By Jenny Neyman
When the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association was established in 1976, the purpose, potential and parity of funding for the organization was a simple, straight line to follow: Commercial fishermen would voluntarily contribute 2 percent of the value of their catch to support the organization, which would work to perpetuate, rehabilitate and enhance fish populations through research, habitat protection and stocking programs, creating stronger and more consistent fish runs that fishermen could harvest.
In the intervening 30 years, that line has gotten tangled into a snarled web of complexity and challenges, leaving some fishermen today to wonder whether CIAA is producing enough benefit to warrant continued financial support — through the salmon-enhancement tax as well as public money in the form of state loans and state and federal grants — or whether enough is simply enough.
“It’s not uncommon for me to talk to people I fish near and around and with who express concern that the moneys that are being paid don’t necessarily realize a measurable benefit. And the benefit doesn’t necessarily have to mean, ‘Because I’m paying 2 percent I’m getting more fish,’” said Jim Butler, who fishes a set-net site north of the Kenai River and has been a Central District drift-net fisherman. He also is a former member of the CIAA board of directors. “I think the benefit I hear from a lot of folks is, overall, is it creating a broader opportunity for anybody to catch fish, whether they be sport or commercial? And it’s not clear that that’s the case, that that’s happening.” Continue reading