Right now, for example, no fewer than seven calls are out for feedback on issues ranging from sport fishing expenditures to federal aquaculture plans to visions for Alaska's commercial fisheries to input on past shootings of sea lions.
Starting with sport fish - two surveys are being conducted at the national level that are specific to salt water angling. "These will provide a first look at the economic impacts of salt water versus fresh water angling in Alaska," said Bill Romburg, at the AK Dept. of Fish and Game office in Anchorage. Both mail surveys will tap a random sample of the roughly 435 thousand resident and non resident anglers who purchased sport fish licenses in 2005 or 2006.
Already underway is The "Saltwater Sport Fishing Expenditure Survey," which is part of a national effort to find out how much money saltwater sport fishing contributes to state and national economies, including how many jobs it supports. For more information about this survey, contact Brad Gentner (Brad.Gentner@noaa.gov) at (301) 713-2328, ext. 215.
A second federal survey set to begin in January is the "Alaska Saltwater Sport Fishing Survey." This one examines the factors that affect the number of marine recreational trips taken in Alaska, and how changes in available fisheries or regulations might affect the economic values of salt water sport fishing. Contact for that survey is Dan Lew (Dan.Lew@noaa.gov) at (206) 526-4252.
The state is assisting with the federal surveys and is also doing a new one of its own. A "Statewide Harvest Survey" that was mailed recently to 47,000 license holders will measure for the first time economic impacts from both fresh and salt water sport fishing on a regional level.
It covers all of Alaska from the Southeast Panhandle to Prudhoe Bay, and asks anglers where and when they sport fished, and how many fish they kept and released in 2006.
"The federal estimates don't really provide regional or sub-regional breakdowns for managers and biologists. Our goal is to measure the dollars spent at the various levels and follow them down into the number of jobs, wages and salaries that the money generates," Romburg said. For more information, contact Romberg at 907-267-2366, or Gretchen Jennings at 907-267-2404 or firstname.lastname@example.org .
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service conducts a national recreational survey every five years, with the most recent being in 2001. For Alaska, it estimated approximately $537 million was spent on all sport fishing activity by residents and non residents visiting the state, generating about 11,000 jobs and $238 million in wages and salaries.
Surveys on shootings and sea changes
Scientists are trying to gain a better understanding of how long ago shootings of Steller sea lions might have added to the drastic decline of the population in westward regions since the early 1980s. With funding from the Pollock Conservation Cooperative Research Center, researchers from the University of Alaska/School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences will visit several coastal communities in coming weeks to tap the knowledge of longtime fishermen in a two-fold quest.
"The first is to understand changes in what they've seen in the marine ecosystem over the decades, changes that were observed before surveys were conducted by state and federal agencies. The other important part is to hear from them about their experiences with shooting Steller sea lions," said Dr. Gordon Kruse.
"Over the decades fishermen were allowed to and even encouraged to shoot animals that were taking fish from their nets and long lines and puncturing crab buoys. In fact, federal and state agencies were also participating in predator reduction programs," he added.
"We're hoping to find better information to try and quantify the number of sea lions that were killed by shooting, so we can better understand the contribution of that form of mortality to the population decline historically."
A current theory blames commercial fishing as causing localized depletion of fish stocks and suggests that large areas should be off limits to fishing to protect sea lions.
"So to the extent that shooting may have occurred at levels much higher than we might now understand, we might better be able to understand the decline in the population with respect to that form of mortality versus other potential explanations," Kruse said.
Kruse and Dr. Henry Huntingon, a specialist in local and traditional knowledge, will meet with fishermen in Kodiak Nov. 28- Dec. 1; in King Cove on Dec. 12, and Sand Point on Dec. 14. All names and information are confidential Contact Gordon Kruse at email@example.com .
Seafood industry visions
A long awaited report outlining economic strategies for Alaska's seafood industry is
awaiting public comment. The draft report - State of Alaska Seafood Economic Strategies - was prepared at the request of Governor Murkowski, and it addresses all aspects of the state's management of its commercial fisheries.
The recommended strategies, compiled by the Juneau-based McDowell Group, are designed to help make sure that Alaska manages its seafood resources for the "maximum benefit of the people", as required by the state constitution. But it points out that the state has not defined what maximum benefit entails, and that a lack of socioeconomic analysis impedes the ability to form productive partnerships with communities and industry stakeholders. The report brings up many compelling points, such as state management is far too dependent on incomplete data, and ever more dependent on federal funding. It says the university system is not reaching its potential to contribute to the seafood industry, and that except for fisheries biology programs, training for most industry careers must be obtained outside the state. Likewise, the state is falling short in its capacity to attract and train seafood business and policy talent.
The draft document proposes goals and actions to address those and other shortcomings. It's a great read and is posted at www.mcdowellgroup.net. Comments can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org through Nov 30. Comments will be compiled and evaluated through the end of December. After that, the state will determine which, if any, of the strategic recommendations are implemented or revised.
The interim final version of the federal government's 10 Year Plan for a National Aquaculture Program is now available for review (also an easy read). It focuses on creating more U.S. products to meet the growing demand for seafood, and to reduce dependence on imports. Currently, more than 70 percent of the seafood Americans eat is imported, and 40 percent of that is farmed. Ten species (and several seaweeds) have so far been identified as suitable candidates for U.S. aquaculture, including cod, halibut, sablefish and tuna. If legislative mandates and funding are provided by Congress, NOAA Fisheries will begin next year to establish permitting systems. Get more information on at www.aquaculture.noaa.gov . Deadline to comment is Nov. 30.