A fishing-industry battle over a federal council seat escalates with a second letter sent to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.
The Washington fishing-industry battle over a seat on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council has escalated as four industry groups sent a Thursday letter to Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross in support of Gov. Jay Inslee and his slate of three nominees.
Leaders of the Freezer Longliner Coaltion, Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, Deep Sea Fishermen’s Union and Fishing Vessel Owners Assocation all signed the letter.
They sought to rebut an April 3 letter that President Donald Trump’s commerce secretary received from four other Washington industry groups that asked Ross to reject Inslee’s nominees because of what they said was a flawed nomination process.
“We wish to register our strong disagreement with the April 3 letter,” they wrote.
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The council is a mix of federal, state and industry officials that sets the rules for the nation’s biggest fishery — the North Pacific Harvests off Alaska. Different industry groups — at times — have been sharply at odds over how those rules should be set.
This industry fight over the council seat has largely played out between two industry sectors. They are fixed gear groups such as longliners who fish with baited hooks set along the sea bottom, and other groups representing trawlers who scoop up the fish with nets, as well as shore-based processors.
A governor nominates three candidates for a seat, and the federal Commerce Department then picks one of them.
In March, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife submitted a list of three names to Inslee for a three-year term on the council.
That list included Kenny Down, president of Blue North Fisheries and representative of the Freezer Longline industry. Down, an Inslee supporter who held industry fundraisers for his re-election campaign, now is on the council and eligible for another term.
The Fish and Wildlife list also included two other names supported by trawlers and processors. But once the list got to the governor’s office, they were dropped,
The final list that Inslee sent to the Commerce Department offered Down as the preferred candidate as well as two other longliner representatives.
Inslee’s actions prompted the leaders of the At Sea Processors, Pacific Seafood Processors Association, Groundfish Forum and the United Catcher Boats to take the unusual step of sending the April 3 complaint letter to Ross. They requested that Ross send the list back to Inslee to come up with a more diverse group of nominees.
The longline and crab groups say that Ross should accept Inslee’s nominees, “and in particular, Mr. Down.”