U.S. House candidates disagree on how to update fisheries law at Kodiak debate

Alaska’s U.S. House candidates discussed fisheries policy at the Kodiak Fishery Debate on Oct. 4, 2022. (Kirsten Dobroth/KMXT)

The four U.S. House candidates agreed on a lot at the Kodiak Fishery Debate Tuesday, but Rep. Mary Peltola was the only one who favors a House bill to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Act — the primary law that governs fishing in federal waters.

Republican Nick Begich III said he’s skeptical of a provision that would add two Alaska tribal seats to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.

“I’m encouraged to see they’re Alaskan seats,” he said. “But nevertheless, you know, I sort of question that decision to so radically change the composition of the council.”

Libertarian Chris Bye, a fishing guide from Fairbanks, said he likes the idea of adding more seats for Alaskans, but not the way the bill proposes.

“I would appreciate it if it was more Interior-focused,” he said, “and not necessarily based on the color of skin.”

Former Republican Gov. Sarah Palin said she didn’t know enough about the bill to discuss it in the level of detail posed by the question.

“When it comes to the inside-baseball specifics of all that you had just read there — in a debate, it’s kind of difficult to say absolutely yes or no, whether you would support something or not, when you (don’t) have it in front of you, you know,” she said. “You don’t know the context. You can’t read all of it.”

Palin said she suspects the bill gives too much leeway to federal bureaucrats.

Peltola, Alaska’s newly elected Democratic congresswoman, said she was proud to vote for the bill when it passed out of the House Natural Resources Committee last month. She said she’s carrying out the legacy of the late Rep. Don Young, who she said also saw the need to add two Alaska Native seats to the North Pacific council.

“The council works well for the biggest, the wealthiest and the most connected among us,” she said. “But if you don’t happen to be big and wealthy and connected, it is very hard to get any inroads in the council process.”

The candidates also discussed bycatch, the importance of the fishing sector and their personal experience in commercial fishing.

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Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Alaska Public Media. She reports from the U.S. Capitol and from Anchorage. Reach her at lruskin@alaskapublic.org.