On Tuesday, August 22, the Matanuska Susitna Borough Fish and Wildlife Commission held a special meeting with representatives from ADF&G to discuss concerns about recent Upper Cook Inlet fish management decisions. In attendance were commission members, ADF&G Commissioner Sam Cotten, Tom Brookover, ADF&G Director of the Division of Sport Fish, Scott Kelley, ADF&G Director of the Divisions of Commercial Fisheries, and about 125 Mat-Su residents and elected officials. The meeting was scheduled to run from 5pm to 7pm but ran an hour longer to accommodate public testimony.
Here are my three takeaways from the meeting.
- Mat-Su business owners are fed up with the management of fish headed to the Susitna and Knik drainages. Guides have had clients cancel trips during historical peak run times, campgrounds are nearly empty, tackle shops sales are down, and fish support services, like fish processors, don’t have work. With coho salmon counts down 10,000 fish from four years ago, there is good reason to be mad. But it’s not just business owners that are fed up. There was passionate testimony from long time Alaskans that have watched the Valley fisheries deteriorate. These Alaskans were concerned that kids and grandkids may no longer have the same experience of catching a king, red, and silver salmon that they once had.
- Almost all of the public testimony was critical and directed at the representatives from ADF&G. Both the commission and ADF&G reps stated repeatedly that much of the concerns testifiers had were not due to ADF&G management decisions. Instead, the concerns are a result of policy set by the seven members of the Board of Fisheries (BOF). I’m rolling my eyes as I type right now because the average sport angler working full time and taking care of a family doesn’t have time to follow how policy is made and who the policy makers are. But more Valley sport anglers need to learn the process if we’re going to be effective change makers and that begins with understanding who the main players are.
- If things are going to change, sport anglers must support the Commission by testifying at BOF meetings and supporting candidates for governor that commit to nominating BOF members that are sport fish friendly. BOF member Isreal Payton said “A lot of the testimony I’ve heard in here, I’d have liked to have heard at the Board of Fisheries,” where roughly 30 Mat-Su residents testified early this year.
The Mat-Su Borough has made an audio recording of the meeting available on it’s website. Public testimony begins around the 2-hour mark.