Astoria Fisheries Auction

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Third Employee of Westward Seafoods Sentenced
for Clean Air Act Violations

A former powerhouse operator for Westward Seafoods at Dutch Harbor has been sentenced to three years probation and to pay a $750 fine for tampering with the pollution control monitoring equipment required under the Clean Water Act.

Chief US District Court Judge Ralph R. Beistline sentenced Bryan Beigh on Nov. 25 in Anchorage. Earlier this month, Beistline sentenced Westward’s former assistant chief engineer, James Hampton, to 70 days in prison, and former powerhouse supervisor Raul Morales to 45 days in prison. Both were also ordered to pay a $1,000 fine and serve a one-year term of supervision upon release from prison.

Westward, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Japanese company Maruha-Nichiro Holdings, Inc., processes some 250 million pounds of seafood annually. The facility generates its own electricity with three diesel-fuel generators contained in its powerhouse building. Air emissions from these generators are vented through a single combined smokestack, and these emissions are regulated by a Title V Permit under the Clean Air Act.

Under terms of the permit, Westward was required to install and use pollution control equipment to decrease the amount of nitrogen dioxide being emitted from the powerhouse smokestack. To meet this requirement, Westward installed a Combustion Air Saturation System for each generator unit which uses water to saturate the air and reduce emissions from each generator. The permit also required Westward to operate each generator with dedicated fuel and water flow meter and to record fuel and water consumption.

Beginning in 2009 and continuing until August 2011, Westward failed to operate the CASS pollution control equipment.

In 2010, Westward entered into a civil consent decree with the federal government and agreed to pay a civil penalty following prior allegations that the company had, among other things, violated emissions limits under the Clean Water Act.

The case was invited by the Environmental Protection Agency’s criminal investigation division.

NOAA Draws Criticism Over Revised
Steller Sea Lion Measures

Federal fisheries regulators have published a final rule to implement Steller sea lion protection measures, effective Dec. 26, that will allow for substantial commercial harvests in an area where the Steller sea lion population is in significant decline.

The rule will allow factory trawlers and freezer longliners to harvest more than 30 million pounds of pollock, Pacific cod and Atka mackerel, critical food sources for the Steller sea lions. That decision is drawing criticism from the international ocean advocacy organization Oceana, which says the National Marine Fisheries Service is giving large-scale industrial fishing priority over the health of oceans.

The rule, published on Nov. 24 in the Federal Register, notes that NMFS is responsible for certain threatened and endangered species, including Steller sea lions, and that NMFS has implemented a number of protection measures to protect Steller sea lion prey from potential effects of groundfish fishing. The Steller sea lion protection measures have been revised several times, most recently in 2011.

The rule notes that a 2014 fishery management plan biological opinion that found that changes proposed by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to allow for more fishing while protecting the sea lions, because fishing would be limited within Steller sea lion critical habitat.

The multi-million dollar fishery is important to the economies of several Aleutian communities, as well as the seafood industry. Annual harvests are limited by the total allowable catch levels set each December by the North Pacific council.

Oceanic senior scientist and campaign manager Jon Warrenchuk, in Juneau is critical of NOAA’s decision.

“The new rule reverses course on decades of science, government policy and court decisions,” Warrenchuck said.

“We had hoped that the Fisheries Service would show the leadership needed to find long term and sustainable solutions to management in the Aleutians,” he said.

“Instead of giving protection measures a chance to work, the Fisheries Service has opened the floodgates. This new rule will allow factory trawlers to take millions of fish away from the areas where Steller sea lions need to feed on them the most. “Their decision is inconsistent with decades of scientific analysis,” Warrenchuck said. “By finding the right balance in management, we could foster a healthy ocean that supports sustainable fishing and vibrant communities.” The final rule and related documents are at http://www.alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/.

Today's Catch: Changing of the Guard

By Chris Philips, Managing Editor

Although Alaska Senator Mark Begich had not conceded the election when this issue went to press, the Alaska Division of Elections had announced that Dan Sullivan had defeated Begich by a margin of absentee ballots that was too large to overcome. The Senator’s support, both at home and in Washington DC, of Alaska’s commercial fishing industry and fishing dependent coastal communities, won him the support and praise of his fishing constituents and endorsements by several commercial fishing groups including the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, United Fishermen of Alaska and the Purse Seine Vessel Owners Association.

His popularity among fishermen, who make up as much as a quarter of the state’s population, wasn’t enough to overcome his Senate voting record, which was considered too liberal for the conservative and libertarian majorities in Alaska. We hope Senator-elect Sullivan will recognize, as does Senator Begich, the vital role commercial fisheries play in the state’s success.

Senator Begich was instrumental in the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act and fought against Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing, seafood certification, seafood marketing and fisheries disaster funding. He was also a dependable opponent of genetically modified (GMO) salmon, and as chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Oceans Atmosphere, Fisheries and the Coast Guard, Begich filed an amendment to the 2012 Agriculture Appropriations bill, the Prevention of Escapement of Genetically Altered Salmon in the United States (PEGASUS) Act, that would ban the interstate commerce of GE fish, or ‘Frankenfish.’

Begich’s bill would make it unlawful to “ship, transport, offer for sale, sell, or purchase genetically altered salmon or other marine fish, or a product containing genetically altered salmon or other marine fish, in interstate or foreign commerce,” unless the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the US Fish and Wildlife Service complete a full environmental impact statement and find that it will result in no significant impact to the environment.

Currently, AquaBounty Technologies is in the final stages of the approval process by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) toward selling GE salmon for commercial consumption. The proposed process would splice genetic material from the Chinook (King) salmon with that of a pout fish and Atlantic salmon. According to AquaBounty, the resulting organism would grow to the size of an Alaskan King salmon in a shorter period of time than found in nature.

While the PEGASUS Act makes its way slowly through Congress (currently before the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation), a recent story out of Panama reveals that AquaBounty has been operating in violation of environmental regulations as it experiments with genetically engineered (GE) salmon in that country.

Regulators in Panama found AquaBounty out of compliance with several environmental safety rules and regulations, including failing to secure legally required permits related to water use and water discharge prior to beginning operations. The ruling carries a $9,500 penalty, near the $10,000 maximum penalty allowable.

We’re sure Senator-elect Sullivan recognizes the importance of Alaska’s wild natural renewable resource to both the state and the country, and we hope he’ll take up Senator Begich’s fight for the health of the resource and the support of those who harvest it.

Chris Philips can be reached at: 206-284-8285 or email: editor@fishermensnews.com

Fisheries Stakeholders Offer Priorities
to Alaska’s Incoming Governor

A fisheries transition team for incoming Alaska Gov. Bill Walker has concluded that priorities for the new administration should include science before politics and conservation, plus a move back to localized fisheries.

There is a strong need to return ownership and participation in our fisheries to Alaska’s coastal communities, said Norm Van Vactor, who chaired the transitional fisheries committee. Van Vactor, a fisheries industry veteran, is the chief executive officer of the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp., in Dillingham.

The team of 25 people with commercial, sport, subsistence and science ties to Alaska’s fisheries began their discussions this past weekend “by leaving the allocation issue on the table and working on other stuff we could find resolution to,” Van Vactor said. The session worked well, said Van Vactor and Carol Ann Woody, an aquatic ecologist at the Center for Science in Public Participation of Anchorage, another member of the transition panel. Leaving the allocation issue at the door helped people focus on the larger state issues, Woody said.

The overarching message from the panel included a fish first clear policy, with science based management, and funding within the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for fisheries science. The panel supported reinstating the state’s coastal zone management program with an emphasis on habitat, and de facto water reservation for fish – a guarantee for in-stream flows, with a burden of proof on developers to show that their projects don’t harm fish.

The panel also supported planning of all new roads in a way that they will not restrict fish passage, because, noted Woody, roads can sometimes cause more problems than development projects.

The panel also supports increasing Alaska ownership of commercial fish permits, and increased ownership and meaningful participation by Alaska coastal residents, both by at least10 percent over the next five years. The team also fielded a number of ideas on how to finance these efforts and how to improve educational tools to make more young people aware of myriad opportunities in fisheries.

Recommendations from fisheries and other transition groups were being summarized to present to the Walker Administration, which takes office on Dec. 1.

Low Recruitment Prompts Sitka Sound Sac Roe Herring Cut

A preliminary guideline harvest level for Alaska’s 2015 Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery is down dramatically from the preliminary GHL posted for 2014, with very low numbers of age-3 recruit herring cited as a factor.

The preliminary GHL announced in late November was 8,712 tons, based on a 19.7 percent harvest rate of a forecast mature biomass of 44,237 tons. A year ago, the preliminary GHL announced for the 2014 season was 17,592 tons, based on a 20 percent harvest rate of a forecast biomass of 87,958 tons.

The forecast and GHL for the 2015 fishery are to be finalized using average weight-at-age from samples obtained in the winter test fishery, to be conducted in late January or early February 2015. The final forecast is to be announced in late February or early March.

ASF&G uses an age structured analysis model that uses a long time series of abundance and age composition data from department surveys conducted during and following the spring fishery. Herring abundance is estimated using aerial surveys designed to map the length of shoreline receiving spawn and dive surveys that estimate the density of eggs and the average width of the spawn. The department mapped 50 nautical miles of herring spawn in the Sitka Sound area during the spring of 2014, compared to the recent 10-year average of 60 nautical miles.

The estimated post-fishery spawning biomass in 2014 was 51,321 tons and the total sac roe harvest was 16,957 tons. An additional 121 tons were harvested in personal use and test fisheries for a total mature population biomass of 68,399 tons, which was below the 81,663 tons forecast. Samples of the spawning herring in 2014 resulted in an age composition of 1 percent ag-3; 39 percent age-4; 10 percent age -5; 5 percent age-6; 6 percent age-7 and 34 percent age-8 and older herring.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Bristol Bay Sockeye Salmon Forecast is Nearly
54 Million Fish

Biologists with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game are forecasting a run of 53.98 million sockeye salmon into Bristol Bay in 2015, with a harvest of 38.51 million salmon in Bristol Bay and 2 million reds in the South Peninsula.

That would be 40 percent above the previous 10-year mean of total runs and 51 percent greater than the long-term mean of 32.43 percent, biologists said. All systems are expected to meet their spawning escapements.

The largest sockeye salmon run on record for Bristol Bay since 1963 was 67 million sockeyes in 1980, but the harvest that year was only 27,187,880 fish. The lowest run on record since 1963 was 3.5 million reds in 1973, with harvesters delivering to processors only 1.6 million fish. The largest harvest on record was 46 million sockeyes in 1995, from a run of 63 million salmon.

This past year a run of 41.4 million salmon produced a harvest of 29.4 million fish. That compared with a harvest of 32.6 million sockeyes in 2007, from a run of 46.3 million reds.

It’s also looking like a good year ahead for pink salmon in Southeast Alaska, where ADF&G biologists are predicting an estimate of 58 million humpies. State biologists said forecasting the 2015 pink salmon harvest was made exceptionally challenging by the unprecedented harvest of 95 million pink salmon in the parent year of 2013. That harvest was nearly 20 million fish higher than any other pink salmon harvest since commercial fisheries began in Southeast Alaska in the late 1800s.

The 2015 harvest forecast of 58 million pink salmon in Southeast Alaska is well above the recent 10-year average harvest of 41 million humpies, and a harvest of that magnitude would be in the top ten harvests since 1960, biologists said.

Miners Indicted for Illegal Discharges into Southwest Alaska Salmon Stream

A federal grand jury in Anchorage has indicted XS Platinum Inc. and five corporate officials on felony violations, including conspiracy to violate the Clean Water Act, by discharging mine wastes into the Salmon River in Southwest Alaska.

The indictment handed down on Nov. 18 in Anchorage said that beginning in 2010 and continuing through 2011, XS Platinum and the individual defendants knowingly discharged industrial wastewaters from the mechanical placer mining operation at Platinum Creek Mine into the adjacent Salmon River, in violation of XS Platinum’s Clean Water Act general permit.

The Salmon River is an anadromous fish stream important for spawning for chinook, chum, coho, pink and sockeye salmon and the rearing of coho and sockeye salmon. After flowing through BLM land, the Salmon River crosses the Togiak National Wildlife Refuge before entering the Pacific Ocean at Kuskokwim Bay.

According to the indictment, the miners told federal regulators, and said in their permit applications that all wastewater would be recycled, resulting in zero discharge of mine wastewater into the Salmon River.

The indictment alleges that the Delaware based corporation and the five defendants conspired to violate the Clean Water Act by concealing the 2010 and 2011 mine wastewater discharge violations from federal officials, and submitting material false statements to federal agencies.

XS Platinum held 159 placer mining claims and 36 hard rock claims totaling more than 4,000 acres at the Platinum Creek Mine, which is situated along the Salmon River and its tributaries. The mine contains placer deposits of platinum metal, along with smaller amounts of gold and palladium. All but 21 of the claims were on land managed by the federal Bureau of Land Management, with the remaining undeveloped claims within the Togiak National Wildlife Refuge.

The indictment further alleges that the industrial wastewaters discharged from the Platinum Creek Mine included large amounts of sediment, turbidity and toxic metals, that these discharges exceeded general permit limits for those pollutants and that the defendants failed to report the violations as required.

US Attorney for Alaska Karen Loeffler and Sam Hirsch, acting assistant attorney general for the environment and natural resources division of the Department of Justice, released the indictment, which contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Environmental Report Calls Proposed BC Mine Risky and Uncertain

A new report compiled by Salmon Beyond Borders and other groups, including Earthworks, says there are significant risks associated with a copper, gold, silver and molybdenum mine proposed in British Columbia near the Alaska border.

The risk analysis of the Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell mine proposed by Toronto-based Seabridge Gold concludes that amount the key risks are unprecedented water management. KSM is a sulfide ore body, likely to require water treatment in perpetuity for acid mine drainage, the report said. The mine plan includes annual water treatment for up to 20.8 billion gallons of water annually- nearly eight times that of Utah’s Bingham Canyon Mine, the largest open pit mine in North America.

“The amount of water projected for water treatment is the largest of any mine that I have seen,” said David Chambers, a geophysicist and president of the Center for Science in Public Participation. “Based on the estimated treatment costs in the environmental impact statement, the trust fund for post-closure water treatment alone would need to e approximately $1 billion.

Plans for these and other mines in Northwest British Columbia are prompting concern from Alaska fish harvesters because the mines would be located near transboundary rivers in British Columbia that flow into Southeast Alaska’s salmon rich waters. Alaska’s congressional delegation has raised serious concerns about the KSM mine, and has asked Secretary of State John Kerry to conduct bilateral discussions with the Canadian government regarding the project. Other groups, including five municipal governments and 11 Alaska Native tribal governments, have asked for a review by the International Join Commission under the Boundary Waters Treaty.

The KSM mine project would involve mining underneath an active glacier, an engineering challenge that has rarely been done, the environmental report said. In the few sites where it has occurred, it resulted in major increases in cost, production delays, safety issues and economic shortfalls.

Access the complete report: http://www.earthworksaction.org/library/detail/seabridge_golds_ksm_project_risk_analysis#.VGxvQL5d37V.

Tongass National Forest Management Favors Logging Over Fishing, Tourism Industries

A US Forest Service pledge to end old-growth logging and support fishing and tourism industries significant to the Southeast Alaska economic is not going as promised, say researchers who looked into Forest Service’s budget and staff data.

A report released Nov. 18 by Headwaters Economics, a Bozeman, Montana research firm, used the Freedom of Information Act to access the Forest Service’s budget and staffing data on the Tongass from 2009 to 2013. Researchers found that Forest Service spending on timber continues to account for the largest portion of the Tongass National Forest budget. It also shows that for each of the five years spending on timber accounted for more of the Tongass’ budget than fisheries, wildlife, recreation and watershed protection combined.

The focus on logging comes despite the fact that timber accounts for less than one percent of Southeast Alaska employment, while tourism accounts for 15 percent and fishing for nine percent, the report said.

Both the fishing and tourism industries rely on land and water resources managed by the Tongass National Forest and directly benefit from enhancements to natural resources health, along with services and infrastructure provided by the Forest Service. Activities that degrade the pristine nature of the land, such as old growth harvesting, are likely to have adverse impacts on these important regional industries.

The seafood industry in Southeast Alaska employed 4,252 people in 2013 and accounted for nine percent of total regional employment. The fishing and tourism industries both rely on land and water resources managed by Tongass National Forest and directly benefit from enhancements to natural resource health, plus services and infrastructure provided by the Forest Service.

The report was completed with funding from two Seattle-based foundations, Wilburforce and Campion.

The entire report is online at http://headwaterseconomics.org/land/reports/tongass.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Exxon Valdez Damages Lawsuit Drags Into 2015

More than 25 years after the Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster, federal litigation revolving around part of the original 1991 billion-dollar settlement with Exxon continues to drag on.

Documents posted on Nov. 10 by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility show that the US Justice Department and state of Alaska are once again asking for more time for completion on environmental studies. Meanwhile, some of those 11 million gallons of crude oil released into Prince William Sound after the oil tanker Exxon Valdez struck Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound on March 24, 1989, still linger, in the aftermath of one of the most devastating human-caused environmental disasters in history.

The ongoing litigation revolves around part of the original settlement with Exxon calling for an additional payment of up to $100 million for environmental damages unknown at the time of the settlement.

PEER notes that in 2006, the federal and state governments jointly submitted a demand that the oil company pay $92 million to fund recovery for these injuries, an amount that has since grown to nearly $130 million with annual 5 percent interest.

Yet this “reopener” claim has yet to be collected by the governments. In the intervening years, both the federal and state governments have claimed to be waiting for completion of environmental studies.

Time may be running out on the reopener claim.

The 2010 termination of the tolling agreement between the governments and Exxon triggered a six-year period of limitation on any reopener claim that expires on June 24, 2016, PEER notes. If the governments do not act by then, Exxon may be able to legally block any belated claim.

This past March, both governments filed a status report stating “the last of these scientific reports nears completion and public release.” Then on Oct. 15, the governments cited further delays in evaluating “the feasibility of employing potential remediation alternatives, notably bioremediation, tilling and removal, at all beaches where lingering oil has been found or is expected.”

Now they are proposing to file their next update “by June 30, 2015, or at such earlier date as the governments have additional, significant information to report.”

PEER board member Rick Steiner, of Anchorage, is a retired University of Alaska professor who attempted to intervene in 2010 to break the logjam in this case.

Although Exxon has not paid the 2006 demand, as it had agreed in 1991, and certainly should, the government restoration fund still has some $200 million in it with which they should have used to begin implementing the plan, Steiner said.

“They say they have begun to do so, but are ‘still studying’ the issue,” he said. And while the court continues to express its frustration and indignation, it does not act- which is precisely what I had asked the court to do with motions in 2010, 2011 and 2013,” he said.

Today's Catch: Numbers, Verified

The November issue is always a big issue, and coincides with the release of our annual Fishermen's News Calendar, as well as Pacific Marine Expo. This year is no exception, and marks the first time since 1945 that the November issue of Fishermen's News is printed in magazine format, on glossy paper. It's the largest issue we've ever produced.

Since 1945, when Fishermen's News was first published as the monthly "Voice of the Pacific Northwest Fishing Industry" in Aberdeen, Washington, we have served the West Coast fishing industry as the oldest and most widely circulated commercial fishing publication. We're proud to be the only advocate for the West Coast commercial fishing industry.

Because we're a local, family owned and operated company, based in Seattle at Fishermen's Terminal and active in the local commercial fishing community, we can react quickly to breaking events and publish them as news, rather than history.

This year, in order to better serve our advertisers, subscribers and the industry, we engaged Verified Audit Circulation Company to confirm our numbers. Those subscription forms you have all filled out asking for your industry affiliation are checked against our claims to ensure that we are indeed reaching our target audience – the US Pacific Coast wild seafood harvester. With the release of our initial audit, we are happy to announce that Fishermen's News is indeed reaching the most West Coast commercial fishermen of any commercial fishing publication, National or Pacific. The numbers, collected, tabulated and organized for audit by our circulation manager, Judy Philips, are available for anyone to see on our website: www.fishermensnews.com/advertise.

What this means to you is that we can focus our efforts on the issues, regulations and fisheries that matter most to you. Because 100 percent of our readers are directly involved in the commercial West Coast fishing industry, 68.5 percent of them as commercial fishing vessel owners, license holders and captains, we can tailor our editorial content to reach them with news that makes their business more profitable.

Our advertisers know that the boats they design and build, the gear they manufacture and supply and the services they provide are presented to their potential clients in a trusted format, surrounded by articles of interest that fishermen need to read. Many of those advertisers, including Ballard Oil, Ballard Industrial (formerly Ballard Hardware) and Pacific Fishermen, Inc. recognized from the first issues in the '40s that Fishermen's News was the best way to reach the fleet.

After almost 70 years, Fishermen's News is still the best way to reach the fleet, and we're happy to be able to prove that with our audit.

Unanswered Questions Remain
in Mount Polley Dam Breach

In the wake of dam breach disaster in British Columbia on Aug. 4, there are still many unanswered questions about the extent of damage to fisheries and the environment, and the answers could come in reports due at the end of January. Commercial fishermen and environmentalists in Southeast Alaska have cast a wary eye on the Mount Polley dam breach, as well as proposed plans for several mines near transboundary rivers in British Columbia that flow into Southeast Alaska.

They note that millions of cubic meters of wastes released by the dam breach poured into central British Columbia waterways, and are concerned that toxic substances from other proposed mining ventures could enter the habitat of critical salmon fisheries and spawning grounds.

British Columbia’s minister of energy and mines, Bill Bennett says he expects to receive reports by Jan. 31 from three independent experts contracted to investigate the dam breach.

Also underway are an internal investigation by British Columbia’s Ministry of Energy and Mines and Ministry of Environment, and a review by the province’s chief mines inspector, into how safe are all the tailings ponds at British Columbia’s mines.

“Everybody is being interviewed,” he told participants in the Alaska Miners Association’s annual convention in Anchorage on Nov. 7. “We need to pinpoint the specific cause.”

Bennett’s visit to Alaska also included visits with state officials and Julianne Curry, executive director of United Fishermen of Alaska.

The meeting with Bennett was “just to open lines of communication,” Curry said.

“They are extremely eager to come to Alaska to talk about past and future projects.”

Curry said that Canada’s annual Mineral Exploration Roundup will be happening in Victoria, B.C. at the same time as the International Pacific Halibut Commission is meeting there, and that she hoped fishermen would be extended an invitation to the miners event for further opening of those lines of communication.

Bennett’s assurances aside, skepticism abounds.

John Cumming, editor in chief of The Northern Miner, in Toronto, in an editorial written two days after the Mount Polley tailings spill, wrote that “…what makes all this particularly depressing is that Imperial Metals is one of the class acts of Canadian mining, and the mine was built by highly skilled Canadian miners to modern technical standards in our own backyard.

“… And all that Imperial – representing the very best in Canadian mining – could come up with on the day of the disaster was “The cause of the breach is unknown at this time….

“In other words, ‘We ain’t got a clue, folks’,” Cumming said.

Jacinda Mack, coordinator for the Mount Polley Disaster Response Team representing the Soda Creek Indian Band and Williams Lake Indian Band, said there was a blue, waxy sheen on the water at Quesnel Lake and that the lake was turning a yellowish green color.”

Mack described the plume as about 20 kilometers in size. “It has tailings mixed in with sediments, soils, clays that are suspended in the water so you can see them in the water. It almost looks like a glacial river,” she said.

The Quesnel, the sixth deepest freshwater lake in North America, is an important migratory route for salmon to the Frasier River, a major commercial salmon fishery.

Korea’s Dongwon Invests in Silver Bay Seafoods

Dongwon F&B Co., Ltd., of Seoul, Korea, owner of StarKist, a leader in the US tuna market, has acquired an equity interest in Silver Bay Seafoods LLC, an integrated processor of frozen, headed and gutted salmon based in Sitka, Alaska.

In an announcement issued from Seoul on Nov. 10, a spokesperson for Silver Bay said the cross-investment agreement includes having StarKist and Dongwon acquire a combined 12.5 percent equity interest in Silver Bay.

StarKist and Dongwon have substantial processing and canning facilities, global cold storage and distribution networks, and very successful branded products.

Silver Bay’s spokesperson called the deal a highly strategic move for the Alaska company that would provide an opportunity to continue to build the Alaska salon brand in the market.

Silver Bay was founded eight years ago with a goal of vertical integration of the Alaska salmon fleets to produce high quality salmon products for reprocessing and distribution. The company has facilities at Sitka, Craig, Valdez, Bristol Bay and Metlakatla, and has announced plans for a new processing facility in Ventura, California.

Dongwon, founded in 1969, and based in Seoul, was started as a fisheries business, but has since branched into several sectors, including food manufacturing and marketing. The company commands a 75 percent share of the canned tuna market in Korea and has a major tuna catching company.

The company’s fish and procurement and processing capacity builds on the national brand recognition of StarKist, founded in 1917 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which Dongwon acquired in 2008. StarKist also operates processing facilities in American Samoa and Ecuador, and is expanding into new species.

Lower Cook Inlet Waters are Radiation Free

Test results released Nov. 10 by Cook Inletkeeper, in Homer, Alaska, find there were no effects in salmon rich Kachemak Bay from radiation emissions from the March 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan.

Inletkeeper, a community based nonprofit organization whose goal is protection of Alaska’s Cook Inlet watershed said the study was done with experts at Woods Hole’s Center for Marine and Environmental Radiation.

Water samples taken just north of Yukon Island in Kachemak Bay on Sept. 12, with assistance from staff of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration were analyzed by CMER, to assure Alaskans that those waters were not contaminated, said Bob Shavelson, Inletkeeper executive director.

“We’ve received countless calls from Alaskans concerned about possible radiation contamination in Alaska waters,” Shavelson said. “So we’re happy to learn we’re not seeing the effects of Fukushima in Lower Cook Inlet waters at this time.”

CMER said in its report that they did not detect in the water sample any Cesium-134, the isotope tracer of the Fukushima release.

“This isotope has a short half-life (2 years) so any Cs-134 in the ocean today came from Fukushima,” the report said. “We detected 1.2 Bq per cubic meter of Cs-137, and this is typical of the background levels found in the Pacific as a result of nuclear weapons testing in the 1960s. Cs-137 has a half-life of 30 years, so that is why low levels can still be detected from that earlier source. If water influenced by Fukushima were in your sample, we would expect to detect Cs-134 and elevated levels of Cs-137, which we did not.”

CMER also released a statement on Nov. 10 announcing the “presence of small amounts of radioactivity from the 2011 Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant accident 100 miles due west of Eureka, California.

CMER said it found no elevated radioactivity in near shore waters, and the level in offshore waters “is far below where one might expect any measurable risk to human health or marine life, according to international health agencies. And it is more than 1,000 times lower than acceptable limits in drinking water set by US EPA.”

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Oregon Salmon, Pink Shrimp Success Continues

Predictions sometimes prove accurate, and the 2014 salmon and pink shrimp seasons off Oregon’s shores are good examples.

In February, salmon fishery managers said at worst, this season could mirror last year’s upturn, at best provide another step upward as the Oregon salmon fishery continues to chart a course away from a multi-year collapse.

Strong abundance forecasts for coho, as well as Sacramento River and Klamath River fall Chinook, anticipated great returns of Chinook salmon destined for key river basins of the Columbia River Basin on Oregon’s northern coast, the Klamath River Basin on Oregon’s southern coast, and California’s Central Valley pointed to good Chinook catches along the entire Oregon coast. Coho population level were expected at such that fishery managers said they “should provide the most time on the water for coho fishing since the 2010 season.” Northwest biologists predicted the largest fall Chinook salmon run since 1938, the year record keeping began. They said an “unprecedented” 1.6 million Chinook could return from the Pacific Ocean to the tributaries that make up the Columbia River Basin that, along with nearly 1 million coho returns, could lead to what fishery managers say would be “a year to remember” for both commercial and recreational salmon fishermen.

“This should be a great year to be out on the ocean,” said Chris Kern, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) administrator for ocean salmon fisheries. So far, it is.

“It’s going very well,” said Nancy Fitzpatrick, executive director of the Oregon Salmon Commission. “Catch and value has already surpassed last year by a long shot. We’re seeing some nice, big fish.”

As of mid-September, commercial fishermen had landed more than 1.7 million pounds valued at more than $11 million, with a fair amount of fishing left to do. Prices to the boat rose as high as $8 to $9 per pound in April, but have since dropped and leveled out, with an average price of $6.28 per pound through the first six months of the season. By comparison, they landed 1.3 million pounds in 2013 worth $7.6 million, and 745,000 pounds in 2012 worth $4.2 million.

“We’re definitely back up since the disasters,” Fitzpatrick noted. “Last year was good. This year is outstanding.” Outstanding, at least, compared to the doldrums salmon fishermen endured from 2005 to 2010.

Commercial salmon fishermen watched their livelihoods dwindle to almost nothing during those seasons, even the promising ones in 2011 and 2012 that didn’t really reach their anticipated potentials. Since 2004, when Oregon’s salmon trollers landed 2.9 million pounds of fish, and 2005, when they hauled in 2.6 million pounds, they have endured a federally-declared disaster in 2006, a well-below-average catch in 2007, another federally-declared disaster in 2008, a basically non-existent 2009 season, a somewhat improved, yet quite limited season in 2010, a disappointing 2011, when fish were scarce, despite healthy forecasts, followed by improved, but less than stellar results in 2012.

The cumulative economic effects during that stretch of poor salmon fishing opportunities were substantial, not just for the commercial fishery, but recreational, marine and freshwater fisheries and the communities that depend on them. Commercial salmon fishermen have lost much of the capacity to fish, and wishing and hoping had become standard gear.

Despite the significant improvement of 2013 and this season, it’s nowhere near the fishery’s halcyon days of the 1970s and most of the 1980s, when 2,000 to 4,000 vessels plied the waters trolling for the Pacific Northwest’s signature fish species. Harvests dropped during the early 1990s due to decreases in many stocks and concern for critical natural stocks under both state and federal management and the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA), along with escalating allocation conflicts between river and ocean user groups.

Fitzpatrick said the number of vessel owners with salmon permits dwindled from a high of 4,314 in 1980 to slightly more than 1,000 in 2011, due in large part to fishery management efforts, most notably permit restrictions and salmon quotas. In 1980, 3,875 vessels landed salmon – the highest on record. The worst year was 2008, when only 138 vessels landed salmon in the middle of a federally-declared disaster season.

In 1976, salmon fishermen hauled in almost 11 million pounds of salmon worth $14.7 million. By comparison, they landed 499,000 pounds in 2006 valued at $2.7 million, 565,000 pounds in 2007 valued at $2.8 million, only 70,000 pounds in 2008 worth $494,000 and 146,000 pounds in 2009 valued at just $345,000. The numbers rose in 2010 (513,000 pounds worth $2.8 million) and 2011 (403,000 pounds valued at $2.4 million), 2012 and 2013.

This year’s season kept the upward trend alive.

Still, commercial salmon fishermen have become an endangered species themselves. Many are shunning salmon fishing and either turning to other fisheries to maintain their livelihoods or getting out of fishing altogether – an unpalatable decision for most of them. What the future holds remains uncertain, and no one is exactly sure what’s behind the back-to-back seasons uptick, since salmon survival and recovery depends on so many factors, most notably ocean conditions.

The ocean’s Jekyll-and-Hyde personality makes it difficult for fishery managers to make accurate predictions, even in the best of times. But for the third consecutive year, commercial fishermen are harvesting more salmon, and this season is shaping up almost as predicted.

In the Pink
Oregon pink shrimp fishermen are seemingly in the middle of another gigantic season, landing good numbers as predicted by Bob Hannah and Steve Jones from ODFW.

No official numbers were available as of press time, but Jeff Boardman, skipper of the F/V Miss Yvonne, said things were “going really well,” especially in Washington waters, where “a considerable part of Oregon landings” were originating. “The Newport fleet is going up there,” Boardman added. “Oregon is not quite as good as it has been. Washington is going to set a record.”

The long-time commercial shrimper isn’t sure what’s causing the shift to Washington waters, although “they had good volume last year” and fishermen “run toward volume.” Fishermen also got a mid-season price hike.

The season ends October 31, and is seemingly on course to maybe match last year’s catch, according to some fishery managers and market analysts. Last season marked a three-year stretch of near-record production, said Hannah and Jones in their annual pre-season fishery review.

“They did it even with the season opener functionally delayed, as most of the fleet stayed at the dock for nearly three weeks due to price negotiations,” they noted. “Once an acceptable price structure was reached, the fleet still managed to put in 3.25 million pounds by the end of April. The price structure and high catch rates remained fairly constant through the season.’

That translated into 47.63 million pounds in landings in 2013, just 1.5 million pounds less than 2012. It capped the highest cumulative three-season landings total in the fishery’s history. Monthly landings were “far above average” in 2013, with May’s haul of 9.2 million pounds the best May catch total since 1989.

“Monthly totals remained high through the remainder of the season, showing a similar pattern to 2012,” said Hannah and Jones. Sixty-one vessels landed shrimp in Oregon ports last season, down from 64 in 2012. They made 1,017 trips compared to 1,024 in 2012. Average catch per trip was 46,833 pounds in 2013, a new record. Catch-per-trip numbers have risen steadily since 2004, and Hannah and Jones said those increases, especially from 2009 on “reflect the high shrimp abundance available, but also suggest that harvest and processor strategies may be at play.”

Average ex-vessel price in 2013 reached almost 51 cents per pound, just a fraction higher than 2012. Shrimp sold at 30 to 63 cents per pound under a four-tier, split-price structure. Overall ex-vessel value for the landed catch reached $24.2 million, down almost $533,000 from 2012.

“Shrimpers spent more hours fishing in areas off the central Oregon and southern Washington coasts than they did in 2012,” Hannah and Jones stated.

The season prospects “seem very good,” noted Hannah and Jones, “barring an unforeseen environmental shift that severely alters shrimp abundance or distribution.” Indications pointed to “widespread high shrimp abundance” along the coast, with conditions excellent for good hold-over of shrimp. They anticipated enough good-grade shrimp available early in the season (April 1-October 31) for shrimpers “to avoid potential count problems.”

Fishermen said this year’s numbers in terms of vessels and landings are following a trend comparable to the past two seasons, and they expect another stellar season overall.

They also continued their efforts to exclude eulachon smelt – listed in 2012 as threatened under the Endangered Species Act – from their nets.

A commercial fishery started in 1957, the Oregon pink shrimp fleet is considered one of the most consistently valuable commercial trawl fisheries in the state. Centered off the Oregon coast with operations extending from Washington to northern California, the 45-vessel fleet, ranging in length from 50 to 85 feet, works out of Newport, Charleston, and Astoria. Fished from the cold waters of the Pacific, Oregon pink shrimp are – compared to the larger species usually found in supermarkets and restaurants – the real “shrimps” of the shrimp world, with 100 to 160 whole shrimp comprising one pound.



Outlook Upbeat for Alaska Seafood Harvesters, Processors

A new labor report on employment in Alaska’s seafood industry says the harvesting sector in 2013 averaged monthly employment growth not seen since 2000, and predicts continued grow in the processing sector through 2022.

The November edition of Alaska Trends, focused on seafood harvesting and processing jobs, also notes that the six community development quota groups tasked with boosting the economy of 65 villages in Western Alaska had gross revenues of $318 million in 2013, from a variety of sources that included fishing, processing, quota royalties, program revenue, and investment income, and combined net assets for 2013 amounted to $899 million.

Daniel Strong, a research analyst with the Alaska Department of Labor in Juneau, said seafood processing industry employment is projected to grow by 6.7 percent between 2012 and 2022, and the highest-paid processing occupations are expected to grow at nearly twice that rate.

Across all industries in the processing sector, expected growth ranges from a low of 6.9 percent for electrician helpers to 15.3 percent for captains, mates and boat pilots, Strong noted.

Job numbers in the processing sector grew by 2.4 percent in 2013, primarily driven by increased salmon harvest, bringing the year’s monthly average to 8,393 jobs, less than 400 shy of the 2000 level, said Josh Warren, an Alaska Department of Labor economist in Juneau, writing in the state agency’s monthly report on economic trends.

The increase in harvesting and jobs has also produced a larger seasonal swing, Warren said. Alaska’s seafood harvesting has one of the strongest seasonal patterns in the nation, with a difference of about 25,000 jobs between the highest and lowest months.  Winter employment shrank or remained stable in 2013, while peak summer employment reached a record of 25,859 jobs in July.  In June alone, there were 2,500 more harvesters than for the same month in 2012.

Salmon harvesting jobs were the main source of growth in harvesting employment between 2012 and 2013, with a gain of 452 jobs, or 10 percent.

This growth came from a small increase in reported crew sizes by permit holders, as well as more fishing, Warren noted.


Read the complete report online at http://labor.alaska.gov/trends/nov14.pdf

Increased Percentage of Old Red King Crab Attracts More Barnacles

Quotas for Bristol Bay red king crab increased to 9.98 million pounds for the 2014-2015 season, up from 8.6 million pounds a year earlier, good news for harvesters of the fishery known as the deadliest catch.

But a technical memorandum on the 2014 Eastern Bering Sea Continental Shelf Bottom Trawl Survey, notes that 56 percent of the legal-sized male surveyed were new hard shell crabs and 44 percent were old shell and very old shell crabs, with the majority of old shell males caught in central Bristol Bay. 

The older the crab get, the more infrequently they molt, and very old shell crab do not molt, creating a more inviting environmental for barnacles, who cling to the shell, and use their appendages to reach into the water column to draw plankton and detritus into the shell for consumption.

There have been a lot more old shell crab in the last couple of years, notes Bob Foy, director of the Alaska Fisheries Science Center Kodiak Laboratory.

Old shell and very old shell crabs are more likely to have an abundance of barnacles aboard their shells, making them a less than lucrative catch.

Anecdotal reports from fishermen, a few of which came to the attention of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game at Dutch Harbor, voiced concerns of high-grading, the dumping of large quantities of barnacled legal male red king crab.

While high-grading is not illegal, it is a cause of concern for state biologists, who were passing these anecdotal accounts to data collectors on board 20 percent of the vessels harvesting the crab.

Regulations dictate that processors must accept the king crab, even with barnacles from holders of A shares, the individual processing quota shares, but that they don’t have to accept B and C share with barnacles on it.

Jake Jacobsen, executive director of the Intercoop Exchange in Seattle, said that if the fishermen are getting a lot of dirty crab, they are asked by the coop to move to another area, but that all legal king crab landed onto a boat stayed on the boat.

The department has an interest in this, said Heather Fitch, an area management biologist at Dutch Harbor. “The extra mortality is not good for the stock.

“There is no regulation prohibiting high-grading specifically, but that is the excess removal of the stock, so it is counted in the acceptable biological catch.

“We discourage fishermen from doing so and discourage processors from giving incentives to do so.”

Due to extensive high-grading during the 2005-2006 season, the first year the federal crab rationalization plan was in effect, the state ended up reducing the total allowable catch of red king crab by 5 percent the following year, she said.

Harvesters were still engaged in the fishery in late October, with observers on board collecting data, and what data was available was considered preliminary, said Mary Schwenzseier, the state shellfish observer program coordinator at Dutch Harbor.


The jury is still out on whether the percentage of high-grading was more significant than usual this year, and what action the Alaska Department of Fish and Game will take.

Changes Proposed in CCF Regulations

Federal fisheries officials are proposing changes in the National Marine Fisheries Service’s Capital Construction Fund, a program that encourages construction, reconstruction or acquisition of vessels through deferment of federal income taxes.

The goal is to update and make important changes in the regulations, written in the early 1970s, said Connie Barclay, director of NOAA Fisheries Public Affairs.

Major areas of concern for some sectors of the commercial fisheries industry among the proposed changes are twofold.

The first is one that would trim the construction period for vessels constructed or reconstructed under this program from the current 18 months to 12 months.

Such a time limit “would be highly problematic,” said Mark Gleason, executive director of the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers.

In the NMFS document published in the Federal Register on Sept. 25, NMFS says that since minimum cost requirements for reconstruction have been eliminated, there would be no need for an extended period of time to complete planned projects.

Another of the proposal changes would eliminate a requirement that the minimum cost of a reconstruction project be the lesser of $100,000 or 20 percent of the reconstructed vessel’s acquisition costs to eliminate making excessive capital improvements to vessels based on an arbitrary amount.

Gleason’s concerns were shared by Chad See, executive director of the Freezer Longline Coalition, who said “new vessels don’t get built in 12 months.”

Such changes would take this funding source off the table for companies trying to build new vessels, he said.

His second concern, Gleason said, is a proposed rule change to prohibit using CCF funds for any vessel acquisition, construction or reconstruction that would increase fisheries harvesting capacity, to be consistent with the agency’s larger responsibility of maintaining sustainable fisheries.

Harvesting capacity issues are already covered by federal fisheries regulations programs, and the total allowable catches assigned, he said.

These and other proposed rule changes are outlines in the Federal Register notice of Sept. 25, which is online at https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2014/09/25/2014-22821/capital-construction-fund-fishing-vessel-capital-construction-fund-procedures
The deadline for comments is Nov. 10.  

Connie Barclay, director of NOAA Fisheries Public Affairs, said all comments would be considered and published on NOAA’s website. The next step would be to publish the final rule, hopefully in January, Barclay said.


The program, established by the Merchant Marine Act of 1970, allows owners and operators of vessels to deposit income from fishing into CCF accounts prior to paying income taxes.  All deferred taxes are eventually recovered upon the sale of the vessel, because the cost basis of the vessel is reduced by the dollar amount of CCF funds used for its purchase or improvements.

BBRSDA Makes Changes in Project Selection Process

The Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association has announced changes in
Its method of choosing projects that specifically support its five-year strategic plan for 2013-2018.

In place of its usual call for proposals, the BBRSDA board said this week that they will utilize the expertise within its committees to seek projects meeting identified information gaps and take advantage of strategic opportunities.

The process does not, however, preclude stakeholders from engaging in the committee and board processes that identify and evaluate potential projects, the board noted. Stakeholder input and assistance is welcomed and encouraged, the board said.

Over the past few years, the board has funded a number of very important research projects that are to continue over several years.  These include the multi-year Alaska Department of Fish and Game project that allows for additional counting tower days in five river systems, the Bristol Bay Science and Research Institute’s study of Outer Port Heiden section genetics, and a University of Washington study in the Nushagak River that will identify sockeye, and potentially Chinook, salmon spawning areas.

Also new for 2015, the association said, will be a University of Washington study in the Nushagak River to help determine the quantity, quality and distribution of habitat for salmon spawning and rearing.


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