Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Wild Salmon Harvest in Alaska Nears 10 Million Fish

Statewide Alaska commercial deliveries of wild salmon pushed to nearly 10 million fish by June 30. It’s early yet, and while the sockeyes showing up are smaller than usual, the return of king salmon so far are better than in recent years, according to Forrest Bowers, deputy director of commercial fisheries for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

As of June 30, the state’s preliminary salmon harvest blue sheet showed that fishermen had delivered to processors some 6.5 million sockeyes, 2.1 million chums, 1.2 million humpies, 117,000 Chinooks and 74,000 silvers.

In the famed Copper River District the four-year-old sockeyes have been about 0.7 pounds lighter than average and five-year-old sockeyes have been about one pound smaller than average, biologists said. Water temperatures influence available forage and metabolic rates and thereby can influence the size of fish and survival rates, but the jury is still out on specifics of how the recent trend in higher than average sea surface temperatures has influenced these variables, according to Jeremy Botz, at ADF&G’s Cordova office.

For Prince William Sound, the estimated harvest now stands at 3.4 million fish, including 1.7 million reds and 1.2 million chums, plus 428,000 pinks, 23,000 kings and 11,000 cohos.

In Bristol Bay, processors have received more than 2.8 million salmon, including 2.6 million sockeyes, 173,000 chums and 42,000 kings, with most of the sockeyes being caught in the Egegik District.

Warmer weather on the Lower Yukon in western Alaska meant a slow start for harvesters using dip nets to catch keta salmon and avoid kings, so that treaty obligations for kings with Canada could be met. Then the weather cooled and the Lower Yukon harvest of those oil rich chums reached 169,000 fish.

The westward region catch now totals nearly 3 million fish, with deliveries of 1.9 million reds, 637,000 humpies, 269,000 chums, 50,000 silvers and 49,000 kings.

For the Alaska Peninsula, the harvest stands at 2.2 million fish, including 1.4 million sockeyes, 583,000 pinks, 182,000 chums, 44,000 kings and 18,000 silvers.

Binding Arbitration Effort for MSC Salmon Certificate Still Unresolved

Resolution is proving elusive in a dispute between several processors over who gets to participate in a London-based Marine Stewardship Council certificate for Alaska’s sustainable salmon.

In a statement issued late on June 30, MSC officials said they understood that the Alaska Salmon Processors Association, which holds the certification for Alaska salmon, had withdrawn from the binding arbitration process prior to the meeting taking place.

“As a standard setter, MSC cannot directly engage in commercial negotiations,” MSC said. “The final decision on how the certificate is shared is a commercial one which needs to be [made] between the certificate holder and the applicant organizations. The MSC hopes that continued dialogue between the parties will deliver an equitable solution.”

At its June meeting in its headquarters in London, the MSC board of trustees reaffirmed that the MSC program requires certificate sharing and sponsored a mediation session to bring together the Alaska Salmon Processors Association, whose members include Silver Bay Seafoods and Copper River Seafoods, with several other processors, including Trident Seafoods, who want to rejoin the certificate. Mediation efforts failed and MSC’s board then directed both parties to go into binding arbitration and resolve the matter by June 30. The binding arbitration meeting began, but then ASPA withdrew from the meeting. To date ASPA has declined any comment on the matter.

Companies wanting in on the MSC salmon certificate coverage had dropped the MSC certification earlier, and instead got certified through a program offered through the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. Now they say they need it to do business with wholesalers in Europe who want to purchase only MSC certified seafood.

According to Trident spokeswoman Stefanie Moreland, North Pacific Seafoods, icicle Seafoods and Trident Seafoods were committed to make the outcome of the arbitration available to all eligible participants, so that every Alaskan producer could benefit from a good arbitration decision.

But, said Moreland, ASPA insisted as a condition of arbitration that all other non-participating companies waive any claim they might have against ASPA or, in the alternative, the three participating companies sign an agreement indemnifying ASPA for claims other non-participating companies might bring against ASPA for it not having the certificate.

EPA Water Rule Decision Prompts Lawsuit from 13 States

Thirteen states, including Alaska, are challenging an Environmental Protection Agency decision that defines waters covered under the Clean Water Act, puts them under federal jurisdiction and subjects them to permitting.

The 23-page complaint filed in the US District Court in North Dakota names the EPA and US Army Corps of Engineers, and seeks to have the final rule on waters of the United States, or WOTUS, declared unlawful.

The states of Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming contend that WOTUS violates the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Administrative Procedure Act, extending congressional authority beyond the limits of the Commerce Clause and interfering with state sovereignty.

The EPA sees the Clean Water Rule as a way to ensure that waters protected under the Clean Water Act are more precisely defined, more predictably determined, and easier for business and industry to understand. The new rule defines and protects tributaries that affect the health of downstream waters, provides certainty in how far safeguards extend to nearby waters, protects regional water treasures, and focuses on streams, the EPA said. The rule does not protect any new types of waters, apply to groundwater, creates new permitting requirements for agriculture, or address land use or private property rights, according to the EPA.

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker said that instead of clarifying federal law the rule has left states with more questions, and that this final rule is likely to have detrimental impacts on development in Alaska. The rule, said Walker, will only lead to more expensive permitting and legal fights over which waters are in and which waters are out under the federal law.

Environmental entities have a different viewpoint.

According to Bob Shavelson, executive director of Cook Inletkeeper in Homer, “no one from Greenpeace to the Koch Brothers is happy with this rule, so it’s probably a decent compromise by EPA. And, said Shavelson, “it adds the predictability industry always says it wants after years of litigation and confusion.”

Lowered King Salmon Quota Draws Ire of Alaska Trollers

The Alaska Trollers Association is voicing concern over a lowered cap on this summer’s Alaska harvest of king salmon announced by the Pacific Salmon Commission, which puts the commercial troll quota at 175,000 fish. That’s out of a total allocation of 237,000 fish, down from 440,000 kings a year ago.

According to Dale Kelley, executive director of the Alaska Trollers Association, in Southeast Alaska, this year’s quota “shines a bright light on a treaty agreement that is not working for Southeast Chinook fishermen and communities.”

For the past three decades trollers have paid the price of habitat destruction in the Pacific Northwest, and the stocks they have worked hard to rebuild are now returning in record numbers, she said. Yet Alaska is being held to a pitifully low quota that failed to recognize that abundance, and trollers are losing faith that they will ever see a fair shake in this process, she said.

Charlie Swanton, a deputy commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said that lower quota likely would add up to a loss of about $12 million for harvesters pursuing Chinook salmon.

“We have no preconceived notion about what the quota should be this year,” Kelley said. “All our fleet wants is a scientifically defensible number that cares for the resource and provides a fair harvest share.”

The Pacific Salmon Treaty, signed in 1985, aims to rebuild salmon runs from Oregon to Alaska, and distribute the benefits among all West Coast fishermen. At the treaty signing, many stocks were significantly depressed, and today the stocks migrating to Alaska are largely considered rebuilt. That given, Alaska fishermen are angry that this year’s quota is nearly 30,000 fish under Alaska’s original rebuilding quota of 263,000 fish, Kelley said.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

KSM Mine Opponents Appeal Directly to Seabridge Gold Shareholders

Leaders of British Columbia and Alaska indigenous entities are attending the shareholders meeting of the Canadian mining firm Seabridge Gold in Toronto today to protest development of a mine at the headwaters of a key salmon fishery. The proposed Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell mine has a number of commercial, sport and subsistence fish harvesters, and environmental groups concerned that the mine could adversely affect fish habitat in the transboundary river area, where rivers from British Columbia flow into Southeast Alaska.

Frederick Olsen Jr., represents United Tribal Transboundary Mining Working Group, a coalition of 13 Southeast Alaska Tribes, and Annita McPhee representing the Tahltan Nation. Both have shares in the mining company that will give them access to the meeting. McPhee contends that in the wake of the Mount Polley mine disaster, Seabridge still plans to use “risky, discredited technology to store its mine wastes.”

Olsen said he is there to ask Seabridge whether it will publicly support an international joint commission review of the mine. The state of Alaska and Alaska’s congressional delegation have called for bilateral discussions, and Alaska tribes and the city of Juneau have requested a full International Joint Commission review to address transboundary water pollution issues.

Earlier in June Price Waterhouse Coopers released a forecast of a prolonged period of low metals prices, raising questions about the feasibility of large multi-billion dollar mine projects to attract financing. Last week the environmental organization Earthworks, with Salmon Beyond Borders, released its analysis of the PWC annual review of global trends in mining, a report critical of what it described as discredited mine waste tailings dam technology.

Salmon harvests in Southeast Alaska have a big economic impact on the region’s commercial and sport fisheries, as well as subsistence users.

IPHC Asks NMFS to Take Further Steps in BSAI Bycatch

The International Pacific Halibut Commission is asking the National Marine Fisheries Service to take further steps to implement necessary bycatch reductions of halibut in Bering Sea/Aleutian Island groundfish fisheries.

The request this week came in a letter addressed to Eileen Sobeck, assistant administrator for fisheries.

IPHC chair Jim Balsiger and vice-chair Paul Ryall noted that Sobeck had made recommendations in January that the IPHC adopt 2015 catch limits for IPHC Area 4CDE that provided “adequate harvest opportunities” for the area. The recommendation, they said, was based on Sobeck’s commitment to reduce halibut bycatch in the BSAI region and the Gulf of Alaska.

“We recognize that the council has a number of considerations concerning prohibited species catch limits, but the limits adopted by the council fall far short of those required to support the catch limits adopted by the commission,” they said. “The point of greatest concern to the commission is that, in establishing a BSAI PSC limit only 0.7 percent below 2014 bycatch, the council has not ensured any progress towards the meaningful bycatch reductions that are required to bring halibut management back into an acceptable conservation framework.”

The commission’s catch limit decisions for 2015 were based on an expectation that further bycatch mortality reductions would be implemented in 2016 to support catch limits adopted by the commission, Balsiger and Ryall said.

While the IPHC understands that the trawl sector may undertake some voluntary bycatch reduction this year, in the absence of regulatory revisions which might allow measures such as deck sorting, previous experience indicates that it is unlikely that these voluntary actions will achieve the necessary mortality reductions, they said. Indeed, they said, testimony from trawl captains at the June meeting of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in Sitka indicated that they had hopes for only very limited reductions beyond the current bycatch levels.

Accordingly, they continued, the IPHC requests that Sobeck now outline her plan for further steps to implement and effectively monitor those bycatch reductions of halibut in the BSAI.

Commercial Salmon Harvest in Alaska Climbing Slowly

Commercial harvests of wild Alaska salmon have reached more than 4.3 million fish, with the preliminary estimate of a catch of 2.6 million sockeyes, 1,347,000 chum, 348,000 pink, 63,000 Chinook and 12,000 silver salmon.

The preliminary Alaska commercial salmon harvest blue sheet is updated daily by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

From a statewide perspective, the sockeye salmon harvested to date have been 20 percent less than average size by age, says Jeff Regnart, director of commercial fisheries for ADF&G.

“That’s going to play into catachability,” Regnart said. “That size fish could be more difficult to catch in some of those gillnet fisheries, and that could lead to additional escapement.”

Area management biologist James Jackson at Kodiak says so far it’s been a very strange year, with a harvest through June 23 of some 315,746 sockeyes, which is roughly half of what the harvest was expected to be through that date. And the fish are being caught in areas where they don’t normally catch fish. “Typically the majority of sockeyes are harvested in the northwest Kodiak district and right now they are coming from the southwest, which is strange,” he said.

In the Cordova area, the sockeye run has been below forecast, but fisheries biologist Jeremy Botz said the run is still reasonably strong and shaping up to be close to the recent 10 year average. The Copper River drift fishery estimated catch to date is 1,127,000 salmon, including over a million sockeyes. The Montague district drift fishery in Prince William Sound has picked up somewhat, with an estimated total harvest of 84,000 fish, including 66,000 chums and 5,000 reds.

In the Cook Inlet fishery, the total estimated catch has reached 80,000 salmon, including 77,000 reds, plus about 2,000 each of kings and chums.

The drift fleet in Upper Cook Inlet had its first opener on June 22 and the Kasilof section of Eastside set netters are also fishing via an emergency order on a 50,000 fish escapement trigger, said Pat Shields, area management biologist for Upper Cook Inlet. For the 92 drift boats, the total catch was some 2,500 reds, or about 27 fish per boat, but that opener, said Shields, is kind of a shakedown cruise for the drift fleet with no expectations. Setnetters meanwhile harvested some 46 kings and 18,000 sockeyes on their first day, which is average to a little below average for the first period.

In the Bristol Bay fishery, also in its early season, the total estimated harvest reached 397,000 fish, including 378,000 reds. Right now, said state fisheries biologist Travis Elison, “we are just waiting. They could show up any time in the next few days.”

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