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Explanation for Webster's Board of Fish ouster raises more questions than answers

Catie Quinn

Editor's note: The following commentary was first broadcast on April 24, 2013, on Kenai radio station KSRM 920AM, in a "Think About It" segment. It is published here with permission.

This is a tough one for me. I’ve wrestled with these questions I’m going to present for weeks and months now, and I still can’t find an explanation for both sides of the story.

So, let me lay out what I do know....

For whatever reasons Kenai River Sportfishing Association wanted Vince Webster off of the Board of Fish, but the reasons they gave to legislators don’t hold water. Here is the list of reasons, as emailed from KRSA. My questions are entered in italics....

• He directly participated in precariously and unnecessarily lowering the escapement goal of Kenai River king salmon during a time of record low abundance and uncertain future production. This was a unanimous Board decision, based on a recommendation from the Alaska Department of Fish & Game.

• As an experienced member on the BOF, Mr. Webster was tasked to co-chair a Cook Inlet king salmon task force. Its mission was essentially to identify the best mix of fishing opportunity during times of low king salmon abundance and the best means of attaining the escapement goal. Unfortunately, the final work product of the task force failed. The process he was tasked to oversee ended in deadlock. This was also true of Tom Kluberton.

• The failure of the task force rests in large part with Mr. Webster. A canceled December meeting wasted valuable time that could have been used to address ADFG processes to establish escapement goals. Subsequent meetings offered no forward progress and squandered valuable time, resources and energy of participants. This was also true of Tom Kluberton.

• Subsequently at the March BOF meeting, Mr. Webster led the charge to take the easy way out by accepting a risky, lowered escapement goal. This was a unanimous Board decision, based on a recommendation from the Alaska Department of Fish & Game.

• Public perception is that the overriding agenda of Mr. Webster is to put commercial set netters back in the water during periods of low abundance. Is this the reason to deny him reappointment?

• When a new board member tried to bring up discussion points on such fishery conservation issues, Mr. Webster led the fight to deny the airing of this important topic. This point gives me pause, but as I listened to the Board of Fish meeting in Anchorage last March, I didn’t detect anything amiss. Assuming I must have missed something, why didn’t other board members pursue the conversation?

Unless there were backroom antics I missed, I don’t see how any of these are true of Vince Webster and not true of fellow Board Member Tom Kluberton, but Kluberton was reappointed seamlessly on April 8 and Webster was shot down. I’ve gone through each point, and it’s been pointed out to me that the decisions which are under the microscope were all unanimous Board decisions.

So this leaves me with two questions I can’t answer....

One -- why Webster and not Kluberton? Both men chaired the King Salmon Task Force, both had involvement in the decisions (and lack of decisions) we saw from that event. In all my dealings with Kluberton and Webster, it was Kluberton who was the more vocal, more engaged, more visible of the pair ... so if the failure of the Task Force is the reason to get rid of a Board of Fish members, why Webster and not Kluberton?

I asked KRSA this question, and Ricky Gease responded that Webster has a history of adding language to proposals after the public process which favor commercial fishing interests.

This is part of question two -- if it wasn’t about the Task Force, then it wasn’t for the reasons KRSA gave legislators. So why did they vote Webster out? Even if KRSA has other good reasons for getting rid of Webster, those weren’t the reasons given to legislators. Legislators were told Webster messed up the Task Force. Why did the legislators buy in? With our local delegation speaking on the House floor in favor of Webster, and the governor expressing clearly that the allegations against Webster were unfounded, why didn’t the majority of legislators listen? How is it possible that KRSA has more influence our state government than our own representatives?

There’s one last piece to this puzzle that I have to share.

If, in fact, KRSA is objecting to the idea that Webster made decisions that favored commercial fishing interests over sportfishing interests, how do they respond to this video on YouTube which shows Board of Fish member Karl Johnstone consulting with Ricky Gease and other KRSA members during a recent Board of Fish meeting, asking how they’ll be impacted and “Do you want that instead of the current regulation” on silver salmon. ”We definitely want the ability to continue fishing” responds KRSA.

Personally, I don’t see a problem with Board members consulting the group they are affiliated with, but if KRSA is ousting Webster for that reason, they can’t do the same thing with Johnstone.

If I’m biased, I want to know. I’ll be the first to apologize for my concern if reasonable explanation is given for both of my questions; but until then, I’m left wondering: What happened here? And why?

Think about it.

Catie Quinn has been a reporter for the Kenai radio station KSRM since September 2012. The preceding commentary first appeared at RadioKenai.com and is republished here with permission.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.