Fisheries Board, Loans Considered by Alaska Legislature

Alaska legislators have several fisheries issues before them, ranging from the Board of Fisheries to sulfide mining in the Bristol Bay watershed and commercial fishing loans, to the impact of federal legislation on marketing the state’s seafood harvest.

House Bill 88, “Board of Fisheries Membership,” would increase the composition of the board from seven to nine members, adding more diversity of interest, greater breadth of knowledge, and more points of view, said Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, who introduced the legislation.

Stutes, who chairs the House Fisheries Committee, also introduced House Bill 87, “Conflict of Interest: Board Fisheries/Game,” which would change the way both boards function. Current rules require members of both boards to divulge any conflict of interest if they or their families have a financial interest on a subject being deliberated. That member then is not allowed to offer any input and cannot vote on the matter.

Stutes’ bill would allow the conflicted member to offer input, but still not vote. “Allowing members with expertise in particular fields to deliberate will help the board make better informed decisions and lead to stronger fisheries management,” she explained in a letter to constituents.

The House Fisheries Committee currently is holding in committee after its introduction House Bill 14, “Legislative Approval for Bristol Bay Sulfide Mine,” sponsored by Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage. The bill would require legislative approval for any large-scale metal sulfide mine in the Bristol Bay watershed. HB 14 was heard in House Fisheries on Jan. 31.

Also before House Fisheries is House Bill 56, “Commercial Fishing Loans,” an act relating to limitations on certain commercial fishing loans made by the state Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development. HB 56 is sponsored by Rep. Dan Ortiz, I-Ketchikan. HB 56 would increase the aggregate amount a borrower may hold unpaid from $300,000 to $400,000.

Also before them are nominations from Alaska Gov. Bill Walker for the appointment of Bristol Bay drift gillnetter Fritz Johnson of Dillingham, and reappointment of John Jensen, of Petersburg and Reed Morisky, of Fairbanks, to the Board of Fisheries.

Johnson served on the board previously, but last year the governor recommended Robert Ruffner, of Kenai, former executive director of the Kenai Watershed Forum, to take his seat.

Jensen, the board chairman, harvests crab and halibut in Southeast Alaska, and has over 45 years experience in commercial fisheries. Morisky is a sportfishing guide.

With the resignation of Sue Jeffrey, of Kodiak, Johnson and Jensen would be the only two board members experienced in commercial harvesting.