Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Bristol Bay 2013 Sockeye Salmon Run Forecast Drops to 26 Million Fish

State fisheries biologists are predicting that Bristol Bay’s famed wild sockeye salmon fishery will have a run of some 26 million reds in 2013, with a harvest of 16.59 million fish. That’s down from the 2012 forecast of a run of 32 million reds and a harvest forecast of 21.76 million fish.

The prediction is 33 percent lower than the previous 10-year mean of total runs of 37.61 million fish, with a range of 24.1 million to 46.60 million. By district, that would mean 10.61 million reds to the Naknek-Kvichak district, 6.02 million to Egegik District, 3.53 million to the Ugashik District, 5.25 million fish to the Nushagak District, and 0.59 million to Togiak District.

Norm Van Vactor, general manager for Leader Creek Seafoods, said he was personally expecting a downturn, so it’s not much of a shock. “Processors are eternally optimistic and the last thing you want to do is underestimate production,” said Van Vactor. “You still gear up for processing 24 hours a day.”
Bob Waldrop, director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, said the industry is used to these up and down run cycles. “It’s like the weather,” Waldrop said. “There is very little we can do about it.”

He’s also leery about making price predictions, because there are so many factors to consider. “It’s not just scarcity that drives the price,” he said.

“We are fortunate,” said Waldrop, to have the abundance we have (in Alaska). That’s why we have had 130 years of commercial fishing in Bristol Bay. It predates the gold rush.”

Historically the total runs of sockeye salmon to Bristol Bay have been highly variable. The 2013 forecast of 26.03 million fish is below the long-term historical average of 32.38 million fish from 1963 to 2012, and the more recent historical average of 39.06 million fish from 2003 to 2012. For seven consecutive years, from 2004 to 2010 the total run was close to or exceeded 40 million sockeye salmon.
In 2011 the total run dropped to 21.91 million reds.

Restructured Groundfish, Halibut Observer Program Draws Fire

A final rule to restructure the North Pacific observer program for groundfish and halibut is set for publication in early December, with implementation in January, but many in the commercial fishing industry say they can’t support the program.

At issue is the cost to the industry and a whole lot more.

According to harvesters, processors and conservationists who are seeking help from Alaska’s congressional delegation and Gov. Sean Parnell, the restructured plan would double costs, halve observer days, reduce coverage in high volume fisheries with substantial Chinook and halibut bycatch, and fail to provide a workable monitoring system for small vessels.

The group is asking Parnell and Alaska’s congressional delegation to help hold the National Marine Fisheries Service accountable for addressing industry concerns prior to implementation of the restructured program or at minimum, prior to deployment of observers in the vessel selected pool.

That’s the category applying to catcher vessels fishing with hook-and-line and pot gear that are less than 57.5 feet in overall length, and, for the first year, greater than or equal to 40 feet in overall length.
The group contends that the plan places the largest economic burden on the 1,300 small boats operating out of Alaska’s coastal communities. It also reduces coverage in high volume fisheries with substantial Chinook and halibut bycatch, and doubles the cost of an observer day relative to current levels, and assigns over half of the observed trips to vessels accounting for less than 12 percent of the catch, they said.

The letter is signed by an eclectic bunch, ranging from the Alaska Marine Conservation Council and United Fishermen’s Marketing Association to the Halibut Association of North America, Alaska Trollers Association, Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association and Gulf of Alaska Coastal Communities Coalition.

Southeast Alaska Seiners Struggling With Salmon Observer Program

Commercial harvesters in the Southeast Alaska salmon drift gillnet fishery, mandated for observation under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act, say changes are needed in the program because it’s disrupting their fishery.

“It’s just a colossal waste of money,” said B.J. King, a veteran commercial fisherman from Kent, Washington. “They’re not telling us what they’re really after.

“I was observed twice this year, and it wasn’t a very pleasant experience,” he said.

Having somebody operating a small vessel 10 feet off the back of your boat when you are trying to clean the net off, counting fish and following you to the tender, it’s irritating, he said.

Kathy Hansen, executive director of the Southeast Alaska Fishermen’s Alliance, said her organization hasn’t taken a position for or against the program yet, but there are lots of things she would like to see changed.

One issue, said Hansen, is that other fisheries required to be included in this program are being observed for two years, but the National Marine Fisheries Service is looking at doing Southeast Alaska over a period of six to eight years, because the area is so big and spread out.

Bridget Mansfield, the NOAA coordinator of the marine mammal observe program, based in Juneau, said that NOAA does not want to overly burden the fishermen.

“If this fishery is clean, we are not going to impose any restriction on what they are doing, so we want to have the documentation that says we don’t need to do anything. We really need to find that balance,” she said.

For any fishermen with concerns about the program, Mansfield can be reached at 1-907-586-7642 or at

Mansfield is to meet with representatives of the commercial fleet in Juneau on Dec. 3, in conjunction with a board meeting of the United Southeast Alaska Gillnetters, said Tom Gemmell, executive director of the organization.

“We’re hoping they can reduce it to three years,” Gemmell said. “2012 was the first year for districts 6 and 8.” Plans are to do districts 11 and 15 next for two years and then the Ketchikan area for two years.

Comprehensive Salmon Research Initiative Proposed for Alaska

Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell says he will include in his fiscal year 2014 budget $10 million for the first component of a five-year, $30 million comprehensive Chinook Salmon Research initiative, to increase information on king salmon stocks.

The plan is to develop strategies to enhance viability and increase returns, using improved information from 12 indicator river systems from Southeast Alaska to the Arctic. That $10 million will complement existing funds in the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s operating budget, Parnell said. The department already spends some $14.6 million annually for Chinook salmon-related research and management.

The announcement comes in the wake of a Chinook salmon symposium in Anchorage that attracted more than 400 stakeholders.

The research plan includes adult, juvenile and harvest assessments, plus genetics, biometrics and local and traditional knowledge. Plans call for statewide projects, with research plans to be updated as more data and analyses become available.

A draft research plan was presented and extensively discussed during the two-day Chinook salmon symposium in October. Parnell said the quality of the dialogue between scientists and the public at that meeting was a critical step in developing a robust research plan reflecting the most current scientific knowledge and the priorities of Alaska residents.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Competition Offers Options in Commercial Fishing Gear

By Margaret Bauman

When it comes to choosing rain gear and boots for the commercial fishing season, durability, staying dry and comfort are still deciding factors.

Proven old favorites do attract repeat business, but in the competition for commercial fishing harvesters and processing workers, manufacturers are offering an increasing number of products to choose from, in everything from rain gear and thermal underwear to socks and boots.

And it’s not where they are made so much as how they are made, said one commercial fishing industry veteran, in response to a question of whether there was a demand for made in America products.

Many men and women who work in the processing sector of the commercial fishing industry purchase their gear through the processing firm, which likely buys a large supply of clothing and boots its workers will need directly from a distributor or the manufacturer. Harvesters, on the other hand, are more likely to buy their rain gear, boots, socks, gloves and other clothing needs in the area of the communities where they live, from Anchorage to the Kenai Peninsula to Cordova, Kodiak, Dutch Harbor and myriad other fishing communities in coastal Alaska with gear shops. It’s a matter of convenience as well as a concern for supporting community businesses.

Anchorage gear shop owners, who also sell a considerable amount of fishing gear to sport anglers, differ in their opinions of what sells best, but generally agree that the famed Scandinavian firms of Grundens and Helly Hansen draw the most sales for raingear.

The history of these two companies, as their websites explain, is a fairly colorful one.

Grundens dates back to 1926, when Carl A. Grunden started producing raingear in the small fishing village of Grundsund on the West Coast of Sweden. His goal was to produce the best quality foul weather protection for professional seamen, many of whom were hard working commercial fishermen.
Until the beginning of the 1930s, these garments were made of unbleached canvas.

They were sewn together, dipped into barrels of boiled linseed oil until saturated, and hung up to dry at room temperature for 14 days. Then they were taken down and painted by hand using large brushes with a mixture of boiled linseed oil and special varnishes, followed by another 14 days of drying. This hand painting and drying process was repeated four times per garment.

During this same decade the first rubberized fabrics were introduced and professional seamen found them more durable and comfortable than oilcloth. The rubberized fabric also allowed for faster production times.

By the 1950s, PVC-coated fabrics were introduced. While PVC coatings have changed and improved over the years, they are still a leading choice for raingear for commercial fishermen.

While over the last few years some new lighter weight, breathable fabric has been introduced, including a lighter weight PVC coated nylon fabric, many veteran fishermen say they still prefer the durability of the traditional heavier PVC coated fabric, which is less likely to rip or tear.

The Helly Hansen heritage dates back to 1877, when after many years at sea, Norwegian captain Helly Juell Hansen and his wife, Maren Margarethe, began producing oilskin jackets, trousers, sou’westers and tarpaulins, made from coarse linen soaked in linseed oil.

Within the first five years, the Hansens sold some 10,000 pieces. In 1878, the company won a diploma for excellence at the Paris Expo, and began exporting its products. In the 20th century, Helly Hansen made several breakthroughs in product development to complete the layering principle today known as the 3-layer system.

Helly Hansen’s layering story was completed in the 1970s with the development of LIFA. “This wonder-fiber, used in LIFA, kept the skin dry and warm by pushing moisture away from the body, making it the ideal baselayer fabric for outdoor and workwear use,” the company said. “The latest generation of LIFA is still used in our baselayers today.”

In 1980, the Helly Tech technology was born, using both hydrophilic and microporous technology, to make apparel that was both waterproof and breathable.

Durable socks and boots are also critical to commercial fish harvesters and fish processing workers, and opinions vary on who buys what and what works best.

There is general agreement that smart wool, from Merino sheep in New Zealand, is the best sock. At an average starting price of $16 a pair, shop owners differ on just how many commercial fishermen are willing to invest that much in a single pair of socks, but according to salesman Chris Depoe of the Army Navy store in downtown Anchorage, they are a very hot item.

Preference in boots is always a matter of debate, with XtraTufs traditionally being the most popular, with Bogs Boots also making headway in popularity.

There has been a great deal of discussion of late on the quality of XtraTuf boots, also affectionately known as Alaska sneakers. Until this year, they were made in the USA by Norcross safety Products LLC, which was acquired by Honeywell in 2008. Then production switched to China, and word on the street, some commercial fishing industry veterans say, is that the quality has drastically decreased. The issue, said one fisherman, is not where they are made but how they are made.

Both Depoe and Lute Cunningham, general manager at B & J Commercial Co., also in Anchorage, said that while they had had some production problems with XtraTuf boots, these issues have been resolved, and that sales are strong.

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