TRANSCRIPT - Frank Rue
Rue is an Alaskan Fisheries manager.
In terms of management, why is everyone saying that the Alaskan
salmon fishery is a sustainable and robust fishery?
four reasons. First of all we've got good habitat and we've worked
hard to protect our freshwater habitat. The second part is we've
got a very good in-season management system with biologists who
are on the grounds, have the authority to open and close fisheries
real-time as we see the size of the run. And part of that is we
also have a very good program to measure the run strength.
So are we getting
fish up the rivers to spawn? We have ways of measuring that and
we run our fisheries based on how we're doing on spawning escapements
and how we're doing on catches and the managers have the authority
to open or close it based on what they see.
The third part
is that we've got a very good public buy-in to the process -- the
fishermen believe in it, and the fishermen are invested in it because
they have ownership in the future of the fishery because of the
system we've got up her -- of limited entry -- where the fishermen
are small business people, they own their permits, they have to
fish their permits, there's no absentee fishermen.
The people who
fish are on the boats and they know that the future of their livelihood
is dependent on us doing a good job and they've seen it work.
And then I think
another very important part of it is you've got very strong laws
underpinning this management system, starting with our Constitution
-- it says we'll manage based on a sustained yield principle. So
if we're starting right at the Constitution and all through our
system of laws that emphasizes sustained yield, emphasizes wild
stock over hatcheries and emphasizes habitat protection. So we have
the legal underpinnings to make it work.
What is your in-season management?
all around the state were given the authority to make decisions
as the run comes in. And then we give them the tools to measure
the runs. We'll have a weir, which is basically a fence that runs
across the river that lets us count fish as they come up the river.
We know how many salmon we need to spawn or to rebuild or sustain
So you have
people sitting at the weir counting the fish, the manager gets those
reports daily. As he opens up the fishery he sees what the catch
is, he has the information from the weirs. He can turn the fishery
on or off based on twelve hours' notice. And the fishermen are basically
waiting for that manager to open or close the fishery.
In short, we
watch the run on a daily basis, actually in some places even hourly.
We're getting weir counts from our weirs at least once a day, sometimes
more often. We're watching the fishery performance daily. And so
we make decisions on some fisheries daily.
How important is habitat to fisheries in Alaska?
habitat is absolutely fundamental to the health of our fishery.
As you've seen in the lower 48, that's one of their big problems
-- they've lost that habitat. In Alaska we have not lost that habitat.
We have a few problems here and there but basically we have intact,
natural systems. They are the way they were 10,000 years ago.
What can you say about timber management?
lucky about timber management. We have very strong rules on federal
lands and we have a lot of federal lands up here that protect streams,
protect stream buffers; we have very strong rules on state lands,
we have a lot of state lands. So Alaska's got ahead of the curve
in terms of timber management. We put rules in place before it got
too bad on both state/federal and private lands.
How about dams?
we don't have many dams. There have been proposals for dams and
people have fought them. For instance there was plan to dam the
Yukon River; there was a plan to dam the Susitna River. None of
those passed because Alaskans value their wild rivers and their
wild salmon too much; it was too controversial to dam up those major
What kind of support does the management regime have from the fishermen
are very supportive of the management system. They've seen it work.
Many of them were around early on in statehood, either that or their
dads were. And when the runs were in terrible shape the state took
over. The state's management system has rebuilt the runs throughout
the state. The fishermen have seen that happen. A lot of them have
been put on the beach to let the runs rebuild and they've seen that
very involved in the system. We're talking to fishermen daily during
the fishery. We use information from fishermen to help us decide
when to do openings, it helps us to know how big the run is, so
they're very involved in the system and they've seen it work.
is as limited-entry permit owners, they have an interest in the
long-term management. Their future depends on us having a sustainable
resource and they know it, and so they are bought into it.
Could you speak to the critics who say that since there have been
huge salmon runs for thousands of years in Alaska, this system never
really had to turn something around?
Well, it has
not always been great up here. In fact, I think it was 1972 or 74,
the entire fishery sat on the beach. Things were so bad when we
started statehood that President Eisenhower declared it a disaster.
So it has not always been great up here and our management system
has been able to turn that around, along with good ocean survival.
But you got to have good management, good habitat, and some good
ocean survival. But it has not always been rosy.
Has the management regime in Alaska paid off in economic terms?
Oh yes it has.
About 12,000 Alaskans are actually permit holders -- salmon fishermen
or other limited-entry permit owners. So it's a tremendous part
of our economy. Even in Anchorage, one of our biggest cities, there
are a lot of fishermen in Anchorage. But if you look at the small
communities in Alaska -- the rural Alaska -- fishing is one of the
bedrock pieces of their economy; it's fundamental.
Has the plentiful presence of salmon, compared to the lower 48,
been beneficial to other types of wildlife?
The whole system
in Alaska basically runs on salmon, if you will. I mean they bring
nutrients back from the ocean up these streams. Everything from
trout, rainbow trout, Dolly Parton trout, bears, otters, eagles,
everything; the whole system basically runs on salmon. Even the
vegetation along the streams are dependent on salmon bringing back
that fertilizer, so the whole system in many places runs on salmon.
How come we're not seeing salmon farms in coastal waters of Alaska?
long and hard about salmon farms and basically decided they didn't
want them. And they didn't want them because we've got an incredible
wild resource, so why would you risk your wild resource with farms.
Two, you have a very vibrant industry with many Alaskans depending
on salmon industry that is based on wild fish, so why risk disease,
competition, genetic problems?
Also we've got
this incredible coastline; why would we want to fill it up with
farms? And there's a lot of competition for using bays, fjords that
you might want to put a farm in for many other uses. So all those
reasons Alaskans decided, we don't want them.
How would you compare the number of fish taken by the fishery here
to the number that never make to their spawning grounds in the lower
only one stock of endangered Chinook salmon that we catch up here
and that's the Snake River Falls Chinook. And I think it's 1/10
of 1% of the fish that are in that stock, so it would be the equivalent
of one or two spawners. If you shut down our entire fisheries to
catch those Chinook, you might get one or two more fish, a few more
fish. I think 90 or 95% of the fish are killed by dams. So we have
an infinitesimal impact on those fish.
How important has limited-entry, as compared to open-access, been
to the restoration of the fishery?
I think limited
entry has been one of the fundamental pieces because it basically
bought the fishermen into the long-term view. They don't have a
short-term view because the value of that permit is based on the
resource coming back, so they have a long-term view. It also allowed
us to control the size of the fleet so we have a manageable-sized
fleet for all our fisheries.
Can you speak about the role of the Citizens' Board?
One of the other
important parts of Alaska's management system is we have a Citizens'
Board of Fisheries that allocates the fish between the different
users -- the gill-netters, the seiners, the sports fishermen. The
Department doesn't do that. In other states the Department sets
those regulations and it's really important to have the Department
separate from allocation decisions so we can manage.
don't see us as someone who's going to take their fish away and
give it to somebody else. They see us as someone who's just interested
in One: getting the fish back to spawn, and Two: making that available
surplus available to them. So it's really nice to separate the management
from the allocation and that's really helped us in Alaska.
years ago, the canneries used to own all the boats; basically they
owned the industry. When Alaska went to limited entry we went to
the idea of the fishermen owned the permit, owned the boat, they're
small businesses. We don't deal with amorphous corporations; we
deal with real people.
How important is the sustainable approach to the fisheries to the
important. We've got a very important sports fishery here in Alaska,
all through the state. People who live here love to sport-fish.
There's a lot of people who use that to get food for the winter.
We also have a very large industry based on sport fishing -- I think
it's somewhere around 600 million dollars a year generated from
sports fishing in Alaska.
And people need
to know there are fish coming back or they're not going to come
up and sport fish. So both for residents and the people who like
to visit the state, that's tremendously important that we have a
sustainable fishery. It's got huge economic benefits and huge sort
of personal benefits for people who enjoy getting out and catching
fish, feeding their families.