Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Coal Mine Opponents Granted Water Protections

A decision announced Oct. 7 by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources grants limited fish and wildlife protections to a tributary to the Chuitna River critical for salmon habitat, sought to stop the progress of a proposed coal mine.

David Schade, chief of DNR’s water resources section, said his decision grants one of three reservations of water applications to the Chuitna Citizens Coalition in the lower reach of Middle Creek/Stream 2003, but not for applications for the main reach and the middle reach of Middle Creek/Stream 2002.

The proposal from Delaware-based PacRim Coal would mine through nearly 14 miles of critical salmon habitat. PacRim, meanwhile, has not submitted permit applications yet, and the Usibelli Coal Mine, the state’s only operating coal mine, recently announced its decision to halt exports, citing an oversupply of coal globally as well as low prices. The Chuitna Citizens Coalition, with support from commercial fishermen, environmentalists and others, had sought three water reservations because PacRim Coal wants to build a large coal strip mine which would directly impact several miles of salmon streams.

The coalition responded quickly to DNR’s decision to grant only one reservation for water. The coalition noted that the two water reservations not granted lie within the boundaries of PacRim Coal’s controversial proposal to strip mine through nearly 14 miles of salmon stream, while the approved application covers a stretch of water just downstream from the proposed mine.

“Make no mistake,” said coalition spokesman Ron Burnett, “DNR is saying that a potential coal strip mine is more valuable to the public than protecting wild salmon habitat. ”

Schade said he found two arguments regarding the reservation of water applications to be compelling. Shade said the coalition made a compelling argument that DNR should not allow PacRim to develop a coal mine that would significantly and negatively impact the Chuitna River watershed. Second, said Schade, the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority and others made a compelling argument that the state and federal permitting processes must allow for a predictable and complete permitting process that allows all available information to be presented to state and federal regulatory agencies.

Schade said his agency would analyze the entire Chuitna watershed and the consequences and protections of the different proposed uses. He said the review would occur after other mine-related permitting is complete and the best information is available for all the Chuitna water right applications.

By issuing the decision, DNR complied with an Alaska Superior Court order to issue a decision on the water reservation, but the decision may be appealed to DNR within 20 days, he said.

Bristol Bay Red King Crab Allocated

The total allowable catch for the Bristol Bay red king crab fishery, which opens Oct. 15 is set at 9,974,000 pounds, just below last year’s quota of 9,986,000 pounds.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game allocated 8,976,600 pounds of that quota to individual fishing quota holders, with another 997,400 pounds to community development quota entities.

The Bristol Bay red king crab fishery concludes on Jan. 15.

For the Bering Sea tanner crab fishery, which runs from Oct. 15 through March 31, biologists have set the TAC west of 166 degrees longitude at 8,396,000 pounds, with 7,556,400 pounds for IFQ holders and 839,600 pounds for CDQ groups. East of 166 degrees west, the TAC will be 11,272,000 pounds, with 10,144,800 pounds for IFQ holders and 1,127,200 pounds for the CDQ entities.

The total allowable catch for Saint Matthew Island section blue king crab was set at 411,000 pounds, with 369,900 pounds for individual fishing quota holders and 41,100 pounds for the community development quota groups. The Saint Matthew Island blue king crab fishery concludes on Feb. 1

The Pribilof District red and blue king crab fisheries were directed to remain closed for the season, due to stocks being well below the minimum stock size threshold.

Forecast Out for 2016 Togiak Herring Harvest

Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists have issued their 2016 forecast for the Togiak district sac roe and spawn-on-kelp fishery and Dutch Harbor food and bait fishery.

The forecast is based on a maximum 20 percent exploitation rate of the projected biomass, as defined in regulations for the Bristol Bay Herring Management Plan.

The projected biomass of 162,244 tons is down just slightly from the 2015 forecasted biomass of 163,480 tons, and the total allowable harvest of 32,449 tons is down slightly from 32,696 tons a year ago.

The fixed allocation for Togiak spawn-on-kelp is 1,500 tons, and the remaining allowable harvest is 30,949 tons.

The Dutch Harbor food/bait allocation, based on 7 percent of the remaining allowable harvest, is 2,166 tons. The Togiak District sac roe fishermen get 28,782 tons, with 20,148 tons, or 70 percent, going to the purse seine fleet, and 8,635 tons, or 30 percent, going to the gill net fleet.

The final report on the 2015 harvest, estimated in value at $1.08 million, and based on $50 a ton, will be out next spring.

Preliminary harvest figures put the total catch at 21,594 tons, with the purse seine fleet achieving its full allocation with a harvest of 20,374 tons, including an estimated 500 tons of deadloss. Gillnetters brought in 1,220 tons, just 14 percent of their allocation.

A total of 12 seine vessels and 6 gillnetters participated.

Purchasers included Trident Seafoods, Icicle Seafoods, North Pacific Seafoods and Silver Bay Seafoods.

Norton Sound Fisheries Share Wealth

Norton Sound Seafood Products, in Nome, Alaska, paid out more than $4.5 million to 211 resident crab, halibut and salmon harvesters in the 2015 commercial fisheries, plus another $2.1 million to seasonal employees.

NSSP, a subsidiary of the Norton Sound Economic Development Corp., a community development quota entity, said in an announcement on Sept. 30 that this year’s payout to commercial fishermen more than triples the $1.4 million paid to residents in the 2005 fishery.

“After tipping the $4 million mark in NSSP’s payout to commercial fishers last year, it’s great to see continued growth in the regional commercial fisheries,” said Dan Harrelson, NSEDC board chairman. The company provides processing plants, buying stations and tender vessels, but it is the resident harvesters who make the regional fisheries successful, he said.

Norton Sound commercial fishers saw a $3.1 million increase in ex-vessel value in 10 years with the $4.5 million paid in 2015.

In the salmon fishery alone, the total number of participants nearly tripled and the ex-vessel value grew from $296,253 to $1.9 million in the decade.

Total 2015 NSSP harvests included 428,656 pounds of crab valued at $2,353,826, 2,496,834 pounds of salmon valued at $1,927,552, and 52,994 pounds of halibut valued at $230,446.

“We credit much of the growth toward providing increased support and fishing opportunity to Norton Bay communities, Harrelson said. “With buying stations in Golovin, Koyuk, Shaktoolik and Elim and a fleet of tender vessels moving Norton Bay product, more fishers can participate in the Norton Sound commercial fisheries.”

The Norton Sound red king crab fishery nearly tripled in ex-vessel value in the same decade. In 2005, 26 fishers delivered a total harvest of 295,000 pounds with an ex-vessel value of $868,670. This compares to the 2015 Norton Sound red king crab season where 36 fishers delivered a harvest of 428,656 pounds of product with an ex-vessel value of $2.53 million in a record 26-day fishery.

NSSP also credited its seasonal crews for the successful season.

A total of 267 Norton Sound residents worked in the processing plants in Unalakleet, Nome and Savoonga, at community buying stations in Shaktoolik, Golovin, Elim, and Koyuk, and for tender vessel crews. “Without the processing, buying and tendering crews, NSSP would not be what it is today,” said Janis Ivanoff, president and chief operating officer of NSEDC.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Alaska’s Salmon Harvest Exceeds 255 Million Fish

Preliminary statistics compiled by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game put the state’s wild salmon harvest in excess of 255 million fish…and they’re still coming.

Fresh wild coho salmon are taking center stage this week, with silver fillets priced at $9.99 a pound in Southcentral Alaska.

Seattle’s Pike Place Fish Market has whole fresh wild cohos available for $69.93 per fish, and fillets for $16.99 a pound, and Snug Harbor Seafoods in Kenai, Alaska, has silver fillets for $14.99.

As fishing continues, fresh fillets, steaks and whole fish of different salmon are also available, as single items and in seafood combo packs, from several online entities.

ADF&G was advising Prince William Sound gillnet fishermen to be sure and assure a market before harvesting fish.

More than 104 million salmon – 98 million of them humpies – have been delivered to processors in Prince William Sound. The catch there also includes nearly 3.1 million sockeyes, 2.5 million chums, 192,000 silvers, and 24,000 kings.

Cook Inlet fishermen have brought in nearly 7 million fish, delivering the processors 3.6 million pinks, 2.8 million reds, 371,000 chum, 216,000 cohos, and 11,000 kings.

The Alaska-Yukon-Kuskokwim region has delivered 1.6 million fish, including more than a million chums, plus 426,000 silvers, 70,000 humpies, 61,000 reds, and 9,000 sockeyes. The Lower Yukon River alone had a catch of 530,000 chums, 120,000 silvers, and 6,000 pinks.

Southeast Alaska harvesters contributed 46.7 million fish to the statewide harvest, including more than 34 million humpies, 9.2 million chums, 1.8 million silvers, 1.4 million sockeyes, and 344,000 kings.

Alaska Peninsula harvesters have in excess of 23 million fish, including over 16 million pinks, 5.7 million reds, 835,000 chums, 310,000 cohos, and 53,000 kings.

Chignik fishermen contributed a harvest of 3.5 million fish, including 1.8 million humpies and 1.5 million reds, plus 95,000 chums, 82,000 silvers, and 9,000 Chinooks. At Kodiak, processors have received nearly 33 million salmon, including more than 29 million humpies. Fishermen also brought in 2.7 million sockeyes, 704,000 chums, 321,000 cohos, and 7,000 kings.

October is National Seafood Month

Fishing, in all its forms, is a $72 billion a year business in the United States, a business that the National Marine Fisheries Service reminds us is vital to the economies and identities of the nation’s coastal communities.

The economic activity generated by domestic fisheries and aquaculture creates nearly two million jobs, from harvesting to processing, seafood markets and restaurants. Yet American fishermen and local economies are struggling in large part as a result of years of decline nationally in fishing, and NMFS says that over 84 percent of the seafood consumed in the US is imported, contributing to a $9 billion annual seafood trade deficit.

The US Food and Drug Administration has suggested that people eat two-six-ounce servings- about the size of an iPhone – of seafood each week.

In celebration of National Seafood Month, the seaside town of Morro Bay, California, is holding its Redesigned Morro Bay Harbor Festival Oct. 3.

Brent Haugen, executive director of the Morro Bay Tourism Bureau, says ocean, fishing and seafood are very important to people who live and work and visit Morro Bay, a community where fresh, sustainable seafood is served all year round.

This year’s festivalgoers will be able to purchase fresh seafood from local fishermen. Options will include oysters, albacore and spot prawns from the Morro Bay Fishermen’s Association, rockfish and tacos from South Bay Wild, and assorted fish and fish chowder from the Central Coast Women for Fisheries.

The festival will also feature maritime-heritage venues, mini-yacht races, watercraft demonstrations and harbor boat tours.

More festival information and seafood recipes are online at

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Shell Suspends Drilling in Arctic

After spending upwards of $7 billion on oil exploration in the Arctic, Royal Dutch Shell will cease further exploration activity offshore in Alaska for the foreseeable future, the company announced Sept. 27.

Marvin Odum, director of Shell Upstream Americas, said while Shell found indications of oil and gas in the Burger J well, drilled to a total depth of 6,800 feet this summer, that this was not sufficient to warrant further exploration into the Burger prospect, so the well will be sealed and abandoned.

Odum said Shell still sees important exploration potential in the basin, but for now will cease further exploration activity in offshore Alaska for the foreseeable future.

This decision, Shell said in a statement, “reflects both the Burger J well result, the high costs associated with the project, and the challenging and unpredictable federal regulatory environment in offshore Alaska.

Alaska Senators Lisa Murkowski, and Dan Sullivan, both Republicans, were among those expressing disappointment with the decision. “What we have here is a case in which a company’s commercial efforts could not overcome a burdensome and often contradictory regulatory environment,” Murkowski said.

Arctic Slope Regional Corp. an Alaska Native regional firm at Barrow, also expressed concern, as the company had been a partner in the offshore development.

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker called the decision a huge disappointment, and that he had been very optimistic about what Shell was going to find.

Walker planned to meet with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on working with the Obama administration to see that Shell’s leases are extended.

Environmental entities, who had opposed the offshore drilling out of concerns that there would be no way to clean up potential oil spills, said they were happy with Shell’s decision.

“It means for the foreseeable future there won’t be a threat of major spills affecting the marine environment’s sensitive coastal areas and the Arctic residents who rely on the ocean for subsistence, said Lois Epstein, Arctic program director for the Wilderness Society.

Oceana also applauded the decision.

“As President Obama saw first-hand, there are many challenges in the Arctic region, and we can use this opportunity to address changing climate and the need to protect and conserve important ocean resources,” said Susan Murray, Oceana’s deputy vice president. “Shell’s announcement allows the government to take a step back to apply careful planning, precaution and science to forge a sustainable future for the Arctic.”

Shell’s decision to drill offshore in the Arctic sparked a number of protests earlier this year, in Alaska, Washington and Oregon.

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