BACKROOM POLITICS, PAID FACILITATOR, NO AUTHORITY
BY CRAIG MEDRED
With the fishing season beginning in the 49th state, Alaska Gov. Bill Walker has been holding private meetings to forge an agreement between commercial, sport and other fishing interests on how to manage salmon in Cook Inlet.
The reason why is unclear.
By law, the regulation of state fisheries falls solely under the jurisdiction of the Alaska Board of Fisheries. One of the first acts of the Alaska Legislature after Statehood in 1959 was to establish a Board of Fish and Game – later split into the separate boards for fish and wildlife management – to insulate resource decisions from backroom politicking.
“Under the Alaska Constitution, the Board of Fish and Game was founded in 1960 to provide for public discussion (of) the state’s fish and wildlife management,” according to a legislative history. “Public involvement is one of the most essential aspects of the board process.”
Alaska Outdoor Council executive director Rod Arno on Friday accused Walker of playing politics with Inlet fisheries in direct violation of the intent of the state’s founders. The AOC is the state’s largest fishing and hunting organization.
Were Walker’s secret dealings not enough, Arno added, what the governor and a state-paid facilitator are doing makes no sense given that Walker has no authority to alter fishing regulations. Even if Walker could broker a deal on management of Inlet salmon in secretive, closed-door meetings, Arno noted, the deal would need the approval of the seven-member Board of Fish.
The board members are appointed by the governor, but must be approved by the Legislature. The board is not scheduled to consider Cook Inlet salmon issues until the 2019-2020 session. The state votes on a new governor this fall.
Walker is running for re-election. Arno and others have speculated that what is really going on is an effort by the governor to craft something he can claim has brought peace between warring fishery factions in Upper Cook Inlet (UCI) in the hopes this could win him some votes.
But even if Walker could broker such a deal, which seems unlikely, Arno said, it would set a bad precedent.
“It gets right back down to the (fish and game) advisory committees,” he said. “They feel they’ve been disenfranchised.”