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JUNEAU – The Alaska Legislature will gavel out in the coming days, leaving the widely supported House Bill 199, the “Wild Salmon Legacy Act,” stalled in the House Fisheries Committee where the bill will die with the end of the second session. The bill, which updates one of the state’s oldest laws, would have strengthened salmon habitat protections at a time when foreign mining companies are ramping up operations in the state and Alaskans are bracing for numerous fishing restrictions due to declining salmon runs. Over the course of the session, support for the bill from tens of thousands of Alaskans flooded into the state capitol.
“It’s no surprise that Alaskans love salmon. But the show of support for House Bill 199 – from communities all over the state – was an overwhelming reminder of the depth and breadth of this love. Thousands of Alaskans reached out to legislators urging them to protect something that is so much a part of their lives, and the Legislature failed to listen and pass the bill,” said Ryan Schryver, Stand for Salmon campaign director. “To all Alaskans: we hear you and there is a solution. The Yes for Salmon ballot initiative will give you a voice in protecting our precious salmon while encouraging a thriving economy for all Alaskans. And we are only one of thousands of Alaskan organizations, tribes, businesses and individuals supporting the initiative.”
Shows of support for House Bill 199 included resolutions and letters representing nearly 30,000 Alaska Native citizens, support from over 200 Alaska commercial fishermen and letters of support from nearly 8,000 more Alaskans seeking a solution to strengthen salmon habitat protection in the state. At the bill’s hearings, more than 100 residents from communities statewide weighed in on the importance of passing HB 199, pointing to the critical role salmon plays in their lives and livelihood.
At one hearing – where ninety percent of the Alaskans that testified provided testimony in support of increased salmon habitat protections – former Senator (R) and State Senate President Rick Halford called protecting salmon habitat “one of the most important things we can fight for and the definition of who we are and where we are.”
Salmon is not only vital to the Alaskan identity and way of life, but it is a cornerstone of the state’s economy. The seafood industry is one of Alaska’s foundational industries, with seafood income and employment accounting for about 20 percent of Alaska’s basic private sector economy. Salmon fishing creates more than 32,900 full-time jobs every year in the state, with the seafood industry earning $1.6 billion in annual labor income based on 2013 and 2014 averages, $2.1 billion in total labor income and $5.9 billion in total economic activity.
“We have long needed a strong course correction. We need updated development standards that balance the sustainability of our world-class salmon streams with responsible resource development,” said Phil Brna, former fish biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. “If the Legislature cannot solve this problem, it’s time to put the issue in front of voters.”
The Yes for Salmon ballot initiative, which also aims to strengthen habitat protections in the state through an update to a 60-year-old state law, is expected to appear on a ballot in November. The initiative process, guaranteed by the Alaska Constitution, grants Alaskan citizens the same rights as the Legislature to make and update laws, including those governing natural resources.
Stand for Salmon is a diverse group of Alaska-based individuals, businesses, and organizations united in taking immediate steps to ensure that Alaska remains the nation’s salmon state for generations to come. Learn more at www.standforsalmon.org.