Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Catch Shares Back Before NOAA Fisheries

By Margaret Bauman

A proposed halibut catch sharing plan for Southcentral and Southeast Alaska that many thought was in the bag is back under public scrutiny again, much to the dismay of the setline harvesters, and applause of sports fishermen.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced its decision on Sept. 29, citing some 4,000 public comments received on the proposed rule to implement a halibut catch sharing plan.

Those comments raise issues that may require additional input from the North Pacific Fishery Management Council before NOAA Fisheries can proceed to a final rule, said Glenn Merrill, head of NOAA Fisheries’ Alaska Region division of sustainable fisheries.

“We are still moving forward with the rulemaking process, but we are getting some issues clarified and refining the rule based on public comments and additional council input,” he said.

Merrill cited concerns about management implications at lower levels of abundance, economic impacts of the catch sharing plan and methods for calculating the average weight for guided angler fish that may be leased from commercial individual fishing quota operators reporting guided angler fish.

Further review of public comments may also raise other technical issues that may require additional input from the council, he said. While certain issues could be resolved by NOAA Fisheries, others raise important policy and implementation questions that are best addressed by the council, he said.

The council has reserved time for the catch share issue at its December meeting in Anchorage.

Linda Behnken, executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association at Sitka, said setline harvesters are very disappointed with the delay.

We believe it shows either a lack of understanding facing the serious issues facing the resource, or an inability of managers to stand up to political pressure,” Behnken said in a telephone interview. “It’s always politically safe to say we need to study this more and the sense that you can save the fish and the fishermen, but at some point, you have to save the fish.”

Commercial fishermen are taking a 76 percent reduction in area 2C (Southeast Alaska) and the guideline harvest level in 2C is down 45 percent, while the charter fleet meanwhile has exceeded their allocation by 22 percent to 115 percent on an annual basis, she said.

Behnken, herself a longline fish harvester, has spoken out often to advocate for protection of the halibut resource and for the charter halibut industry to share the burden of conservation with the setline fleet.

“The guideline harvest level has failed to prevent charter overage,” she said. “We have stocks in poor shape and huge impact to commercial fishing. The charter catch is disproportionate to abundance in areas 2C and 3A (Southcentral Alaska), ” she said. “The commercial fleet is being asked to carry the whole burden of conservation.”

The catch share program would level the playing field between the setline harvesters and the charter industry, she said. “The commercial sector provides fish to the public. It is a much broader based public than is serviced by the charter industry.”

Because NOAA fisheries has opted to delay implementation of the catch share plan, the International Pacific Halibut Commission has to take action in 2012 to make sure that the guideline harvest levels for halibut are not exceeded.

Behnken said the guideline harvest level for the charter fleet in area 3A is close to stair stepping down if abundance drops more and the commercial catch limit will likely take a 50 percent hit over the past six years.

The Kenai River Sportfishing Association meanwhile applauded the decision, saying the proposed plan would have severely limited the guided halibut industry in Southcentral Alaska as early as next season.

“We feel it is appropriate to take the time to better understand how to optimize halibut stocks, and believe sportfishing plays an important role in making the most of the fish available,” said Ricky Gease, executive director of KRSA.

The economic battle between the commercial harvesters who sell their fish to the public and the guided sport fishing industry has been steaming for years and shows no sign of abating, despite the fact that some veteran charter operators have worked closely with the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to come to compromise agreements that would work for both.

While both industries contribute millions of dollars to the state’s communities, in dollars taxed and spent, the debate continues on who delivers more. Advocates for commercial harvesters living on the Kenai Peninsula, for example, are quick to point out that while the fishermen sometimes work in Alaska fisheries far from home, they bring those dollars home and spend them on the Kenai Peninsula. Advocates for the charter halibut fisheries point to the significant sums spent by tourists beyond the fee for fishing on a charter, in hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops.

One commercial setline fisherman, Brent Western, in an opinion piece published recently in the Anchorage Daily News, noted that fisheries management is complex and the catch-sharing plan is no exception. The catch-sharing plan, said Western, “establishes a framework that provides resource protection management stability for the halibut industry and an essential mechanism for transfer between sectors. Well-informed public comment and discourse contributed to that decision, he said. Speculation and misinformation do nothing but fuel conflict,” said Western, whose family has fished for halibut, herring and salmon in Alaska since the 1960s.

Margaret Bauman can be reached at

IPHC to Announce Preliminary Recommended 2012 Catch Limits

The International Pacific Halibut Commission planned a webcast for today (Nov 30) to announce stock assessments and the IPHC staff preliminary recommended catch limits for halibut in 2012. Final action on catch limits will be made at the IPHC annual meeting in Anchorage Jan 24-27. This announcement, the IPHC notes, will impact both the commercial and charter sectors.

The Halibut Coalition, whose broad membership base includes more than a dozen fisheries associations, is planning a webcast of its own on IPHC research on Dec. 1. To sign up, follow the instructions given online at

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council, at its December meeting next week in Anchorage, will be discussing and taking some action on the catch sharing plan and providing guidance to the IPHC for 2012.

The federal council is scheduled to hear the IPHC report on 2012 staff recommendations, an Alaska Department of Fish and Game report on 2010-2011 sport catch estimates, and logbook versus statewide harvest survey comparison. The council will also review the charter halibut committee report on revising the catch sharing plan tier 1 management measures and review the National Marine Fisheries Service report on catch sharing plan deficiencies and provide council direction.

Veteran halibut harvester Linda Behnken of Sitka, a spokesperson for the Halibut Coalition, noted that it’s all conjecture until the IPHC announces its annual limits.

If abundance is down, the commercial catch will be reduced more, and if abundance drops by a couple million more pounds, that will trigger a 15 percent reduction in the guideline harvest level for the charter fleet.

PSPA Says ‘No’ to Pebble Mine

An umbrella group representing seafood processors operating throughout coastal Alaska has had a change of heart about development of a massive copper, gold and molybdenum mine in Southwest Alaska.

After careful consideration of its initial stance four years ago, the Pacific Seafood Processors Association says it has concluded that the level of risk to fisheries posed by the Pebble mine is simply too high.

PSPA said that “while we acknowledge the potential short-term economic benefits of this enormous project, we can see no way that it can be developed, operated and concluded without – at some point- causing irreparable harm to the watersheds, ecosystems, fishery resources, businesses, people and communities of the region.

“Furthermore, we know from past experience that actual or perceived damage to the purity of the waters or fish of the Bristol Bay region would harm the marketability of Alaska salmon and other seafood species, even from other regions of the state.”

PSPA noted that since the organization became active in 1914 it had never before taken a position in opposition to any specific development project or category of projects of other natural resource industries.

Still, after careful consideration, PSPA said, the organization feels compelled to oppose development of the mine because of its unique location, size and potential harm.

Back in 2007, PSPA’s board of directors was generally supportive of allowing the project to proceed to the exploration, research and permit application stages, but even then noted that PSPA would oppose the mine unless the developer can ensure that there will be no negative impacts to the region’s water quality or to Alaska’s fishery resources and their marketability.

Corporate members of PSPA include those with a major presence in Bristol Bay, including Peter Pan Seafoods and Trident Seafoods. The association also has several dozen associate members doing business in the seafood industry.

Symphony of Seafood Comes to Seattle, Anchorage

The call is out for product entries for the 19th annual Alaska Symphony of Seafood, coming to Seattle on Feb. 2 and Anchorage on Feb. 10.

Entry information is online at Considered products must be market ready by the date of the competition. The entry deadline is Jan. 6, 2012.

The Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation organizes the annual event.

For the 2012 competition, judging and a reception will be held on Seattle Feb. 2, with the annual gala soiree and awards presentation Feb. 10 in Anchorage.

The event’s multiple locations give fisheries and seafood promoters the opportunity to introduce new and innovative value-added seafood products from Alaska fisheries and to gain exposure with industry and culinary experts, seafood distributors and national media, said Jim Browning, executive director of AFDF.

Browning noted that AFDF is relying on industry sponsorship to a much greater degree this year as grant funding has declined, but that regular sponsors have increased their sponsorship level and new companies are stepping up to support the event.

Competition is grouped into one of three categories. Salmon, whitefish and shellfish compete in retail or food service competition, with a separate competition for smoked seafood products.

Entries will be judged on the product’s packaging and presentation, overall eating experience, price and potential for commercial success.

Once judges have finished their work, chefs, manufacturers, buyers, sellers and media will be invited to vote on their favorite product at the Seattle reception for the Seattle People’s Choice Award, which is announced at the end of that event in Seattle.

The overall grand prize, first, second and third place winners in each category are announced on Feb. 10, at Anchorage, where participants there also get to vote for the Anchorage People’s Choice Award.

Those who place first in each category receive complimentary booth space at the International Boston Seafood Show in March, the industry’s biggest event of the year, as well as free round trip airfare.

Canadian Study Focuses on Climate Change Effects on Fisheries

A new Canadian study on the effects of climate change on fisheries predicts that fisheries in the far north may benefit from climate change, while many other regions, particularly in the tropics, can expect revenue losses.

The University of British Columbia study quotes Rashid Sumaila, principal investigator of the Fisheries Economics Research unit at UBC, saying fisheries are already providing fewer fish and making less money than they could if overfishing was curbed. Sumaila also predicts that climate change likely will cause more losses unless such practices are curbed.

The study offers a broad view of the impact of climate changes on fisheries and their profitability. It was published on Nov. 20 online in the journal Nature Climate Change, (, based in London.

Over the last century, oceans have become warmer and more acidic. Other factors, such as pollution and overfishing, have also had adverse impacts on marine species. With ocean warming, many species will move further toward the poles and into deeper water, the study said.

While fisheries in a few regions, such as the far north, may benefit from climate change, many other regions, particularly those in the tropics, can expect losses in revenue, UBC scientists said.

UBC fisheries biologist William Cheung said changes in temperature and ocean chemistry directly affect the physiology, growth, reproduction and distribution of these organisms.

“Fish in warmer waters will probably have a smaller body size, be smaller at first maturity, with higher mortality rates and be caught in different areas,” he said.

The study also found that biologically, maintaining more abundant populations can help increase the capacity of fish to adapt to environmental change. Curbing overfishing is crucial to making marine systems more robust and ready for changes that are already underway, the study found. Fish stocks will also be more robust to climate change if the combined stresses from overfishing, habitat degradation, pollution runoff, land-use transformation, competing aquatic resource uses and other anthropogenic factors are minimized, researchers said.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Fatigue: Three Groundings in a Four-Month Period

By USCG Lt. Jon Lane

Commercial fishermen are not strangers to fatigue. Fatigue is a pervasive issue on all fishing boats, both big and small. In an industry where working hours are controlled by when the fishing is good, and not regulated by the Coast Guard, vessel owners and operators sometimes overlook the potential dangers associated with fatigued crew members for the sake of maximizing their catch. As a result, 16 to 18 hour workdays are common on most boats.

You don’t have to do much research to know that fatigue is prevalent in the fishing industry, and it was recently recognized by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) as one of the top safety concerns for the entire transportation industry. The NTSB characterizes fatigue on their web site as a subtle condition that creeps up on airline pilots, motor coach drivers and vessel captains because they “do not realize until it is too late that they cannot safely complete their duties because of fatigue.” (Source:

In the four month period between June and September of 2011, three commercial fishing vessels ran aground in the waters around Washington State. The Coast Guard’s investigation of each of these groundings revealed a common causal factor – fatigue. Each one of these cases involved a tired fisherman that fell asleep at the helm. All of them were doing their very best to get the boat back home after a hard working trip.

The sinister thing about fatigue is that we all do our very best to try and “push through” it because we want to get the job done, but exhaustion doesn’t let up. Weariness, weakness and tiredness shadow us until it is too late. If mistakes and errors are like fire, fatigue is the catalyst that turns them into infernos.

Fortunately, not one of the aforementioned groundings resulted in injury; however, there were a few bruised egos and lost revenue. For the two “minor” groundings, the vessels incurred several thousand dollars worth of damage and precious lost time. The most serious of these groundings resulted in a total loss of the boat. It tipped over on the rock it was grounded on when the tide went out. It sank and subsequently discharged an undetermined amount of oil into the water.

Vessels and equipment are replaceable – lives are not. Fortunately for all involved, this recent spate of groundings did not hurt or kill anyone or cause significant damage to the environment. If this trend isn’t reversed or stopped, it’s just a matter of time before a fatigue-related incident will result in the loss of life and/or major environmental damage.

So, as the owner, operator, master or manager of a commercial fishing vessel, what can you do to combat fatigue on your boat? Educate yourself on the anti-fatigue strategies and tools that are available and take action.

The US Coast Guard’s Research and Development Center recognized the need to provide vessel owners, operators, managers and masters with a solution to the fatigue problem, so they developed the Crew Endurance Management (CEM) Practices Guide. The Guide provides proven practices for managing endurance risk factors (sleep loss, stress, heat, cold, etc.) that affect operational safety and crew member efficiency.

The CEM Guide and a whole lot of other useful CEM information is available free on the Coast Guard’s CEM website at

Our partner organizations, the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association (AMSEA) and the North Pacific Fishing Vessel Owners’ Association (NPFVOA) are another great resource you can access for information about fatigue fighting strategies.

If the thought of being responsible for damaging your boat, or someone else’s boat, or even worse, injuring or killing a fellow fisherman does not give you reason enough to consider implementing a crew endurance management program, then consider this: If you operate your vessel without a proper look-out and an accident happens, you might incur the following criminal and/or civil penalties:

• Misconduct, negligence or inattention to duties by a vessel captain that results in the loss of life is a Class C Felony punishable by up to 10 years in jail and/or a $250,000 fine as per 18 U.S. C. § 1115.

• Operating a vessel in a grossly negligent manner that endangers life, limb or property of a person is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and/or a $100,000 fine as per 46 U. S. C. § 2302(b).

• Operating a non-recreational vessel in a negligent manner so as to endanger life limb or property of a person may result in a $25, 000 civil penalty as per 46 U.S.C. § 2303(a).

Your local Coast Guard Sector or Marine Safety Unit can assist you in getting the information you need to implement a CEM program. Once you have a program in place, Coast Guard personnel can use the CEM Navigation and Vessel Inspection Circular (NVIC) No. 02-08 to help you assess the effectiveness of your CEM program. For more information, contact your local Coast Guard Commercial Fishing Vessel Safety or Marine Casualty Investigations Office.

Lieutenant Jon Lane is currently the Assistant Chief of the Investigations Division at U. S. Coast Guard Sector Puget Sound. Jon has been a marine casualty investigator for the last seven years and a Coastie for 24 years.

Lowering Of King Crab Lease Fees Under Discussion

A spokesperson for the Bering Sea Crabbers, Ed Poulsen, says the majority of quota share holders in the Bristol Bay crab fishery have voluntarily agreed to hold the cap on fees for leasing out their quota shares to 65 percent in the next season.

Poulsen said details on discussions involving lease rate fees and other topics that came up at the Nov. 21 meeting of the crab industry work group in Ballard, Washington, would be presented at the December meeting of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in Anchorage.

The industry standard for the lease rates has been about 70 percent, according to Poulsen, but in some cases they have been even higher, while lease rates for opilio crab quota shares have stayed at 50 percent.

Lease rates are one of several contentious issues that have been under discussion since the federal crab rationalization legislation was approved several years ago.

The NPFMC has scheduled eight hours of its December meeting to hear Bering Sea and Aleutian Island crab stakeholder reports, all five-year review issues.

Some industry harvesters, like Mark Israelson, skipper of the Island Mist out of Kodiak, have said they feel the Bristol Bay red king crab quota share should be 50 percent, just like that for the opies. Another option, said Israelson, would be a 65 percent lease fee, with all expenses for the crab trips paid by leaseholders.

Others, including the Crewman’s Association, based in Kodiak, are seeking more changes in the crab rationalization program to benefit the crew, including provisions to pay crew after normal expenses, including then taking the lease fees off for the crab quota after buyback and individual fishing quota taxes have been subtracted.

The association is also seeking redistribution of 35 percent of the crab quotas to a crew pool held by the state of Alaska and released to the industry after a fair and equitable compensation package for all crewmen that fish the region. The crab skipper quota would be subtracted so that it is 32 percent to allow the skippers access to fair contract for their labors.

Fuglvog Sentencing Now Scheduled for February

US District Court Judge H. Russel Holland has rescheduled the sentencing for former Senate fisheries aide Arne Fuglvog, of Petersburg, Alaska, to Feb. 7.

Fuglvog, who served on the staff of Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, pleaded guilty in August in Anchorage to a single count of violating the Lacey Act by falsifying records of where he harvested sablefish intended for interstate commerce.

Fuglvog’s attorney, Jeffrey Feldman of Anchorage, confirmed that the sentencing, originally set for Nov. 18 and then for Dec. 7, had been postponed again, but declined comment on reason for another rescheduling.

Fuglvog is a veteran commercial fisherman from Petersburg who served on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. He was also for a while considered as one of three top candidates to head the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The initial plea agreement reached by Fuglvog with the court was to include ten months in prison, a $50,000 fine and a payment of $100,000 to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, which is engaged in wildlife preservation and restoration.
Fuglvog is currently free on his own recognizance.

Begich, Young Introduce Legislation to Sink Pirate Fishing Vessels

Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, is pursuing through Congress his idea of sinking at sea unregistered fishing vessels operating in waters of the United States.

The Alaska Democrat first proposed the idea after the unregistered, rat-infected Bangun Perkasa was seized by the US Coast Guard, some 2,600 miles southwest of Kodiak.

Instead of just bringing it to shore and cleaning it up, Begich wanted the rats on board exterminated and the vessel sunk at sea. Since at the time of that vessel capture the Coast Guard lacked the resources to decontaminate the vessel, making it safe to sink, the vessel was salvaged.

Then on Nov. 18, Begich in the Senate, and Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, in the House, introduced the Pirate Fishing Vessel Disposal Act of 2011.

The legislation would give the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Coast Guard authority to dispose of pirate fishing vessels engaged in illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

Options include being sunk by the Coast Guard in live-fire training exercises; being transferred to developing nations for use in fisheries patrol and enforcement activities; being transferred to other government or non-profit institutions for training, education, or research, or scrapping and recycling the vessels.

For vessels to be sunk by live fire, the bill requires that the vessels have all fuel removed and that they be decontaminated of harmful substances; that all fishing gear and other potential marine debris be removed, and that they be sunk in US waters more than 50 miles offshore, in water more than a mile deep.

Begich worked with NOAA, the US Environmental Protection Agency, the Coast Guard and the US Maritime Administration to craft the bill.

Sponsors of the legislation can’t speculate on what it would cost at this time, as a pirate fishing vessel has never been dealt with like this before, a Begich aide said. The identified source of funds is the Oil Spill Liability Fund.

Alaska Pollock Fishery Assessment Enters Peer Review Stage

The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute announced this week that the Alaska Pollock fishery assessment to the FAO-based responsible fisheries management certification has reached the peer review stage.

Based on the technical expertise required to carry out the assessment, Global Trust Certification Limited has confirmed an external peer review team of Herman Savikko and Dankert Skagen.

Savikko, who has a degree in biological sciences, was employed for 30 years with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, including the divisions of sport fish, fisheries rehabilitation, enhancement and development, and commercial fisheries. He helped to develop, draft and implement salmon bycatch limits for the Bering Sea Pollock fleet, as well as the foundation for bycatch measures in the Gulf of Alaska trawl fisheries. Skagen is the owner of Kankert Skagen Fisheries Science Consultants in the Bergen area of Norway, and a former senior scientist at the Institute of Marine Research.

The peer review is a technical review of the evidence documented by the assessment team that demonstrates the level of conformity of the fishery to the FAO code and guides. The peer reviewers provide a critical evaluation of the consistency in the recommendation made by the assessment team as together the fishery is recommended for certification.

Alaska crab fisheries are also currently involved in the same certification process.
Alaska salmon earned responsible fisheries management certification under the same program on March 11. Alaska halibut was certified on April 29 and Alaska black cod (sablefish) was certificated on Oct. 11. This independent, third-party certification of the management of major Alaska commercial fisheries is directly based on the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization code of conduct for responsible fisheries and the FAO guidelines for eco-labeling of fish and fishery products from marine capture fisheries.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Voluntary Lowering of Lease Fees Offered By Some Crab Quota Share Holders

By Margaret Bauman

A report of the crew work group meeting at Dutch Harbor during the October meeting of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council notes that some current crab quota shareholders have agreed to voluntarily lower lease rates.

The report, prepared by Edward Poulsen, distributed on Oct. 4 to members of the working group who participated in the Sept. 29 meeting, notes several issues covered by those in attendance and via teleconference, including a Kodiak connection.

It does not mention electronic data reporting, a subject on which the council will take final action at its December 5-13 meeting in Anchorage. Poulsen, former executive director and now an advisor to the Bering Sea Crabbers, said he was preparing an updated report on the meeting to deliver at the December meeting.

A number of people who crew on crab boats have expressed concern since the crab rationalization legislation went into effect several years ago about loss of jobs and income, mainly because of fleet consolidation and leasing of quota shares. Some crew members also feel they should have been allocated crew quota shares because of their long-term participation in this dangerous fishery, an opinion challenged by some vessel owners who said they have invested substantial capital in the fishery, as opposed to physical effort alone.

Several people representing crewmembers also want data reports made available that show specifically how much income crew members earned annually before the federal crab rationalization program was approved.

“What we would like to see on public record is the pay from pre-rationalization,” said Steve Branson, a veteran Kodiak fisherman. “It would be nice to be able to compare what was going on before and after privatization.”

Branson said after seven years of traveling from Kodiak to attend various meetings of the federal council he is not overly optimistic about change any more, even though ”the council now is more fair-minded. I don’t think it (crab rationalization) would have passed if it had been scrutinized more closely.”

Vessel owners held the Dutch Harbor meeting to discuss progress in development of measures to address crew issues, as a precursor to the industry’s report to the council in December.

First up on their agenda was a proposal of vessel owners to provide a right of first offer to active participants on 10 percent of the quota share being transferred in any transaction. The right is intended to increase the portion of the quota share pool held by persons actively fishing. The remaining 90 percent could be subject to a similar right of first offer for either people active in the fleet or owning a fishing vessel.

Proponents of the measure are still developing the specific agreement and suggested that a written description could be provided at the next meeting.

Vessel owners also reported that a substantial portion of current quota holders have agreed to voluntarily limit their lease rates to 65 percent in the Bristol Bay red king crab fishery and 50 percent in the Bering Sea opilio fishery, Poulsen said. The lower limit is intended to reduce the pressure on vessel owners that could arise under arrangements that only guarantee crew minimum shares of a vessel’s gross revenues, Poulsen said. In the absence of limits on lease rates, a reduction on the lease rates that may be charged to crew may disadvantage vessel owners that lease a substantial share of the quota that they harvest, he said.

Supporters of the limit on lease rates suggested that in the future cooperative agreements could be modified to include a limit on the lease rate percentage that may be charged to crew, Poulsen noted in his meeting report. However, it was also noted that affiliated coops would also need to implement similar changes that could be more difficult as they are not FCMA cooperatives, he said. In addition, provisions could be included in that agreement to prevent vessel owners from modifying crew contracts to pass on additional costs to crew that might offset the reduced charges on lease costs.

Before crab rationalization went into effect, crew made more money for their efforts because only a percentage of the vessel’s fuel, bait, food and pot loss were deducted before their percentage of the profit was calculated. Once crab rationalization went into effect, some vessels began fishing a great deal of leased quota shares, for which they were paying a lease fee of sometimes up to 80 percent of the harvest, and that lease fee was added to the list of vessel expenses deducted from crew pay.

Branson, who was not among those attending the Dutch Harbor meeting, said he would have made substantially more money the last time he crewed on a crab boat, had lease fees not been deducted.

Some crewmembers at the meeting expressed support for efforts of vessel owners to improve crew compensation through reduced lease fees. These representatives suggested that they would support allowing vessel owners to continue with the effort to use reduced lease rates to address the crew compensation issue.

Poulsen said meeting participants also discussed the means of evaluating the effects of the reduced lease rates on crew compensation.

Vessel owners offered to advance a list of quota holders and/or vessel owners who agreed to the arrangement, but opposed any effort to collect additional information on crew compensation.

These vessel owners expressed their opinion that the adequate information would be provided by the list of quota holders. Vessel owners said that, when available, electronic data reporting data would demonstrate specific effects on compensation.

Some crew representatives voiced concern that electronic data reporting data may not be available until more than a year after some seasons, which would limit the ability to address compensation, if the lease rate reduction measure fails to achieve its intended result. For this reason, they believe that some other means of demonstrating the effectiveness of the measure should be pursued, Poulsen said.

Vessel owners also offered to bring a written description of the agreement to limit lease rates to the next meeting for review by all participants. That description could help participants evaluate the measure, including the potential for reports to establish its effectiveness, Poulsen said.

It was suggested by staff that the group meet prior to the December meeting of the federal council, perhaps on Nov. 21, to ensure that all participants have the same understanding of the progress of discussions.

Poulsen said in an interview later that a loan program up and running since this summer allows crew to get low interest loans to purchase crab quota shares through the National Marine Fisheries service, with amortizations over a 20 year period. “The issue is the NMFS loan program is so low that there is not a lot of incentive for more programs, he said.

The federal crab rationalization program was the first and only program that gave 3 percent of the individual fishing quota shares to skippers. The quota share holders would not be supportive of reallocating quota shares, because it would be disruptive to their businesses now ongoing, he said.

Another Kodiak commercial fisheries veteran, Kodiak city council member Terry Haines, noted that efforts to get banks to offer reasonable interest rates to crew members seeking to buy into quota share did not work out well. “And you can’t blame them,” Haines said. ‘The whole concept makes the banks nervous, that crew might have rights to quota shares they have already given out loans on.”

Haines noted that the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act identifies quota shares in the crab fishery as a privilege that can be taken back at any time, if there is enough reason. “It makes the banks very nervous,” he said.

Caps on leased quota share, Haines said, are on the other hand something that is quite doable.

Another issue the council has not discussed is caps on the amount of quota share that may be harvested on the same vessel, he said. When huge amounts of leased quota are harvested on the same vessel, it takes away from a crew’s ability to leverage pay. The bottom line is, what is their percentage of net profits now? Before rationalization is was 6-8 percent for the crew and the skipper got 15 percent (after expenses). Now with 80 percent lease fees off the top that leaves you 20 percent,” he said.

Haines and others are also eager to get the crab electronic data reporting up and running to provide data that provides more information.

Public comment submitted at the Dutch Harbor meeting by Stephen Taufen for the Groundswell Fisheries Movement urged that data collection should include reconciled fish settlement accountings, and inclusion of each crab vessel’s by-species/fisheries lay share contracts.

The reconciled fish settlement accountings should detail whose quota is consolidated on which vessel, the rents or leases charged to the vessel and portion passed along to crews by lease, as well as shared trip settlement expenses by categories, such as fuel, bait, and gear, the percentage for each crewmember by name, showing individual trip settlement costs as well as total personal deductions, Taufen said.

The electronic data collection should also include lay share contracts for all captain and crewmembers, as part of the collection of data that confirms both quantitative analysis and qualitative assessment of whether or not the Bering Sea –Aleutian Islands crab rationalization program meets the requirement that in order to hold quota rights, all applicable federal laws must be obeyed by each IFQ holder, Taufen said.

Haines said that from a community perspective, he looks at the reduced revenue going out of communities as a result of consolidation of the fleet after rationalization and lease fees. From a community perspective, vessel caps and a limit on lease fees would address capital flight form communities, he said.

Haines is a member of the Crewmen’s Association, which has been advocating for crew rights for several years, but said he is more focused at this time on Fish Heads, an advocacy group for the preservation of the vitality of Alaska’s fishing communities.

A number of people who work as crew members have been reluctant to speak out about their support of the Crewmen’s Association, led by Shawn Dochtermann, and other advocates for crew rights because if they were to put their names on a list of those groups they could lose their jobs, he said.

Margaret Bauman can be reached at

Today's Catch: Once Bitten, Twice Shy

In this space in August of 2008 it was suggested that the Sun is most likely the cause of any global warming the earth might be experiencing. This theory was in stark contrast to the widely publicized (and generously funded) theory that the conversion of petroleum into carbon dioxide was to blame. As of this summer, the former scenario has become the more credible of the two, with the revelation by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva, Switzerland of an inverse correlation between periodic changes in sunspot activity levels and quantities of cosmic rays entering Earth’s atmosphere that trigger surface-cooling cloud formations.

In 1996, two Danish scientists, Henrik Svensmark and Eigil Friis-Christensen, theorized that it is changes in the Sun’s magnetic field, and not the emission of greenhouse gases, that has led to recent rises in global temperatures. In 1998 their theory began to be put to the test at the CERN Large Hadron Collider, deep inside a mountain on the Swiss border. Over the past 12 years, the CERN team, led by particle physicist Jasper Kirkby, has been experimenting with a custom-built chamber filled with air and chemicals, including water vapor, sulphur dioxide, ozone and ammonia, and bombarding the chamber with protons. The preliminary results, released in late August, seem to show that the cosmic rays have a much larger effect on climate than has been alleged by adherents of the manmade global warming theory.

Professor Svensmark notes that there is much more work to be done, but the fact that an actual controlled physics experiment calls into question a computer-generated theory that has been considered by many to be “settled” might be a powerful tool in the fight to remove science from politics, or vice versa.

Speaking of politics and science, as the global warming science becomes more unsettled, a new crisis is gaining ground among the environmental lobby: ocean acidification. As manmade global warming was “proven” by data showing that the earth had warmed, so manmade ocean acidification promises to suck more grant money into the vortex of science-for-hire.

The fact that the oceans are becoming more acidic seems to be a generally accepted premise, and therefore warrants concern and study. But, rather than encouraging public support for further scientific research, the use of a soon-to-be discredited theory (that man is to blame for changes in climate) to explain the oceanic rise in acid will likely be met with skepticism.

An upcoming event in Seattle on ocean acidification, sponsored by the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, Washington Sea Grant and the Sustainable Path Foundation, will promote the manmade acidification theory with speakers from NOAA and the federal government. One of the speakers claims, “The same CO2 that’s heating the planet is causing ocean acidification... This is not abstract theory; this is the consequence of fundamental principles of chemistry and physics. “

The proponents of manmade acidification already see it as “settled” science. We “deniers” will be ridiculed and vilified for our calls to consider other causes, and eventually someone will conduct a groundbreaking study, like that of Professors Kirkby et al, suggesting that maybe man isn’t to blame after all. If the ocean is indeed becoming more acid, we shouldn’t readily accept the first explanation and spend 12 years heading down the wrong path, but rather keep an open mind and use science to find the cause, and maybe a solution.

Chris Philips

Decision Expected Soon in Latest Exxon Valdez Litigation

A federal judge presiding over the latest litigation in the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill has taken under advisement oral arguments on whether Exxon should to pay millions of dollars more for unforeseen damages from the Prince William Sound disaster.
The spill proved devastating to commercial fish harvesters, wildlife and others dependent on fish in that region.

Judge H. Russel Holland heard oral arguments in Anchorage on Nov. 15 from legal counsel for Exxon, the federal government and the state of Alaska.

Exxon has entered a motion asking the court to enforce a 1991 consent decree, relieving the oil giant from paying an additional $92 million to deal with environmental damages from the spill. Exxon argues that the original agreement made clear that parties to the lawsuit limited the reopener phase to restoration projects, which are different from cleanup projects.

Attorneys for the state and federal government argued that the words “cleanup” and “restoration” could be used interchangeably.

Exxon has already paid some $900 million in damages for cleanup costs, but the 1991 reopener decision allowed the government to reopen the case if it could show that problems remained.

State and federal government officials submitted a restoration plan in May of 2006 for more cleanup of residual oil on beaches in Prince William Sound, following with a demand for payment in August of 2006. Since then the governments have not pursued the matter and Exxon has not paid out any additional funds.

Marine biologist Rick Steiner, who had spent 14 years working on Prince William Sound, had filed an amicus brief asking that Exxon be ordered to pay the $92 million, plus about $25 million in interest.

Steiner also asked the court to grant the governments discretion in how best to use these monies in the best interest of full ecological recovery, and that the court issue guidance to other court regarding construction of future reopeners for unknown injury provisions in environmental consent decrees, to avoid problems that have plagued the Exxon Valdez reopener provision.

While the court denied his amicus brief, the judge can still order the requested relief, said Steiner.

32 Million Sockeye Forecast for Bristol Bay

State biologists are forecasting a run of 32.3 million wild Alaska sockeye salmon returning to Bristol Bay in 2012, and a harvest estimate of 21.76 million fish. Biologists say a run of 32.2 million sockeyes can potentially produce a total harvest of 22.83 million fish. The projected harvest includes 21.76 million fish in Bristol Bay and 1.07 million fish for the South Alaska Peninsula fisheries.

In 2011, Bristol Bay produced a harvest of 21.9 million reds, with a preliminary value to harvesters of $135.7 million.

For the Naknek-Kvichak District, the run forecast is 14.96 million fish, including 6.48 million to the Kvichak River, 1.90 million to the Alagnak River, and 6.22 million to the Naknek River.

Biologists predict a run of 3.09 million reds to the Egegik district, 3.09 million to the Ugashik district, 0.78 to the Togiak district, and 6.76 million to the Nushagak district, including 4.64 million to Wood River, 1.40 million to the Nushgak River and 0.72 million to the Igushik River.

Bob Waldrop, executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, noted that sometimes the forecasts are right on, while at other times expectations are different than the reality. “It’s important that (forecasts) be done, but also important that we understand that we really don’t have the funding to completely understand what’s going on in the salmon systems.

“Expectations are just that,” he said. “They are as informed as we can make them.”
Forecasters anticipate the 2012 run will be dominated by age 1.3 sockeyes, at 41 percent, followed by age 2.2, at 26 percent, age 1.2 at 19 percent, and age 2.3 at 13 percent.

Historically, total runs of red salmon to Bristol Bay have been highly variable, the researchers said. The 2012 forecast of 32.30 million fish is above the long-term historical average of 30.63 million fish from 1956 to 2011, but below the more recent historical average of 40.50 million fish from 2004 to 2011.

State Documents Importance of Fish Harvesting to Alaska Economy

A report in the November issue of Alaska Economic Trends says fish harvesting is a critical component of Alaska’s economy, employing thousands of people, and with an economic impact that goes way beyond the harvesting effort itself.

The report, produced by the state’s Department of Labor and Workforce Development, notes that Bristol Bay’s earnings and harvesting employment have grown the most over the last six years. In 2010, that region’s gross earnings topped $169 million, a 72 percent increase over 2005. Harvesting employment for the same period rose by 381 workers to 7,225.

Though its harvesting workforce is the fourth largest in the state, the Aleutians and Pribilof Islands region was the leader in gross earnings at almost $500 million in 2010- nearly double that of the second highest earning region, Southcentral Alaska. Despite the high gross earnings for the area, the number of fish harvesters has declined over the last six years, the report said. From 2005, there was an estimated loss of 158 permit holders and 110 crewmembers.

Southeast Alaska had the largest workforce of fish harvesters in 2010, but its gross earnings ranked third behind Southcentral. Harvesting employment grew by 146 workers, to reach a total of 9,182, and Southeast Alaska had a record year for gross earnings of $208 million, $49 million more than in 2005.

In the Yukon Delta region, the number of active permit holders has slowly decreased since 2005, while the number of crew has grown, resulting in higher overall employment. From 2005 to 2010, gross earnings for that region rose 37 percent to $4.9 million.

More details on the economic contributions of Alaska’s commercial fisheries are at

Homer Fisherman Named to Alaska Seafood Industry Hall of Fame

Retired Homer commercial fisherman Bob Moss has been named to the United Fishermen of Alaska’s Alaska Seafood Industry Hall of Fame.

Mark Vinsel, executive director of UFA, said Moss was recognized for his efforts as a pioneer in Alaska fisheries for 60 years. Moss served on the Alaska Board of Fisheries, and was heavily involved in the Alaska statehood movement and efforts to organize fishermen to represent themselves in the fisheries management process.
Buck Lukaitis, president of the Homer-based North Pacific Fisheries Association, nominated Moss during the UFA’s fall meeting in Homer in early November.

Moss addressed the UFA board, recounting his earliest fishing times and the importance of work outside the fishing seasons. He said he wanted to thank fishermen who attend all the meetings of the Board of Fisheries, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council and meetings in their communities. “Fishing is also about what happens before and after the fishing season,” he said.

UFA established the Alaska Seafood Hall of Fame in 2009 to honor the 50th anniversary of Alaska Statehood.

Those named to the hall of fame to date include Bob Alverson, US Sen. Bob Bartlett, Bob Blake, the Brindle Family, Chuck Bundrant, Al Burch, Phil Daniel, Oscar Dyson, Senator Dick Eliason, Gov. Ernest Gruening, Gov. Jay Hammond, Gordon Jensen, Knute Johnson, Armin F. Koernig, Jerry McCune, Alaska State Rep. Drew Scalzi, Alaska State Sen. Clem Tillion, Tommy Thompson, and Bob Thorstenson Sr.

“These individuals each made lasting contributions that helped Alaska fishermen and women continue our sustainable fisheries into the future,” Vinsel said. “We look forward to recognizing the many others that are helping ensure our sustainable fisheries for future generations.”

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Markets Look Strong for Southeast Alaska Geoduck Fishery

By Margaret Bauman

Geoduck harvesters in Southeast Alaska are anticipating strong markets this year, based on reports that Washington State fisheries are paying $14 to $16 a pound for these large burrowing clams.

“We’re hoping to start the season at $8 to $10 a pound, said Phil Doherty, executive director of the Southeast Alaska Regional Dive Fisheries Association in Ketchikan.

“If we could average $10 a pound for the season, everyone would be happy.”

Last year’s fishery, which employed more than 200 people in jobs ranging from diving to processing, was worth an estimated $6 million, Doherty said.

Doherty noted in an interview on the eve of the fishery’s starting date of Oct. 6 that Alaska prices to harvesters for geoducks are tempered by the comparatively higher costs of doing business in Alaska, from getting tenders to the grounds to shipping the live geoducks to Hong Kong.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has set the guideline harvest level for this year’s Southeast Alaska commercial geoduck clam fishery at 557,500 pounds. Fishing areas were to open based on paralytic shellfish poison test results. Weekly PSP results are expected on Monday afternoons, state fisheries officials noted. If sampling is delayed the fishing period may also be delayed up to one day.

In the Ketchikan management area, the sea cucumber fisheries are conducted on Mondays and Tuesday and the geoduck fishery is restricted to Thursdays, assuming those areas have been cleared by PSP testing, Doherty said.

Trident Seafoods and E.C. Phillips in Ketchikan and Absolute Fresh in Sitka purchase the bulk of the harvest, he said.

For the 2010-2011 season, the combined harvest of geoducks, sea cucumbers and red sea urchins in Southeast Alaska garnered harvesters $8,233,773, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game calculations showed.

The harvest of 845,702 geoducks averaged $5.85 a pound for a total ex-vessel value of $4,943,539. The sea cucumber harvest of 1,274,541 pounds, at $2.52 a pound, had an ex-vessel value of $3,211,422, and the red sea urchin harvest of 276,745 pounds, at 28 cents a pound average, was worth $77,489.

Geoducks, the world’s largest burrowing clam, are neither gooey or ducks. They take their name from the Nisqually Indian term meaning “dig deep,” notes Amy Carroll, a publications specialist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Juneau.

Geoducks reach sexual maturity at three years. After five to 10 years, when their weight is between two and four pounds, they are considered harvestable. They continue to grow until they are about 15 years old and can reach weights of 14 pounds.

Wild geoducks reproduce by a method called broadcast spawning. They release eggs and sperm into the water and rely on movement of the water to unite them. Within 40 to 50 days, the immature geoducks slowly burrow into the muddy ocean floor at a rate of about one foot per year. Once they are at about three feet deep, they settle in for life, siphoning plankton into their bodies and siphoning out the remaining water.

This year’s guideline harvest level is less than last year’s because the management plan for geoduck harvests in Southeast Alaska is on a two-year rotation. “We fish half of the beds in one year, half of the beds in the next year, Doherty explained. “It happens that this year’s rotation is less than last year’s rotation.

The average weight of the commercially harvested geoduck is 2.5 to 3 pounds.

Quality is related to the substrate they are in, he said. The whiter the meat, the higher the price it garners in Hong Kong, he said.

To date, climate change does not appear to be affecting the fishery, but increasing numbers of hungry sea otters are, according to Doherty.

“The decline in this year’s GHL is not necessarily due to sea otters, but in the future it seems as if our GHL may be going down because of sea otter predation,” he said.

“They are going to put us out of business. They are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. There is no management plan for sea otters. They are eating everything and they have no natural predators,” he said. “They are like the wolves of Southcentral Alaska, but with the wolves there is at least a management plan.”

Recolonization of Sea Otters Affects Geoduck Harvests
While sea otters in Southeast Alaska, unlike those in the Aleutians, are not threatened by orca whales, they once were at the mercy of the fur trade. That was the subject of a presentation by Zachary Hoyt of the University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences at the 27th annual Wakefield Fisheries Symposium in Anchorage on Sept. 13.

Hoyt noted in his presentation that sea otters were extirpated by the fur trade from Southeast Alaska by the late 1800s.

In the absence of sea otters, macroinvertebrate populations increased and lucrative fisheries developed. In an effort to re-establish sea otters, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game translocated sea otters to Southeast Alaska between 1965 and 1969.

This effort was successful and the sea otter population is currently growing at an exponential rate and expanding in distribution, Hoyt said.

“We examined ADFG biomass survey data collected from the California sea cucumber, red sea urchin and geoduck clam fisheries in southern Southeast Alaska since 1990 and Dungeness crab catch and effort data collected since sea otter reintroduction,” Hoyt said in his abstract for the symposium.

“Evaluation of both fishery survey and catch data demonstrate that in the last 20 years sea otters have impacted commercial fisheries. Since 1993, ADFG has closed 18 dive fishery sub-districts within the red sea urchin, geoduck clam and California sea cucumber fisheries, due in part to presumed sea otter predation. In addition, the Dungeness crab fishery has compressed away from areas with sea otters.”

Hoyt also noted that using sea otter abundance data collected in 1988, 2003 and 2010 that scientists concluded that sea otters are impacting invertebrate fisheries in southern Southeast Alaska and that this reduction in fishing opportunity has impacted several small communities in southern Southeast Alaska.

Margaret Bauman can be reached at

Value of Alaska Salmon Harvest Estimated at $603 Million

Final price information won’t be in from processors, buyers and direct marketers until next spring, but Alaska fisheries officials are already out with a preliminary ex-vessel estimate of $603 million for the 2011 commercial salmon season.

That makes the 2011 harvest the third most valuable one since 1975, behind the 1988 harvest that paid fishermen $724.6 million and 2010 harvest worth $605 million. Analysts are already expecting the 2011 harvest value to surpass that of a year ago.

Geron Bruce of the state’s Division of Commercial Fisheries notes that while the 176 million salmon harvested in 2011 – ninth largest since 1960 – came in short of the 203 million fish forecast, that high prices for all species pushed the value of the harvest to an extraordinary level.

The pink salmon harvest set an all time record with a value of over $170 million. Chum salmon fetched $93 million, the third highest value ever recorded. Sockeye salmon were worth almost $296 million, gaining a respectable sixth place among historic sockeye harvests. The Chinook and coho harvests, at $20 million and $23 million respectively, fell more toward the middle of their historic ranges.

Southeast Alaska took first place regionally in value, with its salmon harvest worth over $203 million, including $92 million from pink salmon and $65 million from chum salmon. Bristol Bay, which is usually the most valuable salmon fishery in Alaska, placed second with a harvest valued at $137 million. Prince William Sound placed third with a harvest worth $101 million, mostly from pink and sockeye salmon netted.

Strong returns of red salmon also made Cook Inlet and Chignik valuable fisheries, at $55.6 million and $23.8 million respectively in preliminary ex-vessel value.

Pebble Initiative Lawsuits Shuffled to January Calendar

Alaska Superior Court Judge John Suddock will hold a scheduling hearing on Jan. 10 in a case challenging the legality of an initiative approved by Southwest Alaska voters that could halt development of the Pebble copper, gold and molybdenum mine.

Scheduling had been set for Nov. 7, but parties to the lawsuit agreed to the delay so that some of the litigation could be consolidated into one lawsuit.

By a vote of 280-246, voters in the Lake and Peninsula Borough approved in October a ban on large-scale resource extraction that would have an adverse affect on salmon habitat. The Pebble Limited Partnership, which wants to develop the mine, had tried unsuccessfully to keep the initiative off of the ballot on Oct. 4, alleging that the initiative was unenforceable as a matter of law. Then on Oct. 28, the state of Alaska sued to invalidate the results of the initiative. The state claims that the initiative is illegal because of the state’s authority to government management and development of mineral resources.

Attorney General John Burns said in a statement that this case is not about state support for or against the mine project, but rather “about upholding the state’s constitutional authority and responsibility to evaluate whether, on balance, development of Alaska’s resources is beneficial to all Alaskans.”

Proponents of the mine say that the Pebble Limited Partnership should be allowed to go through the permitting process before a decision is made on whether to allow for development of the mine.

Opponents, including many in the commercial fishing industry, sport angler groups and subsistence fishermen and hunters, are concerned that pollution from the mine could destroy the Bristol Bay salmon fisheries.

Meanwhile a new poll released by the Bristol Bay Native Corp., which represents more than 9,000 Alaska Native shareholders, says 54 percent of all Alaskans oppose the Pebble mine, compared to 32 percent who support it.

Southeast Halibut Charter Industry Finally Within Harvest Limit

New figures released by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game show that the halibut charter industry in Southeast Alaska has stayed within its harvest allocation limit for the first time since the halibut charter guideline harvest level was implemented.

In a letter to the International Pacific Halibut Commission, the state agency reported a preliminary estimate for the Southeast Alaska 2011 charter boat catch of 390,000 pounds or about half of the 790,000-pound allocation.

Linda Behnken of Sitka, president of the Halibut Coalition, said in an interview with The Fishermen’s News that “it’s encouraging that management measures put in place have finally been effective after six years of quota overages.” Still the preliminary cumulative overage for the charter fleet in that area adds up to 3.12 million pounds since 2004.

This year the IPHC set a 37-inch maximum size rule for charter-caught halibut in Southeast Alaska, in a decisive more to control the chronic over harvest in the charter sector. Despite the fewer pounds, the number of fish caught in the charter sector in 2011 was 1 percent higher than the number caught in 2010, according to the state Department of Fish and Game’s preliminary estimates. Angler interest in charter fishing experiences in Southeast Alaska has remained steady despite changes in management measures and the overall economy.

The Halibut Coalition noted that the biomass of halibut in the Southeast Alaska area has dropped in half over the past six years. To conserve stocks, the commercial catch limit has been reduced 76 percent, although the commercial sector has never exceeded its allocation. The commercial halibut fishermen in Southeast Alaska and Southcentral Alaska provide 35 million halibut meals annually to some 9 million to 10 million domestic consumers, compared to 230,000 meals via charter clients, the coalition said.

Canadians Refute Reports of ISA Virus In Wild Salmon

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Fisheries and Oceans Canada are saying their tests have found no confirmed cases of the infectious salmon anemia virus, after investigating earlier reports that the virus was found in wild Pacific salmon.

A spokesperson for the CFIA said during a news conference on Nov. 8 that that agency, is continuing to investigate reports of the ISA virus in British Columbia, collaborating with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the province of British Columbia and the Atlantic Veterinary College.

The Canadian spokesperson said all 48 samples received as part of the original investigation were tested and found to be negative for the virus, and that these findings were consistent with those of an independent laboratory in Norway, which also tested samples associated with this investigation.

The virus was initially detected in two of 48 juvenile sockeye salmon which were part of a long-term study of sockeye salmon let by Rick Routledge, a researcher at Simon Fraser University. Fred Kibenge of the Atlantic Veterinary College at the University of Prince Edward Island then confirmed the presence of the ISA virus in two fish.

Their reports prompted concern in both Canada and the United States that the virus, which is lethal to Atlantic salmon, could spread to wild Pacific salmon stocks.

U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell, a Democrat from Washington State, as well as Senators Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Mark Begich, D-Alaska, are calling on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to conduct its own tests on the fish.

Previous outbreaks of the ISA virus in Chile and Norway have done significant damage to their fishing industries.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Salmon Virus

Alaska fisheries officials are keeping a close watch on Canadian efforts to track samples from sockeye salmon that showed exposure to infectious salmon anemia virus, or ISA. The concern stems from Canadian reports that two of 38 Pacific salmon smolt caught in the waters of British Columbia tested positive for the virus, which is lethal to farmed Atlantic salmon, but whose effect on wild Pacific salmon is unknown. The virus is not known to be harmful to humans.

Jeff Regnart, director of commercial fisheries for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said Nov. 1 that fisheries scientist Ted Meyers, a pathologist, is in daily contact with his Canadian counterparts on the matter, as they await the results of further testing. “Once this second round of tests is completed, we will take appropriate action” Regnart said. State Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell said earlier that the agency will take all necessary measures to protect Alaska stocks.

Meyers cautioned that while state fisheries officials are concerned, they do not want to overreact before receiving more definitive information from Canadian authorities.

The cautionary approach was not winning support, however, from industry folks like Dale Kelley, executive director of the Alaska Trollers Association in Juneau.

Kelley said in an editorial published in the Vancouver Sun newspaper that she has no desire to strike fear into the hearts of the public or the fishermen that she represents.

“However, we need transparency and assurance that appropriate steps are underway,” she wrote. “If the Canadian government has information to quell our concerns, we have not yet heard it. If they have an effective plan of action, we have not yet seen it. How do fisheries professionals in Canada and along the West Coast intend to safeguard wild fish and fishing communities from the introduction of foreign disease strains now, and into the future? We’re listening.”

Bristol Bay Red King Crab Update

With quotas down by 47 percent and prices skyrocketing to $20 a pound delivered in Japan, this year’s Bristol Bay red king crab fishery is attracting a lot of attention.

The fishery began on Oct. 15, and by Nov. 1, 82 percent of the total allowable harvest of 7.8 million pounds had been landed. That’s 7,050,600 pounds to the individual fishing quota permit holders, plus another 783,400 pounds for community development quota entities.

State fisheries officials said 62 vessels were participating, down three from a year ago.

Prominent crab buyer Rob George of the Law Vegas-based Crab Broker, said this year’s fishery reminds him a bit of the old pre-crab rationalization legislation derby days.

George, who makes an annual foray to Dutch Harbor to watch the crab come in, said most of the boats were on the crab, and several reached their quota quickly.

George noted that there is no cheap crab on the market right now and that most consumers will have to look hard to find any true Alaska king crab in their stores.

Some harvesters, like Kodiak’s Mark Israelson of the fishing vessel Island Mist questioned survey results that led to the harvest quota being slashed by 47 percent this season. George said a lot of skippers and crews told him that they were finding an abundance of crab, plus a lot of undersized crab, which were promptly returned to the ocean. That should bode well for the 2012-2013 season, he said.

But Regnart said his agency was doing the best job they can with the money they have to do it with.

Southeast Alaska Forecast for Pink Salmon

A new forecast for pink salmon in Southeast Alaska in 2012 has the harvest coming in at some 17 million pinks, well below the recent 10-year average of 40 million pinks, but equal to the average harvest over the past three even years.

In the season just past there was a record run of pink salmon in northern Southeast Alaska, with nothing much going on in the southern part of Southeast.

State biologists say there are two primarily reasons to expect that the coming year’s harvest will be smaller than average. First, although biological escapement goals were met in the parent year, 2010, escapement indices were below average on inside waters north of Sumner Strait, state biologists said. Management targets for pink salmon were not met in four districts, and at a finer scale, for 7 of 24 pink salmon stock groups in that area.

The federal fisheries laboratory operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration at Auke Bay continues to conduct research that has greatly improved the state’s ability to forecast pink salmon harvest in Southeast Alaska, and state forecasts using NOAA’s juvenile pink salmon data were much proved over previous forecasts, state officials said.

The department will manage the commercial purse seine fisheries in-season based on the strength of the salmon runs. Aerial escapement surveys and fishery performance data will continue to be essential in making in-season management decisions, biologists said.

Pebble Update

State of Alaska officials have filed a constitutional challenge in Anchorage Superior Court against a Lake and Peninsula Borough ordinance recently enacted by a ballot initiative that stands to prevent development of the Pebble mine.

The initiative amended borough code to preclude granting permits for mining operations of greater than 640 acres that would give rise to a significant adverse impact on any salmon streams. The Pebble Limited Partnership, which hopes to build the mine, went to court to try and stop the initiative from getting on the ballot, but the Alaska Supreme Court denied an emergency petition for review by a lower court hearing, choosing to defer a decision on the legality of the ballot measure until after the Oct. 4 election.

The mine is a joint venture of Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., in Vancouver, British Columbia, and London-based Anglo American PLC.

Mining advocates say the massive copper, gold and molybdenum project can be developed in harmony with the commercial, sport and subsistence fisheries resources of Southwest Alaska. A number of fisheries and conservation groups argue that such a mine could prove disastrous to the fisheries.

The state’s lawsuit alleges that the borough ordinance is invalid because it tilts the constitutional balance between state and local interests. The state argues that the Alaska Constitution gives the state Legislature authority to determine how to develop resources for maximum use consistent with the public interest. State attorneys say it is the state’s duty to evaluate projects to determine whether they can be conducted in a way that serves the public interest, and if so, what safeguards to require. Under the Lake and Peninsula Borough ordinance, the state may never have that opportunity, the lawsuit says.

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