Congress Hears How To Protect Salmon

By Libby Casey

Senators from Pacific coastal states, including Alaska, say salmon stocks need to be protected – not just threatened populations, but healthy ones too.  

Washington Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell says while it’s important to recover endangered stocks, protecting salmon that are not yet  in dire straits is just as important.

While recovering depleted populations is essential, also need to protect healthy we still have.

For salmon stocks still healthy today, it’s much smarter and more cost effective to preserve them now before dip below and trigger Endangered Species Act and their protections.  Rather than waiting until they run into trouble, act now.

Cantwell put forth a bill last year called the Pacific Salmon Stronghold Conservation Act of 2009… Alaska’s senators are both signed-on as cosponsors, as are the rest of the western coastal senators.

Cantwell and Senator Mark Begich heard testimony today  on the bill on Capitol Hill as part of an Oceans Commerce committee.

The president of the Oregon-based conservation group the Wild Salmon Center, Guido Rahr  says the legislation would fend off problems being faced by so many fisheries now in crisis.

For example instead of having to replace the fish with a fish hatchery, if we succeed with the stronghold act we could have free wild salmon coming back with a healthy wild salmon run.  So it enables us to get ahead of the extinction curve.

Cantwell’s bill would dedicate federal dollars to “salmon strong holds,” areas that are the healthiest wild Pacific salmon ecosystems.  It would encourage conservation planning, and bring together private and public groups to work on mostly local projects like cleaning up waterways, flood protection, and adapting to climate change.

It would set up a voluntary program through which groups could apply for grants.  It would not establish new federal restrictions on landowners or fishermen.

Alaska would be considered a “regional stronghold,” the only state with that distinction.

The bill has support from Joe Childers,  president of United Fishermen of Alaska and vice-chair of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s Advisory Panel.

Childers says healthy salmon habitats need far more attention and funding, and that even in Alaska, the public needs to be educated on how to sustain fisheries.

I think the population of Alaska needs to have this kind of approach to be brought forward, recognize what sort of beauty there is in salmon strongholds and what we would lose and recognize that by not doing this, it’s very clear what will happen, ultimately.  We will look like everywhere else in the world.

Cantwell’s bill would set up a Salmon Stronghold Partnership Board, made up of federal and state officials, tribal leaders, and salmon conservation groups.  Childers says he wants to make sure the board has at least four representatives of commercial fishing organizations, with one from each Pacific state.

He also said it’s important that any federal funding for the proposed salmon stronghold program would be in addition to – and not at the expense of – other fisheries funding.

Cantwell’s bill is still being reviewed in committee… there’s also a companion bill in the U-S House that has more than 40 cosponsors.


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