Homer fisherman appointed to Board of Fish
A second-generation commercial fisherman from Homer is Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s latest pick for the state’s Board of Fisheries.
The governor appointed Michael Heimbuch to fill the vacancy left earlier this year by Soldotna’s Indy Walton, who resigned from the board after four months, citing health issues.
Heimbuch, who has set- and drift-netted across the state, will finish out the remainder of Walton’s term — just over one year. He said he applied at the suggestion of his predecessor, who’s a friend from their Bristol Bay days.
“So on a lark I just did it," he said. "And then it had a life of its own after that, and that was about a month ago.”
The seven-member Board of Fisheries makes decisions about fish allocation and management in Alaska’s waters. Board nominees are appointed by the governor and approved by the Alaska Legislature.
Heimbuch has thrown his hat in the fisheries policy ring before.
He’s been nominated twice for the federal North Pacific Fishery Management Council as an alternate and has a long history of commercial fishing around Alaska, first with his parents on the west side of Cook Inlet in 1963, followed by stints set- and drift-netting in False Pass, Prince William Sound and Bristol Bay. He’s also fished in Adak and by Kodiak.
“And so I’ve just been making the circuit as kind of a short timer in all of those places," Heimbuch said. "I was always far more interested in doing new and different things than I was in staying in one place for a long time.”
Heimbuch moved to Homer in 1975. There aren’t currently any permits registered in his name. He had a Cook Inlet drift net permit as recently as 2021, although he said he hasn’t fished the inlet since 2018. The latest boat registered in his name is a 38-foot gillnetter called Last Lite.
“Whether or not I ever go back and fish again, I’m not sure," Heimbuch said. "But I am scheduled to go to help my daughter fish this summer in Kodiak.”
Hannah, his daughter, lives in Kodiak and has two permits in her name — one Cook Inlet drift net permit and another Kodiak set net permit. She’s also been an active voice in fisheries policy, including in the Alaska Young Fishermen’s Network. Heimbuch’s son, Ivan, has a Cook Inlet drift net permit registered in his name and is a leatherworker based in Homer.
Heimbuch said because both kids fish the inlet, he won’t discuss or vote on anything related to Cook Inlet salmon fishing altogether — known as “conflicting out.”
He said he’s acutely aware from his experience how rural communities rely on the commercial fishing industry. And he’s concerned that a large portion of Alaska seafood is harvested by nonresidents. He said he’s interested in making sure residents of coastal communities have the resources to participate in local commercial fishing.
Participation of the next generation in the fishery is another matter that hits close to home. Heimbuch said he wants to make sure young people have reason and rationale to get involved in the business.
"For coastal Alaska, until we get better at making people understand that industry is at least as important as leisure, we’re always going to be behind the eight ball," Heimbuch said. "And I can only hope that the representatives on the Board of Fish are successful in telling urban Alaska why rural Alaska has such a high dependence on the stability of commercial fishing.”
Heimbuch was previously a member of the Homer City Council and has held a plethora of roles on local boards. He’s also worked with the Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corporation, which works on hatchery issues.
Court records show three fishing regulation violations in his name from the 1980s and 1990s. Heimbuch said two were related to fishing just over the line in Prince William Sound and Cook Inlet, while another was because he was late to drop off a registration card in Naknek.
Outside of fishing, Heimbuch is a longtime columnist for the Homer News and is a jazz pianist. He studied music as an undergrad at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Heimbuch begins his time on the board April 15. Board terms are usually three years. But since Heimbuch is filling out Walton’s term, his will end June 2023.
Glenn Haight, executive director for the board, said it’s unclear whether the Legislature will have time to fit in a hearing this session or if it will have to wait until next year. The governor appointed Heimbuch to the seat nearly two months later than the legal 30-day deadline for filling the seat.
His announcement Monday came with two other Board of Fish appointments.
Dunleavy appointed Three Bears Alaska CEO David Weitz, of Tok, and Thomas Carpenter, a commercial fisherman in Cordova, to the seats that will come open this summer when two current members — Gerard Godfrey and Israel Payton — term out.
The Board of Fish — with its vacant seat — is meeting in Anchorage this week. It’s scheduled to consider a proposal to loosen paired restrictions on Cook Inlet set-netters for the 2022 fishing season.