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Introduction

BACKGROUND

Alaska salmon and freshwater fish have been critical to the survival of the people and wildlife in the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim (AYK) region for thousands of years. Salmon influence the structure of human societies in the region, and humans, through their various activities, affect the lives and numbers of salmon. This relationship, which has lasted for millennia, is more tenuous today, when increased human populations and modern technology and economies make it possible to deplete salmon populations easily.

The AYK region, which encompasses more than 40% of the state (Figure 1-1), includes the Norton Sound region, the watersheds of the Kuskokwim and Yukon rivers within Alaska, and the coast from the Bering Sea to the Arctic Ocean up to the Canadian border. Declines (either natural or human-induced) in the abundance of salmon in the 1990s and early 2000s created hardships for the people and communities that depend heavily on this resource. 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. The factors that caused the declines likely involve aspects of the life cycles of the fish and their environments in freshwater and in saltwater. Human impacts on salmon and their environments—mainly fishing in this region—probably are involved. Higher returns for some AYK salmon species and populations in very recent years are good news for the people of the region and provide opportunities for comparative studies.



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Review of the Draft Research and Restoration Plan for Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim (Western Alaska) Salmon 1 Introduction BACKGROUND Alaska salmon and freshwater fish have been critical to the survival of the people and wildlife in the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim (AYK) region for thousands of years. Salmon influence the structure of human societies in the region, and humans, through their various activities, affect the lives and numbers of salmon. This relationship, which has lasted for millennia, is more tenuous today, when increased human populations and modern technology and economies make it possible to deplete salmon populations easily. The AYK region, which encompasses more than 40% of the state (Figure 1-1), includes the Norton Sound region, the watersheds of the Kuskokwim and Yukon rivers within Alaska, and the coast from the Bering Sea to the Arctic Ocean up to the Canadian border. Declines (either natural or human-induced) in the abundance of salmon in the 1990s and early 2000s created hardships for the people and communities that depend heavily on this resource. 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. The factors that caused the declines likely involve aspects of the life cycles of the fish and their environments in freshwater and in saltwater. Human impacts on salmon and their environments—mainly fishing in this region—probably are involved. Higher returns for some AYK salmon species and populations in very recent years are good news for the people of the region and provide opportunities for comparative studies.

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Review of the Draft Research and Restoration Plan for Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim (Western Alaska) Salmon FIGURE 1-1 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: Wolfe 2003. Reprinted with permission from the author. STAKEHOLDER GROUPS AND THE AYK SSI In response to salmon declines in the late 1990s, regional organizations joined with state and federal agencies to form a partnership to cooperatively address salmon research and restoration needs. This partnership includes the Association of Village Council Presidents, the Tanana Chiefs Conference, Kawerak, Inc., the Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G), the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, plus additional Native, governmental, and nongovernmental (NGO) ex-officio partner institutions.

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Review of the Draft Research and Restoration Plan for Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim (Western Alaska) Salmon The AYK Sustainable Salmon Initiative (SSI) was created through a $5 million congressional appropriation in 2002 (renewed in 2003) to undertake an expanded research program for gaining an understanding of the declines of salmon in the region. The AYK region includes more than 100 communities, most of which are strongly dependent on subsistence fishing and hunting. To help ensure that the appropriated funds target high-priority issues, a draft AYK research and restoration plan was developed by the Scientific and Technical Committee (STC) of the AYK SSI (AYK SSI 2005). The AYK SSI was described in this committee’s first report (NRC 2005). THE PRESENT STUDY To help the AYK SSI prepare the research and restoration plan, the help of the National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academies was requested by the STC. The NRC committee’s statement of task is in Box 1-1. The committee held its first meeting September 27-30, 2003. During this meeting, it held public sessions in Bethel, St. Mary’s, and Aniak. The committee attended the AYK SSI workshop in Anchorage, November 18-20, 2003. Several committee members and staff also attended 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. BOX 1-1 NRC Committee Statement of Task The NRC committee will assist the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim Sustainable Salmon Initiative in developing a high-quality, long-range research and restoration (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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Review of the Draft Research and Restoration Plan for Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim (Western Alaska) Salmon This is the second of two reports produced by this committee. In its first report (NRC 2005), the committee was charged with providing insights gained from the AYK SSI workshop, briefings, relevant science plans, published literature, and committee members’ expertise to help the STC avoid difficulties and pitfalls. That report, whose summary is in Appendix A, outlined essential components of a successful, long-term science plan; summarized other existing research plans for the region that are relevant to the AYK region; refined research themes related to the goals of the AYK SSI around which the science plan can be organized; and identified critical research questions that should be addressed within research themes. Those themes included physical, biological, social, and economic matters. After receipt of this committee’s first report in August 2004, the AYK SSI submitted its draft research and restoration plan to the committee on June 15, 2005 (AYK SSI 2005). After receipt of the draft plan, the committee met in Anchorage on August 8-11, 2005, including during an open session on August 10 where conversations were held with members of the AYK SSI Scientific and Technical, and Steering committees. This second report reviews the draft research and restoration plan. The NRC committee evaluated the plan in light of concerns, themes, and questions identified throughout the study process, and recommends actions that agencies, regional organizations, and universities can take to implement research programs that will address the plan. The committee also assessed the ability of the plan, over time, to help in the understanding of the causes of the decline of these stocks and how to provide for sustainable salmon management. REPORT ORGANIZATION In the next chapter, the committee provides general comments on the draft research and restoration plan. Chapter 3 examines the research framework and how it leads to a road map for a research program, priority setting, funding decisions, and related matters. Chapter 4 considers capacity building, which is described as very important in the draft research and restoration plan. Chapter 5 looks at specifics of the research plan, including the incorporation of local and traditional knowledge, independent peer review, collaboration with other organizations, leveraging of limited funds, and related matters. Chapter 6 summarizes the committee’s conclusions and recommendations.