Saturday, May 12, 2007

Alaska's fisheries management needs realigning

It's been a wonderment to me how with such a big Alaska Department of Fish and Game, so many salmon streams in Alaska are struggling to even produce the "last of the Mahicans." This article about the fallacy of the maximum sustained yield principle Alaska uses might shed some light on the subject. I doubt that those "certified sustainable" folks ever walked a salmon stream in S.E. Alaska in the summer, and compared what's there with what was there in the past. But then, how would they know how many salmon choked the streams historically?

The problem is that under maximum sustained yield, it appears that not enough fish get up the creek to "fertilize" the stream system so young salmon can survive and grow. It's the difference between short-sightedness and far-sightedness it appears. They had to go in and fertilize Karluk Lake on Kodiak Island to try jump-start the former big sockeye run there. Don't think they had much success.

I can tell you that the abundance of salmon in all the streams I went to over 50 years has gone down, down, down. The term has even been coined "an Ocean Ranching State" regarding all the fish that comes from hatcheries to replace the wild runs. Alaska can't afford to "rest on it's laurels" in scrutinizing it's management practices any more than any other area of the world can.

And hopefully the World Trade Organization can slow down and stop the subsidizing of fleets of fishing vessels that leads to so much overfishing. Remember when the Norwegians subsidized all those big factory trawlers for use in the Bering Sea? They had to be bought out by the U.S. taxpayers. You can see why the U.S. is against this practice, now that it's learned it's lesson from this and it's own Capital Construction Fund. Alaska state government has a loan program that flies in the face of the Federal approach.

On the subject of bottom trawling, a couple of interesting articles have popped up lately. One was about 22 nations banning bottom trawling (Check out the before and after photos of bottom habitat.) in the chunk of ocean between South America and Australia, and from the Equator to Antarctica.(See the movie "Happy Feet" and you'll understand the problem with midwater trawling in the Antarctic Ocean too.) The other article was about a scientist who got some satellite pictures of a fleet of bottom trawlers working off the Yangtze River mouth. One scientist said, “This really shows the impact of (trawling) is like agriculture on land. There is no chance for wild animals to live there."
It's painfully obvious that this punctuates what others are saying about this fishing method turning a firm bottom into a field of ooze, only fit for ocean shrimp growing in places. The article went on about how bottom trawling is so destructive to both the ecology that supports the desired fish, and the prey species for the desired fish. What do you suppose happens when you take the fish, take the home for possible future fish, and the food for any possible future fish? Hardly a tenable position for government to take. Oregon found that you sacrifice 30% of the species complex in targeting a couple of species. How many species are lost? This article from the Gulf of Mexico is symptomatic of the problem.

Folks that speak up about the abuses of bottom trawling in Alaska are ahead of their time, but in Oregon and California, these ideas are a welcome addition to the conversation because they have nothing left to lose. And if you really want to see messed up, take a look at Puget Sound in Washington state. The feds just declared the steelhead there "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act. If honest coastal dwellers in Alaska don't speak up now, they might find that they are an endangered species pretty quick.

Many of us still have faith that the new Governor of Alaska will do the right thing and re-invent some of the State institutions that concern marine resource utilization. Cabinet heads will be meeting to hash these things out, hopefully they will create a new process to rationally deal with Alaska's ocean wealth. Then it might have a chance to move from the co-pilot seat to the captain's seat in managing the marine resources, and just as importantly, the marine and stream habitat.