Battles over fish are nothing new to Alaskans. It is part of the state’s story that different user groups fight over who gets what and when. There’s one constant in those fish battles, however: Everybody wants to protect the fish.
Fish are integral to all Alaskans — they may figure prominently in your household’s livelihood or lifestyle. Even if you’ve never caught a fish, the health of Alaska’s fish runs is interwoven into the health of the state’s environment and its economy.
All that to say: Fish connect Alaskans — to each other, to the rivers and streams where many of them spawn, to the oceans where they may live most of their lives, to the wild places of this great place we call home.
Those connections are among the reasons why an effort to ban setnetting in what proponents describe as the “urban” areas of Alaska — including Cook Inlet — is so disturbing.
Instead of bringing Alaskans together to come up with solutions that ensure a strong future for Alaska’s fish runs, the Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance wants to point fingers at one group — setnetters — and put them out of business. Never mind the critical question: Do Alaskans really want their world-class fisheries to be managed at the voting booth?
Contrast the Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance’s divisive approach with that of the Alaska Salmon Alliance, which believes “Cook Inlet fisheries belong to all fishers and that all user groups should be able to share in the fantastic harvest, recreation, economic, and cultural bounties Cook Inlet salmon provide. … We think it is worth a concerted effort to collaborate, initiate inclusive conversation between user groups, and address problems (both conservation and social) as a community instead of fighting against one another in our respective factions.”
As part of its effort “to find cooperation and consensus in the fishing community,” the Alaska Salmon Alliance is hosting an open house event in Homer from 6-8:30 p.m. Nov. 22 at the Elks Lodge.
Among the topics up for discussion is the ballot initiative, but organizers warn this event “will not be business as usual.”
“We aren’t interested in rehashing old prejudices or assigning blame. This is an opportunity for fishermen to participate and shape a new dialogue, meet other like-minded folks, and move away from this fight everyone is tired of having,” said Hannah Harrison, the group’s community outreach and education specialist, in a press release.
The event is designed to be a “neutral atmosphere where fishermen are going to be asked to identify problems in the fishery and come up with new approaches to thinking about them and solving them,” she said.
The approach of the Alaska Salmon Alliance deserves applause and support.
Alaska’s wild fish runs should not be used to divide Alaskans; instead, the protection of these wonderful resources should bring all Alaskans together in search of solutions that keep all of our fisheries healthy for future generations. Southern Kenai Peninsula fishermen — all user groups and gear types — would do well to take a leading role in this discussion.