The Mat-Su Basin Salmon Habitat Partnership held its 10th annual Salmon Science and Conservation Symposium this month in Palmer. Cook Inletkeeper’s Science Director had the honor of offering welcoming remarks to the crowd of salmon enthusiasts from local government, business, federally recognized tribes, scientists, nonprofits, subsistence fishery users, commercial fishing industry, sportfish groups and concerned individuals. Below is Sue’s take on the power of sharing stories and building trust:
“Welcome to the 10th annual MatSu Science and Conservation Symposium!
My name is Sue Mauger. I am on the Science and Data Committee for the Mat-Su Basin Salmon Habitat Partnership, and work for Cook Inletkeeper – a proud card-carrying partner organization of the partnership – and I sit on the Steering Committee for the Kenai Partnership Fish Habitat Partnership. But perhaps the most important thing to know about me is that I have been to all 10 symposiums! I was surprised when I realized this considering all of the end of the field season tasks to do, reports to write, travel to be done – that I had prioritized attending this symposium every year. As I thought about why, I realized that although I come because of its focus on salmon habitat, I come to the symposium for a vision of Alaskans living on a salmon landscape and that this partnership gives me hope that we are attempting do something different here in the Mat Su. As we strategize priorities, implement projects and share our successes, it is in a sincere effort to find a different outcome than most everywhere else where salmon have once thrived.
How do we achieve this different outcome?
Fix what’s degraded; protect what’s key, communicate our science to decision makers, educate the public about the importance of healthy habitat, and support policies and their enforcement to maintain what we do have.
But wait – are these really new ideas?
Perhaps what’s different is our timing. We are working on these issues while we still live on a thriving salmon landscape. And thru the partnership and this symposium we keep these actions – to fix, protect, communicate, educate and support – on the front burner. We are building a community of people with a decade of investment onto the shared vision of thriving fish, healthy habitat and vibrant communities in the Mat-Su Basin. By attending this symposium year after year, we build trust. And trust is the backbone of collaboration and it’s collaboration that produces engagement, accountability and innovation.
Also because of our timing – of doing this work in a new era of rapid climate change, this trust and collaboration are going to be exceedingly important in the next 10 years. We are going to be tested in the decade ahead as ecosystems shift, Mat-Su communities grow and policies change. Our trust in each other and our shared vision is perhaps our best strategy to achieve a different outcome.
I’d like to offer you a challenge. As you have seen on the agenda there will be a storytelling event tonight. Now not all of us have salmon stories worthy of a 7-minute performance, but we each have a salmon story worthy of telling. So your challenge over the next 2 days is to seek out someone you’ve never spoken with before and let our shared love of salmon be your entrée into making a new connection. Ask this person about the first time they saw a salmon. Or ask them how they cooked the last salmon they ate. What’s their favorite river to fish? Where do they dipnet? Have they ever commercially fished? Use one of these as a way to get to know someone here. Then share your story. Building community and trust will be the most important thing you do here at the symposium and will be one of the reasons you come back next year for the 11th annual symposium. And building community and trust may lead to collaborations that help us achieve a different outcome.
I’d like to close with a thank you to all those who have planned a symposium, presented at a symposium, attended a symposium – so that’s all of you – for helping to shape the formative years of the Mat-Su Basin Salmon Habitat Parternship. We have much to do in the decade ahead but we can take this moment to celebrate our salmon landscape, our Mat-Su communities and our Alaskan way of life. This partnership is both a reflection of these things as well as a catalyst to ensure they endure.”
You can learn more about the Mat-Su Partnership here.