Seawatch: Public questions Board of Fisheries nominee

Gov. Mike Dunleavy has nominated someone who could possibly be the most divisive member ever to the Alaska Board of Fisheries, retired Superior Court judge Karl Johnstone.

Johnstone has served on the Board before, from 2008 to 2015, when he stepped down after Gov. Bill Walker indicated that Johnstone would not be reappointed.

Dunleavy also appointed Marit Carlson-Van Dort of Anchorage, Gerad Godfrey of Eagle River, and reappointed Israel Payton of Wasilla. Robert Ruffner, the first Kenai Peninsula resident to serve on the board in over 20 years, applied but was not reappointed.

The Anchorage Daily News reports that three of the four nominees, Payton, Carlson-Van Dort and Johnstone, are ideologically aligned with board chair Reed Morisky, creating a polarized majority voting bloc supported by the Kenai River Sport Fishing Association. KRSA founder Bob Penney contributed at least $325,000 to Dunleavy’s campaign.

The House Resources and Fisheries committees took four hours of public comment on Monday, with people waiting for hours to give 90 seconds of testimony, most of it centered on Johnstone.

Rep. Louise Stutes of Kodiak summed up many of the objections to Johnstone when she told the committees, “I am morally and ethically moved to oppose his appointment.

“I want to see a balanced board — Mr. Johnstone represents a second Anchorage candidate, and fourth from Cook Inlet. His comments on aquaculture are alarming at best.”

She also referred to an opinion piece Johnstone wrote recently calling the commercial fishing industry out of date and no longer an economic force, suggesting the state should consider fish farming to regain global importance.

All this comes at a time when Homer Rep. Sarah Vance is launching an inquiry into a vote that the BOF took in January to not hold the next Upper Cook Inlet meeting in Kenai, after voting for it earlier.

The vote came as a surprise, with no public notice, at a meeting in Fairbanks with no UCI stakeholders present.

The board had previously settled on a rotation of holding the meetings in the Mat-Su, Anchorage and Kenai.

Vance has filed a public records request with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game requesting access to the internal communications and phone records of the chairman and members of the Board. She told Alaska Public Media, “The public has quickly lost trust in the process that has been designed to weigh their input, and I don’t blame them for that.”

Cristy Fry can be reached at

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