Alaska Board of Fisheries Chairman Karl Johnstone resigned Tuesday after Gov. Bill Walker said he wouldn’t submit his name to the legislature for reappointment.
Johnstone’s resignation came after the board blocked a candidate for Fish and Game commissioner from being interviewed for the position.
Gov. Walker’s press secretary, Grace Jang, said only one of four candidates was interviewed by the Board of Fisheries and Board of Game. That was acting commissioner Sam Cotten.
“Well, Gov. Walker was very disappointed that the process wasn’t allowed to play out and that only one name was advanced to him,” Jang said. “While he’s very confident that Sam Cotten will make an excellent commissioner and has been doing an excellent job in the past couple of months, he wanted to make sure that the public process was respected.”
A candidate rejected by the Board of Fisheries, Roland Maw, may replace Johnstone on the board. Gov. Walker nominated Maw to fill the vacancy, but the legislature has to approve the appointment.
Johnstone said he voted to reject an interview with Maw because of his history with the Board of Fisheries. He said Maw is part of a lawsuit to put some state-managed salmon fisheries under federal management.
“That was a clincher, a deal-killer for me, because I believe the state should manage its own resources,” Johnstone said.
The Board of Fisheries voted unanimously to not interview Maw.
Johnstone said Maw has also been critical of Department of Fish and Game staff and fisheries board members.
“I thought it would be very awkward for him to be involved in a leadership role when he didn’t respect many of the people he was dealing with,” Johnstone said. “And maybe they didn’t respect him as much as they should, either. That was my reason. And I gave that reason to the governor.”
Rather than wait for his term to expire in June, Board Chairman Johnstone said he volunteered to step down this winter, to help Gov. Walker get a new member on board faster. He said those changes usually happen at the end of a meeting cycle.
“This kind of changed things. And it put, I think, the Board of Fisheries in an awkward position where the chairman of the board is not going to be reappointed. And maybe it’s best that the chairman leave pretty quickly to allow a new person to come in and get their feet on the ground, rather than sit in as a lame duck for the next two meetings,” Johnstone said.
Johnstone will officially resign after this week’s board meeting in Wrangell. The board has two more meetings coming up. One is in Sitka next month, and the other is in Anchorage in March.
Johnstone has served on the Board of Fisheries since 2008.