Gubernatorial candidates talk fish at first debate

Posted: Wednesday, April 03, 2002

KODIAK (AP) -- If it had to do with fish, it was fair game for debate at the first gubernatorial candidate forum of the political season.

Five Alaskans who want to be governor sounded off on topics from subsistence to farmed fish to ways to aid the state's ailing fishing industry at the forum sponsored by United Fishermen of Alaska and the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce.

Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer, considered to be the leading Democrat, and U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski, the highest profile Republican, called for better marketing of Alaska salmon. Fellow Republican Wayne Anthony Ross, an Anchorage attorney, questioned where they would get the money to spend on that purpose considering the state's fiscal problems.

Former state Sen. Nels Anderson Jr., a Democrat from Dillingham, called for a region-by-region analysis of fishing problems and legislation to address them. Alaskan Independence Party hopeful John Wayne Glotfelty of North Pole called for fishing to be returned to the control of small Alaska operators rather than larger ships controlled by Outside interests.

Candidates answered questions from a panel of journalists and from each other. The latter gave Ulmer and Murkowski opportunity to trade barbs on solving the subsistence issue.

Ulmer said Murkowski has told some people he favors a subsistence preference for rural residents and has told others that he would like to see changes in federal law that requires the preference.

She also said he had the opportunity -- and still has the opportunity -- to ''lean'' on members of his party in the state Senate to allow a vote by Alaskans on changing the state constitution to allow a rural priority. That would allow state officials to again manage fish and game in the state.

''We'd sure like your help,'' Ulmer said. ''The session isn't over yet.''

Murkowski said he supports the change to the Alaska Constitution but that the federal law needs clarification -- perhaps before the statewide vote. As is, the federal law is too vague, he said.

''I would be very interested in knowing the lieutenant governor's definition of 'rural,''' Murkowski said.

Ulmer called for changes on the Board of Fisheries, a panel that she said has an impossible task. There are simply not enough seats on the board to address the concerns of the various regions and various fishing methods. She called for a system of regional fisheries boards to make decisions closer to the affected fishery.

''To me that just builds the bureaucracy,'' Murkowski said in response. ''I don't think we need to Balkaninze Alaska.''

The fishing industry would be better served with a renewed emphasis on quality control and creative marketing to emphasize it.

''Folks in the media can sell virtually any kind of mousetrap if it's dressed up right,'' he said.

Ross laid claim as the most conservative candidate among the five.

On solving the subsistence problem, Ross said he would hire a band of ''junkyard dog'' assistant attorney generals to challenge the federal law that requires a subsistence preference, or seek changes in the law through Congress.

He strove to place Alaska's commercial fishing problems in the context of the state's fiscal challenges.

''Other candidates are going to tell you we have money spend,'' he said, but he questioned where they would find the money to do so given the gap between state income and spending.

Asked about the governor's influence on the Board of Fisheries, Ross said he would appoint the best people available and keep politics out. He said he opposes individual fishing quotas or any allocations for processors.

''I believe the free market system will eventually take care of the problem,'' Ross said.

Democrats Bruce Lemke of Anchorage and Michael Beasley and Alaskan Independence Party hopeful Don Wright of North Pole did not appear in Kodiak.

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