Senate, House candidates focus on fish topics in Kodiak

KODIAK — Candidates to represent Alaska in the U.S. House and Senate weighed in on a variety of fisheries issues at the Oct. 1 fisheries debate in Kodiak.

Incumbent Democrat Sen. Mark Begich and Republican challenger Dan Sullivan answered questions from a media panel, the audience and each other during the first hour of the debate.

Despite clear differences on many issues, the two agreed on topics such as ensuring markets for Alaskan seafood and protecting salmon and streams from foreign mines.

When asked about the current Russian ban on American seafood imports, both Begich and Sullivan talked about the importance of foreign markets for Alaska’s seafood.

Sullivan said he would rely on his experience as Assistant Secretary of State for President George W. Bush to try to ensure that any sanctions the U.S. takes don’t hurt Alaska’s seafood industry.

Begich said he’s working with the delegation to get the State Department to resolve the situation. Although he isn’t a fan of trade wars generally, Begich said he was willing to play hardball if necessary to ensure that Alaska product has a market — even if that requires keeping Russian product out of U.S. stores so that Alaska product can be sold domestically.

In response to a question about the Mount Polley mine disaster in British Columbia and the potential for future development that could impact transboundary rivers — and Alaska salmon — Sullivan again referenced his position in the Bush administration, and said he would jump on a plane to Ottawa and meet with people about the proposed mines.

“It has to be more than just a letter,” he said, referring to Begich’s initial response to the incident.

Begich is planning a hearing on the proposed mines after the November election, and said he’s working to ensure that Canadians consider their downstream neighbors.

“They have to take us into consideration,” Begich said.

Begich received applause from the audience for his well-known position on the Pebble mine: he opposes it.

Sullivan stated he has never come out in support of Pebble and that he didn’t want to see the state trade one resource for another, but that he also supports the process, and thought every industry should have an equal shot at development — mining, fishing or otherwise.

Multiple questions addressed the graying of the commercial fishing fleet, and opportunities for young people to enter the fisheries.

Begich talked about the challenges of entering the fisheries — largely the high cost of purchasing fishing quota — and that cost-effective loans could assist young fishermen. He also noted the need for education in fisheries business and affordable health care.

Sullivan said that the industry needs a regulatory regime that recognizes the importance of small businesses, like fishing operations, and stressed that he would work to get rid of burdensome regulations to help ensure healthy coastal communities.

Regarding genetically modified fish, Sullivan said he shares Begich’s position opposing “frankenfish” and doesn’t think the Food and Drug Administration should approve it. He also talked about his priorities in the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act; maintaining Alaska’s dominance on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council and ensuring the council has the best possible science to make its decisions.

Begich was asked to explain a component of the MSA draft he produced that would create new arctic community development quota groups if fisheries were opened in the arctic, and said that while those fisheries may never be developed, he wanted a plan for them from the outset, and to lay the framework ahead of time.

The candidates also had the opportunity to question one another.

Sullivan largely quizzed Begich about his record on why a vessel discharge exemption for small vessels has not yet passed, why he hasn’t convinced the administration to allow the road to King Cove and work on the Oceans Subcommittee that benefited some Seattle-based fishing vessels in the Bering Sea.

 

Heated House debate

When Rep. Don Young, the 21-term Republican, and Democratic challenger Forrest Dunbar sat down at the table, the debate turned fiery.

The two agreed on several fisheries issues — the need to use technology to reduce salmon bycatch, concerns about changing CDQ allocations, and
pushing for country of origin labeling on cooked seafood products — but disagreed on other points, including how to address pirate fishing and Pebble mine.

 

Young said he thought the bycatch issue in the Bering Sea is getting better, but that much more work in the Gulf of Alaska is needed. He also noted that technology exists to reduce bycatch, and that it needs to see wider use. Ultimately, he’d like to get bycatch down to zero with modern technology, he said.

 

Dunbar agreed that progress has been made, and talked about the need for excluder nets to be used. He also talked about the potential for electronic monitoring in the Gulf of Alaska, and the need to get stakeholders from every side of the issue at the table, and help provide confidence in the science and data that already exists.

 

Both also said they have concerns over changing CDQ allocations.

 

Dunbar said that while Coastal Villages Region Fund, or CVRF, has raised good points about the current allocations, he has concerns over changing them.

 

Young said unequivocally that it would be a bad idea, and that the groups agreed to the original allocations, and they should only be changed if all of the groups agreed to a new division of quota.

 

Both also said they supported requiring country of origin labels on cooked seafood products.

 

Regarding illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, Dunbar said he wanted to work with allies and the State department to address fish pirating.

 

Young said he’d also like to punish the countries purchasing illegally-caught fish.

 

The two got heated during the time reserved for them to question one another.

 

Dunbar asked Young whether he considered ExxonMobil’s contributions, while the Exxon Valdez lawsuit was still being settled, “dirty money,” and noted that many Prince William Sound fishermen were not happy with the ultimate settlement.

 

Young responded that the oil and gas industry remained important in Alaska, and he couldn’t pit one industry against another and divide the state up. He also said that he had pushed to get the issue resolved.

 

Then, he said he didn’t have any serious questions for his challenger.

 

After pressing from the moderator, Young asked Dunbar about his fishing experience. Dunbar said he worked out of Cordova fishing salmon during a couple years with poor fishing, and also worked long hours in a cannery at minimum wage.

 

Dunbar also asked the incumbent about his position on the proposed Pebble mine project; Young said he wants to see the process played out, and the state have the appropriate ability to permit or deny the project, not have the federal government decide.

 

Young also asked Dunbar why he thought he could represent Alaska, and what committee he would want to serve on. Later in the debate, he noted that he currently serves on the House Natural Resources committee, which was responsible for the House draft of the MSA reauthorization and deals with other fisheries issues, but that Dunbar said Veterans Affairs was his top pick, potentially meaning Alaska would lose its representation on Natural Resources as freshmen Congressmen may only serve on one committee.

 

Dunbar argued that Young wouldn’t last forever even if he won this year and his ethics violations have cost him the ability to chair committees, and that it was time for someone new to start building seniority.

 

Those attacks particularly angered Young, who said he is still an effective member of Congress who can get things done, and he spent his closing remarks lecturing Dunbar that he wasn’t showing respect for Young’s office.

pushing for country of origin labeling on cooked seafood products — but disagreed on other points, including how to address pirate fishing and Pebble mine.

Young said he thought the bycatch issue in the Bering Sea is getting better, but that much more work in the Gulf of Alaska is needed. He also noted that technology exists to reduce bycatch, and that it needs to see wider use. Ultimately, he’d like to get bycatch down to zero with modern technology, he said.

Dunbar agreed that progress has been made, and talked about the need for excluder nets to be used. He also talked about the potential for electronic monitoring in the Gulf of Alaska, and the need to get stakeholders from every side of the issue at the table, and help provide confidence in the science and data that already exists.

Both also said they have concerns over changing CDQ allocations.

Dunbar said that while Coastal Villages Region Fund, or CVRF, has raised good points about the current allocations, he has concerns over changing them.

Young said unequivocally that it would be a bad idea, and that the groups agreed to the original allocations, and they should only be changed if all of the groups agreed to a new division of quota.

Both also said they supported requiring country of origin labels on cooked seafood products.

Regarding illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, Dunbar said he wanted to work with allies and the State department to address fish pirating.

Young said he’d also like to punish the countries purchasing illegally-caught fish.

The two got heated during the time reserved for them to question one another.

Dunbar asked Young whether he considered ExxonMobil’s contributions, while the Exxon Valdez lawsuit was still being settled, “dirty money,” and noted that many Prince William Sound fishermen were not happy with the ultimate settlement.

Young responded that the oil and gas industry remained important in Alaska, and he couldn’t pit one industry against another and divide the state up. He also said that he had pushed to get the issue resolved.

Then, he said he didn’t have any serious questions for his challenger.

After pressing from the moderator, Young asked Dunbar about his fishing experience. Dunbar said he worked out of Cordova fishing salmon during a couple years with poor fishing, and also worked long hours in a cannery at minimum wage.

Dunbar also asked the incumbent about his position on the proposed Pebble mine project; Young said he wants to see the process played out, and the state have the appropriate ability to permit or deny the project, not have the federal government decide.

Young also asked Dunbar why he thought he could represent Alaska, and what committee he would want to serve on. Later in the debate, he noted that he currently serves on the House Natural Resources committee, which was responsible for the House draft of the MSA reauthorization and deals with other fisheries issues, but that Dunbar said Veterans Affairs was his top pick, potentially meaning Alaska would lose its representation on Natural Resources as freshmen Congressmen may only serve on one committee.

Dunbar argued that Young wouldn’t last forever even if he won this year and his ethics violations have cost him the ability to chair committees, and that it was time for someone new to start building seniority.

Those attacks particularly angered Young, who said he is still an effective member of Congress who can get things done, and he spent his closing remarks lecturing Dunbar that he wasn’t showing respect for Young’s office.

Molly Dischner is a reporter for the Alaska Journal of Commerce.

Mark Begich

Dan Sullivan

Forrest Dunbar

Don Young

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