Federal stewards of Alaska’s fisheries will meet in Homer for the first time since 1983 as they continue their pursuit of involving more people in policy making.

From Sept. 30 to Oct. 10, the Spit will be aswarm with attendees of the next North Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting. The 15-member council oversees more than 25 stocks in waters from three to 200 miles offshore, the source of most of Alaska’s fish volumes.

The region's council meeting locations rotate, but it hasn't met in Homer for more than 35 years.

“The council certainly is interested in engaging more stakeholders, particularly from rural and Alaska Native communities. And by going to more coastal communities, it allows them more opportunity for input into the process,” said Dave Witherell, council executive director, adding that in recent years the council has expanded beyond Kodiak, Juneau and Sitka to convene in Nome and Dutch Harbor.

At Homer, following the lead of the state Board of Fisheries, a first ever Intro to the Council Process workshop will be held to make the policy process less daunting. Witherell said that came at the suggestion of the council’s local engagement committee, created in 2018.

“It’s quite a steep learning curve to understand all the ins and outs and goings on at a council meeting and what's written in our analyses,” Witherell said. “We're trying to open it up so that someone who may not follow or live and breathe the council process can still participate. We're trying to put it out there in plain language.”

Plain language is also what you’ll find on the revamped council website.  All postings of meeting agendas, document overviews, etc. are in a “conversational style” and have been consolidated, said Maria Davis, council IT specialist.

 “Some of the topics are very complex, so distilling them down into two or three sentences may not be exactly what is happening, but it gives them a large overview. Then you can read the analysis if you're really interested in a lot of the detail,” she said adding that searchable digital content is included back to 2014.

“It's so easy to find documents, and it's so easy for the staff to upload their documents,” Davis said. “There's also a public comment portal where you can read comments and you can upload your comments for committee and council meetings under each agenda item. It’s very user friendly, and you get a return email that says, 'Thank you, your comment has been received and council members and the general public can see it immediately.' It's really been a game changer as far as accessibility for the public.”

The council members know the topics they discuss and the decisions they make affect many who are not directly involved in fishing, Davis added.

“It’s also all the businesses where you live year-round and the communities,” she said. “We want to hear from them, and we want to make it easy and not intimidating.”

The industry will get a first glimpse at potential 2021 catches of Alaska pollock, cod, sablefish, rockfish, flounders and other whitefish at the Homer meeting.

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Laine Welch is an independent Kodiak, Alaska-based fisheries journalist. Click here to send her an email.

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