JUNEAU – House Fisheries Committee Chair Rep. Louise Stutes (R-Kodiak) held public testimony Sunday for the latest version of House Bill 199, “The Wild Salmon Legacy Act.” The bill, sponsored by Rep. Stutes, aims to update an ineffective and outdated state law governing development in salmon habitat.
More than 70 Alaskans provided public testimony at the hearing, applauding legislators for their work on the issue and asking for stronger habitat protections. This comes just days after forecasts called for a reduced 2018 salmon harvest, putting Alaska’s salmon fishing industry – which provides jobs for more than 30,000 Alaskans and generates $2 billion annually in economic activity – at risk.
“All of the science that can put a man on the moon is not smart enough to replace a thousand generations of natural selection,” testified Rick Halford, former Senator (R) and State Senate President, at today’s hearing. “Salmon are magic and that’s the only way I can think of describing it. It is absolutely one of the most important things we can fight for and the definition of who we are and where we are.”
Alaska’s law governing development in salmon habitat hasn’t been updated in 61 years and provides no specific rules limiting the amount of damage allowed to fish habitat during a development project. House Bill 199 aims to address these gaps by creating a more transparent, responsible and balanced approach to large-scale development projects. The issue has garnered support from tens of thousands of Alaskans over the past year who have sought an update to the state law as a way to protect the state’s thriving salmon economy and way of life.
Mark Niver, who has spent many decades commercial fishing in Bristol Bay and working on the North Slope spoke in support of strong protections. “We must always put salmon first because if we don’t, we’ll look like the Lower 48,” he said.
“Salmon is the binding thread that connects all Alaskans,” said Dylan Braund, a fourth generation fisherman from Homer, who testified with his two young sons.With large development projects such as Pebble Mine advancing in Alaska, the latest version of House Bill 199 still has room for improvement. It does not include enforceable salmon habitat protections standards, leaving many of Alaska’s salmon rivers vulnerable. The vast majority of people who testified asked legislators to strengthen the bill, echoing a call from salmon advocates across the state.
“We are grateful to Rep. Stutes for her hard work on this bill and to stakeholders in Juneau for recognizing that the current state law doesn’t adequately protect salmon habitat,” Ryan Schryver, director of Stand for Salmon, said after the hearing. “While we don’t support the bill in its current version, we will continue to work with legislative leaders to update the law and fix the fundamental problems with salmon habitat protections in our state.”
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.