Howard Delo

The 12th Annual Mat-Su Science & Conservation Symposium hosted by the Mat-Su Basin Salmon Habitat Partnership will be happening next week, Wednesday and Thursday, the 13th and 14th of November, at the Palmer Community Center (depot) in Palmer. The hours run from 9am until 4pm. Normal registration, which runs $25/day, includes lunch but has already closed. However, accommodations can be made for late registration and drop-ins.

The keynote address will be co-presented by Courtney Carothers, Ph.D., Professor of Fisheries in the College of Fisheries & Ocean Sciences at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and Jonathan Samuelson, Yupik and Athabascan with the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission and is titled: Indigenizing Salmon Science and Management.

This address discusses how the project is centered in indigenous cosmologies and methodologies to better understand the ways in which Alaska Native people steward salmon, the values connected to salmon stewardship, and ideas for improving current management practices and systems.

Alaska’s indigenous people have stewarded lands and waters for thousands of years yet have been largely excluded from science and management systems. The collaboratively developed objectives of this project explore indigenous values, knowledge, and governance of salmon in Alaska and the adaptation of these systems over time.

The symposium’s evening event on Wednesday involves a dinner of wild, local, and traditional foods being held at Turkey Red in Palmer. The cost is $20. This dinner celebrates the wild, local and traditional foods of the Mat-Su and acknowledges the First Peoples and first salmon stewards of this land. Following dinner, Angie Wade of Chickaloon Native Village will highlight several varied uses of salmon and engage participants in a short salmon skin craft for everyone to take home. The doors open at 5pm and dinner runs from 5:30 until 7:30.

The Mat-Su Salmon Partnership is a diverse group of over 60 members which represent businesses, governments, landowners, Native Alaskans, and the non-profit community. Since its inception, the Partnership has brought together government agencies including the US Fish and Wildlife Service, The US Forest Service, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, among others. HDR Alaska, Inc. and Fishtales River Guides are among the businesses included.

Quoting from the partnership website: “The Mat-Su is a special place where vibrant communities and resilient wild salmon are closely linked. While overall salmon numbers remain strong here (however, not all Mat-Su salmon populations fall into this general statement), increasing impacts from human use and development have caused localized declines in salmon numbers as well as habitat suitability, spurring the formation of the Mat-Su Basin Salmon Habitat Partnership in 2005….”

“Because wild salmon are central to ALL life in Alaska, the partnership works to ensure that quality salmon habitat is safeguarded and restored. This approach relies on collaboration and cooperation.”

The purpose of the symposium is to allow sharing of information between researchers and managers and to encourage networking between all the interested groups to foster a better climate to explore needed research and protection of salmon habitat in the Mat-Su area.

Our salmon habitat is in excellent condition generally. The biggest problem is lack of fish to fully utilize all the habitat available. The make-up of the partnership prohibits political lobbying for more fish, however, presenting science to underscore that need is appropriate.

I first attended the symposium back around 2008 when I was on the Board of Fisheries. I was blown away with all the research and studies happening in the Mat-Su by different groups working to learn about the quality of our salmon habitat and, where necessary, how to restore and reclaim it.

The biggest project the Partnership has undertaken is to replace road culverts in places where the culvert is impeding salmon passage into or out of spawning and rearing habitat. So far, the Partnership has invested over 10 million dollars in these culvert replacements and upgrades and the work continues.

At this year’s symposium, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Fish and Wildlife Commission is scheduled to make two presentations. The first is entitled: The Economics of Sport and Commercial Fishing in the Mat-Su. The second is: The Mat-Su Fish and Wildlife Commission: An Update.

Both of these presentations are scheduled to be made on Thursday, beginning around 9:30am. Andy Couch will be making the first presentation and I’ll be making the second. We were both originally scheduled to co-present with our chairman, Mike Wood; however, Mike received an invitation to journey to Antarctica for a month-long job and is leaving about the same time as the symposium.

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