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Johnson recused from some permit stacking, Nush proposals


Alaska's Board of Fisheries is meeting in Anchorage this week to talk about Bristol Bay, but the Bristol Bay drift permit holder on the board won't be able to participate in deliberations on some possible changes.

In a discussion of ethics this morning, the board voted not to allow board member Fritz Johnson, of Dillingham, to participate in the deliberations on six proposals.

In addition to sitting on the board, Johnson is a Bristol Bay drift permit holder. He’ll be allowed to participate in much of the meeting, but when the board makes a decision on three drift permit stacking proposals and three Nushagak District proposals, he won’t be at the table.

Chair Tom Kluberton said it was basically an issue of perception.

“We bring people on these boards for their expertise and then we tend to lock ‘em in the closet where it might be most useful, but I do remember many years ago, a very clear message I got in my early public life was regardless of the outcome, conflict of interest is the appearance of conflict of interest," Kluberton said.

Kluberton initially ruled that Johnson could participate in the permit stacking proposals, but the board decided to vote on the issue for itself.

Johnson said he was unlikely to take advantage of permit stacking even if it were allowed.

“Presently I’m still paying for my first permit, and the idea that I could go buy another one – in my world it’s kind of far fetched," he said.

Kluberton said he didn’t think the issue came down to financial issues.

“Yeah, my perspective after five years on this board and dealing with permit stacking every year, I’ve heard arguments extensively to both directions. Every perspective, every avenue. My conclusion in the end was that I just see permit stacking as a religious issue, not a financial or conservation issue.”

Ultimately, just Kluberton and Johnson voted to allow Johnson’s participation, with the other five board members voting against it.

Board member John Jensen, a commercial fisherman from Petersburg who has been conflicted out of proposals himself in the past, said he didn’t cast his vote with a mean spirit.

“We’re put on these boards because of our expertise," he said. "And when our area comes up, that our family and everybody’s involved in, we can’t participate. It’s been really frustrating for me over the years and I can understand where you’re at.”

Johnson was also recused from participating in three proposals that address Nushagak District drifters.

Kluberton ruled that Johnson could not participate in the decision on proposal 64, which would direct Fish and Game to schedule Nushagak District openings an hour before high tide.

“If all drifters could make money, all drifters could also stack permits," he said. "I don’t see the distinction there. And if each drifter caught x number of more fish because the optimum time to fish is the tide change, over the course of the season, I could see that stack up. Over a few years, I could see that stack up even further.”

After Johnson objected to that decision, the board voted unanimously not to allow him to participate.

Kluberton also ruled that Johnson will not be allowed to participate on two proposals that would increase the distance between drifters and setnetters in the Nush.

Johnson can participate in the discussion of all of those proposals as part of the committee process, but won’t participate in the board’s deliberations and vote.