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Yes, we should want healthy fisheries. No, the salmon initiative isn’t the answer.

  • Author: Frank Murkowski
    | Opinion
  • Updated: October 14, 2018
  • Published October 14, 2018

Chum salmon make their way up the fish ladder at the Macaulay Salmon Hatchery on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017, in Juneau. Douglas Island Pink & Chum, Inc. (DIPAC) currently rears and releases chum, Chinook, coho and sockeye salmon. Brief tours, exhibits, aquariums, a touch tank and a viewing window in the fish ladder are offered to visitors. (Erik Hill / ADN)

If Ballot Measure 1 passes, our fisheries, oil, gas, timber, minerals and even tourism would be severely restricted. The state's annual Permanent Fund  dividend would be significantly reduced over time. There would be no gas line, further oil development or new mines. Without the jobs and revenue from resources, state services would be severely curtailed. Specifically, where would the money come from for education, police protection, the environment and yes, even the quality of our Alaska lifestyle? The worst scenario would be a state in chaos facing bankruptcy.

There are many legitimate concerns about the condition of our wild salmon runs. My purpose in presenting this issue is to suggest how we can increase our wild Alaska salmon runs and to insure the adequacy of the food chain on which our salmon depend.

Are our wild stocks really in decline as the advertisements would tell us, or is it a cyclical issue? Some of us have been here long enough to remember the days before statehood, when the Department of Interior regulated our salmon fisheries and they did a poor job. In some areas, our salmon fisheries were on a self-imposed limit set by the fishermen. With statehood and state-run management, the runs began to return. We imposed a historic mandate — to manage seasonal openings, but only after there was evidence of an adequate return to spawn. The state has done a credible job in managing escapement on overall salmon fishing.

Yet there appears to be some sign from fisheries biologists that there may be a shortage of food supply for the salmon. We need better biology on the food chain for salmon.

As a young boy in Ketchikan, Wrangell and Petersburg, the herring were numerous and you could see them roiling on the surface of the bays. That is no longer the case. Why are the herring in decline, and what can we do to enhance the herring runs? Should we reduce the commercial harvesting of herring until the runs return? We need an accurate recommendation from our state biologists.

In Southeast Alaska, we have transboundary rivers in Canada where many of our king salmon spawn. What are we doing to enhance these runs and to help Mother Nature?

I recently had a lengthy meeting with a Canadian biologist. He indicated that while the major king salmon runs go from the Columbia River in Washington and Oregon, the Fraser River near Prince Rupert, British Columbia, to the Chickimin, the Unik, the Stikine and Taku rivers in Southeast Alaska and the Copper River near Cordova, as well the Yukon River. He suggested the Canadians and Alaskans spend too much time and energy blaming each other for catching each others' fish. He suggested we start out with solid information on the food stock for the wild salmon and take action on specific recommendation to address our shortages, and second, that Alaska and British Columbia and the Yukon should forge an agreement to open several hatcheries on the Canadian lakes in British Columbia and the Yukon where much of the spawning occurs.

By using the wild eggs and fertiliziation, he believes that it would have dramatic impact on increasing the runs, and I am in agreement. He stated that a hatchery on the Telegraph Lake feeding into the Stikine River near Wrangell would be the place to start. It would be operated by British Columbia, Yukon Territory and Alaska biologists. Funding would come from each side, as well as contributing private sources.

Such an effort might well provide adequate answers and initiate positive action that can used to respond to save our salmon. If successful, it would eliminate the need for groups like Stand for Salmon, who would bankrupt our state if the initiative passes. Enhancing fisheries, rather than destroying other industries important to Alaska's well-being as Ballot Measure 1 would do, is the way Alaska should go.

Frank Murkowski formerly served as U.S. Senator and governor of Alaska.

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