Fish board nominees go before House

Controversial KRSA executive director among 3 candidates facing approval

Posted: Wednesday, May 01, 2002

The Alaska House of Representatives will begin hearings today to determine if the governor's nominees to the Alaska Board of Fisheries should be kept or released, and several area legislators say they plan on giving at least one nominee the hook.

The first hearings will be held at 1 p.m. today in the House Resources and Fisheries committees. On April 1, Gov. Tony Knowles announced three nominees to replace outgoing fish board members. Knowles nominated Gerry Merrigan of Petersburg, Art Nelson of Anchorage and Brett Huber of Soldotna to serve three-year terms on the board. Merrigan is a commercial fisher, Nelson works for a group that represents Bering Sea pollock processors and Huber is the executive director of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association.

Since the April announcement, controversy has surrounded Huber, the lone nominee from the Kenai Peninsula. Opposition to Huber's nomination has been heavy. Area commercial and sport fishers, many of whom contend that Huber's main priority is furthering the cause of fishing guides, have been heavily opposed to the nomination.

Peninsula residents also were angered by a recent board regulation change, championed by Huber and Kenai River guides, that limits the early-run Kenai River king salmon harvest.

Earlier this month, the Fish and Game advisory boards in Kenai, Ninilchik and Homer came out publicly in opposition to Huber's nomination. Since then, support has been scarce locally for Huber. However, Huber believes his chances of gaining one of the three vacant board seats is still strong.

"I've got support from a lot of commercial fishermen" from outside Cook Inlet, he said.

Huber has said previously that he intends to look out for the common good of all user groups if confirmed to the board.

"I'm going to do my best to listen to all the stakeholders. It's a huge responsibility," Huber said after hearing of his nomination in April.

However, area legislators in both the Senate and House say they are leaning toward voting against Huber's nomination when the Senate and House meet jointly to vote on the issue sometime next week.

Sen. Jerry Ward, who represents South Anchorage, Nikiski, Kenai and parts of Kalifornsky Beach, has already gone on record saying he will not support Huber's nomination.

"It seems (the Board of Fish is) intentionally trying to do away with commercial fishing. They're putting the wrong people on there. I'm voting no," on Huber's confirmation, Ward said at a Kenai town hall meeting held April 5.

Rep. Drew Scalzi, R-Homer, is co-chair of the House Resources Committee. His committee has scheduled public hearings for today to discuss the nominees.

He said he plans on keeping an open mind on the subject, although he also has indicated previously that a yes vote for Huber would be unlikely.

"It would be very difficult for me to render support for Brett," Scalzi told the Homer News April 23.

By early this week, Scalzi had softened his tone a little, indicating he was still open to listening to debate on the nominees.

"I have my own ideas on each individual. We certainly have to listen to the testimony, otherwise, why bother (with confirmation hearings)?" Scalzi said.

As co-chair of the Resources Committee, Scalzi said his main focus during the potentially volatile hearing would be to make sure everyone gets a chance to voice their opinion, without too much fighting.

"I'm going to try and keep if from getting contentious," he said.

Rep. Ken Lancaster, R-Soldotna, said Tuesday that he also plans on listening to the testimony before rendering a verdict on any of the nominations, but he said voting in favor of Huber would be difficult.

"It's gonna be hard for me to vote for Brett. He means well, and I have nothing against him personally. I think Brett's a good guy ... (but) it's hard for me to support him," Lancaster said.

Lancaster said Huber's position as KRSA executive director could present conflicts of interest for the nominee.

"I'm not sure he cannot have a conflict of interest on most issues," he said.

Sen. John Torgerson, R-Kasilof, and Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, did not return phone calls.

The Senate Resources Committee, which is chaired by Torgerson, will take up the issue Friday.

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