By Joseph Robertia
The University of Alaska Fairbanks is soliciting public input from those who care about salmon and want to have a say in their future, as a UAF Center for Salmon and Society is perhaps being created to serve as a science-based effort to help create a more sustainable future for Alaska’s salmon.
On Thursday, a sparsely attended meeting at the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Building produced some positive input toward the center’s creation. But organizers are still hoping to give those interested a chance to offer suggestions, since all too often when a decision regarding salmon management is made, some people find themselves dissatisfied with the decision — either from not understanding the science behind it, not knowing which agency had the final say, or how they, the individual, could have contributed to produce a different outcome.
“My job is to seek feedback from a wide range of people, state agencies, nongovernmental organizations, businesses, Alaska Natives and anyone else who wishes to provide input within the Cook Inlet region (Kenai Peninsula, Anchorage, Mat-Su),” said Hannah Harrison, a private researcher contracted by UAF to conduct the public input process.
Harrison said that she has been conducting long-form interviews with individuals who are active in the fishing communities, as well as hosting public meetings to give anyone interested a chance to give input.
The inception of the idea for a center, which would be housed at the university, is the result of a preliminary proposal put together by a team of scientists working with the UAF School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences and the Nature Conservancy. One of the primary goals would be to engage people from many walks of life throughout and beyond Alaska about salmon-related issues.
Harrison said that input from Thursday’s meeting, as well as previous one-on-one meetings with locals, has produced good feedback so far.
Some of the themes to come up so far regard the idea that collaboration and partnerships with scientists, managers, fishing and related organizations and key government entities (state, federal, tribal, municipal) is important, she said. And many people have emphasized the importance of the proposed center being independent of interest groups, both in its funding structure and research emphasis.
Harrison that said she has also heard a need for everyone to get the same information regarding salmon, their study and management.
“There is a lot of great information available already, and it would be nice to have a central location to access a variety of science and information. It’s also important for such a center to have a mandate for education of the public about their work, and a means by which to share objective information,” she said.
The center could be useful in identifying knowledge gaps in the current scientific literature about North Pacific salmon, Harrison added.
“This center could also potentially act as a collaboration center for many different agencies and groups that work with salmon, or perhaps a facilitator for dialogue between user groups,” she said.
Harrison said that this and other information gathered from members of the fishing and Cook Inlet communities is essential because UAF and the organizers of this project believe that the center will be more successful, efficient and effective in its work if its has support from those who work in the fishery day to day.
“Essentially, cooperation and collaboration with all interests will create a more sustainable future for salmon in Alaska,” she said.
Cook Inletkeeper is one of the organizations that gave input on the center. Bob Shavelson, with Inletkeeper, said he’s looking forward to see the idea progress with input.
“There is still time to define what it is, but conceptually I think it’s a great idea,” he said.
Shavelson said that he that he did think more consideration needed to go into where the center would eventually be located.
“There are a lot of politics that could keep it in Fairbanks, but it makes more sense to have it where the fisheries occur, a place like Cook Inlet where you have commercial, sport and subsistence fishermen, the processors, all of it,” he said. “It doesn’t behoove anybody to have one more ivory tower for scientists to talk about the issue they’ll study. It needs to be in a place where the academics can meet the hands on.”
Harrison will continue accepting input up through Oct. 15. People can email her with their comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I’m looking to hear more about what people would like to see, what functions such a proposed center would serve in making Alaska’s and the North Pacific’s salmon systems more sustainable in the future. I would also like to know how people would like to see this proposed center interact with stakeholders and interests as they move forward in this feasibility study,” she said.
Harrison will submit her report to the UAF/Nature Conservancy group Oct. 18. That input will be used to help develop a final proposal for the center, she said.
“They will use these comments to help guide the final mission of the center — or equivalent venture, if some other research vehicle seems more appropriate — and direct how they go about contributing toward long-term sustainability,” she said.
A final proposal is expected to be available in the spring, she said. For more information, visit https://web.sfos.uaf.edu/wordpress/cfsas/?p=4.