Calista Corporation’s Comments to Board of Fisheries

Calista Corporation is deeply concerned about our state and federal regulators allowing commercial fisheries to intercept too many salmon returning to our region’s rivers and wasting our most precious food as bycatch.

Until recently, salmon sustained the population of the Calista region year-round and it was common to see fish racks and smokehouses along the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers filled with salmon. Salmon runs were strong enough for our Shareholders to feed their families through the winter, mitigating the high cost of living in the region while providing a healthy food staple.

With the decline of salmon, our communities are forced to rely on other fish and game stocks as well as food donations.

Though there are numerous theories encompassing the collapse of the salmon stocks of the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers, there is one thing all experts agree on. The source of this collapse does not arise within the fresh waters of the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers. However, once the fish hit the oceans, they suffer from poor marine survival rates.

Last week, Calista joined other organizations from our region as well as the upper Yukon in testimony to the Alaska Board of Fisheries, demanding it to follow its constitutional mandate and prevent the total collapse of our region’s salmon stocks. Calista also donated airfare for seven Calista Region residents to attend and provide their own testimonies.

In our testimony, we noted that chum salmon crash didn’t solely arise from environmental stress in the ocean. Chronic mismanagement has left the fishery unable to endure environmental changes.

We spoke in support of common-sense proposals, including Proposal 140, to fairly allocate the salmon between the different user groups. We opposed the proposed increase in commercial harvest of these salmon.

While fisheries in the Yukon and Kuskokwim region have limped along or closed for decades, Area M Fisheries are having record catches. Adding to the harvest burden, Arctic Yukon Kuskokwim salmon (“AYK salmon”) are forced to compete with an ever-increasing stock of Asia originated hatchery salmon while they are in the North Pacific. As a result of this increased competition, chinook and chum salmon are suffering high mortality rates and returning earlier and smaller.

Section 17 of article VIII of Alaska’s Constitution provides: “Laws and regulations governing the use or disposal of natural resources shall apply equally to all persons similarly situated with reference to the subject matter and purpose to be served by the law or regulation.”

We can’t wait for additional studies before taking action. Calista intends to continue pressing decision makers from Alaska’s state capitol to Washington D.C. to follow their legal obligations, before the 2023 fishing season begins, to prevent the total collapse of the Arctic Yukon Kuskokwim salmon stocks.

Andrew Guy

President & Chief Executive Officer

Calista Corporation

At current levels of funding, our public schools are struggling

As newly elected legislators, we bring over 52 years of collective teaching experience to the political conversation about our public schools. We have each grappled with a system in decline from inside our classrooms, and individually decided it is a system worth fighting for. The voters from our districts have given us a seat at the table as the Legislature determines how to fund Alaska’s schools. We are grateful for the opportunity to use our experience to help shape the conversation.

An educated population is absolutely essential for Alaska’s success, and in recognition of this, our Constitution mandates that:

“The legislature shall by general law establish and maintain a system of public schools open to all students of the State.”

The Legislature provided additional policy guidance for schools:

“The purpose of education is to help ensure that all students can succeed in their education and work; shape worthwhile and satisfying lives for themselves; exemplify the best values of society; and be effective in improving the character and quality of the world around them.”

We think Alaskans can agree that it is important to ensure that all students can be successful in their education. Otherwise, we’re just going through the motions, warehousing children in classrooms without setting them up for life. But what do we need to achieve success in our public schools?

At the foundation, schools need qualified teachers to educate students on the basics, such as reading, writing, and arithmetic. In order to function, schools must also have nurses, counselors, librarians, bus drivers, nutrition professionals, and other support staff to ensure that students’ basic needs are met. Students’ success in education is improved when they have access to experiential learning through music, art, computer science, sports, drama and debate, world languages, outdoor ed, and career and technical education.

And public schools do welcome all students, including children who must overcome challenges to being successful in the classroom, such as those who are learning English, who require a 24/7 medical attendant, who are in foster care, children who are hungry and homeless, who are living with domestic violence, or worse experiencing abuse themselves.

The reality is that at current levels of funding, our public schools are struggling to fill teaching positions and buy the materials necessary to provide a foundational education to the students who come to school ready to learn, much less pay for support services, enriching classroom experiences, and extracurricular activities.

School funding in Alaska has stagnated for more than five years while costs have increased by 24 percent. Increasing costs for energy, maintenance and health care have taken money out of the classroom. Wages have fallen behind compensation in the Lower 48, and the lack of a competitive retirement system has caused dynamic, passionate, and experienced teachers to leave the profession and the state. At the start of the current school year, there were over 400 open teaching positions across the state. Alaska cannot provide an excellent education without the ability to hire and retain quality educators.

Public testimony to the Legislature on Education has been clear. Parents across the state have seen the devastation left by underfunding our schools and are concerned that Alaska is not providing the educational opportunities to our students that today’s adults had when they were growing up. Alaska’s kids deserve better. Alaska’s teachers want to assist families to provide their children with the skills they need to succeed. In order to do that, Alaskans must prioritize and fund high quality public education.

There are many ways the Legislature can help Alaska’s schools deliver on the promise of an excellent education for every student:

•Increase the BSA substantially and inflation-proof it.

•Provide a competitive hybrid retirement plan for educators.

•Provide transportation funding that keeps money in the classroom.

Creating a state budget is always a question of what people value. We can slow outmigration, attract new families and grow our state’s future skilled workforce and productive citizens by investing in our public schools. Alaska’s children are 20 percent of our population, but 100 percent of our future, and they deserve the best schools we can give them.

Senator Jesse Bjorkman, Representative Maxine Dibert, and Representative Rebecca Himschoot are public school teachers.

Senator Jesse Bjorkman, Rep. Maxine Dibert, Rep. Rebecca Himschoot

Juneau, AK

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