State Briefs

Posted: Monday, July 07, 2003

Fishing spotty in Bristol Bay

DILLINGHAM - Dillingham fishermen have gotten an unexpected bounty this summer - more than 5.4 million sockeye by Saturday.

But fishermen in other areas such as Egegik saw their catches falling far short of the state forecast.

Carolyn Smith, who normally works as a nurse in Anchorage, is captain of the Bristol Bay commercial fishing boat Sadie S. Smith and her crew tied into an explosive run of sockeye salmon heading up rivers to spawn near Dillingham, a hub of remote Southwest Alaska.

By Tuesday, Smith said she'd landed 68,000 pounds of sockeye, more than double her catch for all of last season.

"This season has been amazing," she told the Anchorage Daily News.

But her euphoria was countered by disgust in other parts of the bay.

Overall, the bay had tallied 9.4 million fish and seemed sure to finish the season well short of the 16.8 million sockeye predicted by the Department of Fish and Game. Last year's catch was 10.6 million.

What's more, the dismal prices fishermen received for their catches last season didn't look to improve much this year.

The weak run and prices only deepen the chronic salmon depression gripping the bay, where salmon is the primary industry. Long gone are the glory days of the late 1980s and early '90s, when sockeye brought more than $2 a pound and harvests exceeded 40 million fish.

Increasing respiratory illness prompts efforts to settle silt

ANCHORAGE - State transportation officials plan to use federal funds from the Denali Commission on a unique experiment to reduce the dust kicked up in some communities in Western Alaska, where respiratory problems are widespread.

The state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities is looking for ways to settle the dust in half a dozen communities around Nome with a new approach to road building.

Acute respiratory illness is a widespread problem in Western Alaska. Two-thirds of all hospitalizations stemming from respiratory problems, according to a study published in the Alaska Medical Journal.

A child growing up in Bethel is five times more likely to be hospitalized for respiratory syncytial virus - one of the most common respiratory ailments - than a child in Boston, the study found.

According to nearly two dozen regional health professionals and parents interviewed for the study, dust is a likely culprit.

Western Alaska receives less rain than most of the rest of the state and the soil in many places is fine, glacial silt. That creates perfect conditions for inescapable dust.

State wipes out money for monitoring programs

KENAI - A change in state policy on how millions in federal dollars are applied could wipe out water quality monitoring programs on the Kenai Peninsula, including one on the Kenai River, according to a nonprofit agency.

Robert Ruffner, director of the Kenai Watershed Forum, said the state has opted to funnel federal dollars targeting non-point-source pollution problems toward state water bodies considered impaired and away from monitoring measures aimed at preventing clean waters from becoming polluted.

The peninsula has no waters designated as impaired under the federal Clean Water Act, Ruffner said. But the state's policy shift means the watershed forum's monitoring program will be among several successful preventative programs across the state that won't get funding this year.

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