Two unconfirmed and controversial Alaska Board of Fisheries members will likely be voting on issues in meetings that begin in October and run through mid-March.
The board oversees management of Alaska’s subsistence, commercial, sport and personal-use fisheries and will be focusing this cycle on Prince William Sound, Southeast and statewide shellfish issues.
Appointments were made by Gov. Mike Dunleavy on April 1 and would normally go through a rigorous vetting process by the Alaska Legislature with public input. But covid-19 sent lawmakers home early from the last session, leaving the confirmation process in limbo.
A public hearing on appointments of Abe Williams of Anchorage and McKenzie Mitchell of Fairbanks is set for Sept. 3 starting at 10 a.m. at the Legislative Information Office in Anchorage. John Jensen of Petersburg also is up for reappointment.
Williams is director of regional affairs for the Pebble Partnership and a longtime Bristol Bay fisherman. McKenzie Mitchell of California is a sportfish guide on Kodiak Island, a small-plane enthusiast and an adjunct professor of Economics and Recreation Business Leadership at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, according to her resume.
In a statement to the “Alaska Fisheries Committee,” Mitchell stated that she believes all of the state’s fisheries are “incredibly important” and that she is “incredibly passionate about Alaska, Alaska’s resources, and my Alaskan lifestyle and I would be honored to serve as a member of the Alaska Board of Fisheries and I understand the responsibility associated with helping to manage one of the best-managed fisheries in the world.”
The video hearing will be a long one, said Rep. Louise Stutes (R-Kodiak), who called the hearing to be held jointly by the House Fisheries and Resource Committees.
“I have no end time, because I want to assure the public and fellow legislators that their constituents will have an opportunity to have their input and concerns heard,” Stutes said, adding that people can question the nominees directly.
“All of the comments will be on the record so that state representatives and senators have an opportunity to review their constituents’ comments prior to making their vote on confirming these people,” she added.
A concern among many constituents is that should the slate of BOF appointees get the nod by state legislators, only one – Jensen - will represent a coastal community.
“Our fisheries occur along on coastline and for us not to have any representation out of Kodiak or Dillingham or Cordova or Dutch Harbor, it's just unbelievable to me,” Stutes said.
Also unbelievable to Stutes is that BOF appointees can vote before they are confirmed.
“The Board of Fish is very serious board, They make significant decisions that affect a lot of people's livelihoods. And to have these appointees have the ability to have a bonafide vote before they are confirmed by the legislature is problematic,” she said.
So what happens after the Sept. 3 hearing?
If a special session is called prior to the start of the next legislative session in mid-January, the governor could add the board confirmations to the agenda.
“In order for the Legislature to call themselves back into a special session, you need 40 votes,” Stutes explained, adding, “I would be surprised if that happens, but it may” in order to deal with covid-19 relief fund issues.
If confirmations do not occur, all names must be nominated again by the Dunleavy administration in the upcoming legislative session.
Regarding Williams, Stutes said she feels the same way about his appointment as she does about the Pebble Mine.
“Wrong mine in the wrong place. Wrong person for the Board of Fish,” she said.
Despite advance notice of the board's hearing being made on July 10, the elusive McKenzie Mitchell has put Stutes and United Fishermen of Alaska on notice that “she is very concerned that she may not be available,” because she will “be calling in via satellite phone from a remote hunting camp where I am working.”
As a voting member of the Board of Fisheries, Mitchell could make a short boat or plane trip into Kodiak, where she would be able to participate at Stute’s legislative office.
Stutes said she will provide video conference call-in information soon. Comments can be sent to [email protected].