Balancing our industry and our animals

These days mankind seems to lose sight of the future and only think of ways to make a quick buck. Instead of that limited approach, we should be focusing on the longevity of our planet and how we’re going to keep our grandchildren fed. Things such as fishing and mining affect every part of life, whether it’s for humans or for animals.

Fishing in Alaska is one of our most profitable resources. It is also the downfall of our marine ecosystem. According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game the seafood industry contributes $5.8 billion and 78,500 jobs to the Alaskan economy. With such an abundant resource, there should be enough fish for everybody, including animals. That doesn’t seem to be the case.

Steller sea lions, like those in the Aleutian Islands in western Alaska, have had a population drop of almost 90 percent since the 1970s according to the Humane Society. In 1997, the population was so low that they became listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Not coincidentally, the amount of trawling for ground fish, such as cod, has increased in and around the natural habitat of the sea lions. In turn, many believe that this is causing the Steller sea lions to starve to death. Federal Authorities have a solution, a proposal to shut down fishing for cod and mackerel on 131,00 square miles along the Aleutian chain. That will take some jobs away, but not all. It will allow for the sea lions to get their fill, but not stop crab fisherman from doing their job.

Another sea related issue is oil spills. Not only is the burning of fossil fuels melting holes in our atmosphere, it also puts our immediate sealife in danger.  On Oct. 5, on a stormy New Zealand night, the cargo ship Rena ran into a coral reef that is the home of thousands of sea creatures from plankton to whales.  Rena contained 1,700 tons of oil and 200 tons of diesel fuel, which now is spilling over the Bay of Plenty. New Zealand is the sea bird capitol of the world and with an oil spill polluting the waters there, there is little to no chance for the birds to all make it through.

When oil seeps into feathers and birds preen and ingest the toxic chemicals causing suffering. Along with the oil the Rena is also carrying 1300 containers of ferro-silicon, a hazardous substance that is flammable if it makes contact with water.  Now hazardous chemicals floating in the water are dangerous for not just animals but humans as well.  If the tanker were to split open the damage could be catastrophic.

These two recent events show that we need to find a way to allow animals and industry to coexist. In Alaska, we seem to have found a short-term solution for the sea lions. And although the U.S. has some of the strictest drilling regulations in the world, we are obviously not immune to oil spills. Even with our relatively strict state regulations on drilling and pollution, we must act cautiously.

We need  to have a dialogue about our long term goals as a state. So many current projects hold both our animals and our industries in the balance.