At a legislative committee Thursday, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game says it could absorb part of the responsibilities of the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission if it was eliminated.
The House Fisheries Committee heard Kodiak Rep. Louise Stutes’ House Bill 112, which would transfer duties of the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission to the Department of Fish and Game and the Office of Administrative Hearings. Twenty-five full time employees would move to Fish and Game.
Kevin Brooks is Fish and Game deputy commissioner.
“The department believes that we could make this work without service degradation to commercial fishermen. I think that’s important. Issuing permits, doing emergency transfers, those types of things,” Brooks says.
The CFEC is responsible for deciding what commercial fisheries to limit, who gets to participate in them and adjudicating appeal cases. It also issues permits and licenses, which bring in the majority of the agency’s revenue.
This is not the first time a lawmaker has tried to eliminate the CFEC. Homer Rep. Paul Seaton first introduced a similar bill at the end of the last legislative session and initiated a legislative audit.
Fish and Game conducted its own review that came out in February. It made several recommendations and highlighted some inefficiencies, like a backlog of 28 application cases more than 15 years old.
Sitka Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins sits on the fisheries committee.
“There seems to be some stubborn resistance getting to the number zero with that backlog. The backlog is low, but it doesn’t seem to be working its way down, at least quickly. And just put directly, why has the backlog not been worked through?” Kreiss-Tomkins asks.
CFEC Chair Bruce Twomley says he and the other two commissioners adjudicated 143 cases last year, mostly permit transfers. He says they are committed to finishing the backlogged cases in 2016.
Stutes’ bill would do away with the agency’s three heads and add an executive director, saving $424,000, according to a Fish and Game estimate.
The House Fisheries Committee will take public testimony on the bill to eliminate CFEC Thursday at 10 a.m. As of Friday, at least two letters of opposition have come from the fishing community, including the United Southeast Alaska Gillnetters Association.