SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Sealaska bill and fisheries
By Paul Olson


May 23, 2011

I am writing regarding the Sealaska bill and the misrepresentations about how it reduces impacts to fishery habitat. The legislation establishes “conservation areas” and adds a temporary increase in buffer size. These measures are superficial and do nothing to offset the prospective impacts of this bill on fishery habitat.

All fishermen familiar with mixed-stock salmon fisheries up and down the west coast know that you can’t offset serious habitat losses in one watershed with “protections” in another area. The only real issue for fishermen here is that the weakest stock will always be the one that triggers restrictive management. This is why there are no annually sustainable fisheries south of Dixon Entrance even though there are many healthy salmon populations.

The next generation of clearcuts spawned by this legislation will occur in the watersheds that can least withstand further logging. There are serious stream temperature concerns in the “outside-the-box” selection areas. We can debate the cause, but it is a plain fact that the overall global climate and particularly the Alaska climate is in a long-term warming trend. Periodic hot and dry summers combined with habitat losses from large-scale clearcuts pose serious risks to the long-term health of salmon populations.

Stream temperature problems are particularly severe in the areas impacted by the bill. It is no coincidence that high stream temperatures occur in heavily logged and heavily roaded areas. In 2001, the Forest Service reported a number of fish kills and 318 days of high stream temperature events at a number of sites on Prince of Wales Island. Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF & G) estimated fish kills in the tens of thousands.

Three years later, in 2004, record temperatures and record low levels of precipitation occurred throughout the Tongass. The temperatures of some small streams rose to 82º F. Salmon ran late and in some cases even bypassed their natal streams on islands for mainland streams cooled by glacial runoff. Two years later, in 2006, the pink salmon run failed to show up. Harvests fell to their lowest levels since 1988 – to 11 million fish. There was a slight rebound in 2008 but returns remained well below the long-term averages of 30 million fish. ADF & G says the reason for this multi-cycle decline is the hot summer of 2004.

The 100 foot buffers on class I streams will not address these problems in any way. The buffers are temporary. Alaska’s legislature will never consider permanently mandating wider buffers. Even the 100 foot buffers routinely blow down. It is even more important that there is no protection for headwater streams which influence the water quality of the buffered larger systems. And further, Alaska’s buffer system entirely ignores the effects of clearcutting on the surrounding landscape.

It is important to let Congress know that this legislation is bad public policy with committee hearings pending this week. The bill needs to go away and not come back. There is no improving it when it comes to fishery impacts.

Paul Olson
Sitka, AK

Received May 19, 2011 - Published May 23, 2011

About: Paul Olson is currently a salmon troller has fished for salmon in different fisheries and areas since the 1970s..  His family has fished in southeast Alaska since the 1950s.


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