Editor’s note: A call to the Kenai River Sportfishing Association office in Soldotna seeking comment was referred to Eldon Mulder, chair of KRSA. Mulder was unavailable for comment on this story by press time Tuesday.
By Jenny Neyman
United Fishermen of Alaska leadership says the organization is prepared to see the process through as it awaits response in pursuit of recourse to its allegations that someone at the Kenai River Sportfishing Association eavesdropped on a teleconference of a UFA board of directors meeting.
“We intend to follow it through to some sort of logical and final conclusion,” said Bruce Wallace, interim president of UFA, a commercial fishing trade association representing 34 member organizations in Alaska.
In a Feb. 12 press release, UFA announced that on Feb. 8 it “began the process of turning over information to the authorities with the expectation that a full investigation would be initiated.”
Wallace said that UFA’s lawyer has been in contact with the district attorney’s office in Juneau and was awaiting a response, with the realization that patience might be required as the DA’s office has a plate full of other matters.
“All I know for sure is it’s in an investigative phase,” Wallace said. “I expect this will take awhile to go through the office.”
UFA held a board of directors teleconference Jan. 17, with members calling in from around the state to discuss appointments to the Alaska Board of Fisheries, particularly recommendations for a vacancy which Gov. Sean Parnell filled Feb. 6 with the appointment of Fairbanks guide and charter operator Reed Morisky.
In a Jan. 31 letter to KRSA board members and chair, Eldon Mulder, also copied to the governor, Wallace alleges that, “We have since learned that about 20 minutes into our meeting, someone at the offices of Kenai River Sportfishing Association surreptitiously and without authorization joined the call and listened in on our discussion for approximately 70 minutes.”
Further, “We have also learned that information about the substance of our discussion during the teleconference was transmitted to the chair of the Board of Fisheries, who has since confirmed that he received ‘detailed information’ concerning the substance of our teleconference.”
In its Feb. 12 press release, UFA states that the teleconference vendor provided a phone log of the teleconference, which included a number registered to the KRSA headquarters in Soldotna. No one from that office or organization was invited to participate in the call, nor did anyone uninvited announce his or her entry to the teleconference.
“KRSA is not affiliated with UFA in any way. KRSA is not a member of UFA. KRSA was not invited by UFA to join the teleconference. The person or persons who listened in on UFA’s meeting from the KRSA offices did not acknowledge their presence when joining the teleconference,” the release states.
The teleconference phone number is sent to board members a few days before a meeting, Wallace said. Upon calling the number, participants enter a code to be connected to the teleconference.
“Clearly (KRSA) knew when the conference call was, knew what the phone number was and, more importantly than anything, knew what the conference access code was. It was obviously not as secure as it should have been,” Wallace said.
He said that the same number and code had been used previously.
“I would love to say that it wasn’t, but as a practical matter it was fairly well used,” he said. “We’ve changed our protocol, we’re rotating numbers and doing some other things now. We also have oversight on all the conference calls so we know exactly who’s on the line and who’s not at any given time,” he said.
UFA was not aware of an unauthorized listener during the Jan. 17 teleconference. However, the following day, UFA leadership received an email from Karl Johnstone, chair of the Board of Fish, indicating that he had been made aware of the substance of discussions from the teleconference.
Wallace said that there were two issues discussed in the teleconference — the appointment to the vacant seat and “the crafting of positions about how the board should operate and what we were looking for in board members.”
The board had been discussing sending a letter to Gov. Parnell about “the board as it currently operated and as people are situated,” Wallace said.
“I think what we hoped to do with that letter was begin a dialogue, that this is a board system that has been in place and operating reasonably well to very well over a long period of time, but the pressures and the circumstances are coming more and more to the board in different forms and we’d like to have a discussion about how the board might be structured to deal with those changes. Not losing the concept of the content of the board, but just adjusting it to the 21st century,” he said.
Those discussions, at least as relayed to Johnstone and as he addressed the matter in his email to UFA leadership, appear to have included some remarks that caused offense.
Those discussions were not meant to go beyond the teleconference, Wallace said, and weren’t necessarily delivered as part of official UFA board record. UFA board members are geographically spread out across the state and Seattle, necessitating the logistical efficiency of conference calls. Wallace said that the teleconference was meant to be a venue for “free-flowing dialogue,” akin to what might happen during breaks and sidebars at an in-person board meeting.
“But now if you feel like something you said, even in response to another person’s comment, is taken out of context … it’s a violation of the ability to have free discussions,” he said.
Wallace said that some of the information that appears to have been spread was incorrect, and that sharing any of it beyond the approved teleconference participants was inappropriate. UFA board members regularly present information and testimony to the Board of Fish, both on behalf of UFA, the member agencies they represent and as private citizens. Now there’s a specter of damaged relationships.
“You have to believe that there’s at least an impact, even if you don’t know for sure what it is. There’s relativity between your presentation and the board itself. I think that’s maybe the most primary concern, because it’s the most practical,” Wallace said.
He said that neither he nor Curry have broached discussions directly with Board of Fish members, given UFA’s pursuit of legal recourse in the eavesdropping matter. He said that his only contact with Mulder in this matter has been to share the evidence of a number registered to the KRSA office being logged into the teleconference, to which Mulder responded that neither he nor the KRSA board had knowledge of anyone listening in to the call nor disseminating information about it.
“I think we very much would like to have those discussions, and they probably will be in a default sense because the board will be starting to operate in Anchorage,” Wallace said.
UFA interaction with the Board of Fish is inevitable. The Board meets this week in Anchorage, for instance, to discuss Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian Islands
“Neither Julianne nor I have gone to try to make those kinds of contacts, largely because there’s legal action in situ, until we understand what the ramifications of that are. I think we very much would like to have those discussions, and they probably will be in a default sense, almost in spite of ourselves, because the board is starting to operate again,” Wallace said.
“The relationships with the (Board of Fish) itself and the ability to have internal frank discussions, both of those things were trampled a bit, and I’m sure over time we’ll get over it, but for the immediacy of the event it was a little disheartening,” he said.
Wallace will continue his oversight of the issue as UFA transitions from interim to new leadership. This month, Jerry McCune, of Cordova, was elected incoming president, and Paul Shadura, of Kasilof, was named vice president. The new officers take over June 15, at which point Wallace transitions to the role of past president on the executive committee for a year.
“Then I’m going fishing,” he said. “Seriously, I am.”