Federal Subsistence Fishery For Eulachon Closed in Federal Waters Within District 1
February 28, 2013
Few eulachon have returned to the Burroughs Bay area since 2003. Similar closures have been issued by the USDA Forest Service for eulachon within the Burroughs Bay area from 2006 through 2012. DeFreest stated, “Eulachon are an important subsistence fish for many residents of Southeast Alaska, so I’m acting to protect these stocks to rebuild fish populations for the future”.
The strength of eulachon returns is determined by monitoring the amount of harvest by fishermen and through observations made by Forest Service and ADF&G personnel. In 2004, only 1,500 pounds of eulachon were harvested and very low numbers of returning eulachon were observed. In 2005 through 2010, no fish were harvested and very few eulachon were seen in the area. In 2011 and 2012, returns of unknown size occurred in Burroughs Bay and Carroll Inlet.
Very little is known about the eulachon after they leave the river system for saltwater. Since the projected escapement of eulachon in District 1 for 2013 is unknown, but thought to be low based on previous adult returns, the eulachon fishery will be closed to all users to provide for spawning escapement needs.
The eulachon life cycle is typically a five year period. Based on the numbers observed for the last two years it is not likely a harvestable surplus will be present in 2013. It is anticipated that all eulachon returning to District 1 during 2013 will be needed for spawning escapement in hopes of rebuilding area eulachon populations. Because of this reason, combined with direction to manage for healthy stocks, Federal public waters draining into District 1 will be closed to the taking of eulachon by all users in 2013 to provide for conservation of eulachon.
Managers are starting to believe that stock recovery has started to occur since the initial closure in 2005. During 2011 and 2012, unknown sized returns of eulachon occurred in both Burroughs Bay and also in the Carroll Inlet area. Genetic analysis of Carroll Inlet fish showed these fish to be genetically similar to Unuk River eulachon.
Despite these returns, the stock size within District 1 remains below historic levels. With the stocks at these levels, there are few options available to managers for conservation other than continued closures. Federal managers are responsible for local management of subsistence fishing by qualified rural residents in Federal public waters. Management may include restricting all uses in Federal public waters if necessary to conserve healthy fish stocks.
The Federal Subsistence Board has delegated in-season management authority to DeFreest as District Ranger for the area. The Ketchikan-Misty Fiords Ranger District, in cooperation with ADF&G, will continue to monitor returns to the District 1 systems and will provide a further update in the event that a change in the situation occurs.
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