Petersburg Residents Join Southeast
by Brian F. Johnson
Petersburg residents joined their fellow Southeasterners last week when they sent a clear message to the Federal Caucus looking at salmon restoration on the Snake River - don't touch our fisheries.
"I certainly do not profess to know the solution to the Snake River Chinook salmon problem, but I am 100 percent sure that attacking and destroying the Southeast Alaska troll fisheries is not your answer," said Petersburg mayor Ted Smith, leading off the public testimony at the local hearing on Thursday.
Smith continued, "Whoever believes that destroying the Southeast Alaska troll fleet and disrupting the lives of thousands of Southeast Alaskan families that depend on wild fish will save Snake River Chinook salmon - despite the scientific studies to the contrary - then in my opinion, you have proven once again, that there is no known limit to the depths of human stupidity."
Representatives of the Federal Caucus hosted the meeting in Petersburg last week - the last in a series of 16 meetings held throughout the Pacific Northwest and Southeast Alaska - and received a great deal of public testimony from local residents on the different proposed alternatives designed to try to save the salmon stocks on the Snake River.
Four main alternatives were identified in the "All-H paper" - a document that looks at the four factors that have affected salmon stocks on the river: hatcheries, harvest, hydro power and habitat.
The proposals suggest everything from controlling harvests (not just on the river but up to and including Southeast), and completing habitat improvements, to breaching the dams. Breaching the dams does not mean destroying them with explosives, but re-routing the flow of the river around the facilities which would be put into moth-ball status.
When Petersburg residents had their chance to voice their opinions on the All-H paper and the status of the Snake River's depleted salmon runs, they joined what one caucus member called an overwhelming majority that supports that option.
Larry Rutter, with the National Marine Fisheries Service, said in many of the public hearings, particularly the ones in Southeast, the range of views on the proposals is very narrow. "It's either take the dams out or take the dams out in a hurry," Rutter said.
While it has become polarized as breach or not-to-breach debate, many other factors are involved in the macro-sense of the issue, according to the Caucus members. One of those elements is that there are 12 species of salmonids endangered in the Columbia River basin and removing the dams would only effect four stocks.
While the support here and in many other places lies with dam breaching, Rutter said that not everyone who testified shares the same approach. "The guys in Idaho and Walla Walla have a different approach. They think you guys are the problem," he said.
City councilor Bill Tremblay, in his testimony on Thursday said that any option will have a negative impact on jobs. He added that if people in Southeast lose their means of income however, it is more devastating than a loss of jobs down south. "Down south, if jobs are lost, the displaced workers have other options. But, we're on an island here and if you don't have an economy you have to go off the island and maybe out of the state," he said.
Tremblay added that he thought some of the cost of mitigation should include the cost of continuing operations at the Crystal Lake Hatchery.
Councilor Sheila McFadden supported her fellow councilors in her testimony. "It's only an accident of fate that what happened down there hasn't happened here. We have done our part and seriously done our part. We've been doing as good as we can and it would be a major impact here [if the harvests are reduced] for a very minor contribution there," she said.
Other comments in the testimony given Thursday night reiterated similar statements.
Carl Crome, a fisherman of 41 years said, "I think we've suffered enough here, especially the trollers."
Dan Hickman said, "No matter what the Alaska fisheries do we're not going to solve the problem." He suggested that the proposal to limit harvests in Southeast was "Band-Aid" management and he urged the Caucus members not to get involved in such short-sided solutions.
Wendell Gilbert, who explained that his custom fish processing business depends heavily on king salmon harvests, said that reductions in southeast would not just affect fishermen. "It would close me down. I'm not making any money now, but cutting off another leg will close me down," he said.
Tim Bristol, of the Save our Wild Salmon Coalition, said that his organization supports breaching all four dams on the Snake. "I think Alternative 1 makes the most sense and the dams don't anymore," he said.
Gerry Merrigan, the director of the Petersburg Vessel Owners Association, which represents 62 fishermen, said that the plan to limit harvests in Southeast reminds him of an old billboard he once saw. He said that the advertisement read, "We screwed the other guy and passed the savings on to you." "With this proposal it seems like they're broadening the file of who gets screwed," he quipped.
Chris Sharpsteen, in his testimony, recalled that Port Alexander was once a thriving community that began to go into decline when the dams were put on the Snake and Columbia rivers. "The dams and the degradation of the salmon habitat are the problem. It's time we decide if we're going to fix the problem or keep massaging the issue," he said.
Marilyn George, who trolled the waters of Southeast for years, stated in her testimony, "Alaska trollers should not be penalized for the mistakes made in Washington and Oregon.
Richard "Tiny" VanTrump said that one thing adding to the frustration for Alaskans is a misconception of the resources available. "The most common misconception is that Alaska is the land of inexhaustible resources - that it's o.k. to take from us because there is so much. Well, I'm here to tell you it's not. Look around."
Jim Schramek, another local who testified, said that he favors increasing the power rates to those who consume the power generated at the Snake and Columbia river dams and using those added resources for fish re-enhancement.
In an emotional testimony, Judy Behary explained that she and her family left Oregon after losing their livelihood because of declining stocks. "When you see happen what we saw happen and see how serious it can be and how quickly it can turn around a small town it's devastating. In a small town like this if this happens it will be devastating, not just economically, but emotionally and physically devastating," she said.
Alaska Department of Fish and Game representatives also offered testimony. Amy Skilbred, special assistant to the commissioner, reported in her testimony that commissioner Frank Rue's testimony, submitted earlier in the week also supported breaching the dams.
Even Gov. Tony Knowles submitted written testimony on the proposals. Knowles wrote, "I believe it is time for the federal agencies to embrace the common goal of long-term recovery. It is time to put aside the convenience of appearing to do something through additional harvest reductions, which only fails in the long run."
While the meeting in Petersburg was calm, two police officers were on hand for the hearing, in case tempers flared. Petersburg Police Chief Dale Stone explained this week that caucus members had reported some tense situations had occurred in meetings down south and therefore wanted police presence at the local meeting. As it turned out the police were not needed. The caucus, it was reported by Stone, paid the officers' over-time wages so that they could be on hand without sacrificing police patrol presence in town that evening.
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