Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy poses with first lady Rose Dunleavy after he was sworn into office Monday, Dec. 3, 2018, in Kotzebue, Alaska. He had originally planned the ceremony in her hometown of Noorvik, Alaska, but poor weather prevented his plane from landing there and the ceremony was moved to Kotzebue.(Stanley Wright | Alaska Governor’s Office via AP)

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy poses with first lady Rose Dunleavy after he was sworn into office Monday, Dec. 3, 2018, in Kotzebue, Alaska. He had originally planned the ceremony in her hometown of Noorvik, Alaska, but poor weather prevented his plane from landing there and the ceremony was moved to Kotzebue.(Stanley Wright | Alaska Governor’s Office via AP)

Opinion: No, Mr. Governor, erosion didn’t kill the fish

He has a lot to discover about the issues facing the state.

Mike Dunleavy’s inaugural day came in typical Alaska fashion — weather conditions forced him to cancel a ceremony in Noorvik, his wife’s remote hometown village, and instead hold a hastily assembled meeting in Kotzebue where he took his oath of office as Alaska’s 12th governor.

Adapting to weather conditions is a fact of life for all Alaskans. Where I live, in the town of Kodiak, spending the night in the Anchorage airport waiting for your plane to be able to land on our foul-weathered island is essentially a rite of passage. It’s this reality of the Alaskan climate that we are forced to cope with on a daily basis.

This is why I was baffled to hear Dunleavy’s response at his inauguration when asked about how Alaska should deal with climate change: “Alaska is being affected by erosion…so that’s going to be the focus of this administration.” He also mentioned that his “focus is trying to create jobs for our kids and grandkids,” in a statement implying that addressing climate change is somehow antithetical to sustaining a workforce.

Erosion didn’t kill the fish in the Gulf of Alaska in 2016 when the entire area was declared a federal economic disaster due to record-low salmon returns. It didn’t kill the sockeye last summer in the Copper River and Cook Inlet, nor did Chignik endure its worst salmon season ever as a result of eroded hillsides. It was a massive warm patch of water, colloquially termed the Pacific Blob, that was the culprit in creating devastating ocean conditions that killed off nearly an entire generation of multiple fish species.

Regardless of whether Gov. Dunleavy choses to accept the scientific consensus that mankind is accelerating climate change, he should not abdicate his duty to prepare the state for continued catastrophic outcomes of a warming ocean. Gulf communities were caught entirely by surprise when salmon failed to show up, and it is unclear how these towns will cope if future salmon runs remain this volatile. Alaska needs to be prepared for sustained weak salmon returns as “the blob” is now reappearing after a couple of years’ absence.

Past policies have exacerbated the negative impact of poor salmon returns. For example, short-sighted fishery managers have forced an entire generation of fishermen to become over-reliant on salmon fisheries as a result of the privatization of halibut, king crab and groundfisheries. These programs, known as “catch shares,” provided a windfall for many Seattle-based fishing and processing companies, but cost ordinary Alaskans thousands of jobs, eliminated the ability of fishermen to diversify between fisheries and resulted in the outmigration of fishing rights away from fishing towns, thereby weakening the economic resiliency of coastal communities.

The governor needs to understand that, in contrast to his inaugural statements, addressing climate change is necessary to sustain jobs in Alaska. Though he essentially ignored Gulf communities in his campaign (he was the first major gubernatorial candidate to skip the traditional fisheries debate in Kodiak) he cannot dismiss the fact that the seafood industry is Alaska’s largest employer, producing tens of thousands of jobs while generating billions of dollars annually in state exports. It’s also the industry most vulnerable to global warming, as was discovered during the recent salmon disasters. Dunleavy needs to ensure that economic policy and fishery management allows for coastal resiliency in the face of uncertain ocean ecology.

If it was Dunleavy’s desire to focus on a subset of Alaska’s communities, while ignoring Gulf residents, then he should have simply remained a state senator. But instead, he chose to run for governor, and now must assume all of the responsibilities that accompany the state’s highest post. He has a lot to discover about the diversity of issues facing our state and I hope it’s his intention to learn more about the challenges facing the Gulf. It would be as foolish of him to ignore coastal communities and their perilous exposure to climate change as it would have been for him to neglect the weather on his inaugural day and continue blindly into the dense fog toward Noorvik.


• Darren Platt is a commercial fisherman and resident of Kodiak. My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire.


More in Opinion

Web
Have something to say?

Here’s how to add your voice to the conversation.

Kate Troll (Courtesy Photo / Kate Troll)
Opinion: The real ‘at last!’ on climate change

In Alaska, the Inflation Reduction Act offers come game-changing features.

t
Opinion: Let’s keep the mandatory real property disclosure ordinance

It will better ensure fair, accurate and efficient property tax assessments and collections.

(Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Opinion: Playing the old-timer card

Is the Empire really only interested in the problems faced by small communities?

Heavy metals run out of the Tulsequah Chief mine opening and down to holding ponds next to the Tulsequah River Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2008. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file)
Opinion: Officials must keep up pressure to clean up BC mine

In March 2017 I had a Commentary published Pacific Fishing Magazine imploring… Continue reading

Former Gov. Bill Walker, right, and his running mate former commissioner of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development Heidi Drygas, speak to Juneauites gathered for a fundraiser at a private home in Juneau on Tuesday, June 7, 2022. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Why I’m voting for Walker

Walker is the only candidate with the potential to govern effectively for all Alaskans.

t
Opinion: The time has come to end Big Tech’s rule

The internet has opened doors and pathways to more than we could… Continue reading

Nick Begich III campaign materials sit on tables ahead of a May 16 GOP debate held in Juneau. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Nick Begich is who Alaska and America need now

It is in Alaska’s best interest to elect a member of the Republican party.

teaser
Opinion: If you see something, say something

Together we can fight to preserve this pristine place we live.

This photo shows the University of Alaska Southeast campus in Juneau. (Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: I’m a longtime educator, and I’m supporting Walker/Drygas

The issues our state faces are significant with regard to education.

t
Opinion: Congress could keep health insurance costs from rising, but it has to act fast

Some argue that the federal government paid out far too much money… Continue reading

signs
Opinion: A conversation about mental health

All in all, we want you to know that you are not alone.