Alaska needs teeth in “fish first” policy

We certainly believe that taking a fish first policy seriously begins by putting a permanent stop to the Susitna dam.

Alaska needs to make sure we have teeth in “fish-first” policy

Dave Atcheson, Bruce King, John Holman

Erik Hill / ADN

Alaskans have every reason to take pride in our fisheries. We have what many can only dream of elsewhere around the world. Anglers descend upon our state from all over the world and many of us call this great state home because of our opportunity to fish and to harvest some of this truly amazing resource.

A year ago many of us were heartened to see the incoming governor create a process that brought Alaskans from many diverse backgrounds together to form a “transition team.” That team’s goal was to develop recommendations for the future path of our state. We were especially gratified to see the recommendations of the governor’s Fisheries Transition Committee.

Previous administrations have deftly paid lip service to our fisheries, touting their importance to the economy and even to the sense of who we are as Alaskans. Yet, more often than not, fisheries are not prioritized, especially when weighing resource development projects. In response to this history, the transition committee recommended the Walker administration adopt a “fish-first” policy. What that means is that our fisheries resources, so important to so many of us, finally take priority.

In general the concept of a fish-first policy approach makes sense. Specific examples from the fisheries committee includes:

•   Resource development cannot cause significant loss of fish habitat.
•   The state must maintain enough water in rivers and streams for fish, particularly ensuring that resource development projects never block the passage and migration of salmon to their spawning grounds.
•   The state should reinstate the Coastal Management Program, which also ensures Alaskans have a say in how their waters and fisheries are managed.
•   Restoring to the Department of Natural Resources’ mission statement the charge of habitat conservation, as it had stated before the Parnell administration changed it.

These are pretty common-sense benchmarks for putting fish first. In order to accomplish these goals, we need to ensure an approach that places science over politics, while maintaining adequate funding to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

We know this is a lot to ask in a time of low oil prices and depleted state coffers, but with a single Alaska king salmon currently worth more than a barrel of oil, the investment is critical. Fishing has always been a vital part of the tourism industry, bolstering Alaska’s economy. We need to ensure that our world-class fisheries are protected for generations to come.

If a tax should be implemented on our fisheries, be those sport or commercial fishing, we would ask these not be placed in general funds, but allocated back into our fisheries and Fish and Game. The funds should be dedicated to management and the study of this one-of-a-kind resource.

We are lucky to have the most intact, still pristine and unaltered freshwater and marine habitat in the world. However, protecting and preserving that habitat, and our fisheries, demands we do more than maintain the status quo. It demands we take action.

Therefore, it is our sincere hope that our leaders both in Juneau and Washington, D.C., will support and act upon the fisheries committee’s recommendations. If our leaders and policymakers don’t opt today for a fish-first approach, our fisheries tomorrow are very likely to go the way of the Lower 48 and the rest of the world’s, and that would be a tragic loss to all of us and future generations.

Dave Atcheson ​ teaches fly fishing at UAA’s Kenai Peninsula College, and is the author of several books, including “Fishing Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula,” and “Dead Reckoning, Navigating a Life on the Last Frontier, Courting Tragedy on its High Seas.” John Holman is a lifelong Alaskan and longtime fishermen. He is a pilot and the owner of No See Um Lodge. Bruce King is an avid angler and a retired Alaska Fish and Game biologist.

SamAlaska needs teeth in “fish first” policy