Includes (yet another) working group focusing on salmon returns in Western AK
December 19, 2022
Not quite eight months after introducing the Alaska Salmon Research Task Force Act to the U.S. Senate, co-sponsors Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski announced its unanimous passage last Friday.
The legislation would form a panel of 13-19 members — pulled from Alaska’s salmon stakeholders and research experts to
(1) “ensure that Pacific salmon trends in Alaska regarding productivity and abundance are characterized and that research needs are identified; (2) to prioritize scientific research needs for Pacific salmon in Alaska; (3) to address the increased variability or decline in Pacific salmon returns in Alaska by creating a coordinated salmon research strategy; and (4) to support collaboration and coordination for Pacific salmon conservation efforts in Alaska.”
The Research Task Force would publish a report within one year of convening, with recommendations identifying knowledge and research gaps and further research priorities for salmon in Alaska.
“Salmon are a fundamental part of life in Alaska-for our families, our communities, our economy, and our cultural traditions,” said Senator Sullivan.
“In recent years, Alaskans have witnessed shocking and unprecedented declines among some salmon species in parts of the state while, in other parts, runs have been strong and historic. Many have speculated on the causes of these declines, but all Alaskans can agree-we need to identify and address research prioritization gaps with comprehensive data and the best scientific minds, including Indigenous communities that have harvested salmon for millennia. I want to thank my Senate colleagues for passing this legislation to expand our understanding of this challenge so we can realize increased abundance and stability in our salmon stocks for the benefit of all Alaskans.”
Early last February, an identical bill was introduced in the House by Congressman Don Young, who died unexpectedly just seven weeks later. It passed the House on April 26 and was received by the Senate the next day.
At the time Sullivan introduced the bill in the Senate, he said “Our existing management system, with the state’s authority to manage Alaska’s salmon harvest and the federal government managing federal fishery salmon harvest and much of the at-sea research, has created a clear gap in research and research prioritization that urgently needs to be addressed. This crisis warrants the combined attention of our state and federal governments, and the expertise of our greatest scientific minds, as well as the indigenous communities that have harvested salmon for millennia.”
“Salmon are the lifeblood of Alaska’s economy, history, and the subsistence way of life,” co-sponsor Murkowski said last week. “In some regions, we are unfortunately not only seeing a decline in salmon runs, but stock crashes that are devastating to local economies as well as the culture and spirit of those who call Alaska home.
“We must act to address the problem, and gather the information we need to understand the root of it. [The Alaska Salmon Research Task Force Act] unanimously passing the Senate takes us one step closer to better understanding salmon and their ecosystems during a time of ongoing change. We must work together – Alaskans, stakeholders, and all levels of government – to find solutions to sustain this precious resource,” Murkowski said.
Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo will appoint the members of the task force, which will include one person from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), one from the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, and one from the U.S. section of the Pacific Salmon Commission. There will be two to five members representing Alaska’s subsistence, commercial or recreational salmon sectors. The secretary would also appoint five academic experts in salmon biology, management, and ecology, or marine research. A representative of the state would be appointed by Governor Dunleavy.
A key part of the bill is the creation of a working group specifically focused on salmon returns in the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim (AYK) region of Western and Interior Alaska. There, salmon return failures of Chinook, chum, and coho salmon have had devastating impacts in recent years. Other geographically-focused working groups may also be appointed by the task force.