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: Salmon proposal in the Lower 48 brings hope for Southeast fishermen

Good news and bad news coming out of the Northwest.

  • Monday, March 8, 2021 12:04pm
  • Opinion

By Matthew Donohoe

There has been both good news and bad news about wild salmon coming out of the Northwest in recent weeks. First, the bad news: In January, the state of Washington released a sobering report that concluded many of Washington State’s wild salmon populations could soon become extinct if meaningful action wasn’t taken – and quickly. Then some good news: A few weeks later on Feb. 6, Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson, a Republican, released a groundbreaking proposal to remove the four lower dams on the Snake River and restore a 140 mile stretch of river and reconnect salmon to more than 5,000 river and stream miles of high quality fish habitat. Simpson’s bold initiative gives the Snake River’s endangered salmon populations a potential lifeline. His proposal was greeted with cheers not just in the Northwest, but in Alaska as well where Snake River Chinook salmon spend their time feeding and growing before migrating back to the Snake River Basin to spawn. These mighty fish have shaped Southeast Alaska’s fisheries, communities and economy for decades. Alaska and Washington are inextricably linked and our futures are equally on the line.

Simpson’s ambitious proposal to restore a free-flowing lower Snake River as part of a larger regional investment package is not a new idea. For decades, commercial fishermen, sport fishermen, conservation groups, Northwest tribes, and fisheries scientists have advocated for the removal of four costly federal dams on the lower Snake River to protect and recover its imperiled salmon and steelhead populations. Instead, federal agencies have spent more than $17 billion dollars on six different plans over the past three decades that focused more on saving dams than saving salmon. The courts have rejected them all as inadequate and illegal – as salmon populations declined and fishing opportunities vanished.

The steady decline of Chinook salmon populations in the Snake River has harmed commercial and charter salmon fisheries here in Southeast Alaska. We’ve had to cut our harvests year after year to help protect Snake River Chinook salmon as they swim through our coastal waters. In order to protect salmon endangered mainly by federal dams and reservoirs in the Columbia River Basin, Southeast Alaska’s fishermen have made big sacrifices, including huge cuts in their fishing income. Today, in order to make ends meet, many troll fishermen are fishing longer seasons and fishing with less crew, or — in the worst case — selling their boats and permits. These impacts haven’t just been limited to fishermen though; the burden of the Snake River dams has taken a toll on our entire region.

We’re excited to see Simpson step up and offer a path that could bring Snake River salmon back from the brink, and in doing so provide Alaskans some economic stability at a time of unprecedented change and uncertainty. More importantly though, Simpson’s proposal is a demonstration that if we want wild salmon in our future, then we must support wild salmon restoration regardless of which state we live in. The Snake River’s salmon live without borders; they provide income, recreation, and food to us all. We need Alaska’s members of Congress to stand with Congressman Simpson and make sure Alaska is part of the conversation and a champion for real solutions that will save the Snake River’s wild salmon and our livelihoods from extinction.

• Matthew Donohoe is president of the Alaska Trollers Association. He has been a commercial fisherman for the last 40 years. Donohoe moved to Alaska in 1973. He resides in Sitka. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire. Have something to say? Here’s how to submit a My Turn or letter.

More in Opinion

Web
Have something to say?

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

teaser
Now is the time to improve psychiatric patient care

May is Mental Health Awareness month.

Les Gara is a former state representative and former foster youth. Amanda Metivier is associate director of the Child Welfare Academy, Co-founder of Facing Foster Care in Alaska, a Social Worker, and also a former foster youth. (Courtesy Photo)
Opinion: Alaska is in dire need of caring foster families

COVID has possibly made you more important to foster youth than ever.

teaser
Reports show value of UA workforce development programs

The economic value of training and education is abundantly clear

(Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Let’s continue the clean-energy conversation

We strongly agree that our energy security and delivering clean, low-cost power is a public interest

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Cruise initiatives are only way toward reasonable change

“It’s not going to happen any other way.”

tease
Opinion: Please don’t sign tourism initiatives

What will happen to our economy if we lose say $200 million in tourism spending?

The MV Matanuska awaits repairs at the Auke Bay Ferry Terminal on Thursday as lawmakers at the state Capitol debated whether the Alaska Marine Highway System was actually a highway. A bill that would shape long-term planning for the system passed out of committee. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)
Opinion: The feigning champions of the ferry system

Token improvements aren’t anything to brag about.

(Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: By-mail election decision needs public input

That seems like an important discussion to me.

Most Read