Howard Delo

Chances are you’ve already heard about this, but in case you didn’t, here we go. Last week, the joint legislature held a seven-hour marathon to confirm or reject the governor’s nominees for various boards, commissions, and other executive branch-appointed offices. Among those persons considered were five nominees for the Board of Fisheries and, I think, two or three for the Board of Game. Four of the five BOF nominees were confirmed.

As an individual, I sent a letter to all sixty legislators supporting all five BOF candidates. I didn’t mention any BOG nominees since I am less familiar with those folks. As a member of the Mat-Su Borough Fish and Wildlife Commission, I voted in favor of a letter supporting four of the five candidates, taking no position on the fifth person.

One of the commission members had some serious concerns about this fifth nominee and to respect her views, the commission voted to take no position on that individual. With the COVID-19 disruption last year, these five nominees were all part of the BOF and participated in some teleconference meetings but had no track record of voting on proposals during a regular BOF meeting since no meetings were held last year.

I had worked in previous years with three of the nominees as sitting board members and had great respect for their qualifications and knowledge of the fisheries being discussed. I had never worked with the two “newer” members, but one of them is a university economics professor who works in the off-season as both a fisheries and game assistant guide. The BOF has long requested an economics “advisor” to aid in deliberation of proposals impacting fisheries economics in an area or region. Here was an opportunity to have that expertise available.

The fifth nominee lives in Anchorage but has commercially fished in Bristol Bay for decades. He also is an employee of the Pebble Mine project. This Pebble Mine connection was the reason our one commission member objected to this individual’s confirmation. As it turned out, this Pebble Mine connection was the leading cause for this individual’s failure to be confirmed.

The thing that I think led to this failure to confirm probably arose from a misunderstanding of how the BOF voting process works. Board members are regularly conflicted out of discussions and voting on a proposal which could benefit them or their family members in any way. For example, this person holds a commercial fishing permit for Bristol Bay. He would be conflicted out of any proposal discussion and vote regarding commercial fishing in Bristol Bay.

As a Pebble Mine employee, he would also be conflicted out of any proposal which involved the Pebble Mine process in Bristol Bay. Concerns I’ve heard of how he could negatively affect Bristol Bay fisheries by being on the BOF are largely unfounded, in my opinion, because of his inability to participate in board actions on these topics.

I speak to this from personal experience. During my time on the BOF, I was conflicted out of about 50 Cook Inlet proposals because my mother-in-law owned a Cook Inlet setnet commercial fishing permit. It didn’t matter that the permit had been unfished for 14 years and that I had nothing to do with the permit.

I objected to the ruling of conflicts and challenged the chairman’s position. In the resulting discussion, I presented two graphs: the first showing the value of a Cook Inlet commercial permit over time; and the second showing fish prices per pound over time. The ups and downs of fish prices directly coincided with the value of a commercial permit. When graphing the fish prices and the permit values over time, the two graphs were identical and could be superimposed over each other. This indicated that market value had far more impact than any BOF actions in affecting permit values.

That convinced the board members who voted to override the chair and let me participate. I was conflicted out for one proposal which called for the total elimination of setnet fishing in Cook Inlet. I didn’t even get to the back of the room for a cup of coffee before the board had taken action (voting the proposal down) and I was called back to my seat at the board table.

The next few years will be interesting watching the management of salmon in Cook Inlet. Changes made in state management plans at the 2020 Upper Cook Inlet meeting and federal commercial fishing bans in federal waters should be interesting.

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