Cotten picked for Fish and Game head; fish board members decline to interview Maw

  • By Rashah McChesney
  • Wednesday, January 14, 2015 10:42pm
  • News

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article contained an incorrect spelling of Board of Fisheries member Sue Jeffrey’s name, and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.

During deliberations over three of the four candidates for Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Board of Fisheries members weighed in with their opinions on the credentials.

But, when Kenai Peninsula commercial fisherman Roland Maw’s name came up its members were silent and voted unanimously not to interview him for the position.

During a joint meeting of the state’s Board of Fisheries and Board of Game, 14 people met and ultimately decided to send one name to Gov. Bill Walker as a recommendation for the position, that of Acting Commissioner Sam Cotten. If Walker approves Cotten’s nomination the Eagle River man will face a final confirmation from the Legislature before dropping “acting” from his title.

Several Board of Fish and Board of Game members supported Cotten, many citing his experience in the Legislature and on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.

“He has an extensive background on Legislature, House and Senate, which I think is particularly important to succeed in this position,” said Board of Fisheries member Tom Kluberton, from Talkeetna. “This is very much a political figurehead position that involves the nuances of interfacing with the Legislature, both houses, and the governor.”

Cotten was in the state Legislature from 1975-83 and again from 1985-1993, according to his resume.

Board of Fisheries chairman Karl Johnstone said that Cotten’s position as interim commissioner, appointed by the governor, warranted interviewing him as a candidate.

“It’s the very least that we should do,” he said.

Of all the of the candidates for the position, Maw and Cotten drew the most support. Of the more than 50 people, fisheries organizations and municipalities that submitted comments or letters, support for Maw and Cotten was about equal. None supported any of the other candidates.

Many of the comments referenced Cotten’s support for rural communities.

“He understands their struggles and successes and wants them to flourish,” wrote Katherine Reedy, an anthropologist working in the Aleutians. “He knows the State of Alaska so well from Adak to Barrow and all points in between.”

Others supported Maw for his scientific and professional background.

“May I suggest, therefore, that Governor Walker selects a Commissioner who is not only politically astute and broadly experienced in all aspects of fish, wildlife and habitat management, but one who is a professional scientist who can communicate effectively with people at all levels of expertise,” wrote Stephen Stringham, of Soldotna-based Wildwatch. “If there is anyone who can help Alaska achieve a widely-accepted strategy for managing our fish and wildlife, including predator-prey relations, it is Dr. Roland Maw.”

Board of Game members weighed in to support Maw for an interview.

“(Maw) does have a considerable background and should be an interesting candidate,” said Board of Game member Pete Probasco from Palmer.

Two other Board of Game members openly supported Maw as well before that board voted unanimously to interview Maw for the position. Despite their support, Maw was not passed on to the interview portion as, according to state law, candidates must have a majority vote from both boards to progress through the appointment process.

Board of Fisheries members who voted against him did not explain their positions publicly, though Johnstone and Board Member Sue Jeffrey did make their opposition or support to the other three candidates known.

Johnstone said after the meeting that he had no comment on the board’s unanimous vote against Maw.

When asked about his lack of support for Maw’s candidacy, Board of Fisheries member Fritz Johnson, of Dillingham, wrote in an email: “I think the joint boards made the right decision in endorsing Governor Walker’s selection of Sam Cotten as acting commissioner and I believe as Commissioner of Fish and Game he’ll enjoy broad support from Alaskans who depend on our fish and game resources.”

Jeffrey, of Kodiak, did not return an email requesting her opinion on the matter.

Gov. Walker may choose to appoint Cotten, or he may also request additional names for consideration.

No one from the Governor’s office returned a phone call seeking a timeline for the appointment process. 

Reach Rashah McChesney at

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