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Chinook fund bill debated

Bill would create endowment for salmon research projects

Posted: February 26, 2013 - 7:23pm  |  Updated: February 27, 2013 - 1:05am

After some discussion about broadening a bill before the House Fisheries Committee that would create an endowment fund to support research into Chinook salmon, legislators decided Tuesday to keep the proposed fund focused on Alaska’s state fish.

Bethel Democratic Rep. Bob Herron, the sponsor of House Bill 49, described Chinook salmon — often known, especially outside Alaska, as “king salmon” — as “a canary in the coal mine” for impacts to wild salmon stocks.

“Usually, it’s the species that tells us that there are issues within its life environment, and the other salmon species may follow unless we do something about it,” said Herron.

H.B. 49 would create an endowment fund within the Alaska Department of Revenue, as well as a grant account within the general fund from which the Legislature could appropriate money to the Chinook endowment.

It would also create a seven-member board to oversee the fund and steer grants from the fund toward research projects concerning particularly vulnerable Chinook salmon stocks.

Rep. Lynn Gattis, R-Wasilla, asked why the fund, as proposed, would be specifically for Chinook salmon.

“The first question that comes to mind, and certainly from my district in the Mat-Su: why are we stopping at Chinook, studying just Chinook?” Gattis asked.

“It might bear out in this deliberation that all salmon are of concern, and maybe it should be ‘salmon,’ but starting out, of course, Chinook being the state fish, being the canary in the coal mine, that’s what we’re starting with,” said Herron.

Herron added that he is “very amenable to taking a broad look at the condition of our fisheries regardless of the salmon species.”

After the committee heard public testimony, which was generally supportive of the idea of setting up an endowment to support salmon research, Herron suggested he might put together an amendment to his bill.

“Just so people can think about it, considering the testimony we’ve received both from individuals on the committee and members of the public … I’d offer that we put together an amendment that would change in the title and elsewhere, just so we can move it along, is that delete ‘Chinook’ and insert ‘wild,’” Herron said.

Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, the committee’s chairman, sounded doubtful.

“I guess the one thing that I would say is that, you know, if we use a rifle … we have a target; if we use a shotgun, we’re going to disperse our efforts and we’re going to find pieces,” Seaton said. “So all of a sudden, we have people across all the management regions that are going to be wanting to look at totally different questions.”

Fellow committee members thanked Herron for his flexibility but agreed with the chairman, including Gattis, that the fund should focus on Chinook salmon.

“I guess my original statement about looking at all fish — certainly not discount in the area that I represent that all the fish, we’re concerned with,” said Gattis. “We’re also concerned with Chinook, though. So with that in mind, I don’t have a problem looking at Chinook. Those also are very important fish in our region.”

After the other representatives weighed in, Herron said, with his usual deadpan delivery, “Pardon the pun, but I offered up that conceptual amendment as bait.”

Herron repeated his “canary in the coal mine” description of Chinook salmon and explained, “Chinook is the guy that’s saying, ‘Hey, we’ve got a problem. Figure it out.’”

At Seaton’s direction, the committee did not advance H.B. 49 Tuesday, although some minor amendments put forward by Herron were adopted.

• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 586-1821 or at mark.d.miller@juneauempire.com.

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