The Alaska Board of Fisheries met this week in Naknek as residents and other permit holders were grappling with a sockeye forecast for 2013 that is down 20 percent from what was a less-than-robust run in 2012.
Perhaps as a result of that forecast, the board took a cautious approach to some of the proposed changes such as increasing the escapement goals for some area rivers.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game forecast for sockeye harvest in Bristol Bay is 16.6 million fish, down from the 20.6 million caught in 2012.
The drop is reminiscent of declines seen at the turn of the last decade, when the sockeye harvest went from 26.1 million in 1999 to 10.7 million in 2002. The parent year for the 2002 return had a harvest of only 10 million sockeye.
The state of Alaska declared Bristol Bay an economic disaster area in 1997 and 1998 with harvests of 12.1 and 10 million sockeye respectively.
However, the parent year for the 2013 run had a harvest of 30.8 million pounds.
The change in escapement goals was proposed by board member Vince Webster following a release of recommendations from an interdivisional salmon escapement goal committee that updated historical brood tables.
However, once presented to the Board of Fisheries the parties involved, including Fish and Game staff, wanted to form another committee of fishermen, processors, managers and local residents to gauge the impact.
The new escapement goals will be put on hold until the next round of the board’s Bristol Bay meetings in three years.
In other proposals, the board declined to allow an increase in vessel size based on refrigeration systems for chilling fish, voted against allowing one person to hold two permits, and allowed a sunset clause to take effect on a regulation that allowed setnetters who own two permits to fish twice the amount of gear, ending that program.
Fishermen are reporting that the Bering Sea ice edge is already within 30 miles of the Pribilof Islands, making it likely that the 2013 opilio crab season will again be plagued by ice problems.
The rapid advance of ice and cold Bering Sea water temperatures also are thought to affect Bristol Bay salmon runs, as juvenile salmon struggle to survive in the colder water.
A study done in 1999 showed a direct relationship between juvenile salmon growth and Bering Sea water temperatures.
However, the cold water temperatures are not all bad news, according to Alaska Fisheries Science Center biologist Kerim Aydin.
Aydin says the biggest impact is on pollock, but also snow crab. He says consensus is emerging in the scientific community around the idea that colder springtime temperatures are better for pollock stocks because of how they affect plankton growth.
A controversial genetically modified salmon dubbed “Frankenfish” may never make it to market as the company struggles to stay afloat.
The Food and Drug Administration ruled in 2010 that the salmon produced by Aquabounty was as safe to eat as the traditional variety, and also concluded that there’s little chance that the salmon could escape and breed with wild fish, which could disrupt the fragile relationships between plants and animals in nature.
But more than two years later the FDA has not approved the fish, and Aquabounty is running out of money, according to the Seattle Times.
“It’s threatening our very survival,” CEO Ron Stotish, chief executive of the Maynard, Mass.-based company told the Times. “We only have enough money to survive until January 2013, so we have to raise more. But the unexplained delay has made raising money very difficult.”
The FDA says it’s still working on the final piece of its review, a report on the potential environmental impact of the salmon that must be published for comment before an approval can be issued. That means a final decision could be months, even years away.
The GM fish created concerns about the approval process, especially that it would not carry a requirement to be labeled as GM, and drew fire from Alaska’s congressional delegation aimed at the FDA.
Chinook salmon trollers in Southeast got some bad news from managers, the start of what could be another depressed year for chinook salmon statewide.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has announced that there will not be enough kings for an early May directed fishery on either the Stikine or Taku rivers by either U.S. or Canadian fishermen.
The forecast actually shows enough fish for a fishery on the Stikine River, but the past several years of over-estimation has caused that to be revised.
“The forecast generated by the Stikine River king salmon forecast model produced a terminal run size estimate of 32,032 fish,” the release states. “Due to preseason forecasts consistent overestimation of the actual run size, this forecast was reduced by 30 percent. The preseason forecast has overestimated the run size for the past 6 years and has overestimated by an average of 32 percent over the past 5 years.
“Other considerations taken into account for reducing the model produced forecast are the extremely low abundance of 3 year old king salmon in 2012 and the general poor performance of king salmon stocks throughout Alaska in recent years.”
The 2013 preseason terminal run size forecast for large Taku River king salmon is 26,100 fish. A preseason terminal run forecast of that size is below the threshold for a fishery.
When the first in-season Taku and Stikine River king salmon terminal run estimates are produced, a news release will be distributed as soon as possible with the estimated run size, resulting allowable catch, and information concerning potential directed king salmon fishery openings.
Cristy Fry has commercial fished in Homer since 1978. She also designs and builds gear for the industry. She currently longlines for halibut and gillnets salmon in upper Cook Inlet aboard the F/V Realist. She can be reached at email@example.com.