Opinion: Retired Salmon Experts Urge Yes Vote on Measure 1

Alaska’s salmon fisheries feed countless Alaskans, create important livelihoods for rural communities, support Alaska’s growing $4 billion tourism industry and fuel Alaska’s sustainable commercial salmon fishing industry that employs more than 30,000 people.

And that’s why we need to thoughtfully protect salmon and their home habitat in freshwater — through the clear science based standards offered by Ballot Measure 1. We, along with more than 50 retired state and federal biologists and land managers with a total of 1,500 years of experience between us, are urging a Yes vote on Measure 1.

We can thank the authors of the Alaska Constitution for thinking about the future of the state’s salmon runs. Their foresight in the late 1950s, as Alaska prepared for statehood, was truly ahead of its time.

Based on the knowledge available to them at the time, the drafters of the constitution crafted the Alaska Anadromous Fish Act, also known as Title 16. It’s the only law that specifically protects fish habitat in Alaska. No other state or federal law does what Title 16 does.

Now, this law needs to be thoroughly updated to equip Alaska for a new slate of challenges to our salmon streams. While the law currently requires “proper protection” of salmon habitat, there is no definition of what actually constitutes proper protections.

This is a concern because Alaska’s salmon runs face new, unforeseen pressures that didn’t exist 60 years ago. We can no longer risk the future of our salmon runs to a law that doesn’t specifically address the threats of today with clear science-based standards — built on all we have learned over the last six decades.

In this new era, to blithely proceed without incorporating the benefits of science would be a gamble. When you consider the fate of salmon runs in the Pacific Northwest, New England and Europe, relying on a law written for a simpler time would be simply foolhardy.

The repeal of the Alaska Coastal Management Program in 2011 — which engaged coastal communities and empowered all Alaskans with a say in resource use — along with related efforts to accelerate state and federal permitting efforts, have dangerously cut back on salmon habitat protections in recent years.

We recognize the inherent complexity of our salmon ecosystems. While ocean conditions will continue to affect our salmon, increased development in and near our salmon streams and the lands surrounding them — including large projects in sensitive areas — are a direct threat to healthy salmon runs now and in the future. Alaska must modernize its outdated fish habitat protection law if we hope to maintain healthy salmon runs.

We have a solution in Ballot Measure 1, known as Stand for Salmon. It creates a reasonable balance between development and salmon habitat protection by adopting a series of well-considered standards for projects that may impact Alaska’s salmon habitat. It will not adversely affect the activities that Alaskans hold dear — including commercial, sport and subsistence fishing, hunting, four-wheeling, and food gathering.

It also restores the public noticing, comment and involvement measure that existed under coastal zone management, and that salmon-dependent communities have been asking for.

This is why we ask you to join us in voting Yes for Salmon, Yes on 1 on Nov. 6.

Dr. Phil Mundy is a retired Alaska Department of Fish and Game fisheries biologist, biometrician and chief fisheries scientist, and a former laboratory director of the National Marine Fisheries Service, Auke Bay Laboratories. Patti Berken is a retired Alaska Department of Fish and Game habitat biologist. Phil Brna is a retired Alaska Department of Fish and Game Habitat Division regional supervisor. Ken Tarbox is a retired Alaska Department of Fish and Game fisheries biologist.

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