Fisheries Board will reconsider moving meeting out of Southeast

The Alaska Board of Fisheries, which had planned to hold its Southeast and Yakutat shellfish and finfish regulations meeting in Ketchikan this month before a surge in COVID-19 cases and winter-weather travel problems forced its cancellation, has rescheduled the sessions for March 10-22 in Anchorage.

The board, however, was scheduled to meet Thursday afternoon via Zoom to possibly reconsider the decision to move the meeting to Anchorage.

“Given the myriad of factors to consider, the board will vote on the meeting location,” according to a board notice posted on Monday.

The Southeast fisheries meeting already has been postponed a year due to the pandemic.

The move to Anchorage was explained in a Jan. 11 news release from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game as “part of a balancing act between allowing the current COVID-19 surge to peak, limited budget, logistics, fishery timing, other board meetings, and COVID-19 testing and hospital capacity.”

To allow more participation by Southeast Alaska residents, “the board is allowing remote public testimony for this meeting at select ADF&G Southeast offices.”

The Board of Fisheries, appointed by the governor, accepts proposals, comments and testimony from members of the public, local Fish and Game advisory committees as well as from the Department of Fish and Game in deciding regulations for state-managed fisheries.

The location change is “really about COVID,” Alaska Board of Fisheries Executive Director Glenn Haight said Jan. 12. “But (it’s) also being able to set up in a place that has better hospital capacity in the event there’s an outbreak” seemed critical when planning the meetings, he added.

He said bringing about 200 people into Ketchikan “from all over the state” seemed to be an untenable risk, even in March, when there is no guarantee the Coronavirus surge will have subsided.

Ketchikan has reported record numbers of COVID-19 cases this month.

“It’s really unfortunate not to have it (the meeting) in Southeast, so we’ve gone the extra step — it’s not something the board does, at all — but we’re going to allow for remote public testimony at Fish and Game regional offices,” Haight said.

Russell Thomas, a Ketchikan-based owner of several fishing-reliant businesses as well as an officer with the SouthEast Alaska Guides Organization, said the move to Anchorage is not good news. “We understand the reasons for wanting to keep everybody safe, but it’s certainly disappointing that the meetings aren’t going to be held here,” he said Jan. 12.

City of Ketchikan Mayor Dave Kiffer said the change will cost the city rent on its civic center, while businesses will lose out on hotel, restaurant and other revenues. “It’s a couple-hundred-thousand-dollar hit to the community,” he said.

 

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