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Much uproar over salmon

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Ever since Nov. 25, when I suggested in this column that nonresidents ought have limits for how many salmon they can take Outside, the howling has been loud and mournful.

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My idea was to use British Columbia's definition of "possession limit": "the number of fish of any species that an angler may have in his/her possession at any given time, except at place of ordinary residence." B.C.'s definition uses the all-inclusive "fish," which means all fish, including any that have been preserved. It's also illegal in B.C. to "field-can" any fish outside of a person's ordinary residence.

Even though this change wouldn't affect Alaskans, several people opposed it. One e-mail writer suggested that if I liked "socialist" Canada so much, I should go live there.

Summing up the claims of those opposed:

* The resource isn't threatened, so there's no need for further restricting the salmon harvest of nonresidents.

* The ecomony of the Kenai-Soldotna area would suffer because fewer tourists would come, and those who did would spend less money.

* In the Kenai River, too many sockeyes would escape, causing destruction of the fishery due to over-escapement.

* Any time the Board of fisheries restricts a fishery, it's nearly impossible to reverse the action, especially when the majority of board members favor commercial- fishing interests.

* A possession limit that included frozen and otherwise processed fish would be difficult to enforce.

* Non-residents wouldn't be able to take home "trophy" fish anymore.

* To limit how much fish summer visitors can take home is divisive and nothing more than a facade for selfishness, jealousy and xenophobia.

I figured guides, lodges, fish processors, non-residents, the Department of Fish and Game and the Kenai River Sportfishing Association would oppose this idea. They are, but that doesn't mean it's a bad idea.

When I think about nonresident salmon limits, I think about Kenai Peninsula sockeyes. My reasoning is that most non-residents probably don't like spending a lot of time, energy and money to take home more fish than they can eat, but some do it in spite of themselves. If they come to Alaska several times, they slowly learn that a lot of their fish goes to waste. My experience, which goes back to the early 1970s, is that most friends and relatives in the Lower 48 say they want salmon, but few will dig it out of the freezer, cook it and eat it. And they're even less inclined to eat it after it has been in their freezer for a year or more.

People who liked my idea specifically mentioned sockeyes. In general, they don't like to see non-residents at the airport shipping five 50-pound boxes of sockeyes home. There may not be a conservation issue, but there's an issue of possible waste, and that some fish are being sold. One e-mail writer opined that something on the order of 20 reds per year was probably enough, and that he knew of some people who take "tons" of reds to Europe every year.

Another said his biggest nightmare was that someone would get a can of improperly processed, home-canned salmon, and then become sick. He mentioned that it had happened before, and that the salmon market had been depressed for years afterward.

Call me mavericky, but I like the idea of limiting how many sockeyes nonresidents can have in possession. It's worth thinking about.

Les Palmer can be reached at les.palmer@rocketmail.com.

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