Wednesday, November 13, 2019

2020 Bristol Bay Harvest Forecast Set to 34.56M Salmon

The 2020 Bristol Bay sockeye salmon forecast, issued on Nov. 8, anticipates a total run of 48.95 million fish, which would allow for a potential harvest of 34.56 million. Those figures are higher than this past season 26.11 million fish forecast but lower than the actual 44.5 million harvest.

Should the 2020 run come in as anticipated, it will be 6 percent larger than the most recent 10-year average of Bristol Bay total runs (45.9 million) and 29 percent greater than the long-term (1963-2019) average of 34.6 million fish.

The annual forecast is the sum of individual predictions of nine river systems, all of which are expected to meet their spawning escapement goals. The 2020 forecast accounts for 19.97 million salmon to the Naknek-Kvichak District, 10.75 million to Egegik, 4.67 million to the Ugashik, 12.63 million to Nushagak, and 0.93 million to Togiak.

Actual 2019 harvests by district included 11.4 million salmon from the Naknek-Kvichak, 15 million from Egegik, 1 million from the Ugashik, 15.7 million from the Nushagak, and 1.3 million from Togiak.

Biologists also estimate that 19.14 million (39 percent) of the total run would be age-1.2 fish; 7.06 million (14 percent) age-2.2; 21.04 million (43 percent) age-1.3; and 1.68 million (3 percent) age-2.3.

According to state biologists, the impact of abnormally high water temperatures in Bristol Bay and other Alaska fisheries during the 2019 summer, as well as drought conditions that caused a thermal block in many rivers and streams which led fish to die before getting to spawning grounds, will not be determined until the summer of 2023.

The ADF&G 2020 forecast acknowledges that individual river forecasts always have greater uncertainty than bay-wide predictions. Since 2001, on average, biologists have under-forecast river returns to the Alagnak (33 percent), Togiak (12 percent), Kvichak (22 percent), Wood (17 percent), Nushagak (20 percent), Ugashik (0.5 percent), and Naknek (14 percent) and over-estimated returns to the Igushik (13 percent) and Egegik (14 percent).

ADF&G extended thanks to the Bristol Bay Fisheries Collaborative (BBFC) for providing $750,000 in funding assistance in 2019. The BBFC was established in 2016 as part of an agreement between ADF&G and the Bristol Bay Science and Research Institute (BBSRI) to work together with stakeholders to restore a world-class fishery management system and raise funds to support and maintain management.

The agreement has support from ADF&G, BBSRI, Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, set net fishermen, processors, municipalities, villages, support industries and other stakeholders. A complete list of participants is available online at https://www.bbsri.org/bbfc.

Adak Seeks Exclusive Registration Area for P-cod Fishery

A proposal to make the Aleutian Islands subdistrict an exclusive registration area for Pacific cod during the state waters season is slated for consideration when the Alaska Board of Fisheries meets in Seward Dec. 10-13.

Proposal 278 put forward by the city of Adak, Alaska, and the Adak Community Development Corp. notes that a shore-based processor at Adak began processing Aleutian Islands Pacific cod in 2017. Since, effort has increased and the guideline harvest level has been fully harvested.

According to the proposal, declines in Pacific cod abundance in the Gulf of Alaska have redistributed state-waters fishing efforts away from fisheries in the Gulf of Alaska to the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands. This change has boosted effort and competition among harvesters and reduced season lengths in both the Dutch Harbor and Aleutian Islands subdistricts.

In recent years, the Dutch Harbor subdistrict has closed prior to the Aleutian Islands subdistrict, allowing for an influx of Dutch Harbor pot boats to enter the Aleutian Islands fishery mid-season, creating a race for fish and increased competition for Aleutians fishermen.

There are eight state waters (guideline harvest level) Pacific cod fisheries: Eastern Gulf of Alaska, Prince William Sound, Cook Inlet, Kodiak, Chignik, South Alaska Peninsula, Dutch Harbor subdistrict and the Aleutian Islands subdistrict. Currently only the Eastern Gulf of Alaska and Aleutian Islands subdistrict are designated as nonexclusive fisheries.

Golden Harvest Alaska Seafood, which opened its doors three years ago in Adak, buys Pacific cod from approximately half a dozen small boat (under 60 feet) fishermen, and moves large volumes of fresh and once frozen cod fillets out of Adak by air mostly to domestic markets.

“We are using 100 percent American labor and doing most of the value-added processing in Alaska,” said Steve Minor, a Washington state consultant to Golden Harvest. From January through April the processing facility employs about 350 people, many of them housed in old military housing rehabilitated by the Aleut Corp. and leased by Golden Harvest. After the A season, the plant provides work for 80 fulltime employees.

Golden Harvest is working with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to develop other small fisheries, including crab, halibut, sablefish and the pink salmon seine fishery, in addition to dive fisheries for sea urchins and geoducks.

The effort is focused on keeping the city of Adak ––population just over 300 people– open, including its schools, “but none of this works without Pacific cod, because that is the big fishery,” Minor said. “The state waters cod fishery is a small boat fishery, Alaska boats and these guys have worked hard to help us develop these markets,” he said. “All we are trying to do is get equal treatment for them. This year we are the only fishery with a cap on the (Pacific cod) quota of 15 million pounds.”

The fisheries board will also address several dozen other proposals regarding Lower Cook Inlet finfish. The meeting will take place at the Alaska Vocational Technical Center.

Proposals are available for review online at https://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=fisheriesboard.meetinginfo&date=12-10-2019&meeting=seward#,fixed,,14

Study Shows Larval Fish Are Ingesting Plastics

A new study released by the University of Hawaii at Manoa shows that larval fish species from different ocean areas are ingesting plastics in their preferred nursery habitat.

The study, conducted by NOAA’s Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center and an international team of scientists, concluded that the further investigation is needed to understand the effects of plastic ingestion by larval fish on individuals and populations.

Researchers combined field-based plankton tow surveys and advanced remote sensing techniques to identify larval fish nursery habitats in coastal waters of Hawaii for their study, which was published on Nov. 11 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study was also reported on EurekAlert, the online publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Researchers found that surface slicks –naturally occurring, ribbon-like, smooth water features at the ocean surface – contained far more larval fish than neighboring surface waters. The surface slicks are formed when internal ocean waves converge near coastlines. They are observed in coastal marine ecosystems worldwide. These slicks also aggregate plankton an important food source for larval fish.

”We found that surface slicks contained larval fish from a wide range of ocean habitats, from shallow-water coral reefs to the open ocean and down into the deep sea – at no other point during their lives do these fish share an ocean habitat in this way” said Jonathan Whitney, a marine ecologist for the Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric research and NOAA, and a co-lead of the study. “Slick nurseries also concentrate lots of planktonic prey, and thereby provide an oasis of food that is critical for larval fish development and survival.”

Larval fish in these surface slicks were found to be larger, well developed and having increased swimming abilities, but researchers noted that plastic densities in these surface slicks were on average eight times higher than the plastic densities recently found in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. In fact, there were seven times more plastics than there were larval fish, and most were less than one millimeter is size. Plastics were also found in flying fish, which apex predators such as tunas and most Hawaiian seabirds eat.

Tiny plastic pieces were also found in the stomachs of commercially targeted pelagic species, including swordfish and mahi-mahi, as well as coral reef species like triggerfish, Whitney said.

SeaShare Donations to Hungry Alaskans Are Growing

Hungry Alaskans can now feed on more than 200,000 pounds of seafood donated annually by SeaShare. The non-profit entity based out of Bainbridge Island, Wash., delivers seafood portions donated by harvesters and processors nationwide to help feed people across the country.

“Our donors have asked us to do more for hungry families in Alaska,” said Jim Harmon, executive director of SeaShare, in response to a query about SeaShare’s recent donation of a 40-foot freezer van and more than 20,000 pounds of seafood to the Southeast Alaska Food Bank.

“To date we’ve supplied freezer containers in Dillingham, Bethel, and now Juneau,” Harmon wrote in an email, upon his return from Juneau where he went to be sure the new freezer was up and running.

“These freezers, along with expanded freight and food bank partnerships, allow us to send food in by barge, rather than bypass mail, reducing freight costs and increasing volumes. SeaShare is donating approximately 200,000 pounds per year across Alaska, where seafood has cultural and dietary significance,” he said.

SeaShare began in 1994 with a small group of commercial harvesters in Alaska who donated bycatch fish to food banks. Nowadays 90 percent of the seafood that SeaShare provides is first-run, marketable fish donated by generous fishermen and processors around the country who believe in the power of seafood to help food banks and feeding centers. To date more than 200 million seafood servings have been distributed by the non-profit organization.

Two weeks ago, SeaShare identified its newest partner in the fight against hunger, Nicola Dixon of the General Mills Foundation. “General Mills is taking the lead on innovative food recovery programs in North America and we are happy to be a part of this important work,” Harmon wrote on the organization’s blog.

This past summer, SeaShare was selected to be one of 20 entities nationwide recognized as a 2019 General Mills Food Recovery Champions. Those selected shared more than $1 million to expand surplus food recovery programs to feed people facing hunger. General Mills hopes that these grants will help communities ensure that the majority of their surplus food is used to feed the hungry, rather than go into landfills. Donors and partners of SeaShare include harvesters, processors, the US Coast Guard, community development quota programs and others. A complete list is available online at www.seashare.org, along with information about how to donate or to become a partner.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Alaska’s 206.9 Million Salmon Harvest Valued at $657.6 Million

This year’s robust wild Alaskan salmon 206.9 million fish harvest has an estimated preliminary ex-vessel value of $647.6 million.

Statisticians at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) calculated the totals, which amount to a 10 percent increase over the 2018’s value of $595.2 million.

Average prices for Chinook, sockeye, coho, pink and chum salmon varied by fishing district, ranging overall from a high of $8.59 a pound for Chinook caught in Prince William Sound to 35 cents a pound for kings caught in the northern district of the Alaska Peninsula. The Prince William Sound kings weighed in at an average of 18.42 pounds, compared to 7.42 pounds for those harvested in the northern district of the Alaska Peninsula.

Sockeye prices likewise went from a high of $2.49 a pound in Prince William Sound for reds, averaging 5.35 pounds, to $1.35 a pound for Bristol Bay reds, averaging 5.20 pounds. Pink salmon weighing in on average at 3.4 pounds in Prince William Sound paid 34 cents a pound, compared to Bristol Bay humpies coming in at 3.8 pounds and earning a nickel a pound.

Sockeye salmon statewide accounted for approximately 64 percent of the total value at $421.1 million and 27 percent of the harvest with 55.2 million fish. Pink salmon were the second most valuable species, representing 20 percent of the total ex-vessel value at $128.6 million, and bringing 62 percent of the harvest with 129.1 million fish. Chum salmon accounted for 10 percent of the value at $63.8 million and 9 percent of the harvest at 18.5 million fish. The coho salmon harvest of 3.8 million fish was valued at $29.6 million, and accounted for 5 percent of the overall catch, while kings, with an estimated harvest of just under 0.3 million fish, had an estimated preliminary ex-vessel value of $14.4 million.

Measured in pounds the overall harvest of 872.1 million pounds ranked eighth in the 1975-2018-time span. Chums ranked 16th, sockeyes 10th, humpies 9th and cohos 33rd for that same time period. The 2019 values for Chinook salmon were the third lowest on record since limited entry began in 1975.

State fisheries officials noted that these are preliminary figures that will change as fish tickets are processed and finalized. Dollar values provided by ADF&G are based on estimated ex-vessel prices and do not include post-season price adjustments. The final value of the season’s harvest will be determined in 2020, after seafood processors, buyers and direct marketers report total value paid to fishermen in 2019.

The harvest summary was released on Nov. 4.

Alaska Officials Seek to Revise Oil Spill Prevention Standards

Alaska’s environmental conservation agency is looking for public input into revising oil spill prevention and contingency plan requirements, prompting criticism from the advisory council created in the wake of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster.

“Strong statues and regulations are a big part of why Alaska has not had a major oil spill since the Exxon Valdez disaster,” said Donna Schantz, executive director of the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council. “It is unreasonable for the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to claim now, after 30 profitable years of industry compliance, that the requirements are too onerous.”

The council wants the state to halt the scoping process until more information is offered to the public on the driving factors that have prompted the move for changes in current regulations.

DEC officials said they specifically want to hear whether the current regulations can be made more understandable without compromising environmental protection or if any portions of those regulations may be outdated or duplicative. The agency also is seeking comment on its statutory authorities relevant to contingency planning. Current regulations on both issues are available online as 18 AAC 75 Article 4 (http://www.legis.state.ak.us/basis/aac.asp#18.75.400) and AS 46.04 (http://www.akleg.gov/basis/statutes.asp#46.04).

The council’s announcement of Nov. 4 included a copy of its resolution passed on Oct. 29, advising against any legislative or regulatory changes that erode oil spill prevention and response standards, increase the risk of a catastrophic spill or demonstrate what the council describes as a return to complacency on the part of the oil industry and regulators that Congress determined were a primary cause of the Exxon Valdez disaster. The oil slick spread to cover some 1,300 miles of coastline, causing the collapse of salmon and herring fisheries, and killing thousands of seabirds, otters, seal and whales.

Protecting coastal communities and the environment is the cost of doing business in Alaska, said Robert Archibald, president of the council board. “Reducing any perceived burden to industry by rolling back or eliminating proven oil spill prevention and response requirements transfers the risk and burden of another oil spill to the communities, citizens and environment they were designed to protect,” he said.

More information about the history and legislative intent of the Response Planning Standards is included in the council’s August 2018 report, available online at www.bit.ly/LegislativeIntent.

Comments are being accepted through Jan. 15, 2020. They may be submitted electronically by visiting http://alaskadec.commentinput.com or mailed to Seth Robinson, Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, Division of Spill Prevention and Response – Prevention, preparedness, and Response Program, 610 University Avenue, Fairbanks, AK 99709 or emailed to dec.cpr@alaska.gov.

NPAFC Plans 2021 Pan Pacific High Seas Research Expedition

The North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission (NPAFC) member countries plan to conduct coastal and high seas salmon surveys during the spring, summer and fall of 2020-2021.

NPAFC in Vancouver, British Columbia, is preparing for a 2021 expedition, to run in conjunction with the 2021 winter surveys, that would include three or four vessels to cover a pan-Pacific grid. An additional ship would conduct fine scale research to provide greater detail to help understand how salmon interact in the high sea environment.

At the present time national requests for vessels are being considered by Canada, the United States, Russia, Japan and Korea.

During the last NPAFC meeting held in October in Victoria, British Columbia, the commission received substantial funding from the British Columbia Salmon Restoration and Innovation Fund. A total of $3.3 million allocated over three years will support this project.

Building on a single vessel expedition in February and March of 2019 in the Gulf of Alaska, the 2021 expedition will employ up to five research vessels operating simultaneously to survey the full breadth of the North Pacific Ocean. The expedition will provide a platform for international collaborative ecosystem research to monitor the distribution, abundance and productivity of salmon, to inform fisheries managers and enforcement decisions to be made in the future.

Earlier this year, 21 scientists from the five Pacific Rim nations aboard a chartered Russian research vessel completed the International Gulf of Alaska Expedition 2019. The expedition was the first in decades to study salmon in winter high seas, and NPAFC said it set a precedent for addressing knowledge gaps through survey work of salmon, plankton and physical conditions in the central Gulf of Alaska.

During the 2019 expedition all five species of salmon were caught. Distributions of each species in the Gulf of Alaska differed and showed preferences for particular regions associated with ocean features such as higher or lower temperatures or types of prey.

Most surprising, said NPAFC, was the presence of coho salmon in the high seas, give that they are thought to be coastal in distribution, and the presence of North American sockeye in the small set of western North Pacific samples. Chum salmon of Asian and North American origin mingled in the survey area.

Sampling of micro-plastics in open ocean of the Northeast Pacific indicated that their level has not increased since the collection of baseline samples in the 1980s.

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