Fisheries Stakeholders Offer Priorities
to Alaska’s Incoming Governor

A fisheries transition team for incoming Alaska Gov. Bill Walker has concluded that priorities for the new administration should include science before politics and conservation, plus a move back to localized fisheries.

There is a strong need to return ownership and participation in our fisheries to Alaska’s coastal communities, said Norm Van Vactor, who chaired the transitional fisheries committee. Van Vactor, a fisheries industry veteran, is the chief executive officer of the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp., in Dillingham.

The team of 25 people with commercial, sport, subsistence and science ties to Alaska’s fisheries began their discussions this past weekend “by leaving the allocation issue on the table and working on other stuff we could find resolution to,” Van Vactor said.
The session worked well, said Van Vactor and Carol Ann Woody, an aquatic ecologist at the Center for Science in Public Participation of Anchorage, another member of the transition panel. Leaving the allocation issue at the door helped people focus on the larger state issues, Woody said.

The overarching message from the panel included a fish first clear policy, with science based management, and funding within the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for fisheries science. The panel supported reinstating the state’s coastal zone management program with an emphasis on habitat, and de facto water reservation for fish – a guarantee for in-stream flows, with a burden of proof on developers to show that their projects don’t harm fish.

The panel also supported planning of all new roads in a way that they will not restrict fish passage, because, noted Woody, roads can sometimes cause more problems than development projects.

The panel also supports increasing Alaska ownership of commercial fish permits, and increased ownership and meaningful participation by Alaska coastal residents, both by at least10 percent over the next five years. The team also fielded a number of ideas on how to finance these efforts and how to improve educational tools to make more young people aware of myriad opportunities in fisheries.

Recommendations from fisheries and other transition groups were being summarized to present to the Walker Administration, which takes office on Dec. 1.