The Juneau-Douglas Fish & Game Advisory Committee met in a packed Juneau Arts & Cultural Center on Wednesday night, during which the public elected new officers and heard what a new critical habitat area designation on the Taku River could mean.
All five three-year seats were filled. Of these, committee chairman Mike Peterson was re-elected as the sport fish/hunting/personal use chair. As required by the criteria, he does not hold a charter fishing license.
Also for the three-year positions, Chris Conder was re-elected for the saltwater charter fishing chair and Greg Brown to the non-consumptive commercial chair.
Newcomer Thatcher Brouwer was elected to the three-year commercial fishing seat. Brouwer has fished commercially in Southeast Alaska for 9 years, including skippering his own troller out of Juneau, working on a Kodiak set net site, seining and shrimping.
“I am interested in serving on the Juneau-Douglas Fish & Game Advisory Committee because I would like to see our fish and game resources continue to be managed in a sustainable way,” he said. “Juneau residents depend, appreciate and utilize our fish and game resources in a variety of ways.”
No one was elected to the three-year hunting guide seat. It will remain open.
Several one-year seats were also filled by public vote. Eric Clark was elected to the sport fish/hunting/personal use seat. He has been a fisherman and hunter in the Southeast for more than 30 years. Another newcomer, Kirk Hardcastle, takes over the single-year commercial fishing seat. He is a commercial fisherman with Taku River Reds and works in renewable energy projects with the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He feels fishing is “the stabilizing economic driving force” here.
Henry Webb, a commercial fisherman, was elected as an alternate. As such, he does not have regular voting authority unless there is an absence in the committee.
Forrest Waggner was re-elected as an alternate.
Peterson and Brown were elected as chair and vice-chair, respectively. No secretary was elected.
The second part of the meeting was dedicated to learning more about what it would mean to designate part of the Taku River as a critical habitat area. A panel of experts, mostly from the Alaska Department of Fish & Game, took questions on the matter. The Advisory Committee will consider their answers in its deliberations for offering a letter of recommendation to the state on this matter.
The committee will deliberate and decide if it will draft such a letter by mid-February.
The area in question runs from Taku Point to the Canadian border. ADF&G Habitat Biologist Mark Fink explained that designating it as a critical habitat area will mean legislation will generate specific laws to protect that body of water’s fish and wildlife. Such laws can restrict uses that are not compatible with this primary purpose. Legislation governing critical habitat areas can be flexible and are written specifically for each body of water or land, so it is not yet known what laws will be applied if it passes.
Legislation for the Taku River has been proposed to preserve the salmon populations.
The panel agreed it was hard to narrow on certain specifics since the legislation has yet to be written out. However, ADF&G Juneau Area Management Biologist Kevin Monagle said the designation would most likely not affect current arrangements with Canada.
Fink said a big concern about such designations is that they can affect water use by the state and private parties, impacting existing user groups and stakeholders. He said steps are taken to try to minimize such impacts.
Many questions were offered to the panel, yet all was for information purposes. Peterson said it is too early to tell how the committee will act as far as a recommendation.
“In summary, it was just really encouraging to see different user groups talking about the health and longevity of the river, and its an ongoing thing to everyone around here,” Peterson said. “Whether it gets through legislation or not, the Taku River is as much a part of the community as the people who live here.”
Sen. Dennis Egan’s legislative aide, Jesse Kiehl, arrived to inform the public that such legislation would indeed take a long time, even years, to pass.
• Contact reporter Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or firstname.lastname@example.org.