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Summary for January 28 - February 1, 2008:

Monday, January 28, 2008 

To the editor: We are businesses too

In 1988 I pulled together every dime I could, borrowed money from the State of Alaska and entered into an Alaska business venture I'd longed to be back in for many years.

 I'd recently retired and was sure I had a good chance of making a go of it. The vision was to make this a family business.

 After my first year, I thought we were on the road to purchasing more capital equipment and getting both sons and their fledgling families in their own branches of the business. We had prayed. We were surely blessed. But continued success wasn't to be.

 That first year I attended a community meeting in Cordova where the business was located. I found every sector of the community welcoming and friendly. I announced in that meeting that I had recently invested more than $125,000 in a local business. The inviting spirit seemed even greater. There was real joy. A new business had come to town.

 "What is your business?" someone asked.

 Well, I just purchased a commercial fishing boat and permit, I said. I got a lot of puzzled looks. No one wanted to kick me out of town, but I guess they just hadn't thought of drift gillnetting as a business in the same sense as the local Ace Hardware.

 Now the American Petroleum Institute and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce must not see commercial fishing as a business either. That is, if their reason for siding with Exxon in the upcoming Supreme Court appeal case is to support American business.

 My creditors and the IRS sure thought I was in business. Without going into great detail I, like those in most businesses, worked untold hours. Sometimes the catch was good and the pay was too. Yet much of the time if the catch was good the price was low, or vice versa. Then you might have a breakdown that would prevent you from fishing and instead have to pay a shore-based business a big repair bill.

 Fishermen and -women try hard to have everything shipshape during down time so breakdowns are rendered infrequent. But I praise God for the other fishermen and the U.S. Coast Guard, who are always ready to lend a hand when something does go wrong.

 Now the vision and dreams are things of the past for me. I'm like a lot of other fisher people who either went bankrupt or for some other reason left their dreams behind and went on to other things. You know, it's hard enough to make a payday commercial fishing, but throw 11 million gallons of oil on your favorite fishing hole and you have a real problem. For many of my friends continuing to make their living commercial fishing, the problem hasn't gone away.

 I cannot thank Gov. Palin, the Legislature and past governors Wally Hickel, Tony Knowles, Steve Cowper and Bill Sheffield enough for supporting "small business" against a giant in this sort of David and Goliath struggle. I'm also reminded of the beloved Gov. Jay Hammond, who, were he still alive, would most certainly wax eloquent in behalf of fisher people everywhere. -- Hank Roesing, writing to the Anchorage Daily News

Here's an interesting take on commercial fishing

Like bank accounts, the nutrient cycles that influence the natural world are regulated by inputs and outputs. If a routine withdrawal is overlooked, balance sheets become inaccurate. Over time, overlooked deductions can undermine our ability to understand and manage ecological systems.

 Recent research by the Université de Montréal (Canada) and the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies (Millbrook, New York) has revealed an important, but seldom accounted for, withdrawal in the global nitrogen cycle: commercial fisheries. Results, published as the cover story in the February issue of Nature Geoscience, highlight the role that fisheries play in removing nitrogen from coastal oceans.

 Nitrogen is essential to plant and animal life; however, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. During the past century, a range of human activities have increased nitrogen inputs to coastal waters. Fertilizer run-off is the best documented and most significant source of terrestrial nitrogen pollution. Nitrogen-rich fertilizer applied to farmland eventually makes its way into coastal waters via a network of streams and rivers.

 Research spearheaded by Roxane Maranger (Université de Montréal) and Nina Caraco (Cary Institute) demonstrates that commercial fisheries play an important but declining role in removing terrestrial nitrogen from coastal waters. Accounting for this withdrawal is crucial; terrestrial-derived nitrogen can stimulate coastal phytoplankton growth, leading to eutrophication. Eutrophic waters are characterized by reduced dissolved oxygen, decreased biodiversity, and species composition shifts.

 Nitrogen is an essential component of protein; fish store nitrogen in their biomass when they feed in coastal waters.

 Because fish accumulate nitrogen as biomass, and humans move fish from the ocean to the table, commercial fisheries return part of this terrestrial-generated nitrogen back to the land.

 In the 1960s, nitrogen removal in fish harvest was equivalent to 60% of the nitrogen fertilizer delivered to coastal ecosystems throughout the world. Today, this figure has dropped to 20%; fish harvest has not (and cannot) keep pace with escalating nitrogen runoff.

 A continued decline in the proportion of nitrogen withdrawn by fishery harvests will contribute to an increase in the balance of nitrogen in coastal waters. From a historical perspective, this is bad news. Throughout the world, these ecosystems are becoming richer in nitrogen, resulting in increased phytoplankton blooms, anoxic bottom waters, and coastal dead zones. When accounting for the global nitrogen budget, don't forget fish. -- HULIQ, an independent news organization and is owned by Hareyan Publishing, North Carolina

Columbia gear conflict argument begins

The commercial fishing industry is asking Washington and Oregon to close sports fishing for five Tuesdays in late March and April while they net spring Chinook salmon in the Columbia River.

 Specifically, commercial fishers want the state to close the river between Interstate 5 and Bonneville Dam on March 25, plus April 1, 8, 15 and 22 to avoid conflicts with sportsmen.

 All commercial fishing for spring Chinook in 2008 is expected to be between the mouth of Oregon's Willamette River and Bonneville Dam. That's because a very strong run of 269,300 spring Chinook is forecast for waters upstream of Bonneville, while a weak run of only 34,000 Willamette River spring Chinook is anticipated.

 Commercial allocations are expected to be about 7,200 upper Columbia spring Chinook, although that is subject to decisions to be made Feb. 2 by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission and Feb. 8 by the Oregon commission.

 Commercial fishers get only about 300 Willamette Chinook at such a low run size, enough fish to allow for incidental catches at off-channel netting sites such as Youngs Bay at Astoria.

 Gillnetting in the spring is done normally downstream of the Willamette to the ocean. Commercial fishermen prefer the wider and deeper waters of the lower Columbia, plus the processing plants are closer.

 John North of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said commercial fishermen believe only about half their fleet will relocate upstream of Interstate 5.

 Many commercial fishermen have their nets rigged for waters deeper than that found mostly upstream of I-5. They also believe their nets will be less efficient upstream of I-5, North said.

 State officials are looking at possibly moving the boundary to the lower tip of Hayden Island, which adds a couple of miles of deep water yet still leaves a buffer upstream of the mouth of the Willamette at Kelley Point.

 Cindy LeFleur of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife said the boundary will be the same for the sport and commercial fleets.

 Randy Woolsey, a member of the bi-state Columbia River Recreational Fishing Advisory Group, said he has some concerns about the proposed Tuesday closures.

 Sportsmen might avoid the Columbia on Wednesdays, and maybe Thursdays, making crowding even more acute toward the weekends, he said. – The Vancouver (Wash.) Columbian

B.C. shrimp fisherman to pay $7,000 fines

PORT HARDY -- Admitting three fisheries offenses cost a prawn boat skipper $7,000 in fines, Jan. 8 in court.

 Rebekah Edith Parlee of the commercial vessel Silver Slug was caught pulling prawn traps more than once on May 3.

 “Fisheries officers were on patrol in Drury Inlet and they saw many sets of prawn gear that a boat had left,” Crown counsel Paul Grier told court.

 “They watched the Silver Slug pull and reset six sets of prawn gear then come back later to pull three of them again," continued Grier.

 The fisheries officers picked up the six prawn buoys, 146 prawn traps, 401 kilograms of prawns and the rope attached, said Grier, and pulled into a bay where the Silver Slug was moored. Parlee admitted she was the skipper.

 A subsequent search by the fisheries officers found 2,000 pounds of sun stars and 196 rock crabs, which are not allowed under Parlee’s prawn license and should have been returned to the ocean as soon as possible, said Grier.

 “She said she used them for bait in the prawn traps, but they were an illegal by-catch,” said Grier, who asked that Parlee be fined $10,000 for the prawn double pull and $5,000 for the illegal by catches. Fisheries had already seized fishing gear worth $11,500 from Parlee and sold the seized prawns for $4,144, said Grier, who proposed that those also be kept by the Crown.

 Representing herself in court, Parlee said the fines suggested were too high. In similar cases, other first offenders were generally fined $5,000 for a second pull, said Parlee.

 While she admitted keeping the crabs and sun stars for bait, Parlee said she has been doing that for close to 20 years in Drury Inlet without impact on it.

 After fisheries seized her traps mid-season, Parlee bought new traps last year for $12,000 that keep rock crabs and sun stars out. “By-catch is not a problem now,” she said.

 Judge Brian Saunderson complimented Parlee on her research and the presentation made in court, and added that he believed her story.

 “You are an experienced fisherwoman and I accept your explanation,” said Saunderson. “It mitigates the seriousness of the by-catches.”

 Saunderson fined Parlee $5,000 for the second pull and $2,000 for the by catches, for a total of $7,000, but added that fisheries took more prawns than they should have and owed her $2,600 back.

 As well, Saunderson ruled that the fishing gear seized would not be returned. – North Island Gazette, Port Hardy

Salmon: Breaking the salmon code

The secret to salmon protection may be written in DNA codes.

And according to Michael Banks, geneticist with the Oregon State University Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, scientists are well on their way to cracking that code for Chinook salmon.

At the Columbia Forum, Banks told a group of about 50 people in the Duncan Law Seafood Consumer Center about the role genetics could play in salmon fishery management and marketing.

Banks is leading the genetics study for the Collaborative Research on Oregon Ocean Salmon (CROOS) project, which uses DNA to track individual stocks of Chinook salmon in the ocean.

The project, a team effort between OSU and the Oregon Salmon Commission, grew out of problems with the Klamath River salmon runs in 2002. Leaders are now hoping it will help managers avoid a disaster declaration like the one that shut down the ocean salmon fishery in 2006.

For the past two years, the CROOS project has been employing salmon trollers to catch Chinook in the ocean and mark where and when they were caught. They collect tissue samples, and Banks uses 13 pieces of genetic data called "microsatellites" to determine the river where each fish was spawned.

Scientists are using the data to look for patterns in individual stock behavior that could help fishery managers protect weak runs.

"Now that we can identify each individual fish stock, we can take it to a whole new level and figure out where these fish are in the ocean at different times and how it relates to their heritage," said Banks.

If managers know where the weak runs are in the ocean, they can make in-season adjustments to fishery rules to safeguard that stock while still allowing fishermen opportunities to catch more plentiful stocks.

"I really think if we collaborate with fishermen we may be able to learn about the distribution of the fisheries," he said. "Then you may only have to close the fishery for a few weeks to protect stocks and possibly just direct fishermen to other areas."

Painting the full genetic picture of Chinook took a concerted effort from labs up and down the West Coast. Scientists collected genes from 200 river stocks from California to Alaska to use as baseline data. Now, Banks says his lab can take a fish caught in the ocean and determine with 95 percent certainty which river it came from.

The genetic testing serves a similar purpose to coded wire tags inserted into hatchery fish, said Banks. But his lab can take a tissue sample and determine the river of origin within 48 hours, while coded wire tags take weeks or months to produce results. Plus, the DNA tests work for all fish, including wild ones. Of 4,000 samples analyzed by the CROOS program, only 39 had coded wire tags.

Salmon offer other clues as to where they've been swimming and for how long. Their ear bones, called otoliths, record the chemical history of where they've been in the ocean.

"Scientists can use the chemical data combined with genetics to determine if certain stocks are occupying the same area of the ocean," Banks said. "Careful study of chemical information in the ear bone will tell them where the fish was in its first, second and third year in the ocean. ... I think this is one of the most exciting results we've made this year."

Scientists can also determine the age of the fish by analyzing its scales.

Other genes, which Banks calls "clock genes," can help scientists figure out whether a fish is programmed to return to the river to spawn in the spring or fall; they can also reveal how long juveniles spend in freshwater.

Another piece of the puzzle the CROOS project is analyzing is how ocean conditions affect fish distribution. Scientists will overlay oceanographic data with catch data, genetics and life history to figure out where the fish are swimming. The ultimate test of the CROOS project is to pull all the data together to track each stock in the ocean.

"This is actually quite a challenge," he said. "What would be really nice is in about five years' time we will have complicated information of where stocks are and where they're from, and managers can look at the data and make some intelligent decisions about where to place fishermen and how to manage fish to allow them to keep fishing."

Another aspect of the CROOS project is to use detailed catch information as a marketing tool. Each fish that's caught by CROOS trollers is labeled with a barcode that consumers can use to trace their fish back all the way to its spawning grounds. – Pacific Fishing columnist Cassandra Marie Profitta writing in the Daily Astorian


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Invasion of giant squid to alter fishery

Marine biologists have known for years that 100-pound squid have quietly made their way from the tropical regions of the Pacific to the cooler reaches of California.

 With 10 arms, a sharp beak and a mythic reputation for hunting in packs and attacking everything from scuba divers to each other, the Humboldt squid, also known as the jumbo squid, is now a common sight for fishermen and a current fascination of ocean-gazers.

 But how much of a nuisance the little-understood cephalopod could become has only recently become clear.

 Researchers in Santa Cruz have found that the squid's favorite foods are some of the most popular catches of fishermen in the region -- meaning competition and perhaps another threat to an industry that has long struggled in the Monterey Bay.

 "It looks like the squid have eaten a lot of the fish that are commercially important," said John Field, a fishery biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In Field's laboratory at Long Marine Lab, he and his colleagues have cut open the stomachs of nearly 800 squid to see what they're eating and just how much.

 While the squid's diet was historically thought to consist of krill, shrimp and small fish, Field has found that the squid are eating larger fish. Their preference is Pacific hake, which happens to be the largest fishery on the West Coast. Based primarily in the Pacific Northwest, the fishery is responsible for producing much of the nation's generic fish fillets.

 Also among the squid's favorites are some of the top money-making catches in the Monterey Bay, such as northern anchovies, Pacific sardines and market squid -- fisheries that have already had their share of struggles over the years. Also part of the squid's diet is rockfish, another popular catch locally, at least until dwindling numbers prompted tighter fishing regulations.

 Field's findings are detailed in a paper published in November in the scientific journal CalCOFI Reports. – Santa Cruz Sentinel

Copper mine threatens Yukon runs

Ask Eddy Skookum about the importance of the salmon-rich waters of the Yukon River to his people and he doesn't hesitate.

 "It's very, very, very important," says the chief of the Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation. "It's just like the blood in your veins."

 But Skookum worries that those waters -- home to the longest salmon run in North America -- are threatened by a proposed copper mine almost on the banks of a creek a few kilometres upstream from the river. He, like Yukon environmentalists, fears plans to use a mining technique new to the North could result in vast quantities of leaking sulphuric acid.

 "We don't have nothing against mining. We like the employment," Skookum says as the plan enters the last days of the regulatory process. "But there are a lot of unanswered questions to be asked."

 Driven by copper prices that have nearly quadrupled in the last five years, Vancouver-based Western Copper plans an $150-million open-pit mine on Williams Creek, about 13 kilometres northwest of Carmacks, Yukon.

 The mine, which would create 200 construction jobs and 180 mining jobs at the peak of the project's estimated eight-year life, was given preliminary approval by the Yukon's regulator last December. The company hopes to begin construction this spring.

 A process called heap leaching would be used to separate the metal from the ore. In heap leaching, ore is crushed, piled on an impermeable plastic liner and soaked with sulphuric acid. The acid dissolves the copper and is pumped out from the bottom of the heap.

 The method is cost-effective, produces copper that is 99 per cent pure and is the only way to deal with the type of ore present near Carmacks, said Paul West-Sells, Western's senior metallurgist.

Western's heap, on a hillside adjacent to the creek, would eventually cover 31.5 hectares and use 25 kilograms of sulphuric acid for every tonne of ore.

 But what happens to that heap when the ore's all gone?

 "That's when the trouble really begins," says Gerry Couture of the Yukon Conservation Society.

Western's plans to clean up the mine involve trying to neutralize the pile's acidity, covering it with dirt and replanting it.

 Couture points out that nobody has ever successfully fully neutralized a leach heap. He says rain and snow will filter down through the dirt cover and eventually bring the water table up over the dirt dike that separates the massive, acid-soaked rockpile from the creek.

 As well, he says that the plastic liner under the heap will likely eventually fail, opening another pathway for the acid to drain into the environment.

 Heap leaching is most commonly used in dry areas like Arizona. It has never been proved in the North, Couture says.

 The Yukon Environmental and Social Assessment Board acknowledged that heaps have only been successfully neutralized in tests.

 "These scaled-down tests do not provide absolute certainty with respect to predicting the chemical stability of the heap," its report says. "Furthermore, the proposed heap leach pad liner and cover may not function optimally."

 Still, the board decided the risks could be managed.

 Couture isn't so sure.

 "We feel there's a substantial chance that sometime in the future this heap is going to start leaching," he says.

 A mistake could jeopardize a major resource of his people for decades to come.

 "If the sulphuric acid leaches into the river, I'm pretty sure it'll kill everything in its path," he said.

Every year, between 15,000 and 25,000 Chinook salmon run down the Yukon past Carmacks. Williams Creek is also an important nursery stream.

 In addition, the Yukon boasts trout, arctic grayling, whitefish, pike and burbot. It supports a small commercial fishery and is a virtual grocery for area aboriginals, including the 500 or so members of Skookum's band. –  The Canadian Press

Oops! Alaska tide book gets it wrong

HOMER -- Lo, the faithful tide book -- fisherman's bible, etcher of lunar phases, harbinger of spring.

 It's been recalled.

 Pioneer Publishing, the Soldotna company that provides most of the tide books given away by Alaska businesses starting every January, has pulled this year's crop off the shelves to correct an error. New tide books should be available by the first week of March, the company says.

In the meantime, what is a daydreaming fisherman to do?

 For coastal Alaska, the pocket-sized tide book is a well-thumbed marker of the year's progress -- crisp and new in February, dog-eared by July, lost under a truck seat by October.

 In towns like Homer, the tide books show up everywhere after the first of the year, bearing the names of banks, fuel suppliers or environmental groups on the cover.

 "People come in, they've got two or three in the boat, one in the car, and usually they have one in their pocket too," said Ken Quinn, manager of Kachemak Gear Shed, who sells supplies to commercial and sport fishermen. His store gives away 3,000 to 4,000 tide books to customers every year, Quinn said.

 But it was a computer glitch that caused the "typeface discrepancy" requiring a recall of this year's first edition.

 New software installed this year didn't account for the occasional day when three tides -- say, two high tides and a low -- occur before or after noon. If it's in the morning, the second high tide should be in light typeface in the tide book. But the new software showed it in boldface -- as, say, 11:45 p.m. instead of 11:45 a.m.

 The problem was detected and called in by a Sitka fisherman in the first week of January, Thompson said.– Anchorage Daily News


Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Killer whales seek salmon off California

 In what a leading orca researcher calls an ominous sign, a group of the killer whales that frequent Puget Sound and nearby waters has turned up feeding off the coast of California for the sixth winter in a row.

 L pod, one of three orca families that frequent Washington waters, was spotted off Monterey Bay.

 The fact that the orcas are apparently ranging farther than they once did suggests that Washington's winter stocks of Chinook, the orcas' main food, have dropped too low to support them, said Ken Balcomb, a San Juan Island scientist who has studied the orcas since mid-1970s.

 Now, if the orcas want to eat, "they've got to go somewhere else," said Balcomb, founder of the Center for Whale Research.

 Solving the problem might require a moratorium on salmon fishing for several years, Balcomb wrote.

 "The path society is on, according to fisheries experts, is that Chinook stocks will be driven to extinction before the end of this century," Balcomb wrote. "We consider that ... worse news for fishermen than a few years of closure to allow stocks the best opportunity to recover."

 Before about 2000, L pod and K pod turned up most years during the winter and spring, at least occasionally, in Washington waters, Balcomb said. That suggests they were hanging around in the Pacific, someplace closer than California, he said, because it's doubtful the orcas would make the eight-day trip down to California more than once a year. Bottom line: It looks like the killer whales' behavior has changed.

 A recent orca-recovery plan by the National Marine Fisheries Service said until recent years, it was thought the orcas never traveled south of the Columbia River, which historically had numerous salmon.

 The report also called reduced Chinook numbers here a critical problem for the orcas, which are protected under the Endangered Species Act.

 Brad Hanson, a biologist at the fisheries service, said Balcomb's analysis is plausible.

"Oh, certainly. There's been large changes in salmon populations over time," Hanson said. "Obviously the animals are going to respond to that. ... They're highly mobile predators."

 As for the orcas' California visits, he said: "We're going to continue to take a long, hard look at this."

Balcomb referred to a controversy over whale-watching boats in Washington waters: "This may solve the 'problem' of whale watching in Washington state. They may just move down there," he said.

 "California is being much more proactive in their salmon recovery and setting aside marine reserves (no-fishing zones) and looking forward to recovering salmon, whereas up here fishing interests and commercial interests get first dibs." – Seattle Post-Intelligencer


Tracking your catch from fishing deck to dinner plate

Astoria's Duncan Law Seafood Consumer Center has a central role in the Collaborative Research on Oregon Ocean Salmon project.

Center Director Diane Moody has spent the past year developing a Web site consumers can use to trace the ocean-caught Chinook they buy at the seafood market.

The fish caught by trollers in the CROOS project will be labeled with a bar code that contains the time and location of the catch, as well as details about the fisherman who caught it.

"The consumer plugs in a bar code number on the site and up pops the fisherman that caught the fish," said Moody. "They can also see the story of the managers and scientists who study the fishery to get a picture of how this whole community is working together to preserve this resource."

In time, the concept could spread to other fisheries, said Moody.

The Seafood Center has organized three focus groups, the third of which was last week in Astoria, to learn what information is important to shoppers at Zupan's Markets, New Seasons Market and Whole Foods.

"They're the ones more likely to care where their seafood comes from," said Moody. "We really want to design the site for the user group."

The Web site will also have pages designed just for managers, fishermen and scientists that will be loaded with CROOS project data.

Now that scientists can determine the river of origin for ocean-caught Chinook, the fishing industry has an opportunity to tap a whole new world of marketing possibilities, said Michael Morrissey, director of the OSU Seafood Laboratory in Astoria, and a principal investigator in the CROOS project.

Eventually the genetic information in the ocean-caught fish could help the industry label and market individual stocks such as the Columbia River Chinook.

"Tracing the fish through the marketplace gives fishermen a wonderful marketing opportunity in terms of branding their product as a Rogue River fish or Umpqua River fish, which you couldn't do previously," he said. "When you catch them off the ocean, you didn't know which river system they really had been coming from."

Moody is focusing on the educational opportunities the Web site can offer, as well as potential marketing tools. The site will tell consumers the story of the people who are bringing the fish to the table.

"We believe a lot of consumers don't understand all the community hands that are involved in the fishery," she said. "There's more happening in a fishery than people know about."

The site will be tested this spring and Moody hopes to launch it for this year's summer salmon season. – Daily Astorian

 ScienceDaily (Jan. 17, 2008) — The preservation of coastal ecosystem services such as clean water, storm buffers or fisheries protection does not have to be an all-or-nothing approach, a new study indicates, and a better understanding of how ecosystems actually respond to protection efforts in a "nonlinear" fashion could help lead the way out of environmental-versus-economic gridlock.


Conservation without outright bans

There may be much better ways to provide the majority of environmental protection needed while still maintaining natural resource-based jobs and sustainable communities, scientists from 13 universities and research institutes have suggested in a new article in the journal Science.

 "The very concept of ecosystem-based management implies that humans are part of the equation, and their needs also have to be considered," said Lori Cramer, an associate professor of sociology at Oregon State University.

 "But ecosystem concerns have too often been viewed as an all-or-none choice, and it doesn't have to be that way," Cramer said. "What we are learning is that sometimes a little environmental protection can go a long way, and leave room for practical compromises."

 In their analysis, a diverse group of scientists from four nations analyzed the values and uses of mangrove forests in Thailand -- a hot spot of concern about coastal ecosystems being degraded and losing their traditional value of storm protection, wood production and fish habitat. These saltwater forests are frequently being replaced with commercial shrimp farms.

 In the past, the scientists said, it was often assumed that the environment responded to protection efforts in a "linear" fashion -- in other words, protecting twice as much of a resource generated twice the amount of protection. But the new study, and others like it, are making it more clear that ecosystems respond in a "nonlinear" fashion -- protection of a small percentage of a resource might result in a large percentage of the maximum benefit that can be gained.

 If the data are available to help quantify goods and services, researchers say, values can be attached to them and used to reach societal compromises. This might lead to most -- but not all -- of an environmental resource being protected, and some -- but not all -- of resources available for commercial use. The combined value of the ecosystem protection and commercial development may approach, or even exceed the value of a "hands-off" approach.

 "Part of the problem now is that a lot of the data we need to make this type of assessment simply isn't available," said Sally Hacker, an OSU associate professor of zoology.

 "Biological, economic and sociological data could be enormously helpful to help us reach better management decisions, and this is something we need to improve."

 Fairly good data were available in the case of the Thailand mangrove forests, however, and researchers used it to make their case. On a given area of mangrove forest there, the assigned value of ecosystem services -- storm protection, biological habitat, etc. -- was determined to be about $19 million with a "hands-off" approach and no commercial use whatsoever.

 But with a full range of uses, which included leaving 80 percent of the area in mangrove forests and gaining almost all of their flood protection ability, the value was found to be $17.5 million, Hacker said. And this allowed for a commercial shrimp fishery, gathering of wood products, fishing and other commercial uses.

 "At some point we have to get beyond this 'either-or' mentality when it comes to land and ocean management," Cramer said. "Insisting that our ecosystems be either totally protected, or totally developed, just leads to polarization, entrenched positions and a loss of communication. We can do better than that, and a good scientific approach can help show the way."

 In the final analysis, the researchers said, everything should be on the table -- the value of ecosystem services, the protection of species and the environment, jobs, tourism, protection of human life, even cultural and community values.

 "Shrimp farming may be a person's livelihood, and that cannot be ignored," Cramer said. "At the same time these mangrove forests help protect human lives and healthy ecosystems, and you can't ignore that either. The good news is that when we understand the nonlinear nature of ecosystem response, some of these compromises become possible."

 The concepts being developed, the researchers said, are directly relevant to the current debate over marine reserves in Oregon. The challenge there will be to balance an adequate amount of biological protection, and a careful analysis of the areas to be protected, with the needs and concerns of coastal communities, they said.

 In like fashion, they said, such approaches may be relevant to many other societal debates -- whether it's health care or the preservation of protective marshes around New Orleans -- in which values can be assigned to various services and compromises reached. – Science Daily



Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Sacramento salmon: A huge blow to trollers

COOS BAY — Here we go again.

The complete closure of commercial salmon fishing in Southern Oregon and Northern California in 2006 could repeat in 2008.

In 2006, it was due expected low returns of spawning Chinook to the Klamath River.

This year, it’s Central California rivers, primarily the Sacramento, that could drive cutbacks to commercial and recreational salmon fishermen.

And in a cruel twist, the Klamath River this year had fairly good runs — a situation that would normally put /southern Oregon fishermen’s fears at ease.

The Portland-based Pacific Fishery Management Council, which determines fishing seasons and regulations to be approved by the National Marine Fisheries Service, still is verifying numbers, but those numbers likely won’t change much, PFMC Executive Director Don McIsaac said in an e-mail to council members.

Only 90,414 adult fall Chinooks returned to Central Valley rivers in 2007, according to the preliminary figures. The last time returns were that low was in 1992, when returns were only 82,625. The average returns between 1970 and 2006 are 253,778.

“The Klamath could dampen the impact, but it’s a little early to know for sure yet,” council member Frank Warrens said.

Still, that’s not settling well with some local trollers. They have one word on their minds: disaster.

Where are the salmon?

Charleston salmon fisherman Rick Goche is worried. He’s been working on trying to get federal assistance for the 2007 season.

Some argue that fishermen could fish in 2007, whereas their boats were tied to the dock for the whole year in 2006 and for three months in 2005. Where is the disaster in 2007?

“We didn’t catch them,” Goche said of the Chinook that weren’t biting their hooks. “We fished hard all year long, but the fish weren’t where the fleet was.”

The 2007 season also had some closed areas, but not as many as in 2006. It was in those closed areas that fishermen hoped the Chinook were hiding.

They weren’t.

“When the returns started being counted, it started to become obvious that the fish weren’t there, either,” Goche said.

The whole situation has federal fishery managers baffled.

“There was a general decline in 2007 Chinook returns coastwide except for the Klamath,” PFMC salmon staff officer Chuck Tracy said in an e-mail.

A wide impact

The Klamath River’s disastrous problems during the last few years could be just a fraction of the impacts from the Central Valley rivers in California.

The runs are bigger on the Sacramento and, for the most part, the most stable runs of the three main salmon-producing rivers that include the Klamath and the Columbia.

“This is particularly disconcerting in that this stock has consistently been the healthy “work horse” target stock for salmon fisheries off California and most of Oregon,” McIsaac said in the e-mail to council members.

It also provides salmon catches to fishermen in Washington and as far away as British Columbia, Canada.

To say that it won’t affect Oregon fishermen is something managers and fishermen aren’t even considering.

It will — in the same way Klamath River runs affected both Oregon and California fishermen for the past few years, thanks to the mixed-stock management system.

A Klamath Chinook looks the same as a Sacramento fish. Or a Columbia River Chinook. Or any Chinook from a number of coastal streams. There’s no way for fishermen to tell whether the sleek silver fish on the end of their hooks are from which rivers, without a detailed DNA analysis.

Thus the reason to manage conservatively.

And fishermen are getting ready.

“I’m worried about us having a season at all in 2008,” Charleston troller Jeff Reeves said. “I will be involved in the council process. With the loss of Scott Boley, several of us are going to try to take his place.”

Boley was a steadfast supporter of the fishing industry, understood the science behind fishery management and was able to work with both fishermen and managers for the benefit of both. He died in 2007.

Reeves said the fishermen have a huge task ahead of them, since there has been no significant problem on the Sacramento River in the past 35 years or more.

“We’re in unexplored territory,” he said. – Coos Bay World

 Greens sue over striped bass protection

A group of environmentalists is suing two state agencies they claim violated federal law by protecting a nonnative fish species that preys on threatened fish populations.

 The Coalition for a Sustainable Delta says state laws protecting the striped bass go against the federal Endangered Species Act, and have helped cause the population of the threatened delta smelt to crash.

 The group filed suit Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Sacramento against the California Fish and Game Commission and the California Department of Fish and Game.

 Striped bass feed on Sacramento River chinook salmon, Central Valley chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead and delta smelt. – San Francisco Chronicle


Explanation for salmon of different runs?

Japanese scientists have found that common fish species may be composed of sub-populations of specialists adapted to specific narrow niches in local conditions and that these sub-populations are vulnerable to local extinction.

The study, conducted on populations of the medaka, Oryzias latipes, collected from two rivers in Nagano Prefecture (central Honshu in Japan) by Keíichiro Iguchi and Satoshi Kitano, is published in the latest issue of the journal Environmental Biology of Fishes.

The authors studied the niche profiling of populations from different habitats for a factor that possibly lies behind the species being abundant within particular areas.

This was done by measuring and analysing the behavioural (particularly with regard to feeding) and morphological characteristics of each population using principal components analysis that summarised these variables into compounded elements relevant to foraging and predator avoidance.

The authors found that the medaka in the study area is actually composed of a patchwork of populations, each with their own morphological and behavioural characteristics.

The authors conclude that the medaka “...has been considered a common species not because all conspecifics behave as generalists, but because intraspecific phenotypes are rich enough to compensate for particular niches. In other word, medaka is generalized as a sum of various specialists. Such types of common species are readily threatened by the destruction of their habitat-network.” -- Practical Fishkeeping magazine, UK


To the editor: Not every country destroying fisheries

To the Editor:

“Until All the Fish Are Gone” (editorial, Jan. 21), about the economic and ecological costs of overfishing, did not include nations like the United States, Australia, Iceland, Canada and New Zealand, which have implemented effective policies to end overfishing and rebuild stocks.

 The United States is eliminating overfishing on stocks, resulting in enormous economic benefits to our nation. In 2006, 25 percent of American. stocks were overfished, which, although excessive, pales in comparison to more than 80 percent for fisheries controlled by the European Union.

 New amendments to the federal Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act require that overfishing be eliminated by 2010 for all domestic stocks. But the United States still needs its international partners to do their part for bluefin tuna, sharks and other species that migrate.

 Healthy fish stocks support thousands of jobs in several sectors of the economy from commercial and recreational fishing to import/export businesses. Consumers worldwide would benefit from consistent national policies to eliminate overfishing and rebuild all depleted populations. -- Steven A. Murawski, director of scientific programs, NOAA, writing to the New York Times


Turtle tracked from Indonesia to Oregon

A leatherback turtle was tracked by satellite traveling 12,774 miles from Indonesia to Oregon, one of the longest recorded migrations of any vertebrate animal, scientists announced in a new report on sea turtle conservation.

 Leatherback sea turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) are the largest of all living turtles and are widely distributed throughout the world's oceans. They have been seen in the waters off Argentina, Tasmania, Alaska and Nova Scotia.

 Adult leatherbacks periodically migrate from their temperate foraging grounds to breeding grounds in the tropics.

 Scientists at the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) tracked one female nester, who was tagged on Jamursba-Medi beach in Papua, Indonesia, on her journey back to her foraging grounds off the coast of Oregon. She was tracked for 647 days covering a distance about equal to two round trips between New York and Los Angeles.

 The turtle's trip set a new record for sea turtlees, and is among the longest documented migrations for any marine vertebrate.

 The longest measured annual migration for any animal is the 40,000-mile journey between New Zealand and the North Pacific of the sooty shearwater (Puffinus griseus), a medium-sized seabird.

 The leatherback tracked by the NMFS belongs to one of two distinct breeding populations in the Pacific, the western group. Other research has shown that nesters from this population migrate through areas in the Philippines, South China Sea, Japan, and the waters around many other countries, spurring conservationists to call for an international effort to protect the species, which is listed as Critically Endangered on the World Conservation Union's Red List. – LiveScience


Friday, February 1, 2008

Gulf of Alaska rockfish plan succeeding

 A pilot program to test cooperative management of the Gulf of Alaska rockfish fishery is already paying off for both fishermen and the broader Kodiak community, according to Julie Bonney, executive director of the Alaska Groundfish Data Bank.

"In its first year, the pilot program was successful in slowing the pace of the fishery, improving product quality, reducing bycatch, and even giving a boost to the local economy," Bonney said. "It shifted a significant part of the catch to off-peak months, avoiding conflicts with the salmon fleet and lowering unemployment on the island."

Developed by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council and authorized by Congress as the first multi-species rationalization program in the North Pacific, the 5-year Rockfish Pilot Program was limited to trawlers in the Central Gulf of Alaska that fish for Pacific Ocean Perch, Northern Rockfish and Pelagic Shelf Rockfish and are allowed to take incidental harvests of Pacific Cod and Sablefish.

"Rockfish are a $3 million part of Kodiak's vibrant seafood economy, but under the old 'race for fish,' the fishery took place during the first three weeks of July, just as the busy salmon season was getting underway," Bonney said. "That wasn't good for fishermen or processors. A cooperative fishery could spread those rockfish landings throughout the year and particularly to off-peak processing months."

Under the pilot program, the rockfish quota was divided among the participants based on their individual catch history, and fishermen were required to partner with their previous processor. Given a choice between the old derby and the cooperative fishery, 99 percent of the qualified license holders signed on to the new plan. No fleet consolidation occurred: 26 vessels participated in the fishery this year compared to 25 boats in 2006 and included some who took advantage of a provision to attract new entrants.

The rockfish season opened May 1 and continued through November. Most of the catch occurred during the months of May and June, when landings ranged between 1,000 and 2,000 tons per week. That was usually a slack season for processors, but the cooperative fishery kept the plants humming.

"The change in season allowed more rockfish to be brought and processed onshore," Bonney said. "Local rockfish production jumped 20%, from 15 million pounds in 2006 to over 18 million pounds this year. More work for the local processors saw the unemployment rate in Kodiak during May and June drop from about ten percent to six."

Absent the "race for fish," processors were allowed to focus on more high-value products. Fillet production tripled while production of lower-priced whole fish was cut in half, and the need to process the lowest-priced product, surimi, was eliminated entirely. The fleet also demonstrated that the cooperative fishery could help achieve important conservation goals.

"Strict bycatch standards were imposed by the participants; individual fishermen could be held accountable for unacceptable rates and that prompted them to innovate," Bonney said. "The result was a significant increase in fishing off the bottom, fewer gear impacts to habitat and more than a 70 percent reduction in halibut bycatch."

Improved retention and utilization of the harvest was also a goal of the pilot project and discard rates were held at close to zero. The May and June deliveries also were better for local utilities, corresponding to seasonal drops in electric and water demand.

Like any new program, not everything was perfect the first year. The observer requirements (100 percent for vessels and 200 percent for processors) were costly. Processors were surprised by initial market resistance to fresh rockfish. The price fishermen received, while higher than before, wasn't as much as some hoped.

"With any major change, you can't expect to achieve all benefits in the first year, but the participants in Kodiak's Rockfish Pilot Program are very pleased with the success of the cooperative fishery and look to build on that to achieve additional benefits for harvesters, processors and the broader community of Kodiak," Bonney said.

Kodiak ranked as the nation's 4th largest fishing port in terms of volume with 332 million pounds processed in 2006 and placed 3rd in value, worth $101 million. It is home to multiple processing plants that handle a wide variety of seafood: salmon, halibut, crab, herring, rockfish and more, is home-port to many family-owned fishing vessels and boasts the only year-round residential processing workforce in Alaska. – SitNews, Ketchikan

Alaska's weathervane scallop prices down

KODIAK, Alaska – Prices were down and costs were up for those who participated in the scallop fishery this year.

 Jim Stone, owner of the fishing vessel Ocean Hunter, has been in the scallop business for about 12 years. His was one of five vessels that took part in the fishery in two areas around Kodiak this year. Two of those vessels dredged scallops in the northeast area, which is divided into several sections, three in the Shelikof District.

 Stone said this year was “nothing stupendous” as far as harvesting scallops went; everything was normal.

 However, Stone estimates the price of scallops is down about 10 to 15 percent from last year.

 While several factors can affect price, for about 20 pounds of scallops Stone said a shopper could expect to pay about $8 per pound. Compared to the retail price of $15 to $16 per pound, that’s a bargain, he said.

 Stone experienced the same pains as in every other industry with rising fuel costs. Stone said fuel used to account for about 10 percent of cost. Now, it ranges between 25 and 30 percent of the cost.

 With the decreased scallop price and increased fuel costs, the year was not as profitable as it could have been, though Stone still spoke positively of the harvesting.

 Judging by what Stone saw during the five months or so harvesting scallops, next year should yield more. He said the fishery is looking healthier, despite the quota being much lower than what it has been in the past.

 Area shellfish management biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Division of Commercial Fisheries Nicholas Sagalkin said the guidelines for harvesting scallops are based on data collected from onboard observers during the commercial fishery. Data collected this year will help set next year’s guidelines.

 This year, 170,000 pounds of scallop meat could be harvested in the Shelikof District, and 90,000 pounds in the northeast area.

 In both areas the amount harvested came “very close” to the guidelines, Sagalkin said. The scallop fishery closed recently.

 Stone said the product is sold to a number of different buyers. Some scallops are sold locally, though the bulk are shipped to other locations, including Anchorage and Seattle.

Open access again

 Scallops are harvested from beds using dredges. Sagalkin said specialized gear is required for the fishery, and there is a fair amount of technique in locating scallop beds and in shucking scallops.

 A limited number of permits are issued for vessels to harvest scallops. The limited access was enacted, Sagalkin said, to keep the fishery from being exploited.

 However, that legislation has a “sunset” date of 2009. After that, the fishery will become open access again in state waters unless legislators decide to continue limited access. The bill will go before the state Legislature during the current session.

 Sagalkin said as it appears now, the law will not be renewed.

 State legislation extends only to areas within a 3-mile range of shore. Beyond that, federal regulations must be observed. Current federal regulations require limited access to the scallop fishery.

 Sagalkin said many scallop beds are split on that 3-mile line, which could complicate efforts to enforce the federal limited access regulations. – Kodiak Daily Mirror

 In Kodiak, more talking about boat lift project

Concern was in the atmosphere at a recent Port and Harbor Advisory Board meeting and the first agenda item discussed was the $13 million boatlift project.

 Members wanted to know why Marine Travelift, a top U.S. manufacture of boatlifts, did not want to bid.

 “Specifically, we are not willing to satisfy the current bid requirements in the areas of bonding, penalty clause, payment structure and product acceptance,” Peter Kerwin, chief financial officer for Marine Travelift Company, wrote in an e-mail to City Manager Linda Freed.

 The Economic Development Agency, where Kodiak is getting some of the money to fund the project, requires 100 percent performance bonds so that if a company defaults on the project the money will be protected.

 “The performance bond is pretty typical,” city engineer Howard Weston said. “It’s common to write bonds for 100 percent of the value of the equipment when you’re purchasing something like this.”

 Travelift officials don’t believe 100 percent bonding is necessary.

 “While we understand your need for security and are willing to offer you something reasonable, we feel that requiring bonds for bidding, performance and payment is overly burdensome to the supplier,” Kerwin wrote. “We typically see contracts requiring a bond in the range of 10 percent of the total contract value.” – Kodiak Daily Mirror

In Kodiak, more talking about boat lift project

Concern was in the atmosphere at a recent Port and Harbor Advisory Board meeting and the first agenda item discussed was the $13 million boatlift project.

 Members wanted to know why Marine Travelift, a top U.S. manufacture of boatlifts, did not want to bid.

 “Specifically, we are not willing to satisfy the current bid requirements in the areas of bonding, penalty clause, payment structure and product acceptance,” Peter Kerwin, chief financial officer for Marine Travelift Company, wrote in an e-mail to City Manager Linda Freed.

 The Economic Development Agency, where Kodiak is getting some of the money to fund the project, requires 100 percent performance bonds so that if a company defaults on the project the money will be protected.

 “The performance bond is pretty typical,” city engineer Howard Weston said. “It’s common to write bonds for 100 percent of the value of the equipment when you’re purchasing something like this.”

 Travelift officials don’t believe 100 percent bonding is necessary.

 “While we understand your need for security and are willing to offer you something reasonable, we feel that requiring bonds for bidding, performance and payment is overly burdensome to the supplier,” Kerwin wrote. “We typically see contracts requiring a bond in the range of 10 percent of the total contract value.” – Kodiak Daily Mirror

Report: Canadian salmon stocks disappearing

A new report from the David Suzuki Foundation concludes that the federal government must do more if wild Pacific salmon stocks are to stand a chance of survival.

 The recently released report, entitled An Upstream Battle: Declines in 10 Pacific Salmon Stocks and Solutions for Their Survival, explores the factors contributing to the loss of Pacific salmon as well as ways we might save them. The report concludes that urgent action is needed to save wild stocks in British Columbia and to protect the freshwater and coastal ecosystems where they live and spawn.

 "This report shows that we've reached a critical point," said Jeffrey Young, an aquatic biologist with the David Suzuki Foundation.

 "These 10 stocks are examples of the challenges facing all wild Pacific salmon. It's clear that urgent action and comprehensive fisheries and habitat management changes are absolutely necessary."... – Prince Rupert Daily News

Salmon: Ruminations on dying runs

Here on the Salmon Coast, soul-stirring runs return with the rains. We always know both are coming, we don't know how much.

 And, just like the weather, while everybody talks about the fate of wild salmon, nobody does anything about it.

 The iconic salmon is entangled in our sense of identity. It symbolizes our home and reminds us of our own transient place in nature. First nations elders say their cultural survival is linked to salmon.

 Yet our misty-eyed reverence evaporates the moment the needs of salmon conflict with somebody making money.

 For example, every year since 1993 the Fraser has been prominent on the annual list of endangered rivers. Threats include gravel extraction, logging, farming and suburban sprawl.

 So it's no surprise that, even as we get more grim news about the prospects for wild salmon survival, another huge gravel mining operation prepares to scalp salmon spawning habitat.

 After studying 30 years of data, the David Suzuki Foundation found shocking salmon declines. Since 1990, stocks plummeted by 70 to 93 per cent among 10 representative B.C. populations.

 The report doesn't say it, so I will. Among our leading culprits is the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, notwithstanding its many fine individual scientists, dedicated public servants and their notable achievements.

 But the DFO pontificates about wild salmon policy while behaving like a hostage to industry. Although specifically mandated to protect wild salmon, it approves projects which biologists say will harm them.

 It salves its conscience with promises it seems incapable of fulfilling. What else to conclude from watching salmon runs under its stewardship dwindle from astonishing abundance to pathetic tatters?

 You don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to notice that the period in which the steepest declines began coincides with the Mulroney government's remaking of the department. Sure, the DFO nabs the occasional poacher, illegal clam digger or householder messing with riparian zones, but when it comes to the big-ticket stuff, it just doesn't seem present or accounted for.

 Want to "mine" the province's most important and endangered salmon river -- be our guests! Decide that of all possible locations on this huge coast, you simply must locate your fish farm on a main migration route -- no problem! Leave a salmon river so choked with debris torrents it looks like a landing strip for jumbo jets -- let bygones be bygones!

 Our provincial government is also a player in this two-faced farce. Pave the parks, treat them like a land bank for resort development, liquidate the old growth in watersheds, let timber giants convert forest reserves to real estate without paying the compensation due as the original deal for access to public lands, kiss off the last spotted owl habitat, industrialize pristine foreshores, turn a blind eye to repeated pollution permit violations.

 Similar hypocrisy permeates the commercial fishing sector. The same folks lamenting DFO incompetence will lobby furiously for fisheries openings that biologists warn may tip already weak stocks like the Sakinaw or Cultus sockeye over the brink and into the abyss of extinction.

 Sports anglers think it's all about them. Salmon returns are declining? Let's kill all the seals so there are more fish for us. No Chinooks in the Cowichan River? Let's launch a bizarre ocean ranching scheme in which the release of hatchery fish at convenient fishing spots will create angling opportunities that mask the real declines in abundance.

 First nations aren't immune either, not if there's a major buck to be made logging or mining a watershed or digging the gravel out of spawning beds. All of us, all the while, go on chanting the sanctimonious mantra of the sacred salmon.

 Well, as I've said before, in a democracy, citizens get exactly what they deserve. The onus for change lies not with the bullied bureaucrats but with the voters who have the power to hold accountable those to whom they delegate authority.

 Time to start asking yourself whether your grandchildren deserve a coast of barren rivers and denuded landscapes, in which the salmon that once came to us by the hundreds of millions have largely been lost to concrete blocks, video games and toilet paper. – Stephen Hume, writing in the Vancouver Sun