Laine Welch: Candidate websites reveal positions on fisheries

Laine Welch

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 any other sector. The revenue the seafood sector contributes to state coffers is second only to Big Oil.

So how does the seafood industry stack up among the major candidates running for Alaska governor and U.S. senator?

Here's what each campaign website reveals, starting with the race for governor:

• Byron Mallott (Democrat) only mentions fishing commercially in Southeast in his "About Byron" section. (

• Gov. Sean Parnell (Republican incumbent) only mentions fishing in his "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 about "Wal-Mart to keep buying Alaska salmon" appears in the blog section. (

• Bill Walker (Independent) has a section called "Issues/Fish Management" in which he says: "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 consistent with high-sustained yield principles." (

Candidates running for the U.S. Senate need to be aware that nearly 85 percent of Alaska's seafood harvests fall under federal jurisdiction.

• Sen. Mark Begich (Democratic incumbent) lists fishing resources under his "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. ( )

• 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. (

Candidates running for the U.S. House of Representatives didn't have much more to say.

• Forrest Dunbar (Democratic candidate) mentions two summers he fished commercially out of Cordova. (

• Rep. Don Young (Republican incumbent) does not appear to have a 2014 campaign website. (

Voice for fishermen in Washington, D.C.

Seafood Harvesters of America is a newly launched group that proclaims itself 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."

Seafood Harvesters already has 14 member groups that demand "accountability' by fishermen, scientists, policy makers and other users of the oceans.

"The ocean is bipartisan, and the most important thing as fishermen is to pass down this tradition. Without the fish, nothing else matters," Veerhusen said in a phone interview.

The group is monitoring the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which governs U.S. fisheries and is up for reauthorization by Congress this year.

"We believe the act is something to be proud of," Veerhusen 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 ... the best science so we can have strict accountability measures and strict annual catch limits."

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. (


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. Called SCraMP, for Small Craft Motion Program, 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 and roll. 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.

Stability indicators have been talked about for years, but prototypes were too bulky or expensive. After getting a smartphone, McCue realized it had all the computing power 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 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 free at

Laine Welch is a Kodiak-based fisheries journalist. Contact her at

Laine Welch