Seven people are being considered to serve as Commissioners for CFEC Alaska’s Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission.

While it may seem like stiff competition, getting the job may be the easy part.

Seven people have interviewed for a CFEC Commissioner seat.

That’s according to Shirley Marquardt, the Governor’s Director of Boards and Commission.

“There are just some extremely qualified experienced folks, from background either with CFEC, Department of Fish and Game, or with fisheries,” she says. “You know, it’s just been very impressive.”

Applicants include previous CFEC employee Yvonne Marie Fink, and two current employees of the Alaska Department Fish and Game, Carol Petrabourg and Jeff Kasper in Juneau.

There’s also Eric Olson, a former chairman of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, and Dale Kelley, longtime director of the Alaska Trollers Association.

Marquardt said Walker would likely choose a final nominee within two weeks. Then they have to be approved by the Legislature.

Though two of three Commissioners seats will be empty by March, Marquardt says she only anticipates one new Commissioner. There’s been no third member since Walker’s first nominee went unconfirmed in 2015.

“The basic idea at this point is that two commissioners could handle the work,” she says.

CFEC Commissioners are akin to Supreme Court justices of commercial fishing world. They were originally charged with erecting Alaska’s limited entry system, deciding which fisheries would require permits, and who got them. But the bulk of that work has finished, Marquardt says.

“All of the figuring out how to write policy limiting fisheries, that was kind of the heavy lifting, and that’s been done.”

But CFEC is still responsible for renewing permits, managing transfers, and collecting fisheries data, and adjudicating who can fish. Ideally, Commissioners are fair, objective, and beholden to no one — they’re extremely knowledgeable without any primary economic ties to commercial fishing.

And while Commissioners make more than $130,000 a year, the future they face may not be cushy.

CFEC has faced pressure in the last two years to cut costs and justify their relevance. Two audits in 2015 sparked a flurry of questions about the cost and effectiveness of the Commission.

In 2016, the Governor issued an executive order to merge CFEC with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. It was challenged in court. The state won, but the Governor retracted the order. He said failing to engage with stakeholders on the proposal was one of his regrets in office.

He’s not the only one it’s been tough on. Bruce Twomley is CFEC’s current chairman.

“It has been a rough three and a half years,” he says. “At almost every point in that period, someone has had a proposal to dismantle us and reorganize us in some fashion.”

He leaves his Commissioner seat in March, after serving 35 years.

“Governor Hammond appointed me on Halloween of 1982. I’ve been appointed by seven governors representing three political parties.”

Twomley knows that whoever steps in may not find the job exactly as he left it. A bill in the Legislature would slash Commissioner salaries, and make CFEC’s employees classified.

But Twomley still feels the Commission’s work is vital.

“Without Commissioners here, being able to pay attention and respond to emergency situations, fishing time is gonna be lost for sure,” he says. “This remains a demanding job. And it’s all about getting fishermen in the water.”

The new Commissioner will join Fate Putman, an attorney and longtime Juneau lobbyist, on the board. Putnam was appointed in November after Ben Brown resigned his seat after almost two terms.

The full list of interviewees?

1. Werner Jon Dunham, Anchorage
2. Yvonne Marie Fink, Juneau
3. Jeff Kasper, Juneau
4. Dale Kelley, Juneau
5. Eric Olson, Anchorage
6. Carol Petraborg, Juneau
7. Jim Sepal, Juneau