Astoria Fisheries Auction

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Alaska Fishing Industry to Fund Louisiana Effort

The Alaska Fishing Industry Relief Mission (AFIRM) is sending a $10,600 donation to Louisiana to help the Gulf Coast fishing industry. The money will underwrite an industry effort to create a citizen advisory committee to help oversee the Gulf of Mexico oil industry.

If adopted by Congress, the Louisiana committee would be similar to those which already operate in Alaska’s Prince William Sound and Cook Inlet, where Regional Citizens’ Advisory Committees (RCACs) were established after the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Those committees monitor terminal and tanker operations, conduct research and provide advice to ensure industry operations are in accordance with environmentally sound practices.

The Gulf fishing and oil industries have coexisted for many years, but the continuing disaster created by BP’s Deepwater Horizon well blowout, which may be gushing as much as 60,000 barrels of oil per day, made it clear more oversight is needed.

“We in Alaska know from experience that local interests such as the fishing and visitor industries, local governments and others have the most at stake and the greatest commitment to ensure that industry oversight is thorough but fair,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). “The Gulf Coast could benefit from a similar system in place.”

Former Senator Frank H. Murkowski was the author of the RCAC system after the Exxon Valdez grounding. It was adapted from a successful arrangement for local input at the Sullem Voe oil terminal in Scotland, and was incorporated into the federal Oil Spill Act of 1990.

AFIRM chairman Mark Vinsel, executive director of the United Fishermen of Alaska, agreed. He commented, “We believe the RCAC systems in Alaska have been instrumental in keeping marine oil operations as safe as possible. They are an excellent example of cooperation and collaboration to bring very different interests together for their joint benefit.”

The Alaska RCACs are funded by contributions from the oil industry, and include members representing a variety of interests.

According to Ewell Smith, the New Orleans-based executive director of the Louisiana Seafood Marketing and Promotion Board, the Louisiana industry would like to craft a similar arrangement, perhaps including measures to ensure adequate numbers of local commercial fishing vessels are committed to be immediately available for cleanup and other necessities, if needed. The AFIRM donation will go to the South Central Planning and Development Commission of Louisiana, which will handle disbursement of the funds.

The Alaska Fishing Industry Relief Mission was formed as a non-profit corporation to assist Gulf of Mexico fishing communities after the catastrophic hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. It has continued to work with the Gulf Coast industry since that time.

Kvichak Building Skimmers for Gulf

Kvichak Marine Industries, known for its aluminum fishing and work vessels is currently constructing a run of approximately 30 each 30-foot Rapid Response Oil Skimmers fitted with Marco Pollution Control CL-1 Filterbelt oil recovery modules for customers who are responding to the current Gulf spill.

The Kvichak/Marco Filterbelt is proving to be one of the most effective oil recovery systems now operating in the Gulf, and is ideally suited for high volume recovery of the oil types encountered in this spill. The company expects to have more than 100 skimming vessels utilizing the Filterbelt to be in operation on this spill in the coming weeks. The Filterbelt system is adaptable to a variety of marine spill scenarios and is able to recover a very wide range of spills, from light sheens to thick weathered oils contaminated with debris.

The 30-foot rapid-response, shallow-water vessel is ideally suited for use on oil spills in waterways, bays, and harbors. The all-aluminum skimmer is 30 feet, 3 inches long, with a beam of 8 feet, and a draft of less than 3 feet and is easily trailerable. Powered by twin 60 to 70-hp outboards, the skimmer is capable of a response speed of more than 17 knots.

US Coast Guard ensures safety for salmon season fishers

The 2010 commercial salmon season is set to open the 1st of July after two years of being closed. In anticipation of this opening, US Coast Guard and Coast Guard Auxiliary personnel will be walking the docks on the 22nd and 23rd June offering free no-fault exams and safety checks. Examiners are scheduled to be present at Moss Landing, Santa Cruz, Half Moon Bay, San Francisco, Bodega Bay and Fort Bragg from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Actual times may vary based response from fishermen for exams.

Vessels that pass the dockside exam receive a Coast Guard Commercial Fishing Vessel Safety Decal. The benefit of obtaining a safety decal is a lower probability of getting boarded at sea. In the event a fishing vessel with a decal does get boarded at sea it may be an abbreviated inspection. Fishing vessels without a valid safety decal may experience longer at-sea boardings as these inspections are more thorough.

Vessel operators who do not have the time to get a complete safety exam can opt for an abbreviated dockside safety spot check. The benefit of a safety spot check is that it focuses on major safety items that Coast Guard boarding officers emphasize on during at-sea boardings. These are safety items that may otherwise create especially hazardous conditions requiring a vessel's voyage to be terminated. The Coast Guard will have increased random patrols during the season opening to monitor for safety violations and for search and rescue response.

The goal of the USCG is to verify that fishing vessels have the proper safety equipment on board and in serviceable condition. A dockside exam will help minimize any potential delays or termination of voyages by identifying and correcting problems at the dock before going out to sea. All dockside exams are voluntary, boarding at sea however is not voluntary and is random in nature.

More commercial fishing safety information is available at www.fishsafe.info

Snooze? You lose!

By David Rowland

Tier 2? Tier 3? Interim Tier 4? Tier 4? To many of us, the aforementioned are meaningless terms. Thanks to EPA, these terms will haunt main engine, generator set and auxiliary power unit purchasers in future years, along with acronyms such as EGR, SCR, DOC, DPF, and a multitude not mentioned.

In the past, there’s been a lot of confusion, and sometimes misinformation about how diesel engines are affected by the EPA tier system. Going to the EPA website only furthers, in my opinion, the confusion. After trying to decipher the language the website used, which I strongly suspect deviates from US English, I determined their postings were only decipherable with the assistance of a couple of attorneys and a cadre of engineers. Continued pondering of these websites might, in my opinion, cause serious brain damage to the beholder, from a modern day Hydra.

I recently came into possession of one of the most concise and easily understandable presentations regarding the ramifications and timelines of the EPA tier system. FPT Powertrain Technologies prepared a 62-page outline of the benefits and disadvantages of the various systems that will come available on future engines. FPT, for those who are unaware, is Fiat, the largest equipment manufacturer in Europe, and owner of recognizable equipment companies such as Case, New Holland, and Kobelco and FPT marine and industrial diesel engines.

The main pollutants produced by diesel combustion are CO (carbon monoxide), HC (hydrocarbons), NOx (nitrogen oxide) and PM (particulate matter). Carbon monoxide is odorless, tasteless, and colorless, but highly toxic. Hydrocarbons are unburned organic elements found in both fuel and engine oil that are not completely burned in the combustion process. Nitrous oxides are generated during high temperature combustion. PM is composed mainly of small carbon particles generated by incomplete combustion of diesel fuel.

In 2011, interim Tier 4 regulations go into effect for all engines of more than 175 horsepower, then will be extended to other power ranges. Compliance will significantly reduce NOx by 50 percent and PM by 90 percent. In order to meet compliance, engines in this power range will be electronically governed using high-pressure common rail or unit pump injectors.

Additionally, some of the following equipment will be required to meet emission standards: (a) External exhaust gas recirculation (EGR), (b) Diesel oxidation catalyst (DOC), (c) Diesel particulate filter, (d) PM – CAT, and (e) Selective catalytic reduction (SCR). EGR and SCR systems are now widely used on highway trucks and construction equipment.

The EGR systems I’ve seen are similar to a muffler. A portion of the exhaust gas passes through a muffler-like device, and is diverted back into the air intake system. The EGR is usually cut off when the load factor does not require EGR. EGR reduces NOx by lowering the combustion temperature. But, because the temperature is lowered, PM is generated. DPF or PM-CAT are used to control the PM.

SCR systems include the injection of a urea/water mix into the exhaust. The chemical reaction caused by the injection converts NOx into nitrogen (N2) and water (H2O). The water/urea mixture is non-toxic, but may faintly smell of ammonia and must be highly pure in composition. The government designation for the mix is “Diesel Exhaust Fluid.” A dosing control unit inside a supply module regulates the injection. This system requires a supply module, a water/urea tank, a dosing module, and an SCR catalytic converter. Should the supply of urea go dry, the engine will go into a reduced power mode. Urea tanks will need to be refilled when fueling. Truck stops and fleet fueling stations are now installing urea dispensing equipment. (Note I was quickly told that replumbing the liquid flow from the marine head to the urea tank doesn’t work.)

The benefits of the EGR technology include no need for a second fluid or fluid tank space, and the small size and simplicity of the system. The disadvantages include reduced power density, shorter maintenance intervals, increased engine cost, and requirement of larger radiators or cooling systems. Additionally, the DPF requires replacement after 4,000 hours of operation.

The benefits of the SCR technology provide better fuel consumption, longer maintenance intervals, no additional heat rejection, and a system good for life. The disadvantages include the need for a second engine fluid, tank installation, and a more complex exhaust system. According to a preliminary analysis, SCR equipped engines will enjoy an overall savings of 3 percent to 4.5 percent compared to current costs for equal power.

Electronic engines are going to be quirky. Instead of a mechanical throttle cable arrangement, a potentiometer will be used to control engine speed. Engines will be fitted with an ECU (computer brain box) and a multitude of sensors. The sensors will regulate the timing of the engine and the flow of fuel based on operating conditions. If a sensor gets a fault reading, the engine may go into a reduced power mode, or may simply shut down until the fault condition is remedied. Most of the electronic engine control panels I’ve seen to date usually provide a readout of the fault condition, or at least provide a warning light for the fault. If the condition is minor, and the engine operator is lucky, the fault condition might be remedied and normal operation can resume. I’ve heard several stories of boats being towed in when luck didn’t prevail.

Crowded engine compartments or engine rooms are going to become more crowded. Exhaust piping will certainly become more complex. Electronic plugs, cables and sensors are delicate – not to be stepped upon when climbing around an engine compartment.

Moisture is a major enemy of the new electronic engines. Care should be taken to minimize exposures. I’ve seen more than a few engine compartments with engines and pipes cloaked in rust. Electrical connections, according to some reports I’ve heard, are a source of problems. A little moisture can cause corrosion in the plug, thus providing faulty readings to an engine’s computerized control system. Coating plug ends with dielectric grease, which provides protection from moisture, can mitigate this situation.

There’s still time to repower with mechanical technology. Several marine engine manufacturers have old technology engines still available under current EPA regulations. If considering a repower, it might be timely to do so before the acronyms become everyday life.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

NOAA, FDA Continue Efforts to Ensure Safety of Gulf of Mexico Seafood

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are taking additional steps to enhance inspection measures designed to ensure that seafood from the Gulf of Mexico reaching America’s tables is safe to eat.

The federal government, in conjunction with Gulf states regulatory agencies, is playing an active role in ensuring the safety of seafood harvested from federal and state waters. The federal government, led by FDA and NOAA, is taking a multi-pronged approach to ensure that seafood from Gulf waters is not contaminated by oil. The strategy includes precautionary closures, increased seafood testing inspections and a re-opening protocol.

“Closing harvest waters that could be exposed to oil protects the public from potentially contaminated seafood because it keeps the product from entering the food supply,” said Dr. Jane Lubchenco, under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. “Combining the expertise of NOAA and FDA is the best way to use our scientific abilities to help the American people in this emergency.”

The first line of defense is NOAA’s fishery area closures, which began May 2 and are adjusted as the spill trajectory changes. The FDA has concurred with this approach. The current federal closure of 32 percent of federal waters encompasses areas known to be affected by oil, either on the surface or below the surface, as well as areas projected to be affected by oil in the next 48 - 72 hours. The closed area also includes a five-nautical mile buffer as a precaution around the known location of oil.

“FDA and NOAA are working together to ensure that seafood from the Gulf is not contaminated with oil,” said Margaret Hamburg, M.D., commissioner of food and drugs. “It is important to coordinate seafood surveillance efforts on the water, at the docks and at seafood processors to ensure seafood in the market is safe to eat.”

To help prevent tainted seafood from reaching the market, NOAA created a seafood sampling and inspection plan. Just after the beginning of the spill, it collected and tested seafood of commercial and recreational fish and shellfish species from areas where oil from the spill had not yet reached. NOAA is using ongoing surveillance to evaluate new seafood samples to determine whether contamination is present outside the closed area. If fish samples have elevated levels of oil compounds, NOAA will consider whether to expand closed areas.

The federal effort to ensure seafood is not contaminated with oil will also include NOAA’s dockside sampling of fish products in the Gulf. NOAA will verify that catch was caught outside the closed area using information from vessel monitoring systems that track the location of a vessel or information from on-board observers. If tainted fish are found in dockside sampling, NOAA will notify FDA and state health officials for further action.

The FDA operates a mandatory safety program for all fish and fishery products under the provisions of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, the Public Health Service Act and related federal regulations.

The FDA will first target oysters, crab, and shrimp, which due to their biology retain contaminants longer than finfish, for additional sampling. Finfish rapidly metabolize the oil so the risk of exposure is far less than the other seafood species previously mentioned. The sample collection will target primarily seafood processors who buy seafood directly from the harvester. Monitoring this first step in the distribution chain will help to keep any potentially contaminated seafood from consumers.

FDA has also created a focused inspection assignment designed to help seafood processors review their individual source controls to ensure proper documentation and exclusion of any seafood obtained from unknown sources from entering commerce.

The two agencies are also establishing a re-opening protocol. NOAA will reopen closed areas only if it is assured, based on consultation with FDA, that fish products within the closed area meet FDA standards for public health and wholesomeness.

“We recognize that the effects of the oil spill continue to grow as oil continues to flow,” said Dr. Lubchenco. “As remediation efforts continue, it may be possible to alleviate some of the economic harm caused by the oil spill by reopening previously closed areas. NOAA will reopen areas only if assured that fish products taken from these areas meet FDA standards for public health.”

Before the BP oil spill, NOAA operated seafood inspection services in the Gulf -- consisting of a handful of personnel -- on a fee-for-service basis for the seafood industry.

Today, samples collected as part of NOAA’s efforts are sent to the National Seafood Inspection Laboratory in Pascagoula, Miss., where federal and state sensory testing analysts trained to detect certain thresholds of chemicals, which are not normal background odors in seafood, evaluate the catch. Samples are also sent to NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle for chemical testing.

According to the most recent data available, seafood samples had been collected during 18 sampling missions by NOAA and contracted fishing vessels in areas inside and outside the closed fishery area.

From those 18 sampling missions, 640 fish and shrimp samples were processed for either sensory or chemical testing. Of the 640 samples, 118 fish samples were presented to the team of 10 expert assessors for sensory testing in the Pascagoula Laboratory. Four hundred sixteen fish and shrimp samples were sent to NOAA’s Seattle testing laboratory for chemical analysis.

“FDA has set up a hotline for reporting seafood safety issues,” said Commissioner Hamburg. “We encourage fisherman and consumers to report potential contamination to 1-888-INFO-FDA.”

Coming to Restaurant Menus - Sustainable Alaska Flatfish

A month after being awarded an international environmental certification, Alaska flatfish species are receiving new attention from seafood buyers and restaurateurs. After a three-year comprehensive evaluation, the fisheries earned Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification. Their products are now eligible to bear the MSC ecolabel recognizing that the seafood is harvested from a sustainable and well-managed fishery.

"The Alaska Seafood Cooperative (AKSC) recognized what a strong story there was to tell about stewardship and sustainability in the management of Alaska's flatfish fisheries. MSC certification allows us to better distinguish our products from others while also positioning us as a model for flatfish fishery management around the world," said John Gauvin, fisheries science projects director for the Alaska Seafood Cooperative which brought the fisheries forward for certification as the Best Use Coalition.

To celebrate the certification, Seattle's Anthony's Homeport Restaurant prepared appetizers and entrees using two of the certified species, yellowfin sole and rock sole, for events at the restaurant. Anthony's Executive Chef Pat Donahue noted, "It is always fun to experiment with new seafood items. The yellowfin and rock sole were no exception." Chef Donahue prepared steamed yellowfin sole in lettuce cups, a crispy parmesan rock sole, a pan seared yellowfin sole, and rock sole strips and chips.

Celebrity chef and award winning restaurateur Sam Choy, who just wrapped up a trip to Alaska, said certification should spell new markets for the fishery. "It's exciting to have newly certified sustainable seafood products for the culinary community to consider adding to the menu. With companies moving toward sustainable sourcing, more people ordering fish for its health benefits and with an economy which has us all exploring affordable seafood options, these Alaska flatfish species are perfectly positioned to be a hit with seafood buyers and restaurateurs across the country," said Choy.

The MSC-certified flatfish species are yellowfin sole, northern rock sole, rex sole, flathead sole, arrowtooth flounder and Alaska plaice. Management of the AKSC fisheries has changed significantly in recent years. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council and the National Marine Fisheries Service implemented new incentives that ended the "race for fish" for these fisheries in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands.

Beginning in 2008, the flatfish catcher-processors were allowed to form cooperatives and allocate certain target quotas and bycatch limits among the cooperatives. The end result was a significant reduction in bycatch. In a collaborative effort with fishers and scientists, fishing gear was modified to use sweeps raised off the seafloor to reduce the effect of fishing on the habitat and associated species such as crab.

With the certification of Pacific cod in January of this year and earlier certifications of pollock, halibut, sablefish, and Alaska salmon, this most recent certification of flatfish species means that most of the major Alaska fisheries are now certified as sustainable and well managed under the MSC program.

Columbia River Sockeye Returning in Record Numbers

The Seattle Times reported this week on word from the Washington State Fish and Wildlife office in Vancouver about some huge sockeye numbers being seen in the Lower Columbia River.

The 25,011 sockeye counted at Bonneville Dam on Sunday, June 20 was the second highest single-day count since at least 1938. The record is 27,112 fish on July 7, 1955.

The total number of sockeye that have passed up Bonneville Dam so far this summer is 82,055. The count at The Dalles Dam is 38,830; at the John Day Dam it is 21,354; at McNary Dam it is 9,199.

This summer the preseason forecast calls for 125,200 sockeye back to the Columbia River. Of that the majority of are destined for the Okanogan River with a smolt-based forecast of 110,300.

The rest of that 14,300 will be heading back to the Wenatchee River and the spawning escapement is close to twice that figure.

Another 600 sockeye are headed back to the Snake River.

Non-Indian and treaty Indian commercial fisheries for sockeye occur when the escapement goal of 75,000 at Bonneville Dam has been achieved and sufficient surplus is available for fisheries. Commercial harvest of sockeye had not occurred since 1988, except for small fisheries in 2000 and 2004. In 2008, a season total of 213,607 sockeye were counted at Bonneville Dam, and a commercial harvest did occur.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

FAO Seafood Technology Offers Glimpse of Fish Processing Future

By Bob Tkacz

The commercial fishing industry, by definition, knows that fish are money, but a recent international conference on seafood technology demonstrated, in molecular detail, the potential profit from tons of “waste” products that gets ground up, hosed off and otherwise discarded in fisheries in Alaska and around the world.

How does $25 per kilogram for chitosan or $130 per kg for chitooligosaccharides sound for a fishery paycheck? Chitosan speeds up blood clotting and the US Marines are treating the battlefield dressings the use in Afghanistan with it. “COS” offers other health and food manufacturing benefits. Both organic compounds are among the many minerals, vitamins being refined from fish bones, skin, entrails and oils.

Put together by the University of Alaska and the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), the “Second International Congress on Seafood Technology,” May 10-12 in Anchorage, spent three days reviewing a range of scientific and business prospects as broad as the Gulf of Alaska horizon.

Shuichi Abe, chief developer in the food research lab of NOF, a leading Japanese refiner of food oils and petrochemicals, expressed the common theme of the congress. “Fishery waste is a treasure trove,” he said. Abe was one of more than 40 experts from a dozen countries discussing a rainbow of fish and seafood specialties.

X-ray equipped filleting lines that show processing workers the pin bones they must remove, robot box-packers and the health benefits and profits in salmon oil capsules were among the more mundane subjects addressed by presenters. “Sea-ghetti” noodles made from surimi, surimi made from giant squid and integrated monitoring systems linking bait types to fillet production were among the more exotic.

“I think what was really accomplished was bringing together technologists, consumer experts, researchers, government people, industry representatives to talk about how, really, to make the best use of the fisheries and aquaculture resources,” said Lahsen Ababouch, chief of the FAO’s fish utilization and marketing service, at the congress and the senior UN representative at the congress.

“For me it was kind of glimpses into the future of where things might be going,” said Gunnar Knapp, the University of Alaska seafood economist, who served as unofficial house skeptic for congress.

Nine Alaskan and Washington seafood companies were on the congress’s official attendees list but more sent representatives or contributed financial support. Several declined to identify what they saw as the potential “next big thing” for their companies, but others saw a sea of potential.

“I think there’s quite a few different things we’ll take a look at,” said Jeff Backlund of North Pacific Seafoods. He found the presentation by University of British Columbia Prof. Eunice Li-Chan on the use of fish protein hydrolysates as a coating to protect frozen seafood from freeze/thaw damage particularly interesting.

“Fish oil is going to be just another one of the products coming out, just like years and years ago we didn’t know what to do with the roe. Now it’s one of the more high value products coming out,” added Kenny Lum, president of the Seafood Products Association.

Lum said North Pacific seafood companies are already “pretty much using the whole fish,” but he added that costs and the conservative tendencies of CEO from companies that have survived a decade of economic tumult tend to stifle the search for new products.

“The seafood industry tends to, I believe, kind of get into a groove of, we’ve done this traditionally, we have established markets … It just really comes down to corporate philosophy and risk. There’s a fair amount of R&D money that is required. You could view them as impediments or you could view them as appropriate caution. You can always say there’s something we could have done because somebody else has done it,” Lum said.

Even if they don’t have their own research and development departments, Lum added, “Most of the seafood companies these days are realizing they can’t just be an Alaska wild harvest seafood company. They have to be high value-low cost to be competitive, whatever that product is. They’re not afraid to take a swing at something new once in a while.”

Sandro Lane, whose Alaska Protein Recovery manufactures salmon oil capsules for humans and a high protein liquid animal feed declared the congress “fascinating” and saw a possible commercialization of the salmon bones that comprise the remaining waste from the frames and other former waste from seafood processing plants that APR uses as its raw material.

“We produce a lot of bone that we’re still trying to figure ways to create value on. That’s really kind of the last piece on my puzzle, on the (refining) barge, is to find something that would justify the cost of processing bone,” Lane said following a presentation by Korean researcher Se-Kwon Kim on a process to convert enzymes extracted from fish bones and intestines into water soluble calcium, which sells for $50 to $100 per kg.

With a research staff of 26 graduate and post-grad students Kim is director of the Marine Bioprocess Research Center at Pukyong University in Busan. Its work has also developed medicinal products for HIV, dental diseases and arthritis and already uses calcium to manufacture UV-ray blockers, cosmetics and vitamin supplements.

Even with its intensive research programs and seafood-hungry population, Kim said, 47 percent of South Korea’s seafood harvest by weight, 1.2 million tons in 2007, was byproduct not used in the production of food for human consumption.

On a global scale, Peter Bechtel, from the US Dept. of Agriculture research center in Fairbanks, had the same message. “What I’m trying to tell you is out there in the world of 70 million metric tons of fish processed for human consumption I’m going to say over half of that is going to be byproducts,” Bechtel said in a separate presentation.

Brandon Basso, of Kodiak-based Alaska Pacific Seafoods, suggested Alaska processors “are, like, 30-years behind in protein manufacturing.” Among others he expected a larger focus during the congress on processing technology, but found a possible solution to Alaskan packers’ perpetual problem of attracting and keeping skilled processing line workers.

“I see, not just for my company, but for the whole entire Alaska seafood processing business, I see an opportunity to upgrade our automation,” Basso said.

Dr. Sveinn Margeirsson, from Matis ohf., an Icelandic food and biotech research and development institute, offered a glimpse of the possibilities of vertical integration and automation, which allowed 2009 Icelandic seafood exports to pass the $1.5 billion mark for the first time in history even though harvest quotas have been unchanged for years, Margeirsson said.

“In the last few years traceability and value chain management has been one of the main feats of development: trying to see the whole value chain at one time, trying to maximize the whole chain,” he explained.

He noted that, since computerized production controls were first employed in the mid-1980s, Icelandic processors, government regulators and research organizations like Matis can all get huge volumes of useful information. One cod longliner uses electronic data on the volume of harvest per kilo of bait to identify its best bait sources.

Plant managers know the species and volumes of the catch while vessels are still steaming toward the dock and companies that demonstrate a record of providing accurate data to fisheries managers are subject to lower observer requirements. “If you are supplying blocks of good data you have less cost of surveillance time of other companies,” Margeirsson said.
The Icelandic industry is integrating environmental information, such as impacts from bottom trawling, and product traceability, to respond to consumer and nongovernmental organization demands for proof that their products come from sustainable fisheries, he added.

Dr. Jim Stillinger, northwest regional manager for Multivac, Inc., the packing machinery giant, said the increasing demand from restaurant chains for ready-to-eat products is increasing automation by seafood processors.

In presentations that sometimes bordered on infomercials for their products, presenters from private companies also emphasized that their equipment increased shelf life and product quality. Stillinger said Marel Food Systems equipment uses X-ray imaging to show human workers the locations of pin bones while computer-controlled filleting machines can increase yield by 1.5 percent and eliminate six to eight jobs.

While the congress demonstrated that fish aren’t just for eating any more, a presentation by Knapp, the University of Alaska researcher, was praised for its reality-check on the real possibilities of seafood technology in Alaska.

“There’s a lot of value-adding we don’t do that we couldn’t do,” Knapp said. He offered eight points to help measure the worth of high tech and other value-added processing for private companies and public policy.

“Not all value adding is necessarily profitable or optimal for a processor,” Knapp noted. He also said short season, high or uncertain volumes, isolation of harvest grounds, transportation and energy costs of Alaska’s wild stock fisheries all weigh against a “build it and profits will flow” approach to technology.

“The optimal thing for the overall view of the processing industry may be to produce a mix of products that involves less full utilization than otherwise might be profitable,” Knapp said.

Linda Chaves, from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration office in Seattle, acknowledged that US companies are less involved than others in high value production of fish byproducts but said they’re getting more involved in the arena. “I know that there’s a greater use of byproducts by the industry and I know we’re throwing a lot less away,” Chaves said following the congress.

Knapp and others noted that while fishmeal is a lower-value byproduct of seafood manufacturing, the unending growth of aquatic farming is raising meal prices across the globe. Jonathan Shepherd, director general of the International Fish Meal and Fish Oil Organization, said meal production has remained steady in the range of seven million tons annually while the use has shifted dramatically.

In the 1960s just over 50 percent of all fishmeal was used for pig feed and the rest fed chickens. In 2008 the aquaculture business bought 58% of world meal production. Pigs accounted for 30.9% of production, chickens for just 9.1%. Fish oil production almost doubled from 15 million tons in 2000 to 27 million in 2008, Shepherd noted with the expectation that fish farming will continue to take a growing share.

Live Catch

Workers at a Massachusetts shellfish plant were processing a load of clams when they made a potentially explosive discovery, 126 hand grenades, officials said.

It's not unusual for grenades and other munitions to turn up in traps along the East Coast, but 126 is a relatively large number for one catch, WCVB-TV, Boston, reported.

Workers at the Fair Tide Shellfish plant in New Bedford found the grenades in late April – some of them with pins still attached – in a catch of clams that had been dredged off Long Island.

"Come to find out, based on what the Navy said, they were live. They were loaded for bear so to speak," Fair Tide Shellfish Finance Executive Tom Slaughter said.

The grenades were in wooden crates covered with dark muck, he said.

"When one broke open, we found all the grenades inside," Slaughter said.

The plant was evacuated and the Massachusetts State Police Bomb Squad, along with the US Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal team, placed the grenades in a dump truck filled with sand and transported them to a jetty, where they were detonated.

Worst Red Tide in Years Hits Puget Sound

www.redorbit.com

The worst red tide in perhaps a decade has shut down shellfish beds all along Puget Sound and prompted serious public health worries, state officials said Wednesday.

Expanded beach closures have not reached the heart of Washington state's large farmed shellfish industry, and the state said commercial shellfish on the market have been tested and should be safe to eat.

But industry officials worried that more bad news could further damage businesses already reeling from a separate bacterial outbreak.

The state Health Department said the newest round of beach closures means virtually the entire shoreline from Everett south to the Nisqually River just north of Olympia is off-limits for shellfish harvesting.

The eastern Kitsap Peninsula also has been affected, along with areas near Port Gamble, Port Ludlow and along the Strait of Juan de Fuca, said Frank Cox, a Health Department marine biotoxin coordinator.

"I don't think we've ever had anything quite to this scale," Cox said Wednesday.

Scientists were particularly worried by very high levels of the toxic organisms called Alexandrium, which produce powerful neurotoxins that cause paralytic shellfish poisoning in humans.

Those organisms are present in blooms of algae that thrive in the warm, calm summer weather the region has seen this year.

The state closes shellfish-growing areas when measurements of the toxins reach 80 micrograms. But many areas are showing levels of 1,000 micrograms or more, with mussels at Port Ludlow in Jefferson County containing nearly 10,000 micrograms.

"There are so many places that are so very toxic," Cox said. "I'm concerned if people ignore these warnings, we could wind up with people with illness, if not worse."

Paralytic shellfish poisoning can be fatal, but Washington state hasn't recorded a death since three people were killed in 1942. The latest serious illnesses were recorded in 2000, when several people were sickened - some even paralyzed - after eating contaminated shellfish near Gig Harbor, Cox said.

Cooking does not eliminate the toxins, and people should be extremely careful when harvesting shellfish on public or private tidelands, officials said.

The large bloom of toxic algae also was worrisome for the state's shellfish farmers, who battled a recall of raw oysters last month after a separate outbreak of vibriosis, an bacterial illness.

Some of the affected harvest areas have since reopened, but the industry is leery of damage to its market from more bad news about shellfish in Washington.

Shelton-based Taylor Shellfish, the West Coast's largest farmed shellfish producer, lost about $150,000 a week in live oyster sales because of the bacterial outbreak, spokesman Bill Dewey said.

Industry officials were watching the newer toxic algae blooms closely, hoping they would stay away from the major farming areas in the northern and southern ends of Puget Sound.

"It'd be a shame if we just got relief from the vibrio to get shut down for red tide," Dewey said. -redorbit.com

Lessons to be Learned

By Chris Philips, Managing Editor

On October 21, 2008, the F/V Katmai was making way toward Dutch Harbor, Alaska to offload approximately 120,000 lbs (53.6 LT) of Pacific Cod, Most of the crew was asleep, and the boat was transiting the Amchitka Pass in the Aleutian Islands. It was raining with 25 to 35 foot seas and 55-90 knot winds. According to the official US Coast Guard report, the vessel had a port heel caused by the wind and seas.

At midnight the Katmai lost steering. Dispatched to investigate, the engineer noted that the watertight door to the lazarette, which contained the steering gear, was open and that the space was flooded. The Engineer started the bilge system to dewater the lazarette. The Captain sent a second email to the F/V BLUE BALLARD stating that the lazarette was flooded. The engineer started the bilge pump and was initially able to report to the Captain that the water level in the lazarette was going down. When the boat took a starboard list, a deckhand reported that the engine room was flooded 1 to 2 feet above the deck plates. The Captain ordered the crew don immersion suits and to prepare the liferafts for abandoning ship. The flooding progressed and the vessel continued listing to starboard and down by the stern. The Captain ordered the crew to abandon ship and activated the EPIRB.

Seven crewmembers abandoned the F/V Katmai to a liferaft that was located off the starboard bow and three of the crew abandoned the boat from the fishing deck on the starboard side where the second life raft was deployed. The Engineer was last seen entering the engine room and is believed to have gone down with the vessel. The F/V Katmai sank approximately 45 minutes after having lost steering. Of the 11 crew onboard, 4 were ultimately rescued, 5 deceased members were recovered, and 2 remain missing and are presumed dead.

According to the Coast Guard, The Katmai sank as a result of the amount of cargo onboard, exposure to heavy winds and high seas, and a failure to maintain watertight boundaries.
The USCG Marine Board of Investigation report, released late last month, reads like a textbook on what NOT to do to survive at sea. Some of the Coast Guard’s conclusions:

The flooding of the lazarette, due to an unsecured door, caused the failure of the electric motors for the steering system, resulting in a loss of steering. The Katmai had no emergency steering system.

Accurate maintenance and repair records of the vessel were not kept by the owners or operations manager, preventing an evaluation of the overall condition of the vessel.
A crack in a weld seam on the starboard side of the processing space was not repaired properly (it was filled with silicone caulk) and the aft watertight door to the processing space was open prior to the vessel sinking.

The boat was carrying almost twice the amount of cargo reviewed in the loading conditions provided in the most current stability report. The additional cargo, coupled with the flooding of the engine room, decreased the freeboard and aft trim of the vessel and increased the vessel’s potential to take on water.

The owners of the Katmai failed to complete a new stability review of the vessel following the vessel’s conversion to fishing using a long line pot system in 1998. The older stability report may have led the Captain to assume that the cargo hold could be completely filled.

The vessel owners and Captain did not ensure that all drills required by 46 CFR 28.270 were conducted by crew who were trained in the proper procedures for conducting drills. The failure to conduct regular abandon ship or flooding drills may have reduced the crew’s ability to effectively respond to these emergency situations at the time of the casualty.

The crew suffered from chronic fatigue due to a lack of adequate sleep/rest as a result of extended fishing operations, which may have decreased their survivability following the casualty. Fatigue, work-related stress and inadequate resource management negatively affected the Captain’s decision-making process. His decision to proceed to Dutch Harbor, instead of waiting for the incoming storm to pass, contributed directly to the sinking of the vessel by unnecessarily exposing the vessel to heavy winds and high seas.

Immersion suits were not assigned or matched to specific crew, increasing the potential for crew to don improperly sized suits in an emergency. At least one crewmember donned an immersion suit that was too large for his body, decreasing potential for survivability.

The 28-year-old, 15-person liferaft in which the four survivors were discovered did not afford the crew protection from the elements and did not have adequate ballast bags to prevent the capsizing of the liferaft. The compressed gas cylinder was not properly connected to the inflation hose of the 10-person liferaft, which did not properly inflate.

The report notes that current Coast Guard regulations don’t require the Coast Guard or a recognized 3rd party to witness the servicing of Coast Guard approved liferafts increasing the potential for liferafts to be improperly serviced. The adoption of quality assurance programs for Coast Guard approved liferaft servicing facilities would substantially decrease the potential for liferafts to be serviced improperly.

Implementing a mandatory inspection program in lieu of the voluntary CFVE program for currently uninspected fishing vessels would also significantly improve fishing vessel safety and decrease fishing vessel casualties.

Existing regulations for uninspected fishing vessels similar to the F/V Katmai focus primarily on safety and do not contain hull, machinery, stability, or maintenance requirements. The report also notes that the current Coast Guard and NMFS definitions of fish processing are confusing, and permit vessels to be categorized differently by the Coast Guard and NMFS. Neither definition of processing vessels takes into account additional crew employed on fishing vessels to perform processing operations.

Finally, the lack of requirements to install indicators or alarms on watertight doors prevented effective management of watertight doors on the Katmai, and the installation of a portable emergency dewatering pump would have increased the capacity to dewater the vessel.
The Katmai report, issued almost 20 months after the incident, is a clear call for better safety procedures among all commercial fishermen. The recent sinking of the Northern Belle last month under similar circumstances (see cover story, this issue) is a clear reminder of the importance fishing vessel safety. Let’s not wait another 20 months for this latest lesson to take hold.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Area M Commercial Fishermen Volunteer to Sit Out First Opening of June Sockeye Salmon Fishery

The purse seine fleet in Sand Point and King Cove has decided to stand down this week during the first sockeye salmon opening for 2010 in Area M. The Area M fishery is located around Alaska’s Eastern Aleutian Islands and Western Peninsula on the North Pacific Ocean and Bering Sea. The first opening began June 7th at 6 a.m. and ends at 10 p.m. on June 10, 2010.

Chum salmon is a controversial issue. Although existing data indicates that the chum salmon catch during the Area M fishery has only a small impact on A-Y-K (Arctic Yukon Kuskokwim) chums, many residents living in the A-Y-K believe otherwise.

During two separate meetings late last week, Area M fishermen debated what action they might take in response to A-Y-K chum concerns. Seine vessel captains gathered in Sand Point City Council Chambers and at the harbor house in King Cove last Thursday and Friday evening while they hashed out their options for several hours. Their final decision was based on high amounts of chum caught during the subsistence harvest.

Giving up fishing time after a long winter is a difficult decision.

“My husband is sitting on the beach right now,” said Sand Point resident Tina Anderson, “and that’s lost income to my family.”

However, the Area M fleet has learned that as long as A-Y-K residents and the Alaska Board of Fisheries believe Area M’s fishery is having a serious impact on their runs, the fleet in the Aleutians East region is under great political scrutiny.

“Area M seiners recognize the concerns of residents living in the A-Y-K (Arctic Yukon Kuskokwim region) who believe we’re catching high numbers of chums,” said Glen Gardner, Jr., a seiner and the Mayor of the City of Sand Point. “We view our stand down as a positive gesture of solidarity.”

“We’re all fishermen who feed our families and make our living in Alaska waters,” said Sand Point seiner Robin Larsen. “Our fleets are also primarily Alaska Natives. We are sympathetic to the plight of families in the A-Y-K.”

For decades, Area M fishermen have been plagued by accusations that they are affecting commercial and subsistence chum salmon runs in the A-Y-K. In 2001, the Alaska Board of Fisheries implemented severe restrictions, which nearly bankrupted the entire Area M fishing fleet. The fishermen lost nearly 70 percent of their fishing time. However, scientific evidence shows that the Area M sockeye salmon fishery has very little impact on the chum salmon stock.

“Area M fishermen have been managed with chum caps, windows and other restrictions,” said Sand Point seiner and resident Dick Jacobsen. “Our fishery was very nearly destroyed.”

Impacts were so severe that by 2002, the Aleutians East region’s poverty rates skyrocketed. Fishermen lost their boats and permits. In 2004, the Board of Fisheries lifted the restrictions to pre-2001 levels after finding no evidence that previous chum salmon fishing restrictions made any improvement in chum runs in the A-Y-K.

“Local fishermen still fear they may lose the time they got back,” said Sand Point resident and fisherman Melvin Larsen. “So we’re trying to be proactive about this controversial issue.”

“We are active supporters of the scientific effort to genetically identify the stocks of chum present in our fishery,” said Raymond Koso, Jr. “That effort is currently under way. But until that work is done, any conclusions are just speculation at best.”

“We can’t do anything about the chum runs in the A-Y-K,” Mayor Gardner added. “But what we can do is show support for our neighbors to the northwest by standing down during the first run of the salmon season.” - Aleutians East Borough (aleutianseast.org)

Yukon River Salmon Star In Award Winning Film

By Margaret Bauman

A film on Yukon River salmon and the commercial fishermen who harvest them won top honors in the 2010 James Beard Foundation Media and Book Awards on May 2, in ceremonies in New York City.

The “King of Alaska” episode from the Public Broadcasting Station (PBS) “Chefs A’ Field” special features Yukon king salmon and the Yup’ik Eskimo harvesters of this salmon species famed for its high omega-3 oil content.

The harvesters work for Kwik’Pak Fisheries, a subsidiary of Yukon Delta Fisheries Development Association, a community development quota group. Kwik’Pak buys salmon from several hundred harvesters of salmon in the Lower Yukon.

Kwik’Pak general manager Jack Schultheis, who helped orchestrate the project, said he was pleased that the segment on wild Yukon River salmon and the Yup’ik people who harvest them earned the award. “For us, this validates the fact that we have an amazing story to tell- as well as excellent salmon,” Schultheis said.

The episode, filmed largely in Emmonak, Alaska, tells of the travels of acclaimed restaurateur and chef Rick Moonen to see the way the fish are harvested and processed there on the Lower Yukon. Moonen, an advocate for sustainable seafoods, owns an upscale restaurant in Las Vegas and travels around the country educating people about the importance of sustainable fisheries and ocean conservation.

Schultheis said that in the wake of a terrible fishing season in 2009, he is optimistic that there will be ample runs of chum and silver salmon, as well as a small number of kings in the 2010 season. Kwik’Pak employs about 500 fishermen from eight communities on the Lower Yukon and will also be buying fish in the coming season from Boreal Fisheries at St. Marys, Schultheis said. The company has a number of domestic markets, including Whole Foods, and growing markets in Europe.

The Lower Yukon is known for its high cost of living, coupled with a limited number of jobs. A loaf of bread in Emmonak costs $7 and a gallon of milk $11, Schultheis said. Last year’s fishery, complicated by harsh break-up conditions on the Yukon, had an ex-vessel value of about $700,000, or about $1,200 in gross earnings per permit holder, he said.

Back in 1999, the fishery had an ex-vessel value of $18 million, he said.

Scientists Team With Fishermen on Study of Ocean Salmon Migration

By Mark Floyd

A major research effort aimed at learning more about where salmon from specific river systems migrate in the Pacific Ocean will resume this year after a two-year hiatus – and expand to encompass the entire West Coast of the United States.

The research effort builds on a pioneering study by researchers at Oregon State University, who have worked for several years to streamline genetic testing of salmon. Their hope is to identify where in the ocean salmon from specific rivers travel so resource managers can still allow fishing while protecting depleted runs in the Sacramento and Klamath rivers, or other river systems.

This year, OSU researchers are working with colleagues in Washington and California – and with 200 West Coast commercial salmon fishermen – to collect tissue samples this summer from as many as 20,000 chinook salmon.

“That will triple the number of samples we’ve collected over the past four years, and provide a much clearer picture of how salmon from different rivers behave in the ocean,” said Gil Sylvia, superintendent of OSU’s Coastal Oregon Marine Experiment Station, and a principal investigator in the study.

“This is a great partnership between scientists and the fishing community,” Sylvia added. “The project is helping keep many of the fishermen on the water, and the data they contribute is leading to new insights about salmon migration and behavior. To my knowledge, there has never been a cooperative fishery project in the country this large using digital tools to record data within hours of completed trips.”

Participating fishermen will collectively receive $1 million in compensation from a variety of grants, contracts and disaster assistance funds.

The project has been shut down for the past two summers because the ocean was closed for most of that time to commercial salmon fishing. The re-opening of ocean salmon fishing coincides with an expansion of the research effort to include California and Washington. In the study, commercial salmon fishermen record data and clip fin samples that scientists will use for genetic testing.

As the fishermen catch salmon, they will log the time and location using global positioning system (GPS) technology and enter the data through the Pacific FishTrax website (pacificfishtrax.org). Sylvia said a new generation of data logging instruments will be tested this summer that ultimately will allow fishermen to send and record the data via satellite in “near real-time.”

Individual fish will have bar codes attached and when the fish are sold in local markets later, consumers can enter the bar code number in computer kiosks and learn when and where their fish were caught – and even learn about the fishermen who caught the fish.

The Pacific FishTrax traceability initiative was pilot tested in 2009 with albacore tuna last year at New Seasons markets in Portland with great success, Sylvia said.

“A lot of fishermen are pretty savvy and understand how marketing this kind of information really resonates with consumers,” Sylvia said. “You can envision as chef at a seafood restaurant, or a retailer at an upscale grocer telling the story of who caught this particular fish, and where it was caught.

“It’s a way of connecting people directly to the food they eat.”

The genetic testing of the fish is based on protocols developed in part through OSU researcher Michael Banks. In the first year of the project, he and his colleagues were able to match 2,100 salmon caught to their river of origin with 90 percent accuracy – just 24 hours after the fish was caught.

They also found some interesting patterns suggesting that fish from certain rivers – including Oregon’s Rogue River – moved in “pulses” through the ocean, or arrived early or late in fishery management zones. This kind of banding in the ocean could be critical to in-season management decisions, but needs to be validated through broader and more extended sampling.

“That’s what we hope to accomplish this year,” Sylvia said. -mark.floyd@oregonstate.edu

Stealth Revision of Alaska Fisherman’s Fund Completed

By Bob Tkacz

Uninsured Alaskan commercial fishers who are injured on the job should soon enjoy the first increase in 50 years in the payment they will receive to help cover their medical costs.

With no public testimony and a six-minute public hearing the bill that increased payments from Alaska Fishermen’s Fund was also amended to allow any skipper in Alaskan state fisheries who carries insurance to claim a payment up to $5,000 against their deductable expenses. Awaiting Gov. Sean Parnell’s expected signature, the bill allows skippers with protection and indemnity insurance for their crewmembers to claim the less of $5,000 or 50 percent of their policy deductable cost.

Whether the $11 million fund can handle the new generosity coming from the passage of SB 163 without an increase in fees from harvesters is uncertain because no long term projections of the new burden on the fund was ever done.

SB 163, sponsored by Fairbanks Sen. Joe Paskvan, started as a bill to increase the limit on payments from the fund to $10,000 from the 1959 limit of $2,500. The bill was introduced more than two-thirds of the way through the 90-day session after it became clear a twin proposal sponsored by Valdez Rep. John Harris was faced potentially unfriendly amendments in the Senate.

Harris introduced his bill, HB 207, in March of 2009. It reached the House Rules Committee on April 16, 2009 and never left again. Harris, senior assistant John Bitney explained, was fearful that his bill would be amended in ways he didn’t like while it was in the Senate and sent back to the House for a concurrence vote without the opportunity for Harris to fix his own bill.

As first introduced by Paskvan, SB 163 was identical to HB 207. It passed the Senate, 18-0, unamended, and got no hearing in any House standing committee until it was sent to the House Rules Committee where HB 207 was waiting, late in the session.

The Rules Committee is primarily a holding facility for bills until their sponsors show the chairperson they have enough votes in the majority caucus to win passage on the House floor. The committee also provides a last opportunity for corrections or amendments that were missed during the normal committee process.

When the Rules Committee met on April 9, a new version of SB 163 was introduced and quickly adopted with the “deductable” provision and other changes included.

Rep. Nancy Dahlstrom, the chair of the House Rules Committee this year, made clear at SB 163’s hearing that she didn’t want to waste time discussing the substance of any bill. “This committee is for technical changes, not whether a bill should or shouldn’t pass,” Dahlstrom said.
Jeff Hamburg, an aid to Paskvan, explained that, beside the $10,000 payment change the bill also provided authority for the Fishermen’s Fund Advisory and Appeals Council to rule on appeals for payments above the allowable limit. Since its inception the council, a panel of seven harvesters, has served as an appeals board on decisions by the commissioner of the Dept. of Labor on requests for higher payment amounts.

Through Feb. 8 for the fiscal year ending July 1 the council approved 58 payments in amounts between $2,500 and $10,000, including seven for payments greater than $20,000.

Unfortunately, the council never had the authority to approve higher payments. It acknowledged the lapse in a resolution it passed in April 2009 that also asked lawmakers the expanded authority.


State law, at least until the governor signs the bill, declares that the commissioner of labor must “consult” with the council before making a negative decision on an appeal for a higher payment. Under SB 163 the commissioner still gets the final word, but in a roundabout way on a question he or she may never be asked. The bill states that, subject to regulations now being written, the commissioner hears appeals of the council’s denial of appeals.

The Dept. of Labor projected just a $63,700 increase in draws on the fund from the increase in the payment cap alone. That estimate flies in the face of the department’s own data. Mike Monagle, manager of the Fishermen’s Fund, said it’s logical to assume every skipper carrying P&I insurance will apply to the fund for a payment but because the department has no count of the number of commercial fishing accidents per year the actual cost is “kind of a great unknown.”

The Fishermen’s Fund gets its money from a $50 payment from every limited entry permit holder, regardless of the number of permits they own, and a 39% share of crewmember license fees. That amounts to $48.75 of the $125 fee paid by nonresidents and $23.40 of the $60 paid by resident deckhands.

Unlike many fishermen’s benefits, payments from the fund are not limited to Alaskan residents. Over the past ten years nonresidents accounted for 16 to just over 39 percent of payments from the fund with the overall trend toward a higher share.

In the past four years benefit payments have outstripped revenues from $244,000 to $33,000. Through February of 2009, the fund had total expenses of $741,377 and receipts of $616,469. Monagle said at a Senate Finance Committee in February that the $11 million balance was “probably a higher amount” than needed.

“Because of the fund balance the council has been generous with some of the requests,” Monagle said. If the governor hasn’t already signed the bill he is likely to do so soon. If so Monagle expects to have a good idea of the bill’s real costs to the fund by the end of this summer.

The Labor Dept. supported passage of the bill and the governor gave no indication that he would veto it. “If the governor signs it in the next 30 days we will have a good idea (of actual costs) by the end of the summer,” Monagle said.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Marine Stewardship Council Certifies Alaska’s Flatfish Trawl Fisheries

Fisheries for all the major flatfish species harvested off Alaska were today certified as sustainable under the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) environmental standard for sustainable and well managed fisheries. With the certification of Pacific cod in January of this year and earlier certifications of pollock, halibut, sablefish, and Alaska salmon, this most recent certification of flatfish species means that most of the major Alaska fisheries are now certified as sustainable and well managed under the MSC program. The Best Use Cooperative brought the flatfish fisheries forward for MSC certification and worked with NOAA scientists and certifier Moody Marine Ltd. throughout the three year MSC certification process. The MSC certification process requires an extensive assessment of all aspects of candidate fisheries by a panel of independent fishery scientists who evaluate the sustainability of fisheries against the MSC’s demanding fishery science and management principles.
“The Alaska flatfish fisheries have undergone a profound and thorough evolution over the last 15 years to address bycatch, discard, and habitat effects issues” said John Gauvin, Fisheries Science Projects Director for the Best Use Cooperative. “This process has involved a great deal of hard work by fishermen, boat owners, fishery scientists, and managers to craft innovative ways to control fishery catches and modify fishing practices to address environmental issues and sustainability demands in the Magnuson-Stevens Act. We are very pleased to see that this tremendous effort has been acknowledged by our attainment of the MSC’s demanding sustainability certification”.
Trawl fisheries in both the Gulf of Alaska (GOA) and Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands (BSAI) have been certified. In the BSAI, species eligible to be sold as MSC certified include trawl caught:

Yellowfin sole
Flathead sole
Arrowtooth flounder
Alaska plaice
Northern rock sole
Pacific cod

In the GOA, species eligible to be sold as MSC certified include trawl caught:

Flathead sole
Arrowtooth flounder
Rex sole
Northern and southern rock sole
Pacific cod

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council (Council) has been a major driver in the conservative management of these fisheries since foreign fishing ended in the early 1980s. Over the last decade, scientists have set the cumulative allowable catch limit for Bering Sea flatfish species at approximately one million metric tons (mt) annually. However, the actual catch has been much lower, ranging from 200,000 to 250,000 mt a year. By and large, this is due to precautionary management actions, including conservation-based groundfish harvest, bycatch limits, and fish habitat protections.
Fishing is undertaken by “catcher-processors” that have equipment on board to head, gut, and freeze the fish and “catcher boats” that deliver fresh fish to shoreside processors. Catcher processors range in size from 110 to 270 feet and operate in the BSAI as well as the GOA. Catcher boats range in size from 60 to 90 feet and fish predominantly in the GOA.
Bycatch management has been a major concern for the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the Council. To help reduce bycatch and discards, the Council and NMFS recently implemented new incentives that ended the “race for fish” for these species in the BSAI. Beginning in 2008, BSAI flatfish catcher processors were allowed to form cooperatives, and allocate flatfish quotas and bycatch limits among the cooperatives. “This has allowed each group to be responsible for its own target catch and bycatch, providing a strong incentive for co-ops to keep bycatch rates low and reward those who fish cleanly and efficiently,” says Bill Orr, president of the Best Use Cooperative.
To support this cooperative program, NMFS has also implemented an at-sea monitoring program under which fishery observer coverage of flatfish vessels is extensive and around the clock.
Because flatfish live close to or on the seabed, non-pelagic trawls are used. Nonetheless, bottom contact has been reduced by 90% in these fisheries in recent years. To accomplish this, BUC captains and personnel have engaged in collaborative research with NMFS scientists to develop modified flatfish gear called “Bering Sea flatfish gear”. This modified gear principally uses sweeps raised off the seafloor by bobbins spaced at 30 meter intervals to herd flatfish into relatively small nets where the fish are captured. Research by NMFS scientists has shown that use of elevated sweeps dramatically reduces effects of fishing on seafloor habitat and associated species such as crab and structure-forming animals called epifauna.
BUC members include seven companies and sixteen trawl catcher- processors that harvest groundfish in the BSAI and GOA. BUC vessels catch multiple groundfish species, process catch, and freeze the resultant product on board.

Lawmakers Limit Reduction in Seiners’ Buyback Program

Bob Tkacz

Responding to concerns from salmon processors that harvesting capacity could be reduced too much, an Alaska Senate committee has conditioned passage of a bill, critical to a federally financed buyback program, with a limit on the number of Southeast seine permits that can be eliminated from the fishery.
A letter of intent attached to the bill says at least 260 permits must remain in the fishery.
Adopted by the Senate Resources Committee, March 31, the letter declares that SB 255 is being passed “with the understanding, and the assurance of the Southeast Revitalization Association, that... this bill will not reduce the number of permits in that fishery to less than 260.”
Through April 4, 379 permits have been renewed for 2010, including 187 held by Alaska residents and 192 owned by Outsiders, according to the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission.
“Everybody seemed comfortable that 260 would be a number that would reduce the number of permits in the fishery substantially, still provide fleets to fill these markets that have developed and comply with the requirement that the fishery not become too exclusive,” said Mary McDowell, vice president of the Pacific Seafood Processors Association.
The Southeast Revitalization Assoc. was formed by the Southeast Alaska Seiners Association to implement the buyback program using a $21 million federal loan. The loan is to be repaid by a self-imposed tax on remaining permit holders. With passage of the bill, permit voters will vote to authorize the program and what is expected to be a three percent ex-vessel tax.
SB 255 allows the release of individual harvester fish tickets to the National Marine Fisheries Service, which will manage the buyback repayment and needs the information the assure seiners are paying the harvest tax.
McDowell said improved harvesting technology and growing markets for chum and pink salmon during the eight years the buyback project has been in development led to concerns that the Southeast seine fleet might be too small to meet the raw material demand.
“Now processors are looking to increase their fleets and looking at the history of the buyback plan over the years the talk has been about removing about 200 permits... It just seemed like that was a really good, responsible thing to add to this bill,” McDowell said of the letter of intent.
An intent letter has no force of law and imposes no legally enforceable limit on the number of permits that can be retired. The overall “fishing capacity reduction plan” is intended to “permanently” retire the repurchased permits. The CFEC has noted in testimony that it would be required to offer new permits for sale if the seine fishery became too exclusive. That determination could be made through a court suite or completion of a so-called optimum number study, either of which would likely take several years to be initiated and more to be concluded.
The bill requires revenues from any new permit sales to go toward retirement of the loan.
Although CFEC lists 379 permits as active, its records from the 2008 fishery showed only 212 also recorded landings.
Following a 2008 pilot project that repurchased 35 permits using a $2.8 million federal grant, a spokesman for the project suggested almost half of those remaining could be eliminated. “We’re thinking, maximum, maybe we can buy 160 to 170 permits,” said Rob Zuanich, in a 2008 interview. Zuanich is executive director of the Seattle-based Purse Seine Vessel Owners Association and registered agent of the Southeast Revitalization Association.
The larger buyback program will be conducted through a reverse auction in which permit holders offer a price purchase. The 35 permits in the 2008 buyback sold for $55,000 to $94,950, according to the SRA. If the maximum of 119 permits allowed under the letter of intent were repurchased with the $21 million fund, each seller could potentially get $176,000.
The CFEC’s online estimate of permit values shows $70,500 as the average for the Southeast salmon seine fishery for February 2010.

Commission Approves Limited Salmon Season on Central Valley Rivers

Dan Bacher

The California Fish and Game Commission, during a teleconference in Sacramento late last month, voted 5 to 0 to approve a limited fishing season targeting fall run chinook salmon on the Sacramento, Feather and American rivers.
The season is based on the decision by the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) on April 15 to give 12.6 percent of the Central Valley fish allocation to the in river fish, according to Neil Manji of the California Department of Fish and Game. The PFMC set a harvest target of 8,200 fish for the three rivers.
The allocation by sub-quota is 2,000 fish for the American, 2,000 for the Feather, 2,600 for the Upper Sacramento and 3,600 for the Lower Sacramento.
The Feather River season will run from July 31 to August 31 from 1,000 feet below the Thermalito Afterbay Outfall to the mouth.
The American River season will run from October 30 to November 28 from Ancil Hoffman Park to the mouth.
The Lower Sacramento season will run from September 4 to October 3 from the Highway 113 Bridge to Carquinez Bridge.
The Upper Sacramento River season will run from October 9 to October 31 from the Deschutes Rod Bridge to 500 feet above the Red Bluff Diversion Dam.
The Upper Sacramento River season targeting flat fall chinook salmon will run from October 9 to December 12 from 150 feet below the Red Bluff Diversion Dam to the Highway 113 Bridge.
"The reason for closing the area right below the Thermalito Afterbay Outlet was because there is a substantial amount of illegal snagging that takes place there," said Manji. "If we had allowed fishing in the outlet, the quota would have been reached early in the season."
There is a bag limit of two fish in all of the open sections of the Central Valley salmon season.
"There was a question of whether to do a daily creel update to see if the quota is reached, but it seemed more appropriate to close the fishing during the peak of the runs as we have done," said Manji.
The season is controversial because it is based on an ocean abundance estimate of 245,000 fish this year by the National Marine Fisheries Service. Last year the federal biologists estimated over 122,000 Sacramento River chinooks would return, but only 39,530 fish, less than the third of the number forecasted, actually returned to the rivers to spawn.
Nobody from public spoke in support or opposition to the season during the teleconference, although Paul Weekland, a veteran Fish and Game Commission meeting attendee, questioned whether or not there would be adequate enforcement on the rivers to make sure that the quota is not exceeded.

Army Corps of Engineers to Close Both Ballard Locks for Salmon Project June 9

US Army Corps of Engineers

Both the large and small locks at the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks in Ballard will be closed to all marine traffic from 9 a.m. - 2 p.m. June 9.
The closure will allow construction crews and dive teams the opportunity to inspect the salmon exclusion structure immediately upstream of the locks. The staff will make maximum efforts to complete the work as soon and as safely as possible.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Seattle District, which operates the locks, installed this interim structure to prevent salmon from being trapped in the saltwater return system. During last year’s salmon migration, biologists only found one adult coho salmon in the return system.
The structure prevents salmon access to the locks’ saltwater return system and improves the viability of the salmon runs, which use the fish ladder to return upstream to their spawning grounds. The design allows for the doors to be manually closed to screen fish during migration and opened when the salmon are not migrating.
Emergency vessels on an emergency call will have access to the locks during the closure.
Boaters may call the lockmaster on duty at 206-783-7000 to verify that the locks are open.
For current information about activities at the locks, visit the Corps of Engineers Web site at www.nws.usace.army.mil and select “Dams and Locks” then “Lake Washington Ship Canal” from the left column.
The Chittenden Locks, often referred to as the Ballard or Government Locks, safely transit about 60,000 vessels each year.

Today’s Catch

Lessons to be Learned
Chris Philips

On October 21, 2008, the F/V Katmai was making way toward Dutch Harbor, Alaska to offload approximately 120,000 lbs (53.6 LT) of Pacific Cod, Most of the crew was asleep, and the boat was transiting the Amchitka Pass in the Aleutian Islands. It was raining with 25 to 35 foot seas and 55-90 knot winds. According to the official US Coast Guard report, the vessel had a port heel caused by the wind and seas.
At midnight the Katmai lost steering. Dispatched to investigate, the engineer noted that the watertight door to the lazarette, which contained the steering gear, was open and that the space was flooded. The Engineer started the bilge system to dewater the lazarette. The Captain sent a second email to the F/V BLUE BALLARD stating that the lazarette was flooded. The engineer started the bilge pump and was initially able to report to the Captain that the water level in the lazarette was going down. When the boat took a starboard list, a deckhand reported that the engine room was flooded 1 to 2 feet above the deck plates. The Captain ordered the crew don immersion suits and to prepare the liferafts for abandoning ship. The flooding progressed and the vessel continued listing to starboard and down by the stern. The Captain ordered the crew to abandon ship and activated the EPIRB.
Seven crewmembers abandoned the F/V Katmai to a liferaft that was located off the starboard bow and three of the crew abandoned the boat from the fishing deck on the starboard side where the second life raft was deployed. The Engineer was last seen entering the engine room and is believed to have gone down with the vessel. The F/V Katmai sank approximately 45 minutes after having lost steering. Of the 11 crew onboard, 4 were ultimately rescued, 5 deceased members were recovered, and 2 remain missing and are presumed dead.
According to the Coast Guard, The Katmai sank as a result of the amount of cargo onboard, exposure to heavy winds and high seas, and a failure to maintain watertight boundaries.
The USCG Marine Board of Investigation report, released late last month, reads like a textbook on what NOT to do to survive at sea. Some of the Coast Guard’s conclusions:
The flooding of the lazarette, due to an unsecured door, caused the failure of the electric motors for the steering system, resulting in a loss of steering. The Katmai had no emergency steering system.
Accurate maintenance and repair records of the vessel were not kept by the owners or operations manager, preventing an evaluation of the overall condition of the vessel.
A crack in a weld seam on the starboard side of the processing space was not repaired properly (it was filled with silicone caulk) and the aft watertight door to the processing space was open prior to the vessel sinking.
The boat was carrying almost twice the amount of cargo reviewed in the loading conditions provided in the most current stability report. The additional cargo, coupled with the flooding of the engine room, decreased the freeboard and aft trim of the vessel and increased the vessel’s potential to take on water.
The owners of the Katmai failed to complete a new stability review of the vessel following the vessel’s conversion to fishing using a long line pot system in 1998. The older stability report may have led the Captain to assume that the cargo hold could be completely filled.
The vessel owners and Captain did not ensure that all drills required by 46 CFR 28.270 were conducted by crew who were trained in the proper procedures for conducting drills. The failure to conduct regular abandon ship or flooding drills may have reduced the crew’s ability to effectively respond to these emergency situations at the time of the casualty.
The crew suffered from chronic fatigue due to a lack of adequate sleep/rest as a result of extended fishing operations, which may have decreased their survivability following the casualty. Fatigue, work-related stress and inadequate resource management negatively affected the Captain’s decision-making process. His decision to proceed to Dutch Harbor, instead of waiting for the incoming storm to pass, contributed directly to the sinking of the vessel by unnecessarily exposing the vessel to heavy winds and high seas.
Immersion suits were not assigned or matched to specific crew, increasing the potential for crew to don improperly sized suits in an emergency. At least one crewmember donned an immersion suit that was too large for his body, decreasing potential for survivability.
The 28-year-old, 15-person liferaft in which the four survivors were discovered did not afford the crew protection from the elements and did not have adequate ballast bags to prevent the capsizing of the liferaft. The compressed gas cylinder was not properly connected to the inflation hose of the 10-person liferaft, which did not properly inflate.
The report notes that current Coast Guard regulations don’t require the Coast Guard or a recognized 3rd party to witness the servicing of Coast Guard approved liferafts increasing the potential for liferafts to be improperly serviced. The adoption of quality assurance programs for Coast Guard approved liferaft servicing facilities would substantially decrease the potential for liferafts to be serviced improperly.
Implementing a mandatory inspection program in lieu of the voluntary CFVE program for currently uninspected fishing vessels would also significantly improve fishing vessel safety and decrease fishing vessel casualties.
Existing regulations for uninspected fishing vessels similar to the F/V Katmai focus primarily on safety and do not contain hull, machinery, stability, or maintenance requirements. The report also notes that the current Coast Guard and NMFS definitions of fish processing are confusing, and permit vessels to be categorized differently by the Coast Guard and NMFS. Neither definition of processing vessels takes into account additional crew employed on fishing vessels to perform processing operations.
Finally, the lack of requirements to install indicators or alarms on watertight doors prevented effective management of watertight doors on the Katmai, and the installation of a portable emergency dewatering pump would have increased the capacity to dewater the vessel.
The Katmai report, issued almost 20 months after the incident, is a clear call for better safety procedures among all commercial fishermen. The recent sinking of the Northern Belle last month under similar circumstances (see cover story, this issue) is a clear reminder of the importance fishing vessel safety. Let’s not wait another 20 months for this latest lesson to take hold.

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