Alaska Department of Fish and Game to host Chinook Salmon Symposium in Sitka on Monday

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) invites the public to attend a Chinook Salmon Symposium from 5-8 p.m. on Monday, May 21, at Harrigan Centennial Hall. Attend this free symposium and learn about the status of Southeast Alaska chinook salmon, research and management, the Pacific Salmon Treaty, and participation in the public process.

Hosted by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, this event features:

  • Chinook salmon research — what we know about how local stocks are performing, as well as Pacific Northwest Chinook salmon stocks coastwide.
  • A look at the last 10 years of chinook salmon management for the commercial and sport fisheries — annual allocations, actual harvest, and performance relative to the Pacific Salmon Treaty.
  • Conservative actions — management measures in response to poor chinook salmon production.
  • Treaty transparency — a summary of the treaty past, present, and future.
  • Public process and participation — an overview of the public regulatory process and how to get involved.
  • Public question and answer session.

ADF&G encourages those interested in chinook salmon issues to join this evening of informative presentations by our fisheries research and management team. For more details, contact ADF&G.

In conjunction with this meeting, the Chinook Futures Coalition will host a fundraiser from 4-8 p.m. on Monday, May 21, in the Harrigan Centennial Hall Steelhead Room (across from the Chinook Salmon Symposium in the Auditorium). Alaska Trollers Association raffle tickets will be available at the fundraiser.

The Chinook Futures Coalition supports the troll fishery, and it is rallying troll fishermen to make their voices be heard at the symposium. Please plan to speak up and tell Commissioner Sam Cotten and Alaska Pacific Salmon Treaty Commissioner Charlie Swanton about the way the troll fishery is being managed and the loss of harvest opportunity on treaty chinook. A CFC planning meeting will take place at 2 p.m. on Saturday May 19 in the Steelhead Room at Harrigan Centennial Hall.

For more information, call Chinook Futures Symposium executive director Deborah Lyons at 907-738-3362.

Sitka Fish and Game Advisory Committee to meet on Nov. 29 to discuss herring issues

The Sitka Fish and Game Advisory Committee will be holding a public meeting at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 29, at Harrigan Centennial Hall.

The agenda includes Southeast Alaska finfish/herring proposals to the Alaska Board of Fisheries. For more information on the proposals, go to this link.

The Alaska Board of Fisheries will meet Jan. 11-23 in Sitka, with shellfish issues discussed on Jan. 11-14 and finfish issues on Jan. 15-23. A full list and explanation of Southeast Alaska Board of Fish proposals can be found at

The Alaska Board of Fisheries consists of seven members serving three-year terms. The board’s primary role is to conserve and develop the fishery resources of the state.

The Sitka Fish and Game Advisory Committee is one of 84 local advisory committees made up of local stakeholders who are knowledgable on local fisheries and resource use. Local advisory committees can advise and give comments to the Alaska Board of Fisheries and represent local knowledge and insights. An member of the public also can comment on specific proposals to the Alaska Board of Fisheries.

For further information, contact Lena Gilbertson at the Department of Fish & Game at 907-465-4046.

Advisory committees are local groups that meet to discuss fishing and wildlife issues and to provide recommendations to Alaska Board of Fisheries and Alaska Board of Game. All meetings are open to the public. Advisory committees are intended to provide a local forum on fish and wildlife issues. Their purpose includes: 1) developing regulatory proposals, 2) evaluating regulatory proposals and making recommendations to the appropriate board, 3) providing a local forum for fish and wildlife conservation and use, including matters relating to habitat, 4) advising the appropriate regional council on resources, and 5) consulting with individuals, organizations, and agencies.

If you are a person who needs a special accommodation in order to participate in any of these public meetings, please contact Boards Support at 907-465-4110 no later than 48 hours prior to the meeting, to make any necessary arrangements.

For more information, contact Lena Gilbertson, Boards Support Section, PO Box 115526, Juneau AK 99811-5526, phone 907-465-4046, fax 907-465-6094, email address


• Kake to host three-day shellfish mariculture workshop on May 1-3

SE SWCD Shellfish Farming Brochure_draft_Page_1

The Southeast Soil and Water Conservation District (SESWCD) will host a comprehensive three-day shellfish mariculture workshop on Thursday through Saturday, May 1-3, in Kake.  (NOTE: Capital City Weekly ran an article covering this event,

This program will be aimed at teaching best management practices to beginning oyster farmers. The workshop curriculum will consist of lectures, labs, and hands-on field operations on working oyster farms. This workshop is open to the public and the District anticipates participation from shellfish farmers in Kake, Hoonah, and Angoon. Participants will learn from experts about nearly every aspect of oyster farming in Southeast Alaska.

The workshop also features a shellfish-oriented educational program at the Kake Community School, as well as a community presentation at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 1, at the Kake Community Hall Kitchen. Topics at the community presentation include: food security and mariculture, shellfish enhancement activities for subsistence use, indirect economic benefits of mariculture in the community, and commercial aquaculture diversity.

The District’s partners in this project are the Organized Village of Kake and the University of Alaska Fairbanks Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program. Other participating organizations include the Hoonah Indian Association, Haa Aaní LLC, Alaska Division of Economic Development (Alaska Department of Commerce, Communities and Economic Development), and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

One of the SESWCD’s strategic focus areas is mariculture development (shellfish farming). The intent is to facilitate increased mariculture development in Southeast Alaska to increase food security and support rural economies. This shellfish farming workshop will be the district’s first project in its mariculture program. The Southeast Soil and Water Conservation District is a statutorily authorized quasi-state agency that leverages public funding with private sources to help the communities of Southeast Alaska become more sustainable and self-sufficient.

To register or receive more info, contact James Marcus at 1-907-586-6878 (Juneau number) or

• Southeast Soil and Water Conservation District Shellfish Mariculture Workshop in Kake press release (with tentative schedule on second page)

• Sitka Tribe of Alaska submits editorial on protecting Pacific herring as a keystone forage fish


(The following editorial about protecting forage fish, such as Pacific herring, was submitted to local media on April 11 by Sitka Tribe of Alaska tribal chairman Michael Baines.)

State of Alaska Denies Herring Forage Fish Status

2006 Herring collection 007Currently Pacific herring are acknowledged as a keystone forage fish species that is responsible for maintaining the health of the marine ecosystem in the waters of California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia (BC).  As you cross the maritime boundary between BC and Alaska herring lose their forage fish status and become just another commercially harvested finfish.  At a recent Board of Fish meeting in Anchorage, the Board heard testimony from fishery managers, the herring industry and the public on a proposal that would have acknowledged herring as a forage fish by adding them to the State’s Forage Fish Management Plan (FFMP).

The FFMP became effective in 1999 and was intended to prevent the development of new fisheries on forage fish while allowing existing commercial forage fisheries to continue.  The Plan states that forage fish perform a critical role in the marine ecosystem by transferring energy from primary (zooplankton) and secondary (phytoplankton) producers to upper trophic level shellfish, finfish, marine mammals and sea birds.  The Plan also recognizes that, “abundant populations of forage fish are necessary to sustain healthy populations of commercially important species of salmon, groundfish, halibut, and shellfish.” 

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game commented that adding herring the FFMP would not affect the way it currently manages herring fisheries in the State. When asked by the Board if herring met the definition and fulfilled the role of a forage fish as described in the Plan, the ADF&G Southeast Regional Commercial Fisheries Coordinator responded that he felt they did.

Supporters of the plan stressed that herring are an ecological keystone species that are recognized around the world as a forage fish.  The Federal government holds herring to a higher standard that other forage fish by having no directed fisheries on herring in federal waters and by listing them as a prohibited species that is not allowed to be retained as by-catch.

Herring industry representatives testified that they felt herring stocks are healthy, well managed and did not need to be acknowledged as a forage fish.  Concerns were also expressed that listing herring as a forage fish would lead to changes in the way herring are managed.  This would have required the State to look at herring in a different light.  It may have paved the way for more conservative forage fish friendly management plans to be brought forth through the Board of Fisheries process in the future.

Unfortunately for Alaskans, this proposal was voted down on a 4-3 vote.  Three of the opposing Board members are commercial fishermen or have ties to the commercial fishing industry.  These Board members reiterated comments made by the industry that herring stocks are healthy, well managed and did not need to be listed in the plan.

The arguments put forth by the industry representatives and members of the Board in opposition to the proposal were not germane to the issue of adding herring to the FFMP.  The health of a population has nothing to do with its definition as a forage fish.  If this were the case the Lynn Canal and Prince William Sound herring stocks would be considered forage fish while the apparently healthy Togiak stock would not have the same status.  Likewise, if acknowledging herring as a forage fish by adding them to the FFMP eventually changes the way stocks are managed, it should tell us something about their current management.

The acknowledgement of herring as a forage fish would have allowed managers to look at herring in a different light and might have paved the way for more conservative forage fish friendly management plans to be brought forth through the Board of Fisheries process in the future.  Refusal by the State of Alaska to acknowledge herring as a forage fish sends a message to the world about Alaska’s biased Board of Fish process and the State’s priorities when it comes to managing its marine resources.  Alaska boasts having the best managed fisheries in the world, but that reputation is now tarnished.  It’s a sad day for Alaskans when greed and political influence win out over the common good of all who live in this great State.

If you feel the Board of Fisheries erred in their decision to deny herring forage fish status, you are encouraged to contact Alaska Governor Sean Parnell and the Board of Fisheries and request that the State reconsider adding herring to the State’s FFMP.  This is an Alaskan resource that needs to be managed for the benefit of all Alaskans.

(Sent to)

Governor Sean Parnell, P.O. Box 110001, Juneau, AK 99811-0001, Phone (907) 465-3500,


Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Board of Fisheries, P.O. Box 115526, 1255 W. 8th Street, Juneau, AK 99811-5526


• Sitka residents say ‘No’ to genetically modified salmon during Feb. 9 rally


Size comparison of an AquAdvantage® Salmon (background) vs. a non-transgenic Atlantic salmon sibling (foreground) of the same age. (CREDIT AquaBounty)

Size comparison of an AquAdvantage® Salmon (background) vs. a non-transgenic Atlantic salmon sibling (foreground) of the same age. (CREDIT AquaBounty)

Between 100 and 150 Sitka residents braved the wind and rain on Saturday, Feb. 9, at the Crescent Harbor Shelter to protest the possible U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval of genetically modified salmon (aka, GMO or GE salmon, or Frankenfish).

The rally (click here to listen to rally coverage from KCAW-Raven Radio) was in protest of a genetically engineered salmon from the Massachusetts company AquaBounty Technologies, called the AquAdvantage® Salmon. The GMO salmon starts with an Atlantic salmon commonly used in fish farms, but adds genes from a Pacific king (chinook) salmon to promote growth and genes from an eel-like fish called an ocean pout that grows all year round instead of seasonally. According to AquaBounty, all of the commercialized fish will be female and sterile, and the fish are designed to be raised in fresh-water pens or tanks on land instead of the usual salt-water pens where most farmed Atlantic salmon are raised. AquaBounty promotes the fish as a faster-growing farmed salmon that takes half the time to reach maturity and be sent to market. To learn more about GMO salmon, read our post from 2010.

PaulRiouxSignsPaul Rioux — the Sitka resident who organized the rally with the help of local fishing groups, the Sitka Conservation Society, and others — said fishermen are concerned about what happens if these GMO salmon escape from pens. He noted that while AquaBounty said the fish will be sterile, other scientists said as many as 5 percent could be fertile, and that’s enough so that the GMO salmon as an invasive species could replace wild Pacific salmon within 40 salmon generations. DavidWilcoxSpeaksSignsDavid Wilcox, a 14-year-old Sitka resident who plans to run across the country to protest GMO foods, spoke for the other residents who said they were concerned with genetically engineered fish in general, and they worried this fish might go to market without being labeled as GMO salmon. (Click here to listen to Rioux, Wilcox and Ray Friedlander of the Sitka Conservation Society discuss why they held the rally during a Feb. 8 Morning Edition interview on KCAW-Raven Radio.)

SayNoToFrankenfishThe FDA, which has been looking at GMO salmon for more than a decade (AquaBounty started work on the fish in 1989), announced in December it planned to approve the genetically engineered fish, just in time for the holidays. At the same time, the FDA finally released environmental impact research papers it was supposed to have released in May. The FDA announcement also started a 60-day public comment period that was supposed to end on Feb. 25. On Feb. 13, the FDA extended the comment period until April 26. Sitka residents are encouraged to go to and search for “GE salmon” (not “GMO”) to comment on the regulations before the April 26 deadline.

PatKehoeFrankenfishAlaska’s Congressional delegation agrees on few items, but Sen. Mark Begich, Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Rep. Don Young have been united for a couple of years in their efforts to stop Frankenfish. Sen. Begich this week introduced two bills banning GMO salmon. Last May, Sen. Murkowski introduced an amendment (that failed 50-46) requiring more study of GMO salmon by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA). In the House, Rep. Young has been one of the most vocal opponents of Frankenfish and in February he introduced a bill requiring GMO salmon be labeled. In the Alaska House of Representatives, Rep. Geran Tarr (D-Anchorage) and Rep. Scott Kawasaki (D-Fairbanks) introduced an anti-Frankenfish bill that passed out of the House Fisheries Committee this week.

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• Sitka herring researcher Heather Meuret-Woody makes her case for better management

(EDITOR’S NOTE: On Tuesday, May 15, the Sitka Tribe of Alaska hosted the Sitka Herring Summit to discuss issues regarding the management, or mismanagement, of herring stocks in Southeast Alaska. Sitka herring researcher Heather Meuret-Woody made this presentation, which also appeared as a shorter letter to the editor in the Daily Sitka Sentinel on May 18. The opinions expressed are Heather’s alone, though the Sitka Local Foods Network has written letters supporting the Sitka Tribe of Alaska in its bid to get the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to reduce the commercial quota for herring in Sitka Sound.)

Sitka Sound Herring Summit

May 15, 2012

Heather Meuret-Woody

Sitka Sound Herring Researcher

I have been a Sitka Sound herring researcher for about 10 years. I have decided to share my few thoughts on the Sitka Sound herring population. With this said, in my opinion there was not 144,143 tons of the predicted mature herring biomass returning to Sitka Sound. An overestimate of the biomass seems to be the suspect.

Managers of forage fish know that traditional stock management techniques do not work well with forage fish. The reason for the failure of traditional stock assessment techniques is that the “catchability” of forage fish increases as the stock declines. However, due to the schooling nature of forage fish and their vulnerability to modern acoustics and fishing gear, catch rates remain constant, even when the stock is rapidly falling in size (Beverton, 1990). Thus declines in stock size will not be apparent to managers or to the fishing industry, based on catch per unit effort statistics. Management of forage fish stocks requires direct measurement of stock size. This can be accomplished by surveying fish abundance during the spawning season, or by conducting scientifically designed acoustic surveys of schools of forage fish. Failure to monitor the stock directly will result in the inability to determine changes, even severe declines, in forage fish abundance. With that said, ADF&G does not measure the Sitka Sound herring stock directly. They may do acoustic surveys and aerial surveys but the data is not used for determining stock size in the ASA model. ADF&G relies almost entirely upon spawn deposition estimates to determine the spawning biomass. Hebert, 2010 states, “Estimates of total egg deposition on Macrocystis kelp may be highly variable, and transects that cross Macrocystis kelp beds could result in very high egg deposition estimates, resulting in high uncertainty around total estimates of egg deposition.” ADF&G also notes in this report that they have issues with diver calibration. One diver may visually estimate more or less eggs compared to another diver. Individual calibration factors can have a potentially large impact on spawn deposition estimates of biomass.

Accurate and regular estimates of fecundity are important for “ground-truthing” assumptions used by ADF&G. Fecundity estimates are used to convert estimates of herring egg deposition into mature biomass, and is used quite commonly among world-wide herring managers. ADF&G has only measured fecundity 4 times since the 1970s (Hulson et al., 2008). Since then, they just estimate fecundity based on weights, so large female herring lay approximately 40,000 eggs and small female herring lay approximately 20,000 eggs. Using un-validated parameters is extremely risky. For example, a 10% change in the egg per gram measurement used to convert spawn to fish, can result in a 20% change in the number of fish estimated.

In 2007, 2008, and 2009, spawning herring were sampled for Ichthyophonus prevalences in Sitka Sound. The results showed that 27% – 40% were positive for Ichthyophonus. All of this data is provided by Hershberger, Winton, and Purcell, from USGS Marrowstone Marine Field Station. The results of the 2010 and 2011 data from this ongoing research were not available at the time of this letter. Sitka Sound herring have had the Ichthyophonus disease for years and ADF&G has not incorporated this data into their current management. The ASA model does not account for disease, just “natural mortality.” However, this “natural mortality” is not based on observed data, but has been estimated by picking a random, but “conservative” number and applying it to the herring stock.

Sitka Sound herring follow the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) which is a 14-year oscillatory cycle and is highly correlated with an annual index of zooplankton biomass. Strong negative values of the PDO were observed in autumn 2011: “If these values persist through winter and early spring 2011-2012, they could result in the best ocean conditions observed in decades,” according to the 2011 annual update for the Ocean Ecosystem Indicators of Salmon Marine Survival in the Northern California Current research project, which has been ongoing since 1998. Additionally, “These negative values are expected to continue into spring 2012, which suggests that the northern North Pacific Ocean will also remain cold through spring 2012, giving rise to continuation of good ocean conditions.” So it is hard to imagine with this optimal ocean condition that Sitka Sound herring experienced mass mortality since last year. This winter we experienced the Arctic Oscillation which is essentially a pressure pattern that drives the jet stream, and controls how strong its winds are and where the jet stream position is. This winter, the jet stream trough, which tends to push the jet stream far to the north, helped drive storms into Alaska.

From 2006-2010, ADF&G has been trying to convince the public that the Sitka Sound herring had changed their maturation rates. They claimed that the herring were maturing later. Instead of herring reaching maturity at age-3 and age-4 they were not maturing until age-5, age-6, and age-7. Of course this was not actual observed data. ADF&G did not base this on ovarian histology or anything concrete, instead the changes were based on a number estimate to make the ASA model fit the data rather than using field data to fix the model. No other herring stocks along the Pacific Coast have herring delaying maturation, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Sitka’s herring are maturing at their usual rate. Additionally, ADF&G claimed that the herring were surviving longer, and the survivability rate they have been using is 87%. Again this was not based on anything managers actually observed, but was again a random number forced to make the ASA model fit the data. Even Hebert, 2010 states “External estimates of age-specific survival would improve the ASA model and provide more accurate forecasts of spawning biomasses.” If the Sitka Sound herring actually had 87% survivability rate, then the only way herring could have died was to be eaten by a predator or get caught in a purse seine net.

In 2008, I did a co-study with the ADF&G Age Determination Laboratory in Juneau. ADF&G collected 50 herring from the winter bait fishery and aged the herring via scale reading. I then received those 50 herring and aged them via otolith aging – and this is not the break and burn method, this is the thin-sectioning method that is widely recognized world-wide and even used by the California Department of Fish and Game on herring stocks. The herring aged via otolith actually aged 2 years younger on the average than the scale aging methodology. If you recall, ADF&G announced 12/16/2010 that their aging assessments were wrong for the period of 1999-2010. Once they re-aged all of the archived samples, they too came up with an average of 2 years difference. Additionally, because the ASA model used by ADF&G to forecast the mature biomass requires a long time series of reliable age estimates, the department chose not to use the ASA model, but instead relied on a biomass accounting model to forecast the 2011 Sitka Sound mature herring population.

Significant fisheries-induced evolutionary change has been researched in Norway in Baltic herring and has lead to the entrainment hypothesis: an explanation for the persistence and innovation in spawning herring migrations and life cycle spatial patterns (Petitgas et al. 2006). This research is quite intriguing and deserves more consideration. In 2008, the commercial fishery occurred along the entire Kruzof Island shore line in very shallow water. While the herring schools were being fished upon, a large percentage of the spawning biomass seemed to avoid the purse seiners and hit the first shoreline available, Kruzof, and spawned. Now if you review ADF&G spawn maps that go back to 1964 you will know that there has been less than 15 times that the herring biomass used the Kruzof shoreline as spawning habitat. The Kruzof Island shoreline is not very suitable spawning habitat as newly hatched larvae would be swept up in the currents and advected out of Sitka Sound, causing low survivability (Sundberg, 1981). However, if herring spawn on the islands, i.e. Middle Island, Kasiana, or along the road system, the currents in Sitka Sound keep the hatched larvae in the inner bays and water ways which are excellent for retention and increases survivability. Keeping in mind that herring recruit into a mature cohort at around age-4, the 2008 commercial sac roe fishery may have reduced the amount of recruits that we would have seen this year in 2012. Unfortunately we will never know because ADF&G does not measure immature herring. I have researched juvenile herring populations in Sitka Sound for several years and found that one of the most important rearing areas is along the Halibut Point Road shoreline from Katlian Bay and Nakwasina in the north to Halibut Point Marine and Cove Marina in the south (Meuret-Woody and Bickford, 2009). Unfortunately, the new dock at Halibut Point Marine will soon become a place for net pen-rearing of hatchery salmon smolts – with no consideration on the impacts it could have on juvenile herring populations.

Finally I’d like to point out that ADF&G staff has been quoted saying that herring only seem to spawn in Salisbury Sound when there is such a large biomass that extra spawning habitat is needed. So basically they claim Salisbury Sound is a spill-over spawning habitat, although they have no data to support this assertion. If this were actually true, based on biomass size, then where was the huge spill-over of spawning biomass in Salisbury Sound in 2011 and 2012 – both of which were huge forecast biomass years? In my published paper, Identifying Essential Habitat (Source vs. Sink Habitat) for Pacific Herring in Sitka Sound Using Otolith Microchemistry (Meuret-Woody and Bickford, 2009) it appears that Salisbury Sound actually supports a small discrete population of herring (10%), separate from Sitka Sound herring. Salisbury Sound may also be a source population for Hoonah Sound, supplying approximately 14% of the population for Hoonah Sound. Why doesn’t ADF&G rely on published data instead of relying on guesses made by their managers?

• ADF&G offers basic hunter education course July 22-23 in Sitka

A Sitka black-tailed deer feeds on one of the barrier islands near Sitka

A Sitka black-tailed deer feeds on one of the barrier islands near Sitka

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is offering a two-day basic hunter education class July 22-23 in Sitka. The class takes place from 6-9 p.m. on Friday, July 22, and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, July 23, at the Sitka Sportsman’s Association building toward the end of Halibut Point Road (by the shooting range next to the ferry terminal).

To register, students must purchase a $10 study packet that is available at the Sitka ADF&G office, 304 Lake St., Suite 103. The packet workbook must be completed before the start of the first class. The course is open to anyone, but it is designed for students ages 10 and older. A minimum of six students is needed for the class to take place.

For packet workbooks and additional information, contact the Sitka office of ADF&G at 747-5449. More information about the basic hunter education class also is available online at this link.

This class is required before hunters are allowed to get permits for some of Alaska’s game management areas. Successful completion of the class earns the hunter a certificate recognized by all other states, Canadian provinces and territories, and in Mexico.