Salmon are the lifeblood of Southeast Alaska.
The Tongass National Forest boasts over 15,000 miles of salmon rivers and streams and over 123,000 acres of lakes and ponds that support salmon. Hungry bears fish in the streams for spawning salmon to feed themselves and their cubs. When the bears catch their prey, they bring the salmon carcasses into the forest, where the leftovers decompose and fertilize the trees that make up the Tongass.
Salmon are a treasured food source in Southeast Alaska. Across rural Southeast Alaska, residents use an average of 75 pounds of salmon per person each year, and nearly 90% of rural households here use salmon. For Southeast Alaskans, salmon represent more than food: they represent a way of life that is tied to the land. This is true for none more than the Indigenous peoples of the region, the Lingít, the Haida, and the Tsimshian, who have stewarded salmon runs since time immemorial. Salmon are a traditional food that supports cultural renewal.
Beyond their cultural and ecological importance, salmon have great economic value in Southeast Alaska and beyond as well. Commercial salmon fishing in Southeast Alaska supports a global economy and food chain and employs 15% of Southeast Alaskans, more than any other private sector. This wouldn’t be possible without healthy Tongass lands and waters, which contribute 75% of the salmon commercially harvested offshore.
Southeast Alaska also has many other robust fisheries that support a fleet of small boat fishermen that are most often family operations and small businesses. With the direct involvement by the fishermen and stakeholders in fisheries management, Southeast Alaska has some of the most sustainable and well managed fisheries in the world. Although there are issues that still need to be dealt with, we are proud of our fisheries and work to advocate for improvements where needed to improve and refine management through changing economics and ocean conditions.
Threats to Salmon from Transboundary Mining Projects
King salmon, the most iconic of the five salmon species, have a greater dependence on large mainland river systems than other salmon species in the region. The majority of the key King systems we rely upon in Southeast Alaska are transboundary rivers with headwaters in Canada; the Taku, Stikine, and Unuk Rivers together contribute $48M annually to Southeast Alaska’s economy.
These rivers have a number of mining projects either proposed or in various stages of development. These projects benefit Canadian mining companies and foreign corporate interests, while many who rely upon these waters, such as Indigenous nations and Southeast Alaskans fishermen, assume all of the risk of potential downstream pollution.
Sitka Conservation Society works with partners across the region and state to organize communities to raise their voices against different mining projects, from Transboundary mines to the proposed Pebble Mine.
Opposing the Industrial Trawl Fleet’s Devastating Bycatch
Thanks to the foresight and advocacy efforts of fishermen, conservationists, community members, tribal advocates, and local government, we have smaller-scale commercial fisheries here in Southeast Alaska and we banned trawl fishing gear. These local small boat fleets of fishermen and family-owned businesses help deliver more sustainable seafood to the market while ensuring sustainable management of this valuable resource so important to our ways of life. Unfortunately, what we have here in Southeast Alaska is not the case state-or world-wide.
Banned in Southeast Alaska, large scale industrial trawling, the practice of dragging a net through the water or along the bottom of the ocean and indiscriminately catching everything in its path, is run by large scale corporate fisheries operations across Alaska and the world. Trawl fleets and at sea processors that target pollock and flat fish have a tremendous annual bycatch of king salmon, halibut, and all other species. These are the boats providing low cost fish protein to the market worldwide, in the form of fish sticks and fast food sandwiches. While we all want access to fish for all, we do not believe this should come at such a great cost to coastal and rural communities, Tribes and indigenous peoples across Alaska.
At SCS, we fight against the damaging practices of the industrial trawl fleet targeting pollock and organize opposition to policies that continue to allow, encourage, and enable wasteful bycatch of salmon, halibut, crab, and all other species in our federally-managed fisheries.
Skipper Science Partnership
The people seeing the impacts of climate change firsthand often aren’t the decision makers, but those who live by the tides and are out on the water daily. Skipper Science is a new partnership that enables fishermen and users along Alaska’s coastline to report data and observations easily via an app while fishing. The data collected during the summers will be quantified for Alaska’s science-based resource management and delivered to policy makers and fisheries managers to advocate for the health of our fisheries. Sitka Conservation Society is grateful to be collaborating with a variety of partners to utilize this technology to amplify fishermen’s voices statewide.