Homer Rep. Vance looks into Board of Fish vote on Cook Inlet meeting location

The Alaska Board of Fisheries’ 2019 statewide finfish meeting in Anchorage. (Photo by Aaron Bolton, KBBI, – Homer)

Homer House Rep. Sarah Vance announced Friday that she is launching an inquiry into the Alaska Board of Fisheries’ January vote to move its 2020 Upper Cook Inlet finfish meeting on the Kenai Peninsula back to Anchorage. Vance and other peninsula legislators asked the board to reconsider its decision and to provide public notice before it did so. The board has not responded.

As the Board of Fish held its annual finfish meeting for the Arctic, Yukon and Kuskokwim regions in January, Chairman Reed Morisky brought up a surprise vote on a particularly thorny issue.

“As I mentioned earlier in the meeting, the board would be discussing the Upper Cook Inlet meeting location,” he told board members as they reconvened after lunch.

Morisky and others argued that moving the meeting back to Anchorage would provide equal opportunity for Upper Cook Inlet stakeholders from the Matanuska-Susitna Valley, the Anchorage Bowl and the Kenai Peninsula to participate.

Opponents like Board of Fish member Robert Ruffner of Kenai point out that the board has not held an Upper Cook Inlet meeting on the peninsula since 1999.

“When you hold a meeting in Anchorage for two weeks and to really be an effective participant in that, you need to be there for the lion’s share of that two weeks,” Ruffner explained over the phone Monday. “Both private anglers are not really able to afford to do that and the general public that feels the implications of fisheries management decisions down here are not able to participate in that kind of process. What it leaves is the professional people.”

The board typically votes on meeting locations two years ahead of time and it originally settled on Anchorage back in late 2017. It voted to move the meeting to the Kenai-Soldotna area a few months later.

During the board’s January meeting, Ruffner took issue with Morisky’s decision to spontaneously hold a vote on the 2020 meeting location without public notice. He also alleged that City of Kenai Mayor Brian Gabriel and others were incorrectly told the vote was not going to take place before members broke for lunch.

“I was standing there when they were told we weren’t going to take this up today. They went home, the mayor of my town went home,” he said. “I will just ask my fellow board members to see if you think that’s a fair process?”

Homer Republican Sarah Vance and other Kenai Peninsula legislators sent a letter to the board asking it to rescind its decision and to take up the issue again with “proper” public notice. Morisky declined to respond to the letter during the Board of Fish’s statewide meeting in March. He also declined to comment for this story.

Vance announced Friday that she has filed a public records request for Board of Fish members’ phone records and emails leading up to the January vote.

“I’m hoping to have some answers as to why this vote took place at this other finfish meeting when it was not having to do with the Cook Inlet – why it was suddenly changed when they were going to vote on it and then they told public officials that they were not,” Vance told KBBI Friday. “Something took place in that short amount of time, and I’m hoping to have some background information on why that happened.”

Before the board voted in January, the Department of Law offered little advice, saying only that it was up to the board to decide whether its vote was consistent with its public notice process.

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