Board of Fisheries at center of criticism

“The Board of Fisheries is set to be stacked … “

(File photo)

(File photo)

The state Board of Fisheries is at the center of two controversies that have brought the attention of fishermen’s associations and a local representative.

Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association has called an action alert opposing Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s recent nomination of Judge Karl Johnstone to the seven-member board. Johnstone is a former Superior Court judge and has served as the chair of the Board of Fisheries.

The fishermen’s association expressed concern over how Johnstone’s nomination would effect the ratio of sportfishing seats to commercial seats.

“The Board of Fisheries is set to be stacked with a ratio of five sport seats and only two commercial fisheries seats,” the association said in a release. “… Karl’s appointment will upset the delicate balance on the (Board of Fisheries) and swings it too far towards sportfish.”

On the opposite side, the Kenai River Sportsfishing Association is rallying behind Johnstone.

“He was praised by his colleagues on the Board for being approachable, thorough, and interested in feedback and opinions — the type of person Alaskans want representing them on the Board of Fisheries,” the sportsfishing association said in a release. “We need your voice to help to confirm Karl Johnstone, and all the nominees, to the Board of Fisheries.”

If confirmed by a majority of legislators, board members will serve three-year terms.

The Board of Fisheries also continues to receive scrutiny over a decision made earlier this year to move the 2020 Board of Fish Upper Cook Inlet Fin Fish meeting.

In January, in an unexpected vote, the board decided to move the regulatory meeting from the Kenai Peninsula to Anchorage. The meeting was originally going to be held in Anchorage, but a March 2018 vote moved the meeting to the Kenai-Soldotna area.

Homer Rep. Sarah Vance announced in a press release Friday that she had launched an inquiry into the move. Vance said the decision to launch the inquiry came 10 weeks after she signed onto the Kenai Peninsula delegation’s letter to the Chairman of the Board of Fish, Reed Morisky, questioning the meeting move.

“Chairman Morisky has had sufficient time to respond to questions and concerns brought up by the Kenai Peninsula delegation and as of this time, we have not received any response,” said Vance between floor sessions on Tuesday, according to the release. “A transparent process is integral to the proper stewardship of our fishing resources. The fact that Alaskans continue to be circumvented by the Board of Fish is unacceptable.”

Vance’s office filed a public records request with the Department of Fish & Game requesting access to the internal communications and phone records of the chairman and members of the Board of Fish, according to the release.

“The public has quickly lost trust in the process that has been designed to weigh their input, and I don’t blame them for that,” Vance said, according to the release. “Not only do I believe that the public is owed an apology, I also believe they’re also owed an explanation. This pattern of misleading Alaskans and declining to explain has caused real damage to the integrity of the board. Now is the time for accountability and transparency.”

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