Proposed regulations could endanger Alaska's shellfish, plant farm industry

ILLUSTRATION/Dale Luther

Aquaculture is in its infancy in Alaska, but shellfish and plant farmers fear proposed regulations will doom the slowly growing industry. A few weeks ago the state Department of Fish and Game put growers on notice that it wants to limit the location of farms and require detailed information about native species living near potential sites.

Under the proposed regulations, the state could prohibit a clam or oyster farm if it might disrupt shorebirds, milling salmon or threatened wildlife within a critical habitat area. Farms would also be banned from places that might be used for cultural or ceremonial purposes or for commercial fishing. Shellfish farmers believe these restrictions could make any beach or cove in Alaska off-limits.

Proposed quarantine rules for transferring species like scallops and mussels from one location to another would make such farming illegal, the farmers claim. Aquaculture has been legal in Alaska since 1988, and there are now 39 farms in operation. Eleven farms are in Southeast, and 28 are in the Southcentral region, primarily in Cook Inlet. Alaska aqua farmers grow, in order of importance, oysters, blue mussels, little neck clams, scallops and bull kelp.

In 1998, the combined value of those products totaled $463,776. The harvest of 892,366 oysters was worth the most, at $367,261. Alaska shellfish farmers say the proposed regulations are proof that the state has a philosophical bias against aquaculture. State officials however, claim they are just trying to balance competing needs, including concern over native species and demands from commercial and recreational fishermen.

Comments on the proposed regulations will be accepted through Feb. 12.

Board seeks fishermen

Now that new federal subsistence rules are muddying our waters, fishermen are being encouraged to apply for membership on advisory councils that make recommendations to the Federal Subsistence Board. Thirty-four appointments will be made this year to fill seats on 10 regional councils, according to Mitch Demientieff, chairman of the board.

"The regional councils are the crucial link between subsistence users and the Federal Subsistence Board, as their recommendations carry a great deal of weight in decisions regarding subsistence," he said.

To be eligible for membership, an applicant must be a resident of the region he or she wishes to represent, knowledgeable of local and regional subsistence uses of fish and wildlife resources, willing to attend at least two regional council meetings each year, usually in October and February, and Federal Subsistence Board meetings on occasion.

Responsibilities of the regional councils include reviewing and making recommendations to the Federal Subsistence Board on proposals for regulations, policies, management plans and other subsistence related issues on federal public lands within the region. Council and alternate members are appointed to three-year terms and are reimbursed for related expenses.

Federal Subsistence Management Regulations apply only on federal public lands and waters, including limited marine waters, in Alaska. These lands and waters include national wildlife refuges; national parks, monuments, and preserves; national forests; national wild and scenic rivers; and national conservation and recreation areas.

Pollock pride

Following closely on the heels of Alaska salmon, pollock could be the next to get an ecological stamp of approval from the Marine Stewardship Council.

The At-sea Processors Association is seeking certification of the Bering Sea pollock fishery under the rigorous environmental standards developed by the MSC. Alaska salmon in September became the first U.S. fishery to receive the group’s showy eco-label.

The label assures consumers that Alaska salmon are harvested in a sustainable way from a healthy environment. To date, the only other seafood in the world to receive the MSC certification are the Western Australian rock lobster and the Thames River herring.

To receive certification, MSC requires that a fishery must be conducted in a way that does not take more fish than can be replenished naturally, or kills other species through harmful fishing practices. Secondly, the fishery must operate in a manner that ensures the health and diversity of the marine ecosystem on which it depends. Finally, the fishery must respect local, national, and international laws and regulations for responsible and sustainable fishing.

 

Updated: 
12/04/2016 - 5:02pm

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