Four gubernatorial candidates to debate at Bristol Bay Fish Expo

The Bristol Bay Fish Expo aims support commercial fishing in the region, while at the same time fostering community development. The proceeds from the expo will benefit Little Angels Childcare Academy in Naknek.
(Photo courtesy of Sarah Grace Durrance)

The Bristol Bay Fish Expo is gearing up for its second annual extravaganza. It will feature a variety of events aimed at developing Bristol Bay communities and the commercial fishing industry. One of this year’s highlight will be a debate between gubernatorial candidates.

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Four candidates running for state governor in November’s election will participate in the June 9 debate at the Bristol Bay Fish Expo in Naknek. Incumbent Bill Walker, Mike Dunleavy, Mike Chenault and Scott Hawkins will answer panelist and audience questions related to the theme, “Sustainability in Rural Alaska.” Rhonda McBride of KTVA will moderate the discussion. KDLG will air the debate live.

By holding a debate off the road system, event organizers aim to focus attention issues particular to Bush Alaska. Katie Copps-Wilson is running the Fish Expo with Sharon Wlaysewski-Thompson.

“This debate is more of educating our future governor in what we deal with in rural Alaska and how they want to sustain the heartbeat of Alaska, which is rural Alaska,” Copps-Wilson said.  “If we don’t sustain it, then the culture is potentially lost. And also the out-migration of rural Alaska really affects urban Alaska and the infrastructure.

In addition to the debate, the Fish Expo is bringing back some of the most successful events from last year, including a trade show and live auction. Speed hiring is another favorite that is making a reappearance.

“We framed it after speed dating. Captains and potential crew will come, and they’ll meet. We’ll have them organize where potential crew will have three minutes with each potential captain. It works very well actually, and people are very happy with it. We made some good matches last year,” Copps-Wilson explained.

While many Bristol Bay fisheries stakeholders attend the Pacific Marine Expo in Seattle in the fall, Copps-Wilson said that the Bristol Bay Fish Expo meets a targeted local need.

“Here it’s a concentrated market, where you’re just looking at Bristol Bay fishermen. It’s the boat builders who are specific to Bristol Bay who are coming up here and launching their new boats and lines. And the businesses that are specific to Bristol Bay now have a venue that they’re not drowned out by all these other places. And it’s also a very affordable event that more local people can participate in and celebrate their businesses,” Copps-Wilson said.

Close to 50 vendors are registered, and nearly all the tables for the event are sold. That marks a slight growth from last year’s 44 vendors.

All proceeds from the Fish Expo event benefit Little Angels Childcare Academy. Last year, it raised roughly $15,000 for the program.

Events kick off June 8 with a keynote speech by Katie Ringsmuth on the history and legacy of Bristol Bay canneries. The Fish Expo concludes June 9.

Participants must register online. Bristol Bay residents can enter their zip code as a discount code. Organizers are also still seeking donations for the live auction, which can be in the form of goods or services. Anyone interested in suggesting questions for the gubernatorial debate can email info@bristolbayfishexpo.com before June 8.