The United Fishermen of Alaska has offered its support for restoration of a Coastal Management program for the state, but stopped short of endorsing the initiative process in which local communities hope to force the creation of a new program.
The board noted the importance of fisheries to the Alaska economy, and endorsed restoration of a new program.
“UFA’s focus is on the common interests of the fishing industry, and we all share the recognition of the need for the ACMP’s coordination of local and borough input into federal decision-making on coastal projects,” said Mark Vinsel, executive director of the coalition of 57 commercial fishing organizations.
Vinsel announced the resolution Wednesday following the board’s meeting last week in Homer.
The program expired following the failure of the Legislature to renew it during its 2011 session.
Local communities seeking more of a say and Gov. Sean Parnell seeking to keep control of development in his office fought through two special sessions but were unable to reach an agreement to extend the program. Its expiration left Alaska the only coastal state without such a program, which gives state a formal role in federal actions.
In response, community leaders, including Mayor Bruce Botelho, filed an initiative petition to force creation of a program. That petition is now being reviewed by Attorney General John Burns.
“I’m very thankful from the support of the UFA, along with the showings of support from the Alaska Municipal League and the Alaska Federation of Natives,” said Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau.
She said she wasn’t worried the UFA resolution did not specifically address the initiative.
“At this point the only way to restore the program is through the initiative,” she said, though she remained hopeful the Legislature would restore it on its own or with the prompting of the initiative process.
UFA President Arni Thomson, a crab fisherman, said the initiative might not be the only way to restore the program.
“The current ballot initiative activity by community leaders in Juneau, Kenai and Kodiak is one way to get the program reestablished, and if approved by the Attorney General in December there will be a very short window in which to obtain the needed signatures to get it on the ballot later this year,” he said.
But the Legislature, on its own, could restore it even before an election could be held, he said.
Burns has until mid-December to conduct a legal review of the petition. If it is approved, Botelho said he hopes to collect the required 27,000 signatures required to place the measure on the ballot.
• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.