For those who follow fish politics, Gov. Bill Walker has had a rough time filling a single seat on the Alaska Board of Fisheries. Now he may have to start thinking about new names for the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.
First, he told previous Board of Fisheries Chair Karl Johnstone in January that he would not be reappointed after his term ends this June 30; Johnstone resigned in response.
Walker then made a snap decision to replace Johnstone with Roland Maw, who Johnstone and all his fellow board members had denied an interview for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game commissioner job.
Maw withdrew Feb. 20 when it was about to come to light that he was under criminal investigation in Montana for illegally obtaining resident hunting and fishing privileges in that state while receiving the same in Alaska.
That led Walker to nominate Soldota conservationist Robert Ruffner to replace Maw, and Ruffner was narrowly defeated in the Legislature 30-29 after sportfishing groups rallied against him based on his support from the commercial fishing industry.
As if it couldn’t get more bizarre, Walker’s Boards and Commissions Director Karen Gillis resigned in protest May 13 when she was told the governor intended to nominate Roberta “Bobbi” Quintavell to replace Ruffner.
Rumors of Quintavell’s selection began to spread before the official announcement, and commercial fishing groups protested to the governor’s office based on her being the preferred choice of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association that led the fight to sink Ruffner’s nomination.
Walker changed his mind again, apparently, and picked outgoing Board of Game member Robert “Bob” Mumford on May 18.
Now, as this issue of the Journal goes to press, the North Pacific council that governs Alaska’s federal fisheries 3 to 200 miles offshore is meeting in Sitka with more than half the agenda dedicated to a single action: cutting the amount of halibut bycatch allowed in the Bering Sea groundfish fisheries that include pollock, Pacific cod and flatfish.
However, the council will take its final action without two members from Alaska who are being recused based on their interests in those same Bering Sea fisheries.
Among the 11 members, this decision by the heads of the Department of Commerce legal division removes Alaska’s majority voting block on the council and essentially makes the federal designated rep from National Marine Fisheries Service the swing vote on any decision.
By law, the appointees to the council must be drawn from industry stakeholders, putting them under a different set of conflict of interest guidelines than other federal bodies. However, no member may have greater than a 10 percent stake in the fisheries affected by his or her vote.
This brings us to the Alaska members being recused: Simon Kinneen of the Norton Sound Economic Development Corp. and David Long of Glacier Fish Co.
Commerce Department attorneys determined that NSEDC, which is the Community Development Quota group for the area, and its subsidiaries harvest more 13 percent of the nearly 2 million metric tons of fish allocated in the Bering Sea.
Glacier Fish Co. is tied to NSEDC, and Long was also recused from voting based on a greater than 10 percent interest in the fisheries.
On the one hand, the fact that NSEDC and its subsidiaries alone now harvest more than 10 percent of Bering Sea fish is a success for the CDQ program that began in 1992 and allocates 10 percent of the total Bering Sea harvest among 65 Western Alaska villages divided among six CDQ groups.
On the other, it means that NSEDC has grown too big to have an employee on the council.
Former Trident Seafoods executive Dave Benson tried to get around the 10 percent threshold in 2008 first by changing jobs to work for a Trident subsidiary, which led him to being recused from a vote in 2009; he subsequently formed a consulting company that allowed him to avoid the 10 percent rule and continue voting on Bering Sea issues.
New financial disclosure rules and greater attention to the clients of consultants who work for their former employers means the Benson loophole is effectively closed, as it should be.
Kinneen was also recused from a crucial vote in April related to lowering chinook salmon bycatch limits for the pollock fleet in the Bering Sea, based on NSEDC’s stakes in that fishery.
Taken to a logical conclusion, if Kinneen and Long can’t vote on halibut bycatch based on the 10 percent threshold, they shouldn’t even be allowed to vote on the annual Bering Sea harvest quotas.
If a council member from Alaska cannot vote on monumental issues such as salmon and halibut bycatch, they must step down to give the state its full voice on the federal level on issues of grave importance to our state.
Walker has enough headaches right now and doesn’t need another one, but this is the job he asked for.
— Alaska Journal of Commerce, June 3