Since 1984, Southeast commercial salmon fishermen have earned approximately $1.6 billion in ex-vessel value for their fish, an average of about $69 million per year, according to the U.S. Forest Service and Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
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In 2005, this translated into 2,847 direct jobs from salmon harvesting and seafood processing, according to the Tongass Land Management Plan draft environmental impact statement. With dock prices and ex-vessel values for salmon on the upswing, the future is bright for most commercial salmon fishermen and processors in Southeast Alaska.
In the draft plan currently under public comment, the Forest Service acknowledges "some negative effects, or more appropriately, increased risk to ... fish habitat would likely occur by management activities over the long term for all alternatives (in the draft Tongass forest plan." All seven alternatives in the draft forest plan call for new roads in some of Southeast Alaska's most productive salmon watersheds.
Since 2000, the Forest Service has replaced 240 culverts on logging roads, but available funding for culvert replacement is fast shrinking. Presently, an additional 1,300 blocked culverts on the Tongass need replacement to improve fish passage.
Hatchery fish now comprise about a quarter of the state's commercial fisheries. Lower 48 salmon harvests must be supported by hatcheries at a much higher rate due to man-made effects from logging and dams. Hatchery fish are expensive to grow, more vulnerable to disease and provide less of a buffer to natural population swings than do multiple watershed spawning habitats.
The Forest Service should learn from the past and maintain our naturally spawned, sustainable salmon fisheries by reprioritizing spending. Critical fish habitat should be restored to and fix the past effects of logging before building new roads and logging watersheds that the commercial salmon industry depends on.
The public comment period for the draft forest management plan ends April 30. Visit the Forest Service Web site to learn more and to comment.