Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Kenai Peninsula Setnetters Speak Out on Proposed Ban

Cook Inlet setnetting has been an integral part of the Kenai Peninsula’s economy for more than a century, employing hundreds of hard working families who spend their summers harvesting a living from the inlet’s robust salmon runs.

Not long after Alaska became a territory of the United States the people who lived along the shores of Cook Inlet learned how to reliably harvest the great salmon runs that return each summer and launched an industry around that catch. Canneries were built, merchants, boat wrights and fishing supply stores set up shop, and later mechanics, welders, truckers and others came and helped grow the economy of the Peninsula. Even as other industries like gas and oil development, tourism and sportfishing have enhanced the economy, the commercial salmon harvest remains one of the single biggest factors in the region’s economy.

Over the last several decades the slice of the salmon harvest taken by setnet businesses has gotten thinner as new user groups have entered the fishery and demanded their share of this public resource, but with robust runs that commercial fishermen have nurtured over the years, there has always been enough to satisfy the needs of all.

Now, a small group of greedy Kenai River sportfishing guides, lodge and private land owners are trying to put an initiative before Alaska voters to ban setnet fishing in Cook Inlet. Though the initiative backers claim they want to conserve salmon, they are lying. Eliminating setnets would do little more than decimate more than 400 family fishing businesses and the support industry that revolves around their harvest. Elimination of setnets also will overwhelm the carrying capacity of the Kenai and other inlet rivers, meaning future returns will be smaller and fewer fish will be available for all. If the initiative passes, it will not enhance the salmon runs, but it will enhance the pocketbooks of those sponsoring the initiative.

I think the worst aspect of the initiative effort is its timing. Low Kenai River king salmon abundance has dramatically affected the way the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has managed the setnet fishery. In 2012 we were allowed almost no fishing time – most East Side setnet fishermen made about 10 percent of their annual income, and many made less. Ironically, later in the year the Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced that the king run came in late and nearly broached the upper end of the escapement goal, and admitted that the closures were unnecessary.

In 2013, concern over Kenai Kings again forced the department’s hand and setnetters carried the conservation burden again, fishing just a fraction of the time we should have had our nets in the water.

This 2014 season, which is just now winding down was another disaster, with fishermen south of the Blanchard Line having a below average catch, and those north of the line fishing just two periods, and catching something less than ten percent of their average.

Is it any surprise that the initiative backers chose to launch their campaign to put us out of business in the midst of these crisis years, when our ability to fight such an effort, let alone pay our bills, is diminished?

This selfish and myopic ban hits home for me: My wife and I and our two teen-aged children are setnetters. Our business, our income, our investment in boats, motors, equipment, land and gear will all be eliminated and rendered valueless because a small group of well financed, dishonest and self-serving the group of people want what we now have a right to harvest.

Worse, it’s taken the joy out of the fishing season and replaced it with fear for the future of this valuable, rich and colorful fishery. I wouldn’t wish working under this threat on anyone, yet the very premise of this initiative, and the recent court ruling allowing it to move forward, puts every fishery and resource extraction industry in the state of Alaska under the threat of elimination by small, self-interested special interest groups.

If you don’t think a small, well-financed special interest group can mount a similar misinformation campaign and do the same to your fishery or your industry, think again.

Andy Hall is the president of the Kenai Peninsula Fisherman’s Association.

Task Force Takes Aim at IUU Fisheries and Seafood Fraud

A presidential task force on illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and seafood fraud is expected to make its recommendations to the White House by year’s end.

The issue, noted the presidential memorandum creating the task force, is that IUU fishing continues to undermine the economic and environmental sustainability of fisheries and fish stocks, both in the United States and around the world.

Global losses attributable to the black market from IUU fishing are estimated to be $10 billion to $23 billion annually, weakening profitability for legally caught seafood, fueling illegal trafficking operations, and undermining economic opportunity for legitimate fishermen both in the US and around the world.

Before the close of the comment period on Sept. 2, the task force had received comments from 56 entities, including the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, At-Sea Processors Association and North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission.

“Our members are under no illusion that there is a single ‘silver bullet’ that will be able to fully address the issue of IUU fishing, specifically in the context of illegal Russian crab and its penetration of the US market,” wrote Mark Gleason, executive director of Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers. ABSC has recommended strengthening country of origin labeling requirements, increasing traceability throughout the supply chain, and passing domestic legislation to fully implement the 2009 UN FAO Agreement on Port State measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing.

Stephanie Madsen, executive director of the At-Sea Processors Association, recommended that NOAA Fisheries conduct a market analysis to identify to what extent there is significant IUU Russian crab and pollock catches and, if so, whether such products are being exported to the US.

If problems are revealed, targeted actions by the federal government can be developed and implemented, Madsen said. The APA also urged the task force to not subject the seafood industry to additional, unnecessary catch verification and traceability regulations when there is no specific information available to support the contention of some that IUU catches are marketed in any significant way in the US, Madsen said.

The North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission has a 22-year record of international cooperation in successfully reducing illegal fishing on the high seas of the North Pacific, said Vladimir Radchenko, executive director of NPAFC.

“International agreed instruments of law related to international trade can be useful to deter IUU fishing,” he said. “Efforts to deter IUU fishing are frustrated by a lack of transparency in major seafood markets, and raising awareness and educating the general public is very important for success in combating IUU fishing,” he said.

With the main objective of promoting the conservation of anadromous stocks in the North Pacific Ocean, the NPAFC undertakes continuing and increasing efforts to eliminate fishing for salmon and steelhead in the North Pacific outside of national waters, Radchenko said.

Complete comments of the 56 responding individuals and entities are online at!documentDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2014-0090-0017

Hired Skipper Privileges Changing in Halibut/Sablefish IFQ Fisheries

Changes effective Dec. 1 in the Pacific halibut and sablefish fisheries in the Bering Sea/ Aleutian Islands and Gulf of Alaska will require owners of catcher vessel sector individual fishing quota to be on board, rather than a hired skipper.

The IFQ program had allowed initial recipients of catcher vessel halibut and sablefish quota share to hire a vessel master to harvest the annual allocation of IFQ derived from the quota share.

Under the amendment effective Dec. 1 initial quota share recipients are not allowed to use a hired master to harvest IFQ derived from catcher vessel quota share that they received after Feb. 12, 2010, with a limited exception for small amounts of quota share.

The change, noted the National Marine Fisheries Service, is necessary to maintain a predominantly owner-operated fishery.

The effective date is a long time coming.

The amendment to the fixed-gear commercial Pacific halibut and sablefish fisheries in the BSAI and GOA, was proposed to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in the spring of 2009.

Frank Miles of Kodiak, who made the proposal, said that grandfather/hired skipper privileges had led to widespread abuse of the 20 percent boat ownership requirement, and that the hired skipper privileges promoted leasing of quota and the common practice of charging excessive rents.

This amendment is a good solution as it would accelerate the IFQ program towards a fishery dominated by owner-operators, and it would address a number of abuses related to the grandfather/hired skipper privileges, Miles said in his proposal.

The winners of the amendment to the grandfather/hired skipper privileges, said Miles, “would be future participants, second generation IFQ holders, Alaska coastal communities, IFQ broker businesses, lending institutions, and the NPFMC.”

Could federal fisheries officials have speeded up the process?

Glenn Merrill, assistant regional administrator for the sustainable fisheries division of the Alaska Region NOAA Fisheries, thinks not.

“NOAA Fisheries received extensive public comment on the proposed rule,” Merrill said. “Some of those comments raised complex issues with the rule that took time to properly address.

“Publishing the final rule earlier in 2014 would not have resulted in speedier implementation,” Merrill said.

“In fact, a mid-year implementation would have required a complicated series of actions that would be burdensome on the fleet. We sought to avoid that.

“Our implementation schedule on this action is consistent with discussions we had with the North Pacific Fishery Management Council as the rule was developed. The council understood that we needed the final rule to be effective between the IFQ fishing seasons so that we could properly account for and track the quota share affected by this rule. We described the need to implement this action after an IFQ fishing season (i.e. after November) in the proposed rule and in the analysis prepared for this action,” he said.

Quota Set at 1,084,800 Pounds for Sea Cucumber Fishery

The 2014-2015 Southeast Alaska commercial sea cucumber dive fishery, open from Oct. 6 through March 31, has a guideline harvest level of 1,084,800 pounds of sea cucumbers available this season, state fisheries officials say.

Divers are reminded by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game that during the week of Thanksgiving, the scheduled open period will be Nov. 23 and Nov. 24.

Each area included in this fishery is open for harvest only once every three years, and each sub-district to be included in a fishery is surveyed before the season begins to determine the GHL for that sub-district.

For the 2013-2014 season, the GHL was 1,472,600 pounds, biologists said.

Data compiled by the state’s Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission shows that the average price of permits last year was $33,000, up from $22,800 in 2012, $12,900 in 2011 and $11,300 in 2010.

For the 2013-2014 season a total of 280 permanent permits were renewed, and 198 permits fished, harvesting a total of 1,549,628 pounds, the average harvest being 7,826 pounds. Harvesters earned an average of $31,071, and the total gross earnings came to $6,152,017.

Resident divers comprised the bulk of participants, fishing 157 of the 222 resident permits, for a total of 1,170,378 pounds of sea cucumbers, or average of 7,455 pounds. Their total gross earnings of $4,658,622 averaged out to $29,673.

Non-residents fished 41 of the 58 renewed permits, harvesting a total of 379,250 pounds of sea cucumber, or an average of 9,250 pounds. Their total gross earnings of $1,493,395 averaged out to $36,424.

Data on permits, harvests and gross earnings for this fishery back to 1996 is provided by the state’s Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission online at

Sustainable Seafood Coalition Announces New Codes

A United Kingdom partnership of seafood businesses and related organizations is the latest industry group to announce its own voluntary labeling and sourcing code on environmental claims for seafood entering the marketplace.

The Sustainable Seafood Coalition’s new sourcing code, effective on Sept. 18, covers general good practice and a commitment to do a risk assessment. It requires SSC members who agree to the code to adhere to minimum criteria and only use claims of responsibility and sustainability, thereby providing more clarity and consistency to their customers.

It calls for a commitment to traceability, a risk assessment or audit conducted and annually reviewed, sourcing decisions based on the outcome of the risk assessment or audit, engaging in or monitoring improvements as required, and transparency in communications.

The program has many similarities to the sustainability program established by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute ( for wild harvests sourced from Alaska’s waters. Extensive information on that program and participants in the seafood industry are available at the ASMI website.

The SSC is represented by a London-based environmental law group ClientEarth (

In 2011, ClientEarth criticized seafood brands for making misleading environmental claims on products such as canned tuna, haddock, cod and farmed fish, and brought together the SSC with seven founding members to address this issue.

The SSC said that Co-operative Food, Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Waitrose, Lyons Seafoods, New England Seafood Limited, The Saucy Fish Co./Icelandic Group UK Ltd, Young’s Seafood Limited, Direct Seafoods and M&J Seafood were committed to the new labeling code.

These firms, as well as Feng Sushi, Harbour Lights Falmouth, River Cottage, Birds Eye UK, Lyons Seafoods, and Le Lien Ltd., also committed to the sourcing code, SSC officials said.

In 18 months, ClientEarth is expected to publish a review of members’ activities on implementation of the codes.

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