Scotland, England, Norway, Japan, Quebec, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Maine, New York, Massachusetts, California, Oregon and Washington all used to have wild salmon runs. Those runs have all died out.
Overfishing is often blamed, but the single largest factor in losing salmon runs has been ruining the stream and lake habitat they need to grow. This has been due to other resource use. Logging brought erosion, hydroelectric dams blocked fish passage, farming siphoned water for irrigation and mining polluted watersheds.
Alaska continues to enjoy strong salmon runs because the vast majority of our salmon habitats are pristine and healthy. Let's face it, we have good habitat because there hasn't been a lot of competition yet from other industries and development. It's not because of any big sacrifice on our part. It has been proven over and over that salmon do not survive alongside other industries.
Did the citizens of the above countries and states consciously choose one resource over another? Did they know they were trading their salmon for something else? Maybe, but more likely they thought they could have both.
In Alaska, we are now hearing from experts, government and politicians; "Don't worry, you can have this big Pebble Mine AND salmon." But if we look everywhere else, we know we can't have both. What will you trade for salmon? Gold? Offshore oil and gas?
Whatever our answer, it won't be the last time we will have to choose. Resource extraction is what Alaska is all about, and so far we've grabbed each one as soon as it becomes a money maker. The only way we'll hang onto salmon is to make a financial sacrifice as a state at some point, and it won't be painless.
Politicians get elected offering the illusion of an easy choice, and Alaskans need to buck up and admit it's a hard choice and that we are willing to trade something to keep our salmon.
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