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Joint board rejects 3 commissioner applicants; only Cotten advances

JUNEAU -- Gov. Bill Walker's temporary appointee to head the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Sam Cotten, took a big step toward keeping the job permanently following a vetting by the joint boards of fish and game Wednesday morning in Juneau.

Of four candidates, Cotten was only one who the board chose to interview, and they voted unanimously to submit his name to Walker for consideration.

The board voted against interviewing the three other candidates.

Zachary Hill, a postdoctoral fellow in San Francisco, and Matt Moore, a former Democratic candidate for the U.S. House and the state Legislature, were rejected by both the fish and game boards, while Roland Maw, the executive director of a fishing industry group, was approved by the game board but unanimously rejected by the fish board.

The boards voted unanimously to submit Cotten's name to Walker after an hour-long interview on topics ranging from the Department of Fish and Game's communication policies to how the department would cut its budget as the state faces a $3.5 billion deficit.

Walker named Cotten the acting fish and game commissioner when he took office last month. Cotten is a former Democratic speaker of the state House and recently worked as a fisheries analyst for the Aleutians East Borough.

Wearing a tweed jacket and a colorful, striped shirt, Cotten said at the meeting that his department plans to make spending reductions by eliminating projects, "which will also include people," as well as by expanding the use of federal money.

According to state law, the state boards are supposed to submit a list of names of "qualified persons" to Walker for consideration, and the law says potential commissioners shall have "knowledge of the requirements for the protection, management, conservation, and restoration of the fish and game resources of the state."

Maw was rejected by the fish board in spite of his resume, which says he holds a doctorate in forestry and wildlife management.

He has a contentious history with the state fish board and with state regulators. The fishing industry group Maw leads, the United Cook Inlet Drift Association, is a participant in a lawsuit challenging a decision giving the state, rather than the federal government, control of salmon management in Cook Inlet, Prince William Sound, and near the Alaska Peninsula.

Maw, who appeared before the board wearing a giraffe-emblazoned tie and a fish pin, said he paid for his own trip to Juneau to appear at the meeting in person. Asked why he thought the fish board had rejected him, Maw said he didn't want to "get into sour grapes."

But he added: "A perception is that when we're managing resources, whether we agree with it or disagree with it, the resource themselves puts some bounds on the decision-making."

"And sometimes, that's interpreted as constraining the decisions that some groups want to make," he said.

Asked why he'd voted against Maw, Karl Johnstone, the chair of the fish board, responded: "I'm not going to answer that question."

"We cast our votes, and that vote went 7-0," Johnstone said. "You just have to draw whatever conclusion you feel is appropriate."

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