Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Alaska Fisheries Board to Tackle Upper Cook Inlet Finfish Issues

There are 174 proposals on Upper Cook Inlet finfish issues that are up for consideration when the Alaska Board of Fisheries begins a 14-day public meeting in Anchorage tomorrow, Feb. 23. All portions of the meeting are open to the pubic and live audio stream is intended to be available at www.boardoffisheries.adfg.alaska.gov

In addition to submitting written public comments, the board invites oral public testimony during the meeting. The tentative deadline for signing up is 2 p.m. Feb. 24.

The agenda and meeting roadmap are online at http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=fisheriesboard.meetinginfo

In anticipation of a large number of participants in this meeting, the state’s Boards Support Section plans to hold a brief training session from 12:15 p.m. to 1:15 p.m. tomorrow in the main meeting area of the Anchorage Sheraton Hotel, to help participants better understand how the Board of Fisheries process works. Training matter will include how the board meeting structure works, how to get the most out of your maximum three minutes of public testimony, and things to consider when working with board members.

Topics before the board at this meeting range from proposals for changes in several salmon management plans and gillnet fisheries to area wide sport fisheries and habitat.

Proposal 134, for example, would amend the Kasilof River Salmon Management Plan to remove restrictions in the upper sub-district commercial set gillnet fisher and allow for regular weekly fishing periods through July 20, with additional fishing periods based on in-season abundance. That proposal from the Central Peninsula Fish and Game Advisory Committee contends that the current plan illegally restricts the commissioner’s emergency order authority and makes it impossible to manage the East Side set net fishery in a manner to meet the escapement goals and harvest the surplus.

SWAMC Summit on Fisheries Legislation, Values, Policies

Alaska fisheries legislation, values and policies will be in the spotlight during the annual summit meeting of the Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference on March 3 in Anchorage.

Conference attendees will get an update from legislators on a range of bills with potential impact on harvesters and coastal fishing communities, from motor fuel to state income taxes. Further updates on the state’s community development quota entities, which are allocated a percentage of groundfish quotas annually by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, are to be presented executives with the Aleut Pribilof Island Community Development Association and the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp.

Jan Jacobs of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation will talk about efforts to utilize the entire catch, and Trident Seafoods’ Stephanie Moreland will discuss the importance of embracing technology for the good of businesses and communities.

Also on tap for the conference is a discussion about fisheries policy for Alaska’s future, with Unalaska Mayor Frank Kelty, Ernie Weiss of Aleutians East Borough, Julie Bonney of the Alaska Groundfish Data Bank, and Kodiak harvester Theresa Peterson, recently named to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.

The conference opens on March 2, with presenters including Alaska Commissioner of Fish and Game Sam Cotten.

King, Tanner Crab on Alaska Board of Fisheries Agenda

Statewide king and tanner crab issues, except for Southeast Alaska and Yakutat, will come before the Alaska Board of Fisheries March 20-24 in Anchorage.

There are 38 proposals on the meeting roadmap, online at http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=fisheriesboard.meetinginfo. The meeting is open to the public and live audio stream is to be available via the board’s website, http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=fisheriesboard.meetinginfo

The board will consider two proposals for the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim, three for Kodiak and the South Peninsula, 12 proposals for the Bering Sea, three for the Aleutian Islands, two for Cook Inlet, and seven for Prince William Sound.

Among those seven Prince William Sound proposals is one from Cordova District Fishermen United to create a harvest strategy and amend regulations to allow for a commercial tanner crab fishery in that area.

CDFU states in its proposal that Prince William Sound is the only area in Alaska that has a stock assessment for tanner crab and no harvest strategy in regulation. Alaska Department of Fish and Game trawl surveys have documented an increase in tanner crab abundance, and a commercial tanner crab fishery could provide economic opportunity to local fishermen and communities, CDFU says in its proposal.

Given the state’s current fiscal crisis, more cuts are anticipated in ADF&G’s budget, which could result in more fishery surveys being eliminated. CDFU is concerned that if a harvest strategy is not adopted quickly, they risk the loss of a survey, and with that any hope for a commercial tanner crab fishery in Prince William Sound.

Pacific Cod Pot Gear Harvests Closed in Western GOA

Federal fisheries officials have issued a temporary rule putting a halt to the harvest of Pacific cod by vessels using pot gear in the western Gulf of Alaska.

The ruling, published on February 21 in the Federal Register, is effective through June 10.

NMFS determined that such action is necessary to prevent exceeding the A season allowance of this year’s Pacific cod total allowable catch allocated to pot gear in the western regulatory area of the Gulf.

NFMS manages the groundfish fishery in the Gulf’s exclusive economic zone under the fishery management plan for groundfish in the Gulf prepared by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. This year’s A season allocation for Pacific cod taken by vessels using pot gear in the western gulf was 4,854 metric tons.

Alaska Region of NMFS determined that the A season allowance for Pacific cod in the western gulf would be reached soon, and moved to establish a directed fishing allowance of 4,844 metric tons, setting aside the remaining 10 metric tons as bycatch to support other anticipated groundfish fisheries.

The Federal Register announcement notes that the acting assistant administrator for NOAA Fisheries found good cause to waive the requirement to provide prior notice, as it would have prevented NMFS from responding to the most recent harvest data in a timely fashion.

In Alaska’s Prince William Sound, meanwhile, the Pacific cod state waters fishery will open on Feb. 24, with a guideline harvest of 4,338,141 pounds, down from 4,841,902 pounds in 2016.

The GHL includes 15 percent, or 650,721 pounds for the combined pot and jig gear, and 85 percent, or 3.7 million pounds, for longline gear.

The Prince William Sound Area E parallel Pacific cod season closes at noon Feb. 23, coinciding with the National Marine Fisheries Service closure of the Pacific cod pot gear sector in the Central Gulf of Alaska.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

USDA Revises Salmon Purchase Requirements

The US Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service has issued revised supplemental eligibility requirements for salmon processors and processing facilities engaged in competitive bidding on USDA solicitations for seafood.

The supplement previously went out in draft form for industry comment was finalized in the second week of February.

USDA says that all such facilities must be US Department of Commerce/National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration seafood inspection approved establishments meeting all pertinent federal requirements applicable to processing fish and fishery products.

To meet the USDC/NOAA approved establishment requirements, they may participate in one of three USDC/NOAA inspection systems, including the HACCP (hazard analysis and critical control points) quality management program, the Integrated Quality Assurance Program or the Resident Inspector Program.

The HACCP quality management program requires firms to be subjected to unannounced systems audits on a quarterly frequency interval to substantiate overall compliance with all pertinent regulations and to meet quality requirements.

The Integrated quality Assurance Program is a reduced inspection service which requires that firms assume greater verification and documentation responsibility, with NOAA performing verification checks of the facility, its quality assurance system and product quality results.

The resident inspector program is a continuous inspection service with USDC inspection personnel present during all hours of production to fulfill USDA contracts.

Additional information about the AMS commodity purchase programs, including current specifications and technical documents is online at www.ams.usda.gov/selling-food.

NPFMC Considers Halibut IFQ Leases in Areas 4 BCD

Final action is scheduled in June on a regulatory amendment package that would allow community development quota groups to lease halibut individual quota shares in Areas 4 BCD in years of low halibut catch limits in those regulatory areas.

In effect this proposal before the North Pacific Fishery Management Council would allow CDQ groups to lease halibut IFQ for use by residents on vessels less than or equal to 51 feet length overall, subject to IFQ use regulations and the groups’ internal management.

The council established this action alternative as their preliminary preferred alternative, setting a threshold of a one million pound catch limit for Are 4B and a 1.5 million pound catch limit for Area 4CDE under which this flexibility would be available to the groups. The preliminary preferred alternative would also allow Area 4D IFQ that is leased to CDQ groups to be fished in Area 4E. The council added in the consideration of whether this harvest flexibility would also apply to A Class quota share in years where the catch limit is set lower than the threshold.

The action is intended to provide additional halibut harvesting opportunities for the CDQ communities in times of low halibut catch limits, with the intended beneficiaries being residents of communities that traditionally rely on halibut CDQ for employment and income. The council also added consideration of a reporting requirement in which CDQ groups using this flexibility would specify the criteria used to select IFQ holders leasing to a CDQ groups as well as the criteria used to determine who can receive leased IFQ.

Value of Pebble Deposit Questioned

A new report from a national investment firm with short shares in Northern Dynasty Minerals stock says that Northern Dynasty’s key asset, the Pebble mine deposit in Southwest Alaska, is not commercially viable.

The opinion from Kerrisdale Capital Management drew an immediate response from Northern Dynasty, in Vancouver, British Columbia, which said the company would issue a rebuttal by week’s end exposing the inaccuracies and outright misstatements in the Kerrisdale report.

The Pebble deposit of copper, gold and molybdenum, was discovered decades ago but has not been mined due to issues related to its location near the Bristol Bay watershed, home of the world’s largest run of wild sockeye salmon. Concerns from Alaska Natives in Southwest Alaska prompted efforts by the US Environmental Protection Agency to research whether development of the mine would adversely impact salmon habitat in the watershed, and conclude, after extensive testimony, that there was great potential for adverse impact.

Meanwhile the national law firm of Levi & Korsinsky LLP announced on Feb. 14 that it has commenced an investigation of Northern Dynasty Minerals concerning possible violations of federal securities laws. The law firm cited the Kerrisdale report, which notes that Northern Dynasty stock has risen in value since the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States, fueled by hopes that a more mining-friendly Environmental Protection Agency will allow the Pebble mine project to move forward. Trump’s promise to reduce environmental regulatory barriers fueled investor optimism about prospects for the Pebble project and since Trump’s election Northern Dynasty stock rose dramatically. The Kerrisdale report says such optimism is misplaced, that the stock is worthless.

Northern Dynasty disagrees, and says there are mining companies who are potential investors who are in due diligence on the project, which it describes as “one of the world’s largest undeveloped copper/gold deposits with a potential mine life which is measured in decades.

Those engaged in the fishing industry in Bristol Bay maintain that the best investment in the region is fisheries, which supports more than 14,000 jobs related to commercial and sport harvests.

The Kerrisdale report is online at http://seekingalpha.com/article/4045672-northern-dynasty-minerals-ltd-pebble-deposit-commercially-viable.

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