This story originally published in the Peninsula Clarion.
Anchorage will be the location for the Alaska Board of Fisheries 2020 Upper Cook Inlet Finfish meeting. The Board of Fisheries voted on the location site at the end of their two-day work session in Anchorage, Thursday.
The vote was 4-3 in favor of locating the regulatory meeting in Anchorage in 2020. Board members Märit Carlson-Van Dort, Gerad Godfrey and Fritz Johnson opposed having the meeting in Anchorage.
Johnson said it’s been long overdue that the meeting be held in Kenai.
The meeting has never been held in the Matanuska Susitna Borough and was last held on the Kenai Peninsula in 1999.
In an unexpected vote in January, the Alaska Board of Fisheries decided to move the 2020 regulatory meeting from the Kenai Peninsula to Anchorage. The meeting was originally going to be held in Anchorage, but a March 2018 vote moved the 2020 meeting to the Kenai-Soldotna area, and established a policy that rotated the Upper Cook Inlet Finfish meetings between Anchorage, Kenai/Soldotna and Palmer/Wasilla.
At their Thursday work session, the board also rescinded the policy that rotated the Upper Cook Inlet Finfish meeting locations between Palmer/Wasilla, Kenai/Soldotna and Anchorage.
“The board considers Kenai as an option, Anchorage as an option and Palmer as an option, even though it’s been decided on in Anchorage these past 20 years or what have you,” Board member Israel Payton said at Thursday’s work session. “That’s the wisdom of the board at the time that that’s the best place to hold the meeting. It may not be fair to stakeholders in the Mat Su. It may not be fair to stakeholders on the Kenai Peninsula, but it’s what the board decided at the time that was just for all stakeholders.”
When asked about the cost to host in each of the three communities, Board of Fisheries Executive Director Glenn Haight said that “surprisingly,” travel costs between the three locations are similar, all ranging between $115,00 to $120,000. He said the venue in Kenai was offered for free and would result in a $30,000 savings.
The decision to hold a new vote on Thursday came after an investigation by the state ombudsman found that the board violated the Open Meetings Act.
Alaska State Ombudsman Kate Burkhart found in a final Aug. 29 report that the Board of Fisheries violated the act when they decided in January 2019 to relocate the finfish meeting from the Kenai/Soldotna area to Anchorage. Burkhart said the board should hold another vote on the location of the 2020 meeting location, after providing notice. That vote took place Thursday.
The ombudsman investigation found that while the board had provided notice of its January 2019 meeting, the notice did not include the board’s intent to revisit the issue of where the 2020 finfish meeting would be held.
At the start of the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim finfish meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 15, Board of Fisheries Chair Reed Morisky announced the board would likely be considering the Upper Cook Inlet meeting location at the end of the meeting. On Friday, Jan. 18, the board reversed their March 2018 decision with a 4-3 vote, moving the 2020 meeting back to Anchorage.
During a break in the Jan. 18 meeting, Morisky told stakeholders from Kenai the board would not take up the issue of the location of the 2020 meeting, and those stakeholders left the meeting based on Morisky’s advice, the ombudsman’s release said.
“Yes, I did speak with the Kenai official and he expressed that if it looked like we weren’t going to take this up, he wanted to leave,” Morisky said on the record at the Jan. 18 meeting, according to the ombudsman’s investigation. “And the conversation we had at the time was that it looked like weren’t going to take this up at the meeting. So, I take full responsibility for that, there was no intent to mislead. He left and circumstances changed, and I apologize for that but we’re here now and we’re going to vote on this.”
The Upper Cook Inlet Finfish meeting is set to take place Feb. 7-20, 2020, at the Egan Center in Anchorage.