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ANCHORAGE (AP) — Alaska salmon stakeholders are split on a ballot initiative that aims to strengthen state law protecting salmon habitat.
Most of the 12 Alaska Native regional corporations are opposing the so-called Stand for Salmon initiative set to appear on November's general election ballot, but fishing industry groups appear divided on the matter, the Alaska Journal of Commerce reported Wednesday.
The initiative seeks to overhaul the state Department of Fish and Game's statutory directive on how development projects in salmon habitat are evaluated. It would create a two-tier permitting system that takes into account a project's impact on habitat.
The department could issue minor permits quickly and generally for projects determined to have an insignificant effect on salmon waters. Major permits would be required for larger projects such as mines and dams.
Under the initiative, this permitting process would also require a series of public notices and comment periods, which current state law does not require for these permits.
The initiative's sponsors claims it would set high and transparent permitting standards that are necessary to protect salmon resources. They say its intent is not to stop development projects and current regulations are too vague.
The group advocating against the initiative lists the Pacific Seafood Processors Association, which represents some of the largest fishing industry companies in Alaska, as an opponent. Association officials declined detail their position, but the group noted it has long opposed natural resource management through a voter initiative.
The trade organization United Fishermen of Alaska voted to remain neutral on the initiative. The complexity of the initiative led to the middle-ground decision, said Frances Leach, the organization's executive director.
"We would like to see natural resource groups work together to foster a collaborative approach to preserving our Alaska water resources and habitat," Leach said.