By Jennifer Castle
February 11, 2011
First of all there is no struggling herring population here in southeast Alaska. The fact is our herring stocks are at high levels, and in the case of Sitka, the highest in history. Other large biomasses are Hoonah Sound, Craig and Seymour Canal. Coincidently, commercial fishing has occurred most years in every one of those locations, for at least the past 20 years.
It is incorrect to look at the West Behm herring as a solitary population, like the Sitka herring stock, the Revilla stock is thought to “reside” in a wide area that spans as far south as Foggy Bay and as far North as West Behm and even around the tip of Cleveland Peninsula, and includes the Annette Island area. Within this described area the herring can spawn anywhere and spawn location varies over the years.
Prior to 1990 the spawning biomass in West Behm Canal was fairly small. Beginning in 1991 the biomass increased each year to a record level in 1998 and began to cycle up and down in a normal fashion after that. This normal population cycling is occurring outside of any commercial harvest, and mirrors the natural lifecycles of most species.
There is no scientific study that proves a conflict between commercial fishing, recreational fishing wildlife viewing AND sustainable stocks. In fact, in Sitka and Craig where all three exist, there are currently record levels of herring biomass.
In Alaska we have world-class fisheries management. The managers are conservative, while fulfilling a core tenant to allow for economic opportunity if there is deemed to be a surplus beyond threshold levels. Many of our fisheries are certified sustainable and are a model for other countries to follow.
ADF&G uses several tools in fishery management; defining specific fishing areas, determining the length of time fishing is allowed, and setting allowable harvest rates. For the West Behm Canal area-there are even more conservative plans in place. First, the fishery only opens if fish show up in the open area. Additionally, the open area is only ½ the area where the spawn has historically occurred. Part of the management plan is to fish only 12% of the forecasted returning biomass.
Suggesting that we are facing a crisis in our herring population similar to the struggles of Washington, Oregon, and California cannot be taken seriously. There is nothing similar about our land, our fisheries and our management. We have pristine watersheds in Alaska. We do not need to fight for salmon stream water rights with large agriculture corporations, hydroelectric power or any other industries. Alaska does not have the population stress that leads to toxic run-off. Nor do we have the same management practices. Comparison to Price William Sound is also misleading, as we are all familiar with the catastrophic events after the Exxon Valdez spill.
We are a natural resource based economy. Alaska’s fishery managers have proven that harvest and sustainability can go hand in hand. Please do not be swayed by inflammatory rhetoric, get the scientific facts and make your own decision.
Received February 10, 2011 - Published February 11, 2011
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