Lawmakers focus on Cook Inlet during Fish Board hearing

JUNEAU — Deep divisions between fishermen harvesting Cook Inlet salmon again dominated discussion as legislators quizzed two appointees to Alaska’s Board of Fisheries during a confirmation hearing Wednesday.

The Senate Resources Committee heard from board appointees Al Cain, a former Alaska Wildlife Trooper, and Soldotna conservationist Robert Ruffner, who had been previously appointed.

Gov. Bill Walker appointed Ruffner to the board in 2015, but lawmakers did not confirm him.

Sens. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, and Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, quizzed Cain about his opinions on restrictions to commercial fishermen to leave more fish for sport and personal-use fishermen in Cook Inlet.

Both senators voted against Ruffner last year, but they said they were more comfortable with his appointment as it is to a seat that has traditionally been reserved for commercial fishermen. Wielechowski went as far as to pledge his support for Ruffner.

During Ruffner’s 2015 confirmation, segments of the fishing industry sought to frame him as a nominee who disturbed an unwritten balance on the board between commercial, sport-fishing and subsistence-fishing representatives.

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