Astoria Fisheries Auction

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Copper River Salmon Fishery Delivers Record Opener Prices


Harvesters in the Copper River fishery, braving opening day rain and temperatures in the low 40s, made 481 deliveries for the season opener on May 18, including 1,879 Chinooks and 36,066 sockeye salmon.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Cordova office said average weights for the opener were 19.9 pounds for kings and 5.2 pounds for reds. Those weights rose to 20.8 pounds on average for kings and 5.3 pounds for reds on the second opener May 22, with 439 deliveries to processors, including 1,737 kings and 51,860 reds.

That brought the total for the first two openers to 920 deliveries, 3,616 kings and 87,926 red salmon. Harvesters have also delivered 1,047 chum salmon whose weight averaged 6.9 pounds on the first opener and 7.4 pounds on the second.

The Copper River fishery got underway a week later than usual because of Chinook salmon conservation efforts. Jeremy Botz, gillnet area management for Prince William Sound, cautioned against comparing the first run 2017 harvest to that of a year ago, which brought in some 2,000 kings and 59,000 sockeyes.

The king salmon forecast for the Copper River this year is 29,000 fish, the smallest since 1985. An Alaska Airlines 737 delivered 22,000 pounds of fresh Copper River salmon to Seattle on May 19, one the first of four scheduled flights from Cordova that day. By day’s end, the airline had delivered 77,000 pounds of fresh reds and kings to markets in Seattle and Anchorage.

Every year the airline partners with Ocean Beauty Seafoods, Trident Seafoods and Copper River Seafoods to deliver the salmon catch to Seattle, Anchorage and beyond.

The arrival of the first Copper River salmon of the season was celebrated in Seattle with much hoopla. Three of Seattle’s best chefs competed in the eighth annual Copper Chef Cook-off for the best salmon recipe. The winner was executive chef John Sundstrom of Lark restaurant. In Anchorage, celebration included the sampling of gourmet appetizers topped with fresh wild sockeye salmon, courtesy of Copper River Seafoods. A 45-pound king salmon donated by Ocean Beauty Seafoods was declared the season’s first fish, the catch of the day.

Opener prices to fishermen were $8 a pound for sockeyes and $11 for Chinooks, up from $7 and $9 respectively a year ago, said Scott Blake, president and chief executive officer of Copper River Seafoods.

High retail prices aside for first run Copper River salmon failed, as usual, to deter consumers eager for the first fresh salmon of the season.

At 10th & M Seafoods in Anchorage, fillets were $38.95 a pound for sockeyes and $59.95 a pound for kings.Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle hailed the fresh Copper River fish on its website, which pictured its fishmongers whole kings, going for $55.99 a pound and whole reds, at $143.96 a fish. Pike Place also had Copper River king fillets for $74.99 a pound and Copper River sockeye fillets for $47.99 a pound.

Prices will decline rapidly as more fish come in from the Copper River district and soon from other areas in Alaska.

Updates on Alaska’s commercial wild salmon harvest are online at http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=commercialbyfisherysalmon.bluesheet

NOAA Fisheries Surveys Underway for Alaska Coast


Federal fisheries scientists are off to their surveys of Alaska’s coastline, monitoring for distribution and abundance of groundfish, crabs and other bottom dwelling species, and measuring various biological and environmental data.

“Long term, scientific surveys like this are really important,” said Doug DeMaster, director of the NOAA Fisheries Alaska Fisheries Science Center.

While the surveys sample a very small percentage of the ocean, biologists are able to detect changes to marine ecosystems over broad areas over time with the help of a little math,” DeMaster said. NOAA scientists and their collaborators sort, weigh and count species collected by each trawl. They will also gather specimens and data on various species, including a Gulf of Alaska project that involves deploying a camera and plankton pump to test whether or not larval rockfish associate with deep-sea corals.

The Gulf of Alaska continental shelf and upper continental slope survey includes two chartered fishing vessels, the F/V Sea Storm and F/V Ocean Explorer. Estimates of fish biomass and population derived from this survey will be used in annual stock assessments of Gulf of Alaska groundfish and ecosystem models. The survey began at Dutch Harbor on May 23 and runs through August 6, ending in Ketchikan.

The annual Eastern Bering Sea continental shelf bottom trawl survey, aboard the fishing vessels Alaska Knight and Vesteraalen, May 30 through August 8, monitors the status and trends in commercial fish and shellfish stocks, with the focus on walleye Pollock, Pacific cod, Greenland turbot, yellowfin sole, northern rock sole, red king crab, snow and Tanner crab. The survey begins and concludes at Dutch Harbor.

The Northern Bering Sea survey departs from Nome on August 8 aboard the Alaska Knight and Vesteraalen, and concludes August 30, with the vessels returning to Dutch Harbor. This survey monitors fish, crab and other bottom dwelling marine life in response to changing environmental conditions and loss of seasonal sea ice. This survey was last conducted in 2010, but scientists hope to conduct the survey biennially to more carefully monitor ecosystem changes.

The Gulf of Alaska surface trawl assessment survey and Southeast Alaska coastal monitoring, within the southeastern region of the Gulf aims to provide ecological data on pelagic ecosystems, examine oceanographic transport mechanisms, measure lower trophic level production and quantify age-0 marine fish, and juvenile salmon distribution and ecology. Plans are to repeat in August the pilot age-0 sablefish survey, NOAA officials said.

NOAA Fisheries and partners will conduct a fisheries and oceanography survey this summer and fall in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, from August 1 to late September. They will assess distribution, relative abundance, diet, energy density, size and potential predators of juvenile salmon, other commercial fish, and forage fish.

Alaska Legislature Confirms Board of Fisheries Appointments


The Alaska Legislature has confirmed the reappointments of two incumbents and one former member to the Alaska Board of Fisheries for terms to run through June 30, 2020.

Returning are chairman John Jensen of Petersburg and member Reed Moriski of Fairbanks. Former member Fritz Johnson of Dillingham, who holds a harvester seat on the board of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, will replace Sue Jeffrey of Kodiak, appointed in 2011. Jeffrey, the board’s vice chair, opted not to return. Their terms begin on July 1, 2017.

Emergency Copper River Petition Fails Before Board of Fisheries


The Alaska Board of Fisheries defeated an emergency petition that would have resulted in more closures and restrictions on the Copper River salmon fishery. The decision taken during a special meeting of the fisheries board in Anchorage came just a day before the famed fishery begins.

Members of the Fairbanks Fish and Game Advisory Committee had proposed in their petition additional emergency action on the commercial fishery to assure a sustainable escapement goal for king salmon for the Copper River.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) Commissioner Sam Cotten noted that the Copper River Fishery is a directed sockeye commercial fishery, with incidental harvest of other salmon.

ADF&G officials have said they do not expect this year’s king salmon run forecast and anticipated low level of Chinook harvests to affect the long-term sustainability of Copper River king stocks.

Cotten told the Board of Fisheries that the agency has the tools with the existing management plan and its emergency order authority to manage the king salmon stocks in the Copper River in 2017 to meet the sustainable escapement goal.

O’Bryant Named President of Cannon Fish Company

Fisheries industry veteran Bob O’Bryant has been appointed as president of Cannon Fish Company (CFC), a seafood processing and marketing firm in Kent, Washington, and subsidiary of the Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association (APICDA).

He succeeds Pat Rogan, who will continue with Cannon Fish through the transition period in June.

O’Bryant most recently served as vice president of sales and marketing for Bornstein seafood in Bellingham, Washington. The majority of O’Bryant’s career was with Pacific Seafood Group, where his many responsibilities included serving as general manager of Starfish, a consumer packaged goods brand known for developing and launching a successful gluten-free breaded seafood line. He was also general manager of Salmolux, the smoked salmon division, and as the marketing director for Pacific Seafood Group.

Larry Cotter, chief executive officer of APICDA, said CFC has matured since acquisition in 2013 and now was the right time for new leadership to maximize the company’s potential.

APICDA is one of six Western Alaska community development quota corporations established in 1992, with allocations of a percentage of all Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands quotas for groundfish, halibut and crab.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Fish Sticks Donated to Bristol Bay Region

More than 7,000 pounds of Alaska Pollock fish sticks have been delivered to Alaska’s Bristol Bay region, for hunger relief in Dillingham and surrounding communities.

The donation from SeaShare, a Seattle-based nonprofit that provides seafood to food banks, comes via a combined effort with the Bristol Bay Native Association, Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation, Trident Seafoods, and AML/Lynden.

Trident Seafoods, a longtime SeaShare partner, donated the Pollock, and AML/Lynden donated the cost of freight to Dillingham.

The fish sticks will be stored in a freezer container that SeaShare installed in partnership with the Port of Dillingham this past year. This is the third time the container has been filled, with more than 20,000 pounds of seafood donated by SeaShare in Bristol Bay over the past year.

The Bristol Bay Native Association will distribute the Pollock to people struggling with hunger throughout the region, with Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation providing a grant to assist with the cost of labor.

Barbara Nunn, food bank manager for BBNA, said the fish sticks will feed many low income families. The food bank currently feeds roughly 272 households in 15 communities in the Bristol Bay region, and many people depend on this seafood to help them get by, Nunn said.

Seashare donated more than 185,000 pounds of high protein seafood throughout Alaska last year, and 30,000 pounds went to remote villages in Western Alaska. SeaShare is the only domestic non-profit dedicated to bringing seafood to food banks. Founded in 1994, SeaShare has to date donated over 210 million servings of seafood to food banks across the United States.

Additional Requirements Sought for Bering Sea

Increased vessel traffic in the Bering Sea has prompted the Alaska House of Representatives to call for additional spill prevention measures and vessel monitoring requirements.

House Joint Resolution 19, which passed last night in Juneau by a vote of 33-6, urges Gov. Bill Walker and the state’s congressional delegation, to include Arctic Marine Safety Agreements in international agreements with Alaska’s coastal neighbors.

Rep. Dean Westlake, a Democrat from the Northwest Alaska community of Kiana, is the sponsor of the resolution. Westlake said the Arctic presents tremendous opportunity, but also challenges.

Vessels transiting the Bering Sea that don’t call on US ports are not subject to US and Alaska safety or spill prevention measures. The inclusion of Arctic Marine Safety Agreements, which may include spill prevention measures and vessel monitoring requirements, has support from the Arctic Waterways Safety Commission, with representatives from Arctic municipalities, marine mammal hunting groups, and ship operators.

Westlake said he supports development of the region and shipping that lowers the costs of goods worldwide, but wants to make sure it is done as safely as possible.

The resolution now goes to the Alaska State Senate for consideration.

EPA Settlement Agreement Allows Pebble Permitting to Proceed

A settlement reached this week between the US Environmental Protection Agency and the Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP) allows the permitting process for the development of a mine near the headwaters of the Bristol Bay watershed to begin.

The settlement opens the door for mine backers to apply for a Clean Water Act permit from the US Army Corps of Engineers before the EPA move forward with its Clean Water Act process to specify limits on disposal of certain material in connection with the mine.

In turn, PLP agreed to drop lawsuits and requests for fees from the EPA related to Clean Water Act restrictions. The settlement has enraged many groups who harvest wild salmon from the Bristol Bay watershed, including commercial fishermen. Bristol Bay, famed for its run of millions of wild sockeye salmon, is a multi-million dollar commercial fishery also valuable to sport anglers, subsistence fishermen and the region’s abundant wildlife. The Pebble Limited Partnership, a subsidiary of the Canadian mining entity Northern Dynasty Minerals, meanwhile is hailing the settlement as a major step forward for the project.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt issued a statement saying that the agreement “will not guarantee or prejudge a particular outcome, but will provide Pebble a fair process for their permit application and help steer EPA away from costly and time consuming litigation.”

Pebble officials say they now have a clear path to proceed with a normal permitting and review process, removing a major stumbling block to finding new investors.

Mine opponents, from Senator Maria Cantwell, D-WA, to Norm Van Vactor, president and chief executive officer of the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp. say the EPA’s decision was wrong. “We will do whatever it takes to protect Bristol Bay,” Van Vactor said during a news conference in Dillingham, Alaska, after the EPA decision was made public.

“Bristol Bay needs and deserves certainty that our sustainable industries and world class salmon fishery will continue,” said Joseph Chythlook, chairman of the Bristol Bay Native Corp. “Any settlement between EPA and Pebble moves us further away from that potential result."

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Federal Report Details Drop in Seafood Revenues
in 2015

New federal reports on fisheries economics in the United States released on May 9 show that the seafood industry generated $144 million in sales in 2015, including imports, a 6 percent decline from the previous year. The industry also supported 1.2 million jobs, a decline of 15 percent from 2014, but still above the five-year average.

In Alaska alone, the industry provided a total of 53,441 jobs in 2015— 37,762 commercial harvesters, 12,384 seafood processors and dealers, 24 importers, 365 seafood wholesalers and distributors and 2,905 jobs in retail trade. Imports included, the Alaska seafood industry had $4.4 million in sales and $1.8 million in income.

Factors such as the “warm blob,” marine toxins and El Nino affected the Pacific marine environment in 2015, and West Coast fishermen saw lower landings and revenue for several key commercial species.

The reports also note that US fisheries continued to rebuild in 2016, with the number of stocks on the overfishing and overfished lists remaining near all-time lows. A stock appears on the overfishing list when the catch rate is too high, and as overfished when the population size of a stock is too low, either because of fishing or other causes such as environmental changes. “These reports show that the U.S. is on the right track when it comes to sustainably managing our fisheries, said Sam Rauch, acting assistant administrator for NOAA Fisheries.

“Rebuilding and keeping stocks at sustainable levels will help us address the growing challenge of increasing our nation’s seafood supply and keep us competitive in a global marketplace.”

Combined commercial and recreational fishing generated $208 billion in sales, contributing $97 billion to the gross domestic product in 2015 while supporting 1.6 million full-time and part-time jobs, which was above the five-year average.

The complete “NOAA’s Fisheries Economics of the United States” is available online at https://www.st.nmfs.noaa.gov/economics/publications/feus/fisheries_economics_2015/index. NOAA Fisheries annual stock status update was also released on May 9 and can be found at http://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/sfa/fisheries_eco/status_of_fisheries/status_updates.html

Togiak Herring Fishery Winds Down

The Togiak herring fishery, which opened on April 28, closed to purse seiners on May 7, while the gillnet fishery area increased westward to the longitude of Anchor Point, according to area biologist Tim Sands with Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G).

Through May 6, the purse seine harvest showed 1,830 tons after subtracting documented dead loss, but ADF&G determined there is not enough quota remaining to justify additional fishing.

The gillnet fleet’s harvest has so far remained confidential.

ADF&G thanked processors for assistance collecting herring samples used to generate age composition estimates of the harvest and future biomass estimates.

“We would also like to thank the spotter pilots for all the updates they provided,” Sands said. The purse seine harvest for May 4 was 2,805 tons and 445 tons for May 5 , bringing the cumulative purse seine harvest to 14,145 tons with a reported roe percentage of 11.3 percent and an average size of 413 grams through May 6, according to ADF&G.

The season opened on April 28, with an allocation of 16,060 tons for seiners and 6,883 tons for gillnetters, but the fish were not yet mature enough to harvest.

As the fishery got underway, there were eight gillnetters and 19 seiners fishing, but Sands said he expects that by season’s end there will be 19 gillnetters out there too.

Last year just three gillnetters participated in the Togiak herring district.

The reason for the potential increase in participating gillnetters is optimism about the price. “They are hoping for a better price than last year,” Sands said.

The estimated value of the 2016 fishery was $1.52 million, based on $100 per ton, not counting post-season adjustments.

ADF&G officials said department staff flew a survey of the Togiak herring district on April 28 under poor conditions and saw herring along Cape Constantine, outside of Kulukak Bay, in the northeast corner of Togiak Bay and along the east face of Hagemeiter Island. The biologists were able to document a threshold biomass of 35,000 tons of herring on that survey.

Omnibus Bill Includes Benefits for Alaska Fisheries

The omnibus bill passed by the US Senate on May 5 to keep the federal government running through September includes components to help sustainably maintain Alaska’s world-class fisheries, says Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.

The senator, who sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee, was successful in including a provision that blocks the Food and Drug Administration from introducing genetically engineers salmon into the market until the FDA publishes labeling guidelines so customers know exactly what they are buying.

Murkowski also secured language to amend the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act to update the FDA’s seafood list to change the acceptable market name of brown king crab to golden king crab.

The bill also includes millions of dollars in funding for upgrades to the U.S. Coast Guard base at Kodiak, materials for construction of a polar icebreaker, offshore patrol cutters, and fast response cutters.

Also included in the bill for fisheries science, research and management on a national scale is $164 million for fisheries data collection, surveys and assessments; $34.3 million for regional councils and fisheries commissions, $33.5 million for salon management activities, $10.5 million for integrated ocean acidification research, $65 million for the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund, $12 million to fulfill obligations under the Pacific Salmon Treaty, and $130 million in Saltonstall-Kennedy funds to promote and develop fishery products and research pertaining to American fisheries.

The National Sea Grant College Program was allocated $63 million, hydrographic surveys of the nation’s coastline $27 million, and the National Weather Service $979.8 million.

Werner Named to Northwest Fisheries Science Center

NOAA Fisheries has announced the appointment of Kevin Werner as the new science and research director for NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center, effective May 14.

As director, Werner will continue the work of planning, developing and managing a multidisciplinary program of basic and applied research on the living marine resources in the Pacific Northwest, specifically Washington, Oregon and Northern California coasts, and in freshwater rivers of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.

A former NOAA Corps officer who has held various positions with the organization for nearly two decades, Werner has won multiple awards for his leadership and administrative accomplishments.

Prior to being named director of the Northwest Center, he was the director of NOAA’s National Weather Service Office of Organizational Excellence, coordinating NOAA’s climate services investments in an eight-state region of the Western US.

Werner holds a doctorate in political science and master’s in public administration from the University of Utah, and masters in atmospheric sciences and bachelor’s degree in atmospheric sciences and mathematics from the University of Washington.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Northern Edge Exercises Under Way in Gulf of Alaska

Biennial military training exercises known as Northern Edge are underway in Alaska, including the Gulf of Alaska, where commercial fisheries critical to many coastal communities are also about to begin.

Major participants, there to sharpen their tactical combat skills and communication relationships, include the US Pacific Command, Alaskan Command, US Pacific Fleet, Air National Guard, and other military units.

Their presence is again raising concerns among fishermen and environmentalists worried about potential adverse impact of training exercises.

Marine conservation biologist Rick Steiner, of Anchorage, cites a National Marine Fisheries Service report that says species expected to be adversely impacted by the Navy exercises include several species of whales, sea lions and seals, as well as threatened runs of coho and chum salmon and steelhead trout. While the NMFS biological opinion and an environmental impact study by the Navy simply predict impact, based on existing scientific literature, the actual impact of these exercises needs to be measured with a real time environmental monitoring program conducted during the exercise, but the Navy has refused a request that it conduct such studies, Steiner said.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, recently urged the US Pacific Command to give serious thought to conducting the Gulf of Alaska component of Northern Edge 2019 in the fall. The senator said she understood that this alternative is under consideration and noted that it is important that the Navy’s consideration of this alternative be transparent to affected communities.

In spite of the Navy’s improved outreach, there remains dissatisfaction with respect to the timing of the exercise, specifically its proximity to the fishing season in the Gulf of Alaska. “Some stakeholders argue that scientific knowledge is insufficient to assure that the Navy’s activities during this sensitive time are fully compatible with the region’s commercial fishing economy,” she said.

She also urged the Navy to continue working with communities and stakeholders during and after Northern Edge 2017. “If adverse environmental impacts are identified in the course of the exercise, it is important that they be immediately addressed,” she said.

Herring Fishery Begins at Togiak

The Togiak herring fishery is under way in Southwest Alaska, with a cumulative purse seine harvest through May 2 of 7,980 tons, with a reported roe percentage of 10.8 percent and an average size of 424 grams.

Area biologist Tim Sands, with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game at Dillingham, said the purse seine harvest for May 1 was 3,375 tons and for May 2 was 2,325 tons.

The gillnet fleet has started fishing, but that harvest will remain confidential for now, Sands said. The fishery remains open with no new changes to the accessible areas.

The season began on April 28, with an allocation of 16,060 tons for seiners and 6,883 tons for gillnetters, but the fish were not yet mature enough to harvest.

As the fishery got underway, there were eight gillnetters and 19 seiners fishing, but Sands said he expects that by season’s end there will be 19 gillnetters out there too.

Last year only three gillnetters participated in the Togiak herring district. The reason for the potential increase in participating gillnetters is optimism about the price. “They are hoping for a better price than last year,” Sands said.

The estimated value of the 2016 fishery was $1.52 million, based on $100 per ton, not counting post-season adjustments.

ADF&G officials said department staff flew a survey of the Togiak herring district on April 28 under poor conditions and saw herring along Cape Constantine, outside of Kulukak Bay, in the northeast corner of Togiak Bay and along the east face of Hagemeiter Island. The biologists were able to document a threshold biomass of 35,000 tons of herring on that survey.

Lowell Wakefield Fisheries Symposium Set for May 9–11 in Anchorage

Discussion on the latest research on changing fisheries is on tap for the 31st annual Lowell Wakefield Fisheries Symposium, May 9-11 at the Hotel Captain Cook in Anchorage. This year’s symposium will examine the impact of a changing environment on the dynamics of high-latitude fish and fisheries.

“What we learn at the meeting will provide strategic advice to managers about how to manage fish stocks in a changing environment,” said Franz Mueter, a fisheries professor at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks and symposium co-chair.

Professor Hans-Otto Portner of the Alfred Wegener Institute of Polar and Marine Research in Bremerhaven, Germany, is the symposium’s keynote speaker.

Other invited speakers include Anna Neuheimer, University of Hawaii; Christian Mollmann, University of Hamburg; Brad Seibel, University of South Florida; Charles Sock, NOAA Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory; Cody Szuwalski, University of California Santa Barbara, and Kathy Mills, Gulf of Maine Research Institute.

The focus will be on the effects of warming, loss of sea ice, ocean acidification, and oceanographic variability on the distribution, phenology, life history, population dynamics and interactions of artic and sub-artic species.

Symposium topics will include the influence of ocean temperatures on Chinook salmon, the Blob and walleye Pollock, effects of ocean acidification on Pacific cod, an evaluation of management strategies under projected environmental changes, as well as coastal community adaptation to climate change and environmental variability.

Register online at https://seagrant.uaf.edu/events/ssl/register.php?id=269

NPFMC Meets in Juneau, Alaska June 5-14

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council has posted the agenda and schedule for its Juneau June 5-14 meeting online. The agenda includes finalizing five-year research priorities, and final action on Area 4 halibut IFQ leasing by community development quota groups. Also on the agenda for final action are the Bering Sea yellowfin sole trawl limited access fishery and the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands crab harvest specifications for three stocks and plan team report. Federal fisheries managers will also hear discussion papers on American Fisheries Act and non-AFA small sideboard elimination, Gulf of Alaska crab habitat conservation measures and allocation review triggers.

All NPFMC meetings are open to the public, except for executive sessions. The deadline for written comments is May 30. They should be sent via email to npfmc.comments@noaa.gov.

The council meeting will be broadcast at https://npfmc.adobeconnect.com/june2017 All motions will be posted online following the meeting.

The meeting schedule is available at: http://www.npfmc.org/wp-content/PDFdocuments/meetings/SCHEDULE0617.pdf

The agenda can be found at: http://legistar2.granicus.com/npfmc/meetings/2017/6/957_A_North_Pacific_Council_17-06-05_Meeting_Agenda.pdf

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Copper River Fishery Faces Escapement Challenges

With the opening of Alaska’s famed Copper River sockeye salmon fishery coming up in three weeks, commercial fishermen are trying to figure out ways to fish on the reds while assuring that escapement goals on the kings are met.

Harvesters with Cordova District Fishermen United met this week to discuss the issue with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and another session is slated for April 28.

“While the commercial harvests of sockeyes has been good over the past five years, the escapement goals upriver for kings were not met in 2015 or 2016,” says Jeremy Botz, area management biologist in Cordova for ADF&G. This year, with a forecast of a weak run of some 29,000 kings to the Copper River district, the allowable commercial harvest has been set at 4,000 Chinook, and the minimum threshold escapement goal for the kings is 24,000 fish. That is the preseason plan, based on the forecast. While the run could turn out to be stronger or weaker, state fisheries biologists won’t have enough information to assess the strength of the king run until the second week of the salmon fishery, which is expected to open May 15 or May 18.

Meanwhile ADF&G plans to substantially expand the inside closure area to the eastern end of the district to help assure that kings migrating through with the sockeyes are included in the escapement.

ADF&G is anticipating the possibility of the lowest Chinook harvest in that district since statehood. Management actions anticipated are above and beyond anything they’ve done before, to assure the required escapement of kings this year.

Jerry McCune, president of CDFU and a veteran commercial harvester from Cordova, said that the fleet will do its part to assure that the king salmon escapement is met, but he hopes that won’t mean losing the chance to harvest most of the sockeyes. McCune also expressed concern for the safety of smaller fishing vessels outside of the barrier islands in the gulf, where there is little protection from stormy weather.

AYFN Seeks to Connect the Next Generation of Fishermen

A spring shindig celebrating Alaska’s fishing traditions and the upcoming fishing season is on tap tonight (April 26, 2017) in Anchorage, the latest effort of the Alaska Young Fishermen’s Network to help the next generation of fishermen network.

AYFN is finding that social gatherings, such as this one hosted at the 49th State Brewing Co. in downtown Anchorage, are drawing young harvesters and their mentors together to share stories of their adventures at sea, and to learn about everything from harvesting to fish policy management.

AYFN’s Fishmas party in Homer this past winter drew some 200 people.

“Building these connections with each other is very important,” says Hannah Heimbuch, coordinator for AYFN, and a community organizer in Homer for the Alaska Marine Conservation Council. While young fishermen are technically defined as those under the age of 40, the group spread includes folks from their mid 20s to those with years in fisheries. “It takes all ages to make this industry set the next generation up for success, and mentorship should be part of the network as well,” she said.

Since AMCC initiated AYFN back in December of 2013 the network has introduced an array of projects and activities to support and educate young fishermen. In March of 2016, AYFN led a cross-country educational tour of 11 young fishermen to the Boston Seafood Show, to Washington DC to learn about the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management act, and then to New Orleans for the Slow Fish gathering. This past January a group of young halibut fishermen traveled to the first British Columbia Young Fishermen’s Gathering and to the International Pacific Halibut Commission meeting in Victoria, BC.

“As much as we need young people building strong businesses on the water, we need them learning to navigate the policy arena, advocating for their fisheries and communities,” Heimbuch said.

AYFN wanted to serve as a connector between young people and their mentors, and to important resources and opportunities around the state. “We are building a source for connection, information and inspiration,” she said.

AYFN’s activities, including fishing fellowships by host organizations, are funded by a two-year grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

More information is online at https://www.akyoungfishermen.org/

Upper Cook Inlet Salmon Outlook

A run of some 4 million sockeye salmon is the forecast for Alaska’s Upper Cook Inlet this summer, with a harvest by all user groups of 2.6 million reds. That would include about 1.7 million sockeyes, which is 1.2 million fewer fish than the most recent 10-year average annual commercial sockeye harvest of 2.9 million fish.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has put the run forecast for the Kenai River at 2.2 million sockeyes, which is 1.4 million less than the 20-year average run of 3.6 million. For the Kasilof River, the sockeye run is predicted to be 825,000 fish, or 16 percent less than the 20-year average annual run of 987,000 fish. For the Susitna River, ADF&G is predicting a run of 366,000 reds, which would be 5 percent less than the 10-year average of 387,000 fish.

Several regulatory changes made by the Alaska Board of Fisheries at the board’s February-March meeting will be implemented during the upcoming season.

The regulatory booklets are to be published after the new regulations become law, which should occur in early June, ADF&G officials said.

Global Effort Launched on Seafood Traceability

The Global Dialogue on Seafood Traceability has launched a web-based platform inviting companies to join in a collaborative process to adopt voluntary standards and guidelines for interoperable seafood traceability systems.

The announcement during Seafood Expo Global in Brussels, Belgium, came from the World Wildlife Fund. “Companies around the world have been looking for ways to lower costs and improve access to reliable seafood traceability without getting trapped into inflexible proprietary systems,” said David Schorr, senior manager of WWF’s Transparent Seas Project. The organization plans to utilize its online platform (http://www.traceability-dialogue.org) to facilitate virtual and face-to-face meetings of working groups tasked with designing a new voluntary seafood traceability framework.

Traceability of seafood is recognized as a way to help meet sustainability commitments, fight illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, and reduce other supply chain risks, including the elimination of slavery at sea. Consumers as well as government entities in the European Union, United States and elsewhere have been increasingly demanding to know the origin of seafood for sale and whether those seafood products for sale in their markets were legally produced.

Organizers are planning a technical workshop in Bangkok, Thailand, in early May, and an informational meeting during the SeaWeb Seafood Summit (www.seafoodsummit.org) in Seattle in June.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Alaska Seafood Ranked Most Popular Protein on US Menus

The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s 2016 annual report, celebrates an exciting first, says ASMI Executive Director Alexa Tonkovich.

After years of holding steady in second place among protein brands, Alaska seafood is now the number one ranked most popular protein on US menus among the top 500 restaurant chains, besting Angus beef, Kobe beef, Louisiana seafood and more.

Global currency challenges and a rocky fiscal climate in Alaska notwithstanding, the seafood industry remains an asset in the state’s portfolio, Tonkovich said.

According to the report, some 60,000 resident and non-resident workers in Alaska’s seafood industry earn $1.6 billion in annual wages based on 2013 and 2014 averages. A total of 31,580 harvesters – the majority of whom are Alaskans – earned income as skippers and crew, operating some 8,600 vessels.

Alaska fisheries provided work statewide, -creating in excess of 10,000 full-time-equivalent jobs in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, nearly 10,000 in Southeast Alaska, more than 8,000 in Kodiak, 7,000 in Southcentral Alaska, more than 4,500 in Bristol Bay and nearly 1,000 jobs in the Arctic and Yukon Kuskokwim regions.

America’s increased seafood consumption is partly attributed to federal food assistance programs that distribute surplus canned salmon to food banks nationwide. AMSI was instrumental in coordinating the sale of $77 million in canned salmon to those programs between 2014 and 2015, helping the industry manage inventories after record pink and sockeye salmon harvests.

ASMI expanded domestic market channels for Alaska sockeye, with partnerships with Sam’s Club, Walmart and Red Lobster, thus avoiding significant carryover inventory of frozen sockeye heading into 2016, which could have lowered prices for the 2016 harvest, the report noted.

Meanwhile, Alaska seafood exports to ASMI program destinations maintained value at about the same level as the prior year, despite a strong US dollar and the Russian embargo.

The complete report is available online at https://indd.adobe.com/view/46b34fd5-da1f-4257-ae90-ada17dd5943c

Bill Would Boost Training of Young Fishermen

Bipartisan legislation introduced in the US House in April would establish the first national program to support young men and women entering the commercial fishing industry with educational opportunities through NOAA’s Sea Grant Program.

HR 2079, the Young Fishermen’s Development Act of 2017, would provide grants of up to $200,000 and a total of $2 million annually. The bill is a big step forward in the Fishing Communities Coalition’s effort to establish a coordinated, nationwide effort to train and assist the next generation of commercial harvesters.

“This legislation is about supporting the livelihoods that support entire fishing communities in Alaska and around the country,” said Rep. Don Young, R-AK, who introduced the bill with Rep. Seth Moulton, D-MA. “I am extremely proud to stand up with them.”

“This legislation will help to sustain the fishing industry by ensuring that our young people not only have a future in fishing, but are also empowered with the training and resources necessary to thrive in the 21st-century economy,” Moulton said.

The legislation is backed by the Fishing Communities Coalition, which represents commercial fishermen from New England, Alaska, California and the Gulf Coast.

Sea Lion Predation of Salmon Prompts Legislation

The latest effort to remove sea lions from areas of the Columbia River where they pose the greatest threat of survival of endangered salmon, steelhead and other native fish species was introduced in the US House in April.

The Endangered Salmon and Fisheries Predation Prevention Act “is critical because sea lion predation is posing a serious threat to our salmon populations, impacting our efforts to ensure their survival,” said Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-WA, who introduced the bill with Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-OR.

In the last few years there have been a record number of California and Steller sea lions in the Columbia River from Astoria to Bonneville Dam, numbers totally inconsistent with their historic range, Schrader said.

According to a statement released by Schrader, historic recovery efforts of endangered salmon and steelhead populations in the Columbia River have been compromised by exponentially increasing sea lion predation in recent years.

The issue is a complex one, according to reports issued by NOAA Fisheries, saying that birds, fish and marine mammal predation are a major cause of mortality for Endangered Species Act listed juvenile and adult fish in the Columbia River Basin. California sea lions and Steller sea lions consume substantial numbers of adult spring Chinook salmon, sturgeon and winter steelhead below Bonneville Dam, the agency reported earlier.

Similar legislation was introduced in the last session of Congress.

AFSC Study Examines Bering Sea Fish Populations Over 34 Years

A new study by the Alaska Fisheries Science Center examines how fish populations have changed over the past 34 years of varying climate conditions, and researchers say their work may provide clues to how future changes will affect fisheries.

According to fisheries biologist Steve Barbeaux, lead author of the study, climate variability has increased in recent years in the Bering Sea and the science center will use that information to study how ecosystems respond to change.

Summer bottom trawl surveys provide information fisheries managers need to set quotas for sustainable fishing. Data collected include where fish are, how many and what species are found, sex, size and age, as well as environmental data such as ocean temperature.

Barbeaux analyzed survey data from 1986 through 2015 to explore patterns of fish distribution by species, size and sex in relation to environmental conditions. He mapped that data to create visualizations that show fish life histories unfolding over space and time.

Sufficient data was available for in-depth analyses of 22 groundfish species, from arrowtooth flounder to yellowfin sole. While changes in Bering Sea fish distributions in relation to climate variability have been widely reported, no other study has specifically examined ontogenetic differences in how fish respond to climate variability, Barbeaux said. Ontogeny relates to the origination and development of an organism, usually from the time of fertilization of the egg to the organism’s mature form.

Barbeaux said the studies show that some species prefer relatively cold or warm, shallow or deep waters and this knowledge could help predict where they will go as conditions change. Climate affected middle life stages the most, he said. For species that shifted distribution between warm and cold years, mid-size fish were most affected, he said.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Senators Back National Sea Grant Program

Oregon Democrat Jeff Merkley and Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski have introduced a bipartisan Senate resolution expressing the support of the Senate for the National Sea Grant College Program.

The resolution, with 24 co-sponsors, highlights the importance of the program to improving the health of coastal ecosystems, sustaining fisheries and its economic impact in 31 states and two territories. President Trump’s proposed budget would eliminate funding for the Sea Grant College program.

Merkley called the Sea Grant Program “a textbook example of a smart and targeted investment in local communities that helps create economic growth. Our coastal communities are a key part of our economy in Oregon and numerous other states.”

“At a time when coastal ecosystems and infrastructure are under unique stress from a changing climate, it would be a terrible idea to cut back on support that will help our communities adapt and continue to thrive and create jobs,” he said.

Sea Grant plays a vital role in Alaska and throughout the state’s coastal communities, with the programs combining essential aspects of applied research, communication, extension and education, Murkowski said.

“For more than four decades, the National Sea Grant programs have aided in spreading economic sustainability and environmental conservation of our nation’s bountiful marine resources,” she added.

The resolution available online at https://www.merkley.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Sos%20Sea%20Grant%20Resolution%20Final.pdf notes than 42 percent of the population of the United States lives or works in coastal areas and that coastal counties contribute over $7.6 trillion annually to the economy.

The resolution also indicates that the National Sea Grant College program had an economic impact of $575 million in 2015 from a Federal investment of $67.3 million, an 854-percent return on investment.

Outlook Issued for Prince William Sound, Bristol Bay Salmon Fisheries

Commercial fishing in the Copper River’s famed wild salmon fishery is expected to begin the week of May 14, with a harvest projection for the Copper River District of 889,000 sockeye, 207,000 coho and 4,000 Chinook salmon.

State Department of Fish and Game biologists say the initial management strategy will be based on anticipated weekly sockeye and Chinook salmon harvests, with additional assessments of river conditions, fishing effort and harvest consistency. Beginning in early to mid-August, when coho harvest becomes predominant, the Copper and Bering River districts will be managed for coho stocks.

The 2017 pink salmon forecast run for Prince William Sound is 67.16 million fish, of which 58.92 million will be available for commercial harvest. If the natural stock pink salmon forecast is realized it would be the second largest natural run on record, and well above the 1997–2015 odd-year average return of 12.29 million fish. State biologists said the 2017 Prince William Sound pink salmon forecast is the largest on record and liberal fishing time and area is anticipated if returns are as strong as expected.

The 2017 Bristol Bay sockeye salmon forecast is for some 41.5 million fish, with a projected bay-wide harvest of 27.47 million reds. Last year the Bay produced a sockeye harvest of 37.3 million fish from a total run of 51.4 million, exceeding the forecasted 46.55 million fish.

The average ex-vessel price of 76 cents a pound put the total sockeye fishery value at $153.2 million, according to the Bristol Bay Fishermen’s Association (formerly the Alaska Independent Fishermen’s Marketing Association).

Forecasters call for a total run of 10.65 million reds into Egegik and projected harvest of 8.56 million fish, while the Naknek-Kvichak district is anticipated to have a run of 16.07 million fish and harvest of 8.29 million.

For the Nushagak district, the anticipated sockeye run is 8.62 million, with a harvest of 6.06 million. The Ugashik district has a forecasted run of 5.46 million reds and harvest of 4.09 million fish, while Togiak’s anticipated run of 0.66 million reds is expected to produce a harvest of 0.48 million fish.

Southeast Alaska Chinook Salmon All-Gear Harvest Limit Set at 209,700 Fish

The preseason Chinook salmon all-gear harvest limit for Southeast Alaska in 2017 has been set at 209,700 fish, under provisions of the Pacific Salmon Treaty, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced this week.

Southeast Alaska’s treaty harvest limit on Chinooks is determined by the Chinook Technical Committee of the Pacific Salmon Commission. It is based on the forecast of an aggregate abundance of Pacific Coast Chinook salmon stocks subject to management under the Pacific Salmon Treaty.

The allocation is shared by sport and commercial troll and net fisheries, under management plans specified by the Alaska Board of Fisheries.

For 2017, the troll sector will get 154,990 fish, and sport harvesters will get 38,720 fish, both after net gear is subtracted. The purse seiners are allocated 9,020 kings, drift gillnetters 6,080 kings and set gillnetters 1,000 fish.

Dale Kelley, executive director of the Alaska Trollers Association, said that even though they fish for kings year round right now everybody is fixated on how many fish they will get when they go fishing on July 1.

“Given that we just came off of a difficult winter fishery dominated by bad weather conditions, and we are going to be tightening our belts in the spring to protect local stocks, the quota announcement is extremely disappointing and presents enormous economic challenges for trollers and other fishermen in Southeast Communities,” she said.

NPFMC Take Action on CDQ Ownership Caps

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) has taken final action to establish limitations on ownership and use of limited access privileges to prevent the excessive consolidation of privileges under Community Development Quota (CDQ) caps.

During its spring meeting in Anchorage the council voted to revise the regulations governing the ownership attribution model for CDQ groups for excessive share limitations under the American Fisheries Act (AFA) Program.

The preferred alternative also calls for revision to regulations and to the crab fisheries management plan governing the ownership attribution model for CDQ groups for the processor quota share ownership and individual processor quota use caps under the crab rationalization program, as directed in the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

In addition to their allocations under the CDQ program, CDQ groups participate in other limited access privilege programs, including AFA and crab rationalization by purchasing quota shares or thorough vessel ownership and processors participating in these fisheries.

Since the 2006 amendment to the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the National Marine Fisheries Service has implemented the proportional ownership attribution method for CDQ groups to monitor excessive share caps in the AFA and crab rationalization programs. However, these and the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands crab fisheries management plan have not been updated to reflect that change. The council’s action would revise regulations and the crab FMP to make them consistent with the Magnuson-Stevens Act and current practice.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Progress Reported in Implementing Pot Cod Fleet Monitoring

An electronic monitoring (EM) project for Alaska’s pot cod fishery is building on two prior pilot projects by North Pacific Fisheries Association (NPFA) and Saltwater Inc. to determine the feasibility of this technology.

A critical goal of this pre-implementation effort is to develop sustainable infrastructure to support long-term implementation of EM in Alaska, says Nancy Munro, of Saltwater Inc., an observer and EM service provider based in Anchorage.

Munro was in Kodiak for ComFish 2017 to discuss the project in a forum with others on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s EM working team.

The project tests a model that focuses on the importance of high quality data and cost effectiveness, and highlights skipper engagement, integration of observers into the EM program, cross training of skilled EM personnel and a streamlined feedback loop between vessels and the data.

Saltwater has been collecting fisheries data via its observer programs for the past 30 years and EM data for the last eight. The firm currently provides EM services in multiple domestic fisheries, including Alaska’s fixed gear fishery.

The concept behind the project reflects the thinking of many industry participants, Munro said. With support from the National Marine Fisheries Service and North Pacific Fishery Management Council, the project is part of the pre-implementation of EM for Alaska’s fixed gear fleet.

“Considering the generic human resistance to change and the process of envisioning a program by a committee of competing interests, I think we’re doing OK,” Munro said. “We have a ways to go to design a program which will be cost effective for the industry, but we are making progress.

“As part of the pre-implementation model, current and prior NMFS observers are reviewing EM data in Anchorage. This has created a tight feedback loop between the boats and the data. With timely results, we are able to provide in-season feedback memos to vessels and correct issues that interfere with collecting good data. We are using open source review software, which decreases costs and encourage innovation,” she said.

Also packed into three days of ComFish were a number of other forums dealing with everything from fish politics to marketing efforts, the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s global food aid program, and educational opportunities for young fishermen through the University of Alaska and Alaska Sea Grant programs.

Oil Leak in Cook Inlet Stopped

In the aftermath of Hilcorp Alaska’s agreement with the state of Alaska to a temporary shutdown of its oil and gas production to halt the environmental impact from a gas line leak in Cook Inlet, another spill, this time from oil, was discovered on April 1.

The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) at first said an unknown amount of Cook Inlet crude oil was released into the environment on April 1, then revised that figure to under 10 gallons. The crude oil came from an 8-inch oil pipeline located in the Upper Cook Inlet near Granite Point.

On April 3, DEC issued an update, to say Hilcorp successfully and safely evacuated all crude oil from the suspected leaking pipeline by displacing it with filtered seawater. That pipeline is an oil gathering line connecting two of Hilcorp’s platforms in the area. The exact cause of the oil release is unknown and remains under investigation.

While Hilcorp activated its response contractor upon discovery of the spill, six oil sheens were observed, the largest being 10 feet by 12 feet, while two of the sheens were three to four feet by 20 to 25 feet in size, DEC said.

DEC also said that marine mammals likely to be present at the time of the spill include endangered Cook Inlet beluga whales, seal lions, harbor seals, other whales and porpoises.

Also present in the area at the time were likely to be Dolly Varden, rainbow trout, Pacific eulachon, Pacific halibut, Pacific herring, Bering cisco, humpback whitefish, American shad, Walleye pollock, sablefish, Pacific and saffron cod, yellowfin sole and smelt, DEC said.

The discharge occurred within designated critical habitat for Cook Inlet beluga whales. The area is also essential fish habitat for all five species of Pacific salmon.

“It has been less than a week since Hilcorp agreed to temporarily shut down oil and gas production as part of its response to a leaking gas supply line, said Alaska Gov. Bill Walker. “Now Hilcorp has reported a separate leaking oil line, which is significantly more harmful than natural gas.” The governor said he is deeply concerned about the potential impact to the environment, and that the state’s spill prevention and response team has responded.

Hilcorp Alaska agreed on March 25 to a temporary shutdown of its oil and gas production to reduce environmental impact and safety risks in the wake of the company’s gas line leak in Cook Inlet.

That decision came after discussions between company executives and Walker, who said “Alaskans want peace of mind that our waters are protected.”

Bipartisan Alliance Formed to Address Marine Debris

Bipartisan legislation to help address the marine debris crisis affecting America’s ocean shorelines and inland waterways has been introduced in the US Senate by Senators Cory Booker, D-NJ, Sheldon Whitehouse, D-RI and Dan Sullivan, R-AK.

The Save our Seas Act would allow the NOAA administrator to declare severe marine debris events and authorize funds to assist with cleanup and response. The governor of an affected state would also be able to request such a declaration from NOAA. The bill would reauthorize NOAA’s Marine Debris Program through fiscal year 2022, to conduct research on the source of marine debris and take action to prevent and clean up that debris.

It would also encourage the executive branch of government to engage with leaders of nations responsible for the bulk of marine debris, examine the causes of ocean debris, discuss effective prevention and mitigation strategies, and economic benefits for treaty nations in addressing the crisis.

The Save our Seas Act, S. 756, would also address other coasts across the globe.

“Marine debris threatens critical species and habitats, litters our shorelines, and hurts coastal businesses,” Booker said. “Our bipartisan bill authorizes NOAA to continue and expand its work to address this problem, and I look forward to working with Senator Sullivan and our other colleagues to secure additional funding for this program.”

“We have a long way to go, but this legislation is a start toward research, international efforts, and responsible trade policies that together will help us better care for the world’s oceans,” Whitehouse said.

Sullivan meanwhile praised the legislation as a way for the US government to hold accountable countries whom he said are responsible for the majority of debris in oceans. “This bill encourages the Trump administration to forge alliances with these countries and to take a stand against the dangerous levels of debris in our oceans and make sure that they do not reach America’s coastlines,” he said.

Harvest Strategy Approved for PWS Tanner Crab

A harvest strategy critical to future tanner crab fisheries in Prince William Sound was approved by the Alaska Board of Fisheries during its statewide king and tanner crab meeting in Anchorage in late March.

Proposal 268, from Cordova District Fishermen United (CDFU), amends state regulations for tanner crab in Prince William Sound specifying conditions under which a commercial fishery may occur. It also establishes a sport fishery for tanner crab there as well, when the threshold level is reached for mature male abundance.

The proposal says that a harvest strategy should be formulated from the trawl survey data.

The Cordova commercial fishermen’s group said thresholds above which a commercial fishery could occur, as well as guideline harvest levels, can be determined conservatively using the same format and formulas used for the Eastern Aleutians District tanner crab harvest strategy in the Westward Area, which supports a small commercial tanner crab fishery in most years.

Until the board’s action, Prince William Sound was the only area in Alaska with a stock assessment for tanner crab, but no harvest strategy in regulation.

Tanner crab abundance in Prince William Sound has been increasing and with the harvest strategy in place a commercial fishery there could offer economic opportunity to local fishermen and communities, CDFU said.

There has not been a commercial tanner crab fishery in Prince William Sound since the late 1980s because of the lack of abundance, noted Glenn Haight, executive director of the fisheries board.

Proposal 267, from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, also supports creation of a harvest strategy and amending regulations for tanner crab in Prince William Sound specifying conditions under which the commercial fishery could occur and also reducing the legal size limit in the subsistence tanner crab fishery.

The board also approved a number of other proposals, including a 20-pot per vessel limit on the South Peninsula tanner crab fishery.

Haight said that the board planned to take a harder look at the Bering Sea tanner crab harvest strategy during a meeting in mid-May.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

AMSEA Safety Courses Coming Up in April and May

Spaces are still available for a variety of fishing vessel and cold water safety courses from mid- April and through May, offered by the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association in Sitka.

The fishing vessel drill conductor workshop at Cordova on April 15 will cover cold-water survival skills, emergency position-indicating radio beacon stations (EPIRBs), flares and maydays; man-overboard recovery and firefighting; immersion suits and personal floatation devices, helicopter rescue, life rafts, abandon ship procedures and emergency drills.

There will be an in-the-water practice session, giving participants practical experience with PFDs and immersion suits, employing survival techniques, and righting and boarding an inflatable life raft.

The same course will be conducted in Dillingham April 20-21. Enrollment for that course in Haines on April 26-27 is already closed, but there are spots left in the marine safety instructor training course at Seward April 25-30.

Other AMSEA courses in Alaska in May include the fishing vessel drill conductor course at Seward May 1, at Anchorage May 6-7, at Sitka May 9, and Unalaska May 26-28.

AMSEA drill conductor workshops meet training requirements for drill conductors on board documented commercial fishing vessels operating beyond the federal boundary line.

AMSEA advises that this is an excellent opportunity for commercial fishermen and other mariners to gain hands-on training with marine safety equipment and learn best practices for surviving emergencies at sea.

Interested mariners may register at www.amsea.org or call 1-907-747-3287.

Togiak Herring Sac Roe Harvest Set

Harvest allocations for the 2017 Togiak, Alaska, herring sac roe fishery are set at 22,943 tons, with 19,060 tons, or 70 percent for the purse seine vessels, and 6,883 tons, or 30 percent for gillnet harvesters.

The spawn-on-kelp harvest allocation was set at 1,500 tons and the Dutch Harbor food and bait allocation at 1,727 tons.

Biologists with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) said that the allocation decision, which is usually based on the spawning biomass forecast, this year is based on the average spawning biomass for all years for which they have data, 1978 -2015, less 10 percent in order to be conservative.

Traditionally the department has used an age structured assessment model to forecast the spawning biomass of Togiak herring, which requires estimates of the spawning biomass as well as estimates of the age composition of the spawning biomass and the harvest, ADF&G biologists said on March 28.

The Pacific herring spawning biomass for the Togiak District was not estimated in 2016 nor was any estimate made of the age composition of the 2016 harvest due to state budget cuts, hence the decision to use data averages, they said.

The Bristol Bay Herring Management Plan sets a maximum 20 percent exploitation rate for Togiak District stock. Based on the forecast of 130,852 tons, 26,170 tons of herring will be available for harvest this year.

The management strategy for the Togiak herring fishery is designed to provide for maximum sustained yield. This year the sac roe fisheries will again be managed to maximize product quality through long openings, which allow permit holders to make smaller sets and harvest the highest quality fish, biologists said. Long openings also allow processors to have flexible control of harvest volume so that holding time between harvest and processing is optimal.

Based on a preseason poll, processing capacity is expected to be about 2,150 tons a day. The poll also indicates that four processors will participate in the Togiak sac roe herring fishery with a fleet size of 16 gillnet and 19 purse seine vessels.

For the last decade, ADF&G has opened the herring fishery as soon as the threshold biomass of 35,000 tons has been documented and will use this strategy again in 2017. The strategy allows individual companies to maximize their processing capacity and decide what quality fish is suitable for their individual markets.

ADF&G uses a sea surface temperature model based on temperatures near Unalaska to predict Togiak herring run timing. Based on that model, the fishery should commence around the first week of May, but harvesters and processors are cautioned that this timing model has not performed very well the last couple of years, biologists said.

The department has secured funds sufficient to fly aerial surveys and process herring for age, sex and length samples, which will allow staff to resume use of the age structured assessment model for forecasting herring biomass, biologists said.

MCA Offers New Website on Sustainability

An interactive website developed by the Marine Conservation Alliance now offers its “Seven Principles of Sustainability,” a comprehensive overview from MCA’s perspective on federal fisheries management in the ocean off of Alaska.

Included on the site are sections on habitat protection, by catch management, food webs and environmental change.

The site (www.ebfm.marineconservaitonalliance.org) also has sections on community protections and protections against overfishing. Interactive tools allow users to view areas closed to fishing in the North Pacific, explaining how each closure applies and why it was developed.

“There is nothing else like this available to illustrate the complexity of North Pacific fisheries regulations, interactions, and their impacts,” said Lori Swanson, MCA executive director.

“Ecosystem-based fishery management continues to evolve in this area. Managers are doing a lot of things right.”

MCA is a consortium of stakeholders including harvesters, processors and communities. Its purpose is to promote sustainable fisheries through science-based management.

The MCA board is made up of 10 seats, each representing a segment of the North Pacific and Bering Sea fishing industry.

Member organizations include the Adak Community Development Corp., Alaska Longline Co., Alaska Whitefish Trawlers Association; Alaska Groundfish Data Bank, Alaska Scallop Association, Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association, Arctic Storm Management Group, Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp., Central Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association, the city of Unalaska, Glacier Fish Co., Groundfish Forum, High Seas Catcher Vessels, Icicle Seafoods, Norton Sound Economic Development Corp., Pacific Seafood, Pacific Seafood Processors Association and United Catcher Boats.

Temporary Shutdown of Cook Inlet Oil and Gas Production

Hilcorp Alaska has agreed to a temporary shutdown of its oil and gas production to reduce environmental impact and safety risks in the wake of the company’s gas line leak in Cook Inlet.

The decision came in the aftermath of discussions between company executives and Alaska Gov. Bill Walker, who said “Alaskans want peace of mind that our waters are protected.”

Hilcorp executives committed to Walker that they will not be starting up production at the Cook Inlet platforms again until federal and state regulators are satisfied that the oil and gas lines can be operated safely and in accordance with all applicable laws, the governor’s office said March 25.

Hilcorp agreed to reduce the gas line pressure by half – from 145 pounds per square inch to 65 psi, the minimum needed to maintain pressure to prevent water from entering the line. Because the gas line was formerly an oil pipeline, old crude oil could potentially leak into the inlet if water were to enter the gas line.

Hilcorp said in its statement, also issued on March 25, that as the company works with government agencies to finalize the plan to reduce gas line pressure, shut-in production and repair the pipeline, “the safety of personnel, wildlife and the environment remain the top priority.”

Hilcorp first discovered the leak into Cook Inlet, an important salmon fishery for commercial, sport and personal use harvesters, during a helicopter overflight on Feb. 7, and reported the situation to federal and state agencies. The company said winter ice has hampered efforts to repair the line because it makes it dangerous for divers and boats to operate in the area of the leak.

Hilcorp contends in its reports to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation that the spill has not unduly harmed the environment, but Bob Shavelson, advocacy director for the nonprofit Cook Inletkeeper said the ongoing pollution “lies in the heart of some of the most important habitat for the endangered Cook Inlet beluga whale and its prey species.”

Cook Inletkeeper served notice on Hilcorp in mid-February of intent to file a lawsuit under the Clean Water Act, based on information that methane from the illegal discharge is displacing oxygen in the water column, thereby creating a “dead zone” of unknown expanse, where low or no oxygen levels threaten harm and lethality to fish and wildlife.

The letter, signed by Shavelson, also said that based on the temperature and salinity conditions in Cook Inlet, the solubility of methane in marine waters presents an ongoing threat to water quality, fish and wildlife.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Processor Fined for Dumping Oil and Raw Sewage

East West Seafoods LLC of Seattle has been fined $50,000 in a judgment handed down by the US District Court in Anchorage for violation of the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships, the Clean Water Act and the Refuse Act.

The court ruled on March 21 that The F/V Pacific Producer, a large seafood processing vessel owned by East West Seafoods, intentionally discharged oily bilge water and raw sewage into the ocean off the coast of Alaska, and then presented false records to the US Coast Guard.

Acting US Attorney Bryan Schroder in Anchorage said that on March 15, 2013, the F/V Pacific Producer was traveling from Kodiak and grounded near Ouzinkie Narrows. While within three miles of shore, the defendants unlawfully discharged about 1,000 gallons of raw sewage into Chiniak Bay between Long Island and Spruce Island.

Then on March 29, 2013, while departing from the ferry dock at Ouzinkie, crew aboard the F/V Pacific Producer knowingly discharged a harmful quantity of oil into the water within three miles of shore, causing a sheen on the surface of the water, Schroder said. The defendants also regularly used an illegal pump system to knowingly discharge oily bilge water directly overboard, he said.

The defendants also knowingly failed to maintain an accurate Oil Record Book as required, failed to record discharges of oil into the sea through the illegal pump system, and knew that use of the pump system and failure to record the discharges was illegal, he said.

When the Coast Guard boarded the vessel in Kodiak on Jan. 27, 2014, there was raw sewage flowing from piping onto the open weather deck, Schroder said.

The defendants also unlawfully discharged raw sewage into St. Paul Harbor while the vessel was within three miles of shore at Kodiak without a permit, he said.

The 75-percent owner of the seafood processing firm, and operator of the F/V Pacific Producer, Christos Tsabouris, 78, of Kodiak, was fined $10,000 and put on probation for five years for his role in the offenses, as was the company itself. During the probationary period the company will be subject to a heightened level of scrutiny, including warrantless searches of its vessels and places of business based on reasonable suspicion of violation of the law.

Both Sides Working to Resolve Pebble Litigation

A joint motion filed this week by backers of a massive mining project adjacent to the Bristol Bay watershed and the US Environmental Protection Agency is seeking a stay of proceedings in ongoing litigation in hopes of resolving the matter.

The announcement from Northern Dynasty Minerals in Vancouver, British Columbia, and the EPA said that substantial progress has been made in recent discussions and that the two sides intend to continue negotiating the matter directly, rather than through mediation. Federal government representatives engaged in discussions with the Pebble Partnership are focused on achieving a resolution agreeable to both parties, they said.

Meanwhile, the US District Court’s preliminary injunction, issued on Nov. 25, 2014, will remain in effect. The litigation stems from the Pebble Limited Partnership’s lawsuit alleging that the EPA worked with mine opponents in a predetermined effort to stop development of the copper, gold and molybdenum project. The EPA countered that the lawsuit aimed to undermine its effort to protect Bristol Bay from potential environmental damage.

Mine backers say that the EPA is preemptively vetoing the project on land designated for mineral development by the state of Alaska.

The EPA has defended its decision to use Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act, which authorizes the EPA to restrict or deny the discharge of dredged or fill material at defined sites in federal waters, if the EPA determines such sites would have unacceptable adverse impact on various resources, including fisheries.

Pebble partnership CEO Tom Collier said the company is confident of achieving a fair resolution that follows the rule of law, supports the interests of the parties involved and allows the project to move into a normal course permitting process.

Mine backers contend that the mine can be developed and operated in harmony with the world’s largest wild sockeye salmon fishery in Bristol Bay.

Mine opponents contend that pollution from the mine stands to cause extensive adverse effects to the fishery.

Crab CDQ Fishery Ends, Herring Opens

Harvests in the 2017 Norton Sound red king crab community development quota fishery in western Alaska reached some 37,260 pounds through March 20, and with less than 11,000 pounds of the allocation remaining, the fishery will conclude today. The decision came after a consultation between the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation (NSEDC). Fishermen have just until 9 p.m. tonight to deliver their crab catch to the North Sound Seafood Products fish plant in Nome.

ADF&G said the closure date and time was based on recent catch rates, but that there is a possibility delivery rates could still increase.

NSEDC, the quota owner, has authority to implement additional management measures to ensure the CDQ allocation is not exceeded, and has authority to restrict the fishery prior to the closure time.

Any commercial harvest allocation not taken during the winter commercial fishery will be added to the summer commercial fishery allocation.

In Southeast Alaska, meanwhile, the Sitka Sound herring sac roe fishery opened in northwest Sitka Sound on March 19, with preliminary reports from processors putting that total harvest at 3,500 tons.

Approximately 9,800 tons of herring were harvested in commercial sac roe herring fisheries conducted in Southeast Alaska in 2016. ADF&G biologists said they anticipate an approximate harvest of some 14,600 tons in 2017.

GOA Military Training to be Discussed at ComFish

Officers from the Alaskan Command and US Pacific Fleet will be in Kodiak on March 30 to discuss plans for the Navy’s Exercise Northern Edge 2017 (NE 17) in the Gulf of Alaska May 1-12.

NE17 is one of a number of forums and events planned for ComFish, which runs through April 1.

NE17 is one of a series of Pacific Command exercises to prepare joint forces to respond to crises in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. It is designed to sharpen tactical combat skills, improve command, control and communication relationships and develop interoperable plans and programs across the joint force.

Military officials say that environmental protection is an integral part of the exercise and that the military in Alaska have conducted thorough environmental analysis of the activities to be conducted. Captain Anastasia Schmit, public affairs director for the Alaska Command at Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson in Anchorage, said in an interview that the Navy posts lookouts aboard ships during the exercise and if they encounter sea mammals all activities would stop. Schmit said military officials have also worked hard with local coastal communities for greater mitigation measures, and that everything they do is coordinated with the National Marine Fisheries Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Still their plans have raised concerns, as in past years, from seafood harvesters and environmentalists, over potential adverse impact of the military exercises on migrating fish and sea mammals.

Marine conservation biologist Rick Steiner of Anchorage said there is a need for independent observers aboard participating military vessels to provide independent verification of the Defense Department’s compliance with permit requirements and mitigation practices.

While they are not planning to use bombs or missiles, they will likely use exploding shells, and the duration of use of the Mid Frequency Active Sonar on beaked whales worries him, Steiner said. He and others would also like to see these training exercises moved to winter, reducing or eliminating the potential risk to marine mammals, seabirds and fish.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

204 Million Salmon Forecast for 2017 AK Harvest

Alaska’s statewide run forecasts and harvest projections for the 2017 salmon fisheries are out, with a harvest forecast of 204 million fish, compared with the 112.5 million salmon harvested commercially in Alaska in 2016. If realized, that harvest boost would be owing in great part to the catch of many more humpies.

The overall commercial harvest last year, valued at $414.2 million, included just 39 million humpies. The projected harvest was about 80 million pinks, compared with about 140 million this year. In 2013, the commercial pink salmon harvest came in at a record 219 million fish, compared with the forecast of just under 120 million.

The 2017 total commercial salmon harvest of all species is expected to include 80,000 Chinook salmon in areas outside of Southeast Alaska, 40.8 million sockeyes, 4.7 million cohos, 141.9 million humpies and 16.7 million chums. The projected pink salmon harvest is about 102.7 million more than harvested in 2016. The projected forecast also includes about 12 million fewer sockeyes, about 778,000 more cohos, and about 1.2 million more chum salmon than were harvested a year ago.

The complete run forecasts and Harvest Projects for 2017 Alaska salmon fisheries and review of the 2016 season is online at

http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/FedAidPDFs/SP17-08.pdf

Statistics compiled by ADF&G on harvests and ex-vessel values of Alaska commercial harvests dating back to 1994 can be found online at http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=CommercialByFisherySalmon.exvesselquery

Senators Call for Protection of Coast Guard Budget

A bipartisan group of 23 senators is urging the Trump administration to stop proposed plans to cut $1.3 billion from the US Coast Guard budget, citing its importance to national and economic security and halting the flow of illegal drugs.

According to reports, the FY 2018 presidential budget request could amount to almost 12 percent of the Coast Guard’s budget being cut, the senators said in a letter to Office of Management and Budget Administrator Mick Mulvaney.

“We are concerned that the Coast Guard would not be able to maintain maritime presence, respond to individual and national emergencies, and protect our nation’s economic and environmental interests,” the senators told Mulvaney.

“The proposed reduction… would directly contradict the priorities articulated by the Trump Administration. We urge you to restore the $1.3 billion cut to the Coast Guard budget, which we firmly believe would result in catastrophic negative impacts to the Coast Guard and its critical role in protecting our homeland, our economy and our environment.”

The letter cited many other accomplishments and missions of the Coast Guard, including securing 95,000 miles of American coastline, preventing thousands of cases of illegal immigration, and seizure of a record 469,270 pounds of illegal drugs in 2016.

The letter noted that the Coast Guard had maintained active and vigorous anti-terrorism and national security operations around our nation’s oceans, rivers and ports, and around American ships, boundaries and interests in the melting Arctic, through the Maritime Safety and Security Team and Maritime Security Response Team.

Coast Guard funding has already been allowed to slip well below the levels necessary to fulfill its mission and maintain its equipment and infrastructure, the senators said. Between 2010 and 2015, the Coast Guard’s acquisition budget fell by some 40 percent.

The fleet of cutters and patrol boats that intercept drugs and guard the nation’s waterways are aging at an unsustainable rate with no prospect of replacement, they said. The situation is particularly dire in the Arctic, where the U.S. will be without a heavy icebreaker for eight years, and the only Arctic nation without such a resource, if no action is taken to correct that problem, they said.

GSSI Recognizes the Marine Stewardship Council

The Marine Stewardship Council has become the third seafood certification scheme to be benchmarked against the Global Sustainable Seafood Initiative’s Global Benchmark Tool and to achieve recognition. GSSI made the announcement this week, and congratulated MSU for its successful completion of GSSI’s rigorous benchmark process. “MSC’s recognition is a powerful signal to market actors who seek transparency and represent considerable progress toward our common objective of a level playing field in seafood certification,” said Bill DiMento, GSSI co-chair, and a vice president of High Liner Foods.

David Agnew, director of science and standards at MSC, said the process reaffirms the organization’s commitment to maintain world leading, science based standards that are widely applicable and help to drive real change.

London-based MSC is an international nonprofit organization established to address issues of unsustainable fishing and to safeguard seafood supplies for the future.

GSSI is a global platform and partnership of seafood companies, non-government organizations, experts, governmental and intergovernmental organizations with a mission of ensuring confidence in the supply and promotion of certified seafood, and to promote improvement in seafood certification schemes. GSSI’s Global Benchmark Tool identifies and recognizes robust and credible certification schemes and supports other schemes to improve. To date over 20 retailers, brand manufacturers, traders and food service companies worldwide have committed to including the outcomes of the GSSI Benchmark Process in their daily operations. More about GSSI is online at www.ourgssi.org

Harvesters Coalition Supports Small Boat Fishing Communities

Commercial harvesters advocating for small boat fishing communities and sustainable fisheries were in Washington DC this past week, advocating for the proposed National Young Fishermen’s Development Program. The bipartisan initiative from the Fishing Communities Coalition focuses on tackling the high cost of entry, financial risk and limited entry-level opportunities for young men and women wanting to begin a career in commercial fishing.

“Young fishermen today must navigate a tough obstacle course to enter this proud and important profession, which is why we are heartened to see growing support in Congress for this initiative” said Linda Behnken, executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association. “Empowering the next generation of fishermen with the tools they need to succeed is crucial to the survival of many coastal communities across the country.”

FCC members discussed with Congress a range of priorities related to the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. These included maintaining science-based decision making, improving monitoring and accountability, strengthening community protections, fully funding science need to responsibly manage fisheries, and reducing bycatch.

The group of FCC members from Alaska, New England and the Gulf Coast met with more than 30 congressional offices and committees, to emphasize building on the success of the Magnuson-Stevens legislation, which has helped rebuild depleted fish stocks through sustainable fisheries management. Thanks to MSA and other federal, state and local sustainability initiatives, the US has rebuilt 40 marine fish stocks in U.S. waters since 2000, the group said. Commercial fisheries and seafood related industries currently support 1.4 million American jobs and generate $153 in annual sales, they said.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

NPFMC Meets in Anchorage April 3-11

Federal fisheries managers will take final action during their spring meeting in Anchorage on community development quota ownership caps.

The CDQ ownership caps are one of 10 major issues before the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which will meet from April 3 through April 11 at the Hilton Hotel. All meetings are open to the public, except for executive sessions, and will be broadcast at https://npfmc.adobeconnect.com/april2017 . Motions will be posted following the meeting.

Also before the council is a discussion paper regarding a salmon fishery management plan, related to the state of Alaska’s petition for a writ of certiorari to the US Supreme Court regarding management of three salmon fisheries that overlap state and federal waters. A writ of certiorari orders a lower court to deliver its record in a case so that the higher court may review it. The state of Alaska filed its brief with the Supreme Court on Feb. 27, naming United Cook Inlet Drift Association and Cook Inlet Fishermen’s Fund as respondents. The brief states that the National Marine Fisheries Service agrees that managing these salmon fisheries to meet escapement goals as the state does is more effective at preventing overfishing than how fisheries would be managed under a federal fisheries management plan, which requires managing the fisheries to meet inflexible catch limits.

The state questions whether the Secretary of Commerce, acting through NMFS, may approve an FMP “that excludes and defers to state management of a fishery, because NMFS concludes that the excluded fishery does not require a plan and would be worse off managed under a plan?”

The state’s petition to the court is included in the meeting agenda, which is online at http://legistar2.granicus.com/npfmc/meetings/2017/4/955_A_North_Pacific_Council_17-04-03_Meeting_Agenda.pdf

Commercial Fishing Loans Bill Awaits Action in Alaska Legislature

Legislation currently awaiting action in the Alaska House Finance Committee would raise the total aggregate amount a borrower may hold unpaid from $300,000 to $400,000 on certain commercial fishing loans made by the state.

The measure, sponsored by Representative Daniel Ortiz, an independent legislator from Ketchikan, and co-sponsored by Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D- Sitka, was approved by the House Special Committee on Fisheries in late February.

The bill refers to total balances outstanding on loans made by the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development.

House Joint Resolution 12, which passed the House Special Committee on Fisheries unanimously in late February, is now awaiting action in House Resources.

The resolution opposes the US Food and Drug Administration’s approval of AquaBounty AquaAdvantage genetically engineered salmon. It urges Congress to enact legislation that would require prominently labeling genetically engineered products with the words “genetically modified” on the product’s packaging.

Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, the resolution’s sponsor, said the measure is designed to protect Alaska’s wild salmon and support sustainable fisheries.

Also of interest to Alaska’s fishing industry is House Bill 60, which has been referred to the House Finance Committee, legislation related to motor fuel taxes.

The bill, sponsored by House Rules Committee at the request of Gov. Bill Walker, would in part increase the tax on motor fuel for all watercraft.

Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, chair of the House Special Committee in Fisheries, passed an amendment to the bill to allow commercial fishermen to apply for a 3 cent per gallon rebate. If the bill passes the Legislature, the tax on marine fuel would rise 5 cents this year and the rebate effectively mitigates that increase to 2 cents.

Stutes also notes that language in the bill was tightened to specify that proceeds from the marine fuel tax should be used to support ports and harbors and the state’s Marine Highway System.

Pacific Halibut Opener Gets Under Way on March 11

Commercial fishing for Pacific halibut will open on March 11, with a catch limit of 31.4 million pounds, a 5 percent increase from a year ago. Alaska’s total halibut catch is set at 22.62 million pounds, an increase of 1.17 million pounds from 2016.

The season will continue through Nov. 7.

The 2017 regulations were published on March 7 in the Federal Register at https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2017/03/07/2017-04407/pacific-halibut-fisheries-catch-sharing-plan

The announcement came after some industry concern that with the 60-day freeze imposed by the Trump administration on all new and pending regulations that the State Department and Commerce Department would be delayed in approving the start of the fishery. Industry insiders gave much credit to two women in the catch share branch of NOAA’s Alaska Region office who spent hours working on the regulations sent on to Washington DC for approval. They are Rachel Baker, catch share branch chief, and Julie Scheurer, coordinator for charter halibut management and recreational fishing.

The new regulations include authorization for longline pot gear as legal gear for the commercial halibut fishery in Alaska when NOAA Fisheries regulations permit use of this gear in the individual quota share sablefish fishery. Vessels using longline pot gear to harvest IFQ sablefish in the Gulf will be required to retain halibut consistent with IPHC regulations and NOAA Fisheries regulations specified in the final rule to authorize longline pot gear.

Use of longline pot gear as legal gear for the commercial halibut fishery in Alaska was authorized at the IPHC’s annual meeting in 2016.

A regulatory amendment approved by the IPHC requires that beginning in 2017 all commercial Pacific halibut must be landed and weighed with their heads attached for data reporting purposes. The amendment requires that halibut be landed head-on and those head-on halibut will be subject to a 32-inch minimum size limit, the only exception being for vessels that freeze halibut at sea. Those vessels may deliver their frozen, head-off halibut shoreside with a 24-inch minimum size limit.

Concerns Raised Over Proposed Cuts to EPA Funds for Puget Sound

A Washington state congressman is raising concerns over proposed cuts to Environmental Protection Agency funding for Puget Sound.

“These cuts would decimate EPA-backed Puget Sound restoration and leave NOAA without the necessary resources to fight climate change and support Pacific Northwest Fisheries,” says Rep. Rick Larsen, D-WA. Larsen vowed this week to “oppose these slash and burn cuts and continue fighting for a healthy, clean and protected environment.”

Larsen noted that in addition to reducing resources for Puget Sound from $28 million in fiscal 2016 to $2 million in fiscal 2018 that the Trump administration is reportedly seeking to cut a quarter of the EPA’s total budget, eliminating 3,000 positions and impacting programs aimed at reversing climate change, and protecting clean air and water.

The fiscal 2018 budget for the EPA and other federal agencies is still a long way from decided.

Larsen’s office was not immediately available for further comment, but a spokesman for Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, said House and Senate appropriators are currently working with their colleagues to outline priorities and topline figures to fund these federal agencies. “There is significant work to be done, including a number of major reforms and policy provisions to roll back many of the previous administration’s destructive rules and regulations,” said Young aide Matt Shuckerow.

Larsen and Young are co-chairs of the 21-member Congressional Arctic Working Group, whose goal is to help Congress better understand the opportunities and challenges of the US as an Arctic nation.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Bill Would Require Legislative Approval for Large-scale Mines

A bill back for a second round before the Alaska lawmakers would require legislative approval for a large-scale metallic sulfide mine operation within the watershed of the Bristol Bay Fisheries Reserve.

Such authorization would take the form of a duly enacted law finding that the proposed large-scale mining operation would not constitute danger to the fisheries within the Bristol Bay Fisheries Reserve.

The focus of the bill, while not mentioned by name, is the proposed Pebble copper, gold and molybdenum mine at the headwaters of the Bristol Bay watershed.

Hunter Dickenson Inc., a diversified global mining group based in Vancouver, British Columbia, has spent millions of dollars on the project to date, in hope of getting the mine permitted and into the operational phase. HDI, whose Alaska subsidiary is the Pebble Limited Partnership, in Anchorage, contends that the mine can operate in harmony with the watershed that is home to the world’s largest run of wild sockeye salmon. Thousands affiliated with the seafood industry, environmental entities and the recreational fishing and hunting industries disagree, contending that the mine poses great risk to salmon habitat.

HDI and its subsidiary, Northern Dynasty Minerals, have yet to apply for permits to operate the mine, and are still seeking a major financial partner to replace Anglo American, a major global mining firm, that walked away from the partnership in 2013, after investing six years and at least $541 million in its partnership with Northern Dynasty.

House Bill 14, first introduced during the last session of the Alaska Legislature, failed to make it to the floor of the House, but the author of that bill, Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage, is optimistic about its chances of making it to the House floor during this session.

HB 14 has already been heard by the House Special Committee on Fisheries, chaired by Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, and Josephson said he’s optimistic that it will move on to the House Resources Committee, which he co-chairs with Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage. From there it would go to House Rules, chaired by Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R- Anchorage, and former mayor of the Kodiak Island Borough. Should it pass the House, which Josephson thinks is likely, HB 14 would go on to the Senate, where passage would be a real long shot.

Norton Sound Winter Crab Harvest Opens for CDQ Fishery

With the winter commercial red king crab winding up, the community development quota fishery for Norton Sound red king crab opened on Feb. 28, with an allocation of 496,800 pounds.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists at Nome said that through Feb. 27, 27,600 pounds of the 39,744-pound guideline harvest level were caught, with 35 of the 57 registered commercial permit holders having made at least one delivery.

Based on current catch rates and good weather forecast, and barring any unforeseen ice or wind conditions, ADF&G anticipated the GHL would be reached by March 2.

The CDQ allocation is up to 37,260 pounds of red king crab.

Half of the CDQ allocation belongs to the Norton Sound Economic Development Corp., which was also working to get the remaining quota for its resident fishermen.

Under NSEDC’s policies, commercial fishing for CDQ crab is open to any fishermen age 18 or older who qualifies as a Norton Sound resident under NSEDC residency policy, and signs the 2017 NSEDC Norton Sound Red King Crab Fisherman’s Agreement and NSEDC residency verification forms.

By regulation, the CDQ is allocated 7.5 percent of the allowable commercial harvest of 496,800 pounds. In 2017, this equates to 37,260 additional pounds that could be harvested this winter. Commercial fishing for CDQ crab is open to all residents 18 years of age or older who qualifies as a Norton Sound resident under NSEDC’s residency policy, can obtain a CDQ gear permit card, and signs the 2017 NSEDC Norton Sound Red King Crab Fisherman’s Agreement and NSEDC Residency Verification forms.

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