A king salmon is laid out for inspection by Alaska Department of Fish and Game at the Mike Pusich Douglas Harbor officials at the Golden North Salmon Derby on Aug. 25, 2019. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)

A king salmon is laid out for inspection by Alaska Department of Fish and Game at the Mike Pusich Douglas Harbor officials at the Golden North Salmon Derby on Aug. 25, 2019. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)

Opinion: It’s time to stand up for king salmon in our transboundary rivers

  • Monday, October 4, 2021 11:35am
  • Opinion

By Eric Jordan

I was born in Wrangell in 1949, at the mouth of one of Southeast Alaska’s most productive salmon rivers — the Stikine. In my career as a commercial fisherman, I’ve seen a lot of changes. Historically, 80% of the king salmon that return to Southeast Alaska are born in the Stikine, Taku and Unuk transboundary rivers. As Southeast fishermen know, the king salmon stocks that are so important to our business, recreation, and subsistence are declining. The Unuk was listed as a stock of concern in 2017, and the Taku and Stikine are likely to be soon.

Meanwhile, just upstream of Alaska, British Columbia is pushing through a huge number of large open-pit and acid-generating mines, most with massive waste dams, rivaling the size of the proposed Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay. Alaskans have no real say in these mines that could impact our way of life, despite the fact that a 1909 U.S.-Canada treaty is supposed to protect Indigenous peoples and fisheries interests in both Canada and the United States.

Southeast fishermen municipalities, and tribes have been raising concerns regarding British Columbia’s below-par mineral development laws and mining practices for more than a decade, without much of a response from British Columbia. Fishermen, Tribes, and communities in Southeast Alaska are renewing their concerns with resolutions calling on President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to effectively call for a “TIME OUT’.’ The resolutions also call for a ban on British Columbia’s mine waste dams, which are disasters like Mount Polley waiting to happen.

A couple of weeks ago, the Sitka City and Borough Assembly unanimously passed such a resolution. I live in Sitka, I testified in support of it, and I hope other municipalities and Tribes will continue to support the significant asks within the resolution as Sitka did. The importance of this resolution is not to me or my generation — it is for future generations of fishermen and peoples of Southeast Alaska. I am 72 years old, and it’s likely to take a decade or more to rebuild these king salmon runs. I may not be able to see the benefits during my career, but it’s my hope that future generations will.

Alaskans from across the spectrum have called on B.C.’s Premier, John Horgan, to listen to Alaskans’ concerns. When we do, we’re frequently met with silence, with talking points that come from B.C.’s mining industry, or, sometimes, with responses from corporate PR people within the mining industry itself. Talking points and spin are not enough. We need action to protect king salmon, the people, and ecosystems dependent on them.

I urge you and other Southeast communities to support the future of our king salmon, fishermen, and tribes by supporting this resolution.

• Eric Jordan is a Southeast Alaska fisherman. He resides in Sitka.

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