Fishermen fear more cutbacks

Hearings to focus on Northwest dams

Posted: Monday, March 06, 2000

Some Alaskans say it will be unfair if state fishermen are penalized again by efforts to solve a king salmon mortality problem in southeastern Washington state.

Beginning in Ketchikan tonight, Panhandle residents have a chance to argue against further harvest cuts in Alaska as part of any plan to restore stocks of Snake River king salmon.

As an alternative, many fishermen here are calling for the breaching of four federal dams on that river to reduce migration problems threatening the extinction of certain salmon and steelhead stocks.

A list of 500 Alaska fishermen in favor of breaching the four dams was to be posted today on the Internet by Taxpayers for Common Sense, a Washington, D.C.-based group.

``It's time to shut down these four dams, instead of shutting down the fishermen,'' Sitka fisherman Eric Jordan said in the group's news release.

A group of nine federal agencies, known as the Federal Caucus, has been holding hearings in the Pacific Northwest for the past month. This week, there are hearings in Ketchikan, Sitka, Petersburg and, on Wednesday, Juneau.

The focus of the hearings is the caucus's ``All-H Paper,'' a study of hydropower, habitat, harvest and hatcheries to determine the best means of achieving compliance with the Endangered Species Act.

Alaskan fishing interests are ready to pounce because of concern that they will be restricted further in order to solve a problem created elsewhere. Only one quarter of 1 percent of human-caused mortality of Snake River king salmon can be attributed to Alaskans, according to Nancy Long of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

A series of eight dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers has often been cited as the overwhelming cause of fish mortality.

State Rep. Bill Hudson, a Juneau Republican, said in a news release that one option being considered by the federal agencies would cut chinook harvest levels in Alaska by up to 75 percent, which would ``essentially eliminate the commercial troll fishery and the sport fishery for wild king salmon in Southeast.''

Paula Terrell, a Juneau troller who is part of a coalition called Save Our Wild Salmon, said Alaska fishermen already have taken a 40 percent cut in harvest quotas since adoption of the first Pacific Salmon Treaty in 1985. Another big cut would violate the ``safe passage'' intent of last year's multi-government agreement on abundance-based management under the treaty, she said.

Among Alaska fishing interests, ``I'd say we've got more unity on this than I've ever seen on another issue,'' Terrell said.

Ultimately, the Snake River issue must be resolved by Congress.

In Juneau, the federal agencies will hold the meeting at Centennial Hall Wednesday. Residents can sign up for the public comment session at 5:30 p.m. At 6 p.m., there will be a presentation of various conservation proposals for the Columbia Basin, followed by public comment. Each speaker will be limited to a three-minute presentation.

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