We should protect Alaska’s coastal fisheries, in honor of Don Young

By Melanie Brown

Update: 3 hours ago Published: 3 hours ago

As the salmon fishing season opens in May, many anglers like me honor the memory of our late Don Young. Congressman Young has always recognized the importance of salmon not only to coastal Alaskan communities, but also to communities upriver, having first settled in Interior Alaska. My own family has benefited greatly from the lands and waters Rep. Young has worked to protect, and this spring Bristol Bay will once again provide us with its all-wild salmon stocks.

Representative Young’s concern about the decline of salmon and the impact on traditional and customary participants in the Alaskan salmon fishery was evident; in a hearing just the day before he died, he made it pretty clear when he said, “We’re losing our salmon. We have a great race in Bristol Bay, but we’re losing chum salmon in the Yukon and in the Kuskokwim, we’ve lost our king salmon pretty much all over the state…I’m a little tired, Mr. Chairman, that everyone is pointing their fingers at each other. This does not solve the problem. We need to examine why this is happening and if we don’t we will have lost a great asset to the State of Alaska.

During my shipboard service with United Fishermen of Alaska, I got to experience first-hand the heart that Rep. Young had for people who make a living fishing in Alaskan waters. I learned of his contribution to co-drafting the Magnuson-Stevens Act and introducing the law from its humble beginnings on a napkin note during a conversation among legislators. The Act restored the health of Bristol Bay salmon runs after eliminating the interception of offshore fishing by foreign fleets. I have always been impressed with Rep. Young’s ability to communicate across party lines to update the law with key new provisions.

He also knew when to fight. When the AQUAA Act, introduced under the guise of reducing the U.S. seafood trade deficit, eliminated an exclusion section that prevented waters off the coast of Alaska from being identified for fish farms , Rep. Young came up with his own act. When the Keep Finfish Free Act was introduced, I had the privilege of speaking about its value to Alaskans in a congressional hearing. Don Young’s foresight in introducing this essential legislation will help ensure that Alaska’s coastal waters remain protected as a shared resource.

Young has long been recognized for his opposition to salmon farming in Alaskan waters and understood that offshore fish farms are sources of disease and pestilence that threaten to harm wild stocks near the pens. . He also understood how escaped farmed fish pose additional risk to wild stocks by increasing competitive stressors for food and introducing altered genetic combinations into wild stocks with unknown consequences. This became evident in 2017, when a salmon farming rupture caused a spill in Washington state waters from which wild fish populations are still recovering.

Until a successor is appointed to assume the longstanding responsibilities of our dear deceased representative, the fate of his good work and pending legislation remains uncertain. I hope that Don Young’s vital work to protect our seas will not be distributed among lawmakers who cannot understand the integral relationship that Alaskans have with the natural world and the wild salmon that feeds us in so many ways.

Melanie Brown was born into a multi-generational family of Bristol Bay salmon anglers and her children now fish with her at the site her great-grandfather established, representing the fifth generation of anglers in her family.

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