by Andy Rauwolf
March 14, 2004
Thank you for shedding so much light on the history of this fishery and the problems connected to it.
There is a huge vacuum when it comes to research and knowledge about these vital fish. ADF&G has been harvesting 100 tons per year from West Behm Canal in the name of research. However, most if not all of these fish are sold and the funds are used to defray the departments expenses incurred while conducting sac roe harvests the following season.
You mentioned the smaller and smaller sized herring that everyone has noticed in the last twenty or so years. It's interesting how this phenomenon corresponds with the sac roe gillnet fishery which harvests only the larger herring. Are they catching all the large herring, or are they genetically altering the stocks by leaving only the 'runts' behind?
And why is it that herring populations in the inside waters have never recovered from commercial harvests while the outside waters of Sitka Sound have managed to sustain themselves fairly well in spite of the commercial pressure? In Juneau, the Auke Bay and Lynn Canal sac roe fisheries collapsed in the 1980s when the herring went from 100 miles of spawn to nothing in twenty years and have never recovered. George and Carroll Inlets of Ketchikan and many similar areas also have never recovered from the unregulated bait fisheries of the '60s and '70s. Could it be that ocean currents don't reach these areas, allowing the herring larvae to drift in; or could it be that these herring are 'boxed in' and are easier prey for predators once their numbers are significantly reduced, starting a downward spiral from which they can't recover?
As to the answers to these important questions, the biologists of the ADF&G don't have a clue! Nor do they know how this will impact other species! (Bottom fish and halibut are almost nonexistent today in these inlets.) Their job is focused only on getting the maximum dollar return from this resource, hopefully without destroying it. This 'fly by the seat of your pants' approach has failed miserably as they have mismanaged our herring.
The bottom line is that there is little if any "science" involved, contrary to what the Board of Fish has conveyed to our governor. If the Forest Service is required to file an environmental impact statement prior to allowing timber harvests, why is it that the ADF&G is not under the same scrutiny? They have been given free reign over this resource for far too long.
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