Story off base in characterization of Alaska fisheries board appointee

I have concerns about the recent article of Feb. 4 in the Alaska Dispatch News, "Did Alaska Fish Board appointee really discover an endangered species?" I am Professor James Butler from the University of Alberta, and I was quoted in this article that is critical of the recent appointment by Gov. Bill Walker of Dr. Roland Maw to the state of Alaska Board of Fisheries.

There seems to be some confusion in the article over Dr. Maw's credentials concerning references to a claim that he wrote the detailed description of the bull trout. He did indeed write a detailed description of the identification and ecology of the bull trout for our book "Fishing Canada's Mountain Parks." When we were writing that book we well knew about the split of a new species of char, confluentis, the bull trout, from the Dolly Varden, which happened seven years before our book was published. In our book we clarified that all of what had been called Dolly Varden in Alberta were now officially bull trout. And to enable fishermen to refer to this fish properly, Dr. Maw wrote a clear, precise, accessible description and ecology of the bull trout with clear instructions on how to distinguish it from its sea-going Dolly Varden relatives in British Columbia. This provided important clarification to a great many of our biologists and fishermen who were struggling with the descriptive identification and ecology of this new fish, only recently separated from the Dolly Varden, and that information aided in the conservation measures introduced here in Alberta, contributing to its protection.

While the book never received any awards in the form of plaques or cash prizes, it did receive a great deal of recognition, praise and excellent reviews, and a special printing in a hard-cover boxed edition was put out in response to its demand.

What appears to me to be an unfounded character attack on Dr. Maw, a highly accomplished and well-respected conservation biologist, I can only presume is an attempted slur aimed at derailing his appointment to the Alaska fish board and forthcoming confirmation hearing.

I was Dr. Maw's graduate supervisor for his Ph.D. from the Department of Renewable Resources at the University of Alberta, and I have been deeply impressed with his character, judgment and professionalism over the years. His advice has been highly valued by my university and myself on pertinent conservation issues.

I served at the time on the prestigious Canadian Advisory Council, which had direct and close access to our national minister of the environment and the prime minister of Canada. Dr. Maw's valued advice, through me, influenced the direction of an extensive range of national policy decisions concerning Canada's forests, wildlife, water resources and fisheries. Because of his in-depth knowledge of salmon, population ecology and identification of sea-caught salmon, my department and related courses on wildlife and fisheries expanded our university teaching curriculum to include Pacific salmon, which was beyond our typical focus on Alberta wildlife species. In particular, his guest lectures broadened the exposure of our wildlife and conservation biology students to salmon and created an awareness of how commonly misidentified Pacific salmon were throughout Alberta in our supermarkets and restaurants, and Japanese restaurants in particular. We were deeply grateful for Dr. Maw's expert guidance and assistance.

I am pleased to see that his leadership abilities have led him to become a current candidate for a position on Alaska's Board of Fisheries. I can certainly understand why Gov. Walker chose to appoint him.


James Butler is professor emeritus at the University of Alberta.

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

James Butler

James Butler is a professor emeritus at the University of Alberta.