State wants suit over fisheries commission move dismissed

JUNEAU — A seine fisherman from Southeast Alaska and a commercial fishing trade organization have sued Gov. Bill Walker over an administrative order they say made substantial legal changes to the agency regulating entry into the state's commercial fisheries.

Department of Law attorneys, in a court filing, responded this week asking that the case against Walker and the state be dismissed. They say only the Legislature could have legal standing to sue as it is the only entity that could argue that it had been harmed by the governor's order.

The legal challenge came after Walker issued an administrative order in February folding functions of the Commercial Fisheries Limited Entry Commission — the agency responsible for regulating permits and entry in the state's commercial fisheries — into the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Walker's administration said moving administrative and research functions, like licensing and permitting, to Fish and Game could save the state more than $1.3 million a year.

But lobbyist and commercial fisherman Robert Thorstenson Jr. and the United Fishermen of Alaska sued, saying Walker stepped beyond the authority given to him under an administrative order and should have instead filed an executive order which requires legislative approval. They say Walker's action usurped the Legislature's authority to vet those changes.

Thorstenson said he did not want to comment on the suit. His attorney, Bruce Weyhrauch, did not respond to a request for comment.

Immediately after Walker issued his order, commission staff circulated two letters to a Senate Fish and Game Finance subcommittee challenging Walker's authority to make the order.


The letters, sent by commission member Benjamin Brown and commission chairman Bruce Twomley, call Walker's order unconstitutional in that it removes key functions from the commission and shifts employees between the two dissimilar agencies through a process that skirts legislative approval.

A legal opinion issued by the Legislature's top attorney, Doug Gardner, challenges the constitutionality of transferring the permitting function between the commission and Fish and Game as those functions are sometimes not purely administrative.

A spokeswoman for Walker, Aileen Cole, said Walker did not comment on pending litigation.