- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 2, 2016

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - As a former Board of Fisheries appointee headed to court on Tuesday, Gov. Bill Walker again waded into fisheries politics with the announcement of new appointments to the board.

It is the third time Walker has attempted to fill seats on the board that sets fishing regulations and allocations for the state. His previous appointees have resigned, failed to be confirmed by the legislature or stepped down prematurely. All appointments are subject to legislative confirmation.

Among the three appointments are newcomers, Al Cain, a former Alaska Wildlife Trooper, hunting and fishing guide Israel Payton and Soldotna conservationist Robert Ruffner, an environmental scientist who had previously been appointed to the board but failed to make it out of legislative confirmation.

Ruffner did not reapply for the vacant seat, but he said the governor called to ask if he’d be willing to go through the nomination process again. Ruffner agreed, but he said he hoped the political infighting that characterized his 2015 nomination had cooled.

“I really want to see less contention and less drama associated with the nominations,” he said. “We had some turnover and there’s bad stuff that happened last year. But I’d like to see us looking forward.”

Walker first appointed Ruffner last March after his first appointment to the board -Roland Maw- resigned after allegations surfaced that he had falsified residency information in Montana. Maw now faces similar charges in Alaska.

In Juneau court on Monday, Maw pleaded not guilty to 17 felony and misdemeanor charges that he fraudulently obtained commercial fishing permits and Alaska Permanent Fund dividend payments. He was charged on Jan. 13 with illegally collecting more than $7,200 in dividends between 2009-2014. His lawyer, Nicholas Polasky, said his client declined to comment after the hearing.

During his 2015 confirmation, segments of the fishing industry sought to frame Ruffner as a nominee who disturbed an unwritten balance on the board between commercial, sportfishing and subsistence-fishing representatives. In a letter to the legislature, the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, a powerful sportfishing lobby based on the central Kenai Peninsula, framed him as sympathetic to the commercial fishing industry. The Legislature voted against approving Ruffner by a 30-29 margin.

Ruffner said he’d likely not change much about how he went through the confirmation process, though he plans to reach out to the contingent of legislators who voted against him.

Walker said he had been assured Ruffner’s confirmation hearings would have a different outcome this year, but he would not elaborate on where he had received the information.

“I think people realized some of the opportunity that was somewhat missed with Robert Ruffner on the board, so I think we’ll see a different process this time,” Walker said.

Payton was born in Skwentna and grew up living a subsistence lifestyle, according to his biography in a media release on the appointments. Currently he lives in Wasilla where he is a member of the Mat-Su Fish and Game Advisory Committee and regularly participates in the board meeting process.

Cain, of Anchorage, is well-versed in Board of Fisheries processes. He spent 15 years as an advisor to the board on enforcement issues.

Cain said he applied to the board because he wanted to help the board wade through the complex issues it faces, including contentious fisheries allocation issues.

“My biggest skillset is I know a great deal about Alaska’s fisheries, and I care about them and want them to be managed and protected for everyone,” Cain said.

In addition to his fish board nominations, Walker announced that he’d be forming a governor’s advisory group on fisheries and would invite at least one of the current fisheries board members who he did not reappoint for another term. He said he planned to include members from the state’s sport, commercial and subsistence fishing groups in the panel.

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