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Protecting salmon is good business and the right thing to do

  • Author: Dan Michels
    | Opinion
  • Updated: May 13
  • Published May 13

Spawning salmon in Katmai National Park. (Getty Images)

Propaganda is, by definition, information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view. The campaign currently being promoted by Stand for Alaska, the group formed to oppose the Stand for Salmon initiative, is textbook propaganda of the crudest nature. They are repeating a cynically devised, fear-based mantra claiming outside interests and environmental whackos are working together with Boston billionaires to adversely affect Alaska's economy. Nothing will ever get done again. The natural gas pipeline will be darn near impossible. Run to the polls and strike this measure down, citizens!

By the way, Stand for Alaska is funded substantially by BP, a multinational corporation based in the United Kingdom. Its top two shareholders are investment firms with billions of dollars in assets based in Texas and — you guessed it — Boston. BP takes oil from beneath the ground in Alaska and sells it on the international market. Once the oil is gone, it's gone, thank you very much. Right now, oil is selling pretty cheap, but the price will rise. It always does. It's not about Alaska regulation, it's about world markets that determine whether or not Alaskan crude is marketable.

This morning, as I looked out over the Naknek River, I thought of a sustainable economic engine slowly gathering in the North Pacific, preparing to roar to life and shoot up the Naknek and so many other rivers like it in Bristol Bay. The greatest sockeye salmon migration on Earth, expected to be 50 million strong this year, promises to sustain the livelihoods of tens of thousands of people across the state and beyond who subsist, commercial fish, guide or otherwise benefit from this natural wonder and economic miracle with an annual ripple effect worth $1.5 billion that spreads around the state, country and world.

Salmon are a staple to the way of life of Alaskans. Most Alaskans have memories of catching a salmon by rod and reel or net. Most of us share salmon as food. Most of our livelihoods, whether we set a net or are selling groceries or gas to weekend sport fishermen, can be traced back to a contribution by salmon. Salmon are everywhere, and we take salmon for granted.

Salmon represent the inland transfer of millions of tons of marine biomass inland. Salmon feed not only our economy, they also feed an intricate web of animals and plants in the Alaska ecosystem. Did you ever consider that the salmon-based nutrition slowly flowing back to the oceans and going north ignites the food chain of the Bering Sea and Arctic? Whether you fish the streams of Southcentral, catch king crab in the Aleutians or captain a whaling boat in the Bering Strait, the preservation of salmon is critical to and in the public interest of you and all Alaskans.

I have read the Stand for Salmon initiative word for word. It updates the current statute, which is toothless and vague despite the good intentions when it was written almost 60 years ago. Don't want the initiative to affect your business? Then don't bulldoze across salmon rivers. Corporate and special interests always live in fear of environmental regulation because they stand in the way of profit, the essential fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders. I personally love profit. Profit can be made in a multitude of ways. But salmon habitat is a once-issued deal — once degraded, it's gone forever.

The Alaska Legislature has had several chances to put strong protections into state law, with a habitat bill introduced and heard in the last two sessions. But special interests got in the way and the measures stalled, feet were dragged and any action was generally blocked. The bills never moved out of committee.

This blockade on action, sponsored largely by the same interests behind Stand for Alaska, came despite tens of thousands of letters of support, phone calls and in-person testimonies during the past 16 months. People across the state called loud and clear for the Legislature to protect salmon, but the cries fell largely on deaf ears.

As the legislative session ends, the failure of the salmon habitat bill shows clearly that this body cannot solve the important problems that Alaskans demand action on. Alaska's founders contemplated this day. That's why they gave people another option to pass laws: the initiative process. Collect enough signatures in support of a proposed law, and citizens groups are constitutionally empowered to put that law before the voters.

Almost 42,000 Alaskans have signed on to increase habitat protections for wild salmon, certifying the Stand for Salmon ballot initiative for a vote in November.

The initiative sets a standard for foreign companies to live by when they propose large-scale projects in salmon habitat in Alaska. It sets enforceable limits on the amount of damage development projects can do to salmon streams across the Alaskan landscape. This initiative was created largely in responses to the horrors of the proposed Pebble Mine. But protecting places like Bristol Bay is just as important as protections for salmon runs across the state from the Kuskokwim to Cook Inlet to Southeast — all of which will likely see curtailed fishing again because of low king salmon runs this year. That news bit of news affects you as an Alaskan.

Read the initiative, cancel the propaganda and be responsive to what matters most to Alaskans: the wild, renewable and sustainable resources of this magnificent state. Stand for salmon. Once they're gone, they won't be back.

Dan Michels is a resident of Wasilla and the owner of Crystal Creek Lodge in King Salmon.

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