Palin makes poor pick

Posted: Friday, April 10, 2009

Governor Palin's recent nomination of Clam Gulch set-netter Brent Johnson to the Board of Fisheries was a bad idea. If the Legislature confirms this nomination, commercial fishing interests will again dominate the board, causing sport and personal-use fishermen no end of grief on salmon-fishing issues.

The governor's press release announcing the nomination stated that Johnson was the first appointment of a Cook Inlet commercial fisherman to the board since 1975. There was good reason for this. The seven-member fish board makes all the regulations pertaining to salmon, including allocation. In Cook Inlet, most of the hundreds of proposals to change regulations involve salmon, and many involve allocation issues. If a regulation is good for Brent Johnson or other commercial fishermen, it's usually bad for sport and personal-use fishermen.

At present, the fish board is fairly well balanced between sport and commercial-fishing interests. Kodiak resident Mel Morris is in seafood marketing, and has been in seafood processing. John Jensen, of Petersburg, has been a commercial fisherman since 1965. Vince Webster, of King Salmon, is a Bristol Bay set-netter. Karl Johnstone, of Anchorage, is a retired Superior Court judge who fished commercially in the 1980s. Howard Delo, of Big Lake, is a retired biologist/fish culturist who worked for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for 20 years and now is an outdoor writer. Bill Brown, of Juneau, is a retired college professor who now owns and operates Taku Reel Repair.

The board member Johnson was chosen to replace is Bonnie Williams, of Fairbanks, a retired University of Alaska Fairbanks bureaucrat with no background of commercial fishing. Cook Inlet set-netter Johnson would replace Williams on the board, putting four members solidly in the commercial camp and giving the board a definite bias. In the bad-old days, such a bias caused no end of conflict and divisiveness between sport and commercial users.

Another reason Johnson is a poor choice is that he would have to recuse himself for many deliberations. This amounts to a board member sitting on his hands, contributing nothing. While recusing him might seem to be a positive effect, recent actions by recused fish-board members show that they can and do influence other board members, and can even change votes. As this is written, commercial fishing interests in Juneau are lobbying hard for legislation to reduce the number of recusals for conflict of interest.

If I lived anywhere in the Yukon River Drainage, which has ongoing problems involving salmon conservation and allocation issues, I'd be outraged about Johnson's nomination. If I were a Native or a subsistence fisherman, I'd have even more reason to be outraged. There should always be a Native on the board, or at least someone who depends on subsistence-caught fish for their family's food. If the Legislature confirms Johnson's appointment, retired state employee Howard Delo, of Big Lake, will be the farthest north member. There will be no Native, no subsistence user and no Interior resident on the board.

It's not too late to show your displeasure at Johnson's nomination. Board members must be confirmed by the majority of the Legislature sitting in joint session. I suggest sending a public opinion message (POM) to all legislators. The easy way is to call 283-2030 and tell the nice lady at the Legislative Information Office what you want to say.

Don't get the idea that I have anything personal against Brent Johnson. As a person, I've always respected and liked him. I just think it's a bad idea putting a Cook Inlet commercial fisherman on the fish board.

Until now, Governor Palin and I were still in the "honeymoon" stage of her administration. I'll give her the benefit of the doubt on this, but I'm wondering who misled her into making such a poor decision.

Les Palmer (Joe Fisherman) lives in Sterling.

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