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Alaska Board of Fish nominee Robert Ruffner makes his case

  • Author: Robert Ruffner
  • Updated: June 29, 2016
  • Published April 15, 2015

OK, we're all Alaskans and we seem to love a good political fight. We really like to fight about fish. So grab the popcorn for the next round. If you're following this, then you've seen half a dozen editorials, letters to the editor and stories over my nomination to the Alaska Board of Fisheries, all written by someone else. Most recently from an out-of-state individual paid to advance one group's vision. With a couple days to go before the Legislature makes a decision, you need to hear from the applicant himself.

My name is Robert Ruffner. I'm a married, dedicated father of two young daughters and a proud dipnetter from the Kenai who can't think of any better way to get fish onto the average Alaskans' table. Every sockeye in my freezer and in jars on our shelf came from a dipnet. I harvest near my family's limit and we eat every one. I will support and defend access to these fish and work very hard to improve the access of this fishery to ensure its continued success. What is needed moving forward is a better understanding and appreciation of these fisheries importance to the average Alaskan and recognition that each has unique challenges.

For nearly 20 years I've been working for more fish for all. Working collaboratively with all user groups we have done as much or more than anyone else on the Kenai Peninsula to improve habitat and make sure we have clean water in our streams. So, ensuring that fish get to spawning grounds is my first priority. My 20-year track record clearly proves that. Fish first is not a slogan for me, it's an avocation. For years I focused on habitat, staying out of the Cook Inlet fights swirling all around me. I believe this gives me a unique perspective and the experience required to make tough calls while remaining focused on the big picture rather than the "us" versus "them" mentality.

This unwillingness to be a representative of a single interest has opened me to some criticism from select special interests pushing their own hand-picked candidate. I am proud of my work to protect habitat as executive director of the Kenai Watershed Forum for nearly 20 years, bringing together a broad set of stakeholders including companies such as: Apache, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Hillcorp, Tesoro, Unocal and many other businesses and corporations that have invested a great deal in the forum. I'm proud of my record of conservation; there will be no apologies here for that, but to brand me as some kind of radical flies in face of the facts.

To enact conservation in depleted fisheries means that I'm going to have to say "no" to user groups and this will come with a great deal of pressure to cave. I'm fully prepared to tell people we need fish to get to their spawning grounds and we need to reduce harvests on our shellfish before it reaches crisis level. The trade-offs are hard when it comes to Alaskans and their fisheries. On the board I will listen to science and the perspective of all Alaskans. Where salmon are at stake, I will closely adhere to the Alaska Sustainable Salmon Policy.

It has been alleged that I am a lackey of commercial fishing interests, and once on the board I am going to do their bidding. When asked on the record if I would vote to keep a conservation corridor in place to allow fish to reach the Matanuska and Susitna drainages, I said I would. If things in the Valley deteriorate and need more consideration, I was asked if I would vote to modify, reduce or even stop commercial fishing to help streams reach escapement goals, I said, absolutely, without hesitation. I'm not afraid to cut back on any of our harvest opportunities when necessary so that my children and your children will have that chance to fish with their kids.

Last, when the above nonsense didn't stick, the few individuals who opposed my testimony claimed that not residing in Anchorage is my greatest shortcoming. Well, you got me. I'm not from Anchorage. I do live between the Kenai and Kasilof Rivers and am a Soldotna Chamber of Commerce board member. I'm happy folks come down, spend money and catch fish. It is ridiculous to think that I wouldn't fairly consider everyone, not to mention that the Fish Board is a statewide responsibility although Cook Inlet sucks all the political wind out of the Capitol. I won't neglect the rest of the state's fish resources.

Support for my nomination has come from a wide spectrum of the fishery user groups and individuals. Supporters far outweigh detractors, yet I anticipate this will be a close vote. I support all of Alaska's fisheries, the challenge is to balance and sustain them, as called for in our state constitution. Striking this balance will be a hard job, but a challenge I'm prepared to tackle.

When Alaska legislators vote to confirm my appointment to the Fish Board, they have a clear choice: support singular special interests or confirm me as an advocate for all Alaskan fisheries, who will put fish first in every decision. I believe in placing the public interest over self-interest in every case. So, as the legislative session winds down, I ask you to contact your elected officials, and ask them to vote for me, a Fish Board appointee with a balanced, nonpartisan, "fish first" voice. I promise to not let you down.

Robert Ruffner was nominated to serve on the Alaska Board of Fisheries by Gov. Bill Walker. For almost 20 years he has been executive director of the Kenai Watershed Forum. His appointment has yet to be confirmed by the Legislature.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com

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