(A response to Jennifer Castle, Ron Porter, and Ernie Koepf)
By Andy Rauwolf
February 24, 2011
As for “no scientific data to support them”, in June of 2010, an extensive two year study was concluded entitled Herring Synthesis: Documenting and Modeling Herring Spawning Areas Within Socio-ecological Systems Over Time in the Southeastern Gulf of Alaska. This first of a kind study was funded by The North Pacific Research Board, and was conducted primarily through Portland State University’s Department of Anthropology with the support of two other universities. The 600 page report contains over 2000 references from archaeological, ethnological, historical and biological records and conducted interviews. One of the main participants in this study was formerly the head herring biometrician for ADF&G for over 20 years.
The basic conclusion of the report is that many historic spawning areas in SE are greatly diminished or no longer exist, and that overall herring populations are well below historic levels. From 1900 to 1960, the herring reduction fishery averaged a harvest of about 50,000 tons annually and employed over 2000 workers year round. The fishery was closed due to increased scarcity of herring in the harvest areas and changing market conditions. The areas that had not been exploited were opened by the ADF&G in the early 1970s to unregulated bait fisheries. During this period both George Inlet, having an estimated 9,000 ton biomass, and Caroll Inlet with over 12,000 tons were depleted and have never recovered. Mr. Porter was a participant in this fishery, and claims that in Caroll Inlet the lights from the U.S. Coast Guard loran station frightened the herring away. Now that the station has been removed, I am hoping we see a rapid recovery of this stock any day now!
According to the study, when ADF& G concluded their stock assessment work in 1975 just prior to the sac roe fisheries, the results were labeled the “pristine biomass” but most stocks had already been depleted by the reduction and unregulated bait fisheries. Unfortunately they were not pristine, but are the low levels of abundance that F&G have tried to maintain ever since. The study concludes that ADF&G moved the bar lower to accommodate the sac roe fisheries.
I also take exception to Ms. Castle’s statement (taken from F&G) that all herring from Foggy Bay (now extinct) to Cleveland peninsula are the “Revilla stock”. Prior to 1960 each separate spawning area was mapped by NMFS and by 1976 had designated fishing boundaries established by ADF&G. These areas had historic significance and were well established in Indian legend and with the early settlers that followed. It was in response to a lawsuit against ADF&G for illegally moving the Kah Shakes/Foggy Bay fishery well outside the designated boundary in 1991 that the state sought and got permission from the Board of Fish in 1993 to classify all herring in the Ketchikan area as the “Revilla stock”. In other words, the new designation was based on clearing up a messy legal problem that the state had, not on any science. The downside was that it allowed F&G to combine smaller stocks to get a large enough amount to justify a fishery, and then to harvest most or all of the quota from just one area. Ultimately this led to over fishing and the collapse of the legendary Kah Shakes/Foggy Bay fishery followed by Cat Island, and is now occurring in Sitka Sound.
With the expansion of the Sitka fishery 50 miles north to include Salisbury Sound for the sake of bigger numbers, Salisbury is now part of the expanded biomass the quota is based on, but the harvest is only being taken around Sitka. Instead of backing down from this action after the collapse of Kah Shakes and Cat Island, ADF&G has now elaborated on it for the benefit of the lucrative sac roe industry. Does anyone in ADF&G see the danger in this? Apparently politics have superseded sound scientific management.
Castle also stated that the information we gave relating to the Prince William Sound herring stocks was misleading, and that “everyone knows” that the lack of recovery of herring there is due to the Exxon Valdez oil spill. No one disputes the damage caused by the oil spill, but what most people don’t know is that the state conducted a sac roe fishery there after the spill. According to scientists who worked for the Prince William Sound Research Center doing herring recovery work, the annual feeding activity of about 30 humpback whales has over time prevented the herring stocks from reaching a level known as “break out” where the biomass becomes large enough to support the predation and still increase. As Ron Porter points out, “the whale population in SE Alaska may be reaching a saturation point.”
Finally, I fail to understand why it is so important for a handful of fishermen to open herring fishing in West Behm Canal when on just one occasion in the last 35 years did it reach a big enough mass to be deemed fishable only to be depleted by natural predation! Most of these folks have never fished there and currently make the bulk of their livings fishing for the species of salmon that feed predominantly on zooplankton, namely sockeye, chums, and pink salmon. Keeping West Behm Canal closed is no financial loss to them. So Jennifer, Ron, Ernie, and whoever else wants to fish on this shaky stock of herring that can barely keep up with the exploding whale and sea lion populations, why not consider leaving these herring for the fish in West Behm and Clarence Straits that feed on them, and you just might be helping your neighbors who rely heavily on these struggling and stressed populations of halibut, Chinook, and Coho for their livings?
Received February 24, 2011 - Published February 24, 2011
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