By GREG BRUSH
It’s really quite simple. It’s not easy… but it’s simple: Remove all emotion and focus on the facts alone when making difficult decisions that cannot possibly please everyone.
No, I’m not talking about gun control or the dreaded virus; rather, it’s fishery politics in Alaska once again.
Cook Inlet set-netters have recently filed a lawsuit against the State of Alaska over the fisheries closure, claiming that the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is managing the Kenai River to the benefit of other user groups, namely sport and personal-use fishermen. The leaders of the City of Kenai have chosen to enter this fracas, rather than just manage the city.
Highly emotional, they are demanding that the State immediately reopen the fishery to the 400-plus set-net fishermen who are currently prohibited; repay them for lost revenue; and change the management plan at once.
Whoa, Nellie — the fishery is closed for a reason and this lawsuit reeks of extreme emotion.
The problem with extreme emotion is that facts are often forgotten or conveniently overlooked when one acts with emotion and proceeds with rash actions, such as a lawsuit.
The set-net fishery is closed because this year’s Kenai River late-run chinook salmon numbers are at historic lows, much like last year, and the year before, and so on.
Studies and data (facts) derived from studies show this is not the common ebb-and-flow of salmon runs nor an anomaly. It is a clear downward trend, in which the late-run will not meet its minimal, let alone its optimal, escapement goal for the fourth year in a row, truly threatening the future of the largest wild salmon on the planet forever.
User groups are restricted presently so that this tragedy might be avoided.
Personal use dip-net fishermen cannot retain a king. In-river private anglers, nor guided anglers, cannot wet a line for kings. Sadly, it is the east side set net fishery that is closed, solely because this methodology indiscriminately kills Kenai kings while harvesting sockeye. These restrictions are placed in effect solely for Kenai king salmon conservation. No less, no more.
“But, but, but… in-river sport fishermen still get to fish for sockeye, and we don’t. That’s not fair!” you say.
Life is not fair. I used to make a living guiding big, beautiful Kenai Kings, but now I do not, and that’s not fair. Honestly, fair is an arbitrary term, subject to interpretation. What’s fair to Bill, isn’t fair to Bob.
Importantly, the word fair wreaks of emotion, and this country as well as this great state, doesn’t need more emotion right now. What we need is to get back on track with facts; managing our country, our state, our cities, and our precious fisheries through the proper process and the rule of law.
About that, the State of Alaska, through its Department of Fish and Game, has this process called the Board of Fisheries, where all issues, concerns and regulations are addressed. Through that process, the management plan is created.
To keep all this on track, within the Department of Fish and Game’s management plan are extremely important words such as “conservation” and “sustainability for the future.”
In fact, if one actually reviews Fish and Game’s long standing mission statement, one will see that the second and third words within “Our Agency’s Mission” are actually the terms “protect” and “maintain.”
That’s not by accident. Those two simple words are there for a reason (as is the process as well as the management plan) which is simply because protecting and maintaining OUR resource must always come before “use, user, allocation, opportunity, economy, etc.”
Mass emotion isn’t helpful. Nor are lawsuits, division or hatred in our community. We have far too much of that these days.
Facts are facts and the data is clear: Late-run Kenai River kings just aren’t struggling; they are in clear peril and at the precipice of going the way of dinosaurs.
The State, the Department of Fish and Game, and Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang need only to stay resolute and continue to prioritize one thing: conservation, conservation, conservation, in order to protect and maintain.
Don’t let the noise nor the disgruntled litigation of one user group distract you, sir… as the bulk of this community and this great State is willing to bear the burden of conservation to hopefully see our big fish rebound.
Stay steadfast on your process, your principles, and your important mission statement, Fish and Game, making the choices and decisions that might give these iconic wild chinook a fighting chance to rebound, so as all Alaskans and all user groups might someday be able to watch their children, and their children’s children, enjoy the biggest wild salmon in the world.
It’s not easy, but it’s simple.
Greg Brush is a Kenai king conservationist, sockeye guide, and owner of EZ Limit Guide Service.