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Alaska Fish Factor: Land and Water Rights Causing Tension

27 October 2014
 Alaska Fish Factor: Laine Welch Laine Welch has been covering news of Alaska’s seafood industry for print and broadcast since 1988. She also has worked ‘behind the counter’ in wholesale and retail seafood businesses in Alaska and Cape Cod, MA. Laine lives in Kodiak, Alaska. www.alaskafishradio.com

msfish@alaskan.com
 
 

US - Throughout history, arguments over land and water usages have run the gamut from tussles over fences with next door neighbors to shoot outs over inter-state grazing rights in the old west. But when land and water rights pit one country against another, that’s when things really gets tricky.

That is the situation in Southeast Alaska, where residents find themselves downstream from several massive open pit gold/copper mines being developed in bordering British Columbia. The mines are located in the headwaters of some of Southeast’s largest and most productive wild salmon rivers: the Taku, Stikine, and Unuk.

Canada operates under different permitting and environmental rules than the U.S. and currently, no safeguards are in place to protect Alaska waters and fisheries from chemical and heavy-metal contaminants leaching from the B.C. mines. Recall the Aug. 4 tailings dam breach at the Mt. Polley mine, and it’s easy to understand why Southeast residents are seeing red.

“Right now the U.S. and certainly Alaska have no say in how these watersheds we share with Canada are developed,” said Heather Hardcastle, Trans-boundary Rivers Campaign Director for Trout Unlimited, and co-owner of Taku River Reds in Juneau.

That is unacceptable to the People of the Panhandle, who are being urged to respond with the power of their pens! Meetings are scheduled this week in Juneau, Sitka, Petersburg, Ketchikan and Wrangell to inform people about the threats being posed by the big mines upriver, and to give them a way to take action.

“And that is primarily by writing letters to our Congressional Delegation and the State Department, as well as urging law makers, municipalities, advisory committees, boards and commissions and businesses to send similar letters.

“What we are asking is for the U.S. State Department to engage with Canada on this matter, and activate the Boundary Waters Treaty,” said Hardcastle who has teamed with Salmon Beyond Borders and the United Tribal Transboundary Mining Working Group in the grass roots outreach efforts.

An International Joint Commission (IJC) was created by the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 to prevent and resolve transboundary water disputes between Canada and the U.S.

“We feel that the best mechanism by which we can have a say in the Taku, Stine and Unuk watersheds is to have the IJC activated and review these watersheds and the development that Canada is proposing and constructing even as we speak,” Hardcastle added.

Both the US and Canadian federal governments must “refer an issue” to activate the joint commission.

“The first step is convincing the U.S. State Department that they should look at this matter,” Hardcastle said, “and then to continue building ties across the border to similarly urge Canadians to push for the same thing.”

Alaska’s Congressional Delegation has come out strongly in support of the IJC oversight. Is Canada receptive? The short answer, she said, is no.

“When it comes to the Canadian federal government and the BC provincial government, their agenda is mineral development,” Hardcastle said. “They have not reached out to Alaskans in any meaningful way.”

Be a seafood ambassador - A call is out for fishermen who want to be unofficial ambassadors for Alaska seafood.

“For several years we’ve felt that some of our best spokespeople, the best brand advocates for Alaska seafood are the people most involved in the fisheries,” said Tyson Fick, Communications Director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute in Juneau.

A big challenge, he added, is how to stay connected with the fishing fleet.

To make contact with fishermen, ASMI has launched a confidential on line data base. It asks basic questions such as how long you’ve fished in Alaska and in what fisheries, if you use social media – and if you’re willing to do interviews and be a ‘face’ for Alaska seafood.

“There’s a lot of times when individual retailers or media outlets are looking for folks to talk with who are involved in the fisheries in Alaska, and this offers a great tool to help fishermen get out there,” Fick said. “So when we have press tours or trade missions or events around the state or the country, we have this wealth of knowledge and individuals to call on to advance our Alaska brand and maximize the value.”

Sign ups get a custom Alaska Fisherman hat from the Aurora Projekt. Find the data base at www.fishermen.alaskaseafood.org/

Annual salmon dip – Wholesale prices for Alaska salmon products were down nearly across the board this summer compared to the same time last year.

Every four months Alaska processors provide price reports to the Dept. of Revenue/Tax Division on how much they sold fresh or frozen salmon, fillets, roe and canned products at wholesale by Alaska region.

Here are some highlights on sales from May through August:

By far most of Alaska’s salmon pack goes out headed and gutted (H&G) and frozen. Chinook salmon in that form fetched $3.95 a pound, down from $4.51 last summer. Sockeye at $3.14 was a drop of $1.07 per pound. Cohos wholesaled for $2.91, compared to $3.60. The price for H&G frozen pink salmon increased a quarter to $1.28; chums saw the biggest gain at $1.54, a 45-cent increase.

All Alaska salmon prices decreased for fresh fish during the summer, with H&G sockeyes averaging $4.43 per pound, down 66-cents from the same time last year. Processors produced four million pounds of fresh sockeye fillets valued at $8.80 a pound, a drop of 48 cents. Prices for fresh coho fillets also declined to $6.63, down $1.56. Likewise, chum fillets at $2.19 were down $1.19 a pound from last summer.

Likewise, wholesale prices for Alaska salmon roe also declined from May through August. Sockeye roe at $5.72 was down from $6.89 a pound. Pink roe at $7.72 was a drop of 38 cents. The biggest seller – chum roe - dipped by $1.33 to $12.07 per pound.

Fall is an important sales period and wholesale seafood prices are likely to reflect changes from the summer. Find links to the Alaska Salmon Price Reports at www.alaskafishradio.com/

This material is protected by copyright. For information on reprinting, contact msfish@alaskan.com

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