To Juneau salmon troller Steve Ricci, a state proposal to allow new pollution discharges in fish streams appears to be a threat to his livelihood.
Ricci said the salmon industry was "in the toilet" three years ago. Now, the industry outlook has improved but "it's still holding on by a thread," he said Monday night.
Despite the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation's recent work to tighten up its new proposed rule for mixing zones, Ricci and other fishermen remained worried that it still could undermine the Alaska salmon industry's clean reputation.
Mixing zones - areas in a water body where elevated discharges of pollution are diluted with clean water - are now illegal in fish spawning and rearing streams in Alaska.
State officials sought last year to lift the blanket prohibition. Now, they have modified the proposal so that companies or municipal wastewater plants would have to apply for an exemption for approval of a mixing zone in a fish stream.
Environmentalists and some fishermen in Juneau questioned the fine print of the state's rewritten proposal at a state Department of Environmental Conservation workshop on mixing zones on Wednesday in Juneau.
who to contact
public comments on the mixing zone rule change should be addressed to nancy sonafrank, alaska department of environmental conservation, 610 university drive, fairbanks, alaska 99709 or e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. oral testimony can also be provided at a hearing in anchorage on dec. 5 by calling (800) 395-5073 by 5:30 p.m.
the comments must be received no later than 5 p.m. on dec. 19.
The proposal allows companies to propose mitigation plans for polluting a fish stream, if harm to the spawning and rearing fish is unavoidable.
Juneau troller Paula Terrel said she believes the provision could be exploited by the mining industry.
State regulators said that the mitigation plans would be carefully reviewed, and that state officials would run inspections. The burden for testing and monitoring the mixing zone is on the polluter, the regulators said.
Fishermen including Ricci and Terrel stressed at Wednesday's workshop that the state is risking a possible stigma on Alaska commercial fisheries.
The Marine Stewardship Council is now evaluating whether to recertify Alaska salmon, said Terrel, who is also a representative of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council.
The London-based council has developed its own environmental standard for sustainable and well-managed fisheries. Its product label is highly sought after by commercial fisheries around the world.
Alaska's species are the only salmon in the world that are certified by the council, Terrel said.