CFEC changes up for discussion in House Resources

Apr 6, 2016

The House Resources Committee took testimony this week on the effort to restructure the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission.

Efforts to change the state's Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission are still up for discussion in Juneau. On Monday, the House Resources Committee on Monday heard the newest draft of a bill originally intended to restructure the agency.

For decades, CFEC has made the decisions about who gets a permit when participation in a fishery is limited, and also issued the permits each year. But with fewer fisheries being limited in recent years, changes to the organization have been up for discussion, and two recent audits suggested some significant changes.

Kodiak Rep. Louise Stutes authored the most recent effort to revamp the agency through the legislative process, but when Gov. Bill Walker decided to shift some of the commission’s functions to Fish and Game this winter, it nullified much of her bill. So Monday, Stutes offered a new, simpler version.

“The committee substitute for house bill 112 version N is in response to the administrative order by the governor which moved the administrative and research functions of the CFEC to the department of Fish and Game," Stutes explained. "Version N defines executive compensation for the three commissioners and compensation for employees that are moved under the department of fish and game.”

That new version is just a page and a half, and makes only a few changes, compared to Stutes' original, which revamped the agency and was more than 50 pages long.

CFEC had expressed concerns about the bill originally. But Monday, Commissioner Ben Brown told the committee that while he has concerns with governor walker’s plan to change the commission, he supports the new bill.

“I think that this version of HB 112 threads that needle quite well," he said. "It takes the commissioners to an hourly rate of compensation that is by definition scalable. When the work’s there, the work can be done. I’m speaking for Commissioner Twomley and myself, we can support version N of the bill because it just deals with a very specific thing, which is the amount of the work the commissioners are able to do.”

That bill did not move out of committee, and will be heard again in House Resources next week.

Aside from Brown, the handful of fishermen and industry representatives who testified Monday talked about their dislike of the governor’s action, rather than addressing the bill itself.

Southeast Alaska Seiners Association head Martin Lunde said his organization opposed the governor's action, and the fact that he used an administrative order rather than an executive order. And, he said, the organization was opposed to the bill because of his opposition to that action.

Lunde said he also was concerned that changes could put fishery permits at risk.

"We get really nervous when there are elements about that we feel put in danger $1.4 billion dollars worth of permit values," he said. "...We want good qualified people there full-time to address the issues that come up.