Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Alaska Legislators Consider Special Day to Celebrate Salmon

Alaska Rep. Bryce Edgmon, a Democrat from Dillingham, has asked fellow legislators to honor the state’s beloved wild salmon with a day of its own, Alaska Wild Salmon Day, to be celebrated every Aug. 10.

“No other of our fish plays such a prevalent role in our lives, and arguably, no other is as nourishing and appetizing,” said Edgmon, in his sponsor statement for House Bill 128. “According to a survey conducted during the summer of 2011, 96 percent of Alaskans feel that salmon is essential to their way of life.”

Edgmon noted that subsistence fishing for salmon has sustained Alaska Natives for thousands of years, that recreational fishing for salmon is a lifelong pursuit for urban and rural residents alike, and that commercial salmon fishing has been a mainstay industry in Alaska for well over a century.

“Establishing Aug. 10 as Alaska Wild Salmon Day will encourage celebrations of these Alaskan ways of life, pastimes, and professions,” he said.

House Bill 128 sailed through the House on unanimous consent and in the second week of April was awaiting a hearing in the Senate State Affairs Committee.

The bill, as written by Edgmon, would “celebrate the enormous bounty that wild king, sockeye, coho, chum and pink salmon bring to the state every year.”

The measure calls for educational and celebratory events, projects and activities to honor wild salmon.

“In addition to Wild Salmon Day being a great opportunity for Alaskans to celebrate these iconic fish, it will also provide fun and nutritious marketing opportunities, Edgmon said. “Members of the Alaska tourism industry are eager to make salmon lovers of visitors to the state, and Alaska Airlines officials have talked about using their “Salmon Thirty Salmon” jet to mark the special day.”

As Fishery Nears, Salmon Processors Face Certification Issues

On the eve of what is forecasted to be a very robust wild Alaska salmon harvest, sustainable certification issues, plus a substantial inventory of unsold canned and frozen 2014 salmon, have many processors scrambling to meet market certification demands.

Several years after major processors of wild Alaska seafood opted to switch from the Marine Stewardship Council’s sustainable seafood certification program to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Association’s Responsible Fisheries Management certification program, those processors are seeing an economic need to now engage in both certification programs, but getting back into the MSC fold could be a problem.

Add to that concern the current strength of the dollar over the euro, the yen and the ruble, which reduces the buying power of European and Japanese buyers, and the selling power of sockeye salmon buyers in Russia.

One Alaska processor, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a European client who had been buying headed and gutted chum salmon at $2 a pound said with the current value of the euro to the dollar he would have to pay $1.20 a pound for the same value.

That said, most major European buyers have been so successful over the years in selling MSC’s promise of certifying only sustainable fisheries that now they want to offer their customers only MSC certified products.

When most of those major processors opted out of MSC, Silver Bay Seafoods resisted, and now, as the existing client group, gets to decide whether to let the others back into their group. Negotiations are under way to determine if the client group and applicant companies can work this out.

Stefanie Moreland, director of government relations and seafood sustainability for Trident Seafoods, said that the companies seeking to join the current MSC Alaska salmon client group also asked that the client provide opportunity for any other interested Alaska salmon producer to join. Each producer or direct marketer will need to make their own decision on whether there is value in joining the client group and establishing chain of custody certification for use of the MSC program, she said.

Also, not all European markets are the same, said Moreland, speaking on behalf of Trident, Ocean Beauty, Peter Pan, Icicle, Alaska General Seafoods, Leader Creek and North Pacific Seafoods, Triad Fisheries, KwikPak Fisheries and Yukon Gold.

“For some customers, Alaska salmon meets their objective-based sustainability policies. Others require third-party certification and are satisfied by use of the MSC program or the Alaska RFM program, she said.

Of those some customers demand use of the MSC label, and yes, there is a fee associated with that. Others just require MSC certified product without use of the MSC label. Some customers have found the MSC label to be a distraction from their own, while others promote it, she said.

Pot Longline Gear Approved for Gulf of Alaska Sablefish IFQ Fishery

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council has approved the use of pot gear in sablefish individual fishing quota fishery in the Gulf of Alaska. Final action reached at the council’s meeting on April 12 includes provisions for identifying tags on the pots, retention of halibut caught incidentally and a review of the effects of this fishery three years after implementation.

The council’s action still faces a lengthy regulatory process and is not likely to go into effect until 2017, said Glenn Merrill, head of NOAA Fisheries’ Alaska Region division of sustainable fisheries.

Merrill also noted that the International Pacific Halibut Commission would have to change its regulations to allow halibut to be retained by vessels using pot gear.

That action had support from United Fishermen’s Marketing Association at Kodiak, the North Pacific Fisheries Association, in Homer, Alaska, and the Petersburg Vessel Owners Association, but opposed by the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association at Sitka.

Jeff Stephan, manager of UFMA, told the council that without the introduction of pots into the sablefish fishery in the Gulf an expanding whale population would continue to feed off of longline gear.

Megan O’Neil, executive director of PVOA, said their nearly 100 members supported the legalizing of pots to fish for sablefish throughout the Gulf.

But Jeff Farvour, of Sitka, who trolls for salmon and halibut, urged the council not to allow pot fishing for sablefish in the Gulf until effective, enforceable mitigation measures could be identified to protect the longline sablefish fleet from the impact of sablefish pots, which were banned in the Gulf in the 1980s. “The most effective way to do this is not allow pots to fish in the same area as longline,” Farvour said. Linda Behnken, executive director of ALFA, told the council that the introduction of pots to the Gulf sablefish fishery has the potential to create significant gear conflicts and grounds preemption with vessels that continue to target sablefish with hook and line gear.

Twice as many boats fish black cod in Southeast Alaska than in the western Gulf, she told the council.

“Given that most small boats cannot convert to pots for safety, logistic or economic reasons, the impacts will be borne by the small boat fleet,” Behnken said.

“It is clear that the introduction of pots to the Southeast sablefish fishery will drive quota share consolidation and likely eliminate small boats from this historically important fishery.”

Copies of all written testimony on this issue online at

NPFMC Reduces King Salmon Bycatch Limit

Federal fisheries managers have reduced the allowable incidental catch of Chinook salmon in the Bering Sea pollock fishery, in a policy change aimed at boosting returns of kings to western Alaska rivers.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s approval of the action on April 11, at its spring meeting in Anchorage, would reduce the prohibited species catch limit of kings to 45,000 fish and the performance standard limit to 33,318 fish in years of low Chinook salmon abundance.

The council’s decision still must proceed through the federal regulatory process, and is not likely to be activated before 2017, according to Glenn Merrill, head of NOAA Fisheries’ Alaska Region division of sustainable fisheries.

The Bering Sea salmon bycatch motion introduced by Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten also included revising regulations to incorporate chum salmon avoidance into the Amendment 91 incentive plan agreements. That would include a requirement that the IPAs include, among other details a rolling hot spot program for salmon bycatch avoidance and an agreement to provide notifications of closure areas and any violations of the rolling hot spot program to at least one third party organization representing western Alaskans who depend on salmon and do not directly fish in a groundfish fishery.

The council’s action came on the heels of letters from fishing and tribal entities representing 118 Alaskan communities, who told the council of the severe socio-economic and cultural impact that depleted salmon runs have had on them.

While spokespersons for the pollock fleet have said repeatedly that they are taking all steps possible to keep salmon bycatch low, tribal and fishery groups in Western Alaska told the council that was not enough.

“There is a trust responsibility here,” said Sky Starkey, an attorney for the Tanana Chiefs Conference, a trust responsibility of NOAA to assure that Alaska Natives are able to harvest enough fish to preserve their way of life.

“The state successfully persuaded the council to reduce bycatch by about 30 percent, “ said Duncan Fields, a council member from Kodiak. “Now it wasn’t as far as we would have liked to have gone, but the fact that this occurred is a huge win for the state.”

The council’s action adopts abundance indices that trigger the imposition of these revised incentive caps and hard caps. Based on salmon abundance in the Unalakleet, Upper Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers, as determined by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, they would be implemented.

“This is significant,” he said. “This is a large policy change, a large expansion of the council’s involvement in protecting chum resources, and will prove significant over time in terms of the chum savings for western Alaska fisheries.”

Copies of all written testimony on this issue is online at

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Chuitna River Listed as One of Nation’s Most Endangered Waterways

A salmon-rich river in Alaska’s Upper Cook Inlet that would be impacted by development of a proposed coal mine is now listed among the nation’s most endangered waterways.

The national non-profit conservation organization American Rivers on April 7 listed the Chuitna River, which flows from the base of the Alaska Range to Cook Inlet, as endangered by the coal strip mine that PacRim Coal, a Delaware –based corporation.

And on the heels of that announcement, the Chuitna Citizens Coalition delivered more than 4,800 comment cards to the Alaska Department of Natural Resources office in Anchorage in favor of keeping water as it is in the Chuitna River and its tributaries, to protect fish habitat. The river supports all five species of Pacific salmon, Dolly Varden and trout.

The proposed mine site lies 12 miles northwest of the Native village of Tyonek and 45 miles west of Anchorage.

Comments on whether the state should proceed with permitting the project or not are being accepted through 5 p.m. on April 9 and may be emailed to

PacRim Coal, which holds a state lease to thousands of acres of Alaska Mental Health LandTrust property, contends that the surface coal mine has the potential for recovery of an estimated 300 million tons of sub-bituminous ultra low sulfur coal. The company PacRim notes on its website that its investment in the project is expected to exceed $600 million, create up to 500 direct jobs during construction and up to 350 full time jobs during the operating life of the mine, plus some 1,200 indirect jobs. And, the company estimates, sale of the coal will generate production royalties to the Alaska Mental Health Land Trust of over $300 million.

Those numbers do not impress commercial fishermen like Terry Jorgensen, who setnets near the mouth of the Chuitna River. “Trading a renewable resource for coal is a short-sighted and dangerous precedent that threatens to put commercial fishermen statewide out of work,” Jorgensen said.

And, said Judy Heilman, president of the Chuitna Citizens Coalition, “to think of strip mining through the river and trading our Alaskan way of life to send coal to China brings tears to my eyes.”
A short video showcasing the river’s values is online at

Information on the proposed mine from PacRim’s perspective is at

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