Alaskan and West Coast fishery stakeholders are still in the dark as to who will represent them on their regional fishery management councils.

The appointments of 22 new and returning members to six of eight of the nation’s councils were announced on June 28 by the US Dept. of Commerce. The Secretary of Commerce appoints council seats from state governors’ lists of nominees. Each serves three-year terms.

“Appointments to the Pacific and North Pacific Fishery Management Councils will be announced later this summer,” the Commerce press release said.  

“My understanding is that the decision on those appointments have not yet been finalized,” said Julie Fair, Public Affairs Officer at NOAA’s Alaska Regional Office. “The appointments for Pacific and North Pacific Fishery Management Councils will be forthcoming later this summer, and we do not anticipate any lapse in voting during their September/October Council meetings,” Fair added. 

It is customary for the governors’ chosen Council names to be rubber-stamped by the Commerce Secretary. So, what gives?  

A potential shake-up of the Councils’ makeup that prioritizes ocean ecosystem protections over fishery profits. 

State of Washington nominees to NPFMC rattle the Seattle status quo

The State of Washington (WA) nominees by Governor Jay Inslee to both the North Pacific and Pacific Councils are strong advocates of management policies that prioritize ecosystem protections over “optimum yields” from fishery extractions, as currently defined in fishery laws. 

Many fishery stakeholders have long believed that the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) “family” has become too top-heavy with large trawl interests who are vested directly or indirectly in the Bering Sea pollock and groundfish fisheries.

WA holds two of eleven voting seats on the 15-member NPFMC, and both are up for grabs.  

How the Council votes directly impact the Seattle trawl companies’ bottom lines and Inslee’s “eco-candidate” choices for the NPFMC, have prompted a full-court press by powerful Seattle trawl lobbyists to sway opinions at US Commerce in Washington, DC. 

Over 300 fishing vessels are homeported in Seattle, and 226 make their living fishing in Alaskan waters. The Seattle-based vessels, nearly all large trawlers, take home nearly 75% of the value of ALL groundfish in waters from three to 200 miles out in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska. 

The NPFMC firestorm is focused on Inslee’s top choice, Becca Robbins-Gisclair, to replace Anne Vanderhoeven, whose term is set to expire, as the WA voting seat holder, but she is eligible for reappointment.

Robbins-Gisclair is Senior Director of Arctic Programs for the Ocean Conservancy who “works closely with Alaska Tribes and grassroots organizations to protect a region that is on the frontlines of global climate change,” Inslee said in his nominating letter. She has also been involved in the NPFMC process for two decades, including six years on the Advisory Panel, as a North Pacific Research Board member, and as an advisor for the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission.

Vanderhoeven is the Director of Government Affairs for Arctic Storm Management Group, a Seattle company that owns and operates several large trawlers. She also serves on numerous trawl-related boards, including the At-Sea Processors Association, United Catcher Boats, and the High Seas Catcher Cooperative. In March, Inslee thanked Vanderhoeven for her NPFMC service and placed her last on his list of recommendations. 

Inslee’s second choice for that WA voting seat is Jamie Goen, Executive Director of the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, a trade group representing crab harvesters. Goen worked for NOAA Fisheries for 15 years and was part of the International Pacific Halibut Commission leadership team. The third nomination is Elaine Harvey, a member of the Yakima Nation and the Watershed Department Manager for the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission.

A second WA voting seat on the North Pacific Council must also be appointed to replace recently deceased member Kenny Down. Industry insiders say Jamie Goen is in the running for that replacement seat.  

Alaska NPFMC appointees draw little opposition 

Two of the five Alaska voting seats on the NPFMC are also on the docket. Governor Mike Dunleavy’s top choices are John Moller, John Jensen, and Brian Ritchie.

Jensen, from Petersburg, has been a member of the NPFMC since 2018, but industry watchers predict Moller will be “a slam dunk” for the seat. Moller was a co-chair for Dunleavy’s 2018 gubernatorial campaign and briefly served as a rural advisor to his administration. In Dunleavy’s NPFMC nomination letter, he cited Moller as “an Aleut from Unalaska with a lifelong connection to subsistence and commercial fishing.” He said Moller has managed fish processing plants in Adak and Atka, led a Western Alaska Community Development Quota group, and served six years on the NPFMC Advisory Panel.

Brian Ritchie, a charter operator from Homer, is widely expected to be named to the NPFMC obligatory recreational seat. Ritchie currently chairs the NPFMC Advisory Panel. He would replace Andy Mezirow of Seward, who served nine years on the Council. 

Pacific Council nominees also raise concerns

Governor Inslee’s choice of one seat on the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) has also raised the hackles of Seattle’s trawl sector. The PFMC oversees fisheries from three to 200 miles off the Washington, Oregon, and California coasts. 

Current member Philip Anderson, a former Director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, has served three terms on the Pacific Council and he is not eligible for reappointment.  

Inslee’s top choice to replace him is Aja Szumylo, Executive Director of the Pacific Whiting Conservation Cooperative, who “represents the commercial fishing industry and Washington’s at sea-catcher processor sector,” he wrote in his nominating letter. 

His other nominees include Brian Blake, a commissioner on the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission since 2006 and a member of the PFMC’s Coastal Pelagic Species Advisory Subpanel.  Also, Larry Phillips is a Policy Director for the American Sportfishing Association and a former director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

All Council members will take their appointed seats on August 11.

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Laine Welch has covered the Alaska fish beat for print and radio since 1988. She has also worked “behind the counter” at retail and wholesale seafood companies in Kodiak and Cape Cod. Click here to send her an email.

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