FAIRBANKS — 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 gasline, 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 over 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 prior to 1959 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 management, the runs began to return. We imposed a historic mandate — to manage seasonal opening — but only after there was evidence of an adequate return to spawn. The state has done a creditable job in managing escapement on overall salmon fishing.
Yet there appears to be some signs from fisheries biologists that there may be a shortage of food supply for the salmon. For the most part our salmon, and particularly king salmon prefer to eat herring and move on to needle fish when the herring are scarce. 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 transboundry rivers in Canada where many of our Alaska 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 the major king salmon runs go from the Columbia River in Washington and Oregon, the Frasier River near Prince Rupert, British Columbia, to the Chickimin, the Unik, the Stikine, Taku in Souheast Alaska and the Copper river near Cordova, and the Yukon. 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. Second, that Alaska, 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 fertilization, he said he believes that it would have dramatic impact on increasing the runs. 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 both the B.C., Yukon and the United States/Alaska biologists. Funding would come from each side, as well as contributing private sources.
Such an effort may well provide adequate answers and initiate positive action that can used to respond to save our salmon and if successful, 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 important industries to Alaska’s well-being, as Ballot Measure 1 would do, is the way Alaska should go.
Frank Murkowski is a former U.S. senator and was the eighth governor of Alaska.