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I’m a musher who fishes commercially. Here’s why I support the salmon initiative

  • Author: Monica Zappa
    | Opinion
  • Updated: March 10
  • Published March 9

It's that time of year again, sled dog racing time! The winter has been cold and snowy enough, the trails are fast, and the dogs are hungry for more miles in front of the sled.  For most salmon fishermen, this time of year is the least likely time to be thinking about fish, however my team relies on salmon to fuel our hundreds of mushing miles. Salmon are a key ingredient in successful mushing and dog racing. Our dogs couldn't imagine going down the trail without this staple food source, just as Alaskans should never go without salmon now or in the future.

This is why I am a proud supporter of the Stand for Salmon initiative.

Today in Alaska, salmon are such a seemingly abundant resource that it is hard to fathom their decline or disappearance. Yet, when we look at the waterways south of us, there are countless examples of declining salmon, ranging from minor declines to total losses. Humans can and have depleted the salmon resource mainly through massive development projects. We CAN'T let that happen here!

The most glaring problem with the current system begins with the reality that Alaskans have no voice in the permitting process. In fact, it is hidden from everyday Alaskan's.  Nothing requires Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) to notify Alaskans about permits they issue for development projects. Nor are there mechanisms to ensures that developers, most of whom are foreign corporations, will listen to Alaskan concerns. The structure of the law allows multinational companies from outside Alaska to dominate the process, meanwhile neglecting Alaskan voices and risking Alaskan livelihoods.

That's one reason Pebble Limited Partnership and four other out of state companies just contributed more than $1 million to stop the initiative: they don't want you in the development process!

Last month, ADFG, explained the law and some of its deficiencies in testimony to the House Fisheries Committee. The biologist presenting underscored the reality that one of the most critical laws existing meant to balance healthy fisheries and responsible resource development is out of date and far from balanced. The scales are clearly tipped toward loosely regulated development, putting our valuable salmon habitat at risk.

Since moving to Alaska, I have participated in the Cook Inlet Salmon fishery as a processor, a deckhand on a drift boat, a set netter and now a permit holder. In the off-season, I am a dog musher. My team of huskies and I carry the message of clean water and wild salmon down thousands of miles of trail across Alaska and beyond. For us and countless other Alaskans, the most important thing is that we set a strong standard for mining and other heavy development that recognizes the true value of our fisheries.  We should, at every step, be balancing healthy fisheries with responsible resource development.

Over the years, I have continued to use my voice as an Iditarod musher to highlight the importance of salmon to our state and our lifestyle. I am excited to continue this work and to Stand for Salmon. I am immensely grateful that a few brave leaders in the legislature have stopped to listen to the voices of many passionate Alaskans and introduced House Bill 199 which would improve the salmon habitat permitting law through the legislative process. We need more salmon champions in our local, state and federal government.

I was equally delighted, yet unsurprised, to learn that the Yes for Salmon ballot initiative easily gained enough signatures to ensure that this issue is taken to Alaskans for vote on the 2018 ballot.

As a musher, a commercial fisherman, and an Alaskan, I believe that it is not enough to simply utilize, or even appreciate the salmon. We must also celebrate and advocate for this indescribably special resource. That is why I continue to advocate passionately from my sled runners in every community I visit along the trail about the need to protect our state's most valuable resource for future generations.

Each day, I am grateful to be in a position where I can inspire and educate others. I am also grateful to those who are working tirelessly to build change in Alaska, especially those working to ensure that all Alaskans will be heard in critical decision making processes that impact Alaska's salmon resource. So, stand with me in standing for salmon. Prepare yourselves for what could be the most important vote in the history of our state. Stay informed, stay aware and stay fueled by salmon!

Monica Zappa was born and raised in Wisconsin, where she lived until she went to graduate school in Oklahoma. After finishing grad school in 2010, Monica moved to Alaska to try mushing and fishing. She and her partner, Tim Osmar, commercially salmon fish in the summer. 

The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

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