JUNEAU (AP) -- Gov. Frank Murkowski appointed state Sen. Alan Austerman to become his top fisheries adviser on Monday.
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, resigned from his Senate District R seat to assume the post of fisheries adviser. Murkowski expects to appoint a replacement within about 10 days, he said.
Austerman, who served six years in the House before moving to the Senate in 2000, emerged 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.
Alaska's salmon fisheries remain healthy, but fishermen and processors are suffering from an oversupply of inexpensive farmed salmon that has dwindled the demand and price of wild salmon.
Austerman said one major issue that will need to be addressed soon is the availability of fish processors. Wards Cove Packing Co. announced recently that it was closing its processing plants around the state.
The availability of fish processing companies in regions of the state could also 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.
Austerman has worked as a commercial fisherman, fishing for salmon, shrimp, halibut and several species of crab, and has also 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 Senate District R which encompasses 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 being appointed to his senate seat including Rep. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, former Rep. Drew Scalzi, R-Homer, and former Kodiak Borough mayors Dan Ogg and Jerome Selby.
Austerman will begin his duties as fisheries adviser on Tuesday. 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.
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