On Jan 21, Gov. Bill Walker called and told me that I would not be reappointed to the Board of Fisheries. I am OK with that decision as it is the governor's prerogative to put his own people on Alaska's boards and commissions. In fact even though my term would not be finished until June, I volunteered to step down early if it would help my replacement to get up to speed in preparation for next years challenging set of meetings. He quickly accepted my offer. Shortly after the call the governor appointed Roland Maw to replace me.
The reason expressed by the governor for not reappointing me was his dissatisfaction with the BOF when it did not interview and then submit Maw's name to him as being qualified to serve as the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
The governor appointed Sam Cotten as acting commissioner in November right after he asked the sitting commissioner, Cora Campbell, to resign. I was told that he wanted Cotten to be a permanent appointment. Nevertheless, by law, the BOF and the Board of Game, acting as a Joint Board are tasked with recruiting, evaluating and then sending to the governor the names of people which the joint board believe are qualified to be commissioner. One might question the wisdom of this process after the governor has already made his choice and that person is in office, albeit as "acting."
The Joint Board met earlier in January for the purpose of determining which of the applicants for the position should be submitted to the governor. The Joint Board believed that Sam Cotten was very well qualified and his name was forwarded to him. Maw was neither interviewed nor was his name forwarded. Maw, who had worked very little with the BOG, and which may have had little interaction with him, received seven votes by the BOG to be interviewed. In spite of what on its face might appear an impressive resume, the BOF, which is made up of diverse people from the commercial, sports, personal use and subsistence sectors and who had a great deal of experience with Maw and was aware of significant information about him, voted 7-0 to not interview him.
And while the governor did not ask why the BOF voted to not interview Maw or submit his name, I wrote him and provided information of which I believed he might be unaware. He was told that all BOF members were aware of this information before voting on Maw. I said that the Joint Board had three lawyers from the attorney general's office present during the meeting; that BOF members had been advised that there was no requirement to interview anyone and no reasons were required for that decision; and, that both directors from the Joint Boards were present. At no time was BOG chairman Ted Spraker, who served as chair of the Joint Board, advised that the Joint Board was committing an error or an omission.
I also told him that Maw, who was the director of United Cook Inlet Drift Association (UCIDA), and himself a commercial fisherman, had been personally and in a representative capacity, actively participating in a lawsuit in federal court advocating that the management of our salmon resources in Cook Inlet, Prince William Sound and elsewhere be taken away from the state of Alaska and turned over to the feds to manage. He was advised that Maw had advocated and participated in numerous lawsuits against the ADF&G and the BOF; and that he has repeatedly accused staff in ADF&G of making management decisions based on politics and not science. I also told him that Maw has repeatedly accused the BOF of being corrupt or broken. I explained that I thought that it would be unlikely that Maw, who would be expected to effectively lead ADF&G staff and cooperate with the BOF, could work with the very people for whom he has shown little respect and who might not have the necessary respect for him. I finally said that Maw's position on taking away management of any of the state's salmon resources and giving it to the feds was the clincher for my vote. I am confident that other BOF members felt the same way.
It was on the day he received my letter that the governor replaced me and appointed Maw.
If labels mean something, then the balance of the BOF was evenly distributed between commercial and sport-sector members. With the appointment of Maw, it is now heavily weighted 4-2 in favor of commercial interests.
Alaskans fought for statehood so we could manage our resources. But now, a person has been appointed to serve on the BOF whose stated goal has been to remove fisheries management away from the state and give it to the feds. Is that who we want on the Alaska Board of Fisheries?
I wish the governor well in leading the state through some challenging times. My guess, however, is that the governor and Maw will be faced with serious questions about Maw's appointment during the confirmation process, which regrettably may serve as a distraction to the governor's agenda.
Karl Johnstone served on the Board of Fisheries from 2008 until this month, and was chairman for the last four years.
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, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.
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