The Alaska Division of Elections on March 15 certified the “Yes for Salmon” initiative, clearing the way for voters to decide either in the primary or general election.
Meanwhile, the Alaska House Special Committee on Fisheries continued working on House Bill 199, which would establish general fish and wildlife permits and anadromous fish habitat permits for certain activities, to protect fish and game and their habitat. The likelihood of passage, which could replace the ballot initiative, appeared uncertain in this session as the big focus is on the state budget.
Supporters, including commercial fishing and conservation entities gathered nearly 42,000 signatures to put the “Yes for Salmon” initiative on the ballot. If approved, the initiative would update the 60-year-old state law to promote balanced, accountable management of development projects, with regulation limiting the amount of disturbance to fish habitat allowed for such projects. Current law sets no specific limits on disturbance of fish habitat for such projects, including the proposed Pebble mine site adjacent to the Bristol Bay watershed.
The effort to put the “Yes for Salmon” initiative on the ballot came from the Stand campaign, a diverse group of Alaska-based individuals, businesses and organizations.
“Salmon is our way of life, a cornerstone of our culture and economy,” said Stephanie Quinn-Davidson, a ballot sponsor and director of the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. “Promoting responsible development is something we can control and is the most important proactive step we can take to keep our runs strong. And now we officially have the chance to vote on this critical issue.”
Salmon is also critical to Alaska’s economy, providing nearly 30,000 jobs for Alaskans and generating $2 billion in economic activity. The fishing industry also pours millions of dollars in taxes and other revenues into fishing communities and the state economy as a whole.
The initiative has drawn criticism from some businesses and others who fear it would restrict development of nonrenewable resource extraction projects. Leading the opposition is a coalition of Alaska Native corporations, unions, and business and industry organizations. Stand for Alaska contends that the initiative would not negatively impact private projects, as well as public infrastructure projects and facilities.