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Developing a Research and Restoration Plan for Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim (Western Alaska) Salmon Summary INTRODUCTION Salmon and freshwater fish have been critical to the survival and well-being of the people and wildlife in the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim (AYK) region (Figure S-1) for thousands of years. Salmon influence human societies in the region, and humans affect the lives and numbers of salmon. Modern technology and economies, which make it possible to deplete salmon populations easily, have strained that relationship. Recent declines in the abundance of salmon in the AYK region have created hardships for the people and communities that depend heavily on this resource. The low salmon returns resulted in lower catches and increased regulatory restrictions on fishing, which in turn resulted in reduced revenue for cash-short communities along the region’s rivers. Those losses forced fishers, especially in the lower reaches of the rivers, to reduce fishing times and use less expensive and less efficient gear. Restrictions on subsistence fishing and lower catches also affected all aspects of the lives of people in the region. Especially in interior regions, where other subsistence foods were less abundant during recent salmon declines and groceries are either extremely expensive or not available, people were short of food and had to rely on government subsidies. The loss of subsistence food and reliance on other food sources results in cultural changes—subsistence is a central feature of Native cultures in the region—that include the loss of traditional knowledge and language, and change in cultural priorities. The losses are progressively harder to reverse with time.
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Developing a Research and Restoration Plan for Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim (Western Alaska) Salmon FIGURE S-1 Map of Alaska showing the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim region. The region of concern for the purposes of this study includes the Yukon River drainage, the Kuskokwim-Goodnews drainage, and the drainages between Shishmaref in the north and Cape Newenham in the south. The area of study does not include North Slope drainages and the northern part of the Northwestern region drainages. Source: Adapted from USGS 2004. The reasons for the drop in salmon returns are not well understood, which makes it difficult for fishery managers and scientists to identify appropriate management actions, although they likely involve aspects of the life cycles of the fish and their environments in freshwater and in saltwater as well as human impacts. The AYK Sustainable Salmon Initiative (SSI) was created through a $5M congressional appropriation in 2002 to undertake an expanded research program toward gaining an understanding of the declines of
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Developing a Research and Restoration Plan for Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim (Western Alaska) Salmon salmon and to support sustainable salmon management in the region (an additional $8.5 million has been appropriated through 2004). An AYK Research and Restoration Plan is being developed by the Scientific and Technical Committee (STC) of the AYK SSI. It is intended to identify the best way to investigate and understand this complex system and ultimately to devise a means to anticipate or predict future sizes of salmon populations. THE PRESENT STUDY To help the AYK SSI prepare the research and restoration plan, the STC of the AYK SSI requested the help of the National Research Council (NRC). The committee’s statement of task is in Box S-1. The committee has met three times, beginning September 27-30, 2003, when it held public sessions in Bethel, St. Mary’s, Aniak, Nome, and Unalakleet. The committee attended an AYK SSI workshop in Anchorage, November 18-20, 2003, and some committee members and staff attended a meeting of the Tanana Chiefs Conference Natural Resources Coalition in Fairbanks, January 22-23, 2004. The committee held its next meeting February 2-6, 2004, which included public sessions in Nome and Unalakleet. In this first of two reports, the committee is charged with providing insights from the AYK SSI workshop, public sessions, briefings, relevant science plans, published literature, and the committee members’ expertise to help the STC avoid difficulties and pitfalls as it develops a draft research and restoration plan. After the AYK SSI submits that plan, this committee will produce a second report that reviews the plan. BOX S-1 NRC Committee Statement of Task The NRC committee will assist the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim Sustainable Salmon Initiative (AYK SSI) in developing a high-quality, long-range restoration and research (science) plan for the AYK region. The committee will assess the current state of knowledge, describe ongoing research in the region, and identify research questions of greatest relevance to the region. It will outline essential components of a successful, long-term science plan, identify research themes that the science plan should be based on, and identify critical research questions within the research themes. The committee will later review the research and restoration plan drafted by the Scientific and Technical Committee of the AYK SSI.
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Developing a Research and Restoration Plan for Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim (Western Alaska) Salmon SUBSISTENCE Subsistence as it applies to rural Alaska Natives is not easy to define, but it is integral to their way of life. Its importance is reflected in their language and culture and in placement of their settlements. It is a way of obtaining food, clothing, and other necessities; it is a way of life; it is a connection to the land and the water; and it has been encoded in state and federal laws, which protect it or give it priority over other uses. This report focuses on subsistence mainly as an activity that takes fish, but a failure to understand the context of its integral and fundamental importance to Alaska Native ways of life and culture would make any discussion of it misguided at best. LIFE HISTORIES OF SALMON SPECIES IN THE REGION The life histories of the five species of Pacific salmon—Chinook, coho, chum, pink, and sockeye—found in the AYK region share several general characteristics. All species are anadromous: spawning occurs in freshwater, juveniles then migrate to the marine environment where they obtain 90-99% of their total growth, and mature adults return to freshwater to spawn. Little or no food is taken by returning adults in freshwater. Individuals of all species typically home rather precisely to their natal area to spawn. All species are semelparous, spawning only once and dying a few days or weeks later. Typically, females select a redd site and dig a depression in the gravel where they deposit eggs in a series of pockets; they cover each pocket in turn. Males fight among themselves for proximity to a female to increase their chances of fertilizing her eggs; small males may successfully fertilize eggs by sneaking into the nest depression when the female releases her eggs. After spawning, a female typically spends her last few days of life defending her nest site against late-arriving females. In the AYK region, salmon eggs usually hatch in early to midwinter and the young salmon remain in the gravel until they emerge in spring. During this time, they live on the energy reserves in their yolk sac and they can be quite active, often burying more deeply into the gravel, presumably to avoid being disturbed by floods. After the salmon emerge from the gravel in the spring, the life histories of the five species diverge. Most pink and chum salmon begin their migration to the ocean within a few days of emergence when they are still small. The other three species—sockeye, coho, and Chinook salmon—spend 1 or 2 years in freshwater and reach a larger size before
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Developing a Research and Restoration Plan for Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim (Western Alaska) Salmon going to sea. The migration of all species typically occurs soon after spring breakup (May to June), and the fish arrive in the marine environment in early summer. At ocean entrance, juvenile salmon often first aggregate in intertidal (littoral) waters; then as they grow they gradually move offshore to shallow, pelagic areas near shore or over the continental shelf, from low-tide mark down to a depth of about 200 m. There is no evidence of overlap in distribution of Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska salmon stocks at the juvenile stage for any salmon species. Gradual offshore movements of juvenile AYK salmon continue throughout their first summer and fall in waters over the Bering Sea shelf, where they are distributed in surface or near-surface waters (to a depth of about 20 m). After their first summer at sea, salmon from the AYK region range widely throughout the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, the central and eastern North Pacific Ocean, and the Gulf of Alaska during extensive ocean feeding migrations. Data are inadequate to infer migration patterns between juvenile and immature life history stages of AYK salmon. The extent of their offshore movements in the Bering Sea and North Pacific Ocean in late fall and winter is not known. In general, western Alaskan stocks migrate farther offshore in winter than stocks from more southerly regions of North America. Many or most AYK juvenile sockeye, chum, pink, and coho salmon move south through the Aleutian passes into the central and eastern North Pacific Ocean in late fall or winter. Winter trawl surveys have shown that all species of salmon in their first winter at sea can be caught in offshore waters of the North Pacific Ocean by January and February. The area where juvenile AYK salmon are distributed at the end of their first winter at sea may vary from year to year depending on species, stock, age, growth, and environmental conditions. That area could be the approximate high-seas location where they begin their adult return migrations to natal streams. Upstream migrations of AYK salmon begin between the first of June and the end of October. Interspecific patterns of upstream migrations are similar across the AYK region, with Chinook salmon entering rivers first, followed by summer chum and pink salmon, and fall chum and coho salmon entering last. Very little is known about the marine life history of AYK salmon. Within this broad framework, each species has unique life history characteristics that set it apart from the others. These characteristics include the number of years spent in the freshwater and marine environments and the use that fish make of freshwater and marine habitats.
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Developing a Research and Restoration Plan for Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim (Western Alaska) Salmon The fact that mature salmon home rather precisely to their natal areas means that fish spawning in different parts of a drainage are reproductively isolated, and local adaptations can evolve. This has farreaching implications because these reproductively isolated groups (stocks or populations) often evolve life history characteristics that adapt them to the unique conditions they encounter in the habitats they use for spawning and rearing. As a result, there is considerable stock-specific variation in life history characteristics that fits particular stocks to their particular habitats. RECENT CHANGES IN FISHERY CATCHES OF SALMON FROM KUSKOKWIM, YUKON, AND NORTON SOUND RIVERS Although there is a general perception that salmon populations in the AYK region have declined in recent years or even decades, the trends have differed among species and in different parts of the region. In both Norton Sound and the Yukon River, chum fisheries were reduced well before Chinook restrictions. In contrast, in the Kuskokwim region, catches of Chinook, chum, and sockeye were simultaneously reduced in 1993, increased somewhat, and then reduced again in 1996. DEVELOPMENT AND ESSENTIAL COMPONENTS OF A RESEARCH AND RESTORATION PLAN FOR THE AYK REGION The elements of a restoration and scientific research plan include a focus of the program, strategies to develop research themes, assemblage of prior research and restoration efforts, and integration of the study plan with existing, ongoing research programs. For the development of research themes, three example approaches are presented in Chapter 4. These approaches are (1) development of a conceptual framework, (2) studies of mortality and productivity rates and of the metapopulation structure, and (3) studies of the resilience of the AYK salmon structure in the face of millennia of environmental change and human exploitation. The existence of numerous research programs in the North Pacific, Bering Sea, and Arctic Ocean will enhance the ability to develop AYK salmon research programs through coordination. The development of a restoration plan depends on the results guided by the research plan, along
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Developing a Research and Restoration Plan for Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim (Western Alaska) Salmon with what is already known about AYK salmon. It is difficult to develop an effective restoration plan before the general factors that affect AYK salmon abundance are better understood. The committee judges that, aside from a few actions that could only help with no risk of doing harm or a few actions that should be undertaken on an experimental basis, it is premature to develop a detailed restoration plan until better research results are available. ESSENTIAL COMPONENTS OF AN AYK SSI SCIENCE PLAN A mission and/or vision statement: the mission is an intellectual statement that defines AYK SSI’s role, and the vision statement comes from informed imagination. Background information: this includes a brief regional description, present state of knowledge and other relevant science plans. Research and restoration issues and needs the plan will address: these include fishery management and ecosystem concerns along with other scientific issues. An overarching theme: the theme is the thread that binds the individual research topics together. A set of research themes and approaches to accomplish the needed research: this set often includes topics such as processes and variability in the physical environment, species responses to perturbations, food web dynamics, contaminants, essential habitat, monitoring, modeling, process-oriented studies, and retrospective studies. Implementation and protocol issues: these include topics such as policies for cooperation, identifying and addressing user needs, data quality, management and dissemination, logistics, outreach and education, and community involvement. FRAMEWORKS FOR UNDERSTANDING THE ECOSYSTEMS OF SALMON The committee concluded from its review of other research programs as well as from the members’ own experiences that the best way to develop a research plan is to begin with a model or framework of how the system works. In the present case, the system can be defined in a variety of ways, each with a variety of possible boundaries. They in-
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Developing a Research and Restoration Plan for Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim (Western Alaska) Salmon clude a biophysical system, a socioeconomic system, a sociocultural system, and a legal system as well as other possibilities. The committee used three system models or frameworks: one based on the life cycle of salmon; another based on human social, economic, cultural, and political linkages; and another based on a historical perspective on the resilience of the AYK salmon-human system. Using three frameworks allows each to provide different insights and can lead to different questions. However, some of the questions that arise are common to all the frameworks. DEVELOPMENT OF RESEARCH THEMES Research has developed an enormous amount of information in the AYK region. However, because the region is so large and so sparsely populated, an even greater amount of information remains unknown. The committee has reviewed previous, ongoing, and planned research in the region, as described in Chapter 3. On the basis of that review, the committee concludes that the following questions are of great importance to the region’s stakeholders. What can be learned about the role of predation in the population dynamics of Pacific salmon? How does predation interact with other factors regulating abundance and determining year-to-year variability in abundance? To adequately address questions about predation mortality of AYK salmon, better information is needed on the distribution, life history, ecology, and population dynamics of the major predators of salmon and their trophic community structure in the Bering Sea and North Pacific Ocean. Essential components of a successful research program include both field research and computer modeling. What anthropogenic factors might increase predation mortality of AYK salmon (climate change, hatchery releases, and large-scale marine fisheries)? What are the effects of climate-, fishery-, and hatchery-induced changes in Bering Sea and North Pacific marine ecosystems on predation mortality of AYK salmon at each ocean life history stage (juvenile, immature, maturing, and adult)? What knowledge is required to identify excessive fishing mortality so that in-season regulation can be effectively applied to reduce this excess mortality?
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Developing a Research and Restoration Plan for Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim (Western Alaska) Salmon Can we identify genetically distinct breeding populations of the five species of salmon in the AYK region? Current information on chum and Chinook salmon is more extensive than that for coho, pink, and sockeye salmon, for which much more extensive analysis is needed throughout the range. For the major breeding populations, can we measure the relative abundance and vital rates of the population to predict future population trends? Little is known about the baseline measures of population viability even in the salmon that have been distinguished as separate breeding populations. We need to know fecundity, survival, escapement, and straying rates among these populations if we are to predict their future. Are there identifiable trends in fishing mortality within a given stock from current or recent sampling? Can we use simulation models, based on estimated vital rates of local populations, to assess the impact of fishing mortality on population viability? Can we measure gear- or time-specific mortality on separate stocks within the mixed-stock stream fisheries? Can we measure gear- or time-specific mortality on separate stocks within the mixed-stock ocean fisheries? In the meetings and workshops with residents of the AYK region as part of this review, the continued harvest and use of salmon was stated as being of paramount importance for sustenance, livelihood, community sustainability, and cultural continuity. What level of harvest can be sustained during the short term (5, 10, or 15 years)? Recognizing that salmon populations generally have been declining in the past decade or more, and harvests have been restricted and curtailed in many instances, what amount of harvest, if any, can be expected in each region, for each species, during rebuilding of salmon stocks? What level of harvest can be sustained over the long term (20 or 40 years)? What role can salmon play in the livelihood of families and communities during the next two generations? Salmon have been a major contributor to the economic and cultural continuity of many communities in the AYK for centuries. Major changes in community economies have become necessary with continued declines in salmon abundance. However, estimates of future salmon abundance are important for community self determination.
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Developing a Research and Restoration Plan for Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim (Western Alaska) Salmon HOW TO INTEGRATE TRADITIONAL KNOWLEDGE AND TRADITIONAL SCIENCE Traditional knowledge and Western science might be woven together best by someone who has grown up with a traditional indigenous upbringing and then gained an understanding of the scientific method through standard research techniques learned on the job or within a university setting. This method could be better than relying on a university-educated person to meet, learn about, and build relationships with an indigenous community or someone raised within an indigenous community attempting to apply the scientific method without proper training. It is often difficult and can take decades for outside researchers to gain the trust and support of indigenous community members. Because of this, many researchers often are not given the “whole story” because a trust relationship has not developed. The encouragement of scientific interests of Native students could help nurture community involvement in the scientific work. Traditional knowledge and indigenous researchers should be involved in the research within their traditional homelands and about the resources they depend on. Indigenous people have an extensive, historical, and indivisible affinity with the land they call home and a fundamental interest in the outcome of all research pertaining to that land. Their greater involvement in all stages of the research would benefit both the research and the people of the region. This can be achieved by identifying and encouraging indigenous and collaborative research projects that weave traditional science and traditional knowledge with Western science. Included in this would be consolidating salmon research into a library, including geographical information system data. Local communities should be involved in scientific research. Flow of information should be bidirectional. Entire populations, from elders to schoolchildren, should be represented where appropriate. CONCLUSIONS The data show clearly that salmon returns in the AYK region in the 1990s and early 2000s were lower than previously. Those low returns have caused considerable social and economic hardship in the region. The committee concludes further that current scientific information is not
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Developing a Research and Restoration Plan for Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim (Western Alaska) Salmon sufficient to explain the reasons for the low returns with any confidence. It is at least possible that the low returns represent population fluctuations rather than a long-term declining trend. Identifying the nature of the declines (or fluctuations) in salmon runs and their causes will take a great deal of research. Conducting that will require much time and money—much more money than the $13.5 million that has been appropriated and even more than the total of $18.5 million whose appropriation is hoped for. However, at least some of that research will need to be completed before a fully developed restoration plan is undertaken, if indeed one proves to be needed. The committee judges that insufficient information is currently available to initiate a large-scale restoration program, although some small-scale local programs appear to be worth investigating. This judgment does not extend to the potential benefits of management actions to reduce fishing mortality or competition with hatchery fish at sea if such actions are supported by available information. An encouraging aspect of the research enterprise in the region is the degree to which it involves Alaska Native organizations and communities. Any increase in that involvement is likely to benefit the research and the communities themselves even more. In addition, the AYK SSI appears to recognize the need to coordinate and partner with other research programs in the region and elsewhere. Given the large spatial extent of the region (and hence the research problem) and the relatively modest amount of money available, such coordination is essential, as are partnerships. The committee has not explicitly considered research into social and economic matters for their own sake. That is, the committee has considered social and economic research that is directly tied to the sustainability of salmon runs, but not if it is tied mainly to the sustainability of the communities in the region. The committee interpreted its charge as guiding it in that manner. RECOMMENDATIONS Research This report has described a large number of research themes and questions. Those questions all have scientific interest and all have some
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Developing a Research and Restoration Plan for Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim (Western Alaska) Salmon potential to shed light on the relationship between human and environmental factors and fluctuations in runs of AYK salmon. However, if results that are useful to management are required in a reasonable amount of time, then prioritization is required. The committee suggests the following approaches to prioritizing research funding. We assume that the ultimate goal of the AYK SSI is management, that is helping to ensure that salmon runs can be exploited sustainably, and our suggestions for research prioritization are made in that context. The committee judges that focusing the research effort on the topics below would be cost-effective and productive. The greatest research need appears to be better information on the numbers and distribution in space and time of the various species and stocks of AYK salmon. We need to know more about population sizes and productivity (how many fish there are) and more about the genetic makeup of species and populations. The latter information is a prerequisite for assessing the interaction of human and environmental factors with salmon populations, because different salmon populations have different growth rates, fecundity, productivity, and in general can respond differently to those factors. Better assessments are needed of the numbers of salmon of the five species originating in the various drainages at all life stages and in all the environments they inhabit. Without analyses of numbers and of genetic makeup, analyzing the effects of fishing, including fishing on mixed stocks, is not possible. This research theme is pervasive and the knowledge it embodies is a prerequisite for answering many of the more detailed questions we have described elsewhere. It would be of great value to be able to partition factors that affect AYK salmon runs into those that operate mainly in freshwater and the adjacent landscapes, and those that operate mainly in the marine environment. If such partitioning of factors can be achieved, it should be possible to learn whether the most important factors are marine or freshwater; or whether at certain times they are marine, and at other times freshwater; or whether both marine and freshwater factors are important most of the time. For freshwater, this requires a better understanding of habitat variations and their effects on AYK salmon than we now have. Better information is needed on the extent, nature, and distribution in time and space of human activities that affect salmon, and the degree to which they affect salmon. In the AYK region, those activities are mainly fishing. In particular, better information is needed on the amount and consequences of recreational fishing and the amount and
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Developing a Research and Restoration Plan for Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim (Western Alaska) Salmon effects of bycatch and directed fishing at sea. Better information about the spatial and temporal distribution and landings of subsistence and commercial fishing within and near the rivers of the AYK also would be helpful, as well as about the dependence of that variation on the number and kinds of salmon available. We need to understand factors that influence the development, promulgation, and enforcement of fishing regulations and people’s compliance with them. This research theme also is pervasive and a prerequisite for answering many more detailed questions. Restoration The committee does not recommend the initiation of a large-scale restoration plan until better information is produced by the research outlined above. However, small-scale local initiatives might hold promise. They include the following: Controlled-design experiments to assess the effects on salmon populations in small streams of existing hatcheries if any are re-opened, and on incubation boxes and other enhancement techniques. Retrospective analyses should be done on hatchery and incubator systems, both those currently in operation and those that have ceased operations. Such analyses should include North Pacific and Bering Sea hatcheries that seem likely to shed light on issues within the region. Implementation The implementation of this research program should use monitoring, process studies, retrospective analyses, and theoretical studies. Models are useful tools in many of these research activities. In addition, adaptive management has the potential to be effective and to contribute to knowledge that could help to form the basis of a restoration plan. In many if not all cases, this would require the cooperation and involvement of management agencies, especially the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (a member of the AYK SSI). Management actions should be designed to include the gathering of scientific data; in other words, they should be thought of as if they were controlled experiments. In truth,
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Developing a Research and Restoration Plan for Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim (Western Alaska) Salmon management actions often are experiments, but they usually have poor or no experimental controls. The resources required to address salmon variability in the AYK region are significant because the problem has a variety of geographical scales and it has interdisciplinary aspects. Salmon variability could depend on very small-scale influences such as stream temperature or flow. It also might depend on oceanic conditions that affect the ocean carrying capacity of the Bering Sea and the North Pacific Ocean. Physical, biological, and chemical variations in the ocean, atmosphere, and terrestrial environment could play important roles. This is a large, complex problem, and the ecosystem will be continually changing. This daunting task is made easier through interactions with ongoing and future science programs in the region. The AYK SSI would benefit from coordinating with them, perhaps to the extent of joint funding of research projects. Examples of such programs include the North Pacific Research Board, the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Gulf Environmental Monitoring Program, the Alaska Ocean Observing System, Ecosystem Fisheries Oceanography Coordinated Investigations, the Bering Sea Ecosystem Study, the Bering-Aleutian Salmon International Survey, the Norton Sound Sustainable Salmon Initiative, the United States/Canada Yukon River Joint Technical Committee Program, the World Wildlife Fund/National Science Foundation Program, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Arctic Program. In addition, the committee recommends monitoring programs as being likely to provide useful information and having the potential to provide long-term data sets. Managing, coordinating, synthesizing, and making available the data collected by all these programs, including research funded by the AYK SSI, are important challenges that need careful consideration in any research plan.
Representative terms from entire chapter: