Fishing groups voice opposition to CFEC reorganization
Following an April 4 hearing that drew unanimous opposition from fishing groups, the House Resources Committee held a bill that would make statutory changes to the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission.
The bill is a relatively simple administrative fix, but sits in a tangle created by an administrative order by Gov. Bill Walker that has attracted criticism over its legality, a legislative audit of the agency, and opposition from fishermen.
Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, introduced the bill, but drastically scaled down the original version introduced last year to simply meet the needs of a 2015 legislative audit recommending some of the changes directed by Walker’s order.
Now, the bill’s main elements address administrative fixes: moving the CFEC commissioners to part-time pay and changing CFEC employees’ statutory designations.
“It changes (commissioners) from being on a monthly rate to a daily rate,” summarized Stutes’ staffer Reid Harris.
It also changes CFEC employees’ designation from “exempt” to “classified,” another statutory change.
“This bill is drafted to the recommendations of the audit,” Harris said.
Both recommendations enable Walker’s order, which folded CFEC duties into the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
Walker’s order mandated the CFEC to fold some of its duties into the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
The CFEC creates and licenses the limited entry commercial fisheries in Alaska state waters. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game, or ADFG, manages the fisheries in season and performs the scientific studies necessary to do so.
The order folded several of CFEC’s administrative duties into ADFG’s domain, including: licensing and permitting services (ministerial services only); information technology services; accounting services; payroll services; procurement services; and budget services.
Walker’s order was intended to be a cost-saving measure, and follows two bills introduced in the last two years that would have dismantled CFEC altogether, including Stutes’ bill.
A legislative audit completed by former Administrative Services director Tom Lawson recommended several changes to CFEC structure that Walker’s order incorporated along with several changes independent of the audit.
CFEC commissioners circulated two letters following the order, saying it exceeded the audit’s recommendations. They also said it borders on unconstitutional.
Legislators took up the query.
Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau, asked the legislative law office for its opinion of Walker’s order. The opinion, drafted by Legislative Affairs Director of Legal Services Doug Gardner, found a potential constitutional snag.
According to the Alaska Constitution, the governor is indeed authorized to “reorganize” administrative duties in the executive branch, which includes both ADFG and CFEC.
If the reorganization requires “force of law” — a change in statute — then it requires an executive order subject to the Legislature’s approval.
Most CFEC duties are statutory, put in place by the Limited Entry Act. In particular, Walker’s administrative order could give ADFG the statutory duty to issue licenses under certain circumstances. This would require a statutory change — a force of law — which means Walker’s order should have been executive, according to Gardner.
“Based on the language in (Walker’s order),” wrote Gardner, “it is hard to evaluate how ADFG can perform either of these licensing functions which are 1) specific statutory duties of CFEC that in some cases affect the rights and liabilities of permit holders; and 2) where these statutory functions could be more that purely ‘ministerial.’”
The Resources Committee will hold another hearing for the bill on April 6.
Fishermen spoke unanimously against the bill during the hearing, mostly because it relates to an administrative order they oppose but have no direct recourse to change.
During the hearing, the scant public commentary mostly addressed the related administrative order rather than the bill’s elements.
“We’re opposed to anything in this bill, as it’s helping the administrative order,” said Martin Lunde of the Southeast Alaska Seiners Association, or SEAS, who added that they believe it should have been done as an executive order.
Bob Thorstensen, the executive director of SEAS, called Walker’s administrative order “far, far, far deeper and more destructive than even the audit.”
Jerry McCune, president of the United Fishermen of Alaska, the largest fishing industry group in the state, said the agency crossover would present new problems as the State of Alaska develops new fisheries in the Bering Sea’s federal waters, that are controlled by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.
ADFG Commissioner Sam Cotten sits on that council, as per federal law. McCune and others voiced a concern that conflict would occur if Cotten makes licensing calls in both the federal and the state fisheries.
Ben Brown, one of two currently sitting CFEC commissioners, said he could support the bill, and did not speak directly of the administrative order itself.
“The debate that’s started to happen doesn’t address the four corners of this bill,” said Brown.”
Brown said the bill’s intent to lower commissioners to part-time pay and part-time workloads was acceptable, given that it falls in line with the legislative audit’s recommendation to streamline CFEC but maintain its existence.
“I don’t know what the practical end result of the administrative order will be,” said Brown. “We commissioners can support (this version) of this bill.”
DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected].