TRANSCRIPT - Andy McGregor
McGregor is a Management Biologist for the Alaska Department
of Fish and Game.
talks about the successful management of Alaska Salmon, that it's
a sustainable fishery. Has it always been so?
have had a long history of healthy salmon stocks here. I think we
still have intact habitat. We've got very little effect of urbanization.
Alaska is lightly populated. We have very few damns on our anadramous
salmon streams. So we have good habitat. If we put salmon on the
spotting grounds, it's highly likely that they're going to be productive.
We also have some very intensive in-season fishery management programs
for collecting data to properly manage fisheries. I think that's
had a big effect on our stocks. And I also think that we're blessed
by Mother Nature. And we've had many years now of favorable marine
survival for our salmon, so things are going well.
I heard that there was actually a time when these runs were endangered,
that your successful management has helped to restore fish. What
have you done here to actually help bring stocks back? Why are the
salmon runs so robust here in Alaska?
think that they are robust in a number of ways. Our environment
is still very healthy. We have little effects of urbanization here.
We also have taken care of our environment to the best extent that
we can. Very few, if any, of our anadramous salmon streams have
been dammed. Also, we have some very intensive in season management
programs, which we use to manage our stocks on an abundance-based
approach. And finally, we have been blessed by Mother Nature with
some favorable marine survival conditions over the last twenty years
What is this in-season approach to management?
are a wide variety of in-season management programs in Alaska. But
they all have a couple of common elements and that's in-season monitoring
of the escapements, and in-season monitoring of harvest. Unless
you have enough fish on the spawning grounds, obviously your runs
are going to be depleted. And so our monitoring of escapements is
done in a wide variety of methods, statewide.
today, we've looked at our fish wheel on the Taku River, where the
fish are tagged and recaptured upstream, and the market capture
estimate of escapement is generated. Elsewhere in the state, there
are sonar programs that are conducted generally on large muddy or
glacial systems. Examples of that would be on the Yukon and Copper
River. Also there are counting wheels where fish are counted. These
are typically on smaller creeks that are clear water systems.
are counting towers, primarily in the Bristol Bay region, where
biotechnicians actually stand in towers and count fish going up
clear water rivers; and also particularly in marine near-shore areas
here -- particularly in southeast Alaska, Prince William Sound and
Kodiak areas, among others -- where there are large numbers of small
pink salmon and chunk salmon streams.
surveys are a major way of monitoring statements. So first thing
is, you have to have enough fish into the creeks. Then we also monitor
the harvests, and so we're out interviewing fishermen, we're tabulating
what the catches are, what the catch rates are, we are comparing
that to historical data, give us an idea of run strength through
we don't just look at numbers when we are out on the fishery, looking
for catch information. We sample the catch for biological information.
Here in southeast Alaska, we look at the sex ratios -- male to female
ratios -- in pink salmon. And it turns out in a given stock, male
pink salmon tend to come back earlier than the female pink salmon.
So we can tell. We can get engaged of where we are in a run by the
ratio of male pink salmon to female pink salmon in the fishery.
also do quite a wide variety of stock identification programs statewide.
And these would be, like in our catch, what stocks are contributing
to what extent. There are a wide variety of methods that are used.
There are genetic characteristics that are looked at -- growth characteristics
that are expressed on the scales of the fish. There are differences
in the instances of parasites on fish. And there's a lot of tagging
of juvenile salmon and adult salmon that's done as well. So we get
a lot of information from our catch sampling, we put it all together,
and I think that our in-season management speaks for itself and
the success that we've had since statehood.
A lot of people might not picture that there would be camps like
this, and that they would be integral to the success story of the
lot of camps are very remote. They are filled with technicians and
biologists who don't get a lot of credit for what they do. They're
really the backbone of the whole operation. And when you're out,
you're not around very many people; you're getting really back to
the roots, in many cases. There are people that will be out in the
bush for four or five months at a time, doing this work. And having
spent a little of time out here myself in camps, you learn something
about yourself while you're out in that kind of environment.
How does the fish wheel help you to catch the salmon?
kind of an interesting program. It's fairly unique in that the Alaska
State's Department of Game is jointly operating this program along
with the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans. The idea is
that we operate these fish wheels and catch fish, and then the biological
data taken from the fish-the sex, the length-is recorded. A scale
is taken from the fish. The scales have ring patterns, not unlike
that you would see exposed in a cross-section of a log. And those
are used for racial studies-stocks separation studies.
the fish are tagged and released. And they're recovered upstream,
a short distance, in a Canadian fishery on the river, and the ratio
of marked to unmarked fish in that fishery allows us to generate
estimates of how many fish are in the river. And then we compare
that to historical information and we're able to assess whether
we're on track to meet our escapement targets or not.
we are on track, and it appears there is additional surplus available,
we can adjust our fishery downriver, or the Canadians can adjust
their fishery in-river to increase our harvest. If we're not on
track, then we throttle back our fisheries. It's a very interactive
program. We're getting information from it on a daily basis through
the season and that allows us to very carefully manage our commercial
What is so vital about escapement for salmon?
escapement of salmon is the most basic thing. You have to have eggs
put in the gravel in order to get fish back. And in the state of
Alaska, there has been a lot of time and effort setting escapement
goals and monitoring goals for escapements to assure that we put
enough eggs in the gravel. Mother Nature isn't always going to be
as nice as she has been in recent years and there are some times
that that's not going to produce that many fish. But if you don't
put enough fish in the spawning grounds, sooner or later, you're
going to have a disaster on your hands.
Can you talk about how you communicate changes in quotas, or changes
in season to fishermen?
fisheries are announced either over the World Wide Web or by what
we call a news release -- it's electronically sent out. We also
have hotlines at our office that we advertise the openings, broadcast
the openings, what they're going to be. But basically, we take the
biological data that we have and we decide what the areas that are
be open to fishing and how long they are going to be open to fishing.
And then we advertise that, we distribute that to the various fishing
fleets by a variety of methods.
When an area is closed, are you also setting quotas?
it's abundance-based management. And in abundance-based management,
there are no actual quotas. Your catch is relative to run strength.
So we're monitoring that through the season, but there are no real
quotas. There are across the state a number of instances where we
have harvest sharing plans -- either management plans for sharing
among user groups. Also this river is a good example, where we share
the harvest with the Canadians. There are harvest-sharing percentages
that are established by the Pacific Salmon Treaty.
I guess in a way there are harvest quotas, but in general it's abundance-based
management and there aren't any set targets that we're looking at,
except trying to meet our escapement goals.
By in large, do most people who are fishing salmon go along with
this management regime pretty earnestly? How do they feel about
do think that our management policies and actions are generally
supported by our fishermen in Alaska. I think our local biologists
are empowered with the ability to make decisions on the spot for
fish entitlement area. So you've got your management decisions being
made on a local level by people that are most familiar with the
I think one of the major reasons why it's supported by fishermen
is that management biologists do not make allocative decisions.
Those types of decisions, as far as splitting up the harvest pie,
are made by our board officials. And that takes a fair amount of
the political aspect of our jobs as managers, biologists, out of
the equation. And we're happy it is that way.
Has the abundance-based management scheme paid off for Alaska in
would say that abundance-based management has paid off tremendously
-- economically and biologically -- for the state of Alaska. We've
had harvests of salmon between an average of 180 to 280 million
fish over the last 10 years. So we've got very healthy stocks in
general. We've got very healthy commercial harvests, and yes, it's
How important is salmon, culturally, to coastal communities in Juneau,
cannot overestimate the importance of salmon to a large majority
of the Alaskan populace, the natives who have utilized this resource
for hundreds of years. Also, here in southeast Alaska, we have a
lot of communities that completely revolve around salmon harvesting.
And without the ability to keep our stocks healthy and keep our
fisheries going, most towns would literally dry up. So it's very
valuable to the citizens of Alaska, both native and white.
Why are there no salmon farms in the coastal waters of Alaska?
have enough wild salmon in Alaska that I think salmon farms would
be superfluous to our needs. And I think there are a number of biological
considerations with salmon farms that people in Alaska and politicians
in Alaska have looked at salmon farming and felt that, given our
healthy stocks of salmon, that wasn't something that the state was