Governor Sean Parnell visited Kenai Tuesday to meet with local officials, mingle with residents and make a $30 million announcement. That’s the amount the governor is proposing to spend on a five-year "Chinook Salmon Research Initiative."
A room filled mostly with fishermen was greeted with the news that $10 million will be marked in the budget for next year, to be devoted to king salmon research. Before making his announcement, Governor Parnell made it around the room to hear what was on people’s minds, and mostly it was fishing.
“We just want him to realize how important reds are to the community,” said Megan Smith, an east side set netter, after the Governor spoke with her and fellow setnetters Amber Every and Lisa Gabriel.
“Next summer, hopefully we can move forward and work for a solution to let everyone harvest and everyone have a piece of the pie, because there’s plenty for everyone,” Smith said.
“He does know the issues and I felt he was very receptive to us,” Gabriel said of her brief conversation with Parnell.
“We need to figure out what’s happening with these king salmon; is there a conservation concern, and if so how we’re going to deal with it,” Every said about the research initiative.
The governor clued the three in on his announcement just before he took to the podium to make it official.
The research plan is the product of a two-day salmon symposium held in Anchorage in October, when scientists, fisheries managers and fishermen from across the state pitched in ideas about the kinds of information they were interested in gathering and what a research plan would include.
The plan that came out of that meeting will include adult, juvenile and harvest assessments, plus genetics and biometrics all taken into account with what makes up the local knowledge base of these fisheries. The $10 million used to get the program started this year is in addition to the $14.6 million the Department of Fish and Game already spends annually on Chinook research and management.
The Governor offered his pledge that regardless of the causes for poor king salmon returns that forced both sport and commercial fisheries this summer, the fishermen affected by those closures aren’t alone.
“There’s nothing quite like being concerned about where you’re going to be, how you’re going to make it through the winter, how you’re going to pay next month’s bills,” Parnell said.
“There are no easy answers to the fish dilemmas that we have. Sometimes there are simplistic answers given but there are no simple answers. All I know is that we’re in it together. And I know that I will work with every one of you and every group imaginable to work together to solve these issues and make sure we have a sustainable fishery,” the Governor said.
The Chinook Salmon Research Initiative is included in the Governor’s budget for the 2014 fiscal year and will use information from 12 indicator river systems from all over the state to develop new strategies that will grow king salmon returns.