Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Salmon Harvests in Alaska Generally Below Expectations

Commercial salmon harvests in Alaska are off to a slow start in the 2020 season, with year-to-date statewide landings at just over three million fish – the lowest in at least 12 years.

Still while some areas have been late to open or are much lower than historical averages, recovery from early season weakness can happen quickly as key fisheries come online, says Garrett Evridge, an economist with the McDowell Group. For example, said Evridge, a single strong week in Bristol Bay can produce multiples of the entire statewide May and June harvest.

Sockeye landings of some 640,000 fish are 75 percent lower than the same time in 2019, by which time more than 2.5 million fish had been harvested.

All regions are slow against prior years, with Prince William Sound down sharply. Through June 23, the total catch for Prince William Sound was 759,000 fish, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s blue sheet- the preliminary catch report.

Keta production is also weaker than last year with the current harvest about half of that of 2019. Prince William Sound is the main keta-producing region right now, in addition to Kodiak, which is only 9 percent behind last year. Meanwhile the Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian Islands region is up by 11 percent from last year.

Evridge also notes that due to strong landings in the Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian Islands that the pink salmon harvest is well above that for the same period in 2018.

Chinook landings are 48 percent lower year-to-date, due to slow Prince William Sound harvests. In most years, slowing Prince William Sound Chinook catch is offset by stronger harvests in the June/July timeframe in Southeast Alaska and Bristol Bay.

Evridge produces the in-season weekly commercial salmon harvest reports on behalf of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.

ADF&G produces daily updated preliminary Alaska commercial salmon harvest reports online at https://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=commercialbyfisherysalmon.bluesheet.

Pandemic Continues to Challenge Seafood Processors

In a normal year, seafood processors coming to Alaska to process millions of pounds of fish are faced with the usual challenges of estimating the timing and run strength of the salmon, and when the actual harvest will begin, so all the manpower and equipment is in place and functioning as it should be. This year, with a global pandemic already showing its face all over Alaska, the processors have been planning for months on how to keep their employees, their facilities and the coastal communities they work in safe from COVID-19.

It has been a work in progress.

Through Tuesday, June 22, 778 Alaska residents have tested positive for COVID-19, along with 129 nonresidents, mostly seafood processor workers, and 12 of the new cases confirmed yesterday were seafood workers in Dillingham. All 12 workers are employed at the OBI Seafoods Wood River processing facility. (OBI Seafoods was created recently with the merger of Ocean Beauty and Icicle Seafoods.) Their diagnosis was confirmed through their employer’s quarantine and testing protocols. Dillingham city officials noted that all 12 were moved to separate isolation facilities within the company’s closed campus and that additional sanitation protocols were initiated.

OBI Seafoods tests all incoming employees before travel to Dillingham and then twice during the quarantine period. These employees were tested on day six of their quarantine in Dillingham, the second of three planned tests. City officials are now working with area and state health officials on contact tracing. Dillingham Mayor Alice Ruby said the company’s protection plans caught these cases during quarantine and are helping to prevent the spread of the virus through the community.

In Cordova, on Prince William Sound, Ocean Beauty and the Cordova Medical Response Team confirmed two nonresident seafood workers had tested positive, and that they are now in isolation on Ocean Beauty’s closed campus. City officials there said they did not feel these cases pose a risk to the community at this time.

Pacific Seafood-Westport Settles with EPA

The US Environmental Protection Agency has reached a settlement with Pacific Seafood-Westport, LLC, over violations of the federal Clean Water Act at its Westport, Washington, crab and shrimp processing facility.

Settlement documents note that the EPA identified more than 2,100 violations of the Westport facility’s wastewater discharge permit during an unannounced inspection in 2017. The federal agency documented discharge limit violations, as well as violations related to monitoring frequency, incorrect sampling and incomplete or inadequate reporting.

There’s a reason for these wastewater discharge permit limits,” said Lauris Davies, acting director of EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance assurance in Seattle. “Local receiving waters can get inundated with body parts, entails, shell particles, oil and other byproducts in volumes they just can’t handle. When discharges exceed permit requirements, companies must take swift action to comply with legal limits, or face penalties.” Pacific Seafood has agreed to pay a penalty of $190,000, and to initiate new programs and implemented technologies to address compliance issues at the Westport facility. EPA officials said as a direct result of the enforcement action they expect to see a significant reduction in fecal coliform, biochemical oxygen demand, total suspended solids and oil and grease discharge at the facility.

Also as part of the agreement Pacific Seafood neither confirms or denies the allegations contained in the signed consent agreement and final order, the EPA said.

Federal Court Says EPA Must Update Response Plan

A federal district court judge in California has ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency has a duty to update its national contingency plan for responding to oil and hazardous substance contamination, as mandated by the Clean Water Act.

In doing so in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, Judge William. H. Orrick recently denied a motion by the EPA to dismiss arguments brought by Earth Island Institute and other plaintiffs, and also denied a motion from the American Petroleum Institute to intervene in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit, filed in January, compels the EPA to issue rules that restrict use of chemical agents to clean up oil spills, as these chemical dispersants have been proven to be more toxic than the oil itself to people, and the environment. The lawsuit was filed by the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of California Berkeley and the Center for Biological Diversity on behalf of Earth Island Institute and its ALERT project, a campaign to ban toxic dispersants from use during oil spill response started after the Exxon Valdez disaster.

Plaintiffs also include individuals who personally experienced the toxic effects of the chemical agent Corexit during the cleanup from the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska’s Prince William Sound or the 2019 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

Said Claudia Polsky, director of the UC Berkley Environmental Law Clinic, “this is the first time a court has addressed whether EPA has a duty to keep the cleanup plans current and effective. The court said ’yes’.”

Several plaintiffs in the case are based in Alaska, including Cook Inletkeeper and Alaska Community Action on Toxics. Executive director Pam Miller of Alaska Community Action on Toxics said the ruling is an important step toward protecting the health of oil spill workers and coastal communities from exposure to dangerous dispersant chemicals.

The lawsuit has been a long time coming, said Riki Ott, a marine toxicologist and activist in Cordova, Alaska, and author of two books on the Exxon Valdez disaster and its consequences.

Modern, up-to-date response tools are needed to protect coastal fisheries and the families and economies they support, especially now that climate change is opening up new shipping routes in the Arctic, said Bob Shavelson, director at Cook Inletkeeper

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Pacific Salmon Catches Remain High Overall

A new report from the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission says North Pacific-wide total salmon catches for 2019 remained near all-time high levels, but were particularly low for some salmon species in commission member countries.

Russia led with 499.1 thousand metric tons, or 51 percent, followed by 406.9 thousand metric tons, or 42 percent by the United States, of which 401.9 metric tons was caught in Alaska.

Japanese harvesters caught 59.5 thousand metric tons, or 6 percent; Canadian fishermen harvested 2.9 thousand metric tons, less than 1 percent, and Korean harvesters brought in 130 metric tons.

Pink salmon constituted the majority of the total commercial catch, 54 percent by weight, followed by chum, 24 percent, and sockeye salmon 19 percent. Coho comprised 2 percent of the catch. Chinook salmon, cherry salmon and steelhead trout were each less than 1 percent of the catch by weight.

NPAFC officials said pink and chum salmon dominate Asian catches.

In Alaska, pink and sockeye salmon are the primary species, followed by chums. In Canada, chum, sockeye and pink salmon were the most abundant species caught, but exceptionally low catches of those salmon species in 2019 resulted in the lowest total catches of salmon - 2,973 metric tons- on record for Canada in the NPAFC database dating back to 1925.

In Washington, Oregon and California Chinook, chum and coho salmon are typically the most abundant species caught. Particularly low catches of chum, sockeye and coho salmon in 2019 resulted in the lowest total catches of salmon -4,965 metric tons – on record for those three states in the NPAFC database.

Hatchery releases of salmon and steelhead from NPAFC member countries have been stable since 1993, with some 5 billion fish released annually. The highest hatchery releases on record – 5.5 billion fish – occurred in 2019, primarily because of increased Asia hatchery releases.

Hatcheries released 2,023 million fish, or 37 percent of the total in the U.S.

Japan released 1,918 million fish, or 35 percent; Russia 1,181 million or 21 percent; Canada 384 million or 7 percent, and Korea 11 million, or less than 1 percent, the NPAFC said.

Alaska’s Commercial Salmon Season Gets Off to a Slow Start

The 2020 Alaska salmon season may be off to a slow start, but fisheries economist Garrett Evridge of the McDowell Group, in Anchorage, says it is too early to draw any conclusions.

In an average year less than 10 percent of the annual harvest occurs in May and June and Evridge notes that harvest typically expand modestly over the next two weeks before climbing sharply in early July.

Early season harvest figures for 2020 are below historical averages.

Preliminary harvest figures from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game through Tuesday, June 16, showed that commercial harvesters in Alaska had delivered some 440 thousand wild salmon, including 28,000 Chinook, 189,000 sockeye and 223,000 chum. The bulk of harvests to date have been in Prince William Sound, with a cumulative preliminary total harvest of 337,000 fish, including 222,000 chum, 111,000 sockeye and 4,000 kings. In Kodiak, processors have received some 17,000 sockeye and 1,000 chum salmon.

Prince William Sound is particularly slow, with sockeye and Chinook landings down about 80 percent from the same time a year ago, and 70 percent lower than the five-year average.

Seine harvests of keta salmon in Prince William Sound are running counter to this weakness with harvest roughly double the five-year average. Cook Inlet fishing is slow compared to 2019, but nearly equal to the five-year average, Kodiak likewise is off to a slow start along with Area M, the Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian Islands.

ADF&G biologists are projecting a harvest of 132 million salmon this year, a level similar to other even-numbered years. Humpy harvests are expected to be on the lower end of recent even numbered years. The projected sockeye harvest is below the five-year average, but higher than the 10-year average. Anticipated keta and coho harvests are nearly equal to the five-year average, and the anticipated production of 320,000 kings would represent a third year of increasing harvest if realized.

Updates on preliminary Alaska commercial salmon harvests are posted online at https://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=commercialbyfisherysalmon.bluesheet.

Bristol Bay Fishermen Skeptical of Latest Pebble Proposal

A Canadian mining firm intending to develop a rich copper, gold and molybdenum deposit in Southwest Alaska says they have created a Pebble Performance Dividend that will distribute a percentage of revenue generated by the mine to year-round residents of Bristol Bay.

According to Pebble Partnership CEO Tom Collier, every year-round resident of Bristol Bay who wants to participate can register and learn more about the offer online at www.pebbledividend.com Collier said once the mine is fully operational and profitable the plan would distribute 3 percent of net profits from the mine to registered Bristol Bay residents. The PLP acknowledge that if permitted, the mine would not yield any profits for the first several years of development, but that the PLP would ensure a minimum distribution by contributing $3 million annually toward that distribution.

The reaction to that offer was swift and critical from Bristol Bay fishermen, the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation and tribal entities.

“It’s clear the company is just trying to promise future dividends to create a illusion of support, but in reality they’ve never been a trustworthy company,” said Katharine Carscallen, speaking for Commercial Fishermen of Bristol Bay. “They will say and do anything to try and force this toxic project forward that fishermen and the regional will never support.”

Andy Wink, executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, said fishermen heading out to harvest in the world ‘s largest wild sockeye salmon fishery are counting on Congress to protect some 14,500 workers directly employed in the fishery from a mine that threatens Alaskan jobs, the nation‘s food security and a salmon resource unparalleled anywhere on the planet.

Norm Van Vactor, president and CEO of Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation, called the offer “an eleventh-hour desperate attempt by Pebble to make empty promises offering breadcrumbs to the very people whose lives will be ruined by this project.”

Bristol Bay Native Corporation, with offices in Dillingham and Anchorage, also voiced skepticism of the offer. “This is just another PLP tactic to try to sway public opinion on this vastly unpopular project,” said Jason Metrokin, president and CEO of BBNC.

“We will not trade salmon for gold, and we will not be swayed by promises of cash payments from a proposed mine that cannot and should not be built,” he said.

“Bristol Bay has long-opposed this project because of the devastation it will cause to our lands, waters and people,” said Ralph Andersen of Bristol Bay Native Association. “We know that our way of life is more previous than gold and we will not allow a foreign mining company to devastate our cultures and communities.”

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