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From fishing season to meeting season

Once the summer winds down, the CIAA Board of Directors starts up its annual cycle of meetings. Learn more about this large, diverse board.

by | September 21, 2023

CIAA Board Member nameplates
CIAA Board Member nameplates from 1984. CIAA

When you look at the membership of the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association (CIAA) Board of Directors, two things may strike you: 

  1. It is a large board—27 seats currently.
  2. It is made up of diverse interests and user groups.

Despite these two things, the CIAA board members have come together since CIAA’s beginning to support the organization’s mission of providing and protecting the salmon resource of the Cook Inlet region. The unique members have for decades put aside their own personal interests to find a path forward that results in providing salmon fisheries for all. 

CIAA’s origin story

CIAA was incorporated as a fishermen-controlled, private non-profit corporation and first operated in the fiscal year 1976 with private and state organizational and planning grants.

In the first CIAA newsletter, Smolts, ever printed and published in September of 1981, there was a one- paragraph article with the title “Association Membership Diverse,” stating that “The Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association (CIAA) is a qualified, non-profit corporation, organized under State statute for the purpose of enhancing Cook Inlet salmon production.”  

The diversity of CIAA’s membership then and now was not by accident. The founders of CIAA had a stated purpose: to produce salmon in Cook Inlet for all user groups—commercial, sport, and subsistence.

This purpose, which was eventually codified in CIAA’s mission, required the support and input of the various user groups as well as other entities. As then CIAA president Drew Sparlin wrote in CIAA’s 1985 Annual Report, “Regardless of the type of salmon user you are, if a strong salmon resource in Cook Inlet is your goal, you can and should be a strong supporter of the Association.”

CIAA’s First Board

CIAA's first board officers
The 1984 CIAA board officers from left to right: Ivan “Hank” Every, Paul Jones, Duane Edelman, Douglas Blossom, Drew Sparlin, and David Vanderbrink. CIAA

CIAA’s first board (1978; after the interim board) consisted of the following representatives:

  • Commercial Fishermen of Cook’s Inlet
  • Cook Inlet Fishermen’s Association
  • Cook Inlet Fishermen’s Fund
  • Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Cooperative Association
  • North Pacific Fisheries Association
  • Cook Inlet Region, Inc.
  • Kenai Peninsula Community College
  • Kenai Peninsula Conservation Society
  • Izaak Walton League
  • Ninilchik Village Council
  • Salamatof Seafoods

Over the next few years, other entities joined, including the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, City of Kachemak, United Cook Inlet Drift Association, and the Kenai Peninsula Borough. By 1982, CIAA had also created At Large Inlet Wide Commercial Fishermen Representative seats that are chosen by the Area H salmon fishermen in an election process.

Working together surprisingly well

Getting a bunch of commercial fishermen in a room, let alone adding the different user groups and other interested parties seems like a recipe for disaster, especially if you follow the politics of Cook Inlet fisheries.

However, the original founders and subsequent boards have stayed loyal to the organization’s purpose and not on individual or stakeholder interests. This can be a challenge and is something all nonprofit boards face—ensuring focus on the organization’s purpose and not the individual member’s interests.

In 1993 then President Don Bossert eloquently wrote, “Our aquaculture association reflects a cross-section of the salmon user groups in Cook Inlet. Each Director must continue to review projects which benefit the overall regional ‘system’ equally with those which address their own harvesting sector bias and agenda. If we do not ‘maintain tension on that common line,’ we will foul the ability of programs to successfully enhance regional production for the common property resource of Cook Inlet—our primary goal.” 

Diversity by mandate

Board member diversity was also laid out in the State statutes setting up regional aquaculture associations and their boards. The statutes say that these corporations should be “comprised of associations representative of commercial fishermen in the region…and include representatives of other user groups interested in fisheries within the region who wish to belong.” In this context, “user groups includes but is not limited to sports fishermen, processors, commercial fishermen, subsistence fishermen, and the representatives of local communities.”

Since CIAA’s incorporation, member entities on the board have come and gone, but a core has remained solid over the years. The membership does reflect an abundance of commercial fishermen from the region, but also reflects local governments, processors, sport, and subsistence users. Individually, you will find members who are not only salmon users, but also lodge operators, health professionals, and former school teachers, among other things. 

Why diversity matters

Having diversity on the board ensures healthy discussion and even (“often” some might say!) dissent in board discussions. It’s this diversity of opinion that can lead to better decisions being made. But at the end of the day, each member is expected to uphold the three main legal duties of any nonprofit board:

  • Duty of Care: ensuring prudent use of all assets including facility, people, and good will;
  • Duty of Loyalty: ensuring that the nonprofit’s activities and transactions are first and foremost, advancing its mission and making decisions that are in the best interest of the nonprofit corporation and not in the best interest of the individual board member; and
  • Duty of Obedience: ensuring that the nonprofit obeys applicable laws and regulations; follows its own bylaws; and that the nonprofit adheres to its stated corporate purposes/mission.

As for the number of board members, CIAA’s by-laws allow up to 29 members. This is a large board by any standard but when you look at the other Alaska regional aquaculture associations, it is not the largest. That distinction belongs to Prince William Sound Aquaculture Association coming in at 42 members on its current board!

It’s not really the number of members, but the commitment, leadership, and curiosity each CIAA board member brings to the table that helps to guide the organization toward success in meeting mission. Current board member Malcolm Milne and Area H Permit Holder summed it up nicely: “In my time on the board I’ve always been impressed by the diversity of representation and realize that decisions are made by fishermen and other stakeholders for the best of the resource.” 

Next Meeting: September 23

The CIAA Board of Directors will meet on Saturday, September 23, 2023 at 10:30 a.m. The meeting is open to the public.

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