Murkowski calls proposed endangered listing for Alaska king salmon ‘wrongheaded’

Lisa Murkowski
Sen. Lisa Murkowski greets legislators following her annual address in the state Capitol on Feb. 15, 2024. (Clarise Larson/KTOO)

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski believes an effort by a Washington-state conservation group to put Alaska king salmon on the federal endangered-species list is misguided.

The Wild Fish Conservancy filed a petition with NOAA Fisheries in January, but Murkowski says the organization has missed the mark.

“They are attempting to utilize a very legitimate law, the Endangered Species Act, for what I would consider to be a very wrongheaded purpose,” Murkowski said by phone. “And that is to basically stop our wild fisheries.”

Murkowski says Alaska’s fisheries are under threat from several sources, including environmental pressure from climate change and warming oceans, and economic pressure from Russia’s oversupply of traditional seafood markets. And there’s also ongoing litigation by the Wild Fish Conservancy itself, which sued NOAA Fisheries in 2020 to shut down the commercial troll fishery for kings in Southeast Alaska.

That tactic has yet to succeed, so Murkowski is not surprised that the Wild Fish Conservancy is trying another.

“If you’re looking to shut down a fishery, a threat by way of a petition with the ESA is certainly a direction to do that,” she said with a hint of sarcasm. “I think we need to make sure that we are well armed with our own science and data about our fisheries. But that takes monitoring, which is time, and it takes resources. And that’s one of the things that I’ve been doing at the federal level, to help address the challenges that our fisheries are facing in our fishing communities.”

Murkowski says outside environmental organizations often miss this point: No one has a greater interest in preserving Alaska’s wild salmon stocks than Alaskans. Individual fishermen, their families, and the communities they live in all depend on healthy stocks.

“It is not in their interest to overfish, to overharvest, to see the species be negatively impacted,” Murkowski said. “And I think we take great pride in how we have approached management. Now it is not without challenge. We understand that. And there are factors out there that we’re seeing at a rate and a pace that we’ve not seen before, that are associated with the environment and climate. But we don’t get near the credit for the way in which we manage our fisheries with a view towards true sustainability.”

The petition to list king salmon in Southeast and Southcentral Alaska is being reviewed by NOAA Fisheries, which is expected to make a decision shortly on whether or not it has merit. In either case, the question could wind up in court – possibly for years.

Weather delays force cancellation of Murkowski’s Sitka visit

Murkowski was back in Alaska last week during a Senate recess. Due to bad weather on the East Coast, she wasn’t able to leave D.C. in time to make her schedule in Sitka – and it was a lengthy schedule. Just listening to it sheds some light on the life of a U.S. senator in a single community in her home state. 

“We had set up meetings with the mayor, the city manager, the school superintendent, the Visitors Bureau, the Forest Service, folks from the Tribe, and people within the community,” she said. “I always like to get into the schools when I’m in a town, and so we were going to visit Mt. Edgecumbe. I was also going to have an opportunity for a dialogue with the folks at the Sitka Sound Science Center on the landslide monitoring update. We’re all, of course, very much in tune to what we’re seeing with landslides in the region following the devastating slide in Wrangell in late November.”

On top of that, Murkowski said that she had planned meetings with the U.S. Coast Guard regarding the homeporting of a fast response cutter in Sitka, and with the Sitka Community Land Trust. Across the state, Murkowski says, housing and workforce are high on the list of priorities for her constituents.

“Everywhere I go it’s housing, housing, housing, and then throw in some childcare and then more housing,” Murkowski said. “These are our challenges in getting the necessary workforce. And Sitka is right up there in terms of housing and childcare, as one of their community priorities.” 

Additionally, Murkowski says she is looking forward to meeting Sitka High senor Felix Myers, who is one of two Alaskan students selected for this spring’s U.S. Senate Youth Program.

“The Senate Youth Program is a phenomenal, phenomenal young leaders’ program,” she said. “And in every year, we get two exceptional Alaskans that come back, and they show them everything: I think they get to go to the White House, they do a big reception. I always visit with the young people when they are there for the reception. So I will look for Felix, that’s awesome.”

The other student selected for the Senate Youth Program is Elizabeth Djajalie from Juneau. Murkowski returned to Washington when the Senate reconvened on Monday.

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