A ballot measure to protect salmon in Southwest Alaska hasn't grabbed as many headlines as pot and campaign politics. Ballot Measure 4, sponsored by the group Bristol Bay Forever, asks voters to give the Alaska Legislature final say on any large oil, gas and mining projects in the 36,000 square miles of the Bristol Bay Fisheries Reserve.
The initiative does three significant things to the existing reserve, said Dick Mylius, a former state director for the Division of Mining, Land and Water.
"It adds large-scale metallic mines to things requiring legislative approval, it broadens the geographic area to include the entire drainage including uplands, and it also applies to state, private and federal lands within the reserve," Mylius said at a recent forum hosted by Alaska Common Ground in Dillingham.
The proposed Pebble mine, he said, would take a direct hit if the ballot measure passes.
"Pebble is within the Bristol Bay Fisheries Reserve, it would be greater than 640 acres and it is a large-scale metallic sulfide mine. So if this (ballot measure) passed, it would require that the Legislature approve the Pebble mine at the end of the permitting process," Mylius told KDLG.
The Bristol Bay Fisheries Reserve was created in 1972 as a way to safeguard salmon from oil and gas development. Legislative approval would add another layer of protection, said Anders Gustafson, director of the Renewable Resources Coalition.
"In the end, there's no one saying, 'You've got this permit to dredge here, you've got that permit to build this road, but where is the permit that says should we do it at all?' " Gustafson said. "I see the 'could' permits but where's the 'should'? Is this going to have a bad effect overall, is this the right thing to do in general? There is no end result that evaluates the impacts of all these permits together."
Mining engineer Richard Hughes argued that the Alaska Legislature doesn't have the authority to regulate permits.
"They could have the right to designate a special area, no question about it," Hughes said, "but I think moving the approval process to the Legislature is a separation of powers issue, and a usurpation of the authority of the state administrators."
Regardless, Alaska voters will have their say on protecting salmon in Bristol Bay at the polls on Nov. 4.
Crab creeps up
Alaska's biggest crab fisheries in the Bering Sea just got a bit bigger. When the season opens Oct. 15, crabbers in Bristol Bay can drop pots for 10 million pounds of red king crab, a 16 percent increase.
Similarly, the snow crab harvest was bumped up 26 percent to 68 million pounds.
The biggest Bering Sea crab surprise is the whopping increase for bairdi Tanners, the larger cousin of opilio, or snow crab. Long closures to help rebuild the stock over the past 20 years appear to be paying off: State managers announced a Tanner harvest of 15 million pounds this year, the largest in 20 years, and an increase from just 1.4 million pounds last season.
At far-away St. Matthew Island, a blue king crab fishery will reopen with a small 655,000 pound catch limit. That fishery has been closed for two years.
Closer to shore, the news isn't so good for Southeast Alaska crabbers. Biologists say the stock of red and blue king crab is at the lowest level in over two decades and will remain closed. The region has not had a king crab fishery since 2011, after being closed for six years prior.
Kenai attorney and longtime fisherman Jim Butler headed a list of Fisherman of the Year awards at the United Fishermen of Alaska 40th anniversary celebration last month in Anchorage. Butler was cited for his long advocacy for Alaska fishermen, notably, his work on advisory groups and oil legislation after the Exxon Valdez oil spill.
The 2013 award also went to Bruce Schactler of Kodiak, a veteran fisherman and USDA food aid program coordinator for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. Schactler is credited with breaking trail to get Alaska fish into hunger relief and food aid programs around the world.
Jim and Rhonda Hubbard of Kruzhof Fisheries in Seward scored the high honor for 2014. The Hubbards were hailed for drawing attention to the complexity of state and federal regulations for seafood sellers, and for their advocacy for "fair and reasonable regulations" for the fishing industry.
United Fishermen of Alaska is the nation's largest commercial fishing group, representing 35 fishing organizations and thousands of fishermen.
Laine Welch is a Kodiak-based fisheries journalist. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail email@example.com.