Some Call Flying Fish Just Plain Pork

Oct. 4, 2005 — -- Northwest fishmongers are famous for their so-called flying fish, and now there really is one.

With great fanfare, Alaska Airlines recently rolled out what it calls the "Salmon-Thirty-Salmon." Thirty painters worked around the clock for 24 days to paint a 100-foot salmon on a 737 airplane, which went into service today.

The $500,000 paint job is part of a campaign to promote the Alaskan seafood industry, and was paid for by the federal government. It's a pork project that some are calling "fishy."

"Only Congress can turn fish into pork," said Keith Ashdown of Taxpayers for Common Sense. "Paint jobs for private airplanes are one thing, but Uncle Sam should not be paying for it."

The Alaska Fisheries Marketing Board actually paid for the paint job. The board was created less than three years ago. Since then, the group has received nearly $30 million from the federal government -- funding pushed through by Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska.

It's money that some of Sen. Stevens' fellow Republicans have started to question.

"I don't know what the Alaska Fisheries Marketing Board is except that I know that it continues to receive earmarked funding in the multimillions of dollars every year," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

A Fish Out of Water?

Alaska Airlines, which is paid to carry 30 million pounds of Alaskan seafood cargo each year, directed queries from ABC News to the Alaskan Fisheries Marketing Board.

When asked if taxpayer money should be used for a flying billboard, the board's executive director, Bill Hines, said, "It's very appropriate. It's a great way to get our message out."

ABC also asked to speak to the marketing group's chairman of the board but was told he was not available.

Who is the chairman? He's the president of Alaska's state senate, Ben Stevens, who also happens to be the son of U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens.

"Lo and behold, the person running the marketing board for Alaska is Ted Stevens' son," Ashdown said. "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Ted Stevens is the king of pork."

A spokesperson for Stevens called the flying king salmon "a good thing."

ABC News' David Kerley filed this report for "World News Tonight."