Astoria Fisheries Auction

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.

Sea Lion Boards Fishing Boat, Bites Crewman

A crewman aboard a fishing vessel tied up at the Peter Pan Seafoods dock at Sand Point was severely injured when a sea lion jumped on board, clamped onto his leg with its jaw and slammed him to the deck.

The incident aboard the F/V Cape St. Elias was reported Feb. 28 in an article in “In the Loop,” an online publication of Alaska’s Aleutians East Borough, written by AEB communications director Laura Tanis.

Michael “Mack” McNeil, who is recuperating at home in Deer Park, Washington, never saw it coming. “It was the worst pain I’ve ever felt,” he said.

Ben Ley, the vessel’s owner and skipper, said the attack occurred while the crew was taking off a pollock net and putting on a cod net, and that there were no fish on board. McNeil was running hydraulics and walked around to clear the backlash when the sea lion came up all the way out of the water, jumped up over the stern ramp and onto the deck.

McNeil said the sea lion grabbed him before it even hit the deck. Other crew rushed to grab McNeil before he got closer to the stern ramp. The sea lion took a couple hops back toward the water, but then let go, McNeil said. But the sea lion had bit through his oilskins, sweatpants and long underwear, down to the bone.

The crew called for help and McNeil was transported to the local clinic, then transported to Anchorage, where an orthopedic surgeon operated on his leg later that evening. “The muscles in my calf were partially severed, so the surgeon reattached them,” McNeil said.

McNeil said he is unable to walk right now and he expects it will take at least 12 weeks for his calf muscles to heal, so he can begin physical therapy.

He still is puzzled about the unprovoked attack, because the net was clean and there were no fish on board.

“I’m a big guy,” he said. “I’m 6’3” tall. I was wearing bright orange oilskins. There’s no way the sea lion could have mistaken me for a piece of fish.”

NOAA’s office of law enforcement in Kodiak is also puzzled by the incident, but NOAA officials did note cases where fishermen have dumped fish parts near docks or in harbors, and said that as a result some sea lions may view fishing boats as a food source.

Feeding changes the natural behaviors of sea lions, decreasing their willingness to find their own food, and increasing the chances they will steal fish from fishermen. Sea lions may then lose their natural wariness of humans and associate people with food, resulting in dangerous and unpredictable behavior toward people, NOAA officials said.

The sea lions are, however, federally protected under the Marine Mammals Act, so NOAA’s advice to the public is to be aware that they are aggressive animals and need to be left alone.

Alaska Resolution Critical of Genetically Engineered Salmon

A resolution under consideration by the Alaska Legislation strongly opposes the US Food and Drug Administration’s approval of AquaBounty AquAdvantage genetically engineered salmon.

House Joint Resolution 12, sponsored by Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, urges Congress to enact legislation requiring prominently labeling genetically engineered products with the words “genetically modified” on the product’s packaging.

In late February the state House Fisheries Committee had the measure under consideration. Tarr’s resolution notes that this is the first time in history that Food and Drug Administration has approved a genetically engineered animal for human consumption and that the majority of Alaska residents, and more than two million Americans oppose such approval.

The resolution also notes that in May 2013, a research report from Canada’s McGill University detailed findings demonstrating interbreeding between genetically modified salmon and brown trout could occur, suggesting that the potential for similar hybridization between other closely related species could pose risks for wild populations, including wild salmon. That research also demonstrated that transgenic hybrid salmon can outcompete with wild salmon and genetically modified salmon, making hybridization relevant to risk assessments, and that with thousands of salmon escaping from open water net pens every year into the Pacific and Atlantic oceans such escapement is a serious threat to wild fish populations.

A copy of the resolution is online at http://www.legis.state.ak.us/PDF/30/Bills/HJR012A.PDF In a sponsor statement accompanying the resolution, Tarr said that Alaska prides itself in producing the highest quality wild seafood, and that the commercial fishing industry is the largest private sector employer in the state, with seafood exports worth over $3.25 billion annually. Residents also fill their freezers and smoke houses in Alaska with healthy wild seafood, she said.

“This industry and way of life would be jeopardized with the inevitable, accidental release of transgenic fish into the wild, Tarr said.

“HJR 12 is designed to raise awareness about the importance of wild seafood and the commercial fishing industry while highlighting the concerns regarding the long term safety of consuming genetically engineered food products,” she said.

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