Wednesday, January 18, 2017

AFSC Study on Alaska Corals

Researchers at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center say a five-year study pinpoints the slow growth of some Alaska corals, and the important implications this slow growth has for commercial fish species.

The study began with AFSC researchers diving into the North Pacific Ocean and tagging 93 coral colonies to learn more about the growth rate of some Alaska corals that provide important commercial fish habitats. Then every year for five years they went back to the bottom of the ocean to measure the size of the corals.

Their conclusions were published in January in the peer-reviewed, open-access online publication PLOS ONE. The web link is http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0169470 Gorgonian octocorals are the most abundant corals in Alaska, and provide important structural habitat for managed species of demersal fish and invertebrates.

While 59 gorgonian species have been reported from Alaska waters, little is known about their life history characteristics to help determine their ability to recover from seafloor disturbance.

Based on data collected, the researchers concluded that it would take about 60 years for some of the gorgonian octocorals to grow to maximum size, and depending on the location and size of the parental standing stock, at least one, and possibly 10 additional years for recruitment to occur.

Researchers further concluded that colonies of these corals that are injured, perhaps chronically in areas of frequent disturbance, grow at slower rates. If the current trend of ocean warming continues, they said, these corals can be expected to grow more slowly, and the habitats they form will require more time to recover from disturbance.

New Study Confirms Presence of Tapeworm in Wild Salmon

Larvae of the Japanese broad tapeworm, which is associated with tapeworm infections in humans, has been detected in wild salmon in Southcentral Alaska, but a state fisheries pathologist says this is no reason for alarm.

“It’s a common thing,” said Jayde Ferguson, a pathologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, who assisted fisheries scientists from the Czech Republic in their study, which was published in the February edition of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Emerging Infectious Diseases report.

The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute responded quickly to the report about the presence of tapeworm infections in wild Alaska salmon, saying that Alaska salmon is among the highest quality seafood and safe for consumer consumption.

“All commercially harvested Alaska seafood, which accounts for more than 60 percent of all the seafood harvested in the United States, is processed in accordance with strict Food and Drug Administration regulations, including parasite controls,” ASMI said.

FDA guidelines dictate that seafood be frozen to minus-4 degrees Fahrenheit or below for seven days if it is to be consumed raw for food safety reasons. Salmon that has not been properly frozen should be cooked thoroughly to an internal temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit before consumption. For any raw or semi-raw preparations, ASMI always recommends using properly frozen seafood.

The tapeworm has been here for thousands of years, but identifying these worms is very challenging,” Ferguson said in an interview Jan. 12.

While people can get diphyllobothriosis (tapeworm infections) from infected fish, they can easily be avoided, he said.

An online booklet produced by ADF&G (https://www.adfg.alaska.gov/static/species/disease/pdfs/fish_disease_book.pdf) notes that cooking fish to at least 140 degrees Fahrenheit at least five minutes, or freezing it for at least 60 hours at minus-4 degrees will kill parasitic worms. Details on tapeworm are on pages 60-61. The same guidance should be followed before feeding these salmon to dogs and cats, he said.

Since ADF&G doesn’t have baseline data on this subject, the prevalence of this parasite in Alaska’s salmon is unknown, Ferguson said.

America may represent a source of human infection,” the Czech report said. “Because Pacific salmon are frequently exported unfrozen, on ice, plerocercoids (the last larval stage of this flatworm) may survive transport and cause human infections in areas where they are not endemic, such as China, Europe, New Zealand and middle and eastern United States.

“For more effective control of this human foodborne parasite detection of the sources of human infection (i.e. host associations) and critical revision of the current knowledge of the distribution and transmission patterns of individual human-infecting tapeworms are needed.”

Alaska Marine Science Symposium

Climate change will be in the spotlight when the 2017 Alaska Marine Science Symposium opens Jan. 23 at the Hotel Captain Cook in Anchorage.

Keynote speaker Takashi Kikuchi of the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology will discuss changes of oceanographic conditions in the Pacific sector of the Arctic Ocean and the impact to marine ecosystems. Fran Ulmer, chair of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission will speak about the commission’s goals and objectives for Arctic research through 2018.

University of Washington research scientist Nick Bond will speak on the recent marine heat wave in Alaska. Bond, the state climatologist for Washington, conducts research with a focus on the climate of the Pacific Northwest, and linkages between the climate and marine ecosystems of Alaska. January 24, January 25 and January 26th of the symposium will be devoted to the Gulf of Alaska, Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, and the Arctic respectively.

The annual symposium brings together scientists from various countries and government entities who have done studies in these areas, to showcase their marine research findings and answer questions from several hundred participants.

Complete details on the agenda are online at amss.nprb.org

The symposium is coordinated by the North Pacific Research Board, which was created by Congress in 1997 to recommend marine research activities to the US Secretary of Commerce. For nearly two decades, the NPRB has focused on research to better understand the waters surrounding Alaska as they relate to pressing fishery management issues and important ecosystem information needs.

Since 2002, the NPRB has supported three major ecosystem research programs, over 380 multi-annual projects, 56 graduate students and three-long-term monitoring projects.

To date NPRB has funded more than 120 different national and international institutions, resulting in several hundred peer-reviewed journal publications covering marine research themes.

Guest Editorial: Bad Data, Bad Policy

Robert Sudar, a fish broker and former commercial fisherman from Longview, Washington, was on hand to witness the recent decision by the State of Washington to follow through on a plan to close the mainstem Columbia River to commercial fishing. Here is his review.

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission met in Vancouver on Saturday, January 14th, to consider moving ahead with the Columbia River Reforms. The Coastal Conservation Association packed the room, but that's to be expected in the heart of anti-commercial sentiment in Washington.

The Commission heard a report from staff, but we didn't get to see it until we got there. Then the Fish Committee – including three of the strongest anti-commercial Commissioners – gave their reports, as did Bob Kehoe, Executive Director of the Purse Seine Vessel Owners Association, who is the fourth member of the Fish Committee.

Larry Carpenter gave the majority opinion, which was a modification of the Oregon plan, but we aren't sure exactly what it says, because we saw it on the screen before the vote but nothing has been posted online, nor was it in any of the handouts. It was actually outlined by Commissioner Carpenter before any public testimony was presented. Basically, it ends our spring access (including with tanglenets), no summer Chinook fishing unless we can find a "selective" method other than gillnets (and then only at 40 percent of our 2012 share), an August gillnet fishery above Woodland for two more years but with another reduction in impacts (from 30 percent to now 25 percent), and I'm not sure what would be available for coho – maybe just tanglenets in October.

Kehoe presented a great minority report, calling for a continuation at the current sharing levels for two more years, to see how Select Area releases perform and how the industry fares with declining runs. He had solid reasons and clearly pointed out where the Policy has failed – essentially in all aspects. We thought we had support for Kehoe's proposal, but in the end some of our stronger supporters faltered, perhaps because of the crowd, and then the others on the fence could move to the majority cause without being a deciding vote. It ended up 7-2.

It was really painful to hear all of the inaccurate testimony from the crowd, along with another misleading staff report of half-truths. This Commission absolutely fails to use staff to resolve differing testimony. Instead, we have had to essentially testify against staff, which is a losing proposition with most commissions and committees. This hasn't really been a battle between recreational and commercial fishermen, it's been between staff and commercial fishermen. If the Commissioners would ask staff to address whether our fishery is any more of a risk to wild stocks than the sport fishery, or whether we can fish selectively with our gillnets, or whether hatchery fish removal will increase or decrease when our fishery is gone, it would help to diffuse the controversy and allow the Commissioners to vote based on science, but they have NEVER done that. The Commissioners allowed legislators to speak (without a 3 minute time limit). Senator Dean Takko, from Longview, spoke on behalf of our fishery and on his hope that there could be fish for all user groups.

Senator Lynda Wilson, from Vancouver, spoke in favor of the reforms. So did Representative Liz Pike, from Camas, Washington, who said “I want you all to be bold. I want you to have a spine. I want you to do the right thing.’’ Nice dialogue from our elected representatives.

They also allowed Larry Cassidy, a former commissioner, NW Power Planning Council member and a board member of WACPAC, a recreational PAC, to testify unhindered. One of his classic comments was “There’s nothing, that I know of, that swims into a gillnet that doesn’t die.'' So that pretty well describes what we heard from the sport folks, over and over again, and what we were up against.

We just can't win in Washington with the current makeup on the Commission. And part of the problem is probably that salmon management on the Columbia is so confusing it's no wonder they can't understand it well enough to see what this mess really is. Carpenter and his cronies said that this was a great step for conservation and for wild fish, and that selective harvest is the key, and yet they also cut our spring Chinook tanglenet fishery, which has a better mortality rate than any sport fishery except spring and steelhead. It's all about sport fishing, it's all about hating gillnets, it's all about allocation. Commissioner Mahnken, who is stepping down after this meeting, said that he used to think he could use science in making his decisions but now he realizes that he has to blend science and politics. I think that's a direct contradiction to SHB 2261, which requires that they use best available science and peer review when making any major decisions, but I guess that only matters when they want it to. It's basically just what I said in Seattle before Christmas: until someone calls the Commission to task for the way they are managing a public resource, and insists on staff acting as a barometer for good science instead of providing the testimony they think Carpenter, Graybill and Wecker want to hear, it will be hard to save our fisheries. It may be too late for us now, but maybe not for others.

So Friday we are in Oregon, trying to get their Commission to hold the line. They understand the issue a little better and a couple of Commissioners understand commercial fishing. They also have a legislative mandate to enhance our fishery while making these changes. Actually Washington has that provision, too, in RCW 77.04.012, but staff only uses "the department shall seek to maintain the economic well-being and stability of the fishing industry in the state." They ignore the next sentence, which says "The department shall promote orderly fisheries and shall enhance and improve recreational and commercial fishing in this state."

So if we do get Oregon to provide more support and pass a Policy option that keeps us more whole, negotiating an agreement between the two states, which co-manage the fishery, could get really messy. We even heard some testimony Saturday suggesting that Washington break the Columbia River Compact, after almost 100 years, if Oregon won't agree. It was easy for them to make bold talk when the room was filled with people wearing CCA hats.

My seine skipper back in the 70s and 80s used to often say "poor America" when discussing recent government activities. I didn't understand exactly what he meant then, but I think I'm getting an inkling now.

Robert Sudar is on the front lines of the Columbia River fish battle. He is working tirelessly to educate both states’ lawmakers on the realities of the tribal, non-tribal and recreational fisheries on the Columbia River. He could use your help. Contact your Washington State representative and let him know that fishing policy should be based on science and law, not favoritism.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Alaska Board of Fisheries Considers Stronger Habitat Protections

The Alaska Board of Fisheries members meeting at Kodiak through Jan. 13 will consider asking Alaska legislators to revise Title 16 of the Alaska Statutes to put more teeth into regulations protecting fisheries habitat.

The statute as it stands directs the commissioners of the Departments of Fish and Game and Natural Resources in relatively vague terms to issue permits unless there is a determination that such activity is insufficient to protect fish and game.

Given the debate over potential adverse impact of development of non-renewable resources on fisheries habitat, a group of individuals, businesses and organizations united as “Stand For Salmon” is asking the Board of Fisheries to request that the Legislature take a look at permit requirements that haven’t been updated for years.

Stand For Salmon spokeswoman Lindsey Bloom of Juneau, a commercial harvester, said the group put the proposal to the Board of Fish “because when we started looking at the statutes regarding fish habitat permitting we realized there wasn’t much there. We started looking at where in Alaska policies was there anything better defining the ‘proper protection of fish and game’.

“We found what had the most meat on the bones was the BOF sustainable salmon policy. The BOF has authority over not just allocation but habitat as well and the Legislature relies on them to take actions and make recommendations that keep the politics out of what should be science based decisions,” Bloom said.

The sustainable salmon policy was the most detailed document they could find on what specific criteria and definitions for protection of fish and game might be, she said. But that policy is simply for guidance and there is no requirement that it be followed in processing fish habitat permits. “So we thought the statute, Title 16, which is Alaska’s fish Habitat Permitting law, should be updated and the BOF would be a good place to start to test the idea,” she said.

NMFS Adjusts BSAI TAC, Seeks Comments by Jan. 25

The National Marine Fisheries Service has announced a temporary rule to adjust the 2017 total allowable catch amounts for Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands pollock, Atka mackerel, and Pacific cod fisheries.

NMFS published the temporary rule in the Federal Register on Jan. 10, saying the action was necessary because NMFS determined that these TACs are incorrectly specified, and its action will ensure the BSAI Pollock, Atka mackerel, and Pacific cod TACs are the appropriate amounts based on the best available scientific information.

NMFS also announced that the Aleutian Islands catcher vessel harvest set-aside and Bering Sea trawl catcher vessel A-season sector limitation would not be in effect for 2017, and that TACs in this inseason adjustment will apply for 2017. This action is consistent with the goals and objectives of the Fishery Management Plan for Groundfish of the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands Management Area, NMFS said.

NMFS is accepting comments electronically and by mail on its decision until Jan. 25.

Electronic submissions should be sent to the federal e-Rulemaking Portal. Go to https://www.regulations.gov/docket?D=NOAA-NMFS-2015-0118, click the “Comment Now!” icon, complete required fields, and enter or attach your comments. Direct written comments to Glenn Merrill, assistant regional administrator, Sustainable Fisheries Division, Alaska Region NMFS, Attn: Ellen Sebastian, at P.O. Box 21668, Juneau, AK 99802-1668

All comments received are part of the public record and will generally be posted for public viewing at www.regulations.gov without change. All personal identifying information, confidential business information, or otherwise sensitive information submitted voluntarily by the sender will be publicly accessible. Enter “N/A” in the required fields if you wish to remain anonymous.

Alaska Seafood Still Safe From Radiation

Testing of wild Alaska salmon, halibut, Pollock, sablefish, herring and Pacific cod has confirmed once again no presence of Fukushima-related radiation, Alaska officials confirmed Jan. 9.

Testing in previous years, in the aftermath of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, showed no detectable levels of Fukushima-related radionuclides in the seafood, and testing in 2016 also confirmed the quality and health of Alaska seafood has not been impacted by the Fukushima disaster, said officials with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

DEC still receives inquiries regarding the safety of Alaska seafood, said DEC spokeswoman Marlena Brewer. “We get a lot of callers who want to see the data that proves lack of radiation in seafood.”

To assume the safety of Alaska’s abundant seafood harvest, DEC environmental health officers collect samples of fish during regular inspections of commercial fishing processors statewide. Results of that testing in 2016 showed no detection of Fukushima-related radionuclides Iodine-131, Cesium-134 and Cesium-137.

Alaska was selected this past year as the first state test site for implementation of a field deployable gamma-ray analysis system to analyze fish for radionuclides. The unique pilot project was organized by the US Food and Drug Administration, and the system was installed at DEC’s Environmental health Laboratory in Anchorage.

Fish samples were analyzed in-house in Anchorage and digital data was transmitted to the FDA’s Winchester Engineering and Analytical Center in Winchester, MA for interpretation and reporting.

That collaborative effort provided Alaska with the capability to evaluate surveillance samples in-state for Fukushima radiation. Validation of this portable system will allow rapid on-site evaluation of environmental samples for gamma radiation contamination anywhere in the U.S. and will enhance the nation’s Food Emergency Response Network, DEC officials said.

DEC is continuing to collaborate with other government agencies and researchers to monitor the marine environment. Agency officials said that while researchers from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute recently detected ultra-low levels of Fukushima-related radiation in seawater samples taken from Tillamook Bay and Gold Beach in Oregon, that those findings did not indicate a threat to Alaska waters or the safety of consuming marine fish.

A full listing of the 2016 FDA radionuclide testing results for Alaska is online at http://tinyurl.com/2016-radionuclide-testing

More Alaska –specific information about Fukushima-related radiation exposure is at http://dhss.alaska.gov/dph/Epi/eph/Pages/radiation/faq.aspx

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