Opinions

Anchorage needs a voice on the Alaska Board of Fisheries

The Alaska Board of Fisheries is made up of seven individuals from throughout Alaska. They serve all of Alaska, regardless of where they live. However it is important to have BOF members come from diverse backgrounds and geographical locations so their individual knowledge can help members who might be unfamiliar with the needs of communities other than their own. Anchorage has nearly half of the state's population with nearly as many individual users of Alaska's fisheries resources as the total from the rest of the state. Yet it is about to be disenfranchised from representation on the BOF.

Gov. Walker recently appointed a Kenai Peninsula man to the position I held on the Fish Board for the past seven years, while a resident of Anchorage. Kenai/Soldotna is a relatively small part of the Upper Cook Inlet region, which includes Anchorage and other cities. And while there are commercial, sports and dipnet fisheries that take place in the Kenai/Soldotna area, the majority of those who participate in these fisheries live in Anchorage. Not appointing a qualified person from the most populated area of the state where so many of the state's users live deprives the BOF of needed representation.

Members of the board share information about the needs of their communities and provide facts about the demographics that would not otherwise be easily available or known by other board members. One member of the BOF comes from Huslia, a small Interior community with just a few hundred people. And that is good, as he can share with other members his knowledge of the needs of Interior subsistence users. Other members are from Petersburg, Kodiak, Talkeetna, Dillingham, Fairbanks, and until recently, from Anchorage.

With a population of nearly 300,000 it is only reasonable and fair that Anchorage continues to have someone on the board. Surely there are people who live in Anchorage who would be qualified to serve. But, instead of maintaining the historical balance and providing representation from Anchorage, the governor chose instead to appoint a Kenai/Soldotna individual. Why didn't he pick someone from Anchorage?

The governor may have been unfamiliar with the history of having someone from Anchorage on the board. Stakeholders from the Kenai Peninsula campaigned hard for the governor and perhaps he felt some pressure to appoint someone from their area. Whatever the reason, his appointment will certainly change the dynamics of BOF decisions and leave Anchorage without a voice during deliberations by the board. Will this adversely impact the largest population base with the most fisheries users? This is a legitimate question that people in the Anchorage and surrounding areas will be asking.

Before the governor's appointee can take office, he must be confirmed by the Legislature. This process is to occur soon. Many of the legislators represent the large number of fisheries users from Anchorage and nearby cities. These people are hoping that the Legislature takes into consideration how important it is for them to have a voice in BOF decisions. Walker's appointment temporarily has eliminated that voice. Hopefully the Legislature can give him the opportunity to change his mind and do what is right for Anchorage.

Karl Johnstone is a former member of the Alaska Board of Fisheries and a retired state Superior Court judge.

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

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