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

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.

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