Commercial fisheries commission chief reacts to being on chopping block

Bruce Twomley has been with the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission since 1982. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)
Bruce Twomley has been with the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission since 1982. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

The Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission is defending itself against a recent state report pointing out inefficiencies and legislation that could dissolve the agency.

Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission Chair Bruce Twomley is worried about the agency’s future, especially after a bill was introduced last week to dismantle the commission as a cost saving measure.

“We would like to get to the end of this session so that we can do what we can do at our end to try to suggest savings. We hope we’re still in a position to do that. We hope we’re still intact at the end of this session,” Twomley says.

The Department of Fish and Game released a report earlier this month that draws attention to backlogged permit application cases, a slow work pace by the three commissioners who head the agency, and alternatives to the agency’s organizational structure. The commission responded Monday to the report in writing and posted it on its website.

The commission doesn’t take issue with the whole report. Twomley recognizes it includes a lot of praise for the agency and he stands firmly behind one of the report’s recommendations to maintain the three commissioners until all the cases are complete.

“We think that is a very sound recommendation,” he says.

Since its creation in 1973, Twomley says the commission has been going through a deluge of thousands of applications to limited entry fisheries and is now down to the last 28 cases. The report recommends those be complete by the end of June. A more reasonable time frame, says Twomley, is by the end of 2016.

He defends why the commission takes so long to adjudicate cases.

“Some cases are more than 15 years old because we had more than 23,000 applications to work through and the reason is really the volume and complexity of the cases, and the fact that these huge caseloads arrive almost at the same time,” Twomley says.

Rep. Louise Stutes’ House Bill 112 would eliminate the commission by transferring duties to Fish and Game and a division of the Department of Administration.

Twomley says the survival of the agency is vital. He says the commission will likely limit one or more fisheries in the near future, but wouldn’t name them. He says the work the commission does is complicated and specialized.

Twomley has been a CFEC commissioner since Gov. Jay Hammond appointed him in 1982.

“The only reason I’m sticking around is because I think there is some critical work to be done, but if someone wants to force my retirement, that would not be the worst thing that could happen to me. It would not be good, however, I think for the agency or the task and the remaining employees at the agency,” Twomley says.

CFEC has 28 full-time employees including the three commissioners.

The House Fisheries Committee on Tuesday heard an agency overview from the CFEC commissioners. Committee chair Stutes said the Fish and Game report wouldn’t be discussed, but committee members alluded to details in the report through their questions, like the slow pace of adjudication.

Stutes says her bill to eliminate the CFEC will get its first committee hearing March 5.

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