Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Today's Catch: Lame Ducks and Anglers

Chris Philips
Managing Editor

In a presumed bid to curry favor with sport fishermen, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber has asked the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission to ban commercial gillnets on the main stem of the Columbia River (see reader’s comments on pages 10 and 11 of the print version of the October 2012 Fishermen's News).

Despite the many concerns about the Kitzhaber plan among Washington State Columbia River gillnetters, the plan is moving ahead. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has agreed to consider it, as has the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission, and a panel of commissioners from both states met in late September and will meet in Salem on October 22 to discuss implementation of the plan.

We asked several Washington State lawmakers, both Democrat and Republican, to comment on the plan’s closing of the valuable resource to family wage- earners who harvest a sustainable product and live and work in Washington State. Among those approached were two candidates for Governor: Democrat Jay Inslee and Republican Rob McKenna, as well as Washington’s current Governor, Christine Gregoire.

Gregoire’s office issued a statement noting that Washington State is not bound by any policy changes set by Gov. Kitzhaber, but “the Governor is watching this situation closely and remains in close contact with the director of Washington’s Department of Fish and Wildlife.”

When pressed for an answer to the question of Governor Gregoire’s position on closing the main stem of the lower Columbia River to Commercial gill nets, the response was that her office is still “collecting facts and learning more about the proposal.”

Although the Governor’s answer didn’t actually contain anything of substance, at least her office paid lip service to her constituents along the Columbia. The two Candidates for Governor of the State of Washington, current Attorney General Rob McKenna and retired Congressman Jay Inslee, had nothing to say to their potential constituents, preferring instead to let lame duck Governor Gregoire and Oregon Governor Kitzhaber determine the future of the families and businesses that rely on the Columbia River commercial fishery.

One politician who is not afraid to make his feelings known is Wahkiakum County commissioner Dan Cothren, who spoke passionately against the Kitzhaber plan at a recent hearing in Olympia.

At the meeting, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Regional Director Guy Norman described Washington State’s implementation of the Kitzhaber plan, the adoption of which, by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission, is scheduled for December. Apparently, the Governor’s office is unaware that the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission is in favor of, and moving forward with, the Kitzhaber plan. Commissioner Cothren noted that upon implementation of the plan, families would move away, property values would plummet and the small vibrant communities in Wahkiakum County would be little better than ghost towns. He told the commission that they were “not looking at the long-term effect on the small communities” in his district.

Neither, apparently, are the two prospective candidates for Governor, neither of which has responded at press time to the concerns of the Columbia River fishermen.

Perhaps Commissioner Cothren should run for Governor.

While the implementation is set for December, the General Election is in November. If you live in Washington State and would like to contact your future governor, Rob McKenna’s campaign can be reached at 425-449-8244 and Jay Inslee’s campaign can be reached at 206-452-1943.

Canned, Roe Salmon Prices Strong; Effect of Farmed Fish on Wild Sales Still Unknown

As Alaska’s commercial salmon harvesting season draws to a close, markets are strong for salmon roe and canned product, while the jury is still out on how farmed fish competition will affect sales of wild salmon.

Chum salmon roe are commanding the highest prices, but roe is also important for pink and sockeye salmon, and that’s good news, says University of Alaska Anchorage fisheries economist Gunnar Knapp.

In contrast, Knapp said in an interview Sept. 25, Japanese markets for frozen sockeye salmon in particular are weak, but not as weak as processors feared they might be before the season. Several processors responded to this concern by canning as much salmon as possible, so they would not have to sell into Japan at lower prices. That also lowered the available volume of frozen sockeye, which helped make the price of frozen sockeye higher than some feared it would be.

As to domestic and European markets for fresh and frozen fillets of wild Alaska salmon, there are no conclusions yet on how competition from low-priced farmed Alaska salmon is affecting sales.

In the final week of Alaska Department of Fish and Game preliminary Alaska commercial salmon catch reports the harvest stood at 123,465,000 salmon of all species, including nearly 66 million pink, more than 35 million sockeye, 18.9 million chum, 2.8 million coho and 296,000 Chinook salmon.

That’s about 93 percent of the forecast, so it’s within the range of normal variation, says Geron Bruce, assistant director of the Alaska Division of Commercial Fisheries. While there were shortfalls across the board, the chum harvest came in very close to the forecast of 19 million fish. Of the 38.3 million red salmon harvest forecast, harvesters caught 35.4 million fish, and of the pink forecast of 70.1 million humpies, harvesters netted 65.9 million fish.

Overall the 2012 preliminary harvest figures show the bounty this year ranked 27th highest of the last 53 years, so while it is a lower harvest than Alaska has seen in a while, it was nothing catastrophically low, except for the Chinook harvest, he said.

CDQs Very Much At Odds Over Allocation Issues

Controversy over whether Congress should revisit allocations for the multi-million dollar Alaska community development quota program has been brewing for months, with all six CDQs remaining firm in their stand.

Coastal Village Region Fund, which represents 20 communities along the Kuskokwim River coast, is vowing to continue to seek a larger allocation, on grounds that CVRF has more people, a higher rate of unemployment, a higher rate of poverty, a greater number of distressed communities and lower average income than other CDQ villages.

In its 2011 annual report, which was released in September, CVRF says that over $10 million annually is going to other CDQ groups at the expense of CVRF residents.

“All the CDQ groups have acknowledged in the past that the allocations are flawed,” said CVRF executive director Morgen Crow, in a statement issued recently. “It is time to have the strength to correct the mistakes of the past.

Crow’s arguments are finding no sympathy, however, among the other five CDQs, and certainly not with Clem Tillion, the former Alaska fisheries czar who was instrumental in putting the program together under the administration of the late Gov. Walter J. Hickel.

Tillion says the Hickel administration made it plain that the CDQ program would be based on what percentage of each CDQ’s population would actually go to sea and fish the fishery. “I wanted the people of the Bering Sea to own the Bering Sea and not just own it and hire people, but own it and put people on the boats to fish it,” Tillion said. “For the population of the Bering Sea, the only hope for employment is to actually fish, so I’m interested in how many of them are on boats.”

A lot of these CDQs are making major investments now and if allocation percentage start moving 10 -20 percent, some of them could end up in bankruptcy, said Robin Samuelsen, chairman and chief executive officer of Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp., that region’s CDQ.

“It’s natural for human beings to always want more, but it is important to temper that hunger with recognition of what you have, what you need and what is fair,” said Larry Cotter, chief executive officer of the Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association. While CVRF has the right to feel the way they want to feel, Cotter said. “I don’t feel it is based on an attitude that recognizes that all of us need to share.”

Tsunami Marine Debris Cleanup Faces Financial Challenges

Most of the debris making landfall on the shores of North America from the devastating March 2011 tsunami that hit northern Japan is expected to hit the shores of Alaska, with heaviest concentrations from Yakutat to Fore point, in the Gulf of Alaska. But Southeast and other areas will also see a considerable amount, according to calculations of the Marine Conservation Alliance Foundation in Juneau.

MCAF, which has been conducting marine debris cleanups in Alaska since 2003, said its research shows that the majority of the debris is expected to land within four years of the tsunami, but that Alaska may receive additional debris as it is released from ocean gyres.

“based on our experience conducting cleanups around the state, it will take a lot of people, equipment and money to remove the tsunami debris,” says Dave Gaudet, MCAF’s marine debris program coordinator.

The missing component, says Gaudet, is money.

To date, Congress has granted $250,000 for this project, of which $50,000 is allocated for Alaska. The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation has been seeking requests for proposals to use those funds for cleaning up Prince William Sound. The Japanese government has also offered, subject to the Diet of Japan, up to $6 million to help finance the cleanup.

In some other parts of the United States, marine debris cleanup projects have enlisted a number of volunteers, but in Alaska, that’s not a practical idea, Gaudet said, because just transporting people out to these areas and providing living accommodations will be very expensive.

MCAF is looking into the use of Styrofoam compactors to deal with massive amounts of Styrofoam, from Styrofoam floats coming up and breaking apart on Alaska’s shores. That Styrofoam is a really big concern, he said.

A lot of the debris, once collected will go out of state, to big commercial landfills, maybe in eastern Washington, he said.

Meanwhile, efforts to get funding for the cleanup continue.

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