Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Grants Expand Electronic Monitoring Program

Twelve projects set to receive grants under a third-year round of funding for electronic monitoring and reporting program, will expand monitoring in Alaska, and Washington state.

The announcement of more than $3.59 million in grants in early January came from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the Kingfisher Foundation. Those grants generated $3.15 million in matching contribution, for a total conservation impact of more than $6.75 million.

Among the projects receiving funding one supports electronic monitoring pre-implementation in the Alaskan pot cod fishery by increasing the number of vessels carrying electronic monitoring devises. Under that $891,734 grant, Saltwater will install electronic monitoring units on up to 15 additional vessels. The project will test an alternative service delivery model focused on building cost effective data collection infrastructure, data review and management processes to provide timely data to fisheries managers and facilitate electronic monitoring data integration.

A $1,177,959 grant to the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association (AFLA) will allow ALFA to improve the electronic monitoring program for vessels participating in sablefish, halibut and Pacific cod fixed gear fisheries by providing electronic monitoring hardware, field service support for vessels and support for stakeholder engagement. The project will provide electronic monitoring of up to 120 hook and line vessels that will reduce bycatch and improve the utility of electronic monitoring data for harvesters and fishery managers.

Washington’s Department of Fish and Wildlife will use a $608,593 grant to deploy an electronic reporting and monitoring software system for non-tribal commercial harvesters and tribal fisheries in Puget Sound and coastal waters off Washington.

Details on all 12 grants are online at http://www.nfwf.org/fisheriesfund/Documents/emr-2017grantslate.pdf

Alaska Marine Science Symposium Begins January 22

The annual Alaska Marine Science Symposium, the state’s premier marine research conference, will get under way on January 22 in Anchorage, Alaska.

The conference will open with a communicating ocean sciences workshop, followed by keynote speeches from weather experts, a researcher focused on benthic species and a photographer with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Speakers include:

• Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere Tim Gallaudet, a retired Navy rear admiral and oceanographer,

• Richard Thoman, the climate science and services manager for the National Weather Service Alaska region,

• Lis Lindal Jorgensen, a senior scientist at the Institute of Marine Research in Norway, and

• Chris Linder, an expedition multimedia specialist at Woods Hole and also affiliated with the International League of Conservation Photographers.

The symposium has for more than two decades brought together scientists, educators, resource managers, students and interested members of the public to discuss marine research conducted in Alaska waters. Betsy Baker, executive director of the North Pacific Research Board, an event co-organizer, noted that the symposium attracts participants from far beyond the state’s borders.

The event offers established scientists, new researchers and students the opportunity to share their work and network with each other, communities, managers, industry and the public.

Each day of the conference will highlight a special area of Alaska’s marine ecosystems. The focus will be on the Gulf of Alaska on January 23, the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands on January 24 and the Arctic on January 25.

Sponsoring organizations include the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Alaska Ocean Observing System, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Coastal Marine Institute, Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Council, Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council, National Park Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – Alaska Regional Collaboration Team, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – Alaska Fisheries Science Center, North Pacific Fishery Management Council, North Pacific Marine Science Organization, North Pacific Research Board, Oil Spill Recovery Institute, Pollock Conservation Cooperative Research Center, Prince William Sound Science Center, United States Arctic Research Commission, United States Geological Survey – Alaska Region, United States Geological Survey – Alaska Science Center, University of Washington – School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences.

Conference details can be found at http://www.alaskamarinescience.org

Salmon Initiative Backers Have the Signatures for Alaska’s Ballot

On January 16, backers of a ballot initiative to update Alaska’s law governing development in salmon habitat have delivered box after box of petitions to the state’s Division of Elections office containing over 49,500 signatures to include the initiative on the ballot in this year’s election cycle.

Ballot sponsor Stephanie Quinn-Davidson, director of the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, said tens of thousands of Alaskans from Nome to Ketchikan in every legislative district favor updating the laws to reflect a true balance between responsible development and protection of salmon.

The initiative proposes updates to a 60-year-old law that guides development projects in areas of salmon habitat. Such projects are currently assessed by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game based on what the law defines as “the proper protection of fish and game.” The Stand for Salmon group contends that without clear guidelines on what “proper protection is” the standards for permitting are vague.

From the onset, the goal was to collect 45,000 registered voters signatures, well over the minimum 32,147 required.

The Division of Elections has 60 days to review the petitions to confirmed that they contain the names of the minimum of required registered voters.

The proposed initiative is opposed by a cross-section of other Alaskans, including the Alaska Miners Association Alaska Oil and Gas Association, Alaska Support Industry Alliance, the economic development corporations for Anchorage and Fairbanks, the Teamsters Union and all 12 Alaska Native regional corporations.

Group Questions Canadian Government’s Salmon Farm Transparency

An environmental group in Vancouver, British Columbia is questioning a Canadian government report that says there is minimal risk of pathogen transfer from farmed to wild salmon.

The comments come in the aftermath of the government’s announcement in late December that there is minimum risk to wild Fraser River sockeye salmon populations of transfer of IHNV (infectious hematopoietic necrosis virus) from Atlantic salmon farms in British Columbia’s Discovery Islands.

Stan Pronoszcz, science and campaign manager for the Watershed Watch Salmon Society in Vancouver, BC, served on the federal Canadian science review committee that produced the report.

The Watershed Watch contends that the report is partially based on a secret memorandum of understanding between several salmon farming companies, information that was not made available for examination by committee members. Because of the lack of transparency, the Watershed Watch, Living Oceans Society and the Pacific Coast Wild Salmon Society are now calling the report’s conclusions into question.

They are asking for revamping of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s science review process, known as CSAS, or the Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat. The scientific advice is supposed to inform policy and management options and decisions.

Watershed Watch said an imbalance in pro-industry representation could significantly affect the conclusions of the risk assessment report due to its qualitative nature, as opposed to using a more rigorous quantitative risk assessment.

Government spokespersons were not immediately available for comment. In a report issued from Ottawa on December 20, they said their research concluded that risks of the pathogens transferring from farmed Atlantic salmon to wild red salmon were minimal. The report said that current fish health management practices such as vaccination and eradication of infected fish helped to minimize the risk.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Land Exchange Deal Reached on King Cove Road Project

The battle over road access for medical emergencies from the Aleutians fishing village of King Cove to the all-weather airport at Cold Bay appears to again be reaching a conclusion, but it’s not over yet.

A spokesperson for the Aleutians East Borough confirms that an agreement has been reached on a land exchange between the Interior Department and the King Cove Corp. that would allow for completion of some 11–12 miles of road connecting the two communities.

Residents of King Cove, home of a large Peter Pan Seafoods processing facility that operates year-round, support road access to the all-weather airport because weather conditions often make travel by plane or even boat between the two communities dangerous. While a flight between King Cove and Cold Bay in light aircraft in good weather takes well under an hour, travel on a fishing tender or other commercial fishing vessels in rough weather can take up to three hours.

Between 1980 and 1994, a dozen people died during medevac attempts. Since then there have been 68 evacuations by boat or air, with no further fatalities, according to city administrator Gary Hennigh.

Several environmental groups, including The Wilderness Society, say putting a road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge would cause irreversible harm to the environment and have vowed to challenge the matter in court. Proponents of the road say the route can be completed without causing harm to the environment and area wildlife, including migrating waterfowl, who are legally targeted in the refuge by sport hunters.

According to Laura Tanis, public information officer for the Aleutians East Borough, a formal agreement is to be signed in Washington D.C. later this month, followed by a land appraisal process expected to take several months, and beyond that decisions are still to be worked out on the amount of acreage to be exchanged, the route of the connecting road, and construction dates.

Permitting Process Under Way for Pebble Prospect

Canadian backers of a massive copper, gold and molybdenum mine adjacent to the Bristol Bay watershed in southwest Alaska have filed documents required to apply for a Clean Water Act 404 permit needed for discharge of dredged or fill materials into federal waters, including wetlands.

The US Army Corps of Engineers acknowledged, on January 5, receipt of the application from the Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP), a wholly owned subsidiary of Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., in Vancouver, British Columbia. Northern Dynasty itself is a wholly owned subsidiary of the diversified global mining group Hunter Dickenson Inc., also based in Vancouver. The PLP was established in 2007 to design, permit, construct and operate the controversial mine.

Ron Thiessen, chief executive officer of Northern Dynasty, said his firm was “pleased by the expediency with which permitting for the Pebble Project has been initiated and that the Corps will serve as the lead federal agency for the rigorous, objective, transparent and science based EIS (environmental impact statement) process.”

The announcement drew a quick response from United Tribes of Bristol Bay in Dillingham, Alaska, whose members include commercial harvesters of the Bay’s sockeye salmon.

“After witnessing more than a decade of Pebble’s deceit in Bristol Bay, it is no surprise that the application released this morning describes a much larger, different project than Pebble presented to Alaskans in the last six months,” said Robert Heyano, a veteran Bristol Bay harvester and president of United Tribes of Bristol Bay. “The science on such a project is already available, and already clear: this mine will devastate the Bristol Bay fishery. Bristol Bay residents will continue to fight this project and protect the water that has sustained our way of life since time immemorial,” he said.

The project is not economically feasible in the smaller footprint that is identified in the permit application; the ore is of such poor quality that it has to be huge to make it pay, he said.

Pebble’s 1,000-plus page application identifies 3,190.55 acres of wetlands and other waters to be filled at the mine site alone, or nearly three times the wetlands losses the EPA identified as posing unacceptable adverse impacts to the ecosystem, the tribal consortium said in its statement. Additionally, the application lists Upper Talarik Creek as one of eight water bodies “directly impacted” by the proposed project, and this runs counter to recent statements by Tom Collier, chief executive officer for the PLP, that the project would not affect Upper Talarik Creek and the Kvichak River watersheds, the tribal consortium said.

Pebble’s permit application documents, including the project description, are available online at http://www.poa.usace.army.mil/Missions/Regulatory/Public-Notices-Section-Homepage/.

The proposed project, according to Northern Dynasty, would include a 230-megawatt power plant at the mine site, an 83-mile transportation corridor from the mine site to a port site on the west side of Cook Inlet, a permanent, year-round port facility on Cook Inlet and a 188-mile natural gas pipeline from the Kenai Peninsula to the mine site.

Fisheries Meetings Stack Up

Updates on fisheries science and technology are on tap at late winter commercial fisheries meetings, organized by state and federal agencies as well as private industry groups.

The International Pacific Halibut Commission, which holds its 94th annual meeting January 22–26 in Portland, Oregon, features a meeting section that presents the agenda, schedule, documents and reports, as well as a registration links on its new website http://iphc.int/. Register for the meeting on Eventbrite (https://www.eventbrite.com/e/2018-iphc-annual-meeting-am094-tickets-35265063755) if planning to attend in person or (https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/2301759810024715522) to listen in on the webinar.

Meanwhile in Anchorage, the 2018 Alaska Marine Science Symposium will be held at the Hotel Captain Cook January 22–26, featuring keynote speakers on the first afternoon while the next three days are earmarked specifically for the Arctic, Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands and Gulf of Alaska, with reports ranging from ocean physics to human dimensions. Program details, including keynote speakers and all presentations, are available at www.alaskamarinescience.org/agenda.

In Seattle, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council holds its meeting February 5–12. eComments must be submitted at https://comments.npfmc.org/Meeting/Details/62 by 5 p.m. February 2. Once the meeting is underway, online audio will be provided. The meeting schedule and documents will be posted at http://legistar2.granicus.com/npfmc/meetings/2017/12/967_A_North_Pacific_Council_17-12-04_Meeting_Agenda.pdf

In Girdwood, Alaska, the 69th Pacific Fisheries Technologists Conference will be held February 5–7 at the Alyeska Resort, with presentations from companies that produce machines for groundfish processing, smoking fish, pathogen testing, automated fish processing and more. The conference theme is “Tools of the Trade,” and the gathering will include a discussion on how the regulatory environment adapts with the innovation and growth of the industry. Presenting firms will include GVI, Baader, Environpak, Marel, Neogen and Qualtracx, said PFT president Chris Sannito, a seafood technology specialist and research assistant professor for the University of Alaska Fairbanks, with the Marine Advisory Program at Kodiak.

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