Governor pauses implementation of CFEC changes

Aug 30, 2016

Gov. Bill Walker has put a hold on his plan to move some functions of CFEC over to Fish and Game.

Despite a judge’s decision that the state could go ahead and move some functions of the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission into the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Alaska Gov. Bill Walker is putting the effort on hold.

The commission manages participation in Alaska's fisheries, from making decisions about who can participate in limited entry fisheries, to issuing permits. Earlier this year, the governor issued an administration order moving some of those duties to Fish and Game, in an effort to save money. But fishermen pushed back against the move, and now Walker is putting it the changes on hold until he hears more from the industry.

“In our effort to find cost-savings, I unfortunately bypassed an important step in any restructuring of state government—public engagement and feedback,” Walker wrote in an Aug. 25 statement. “The vital stakeholder input will help determine the best course of action needed to find a path forward for the fishing industry, individual Alaskans, and the affected state agencies.”

The commission has three seats, although just two have been filled for more than a year, and the agency that supports it has had about 30 staff members in recent years.

CFEC is funded primarily by fishing permit fees, and takes in more than it spends, with the extra revenue supporting other state functions, including commercial fisheries management.

In a Feb. 16 administrative order, Walker wrote that licensing and permitting services, as well as information technology, payroll, accounting, procurement and budget services for the commission were being moved to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The order allows the commissioner of Fish and Game to move associated jobs to the department.

United Fishermen of Alaska and southeast Alaska fisherman Bobby Thorstenson challenged the order in court, but a superior court judge ruled in favor of the state.

A report from the state Legislature's Division of Audit last year called for a set of similar changes, and said changes could result in an estimated $1.2 million in annual savings within three years. That came after legislators also considered changes to the agency, including merging some functions with ADF&G.

A report from Fish and Game released last winter also outlined options for reform, including moving some CFEC functions to ADF&G.

Critics have complained that despite that, the organization spends more than is necessary, and has been slow to perform its work in recent years.