In December, U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan (both R-Alaska) introduced the Alaska Salmon Research Task Force Act, legislation that would create a panel stakeholders and research experts to study Pacific salmon trends and create a coordinated research strategy to support salmon management in Alaska.
The task force would be directed to conduct a comprehensive review of Pacific salmon science relevant to understanding and managing salmon returns in Alaska, and publish a report, within one year of convening, to provide recommendations identifying knowledge and research gaps and further research priorities for salmon in Alaska.
“It is difficult to overstate the importance of salmon to Alaska, our communities, our economy and our traditional way of life,” Sullivan said in a statement announcing the legislation. “Over the past several years, Alaskans in some parts of the state have witnessed strong, historic runs of salmon, while Alaskans in other regions have seen shocking and unprecedented declines.”
“Our existing management system, with the state’s authority to manage Alaska’s salmon harvest and the federal government managing federal fishery salmon harvest and much of the at-sea research, has created a clear gap in research and research prioritization that urgently needs to be addressed,” Sullivan continued.
“This crisis warrants the combined attention of our state and federal governments, and the expertise of our greatest scientific minds, as well as the indigenous communities that have harvested salmon for millennia,” he said. “With this legislation, we would establish a body to expand our understanding, identify knowledge gaps, and ultimately drive us toward concrete policies and management decisions that we hope will bring increased abundance and stability to our salmon stocks for the benefit of all Alaskans.”
“It has been said that the summer season doesn’t arrive in Alaskan coastal and in-river communities until the salmon do,” Murkowski added in a statement of her own. “In some regions we are seeing not just a decline in salmon runs, but a crash that is damaging to not only the local economies but to the culture and spirit of the people in the region. It is clear we must further our understanding of salmon and their ecosystems in these times of rapid change.”
“We seek to identify and bolster the necessary science to chart a path forward to ensure these critical species thrive,” Murkowski added. “I also continue to welcome feedback from affected community members and groups on how best to target research funding and craft policy to identify and mitigate the drivers of these declines and ensure the vitality of Alaska’s salmon fisheries for future generations.”
The Research Task Force, according to the senators, would be composed of between 13 and 19 members, with the secretary of commerce, Gina Raimondo, appointing a representative from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, and the U.S. section of the Pacific Salmon Commission.
Raimondo would also appoint between two and five representatives from Alaska covering the wide array of state fisheries stakeholders, including subsistence and commercial or recreational users. Additionally, she would appoint five academic experts in salmon biology, management, and ecology, or marine research.
The legislation would dictate that the governor of Alaska appoint one representative of the state.
The bill also directs the Research Task Force to establish a working group specifically focused on salmon returns in the AYK (Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim) region of Western and Interior Alaska, where salmon return failures have had devastating impacts.
The area encompasses the state’s coastal waters and includes the rivers and streams that drain into the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort Seas. It stretches from Cape Newenham with the Bristol Bay area to the border with Canada on the Arctic Ocean.