“Alaska’s long-lived monarch — the king salmon — has fallen from its throne.”
Those words were published just over a year ago in this newspaper as part of a multipart series on the demise of the king salmon in Alaska’s oceans and rivers. Researchers, scientists, experts, commercial and sport fishermen, guides, subsistence users and policy-makers all sang a similar tune: Alaska’s king salmon aren’t what they used to be.
It’s our instinct to ask “Why?”
Truth is, no one is absolutely sure. Some blame over-fishing, others blame mismanagement, or climate change, or competition from other species. There’s no lack of finger-pointing when discussing why the king salmon are shrinking both in numbers and average girth.
Yet Gov. Bill Walker wants to cut funding to the Chinook Salmon Research Initiative, potentially halting several ongoing programs and complicating an Alaska fishery regulatory item, according to a report by the Alaska Journal of Commerce.
Alaska’s king salmon are to Alaska as the dairy farms are to Wisconsin, as the corn fields are to Iowa, or as the redwoods are to California.
Should any one of those resources be in jeopardy without a clear cause, solutions and answers would be sought.
When it comes to a resource that defines a state — whether corn, cheese or king salmon — the cost to research such a downfall is money well spent.
But we’re not the only ones who think so. Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, has said he’s for keeping the $30 million initiative in the budget and said he’ll lobby for just that this coming session. We agree.
King salmon are part of the multibillion-dollar Alaska seafood industry, and no industry in Alaska employs more people than the fishing industry. The health of Alaska is linked to the health of its fisheries. The health of its fisheries is linked to the health of its king salmon.
King salmon are prized by sport fishermen, subsistence fishermen and recreational fishermen alike. There’s a reason they’re called “kings.”
When the Parnell administration began the Chinook Salmon Research Initiative, it emphasized that king salmon should be ADFG’s No. 1 priority. The department did prioritize, and now worries that some of those efforts could be wasted.
Until the state Legislature decides on a final budget and Walker approves it, the research will continue as planned with existing funds. Securing the future of the research initiative will help secure the future of our king salmon. That’s a goal worth achieving.