Story last updated at 3:18 p.m. Thursday, October 31, 2002

Salmon industry task force discussions on tap
Sepp Jannotta

THE SALMON TASK FORCE is coming to the Kenai Peninsula next week for a pair of public input hearings to discuss ways to shore up the industry in the face of a changing economic landscape. There will be a hearing in Homer at the City Council Chambers on Wednesday from 2 to 6 p.m. The Soldotna hearing on Friday has had a time change. It will run from 3 to 8 p.m. at the Borough Assembly Chambers. Established by lawmakers last year, the Joint Legislative Salmon Industry Task Force is seeking to identify ways to improve state laws and/or policies to improve the economic climate in the salmon-fishing industry. Over the past two weeks, hearings have been held in other coastal communities from Ketchikan to Kodiak to Sand Point. This week, Dillingham and Cordova will also weigh in.

LEGISLATORS PROVIDED a public input primer with a list of issues and questions that the task force hopes to discuss in its forums. They address different areas of concern, such as finding ways to improve the state's financial structure where it intersects with the salmon industry. The financial subcommittee has undertaken a review of the state's tax and loan structures to determine if changes might offer better service to the industry. And the delicate issue of permit retirement is also on the table. The legislators are asking fishermen who plan to attend public meetings to contemplate the following questions: are there ways in which the state can better use existing fishing industry taxes? Do current state loan practices address the needs of the salmon industry? What should the state do about the retirement of limited-entry permits?

HATCHERIES AND EDUCATION also made the discussion list. The governance subcommittee has posed the idea of initiating an Alaska Seafood Commission to help address community economic development and social concerns. Public input is strongly encouraged as legislators consider whether to enact legislative changes to state relationships with hatcheries and the role the state should play in the education of Alaska's young people with regards to the commercial fishing industry. The issue of re-education and retraining of displaced fishermen is also being discussed. Fishermen will also be invited to discuss their opinions of the Board of Fisheries process as well. As many areas, including the Kenai Peninsula, work to market wild salmon brands, the task force will also look into ways to improve the marketing of Alaska salmon as well as how to improve the overall quality of the product.

FLOODING on area rivers could impact juvenile salmon, but so far, area biologists aren't overly concerned with how future runs will be affected by this week's flooding. Determining to what extent salmon populations are affected by floods is a tricky thing to quantify, according to Alaska Department of Fish and Game area biologist Larry Marsh. Marsh said Thursday that the department is hopeful flooding won't reach a level that will significantly affect future salmon populations. "At this point, we're cautiously optimistic," Marsh said.

IN 1995, heavy flooding on the Kenai River may have contributed to high mortality rates among juvenile salmon. However, Marsh said, the Kenai River so far has not reached a flood stage considered dangerous for the salmon. Marsh said the main danger to salmon stocks from flooding is to juvenile salmon and salmon eggs. Small fish can become stranded along the shore, injured by a large amount of debris or prevented from feeding properly. "It just beats the crap out of 'em," he said. Eggs can be buried by silt or washed away. At this point, Marsh said, there's no reason to believe recent flooding will have a major effect on future salmon returns. "You need to get some really tremendous water flows," he said. He did caution that can all change if the peninsula continues to be inundated by heavy rains. "We've just got to wait and see," he said.

KODIAK TANNER CRAB will go into a limited-entry format. That move was announced after Alaska's Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission adopted new regulations to limit entry into Kodiak's tanner crab pot fishery. There had been discussion of including Kodiak king crab in the change, but the commission apparently shelved that plan. The Kodiak Daily Mirror reported that representatives from the United Fishermen's Marketing Association spoke out in favor of the new rules. The commission set a Jan. 1, 2003, qualification date. There will be a maximum of 180 permits issued with a qualifying period from 1993 to 2002. There will be some vessel length restrictions as well.

THE CALIFORNIA FISH AND GAME Commission voted last week to ban fishing in an area roughly 175 square miles within the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. The action will create one of the largest networks of marine reserves in U.S. waters. California Gov. Gray Davis explained in a press release that the creation of the marine reserves establishes "safe zones" to reverse the decline over the past decade in the population of several marine species that were once plentiful off the California coast. Some of the depleted species are red snapper, angel sharks and abalone. While the California Department of Fish and Game and the Channel Islands Sanctuary work with a range of groups -- representatives from fishing groups, kelp harvesters, academia, environmental groups, and state and federal government -- to develop the plan, some commercial and sport fishermen were less than thrilled with the announcement.

"WE PAY A LOT OF DOLLARS (in fishing license fees) to the Department of Fish and Game for the management of fisheries," Tom Raftican, president of United Anglers of Southern California, told the Los Angeles Times. "I have a very difficult time paying for an area I cannot fish." The Davis administration says that the majority of the more than 9,000 public comment responses supported a reserve network in the Channel Islands. Enforcement of the no-fishing zones, which will comprise 13 different areas, will begin Jan. 1, 2003. The alternative adopted by the Fish and Game Commission also includes a recreational-only fishing zone off Santa Cruz Island and an area with limited commercial and recreational fishing off Anacapa Island. The federal government is soon to begin the process of evaluating how much, if any, federal water will be added to the reserve.

Peninsula Clarion reporter Matt Tunseth contributed to this report.