Bully politics won't solve Southcentral salmon conflicts

Editor’s note: The following originally ran June 20 in the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman in response to Howard Delo’s “Valuable Information” in the Frontiersman June 12 and Delo’s posted comments on June 5 titled “Commercial fishing single biggest factor impeding successful Northern District coho run returns.”

As the representative for the Alaska Salmon Alliance based in Kenai and Anchorage, I have been doing community outreach in the MatSu Valley for the past 18 months, in an effort to bring sport, personal use, subsistence and commercial user groups together on common research themes, wild stock enhancement in rivers and to start a dialogue that can lead to long term management solutions.

These efforts have been systematically blocked by those involved with the Matanuska-Susitna Fish and Wildlife Commission. 

ASA has listened to Kenai River Sportfishing Association Executive Director Ricky Gease and Howard Delo and others distort the economic value of recreational fisheries in Alaska and the U.S. for years.

Gease’s distortions have been categorically debunked in the most recent NOAA Fisheries Economics of the U.S. report covering the year 2012. Gease’s claims, which are characteristic of U.S. and Canadian recreational groups, are based on inflated economic multipliers and old information from studies done in 2007 that do not reflect the effects the downturn in the U.S. economy had on Alaska tourism that began in 2008.

A 2013 economic analysis of the Kenai Peninsula and Anchorage bowl-based commercial fishing industry conducted by the reputable Northern Economics firm, shows a $350 million dollar economic footprint, (using a conservative multiplier of 0.6, vs. KRSA and Mat-Su Borough’s 7); 5,000 jobs; 2,335 CFEC salmon permit holders (each of which represents a small business); and a $108 million dollar payroll. Data used is based on official State of Alaska and NMFS mandatory reports for commercial fishermen and processors. ASA has recently made presentations to the Resource Development Council (RDC) and the Joint Kenai/Soldotna Chamber of Commerce on this new report. The Kenai based commercial fishing industry is on a par with the Cook Inlet oil and gas industry in terms of annual payroll and regional economic footprint. (Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, Northern Economics report, March 2014 program)  

The new NOAA report exposes what is commonly known as “voodoo economics” that wildly overvalue the U.S. recreational fishing sector.  It illustrates that outdoor marine tourism and recreational activities, glacier tours, whale watching, water taxis, other guided tours and small family vessels that have outboards are falsely captured as recreational fishing driven benefits.

In his June 5 post in the Frontiersman, Mr. Delo took issue with the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association efforts to restock sockeye in Shell Lake, and used misinformation again to fan the fires of the MatSu anti-commercial fishing attitude prevalent within the Valley delegation, the MatSu Fish and Wildlife Commission and the Borough. Delo, who casts about as an authority on Cook Inlet salmon issues, summarily dismissed the critical need for rebuilding culverts and notching beaver dams to enable fish passage and the need to continue efforts to eradicate pike to minimize their impacts to salmon and trout stocks. 

Then Delo dragged out his own “voodoo science” claim that commercial drifters capture up to 80 percent of the mature coho returning to Northern District streams and are the major causal factor inhibiting the healthy returns of salmon. This has no basis in science.  Published research from the only mark-recapture and tagging study conducted by Alaska Department of Fish and Game staff shows that less than 10 percent of adult returning Northern District coho are captured by the drift fleet — not 25, 50 or 80 percent as the broken record claims.  

Scapegoating commercial fishermen in Southcentral Alaska only serves to perpetuate the so-called Cook Inlet fish wars. The strategy is to keep the populace riled up, putting political pressure on ADFG and the Board of Fisheries in an effort to starve the commercial fleets out of business at any cost.

But there are mounting costs for MatSu residents, this scheme deliberately delays the rebuilding of MatSu salmon stocks and the restoration of fisheries-based tourism and home-based fishing for local residents. They are trying to block the Houston/Knik Tribal moist air incubation project to enhance the Little Su and the reopening of the Eklutna Hatchery.

Another flaw in their strategy is failure to recognize that it has been almost exclusively, commercial fishing dollars that have funded projects to rehabilitate pike and disease-ravaged salmon stocks in the MatSu, as described in the Shell Lake article. So far, ADFG has done very little beyond studying some of the problems.

“Bully politics” have now been added to “voodoo economics and science,” to push publicly funded nonsense research projects and BOF decisions that can have long term harmful effects on the salmon resources that all user groups enjoy.

Arni Thomson is the executive director of the Alaska Salmon Alliance.

11/21/2016 - 4:02pm