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History's Viewpoint

An expose on the history of the Kah Shakes
and West Behm Canal herring fisheries:
The untold story of the crash of the stocks and cover-up orchestrated by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game
by Andy Rauwolf, John Harrington, and Lawrence "Snapper" Carson


April 1, 2004

It can easily be argued that herring are one of the most important resources in the world's oceans as a main source of food, near the bottom of the vertebrae food chain. They are also highly sought after by man.

In southeast Alaska, from the turn of the twentieth century until the early 1960s, hundreds of millions of pounds of herring were caught in the reduction fishery. At one time, 68 plants in Southeast supported over 2,000 workers year 'round. Try that for one week today! Although herring were never fished while spawning, it didn't prevent them from being severely depleted.

1991 Kah Shakes fishery...
photo courtesy Steve Shrum

Following statehood, one of the first laws passed by the first legislature made it illegal to fish herring for their sac roe during the spring cycle. However, unregulated bait fisheries further depleted the herring in the 60s and early 70s, wiping out several discrete stocks such as those of George and Carroll Inlets near Ketchikan. This took place under the watchful eye of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

By this time, a tantalizing new market was in the making for what was left of Alaska's herring. The Japanese had an insatiable appetite for herring roe, and after wiping out their own stocks, as well as the other huge stocks in the world such as those of Norway and the Grande Banks of Nova Scotia, they turned their eyes toward the west coast of North America. Sac roe fisheries soon sprang up in British Columbia, California, Oregon and Washington. Industry began pressuring the Alaska legislature and in 1972, the law prohibiting sac roe fishing was quietly repealed without any public notice.

ADF&G began hastily surveying what was left of the spawning stocks, and in 1975 the results were labeled the "pristine biomass", and are the low levels the ADF&G has attempted, but failed to maintain to this day.

In 1976, the sac roe fishery began, patterned after the Canadian management plan. By 1980, West Behm Canal collapsed followed by Auke Bay, Lynn Canal, Kasaan Bay, Zimonia Straits, Duncan Canal, Hydaburg, Tokeen, Keku Strait, Farragut Bay, Port Houghton, Stephens Passage, Port Pybus and Gambier Inlet, Seymour Canal, Angoon, Hoonah, Idaho Inlet, Tenakee and several others.

The inside waters of Kah Shakes were historically thought to be the largest stock left with the exception of Sitka Sound, an "outer-coastal fishery known to be more productive than stocks that spawn in inside waters."1 Even so, the harvest levels were set up on the same scale as those used in the Sitka fishery. The only difference being that a smaller number of fish (a 5,000 ton threshold) was required to justify a fishery.

In the early years of Kah Shakes, there would be solid spawn from Foggy Bay to Slate Island. For the first fifteen years of the fishery, it was managed as a discrete stock from greater Dixon Entrance. In fact, "over the years, several tagged herring have been recovered at Kah Shakes which were tagged in Canadian waters."2 From 1976 through 1979, the harvest was comparatively small, averaging 485 tons. The price (for 10% roe content) averaged $540.00 per ton. However, by the end of the 1979 season, the price jumped to $2,060.00 per ton. The following year, the harvest had more than doubled to 1,140 tons, and continued to accelerate until it peaked out in 1983 with a harvest of 3,239 tons, 30% above the ADF&G's quota of 2,500 tons. Meanwhile, the total number of boats fishing for the Kah Shakes herring increased from 42 to 131 vessels. As the pressure on the fishery accelerated, witnesses attested that "it (is) very plain that the herring spawn went steadily down".3 Harvest levels decreased over the next five years until 1989 when the reduced quota of 647 tons was not met but what was caught fetched $1,300.00 per ton.4

1991 Kah Shakes' Whales
When the Kah Shakes herring were wiped out, the wales moved to West Behm...
photo courtesy Steve Shrum

In ten of the first fourteen years of the Kah Shakes fishery, the actual harvest exceeded the quota set by ADF&G. In 1989, ADF&G allowed a fishery to proceed on a spawning biomass of herring that was 1,212 tons below the minimum threshold level of 5,000 tons, below which no fishery is supposed to occur.5 A department draft sent to Snapper Carson through Governor Murkowski's office dated June 10, 2003 refutes this data, stating "The Kah Shakes fishery was conservatively managed and the stock was stable for many years."6

In 1990, ADF&G closed the Kah Shakes fishery due to the low projected threshold as determined by their 1989 spawn deposition surveys. However, the biomass of herring that ADF&G recorded after the 1990 season was much greater than their forecasted biomass which angered the fishermen who were not allowed to fish.

Approximately 15 miles west of Kah Shakes is the Annette Island Reservation. The Annette Natural Resource Center has been managing a herring fishery within its boundaries since 1972. These herring traditionally winter in Annette Bay on the northeast end of the island. About the second week of March, these fish begin migrating down the east side of Annette Island, eventually congregating in Cascade Inlet. They are closely monitored during this entire time.7 Because of this, it is safe to conclude that these herring are a separate discrete stock migrating from north to south, while the Kah Shakes herring migrated from south to north out of Dixon Entrance.

Cascade Inlet is on the southeast end of Annette Island adjacent to the traditional spawning grounds of the Crab Bay flats, and two miles north of Cat Island. In 1990, strong winds buffeted the Crab Bay flats. The Annette biologists had surveyed approximately 4,000 tons of herring, but they gradually disappeared. At the same time, spawn began to increase on Cat Island. No spawn occurred on Annette in 1990 and the fishery closed.8 In 1991, the story repeated itself. A 6,000 ton biomass of herring in Cascade Inlet gradually disappeared during another storm as spawn began to build on nearby Cat Island. This time, a large school of herring was spotted about one third of the way across.9 Again, no fishery took place on Annette Island.

In 1990, ADF&G noticed three and a half miles of spawn on Cat Island during the time that both fisheries were closed.10 Although ADF&G later made the case that Kah Shakes herring moved to Cat Island, how do they explain their recorded estimates on paper that "the herring stocks at Kah Shakes tripled in 1990 from the previous year." Where did all the fish on Cat Island come from in 1990 if not from Annette Island?

1991 Kah Shakes' Whale
When the Kah Shakes herring were wiped out, the wales moved to West Behm...
photo courtesy Steve Shrum

During the last half of March, 1991, ADF&G saw what they said were "large schools of herring" in deep water off Kah Shakes. On March 28th, Kah Shakes was placed on a 12 hour notice. On April 4th, three miles of spawn were observed thirteen miles west on Cat Island. On April 5th and 6th, the department monitored more spawn at Cat Island but couldn't find as many schools of herring as they thought they had seen on their depth finders earlier at Kah Shakes.12 The department kept the gillnet fleet appraised of the spawning on Cat Island. "There were many opinions expressed that the area should be opened for them."13

On April 7th, under pressure from the fleet, an ADF&G field biologist was heard to say on the radio, "Hold on, we'll get you guys some fish."14 They then conducted a skiff survey at Cat Island and concluded that these were Kah Shakes herring.15 Although no scientific evidence supported this conclusion, it was based solely on weather conditions, lack of big schools on their depth finders at Kah Shakes, and fear that the fishery would be lost for the year.16 (In a letter dated February 24, 1993, ADF&G Deputy Commissioner Charles Meacham stated, "In the past, abundance was determined with hydroacoustics, which were very difficult to quantify and often unreliable.")17

ADF&G scheduled this fishery for 10:45 AM on April 8th at Cat Island. Prior to the start of the fishery, Annette Island biologists came on board ADF&G's vessel to protest the fishery and explain that they had tracked these herring from Annette Island. ADF&G ignored this protest and opened the fishery.18 At that moment, ADF&G violated three of its own rules. They conducted a sac roe fishery outside of the designated legal boundary with no data or history of the area, they opened a fishery in which two separate agencies could be targeting the same stock of herring and they allowed a fishery on a mixed-stock which is a spawning biomass originating from more than one discrete stock. Conservative management was tossed out the window. No sooner had they started fishing at Cat Island than they were informed of herring spawning at Kah Shakes thirteen miles to the east. Only 280 tons were harvested by 6:30 PM at Cat Island. With spawning decreasing at Cat Island and increasing at Kah Shakes, the decision was made to move the fleet back across to Kah Shakes. It took three days, April 9th, 10th, and 11th for 86 boats to catch another 380 tons for a total of 660 tons between Cat Island and Kah Shakes which was still 20 tons short of the 680 ton quota that ADF&G had set for Kah Shakes alone and a whopping 33% of the spawning biomass!19

1991 - Cat Island when fishery first moved to Cat Island...
photo courtesy Steve Shrum

Did the herring move, or did Kah Shakes finally collapse under intense pressure? ADF&G was faced with two options. They could admit that they presided over the destruction of one of southeast Alaska's greatest and most historic herring spawns. Or they could continue to pursue the story that Kah Shakes herring had moved to Cat Island, knowing full well after being briefed by Annette's biologists that they could probably expect there to be herring spawning in that region in the foreseeable future from the Annette stocks. Later that year, ADF&G submitted a proposal to the Board of Fish to extend the Kah Shakes boundary to include Cat Island, along with a thirty-one page briefing document20 filled with data that the average board member would have difficulty understanding, in order to justify their actions. The request was granted. By now, it was apparent to many that ADF&G was more concerned about their jobs than they were the conservation of the resource.

Following a fishery at Cat Island in 1992, ADF&G's local management staff published a new report21 stating as a fact that the Kah Shakes herring population shifted from its traditional spawning grounds to the Cat Island area. Never mind that they had steadily diminished in the years prior to the move with the exception of questionable data showing a 300% increase in the stocks at Kah Shakes during the 1990 closure, when no witnesses were around to say otherwise!

Out of concern for the resource, local citizens formed "The Herring Coalition" to protest this action. By 1992, there were only four state managed herring fisheries left in southeast Alaska. These were Cat Island gillnet, Sitka seine, the Craig pound fishery, and the Hoonah Sound spawn on kelp fishery. This was a far cry from the sixty-plus reduction plants that once thrived year 'round in the bays and inlets of southeast.22 After failing to convince the Board of Fish and after meeting with Commissioner Carl Rosier, the Herring Coalition filed a lawsuit in1993 to stop the sac roe fisheries out of concern for the depleted resources. Due to lack of 'scientific proof' and only anecdotal evidence, the lawsuit was dismissed. That same year, ADF&G's biologist Phil Doherty admitted that "Herring from both Kah Shakes and probably Annette Island were spawning at Cat Island."23

In 1994, the Herring Coalition filed several proposals based on conservative management of the herring stocks with the Board of Fish.24 The Annette Island Reserve sent biologists to present their data and express their concerns over the "mixed-stock fishery." The Herring Coalitions' proposals were unilaterally lumped together and eliminated without any discussion. This was after an ADF&G spokesman explained to the Board of Fish that there were just as many herring in southeast, Alaska today that there were during the days of the reduction fisheries due to the department's conservative management.25 No testimony from the Herring Coalition was allowed. After a detailed scientific presentation by the Annette biologist, the only question from a board member, a gillnetter by profession, was "How many boats from Annette Island hold Kah Shakes permits?" A proposal by ADF&G to eliminate discrete stock status and lump all herring stocks together into the "Revilla Channel" stock was passed unanimously.

ADF&G's refusal to recognize historical studies on stock discreteness led the Herring Coalition to enjoin with the Annette Island Reserve in another lawsuit to overturn the Board's decision. Based on the amount of evidence, the judge in the case refused to grant the state's motion for dismissal. However, Annette Island Reserve dropped the lawsuit after the state offered to relinquish a disputed island and the Herring Coalition had no funds to continue the lawsuit.

1991 fishery
photo courtesy Steve Shrum

The ramifications of ADF&G's "one-stock" policy allow the department to add the total spawning biomasses of herring in all areas of a region together in order to get a "harvestable threshold". If stock levels are low, or whenever the department chooses, they can open fisheries on small areas of spawn with no regard to previous thresholds set for a particular area. This is exactly what happened in 1996 when there was not enough herring at Cat Island to meet a threshold and justify a fishery. With a small biomass of herring trying to make a come-back at Kah Shakes, they once more opened the fishery. They harvested 257 tons from Kah Shakes and 348 tons from Cat Island. Even after combining both stocks, they were still 28% below the legal threshold but they fished anyway, harvesting a large percentage of the spawning biomass.26 There has not been a significant spawn at Kah Shakes since. In 1997, ADF&G opened the fishery at Cat Island and harvested 1,137 tons, and although they just barely met threshold that year (combining both a small spawn at Kah Shakes and Cat Island), they harvested 20% of the spawning biomass at Cat Island. Allowing a 20% harvest was also against ADF&G's management criteria of harvesting only 10% of the threshold when surveys indicate a minimum, low threshold. After 1998, the fishery closed, not to anyone's surprise since the stocks were being double-dipped and over-harvested. The state has not conducted a fishery in Revilla Channel since, due to the collapse of the stocks. Now ADF&G is claiming that both the Kah Shake and Cat Island herring stocks have "moved to Annette Island."

There are huge discrepancies in ADF&G's own data, discrepancies which clearly change the picture of what happened at Kah Shakes. In the 1991 Board of Fisheries briefing document, ADF&G biologists stated that the spawn at Kah Shakes covered 3.7 linear miles with an estimated escapement (biomass) of 2,300,000 lbs. (1,150 tons).27 In the year 2000 Board of Fisheries briefing document, these same biologists presented conflicting data that reflected a biomass of 3,185 tons covering 3.7 linear miles.28 The harvest in the area was recorded at 380 tons. The significance is as follows: A harvest ratio of 11.9% of stock is reflected in the more recent data while a harvest ratio of 33% of the stock is reflected in the original document. The numbers from the first briefing document in 1991 reflect sloppy management and are not sustainable in a fishery. The recent document reflects more conservative management.

A discrepancy of even greater significance can be found between data prepared after the 1993 fisheries by ADF&G's southeast herring biometrician Dave Carlile,29 and the data prepared by area biologists for the year 2000 Board of Fish meeting.30 Carlile's graph in his report shows a nearly steady decline in the Kah Shakes stock until it bottomed out in 1990, the year it closed, with a remaining biomass of approximately 5,500 tons. This also corresponds with reports from pilots flying for ADF&G and other witnesses. The data later presented to the Board by area managers contradicts Carlile's report and shows that Kah Shakes had a spawning biomass of 10,206 tons, nearly double the amount previously reported. Carliles' 1990 numbers do not show that there were enough herring left at Kah Shakes to account for all the fish that local managers claim to have moved to Cat Island in 1991, while still having a harvest at Kah Shakes as well.

This evidence supports the conclusion that the ADF&G manipulated the data to hide the fact that they had over-harvested and depleted the stocks at Kah Shakes, and to justify moving the fishery to Cat Island and harvesting a herring stock that they knew in advance was at the very least partially composed of Annette Island's herring.

1991 fishery
photo courtesy Steve Shrum


At a meeting held in Ketchikan on March 18, 2004, ADF&G sent deputy commissioner David Bedford to address the public concerns over the recent decision to reopen West Behm Canal to a commercial sac roe fishery. Phil Doherty of ADF&G presented a slide show which contained selective data and photos designed to justify Kah Shakes's and Cat Island's management and the reopening of West Behm Canal. He illustrated that Annette Island had no herring in 1990 and 1991, and had very little until the fish "moved there from Kah Shakes and Cat Island." He knew from Annette's biologists on the fishing grounds why they had no herring at that time! Due to the controversy, the slide show lasted three and a half hours.

Phil Doherty had previously presented similar testimony at the Board of Fish meeting in Sitka in 2003 over the issue of opening West Behm Canal.31. At that meeting, ADF&G's staff report to the Board on southeast herring fisheries didn't mention that for several years after the reduction fisheries, the stocks were further depleted by unregulated bait fisheries, and that the sac roe fisheries opened on depressed stocks. Nor did they disclose that the vast majority of designated fishing areas are now closed, and that West Behm Canal was depleted in the 1970s and had remained closed for twenty-five years. The only mention that the ADF&G staff made of Kah Shakes/Cat Island was that it is currently below threshold.32

In summary, ample evidence suggests that ADF&Gs' field supervisors have made several decisions under pressure from the industry that have allowed overfishing on most occasions, opened the fishery when it was below a harvestable threshold on at least two occasions, depleted discrete herring stocks, created a mixed-stock fishery, manipulated data and testimony in public and before the Board of Fish in an attempt to cover up the mismanagement and loss of a huge resource with unknown consequences to the ecosystem in greater Dixon Entrance, Boca de Quadra, Portland Canal, Kah Shakes, East Behm Canal, Revilla Channel, and the Cat, Duke and Mary Island chain. This is the "conservative" management approach referred to by ADF&G commissioner Kevin Duffy that we can all take comfort in as they once again go in to harvest the herring in the rich marine ecosystem we have enjoyed in West Behm Canal.



ADF&G's Deputy Commissioner David Bedford is past executive director of the Seiner's Association. Commissioner Ken Duffy is United Fisherman of Alaska's "man of the year."

Lawrence "Snapper" Carson, Andy Rauwolf, and John Harrington are members of the Ketchikan Herring Action Group.



1) ADF&G 2003 Report to Board of Fisheries, SE Herring ­ History: Hebert & Pritchert
2) ADF&G 1991 Board of Fisheries Briefing ­ Kah Shakes SacRoe ­ Doherty, Larson, Carlile, Funk
3) Affidavit: Terry Wills, May, 1993, ADF&G Spotter Pilot
4) ADF&G 1992 Kah Shakes/Cat Island Herring Sac Roe Fishery ­ Ketchikan Staff
5) ADF&G 2000 Kah Shakes/Cat Island Summary ­ Table 6
6) Letter to Snapper Carson, June 12, 2003, Department Draft
7) Annette Natural Resource Center, 1991, Exhibit 5, Cook
8) " " " " " " "
9) " " " " " " "
10) ADF&G BOF Briefing Document, 1991, Doherty, Larson, Carlile, Funk
11) " " " " " " " " "
12) ADF&G BOF Briefing Document, Agenda Change, 1991
13) " " " " " " "
14) Affidavit: Steve Shrum ­ Spotter Pilot, 1993
15) ADF&G BOF Briefing Document, Agenda Change, 1991
16) " " " " " " "
17) Letter to Andy Rauwolf, 2/24/93, ADF&G Commissioner Mecham
18) ADF&G BOF Briefing Document, Agenda Change, 1991
19) ADF&G BOF Briefing Document, 1991, Pg. 9 (1,150 ton escapement)
20) ADF&G BOF Briefing Document, Kah Shakes ­ Doherty, Larson, Carlile, Funk
21) 1992 Kah Shakes/Cat Island Herring Sac Roe Fishery, May 1992
22) Stastics of the Alaska Herring Fishery ­ US Fish & Wildlife Service, 1960
23) 1993 Interview w/Phil Doherty, KRBD Radio ­ Exhibit 4, Pg. 3
24) 1994 Proposals ADF&G Board Support Section
25) Public Hearing Before The Alaska Board of Fisheries, Jan 1994
26) ADF&G Kah Shakes/Cat Island Summary Document, 1998
27) ADF&G BOF Briefing Document, Agenda Change, 1991
28) ADF&G 2000 Kah Shakes/Cat Island Summary, Table 6, BOF Proposals
29) Southeast Alaska Herring Stock Assessment Methods and Stock Status
30) ADF&G 2000 Kah Shakes/Cat Island Summary, Table 6, BOF Proposals
31) Westlund, 2004 Ketchikan Advisory Committee, Re: Sitka Hearings
32) Report to Board of Fisheries, Southeast ­ Yakutat Fisheries, 2003



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