Sport fishing groups are lining up to oppose Alaska Gov. Bill Walker’s appointment to the state’s Board of Fisheries.
Kodiak resident, commercial fisherman and fisheries consultant Duncan Fields ended a nine-year run on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in 2016 and since then has continued fishing his family setnet site on Uyak Bay and working as a consultant in various rural Alaska communities on “mostly federal fisheries issues,” Fields said in a phone call from a family trip overseas.
Sixteen sporting groups led by the Kenai River Sportfishing Association signed a letter to the Alaska Legislature, urging the body to vote against Fields’ nomination. They argue that his nomination would tip the scales in favor of commercial fisheries.
“This balanced approach has worked well for Alaska,” the letter said. “The appointment of Mr. Fields alters that balance and threatens a return to earlier times when commercial fishing interests dominated the Board with little regard for sport, personal use subsistence fishers.”
Fields defended his nomination, saying his experience as a commercial fisherman does not limit his perspective.
“This advocacy is based on the assumption that every individual takes their professional or interest background to the Board of Fisheries and always only votes with the particular interest or gear type,” Fields said. “It’s not the history of how members perform on the Board of Fish.”
He went further to add that it’s not possible to create a perfect balance of Alaska interests with a seven-member board.
“When the Legislature created the statutes for the Board of Fisheries, they were careful not to designate Board of Fisheries seats,” Fields added. “You couldn’t accommodate every interest group, every gear type, every region in Alaska with seven seats.”
Walker has nominated Fields to replace Alan Cain, a retired Alaska Wildlife Trooper who lives in Anchorage.
“His background was in public safety, so in many respects he had more experience with commercial fish as an enforcement officer than he did with sport fishermen,” Fields said of Cain.
More to the point, “there are two strong sports fish reps on the board, one from Wasilla and one from Fairbanks,” Fields added. “The sports fish community is aggressively represented.”
The sports groups also pointed out that Cain’s residency in Anchorage allowed him to represent Alaska’s largest city. No other board member currently resides in Anchorage.
“This issue highlights or reinforces the urban-rural divide in Alaska,” Fields said.
The Legislature will hold three hearings before voting on Fields’ appointment. Those are currently scheduled for April 4 and 5.
“I think it’s gonna be difficult,” Fields said of his chances. “In the past a commercial fishing nominee in an election year — when the sports fishing groups have gone after that nominee — have had a tough time.”
Fields and his two brothers and their families have run a setnet operation on Harvest Island and Bear Island on Uyak Bay since 1961.