Fish board nominee runs into criticism

April 13, 2009 

Gov. Sarah Palin's nominee for the state Board of Fisheries has run into opposition from sport fishing groups and critics who say his approval would leave the body without a voice from north of Big Lake.

Palin has nominated Brent Johnson of Clam Gulch, a setnet fisherman who critics say will skew the balance of the board toward commercial fishermen in allocating a precious Alaska resource, fish.

John Blair of Sitka, executive director of the Southeast Alaska Guides Organization, testified last week before the House Special Committee on Fisheries and again Monday before the Senate Resources Committee. He said Johnson's appointment raises two important concerns: It would leave Interior Alaska without representation, and it does not correct the current lack of Alaska Native representation on the board.

"We think it's very important that the board reflect the diverse user groups, ethnic groups and locations throughout the state," Blair said. "This nomination represents a missed opportunity for Interior and Native representation."

Johnson was born in Seldovia and his family homesteaded in Clam Gulch, where he grew up catching trout and shooting grouse.

He followed in his father's footsteps by commercially fishing by setnets stretched perpendicular from the beach to intercept salmon as they swim near shore on their way to freshwater streams.

He has volunteered and worked in a variety of public service positions, including aquaculture and the Kenai Peninsula Borough Planning Commission. He said he's been attending Fish Board meetings since 1979.

"I am perfectly willing to work with sport fishermen," he said.

He had plenty of support in public testimony. Current board members Mel Morris of Kodiak and John Jensen of Petersburg, the board chairman, said Johnson would be a knowledgeable, able and fair board member. Morris downplayed regional differences and the idea that board members represented particular interests.

"I don't consider myself to have any constituents in the state," he said.

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