Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Seattle Blessing of the Fleet

The 84th annual Blessing of the Fleet has been scheduled for Sunday, March 18, 2012 at 2:00 pm at the Fishermen's Memorial site at Fishermen's Terminal in Seattle, Washington.

Originated by the late Pastor O.L. Haavik of Ballard First Lutheran Church 82 years ago, the service will be conducted by Pastor Erik R. Wilson Weiberg and Pastor Laurie A. Jones, both of Ballard First Lutheran Church. The pastors will offer thanks to God for the fishing community, remembering the risks they take each day to provide seafood for our tables, and pray that their families will be healthy and protected during their time of separation. The ceremony will also serve as a remembrance for those who went out to sea and never returned. As in past years, various representatives from the government and the fishing industry have been invited to bring greetings.

The spring departure of the commercial fishing fleet for the sometimes dangerous Pacific and Alaska waters has been regularly observed since Pastor Haavik started the tradition, and the public is invited to attend this celebration, asking God's blessing for a bountiful season, peace upon the unpredictable sea, and a safe journey home. Coffee and cookies will be served following the service.

Icicle Will Acquire Snopac Products

Icicle Seafoods Inc. announced today that it has reached a preliminary agreement to acquire Snopac products Inc., a small independently owned and operated seafood processing company with operations in Alaska, and Seattle. The transaction is subject to completion of due diligence and other customary closing conditions and the financial terms were not disclosed, nor were operational details.

Snopac operates a seafood processing plant at Dillingham and a seafood processing vessel, the M/V Snopac Innovator. Together they enable the company to process more than one million pounds of round weight per day. Snopac has a significant presence in the Bristol Bay sockeye salmon fishery and also participates in herring and pink salmon fisheries with the Innovator.

Dennis Guhlke, president and chief executive officer of Icicle Seafoods, said his company is excited about the transaction, which allows Icicle “to expand its operations through a modernized shore-based processing facility and an efficient vessel processing platform.”

Guhlke said Snopac is known for its strong relationships with its markets and fishermen, as well as its top quality products. “This strategic acquisition is another step in our growth strategy as a leading processor of salmon and other seafood products,” Guhlke said. “We are pleased to welcome and work with such a highly respected, experienced management team and employee base.”

Greg Blakey, chief executive officer of Snopac, said his company is already well acquainted with icicle Seafoods and admires the way they operate their highly diversified business.

“Given Icicle’s significant operational history and strong commitment to its fishing fleet and its employees, we think this is a perfect match for Snopac,” he said. “While we take a lot of pride in being one of the last independent family owned processors in Alaska, we know that a combination with Icicle is the best long term solution for our employees and fleet.”

EPA’s Draft Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment Due Out in April

The US Environmental Protection Agency has issued an update on progress made to date on its analysis of the Bristol Bay watershed, in advance of a draft assessment of its findings due out in late April.

The goal of the EPA’s scientific analysis is to better understand how future large-scale mining may affect the salmon fishery in Bristol Bay. Information gathered during the assessment will be used to make decisions to protect salmon resources and habitat on which salmon and other fish depend.

The assessment is focused on the Kvichak and Nushagak watersheds because those drainages are open to development of mineral resources.

The goal of the EPA’s analysis it to better understand how large-scale mining may affect the Bristol Bay salmon fishery. The EPA plans to use information gathered during the assessment to make decisions to protect the resources, including habitat on which salmon and other fish depend.

The EPA schedule calls for public meetings in Anchorage and in Bristol Bay communities in May, a scientific peer review panel holding a meeting open to the public in Anchorage in August, and release of a final assessment in November.

The EPA initiated the assessment in response to petitions from nine Alaska tribes and other stakeholders who asked the EPA to take action to protect salmon because they were concerned about risks posed by large-scale mining, in particular the proposed Pebble mine, which is now in the exploration phase.

The mining effort is backed by the Pebble Partnership, an alliance between London-based Anglo American and Vancouver-based Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. The area is believed to contain vast quantities of copper, gold and molybdenum, which is used as an alloying agent in cast iron and steel.

The EPA said it has already compiled the best available information on Bristol Bay salmon, resident fish, wildlife, culture, economics and roads, plus traditional ecological knowledge from interviews with tribal elders and culture bearers.

Updated information is posted online at

The Pebble Partnership earlier in February released a 27,000 page environmental baseline document, also online at, and available from the Pebble Partnership as a DVD.

Alaska Board of Fisheries Takes Action on Rockfish Proposals

The Alaska Board of Fisheries has voted down a proposal to increase the sport allocation of demersal shelf rockfish to 25 percent, but also approved a conservation measure designed to improve survival rates for bycatch rockfish.

The action came earlier this week at the state board meeting in Ketchikan on measures proposed by the Southeast Alaska Guides Organization.

Back in 2006, the state board made an allocation for rockfish in the Eastern Gulf of Alaska area, based on historic harvest, with 84 percent going to commercial fishermen and 16 percent to the guide charter fleet.

“They told both sectors to learn to live within their allocations,” said Linda Behnken, ALFA’s executive director. “We spent a couple of years figuring out how we could help our fleet get better at avoiding rockfish.”

ALFA developed the Fishery Conservation Network, within which some 70 commercial fishermen worked together to reduce rockfish bycatch rates and map seafloor habitat. They gathered and verified catch and bycatch rate data in the longline halibut and sablefish fisheries, collected bathymetric data and napped areas of the ocean floor, and compiled detailed naps to help them avoid seafloor structures where rockfish congregate.

The boats within the fishery conservation network reduced their bycatch by 20 percent., and the commercial fleet stayed within its allocation, Behnken said. The charter industry did not stay within its limit, said rockfish bycatch was unavoidable, and that they needed a larger allocation for sport harvest, but the board voted them down.

ALFA and SEAGO came together however on consensus language to develop a key conservation measure regarding demersal shelf rockfish, in a regulation approved by the state board that goes into effect in 2013.

That measure is designed to increase the survival rate of rockfish released as a result of existing bag and catch limits. SEAGO executive director Heath Hilyard said the new regulation stipulates that as of 2013 charter operators will have a deep-water release mechanism onboard for rockfish. Such devices are anticipated to result in lowering mortality rates from as high as 90 percent to as low as 10 percent, if fish are handled very carefully and returned immediately to depth and not caught in really deep water.

“What is most significant is that the two sectors, that have been traditionally at odds regarding a variety of fisheries management issues, were able to come together on a new regulation, Hilyard said.

Funds Sought to Restore Salmon Watersheds in Tongass National Forest

Several fishermen and tour operators are heading for Washington D.C. next week to lobby for changes in the US Forest Service budget to emphasize salmon conservation and watershed restoration in Tongass National Forest.

Their travel from Southeast Alaska is sponsored by Trout Unlimited and the Sitka Conservation Society, who note that the Forest Service budget currently includes about $25 million annually for timber and road building, compared to about $1.5 million for restoration of salmon watersheds damaged by past logging.

Their effort has the support of the Seafood Producers Cooperative, with offices in Sitka, Alaska, and Bellingham, Wash., as well as the Alaska Trollers Association in Juneau.

Dale Kelley, executive director of the Alaska Trollers Association noted in a letter to the Department of Agriculture that Tongass National Forest provides roughly $1 billion in annual revenues to commercial, sport and subsistence fishermen, and that about 24 percent of Alaska’s annual statewide salmon harvest is spawned in the Tongass. Kelly noted Forest Service reports indicate that logging has impacted about 46 percent of salmon watersheds in Tongass.

“We have been informed that over $100 million is needed to restore lost habitat,” Kelly said. “With current investment rates in the ballpark of $1.5 million per year, it will take the Forest Service more than 50 years to address the habitat problems affecting wild salmon in the Tongass.”

By investing in watershed restoration, the Forest Service could improve salmon habitat and production and in turn create new jobs and economic opportunities for Southeast Alaska, she wrote.

Listeria Found in Vancouver, British Columbia Fish Products

A research team at the University of British Columbia has found traces of the bacteria listeria in 40 sampled ready-to-eat products in the metropolitan areas of Vancouver, British Columbia.

UBS microbiologist Kevin Allen led the study, which drew on purchases from seven large chain stores and 10 small retailers in the Vancouver metro area, including such products as lox, smoked tuna, candied salmon and fish jerky.

Their finding, published in the journal Food Microbiology, found that listeria was present in 20 percent of the ready-to-eat fish products, and of these five percent had the more virulent variety of listeria monocytogenes.

Allen said that while the listeria monocytogenes levels in the ready-to-eat fish products met federal guidelines, the bacteria can multiply during handling and storage, particularly toward the end of shelf life.

Additional handling of ready-to-eat foods in stores, such as slicing, weighing and packaging may increase the potential for cross-contamination” he said. “While listeria bacteria can be killed by high heat, most people eat these fish products without further cooking.”

Allen said pregnant women, the elderly and anyone with a compromised immune system should be aware of the health risks.

The problem is not with the fish itself, which arrives at processing facilities uncontaminated. The bacteria listeria can be picked up at a processing facility if it is not properly cleaned.

Two Alaska seafood processors interviewed for this story said the industry is well aware of the problems listeria can pose and take steps to avoid it, including routine sanitizing of all surfaces, swab tests and sending samples of product out for testing.

The standard procedure is wet down, wash down, soap down, rinse down and then sanitize, said one processor, speaking on condition of anonymity. There is rigorous adherence to protocols so that the listeria doesn’t show up in the facility. His facility is also frequently inspected, he said, by municipal, federal and state officials.

Leader Creek Fisheries’ Norm Van Vactor said the company’s plant does such cleaning and sanitizing routinely, as well as swabbing and testing product for listeria on a very systematic schedule during the fishing season. The environmental testing of the fish itself is done by a fisheries laboratory in Seattle, he said, while the quality assurance staff at Leader Creek oversees sanitizing of facilities.

Thousands of Coastal Fishermen to Rally in Washington DC On March 21

In another historic show of solidarity, US recreational and commercial fishermen will gather at Upper Senate Park in Washington DC on March 21, 2012 starting at noon in an organized demonstration supporting sensible reform of the Magnuson Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act.

This is a follow-up to a rally in February of 2010 that brought some 5,000 recreational, commercial and party/charter vessel owners, fishermen and people in fisheries dependent businesses from all over the country to Washington. Twenty plus Members of the Senate and House of Representatives spoke regarding efforts to reform Magnuson.

Signed into law in 1976, the 36-year-old law most notably aided in the development of the domestic fishing industry by phasing out foreign fishing.

"In recent years however, the act has been transformed from its original intent into a weapon employed by a handful of mega-foundations and the so-called marine conservation organizations they subsidize aimed at reducing overall participation in our nation’s rich fisheries while driving both commercial and recreational fishermen off the water," said Nils Stolpe, executive director of FishNet USA which represents the interests of US commercial fishermen.

Rally organizers are asking legislators for help to amend the law to provide a better balance of marine conservation and coastal commerce, as it was originally intended to do.

The upcoming rally is being billed as Keep Fishermen Fishing, and once again unites the commercial and recreational sectors under one common message, “fix Magnuson now.” There were more than 40 chartered buses filled with rally participants in 2010, and efforts are once again underway in many coastal states to transport fishermen back and forth to the rally.
“Those who didn’t attend or perhaps chose not to support the original rally are mostly unaware of the strides we’ve taken since 2010,” said Jim Donofrio, executive director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance and one of the rally organizers. “With the support of the two dozen members of Congress who addressed us at Upper Senate Park, leaders from both sides of the aisle have pushed to make Magnuson reform a Congressional priority. As a result, the House Natural Resources Committee is now reviewing eight different pieces of fisheries reform legislation.”

“Our coastal fishermen represent the true spirit of Main Street America, as over-burdensome regulations supported only by organizations and individuals supported by a handful of mega foundations is forcing third and fourth generation fishermen off the water and away from sustainable public resources,” said Stolpe. “The plight of our coastal fishermen is finally getting the media and legislative attention it deserves, and we hope to keep that momentum moving forward on March 21.”

Keep Fishermen Fishing organizers thus far include Recreational Fishing Alliance, Southeastern Fisheries Association, National Association of Charterboat Operators, Morro Bay Commercial Fishermen’s Association, Garden State Seafood Association, United Boatmen, Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, Panama City Boatmen, Viking Village Dock, Fishermen’s Dock, Hull’s Seafood Markets, Lund's Fisheries, Westport Charterboat Association, Southern Off Shore Fishing Association, Garibaldi Charters, Florida Keys Commercial Fishermen's Association, New York Fishing Tackle Trades Association, Save the Summer Flounder Fishery Fund, New York Sportfishing Federation, Monkfish Defense Fund, Atlantic Capes Seafood, and North Carolina Watermen United.

For more information including bus details, visit

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

NOAA Designates Critical Leatherback Turtle Habitat Off West Coast

By Terry Dillman

Commercial and recreational fishing interests are looking askance at the recent designation of 41,914 square miles of “critical habitat” off the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California, despite assurances from NOAA officials that it won’t further impede fishing activities.

The two separate areas collectively comprise the largest ever set aside in the nation’s waters to protect sea turtle habitat.

One area encompasses 25,004 square miles east of the 2,000-meter depth contour extending from Cape Flattery, Wash. to Cape Blanco, Ore. The other is 16,910 square miles east of the 3,000-meter contour stretching from Point Arena to Point Arguello, Calif. The designation covers waters from the surface to a maximum depth of 262 feet.

NOAA’s action stems from a court settlement after Oceana, the Center for Biological diversity and the Turtle Island Restoration Network sued to get action on a petition they filed in 2007. Their initial proposal covered 70,600 square miles, extending along the entire Washington coast, as far south as Winchester Bay on the Oregon Coast, and from Point Arena north of San Francisco to Point Vicente south of Los Angeles along the California coast. While the environmental groups didn’t get everything they wanted (the designated areas don’t protect the turtles’ migration pathways), Ben Enticknap, Oceana’s Pacific project manager, said the critical habitat designation is a major step forward, being the first to ever focus on leatherback foraging grounds.

Still, turtle advocates said it doesn’t go far enough, especially in dealing with detrimental impacts from drift net, longline and gillnet fishing for tuna, swordfish and shark.

Fishing advocates noted that such fishing is already restricted in Oregon and California waters during summer and autumn, when leatherbacks forage there, to cut down on bycatch.

Leatherbacks – the largest of the marine turtles, with some reaching lengths of up to nine feet and weighing 2,000 pounds – have the largest range of any living reptile and are found in all oceans. They feed primarily on jellyfish and lay their eggs on tropical and subtropical beaches. While leatherbacks are primarily open ocean creatures, they forage for jellyfish in coastal waters, traversing the 3,700 miles between breeding and feeding grounds. Although very little is known about their lifespan, biologists estimate leatherbacks can live for 45 years or longer. They were placed on the federal endangered species list in 1970. Environmentalists say the Western Pacific population has declined by more than 95 percent since the 1980s, and as few as 2,300 adult females remain. Federal biologists estimate about 4,000 adult females are left.

In the Jan. 20 announcement about the effort to provide added protection for endangered leatherback sea turtles along the West Coast, NOAA officials said the designation “will not directly affect recreational fishing, boating and other private activities,” but would boost scrutiny of federally permitted projects – such as tidal and wave energy projects and offshore drilling - that could adversely modify or destroy such protected areas.

Already reeling under the weight of regulations from all angles, fishermen are naturally skeptical.

Since the early 1990s, NOAA’s Office of Protected Resources has enacted sea turtle conservation measures for fisheries, among them the requirements for turtle exclusion devices in trawl fisheries, large circle hooks in longline fisheries, time and area closures for gillnets, and modifications to pound net leaders. Other measures “to reduce sea turtle interactions in fisheries” emerged in regulations and permits required under the Endangered Species Act and the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

In 1998, NOAA and US Fish and Wildlife Service designated critical habitat for leatherbacks along Sandy Point Beach on the island of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands and adjacent Atlantic coastal waters. And in 2003, federal regulators developed the Strategy for Sea Turtle Conservation and Recovery to evaluate and respond to “domestic sea turtle bycatch comprehensively across jurisdictional (state and federal) and fishing sector (commercial and recreational) boundaries on a per-gear basis” for Pacific fishermen worry whether another such federal effort looms in the wake of this designation.

They say incidental capture in fishing gear, while a serious matter, is only one of many threats the turtles face. Pollution, poaching and accidental ingestion of plastic bags that can look like jellyfish also contribute to turtle demise.

Terry Dillman can be reached at

Alaska Commercial Salmon Forecasts Project a 2012 Decrease

The new run forecasts and harvest projections for 2012 Alaska salmon fisheries predict a decrease in overall commercial salmon catches in 2012 due to the projected decrease in pink salmon harvests. The report says the 2012 total commercial salmon catch projection of 132.1 million fish is expected to include 120,000 king salmon in areas outside southeast Alaska, 38.4 million sockeye salmon, 4.3 million coho salmon, 70.2 million pink salmon and 19.1 million chum salmon. The projected pink salmon harvest is about 40 percent lower than the harvest of 116 million pinks last year.

The projected sockeye salmon harvest is about 4 percent lower than last year’s catch, while the projected chum salmon harvest is some 12 percent higher than in 2011.

Last year the Alaska all-species salmon harvest totaled 177.1 million fish, about 26.4 million less than the preseason forecast of 203.5 million fish. The combined harvest included 468,000 Chinook salmon, 40 million sockeyes, 3.5 million cohos, 116.1 million pinks and 17 million chums.

In Bristol Bay, the 2011 inshore sockeye salmon run of some 30.3 million fish and catch of 21.9 million reds ranked 14th over the 20 year period fro 1991 through 2010 and was 18th below the average run of 37.1 million sockeyes for those years.

At Kodiak, the commercial harvest of 18,615 kings, 2.3 million sockeyes, 190,483 cohos, 16.6 million pinks and 824,562 chum salmon totaled 20 million salmon of all species, which was below the previous 10-year average of 24.3 million salmon.

In southeast Alaska and the Yakutat region last year total harvests included 346,000 kings, 1.2 million reds, 2.3 million silvers, 59.1 million pinks, and 10.7 million chum salmon. With strong pink and chum salmon harvests, average pink and chum salmon weights, and strong prices, the ex-vessel value of $200 million was a record for that region since statehood.

The full report is at

Opilio Crab Catch Grows as Harvesters Struggle With Ice at St. Paul Harbor

The challenge of massive amounts of ice on the waters notwithstanding, more than 30 million pounds of the 88,894,000 allowable harvest of snow crab was delivered through Feb. 21, and more should be coming in soon if weather forecasts are true.

According to Heather Fitch, area management biologist for shellfish at the Dutch Harbor office of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the forecast is for the ice that has been blocking a number of deliveries at St Paul will be north of the island within a week. The presence of massive amounts of ice at St Paul earlier in February made it impossible for some boats to make any deliveries to St. Paul.

Trident Seafoods hired a tugboat to help break up the ice at St. Paul.

Meanwhile in Juneau, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, program administrator Jessica Gharrett of NOAA’s restricted access management program had the latest harvest figures Feb. 21.

In the northern section 13,366,409 pounds, of opilios, or 40.51 percent of the allowable 32,992,600 pounds had been landed. Another 14,011,960 pounds, or 37.36 percent of the 37,508,792 allowable pounds were landed in the southern sector. Harvesters who do not have a regional delivery requirement, including crew quota and catcher processor quota, landed another 2,840,875 pounds, or 29.89 percent of their allowable 9,503,196 pounds., she said.

While the fishery officially begins Oct. 15, most crabbers wait until mid-January to begin dropping pots.

APICDA Moves Toward Year-Round Processing at False Pass, Atka

The Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association plans to invest millions of dollars into turning its processing facilities at False Pass and Atka into year round operations.

The community development quota group’s chief executive officer, Larry Cotter, made the announcement Feb. 17 during the annual Anchorage summit of the Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference.

Cotter said that at False Pass APICDA had faced a struggle with Bering Pacific Seafoods, losing some $1 million a year, and at one point shut down its operations. Now APICDA plans to invest $8 million this year, plus an additional $2 million over the next two years, to expand Bering Pacific Seafoods facilities at False Pass, including the purchase of lots from the local Alaska Native corporation to build housing. Plant managers, engineers and other staff for the facility will be full time residents. “We are going to encourage families to move to False Pass with children so that we can keep the school going and hopefully they re going to work at our facility, earning meaningful wages and benefits,” Cotter said. “We think that is how to define for ourselves what we want Alaska communities to look like.”

State of Alaska data shows False Pass, on the Alaska Peninsula, currently has a year round population of 28 people, while Atka boasts a population of 58 residents.

There is concern in both communities of schools closing if the population gets too small.

At Atka, in the Aleutian chain, APICDA plans expansion of Atka Pride Seafoods, again with the goal of bringing back families to that community. Atka Price, formed in 1994 by APICDA and the Atka Fishermen’s Association, has been operating in the black for about seven to 10 years, Cotter said.

“Every penny has stayed in the company, or has been paid out to local fishermen and plant workers,” he said.

Coastal Management Options Back Before Alaska Legislature

Legislation to re-establish a coastal management program in Alaska is back before the state House in Juneau., with eight House members, from both parties, co-sponsoring the legislation offered by Majority Leader Alan Austerman, R- Kodiak.

Meanwhile it appears that an initiative to establish a coastal management program for Alaska will qualify for a place on this year’s general election ballot.

Should legislators pass substantially similar legislation, the ballot measure could be pre-empted. Co-sponsors of the legislation to date include Representatives Paul Seaton, R-Homer, Peggy Wilson, R-Wrangell, Bob Herron, D-Bethel, Bryce Edgmon, D-Dilingham, Reggie Joule, D-Kotzebue, and Beth Kertulla, D-Juneau.

The old Coastal Management Program ended last summer after the Legislature could not come to agreement on some changes in the existing federally funded program.
Those backing the initiative feel that the state lost its legal authority when the old program ended to have a voice in natural resource extraction issues along Alaska’s 6,640 miles of coastline – issues ranging from mining to off-shore drilling for oil and gas.

In his sponsorship statement, Austerman said that with the initiative, Alaskans have sent a strong message to the Legislature that reestablishment of an Alaska Coastal Austerman said that with HB 325, residents can engage in dialogue to determine if there are elements of the initiative that should be corrected or clarified in order that the program as enacted best meet the needs and intent of Alaskans. With the initiative, he said, there would just be an up-down vote.

Austerman’s House Bill 325 is online at

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Sea Otters Proving Costly to Dive Fisheries

February 2012

An updated report on growing sea otter impacts on commercial fisheries in Southeast Alaska says the overall value loss to sea cucumber, geoduck, red sea urchin and Dungeness crab fisheries since 1995 totaled $28.3 million.

State fisheries biologists and a private research firm estimate that the sea cucumber fishery lost 3.2 million pounds with an estimated ex-vessel value of $5.3 million and wholesale value of $8.95 million from 1996 through 2011.

The geoduck fishery lost 530,500 pounds with an estimated ex-vessel value of $3.2 million and estimated wholesale value of $4.2 million from 2005-2011, and the red sea urchin fishery lost 3.1 million pounds worth an estimated $1 million ex-vessel and nearly $4 million wholesale, from 1995 through 2005. The Dungeness crab fishery meanwhile lost 2.7 million pounds, with an estimated ex-vessel value of $3.3 million and wholesale value of $5.3 million from 2000 thru 2010.

The McDowell Group, in Juneau, prepared the report for the Southeast Alaska Regional Dive Fisheries Association.

The McDowell Group found that commercial harvest closures have resulted in measurable economic impacts on the seafood sector and on communities in Southeast Alaska, including lost employment, wages, tax revenue and related economic activity.

The association contracted with McDowell group to quantify and explain these impacts in 2005. Since that report was completed, otter populations have continued to grow, further impacting dive fisheries and crab fisheries.

The updated report, completed in late 2011, uses current Alaska Department of Fish and Game data and sea otter research to update the impacts of sea otter predation on Southeast Alaska fisheries and communities, the report said.

Researchers at McDowell Group found that the wholesale value loss due to the impact of sea otter predation on the red sea cucumber, geoduck clam, red sea urchin, and Dungeness crab fisheries was $22.4 million from 1995 through 2011, with the multiplier impact on the regional economy being an additional $5.8 million.

Dive fisheries and Dungeness crab fisheries in Southeast Alaska had a first wholesale value of $25 million in 2010, employing roughly 625 fishermen as well as processing workers and tender operators, the report said. The secondary economic activity resulting from these fisheries is estimated to be $6.5 million or equivalent to 59 full-time jobs.

Since 1995, the report said, the sea cucumber fishery has lost an estimated 3.3 million pounds worth $9 million in wholesale value and $5.3 million in ex-vessel terms, due to sea otter predation. Sea otter impacts were found to be particularly harmful in 2011, with a loss of an estimated 235,000 pounds worth $2.23 million in wholesale value. The average commercial diver harvesting sea cucumbers in 2011 lost an estimated $7,000 in ex-vessel value. Since 1992, ADF&G has closed seven areas either specifically due to sea otter predation or presumably due to sea otter predation, the report said.

Since 2005, the geoduck clam fishery has lost an estimated 530,500 pounds worth $4.2 million in wholesale terms, and $3.2 million ex-vessel terms, due to sea otter predation. Impacts were particularly costly in 2011, with an estimated 140,900 pounds with a wholesale value of $2 million lost due to predation. The average commercial diver harvesting geoducks in 2011 lost an estimated $30,00 in ex-vessel value, the report said.

While no geoduck harvest areas have been closed due to sea otter predation, ADF&G has identified 27 fishery areas with evidence of sea otter predation, the report said. About 70 percent of the commercial geoduck harvest comes from these 27 fishery areas, where surveys note large craters and shell fragments left over from sea otter predation.

Red sea urchin harvests have declined substantially since 2006. Industry sources indicate only one or two divers harvested urchins in 2011, with only one active buyer. Sea otter predation impacts since 2005 have not been compiled, due to the decline of the fishery and the confidential nature of most data associated with it. The decline of the red sea urchin fishery in recent years is market related and not due to sea otter predation, the report notes. Prior to 2006, an estimated 3.1 million pounds of sea urchin harvest with a wholesale value of $4 million was lost due to sea otter predation.

Despite a declining commercial fishery, sea otter predation continues to negatively impact stocks. The 2011/12 red sea urchin guideline harvest level is 3.28 million pounds, down 40 percent from the 2008/2009 guideline harvest level of 5.44 million pounds.

Sea otters also eat Dungeness crab.

The three-year average harvest from districts with significant sea otter presence was 975,000 pounds less in 2008 through 2010 than from 2000-2002, a decline of 38 percent, the report said.

In comparison, districts with less sea otter presence saw average harvests increase 151,000 pounds for the same two periods, an increase of 7 percent.

Researchers said the Southeast Alaska Dungeness crab fishery has lost an estimated 2.7 million pounds of commercial harvest worth $3.3 million in ex-vessel value and $5.3 million in wholesale value since 2000.

Sea otters were removed from their natural range in Southeast Alaska due to intense pressure from fur traders in the 18th and 19th centuries. Prior to that time, sea otter populations in the entire North Pacific Rim, from Japan to Alaska to Baja California, ranged from 200,000 to 300,000 animals.

In 1911, the North Pacific Fur Seal Convention was passed to protect sea otter populations in the United States, Russia and Japan from further intensive exploitation.

From 1965 to 1969, a total of 402 sea otters from the Aleutian Islands and Prince William Sound were reintroduced to Southeast Alaska. That population remained low until 1987, when it began a period of rapid growth.

The most recent population survey, conducted in 2002 and 2003, estimated the Southeast sea otter population at 8,949 animals. The report also quotes results of aerial surveys done in 2010 that estimate Southeast Alaska sea otter populations to be growing at a rate of 12 percent annually.

The complete report is online at

Fisheries Technologists Discuss Byproducts, Freeze-Dry Potential

A researcher with the University of Alaska’s Seafood Science and Technology facilities at Kodiak says great progress is being made in utilization of Alaska fish processing byproducts, and that there is profit to be made too.

Peter Bechtel, who is also affiliated with the US Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service at Kodiak, addressed the subject this week before the 63rd annual meeting of Pacific Fisheries Technologists at Anchorage. Bechtel said current fish byproduct uses include human supplements, ingredients for human food, ingredients for human food, industrial use, pet food, aquaculture, pig and chicken feed, and fertilizers and fuels.

Once the fillets are taken, the remaining fish skins, frames and heads all have specific uses, ranging from gelatin as a binding agent to omega-3 oil extraction. There are also markets for fish livers, fish stomachs, and milt (the male reproductive tissue), he said.

The value of fish processing byproducts has increased because of price increases for fishmeal and fish oil over the past decade, he said. There is currently a lot of interest in extracting more of the oil from byproducts including salmon heads and white fish livers, good sources of oils rich in long chain omega-3 fatty acids and other components, Bechtel said.

Bechtel was one of more than a dozen presenters at the meeting, several of them from the Kodiak campus.

Alexandra Oliveira discussed at length research on development of a shelf stable, flavored freeze-dried pink salmon for use in a variety of products ranging from military meals read to eat to nutritional snacks for athletes involved in extreme sports, as well as the general public.

Oliveira, an associate professor on the Kodiak campus, said researchers are still working on developing recipes and shelf life studies., and that there is work yet to do on cost assessment, to know how much it costs to produce a kilogram of the freeze dried salmon.

The meeting began Feb. 12 and concludes today. Next year’s annual meeting is scheduled for Mazatlan, Mexico.

Processor With a Mission Wins Top Prize in Alaska Symphony of Seafood

Top honors in the 2012 Alaska Symphony of Seafood went to a fish processor on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula whose winning entry of Alaska salmon bacon was born of a desire to help a grandchild suffering from food allergies.

Fred West of Tustumena Smokehouse in Soldotna was overcome with emotion when he learned on Feb. 11 that Kylee’s Alaska salmon bacon placed first in the smoke fish competition, and also earned him the grand prize. West said he developed the product because Kylee suffered an allergic reaction to beef, chicken and pork containing growth hormones and steroids. His product is made of all natural ingredients, no preservatives, is gluten free and contains no MSG or nitrates.

Other first place winners include Sweet Potato Crunch Alaska Pollock Sticks by American Pride Seafoods in the food service category, and AquaCuisine Naturally Smoked Salmon Frank by AquaCuisine in the retail category.

Tracy’s Alaskan King Crab Bisque, from Tracy’s Crab Shack in Juneau, won the People’s Choice awards in both Seattle and Anchorage.

First place winners from each category and the grand prize winner all receive booth space at the International Boston Seafood Show in March, as well as round trip airfare.

Since 1993, the Alaska Symphony of Seafood has celebrated creative and innovative ideas in the seafood industry, bringing together a host of new products before a panel of judges and the public.

The competition was created by the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation to promote new product development for seafood harvested in Alaska waters, by encouraging participation and sponsorship from a variety of companies and organizations that together are building the future of the Alaska fishing industry.

The competition annually brings entries from major processors, as well as smaller, independent entrepreneurs.
AFDF was first chartered as a fisheries development corporation in 1978, after passage of the Magnuson Stevens Fisheries

‘Salmon Locator’ Launched to Help Folks Find Copper River Fish

The Copper River/Prince William Sound Marketing Association has officially launched its new “Salmon Locator” for the Internet site Facebook just prior to the International Boston Seafood Show, which takes place March 11-13. The trade launch will be followed by a consumer launch announcing the start of the 2012 season. The object is to direct fans to retailers and restaurants that carry king, sockeye and coho salmon during their respective seasons.

Retailers carrying Copper River salmon this season can take advantage of the free promotion by adding their locations to the app at, or they or can contact directly to be included in the app.

By logging on to shoppers can find salmon by simply inputting their city, address or zip code or tag it if they want to share the name and address of a store or restaurant that carries Copper River salmon with other salmon lovers.

In addition to helping shoppers find their way, the app will also help the region’s fishermen connect with where their product is being sold. Additionally, a group of food bloggers in 15 key markets will be helping to find and tag Copper River Salmon in their cities.

Wild Alaska king, sockeye and coho salmon from the Copper River has become almost a brand name in its own right thanks to extensive advertising promotions over the years.

In cooperation with Alaska Airlines, which flies a great deal of the freshly harvested salmon to Seattle each spring, a popular media event is planned to celebrate the arrival in Seattle of the first load of wild salmon from the Copper River.

One major processor said customers also place their orders in advance each year for first run Copper River kings and sockeyes. Copper River salmon is available fresh from May through September and available frozen throughout the year.

Freezer-Longliner Hailed as One of the Largest, Most Eco-Friendly Ever

Alaskan Leader Fisheries LLC is hailing a large new freezer-longliner due for delivery in April 2013 as one of the largest, most eco-friendly commercial fishing vessels in the nation.

Alaskan Leader Fisheries and J.M. Martinac Shipbuilding Corp. of Tacoma, Wash. announced the contract on Feb. 14..

The Fishing Vessel Northern Leader will be a 184-foot by 42-foot by nearly 19-foot freezer-longliner designed for service in longline fisheries of the North Pacific, Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands.

Its crews will target Alaska cod, sablefish and other groundfish species, with a capacity of more than 38,000 cubic feet of refrigerated fish hold and estimated capacity of 1.8 million pounds of frozen seafood.

Alaskan Leader Fisheries is one of the largest Alaskan longline companies with four freezer-longliners, a seafood marketing company, a vessel management firm and a marine equipment fabricating enterprise. Alaskan Leader Fisheries was established in Kodiak in 1990 by seven Alaskan fishing families. Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp. in Dillingham and the original founding families today have an equal ownership interest in the company.

When the Northern Leader is completed in the spring of 2013 it will be home ported in Kodiak with the primary port of operation being Dutch Harbor.

Robin Samuelsen, chairman of Alaskan Leader Fisheries and chairman and chief executive officer of Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp., said the ship will be one of the most technologically advanced an innovative commercial fishing vessels ever built. “Our ship design will combine an extremely ecosystem friendly fishing system, onboard processing capacities featuring complete utilization of the vessel’s targeted catches, and propulsion and generator systems that will substantially reduce fuel usage,” he said.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

NOAA, Partners Complete Epic Southeast Alaska Coastal Mapping Project

Fishermen’s News Alaska Bureau

People around the world can now get an eagle’s-eye view, without leaving home, of the entire Southeast Alaska coastline from Dixon Entrance to Yakutat, thanks to completion of a project known as the ShoreZone Partnership.

The project involved mapping some 19,000 miles of coastal habitat; a milestone equivalent to surveying the entire Pacific coastline of Washington, Oregon and California, twice, officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Jan. 11.

NOAA and other members of the ShoreZone Partnership were to do a presentation on the recently completed seven-year project January 19 at the 2012 Alaska Marine Science Symposium in Anchorage.

The habitat mapping effort followed ShoreZone protocols that have been applied throughout British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and the remainder of the Gulf of Alaska. The 30,000 km of Southeast Alaska data has been added to the larger statewide ShoreZone dataset.

The project also marks the first time Southeast Alaska’s entire coast has been mapped at the lowest tides of each year.

“One of the amazing aspects of this project is that the entire shoreline is imaged at low tide, which took a lot of planning,” said John Harper, project manager for Coastal & Ocean Resources, a partner and the primary contractor for the project. “Only some of the images on Google Earth have been collected at low tide. So this is the first time we are able to see the entire intertidal zone.”

The Alexander Archipelago, or Alaska’s panhandle, is known for its myriad of well over 1,000 islands and represents almost 40 percent of Alaska’s coastline. Imagery was collected during 20 separate summer surveys since 2004. The Alaska data and imagery – including more than one million video captures and 178,000 high-resolution photographs – are all available online at NOAA Fisheries’ Alaska Regional Office website:

One of the most exciting aspects of the project is the wide range of ways the images and information can be used, said Jon Kurland, assistant regional administrator for Habitat Conservation for NOAA Fisheries Alaska Regional Office.

“The Alaska ShoreZone data is available on our website in a format that’s easy for the public to use” said Kurland. “It’s a great resource for regulatory agencies, land owners, developers, oil spill responders, and others to help identify important coastal habitat features and even sensitive habitats such as salt marsh or eelgrass.”

The main ShoreZone website where imagery and data can be viewed online is at

Fuglvog Fined, Sentenced for Federal Fisheries Violations

Commercial fisheries veteran Arne Fuglvog, who rose to prominence on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council and as an aide to Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, has been fined and sentenced to prison for violation of federal fisheries regulations.

Under the initial plea agreement, he could have been sentenced to up to 10 months in prison for the misdemeanor offense, but federal attorney Aunnie Steward and Fuglvog’s attorney, Jeff Feldman, asked the court for the five-month term, since Fuglvog is aiding prosecutors in another case.

US District Court Judge H. Russel Holland listened intently in an Anchorage courtroom on Feb. 7 as Fuglvog, at times almost tearfully, apologized to the court for falsifying 2005 records about how much sablefish he caught and where he caught it.

Holland then sentenced Fuglvog to five months in federal prison, ordered him to pay a $50,000 fine, and to give the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation $100,000 for use in improving fish habitat in the coastal areas of the Gulf of Alaska.

Holland noted that Fuglvog had no prior criminal record and was unlikely to ever again be involved in commercial fisheries or their regulation. The very serious offense, Holland said, was not so much for the monetary gain or to the fishery resource, but more to the public confidence in the integrity of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, of which Fuglvog was a member when some of the violations occurred. There is damage to public confidence when public officials don’t abide by the law, Holland said.

The Lacey Act provision that Fuglvog admitted violating prohibits knowingly submitting a report that falsely identifies the statistical areas in which the holder of an individual fishing quota caught sablefish. Fuglvog admitted in his plea agreement that between 2001 and 2006 he had IFQ permits authorizing him to fish for sablefish and halibut in the Gulf of Alaska and that he owned and operated a fishing vessel for that purpose. On a number of occasions in different years, he caught fish in one statistical area but submitted reports that he knew asserted falsely that the fish had been caught in a different statistical area, the sentencing memorandum noted.

After he left the federal council in 2006, Fuglvog took a job in Washington D.C. as a fisheries aide to Murkowski. While working in the senator’s office he was also considered as a top candidate to head the National Marine Fisheries Service, but Fuglvog withdrew his candidacy for the post now filled by Eric Schwaab.

NPFMC Decision Limits Sources for Crab Economic Data Reporting

Federal fisheries manager have made a final decision on collection of crab fishery economic data reports, one that leaves out use of crew contracts and settlement sheets as part of the data.

The decision reached by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council at its February meeting in Seattle to approve a modified version of alternative 3 for EDR data collection came after extensive testimony.

Those opposed to use of crew contracts and settlement sheets expressed concern for possible accidental disclosure of personal crew information, and the cost and time involved in collecting these forms of data.

Among them was Mark Gleason, executive director of the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, who said his group wanted to limit data collection to that which can be reported by the industry and can be done at a reasonable cost. Gleason expressed particular concern over what he said would be the tremendous cost and possibility of errors and accidental disclosure of personal information if crew contracts and settlement sheets were used.

Shawn Doctermann, a veteran fisherman from Kodiak and head of the Crewmen’s Association, said he had 170 signatures of crewmembers who supported using information on crew contracts and settlement sheets. “You can call any of them and ask them if they would like to see their contracts and settlement sheets collected,” he said.

The council’s scientific and statistical committee noted in its recommendations to the council that the crab rationalization program initiated by congressional action and elaborated by the council was expressly framed as a social contract between the public and those private individuals and entities that were recipients of substantial economic value, embodied in tradable individual fishing quota and individual processor quota access guarantees.

“That social contract was founded partly on exchanging privately held access privileges for detailed proprietary economic data with which to understand the changes caused by rationalization (i.e. quasi-rents, shares markets, crew compensation, community stability and welfare effects, wealth consolidation, behavioral changes in fishing and processing practices and behaviors, net welfare changes to the nation).

“The alternatives under consideration by the council seem to represent a retreat from the balance struck in this contract,” the SSC said.

Pebble Releases Environmental Baseline Document

A massive new environmental baseline document unveiled by backers of the Pebble mine is billed by mine proponents as information characterizing the physical, biological and social environments of the Bristol Bay and Cook Inlet regions.

Initial reaction to the release from commercial and sport fishing interests, as well as an environmental group based in Dillingham, Alaska, has been one of skepticism.

The document, online at, is some 27,000 pages, nearly 2 gigabytes long, too large, the Pebble Limited Partnership acknowledges, to be made available as a single download. Instead, it is suggested visiting the individual chapters to download PDFs of the 53 individual chapters.

Copies of a DVD of the document are available upon request from the Pebble Limited Partnership, which was also handing them out at Forum on the Environment in Anchorage during the second week of February.

Bob Waldrop, executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association; Kimberly Williams, executive director of Nunamta Aulukestai (Caretakers of the Land), and Tim Bristol, director of Trout Unlimited Alaska, issued a statement Feb. 3 saying that the data release from the Pebble Partnership has done little to help foster a “more factual” debate on the mine, as proponents of the mine have been calling for in a television advertising campaign.

“The known facts of this proposed project remain the same: It is a giant and diffuse sulfide ore body in a seismically active zone beneath the salmon-rich headwaters of the Nushagak and Kvichak drainages,” they said. “Any project to develop the ore body at Pebble puts the Bristol Bay Basin’s aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, as well as the region’s world class salmon fishery, at risk.”

Waldrop, Williams and Bristol noted that the information presented in the document had already been presented to a number of agencies and government officials in Anchorage at meetings to which the general public was not invited. Instead they were limited to access through an online webcast until, after objections were raised, one representative from each Bristol Bay tribe was allowed to attend.

Seafood Profits Will Aid 17 Communities in Western Alaska

Seventeen western Alaska villages within the region of the Norton Sound Economic Development Corp. will share in nearly $1 million in funds whose distribution was announced by the community development quota group in early February.

NSEDC officials said the projects funded range from new safety equipment for whalers at Savoonga to renovation of a teen center at Shaktoolik.

NSEDC has provided grants to regional entities since the mid-1990s and has formally operated its outside entity funding program for nearly a decade, providing grant funds to municipal governments, federally recognized tribal governments, non-profit organizations, and local, state and federal agencies located in NSEDC member communities. The program is currently under the jurisdiction of the Western Alaska Community Development Quota program and a coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

On Feb. 6 the NSEDC board announced approval of $647,342 toward projects requested by 17 entities in its member communities. An additional $100,000 was divided between two regional projects and $213,126 was approved for two fisheries-related projects.

On the regional level, the CDQ organization funded proposals of $75,000 for the Nome Volunteer Fire Department for firefighting equipment that will be stored in flight-ready packs, and $25,000 for an elder assistance project in Unalakleet.

NSEWDC is one of six private non-profit corporations established by the state of Alaska in 1992 to promote fisheries related economic development in western Alaska. The program is a federal fisheries program that involves a total of 65 communities who are members of one of the CDQ groups. The program allocates a portion of the Bering Sea and Aleutian Island harvest amounts of Pollock, halibut, Pacific cod, crab and bycatch species to the CDQ groups.

Vigor Industrial to Acquire Alaska Ship & Drydock

Alaska Ship and Drydock Inc. (ASD) and Vigor Industrial yesterday jointly announced their intent to make ASD a Vigor company.

ASD will transition its business and assets to Vigor pending approval of the transfer of ownership by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA), the owner of the Ketchikan Shipyard where ASD is based. The private companies hope to finalize their agreement on or before March 1st.

ASD would operate the Ketchikan Shipyard (KSY) as the Alaska Ship & Drydock LLC subsidiary, in continuation of its thirty year AIDEA operating agreements.

“The purchase of ASD by Vigor will increase the capacity and competitiveness of the Ketchikan Shipyard in many ways, positioning Ketchikan and the State of Alaska to not only continue our high level of service to existing customers, but to significantly participate in exciting new markets emerging in the North Pacific and Arctic Oceans,” said ASD owner Randy Johnson, a Ketchikan resident who has directed operations at KSY since 1994.

Vigor Industrial currently owns and operates several maritime services in the Pacific Northwest at facilities from Portland through Puget Sound.

The combined companies would offer a full range of ship building, repair and modernization services in seven facilities in Alaska, Washington and Oregon with ten drydocks, more than 17,000 feet of pier space as well as large-scale fabrication facilities, specialty coatings and other industrial services. Upon approval, the companies will employ close to 2,000 workers across the Pacific Northwest.

Adam Beck, currently general manager of the Vigor Marine subsidiary’s regional operations, will take on added duties as ASD’s President. Beck worked at the Ketchikan yard for five years prior to joining Vigor Industrial in Portland.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Groundfish Quota Plan Marks First Anniversary with Mixed Reviews – More Changes Loom Through 2013

By Terry Dillman

February 2012

A long-debated groundfish management system that officially weighed anchor last January remains controversial as everyone involved tries to adjust to new relationships and managers continue to tinker with and tweak procedures.

The Northwest Regional Office of NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service inaugurated what’s known as a catch share or quota system for groundfish trawlers who harvest off the coasts of Oregon, Washington and California on Jan. 11, 2011. The overall aim, according to NOAA officials, is to “increase individual fishermen’s accountability, fully harvest the quota the trawl fishermen are granted, increase the economic and biological stability in the fishery, and sustain fishing jobs and fishing communities.”

Managers say the fishery – which includes popular species like sole, and Pacific whiting – is worth as much as $40 million per year, and the quota system is designed to stabilize it, making it safer and more efficient.

The catch share program divvies up the total allowable catch into specific allocations – or shares – for fishermen, cooperatives, communities, processors, and others. They can only fish until they reach their assigned limit. Shares are typically allocated based on historical participation levels in the fishery. The fishermen can decide how to catch their allotment when weather, markets, and their individual business conditions are most favorable. New regulations established formal allocations for limited entry trawl participants, along with procedures for initial permit issuance, endorsements, and quota shares.

With the system’s first anniversary in the hold, reviews – while decidedly mixed – are steering toward guardedly optimistic.

Things are “going pretty good,” said Sara Skamser, who runs Foulweather Trawl in Newport, Oregon. “We’re crazy busy here.”

Skamser is a seasoned trawl manufacturer, developing and marketing “excluders” (including a key one to keep halibut out of trawl nets) and other gear designed to help fishermen avoid catching non-target, over-fished or endangered species. As such, she has direct contact with fishermen from Alaska to California almost daily, and is keenly aware of how catch shares have impacted the fishery, from small boats to large trawlers, as well as supporting marine-related businesses.

Some fishermen, she noted, stayed out of the fishery this season, afraid of the implications and taking a wait-and-see stance. Others took the plunge.

“They had to face facts, and those who stayed were pretty happy,” said Skamser, noting that many were able to deliver more pounds of fish at a better price. “It’s doing what it’s designed to do in terms of conservation and environmental impact. It made the guys fish cleaner. It’s really clean fishing.”

Advocates like David Jincks of Newport, a commercial trawler and member of the Port of Newport’s board of commissioners, say the system is working, making the West Coast trawl fishery “the most accountable” in the nation. They say fishermen are earning more for their catches; are working together, replacing the usually fierce competition with communication and collaboration; and experimenting with new gear innovations and modifications designed to reduce or eliminate bycatch of unwanted species.

By providing guaranteed individual shares and ending the rush to sea to catch fish before a competitor does, he said fishermen can take their time and “fish smarter.”

There are some drawbacks.

Skamser referred to the “mountains of paperwork” required for involvement in the program, and the glitches related to managing all that paper. The system also put fishermen with lease permits – mostly smaller vessels – out of business, as many observers expected. Participating fishermen are also required to share the costs of having observers on all fishing trips, along with an overhanging “buy-back fee” that collects five percent of the value of fish deliveries.

Members of the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC), fishermen, federal and state government leaders and others are watching closely as the process unfolds.

During its June 2011 session, the council established the ad hoc Cost Recovery Committee (CRC) to provide recommendations on ways to recover at least some of the costs. The Magnuson Stevens Act requires a regional fishery management council to develop a catch recovery program for fisheries managed under a quota system, paid for by the fishing industry up to a limit of three percent of the value of the fishery. In the end, fishermen say the three percent value would amount to far higher than three percent of the profit from the fishery, and the CRC is in place to help shape a fair and equitable cost recovery program.

Jincks, who heads up the Midwater Trawlers Cooperative (MTC) in Newport, is the committee’s shoreside whiting representative, and had referred to the fishery having turned into “a derby nightmare” long before management agencies began steering a course toward developing the quota system. He and others say the former fishery management system of trip limits, area closures and gear restrictions designed to protect and restore fish populations wasn’t working.

The quotas, they note, are needed to revive fisheries and to protect and restore fishing communities and jobs, noting that catch shares decrease costs and boost fishermen’s revenue through greater efficiency, yields and dockside prices.

Now they need to figure out how to pay the piper and work out other glitches. Skamser said the fishery is moving from a doom-and-gloom, end-of-the-fishery attitude and moving forward, despite ongoing trepidation on the part of many who remain skeptical of the system and others who simply outright give it two fins down. “There will probably be a lot fewer boats,” she said.

Advocates say the remaining vessels and operators will be much more viable.

Getting Here From There
NOAA Fisheries Service mailed applications to more than 270 trawl fishermen and processors along the West Coast near the end of 2010, requesting their participation in what many consider the most vital course change in West Coast trawl fisheries management in a generation of fishing. Those application forms were a critical step for any fisherman who wanted access to a specified share of the valuable bottomfish trawl harvest.

NOAA officials endorsed the system, which amended the Pacific Coast Groundfish Management Plan that governs trawl groundfish harvests off the coasts of Oregon, Washington and California. They said the proposed system would for the first time ever “make a major shift in how certain West Coast fish harvests are managed” - a change that could benefit both fish and fishermen, and lead to “economic efficiencies that are difficult to obtain under traditional management schemes.”

They also said the system had gained the support of the trawl industry after undergoing a controversial process initiated by PFMC in 2003.

Sustainable fisheries are considered an “essential component” of national ocean policy, and a new NOAA policy adopted in 2009 supports catch shares as a way to manage fisheries at sustainable levels, and boost their economic performance. According to the agency, well-designed catch share programs “help rebuild fisheries and sustain fishermen, communities, and vibrant working waterfronts, including the cultural and resource access traditions that have been a part of this country since its founding.”

Will Stelle, NOAA Fisheries Service northwest regional administrator, said the program “can benefit both fish and fishermen,” and “lead to economic efficiencies that are difficult to obtain under traditional management, while sustaining healthy fish stocks.” He has noted that traditional methods create a situation of “too many vessels going after too few fish.”

Share and Share Alike?
By whatever name – trawl rationalization, catch share or quota – the system replaces the conventional practice of setting a fleet-wide quota of fish and setting the fishermen loose to compete with each other and catch as much of the quota as possible before the fishery closes. Catch share programs divvy up the total allowable catch into specific allocations - or shares - for fishermen, cooperatives, communities, processors, and others, who can only fish until they reach their assigned limit.

Advocates deem it a more equitable way to allocate the harvest, dividing each season’s total allowable catch or quota into shares controlled by individual fishermen or processors. Environmental groups say catch shares reduce waste and accidental catch of protected species.

NOAA’s top administrator Jane Lubchenco, who hails from Oregon, is making catch shares a vital piece of NOAA’s fishing policy. A NOAA task force is busy looking at other fisheries for potential conversion to individual catch shares.

Opponents still say quotas could decimate the fishery, calling it de facto privatization of a public resource, and another regulatory burden in an already over-regulated industry. More than a few fishermen feel they are caught in a situation over which they have no control. Some estimate that about 40 to 60 percent of the drag fleet will eventually disappear, leaving ports in an economic lurch. Many said the catch share plan would affect all fishermen. Those who voluntarily or involuntarily drop out of the groundfish fishery, but want to continue fishing, would cast their lot with other lucrative fisheries, such as pink shrimp and Dungeness crabs, intensifying competition in those already tight markets.

Fishery managers are determined to move forward. Much work remains.

The PFMC continued to focus on a variety of “trailing actions” during its November 2011 meeting. The council will continue to look at the issues, aiming to take action during the March and April 2012 meetings, and put council recommendations in place by Jan. 1, 2013. Other issues, among them reduction of observer costs, must wait until 2014.

Perhaps the biggest looming change of all is allowing permit holders to sell their permits, beginning in 2013. Opponents say it will bring the death knell for smaller trawlers no longer able to compete under the quota system.

Terry Dillman can be reached at

IPHC Sets 2012 Quotas

The International Pacific Halibut Commission wrapped up its 88th annual meeting in Anchorage on Jan 28, with recommendations for combined Canadian-US catch limits in 2012 of 33,540,000 pounds, down 18.3 percent from 41,070,000 pounds in 2011.

The cut was no surprise to those in attendance, who expressed growing concern over the declining resource. The IPHC itself expressed concern over continued declining catch rates in several areas and took aggressive steps to reduce harvests.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which is meeting today through Feb. 7 in Seattle, has set aside eight hours for an initial review of a fishery management plan amendment to set Gulf of Alaska halibut prohibited species catch limits.

A number of halibut fishermen also would like to see the council place full observer coverage on groundfish vessels harvesting in the Gulf of Alaska for what they feel would produce a more accurate count of halibut caught incidentally to that fishery.

In its revised gulf halibut PSC plan issued late last year, the council noted that current gulf groundfish harvest specifications annually establish a 2,000 mt halibut PSC limit for trawl gear and a 300 mt halibut prohibited species bycatch for hook and line gear.

Jeff Stephan, who is the manager of United Fishermen’s Marketing Association in Kodiak, said an assortment of factors impact the productivity of the halibut, but that the cumulative and additive impacts of more than 25 years of underestimating halibut bycatch and not understanding or factoring the extent of such bycatch on the health of the resource for many years likely has had a significant impact on parameters of resource distribution, health and productivity.

Stephan said the structure of the current federal observer program has not provided an accurate portrayal of bycatch removals and that it is not yet reasonably clear that the revised observer program structure will meet the necessary objectives for estimating halibut bycatch.

Former council member Linda Behnken, president of the Halibut Coalition in Sitka, said her organization is “deeply concerned about the financial impacts of this quota reduction on small family owned businesses throughout Alaska. “The quota reductions are painful, but commercial fishermen will respect the limits that have been set,” she said. We expect the guided sport industry to do the same. Everyone has to share in conserving and rebuilding the resource.”

Southeast Alaska Crab Fisheries Begin Feb. 16

Southeast Alaska harvesters are gearing up for the start of the golden king and tanner crab fisheries, which open concurrently at noon on Feb. 16. The guideline harvest level for the golden king crab fishery is 625,000 pounds. Adam Messmer of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game notes that the quotas are set on a three-year basis and this is the third year for that quota allowance.

For the golden king crab fishery, vessels are limited to 100 pots; for the tanner crab fishery, 80 pots. Vessels fishing for both harvests are limited to 10 pots.

The registration deadline for both fisheries was Jan. 17 and there is a $45 late fee for registration after that date. Last year a total of 35 vessels were registered for the golden king crab fishery, which is about average, Messmer said.

In some areas with smaller quotas the golden king crab fishery can run through November, but in 2011, harvesters were done by the beginning of June, thanks to high prices. Pay at the docks started at about $6 a pound and soared to about $9.70 a pound.

The tanner crab fishery is set up differently, based on whether there is a 2.3 million pound mature male abundance, and will be open this February. Messmer said that the average price for tanner crab last year was $2.85, compared to $1.63 in 2010, and $1.78 in 2009. Last year harvesters fished in the core areas for a total of seven days and in non-core areas for 12 days.

Final Action on Crab Economic Data Reports

Final action on Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands crab economic data reports revisions is scheduled this week during the North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s meeting at the Renaissance Hotel in Seattle. In advance of the meeting, council staff prepared a regulatory impact review and initial regulatory flexibility analysis, which is online at

Staff note in their report that, as part of the crab rationalization program which went into effect in 2005, the council developed an economic data collection program to provide information to analysts to assess effects of the program and future amendments to the program.

The nine crab fisheries managed under the rationalization program include Bristol Bay red king crab, Bering sea Chionocetes opilio, Eastern Bering Sea bairdi, Western Bering Sea bairdi, Pribilof red and blue king crab, St. Matthew island blue king crab, Western Aleutian Islands red king crab, Eastern Aleutian islands golden king crab, and Western Aleutian Islands golden king crab.

Based on reviews of the data, it has been established that certain data elements collected are not accurately or consistently reported across respondents, preventing their use for some intended purposes, and other elements are wholly or partially redundant with other data collection, staff said. The council therefore initiated action to review data collection.

The review and analysis discusses several alternatives, including status quo, for catcher vessels, shore plant and floating processors and catcher processors.

Pebble Mine Bill Before Alaska Legislature

The second session of the 27th Alaska Legislature now underway has before it several measures dealing with fisheries related issues, including Senate Bill 152, to require legislative approval for operation of a large scale metallic sulfide mining in Southwest Alaska.

The measure by Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage, does not name the Pebble Mine. It states simply that the legislators would have to approve operation of such a mine that could aversely affect the waters of the Bristol Bay Fisheries Reserve. The measure is specific that it would not apply to existing mining operations in Alaska or mines that do not affect the waters of Bristol Bay. The bill has been referred to the Senate Community and Regional Affairs Committee chaired by Sen. Donny Olson, D- Golovin.

House Bill 184, sponsored by Rep. Peggy Wilson, R-Wrangell, and Rep. Steve Thompson, R-Fairbanks, would amend state statutes to allow 75 percent of the fisheries business tax paid by fish processors to go to communities, up millions of dollars from the current 50 percent.

State officials have projected revenue from this tax for 2012 is about $60 million, up from about $44 million in 2010. This means that communities would get some $45 million, including about $15 million that would have otherwise gone into the state’s general fund.

House Bill 261, sponsored by Rep. Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, and aimed at increasing participation of Alaskans in commercial fisheries, has moved from House Fisheries to House Finance since its introduction in January, but was not yet scheduled for a hearing. The measure has the backing of the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp. and Bristol Bay Native Corp. The Alaska Commercial Fisheries and Agriculture Bank has voiced concerns about the effectiveness of the measure.

Follow the progress of these and other bills through the current session at

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