The City of Unalaska has hired former mayor Frank Kelty as its fisheries lobbyist.
The City Council approved his one-year, $51,000 contract last month in a narrow 4-3 tiebreaker vote.
KUCB's Hope McKenney called Kelty in California — where he retired last year — to ask what he'll be doing in his new role.
FRANK KELTY: Basically, doing a whole host of things. Trying to keep the City Council and city management updated on things that could impact the fisheries. Our whole economy is based on the wealth of our fisheries, and we have seen downturns in our various crab fisheries and the Pacific cod fisheries. As an example, we had three of the fixed gear fisheries close within nine or 10 days. The trawl cod fishery for the catcher vessels, which the shoreside plants depend on, went back fishing after their stand down Feb. 9 and they got a closure announcement on the Feb. 16. So they got to fish for a week. Just a whole host of things that I'll be doing, similar to what I did three or four years ago when I was a full-time employee with the city as their fisheries resource person. I did that for 15 years.
KUCB: Along those lines, give me a bit of a background about your qualifications for this position?
KELTY: I worked in the Alaska seafood industry for 30 years. I served on numerous committees on state and federal issues. I was mayor of the community, and I represented the city as mayor at North Pacific [Fishery Management] Council meetings. I was chairman of the Unalaska Fish and Game Advisory Committee for 20 years and was heavily involved with Board of Fish issues. I attended many of the Unalaska Native Fishermen's Association meetings. I've just been doing a whole host of things for over 30 years involved with fisheries in the community.
KUCB: You recently moved to California after 40 years as a public official in Unalaska. Do you see any aspects of the new position being difficult now that you're no longer in Unalaska?
KELTY: No, I don't think it'll be a problem. I've been listening to the council meetings on KUCB. I plan on calling in telephonically to the Unalaska Fish and Game Advisory Group, and I talk to the [Alaska Department of Fish and Game] every week and get their take on the crab situation and state water groundfish fisheries. Those are all things that I monitor, and I'll make reports weekly to council to give them an update — and to the city manager and assistant manager.
KUCB: What do you see as the number one issue facing Unalaska right now in terms of fisheries?
KELTY: Some of the things that I'm really worried about are the pollock fisheries and cod fisheries moving farther to the north, getting out of the warmer water in the [southern] Bering Sea. That could really impact Unalaska, because catcher vessels that have to deliver to Unalaska and Akutan and King Cove — they're having to go further and further north to get the product. That means longer runs and older product when they get to town. So if we have situations where we're seeing more and more of our fisheries moving to the north, that's going to impact the expenses and quality of product delivered. Those are some of the main things I see. We also have some endangeredspecies issues — critical habitat that's moving forward right now at the federal level for humpback whales. As you know, we have had lots of humpbacks that visit Unalaska. The federal side now is setting up a large amount of area as critical habitat for humpback whales to protect the prey species they eat. We're not quite sure what the impacts could be on our fisheries here. That critical habitat is going from Mexico all the way up until the middle of the Aleutian Islands, so it's a huge deal for all the coastal areas in Alaska.
KUCB: Is there anything else that I should have asked you or that you'd like to share?
KELTY: I know it was a little controversial at the City Council meeting on this contract. It's only for a year until they look at what is going on. But this is something I've been doing as a city employee for 15 years. I was doing the same type of advocacy as mayor in the '90s — and also just recently until my [latest mayoral] term ended in October. As I stated earlier, all of our eggs are in the resources of the Bering Sea. I think we need to stay on top of the issues and the various regulations that are coming down the line.