Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Pacific Salmon Treaty talks

Pacific Salmon Treaty

The negotiations have begun in earnest. SEAS members on the Northern Panel Mr. John Carle, Mr. Mitch Eide and PSC Alternate Commissioner Jim Bacon were present this past week in Vancouver along with your Executive Director.

At the Vancouver meetings there were no disagreements between Canada and the US on a rollover of the Tree Point driftnet and Noyes Island purse seine annexes. The US has underharvested in both fisheries since the signing of the Treaty in 1999, and in the future these fisheries have shown no inclination to the same harvest levels we achieved in the first 15 years of this Treaty.

Part of this is atttributable to the decreased participation in both US fleets: the Noyes Island boat days are somewhere near half of the pre-1999 negotiations while the Tree Point fleet has lost nearly 40% of their pre-1999 fleet. Some of this displacement is fewer overall boats in the entire SE region andsome has to do with the success of our enhancement programs in the rest of the SE region, which has consequently drawn boats away from the Boundary Area.

Naturally there are yet unresolved issues with Chinook salmon. There needs to be some education on King salmon, both in the US generally and especially within the NW region. Our Chinook fishery is based upon healthy stocks. In fact, since the signing of the Treaty annexes in 1999, we have seen 2 ( maybe 3) of the alltime high Chinook abundances since 1948 of the "far north migrating" complex.

Past ADFG CommFish Director and current Washington State Fish and Wildlife (since 1998) Director Jeffrey Koenings has been on record touting the excellent health of these "far north migrating" chinook salmon that we harvest in Alaska. Looking back at the record, Mr. Koenings made this case in the late 90's, when the "far north migrating" Chinook complex was at about half the abundance of what it has been in the past 4 or 5 years.

So, to put it otherwise, there are twice as many Chinook now than there were when Mr. Koenings stated that our harvest of Chinook wasn't a problem for the lower 48. He also emphasized that these stocks that we harvest in Alaska needed to be considered as separate from the Puget Sound stocks and other Chinook stocks that aren't harvested in great numbers in Alaska. Nonetheless, Chinook will be an issue to be resolved along with the Transboundary Rivers, Taku and Stikine, which are still on the docket to be negotiated.

The new representatives on the TBR panel from Canada seem to be having a difficult time within their negotiating team. At the end of the day, all of us represent our government's positions and there needs to be less grandstanding on the Canadian side of the TBR panel and more attention paid to the traditional relationship we have had with these longstanding driftnet fisheries on both the Taku and Stikine.

We have and will harvest a larger proportion of salmon bound for these rivers forever. The logistics of harvest on the upper reaches of the Taku and Stikine as well as the extraordinarily small numbers of fishermen on the Canadian side of the border do not justify a straight up "equal sharing".

So the good news is that Tree Point and Noyes Island are done insofar as direct negotiations are concerned. However, we have a year and a half to wrestle with Chinook and the Transboundary Rivers. Wish us luck.... It's your fishery.


Tuesday, January 02, 2007


Enhancement in Alaska

Hatcheries, or what you will.

The current hatchery system in Alaska is a recent development. At the turn of the century into the 20’s, the Feds had a slightly different system in mind… one that was abused horribly in the lower 48 and the Columbia River system.

This is how “old” hatchery thinking worked.
If the region needed a dam, irrigation ditches, logging (esp. with splash dams), etc., then the hatchery would be the deficit reducer when all the natural and wild salmon had been destroyed by whatever industrial practice was occurring. So if you had 100,000 salmon in a system that were now pretty much decimated, you would replace these by an estimate of 100,000 salmon in hatchery production.

Well, you could see the first problem. There was no way to prove up until 4 or 8 years later when we would find that the hatchery facility could only make 10,000 salmon. By then it was too late. In some cases, there was no built-in funding mechanism for lifespan of the hatchery. Many of the “deals” made for fishermen in the lower 48 would be lightweight deals without longterm funding appropriated.

Of course other issues soon became obvious—well, after about 50-75 years of this stuff going on—issues like genetics. Salmon eggs would be transferred from the Sacramento to the Columbia. Fish that had had generations of breeding to accomplish certain feats on their return migration that matched their river of origin were now replaced by “foreign” fish that had no “game” on their current river or stream. We got better at this over time but the resultant issues are still prevalent in the lower 48.

In Alaska our current enhancement system came into being in the 1970’s. It is based on the best available science to manage and promote the system and the resultant production is based upon economic production for coastal Alaska rather than a replacement for wild stocks. In fact, in most cases of production, the goal has been to augment, rather than replace, natural occurring production. Consequently, the siting of these hatcheries and remote release sites is based upon minimal interaction with wildstock salmon.

Most of the issues facing salmon enhancement in the lower 48 were taken into account and a new dawn of salmon enhancement was about to spring upon Alaska. There still are straying issues, similar to the ones we find in the wildstocks. This is natural. We try to avoid it as much as possible and this is why our hatcheries are sited as far away from wildstock systems as is practical.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game, under new Commissioner Denby Lloyd, manages for wild stock abundance, not for hatchery abundance, in our mixed stock corridors. There are times when the wild and enhanced abundance does not track well enough to justify mixed stock harvest of enhanced salmon. For example, imagine a normal wildstock corridor gets fished 9 of 10 years when there is an abundance of wild salmon as the target species. Incidentally to this wild stock harvest, we are harvesting good numbers of hatchery stock. Now on year 10 there may not be an abundance of wild salmon. That corridor, according to state law, shouldn’t be fished on year 10, or at least it should have reduced fishing time because we are managing for the wildstocks, not the hatchery stocks. Thus the fishing time on the hatchery stocks is now going to be decreased in that area.

The economics of Alaska’s enhancement program is staggering. Many years, a large percentage of Kodiak production occurs at Kitoi hatchery. In PWS, hatcheries have become the standard bearer for production for the purse seine fleet. The drift fleet is a lesser participant in PWS, but I doubt those guys are in favor of the system changing any more than the seiners would be.

In SE Alaska, hatcheries produced somewhere near half of the dollars made by commercial salmon trollers, seiners and drifters in 2006. Normally enhancement is more of an addon in SE. approximately 20% of the coho harvest, 50-75% of the chum harvest, 2-3% of the pink salmon harvest, 10% of the Chinook harvest and a 1-5% of the sockeye harvest is enhanced.

SEAS believes that Alaska’s enhancement program has been an amazing biological as well as economic success. We always welcome debate and insight into how we could do an even better job of managing our hatcheries—many of which we own by the way. Another feature of the modern hatchery system in Alaska is it’s self financing mechanism. No other state or country has ever produced as much enhanced salmon. And no other country has ever tried to privatize their enhancement system like Alaska has.

What we need now for Alaska’s enhancement program is better funding. Fishermen own and pay for many of our hatcheries but there are a few other PNP’s that just go it on their own. These hatcheries are in need of capital projects, new roofs, etc etc. The $95 million total debt incurred to the state( approximately $32 million in PWS, $50 million in SE and the rest wherever) has been the greatest economic return on investment the state of Alaska has ever made. For this $95 million, we have harvested over $1.5 billion worth of salmon, paid $50 million in raw fish taxes, tens of millions in fuel and local taxes, and generated several billion dollars of economy.

So when we have an issue, as apparently we do with the ADFG according to the latest news sources from our friend Wesley Loy, then we must proceed with due care and caution. We don’t need the extra press right now. We need to sit down and evaluate if there are any feathers that are ruffled on our golden goose.

SEAS was initially no big fan of hatchery production since our founding in 1968. However, our current enhancement production was set up to balance out the lean years and is the status quo that we balance our business plans upon. And it is needed to balance out user conflicts and to drive the economies of small coastal towns and villages across this great state…. From Cordova, Kodiak, Homer to Ketchikan, Sitka and Juneau and everywhere in between to some extent.

Sometimes Peninsula folks and western folks from the Bay and whatnot complain that they would like to see us go away. Unfortunately, what they fail to realize is that many of the same processors whose lifeblood is salmon, are afloat today to go west to buy fish just because there exists the economic safety net that defines the hatchery system.

Also, I’m sure our SE drifters, Copper River guys and PWS and SE seiners would be happy to double or triple the effectiveness of the western Alaska fleets if our lifeblood was taken away.
So we’re all in this together. Hatcheries are us.


ps. a relevant article recently at