JUNEAU (AP) -- A bill clarifying when the Fish and Game commissioner can overrule Board of Fisheries decisions passed the state House on Monday.
House Bill 216 would let the commissioner open or extend a fishing season to prevent fishermen from losing a chance to harvest fish that show up in abundance, even if the change means superseding a board decision. However, the commissioner would not be allowed to use that authority to summarily change the way the board had decided to allocate fish among competing users.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Drew Scalzi, R-Homer, said the measure simply clarifies the commissioner's authority to allow more fishing during times of surplus.
But Rep. Eldon Mulder, R-Anchorage, argued the commissioner already has the ability to open and close fisheries as needed during the season. He said he believes the measure is intended to allow the commissioner to split up the fish among users differently than the board had decided.
''We're letting the Department of Fish and Game determine who gets what,'' Mulder said. ''This is an allocative bill, plain and simple. If it weren't, why would it be here?''
Gordy Williams, a legislative liaison for the Department of Fish and Game, said the commissioner had initially objected to the measure because he, too, saw it as ''highly allocative.''
The measure was rewritten, and the department no longer objects to the measure, Williams said.
Rep. Fred Dyson, R-Eagle River, supported the bill, saying it would let the department respond to changes that could not be anticipated when board decisions were made.
''Adapting to what's going on is a continually changing game for managers of those fisheries,'' Dyson said.
The measure also would limit the Board of Fisheries' ability to change its agenda.
It would require that, if the board intends to take up regulations early because of a conservation reason, it must have biological evidence from the department backing up that finding.
The bill passed 24-4, with Republican Reps. Mulder, Vic Kohring of Wasilla, Kevin Meyer of Anchorage and Bev Masek of Willow voting no.
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