PVOA endorses Rep. Thomas for another term, but chides him for salmon fishery 'conflict of interest'

The Petersburg Vessel Owners Association, a top Southeast Alaska commercial fishing group, has endorsed a slate of candidates for the upcoming election.

Among these is state Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Haines, a commercial salmon drift gillnetter and one of the Legislature's most powerful members as co-chair of the House Finance Committee.

PVOA's endorsement of Thomas comes with an admonishment. Some members of the organization believe the lawmaker has displayed a "conflict of interest" in apparently trying to influence state salmon fishery managers.

So indicates a recent email to PVOA members from the group's executive director, Julianne Curry. Here it is:

From: Julianne Curry -PVOA-
Date: October 1, 2012 11:37:21 AM PDT
To: Petersburg Vessel Owners
Subject: General Election November 6th, 2012

PVOA members,

Please check your email filters, we have had several problems lately in getting emails to our membership.

At a recent PVOA meeting the membership endorsed candidates for the upcoming general election to be held on November 6th, 2012. Based on experience with the fishing industry, leadership positions, and years of dedicated service to the region, PVOA supported the full slate of incumbent candidates for Southeast and for the U.S. House. Since the last census, Southeast lost more residents than any other region in the State. Due to census-based redistricting, Southeast is losing a Senator and a Representative from the Alaska State Legislature. In order for Southeast to continue to have a voice in the State legislature, be sure to vote on November 6th, 2012 and encourage others to do the same.

Senate District Q: Bert Stedman
House District 31: Cathy Munoz
House District 32: Beth Kerttula
House District 33: Peggy Wilson
House District 34: Bill Thomas
U.S. House of Representatives: Don Young

In response to concerns from PVOA members the following letter was sent to Representative Thomas:

Representative Thomas,

Attached you will find a letter of endorsement from PVOA for the upcoming general election. As the Co-Chair of the House Finance Committee, your work to fund the ADF&G budget has had a major impact on projects in Southeast that are important to our membership. In the 2012 session alone, you established annual funding items including: Southeast Alaska sockeye and Chinook salmon stock assessment at $550,000 a year, a Southeast Alaska pot shrimp fishery in-season management project at $70,000 a year, and a Hugh Smith Lake sockeye and coho adult enumeration project at $120,000 a year. You also helped attain a demersal shelf rockfish and lingcod stock assessment at $340,000 a year and you were instrumental in attaining four years of funding for genetic stock work to determine sockeye stock of origin in the Chatham and Icy Straight corridor for $300,000. It is imperative that the fishing industry has someone to fund important ADF&G projects as well as our ports and harbors and hatcheries. As the only remaining commercial fisherman in the State Legislature, you provide a strong voice for our region.

As a multi-gear multi-species fishing organization, PVOA currently represents over 100 vessels and businesses operating primarily in Southeast Alaska. Of our 85 vessels, 42 of them are Southeast seiners who depend on sustainable management of our salmon resource to ensure a healthy future. Some of our members have expressed concern regarding your interaction with ADF&G’s in-season salmon management. PVOA’s endorsement was made possible by your long list contributions to Southeast and the fishing industry, but also by your willingness to reconsider your approach to how you participate in the management and allocation process of the Northern salmon districts. While we respect any individual’s right to offer potential knowledge and opinion to ADF&G personnel, we feel your service in the Legislature makes in-season interaction with ADF&G a conflict of interest. Salmon management and allocation issues should be addressed in the appropriate forums and through the proper channels, allowing due process to take its course. In the future, we would like to sit down with you and other regional fishing associations to discuss concerns we share regarding Northern salmon management and allocation.

We thank you for your years of service in the Legislature. We look forward to continuing to work with you on common goals and issues that are important to the fishing industry and Alaska. Please feel free to contact myself of any member of the PVOA Board of Directors with any questions or comments you may have. Each of the Board members have been CC’d on this email for your convenience and I would be happy to provide you with their phone numbers if you wish to speak with them in person.

Julianne Curry
Petersburg Vessel Owners Association