Johnson tapped for Fish Board seat, again

Feb 2, 2017

Last year Gov. Walker dropped Fritz Johnson from the board for Kenai's Robert Ruffner, but Walker has put him on for another term that will begin in July if approved by Legislature.

Fritz Johnson, a Bristol Bay drift boat skipper from Dillingham, was tapped for a seat on the state Board of Fisheries again, after being bumped off last year.
Credit BBRSDA

Audio Transcript: Fritz Johnson of Dillingham has been tapped for a seat back on the state’s Board of Fisheries.

The Governor’s office made the announcement this week, also putting John Jensen from Petersburg and Reed Morisky from Fairbanks up for reappointment.

Johnson, a Bristol Bay drift fisherman, was dropped from the board last June after his first term when Governor Walker put Robert Ruffner from Kenai up instead. That was the first time in the board’s history that one of its seven members was not from Bristol Bay, home of the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery.

Johnson said Thursday that he is honored to be selected for a seat again.

“Oh absolutely. As I wrote the last time I applied for reappointment, I’m much more qualified now than I was when I began.”

A year ago when it was announced Johnson would not be re-appointed, there was a small backlash from Bristol Bay leadership, which let the Governor know of their disappointment in no uncertain terms. Some speculated that Johnson had been dropped on account of a 2015 closed period fishing violation. Walker told KDLG at the time that was not the case, that he was just seeking a different regional balance for the board.

Johnson said he has no hard feelings over the matter.

"No, none at all. I mean I’m glad it’s happening because Bristol Bay needs representation on the board. That was my main concern when I didn’t get reappointed.”

Johnson, between set netters Kevin McCambly and Mike Davis, at the Dec. 2015 Board of Fisheries meeting on Bristol Bay in Anchorage.
Credit KDLG

Johnson will take over the seat currently held by Sue Jeffrey, who is stepping down after two terms. Jeffrey fishes salmon in Kodiak, and John Jensen fishes crab and halibut in Southeast. If Johnson is approved, he and Jensen will be the only two commercial fishermen on the seven person board. He views that as an important representation for the board that sets policy for managing the state’s fisheries resources.

"Absolutely, yes. I’m intrigued by the legislation that’s been introduced to expand the board, but in these troubled times it may not happen. But yeah, the commercial fishing industry is the second, well, no, it’s the largest employer in the state and I think we do need adequate representation there."

The legislation referred to is House Bill 88, which would expand the fish board to nine members instead of seven. It was sponsored by Representatives Louise Stutes, who chairs the House Fisheries Committee, and Dan Ortiz.

Johnson recently retired as Regional Fisheries Director for the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation. He is a board member of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, and skippers the 32' fishing vessel Jazz.

Reach the author at dave@kdlg.org or 907-842-5281.