Empire editorial: Thumbs up to Murkowski; thumbs down to flying squid

Posted: Sunday, October 17, 2004

Thumbs up to Gov. Frank Murkowski for jumping into the fray over black cod farming in British Columbia. The governor has requested that the Canadian government research the environmental, economic and social effects of sablefish farming before it allows the fledgling industry to grow. Salmon farming has illustrated how farmed fish can devastate the fishing industry, even when the wild product is far superior to the farmed one. Fishermen on both sides of the border are unhappy that the Canadian government is letting sablefish farms move ahead without looking at how they could undermine wild stocks or damage habitat, as salmon farming has.

It's bad policy to let a new industry with possible environmental risks push aside an existing industry that brings in millions of dollars and poses no threat to fish populations. The Alaska governor wields considerable power and he should use it to protect wild fish stocks and the fishermen who rely on them for their livelihoods.

Thumbs up to the U.S. senators who brought about the death of the Cape Fox Corp. land swap, which would have traded in logged land for scenic wilderness at Berners Bay. Let's hope this effort at giving away public land to a private corporation does not get resurrected.

And shame on supporters of the land swap who are leaning on the feeble excuse that this land trade is all about righting one of the wrongs that came about when Native land claims were settled. It's true that Natives did not get even close to the amount of land they once held. But land swap proponents are pretending that they're going to do right by giving Cape Fox revenue-producing acreage in exchange for worthless land. Had this land truly been worthless, the Saxman-based Native corporation would not have logged most of it. Instead, this land deal is about greasing the permitting wheels for Coeur Alaska, which would lease the land for development of the Kensington mine.

This land trade has been opposed by Democrats and Republicans, environmentalists and hunters alike. It died in a Senate committee and needs to remain buried.

Thumbs down to those who complained that the proposed ferry terminal and dock at Cascade Point for Kensington gold mine workers has undergone too much scrutiny and faced too many city restrictions.

The project is being developed in one of the region's most cherished recreational areas, Berners Bay. The bay provides critical habitat for a vast array of marine life at various times of the year. If projects s8uch as the Kensington mine are going to be developed in areas like this, they need to face the strictest of requirements.

The Juneau Planning Commission has wisely placed some 20 conditions on the dock, to be developed by Goldbelt, Juneau's urban Native corporation. The commission should be commended for its efforts to establish conditions allowing Goldbelt to move ahead with its ferry terminal in an environmentally sound way. Allowing industry to flourish while limiting environmental consequences is no easy task and the commission and the public worked hard to strike a reasonable balance.

Thumbs down to the Humboldt squid, which has traveled far from its normal hunting grounds, off Baja California, and ventured recently into Southeast Alaska waters.

Those who know this creature don't think, ahh, tempura squid, with some rice and pickled ginger. They're much more likely to think 1,200 sucker disks, with 20 to 26 teeth per disk, allowing one squid to sink 24,000 teeth into its victim at once.

There's a reason Mexican fishermen call this beast Rojo Diablo, or Red Devil. The Humboldt squid, also known as the jumbo flying squid, was no more pleasant to the Petersburg fishermen that hauled it in recently than it has been to their Mexican counterparts.

So let's hope this visit was a once-in-a-lifetime Alaskan vacation, rather than a sign that these squid are here to stay.

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