Taku River fishery must be protected

My turn

Posted: Wednesday, March 28, 2001

The United Southeast Alaska Gillnetters (USAG) Association has grave concern about potential impacts on the Taku River fishery by development activities currently under consideration within the Taku watershed.

Proposed projects of major interest to fishermen are a potential Pioneer road between Juneau and Atlin, British Columbia, and efforts to reopen the Tulsequah Chief Mine in B.C. along with a mine access road. The mining site is located on the Tulsequah River, immediately upstream from the B.C. border with southeast Alaska in the Taku drainage.

Regarding the Pioneer road, USAG plans involvement in its development through fishermen actively participating on the Pioneer Road task force proposed under HB 8. Our concern about the mine's reopening and construction of the possible mine access road is more urgent.

The Taku River is a prolific producer of all five species of Pacific Salmon. In recent years, it has produced a million pink salmon, 400,000 coho, 300,000 sockeye and 100,000 chinook and is home to significant populations of steelhead and cutthroat trout.

In addition to harvesting salmon, shrimp, halibut and Tanner crab fisheries are all conducted in Taku Inlet, making the Taku one of the largest, productive and still pristine and undeveloped rivers on the West Coast.

Canada and Alaska share value in the health of the river and the fishery since the Taku is a transboundary river under the Pacific Salmon Treaty with Canada. The treaty considers joint salmon production management and enhancement, and any threats to salmon habitat may jeopardize past, present and future collaborative fishery agreements under the treaty.

Commercial fishing is Alaska's largest private sector employer, and its practitioners cannot sit idly by and watch the industry be put at risk. We fear that Alaska fishermen, their families and communities could suffer undefined liability with little gain from the proposed Tulsequah Chief project and its related road. USAG members are not opposed to mining and road construction but are adamant that any project that could threaten their livelihood be based on sound and thorough scientific review.

We agree with the state of Alaska in urging caution about effluent mixing zones and water quality, tailings pond safety and acid discharge if mining is renewed at the site. Also we urge caution of possible long-term impacts on the Taku drainage that could arise from any construction of a road to the site.

The Knowles administration and affected Alaskans, including fishermen and homeowners, have told the Canadian and U.S. governments that an adequate review of impacts has not been conducted and have urged the U.S. State Department to proceed with an International Joint Commission Review (IJC). USAG supports seeking the IJC review.

Jerry Madden of Juneau is the executive director of United Southeast Alaska Gillnetters.

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