Brett Huber, a controversial figure on the area fishing scene, moved one step closer Wednesday toward becoming a member of the Alaska Board of Fisheries.
Both the House Resources and Fisheries committees voted Wednesday to recommend confirming all three of Gov. Tony Knowles' nominations to the board. The vote came following a joint session of the two committees. State representatives listened to more than three hours of testimony from the nominees and the public before making a decision.
Huber, the executive director of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, said Thursday from Juneau that he was pleased by the support he received during the hearing.
"I thought it was a good hearing. I thought it went real well," he said.
Huber added that he was happy to have the opportunity to finally outline his position before legislators. During the hearing, he noted his ability to listen and facilitate discussion as among his qualifications for the board.
The three nominees, Huber of Soldotna, Gerry Merrigan of Petersburg and Art Nelson of Anchorage, were invited to testify before the committee in support of their nominations. House members then questioned the nominees, and public testimony was taken. Following the hearing, committee members voted on whether to confirm or deny the nominees. The committee votes are not binding, and the nominees must still face a joint vote of the full House and Senate.
In both committees, Merrigan and Nelson were approved without any objection. However, Resources Committee chair Rep. Drew Scalzi, R-Homer, and committee member Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, voted to oppose Huber's nomination. In the Fisheries committee, only Scalzi voted to oppose Huber's nomination, while Merrigan and Nelson were again recommended without objection.
The majority of the hearing was taken up by public testimony, nearly all of it concerning Huber, whose nomination has angered some commercial and sport fishers around Cook Inlet because of his advocacy of issues favoring fishing guides.
However, of the almost 40 members of the public who testified, at least 15 spoke in favor of Huber. Kenai River fishing guides made up the vast majority of his supporters.
Those who spoke in opposition to Huber's nomination were mainly Cook Inlet commercial fishers. Commercial fishers have clashed with the Kenai River Sportfishing Association for years over salmon allocation issues.
Huber also has drawn the wrath of sport fishers recently with his part in a February Board of Fisheries ruling that turns the early run of Kenai River king salmon into primarily a catch-and-release fishery.
One person who testified against Huber was Irv Carlisle, of Soldotna, who has been both a Kenai River guide and a member of the Board of Fisheries. Carlisle told committee members he's opposed to Huber's nomination for a variety of reasons.
"I've never once supported or promoted a nominee in the past. (But) I don't feel Mr. Huber has the qualities to be a good board member," Carlisle said, calling Huber "arrogant."
One fishing guide who spoke in favor of Huber was longtime Kenai guide Herman Fandel. Fandel countered Carlisle's criticism that Huber is arrogant.
"My family has known Brett Huber for many years. Brett is confident, he is not arrogant. I highly recommend Brett Huber to a position on the Board of Fish," Fandel said.
Most people testifying in Huber's behalf echoed Fandel's sentiment.
"As far as I'm concerned, he can be as arrogant as he wants," said Kenai guide Greg Brush, as long as Huber looks out for "the best interest of the fish."
The hearing was just one step toward confirming the nominees to the board. Today, the Senate Resources Committee will hold a similar hearing to discuss the nominees. Once the nominees clear the Senate, the full Legislature still must meet in a joint session to vote on the nominees. That session has yet to be scheduled, but is expected to come within the next 10 days.
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