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As Denby Lloyd prepares to retire from his duties as commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish & Game, he discussed his career path and his challenges along the way with the Empire.
"For better or worse I second guess myself all the time," Lloyd said. "For me the thing I am most proud of is the relationships that we build and the relationships that we establish so the employees of the ADF&G can go about and do their jobs. Those are the things that don't get noticed but set the foundation for good work. And we have 1,700 employees who do very good work."
Born in Washington, D.C., Lloyd moved to Colorado at age 13, and after high school came to Alaska in 1972 to attend the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
"I knew I wanted to be an oceanographer, too many Jacques Cousteau specials as a kid," Lloyd said. "Having moved across the country already, I figured I would just keep going. My personal mantra was 'further north, further west, fewer people and more snow.' Alaska is a great place to not only go to school but to get summer jobs out in the field I was interested in."
Lloyd's first Alaska summer job was in a cannery in Cordova at age 18, cooking tanner crab and becoming retort operator for the salmon canning line in the summer.
"Otherwise we were climbing mountains," Lloyd said. "And building duck cabins on the flats and stuff like that."
His first job with the ADF&G was the following summer in 1974 in Soldotna, on the Kenai River and the Kasilof River Sonar Project, doing test fisheries.
"Coming from the lower 48, where if you catch a fish when trout fishing it seems like a relatively modest size," Lloyd said. "Here I was with a little handkerchief of a gillnet in the Kenai River catching multiple sockeyes and these big 50-pound king salmon that would just about knock you out. There were pretty immediate differences in what you could do in Alaska from what you could do down south, it was pretty exciting stuff. It is all engaging, it trains your attention."
One of the best jobs he said he ever had was his second summer with the ADF&G in Kodiak in 1975, working on the Kitoi Bay Fish Hatchery and the Frazer Lake fish pass.
"A lot of that summer they had me out alone," Lloyd said. "Which is not standard practice but it worked out."
Lloyd spent his time counting fish, fishing king crab in Olga Bay, berry picking, wandering the island hunting ptarmigan, and admiring all the bears around.
"They sent in my groceries and my mail once a week," Lloyd said. "I thought life was pretty good."
In 1978, at age 24, Lloyd learned to scuba dive as a fishery biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service in Juneau, doing assessments of log dump sites around SE Alaska including looking at bark coverage on the bottom and the impact on near shore green ecosystems.
Lloyd said he has always tried to find the joy wherever he was posted.
"None of us biologists got into the field to work in an office, really," Lloyd said. "But you get promoted and take on more responsibility. I have been lucky that as I have taken on more responsibility I have still been able to get out to some of the projects and the guys are gracious enough to allow me to pretend to be a biologist."
According to seafood lobbyist Robert Thorstenson Jr., Lloyd was the best thing for fisheries and wildlife since the invention of lures.
"It is quite amazing what he did," Thorstenson said. "He worked there for 30 years, came up through the ranks. It is a great morale thing to see. If they get someone to replace Denby it should be someone exactly like him. That is the way guys feel from Ketchikan to Cordova... whether sport, commercial, or subsistence fishing he thought about the fish first."
Lloyd's ability to thoroughly investigate all aspects of an issue is what co-workers admire.
"I see him as a very balanced commissioner," ADF&G spokesperson Jennifer Yuhas said. "There was an awful lot of opposition to his appointment to the game commission because he was an unknown. They knew he knew fish, but he has proven more than competent on game issues and a lot of his opposition became supporters."
Lloyd has worked on predator management, on vigorously pursuing opportunities to solidify and stabilize a program for wolf control. He was instrumental is getting five areas in the state as ongoing, private, permitted aerial wolf control efforts; and efforts by state biologists on the south peninsula to go out on the caribou calving grounds during the calving season and set up a wolf perimeter.
Lloyd mentioned some of the biggest issues for the future include communication.
"It's a big challenge when looking at a particular issue," Lloyd said. "Because the people in Alaska are passionate about their fish and wildlife but they also want their news and their views to be spread very quickly. The sound-byte approach really doesn't do justice to the technical and scientific nature of a lot of what we are involved in. So we have a tension there between speed of communication and electronic abilities and technical background that is really required to effectively deal with the issues that we are up against."
Lloyd stated the ADF&G mandate is for the resources and for the various allocation schemes.
"You never get done all of what you want to get done," Lloyd said. "What we need to make people aware of is that we are really not compensating our biologists comparably to what their counterparts in, say, federal agencies are making. And that affects morale and our ability to recruit and retain biologists.
"A lot of what motivates a state fish and game biologist is the fact that they are out there 'in it' immediately. For example, an area wildlife biologist in Petersburg is making crucial decisions by the hour sometimes all summer... that is tremendously invigorating and also very challenging and rewarding, along with the huge amount of work and responsibility."
Lloyd mentioned other pressing issues include Unit 13 subsistence issues for caribou and moose; issues before the North Pacific Fishery Management Council on observer program restructuring; different by-catch control measures for tanner crab, and salmon; the upcoming Cook Inlet Board of Fish meeting; and the halibut charter fleet catch sharing plan, now drafted in a rule making stage and acted on by the council and awaiting federal government regulations.
"That is a complicated approach to protecting the commercial fleet while providing and opportunity for the charter fleet to harvest but not over harvest," Lloyd said.
Tom Casey is a fisheries consultant in Seattle whose clients include numerous king crab boat owners. He is also a spokesman on numerous fisheries boards including the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council. Casey said in 2004 through 2006, Lloyd saved the Bering Sea crab fishery.
"If someone saves our a-- to the tune of $144 million at a time, I tend to remember that," Casey said. "They didn't think it was safe to take all our pots out at once, the risk of overfishing was too high. The number of pots you can put on a vessel is a real masculinity thing in the Bering Sea. Its an 'I have 300 pots and you 200 kind of thing.'"
Lloyd made a deal with the crabbers to cut the number of pots in half and they would try the season.
Said Casey, "We were looking at bankruptcies and marshals' sales and 1,500 people sitting idle for three years in a row. Denby took a chance with us and gave us the opportunity to voluntarily cut the pots in half in exchange for running a much slower snow crab fishery three Januarys in a row."
The value of that experiment was $144 million combined for those three Januarys. It was an economic boost to the communities of Sand Point, King Cove, Dutch Harbor, and St. Paul as well as the Seattle boats.
"I have known every commissioner since Jim Brooks in 1972 and I am saying that no one has kept more people fed and housed in the crunch than Denby Lloyd did," Casey said. "Did he take his pound of flesh? Yeah, he sure as hell did. There are people in this town that will never forgive Denby Lloyd for making that deal but they sure took their share of the $144 million. He's the best I have ever known. The Seattle processors hate his guts, so there must be something awfully good about him for the fishermen. The processors did all they could to get (Gov.) Sean (Parnell) to fire him anyway, without the DUI."
While many perceive Lloyd's retiring a result of a recent allegation of drunken driving, Lloyd said he scheduled his December retirement as the closely as possible to the actual transition from the current administration to the next. He said he never planned to stay on as commissioner for more than four years.
"One thing I will remember about Commissioner Lloyd is his focus on Alaska fishermen and fishing families and his focus on bringing more of our fishery to Alaskans and I think that is a legacy he will be leaving and one I appreciated," Parnell said. "His story is what the opportunity of Alaska is all about ... to being able to create a future here and to live your dream, and for Commissioner Lloyd it was helping Alaskans. I appreciate the fact that he always stood up for fishermen."
He and wife Laurie want to move back to Kodiak where they met. Lloyd said he has a health issue he wants to keep private, but he and his wife want to visit more with her two daughters Kelly and Katy, Lloyd's daughter Theresa and Denby's three-year old grandson, Andrew. Lloyd has been given the task of teaching Andrew about the outdoors.
"It is just a little bit of hiking around Eagle River where they live," Lloyd said. "Walking through the tall grass, that's about the extent I can do with him so far."
He said he also plans to duck hunt, ski and take a trip to Hawaii.
• Contact Klas Stolpe at 523-2263 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.