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Commissioner and 3 employees are leaving embattled Alaska fishing agency

One of the two leaders of an embattled Alaska commercial fishing agency is leaving his job, he said this week.

Ben Brown is leaving his job as commissioner at the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission (Perseverance Theater photo)

Ben Brown, a commissioner at the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission, said in an email that he's resigning to take a job at a Juneau arts organization. His departure comes within the same month as three other commission employees', according to a former colleague.

Brown and Bruce Twomley, CFEC's other commissioner, have both earned more than $130,000 a year to supervise the fishing agency even though their most essential work — limiting access to fisheries and ruling on permit applications — has slowed dramatically.

Brown referred questions about his resignation to the office of Gov. Bill Walker. Twomley didn't respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

Walker's director of boards and commissions, Shirley Marquardt, said Brown's last day on the job is Dec. 1, which would leave Twomley as the sole remaining commissioner since a third commissioner position is currently vacant.

The governor's office is actively trying to fill Brown's seat, Marquardt said.

Brown's resignation comes amid a string of departures from the agency. Three employees who work in the section that issues commercial fishing permits and licenses also left their jobs in the past month, said Kurt Iverson, a former CFEC employee who's been critical of its leadership.

The departures from the agency — which has fewer than two dozen employees — are likely to cause problems for commercial fishermen as they apply for their permits for 2018, Iverson said.

"My advice to the fishermen is to budget a lot more time to get their permits for this year, and to very carefully scrutinize every piece of paper they get from the agency," he said.

The president of the state's major commercial fishing group, Jerry McCune of United Fishermen of Alaska, said he's not worried, though he's looking for candidates to recommend as Brown's replacement.

"I'm not concerned at this point — I think change sometimes brings good people," McCune said. "We just want to make sure there's good people in the agency."

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