JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — An evaluation of Pacific herring stocks in Lynn Canal could land the fish on the endangered or threatened species list, blocking or slowing development in the area.
The National Marine Fisheries Service said the Pacific herring population appears to be in enough trouble to warrant a review under the Endangered Species Act.
Herring stocks in Lynn Canal have declined 85 percent since the 1970s, the fisheries service said in its federal register filings. Commercial fishing of herring has been closed in the area since 1982, but stocks have not rebounded, the service said.
These factors contributed to the decision to review the fish’s status at the request of the Sierra Club, fisheries service officials said. Other factors are the proposed development in Lynn Canal, including Berners Bay, that could damage the population’s habitat and reduce herring spawning range.
The fisheries service expects to make a recommendation by April 2008 on whether the herring should be listed. The secretary of commerce would then make a final decision.
Any projects proposed within the habitat of an endangered species have to go through additional regulatory requirements, said Erika Phillips, a biologist who is coordinating the review for the fisheries service.
“We would have to conclude whether it would place the species in jeopardy and then recommend conservation measures,” she said.
That could affect the Kensington Mine, which is under construction near the canal’s last remaining spawning ground for herring.
The listing also could have implications for the proposed Juneau Access Road, which would run north out of town and around Berners Bay.
Tom Crafford, acting large mine permitting coordinator for the Department of Natural Resources, said any listing under the act would increase the cost of operations.
“I would think it would create additional hurdles and additional opportunities for third-party lawsuits,” Crafford said. “I think that would be a concern to the developers. It would mean they would have to have plans and procedures for how those species would be protected.”
Tony Ebersole, spokesman for Kensington mine operator Coeur Alaska, declined to comment, saying he had reviewed the filing.