Was Kodiak Island Borough Mayor Jerome Selby too unilateral in a fisheries policy letter written on behalf of Kodiak residents?

Borough assembly members thought so at a regular meeting Thursday night.

The body voted to rescind the letter over concerns that it had not been approved in a public meeting and does not reflect the opinions of the assembly members.

“It does look as if we (the assembly) have been making decisions behind closed doors,” assembly member Sue Jeffrey said. “Obviously, anybody that is listening now realizes that is not the case. I think the mayor understands that this is not good public policy, no matter how worthy you think the letter is.”

The letter addresses a topic that divides Kodiak fisherman: how to reduce the tanner crab bycatch in waters east of Kodiak.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) plans to discuss the issue this weekend in Anchorage. It is considering options including closing areas to trawl and pot fishing, mandatory gear modifications and requiring boats to always carry observers when fishing.

Selby’s letter says the borough opposes closing any fishery. The letter favors expanded observer coverage as long as the federal government pays to put the observers on boats.

At Thursday’s meeting borough staff were asked to send an e-mail to NPFMC to explain that the letter was written without a public process.

More than one assembly member said Thursday night they had not seen the letter until days after it was e-mailed to NPFMC.

“It (the letter) caught me blindsided big time,” assembly member Jerrol Friend said. “Especially when I get phone calls and people asking me, ‘Well, what do you think of this letter?’ I’m going, ‘I haven’t gotten to read it.’”

Several local fishermen attended the meeting to question the lack of community comments that went into Selby’s letter. Some asked for his resignation.

Selby first took the letter to the borough clerk’s office Sep. 27. It was sent to borough assembly members and NPFMC Sep. 29. The assembly members received the letter with a reminder about their Sep. 30 meeting, and some did not notice it was attached.

Selby said he had not expected his opposition to closing ground fisheries would be so controversial.

He cited a 2007 National Marine Fisheries Report which concludes that there is no significant impact on tanner crab stocks from bycatch in the Kodiak district.

“I didn’t really anticipate this letter being that big of a deal, quite frankly, because it seemed to me like this was kind of a no-brainer,” he said. “If you have no impact (on tanner crab stocks), why would you stop bringing that kind of community impact (groundfish) to shore.”

Selby said the borough needs to work out an effective system for deciding community fishery policy. Decisions on Gulf of Alaska rockfish and chinook salmon bycatch are coming up at the December NPFMC meeting.

Assembly members Friend and Jeffrey voted to rescind the letter, along with assembly members Louise Stutes and Judy Fulp.

Assembly members also heard in public comments Thursday night that Selby’s letter has already been delivered to NPFMC by a third-party Kodiak resident, not Trevor Brown, who attends the meeting for the borough and city.

Kodiak City Mayor Carolyn Floyd also sent a letter to the NPFMC about the tanner crab bycatch issue. The city letter was drafted following a special city council meeting. It does not say the city opposes groundfish closures, but asks the NPFMC to consider consequences of any action to the Kodiak economy.

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

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