Gov. Jay Inslee faces backlash from North Pacific fishing-industry groups over his handling of the nomination process for a seat on a federal council.
Gov. Jay Inslee’s handling of nominations for a federal fishery-council seat has come under attack from the leaders of major North Pacific fishing-industry groups, which have taken the unusual step of sending a complaint letter to the U.S. Secretary of Commerce.
Industry officials criticize Inslee for bucking the list of three nominees provided by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) for a seat on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. Instead, the governor made some of his own picks in what they say was a flawed process that denied most of the industry meaningful input.
In their letter sent Tuesday, they asked Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to reject Inslee’s nominations and called for the governor to come up with some new names for a seat on the council.
The industry backlash reflects the high stakes in fish politics, where the federal fishery council helps sets the rules for a billion-dollar groundfish harvest, much of which is caught and processed by Seattle-based companies.
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The letter is signed by the leaders of the Pacific Seafood Processors Association, At-Sea Processors Association, Groundfish Forum, and United Catcher Boats, whose membership collectively catches or processes most the groundfish.
A spokeswoman for the governor said Inslee had consulted with the Washington seafood industry and was not bound to accept the list provided by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The 11 voting members of the federal council — created by the 1976 Magnuson-Stevens Act to manage the 200-mile harvest zone off Alaska — include a mix of seafood-industry representatives and different fishing-gear groups from Alaska, Washington and Oregon who sometimes find themselves sharply at odds on fishery policy.
In March, Inslee submitted three names for the seat. The federal Commerce Department — newly under Republican control — will pick one of those names.
Inslee listed his preferred choice as Kenny Down, a Democratic political ally who organized fishing-industry-campaign fundraisers for the governor and appeared as an Inslee fishing-industry supporter in a re-election campaign ad.
Down is president of Blue North Fisheries, a freezer-longliner operation that harvests fish with baited hooks set along the sea bottom. He already has served a partial term on the council, and his council performance did not gain him the support of the trawl-section of the industry, which uses nets to pull in the vast majority of the groundfish caught off Alaska.
Down’s name also was on the WDFW list to serve a new three-year term.
But when the state nomination process conducted by the Department of Fish and Wildlife closed back in February, the list also included two others favored by Washington-based fishing industry trawl groups. They were Stefanie Moreland, a former fishery aide to Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who now works for Seattle-based Trident Seafoods, the largest North Pacific processing company, and Mark Fina, who works for a company that is Groundfish Forum member, according to documents obtained by The Seattle Times.
Of those two, Moreland appeared to have stronger backing. She had support from the Pacific Seafood Processors and the At-Sea Processors, whose officials were expected to lobby the Trump administration to try to get her picked over Down.
As late as March 10, with the WDFW nominating period formally closed, Down, Moreland and Fina were all on the agency’s list, and they were told to fill out the application materials for the governor’s office.
But five days later, when Inslee submitted his nominating letter to the Commerce Department, Moreland’s and Fina’s names were not on the governor’s list. Instead, two other longliners — John Crowley and David Little — were on the list along with the preferred candidate Downs.
Inslee’s March 15 letter stated that a broad range of constituents had been consulted on the nominations. Even though Moreland’s name was dropped, Inslee declared in the letter that a particular effort had been made to recruit a qualified woman candidate.
In response to an inquiry from The Seattle Times, Tara Lee, an Inslee spokeswoman, said the list of three names provided by the Fish and Wildlife was a “draft,” not the full list, and there was additional “last-minute interest.”
In a 2015 letter to Inslee about earlier council nominees, the department director Jim Unsworth wrote that he would “recommend” three names.
But Lee, on Wednesday, said names passed on by the department in 2017 were not recommendations. Responding to the industry letter, she said “ the governor stands by the process of choosing from the five candidates for this position. … Our job is not to balance the federal board, our job is to represent the interests of Washington state.”
In their letter to the Commerce Department’s secretary, the industry groups say Inslee failed to follow the state’s “clearly identified public process.” They note that they were not consulted about Crowley and Little, and that it appeared their support for Moreland caused her to get dropped from consideration.
Down, reached by The Seattle Times, said there are always people who are disappointed with the nominations and he appreciates the governor’s support.
The North Pacific Fishery Management is a huge amount of work,” Down said. “I did this because I wanted to give back to the industry. I will, as I always have, represent all segments of the Washington industry.”