Salmon restoration plan debated

Posted: Tuesday, March 07, 2000

ANCHORAGE - Alaska's congressional delegation appears to be at odds with the state Department of Fish and Game over removing dams as a way to rebuild endangered salmon runs around the Pacific Northwest.

Delegation members are expressing doubts about tearing down four Snake River hydroelectric dams to restore natural fish runs.

``While I share their concerns about the loss of fish runs, we've reached a point where biologists tell you we are beyond the point of being able to renew the runs,'' Sen. Frank Murkowski said Monday.

Sen. Ted Stevens said the salmon problem is one for people in the Northwest to resolve, but indicated he had deep questions about removing the dams.

``It is also a question of where the power will come from to replace the dams' (electric generation), where the money will come from to destroy them and whether the destruction of the dams is the only method of protecting the fish runs,'' the Alaska Republican told the Anchorage Daily News.

Stevens chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, which would have to agree to spend the money to breach the four dams if the Clinton administration chooses that course.

Rep. Don Young also said he was a flat-out no vote on the question of dam removal. Young chairs the House Resources Committee, which has jurisdiction over federal fisheries.

Fish and Game Commissioner Frank Rue issued a statement Friday saying the agency backs scientific findings demonstrating that the best option is to remove the earthen portions of the four Lower Snake River dams and restore habitat.

Scientific studies show fishing is not what has depleted the salmon runs, Rue said. A federal proposal to further limit the harvest of Snake River fall king salmon would ``eliminate sport and commercial chinook salmon fishing in Southeast Alaska and make little or no progress toward recovering endangered stocks,'' he said.

A small number of salmon from the drainages are caught by Southeast Alaska fishermen. Suggestions have been made that fishing be reduced in northern waters to protect Northwest salmon.

The National Marine Fisheries Service has scheduled a number of public hearings around Southeast Alaska this week about alternatives for saving the remaining salmon that make it upstream to spawn. A decision about a recovery plan is expected in May.

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