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.