Joint board of fish, game considers meeting

The two boards regulating fisheries and game in the state are considering a joint meeting next spring.

The Joint Board, which brings together the members of the Board of Game and the Board of Fisheries, meets occasionally to address issues common to both boards, such as habitat or regulations on the fish and game advisory committees scattered around the state. The whole group last met in 2013.

Several recent proposals would apply to both boards, including a request to shuffle some seats at an advisory committee in the Lake Iliamna area and two dealing with board-generated proposals. Board-generated proposals often stir controversy among the public, and both proposals ask for changes to the process.

During meetings, which can last any length of time from a day to two weeks, board members can present proposals of their own and vote on them. Members of the public have time to comment on them during the meeting but they do not receive the review of the statewide advisory committees or the advance notice to members of the public who are not at the meeting.

One proposal, submitted in 2015 by Rep. Tammie Wilson (R-North Pole), asks the joint board to require all board-generated proposals to be submitted before the designated deadline for public proposals and board amendments be restricted to not contradict the original intent of a proposal.

“The problem that has developed is that board factions are developing proposals outside of the public purview,” Wilson wrote in her proposal. “While individual members of the public and advisory committees must submit their proposals in advance of board meetings, the board factions and (Alaska Department of Fish and Game) staff can work on proposal language with no notice to the public.”

The point is to ensure transparency in the development of board-generated proposals, Wilson wrote. The Fairbanks Fish and Game Advisory Committee echoed her sentiments in another proposal submitted in 2015, specifically targeting the Board of Fisheries’ board-generated proposals.

The advisory committee’s proposal asks for a set of four criteria to be considered when developing a board-generated proposal, including whether the proposal is in the best interest of the public, whether there is urgency, whether current processes are insufficient to bring the subject up and whether there would be adequate opportunity for public comment.

“Many advisory committees and members of the public were unsatisfied with the process used to produce these proposals,” the proposal states. “We have noticed that the policy for board generated proposals is not in (code), yet (agenda change requests) and normal calls for proposals are.”

Other proposals came in more recently. The Lake Iliamna Fish and Game Advisory Committee’s request was submitted in 2017, and the Homer Fish and Game Advisory Committee submitted its own request this year as well. The Homer advisory committee’s request asks that the Board of Fisheries be required by statute to review regulations on any fishery that is closed for 24 months in a row.

In the Kenai Peninsula’s case, that would include the Cook Inlet east side razor clam fishery, which has now been closed for three seasons in a row. Fish and Game announced Friday that the fishery will remain closed for 2018 as well.

“There is no reasonable expectation of this season opening as written (in regulation) anytime in the near future,” the Homer committee’s proposal states. “It would be much more clear were it to be struck from the books until such time as the season can be opened and new regulation put in place if deemed prudent.”

A subcommittee consisting of several members of the boards of game and fisheries and Fish and Game employees met by telephone Thursday to consider whether to hold a meeting and, if so, when. One of the considerations is cost; flying members in from all over the state, booking a venue, paying staff, advertising and paying for hotel rooms can rack up quite a bill. Board of Fisheries Executive Director Glenn Haight said the last time the joint board met in 2013, it cost about $105,000.

“The most important thing is, ‘Can we afford it?’” he said. “We don’t have our budget yet from the Legislature. In fact, we haven’t even started that process. If budgets stay the same as in the last few years, we can do it. We would need to be frugal.”

Committee member Robert Ruffner, who sits on the Board of Fisheries, suggested the committee delay a recommendation on whether to hold a joint board meeting until the members conferred with their boards and departments on whether it would be possible and delay the decision by 30 days. Haight said if the committee decided to recommend a meeting, the staff would issue a call for proposals for about three months out to give people time.

Committee member Teresa Sager-Albaugh, who sits on the Board of Game, said it was important to remember that the joint board doesn’t have any set meeting cycle.

“I think it’s important for us to consider what the budget constraints are but I do think it’s important for us to weight that against the notion that we don’t have a regular cycle for a joint board meeting,” she said.

The board scheduled another teleconference for Feb. 7, 2018 at 10 a.m.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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