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Fishermen feel betrayed on habitat initiative

  • Author: Matt Boline
  • Updated: September 18
  • Published September 18

A spawning sockeye salmon rests in the waters near the Eagle River Nature Center’s boardwalk overlook on Aug. 22. (Marc Lester / Alaska Dispatch News)

Three years ago, I remember a wave of optimism in the fishing community here in Southeast, as we rolled through the season and headed into an election for governor. For the first time in recent memory, we had a candidate who spoke our language. As someone who grew up on the coast in a fishing community, saw how Prince William Sound was devastated by the oil spill, and vowed to deliver "fish first" policies once in the governor's office, Bill Walker claimed to understand our values. His selection of Byron Mallott as a running partner seemed to confirm that we had reason to be hopeful. Fishing communities voted for the Walker/Mallott ticket in droves.

Today, I think I can speak for many fishermen: We feel betrayed.

Last month, we applauded as we watched Walker and Mallott  join in celebrating Wild Salmon Day.  On Tuesday, the Walker/Mallott administration denied an important ballot initiative for 2018 that would have raised the bar on developers to ensure protections for salmon habitat as Alaska grows.

Walker and Mallott seem to be saying that Alaska is now open for destruction. They are effectively telling foreign companies: We are willing to sacrifice salmon and the industries and communities they support in order to turn a quick buck; dig, build, wreck habitat wherever you want, however you want — we'll let future generations take care of the costs of cleanup.

This week's decision attempts to block Alaskans at the ballot, axing our voices and views from the development process.

We thought that an independent governor wouldn't be beholden to special interests operating behind closed doors. But, it's clear, the private meetings continue and mining executives  have convinced him to torpedo the ballot initiative.

Three years after sending Walker and Mallott to the governor's office, our salmon and our way of life are less secure than when they took office.

Given this, it will be hard for me or any member of the fishing community in Alaska to support Walker and Mallott next year in their re-election bid.

A reckless and no-holds-barred development attitude has infected our state's highest elected offices. There is no doubt that we need to fire up economic development in this state. But let's remember that both the commercial and sportfishing economies have not only stayed strong and viable, but have grown through this oil recession, contributing  billions to the state economy and supporting tens of thousands of jobs annually in Alaska.

If we sacrifice wild fish, we lose not only an economic engine but the cultural center of this place. Our wild fish are a gift from previous generations and it is our responsibility to ensure that the legacy exists for the generations to come.

There's a movement of young fishermen building in this state. We are creating new opportunities that fuel our state's economy and we are organizing politically like never before. We're not interested in simply fighting defensive battles and we will speak truth to power.

We want proactive policies that provide all Alaskans long-term security by ensuring that our world-class salmon habitat stays intact.

We're looking for a governor who is not afraid to lead on these issues and back up their promises with right action.

After this week, the hunt continues.

Matt Boline is a Southeast fly-fishing guide and operations manager for Bear Creek Outfitters, based in Juneau.

The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary@alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@alaskadispatch.com. 

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