FISH FACTOR: Parnell talks Chuitna, Pebble; salmon total nears 270M

Gov. Sean Parnell took to the statewide airwaves Sept. 26 to answer questions from Alaskans on the Alaska Public Radio Network’s Talk of Alaska.

Of fishing interest: A Cook Inlet setnetter asked about his stance on the proposed Chuitna coal mine in Cook Inlet that would set a precedent by removing, among other things, 11 miles of salmon streams. “Didn’t you say you would never trade one resource for another?” she queried.

“And I won’t,” Parnell responded. “I’ve seen the written misinformation about Chuitna and the decision that was made on a proposal to basically stop any permitting and stop any activity,” he said. “There has been no decision made to allow the mine to go forward. Certainly, a company can work the permitting process and the public process, but until such time as that’s allowed to play out... I don’t know what else to say except that my job is to make sure that the public has access to that process, that they have input, that the science is there and then that the department makes a good decision.

“And we are not anywhere close to that at this point.”

On reserving water rights to protect salmon streams — “That’s an important one,” Parnell said.  “We are the only state in the union that allows a private party to tie up water from other parties. And the only way I think to constitutionally have a process where everybody has a say in the water, is for a government entity to hold those water reservations and not private entities. So that’s one of the reasons we moved forward with legislation to accomplish that.”

On Anglo-American pulling out of the Pebble Mine project: “What message does that send to other investors?” a caller asked.

“Well, it certainly sends a message that, at least in the case of Pebble, a company is going to have a struggle even getting into the permitting process,” Parnell responded. “And that means there will be less investment in Alaska in that kind of activity. Of course I am concerned when that happens because it has spill over into smaller areas and other industries. But we are where we are right now and I cannot invest time and effort on a Pebble permitting process when there isn’t a company to come forward. So that’s where I’ve left it at this point.” 

A Sitka caller asked the governor if the state has a monitoring system in place for the continuing radioactive threat that is coming from the leaking Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan.

“We do, and it is something that the Department of Environmental Conservation is watching closely, along with federal agencies including NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency),” he said. “So far in our biological testing of fish we have seen no evidence of that, and our federal government contemporaries, including the military and Homeland Security and Defense organizations that look over this.

“They have indicated that they have not seen environmental contamination in the fish that are returning to Alaska. So it is an ongoing monitoring effort with our state and federal agencies, but it is not something that has posed a risk to date.”

Wild salmon watch

The statewide harvests for Alaska’s 2014 salmon season are pretty much tallied up, with a total approaching an all-time high of 270 million fish. (That compares to 124 million salmon harvested last year.)

Southeast Alaska salmon fishermen set a record this summer, topping 100 million fish for the first time ever. Second highest for salmon catches is Prince William Sound at 94 million, followed by Kodiak at nearly 32 million salmon. Bristol Bay comes in fourth at 16.6 million fish. Rounding out the top five is the Alaska Peninsula at more than 12 million salmon caught this summer.

Now the values of the various catches are trickling in from regional managers.

At Bristol Bay the all-species harvest of 16.4 million fish has a preliminary ex-vessel value (at the docks) of $141 million, 26 percent above the 20-year average and ranks seventh over that same period. The sockeye salmon fishery value is listed at more than $138 million. The estimates do not include upcoming price adjustments and bonuses, which will drive the values much higher.

At Kotzebue, 66 salmon fishermen had the best chum catch since 1988, and the 10th highest in history. The chum price averaged 27 cents per pound, down 15 percent. The 319,062 chums were worth $689,163 at the docks, 16 percent higher than the historical average. That meant an average payday of $10,442 to participating fishermen.

Southeast Alaska will likely be tops again for the most valuable salmon fishery overall. Reports on the salmon values by region and average prices paid to fishermen will be out in October.

October is National Seafood Month

The distinction was given by Congress 30 years ago to recognize one of our nation’s oldest industries. Encourage local restaurants and groups in your town to celebrate!


Richard Mullins of Alaska Marine Nutrition is not a spokesman for the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, as was stated in last week’s column.

Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

10/03/2013 - 7:12am