Alaska's Third Annual Wild Salmon Day Brings Out Crowds
October 1, 2018
The events, mostly free of charge, were also in support of an initiative to strengthen fish habitat protection standards, now approved by the Alaska Supreme Court to appear on the state's November general election ballot.
In a decision handed down on Aug. 8, the state's highest court agreed to allow the initiative to proceed to a vote, minus two sentences that the judges found would encroach on the discretion over allocation decisions delegated to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
Even as opponents of the ballot initiative mount a multi-million-dollar television advertising campaign to defeat the measure, hundreds of people turned out in Anchorage, Cooper Landing, Fairbanks, Homer, Juneau, Palmer, Sitka, Soldotna and Talkeetna for a taste of fresh wild salmon in a variety of family friendly venues, some with live music.
Event hosts were The Alaska Center for Anchorage and Palmer, Trout Unlimited at Cooper Landing, the Tanana Valley Watershed Association in Fairbanks, Cook Inletkeeper in Homer and Soldotna, and salmon Beyond Borders in Juneau. The Sitka seafood Festival, Alaska Longline Fishermen's Association and Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust were hosts in Sitka and the Susitna River Coalition at Talkeetna.
Wild salmon Day was signed into law on May 8, 2016 by Gov. Bill Walker.
"Nearly all Alaskans are impacted by salmon in some way- whether through subsistence, recreational, or commercial fishing, or just sheer appreciation for Alaska's abundant wildlife," the governor said. "HB 128 (establishing Wild salmon Day) is intended to celebrate these uniquely Alaskan ways of life and share our appreciation for wild Alaskan salmon with the rest of the world."
The popularity of Wild salmon Day notwithstanding, Alaska is divided in its opinion on the Stand for salmon initiative, for which proponents turned in some 49,500 signatures to the Division of Elections in Anchorage on Jan. 16.
Initiative backers say it offers stronger protections for fish habitat. Opponents contend that it will have an adverse impact on business development.
Opposition to the initiative is led by Stand for Alaska, includes eight Alaska Native regional corporations formed under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, and the ANCSA Regional Corp., as well as numbers of businesses affiliated with the oil and gas and mining industries. A complete list is posted online at https://www.standforak.com/coalition/
Stand for Alaska to date has raised upwards of $8 million, plus hundreds of thousands of dollars in in-kind contributions, compared to less than $1 million raised by Stand for salmon, according to reports filed through Aug. 10 with the Alaska Public Offices Commission.
Major contributions totaling over $1 million toward defeating the initiative came from BP Exploration Alaska, Donlin Gold, Teck Alaska (owner of the Red Dog Mine), Kinross Fort Knox and Sumitomo Metal mining, owner of the Pogo Mine.
The Alaska Supreme Court decision of Aug. 8 reversed the Superior Court decision and instructed Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott to cut two sentences from the initiative and then place it on the general election ballot.
The lieutenant governor's office had initially declined to certify the ballot initiative on grounds that it violated the Alaska constitution. When the state's Superior Court overruled Mallott, the state took it to the higher court.
According to Alaska Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth, the Supreme Court decision "confirmed the state's understanding of the initiative power and its limitations. That limitation extends to the legislature's power to allocate the state's resources – including fisheries and waters – among competing uses," she said.
In this case, said Lindemuth, "I would have prohibited development of any project that would substantially damage anadromous waters (i.e. waters that support migrating fish such as salmon) and presumed that all waters are anadromous unless proven otherwise. The Alaska Supreme Court agreed with the state that this effectively allocated use of the waters for fish to the exclusion of other uses, such as mining."
Stand for Alaska issued a statement saying the high court's decision "validates just how flawed and poorly crafted the measure is" and reaffirmed its opposition to the initiative.
Backers of the petition issued a written statement saying that while the loss of deleted provisions would remove important salmon protections that the initiative would still, if passed, update "an ineffective, outdated state law governing development in salmon habitat in a state where salmon fishing drives 30,000 Alaska fishing jobs and generates $2 billion in economic activity annually."
"The court severed two sentences on provisions that prohibit certain permitting decisions," said Valerie Brown, legal director for the nonprofit environmental law firm Trustees for Alaska, "If Fish and Game determined that a project could cause substantial damage it could have denied a permit. The court severed those two sentences.
"What that means is a decision to deny a permit is not required, but it is within the discretion of Fish and Game to deny a permit. Otherwise the rest of the initiative goes forward. If it passes it will mean we will have public notice and public comment and that the court also preserves the habitat protection standard, so for the first time we have standards that the Department of Fish and Game has to apply when they are making permitting decisions."