Sunday, July 22, 2012

Is Norton Sound a 'sacrifice zone'?

The obvious consequences of managing salmon the way they do in Norton Sound is extinction, or at least down to such a remnant that it would be very difficult to find the last ones to finish off. This is the case in countless streams around Petersburg that I check on a regular basis.(At least every five years since 1960.  Fish them down to where it isn't commercially viable anymore, like a gold mine, then think about putting some back. There are now hatcheries galore in Alaska, except for Western Alaska. Is this a 'sacrifice zone' like in areas of West Virginia?.

A guest speaker from the UK who, at our class at OSU in about 1970, told us that commercial fisheries just fish out an area or species and then move on. He said it as if it were a fact, and all the time I thought he was just trying to get a rise out of us. Maybe I was a little too generous in my estimation of man's reluctance to create a marine desert. I'm not sure there has ever been the backbone among fish managers anywhere and certainly not now in Alaska.

Only now are the rivers in Oregon being looked real hard at as fish producers. In Central Point here there is a very large plastic horse mounted on the roof of a main street tack shop. I figure there might be a scosh of equity for matters of the fish when someone erects a giant plastic fish on a rooftop on the opposite side of the street. When I first got here in '05, we tried to get Fish and Game to allow the dumping of hatchery carcasses in the Rogue River to help feed the smolts and fingerlings. No dice. They had to be shown a study that showed that 70% of a smolt's diet was old salmon carcass. Chewed off like little pirhanas eating an unfortunate animal that had fallen in the Amazon River. Nobody thought smolts would do that, but then nobody checked before.

I sat through a Rogue Fall Chinook Advisory Board meeting where the Fish and Game talked the Board down from a historic expectation of 100,000 fish to 50,000 fish. One F & G guy I liked thought the river could produce at least a quarter of a million. It would have taken more than that to entice Hume to build a cannery at the mouth in the 1800s. More than that was seen in one school at Grants Pass somewhere around 60 years ago. If that isn't the shedding of science for politics I don't know what is.

So it doesn't surprise me one bit that even when the Pilgrim River king run gets down to a weir-counted grand total of three fish, they leave the season open for seine, gillnet and rod and reel. That is the situation at the moment in the Norton Sound area of Western Alaska. Many former fish biologists have contributed to that level of mismanagement. I'd mentioned before that I met a prety elderly doctor and his brand new bride in a park in Dallas, OR who had been friends with the head of Fish and Game in Oregon during the heyday of logging. The old fish manager's regret until his dying day was that he didn't do enough to save the salmon in Oregon.  What there is now here as far as salmon runs go is a scraggly remnant.

We'll see what happens with all these dams that are suddenly being torn out in the Pacific Northwest to allow the salmon to migrate freely. Nine dams that I have counted have come down in the last two or three years. At one point there were 10,000 miles of fish habitat lost to civilization in one insult after another. People who made big catches in the past aren't talking and the newbies don't know any different. And the ones who have seen lots of fish in the rivers and streams are getting fewer and fewer, fast. People who say it can be stopped with a straight face are getting fewer all the time too. Hilborne can't give enough specifics on his theory to patch all the holes in it. The only thing his boat will support is him standing on it's mast as it rests on the bottom and yells his theory from the status of only his head sticking out of the water.

So this Ray Hilborne, of the University of Washington they all say, says the fish are coming back. The same attempt at manipulation I saw come to bear at the Rogue River Fall Chinook Advisory Committee meeting. It's not the truth. Boris Worm had it about right that the fish will run out in 2048. An entirely different kind of fish management system could save the fish of all kinds from this fish cliff.

With all that said, I'm not saying to not try save the fish. I can see many ways to save them, it's just that a lot of very rich people don't have that in their play-book. What was it Harry Reid said? "Wouldn't it be something if the morning after the election, eighteen angry white men woke up and realized that they had just bought the country.?"
Tim Smith in Bethel, I wrote this blog post just for you. Your name even appeared in the local Medford Tribune. Here's to anticipating someone who could help you protect those last three king salmon would come out of the woodwork and look you up out there. I'm posting below some comments I've received from up that way so folks don't think I'm making this up quite so much.
"The attached video is Governor Parnell and ADF&G
Commissioner Cora Campbell's news conference today
responding to the statewide king salmon run

At the conference, Commissioner Campbell said we
need hatchery production to address the salmon run
failures. I plan to ask her and the governor about
the contrast between what she says about the need
for hatcheries in other parts of Alaska and what
ADF&G has done to prevent us from using hatchery
technology in Norton Sound. It makes no sense that
Norton Sound is the worst affected region of the
state but the only one that does not need to
employ this technology for restoring salmon
harvesting opportunity.

This contrast is particularly glaring because the
alternatives to hatchery production that we have
tried during the past 30 years in Norton Sound
have failed so dramatically.

During 2000-2011 NSEDC spent $7.5 million on
alternative-to-hatchery salmon rehabilitation and
enhancement with nothing to show for it.

The Norton Sound Research and Restoration Program
spend $5 million from 2000-2007 and hasn't even
published the embarrassing results.

In addition, ADF&G spent an unknown number of $
millions with no success. The salmon run failure
this year came as a complete surprise to them. In
April, Scott Kent forecast a 50,000 red salmon
return and they closed all net fishing on the
Pilgrim and Kuzitrin Rivers today after counting
2,700 through the weir. This spring, Jim Menard
announced plans to open commercial salmon fishing
in the Nome Subdistrict for the first time since
1989 and it turned out that he really should not
even have allowed subsistence fishing for chum
salmon. There are not nearly enough pink salmon
for a commercial fishery and the amount of chum
salmon bycatch would have been unacceptable given
the poor chum salmon returns if fishermen had been
able to set commercial pink salmon gear.

All this points to the need for a viable Norton
Sound/Bering Strait Regional Planning Team and a
qualified regional aquaculture association that is
not a farce and let's face it, Oscar Takak's
No-BS-RAA is a farce. I plan on asking the
commissioner and the governor about that too. I
hope that others will also contact them.

Three king salmon made it through the weir on the
Pilgrim River this year. King salmon sport fishing
is open and the bag limit is 10 kings. As the man
said, there are strange things done in the
midnight sun."
 "It's unheard of for a manager to be disciplined for species destruction. Usually they're promoted."