Shellfish farmers complain they were locked out of hearing; panel to investigate

welchlanieLR.jpg State fish managers are taking heat from shellfish farmers and being investigated by the Legislature’s joint Administrative Regulation Review Committee.

fishfactor.jpg According to the weekly publication "Laws for the Sea," Rep. Lesil McGuire of Anchorage said the committee will research complaints from persons and groups that they were not allowed to testify via teleconference at department hearings on shellfish regulations.

Others said they traveled to Anchorage for the hearing "only to find the doors locked."

Farmers have for years criticized state fishery managers’ handling of shellfish farming applications, especially those for giant geoduck clams, both for their slow progress and policy decisions.

Ketchikan-based Alaska Trademark Shellfish and other farm applicants sued the department last year for "outrageous and offensive" actions relating to its permit application and policy development decisions. The suit sought $600,000 in damages, but was dropped when the department agreed to complete the permit process on a specified schedule last year.

Deadly rays

Cod spawn in relatively deep water, but their larvae then float near the surface. According to, researchers now believe that at this surface level, the tiny fish are vulnerable to the effects of ultraviolet radiation.

Zoologist Michael Lesser at the University of New Hampshire found in lab experiments that 90 percent of Atlantic cod larvae died within 12 days of exposure to UVA and UVB radiation, whereas exposure to UVA radiation alone resulted in 61 percent mortality.

"These levels of UVB radiation occur at seven to 12 meters in Gulf of Maine waters, where cod embryos and larvae are known to develop," Lesser said.

About 99 percent of juvenile cod are thought to be eaten by predators before they can reproduce. Lesser argues that the survival rate could be even lower if rising UV radiation levels are included in the calculation.

He believes this "byproduct of ozone depletion and global warming" may be one reason why cod have been so slow to recover in the Northwest Atlantic.

Earlier this year, researchers at Britain’s Center for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science also found a link between rising surface temperatures in the North Sea and reduced survival rates of young cod. The number of young cod dying in the waters off Nova Scotia has also doubled in the last 10 years, with no definitive explanation.

Cod farming

More fishermen in Newfoundland are turning to cod farming to make up for slashed quotas. The fishermen are catching cod in the summer and holding them in ocean cages for 100 days while feeding them capelin, herring and mackerel. Once the fish have grown to three times their original weight, they are brought to market.

According to the Newfoundland and Labrador Development Corp., grow-out operations in Newfoundland in 1999 sold about 105 tons, or about 230,000 pounds, of cod. Last year, the weight approached 200 tons, or 440,000 pounds.

Fishermen initially feared the grow-out industry as a threat to the wild fishery. But when a cod moratorium hit in 1992 and the government began grow-out programs, the industry started to gain acceptance. The training program was available only to fishermen affected by declines in the cod stocks.

Jerry Ward, assistant deputy minister for Fisheries and Aquaculture in Newfoundland, expects interest in cod farming to escalate as the industry becomes more sophisticated. There were seven operations in 1999, 18 last year, and there are currently 60 grow-out permits in the province.

Observers expect that there will be further development in the industry as the Newfoundland and Labrador Development Corp. invests in egg-to-market facilities in the region.

Sea lion studies

Information from recently completed or ongoing research on Steller sea lions has been compiled for the Alaska Steller Sea Lion Restoration Team by state biologist Lorrie Rea.

The following entry focuses on predation by killer whales: "Killer whales have been observed to attack sea lions. The stomach of a dead killer whale that washed ashore in Prince William Sound in the summer of 1992 contained flipper tags from 14 Steller sea lions.

"A study led by Lance Barrett-Lennard (University of British Columbia) sought to determine whether killer whale predation could significantly affect sea lion numbers. The authors conclude that killer whales did not cause the sea lion decline, but may now be a significant contributing factor.

"The model suggests that as many as 18 percent of the sea lions that die each year in Alaska are taken by killer whales. What is killing the other 82 percent of the missing Steller sea lions remains unanswered."

Kodiak-based free-lance writer Laine Welch can be reached by e-mail at ([email protected]).

02/17/2001 - 8:00pm