5 Questions for Jessica Speed

Jessica Speed of The Nature Conservancy works on salmon issues in a region where salmon is a way of life. She coordinates the Matanuska-Susitna Basin Salmon Habitat Partnership in Alaska and recently testified before the Alaska State Board of Fish on Mat-Su salmon issues.

Discover our work in the Matanuska-Susitna Basin.
"If you live in the Mat-Su, you’re somehow a salmon person."

- Jessica Speed

What do salmon mean to people in the Mat-Su?

Jessica Speed:

It somehow doesn’t matter who you are, or where you came from. If you live in the Mat-Su, you’re somehow a salmon person. It’s just a part of who you are. Salmon are a big part of the reason why people have come here, or as the case may be, why they stay. Although the Mat-Su is vast (the size of the state of West Virginia!), salmon are the place where everyone connects.

What is the partnership and who’s included?

Jessica Speed:

The Mat-Su Salmon Partnership is a coalition of more than 50 organizations and individual people who are working to keep wild abundant salmon in the Mat-Su in perpetuity. Our focus is on protecting and restoring the habitats that salmon need to thrive during the freshwater phases of their life cycle in the Mat-Su Basin. Members come from government, tribes, fishing and scientific communities – basically we welcome all partners who are interested in salmon. We’re growing – we recently gained five new members.

We’re a local group who has teamed up with a broader national effort called the National Fish Habitat Partnership. We seek solutions through collaboration and by consensus, and this, in fact, is included in our founding principles.

So you’re working with a diverse array of people who care deeply about the region’s salmon. How would you describe the partnership’s mission?

Jessica Speed:

I think the Partnership’s vision of “thriving fish, healthy habitats and vital communities in the Mat-Su” is a great one! It’s really saying that when you foster healthy salmon by taking care of their habitat, you’re fostering healthy human communities, too.

People and salmon share some similar basic needs, like need clean water. When the Partnership, for example, works to maintain wetlands because they serve as nurseries for salmon in their earliest stages of life, this helps us all in other ways, too. Wetlands filter our water and absorb floodwaters.

You recently testified before the Alaska Board of Fisheries on behalf of the Mat-Su Salmon Partnership. What did you tell them?

Jessica Speed:

I had two main points. The first was that the Mat-Su Salmon Partnership has been working strategically for almost 10 years on habitat issues in the Mat-Su. I shared some highlights of our accomplishments over the years, which include receiving more than $1.9 million for salmon habitat projects since 2006, and raising another $2.6 million in matching funding. Partners have also protected more than 7,000 acres of important salmon habitat and restored fish passage to more than 100 miles of streams. Lastly, our annual Salmon Science and Conservation Symposium draws more than 100 attendees each year. And I invited them to our seventh annual symposium in Palmer in November, 2014.

I also shared the partnership’s perspective on the overall status of salmon habitat in the Mat-Su. While some salmon runs are down in the Mat-Su, and some degraded habitat does exist, overall habitat is healthy.

In recent years, many have voiced grave concerns about declines in Chinook salmon runs in the Mat-Su. What’s the partnership’s take on the matter?

Jessica Speed:

Although it’s true that 7 of the 12 statewide salmon stocks of concern are Chinook in the Mat-Su, the decline of some Chinook salmon stocks is something we’re seeing across the state, and is not exclusive to the Mat-Su Basin. The other interesting piece of this for Mat-Su is that the Chinook stocks of concern are virtually all from remote areas where there is little to no habitat impact. Invasive northern pike have impacted some young Chinook in these areas, but with declines across the state, pike can only be part of the local situation. This leads us to think that the drivers of the problem are less likely to be stemming from issues in localized fresh water where salmon return to spawn, and young mature, but something bigger.

Having said this, the Partnership’s take is that scientists don’t yet know what the cause of the declines is. So while the debate about why Chinook runs are declining continues, we’ll continue to work hard ensuring that Mat-Su Salmon have healthy habitats in the Mat-Su and Upper Cook Inlet so that habitat loss doesn’t contribute to the other stresses salmon endure. In the Mat-Su basin, our top priority is to protect and maintain that habitat wherever possible.


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