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Fish, weather - staples of life on Alaska panhandle

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The days are growing longer here in southeast Alaska. The long winter, which brings rain, fog, snow, and little sunlight, has receded and blended into spring. The sun stays up until after 10 p.m.

Herring season came and went quickly this year, lasting only a few days. Halibut season approaches. King salmon fetch up to $3.50 a pound.

Life here revolves around fishing. Local fishermen are upset these days, saying the federal government overregulates their industry, and they've begun to lobby state legislators in Juneau. Across the jagged mountains, by bush plane, is a fish hatchery. The biologists there, quiet people who enjoy the solitude, are replenishing the salmon stocks in southeast Alaska.

Sitka's 8,500 residents nestle on an island in the southeastern portion of Alaska that juts down toward the lower 48 states. The region is called the panhandle, and consists mainly of a series of islands that roughly runs parallel to the western border of British Columbia.

Katlian Street, narrow and windy, lies at the heart of the fishing community here. Katlian Street's hub is the Pioneer Bar - a favorite stop lined with old pictures of Alaska fishing boats. It's the place to learn about fishing legends, some more truthful than others, and to find out where to get work in the fishing fleet.

Times are uncertain here. Oil revenues, which have made Alaska a billionaire several times over, are expected to decline by 1988, possibly sooner. Suddenly cuts, both in municipal government and the school district, are being discussed. Even the Alaska Permanent Fund, which sent a $1,000 check to every Alaskan last year, will trim its dividends this year.

Causing further worry is the possibility that one of the town's largest employers, the pulp mill, could close within a year. The elimination of 200 jobs would send shock waves through the local economy.


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