Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Industry Supports Bristol Bay Fish Expo

Fishing industry entities, government agencies and air carriers are stepping up to participate in the second annual Bristol Bay Fish Expo, June 8–9, in Naknek, Alaska.

The event, on the eve of the Bristol Bay salmon fishery, is a fundraiser for a childcare facility critical to this major Alaska fishery hub.

Taking place at Bristol Bay Borough School, the Expo will feature speed hiring for crew jobs, fishing gear and a fashion show, a live auction, and several dozen vendor booths.

A major attraction in this election year is a gubernatorial debate between incumbent Alaska Gov. Bill Walker and Republican candidates Mike Chanault and Mike Dunleavy. The debate will focus on sustainability in rural Alaska. Candidates will be asked their views on how outmigration, economic development, education, transportation, cost of living, mental health services and resource management are affecting rural communities and fisheries.

“This will be the first gubernatorial debate to be held in Bristol Bay in more than 25 years,” said Alaska Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham.

“Half of the world’s sockeye comes from Bristol Bay, and for more than 100 years its commercial fishing industry has been a mainstay economic driver for Alaska. It’s fitting that the second annual Bristol Bay Fish Expo will be the backdrop for the candidates to discuss their perspectives on advancing the state’s economic future,” Edgmon said.

Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association will hold its annual meeting on the afternoon of June 9.

Bristol Bay Fish Expo got its start a year ago–thanks to Katie Copps-Wilson, a physician’s assistant in Naknek, harvester’s wife, and mother of three school-aged youngsters–to raise funds for the community’s Little Angels Childcare Academy.

The lack of adequate childcare facilities is contributing to a demise in Naknek’s year-round population and Copps-Wilson decided to do something about it.

Now in her second year, she benefits from more help from volunteers and increasing industry support. “We are trying to create one stop shopping for all things fish in Bristol Bay,” she explained. Last year’s speed hiring event resulted in a dozen crew members being hired for the upcoming season. “The captains were so happy. They would go down there (to speed hiring) at 9 a.m. and there were people there ready (to work),” she said.

The event, which brings captains and potential crewmembers together for interviews, is sponsored by Grundens, and the fashion show is sponsored by Nomar, a Homer provider of fishing gear.

Updates on events, vendors and sponsors are posted online at www.bristolbayfishexpo.com and https://www.facebook.com/BRISTOLBAYFISHEXPO/

Alaska’s House Bill 199 a Work in Progress

Alaska’s House Special Committee on Fisheries continues to hear testimony on House Bill 199, legislation aimed at protecting fish and game habitat through permitting of anadromous fish habitat.

In a report to her constituents this week committee chair Louise Stutes of Kodiak, Alaska, remarked that out of 111 people who testified, only 12 opposed the bill in its present form. “What we heard was overwhelming support for updating Title 16 (of Alaska statutes) so that Alaska can maintain healthy salmon fisheries into the future as urbanization and development continue to increase,” Stutes said. “There is a lot of work still needed to make sure we get the right protections in place that still allow responsible development to move forward.”

According to Stutes it is unlikely that HB 199, which would update statutes for protecting fish habitat for the first time since statehood, will make it through the process this year. If it doesn’t pass, her committee will continue to make it a better product during the interim and hit the ground running next year to get it into law. Meanwhile an initiative also aimed at protecting fish habitat, currently scheduled to go on the primary ballot on August 21, would be postponed until the November 6 general election ballot unless the legislative session ends on April 22. State law requires at least 120 days from the end of the legislative session and an initiative vote.

The US Army Corps of Engineers meanwhile continues to hold public hearings on the Pebble mine permit application. Since April 9 hearings have been held in several western and Southcentral Alaska communities, including Naknek, Homer and Dillingham. The Anchorage hearing is set for the evening of Thursday, April 19, at the Dena’ina Center. The doors open at 11 a.m. for those wishing to give testimony to a court reporter, with the main event taking place from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Mine opponents plan a demonstration with speakers at 5 p.m.

Public radio station KDLG in Dillingham reported that those testifying this past week at Kokhanok expressed apprehension or outright opposition to the Pebble project mining plan, while at Newhalen public testimony showed a mix of support and opposition to the mine.

The comment period continues through June 29.

No Further Action on Chinook PSC Limit

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council has opted to postpone indefinitely any further action on modifications of the Chinook salmon prohibited species catch limit for Gulf of Alaska trawl catcher vessels in non-pollock fisheries.

Council action at the April meeting in Anchorage, Alaska, could have boosted limits or added flexibility via annual rollovers of unused prohibited species catch for trawl vessels fishing for Pacific cod, rockfish and flatfish in the central and western Gulf of Alaska.

The council reviewed alternatives during its February and April meetings, ultimately deciding it was not appropriate to make changes at this time because of concerns about the status of Chinook stocks known to occur as bycatch in those Gulf non-pollock trawl fisheries. Council members also noted the possibility that federal action related to king salmon removals could create an unintended interference with the decadal renegotiation in progress on the Pacific Salmon Treaty between the US and Canada. The council noted that the timing and direction of trends in affected king stocks cannot be anticipated. While postponing further action indefinitely, the council signaled intent to monitor the status of king stocks and the performance of the PSC-limited Gulf trawl catcher vessel sector.

The council will receive a report after the 2018 fisheries on king stock status throughout the Pacific coast and on Gulf trawl harvests.

Alward Takes Helm of UFA

Veteran harvester Matt Alward, of the North Pacific Fisheries Association, is the new president of United Fishermen of Alaska (UFA), succeeding Jerry McCune, of Cordova District Fishermen United. Bob Kehoe, representing the Purse Seine Vessel Owners Association is taking on the vice presidency.

Also joining the executive committee on April 15 were Rebecca Skinner, of the Alaska Whitefish Trawlers Association, as public relations and membership chair, and Sue Doherty, of the Southeast Alaska Seiners Association, as subsistence committee chair.

The election for the statewide commercial fishing trade association was held in February.

McCune, of Cordova, had served as UFA president since 2014, as well as from 1992 to 1996. He has also acted as a paid or volunteer lobbyist for UFA for the past two decades, and still serves on UFA’s executive committee. Alward, of Homer, was the vice president of UFA since 2015.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Comment Period on Pebble Project Extended

Under pressure from the state of Alaska and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, the US Army Corps of Engineers has extended its public scoping period on a draft environmental impact statement on the proposed Pebble project to June 29.

The decision to extend the comment period for an additional 60 days came on April 6, in the wake of letters from Alaska Natural Resources Commissioner Andrew Mack and Murkowski, who told Col. Michael Brooks, commander of the Corps Alaska District, that a 30-day scoping period was insufficient.

Scoping input is now invited for entry directly into the project website at www.pebbleprojecteis.com. The proposed open-pit copper-gold-molybdenum mine, with associated infrastructure, would be located in Southwest Alaska, within the Bristol Bay watershed, home of the world’s largest run of wild sockeye salmon.

“Due to the size and potential impact of the proposed mine, a 30-day scoping process is likely insufficient for the public to identify, and the USACE to address issues of concern, studies that are needed and alternatives to be examined,” said Alaska Natural Resources Commissioner Andrew Mack in his March 28 letter to Col. Michael Brooks, commander of the US Army Corps of Engineers Alaska District.

Mack specifically described the project as “an open pit mine, a mile across, near the headwaters of the most prolific salmon fishery in the world.”

Murkowski told Brooks that she has remained officially neutral on large scale mineral development in the Bristol Bay region and supports allowing the Pebble Limited Partnership to apply for a Clean Water Act permit without what she labeled “preemptive restrictions” from the EPA.

Still now that the federal review process has begun, “we must ensure that all relevant stakeholders are given ample opportunity to consider the information provided, as well as sufficient opportunity and forum to provide comment on it,” she told Brooks.

Washington Denies Neurotoxic Pesticides Permit

A request from shellfish growers for a permit to use the pesticide imidacloprid on oyster and clam beds to control native burrowing shrimp has been denied by the Washington Department of Ecology on grounds that the environmental harm would be too great.

The denial to a request from Willapa-Grays Harbor Oyster Growers Association was issued on April 9.

“We’ve been working with this community of growers for years to move away from chemical pesticides and find a safer alternative to control burrowing shrimp,” said Ecology Director Maia Belton. “The science around imidacloprid is rapidly evolving, and we can’t ignore it. New findings make it clear that this pesticide is simply too risky and harmful to be used in Washington’s waters and estuaries.”

The body of science is expanding due to national and international concerns over use of neonicotinoid pesticides and their environmental impacts. New research points to greater impacts in land and water ecosystems than previously known, DOE officials said.

In its environmental assessment, Washington’s Ecology agencies studied the best available science from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Health Canada and the European Food Safety Authority, plus hundreds of other new reports.

The Center for Food Safety, Center for Biological Diversity and Western Environmental Law Center had all urged the Ecology Department not to grant the permit based on both data gaps and disturbing evidence of harm from neonicotinoids, including aquatic species like Dungeness crabs.

In its own review, the Ecology Department found significant, adverse and unavoidable impacts to both sediment quality and invertebrates living in the sediments and water column, Ecology officials said. The agency was accepting public comment through May 14. Once final, the decision could be appealed to the Washington State Pollution Control Hearing Board within 30 days, they said. More information on the review and decision is online at www.ecology.wa.gov/burrowingshrimp.

Federal Fisheries Managers Rule on Angler-Caught Halibut

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council has ruled that when halibut harvested using sport guide services possessed with halibut not using sport guide services in Southeast and Southcentral Alaska that all the fish are subject to guided sport fishing limits.

The final action came during the spring meeting of the council this past week in Anchorage.

The council also approved implementation of an annual registration process for transferable and non-transferable charter halibut permits.

Both actions are subject to approval by the federal Commerce Department and so likely will not be implemented at least until next year.

Unguided sport anglers currently may keep halibut of any size without restriction and are not subject to annual catch limits, while guided anglers face daily bag limits, size limits, daily closures and annual catch limits.

The council’s action was supported by testimony of the Halibut Coalition, Southeast Alaska Fishermen’s Alliance and Cordova District Fishermen United.

The Alaska Charter Association, which represents over 200 vessels engaged in guiding recreational anglers, had urged no action.

The Juneau Charter Boat Operators Association opposed the annual registration process on grounds that it would simply create more red tape for their industry, and that it simply was not a matter that warranted action.

Tom Gemmell, in his testimony for the Halibut Coalition, supported an annual charter halibut permit renewal plan, saying it would add to the integrity and transparency of the program and facilitate enforcement efforts by the US Coast Guard, National Marine Fishery Service and Alaska Wildlife Troopers. Given the considerable uncertainty regarding usage of non-transferable permits, the annual renewal process is needed to restore the credibility of the program, he said.

Rockers Brandi Carlile, Michael Franti Headline Salmonfest 2018

Folk rocker Brandi Carlile and hip hop musician Michael Franti & Spearhead will headline Salmonfest 2018, from Aug. 3-5 at the Kenai Peninsula Fairgrounds in Ninilchik.

The annual three days of fish, love and music – with over 60 bands playing on four stages -comes together in a family friendly atmosphere dedicated to protecting Alaska’s wild salmon habitat.

Salmonfest also attracts a number of other big bands, including Great American Taxi, along with numerous booths offering everything from food, drink and other souvenir items to arts and crafts and a daily mix of creative activities for children.

The festival got its start several years back as Salmonstock, with a focus on educating people from all walks of life about the potential for adverse impact from the proposed open pit Pebble mine in the areas of the Bristol Bay watershed, and has grown to attract several thousand people every year, most of whom are advocates for strong protections for wild salmon habitat.

Sponsors include the Kachemak Bay Conservation Society, with support from Cook Inletkeeper. They join several other environmental entities there annually in trying to educate and rally the public on ways to keep salmon habitat safe.

For information on the developing music program schedule, sponsorship opportunities, tickets and more, log on to www.salmonfestalaska.org.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Fisheries Restrictions for Southeast Alaska Chinook

All harvesters of Chinook salmon in Southeast Alaska fisheries will face restrictions in 2018 in an effort by fishery managers to boost escapement and rebuild stocks impacted by several years of poor marine survival.

“Escapement objectives are not being met, so we’re calling for an all-out conservation effort on behalf of Alaskans and our Canadian neighbors,” said Charlie Swanton, deputy commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G).

Commercial, sport, personal use and subsistence users will all share the burden of conservation, because of forecasts of record-low Chinook returns in regional and transboundary drainages.

Planning for this year’s Chinook management actions began in Sitka, Alaska in January 2018, at a meeting of the Alaska Board of Fisheries, with the board approving plans for stocks of concern in the Chilkat, King Salmon and Unuk rivers. Other Southeast Alaska and transboundary river king salmon stocks are not officially designated stocks of concern but given recent run data and the outlook for record low runs in 2018, additional conservative management actions are being implemented to protect all of these stocks, Swanton explained.

Commercial restrictions included the closure of the winter troll fishery on March 15. The May-June spring troll fishery will be open only in select terminal harvest areas, and a few defined areas on the outside coast, to target hatchery kings and conserve wild stocks.

The sport fishery will be restricted to non-retention of king salmon throughout the inside waters of Southeast Alaska. If surplus hatchery kings are present, an opportunity to harvest those fish will be provided in designated terminal harvest areas, but it will not be announced until a later date. For personal use and subsistence harvesters, area specific actions will be applied, along with measures to protect transboundary Taku and Stikine Chinook salmon stocks.

Thanks to meetings between Alaska and Canada Pacific Salmon Commissioners, Canada also has agreed to share in the Chinook conservation burden. ADF&G officials said reductions in Canadian harvests could include time, area, bag limit and gear restrictions for sport and commercial fisheries, and that an allowable catch reduction and non-retention are also being considered by Canadian officials.

Details on restrictions and closure in Southeast Alaska were to be announced in early April.

Approved salmon action plans are online at: http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/FedAidPDFs/RIR.1J.2018.05.pdf for the Chilkat River and King Salmon River king salmon stocks can be found at: http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/FedAidPDFs/RIR.1J.2018.04.pdf for the Unuk River kings.

Alaska Wants More Time for Pebble Mine EIS

Alaska officials are asking that the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) extend its scoping period for an environmental impact statement on the proposed Pebble mine to at least 90 to 120 days, rather than the planned 30-day period.

The proposed copper, gold and molybdenum project would be adjacent to the headwaters of the Bristol Bay watershed, the largest wild salmon fishery in the world, which supports the economy of Southwest Alaska, subsistence users and wildlife year-round.

“Due to the size and potential impact of the proposed mine, a 30-day scoping process is likely insufficient for the public to identify, and the USACE to address issues of concern, studies that are needed and alternative to be examined,” said Alaska Natural Resources Commissioner Andrew Mack in his March 28 letter to Col. Michael Brooks, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Alaska District.

Mack specifically described the project as “an open pit mine, a mile across, near the headwaters of the most prolific salmon fishery in the world.”

He said that the scoping process would rightfully include several public meetings with those affected by the proposed project. “Western Alaska is not always easily accessible because travel is often affected by weather and distance,” Mack noted. “With multiple meetings scheduled across Alaska, should just one scoping meeting be delayed it could jeopardize the 30-day scoping process, so from a practical standpoint, a longer scoping period should be considered,” he added.

Mack reported that the scoping period for the proposed Donlin gold mine in western Alaska’s Yukon Kuskokwim region, which included a National Environmental Policy Act review led by the Corps, lasted from Dec. 14, 2012 to March 29, 2013, a total of 105 days. In that scoping process, the Corps conducted 14 public meetings across western Alaska, and the state requests that the Corps follow a similar scoping process for Pebble, Mack told the Corps.

Change of Appointments for Alaska Board of Fisheries

Alan Cain is being recommended by Alaska Gov. Bill Walker for appointment for a second term on Alaska Board of Fisheries.

The surprise announcement this past week came after Kodiak commercial harvester Duncan Fields, a former member of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, withdrew his nomination for the state fisheries board. Walker said that Cain, who has served on the Board of Fisheries for the past two years, had intended to end his tenure when his first term expires this summer, but has since reconsidered his involvement. Alaska State Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, noted that there had been tremendous pressure from sport fishing organizations across the state, from legislators and the governor regarding Fields’ appointment.

“Board of Fisheries’ confirmations tend to be a lightning rod for controversy,” Stutes said, in a legislative update to her constituents this week.

Despite her best efforts along with many others to convince people that Fields was the right choice, he faced a lot of pressure to withdraw his name. “He would have been a fair, smart, and effective member of the board,” she noted.

The Kenai River Sportfishing Association meanwhile hailed the change of nominees as a victory for sport, personal use and subsistence fishermen.

Cain worked as an Alaska Wildlife Trooper for 25 years and a decade as a criminal justice planner for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. He is currently a contractor, providing enforcement training and support, and has extensive statewide experience with various fisheries, gear groups and harvest methods.

Walker earlier reappointed Orville Huntington, of Huslia, Alaska, to the board. Huntington serves as the wildlife and parks director for the Tanana Chiefs Conference in Fairbanks.

Legislators must approve both reappointments.

Halibut Sport Limits, Permits Face Final Action at NPFMC

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) is preparing to take final action this week on mixing of guided and unguided halibut taken by sport anglers on the same vessel. Under current regulations unguided sport fishermen may harvest halibut of any size without restriction and are not subject to an annual catch limit, while guided anglers are subject to restrictive regulations on daily bag limits, size, daily closures and annual catch limits.

The Council’s preliminary preferred alternative would be that when halibut harvested using sport fishing guide services is possessed with halibut harvested not using sport fishing guide services in International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) areas 2C (Southeast Alaska) or 3A (Southcentral Alaska) that IPHC annual management measures for guided sport fishing for the area the halibut was harvested in apply to all halibut on board that fishing vessel. A public review of that analysis to limit possession of guided and unguided halibut on the same vessel is scheduled for tomorrow (Thursday, April 5) afternoon during the council’s spring meeting in downtown Anchorage, Alaska.

Also on the council’s meeting agenda is a possible final action on a proposed regulatory amendment to implement an annual renewal process for the Charter Halibut Permit, a component of the Charter Halibut Limited Access Program. The council’s preliminary preferred alternative includes a requirement for charter halibut permit holders to annually renew those permits through a National Marine Fisheries Service Restricted Access Management application process.

The council describes the intent of its proposed action it to provide more complete information to evaluate whether changes to the charter halibut permit program are necessary as a result of changes in ownership, to facilitate retirement of non-transferable permits when ownership changes, and to improve the ability of enforcement agents to ensure valid permits are being used.

Public comments on both proposed actions are posted online at http://legistar2.granicus.com/npfmc/meetings/2018/4/977_A_North_Pacific_Council_18-04-02_Meeting_Agenda.pdf

The council meeting will be broadcasted at https://npfmc.adobeconnect.com/april2018 and all motions passed will be posted online following the meeting.

FN Online Advertising