Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Tax Impact of 2016 Harvests Uncertain

Fisheries landing and business taxes collected by the state of Alaska and then shared with coastal fisheries governments have brought millions of dollars to these communities over the past five years, but it’s uncertain what 2016 revenues will be.

The Alaska Department of Revenue’s fiscal year 2015 annual report on shared landing taxes alone showed a grand total of $3,125,677 shared, while fish business taxes shared totaled $21.5 million.

The landing tax is paid by floating processors, who catch their fish in federal waters and bring it inside state waters for offloading. Those taxes are based on average statewide prices from the Commercial Operator Annual Report compiled by the state of Alaska’s Revenue Department. The fisheries business tax is based on what processors are paying for unprocessed fish delivered by harvesters.

From fiscal year 2011 through fiscal year 2015, the state shared a total of $23,292,723 in landing taxes with communities, an average of $4,658,546 annually.

For the same period, the state shares a total of $116,350,039 in fisheries business taxes, or an average of $23,270,000 annually.

While this year’s summer salmon season produced more than 112 million salmon, based on preliminary harvest records, this was well below the anticipated harvest.

Yet while the supply is lower, the demand remains strong. Alaska is still considered the place to go for the highest quality salmon, so hopefully people will be willing to pay for it, says Tyson Fick, communications officer for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Association.

Quotas for Bristol Bay red king crab for the shellfish fisheries now underway are down 15 percent, while quotas for Bering Sea snow crab have been cut 47 percent, and three other crab fisheries are closed. So there will be less crab overall, but marketers of that sought after crab anticipate that the harvest will be absorbed very quickly, and that they will see record prices this year.

Initial indicators are that Japanese interest will be what it was last year, and the yen is in a better position this year too, said Eric Donaldson, of The Crab Broker.

How all this will pan out in fishery taxes collected and then shared with coastal communities, however, is still uncertain.

Sockeye Harvest Likely Second Largest In 20 Years

Alaska’s summer salmon season, based on preliminary harvests, produced more than 112 million salmon of all species, and while it is a substantial number of fish, it’s well below the anticipated total harvest. Still sockeye harvests will likely end up being the second largest of the last 20 years, with last year being the largest harvest for that period, according to the latest report from the McDowell Group in Juneau, for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Association.

Large sockeye harvests were seen in Bristol Bay and the Alaska Peninsula, while Cook Inlet, Prince William Sound, Kodiak and Chignik came up short of their forecast, McDowell’s Andy Wink told participants in ASMI’s All Hands meeting in Anchorage this week. Meanwhile pink salmon harvests fell 56 percent short of the preseason forecast, prompting Alaska Governor Bill Walker to seek federal disaster relief. Keta salmon fell 15 percent short of its forecast, as Southeast harvests came up short, and Chinook harvests fell 9 percent short of forecasts, although run strength generally improved in Cook Inlet and the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim region, while declining in much of Southeast and the Copper River region. Coho salmon also fell 12 percent short of forecast.

In whitefish markets, exports of US cod have been steady, but prices low, as are prices for Alaska Pollock fillet blocks. Alaska surimi exports are up slightly, but at lower prices, and Alaska sole prices have increased slightly, but there is less supply, he said.

Wink’s market summary also predicted a rise in fresh halibut prices for most of the season, and higher prices for black cod, Alaska king crab and snow crab. Over 100 million pounds of other species, including herring, dive species, scallops, shrimp and skates, are also adding value to Alaska’s overall seafood supply, he said.

ASMI Pushes for Alaska Seafood in Food Aid

The Alaska Seafood Marketing Association’s Global Food Aid Program is working to broaden the use of Alaska seafood both domestically and internationally in food aid programs. Bruce Schactler, who overseas the food aid program for ASMI, says they are moving to get more seafood included in all US Department of Agriculture programs and to align Alaska seafood with the priorities of domestic and international food air markets while anticipating future trends. The food aid market has been a reliable and very good customer for Alaska seafood, Schactler told participants this week in ASMI’s All Hands meeting in Anchorage.

The preference in several domestic feeding programs has been for Alaska Pollock and canned salmon. US Department of Agriculture purchases from processors of wild Alaska seafood over the past year totaled over $55 million, including nearly $30 million in canned sockeye salmon, $13 million in canned pink salmon, nearly $6 million in kosher canned pink salmon, nearly $5 million in Alaska Pollock, and $1.5 million in the newest product-salmon fillets.

The recent purchase of 216,000 pounds of sockeye or coho salmon fillet portions was the first in a pilot program to expand the food aid basket of Native American tribes with more traditional food, and, said Schactler, ASMI will be working to expand this program next year.

ASMI is also working with USDA and the Alaska Pollock producers to boost purchases to both domestic and international food and nutrition programs. In September, USDA released a federal purchase program specification for whole grain breaded Alaska Pollock sticks to include now in any of their procurements.

At the request of USDA and other institutional food aid partners, the Alaska Global Food Aid Program has also been exploring for some time the use of herring and seafood powder for various food aid programs, he said.

AMSEA to Offer Safety Instructor Training

The Alaska Marine Safety Education Association in Sitka has scheduled a six-day Marine Safety Instructor Training course for Seward, Alaska next spring, and for qualifying commercial fishermen there will be no charge.

For all others, the cost of the April 25-April 30 course will be $995.

AMSEA officials note that this is an intensive train-the-trainer course that will prepare individuals to effectively teach cold-water survival procedures, use of marine safety equipment, and vessel safety drills.

Those who complete the course will be prepared to teach AMSEA’s U.S. Coast Guard approved Fishing Vessel Drill Conductor training, pending authorization from the Coast Guard. Those individuals may elect to co-teach a Fishing Vessel Drill Conductor workshop in Seward on May 1.

The course will include instruction in how to prepare for emergencies, cold water near drowning, hypothermia, cold water survival, survival equipment, procedures and onboard drills, risk assessment, ergonomics, and methods of instruction.

Further information is available from AMSEA by calling 1-907-747-3287, or on AMSEA’s website,

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

NPFMC Approves Review of Halibut, Sablefish IFQ Program

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council has approved the first comprehensive review of the first halibut and sablefish individual fishing quota program since the IFQ program began 20 years ago.

Subsequent to finalization of the document, the council said it plans to reconstitute the IFQ Implementation Committee to provide recommendations to the council on potential future revisions to the IFQ program. The council asked current members of the IFQ committee to express their interest in continuing to serve, and the council is also soliciting nominations for new members, with membership intended to represent a broad range of stakeholders in the IFQ fisheries.

Nominations are due Nov. 11.

Based on findings from the IFQ program review, as well as discussion at the council meeting, several issues were identified for consideration by the IFQ Committee, ranging from the sweep-ups of small blocked quota share units, and the use of the medical lease provision to geographical distribution of new entrant quota ownership and the use of hired masters in the IFQ fisheries.

The new version of the IFQ Committee will be chaired by council member Buck Laukitis of Homer, Alaska. Laukitis, a commercial fisherman, is the former president of the North Pacific Fisheries Association. Council economist Sarah Marrinan said the council hopes to receive a committee report responding to issues that stem from the program review at the NPFMC's February meeting in Seattle.

In other action, the council completed an initial review of a regulatory amendment package that would allow community development quota groups to lease halibut IFQ in Areas 4B, 4C and 4D in years of low halibut catch limits in regulatory areas 4B and 4CDE. In effect, the proposals would allow CDQ groups to lease halibut IFQ for use by residents on vessels less than 51 feet, subject to IFQ use regulations and the groups' internal management.

State Department Responds to Plea to Address Transboundary Mine Issues

State Department officials say they are exploring possible approaches to present to their Canadian counterparts when they meet in late October to discuss boundary waters matters, including transboundary mining issues.

The State Department told the Alaska congressional delegation this past week that they are actively engaging with Canada on protecting shared waters, an issue they recognize as being of significant concern to Alaska. Potential impacts of mining in shared waters in British Columbia and Alaska are discussed in semi-annual dialogues between the two nations, said Julia Frifield, assistant secretary for legislative affairs within the State Department.

Frifield also said some baseline water quality testing has already begun and Congress may make additional funding available for that purpose.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said she was encouraged that it appears the State Department understands the importance of this issue to many Alaskans, but is disappointed that the State Department has refused to suggest suggestions, including one to consider appointing a special representative for US-Canada transboundary issues.

The proposed development of several mines in British Columbia along transboundary rivers, as well as at least one existing mine, concern commercial, sport and subsistence fish harvesters in Southeast Alaska, as well as tourism and other businesses dependent on salmon, who feel these mines have great potential to adversely affect salmon habitat. Only agreements on a federal level can ensure financial protections to be in place in the event that environmental pollution occurs.

While Alaska and British Columbia have reached a memorandum of understanding on this issue, it comes with no financial guarantees.

Charges Filed in Mount Polley Mine Disaster

MiningWatch Canada has filed a lawsuit against the British Columbia government and Mount Polley Mining Corp. for alleged violations of Canada’s Fisheries Act in connection with the 2014 tailings dam disaster, the largest in Canada’s history.

Mining Watch’s Ugo Lapointe said the organization was acting because almost two and a half years after the disaster, the Crown has failed to lay charges and enforce the Fisheries Act, despite what they see as ample evidence of the impact on waters, fish and fish habitat when the tailings pond failed to hold.

The collapse of the Mount Polley tailings dam sent 25 million cubic meters of wastewater and mine waste solids into downstream waters, destroying or permanently affecting aquatic and riparian habitats. The copper and gold mine in the central interior of British Columbia stored its tailings in a tailings storage facility that failed on an evening in early August of 2014, releasing the debris, which flowed into Hazletine Creek, scouring the channel and floodplain and flowing upstream to Polley Lake and downstream to Quesnel Lake.

A study of the impact assessment of the spill on fish and fish habitat released in 2015 indicated at affected waters included at least 20 different fish species, including sockeye, coho and Chinook salmon. The report estimated that an extensive area of aquatic habitat was permanently altered.

While MiningWatch has a legal team ready to take the case to trial, the organization is also asking Canada’s federal government to carry the prosecution forward.

Lapointe said that if that nation’s environmental waters are to be fully protected, that can only happen when the government uses all means at its disposal to stand against violations of the Fisheries Act. The next step will be a process hearing in the provincial court in Williams Lake, BC in a few weeks.

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