Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Grants Expand Electronic Monitoring Program

Twelve projects set to receive grants under a third-year round of funding for electronic monitoring and reporting program, will expand monitoring in Alaska, and Washington state.

The announcement of more than $3.59 million in grants in early January came from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the Kingfisher Foundation. Those grants generated $3.15 million in matching contribution, for a total conservation impact of more than $6.75 million.

Among the projects receiving funding one supports electronic monitoring pre-implementation in the Alaskan pot cod fishery by increasing the number of vessels carrying electronic monitoring devises. Under that $891,734 grant, Saltwater will install electronic monitoring units on up to 15 additional vessels. The project will test an alternative service delivery model focused on building cost effective data collection infrastructure, data review and management processes to provide timely data to fisheries managers and facilitate electronic monitoring data integration.

A $1,177,959 grant to the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association (AFLA) will allow ALFA to improve the electronic monitoring program for vessels participating in sablefish, halibut and Pacific cod fixed gear fisheries by providing electronic monitoring hardware, field service support for vessels and support for stakeholder engagement. The project will provide electronic monitoring of up to 120 hook and line vessels that will reduce bycatch and improve the utility of electronic monitoring data for harvesters and fishery managers.

Washington’s Department of Fish and Wildlife will use a $608,593 grant to deploy an electronic reporting and monitoring software system for non-tribal commercial harvesters and tribal fisheries in Puget Sound and coastal waters off Washington.

Details on all 12 grants are online at http://www.nfwf.org/fisheriesfund/Documents/emr-2017grantslate.pdf

Alaska Marine Science Symposium Begins January 22

The annual Alaska Marine Science Symposium, the state’s premier marine research conference, will get under way on January 22 in Anchorage, Alaska.

The conference will open with a communicating ocean sciences workshop, followed by keynote speeches from weather experts, a researcher focused on benthic species and a photographer with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Speakers include:

• Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere Tim Gallaudet, a retired Navy rear admiral and oceanographer,

• Richard Thoman, the climate science and services manager for the National Weather Service Alaska region,

• Lis Lindal Jorgensen, a senior scientist at the Institute of Marine Research in Norway, and

• Chris Linder, an expedition multimedia specialist at Woods Hole and also affiliated with the International League of Conservation Photographers.

The symposium has for more than two decades brought together scientists, educators, resource managers, students and interested members of the public to discuss marine research conducted in Alaska waters. Betsy Baker, executive director of the North Pacific Research Board, an event co-organizer, noted that the symposium attracts participants from far beyond the state’s borders.

The event offers established scientists, new researchers and students the opportunity to share their work and network with each other, communities, managers, industry and the public.

Each day of the conference will highlight a special area of Alaska’s marine ecosystems. The focus will be on the Gulf of Alaska on January 23, the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands on January 24 and the Arctic on January 25.

Sponsoring organizations include the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Alaska Ocean Observing System, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Coastal Marine Institute, Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Council, Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council, National Park Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – Alaska Regional Collaboration Team, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – Alaska Fisheries Science Center, North Pacific Fishery Management Council, North Pacific Marine Science Organization, North Pacific Research Board, Oil Spill Recovery Institute, Pollock Conservation Cooperative Research Center, Prince William Sound Science Center, United States Arctic Research Commission, United States Geological Survey – Alaska Region, United States Geological Survey – Alaska Science Center, University of Washington – School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences.

Conference details can be found at http://www.alaskamarinescience.org

Salmon Initiative Backers Have the Signatures for Alaska’s Ballot

On January 16, backers of a ballot initiative to update Alaska’s law governing development in salmon habitat have delivered box after box of petitions to the state’s Division of Elections office containing over 49,500 signatures to include the initiative on the ballot in this year’s election cycle.

Ballot sponsor Stephanie Quinn-Davidson, director of the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, said tens of thousands of Alaskans from Nome to Ketchikan in every legislative district favor updating the laws to reflect a true balance between responsible development and protection of salmon.

The initiative proposes updates to a 60-year-old law that guides development projects in areas of salmon habitat. Such projects are currently assessed by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game based on what the law defines as “the proper protection of fish and game.” The Stand for Salmon group contends that without clear guidelines on what “proper protection is” the standards for permitting are vague.

From the onset, the goal was to collect 45,000 registered voters signatures, well over the minimum 32,147 required.

The Division of Elections has 60 days to review the petitions to confirmed that they contain the names of the minimum of required registered voters.

The proposed initiative is opposed by a cross-section of other Alaskans, including the Alaska Miners Association Alaska Oil and Gas Association, Alaska Support Industry Alliance, the economic development corporations for Anchorage and Fairbanks, the Teamsters Union and all 12 Alaska Native regional corporations.

Group Questions Canadian Government’s Salmon Farm Transparency

An environmental group in Vancouver, British Columbia is questioning a Canadian government report that says there is minimal risk of pathogen transfer from farmed to wild salmon.

The comments come in the aftermath of the government’s announcement in late December that there is minimum risk to wild Fraser River sockeye salmon populations of transfer of IHNV (infectious hematopoietic necrosis virus) from Atlantic salmon farms in British Columbia’s Discovery Islands.

Stan Pronoszcz, science and campaign manager for the Watershed Watch Salmon Society in Vancouver, BC, served on the federal Canadian science review committee that produced the report.

The Watershed Watch contends that the report is partially based on a secret memorandum of understanding between several salmon farming companies, information that was not made available for examination by committee members. Because of the lack of transparency, the Watershed Watch, Living Oceans Society and the Pacific Coast Wild Salmon Society are now calling the report’s conclusions into question.

They are asking for revamping of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s science review process, known as CSAS, or the Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat. The scientific advice is supposed to inform policy and management options and decisions.

Watershed Watch said an imbalance in pro-industry representation could significantly affect the conclusions of the risk assessment report due to its qualitative nature, as opposed to using a more rigorous quantitative risk assessment.

Government spokespersons were not immediately available for comment. In a report issued from Ottawa on December 20, they said their research concluded that risks of the pathogens transferring from farmed Atlantic salmon to wild red salmon were minimal. The report said that current fish health management practices such as vaccination and eradication of infected fish helped to minimize the risk.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Land Exchange Deal Reached on King Cove Road Project

The battle over road access for medical emergencies from the Aleutians fishing village of King Cove to the all-weather airport at Cold Bay appears to again be reaching a conclusion, but it’s not over yet.

A spokesperson for the Aleutians East Borough confirms that an agreement has been reached on a land exchange between the Interior Department and the King Cove Corp. that would allow for completion of some 11–12 miles of road connecting the two communities.

Residents of King Cove, home of a large Peter Pan Seafoods processing facility that operates year-round, support road access to the all-weather airport because weather conditions often make travel by plane or even boat between the two communities dangerous. While a flight between King Cove and Cold Bay in light aircraft in good weather takes well under an hour, travel on a fishing tender or other commercial fishing vessels in rough weather can take up to three hours.

Between 1980 and 1994, a dozen people died during medevac attempts. Since then there have been 68 evacuations by boat or air, with no further fatalities, according to city administrator Gary Hennigh.

Several environmental groups, including The Wilderness Society, say putting a road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge would cause irreversible harm to the environment and have vowed to challenge the matter in court. Proponents of the road say the route can be completed without causing harm to the environment and area wildlife, including migrating waterfowl, who are legally targeted in the refuge by sport hunters.

According to Laura Tanis, public information officer for the Aleutians East Borough, a formal agreement is to be signed in Washington D.C. later this month, followed by a land appraisal process expected to take several months, and beyond that decisions are still to be worked out on the amount of acreage to be exchanged, the route of the connecting road, and construction dates.

Permitting Process Under Way for Pebble Prospect

Canadian backers of a massive copper, gold and molybdenum mine adjacent to the Bristol Bay watershed in southwest Alaska have filed documents required to apply for a Clean Water Act 404 permit needed for discharge of dredged or fill materials into federal waters, including wetlands.

The US Army Corps of Engineers acknowledged, on January 5, receipt of the application from the Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP), a wholly owned subsidiary of Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., in Vancouver, British Columbia. Northern Dynasty itself is a wholly owned subsidiary of the diversified global mining group Hunter Dickenson Inc., also based in Vancouver. The PLP was established in 2007 to design, permit, construct and operate the controversial mine.

Ron Thiessen, chief executive officer of Northern Dynasty, said his firm was “pleased by the expediency with which permitting for the Pebble Project has been initiated and that the Corps will serve as the lead federal agency for the rigorous, objective, transparent and science based EIS (environmental impact statement) process.”

The announcement drew a quick response from United Tribes of Bristol Bay in Dillingham, Alaska, whose members include commercial harvesters of the Bay’s sockeye salmon.

“After witnessing more than a decade of Pebble’s deceit in Bristol Bay, it is no surprise that the application released this morning describes a much larger, different project than Pebble presented to Alaskans in the last six months,” said Robert Heyano, a veteran Bristol Bay harvester and president of United Tribes of Bristol Bay. “The science on such a project is already available, and already clear: this mine will devastate the Bristol Bay fishery. Bristol Bay residents will continue to fight this project and protect the water that has sustained our way of life since time immemorial,” he said.

The project is not economically feasible in the smaller footprint that is identified in the permit application; the ore is of such poor quality that it has to be huge to make it pay, he said.

Pebble’s 1,000-plus page application identifies 3,190.55 acres of wetlands and other waters to be filled at the mine site alone, or nearly three times the wetlands losses the EPA identified as posing unacceptable adverse impacts to the ecosystem, the tribal consortium said in its statement. Additionally, the application lists Upper Talarik Creek as one of eight water bodies “directly impacted” by the proposed project, and this runs counter to recent statements by Tom Collier, chief executive officer for the PLP, that the project would not affect Upper Talarik Creek and the Kvichak River watersheds, the tribal consortium said.

Pebble’s permit application documents, including the project description, are available online at http://www.poa.usace.army.mil/Missions/Regulatory/Public-Notices-Section-Homepage/.

The proposed project, according to Northern Dynasty, would include a 230-megawatt power plant at the mine site, an 83-mile transportation corridor from the mine site to a port site on the west side of Cook Inlet, a permanent, year-round port facility on Cook Inlet and a 188-mile natural gas pipeline from the Kenai Peninsula to the mine site.

Fisheries Meetings Stack Up

Updates on fisheries science and technology are on tap at late winter commercial fisheries meetings, organized by state and federal agencies as well as private industry groups.

The International Pacific Halibut Commission, which holds its 94th annual meeting January 22–26 in Portland, Oregon, features a meeting section that presents the agenda, schedule, documents and reports, as well as a registration links on its new website http://iphc.int/. Register for the meeting on Eventbrite (https://www.eventbrite.com/e/2018-iphc-annual-meeting-am094-tickets-35265063755) if planning to attend in person or (https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/2301759810024715522) to listen in on the webinar.

Meanwhile in Anchorage, the 2018 Alaska Marine Science Symposium will be held at the Hotel Captain Cook January 22–26, featuring keynote speakers on the first afternoon while the next three days are earmarked specifically for the Arctic, Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands and Gulf of Alaska, with reports ranging from ocean physics to human dimensions. Program details, including keynote speakers and all presentations, are available at www.alaskamarinescience.org/agenda.

In Seattle, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council holds its meeting February 5–12. eComments must be submitted at https://comments.npfmc.org/Meeting/Details/62 by 5 p.m. February 2. Once the meeting is underway, online audio will be provided. The meeting schedule and documents will be posted at http://legistar2.granicus.com/npfmc/meetings/2017/12/967_A_North_Pacific_Council_17-12-04_Meeting_Agenda.pdf

In Girdwood, Alaska, the 69th Pacific Fisheries Technologists Conference will be held February 5–7 at the Alyeska Resort, with presentations from companies that produce machines for groundfish processing, smoking fish, pathogen testing, automated fish processing and more. The conference theme is “Tools of the Trade,” and the gathering will include a discussion on how the regulatory environment adapts with the innovation and growth of the industry. Presenting firms will include GVI, Baader, Environpak, Marel, Neogen and Qualtracx, said PFT president Chris Sannito, a seafood technology specialist and research assistant professor for the University of Alaska Fairbanks, with the Marine Advisory Program at Kodiak.

26 Lease Sales Proposed Off Alaska and Pacific Region Coastlines

A draft proposal released by the Trump administration on January 4 identifies 47 potential Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas lease sales, including 19 off the coast of Alaska and seven in the Pacific region as part of a five-year leasing program beginning in 2019.

The proposed plan would include three lease sales in the Chukchi Sea, three in the Beaufort Sea, two in Cook Inlet and one each in 11 other areas namely the Gulf of Alaska, Kodiak, Shumagin, Aleutian Arc, St. George Basin, Lowers Basin, Aleutian Basin, Navarin Basin, St. Matthew-Hall, Norton Basin and Hope Basin.

For the Pacific region, the plan proposes two lease sales each in Northern California, Central California and Southern California and one for Washington/Oregon.

The announcement was hailed by Alaska Gov. Bill Walker and the state’s congressional delegation as an important step forward in allowing the state to responsibly develop its natural resources, create jobs and strengthen the nation’s energy security. The governors of nine other states, including California, Oregon and Washington, all oppose offshore drilling plans.

Fisheries and environmental entities remain concerned about adverse impact on the environment, including fisheries resources.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said that while nothing is final, the proposed plan offered more good news toward creating jobs, keeping energy affordable and strengthening the nation’s security.

Kara Moriarty, president and chief executive officer of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, said the proposed plan was very consistent with the administration’s goal of making America energy dominant, but cautioned that “none of these lease sales are guaranteed to move forward.”

“Americans rely on oceans for economic well-being, recreation, food security and cultural continuity,” said Michael LeVine, senior Arctic Fellow for the Ocean Conservancy. “The federal government owes it to the American people to ensure that our ocean resources are managed for all of our needs and the needs of future generations. This proposal is further evidence of this presidential administration’s utter disregard for balance, stewardship, or the concerns of many affected coastal residents,” he said.

The announcement comes amidst rising concerns over the impact of climate change and ocean acidification on Alaska fisheries, including salmon, halibut, Pacific cod and shellfish.

Alaska seafood harvesters have a long history of opposition to offshore oil and gas exploration and related activities, heightened by the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster, and the industry has been vocal about potential adverse impact of these and proposed mining ventures to ocean habitat critical to the state’s multimillion dollar fisheries.

The Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has scheduled open house meetings in Anchorage on January 23, Tacoma, Washington February 5, Salem, Oregon on February 6 and Sacramento, California on February 8.

Those attending the meetings may submit prepared written comments or enter them on a computer terminal on site, transmitting them directly to the agency. The deadline for submitting comments is March 9. All remarks will be posted on the BOEM website.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

OSU Secures Grant to Study Shellfish Industry

Oregon State University has received a $673,000 federal grant through NOAA Fisheries to study how ocean acidification affects the shellfish industry.

“Through this grant support from NOAA’s Ocean Acidification Program OSU scientists will take an interdisciplinary approach to advance further understanding of the complex social, economic and environmental issues associated with ocean acidification and the shellfish industry to help inform practical and impactful methods of adaptation,” said OSU spokeswoman Cynthia Sagers.

“Oregon’s economy depends on the health of our oceans and coastal communities,” said Representative Suzanne Bonamici, D-Oregon. “Ocean acidification threatens our valuable fisheries and thousands of jobs.”

OSU was one of three universities to receive two-year grants through a competitive, merit-based process under the new Ocean Acidification Regional Vulnerability Assessment Competition

Report Says Putting Algae on Menus Could Help Save Seafood

Scientists looking at future needs to feed millions of people in the face of climate change say adding algae to the menu could help save seafood.

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), farming organisms such as algae could help counter some effects of climate change on the rest of the food chain. For example, growing more seaweed, a type of algae that has been eaten for centuries, lowers the amount of carbon dioxide in the surrounding water, reduces acidification, and improves the environment for oysters and other shellfish. Managing seaweed harvest correctly will also maintain the dissolved oxygen and nutrient levels in the water, contributing to the overall health of the ocean, said the report from the IAEA’s Ocean Acidification International Coordination Centre.

Should there be a need to feed 9.8 billion people by 2050 food from the ocean will have to play a major role, but some 90 percent of the world’s fish stocks are already seriously depleted according to the document. IAEA points to a report from Science Advice for Policy by European Academies that proposes harvesting species at lower trophic levels and supporting the mariculture of macroalgae, and marine herbivores and carnivores. That report identifies four main option groups, including improvement utilization of wastes in traditional capture fisheries, fishing new wild species currently not exploited, mariculture of organisms that extract their nutrients directly from water, and mariculture of organisms that require feed.

Making algae a common part of more people’s diets won’t be easy, so any new algae products on our dinner plates will need to be nutritional, attractive and safe to eat. But sticking with the traditional salmon and tuna diet isn’t sustainable, according to the report.

The full SAPEA report is online at https://www.sapea.info/wp-content/uploads/FFOFINALREPORT.pdf

P-Cod Fishery Underway in Southeast Alaska

A directed Pacific cod fishery is underway in Southeast Alaska, with the established guideline harvest range of 750,000 to 1,250,000 pounds, in the wake of decreased participation and a lower harvest in the past year.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG) noted in a statement released from Sitka on January 2 its plan to monitor the catch of Pacific cod by geographic area to prevent localized depletion and overharvest of spawning aggregations.

State biologists said they will continue to manage the resource as it has in the past, closing specific areas as necessary to distribute effort and harvest throughout the Northern Southeast Inside subdistrict and the Southern Southeast Inside subdistrict.

In 2017, 10 vessels caught 225,191 pounds of Pacific cod as direct harvest and another 47,009 pounds as bycatch, for a total of 272,200 pounds. In 2016,16 vessels caught 572,705 pounds of Pacific cod in the directed fishery and 667,625 pounds as bycatch, for a total of 639,330 pounds. The 2015 harvest saw 882,521 pounds in the directed fishery and 77,657 pounds as bycatch for a total of 960,178 pounds.

The highest overall catch of Pacific cod for that area since 2002 came in 2010, with a direct harvest of 869,828 pounds and 58,574 pounds of bycatch, for a total of 928,402 pounds.

The 2017 annual management report for the Southeast and Yakutat commercial groundfish fisheries is online at http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/static/regulations/regprocess/fisheriesboard/pdfs/2017-2018/se/WR12_FMR17-54.pdf

Trump Administration Publishes Regulations for Offshore Safety

The federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) has published in the Federal Register proposed revisions to production safety systems regulations for offshore drilling operations, to reduce what the Trump Administration says is undue burden on the industry.

“By reducing the regulatory burden on industry, we are encouraging increased domestic oil and gas production while maintaining a high bar for safety and environmental sustainability,” said BSEE director Scott Angelle. BSEE’s initial regulatory impact analysis estimates that the proposed amendments will reduce industry compliance burdens by at least $228 million over 10 years.

The proposed revisions would remove the requirement for certified third-party inspections to prevent blowouts and add gas lift shutdown valves to required wells safety and pollution prevention equipment.

The current rules came in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, which released more than 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, proving a disaster to marine life and exposing cleanup workers and area residents to toxic chemicals. Many in the oil and gas industry contended that the resulting regulations went too far in the efforts to prevent a future catastrophe, and inhibited offshore production.

The public is invited to comment on the proposal by going online at https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2017/12/29/2017-27309/oil-and-gas-and-sulphur-operations-on-the-outer-continental-shelf-oil-and-gas-production-safety

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