Sam Cotten, former Eagle River politician, appointed ADF&G head

Tuesday, December 23, 2014 - 23:00
New acting commissioner said he’ll try to bridge sport, commercial fishing interests
Eagle River resident Sam Cotten was recently appointed acting commissioner of Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Newly-elected governor Bill Walker announced a slew of appointments Dec. 1, including that of long-time Eagle River resident and former politician Sam Cotten as acting commissioner of Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

The appointment is a temporary one, said the governor’s office press secretary Grace Jang. But it might turn into a permanent one for Cotten, who is being considered along with other candidates for the commissioner placement.

“He doesn’t want to rush any decisions,” Jang said of when Gov. Walker expects to appoint a permanent commissioner of ADF&G. “He’s being very careful and deliberative in his review of all the departments.”

Cotten has a long history of community and political involvement in Chugiak-Eagle River. He was the first student body president of Chugiak High School in 1964. He earned his bachelor’s in history and political science at Alaska Methodist University. In 1974, a last-minute impulse to put his name in for Alaska State House representative from Eagle River yielded a win that turned into a multi-term service in the house that ran to 1991. (“The Three Muskateers, legislator-style,” Alaska Star, April 30, 2014).

In a phone interview last week, Cotten said he’s been a sport fisherman, and commercial fished for 25 years in Kachemak Bay, and his sons still operate a small purse seiner operation out of Homer.

Cotten also served two three-year terms on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which oversees fisheries management in federal waters, and served on the boards of the International Pacific Fisheries Commission and Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association.

As acting ADF&G commissioner, Cotten said, “One of my goals is to bridge some of the gaps between sport and commercial fishing,” adding he thinks there is a lot of overlap and common ground between camps that are sometimes pitted against one another as competing fisheries use communities.

“A lot of us appreciate sport, commercial, private use and subsistence,” he said.

In recent years there have been calls from tribes in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta whose people rely on subsistence fisheries for food to have some measure of tribally-based fisheries management in the state based on traditional practices. That issue was forefront when some Western Alaska families faced food shortages after king salmon closures were put in place.

Cotten said he plans more outreach and consultation with tribes, and that he’s open to the possibility of tribal management plans but at this time he needs to learn more about what that might look like.

“I think some people want the transfer of jurisdiction to tribal management,” he said, but whichever plan the State ultimately settles on for fisheries management in rural areas predominantly populated by indigenous Alaskans where subsistence is the main food source, “Fish are first,” and preserving the fisheries is the main concern of the department.

Cotten also said he thinks ADF&G can continue to work with the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to reduce bycatch in federal waters, which will improve the commercial fishery and reduce conflicts between user groups.

He said a commitment to transparency will also help ease those historical conflicts.

“The governor has said he wants to do things in the open,” Cotten said, “so people will understand how decisions are made.”

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