The National Marine Fisheries Service says there's no evidence Lynn Canal herring stocks are a distinct population from the rest of Southeast's Pacific herring. On that basis the agency has rejected a Sierra Club petition to list the local herring under the Endangered Species Act as threatened or endangered.
Now the agency will investigate whether the larger Southeast Alaska herring population might be endangered or threatened. This review may take about a year, said Doug Mecum, the acting administrator for the Alaska region of NMFS.
The Juneau Group of the Sierra Club filed a petition April 2, 2007, that said the Lynn Canal herring abundance declined 90 to 99 percent in the last 35 years. The fishery has been closed since 1982.
The petition also cited evidence that the Lynn Canal herring were a distinct population. Part of the evidence was the fact that herring hadn't substantially repopulated the area in the decades since the decline began, according to Mark Rorick, chairman of the Juneau Group of the Sierra Club.
The agency based its decision on a recommendation from a team of 10 federal and nonfederal scientists who spent a year examining existing data on the herring.
A majority of that team said that data didn't show a distinct population as defined by the Endangered Species Act, according to the decision.
"In general, a project like this has to rely on what's already published and what's already known," said Mark Carls, a NMFS biologist who chaired the scientific review team.
He said there were gaps in the available data on herring movement patterns or genetic composition. Tagging studies would be helpful, but they haven't been done in Southeast.
But a year is insufficient time to do new research, he said.
Rorick said he hadn't reviewed all 155 pages of the report yet. His group hadn't decided what to do next, and hadn't ruled out challenging the decision.
But he also said that for NMFS to look at the entire Southeast for listing was "a good decision, and we compliment them on this."
Plans for the Kensington gold mine, on the north side of Berners Bay, will take less time and effort than they would have if herring had been listed, said Rick Richins, special projects manager for mine operator Coeur Alaska Inc. Coeur is owned by Idaho-based Coeur d'Alene Mines Corp.
"We're pleased, and we think the finding is very scientifically supported," Richins said.
Coeur changed a plan to build a dock at Cascade Point, a herring spawning area in Berners Bay, after talks with environmental groups that included the Sierra Club. Now it plans to transport people instead from Yankee Cove, a less herring-rich area on Lynn Canal.
The fisheries service decision was published Friday in the Federal Register.
Contact reporter Kate Goldenat 523-2276 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.