Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Southeast Alaska Gillnetters Struggling with 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.

He realizes observers are just trying to do their job, but 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, King said.

“We haven’t come out with a position for or against it, but there are a lot of things I would like to see changed,” said Kathy Hansen, executive director of the Southeast Alaska Fishermen’s Alliance. 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.

Random drawings that determine who will be observed is one item Hansen would like to see changed. “I would rather see them grid out the district and observe whatever boats are in the area, because then you get coverage over the whole district,” she said.

Bridget Mansfield, the NOAA coordinator of the marine mammal observe program, based in Juneau, said there are good reasons for this observer program, contracted to Saltwater Inc., in Anchorage, and that the contractor has done a good job.

Commercial harvesters have to realize “that this is a public resource, and our charge is to protect not only the fisheries, but what else is there, including marine mammals,” she said.
“We don’t want to overly burden the fishermen,” she said. “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.”

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

In an effort to iron out some of these issues, Mansfield was 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.

“The gillnetters move around a lot so the same people could be observed over and over again,” Gemmell said.

King, who grew up in Fairbanks, spent 47 years in the state before getting tired of the cold and moving south, he said. He now fishes in Southeast Alaska from May to September on his 40-foot boat. Of the 475 permit holders in the Southeast Alaska gillnet fleet, only 105 of them live in the Lower 48, he said.

King, for one, said when he was being observed he did not go to a place where he normally fishes. “I don’t want them knowing that I’m doing,” said King, who wants to assure that word doesn’t get out about his best harvesting spots.

“I can understand what they are trying to do; the science is laudable,” said King. “Getting into my back pocket is not. Every fisherman I know is a conservationist.

“Whatever is good for the fish, we’re all for, he says. “They want to know if there are a bunch of knotheads running around running over seals and whales.

“We are not chasing whales like the tour boat industry does. Interaction is pretty rare. National Marine Fisheries Service’s main concern is whales and sea lions, and the population is growing every year. They are adept are coming to the net and taking a bite out of the fish and moving on to the next one. They (NMFS) don’t ask how many fish I lost to the sea lions. I think about 20 fish, predominantly chums, and that is where we make our money. That is what we target. And when the kings are running, that is all we’re going to catch,” he said.

King is also concerned about the forms fishermen being observed are required to fill out, asking if they have observed a whale or a bird or other wildlife in their nets, and also what color the net is, how much the lead line weighs and how many corks are in the net.

“If I have an interaction with a whale, I don’t have a problem with them knowing, but where I fish and what equipment I use, I don’t want them knowing,” he said.

According to Mansfield, there is a reason for requesting that information on the forms, which are being used nationwide under the observation program.

Because certain gear types in certain places do take marine mammals, NMFS wants certain information on the gear, including color, to see if there is a connection between gear types and color and incidents with marine mammals, she said.

“We are not thinking there is any huge problem going on in this fishery, she said.

So far reports show that for areas 6 and 8 there was one incident involving a Dall’s porpoise that was released unharmed, a couple of incidents where humpback whales interacted with nets, and a handful of seabirds taken, mostly dead.

As long as these incidents do not affect the population of the marine mammals or seabirds involved in a negative way, the incidents do not become population concerns, she said.

Mansfield also said that the issue of data confidentiality had come up during meetings of her agency with fishermen. “We take data confidentiality very seriously,” she said. “By statute, by presidential administrative order, by law we have to keep this information confidential and our contractors do too.

“Everyone working with the contractor for the observer program is required to sign a non-disclosure form, and there are serious consequences when it is breached.
“To my knowledge, this has not happened,” she said.

Public Comment Sought on Genetically Modified Salmon

The federal Food and Drug Administration is seeking public comment on the agency’s draft environmental assessment on genetically engineered Atlantic salmon.

The Federal Register notice was set for publication today on the agency’s preliminary finding of no significant impact (FONSI) regarding the AquaAdvantage salmon, a fast-growing fish engineered for human consumption.

United Fishermen of Alaska issued an alert on the FONSI report this past week, urging those in the commercial fishing industry to let the FDA know what their feelings are about the “FDA present of Frankenfish under your Christmas tree.”

The public has 60 days after publication in the Federal Register to submit comments electronically or by mail.

Instructions for electronic submissions are at Written comments should be addressed to the Division of Dockets Management (HFA-305), Food and Drug Administration, 5630 Fishers Lane, rm. 1061, Rockville, MD 20852. Comments should refer to the docket number, Docket No. FDA-2011-N-0899.

For further information contact Eric Silberhorn, Center for veterinary medicine (HFV-162), Food and Drug Administration, 7500 Standish Pl., Rockville, MD 20855; 1-240-276-8247, or email

Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, said the notion that Frankenfish is safe for the public and the oceans is a joke. “I will fight tooth and nail with my Alaska colleagues to make sure consumers have a clear choice when it comes to wild and sustainable versus lab-grown science projects,” the senator said. “People want to know they are eating natural, healthy, wild salmon,” Begich said. The FDA’s assessment imperils both families and fishermen, he said.

Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, issued a statement earlier this week saying he would continue to fight with Alaska’s two senators to ensure that this product never hits the market. “I’ve said from the beginning that Frankenfish pose a grave threat to Alaska’s wild salmon stocks,” said Young, who called the FDA decision of no significant impact “foolish and disturbing.”

Young said he plans to reintroduce legislation that will at a bare minimum require genetically engineered salmon to be labeled to ensure that the public knows what they are purchasing at the grocery store and feeding to their families.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said she is concerned with the FDA’s decision to move forward with approval of the genetically modified fish. The agency is ignoring opposition from fishing groups, as well as more than 300 environmental, consumer and health organizations, she said.

Changes Noted in Restructured Groundfish, Halibut Observer Program

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has issued a reminder of the Jan. 1 start date for the new fisheries observer program for Alaska’s federal commercial groundfish and halibut fisheries. 

The new observer program will change how observers are deployed, how observer coverage is funded and the pool of vessels and processors that must have some or all of their operations observed. State officials say the changes will increase the statistical reliability o data collected by the program, address cost inequality among fishery participants, and expand observer coverage to previously unobserved fisheries.

The program primarily affects those vessels that have been determined to need partial coverage, meaning they are not required to carry an observer during all fishing trips. Operations in the partial coverage category will be randomly selected for observer coverage when fishing for halibut or when directed fishing for groundfish in the federally managed or state parallel groundfish fisheries with a federal fisheries permit. Regulations for this program us the common definition for “parallel groundfish fishery” as a fishery occurring in state waters that are open at the same time as federal groundfish fisheries in federal waters, and groundfish catch is deducted from the federal total allowable catch.

Observer coverage in the partial coverage category will be funded through revenue generated from an exvessel value-based fee. That fee is 1.25 percent of the exvessel value of the groundfish and halibut subject to the fee, based on standardized prices that will be published in the Federal Register, and is intended to be split evenly between the vessel owner/operator and processor or registered buyer. Landings subject to the observer fee include fish harvested in the exclusive economic zone and in state waters where the catch is subtracted from the federal total allowable catch and the vessel is carrying a federal fisheries permit.

More information on the restructured program is at

Citizen Initiative on Bristol Bay Area Mining May Be On Ballot in 2014

State officials in Alaska have given the go-ahead for gathering signatures to put the Bristol Bay Forever citizen initiative on the statewide ballot in 2014. The initiative would require legislative approval for large-scale mines in the Bristol Bay fisheries Reserve.

Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell this past week certified the proposed ballot measure, clearing the way for backers to gather at least 30,169 signatures on petition booklets being prepared by the state Division of Elections. The law calls for the booklets to be signed by enough qualified voters to equal 10 percent of those who voted in the preceding general election, and are residents in at least three-fourths of the House districts in the state.

Sponsors have a year from the time they receive the booklets to get all those signatures gathered.

The Pebble Limited Partnership, which has spent millions of dollars on the project already, issued a statement saying the initiative is “an unconstitutional and ill-conceived proposal.” The PLP opposes “introducing an additional layer of bureaucracy that adds cost, uncertainty and risk that will deter potential investors in Alaska who depend on a stable, predictable process when investing hundreds of millions of dollars in our state.”

Anders Gustafson, executive director of the Renewable Resources Coalition in Anchorage, which is firmly opposed to development of the massive mine in the Bristol Bay watershed, said he is encouraged by Treadwell’s action, and feels Alaskans can make the initiative work because enough people are now educated about Bristol Bay.

Meanwhile the US environmental Protection Agency is still working to complete its draft Bristol Bay watershed assessment, with no deadline on completion announced.

And the Alaska Legislature sill has the opportunity to pass legislation that would require legislative approval for large-scale mines in the Bristol Bay Fisheries Reserve, which would make the initiative then unnecessary.

Cantwell Calls Coast Guard Bill a Step Forward for Washington State Economy

The Coast Guard reauthorization bill signed into law this past week includes three amendments written by Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-WA, to protect the nation’s icebreaking capability, improve tsunami debris cleanup and study the risk of Canadian tar sands supertanker traffic in Washington state waters.

Cantwell praised the legislation as a major step forward in protecting Washington State’s coastal economy and some 165,000 jobs that depend on it.

Among her amendments is one to create a plan and direct the marine debris interagency task force to coordinate cleanup of tsunami debris, if the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration director finds the level of debris to be a “severe marine debris event.” The NOAA administrator must make this designation within 30 days of the signing of that law.

Cantwell’s amendments will also require the Coast Guard to conduct a study within 180 days to analyze oil spill risks from additional Canadian tar sands oil supertanker, taker and barge traffic in the Salish Sea, which includes the Puget Sound, strait of Juan de Fuca, Strait of Georgia, Haro and Rosario Straits.

Another amendment co-sponsored by Cantwell prohibits the Coast guard from acting on plans to decommission the Seattle-based icebreaker Polar Sea unless the Coast Guard conducts a study showing that scrapping the vessel is the most cost-effective option, and provides a plan to meet national needs for additional icebreakers. Cantwell’s language also ensures that the nation’s remaining icebreakers will remain homeported in Seattle at least through 2022.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Today's Catch: Who Benefits?

By Chris Philips, Managing Editor

Cui bono? That’s Latin, for “who benefits?” The responsibility for an act can usually be determined by asking who stands to gain as a result of the act.

At press time, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission had voted to ban the commercial gillnet fishery on the main stem of the Columbia River in early December, and the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission was scheduled to vote on the same issue on December 15th.

While ostensibly done in the name of “conservation,” what’s the actual motivation behind Governor Kitzhaber’s misguided notion to take the wild Columbia River salmon resource away from the public and hand it to a small group of sport fishermen? Sport fishermen keep one fish for every three or four they catch, but one man’s “catch and release” is another man’s “selective harvest.” A recent Alaska Department of Fish and Game study of caught and released king salmon in the Kenai River found that small males suffer the highest mortality rate of up to 17.6 percent, while large males suffer the lowest, up to 9.7%. In other words, catch-and-release kills small kings at twice the rate as large kings, and the large trophy fish a Columbia River angler will keep actually stands a much better chance than the smaller fish he catches and tosses back. These smaller fish are the same ones that are too small to be caught in a commercial gillnet, giving them a fighting chance of growing up to become a larger, commercially viable fish. This demonstrates any argument by the State of Oregon that the new ban is ecologically sound to be specious at best.

Washington State’s proposal also calls for the phase out, over a three-year period, of commercial gillnets from the mainstem of the Columbia River. The alternative proposed by the two-state solution is for the current commercial fleet to change gear types from gillnets to purse seines.

This proposal boggles the mind.

The nets alone will be a big investment: count on between $17,500 and $20,000 to have the new nets made, and expect to spend several thousand dollars on a powerblock and the upgraded hydraulic system to run it.

Converting a Columbia River gillnetter to a seiner is virtually impossible, says local shipyard owner and fisherman Bill Gardner, whose experience includes more than 40 seasons of commercial fishing, as well as 40 off seasons of building and repairing fishing vessels, including hundreds of gillnetters and seiners. He says the closest comparison to this might be found in the Prince William Sound Gillnet/seine combination boats.

“The very smallest boats of this fleet are much bigger and really entirely different boats from the Columbia River gillnetters,” he says, noting that a seine boat of any size requires considerably more reserve buoyancy and stability than is generally found in a typical Columbia River boat. “I do not believe any marine surveyor worth his salt nor any Coast Guard safety inspector would approve of this sort of experiment leaving port.”

That opinion is confirmed by John E. Long, Jr. of North Star Insurance Services, who says that a roll test or stability report would be required in order to insure a converted vessel, and “our underwriters undoubtedly would not go for this due to the size of the vessel compared to the weight of the nets.”

Over the years consumers have been gradually educated on the benefits of wild vs. farmed salmon. If the drive to eliminate gillnets continues, only farmed fish will be available in stores – the wild fish will only be available to those with the time, equipment and disposable income to fish recreationally. Cui bono?

Demand Up For Holiday Sale of Alaska Seafood

Purveyors of fine Alaska seafood are offering an increased variety of gifts of all sizes this holiday season and orders for some are coming in by the caseload.

Moderately priced gift baskets, which may include an assortment of gourmet smoked salmon, cookbooks, cheese and crackers, are doing well, but the biggest demand appears to be for the seafood itself – salmon, halibut, cod, scallops, and red and golden king crab.

Jim Trujillo of Ed’s Kasilof Seafoods on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula, says the demand caught him by surprise in what he thought would be a down year for the company, but instead phone lines are lit up. And actually, said Trujillo, customers are placing orders a little larger than they did last year for sockeye and king salmon, both in fillets and headed and gutted. With halibut prices going up, Trujillo said, more people are switching from halibut to cod, and also ordering clams and scallops.

A bonus for Trujillo’s customers is he includes recipes provided through the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, which offers an online database of all kinds of seafood recipes at

For those who love Alaska seafood but have questions on how to prepare it to serve, Copper River Seafoods has introduced online an array of bagged and boxed gourmet dishes, with simple instructions on how to bake, grill, pan sear or microwave the flash frozen packaged portions of skinless, boneless salmon, halibut and cod. Copper River Seafoods has added red king and golden king crab to its product line this year. The company also offers gift packages of smoked sockeye salmon, jars and cans of sockeye, silver and king salmon. Company spokeswoman Robin Richardson said some customers from Alaska and all over the continental United States are ordering by the caseload.

10th and M Seafoods, a perennial favorite for Alaskan shoppers, also is seeing a big demand for everything from red and brown king crab to scallops, salmon and halibut, plus its own gourmet jarred varieties of smoked king, red and silver salmon.

The orders are all over the board, but mostly boxes of seafood, and the demand for shipping next week will be crazy, said 10th and M’s Rob Winfree.

Another Anchorage provider, FishEx Quality Seafoods, also reports high demand, particularly for king crab, with hundreds of orders going out daily.

Kodiak Tanner Crab Gifts Support Small Boat Fleet

Just in time for the holidays, the Alaska Marine Conservation Council is once again offering residents of the Anchorage area, Homer and Kodiak its “Catch of the Season” Kodiak tanner crab gift packages. Customers can pre-purchase boxes of the crab and pick them up after the crab has been "sustainably harvested" by local fishermen.

AMCC is a community-based non-profit organization dedicated to sustaining the health of Alaska’s fisheries on behalf of fish harvesters and coastal residents who rely on them. This is the third year AMCC has carried out the Kodiak tanner crab program, and the first year Homer will be included in the list of locations for pickup of crab boxes. All proceeds from the program benefit AMCC’s efforts in Kodiak and participating fishermen get a higher price for their catch than they otherwise would.

Theresa Peterson, Kodiak outreach coordinator for AMCC, said the tanner crab fishery is extremely important to the diverse fishing portfolio of Kodiak’s small boat fishermen. AMCC has worked closely with Kodiak fishermen for nearly a decade on protection of local tanner crab stocks.

Peterson herself is an active harvester whose family depends on access to fisheries for crab, salmon, cod and halibut to make a living.

The program offers 10 and 25 pound boxes of tanner crab, which include a “story of your catch” guide to share with family and friends, telling the who, what, when, where and how of the catch, along with what AMCC is doing to protect the fishery for generations to come. More information is online at

Entries Welcome for 20th Annual Alaska Symphony of Seafood

The Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation has announced deadlines for entries to and gala soirees for the 20th anniversary Alaska Symphony of Seafood new products contest, with events in February in Seattle and Anchorage.

The call for products applications are now available online at The deadline for entering the competition is Jan. 16. Considered products must be market ready (in commercial production) by the date of the competition. The Seattle reception is planned for Feb. 13, and contest winners will be announced at the Anchorage gala soiree on Feb. 23.

Overall grand prize, first, second and third place winners in the retail, food service and smoked products categories are kept confidential until Feb. 23.

Judges will be reviewing and tasting entries in Seattle, where chefs, manufacturers, buyers, sellers and media invited to the event will also get to vote on the “Seattle People’s Choice Award,” to be announced there. Guests at the Anchorage event will also get to vote, for the “Anchorage People’s Choice Award.”

First place winners in each category get complimentary booth space at the International Boston Seafood Show in March, plus free airfare to the event.

AFDF executive director Jim Browning says that over the years more than 350 new products have been featured at Alaska Symphony of Seafood events, and that winning products have accounted for millions of dollars in seafood sales.

Grand prize winners are often major seafood producers. The big surprise in the 2012 competition was the Tustumena Smokehouse on the Kenai Peninsula with “Kylee’s Alaskan Salmon Bacon. Also tops in their categories were Tracy’s Alaskan King Crab Bisque by Tracy’s King Crab Shack, Sweet Potato Crunch Alaska Pollock Sticks by American Pride Seafoods, and Aqua Cuisine’s Naturally Smoked Salmon Franks by Aqua Cuisine Inc. AFDF officials said all were a hit at the International Boston Seafood Show.

USCG Reauthorization Legislation Has Crucial Provisions for Fishermen

The US Coast Guard reauthorization legislation – HR 2838 – which passed the US House and Senate earlier in December, contains several crucial provisions for commercial fishermen. They are outlined in the Aleutians East Borough’s online “Fish News,” which is online at

HR 2838 continues the existing moratorium on vessel discharge permits for another year, through December 2014. This means all sizes of commercial fishing vessels and commercial use vessels under 79 feet will not be mandated to have a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit until December 2014.

The reauthorization legislation now requires that all commercial fishing vessels have dockside examinations by Oct. 15, 2015, and at least once every five years thereafter. That compares with the current provision requiring all vessels be examined by October 2012, and at least once every two years thereafter.

The legislation eliminates a requirement that the safety training course results for those operating beyond three miles be made available on a publically accessible database. It also changes the date requirement for fishing vessel load line requirements from do not apply “unless the vessel was built after July 1, 2012” to “unless the vessel was built after July 1, 2013.

HR 2838 also changes the date requirement for American Bureau of Shipping-type certification for vessels operating beyond three miles at sea and that are at least 50 feet overall in length from “after July 1, 2012 to “after July 1, 2013.”

The legislation includes major provisions that prevent the Coast Guard from scrapping the heavy icebreaker Polar Sea until it completes an analysis of costs for extending the service life of the vessel and requires the Polar Sea to be returned to active duty if it makes business sense.

And the legislation authorizes the Coast Guard to study the feasibility and potential of establishing a deep-water seaport in the Arctic to protect US interests within the Arctic region.

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