Panel talks to fish board nominees, asks about salmon plan

  • By Molly Dischner
  • Monday, April 13, 2015 10:41pm
  • News

JUNEAU — A Senate committee held a hearing Monday on the governor’s nominees for the state Board of Fisheries, but the panel held off on taking action.

State Affairs committee chair Sen. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, said the panel’s members would likely sign paperwork to advance them on Tuesday, however.

Soldotna resident Robert Ruffner, who is currently the executive director of the nonprofit Kenai Watershed Forum, was appointed in March to a seat formerly held by Karl Johnstone. Committee members questioned him for about an hour before taking public testimony, asking him about his views on the management of Cook Inlet salmon.

Ruffner said he generally agreed with the current management efforts. He also said he supported several other actions by the board in recent years, including shutting down setnetters and changing other commercial regulations to try to ensure more salmon reach the Matanuska-Susitna valley streams.

But some lawmakers and members of the public said they don’t think current management practices are working, and they were concerned that he agreed with them.

Several fishing groups from around the state, along with guides and sport-, commercial, personal-use and subsistence fishing organizations, have supported Ruffner’s appointment in previous testimony and letters.

But two prominent organizations submitted letters opposing his confirmation on Saturday. Among other concerns, the Kenai River Sportfishing Association and Southeast Alaska Guides Organization said they wanted to see a nominee who more strongly represented sport-fishing interests.

Ruffner told the committee he participates in personal-use and sport fisheries, and he sees them as important to Kenai Peninsula communities.

The committee also considered the governor’s other appointee, Orville Huntington.

Huntington, a Huslia resident, is generally considered a representative of subsistence-fishing interests and has served on the board since 2012. His hearing, including public testimony supporting his continued service, took less than 10 minutes.

The joint session of the House and Senate scheduled for Friday to vote on all of the governor’s appointments was canceled Monday.

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