Governor Walker Wants More Seats On Board Of Fisheries

After his controversial decision of appointing another commercial fisherman, Duncan Fields, to an open – and traditionally reserved for someone in the sportfishing industry – Alaska Department of Fish and Game Board of Fisheries council, Alaska Governor Bill Walker thinks adding more board members is the way to go.

Yesterday, the Fairbanks News-Miner reported that 16 outdoor organizations sent a letter pleading to have the appointment of Fields overturned.

“With respect to Alaska Board of Fisheries appointments, it matters where people are from and where their experience lies,” the letter states in part. “We urge you to keep the board fair, equitable and balanced by voting no on the confirmation of Mr. Fields to the Alaska Board of Fisheries.”

This isn’t the first time Walker has nominated a Board of Fisheries candidate with a commercial fishing background to a seat reserved by tradition for a sport fishing supporter. In 2015, Walker chose Roland Maw, the leader of a Cook Inlet commercial fishing group. Maw withdrew his name from consideration amid the opposition, although that case was complicated by an investigation of Maw’s residency that led to criminal charges. (The most serious charges, related to Permanent Fund Dividend fraud, against him were dismissed by a Juneau judge last month.)  

In addition to potentially pushing the balance of power toward commercial fishermen, the 16 sporting organizations objected to Fields’ nomination on geographic grounds. If he was confirmed, it would leave Alaska’s largest city without a representative on the fish board.

Here’s more from the News-Miner today on Walker’s hope to increase the board:

Walker argued in his statement that too many regions and interests exist in Alaska to balance on a seven-member board.

“Finding high-quality Alaskans to serve on the Board of Fisheries is critical, and that is why I was pleased to nominate Duncan Fields of Kodiak to fill the vacant seat on the Board,” Walker said in a written statement.

“At the same time, Duncan’s appointment underscores the constant struggle to achieve balance on the board. Not only is there an array of user groups — from commercial and sportfish to subsistence and personal use — there are also distinct regions which deserve representation when management issues are considered. It is not always possible to balance every need every year. This is why I believe the board should be expanded to include nine members. While I continue to support Duncan’s appointment, I am working to promptly address the concern of balance between user groups.”

 A bill introduced by Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, in February would expand the fish board from seven to nine votes. Stutes — who caucuses with the Democrat-led house majority coalition — beat Fields in the 2016 election in a three-way race. Stutes’ bill had one hearing on Feb. 7.