SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Fish Factor

Health and abundance of salmon rated as a top concern


July 01, 2011

Alaskans have a strong personal connection to salmon and believe the iconic fish is essential to the Alaskan way of life and the state’s economy. Furthermore, they rate the health and abundance of salmon as a top concern on par with the federal budget deficit, and even higher than concerns about jobs.

Those are the primary results of a new survey of 500 Alaska voters done by Public Opinion Strategies for the Alaska chapter of The Nature Conservancy. (The survey also conducted additional interviews to reach 200 respondents in the Mat-Su Valley and 200 in the Southeast Alaska regions.)

According to an executive summary, the strong connection to salmon extends across all ages, ethnicity, demographic and partisan sub-groups, with Native Alaskans and voters in Southeast showing the strongest personal connections on multiple questions.

In the survey, 96 percent of Alaskans said salmon are essential to the Alaskan way of life, and 97 percent said salmon are an important part of the Alaska economy.  Statewide, 89 percent said that even in tough economic times, it is important to maintain funding for salmon conservation.  Four of every five Alaskans polled said they are personally concerned about the health and abundance of salmon in Alaska.

Other noteworthy findings:

  • 93 percent of Alaskans say protecting Bristol Bay is important and 91 percent of Southeast Alaskans say it is important to protect the Tongass National Forest.
  •  78 percent of residents of the Mat-Su region report fishing for food for the family in the last year; 95 percent said salmon are essential to the Alaskan way of life.
  • More than eight out of ten Alaskans say protecting the forest, tundra and wetlands around streams is as important as protecting the streams themselves.
  • 58 percent of all Alaska voters and 69 percent of Southeast Alaskans said they would have a more favorable impression of a community leader who worked to maintain the level of funding that helps protect and manage salmon, salmon streams and the lands along those streams.
  • Two-thirds of Alaskans eat salmon at least once a month.
  • Statewide, 79 percent of Alaskans are concerned about pollution of rivers, lakes and streams (55% very or extremely concerned) which is on par with pocketbook issues like unemployment and the deficit.

A majority of Alaska voters support a number of specific actions to conserve salmon and its habitat, including increasing funding even if it requires an increase in taxes.

  • 93 percent of state residents believe developers should be required to leave a certain amount of water flowing through streams and rivers to ensure the health of salmon and other fish and wildlife.
  • 77 percent say a natural fileter of undisturbed forest, wetland or tundra should be required along salmon streams.
  • 83 percent say land should be conserved in its natural state along salmon rivers and the streams that flow into them.
  • 81 percent says rivers and streams that were damaged by past development should be restored.
  • 75 percent say it should be a  priority to create special areas that protect free flowing salmon streams from pollution.          

The Nature Conservancy is a non-profit conservation group that leads salmon habitat projects in Bristol Bay, the Matanuska-Susitna Basin, and the Tongass National Forest regions in Alaska.  

Coal note: Still no word from the Dept. of Natural Resources on the Unsuitable Lands Petition that requests buffer zones (similar to logging operations) to protect salmon streams on the Upper Cook Inlet’s Chuitna River, should Alaska’s largest strip coal mine get the state’s ok.

A decision was due on April 19, but the state asked for a 45 day extension until June 3.  In a June 7 email, DNR’s Ed Fogle said they “are jamming to get the decision out the door.” 

There is no mention of the petition status, nor any other updates since Feb.1 on the DNR website.

Herring hypotheses – Prince William Sound was home to Alaska’s most lucrative herring fisheries until the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, and the stocks have struggled to recover since 1993.  A new scientific report claims the collapse is likely due to the release of up to 600 million juvenile pink salmon each year into the Sound, which has the fry and herring competing for food.

Another cause might come from humpback whales that overwinter in Prince William Sound and feast on herring, although the report said more research is needed on that hypothesis. Researchers said they found no evidence that lingering effects of the Exxon Valdez oil spill are to blame.

The report, titled Hypotheses concerning the decline and poor recovery of Pacific herring in Prince William Sound, Alaska, is funded in part by  Exxon Mobil Corp.

Death by sunscreen

All that sun block being slathered on by beach-goers around the world is causing major damage to ocean corals. A study funded by the European Commission revealed that the mix of 20 compounds used to protect skin from the harmful effects of the sun causes rapid bleaching of coral reefs. 

The World Trade Organization reports that 10 per cent of world tourism takes place in tropical areas, with nearly 80 million people visiting coral reefs each year. The WTO estimates up to 6,000 tons of sun screen lotions are released into reef areas each year – and that up to 10 per cent of the world's coral reefs are at risk of ‘death by sunscreen.

While Alaska’s deep sea corals face threats from ocean acidification, they are safe from sun screens. Unlike tropical varieties, Alaska corals don’t form reefs – they grow into dense gardens and can live for hundreds of years.  The waters surrounding the Aleutian Islands are believed to harbor the most abundant and diverse coldwater corals in the world.  

Death by plastics

Researchers found plastic in nearly 1 in 10 small fish collected in the northern Pacific Ocean in the latest study to call attention to floating marine debris entering the food chain.  A new study by scientists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at San Diego estimated that fish in the northern Pacific Ocean are ingesting as much as 24,000 tons of plastic each year.  The L.A. Times said the study raises concerns that plastics and pollutants they contain could be making their way up the food chain into seafood ingested by humans.



This year marks the 21st year for this weekly column that focuses on Alaska’s seafood industry. It began in 1991 in the Anchorage Daily News, and now appears in over 20 newspapers and web sites. A daily spin off – Fish Radio – airs weekdays on 30 radio stations in Alaska. My goal is to make all people aware of the economic, social and cultural importance of Alaska’s fishing industry to our state, the nation and the world. 


Laine can be reached at msfish[AT]
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Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska


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