A fisheries policy letter written by Kodiak Island Borough Mayor Jerome Selby received criticism this week because it was written without public meetings or complete assembly support.

The letter addresses a divisive issue in the Kodiak fishing fleet: proposed groundfish closures near Kodiak designed to protect against tanner crab bycatch. The closures could halt fishing for trawl or pot boats in as much as 2,000 square nautical miles.

Both the borough and city have weighed in on the subject with official letters to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) in the last two weeks.

Selby’s letter is written on behalf of Kodiak residents and says the borough “is opposed to any seasonal or annual closure areas proposed in the Gulf of Alaska tanner crab bycatch alternatives.”

Because of assembly sentiment the borough will not present its letter at the NPFMC meeting, said Trevor Brown, who attends NPFMC meetings on behalf of the city and borough.

Borough assembly member Chris Lynch said Wednesday she does not support the letter because of the language about the borough opposing the closures.

“I don’t think we should be opposing or not opposing anything at this time” she said.

Assembly member Louise Stutes told radio station KMXT that she opposed the letter’s message, as well as the way it was drafted.

NPFMC is meeting in Anchorage this week and is scheduled to reach a decision on the tanner crab bycatch issue this weekend.

Selby said he does not think the borough’s letter is substantially different from a city letter on the topic.

“I didn’t take any big positions in the letter. I just said hold up, let’s hold on here before we shut down a $9 million industry (groundfish) in the community,” he said. “To me it (the city letter) says the same thing. People can quibble about the language, but I think it means the same.”

The Kodiak City Council drafted its letter by resolution after a special meeting Wednesday.

The city letter does not specifically mention groundfish closures or say the city opposes any proposal.

It does urge the NPFMC to consider the Kodiak economy when making a decision and asks the NPFMC to “collect all available and pertinent data prior to making a decision.”

Selby said the urgency of getting a letter to the NPFMC made it necessary to write it and have borough assembly members read it by e-mail instead of scheduling a public meeting.

He took his letter to the borough clerk’s office last Sept. 27 to get it on file before a NPFMC filing deadline the next day. The letter was sent to borough assembly members as well as the NPFMC on Sept. 29 by e-mail.

Selby said he does not believe bycatch is a threat to crab in the proposed closure areas based on the studies in NPFMC’s report.

But while he said closing the groundfish fisheries would be bad for Kodiak’s economy, he supports alternatives suggested by the NPFMC report These alternatives include requiring boats to use modified gear or requiring trawling and pot boats to carry observers 100 percent of the time.

“My letter does not support status quo,” he said. “What we’re suggesting is you do a few things on the list of sub-alternatives.”

Both the borough and city letters recommend expanding the observer programs, but ask the federal government to pay for it instead of boat owners. NPFMC is also reworking the observer program this weekend.

The existing information on the proposed groundfish closures can be found in a 144-page report at www.fakr.noaa.gov/npfmc/current_issues/bycatch/GOAcrab.pdf.

Mirror writer Sam Friedman can be reached via e-mail at sfriedman@kodiakdailymirror.com.

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