Commentary: Vote for healthy oceans and thriving coastal communities

Fishing vessels in Cordova Harbor. (May 14, 2020) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

Alaskans should not be surprised that it took Sen. Dan Sullivan a decade to say he opposes the Pebble Mine. That came only after the Pebble Tapes revealed mine backers boasting about how Sullivan was hoping to “ride out the election” and that “he’s off in a corner being quiet.”

Remember that it was Sullivan as commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources in 2012 who removed the words “conserve,” “enhance” and “future Alaskans” from the DNR mission statement, sidestepping a state law requiring legislative approval.

Sullivan said the language was pared down “because it is already implied in the state constitution,” and “it doesn’t mean that every one of those concepts needs to be laid out in a mission statement.”

In 2013, in the case of the Chuitna Citizens Coalition vs. DNR Commissioner Dan Sullivan, the Alaska Superior Court ruled that DNR violated its own rules by denying Alaskans’ their rights to keep water in streams to protect wild salmon runs from a proposed coal mine.

Since he’s moved on to the U.S. Senate, Sullivan has been silent while the Trump Administration has gutted every protection for our waters, lands and air.

He has been lock-step as the GOP pooh-poohs climate (and COVID-19) science. He has voted to overthrow a health care lifeline for thousands of Alaska fishing families (with no replacement) during a pandemic. Sullivan has voted 97% with the Trump agenda.

Dan boasts that his adopted state is the “superpower” of seafood. But his inaction on ongoing trade assaults has been a dereliction of duty.

Seafood is by far Alaska’s most valuable export, and China was Alaska’s biggest buyer. In the more than two years that the Trump Administration slapped an average 38% tax on seafood exports to China, Alaska’s sales have dropped to the lowest level in a decade and counting.

Sullivan now brags about scoring one-time COVID-19 trade relief money for fishermen’s losses — a band-aid solution to unfair trade deals with no end in sight.

In 2014, Russia placed an embargo on food purchases from the U.S. in retaliation for its denouncement of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Newly elected Sullivan exhorted: “If Russia won’t buy seafood from us, we won’t buy from them!”

Six years later, the U.S. has increased its Russian purchases by 70% to $770 million of mostly crab, cod and salmon that competes directly with ours. More recently, millions of pounds of Russian-caught halibut that is processed in China is flooding U.S. markets. The fish comes into the U.S. via Canada to avoid paying any tariffs.

I always “vote fish” because to me that means voting for healthy oceans and thriving coastal communities. And I always vote for the person, not a party and my voting record reflects that. In more than 30 years as a radio/print reporter for Alaska’s seafood industry, I have never publicly endorsed a candidate.

Sullivan has shown time and time again that his own ambition and loyalty to Party and power trumps the voices of Alaskans. He also has shown that he touts the accomplishments of other congressional colleagues as his own.

I believe that Dr. Al Gross’ heart is true to Alaska above all. We need that in our U.S. Senator now more than ever. I urge you to vote for Independent candidate Al Gross on Nov. 3.


Laine Welch has been reporting on Alaska’s seafood industry for print and broadcast since 1988. Her daily Alaska Fish Radio program airs on 30 stations; her weekly Fish Factor column appears in papers across Alaska, nationally and in the U.K. Laine lives in Kodiak.