The political fallout from Lt. Gov. Byron Mallot’s abrupt resignation and Governor Bill Walker subsequently suspending his reelection campaign led to the cancellation of the ever-popular gubernatorial fisheries debate at the annual Kodiak Crab Festival put on every fall by the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce.
That did not stop former U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, the only other candidate who had been scheduled to appear after former State Senator Mike Dunleavy bowed out citing scheduling conflicts, from heading to Kodiak and sharing his thoughts with Fish Radio’s Laine Welch.
The fisheries debate has always been a closely watched referendum on where gubernatorial candidates stand on, and their knowledge of, commercial fisheries issues in Alaska, since commercial fishing is the state’s largest private employer.
Begich had strong reactions to Dunleavy’s no-show.
“He bailed on coming to the fish debate, the first time in 27 years that someone running for governor has not shown up. I think it’s appalling. I think it shows his lack of respect for our coastal communities and their importance to the economy of this great state and the people who live and work here,” Begich told Welch.
President Donald Trump’s trade war with China also brought strong condemnation.
“Let’s specifically take fisheries. If we’re not careful, it could (add) another $500 million to $700 million to the cost of our fish products sold to China. And here’s what they will do. They will decide to buy products from another place and once they do that, we’ll lose our market share.
“We should be teaming up right now with the governors of Washington, Oregon and the Gulf states working with the Trump Administration and the state department and start pounding on them that this is hurting American jobs, Alaskan jobs. These are dangerous things for us to be playing” he said.
Begich took a stand on the current salmon hatchery debate.
“I support the hatchery program. I know there is some current conversation going on about hatcheries impacts regarding if there is too much fish in the ocean that are consuming too much food that’s necessary for the fish to prosper for the long-term health of the fisheries. There is no real science around that and the hatcheries have been very successful for us as a state.”
He said he also sees fisheries research and surveys as a top priority.
The full interview can be found at www.alaskafishradio.com.
Cristy Fry can be reached at email@example.com.