Four candidates for U.S. Senate participated in Kodiak’s traditional fisheries debate Wednesday night, and for two hours answered questions about everything from naval exercises in the Gulf of Alaska to which federal fishery would they participate in if they were fishermen.
Panelists posed questions to Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, Democrat Ray Metcalfe, and independents Breck Craig and Margaret Stock. Among the many other subjects was the topic of monitoring programs and the best way to keep members of the fishing industry accountable.
One of the panelists, Julie Bonney, asked about the partial coverage observer program in the North Pacific. She said one million dollars from the National Marine Fisheries Service budget was used to supplement that program, but the funding ended this year. She asked the candidates if that shortfall in funding should be rectified and how.
Murkowski said Alaska leads in putting observers on vessels, but monitoring is about more than just the human observer.
“It’s what we need to be doing with electronic monitoring. We recognize that nowadays we can all do so much with any kind of an electronic device, so making sure that NOAA is moving aggressively on electronic monitoring is another part of this answer when it comes to observing and making sure that we’re all accountable here.”
Stock agreed and said that electronic monitoring will save valuable fisheries resources.
“The cost of an observer is probably much more – it is much more than going to new forms of technology such as the new age electronic monitoring, so I’d like to see more funding going into the things that are probably gonna be giving us accurate data, but are less expensive, and a combination of observer and electronic monitoring seems to make sense to me from a cost-benefit analysis.”
Later in the debate, panelist Jeff Stephan asked whether the candidates support electronic monitoring and, and if so, how they would assist its integration. The round of questions began with Metcalfe.
“I think that electronic monitoring should be required. I also think that observers should be required 24 hours a day if you’re gonna fish 24 hours a day, and if there’s ever a dispute between the observer and the fishing company, you have a monitor there to verify what happened or at least look to for hopefully some backup on who did what.”
Craig said he also supports electronic monitoring and pointed out that hauling an observer can be a burden for smaller boats.
“I think for the larger boats, the larger operations, absolutely you have observers and you have monitoring. For the smaller boats, it kind of speaks to what Margaret said, they are expensive, and if the government’s gonna to pay for it, we are the government, we are the tax-payers, we should deploy the monitoring devices where we can, but if it’s a big operation, a big boat, you should probably have both.”
Along with answering questions from the panelists at the debate, candidates posed questions to one another and had the opportunity to give opening and closing statements. The senatorial candidates who participated were Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, Democrat Ray Metcalfe, and independents Breck Craig and Margaret Stock.
Libertarian candidate Joe Miller skipped the debate. Two recent polls, commissioned by Murkowski and the Alaska Dispatch News, show Miller is running a distant second to Murkowski, followed by Metcalfe, then Stock.