Last year, chinook salmon runs were so weak that the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers, along with Cook Inlet, were designated federal disaster zones. Now, a group of legislators from those regions want to create a permanent endowment that would fund research on the fish.
Rep. Bob Herron of Bethel is the lead sponsor of the endowment bill, and he introduced it before the House fisheries committee on Tuesday.
He says that long-term research of chinook is needed to better understand their decline — and the decline of other salmon stocks as well.
“The chinook salmon is a trend species. In other words, it’s the canary in the coal mine. If there’s things affecting chinook, usually it’s the species that tells us that there are issues within its life environment, and the other salmon species may follow unless we do something about it,” Herron says.
The endowment fund would be governed by six representatives from different regions of state, along with the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. That board would be responsible for awarding grants to organizations like non-profits and universities studying chinook salmon. The bill doesn’t mandate that any money be put into the endowment, with the idea that it could be funded down the road.
Herron sees the bill as being different from a research plan back by Gov. Sean Parnell. Parnell’s initiative would give Fish and Game a total of $30 million over the next five years to examine and monitor Alaska’s chinook stocks. Herron says he wants to see partnerships with outside organizations, and for the chinook decline to be studied for a longer amount of time than one salmon life cycle.
“That’s where the governor and I part ways, because I’m not so sure that we want to just dump $10 million over the next three years,” Herron says.
This isn’t the first time the legislature has considered creating a chinook research fund. Herron introduced a similar bill last year before the disaster, but it ultimately stalled.
According to state estimates, fishermen suffered over $10 million in damages as a result of the chinook disaster.