Murkowski flubs chance to do right

August 6, 2011 

It's not uncommon for me to get an email or phone call from someone punctuated with "Have I got a story for you!" December 2008 was no different. I was resting up after a particularly busy and historic election year. Sarah Palin had just come back from her unsuccessful national run.

I answered my phone and watched the snow fall outside. The voice on the other end of the line pulled my fishing strings. He was a career deck man, and he had a story to tell.

The subject was Arne Fuglvog, a prominent, successful commercial fisherman, former member of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, and fish adviser to a U.S. senator.

Illegal fishing, threats, affairs, it was all so curious. Was it just one side of a double-bitter story? A few months later, I got another call. Someone different. Same story. A week later, an e-mail from another crewman, this one with "proof."

There are different sets of records kept on fishing boats. An official set, turned in to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) at the time of offloading, often a wheelhouse log listing souls on board and the plotted course and whatever the wheel watcher noted, and then the real fishing log. The latter is an invaluable guide for where to set pots, lines, etc. It's a treasure map. The highliner's gospel.

Arne Fuglvog's true log was in the possession of several people. It had been handed over to the authorities. A grand jury met. And then ... crickets. By 2009, Mr. Fuglvog was being considered for the top fish boss position in the country: director of the National Marine Fisheries Service.

I was sent part of the proof. It didn't mean much to me because I couldn't compare it to the official records turned in to NMFS. But I couldn't imagine that either Sens. Lisa Murkowski or Mark Begich could have a hint of these allegations and still recommend Fuglvog for the job. I contacted both of their offices as well as several other lawmakers in Washington.

Others were informed as well, including the United Fishermen of Alaska. The message, coming from many directions, and not too subtly, was that Mr. Fuglvog should withdraw his name immediately or be outed as a fish cheat, resulting in much embarrassment for his boss, Sen. Murkowski.

He withdrew his name and blamed it on the long selection process. Murkowski said Alaskans should be proud that he'd been considered. "Surprisingly the process is lengthy and political, and he says, 'You know, I either need to be focused on what I'm doing for Alaska, or moving forward with another opportunity.' "

What other opportunity could possibly be better than America's Fish Czar?

It may not be obvious to people who haven't used "c/o Some Cannery" as a temporary mail address, but there is no bigger deal than fish policy in this state. It affects every other industry. Billions of dollars of fish wealth have been consolidated and transferred into private hands over the last decade under the guise of "rationalization." Many of those decisions were driven by Mr. Fuglvog during his time on the North Pacific Fisheries Council and subsequently as one of the most influential advisers to Sen. Murkowski and others in Washington, D.C.

This week, after days of silence on the matter of her aide's resignation, Murkowski finally provided a tortured explanation. The reasons she offered for allowing Fuglvog to stay on the job don't reflect well on her law degree, the management of her staff or her respect for constituents.

She says she believes in innocent until proven guilty -- so much so that she believed in Mr. Fuglvog's innocence even after he'd told her he was guilty. How much evidence must there be for him to accept 10 months in prison and $150,000 in penalties six years after the incident? If he'd told her he had backed a truck up to Costco and stolen $100,000 worth of fish, might the senator have found that a cause for firing?

What he did was arguably worse. Fuglvog stole public resources and was on the run for six years, hiding in her office. Even after Sen. Murkowski admitted knowing of his guilt, she let him collect another $7,500 check from the same federal government that will soon be his jailer.

Clearly Sen. Murkowski doesn't understand why having a criminal on her payroll might be an issue. Or she has some personal or political reason for not wanting to deal with such an obvious problem. (For example, how might this revelation have affected the tight three-way election last fall?)

Her stumbling explanation in this case is not unlike her response to the controversy over a sweetheart Kenai land deal from developer Bob Penney. She ought to have learned something from that.

Instead, she thanked Mr. Fuglvog for his service and said he had "misstated" where he caught fish, as though he had simply colored outside the lines. Falsification is what the government calls it.

Being a fisherman isn't just what you do, it's who you are. The life of a fisherman has tremendous freedom and responsibility: a responsibility to take care of your brothers and sisters on the water as well as to follow the rules that help sustain the fishery.

The responsibility of a U.S. senator comes with enormous power over millions of Americans: wars, health care, the economy, employment, civil rights, the environment, resource development, to name a few.

Not only did Mr. Fuglvog dishonor his responsibilities, but Lisa Murkowski did as well by either not being curious enough to investigate what many of us have known for years, or ignoring it when she did know.


Shannyn Moore is host of "The Shannyn Moore Show" on KOAN 1020 AM and 95.5 FM radio, and the television show "Moore Up North" on KYES Channel 5.

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