An oversupply of inexpensive farmed salmon and a shortage of processors are among the challenges facing Gov. Frank Murkowski's new fisheries adviser.
Former state Sen. Alan Austerman cited Wards Cove Packing Co.'s plan to close processing plants and the availability of processors around the state could affect whether foreign-flagged fish processing vessels are allowed in Alaska waters.
"There are obviously a lot of issues out there right now that we have to deal with fairly soon," Austerman said.
Murkowski named Austerman, a longtime Kodiak Republican lawmaker, to be his top fisheries adviser Monday. The position was newly created so the prohibition that lawmakers wait one year before taking a position with state government does not apply, the governor's office said.
Murkowski lauded Austerman's background in fisheries issues as well as his past experience as a commercial fisherman in making the appointment.
"He has an extraordinary working relationship with the fishing industry. He certainly understands the issues and I think is going to meet the challenges of the industry at this crucial time," Murkowski said.
Austerman, 59, served six years in the House before moving to the Senate in 2000, emerging as a leading authority on fisheries issues within the Legislature.
He served four years as chairman of the House Special Committee on Fisheries and was chairman of the Fish Caucus during the 22nd Legislature. Austerman also was a past member of the Pacific Fisheries Legislative Task Force, serving as chairman from 2001-2002.
He was instrumental in establishing the Joint Legislative Salmon Industry Task Force that recently made several recommendations to the Legislature, said Tom Gemmell, executive director of the United Fishermen of Alaska.
Austerman was backed by the UFA, the state's largest commercial fishing industry group.
"We've been backing him for several months. He was a well-qualified candidate," Gemmell said.
Austerman has worked as a commercial fisherman, fishing for salmon, shrimp, halibut and several species of crab, and also has owned a hunting and fishing lodge. He also served on the Kodiak Island Borough Assembly for eight years before being elected to the Legislature in 1994.
Austerman was re-elected in November to represent the Senate district including Homer, Seward and Kodiak Island.
Under state law, the governor will appoint someone to serve until 2004 when a special election can be held to fill the seat.
Several people have expressed interest in his Senate seat including Rep. Gary Stevens, a Kodiak Republican, former Rep. Drew Scalzi, a Homer Republican, and former Kodiak Borough mayors Dan Ogg and Jerome Selby.