Alaska’s salmon fishery sets the standard for long-term fisheries success
SEAFOODNEWS.COM By Peggy Parker – January 13, 2015
Year after year, Alaska’s salmon feeds millions of people around the world. 2015 will be another big year, forecasters say, the 28th consecutive year of a harvest larger than 100 million salmon.
Who are the people responsible for this consistent, remarkable return of a salmon fishery that stretches from Bristol Bay to Ketchikan?
The story of Alaska’s salmon management starts in the 19th century with a distant, disengaged federal agency aiming for maximum return year after year. In 1959, when Alaska was the penultimate state to join the union, salmon management took a radical turn by setting the standard for precautionary management in the states constitution. The last seismic shift in management was about 28 years ago, when three things happened almost at once, to set the stage for growing stocks beyond the halcyon days of the 1930s.
The Alaska salmon industry started in the late 1880s, decades before Alaska became a state. As a federally-managed territory, the prodigious runs of sockeye, pinks, chums, kings, and coho were managed with little local authority and few constraints.
In the 1930’s the territory produced 120 million salmon. By the early 1950’s President Eisenhower had declared the runs a disaster. Fish traps had been used, something Alaska residents knew should be banned, and harvests continued until the weather got bad or the run ended. Alaskan’s wanted local management and the less interference from the distant federal managers, the better.
Salmon became a rallying cry for statehood. Bill Eagan, Alaska’s first governor, invited Clarence “Andy” Anderson, the Territory’s Juneau-based salmon manager, to attend the Constitutional Convention in 1958. Eagan knew Anderson would protect the fisheries resources, but he did not know how profound Anderson’s contribution to the document would be.
It was Anderson who wrote the now-famous clause in the Alaska Constitution: “Fish, forests, wildlife, grasslands, and all other replenishable resources belonging to the State shall be utilized, developed, and maintained on the sustained yield principle, subject to preferences among beneficial uses.”
Anderson had six field biologists to cover the state in its first year of statehood. Before he sent them out he said, “Gentlemen, the governor has instructed me to return Alaska’s salmon runs to their former abundance regardless of the pain inflicted on the people. I’m charging each of you to make sure that every stream in his district has the maximum amount of spawners needed to build the run. Now, if you allow an over-escapement, thus depriving fishermen of their livelihoods, you can expect to be criticized. But on a more personal level, gentlemen, if you allow an under-escapement, you can expect to be fired.”
The next two decades were difficult for fleets and processors, who understood that closures and gear restrictions were part of the new management scheme aimed at protecting future returns of salmon. It almost immediately started to work. Harvests were smaller but becoming consistent.
In the early 1970’s after an influx of boats hit Southeast and southcentral Alaska, particularly Kodiak, Cordova, Homer, and Sitka, an unprecedented restriction on entering the salmon fishery was instituted under the Limited Entry law. In the late 1970’s Alaskans helped to pass the original Magnusen Act, which banned foreign fishing within Alaska’s 200 mile zone, eliminating the bycatch of adult and juvenile salmon in the open ocean.
The final major change in salmon management also happened in the 1970’s: fishermen and processors agreed to self-fund public, non-profit salmon hatcheries to provide consistent pink and chum runs. When production began to approach the goals set by fisheries managers at statehood, Alaskans saw the vision of Governor Eagan and Commissioner Anderson finally realized.
Today’s salmon fishery is managed by more than 700 professionals in the Division of Commercial Fisheries alone. There are four other divisions that include salmon experts in other fields, like sport, habitat, and recreational use, so a more likely number of the people who make Alaska’s salmon management sustainable would be closer to 1,000.
“One of the reasons we’ve been successful,” says Deputy Director of Commercial Fisheries Forrest Bowers, “is area management. The regional managers are vested with emergency order authority which is unique compared to the slow-moving decision making process of the federal government.”
Bowers says the local management teams who are “in the communities are able to build relationship with fishermen, helping the fleet to understand what’s behind their management decisions, building buy-in to the process.”
The state’s research work includes not only monitoring hundreds of streams throughout Alaska during the summer and fall return, and the spring outmigration, but genetics work that sheds light on migration. All five of the salmon species that spawn in Alaska’s fresh water rivers and creeks spend most of their lives in the deep ocean off the coast, some species migrating to near Russia and Japan before returning to their natal stream.
This work is most critical with Alaska chinook or king salmon. Declining returns were noted in 2007 but scientists now say the problem began with poor survivals of the offspring from 2001. Chinook salmon in Western Alaska were most critically hit, resulting in no commercial and partial ban for even subsistence harvests in recent years.
The Chinook Salmon Research Initiative was funded in 2013 to look at stock specific, life history-based data on 12 indicator stocks from across Alaska. The initiative’s five-year budget is $30 million through 2018.
The CSRI was funded by Governor Sean Parnell two years ago. Current Governor Walker has said at least a portion of that $30 million is on the state budget’s chopping block. With oil revenues forecasted at half to two-thirds what they were last year, and actual North Slope crude selling for $50 a barrel last week (less half the price one year ago), Walker’s first year will be overshadowed by a $3.5 – 3.8 billion shortfall in revenues.
Gov. Walker has asked each commissioner to provide budget cuts from 3-8% for consideration when the Legislature convenes January 20, 2015.
That’s when the real work to save the ADF&G budget, at $70 million currently, will begin.
King Cove vows to keep pushing for road to Cold Bay
Community says there have been 16 emergency medevacs, including six by the US Coast Guard, over the past year.
KDLG by Dave Bendinger – December 31, 2014
It has been a year since Interior Secretary Sally Jewell rejected a proposed land swap that would’ve allowed a road built from King Cove to Cold Bay.
Prince William Sound hatcheries look at straying
SEAFOODNEWS.COM by Peggy Parker – January 13, 2015
Alaska salmon was the first fishery in the nation to come under MSC’s sustainability certification. Today environmental non-governmental organizations (eNGOs) are all about Alaska salmon. They are analyzing the state biologists’ reports, assessing and categorizing degrees of sustainability, creating easy to use, color-coded lists of “good” and “bad” seafood to sell to seafood buyers as part of a “sustainability package”.
About the same time the Alaska Department of Fish and Game released their forecast for 2015 last month, the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP) released their report on salmon. “Pacific Seafood: SFP’s Sustainability Overview” gave a failure rating to Prince William Sound’s pink fisheries due to “hatchery issues.”
Their complaint referred to “straying” of the hatchery fish that may then interbreed with wild pink salmon. They recommended a ban on further increases to hatchery production until the effects on wild salmon can be seen and measured.
Even though they acknowledged that straying is not an issue for the Solomon Gulch hatchery (where the latest increase in production was approved last year), they stuck to singling Prince William Sound out as a problematic area without ever articulating the problem. The Solomon Gulch hatchery is located at the north end of Valdez Arm, a hundred miles from PWS’s other hatcheries. The pink salmon from Solomon Gulch return and are harvested a full month before wild salmon enter the Sound. There has been no documentation of Solomon Gulch pinks straying or interbreeding with wild stocks.
Additionally, as with all decisions to increase egg takes or change production levels, ADF&G conducts a full analysis of what impacts the change would bring, basically looking at whether the area could support it. In this case, the analysis included a finding that there would be no impact on wild stocks.
Here’s what ADF&G says about hatcheries on their website:
From the start of hatcheries in 1971, “protection of wild stocks has been foremost” when developing programs and creating policies.
Alaska continues to approach requests for increased hatchery production by asking if an increase can be managed with consideration of potential risks to wild stocks.
From the beginnings of Alaska’s salmon fishery enhancement program it was recognized that salmon stray and that hatchery stocks would stray; consequently, policies and regulations were adopted to mitigate concerns associated with straying.
For the protection of wild salmon stocks, hatcheries must use local stocks as the brood source and locate hatcheries away from important wild stocks. Requiring the use of only local salmon stocks means that straying hatchery fish are less likely to reduce fitness of local populations.”
The SFP report lauds the practice of marking of hatchery fish by snipping the adipose fin as a technique to better account for straying. Alaska’s salmon biologists pioneered the use of otolith (ear bone) thermal marks for mass-marking hatchery production. “Now, almost 100% of all hatchery salmon in most of the state are marked. Straying on a sub-regional level appears to be on the order of 5-10% for pink and chum salmon, and less for other species,” according to the department website.
As with all resource management, these observations raised other questions and a new hatchery research project was launched a year and a half ago to answer three questions:
Are hatchery-bred salmon interbreeding with wild salmon to the extent that fitness and productivity of these stocks are being diminished?
Is the annual assessment of wild stocks (which is, in large part, based on visual observation) so biased by the presence of hatchery salmon that excessive harvest of wild fish is being allowed or that escapement goals are difficult to set and difficult to assess?
Do density interactions diminish productivity of wild salmon?
The project is expected to complete in the winter of 2016, when they will have the data to make an informed decision about whether to halt production increases in Prince William Sound.
Adak Fish Plant Seeks Additional Operators
By Lauren Rosenthal – January 12, 2015
Adak’s processing plant opened in 1999 — two years after the Navy closed down operations on the island.
The community of Adak depends on its fish processing plant for jobs and tax revenue. But they’ve struggled to keep the lights on over the years.
Now, the plant’s latest operator is looking for new partners to help shoulder the financial burden. KUCB’s Lauren Rosenthal has more.
Second wave of fisheries disaster funds approved for Alaska
KTVA by Shannon Kemp – January 12, 2015
A second wave of fisheries disaster funds for Alaska has been approved by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Congress approved a total of $75 million in fisheries disasters funds for the nation in 2014, allocating $20.8 million for Alaska to assist those affected by a “fisheries failure” in 2012.
An initial grant of $7.8 million was divided between commercial fishermen in the Yukon-Kuskokwim and Cook Inlet regions, according to a NOAA statement. A second grant of $13 million, approved Monday, will be distributed between the recreation fishing sector, researchers and commercial fisheries. The funds are in response to a failure of the Yukon Chinook fishery, Kuskokwim Chinook fishery and the Cook Inlet salmon fishery after a reported three years of low return rates of Chinook salmon.
Commission selects Unsworth as new director of WDFW
Washington State and Wildlife – January 10, 2015
TUMWATER – Dr. Jim Unsworth (see photo), deputy director of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, was chosen today as the new head of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).
The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission voted to select Unsworth after interviewing eight candidates for the director’s position in December and narrowing the field to four finalists. The commission, a citizen panel appointed by the governor to set policy for WDFW, announced its decision at a public meeting Jan. 9-10 in Tumwater.
Habitat Director Out, As Walker Administration Shifts Approach To Permitting
APRN by Alexandra Gutierrez – January 12, 2015
When Gov. Bill Walker took office, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game was in the midst of overhauling its habitat policies. Management plans for 3 million acres of fish, bird, bear, and moose habitat were being rewritten in a way that could allow more development. The way Division Director Randy Bates described the approach in a 2013 interview with APRN was: “The idea is can we get to yes instead of can we justify no.”
Now, Bates has been removed from his position, and the new administration wants to reevaluate the state’s approach to land management. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.
Meetings will address proposed Arctic ringed seal protections in Bering, Chukchi, Beaufort Seas
SEAFOODNEWS.COM [SeafoodNews] Jauary 13, 2015
NMFS has planned five public hearings across Alaska to discuss a proposed rule that would establish a critical habitat for Arctic ringed seals in the northern Bering, Chuckchi and Beaufort seas.
According to NMFS the proposal would protect the seals under the Endangered Species Act. Sea ice conditions in the designated areas are essential for ringed seal pupping, nursing, basking and molting NMFS said. Primary prey species to support ringed seals also occur within the proposed critical habitat area.
The primary effect of critical habitat is that federal agencies are required to ensure that the actions they authorize, fund, or carry are not likely to destroy or adversely modify critical habitat. The proposed critical habitat designation would not include any regulatory restrictions on human activities. Designation of critical habitat would not affect subsistence harvest of ringed seals by Alaska Natives.
The meetings are scheduled between January 28 and February 26 and will be held in Nome, Anchorage, Kotzebue, Barrow and Bethel.
Public comments on the proposal are being accepted from now until March 9.
IN BRIEF – Harnessing solar power to keep fish cold while transporting
FIS – Tuesday, January 13, 2015
Kanyakumari — Moving away from the conventional way of transporting fish by preserving them in ice or refrigerated trucks, a solar-powered cold storage truck was launched in Colachel in Kanyakumari district on Monday. According to officials from National Fisheries Development Board (NFDB), it is the first-of-its-kind initiative in the country using solar power in refrigerating the fish.
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