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New old Alaska Board of Fisheries appointee Al Cain/ADF&G photo

Retired Alaska Board of Fisheries member Al Cain is unretired, and non-commercial fishing groups from around the state are declaring victory.

Gov. Bill Walker had been planning to replace Cain, a 62-year-old former Alaska State Trooper who worked all over the state before settling in Anchorage, with 62-year-old Duncan Fields, a lawyer, commercial fisheries consultant, and longtime commercial fisherman from Kodiak.

Fields is an established player in Alaska fishing issues who spent nine years as part of the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council family.  Sport and personal-use fishing groups were gearing up to fight his appointment in the Alaska Legislature, where lawmakers must confirm the governor’s choices to the Board that has historically determined state fishing policy.

Ricky Gease of the Kenai Sportfishing Association said the issue wasn’t so much with Fields, but with the governor leaving the Board without representation for the state’s largest city and weighting the panel toward commercial fishing interests.

The Board is often put in the position of allocating salmon between commercial and non-commercial interests, and Walker has been a big supporter of commercial interests.

“The Walker administration has been fish friendly, commercial fish friendly, great on the Board of Fish, great on appointments, great on everything,” Robert Thorstenson Jr., a former president of the United Fishermen of Alaska, and a lobbyist for the Southeast Alaska Seiners Assocation and other commercial fishing groups, told the Juneau Empire.  “We love this administration. I love this administration. I think the governor is doing a tremendous job with his fisheries team.”

The UFA is the lobbying arm of Alaska commercial fishermen. The hottest allocation issues before the Board in recent years have focused on Cook Inlet, the waterway that laps at the front door of Anchorage.

Commercial fishermen are a tiny minority in Alaska, but they hold a lot of power in the state capital thanks to political donations, and the influence of legislators who are commercial fishermen or former commercial fishermen.

But more than half of the population of Alaska lives in the Anchorage Metropolitan Area where sport and personal-use fishermen vastly out number commercial fishermen, and Walker is facing re-election in 2018.

Against this backdrop, the governor announced late Wednesday via press release that Fields “withdrew his name so that Mr. Cain will have the opportunity to serve a second term. The Governor is grateful to Mr. Fields for his willingness to join the Board and for his graciousness in stepping aside.”

Fields could not be reached for comment. What exactly precipitated Fields’s withdrawal and how exactly Cain came to be reappointed might never be known. The last time a Walker appointee withdrew from the Fish Board prior to legislative confirmation it was Walker friend Roland Maw from Kasilof.

At the time, Maw, the former director of the United Cook Inlet Drift Association, suggested his decision was due to the long-running Cook Inlet fish war between commercial and non-commercial fishing interests. 

As it turned out, there was a far simpler explanation. Maw was in trouble in Montana, his home state, for claiming to be a Montana resident while also claiming to be an Alaska resident in order to save a few bucks on fishing and hunting licenses in both states.

There have been rumors that Walker asked Maw to withdraw after learning of Maw’s potential legal problems, but Walker has never admitted to that. Maw was eventually convicted of violating Montana law.

He managed to dodge later felony charges of illegally obtaining Alaska Permanent Fund Dividends, but still faces charges similar to those in Montana accusing of him of lying on Alaska licenses.

Fields’ withdrawal from the Fish Board – whether voluntary or requested – saved Walker a potentially nasty and public fight with some Anchorage and Matanuska-Susitna Borough legislators unhappy with the appointment. Non-commercial fishing interests on Thursday seemed content to claim victory after the Cain appointment and fade away.

Gease made no mention of Walker’s past association with commercial fishing interests  in a printed statement.

“This outcome will restore Anchorage’s representation on the Board and maintains the balance among commercial, sport, personal use and subsistence interests on the Board,” it said. “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.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misidentified the fishing organization for which Robert Thorstenson Jr. lobbies.

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23 replies »

  1. Hey Steve , thanks for vote of confidence. Someday . Right now focus is kids . Politics are dirty and hard . Not my happy place . Perhaps when I am older tougher . I feel it’s important someone who enters politics is absolutely incorruptible and science based . It appears people stray from path awful easy . I feel more good people need to step up to public service . Wish my dad and some of his friends had made that sacrifice. I supported walker but now I feel that was a huge mistake. I thought he would be more proactive and represent the common Alaskan better . Closer to Jay Hammond . Wow did I misjudge walker ! Hah ! Have a great day Steve And Bill !

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    • You have a great day too, Rayme.
      By the way, was Bud your dad? Bud was a fun guy that I did get the chance to meet alongside the road in the early 80s somewhere around Palmer.

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  2. I think a healthy commercial harvest is important but I say a sport fish first mentality should prevail always as my understanding is that has most value to Alaska . Dollar per fish . Correct me if I’m wrong. Subsistence should be close second due to my opinion that local harvest for food is best for any culture. Perhaps Alaska should consider buying out commercial permits from out of state holders ? Just a thought. Reduce the pressure on the resources maximize the value to the state ?

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    • To say that fish should go to those that sport or subsistence fish first is anti-Alaskan. Like oil, fish are a resource of Alaska, not of certain individuals. You wouldn’t’ say that Alaska’s oil and oil revenue (which is way more than fish revenue) should go to those that drill for sport first. Commercial fishermen ensure that all Alaskans have access to our fish resources.

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      • James,
        you are comparing two way different resources.
        One is mined from deep in the earth by forgein global oil titans…
        One naturally shows up in our rivers and streams and feeds thousands of Alaskans each season.
        The fish wars will continue until the state moves to a fair schedule for the “commies”.
        Nets in 4, nets out 3 is the only path forward.
        Too many “wage earning” Alaskans bought land next to Salmon streams that they cannot even take their son or daughter to fish.
        These closures in South Central will only cause more conflict in the future.

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    • Ramey,
      Maybe it is time you run for Governor?
      Think about it…
      I would help with your campaign.
      It is time for a “Scott Walker” type candidate in Alaska who will bust up the Unions that are draining our state reserves and force F&G to reprioritize residents rights to catch fish in the streams where they live.
      Until Commercial nets in the Cook Inlet are faced with the same closures effecting residents and small business, then nothing will change and our Salmon returns will continue to fall in S.C. in the name of profit for Trident and Sea Alaska corporations.

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      • Talk is cheap, Steve.
        I’ll venture here that such a candidate wouldn’t carry 15% in any respective primary and that is based on a previous candidate for Alaska Gov that ran on something similar some years ago.
        Basically what it showed me is that F & G issues don’t cut that much of a swath in Alaska politics, say relative to jobs.
        You must be getting disappointed with Dunleavy?

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      • Bill,
        I think you are wrong.
        Ramey is a strong canidate to rural Alaska.
        He has many connections to our land.
        Many issues facing voters that he can relate to.
        The fish issue effects many residents, businesses and visitors every year.
        I am not joking when I say we need someone to go down to Juneau and make changes.
        The same old business as usual is not working, I see the results every year…more closed business and more good people leaving behind what they worked so hard to accomplish.

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      • Like I mentioned, you must be getting disappointed with Dunleavy. And my comment was not referring to Rayme, per say, but rather towards any candidate running on any F & G issues as first priority. I just don’t have any opinion about union busting.
        I really have no idea about Rayme’s stance on these issues, other than his own statement above where he suggests subsistence should take a second seat to sport fishing.
        I’ll just mention here that the above candidate I referred to was Ron Somerville who ran for Gov. in 1986 and he specifically was opposed to subsistence priority. And he didn’t make a ripple in that primary-that was a tough situation that included former gov. Walley Hickel (who also didn’t prevail but came a close second). At that time subsistence was of concern to Alaska Natives (and still is) but that priority tends to be rural that doesn’t only concern Natives.
        As far as economy drying up, this is par for the course anywhere where revenues start slowing and the associated politics make things hard for incumbents (whether/not they are at fault). While you are extremely focused on your own present inability to fish out of your back yard, it is my opinion that, while it is unfortunate, nobody really gives a chit. Certainly not a State constitutional issue! We are just plain in for some rough years, with almost no Capital Budgets, reduced State spending in general, reduced PFDs, that tend to be spent locally, all contributing to job losses in the private sector that feels those reductions.
        We have not suffered much, so far, due to our ability to soften the above blows with savings accounts, but it is my opinion that (unless oil prices recover) this is about to change as these savings accounts are depleted. Frankly, the only thing remaining is the Earnings Reserve of the Permanent Fund which the court has ruled belongs to the Legislature to appropriate as it sees fit. Walker has already shown that our Governor has the ability to line-item veto certain appropriations. Like I’ve already said, we are in for some rough times no matter who is elected Gov.

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      • Bill,
        Not to get too off par, but I believe with Mr. Dunleavy’s campaign funding from Texas, we will see an imbalance in petrochemical extraction over renewable energy projects, etc.
        As for the Salmon Initiative type followers, you can tell how much support it has just by the way our government will not allow it to come to a vote.
        This was an interesting post that I found.
        https://www.dermotcole.com/blog/2018/2/2/dunleavys-rich-brother-hopes-to-buy-governors-race-in-alaska

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      • Steve, thanks for that Dermot Cole piece.
        And on the “Stand for Salmon” initiative, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some compromise on some of its positions that are most objectionable to development folks. There is little doubt that many will vote for these developments to return the water to the way they found it, and that is a problem for some developments (particularly those wanting to dig up a salmon stream for something under it. Our Supreme Court may adjust the wording of the initiative (or rule it violates our constitution) and our Legislature can produce something similar that would remove it from the vote too.
        We will get to see what occurs, and soon.

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  3. I really wish that there was a better distinction between true sports-fish and commercial guide sports-fish. Most of these disagreements/arguments aren’t with actual sports-fish but with monetarily invested commercial enterprises. The guided sports-fish sector has much more in common with the commercial harvest sector than they do with the true sports-fish sector that has no monetary interest. One user group spends money (true sports-fish sector) to catch fish, while the other (divided into commercial guiding and commercial harvesting enterprises) makes money to catch fish.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Alaskan’s First – your response is predicable Jihad mentality: compromise is impossible. It must drive you bonkers that the dirty commies are simply asking for fair, balanced board members. Craig – Ricky Gease and Kenai River Sportfishing Association’s interests are anything but non-commercial. If their actions don’t convince you, just take a look at their board and primary contributors. UFA’s interests are admittedly commercial, and while it’s fair to quote their lobbyist, I don’t think he did the greatest job of explaining. I think UFA’s letter to our leadership does a better job. Here’s a link: https://www.dropbox.com/s/c9o4fla2i12xb5l/UFA%20BOF%20Appointment%20Letter.pdf?dl=0

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    • Does not drive me “ bonkers” at all. Just stating facts and I do not see you disputing them.
      BTW, did you read in ADN that your friend Ruffner has filed for Seaton’s house seat. Looks like there will be some new faces on the BOF with him and Jensen going off the Board. The two of them and Cain indeed did predominately vote for commercial proposals and against sport and dip netter’s interest in the last Cook Inlet meeting.

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      • Alaskans First, I did not dispute your “facts” because it seems pointless to do so as you have no regard for the truth. But here goes – Cain’s efforts to come up with a rotating schedule helps private anglers more than any other group: Commercial and Sportfish industry have no problem sending reps to Anchorage meetings, but the many private fishermen from the Peninsula and Valley have trouble participating at far away meetings. At the last UCI meeting, Cain was active and engaged, asked many relevant questions, and took all user groups into account. If indeed his vote record was more favorable to commercial proposals than sport (I don’t think that it was), all that might prove is that some commercial proposals were more reasonable than many “sportfish” proposals. This is a great example of the mentality I mentioned before: in your mind, folks must be anti-commfish to be pro-sportfish. I suspect you and the Fight4everything crew won’t be happy with the Board unless the majority of votes are in lockstep with your Jihad.

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  5. Cain is Just another State Civil Servant who is retired with State pension, acting like he is not going to put State interests in front of Alaskan resident’s right to catch fish.
    (Closures up river will continue under Cain’s watch)
    As long as state of AK provides loans through their “commercial fishing lending program” to a majority of commercial fishing permit holders, then the inbalance of “catching” will continue.
    Just another “good old boy” in Walker’s pocket.
    A shame what has happened to our Democracy in America.
    Old is Old and getting Older every day!

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    • Cain is a good dude trying hard to be fair to everyone. If you don’t like the state loan program, support our legislature making changes to allow right of foreclosure on limited entry permits. That would allow more folks to owner finance and help younger fishermen get into the business. Believe it or not, lots of commies don’t really love the state loan program either.

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      • Todd,
        Maybe Cain is a fair dude like you say, but as long as the State of Alaska owns the “bank notes” to boats and many active permits in Alaska’s fisheries, then we will see the inbalance of harvest and closures continue.
        Asking the State to “Manage” our fisheries with all of their economic ties to state lending is like asking Merrill Lynch to “Regulate” the stock market.
        Until Chinooks are listed as “threatened” as a species, the feds will not step in and nothing will change…

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      • Steve – there will always be an imbalance of harvest between sport and commercial fishing, but that comparison is senseless as it does nothing to represent sport opportunity. Comparing commercial harvest to sport catch would be a better representation, but still, not relevant to available sport opportunity. Also, I wonder if you are aware that ADFG Sportfish funding is directly tied to license sales? I’d argue that our state economy is closely tied to our salmon management on both sides of the isle. I’m not sure that’s such a bad thing.

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  6. Cain is no friend of the sport or dip net fisheries. His votes at the last Upper Cook Inlet meeting were uniformly in favor of the commercial fisheries. He led the charge to move the next Cook Inlet board of fisheries meeting to Kenai. Under the Walker administration with Adf&g Commissioner Cotten he went along with the Dept’s emergency orders that crippled Chinook sports fisheries in PWS while at the same time allowed large harvests by the commercial fishers. A good barometer of who he favors will be who opposes his appointment and who favors it. When Bobby T says good things about anyone in the mix you can bet that person is on the commercial side. My bet is that no commercial interests will oppose Cain and that many will applaud his appointment. Sports interests should not do any victory laps with his appointment. He hurt them whenever he had the chance.

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    • AF, while I don’t remember how Cain voted in the recent SE king salmon changes that the Board voted in favor of, here is just released F & G sport fishery changes to SE king salmon fishing near Juneau. Similar closures are occurring throughout most all of SE.
      http://juneauempire.com/news/local/2018-03-30/king-fishing-cut-adfg-announces-conservative-juneau-fishing-plan
      The commercial troll fleet was heavily restricted and was opposed to their restrictions by that commercial fleet, also. While these proposed restrictions were not quite the news, like the CI fish wars, they were big news to all king salmon fishermen in SE. The resource is clearly in trouble and all user groups are being severely kept away from any returning wild king salmon in most of SE waters.

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      • Read the Swanton announcement carefully Bill. Sports fish sector was denied “any” harvest of Chinook and could only fish in terminal areas where hatchery and not wild stocks were located. And only catch and release! At the same time commercial fishers were permitted to fish in these same areas and harvest Chinook. That sounds a bit one sided. Swanton has been getting some flack over this. Similar thing happened in PWS last season. In river fisheries were initially denied opportunity to harvest Chinook but the commercial Gill Net fleet was allowed to harvest them. And they sure did.
        An argument can be made that the ADF&G under Walker and Cotten has been unfairly favoring the commercial sector. That might be something voters remember in November.

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      • Not sure I remember it correctly, but I think the B of F did allow for some commercial fishing in a few terminal harvest areas where hatchery fish were present and little chance of harvesting wild fish bound for the problem rivers. I believe this was done in response to the drastic closures that were done to Troll Fleet.

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