Trout Unlimited, the nation’s oldest and largest coldwater fisheries conservation organization, announced that contrary to a misleading media release issued by Sealaska Corporation, it does not support newly introduced legislation that would carve some 70,000 acres from the Tongass National Forest and transfer it to the Juneau-based corporation. Trout Unlimited also never requested inclusion of 94,000 acres of conservation lands in the bill, as stated by Sealaska.The legislation, known as the Sealaska bill, is sponsored by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and aims to settle land claims by Sealaska , a regional Native corporation representing shareholders with ties to Southeast Alaska. Trout Unlimited does not dispute that Sealaska is owed land under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) of 1971.
“But the inference by Sealaska that they have bought our support of this legislation with a tiny amount of conservation lands is false,” said Tim Bristol, Manager of Trout Unlimited’s Alaska Program. “It appears as though their executives are trying to pull the wool over the public’s eyes by implying they have buy-in from Trout Unlimited” said Bristol.
In contrast, Trout Unlimited is working to build support for its “Tongass 77” proposal which seeks permanent legislative protection for 77 high-value salmon and trout watersheds from across the Tongass. The 77 watersheds included in the proposal span 1.9 million acres of the Tongass. They represent a subset of the most biologically productive places for salmon and trout that currently lack watershed-scale protection. If enacted, the Tongass 77 legislation would help lock in a self-sustaining fisheries resource that employs about one in 10 people in Southeast Alaska.
“We have conducted a long and careful process, utilizing both peer-reviewed science and input from fishing stakeholders and government agencies to identify the Tongass watersheds that form the backbone of the more than $1 billion a year commercial and sport salmon industry here,” said Mark Kaelke, Southeast Alaska Project Director for Trout Unlimited.
“What we are seeking is strong and meaningful conservation leadership, said Bristol. “The Sealaska bill, as it exists today, certainly does not meet this standard.”
Trout Unlimited, Alaska Program, today welcomed the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s announcement that it is extending for 60 days the comment period for people to weigh in on the FDA’s controversial move to open the door for Frankenfish to enter the nation’s food supply. The comment period, originally slated to end on Feb. 25 now runs until April 26. TU encourages anyone who cares about wild salmon and the integrity of food to contact the FDA and tell the agency not to move forward with approving Frankenfish. Frankenfish are genetically engineered Atlantic salmon. In a draft environmental assessment in December, the FDA concluded that Frankenfish are safe for human consumption, opening the door to final approval. Many of Alaskans, including the state’s congressional delegation, oppose the FDA’s stance on Frankenfish because of the numerous threats they pose to wild salmon. One of the major concerns is that genetically engineered salmon could interbreed with wild salmon and wreak havoc on wild stocks. Alaska is one of the largest salmon-producing regions in the world. In Southeast Alaska alone, more than 7,300 jobs are directly tied to salmon fishing and processing, a $1 billion a year industry for the region.
Last week, Alaska’s senators co-sponsored two bills against Frankenfish. One would make it illegal to sell, possess, transport or purchase genetically engineered salmon in the United States unless and until the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration determines there is no harmful impact on the environment. The other bill challenges the FDA’s position against labeling Frankenfish. If enacted, the legislation would require that Frankenfish be clearly labeled and identified so that consumers can know what they’re eating.
“Alaska has been supplying the world with nutritious salmon for decades,” said Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK.) “We cannot afford to experiment with the world’s largest wild salmon stocks without the certainty that these fake fish won’t pose a serious environmental risk, especially to wild salmon and their habitat.”
The bills aim to prevent against “science experiments ending up on the plates of Alaska families,” according to Begich.
“The Friday before Christmas, the Food and Drug Administration announced they were moving forward with the approval process on Frankenfish by opening the comment period – this at a time when everyone understandably has their mind on the holidays and the Congress is in a transition period,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK.) “Despite those hurdles, I am proud that my Coastal Coalition in the Senate and those fighting along with us – like the Alaskans in Sitka last weekend – have raised our voices and outrage to a level where the FDA relented and is giving us more time to further lay out the case against GE salmon.”
Some one hundred people gathered in Sitka last weekend to protest the FDA’s move toward approving Frankenfish, according to public radio station KCAW. (Listen to a news story about it.) The rally was organized by Sitka Conservation Society.
To submit public comment, go to http://www.regulations.gov. Or write to Division of Dockets Management (HFA–305), Food and Drug Administration, 5630 Fishers Lane, rm.1061, Rockville, MD 20852.
Thanks to Senators Begich and Murkowski for standing up for wild salmon.
If you’re from Southeast Alaska or have come here on a work or pleasure trip, you know that the Tongass National Forest is a special place. Maybe it’s the jagged fjords and glaciers that speak to you, or the mossy, ancient forest that blankets the thousands of misty islands within the Tongass. Or perhaps it’s the Tongass’ teeming populations of bears, eagles, humpback whales or the copious runs of wild salmon, the species that Alaska writer and cultural anthropologist Richard Nelson calls “the miracle animal.”Salmon are what biologists call a “keystone species.” They’re critically important to the health of rivers, forests, the ocean, marine and terrestrial animals and, of course, the economies and health of human communities who live nearby. They also provide nutritious food to millions of people worldwide.
Salmon literally feed Southeast Alaska. After salmon finish their ocean journeys and they return to their natal streams to spawn and die, their bodies fertilize the water and soil. Salmon carcasses, transported by bears, eagles and other animals, bring nutrients to the forest, which in turn, provides cover and safety to young salmon.
“So here’s this fish that teaches us how ecology works, that teaches us how life works, that shows us how one living thing is never separate from all other living things,” Nelson says.
Forest Service fisheries biologist Ron Medel says that the health of salmon runs are a measure of how well or poorly people have treated the land.
We’re lucky in Southeast Alaska to have tens of millions of healthy, wild salmon return to our region every year. We’re one of the few places left in North America where wild salmon remain abundant. But nearly two million acres of prime salmon habitat in the Tongass, spanning 77 watersheds, face a host of threats. And that’s why Trout Unlimited is seeking permanent protection for these places through Congressional action. It’s a campaign called the Tongass 77, which we hope you will support.
The Tongass 77 is about protecting fish and wildlife for our children and grandchildren.
As Nelson says in this video, Shades of Green, produced by the U.S. Forest Service, the Tongass is an extraordinary place where fish and wildlife are still intact. Wild salmon, bears, mountain goats, eagles, and on and on – they are still plentiful on the Tongass, as long as we do things right.
“We’re able here on the Tongass National Forest to touch the American Earth as it has always been. There are very few places, anyplace, in America or elsewhere in the world where we can do that,” Nelson says.
More of Nelson’s thoughts and reflections about Tongass salmon — the miracle animal, as he calls them — are available on the web site for his radio program, Encounters North.