Standing alone, Alaska still must oppose fish farms

What others say

Posted: Wednesday, September 22, 2004

In Alaska, Gov. Frank Murkowski might as well be fighting to save Nemo when he takes on the federal government over wild salmon's nemesis fish farms.

Murkowski has the Alaska troops overwhelmingly on his side, but the opposition is powerful.

Earlier this month the governor decided to shoot with the big guns, asking the U.S. Department of Commerce for a five-year moratorium on new finfish farming. He also sought other concessions to give marine biologists more time to determine the effects of farmed fish and their diseases on wild stocks stocks of pride and ample supply in Alaska.

The U.S. Commerce Department is considering promoting fish farming within the Exclusive Economic Zone, which is federal waters beginning three miles off shore and extending out to 200 miles. That would be the federal government taking authority from coastal states. Currently, the states regulate fish farming. Alaska contains half of the EEZ waters in the nation.

The moratorium would at least temporarily stop the creation of new finfish aquaculture operations, giving biologists an opportunity to more thoroughly study the effects of fish farming. It also would allow the fishing industry an opportunity to adjust to a changing market. Alaska provides half the nation's seafood.

The governor wants states to substantially determine the types of aquaculture activities off their coasts. He also wants a law prohibiting aquaculture that threatens wild and natural finfish stocks, pointing out that farmed fish introduce disease and parasites to the marine environment.

After research during the moratorium, Murkowski then proposes that the regional fisheries management councils in each state be allowed to evaluate the information and determine whether fish farming should be allowed off their shores.

This is no small issue for Alaska. It is bigger than Boeing is to Washington state and farming is to Iowa. The wild salmon industry is worth millions of dollars to Alaskans and it's one of the state's leading industries. There's a lot on the line even before considering the decades of commercial, sport and Native fishing culture and what that means to Alaskans.

Fishing is life in Alaska. It's what we do and what we subsist on. It's how to make a living and how we entertain our out-of-town guests. It's the naturalness of the Alaska wilderness that most guests and other outsiders expect and encourage the state to conserve. If they ever wanted to get on board with Alaskans to conserve the wilderness lifestyle, the battle against fish farming is what they're looking for.

It's not only the fishing industry that is affected. The tourism industry rapidly rising here largely attracts visitors interested in sport fishing or consuming the local wild catches. That industry would be negatively affected, too, if Alaska fish were compromised by disease.

Fish farming operations are formidable opponents, seeking to make a new living. But their opportunities shouldn't be allowed to kill another industry or, perhaps, industries. What farmed fish spread to wild salmon likely will affect the marine food chain. Before risking all of that, farmed fish effects need to be studied and restudied. The implications of anything less could be devastating to the state and the nation's seafood supply.

The Ketchikan Daily News - Sept. 12

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