Alaska/Pacific Coast

State review triggers talk of cutting back commercial fishing commission
Alaska Dispatch News by Zaz Hollander – February 16, 2015
WASILLA — A new state review suggests the three-member state commission overseeing some of Alaska’s most lucrative commercial fisheries is prone to inefficiency and ripe for overhaul, with a few employees who are paid but rarely show up at the office.
http://www.adn.com/article/20150216/state-review-triggers-talk-cutting-back-commercial-fishing-commission

Cook Inlet fisheries battles continue into confirmation hearing
Alaska Dispatch News by Pat Forgey -February 16, 2015
JUNEAU — Cook Inlet commercial fishermen would like so see one of their own on the Alaska Board of Fisheries, but sport fishermen and their legislative allies are skeptical.
https://www.adn.com/article/20150216/cook-inlet-fisheries-battles-continue-confirmation-hearing

In EPA’s expected ‘veto’ of Pebble Mine in Alaska, foes see a vein of overreach
The Washington Post by Joby Warrick – February 15, 2015
Just north of Iliamna Lake in southwestern Alaska is an empty expanse of marsh and shrub that conceals one of the world’s great buried fortunes: A mile-thick layer of virgin ore said to contain at least 6.7 million pounds — or $120 billion worth — of gold.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/internal-memos-spur-accusations-of-bias-as-epa-moves-to-block-gold-mine/2015/02/15/3ff101c0-b2ba-11e4-854b-a38d13486ba1_story.html

Court holds up Bristol Bay initiative
Bristol Bay Times by Carey Restino – February 13, 2015
An initiative passed by voters last fall directing any mining in the Bristol Bay Fisheries Reserve to require legislative approval was upheld in a decision last month by the Alaska Supreme Court.
http://www.thebristolbaytimes.com/article/1507court_holds_up_bristol_bay_initiative

UPDATED: Jury still out on Alaska salmon hatcheries, MSC keeps pressing issue
Undercurrent News by Jeanine Stewart – February 12, 2015, 5:40 pm
This article has been updated due to inaccuracies, now corrected*
Former Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) Americas director Kerry Coughlin once described hatcheries as the “golden goose” of the Alaska salmon fishery. Alaska state managers over the past four decades have cranked up production, enhancing the stream of supply for one of the state’s most prized natural resources.

Consumers likely don’t know about the man-made production behind the “wild Alaska salmon” brand, but does Alaska have anything to hide from a scientific perspective?

The jury is still out, *and the MSC’s new standard for sustainable, wild-caught salmon fisheries continues to ask this question.

*The MSC’s new performance indicator, released with the new salmon standard in October, requires enhancement outcomes to demonstrate that it is “highly likely that salmon enhancement activities do not have significant negative impacts on the adaptation, reproductive performance or productivity and diversity of wild stocks”, MSC fisheries assessment manager Megan Atcheson told conference-goers during the “How Wild is ‘Wild’?” panel discussion at SeaWeb Seafood Summit on Wednesday.

Each of these outcome requirements should be backed by information and management requirements also covered within the standard, according to the MSC.

Atcheson spearheaded the new standard, which was released in October and set for implementation starting in April.

The issue has undeniably high stakes. Each year, 5 billion fish in the wild come from hatcheries, making up — among other things — 50% of the Alaska chum fishery and the majority of Japan’s wild salmon fishery, Randy Ericksen, the fisheries science director of Ocean Outcomes and one of the panelists, said.

During the panel discussion, panelists presented studies showing both instances when hatchery fish had negative impacts on wild fish as well as those when hatchery fish had no impact on those in the wild.

In some cases, the hatchery fish complicate the lives of wild fish.

*”The evidence that we have — largely from studies that are targeting not just hatchery fish, but all salmon together — show that there is competition for food in the marine environment,” Greg Ruggerone, salmon scientist with Natural Resource Consultants, told Undercurrent.

Wild fish, as a result, grow more slowly, causing survival rates to decline.

Ruggerone said hatchery fish can also have a negative impact due to the increase of one particular species of salmon, which can hurt other salmon species.

At the conference, he presented data showing a strong correlation between the rise in abundance of pinks, with the increase in hatchery production, and the decline in abundance of wild Fraser River sockeye.

Yet other panelists presented studies showing no impacts from hatcheries on wild fish.

The risks hatcheries pose to wild stocks come with benefits, Stuart Ellis, panelist and fisheries scientist with the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC), told conference-goers. Adding to the rosier picture this statement paints, he said the negatives may be avoidable.

“We’ve got an abundance of scientific research saying the affects of hatchery fish are reversible,” he said.

The CRITFC can minimize risks to local habitats while providing benefits to wild fish populations, he said.

On the flip side of the coin, Ericksen flagged up the risks associated with hatchery fish.

“There have been numerous studies showing that hatchery steelhead, coho and Chinook have lower reproductive success than their wild counterparts,” he told Undercurrent, adding the warning, “There are very few studies to look at this for pink and chum salmon so we need to be careful about saying this follows for all salmon.”

There is a need for more monitoring and evaluation to get more data, Ellis told Undercurrent after the panel discussion. Ericksen agreed.

“In general I would say that quite a bit of study has gone on looking at this and I would say that there are studies showing that there is a lot of (negative) impact on wild stocks and there are others showing no impact on wild stocks,” he told Undercurrent.

Hatchery programs were once seen as a panacea to solve the problem of declining fish populations, he said.

“It wasn’t until 20 years ago that people really stared looking at it,” Ericksen said. Now scientists in multiple realms — from MSC assessors to those with the ADF&G — are looking very closely.

The ADF&G is in the midst of a study on hatchery fish impacts on wild fish, although efforts may become hung up with Alaska’s budget crisis, Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) commercial fisheries division director Jeff Regnart told conference-goers.

“Since oil dollars aren’t available like they used to be, we have to look elsewhere,” ADF&G director of commercial fisheries, Regnart, told Undercurrent.

The ADF&G has spent $7 million so far on its efforts to study the overall fitness of wild salmon to “determine if we need to do something different,” Regnart told conference-goers. He anticipates spending a total of $10m by the time the study is completed, which he anticipates will be in two years for pinks. Regnart anticipates looking to foundations for the remaining funding.

This follows extensive review of current best practices in science and management of enhancement activities by the MSC. The MSC’s updated standard requires enhancement activities not to have an adverse impact on water quality, nor to cause irreversible harm to “key elements”  underlying the ecosystem structure, Atcheson said during summary of what she described as a complex, 100 page document.
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*This article originally misquoted Greg Ruggerone stating that hatchery fish caused declines in the Alaska king salmon population. In actuality, his statements on the negative impact of hatcheries on wild populations pertained to competition for food with hatchery fish.

*The original story also incorrectly stated that the MSC says it is “highly unlikely” salmon enhancement activities impact wild salmon. In actuality, the MSC requires salmon fisheries in assessment to demonstrate that it is “highly unlikely” salmon enhancement activities impact wild salmon.
http://www.undercurrentnews.com/2015/02/12/jury-still-out-on-alaska-salmon-hatcheries-as-msc-continues-support/

Halibut Bycatch Allocations One of Hardest Fisheries Issues to Face Alaska in a Generation (video)
Seafood News –  February 13, 2015
The need to change halibut bycatch caps is one of the hardest fisheries issues to hit Alaska in a generation. The reason is that it requires cooperation between the Management Council and the IPHC– and the IPHC is not governed by US law. The gist of the problem is that regardless of the cause, the stock has fallen sharply, and no single sector or management group has the tools to make things whole again.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wIcni5tzq1A

Environment/Science

Hatchery crab
Biologists optimistic about future crab rehabilitation
Cordova Times Staff- February 16, 2015
Trident Basin near Kodiak is now home to red king crab reared at Seward’s Aluttiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery, who appear to have survived about as well as juvenile crab survive in the wild, research biologists said Feb. 10. Federal fisheries researchers released 11,250 crab into experimental plots in August 2014 and have tracked their survival and movement, according to the Alaska King Crab Research, Rehabilitation and Biology Program, which oversees the project. The released juveniles were from broodstock collected in Alitak Bay in fall of 2013.
http://www.thecordovatimes.com/article/1508hatchery-crab

Will a High Seas Fishing Ban Boost Global Catches?
The Fish Site – February 16, 2015
CANADA – New research from the University of British Columbia (UBC) suggests that closing the high seas to commercial fishing could be catch-neutral and distribute fisheries income more equitably among the world’s maritime nations.
http://www.thefishsite.com/fishnews/25116/will-a-high-seas-fishing-ban-boost-global-catches

Bids Requested for 2015 Halibut Stock Assessment
The Fish Site – February 16, 2015
US and CANADA – The International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) is seeking longline vessels to conduct survey fishing in 2015 to collect standardised data used for halibut stock assessment.
http://www.thefishsite.com/fishnews/25121/bids-requested-for-2015-halibut-stock-assessment

Opinion

Story off base in characterization of Alaska fisheries board appointee
Alaska Dispatch News by James Butler – February 15, 2015
I have concerns about the recent article of Feb. 4 in the Alaska Dispatch News, “Did Alaska Fish Board appointee really discover an endangered species?” I am Professor James Butler from the University of Alberta, and I was quoted in this article that is critical of the recent appointment by Gov. Bill Walker of Dr. Roland Maw to the state of Alaska Board of Fisheries.
http://www.adn.com/article/20150215/story-base-characterization-alaska-fisheries-board-appointee
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February 17, 2015