Ruffner unanimously passes through first confirmation hearing

After about an hour of testimony and questions, the House Resources committee on Friday moved Robert Ruffner forward in his quest to gain a seat on Alaska’s Board of Fisheries.

 

Ruffner, a longtime Kenai Peninsula resident and outgoing executive director of the Kenai Watershed Forum, was appointed by Gov. Bill Walker on March 23 and faces confirmation hearings in the Legislature before he can take the position.

The Board of Fisheries is tasked with setting statewide fisheries regulations.

During his opening comments, Ruffner told the 9-member committee that he was looking forward to a job that would fulfill his need to learn and expand his horizons.

“I really have a strong commitment to public service and public process and the Board of Fisheries is unique, when we look at how fisheries are managed across the state,” Ruffner said. “In preparing for this, I’ve learned that there are 84 advisory committees across the state, almost 900 people serving on those advisory committees. They have the ability to provide a wealth of knowledge to the seven members of the board.”

Ruffner said he looked forward to taking part in the public process involved in setting fisheries regulation in the state.

The vast majority of the written and verbal public comment taken by the House Resources committee during the hearing were in support of Ruffner’s nomination.

However one Soldotna man, Don Johnson, spoke out against Ruffner’s nomination. Johnson, a sportfishing guide from Soldotna, sought to draw parallels between the Kenai Watershed Forum and commercial fishermen in the Cook Inlet.

“KWF only masquerades as an environmental organization, it is really a commercial fisheries entity,” Johnson wrote, in his comments to the committee.

“I believe Robert Ruffner works for commercial fisheries special interest and cannot hope to fairly represent sport fish users.”

Rep. Bob Herron, D-Bethel, asked Ruffner about Johnson’s opinion.

“I would say that anybody that stands for something at some point in time is going to have some enemies,” Ruffner said. “I am very proud of what I’ve stood for, working for the Kenai Watershed Forum. We have done some very important work on the Kenai Peninsula … we were actually the organization that put a lot of people together in the same room and came up with a plan to take some water quality information.”

Several people testified from Legislative Information Offices statewide on Ruffner’s appointment, including Kenai City Council Member Brian Gabriel, who read the city’s recent resolution supporting Ruffner’s appointment.

Kenai Area Fisherman’s Coalition Chairman Ed Schmitt said he represented the personal use fishermen, private anglers and ecologists who formed the coalition, and the group supports Ruffner. Schmitt said the Board of Fisheries needed to consider science-based fisheries management to form sound state policy.

“Robert Ruffner is an excellent scientist,” Schmitt said.

Before the committee decided forward Robert Ruffner’s name onto a joint legislative confirmation hearing Rep. Mike Hawker, R-Anchorage, said moving Ruffner’s name along in the process didn’t necessarily mean that members of the committee would ultimately support his nomination.

Reach Rashah McChesney at rashah.mcchesney@peninsulaclarion.com

or follow her on Twitter @litmuslens.

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