Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Halibut Quotas Increase

Halibut quotas are up overall by 2.3 percent in the poundage announced by the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) at the conclusion of its meeting in Juneau early this week.

Alaska’s share added up to 21.45 million pounds, a boost of 200,000 pounds from 2015. The season runs from March 19 through Nov. 7.

The good news, said Linda Behnken, executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association in Sitka, “is the stocks seem to be stabilized or slightly increasing, and the outlook is a bit more positive. I’m happy to see the stocks are recovering, (although) it continues to be a bit of a concern,” she said.

Quotas announced by the IPHC included 9,600,000 pounds for Area 3A in the central Gulf of Alaska, including 7,786,000 pounds for the commercial fishery and 1,814,000 pounds for the guided sport fishery, a five percent cut. Area 2C, in Southeast Alaska, was accorded 3,924,000 pounds, an increase of six percent, with 906,000 pounds for the guided sport fishery. The IPHC also adopted catch-share plans for Areas 3A and 2C which impact how much and what size halibut customers on charter boats can keep.

Area 3B, the western Gulf of Alaska got an allocation of 2,710,000 pounds. Other Alaska allocations included 1,390,000 pounds for Area 4A, the eastern Aleutians, 1,140,000 pounds for Area 4B, the central and western Aleutians; and 1,660,000 pounds for Areas 4CDE, most of the Bering Sea. Area 2A, including California, Oregon and Washington State, received an allocation of 1,140,000 pounds, including non-treaty, treaty Indian ceremonial and subsistence and sport harvesters. Area 2B, British Columbia, was allocated 7.3 million pounds, up more than four percent over a year ago.

The commission expressed its thanks to IPHC executive director Bruce Leaman, who has been at the IPHC since 1997. David Wilson of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission, takes on the tasks of executive director in August. Behnken praised Leaman’s years of work there, saying “He was a fantastic administrator.”

WDFW to Hear Commercial Fish Priorities

Washington State fish and wildlife managers are asking people in coastal communities to attend a public forum tomorrow to share their views on the values and priorities that should guide the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

The meeting will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 4, at the Willapa Harbor Community Center, 916 W. First St., South Bend.

“We hope to hear from commercial fishers, charter boat operators, people active in recreation and tourism, and others who care about fish and wildlife management along the coast,” said WDFW Director Jim Unsworth. “This is a chance for the public to tell WDFW managers what we are doing right, where we need to improve, and where we should focus our efforts and our funding over the next five to 10 years.”

The meeting will be the seventh public forum conducted through WDFW’s ongoing outreach initiative, “Washington’s Wild Future.” More information is available online at

Unsworth, along with senior WDFW managers and regional staff, will be available to hear residents’ views on fishing, including commercial gillnetting in the Columbia River, Grays Harbor, and Willapa Bay, and Pacific Ocean fisheries, and hunting, razor clam management, habitat protection and restoration, licensing, law enforcement, and other fish and wildlife issues.

The meeting will include a brief presentation about the importance of fish and wildlife management to Washington’s quality of life and the economies of communities throughout the state. Participants will then be invited to talk in small groups with representatives of the department’s Fish, Wildlife, Enforcement, Licensing, and Habitat programs, as well as Unsworth and his staff.

Comments will also continue to be accepted on WDFW’s website at and by email to

GOA Trawlers Stand Down for Bycatch

Representatives of trawl fisheries in the Gulf of Alaska and processors say they will voice their concerns at the federal fisheries meeting that opens today in Portland, Oregon, regarding a proposal to restructure bycatch management in the Gulf.

Julie Bonney, executive director of the Alaska Groundfish Data Bank at Kodiak, said captains and crew of 50 trawlers opted to stand down for two trips in the first week of February and that some of them would be in Portland to testify.

They are concerned over a recent state of Alaska proposal to restructure their fisheries that would harm their livelihoods and the economies of their fishery dependent communities, the group said in an announcement issued by the Alaska Groundfish Data Bank, Midwater Trawlers Cooperative, Alaska Whitefish Trawlers Association, and Peninsula Fishermen’s Coalition.

Their concerns center around council agenda item C2, a discussion paper with several alternatives before the council that is a long way from any final action.

Alternative 3 defines a program in which prohibited species catch is allocated to voluntary cooperatives, but groundfish quotas are not. Prohibited species catch would be allocated on the basis of vessels as opposed to licenses, and could not be allocated according to either “equal shares” or vessel capacity.

Alternative 1 is a “no action” alternative.

Alternative 2 defines a program in which groundfish and prohibited species catch access privileges are allocated to voluntary cooperatives based on their fishing history associated with the federal licenses that are enrolled in each cooperative. Those elements include measures that are intended to promote stability in trawl-dependent fishing communities, including consolidation limits, quota regionalization, and active participation requirements.

The discussion paper provided for the Portland meeting addresses several issues, including a comparison of alternatives 2 and 3 in terms of how they address the defined purpose and need and goals and objectives that guide the council.

FDA Bans GE salmon, Pending Guidelines

Don’t look for genetically engineered salmon on grocery store shelves any time soon.

In the wake of its decision in November approving the AquaAdvantage salmon that a Massachusetts-based firm says it will produce, the Food and Drug Administration banned import and sale of the product until labeling guidelines are published.

Not that it would likely be available in any event for more than a year from now, according to Dave Conley, a company spokesperson in Ottawa, who said today that AquaBounty, based in Massachusetts, still has a lot of planning to do.

AquaBounty describes itself as a small company that wants to raise the genetically engineered Atlantic salmon in specially designed buildings in Canada and Panama, using a process that requires 20-25 percent less feed than other farmed Atlantic salmon on the market today.

Opponents of genetically modified fish have mounted a steady campaign to keep AquaAdvantage salmon off of the market period.

The FDA’s ban pending the publication of labeling guidelines was announced on Jan. 29, and quickly hailed by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who called FDA’s action “a huge step in our fight against ‘Frankenfish’. Murkowski was successful in securing a provision in the omnibus spending bill to keep AquaAdvantage salmon out of retail markets until labeling guidelines are finalized.

Murkowski notes that she adamantly opposed the FDA’s decision to allow GE salmon into America’s kitchens and tables in the first place. She said mandatory labeling guidelines must be put in place as soon as possible so consumears know what it is they are buying. It seems, Murkowski said “that the FDA has begun to listen, and I hope this is a sign that the agency plans to develop these necessary guidelines.

AquaBounty produce is an Atlantic salmon with a growth hormone from a Chinook salmon and a gene from Ocean pout, with the combined effect of speeding growth to a marketable size in 18 months rather than three years.

Conley said that AquaBounty currently has a hatchery in Canada producing salmon eggs, and a facility in Panama primarily engaged in research and development, plus minimal stocks of fish.

Conley said the company plans to be price competitive, noting that price is key to buying decisions of many consumers, but had no comment on how potential labeling of fish that is genetically modified would affect sales.

Three Appointed to Alaska Board of Fisheries

Alan Cain, of Anchorage, Israel Payton, of Wasilla, and Robert Ruffner, of Soldotna, have been appointed to the Alaska Board of Fisheries, pending approval by the state’s legislature.

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker announced the appointments on Feb. 2.

Cain, a natural resources enforcement advisor and trainer, has 40 years of experience protecting fish and game resources as an Alaska wildlife trooper, criminal justice planner, and private contractor. Cain spent 15 years as an enforcement advisor to the Alaska Board of Fisheries. Cain would replace board member Robert Mumford of Anchorage, a former state wildlife trooper, who intends to resign from the board effective March 14, after the end of the board’s current meeting cycle.

Payton, who grew up fishing and hunting, living a subsistence lifestyle in the village of Skwentna, has worked as a hunting and fishing guide in Alaska for nearly 20 years. He serves on the Mat-Su Fish and Game Advisory committee and has been actively participating in fish and game board meetings. He would fill the seat currently held by fisheries board chairman Tom Kluberton, owner of a Talkeetna bed and breakfast, when Kluberton’s term ends on June 30.

Ruffner, an environmental scientist for the non-profit Kenai Watershed Forum, is the third appointee. He works with many stakeholders to promote the economic and ecological health of the region’s rivers and streams. He is also a member of the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission Advisory Panel. Ruffner would fill the seat held by Fritz Johnson, of Dillingham, regional fisheries director for the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp. Johnson’s term also ends on June. 30.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

FDA Clarifies ‘Alaska Pollock’

To be labeled “Alaska pollock” the versatile flavored white fish, employed by chefs in everything from seafood salads to fish sticks and filets, must now be harvested from Alaska waters.

Otherwise, says the US Food and Drug Administration, it is simply “pollock.”

The FDA updated its Seafood List on Jan. 21 to reflect that change, recognizing a mandate by Congress in the fiscal year 2016 Omnibus Appropriations that only Pollock caught in Alaskan waters or the exclusive economic zone, (as defined in Section 3 of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation Management Act,) adjacent to Alaska can be called Alaskan Pollock.

The change, effective immediately, was hailed by harvesters and processors of Alaska pollock, who said they hope the new labeling will help consumers to choose Alaska sourced pollock products over competing Russian Pollock.

Alaska pollock, also known as walleye pollock, is the largest by volume wild fishery in the United States, and one of the largest fisheries in the world.

Processors of Alaska pollock estimate the industry’s annual value at more than $700 million, with direct employment of some 5,000 workers.

“We are the gold standard for sustainability,” said Pat Shanahan, program director for the Association of Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers.

“It was the right thing to do for consumers and processors,” she said. “It’s accurate. It corrects a problem that has existed for a very long time. We think it will be very useful because (now) we can differentiate.”

Jim Gilmore, speaking for the At-Sea Processors Association, said they are appreciative of the work of the Washington State and Alaska congressional delegations in getting the name change approved by the FDA.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who has worked to change the market name of pollock, said she was “thrilled that this change has been made to protect both our fisheries and consumers.

“It is disingenuous and harmful to our fishing industry for Russian-harvested pollock to be passed off as Alaskan,” she said.”

Gilmore agreed.

“We think it is confusing to a consumer trying to figure out the providence of their seafood, if they can call Russian Pollock Alaska Pollock,” he said.

“It is a question of a very different processing method. When fish comes out of Alaska it is frozen once before it comes out on a consumer’s plate,” Gilmore said, the Russian fish is frozen in the round when it comes on to their vessels, then refrozen in China after it is filleted.

“The vast majority of Russian produce is twice frozen,” Shanahan said. “Just the twice freezing process will have inferior texture, taste and aroma. I have looked at them side by side and I don’t think you have to be an expert to tell the difference,” she said.

NOAA Approves Halibut Bycatch Reduction

Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker has approved a fishery management plan amendment aimed at reducing halibut bycatch in four sectors of the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands groundfish fisheries.
Harvesters affected include the Amendment 80 fleet, the trawl limited access sector, the non-trawl sector, and community development quota program groups.

Pritzker’s approval, announced on Jan. 21, stems from a recommendation by North Pacific Fishery Management Council last June to reduce halibut prohibited species catch limits in the BSAI.

The council’s recommendation for Amendment 111 to the fishery management plan for groundfish in the BSAI was prompted by declining commercial catch limits for the directed commercial halibut fishery.

The council’s fishery analyst, Diana Evans, said that the National Marine Fisheries Service wants to public the rule as soon as possible, but can’t commit to a specific date.

They received a lot of detailed comments that will require some work to respond to, but the plan is to get the rule done and published this spring, in which case it would be in effect before the B season, Evans said in an email response to a query.

NOAA Fisheries anticipates the amendment will reduce the actual amount of halibut bycatch in the BSAI by approximately 361 metric tons compared to 2014, and may also provide additional harvest opportunities for directed commercial, personal use, sport and subsistence halibut fisheries, NOAA officials said Jan. 20.

The International Pacific Halibut Commission, the joint US/Canadian body charged with management of Pacific halibut, has determined that the exploitable biomass of halibut has declined in recent years, particularly in the BSAI.

The decline has resulted in reductions in catch limits for the directed commercial halibut fishery, particularly in Area 4 CDE in the eastern and northern Bering Sea.

Groundfish fisheries targeting species like pollock and yellowfin sole regularly encounter halibut as bycatch while fishing.

Amendment 111 would reduce the overall BSAI halibut prohibited species catch limit by 21 percent to 3,515 metric tons, in four specific areas. The Amendment 80 sector is reduced by 25 percent, to 1,745 metric tons, the BSAI trawl limited access sector is reduced by 15 percent to 745 metric tons, the BSAI non-trawl sector is reduced by 15 percent to 710 metric tons, and participants in the community development quota program are reduced by 20 percent to 315 metric tons.

Vessels taking bycatch are required to keep the halibut long enough for observers on board to document the total, and then discard the halibut back into the ocean.

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