Senate Resources vets Board of Fish nominees

Mar 14, 2017

Walker's nominees Reed Morisky, John Jensen, and Fritz Johnson praised in public testimony and lightly questioned by Senate Resources Committee Monday in Juneau.

The Senate Resources Committee vetted Governor Walker's three nominees to the state Board of Fisheries. Fritz Johnson testified and took questions in person.
Credit Gavel to Gavel

The Senate Resources Committee was introduced to Governor Walker's three nominees to the Board of Fisheries during a mild hearing Monday.

Audio Transcript: John Jensen of Petersburg and Reed Morisky of Fairbanks are incumbent members of the state’s Board of Fish, and Frederick "Fritz" Johnson of Dillingham served one three year term before he was dropped from the board by Governor Walker last year. Based on letters of support from various commercial and sport fishing groups who are often at odds over these important board seats, all three seem on a glide path to confirmation.

Johnson, a Bristol Bay drift fisherman since 1979, was in Juneau to speak in person to the committee about his interest in serving another term.

“As I wrote to the Governor a year ago when I sought reappointment, I learned a lot in those three years," he said. "And I think I served my ‘apprenticeship’ if I can say that, met people from around the state, got a pretty good sense of fisheries beyond my own personal experience, and I think I’m vastly more qualified than I was before.”

Governor Bill Walker nominated Robert Ruffner instead of re-appointing Johnson last year, an unexpected blow to Bristol Bay stakeholders who've always enjoyed an unofficially designated seat on the board. Some speculated that the Governor's decision was based on a 2015 violation Johnson received for fishing in a closed period in the Nushagak district, but Walker said that had not been a factor. Sen. Natasha von Imhof pressed Johnson about the violation during Monday's hearing.

“That was an embarrassment at the time, and I have to say at this point, I’ve gotten over the embarrassment but I’ll tell you I’m going to be a little more careful in the future," he answered. "The circumstances were that we had been fishing for quite some time, and I was under the sincere impression that the fishing period closed at six-thirty, when in fact it closed at six-o’-clock ... All I can say is it was an honest mistake, and shame on me if it happens again.”

Senate Resources also heard from Reed Morisky and John Jensen by phone, who were freshly finished with a lengthy meeting on the always contentious Upper Cook Inlet fisheries. Both were questioned lightly by the committee members, with Sen. Bill Wielechowski pressing hardest on access issues for Kenai dipnetters.

The committee took close to an hour of public testimony. Longtime Kenai setnetter Gary Hollier offered support for all three nominees.

"First for Mr. Reed Morisky [a sport fishing guide], obviously I’m a set-netter, we don’t agree on a whole lot of issues but he makes himself available and I appreciate that. I’d like to see him reconfirmed," Hollier said. "I dealt with Mr. Johnson at the 2-14 meeting. He has the ability to analyze the date, articulate up or down if he wants to vote that way, whichever way, and I think he’d make a good member, especially after serving three years."

Hollier saved his warmest praise for John Jensen, the board chairman who has been a member since 2003.  "I’ve attended every Board of Fish since 1986, ma’am ... In every Board of Fish there’s winners and losers, there’s yin and yang … the last two boards had a lot of tension … this board was a lot more civil and I contribute that Mr. Jensen, his ability to control the meeting.”

Several from Bristol Bay spoke, also in favor of the nominees, especially Johnson. It was pointed out that since 1975 a seat has been held by someone connected to the Bristol Bay’s fishery, which is unique even in Alaska for the size of its harvest, participation, and value.

Robert Heyano, a drift boat skipper from Dillingham, commended Morisky, Jensen, and Johnson for their availability and professionalism at board meetings.

"I found them to do their due diligence and reviewing all the information before the meetings, and during the meetings. And although I didn’t necessarily agree with all their decisions, I walked away with the feeling that at least they were informed decisions. I think it’s very important to keep experienced people on the Board of Fish,” Heyano said, going on to praise the health and management of Alaska’s “vast and complex” state fisheries resources.

The committee heard little or no testimony opposed to any of the nominees. A few commercial fishing interests neither support nor oppose Morisky. If confirmed, Jensen and Johnson will be the only two active commercial fishermen on the seven-person board when Kodiak’s Sue Jeffrey steps down at the end of her term.

Senate Resources forwarded the names on for further consideration.

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