MyTurn: Palin hasn't given clear position on fisheries issues

Posted: Sunday, November 05, 2006

We have disagreed on fishing issues, but Tony Knowles is getting my vote.

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The election of the next governor of Alaska is upon us but little has been heard from Southeast Alaska's fishing communities. This situation is not surprising. Many fishermen were disappointed with the performance of the previous Knowles' administration, and Sarah Palin is a complete unknown. But sport and commercial fishermen need to recognize that a great deal rides on the outcome of this election.

As is the case on most major topics, Palin has avoided substantive responses on fishing. She has effectively ignored questionnaires put to the candidates. In response to fishery questions she talks about her family's set net operation in Bristol Bay and fishing with her kids. That is the total depth of her experience with the industry and appears to exhaust her interest in fishery resource matters.

Alaska - especially the coastal fishing economies - cannot afford to have that level of inexperience and lack of commitment in state leadership. "New energy" and other empty phrases don't cut it. Alaskans need to know that their governor has understanding, commitment and competence in the field of fisheries.

Many fishermen, myself included, disagreed with some actions and policy positions taken by the previous Knowles administration. Nevertheless, give Knowles credit for acknowledging those criticisms and accepting openly that he made mistakes on fishery issues. Today, he offers specific commitments - for example, supporting Southeast's valuable nonprofit salmon hatchery programs, which benefit sport and commercial interests alike, and on his process for appointments to fishery positions.

While Palin seeks election by saying nothing, Knowles provides clear positions. His proposals provide opportunity for public review and feedback and the basis for setting reasoned priorities. They also give needed assurance that there is real understanding of important details that underlie the headlines.

The next few years will be pivotal for several major fishery resource issues, including renegotiation of the Pacific Salmon Treaty with Canada. Remember that Knowles played a key role in the current treaty agreement. He selected and supported the team that successfully negotiated Alaska's interests in the treaty. He brought together the governors of Washington and Oregon and Northwest tribes in Sitka, a meeting that made possible the forging of a unified U.S. position on chinook salmon. Ultimately out of that meeting also came the Southeast Sustainable Salmon Fund, a continuing appropriation secured by Sen. Stevens that supports important marketing and infrastructure projects in the region.

Knowles has committed to returning the Habitat Division to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, where it belongs, and making Fish and Wildlife Enforcement effective again by separating it from the Alaska State Troopers. He recognizes that current funding of Fish and Game is not adequate to attract top quality fishery biologists or even to carry out some necessary management and research functions. He pledges to address those problems in the budget and legislative processes.

Knowles supports the Kensington Mine for its economic benefits and for its excellent environmental safeguards. He opposes development of the Taku Chief Mine unless Alaska has an effective role in protecting the downstream fishery resources. Knowles supports the Lynn Canal road, an overland route for shipping fishery products out of Juneau. He advocates revitalizing the marine highway as a necessary step to strengthen economies in communities throughout Southeast Alaska.

In contrast, Palin has paid virtually no heed to Southeast Alaska and none whatsoever to the fisheries here. It is difficult to imagine being well served by a governor who brings no relevant background and exhibits no real interest in our concerns. We certainly do not need a mere figurehead as leader.

But it does make sense to support a candidate, even one with whom we have disagreed, who knows the main issues, proposes reasonable solutions, and is willing to listen to all sectors of the fishing community.

In this election, Knowles deserves all fishermen's support.

• Jev Shelton was a commissioner for Alaska on the Pacific Salmon Commission for 15 years.

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