Cook Inlet fisheries battles continue into confirmation hearing

JUNEAU -- Cook Inlet commercial fishermen would like to see one of their own on the Alaska Board of Fisheries, but sport fishermen and their legislative allies are skeptical.

The Alaska Legislature will have to confirm Roland Maw as Gov. Bill Walker's newest appointee to the Fish Board. It began its confirmation hearing Monday before the Senate Resources Committee, and heard conflicting portrayals of the fisheries scientist.

Maw had earlier sought appointment as commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, but acting commissioner Sam Cotten was chosen by the fish and game boards instead.

The appointment resulted in a flurry of controversy, as the board selecting Cotten had declined to interview Maw for the appointment. Facing criticism from Walker, Fish Board Chair Karl Johnstone resigned and Walker named Maw as his replacement.

Cook Inlet fisherman Ian Pitzman called that a good change.

"Gov. Walker got rid of a lawyer on the Board of Fish and replaced him with a fisheries scientist. That seems like a step in the right direction to me," Pitzman said.

Johnstone, a retired Superior Court judge, is a lawyer.

Maw formerly served as executive director of the United Cook Inlet Drift Association and was an Inlet fishermen until last year. Pitzman is a member of the association's board of directors.

Maw said he first came to Alaska as a young man, working in boat-holds unloading salmon, working on the slime line, managing a dock, becoming part owner of a boat, and then owning a couple of boats and a limited-entry permit that his granddaughter now has.

"I've lived the Alaska dream, like so many people I know," Maw told the committee.

He promised to use science to see that the fishery resource is managed for the maximum sustained yield.

But while Maw got support in the public hearing from commercial fishermen and legislators, he faced criticism from others, including an accusation that he wanted to bring in federal oversight of what are now state fisheries management decisions in Cook Inlet.

Rep. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, said UCIDA litigation involving the federal government in battles over Kenai River dipnet fisheries could do just that.

"What is your position on the UCIDA litigation both past and present on the dipnet fisheries, and on bringing in federal management," he said.

But Maw said that while the state managed the northern half of Cook Inlet, the southern portion is under federal management. There were serious problems with Kenai king salmon, enough so there was a federal disaster declaration.

Maw said UCIDA sought genetic analysis to find out who was catching the kings there. The Kodiak fleet and other boats were suspected, but were catching only a few. There was no goal or call for federal management, he said.

"The supposed problem was investigated and proved that wasn't the issue," Maw said.

"We didn't ask for federal overreach, we didn't ask for federal takeover," he said.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, an Anchorage Democrat often at odds with Stoltze, joined in aggressively questioning Maw, including asking whether he has supported UCIDA's position allowing nonresidents into the dipnet fishery.

"Do you think it is appropriate for nonresidents to participate in the Upper Cook Inlet personal use fishery," asked Wielechowski, who said he had constituents who were dipnetters.

Maw said he didn't but he was representing the position of the group that employed him.

"Personally, I do not support that," he said, adding that he had his say before the UCIDA board.

And UCIDA board chair Dave Martin said, "Roland has always put science and the resource first, and he's never swayed from that stance."

Martin urged the senators to approve the Maw nomination as a way of removing politics from controversial allocation decisions.

"Get some of the politics out of fisheries management and get the science and biology back into it before we go into the decreased populations that the rest of the world has done," said Martin, a resident of Clam Gulch.

Sen. Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, chair of the committee, suspended the hearing at the end of the day with a dozen people waiting to testify. She said public testimony will be up first when the confirmation hearing is scheduled to resume Friday afternoon.