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Researchers outline issues for statewide king salmon stocks

Posted: October 22, 2012 - 9:38pm  |  Updated: November 27, 2012 - 8:31pm
Photo by Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion Tom Taube and Matt Miller, employees of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, sort through audience questions during a morning break at the 2012 Chinook Salmon Symposium, Monday Oct. 22, 2012 in Anchorage, Alaska. Questions about bycatch from the pollock fisheries, freshwater salmon habitat, and escapement goals dominated the early discussion.
Photo by Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion Tom Taube and Matt Miller, employees of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, sort through audience questions during a morning break at the 2012 Chinook Salmon Symposium, Monday Oct. 22, 2012 in Anchorage, Alaska. Questions about bycatch from the pollock fisheries, freshwater salmon habitat, and escapement goals dominated the early discussion.

Editor’s note: This story is part of the Clarion’s continuing look at issues affecting Cook Inlet salmon fisheries.


During the first session of a two-day chinook salmon symposium, researchers focused on the magnitude of the state’s king salmon issues.

After each presentation, panelists from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the University of Alaska were given time to ask questions.


While several of the presentations during the first session focused on stocks all over the state, touching briefly, if at all, on the Cook Inlet, Tom Vania, regional management biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, talked extensively about the inlet.

Vania began his presentation by saying there wasn’t enough time to present all of the management challenges in Southcentral Alaska.

“Unfortunately, 10 minutes isn’t nearly enough time to adequately describe all of the meetings, the thought process, the data, the anguish and the second-guessing managers do amongst themselves throughout the season,” Vania said.

He focused on the Cook Inlet and broke his presentation into two parts covering inseason management challenges and brief explanations of the management actions taken during the season.

Trends in escapement, Vania said, play a primary role in fisheries management.

“It has an effect on the timing and severity of management actions that we take,” he said. “In the early 2000s, a period of high productivity was going on. Liberalizations occurred earlier and quicker in-season because the risk of being wrong was relatively low.”

In recent years, poor escapements on several rivers have affected biologists similarly, he said.

“The consequences of not achieving an escapement goal for the whole year becomes significant to the sustainability and management is going to consider additional restrictions beyond what we may have taken in a previous year. They’ll be quicker to put those in place.”

Other factors Vania said played a role in management were how quickly biologists could receive information about a run in-season, the timing of king salmon runs and the high fishing effort in the Cook Inlet due to easy access to rivers.


The audience question and answer session was dominated mainly by subsistence fishermen along the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers who said their ability to eat was being threatened by chronic low returns of chinook salmon.

The first question submitted by an audience member asked whether chinook salmon runs were controlled more by management or environmental factors.

Panelists addressed questions of gaps in Fish and Game’s knowledge about freshwater habitat and its effect on king abundance.

At first, no one volunteered to answer the question, however Jim Fall, a researcher with Fish and Game, said the fact that no one could answer the question readily implied that the department needed to address that gap in knowledge.

Vania said tackling freshwater survival between the various stages of the chinook salmon lifecycle would be hard to tackle statewide.

“The freshwater environment varies from system to system and each stream is going to be different,” Vania said. “I see that as kind of a data gap that we can get more information on.”

They also addressed whether there were signs that the chinook fishery would improve in the next couple of years.

“Have we seen similar declines in abundance … that’s the question we can’t answer,” said Tom Linderman, research biologist for Fish and Game whose presentation focused on the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers. “It would be a very difficult question to answer as well. It has taken decades to try and build up some of the information to have just to explain the short term data sets. So, it’s just not possible to answer that question without longer term data sets and detailed data to be able to address the historical trends that have been seen.”

Paul A. Shadura said he was happy to hear researchers talk about using local and traditional knowledge in their assessment of chinook runs.

The idea, which Shadura called cooperative management, was addressed several times during the discussion of subsistence fishing as several audience members accused Fish and Game biologists of ignoring traditional knowledge about fisheries.

“We’ve asked for that in the Cook Inlet for a long time,” Shadura said. “We always seem to be the last ones to find out anything. This co-management idea is very good. If the fishermen knew that this was coming and these strong steps were going to be taken, maybe a lot businessmen wouldn’t have put that much money into our operations, maybe we wouldn’t have hired as many crew. Maybe we wouldn’t be in the financial straits a lot of us are in.”

Shadura said Cook Inlet fishermen could be a valuable resource for the department.

“We’re there. We’re fishing there. Our houses are there. We’re fishing there all the time in the summer,” Shadura said. “So if the idea was to fish on abundant stocks, we could have helped them with that. We understand when fish are available and we could have helped them with the management that was conducted in the summer. I think we could have reduced a lot of damage to the community.”


The second session of the day focused on various tools the department could use to measure abundance.

Researchers then spent more than an hour taking questions from audience members toward the end of the day.

Several panelists answered the question of what they were hoping to see come out of a comprehensive research plan for chinook salmon and what kind of data should be included.

David Bernard, a retired Fish and Game biologist, said he wanted to make sure that the data available was accurate and corrected for potential bias so that future researchers wouldn’t have to worry about inaccuracy in their research.

Daniel Schindler, a researcher from the University of Washington, said he thought it was important to address the issue of the carrying capacity of the ocean and whether an abundance of hatchery fish was reducing the food supply for wild salmon.

Randall Peterman, former professor at Simon Fraser University, said he thought a differentiation should be made in research between fresh water survival and marine survival rates.

During the second day of the symposium, researchers will discuss chinook salmon in their marine environment and the role of hatchery research.

Symposium organizers said they welcomed questions from audience members and those listening online.

The symposium can be watched at or heard by phone at 1-888-655-9647


Rashah McChesney can be reached at

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kenai123 11/14/12 - 01:32 am
King Salmon Symposium

Is there anyone out there wondering why they couldn't catch any king salmon this year? Some are even calling it a king salmon crisis but few if any will attempt to answer the mysterious question as to where all of our king salmon are going. It's not a salmon crisis when your neighbor fails to catch kings, it's a crisis when you fail to catch them.
If you ask the Alaska Department of Fish & Game, they will claim that our freshwater rivers and streams are producing plenty of baby king salmon. The mystery appears to begin as these baby kings leave the relative safety of the freshwater and enter the extremely dangerous saltwater. Our ADF&G is currently telling us that SOMETHING in the saltwater is killing our king salmon. The mystery thickens as you try to follow a Cook Inlet baby king salmon's life habits as it attempts to survive the perils of the Pacific Ocean from Kodiak Island to the Gulf of Alaska and beyond. In order to discover where these kings are going you need to do a little research into what has changed out in the Pacific Ocean. One of the largest factors which is constantly changing is the amount of fish our Commercial Pollock Fisheries are harvesting and "by-catch killing" out on the Pacific Ocean.

From the 1950 - 1960 Commercial Pollock Fishing was non-existent because Pollock populations had been commercially wiped out prior to that but that changed as Pollock populations swelled by 1965. As soon as Commercial Pollock Fisheries spotted this they immediately greatly expanded their fishing efforts from 1965 to 1970 and caught about 2,000,000 metric tons of Pollock annually until they killed the fishery thus causing it's harvest to crash down to around 1,000,000 metric tons annually. Commercial harvest levels remained around 1,000,000 metric tons annually until around 1998 when our Pollock populations again blossomed thus causing our commercial Pollock fishermen to again take notice. Pollock catches then went to 1,400,000 metric tons annually until about 2008 when commercial fisheries again wiped these Pollock populations back down to the previous 1,000,000 metric tons annually again. After this decade of over fishing by 2008 Pollock production then began a general downward nose dive because of the all the commercial abuse. At the same time the whole sale price of Pollock then when through the roof as our Pacific Pollock production did not rebound and continues to crash to this day. How doe's this all affect king salmon in the Cook Inlet area? Our Commercial Fisheries research has proved that there are
approximately 4 king salmon killed and thrown over-board within each metric ton of Pollock harvest. At current Pollock
harvest levels this would result in a king salmon by-catch of about 4,000,000 adult king salmon annually. Our North Pacific Fisheries Management Council, NPFMC has set annual trawler by-catch kill caps on king salmon at
25,000 in the Gulf of Alaska and 60,000 in the Bering Sea. Our NPFMC has placed an annual 85,000 king by-catch cap on a possible 4,000,000 king trawler by-catch killing rate. We are forced to use our imagination as to where the other 3,915,000 possible dead adult kings are at. Some how our commercial fisheries harvest just never seems to go over that magic 85,000 king cap. which would shut them down.

While these commercial trawlers are busy killing these adult kings, they are also by-catching and tossing overboard
DEAD smaller bait fish which salmon feed on; thus also reducing the prey our salmon have access to. Tremendous schools of herring, cod, rockfish, sand fish, hooligan, candle fish, smelt, stickleback, wolf fish and squid have been permanently wiped out with this bait fish by-catch dumping. This environmental destruction then forces our salmon to forage longer to meet their daily and future calorie intake needs. Upon entering the ocean, young salmon require huge amounts of prey to allow them to build fat reserves sufficient to allow them to migrate back to their freshwater rivers and streams. During the years prior to returning to freshwater, salmon feed voraciously in order to grow and build strength for the coming journey back home. As trawlers kill and by-catch dump this salmon prey back into the ocean, they dramatically increase a salmons chances of never achieving sufficient fat reserves to make it back to their native freshwater rivers and streams. This by-catch killing and dumping of salmon prey then forces salmon to forage longer, thus exposing them to additional predator encounters with salmon hunting killer and beluga whales along with seals. The additional predator exposure and the fat reserve reduction then further reduces a salmons chances of ever returning to its freshwater home. What is happening here is these
commercial trawlers are hitting our salmon from all sides. By-catch kill & dump a salmon's food source actually works to kill salmon with a basic lack of fat reserves. If somehow a salmon is still able to stagger along anyway, the trawlers then force them to forage additional hours just to survive, thus causing them to encounter many more salmon hunting whales and seals. If by some chance they manage to survive all these indirect salmon killers, the trawlers then directly attack them with general salmon by-catch dumping. To make matters even worse, new emerging trawler technology is now allowing trawler operators to even view the dead contents of their
nets before the net reaches the surface of the water. These new in-net cameras are now allowing operators to spot nets saturated with dead salmon, while the net is still fishing underwater. This same technology has provided these operators with the ability to dump an entire net filled with salmon "before it even reaches the surface". What would you do when confronted with a net full of dead salmon which you cannot sell? These salmon are being dump dead just like all other marine life unfortunate enough to become trapped in these ecological killing machines. These trawler nets are the same type of ecological threat as floreral carbons to our
ozone layer or carbon dioxide to global warming and they all operating out of sight. Ecologists used to watch trawler by-catch in an attempt to control the marine destruction but commercial fisheries technology has leaped out in front of them and is now allowing nets full of anything to be dumped dead before even reaching the surface to be recorded as by-catch. Just about everything our salmon are trying to do to survive out in the ocean is under attack or is being interfered with by this commercial trawler fleet. The grand result of decades of this triple trawler wipe-out effect, (fat reserves, predator's and by-catch) is that very few salmon are
surviving to even attempt the journey back to their native rivers or streams

So you may ask what the solution is to all this unbelievable fisheries information? If you ask the Alaska Department
of Fish & Game they will point to a snow storm of data and grafts, which will leave you even more confused about
our commercial fisheries by-catch problems. My conclusion is that many things may need to change within our commercial fisheries but key within those changes is that statewide we must stop commercial fisheries from profiting when they kill non-targeted marine life as by-catch. This means that commercial fisheries should be legally required to retain and process ALL BY-CATCH and then DONATE ALL OF IT to a charity. That means that if you "by-catch kill" a beluga whale calf; you are forced to retain, process and donate it.
If you by-catch kill a king salmon: you must retain, process and donate it. By charity I mean some kind of Food Bank.
This would prevent commercial fisheries from donating by-catch to their favorite "commercial fisheries non-profit". This change alone, over time would eventually resolve most of Alaska's current by-catch problems. With this change commercial fisheries would eventually be forced to at least begin thinking about avoiding non-targeted by-catch.
The king salmon by-catch issue is 100% about money; if you can make by-catch non-profitable, commercial fisheries will eventually find a way to prevent the financial drain. If we leave things the way they are we will be permanently losing many marine specie and fisheries in the very near future. As long as commercial fisheries are allowed to profit from by-catch, the by-catch issue will never go away and therefore all our Alaskan natural resources and fisheries will go on suffering FOREVER. The new reality in our fisheries future must be that commercial by-catch is going to cost you BIG. It really does not matter if it is a large fine or the charity donation, the Alaskan [filtered word] needs hold commercial fisheries accountable for the marine destruction it is causing within our ocean. The wholesale slaughter of non-targeted species is no longer just acceptable losses. This mean that the Alaskan public must rise up and compel the Alaska Board of Fish and the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council to
take action and make substantial changes in the way ALL by-catch is processed by ALL of our commercial fisheries.
This is a very reasonable goal for the Alaskan public to pursue in resolving this very unreasonable waste of our
common Alaskan natural resource heritage.

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