Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Coast Guard Reauthorization Signed into Law

Coast Guard reauthorization legislation that passed the US Senate on Nov. 14 and was unanimously approved in the US House on Nov. 27, was signed into law on Dec. 4 by President Trump.

Passage is expected to bring welcomed relief to shipyard workers in Washington state and owners and operators of small commercial fishing vessels in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere across the nation’s commercial fisheries locations.

Sen. Dan Sullivan R-Alaska, co-author of the bill, noted that the new law includes a focus on the Coast Guard’s recapitalization efforts, positioning of Coast Guard assets to respond in the Arctic, addresses ice breaking capabilities and more. The new law will help the men and women of the Coast Guard with their mission to protect national security and U.S. citizens when they are in trouble on the seas.

“This bill is a step towards further developing our presence in the Arctic and will help us engage more deeply in activities in the north, providing an opportunity for increased development in the region,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who voted for the bill.

“I’m particularly pleased that this bill will permanently exempt Alaskans from the EPA incidental discharge regulation, providing much needed protection for our fishermen and coastal communities.” In past years, harvesters in Alaska had more than 8,000 boats statewide risks fines for rinsing fish guts off their decks, or rainwater washing other materials off. This bill “finally resolves this issue off their decks” she said.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, earlier hailed the bill as “finally a win for Dakota Creek and the hardworking men and women who build fishing, Navy and other vessels in our state.” The huge package deal includes legislation protecting shipbuilding jobs at Dakota Creek Industries in Anacortes, Washington.

Co-sponsors of the bill in the Senate included Senators Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski, both R-Alaska, John Thune, R-SD, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, and Bill Nelson, D-Florida.

Opposition Voiced Against Net Pens

Fishing industry groups and several dozen individual harvesters are calling on Congress to oppose any attempts to legitimize open net pen finfish aquaculture in the upcoming congressional session. They contend in a letter sent to members of both houses on Dec. 4 that this type of fish farming will have long term impacts on their industry.

“The letter was signed by over 130 harvesters and industry groups from Washington State, California, Oregon, Alaska, Louisiana, New York, North Carolina, Maine, Massachusetts, and Maryland, including the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations and Institute for Fisheries Resources.

“We are concerned about the economic burdens that aquaculture, an emerging industry, poses to our long-established industry, America’s oldest,” they wrote. “Marine finfish aquaculture facilities aim to produce large amounts of fish at the lowest cost possible, which places downward pressure on seafood prices, harming our wild capture seafood markets. Flooding the market with cheap, low quality farmed seafood reduces the price that consumers are willing to pay for wild and sustainable seafood products, which directly impacts our well-being as sustainable seafood producers and the overall coastal economy,” they said.

The letter was also critical of industrial ocean fish farming resulting in farmed fish escapes that can adversely impact wild stocks. “The culture of non-native fish brings attendant risks of introduction and invasion, while interbreeding of escaped aquaculture fish with wild stocks – a substantiated risk even with limiting cultivated species to ‘virtually’ sterile or all-female native stocks – can lead to the modification and dilution of wild stocks’ genetic integrity,” they said.

The letter also voiced concern over marine pollution caused by excess feed, untreated fish waste, antibiotics, and antifoulants. “Such pollution alters the surrounding ecosystem and harms wild stocks,” signers said.

Sitka Sound 2019 Herring GHL Set at 12,869 tons

The guideline harvest level (GHL) for the 2019 Sitka Sound sac roe herring harvest has been set at 12,869 tons. Alaska Department of Fish and Game officials said the forecast is based on a 20 percent harvest rate of the forecasted mature biomass of 62,343 tons. The 2019 forecast is a boost from the 55,637 tons seen in 2018, but less than the 2016 and 2017 forecasts of 74,707 and 73,245 tons respectively. The figure represents a nine percent increase from the model estimate of 2018 mature pre-fishery biomass of 59,257 tons.

This past year the Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery, which shut down early, fell 8,330 tons short of the GHL. It was the fourth time in six years that the fishery closed before meeting the quota because aerial surveys did not spot herring schools of marketable size.

State biologists said results of the spawn deposition survey showed that while spawn mileage was about half that of 2017, the spawn extended nearly twice as far offshore, and that egg density was higher. In both 2005 and 2008, a similar situation occurred where the spawn extended far offshore on Kruzof Island due to the very wide shelf of herring spawning habitat. Biologist pointed out that due to exceptional spawn along the Kruzof Island shoreline, the 2018 herring spawning biomass was much higher than was apparent from the spawn mileage alone, highlighting the need to conduct annual spawn deposition surveys.

Eastern Aleutian Tanner Crab Fishery Closed

Eastern Aleutian District commercial fisheries for tanner crab will be closed in 2019, according to a statement released on Dec 4 by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

The season for the Akutan, Makushin/Skan Bay and Unalaska/Kalekta Bay sections normally runs from Jan. 15 through March 31.

Survey abundance estimates of mature male Tanner crab were 39,756 crab for the Akutan section, 250,744 for Makushin/Skan Bay and 251,708 crab for Unalaska/Kalekta Bay.

State biologists said the abundance estimate is below the allowable threshold of 200,000 crab for the Akutan section to open. For the Makushin/Skan section, the abundance estimate was above the threshold of 45,000 crab required for a fishery opening, but due to the high exploitation rate on legal males necessary to meet the minimum regulatory guideline harvest level of 35,000 pounds, that section would remain closed. The same hold true for the Unalaska/Kalekta Bay section which saw abundance survey numbers above the 65,000-crab threshold.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

US House Votes Unanimously to Pass Coast Guard Authorization Bill

Coast Guard reauthorization legislation that passed the US Senate on Nov. 14 has been unanimously approved by the US House.

The bill now heads to the White House, where it is expected to be signed into law by year’s end. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, hailed the House vote on Nov. 27 as “finally a win for Dakota Creek and the hardworking men and women who build fishing, Navy and other vessels in our state.”

Provisions contained in the huge Coast Guard package deal contain legislation to help protect shipbuilding jobs at Dakota Creek Industries in Anacortes, Washington.

Other provisions include improved oversight of ships that pose oil spill risks, recapitalization of the Seattle-based Polar Star icebreaker and improved paid family leave policies for Coast Guard members and their families.

The legislation also involves the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act, which sets a national standard for regulation of ballast water and other incidental discharges, while providing a permanent exemption for commercial fishing vessels and other commercial vessels under 75 feet from needing permits through the Environmental Protection Agency. In addition, the bill reauthorizes the Hydrographic Services Improvement Act, which will improve hydrographic surveying, especially in the Arctic. As noted by Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, it will aid in construction of a new homeport for the NOAA research vessel Fairweather in Ketchikan, Alaska.

Seafood Harvesters of America also hailed the benefits of the bill for fish harvesters dealing with ballast water and other discharges. The measure was criticized by the Center for Biological Diversity as a blow to the Clean Water Act’s ability to protect rivers, estuaries and lakes from harmful invasive species.

Co-sponsors of the bill in the Senate included Senators Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski, both R-Alaska, John Thune, R-SD, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, and Bill Nelson, D-Florida.

Charter Halibut Management to be Addressed at NPFMC Meeting

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) will take final action on recommendations to the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) on charter halibut management in the coming year for Southeast and Southcentral Alaska.

During its Dec. 4 meeting in Anchorage, Alaska, the council will consider the advice of the Charter Halibut Management Committee, which meets on Dec. 3, as well as analysis by Sarah Webster of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Division of Sport Fish on potential management measures to keep the charter sector within their allocation.

The committee requested analysis for area 3A with regards to the following regulations: a two-fish bag limit, 28-inch maximum size limit per fish, four-fish annual limit, one vessel-trip per permit per day, Wednesday charter halibut closure and closure of halibut fishing on six Tuesday from mid-July through mid-August. For area 2C the analysis focused on a one-fish daily bag limit, retained halibut being less than or equal to 38 inches or greater than or equal to 80 inches in length requirement.

An action memo posted online in advance of the council meeting notes that between 2014 and 2018 area 2C charter fisheries have been over their allocation by as much as nine percent and below by as much as 10 percent, while in area 3A, charter fisheries have consistently been over their allocation by 11 to 16 percent, except for the 2018 preliminary estimate which shows only four percent over the allocation.

The IPHC’s own 2017 fishery-independent setline survey indicates that halibut stocks declined continuously from the late 1990s to around 2010 due to decreasing size-at-age, as well as somewhat weaker recruitment strengths than those observed in the 1980s. The 2018 survey shows a second consecutive year of decreased, down seven percent from 2017, with individual biological regions ranging from a six percent increase in region 4B to a 15 percent decrease in region 2.

Weak Run of Pink Salmon Predicted for Southeast Alaska

Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) biologists are forecasting a weak run of pink salmon into Southeast Alaska in 2019, with a point estimate of 18 million fish.

The 2019 forecast is based on juvenile pink salmon abundance indices collected with support of NOAA’s long-term Southeast Coastal Monitoring Project in northern Southeast Alaska inside waters in June and July.

The harvest forecast is about half of the recent 10-year average harvest of 36 million pink salmon. A harvest near this forecast would be the lowest odd-year harvest since 1987, according to biologists. The 2018 peak June-July juvenile pink salmon index value ranked 20th out of the 22 years that SECM information has been collected.

A potential source of uncertainty in the 2019 pink salmon return is the anomalously warm sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Alaska. Warm temperatures that persisted throughout the Gulf from the fall of 2013 through much of 2016 were back in 2018. Pink salmon that went to sea from 2014 to 2016 returned in numbers below expectation and below recent odd-and-even year averages.

Although sea surface temperatures moderated in 2017, effects on the Gulf ecosystem likely persisted and pink salmon that went to sea in 2017 and returned in 2018 had a reduced rate of survival.

ADF&G plans to manage the 2019 commercial purse seine fisheries in-season based on the strength of salmon runs. Aerial escapement surveys and fishery performance data will be used as always to make in-season management decisions.

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