Sockeye salmon stocks have bottomed out at some of Kodiak’s biggest producing systems. The Karluk, dubbed the “green goddess” by sports anglers, along with its two sister systems on the island’s west side, for decades produced yearly harvests that topped 1 million reds. Last year, catches were one quarter of that.
“It’s a massive drop,” said Gary Byrne, operations manager for the Kodiak Regional Aquaculture Association, explaining that the crash hit in 2008. “Those fish are averaging five pounds each, so you’re talking about millions of dollars just in ex-vessel value, never mind what it means to the communities as those fish move through.”
Byrne described the sockeye crash as a biological, cultural and economic crisis.
“It’s really the lifeblood to the communities,” he said.
Kodiak fish scientists encountered a similar sockeye depletion problem at the west side systems in the 1980s. They successfully turned it around via a five-year nurturing program that produced for decades. Now they want a chance to revive the reds again.
“Lake fertilization — it works. That’s all there is to it,” said Dave Kaplan, a Kodiak Island Borough Assembly member and former state fish and game biologist. The borough has contributed a resolution and $50,000 in support of a KRAA lake enrichment plan aimed to begin next year. The plan also is positioned to receive $700,000 in research dollars from the state.
Think crop duster, said Kaplan.
“A mixture of nitrogen and phosphorous is air dropped from a plane onto the rearing lakes,” he explained. “It jump-starts the phytoplankton bloom where it all begins.”
The process is repeated over five years to accommodate the life cycle of sockeye salmon.
The lack of Karluk reds returning to their home lakes is hurting production in two ways: low numbers of small fry, and less nutrients in the rearing systems from spawned out salmon carcasses.
Unlike pink salmon, which mostly spawn and die in rivers and are washed out to sea, sockeye carcasses remain in lakes and creeks and contribute essential nutrients to the system as they decompose.
“If you don’t have enough algae and plankton, then you’re not going to have enough bugs and crustaceans and zooplankton to feed the fish. So that is the process we are trying to address from the bottom up” said Byrne. “We want to try and recover and stabilize that productivity to be more like what we were accustomed to over the past couple of decades.”
The KRAA lake enrichment project would occur in partnership with ADF&G and the National Wildlife Refuge.
“In the fifth, sixth and seventh years we’ll be experiencing larger sockeye returns and escapements so we will be able to step away. The additional fish returning to the system will provide the nutrients.” Byrne said.
Pending funding and permits, Byrne said the “best case scenario for the first application of nutrients is May 2012.”
A record 91 million Alaska salmon returned to their home hatcheries for harvest in 2010, double the year before. Home-grown fish are Alaska’s largest agricultural crop, but don’t ever refer to it as “fish farming.”
Whereas farmed fish are crammed into closed pens or cages until they are ready for market, Alaska salmon begin their lives in one of 36 hatcheries and are released as fingerlings to the sea. When the fish return home, they make up a huge part of Alaska’s salmon catch.
Last year nearly 77 million — 49 percent of Alaska’s salmon catch — stemmed from hatchery fish. The value — $168 million — equaled 34 percent of the dockside worth of the 2010 harvest.
By species, hatchery salmon accounted for 67 percent of the pink value, 67 percent of chum, 22 percent of coho, 18 percent of chinook and 9 percent of sockeye value.
The majority of the fish — 69 million — were pink salmon. In fact, for the past five years, 43 percent of Alaska’s total pink salmon harvest came from hatcheries at Prince William Sound. The Sound is home to five hatcheries, which account for about 98 percent of the PWS salmon catch, valued at $123 million, or 92 percent of the PWS value.
Southeast is Alaska’s second largest hatchery region, producing 18 percent of the Panhandle’s salmon catches and $38 million, 35 percent of the value. The hatchery contribution last year was 72 percent chums, 28 percent coho, 22 percent chinook, 8 percent sockeye and 2 percent pinks.
At Kodiak, hatchery fish accounted for 27 percent of the region’s total salmon catch and $7 million, 25 percent of the value. The hatchery breakdown was 43 percent coho, 28 percent pink, 26 percent chum and 21 percent sockeye.
At Cook Inlet, 3 percent of the sockeye take was hatchery raised, valued at $844,000 or 2 percent of the value of the total Cook Inlet harvest.
Sitka scores fish grants
Two Sitka-based fishing projects gained federal grants to help them invest directly in their fishing futures. The grants, via the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, include $504,877 to Ecotrust for the Fisheries Trust Network project. The trust supports the emergence of community fishing associations and their strategies to acquire and keep fish quotas local.
The Alaska Longline Fisherman’s Association received $381,000 for a catch share electronic monitoring project. The Southeast Alaska Guides Organization also got $275,500 for its sport sector catch share project.
The New York Times reports that consumer worries about radiation have led to a big run on sales of one Japanese food: seaweed. Natural food stores and Asian markets on the West Coast said they had seen a run on seaweed ever since the nuclear reactors in Japan began leaking radiation. Some consumers view seaweed as a natural source of normal iodine, which can help protect the thyroid gland against exposure to radioactive iodine.
In England, otters are being kept away from local fishing areas with lion dung from the London Zoo. The poo is mixed into a spray and squirted around the ponds and lakes where otters are stealing fish. The otters disappeared overnight, said the New Zealand Herald.