Commercial fisherman Mark Stopha has opinions on all of the hot-button issues this election season, but he is focusing his campaign efforts on one topic close to his heart - better management of the docks and harbors.
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"That's my main issue: to reform how we fund and manage the harbors here," he said.
Stopha is challenging District 1 incumbent Assembly Member David Stone in the Oct. 3 municipal election.
Since the state transferred control of the local docks and harbors to the city in 2003, Stopha said he has watched lax management and maintenance of the facilities push many commercial fishermen out of Juneau. The city, which set up the Juneau Harbor Board to be financially independent of the Assembly, has done little to keep fishermen in Juneau, he said.
"We are just the lowest priority," Stopha said. "The fleet is leaving town and nobody seems to care."
Occupation: commercial fisherman, direct marketer of fish, small business owner.
Education: bachelor's degree from University of Alaska Fairbanks, master's degree from Mississippi State University.
Public service: Juneau Fisheries Development Committee, Juneau-Douglas Fish and Game Advisory Committee.
Time in Juneau: 12 years.
Family: wife, Sara Hannan.
The number of commercial permits in Juneau dropped by 43 between 2003 and 2005, and it is likely the city will lose another half-dozen or more this year, he said. That's an 8 percent loss, compared to a 2 to 3 percent loss the neighboring communities have experienced over the same time.
"If 43 businesses closed up in downtown, the city would be scrambling to see what is happening and try to fix it," he said.
This is a big problem the community should be concerned about because the local fishing fleet is a $60 million industry that is packing up and leaving, Stopha said.
"That is the same annual income that the (Kensington) mine is supposed to produce," he said.
To stop the fleet's exodus, Stopha wants the Harbor Board to answer to the Assembly rather than the port director, as it does now. He said the docks and harbors are being funded primarily by moorage fees, which continue to increase, while services and maintenance continue to decrease.
Stopha said he would like to see part of the city's sales tax revenue go toward upgrading and maintaining the facilities that fishermen and other boaters use. Because the facilities are such a community asset, the burden of paying for them shouldn't be placed solely on boat owners, he said.
"It's like having a school built and only charging the parents for the costs," Stopha said.
People may indirectly use the docks and harbors and not know it, he said.
"If you eat seafood in town that is local, whether you have a boat or not, you are using the docks and harbors," Stopha said.
Kathy Hansen, chairwoman of the Juneau-Douglas Fish and Game Advisory Committee, said Stopha is an asset to the committee because of his knowledge and background in the industry.
"As a commercial fisherman, I think Mark is very accurate about the current situation pertaining to the harbors," she said.
Stopha interacted well with the committee and the public, Hansen said. He always came to the meetings and came prepared.
"If Mark put his mind to it, he could be a very good Assemblyman," she said.
Stopha said he doesn't know why some campaign issues garner so much attention when they won't have much immediate affect on the community. He said he is surprised the construction of a road out of Juneau became such a vitriolic issue when it is now in the state's hands.
"If the road was going all the way to Skagway this would be a different discussion, but it's not," Stopha said.
Whether the proposed road is built or not, Juneau should create a port authority with the neighboring communities to better manage local ferry service, he said.
With stagnant population growth in Juneau, Stopha said he would rather see the expansion of the sewer system to address the affordable housing issue rather than a second Gastineau Channel crossing.
"I just don't see the big need to open up West Douglas," Stopha said. "If the population was busting at the seams I could see it."
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