Some Alaskan and other U.S. West Coast fishery stakeholders are still in the dark as to who will represent them on their regional fishery management councils.

The appointments of 22 new and returning members to six of eight of the nation’s councils were announced 28 June by the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC). The U.S. Secretary of Commerce appoints council seats from state governors’ lists of nominees. Each serves three-year terms.

“Appointments to the Pacific and North Pacific fishery management councils will be announced later this summer,” the U.S. DOC said in a press release. 

It is customary for the governors’ choices for the councils to be rubber-stamped by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, who makes the official appointments, but controversy over some nominees may have delayed the appointment process.

“My understanding is that the decision on those appointments have not yet been finalized,” NOAA’s Alaska Regional Office Public Affairs Officer Julie Fair told National Fisherman. “The appointments for Pacific and North Pacific Fishery management councils will be forthcoming later this summer, and we do not anticipate any lapse in voting during their September/October council meetings.”

The U.S. state of Washington holds two of 11 voting seats on the 15-member North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC), and both remain unfilled.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee’s nominees for both the North Pacific and Pacific councils are strong advocates of management policies that prioritize ecosystem protections over “optimum yields” from fishery extractions, as currently defined in fishery laws, pushing back against the criticism of some environmenalists and sustainable fishery adovcates who claimed the NPFMC had become too top-heavy with large trawl interests who are vested directly or indirectly in the Bering Sea pollock and groundfish fisheries.

How the Council votes directly impacts Seattle trawl companies’ bottom lines, and Inslee’s “eco-candidate” choices for the NPFMC have prompted a full-court press by powerful Seattle trawl lobbyists to sway opinions at the DOC.

Over 300 fishing vessels are homeported in Seattle, and 226 make their living fishing in Alaskan waters. The Seattle-based vessels, nearly all large trawlers, take home nearly 75 percent of the value of groundfish in waters from 3 to 200 miles out in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska. 

Becca Robbins-Gisclair is Inslee’s top choice to replace Anne Vanderhoeven, whose term is set to expire, as Washington’s NPFMC voting member, even though Vanderhoeven was eligible for reappointment.

Robbins-Gisclair is senior director of Arctic Programs for the Ocean Conservancy. She “works closely with Alaska Tribes and grassroots organizations to protect a region that is on the frontlines of global climate change,” Inslee said in his nominating letter.

Robbins-Gisclair has been involved in the NPFMC process for two decades, including six years on the NPFMC Advisory Panel, as a North Pacific Research Board member and as an advisor for the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission.

Vanderhoeven is the director of government affairs for Arctic Storm Management Group, a Seattle-based company that owns and operates several large trawlers. She also serves on numerous trawl-related boards, including the At-Sea Processors Association, United Catcher Boats, and the High Seas Catcher Cooperative. In March, Inslee thanked Vanderhoeven for her NPFMC service and placed her last on his list of recommendations.

Inslee’s second choice for the Washington voting seat is Jamie Goen, executive director of the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, a trade group representing crab harvesters. Goen worked for NOAA Fisheries for 15 years and was part of the International Pacific Halibut Commission leadership team.

The third nominee was Elaine Harvey, a member of the Yakima Nation and the Watershed Department Manager for the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission.

A second Washington voting seat on the North Pacific Council must also be appointed to replace recently deceased member Kenny Down, formerly the CEO of Blue North Fisheries. Industry insiders told National Fisherman Goen is in the running for that replacement seat. 

Inslee’s choice for one seat on the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) has also raised the hackles of Seattle’s trawl sector. The PFMC oversees fisheries from 3 to 200 miles off the Washington, Oregon, and California coasts. Current member Philip Anderson, a former director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, has served three terms on the Pacific Council and is not eligible for reappointment. 

Inslee’s top choice to replace him is Aja Szumylo, executive director of the Pacific Whiting Conservation Cooperative, who “represents the commercial fishing industry and Washington’s at sea-catcher processor sector,” he wrote in his nominating letter.

His other nominees include Brian Blake, a commissioner on the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission since 2006 and a member of the PFMC’s Coastal Pelagic Species Advisory Subpanel. Also nominated is Larry Phillips, a policy director for the American Sportfishing Association and a former director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Two of the five Alaska voting seats on the NPFMC are also open. Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy’s top choices are John Moller, John Jensen, and Brian Ritchie.

Jensen, from Petersburg, has been a member of the NPFMC since 2018, but industry watchers predicted Moller will be “a slam dunk” for the seat. Moller was a co-chair for Dunleavy’s 2018 gubernatorial campaign and briefly served as a rural advisor to his administration. In Dunleavy’s NPFMC nomination letter, he cited Moller as “an Aleut from Unalaska with a lifelong connection to subsistence and commercial fishing.” He said Moller has managed fish processing plants in Adak and Atka, led a Western Alaska Community Development Quota group, and served six years on the NPFMC Advisory Panel.

Brian Ritchie, a charter operator from Homer, is widely expected to be named to the NPFMC obligatory recreational seat. Ritchie currently chairs the NPFMC Advisory Panel. He would replace Andy Mezirow of Seward, who served nine years on the Council.

For the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, commercial fisherman Juan “John” Sanchez of Florida and Troy Frady, a charter captain from Orange Beach, Alabama, are the new appointees.

The appointments “are a positive step in the right direction by maintaining a balance of interests on the Gulf Council, with three of the 17 members making a living in the commercial or charter/for-hire fisheries under the Gulf Council’s purview,” according to the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance, which represents commercial fishing interests.

“However, we still have a long way to go before there is truly balanced representation on the Gulf Council from all fishing sectors – commercial, charter/for-hire, and private anglers,” the organization said.

“It’s a strong victory for the Gulf, and we don’t often get those,” Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance Deputy Director Eric Brazer said. “We were able to maintain and protect the balance going into the next year.”

After rebuilding successes, Gulf fisheries are under increasing pressure, according to Brazer.

“Guys are fishing harder, they’re steaming farther offshore,” he said. Meanwhile, “the recreational fishery is being mismanaged” with ongoing controversies over survey findings and data collection, he said.

All council members will take their appointed seats on 11 August.

Reporting by Laine Welch