ANCHORAGE - The Alaska Board of Fisheries has decided to delay until next year consideration of a new policy aimed at conserving wild trout populations throughout the state.
Such a policy has been a priority of Gov. Tony Knowles, and his administration had asked the board to consider approving the policy at its meeting this week in Anchorage.
But several people testified Sunday they preferred the board stick with its original schedule and wait until its March meeting. They cited the policy's complexity in requesting the delay.
The six-page policy sets out guidelines for conserving the state's wild rainbow, steelhead and cutthroat trout while also maximizing their yield.
These fish stocks are healthy now in Alaska, in part because they're often in remote places difficult for many anglers to reach. But there are worries about the lack of scientific knowledge of trout populations and about the potential of increased fishing pressure by the public.
"Wild trout populations have been depleted or have disappeared from much of their range around the world. As a result, Alaska's trout now represents the world's greatest spectrum of genetic diversity," wrote a special trout task force appointed by the board. The task force was formed after Knowles proposed a wild rainbow trout initiative in October 2001.
Preserving genetic diversity has a major bearing not only on the trout stocks themselves but also on the commercial harvest of their salmon cousins.
"If small populations of steelhead in Southeast Alaska become endangered, then federal law could severely impact commercial salmon fisheries," according to the task force.
Board chairman Ed Dersham, an Anchor Point fishing lodge owner, said the message he heard "loud and clear" from guides and other people Sunday was that people want more time to study the policy before the board possibly adopts it.
The proposed trout policy would complement a "sustainable salmon policy" already adopted by the board.