The 2013 salmon fishing season in Alaska is still under way but already it’s a record year. As of late August, fishermen have sustainably harvested more than 254 million salmon in a tightly regulated commercial fishery. The last time the Alaska salmon harvest hit those levels was 2005, the previous record year when fishermen landed just under 222 million salmon.
Southeast Alaska – home to the Tongass National Forest – is a uniquely productive part of the state. Although it comprises a sliver of Alaska – about 5 percent of the land – Southeast Alaska produces nearly one third of the state’s overall salmon catch.
The Tongass is crisscrossed with more than 17,000 miles of salmon-filled rivers, streams and lakes. The place is literally a giant, forested salmon factory, where salmon fuel the local economy with an estimated $1 billion annual contribution. But the 17-million-acre Tongass needs smarter management from the Forest Service, the lead agency overseeing the country’s largest and wildest national forest.
In a column published today in the Juneau Empire, Trout Unlimited’s Heather Hardcastle, a commercial gillnetter, lays out why Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell should seize the opportunity to invest in Southeast Alaska’s blue chip industries – fishing and tourism – rather than continuing to focus on old-growth logging.