Something to talk about

  • Thursday, January 22, 2015 8:32pm
  • Opinion

Alaska fishery politics are never boring, but Tuesday’s events certainly will give people plenty to talk about.

On Tuesday, Board of Fisheries Chairman Karl Johnstone tendered his resignation after he was told by Gov. Bill Walker that he would not be reappointed. The Clarion reported that Walker expressed his disappointment in the fish board’s process for forwarding names of qualified candidates for commissioner of the Department of Fish and Game. The fish board signed off only on Sam Cotten, whom the governor appointed to the position on Tuesday.

But the day’s events took another twist when the governor appointed Roland Maw — the candidate who had been snubbed for an interview by the fish board — to replace Johnstone on the board.

Calling it an interesting turn of events is an understatement. In his role as executive director of the United Cook Inlet Drift Association, Maw has certainly been at odds with the fish board. And if the past is any indication, the governor will have a battle on his hands when it comes time for the Legislature to confirm his nomination. We hope that the Kenai Peninsula’s legislative delegation ensures that Maw gets a fair shake and works to prevent the spread of misinformation that led to former board member Vince Webster’s ouster in 2013.

That said, the fish board needed a change. What we expect from the fish board — from any government body, for that matter — is a fair, open and transparent process. At least when it comes to Cook Inlet issues, Alaska residents have not been getting that. The Kenai Peninsula is the epicenter of fishing in Alaska. Nowhere else in the state do you see commercial fishing, guided and private sport fishing, personal-use fishing, subsistence fishing as well as fish processors all in one place. Having a voice in the decision-making process is a more than reasonable request.

What we have now is an opportunity to move forward. When contacted by the Clarion following the announcement of Johnstone’s resignation but before the announcement of his nomination, Maw noted that the governor’s actions were not about him, but about a fair process. We hope that isn’t lip service, and that Maw will bring accountability to a board that has at times appeared to thumb its nose at the public process.

Over the past couple of years — with low king returns affecting management decisions in all upper Cook Inlet fisheries — we’ve seen a number of people involved in commercial fishing and sport fishing come together to look for common ground and solutions that conserve fish while still providing fishing opportunities. We want to see that effort continue, but it is imperative to have a fish board that is willing to listen to grassroots solutions, and not impose the agendas of individual members or the few organizations that have been granted access.

As we said, the governor’s actions certainly will have people talking. Some of those conversations are going to be colorful, others are going to be heated — but we look forward to a Board of Fisheries process in which those conversations matter.

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