My Turn: Protect Alaska's wild salmon

Bristol Bay commercial fishermen weren't asking for open-pit mining

Posted: Monday, April 23, 2007

A few years back, our Bristol Bay commercial fishermen were hurting from the bottom falling out of the salmon market. They were asking for help to make ends meet. They were asking for assistance to help make loan payments, put food on the table, and help pay for their fuel and electricity. They were asking folks to help them address the decline in salmon prices.

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They were not asking for help to tear up and destroy their livelihood. They were not asking for open pits, underground tunnels, and oil and gas platforms being placed into an area where fish migrate from birth to death. My honest opinion is that our fishermen were asking for help to enhance the rich renewable resources they have and need for life.

The request was for continued improvements that would market and advertise the quality and quantity of life in wild Alaska. Help could have come in the form of funding for long-term infrastructure, such as value-added processing; alternative marketing; alternative energy (biomass, tidal, solar, wind and geo-thermal); nature hiking trails; items that would entice folks to come, visit and stay if they wished; and items that would enhance and spur economic growth without destroying the natural habitat. It is the habitat that draws folks from around the world to Alaska.

Alaska has spent millions of dollars and many man hours in promoting wild Alaska salmon to the world. Japan has always been a major consumer of our salmon. They, too, have been affected by rising costs. They prefer our wild salmon but have settled for farmed salmon because it's cheaper to buy. That is until the story came out that there was something wrong with farmed salmon.

Just as the mad cow disease did for the beef industry, and the bird flu did for poultry, imagine what would happen to our wild salmon market if there was just a hint of possible contamination of one sort or another.

I am an avid subsistence user. I live off our habitat and what it provides: fish, moose, caribou, birds, berries and plants. When I hunt, fish or gather, I have been known to throw stuff away because of the texture, color or because some other physical appearance is not normal looking. Consumers are fickle and very particular. They will not buy something just because they were told or heard it was bad for one reason or another. They will not buy it until time has passed and they hear or see that others are buying it again.

In March 2004, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency came out with recommendations on consumption of tuna and other shellfish because of increased levels of mercury. Halibut may soon be added to this list, too.

One thing to remember is that fish and shellfish are an important part of a healthy diet. Fish and shellfish contain high-quality protein and other essential nutrients, are low in saturated fat and contain omega-3 fatty acids. A well-balanced diet that includes a variety of fish and shellfish can contribute to heart health and children's proper growth and development.

Pristine wild fish is important and plays an essential part in the world's overall health. Clean and pristine is becoming harder and harder to come by because of dumping in our oceans, the tearing up of natural habitats and drainage into our rivers and lakes due to weather and other natural causes, not to mention the pollutants that fall to the ground from the air due to different forms of precipitation.

All of us in Alaska know that global warming is occurring and it is affecting our livelihoods. Shouldn't we address what we're doing now and keep our salmon clean and pristine for the world?

• Billy Maines is a resident of Dillingham.

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