Jonathan Flora (Courtesy Photo)

Jonathan Flora (Courtesy Photo)

Opinion: Future for salmon fishing doesn’t look bright if we don’t rapidly decarbonize our world

There are only hard choices ahead.

  • Saturday, June 26, 2021 11:10pm
  • Opinion

By Jonathan Flora

As a commercial salmon fisherman, I tend to view my paycheck as inextricably tied to progress on climate-related policy in Congress. Salmon fisherfolks and their kin are vulnerable citizens given the amount of capital they have invested into a business that requires climate stability to work. We are not too terribly different from farmers in that regard. Squinting into the future with science in mind, it is hard to see many more generations hauling in nets full of wild Alaska salmon or harvesting barley if we don’t get to rapidly decarbonizing our world.

This summer, Sen. Lisa Murkowski will take part in the negotiations on a large federal infrastructure plan. For the sake of Alaskan fishing families, her position should recognize that a window with the Biden American Jobs Plan has opened to achieve a huge benefit for Alaska in terms of jobs, climate change mitigation and infrastructure modernization. The opportunity is now for big advancements in the nationwide transformation toward electrification of transportation, renewable power and modernization of drinking water infrastructure, now is not the time for incremental policies and research projects. Our senator will likely never again see as large an opportunity to advance a pro-jobs infrastructure agenda that also addresses the climate emergency head on.

From a fisherman’s perspective I don’t look forward to, say, government-mandated fuel economy standards for my fishing operation. At the same turn, I don’t look forward to climate-induced regime change that wipes out the salmon fishery my family relies upon. If an infrastructure plan is passed that puts us strides ahead on electric engine development jump-starting the electrification of marine engines, I will gladly replace my beloved old Cat engine with an electric one.

There are only hard choices ahead, though some choices start to make a lot of sense when technology and the economy motivates them.

Take the Bristol Bay salmon fishery — almost without exception the fleet is required by the market to hold their salmon in refrigerated seawater and deliver them at or below 38 degrees Fahrenheit. This requirement happened very quickly and caused a lot of people to either invest in new larger vessels to accommodate the necessary chilling equipment, or retrofit their old boats. The amount of money that has recently been and is currently being invested in this fishery to modernize is enormous. Fishermen will adapt to accommodate technological advancements, government mandates and market requirements. The Bristol Bay fleet has gone from sailboats to behemoth jet sleds over the years. If the salmon runs survive it will take stubborn, willful and clear-eyed policy to decarbonize the American economy — and if the runs survive, the market and the individual operations will adapt. The nut of it is, the runs must survive.

In all of this, the science is clear: As we prepare our boats to go fishing and as our leaders haggle over the size and structure of an infrastructure plan, more carbon than the planet can handle is being pumped up onto the atmosphere, putting us on a dire and near-term trajectory toward billions of dollars in economic loss and infrastructure damage.

The offers put forward by negotiating parties in the U.S. Senate fall shamefully short if they don’t significantly invest in infrastructure designed to decrease carbon emissions. These smaller offers push weakly on the increasing impacts of a climate disrupted economy. We need more from Congress if the family fishing operations are to survive. The American Jobs Plan is a good start.

Jonathan Flora is a lifelong Alaskan and will be returning to Bristol Bay for his 27th commercial fishing season. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire. Have something to say? Here’s how to submit a My Turn or letter.

More in Opinion

Jodi Taylor is the board chair for Alaska Policy Forum. (Courtesy photo)
Private school, state reimbursement: family choice

By Jodi Taylor Alaskan parents have a legitimate right to choose the… Continue reading

Opinion: It’s time for bold action to protect our fisheries

Our fisheries feed the world and sustain our unique cultures and communities.

The logo for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is displayed inside the George A. Navarre Borough Admin Building on Thursday, July 22, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Voices of the Peninsula: Hard to fill positions?

Paying poverty wages to support staff, secretaries and custodians is unacceptable yet routine behavior by our district

A copy of the State of Alaska Official Ballot for the June 11, 2022, Special Primary Election is photographed on May 2, 2022. (Peninsula Clarion staff)
Choosing a candidate – Who will best represent us in D.C.?

Voters are encouraged to do homework before casting a vote

Tourists watch as one of two cubs belonging to an 18-year-old sow black bear crosses the path between groups of tourists visiting the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center on Wednesday, July 18, 2018. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Tourists have pushed us to critical mass in parts of Juneau

I don’t go to the glacier in the summer now to hike or watch bears.

Sens. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer, left, and Robert Myers, R-North Pole, read through one of 41 amendments submitted to the state’s omnibus budget bill being debate on the floor of the Alaska State Senate on Monday, May 9, 2022. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)
Opinion: The Alaska Senate’s foolish gamble

“All these conservative people just spent all our money”

Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnerships. (logo provided)
Point of View: A few ideas for Mental Health Awareness Month

What are some things you can practice this month and subsequently apply to your life?

Smoke from the Swan Lake Fire impairs visibility on the Sterling Highway on Aug. 20, 2019. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)
Opinion: Alaskans should prepare for wildfire season

Several past large fire seasons followed snowy winters or unusually rainy springs

Most Read