great untold story of Alaska’s economic success is our vibrant fishing industry, including commercial and sport fishing. If we manage these renewable resources well, then Alaskans will continue to profit from our fisheries. However, short-sighted decisions on state and federal legislation could reduce the health of our fisheries and associated economic benefits.
Since 2001, commercial fishermen in Alaska have landed over $13 billion worth of seafood. The value of commercial landings has more than doubled over the last decade, making fishing an important growth industry for our state. These figures don’t include the value of sport fishing, which brought in $446 million last year alone. Alaska’s commercial and sport fisheries provide 63,000 jobs and generated $2 billion in income for Alaskans last year.
The healthy fisheries that support commercial and sport fishing also create tourism opportunities for Alaska communities. Unfortunately, our fisheries are at risk because of the Parnell-Treadwell administration and their allies in the state legislature.
The very first Parnell bill passed by the Legislature (HB 80) allows cruise ships to discharge “partially” treated sewage and greywater in Alaska state waters. That bill overturned a 2006 citizen initiative which banned such dumping. United Fishermen of Alaska, Southeast Gillnetters, and many other groups opposed HB 80 because the sewage and heavy metals released by cruise ships are harmful to our fisheries and our ability to attract tourism revenue.
The Parnell-Treadwell administration is pushing legislation (HB 77) which would take water rights away from Alaskans and allow foreign companies to move forward with projects like Pebble mine which harm salmon fisheries. Republican legislators are pushing other bills (SB 27, HB 47) to expedite Pebble and projects like Chuitna, which would allow wholesale removal of salmon spawning habitat.
For Alaska, our fisheries are like the goose that lays the golden egg: Protect the goose, and protect Alaskans’ economic opportunities.
We need to take a hard look at the numbers. Last year our fisheries generated $4.7 billion in sales. Why would the Legislature endanger that vibrant fishing economy on behalf of a few lobbyists?
The data show that 87 percent of money coming in through recreational fishing comes from out of state. Fishing isn’t just part of our heritage — it is good for Alaskans’ pocketbooks.
Fortunately, some legislators are doing the right thing to protect Alaska’s fisheries. In Juneau, Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, introduced legislation urging the FDA to reject genetically modified salmon, or “frankenfish.” Sen. Mark Begich worked with other members of the Alaska congressional delegation to extend the comment period on frankenfish, and has introduced legislation to prohibit its approval by the FDA. Democratic state legislators have opposed efforts to weaken Alaskans’ water rights. Democrats not only opposed the cruise ship sewage bill but also introduced amendments which would have required cruise ships to avoid discharging waste near estuaries.
Healthy fisheries are critical for coastal Alaska towns. We need to protect those fisheries from special interest attacks in Juneau. Working together, we can ensure Alaska’s fisheries continue to provide more economic opportunities for Alaska in the future.
Kay Brown is the executive director of the Alaska Democratic Party.