Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Today's Catch: Conflict of Interest

September 2011

In a strongly worded opinion, US District Court Judge James Redden ruled last month that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Service failed for the third time in ten years to produce a legal and scientifically sound plan to protect endangered Columbia and Snake river salmon from the lethal impacts of federal dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers. This is the fourth NOAA salmon plan overturned in 20 years.

More than 50 fishing and conservation groups, including the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA), had challenged the plan in court.

In his decision, Redden called on NOAA to produce a new or supplemental plan that corrects the current one’s reliance on unidentified mitigation measures for populations that have been on the fence for decades.

“It is one thing to identify a list of actions, or combination of potential actions, to produce an expected survival improvement and then modify those actions through adaptive management to reflect changed circumstances,” Redden wrote on page 16 of the decision. “It is another to simply promise to figure it all out in the future. Federal Defendants need not articulate every detail of a habitat mitigation plan. They must do more than they have here.”

Representing the fishing and conservation groups was Earthjustice attorney Steve Mashuda.

Also last month, in a different case, in a different courtroom, Judge Charles Breyer of the US District Court, Northern District of California, dismissed a lawsuit that sought to halt the recently enacted West Coast groundfish trawl rationalization program. PCFFA and a handful of other groups had brought that lawsuit against the Secretary of Commerce, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Under development since 2003, the trawl rationalization program was designed to reduce bycatch of overfished and other sensitive stocks, while enabling the fishery to recover economically from a federal disaster declaration in 2000. PCFFA’s lawsuit alleged, among other things, that the fishery rationalization program violates national standards requiring management measures to prevent overfishing and to minimize bycatch and bycatch mortality to the extent possible.

Stakeholders that supported NOAA and NMFS included the Midwater Trawlers Cooperative, the United Catcher Boats and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), which is a client of the aforementioned Earthjustice, whose tagline, “because the earth needs a good lawyer” should send chills down the spine of any commercial harvester in the country.

In two recent but separate rulings, PCFFA won one and lost one, but big environment won both.

Without commenting on the soundness of either of the decisions, this columnist questions the wisdom of siding with Earthjustice or its clients/subsidiaries on any plan that involves the fate of commercial fishing.

Chris Philips

Mining for a Sale

For months now, Vancouver’s Northern Dynasty Minerals has made no secret of its intention to sell its 50 percent stake in the controversial, proposed Pebble Mine, at the headwaters of Bristol Bay, but to date no buyers have come forth. Business news reports in the past week indicate that Pebble, one of the world’s largest undeveloped copper deposits, could be a target for Rio Tinto, one of the mining entities buying out companies in which they have a stake during the economic downturn. Now Pebble is back in the news, with Northern Dynasty CEO Ron Thiessen saying again that the junior mining company is looking for a mega-mining company to move the project forward.

The Pebble Limited Partnership to date has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on exploration and engineering and has said it will seek permitting in 2012. In 2011 alone, the Pebble Partnership, 50 percent owned by Anglo American, a London-based mining company with world wide ventures, budgeted $91 million for the project.

Mining proponents say the huge copper and gold deposit can be developed in harmony with the multi-million dollar Bristol Bay salmon fisheries and that the mine will be a boost to the economy of southwest Alaska.

Opponents, including commercial, sport and subsistence salmon fishermen, and fisheries biologists, say the mine poses a potential threat to hundreds of salmon spawning streams in the Bristol Bay region. Both sides have bombarded television viewers with their arguments for and against the mine.

“It’s pure speculation on my part,” said Bob Waldrop, a long-time participant in the Alaska seafood industry, including the commercial salmon fisheries in Bristol Bay, “but it sounds like maybe they re getting increasingly anxious about their holdings.”

Waldrop noted that Northern Dynasty has been saying for some time that as a junior mining company they don’t do development. “Apparently they are having a hard time with their offer, so they keep making news out of it, “ he told The Fishermen’s News.

“Skies are dark with impending scrutiny of proposed development out there,” Waldrop said. “They may be worried about the information that will come out during permitting and trying to get out before that.”

Transportation Costs Signup Deadline is Sept. 9

United Fishermen of Alaska is renewing its efforts to get Alaska’s salmon fishermen federal funding to relieve the financial pain of high transportation costs. UFA’s Mark Vinsel noted in an announcement on Aug. 29 that 40 Alaska fishermen applied for funding authorized through the Good, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008, the Farm Bill, for payments to help offset the high cost of transportation, just like Alaska farmers and ranchers. All 40 fishermen were initially denied, Vinsel said. Now UFA marketing chair Bruce Schactler has appealed the denal and hs appeal will be considered at a hearing on Sept. 22.

Vinsel said that Schactler and the UFA believe the intent of Congress is clear, to include salmon fishermen because they produce an agricultural commodity. If the appeal is successful, it should open the door to this transportation cost relief program to Alaska salmon fishermen, he said.

To be eligible for 2011, fishermen must download and print page 1 of the application form, and return it to the Alaska Farm Service Agency by Sept. 9.

To apply click on RTCP FSA Form 218 (PDF 203 KB)

The Reimbursement Transportation Costs Payment Program for Geographically Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers assists farmers and ranchers in Alaska, Hawaii and other outlying areas.

Steller BiOp Review Draws Large Crowd

Aleutians East Borough’s community development coordinator, Ernest Weiss, notes that a large crowd turned out in Anchorage recently for a public meeting to provide comments about an independent scientific review report on the biological opinion fisheries management plan for the Bering Sea and Aleutian islands.

Back in November 2010, the National Marine Fisheries Service accepted comments between the time of release of the draft and final publication of the 2010 North Pacific groundfish fishery biological opinion. At that time there was no independent scientific review of the document, even though there was an obvious consensus among scientists and the industry, Weiss noted.

Then in April, the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Alaska Department of Fish and Game initiated an independent panel to review the Steller BiOp. The panel released the draft document “an independent, scientific review of the biological opinion (2010) of the fisheries management plan for groundfish fisheries in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands management area on July 21. That draft BiOp review disputes much of the analysis and many conclusions reached in the BiOp.

In its executive summary, Weiss noted, the independent scientific panel said “we do not agree with the finding of jeopardy or adverse modification for Steller sea lions in the western and central Aleutian Islands as concluded in the BiOp for the fishery management plan.

Among those testifying was former North Pacific Fishery Management Council member Dave Benton, who said closure of the Pollock fishery in the Western Aleutians for more than 10 years has not resulted in increased levels of Steller Sea lions in that area.

Saving Citizenship Requirements

The US Coast Guard has posted in the Federal Register a proposed rule that would provide a waiver of citizenship requirements for crewmembers on commercial fishing vessels. A waiver request would have to be accompanied by a successful dockside safety examination. Comments on the proposed rule are due by Nov. 16.

The posting says that the Coast Guard proposes to add to its regulations a description of the procedures for requesting and processing waivers of citizenshi8p requirements on commercial fishing vessels.

Anyone wishing to comment on this matter may do so by submitting comments identified by docket number USCG-2010-0625.

There are four ways to submit comment. (1) use the Federal eRulemaking Portal:; (2) fax 1-202-493-2251; (3)mail comments to the Docket Management Facility (M-30), U.S. Department of Transportation, West Building Ground Floor, Room W12-140, 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE, Washington DC 20590-0001; or hand delivery, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. weekdays. Phone number is 1-202-366-9329.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Chasing Business South

August 2011

In the May issue of Fishermen’s News we reported on the new sandblast and paint booth at Seattle’s Pacific Fishermen Shipyard. The story described a $1 million Small Shipyard Stimulus Funding Grant awarded by the Maritime Administration, under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, for worker training and capital improvements.

The installation of the new, 70-foot long paint booth was engineered to be environmentally compliant under the Puget Sound Clean Air agency regulations for spray painting operations.

Complementing the paint booth is a 16-foot-wide, environmentally friendly sandblast booth, which employs the latest technology for recyclable steel grit with zero emissions to the air and surrounding water.

The yard, justifiably proud of its new equipment and the opportunities it provides, christened its new blast and paint facility with a party attended by local fishermen and city officials, including Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn. Presumably, Mayor McGinn was also pleased to have such an environmentally conscious industry providing 57 family wage jobs and benefitting the local economy.

Three months later, in mid June, the shipyard was forced to lay off 37 of its 57 union employees when it lost two half-million-dollar contracts to refurbish two cruise ships for National Geographic. The company awarded the contracts to a shipyard in the San Francisco Bay area.

“We sell skilled labor,” says Pacific Fishermen general manager Doug Dixon, “and that’s a million dollars in taxable wages and sales.”

National Geographic’s operating company, Lindblad Explorations, is headquartered in Seattle, and has had work performed by the shipyard in the past. The company told Dixon his bid was competitive but the California yard’s location “allows for longer working hours.”

“It would have been less expensive overall to do the work here in Seattle rather than Alameda,” says Dixon. “Unfortunately, they know the issues of doing business in the City of Seattle and they had a requirement to sail on a schedule.”

Dixon says the primary reason the cruise line chose the Bay Area yard is the City of Seattle’s noise ordinance that effectively shuts down all ship repairing activity at 10 pm. “Not being able to work past 10 pm put their sailing schedule at risk, so they chose the Alameda yard,” he says.

Dixon has asked the City to work with him to “bring Seattle back to its full industrial/economic strength and revise our noise ordinances for industrial work in industrial zones.”

With the state of the economy, Seattle and King County can ill afford to chase business away, and those 37 families are looking at a pretty tough summer with the job market the way it is. I wonder how many of them are Seattle voters.

Salmon Harvest Grows, But Still Below Forecast

Harvests of all species of Alaska’s wild salmon runs grew to 149,217,000 for the week ended Aug. 19, still well short of the forecast of 203 million fish overall. Preliminary totals included nearly 40 million sockeyes, some 94.7 million pinks, 1.7 million silvers, nearly 12.8 million chums and 372,000 chinook salmon.

Alaska Department of Fish and game spokesman Geron Bruce notes that the pink salmon harvest continues to be very good in Southeast Alaska and is plugging along in Prince William Sound. The catch is likely to reach its forecast in Southeast Alaska, but not in Prince William Sound, where the harvest to date is 28 million pinks, compared to a forecast of 38 million pinks.

The red salmon harvest in Bristol Bay came in at some 22 million fish, and Bristol Bay is the big driver in sockeyes, so if Bristol Bay is under, it’s hard to make it up, Bruce said. Still Cook Inlet, Chignik and the Copper River came in above forecast, with preliminary harvest totals to date of 5.5 million, 2.5 million and 2 million reds respectively.

On the Lower Yukon River, the preliminary harvest report on the chum salmon run showed a catch of 425,000 fish through Aug. 19. “They are having a good fall run, and they had a good summer run,” Bruce said. The problem with the summer run was the king salmon run was so poor that fishing times for the chum harvest were limited to allow for enough escapement of the kings to the Upper Yukon and across the Canadian border.

Overall, Bruce said, the statewide salmon harvest will be somewhat similar to that of 2010, but probably worth a little bit more because prices are better, especially for the pink and chum salmon.

Salmon River Restoration

A major salmon river restoration project in the Tongass National Forest, on Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska is now completed. The project has taken seven years and cost $3.5 million. It is being hailed by conservation groups, including Trout Unlimited, the Wilderness Society and The Nature Conservancy for its success.

The Harris river and one of its Tributaries, Fubar Creek, were heavily impacted by clear-cut logging in decades prior to passage of laws requiring that loggers avoid stream banks and riparian areas, not drag fallen timber down salmon streams and adhere to other standards to protect fish habitat. Harris and Fubar, important salmon, steelhead, trout and Dolly Varden char producers, suffered damage including major erosion and blocked fish passage. The multi-year effort led by the U.S. Forest Service and The Nature Conservancy, with support from Trout Unlimited and other partners, has restored these rivers to their near-original condition.

A celebration to mark the project’s completion is set for Aug. 25 at Craig. US Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment Harris Sherman is expected to attend.

Trout Unlimited’s Tim Bristol hailed the restoration project as a model for the type of work needed in Tongass National Forest, to improve fish habitat for commercial, sport and subsistence fisherman, while creating local jobs and involving residents in collaborative resource management.

ASMI On The Move, From Japan to Dutch Harbor

Representatives of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute are on the move this summer, from Tokyo to Alaska’s Matanuska Valley and Dutch Harbor.

ASMI participated in the 13th Japan International Seafood and Technology Expo in Tokyo from July 27 through July 29, where 350 companies from 14 countries were exhibiting to some 7,500 to 9,000 visitors a day. ASMI officials said hundreds of ASMI suppliers and buyers guides were distributed to those in attendance.

Coming up Aug. 28, ASMI and 10th and M Seafoods of Anchorage will present an Alaska Seafood Throwdown, a professional cooking contest, at the 75th annual Alaska State Fair in Palmer.

ASMI will be at the Alaska Legislature’s Northern Waters Task Force hearing at Dutch Harbor Aug. 24 and the Unalaska Legislative Fly-in on Aug. 25. While there, ASMI representatives plan to meet with processors, local officials and fishermen outside of the hearing to talk about fishing and marine transportation.

The legislative hearing itself will include presentations from the US Coast Guard, city of Unalaska, Alaska Marine Pilots, salvage operator Dan Magone, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council and University of Alaska fisheries professor Gordon Kruse.

Arctic Technology

With growing concern over global warming, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is working to collaborate with resource developers in the arctic to assure protection of the environment.

In Anchorage on Aug. 23, NOAA officials said they have reached an agreement to enhance collaboration on ocean, coastal and climate science for the Arctic with Shell Exploration and Production, ConocoPhillips and Statoil USA E&P Inc.

The agreement calls for sharing scientific data sets, including weather and ocean observations, biological information and sea ice and sea floor mapping studies.

NOAA said the agreement would provide a framework to share high quality data to enhance NOAA’s ability to monitor climate change and provide useful products and services for responsible energy exploration activities in that region.

The dramatic reduction in sea ice as a result of climate change has raised new environmental, economic and national security issues that have immediate and long term impacts for human life, livelihoods, coastal communities and the environment.

Under secretary of Commerce Jane Lubchenco said that despite the wealth of scientific research conducted in the Arctic environment to date a lot remains unknown and no single government agency or entity has the resources or capacity to do it along. Lubchenco said the partnership would significantly expand NOAA’s access to important data, enhance its understanding of the region and improve the nation’s ability to manage critical environmental issues efficiently.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Bristol Bay Harvest Climbs Toward 28.5 Million Sockeye Forecast

By Margaret Bauman

Under overcast skies, with temperatures hovering in the high 40s, and the constant chance of rain, commercial fish harvesters aboard some 1,400 vessels, caught 17.5 million salmon in Bristol Bay through July 6.

The forecast from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is for a harvest of some 28.5 million reds, out of a run estimated at 38.5 million fish.

“It’s been a steady slow grind,” said Tim Sands, the state area management biologist for the Nushagak district, speaking from his office in Dillingham. “It’s been a windy year, pretty windy most days,” with temperatures in the 40s and low 50s, he said.

Rainy and cool weather also has been no stranger to the Dillingham or to Naknek areas. “It’s been a dreary summer,” echoed Paul Salomone, area management biologist at Naknek for the Egegik and Ugashik districts.

On the bright side, there have been a lot of three ocean fish, typically big and healthy, averaging 6 pounds plus, Salomone said.

The total run through July 6 – 23,507,672 fish, included an estimated 360,000 fish inriver. The cumulative escapement for all of Bristol Bay measured 5,618,225, state biologists said.

For the east side of the bay, through July 6, the Ugashik district had a total run of 2,466,623 fish, with an estimated 150,000 inriver. The cumulative catch stood at 1,751,573 fish, plus 565,050 reds in escapement.

For Egegik district, the total run was 5,023,642 fish, with a cumulative harvest of 4,405,326 fish and cumulative escapement of 608,316 fish.

The Naknek-Kvichak has seen a total run of 10,118,227 fish, with cumulative harvest of 7,078,025 reds and 2,840,202 reds in escapement.

On the west side of the bay, the total run on the Nushgak district was 5,663,958 fish, including a cumulative harvest of 4,078,045 reds and another 1,585,913 reds in escapement. At Togiak district, the cumulative harvest stood at 216,478 reds, with another 18,744 fish included in the cumulative escapement and a total run of 235,222 fish.

State biologists said the average number of sockeye salmon per drift delivery added up to 644 fish for the Ugashik district, 398 fish in the Egegik district, 682 fish in the Naknek-Kvichak district, 336 fish in the Nushgak district and 333 fish in the Togiak district.

Vessel registration as of July 7 added up to 187 boats in the Ugashik district, 191 boats in the Egegik district, 555 boats in the Naknek-Kvichak district, 342 boats in the Nushgak district and 54 boats in the Togiak district, for a total registration of 1,329 boats. Those numbers were expected to climb two days later to 225 boats in the Ugashik district, 192 boats in the Egegik district, 602 boats in the Naknek-Kvichak district, and 343 boats in the Nushagak district, while the Togiak district remained steady at 54 boats, for a total of 1,416 vessels.

Alaska Statewide Salmon Harvest Coming Up Short of Forecast

Harvests in the Copper River, Cook Inlet and Chignik have been above average, but state fisheries officials say the commercial salmon harvests are coming up well short of the forecast of 203 million salmon of all species.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game spokesman Geron Bruce said the harvests are coming up short in a number of areas. “A few fisheries have been above forecast, but mostly below,” he said in an interview yesterday.

“It’s the pink salmon that are the big missing piece,” Bruce said. “We have a long ways to go with pink salmon and we are running out of time. We only have about 10 more days.”

There has been a record run of pink salmon arriving this month in northern Southeast Alaska, but nothing much is going on in the southern regions of Southeast Alaska.
Bruce said that Kodiak was not doing well with pink salmon harvests, nor has the Alaska Peninsula.

The forecast for Prince William Sound was for about 37 million to 38 million pink salmon, but as of this week only about 24 million pinks have been harvested.

The overall statewide salmon harvest for 2011 stood this week as the 25th largest harvest since 1960. On the bright side, Bruce said, more fish are still to be caught. If harvesters bring in another 20 million, that would put Alaska at about the 10th or 11th largest catch since 1960.

Poll Shows Bristol Bay Fishermen Don’t Want Mine

Results of the first poll of commercial fishermen in Alaska’s Bristol Bay region on the subject show that 85 percent of them are opposed to development of the Pebble Mine.

And 96 percent of the fish harvesters responding told pollsters from Craciun Research in Anchorage that the headwaters of Bristol Bay should be protected for future generations. The poll, commissioned by the Alaska Conservation Foundation, surveyed 350 harvesters – more than 10 percent of commercial fishing permit holders who live in Alaska and outside of the state, and has a margin of error of 5.2 percent.

“Alaskan fishermen simply do not want Pebble Mine,” said Bob Waldrop, director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association. “The Pebble project would threaten thousands of good-paying jobs, which are essential to the regional and state economy.“ The poll also found that 77 percent of respondents do not believe the mine and fishing can safely co-exist.

The partnership of Anglo American and Northern Dynasty would construct the massive open pit and underground mines at the headwaters to Bristol Bay, whose fishery supplies roughly half of the world’s annual sockeye salmon harvest.

To protect the salmon, sportsmen, Alaska tribes and commercial fishermen petitioned the US environmental Protection Agency to use its authority under the Clean Water Act to restrict or prohibit disposal of mine wastes in Bristol Bay. The EPA is currently conducting a watershed assessment to evaluate the suitability of large-scale mining at the headwaters of Bristol Bay.

Fuglvog Plea Deal Could Lead to More People Being Investigated

A former North Pacific Fishery Management Council member and fisheries aide to Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, faces sentencing in November on a misdemeanor violation of the Lacey Act has agreed to cooperate with the government in providing other information. News of the sealed addendum to the plea agreement which veteran fisherman Arne Fuglvog has agreed to is now sending waves through the commercial fisheries community. As former commercial fish harvester and popular political blogger Shannyn Moore put it, “Arne is not the biggest fish they are catching. Arne is bait and every fisherman knows you have to have fresh bait to catch bigger fish.

“They are going to get bigger fish on the hook with this,” Moore said. “When the corruption comes out, it will make oil corruption look like Girl Scout cookie embezzlement.”

Fuglvog has pleaded guilty to charges that he harvested 63,000 pounds of sablefish from an area near Yakutat in 2005, more than twice the amount of sablefish that he was entitled to from that area under his permit. Under the plea bargain he is to get a 10-month prison sentence, be fined $50,000 and make a community service payment of $100,000. Meanwhile Fuglvog remains free, without posting any bail, until the sentencing on Nov. 18.

Fall Run Looks Good For Yukon Chums

The fall run of chum salmon on the Lower Yukon River has been coming in strong and Kwik’Pak Fisheries general manager Jack Schultheis at Emmonk says his harvesters are optimistic about a robust harvest of the oil rich fish.

The Alaska department of Fish and Game said in its statewide in-season salmon summary this past week that the projected fall chum run size, based on current assessment information, was estimated to be over 800,000 fish. Through Aug. 10, biologists estimated that some 537,000 fish had entered the river, which is above the historical average of 378,000 chums for that date.

Schultheis said these are “beautiful fish, nice big fat fall fish.” Much of this harvest is destined for the headed and gutted market in Japan, while other chums will be filleted and flash frozen for domestic and European markets.

Kwik'Pak employs some 225 area residents at its processing facilities in Emmonak and buys fish from another 250 area residents. The run is expected to continue through the end of the month.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Tribal Tanneries Could Cut Sea Otter Population

By Bob Tkacz

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

Crab Research Get Industry Funding

Four entities with ties to commercial fisheries in the Bering Sea have donated a total of $25,000 to support University of Alaska Fairbanks research to grow king crab in hatcheries. The combined funds from the Bering Sea Fisheries Research Foundation, Central Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association, Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association, and the Groundfish Forum went to the Alaska King Crab Research Rehabilitation and Biology program.

The overall research is aimed at determining the feasibility of using hatcheries to rebuild wild king crab stocks in areas like Kodiak and the Pribilof Islands.
Kodiak Island, once the scene of one of the largest red king crab fisheries in the world, has been closed to red king crab fishing since 1983. In the Pribilof Islands, the on again, off again fishing for blue king crab has been off again since about 2006, due to low numbers of reproducing adult blue king crab.

These funds will be used to complete this year’s effort to raise red and blue king crab at the Alutiiq Price Shellfish Hatchery in Seward. The juvenile crab will be used in research studies in Juneau, Kodiak and Newport, Oregon. The studies are coordinated by the Alaska Sea Grant College Program at the UAF School of Fisheries and Ocean sciences, in a partnership of university and federal researchers with Alaska coastal communities, fishermen and the seafood industry. Sea Grant announced the donation on Aug. 9.

Steve Hughes, executive director of the Bering Sea Fisheries Research Foundation, said private- public funding mechanisms are important to fishermen and the region’s long-term interest in rebuilding king crab stocks.

Hughes said the Bering Sea crab catch-share program has vested harvesters, processors and crab communities in the long-term success of the crab resources off the coast of Alaska. This research has significantly improved understanding of early life history of Bering Sea king crab stocks, and increased the stewardship commitment among the industry.

SALMONSTOCK Draws Large Crowd

More than 3,000 people turned out last weekend on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula for Salmonstock, the state’s newest multidimensional music and arts festival celebrating wild salmon. The event, following on the heels of Nushtival at Dillingham, and Fishtival at Naknek earlier this summer, also aimed to raise awareness for conserving habitat for wild salmon in the face of proposed large scale mining ventures which research has shown may cause a threat to spawning streams and the fisheries as a whole. Artists on hand for the festivities, including Ray Troll, created life-sized salmon murals and nearly 400 people participated in an “action of Art” by creating a human mosaic ground design to make a statement about their love for wild Alaska salmon.
The weekend event at the Kenai Peninsula Fairgrounds in Ninilchik also included a series of lectures and presentations, and opportunities to get involved in protecting salmon habitat. Native Alaskans from the Bristol Bay community of New Stuyahok also performed, offering a glimpse into a culture intimately connected to the wild salmon.

Salmonstock is just the latest of an ongoing effort by hundreds of people involved in Alaska’s fishing industry to educate more people about the cultural and economic importance of fisheries and the need to protect the fisheries in the face of proposed development of non-renewable resources.

In a related matter, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is accepting public comment through Aug. 12 on the Bristol Bay critical habitat areas draft management plan. The plan addresses five critical habitat areas: Egegik, Pilot Point, Cinder River, Port Heiden and Port Moller on the north side of the Alaska Peninsula.

Call the agency’s habitat division at 907-267-2342 or download the draft management plan at
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Set Netters on Kenai River Closed Down

Commercial set net fishermen on the East Side of the Kenai River on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula were closed down on Aug. 8 in the wake of an earlier emergency order from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game giving them 56 hours of continuous fishing.

The standard closing date for the East Side set netters is Aug. 15, but there is a “one percent rule” which says that the set net fishing may close any time after Aug. 1, if the set net catch less than one percent of the season total sockeye salmon harvest for two consecutive fishing periods. Prior to 2011, a fishing period was defined as the start of fishing to the end of fishing, which meant a fishing period could have been made up of one or two days or more, but this year the Alaska Board of Fish redefined a fishing period to be a calendar day not to exceed 24 hours.

Commercial fisherman Rob Williams, president of the Kenai Peninsula fishermen’s Association, said set netters don’t think the shutdown was justified. Williams said that early on in the sockeye season, there were strong escapement counts of late run kings and a high rate of exploitation of those kings by sport fishermen. Then the count slowed down and the Alaska Division of Sport Fish got nervous, he said. “We take the brunt of this stuff,” he said, “ because there were no restrictions on sport fishermen. Eventually they took bait away, but not until the end of July for a few days. The restrictions we faced were no fishing the hours allotted to us in the management.”

Because this year’s return was “off the charts,” the highest number of fishing hours was allowed under management, but the commercial fisheries division restricted set netters to get a higher flow of king salmon into the Kenai River, he said. “What they did this year was decouple our fleet,” he said. “Generally when the drift netters are fishing, the setnetters are fishing, but since we catch more kings than they do, they let them keep fishing and took us out of the water.”

The Kenai River Sportfishing Association saw the situation differently. They said they were concerned about the lower end of the escapement goal range for late run kings not being achieved. KRSA urged the Alaska Department of Fish and Game this past weekend to provide assurance that the lower limit of the spawning goal range of 17,800 king salmon be met, or that the agency take whatever management action was necessary to bring the final number of late-run kings spawning in the Kenai River as close to that number as possible. The agency then closed down the setnet fishery.

State Wants In on Court Battle Over Mining Initiative

Alaska’s Supreme Court has granted a motion from a mining partnership to expedite a judge’s decision over whether to allow voters in the Lake and Peninsula Borough to vote on an initiative that would affect development of the proposed Pebble mine.

The initiative from opponents of the mine would amend borough code to preclude granting permits for mining operations of greater than 640 acres that would result in “significant adverse impact” to salmon streams.

The Pebble Partnership wants a decision by Aug. 15. The court is also considering a request by the state of Alaska to participate in the case revolving around the so-called “Save Our Salmon” initiative. The initiative aims to prohibit construction of large-scale mining activities within the borough because of concerns that such a venture would adversely impact a number of salmon spawning streams. Officials with the Lake and Peninsula Borough have said they are not opposed to having the state participate in the litigation as a friend of the court, but initiative sponsors asked the court to deny that request, on grounds that the state was raising new arguments not argued or considered at the Superior Court level.

Attorneys for initiative backers said in their brief to the court that the state failed to intervene in lower court proceeds “at its own peril, and thereby waived its opportunity to raise those issues in this petition.”

The state said that the state has an interest in the case because of the potential impact to the state’s mineral resources. Alaska Attorney General John Burns argued in his brief to the court that “the ultimate disposition of this case is likely to have precedential effect.”

Superior Court Judge John Suddock handed down a decision on July 26 deferring a ruling on summary judgment motions for the initiative until after the October election.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Mine Study Still in Limbo

By Bob Tkacz

The Alaska Legislature appears to have finished meeting for the year, but funding approved in 2010 for a study of potential impacts from a large mine remains in the control of a joint House/Senate management committee, with no indication of when it may meet to allow the $750,000 appropriation to be spent.

Viewed from outside the arcane legislative world, that may appear to be a lack of progress. That’s not the case. Legislative opponents of the study, first proposed in House Concurrent Resolution 15 in 2009, were hopeful the spending authority would lapse. Lawmakers backing the research were able to move the appropriation into the legislature’s budget for the fiscal year that began July 1.

Without that move the money would have gone back to the state treasury, killing the study.

HCR 15 called for “an independent review by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences to provide interdisciplinary assessment of the known and probable cumulative environmental and socioeconomic consequences of large-scale mineral extraction in the Bristol Bay area watershed, including hydrological systems and aquifers, biological resources, and communities, and an assessment of critical gaps in existing knowledge necessary to adequately understand, predict, and manage the environmental and socioeconomic consequences of mineral extraction in the Bristol Bay area watershed.”

The resolution was sponsored by Reps. Alan Austerman (R-Kodiak) and Bryce Edgmon (D-Dillingham), who is one of four Democrats in the House Republican-controlled majority caucus.

The study, expected to take more than a year to complete, could have begun a year ago, but opponents in the Legislative Council complained that a sole-source contract to the National Academy was inappropriate and wanted to have the work offered to any qualified research firm through a standard request for proposals process.

The matter was sent to a subcommittee chaired by Chugiak Rep. Bill Stoltze, a long-time critic of the seafood industry, but the subcommittee never met to decide the question.

Membership of the Legislative Council was changed after last year’s election but the current head of the panel said the question would be taken up “no sooner than August.”

“I could try the August agenda,” said Sen. Linda Menard (R-Wasilla, June 27. She also noted that ten of the 16 council members have travel plans.

Austerman declined to predict the future of his project and had no idea, in June, when the question of the study would be considered. “I’m not going to try and speculate at this point in time as to when, where and why,” he said. Austerman first asked for $1 million for the study and expressed concern that the reduced amount might not be sufficient.

Despite the continuing delays, Senate Pres. Gary Stevens (R-Kodiak) remains optimistic. “I think that it will happen. It’s a good idea and we should be doing it,” he said.

The Parnell Administration, Alaska Miners Association and mining industry oppose the study while the seafood industry supports it.

“When it comes time to examine the permitting of (the proposed Pebble mine) the proposed economic activity it generates will be impressive, perhaps even staggering. Because of this, it will be extremely important to have a full and accurate representation of this project’s total cost to the environment, its resources and the people of the region to counterbalance,” wrote Barry Collier, president of Peter Pan Seafoods, in a March 2010 letter endorsing passage of HCR 15.

“Bristol Bay sockeye is probably the most studied salmon stock, yet we still don’t know what causes the cyclic fluctuations in the runs. We don’t know why the Kvichak system, formerly the largest producer in the region, has crashed over the last decade only to recently begin to recover. Further study likely will not uncover these determining factors but can highlight the level of uncertainty that exists even as developers talk of containing or mitigating potential damages,” Collier wrote.

Trident Seafood also endorsed the research. “Trident Seafoods welcomes a thorough third-party scientific assessment of the potential impacts of the proposed Pebble Mine project,” wrote John Gardner, director of Trident’s Salmon Division, in a similar missive.

Bob Tkacz can be reached at

Fuglvog Faces Prison For Lacey Act violation

Veteran Southeast Alaska commercial fisherman Arne Fuglvog is facing ten months in jail and thousands of dollars in fines after a plea agreement involving violating the Lacey Act – a federal law that prohibits sale of illegally taken fish, wildlife and plants. Fuglvog, who has served on the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council, admitted to taking more than double the amount of sablefish allowing under his individual fishing quota. He resigned on Sunday as the fisheries aide to Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. Fuglvog acknowledged that his IFQ allowed him to catch approximately 30,000 pounds of sablefish in the Western Yakatat area in 2005. He actually caught approximately 63,000 pounds of sablefish in that area and covered up his illegal harvest by submitting false statements about the harvest.

Senator Murkowski issued a brief statement saying that she had accepted his resignation and that he would plead guilty to the charges as part of the plea agreement. Murkowski said Fuglvog had served for five years on her staff and for over a decade before that in his public service work in fisheries. In a statement released from her office, the senator said “I thank him for his years of service, but he knows the importance and value of our fisheries, and he also knows what all fishermen understand: fishing laws and regulations must be followed.”

Fuglvog is a fifth generation fisherman from Petersburg in Southeast Alaska. He has participated for over three decades in the salmon, crab, halibut and other fisheries. He has served as president of the Petersburg Vessel Owners and had been honored as Fisherman of the Year by United Fishermen of Alaska. In 2009, UFA recommended Fuglvog for the post of assistant administrator for NOAA Fisheries, a spot for which Eric Schwaab ultimately filled.

Pebble Pushes to Get Land Use Initiative Off Ballot

The Pebble Limited Partnership is asking the Alaska court system to keep off an October ballot in Lake and Peninsula Borough an initiative that would affect development of the proposed large scale mine. The Pebble Partnership alleges that the initiative is not well worded and that there are substantive matters and legal matters involved regarding making land use decisions through an initiative rather than through a comprehensive planning process. Opponents of the proposed massive copper, gold and molybdenum mine say that the Pebble Partnership is simply trying to silence the voices of voters in the Lake and Peninsula Borough.

The Pebble Partnership’s emergency petition seeks a review and reversal of the trial court’s decision not to decide the case prior to the election.

The emergency petition comes in the wake of a decision in late July by Alaska Superior Court Judge John Suddock, who deferred a ruling on a request for summary judgment by the Pebble Partnership until after the election. The “Save our Salmon” initiative is aimed at prohibiting the development of large-scale mining activities within the borough, to prevent adverse impact on salmon spawning streams.

Scott Kendall, the attorney representing Alaskans for Bristol Bay in this case, said the Alaska Superior Court was correct in applying Alaska Supreme Court precedent and upholding the right of borough residents to vote on the initiative. George Jacko, director of Alaskans for Bristol Bay, said that with the majority of Alaskans and over 80 percent of local residents opposed to the mine, “it isn’t surprising the partnership does not want to allow the people a vote.”

Mining proponents have maintained that the Pebble mine can be developed and operated without harm to salmon fisheries, but opponents point to a great deal of scientific evidence to the contrary.

NPFMC Coming to Dutch Harbor

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council will serve up an agenda filled with groundfish, crab and halibut issues when it meets at the Grand Aleutian Hotel in Dutch Harbor September 28 through October 4. The council has allocated about 12 hours each for groundfish harvest specifications and Bering Sea-Aleutian Island crab issues. Also on the agenda is an eight-hour slot for an initial review of a salmon fishery management plan, plus four hours for halibut management issues. The groundfish harvest specifications session will involve an initial review of analysis to reduce Gulf of Alaska halibut prohibited species catch limits and time to adopt proposed specifications for the upcoming 2012 season.

Under crab issues, the council plans an initial review of crab economic data, plus time to approve catch specifications and a report on the BSAI crab stock assessment and fishery evaluation, plus final action on the Pribilof blue king crab rebuilding plan and a review of alternatives for rebuilding tanner crab stocks.

Also on the agenda is an eight-hour slot for other groundfish issues, which include regulations on catch monitoring and enforcement.

The complete agenda is at

The council is mandated to meet five times each year at various communities, mostly in Alaska. It’s 2011 spring meeting was in Anchorage, and its summer session in Nome. The council is also scheduled to meeting in Anchorage in December and in Seattle at the end of January.

Togiak Seafoods Reporting a Good Year

Togiak Seafoods in Southwest Alaska is continuing to strengthen the economy of the small Bristol Bay community, thanks to a partnership between the Traditional Council of Togiak and Copper River Seafoods. Operators of Togiak Seafoods said that through the end of July the facility was ahead of its 2010 production volume and preparing for its first ever deliveries of halibut while waiting for the silver salmon to start running. At last count, the plant had processed nearly 2 million pounds of salmon, mainly reds. Some filleting was being done in Togiak and a lot of the harvest was also being flown into Anchorage for processing at Copper River Seafoods facilities there, with flash freezing of the fillets.

Togiak Seafoods is employing about 85 people this year, including 37 local residents, plus a number of foreign exchange students. Along with fish processing, the joint venture has been engaged in promoting training opportunities for fish plant workers, and encouraging the younger generation to be engaged in commercial fisheries.

There are seven vessels fishing for halibut this year in the Togiak area, but Jonathan Forsling, vice president of fisheries development for the Traditional Council of Togiak, said he feels there will be more boats out there next year, what with the prices their processing plant is paying. The traditional council is also helping local young people to purchase drift gillnetters and to buy new skiffs and motors.

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