When the Alaska Board of Fisheries meets in Anchorage this October, it can act to place the protection of wild stocks of salmon above expansion of hatchery production of pink salmon in the Gulf of Alaska.
The issue before the BOF is whether the expansion of hatchery production of pink salmon by the private, nonprofit hatcheries in Prince William Sound is in the best interest of the wild stocks of salmon or if the sheer magnitude of the hatchery releases and the documented straying poses a clear and present threat to other stocks and species. While these issues rarely come before the BOF, it has the authority to amend by regulation the number and source of salmon eggs taken for hatchery production.
State of Alaska law (Policy for management of sustainable salmon fisheries – 5 AAC 39.222) mandates that hatcheries shall operate without adversely affecting natural stocks of fish. The policy states that the effects and interactions of introduced or enhanced salmon stocks on wild salmon stocks should be assessed, and that wild salmon stocks and fisheries on those stocks should be protected from adverse impacts from artificial propagation and enhancement efforts.
The request before the BOF at its upcoming work session is to halt the currently permitted expansion of hatchery production of pink salmon. Nearly 800 million eggs are currently taken for incubation. The expansion at issue calls for an additional 20 million eggs. Halting this incremental expansion will have little effect on overall hatchery production of pink salmon or the economic value to the commercial fishery, but by halting the expansion, the BOF will be taking an important step forward, placing all parties on notice that the issue at play here is very important and needs to be addressed.
Pink salmon that showed up in streams across Lower Cook Inlet in 2017 weren’t all local stocks — in some streams, up to 70 percent were releases from PWS hatcheries. These PWS hatchery pink salmon were present in every Lower Cook Inlet stream sampled. Overall, PWS hatchery pinks composed 15 percent of the pink salmon escapement in LCI in 2017.
In addition to the straying issues, recent scientific publications (building on past published reports and internal Alaska Department of Fish and Game reviews) have provided cause for great concern over the biological impacts associated with continued release of very large numbers of hatchery salmon. Credible scientific speculation ties this year’s failure of runs of sockeye and chinook in places like the Copper River, Chignik and the Kenai to competition issues with the massive numbers of hatchery pink salmon in the marine environment.
Protection of wild stocks is job one for Alaska. The PWS hatcheries are vitally important to the commercial fishery in that region, but it is time to halt expansion of those hatcheries and take time to let the best available fishery science guide us forward. It is time for the burden of proof to shift from the state needing to prove that harm to wild stocks is occurring to those who propose significant changes to the ecosystem to show no harm.
The Alaska Board of Fisheries can and should take the first step to placing us on this path forward.
Kevin Delaney, Former Director of the Sport Fish Division of the ADF&G
Fisheries Consultant with Kenai River Sportfishing Association
Experts Agree: Alaska’s Habitat Management Model Works
We, the signatories, are Alaska fisheries managers, scientists, regulators, and former state officials. We have spent our careers working on fisheries management, science, and resource management.
For more than sixty years, Alaska has responsibly balanced resource development and the protection of our state’s natural resources – including our fisheries. As topic experts, our interest in supporting that balance makes us question the viability of Ballot Measure 1.
Ballot Measure 1 replaces Alaska’s scientific process for identifying, studying and permitting fish habitat with new and untested regulations. Today, when a project is on the horizon, we go out to the area in question and conduct numerous studies, including water turbidity, fish counts, escapement rates, temperature, water levels, and so on. Multiple state and federal agencies collaborate to make this all happen. And when it comes time to evaluate a permit, the data collected is scrutinized and carefully considered before any decisions on how to move forward, or even if to move forward, are made.
Alaska’s approach to fisheries management have been codified in law, act as a blueprint for fisheries management, and are widely praised as best practices around the country and the world. It is a model that has worked in permitting both industry and community projects, like pipelines, major dams and roadways that enable Alaskans to live their everyday lives. Finding balance has been the responsibility of those who have worked in fisheries management for much of their careers. Reasonable improvements could be made to our current laws, but Ballot Measure 1 was written with no public input on how to improve habitat protections already in place and it unreasonably overhauls current law.
Ballot Measure 1 proposes a system that is unworkable, unmanageable and unaffordable. Moreover, Ballot Measure 1 was drafted in private without public review or scrutiny. That approach flies directly in the face of our greatest responsibility: to review and scrutinize the data before arriving at a decision. We believe that lack of transparency results in a ballot measure rife with vague and imprecise language that will create confusion and uncertainty in how we permit and protect our anadromous fish in Alaskan waters.
The issue here is more than just a debate over process. Salmon runs are down across most of Alaska. Ballot Measure 1 supporters point to this measure as a needed fix. However, Ballot Measure 1 fails to address the actual challenges facing wild salmon today in our waters.
Many experts have identified various changing ocean conditions as contributing factors to this problem. One of those is the mass of warm water located in the Gulf of Alaska – the so-called ‘blob’. There are other factors contributing as well, such as increasing presence of invasive predatory fish, ocean acidification, and food-source competition.
In a recent article published on the Alaska Public Radio website, Fish & Game biologist Nicole Zeise stated that “most of the data suggests that the problem’s in the marine environment.” “Freshwater systems are healthy, producing plenty of smolt and fry going out. It’s just that something’s going on in the ocean that we can’t control.”
The recent Chinook Symposium in Sitka in May helped highlight the current science about the decline in salmon runs. Salmon researcher Ed Jones was quoted in another Alaska Public Radio broadcast discussing the down cycle in salmon.
“They’re dying at sea. So yes, fisheries, seals, killer whales, are all added factors, but the biggest driver is Mother Nature right now,” said Jones, further highlighting changing ocean conditions as a cause for declining salmon runs.
If we want to protect our salmon for future generations, then we need more analysis and data in order to generate an effective plan. In the meantime, we urge Alaskans to learn more about Ballot Measure 1 and what it could do to our current, effective management. Alaska needs a balanced, effective policy for protecting our resources—and Ballot Measure 1 fails that test.
•Randy Bates, Former Division Director of Habitat, Alaska Department of Fish & Game •Ed Fogels, Former Deputy Commissioner & Former Director of the Office of Project Management and Permitting, Alaska Department of Natural Resources •Kerry Howard, Former Division Director of Habitat, Alaska Department of Fish & Game •Thomas E. Irwin, Former Alaska Department of Natural Resources Commissioner •Bill Jeffress, Former Director of the Office of Project Management and Permitting, Alaska Department of Natural Resources •Doug Vincent Lang, Former Director of Wildlife Conservation; Assistant Director of Sport Fish; and Special Assistant to the Commissioner, Alaska Department of Fish & Game •Bob Loeffler, Former Director of Division of Mining, Land and Water, Alaska Department of Natural Resources •Ginny Litchfield, Former Habitat Division Area Manager to the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska Department of Fish & Game •Bill Morris, Former Division of Habitat Regional Supervisor – Northern Region, Alaska Department of Fish & Game •Slim Morstad, Former Area Management Biologist – Naknek/Kvichak, Alaska Department of Fish & Game •Marty K. Rutherford, Former Alaska Department of Natural Resources Commissioner
In Support of Gov. Walker for Re-Election
With all due respect to my friend Tony Knowles, I feel his recent commentary supporting another friend, Mark Begich, is biased by his close personal connection to that family, not to mention the political alliance.
I had several dealings with Mayor Begich when he was in office, with much lip service but very little action. He is a professional politician who knows what to say to attract voters, in order to further his ambitions.
Gov. Walker made several politically unpopular actions in the final days of the last session, but I feel only as a last gasp measure to try and aid our fiscal crisis in spite of the inaction of the legislature, which has been controlled by a relatively few members of the Senate Republican majority.
A Governor does not have the ability to enable or pass any laws, he just has limited veto power over those he doesn’t like. That is our system of checks and balances at work.
In my opinion, the major cause of the last three+ years of financial irresponsibility lies solely with the legislature, particularly with the Senate Republican majority, which is controlled by Senators Kelly and Micchiche. They have used the party caucus system to control legislation, including blocking any they don’t like, for instance from the House side.
Senator Dunleavy was part of the majority caucus, but left when he didn’t get his way, then soon after resigned from the Senate to focus on his Governors bid, thus depriving his constituents from the valley of representation. This happened after he resigned from the Northwest school district eight months into a three year contract when he got an opportunity to run for the Senate. This reminds me of a recent Governor who resigned half way through her term because she got a chance to run for National office.
The news media reported that Dunleavys’ rich brother contributed a half million dollars for the campaign efforts. His statement was: “I just thought it would be cool to help my brother become a governor”. Where is the concern to make life better for us citizens?
We don’t need any more politicians who make pleasing promises without any plan as to how to accomplish them. And make decisions based on their personal ambitions.
Bill Walker and Byron Mallott are both life-long rural Alaskans who have shown their willingness to forego personal gain for doing what is best for all of us in the State of Alaska.
That is why I am supporting them. I wasn’t quite born here, but have been a resident since 1949, mostly in the Bristol Bay and Aleutian areas, with many children, grand and great-grand children who all live here. I grew up under the tutelage of Jay Hammond, and have been a Hammond style Republican ever since.