Not usually given to hyperbole, Berkowitz might have made another metaphor, and been more accurate, but he's right in that it is the beginning of the public comparative process for these candidates; and that the debate will focus on issues not necessarily important to big places like Anchorage and Fairbanks.
The debate will also be the first event at which all the candidates, except possibly Lieutenant Governor Sean Parnell, will be on a stage together. It may be the only one that will find all the GOP and Democratic Party candidates answering the same set of questions.
They won't be talking about sport fishing very much. Only if asked about halibut charters, most likely. Kodiak was once the busiest fishing port in the United States, if not the world. It still is one of the very busiest. A majority of the people attending this debate have blue water over the wheelhouse stories they could tell that would make The Deadliest Catch seem tame by comparison.
But the stories these industriously brave women and men have been telling lately have largely been about the privatization of a common resource which they consider to be theirs, yours and their children's. Theirs to harvest, and theirs to care for, too.
I've been reading articles and books about commercial fishing for close to 40 years. I remember Roger Fitzgerald's first article about Alaska fisheries, back in the early 1970s. I reported on local, state and national fisheries issues for KLAM Radio in Cordova around that same time. Like any complex subject, reporters in Alaska writing or reporting on fisheries, deal with the subjects from a wide array of viewpoints.
These days, most Alaskans get their news on these issues from six reporters: Wesley Loy, Laine Welch, Richard Mauer, Stephen Taufen, John Enge and Doug O'Harra.
Loy, and Mauer write for the Anchorage Daily News. Welch reports every Friday evening on APRN, and syndicates her fishery reports to newspapers around the state. Taufen, Enge and O'Harra write for the Alaska Report. Enge and O'Harra have their own interactive blogs, too.
Wesley Loy also does other business reporting, but his business approach to fisheries is a combination of gossip and name-dropping of major political figures and fishery moguls. My favorite recent gossip column by Loy had this gem:
Last night I attended a grand reception United Fishermen of Alaska put on at the Twisted Fish Co. restaurant here in Juneau.
It was a packed room as folks feasted on an enormous bowl of king crab courtesy of Alyeska Seafoods Inc. and the Alaska Crab Coalition.
The event drew an the impressive showing of VIPs. I noted numerous state lawmakers including House Speaker John Harris of Valdez, Rep. Bill Stoltze of Chugiak, Rep. Paul Seaton of Homer, Rep. Mike Chenault of Nikiski and Rep. Andrea Doll of Juneau.
Others included state Fish and Game Commissioner Denby Lloyd, aides to U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, plus some top brass from the U.S. Coast Guard.
The Highliner even spotted some regular commercial fishermen from ports like Wrangell and Sitka.
The whole scene was proof the commercial fishing industry still has some pull in this capital city otherwise fixated on the oil business.
Richard Mauer gets pulled into fishery issues largely because he's probably the best investigative reporter in Alaska right now, and a lot of dirty deals are done in the business.
Welch is a statistics maven. I try to catch her radio and print reports every chance I can, because she presents a lot of data, and portrays it accurately. Her article on tomorrow's debate is worth a read.
Stephen Taufen's Alaska Report article on the debate is by far the best, though. Especially from the progressive viewpoint:
The privatization of pollock, crab and rockfish – coupled with the recent allocation of previously non-allowed bycatch of valuable species such as black cod – has the community on edge about fisheries sustainability and fairness, as well as opportunities for new entrants. The town was built on fathers and sons, and daughters, who set out to harvest the sea and work their way up in an industry increasingly pushing out highly experienced working men and women by lowering their rights and incomes.
Enge, like me, attacks Alaska media when they come up short of reporting facts, or develop narratives which distort or hide the real truth:
What's wrong with this statement? "Most recently, Kodiak trawlers tested the waters for a co-op in the rockfish fishery. The slower pace extended the fishery from three weeks to seven months, keeping more seafood workers on the job longer. By fishing cooperatively, the trawlers cut halibut bycatch rates by more than 70 percent."
The only thing that might be right about this statement is that Kodiak trawlers initiated "something," albeit, not where the public saw it happen to THEIR fish. (Notice I didn't say, "where the public COULD see," because someone like the FBI might have found out.) I'll also give them that it did stretch out the season, in large part because the processors were busy with salmon.
Enge's fishery blog is called Alaska Cafe.
O'Harra writes about science and how it relates to fisheries. I'm about to add his science blog, Far North Science, to the list of statewide progressive blogs.
Update - Thursday 0500: The ADN's Richard Mauer reports in today's edition - "Questions will be asked by panelists Jason Moore of KTUU in Anchorage, Casey Kelly of KMXT, Margie Bauman of the Alaska Journal of Commerce in Anchorage and Ralph Gibbs of the Kodiak Daily Mirror." Mauer further reports that Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell will not be there.