After squall, fish board nominees sail through committee

After a rapid upheaval in the Board of Fisheries nomination process in March, Gov. Bill Walker’s two nominees sailed quietly through the Alaska Legislature’s committees to a joint confirmation session.

The Senate Resources Committee on Monday forwarded nominees Al Cain and Orville Huntington to a joint session of the Senate and House of Representatives, where the members of the Legislature will vote to confirm or reject them and Walker’s nominees to other state boards and commissions. The Senate Resources Committee hearing on Tuesday lasted a scant 20 minutes, with only one brief question for each of the nominees. Past Board of Fisheries nominees have been questioned for more than an hour during the confirmation process.

Huntington, a primarily subsistence fisherman from Huslia, said during the hearing that he plans for this to be his final term on the board.

“I’d be interested in serving this one last term,” he said. “Because of my health I probably won’t be able to serve after this.”

Cain, a former Alaska Wildlife Trooper and public safety consultant for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game from Anchorage, said his primary reason for serving on the board was to ensure the continuity of fisheries in the state.

“I have quite an interest in the fish and game resources of our state,” he said. “I spent my entire career helping protect and manage them … My main concern is that our kids and grandkids have as many fish to catch as we do today.”

He had originally intended not to seek nomination again, and Walker nominated Kodiak lawyer and commercial salmon fisherman Duncan Fields to replace him. The nomination erupted in a firestorm of controversy when a group of 19 sportfishing organizations signed a letter objecting to Fields’ candidacy, primarily because of his background in commercial fishing. The groups contended that Fields’ presence on the board would unfairly shift the balance of the board toward commercial fishermen and would leave Anchorage without representation.

On March 28, Fields withdrew his name from consideration and Walker re-nominated Cain for the seat. In an email, Fields declined to comment on his withdrawal and Cain’s reappointment.

Two commercial fishing organizations — the statewide United Fishermen of Alaska and the Southeast-based Alaska Trollers Association — submitted letters of support for Cain, praising his experience with the board and familiarity with the stakeholders. UFA President Jerry McCune and Executive Director Frances Leach wrote in the organization’s support letter that Cain’s reappointment “is a victory not only for commercial fishermen around the state, but for all user groups” and that he has UFA’s full support.

Alaska Trollers Association President Steve Merritt wrote in the organization’s March 31 letter that fisheries organizations usually opt for stakeholers from a variety of fishing backgrounds but that the trollers’ association supports Cain because of his broad background in fisheries issues.

“…Occasionally, someone comes along with such a broad base of personal knowledge, demonstrated skill-set, and commitment to the ideals of the state and greater fishing community that we are compelled to support them,” he wrote. “Al Cain clicks all of those boxes.”

The Kenai River Sportfishing Association, which signed the letter opposing Fields’ nomination and sent out a call for public comment on the topic, supports Cain’s reappointment as well. Executive Director Ricky Gease said in a March 29 statement that Cain’s reappointment will restore Anchorage’s representation on the board and maintain “the balance among commercial, sport, personal use and subsistence interests on the Board.”

“We applaud Alaska-sporting-groups, anglers and personal-use dip netters across the state for reaching out to policy makers about fair and balanced representation on the Board of Fisheries,” he said in the statement.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at eearl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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