Wednesday, June 12, 2019

NPFMC Jumps Into Pebble Mine Discussion, State Objects

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council is weighing into the debate over the proposed Pebble mine in Southwest Alaska, prompting objections from the state of Alaska.

During its meeting in Sitka this past week the council reviewed a letter it plans to send to the US Army Corps of Engineers, noting that the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act calls for federal agencies to consider the potential impacts of developments on essential fish habitat, and to consult with NOAA Fisheries to identify actions to avoid or mitigate such impacts.

The council’s letter says that the council understands that the USACE is working with NOAA Fisheries to schedule the assessment of potential impacts to essential fish habitat, including cumulative impacts. The letter asks that the Corps schedule the assessment to coincide with a NPFMC meeting, and that the council’s December 2019 meeting would be an opportune time for the council to review and comment on that assessment.

Public radio journalist Robert Woolsey, news director of KCAW in Sitka, covered that session of the council meeting on June 5 and reported that Deputy Commissioner of Fish and Game Rachel Baker entered the state’s formal opposition to the letter. Baker argued that comments in the council’s letter went “beyond the scope of the council’s role and responsibilities.” The state, said Baker, “recommends the council maintain focus on priority management issues for fisheries in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands and the Gulf of Alaska.”

Wooley also noted that some harvesters attending the meeting used the opportunity of public testimony to support the council’s decision to comment on the proposed mine. Veteran Bering Sea crabber Cheston Clark said in testimony that he is concerned about the proposed mine, particularly the unknown impact “if – or more likely when – a catastrophic mine tailing dam fails.”

Molly Blakey, a partner with her husband Ben in Northline Seafoods in Sitka, said she read the council’s draft letter and hopes it is sent. “Our livelihood, she told the council, “is processing Bristol Bay sockeye salmon.”

The council took no immediate action on the letter.

New Vessel Registration Issues Spark Confusion

With the commercial salmon season already under way in Alaska many vessel owners are suddenly finding out about a new law effective on January 1, 2019 requiring them to register their vessels with the state Department of Motor vehicles. Under Senate Bill 92, the Derelict Vessel Act, passed by the Alaska Legislature in 2018, fishing vessels are required to comply with the law even if they are documented vessels, for a $24 fee good for three years.

According to an email notice received by members of the Southeast Alaska Fishermen’s Alliance, a non-profit multi-gear commercial fishing organization, the law applies to all boats not specifically exempted, including documented boats, barges, sport fishing guide boats and fishing tenders operated more than 90 consecutive days in Alaska.

The alert of the requirement for vessel registration came from Frances Leach, executive director of United Fishermen of Alaska, who said UFA has been tracking this bill and was told the intent was not to create more hurdles or fees for commercial fishermen.

“However, now that the bill is law, there seems to be several interpretations of this law and Department of Motor Vehicles, Alaska State Troopers and the Department of Administration are not on the same page regarding interpretation and enforcement,” Leach told UFA members. “Making matters worse, there was little to no public notice that vessels would be required to register with the DMV.”

Leach said she spoke with the Alaska Association of Harbormasters and Port Administrators who initiated the bill, and they agree that Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission registration would be sufficient and fulfill their needs, but, she added, “we still need to get everyone on the same page.”

While registration is required, Leach said that Alaska Wildlife Troopers Major Bernard Chastain said his department’s main objective this year will be to educate first and enforce second.

Leach said she also spoke with Alaska state Sen. Peter Micchiche, R-Soldotna, who told her he is hopeful legislation can be introduced next year to change the language in the law to include exemption for vessels registered through the CFEC.

Woodrow Named as ASMI’s New Executive Director

Jeremy Woodrow has taken the helm of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute as the new executive director of the public-private marketing arm for Alaska’s seafood industry.

The appointment of Woodrow, who has for months served as interim executive director and communications director, comes as ASMI embarks on an aggressive effort, aided by federal funding, to increase its presence in Southeast Asia markets and also seeks potential partners in reprocessing there.

“The ASMI board is proud to have a life-long Alaskan with close ties to Alaska’s fishing industry lead Alaska seafood’s global marketing efforts,” said Jack Schultheis, chairman of the ASMI board. “The Alaska seafood brand is as strong as ever and we are confident that Jeremy’s leadership will advance the direction and mission of the agency.”

ASMI has been successful in recent years in getting some $4.5 million annually from the US Department of Agriculture, and now, with the tariff battle heated up between the US and China, federal relief funds have been made available to the agricultural industries, including fisheries, to market seafood into overseas markets impacted by tariff issues.

To that end, ASMI has been allocated $5.5 million through the US Department of Agriculture’s agricultural trade promotion, over the next three years, Woodrow said.

The trade conflict with China and the US has exposed Alaska’s dependence on China markets and we need to increase our market presence in the world, he said. ASMI is working with Agrisource, in Bangkok, Thailand, a marketing representative for Southeast Asia, to find new markets and potential reprocessing options, he said.

ASMI is also expanding efforts for overseas marketing in South America, and its marketing representative in Brazil will now be looking for potential new markets and reprocessing options all over South America.

With this expanded effort, ASMI is also aware that labor standards have become a larger issue for fishing organizations, Woodrow said. In fact the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation has produced documents to show that on fishing vessels in Alaska crew are treated fairly.

“We have tackled sustainability and the next issue is human responsibility,” Woodrow said. “We will only engage with partners who can show they can meet global standards (for labor),” he said. “Our (overseas) representatives has worked with U.S. customers for over 30 years. “They are familiar with needing to meet the needs of U.S. customers. It is all part of that chain of custody, that we are upholding the moral and business obligations of customers,” he said. Customers now are more shopping with their ethos in addition to their wallet. It helps because Alaska seafood has a great story to tell and we have better labor practices than some other places in the world,” he said.

ALFA to be Honored With Conservation Award

The Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association is the 2019 recipient of the Alaska Conservation Foundation’s Lowell Thomas Jr. award for outstanding achievements by an organization furthering resource conservation.

The award recognizes ALFA for its fisheries conservation and management and for being an effective voice for sustainable, community-based fisheries at the national level. ALFA’s Fishery Conservation Network engages fishermen and scientists in collaborative research and marine stewardship, combining the problem-solving genius of fishermen with the rigors of science, the conservation foundation said in announcing the award on June 11.

The foundation also praised ALFA for amplifying the voice of small-scale fishermen to promote resource stewardship and growing international awareness of the role community-based fishermen play in durable triple-bottom line solutions to complex challenges. ALFA also is engaged in efforts including the Young Fishermen’s Initiative, educational workshops, a deckhand apprentice program, and through a partnership with the Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust, an innovative loan program. The award is named for the late Lowell Thomas Jr., an Alaska legislator and former lieutenant governor, and world renowned filmmaker who owned and operated an Alaska bush flying service that offered tours of Denali National Park.

The award is to be presented on October 3rd in ceremonies at the Anchorage Museum.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Copper River Sixth Opener Comes in Strong

Preliminary harvest figures for the sixth opener on Alaska’s Copper River salmon fishery were still being calculated this morning, while fishermen were calling the catch “a very welcome relief for the fleet”.

“It appears to be a larger run than predicted,” said gillnet harvester John Renner of Cordova, Alaska, who estimated the weight of some sockeyes at 10 pounds. “The fish are also large and healthy. They are spread out across the flats offshore and onshore,” he said.

According to Renner, sockeyes were filling most nets, while the Chinook salmon run appeared moderate.

While he finally saved a sockeye to taste, Renner hasn’t had a bite of a king yet. “The kings are just worth too much money,” said the veteran harvester who toughed it out last year when the commercial fishery on the Copper River ended after three periods. “With the tight season last year, every fish is appreciated,” he said. “We needed a little shot in the arm, and this is an opportunity to pay off some bills.”

The weather was cooperating too. Up until this last opener the weather had been quite crappy. “Last period it was very benign. Very nice,” he commented.

While retail prices in Anchorage shops have remained relatively steady for Copper River salmon – while dropping by several dollars a pound at Seattle’s Pike Place Fish Market—processors have lowered their prices to harvesters. Renner said sixth opener prices were $3 a pound for reds and $7 a pound for kings, down considerably from first opener prices on May 16 of $14 a pound for sockeyes and $18 a pound for kings.

Anchorage area retail prices for Copper River sockeye fillets as of June 4 ranged from $13.99 a pound at Costco stores, down a dollar from the previous week, to $41.99 a pound at New Sagaya’s fish counter. Signs at Fred Meyer supermarkets in Anchorage had those sockeye fillets at $16.99 a pound, a drop from the week’s regular price of $39.99 a pound.

Crab Tagging Project Set for Bristol Bay Red King Crab

NOAA Fisheries is teaming up with the Bering Sea Fisheries Research Foundation to track the movement of adult male red king crabs in Bristol Bay using an unmanned surface drone made by Saildrone, Inc.

NOAA researchers hope their findings will provide information crucial to keeping red king crab sustainable as climate changes. The research will focus on finding out what habitats are essential for Bristol Bay red king crab in different seasons and whether current protected areas are effective.

The federal fisheries scientists planned to work with harvesters in June to tag crabs with acoustic devices that transmit an identification number and a bottom temperature. Tagging is timed right after the NOAA Fisheries summer survey, so researchers will be able to target the areas where crabs are most abundant.

The research will also look at temperature information transmitted by each tag to determine how it influences crab movement. Researchers will also compare crab locations with sediment maps to identify characteristics of essential habitat.

The plan is to deploy a saildrone equipped with an acoustic receiver in October 2019 and in April 2020 to relocate the tagged crabs.

“So little is known about where crabs are and how they move,” said Scott Goodman, executive director of Bering Sea Fisheries Research Foundation (BSFRF) and president of Natural Resources Consultants, Inc. “We have only snapshots from summer surveys. This research will fill in the life history gaps to better inform the management of red king crab as both target and bycatch.”

“Managers need to understand where crabs go in different seasons, and what habitats are essential, to set effective rules for fishing,” said Leah Zacher, the NOAA Fisheries scientist leading the project. “Everyone benefits from increasing our knowledge of crab distributions.”

“We know where crabs are in the summer from annual NOAA Fisheries surveys, but there is little information for the rest of the year,” Zacher added. “We will relocate the crabs in the fall to understand how crabs move onto the fishing grounds, and in the spring to determine their locations when they are vulnerable to being caught as bycatch in trawl fisheries.The red king crab savings area is closed to trawling to provide a protected habitat, but the area was initially set based on limited information, and managers need to know if and when red king crabs are moving through and using those areas to know if they are effective.”

The Alaska Fisheries Science Center planned to begin posting field reports in June on the AFSC Science Blog as researchers begin tagging crabs.

Since 2005, the BSFRF has participated and led cooperative research with industry, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and the National Marine Fisheries Service, to improve the science used in Bering Sea crab fisheries management. More than 95 percent of BSFRF funding comes from private industry supplemented occasionally with grants. The BSFRF is funding the saildrone used to track the tagged crab for this project.

Southeast Asia Marketing Program Announced by ASMI

A dedicated Southeast Asia marketing program for wild Alaska seafood, fueled by a supplemental $5.5 million grant over the next three years, was announced on June 3 by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI).

The grant was awarded to ASMI through the US Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agriculture Service’s Agricultural Trade Promotion program and designed to help ease adverse effects of tariff and non-tariff barriers on domestic agricultural exporters.

“The funds make a year-round marketing program in Southeast Asia a possibility,” ASMI officials said. ASMI previously promoted wild Alaska seafood in the region on a project only basis.

Grant funds will enhance existing programs for key markets in Japan, China, Europe and South America. The Southeast Asia program itself will focus on Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines. The initial emphasis will be on building trade relationships and providing technical support and education across the food service, retail and reprocessing sectors.

AgriSource International Ltd., with offices in Bangkok and representatives throughout the region, was selected to serve as the overseas marketing representative for the program.

ASMI officials said the expansion into Southeast Asia was prompted by strong interest from the Alaska seafood industry.

“Southeast Asia has great potential for Alaska seafood because of the fewer import barriers than other emerging markets,” said Ron Risher, international sales manager for Icicle Seafoods. “The domestic markets in Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia have potential for growth in food service and e-commerce. Perhaps the greatest opportunity is in working with local seafood secondary processors for Alaska salmon and whitefish and providing quality handling education for distribution to restaurants and retailers,” he added.

ASMI is a public-private partnership of the state of Alaska and the Alaska seafood industry whose aim is to foster economic development of this renewable natural resource.

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