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Date Posted: 03:06:59 05/23/13 Thu
Author: Don Johnson
Subject: Where Have All The King Salmon and Beluga Whales Gone? Part 2

The North Pacific Climate Shift And Commercial Pollock and Herring Over- Harvest

The North Pacific Climate Shift And Commercial Over- Harvest The history of Alaska North Pacific herring, capelin, crab and sand lance production has varied from feast to famine over time. Most of these changes or abnormal events are the result of more than one cause. Some of these causes are related to large-scale climatic shifts, human influences and even the increase of natural predators in the ocean. There are a great many scientists who believe that the reason for these climatic shift may lie in large-scale shifts in climatic and oceanic conditions in the Bering Sea and eastern North Pacific Ocean. These (climate regime shifts) appear to have also happened in 1925, 1947, 1977, 1989 and 1998. A 1996 report by the National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), shows that from 1977 on, climate shift resulted in concert (with human influences) to bring about the profound changes in and around the Bering Sea and North Pacific. This report refers to a (cascade hypothesis) which claims that climate change caused a small scale reduction in herring, capelin and crabs but that reduction was turned into a large scale reductions from over-fishing by commercial fisheries.
This commercial fishery over-harvest then resulted in increased levels of food available to pollock and invertebrates up to around 1980. The North Pacific marine ecosystem was then changed from being dominated by herring and capelin, which was previously everywhere during the 1970s, to being basically wiped out from the western Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea. After that destruction the ecosystem was only dominated by pollock. This was a FORCED commercial fishing over-harvest ecosystem change, within a natural climate regime shift. Together these two forces combined to produce more pollock and fewer king salmon; thus commercial over-harvest exacerbated a king salmon climate reduction change into a complete (commercial fisheries caused king salmon disaster). This (commercial fisheries dominate species conversion scenario) has been played out over and over off the coast of Alaska and results in more pollock and fewer herring, capelin and crabs. http://www.seaweb.org/resources/briefings/bering.php

Commercial pollock fishing in Alaska was non-existent from 1947 - 1965. This was basically because pollock populations had been commercially over-harvested and devastated previous to that. That changed as pollock populations again swelled by 1965. As soon as commercial pollock fisheries spotted this they immediately expanded their fishing efforts from 1965 to 1970 and were catching about 2,000,000 metric tons of pollock annually until they killed off the pollock fishery again thus causing the harvest to crash back down to around 1,000,000 metric tons annually. While this commercial pollock fishery was catching pollock they were also accidentally catching, killing and dumping (four king salmon per ton of pollock) as by-catch. This accidental king by-catch carries the potential of killing millions of adult kings each year. Commercial king by-catch, climate regime shifts and the excess commercial harvest of herring and capelin then resulted in the direct destruction of much of our North Pacific king salmon.

Commercial pollock harvest levels remained at around 1,000,000 metric tons annually until around 1998 when climate regime shift again began expanding pollock populations, thus causing commercial pollock fishermen to again take notice. Pollock catches then went up again to 1,400,000 metric tons annually until about 2008 when commercial fisheries again wiped these pollock populations back down to their previous 1,000,000 metric ton level again. After 2008 these commercial pollock fisheries then collapsed again from all the commercial over-fishing and were never able to recover. So after these North Pacific Commercial Fisheries helped wipe-out our North Pacific herring and capelin resources, they then also went onto deplete their own pollock fisheries below 50% of what it used to be.

Unfortunately this is not the end of the dramatic effects resulting from climate shift coupled with commercial over-fishing. A National Research Council (NRC) thesis states that this commercial fisheries destruction of herring and capelin along with the North Pacific climate regime shift, then also forced Stellar sea lions, which had previously fed on herring and capelin, to feed on the less nutritional pollock until the pollock were basically gone. This then began (the Stellar sea lion decline). The thesis concludes that the sea lion decline was the direct results of climate shift, commercial over-harvest and the (junk-food hypothesis), which resulted from sea lions being forced to consume what was left. What was left was the less nutritional pollock, when they should have been feeding on capelin and herring like king salmon. This would be the equivalent of forcing a human to only eat junk food and then wondering why they are not act like they used to. In 1998 a Journal Science paper came out concluding that (the lack of Stellar sea lions) was forcing Orca whales to start feeding on sea otters, and that redirected otter feeding then resulted in (the decline of the sea otter's) in that region. This sea otter decline then allowed sea urchins to greatly increase because sea otters enjoy feeding on sea urchins. The increased urchins then resulted in the wiping out all the region's kelp beds because kelp is what sea urchins like to feed on. Herring also like kelp, herring lay their eggs on kelp, they feed on algae, plankton, kelp phytoplankton and zooplankton. What is resulting here is a less than apparent circle as commercial fisheries over-harvest of our herring resources. These commercial fisheries begin a circle of destruction as the herring loss is then felt from salmon and halibut, to sea lions, to sea otters, to sea urchins, to the kelp beds and then back to the destruction of the herring and crab by allowing them fewer and fewer locations to spawn and live along with less food to feed on. The bottom line is that climate regime shift may have started a small problem by reducing herring, capelin and crabs larvae, which king salmon and sea lions feed on but commercial over-harvest then exacerbate that problem into a complete marine disaster by over-harvesting what is left of dwindling resources. The end result has become a dramatic reduction in the total numbers of herring, capelin, crab, sea lions, sea otters and king salmon along with a dramatic increase in things which help destroy herring and crab habitat and food. The bottom line becomes that climate change may have started this fire but commercial over-harvest has inflamed that problem like throwing gasoline on a fire. http://www.seaweb.org/resources/briefings/bering.php


We are currently seeing studies on our Alaska halibut and salmon resources which are concluding that these fish weigh half of what the same age class weighed in 1988. All of these fish depend heavily on herring as a main element within their diet. Most commercial and sport fishermen in Alaska understand that our historic stock levels of herring have greatly declined over time. This has happened because of the combined factors of commercial over-harvest, climate change and increased predation. How did all these negative factors combine together at the same time and seriously impact the abundance of our salmon and halibut? The story is very plain as it is published just about everywhere you look.

Our Alaska Department of Fish & Game opened herring roe fisheries in 1976. Back then we had seven very major herring spawning areas in Southeast Alaska, and many other smaller ones. Currently we only have two major herring spawns areas left and the smaller ones are completely gone. Each year our ADF&G conducts massive herring harvests which average around 20 - 30 million pounds from the Sitka Sound. We are currently looking at total disaster within our salmon and halibut resources, not to mention all the other species which depend on this herring resource, but we are still commercially over-harvesting herring. Many Alaskan communities and their economies depend on the salmon and halibut which feed on this herring but this natural resource has been greatly reduce with commercial over-harvest. With herring, salmon and halibut disasters now hanging over our fisheries, our ADF&G still continues to open and over-harvest our herring resource every year? This is not conservative fisheries management.

Alaska did have thousands of square miles of Southeast waters filled with major herring spawning areas. Now with only Sitka Sound remaining as a major herring spawning area, we in Alaska come face to face with a tremendous lack of both salmon and halibut. Most areas which had swelling populations of herring now host much smaller, severely depleted or even nonexistent populations. Alaska used to have many herring reduction plants going 24 hours per day, year around as our commercial fisheries could not catch all of the herring. Alaska had thousands of people employed as they worked continuous shifts trying to process and ship out our fisheries bounty. Our bays were so over-flowing with herring that docks and harbors were inundated with them as anyone could catch them just about anywhere. The beginning of the end of our herring happened in 1976 as Alaska's commercial sac roe herring fishery began hammering away at our seeming endless supply of herring. Buyers from Japan were willing to purchase herring sac roe for over $2,200 per ton as we began to watch our herring masses decrease. Commercial fishermen watched on as our herring biomass began to wither while our ADF&G biologists blank faced denied that our herring were decreasing. The ADF&G continued claiming that the reason fishermen could not find the herring was because they had moved. Herring do not usually move, they like to spawn in the same location year after year. If in fact they had moved, why have we failed to locate the places they moved to?

While commercial fisheries were hammering our herring and crab, our federal government was busy figuring out new inventive ways to protect herring predators like whales and Stellar sea lions. The National Marine Mammal Protection Act resulted in 1972 and these predators began increasing. Our 100 humpback whale population increased dramatically since implementation of this Act. The Alaska humpback whale population around Frederick Sound, Southeast Alaska, was increased to about 400 animals by 1995. It was further increased to 1,000 animals by 2000 and around 1,700 humpbacks today. These 1,700 whales now eat over 4,000 tons of feed per day. We are now seeing much larger humpback whale populations, which prefer to feed on herring, and each whale can eat up to (3 tons of herring per day). Each of these whales is like an unrestricted commercial herring fisherman who gets to fish year round, thus placing enormous demands on our remaining and dwindling herring resource. This information refers only to one kind of whale in one location, thus revealing the possible level of plankton, krill and herring demand whales in general are placing on our dwindling resources. The listed user demands make it next to impossible for a depleted stock to rebuild and that is precisely what we are seeing as our ADF&G bewilderment increases over the fact that our herring stocks refuse to rebuild, regardless as to what management actions they may take. With our once great herring masses now gone and Japan not willing to pay the high prices they used to pay, it appears that our herring and their sac roe is now worth more to Alaska left in the water.
What do you think would happen to you if every time you went to the grocery store to get food, you couldn't find much of anything because a giant food monster came through there the day before and wiped the place out? What if each time you went to get food, all you found were scraps which this giant food monster somehow over looked as it went about industrially emptying the isle?
How long would it take you to stop shopping at that store? How long would it take for you to have a food emergency? How many of your family might die from starvation because at some point during the year you did not have enough food to survive? What would you do if someone took all of your food? This kind of illustration may seem like something out of a fictional novel but it is really happening to much of our ocean marine life as they attempt to survive along side industrialized food monsters, which are in fact industrialized commercial fishing. Giant gillnets and trawler sacks are currently being set, drifted and dragged through the waters of our oceans and either killing and selling or killing and dumping huge quantities of ocean marine life. Much of this removed marine life is being sold all over the world at unprecedented levels. Millions of tons of salmon are being removed from our waters and marketed all over our planet.

Beluga Whales mainly consume salmon to survive and that poses a special problem with regard to how they acquire their correct body weight. They must catch and consume large quantities of salmon to generate this body weight. The problem is that they must catch and consume most of this body fat during July when most of our salmon move up Cook Inlet. Cook Inlets commercial fishery spreads about 7,000,000 liner feet of gillnets out in front of the salmon attempting to move up Cook Inlet in July. This commercial fishery admits to catching and killing about 85% - 90% of these salmon each year.
Your average beluga needs about 50 pounds of salmon per day to even hope to generate enough body weight fat to allow it to survive until the next year. These beluga's consume salmon basically in July because not much is moving up Cook Inlet the rest of the year. A beluga needs about 44 pounds of prey sockeye salmon per day. This means that the average Beluga Whale needs at least 4 -5 sockeye salmon per day or about 50 pounds.

Beluga Whales weigh about 2,000 - 3,000 pounds and they need about 50 pounds of salmon per day to survive the entire year. At 50 pounds of salmon per day, times 31 days in July, equals 1,550 pounds of salmon or 155 salmon annually necessary for minimum fat reserves and a beluga surviving the year. (50 pounds per day X 31 days in July = 1,550 pounds of salmon) (1,550 pounds of sockeye salmon / 10 lb. av. sockeye salmon = 155 sockeye salmon needed annually per beluga)
With an average beluga population at say 312 beluga's like today, you would need a minimum of 48,360 salmon annually to allow them to survive until next year. (155 salmon per beluga X 312 Beluga's = 48,360 needed salmon) Each beluga needs a minimum of about 155 salmon or 1,550 pounds of salmon each year (just to survive). Each beluga basically needs to consume its own body weight in salmon in July or it will not make it through the winter. So the big question becomes; how many salmon does Cook Inlet get each year? Cook Inlet usually gets a run of about 4 - 6 million sockeye salmon each year and its commercial fishing industry catches, kills and sells about 85% of that run each year. A commercial catch of 5 million sockeyes, out of 6 million available sockeyes, leaves an 85% commercial catch rate. http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/static/fishing/PDFs/commercial/2011_uci_socke...

What Else Could We Be Doing With Those 6,000,000 Sockeye Salmon?
6,000,000 sockeye salmon would feed about 38,709 Beluga Whales. (6,000,000 sockeye's / 155 sockeye salmon annual requirement per beluga = 38,709 Beluga Whales fed)
5,000,000 sockeye's would feed 32,258 Beluga Whales, 4,000,000 sockeye's would feed 25,806 Beluga Whales, 3,000,000 sockeye's would feed 19,354 Beluga Whales, ect..
48,360 sockeye's would feed 312 Beluga Whales, 31,250 sockeye's would feed 201 Beluga Whales. (155 sockeyes per year X 312 whales = 48,360 sockeyes)
These calculations project that we are probably feeding our current 312 Cook Inlet Beluga's about 48,360 sockeye salmon annually or 0.8% of the total run.
(48,360 sockeyes is 0.8% of 6,000,000 sockeye salmon)

So why are we catching, killing, selling and shipping out most of our sockeye salmon when we could be using at least part of them to help feed a dwindling Beluga population? The Alaska Board of Fish and the State of Alaska need to get serious about discovering what is causing our Beluga Whale population to dwindle. We have no idea how many of our beluga's are staving to death during the winter as their fat reserves reduce down to nothing. There is a lot of evidence out there that we are starving our whales to death and they don't always roll up on a beach after they die. There are increasing reports of people visually verifying shoulder blades protruding from many of our whales. Whales are being found dead on beaches, investigations have proved these whales to have starved to death. We see report after report of pods of whales accidentally beaching themselves while chasing prey. Could it be that these whales are so starved that they are being forced to chase prey into unsafe areas, at unsafe times, just to survive? When you hear of a whale beaching, do you hear anyone suggesting starving whales chasing prey into unsafe waters? Have you heard even a guess as to what may have caused a whale beaching? This is something which should not be happening but it is. We should specially allocate at least a part of this 85% commercial harvest of sockeyes to help feed and increase our Cook Inlets Beluga Whale population. What would be wrong with making a specific Cook Inlet, beluga allocation of sockeye salmon? Right now our Beluga Whales take what ever is left-over after the isles are industrially emptied by the commercial fishing fleet. Is that all our beluga's are worth, 0.8% of a total sockeye run or just the left-overs? This statewide commercial over-fishing has impacted our plankton, zooplankton, euphausiids, herring, crab, salmon, sea lions and whales. How can anyone seriously wonder why we have a decreasing population of Cook Inlet, Beluga Whales when we remove the majority of what they need to feed on from Cook Inlet and sell it to the highest bidder? If you want to increase Cook Inlet beluga's, forget all the studies out there pointing to everything except "actually feeding them". The Alaska Board of Fisheries needs to take up this issue and define how many beluga's they would like to see in Cook Inlet. Once they have an actual target number of whales they should then
make a specific allocation of sockeye salmon to feed them. Also our ADF&G, North Pacific Fishery Management Council, National Marine Fisheries Service and Alaska Board of Fish should be specifically directing funds and resources into radio tagging many of our remaining beluga's in Cook Inlet so we can begin to collect a data base as to where they go when they die.

Since our commercial salmon and pollock fisheries are constantly working to not return marine nutrients back to the ocean, the mass commercial removal of these nutrients becomes the first break in the marine food web. As this missing nutrient factor spreads out within the marine environment, it begins to first effect planktons, phytoplanktons, zooplanktons, crab, herring, capelin, salmon, halibut, sea lions, sea otters, whales, sea urchins and finally kelp beds which are home to much of this marine life. As these elements of a healthy marine ecosystem disappear, the system then begins to desegregate.
Buried within this ring of marine destruction is the first break in the food web as commercial fisheries remove the necessary salmon carcass nutrients from the marine system thereby forcing the ecosystem to eventually fail. Commercial fisheries are slicing away at these essential core populations while at the same time by-catching and thereby destroying many other essential parts of the marine food chain.
This entire process of excessive harvest and destruction then finally results in things like a pod of Cook Inlet Beluga Whales wandering Cook Inlet in search of salmon which have been caught and sold by commercial fisheries. This is how you end up seeing a pod of stranded Cook Inlet Beluga Whales flopping on some mud flat. Those whales did not get there because their GPS or navigational skills were defective. They got there because they were probably starving and were forced to go places and do things which they would never normally do. If you were a beluga, would you risk your life by chasing a salmon into a foot of water? If you were starving you probably would take the chance and that is what is no doubt happening to many of our Cook Inlet Beluga Whales. Many of these whales are
(starving to death or beaching themselves and then dying) because our commercial fisheries are catching and selling their food. This is basic math, if you want more Beluga Whales in Cook Inlet, you actually have to feed them something. Right now the bulk of this whale prey is being sold to the highest bidder by our commercial fisheries as they claim they are operating within a sustainable fishery.
Sustainable for who or what? Sockeye salmon only? What about king salmon and Beluga Whales? If you break the food web feedings kings and actually steal a beluga's prey, how is that sustainable
when both of these marine groups are in serious decline?

By NOT allowing the bulk of the salmon which we send to sea, to return, die and rot within out rivers and streams, we unbalance the natural food web equation. When the bulk of these returning salmon are commercially caught, processed and sold, we have created an artificial break in the ocean food web. This food web break results in a giant annual nutrient removal from our ocean with minimal nutrient deposits within our freshwater rivers and streams. That kind of a (nutrient deficit) can be absorbed by the ocean for only a limited amount of time before bad things begin to happen. It is like punching a very small hole in a very large buck, eventually the bucket will be empty. The loss of our king salmon, herring and crab is only the beginning of the list of bad things which will result from this food web break.

The above information outlines a substantial failure by the Alaska Department of Fish & Game as it has mis-diagnosing king salmon, herring and crab problem as being a natural (Lack Of Abundance).
This is not an (natural abundance problem), it is clear that this these losses have roots deep within our ocean nutrient levels and excess commercial fishing. Our ocean nitrogen levels are currently the lowest they have been in 50 years. These depleted nutrient levels have been mis-interpret by the ADF&G as being a natural occurrences when they have in fact been commercially manipulated to their current depleted levels. These fisheries management manipulations have resulted in reduced escaping, dying and rotting salmon. That manipulation has resulted in reduced ocean nitrogen, phosphorus and nutrient levels along with reduced phytoplankton, zooplankton, adult euphausiids, juvenal king salmon and therefore reduced king salmon, herring and crab populations. This is not a natural (Lack Of Abundance Problem). This is a human caused (Lack Of Ocean Nutrients and Commercial Over-Harvest Problem). These problems may be remedied by first identifying sensitive stock environmental areas and closing them to commercial fishing until they have recovered. This problem may also be addressed by immediately and dramatically increasing the biomass of salmon which we allow to escape and rot in our freshwater rivers and streams. We need to close down the commercial destruction of our crab, herring and king salmon. This would boost our ocean nutrient levels and place the State of Alaska squarely
on the road to steady recovery, instead of the steady decline we are currently seeing today.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council, National Marine Fisheries Service, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, ADF&G and Alaska Board of Fisheries are currently placing our critical marine resources in direct jeopardy with on going and excessive commercial fisheries over-harvest. Saltwater marine ecosystems around Alaska have been pushed to the brink of complete failure. These depleted ecosystems are currently suffering from a loss of biodiversity due to the destruction of our marine food chains and habitats. We need our fisheries managers to immediately locate, set aside and protect (species specific areas and safe pockets) from which herring, crab and king salmon can re-seed over-exploited waters. Our fisheries managers need to immediately reevaluate all of our (commercial herring sac roe, crab and king salmon fisheries). Many of our commercial herring, crab and king salmon fisheries are over fished and depleted. These depleted commercial fisheries should be restricted or closed to commercial fisheries access until they have sufficiently recovered. We have substantial components of our Alaskan economy at stake in these fisheries issues. Commercial and sport fisheries along with a large tourism industry depend on the predator's which need to feed on our herring and crab resources. Both of these resources have been allowed to dwindle away year after year. Our fisheries users groups are wondering why they are seeing fewer and smaller predatory fish which they need to catch in order to survive. We may not be able to prevent climate change from effecting our salmon or halibut resources but we can stop commercial over-fishing from making the situation even worse. I therefore request that our fisheries managers immediately take up the statewide issue of reevaluate and protecting our depleted but remaining herring, crab and king salmon stocks.

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