Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Coast Guard Reauthorization Signed into Law

Coast Guard reauthorization legislation that passed the US Senate on Nov. 14 and was unanimously approved in the US House on Nov. 27, was signed into law on Dec. 4 by President Trump.

Passage is expected to bring welcomed relief to shipyard workers in Washington state and owners and operators of small commercial fishing vessels in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere across the nation’s commercial fisheries locations.

Sen. Dan Sullivan R-Alaska, co-author of the bill, noted that the new law includes a focus on the Coast Guard’s recapitalization efforts, positioning of Coast Guard assets to respond in the Arctic, addresses ice breaking capabilities and more. The new law will help the men and women of the Coast Guard with their mission to protect national security and U.S. citizens when they are in trouble on the seas.

“This bill is a step towards further developing our presence in the Arctic and will help us engage more deeply in activities in the north, providing an opportunity for increased development in the region,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who voted for the bill.

“I’m particularly pleased that this bill will permanently exempt Alaskans from the EPA incidental discharge regulation, providing much needed protection for our fishermen and coastal communities.” In past years, harvesters in Alaska had more than 8,000 boats statewide risks fines for rinsing fish guts off their decks, or rainwater washing other materials off. This bill “finally resolves this issue off their decks” she said.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, earlier hailed the bill as “finally a win for Dakota Creek and the hardworking men and women who build fishing, Navy and other vessels in our state.” The huge package deal includes legislation protecting shipbuilding jobs at Dakota Creek Industries in Anacortes, Washington.

Co-sponsors of the bill in the Senate included Senators Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski, both R-Alaska, John Thune, R-SD, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, and Bill Nelson, D-Florida.

Opposition Voiced Against Net Pens

Fishing industry groups and several dozen individual harvesters are calling on Congress to oppose any attempts to legitimize open net pen finfish aquaculture in the upcoming congressional session. They contend in a letter sent to members of both houses on Dec. 4 that this type of fish farming will have long term impacts on their industry.

“The letter was signed by over 130 harvesters and industry groups from Washington State, California, Oregon, Alaska, Louisiana, New York, North Carolina, Maine, Massachusetts, and Maryland, including the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations and Institute for Fisheries Resources.

“We are concerned about the economic burdens that aquaculture, an emerging industry, poses to our long-established industry, America’s oldest,” they wrote. “Marine finfish aquaculture facilities aim to produce large amounts of fish at the lowest cost possible, which places downward pressure on seafood prices, harming our wild capture seafood markets. Flooding the market with cheap, low quality farmed seafood reduces the price that consumers are willing to pay for wild and sustainable seafood products, which directly impacts our well-being as sustainable seafood producers and the overall coastal economy,” they said.

The letter was also critical of industrial ocean fish farming resulting in farmed fish escapes that can adversely impact wild stocks. “The culture of non-native fish brings attendant risks of introduction and invasion, while interbreeding of escaped aquaculture fish with wild stocks – a substantiated risk even with limiting cultivated species to ‘virtually’ sterile or all-female native stocks – can lead to the modification and dilution of wild stocks’ genetic integrity,” they said.

The letter also voiced concern over marine pollution caused by excess feed, untreated fish waste, antibiotics, and antifoulants. “Such pollution alters the surrounding ecosystem and harms wild stocks,” signers said.

Sitka Sound 2019 Herring GHL Set at 12,869 tons

The guideline harvest level (GHL) for the 2019 Sitka Sound sac roe herring harvest has been set at 12,869 tons. Alaska Department of Fish and Game officials said the forecast is based on a 20 percent harvest rate of the forecasted mature biomass of 62,343 tons. The 2019 forecast is a boost from the 55,637 tons seen in 2018, but less than the 2016 and 2017 forecasts of 74,707 and 73,245 tons respectively. The figure represents a nine percent increase from the model estimate of 2018 mature pre-fishery biomass of 59,257 tons.

This past year the Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery, which shut down early, fell 8,330 tons short of the GHL. It was the fourth time in six years that the fishery closed before meeting the quota because aerial surveys did not spot herring schools of marketable size.

State biologists said results of the spawn deposition survey showed that while spawn mileage was about half that of 2017, the spawn extended nearly twice as far offshore, and that egg density was higher. In both 2005 and 2008, a similar situation occurred where the spawn extended far offshore on Kruzof Island due to the very wide shelf of herring spawning habitat. Biologist pointed out that due to exceptional spawn along the Kruzof Island shoreline, the 2018 herring spawning biomass was much higher than was apparent from the spawn mileage alone, highlighting the need to conduct annual spawn deposition surveys.

Eastern Aleutian Tanner Crab Fishery Closed

Eastern Aleutian District commercial fisheries for tanner crab will be closed in 2019, according to a statement released on Dec 4 by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

The season for the Akutan, Makushin/Skan Bay and Unalaska/Kalekta Bay sections normally runs from Jan. 15 through March 31.

Survey abundance estimates of mature male Tanner crab were 39,756 crab for the Akutan section, 250,744 for Makushin/Skan Bay and 251,708 crab for Unalaska/Kalekta Bay.

State biologists said the abundance estimate is below the allowable threshold of 200,000 crab for the Akutan section to open. For the Makushin/Skan section, the abundance estimate was above the threshold of 45,000 crab required for a fishery opening, but due to the high exploitation rate on legal males necessary to meet the minimum regulatory guideline harvest level of 35,000 pounds, that section would remain closed. The same hold true for the Unalaska/Kalekta Bay section which saw abundance survey numbers above the 65,000-crab threshold.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

US House Votes Unanimously to Pass Coast Guard Authorization Bill

Coast Guard reauthorization legislation that passed the US Senate on Nov. 14 has been unanimously approved by the US House.

The bill now heads to the White House, where it is expected to be signed into law by year’s end. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, hailed the House vote on Nov. 27 as “finally a win for Dakota Creek and the hardworking men and women who build fishing, Navy and other vessels in our state.”

Provisions contained in the huge Coast Guard package deal contain legislation to help protect shipbuilding jobs at Dakota Creek Industries in Anacortes, Washington.

Other provisions include improved oversight of ships that pose oil spill risks, recapitalization of the Seattle-based Polar Star icebreaker and improved paid family leave policies for Coast Guard members and their families.

The legislation also involves the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act, which sets a national standard for regulation of ballast water and other incidental discharges, while providing a permanent exemption for commercial fishing vessels and other commercial vessels under 75 feet from needing permits through the Environmental Protection Agency. In addition, the bill reauthorizes the Hydrographic Services Improvement Act, which will improve hydrographic surveying, especially in the Arctic. As noted by Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, it will aid in construction of a new homeport for the NOAA research vessel Fairweather in Ketchikan, Alaska.

Seafood Harvesters of America also hailed the benefits of the bill for fish harvesters dealing with ballast water and other discharges. The measure was criticized by the Center for Biological Diversity as a blow to the Clean Water Act’s ability to protect rivers, estuaries and lakes from harmful invasive species.

Co-sponsors of the bill in the Senate included Senators Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski, both R-Alaska, John Thune, R-SD, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, and Bill Nelson, D-Florida.

Charter Halibut Management to be Addressed at NPFMC Meeting

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) will take final action on recommendations to the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) on charter halibut management in the coming year for Southeast and Southcentral Alaska.

During its Dec. 4 meeting in Anchorage, Alaska, the council will consider the advice of the Charter Halibut Management Committee, which meets on Dec. 3, as well as analysis by Sarah Webster of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Division of Sport Fish on potential management measures to keep the charter sector within their allocation.

The committee requested analysis for area 3A with regards to the following regulations: a two-fish bag limit, 28-inch maximum size limit per fish, four-fish annual limit, one vessel-trip per permit per day, Wednesday charter halibut closure and closure of halibut fishing on six Tuesday from mid-July through mid-August. For area 2C the analysis focused on a one-fish daily bag limit, retained halibut being less than or equal to 38 inches or greater than or equal to 80 inches in length requirement.

An action memo posted online in advance of the council meeting notes that between 2014 and 2018 area 2C charter fisheries have been over their allocation by as much as nine percent and below by as much as 10 percent, while in area 3A, charter fisheries have consistently been over their allocation by 11 to 16 percent, except for the 2018 preliminary estimate which shows only four percent over the allocation.

The IPHC’s own 2017 fishery-independent setline survey indicates that halibut stocks declined continuously from the late 1990s to around 2010 due to decreasing size-at-age, as well as somewhat weaker recruitment strengths than those observed in the 1980s. The 2018 survey shows a second consecutive year of decreased, down seven percent from 2017, with individual biological regions ranging from a six percent increase in region 4B to a 15 percent decrease in region 2.

Weak Run of Pink Salmon Predicted for Southeast Alaska

Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) biologists are forecasting a weak run of pink salmon into Southeast Alaska in 2019, with a point estimate of 18 million fish.

The 2019 forecast is based on juvenile pink salmon abundance indices collected with support of NOAA’s long-term Southeast Coastal Monitoring Project in northern Southeast Alaska inside waters in June and July.

The harvest forecast is about half of the recent 10-year average harvest of 36 million pink salmon. A harvest near this forecast would be the lowest odd-year harvest since 1987, according to biologists. The 2018 peak June-July juvenile pink salmon index value ranked 20th out of the 22 years that SECM information has been collected.

A potential source of uncertainty in the 2019 pink salmon return is the anomalously warm sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Alaska. Warm temperatures that persisted throughout the Gulf from the fall of 2013 through much of 2016 were back in 2018. Pink salmon that went to sea from 2014 to 2016 returned in numbers below expectation and below recent odd-and-even year averages.

Although sea surface temperatures moderated in 2017, effects on the Gulf ecosystem likely persisted and pink salmon that went to sea in 2017 and returned in 2018 had a reduced rate of survival.

ADF&G plans to manage the 2019 commercial purse seine fisheries in-season based on the strength of salmon runs. Aerial escapement surveys and fishery performance data will be used as always to make in-season management decisions.

Fishing Communities Urge Action on Sustainable Fisheries Policy

Members of the Fishing Communities Coalition will ask the 116th Congress in January to defend sustainable marine fisheries management and conservation gains under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

Spokesman John Pappalardo, chief executive officer of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance, said commercial harvesters expect Congress to work in good faith to advance science-based fisheries legislation and defend the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which he said has demonstrated remarkable success in rebuilding fish stocks in U.S. waters.

NOAA Fisheries officials reported earlier this year that the number of fishes on the overfished list reached an all-time low in 2017, thanks to the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

“Young men and women looking to start a career in commercial fishing face daunting challenges, including high cost of entry, financial risks, and limited entry-level opportunities,” said Theresa Peterson, fisheries policy director of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council. Peterson, who also serves on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, said that “breaking down the high barriers to entry for the next generation of commercial fishermen is critical to the very survival of our fishing communities.”

The Fisheries Communities Coalition represents over 1,000 small boat harvesters from Maine, Cape Cod, the Gulf of Mexico, California and Alaska.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Trident, Tai Foong Take Symphony Top Honors

Pollock packed protein noodles, cod dumplings and Wild Alaska Pollock oil for pets claim the top spots of the 2019 Alaska Symphony of Seafoods.

The annual competition, held in Seattle, Wash., and in Juneau, Alaska, focuses on increasing the value of Alaska seafood by encouraging product development which diversifies markets, utilizes more of the resource, and reduces fish waste.

This year’s winners were announced by the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation (AFDF) during the Pacific Marine Expo presented in Seattle, on Nov. 19.

Trident Seafoods’ Protein Noodles took first place in the retail category and claimed the Seattle People’s Choice award. The mild, gluten-free product ready to eat cold or heated up is expected to be on the retail shelves in Costco stores in January.

Tai Foong USA, with offices in Seattle and farms in Belize, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and China, took first prize in the food service category with its Alaska Cod Dumplings. The ready to warm and eat product features good texture and good quality Alaska cod, according to Julie Decker, executive director of AFDF.

Wild Alaska Pollock Oil, a product of Trident’s subsidiary Alaska Naturals Pet Products, won the symphony’s Beyond the Plate competition. The omega-three rich oil is available in 32-ounce and 8-ounce sizes for dogs and 4-ounce containers for cats.

The complete list of winners in the retail, food service and the beyond the plate competition, as well as the People’s Choice awards and the grand prize winner will be announced during AFDF’s Legislative Reception on Feb. 19.

Major sponsors of this year’s events are the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, Northwest Fisheries Association, Alaska Air Cargo, Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association, At-Sea Processors Association, Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp., Marel, Northwest Fisheries Association, Kwik’Pak Fisheries LLC, Trident Seafoods, UniSea and United Fishermen of Alaska.

Relief Sought on Incidental Discharges

US Coast Guard legislation that passed the US Senate Nov. 14, would relieve commercial fishing vessel owners and operators from federal and state regulations for ballast water and other incidental discharges.

The Frank LoBiondo Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2018, having passed the Senate by a vote of 94-6, is heading back to the House for consideration after the Thanksgiving break, then on to President Trump for his signature, according to staff of Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska.

The ballast water legislation is contained in a provision of the bill known as the Vessel Incident Discharge Act. Sullivan is a co-author of the Coast Guard bill, which is co-sponsored by Senators John Thune, R-SD, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, Bill Nelson, D-Florida, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.

The provision provides a permanent exemption on incidental vessel discharge for all commercial fishing vessels and commercial vessels under 79 feet in length. Without this exemption, small vessel operators and fishermen would be forced to obtain Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) permits for even the most basic activity, including vessel deck runoff, hosing out their fish holds, and other minor discharges. Sullivan said that the language also provides a comprehensive fix to a broken regulatory framework by establishing a single, nationally uniform standard for the regulation of ballast water and other vessel discharges.

The Senate vote drew quick praise from Seafood Harvesters of America and criticism from the Center for Biological Diversity.

Chris Brown, president of Seafood Harvesters of America, said the bill reflected “strong environmental protections for the nation’s waters, along with the reduction on nonsensical regulatory burdens on the commercial fishing industry.

Brett Hartl, government affairs director for the Center for Biological Diversity, took issue with what he called “a significant blow to the Clean Water Act’s ability to protect rivers, estuaries and lakes from harmful invasive species.

“The Coast Guard has never upheld its obligation to fight the spread of aquatic species in ballast water,” Hartl said. “This new law makes matters worse by allowing them to shirk that responsibility for years or decades to come.”

NOAA Approves Killing Sea Lions at Willamette Falls

NOAA Fisheries has approved killing up to 93 sea lions annually at Willamette Falls, where the pinnipeds are consuming as much as 25 percent of wild winter steelhead trout and up to 9 percent of wild spring Chinook salmon.

While the sea lions are protected under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act, they are eating fish species that are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

The decision by NOAA Fisheries was reported in the Nov. 19 edition of The Columbia Basin Fish & Wildlife News Bulletin.

After efforts at hazing and non-lethal removal of the California sea lions failed to keep them from hanging out at Willamette Falls, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) applied to NOAA in 2017 for authorization to lethally remove some of them under a MMPA Section 20 permit.

This fall NOAA convened a Willamette Falls Pinniped Task Force, which issued a recommendation on Oct. 15 that the permit be authorized.

Oregon filed for the application because its analyses showed that the high levels of predation by sea lions, including 25 percent of the steelhead run in 2017, meant there was an almost 90 percent probability that one of the upper Willamette steelhead runs would go extinct.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Game noted in a news release that the level of predation of spring Chinook, although at 7 to 9 percent annually, is enough to increase the extinction risk by 10 to 15 percent.

The permit applies only to California sea lions, and not the much larger Steller sea lions, which, according to ODFW policy analyst Shaun Clements, are present at the Falls in growing numbers and prey on white sturgeon. “Current federal law prohibits us from doing anything about that,” Clements said.

Removing the sea lions is about striking a balance between recovery of imperiled salmon and steelhead and the ongoing conservation of sea lions.

According to ODFW predation by pinnipeds also threatens gains made by significant regional investment to improve fish passage at dams, restore fish habitat and implement fishing regulations that prohibit anglers from harvesting wild fish.

40M Sockeye Forecast for Bristol Bay in 2019

Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association (BBRSDA) has released its latest sockeye marketing report, noting that in 2018 the Bay witnessed a record run of red salmon and produced its second largest harvest in history.

In nominal terms, this was also the most valuable Bristol Bay salmon harvest ever recorded, with a preliminary ex-vessel value of $281 million, noted BBRSDA executive director Andy Wink. After factoring in quality premiums and volume bonuses, the final value is projected to be over $335 million.

The report also notes that first wholesale prices for all major sockeye product forms continued to rise during the May to August sales period, compared to the same period a year ago, and that frozen Bristol Bay sockeye prices are approaching 2013 levels but at double the volume.

State biologists meanwhile are forecasting a run of some 40 million sockeye salmon into Alaska’s Bristol Bay in 2019, 16 percent greater than the long-term average of 34.2 million fish from 1963 through 2018. That would allow for a potential total harvest of 27.6 million fish, including 26.11 million reds in Bristol Bay and 1.49 million reds in the South Peninsula.

The run forecast includes:
  •  16.12 million to Naknek-Kvichak District (6.95 million to the Kvichak river, 3.97 million to the Alagnak river, and 5.21 million to the Naknek river)
  •  9.07 million to the Egegik District
  •  3.46 million to the Ugashik District
  •  10.38 million to the Nushagak District (4.62 million to the Wood river, 4.18 million to the Nushagak river, and 1.58 million to the Igushik river)
  •  1.15 million to the Togiak District

Sockeye salmon runs into Bristol Bay have historically been highly variable. In issuing the 2019 forecast biologists noted that forecasting future salmon returns is inherently difficult and uncertain. Individual river forecasts have greater uncertainty compared to bay-wide forecasts, they said, but over-forecasting returns to some rivers while under-forecasting returns to other rivers means that the overall Bristol Bay forecast is often more accurate than the forecast to any individual river.

The 2018 Bristol Bay sockeye forecast, by comparison, was for a total run of 51.28 million fish and a harvest of some 38 million.

According to the preliminary summary, the 2018 inshore run of reds into Bristol Bay was 62.3 million fish, the largest on record dating back to 1893, and was 69 percent above the 36.9 million average run for the latest 20-year period. It was the fourth consecutive year that inshore sockeye runs exceeded 50 million fish and proved 21 percent over the preseason inshore forecast.

The harvest of 41.3 million reds was 10 percent over the 37.6 million preseason forecast and the second largest harvest on record. Commercial harvesters also delivered 41,696 kings, 1.9 million chum, 138,466 silver and 218.998 pink salmon for a preliminary ex-vessel value of $281 million for all species. That was 242 percent above the 20-year average of $116 million.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Commercial Fleet Gets Relief on Vessel
Ballast Water Issue

US Coast Guard legislation that passed the US Senate today, Nov. 14, will relieve commercial fishing vessel owners and operators from federal and state regulations for ballast water and other incidental discharges.

Staff in the office of Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, said the Frank LoBiondo Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2018 now goes back to the House for consideration after the Thanksgiving break. The ballast water legislation is contained in a provision of the bill known as the Vessel Incident Discharge Act. Sullivan is a co-author of the Coast Guard bill, which is co-sponsored by Senators John Thune, R-SD, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, Bill Nelson, D-Florida, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.

The provisions provides a permanent exemption on incidental vessel discharge for all commercial fishing vessels and commercial vessels under 79 feet in length. Without this exemption, small vessel operators and fishermen would be forced to obtain Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) permits for even the most basic activity, including vessel deck runoff, hosing out their fish holds, and other minor discharges. Sullivan said that the language also provides a comprehensive fix to a broken regulatory framework by establishing a single, nationally uniform standard for the regulation of ballast water and other vessel discharges.

The Senate vote drew a quick reaction from the Brett Hartl, government affairs director for the Center of Biological Diversity, who called the action “a significant blow to the Clean Water Act’s ability to protect rivers, estuaries and lakes from harmful invasive species.

“The Coast Guard has never upheld its obligation to fight the spread of aquatic species In ballast water,” Hartl said. “This new law makes matters worse by allowing them to shirk that responsibility for years or decades to come.”

Also included in the bill is a provision that would provide an exemption to the Jones Act for fishing company Fishermen’s Finest, which is waiting to take delivery of a new vessel that was built in Anacortes in violation of the Jones Act.

SeaShare Deliveries Exceed One Million Pounds

The nonprofit entity SeaShare has delivered more than one million pounds of seafood so far this year to disaster areas and food banks across the country. Another 270,000 pounds of seafood to provide thousands of protein rich meals are in process.

Executive director Jim Harmon said in an email update this past week that the organization was busy in October, sending a truckload of Pollock, cod and salmon to Georgia following Hurricane Michael, as well as two truckloads of Pollock to Missouri, and large quantity of salmon to food banks in Connecticut and Oregon.

In Washington state SeaShare is working with Seattle’s Food Lifeline to support 300–400 smaller agencies across Western Washington with nutritious seafood. Harmon confirmed that this represents 115,000 pounds so far this season.

In addition to regular donations to food banks in Anchorage, Juneau, Fairbanks and Kodiak, SeaShare is also adding new regional hubs to accept and distribute more seafood to Western Alaska. This year they have worked with freight carriers, including the US Coast Guard, to transport fish to Dillingham, Nome, Kotzebue and Chignik. In all, 34 communities in Western Alaska received fish from SeaShare in 2018.

Members of the At-Sea Processors Association donate 250,000 pounds of frozen Pollock annually. Harmon said this year they combined that generosity with donated materials and processing from HighLiner Foods and Trident Seafoods to generate 1.8- million servings of breaded, over ready portions, packaged for distribution by food banks.

SeaShare was started by Alaska fisherman back in 1994, and to date more than 200 million seafood servings have been distributed. For a list of SeaShare’s seafood industry partners and more information log on to www.seashare.org.

Red King Crab Inspires Tasty Appetizers

In a year when Bristol Bay red king crab quotas dropped to a 4.3-million-pound quota, the lowest since 1985, a few fine dining restaurant chefs are employing the gourmet seafood in creative ways, to accommodate both tastes and consumer budgets.

Upscale restaurants in Washington state and Alaska are showcasing the succulent crab both in moderately priced appetizers and robust entrées.

In the cozy, upscale Marx Brothers Café in Anchorage, Alaska, diners may choose a Yukon Gold Gnocchi, with Cambazola moray, red king crab and pancetta, prepared by sous chef Michael Adlam.

King crab legs with drawn butter are not on the menu.

“It’s so boring,” said Jack Anon, partner and executive chef of Marx Brothers. “We will do king crab legs with drawn butter on request, but they can get that anywhere.”

Other chefs apparently agree.

The appetizer list at the Kincaid Grill in Anchorage includes king crab cakes with corn relish, serrano-lime aioli. At Seven Glaciers restaurant at the Alyeska ski resort in Girdwood, Alaska, chefs offer an appetizer of crab cake, scallops, spicy remoulade, and seasonal salad while Elliott’s Oyster House in Seattle, Wash., features crab cakes of Dungeness, Jonah and red king crab, with dill aioli Aleppa chili.

At Simon & Seaforts Saloon and Grill, diners may begin their dinner with Alaskan Ceviche, an appetizer composed of king crab, halibut, sidestripe shrimp, avocado, lime juice, tequila and crispy tortilla chips. Menu entrées include seared sea scallops with king crab risotta, mushroom confit, sweet pea puree, preserved lemon, scallop butter sauce. Other offerings promote Norton Sound red king crab with herb parmesan mashed potatoes, melted butter and blistered lemon.

For those who want more of that Bristol Bay red king crab, Orso, in downtown Anchorage, features Bristol Bay red king crab legs with broccolini, house smoked salmon, stuffed tomato and drawn butter. Bristol Bay red king crab appetizers average about $18, and the entrées $70.

For consumers who prefer to prepare their own gourmet food, Bristol Bay red king crab is available for purchase online from seafood shops in Anchorage and Seattle for about $33 to $40 per pound, plus shipping.

British Columbia Moves Toward Cleaning Up Tulsequah Chief Mine

The British Columbia government issued a request for proposals (RFP) for the development of a remediation plan to enable mitigation of contamination from the Tulsequah Chief mine, which has been polluting transboundary salmon rivers for years. The deadline is the end of November.

The RFP comes in the wake of bankrupt mine owner Chieftain Metals and its main creditor, West Face Capital, missing another deadline in October to provide a revised mine cleanup plan for the abandoned mine.

Chris Zimmer, Alaska campaign director for Rivers Without Borders, hailed the request for proposals, saying it is encouraging to see British Columbia stepping in to take over responsibility for the cleanup. “I think they are looking for a permanent solution and not some temporary measure,” he said.

John Morris Sr., vice president of the Douglas Indian Association in Southeast Alaska, and a member of the Transboundary Commission, said he is “very hopeful” thanks to the provincial government’s action. Morris grew up on the Taku River in the 1940s, fishing for salmon as a gillnetter and set netter, and hunting moose. He recalled seeing, in travels to the mine site, an eight-inch pipe that was leaching contaminants into the Tulsequah Chief River, which empties into the Taku River, the largest salmon producer in the transboundary region. “We have been advocating for cleanup for many years,” he said.

Alaska state and congressional leaders have met with their Canadian counterparts over concerns stemming from threats to fish habitat from existing and planned British Columbia mines near transboundary waterways. Mine pollution in these transboundary waters would have a very negative impact on commercial, sport and subsistence fishing in Southeast Alaska, as well as tourism and wildlife. Last month Alaska Gov. Bill Walker urged B.C. officials to do “everything you can to expeditiously gain control of the Tulsequah Mine site, stop the unpermitted discharges, and fully remediate the site”.

ASMI Leader Signs to Pursue Graduate Studies

Alexa Tonkovich, who has served as executive director of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) since 2015, is resigning from the post to pursue graduate studies in international business.

ASMI board chairman Jack Schultheis, general manager of Kwik’Pak Fisheries, made the announcement on Nov. 9. He said that Tonkovich would stay on through mid-December to help the board recruit candidates for her replacement and to provide for a smooth transition period.

Schultheis said that Tonkovich’s dedication to the Alaska seafood industry has been unparalleled. “While she will be missed, we also support her decision and wish her the very best in what is sure to be a very bright future,” he said.

ASMI’s board will meet on Nov. 19 to discuss appointing an interim executive director and to draft a notice to recruit a replacement. Additional information regarding the position will be posted online at www.alaskaseafood.org.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Alaska’s Stand for Salmon Ballot Measure Fails

With 88 percent of ballots counted in Alaska’s general election, a ballot initiative that aimed to better protect fish habitat in Alaska was headed toward defeat. The vote in this divisive campaign, with millions of dollars spent in television, newspaper and sign board advertising, was 141,918 opposed and 80,861 favoring the Stand for Salmon initiative.

“Our diverse, statewide coalition was a major factor in the outcome of this campaign,” said Kasti Capozzi, campaign manager for Stand for Alaska. Capozzi said the coalition included Alaska businesses, Alaska Native corporations, labor unions, trade groups and thousands of Alaskans.

According to Stand for Alaska, the vote “sends a clear message that Alaskans are not in favor of outside interests’ attempts to regulate our land and resources.” The biggest contributors to defeat the ballot measure were oil and gas and mining companies, many of whose headquarters are in the Lower 48 states and Canada.

Backers of the ballot initiative said that while they didn’t garner enough votes to win that they were cheered by Alaskans across political and geographic boundaries who united in support of stronger salmon habitat protections through the ballot initiative.

“We are in the midst of a new era where Alaskans are ready to see stronger salmon protections and more responsible development in our state,” said Gayla Hoseth, an initiative sponsor.

“Through our conversations throughout this campaign, it’s been clear to us that all Alaskans are connected to salmon and want to do more to protect the last wild salmon runs in the country,” said Stephanie Quinn-Davidson, a ballot initiative sponsor and director of the Yukon River Inter-Tribal fish commission.

Foy Named Research Director for AFSC

Bob Foy is taking the helm as the new science and research director for NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center at Auke Bay, Alaska, on Nov. 11. Foy spent the previous 11 years as the director of the Alaska Fisheries Science Center (AFSC) laboratory in Kodiak, Alaska.

In his new role, Foy will oversee the agency’s work monitoring the health and sustainability of fish, marine mammals and their habitats across nearly 1.5 million square miles of water surrounding Alaska. He will oversee research work at the AFSC in Seattle, Washington, and research laboratories in Juneau and Kodiak, Alaska, as well as Newport, Oregon, in addition to field stations in Little Port Walter, St. Paul Island and St. George Island, Alaska.

He will direct scientific research to support and sustain a range of marine resources including commercial fisheries for Alaska Pollock, red king crab and sablefish in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea. He will also oversee agency research in the Aleutians and the Arctic Ocean, home to marine mammals including bowhead and beluga whales, and bearded and ringed seals.

Foy has co-authored more than 60 scientific, technical and stock assessment papers focused on the response of marine species to environmental forces in the sub-Arctic and Arctic regions of Alaska. He has also directed the crab data collection on the annual Eastern Bering Sea bottom trawl survey. This data supports stock assessment for 10 crab stocks valued at roughly $500 million.

Foy has also led multidisciplinary research programs to improve scientific advice to management entities including the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. He recently developed research programs to assess acclimation capacity of marine organisms to changes in the environment. These programs provide accurate predictions on climate change and assess the feasibility of mariculture in the state.

ASMI Sees Boost in Alaska Global Food Aid Program

The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s (ASMI) global food aid program marketing efforts are paying off with increased domestic and overseas purchases, putting wild Alaska Pollock and salmon on the menu for millions of hungry people.

The introduction of wild Alaska Pollock fillet portions into The Emergency Food Assistance Program, on the heels of wild Alaska Pollock whole-grain breaded fish sticks into the National School Lunch Program last year resulted in millions of dollars in Pollock purchases by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said Bruce Schactler, director of ASMI’s Global Food Aid program.

The food aid market has been and is a reliable and very good customer for the Alaska seafood industry, Schactler noted, in his annual update to ASMI’s All Hands on Deck meeting in Anchorage, Alaska, in late October. The preference for wild Alaska seafood in several domestic feeding programs has made wild Alaska Pollock and canned wild Alaska salmon a steady item on participants’ menus, he explained. “Supporting the balance of supply and demand between the industry’s production and agency needs is one of the elements in our portfolio that never seems to let up,” he told those in attendance.

For fiscal year 2018, purchases of wild Alaska salmon and Pollock by the US Department of Agriculture for government food and nutrition programs totaled over $22 million.

The National School Lunch Program reaches over 13 million children daily. Another eight million families have access to meals offered through The Emergency Food Assistance Program. Some 87,000 individuals participating in food distribution programs on Indian reservations are now receiving traditional wild Alaska salmon fillets.

ASMI’s global food aid representatives have been carrying out a marketing blitz aimed at all USDA food distribution directors in more than 500 state agency contacts,all 344 tribal leaders and also organizing tastings of other species with key USDA decision makers, and the results have been extremely rewarding, Schactler said. Rewards included the recent purchase of 324,000 pounds of four-ounce vacuum packed wild Alaska sockeye salmon fillet portions, valued at about $4 million.

Consumer research conducted by the Alaska global food aid program also identified renewed demand for wild Alaska canned salmon in domestic and international food programs. Canned salmon is frequently included in the Commodity Supplemental Food Program that serves 684,000 elderly people each month and seafood is a must-have in all meal programs, Schactler said.

With more research and development, there is hope that wild Alaska herring can become the newest product of the Alaska global food aid line. That product is particularly well positioned for international food aid programs which need high protein, shelf stable products at the best price possible.

Changes Coming for Alaska Board of Fisheries Meetings

Several changes and additions approved in October will affect the Alaska Board of Fisheries meetings, beginning with the Bristol Bay finfish meeting scheduled for Nov. 28-Dec. 3 in Dillingham, in southwest Alaska.

The fisheries board also changed the date of the Alaska Peninsula, Chignik and Aleutian Islands finfish meeting to Feb. 21-26 and the statewide finfish and supplemental issues meeting to March 9-12. The Jan. 15-19 date for the Arctic/Yukon/Kuskokwim finfish meeting remains unchanged. All but the Bristol Bay finfish meeting are scheduled to take place in Anchorage, as is the March 8 meeting on hatcheries.

The Bristol Bay finfish meeting hosted at the Dillingham Middle School will include a training course on how to navigate the board process. All meeting participants are welcome to attend. The board will also be considering several proposals on harvest management plans related to commercial, sport and subsistence salmon, in addition to a Bristol Bay herring management plan.

The tentative deadline to sign up to testify at the Dillingham meeting is 2 p.m. on Nov. 28, and public testimony will continue until everyone who signed up by the deadline has been heard.

The board will also consider proposal 175 put forward by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game with regards to super-exclusive guided sport ecotourism Dungeness crab fisheries in George Inlet and Nakwasina Sound.

All portions of these meetings are open to the public and a live audio stream is intended to be available on the board’s website site at www.boardoffisheries.adfg.alaska.gov.

Copies of advanced meeting materials, including the agendas and roadmaps, are available from the Boards Support Section by calling 1-907-465-4110 or online at http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=fisheriesboard.meetinginfo.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

ASMI Sees Opportunity in Southeast Asia

The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) is looking to Southeast Asia for substantial opportunities in marketing the state’s seafood, according to an ASMI report presented on Oct. 30. With a population of 641 million, increasing economic stability, a growing demand for quality and healthy food products, as well as a developing processing sector, ASMI sees Southeast Asia’s potential to mitigate the financial and market damages of the current tariff war between the US and China, according to the report presented during ASMI’s All Hands meeting at the Hotel Captain Cook in Anchorage Oct. 29-31.

The report notes that the current trade conflict has resulted in Alaska seafood suppliers experiencing loss of sales, customers and processing partners in the China market, and their need to redirect their raw materials and end products to new, alternative markets. Southeast Asia is seeing growth in seafood processing sectors in Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand, in particular, has become one of the largest seafood exporters in the world. Such conditions have Alaska seafood suppliers looking to redirect their fisheries products to expanding markets in Southeast Asia to mitigate financial damage from recent tariffs imposed on US products entering China markets.

According to the US Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service’s International Agricultural Trade report issued in July, US food exports to Southeast Asia reached $11.8 billion in 2017, a 68 percent increase from 2008, making Southeast Area the third largest regional market for US agriculture products, behind East Asia and North America, and total agricultural imports exceeded $91 billion by year.

The report notes that while some areas in Southeast Asia have made significant improvements in processing technology and capacity, the region requires specific technical assistance when dealing with Alaska seafood products, whose qualities differ from farmed and tropical seafood. Processing Alaska pink and keta salmon in this region will differ from Norwegian farmed salmon and must be handled accordingly, particularly in the warm, humid climate.

FAS has done much work in Thailand and Vietnam to open these markets to US exports, including tariff reduction in Thailand and leveling import restrictions in Vietnam.

As Southeast Asia becomes more urbanize, the growing middle class, influx of expatriates and growing tourism industry has created favorable conditions for domestic consumption of a variety of Alaska seafood.

Many Alaska products that appeal to traditional Japanese preferences have historically suffered from a single market, the report notes. Southeast Asia was identified as a growing market of Alaska species that are losing market share in Japan and now China, and for other under-utilized Alaska species, including salmon, pollock, herring and cod roe, flatfish species, surimi seafood, black cod, yellowfin sole and geoduck clams. Promotions of these species from the Japanese market can be applied to audiences with similar preferences in Southeast Asia, the report said.

NOAA Studies Effect of PBDEs on Chinook Salmon

Federal fisheries researchers, hoping to learn more about juvenile Chinook salmon and stressors they are exposed to, are taking a close look at chemicals used in flame retardants in consumer products.

“Salmon occupy an important place in the food web,” said NOAA Fisheries’ Mary R. Arkoosh, a supervisory research microbiologist and lead author of a new paper on dietary exposure to a binary mixture of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PDBE). “For example, small juvenile Chinook salmon in Puget Sound feed on plankton while larger juvenile Chinook salmon feed on herring and other fish, and Chinooks themselves are prey items for endangered southern resident killer whales.”

Researchers are interested in identifying the causes contributing to the decline of these fish, Arkoosh said. “We determined that PBDE exposure in Chinook alters thyroid levels and immune function as well as an impaired the ability of these salmon to fight off a disease.”

“Contaminants that increase disease susceptibility have the potential to influence population numbers of endangered or threatened salmonids,” Arkoosh said. “Even a modest reduction in first year mortality, on the order of 10 percent during juvenile residence in either the river or the estuary ecosystem, can lessen current population declines of Chinook salmon. Therefore, even a small reduction in disease resistance due to chemical exposure can potentially have a significant impact on salmonid population,” she said.

The research results, which were published online by Elsevier, also notes that the researchers examined how juvenile Chinooks exposed to PBDEs responded to bacteria that are capable of killing them. They found that exposed salmon had reduced survival rates and that the response was complex. The function of macrophages, a critical cell of the immune system in fish, was also examined.

Researchers found that macrophages from juvenile Chinooks exposed to PBDEs did not function as macrophages do from fish not exposed to it. “This change in function of an important immune cell may impact the ability of Chinook to defend themselves against disease.” Arkoosh noted.

Results of this work at NOAA Fisheries’ Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, Wash., have been used in conjunction with monitoring studies to determine the proportion of salmon in Puget Sound that had levels of PBDEs that may impact the endocrine and immune system. The hope is that genetic studies now underway will help determine if other physiological systems may be impacted in Chinooks from exposure to PBDEs.

Canadians Study Effects of Oil Spills on Salmon

As Canada eyes expansion of its crude oil export capacity, researchers at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, are taking a closer look at the potential impact of oil spill disasters on regional salmon populations.

“Crude oils are a complex mixture of chemicals, represent a pervasive environmental stressor. Canada sits on the world’s third largest crude oil reserve, found as bitumen in the Athabasca oil sands. Ninety-eight percent of Canada’s oil comes from the oil sands, and 99 percent of our exports go to the US,” said study author Sarah Alderman. “As plans to bolster the export capacity of this resource intensify, so too do concerns for the added risk of spills and environmental contamination.”

New pipeline projects, including the Trans Mountain Expansion Project, have the potential to increase diluted bitumen shipped through salmon habitat to seaports on the West Coast.

Alderman’s research has shown that crude oil exposure seems to be toxic to the fishes’ hearts, including molecular- and tissue-level changes that could potentially impair their ability to successfully migrate between freshwater and ocean, as well as the fishes’ ability to acclimate to saltwater. The ability of salmon to migrate – from freshwater at birth to saltwater, where they grow to adulthood, and back to freshwater for spawning– is natural and necessary throughout the course of their life and reproductive cycle.

Alderman found that crude oil exposure early in fish development can lead to long-term consequences, including mortality months after fish are removed to uncontaminated water and brain changes that are apparent for nearly a year after exposure. Her research also revealed changes to plasma proteins that signal damage to tissues and biomarkers that could be used to test whether an animal has been exposed to crude oil.

Alderman’s research was made in collaboration with researchers at Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia. Findings were reported by EurekAlert, an online publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, on Oct. 28, the same day as they were to be presented at the American Physiological Society’s Comparative Physiology: Complexity and Integration conference in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Materials provided by American Physiological Society. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

California Approves Ocean Acidification Action Plan

An action plan approved in late October by the California Ocean Protection Council (OPC) lays out steps to reduce effects of ocean acidification and boost the resilience of coastal industries and communities.

The concern is that acidification is making it difficult for zooplankton, oysters, crabs and other animals at the base of the food web to build and maintain their shells. This could have negative impact on the productivity of California’s coastal and marine ecosystems and the communities and industries dependent on them.

“With so many livelihoods at stake, inaction is no longer an option,” stated California Secretary for Natural Resources John Laird, who chairs the OPC.

California’s joint efforts to deal with acidification began following a widespread oyster die-offs in the Pacific Northwest from 2006 to 2009. The state is a founding member of the 74-member strong International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification. The council’s action plan identifies six key strategies and outlines five-year goals and actions for each including reduction of pollution causing ocean acidification and deploying living systems to store carbon and slow acidification.

The plan calls for a comprehensive assessment to identify current and future risks to valuable fisheries like Dungeness crab and salmon, as well as the California’s ocean-dependent tourism industry.

Over the course of the year, the council will share the plan across the state and at international forums, then use it as a roadmap to make investments and decisions that advance its efforts to combat ocean acidification. More information is available online at http://www.opc.ca.gov/oa-action-plan/.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Report on Arctic Ocean Acidification

A new report by the Arctic Council’s Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (AMAP) says that acidification levels in the Arctic Ocean could have significant consequences for northern communities, as well as the rest of the world.

The 2018 Arctic Ocean Acidification Assessment was released during the 2018 Arctic Biodiversity Congress in Rovaniemi, Finland, in mid-October, and reported on Radio Canada International. The assessment is based on case studies from Arctic regions of Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Norway and the Barents Sea, and suggests unchecked acidification levels would have grave impacts in these areas in coming years.

“This uncertainty underscores the urgent need for increased monitoring in the region, and for research that looks at the effects on species of a number of environmental stressors acting in combination,” the AMAP report said.

“The AMAP report warned that falling ocean pH levels, which are changing most rapidly in the Arctic, are acting in tandem with other environmental stressors, such as rising air and sea temperatures, driving significant changes in marine ecosystems.

The complete AMAP report is available at https://oaarchive.arctic-council.org/bitstream/handle/11374/1839/EDOCS-3991-v1-Technical_Report_No6-CAFF_AMAP_Workshop_CBMP_Reykjavik_Iceland_Feb_2000.PDF?sequence=1&isAllowed=y.

Salmon Hatcheries Make $600 Million Impact on Alaska

A report produced for eight private, nonprofit hatchery associations concludes that Alaska’s salmon hatcheries generate $600 million in economic output, with impacts throughout the state’s economy.

According to the study released in October by the McDowell Group in Juneau, Alaska, commercial fishermen harvested an annual average of 222 million pounds of hatchery-produced salmon worth $120 million in ex-vessel value during the 2012-2017 study period.

Chum and pink salmon were responsible for 39 and 38 percent of ex-vessel value respectively, followed by sockeye 16 percent, coho four percent and Chinook two percent.

Some 57 percent of the hatchery salmon ex-vessel value went to seiners, while gillnetters pulled in 38 percent and trollers took five percent.

From the regional perspective, Prince William Sound harvests generated $69 million in ex-vessel value annually. Southeast harvests brought in $44 million for fishermen followed by Kodiak at $7 million and Cook Inlet with $500,000.

According to the research, hatchery derived salmon represent 22 percent of the total salmon ex-vessel value for the 2012-2017 period. The percentage ranged from a high of 28 percent in 2013 to a low of 15 percent in 2016. The hatchery contribution was highest in Prince William Sound at 65 percent, followed by Southeast at 31 percent, Kodiak at 16 percent and Cook Inlet at two percent.

Some 52 million hatchery-produced salmon are harvested on average annually in Alaska’s common property commercial fisheries. They are caught by nearly all commercial harvesters fishing in Southeast Alaska, Prince William Sound, Kodiak and Cook Inlet. Over the study period an annual average of 3,840 permit holders and an estimated 4,860 crew benefitted from hatchery product, the report said. Prince William Sound seiners generally source most of their harvest from hatchery fish, while Kodiak set gillnet fishermen have much less of a direct connection to hatchery fish.

For the seafood processing sector, the first wholesale value of products produced with hatchery-produced salmon was estimated to average $361 million during the study period.

Hatchery fish also contribute substantially to sport fishing, personal use and subsistence harvests, with an estimated 10,000 hatchery-reared Chinook, 5,000 chum, 100,000 coho, 19,000 pink and 138,000 sockeyes caught annually in sport, personal use and subsistence fisheries in Alaska.

Cod Fishery Gets Allocation Increase for Alaska Area O

Alaska’s Board of Fisheries has increased both the allocation and area of the state water cod fishery in Area O, near Dutch Harbor/Unalaska.

The board’s action, during its Pacific cod meeting in Anchorage Oct. 18-19, raised the allocation from the previous 6.4 percent of the overall Bering Sea cod harvest to eight percent, with an additional one percent added each year until that allocation gets to 15 percent.

Harvesters in this young, but successful fishery use pot gear on their vessels of under 60 feet. Todd Hoppe, president of the Under Sixty Cod Harvesters, described the board’s action as “a difficult but excellent decision.”

Under Sixty Cod Harvesters, formed earlier this year, was the primary driver behind the expansion effort. “We applaud this board for recognizing how important these open-access state water fishing opportunities are for our community-based fishermen, and for the young fishermen coming up in the industry,” Hoppe said. “These vessels work year-round and are rooted in Alaska’s communities.They deliver fish and income straight into local economies. Supporting this fishery was a good move for the state of Alaska, and I think we’ll see the positive effects of that decision for a long time to come.”

The board approved RC (record copy) 12, submitted by board member Israel Payton as substitute language for four proposals 10, 12, 13 and 14, all supporting opportunities to fish locally and provide cod needed by local shore-based processors. In its proposal, the Under Sixty Cod Harvesters argued that the potential and strengths of the fishery had outgrown the modest allocations it started with, warranting an allocation increase and area expansion.

Coast Guard Concludes Arctic Summer Mission

Crew aboard the US Coast Guard Cutter Healy have completed another Stratified Ocean Dynamics in the Arctic (SODA) study for the Office of Naval Research, part of a multi-year effort to help predict ice coverage in the region.

The goal of this second mission focused on better understanding how the Arctic environment affects different water layers of the Arctic Ocean. The Healy’s Arctic West Summer 2018 deployment was led by Craig Lee of the Applied Physics Laboratory at the University of Washington. The mission began at Dutch Harbor on Sept. 14 and concluded on Oct. 18.

Thirty scientists and engineers joined some 100 Coast Guard crew in deploying an array of scientific equipment, which will be used to monitor the region for the next year transmitting data back to scientists at the Applied Physics Laboratory.

The 420-foot Healy, one of two icebreakers in US service, is uniquely fitted for such scientific missions, with a full suite of sensors and equipment specifically designed to gather scientific data. Through operations at the ship-based Science Technical Support in the Arctic laboratory (STARC), ship personnel provide technical assistance to visiting scientists gathering data on water conductivity, temperature, depth and sea floor mapping. Last year, STARC personnel used side-scan sonar to locate the sunken shipwreck of the 110-foot crab boat Destination, which capsized and sank in the Bering Sea with a crew of six on board. With decreasing ice in the Arctic, human activity is increasing in the region, through tourism, commercial fishing, global shipping and exploration for natural resources.

SODA is one of several multi-year studies the Navy is using to determine how best to proceed in the Arctic. Naval officials need more research date to better forecast weather and sea conditions for future operations. Such knowledge will also allow the Coast Guard, which leads the Joint Force in the Arctic, to support their missions in the polar regions, to respond to threats, facilitate emerging commercial activities and protect sovereign rights in the Exclusive Economic Zone and on the Extended Continental Shelf.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

As Arctic Sea Ice Declines, Phytoplankton Spreads North

A study released by the American Geophysical Union confirms that as Arctic sea ice declines phytoplankton blooms are expanding northward into ice-free waters. The big question is how this expansion will impact marine ecosystems in coming years.

The study, based on satellite imagery of ocean color, shows phytoplankton spring blooms in the Arctic Ocean’s central basin at low biomass, where none were found before, and expanding northward at a rate of one degree of attitude per decade.

Phytoplankton are microscopic organisms that form the base of the marine food web, indirectly feeding everything from small fish to whales. They live in water, consume carbon dioxide and release oxygen through photosynthesis, converting sunlight into chemical energy.

Decline in Arctic sea ice over the past several decades has resulted in areas of open water where phytoplankton can thrive. Researchers are not sure how the expansion of phytoplankton will impact the food web, but their results suggest the decline of ice cover is already impacting marine ecosystems in unforeseen ways, and that as phytoplankton spring blooms move north these changes could affect the fate of the Arctic Ocean as a carbon source or a carbon sink.

“If the ice pack totally disappear in summer, there will be consequences for the phytoplankton spring bloom,” said Sophie Renaut, a doctoral student at Laval University in Quebec City, Canada, and lead author of the study. “We cannot exactly predict how it will evolve, but we’re pretty sure there are going to be drastic consequences for the entire ecosystem.”

Phytoplankton growth is dependent on availability of carbon dioxide, sunlight, nutrients, water temperature and salinity, water depth and grazing animals, according to the NASA Earth Observatory. Phytoplankton in the Arctic Ocean typically bloom every spring. In the past, such blooms have not been found in the highest Arctic latitudes, because they were usually covered by sea ice.

To learn if sea ice declines had any effect on spring phytoplankton blooms, researchers used satellite observations of ocean color to track changes of blooms each spring from 2003 to 2013. They found that in spring and summer months, net primary productivity in the Arctic Ocean increased by 31 percent between 2003 and 2013, and that these blooms in the Barents and Kara seas north of Russia are expanding north at a rate of one degree of latitude per decade.

The research was shared by the American Geophysical Union via EurekAlert, the online publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. It was first published in Geophysical Research letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.

NPAFC Launches International Year of the Salmon

The North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission (NPAFC) is planning a high seas expedition to the central Gulf of Alaska to learn more about salmon stocks in its five-member nations.

The expedition is scheduled to take place from late February through late March 2019 aboard the Russian research vessel Professor Kaganovsky. Scientists from the five NPAFC countries, Canada, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation and the United States will be on board.

NPAFC officially launched its International Year of the Salmon in the North Pacific on Oct. 11, the commission said in a statement from its headquarters in Vancouver, British Columbia. The Gulf of Alaska expedition is one of the signature projects for International Year of the Salmon (IYS) outreach and research across the northern hemisphere.

The IYS is an initiative of the NPAFC and its North Atlantic partner, the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organization, to establish a new hemispheric-scale partnership of government, indigenous peoples, academia, non-governmental organizations and industry to connect hundreds of organizations that have the capacity and desire to address scientific and social challenges facing salmon and people in an increasingly uncertain environment.

The partnership plans a call to action for outreach and research through 2022 to fill knowledge gaps and develop tools to equip and train the next generation of scientists and managers. The group also wants to raise awareness of decision makers to achieve conditions necessary for the future resilience of salmon and people in a rapidly changing world.

In addition to the Gulf of Alaska expedition, the IYS signature projects are to include a program to identify key factors affecting survival of salmon from freshwater to the high seas and back, the application of new technologies to unlock mysteries of salmon migration and survival, high-tech solutions to efficiently bring salmon communities together, and the design of modern management systems that includes indigenous peoples.

Alaska Board of Fisheries Rejects ACRs on Hatchery Issues

The Alaska Board of Fisheries has rejected agenda change requests (ACR) to review sooner the matter of limiting the egg take capacity of salmon hatcheries.

During a lengthy work session in Anchorage, Alaska on Tuesday, Oct. 16, the board rejected by a vote of 1–6 an ACR from the Kenai River Sportfishing Association related to the increase in egg take capacity permitted in 2018 for the Valdez Fisheries Development Association’s Solomon Gulch Hatchery. The board also rejected by a 2–5 vote a second ACR from former board member Virgil Umphenour urging for a statewide cap on private non-profit salmon hatchery egg take capacity at 75 percent of the level permitted in 2000. Several hundred fish harvesters packed the work session meeting to hear reports from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game on both ACRs.

Prior to the meeting, the board received dozens of related comments from harvesters, processors and non-profit entities, mostly in support of current hatchery production, and opposed to reduction of the currently allowed egg take.

During oral comments, most of those at the meeting urged rejection of the ACRs.

“Don’t monkey with something that works,” said retired commercial fisherman and former Alaska legislator Clem Tillion, a past chairman of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council who has served on numerous fisheries committees. “The hatcheries are a success. Handle it with care. Leave a system that works alone.”

Jerry McCune, president of Cordova District Fishermen United, also opposed the ACRs. “I think what we need to be doing here is base everything on science, and not on emotion.” McCune said he felt that more science was needed, because nobody can say for certain what is going on in the ocean. He urged for more research by NOAA.

State law lists three requirements to be considered before the board can approve agenda change requests. They are whether there is a fishery conservation purpose, whether the ACR would correct an error in regulation, and whether the ACR addresses an effect of a regulation on a fishery that was unforeseen when the regulation was adopted. In both cases the board felt both ACRs did not meet those criteria.

Status of Salmon Fisheries and Progress of ASMI Programs Meetings

Two upcoming meetings of interest to commercial fishermen were announced yesterday in Alaska, one of the status of salmon stocks and the other on the progress of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) projects.

First, Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, and chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and the Coast Guard, will hold a hearing on Saturday, Oct. 20 in Anchorage, Alaska, to review the health of the state’s salmon fisheries and examine current data needed to maintain healthy, sustainable stocks. The first witness panel includes Alaska Commissioner of Fish and Game Sam Cotten and Chris Oliver, assistant administrator for NOAA Fisheries. The second will have representatives of the University of Alaska College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, the North Pacific Research Board, Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association, Prince William Sound Science Center and the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.

Then, the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute will provide those unable to attend the October 29–31 meeting in person with the option to listen in by calling 1-800-315-6388, or 1-913-904-9376 using the access code 05684.

EVOS Trustee Council to Consider Transition Plans

The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council will for the first time in its 27-year history publicly consider a proposal to transition to a court-appointed private non-profit foundation or trust.

While the trustee council itself does not have authority to make the transition, the state of Alaska and federal government do, and the perspective of the six council agencies will weigh significantly in any final decision.

The EVOS council is to take up the matter today, October 17, at its board meeting in Anchorage, Alaska, which is scheduled to run until 3:30 p.m. Alaska time. To listen in call 1-800-315-6338 and use access code 72241.

As of Oct. 1, the restoration fund managed by the council had roughly $198 million left, with some $153 million in unencumbered funds available.

The issue of long-term management of the restoration funds has been under discussion privately for years. Last month, the council proposed the transition to a private foundation in an email to all council members, the U.S. Department of Justice and the state of Alaska Department of Law.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Crab Quota Up for Bering Sea Snow, Down for Bristol Bay Red

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) and National Marine Fisheries Service released updates for the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands prior to the crab fisheries opening on Oct. 15.

Snow crab stocks in the Bering Sea have rebounded to a nearly 50 percent increase compare to a year ago, while Bristol Bay red king crab stocks continue to slide. The total allowable catch (TAC) for the 2018–19 Bering Sea snow crab is set at 27,581 million pounds, with 24,822,900 pounds set aside for individual fishing quota (IFQ) and 2,758,100 pounds in community development quota (CDQ). Last year’s snow crab TAC was 18,961,000 pounds, down from the 2016–17 21,570,000 pounds.

Harvesters of Bristol Bay red king crab are allocated 4.3 million-pound quota, much less than the 6.6 million pounds permitted in 2017 and 8.4 million pounds in 2016. The red king crab allocation includes 3.9 million pounds of IFQ and 430,800 pounds for CDQ entities.

According to Miranda Westphal, area management biologist at Dutch Harbor for the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the last time the Bristol Bay red king crab harvest limit was that low was in 1985, when the guideline harvest limit was set at 3 to 5 million pounds, and harvesters landed 4.09 million pounds.

Usually, harvests numbers are based on 12.5 percent of legal males, but this year it is calculated on 10 percent of that biomass. “We’ve got a continued downward trajectory for king crab stocks and we don’t see a lot of recruitment coming in,” Westphal explained. “The abundance survey is showing a continued decline for effective spawning biomass of legal males, females and sub-legals and we have low estimated recruitment, so we don’t see a lot of small juveniles coming into the system.”

ADF&G biologists said mature female abundance is more than the harvest strategy threshold of 8.4 million crab and the 2018-effective spawning biomass of 33,275 million pounds is over the threshold of 14.5 million pounds required for the fishery to open.

The western district for Tanner crab will open with a TAC of 2,439,000 pounds, down slightly from 2,500,200 a year ago.

The eastern district remains closed, as it was in 2017.

Pribilof district red and blue king crab are closed due to continued low abundance. State biologists said there is considerable uncertainty surrounding precision of abundance estimates of these crab. The Saint Matthew Island section blue king crab fishery is closed for the season because those stocks were estimated to be below the federal minimum stock size threshold and consequently declared overfished.

Alaska Urges Transboundary Mining Discussion at Bilateral Talks

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker and the state’s congressional delegation are urging Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to discuss risks posed by transboundary mining activity in upcoming bilateral talks between the United States and Canada.

The letter sent to Pompeo indicate that if poorly managed Canadian mining projects located near transboundary rivers that flow from British Columbia into Alaska pose a threat to commercial fishing and tourism industries in Southeast Alaska.

In November 2017, the delegation sent a letter to then-Secretary Rex Tillerson urging the State Department to prioritize transboundary watersheds, bringing the issue to the cabinet level. The delegation has continued to push for binding protections, joint water quality monitoring and financial assurances to ensure mining operators in British Columbia would be held accountable for any impacts to transboundary water quality that stand to threaten salmon habitat in Alaska.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, has included in the Senate version of the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations package for fiscal year 2019 currently being negotiated by a House-Senate conference committee, a $1.5 million fund to cover stream gauges to monitor water quality on transboundary rivers, a one million dollar increase from fiscal year 2017 funding levels. It also direct the U.S. Geological Survey to enter into a formal partnership with local tribes and other agencies to help develop a water quality strategy for transboundary rivers.

The correspondence requesting that the State Department deliver a strong message to Global Affairs Canada during bilateral talks in Ottawa, Ontario drew kudos from campaign director Jill Weitz of Salmon Beyond Borders. Weitz said that development of large-scale open pit mines in British Columbia is moving “at a mind-blowing pace, while the cleanup of mines like the bankrupt Tulsequah Chief, which has been polluting the Taku River watershed for more than 60 years, is at a seemingly constant stand-still.”

Hatchery Issues Back Up Before the Alaska Board of Fisheries

Comments on a proposal to limit production at the Valdez Fisheries Development Association hatchery are pouring in to the Alaska Board of Fisheries in advance of a work session scheduled for Oct. 15-16 in Anchorage, Alaska.

Prior to the Oct. 3 deadline, the board had received 272 comments for inclusion as record copies in board packets, and remarks are still coming in.

During the work mid-October session, board members will decide whether or not to accept agenda change requests (ARC) on when to consider specific proposals. While public comment will not be heard at the work session, there will be a town hall style public discussion at 1:30 p.m. on Oct. 16.

Attracting the most comments is ACR 1, from the Kenai River Sportfishing Association (KRSA). Back in 2016, the board approved allowing the Valdez hatchery to incubate, rear and release 250 million pink salmon eggs. That total was increased by 20 million eggs for 2018. KRSA contends that the number of hatchery-produced pink salmon in Prince William Sound poses a threat to wild stocks of salmon in the Gulf of Alaska. It seeks to decrease the egg take that went into effect for 2018. In its agenda change request, KRSA argues that the board October meeting is well after the planned 20 million egg take increase.

A second agenda change request to cap statewide private non-profit salmon hatchery egg take capacity at 75 percent of the level permitted in 2000 was submitted by former fisheries board member Virgil Uphenour.

Opposition to ACR 1 and ACR 2 is coming in from a number of commercial fishermen, including Jerry McCune, president of Cordova District Fishermen United (CDFU). McCune told the fisheries board in written comments that CDFU believes the statewide hatcheries are well managed and rely on the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s research for management decisions for the future of all stocks. “It is imperative that hatchery production be science-based and driven by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s continued research,” McCune said. “Circumventing the permitting process for hatchery production by utilizing a political process, rather than a scientific one, is a breakdown of public trust and jeopardizes the future of Prince William Sound fisheries.”

CDFU recommends that the fisheries board receive an annual report from the statewide hatcheries and ADF&G staff, but that decision-making regarding hatchery production remain with the regional planning team and commissioner of ADF&G.

More work session meeting information and comments are available online at http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=fisheriesboard.meetinginfo&date=10-15-2018&meeting=anchorage

Alaska Harvesters Sentenced on Tax Charges

Two harvesters from Southeast Alaska who owed more than $300,000 in income taxes from earnings on commercial fisheries will serve a year and a day in federal prison, under sentences handed down in US District Court in Juneau, Alaska.

Judge Timothy M. Burgess sentenced Archie W, Demmert III, 58 and Roseann L. Demmert, 61, on two counts of willful failure to pay income tax. As part of their plea agreements, the Demmerts will pay restitution to the IRS for the calendar years charged covering 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014.

The Demmerts both had commercial fishing permits for herring spawn on kelp, and Archie Demmert had an additional commercial fishing permit for a salmon purse seine. The Demmerts admitted in court that they earned income from commercial fishing for over a decade, from 2006 to 2014, but willfully chose not to pay over $300,000 in income taxes, excluding penalties and interest.

Court documents showed they had a long history, dating back to at least 1994, of avoiding most of their tax obligations, and have not made any payments toward their taxes to the present day. Instead they spent their money on travel and gambling in casinos.

The investigation, conducted by IRA criminal investigators, showed that the couple spent thousands of dollars gambling in casinos in Las Vegas and Washington, despite telling the IRS that they had no way of paying their tax bills, according to office of the US, Attorney District of Alaska.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Bristol Bay Sockeye Run Is Largest on Record

Commercial fishermen engaged in the Bristol Bay salmon fishery had a record year in 2018, and in more ways than one.

State biologists say the 2018 run of Bristol Bay sockeye salmon was the largest on record, dating back to 1893, and 69 percent above the 36.9 million average run of the last 20 years. It was also the fourth consecutive year that inshore sockeye runs exceeded 50 million fish, and 21 percent above the preseason inshore forecast of 51.3 million fish. In fact, runs to all districts except Egegik exceeded the preseason forecast. The commercial harvest of 41.3 million reds was 10 percent above the 37.6 million preseason forecast and the second largest harvest on record.

The fishery also met or exceeded all sockeye escapement goals, with a total bay-wide escapement of 21 million fish. Preliminary harvests for other Pacific salmon species in Bristol Bay calculated by ADF&G were 1.9 million chums, 218,998 humpies, 138,466 silvers and 41,696 Chinooks.

Ex-vessel values also reached record levels. The preliminary ex-vessel value of all salmon species in the Bay was $281 million, 242 percent above the 20-year average of $116 million, and 39 percent higher than the $202 million ex-vessel value of the 1990 harvest. The 43.5 million harvest of all species was the second largest in the history of the Bay, surpassed only by the 45.4 million salmon of 1995. The 41.3 million sockeye harvest came second to the 1995 salmon harvest.

Statewide as of Oct. 1 the wild salmon commercial harvest stood at 113,400,000 fish, including more than 50 million sockeyes, 40 million humpies, 20 million chum, 3.5 million coho and 240,000 kings. More than 75 million of those fish came from Alaska’s central region, 21 million from Southeast Alaska, 14.6 million from the westward region and 2.3 million from the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim region.

Oliver Replaces Balsiger on IPHC

NOAA Fisheries announced on Sept. 27 that Assistant Administrator for NOAA Fisheries Chris Oliver would replace Jim Balsiger, regional administrator for NOAA Fisheries Alaska, as the alternative federal commissioner on the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC).

Oliver, former executive director of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, oversees the management and conservation of the nation’s recreational and commercial fisheries.

Under the Northern Pacific Halibut Act of 1982, the US is represented on the IPHC by three commissioners who are appointed by the president, including one who must be a NOAA official.

The substitution came on the heels of the reappointment in early September of Robert Alverson (Seattle, Wash.) manager of the Fishing Vessel Owners Association, and the appointment of sportfishing lodge owner Richard Yamada (Juneau, Alaska) who replaces Linda Behnken (Juneau, Alaska), executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association. Yamada, a veteran of the charter fishing industry is the first person in the sport fishing industry to be named to the council.

Season Proves Another Record Breaker for NSSP

Record coho and chum salmon runs and continued robust markets for red king crab and halibut added up to another record-breaking season for Norton Sound Seafood Products (NSSP) and infused $8.6 million into communities in Alaska’s Norton Sound region.

NSSP, a subsidiary of Norton Sound Economic Development Corp., paid out $6.4 million to 219 salmon, crab and halibut harvesters. Another $2.2 million was disbursed to 254 seasonal workers in processing plants, at buying stations and on tender vessels.

“It proved to be an incredible season,” said NSEDC Board Chairman Dan Harrelson.

The parent company is one of six community development quota groups in Alaska who were established to provide a portion of fishery quotas in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands exclusively for 65 eligible western Alaska villages.

NSSP received a record 3.6 million pounds of salmon from its small boat fishermen that added up to an ex-vessel value of just over $4 million, shattering last year’s harvest record of 2.5 million pounds with an ex-vessel value of nearly $2.8 million. Silvers harvesters delivered 1.8 million pounds with an ex-vessel value of $2.5 million. NSSP also purchased nearly 1.7 million pounds of chum valued at $1.35 million.

Fifty-two crabbers brought in 321,047 pounds of red king crab worth $2,026,026 and halibut deliveries from 15 harvesters totaled 66,471 pounds valued at $387,912.

NSSP manager William “Middy” Johnson credited the record season to the coho and chum harvest. “Crab and halibut quotas were down, and their markets remained steady, but the coho and chum runs were strong.” Johnson said. “Norton Sound salmon fishers set their nets with every opening, so we not only had a record salmon harvest, but individual fishers had record seasons. These men and women have proven that if fishers are given the opportunity, they will work hard, set, pull and deliver.”

Commercial fishermen delivered directly to NSSP processing plants in Unalakleet and Nome, plus buying stations in Shaktoolik, Koyuk, Elim, Golovin and Savoonga.

Citizen’s Coalition Sues Over Salmon Habitat Issues

A state of Alaska decision denying a citizen group’s request for an instream flow water reservation for waters in the Chuitna watershed of Southcentral Alaska has prompted a lawsuit in Alaska Superior Court.

This past week, the Chuitna Citizens Coalition filed an appeal to the decision reached by Alaska Natural Resources Commissioner Andy Mack against granting that reserve to protect wild salmon habitat. Mack said he had to take into consideration what is in the public interest in this case, which initially involved a proposed coal mine on lands owned by the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, and if there is a need to issue an instream flow water reservation. In this case, the need was not there, he explained.

At the time the coalition first proposed the water reserve, PacRim Coal LP, a Delaware-based corporation owned by a Texas-based energy company, had plans to build what would have been the largest strip mine in Alaska. Their plans would have included destruction of salmon habitat in the Chuitna watershed. Litigation between supporters of the project, including the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, and opponents, including wild salmon harvesters and environmental groups, goes back over nine years.

In March 2017, PacRim advised the state of Alaska that it was suspending its effort to get permits for the mine, due to an investment effort failure.

“It’s just not fair,” said Ron Burnett, president of the Chuitna Citizens Coalition. “The state says mining companies can get rights to take water out of streams permanently, but regular citizens can’t get rights to keep water in our streams for fish. That’s plain wrong.”

DNR did grant the requested instream flow right to the citizens coalition in 2015, but mining, oil and gas corporations appealed the decision. Finally, last December, Mack issued his decision, saying that because the coal company had relinquished its leases, such changed circumstance warranted an entirely new decision. In late September, Mack issued his new decision denying the request to keep water in the streams on grounds that the coal company had pulled out and there was no current competing interest for the water.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Alaska APOC Wrestles with New Salmon Initiative Allocation

With just weeks to go before the Nov. 6 general election, opponents of an Alaska ballot initiative to create a new regulatory system to manage fish habitat are filing a new complaint alleging violations by backers of the initiative.

The complaint filed by Stand for Alaska Vote No on 1 with the Alaska Public Offices Commission (APOC) alleges that several groups campaigning in support of the initiative have violated state campaign finance laws and regulations by not disclosing the source of their funding.

The allegations target three environmental groups, including The Alaska Center. According to the complaint these groups “failed to report the true source of the dark money they have received from Lower 48 non-profit entities that are used to launder large outside donations into respondents’ campaign in support of Ballot Measure 1.”

The APOC held a special hearing on Sept. 25 that lasted for several hours. A final decision is expected on Oct. 3.

Stand for Alaska Vote No on 1, whose campaign resources total more than $9 million, counts among its financial supporters the oil and gas and mining industries, including backers of the Pebble mine.

Yes for Salmon’s campaign funds amount to about $1 million, including in-kind contributions from conservation and environmental groups.

The new complain comes on the heels of an APOC decision just a week earlier to fine Stand for Alaska $1,925 for violating a rule that requires an organization contesting an initiative to clearly state its opposition to the initiative in its name.

Stand for Alaska Vote No on 1 started out as simply “Stand for Alaska.”

Harvest of Sockeye, Chum and Silvers Slowing

The season may be slowing, but the fish are still running. Slightly more than 150,000 salmon were harvested in Alaska last week, including 70,000 keta, 60,000 coho and 20,000 sockeyes. That’s according to Garrett Evridge of the McDowell Group in Juneau, Alaska, who prepares the weekly salmon harvest updates for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.

The year-to-date harvest of about 17.4 million keta salmon is 28 percent lower than 2017’s pace but similar to the five-year average.

Coho harvests of about 3.4 million, is a third lower than 2017 and 29 percent below the five-year average, with only a week or two of silver salmon fishing remaining.

A minimal number of pink or Chinook salmon were harvested in Alaska last week.

Evridge said that few additional sockeye are expected to be harvested this year.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s (ADF&G) preliminary summary for Bristol Bay describes this year’s harvest as the largest on record, measured by value and size of the return.

All this brought the 2018 preliminary Alaska commercial salmon harvest as of Sept. 25 up to 110,643,000 wild salmon delivered to processors, including more than 50 million sockeyes, nearly 40 million humpies, more than 17 million chum, 3.4 million silver and 223,000 kings.

On a regional basis, those preliminary ADF&G catch totals include over 75 million salmon in the central region, including Bristol Bay, Cook Inlet and Prince William Sound; 18.5 million fish for Southeast Alaska; nearly 15 million for the Westward region, including Kodiak, the Aleutians and Alaska Peninsula; and 2.3 million salmon for the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim region.

Proposal to Privatize Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council

The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council has received a proposal urging that after nearly three decades of efforts to restore environment damaged by a massive oil spill in Prince William Sound that the council switch from government to private non-profit status.

Establishing an EVOS Restoration Foundation would remove conflict of interest issues of government agencies funding themselves, says marine conservationist Rick Steiner of Oasis Earth, an environmental consulting entity in Anchorage, Alaska. Steiner was a marine conservation professor with the University of Alaska stationed in Cordova at the time of the spill.

The move to a private non-profit is necessary to refocus primarily on restoring the injured environment, Steiner said in a letter to the council this past week. He acknowledges some notable successes, such as the habitat protection program, but says agencies tend to look at the EVOS process in terms of what they consider may be in their immediate self-interest, rather than how to best assist environmental recovery.

Steiner also notes that all six of the council’s trustees have full time government jobs and simply can’t focus on EVOC restoration with the effort it demands.

The current trustees including Alaska Commissioner of Fish and Game Sam Cotten, Alaska Commissioner of Environmental Conservation Larry Hartig, Alaska Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth, NOAA Regional administrator for Alaska Jim Balsiger, Chugach National Forest Supervisor Terri Marceron, and Steve Wackowski, senior advisor for Alaska Affairs to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

Elise Hsieh, executive director of the council, acknowledged that the council had received Steiner’s proposal, but did not say when it might be considered by the council, whose next meeting is set for Oct. 17 in Anchorage.

NPFMC, AK Board of Fisheries Plan Joint Meeting

Federal fisheries officials have announced an upcoming meeting of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council with the Alaska Board of Fisheries on Oct. 17 in Anchorage, Alaska, to discuss issues of joint concern, including salmon fishery management in Cook Inlet.

Also up for discussion will be a status report on Southeast Chinook salmon management, the status of Pacific cod stocks, an overview of total allowable catch allocation and federal management of Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands cod, an update on the council initiative of BSAI cod fishery participation, an update on council action of Aleutian Islands cod community and shoreside processor protections, an overview of state management of Pacific cod fisheries, and a review of state-managed Pacific cod proposals.

Public comment letters should be sent either electronically to the council’s executive director, David Witherell, at David.witherell@noaa.gov or mailed to North Pacific Fishery Management Council 605 W. 4th Ave., Suite 306, Anchorage, AK 99501-2252.

The agenda is subject to change. The latest version is posted at http://www.npfmc.org

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Project will Help Keep Whales from Depredating Longline Gear

Longline harvesters in Southeast Alaska are embarked on development of a new user-friendly tool to detect sperm whales and avoid depredation on longline gear.

The Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association (ALFA) was awarded a one-year, $245,000 grant from the NOAA Bycatch Reduction and Engineering Program to adapt towed array hydrophone systems that can spot whales up to eight miles away and then share this information between a network of fishermen.

The project is an interdisciplinary collaboration of fishermen, NOAA fishery managers, university-based biologists and hydrophone equipment developers building on prior work by the Southeast Alaska Sperm Whale Avoidance Network (SEASWAP) during a 2016 pilot study.

There are three stages to this project. The first involves use of 2016 field data to improve automated detection/localization functions, improve the user interface, incorporate automated real time sharing of whale detection data to allow avoidance and upgrade existing SEASWAP hydrophone hardware. Phase two will focus on field testing the upgraded software/hardware on commercial fishing vessels, before incorporating the systems into ALFA’s whale avoidance network.

“Sperm whale depredation on longline gear poses an economic challenge to fishermen and complicates stock assessment for fisheries managers,” said Linda Behnken, executive director of ALFA. “Fishermen need tools to avoid whale depredation and this support from NOAA’s BREP will allow us to create fishermen- and whale-friendly tools.”

ALFA Research Director Dan Falvey noted that ALFA’s goal is to provide harvesters with an effective means of detecting sperm whalers before setting gear, to facilitate sharing that information with a network of fishermen and assist the fleet with avoiding sperm whale depredation. “With support from the NOAA Bycatch Reduction and Engineering Program, we hope to turn research oriented towed array hydrophone systems into a plug and play tool for the longline fleet,” he said.

Pacific Salmon Commission Reaches New Coastwide Agreement

A new 10-year harvest agreement between the United States and Canada has been reached at the Pacific Salmon Commission.

Under the new Pacific Salmon Treaty every participating jurisdiction accepted a reduction in harvest, unlike recent treaties in which Alaska bore the bulk of the burden. According to the terms of the new agreement, Alaska sustains a 7.5 percent reduction, compared with 12.5 percent cut back for Canada, and diminutions ranging from 5 to 15 percent for Oregon and Washington. The agreement is now under legal review by the respective ministry in Canada and the US State Department, prior to ratification.

The treaty covers salmon fisheries on transboundary waterways flowing to Southeast Alaska, northern British Columbia, Washington and Oregon. Separate negotiations are currently underway for the Fraser River while talks for the Yukon River take place only when both countries agree that there is a need for them.

“For the first time since the treaty was originally negotiated in 1985, Alaska’s diverse treaty team unanimously approved the final deal,” said Pacific Salmon Commissioner and Alaska Department of Fish and Game Deputy Director Charles Swanton. “It speaks volumes that salmon subsistence users, seafood industry leaders, commercial fishermen, and recreational representatives all ended up endorsing this deal,” said Swanton.

As a result of this agreement, harvests will increase proportionally when abundance increases. New accountability provisions advocated by the 59-member Alaska treaty team enact limits on fish available for harvest relative to how many salmon return that year.

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker said that the agreement would protect the health and sustainability of salmon stocks and guarantee Alaska’s ability to directly manage its fisheries without federal interference. Walker met with fishing groups opposed to this treaty and took their message to a meeting with the Secretary of Commerce to explore the option of a one-year delay, but that did not prove feasible.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said she support the terms of the agreement and would continue to push for robust funding to sustain its implementation and support necessary mitigation to ensure that all parties meet their treaty obligations.

Alaska Wild Salmon Season Draws to a Close

Commercial harvests of wild salmon for 2018 in Alaska are nearing an end, with about 500,000 salmon harvested in the past week, putting the overall preliminary harvest total at 110,450,000 fish. That total accounts for upwards of 50 million sockeyes, 39 million pinks, 17 million chums, 3.3 million cohos and 223,000 kings.

Fisheries economist Garrett Evridge of the McDowell Group in Juneau, Alaska, says in his latest weekly report to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute that Alaska’s 2018 pink salmon harvest is about six percent above 2016 levels, but well below the 2018 forecast of about 70 million humpies.

In the wake of two strong weeks of keta harvest, production in that fishery has slowed, with the past week yielding some 120,000 fish. The year-to-date keta numbers are about one third lower than 2017 and 13 percent below the five-year average, Evridge wrote.

Year-to-date coho harvests are 33 percent lower than a year ago, with only two more weeks of production remaining. Few Chinooks have been caught in recent weeks, and year-to-date production is now seven percent lower than a year ago. In sockeye fisheries, the last week’s addition of 113,000 salmon brought the red salmon harvest over the 50 million fish mark.

ADF&G’s Hartill Will Join American Seafoods

Trent Hartill, federal fisheries coordinator for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G), will join American Seafoods Company in Seattle, Wash., in late October as the company’s vice president of fisheries and sustainability.

The veteran ADF&G biologist said that his new role will be tracking legislative and regulatory developments in state and federal bodies.

Hartill has been with the state agency for a decade, predominantly with the extended jurisdiction section. His responsibilities have also included serving as an alternate for ADF&G Commissioner Sam Cotten at meetings of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. Earlier, he was a management biologist for groundfish and shellfish at Kodiak and Dutch Harbor, and prior to that a management biologist for salmon and herring on the Alaska Peninsula.

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