Wednesday, August 16, 2017

AMSEA Urges Safety for Vessels and Crews

In the midst of the 2017 commercial fishing season, the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association is urging harvesters to take a little time out and think about further reducing risks to their vessels and crews.

This advice from Jerry Dzugan, executive director of AMSEA, comes in a year that has already resulted in nine commercial fishing fatalities, plus swamping of several vessels in Bristol Bay and Prince William Sound, due to weather and overloading, but fortunately with no loss of life.

Dzugan’s words of advice include having respect for icing and anything that raises the vessel’s center of gravity, keeping vessels and crew afloat, paying attention to weather forecasts, and getting sufficient sleep.

“In the 15-year National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health study, out of 210 fishermen who fell overboard and died, not one was wearing a PFD,” he said.

“There is no reason for crew members on deck to not wear one of the many types of comfortable and snag resistant PFDs that are now on the market.”

As for weather watching, if there’s a storm forecast, don’t go! It’s not worth it,” Dzugan said. And find the highest risk item on your deferred maintenance checklist and fix it, he said.

“When we ask the Coast Guard or others to rescue us, it puts them at risk as well, Dzugan writes. Instead, he advises to take preventive measures now to save family members and friends from attending another fishermen’s memorial services. “They are all depending on you to come back alive,” he said. Read his entire article online at http://www.amsea.org/single-post/2017/08/01/Time-Out

Alaska Salmon Harvest Edges Toward 160 Million Fish

Harvests of pink salmon in Alaska’s commercial fisheries have reached more than 86 million fish, bringing the total preliminary salmon catch total to date to nearly 160 million salmon.

The statewide catch also includes upwards of 51 million sockeyes, 19.7 million chum, 2.5 million coho and 242,000 Chinook salmon.

In Southeast Alaska, 20,732,000 of the 30,071,000 salmon delivered to processors are humpies. The forecast for Southeast Alaska’s pink salmon was for an estimated 43 million fish. An actual harvest of 43 million pinks would be just above the recent 10-year average harvest of 39 million pink salmon.

ADF&G fisheries researcher Andy Piston, in Ketchikan, says it’s still too early to say how the humpy harvest in Southeast Alaska will add up this year.

Right now, he said, it looks like it will come in around the low 30 million range. Why the odd-year harvest is lower than anticipated is an unknown. “Nobody knows what combination of factors in the ocean is influencing pink salmon survival, in localized areas especially.

The whole dynamic in the ocean is extremely complex and even with an unlimited budget, which they don’t have, it would be extremely difficult to pin down, he said.

In Prince William Sound, 35,809,000 of the 42,648,000 salmon harvested to date are humpies.

In Alaska’s Westward region, harvesters in the Alaska Peninsula have now delivered 22.5 million salmon to processors. Kodiak area harvests have brought in another 15.8 million salmon, and Chignik has added over 4 million more salmon.

The catch of chum salmon on the Lower Yukon River has reached more than 677,000 fish, and on the Upper Yukon, another 163,000 chum have been caught.

In Bristol Bay, the harvest stands at over 39 million fish, while Cook Inlet’s total salmon harvest to date is approaching 4 million fish.

AK Board of Fisheries Releases Proposal Book

In advance of its work session in Anchorage in October for the upcoming meeting cycle, the Alaska Board of Fisheries has issued its 2017-2018 proposal book, which includes 227 proposals for review at these sessions.

The proposals will be under discussion during the board’s Prince William Sound finfish, Southeast and Yakutat finfish and shellfish, and statewide (except Southeast and Yakutat) Dungeness crab, shrimp, and other miscellaneous shellfish regulatory meetings. The proposals constitute proposed regulatory changes for identified regions and species.

Download the proposals individually, in sections, or for entire meetings at http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=fisheriesboard.proposalbook.

During the work session at the Egan Civic and Convention Center in Anchorage Oct. 17-19, the board will consider agenda change requests, cycle organization, and stocks of concern. Work session comments are due by Oct. 3. Check online for several ways to send comments.

From Dec. 1-5, the board will meet at the Valdez Convention and Civic Center to take up Prince William Sound finfish issues. The comment deadline is Nov. 17.

From Jan. 11-23, the board will meet at Harrigan Centennial Hall in Sitka on Southeast and Yakutat finfish and shellfish matters. The comment deadline is Dec. 28.

The board’s final meeting of this cycle will be back at the Egan Center, March 6-9, to discuss statewide (except Southeast and Yakutat) Dungeness crab, shrimp, other miscellaneous shellfish and supplemental issues. The comment deadline is Feb. 23.

Senate Passes Marine Debris Legislation

The U.S. Senate has passed legislation aimed at confronting the global marine debris crisis. The Save Our Seas Act, which would boost the federal government’s domestic and international response to ocean waste, now goes for consideration to the U.S. House, where the House oceans Caucus has introduced companion language.

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.

Governors of affected states could ask NOAA to make the declaration.

The act would reauthorize NOAA”s Marine Debris Program through fiscal year 2022.

It would also encourage the executive branch of the government to engage with leaders of nations responsible for the majority of marine debris, support research into ocean biodegradable plastics, examine the causes of ocean debris, develop effective prevention and mitigation strategies and quantify the economic benefits for treaty nations in addressing the crisis.

The legislation was introduced by Senators Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska; Sheldon Whitehouse, D-RI, and Cory Booker, D-N.J.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Wild Salmon Harvest Tops 132.8 M,
Pink Harvest Lags in SE

Commercial harvests of wild Alaska salmon rose to nearly 133 million fish through August 8, including upwards of 50 million sockeyes, while a weak catch of humpies in Southeast Alaska left the pink salmon preliminary harvest at about 62 million fish.

The commercial harvest of pink salmon in the Sitka area was in full swing, with a catch of 5.5 million humpies during the last opening, but so far the overall commercial harvest in Southeast Alaska stands at 14.9 million pinks, compared to a forecast of 43 million.

“We had some weakness in the southern areas, in Ketchikan, Petersburg and Juneau,” said Eric Coonradt, the state management biologist for salmon at Sitka. Just why that run in southern areas of Alaska was coming in weak is not known. While it probably has more to do with ocean temperatures, there are also a multitude of probable reasons.

In Prince William Sound meanwhile, the pink salmon commercial fishery was going strong, “with greater than 1.7 million fish per 14-hour period on every other day schedule that week,” said Alaska Department of Fish and Game management biologist Bert Lewis in Anchorage.

Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corp. cost recovery is making good progress and expected to finish later this week. There is strong wild stock escapement and harvest and hatchery run entry is steadily increasing, Lewis said.

The total Prince William Sound purse seine harvest through August 8 was 26 million fish. Adding the 2 million fish in hatchery cost recovery made for a preliminary harvest total of 28 million fish.

“The total harvest forecast is for 55 million pinks and we are approaching the 50 percentile of all pink salmon returns,” Lewis said. “We are tracking pretty close to forecast. The parent year for this season was an all-time record in 2015 of a total pink run of over 100 million fish, with a harvest of 97 million.”

Along with those 50 million sockeyes and some 62 million humpies, the statewide preliminary harvest totals compiled by ADF&G included in excess of 18 million chum, 1.9 million silver and 237,000 Chinook salmon.

Due to poor ocean survival conditions for Chinooks, which are persisting in Southeast Alaska and British Columbia, ADF&G put into effect on August 7 a restriction on harvests in coast wide fisheries directed at stocks originating in Southeast Alaska, Northern British Columbia, the Fraser River and the Washington coast. Inseason information from ADF&G, the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and NOAA surveys off the coast of Oregon, Washington and the Gulf of Alaska all indicate that poor production conditions are currently occurring and will persist through at least 2018, ADF&G biologists said.

Saying it was a very difficult decision to make, ADF&G announced that retention of Chinook salmon would cease on August 10 in the Southeast Alaska commercial and recreational fisheries and that non-retention would continue through September.

Bristol Bay’s harvest stood at 39 million fish, including 37,627,000 sockeyes, 1.3 million chum, 40,000 coho, 39,000 king and 32,000 pink salmon. Cook Inlet has delivered to processors over 3 million salmon, including 1.9 million reds, 666,000 pinks, 356,000 chums, 159,000 silvers and 8,000 kings.

Options for EM Offered by NOAA

Beginning next year, Alaska fishermen will have the option to use an electronic monitoring (EM) system in lieu of a NOAA Fisheries observer, as the federal agency integrates EM into the North Pacific Observer Program. NOAA Fisheries made the announcement on August 8, after the final rule waspublished in the Federal Register. The rule will be effective September 7, 2017.

Information gathered by observers while on board these commercial vessels is crucial to sustainable management of Alaska’s multi-billion-dollar fishing industry.

NOAA Fisheries restructured the North Pacific Observer Program in 2013 to place fisheries observers on small boats between 40 and 60 feet, and those harvesting halibut in Alaska.

Some small vessel owners and operators have advocated for the choice to use an EM system rather than carry an observer. They worked with NOAA Fisheries and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to develop the EM technology that works best in Alaska. The federal agency will use EM to collect catch and bycatch data from vessels while they are fishing.

“This program is a first step toward automating observer data for the very specialized North Pacific fleet,” said Jim Balsiger, NOAA Fisheries assistant administrator for the Alaska Region.

NOAA”s final rule allows EM technology to be available only to owners and operators of fixed gear (hook and line, and pot gear) vessels in the partial coverage category of the observer program, in which the agency places observers on randomly selected vessels. In the full coverage category, observers are required on all boats, in addition to separate requirements for video monitoring systems for compliance purposes only, not catch estimation.

Participation in EM is voluntary, and each year vessel owners or operators will need to apply by November 1 to participate.

Vessels meeting eligibility criteria will be placed in the EM selection pool and NOAA Fisheries will randomly select trips among participating boats.. Those who volunteer would be responsible for making sure the EM system is working and to send the video storage devices back to NOAA Fisheries for review. Vessel owners and operators who do not wish to participate in the EM program will remain subject to observer coverage.

PenAir Files for Chapter 11 Reorganization Plan

PenAir, a major Alaska air carrier whose destinations include the fishing ports of Dutch Harbor, Sand Point, King Salmon, Dillingham and St. Paul Island, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

In an announcement issued on August 7, PenAir chairman and chief executive officer Danny Seybert said that the action would keep scheduled air service operations in Southwest Alaska and the Boston area intact, while PenAir’s hubs in Portland, Ore., and Denver, Colo., would shut down scheduled service over the next 90 days.

PenAir routes in Alaska also include Cold Bay, St. George and McGrath.

“The steps we are taking will allow PenAir to emerge as a stronger airline, while continuing our focus on safe operations,” Seybert said. “The company will work with a restructuring officer to present a reorganization plan that will allow management to focus on its employees, safe operations, retiring debt and taking care of customers,” he explained.

PenAir has filed a request with federal transportation officials to end essential air service routes between Crescent City, Calif., and Portland, Ore.,, in addition to regional routes served from its Denver hub.

Alaska Public Radio noted that PenAir’s filing for bankruptcy came just two months after PenAir halted daily flight service to Unalaska, citing declining revenue from its contract with the US Postal Service.

Seybert’s father, Orin Seybert, founded PenAir at Pilot Point in 1955. The carrier is one of the oldest family owned airlines in the nation, and one of the largest regional airlines in Alaska.

Alaska Marks Second Annual Wild Salmon Day

Alaska will celebrate Wild Salmon Day on August 10, with free salmon chowder and barbecues, music, community art projects, salmon dip competition, fisher poetry and games.

Meanwhile select restaurants in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Sitka and Juneau are featuring wild Alaska salmon entrees on their menus to celebrate the impact of wild salmon on nearly all of the state’s residents.

A complimentary evening barbecue at Cuddy Family Midtown Park in Anchorage will serve up salmon provided by Northline Seafoods and Sitka Salmon Shares and showcase multiple entertainment opportunities.

The Sitka Conservation Society will host a special screening of the film “The Salmon Forest” at the Mean Queen restaurant in Sitka , while in Soldotna, on the Kenai Peninsula, Cook Inletkeeper will offer up free salmon chowder, along with live music and fish poetry.

Bristol Bay Native Association is hosting a community barbecue in Dillingham, along with a salmon dip competition and salon delicacy contest.

At Talkeetna, along the Alaska railbelt, the Susitna River Coalition is planning a sampling of wild Susitna River salmon, as well as Susitna River cleanup, a salmon obstacle course for kids, in addition to games, and arts and crafts for all ages.

Wild Salmon Day was established a year ago when Gov. Bill Walker signed legislation creating the state’s latest holiday. The legislation, said Walker, “is intended to celebrate these uniquely Alaskan ways of life, and share our appreciation for wild Alaskan salmon with the rest of the world.

More information on Wild Salmon Day is available at http://www.aksalmonday.com

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Fisheries Legislation Included in Appropriations Bill

The US Senate Appropriations Committee has approved the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies fiscal year 2018 appropriations bill, which contains millions of dollars for sustainable management of Alaska fisheries.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said the package continued several items for which she supported robust funding, including $164.7 million for data collection, surveys and assessments, and $35.8 million for regional councils and fisheries commissioners, $65 million for the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund, and $14 million for salmon management activities under the Pacific Salmon Treaty, plus funding for electronic monitoring and reporting and expanding annual stock assessments.

Murkowski also cosponsored an amendment with Democratic Senators Jeff Merkley of Oregon, and Diane Feinstein of California to fund $150 million in recent West Coast fishery disasters.

While the amendment was withdrawn without a vote, commitments were made by the committee to continue working to fund fishery disasters, Murkowski said.

Also in the appropriations package was $11 million to address ocean acidification issues, and $113.3 million to allow NOAA Fisheries to promote species recovery while enabling sustainable economic activity.

Hiring for Bristol Bay Seafood Processing:
a Complex Issue

Processing a Bristol Bay salmon harvest in excess of 39 million fish, far exceeding the forecast of a harvest of 27.4 million reds, proved challenging to some processors, prompting plenty of commentary on why more Alaskans weren’t hired on.

It is a big challenge, said Nelson San Juan, coordinator of seafood employment for the Alaska Department of Labor, trying to educate people on how they can work their way up in the industry, in positions starting perhaps on the slime line but leading eventually to management. They need to know there are different opportunities, and that most employers promote from within, he said.

Bristol Bay is a unique challenge because the period of real work is short, said John Garner, chief operating officer with North Pacific Seafoods. Still it’s not unusual in four to five weeks in Bristol Bay for some working long hours to gross $10,000.

The seafood industry competes for Alaska workers in summer with the construction, agriculture and tourism industries, he said. North Pacific Seafoods participates in job fairs in Alaska and has targeted western Alaska seeking processing workers, “but this isn’t a job for everybody,” he said. “It’s not a walk in the park.”

Veteran Bristol Bay harvester Robin Samuelsen of Dillingham said making it more attractive for workers to come to work in canneries, including better wages, is key.

“Offer them a good wage and show them that they will make income,” said Samuelsen, who is critical of processors who charge workers for room and board.

Every processing company has a different policy on room and board, however, and some said they rebate some or all of those costs to workers who complete the season.

Companies that rely on hiring a lot of foreign workers under the federal H-2B visa program, had a tough time this year because a previous exemption from the cap on temporary seasonal workers given for returning workers expired last year.

Brian Gannon, senior director of corporate relations for United Work and Travel, said that the Alaska seafood industry has been importing labor to Alaska to export fish out of the state for 130 years, to the benefit of local communities, fishermen, the state and processing companies.

“History will show that the next 20 years will be a race to see which companies can and will figure out the labor issue in Alaska, with or without the help from Washington DC and visa based labor programs,” he said.

Alaska Salmon Harvest Tops 112 Million Fish

The statewide catch of wild salmon in Alaska topped 122.6 million fish through Aug. 2, including 49.5 million sockeye salmon, 37.6 million of which were caught in Bristol Bay. Processors were offering a base price of one dollar, up from 75 cents last year and 50 cents from 2015. For chilled salmon, which comprise about 60 percent of the Bristol Bay catch, the base price was $1.20.

Also processed to date were 44.2 million humpies, 17 million chum, 1.4 million silver and 234,000 kings.

The Prince William Sound harvest, as of the first week of August, stood at 28 million fish, including nearly 22 million pink, 5 million chum, 1.3 million red, 13,000 king and 12,000 silver salmon. On the Lower Yukon, the keta salmon harvest has grown to 554,000 fish and on the Upper Yukon another 158,000 chum have been delivered to processors.

In the Westward region, harvesters in the Alaska Peninsula have caught more than 14 million salmon. Their catch includes 6.5 million red, 6 million pink, 1.5 million chum, 195,000 coho and 9,000 Chinooks. At Kodiak, the harvest delivered to processors reached 8 million salmon, including 5.3 million pink, 1.4 million red, 1.3 million chum, 62,000 coho and 5,000 kings.

Cook Inlet’s total catch to date is 2.4 million fish. Processors have received 1.7 million sockeye, 351,000 pink, 274,000 chum, 45,000 coho and 7,000 kings.

!0th & M Seafoods in Anchorage had Alaska king salmon fillets ready for the freezer at $22.95 a pound, and Seattle’s Pike Place Fish Market was offering fresh wild Alaskan sockeye fillets for $19.99 a pound. Fred Meyer stores in Alaska had fresh whole wild Alaska sockeyes for $5.99 a pound.

BC Vows to Resolve Tulsequah Chief Mine Issues

Mining officials in British Columbia say discussions are off for the purchase of the Tulsequah Chief Mine and that they are escalating efforts to halt the flow of pollution from that mine into the Taku River watershed. The Taku is part of the salmon-rich transboundary river system flowing from British Columbia into Southeast Alaska, where salmon fisheries are critical to the economy.

Tribal entities, the environmental entity Rivers Without Borders, and commercial fishing entities have been pushing BC officials for several years to clean up the dormant mine.

Chieftain Metals, owner of the controversial copper, lead, zinc, silver and gold mine southwest of Atlin, BC is no longer in discussion with Black Loon Metals about purchasing the mine, said Lindsay Byers, a spokeswoman for the BC Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources.

Byers said Aug. 1 that the province’s chief inspector of mines has escalated enforcement and ordered Chieftain Metals to resolve issues identified during a September 2016 site inspection. If Chieftain Metals does not comply with these additional orders, the government will take appropriate steps, which may include seeking relief from the courts, Byers said in email response to a query.

“The province also understands that a third party (secured creditor) will be retaining an environmental consultant to review the existing data pertaining to the mine and will be developing a set of remediation plans in contemplation of operating the mine should there be a sale of the company Chieftain Metals,” Byers said. In the fall of 2016, the province confiscated the $1.2 million security held for the mine, and a portion of those funds has been used to secure some hazardous waste on site and complete the aquatic and ecological risk assessment, Byers said. This summer the province will conduct work to address the orders in relation to the exfiltration pond at the site, and removal of some remaining hazardous waste from the mine site, she said. Chris Zimmer, Alaska campaign director for Rivers Without Borders said the Aquatic Ecological Risk Assessment released by the BC government on July 18 documents unacceptable risks from the ongoing acid mine drainage from the Tulsequah Chief.

The assessment by SLR under contract with the BC government, is online at http://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/environment/air-land-water/site-permitting-and-compliance/tulsequah/2017-04-17_tulsequah_mine_aera_slr_final_report.pdf

The assessment concludes, in part that “restricting overland flow would reduce exposure and thereby reduce risk to aquatic receptors. Overland discharge of untreated mine source waters from the exfiltration pond and portals into the Tulsequah River are sources of contamination to the Tulsequah River and aquatic receptors.”

“This new study finds “unacceptable risks” from acid mine drainage pouring out of the abandoned Tulsequah Chief mine and should put to rest claims that the pollution is not harming fish and water quality,” Zimmer said. “The only way to stop the illegal and clearly harmful acid mine drainage from the abandoned mine into the salmon-rich Taku watershed is for BC to honor its promises and take responsibility for mine cleanup and closure,” he said.

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