Commercial fishing report misses bigger picture

Posted: Monday, August 25, 2003

I read Marcus Garner's story Aug.14, titled "Fishers: Too many got past nets."

I take issue with the entire point of his story. Too many sockeye salmon did not get past the nets. I take it that he counts himself among the commercial gillnetters walking by the sockeye carcasses washing up on the shore, muttering "What a terrible waste... ."

Many people view sockeye production on the same level as a cattle stock yard. They believe that you give the stock a place to live along with food and then you harvest the product. People really need to begin to see the total life cycle of sockeye salmon on the level of a garden and not a stock yard. There is a very large "garden factor" involved within the natural life cycle of our Alaska salmon. Many seem to understand that you may calculate the square footage of a garden and project the possible production of that garden. People also appear to understand that once a fertilizer is applied to that garden, previous production calculations are then expandable depending on a list of environmental considerations.

I know many people who totally understand what it takes to produce a basic salmon, but unfortunately they fail to grasp the fact that just like a garden, the salmon cycle also carries an expandable factor. Sockeye, like plants in a garden, can live under a variety of conditions. If a garden is constantly planted and harvested, nutrients (nitrogen) in the soil are removed and not replaced. The end results of this constant removal is smaller or less end product. The only way to restore or increase garden production is to replace the nutrients with fertilizers.

This is basic gardening 101 and believe it or not it can also be applied to basic salmon management. Common garden logic can be directly applied to sockeye production because sockeye salmon are the only Pacific salmon, which start their life by feeding on zooplankton. These zooplankton live within freshwater lakes and the size of the lake does restrict the size of the salmon run but lake size is not the whole story. Like in a garden, maximum biogenic fertilization MBF (rotting salmon) can expand the total number of juvenile sockeyes a lake can support.

That may sound simple but it is anything but a simple process. These are the chain of events. Maximum sockeye production, MSP will result from maximum zooplankton production, MZP. MZP results from maximum phytoplankton production, MPP. MPP results from maximum biogenic fertilization, MBF. MBF = MPP = MZP = Maximum sockeye production

Zooplankton production must be timed to be available to juvenile sockeye when they hatch or they will starve before heading for the ocean. The out-going smolt sockeye will later return as mature adults which will spawn before they die. The death of extra sockeye is not a "bad effect" or even the end of the cycle.

The death and rotting of a salmon is as much a part of this cycle as any other part but some people have decided to surgically remove it from the story for their own reasons. These people use terms like"bad effect" or "over-escapement" to justify their minimum escapement desires which just happen to also make their lives better, money, somehow.

These spawned-out sockeye carcasses are a vital link between generations of sockeye and salmon in general. Without these decomposing carcasses it is impossible for nursery lakes to maintain adequate nutrient levels. Minimum sockeye escapements force nutrient levels to decline as biogenic fertilization is removed from the cycle. Decomposing carcasses from adult sockeye have the ability to enhance zooplankton by increasing phytoplankton production thus allowing the same lake to feed many more sockeye fry. The "over-escapement intent" of his story is incorrect with regard to this issue. There may be a point of real "over-escapement" but none of our rivers or streams are even close to this condition. The reason "over-escapement" is not currently an issue is because our freshwater lakes have the ability to expand their total sockeye rearing capacity with increased biogenic fertilization. This expandable biogenic factor seems to have escaped from his story.

Freshwater zooplankton enhancement can also improve adult ocean survival by increasing the average size of out-going smolt sockeye. MBF in freshwater nursery lakes, like in gardens, produces the best environment for sustainable or extra phytoplankton. It is very necessary to deliver maximum or even excess biogenic fertilization to freshwater phytoplankton. Without this fertilization, nursery lakes will eventually become nutrient impoverished.

This impoverishment works to prevent increased phytoplankton, which works to prevent increased zooplankton, which works to prevent increased juveniles, which works to prevent increased returning adults. The desire for increased returning adult is therefore directly linked to providing MBF. It then is just logical that system escapement goals will be at a maximum if salmon carcass fertilization goals are also at a maximum. Biogenic fertilization extends from rivers and lakes into inlets and oceans where these biogenic nutrients function at the start of the food chain to produce adult salmon within all stocks.

This chain of events therefore shows that minimal salmon escapements goals must result in minimal biogenic fertilization which must result in reducing both juvenile and adult salmon survival.

Garner's story basically states that minimal sockeye escapements make sure that there will be enough food for a lakes maximum sockeye production.

His story leaves out the fact that maximum sockeye production can be expanded with additional biogenic fertilization. Why did he just happen to leave out this part of the salmon's life cycle?

Phytoplankton enhancement is as important as sockeye enhancement. Knowing this direct connection I would think fisheries managers would make specific allocations of escaping adults to fully fertilize phytoplankton production. If not harvested in-river, this is specifically where the Kenai Rivers extra 331,759 sockeye salmon should go. These carcasses will go directly into raising our water nitrogen ratios which will in the end allow both fresh and saltwater nurseries to expand their productions.

Phytoplankton production does not just effect sockeye salmon production, it effects the production of all salmon.

Low freshwater biogenic fertilization production will result in low saltwater production of herring, shrimp, sandlances, candlefish, squid, anchovies and many other elements within the food web.

When these elements are reduced within the food web that reduction will be felt by all salmon stocks.

It is not coincidental that the Pacific Ocean is at a 50 year low in both salmon production and it's water nitrogen ratio.

Minimum escapement "sterilization commercial gillnetting" has been active for the past 50 years in Alaska.

Sterilization fisheries management operates off an incorrect assumption that nursery lakes cannot utilize additional salmon carcasses. The truth is that maximum sockeye production cannot be totally based on the square footage of a lake. The truth is that this is an expandable life cycle thus the same lake can feed many more addition juvenile sockeye. Sterilization fisheries management produces maximum commercial fisheries profits thus motivating persons to write stories which show the absolute need for minimum sockeye escapements.

I believe this story was very short-sighted with regard to what additional escapement will do to a fishery. I also believe that Fox's remarks about the "bad effects" of the extra fish, are incorrect. The Kenai River is able of sustaining much larger salmon escapements than it currently has simply because it has not reached it's MBF limit. Garner or anyone else can start talking about the "bad effects" if the Kenai River is ever allowed to reach it's MBF limit. Until that happens the terms "bad effects" or "over-escapement" are putting the cart before the horse.

Garner's story also refers to a lost value of $8,453,358 because we did not use sterilization gillnetting on our area fisheries. I say that $8,453,358 is a very cheap price to pay to help keep our ecosystems from being further depleted of their nitrogen building blocks for our fisheries future.

When a person views thousands of sockeye carcasses washing up on a shore, they should be able to see the truly amazing connection those carcasses have with our fisheries future.

The in-river death and rotting of a single salmon must be viewed as a gift to our fisheries future and NOT as a past management error which needs to be corrected, as this story attempted to portray.

Don Johnson



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