The Mat- Su Borough’s Fish and Wildlife Commission has been working to bring back the area’s diminished salmon runs. According to Commission member Howard Delo, seven of the state Board of Fish’s ten stocks of concern are Mat Su salmon stocks. Diminishing salmon returns, especially of Chinook and coho salmon, are hurting the Borough’s once lucrative sport fishing economy. At Tuesday night’s joint Mat Su Assembly and Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting, Delo outlined the Commission’s priorities for spending the legislative funding available to the Borough for fishery research.
” I would say the most important fish economically to the Borough are silvers, cohos. And, quite frankly, with that drop in angler days, people are not coming to the Borough to fish, like they used to five years ago.”
Delo said genetic testing has indicated that 8 to 13 percent of the commercial sockeye catch in Cook Inlet in 2011 are Northern District-bound fish. He says the Commission wants the state Board of Fisheries to authorize changes to the Northern District Salmon Management Plan so it focuses less on commercial interests in order to provide more fish for sports fishers upstream. He also said that with 1100 active commercial fishing permits compared with 400 thousand sports and dipnet fishers in Cook Inlet, it’s not right that the fisheries are managed primarily for commercial interests.
“The drift fleet is the big commercial group that intercepts Northern bound fish. “
Larry Engle, interim chair of the Commission, told the Assembly that funding for continued genetic research is essential for next year’s budget request.
Engle wants a genetic identification program for coho salmon since there is so little information on cohos in the Northern District.
The fish- centered dialogue continued, covering hatcheries, habitat, — even problems with Northern Pike.. but took a sharp turn when Assemblyman Jim Sykes brought up a letter signed by Engle, that the Commission had sent directly to Governor Sean Parnell.
Engle’s mid-December letter, addressed concerns the Commission has with a HB 77/ SB26 and the bill’s restrictions on applications for instream flow reservations for salmon creeks. The letter praises the efforts of private citizen’s groups in work to reclaim Borough salmon habitat. Engle’s letter says “eliminating the ability of private partners to participate in fisheries stewardship will not benefit our fisheries” and asks the governor to withdraw the bill.
But a week later, Borough mayor Larry DeVilbiss fired off his own letter to the governor, on Borough letterhead, applauding the goals of the governor’s bill and explaining that the Borough Assembly had twice voted not to weigh in on the pending legislation. The mayor’s letter made former Mat Su Assemblyman Warren Kehoe angry
“And mister mayor, not only have you come down squarely on the wrong side of the issue, but you are once again making unauthorized policy Borough policy statements. “
Assemblyman Sykes than moved to direct the Borough manager to write another letter in support of the Commission’s view, to avoid perception of a conflict within the Borough.
But that motion was flattened by a later move to postpone any more action on the issue until Assembly members can learn more about the governor’s legislation. Sykes said afterward he only wants the legislature to know that the Assembly supports the position of the Commission
“All I was asking here is to support what the work of the Wildlife Commission was. They operate on facts.”
Mayor DeVilbiss, for his part, says he thinks that the Borough Assembly is only aware of one point of view on the proposed legislation.
“It was not an issue that the Assembly hadn’t already addressed. So to send a contrary signal required some backup information, and that’s all it was. It’s obviously not the end of the issue, because we are going to sit down and get educated on it, with DNR.”
A workshop has been scheduled so that the Borough Assembly can meet with the Department of Natural Resources to learn more about the governor’s bill.