By Rep. Louise Stutes (R-Kodiak)
I feel compelled to comment on a Feb. 4 Juneau Empire article that I was featured in titled “Local fishermen, mining companies divided over fish habitat.”
A few days prior to the article, I had the opportunity to meet with a group of the local fishermen in support of my fish habitat permitting legislation, House Bill 199. This bill was drafted in response to a request by the Board of Fisheries that the Legislature update fish habitat permitting laws that have remained unchanged since statehood. The board cited a lack of enforceable standards and public input as weaknesses in the current law.
I want to preface that I am always thrilled to meet with fishermen and hear their thoughts about the future of Alaska’s fisheries. As chair of the Special Committee on Fisheries and the state representative for Kodiak, Cordova, Yakutat and Seldovia, healthy fisheries are my primary focus. Nothing pleases me more than seeing fishermen engaged in the political process and I sincerely appreciate the support we have received.
However, given the tone of the article and the message it portrayed, it behooves me to offer a different perspective.
HB 199 is not an anti-mine bill. It is a pro-fisheries bill. Healthy fisheries and responsible mining are not mutually exclusive. My legislation is not intended to keep any industry, or any one project, from moving forward. We all live, work and play in Alaska and care about the future of this state. I believe we can work together to ensure the continuation of healthy fisheries through enforceable standards and more public input, while still encouraging responsible development. From the perspective of my bill, framing this issue as fishing versus mining is disingenuous and unhealthy to the discussion.
Secondly, HB 199 is not the Stand for Salmon Initiative, but there seems to be some confusion between the two. My legislation is a standalone bill that is evolving through a robust public process and that process will determine its shape. Since the introduction of the original draft last year, my office has engaged with industry leaders, the administration, and other interested stakeholders to find a balance between protecting a precious renewable resource and encouraging responsible development.
My office is continuing to meet with stakeholders daily to make improvements and I expect to have another draft version introduced in committee soon. The proof is in the pudding and I can confidently say that I will not let this bill out of my committee until it is a workable product for Alaska’s industries and a much-needed improvement for our fishermen.
• Louise Stutes is a District 32 Representative in the State House and Chair of the Special Committee on Fisheries.