Water's most unwanted visitors
Atlantic salmon no longer top Alaska’s list of unwanted visitors.
Nearly 500 Atlantic salmon were captured in Alaska waters through the 1990s, mostly in Southeast, but as far west as the Bering Sea. The fish were escapees from West Coast fish farms, and Alaskans feared the Atlantic transplants would take hold and taint the gene pool of wild stocks. But good news - just seven Atlantic salmon have been captured in Alaska waters since 2006.
“We only can count the fish that are brought in, but the numbers have gone down significantly in the past 10 years,” said Tammy Davis, invasive species project leader for the state Sport Fish Division. “We have to commend the fish farmers in Washington and off the coast of British Columbia for their efforts to contain their stocks.”
It’s northern pike that pose the biggest threat to salmon and trout in Southcentral lakes and streams, Davis said. Those voracious feeders were illegally transported from north of the Alaska Range to the Susitna River Drainage in the 1950s. Crayfish also have been released and captured in the Kenai River, said biologist Bob Piorkowski.
“They’re like vacuum cleaners and eat everything on the bottom,” he said.
Ditto tiny New Zealand mud snails, which often arrive in Alaska on the bottom of boots or other outdoor gear. The snails were called “a serious threat to Alaska’s sport fisheries” in a 2002 Aquatic Nuisance Species Management Plan.
“If anyone is coming to Alaska, make sure your wading gear, especially with felt liners, have been in the freezer for five or six hours. It will kill the mud snails,” Piorkowski said.
Hundreds of invasive marine species make their way around the world as stowaways in the ballast water of ships. For Alaska, a watch is on now for European green crabs in Southeast and Southcentral waters. The highly adaptable crabs are making their way up the West Coast and have huge appetites for oysters and other crabs.
“The farthest north population is off the coast of Vancouver Island, and researchers believe there is a very good chance that green crabs could move up the coast to Alaska,” Davis said.
Fishery managers encourage anyone who spots an odd sea creature to bring it to an appropriate office.
“You know what lives on your beach. If you find something unusual, we’d love to hear about it,” Davis said.
If you suspect you’ve landed an Atlantic salmon, look for spots on the gill plates and a slender, pinched tail.
Climate change is the biggest challenge facing Alaska’s fisheries, believes Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich. The U.S. Senate candidate recently launched a series of teleconferences for reporters in remote regions. Begich said it is part of his “full access” promise to keep all Alaskans more engaged in political decision-making.
Begich ticked off challenges to the seafood industry: “High energy costs to go out and catch the fish...they need affordable health care...a sustainable financial lifestyle, capital for new vessels and equipment upgrades....”
Begich is getting his sea legs by traveling to fishing communities, and said he is hearing “lots of differing philosophies” about Alaska fisheries management.
“It’s mixed within the industry, but I do hear concerns that final decisions around fish allocations are not done out in the open, and decisions are not always based on science,” he said.
The mayor is on more solid ground with energy issues, a centerpiece of the Begich campaign both in terms of new ideas and criticisms of “our current representation.”
“Because of the lack and neglect over the past 40 years to focus on a long-term plan, we have no energy policy for Alaska or the nation. Now people are paying enormous costs for energy, we are dependent on foreign fuel, and we have put ourselves at economic and national risk,” Begich said.
“When I see wind farms in rural Alaska producing enough energy so they don’t have to buy 80,000 gallons of diesel - we should step up as a nation and put hard dollars on the table to offset the cost that the consumer has to pay,” Begich said. “If you front load the financing for these energy projects, it’s tough to get them working today.”
Begich said he has not taken a position yet on the proposed Pebble Mine, situated at the headwaters of Bristol Bay.
“I want to let the process between all the different agencies move forward because that has barely started. I’m one of these guys that believes you have to allow the scientific evidence to move forward before making any policy decision,” Begich said.
“That said, I do have grave concerns,” he added. “In this case, the fisheries in the long term, because that is a sustainable, renewable resource that we have to make sure under any circumstances. And I don’t care if it’s Pebble or any other development in our state, we make sure it is protected.”
Fishing by wind made history in Hawaii recently, when a 20-pound ono and a 160-pound tuna were hauled aboard kite-powered boats.
“Seems like the incubator for this is going to be the fishing industries, you know?” said Ian Fisher, co-owner of a Maui-based start up company called Kite for Sail. Fisher has developed simple kite systems for sport and fishing boats since 1999, tapping into the steady trade winds of the Hawaiian Islands.
“The way the kite moves through the wind and the hull moves through the water is a natural combination,” Fisher said, “The pulling instead of pushing force makes it very versatile and really smoothes out the ride. Most boaters will find it very useful.”
The kite system can be used off any sized power boat or hull, Fisher said. It includes an inflatable kite (5 to 20 meters), five lines and a winch. When the kite latches on to the powerful winds far above the water, boats can really pull back on the throttle.
“If you’re going to travel over a certain course and you have a good wind for an hour or so, the kite can be deployed to save anywhere from 20 to 30 (percent), even 70 to 80 percent of fuel costs, depending on your hull type and your course off to the wind,” Fisher said.
He estimated the cost of a kite system for a 30-foot fishing boat at $3,000 to $7,000.
“I think fishermen would be the most naturally skilled kite pilots and really help grow the concept,” he said.
Kite systems can also power energy solutions on shore, he added.
“It can be used to pump water, make compressed air, produce electricity - things of that nature.”