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Southeast Alaska News
The release created a minor feeding frenzy on Sitka’s waterfront, as birds and other predators descended on the smolt. KCAW’s Rich McClear stopped by the Science Center to check on the commotion, and to learn more about the unusual timing of the salmon release.
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There was a congregation of birds — gulls, ravens, crows and even a heron — all around the outflow of the Science Center hatchery. I saw one raven holding what looked to me like a baby salmon. But salmon are released in the spring. What was happening? I went into the science center to find out. A worker there told me they had just released thousands of smolt, or baby salmon. But why? The next day I found Lon Garrison, Aquaculture director for Sitka Sound Science Center.
“We recently had to release some smolt we tried to hold on to for a second year and release as two year olds. And we had to let those go because they were developing some health issues with a naturally occurring disease called Bacterial Kidney Disease. The Indian River system has Bacterial Kidney Disease in it as a natural pathogen.”
The hatchery was trying to hold on to the smolt for an extra year because the summer’s weak return of coho did not produce enough eggs for next spring. Garrison hoped that by releasing these baby fish in the spring of 2014, it would improve subsequent runs. But that didn’t work as well as he had hoped. Bacterial Kidney Disease – or BKD — exists all along the west coast but this was a particularly bad year for Indian River, in part because it was such a good summer.
“This year we’ve actually had some of the worst water quality that I’ve seen coming into any hatchery. The water for the SJ hatchery comes directly from Indian River and, of course, this year Indian River had a phenomenal return of pink salmon. Probably somewhere between 300 and 400 thousand pink salmon returned, which is close to 3 or 4 times what the escapement goal would be. So we were well over what we should have had. So what that translated to this year, especially with a low water year where we didn’t have a lot of rain, we ended up with a tremendous biomass in the river and they were using up oxygen like crazy. So the dissolved oxygen in the water that was coming to the hatchery was the lowers I have ever seen.”
The low oxygen level weakened the fishes’ immune systems; the huge numbers of dying fish introduced unusual amounts of fungus and bacteria into the hatchery’s water supply. Unwilling to consider antibiotics, Garrison decided to release the fish before the bacteria spread throughout the rearing pens.
“When those fish are reared in an intense situation like they are in a hatchery the mortality can just continue to increase so the best course of action is to let those guys go and so they got an early release, November is not a general time we try to release fish. Obviously there’s not a lot of food left in the ocean at that time and there’s a lot of predators around at the end of the season so we normally like to release those fish in the spring, but we had to do it a little earlier than we had planned.”
So does that mean that these smolt are a loss? Garrison doesn’t necessarily think so.
“I’m still hopeful that we’ll still see some coho come back, even from this release, I mean the majority of the fish were very healthy, they were a good size, nearly twice the size of the fish released in the spring. They were pretty chubby so they have a lot of energy reserves so I think if they can escape the predators and they didn’t come down with the kidney disease, they probably should do just fine.”
That was Lon Garrison, aquiculture director for the Sitka Sound Science Center. Garrison says now that the fish are released they will disinfect their pens with bleach and try again next year.
Physical therapist Carol Schafer of PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center tells how physical therapy and exercise have been found to help those with Parkinson’s. Parkinsons
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Ketchikan moves forward with controversial public art project. Lecture explores role of shamanism in contemporary Tlingit culture. Gustavus offers reward to end burglary spree.
The Petersburg Arts Council tonight presents Montreal-based pianist Derek Yaple-Schobert who will perform a mix of classical music at the Lutheran Church. Yaple-Schobert was born in Wisconsin and moved with his family to Canada when he was two years old. He studied piano at the University of Montreal and Nordic music in Norway, Sweden and Denmark. He’s been featured on BRAVO television and has performed in seven countries. This is his first visit to Alaska and he also plans stops in Haines and Skagway.
Joe Viechnicki spoke with him about the program for tonight.
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Yaple-Schobert performs tonight at 7 p.m. at the Petersburg Lutheran Church.
The federal government has finalized new guidelines on the use of sea otters by Alaska Natives. The change is aimed at better-defining a requirement that hides must be “significantly altered” in order to be considered authentic native handicrafts or clothing that can be sold to non-natives.
“These are guidelines and they are to help the native artisans to understand what exactly qualifies as significantly altered,” Andrea Medeiros is a spokesperson for the US Fish and Wildlife Service which has been working on the revised wording for more than a year
The final guidelines say a sea otter will be considered “significantly altered” when it’s not recognizable as a whole hide and has been made into handicrafts or clothing. The language goes on to define that in more detail.
It’s a positive step, according to the Sealaska Heritage Institute which teaches classes in the native tradition of skin sewing. SHI Chief Operating Officer Lee Kadinger says the new wording still needs some adjustment but, overall, he says SHI appreciates the change.
Kadinger thinks it helps clear up a term that, he says, has caused significant harm to artisans over the years, “Clarifying significantly altered to more align with the marine mammal protection acts original intent is…. we feel this language is going to help continue a tradition practiced since time immemorial without fear of prosecution….Protecting this inherent cultural right is not only good public policy but it supports and preserves cultural diversity and respects the traditions and lifestyles of Alaska Native people.”
The Fish and Wildlife Service’s new definition of “significantly altered” is very similar to language endorsed last year by the Alaska Federation of Natives. That’s with the exception of a line requiring that an otter skin be changed enough that it cannot be easily converted back to an unaltered hide or a piece of hide. According to Kadinger, S-H-I is concerned over the words “piece of hide” since it would be hard to prevent someone from cutting a piece of fur from finished clothing or handicrafts.
“We feel it is acceptable to require individuals, or an item, that cannot be converted back into an unaltered hide. Conversely, we feel including the few words ‘cannot be easily converted back into a piece of hide’ is unnecessary and problematic. So the real issue there is the four words ‘piece of hide’ that we hope to continue to work with Fish and Wildlife service to understand what that part means,” says Kadinger
Sea otters are a federally-protected species and only coastal Alaska Natives are allowed hunt them. The revised language was, in part, prompted by concerns that unclear regulations and past enforcement actions had discouraged native use of the animals.
According to the agency, the final guidelines are based on input from a 2012 workshop with native artisans and hunters as well as extensive public comments on draft language that came out last spring.
Some commenters had found the draft language too restrictive. Others opposed the change as an attempt to weaken protections and encourage more hunting for the animals which have come into conflict with some of Alaska’s fisheries.