Trout Unlimited, Alaska Program , recently brought the Tongass 77 campaign to the largest commercial fishing trade show on the West Coast of the United States. TU’s Heather Hardcastle and Thatcher Brouwer of Juneau, who handle commercial fishing outreach in Southeast Alaska, spent three days in late November manning “The Tongass 77: Protecting America’s Salmon Forest” booth at Pacific Marine Expo in Seattle. Their mission: convey to commercial fishermen that protecting wild salmon in Southeast Alaska through the Tongass 77 is about protecting jobs and leaving a legacy for our children and grandchildren.
Surrounded by shiny new engines, the latest safety equipment, cutting-edge foul weather gear, and state-of-the-art marine electronics, the TU team met with scores of West Coast and Alaska fishermen. Hardcastle, a gill netter, and Brouwer, a troller, secured the signatures of more than 80 fishing industry individuals and businesses on a letter that calls on Congress to introduce Tongass 77 legislation. Also helping collect signatures was Natalia Povelite of Sitka Conservation Society who grew up fishing based out of Kodiak and who has seined in waters off Juneau and Sitka.
“It was encouraging to talk to other commercial fishermen who readily understand why protecting habitat is key to maintaining the healthy salmon runs we have in Southeast Alaska. For many fishermen, it was not a hard sell. These are folks who understand that intact habitat is like money in the bank,” said Hardcastle, who had help staffing the booth from her husband, Kirk, who also gill nets, and their infant daughter and future fisherman, Kiele (pictured in photo).
If enacted by Congress, the Tongass 77 legislation would permanently conserve at the watershed scale some 1.9 million acres of high-value salmon and trout habitat on the Tongass National Forest and make fish and wildlife the highest management priority in these watersheds. These watersheds are currently open to development activities such as logging, road building, and privatization that can harm fish.
The team answered fishermen’s questions about the criteria used for selecting the 77 watersheds. They also explained the economic importance of the $1 billion-a-year salmon and trout industry to Southeast Alaska, poured over maps with conference goers, and asked for signatures.
“There was broad support,” said Brouwer.
Among those who signed the letter calling on Congress to enact Tongass 77 legislation was Todd Korth, a commercial troller who fishes out of Sitka.
“Why wouldn’t we fishermen want to permanently protect valuable salmon spawning and rearing habitat that’s still intact? My direct-marketing efforts are dependent on it,” said Korth.
A community-supported fishery that delivers wild salmon from waters surrounding Alaska’s Tongass National Forest to Lower 48 customers is featured in a recent article in Forbes.com, one of the country’s leading business publications.Sitka Salmon Shares’ home-delivered packages of king, silver, and red salmon, caught by small-boat fishermen in a highly regulated fishery, is listed in the article as one of seven sustainable gift ideas for the holiday season.
“There is nothing a foodie likes more than fresh, local food. So why not buy him or her a subscription to a community supported farm or fishery? Many of these can be found via websites like Local Harvest or Local Dirt (just put in your foodie’s zip code to find a farm). There are also new fishery and meat “shares” popping up across the country, like Sitka Salmon Shares who will ship the fresh product where ever you’d like,” the article states.
Sitka Salmon Shares grew from an outreach program by the Sitka Conservation Society to promote awareness of Southeast Alaska’s healthy wild salmon runs and their vital economic importance to the Alaska Panhandle. Sitka Salmon Shares is now a thriving boat-to-table seafood company, based in Galesburg, Ill., that buys salmon from family-owned and operated fishing businesses in Southeast Alaska, including Juneau-based Taku River Reds. In return for their careful handling of the fish, Sitka Salmon Shares pays the fishermen more than they normally receive from a large processor.
The company, which is modeled after community-supported agriculture programs, runs much like a subscription service. Customers buy “shares” of high-quality, flash-frozen wild salmon, from an upcoming fishing season and then receive installments of salmon over the course of the summer. For the holidays, as Forbes.com notes, Sitka Salmon Shares is offering salmon packages timed to reach doorsteps by Dec. 20.
Read more about Sitka Salmon Shares here. Visit the web site of Sitka Conservation Society, a Trout Unlimited partner and supporter of the Tongass 77 campaign, here.
The community of Wrangell in Southeast Alaska is undergoing some major economic changes. Wrangell is transitioning from a town where most employment centered around a sawmill to one that’s more diversified into sectors such as tourism, fishing and recreation.Although there’s work still to be done, local officials say Wrangell is on the right track and they’re proud of some smart investments the city has made in marine services, harbor upgrades, convention and visitor services, and improvements to the downtown corridor.
A clan house restoration project is also getting close to completion along with the construction of a new carving shed, projects that are fostering “a real cultural reawakening,” said Tis Peterman, project development director for the Wrangell Cooperative Association, a federally recognized tribe.
As the economy has recovered the tone of public discourse in Wrangell has also improved, according to several Wrangell residents. People from diverse backgrounds are more inclined to work cooperatively.
“Wrangell has an exciting alignment of people working together to try to do some new and innovation things for the local economy. It’s not everyday that you get environmental organizers working side by side with Forest Service officials, forest products people and tourism business owners to make economic change happen,” said Karen Hardigg, who serves as a liaison between the Forest Service and conservation groups.
Read an article about what’s happening in Wrangell in the December 2012 issue of Alaska Business Monthly here.