Salmon may not have been on the menu at Paradisos Restaurant Thursday, but it was certainly on the minds of the people holding picket signs outside.
Gov. Tony Knowles' address to a joint gathering of the Soldotna and Kenai chambers of commerce was overshadowed by commercial salmon fishers protesting what they described as the dismantling of their industry by the governor and the Alaska Board of Fisheries.
The governor's appointment of sport fishing industry advocate Bob Penney to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council Wednesday was the spark that lit the fire of protest under the sign-wielding area commercial fishers.
"Knowles is kicking us in the teeth; he's laughing at us," said commercial fisher Gary Hollier who picketed outside. "He's not welcome here in my eyes."
Kenai Peninsula Borough assembly member Jack Brown, a commercial fisher himself, was among the protesters. When asked how he was feeling after his recent heart surgery, he replied, "I was feeling OK until I heard about Bob Penney's appointment."
Picketers' signs were even less subtle.
"Knowles unfair to fishermen's families!! Reject Bob Penney!" read one sign. "Clinton had Monica -- Knowles has Penney," read another.
The governor was in town with Education and Early Development Commissioner Rick Cross and Health and Social Services Commissioner Karen Perdue to drum up support for the Children's Budget, a long-range plan to keep Alaska children healthy and educated through sound fiscal planning (See related story, this page).
When the governor arrived, surrounded by at least two plain-clothes bodyguards and a couple of uniformed Alaska State Troopers, he swept right past the picket signs.
Inside, a slight and well-dressed woman tried to get his attention.
"You're killing me," Marilyn Keener, a lifelong commercial fisher said to the governor towering over her. "You're killing my family."
"Did you notice he wouldn't even make eye contact with me," she said a few minutes after Knowles walked right by her.
"He wouldn't even shake my hand," said a bystander.
"I wouldn't want him to shake my hand," Keener replied.
Knowles acknowledged the protesters when he reached the podium, and disarmed the audience with his sense of humor.
"I did notice some protesters outside when I came in," Knowles deadpanned. "And I asked the commissioner of education, 'Why is it that every time I bring you somewhere, we're always picketed?'"
After Knowles, Cross and Perdue spoke, a comment came from the audience ostensibly about Denali Kid Care, a program touted by Knowles during his speech that provides health care to underprivileged children.
"As we speak my daughter and son-in-law are at the hospital having their second child, thanks to your Denali Kid Care program," the man said.
"Well, congratulations," the governor replied.
"But I want to tell you the reason they need it is because he is a commercial fisherman and your actions have put him out of work," the man went on.
Then Knowles began talking about how tough a career commercial fishing is, what with small runs and low prices.
"I'm doing everything I can to help commercial fishermen," he said before being cut off.
"I think you should stop right there," the unidentified commercial fisher said. "We're tired of hearing your bull----."
The room went silent until Kenai chamber president-elect Randy Daly asked the audience to show more respect to the governor.
Keener got her chance to speak to Knowles next.
"You talk about new jobs being created in Alaska, but what about old jobs?" she asked. "We worked hard building up the fish stocks and your Board of Fish has taken it from Alaskan families and put it in the hands of Outside sport fishermen."
Knowles went on to talk about world salmon markets and how Alaskans can compete in a changing marketplace, but that did not satisfy Keener.
"I'm not getting an answer from you," she said.
"I believe in the Board of Fish process; it represents balance," Knowles said.
At that point the meeting broke down into a melee of people shouting down Knowles.
"The Board of Fish is unbalanced," shouted one man.
"The Board of Fish has cut commercial fishing to the bone," said another.
"There is a process," Knowles offered.
"The process is skewed against us," was the reply from at least two others.
"I get a lot of positive statements from people around the state that it is a fair process," Knowles replied.
Order was restored momentarily when commercial fishing advocate Joe Malatesta spoke.
"I respect the office you hold, but I'd like to point out that this room is filled with people you are putting out of business," Malatesta said. "You can't justify what you're doing. Businesses are boarded up, canneries are closed, and we can't make it on tourism alone. You're crippling our economy."
But Knowles would not be swayed.
"The fish that we're talking about are public resources," he said. "They're not yours, and they're not mine."
He went on to say the state is better off having a variety of viewpoints on the Board of Fish.
"Why do you want to shut these (sport fishing) people out?"
Malatesta and others tried to respond, but were drowned out by applause for Knowles as he was ushered out of the room, into a waiting car and off to the airport.
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