Wednesday, March 4, 2015

UFA Rallies to Defend Fisheries During State Budget Cuts

Falling oil prices are forcing Alaska’s government to make deep budget cuts in all state agencies, and state legislators this week are holding public hearings to gather testimony from Alaska residents on where to make those cuts.

To that end, United Fishermen of Alaska is urging its members to participate in person, by phone, or by email, in these House Finance Committee hearings.

In an email to its membership on March 3, UFA urged its members to contact legislators from their district about the importance of the budgets for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.

Tell them, the email read, “that the seafood industry creates economic opportunity for Alaskans. Deep budget cuts result in less time and area for harvest, and reduced ability to market Alaska’s seafood.”

UFA officials note that 72 percent of active commercial fishery permit holders are Alaska residents, and that the seafood industry is Alaska’s top private employer, with over 63,000 direct jobs annually. The estimated earnings of Alaska resident permit holders is $756.2 million. In fact, UFA officials said, one of every seven Alaska residents is employed by the seafood industry.

Budget reductions for ADF&G proposed by the department’s budget subcommittee, and similar numbers adopted by the House Finance Committee, said UFA, would allow the seafood industry to create economic opportunity to benefit the state.

ASMI’s budget lies within the budget of the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development. The proposed reduction to the ASMI budget from the House Finance Committee represents $2.88 million, or a 39 percent reduction in general funds. That, notes UFA, is a deeper cut than the 16 percent reduction proposed by Gov. Bill Walker.


UFA also asked its members to thank the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development budget subcommittee for fully restoring the governor’s cut to the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association.

BBRSDA Will Survey on Buyback Impact

Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association is conducting a postcard survey of its membership of drift gillnet permit holders in March to determine whether to proceed with a socioeconomic impact study on vessel buybacks.

The analysis would provide valuable additional information to the fleet as they consider proceeding with the buyback, the BBRSDA told members.

Sue Aspelund, executive director of the association, said the hope is that members will respond within two to three weeks.

Last November the BBRSDA organized a Pacific Marine Expo panel conference and member meeting to disseminate findings of a Bristol Bay Buyback Economic Report commissioned from Northern Economics Inc., an Anchorage based economic consulting firm.

That report provided objective economic information about the Bristol Bay salmon drift gillnet fishery, as well as projecting how different buyback scenarios and associated payback schedules might impact gross and net revenues. A copy of that report is online at www.bbrsda.com
The general sentiment expressed in public comments at the meeting was that the BBRSDA should continue collecting and disseminating information.


As noted at the meeting, the Northern Economics report did not address the socioeconomic information necessary to fully evaluate the potential outcomes and impacts of a buyback program in the Bristol Bay drift fishery. A second study would be required to get that information.

Alaska Music Festival Celebrating Salmon Set for July 31-August 2

Alaska’s summer music festival celebrating salmon and its habitat has a new name and new organizers, who say they plan to carry forward the campaign to protect Alaskan salmon and its habitat throughout the state.

The musical line-up for Salmonfest, set for July 31 through Aug. 2 at the Kenai Peninsula Fairgrounds in Ninilchik, already includes headliners Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell, and organizers say many more acts will be announced in the weeks ahead. Last year’s Salmonstock, the forerunner to Salmonfest, featured more than 60 bands, and attracted several thousand people.

The scope of Salmonfest, said festival producer/director Jim Stearns, will become an all encompassing salmon/fish/habitat oriented event that will focus on the unifying concepts that bind Alaskans together, rather than divide us. As Salmonfest evolves, the new organizers said, they want to emphasize and celebrate the connection of all Alaskans to the fish and the waters that provide this magnificent resource.

Salmonstock was created four years ago by the Renewable Resources Foundation, in Anchorage, in an effort to bring people together to learn more about the importance of salmon and salmon habitat, and to educate them on potential adverse affects of a massive copper, gold and molybdenum mine proposed at the headwaters of the Bristol Bay watershed. Along with numerous booths offering food, beverages, clothing and art, there are several booths offering conversation and literature on environmental issues related to salmon habitat, in opposition to the various proposed mining projects, including the Pebble mine.


Updated details on bands confirmed for Salmonfest will be posted at http://salmonfestalaska.org and at www.facebook.com/SalmonfestAlaska

Togiak Herring Biomass Forecast Above 10-Year Average

Alaska fishery area management biologists in Dillingham say the 2015 Togiak District herring biomass is forecast to be 163,480 tons, about 110 percent of the recent 10-year average.

The forecast issued in late February is based on an age-structured analysis model in use since 1993.

It shows so far that herring ages 4-6 are expected to comprise 17 percent of the projected biomass, ages -7 and -8 comprising 27 percent, ages 9-11 up to 50 percent, and the remaining 6 percent from fish ages 12 years and over.

The commercial fishery and spawn timing is largely related to water temperatures experienced by herring on the spawning grounds. Other factors related to timing include sea surface temperatures and sea ice trends across the southeastern Bering Sea in the weeks prior to spawning, biologists said.

The Bristol Bay herring management plan sets a maximum 20 percent exploitation rate for the Togiak District stock.

Based on a forecast of 163,480 tons, up to 32,696 tons of herring would be available for harvest this year.

Harvest allocation, in accordance with the management plan, would be 1,500 tons of spawn-on-kelp; 2,184 tons of Dutch Harbor food and bait; 29,012 tons of Togiak sac roe; 20,309 tons, or 70 percent, for the purse seine fishery, and 8,704 tons, or 30 percent, for the gillnet fishery.

Management strategy for the Togiak herring fishery is designed to provide for maximum sustained yield while affording the greatest economic benefit.

In 2015, sac roe fisheries will again be managed to maximize product quality through long openings while allowing permit holders to make smaller sets and harvest the highest quality fish, biologists said. Long openings also allow processors to have flexible control of harvest volume so that holding time between harvest and processing is optimal, they said.

Based on a preseason poll, processing capacity is expected to be about 2,200 tons per day, or a 15 percent decrease from the 2014 daily capacity of 2,600 tons per day.

The preseason poll also indicates that five processors will participate in the Togiak sac roe herring fishery with a fleet size of 10 gillnet and 16 purse seine vessels.

For the last decade, the fishery has opened as soon as threshold biomass has been documented and biologists anticipate using this strategy again in 2015 to maximize fishing time. Biologists also believe this strategy allows individual companies to maximize their processing capacity and decide what quality is suitable for their individual market.


Beginning in late April or early May, current fishery information will be available by calling the telephone recorder in Dillingham at 907-842-5226.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Nome Deep Water Port Study Takes a Step Forward

A proposed deep water port at Nome, Alaska, to support offshore oil and gas development, search and rescue and oil spill response, is still years away from construction, but for now, the federal government has a tentatively selected plan.

The next step, says Bruce Sexauer, chief of the civil works branch for the US Army Corps of Engineers in Anchorage, is to get as much comment on the tentatively selected plan as possible, during a public comment period that ends March 23.

The Corps is working with the National Marine Fisheries Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and state officials on matters that include water quality issues.

In discussions with the Coast Guard, the US Navy and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “Everyone is in favor of an Arctic port, but we don’t have a sense of yes or no for this particular plan,” Sexauer said on Feb. 24.

“It is most important to get the word out about this project and get input in, to see how folks feel about this and if we need to make adjustments.”

The plan under consideration would include demolition of the existing spur breakwater at the end of the causeway at the port of Nome, construction of a 2,150-foot causeway extension and 450-foot dock, and dredging of the newly created protected area and associated entrance channel to 28 feet, the Corps said. Costs for the project are currently estimated at $150 million.

Another $61 million in costs are estimated for construction of local service facilities. These would include docks, mooring dolphins, utilities and security gates.

Joy Baker, project manager for the Port of Nome, applauded the Corps’ progress to date, in its cooperative venture with the state of Alaska. “They have both done a very good job on getting it to this point,” Baker said. “We provided statistics on vessel traffic and commodities movement and they have done the economic feasibility, environmental and some early pre-engineers ideas on the project.”

The city will assist by getting cost proposals for other value engineering designs so everything is considered, to get the best price for work to be done, she said.

The Corps has posted the Alaska Deep-Draft Arctic Port System study online at http://www.poa.usace.army.mil/Library/ReportsandStudies/AlaskaRegionalPortsStudy.aspx. Comment on the draft report by email to AKRegPorts@usace.army.mil.

Gourmet Pet Snacks, Smoked Black Cod are Symphony of Seafood Favorites

Arctic Paws’ Yummy Chummies gourmet pet treats took the grand prize, while smoked black cod tips from Pickled Willys won three People’s Choice awards in the 2015 Alaska Symphony of Seafood galas held in Seattle, Juneau and Anchorage. Brett Gibson’s wild Alaska caught salmon, Pacific cod and halibut Yummy Chummies, are produced in Anchorage, are available in nearly two dozen varieties. They placed first in the Symphony’s new “Beyond the Plate” category for creative use of seafood byproducts, then captured the coveted grand prize.

Trident Seafoods’ Alaska Natural Wild Seafood Pet Treats took second place in “Beyond the Plate” competition, and Copper River Seafoods was third, with Wildcatch for Pets Alaska Wild caught Salmon Sticks.

The awards for the 2015 Symphony, which held gala soirees in all three cities, were announced Feb. 21 in Anchorage. Pickled Willys, owned by Bill Alwert in Kodiak, Alaska, also placed first in food service competition. Trident Seafoods’ Alaskan Whitefish Burger, took second place in food service. No third place prize was announced for food service.

First place in retail competition went to Copper River Seafoods for their Fisherman Favorites-Zesty Grill wild Alaska Cod Portions. C&H Classic smoked Fish, of Cathlamet, Washington, placed second with Applewood Smoked Alaska Wild King Salmon-Garlic Pepper; and third with their Applewood Smoked Salmon Candy.

Tilgner’s Ruby Red Sockeye Salmon Chips, by retired Cordova, Alaska physician Art Tilgner, swept the smoked fish competition. Tilgner’s also took second place with Ruby Red Sockeye Salmon Candy. C&H Classic Smoked Fish was third with Applewood Smoked Alaska Wild King salmon-original flavor.

The event is organized annually by the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation in Anchorage, with numerous sponsors from the seafood industry and related firms.

Major sponsors for the 2015 event, along with AFDF, were the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, United Fishermen of Alaska, Northwest Fisheries Association, At-Sea Processors Association, Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association, Marel, Marine Stewardship Council, UniSea, Trident Seafoods and Bowhead Transport.

BC Officials Vow to Hold Mining Companies to Regularly Scheduled Inspections

A spokesman for British Columbia’s Ministry of Energy and Mines says a copper/gold mine seeking permits to operate in the northwest part of the province will have to prove that the tailings facility performs to design specifications.

Those are the requirements of a temporary permit granted to the officials for the Red Chris Mine, owned by Imperial Metals, the same company that owns the Mount Polley copper/gold mine, the scene of a massive tailings facility disaster last year.

Energy and Mines spokesman David Haslam said in an email statement Feb. 24, in response to an inquiry, that only if the tailings facility performed as per design specifications would the mining company be issued approval to continue to operate its North Tailings dam facility, and that would be contingent on the company being able to construct the additional lifts as required by the design engineers.

Once the Red Chris mine is producing tailings, the company would have regularly scheduled compliance inspection programs to complete, including daily visual inspections, he said.

Approval of the interim permit is not sitting well with the transboundary environmental group Rivers Without Borders, whose spokesman, Chris Zimmer, said it was “reckless for British Columbia to permit the kind of outdated watered tailings facility at Red Chris that failed at Mount Polley.”

The interim permit for the Red Chris mine is just the latest concern of Alaskan commercial, sport and subsistence fishing groups, conservationists and others concerned that several British Columbia mines could have adverse impact on transboundary fisheries critical to the economy of Southeast Alaska.

They have been working with Alaska’s congressional delegation in hopes of getting an international joint commission– with three members from Canada and three from the US – to look into their concerns.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R- Alaska, said she has spoken with her Canadian counterparts and Secretary of State John Kerry about an international joint commission on the matter started, but so far the idea has not won support from the Canadian government. Murkowski said maybe what is needed is to direct the US. Environmental Protection Agency to do some baseline monitoring to know what current conditions are in the transboundary rivers, but that the IJC is the real forum for these transboundary conversations.

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