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I have fished the Taku River for more than 40 years. After going to the initial Tulsequah Chief Mine meeting at Centennial Hall and talking with several other Taku River commercial fishermen, I feel I need to weigh in on the proposed hoverbarge issue.
I found a sincere effort on the part of Redfern to get the information out to all the Taku River users. I was assured the noise level would be acceptable, but I still have some concerns. For example, I was told Redfern would traveling on the sandbar side of Canyon Island to allow the more traveled side to be open to existing river users. The problem with that plan is the area is prime sockeye and coho salmon-spawning habitat.
The amphitrac that pulls these loaded mineral ore barges is still in a conceptual stage; there hasn't even been one built yet. The amphitrac's low-pressure tires might work well on the North Slope on tundra, but this tractor and barge are going up and down a major salmon river. The Taku River is not the right place to test the effect this could have on salmon habitat.
At times, the amphitrac will use "Archimedes screw" propellers and retractable steel wheels. What promise can the company give me and my fellow fishermen that these screws and steel wheels will not rip up the spawning beds in the Taku River?
The Taku and Stikine rivers are the most productive salmon rivers in Southeast Alaska. They support all five Pacific salmon species, as well as steelhead, smelt, eulachon, Dolly Varden, etc. Our salmon stocks have rebounded to good levels because of decades of conservative fish management. Loss of spawning and rearing habitat could be catastrophic. Any leaks, spills or problems that occur up-river will eventually affect users of the Taku River.
What do the commercial fishermen get from this deal besides a statement from Redfern that they won't destroy these world-class spawning grounds? If our fisheries are degraded, how will we be compensated?