Politicians: Mid-Coast salmon aid to come faster
Federal, state, and local officials say the swift end to the 2008 salmon season requires an equally swift decision about providing disaster assistance. They want to avoid the lag time coastal communities faced between disaster declaration and assistance after the 2006 salmon fishery closure.
The pending 2008 closure -- one far more sweeping in scope than the 2006 shutdown -- prompted U.S. Rep. Darlene Hooley and Oregon's U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Gordon Smith to request immediate federal disaster assistance.
"The decisions made on the 2008 salmon fishery will be, quite literally, life altering for many, and historic for the coast," said Hooley. "The federal and state response must be swift and sure to provide disaster assistance to our coastal communities." Hooley wants the federal assistance included in the 2008 Emergency Disaster Supplemental Appropriations Bill expected to go to Congress in late April or early May. Newport News-Times
Who's, or what's, killing Mid-Coast salmon?
TRACY, Calif. -- When water managers in the center of California throw the switch to send water south toward thirsty Los Angeles and farms and cities along the way, rivers start to run backward.
Roaring pumps gulp from the once-vibrant maze of waterways in the heart of the state known as the California Delta. Today it's the center of a gargantuan plumbing system stretching from one end of California to the other.
It's also the cradle for fish that Oregon depends on.
They are Sacramento River fall Chinook salmon, and this is what the young fish negotiate as they swim to the ocean. If they make it beyond the pumps to the ocean, and thrive there, they fill the holds of Oregon fishing boats, supply grocery store fish cases and thrill sport anglers who pile onto Oregon charter vessels every summer.
More than half the salmon caught off the Oregon coast typically come from the Sacramento.
But these salmon, which have long defied their surroundings to remain the strongest salmon stock on the West Coast, have suddenly collapsed. Fish headed to sea vanished amid a treacherous world of large water diversions, reversing rivers, alien predators, toxic water and, in the ocean, unpredictable currents and food supplies.
The most sweeping salmon fishing closure in history will keep most West Coast salmon boats in port this summer in a last-ditch attempt to preserve the few fish left in the ocean. Meanwhile, scientists, fishermen and millions of others from Southern California to Oregon whose fate is tied to these fish unravel the mystery of what killed off the rest of them.
"It isn't just a California problem," says Ken Scheidegger, an oceanographer by training who left a professor's job at Oregon State University to run a marina in the California Delta. "We're all looking at it, because we're all involved in it."
Though many scientists see ocean conditions as the only factor big enough to explain the severity of the collapse, others also finger California's insatiable thirst for water.
The Sacramento River resembles the Columbia River in the obstacles it holds for salmon -- dams, for instance, and pollution. But the Sacramento and its delta, where the river slows and wanders before reaching San Francisco Bay, has the added pressure of supplying water to 23 million people in the most populous state in the nation and one of the driest.
Silicon Valley and Hollywood get their water from this river. So do farms that grow much of the nation's lettuce, garlic, tomatoes and other crops.
That makes it all the more amazing that Sacramento River salmon have survived here so well for so long.
Sacramento salmon were long ago cut off from their richest habitat by dams designed in the 1930s. The dams capture rain and snow in relatively wet Northern California and deliver it to the desert hundreds of miles south.
The dams, including Shasta Dam, remain one of the most ambitious water projects in the world. The complex includes an 11-mile tunnel shunting water from the Trinity River, a part of the Klamath River drainage that stretches into Oregon, through the snowy Trinity Mountains into the Sacramento and, ultimately, south to Southern California.
The system uses the Sacramento River as a canal. The water flows according to human demands, which means it may not come at the right time or temperature for fish. Nests of salmon eggs, called redds, may end up high, dry and dead.
Biologists carefully mete out the limited supply of cool water in reservoirs they can release into rivers to keep them hospitable to salmon.
For decades, the system's out-of-whack flows and diversion dams killed lots and lots of fish, recalls James Smith, a fisheries biologist who has worked since the 1980s for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Red Bluff, Calif., along the upper Sacramento.
The Sacramento is unique in having four separate runs of salmon: spring, fall, late fall and winter -- each finely tuned to its own seasons and conditions. The salmon persevered after the dams, with the winter fish shifting their spawning to new stretches they could still reach.
"It was pretty miraculous they were able to survive," Smith says.
The Sacramento's winter salmon were declared endangered in 1994, but the river and fish have persisted. The river defied government attempts to straighten and confine it.
The fall salmon -- long the strongest run and heavily supplemented by fish hatcheries -- even boomed as recently as a few years ago.
It's not unusual for fishermen to pull 45- or 50-pound salmon from the upper river every year.
But this year, Smith says, the number of young salmon heading downriver is down, way down, evidence that few wild adults returned to spawn last year.
Still, Smith cannot see an explanation in the river for the salmon collapse. For one thing, it's much friendlier to salmon today. New screens keep them from getting sucked into irrigation ditches, and a diversion dam at Red Bluff -- made of panels that open and shut -- remains open much of the year so fish can get by. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation spent $80 million retrofitting Shasta Dam to release cooler water when fish most need it.
For another thing, when the fish that have vanished first headed to sea, river flows were unusually good.
"Lots of good things were happening," Smith says. "Then all of a sudden, where did all our fish go?"
Salmon swimming south in the Sacramento River toward the ocean soon enter a strange and manhandled place called the California Delta.
Once this was a vast, prolific wetland where the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers slowed and wandered through a lazy spider-web of channels and finally into San Francisco Bay and the ocean.
But state and federal water managers set about moving the water to better suit California's needs. They diverted the headwaters of the San Joaquin River, which once held the southernmost salmon run in the United States. Parts of it are now dry most years.
They reworked the delta to get water from the Sacramento River at the north end to giant pumping plants at the south end. The pumps then ship it farther south to cities and farms.
Water on its way to the ocean is pulled backward by the pumps, reversing river flows and drawing saltwater inland. The system is delicately balanced: Managers can open huge metal gates to feed extra freshwater into the central delta, helping flush the intruding saltwater back out.
"They're literally operating the rivers to support the pumps," said Tina Swanson, a scientist with the Bay Institute, an advocate for better fish protection.
Cities hundreds of miles away in Southern California can tell when the gates are closed because without the flushing freshwater, water they get from the delta is saltier and requires more costly filtering.
Caught in the middle of all this are the fish.
The reversing rivers throw them off course on their way to the sea, sucking them into the sluggish maze of the delta. There they face voracious predators such as bass, an introduced species, and pollution from the booming population around the delta.
"There are forces at work to confuse and alter what they would normally do," said Scheidegger, the former OSU professor.
The pumps to Southern California sit like a drain at the south end of the delta, their intakes near sea level.
Water headed for the pumps flows first through screens at state and federal "fish salvage facilities." The screens strain out fish, which end up in metal buckets at the bottom of funnel-shaped chambers.
Jeff McCracken of the federal Bureau of Reclamation calls them "billion-dollar buckets" because if too many protected fish such as smelt and salmon end up in them, pumps may be shut down -- with billion-dollar repercussions in Southern California. Fish in the buckets are loaded into tanker trucks and released closer to the ocean.
But biologists know that many die before they reach the buckets. Some studies have found three quarters or more get eaten by bass. About 55,000 salmon are believed to have been killed in the system in early 2006, when the missing salmon were on their way to the sea, according to the California Department of Water Resources.
"Practically the best thing a salmon can do is get through the delta as fast as it can, because it's so dangerous," Swanson says.
Conditions have deteriorated to where a judge last year restricted pumping to Southern California to help protect another collapsing species, the federally protected delta smelt. A similar decision on salmon may come soon. Only a few pumps are running now.
Not only salmon and smelt are collapsing. So are other fish species, even the bass. Exotic weeds, including an aquatic grass used to decorate aquariums, are taking over the delta. Careless water skiers plow into big mats of water hyacinth.
Scheidegger recalls when fishermen would show up at 4 a.m. to rent boats, catch their limit of hulking, healthy fish, and hand off their boat to a second set of anglers who did the same.
"This system used to be so friendly to fishermen," he recalls. "There may be as many fishermen, but I don't think they're catching what they used to in terms of keepers."
He watches the delta with a scientist's eye, looking for changes in the place he has lived for 25 years. He started a nonprofit to highlight the delta and its resources -- which many Californians barely realize exist.
"If you want to blame something, it's the increasing population of California -- you're putting more pressure on water and everything else," he says. "How are you going to improve the system if you're taking away the water that made it what it was to begin with?"
State fish hatcheries truck their salmon past the delta so more survive to reach the sea.
But that may provide another clue about what did in the fish. Trucked fish have suffered much the same collapse as fish that traveled down the river and past the delta. That suggests to Smith and other scientists that while plenty of fish perish in the delta, something else, something even bigger, may be dominating this die-off.
When salmon swim into the ocean, they disappear for years. That's why fisheries biologists often call it a "black box." There's little hint of what happens to them until they head back to their home river to spawn.
Last year, few did.
Salmon, unlike most other fish, depend on two very different environments: the river (and in the Sacramento, the delta) and the sea. It pays off when the fish can escape poor river conditions in the ocean.
But when the ocean takes a turn for the worse, they get a double whammy. And that's exactly what the ocean from San Francisco north to Oregon did, just as the missing fish ventured into it.
Seabirds washed up dead on the beach as a pipeline of nutrients from the deep ocean shut down. Young salmon -- especially fall Chinook, no longer than your index finger when they enter the sea -- perished too.
"These animals are unique in that they need two very healthy habitats," says Bruce MacFarlane, leader of the salmon ecology team at the federal Southwest Fisheries Science Center in Santa Cruz, Calif. "What we can do is, we can take care of the freshwater side a lot better than we can take care of the marine side."
There's no question that the Sacramento delta is in trouble. But many scientists see no evidence that it was dramatically worse when the vanished salmon passed through than in other years when salmon thrived.
The diversion gates that often shunt them off course were closed most of the time. Pumping has increased in recent years, but remains limited when many of the fall salmon pass through.
Coastal salmon runs from other river systems declined, too. There's little doubt the deteriorating delta leaves the young salmon more vulnerable to an unfriendly sea. But the combination may have dealt them a devastating blow.
"When conditions in one place or the other are bad, they may be able to suffer through it," Swanson said. "When conditions in both places are poor, it's when you see these dramatic drops." The Oregonian
B.C. court says no separate tribal fishery
VANCOUVER The B.C. Supreme Court has ruled that a native band on the province's north coast has no right to a separate commercial fishery.
The Tsimshian First Nation had sought a declaration from the court that it has an aboriginal right to fish on a commercial scale for a wide variety of seafood, including salmon, halibut and herring.
The federal and provincial governments disputed the band's claim, arguing that before the arrival of Europeans, the Coast Tsimshian harvested a variety of species for sustenance, but traded only small amounts of fish, other than oolichan.
Madam Justice Deborah Satanove agreed with the Crown on that point, and ruled the trade in oolichan could not be expanded to a right to trade commercially for other species.
She also found the Crown had never given the First Nation a promise of commercial fishing rights or promised an exemption from limits placed on other fishing groups. Canadian Press
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Fuel costs keeping Oregon shrimpers in port
Rising fuel costs are causing headaches for Oregon's commercial shrimpers and shrimp processors.
As of April 1, when this year's pink shrimp season opened, all but a handful of Oregon's shrimpers have tied up their boats to protest what fishermen say are inadequate prices given the skyrocketing cost of fuel. In a good year, about two dozen fishermen deliver pink shrimp to processors at the mouth of the Columbia River.
Shrimp processors say they are offering fishermen a reasonable price -- and the highest price they can afford in the current shrimp market.
But without the promise of higher prices for their catch, fishermen say, it's not worth paying the price of fuel to go fishing.
"The prices that are out there just aren't good enough to actually make a profit," said Astoria shrimper Brian Petersen, who usually delivers his catch to Fishhawk Fisheries for processing. "We don't know what we're going to do. The season started April 1, and the last time I checked fuel was up $3.60 a gallon. It's tough to do that on what they're offering."
Fuel prices have spiked since last season, Petersen said, but the price for shrimp has not risen to help cover the expense. Market conditions appear to be strong for the Oregon shrimp product, he said, but the price isn't reflecting those conditions.
Steve Fick, owner of Fishhawk Fisheries, said actually, processors are facing a difficult market for selling Oregon's shrimp. They're competing with an abundance of less expensive foreign shrimp products, he said, which makes it harder to sell local shrimp at the price fishermen are requesting.
"What they're asking for right now is more cost than the processors can sell it for," said Fick, noting that the downturn in the U.S. economy isn't helping the cause, either.
"Fuel prices are frustrating for everyone," he said. "Everybody's having a tough time, and they're not going to spend a lot of money on shrimp."
According to Jeff Boardman, a Newport shrimper and a member of the Oregon's shrimp marketing association, said about 95 percent of the state's shrimp fleet is tied up and waiting for a better offer from processors.
A few boats have gone out to fish for some processors. Bornstein Seafoods has offered a fuel bonus of a few cents per pound to help with rising costs, and two of its six boats are fishing.
Last year, the Oregon shrimp fleet was the first shrimp fishery in the world to be awarded Marine Stewardship Council certification for its efforts to produce environmentally sustainable product. Often, the eco-label helps garner higher prices for Oregon shrimp among environmentally conscious consumers.
The group has asked the Oregon Department of Agriculture to step in to help negotiate a price.
"It's pretty tough on some of us," he said. "All I do is shrimp, and we're losing some of our season. ... The sad part about this is we worked so hard to get the (Marine Stewardship Council) label, and we really need to get out there and put our product on the market to see if we can get more money for it." Pacific Fishing columnist Cassandra Marie Profita writing in The Daily Astorian
Greens decry illegal Russian Arctic fishing
GENEVA Illegal fishing of cod and pollock in the Arctic is a transnational crime that is putting the health of fisheries at risk, a report published Wednesday by conservation group WWF shows.
The illegal activity is also adding pressure on fish stocks that are already feeling the impact of climate change, said the report.
Some 70 percent of the world's white fish supply originates from the Arctic. Among these are the Russian-Alaska pollock and Barents Sea cod which account for about a quarter of the world's white fish supply.
In 2005, over 100,000 tonnes of illegal cod valued at 225 million euros (350 million dollars) were caught in the Barents Sea.
Efforts to clamp down have resulted in the halving of such illegal landings of cod, but the poaching of Alaska pollock remains a problem, said the WWF.
Illegal Alaska pollock catch can reach a value of 45 million euros a year.
"Illegal fishing in the Arctic is a serious transnational crime crossing European, African, Asian and American borders," said Neil Hamilton, director of WWF International's Arctic Programme.
"Cheats are putting short-term profits ahead of the long-term survival of Arctic fisheries," he added.
The group said illegally caught pollock was typically carried to China for processing by a Russian vessel, the deal was usually handled by middlemen in South Korea, and the processed fish re-exported as fillets to the United States.
"With markets spread across the globe, the distribution of black market cod and pollock is a global problem," said the group. Press release
Editorial: Gravel mine can expand on salmon stream
The route to protecting the most beautiful undammed river in Clark County is taking as many twists and turns as the East Fork of the Lewis River itself. The Court of Appeals reversed a Clark County (Washington) Superior Court judge’s decision and ruled that the Board of Clark County Commissioners must allow a gravel mining company to expand its operations along the river.
J.L. Storedahl & Sons of Kelso have engaged in a 12-year battle with environmentalists, and the ruling was a victory for the gravel miners. That means it was a defeat for the people of Clark County and for wild fish, about 1,500 to 3,000 of which migrate annually in the north county river.
But the battle will rage on, fortunately. David McDonald, attorney for Friends of the East Fork, said on Friday that the group, joined by Fish First, will file a petition for review with the Washington State Supreme Court. County commissioners, who will discuss the case on Wednesday, are urged to join the appeal.
The bad news should not deter the environmentalists and the county commissioners from continuing the quest to deny Storedahl’s application for a zone change that would allow expanded mining.
Many details are well known in this case. As we pointed out in an editorial a year ago, a zoning change would mean 12 million tons of sand and gravel could be carved out of 101 undisturbed acres along a migratory path for six threatened species of fish.
Rational observers know this can do nothing but hurt the river. We hope the state Supreme Court sees it that way, too. The (Vancouver, Wash.) Columbian
California gets new fish and game chief
SACRAMENTOGov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has named a wildlife manager with 30 years of experience to head the California Department of Fish and Game.
Donald Koch (cook) replaces L. Ryan Broddrick, who resigned last August.
In making the appointment, Schwarzenegger said California's wildlife is among the state's most treasured natural resources.
Koch, who is 55, held a variety of posts within the Department of Fish and Game before he retired last December.
Those jobs included representing the department in Klamath River negotiations, managing law enforcement and fish, wildlife and habitat conservation in Northern California, and directing the statewide black bear and elk programs.
Koch has a master's degree in biological sciences from Sacramento State University and a bachelor's degree in zoology from the University of California, Davis. -- San Jose Mercury News
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
B.C. seiners fined for not brailing
Five seine vessel skippers in the 2007 North Coast seine salmon fishery -- including two from Prince Rupert -- were convicted for violations under the Fisheries Act after failing to brail fish.
Skipper of the Miss Cory, Lawrence Atchinson was convicted Oct. 22 in Prince Rupert provincial court after pleading guilty to violating the conditions of his licence on July 24. Atchinson was fined $1,000 in total, $900 of which will go toward promoting the proper management and control or conservation and protection of fisheries and fish habitat.
Skipper of the Western Lady Franklin Clifton was convicted in February after failing to brail fish on July 24 and fined a total of $975.
The brailing technique, which removes fish from the purse seine net by means of a large dip net, reduces the stress and crushing effect on fish. It was implemented into the seine fishery to improve the chances of survival for weaker salmon stocks and its use has resulted in increased fishing opportunities for seines on the coast, says DFO.
Mark Wells of Courtenay, Roy Manning of Delta and Wayne Birch of Delta were also charged with failing to brail fish and fined amounts ranging from $750 to $1,075. Prince Rupert Daily News
B.C. seamount now a protected area
VANCOUVER A thriving eco-system surrounding an underwater mountain off the British Columbia coast is the latest addition to Canada's Marine Protected Areas.
"Just think of it as creating a natural park, but underwater, that we want to protect for generations and generations to come," Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn said.
As seagulls soared overhead and seaplanes rumbled through the Vancouver harbour, Lunn said scientists are already looking at how to best protect the Bowie Seamount, 180 kilometres off the northwest coast of the Queen Charlotte Islands.
The seamount is unique in that the summit of the underwater mountain reaches to only 24 metres below the sea. Ocean currents sweep nutrient rich water to the surface, making for easy pickings for a rich variety of marine life.
Orca, humpback and Northern right whales, sea lions, dolphins, sharks and at least 53 species of fish, such as halibut and rockfish, are also attracted to the benefits of the seamount's unique geological features.
Two other seamounts, Hodgkins and Davidson, will be part of the protected area.
Now that Bowie has been declared a protected area, the next step is to assess the existing and potential threats to the seamount, the World Wildlife Fund says. Canadian Press
Cook Inlet Beluga decision in six months
A federal agency is giving itself six more months to decide whether to list as endangered the beluga whales that swim in waters off Anchorage.
The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries Service announced that it is taking advantage of a one-time, six-month extension in order to do another population estimate on the Cook Inlet whales that swim off Anchorage, delighting tourists and Alaskans alike.
The agency last year recommended listing the whales under the Endangered Species Act.
At one time there were as many as 1,300 Cook Inlet belugas but numbers have now dwindled to an estimated 375 whales -- about the same number as nearly 20 years ago.
Last year's estimate was up from 302 in 2006, giving some hope that the whales were recovering. Projections show that the whales have nearly an 80 percent chance of going extinct in 300 years.
The decline is believed to be because of overharvesting by Alaska Native subsistence hunters before the hunt was sharply curtailed nearly a decade ago. No whales were harvested last year. The recommendation is for none this year. Anchorage Daily News
Alaska crabbers thank research vessel for whale save
The Alaska Crab Coalition issued a press release expressing regret over the April 12 entanglement of a gray whale in Alaska crab gear and thanking the crew of the HSU research vessel the Coral Sea for setting the whale free.
”While entanglements like this are rare, any such occurrence is unfortunate, and we appreciate the efforts of the Humboldt State University crew for disentangling the animal,” said ACC Executive Director Arni Thomson. “We hope their action gives this whale a fighting chance.”
As reported in the Times-Standard's April 15 edition, the crew of the Coral Sea encountered the whale trailing three buoys and 50 feet of line 12 nautical miles off the coast of the Eel River. The whale was clearly stressed by the burden, so the crew carefully approached the animal and was able to cut away the buoys and most of the line.
Since the buoys were marked, the gear in question was easily identified as belonging to an ACC member.
According to the press release, the buoys had been attached to a crab pot legally set in December during the Bristol Bay Red King Crab fishery in the Bering Sea, and the gear was logged as missing when the owner attempted to recover the pot several days later.
Pots are occasionally lost when the buoy line is struck by passing vessels or sheared off by the Bering Sea ice pack, although the latter would not have been a problem in December, the release stated.
”Crab gear is expensive, and fishermen take pains not to lose it, but accidents occasionally occur,” Thomson said. “Regulatory efforts to slow the pace of the fishery in recent years were aimed, in part, at reducing incidents of gear loss.” Eureka Times-Standard
Crewmembers to receive state aid
Boston -- Crew members of groundfish boats are slated to get nearly 10 percent of the $13.4 million federal aid package for the state’s fishing industry.
The state Division of Marine Fisheries approved the final plan for the distribution of the funds last week, and U.S. Sen. John Kerry said he expects federal regulators will adopt the state plan. Most of the money will go directly to fishing vessel owners.
An initial proposal only included $375,000 to help subsidize health insurance for crew members, but Division of Marine Fisheries director Paul Diodati raised that amount to $500,000 and included $750,000 in direct financial grants for crew members.
Diodati made the changes last week based on comments from industry advocates that crew members would be unfairly left out of the original distribution plan.
Jim Kendall, an industry consultant in New Bedford, said some boat captains would distribute money among regular crew members, but many other fishermen would be left with nothing.
“Their pain is real,” Kendall said. “They’re going through some unbelievably tough times. ... It’s absolutely vital to maintain some of these people so we can have crews if and when we get the boats back out fishing.”
The aid package was passed by Congress last year after the Bush administration denied Gov. Deval Patrick’s request to declare that the state’s fishing industry is in an economic disaster because of a new set of fishing regulations. Those rules, which are known as “Framework 42” and took effect in 2006, more than halved the days at sea for many Massachusetts fishermen, allowing many of them only 24 days of fishing a year. Wicked Local Gloucester, Mass.
Thursday, April 24, 2008
Governors ask for troll fleet emergency aid
Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski, together with California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire, sent a letter to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asking Congress to begin securing emergency financial aid for ocean salmon fishermen and businesses that will be affected by the collapse of one of the West Coast's biggest wild salmon runs.
Earlier this month, the Pacific Fisheries Management Council recommended closing the California coast and most of Oregon's to salmon fishing to protect record-low Chinook populations in California's Central Valley. It also recommended sharp cutbacks in fishing north of Oregon's Cape Falcon.
The letter says the three states are expected to lose $290 million and more than 4,200 jobs from the fishery closure.
"Unfortunately this is familiar territory. Ocean salmon fishermen, related businesses and their families were hit hard in 2006 and now are bracing for an even greater economic hit this year," Kulongoski said. "There should be no delay in getting these emergency funds to affected Oregonians."
Oregon officials estimated the financial loss to Oregon's commercial and recreational ocean salmon fishermen and related businesses to be $44.9 million, including the loss of 763 jobs.
The governors' letter follows their request to Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez to declare a fishery resource disaster and a commercial fishery failure. Such declarations provide Congress significant leverage to appropriate disaster relief funds. The Oregonian
In bear country? Pepper spray works
One blast from a can of Counter-Assault bear spray was all it took to make believers out of Carl Ramm and wife Susan Alexander five years ago.
One minute a grizzly bear sow was charging through the thick willows along Peters Creek in Chugach State Park, seemingly intent on flattening the two Anchorage hikers, or worse. And then, just as quickly, the encounter was over.
Ramm pulled the trigger on a canister of Counter-Assault, watched an orange-mist of pepper spray cover the brush and envelop the bear, saw the bear's eyes go wide and last heard her breaking brush as she beat a retreat.
Ninety-eight percent of the time, this is how things go with bear spray, biologist Tom Smith has concluded. In a paper published in "The Journal of Wildlife Management," Smith -- along with co-authors Stephen Herrero, Terry Debruyn and James Wilder -- indicates bear spray might be better than a firearm for protecting yourself against the rare attack.
Bear spray is cheaper. It doesn't require much shooting skill. And in none of the 83 cases the scientists examined was a bear-spray user seriously injured.
"All bear-inflicted injures associated with defensive spraying involved brown bears and were relatively minor," they reported.
Smith noted this has not been the case with firearms, the other main means of self-protection. Wounded bears sometimes turn on people, seriously mauling or killing them.
Seven years ago, Johnny McCoy, a Baptist minister and former North Pole mayor, had his ear ripped off by an Interior grizzly bear that attacked moose-hunting partner Gary Corle. Corle got a shot off at the bear with his rifle, but missed. The bear then turned on the 52-year-old McCoy, who needed surgery to reattach his ear and close large gashes in his forehead, arms and hands.
Bear spray has been used in Alaska more than 20 years, and no similar attacks against those using spray in self-defense have been reported.
In the study for the Wildlife Management journal, scientists examined 83 bear-spray incidents from 1985 to 2006 involving 61 grizzly bears, 20 black bears and two polar bears.
"Ninety-eight percent were uninjured by bears in close-range encounters," they concluded. The few that were injured suffered minor wounds.
Clearly, Smith said, the stuff works.
Now a professor of wildlife science at Brigham Young University, Smith spent years working in Alaska as a bear biologist for the U.S. Geological Survey and still owns a cabin on the Kenai Peninsula's Skilak Lake, where he regularly retreats on vacation.
His co-authors are widely recognized authorities on bears.
Herrero, now at the University of Calgary in Alberta, authored "Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance," now considered the essential handbook for people wanting to learn about bears. DeBruyn heads up bear research for the National Park Service in Alaska. Wilder is the director of bear studies for the U.S. Minerals Management Service here.
Collectively, they represent a storehouse of knowledge about bears, and they gave pepper spray a clear endorsement.
"Bear spray represents an effective alternative to lethal force," they wrote.
But it is not without drawbacks, and there are other things people can do to minimize dangerous wildlife encounters. Ramm believes if he and Alexander had made more noise hiking through thick brush along Peters Creek, they would have avoided the grizzly.
And Smith notes there have been problems with bear spray in the wind, although its biggest drawback may be the one-shot limit. Once used, Counter-Assault cannot be reloaded.
As for the wind, Smith reported that in "7 percent of bear spray incidents, wind was reported to have interfered with spray accuracy, although it reached bears in every case."
First developed in the 1960s as a means to ward off aggressive dogs, red-pepper spray is noxious stuff that leads to painfully swollen eyes and nasal passages. Ramm, who has experienced tear gas, called pepper spray far worse.
"Bear spray diffuses potentially dangerous situations in the short term by providing the user time to move out of harm's way and allowing the bear time to reassess the situation and move on," Smith wrote. "When food or garbage is involved, bear spray is effective initially, but one can expect bears to (return) until these attractants are removed."
But bear spray is not quite perfect. Smith notes some problems:
• Spray residue has been found to attract brown bears rather than repel them. Someone who sprays a bear in a camping area could inadvertently turn the campground into a bear-baiting station.
• Smith suggests weighing canisters and discarding any less than 90 percent of their original weight and dumping any past their expiration date.
• Bear spray is banned on commercial airlines. "Major airlines strictly prohibit it, and there is a very stiff fine if you try to sneak it on and get caught," Smith said in an e-mail.
He suggests checking whether bear spray can be bought at or near your destination -- or shipped there on Northern Air Cargo, which will take bear spray if you pay a hazardous materials fee.
Smith says he's surprised no one has started renting the canisters in places like Kodiak or King Salmon, which serve as gateways to bear-viewing sites.
Elsewhere, whether walking the dog in the mountains above Anchorage or fishing the Kenai Peninsula, pepper spray would appear a good alternative to a firearm. It is light and easy to carry.
Now might be a good time to think about getting some. Anchorage Daily News
Scientist wants no-trespassing marine areas
It would be hard to know it from observing the progress of the Marine Life Protection Act in Northern California. Otherwise known as the MLPA, it is a multi-year process to redesign California’a nearly 100 state Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) into networks of protected marine habitats.
But those working to implement the MLPA along the North Central coast are so narrowly focused on fish they are missing the proverbial forest for the trees.
The MLPA is a forward thinking law passed by the California legislature in 1999 that mandates that our state system of MPAs be redesigned using principles of ecosystem management for our marine environment. The first two goals of the MLPA mandate that we “protect the natural diversity and abundance of marine life, and the structure, function, and integrity of marine ecosystems” and “help sustain, conserve, and protect marine life populations, including those of economic value, and rebuild those that are depleted.”
The MLPA process along the North Central Coast is making great progress towards protecting fish. The level of conflict and tension between conservationists and the fishing community appears to have been replaced by cooperation.
That’s great for the fish. But healthy marine ecosystems means more than protecting just fish. It also means protecting those species that feed on fish, like seabirds, whales, porpoises, sea lions and all marine habitats from the range of threats to their marine ecosystem including shipping.
The three proposals for new MPAs that will be voted on this week have failed to do both.
After a record number of endangered whales were struck and killed by large vessels in California waters last fall, including a humpback in Pt. Reyes, and the cargo ship Cosco Busan crashed into the Bay Bridge last November coating Bay Area beaches and the ocean with about 58,000 gallons of bunker fuel, scientific advisors to the MLPA came up with a good idea. They proposed Vessel No Traffic Areas be created to address these very threats to vulnerable bird and mammal populations in the region.
But these protections have been marginalized. The Blue Ribbon Task Force, which will make its decision on which plan to propose to the Fish and Game, directed stakeholders to severely limit the use of these areas, also called Special Closures, regardless of the scientific data or the mandate by the MLPA to protect these species and areas.
While Vessel No Traffic Areas are a good first step they are far too small to adequately protect the Farallon Islands, Fitzgerald and Pt. Reyes from the approximately 3,600 large cargo vessels and oil supertankers entering San Francisco Bay every year virtually unregulated by the US Coast Guard. These jewels of our coastline lie in or near shipping lanes leading into the rapidly growing Port of Oakland, already the 4th largest in the US.
The Cosco Busan tragedy has yet to teach many of those planning the new MPA network a lesson. How well will these crown jewels of our new MPA network be protected from the 732 potential Exxon Valdez oil tankers entering the Bay every year with an estimated 400 million gallons of fuel in their holds?
The scientists working to advise the MLPA process need to be heeded. Otherwise harbor porpoises and threatened and endangered seabird and coastal bird species such as marbled murrelets, gray whales and humpback whales will remain completely unprotected. Robert Ovetz executive director of Seaflow, a marine conservation organization based in Sausalito, writing in the California Progress Report
Editorial: Strengthen California marine reserves
In the ongoing saga that pits man against fish, the news is generally bleak. State and federal regulators have banned salmon fishing on much of the West Coast. Many species of rockfish are depleted, although showing signs of slow recovery.
It is against this backdrop that a state advisory committee meets on proposals to expand California's network of marine reserves and conservation areas.
One year ago, the California Fish and Game Commission approved 29 of these zones along the Central Coast ranging from "reserves" where no fishing is allowed to conservation areas where a few species can be harvested.
This week, the commission's Blue Ribbon Task Force will make recommendations on a new set of marine protected areas along the northern Central Coast, stretching 150 miles from Pescadero to Point Arena.
The size and location of these areas continues to generate controversy. Environmentalists favor a plan, known as Proposal 4, that would place 14 percent of the northern Central Coast's near-shore waters in no-fishing reserves. Supporters of this option say it would protect key habitats that serve as nurseries for fish, or have the potential to be restored if fishing activity were limited.
This proposal, however, is coming under sharp attack from recreational anglers, including charter boat captains who are part of the American Sportfishing Association. They claim that Proposal 4, if implemented, would cause a 30 percent reduction in sales and use-tax revenues from recreational fishing on the northern Central Coast, largely because of its impact on the charter boat industry. They favor an option that would place only 8.9 percent of the coastal waters in marine reserves.
There's no doubt that Proposal 4 would close a wider expanse of water to charter and party boats. Unlike the alternative favored by the sport fishing industry, Proposal 4 would create a new 15-square-mile conservation area off the Marin Headlands, near the Golden Gate Bridge, and a 12-square-mile reserve at San Gregorio, near Half Moon Bay.
Both of these areas are popular with charter boats. Perhaps too popular. Rockfish, in particular, have declined in size and numbers near the Marin Headlands, so there's a strong argument for giving this area known as Duxbury a rest. Yet the proposed conservation area would still allow crab, halibut and salmon fishing (once current salmon restrictions are removed). So it is not as onerous as some fishing advocates claim.
Overall, Proposal 4 best embraces the mission of the Marine Protection Act, California's 1999 law that put the state on the forefront of near-shore conservation. We especially like the proposal for a reserve at Sea Lion Cove, at Point Arena. That reef has been hit hard by excessive abalone harvesting in recent years, after its once-private shorefront became publicly accessible.
In making its recommendation, the Blue Ribbon Task Force should take a hard look at the economic consequences of Proposal 4, but also note that, for marine reserves to work, they need to include large expanses of the best remaining habitat. The trick for the task force will be finding the right balance so Californians can enjoy the full bounty of the shoreline for generations to come. Sacramento Bee