by Randy Hartnell
Given today's article about Greenpeace's bogus Alaskan pollock alarm—and our companion coverage of Alaska's fight over gold vs. fish—it's a good time to review the state's historic commitment to protection of its fisheries.
Beginning with the famous Yukon Gold Rush, and continuing with the ongoing fight over drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaskans have earned a rather unfair reputation for favoring resource exploitation over conservation, without reservations.
Eagerness to exploit natural resources is understandable, even necessary, in a state lacking much industry or other sources of income.
But the Alaskans who founded the state in 1959 were wise enough to take strong steps to protect their seafood resources... especially their salmon fisheries.
That resolve wavered recently when Alaskans voted down even stronger restrictions on water quality, aimed specifically at preventing pollution of salmon streams by the proposed, enormous Pebble Mine (See “Alaskans Pick Gold Mine over Salmon Protection”).
But we have faith that when push comes to shove, Alaskans will not let desire for mining dollars destroy their irreplaceable wild salmon resource.
And these 10 points about Alaska's policies on seafood sustainability help explain our faith:
- Alaska statehood was driven primarily by the desire to take control of the fisheries resource away from the federal government.
- In Alaska, fishery resources are carefully managed to ensure the long-term survival and abundance of the seafood species, and the health of the surrounding ecosystem.
- Since Alaska became a state in 1959, its constitution has mandated that “…fish be… utilized, developed and maintained on the sustained yield principle.” This means that only surplus fish over and above the number needed to perpetuate healthy runs are made available for harvest.
- No species of Alaska seafood has ever been listed as endangered.
- Alaska has never exceeded the conservative quotas recommended by scientists from the National Marine Fisheries Service.
- Alaska's sea lions, otters, birds, and whales are carefully protected, and marine preserves protect hundreds of thousands of square miles of sensitive habitat. More than 40 Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) have been established in the waters off Alaska to protect them from human activity.
- Overfishing—the central problem for many fisheries elsewhere—has been prevented or, when necessary, stopped or reversed in Alaska.
- Alaska separates “conservation” from “allocation,” meaning that market demand has NO impact upon the number of salmon harvested (Low demand has at times reduced prices paid to a level that discourages fishermen from catching what's available).
- The wild salmon fishery in Alaska was the first in the world to earn the Marine Stewardship Council's sustainability certification.
- In Alaska sustainability also means family and community sustainability—not just fisheries management.