ADF&G regional management coordinator Bill Davidson. (KCAW photo/Robert Woolsey)

ADF&G regional management coordinator Bill Davidson. (KCAW photo/Robert Woolsey)

One of the top Fish & Game officials in Southeast is stepping down, after 23 years helping manage the area’s commercial fisheries.

Bill Davidson is the regional management coordinator based in Sitka. His last day on the job is July 31.

Davidson stopped by the studios of KCAW to talk about his life and times in the commercial fisheries division.

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The first surprising thing about Bill Davidson is that he lives and works in Sitka. Typically, a regional coordinator for Fish & Game would be based in Juneau. Moving the office was one of his first decisions when he took the job in 2005.

“It took a lot of coaxing to get me to apply for it. That was just a decision I made that I was perfectly content staying as the area biologist here. But if I took the regional job, I would do it only in Sitka.”

Davidson had already put down roots in Sitka when he started working for the state. He arrived here in 1980 to run the hatchery program at Sheldon Jackson College. In 1991, he took the newly-created job as assistant area biologist for Fish & Game.

The Sitka office was just beginning to oversee new dive fisheries at the time, and a herring spawn-on-kelp fishery in Hoonah Sound.

Davidson says he’ll miss all the details of managing the fisheries around Sitka.

“The information stream that comes in daily. Big and little issues. Things that need doing. The level of activity has been sort of a full court press since I started, I think.”
The sac roe herring fishery has become a sort of media darling because of the high stakes and short time frame in the fishery. But Davidson says there’s always something to hold the attention of managers.

“That kind of nail biting goes on almost year round now. It’s getting very difficult to schedule a break.”

He says that salmon seine fishery, for instance, begins in June and can last through October, with an opening every 3-4 days.

Davidson thinks the authors of the Alaska Constitution had unique foresight to require the state to practice sustainable fisheries management. The emergency order authority granted to local biologists, as a result, carries the force of law. He says it’s created an important partnership with industry.

“Fish and Game is a handful of people that are out making these decisions and managing the resource. There’re support people out there, too. The industry is also out on the grounds and they are making observations. And you’re working with them, and if they see something and they think you don’t know, they’re going to tell you.”
Asked what he would do if he were granted dictatorial powers in Fish & Game on his last day of work, Davidson chose an idea that is likely widely shared by others closely involved management.

“Any individual, free of charge, can suggest a change in regulation to the Board of Fish. Turn in a form, and that will be carried through a wide open public process. The one thing that I would change is that system, is because people are taking advantage of that right to participate, and it’s become unwieldy.

Davidson says his office generated 1,500 pages of analysis on the public proposals for the last Board of Fish meeting alone.

Davidson has no immediate plans post-retirement, except to take more time for himself and his wife, Nancy LeClerc, who also will retire from her job as controller at Sitka Counseling and Prevention Services in a few months. The staff at Fish & Game passed a hat and bought him a new mountain bike. Some friends and family have chipped in for a 10-day river trip.

Davidson does not seem to be too down about handing over the reins of Southeast’s commercial fisheries.

“I feel like I’m leaving with the resources in good shape, and the people in place, and the good organization of Fish and Game to carry on the work.”

Bill Davidson will be succeeded as Southeast regional management coordinator by Dan Gray, who is transferring over from the same job in Prince William Sound and Bristol Bay.