Alaska Department of Fish and Game commissioner Kevin Duffy announced his decision to retire Thursday after 24 years with the department.
Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Kevin Duffy surprised employees of that agency on Thursday with the announcement he will be leaving at the end of the year.
An e-mail to Fish and Game staff announced his decision to retire after 24 years in order to accept a new job as executive director of the At-Sea Processors Association, a Seattle-based bottom fishing group that represents seven companies that own and operate factory trawlers working the Bering Sea.
Duffy said in a telephone interview that At-Sea presented an opportunity he couldn't pass up.
Duffy friend Earl Krygier, a commercial fisheries research biologist for Fish and Game, was one of a handful of people with prior knowledge Duffy was thinking about leaving the commissioner's post after less than two years on the job.
"I think what happened, Kevin's from Seattle originally, and his whole family's down there,'' Krygier said. "He's owned a home for years down in Seattle. He's been talking over the years about sometime he's going to migrate back in that direction.''
All of those things, Krygier said, plus Duffy's recent marriage, made the At-Sea job extremely attractive when it opened up, particularly given the political fire storms swirling around Fish and Game.
Under the direction of Gov. Frank Murkowski, Duffy was put in charge of dismantling Fish and Game's Habitat Division and defending the aerial wolf-gunning plans of the department's Wildlife Division.
He also signed off on a controversial Murkowski administration plan that eliminates Fish and Game's authority to submit its own agency comments on controversial development projects. Under a directive Duffy signed, Fish and Game must consult with the pro-development Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Environmental Conservation and come to a consensus position with those agencies. Several retired biologists harshly criticized Duffy, saying he gutted his own agency's authority.
He is now in discussions with the Department of Environmental Conservation about that agency's proposal to allow industrial discharge zones in Alaska waters. The idea of creating so-called "mixing zones'' for dumping industrial pollutants is unpopular with Fish and Game biologists and much of the agency's constituency.
And if all that weren't enough, Fish and Game is preparing to ask the Alaska Legislature for sizable increases in fees for hunting and fishing licenses, a move many expect to be contentious.
Duffy was guarded when asked about how all of the controversies might have affected the decision to retire.
"Being the commissioner of Fish and Game is indeed a challenging position,'' he said, "but I was up to the challenge, and I respect the fact the public feels very strongly about many of these things.''
He insisted he wasn't leaving because of anything that had happened within Fish and Game on his watch, but because he had found an opportunity that simply seemed better.
He said he had talked to Murkowski about his departure and recommended the governor "find someone who is experienced and can work in a team environment.''
As for anyone considering the job, Duffy recommended they "go into the position with eyes wide open. There is going to be controversy.''
Alaska has a citizenry that cares deeply about the state's fish and wildlife, he said, but they sometimes disagree vehemently about how to manage those resources. Fortunately, he added, Fish and Game has a talented staff well schooled in management.
He said it is the latter he will miss most when he departs Dec. 31.
"The tough part for me is I'm going to have to leave so many friends and co-workers in this department who have a shared passion for Alaska's resources,'' Duffy said.
Daily News Outdoor editor Craig Medred can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Reporter Paula Dobbyn contributed to this story.