Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Third Employee of Westward Seafoods Sentenced
for Clean Air Act Violations

A former powerhouse operator for Westward Seafoods at Dutch Harbor has been sentenced to three years probation and to pay a $750 fine for tampering with the pollution control monitoring equipment required under the Clean Water Act.

Chief US District Court Judge Ralph R. Beistline sentenced Bryan Beigh on Nov. 25 in Anchorage. Earlier this month, Beistline sentenced Westward’s former assistant chief engineer, James Hampton, to 70 days in prison, and former powerhouse supervisor Raul Morales to 45 days in prison. Both were also ordered to pay a $1,000 fine and serve a one-year term of supervision upon release from prison.

Westward, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Japanese company Maruha-Nichiro Holdings, Inc., processes some 250 million pounds of seafood annually. The facility generates its own electricity with three diesel-fuel generators contained in its powerhouse building. Air emissions from these generators are vented through a single combined smokestack, and these emissions are regulated by a Title V Permit under the Clean Air Act.

Under terms of the permit, Westward was required to install and use pollution control equipment to decrease the amount of nitrogen dioxide being emitted from the powerhouse smokestack. To meet this requirement, Westward installed a Combustion Air Saturation System for each generator unit which uses water to saturate the air and reduce emissions from each generator. The permit also required Westward to operate each generator with dedicated fuel and water flow meter and to record fuel and water consumption.

Beginning in 2009 and continuing until August 2011, Westward failed to operate the CASS pollution control equipment.

In 2010, Westward entered into a civil consent decree with the federal government and agreed to pay a civil penalty following prior allegations that the company had, among other things, violated emissions limits under the Clean Water Act.

The case was invited by the Environmental Protection Agency’s criminal investigation division.

NOAA Draws Criticism Over Revised
Steller Sea Lion Measures

Federal fisheries regulators have published a final rule to implement Steller sea lion protection measures, effective Dec. 26, that will allow for substantial commercial harvests in an area where the Steller sea lion population is in significant decline.

The rule will allow factory trawlers and freezer longliners to harvest more than 30 million pounds of pollock, Pacific cod and Atka mackerel, critical food sources for the Steller sea lions. That decision is drawing criticism from the international ocean advocacy organization Oceana, which says the National Marine Fisheries Service is giving large-scale industrial fishing priority over the health of oceans.

The rule, published on Nov. 24 in the Federal Register, notes that NMFS is responsible for certain threatened and endangered species, including Steller sea lions, and that NMFS has implemented a number of protection measures to protect Steller sea lion prey from potential effects of groundfish fishing. The Steller sea lion protection measures have been revised several times, most recently in 2011.

The rule notes that a 2014 fishery management plan biological opinion that found that changes proposed by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to allow for more fishing while protecting the sea lions, because fishing would be limited within Steller sea lion critical habitat.

The multi-million dollar fishery is important to the economies of several Aleutian communities, as well as the seafood industry. Annual harvests are limited by the total allowable catch levels set each December by the North Pacific council.

Oceanic senior scientist and campaign manager Jon Warrenchuk, in Juneau is critical of NOAA’s decision.

“The new rule reverses course on decades of science, government policy and court decisions,” Warrenchuck said.

“We had hoped that the Fisheries Service would show the leadership needed to find long term and sustainable solutions to management in the Aleutians,” he said.

“Instead of giving protection measures a chance to work, the Fisheries Service has opened the floodgates. This new rule will allow factory trawlers to take millions of fish away from the areas where Steller sea lions need to feed on them the most. “Their decision is inconsistent with decades of scientific analysis,” Warrenchuck said. “By finding the right balance in management, we could foster a healthy ocean that supports sustainable fishing and vibrant communities.” The final rule and related documents are at http://www.alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/.

Today's Catch: Changing of the Guard

By Chris Philips, Managing Editor

Although Alaska Senator Mark Begich had not conceded the election when this issue went to press, the Alaska Division of Elections had announced that Dan Sullivan had defeated Begich by a margin of absentee ballots that was too large to overcome. The Senator’s support, both at home and in Washington DC, of Alaska’s commercial fishing industry and fishing dependent coastal communities, won him the support and praise of his fishing constituents and endorsements by several commercial fishing groups including the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, United Fishermen of Alaska and the Purse Seine Vessel Owners Association.

His popularity among fishermen, who make up as much as a quarter of the state’s population, wasn’t enough to overcome his Senate voting record, which was considered too liberal for the conservative and libertarian majorities in Alaska. We hope Senator-elect Sullivan will recognize, as does Senator Begich, the vital role commercial fisheries play in the state’s success.

Senator Begich was instrumental in the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act and fought against Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing, seafood certification, seafood marketing and fisheries disaster funding. He was also a dependable opponent of genetically modified (GMO) salmon, and as chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Oceans Atmosphere, Fisheries and the Coast Guard, Begich filed an amendment to the 2012 Agriculture Appropriations bill, the Prevention of Escapement of Genetically Altered Salmon in the United States (PEGASUS) Act, that would ban the interstate commerce of GE fish, or ‘Frankenfish.’

Begich’s bill would make it unlawful to “ship, transport, offer for sale, sell, or purchase genetically altered salmon or other marine fish, or a product containing genetically altered salmon or other marine fish, in interstate or foreign commerce,” unless the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the US Fish and Wildlife Service complete a full environmental impact statement and find that it will result in no significant impact to the environment.

Currently, AquaBounty Technologies is in the final stages of the approval process by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) toward selling GE salmon for commercial consumption. The proposed process would splice genetic material from the Chinook (King) salmon with that of a pout fish and Atlantic salmon. According to AquaBounty, the resulting organism would grow to the size of an Alaskan King salmon in a shorter period of time than found in nature.

While the PEGASUS Act makes its way slowly through Congress (currently before the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation), a recent story out of Panama reveals that AquaBounty has been operating in violation of environmental regulations as it experiments with genetically engineered (GE) salmon in that country.

Regulators in Panama found AquaBounty out of compliance with several environmental safety rules and regulations, including failing to secure legally required permits related to water use and water discharge prior to beginning operations. The ruling carries a $9,500 penalty, near the $10,000 maximum penalty allowable.

We’re sure Senator-elect Sullivan recognizes the importance of Alaska’s wild natural renewable resource to both the state and the country, and we hope he’ll take up Senator Begich’s fight for the health of the resource and the support of those who harvest it.

Chris Philips can be reached at: 206-284-8285 or email: editor@fishermensnews.com

Fisheries Stakeholders Offer Priorities
to Alaska’s Incoming Governor

A fisheries transition team for incoming Alaska Gov. Bill Walker has concluded that priorities for the new administration should include science before politics and conservation, plus a move back to localized fisheries.

There is a strong need to return ownership and participation in our fisheries to Alaska’s coastal communities, said Norm Van Vactor, who chaired the transitional fisheries committee. Van Vactor, a fisheries industry veteran, is the chief executive officer of the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp., in Dillingham.

The team of 25 people with commercial, sport, subsistence and science ties to Alaska’s fisheries began their discussions this past weekend “by leaving the allocation issue on the table and working on other stuff we could find resolution to,” Van Vactor said. The session worked well, said Van Vactor and Carol Ann Woody, an aquatic ecologist at the Center for Science in Public Participation of Anchorage, another member of the transition panel. Leaving the allocation issue at the door helped people focus on the larger state issues, Woody said.

The overarching message from the panel included a fish first clear policy, with science based management, and funding within the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for fisheries science. The panel supported reinstating the state’s coastal zone management program with an emphasis on habitat, and de facto water reservation for fish – a guarantee for in-stream flows, with a burden of proof on developers to show that their projects don’t harm fish.

The panel also supported planning of all new roads in a way that they will not restrict fish passage, because, noted Woody, roads can sometimes cause more problems than development projects.

The panel also supports increasing Alaska ownership of commercial fish permits, and increased ownership and meaningful participation by Alaska coastal residents, both by at least10 percent over the next five years. The team also fielded a number of ideas on how to finance these efforts and how to improve educational tools to make more young people aware of myriad opportunities in fisheries.

Recommendations from fisheries and other transition groups were being summarized to present to the Walker Administration, which takes office on Dec. 1.

Low Recruitment Prompts Sitka Sound Sac Roe Herring Cut

A preliminary guideline harvest level for Alaska’s 2015 Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery is down dramatically from the preliminary GHL posted for 2014, with very low numbers of age-3 recruit herring cited as a factor.

The preliminary GHL announced in late November was 8,712 tons, based on a 19.7 percent harvest rate of a forecast mature biomass of 44,237 tons. A year ago, the preliminary GHL announced for the 2014 season was 17,592 tons, based on a 20 percent harvest rate of a forecast biomass of 87,958 tons.

The forecast and GHL for the 2015 fishery are to be finalized using average weight-at-age from samples obtained in the winter test fishery, to be conducted in late January or early February 2015. The final forecast is to be announced in late February or early March.

ASF&G uses an age structured analysis model that uses a long time series of abundance and age composition data from department surveys conducted during and following the spring fishery. Herring abundance is estimated using aerial surveys designed to map the length of shoreline receiving spawn and dive surveys that estimate the density of eggs and the average width of the spawn. The department mapped 50 nautical miles of herring spawn in the Sitka Sound area during the spring of 2014, compared to the recent 10-year average of 60 nautical miles.

The estimated post-fishery spawning biomass in 2014 was 51,321 tons and the total sac roe harvest was 16,957 tons. An additional 121 tons were harvested in personal use and test fisheries for a total mature population biomass of 68,399 tons, which was below the 81,663 tons forecast. Samples of the spawning herring in 2014 resulted in an age composition of 1 percent ag-3; 39 percent age-4; 10 percent age -5; 5 percent age-6; 6 percent age-7 and 34 percent age-8 and older herring.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Bristol Bay Sockeye Salmon Forecast is Nearly
54 Million Fish

Biologists with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game are forecasting a run of 53.98 million sockeye salmon into Bristol Bay in 2015, with a harvest of 38.51 million salmon in Bristol Bay and 2 million reds in the South Peninsula.

That would be 40 percent above the previous 10-year mean of total runs and 51 percent greater than the long-term mean of 32.43 percent, biologists said. All systems are expected to meet their spawning escapements.

The largest sockeye salmon run on record for Bristol Bay since 1963 was 67 million sockeyes in 1980, but the harvest that year was only 27,187,880 fish. The lowest run on record since 1963 was 3.5 million reds in 1973, with harvesters delivering to processors only 1.6 million fish. The largest harvest on record was 46 million sockeyes in 1995, from a run of 63 million salmon.

This past year a run of 41.4 million salmon produced a harvest of 29.4 million fish. That compared with a harvest of 32.6 million sockeyes in 2007, from a run of 46.3 million reds.

It’s also looking like a good year ahead for pink salmon in Southeast Alaska, where ADF&G biologists are predicting an estimate of 58 million humpies. State biologists said forecasting the 2015 pink salmon harvest was made exceptionally challenging by the unprecedented harvest of 95 million pink salmon in the parent year of 2013. That harvest was nearly 20 million fish higher than any other pink salmon harvest since commercial fisheries began in Southeast Alaska in the late 1800s.

The 2015 harvest forecast of 58 million pink salmon in Southeast Alaska is well above the recent 10-year average harvest of 41 million humpies, and a harvest of that magnitude would be in the top ten harvests since 1960, biologists said.

Miners Indicted for Illegal Discharges into Southwest Alaska Salmon Stream

A federal grand jury in Anchorage has indicted XS Platinum Inc. and five corporate officials on felony violations, including conspiracy to violate the Clean Water Act, by discharging mine wastes into the Salmon River in Southwest Alaska.

The indictment handed down on Nov. 18 in Anchorage said that beginning in 2010 and continuing through 2011, XS Platinum and the individual defendants knowingly discharged industrial wastewaters from the mechanical placer mining operation at Platinum Creek Mine into the adjacent Salmon River, in violation of XS Platinum’s Clean Water Act general permit.

The Salmon River is an anadromous fish stream important for spawning for chinook, chum, coho, pink and sockeye salmon and the rearing of coho and sockeye salmon. After flowing through BLM land, the Salmon River crosses the Togiak National Wildlife Refuge before entering the Pacific Ocean at Kuskokwim Bay.

According to the indictment, the miners told federal regulators, and said in their permit applications that all wastewater would be recycled, resulting in zero discharge of mine wastewater into the Salmon River.

The indictment alleges that the Delaware based corporation and the five defendants conspired to violate the Clean Water Act by concealing the 2010 and 2011 mine wastewater discharge violations from federal officials, and submitting material false statements to federal agencies.

XS Platinum held 159 placer mining claims and 36 hard rock claims totaling more than 4,000 acres at the Platinum Creek Mine, which is situated along the Salmon River and its tributaries. The mine contains placer deposits of platinum metal, along with smaller amounts of gold and palladium. All but 21 of the claims were on land managed by the federal Bureau of Land Management, with the remaining undeveloped claims within the Togiak National Wildlife Refuge.

The indictment further alleges that the industrial wastewaters discharged from the Platinum Creek Mine included large amounts of sediment, turbidity and toxic metals, that these discharges exceeded general permit limits for those pollutants and that the defendants failed to report the violations as required.

US Attorney for Alaska Karen Loeffler and Sam Hirsch, acting assistant attorney general for the environment and natural resources division of the Department of Justice, released the indictment, which contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

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