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My turn: Mixing zones compromise fisheries

Posted: Thursday, April 05, 2007

The Legislature needs to overturn the Murkowski's administration's regulations that place our commercial, recreational and subsistence fisheries at risk by allowing mixing zones in spawning streams.

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House Bill 74 - bipartisan legislation sponsored by Reps. Paul Seaton, Les Gara, Gabrielle LeDoux, Peggy Wilson and Andrea Doll - would rectify this ill-conceived regulation and needs to have a hearing in the House Resources Committee.

At statehood, Alaska "took on" the management of the state's fisheries, At the time, salmon runs were badly abused. Beginning with statehood, Alaska's fisheries managers clearly understood the critical role that habitat and water quality play in the maintenance of healthy fish runs. Alaska's strong constitutional mandate, the implementation of tight management programs and the essentially intact habitat all contributed to the return of healthy runs. Some of the last systems to recover were those whose habitat had been compromised.

It was clear to Alaska's fisheries managers and legislators that the answer to pollution was not dilution. All around us, we were witnessing the coastwide loss of habitat. The Great Lakes are a looming example of how dilution is not the answer to pollution. People couldn't eat the fish; they couldn't swim in the lakes. Rather, the Great Lakes have left a legacy of pollution and a cleanup bill for our generation and for several future generations.

Since 1995, state regulations have explicitly prohibited mixing zones in freshwater areas where fish spawn. This regulation was specifically adopted to protect Alaska's fisheries and support Alaska's constitutional mandate to protect and conserve fish and game resources in a sustainable manner. It has been a hallmark of Alaska's strong commitment to our fisheries resources and it distinguishes Alaska's resource management from those of other states.

Unfortunately, despite overwhelming opposition from fishermen, conservationists, fish and game biologists, former Fish and Game commissioners and others, the Murkowski administration supported adoption of a regulation that seriously weakens this strict prohibition by permitting the Department of Natural Resources and, in some limited cases, the Department of Fish and Game to "determine spawning areas both temporally and spatially."

It is baffling to me that Alaska's resource managers should now allow mixing zones in spawning areas when we know the history of what has happened along the entire Pacific Coast with this kind of misuse of water resources.

During all my years with the Department of Fish and Game, this would never have been allowed to occur. True, there have been exceptions made under very controlled conditions, and that's acceptable. There's nothing wrong with some exceptions along the way. Nevertheless, mixing zones were to be the exception and not the rule. Why get on this slippery slope when we have had a system that worked effectively for years?

Since my arrival in Alaska in 1955, my professional life has been devoted to the protection of Alaska's fish and game resources. I spent 30 years working for the Department of Fish and Game and served as the department's commissioner during Gov. Walter Hickel's administration. I have been an active member of the Territorial Sportsmen and the Outdoor Council and sat on their boards.

After a lifetime of working to provide our fish with healthy habitat and water quality, it is truly disconcerting to witness the backsliding of our strong fisheries policy and regulations that have been so effective in rebuilding Alaska's resources.

I have always been a supporter of the regulatory process. I was proud of the strict prohibition on mixing zones in spawning areas that was adopted during my tenure with the administration. Nevertheless, the newly adopted DEC regulations clearly fly in the face of fisheries' and habitat protection and do not reflect Alaska's constitutional mandate.

I urge the House Resources Committee to hold a hearing on House Bill 74, which will reinstate Alaska's historical commitment to the protection of fisheries habitat and water quality.

• Carl Rosier is a former commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and a Juneau resident.



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