"Surprised and disappointed" was the reaction by Sen. Mark Begich upon learning that his opponent Dan Sullivan has bowed out of an Oct. 1 fisheries debate in Kodiak. It is the second time this year that Sullivan has declined to participate in the Chamber of Commerce event that has been an election year tradition since 1990.
"I can't recall a time that a candidate has not participated in the Kodiak debate," Begich said as he readied to head back to Washington, D.C., on Friday. "It's a must-do for statewide candidates. It's not an option. It's clear he doesn't have the same Alaska values as we do when it comes to our fisheries, and I think he is doing an incredible disservice to Alaskans. But that is his MO. He avoids issues, only shows up at very controlled settings, and talks in bumper stickers and applause lines, and that's all he likes to do."
Sullivan campaign manager Ben Sparks told debate organizers that Sullivan does not have a prior commitment keeping him from the fisheries debate, but that "he is just too busy with all the traveling he is doing." The two-hour debate is broadcast live to over 330 Alaska communities.
"I think it's a shame because Alaskans will miss out on a forum that focuses on the largest employer in the state," Begich added. "Seafood is our biggest export by far and nearly 85 percent of all the fish caught in Alaska comes from waters that are under federal jurisdiction. If you can't even have a debate, how do Alaskans know where he stands?"
Sullivan already has a reputation for shunning Alaska media and was criticized last week for avoiding a debate on Native rights issues in Juneau.
"The Alaska way is to debate fiercely, discuss, find solutions to challenges, and move forward. It is not to abandon, run, hide and not talk to people who might disagree with you," Begich retorted. "You have to show up in order to work together. He is unwilling to talk about issues that are important to Alaska, and leaving thousands of Alaskans wondering where he stands."
The fisheries debate will go on, said Trevor Brown, executive director of the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce.
"We have pre-sold lots of sponsorships and lined up all the radio stations. Sen. Begich will be there, and hopefully, other third party U.S. Senate candidates. We also are talking about adding an hour for U.S. House candidates Don Young and Forrest Dunbar if both can make it," Brown said.
History shows that since 1990, no candidate who has skipped the Kodiak fisheries debate has gone on to win their election. Case in point: Sean Parnell vs. Don Young in 2008.
Electricity is any boat's lifeline. A new self-paced online course will show all mariners how to spot and fix basic electrical problems on any vessel.
"You get a 30-year-old boat and some of the wiring is just amazing. Somebody adds or takes something out and they leave the old wiring behind," said Alan Sorum, a former Valdez harbormaster and collaborator on the boat electrical systems course offered now at the University of Alaska Southeast.
Wiring is just one of eight modules in the course that use animations, YouTube videos and direct contacts with experts at the Sitka campus. Being able to deliver it online and at a distance has been the "great bridge," said Torie Baker, an Alaska Sea Grant advisor in Cordova and a partner in the project.
"There's been a real need for this basic but upgraded look at these kinds of electrical systems. Classes like this help you systematically understand what you're up against and how to troubleshoot it, and the tools that you need," Baker said.
Both agreed a top feature of the electrical course is the focus on troubleshooting. Sorum said just knowing the basic rights and wrongs of bonding and grounding, for example, would prevent a harbormaster's biggest headache.
"Boats have AC systems and DC systems, and if they're not wired correctly, you end up getting voltage or current in the wrong places and it causes all kinds of problems – for your boat and your neighbor's," he said. "Plus it costs money for the power, it causes electrolysis. For me that was always the biggest hassle – someone would complain about having a hot harbor or a prop getting eaten up, and it's so hard to track down who's causing the problem."
The boat electrical course is open for sign-ups now. The 10-15 hour course is self-paced over three months and costs $125. Contact UAS for more info.
Bristol Bay's 2014 salmon harvest of 31 million fish adds up to a preliminary value of $197 million to fishermen, the second highest ever and 79 percent above the 20-year average. (The highest was $202 million in 1990.) For sockeye salmon, the catch of 28.8 million was 61 percent higher than expected, with a dockside value of nearly $193 million.
Norton Sound fishermen also were seeing a nice salmon payday. The harvest for chums has been one of the best in 25 years, and the fourth best ever for silvers, said Jim Menard, regional fisheries manager based in Nome.
With local buyers paying $1 to $2 per fish, fishermen should end up with a record $1.5 million season. Menard said 120 permits fished Norton Sound this summer, compared to just 12 in 2002.
Increased interest from salmon buyers also has boosted the economy at Kotzebue. This year three local buyers were competing for chums, compared to none 12 years ago. Fishermen delivered $3 million dollars in salmon this year, just short of the $3.25 million dollar record set in 1981.
Laine Welch is a Kodiak-based fisheries journalist. Contact her at email@example.com.
The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints.