Fish board plays politics – again

  • Thursday, January 15, 2015 8:40pm
  • Opinion

One would think that a person with a doctorate in wildlife management, experience working for state and federal agencies, extensive management and public relations experience and plenty of time spent afield in pursuit of Alaska’s fish and game would be an ideal candidate to interview for the job of Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Apparently, all seven members of the Board of Fisheries would beg to differ.

The Board of Fisheries and the Board of Game held a joint meeting on Wednesday for the purpose of reviewing candidates for the commissioner’s job. The boards had four candidates to consider, including Sam Cotten, appointed by Gov. Bill Walker as the acting commissioner in December, and Roland Maw, who has been active in fishery politics as executive director of the United Cook Inlet Drift Association.

According to state law, “the governor shall appoint the commissioner of fish and game from a list of qualified persons nominated by the Board of Fisheries and the Board of Game meeting in joint session, subject to the right of the governor to request additional nominations.”

As part of the process, the joint board first decided which candidates would advance to an interview. Two candidates were immediately ruled out, with members of both boards commenting on why they weren’t qualified for the job.

But when it came time to consider Maw — he’s the candidate with the extensive experience that would appear to make him an ideal candidate — all seven members of the Board of Game voted in favor of interviewing him, while all seven members of the Board of Fisheries voted against an interview — without so much as the courtesy of sharing a single comment on why.

Acting Commissioner Cotten was the only candidate to be interviewed and forwarded to the governor for consideration.

So, how can it be that all seven members of the Board of Game felt, based on his resume, Maw was worth at least interviewing, while all seven members of the Board of Fish voted in lock step to refuse to even give him the courtesy of an interview? Have Board of Fisheries politics become so poisonous that board members can’t even consider the possibility that an advocate for a commercial fishing organization wouldn’t be just as effective an advocate for a state agency?

Following the meeting, one board member, Fritz Johnson, of Dillingham, wrote in an email to the Clarion: “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.”

Cotten may in fact be a great choice for commissioner. But first, let’s be honest and say that the joint boards didn’t make that decision, the Board of Fisheries did by eliminating the possibility of considering any other candidate.

What’s more, the boards don’t pick the commissioner; their job is to send a “list of qualified persons” to the governor. On paper, Maw certainly looks qualified. It seems as though an interview would have helped to determine just why he isn’t.

We understand that Maw has a history with the Board of Fisheries. We understand that the governor has picked Cotten as the acting commissioner. What we don’t understand is why the Board of Fisheries would choose to limit the governor’s options for filling such an important job.

The next step is for the governor’s nominee to be confirmed by the Legislature. We expect lawmakers to carefully consider Cotten’s qualifications to lead Fish and Game.

But the Legislature also will be tasked with approving the governor’s nominees for seats on the Board of Fisheries this spring. We hope those candidates get a more thorough vetting than it seems current board members are willing to give.

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