Committee Passes Bill to Prevent Loss of Alaska's Fishing Stream Access
The House Fisheries Committee passed a bill last night to protect Alaskans’ access to their favorite fishing spots. Other states have lost public fishing stream access, forcing people to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to fish stretches if prime water.
“The tie that binds more Alaskans than almost any other is that we fish—sometimes really closely together, sometimes in solitude. But we enjoy our fishing in Alaska.”
The bill, sponsored by Representative Les Gara (D-Anchorage) would require the Alaska Department of Natural Resources to propose annual plans for maintaining and improving public access to fishing streams.
“As long as Alaska continues to grow, we need to consciously maintain walking access to and along our most important fishing streams,” said Dave Lyon, co-chair of Alaska Backcountry Hunters and Anglers,” which supports the legislation.
Although the state is charged with maintaining fishing access, it has historically done little even as fishing stream access has started to disappear. For example, according to reports from state agencies, there are approximately 7 miles of undeveloped, privately owned fishing stream banks along just the Anchor River, Salcha River and Montana Creek where Alaskans fish for rainbow trout and grayling. People are allowed to fish those coveted areas today, but may not be in the future unless easements are purchased from those willing to sell them to the state.
“We’re trying to be proactive. Once access is lost, it’s too expensive to every buy back,” said Gara. “In places like Wyoming and Montana, the state hasn't tried buying back fishing access until it's too late, and then the access is damaged or the costs are too high."
Gara's bill aims to negotiate voluntary fish access easements from landowners before the lands are developed, when access purchases are affordable. It will also have the side benefit of making everyone's property more valuable.
“It's better to know you can fish a whole stream than just fish the 50 feet in your back yard," Gara says.
Bob Churchill, former president of the Alaska Flyfishers Association, states, “In my experience as a member of a fish and game advisory committee, subsistence council and board of game, public access is often the critical issue in Alaskans being able to enjoy our resources as allowed for in Article 8 of the constitution.”
Gara asserts that taking someone’s private land is not acceptable, but the state should pursue voluntary easement agreements so fishermen and their families can still access Alaska’s best trout, grayling and salmon streams in the best fishing state in the nation.
Gara is also a fishing writer and lifetime member of the Alaska Flyfishers Association.
You may contact Mr. Churchill at 279-8927, or Mr. Lyon at 235-9408.
State of Alaska documents concerning stream access are here