UCIDA pres.: Maw doesn't oppose state-managed fisheries

Says lawsuit is about importance of Magnuson-Stevens Act

Recent Board of Fisheries appointee Roland Maw’s relationship with the state government has been mischaracterized, according to the president of the fisheries organization where Maw served as executive director.


Maw’s former leadership of the United Cook Inlet Drift Association stirred controversy when Gov. Bill Walker appointed him to the Alaska Board of Fisheries this month. Walker appointed Maw after asking board President Karl Johnstone to resign, Johnstone wrote in an opinion column published in the Empire and other Alaska papers.

Soldotna-based UCIDA is involved in a lawsuit filed in 2013 concerning federal oversight of Alaska’s salmon fisheries, which caused Johnstone to question Walker’s disappoint that Maw’s name wasn’t put forward as a nominee for commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

“Maw, who was the director of UCIDA ... and himself a commercial fisherman, had been personally and in a representative capacity actively participating in a lawsuit in federal court advocating that the management of our salmon resources in Cook Inlet, Prince William Sound, and elsewhere be taken away from the State of Alaska and turned over to the feds to manage,” Johnstone wrote.

He went on to say this suit and other incidents show that Maw disrespects the state’s jurisdiction over its fisheries.

UCIDA President David Martin said this isn’t true. The organization is indeed involved in a lawsuit, but the details of the suit have been skewed in recent statements and reporting, he said. The suit challenges the federal government, not the state.

Maw — a scientist, professor and author — is not against Alaska taking charge of its own fisheries management, but rather helped the organization sue another over a North Pacific Fishery Management Council decision to exempt federal waters in Alaska’s Cook Inlet from the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the primary law governing fishing in U.S. waters, Martin said. Former Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens was one of the original crafters of the law.

“UCIDA members have long been concerned with the state’s management of salmon fisheries in Cook Inlet,” Maw wrote in a formal statement for the court in 2013. “One of the principal concerns is that the state is not managing these fisheries consistent with the (Magnuson-Stevens Act) and the maximum sustainable yield principal of best scientific information requirements contained therein.”

Maw could not be reached for comment.

Martin said UCIDA is concerned about the downturn in salmon production in the area and thinks the exemption from Magnuson-Stevens is the culprit. The state believed it could manage fisheries in federal waters without the act, but that has proved incorrect, he said.

“There’s a lot of misinformation put out there that UCIDA wants federal management and that’s not what it’s about,” Martin said in a phone interview. “We want the federal oversight and the checks and balances.”

The UCIDA lawsuit was not brought against the state of Alaska, but rather against the U.S. Secretary of Commerce — charged by Congress with protecting U.S. fisheries — and the National Marine Fisheries Service — to which the secretary delegated responsibility. The Cook Inlet Fishermen’s Fund was a co-plaintiff on the suit.

The state later decided to participate in the suit as a intervenor-defendant in support of the federal government.

“I don’t know what Johnstone said, but as a judge he should know what the lawsuits are about,” Martin said of Johnstone’s characterization of the UCIDA lawsuit. Johnstone is a retired Superior Court judge.

Martin said UCIDA wants to see Cook Inlet salmon populations rebound and believes reinstating Magnuson-Stevens is the most responsible way to make that happen. The law has been tweaked many times over the years but has remained in place since 1976. The lawsuit arose from the NPFMC’s proposals to amend its Salmon Fishery Management Plan.

“The existing plan (last updated in 1990) largely neglected Cook Inlet,” a statement from UCIDA reads. “UCIDA asked the (NPFMC) to update the plan to provide management goals and objectives for Cook Inlet, as required by the (Magnuson-Stevens Act), and then delegate management of that plan to the State. The Council rejected that proposal, and instead simply removed Cook Inlet altogether from the plan. The Council believed that the State was best suited to manage the fishery, accepted the State’s position that it was managing the fishery in a manner consistent with the MSA, and effectively defaulted to State management.”

The suit is was heard in federal District Court in Anchorage last year. Judge Timothy Burgess ruled against UCIDA, which is currently appealing the decision to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Walker has stood by the appointment of Maw. When asked what the governor thinks about the lawsuit in the context of the board appointment, Walker spokeswoman Grace Jang simply responded that “the governor expects Dr. Maw to fully comply with all conflict of interest laws.”

The Legislature must approve the appointment of Maw by majority vote. Appointment confirmations happen near the end of session. 

Speaker of the House Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, said he “couldn’t say ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ on” whether Maw will be confirmed by the Legislature. He has known Maw for almost 50 years and “probably (has) some feelings about (the appointment) that I’m not at liberty to discuss.” 

Chenault said it’s not unheard of for the Legislature to reject an appointee of the governor. It happened as recently as the Sarah Palin administration when the Legislature turned away her attorney general appointee, he said, “but most of the time it’s board of fish members.”

Board of Fisheries appointees are usually the most contentious of all of the governor’s picks, Chenault said. When the Legislature rejects a board member, the governor must pick another person to fill the seat until the Legislature can convene again to vote on the new choice.

Update: Maw emailed the day this article was published with the statement below.

"I resigned from UCIDA a few months ago. There are no retirement or other benefits that I will receive as a result of my former UCIDA employment. The UCIDA Board of Directors is composed of nine drift fisher persons, elected by the membership. The Executive Director(s) have never had voting privileges.

I am in the process of severing all memberships in groups in Alaska that have anything to do with fishery issues. I DO NOT have any commercial, charter fishing (including salmon) licenses or permits."

• Contact reporter Katie Moritz at 586-1821 or at katherine.moritz@juneauempire.com. Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz.

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