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Alaska Fish Factor: Commercial Fisheries Division Director Resigns

Sustainability Economics Politics +4 more

US - Alaskas fishing industry was dismayed last week by the sudden news that Jeff Regnart, Director of the states Commercial Fisheries Division, will leave the job on October 2nd.

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“I’m resigning due to family reasons, aging parents…I just can’t be in the state full time like this job demands,” Regnart explained.

Jeff Regnart started as an Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game field tech in high school, and over 30 years worked his way to management positions at Prince William Sound, Cook Inlet and Bristol Bay.

He took over as director of the commercial fisheries division in 2011, which has a staff of 300 full-time and 400 seasonal employers and a $73.3 million budget for this fiscal year. By all accounts, Regnart has been widely respected and well liked.

“It has been my great pleasure to work with and alongside Jeff,” said Sue Aspelund, who served as the division’s Deputy Director until she retired two years ago. “The State of Alaska is losing a consummate professional. Alaska’s fisheries and those dependent upon them have greatly benefitted by Jeff’s hard work and commitment.”

“Jeff has been an outstanding director and he will be greatly missed,” said Linda Kozak, a longtime fisheries consultant from Kodiak. “Aleutian king crabbers have been working with the department for years on trying to develop cooperative research projects for golden and red king crab, and Jeff was instrumental in helping to create that important industry/agency partnership. Whoever takes over as CommFish director will face many challenges, and has some very big shoes to fill.”

“Jeff demonstrated a deep dedication to Alaska’s fisheries and the sustainability of the seafood we all rely on. He was always available to address concerns and took pride in making the Division of Commercial Fisheries better,” said Julianne Curry, executive director of United Fishermen of Alaska.

Regnart said things have changed dramatically during his four year tenure as director, most notably, the budget belt tightening.

“We’ve gone from a fiscal climate of growth – new products, new fishery opportunities -- to one now of fiscal restraint. Now we’re looking at what should be left in the water, what can we give up and hopefully still perform the job,” he said.

“I’m concerned about where we’ll be financially over the next few years. We have a plan in place to take care of the Division this year and probably next year, but things are changing so quickly as far as the state’s fiscal ability to continue to provide state services. It’s hard to guess what things will look like.”

Another big challenge, Regnart said, is a retiring workforce.

“Over the next few years we are going to potentially lose a lot of senior people to retirement,” he said. “When you lose that corporate knowledge, that resident intellectual property of what is gathered as we go through our careers, it’s hard to replace.”

Regnart said the biggest change he’s seen over three decades is the rapid transfer of information.

“We’ve really had to change our game on how we manage fisheries,” he said. “We have to be much more on the ball with written explanations and justifications because people want to know why you’re doing what you’re doing, and they want to know it right now. So we’ve had to change how we bring data in from the field, how we process it, synthesize it and get it out into the public.”

Regnart said while there always will be natural ups and downs, Alaska’s fish stocks are in good shape “across the board.” He is quick to credit his co-workers for any fishery successes.

“My success has all been because of the people who did the work, quite truthfully. From financials, to management to research every day they impress me. They are a rock star team,” he said.

Regnart agreed that the economic importance of Alaska’s commercial fishing/processing industry doesn’t get full credit from most policy makers.

“I don’t think it’s not wanting to know, it’s not being exposed to it. A large percentage of the legislature, especially the current leadership, are based in urban areas. Commercial fishing is something that is in the background, it’s not something that’s on their radar a lot,” he said.

“I think it’s up to the department, United Fishermen of Alaska and others to get the word out,” he added. “It’s a compelling story so don’t stop trying.”

Deputy Director Forrest Bowers will serve as Acting CommFish Director until a replacement is named by ADF&G Commissioner Sam Cotton.

Jeff Regnart will remain involved with Alaska’s fisheries as a consultant for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.

Boost for fishing jobs! Kodiak College is the first in Alaska to offer certification classes for industry-recognized, quality repair and maintenance standards in small boats.

The program is an offshoot of the Alaska Maritime Workforce Development Plan launched by the state Labor Dept. last year.

Minimum safety standards for many repairs are defined by the nonprofit American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC), created in 1954 to develop safety standards for the design, construction, equipage, repair and maintenance of boats.

“The fact that ABYC courses are now being taught in Alaska – especially in a huge fishing port like Kodiak – is a big deal,” said L.A. Holmes, Maritime Workforce Development Coordinator at Kodiak College. “Passing the courses means you are a certified marine technician for that topic.”

Kodiak College also is now one of only seven Marine League Schools in the nation, meaning local residents will soon be trained to teach ABYC repair standards courses instead of visiting experts.
As an example, Holmes said nearly all boat fires would be eliminated if ABYC wiring standards were followed.

“We bring a lot of land based wiring practices to boats, which is pretty dangerous,” she said.

“The solid conductors and wire nuts you use in your home are absolutely forbidden on a boat. Solid conductors will get fatigued and break and wire nuts collect moisture and cause problems.”
Holmes said repair standards are being more scrutinized by business affiliates.

“We’re finding that more banks, surveyors, lenders, and insurance companies are interested in whether or not a boat was built or repaired to any particular standard. If you meet some kind of standard, they are more likely to see that favorably in any sort of critique,” she said.

Kodiak College plans to integrate all ABYC standards into its Vessel Repair & Maintenance curriculum that is being developed now.

A four day ABYC corrosion certification course is set for October 6-9.