Opinions expressed in commentary on KCAW are those of the author, and are not necessarily shared by the station’s board, staff, or volunteers.

My name is Andrew Thoms. I am the director of the Sitka Conservation Society.

For more than decade, the community of Sitka has sent clear messages to our Congressional delegation that we are very concerned about the impacts of climate change on our community and our state. Specifically, we have outlined the concerns for our sport, commercial, and subsistence fisheries because of how ocean acidification and warming water temperatures will affect the ocean ecosystems. Over the 12 days in Sitka, the Alaska Board of Fish has had to squarely face what climate change impacts are having on our fisheries. Our Alaska Department of Fish and Game has repeatedly stated that the dire situation that we are seeing in king salmon returns is because of ocean productivity and ocean conditions.

Similarly, the steadily declining guideline harvest for sac-roe herring is cited as a result of low ocean productivity. The list of impacted species continues and includes commercial species like pollock and halibut, feed species like capelin and sand lance, and the indicator species of ocean health that prey on the same species as king salmon which are the common and thick-billed murres that breed on St. Lazaria Island in the Sitka Sound and whose population crashed beginning around the same time king salmon numbers went into steep decline.

Everyone who spends time on the ocean on the west coast was well aware of the warm water blob between 2014 and 2016. This week Alaska meteorologists conclusively determined it is was because of climate change. It is no longer a case of guessing what climate change impacts will be like or debating if it is really happening. This week the Board of Fish has to make very hard decisions that will affect our livelihoods and economy that are caused by climate change’s impact on our ocean. Fisheries policy and management is changing because of climate change.

In regard to the Alaska Congressional delegation: Although Alaskans and Alaska municipalities have raised the warning flags and asked for policy and action, our delegation has not responded in Washington with effective policy. Don Young famously told the Sitka Chamber of Commerce two years ago that climate change is a hoax. Senator Murkowski is chair of the Energy and Natural Resource Committee,which is one of the most powerful policy-making positions in Congress, and has not advanced any significant policy that would mitigate climate change or its impacts on our oceans in Alaska. Senator Sullivan serves on the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee and is bearing witness to the United States losing its place as a world leader in technology and innovation as other countries step into the void we leave in renewable energy technologies.

As a community, Sitka didn’t get help from Congress for our huge renewable energy investment in our hydroelectric project that we practically begged Congress for. Instead, our Congressional delegation is leading the state of Alaska further into a Dutch Disease situation where our state is entirely dependent on oil and fossil fuels; they celebrate opening up new drilling areas that will only further impact our ocean ecosystems and impact our fisheries and make our economy a unstable, one-legged stool beholden to oil corporations.

As Alaska’s Congressional delegation participates in and contributes-to the circus that is going on in Washington, DC, our local leaders in fisheries, gear groups, tribal entities, and our Alaska Board of Fish are doing the extremely hard work of trying to make policies for sustaining our fisheries in the face of changing climate and ocean conditions. It is well past time that our Congressional delegation listened to what Alaskans are saying and experiencing here on the front lines of Climate Change and adopt policies to deal with the human causes of climate change and our unhealthy dependence on fossil fuels.