Walker delays action on CFEC administrative changes

The Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission won’t transfer some of its administrative functions into the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, for now.

Gov. Bill Walker set his sights on the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission, the body that regulates commercial fishing permits in Alaska state waters, with an administrative order issued in February 2016. The order would have folded services such as the ministerial section of licensing and permitting, information technology, accounting, payroll, procurement and budget into Fish and Game.

The move would save an estimated $1.3 million annually, according the governor’s press release from February. Although the administrative order stated the transition would take effect immediately, no action has yet been taken.

Walker said in a press release issued Thursday that he will delay the implementation of the administrative order to seek public input.

“In our effort to find cost-savings, I unfortunately bypassed an important step in any restructuring of state government — public engagement and feedback,” Walker said. “The vital stakeholder input will help determine the best course of action needed to find a path forward for the fishing industry, individual Alaskans, and the affected state agencies.”

The administrative order led to a court challenge from Robert Thorstenson, a commercial fisherman and lobbyist, and the United Fishermen of Alaska, the state’s largest commercial fishing association, filed in March. The Alaska Superior Court dismissed the case in July, allowing the state to go forward with the order.

The plaintiffs filed an appeal with the Alaska Supreme Court in Anchorage on Aug. 16. The court is currently waiting for the trial court records before proceeding. The appellants have 30 days to file a brief, and the appellees have 30 days to file a brief after being served with the appellant’s brief, although groups often ask for extensions. Appellate cases can extend for months.

Jerry McCune, president of the United Fishermen of Alaska, said he is reluctant to say anything about the decision to delay the implementation of the administrative order until representatives have had a chance to meet with the governor. He said representatives from the organization plan to meet with him in Juneau in September.

Walker’s administration will pursue input from the commercial fishing industry after the season has concluded in the fall, according to the press release.

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

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