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Laine Welch: Parnell says a decision on Chuitna mine still a ways off

Laine Welch

Gov. Sean Parnell took to the airwaves last Tuesday to answer questions from Alaskans. A few were of particular interest to the commercial fishing community.

A set-netter asked Parnell his position on a proposed Chuitna coal mine on the west side of Cook Inlet, which would set a precedent by removing, among other things, 11 miles of salmon streams. "Didn't you say you would never trade one resource for another?" she asked.

"And I won't," Parnell responded. "I've seen the written misinformation about Chuitna and the decision that was made on a proposal to basically stop any permitting and stop any activity," he added. "There has been no decision made to allow the mine to go forward. Certainly, a company can work the permitting process and the public process, but until such time as that's allowed to play out ... I don't know what else to say except that my job is to make sure that the public has access to that process, that they have input, that the science is there and then that the department makes a good decision. And we are not anywhere close to that at this point."

On reserving water rights to protect salmon streams (an issue in the fight over the Pebble mine and the Chutina proposal): "That's an important one," the governor said. "We are the only state in the union that allows a private party to tie up water from other parties. And the only way I think to constitutionally have a process where everybody has a say in the water, is for a government entity to hold those water reservations and not private entities. So that's one of the reasons we moved forward with legislation to accomplish that."

On Anglo-American pulling out of the Pebble Mine project:

"What message does that send to other investors?" a caller asked.

"Well, it certainly sends a message that, at least in the case of Pebble, a company is going to have a struggle even getting into the permitting process," Parnell replied. "And that means there will be less investment in Alaska in that kind of activity. Of course I am concerned when that happens because it has spillover into smaller areas and other industries. But we are where we are right now and I cannot invest time and effort on a Pebble-permitting process when there isn't a company to come forward. So that's where I've left it at this point."

A Sitka caller asked if the state is monitoring for radioactivity from the leaking Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan.

"We do, and it is something that the Department of Environmental Conservation is watching closely, along with federal agencies including NOAA and the EPA," he said. "So far in our biological testing of fish we have seen no evidence of (radioactivity)" ... "It is an ongoing monitoring effort with our state and federal agencies, but it is not something that has posed a risk to date."

Wild salmon watch

The statewide harvests for Alaska's 2014 salmon season are pretty much tallied up, with a total approaching an all-time high of 270 million fish. (That compares to 124 million salmon harvested last year.)

Southeast Alaska salmon fishermen set a record this summer, topping 100 million fish for the first time ever. Second highest for salmon catches is Prince William Sound at 94 million, followed by Kodiak at nearly 32 million. Bristol Bay comes in fourth at 16.6 million fish. Rounding out the top five is the Alaska Peninsula at just more than 12 million.

Now the regional values of the various catches are trickling in.

At Bristol Bay, the all-species harvest of 16.4 million fish has a preliminary ex-vessel (at the docks) value of $141 million, 26 percent above the 20-year average and ranking seventh over that period. The sockeye fishery value is listed at more than $138 million. The estimates do not include upcoming price adjustments and bonuses, which will drive the values much higher.

At Kotzebue, 66 salmon fishermen had the best chum catch since 1988, and the 10th highest in history. The chum price average was down 15 percent. The 319,062 chum catch was worth $689,163 at the docks, 16 percent above the historical average. That meant a payday of $10,442 to participating fishermen.

Southeast Alaska will likely be tops again for the most valuable salmon fishery overall.

Fish meetings

Alaskans will get a first glimpse at proposed pollock, cod and other groundfish catches for next year when the North Pacific Fishery Management Council meets Oct. 2 to 8 at the Anchorage Hilton. The council oversees fisheries in federal waters in the Gulf and Bering Sea, which produce more than 80 percent of Alaska seafood landings. The meeting will be streamed live.

The state Board of Fisheries begins its meeting cycle with a work session Oct. 9 and 10 in Girdwood. The board will take up statewide cod issues Oct. 18 to 22 in Anchorage.

Halibut takes center stage in early December when the International Pacific Halibut Commission meets at its Seattle office on Dec. 4 and 5. Anyone wanting to submit requests for halibut regulation changes needs to get them to the commission by Nov. 1. Check the commission's Facebook page for updates.

Laine Welch is a Kodiak-based fisheries journalist. Her Fish Radio programs can be heard on stations around the state or found at alaskafishradio.com. Contact her at msfish@alaska.com.


By LAINE WELCH