Maw faces marathon board confirmation hearing

Photo/Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion

Roland Maw may not get confirmed for the Board of Fisheries until he hears from every Alaskan who’s ever cast a line or a net, whether politician or private citizen.

The Alaska Senate Resource Committee held a confirmation hearing Feb. 16 for Alaska Board of Fisheries appointee Maw that was so packed with committee member questions and public comment that Chair Cathy Giessel cut it short and scheduled it to resume on Feb. 20.

More than 40 people registered for public comment online and were heard only after some aggressive questioning by committee members worried about Maw’s priorities, particularly his involvement with the Cook Inlet commercial fleet, the lawsuits of his former employer, and the consistency of his science and biology championing.

“You have been a very tenacious supporter of the Cook Inlet fish world, especially the commercial world,” said Alaska Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, to Maw at the opening of the hearing. “It seems to me that there are folks on the northern end who think ‘we’ll never be able to get this guy to think our way.’”

Maw responded with his mantra of “science first,” and replied that he had never been on the board of directors for the United Cook Inlet Drift Association and had no say in what kind of proposals or lawsuits it submitted, a position he would repeat throughout the hearing.

“Yes, I did take number of positions (during employment with UCIDA),” said Maw. “The only requirement I had in the original interview (with UCIDA) is that I wasn’t going to do anything that wasn’t biologically sound, and if there was something before me and my understanding of science, I wasn’t going to do it. I think I’ve held true to that.”

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, probed Maw over personal use, which UCIDA has a record of contesting in certain circumstances. Wielechowski brought up two proposals UCIDA submitted in the 2011 Board of Fisheries cycle.

One would have only opened Kenai and Kasilof rivers dipnetting after lower escapement goals had been met. The other would have reduced the number of salmon from 25 per head of household to 10, maintaining the 10 for each additional household member.

Maw claimed they were both UCIDA proposals, not his, and that he would not currently support their implementation if brought up again.

Wielechowski also expressed concern over a segment of a UCIDA lawsuit that he claimed would open certain dipnetting opportunities to non-residents. Maw said he would not support such an opening.

Many of the questions asked of Maw revolved around his position on perceived federal overreach in state fisheries, specifically over his former employer’s legal actions. UCIDA flied a lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Service in 2013 that alleged mismanagement of the Cook Inlet salmon fishery.

Maw says the suit has been mischaracterized as UCIDA asking for more federal oversight when in fact UCIDA was only suing to bring state management up to the existing fishery management plans in place under the national guidelines of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. The act, or MSA, was first passed in 1976 and governs all federal fisheries in the U.S.

“My understanding is that UCIDA was asking the federal government to help with managing some of the issues in the Cook Inlet,” Maw told the committee in response to a question from Sen. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak.

Maw said the commercial organization was asking for assistance from the North Pacific Fishery Management Council for salmon studies in light of declining stocks.

“UCIDA was asking, ‘will you lend us a hand in trying to understand these problems?’ No day-to-day management was anticipated,” he said.

The committee also wanted to know Maw’s response to the Federal Subsistence Board’s recent decision to allow a subsistence gillnet fishery on the Kenai River, which has fueled public backlash. Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, wanted know how Maw will deal with a growing population and user base in Alaska, which he feels is representative in the Kenai decision.

“I’ve refrained from using the word ‘circus’ to describe the Kenai River,” said Micciche of the state’s most heavily-fished river. “How do we manage additional users? These are issues that will grow as the state’s population grows.”

Maw said he doesn’t have the solution, but that the best way to find one is simply to talk with all user groups.

“In working through these problems here and in other places,” said Maw, “first there has to be an honest dialogue. Get people sitting down and talking. That’s the first step.”

The majority of public comment expressed support for Maw’s confirmation. Commentators were happy to have Maw’s scientific background in what they’ve come to see as a largely political Board of Fisheries:

• “As a director on Maw’s board,” said UCIDA board member Ian Pitzman, “I can tell you that meetings often turned into fisheries science lectures. The way I see it, the governor got rid of a lawyer and replaced him with a fisheries scientist.”

• “My concern is that some consider the Board of Fisheries a chess game,” said Paul Shadura of the South K Beach Independent Fishermen’s Association.

• “I encourage you to appoint Maw to this fish board,” said George Pierce. “We need science and biologists on this fish board, not buddies. You need to fix this mess and stop confirming the people who are in there.”

Others championed Maw as a long-overdue representative from the Cook Inlet commercial fishing industry. If confirmed at the end of the legislative session, Maw will alter the composition of the Board of Fisheries by giving representatives of the commercial fishing industry a majority on the seven-member board. The board hasn’t had a Cook Inlet commercial fisherman since 1980.

“We have not had a commercial fishermen in the Cook Inlet in the Board of Fisheries,” said Teague Vanek of Ninilchik. “I’ve been to the Board of Fisheries many times, and you just don’t know how frustrating it is to speak to people who are just clueless about the issues we face there. And it is high time we have someone who understands.”

There was scattered dissenting public commentary for Maw’s confirmation, which did not have a common thread. Joe Connors challenged that Maw had received a commercial fishing violation over a halibut permit that should preclude his confirmation. Gary Stevens of the Alaska Outdoor Council referred to Maw’s involvement with the UCIDA lawsuit, and worries about federal overreach in state fisheries.

“State sovereignty is of utmost importance to our residents,” Stevens said.

Gov. Bill Walker named Maw to the Alaska Board of Fisheries on Jan 20, replacing Chairman Karl Johnstone, who resigned following public and gubernatorial scrutiny of the board’s actions at the commissioner nominee selection meeting on Jan. 14. At that meeting, Johnstone and his fellow board members declined to deem Maw qualified to interview for the job of Alaska Department of Fish and Game commissioner.

At the beginning of the hearing, Giessel said that the Legislature will hold two votes for Maw at the end of the legislative session. One vote will confirm him for the board position he currently sits on, inherited from Johnstone, whose term will end in June 2015. Another vote will establish Maw’s own three-year term to begin in 2015 and end in 2018.

The continuation of Maw’s Senate Resource Committee confirmation hearing was scheduled to resume at 3:30 pm on Feb. 20.

DJ Summers can be contact at [email protected].

11/18/2016 - 4:15pm