By Chris Tobias
This article first appeared in Anchorage Daily News.
Usually, when I meet my clients at the boat launch, everyone is excited and ready for their chance at catching a king salmon on the Deshka River.
But, this year, the excitement — and the usual heavy fish boxes that result — have diminished greatly: There was no season for king retention at all on the Deshka River or any Susitna River tributary.
King salmon returns across much of Alaska are the worst in recent memory, and fishing closures have touched nearly every corner of the state.
Meanwhile, all week I've been hearing the relentless ads from "Stand for Alaska" (bought and paid for by Outside mining companies) that nothing is wrong and everything is in "balance;" that we can't afford to take measures to help protect our salmon habitat.
What alternative reality are they living in? It seems the only balance they are truly concerned about is the one in their bank account.
This is the most tone-deaf ad campaign imaginable, as families who depend on salmon for jobs, livelihoods, food and cultural vitality are struggling mightily across the state. I guess it figures, given the ad was produced by the Washington, D.C., spin doctors who defended Big Tobacco for decades.
The truth is, Alaska's salmon systems are way out of balance. We need to take strong measures to help them return to form. Voting yes on the Stand for Salmon Ballot Initiative — Ballot Measure 1, is one important step to take. This is why I am rallying my friends and family members, and urging all those across the state who care about our wild salmon to vote yes. It is imperative we improve protections for our wild salmon streams and rivers.
How bad is it out there on the water?
Look at the fish counts from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game: The entire Mat-Su Valley shut down early, and the Kenai River is in very rough shape with king returns, as well as sockeye.
This left many residents with little to no chance of even catching a king salmon.
This is Alaska — we are supposed to be rolling in wild salmon. I have customers who travel for days across the planet just to get to one of the last places on Earth you can catch a truly wild fish.
Without salmon, sportfishing guides like myself will find it harder and harder to provide for our families while doing what we love.
Scientists say that everything is cyclical in the ocean. If so, we can hope the numbers do come back. But lately, the average returns just keep getting smaller and smaller for the majority of Alaska.
In times of uncertainty, clean water and healthy spawning and rearing habitat is one of the best things we can do for our wild fish. It is our job to ensure these salmon have the best possible chance to make it out to the ocean successfully. You can't expect healthy crops without taking care of your fields properly.
What we can't afford to do is let foreign mining companies like Pebble Limited Partnership wipe out salmon habitat. That's something that's perfectly legal under the current system, which is dictated by mining interests. No wonder they are fighting change so vigorously.
The Stand for Salmon initiative would make sure that these foreign companies don't permanently wipe out salmon streams, such as the 30 miles of streams and 3,000 acres of wetlands that Pebble would obliterate in the headwaters of Bristol Bay.
The initiative also ensures that mining companies pay for the cleanup of their toxic messes in salmon habitat, so Alaskans don't get stuck with the bill.
Most Alaskans wouldn't be affected by the stricter permitting regime for major development — we would continue to build houses, ride four-wheelers and fish our rivers and streams as we always have.
We would get stronger salmon runs over the long term.
I want to make sure my two young boys, and the next generation of Alaskans, stand to inherit the natural wealth of wild fish and game that is so central to our way of life.
This summer is a preview of a future that I don't want my kids to live in.
Let's get things back into balance before it's too late. Remember: We don't inherit this earth from our parents, we borrow it from our children.
Chris Tobias lives in Wasilla and owns Roe Hard Guide Service.