Newly appointed Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell has weathered many stormy seas since she graced the deck of her father's fishing boat at 1 year of age, going on to take a full crew position by age 11, pay her way through college with the sweat and toil of the sea's harvest, and then working behind the scenes to further Alaskan's subsistence and fishing rights, so this week's press release by the Alaska Native Brotherhood Grand Camp rejecting her experience came as a shock.
"I don't' think it is a fair characterization," Campbell said. "People know me for my work for the fishing industry because that was my early background. They haven't seen my broader responsibilities in recent years."
The ANB Grand Camp sent out a press release to multiple e-mail addresses this week stating their objection of Gov. Sean Parnell's choice of Campbell on Dec. 22 for Fish and Game commissioner due to what they consider inexperience.
Campbell's name was one of two submitted for the position by the Joint Board of Fisheries and Game. Campbell had been serving as acting commissioner since Dec. 1.
"We have serious concerns that someone so young and inexperienced and who has such close ties to the commercial fishing industry will lack the maturity and judgment to negotiate the difficult issues facing Alaska and to serve the many constituents for Alaska's wildlife resources," ANB Grand President Richard Jackson said. "We are urging Gov. Parnell to broaden the search for qualified candidates and to weigh the concerns of the ANB-ANS Grand Camp."
Campbell was born and raised in Petersburg, one of the strongest fishing communities in Alaska, and grew in the close-knit ties of Norwegian, Tlingit and Filipino fishing families. Campbell spent her youth working the deck of her father's boat, the Galatia. His new boat is christened the Cora J. and like Campbell it has seined, trolled, gillnetted, fished herring and crab.
"It appears I need to do some outreach with ANB because if they were familiar with me, or my work, I don't think they would have made that statement," Campbell said. "I am very aware of Native subsistence issues and very sensitive to subsistence issues for all Alaskans."
Early criticism for Campbell has humored Gov. Parnell, as he believes his choices are bringing much needed "new energy" into state agencies as he starts his first full term in office.
According to The Associated Press, Parnell said there were two main factors considered in making Cabinet choices: integrity and competency. Parnell has eyed people he deems capable of carrying out his policies.
Campbell has served two governors and was first appointed in May 2007 as then-Gov. Palin's fisheries policy advisor. She oversaw state fisheries policies, chaired the Fisheries and Oceans subcabinets, served on the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute Board of Directors and coordinated activities of agencies involved in regulation and development of the state's subsistence, personal use, sport and commercial fisheries. Campbell's responsibilities expanded to include wildlife and natural resource and environmental issues.
"I have been working in the governor's office for several years," Campbell said. "I have had diverse responsibilities and interactions with constituent and user groups and have been working on all the issues facing the department for several years, so it provides a smooth transition at time when a smooth transition is needed."
Campbell has worked in state and federal fishery and regulatory forums, served as executive director of a regional fishing association with an emphasis on economic development and cooperative research, supervised a public outreach program focusing on the federal subsistence process and served on numerous boards and committees, including the advisory panels to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council and the North Pacific Research Board.
"With two decades working in the fishing industry and as a fishing advocate I would think that gives her plenty of experience," Petersburg Vessel Owners Association Executive Director Julianne Curry said. Curry is also the Subsistence Chair on the United Fishermen of Alaska Board and on NPFMC Advisory Panel. "I have worked along side her and watched her work ethic. She has the ability to look at issues form all sides."
Campbell spent 2005-07 working on a subsistence program, funded by a grant by the United Fishermen of Alaska, which was instrumental in getting information to multiple agencies and fishing and subsistence groups as a time when federal subsistence regulation began to diverge from state regulations.
"One of the biggest issues as a department is that a lot of our time is spent dealing with federal issues taking a new and expanded approach to Alaska issues," Campbell said when asked of what is on the horizon. "We spend a lot of time dealing with the federal agencies which takes away from state time and issues. We will continue to pay attention to federal fishing issues and their interaction with state fisheries. There is also going to continue to be attention on by-catch issues and how they are addressed through the federal process."
The ANB Grand Camp also rejected the state's second choice, Ron Somerville, because they believe he has a long and hostile history toward indigenous people of Alaska.
Jackson said, "We consider the forwarding of Ron Somerville by the Joint Boards of Fisheries and Game a direct slap in the face to the Native community."
Phone calls to Somerville were not returned by press time.
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