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Democrats Call on Governor to Not Leave Fish High and Dry

Legislators propose amendment So Needed Water Isn’t Withdrawn From Fishing Streams

Today, Representative Les Gara (D-Anchorage) called on the governor to honor his promise not to “trade one resource for another” [Fairbanks Daily News Miner, March 11, 2010].  He called for the governor’s support in ensuring Alaska’s fish-producing streams maintain the water they need to support healthy fish runs. 

This week a court ruling on the Chuitna Coal Mine proposal to dredge 17 miles of salmon stream, for export to China, said the current system is flawed.  The court criticized the state’s refusal to act on applications from Native and fishing organizations and others to prevent fishing stream water withdrawals.

“To make sure needed water isn’t withdrawn from fishing streams, we want a system that doesn’t let the state slow roll applications to protect fishing waters,” said Rep. Gara.

Five House Democratic legislators are proposing an amendment to the governor’s permitting overhaul legislation (HB77) to include a requirement that the administration not grant general permits for taking water from a fish-producing stream or river in amounts that would harm fish populations. In its current form, the bill would weaken Alaska’s ability to protect fish populations.

“We agree with the governor when he said we cannot ‘trade one resource for another,’ and we hope he will support our amendment to make sure we keep enough water in our fishing streams to maintain wild salmon and trout runs.  Mining, commercial activities, and fish protection can go hand in hand, but only if we make it a priority,” said Rep. Gara, an avid fisherman and contributing writer to a number of fish-related publications.

Under current law, it is up to the governor’s commissioner’s “discretion” how much water to allow someone to take from important fish-producing streams.  In other states, salmon stocks have failed due to the appropriation of water for out of stream uses without regard for fish, leaving wild salmon and trout high and dry. 

“Alaska’s law is antiquated, and it lets outside companies take huge amounts of water from Alaska’s wild fishing streams without even looking at whether or not such extraction harms fish.  This amendment protects fish, and the common interests of sport, commercial and subsistence fishermen, and it keeps fish as an equal priority resource,” said Rep. Gara.

Melanie Brown, who commercial fishes in Bristol Bay, noted, “Our priority should be to protect our streams for sustained yield of renewable fisheries resources.  We need a law that prevents companies, many of which are non-Alaskan, from taking so much water out of systems that it damages our wild fish, their habitat and the Alaskan way of life thousands of people depend on.”

Representative Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins (D-Southeast), Representative Scott Kawasaki (D-Fairbanks), Representative Geran Tarr (D-Anchorage) and Representative Andy Josephson (D-Anchorage) are co-sponsoring Rep. Gara’s amendment. The bill (HB77) is scheduled for a vote on the House Floor on Monday.

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