5
Conclusions and Recommendations

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 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 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.

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



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Developing a Research and Restoration Plan for Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim (Western Alaska) Salmon 5 Conclusions and Recommendations 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 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 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. 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

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Developing a Research and Restoration Plan for Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim (Western Alaska) Salmon 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 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

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Developing a Research and Restoration Plan for Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim (Western Alaska) Salmon 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 effects of bycatch and directed fishing at sea. Better information on 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 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 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.

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Developing a Research and Restoration Plan for Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim (Western Alaska) Salmon 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 ADF&G. 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, 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.