An Urgent Letter to the Governor
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.
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
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
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
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.
Note: Comments published
on Viewpoints are the opinions of the writer
Ketchikan, AK - USA
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Sitnews.
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