Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Industry Supports Bristol Bay Fish Expo

Fishing industry entities, government agencies and air carriers are stepping up to participate in the second annual Bristol Bay Fish Expo, June 8–9, in Naknek, Alaska.

The event, on the eve of the Bristol Bay salmon fishery, is a fundraiser for a childcare facility critical to this major Alaska fishery hub.

Taking place at Bristol Bay Borough School, the Expo will feature speed hiring for crew jobs, fishing gear and a fashion show, a live auction, and several dozen vendor booths.

A major attraction in this election year is a gubernatorial debate between incumbent Alaska Gov. Bill Walker and Republican candidates Mike Chanault and Mike Dunleavy. The debate will focus on sustainability in rural Alaska. Candidates will be asked their views on how outmigration, economic development, education, transportation, cost of living, mental health services and resource management are affecting rural communities and fisheries.

“This will be the first gubernatorial debate to be held in Bristol Bay in more than 25 years,” said Alaska Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham.

“Half of the world’s sockeye comes from Bristol Bay, and for more than 100 years its commercial fishing industry has been a mainstay economic driver for Alaska. It’s fitting that the second annual Bristol Bay Fish Expo will be the backdrop for the candidates to discuss their perspectives on advancing the state’s economic future,” Edgmon said.

Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association will hold its annual meeting on the afternoon of June 9.

Bristol Bay Fish Expo got its start a year ago–thanks to Katie Copps-Wilson, a physician’s assistant in Naknek, harvester’s wife, and mother of three school-aged youngsters–to raise funds for the community’s Little Angels Childcare Academy.

The lack of adequate childcare facilities is contributing to a demise in Naknek’s year-round population and Copps-Wilson decided to do something about it.

Now in her second year, she benefits from more help from volunteers and increasing industry support. “We are trying to create one stop shopping for all things fish in Bristol Bay,” she explained. Last year’s speed hiring event resulted in a dozen crew members being hired for the upcoming season. “The captains were so happy. They would go down there (to speed hiring) at 9 a.m. and there were people there ready (to work),” she said.

The event, which brings captains and potential crewmembers together for interviews, is sponsored by Grundens, and the fashion show is sponsored by Nomar, a Homer provider of fishing gear.

Updates on events, vendors and sponsors are posted online at www.bristolbayfishexpo.com and https://www.facebook.com/BRISTOLBAYFISHEXPO/

Alaska’s House Bill 199 a Work in Progress

Alaska’s House Special Committee on Fisheries continues to hear testimony on House Bill 199, legislation aimed at protecting fish and game habitat through permitting of anadromous fish habitat.

In a report to her constituents this week committee chair Louise Stutes of Kodiak, Alaska, remarked that out of 111 people who testified, only 12 opposed the bill in its present form. “What we heard was overwhelming support for updating Title 16 (of Alaska statutes) so that Alaska can maintain healthy salmon fisheries into the future as urbanization and development continue to increase,” Stutes said. “There is a lot of work still needed to make sure we get the right protections in place that still allow responsible development to move forward.”

According to Stutes it is unlikely that HB 199, which would update statutes for protecting fish habitat for the first time since statehood, will make it through the process this year. If it doesn’t pass, her committee will continue to make it a better product during the interim and hit the ground running next year to get it into law. Meanwhile an initiative also aimed at protecting fish habitat, currently scheduled to go on the primary ballot on August 21, would be postponed until the November 6 general election ballot unless the legislative session ends on April 22. State law requires at least 120 days from the end of the legislative session and an initiative vote.

The US Army Corps of Engineers meanwhile continues to hold public hearings on the Pebble mine permit application. Since April 9 hearings have been held in several western and Southcentral Alaska communities, including Naknek, Homer and Dillingham. The Anchorage hearing is set for the evening of Thursday, April 19, at the Dena’ina Center. The doors open at 11 a.m. for those wishing to give testimony to a court reporter, with the main event taking place from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Mine opponents plan a demonstration with speakers at 5 p.m.

Public radio station KDLG in Dillingham reported that those testifying this past week at Kokhanok expressed apprehension or outright opposition to the Pebble project mining plan, while at Newhalen public testimony showed a mix of support and opposition to the mine.

The comment period continues through June 29.

No Further Action on Chinook PSC Limit

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council has opted to postpone indefinitely any further action on modifications of the Chinook salmon prohibited species catch limit for Gulf of Alaska trawl catcher vessels in non-pollock fisheries.

Council action at the April meeting in Anchorage, Alaska, could have boosted limits or added flexibility via annual rollovers of unused prohibited species catch for trawl vessels fishing for Pacific cod, rockfish and flatfish in the central and western Gulf of Alaska.

The council reviewed alternatives during its February and April meetings, ultimately deciding it was not appropriate to make changes at this time because of concerns about the status of Chinook stocks known to occur as bycatch in those Gulf non-pollock trawl fisheries. Council members also noted the possibility that federal action related to king salmon removals could create an unintended interference with the decadal renegotiation in progress on the Pacific Salmon Treaty between the US and Canada. The council noted that the timing and direction of trends in affected king stocks cannot be anticipated. While postponing further action indefinitely, the council signaled intent to monitor the status of king stocks and the performance of the PSC-limited Gulf trawl catcher vessel sector.

The council will receive a report after the 2018 fisheries on king stock status throughout the Pacific coast and on Gulf trawl harvests.

Alward Takes Helm of UFA

Veteran harvester Matt Alward, of the North Pacific Fisheries Association, is the new president of United Fishermen of Alaska (UFA), succeeding Jerry McCune, of Cordova District Fishermen United. Bob Kehoe, representing the Purse Seine Vessel Owners Association is taking on the vice presidency.

Also joining the executive committee on April 15 were Rebecca Skinner, of the Alaska Whitefish Trawlers Association, as public relations and membership chair, and Sue Doherty, of the Southeast Alaska Seiners Association, as subsistence committee chair.

The election for the statewide commercial fishing trade association was held in February.

McCune, of Cordova, had served as UFA president since 2014, as well as from 1992 to 1996. He has also acted as a paid or volunteer lobbyist for UFA for the past two decades, and still serves on UFA’s executive committee. Alward, of Homer, was the vice president of UFA since 2015.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Comment Period on Pebble Project Extended

Under pressure from the state of Alaska and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, the US Army Corps of Engineers has extended its public scoping period on a draft environmental impact statement on the proposed Pebble project to June 29.

The decision to extend the comment period for an additional 60 days came on April 6, in the wake of letters from Alaska Natural Resources Commissioner Andrew Mack and Murkowski, who told Col. Michael Brooks, commander of the Corps Alaska District, that a 30-day scoping period was insufficient.

Scoping input is now invited for entry directly into the project website at www.pebbleprojecteis.com. The proposed open-pit copper-gold-molybdenum mine, with associated infrastructure, would be located in Southwest Alaska, within the Bristol Bay watershed, home of the world’s largest run of wild sockeye salmon.

“Due to the size and potential impact of the proposed mine, a 30-day scoping process is likely insufficient for the public to identify, and the USACE to address issues of concern, studies that are needed and alternatives to be examined,” said Alaska Natural Resources Commissioner Andrew Mack in his March 28 letter to Col. Michael Brooks, commander of the US Army Corps of Engineers Alaska District.

Mack specifically described the project as “an open pit mine, a mile across, near the headwaters of the most prolific salmon fishery in the world.”

Murkowski told Brooks that she has remained officially neutral on large scale mineral development in the Bristol Bay region and supports allowing the Pebble Limited Partnership to apply for a Clean Water Act permit without what she labeled “preemptive restrictions” from the EPA.

Still now that the federal review process has begun, “we must ensure that all relevant stakeholders are given ample opportunity to consider the information provided, as well as sufficient opportunity and forum to provide comment on it,” she told Brooks.

Washington Denies Neurotoxic Pesticides Permit

A request from shellfish growers for a permit to use the pesticide imidacloprid on oyster and clam beds to control native burrowing shrimp has been denied by the Washington Department of Ecology on grounds that the environmental harm would be too great.

The denial to a request from Willapa-Grays Harbor Oyster Growers Association was issued on April 9.

“We’ve been working with this community of growers for years to move away from chemical pesticides and find a safer alternative to control burrowing shrimp,” said Ecology Director Maia Belton. “The science around imidacloprid is rapidly evolving, and we can’t ignore it. New findings make it clear that this pesticide is simply too risky and harmful to be used in Washington’s waters and estuaries.”

The body of science is expanding due to national and international concerns over use of neonicotinoid pesticides and their environmental impacts. New research points to greater impacts in land and water ecosystems than previously known, DOE officials said.

In its environmental assessment, Washington’s Ecology agencies studied the best available science from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Health Canada and the European Food Safety Authority, plus hundreds of other new reports.

The Center for Food Safety, Center for Biological Diversity and Western Environmental Law Center had all urged the Ecology Department not to grant the permit based on both data gaps and disturbing evidence of harm from neonicotinoids, including aquatic species like Dungeness crabs.

In its own review, the Ecology Department found significant, adverse and unavoidable impacts to both sediment quality and invertebrates living in the sediments and water column, Ecology officials said. The agency was accepting public comment through May 14. Once final, the decision could be appealed to the Washington State Pollution Control Hearing Board within 30 days, they said. More information on the review and decision is online at www.ecology.wa.gov/burrowingshrimp.

Federal Fisheries Managers Rule on Angler-Caught Halibut

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council has ruled that when halibut harvested using sport guide services possessed with halibut not using sport guide services in Southeast and Southcentral Alaska that all the fish are subject to guided sport fishing limits.

The final action came during the spring meeting of the council this past week in Anchorage.

The council also approved implementation of an annual registration process for transferable and non-transferable charter halibut permits.

Both actions are subject to approval by the federal Commerce Department and so likely will not be implemented at least until next year.

Unguided sport anglers currently may keep halibut of any size without restriction and are not subject to annual catch limits, while guided anglers face daily bag limits, size limits, daily closures and annual catch limits.

The council’s action was supported by testimony of the Halibut Coalition, Southeast Alaska Fishermen’s Alliance and Cordova District Fishermen United.

The Alaska Charter Association, which represents over 200 vessels engaged in guiding recreational anglers, had urged no action.

The Juneau Charter Boat Operators Association opposed the annual registration process on grounds that it would simply create more red tape for their industry, and that it simply was not a matter that warranted action.

Tom Gemmell, in his testimony for the Halibut Coalition, supported an annual charter halibut permit renewal plan, saying it would add to the integrity and transparency of the program and facilitate enforcement efforts by the US Coast Guard, National Marine Fishery Service and Alaska Wildlife Troopers. Given the considerable uncertainty regarding usage of non-transferable permits, the annual renewal process is needed to restore the credibility of the program, he said.

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