Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Today's Catch: This Just In

In December of last year, as a gift to the recreational fishing industry, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife commission voted to ban commercial gillnets on the mainstem of the Columbia River. The following month, the Washington State Fish and Wildlife Commission followed suit.

Last month a judge in Oregon ordered the state to stop the implementation of that state’s gillnet ban after two commercial fishermen filed a petition asking the court to invalidate the plan. In Washington a group of gillnet fishermen has filed a petition with Washington’s Superior Court to review that state’s ban and “seek the court’s determination that the regulation is invalid.” The petition states that the Washington commission exceeded its authority by adopting the rules because it conflicts with the commission’s mandate to “maintain a stable fishing industry in the state.”

Every January the US Department of Commerce publishes a report on fisheries economics of the United States. The most recent report, which uses two-year-old data to allow for data collection, analysis and peer review, offers some statistics on the commercial and recreational fisheries along the Pacific Coast. The data is in stark contrast to the reports promoted by the state of Washington that have been discredited as incomplete by none other than the Director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife himself.

If the state would like accurate data, here are some of the numbers tabulated by the Federal Government:

Washington had the highest landings revenue in the region with $331 million in 2011, followed by California ($201 million) and Oregon ($148 million).

In 2011, the Pacific Region’s seafood industry generated $8 billion in sales impacts in Washington, while the state’s recreational fisheries (which have declined by 28 percent since 2002) contributed $514 million.

The report also notes that the seafood sales and processing in Washington brought annual receipts of $18 million, while seafood product preparation and packaging employed almost 8,000 full- and part-time workers with an annual payroll of $344 million.

Statewide, commercial fisheries employed more than 67,000 people and brought more than $8 billion in sales revenue and almost $3.3 billion in added value, while the recreational fishery employed fewer than 5,000 people and saw sales and added value combined of less than $800 million, or roughly seven percent of the value of the commercial fishery.

At press time, Miranda Wecker, Gary Douvia and Chuck Perry continue to serve on the Washington State Fish and Wildlife Commission, although their terms expired more than three months ago. Because of the three impending vacancies on the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission, the commercial fishing industry has an opportunity to finally have a voice on the commission. Bruce Botka, in the office of Community Outreach and Public Affairs for the Department of Fish & Wildlife has offered guidance on applying or nominating others to serve on the Fish and Wildlife Commission:

People who wish to apply personally may do so online through this link on Governor Inslee’s website:

Groups who wish to nominate one or more candidates should email Molly Keenan, who is coordinating the appointment process. Her address is It’s most helpful if such emails contain brief biographical information about each person nominated. Assuming those people are interested in serving, they should follow up by completing the online application.

Mr. Botka assures us that Governor Inslee will appreciate hearing from the industry.

Forecast Points to Good Year for Sitka Sound Sac Roe Herring

Forecasts on the eve of harvest time are pointing toward another very healthy year for the Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery, which in 2012 had a yield of 13,534 tons valued in excess of $8.5 million.

More aerial and vessel surveys were planned for today.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game put the fishery on two-hour notice effective at 11 a.m. on March 25. There was no fishery on March 26, but a vessel survey was conducted, covering areas north of Sitka, and island passes south of Middle Island. State biologists said a very large body of herring was seen west of Bieli Rock along with a number of large schools seen offshore southeast of Inner Point. Scattered schools were also seen in shallower waters in the Crow Pass area, within the smaller islands south of Middle Island, and around the south and west sides of Kasiana Island. No herring or spawn was seen during the aerial survey.

The 48 permit holders were paid $630 a ton, which worked out to $0.315 a pound.

When the fishery begins depends on when the eggs are mature and then the fishery then lasts five to six days, said Dave Gordon, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game area management biologist for the sac roe herring fishery in Sitka.

All of the harvest goes to Japan.

The final guideline harvest level for the 2013 Sitka Sound herring sac roe fishery was set March 18 at 11,549 tons, which was approximately 500 tons greater than the preliminary guidelines harvest level announced back in December.

The adjustment was based on the winter test fishery sample results showing generally larger average weights-at-age this winter, compared to 2012, state fisheries biologists said.

Every year is a little different regarding the start of the season, Gordon said, and notes that the last three years, it’s been more toward the end of March or early April.

Most of the harvest is processed in Sitka by Silver Bay Seafoods, Sitka Sound Seafoods and the Seafood Producers Cooperative.

Progress Report Updated on Raising Kodiak Red King Crab in Hatcheries

Research aimed at boosting stocks of Kodiak red king crab will take a big step forward this fall, with the experimental release of thousands of hatchery-raised juveniles at Cozy Cove near Old Harbor on Kodiak Island. Biologists hope to measure the effects of release density on the growth and survival of juvenile crab in their first year.

Biologists at the Kodiak laboratory of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will monitor the field sites to determine the best density for potential future releases. There will also be trawl surveys to estimate predator abundance and tethering experiments to help determine relative predation risks to the juvenile crab.

Meanwhile, at the Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery in Seward, some 360,000 Kodiak red king crab larvae are stocked in six 1,200 liter tanks.

The larvae are feeding on enriched Artemia and microalgae that biologists say yielded the highest hatchery survival rate in previous years. According to the biologists with the Alaska King Crab Research, Rehabilitation and Biology Program, also known as AKCRRAB, the larvae are now reaching the last larval stage – glaucothoe.

The biologists say this is the first year of a planned multiyear set of experiments designed to develop optimal release strategies for red king crab, and to estimate the economic efficiency of a possible wild release program.

The Alaska King Crab Research, Rehabilitation and Biology program is a research and rehabilitation project sponsored by community groups, industry members, NOAA Fisheries, the Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery, the University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, and the Alaska Sea Grant College Program. Its goal is to enhance depressed king crab populations throughout Alaska.

Partners also include the Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association, the Central Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association, Chugach Regional Resources Commission, Norton Sound Economic Development Corp., and the United Fishermen’s Marketing Association at Kodiak.

Other supporters and sponsors include Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, the Alaska Legislature, Bering Sea Fisheries Research Foundation, the Groundfish Forum, Gulf of Alaska Coastal Communities Coalition, Kenai Peninsula Borough, Kodiak Island Borough, the cities of Kodiak and Seward, the Pribilof Island communities of St. Paul and St. George, Santa Monica Seafoods, and United Fishermen of Alaska.

Resolution Asks Industry to Pay More Toward Oil Spill Prevention, Recovery

The Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council is asking for the oil and shipping industry to invest more in oil spill prevention and recovery efforts nationwide. The advisory council said so March 26 by unanimously approving a resolution in support of amendments to the federal Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund and Oil Pollution Act of 1990.

The next step is to provide copies of the resolution to Alaska’s congressional delegation for their consideration and potential action. Copies of the resolution are also going to Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., the shipping industry serving Alaska, and communities and organizations that comprise the advisory council.

The resolution supports an increase in the per barrel fee on petroleum collected at the refinery that is contributed into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, plus a requirement that all cargo and other commercial ships using domestic ports nationwide contribute to the trust fund. The resolution also supports clarifying and facilitating use of the fund for oil spill prevention measures, and revising oil spill liability limitations in the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 to re-assign liability from the public to those utilizing the waterways of the United States for commerce.

The resolution notes that current funding for oil spill prevention measures nationwide is insufficient, as evidenced by the enormous cost of injury and damages to terrestrial and marine habitats for fish and wildlife, the environment and people from oil spills in Prince William Sound and the rest of the United States.

It notes that the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund is currently collecting eight cents a barrel on oil shipments—less than one percent of the current price of oil.

Marine conservation consultant Rick Steiner proposed the resolution to the RCAC back in December. Steiner, who has consulted with countries worldwide on oil spill issues, was in Cordova working as a marine adviser for the University of Alaska when the Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster occurred.

Steiner said if Congress makes these changes in the federal legislation there will be substantial funding available for what needs to be done to secure Alaska’s seas and coasts from the threat of major oil spills, both from offshore drilling and shipping.

It would be the most significant enhancement in spill prevention and respond funding in US history, and it wouldn’t cost US taxpayers a cent, he said.

Second Sentencing in Trident Embezzlement Case

The second of five people involved in embezzlement of $289,000 from Trident Seafoods in Kodiak has been sentenced in US District Court in Alaska.

Anne Wilson, 31, of Kent, WA, was sentenced to 16 months in prison on March 21 by U.S. District Court Judge Ralph Beistline.

Defendant Jaie Fathke was sentenced to four months in jail in January for her role in embezzling $30,000 from Trident Seafoods.

The US Attorney’s office in Anchorage said that lead defendant Isairis Wolfe used her position as a bookkeeper for Trident Seafoods in Kodiak to write Trident Seafoods checks to four of her personal associates, including Wilson, Fathke, Jeremy Smith and Valerie Olivares, as well as Wilson’s minor son.

According to the US Attorney’s office in Anchorage, between January 2008 and August 2010 Wolfe drafted approximately 52 checks on a Trident Seafoods account for about $500,000, and they all shared in the proceeds.

Wilson then created fraudulent accounting records to make the payments appear to be legitimate.

The lead defendant in the case, Isairis Wolfe, is scheduled for sentencing on May 22, while Olivares and Smith are scheduled for sentencing June 4.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Appeals Court Puts Oregon’s Gill Net Fishing Rules on Hold – For Now

By Terry Dillman

In last November’s election, Oregon voters overwhelmingly rejected Measure 81, which would have banned commercial non-tribal gill net fishing on Oregon’s “inland waters” and allowed the use of seine nets in their stead.

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission (OFWC) overturned the resounding tally of 884,913 votes (66 percent) with just four votes of their own in December. In a controversial 4-2 decision, the commissioners opted to back Gov. John Kitzhaber’s plan to move commercial non-tribal gill-netters off the main stem of the lower Columbia River into off-channel sloughs and bays. Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) officials promised to expand and enhance those areas and stock them with more hatchery fish to offset potentially devastating financial losses for the commercial fishery.

The plan, however, is currently dammed up by the Oregon Court of Appeals, which ordered the state to wait after two leading commercial gillnet fishermen filed a petition asking the court to invalidate Kitzhaber’s plan.

Filed by Eugene-based attorney Ben Miller on behalf of Astoria-based commercial fishermen Jim Wells and Steve Fick of Fishhawk Fisheries, the petition alleges that the OFWC violated several state laws, among them one that requires “optimum commercial and public recreational benefits” of food fish management. The petition notes that the new rules would take fish away from the commercial fisheries to add to the recreational fisheries, and “ultimately banning non-tribal gill nets from the Columbia River main stem for all species of fish, including sturgeon, smelt and shad, as well as salmon.”

Wells, president of Salmon for All –an association of gillnetters, fish buyers, processors and associated businesses founded in 1958, and Fick noted that commercial fisheries harvest fish for the consuming public, giving all Oregonians access to the Columbia River’s resources, and “for many generations,” Oregon gave the fishermen and public “a significant and equitable share” of those resources by allowing gillnetting.

“The ODFW Rules effectively abolish that tradition and cause irreparable economic devastation for these commercial fisheries and the coastal communities dependent on them,” the petition stated. “The ODFW Rules violate controlling Oregon law, and ODFW relied on flawed assumptions and inadequate analysis in its Statement of Fiscal Impact to promulgate them.”

Columbia River area tribes also question ODFW’s assumptions and the new rules’ consistency with court-supervised harvest management agreements in the region.

Fick, Wells and other commercial fishermen say the salmon in the river’s main stem are larger and more valuable than those in off-channel sections. They asked the court to declare the new rules invalid, and other commercial fishermen have vowed to take the challenge to the state legislature.

Noting that the petitioners showed “substantial likelihood” of winning the case and made a “prima facie showing that irreparable harm will result to themselves and others,” the appeals court ordered a stay on ODFW’s enforcement of the commercial gill net fishery modifications on the Columbia River, pending judicial review.

Neither ODFW officials nor anti-gillnetting groups opposed the stay, which remains in effect while the legal petition moves forward.

Outright Ban Versus Gradual Ban
ODFW staffers ventured into the well charted but controversy-infested waters based on Gov. John Kitzhaber’s proposal to reform fisheries management on the lower Columbia River. OFWC members opted to back Kitzhaber last August, focusing on the governor’s proposed solution to the on-going, complex and intense conflicts between commercial and recreational fishermen over salmon allocations in the lower Columbia River, as well as with conservation groups opposed to gillnetting.

Kitzhaber outlined a compromise for ODFW Director Roy Elicker and OFWC Chairwoman Bobby Levy, designed to phase gillnets out of the main stem Columbia rather than ban them immediately as Measure 81 would have done.

“Lower Columbia River recreational and commercial fisheries are vital to the social and economic fabric of our state and local communities, providing valuable jobs and millions of dollars of economic activity,” Kitzhaber noted at the time. He called “optimizing the economic value of these fisheries within a conservation-based framework” one of his priorities.

Thirteen species of salmon and steelhead within the Columbia River Basin are listed under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA), which means all fisheries face significant limits due to low abundance and required survival of ESA-listed fish. Oregon’s long-term plan is the recovery of ESA-listed salmon and steelhead populations to levels that would support what Kitzhaber called “robust fisheries” across the state. Unfortunately, it has resulted in what the governor termed as “perennial and divisive conflicts” between commercial and recreational fisheries over the allocation of harvest impacts, along with the use of gillnets in non-tribal commercial fisheries in the river’s main stem.

Attempts to reconcile those differences have proven almost futile, and many observers said Kitzhaber’s directive – based primarily on a compromise that sport fishermen put forward several years ago – was the governor’s answer to Measure 81’s attempt to ban all commercial gillnets and tangle nets in Oregon’s inland waterways. Under the motto “for salmon, for wildlife, for jobs,” members of Portland-based Stop Gillnets Now (SGN) and others gathered 142,000 signatures to get the initiative, also known as the Protect Our Salmon Act, on the ballot.

The measure’s supporters said it would ban the use of “indiscriminate” gillnets on the Columbia River, yet still allow commercial fishing using “more sustainable practices,” such as purse seines.
They said it would protect the river’s wild salmon and steelhead, keep tribal fishing rights intact, retain the allocations for both commercial and recreational fisheries, and preserve the commercial fishery through required alternatives, such as seine nets and other selective gear that allows for the harvest of hatchery fish and protects endangered wild salmon and steelhead populations.

Kitzhaber’s directive also featured the use of selective gear and fishing techniques “to minimize mortality of ESA-listed and non-target fish and optimize recovery.” The governor made it clear that he believes the use of gillnets in non-tribal main stem fisheries is at odds with that objective. He also said the matter was best resolved by a combined effort by the Oregon and Washington fish and wildlife commissions, not through a ballot measure.
Kitzhaber noted that he wanted “a long-term solution” that “enhances fisheries while minimizing mortality of wild fish to promote fish recovery, honors tribal commitments and optimizes economic benefits.”
“The long-term solution must enhance the economic vitality of both recreational and commercial fisheries, which provide the public with benefits, including recreation, family-wage jobs and businesses, local commerce and export economies, nationally-renowned culinary destinations and the Pacific Northwest’s uniquely high quality of life and culture,” the governor noted. “Proposals that fail to enhance benefits for both recreational and commercial interests in the lower Columbia within a conservation framework are an unacceptable solution, as is the status quo.”

Finding a workable solution has proved daunting in an issue rife with historical conflicts.
Both Oregon and Washington initiated measures to regulate the commercial salmon fishery as early as the 1870s, but conflicting regulations often hampered efforts to properly manage the resource. In 1915, the two states forged the Columbia River Compact. Adopted by the US Congress in 1918, the compact made the states co-managers of all Columbia River fisheries. It and the joint management staff from ODFW and WDFW still provide principal management of those fisheries, in consultation with NOAA Fisheries, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Idaho Fish and Game, the four treaty tribes and the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission. During the ensuing decades, other commercial activities – mining, logging, grazing and irrigation diversions – led to pollution and ever-increasing conflicts with a full-scale commercial salmon fishery.

The river’s salmon fishery now is one of the world’s most highly regulated fisheries, and numerous attempts to reconcile conflicts and resolve the river’s “salmon crisis” via various committees, commissions and councils have fallen short. Oregon and Washington representatives were tantalizingly close to agreeing on new gillnet rules in 2008, but agency officials said the effort failed as the process broke down due to escalating tensions between and objections from commercial and recreational fishery groups.
Efforts were scheduled to resume in 2013, but the success of anti-gillnetting groups in getting Measure 81 on the November 2012 ballot spawned Kitzhaber’s intervention.

Basically, the idea is to phase out commercial gillnets from the river’s main stem during a three-year transition (2013 to 2016) and move them into off-channel areas that would be enhanced to raise more hatchery fish for commercial fishermen, who could only fish in the main channel if they use alternative or selective fishing gear.

A clear transition period, Kitzhaber noted, “is a central part of this solution…to span the time needed for the new investments in off-channel areas to occur and provide returns necessary to the vitality of the commercial fishery.”

Kitzhaber asked the OFWC commissioners to initiate the public rulemaking process to work toward adopting “a solution that achieves the key elements” of his proposal. He also directed them to work with their counterparts in Washington, and to begin the process immediately to complete the needed rulemaking before the end of 2012.

The Oregon commission agreed and followed through in December 2012. Their Washington counterparts did the same in January.

Follow the Money
Because the fishery is regulated jointly by Oregon and Washington, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission (WFWC) voted to phase out gillnet fishing on the Columbia’s main stem by 2017 as part of similar management objectives adopted by Oregon’s commission. The Washington contingent did so, despite a letter from Wells’ and Fick’s attorney Miller asking them to delay a decision “for at least another month” due to the anticipated ruling from the Oregon appeals court.

“I suspect knowing whether the rules will actually take effect in Oregon is something that you would want to consider before voting on such a drastic change to the commercial fishery on the Columbia River,” Miller noted.

Despite the request and heads-up about the legal action, the nine members of WFWC unanimously approved the most extensive changes in Columbia River salmon fisheries in decades. WFWC Chairwoman Miranda Wecker called it a “bold but practical move.” The commissioners said they would review the plan annually, and were open to allowing use of gill nets if alternative selective gear is neither available nor practical for fall chinook and coho. They and others said commercial gillnetters must adapt to changing times.

The Oregon vote was divided, with Chairwoman Bobby Levy and commissioners Bob Webber, Holly Akenson and Michael Finley in favor of it, commissioners Laura Anderson and Gregory Wolley opposed.

The plan, at its most basic, is virtually identical to Oregon’s, with a phase-out of gillnets in the main stem by 2017, moving commercial gillnetters into off-channel sites stocked with more hatchery salmon, allowing commercial fishermen to fish the main channel using “selective gear” such as purse seines or beach seines, and shifts the spring Chinook allocation sharply in favor of recreational anglers. Initially, the ratio was 70 percent to 30 percent, but the Washington commissioners dropped it to 65-35 for the current season.

Until now, the allocation stood at 60-40 in favor of sports fishing. Commercial fishermen like Fick and Wells want a 50-50 split.

It all boils down to money and livelihoods.

Ed Bowles, ODFW fish division director, told the OFWC that the “reasonable objectives” in the Oregon plan “can be met.” WDFW Director Phil Anderson said the key to the effort lies in developing and using alternative selective gear.

At the moment, seine nets are illegal per Oregon law for catching salmon, and commercial fishermen said the cost for making the switch and moving out of the river’s main stem – where salmon are larger and more valuable - could put the fleet out of business.

Washington officials said there is no guarantee of funding becoming available to help with the transition. Kitzhaber earmarked $5.2 million in the 2013-2015 beleaguered biennial state budget – $2 million from general funds, $1.6 million from lottery-backed bonds, and $1.6 million from an endorsement fee paid by Columbia River recreational anglers.

Fick and Wells said the fishery is sustainable as is, and the economic assumptions made by ODFW – especially the assumption that seine netting might be allowed – were flawed.

The wild salmon among the 1.43 million hatchery and wild salmon that enter the river every year provide the determining factor on the where, when and how of salmon fishing, both commercial and recreational. In 2011, the 200 gillnet boats caught 137,000 salmon valued at $4.72 million. Sports anglers reeled in 142,000 fish, but they said their efforts provide a bigger financial boost, and state statistics claim that 350,000 recreational fishing trips on the lower Columbia in 2011 landed an estimated $22 million for the economy as anglers spend money on lodging, food and tackle. 

Commercial fishermen noted that the non-fishing public also has a right to access salmon for food – something they provide to restaurants, fish markets and other outlets that also boost the state’s economy. They said the proposed off-channel sites are too small for the fleet, and adopting new gear and being forced to chase after hatchery fish that might or might not be there is too expensive and ephemeral.
For now, the courts have stopped the phase-out from moving forward, but as of press time, the outcome of the legal process, or how long it might take to move through the court system, remained unknown.   

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