Astoria Fisheries Auction

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Tribal Tanneries Could Cut Sea Otter Population

By Bob Tkacz

August 2011

As long-term federal efforts to clarify rules controlling use and sale of all legally harvested marine mammals slowly ramp up, Native organizations in Southeast Alaska are hoping their plans for commercial tanneries will result in a multi-fold increase in sea otter harvests as soon as this winter.

With quality finished pelts selling for upwards of $300 each and blankets or other items fetching five-figure prices, the initiatives could provide a desperately needed boost to village economies beside leaving more shellfish and other commercial and subsistence stocks for human use.

The five-year old commercial tannery run by the Sitka Tribe of Alaska, which specializes in otter pelts, expects to double its capacity by the end of this year when expansion into facilities twice as large as its previous location are completed. To the south, four tribes recently established the Prince of Wales Sea Otter Commission. Their plan is to develop an otter “management plan” that would work with the Sitka tannery or build a separate operation of their own.

“Probably by 16 months from now we’ll be operational. We can probably start looking if there is an opportunity to harvest and get pelts done at the other tannery and we sell garments,” said Edward Sam Thomas, president of the Craig Community Association. The association is coordinating efforts of the federally recognized tribes there and from Klawock, Hydaburg and Kasaan.

Management and harvest of all marine mammals in the US is controlled by federal law. There are no season or bag limits on the healthy and growing population of sea otters in Southeast Alaska, where a few dozen were introduced in a highly successful revival effort by the state Dept. of Fish & Game decades ago.

The problem is that only tribal members may harvest sea otters and not even Natives can sell pelts or any other parts, unless they have been “significantly altered.” Native artisans and federal authorities have not been able to agree on what that means and the uncertainty has discouraged hunters from taking the field.

The National Marine Fisheries Service in Maryland is pulling together data, people and interest groups to address the large question of use of marine mammal parts, but the effort is in such an early stage that no timelines are available.

“It’s just a foundation. We haven’t really moved forward on anything yet,” said Stuart Cory, director of the enforcement operations division at the National Marine Fisheries Service headquarters in Maryland.

In June Cory was researching data and pulling together the working group of Native representatives, other stakeholders and wildlife managers. He emphasized that the working group will consider all marine mammals rather than focusing on sea otters and said even a final goal of the effort has not yet been determined. “My feeling is we’d try to get something to move forward to the decision-makers,” Cory said, June 21.

Thomas acknowledged that “other interest groups” will resist efforts to relax restrictions on sea otter harvesting but said the Craig Association isn’t planning to fight that battle.

“We’re not going to get a change in regulations to allow sales of raw pelts. One of our strategies is to go the other way and do what it says. Significantly alter [by selling] finished garments,” Thomas said in a June 23 interview.

Monthly meetings of the new otter commission have been ongoing since June to write the management plan, which Thomas indicated would work around “traditional boundaries” between tribal regions on Prince of Wales Island and could be completed by October.

“The plan is going to be management of the resource. Number one, try to get management level on sea otters, which are escalating at a high rate right now,” Thomas said. It could also include plans for replenishment of the high value stocks that otters are devouring and “management strategies for other resources beside sea otters,” he added.
Although research is ongoing, no management agency has new or good numbers on the impact of sea otters but there’s virtually no disagreement that the population is growing and costly to humans. Otters are furry gourmets, dining on Dungeness crab, sea urchins, cucumbers, abalone and geoduck.

A 2009 federal report, using aerial surveys conducted from 2002 to 2009 estimated the population at just under 9,000 critters in the panhandle, but they are also a problem in Prince William Sound. A 1994 federal management plan said, “Sea otters were implicated in the demise of the recreational and commercial Dungeness crab fisheries in Orca Inlet and eastern Prince William Sound,” the report declared.

With two exceptions, annual statewide sea otter harvests have remained below 600 for the past 20 years, according to a March 4, 2011 US Fish & Wildlife Service sea otter tagging study. In 2010 the harvest was 601. In 1993 the harvest was 835 otters, but whatever the reason, the tally was unusual. In 1992 the take was 426, falling to 316 in 1994 and remained below 400 annually with only two exceptions until last year.

The total statewide harvest for the 1990-2010 period of the study was 7,392 otters.

Sitka has consistently been the most deadly community for otters over the long term, accounting for 205 of the 601 pelts tagged in 2010. Camille Ferguson, economic development director for the Sitka Tribe of Alaska and manager of its tannery said production of finished hides peaked in 2007 at 370, dropping to 288 last year, partly due to the start of facility relocation.

“I would hope that by 2013 we are able to double capacity. I’m hoping that I have the remodel totally done by summer and everyone up and trained and ready to go,” Ferguson said. Output has been hobbled by a shortage of skilled tanners. “You can’t find people who worked in tanneries,” Ferguson said, June 23.

Other than intertribal bartering, the Sitka tannery has no retail sales, partly due to a shortage of skilled seamstresses, but Ferguson agreed with Thomas that there’s big money in otters.

Ferguson said quality pelts sell for as much as $500 and estimated that as many as 30 pelts could be needed to make a blanket. Thomas said the Prince of Wales project is likely to start by supplying pelts to the Sitka tannery but hopes to eventually include everything from harvesting to retail sales that could be the anchor for expanded tourism businesses.

Thomas estimated that as few as 70 pelts are taken annually by Prince of Wales trappers and suggested it could rise to 500 when the island project is fully developed. The federal study counted 2010 harvests of 39 pelts in Craig, 111 in Klawock and 41 in Ketchikan, but none in Kasaan or Hydaburg.

Bob Tkacz can be reached at fishlawsbob@gmail.com.

Salmon Harvests In Alaska Exceed 71 Million Fish

State fishery managers for Alaska are now saying the run of wild Alaska sockeye salmon in Upper Cook Inlet could reach 9.9 million reds or more. The preseason forecast was for 6.4 million reds, but the mid-July mid-season assessment conducted by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game prompted biologists to boost those numbers. A week earlier some processors put restrictions on how much fish they would take from harvesters but not they have brought in extra tenders and there are no limits at this time on deliveries to tenders.

Some 58 fishing vessels are registered to fish in Upper Cook Inlet, of which 420 drift gillnetters were reported fishing, but biologists said some might be fishing with double permits. Harvests continue to be robust, even with in-river escapement for the Kenai River raised to 1.1 million to 1.35 million fish, up from 1 million to 1.2 million fish. The only potential downside of this abundance is a concern for sport angler interests in king salmon.

Commercial fisheries biologists said the state Division of Sport Fishing issued an emergency order that removes bait from that fishery beginning July 25 and also eliminating the one king salmon per permit for the Kenai River dip net fishery. Should the sport fishery for kings on the Kenai River be closed, so would the east side commercial setnet fishery.

Statewide through July 23, harvesters in Alaska have netted 71.3 million fish.
That includes 21.8 million reds, 42,000 kings, 427,000 chums and 2,000 pinks.
In Prince William Sound, the preliminary statistics show a harvest of 17.5 million salmon, including 12.6 million pinks, 3.2 million sockeyes, 1.6 million chums and 19,000 each of king and silver salmon.

Scientific Review of Steller Sea Lion Bi-Op is Critical of NMFS findings

A new draft report of an independent scientific review of a recent biological opinion by the National Marine Fisheries Service on the impact of groundfish fisheries on Steller sea lions is critical of the NMFS report.

The draft report comes in the wake of a federal fisheries decision that implemented new fishery closures in 2011 for Atka mackerel and Pacific cod in the Western Aleutian Islands, a move the industry said would cost them millions of dollars.

The independent researchers for the states of Alaska and Washington say they do not agree with the finding of jeopardy of adverse modification for Steller sea lions in the western and central Aleutian Islands, as concluded in the biological opinion. The scientists said they found that NMFS misinterpreted crucial evidence from statistical studies of relationships between fishing and sea lion demographics.

The scientists also said they found that NMFS failed to scientifically support their explanation of how fisheries affected sea lions, and disregarded or misreported evidence that refutes the fishery-driven nutritional stress hypothesis.

And finally, the scientists said, NMFS did not seriously consider alternative ecologically mediated explanations for declines in sea lion numbers not involving fisheries: environmentally-driven nutritional stress and the killer shale predation hypotheses.

“If fisheries adversely affect sea lion numbers, statistically significant negative associations should be detectable between measures of fishing and measures of sea lion numbers,” the scientists said. “Failing to find any such associations should lead to a conclusion that there is no adverse effect unless there are clear reasons why the effects would not be observable in the data.”

The complete draft report is online at http://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/steller_sealions/fmp_biop_ind_sci_rev_21july2011

The report present the preliminary findings of the four panel members for the review and does not represent the views of either state’s agency for fish and game/wildlife.

Marine Conservation Alliance Names New Executive Director

Commercial fisheries veteran Merrick Burden has stepped into the post of executive director of the Marine Conservation Alliance, filling the vacancy left by the retirement of Dave Benton.

Burden, who will be based in an office at Seattle Fisherman’s Terminal, has an extensive background in commercial fisheries. He has worked for the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Pacific Fishery Management Council, and, most recently, as the senior fisheries economist for the Environmental Defense Fund.

He said in a statement issued by MCA that he is looking forward to helping chart a course that enhances MCA’s impact of sustainably managed fisheries through the use of science.

MCA, which is based in Juneau and Seattle, is a coalition of seafood processors, harvesters, support industries, coastal communities and community development quota groups in Alaska. Its priorities include catch share programs, bycatch management, Steller sea lions, habitat and coastal and marine spatial planning.

Merrick also will lead the Marine Conservation Alliance Foundation, which works on marine debris cleanup and cooperative research on issues ranging from crab tagging, and information collection in the scallop fishery to the intersection between fishery activities and right whales.

Yukon River harvesters hoping for good fall run

The struggling commercial fishery in the Lower Yukon has proven considerably better this year than in the past three years, according to Kwik'Pak Fisheries spokesman Jack Schultheis, the lousy weather notwithstanding.

Schultheis said the weather has been downright horrible, “the coldest, nastiest, wettest summer we’ve ever had,” with temperatures hovering around 38 to 40 above zero. Still the fishermen – some 400 fishing families – have been in a pretty decent mood, he said. Wages to employees of Kwik'Pak plus payments to harvesters have put a little more than $2 million into the region so far this season, he said.

Most of the Kwik'Pak summer run of oil-rich Yukon River chum salmon went into frozen fillets for domestic and European markets, with about 10 percent to the fresh domestic markets. Schultheis said he expected the run to pick up in the end of July and that by the first of August they’d know what the fall chum run would look like.

In an interview from Emmonak on the Lower Yukon on July 26, Schultheis said that last year to date they had processed 180,000 fish, compared to 270,000 fish for the same date this year, but unless they have a good fall run, they will be short of enough fish to meet market demands, he said.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

AMSEA Drill Conductor Course: A Way to Save Lives at Sea


By Margaret Bauman

July 2011


The arrival of spring didn’t make the waters of Bristol Bay appreciably warmer for these fishermen honing their survival skills during a drill conductor course presented by AMSEA. Photo by Margaret Bauman.

For the veteran commercial fish harvesters lined up on the dock in their survival suits, jumping into the icy waters of Bristol Bay was just another step in honing their skills to deal with emergencies at sea.

The group of Bristol Bay fishermen was taking part in a fishing vessel drill conductor course offered by the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association.

In return for their time and effort on a couple of windy, rainy days at Dillingham, they got a course of instruction from instructor Ron Bowers on everything they need to know to deal with and lead their crew in incidents ranging from fires on board to maydays, handling life rafts, immersion suits and personal flotation devices, and flares, plus cold water survival skills and distress radio beacons, also known as EPIRBS.

To Beatrice Grewal, a vessel captain and the only woman in the class, earning her drill conductor certification was something special.

“It means that if there is any type of fire, I have to jump overboard or anything, I know I am capable to throw those orders or tell my crew to follow them,” said Grewal, as she peeled off her survival suit after the life raft drill.

Other participants in the class included Fritz Johnson, Anders Johnson, Max Martin, Wyatt Philbrook, Chad Felts and Jerry Liboff, all of Dillingham; Harvey Demandle of Akiak, Joshua Page and Dan Martello of Seattle and Robert Lebovic of Ashville, North Carolina.

Bowers, an Emergency Technician 3 from Dillingham, has been teaching the course all over Alaska for years, and has trained several hundred commercial fishermen. The classes are free to commercial fishermen, thanks to funding from AMSEA, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp., and other sources.

Bowers also teaches first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation courses and donates his time annually to teach a marine safety course at the alternative high school in Dillingham, the Maximum Achievement Program.

While the regulations for the commercial fishing safety laws passed by Congress in October of 2010 are still being written, AMSEA is advising fishermen to be prepared for when they do go into effect by getting dockside exams as soon as possible and getting safety training now.

AMSEA’s executive director, Jerry Dzugan, wrote about this in the spring 2011 edition of the AMSEA newsletter, which is online at www.amsea.org.

“Only about 15 percent of the fleet currently takes advantage of the free, voluntary exams that are valid for up to two years,” he writes. “One hundred percent of the fleet will be required to get these exams, which will then be called a certificate of compliance, sometime after October 2012.

“This may result in a manpower shortage among examiners. Getting an exam decal now avoids the possible delays resulting from waiting until the last minute. Also, there may be a fee for exams after October 2012,” he wrote. “However, there is no confirmation of this. Get them while they are free and readily available.”

Dzugan also urged commercial fishermen not to delay safety training.

“Some of the new required training will involve additional subject matter,” he said. “The training requirements will take longer to enact and enforce since they will probably be subject to a rulemaking and public comment period. There will also need to be a phase-in period (perhaps three to five years) for fishermen to get training. There will also likely be some acceptable substitutes for training in some subject areas like seamanship or navigation if one has sea time and/or a USCG license.

Dzugan said subjects like drill conducting, stability and survival may not have a sea time or license equivalency. “However, this has not yet been determined,” he wrote. “It is highly likely that training received in currently available stability and drill conductor courses will be good for five years from date of training. This USCG-accepted training is available now from AMSEA, North Pacific Fishing Vessel Owners Association and others.”

AMSEA’s goals for the new training requirement are to ensure that training is meaningful and relevant to fishermen and hands-on; to ensure that it is accessible to fishermen, delivered in homeports whenever possible, and that the training is affordable.

Another date clear in the new regulations is Jan. 1, 2015. On that date vessels fishing outside of three miles must have survival craft with out-of-water flotation. This means that a lifefloat or Buoyant Apparatus such as a Kaino Rescue Ring or that piece of orange coated foam will no longer meet requirements.

The lowest level survival craft that will keep people out of water is an Inflatable Buoyant Apparatus, he noted. “Fishermen should consider whether the cost of an $800 BA that will only meet requirements until Jan. 1, 2015 is as cost effective as buying an IBA,” he said. “A hard-pack four-man IBA now costs about $2,000 a six-man about $2,200; repack valises are $300 less.”

Dzugan said that AMSEA will gear up and use its port-based training network in Alaska and elsewhere in the US to help meet increased training demand.

At the same time, he warned, funding to deliver this training is uncertain due to federal budget cuts. Course fees may be needed in the future, he said.

AMSEA memberships by individuals and organizations allow the organization to stretch its funding and also to secure other funding.

Learn more at www.amsea.org or call 907-747-3287.

Margaret Bauman can be reached at margieb42@mtaonline.net.

Bristol Bay Salmon Harvest Hits 15 Million

Wild sockeye salmon harvests in Bristol Bay hit 15.3 million fish through July 4 and just keep on growing, with a cumulative escapement of 4.7 million fish, for a total run through Independence Day of 20.4 million fish. That broke down to a total run of 8.5 million fish into the Naknek-Kvichak, 5,073,754 fish into the Nushagak district, 4.8 million into the Egegik district, 1.9 million into the Ugashik district, and 136,837 into the Togiak district.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists say the preliminary harvest figures for July 4 alone show was 1.6 million fish, with the number of sockeye per drift delivery averaging 816,000 reds in the Naknek-Kvichak district, 758,000 in the Ugashik district, 561,000 in Egegik, 434,000 in the Nushagak and 395,000 in the Togiak district. On July 4 alone, the catch was 850,000 reds for the Naknek-Kvichak, 364,000 in the Nushagak district, 186,000 in Egegik district, 152,000 in the Ugashik district and 38,000 in Togiak district.

Through July 5, the vessel registration put 492 boats into the Naknek-Kvichak district, 374 boats into the Nushagak district, 232 boats into the Egegik district, 175 boats into the Ugashik district and 52 into the Togiak district. Those numbers were set to change on July 7, with 563 vessels registered to fish the Naknek-Kvichak, 374 vessels for the Nushgak, 232 vessels into Egegik, 190 vessels into the Ugahsik and 52 remaining in the Togiak district.

Overall it’s been a wet and dreary summer in most cases for Bristol Bay, with plenty of wind and wave conditions that state biologists described as pretty nasty.
The forecast for Bristol Bay is for a total run of some 38.5 million fish, with a harvest of 28.5 million reds.

Statewide Salmon Harvests Near 20 Million Fish Through July 1

Alaska’s overall statewide harvest of all wild salmon species through July 1 stood at a preliminary total of nearly 20 million fish. The good news for fishermen is that prices were holding steady through July 5 in Anchorage at $6.95 a pound for headed and gutted whole sockeye, with those omega-3 oil packed fillets going for $10.95 at one popular retail seafood outlet. Bristol Bay’s total harvest through July 1 stood at 9.5 million salmon of all species, including 9.3 million sockeye, 188,000 chum and 28,000 kings. For Prince William Sound, the total harvest was 3.3 million salmon, including more than 2 million reds, 1.9 million chum, 19,000 kings, some 4,000 silvers and 3,000 pink salmon. For the Copper River alone, the total run was 1.3 million fish, 1,338,000 reds, 18,000 kings, 11,000 chum, 3,000 silvers and fewer than 1,000 pinks.

Southeast Alaska fisheries reached a harvest of 798,000 salmon of all species through July 1, including some 409,000 chum, 158,000 pinks, 118,000 reds, 75,000 kings and 38,000 silvers.

The westward region showed a total harvest of 5.8 million salmon of all species. That included 1.9 million fish at Chignik – of which 1.8 million were reds, some 61,000 chum and 25,000 pinks, and 973,000 salmon of all species at Kodiak, including 804,000 reds, 142,000 chum, 25,000 pinks, 2,000 kinds and few than 1,000 silvers.

The struggling Yukon River fisheries continued to be weak, with a total harvest of 95,000 chum. For the entire Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim region, the harvest through July 1 stood at 139,000 salmon, including some 123,000 chum, 10,000 kings and 6,000 reds.

Herring Roe Recovery in Norton Sounds Sets Another Record

The community development quota corporation for Alaska’s Norton Sound region is celebrating another successful herring harvest with record roe recovery. While small by comparison to herring roe harvests elsewhere in Alaska, the Norton Sound Economic Development Corp. said their fishermen topped their own high mark set a year ago by harvesting herring with an all-time record recovery of roe.

The 744 tons of herring harvested this year in Norton Sound were comprised of 14.8 percent roe on average. The previous record, set in 2010 by Norton Sound harvesters, was 13.5 percent roe recovery.

In total, the Norton Sound herring fleet, using gillnets, harvested 810 tons of herring, of which 66 tons were directed to a bait fishery. The CDQ group paid out more than $274,000 for the entire fishery, an average of $339 per ton. Through an agreement with the CDQ group, Icicle Seafoods brought in a processing vessel and tenders to Norton Sound both last year and this year.

The roe harvested is sold as a luxury food in Japan, often given out as holiday gifts.
In addition to negotiating the processing agreement with Icicle Seafoods, NSEDC provides aerial survey support to its fishermen. This year alone, biologists from NSEDC’s Norton Sound fisheries research and development division flew 29 hours in 15 flights to support their harvesters.

Bristol Bay Waypoints Reports Big Catch

The Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, which represents the drift gillnet fleet in Bristol Bay, is reporting its first big catch via the association’s new consumer friendly website, www.BristolBaySockeye.org.

According to the BBRSDA, marketers at Haggen, a 29-supermarket operator with stores in Washington and Oregon, said they learned a lot about Bristol Bay salmon from the new website prior to contacting the BBRSDA about using some of its text and photos in their new Bristol Bay sockeye salmon promotion.

The Haggen advertising promotes the taste, texture, health benefits, sustainability and abundance of Bristol Bay’s wild salmon species.

Bob Waldrop, executive director of the association, said the association is pleased that it can help to build demand at the retail level. The website was developed specifically to spur interest among seafood buyers who engage directly with customers and consumers.

The website includes information about the Bristol Bay sockeye run, the nutritional value and convenience of cooking wild Alaska sockeye salmon and stories and photos about the men and women who bring in the famed harvest annually.

Recipes are also included, courtesy of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. One of four current recipes online is for grilled southwestern salmon with guacamole on crisp toast, courtesy of Alison Arians, author of the South Anchorage Farmers Market Cookbook in Anchorage.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Alaska Senators Want Closure of Arctic ‘Donut Hole’

By Bob Tkacz

July 2011

Concerned that accelerated ice melt could open the way to an Arctic Ocean rerun of the overfishing that decimated pollock stocks in the Bering Sea “donut hole,” Alaska’s US senators are pressing the State Department to negotiate a moratorium with other Arctic countries on commercial fishing in the Arctic high seas until a “multilateral regime exists for managing such fisheries properly.”

In a May 10 letter Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R) and Mark Begich (D) urged Sec. of State Hillary Clinton to “increase the administration’s efforts to secure an international agreement.”

“It is our firm belief securing such an agreement should be a top priority for the United States as it implements its Arctic policy. The waters just north of the US and Russian EEZs are experiencing significant loss of multi-year sea ice. Much of this area is of fishable depth, the waters are open for several months each year now, and research is being conducted in these waters by non-coastal states already. Exploratory fishing may not be far behind,” the senators wrote.

Murkowski may have hand-delivered the letter to Clinton. The two, with Interior Sec. Ken Salazar comprised the US delegation to the biennial ministerial meeting of the Arctic Council, in Nuuk, Greenland, May 12. Murkowski made history as the first member of Congress to attend a top-level meeting of the organization of countries that border the Arctic Ocean.

Council members include Canada, Denmark/Greenland, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Russia and the US.

“It was music to my ears to hear Sec. Clinton say to the assembled ministry that the United States is an Arctic nation, due to Alaska, and as an Arctic nation we had a role and a responsibility,” Murkowski said at a May 13 news teleconference. Murkowski did not mention the Arctic donut hole fishery closure proposal during the news conference but said, “It was made very, very clear that the race in the Arctic is really one of cooperation, more of a race for sustainable management.”

Clinton briefly raised the issue of Arctic fisheries during talks in Nuuk, according to Begich’s office.

Back channel international discussions among Arctic diplomats, including Alaskans, and the PEW Trust, are apparently under way to begin generating support for the treaty and some concern, if not outright opposition, has been encountered.

“I do know the Norwegians have concerns about this,” said a senatorial source involved in the initiative authorized to speak only on background.

Neither Begich nor Murkowski responded to a request for an on-the-record comment.

More specifics on Norway’s concerns are expected in the next few weeks, but an ongoing issue among Arctic Council members, has been the level of regulation that could or should be adopted.

As a group the Arctic Council has rejected calls from some non-Arctic countries to address future management through an international regime based on the Antarctic model.

The signal accomplishment of the Nuuk meeting was the adoption of an agreement for cooperation and coordination of maritime and aerial search and rescue activities. The pact is the first binding agreement of the Council, which also announced the establishment of permanent secretariat, to be headquartered in Tromso, Norway, “to increase the ability of the Arctic Council to address future challenges in the region.”

The refusal of some of Murkowski’s most reactionary fellow Senate Republicans to ratify the Law of the Sea Treaty has left the US unable to participate in the process to expand its exclusive economic zone beyond the current 200-mile limit, on the Arctic or any other coast. Ratification of the treaty is not necessary for membership in the Arctic Council and the Alaska senators said a fishery moratorium at the top of the world “is a logical extension of, and complimentary to” the US Arctic moratorium adopted in 2009 at the recommendation of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.

“Securing such an agreement would also be consistent with existing international law and policy, including the 1995 Fish Stock Agreement, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization Code of Conduct and international efforts to curtail illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing,” the senators wrote.

The issue is not a new one for the Council, which discussed timing and need for an Arctic fishery management plan at an international conference in Anchorage in 2009.

“It’s clear that we need to move forward with some science agenda with our neighbors in the Arctic. I don’t yet have a clear idea how best we should structure this and in parallel we need to be figuring out some set of commitments or understandings or general principles about how to approach future fisheries that will come to the Arctic maybe only years from now,” said the senior US ambassador for oceans issues at the conclusion of the gathering.

“Ultimately if fisheries are to be established in the central Arctic region there certainly will need to be some international management structure. I don’t yet have a sense of the timing. If it’s 30 or 40 years from now probably it’s premature to be talking about that. If it’s five or ten years from now, no. We need to be talking about that right now,” added Ambassador David Balton.

Murkowski and Begich sent their fisheries aids to the conference and both suggested fisheries management questions needed further discussion.

“I’m hoping we’ll go back to DC and we’ll be able to sit down with the State Department and talk about what can we do to work together to implement some of these things whether it’s international research programs that we can all work together on multilaterally,” said Arne Fuglvog, aid to Sen. Murkowski, following the session.

“My preference is to be proactive just as the council was but I can understand their perspectives. The fact that we’re talking about this now is a positive step because at least it’s on everybody’s radar screen. If we do see activity going into those international waters and the like I think people will be poised to take action. I would hope they would,” said Begich aid Bob King, at that time.

Fish stock surveys and other research preparatory for Arctic oil and gas exploration released at the conference reported the first known occurrence of legal size opilio crab, undersize pollock, sea urchins, cucumbers and huge volumes of Brittle starfish.

Since 2009 concerns with the real level of harvest that has been occurring in the Arctic in the near and more distant past have been raised. A University of British Columbia study, published early this year in the journal “Polar Biology” estimated that from 1950 and 2006, 89,000 tons of fish were caught in Alaskan coastal waters in the Arctic and 94,000 tons in Canadian waters, but neither Canada nor the United States supplied that data to the U.N.

The study said some 770,000 tons of fish were caught in Russian waters off Siberia while only 12,700 tons were reported to the UN.

Dirk Zeller, the study’s lead researcher at UBC said, in a Reuters account that ineffective reporting “has given us a false sense of comfort that the Arctic is still a pristine frontier when it comes to fisheries.”

Bob Tkacz can be reached at fishlawsbob@gmail.com.

Clipping Adipose Fin of Hatchery Salmon May Be Harmful to Fish

A new study by Canada’s University of Victoria says the common practice of clipping the small back fin to discern hatchery-raised fish from wild fish may be inhibiting those fish.

That fin is the adipose fin, a little fatty flap between and dorsal fin and the tail, and a study by Canadian biologist Tom Reimchen shows that the adipose fins are in fact a sensory organ which is especially important when the fish is swimming in turbulent waters Once that tiny fin is removed, Reimchen said, the fish needs to use much more energy to maintain position and speed in the water.

Whatever the mechanism, it appears that trout with clipped adipose fins must swim harder. Reimchen said it would be useful to compare the oxygen consumption of clipped and unclipped fish, to verify that swimming without an adipose fin is truly more difficult. In fact, the report said, the fish with the clipped fins tended to use a higher tail beat amplitude than unclipped fish. Researchers worried the effect might not represent any intrinsic function of the adipose fin.

BB Sockeye Run Slows; AK Salmon Harvest Reaches 38 Million Fish

Since their hot start, with the run coming in four days early, Bristol Bay commercial fishermen have harvested nearly 20 million fish. At last count, preliminary harvest totals through July 11 showed the harvest standing at 19,514,331 fish, but the total run through Bristol Bay so far has been 26,413,608 fish.

The statewide forecast of a total harvest of 203 million salmon of all species included a Bristol Bay harvest of 28.5 million salmon, out of a run of some 38.5 million fish.

But the run has slowed and fish harvesters and biologists alike are wondering what happened to the two ocean sockeyes, the 4.5 million reds that spent two years in the ocean and two in fresh water. State fisheries biologists say that’s anyone’s guess and it’s unlikely at this point that they will show up.

“The fishery has moved along at a faster pace than usual,” said David Harsilla, president of the Alaska Independent Fishermen’s Marketing Association, in an interview from his boat phone on the waters of Bristol Bay’s Naknek district on July 12. “It’s going to come in a little less than predicted. We have a lot of nice product. It may not be the volume that people were expecting, but it’s a lot of nice fish.”

Since the one and only big surge of the season, the run in Bristol Bay has slowed. The only constant has been the weather, which Harsilla described as one of the wettest, windiest seasons I can remember.”

On the morning of July 12, winds were blowing at 25 knots around King Salmon and a day earlier in Naknek, it was blowing 35-40 knots, with gusts to 50 knots, said Kodiak fisherman Shawn Dochtermann, like Harsilla a Bristol Bay salmon fishery veteran.

The fleet was hanging in there, however. As of July 12, there were 1,385 vessels registered for Bristol Bay, including 639 in the Naknek-Kvichak, 303 in the Ugashik, 269 in the Nushagak, 119 in Egegik (which has been closed for escapement since July 6), and 55 at Togiak. For July 14, Togiak remained at 55 vessels registered, while the numbers climbed in others districts, for a total of 1,430 vessels.

Pace Steady for Citations Issued In Bristol Bay Fisheries

While the Bristol Bay fishery for wild Alaska sockeye salmon has slowed, Alaska State Wildlife Troopers have kept busy, issuing 34 new citations over a period of several days in the second week of July for violations in the commercial fishery. In the latest tally, covering July 7-12, 21 of those citations were issued to non-residents and 13 to residents.

The citations covered violations ranging from commercial fishing in closed waters to crewmembers without a crewmember license, not possessing a photo ID, mostly in the Naknek district, as the Egegik district of Bristol Bay has been closed since July 6 to allow for more escapement of salmon upstream.

A Seattle fisherman pleaded guilty in Dillingham on July 12 to one charge of fishing in closed waters and was fined $6,000, with $4,000 suspended, and placed on probation for two years under condition of committing no further commercial fishing offences.

Two brothers, one from Plamondon, Alberta, Canada and the other from Homer, Alaska were cited for fishing during a closed period on June 28 and when they failed to show up for arraignment in Dillingham on July 12, bench warrants were issued for both men.

Since the Bristol Bay fishery began, dozens of harvesters have been cited for violations.

Troopers said they have not increased the number of people on their enforcement team, and attributed the number of citations in part to an early run.

Pollock Cooperative Agrees to Broader Closure Areas to Avoid Chum Bycatch

The Bering Sea Pollock industry has agreed to a new plan to reduce the chum salmon bycatch that happens every year in the Pollock fishery. The Marine Conservation Alliance made the announcement on July 12 from Juneau. Through use of the Inter-cooperative Salmon Agreement the Pollock industry agreed to allow the independent organization SeaState to close an additional 1,000 square nautical miles of fishing grounds to reduce encounters with chum salmon. That brings the total area allowed for closure to 5,000 square nautical miles – an area bigger than the state of Connecticut.

“We as the Inter-cooperative can take the bull by the horns and address this problem,” said John Gruver of United Catcher Boats. “I think we are doing the right thing.”

The cooperative program calls for SeaState to review federal observer data collected while vessels are actively fishing and to close specific fishing grounds if a salmon “hot spot” appears. The fishery also uses spatial measures for other species, such as squid, where bycatch was successfully reduced several years ago through area closures.

Several years ago the Alaska Pollock fishery became a catch share fishery, with a cooperative-based fishing culture. The Pollock fisheries in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska have been sharply criticized for salmon bycatch and other efforts also are underway with an aim of drastically reducing the number of salmon caught incidentally.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Most Charges Dismissed After Attack on Fish Weir

By Bob Tkacz

July 2011

A Homer resident, faced with ten criminal charges after allegedly admitting to a state trooper that he floated logs and other debris down the Anchor River to wreck an Alaska Department of Fish and Game weir last June, settled the entire matter with a thousand dollar fine and 30-day suspended jail sentence in a negotiated disposition approved by the trial court in April.

“The whole story was completely fabricated. That one charge was to just let me know how stupid I was,” said Christopher A. Vigue, 46, May 24.

Lance Joanis, state prosecutor in the Third Judicial District, and Deputy Prosecutor Amy Fenske, who handled the case, did not respond to repeated phone calls and emails in May asking why they agreed to dismiss the charges with a confession in hand.

“He admitted throwing them into the river to interfere with the weir installation ... He admitted it was a bad idea for him to throw the logs into the river and he wouldn’t do that again,” said Trooper Mike Henry, the investigating officer, last fall.

The trooper said technicians in the water quickly became suspicious because of the amount of debris that suddenly began flowing by while the river level was dropping. “The description that was given to me was a fairly steady flow of debris over the course of a half our,” Henry said.

In a news account published last summer Vigue denied cutting down trees to throw in the river. The trooper said agency staff working in the river saw fresh-cut trees still bearing green leaves from 20 to 30-feet long and tree stumps up to four feet in diameter floating their way. No one was injured and no equipment was damaged but Henry said, “There was a very near impact” to a sonar unit also in use.

A North Slope oil field worker, Vigue claimed then, and still maintains, that the annual state fish counting project, with a commonly used weir, is destroying Chinook salmon stocks in the river by blocking their progress toward upstream spawning grounds. US Fish & Wildlife Service biologists were working on a screw trap, another type of fish counter, on the day of the incident and Vigue said he confirmed with a US Fish & Wildlife Service employee that it is a violation of federal law to “stop natural fish from where they want to go.”

Weirs are among the most accurate fish-counting methods because fish can be caught and individually tagged, sampled or otherwise measured before being released.

Vigue, who said his last formal biology class was in junior high school, explained that the feds’ screw trap was not a problem, but the weir “is a complete dam” that was stopping returning salmon long enough for them to lay their eggs in areas where they are decimated by predators. “The Dolly Varden, they’re like bull dozers digging in the gravel picking all the eggs out of the gravel,” he said.

“They’re trying to create a lot of work for themselves. I don’t have a lot of respect for state or federal agencies,” he added. ADF&G began counting king and silver salmon returns in the Anchor River with a sonar unit in 2003 and has also used the weir since the summer of 2004.

Vigue was facing maximum penalties including 13 years in prison and more than $134,000 in fines for the June 8 incident. He was never arrested but arraigned last September on five counts of reckless endangerment, two charges of assault and two charges of criminal mischief; all misdemeanors.

Vigue apparently outlasted the state. Of 12 court hearings beginning with an arraignment scheduled for Sept. 14, eight were delayed for various reasons, according to court records. A preliminary hearing scheduled for Oct. 15 was postponed four times until Dec. 3. Likewise, a simple trial call, commonly a session lasting only a few minutes to update the status, motion deadline and other activities of a case, was rescheduled three times from Jan. 10 until it was finally held on April 11.

On April 13 Vigue changed his plea to no contest on a single reckless endangerment charge. He was fined $1,000, which is not due until Dec. 31 of this year, and also paid $100 in court costs and $100 for his court-appointed defense attorney.

Vigue was also given a 30-day suspended sentence and placed on one year’s unsupervised probation. His prior record includes citations for sport fishing in closed waters in 2003 and 2006 and convictions on eight other charges since 2002, including driving while intoxicated and misdemeanor assault.

Bob Tkacz can be reached at fishlawsbob@gmail.com.

Bristol Bay Salmon Harvest Hits 15 Million

Wild sockeye salmon harvests in Bristol Bay hit 15.3 million fish through July 4 and just keep on growing, with a cumulative escapement of 4.7 million fish, for a total run through Independence Day of 20.4 million fish. That broke down to a total run of 8.5 million fish into the Naknek-Kvichak, 5,073,754 fish into the Nushagak district, 4.8 million into the Egegik district, 1.9 million into the Ugashik district, and 136,837 into the Togiak district.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists say the preliminary harvest figures for July 4 alone show was 1.6 million fish, with the number of sockeye per drift delivery averaging 816,000 reds in the Naknek-Kvichak district, 758,000 in the Ugashik district, 561,000 in Egegik, 434,000 in the Nushagak and 395,000 in the Togiak district. On July 4 alone, the catch was 850,000 reds for the Naknek-Kvichak, 364,000 in the Nushagak district, 186,000 in Egegik district, 152,000 in the Ugashik district and 38,000 in Togiak district.

Through July 5, the vessel registration put 492 boats into the Naknek-Kvichak district, 374 boats into the Nushagak district, 232 boats into the Egegik district, 175 boats into the Ugashik district and 52 into the Togiak district. Those numbers were set to change on July 7, with 563 vessels registered to fish the Naknek-Kvichak, 374 vessels for the Nushgak, 232 vessels into Egegik, 190 vessels into the Ugahsik and 52 remaining in the Togiak district.

Overall it’s been a wet and dreary summer in most cases for Bristol Bay, with plenty of wind and wave conditions that state biologists described as pretty nasty.
The forecast for Bristol Bay is for a total run of some 38.5 million fish, with a harvest of 28.5 million reds.

Statewide Salmon Harvests Near 20 Million Fish Through July 1

Alaska’s overall statewide harvest of all wild salmon species through July 1 stood at a preliminary total of nearly 20 million fish. The good news for fishermen is that prices were holding steady through July 5 in Anchorage at $6.95 a pound for headed and gutted whole sockeye, with those omega-3 oil packed fillets going for $10.95 at one popular retail seafood outlet. Bristol Bay’s total harvest through July 1 stood at 9.5 million salmon of all species, including 9.3 million sockeye, 188,000 chum and 28,000 kings. For Prince William Sound, the total harvest was 3.3 million salmon, including more than 2 million reds, 1.9 million chum, 19,000 kings, some 4,000 silvers and 3,000 pink salmon. For the Copper River alone, the total run was 1.3 million fish, 1,338,000 reds, 18,000 kings, 11,000 chum, 3,000 silvers and fewer than 1,000 pinks.

Southeast Alaska fisheries reached a harvest of 798,000 salmon of all species through July 1, including some 409,000 chum, 158,000 pinks, 118,000 reds, 75,000 kings and 38,000 silvers.

The westward region showed a total harvest of 5.8 million salmon of all species. That included 1.9 million fish at Chignik – of which 1.8 million were reds, some 61,000 chum and 25,000 pinks, and 973,000 salmon of all species at Kodiak, including 804,000 reds, 142,000 chum, 25,000 pinks, 2,000 kinds and few than 1,000 silvers.

The struggling Yukon River fisheries continued to be weak, with a total harvest of 95,000 chum. For the entire Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim region, the harvest through July 1 stood at 139,000 salmon, including some 123,000 chum, 10,000 kings and 6,000 reds.

Herring Roe Recovery in Norton Sounds Sets Another Record

The community development quota corporation for Alaska’s Norton Sound region is celebrating another successful herring harvest with record roe recovery. While small by comparison to herring roe harvests elsewhere in Alaska, the Norton Sound Economic Development Corp. said their fishermen topped their own high mark set a year ago by harvesting herring with an all-time record recovery of roe.

The 744 tons of herring harvested this year in Norton Sound were comprised of 14.8 percent roe on average. The previous record, set in 2010 by Norton Sound harvesters, was 13.5 percent roe recovery.

In total, the Norton Sound herring fleet, using gillnets, harvested 810 tons of herring, of which 66 tons were directed to a bait fishery. The CDQ group paid out more than $274,000 for the entire fishery, an average of $339 per ton. Through an agreement with the CDQ group, Icicle Seafoods brought in a processing vessel and tenders to Norton Sound both last year and this year.

The roe harvested is sold as a luxury food in Japan, often given out as holiday gifts.
In addition to negotiating the processing agreement with Icicle Seafoods, NSEDC provides aerial survey support to its fishermen. This year alone, biologists from NSEDC’s Norton Sound fisheries research and development division flew 29 hours in 15 flights to support their harvesters.

Bristol Bay Waypoints Reports Big Catch

The Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, which represents the drift gillnet fleet in Bristol Bay, is reporting its first big catch via the association’s new consumer friendly website, www.BristolBaySockeye.org.

According to the BBRSDA, marketers at Haggen, a 29-supermarket operator with stores in Washington and Oregon, said they learned a lot about Bristol Bay salmon from the new website prior to contacting the BBRSDA about using some of its text and photos in their new Bristol Bay sockeye salmon promotion.

The Haggen advertising promotes the taste, texture, health benefits, sustainability and abundance of Bristol Bay’s wild salmon species.

Bob Waldrop, executive director of the association, said the association is pleased that it can help to build demand at the retail level. The website was developed specifically to spur interest among seafood buyers who engage directly with customers and consumers.

The website includes information about the Bristol Bay sockeye run, the nutritional value and convenience of cooking wild Alaska sockeye salmon and stories and photos about the men and women who bring in the famed harvest annually.

Recipes are also included, courtesy of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. One of four current recipes online is for grilled southwestern salmon with guacamole on crisp toast, courtesy of Alison Arians, author of the South Anchorage Farmers Market Cookbook in Anchorage.

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