House resolution celebrates sustainable wild salmon

Discussion continues on speeding renewal of aquatic farm permits

A resolution celebrating the sustainable wild salmon industry and its health and social benefits to the nation, in conjunction with the International Year of the Salmon, is working its way through the Alaska Legislature.

House Resolution 8, sponsored by Rep. Garen Tarr, D-Anchorage, cleared the House Fisheries committee on April 23, headed for House Resources, then the full House and Senate.

House Fisheries, chaired by Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, also discussed and took public testimony on HB 116, sponsored by Rep. Andi Story, D-Juneau, whose aim is to speed the lease renewal process for aquatic farms, by making the lease renewal process similar to the lease renewal process for other leases issued by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources.

House Fisheries was accepting proposed amendments to HB 116 through April 24 and planned to take the bill up for further discussion on April 25.

At present it takes about 18 months to go through the process of renewing a 10-year aquatic farm lease. If legislators approve HB 116, the renewal process would take about three months.

Still lease holders wishing to expand would have to apply for a new lease.

House Resolution 8 drew support from commercial seafood harvesters like Tyson Fick, owner of Taku River Reds in Juneau, and a former publicist for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, and Bristol Bay salmon harvester Erin Harrington, executive director of The Salmon Project, an Anchorage nonprofit whose goal is to give voice to Alaskans’ deep relationships with salmon.

“We all agree that we like salmon and this is the state that has them,” Fick testified. “What we have learned from other places that have lost salmon and tried to revive them.”

“There is a real opportunity in Alaska to celebrate our leadership” he said. “With ASMI, I got to travel around the world and talk about salmon We have solved overfishing issues in the United States by following Alaska’s lead.”

“Salmon in Alaska is still part of our daily lives,” Harrington said. “Nine of every 10 Alaskans view salmon as an important Alaska value. This is foundational in our state.”

Others testifying in favor of the resolution included Jill Weitz, director of the Salmon Beyond Borders campaign in Juneau, Washington state legislator Deborah Lekanoff, an Alaska Native woman from Yakutat; Oregon legislator Ken Helm, and Mark Saunders, and Doug Mecum, who are with the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission. Washington state and Oregon also have similar resolutions.

In testimony offered on HB 116, Margo Reveil, president of the Alaska Shellfish Growers Association, said her organization strongly supports the bill.

“There are 13 shellfish farms in Kachemak Bay, and ours is coming up for its second renewal,” she said.

Nancy Hillstrand, owner of Coal Point Trading Co., in Homer, expressed her concern about large oyster farms and the need to help protect smaller Alaska based businesses.

“It is important to define what is a small business,” she said. “This (aquatic farming) is new. We are just starting. We need to not make mistakes to prevent problems and controversy.”