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Date Posted: 09:38:45 05/24/13 Fri
Author: Don Johnson
Subject: So Where Do You Think Our Kings Went To?

Lots of people are asking where all of our king salmon went to but few if any will take the time to research out the issue to the degree necessary to get a truthful answer.
You cannot resolve this issue by blindly studying every possible solution out there. Somewhere along the way a person must use their common sense and life experiences to narrow down the possible factors which could likely cause a statewide decline of our king salmon fisheries resource. To understand our complex fisheries issues you must intensely examine our fisheries past and present in order to predict the fisheries future.

Since 1959 our commercial fisheries have been operating under the mistaken belief that we can harvest most of our returning salmon and allow only a small number of salmon to escape, spawn, die and rot within our rivers and streams. In general the Alaska Department of Fish & Game, ADF&G has greatly under estimated the correct amount of salmon needed to escape and rot within our rivers and streams. This statewide ADF&G salmon escapement error has produce a 50 nitrogen low within our fresh and salt water. This fisheries management error has been inflicting marine stress within the ocean food chain for many years now as the bio-mass energy of the ocean has been slowly draining away. This is the equivalent of having a garden the size of our ocean and never fertilizing it, eventually the garden production must decline.

Alaska has established extensive commercial harvests upon all of its fisheries until most of those fisheries either partly or completely collapsed. In 1980 Bering Sea, (red king crab) commercial over-harvests peaked at around 130 million pounds and then (crashed) to what we get today at around 15 million pound annually. The Alaska (tanner crab) commercial over-harvest peaked at around 67 million pounds in 1978, went to 1.2 million pounds by 1984. The same was done to the (snow crab) and both were officially declared (crashed) and commercially over-harvested by 1999. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council, National Marine Fisheries Service, and the ADG&G together tried to rebuilding crab populations in 2000 our ocean lacked the marine bio-mass energy necessary to sustain a crab population rebound. The end result of (the great crab crash) was that hundreds of millions of dollars worth of Crabber Vessels were either sold for 10% of their purchase valve or converted over into pollock trawlers. Those trawlers now stalk the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea as they by-catching killing and dumping the same king salmon which we are patiently looking forward to catching each summer. This is an infinite loop with our crab not able to rebound because of our mis-managed salmon and our salmon not able to rebound because of our mis-managed crab. ( See KING SALMON OCEAN FEEDING http://www.voy.com/177140/154.html )

We are currently seeing Alaska halibut and salmon resources studies which conclude that our fish weigh half of what the same age class weighed in 1988. These fish depend heavily on herring as a main element within their diet. Our historic stocks of herring have greatly declined over time. The reasons are commercial over-harvest, climate change and increased predation. These negative factors have combined and impact the abundance of our salmon and halibut? The story is hard to follow but is hiding in plain sight and published just about everywhere you look on the internet.

We saw peak annual commercial herring catches back in 1929 at around 80,000 tons. The total annual commercial sac roe harvest in 2009 was around 40,000 tons. One of the big reasons we are seeing half the herring harvest today is because we are currently over-harvest around 300,000 tons of herring eggs on kelp annually. Our ADF&F opened herring roe fisheries back in 1976. We had seven very major herring spawning areas in Southeast Alaska back then, with many other smaller ones. Currently we only have two major herring spawns areas left and the smaller ones are completely gone. But each year our ADF&G still conducts an excessive herring and herring egg on kelp harvest 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 that resource. Many Alaskan communities and their economies depend on the salmon and halibut which feed on 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 continues to try to commercially over-harvest our herring resource every year.

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, what a tremendous coincidence. Most areas which had swelling populations of herring now host 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, that all ended by 1967. 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 bio-mass 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 place year after year. If in fact they had moved, why have we failed to locate their mysterious hiding place?

While commercial fisheries were over-harvesting 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. The Alaska humpback whale population around Frederick Sound, Southeast Alaska went from about 400 animals in 1995 to 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 any depleted stock to rebuild and that is precisely what we are seeing as our ADF&G bewilderment increases over the fact that our herring and crab 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.

A National Research Council (NRC) thesis concluded that the commercial fisheries over-harvest of herring and capelin in the North Pacific forced Stellar sea lions, which had previously fed on herring and capelin, to instead feed on the less nutritional pollock. This then began (the Stellar sea lion decline). The thesis concludes

that the sea lion decline was mostly the result of commercial herring and capelin over-harvest along with the (junk-food hypothesis). This theory concludes that when sea lions are forced to consume what is left, they eventually die. What was left is the less nutritional pollock. In 1998 a Journal Science paper came out concluding that (the lack of Stellar sea lions) was forcing Orca whales to begin 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 zoo-plankton. The commercial over-harvest of herring and capelin looped its way back through the marine food chain until it destroyed the very habituate which generated the commercial fishery in the first place.

What is resulting here are less than apparent circles of destruction as commercial fisheries over-harvest our fishery resources. These commercial fisheries kick out a single leg from the marine table which is attempting to support everything, therefore everything must collapse because of it. Many things could have started reducing our herring, capelin and crab, which king salmon and sea lions feed on but the resulting commercial over-harvest then exacerbate that problem into a complete marine disaster. We are now seeing the end result of years worth of fisheries mis-management within a dramatic reduction in the total numbers of herring, capelin, crab, sea lions, sea otters and king salmon along with great increases in things which help destroy herring and crab habitat. The bottom line is that we cannot precisely prove what first started this (marine fire) but commercial over-harvest then dumped drums of gasoline on that fire. The resulting fisheries disaster is eating away at our marine environment and is not comparable to anything observed since the great 1959 fisheries disaster which was brought on by commercial fish trap over-harvest.

This information may appear over-whelming thus leaving the reader to ask what can be done to remedy such a large scale problem? There appears to be two possible natural solutions. One being for us to greatly reduce our commercial fisheries, greatly increase salmon escapements in all rivers and stream and then wait twenty to thirty years for our fisheries to naturally rebound. The other is to close all of our commercial fisheries, allow massive escapements of salmon and the resulting massive nitrogen injection into our ocean and then waiting five to ten years for our fisheries to rebound. Most who are reading this information will laugh at the thought of closing down our commercial fisheries. The 1959 commercial fish-trap era had a great many fishermen who also laughed at just the thought of the state shutting down their fish-traps. Those fishermen also predicted that the state could not survive without them or their fish-traps.

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