Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Fishing for an alternative — Salmon task force ponders commercial permit buyout

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Discussion of a Cook Inlet commercial fishing permit buyback program at a meeting of the Joint Cook Inlet Salmon Task Force last week ranged from the caveat that any such program would have to include voluntary participation from fishermen to speculation on ways to extinguish the fishery — whether fishermen wanted to be bought out or not.

The bipartisan legislative task force met Thursday in Anchorage with Bruce Twomley, commissioner with the Commercial Fishing Entry Commission.

The task force was formed by the Legislature last spring in response to dwindling salmon returns to rivers in the Susitna River drainage. A Cook Inlet commercial fishing permit buyback program was one of the options the task force was charged with considering, under the idea that reducing the number of commercial fishermen in the inlet would allow more salmon to return to rivers in the northern district.

“There are some very frustrated people from some of their experiences,” said Sen. Charlie Huggins, R-Wasilla. “I’m speaking of, in this case, sportfishermen. They’re some of my neighbors and friends.”

That result of a buyback on Northern District salmon runs is not a foregone conclusion, however. Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, posed the question to Twomley: Would a Cook Inlet permit buyback program increase salmon returns to the Susitna drainage?

“I don’t see how. There isn’t a direct correlation there,” Twomley said. “I mean, the notion of limited entry is it gives managers one variable that they know is under control — they know there’s going to be a certain number of units of gear fishing, and that can help them plan for the fishery.”

It’s the decisions made by in-season fisheries managers that have an impact on salmon returns, not the limited entry commission determining how many permits are in operation, Twomley said.

“We’ve got only limited tools, and our tools give us some limited control over the number of units of gear that can be out there, but all in-season regulations of what those fishermen can do is left to the Board of Fish, and I’m pretty far removed from that,” he said. “So I would not see something we did about the numbers having an immediate effect, because it’s up to people on the other side of that equation.”

Sen. Tom Wagoner, R-Kenai, added that the decisions of in-season fisheries managers are based on meeting in-river escapement goals. Limiting the number of commercial fishermen in the inlet through a buyback program wouldn’t mean more fish get past commercial nets, he said.

“It doesn’t matter if there’s 450 drift permits out there and boats fishing or 300, their overall goal is to harvest enough fish where they meet those escapement goals,” Wagoner said. “And so what you would do with a reduction of the number of permits fishing Cook Inlet, you would increase the production per boat that’s fishing Cook Inlet, even after the reduction of permits.”

The issue of whether a buyback program would be an effective means of increasing salmon runs in the northern district got little more discussion. The task force turned its attention to talk of ways a buyback could be accomplished.

Twomley gave an overview of the drift net and set net commercial salmon fisheries in Cook Inlet. He noted the fisheries have one of the highest levels of participation he’s seen, compared to other fisheries the commission has looked at, with 80 percent or more of the permits being fished. The drift net fishery has 571 permit holders, and grossed an estimated $13 million in the 2007 season. The set net fishery had 738 permit holders and grossed about $10.5 million in 2007. Many of those fishing are Alaskans — 70 percent in the drift net fishery and 82 percent in the set net fishery.

“I found that to be substantial and a respectable figure,” he said.

Attaching a price to those permits for the purpose of a buyback program is difficult to do. Twomley explained that the commission estimates the value of a permit by tracking all permits sold among fishermen and averaging those prices. Currently that figure is $33,300 for a drift net permit at $13,300 for a set net permit. But that doesn’t include all the other investments involved in fishing, including gear, boats and fuel.

“The cost of getting somebody to retire from the fishery could be greater, will likely be greater, than the costs of the figures that I’ve given you,” Twomley said.
The task force chairman, Rep. Craig Johnson, R-Anchorage, noted that the only commercial fisherman who’s testified to the task force on the matter of buybacks estimated he has $1 million wrapped up in the fishery.

“I think it would be somewhat naive of us to think that someone would be rushing in to sell their permit for $33,000,” he said. “I want to caution, if I could, the committee on the value of it. It’s almost a fair market, it’s what you could get for it.”

Twomley said a buyback program runs the risk of going afoul of the state constitution, which, on one hand, stipulates open access to resources, but on another allows a limited-entry fishery with certain provisions. The Limited Entry Act would allow a buyback if its purpose is to create a well-conserved, economically healthy fishery that allows enough participation to protect those who depend on it, he said.

“To be constitutional, a limited-entry system has to impinge on the open-to-entry principle of the constitution as little as possible. If a limited-entry system goes too far and goes over this constitutional line to become too exclusive, unconstitutional … at that point the state has a duty, and under the statute it’s our responsibility, to put more permits back into the water,” Twomley said.

In answering a question from Rep. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak/Mat-Su, Twomley said that limited-entry permits are a privilege granted by the state, rather than a guaranteed right. At the same time, he said a buyback program under the Limited Entry Act would have to be voluntary, even if it were a private effort created and financed by fishermen.

Rep. Mike Doogan, D-Anchorage, floated some suggestions he termed as hypothetical that would get around the statutory provision requiring enough permits be available to protect those in the fishery. What if a buyback program was offered and everyone wanted to sell — would that extinguish the fishery, or would the state be obligated to offer more permits?

“If all the fishermen in a fishery elected to sell their permits, that could end the matter. And if the fishery were gone, that doesn’t create a constitutional issue, I don’t think. …,” Twomley said. “If all of the participants did not so elect, it would pretty quickly run into the problem of a fishery that might look too exclusive.”
Twomley said he didn’t think it likely all fishermen would want to sell.

“I have known some of those people, and the last thing they want to do is get out of the business. Their families have been in it for years and years,” he said.
Doogan also wanted to know what leeway the Legislature had in revoking the permits of those who didn’t want to sell.

“I’m not proposing this, I simply want to know whether that is an option by itself or an option in conjunction with buying some of the permits and simply removing the privilege of those who choose not to sell,” Doogan said.

Twomley answered that the Legislature has reserved the power to eliminate or modify permits without compensation.

“We’d have to decide whether we wanted to,” Doogan said. “Apparently we have the authority, and the question would become whether or not the Legislature has the desire to extinguish a fishery all or in part by revoking permits.”

Stoltze hypothesized that banning gillnets in the inlet, either through the Legislature or the public by way of the initiative process, might get around the constitutional challenges of a buyback program.

“By initiative, under a conservation measure, could there be a banning of gillnets? That wouldn’t be restricting the permits, just the means and methods (of fishing),” Stoltze said.

It’s theoretically possible, Twomley said, but the findings showing such a move was in the interest of conservation would have to be sound. He suggested consulting the attorney general for a final determination of the issue.

Stoltze speculated that an initiative seeking to ban gillnets might affect the value of commercial permits to the point where fishermen would want to sell.

“That’s not far-fetched. I’ve had people talk about that and I’ve done my best to ramp down that type of sentiment — for now,” Stoltze said.

He said there’s a lot of pent-up frustration over the situation in the northern district and the lack of resolution to it through the legislative process.

At the conclusion of the discussion, Johnson said he understands the topic is contentious, and left the door open for further exploration of the issue.

“We don’t know how many people would step forward if we were to offer a program in Cook Inlet,” he said. “I certainly don’t think we know the effect of it if we moved down that road.”

Right at home — CES assistant fire marshal a familiar face

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Interacting with the community is a large part of the fire marshal’s job at Central Emergency Services, and therefore a major hurdle for anyone stepping into the position.

There’s a learning curve to all of it — conducting building inspections, dealing with other fire and safety agencies, doing outreach in schools, being a media contact, and even the routine facets of a new job, like learning your co-workers’ names and where to go to grab a quick lunch.

That wasn’t a problem for Brad Nelson, the new assistant fire marshal at CES. Getting to know the community is the easy part of being new to the job, as long as he remembers which station he’s going to every day — CES on Binkley Street — and doesn’t succumb to old habits and drive a few miles up the road to the Alaska State Troopers E Detachment post on Kalifornsky Beach Road.

Nelson may be new to the CES uniform, but he’s not new to the central peninsula, having been a trooper here from 2001 to the beginning of 2007, some of that time with a K-9 unit, Kazan.

“Ever since we left we always wanted to get back down here,” Nelson said of he and his wife, Rachel. “We loved being here. You name it, we loved it.”

Nelson left the troopers in February 2007 and took a job with Doyon Universal Services on the North Slope doing “you name it,” he said, including being a medic and fire technician. He and his family, which now includes 2-year-old son, Lincoln, and another baby on the way, have been living in Palmer. When the assistant fire marshal position with CES came open this summer, Nelson saw it as a chance to branch further into the fire services field, make the most of his outgoing personality and move back to the peninsula.

“Not only do I get to do the firefighting, which I love, but the fire marshal is involved in all aspects of it,” Nelson said. “It’s the best of everything. I get to go out into the public, which I love to do — I’m not shy in any way, shape or form.”

Fire Marshal Gary Hale wasn’t shy about what he thought of Nelson — he was hired a mere half hour after the job interview.

“I needed somebody who could get off the truck running,” Hale said. “He’s the man. He has a very upbeat and aggressive attitude, which comes along with his credentials. There hasn’t been a task he hasn’t been able to handle or tackle.

“Being familiar with the area is a huge plus, and knowing a lot of the people prior to leaving. People wanted to know, ‘Did you hire Brad?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ They said. ‘You won’t go wrong. He was the most upbeat individual. You won’t be sorry.’ And that’s the truth.”

After 19 years as fire marshal, Hale is looking toward retirement in a few years and wanted someone he could train to take over the position. He’s sure Nelson is the right choice. So sure, in fact, that when Nelson was wanted for another position in CES, Hale put his foot down.

“I said, basically, ‘Over my dead body. It took this long to get him and you want to steal him for me?’”

Nelson already has a background in firefighting from his time with Doyon and in the Alaska National Guard. He has fire marshal-specific training he still needs to get, like evaluating building plans, but he’s already been put to work teaching a fire extinguisher safety class and the public relations aspects of his job.

“He jumped out of frying plan and into the fire and has had no difficulty,” Hale said.

Nelson’s first week on the job included CES’ annual Fill the Boot fundraising campaign for muscular dystrophy.

“It hasn’t stopped,” Nelson said. “There’s never been a moment where I’m thinking, ‘Man, there’s nothing to do.’ It doesn’t happen. We haven’t been able to stick to a schedule yet. Not a single day.”

That’s fine for Nelson. Organized chaos is a good environment for his “adult ADD,” he said.

And the central peninsula is a good environment for Nelson and his family. He said he and Rachel were hit by that realization at the exact same time when they came down for the job interview.

“When we got out of the car, we said, ‘Yep, this feels right. We’re both home,’” he said. “I’m just so excited to be down here, it’s not even funny.”

Complex halibut allocation plan OK’d

By Naomi Klouda
Homer Tribune

The North Pacific Fisheries Management Council on Oct. 4 approved a plan to divvy up available halibut in two Alaska regions among commercial and charter fleets.

The council voted 10-1 for the plan in Southeast’s 2C and Southcentral Alaska’s 3A, hoping to set to rest halibut tussles between commercial fishermen and guided recreational anglers. The vote followed three days of often impassioned testimony from both sides, with Kachemak Bay charter boat operators asking the council to not limit their clients to one halibut.

The sole council member voting no, Ed Dersham, said he could not support the plan because it “does not meet the test of fair and equitable.” He is the operator of Dersham’s Fishing Charters in Anchor Point.

The ruling would impact the allocation of halibut caught on charter boats, which in turn causes loss for the thousands of guided recreational anglers who don’t own boats or know dangerous bay waters, a local group says. It would not impact private skiffs and fishermen.

Rex Murphy, of Winter King Charters and a member of the Charter Halibut Task Force, said the multitiered motion with its many amendments was confusing and disappointing. In the end, it was the opposite of a “simple” ruling the task force had requested.

“The bottom line is at certain levels of abundance, the motion proposes different charter-angler limits,” Murphy said Monday. “In Area 3-A, we would be looking at either a two-fish limit or a two-fish with one under the 32-pound limit, what we call the minnow rule. In times of medium abundance, it would either be the minnow rule or a one-fish bag limit. In times of low abundance we would have a one-fish bag limit. In times of super low abundance we would have a one-fish bag limit with modifications by the council.”

The minnow rule is one fish any size and one fish under 32 inches. A 32-inch fish is 11 pounds, head off and gutted, Murphy said.

The council wanted to reach a decision that wouldn’t involve revisiting the halibut allocation issue each year, Murphy said. The Charter Halibut Task Force had recommended that when abundance is low, that all sectors take reductions, Murphy said.

Commercial catch numbers for the 3A area in 2007, including Cook Inlet and Kodiak waters, was 25.9 million pounds of halibut.

Guided recreational anglers brought in 79,560 fish in waters from Anchor Point to Homer in 2006, according to information supplied by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Homer, for 2006.

The task force is still studying the council’s ruling for ramifications, Murphy said. It will not go into effect for at least two years, having now to go to the National Marine Fisheries Service for approval, then to the Secretary of Commerce.
Ocean Hunter Charters Capt. Keith Kalke feels the council leans toward commercial fishing interests.
“That’s the fox guarding the hen house,” he said.

Only one member of the 11 voters on the council is a charter boat operator while six are commercial fishermen.

In reality, charter boat operators are something of a glorified taxi driver, Kalke said, for the many who can’t afford to buy their own fishing vessels. Cutting to one halibut for charter boats – not private boats – would create some hazardous situations, he said. Inexperienced people would be heading out on rough waters to get their catch. It’s also discriminatory against individual anglers when everyone should have access to federal waters and halibut jointly owned by all, he said.

“The waters throughout the Gulf and Cook Inlet are dangerous waters. A lot of people don’t feel safe trying it. We’re the safest outlet for fishing. A lot of people can’t afford to buy their own boats,” Kalke said.

There’s also concern that charter boat operators from 2A, in times of lower halibut allocation numbers, would move over to 3C. That would stress harvests in Kachemak waters, Murphy said, and trigger allocation reductions.

Polar mystery rocks! Class wrapped up in missing artifacts case

By Clark Fair
Redoubt Reporter

An excited, boisterous group of eighth-graders in the first-period language arts class at Kenai Middle School became suddenly subdued Thursday when Assistant Principal Vaughn Dosko arrived with a police officer.

Dosko apologized for the interruption, then pulled aside co-teachers Cyndi Romberg and Allan Miller to explain he had just received a rather disturbing e-mail from the London Museum. The students in the class, who had just been discussing an upcoming writing project, made no pretense of minding their own business.

As some of the students eyeballed Officer Mitch Langseth, Dosko read the e-mail aloud; it said, in essence, that Kenai Middle School was in possession of museum property that had been taken without proper authorization, and that the museum wanted the property returned immediately.

INTERPOL, the international criminal police organization, had asked the Kenai Police Department to dispatch Officer Langseth to make certain that the transfer of property took place.

The property in question was an emperor penguin egg, preserved from a 1911 Antarctic expedition. According to the e-mail, the egg had been packaged with an assortment of polar rocks in a wooden crate and shipped by the National Science Foundation to the school to help the students with their study of polar science and provide them with more information for their writing project.

Only the day before, the students had arranged the rocks, the egg and other related items in a display case in the hallway just outside the classroom. When the students and teachers followed Dosko and Langseth out to retrieve the egg, they discovered inside the locked case an empty space where the egg had been. A few of the polar rocks also were missing.

Although some of the students were immediately skeptical, wondering aloud whether this was just an elaborate ruse perpetrated by Miller and Romberg, an in-class investigation took place. Officer Langseth openly questioned students as their worried teachers scrambled to provide helpful evidence.
With the students’ help, Langseth determined that the last time anyone had seen the egg in the case was 2:45 p.m. the previous day. It was also clear that the fingerprints of nearly every member of the class could be found on the glass of the case. Who then, Langseth wanted to know, could get into the case without breaking it?

Principal Paul Sorenson became a suspect because he was an avid rock collector and had a key to the case.

“He was really, really interested in it!” called out one student.

Dosko himself was a suspect because he loved birds and also had a key.

Another student suspected school custodians, “because they have keys to everything.”

Also called into question were several teachers, including Miller and Romberg. And one student even brought up the notion of a conspiracy against Miller by someone he might have angered at the NSF.
Just before class ended, Officer Langseth wrapped up the display case with a ribbon of yellow crime tape, and Dosko encouraged the students to keep their eyes and ears open for information that might lead to the recovery of what Miller had termed a “priceless” artifact.

Even if the whole egg disappearance was just a prank, Dosko said, no one would be prosecuted if the egg was returned by the end of the school day.

“No questions asked,” he said.

The truth, however, was that most of what the students had been told during first period was a lie.
The rocks were really polar rocks and had really been sent to the class several weeks earlier by the NSF, which had provided the grant money for this English/science/Quest amalgam that 12 schools in Alaska were running in conjunction with 12 schools in Tasmania, Australia.

The emperor penguin egg, on the other hand, was a model, and its theft was a hoax, which the students would discover only after being worked up a little more the following day. After more questions and accusations from students Friday, Debbie Harris, Kenai Peninsula Borough School District arts specialist, wandered into the classroom with a bag containing all of the missing items.

“She came in and said, ‘Oh, hey, I’m returning these,” as if her possession of the items was no big deal, said 13-year-old Madison Cunningham.

Harris claimed that, since she was going to be helping the class with the artwork on their writing project, she “borrowed” the rocks and the egg to do some sketches. She had been out of the building on Thursday when all the fuss had occurred.

Krystal Hamman, 14, who later called Miller the “best fake crier” for his Thursday performance, said that his demeanor changed completely upon Harris’ arrival Friday.

“Mr. Miller started giggling like a school girl when she came in,” she said. “And then they told us everything.”

Hamman and Cunningham said the class was mad at first.

“They’re all role models, and they’re not supposed to lie,” Cunningham said.

But she acknowledged that, even though the teachers had been “tricky” and “kind of mean,” they had created a “cool experience.”

Once they stopped laughing, Miller and Romberg explained they had been trying to introduce the students to the idea of a polar mystery, which was what their writing project with Tasmania would entail.

The project is based on a 2005 pilot program in Australia that produced a book entitled “Hidden Secrets of Skull Island,” which was written entirely by sixth-grade students and is replete with student artwork. At the end of the book is a photograph of all the students who worked on the project and a listing of their names.

Key to the “Skull Island” book and these current efforts is the use of polar science both as an integral part of the mystery and an opportunity to educate readers. Generally speaking, Miller will guide the science aspects of the project, Romberg the language/writing aspects, and Harris the artistic aspects.
According to a press release, the ultimate goal is to use art and creative writing to foster an increase in student engagement in science and technology, and establish exciting new ways for teachers to explore all three disciplines.

For the current effort, 12 books will be created, at first online. The best of these e-books will be turned into hard copies and published. The progress of the books’ creation can be viewed on a project Web site, found at http://iem.tmag.tas.gov.au/.

Of the 12 Alaska elementary and middle schools involved, two hail from the Kenai Peninsula: KMS and McNeil Canyon Elementary near Homer. Of the 10 others, four are in North Pole, four in or near Fairbanks, and two in villages near Bethel.

The KMS students will be working with students at Woodbridge District School, sending sections of their book back and forth with the goal of completing the project by December, when schools in Tasmania dismiss for summer vacation.

Hamman said she was looking forward to the writing portion of the project. “I’m used to writing on my own, but I’m looking forward to meeting new people in an educational way,” she said.

Cunningham, who said that on Friday she was “kind of disappointed” that her class would not be involved in “a whole CSI thing,” is ready now to start on the mystery.

“The first day, I went home and said, ‘Mom, guess what! We’re going to be writing a book!”

Dressed for success — Shoppers showing support for Palin

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Gov. Sarah Palin’s legions of supporters are proud of her bid to be the next vice president of the United States, and they want to show it.

Several retailers on the central Kenai Peninsula want to help them make that message clear, so they’re stocking up on a type of merchandise they’ve never carried before: political endorsements.

T-shirts, buttons and even candy endorsing the Palin-John McCain bid for the White House are being sold in stores in the area.

“They’re actually doing very well,” said Camberly Jackson, assistant manager of Thompson Log Gift and Jewelry in Soldotna. “People are coming in and buying them and sending them out of town to family.”

The store carries four styles of Palin T-shirts: one that says, “Our Mama Beats Your Obama,” another that says, “McCain-Palin, Alaska’s Ticket,” a shirt with Palin’s quote about hockey moms, pit bulls and lipstick, and another saying Alaska is the coldest state with the hottest governor.

Jackson said the store got its first shipment of shirts in September and has had to reorder more — 24 of each style of shirt — two times.

“They sell very well,” she said.

Thompson Log Gift and Jewelry carries a wide variety of Alaska-related shirts and merchandize, but the Sarah stuff is a first, in that it endorses a political candidate.

“That would not be something we would probably advertise, but, you know, because the governor is such a big thing for the state,” Jackson said. “They all seem to do well, just anything that says ‘Palin’ on it, pretty much.”

Jackson said the store will continue to sell the shirts as long as there’s demand for them.
“We’ll see how she does in the election. It just depends, I guess,” she said.

Sweeney’s in Soldotna has Palin shirts, buttons and candy for sale.

“We got the T-shirts in the middle of September. We got some and we’ve reordered, so I would say they’re doing OK, especially the dark colors,” said owner Mike Sweeney.

Sweeney said he promotes voting, but not usually a specific candidate. Unless you count a window display he had in the early 1990s, promoting himself as a candidate for the Legislature. That was a spoof, however, with him running on a platform of benefits for seniors and tax breaks for clothiers.

The governor is another exception.

“Palin, with her being the governor of Alaska and there’s a lot of interest in her, so I thought, why not?” Sweeney said.

Thompson Log Gift and Sweeney’s order their shirts from Alaska Serigraphics in Anchorage. David Powers, owner, said the company created the shirts to supply retailers, and also sells them over the counter in Anchorage.

“In the first three weeks, four weeks, it was crazy,” he said. “We couldn’t do our own business because we were selling so many over-the-counter Sarah retail shirts. It was terrible, but terrible in the good way.”

He estimated they sold 1,000 shirts over the counter in the first two weeks the shirts were available after Palin was named McCain’s running mate.

“We had one of our best months of the year when it should have been one of our slowest months,” he said.

The company sends the shirts all over the country and world. Sales have slowed somewhat as “Sarah has become kind of old news up here,” he said, but they’re still popular.

“It’s such a novelty, and it’s one moment in Alaska’s history, so I think it’s pretty neat,” Powers said.

Alaska Serigraphics has capitalized on other notable Alaska events, as well. They’ve created shirts commemorating Mount Augustine’s eruption — “Kick ash” — and shirts about Binky the polar bear attacking people at the Anchorage Zoo. They’ve also done shirts about the Exxon oil spill and donated the money from sales to the Cordova fishermen’s fund, and donated money from sales of Sept. 11 shirts to the Red Cross.
“For Sarah, we’re not donating it to Sarah,” Powers said.

Alaska Serigraphics also makes shirts promoting Democratic candidate Barack Obama — “Barack the Vote” — and a shirt that says “WASP” in blue glitter — Women Against Sarah Palin.

Those haven’t been as popular, however.

On Monday, Harold Cockroft, of Soldotna, walked out of Trustworthy Hardware in Soldotna wearing a blue “Our Mama Beats Your Obama” shirt. He said his wife, Ida, told him to get Sarah shirts, which he bought at Homestead Jewelers and Gifts in Soldotna.

“I like Sarah, absolutely. Don’t you?” Cockroft said.

He’s proud to display his support for the governor and bristles at the opposition she’s received in the media.

“People are trying to make her out to be something she’s not,” he said.

He said he’s received nothing but positive comments when he’s worn his shirt.

“Nobody hit me or anything yet,” he said. “They better not, or I’ll get Sarah on their butt.”

Editorial — Fighting fair for fishing rights

In the time the Joint Cook Inlet Salmon Task Force spent talking about a Cook Inlet commercial fishing permit buyback program Thursday in Anchorage, the one question that should have garnered the most discussion got the least — whether it is a good idea in the first place.

Early in the meeting, Bruce Twomley, a representative from the state Commercial Fishing Entry Commission, was asked point blank if buying back Cook Inlet commercial permits, thus reducing the number of fishermen, would increase salmon runs in Northern District rivers.

Dwindling returns to the Yentna, Deshka and other tributaries to the Susitna River are the main reason the bipartisan task force was formed last spring by the Legislature. One of the topics it was tasked with considering is a buyback program, on the theory that limiting commercial nets in central Cook Inlet will allow more fish to reach northern streams.

That’s a hypothesis born more of frustration and finger-pointing than science, however.
Twomley’s answer to whether buybacks would increase northern runs was about as unequivocal a “no” as you can get when dealing with fisheries:

“I don’t see how. There isn’t a direct correlation there,” he said.

That should have been the major point of the day, steering the meeting toward productive conversation, like, if buybacks aren’t the answer, what is?

For all the heed paid to Twomley’s answer, it was like he never gave it. It didn’t stop legislators from speculating on how to outright end the commercial fishery, even to the point of asking Twomley about ways around the constitutional statutes that protect it.

Direct answers and straightforward plans didn’t seem to be of much interest to the task force. Neither were Kenai Sen. Tom Wagoner’s occasional interjections explaining that Fish and Game manages fisheries to escapement goals, so even if commercial permit numbers were reduced it would just mean more fish allocated to the fewer commercial fishermen that are left; or that a previous attempt to mandate fish allocations through the initiative process has been struck down by the state Supreme Court.

All in all, it was a disappointing display of shortsightedness to a problem that will take years to sort out.

It’s not that fish in the Kenai area are more important than those in the Northern District, or that people here have any more right to earn a living, their dinner or enjoyment off them.

Low runs in the Northern District are a serious problem that needs realistic, research-based solutions.

If Legislators are going to inject themselves into fisheries management, a realm that’s already complex and contentious, they had better wade in with more diplomacy and less bias than displayed Thursday.

Otherwise, they’ll create nothing but more waves.

Die and let live — Cycle of salmon spawning serves valuable purpose on Kenai River

One of the mysteries that has vexed stream ecologists for years involves large Pacific salmon that return from the oceans to spawn in headwater streams and promptly die. Very few fish grow this large and only reproduce once during their lifetime. As an example, halibut can reproduce for decades in the ocean, and many freshwater trout species will reproduce each year for dozens of years.

Evolutionary theories predict that for such an unusual behavior to exist, there must be a benefit to the species when the adults die. Wouldn’t it be better for the adults to survive and reproduce multiple times? The mystery is becoming clearer these days, thanks to stream and fisheries researchers from all over the country and throughout the world.

First, it must be understood that most streams along the Pacific Coast are nutrient-poor. This means that there are not high concentrations of minerals and essential elements in the waters that would support plant and algal growth. In turn, there is only marginal plant growth along and within the stream. The in-stream and riparian (located along the stream banks) plant growth can normally support only small populations of invertebrates that then become food for stream fish. Because of this nutrient-poor stream water situation, salmon have evolved an anadromous life cycle.

Anadromous fish lay their eggs in a stream that cannot actually provide adequate sustenance for their offspring, so the young soon migrate into the oceans to complete their growth. The surrounding oceans are nutrient-rich and provide great opportunities for young fish to find food. As an example, many Alaska silver salmon stay in headwater streams for three years and grow to only 6 inches in length.

They then head to the ocean and return to spawn one year later weighing 10 to 16 pounds. They obviously found a lot of food out in the ocean that they could not have found in the stream where they were hatched.

Since the streams are so nutrient-poor, it now appears that the dying adult salmon carcasses release substantial amounts of elements into the stream. Those nutrients, like the fertilizer we use on our gardens, enable in-stream vegetation and riparian plants to thrive. Those plants then deposit their leaves, twigs, bud scales, pollen, etc., back into the stream. In turn the leaves are used as food sources by various aquatic invertebrates — mostly aquatic insects. The insect populations are then able to grow large enough to support the resident fish and the newly hatched salmon fry.

There has been considerable research on these nutrients using what are called stable isotopes. We know the oceans provide higher concentrations of Nitrogen-15 while atmospheric-captured nitrogen is mostly Nitrogen-14. By looking at the nitrogen isotopes found in riparian vegetation and plants near Alaska salmon streams, we now know that a considerable amount of nutrients in these plants came from the ocean and arrived there as part of salmon tissues.

So, the dead salmon along a stream are providing nutrients for plants that will in turn provide nutrition for the food of the young salmon — a complicated but effective circle of nutrients from adult salmon back to juvenile salmon.

The next time you see a grotesque fish carcass along a stream, remember that it is providing food for its young just as any good parent would do.

David Wartinbee, Ph.D, J.D., is a biology professor at Kenai Peninsula College’s Kenai River Campus. E-mail your science questions to redoubtreporter @alaska.net.

Fighting at 14 — Cooper Landing man got early start in service

By Clark Fair
Redoubt Reporter

These days, 77-year-old Elzie Eugene (“Gene”) Wheeler likes to relax and admire the view from his home in the Cooper Landing senior-housing development known as Senior Haven. When he was in seventh grade back in tiny Tonkawa, Okla., however, he was “bored” with the pace of his life and began making decisions that would change his life forever.

An increasingly antsy Wheeler, who said he was larger and felt more mature than his classmates, began hanging out with 17- and 18-year-olds. When some of these older friends began enlisting in the military, he became determined to do the same.

In 1946, one year removed from America’s victory in World War II, Wheeler (at this point 14 years old) made a conscious decision he now refers to as “joining the Liars Club.”

“There were five of us wanting to enlist, so we went to a Navy recruiting office,” he said. “The recruiter asked us what we were doing at the time. It was February, and three of us were still in school; two were seniors, and I was in the ninth grade. He told us to stay in school and come back in June.”

Such advice did not jibe with their plans. They learned that some Army recruiters were in town, so they tried again. This time, they all claimed to be out of school and ready to serve their country, so the recruiter started the paperwork, warning them that they would need parental consent if they were not yet 18.

“I knew that my parents wouldn’t sign for me, so I did some fast thinking and told the recruiter that I would be 18 on March 21,” Wheeler said.

The truth was that his birthday was Aug. 25, when he would turn 15. But on March 21 he went to the Selective Service office to register.

“A lady asked if she could help me, and I told her I need to register. She asked, ‘When is your birthday?’ I replied, ‘Today.’ She filled out the papers and gave me my draft card.”

The five boys traveled five days later to Oklahoma City and were sworn in at 5 p.m. Then they were directed onto buses and transported to Camp Chaffee, Ark. Wheeler and two of the other original five friends had enlisted for three years and were assigned to the Army Air Forces; the remaining two friends were assigned to artillery.

On his fourth day in uniform, Wheeler was assigned to guard a work detail of four German prisoners who were filling out their time before being sent home overseas. Soon he was shipped off to train at Sheppard Field, Texas, where he was not the only underage trainee, but was the youngest.

It was about this time his parents learned what had become of their son.
“My parents found out where I was when the Army mailed my civilian clothes home,” he said. “My mother went to the school superintendent for advice on how to get me out of the Army.

“He suggested that she consider leaving me where I was. He told her he couldn’t keep me in school, and perhaps it was best that I stay in the Army. She agreed.”
Wheeler soon began training to become a medic. During this time, at Shaw Field, S.C., in early 1947, he got a pass off base and took a girl he had met on a date in town, but the date didn’t turn out as he had planned.

“We went to the movies, and I was walking her home when a police car pulled up beside us,” he said. “They put us in the car, took my friend home, and took me to jail. I was charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor. The girl was 17 and we were out after curfew.

“The next morning, my commanding officer, who was also the hospital commander, came to the jail. When he was told what the charge was, I could hear him laughing. He told the police that they had the wrong one locked up. He knew that I was only 15.

“The charges were dropped, but every time the commander saw me going to town he told me to leave the young ones alone.”

In the end, Wheeler served for 20 years, one month and three days, retiring from the military June 30, 1966, at the ripe old age of 34. He had served through the Korean War and the early years of the Vietnam War. He traveled all over the world, acting mainly as a medical technician.

Ten days after retiring, Wheeler went to work for a large nonprofit group that operated hospitals. He did administrative work in Wyoming before coming to Soldotna to help complete and open Central Peninsula General Hospital in 1971.
Although he would continue to work and travel around the country for nearly the next 30 years — as an insurance agent, a real estate agent and a hospital administrator — his time in Soldotna convinced him that the Kenai Peninsula was where he would retire.

In 2006, after seven years in Kenai, he and Anna, his wife of more than 50 years, came to Cooper Landing. They had planned to retire to a small cabin north of Kenai, but they are pleased with the community they now call home.

“I look down on the lake, and it’s beautiful,” Wheeler said. “I can sit here on my couch and look at the sheep on the mountains outside the window.”

In 1997, Wheeler contributed to a 660-page volume of personal stories written by men and women who had entered military service underage. The volume, now the first of three, was called “America’s Youngest Warriors” and was published by an organization called Veterans of Underage Military Service.

According to Wheeler, the VUMS has 2,000 members, the average age of which is in the mid-80s. The oldest living member — and the only one left from World War I — is a 107-year-old Virginia man.

Wheeler said he is proud to be a member of such a select group, and is pleased with the decision he made so many years ago.

“I got to do things I couldn’t have done any other way,” he said of his military career.

When asked whether he would do anything differently, if given the chance, he replied, “Probably signed up a year or two sooner.”

A vote for comedy — Political satire puts election hijinks to use

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Though they spend more than an hour lambasting politicians and public figures in skits, spoof commercials, fake newscasts and parody songs, the writers of Triumvirate Theatre’s political satire show, “Lame Ducks and Dark Horses,” acknowledge owing the politicians a debt of gratitude.

“Especially this year is the perfect time to do political satire because the political landscape has given us a lot of fodder for comedic writing,” said Joe Rizzo, one of the show’s writers.

It’s been a fertile campaign season for comedy: Sen. Lesil McGuire’s alleged drunk and disorderliness on a flight from Juneau, Vic Vickers’ name alliteration, Clean Water Initiative confusion (Are we for Prop 4? Does that mean we dig water, or want to wash up mining?), Don Young vs. Sean Parnell “Capt. Zero” mudslinging. Homer Mayor James Hornaday’s disappearing/reappearing act.

And what else? Hmm. Seems like there must be some other political development to poke fun at this year … .

Ah, yes: Gov. Sarah Palin, spoofed in parody, one-liners, a newscast and not one, but two different songs: “She Sold the Jet,” to the tune of “We Both Reached for the Gun,” from the musical “Chicago,” and a takeoff on a song from the musical “Evita.”

“Our one concern about the play was that it seemed Sarah Palin heavy, but then we realized the news is kind of Sarah Palin heavy,” Rizzo said.

The best part of developing a script like this is parts of it practically write themselves, Rizzo said. Real comments and events often provide a funny enough base for comedy that they only require a mild sprinkling of sarcasm or ridiculousness to take them from actual to amusing.

Take “Saturday Night Live’s” spoof of the Sarah Palin-Katie Couric interview, for example. A lot of what Tina Fey, who parodied Palin, said in the faux interview came directly from Palin’s real interview.

At that point all it takes is to present what’s really happening in a fresh way to highlight the humor in it.

“I think that mostly those eureka moments for us in writing the show would come, not so much when we would hear political events, rather it was when we could link it to something to do a parody about it,” Rizzo said. “All of us were well aware of Sarah’s amazing climb to the top. The eureka moment came when we realized, ‘Holy cow, this is a lot like the musical ‘Evita.’’ And so when you hook on to something like that you say, ‘Wow, it almost writes itself.’ Instead of ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina,’ it’s ‘Don’t Cry For Me Wasilla,’ and you’re off and running.”

There’s some material closer to home, as well, including at look at what may happen if the airport becomes the site of Soldotna’s cemetery.

Election races at all levels of government have garnered interest this year, which makes Triumvirate’s satire show all the more timely and relevant, Rizzo said.

“I think the community and people in general are all excited about the election and politics right now. Traditionally a presidential election year sees people coming out of the woodwork to get involved in politics that normally wouldn’t in an off-season election,” Rizzo said. “There’s a lot more people following politics this year because of the presidential election, which makes a lot more informed audience, which makes parody a lot more fun and a lot easier.”

“Lame Ducks and Dark Horses” will be performed at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Triumvirate Theatre in the Peninsula Center Mall in Soldotna. Admission is $10.

Art Seen: Artists dig deep for inspiration in experimental exhibit

Folks arriving at the Kenai Fine Arts Center this month will stumble onto a unique exhibit. The third annual experimental art show, “Outside the Bag,” involves 13 diverse artists, each charged with the same task: to create a piece of art using 17 duplicated objects (or groups of objects).

Most of what was added to the grab bag was very nearly trash. In fact, a number of the encyclopedias had to be replaced due to incessant mold problems. The idea evolved from a previous year’s discussion about true artists and their need to create, no matter what the conditions or materials present. An artist locked away in a cell would eventually begin to draw in the dirt (or with it), carve in the walls, fold toilet paper or create “happenings” maybe only they could ponder. But do it they would; it is a need that comes from somewhere deep within the psyche and soul of an authentic artist.

There are varying degrees of both technical excellence and conceptual quality in this display, but there is a little something for everyone. The show statement explains, “The mission of the Experimental Show is to showcase and promote the works of emerging and professional artists engaged in the creation of conceptual ‘events’ and/or large scale installation works of art of a general alternative character.”

Each of the artists has written a statement to correspond with their work. The following are snippets from some of those, along with detail shots of their work. Artists involved were Joyce Cox, Laura Faeo, Joy Falls, Anne Louise Gillilan, Clarice Kipp, Denneice Lofgren, Pam Mersch, Tracie Stang, Connie Tarbox, Zirrus VanDevere, Carol Walkiewicz, Jan Wallace and Kathryn Zerbe.

“Outside the Bag” will be on exhibit through Nov. 1.

Joyce Cox, “Cerebellum”
“I see an object and almost immediately imagine it in new untraditional functions.”

Joy Falls, “Can You Guess My Name?”
“I like the saying ‘I am a spiritual being, having a human experience,’ because it describes how I feel and what I struggle with.”

Anne Louise Gillilan, “Welcome to My World”
“These items spoke of the seemingly chaotic collection of experiences that can be formed and transformed into a luscious image that tells a story.”

Clarice Kipp, “Phoenix”
“The idea for the ashes came first.”

Denniece Lofgren, “Learning”
“In the autumn of my life, I returned to school, but really I’ve returned to more than simply educate my mind.”

Pam Mersch, “Knowledge”
“… Ribbons of truth/life — mirror, seeking knowledge/truth of self. … Wow.”
Tracie Stang, “Ravenous”
“The raven is thought to be a highly intelligent bird with an unsavory reputation as a scavenger that does not distinguish between humans and animals. When I think about our world today, environmentally, socially and morally, I am reminded of another species.”

Connie Tarbox, “Seeking Order”
“Our times are deep into chaos, a paradigm shift is eminent.”

Zirrus VanDevere, “Sordid Turbulence”
“The alchemy that an artist is involved with can be great magic, indeed. It can transform our darknesses into a creative process and thereby create new emotional and psychological understanding.”
Carol Walkiewicz, “Gothic Clowning”
“… A black distorted order not quite right in reality.”

Zirrus VanDevere is a local mixed-media artist and owns Art Works gallery in Soldotna. She has bachelor’s degrees in fine arts and education.

Arts and Entertainment week of Oct. 15

  • Artists Without Borders in the 4D Building in Soldotna has a group show, “The Color of Music,” on display through October.
  • Art Works in Soldotna has watercolors by Sherri Sather on display through October.
  • The Funky Monkey coffee shop in Kenai has watercolors by Pam Mersch on display through October.
  • Kaladi Brothers on Kobuk Street in Soldotna has artwork by Emily Grossman on display through October.
  • Kaladi Brothers on the Sterling Highway in Soldotna has art by Amy Warfle on display through October.
  • The Kenai Fine Arts Center in Old Town Kenai has “Out of the Bag,” an experimental exhibit, on display through October.
  • The Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center has a group exhibit by the Kenai Photo Guild on display through October.
  • Veronica’s coffee shop in Kenai has photographs of Veronica’s through the seasons by Joe Kashi on display through October.

  • Peninsula Take-A-Break for women will hold a brunch from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Solid Rock Conference Center on the Sterling Highway with music by Renee Rysdyk, information by Judith Reese about breast cancer screening, and Anna Jarrett will share her story of “survival and the courage within us.” Contact Cindy at 260-6262 or Susan 335-6789 or e-mail tab-reservations@hotmail.com.

  • The Kenai Community Library will host a “Reflections on Statehood Reading” from 6:30 to 8 p.m. with 12 community members reflecting on the larger meaning of Alaska’s statehood by sharing an original selection or poem. Call 283-4378.
  • Adventurer cyclists Janick Lemieux and Pierre Bouchard will give a multimedia presentation chronicling progress of their 18-month cycling trek around the Pacific Ring of Fire at 7 p.m. at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center. Admission is by donation, which supports their trip. Call Laura, 283-1991.
  • Triumvirate Theatre will perform “Lame Ducks and Dark Horses,” a locally written political parody poking fun at Sarah Palin, Uncle Ted, John McCain, Barack Obama and more, at 7 p.m. at the Peninsula Center Mall in Soldotna. Visit www.triumviratetheatre.org.
  • The Crossing in Soldotna will have a performance by hypnotist Mark Savard from Las Vegas at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $45 in advance.

  • The Kenai Performers will hold auditions for its Victorian Carolers, which perform a cappella holiday music by appointment Nov. 28 through Dec. 23, at 2 p.m. at the Old Town Playhouse in Kenai. Sopranos, altos, tenors and basses who are able to read music, are at least seniors in high school and can attend two rehearsals a week, as needed, are invited to audition.
  • The Kenai Senior Citizens Center will hold a Christmas Boutique from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Call 262-9170, or e-mail sheilasawyer @hotmail.com.
  • “Lame Ducks and Dark Horses” at 7 p.m. at Triumvirate Theatre in the Peninsula Center Mall. See Friday listing.
  • The Kenai River Folk Dancers will hold a contra dance from 7 to 10 p.m. Saturday at Kalifornsky Beach Elementary School on Poppy Lane, with music by the Contra Band. No partner or experience is necessary. Dances are taught early in the evening. Admission is $5 for adults and children under 16 get in free with an adult. Contact Treesa at gtholland@gci.net or 260-4171.
  • The University of Alaska Anchorage faculty trio Alaska Pro Musica, consisting of pianist Timothy Smith, violinist Walter Olivares and clarinetist Mark Wolbers, will perform at 7:30 p.m. at Christ Lutheran Church in Soldotna. Tickets are $15 for general admission, $10 for students and are available at Sweeney’s, River City Books, Northcountry Fair, Already Read Books, Funky Monkey and at the door. Call 262-4084 or visit www.performingartssociety.org.
  • Hypnotist Mark Savard performs at The Crossing at 8:30 p.m. See Friday listing.
  • White Lion will perform at Hooligans in Soldotna. Tickets are $23 in advance or $25 at the door, available in advance online at grovetickets.com and koots.com, and by phone at 877-71-Grove.

Oct. 25
  • The Fraternal Order of Alaska State Troopers will hold a concert with Juice Newton (“Angel of the Morning,” “The Sweetest Thing” and “Break It To Me Gently”) and Gary Puckett (“Young Girl,” “Woman Woman” and “Over You”) at 7:30 p.m. at the Renee C. Henderson Auditorium at Kenai Central High School. Tickets are $33, available at Whitey’s Music Shop. Funds raised benefit the Safety Bear, CSI Forensic Science Camp, Children’s DNA Identification Kits and youth sports on the Kenai Peninsula. Call 283-9302.
  • The Clam Shell Lodge in Clam Gulch will have its annual Hippy Olympics, with games, prizes and music by Three-Legged Mule.
Coming up
  • The Kenai Performers will stage “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” at 7 p.m. Oct. 24, 25, 31 and Nov. 1, 7 and 8, and 3 p.m. Oct. 26 and Nov. 2 at the Old Town Playhouse in Kenai. Tickets are $15 for adults and $12 for seniors and kids.
  • The Soldotna Senior Center will accept entries into its 12th annual juried amateur art show, held in conjunction with the center’s fall bazaar, Nov. 7 to 8. Entries can be dropped off from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 4 and 5. Categories are oils, pastels, watercolors, and drawings; needle arts, beading, quilting and sewing; and three-dimensional. The entry fee is $6, with a maximum three entries each person. Call Mary Lane, 262-8839.

  • The Riverside in Soldotna has live DJ music every Friday and Saturday at 10 p.m.

Live music
  • The Funky Monkey in Kenai has folk music on Wednesday night.
  • Hooligans Saloon in Soldotna has rock covers and originals by Tuff-e-Nuff on Friday night.
  • Kaladi Brothers on Kobuk Street in Soldotna has violin music by Emily Grossman on Friday night and acoustic guitar and vocals by Jedidiah Schlung on Saturday night.
  • The Maverick in Soldotna has acoustic classic rock by the Free Beer Band at 9:30 p.m. Sunday.
  • Moosequito’s in Sterling has acoustic music by Sonny on Wednesday night.
  • Mykel's in Soldotna has acoustic music by Dave Unruh from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
  • The Place in Nikiski has bluegrass music by Them Other Shuckers around 7 p.m. Friday.
  • The Rainbow Bar in Kenai has rock covers by The Mabrey Brothers at 10 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
  • The Vagabond on Kalifornsky Beach Road has a jam session Friday night.
  • Veronica’s in Kenai has open mic music at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, and acoustic music by Dan Pascucci at 6:30 p.m. Friday.

  • 9 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays at the Duck Inn on Kalifornsky Beach Road.
  • 9 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays at the .406 in Kenai.
  • 9:30 p.m. Wednesday at Hooligan’s in Soldotna.
  • 8:30 p.m. Friday at the J-Bar-B in Kasilof.
  • 9:30 p.m. Monday at the Maverick in Soldotna.

  • Hooligan’s in Soldotna has a nine-ball pool tournament at 9 p.m. Thursdays.
  • The J-Bar-B has free pool on Sundays, a horseshoe pit in the beer garden, and a cash drawing at 6:30 p.m. Saturdays.
  • The Maverick in Soldotna has a pool tournament at 8 p.m. Fridays.
  • Moosequito’s in Sterling has a dart tournament at 8 p.m. Thursdays and a duck fart party Friday.