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Kodiak’s Fish & Game Advisory Committee working on bylaws to prevent undermining of the group and strengthen representation

Commercial fishing vessels docked in the St. Paul Harbor in Kodiak. Taken Feb. 6, 2023 by Brian Venua/KMXT
Commercial fishing vessels docked in the St. Paul Harbor in Kodiak. Taken Feb. 6, 2023 by Brian Venua/KMXT

Kodiak’s Fish and Game Advisory Committee [AC] is making headway on its bylaws following a public fissure amongst committee members during a recent Board of Fish meeting.

The Kodiak committee advises the state Department of Fish and Game on local hunting and fishing. During a committee meeting last Tuesday, Feb. 27, one of the hot topics was the fallout from this winter’s Board of Fish meeting that was held in Kodiak, Jan. 9 – 12.

Ron Kavanaugh was part of a group of six members out of the 15 total on the AC who sent a letter to the Board of Fish in January going against the advisory committee’s support of a specific set net proposal. It would have increased salmon fishing opportunities for the set gillnet fleet but it was ultimately voted down by the Board.

During last week’s advisory committee meeting, Kavanaugh acknowledged he should not have addressed the Board of Fish in that manner.

“That was a huge mistake mentioning the AC [Advisory Committee] anywhere [in the letter]…But I was not speaking for the AC. And that was a mistake I did when I signed that, was not fully reading it [the letter]. Because I was approached by members of the Board of Fish about how my comments didn’t match with how I voted. Well, I voted to bring this [proposal] forward, not necessarily because I support it,” Kavanaugh explained.

Committee member Julie Kavanaugh, who was not present for last week’s meeting, sent comments to the AC Chair acknowledging her mistakes in signing onto the letter in the same way Ron did.

In response, another AC member, Patrick O’Donnell, wants the committee to have a safeguard added to the bylaws to prevent members from speaking for the advisory committee, instead of speaking for themselves as individuals, at a Board of Fish meeting.

“I think it should be incorporated into the bylaws, so that we’re clear in the direction forward here because I think what happened here in January undermined the credibility of the AC,” O’Donnell said. “And I spent 17 hours in here discussing all of that crap, and we got undermined. And it just doesn’t sit well with me.”

After the public letter was submitted by six members of the advisory committee to the Board of Fish, the AC looked to see if this possibly violated the Open Meetings Act. According to Natalie Romo, the regional coordinator for the AC, a representative from the Alaska Department of Law will be following up with the committee on this issue. It is believed that the committee members’ actions at the Board of Fish meeting did not violate the Open Meetings Act.

The committee did not take any specific action during last week’s meeting but the Advisory Committee Chair says he plans to update the bylaws in the future. Currently, Kodiak AC Chair Paul Chervenak describes the group’s bylaws as a “work in progress.”

Chervenak also hopes to incorporate a clear guideline in the bylaws for AC members who hold designated seats to represent specific user groups – for example, a transporter holding a seat to represent sport fish charters and transporters.

In this respect, Alexus Kwachka offered to step down from his seat as the representative for processors. His term doesn’t expire until June of 2026. O’Donnell, who represents trawl setters, suggested that a person who is from the processing industry should sit in Kwachka’s seat.

“You don’t have a designated processor seat, and I don’t feel that any Joe should fill that seat. So if we don’t have that designated seat filled by a processor, then I think maybe it should go out to a concerned citizen,” O’Donnell said.

Kwachka agreed with O’Donnell and said he didn’t take it personally. Other members of the committee said they have reached out to individual processors and none of them have expressed interest in being on the Kodiak Advisory Committee. If someone did come forward to take Kwachka’s seat, then the committee could hold an election to replace him at any time.

If a qualified candidate doesn’t apply for the seat, then AC Chair Chervenak said the bylaws could allow for another willing candidate to represent the user group instead. For now, Kwachka will continue to hold the processor’s seat.

A public notice announcing the next Kodiak Advisory Committee meeting should be posted at least a week in advance through the State of Alaska’s online public notice site.