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Opinion from Representative Alan Austerman

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Representative Alan Austerman Session:
State Capitol, Room 434
Juneau, AK 99801-1182
Phone: (907) 465-2487
Fax: (907) 465-4956
Send E-Mail

112 Mill Bay Road
Kodiak, AK 99615
Phone: (907) 486-8872
Fax: (907) 486-5264 (at LIO)

Comm Fish 1999 Report


Letter to the Editor
Kodiak Daily Mirror
1419 Selig Street
Kodiak, Alaska 99615

In a ever changing world it is amazing to be able to watch how the fisheries of Alaska have changed over the last thirty six years since I first climbed onboard a fishing boat and became one of Alaska's Commercial Fisherman. It was to fish for King Crab aboard a 36 foot wooded boat with a dry fish hold (we had to hang a trap over the side at night to store the live crab in), survival suits nor GPS had been invented yet and we were too poor to own a radar. King Crab was a new fishery at that time, the crabs average weight was ten pounds each and we were paid ten cents per pound. There was only the skipper and myself on the boat and I made a crew share of 25% off the top. This was quite different from what you see in today's fisheries.

The King Crab and Shrimp are gone. We Americanized the ground fish fleet. The USCG, through an act by Congress, enforce safety issues. Foreign farm fish have taken a good share of our salmon markets. Salmon runs have crashed because of who knows what, Global Warming, El Nino, too many Killer Whales or over fishing? Commercial Sportfish Charter boats have become a major new user of the resource. Environmental groups have worked to close fishing from the East Coast to the North Pacific. I could go on and on about all of the changes that have taken place, but let me talk about another change in the wind dealing with Alaska's salmon industry - "discreet" or "weak" stock management.

Ever since Alaska became a state the Fish & Game managers have used the "maximum sustained yield" method of managing our salmon stocks. The majority of our salmon runs have been rebuilt to record highs since statehood. There have been some low returns on several river systems in the Cook Inlet that have created the talk about weak stock management of our fisheries.

Senator Halford, from Eagle River, has introduced legislation these last two years (this year it is SB 13) that would set up a process to do "assessment of discrete salmon stocks". The cost of doing this assessment would be paid for by assessing each sport fisherman $1, each commercial crewmember would pay $10 and each commercial permit holder would pay a stock assessment surcharge (this fee has not been established as of yet, but by itself is scheduled to raise $500,000). In a ideal world, knowing where every fish is returning to would help managers set escapement goals. Just about all fisheries in the state are what they call mixed stock fisheries. Different species from different river systems all enter an area, such as Cook Inlet, at basically the same time frame. Managing to the weak stock means that you would let all the fish go into the river system until the stream that has the weakest stock receives all of its escapement before you would open any fishing in that system. As you can imagine this would crate a number of different problems. This would no doubt create what is called a "terminal" fisheries where you fish at the mouth of each discreet stock system. This would lower the quality of the fish because as soon as the fish enters fresh water, its body starts to deteriorate. The other possible problem would be the over escapement that might occur within any one system. One other negative would be the loss of revenue to the fisherman and processors, in both quality of fish but the loss of fish that might otherwise have been caught.

To help bring this last paragraph into focus consider the following. In January of this year I attended a Pacific Fisheries Legislative Task Force meeting where British Columbia's (BC) Minister of Fisheries, Dennis Striefel, made a presentation. During that presentation he stated that the fisheries managers for Canada decided to do weak stock management on two major river systems in BC for the 1998 fishing season. According to Minister Striefel this ended up costing the commercial fishermen over $30 million. As they waited for the weak systems fish to return, fisheries managers had to go in and block off a number of the other streams that were getting too many fish in them and they were afraid of over escapement.

Some times you will hear weak stock management referred to as "optimum-sustained yield". According to this thought you have optimum escapement from all individual streams and tributaries within a river system. The current maximum-sustained yield thought is that you manage for a maximum amount of fish assuming that over escapement can damage a run and that the best quality of fish is before it enters fresh water. The Alaska Constitution, Article VIII, Section 1, states, "It is the policy of the State to encourage the settlement of its land and the development of its resources by making them available for maximum use consistent with the public interest". Section 4 states, "Fish, forest, wildlife, grasslands and all other replenishable resources belonging to the State shall be utilized, developed and maintained on the sustained yield principle, subject to preferences among beneficial uses."

If your wondering why all of this is a concern to us on Kodiak Island, consider the following. There are probably a hundred or so rivers, streams and tributaries on the Kodiak road system. What would the cost be to do a discreet stock assessment of all of these tributaries and small streams where fish go and spawn, not mentioning the cost for the whole State of Alaska? My guess is that most of us would not be willing to pay. To be competitive in today's salmon market, we have to be very concuss of the quality of fish we are trying to sell. Under a weak stock management system we would be fishing most of our fish after they have entered fresh water.

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