Aquatic farms present opportunities

My turn

Posted: Wednesday, February 21, 2001

In response to "Dive fisheries must be protected for all" by Julie Decker (Empire, Feb. 13), I believe a factual and reasonable perspective on this issue would be of much more value. The letter was so filled with innuendo, speculation and just plain bad information that I question the intent.

As a commercial fisherman, member of SARDFA and geoduck diver, I have to wonder who Mrs. Decker is representing. She says "SARDFA believes some potential geoduck farmers are attempting to resource grab under the guise of the aquatic farm act." The first problem with this statement is that it is not true and unvalidated. The second problem is that many members of SARDFA, if not most, believe aquatic farms represent a greater opportunity than the current fishery.

The sites that were selected by geoduck farmers was done with great care and sensitivity to existing uses such as geoduck fisheries. In fact, all of the proposed farms are several miles away from existing or proposed geoduck fisheries.

I have seen all of the applications for geoduck farms and not one of them is proposing a fishery. In fact, all of the pending farms are proposing proven husbandry techniques that include seed grow-out and predator protection. All of these techniques have been reviewed by University of Alaska experts and experts in the mariculture field, and have been determined to be standard and good farming practices.

Many of the farmers have proposed posting restoration and performance bonds and other conditions that would address concerns over the wild stocks. Aquatic farmers are more concerned about perpetuation of the species and would likely be better stewards of the resource then the government. For Mrs. Decker to say that these farms are something other then what they are is just plain irresponsible.

Mrs. Decker talks about Alaskan geoducks being worth $5-10 per pound. Again this shows just how out of touch she is with the issue. As a geoduck diver who actually participates in the fishery, it's common knowledge that the ex-vessel price for geoduck in Alaska this year ranged from $1 to $1.65 per pound, with the majority of the product going for $1.10. The price was so low this year for Alaskan product that most of the divers quit early and left quota on the ground.

None of the critics of proposed geoduck farms have made arguments that farms will deplete stocks, narrow public use, or minimize value. Quite the contrary, aquatic farms will enhance stocks, broaden public use and increase value. None of the aquatic farmers have made arguments that they should have preferred commercial use above another user group, such as, as divers. Although, under the logic of Mrs. Decker's and a few vocal members of SARDFA, there should only be one commercial user group and use.

In her "the sky is falling" scenario, Mrs. Decker says aquatic farms will stake claims to other areas and species and change the face of commercial fisheries in Alaska. She encourages us all to look at the big picture. Looking at the big picture is a good idea, but first look at the Aquatic Farm Act and application for an aquatic farms. What you will find is a very limited and restrictive program. For example, you can not site an aquatic farm that will conflict with an existing uses, such as an established traditional fishery, in addition to a multitude of other uses, like sea lion rookeries, salmon streams, herring spawning areas, water fowl staging areas, eel grass, anchorages, navigable waters, log transfer facilities, eagles nests and so on.

If Mrs. Decker wants to really understand and represent her constituents, I would suggest spending more time communicating with divers.

Lance Pihlman is a diver and SARDFA member who lives in Ketchikan.

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