Trust in government is at an all time low in the US, thanks in large part to local and state governments which, although closest to and most directly responsible to the people they serve, continue to make bad law and bad policy, and in some cases ignore the law altogether.
In 1994 the Washington State legislature enacted the Regulatory Fairness Act to protect small business from onerous and harmful regulation. The act states, in part, “…administrative rules adopted by state agencies can have a disproportionate impact on the state’s small businesses because of the size of those businesses. This disproportionate impact reduces competition, innovation, employment, and new employment opportunities, and threatens the very existence of some small businesses.”
Early last year, in spite of the Regulatory Fairness Act, the Washington State Fish and Wildlife Commission unanimously adopted a policy to close the lower Columbia River to commercial, non-tribal gillnets, even though the commission was at the time made up of several members whose terms had expired, and without the commercial fishing representation required by law. Eighteen months later, the commission still has a vacancy, and small businessmen have been forced to petition the State of Washington to invalidate the regulation. Meanwhile the mark-selective commercial seine fishery, proposed for the Columbia on an experimental basis, has experienced high mortality rates, as the area’s gillnetters, both tribal and non-tribal, had predicted. Trust in government remains in short supply among small business owners fishing the Columbia.
In Alaska the Pebble Mine controversy continues, with opponents claiming the breach of a tailings pond at the massive proposed mine would threaten the health of Bristol Bay, while sportfishing special interest groups, taking a cue from their counterparts in Washington and Oregon, are trying to close Cook Inlet to commercial gillnetters. Meanwhile, the breach of a tailings pond dam in British Columbia released an estimated 14.5 million cubic meters of mine wastes into the Fraser River watershed, giving the West Coast a preview, on a much smaller scale, of what a similar breach would mean to Alaska’s salmon industry.
And yet, Alaska Governor Sean Parnell has appointed Ben Mohr, a former publicist for the Pebble Limited Partnership, to serve as his new fisheries advisor – a position previously held by respected fisheries experts including Cora Campbell, current Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. While no commercial fishing groups seem to have been consulted prior to the appointment, Ricky Gease, executive director of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, has been quoted as believing Mohr will “…follow in the footsteps of good fisheries advisers to the governor’s office.”
Which footsteps Mr. Mohr will choose to follow remain to be seen, but we hope he wipes the mine tailings off his shoes before he starts wandering around the pristine waters of Alaska.