Dunleavy taps former aide for vacant Board of Fisheries seat

Alaska Board of Fisheries members meet in Anchorage for a work session earlier this year. (Photo by Aaron Bolton/KBBI)

Gov. Mike Dunleavy has tapped his former legislative aide to serve on the Alaska Board of Fisheries.

In the world of Alaska fish politics, Matanuska-Susitna Borough resident John Wood is not a big player. The governor’s appointee is largely unknown by fishing groups.

“Most of the response I’ve heard from UFA members is, ‘Who is he?’ People are not familiar with him,” United Fishermen of Alaska Executive Director Frances Leach said.

She said the commercial fishing industry group hasn’t had time to come to a formal stance about Wood, and the timing of his appointment – announced Thursday – surprised many.

The seat has been vacant since the Legislature declined to confirm Dunleavy’s choice of Karl Johnstone, a former Board of Fisheries member who’s been a polarizing figure and a magnet for criticism from commercial fishers.

The next Board of Fisheries meeting isn’t until October. So few expected an alternative so soon.

Kodiak Republican Rep. Louise Stutes chairs the House Fisheries Committee. She said she’d been in touch with the governor’s office over the vacancy.

“I was told that they were in no hurry to make this appointment, and it would probably be late summer, early fall. But obviously, that’s not the case,” Stutes explained.

So who is Wood? He’s a private-practice attorney in Willow and chairs the local branch of the state’s Republican Party. As an aide to then-Sen. Dunleavy, he worked on northern Cook Inlet allocation issues from 2012 to 2014.

“Since that point in time, I’ve served on the Matanuska-Susitna Borough’s board of fish and game as well,” Wood said, referring to the borough’s Fish and Wildlife Commission. “Between that and the amount of time I spent on it with Sen. Dunleavy’s office, I got pretty familiar with the issues as they pertain to this region. That doesn’t mean I’m up to snuff on other regions of the state, and that’s something I’ll have to work to catch up on.”

Wood supports increasing the amount of fish that swim upriver in areas of Cook Inlet, where streams aren’t at capacity. That would implicitly restrict the commercial harvest and benefit sport fishing — making commercial fishing groups nervous.

United Cook Inlet Drift Association’s David Martin has worked with Wood in the past. He said like Johnstone, Wood puts sport fishing interests first.

“It’s just unfortunate that we keep getting a lot of people on the board of fish that is really on the politics and allocation instead than the science and biology,” Martin added.

The Board of Fisheries sets fishing regulations for commercial, subsistence and sport fishing in state waters. Wood will go before the Legislature for confirmation during next year’s regular session.

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