UFA hones in on salmon habitat issues

An Alaska commercial fishing advocacy group is beginning to get an idea of what its new Salmon Habitat Information Program – or SHIP – will look like. The program is aimed at engaging commercial fisherman around the state in salmon habitat issues.

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United Fishermen of Alaska, which represents 35 Alaska commercial fishing organizations, conducted a fishermen survey this summer.

SHIP Director Lindsey Bloom said they were asked to list their priorities.

“Fisherman, while they’re concerned about a variety of issues, mining, climate change and pollution scored the highest,” said Bloom. “At a local level, people mentioned the proposed [Bristol Bay] Pebble Mine and mining development in the trans-boundary region as the most mentioned specific concerns.”

Fishermen’s worries about mining reaffirmed UFA’s previous advocacy for State Department involvement in trans-boundary mining. But, Bloom said the industry group hasn’t been heavily involved in climate change issues. She said the SHIP program will invite experts to UFA board meetings and engage the group in decision-making at the local, state and federal level.

When asked to rank several predetermined issues, fishermen contacted in the sruvey said that habitat conservation ranked third behind product quality and fisheries management. Bloom said all three issues were more important to fishermen than the price they got for their catches.

“I found that very inspiring that there’s very clear value and recognition that protecting habitat and protecting the resource is more important than the bottom line of what we’re getting paid for salmon during any given season,” Bloom said.

When it comes to obtaining information on the commercial industry, most listed Alaska Department of Fish & Game scientists as the most trusted source.

“They are closely followed by local and regional fishing groups and then United Fisherman of Alaska,” Bloom said.

Fishermen also think the state is doing well in ensuring the stability of salmon fisheries. The survey did not ask about further budget cuts to Fish and Game during the state Legislature’s upcoming session.

Bloom said most wanted to stay engaged with the SHIP program via email. Social media was the second choice followed by traditional mail.

Bloom said the goal of the program is to focus UFA’s engagement on salmon habitat issues important to Alaska’s fishing fleet, and help fishermen inform decisions and policy.

More than 500 people responded to the survey. Bloom said the program is open to everyone, not just UFA members.

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