Alaskan fishery unaffected by collapse of California’s King Salmon run
by Craig Weatherby
Alaska supplies all of our fresh-frozen Salmon (Sockeye, Silver, and King) and much of our canned Sockeye Salmon.
And to steal a song title from rock group Timbuk 3, the future looks so bright we need to wear shades!
Unlike California—whose main King Salmon run declined so deeply that authorities just closed the entire west coast to Salmon fishing—things couldn’t be better for the Alaska Salmon fishery.
(For more on the sad California situation, see “California Salmon Crisis.”)
There’s only one exception to our all-Alaskan Salmon supply. Most of our canned Sockeye comes from the Canadian fishery in British Columbia, which is in excellent shape and approaching independent certification of its sustainability.
Fortunately, the BC Sockeye fishery that supplies our ravishingly good canned Wild Red™ is not afflicted by pests from Salmon farm feedlots... unlike the major Pink Salmon runs nearly exterminated by pests from farmed Salmon feedlots sited near Salmon-run rivers north of Vancouver (For more on that, see "A Bold Plan").
Projections place 2008 Alaskan Salmon harvest near record levels
Two weeks ago, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game released its statewide forecast for the 2008 Alaskan Salmon harvest.
And the estimated 137 million fish of all Salmon species will make 2008 the 18th largest harvest in the past half-century.
With regard to the species we offer, the 2008 harvest will include 672,000 King (Chinook) Salmon, 47.1 million Sockeye (Red) Salmon, and 4.4 million Silver (Coho) Salmon.
The 2008 Sockeye harvest is expected to be in the top 10 Sockeye harvests since 1960, the King Salmon harvest is up by 110,000 fish compared with 2007, and the projected Silver Salmon harvest approximates the most recent 10-year average of 4.6 million.
These healthy numbers support the 2007 decision of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) to extend its sustainability certification for the Alaskan Salmon fishery through 2012 (See “Alaskan Salmon Get Re-Certified as Sustainable”).
The Alaskan Salmon fishery was among the first in the world to be certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council.
While it took several years and much work to acquire, it was relatively easy for Alaska’s Salmon fishery to gain certification from the MSC’s tough-minded auditors.
And the path toward certification was made much easier by the powerful protections provided to Alaska’s valuable Salmon fishery by the state’s unusually far-sighted constitution.
How Alaska keeps the Salmon running
Conservation of Salmon stocks is required under the Alaska state constitution, which contains a unique article that mandates that renewable resources must be used, developed, and maintained on the “sustained yield principle.”
In 1990, Alaska outlawed the farming of Salmon to protect strong native stocks from hybridization, disease, pollution, and competition for food.
The habitat conservation laws and regulations that flow from Alaska’s constitution require protection of the more than 15,000 spawning streams and rivers vital to abundant, sustainable Salmon production.
There are very strict laws and regulations governing industry and development activities, such as road building, logging, and mining, to protect vital spawning and rearing Salmon streams.
- The Anadromous Fish Act requires approval for any in-stream construction activities in Salmon streams, and Alaska’s Forest Practices Act mandates buffer zones between logging areas and Salmon streams to protect spawning and rearing habitats from erosion and other problems.
- The Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) can acquire water rights to protect fish. Stream flow and volume, necessary for Salmon migration and propagation, are protected under the Water Use Protection Act.
- Alaska’s Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC) monitors and regulates the discharge of pollutants to ensure high water quality in both marine and fresh waters.
Alaska has also foregone economic benefits from activities such as hydropower development, in order to sustain Salmon resources for future generations.
For example, although the option of constructing large-scale hydropower facilities on the Susitna and Yukon Rivers was considered seriously, neither was built. The wild Salmon resource was a major reason that Alaska chose the no-dam option.
The only cloud on the horizon is the huge proposed gold and mineral complex called Pebble Mine, which could threaten the rivers that support the huge Sockeye runs in Alaska’s Bristol Bay.
However, recreation, fishing, and Native tribal groups are fighting hard to block this threat, and opponents of the mine won a key court battle last spring, with more legal battles likely to come (See “Alaskan Salmon Win Key Round vs. Gold Mine”).
Alaska learned the hard way
Alaska did not always have healthy Salmon stocks. Overfishing under federal management was a major factor in the declines of the Alaska Salmon fishery that occurred between 1940 and the time of statehood, 1959. Salmon stocks and the fishing industry were in such bad shape that President Eisenhower declared Alaska a federal disaster area in 1953.
In 1959, statewide harvests totaled only about 25 million Salmon, or less than 20 percent of projections for 2008.
Alaska has been at the leading edge of Salmon research, and over the last 20 years, sound management rebuilt Salmon runs from the dismal conditions at statehood to the healthy harvests seen today.
State leaves fishery management to scientists
With the constitutional and statutory conservation mandates, Alaska has effectively managed its Salmon stocks to ensure sustainable production.
As a result, stocks of Salmon spawning in Alaska are healthy, and fisheries dependent upon these stocks have benefited, with statewide harvests ranging from about 100 to 200 million Salmon per year over the past 15 years.
When runs of any particular Salmon species or harvest area are poor, managers close fisheries to ensure long-term sustainable yields.
Local biologists monitor returning Salmon using various methods: aerial surveys, weirs, streamside counting towers, fish wheels, sonar, test fisheries, and input from fishermen.
Based on these assessments, Salmon managers open and close fisheries on a daily basis to ensure spawning escapements are adequate to sustain production.
- Alaska Department of Fish and Game. State Releases Alaska Statewide Salmon Forecast for 2008. March 7, 2008. Accessed online March 12, 2008 at http://www.adfg.state.ak.us/news/2008/3-7-08_nr.php
- Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). Alaska Salmon Re-Certified for Sustainable Fishing. Accessed online November 5, 2007 at http://www.msc.org/html/ni_322.htm
- Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). British Columbia Salmon. Accessed online November 5, 2007 at http://www.msc.org/html/content_493.htm
- Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). Certified Fisheries. Accessed online November 5, 2007 at http://www.msc.org/html/content_484.htm