Story last updated at 6/19/2014 - 2:31 pm
You've heard it before and you'll hear it again: The seafood industry is Alaska's largest private employer, putting more people to work than mining, oil/gas, timber and tourism combined. The annual revenue the seafood sector contributes to state coffers is second only to Big Oil. So where does the seafood industry rank among the major candidates running for Alaska governor and the U.S. Senate?
Here's what a thorough look at each of their campaign websites reveals, starting with the race for governor (all in alphabetical order) -
Byron Mallott (Democratic candidate) only mentions fishing commercially in Southeast in the "About Byron" section.
Gov. Sean Parnell (Republican, incumbent) only mentions fishing in the "Issues/Standing Against Federal Overreach" section, saying he "fought off the federal government's attempt to implement 'ocean zoning' - known as marine spatial planning," and "To protect the livelihoods of our fishing fleet in Southeast, the State of Alaska petitioned to de-list the Eastern stock of Steller sea lions that had been protected by the Endangered Species Act." An article entitled "Wal-Mart to keep buying Alaska salmon" appears in the Blog section.
Bill Walker (independent candidate) has a complete section listed under "Issues/Fish Management" saying: "Having spent 30 years in Prince William Sound, I am familiar with the importance fisheries play in all aspects of the economy. ... Furthermore, I will protect, maintain and improve the fish, game and aquatic plant resources of the State, and manage their use and development for the well-being of the people of the State, consistent with high-sustained yield principles."
Candidates running for U.S. Senate need to be aware that nearly 85 percent of Alaska's seafood harvests fall under federal jurisdiction ...
Sen. Mark Begich (Democrat, incumbent) lists fishing resources under the "Priorities/Economy and Jobs" section saying: "In Alaska, fishing isn't a hobby or a sporting event. More than 76,000 jobs in our state are directly or indirectly linked to the fishing industry. Our fisheries bring in $5 billion to our state's economy. For us, fishing is a way of life." Begich also mentions his ongoing fight against genetically modified salmon called Frankenfish.
Joe Miller (Republican candidate) has no mention of fisheries on his site.
Dan Sullivan (Republican candidate) posts a picture of a fishing boat in the "Issues/Jobs and the Economy" section but does not mention anything about fishing or the industry. Under "Improving Lives & Opportunities in Rural Alaska" Sullivan says he "continues the time-honored activities of his wife Julie's family at their fish camp on the Yukon River." There is no mention of fish in his "Natural Resources" section.
Mead Treadwell (Republican candidate) - lists "Fishing industry" in the "Issues" section and says "Alaska's fishing industry supports thousands of jobs and produces billions for our economy."
For candidates running for the U.S. House of Representatives ...
Forrest Dunbar (Democratic candidate) - mentions two summers fishing commercially at Cordova.
Rep. Don Young (Republican, incumbent) does not appear to have a 2014 campaign website.
I fish, I vote!
Seafood Harvesters of America (SHA) is a new group that has garnered coast-to-coast representation in a united voice for "accountable and thriving fisheries."
"There is no national organization that only represents U.S. fishermen here in D.C.," said Brett Veerhusen, a lifelong Alaskan who serves as executive director for the group. "If you're not at the table, you're on the menu here. So it is important that we as fishermen lend our voices in a united way on key federal issues affecting fishermen."
The SHA already has 14 member groups who claim their operant word is "accountability" by fishermen, scientists, policymakers and other users of the oceans.
"The ocean is bipartisan and the most important thing as fishermen is to pass down this tradition for generations. Without the fish, nothing else matters," Veerhusen said in a phone interview.
The group is closely watching the Magnuson-Stevens Act (laws the govern U.S. fisheries) as it undergoes reauthorization this year in Congress.
"We believe the Act is something to be proud of," he said. "What is working are decisions based on sound science. That is extremely important to this group. We are advocating for better stock assessments and more funding to be gathering the best science so we can have strict accountability measures and strict annual catch limits."
Veerhusen said the harvester group plans to work with the Coast Guard on new compliance requirements that in some cases will increase costs by 30 percent to 50 percent.
"That's really affecting the business men and women who are building new boats or doing a lot of boat work. We want to make sure we are coming up with a more reasonable approach that involves the fishing industry on those requirements," he explained.
Likewise, the group is tracking a discharge moratorium that is set to expire in mid-December.
"If that moratorium is not extended by the EPA, vessels in Alaska and nationwide will need to get an incidental discharge permit for deck wash. It's already been extended for recreational vessels, but not for commercial vessels. We want to make sure there is an even playing field," Veerhusen said.
He added that ocean acidification also "is very much on the radar screen."
The seafood harvesters group has been several years in the making, and Veerhusen said response has been "overwhelmingly positive."
"A lot of people said it's about damn time that we start coordinating and collaborating with each other," he said. "As fishermen we believe it is our patriotic duty to be harvesting America's fishery resources sustainably for the public to enjoy."
Fishing boats rock and roll, pitch, yaw, surge, sway, and heave. A new iPhone app helps skippers respond to the movements as they navigate rough seas in tough weather. It is called SCraMP - for Small Craft Motion Program, and it has a variety of tools for boat operators.
"There is a view that gives them the accelerations they've seen so they can have a sense of how bad they are being beat up. There is a screen that will tell them how severe their roll motions have been, and a screen that gives them a choice of three different warning metrics on the heave, roll and fishermen can plug in numbers they feel comfortable with," said Leigh McCue, a professor at Virginia Tech's Department of Aerospace and Ocean Engineering who created the app.
She said stability indicators have been talked about for years, but prototypes were too bulky or expensive. After getting a Smart Phone she realized it had all the computing power that was needed, and input from fishermen helped hone the app to their needs.
"Tracking roll periods came about from a conversation with a fisherman who said that when he is sleeping in his bunk and wakes up, he'll count off a roll period or two to make sure things seem right to him. I figured it's easy enough to have that being calculated so he can look at a screen that shows what the roll periods have been for the time he was asleep, and see if there is anything trending that he doesn't like," McCue said.
The SCraMP app can be customized to each vessel and downloaded for free at www.vesseldynamics.com.