April 24th, 2013

Posted: April 24, 2013 at 9:00 am

This is a tough one for me. I’ve wrestled with the following questions for weeks and months now, and I still can’t find an explanation for both sides of the story.

So, let me lay out what I do know…

For some reason, Kenai River Sportfishing Association wanted Vince Webster off of the Board of Fish… but the reasons they gave to legislators don’t hold water. Here is the list of reasons, as emailed from KRSA. I’ve entered my lingering questions in italics.

• “He directly participated in precariously and unnecessarily lowering the escapement goal of Kenai River king salmon during a time of record low abundance and uncertain future production.” This was a unanimous Board decision, based on a recommendation from the Alaska Department of Fish & Game.

• “As an experienced member on the BOF, Mr. Webster was tasked to co-chair a Cook Inlet king salmon task force. Its mission was essentially to identify the best mix of fishing opportunity during times of low king salmon abundance and the best means of attaining the escapement goal. Unfortunately, the final work product of the task force failed. The process he was tasked to oversee ended in deadlock.” This was also true of fellow Board Member Tom Kluberton.

• “The failure of the task force rests in large part with Mr. Webster. A canceled December meeting wasted valuable time that could have been used to address ADFG processes to establish escapement goals. Subsequent meetings offered no forward progress and squandered valuable time, resources and energy of participants.” This was also true of fellow Board Member Tom Kluberton.

• “Subsequently at the March BOF meeting, Mr. Webster led the charge to take the easy way out by accepting a risky, lowered escapement goal.” This was a unanimous Board decision, based on a recommendation from the Alaska Department of Fish & Game.

• “Public perception is that the overriding agenda of Mr. Webster is to put commercial set netters back in the water during periods of low abundance.” Is this the reason to deny him reappointment?

• “When a new board member tried to bring up discussion points on such fishery conservation issues, Mr. Webster led the fight to deny the airing of this important topic.” This point gives me pause, but as I listened to the Board of Fish meeting in Anchorage last March, I didn’t detect anything amiss. Assuming I must have missed something, why didn’t the other Board members pursue the conversation?

Unless there were backroom antics I missed, I don’t see how any of these are true of Vince Webster and not true of fellow Board Member Tom Kluberton; but Kluberton was reappointed seamlessly on April 8 and Webster was shot down. I’ve gone through each reason, and it’s been pointed out to me (by State legislators, former Board Members, and the public) that the decisions which are under the microscope were all unanimous Board decisions.

So this leaves me with two questions I can’t answer…

One — why Webster and not Kluberton? Both men chaired the King Salmon Task Force, both had involvement in the decisions (and lack of decisions) we saw from that event. In all my dealings with Kluberton and Webster at the Task Force, it was Kluberton who was the more vocal, more engaged, more visible of the pair… so if the failure of the Task Force is the reason to get rid of Board of Fish members… why Webster and not Kluberton?

I asked KRSA this question, and Ricky Gease responded that Webster has a history of adding language to proposals after the public process which favors commercial fishing interests.

This is part of my second question — if it wasn’t about the Task Force, then it wasn’t for the reasons KRSA gave legislators. So why did 30 legislators vote against Webster? Even if KRSA has other good reasons for getting rid of Webster, those weren’t the reasons they emailed to State representatives.

Legislators were told Webster messed up the Task Force. Why did the legislators buy into this idea? With the Kenai Peninsula’s entire delegation speaking on the house floor in favor of Webster, and the Governor expressing clearly that the allegations against Webster were unfounded, why didn’t the majority of legislators listen? How is it possible that KRSA has more influence on our state government than our local representatives?

There’s one last piece to this puzzle that I have to share.

If, in fact, KRSA is objecting to the idea that Webster made decisions that favored commercial fishing interests over sportfishing interests, how do they respond to the video on YouTube which shows Board of Fish member Karl Johnstone consulting with Ricky Gease and other KRSA members during a recess at a recent Board of Fish meeting. Johnstone clearly asks how they’ll be impacted and asks “do you want that instead of the current regulation” on silver salmon. “We definitely want the ability to continue fishing,” responds KRSA.

Personally, I don’t see a problem with Board members consulting the group they are affiliated with, but if KRSA is ousting Webster for that reason then they can’t do the same thing with Johnstone.

If I’m biased, I want to know. I’ll be the first to apologize for my concerns if there is a reasonable explanation given; but until then, I’m left wondering: what happened here? And why?


Think about it.

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8 Comments to “April 24th, 2013”

  • Travis O'Connor says:

    Some clarity from someone who doesn’t work next to a commercial setnetter:

  • Todd Smith says:

    Mr. O’Connor, nearly everyone who works in Kenai/Soldotna works next to a commercial setnetter. In fact, the guy who wrote the article you linked lives next door to a commercial setnetter! Setnetting has been a pillar of our diverse and healthy fishery for over 100 years, and everyone in the community benefits in one way or another from this totally sustainable fishery.

    There were several articles in the AK Dispatch in addition to the one you posted. An excellent opposing view to Mr. Gease’s, written by Mr. Thompson, and an outstanding editorial by the Dispatch Editor, Andrew Jensen, that covers Mr. Webster’s ousting. Please read those as well.

    Mr. Webster was attacked by KRSA for submitting an RC proposal mid-process that some user groups opposed. In fact, all user groups opposed one thing or another in his proposal becuase it was an attempt a compromise – perfect for no one, but at least he tried to work with everyone.

    The newest BOF member also submitted an RC proposal, which is linked below. While it has his name handwritten on the bottom, it is the EXACT SAME proposal that KRSA’s nonresident paid consultant Task Force member submitted during the TF process. Word for word. It is absolutely allocative to KRSA’s fishery, and makes no attempt at a compromise. But yet they oppose Webster and support this BOF member. Thank you Ms. Quinn for covering a topic that needs more attention.

  • Travis O'Connor says:

    Wasn’t knocking setnetting or Ms. Quinn’s article, Mr. Smith. Relax. But a typical and expected response from a setnetter nonetheless. Just adding a touch of levity and noting that there quite possibly is another side to this story as well – the one of the personal-use and sport fishing audience. And it might need a little attention as well.

  • Todd Smith says:

    No, you were implying that because someone in her office is a setnetter, she is biased. Shame shame.

    If by a ‘typical and expected’ response from a setnetter you mean fact-based and reasonable, I’ll take that as a compliment.

    In the interest of facts, the articles I referred to by Thompson and Jensen were actually in the AK journal of commerce. My mistake.

    You are right – the personal use and sport fishing sectors of our fishery do need some attention. They have been allowed to grow unrestricted along with commercial activity and powerboat use on our river, despite the obvious negative effects on our resource. The above-referenced sportfishing organization that claims to be ‘dedicated to ensuring the sustainability’ of our resource is too focused on destroying the setnet industry to pay attention to the environmental health of our river.

  • Sarah says:

    Travis, do you think now is a good time to share your link to KRSA?

  • Steve Wright says:

    To be brutally Honest, All Fishing User Groups are exactly like Our U S Congress, they can’t make a decision or agree on ANY one issue ! All of their time is spent BackStabbing & Turning against each other & placing Blame. Not a Damn Thing is Accomplished.
    This has been True for Generations now, It’s ALWAYS someone else fault. No One accepts responsibility & takes positive steps to correct the problems. SPW

  • Dwight Kramer says:

    Great opinion piece Ms. Quinn, and you are right on target about KRSA except you’re afraid to say it, they are as dirty as it gets and they are never happy unless they have complete controll over all aspects of fisheries management on the Kenai River. They have done more to fracture this community than any other fisheries group. They should be ashamed of the way they conduct themselves but they never are and that is why they aren’t very well liked or respected in their own community. You haven’t been here very long but you’ve caught on earlier than most reporters do. Thanks for your honest perspective.

  • Steve Wright says:

    4/29/13 I have watched the Fish Wars for over 30 years & have come to the following conclusion: All of the local Fishing User Groups are just like Our Congress. They can’t agree on anything ! No One will compromise, All of their time is spent Back Stabbing & Blame Throwing at each other. Year after Year Season after Season, The Drama continues on & on & never seems to end. SPW”Airborne”