The board that makes changes to Alaska’s commercial, sport, subsistence and personal use fisheries is preparing for in-person meetings later this year in Cordova and early next year in Ketchikan. Those meetings were postponed from earlier this year because of the pandemic.
The Board of Fisheries discussed the upcoming meetings during an online work session this month. Executive director Glenn Haight asked for the board’s help in letting meeting attendees know about mitigation measures that will be in place.
“I’m expecting that they’ll be some people who aren’t going to want to conform to the mitigation measures that we put in place and we have to have them do that otherwise, you know we talked about various enforcement actions and what we would do,” Haight said. “It could be that we stop the meeting but to the extent we don’t have your support in that I don’t know if it’s going to be very easy to conduct these meetings.”
Mitigation measures will depend on alert status at the state and local level. The plan includes requiring registration of people attending in person to help with contact tracing as well as social distancing where possible. An oversight group made up of department staff and local community representatives will determine what other measures may be required. Face coverings would be optional unless required by local mandate or where social distancing isn’t possible. Haight said Cordova would be requiring masks when walking around the building. He also said they’ll have the ability to conduct a hybrid of in-person and online meetings on Zoom and broadcast on Youtube.
“One thing we’ve talked about a lot is that people always get sick at these thing, a good head cold or whatever it is, it’s common we all do get sick at times,” he said. “That has the potential to really slow down a meeting if you get something that’s similar to a COVID symptom. We’ll have some testing capacity, instructions on that nearby and so that may take a person away from the meeting for a while.”
Board chair Mӓrit Carlson-Van Dort of Anchorage spoke about the competing needs of public access and mitigation measures.
“We want to try and make sure that we’re still providing that public process and that transparency and that opportunity that the Board of Fisheries is so well known for but we also want to make sure that we’re being respectful of the host community and the host facility,” Carlson-Van Dort said. “So to the extent that we can make sure that the guidance and the rules are very, very clear that are published in advance for people, I really would like to make sure that we’re doing that.”
Most board members were not interested in wearing a mask all day during the meeting, but said they’d comply with masking requirements during breaks. Some said they wouldn’t attend if full time masking was a requirement. Others said they’d have no problem with a face covering.
Board member John Wood of Willow offered his help for social distancing requirements.
“If you have a shortage of space I am totally ambivalent one way or the other so if there’s another board member that doesn’t care one way put me closer than six foot to them and leave that room for those that do have issues with wearing a mask and go from there,” Wood said. “But if you tell me to show up with a hazmat suit I’ll show up with a hazmat suit. I think it’s all ridiculous but it’s just my own opinion.”
The Alaska Trollers Association asked the board to delay the Southeast meeting until January of 2023 because of the ongoing presence of COVID-19 cases in Alaska. The industry group called an in-person meeting at this time a public health threat. However the state board is sticking with its schedule.
That means a week-long meeting in Cordova on finfish and shellfish proposals for Prince William Sound along with the upper Copper and Susitna rivers. That’s November 30th through December 6th.
A nearly two-week meeting on Southeast fish and shellfish proposals is January 4th through the 15th, 2022 at the Ted Ferry Civic Center in Ketchikan. The board did agree to change the schedule a little to allow staff to attend a January 10th meeting of the Pacific Salmon Commission. That will mean salmon and herring proposals will be taken up during the first week. The board will tackle crab, shellfish and groundfish changes the second week.