Council Takes Stand Against Fish Board Proposals

Aaron Selbig

     A set of five proposals before the Alaska Board of Fisheries has stirred up some controversy between Cook Inlet commercial fisherman and Mat-Su Valley sport fishermen. Officials with the City of Homer decided this week to official take sides.

     The Alaska Board of Fisheries meeting is still a couple of weeks away but the war of words is heating up.

     Frank Mullen was one of a handful of Cook Inlet drift fishermen who testified before the Homer City Council Monday night. Mullen has been fishing Cook Inlet for 50 years. He says sport-fishing advocates from the Matanuska-Susitna Borough are pushing the Board of Fish agenda. 

     At the heart of the argument are five proposals affect Area 1, traditional drift fishing grounds that stretch from Anchor Point north to the southern tip of Kalgin Island. They would add significant new restrictions to the Central District Drift Gillnet Fishery Management Plan – things like shortening fishing periods, shrinking the fishing grounds and forcing the drift fleet to choose one of two specific fisheries between July 19th and August 10th.

     One of the proposals calls for language in the plan to be amended to “provide subsistence users and personal use dipnetters a reasonable opportunity to harvest the salmon resource.” The proposal accuses the Department of Fish and Game of prioritizing “excessive” harvest buy the drift gillnet fleet. 

     All of the proposals came from the Matanuska Valley Fish and Game Advisory Committee and all of them express concern over future salmon runs in the Susitna and Yentna River systems.

     Rick Oldham is another long-time drift fisherman, one of more than 200 permit-holders in Homer.

     "I just get the feeling that you ought to stick a fork in me if they go though with these proposals," said Oldham.

     And the Homer City Council did decide to take a stand with the fishermen, in the form of a resolution officially opposing the five Board of Fish proposals.

     The resolution says that the five propositions would effectively close Area 1 to commercial fishing. And that could force the Homer fleet to other communities, depriving Homer businesses of revenue, taking away local jobs and affecting the bottom line of the city-owned facilities at the Homer harbor.

     The council passed the resolution by a unanimous vote.

     Homer City Manager Walt Wrede suggested that the city council send a representative to Anchorage later this month to attend the Fish Board meeting in person. The council also instructed Wrede to inquire with the cities of Kenai and Soldotna to see if they would be interested in supporting Homer’s position.

     The Board of Fisheries is set to meet in Anchorage January 31st.