Matanuska Susitna Borough’s annual Salmon Symposium brings together researchers and conservationists for updates on how to better manage and protect salmon habitat. The event got underway last Thursday in Palmer. Howard Delo is vice-chair of the Borough’s Fish and Wildlife Commission, which is organizing a salmon research plan for the Borough. Delo said there are many reasons to protect the Valley’s salmon runs. One is economic, because healthy fish runs add to the area’s economy.
“That’s the tourism effect,” Delo said. “The bed and breakfasts, the gas stations, the grocery stores, the restaurants, the fishing tackle shops the guides. It’s like coffee, if you can’t get your coffee here, you’re going to go somewhere else. If you can’t get your fish in the Mat-Su, you’re going to go somewhere else. And that has a decided economic impact.”
Poor King salmon and silver salmon returns in recent years have worried state and Borough officials. In fact, Delo said the measurement of sport fishing activity in the Borough has decreased by about half since 2008. Delo said informational meetings like the Salmon Symposium can help bridge the divide between sport and commercial fishing interests,.
The Symposium does not take a political stance for or against any of the salmon fishery user groups. Setting fishery allocations is the job of the state Board of Fisheries, which has to balance the health of the salmon resource with the demands of the various user groups for a share of the resource.
“But where they can actually help groups like the Commission, when we’re going to the Board of Fish, if they’ve got some science, that says look, we need to do this for the health of the resource, they’re not advocating, they are just making a flat scientific fact,” Delo said. “And that’s how the Board should be moving ahead, protecting the health of the resource first. Then you can fight over who gets how much of it.”
The Borough in recent years has had to advocate for more help for area salmon stocks that are in decline. Of the 13 salmon stocks of concern designated by the Board of Fish, half are in Valley streams.
A stock of concern is one that fails to maintain specific yields or harvest-able surpluses despite management measures. Delo pointed out that Susitna-Yentna sockeye have been on the stock of concern list for about 8 years.