Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Bristol Bay Sockeye Salmon Forecast is Nearly
54 Million Fish

Biologists with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game are forecasting a run of 53.98 million sockeye salmon into Bristol Bay in 2015, with a harvest of 38.51 million salmon in Bristol Bay and 2 million reds in the South Peninsula.

That would be 40 percent above the previous 10-year mean of total runs and 51 percent greater than the long-term mean of 32.43 percent, biologists said. All systems are expected to meet their spawning escapements.

The largest sockeye salmon run on record for Bristol Bay since 1963 was 67 million sockeyes in 1980, but the harvest that year was only 27,187,880 fish. The lowest run on record since 1963 was 3.5 million reds in 1973, with harvesters delivering to processors only 1.6 million fish. The largest harvest on record was 46 million sockeyes in 1995, from a run of 63 million salmon.

This past year a run of 41.4 million salmon produced a harvest of 29.4 million fish. That compared with a harvest of 32.6 million sockeyes in 2007, from a run of 46.3 million reds.

It’s also looking like a good year ahead for pink salmon in Southeast Alaska, where ADF&G biologists are predicting an estimate of 58 million humpies. State biologists said forecasting the 2015 pink salmon harvest was made exceptionally challenging by the unprecedented harvest of 95 million pink salmon in the parent year of 2013. That harvest was nearly 20 million fish higher than any other pink salmon harvest since commercial fisheries began in Southeast Alaska in the late 1800s.

The 2015 harvest forecast of 58 million pink salmon in Southeast Alaska is well above the recent 10-year average harvest of 41 million humpies, and a harvest of that magnitude would be in the top ten harvests since 1960, biologists said.

Miners Indicted for Illegal Discharges into Southwest Alaska Salmon Stream

A federal grand jury in Anchorage has indicted XS Platinum Inc. and five corporate officials on felony violations, including conspiracy to violate the Clean Water Act, by discharging mine wastes into the Salmon River in Southwest Alaska.

The indictment handed down on Nov. 18 in Anchorage said that beginning in 2010 and continuing through 2011, XS Platinum and the individual defendants knowingly discharged industrial wastewaters from the mechanical placer mining operation at Platinum Creek Mine into the adjacent Salmon River, in violation of XS Platinum’s Clean Water Act general permit.

The Salmon River is an anadromous fish stream important for spawning for chinook, chum, coho, pink and sockeye salmon and the rearing of coho and sockeye salmon. After flowing through BLM land, the Salmon River crosses the Togiak National Wildlife Refuge before entering the Pacific Ocean at Kuskokwim Bay.

According to the indictment, the miners told federal regulators, and said in their permit applications that all wastewater would be recycled, resulting in zero discharge of mine wastewater into the Salmon River.

The indictment alleges that the Delaware based corporation and the five defendants conspired to violate the Clean Water Act by concealing the 2010 and 2011 mine wastewater discharge violations from federal officials, and submitting material false statements to federal agencies.

XS Platinum held 159 placer mining claims and 36 hard rock claims totaling more than 4,000 acres at the Platinum Creek Mine, which is situated along the Salmon River and its tributaries. The mine contains placer deposits of platinum metal, along with smaller amounts of gold and palladium. All but 21 of the claims were on land managed by the federal Bureau of Land Management, with the remaining undeveloped claims within the Togiak National Wildlife Refuge.

The indictment further alleges that the industrial wastewaters discharged from the Platinum Creek Mine included large amounts of sediment, turbidity and toxic metals, that these discharges exceeded general permit limits for those pollutants and that the defendants failed to report the violations as required.

US Attorney for Alaska Karen Loeffler and Sam Hirsch, acting assistant attorney general for the environment and natural resources division of the Department of Justice, released the indictment, which contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Environmental Report Calls Proposed BC Mine Risky and Uncertain

A new report compiled by Salmon Beyond Borders and other groups, including Earthworks, says there are significant risks associated with a copper, gold, silver and molybdenum mine proposed in British Columbia near the Alaska border.

The risk analysis of the Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell mine proposed by Toronto-based Seabridge Gold concludes that amount the key risks are unprecedented water management. KSM is a sulfide ore body, likely to require water treatment in perpetuity for acid mine drainage, the report said. The mine plan includes annual water treatment for up to 20.8 billion gallons of water annually- nearly eight times that of Utah’s Bingham Canyon Mine, the largest open pit mine in North America.

“The amount of water projected for water treatment is the largest of any mine that I have seen,” said David Chambers, a geophysicist and president of the Center for Science in Public Participation. “Based on the estimated treatment costs in the environmental impact statement, the trust fund for post-closure water treatment alone would need to e approximately $1 billion.

Plans for these and other mines in Northwest British Columbia are prompting concern from Alaska fish harvesters because the mines would be located near transboundary rivers in British Columbia that flow into Southeast Alaska’s salmon rich waters. Alaska’s congressional delegation has raised serious concerns about the KSM mine, and has asked Secretary of State John Kerry to conduct bilateral discussions with the Canadian government regarding the project. Other groups, including five municipal governments and 11 Alaska Native tribal governments, have asked for a review by the International Join Commission under the Boundary Waters Treaty.

The KSM mine project would involve mining underneath an active glacier, an engineering challenge that has rarely been done, the environmental report said. In the few sites where it has occurred, it resulted in major increases in cost, production delays, safety issues and economic shortfalls.

Access the complete report: http://www.earthworksaction.org/library/detail/seabridge_golds_ksm_project_risk_analysis#.VGxvQL5d37V.

Tongass National Forest Management Favors Logging Over Fishing, Tourism Industries

A US Forest Service pledge to end old-growth logging and support fishing and tourism industries significant to the Southeast Alaska economic is not going as promised, say researchers who looked into Forest Service’s budget and staff data.

A report released Nov. 18 by Headwaters Economics, a Bozeman, Montana research firm, used the Freedom of Information Act to access the Forest Service’s budget and staffing data on the Tongass from 2009 to 2013. Researchers found that Forest Service spending on timber continues to account for the largest portion of the Tongass National Forest budget. It also shows that for each of the five years spending on timber accounted for more of the Tongass’ budget than fisheries, wildlife, recreation and watershed protection combined.

The focus on logging comes despite the fact that timber accounts for less than one percent of Southeast Alaska employment, while tourism accounts for 15 percent and fishing for nine percent, the report said.

Both the fishing and tourism industries rely on land and water resources managed by the Tongass National Forest and directly benefit from enhancements to natural resources health, along with services and infrastructure provided by the Forest Service. Activities that degrade the pristine nature of the land, such as old growth harvesting, are likely to have adverse impacts on these important regional industries.

The seafood industry in Southeast Alaska employed 4,252 people in 2013 and accounted for nine percent of total regional employment. The fishing and tourism industries both rely on land and water resources managed by Tongass National Forest and directly benefit from enhancements to natural resource health, plus services and infrastructure provided by the Forest Service.

The report was completed with funding from two Seattle-based foundations, Wilburforce and Campion.

The entire report is online at http://headwaterseconomics.org/land/reports/tongass.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Exxon Valdez Damages Lawsuit Drags Into 2015

More than 25 years after the Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster, federal litigation revolving around part of the original 1991 billion-dollar settlement with Exxon continues to drag on.

Documents posted on Nov. 10 by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility show that the US Justice Department and state of Alaska are once again asking for more time for completion on environmental studies. Meanwhile, some of those 11 million gallons of crude oil released into Prince William Sound after the oil tanker Exxon Valdez struck Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound on March 24, 1989, still linger, in the aftermath of one of the most devastating human-caused environmental disasters in history.

The ongoing litigation revolves around part of the original settlement with Exxon calling for an additional payment of up to $100 million for environmental damages unknown at the time of the settlement.

PEER notes that in 2006, the federal and state governments jointly submitted a demand that the oil company pay $92 million to fund recovery for these injuries, an amount that has since grown to nearly $130 million with annual 5 percent interest.

Yet this “reopener” claim has yet to be collected by the governments. In the intervening years, both the federal and state governments have claimed to be waiting for completion of environmental studies.

Time may be running out on the reopener claim.

The 2010 termination of the tolling agreement between the governments and Exxon triggered a six-year period of limitation on any reopener claim that expires on June 24, 2016, PEER notes. If the governments do not act by then, Exxon may be able to legally block any belated claim.

This past March, both governments filed a status report stating “the last of these scientific reports nears completion and public release.” Then on Oct. 15, the governments cited further delays in evaluating “the feasibility of employing potential remediation alternatives, notably bioremediation, tilling and removal, at all beaches where lingering oil has been found or is expected.”

Now they are proposing to file their next update “by June 30, 2015, or at such earlier date as the governments have additional, significant information to report.”

PEER board member Rick Steiner, of Anchorage, is a retired University of Alaska professor who attempted to intervene in 2010 to break the logjam in this case.

Although Exxon has not paid the 2006 demand, as it had agreed in 1991, and certainly should, the government restoration fund still has some $200 million in it with which they should have used to begin implementing the plan, Steiner said.

“They say they have begun to do so, but are ‘still studying’ the issue,” he said. And while the court continues to express its frustration and indignation, it does not act- which is precisely what I had asked the court to do with motions in 2010, 2011 and 2013,” he said.

Today's Catch: Numbers, Verified

The November issue is always a big issue, and coincides with the release of our annual Fishermen's News Calendar, as well as Pacific Marine Expo. This year is no exception, and marks the first time since 1945 that the November issue of Fishermen's News is printed in magazine format, on glossy paper. It's the largest issue we've ever produced.

Since 1945, when Fishermen's News was first published as the monthly "Voice of the Pacific Northwest Fishing Industry" in Aberdeen, Washington, we have served the West Coast fishing industry as the oldest and most widely circulated commercial fishing publication. We're proud to be the only advocate for the West Coast commercial fishing industry.

Because we're a local, family owned and operated company, based in Seattle at Fishermen's Terminal and active in the local commercial fishing community, we can react quickly to breaking events and publish them as news, rather than history.

This year, in order to better serve our advertisers, subscribers and the industry, we engaged Verified Audit Circulation Company to confirm our numbers. Those subscription forms you have all filled out asking for your industry affiliation are checked against our claims to ensure that we are indeed reaching our target audience – the US Pacific Coast wild seafood harvester. With the release of our initial audit, we are happy to announce that Fishermen's News is indeed reaching the most West Coast commercial fishermen of any commercial fishing publication, National or Pacific. The numbers, collected, tabulated and organized for audit by our circulation manager, Judy Philips, are available for anyone to see on our website: www.fishermensnews.com/advertise.

What this means to you is that we can focus our efforts on the issues, regulations and fisheries that matter most to you. Because 100 percent of our readers are directly involved in the commercial West Coast fishing industry, 68.5 percent of them as commercial fishing vessel owners, license holders and captains, we can tailor our editorial content to reach them with news that makes their business more profitable.

Our advertisers know that the boats they design and build, the gear they manufacture and supply and the services they provide are presented to their potential clients in a trusted format, surrounded by articles of interest that fishermen need to read. Many of those advertisers, including Ballard Oil, Ballard Industrial (formerly Ballard Hardware) and Pacific Fishermen, Inc. recognized from the first issues in the '40s that Fishermen's News was the best way to reach the fleet.

After almost 70 years, Fishermen's News is still the best way to reach the fleet, and we're happy to be able to prove that with our audit.

Unanswered Questions Remain
in Mount Polley Dam Breach

In the wake of dam breach disaster in British Columbia on Aug. 4, there are still many unanswered questions about the extent of damage to fisheries and the environment, and the answers could come in reports due at the end of January. Commercial fishermen and environmentalists in Southeast Alaska have cast a wary eye on the Mount Polley dam breach, as well as proposed plans for several mines near transboundary rivers in British Columbia that flow into Southeast Alaska.

They note that millions of cubic meters of wastes released by the dam breach poured into central British Columbia waterways, and are concerned that toxic substances from other proposed mining ventures could enter the habitat of critical salmon fisheries and spawning grounds.

British Columbia’s minister of energy and mines, Bill Bennett says he expects to receive reports by Jan. 31 from three independent experts contracted to investigate the dam breach.

Also underway are an internal investigation by British Columbia’s Ministry of Energy and Mines and Ministry of Environment, and a review by the province’s chief mines inspector, into how safe are all the tailings ponds at British Columbia’s mines.

“Everybody is being interviewed,” he told participants in the Alaska Miners Association’s annual convention in Anchorage on Nov. 7. “We need to pinpoint the specific cause.”

Bennett’s visit to Alaska also included visits with state officials and Julianne Curry, executive director of United Fishermen of Alaska.

The meeting with Bennett was “just to open lines of communication,” Curry said.

“They are extremely eager to come to Alaska to talk about past and future projects.”

Curry said that Canada’s annual Mineral Exploration Roundup will be happening in Victoria, B.C. at the same time as the International Pacific Halibut Commission is meeting there, and that she hoped fishermen would be extended an invitation to the miners event for further opening of those lines of communication.

Bennett’s assurances aside, skepticism abounds.

John Cumming, editor in chief of The Northern Miner, in Toronto, in an editorial written two days after the Mount Polley tailings spill, wrote that “…what makes all this particularly depressing is that Imperial Metals is one of the class acts of Canadian mining, and the mine was built by highly skilled Canadian miners to modern technical standards in our own backyard.

“… And all that Imperial – representing the very best in Canadian mining – could come up with on the day of the disaster was “The cause of the breach is unknown at this time….

“In other words, ‘We ain’t got a clue, folks’,” Cumming said.

Jacinda Mack, coordinator for the Mount Polley Disaster Response Team representing the Soda Creek Indian Band and Williams Lake Indian Band, said there was a blue, waxy sheen on the water at Quesnel Lake and that the lake was turning a yellowish green color.”

Mack described the plume as about 20 kilometers in size. “It has tailings mixed in with sediments, soils, clays that are suspended in the water so you can see them in the water. It almost looks like a glacial river,” she said.

The Quesnel, the sixth deepest freshwater lake in North America, is an important migratory route for salmon to the Frasier River, a major commercial salmon fishery.

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