Last week, the Alaska Department of Natural Resources announced some key appointments. Kenai Peninsula sportfishing advocate Ricky Gease will serve as director of state parks.
That’s worrying some commercial fishermen and hatchery proponents because Gease, a known hatchery critic, could have influence over Cook Inlet Aquaculture’s operations in Kachemak Bay State Park.
Former Kenai River Sportfishing Association Executive Director Ricky Gease has been a thorn in the side of southcentral salmon hatchery operators. He has opposed increases of hatchery pink salmon in Prince William Sound, and he wants to halt Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association’s contentious plans to release pink salmon at the head of Tutka Bay in Kachemak Bay State Park.
“So it’s kind of putting the building blocks in place to increase the expansion and capacity of Tutka Bay, which we would also be opposed to in the future,” Gease told KBBI in early January for a story about a draft management plan for Kachemak Bay State Park. “We had submitted through our membership over 75 comments in opposition to the expansion of net pens through Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association outside of Tutka Bay Lagoon into Tutka Bay itself.”
Now, Gease will be a part of internal discussions as DNR works to finalize that management plan. Those who have a vested interest in the Tutka Bay hatchery are taking notice.
Mako Haggerty sits on the Kachemak Bay State Park Citizen Advisory Board and owns a water taxi business that operates in the park.
“Some of us are pleased with Ricky Gease’s stand on the hatchery expansion,” he said. “However, we don’t exactly know what he’s going to bring to the job of director of state parks, but we’re hopeful and happy he’s on board.”
Some commercial fishermen are worried about Gease’s appointment, but those like Cook Inlet Aquaculture board member Malcolm Milne acknowledge that he is qualified for the position.
Gease worked as federal park ranger and he holds a master’s degree in biology from Stanford.
“We are just cautiously optimistic about what’s going to happen moving forward,” Milne said, “but there are some concerns certainly with his past advocacy – sort of anti-hatchery stuff and pro sport fishing and only sport fishing.”
Cook Inlet Aquaculture Executive Director Dean Day said he is also taking a wait-and-see approach.
Others are not shy about their opinions of Gease and his now former organization. Paul Shadura II is a set netter and a Cook Inlet Aquaculture board member, though he said his opinion doesn’t represent the board or the association.
Shadura suspects that Gease landed his current job because of his former one. Gease was the longtime executive director of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association. That association’s founder – Bob Penney – spent more than $300,000 supporting efforts to get Gov. Mike Dunleavy elected. Shadura said that may have led to sportfishing-friendly appointments like Gease’s.
Shadura has had clashes with Penney in the past. Penney was involved in a push to ban set netting in areas of Cook Inlet.
“I’m concerned decisions will be made relative to Cook Inlet Aquaculture will be different than decisions that would be made in other areas of the state because of the influence Mr. Penney may have on these particular governor appointees,” he explained.
It’s not just Gease Shadura is worried about. He adds other appointments to the Department of Fish and Game are also worrisome.
“We don’t know how far that will continue to go, not only within our own area, but in other areas of the state in the commercial fisheries and the state as a whole,” Shadura noted.
Still, those like Milne say there haven’t been enough actions by the new administration’s appointees for the commercial fishing industry to make any judgements just yet.