The support from commercial fishermen and local governments apparently prevented a nominee for the Alaska Board of Fisheries with no commercial fishing experience whatsoever from being confirmed by the Legislature.

The nominee, Robert Ruffner, lost on a 30-29 vote.

The strongest opposition came from Sen. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, who spent nearly nine minutes of the 35 minutes of discussion about Ruffner talking not about Ruffner’s lack of qualifications, but about how much unprecedented support Ruffner had.

He used the word “unprecedented” eight times during his testimony.

“I’m concerned about this nomination (because of the) very unprecedented independent and lobbying expenditure spent on attaining this nomination. Unprecedented to have radio ads run, to have a fleet of  lobbyists, to have local governments sending down on multiple trips folks to advocate for somebody that has no position,” Stoltze said.

Stoltze also mentioned another applicant for the position whose name did not get put forward.

“I think we’ve had a potential nominee, an outstanding woman from the North Slope who lived in my district and who  is now in Anchorage, has a Harvard degree, ran one of the largest companies in the state,” he said.

That applicant is Kristin Mellinger, who serves on the board of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association.

Support came from several senators and representatives, including Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, who called out others for condemning Ruffner for what he called “guilt by association,” referring to some groups who have called for reductions in personal use bag limits.

“Every fish in (Ruffner’s) freezer is a personal use fish,” Micciche said. “If people in our joint session were judged by the fringe groups that support us, none of us would be sitting here.”

Rep. Les Gara, R-Anchorage, spoke to the governor’s stated intention to eliminate biased seats on the Board of Fisheries.

“The governor has taken the position that he does not believe in having partisans on the Fish Board anymore, where you’re a commercial fishing partisan or a sport fishing partisan, and I hope we all support subsistence fishing in this state. I think what he wants to see is somebody who will stand up for all user groups fairly, and if I look at the statute, that’s what it says,” Gara testified. 

The governor will now put forth another name, and that person will serve until the next legislature either confirms or rejects the nominee.

Cristy Fry can be reached at realist468@gmail.com.

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