Wednesday, October 15, 2014

NPFMC Approves Observer Deployment Plan

Federal fisheries managers have approved the 2015 annual deployment plan for the marine observer program, with several recommendations, including one for conditional releases for some vessels in the small vessel trip selection stratum.

The recommendations to National Marine Fisheries Service came at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s fall meeting in Anchorage, during the second week of October, came after the council heard additional testimony on NMFS’s draft 2015 annual deployment plan.

The council recommended two selection strata for 2015, a small vessel trip selection and large vessel trip selection, with a 12 percent selection probability for the small vessel trip selection stratum and 24 percent selection probability for the large vessel stratum. The council was urged to allow conditional releases in 2015 for vessels in the small vessel trip selection stratum that don’t have sufficient life raft capacity to accommodate an observer and/or to assist in addressing vessels with limited bunk space.

The council recommended that vessels selected by NMFS to participate in the electronic monitoring cooperative research be placed in the no selection pool while participating in such research. Also recommended was that trawl vessels that fish for Pacific cod in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands be given the opportunity to opt-in to full observer coverage and carry an observer at all times while fishing in those areas, using the same approach as in 2014.

The council further recommended that the annual report on the deployment plan include information to evaluate a sunset provision, including information on the potential for bias that could be introduced through life raft conditional release, the cost to an individual operator of upgrading to a larger life raft, and the enforcement disincentives from downgrading one’s life raft.

The council also addressed industry concerns from the Freezer Longline Coalition over the shortage of Lead Level 2 observers for deployment on catcher processor hook-and-line vessels. “In order to provide and maintain a viable observer pool, there is a need to ensure that there is a sufficient training opportunity for new LL2 observers as well as consideration of incentives to retain existing trained LL2 observers,” the council said in a motion.

The council encouraged the Freezer Longline Coalition and observer providers to work together, with a representative from the NMFS observer program present at such work sessions to help resolve the matter.

NOAA, American Seafoods Settle on Flow Scale Cases

Federal fisheries officials have settled with American Seafoods Co. over three civil enforcement cases involving flow scales on board the company’s fishing vessels, with ASC agreeing to pay a combined civil penalty of $1.75 million.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in an announcement in mid-October that the cases relate to events that occurred during 2007, 2008, 2011 and 2012 in the Alaska pollock fishery.

NOAA charged that personnel aboard the ASC’s catcher-processor vessels American Dynasty, Ocean Rover and Northern Eagle violated the Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act and the American Fisheries Act by causing the flow scales to weigh inaccurately.

American Seafoods Co. harvests, processes, distributes and markets a diverse seafood product line from fisheries in waters off of the coasts of Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. The company has regional sales offices in Asia and Europe.

Flow scales are used to ensure accurate catch accounting on catcher processors, and the data they collect are essential to effective management of the Alaska pollock fishery, one of the largest, most valuable fisheries in the world. Pollock processed on these vessels is used for a variety of products, including fish fillets, imitation crab, roe, fish oil and fishmeal.

Inge Andreassen, president of American Seafoods, said the company is satisfied with the outcome of these cases. “Our cooperative dialogue with NOAA has helped us improve our internal procedures and, we believe, will improve the agency’s oversight of flow scale matters throughout the fleet.

The violations were investigated by NOAA”s Office of Law Enforcement and prosecuted by the enforcement section of NOAA’s Office of General Counsel. The cases resulted from reports from observers assigned to the American Seafoods Co. vessels who noticed discrepancies between weights recorded by the flow scale and their own motion-compensated scales. Observers are responsible for monitoring and documenting the fishing activities on board the vessels, and their reports are used for scientific, management and compliance purposes in the Alaska pollock fishery.

Separate from these enforcement cases, the National Marine Fisheries Service has proposed a change to its flow scale regulations that would tighten daily scale testing standards, require that test results be electronically reported to NMFS, improve the agency’s ability to detect accidental or intentional introduction of scale bias and require flow scale video monitoring aboard all catcher processors using at-sea scales.

Port of Toledo Enhances Operations
for Commercial Fishermen

New processing plant opens, boatyard improvements pending

By Terry Dillman

Call it the little port that can.

Located seven miles inland from Oregon's central coast on the banks of the Yaquina River and adjacent sloughs, the Port of Toledo encompasses 443 square miles of territory, including the cities of Toledo and nearby Siletz, as well as a considerable chunk of unincorporated land in Lincoln County. Operating since 1910, the port's main focal point is Toledo's waterfront on Depot Slough, a longtime haven for commercial moorage and marine-related businesses catering to the needs of commercial fishermen. Among them are Yaquina Boat Equipment, providing repair and manufacturing for commercial vessels since 1968, and Winter Hawk Seafood, which sells salmon, albacore tuna, Dungeness crab and Pacific halibut – caught aboard the Newport, Oregon-based F/V Winter Hawk – directly to the public.

Port Manager Bud Shoemake said the port's key role is economic development for the region, especially traditional industries like commercial and recreational fisheries. One recent marine business addition and pending enhancements at another should keep those economic ambitions on course.

Fishpeople of the Pacific Northwest officially opened its new seafood processing facility on August 15 in the port's office complex, located in Toledo's former fire hall. Exactly one week later, Shoemake announced receiving a $4,673,000 ConnectOregon grant to pursue a planned build-out of the port's Yaquina Boatyard, which since its inception in 2010 has forged a reputation as one of Oregon's premier vessel service and repair facilities.

In a Flash

Founded in 2012 by former commercial fisherman Duncan Berry and financier Kipp Baratoff, Fishpeople wants folks "to have fresh fish anytime, anywhere" by providing "some of the world's most prized seafood" caught off Oregon's shore – salmon, albacore tuna, Dungeness crab, pink shrimp – as part of "all-natural, value-added" entrees sold by "trend-setting natural retailers" and larger conventional supermarket outlets. Their "dock to dinner plate" process promises high quality, fresh-tasting seafood for the consumer, while simultaneously protecting ocean resources and boosting the economic fortunes of the fishermen and coastal communities that rely on those resources.

"We are a place defined by our fish. We are all fish people," said Berry.

Fishpeople entrees went into grocery stores and seafood departments throughout the Pacific Northwest at the end of 2012, and soups debuted in autumn 2013. With products already on shelves in 2,000 outlets, Berry and Baratoff want to extend the company's reach by having consumers eating fresh Oregon seafood "from sea to shining sea." And they want to do it their way, or more precisely, the seafood consumers' way.

"We understand the new seafood customer," Baratoff said, noting that those consumers want fresh wild fish caught in a sustainable, eco-friendly fashion.

Market analysts say about 85 to 90 percent of seafood consumed in the United States (including Oregon, Washington and California) is imported. About 80 to 90 percent of Oregon's seafood catch is exported to other states, and other nations (mainly Canada, Japan, China, South Korea, Germany, France, the Netherlands, and Spain). And about 70 percent is consumed in restaurants for one main reason: convenience.

Mike Marshall, Fishpeople's operations manager, said they want to drastically change those statistics, or at least make a noticeable dent in them.

Landing the processing plant in Toledo gives them a vital piece in their corporate plan that "let's us do what we've wanted to do since the company started," noted Marshall.

Port officials netted a $250,000 loan for initial construction (most repaid via revenues) – $40,000 of it "forgiven" if the plant creates eight new jobs in Toledo. Gov. John Kitzhaber signed an agreement to provide a $30,000 state loan if those jobs are maintained. The United States Department of Agriculture recently added a $30,000 grant for additional renovations and quality control measures at the processing facility.

"It's all about partnerships," said Shoemake, calling it "a step in the right direction," despite some concerns from nearby residents, who were still leery after the city's prior bad experience with a now-defunct slime eel facility only a few blocks from the Fishpeople site.

Berry, Baratoff and Marshall said Fishpeople wants to "lift all boats" by creating a recognizable market brand that keeps the value of Pacific Northwest fisheries where it belongs: at home in local communities. Fishpeople, they noted, also wants to create "a different relationship with the sea." Above all, they "want to support the fishermen who go out to sea every day."

"We belong here as much as the fish do," said Berry. "But how we're here needs to change, or we're not going to have a lot of seafood left."

Fishpeople, they noted, aims to "strike a balance" between human communities and ocean communities in a way that "resonates with" consumers and the fishing industry by "creating a brand community of fishermen, processors, transport companies, and retailers, all working together" to give seafood customers what they demand: freshness, convenience, and sustainably harvested seafood. As "a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment," Fishpeople creates its own "local waters rating" of fish species based on ratings by the international Marine Stewardship Council and Monterrey Bay Seafood Watch, but "tailored to local conditions" using information gleaned from federal and state agencies, non-profit environmental organizations, leading universities, and Native American tribal sources.

Berry said they believe the Oregon Coast's future lies in adding value to its natural resources, including seafood, instead of shipping them raw and unimproved for others in distant locations to benefit.

"The seafood in our value-added meals is worth five times more than it is in the back of a freezer truck leaving the state," said Baratoff. "More money stays here in our coastal communities, where it's needed most." Doing so, he noted, could keep $400 million in annual revenues in communities on Oregon's central coast. Statewide, potential value-added revenue is an estimated $1.14 billion. The Fishpeople process starts at the Trident Seafoods docks in Newport. For now, they buy more tuna and salmon than crab and pink shrimp. That could change as they add to their product line.

"We buy direct from fishermen, using our own fish tickets," Baratoff said, noting they only use the trident dock to offload the catches. "The challenge is to buy fresh fish. Our focus is on quality, on having that fresh fish quality."

From there, the fish goes to the Toledo processing facility, where they use state-of-the-art water-jet cutters and nitrogen freezing tunnels to create premium-grade, bite-size seafood pieces. The frozen product is shipped to a co-packer in Salem. Using fresh land-based ingredients gleaned from farmers, wild mushroom gatherers, vintners and other producers throughout the Pacific Northwest and northern California, and recipes created by a "flavor council" of renowned Pacific Northwest chefs, they combine ingredients into flexible pouches and cook them to "seal in flavors and keep them as fresh as the day they were cooked." The sealed pouches have a shelf life of up to 18 months. From there, they go to the Fishpeople headquarters and warehouse in Portland for distribution.

Seafood consumers need to cook the pouches for just a few minutes in the microwave or boiling water to create "a fresh gourmet meal."

Baratoff said Fishpeople products offer all the attributes consumers say they value in their seafood. He noted the marriage of convenience and gourmet – a key marketing component, making it possible for consumers to have "fresh fish" anytime, anywhere. Flavor and appearance, affordability, proven health factors, environmental benefits, and benefits to local fishermen are also essential. Berry said their company's hallmark is "relentless transparency," with tracking numbers on all products that allow customers to go online and get detailed information on "where it all came from."

Fishpeople is registered as a B corporation in Oregon, which means they "consider people, planet and profit when making all business decisions," said Baratoff. "It's a different way of doing business."

Berry said they consider themselves "purposeful but playful." While they seriously believe in sustainable fishing practices and supporting local communities, they balance it with a sense of humor and fun, because "this is food or what we call eater-tainment."

It all starts with the ocean and the commercial fishermen who ply the waves for a living.

Size Matters

Approved by the Oregon legislature in 2005, ConnectOregon is dedicated to non-highway projects, focusing on multimodal transportation connections. The Port of Toledo is ideally situated at an intersection of river, railroad and highway.

The boatyard project – one of 36 approved by the Oregon Transportation Commission from among 104 applicants – is another surge forward in the port's resurrection of the boatyard it purchased for $1.5 million in December 2010. Former owner Fred Wahl shut down the operation in 2008 after nearly a decade on the sliver of land at Sturgeon Bend on the Yaquina River near Toledo. The port's purchase set the stage for major improvements and offered commercial fishermen and marine science researchers a much-needed place to keep their vessels shipshape. The port's do-it-yourself open yard provides access to a group of preferred and approved independent contractors.

"We are one of the few remaining repair facilities that not only allow, but welcome the do-it-yourself owner," Shoemake said. "We encourage boat owners to be as involved in the maintenance of their boats as possible."

Yaquina Boatyard currently offers a full range of services, including a 300-ton dry dock capable of handling vessels up to 100 feet long and 46 feet wide, and a 90-ton mobile lift able to accommodate vessels up to 21 feet wide and 24 feet high. For this project, however, size matters even more.

Shoemake said they'll replace the aging, failing dry dock with a 300- to 440-ton mobile lift, new pier for the lift, and new wash-down pad. "Then we can lift anything that's coming up the river," he noted.

They will also expand hard moorage spaces and create a cargo transfer area by relocating the boatyard's access road and utilities. It should also greatly enhance efficiency. Shoemake said the current dry dock set-up "is pretty cumbersome," since they "can only do one boat at a time, which isn't very efficient." And sandblasting and painting over water, no matter how carefully and precisely it's done, creates additional environmental concerns. Adding the new lift to "pull the boats out and put them in the yard" for servicing virtually eliminates those concerns.

The project stems from a build-out plan for the 20-acre property approved in 2013, with backing from city and county officials. Shoemake said the port used its investment in the property – now appraised at $4.2 million – to meet the port's 24 percent match requirement for the grant.

Because the boatyard provides a vital link for commercial fishing and marine research vessels, the Newport, Oregon-based Midwater Trawlers Cooperative, commercial fishermen Mike Pettis (F/V Patriot, F/V Challenge and F/V Jake-B), Bob Eder and Michelle Longo Eder (F/V Timmy Boy), and Kurt Cochran (F/V New Life, F/V Marathon and F/V Islander), the Port of Newport, and several marine service businesses joined many others in backing the project with enthusiastic letters of support.

The Oregon Transportation Commission considers the port and its boatyard "essential" to maintaining Oregon's economic competitiveness by keeping fishing and research vessels shipshape and seaworthy, and connections to markets intact and fully functional.

Boatyards are vital to a viable commercial fishing industry, which generates about 4,000 jobs and accounts for about 15 percent of earned income in Oregon's central coast communities (Newport, Toledo, Depoe Bay), according to an economic analysis. The port's business plan for the boatyard stated that more than half of the economic activity is generated by the distant water fleet, the remainder from the local/regional fleet. Ocean research conducted from Oregon State University's Hatfield Marine Science Center and the nearby NOAA research homeport in Newport further enhances the local, regional and state economy. Port of Toledo commissioners took a chance and bought the Yaquina Boatyard to stave off potential ebbing of the local and regional economy.

So far, the gamble has paid off.

One new addition to the boatyard that has already paid big dividends is manager Leo Newberg, who came aboard 15 months ago. Shoemake said the boatyard overseer is "really on top of things," and has proven a valuable asset to the growing operation.

FYI

To learn more about the new processing facility and its needs, go to http://www.fishpeopleseafood.com. Contact Berry at 503-342-2424, ext. 101 or duncan@fishpeopleseafood.com. Contact Baratoff at 503-342-2424, ext. 107 or kipp@fishpeopleseafood.com. To find out more about the Yaquina Boatyard, contact Newberg at 541-336-0333 or leo.newberg@portoftoledo.org. Or go to http://www.portoftoledo.org.

GOA Trawl Bycatch Management Options Face Analysis

How do you solve a problem like bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska trawl fisheries?

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council devoted hours of its fall meeting in Anchorage to that question, finally emerging with a motion calling for analysis of a number of alternatives and options.

The three alternatives to be considered include taking no action, a trawl bycatch management program for the Western Gulf, Central Gulf and West Yakutat area, and an alternative with a community fisheries association allocation or adaptive management program.

In considering a bycatch management program for trawl fisheries in the Western Gulf, Central Gulf and West Yakutat area, the council wants details on the pros and cons of 14 related topics, with possible options. These include observer coverage and monitoring, sector eligibility and allocated species to allocations of target and secondary species, voluntary inshore and catcher processor cooperative structures, the stability of fishery dependent communities, gear conversion and regionalization of target species quota.

In considering the third alternative, the bycatch management program for trawl fisheries, with community fisheries associations or an adaptive management program, there are a number of options to be analyzed, from how the CFA would provide a community sustainability plan to goals and objectives for these programs.

“…the halibut biomass in the North Pacific has plummeted over the past decade, with survey catch rates in some areas now at historic low levels. Many salmon stocks are imperiled, with low abundance levels triggering closures of commercial, sport and subsistence fisheries. The fishermen who have depended on these fisheries for sustenance or livelihood are struggling with significant and ongoing hardships,” said Linda Behnken, executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, in written testimony.

“In the Gulf, catch limits for the directed halibut fishery have been reduced 73 percent on average while trawl bycatch limits have been reduced 15 percent—with the reduction phased in over three years. This gross inequity indicates a dramatic imbalance in existing management, which is clearly skewed toward optimizing yield over minimizing bycatch, protecting historical fisheries, and providing for the sustained participation of fishery dependent communities.”

Theresa Peterson, a commercial harvester from Kodiak who is employed by the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, supported community fishing associations.

“A CFA provides a means to anchor quota in the community, provides a mechanism for providing for entry transition into the fishery, and provides a flexible mechanism for responding to other community concerns as they arise.

The initiative to implement trawl catch shares in the Gulf would have adverse impacts to the operational, economic, social and cultural characteristics of Kodiak and other Gulf pot cod fisheries, said Jeff Stephan , director of United Fishermen’s Marketing Association.

“I understand and do not censure the trawl sector’s interest to improve their profitability, cost, operational and other economic efficiencies,” Stephan said. “I am nonetheless concerned that the trawl catch share initiative has been successfully inculcated with the doctrine of presumed “tools” needed to reduce the prohibited species catch of Chinook salmon and halibut, and absent the acceptance or recognition of the need to carefully and fully evaluate the impacts to the pot cod fishery, Stephan said

Halibut Charter Fishery Issue Approved for Analysis

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council has approved initiating an analysis proposed by Alaska’s guided recreational fishing sector for a guided recreational halibut allocation under a catch share plan.

A motion, passed during the council’s fall meeting this week in Anchorage, calls for analysis of a catch sharing plan which would be combined with the halibut quota share held by the recreational quota entity to determine the annually adjusted total guided halibut allocation. The total allocation would be the basis for the determination of appropriate management measures for the guided halibut sector annually.

Tom Gemmell, executive director of the Halibut Coalition, offered written testimony urging the council to consider the appropriateness of launching any major changes to halibut charter management at this time, given recent implementation of the Catch Sharing Plan and Guided Angler Fish program. There is a need to clearly identify a problem the CATCH plan might correct and the council should also consider the importance of convening all stakeholders to consider a broader range of alternative solutions to the problem if one is identified, Gemmell said.

Brian Lynch, executive director of the Petersburg Vessel Owners Association, said PVOA also opposed the move. “Given that 2014 is the first year of halibut charter management under the Halibut Catch Sharing Plan and provisions of the Guided Angler Fish program, we believe it is presently premature and inappropriate to initiate additional actions that would result in major changes to the halibut charter management,” Lynch said. “Any major changes in the CSP or implementation of the CATCH program should only be considered if at some future time specific implementation problems with the CSP and GAF programs are clearly identified.”

Heath Hilyard, executive director of the Southeast Alaska Guide Organization, said that there are still a number of important questions to be answered before this could become a reality, and SEAGO’s belief is that only a formal analysis can address those questions and concerns. “By approving this motion, the council has shown its willingness to consider a new and innovative approach that could resolve long standing allocation problems between the guided recreational and commercial sectors between two competing user groups,” he said.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Today's Catch: Closed

If you fish commercially in Washington State waters, you’re wasting valuable taxpayer money. At least that’s how the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) sees it. To save those poor taxpayers from financial ruin, the WDFW wants to cut back on commercial fisheries, starting with the closure of the commercial salmon fishery in Puget Sound, Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor.

The State says it needs to find some money somewhere. State agencies in Washington submit supplemental operating budget proposals every two years. This year, Governor Jay Inslee wants those agencies to cut 15 percent from their share of the general fund. The 6-member Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission decided that the best place to find it was in the commercial fishery budget.

On September 4th, the commission voted 5 to 1 to approve the proposal from the department’s budget officer, which, along with closing the aforementioned fisheries, will close four hatcheries, reduce funding for two more and reduce commercial Puget Sound shellfish fisheries. “I proposed it,” says outgoing director of Fish and Wildlife Phil Anderson, of the budget, noting that a similar proposal four years ago was put before former Governor Christine Gregoire, who didn’t approve it. Now that the commission has voted on the budget, Anderson says, it goes to the Governor. It’s his decision on whether to take it to the legislature for a vote.

“In the past, the Governor and legislature have chosen not to take the cuts,” Anderson says. “Some of the budget cuts don’t make good sense from a cost / benefit perspective.”

The commission also proposes doubling the fees for commercial fisheries statewide.

Not all fisheries are on the chopping block. In the case of recreational fisheries, the commission recognizes “the benefits of sport fishing across the state in generating funding for agency activities well beyond fishery management cost.” The commission further believes “it would be beneficial to look for ways to make practical commitments to expand sport fishing opportunities at the same time that it pursues a course during this Legislative Session that avoids the need for additional license increases in the next two biennia.”

The budget concessions to the recreational fishermen coincide with the recent decriminalization of minor recreational fishing violations, leading Snohomish County to instruct fish and wildlife officers to no longer pursue criminal prosecution for unlawful recreational fishing in the second degree – essentially fishing without a license.

The budget vote, according to commissioner Robert Kehoe, was 5 to 1 to submit the proposal to the Governor. Kehoe, the Executive Director of the Purse Seine Vessel Owners Association, represents commercial fisherman on the commission, and was appointed by Governor Inslee in July of last year. 
The commission sets policy for the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Members are appointed by the governor to six-year terms and are subject to state Senate confirmation. Prior to Kehoe’s appointment, the required commercial fishing spot had been vacant for more than a year, and the seventh voting position has been vacant for more than two years. Only four of the voting members have been confirmed by the state legislature, but the vote is considered binding, and the proposal is on the Governor’s desk. The Governor’s office has declined to comment on whether he will accept the proposal.


The current commission has demonstrated a marked indifference, if not outright contempt, for the Washington State commercial fishing fleet, and Governor Inslee has been careful to remain above the fray, choosing to remain silent on the closure of the lower Columbia River to commercial gillnetters. If he approves the budget, the State Legislature will be the last chance to save Washington State’s commercial salmon fishery. Contact the Governor’s office today and tell him not to approve this budget. Also contact your legislator, and educate him on the value of the commercial fishery to Washington State, and tell your friends and family to do the same.

Booming Season Ahead for Bering Sea Crab Fisheries

Total allowable catches set for Bering Sea tanner crab, red king crab and St. Matthew Island blue king crab for the season opening Oct. 15 are bound to keep harvesters real busy.

The tanner crab quota for the Eastern Bering Sea is 8,480,000 pounds, with 7,632,000 pounds allocated to holders of individual fishing quota and 848,000 pounds for community development quota groups. For the Western Bering Sea, harvesters have an allowable catch totalling 6,625,000 pounds, with 5,962500 pounds going to IFQ holders and 662,500 pounds for the six CDQ groups.

That’s a huge jump from a year ago, when the Eastern Bering Sea had a total allowable catch of tanner crab set at 1,463,000, including 1,316,700 pounds for the IFQ holders and 146,300 pounds for CDQs, and a total of 1,645,000 pounds of tanner crab for the Western Bering Sea, including 1,480,500 pounds for IFQ holders and 164,500 pounds for CDQ groups.

The good news also prevails with higher quotas for the Bristol Bay red king crab fishery and the opening of the St. Matthew Island section blue king crab fishery, which was closed last year.

Bristol Bay red king crab quotas for this season total 9,986,000 pounds, with 8,987,400 pounds allocated to IFQ holders and 998,600 pounds going to CDQs.

A year ago the total allowable catch was 8.6 million pounds, including 7,740,000 pounds for IFQs and 860,000 pounds for CDQs.

Harvesters of Saint Matthew Island section blue king crab have a total allowable catch allocation of 655,000 pounds, with the IFQs getting 589,500 pounds and CDQs allowed to harvest 65,500 pounds.

The Bering Sea tanner crab fishery closes March 31, the red king crab fishery on Jan. 15, and the St. Matthew blue king crab fishery on Feb. 1.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists at Dutch Harbor are expected to announce the total allowable catch for snow crab within the next few days.

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