Knowles plans for interim members of unfilled boards

Posted: Friday, May 24, 2002

ANCHORAGE - Gov. Tony Knowles has no intention of allowing the state Board of Fisheries to finish out the year with only four of seven seats filled, his spokesman said Thursday.

Instead, Knowles will name interim members for board seats that might otherwise have gone to nominees who never got a confirmation vote from the Republican-led Legislature.

As the legislative session wound down this month, lawmakers ignored the 13 people Knowles, a Democrat in the last year of his second term, named to four state boards, effectively killing the appointments.

Republicans are hopeful U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, will win election as governor later this year. The next governor will get the job of filling board seats for full three-year terms. Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer, a Democrat, is expected to be the other candidate from a major party.

Knowles spokesman Bob King said the Legislature's inaction will leave the four boards short-handed, especially the Board of Game, where there are not enough members for a quorum. The other two panels affected are the Board of Education and the University of Alaska Board of Regents.

Many commercial fishing interests were quick to condemn lawmakers for failing to at least vote on the nominees. In past years, Knowles nominated sportfishermen or others perceived as enemies of commercial fishing to the board, which must settle the state's frequent and bitter fish fights. This time, they were pleased at least two nominees came from the commercial fishing ranks.

Sue Aspelund, executive director of the trade group Cordova District Fishermen United, said the Legislature complicated the already tedious and sometimes contentious process of regulating fisheries.

"The Board of Fisheries is a tough board to find candidates for in the first place, and additional political overtones in the confirmation process make it even less attractive," she said.

Knowles had named two commercial fishing insiders: Art Nelson of Anchorage, who has experience on Western Alaska salmon issues and who now works for an association of Bering Sea pollock factory trawlers, and Gerry Merrigan of Petersburg, a commercial halibut fisherman and salmon troller active in board business.

Most commercial fishermen opposed the third nominee, Brett Huber of Soldotna, executive director of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association.

Some sportfishermen also opposed Huber, saying he worked for catch rules that would have favored wealthy Outside tourists over residents.

Board members Grant Miller of Sitka, Dan Coffey of Anchorage and Virgil Umphenour of Fairbanks will leave June 30 when their terms expire.

The governor can either ask those members to stay on through the remainder of the year or bring in new people. He is not permitted to rename the trio rejected by the Legislature.

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