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An Urgent Letter to the Governor
by Andy Rauwolf and John Harrington


February 26, 2004

There is only one person who can stop the herring sac roe fishery just outside Clover Pass. He is the Governor. Please join us in petitioning the Governor to intervene and stop this herring fishery. The following is our letter to the Governor. You are all invited to use any of it to assist you in your letter.

Andy Rauwolf
John Harrington

Honorable Governor Frank Murkowski
Office of the Governor
P. O. Box 110001
Juneau, AK 99811-0001

Is it any wonder that herring are in ever declining numbers? (Southeast Alaska Trollers Association, 1970)

Dear Governor Murkowski

The above comment was written 34 years ago following over 70 years of herring reduction fishing and unregulated bait fishing in Southeast Alaska. Many locals were concerned about the large decline in herring stocks at that time.

In 1974, well after the collapse of the reduction fisheries, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game began taking surveys on the spawning grounds in preparation for the S. E. sac roe fishery. Although anecdotal evidence and harvest records suggested that the herring stocks were only a fraction of historic levels, the results of these surveys were labeled the pristine biomass by ADF&G and are the levels of abundance that the department has attempted, but failed to maintain since that time.

In 1976, the department opened the sac roe fishery in Southeast Alaska. After three more years of just bait fishing, the herring stocks in West Behm Canal were the first to collapse.

Following the 1981 opening of the fishery in Lynn Canal/Auke Bay, the department ordered a closure on the once huge, now depleted stocks of herring. In 1982, then Governor Sheffield was pressured by special interests to override ADF&G and ordered the fishery opened. There has been no significant spawning in Lynn Canal since.

In 1990, ADF&G closed the fishery at Kah Shakes when the herring levels were below the harvestable threshold set by the biologists. This once huge mass of herring that helped sustain the old Kah Shakes native village for as long as legends recalled, had been reduced to a small spawn in Foggy Bay. In 1992, ADF&G illegally moved the fishery 13 miles west to Cat Island when the herring again failed to materialize at Kah Shakes. This action, coupled with the department s unwillingness to address the public concerns that the Cat Island herring stock was a spillover from nearby Annette Island Reserve s native fisheries management boundaries and that both agencies were targeting the same stock of herring, led to a lawsuit in 1994. It came as no surprise that Cat Island collapsed by 1999. There has been no significant spawning activity at Kah Shakes or Cat Island for the last six years.

Herring abundance has declined significantly in most remaining regions of Southeast Alaska as well. Many old timers estimate that herring populations are at 2% or less of historic levels.

It has taken 25 years for West Behm Canal to recover to a semblance of pre-1976 levels. The herring still remain at a much smaller size than what was once jigged for bait under the docks at Clover Pass and Knudsen Cove, perhaps because of ADF&G s annual 100 ton gillnet test fishery which captures the large, more mature fish.

Despite appeals by hundreds of local residents, the Board of Fish saw fit in 2003 to once again schedule West Behm Canal for a sac roe fishery in early April, 2004. It is estimated that between $18 million to $22 million in revenue is generated locally, directly and indirectly, from sport and commercial fishing in West Behm Canal annually, and it is by far the most heavily utilized area in Southeast for sport, personal use, and subsistence fishing. At today s record low herring prices, it makes little sense to jeopardize these revenues. (Last year s statewide average price paid was only $216.00 per ton, 10% of the over $2,000.00 per ton paid when the fishery first began.) At less than 11 cents per pound for herring compared to last years price of $3.00 per pound for halibut, it s far more prudent to leave the herring in the water.

How much longer can the state continue to release millions of cows to graze in fields already plowed ? Biologists have privately stated that they are against this fishery. What is wrong with a Fisheries Board and the rules they operate under that ignores history, ignores facts, and ignores the will and well-being of the overwhelming majority of our citizens? What policy does ADF&G have for herring enhancement? What have they ever done to try to build the stocks back up to historic levels? They can juggle the numbers but can t hide the fact that we have gone from six major spawning biomasses in Southeast to just two, one of which is recovering after 25 years.

Governor, please overrule this nearsighted decision by the Board of Fish and make West Behm Canal off limits to commercial herring exploitation so that our grandchildren can enjoy the kind of fishing we took so much for granted when we were young.

Thank you,

Andy Rauwolf
John Harrington
Ketchikan, AK - USA



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