The following article was written by Bob Tkacz and printed in the Laws for the SEA Vol 13, #15 April 30, 2007

     The heads of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association discussed plans to takeover the Cook Inlet salmon fisheries with a shift in harvest priorities that would limit the commercial catch to whatever remains after all other user groups, including tourists, catch their limits. The chairman of the committee that heard their testimony said he plans to bring Cook Inlet salmon allocation before the legislature next year.  “The public should have the first right to allocation for the fisheries they need. Your family, my family, people that live here should have the amount of fish they need for their own needs, and the tourists should. Then whatever is surplus to our needs could be commercially harvested,” said Bob Penney, maven of the Kenai Peninsula sport charter industry and a board member of KRSA.”That’s the way the fishery has got to be changed and it’s going to be coming down to see you in the next few years in some manner because the public is going to want to see that done,” Penney said at an April 24 hearing before the House Special Committee on Economic Trade and Tourism.“You talked a lot about the Cook Inlet area, but I think the comments could probably pertain statewide,” said Rep.Mark Neuman (R-Big Lake), chairman of the committee, in response to Penney’s comments.

     Despite the legislature’s long aversion to involving itself in fisheries allocation, Neuman, in his third year in the House, said he’s taking the plunge. “It is this chair’s intention to go back and look at quotas. Go back a little bit and look at  hearing. Referring to discussions “in different fishing communities and boards” on Cook Inlet allocation, Neuman added, “Next year this body needs to take a look at that too, at the legislative level and I think that would be appropriate. Forewarned.”     Penney, who helped organize the 1996 “Fairness In Salmon Harvest” (FISH) initiative petition said followingthe hearing that a proposal submitted to the Board of Fisheries for the coming winter’s Cook Inlet meeting cycle asks for a

     Penney, who helped organize the 1996  shift in harvest priorities there to put commercial fishing at the bottom of the list. “If the board doesn’t pass this, this is going to become a public issue in the next three to five years while I’m still on this earth. We’re going to see that take place and be put to a vote of the people in some way,” Penney said.Jim Marcotte, Fish Board executive director, said KRSA submitted 14 proposals, including one “that seeks to  limit the department’s emergency order authority on closing the windows.” April 10 was the deadline for submission ofproposals, which will be published for public review in May.  The legislative hearing was posted as a review of the economic value of sport fishing and began with calls from a string of KRSA board members and staff for a new, comprehensive state study on the value of charter fishing. Over the course of an hour it morphed into a push for reallocation of the Cook Inlet salmon harvest.Following the hearing Talkeetna charter fishing business operator Bob Meals acknowledged that the economic data is necessary to support his industry’s goal of reallocating the fishery. “It’s a proper reallocation of a resource that’s been misallocated for a number of years … That’s called the free market. That’s exactly the way it should be,” Meals said. After working in the charter business for 25 years, Meals said his operation has developed to the point where he can make a living working only during the summer fishing season.Wasilla fishing guide Bruce Knowles, who was also a sponsor of the FISH initiative, called for a new  classification that would eliminate the distinction between sport, subsistence and personal use. “The average Alaskan is called a sport fisherman. In reality they are consumptive users and they are beat about the head and shoulders because they go out there and harvest fish with a rod and reel,” Knowles said. “This way they have managed to say they don’t have to have those fish, they’re out there enjoying themselves,” Knowles added, without specifying who “they” are.

     Proposed for the 1996 general election ballot, the FISH initiative would have given users other than commercial harvesting a priority for five percent of statewide salmon harvests, but allowed the noncommercial users to take more than five percent in any given area as long as they stayed below the statewide cap. An Alaska Supreme Court decision that fish stocks could not be allocated by initiative petition knocked it off the ballot.

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