Fisheries Board sticks with moving Southeast meeting to Anchorage

The Alaska Board of Fisheries voted 4-2 last Thursday to uphold its previous decision to convene the Southeast and Yakutat finfish and shellfish regulations meetings in Anchorage March 10 through 22 rather than in Ketchikan.

Originally, the meeting — already postponed for one year due to the pandemic — was scheduled for Jan. 4-15 in Ketchikan. But on Jan. 1, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced the meeting was being postponed “out of an abundance of caution due to the record-breaking rise of COVID-19 cases in the United States, and a concerning sharp rise in Southeast Alaska.”

Then, on Jan. 11, the department announced the meeting was rescheduled for March in Anchorage. The announcement said the move was “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.”

The Board of Fisheries will allow for remote testimony at selected Fish and Game offices in Southeast Alaska to offer a way for residents to participate in the Anchorage meeting.

The board met last week to reconsider its decision to move the Southeast regulations meeting to Anchorage, and voted to stick with the state’s largest city.

Letters of support for moving the meeting back to Ketchikan filled about 50 pages attached to the Fish and Game’s website.

Board Member Israel Payton, of Wasilla, voted against moving the meeting back to Ketchikan. He cited the expensive and difficult logistics of shipping meeting materials and equipment to Ketchikan, as well as the increased contacts inherent with so many people traveling during the pandemic. He also said that if people did contact COVID-19 while in Ketchikan, it would be worse than if it happened in Anchorage.

“I certainly wouldn’t want to be quarantined off the road system,” he said.

“I’m deeply disappointed by the Fish Board’s decision,” Ketchikan Rep. Dan Ortiz said in a prepared statement the day after the board decision. “Based on the board members’ comments before their vote, it seems like their primary concerns with meeting in Ketchikan were based on lack of convenience with their own personal schedules rather than prioritizing the board’s tradition of being accessible to the Alaskans who are most impacted by their decisions.”

“Keep politics out of the Board of Fish,” Payton said during the board meeting. “I feel a tremendous amount of political pressure from those same politicians to get in the board business and try to augment what we view is best for the board and the process, so I don’t take kindly to that.”

 

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