to restrict commercial fisheries first when sockeye runs seem to be in danger of underescapement, due to their larger harvest potential, the department does have the authority to restrict sport and personal-use fisheries, as well.

“But it’s not happening and the next Board of Fish isn’t for two and a half more years. I’m hoping that they’ll be able to do something in the interim where the Department will have the power to manage the dip-net fisheries or the other ones besides just closing the commercial. That all of them share in the conservation of the sockeye,” Craig said.

The Board of Fish work session convenes at the Egan Center in Anchorage at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday. More information on the meeting can be found here.

Jenny Neyman has been the general manager of KDLL since 2017. Before that she was a reporter and the Morning Edition host at KDLL.
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