Cotten receives unanimous support for ADFG commissioner


Alaska Department of Fish and Game interim Commissioner Sam Cotten has cleared one of the last hurdles for permanent appointment after a Jan. 14 meeting of the joint boards of Fisheries and Game.

Gov. Bill Walker’s new administration and Cotten are now realigning department staff in order to fit with a policy of a public involvement and federal cooperation.

After being sworn in, Walker asked for the resignations of several public employees, including then-ADFG commissioner Cora Campbell, and Walker appointed Cotten to serve on an interim basis. The joint board voted unanimously to forward Cotten’s application to Walker.

Under Alaska statute, the joint board is required to submit a list of qualified nominees to the governor, who can ask for additional candidates and must eventually select a commissioner. The governor’s selection must then be confirmed by the Legislature.

This year, the only qualified nominee’s name to make it to Walker’s desk will be Cotten’s. Roland Maw, Zachary Hill, Matt Moore, and Greg Woods also submitted their resumes for consideration, but none made it to the interview portion of the joint board meeting.

Woods withdrew his name prior to the meeting. The joint board reviewed the applications of the remaining four in their meeting, each in turn voting on whether or not to advance each applicant to a joint board interview. Hill and Moore each received unanimous votes against moving to the interview stage; Maw's vote failed on a tie with the Board of Game voting unanimously to advance him and the Board of Fisheries voting unanimously against him. [Editor's note: this paragraph has been updated from the print edition to reflect the split vote on Maw's candidacy.]

The board cited concern with a lack of public administration experience or institutional knowledge from each of the three. Hill and Moore come from academic background rather than public management.

Maw currently serves as executive director of the United Cook Inlet Drift Association and has public service with various Alaska management bodies including the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission and the Kenai-Soldotna Fish and Game Advisory Committee.

Cotten passed the initial interview recommendation with a unanimous vote. He had broad support from both boards for his breadth of experience in Alaska public management as well as his track record as acting commissioner over the last six weeks.

The interim commissioner outlined his priorities and plans during the interview process. The two most pressing concerns for Alaska fish and wildlife involve Alaska’s shriveled budget and to improve the department’s ability to function alongside federal agencies and agendas.

The most common points involved focusing on a science-based rather than economic-based approach to resource management, a desire to have more public involvement within the department’s decision-making process, and a need to find new ways to cooperate with the U.S. government for subsistence governance.

Cotten says the science and conservation measures, when necessary, should trump commercial concerns, as in the case of declining chinook salmon runs or the issues regarding commercial halibut fishing. Cooperation with the federal government will be key for resource management, and Cotten made mention of the availability to the ADFG of federal funds as a softener for Alaska budget cuts. He also hopes to find ways to mitigate the dual management of Alaska subsistence communities, a system that receives scrutiny for its conflicting interests and methods.

Cotten told the joint board that he plans to use his seat on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to work with the National Marine Fisheries Service and others to secure more opportunities for Alaskans, notably in securing more access for Alaska commercial fishermen, who only make up a small percentage of the commercial groundfish harvesters.

On Jan. 13, Cotten also announced Charlie Swanton, who has acted as director of the Division of Sport Fish since 2007, as an ADFG deputy commissioner and as Alaska’s commissioner for the Pacific Salmon Commission.

This appointment aligns with the commissioner’s plan to invest in ADFG staff organization that favors knowledge of federal systems in order to advance Alaska interests where possible. Swanton’s experience with the Pacific Salmon Treaty should come in handy dealing with commercial, sport and subsistence fisheries for the species in Alaska.

Deputy Director Thomas Brookover has been named as acting director of Sport Fish Division.

The ADFG has also decided to replace their habitat division director, Randy Bates, who was asked to tender his letter of resignation when Walker entered office. The administration has not yet named Bates’ replacement. According to the Associated Press, Cotten said the ADFG’s area management plans did not align with Walker’s administrative emphasis on transparency and public input before plan creation and revision.

DJ Summers can be reach at [email protected].

11/18/2016 - 1:49pm