Wednesday, August 14, 2019

World Salmon Forum in Seattle

Scientists, wild fish advocates and others will participate in the first-ever World Salmon Forum in Seattle Aug. 21-23, to share and discuss the challenges of current fisheries practices they say are devastating wild salmon populations.

According to event organizer Bruce McNae, there is a narrow window of opportunity left to find and implement science-based solutions to the wild salmon crisis, which will be the focus of the three-day gathering.

Forum advisor and veteran fisheries biologist Jim Lichatowich said that since 1991, 16 distinctive wild salmon populations have been listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act in Washington State alone. Despite billions of federal dollars having been spent for wild salmon recovery on the Columbia River over the past 25 years, the wild salmon stocks continue to decline.

One of the goals of the forum roundtable is to evaluate what they see as the indiscriminate harvesting of salmon in a mixed stock, open ocean environment. This could allow salmon to return to their rivers of origin. At that point, selective harvest of hatchery fish could take place while allowing the wild salmon to continue upriver to spawn and rebuild their numbers.

Forum organizers hope the event and their website will serve as a conduit and resource tool to bring together wild salmon conservation groups from around the world to advise each other on the policies and measures that provide for the survival of these fish.

During the conference, they plan to explore the place-based nature of functioning ecosystems through the lens of nationality, culture, and experience with the understanding that functioning ecosystems transcend political and economic boundaries.

The event will culminate with a roundtable discussion where each participating organization will offer strategies that have and didn’t worked in their regions in an effort to expand the collective knowledge of the group.

Alaska’s Salmon Harvest Passes 124 Million

Deliveries of wild salmon to Alaska processors now tops 124 million fish. This represents nearly 20 million pink salmon more than the past week.

The latest preliminary salmon harvest report from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game puts the catch at 58,194,000 humpies, 53,907,000 sockeyes, 11,266,000 chum, 1,110,000 silver and 217,000 Chinook salmon. Productive fishing for red salmon is continuing at Kodiak, Cook Inlet, and the Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian Islands.

Fisheries economist Garrett Evridge, of the McDowell Group, notes that at this point in the season sockeyes and pink salmon each account for about 45 percent of the total. The statewide sockeye harvest is on track to be the fourth largest on record, while other species are lagging.

The year-to-date pink salmon harvest is about one third lower than year-to-date 2017. Roughly 112 million humpies had been harvested at this point in the 2015 season, and the 2013 year-to-date harvest accounted for 148 million humpies. Most areas are well behind the 2017 harvest pace with Kodiak being the exception.

At Cordova they’re hoping for rain – lots of it – in dry creek beds, so the humpies can start moving up into their natal streams at a faster pace. Right now, a lot of the pinks are holding at the mouth of these streams waiting. “What we really need is once it starts raining for it to not stop,” said Charlie Russell, seiner area management biologist for ADF&G at Cordova.

“It’s stressful for the salmon, whose biological clocks have them set to spawn at this time of the year, but they are pretty resilient, and hopefully enough of them will hold on until it rains,” he said.

Enough humpies have gotten upstream to allow the commercial pink salmon fishery to resume earlier this week and now there is hope for a consistent fishery moving forward, he explained.

The keta salmon harvest continues to lag behind the 2018 numbers by approximately 20 percent with weaknesses in most areas overcoming the strong volume posted in Prince William Sound.

Coho production is about a third lower than 2018 and roughly half of the five-year average. The Chinook harvest is nine percent lower than the year-to-date 2018 volume.

NOAA Recommends Five Pacific Northwest Projects for Funding

Five Pacific Northwest projects that would improve wild salmon habitat have been recommended for funding through NOAA’s community-based restoration program coastal and marine habitat restoration grants.

America Rivers will receive $651,038 in the first of the three years project to remove a diversion dam and restore the river channel in Washington’s Middle Fork Nooksack River, aiding recovery of Chinook salmon, steelhead trout and coho salmon, and the southern resident killer whale.

Also a first year recipient, Rogue Basin Partnership will receive $341,000 to remove barriers to fish migration across the Rogue River basin in Oregon, increasing habitat for southern Oregon and northern California coho salmon listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. This is a three years project.

A grant of $449,608 over two years to the Columbia River Estuary study task force will restore two sites in Cathlamet Bay, Oregon, as part of a larger, ecosystem-based effort to address factors limiting the recovery of salmon in the Columbia River. Restoration will improve the quality of and access to habitat for Chinook, chum, coho, steelhead, and sockeye salmon.

The Wild Salmon Center will promote recovery of southern Oregon/northern California coho salmon and Oregon coast cohos – both listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act – through new and ongoing restoration projects in three watersheds on the Oregon coast. NOAA’s funding include a first-year award of $646,619 and the third installment of a three-year grant of $767,150.

In addition, Trout Unlimited will use a $908,112 first-year grant to restore access to over 15 miles of habitat for migratory fish by removing six barriers in the Tillamook and Nestucca watersheds.

According to NOAA officials, restoring natural stream processes and fish migration will benefit Oregon coast coho salmon, Chinook and chum salmon, steelhead and cutthroat trout and several lamprey species.

ASMI Names Two New Directors

Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) has announced the appointment of Megan Rider as domestic marketing director and Ashley Heimbigner as communications director.

Rider joined ASMI in 2013 to work on the entity’s international program. In November 2018, she was named interim director of the domestic marketing program, which develops Alaska seafood promotions with foodservice and retail partners across the United States. Before that, she worked in the office of former Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell and for a lobbying firm.

Heimbigner began working at ASMI in January 2018 as an international marketing specialist. Beforehand, she worked as the tourism and sales manager at Visit Anchorage and served as communications manager for Alaskan Brewing Co. in Juneau, Alaska. Heimbigner fills the vacancy left by Jeremy Woodrow who became the executive director of ASMI in June.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Commercial Salmon Catch Rises to 103.6M

With the sockeye season slowed, and the humpy harvest near its peak in early August, preliminary commercial fishery catch data showed the overall commercial harvest of wild Alaska salmon at 103.6 million fish and growing.

As of Aug. 6, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s preliminary harvest blue sheet noted the harvest of 52,968,000 red, 39,553,000 pink, 10,118,000 chum, 798,000 coho and 211,000 Chinook salmon. The pink salmon harvest year-to-date is one third lower than year-to-date 2017. Now based on historical data, Alaska is unlikely to produce the 25 million fish per week needed to reach the 138 million fish forecast by the end of the season, says Garrett Evridge, a fisheries economist with the McDowell Group. Humpy production slowed statewide last week in most areas, with Prince William Sound and Southeast well behind the recent odd-year pace, Evridge said. If Kodiak can match 2017’s production through the end of the season, that area is on track to meet its forecast of 27 million fish, he said. Prince William Sound and Southeast are 47 and 73 percent behind the YTD 2017 harvest, respectively.

Unseasonably warm water and drought conditions are to blame in Prince William Sound for the slow humpy harvest, says Charlie Russell, seine area management biologist for ADF&G in Cordova. Openers on wild stock pinks were halted on June 20 due to a lack of sufficient escapements of pinks into area streams, a big concern for management biologists. This week would typically be the peak of the wild pink run in the Sound.

Alaska’s overall year-to-date harvest figures meanwhile showed the red salmon catch up 10 percent, while silvers were about one third behind and ketas were 20 percent behind, he said.

The sockeye harvest is supported by landings of over 43 million reds in Bristol Bay, 3.5 million fish in the Alaska Peninsula, 2.5 million fish in Prince William Sound, and 1.5 million fish in the Kodiak area.

The keta harvest included nearly 5 million fish in Prince William Sound, 2 million fish in the Southeast Region and 1.4 million for all of the Westward Region. With about a month and a half left in the keta season, the harvest of 10 million fish is 20 percent behind YTD 2018. Evridge noted that harvesting will have to rise significantly to meet the forecast of 29 million keta. While Prince William Sound has already exceeded its forecast, nearly all other areas in Alaska are below expectation of keta by 75 percent, early all other areas in Alaska are below expectations for the species.

On the Lower Yukon River, famed for its oil-rich keta salmon, small boat harvesters had delivered 276,000 chum salmon, and the catch for the Kotzebue area had reached 135,000 fish.

Evridge also noted that while coho volume is about half of the five-year average at this point in the season, at least eight weeks of harvest remain.

Transboundary Watersheds Roundtable Held in Juneau

A roundtable discussion on transboundary watershed issues convened in Juneau on Monday, Aug. 5, to educate new members of the International Joint Commission about Alaska’s transboundary, salmon-rich watersheds.

The IJC, guided by the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909, is tasked with investigating transboundary issues and recommending solutions for the United States and Canada. The roundtable included representatives of federal and state agencies, commercial fisheries, miners and Alaska legislators. It is the latest effort of Alaska’s congressional delegation get the federal governments of the U.S. and Canada to agree on a meeting of the IJC for a broad review of the cumulative impacts of more than a dozen large-scale open- pit mine projects that British Columbia is pursuing on transboundary waterways flowing downstream into Southeast Alaska’s Inside Passage.

The session was convened by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who noted that Alaska’s congressional delegation has been pushing the State Department for more than seven years to engage with their Canadian counterparts on transboundary watershed issues. “The more people we can educate on this issue, the better -especially those serving at high levels in our government,” she said. Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, also participated.

Murkowski’s primary concerns include having a management framework in place to ensure that mines near transboundary rivers are permitted in a way that consider cumulative impacts of these mines on the watersheds, that there is proper oversight for the mines and that they are sufficiently bonded to cover cleanup and remediation at the end of their lifespan.

Jill Weitz, director of Salmon Beyond Borders in Juneau, said that contamination of shared transboundary rivers is an international problem requiring an international solution, and she was gratified that commissioners of the IJC were finally hearing Alaskans’ concerns. “It’s a diplomatic process that requires a lot of negotiations between the two governments and I think there is a case building for the IJC to convene on this issue,” she said. “We are still not there, but this is an important first step in engaging the IJC.”

Coast Guard Bill Includes Seattle Icebreakers

Coast Guard reauthorization legislation headed for the Senate floor in August contains a number of provisions for six new icebreakers, to protect the environment, and also ensure that Coast Guard members are paid in the event of a government shutdown.

The legislation specifically authorizes three new heavy icebreakers to be homeported in Seattle, plus, for the first time, three new medium icebreakers.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, a ranking member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, hailed the legislation as “a giant step forward in recognizing that we are an Arctic nation and we plan to participate in the Northwest Passage.”

Cantwell cited the “proud maritime heritage” of Washington state, with the Coast Guard as an integral part of the community. “If we want ships to pass through the Arctic as other countries do – because it is a cheaper, faster way from Asia to Europe – and we want to have access to that in an untold way, and we want fishing and environmental issues to be addressed, we too need to recognize that we need an icebreaking fleet,” she said.

The legislation approved by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation on July 31 also codifies a number of recommendations by the National Transportation Safety Board to reduce the risk of vessel casualties and oil spills and improve vessel traffic safety.

It requires the federal research plan to improve oil spill prevention and response to be updated every 10 years, with mandatory feedback from the National Academy of Sciences to ensure the most up-to-date science is being applied to protect our waters from oil spills.

It also requires research and technology evaluations for all classes of oil, including heavy oils, to ensure the Coast Guard and other agencies have the knowledge and technology needed to clean up tar sands oil.

In support of Coast Guard families, the legislation requires the Coast Guard to create a public strategy to improve leadership development and improve the culture of inclusion and diversity in the Coast Guard, and to create programs and resources to improve access to child care for Coast Guard families.

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