Commentary

Chief advisor

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Roland Maw at the Alaska Board of Fisheries/Craig Medred photo

The outlaw Roland Maw, the man who quit the Alaska Board of Fisheries in 2105 and then led a willing Anchorage Daily News to suggest that his resignation had something to do with Kenai fish wars, appeared unafraid of that combat zone when he appeared before the body on Sunday to explain how to handle the latest battle.

Maw is still awaiting trial on multiple felony charges that accuse him of stealing from the state’s Permanent Fund. The reason he resigned in 2015 was to try to hide the fact he was a resident of Montana or at least claiming to be one.

After Montana found out he was also claiming to be an Alaskan, it prosecuted Maw for illegally obtaining resident hunting licenses. In that case, Maw conceded to being a liar, which led to a fine and his temporary loss of hunting and fishing privileges in both Alaska and Montana.

Maw’s problems in Montana eventually led the state of Alaska to investigate his various Alaska residency claims. That eventually led to 12 felony charges against him related to fraudulently obtaining Permanent Fund Dividends and otherwise lying about his Alaska residency on official documents.

An attorney for Maw has tried every legal trick in the book over the course of the last four years to keep an Alaska jury from hearing the case. Maw’s trial, according to several attorneys, may now be the most delayed in state criminal history. It is at this time set for March 9 in Juneau, but if the past is any precedent, Maw will find some way to again delay it.

The crux of his defense is that all his actions were done electronically and someone else must have gotten onto his computer to commit the bad acts. There has, however, been no offer of evidence that he refunded to the state any PFD money that mysteriously showed up in his bank account.

Despite his legal troubles, the commercial driftnet fisherman and one-time executive director of United Cook Inlet Drifters Association (UCIDA) – the region’s most powerful commercial fishing lobby – has stayed active in Alaska fishery politics.

He was intimately involved in the efforts of former Gov. Bill Walker to end-run the management Board long ago created by the Legislature to try to minimize political involvement in the issues of allocation of fish between competing state user groups, mainly commercial fishermen.

At that time, the fights were primarily between various gear types: purse seiners, trollers, drift gillnetters and set gillnetters. Since then, subsistence fishermen, personal-use dipnetters and anglers have all entered the fight, and the latter two groups have become prime adversaries of drift and set gillnetters in the Inlet that surges southwest from downtown Anchorage.

The commercial interests catch most of the fish. The Anchorage metro area is home to more than half the state’s population, many of them dipnetters or anglers who don’t think they’re getting a fair share of those fish.

Maw’s world

In his testimony to the Board, Maw suggested the state strayed off the “railroad tracks” of sound management when it started stuffing the Kenai River with salmon. The presention was a little hard to follow. His written testimony might be more clear.

Maw there takes issue with the Bayesian statistical method being used to forecast returns, arguing that “we are now experiencing some of the smallest returns in recent history including, in 2019, the smallest sockeye return in over 40 years. The forecast for 2020. If new information about the status of the fry population in the Kenai system is correct, no one will be allowed to harvest Kenai River salmon in a couple of years; no dipnetting, no sportfishing and no commercial fishing.”

The 2020 forecast calls for a return of 2.2 million salmon to the Kenai – 1.4 million less than the 20-year average. The forecast is largely based upon the number and size of fry rearing in Skilak Lake.

The 26.1 million fry in the lake in 2016, the parent year for the bulk of the 2020 run, were more plentiful than the 20-year average 19.3 million, but smaller at an average weight of 0.8 grams versus 1.0 grams), according to the forecast.

Larger fry are generally expected to have better survival odds than smaller fry, but nature doesn’t always hue to general expectations.

Scientists studying salmon in the Salish Sea off the shores of the state of Washington and the Canadian province of British Columbia reported in November that “the prevailing assumption that ‘bigger is better’ may be true in many circumstances, but there is evidence that populations of smaller juvenile salmon survive at higher rates than larger fish during their first several months at sea.”

The 2.2 million return is low by modern standards, though not so by the standards of the 1970s. And it is more than adequate to support sport and personal-use fisheries.

Even that low return of 1.7 million sockeye in 2018 – a return 800,000 fish short of the forecast – would have had plenty of fish to support sport and personal-use fisheries if not for an early commercial harvest which cropped off a sizable chunk of the run.

With the 2018 run forecast at 2.5 million fish, Fish and Game expected a non-commercial harvest (dipnetters and anglers) of about 700,000 sockeye. Those dipnet and sport fisheries are capable of catching more fish than that, but only when large numbers get through to the Kenai.

In years of expected weak returns, like this one, the number of fish allowed to escape nets to make it into the river is reduced (the escapement goal was lowered to 900,000 in 2018) and non-commercial harvests decline.

Give the data including 2018, a claim that the Kenai is headed toward a production level that would force a prohibition on all fishing can only be described as fear-mongering. And Maw’s basic argument against the new models, which are arguably as bad or as good as the old models in trying to predict a future full of variables that cannot be anticipated, is that state fisheries managers with their fancy math just can’t be trusted.

“The models are mathematically driven,” Maw said. “Mathematical models cannot incorporate field observations of run size, age composition, weights (fry, smolt and adult), run timing, health, vigor, climate change effects, and spawning success that all come into the stock assessment process.”

Mathematical models actually can incorporate much of that data of it is available. Some is and some isn’t.

At a population level, the health and vigor of a salmon population is hard to determine exactly and climate change effects are largely an unknown. A warming ocean in the 2010s was expected to reduce salmon production but instead production is at record levels although that of some species – Kenai sockeye among them –  has decreased.

No one knows why, but the decline appears to be linked to ocean survival given the weakness of most sockeye systems in the northeast Gulf of Alaska. The Susitna River to the north of the Kenai is forecast to see a return significantly below the 20-year average, too, although it has seen low escapements for decades now.

They have not produced the bigger runs of fish Maw and other UCIDA members envision. If the Susitna is indicative, it’s probable that lowering the number of Kenai spawners would only lower the number of returning fish.

Still, Maw and his UCIDA comrades could be right with their pitch that the Kenai has seen some sizable salmon returns at escapements of 600,000 to 800,000; so lower the spawning goal and let us catch more fish in our nets.

As Maw notes, only mathematicians can trust fancy math.

“It’s very difficult for non-statisticians to argue the details of the Bayesian methodology in particular applications,” he said. “But we can all clearly observe the reduction of the Kenai late river-run sockeye returns as escapement and in-river goals have been increased.”

Or at least those who want to see that can observe it. There are plenty of ways of looking at the data and seeing something else. This isn’t as simple as 2 +2 = 4 because of all the variables involved.

So basically, at the end of the day, Maw’s presentation came down to whether Alaskans should trust UCIDA, and defacto leader Maw, pumping up the many times debunked over-escapement theory, or state biologists.

Who would you trust?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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12 replies »

  1. Maw shows how ridiculous the Dunleavey recall effort is. A key premise for getting rid of Big Bad Mike is that he was two weeks late in appointing a judge. Two weeks they say. OMG … two weeks! Well, two weeks is nothing compared to judges delaying a trail for Maw for 5 years. Or maybe 6 years. If anyone should be recalled, it’s out state judges that take large state paychecks and won’t do their job and actually judge.

  2. Maw is probably not the best spokesman for gillnetters in Cook Inlet given his legal troubles, but once again Medred wants to punish one consumptive user group by putting more fish in the river to benefit another consumptive user group – commercial sport fishing guides & lodges and the science be damned!

  3. Craig I just have to laugh at your attention to Maw. You would attack him to discredit his position. Ad hominem attacks serve no purpose. But let’s get the record straight. Most delays in his trail are at the request of the State or the incompetence of State attorneys before a judge.

    I doubt you have read the escapement goal report on sockeye but what Maw is referring is the lack of scientific rigor by the staff. The present commissioner instructed the staff he wants more fish in the river. That bias tainted the process and report. For example the authors said the brood year interaction model, which was the best fit to the data, was flawed and not used. However that model has been reviewed every few years by scientists in and out of the Department since 1999. So it did not give results the Commissioner wanted it was out. A second justification was the concept of varying escapement goals was not in the best interests of the State. That is a-policy call and has no place in a scientific report. Plus the authors provide no data to support that position.

    Finally for those commenting on overescapement as a myth you just demonstrate your ignorance. Every model used by the state for chinook and sockeye assumes decreasing yield with escapements beyond msy.

    Craig you really failed your readers on this one. Call me if you want to learn the errors of your way

    • Thanks for the note, Ken.

      First off, I didn’t “attack” Mr. Maw. I fairly laid out the history of his court case. We could debate the competence of state attorneys at length, but the simple reality of the case is that Mr. Maw has been the one again and again preventing it from going to trial.

      He could have agreed to go to trial long ago and probably saved himself tens of thousands of dollars in the process. Repeatedly asking his attorney to file motions to quash indictments for nebulous reasons is costly.

      Frankly, I wish he’d gone to trial by now. I’d love to know his full story. Maybe he is innocent. Maybe one of his kids or grandkids has been getting on the ‘puter and filing for PFDs, and he didn’t know. Stranger things have happened.

      On the other hand, he is a documented liar, and that goes directly to the issue of credibility when he is appearing before the Board of Fisheries as a commercial gillnetter trying to protect his personal interest. I’m sure he’s madder than hell that he only made about $15,000 off UCI salmon last summer, and I understand that.

      But his financial interest here makes his general credibility a major issue when he starts claiming to be talking science. I find it sort of incredulous that you would ignore this and defend him by suggesting I tried to “attack him to discredit his position.”

      What I did was outline why his testimony might be suspect and point out the irony of someone who once pretended to be abandoning the Board of Fish because of the heat of the Kenai “fish wars” jumping into the Kenai fish wars. That’s just too rich to ignore.

      As to the science, the brood-year model is flawed. The Markov model is flawed. Ricker is flawed. Beverton-Holt is flawed. Deriso-Schnute is flawed. Clearly Mr. Maw thinks the Bayesian Markov Chain Monte Carlo is flawed.

      And he’s right. Every damn model the Department has to work with is flawed. They’re all statistically educated guesses. If their probability of being right hits 75 percent they’re doing good. But they are invariably wrong as to actual numbers. Thus one can debate at length which model to use.

      I think that’s a waste of time here or for the public in general.

      As to overescapement, it is – as viewed by layman – a myth, and you know that as well as I. Theoretic yield does indeed start to fall after MSY is reached, but it doesn’t fall very fast. You’ve got to go quite a way beyond MSY to get a real drop off, which is probably why we haven’t had state biologists throwing dynamite in Bristol Bay rivers to kill sockeye to prevent the dreaded overescapements that have happened there on regular basis.

      Not to mention that there may be cases wherein overescaping a river significantly boosts MEY. But in Cook Inlet, we don’t talk about MEY. Why is that?

      Could it have anything to do with vested special-interest not wanting to talk about what is in the best interest of the state rather than of themselves?

  4. Alternative photo caption: “Slick photographer earns himself a hog-tying somethin’ powerful, Cartwright brothers settle down to plate of biscuits and gravy.”

  5. When I first clicked on the photo, I thought that those two stomachs reminded me of a Lamaze class that I attended with my wife years ago.

  6. Seems like taking the word of a guy who doesn’t know what state he lives in, who has allegedly defrauded ALL Alaskans for years, who lied about discovering a species of trout, and who lied about his residency in another state to illegally kill game isn’t a very sound idea to me. Why would UCIDA not distance themselves from this guy? Certainly he’s not the best of the bunch.

  7. The myth of “Over escapement” needs to be buried forever. It needs to be challenged every time it is used by the commercial interests or by State employees.

    • Why is it that those who think overescapement in UCI watersheds is a myth,( such as krsa), also believe that we are putting too many hatchery fish in the ocean. I don’t get it. Do they really think the ocean has a limited capacity but freshwater streams don’t.

  8. Never trust a lying poacher.
    Never trust Common Core math.
    The rest? Well, the rest is what my good buddy P.T. Barnum used to say, “I don’t care what the newspapers say about me as long as they spell my name right.”

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