Alaska Board of Fisheries Nominees Face Confirmation Hearing

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy has nominated Israel Payton, of Wasilla, and named three new appointees to the Alaska Board of Fisheries.

Dunleavy announced on April 1 that Marit Carlson-Van Dort, of Anchorage, would replace Orville Huntington, of Huslia, who was appointed to the Alaska Board of Game.

Former board member Karl Johnstone, of Anchorage, was named to replace Al Cain, also of Anchorage, and Gerad Godfrey, of Eagle River, will replace Robert Ruffner, of Soldotna.

All four face confirmation hearings today, April 17, before the Alaska Legislature.

If confirmed, Payton will be joined on the board immediately by Carlson-Van Dort and Johnstone, and Godfrey will come on the board on July 1, when Ruffner’s term expires.

Johnstone, a retired Alaska Superior Court judge, served previously as a member and chairman of the Board of Fisheries from 2008 to 2015. His nomination is supported by sport fishermen, who say he will bring balance to the board, and opposed by commercial harvesters, who say he has a bias against commercial fishermen.

During a hearing of the Alaska House Fisheries Committee on Monday, April 15, Johnstone was questioned by committee chair Louise Stutes of Kodiak about a newspaper commentary he wrote in which he said farmed fish are the way of the future. “Are you advocating for farmed salmon in the state of Alaska?” Stutes asked. Johnstone responded that it was merely “an opinion piece meant to get people thinking.”

In response to questions from other committee members, Johnstone said that there is a lot of competition for the resource, and later that “if you take gear out of the water, it will benefit everybody who remains.”

Among the dozens of harvesters calling in to testify at the House Fisheries hearing was Linda Behnken, executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association in Sitka, who said ALFA’s experience with Johnstone is that “he has not had a deep commitment to science-based management. He has disregarded the impact to coastal communities,” Behnken said. “We need managers, policy makers, who will take care of the resource.”

Retired commercial harvester Clem Tillion, of Halibut Cove, a former chairman of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, threw his support to Johnstone, warning that if legislators rejected Johnstone that another sport fish advocate would be nominated. Said Tillion “I’ll stick with the devil I know.”