February 28, 2013 | Volume 43, No. 8

Borough: Tweak sockeye study

The Haines Borough is taking a closer look before signing off on a $10,000 study of local commercial fish stocks and management.

The draft report, “Data Review of the Sockeye Salmon Declines in Chilkat and Chilkoot Lakes,” was submitted by Golder Associates in August. About 10 fishermen and residents attended a committee meeting about the 40-page report in January.

Golder Associates of Castlegar, B.C. ,was tasked with 1) reviewing current and historic Fish and Game data to assess underlying causes of declining sockeye salmon stocks returning to the lakes, 2) determine whether a historic level of production can be reached again, 3) determine whether current available data is sufficient for accurate analysis and if, 4) assess the benefits of genetic testing in Icy Straits, and 5) provide alternative fishery management plan amendments.

“The productivity trends identified in the existing data have high uncertainty because of data limitations, but certainly are reversible, both by natural changes and lake rehabilitation programs,” Golder’s Dana Schmidt wrote. “Unlike many lake systems, the available data do not provide clarity as to the cause of the decline, possibly because there may have been multiple factors that change over time and limited data.”

Increased stock identification efforts – such as determining how many seine-caught sockeye are bound for the two lakes – isn’t likely to provide improved insight to the cause of decreased lake productivity, Schmidt wrote.

Assembly member Debra Schnabel said she was concerned the report didn’t adequately address recommendations for management changes.

“It seems to me that if we accept this report as it is, we’re basically saying the way to save or sustain Chilkoot or Chilkat is to fertilize the lake or do these other kinds of issues. It has nothing to do with management. My understanding was we wanted to get as much science as we could out of the way, so we could focus on political activity,” Schnabel said.

Fisherman and former legislator Bill Thomas recommended specifically asking local, independent biologists and fishermen with biology backgrounds to assess the report.

Fish and Game biologist Mark Sogge said the report included a lot of information the state already knows but also includes some good recommendations, including smolt studies. Some of the studies are already under way, using money Thomas secured as legislator, he said.

“That’s a critical piece of information to a central question of how are these lakes actually doing,” Sogge said.

Two weeks ago, borough officials expressed some of their concerns about the study to Golder, specifically asking the company to address interception of local sockeye by other fisheries.