By LAINE WELCH
June 01, 2010
Since 1990, the Chamber of Commerce event has attracted 100 percent participation by candidates running for Alaska governor and for seats in Congress. The hook is that the two hour is broadcast live to over 330 Alaska communities via public radio, as well as before a live Kodiak audience. There is only one catch. The candidates are limited to a single topic - Alaska's seafood industry.
Miraculously, gubernatorial candidates Berkowitz, French, Parnell, Poe, Samuels and Walker all made it to the island just as it became shrouded in fog. The mood on stage at Kodiak's world class auditorium was congenial and the "goobers" were clearly prepared and ready to talk fish.
Underscoring the debate was their recognition that Alaska's seafood industry is the state's biggest employer, and it generates $6 billion to state coffers, second only to Big Oil. But despite its economic and cultural importance, the industry doesn't seem to "get no respect" from policy makers. Here is a sampler of the candidates' thoughts:
Governor Sean Parnell (R): "It's a fact of life that the fishing industry is underappreciated. In part, I think it's because the population centers are not commercial fishing communities. I think we can change that through better awarenessTo me it is all about jobs and familiesWe have promoted and increased funding for seafood marketing and for research at fish and game. We are going to continue to fight the federal government's overreaching...The bottom line is to continue to work to build a sustainable fishery and thriving coastal communitiesRespect comes from who we are as a people, and whether we have those jobs and families taken care of."
Bob Poe (D): "It is true that the fishing industry does not get the respect it deserves. I think the reason is because you are widely distributed across the state. You're busy working, not hanging out in the benches in Juneau lobbying legislators. I think the legislators from fishing areas do a pretty good job, but they have to confront Anchorage and Fairbanks and other non fishing areas. It's often we hear about paying taxes in Alaska, and I think we all know deep down that we have it pretty good here. But the one group that does pay taxes and really does pay their own way is fishing You can't open a commercial fishery unless the funding is there to do the stock assessments."
Ethan Berkowitz (D): "Fishing is all about people. I think those who go to sea are some of the bravest people I knowWe need to convey to Alaskans who don't understand how much effort goes into putting food on our tables, and money in the state coffers. We've got to make sure more Alaskans understand what it means to put your life at risk just to put food on someone else's table."
Senator Hollis French (D): "You earn respect through personal relationships and through trust. By bringing us to your community. By us having the opportunity to walk down to the docks, and having the chance to talk with a dozen people coming over on the Kennecott You find out through individual stories and lives what the business means, how you inherited from your father and you intend to pass it on to your children. It can't be manufactured over night but it's those relationships that build trust."
Ralph Samuels (R): "The commercial fishing industry has fed me my entire adult life Being governor of Alaska is like governing five states. Issues in Ketchikan are different from Kodiak. You have to reach out and make sure you understand the issues in the regions and have the state legislators from different regions walk a mile in your shoes."
Bill Walker (R): "I think the industry has the respect the problem is you don't get the attention you deserveWe look at some industries that say 'we are not going to do anything until we get fiscal certainty in our state. Where is the fiscal certainty for the fishing industry? You see your prices go up and down; there is no control over the investment you've made. The hurdle is very highI think it is wrong that those who are involved in the renewable resource business the heritage industry of this state, don't get more attention There is a growing presence of influence of the non renewable resource in this state, versus the renewable. It is a matter of educating people."
The candidates' favorite fish?
Editor's Note: Fish Factor will have more on the candidates' debate in upcoming columns and Fish Radio programs.