Here is a transcript of my conversation with Mark Begich, Democratic candidate for Alaska governor, on fisheries issues – October 23, 2018 —- Laine Welch, Alaska Fish Radio, Kodiak, AK
LW: What can the state do to address funding challenges for fishery research and stock assessment surveys?
MB: With fisheries, sometimes it’s almost the forgotten resource of our state as an economic driver and we have to realign that. We spend a lot of resources taking care of oil and gas and mining but when it comes to fisheries it’ s almost like they are an afterthought.
We have to have the stock assessments and the research necessary – there’s some great stuff happening at the university that we need to expand, regarding acidification and warming waters and impacts.
And at the end of the day we are never going to be able to manage our resource the proper way. We would do this for any other industry and this one definitely needs the resources. And I think there are opportunities through federal, state as well as foundation money that I believe is out there to help us do this.
LW: What is the state’s role in protecting our fisheries from a changing climate and acidic oceans.
MB: I think the biggest threat to our fisheries is the issue of climate change. When you think of acidification, warming waters, these are things that right now we don’t have enough information on to understand what the long term impacts are going to be and it is clear that there are going to be impacts.
First off, the state has to put investment into research, and better utilizing our university so we understand what we can do, if at all, to mitigate the impacts of climate change to our fisheries.
Second, when you look to the broader spectrum of climate change we have our own obligations that we have to get to.
For example, we have to get to our goal of 50 percent or even greater of renewable energy so we can start doing our part in this world, of making sure we put less emissions into the air.
In all of that the state should be a leader for two basic reasons: first, we have to do it to prepare and protect our environment, our industries and our economy. Second to that, we should do it because we are the natural lab for this and we can become a world leader in figuring out these problems and challenges we face with climate change.
It’s one of the things I get worked up and excited about because I think there is good and there’s bad. And we’ve got to figure out how to manage this and we can then show the rest of the world how to do this the right way.
LW: Do you support Alaska’s hatchery program?
MB: I do. I support the hatchery program. I’ve seen the impacts around the state over the years. I know there is some current conversation going on about hatchery impacts regarding if there is too much fish in the ocean that is consuming too much food that’s necessary for the fish to prosper for the long term health of the fisheries. There is no real science around that and the hatcheries have been very successful for us as a state.
LW: What characteristics would you look for in a Commissioner of Fish and Game?
MB: A commissioner has to have good management skills because they operate a large group of employees with many issues. If they are not good managers, they are a one man or woman show and that is not what we need as a ADFG commissioner. We need a full-fledged manager.
Second, I would like him/her to obviously be knowledgeable about fisheries and what we are and are not doing.
But really, a third thing that I think is very important is they need to be able to understand how to bring people together, solve problems, and move forward. I don’t want people that end up having meetings to have another meeting to talk about the meeting they had last week to have another meeting the next week.
People are frustrated. They feel like their voice isn’t heard enough. We have to have commissioners who are willing to step up to the plate and recognize that their job is to bring people together, solve problems and move forward. 13
And with the commissioner of ADFG we need someone who understands the controversies that are out there, the uniqueness of our resource that we have, and then how to balance it out with making sure we do this for the long term and not for the moment in time.
LW: What can the state do to help young Alaskans become invested in our fishing industry?
MB: We have to do a couple things. One is to make sure it continues to be as stable as possible based on the conditions of the environment, but very important is the capital – what it costs to get into the business.
We should look at how to utilize AIDEA, which is a financing arm of the state, which is usually designed for big projects. We should figure out if there’s another piece of this that they can look at and see if they can be a player in helping bring low cost capital to the table so that people who want to get into this business have a chance to get in and not be denied because they don’t have the money or the capacity to borrow. I think there is a tool here that has been underutilized by the state for the fishing industry and a lot of the small business industry that we have.
LW: Do you support the Trump Administration’s push for offshore fish farms?
MB: I don’t support fish farms. That’s different than mariculture and hatchery operations.
I will say very clearly that what Alaska is known for and why we get premium price for our product is because we are wild caught. That is what we market and it’s the value we have on the fish. Plus, farmed fish could impact our natural stocks if improperly managed. I don’t want any of that in Alaska for sure.
LW: Other protein industries, such as beef and pork, use everything but the squeal. But in Alaska, most of the seafood trimmings end up as waste. What can the state do to get more value out of every fish?
MB: That’s a good point. I think generally we are short sighted on these issues and we’ve got to think long term. When I went to the fish meal plants in Naknek which utilizes more of the fish and turns it into products that can be marketed, I think that’s a very important piece of the equation. I think there is a lot of potential here. The challenge is making sure we have a couple things.
One, that we have the financing available to build the infrastructure that will allow these companies to be able to do maximum utilization of their fish, or seafood in general, within the protein industry as you described it. You look at things like fish oil, which is a high value commodity.
The other thing is, we as a state, through our marketing which is not very strong right now because the state cut that budget, we need to think about how we can utilize marketing in a way that helps utilize all products related to our seafood.
The Ugly Crab campaign is an example of kind of thinking beyond, ‘well, let’s just not use them,’ or we’ll just take a lower cost – let’s figure it out.
If you remember, it used to be dog salmon and nobody paid attention and now they’re Yummy Chummies or dog treats making an incredible amounts per pound. So we took a low cost item and turned it into a high value product and I think that’s what we need to do with every element of our seafood products.
LW: What is your assessment of Trump’s seafood tariffs going to and from China?
MB: This spat that the president has with China is costing Alaskans jobs, costing Alaska money and putting a damper on some of our products.
Let’s specifically take fisheries. If we’re not careful, it could another $500 million to $700 million to the cost of our fish products sold to china. And here’s what they will do. They will decide to buy products from another place and once they do that, we’ll lose our market share.
We should be teaming up right now with the governors of Washington, Oregon and the Gulf states, both Democrats and Republicans, that’s the mix of those states, working with the Trump Administration and the state department and start pounding on them that this is hurting American jobs, Alaskan jobs. These are dangerous things for us to be playing.
That’s how I would play it. Several of those governors are friends of mine, both Democrats and Republicans, and we need to do everything we can to bring them to the table so we can go lobby the administration and show them the impact of these tariffs on jobs in this country and the economy of our fishing industry.
These effects are long lasting. It’s not like once they’ve solved the issue of the tariffs that things are automatically going to come back. No, that is not what’s going to happen. It takes a lot of time to rebuild those economies.
LW: What is your long term vision for Alaska’s oldest industry?
MB: I wish we’d had the debate because I would have enjoyed listening to Mike Dunleavy’s answer to this question. This is the clear difference between Mike Dunleavy and me. I believe we have to have a vision, a future view of where we’re going to be. We can’t just be doing this meeting to meeting, session to session, day to day. We have to be thinking of where we want to be 10, 20, 30 years from now.
And the challenge between myself and Mike Dunleavy is no one is going to hear his vision, no one is going to know his plans. No one is going to know which Mike Dunleavy is running for office because there’s two different ones. One that’s been made up by the millions of dollars spent to promote him and the one who had an incredibly bad voting record – cutting education, public safety, taxing fish – that’s his record.
My vision is this – I want to see the fishing industry not always being kicked to the side but being one that is our greatest industry that employs thousands of people. We need to talk about it like it’s any other industry in our state. Make sure it has the support necessary to do the research and ensure that we not only have a great fishing industry that has generational sustainability.
On top of that, I want to be at a place, and we already are to a certain extent, where people from around the world come and look and study our fisheries so they understand how to do it right. And I think we have already laid the groundwork for that. And I also want to be the research center of the world when it comes to fisheries. We are doing some incredible things but are totally underfunded, under resourced and we have to do more.
I want those young people who say to me I want to be a fisherman that they know it’s a struggle today but being able to in years to come, they can walk through that door and say ‘you know what, I got my life. The state helped me get a low cost loan, or helped me figure out how to make sure I could get the right crew that works and lives here in Alaska. I’m building an Alaska home and family for me to retire at because I made it an Alaska business. That is what I hope for the fishing industry. We need to make it a reality for generations to come.
LW: What are your thoughts on relocating the Alaska Fisheries Science Center from Seattle to Alaska – especially at a time of severe budget cutting? Having the ocean and marine scientists travel thousands of miles to get to the oceans and marine species they are studying – it just doesn’t make sense to me.
MB: It doesn’t make sense. It would be great to do that over time. What we should do is run a parallel track, not to duplicate, but to expand on the areas they have gaps in. And then be the best in that and we become the premiere Alaska research center for seafood, fisheries and all the related industries. I think if we can do that over time. I think Seattle would become a secondary instead of right now a primary.
LW: As governor, would you reinstate the coastal zone management program? Alaska is the only state that does not have that outlet for the public’s voice.
I will do a couple things. First thing I would do is see if we can do it administratively so we can start the process. We have to start it with the legislature and the state has to want to do it. Then you get to apply to the federal government. But you can’t do it just by yourself. If that doesn’t work I would work with the legislature to get a bill passed. Simultaneous to that, I would start the application process to the federal government.
We need to have that coastal zone management program – that is about our own sovereignty, deciding what we want to do and have the authority to have comments from the public on our coastal zone versus the federal government controlling it.
Second, it provides millions of dollars to the state that are rightfully ours and going to other states right now, so absolutely.
LW: Anything more you want to add, Senator Begich?
MB: This election is so important and hopefully, people see the differences between me and Mike Dunleavy. He bailed on coming to the fish debate, the first time in 27 years that someone running for governor has not shown up.
I think it’s appalling. I think it shows his lack of respect for our coastal communities and the importance to the economy of this great state and the people who live and work here. 48
I hope people take the time to compare our records.
I joke with people. I’m not sure which Mike Dunleavy I’m running against. Is it the one in the state senate that destroyed our ability to fight crime and destroyed our education system – who cut a lot of areas that have impacted us in a negative way, or is it the Dunleavy that’s been created by $3.7 million of marketing that is new and improved, but really not knowing what he’s going to do.
I hope people take the chance. This is too big of an election to be bamboozled by a bunch of high priced media and his ethically challenged brother and the Republican committee back in Washington, D.C. is funding.