Should the Board of Fisheries postpone its upcoming meetings until the coronavirus subsides?

Alaskans are being asked for their opinions as the board makes plans for its meeting line up that runs from October to March. The focus this cycle is fisheries at Prince William Sound and Southeast and statewide shellfish.  Glenn Haight is board director –

 “Anyone who has attended knows these are intensely public meetings and big gatherings. And so you’ll spend anywhere from two days to two weeks with people and talking up close and sitting next to each other. And it’s just a very intensely public event. And as we look at how they occur and we look at what mitigation measures are happening for other events; we’re just starting to wonder what do we need to put in place if we are actually going to have in person meetings? And do we need to maybe not do that and go to a virtual platform? And if we did that, how would we be able to conduct these meetings in some fashion that you currently see them. So we just want to ask the public what their interest level is, what their concerns are, and maybe get some good ideas from folks.”

Other boards, such as the North Pacific Council, are meeting successfully via virtual platforms.

Would an online fish board meeting that takes public testimony over the phone be adequate?  Could moderated discussions be opened to a large audience? And how can rural people dealing with limited bandwidth join the conversations?

Haight says the fish board also relies heavily on public-led substitute language in advance of its official statements on proposals that might be passed.

“So a lot of times proposals are written conceptually and before the board is going to pass those, or if it’s interested in passing them, it asks the stakeholders and a board member and typically staff to develop substitute language and that can be very complicated. It can be a several hour process, it can be back and forth, and back and forth. And how do you do that? In a virtual setting, how do you just stop everything in its tracks, identify the right people, pull them off into a zoom platform or whatever it is, and hammer out that substitute language?”  

The meetings could be rescheduled, Haight says, but it’s uncertain when the Covid-19 coast will be clear. For now, they’ll make plans with the public’s help.

“Not to beat up pandemic metaphors, but we’re taking the public’s temperature here. And we’re going to find out what people are concerned about, what they’re interested in and what they want the board to consider.”  

Submit comments by email, mail or by a quick online survey at the Board of Fisheries page on the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game website.

Deadline to comment is August 31.  



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