SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Are Halibut, Chinook, and Coho Salmon populations in Southeast Alaska heading for a crash?
By Andy Rauwolf


May 20, 2008

There are serious issues with the Southeast Alaskan marine ecosystem that have been steadily getting worse. For instance, the 2007/2008 winter King troll fishery just closed after harvesting only 45% of the 45,000 fish quota. Furthermore, for the first time in history both the halibut and summer Chinook commercial quotas have been cut by 48%. Sport and guided sport fishing have been severely restricted as well.

Are we experiencing problems similar to those plaguing Mexico, California, Oregon, Washington, and parts of British Columbia? In each of these cases, biologists are naming starvation as a contributing factor.

A recent study on Southeast Alaska halibut has concluded that today's fish weigh 50% less than the same age class halibut weighed in 1988. A check of records indicates that the average size and abundance of Chinook are getting steadily smaller as well. The same holds true for Silver salmon in most areas in the last two years. All three of these species rely on herring as a key component in the food web as prey.

Coastal communities throughout Southeast Alaska with local and traditional knowledge of herring claim that historic stock levels have significantly declined due to factors that include over-harvesting, predation, and climate changes.

Perhaps the factor presently having the greatest impact in this area may be attributed to predation. It appears that protected marine mammals are increasingly having a much larger impact on herring stocks than anyone could envision. Although a sea lion can eat 80 pounds daily, according to data from an adult Humpback whale consumes between 2 and 2 1/2 tons of herring, needle fish, krill, and plankton each day.

The population of Humpbacks has increased dramatically since the implementation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act in 1972. Using calculations based on National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) data, it is plausible that there were fewer than 100 Humpbacks in Southeast Alaska when the Act became law. By 1995 the population of Southeast Alaska humpbacks from Fredrick Sound north was 404. Within five years, in 2000 it had jumped to 961 in that area. Today there are calculated to be at least 1650 of these whales eating roughly 8,250,000 pounds of feed per day. This does not include the significant number of whales observed in the 180 miles from Fredrick Sound south to the Canadian border which have never been surveyed. It is important to realize that Humpbacks not only eat herring, they consume the plankton and krill that herring also rely on to survive.

Out of seven major herring spawning areas in Southeast, there are only two left. One is the Craig pound fishery. The largest is in Sitka Sound. Without regard for these serious issues, this spring, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game conducted an all time record high herring sac roe harvest of over 28,460,000 pounds of this critical species from Sitka Sound. With possible disaster looming over some of Alaska's most important fisheries, is this conservative management? In the opinion of most locals, it is better to leave what remains of Southeast Alaska's herring in the water, put an end to the killing of herring for their eggs, and begin researching ways to restore the once-great masses of herring taken from the waters of Southeast Alaska.

At present, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and the Board of Fish that governs it are putting at risk many critical components of Southeast Alaska's economy, including commercial fishing, sport and guided sport fishing, and a large portion of the tourism industry, not to mention the reputation of the State of Alaska.


Andy Rauwolf
for: Ketchikan Herring Action Group
Ketchikan, AK

About: "41 year resident of Ketchikan, builder, sport fisherman, power troller , hand troller, & halibut long liner."

Received May 20, 2008 - Published May 20, 2008


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