ADN reports large salaries, small workload for state fisheries commission

Lamprey harvested around Grayling in 2015. (Photo by Kwikpak Fisheries)

Two state commissioners are making big money even though they don’t have much work left to do. That’s the story recently reported by Nathaniel Herz with the Alaska Dispatch News. He investigated the state’s Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission.

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“There are some inefficiencies and what some would call dysfunction at this agency that have been very clearly and specifically documented in the past two or three years that no one has been able to fix,” Herz said. “And that starts at the top.”

The Commission was created in the 1970s in order to limit the number of boats that can participate in certain commercial fisheries and conserve the stocks. Herz wrote in an article this past weekend that they haven’t limited a fishery since 2004 and have processed fewer than five applications per year since 2012.

“Basically the core work that the commissioners have done in the past doesn’t really exist anymore at anything near the level it once did,” Herz said.

Despite this, Commissioners Ben Brown and Bruce Twomley are each still earning $130,000 per year.

Legislators and Governor Bill Walker have made attempts to change the structure and cost of the commission and make it more efficient, but Herz reported that their efforts have failed, in part because of steps taken by commercial fishing interests.

“So there’s a real concern that you if you just wrap the Commercial Fisheries Entries Commission up under Fish and Game that somehow it could be subject to the whims of the Fish and Game commissioner,” Herz said. “It could lose its political independence, it could become less responsive.”

Herz spoke with both commissioners who say they have made the agency more efficient.

“They’ve done a lot of cost cutting, and sort of reduced unneeded staff that they had there, they are paying — their payroll is down by I think ten percent or more over the past several years since Brown was appointed to the commission,” Herz said.

Ben Brown is on Alaska Public Media’s board of directors.

This story contained contributions from both Andrew Kitchenman with KTOO and Anne Hillman with Alaska Public Media.