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JUNEAU – Three legislative hearings over the past days for House Bill 199, “The Wild Salmon Legacy Act,” sponsored by House Fisheries Committee Chair Rep. Louise Stutes (R-Kodiak), have brought in overwhelming public support from Alaskans seeking to update an ineffective and outdated state law governing development in salmon habitat.
Ninety percent of Alaskans that testified at the public hearings provided testimony in support of increased salmon habitat protections in the state. Supporters unanimously pointed to the critical role salmon plays in their lives and livelihood, with one testifier calling it “one of the most important things we can fight for and the definition of who we are and where we are.”
The effort to strengthen salmon habitat protections in Juneau this year has garnered support from tens of thousands of Alaskans who submitted written testimony, putting the issue front and center in a statewide election year.
“We need to start thinking about this as a win-win; we need to alter how we develop so it is in line with our fish,” said Malena Marvin, a commercial fisherwoman and small business owner of School House Fish, testifying from Petersburg. “I don’t think we want to pit our industries against each other, we just need to learn how to develop with salmon in mind. I think legislation like this can support us in doing that. As Alaskans, we shouldn’t be divided on this. We should work together and make it work for everybody.”
The wave of support comes at a time when Alaskans are grappling with reduced fishing opportunities for commercial, sport and subsistence users. This year’s forecasts call 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.“We are local people, we are making money that is staying in our state, in our city,” testified Matt Boline, a fly-fishing guide based in Juneau. “That food is staying in our freezer, in our stomachs, on our dinners plates…that’s important to us.”
Many legislators agreed that now is the time to increase protections.
“Right now is a critical moment for us to evaluate this and hopefully get it right,” said Rep. Geran Tarr (D – Anchorage).
House Bill 199 aims to ensure protection for salmon by strengthening the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s authority when it comes to development in salmon habitat. Currently, there are no specific rules limiting the amount of damage allowed to fish habitat during a development project. Many who testified asked legislators to strengthen the bill, which has been watered down significantly since originally being introduced.
The recent legislative hearings for House Bill 199 drew as much testimony as last week’s hearings to the House Finance Committee about the state budget.
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.