Wednesday, November 13, 2019

2020 Bristol Bay Harvest Forecast Set to 34.56M Salmon

The 2020 Bristol Bay sockeye salmon forecast, issued on Nov. 8, anticipates a total run of 48.95 million fish, which would allow for a potential harvest of 34.56 million. Those figures are higher than this past season 26.11 million fish forecast but lower than the actual 44.5 million harvest.

Should the 2020 run come in as anticipated, it will be 6 percent larger than the most recent 10-year average of Bristol Bay total runs (45.9 million) and 29 percent greater than the long-term (1963-2019) average of 34.6 million fish.

The annual forecast is the sum of individual predictions of nine river systems, all of which are expected to meet their spawning escapement goals. The 2020 forecast accounts for 19.97 million salmon to the Naknek-Kvichak District, 10.75 million to Egegik, 4.67 million to the Ugashik, 12.63 million to Nushagak, and 0.93 million to Togiak.

Actual 2019 harvests by district included 11.4 million salmon from the Naknek-Kvichak, 15 million from Egegik, 1 million from the Ugashik, 15.7 million from the Nushagak, and 1.3 million from Togiak.

Biologists also estimate that 19.14 million (39 percent) of the total run would be age-1.2 fish; 7.06 million (14 percent) age-2.2; 21.04 million (43 percent) age-1.3; and 1.68 million (3 percent) age-2.3.

According to state biologists, the impact of abnormally high water temperatures in Bristol Bay and other Alaska fisheries during the 2019 summer, as well as drought conditions that caused a thermal block in many rivers and streams which led fish to die before getting to spawning grounds, will not be determined until the summer of 2023.

The ADF&G 2020 forecast acknowledges that individual river forecasts always have greater uncertainty than bay-wide predictions. Since 2001, on average, biologists have under-forecast river returns to the Alagnak (33 percent), Togiak (12 percent), Kvichak (22 percent), Wood (17 percent), Nushagak (20 percent), Ugashik (0.5 percent), and Naknek (14 percent) and over-estimated returns to the Igushik (13 percent) and Egegik (14 percent).

ADF&G extended thanks to the Bristol Bay Fisheries Collaborative (BBFC) for providing $750,000 in funding assistance in 2019. The BBFC was established in 2016 as part of an agreement between ADF&G and the Bristol Bay Science and Research Institute (BBSRI) to work together with stakeholders to restore a world-class fishery management system and raise funds to support and maintain management.

The agreement has support from ADF&G, BBSRI, Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, set net fishermen, processors, municipalities, villages, support industries and other stakeholders. A complete list of participants is available online at https://www.bbsri.org/bbfc.

Adak Seeks Exclusive Registration Area for P-cod Fishery

A proposal to make the Aleutian Islands subdistrict an exclusive registration area for Pacific cod during the state waters season is slated for consideration when the Alaska Board of Fisheries meets in Seward Dec. 10-13.

Proposal 278 put forward by the city of Adak, Alaska, and the Adak Community Development Corp. notes that a shore-based processor at Adak began processing Aleutian Islands Pacific cod in 2017. Since, effort has increased and the guideline harvest level has been fully harvested.

According to the proposal, declines in Pacific cod abundance in the Gulf of Alaska have redistributed state-waters fishing efforts away from fisheries in the Gulf of Alaska to the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands. This change has boosted effort and competition among harvesters and reduced season lengths in both the Dutch Harbor and Aleutian Islands subdistricts.

In recent years, the Dutch Harbor subdistrict has closed prior to the Aleutian Islands subdistrict, allowing for an influx of Dutch Harbor pot boats to enter the Aleutian Islands fishery mid-season, creating a race for fish and increased competition for Aleutians fishermen.

There are eight state waters (guideline harvest level) Pacific cod fisheries: Eastern Gulf of Alaska, Prince William Sound, Cook Inlet, Kodiak, Chignik, South Alaska Peninsula, Dutch Harbor subdistrict and the Aleutian Islands subdistrict. Currently only the Eastern Gulf of Alaska and Aleutian Islands subdistrict are designated as nonexclusive fisheries.

Golden Harvest Alaska Seafood, which opened its doors three years ago in Adak, buys Pacific cod from approximately half a dozen small boat (under 60 feet) fishermen, and moves large volumes of fresh and once frozen cod fillets out of Adak by air mostly to domestic markets.

“We are using 100 percent American labor and doing most of the value-added processing in Alaska,” said Steve Minor, a Washington state consultant to Golden Harvest. From January through April the processing facility employs about 350 people, many of them housed in old military housing rehabilitated by the Aleut Corp. and leased by Golden Harvest. After the A season, the plant provides work for 80 fulltime employees.

Golden Harvest is working with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to develop other small fisheries, including crab, halibut, sablefish and the pink salmon seine fishery, in addition to dive fisheries for sea urchins and geoducks.

The effort is focused on keeping the city of Adak ––population just over 300 people– open, including its schools, “but none of this works without Pacific cod, because that is the big fishery,” Minor said. “The state waters cod fishery is a small boat fishery, Alaska boats and these guys have worked hard to help us develop these markets,” he said. “All we are trying to do is get equal treatment for them. This year we are the only fishery with a cap on the (Pacific cod) quota of 15 million pounds.”

The fisheries board will also address several dozen other proposals regarding Lower Cook Inlet finfish. The meeting will take place at the Alaska Vocational Technical Center.

Proposals are available for review online at https://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=fisheriesboard.meetinginfo&date=12-10-2019&meeting=seward#,fixed,,14

Study Shows Larval Fish Are Ingesting Plastics

A new study released by the University of Hawaii at Manoa shows that larval fish species from different ocean areas are ingesting plastics in their preferred nursery habitat.

The study, conducted by NOAA’s Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center and an international team of scientists, concluded that the further investigation is needed to understand the effects of plastic ingestion by larval fish on individuals and populations.

Researchers combined field-based plankton tow surveys and advanced remote sensing techniques to identify larval fish nursery habitats in coastal waters of Hawaii for their study, which was published on Nov. 11 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study was also reported on EurekAlert, the online publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Researchers found that surface slicks –naturally occurring, ribbon-like, smooth water features at the ocean surface – contained far more larval fish than neighboring surface waters. The surface slicks are formed when internal ocean waves converge near coastlines. They are observed in coastal marine ecosystems worldwide. These slicks also aggregate plankton an important food source for larval fish.

”We found that surface slicks contained larval fish from a wide range of ocean habitats, from shallow-water coral reefs to the open ocean and down into the deep sea – at no other point during their lives do these fish share an ocean habitat in this way” said Jonathan Whitney, a marine ecologist for the Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric research and NOAA, and a co-lead of the study. “Slick nurseries also concentrate lots of planktonic prey, and thereby provide an oasis of food that is critical for larval fish development and survival.”

Larval fish in these surface slicks were found to be larger, well developed and having increased swimming abilities, but researchers noted that plastic densities in these surface slicks were on average eight times higher than the plastic densities recently found in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. In fact, there were seven times more plastics than there were larval fish, and most were less than one millimeter is size. Plastics were also found in flying fish, which apex predators such as tunas and most Hawaiian seabirds eat.

Tiny plastic pieces were also found in the stomachs of commercially targeted pelagic species, including swordfish and mahi-mahi, as well as coral reef species like triggerfish, Whitney said.

SeaShare Donations to Hungry Alaskans Are Growing

Hungry Alaskans can now feed on more than 200,000 pounds of seafood donated annually by SeaShare. The non-profit entity based out of Bainbridge Island, Wash., delivers seafood portions donated by harvesters and processors nationwide to help feed people across the country.

“Our donors have asked us to do more for hungry families in Alaska,” said Jim Harmon, executive director of SeaShare, in response to a query about SeaShare’s recent donation of a 40-foot freezer van and more than 20,000 pounds of seafood to the Southeast Alaska Food Bank.

“To date we’ve supplied freezer containers in Dillingham, Bethel, and now Juneau,” Harmon wrote in an email, upon his return from Juneau where he went to be sure the new freezer was up and running.

“These freezers, along with expanded freight and food bank partnerships, allow us to send food in by barge, rather than bypass mail, reducing freight costs and increasing volumes. SeaShare is donating approximately 200,000 pounds per year across Alaska, where seafood has cultural and dietary significance,” he said.

SeaShare began in 1994 with a small group of commercial harvesters in Alaska who donated bycatch fish to food banks. Nowadays 90 percent of the seafood that SeaShare provides is first-run, marketable fish donated by generous fishermen and processors around the country who believe in the power of seafood to help food banks and feeding centers. To date more than 200 million seafood servings have been distributed by the non-profit organization.

Two weeks ago, SeaShare identified its newest partner in the fight against hunger, Nicola Dixon of the General Mills Foundation. “General Mills is taking the lead on innovative food recovery programs in North America and we are happy to be a part of this important work,” Harmon wrote on the organization’s blog.

This past summer, SeaShare was selected to be one of 20 entities nationwide recognized as a 2019 General Mills Food Recovery Champions. Those selected shared more than $1 million to expand surplus food recovery programs to feed people facing hunger. General Mills hopes that these grants will help communities ensure that the majority of their surplus food is used to feed the hungry, rather than go into landfills. Donors and partners of SeaShare include harvesters, processors, the US Coast Guard, community development quota programs and others. A complete list is available online at www.seashare.org, along with information about how to donate or to become a partner.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Alaska’s 206.9 Million Salmon Harvest Valued at $657.6 Million

This year’s robust wild Alaskan salmon 206.9 million fish harvest has an estimated preliminary ex-vessel value of $647.6 million.

Statisticians at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) calculated the totals, which amount to a 10 percent increase over the 2018’s value of $595.2 million.

Average prices for Chinook, sockeye, coho, pink and chum salmon varied by fishing district, ranging overall from a high of $8.59 a pound for Chinook caught in Prince William Sound to 35 cents a pound for kings caught in the northern district of the Alaska Peninsula. The Prince William Sound kings weighed in at an average of 18.42 pounds, compared to 7.42 pounds for those harvested in the northern district of the Alaska Peninsula.

Sockeye prices likewise went from a high of $2.49 a pound in Prince William Sound for reds, averaging 5.35 pounds, to $1.35 a pound for Bristol Bay reds, averaging 5.20 pounds. Pink salmon weighing in on average at 3.4 pounds in Prince William Sound paid 34 cents a pound, compared to Bristol Bay humpies coming in at 3.8 pounds and earning a nickel a pound.

Sockeye salmon statewide accounted for approximately 64 percent of the total value at $421.1 million and 27 percent of the harvest with 55.2 million fish. Pink salmon were the second most valuable species, representing 20 percent of the total ex-vessel value at $128.6 million, and bringing 62 percent of the harvest with 129.1 million fish. Chum salmon accounted for 10 percent of the value at $63.8 million and 9 percent of the harvest at 18.5 million fish. The coho salmon harvest of 3.8 million fish was valued at $29.6 million, and accounted for 5 percent of the overall catch, while kings, with an estimated harvest of just under 0.3 million fish, had an estimated preliminary ex-vessel value of $14.4 million.

Measured in pounds the overall harvest of 872.1 million pounds ranked eighth in the 1975-2018-time span. Chums ranked 16th, sockeyes 10th, humpies 9th and cohos 33rd for that same time period. The 2019 values for Chinook salmon were the third lowest on record since limited entry began in 1975.

State fisheries officials noted that these are preliminary figures that will change as fish tickets are processed and finalized. Dollar values provided by ADF&G are based on estimated ex-vessel prices and do not include post-season price adjustments. The final value of the season’s harvest will be determined in 2020, after seafood processors, buyers and direct marketers report total value paid to fishermen in 2019.

The harvest summary was released on Nov. 4.

Alaska Officials Seek to Revise Oil Spill Prevention Standards

Alaska’s environmental conservation agency is looking for public input into revising oil spill prevention and contingency plan requirements, prompting criticism from the advisory council created in the wake of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster.

“Strong statues and regulations are a big part of why Alaska has not had a major oil spill since the Exxon Valdez disaster,” said Donna Schantz, executive director of the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council. “It is unreasonable for the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to claim now, after 30 profitable years of industry compliance, that the requirements are too onerous.”

The council wants the state to halt the scoping process until more information is offered to the public on the driving factors that have prompted the move for changes in current regulations.

DEC officials said they specifically want to hear whether the current regulations can be made more understandable without compromising environmental protection or if any portions of those regulations may be outdated or duplicative. The agency also is seeking comment on its statutory authorities relevant to contingency planning. Current regulations on both issues are available online as 18 AAC 75 Article 4 (http://www.legis.state.ak.us/basis/aac.asp#18.75.400) and AS 46.04 (http://www.akleg.gov/basis/statutes.asp#46.04).

The council’s announcement of Nov. 4 included a copy of its resolution passed on Oct. 29, advising against any legislative or regulatory changes that erode oil spill prevention and response standards, increase the risk of a catastrophic spill or demonstrate what the council describes as a return to complacency on the part of the oil industry and regulators that Congress determined were a primary cause of the Exxon Valdez disaster. The oil slick spread to cover some 1,300 miles of coastline, causing the collapse of salmon and herring fisheries, and killing thousands of seabirds, otters, seal and whales.

Protecting coastal communities and the environment is the cost of doing business in Alaska, said Robert Archibald, president of the council board. “Reducing any perceived burden to industry by rolling back or eliminating proven oil spill prevention and response requirements transfers the risk and burden of another oil spill to the communities, citizens and environment they were designed to protect,” he said.

More information about the history and legislative intent of the Response Planning Standards is included in the council’s August 2018 report, available online at www.bit.ly/LegislativeIntent.

Comments are being accepted through Jan. 15, 2020. They may be submitted electronically by visiting http://alaskadec.commentinput.com or mailed to Seth Robinson, Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, Division of Spill Prevention and Response – Prevention, preparedness, and Response Program, 610 University Avenue, Fairbanks, AK 99709 or emailed to dec.cpr@alaska.gov.

NPAFC Plans 2021 Pan Pacific High Seas Research Expedition

The North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission (NPAFC) member countries plan to conduct coastal and high seas salmon surveys during the spring, summer and fall of 2020-2021.

NPAFC in Vancouver, British Columbia, is preparing for a 2021 expedition, to run in conjunction with the 2021 winter surveys, that would include three or four vessels to cover a pan-Pacific grid. An additional ship would conduct fine scale research to provide greater detail to help understand how salmon interact in the high sea environment.

At the present time national requests for vessels are being considered by Canada, the United States, Russia, Japan and Korea.

During the last NPAFC meeting held in October in Victoria, British Columbia, the commission received substantial funding from the British Columbia Salmon Restoration and Innovation Fund. A total of $3.3 million allocated over three years will support this project.

Building on a single vessel expedition in February and March of 2019 in the Gulf of Alaska, the 2021 expedition will employ up to five research vessels operating simultaneously to survey the full breadth of the North Pacific Ocean. The expedition will provide a platform for international collaborative ecosystem research to monitor the distribution, abundance and productivity of salmon, to inform fisheries managers and enforcement decisions to be made in the future.

Earlier this year, 21 scientists from the five Pacific Rim nations aboard a chartered Russian research vessel completed the International Gulf of Alaska Expedition 2019. The expedition was the first in decades to study salmon in winter high seas, and NPAFC said it set a precedent for addressing knowledge gaps through survey work of salmon, plankton and physical conditions in the central Gulf of Alaska.

During the 2019 expedition all five species of salmon were caught. Distributions of each species in the Gulf of Alaska differed and showed preferences for particular regions associated with ocean features such as higher or lower temperatures or types of prey.

Most surprising, said NPAFC, was the presence of coho salmon in the high seas, give that they are thought to be coastal in distribution, and the presence of North American sockeye in the small set of western North Pacific samples. Chum salmon of Asian and North American origin mingled in the survey area.

Sampling of micro-plastics in open ocean of the Northeast Pacific indicated that their level has not increased since the collection of baseline samples in the 1980s.

Kodiak’s Tanner Crab GHL Set at 400,000 Pounds

Commercial Tanner crab harvesters for the Kodiak, Alaska district will have a 300,000-pound guideline harvest level (GHL) for the eastside section and 100,000 pounds for the southeast section for the 2020 fishery opening on Jan. 15.

The GHLs are based on analysis of the 2019 Tanner crab survey. They were announced by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s (ADF&G) Kodiak office on Oct. 31.

ADF&G reminds harvesters that because this year’s Kodiak District Tanner crab GHL is less than 2,000,000 pounds, the regulatory gear limit is 20 pots per vessel.

The southwest, south mainland, north mainland, westside and northeast sections of the Kodiak district are closed to Tanner crab harvests this year.

“We are fishing on the end of a large cohort of crab,” said Natura Richardson, assistant area management biologist for ADF&G in Kodiak, who acknowledged that the catch opportunity was down from a year earlier. “We saw a large cohort of crab first enter (the fishery) in 2013. Those crabs got to legal size in 2018,” she explained. Richardson noted that there were also a large number of juvenile Tanner crab in last year’s survey and that those crab were seen again in the 2019 survey, “so they are tracking well; they are surviving at a higher rate and growing a little faster than the previous cohort,” she said.

“I don’t think that it is a small coincidence that there are not a lot of cod in the water,” she added. “Cod eat crab and there are not a lot of cod out there.” The decline of cod in both the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea has been dramatic over the past two years.

The 2019 GHL for the eastside section is 500,000 pounds, with another 115,000 pounds for the southeast section. In 2018, the GHL was 260,000 pounds for the eastside and 140,000 pounds for the southwest section. Federal biologists have also noted that the relief in predation from Pacific cod may be a factor in the increased abundance of Tanner crab in the Gulf of Alaska. Pacific cod tend to prey on one and two-year-old Tanner crab. In the wake of the cod crash over two years ago, Tanner crab coming into the fishery now may have benefited from that crash, and if that is true, the fisheries managers can anticipate seeing more Tanner crab entering the fishery. Tanner crab are also prey for halibut, sculpins and other flatfish, including arrowtooth flounder.

While the relationship of ocean temperatures to the health of young Tanner crab has not been specifically studied, the expectation is that they would grow faster in warming waters as long as they have sufficient food, given success in recruitment over the past few years. The young crab, living on the bottom of the ocean, feed on small organisms on the surface of the mud.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Fishermen Want Coast Guard Communications Channel Fixed

Commercial fishermen in Southeast Alaska say there is a critical breakdown in reliability of the Coast Guard channel they rely upon for updated weather reports and mayday calls, and they want it fixed.

“We have a crisis in Coast Guard coverage of channel 16 here in Southeast (Alaska) with 35 percent of stations down and 45-50 percent of fishing grounds not monitored and no plan to restore them before 2024,” said Linda Behnken, executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association (ALFA) in Sitka, Alaska.

Behnken, herself a veteran harvester of black cod and halibut, said it was near the end of summer before other fishermen brought to her attention how much of channel 16 was proving unreliable. “It’s a real concern,” she said. “Commercial fishermen are all trained to go to channel 16 for maydays, as are sport anglers and hunters. It’s a whole community of people calling 16 and nobody hears them.”

ALFA shared a news release from the Coast Guard confirming that they are experiencing VHF-FM radio outages throughout Southeast Alaska and may not be able to hear or respond to distress calls on channel 16. Affected waterways identified by the Coast Guard include the Gulf of Alaska between Yakutat and Sitka, Cross Sound, Peril Strait, Hoonah Sound, Southern Chatham Strait, Summer Strait, waters surrounding Zarembo Island and the west side of Prince of Wales Island.

The Coast Guard said all mariners transiting these waterways should have another means of emergency communication, such as cellphones when in range, satellite phones, high frequency radio communications on 4125 kHz, 6215 kHz and 8291 kHz, EPIRBs/personal locating beacons, and satellite messengers.

At this time, said ALFA harvester and board member Jeff Farvour, “if I make a mayday call on channel 16 thinking I am calling the Coast Guard and they can’t hear me, my best luck is for another vessel within range that has good enough reception to hear me and relay the message to the Coast Guard, if they are within range.” He also noted that when these sites are down, they don’t get updated weather reports.

Behnken said ALFA is working with the office of Sen, Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, to resolve the issue, which involves a contract the US Coast Guard has with Lynxnet LLC, a small business firm in Herndon, Virginia, that is a subsidiary of NANA Regional Corp., an Alaska Native firm with offices in Kotzebue and Anchorage, Alaska. Reaching the various channel 16 maintenance and repair sites requires helicopter transport. Inclement weather conditions have been known to keep maintenance crews grounded at these sites for days on end.

Murkowski aide Karina Borger confirmed that their office has been hearing from constituents about their concerns, that this is a high priority they are working with the Coast Guard to restore VHF capabilities as soon as possible.

Big Boost Anticipated in Arctic Vessel Traffic

Drivers of Arctic vessel activity, from natural resources to geopolitics and changing weather patterns, are expected to boost maritime vessel traffic in the US Arctic to an estimated 377 vessels annually by 2030, a new government report predicts.

The report compiled by the US Committee on the Marine Transportation System (CMTS), which was released in late October, makes no policy recommendations, but its findings highlight some implications of increasing use of the region without continued and corresponding development of the groundwork to support evolving vessel activity.

These include, but are not limited to, more ships operating within the region, longer navigational seasons and more people, both mariners and passengers, at risk should a maritime incident occur.

The mandate of CMTS, established in 2005, is to periodically assess the marine transportation system, integrate the marine transportation system with other modes of transportation and the environment, and to establish and maintain a partnership for interagency engagement in support of that system. The committee chairman, Rear Adm. Tim Gallaudet, is the deputy administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Each transit represents its own unique risks and potential for emergency response, environmental incidents, collision, allision or grounding, depending on the area of operation, the report concludes. Total transits and movements into, out of, and within the US Arctic will likely be more than double the vessel numbers, underscoring the urgency to take on planning and evaluation exercises to be prepared for a changing Arctic maritime environment, the report said.

Implications of this increased vessel activity and shipping from Arctic and non-Arctic areas will impact the potential mission of many US government agencies. It also raises the level of requirements for successful development and safe and sustainable maritime operations in an increasingly accessible, global waterway.

The report most plausible scenario –an estimated 377 vessels in the region by 2030 – represent a more than 200 percent growth from 2008 levels, and a nearly 50 percent increase over current maritime vessel levels.

The report notes that Arctic waters around the Bering Strait are transitioning from a mix of regional operators to an increasingly diverse and international set of operators and waterway users, with the number of unique vessel flag states increasing by 28 percent in recent years. The navigation season also grew from 159 days in 2016 to 180 days in 2018, as measured by the presence of vessel traffic.

NOAA Awards $2.3M for Bycatch Reduction Research

NOAA Fisheries has awarded more than $2.3 million to partners in support of innovative bycatch reduction research projects through its Bycatch Reduction Engineering Program.

Among the 16 grantees for 2019, announced on Oct. 21, are:

• FishNext Research, Mountlake Terrace, Wash., $199.679;
• Wild Fish Conservancy, Duvall, Wash., $171.050;
• Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, Portland Ore., $165,000;
• Coastal Monitoring Associates, San Diego., Calif., $119,746; and
• Natural Resources Consultants, Inc., Seattle, Wash., $100,874.

The FishNext Research project proposes to develop a new class of bycatch reduction technology for Alaska Pollock and Pacific whiting off Oregon and Washington. Bycatch reduction devices for trawls work by allowing selective release of bycatch species while retaining target species during fishing operations.

The Wild Fish Conservancy has proposed further testing of pound net traps for selective harvest and ecological monitoring in Lower Columbia River salmon fisheries. Specific objectives include construction and monitoring of a modified pound net trap in a currently untested area within the lower Columbia River in Oregon and determining the effectiveness of the modified trap in targeting hatchery-reared Chinook and coho salmon stocks while reducing protected species bycatch mortality.

A study planned by Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission would begin with a collaborative workshop to discuss and identify gear modifications that can enhance performance of an existing bycatch reduction device that harvesters and gear researchers feel can reduce rockfish bycatch. Sea trials will then measure the gears’ selectivity performance, with fish retention and escapement rates quantified using a recapture net.

Coastal Monitoring Associates will use its grant to develop and demonstrate proof-of-concept for a rope-less fishing system, with the focus ranging from a low-cost underwater release system to the right balance of risk reduction and cost effectiveness.

Natural Resources Consultants proposes to reduce king and snow crab bycatch in the Pacific cod and halibut pot fisheries by developing and testing pot modifications most effective to not allowing crab to enter pots. Initially the project team plans to host an industry gear committee meeting to determine what gear modifications to test. Cooperating industry will test the most promising pot designs in active fisheries.

Deadline Approaches to Comment on Gulf of Alaska Oil and Gas Proposal

With less than a week until the Nov. 4 deadline for comment on the Alaska Division of Oil and Gas’ preliminary findings on a proposal for oil and gas exploration along the Gulf of Alaska, the state agency says they can’t say how many and who has commented to date.

According to agency spokesperson Sean Clifton “usually most comments arrive on the last day.” Once the agency issues a final decision, anyone who has participated in the comment process during the initial solicitation back in 2015 or during this preliminary decision comment period is eligible to appeal that decision, Clifton said.

Cordova District Fishermen United (CDFU) meanwhile is making clear its concerns about potential adverse impacts of such exploration, should Cassandra Energy Corp. of Nikiski be issued an exploration license. CDFU represents some 900 commercial families of harvesters in Prince William sound, the Copper River region and the northern central Gulf of Alaska.

According to CDFU executive director Chelsea Haisman, granting exclusive license to Cassandra Energy corporation for oil and gas exploration in this region is not in the best interest of the state, nor coastal communities adjacent to the exploration area, whose economic mainstay is commercial fisheries. Issuing a license for this area would place unnecessary risk on small, and primarily rural business owners and regional stakeholders who would bear the burden of loss in the event of an oil spill or blowout, Haisman said. CDFU notes recent aerial surveys by Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists who have documented increases in herring spawn within the proposed license area. Their concern is that seismic exploration may impact this recovering species in a negative manner.

Salmon present in saltwater and freshwater may also be adversely impacted by exploration activities, CDFU notes. Wetland systems known to be migratory pathways, as well as spawning habitat for multiple salmonid species are critical habitat. Coho salmon embryos develop over the winter and emerge in early spring as fry. During this time period, these fish are particularly susceptible to seismic activity and any impacts could include both environmental and economic damage, Haisman said.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Congressional Subcommittee Considers Pebble Project

A US House subcommittee on water resources and environment is holding a hearing on October 23, in Washington DC, titled “The Pebble Mine Project: Process and Potential Impacts.”

The list of six witnesses scheduled to address the sub-committee include Dennis McLerran of the Cascadia Law Group in Seattle, Wash., and former head of the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 10 office in Seattle, as well as Tom Collier, chief executive officer of The Pebble Partnership, a subsidiary of Northern Dynasty Minerals in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The hearing follows a request by Washington-based advocacy group Earthworks to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to investigate possible insider trading involving Northern Dynasty, which wants to build a massive copper, gold and molybdenum mine in southwest Alaska, near the headwaters of the world’s largest run of millions of wild sockeye salmon.

News reports show that Earthworks filed a complaint with the SEC, the New Jersey Bureau of Securities and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority detailing stock trades and communication related to Northern Dynasty days prior to decisions by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that benefitted mine proponents. Records show that Northern Dynasty’s stock price rose after the EPA decisions were made public this summer.

Northern Dynasty has denied any wrongdoing by company officials.

Under the Obama Administration, the EPA in 2014 gave special protections to the Bristol Bay watershed, making it nearly impossible for Northern Dynasty to get required permits to build the mine. Then on June 26, 2019, the Trump administration’s EPA appointees announced reconsideration of those special protections and the start of processes to remove them. On July 30, 2019, the EPA lifted those restrictions.

Legislation Calls for Core Salmon Conservation Areas

Legislation before the US House calls for protection of designated salmon conservation areas, to ensure that future federal government actions do not adversely impact these lands.

The Salmon Focused Investments in Sustainable Habitats (FISH) Act was introduced on Oct. 17, 2019, by Rep. Jared Huffman, D- San Rafael, Calif., chair of the House Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife, and cochair of the Congressional Wild Salmon Caucus.

HR 4723 will focus on protecting essential habitats that have not yet been degraded and will help support jobs and economic activity that depend on healthy salmon runs.

The bill would direct the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and US Fish and Wildlife Service to designate core centers of salmon abundance productivity and diversity as salmon conservation areas. It would also designate the most pristine areas of salmon abundance as salmon strongholds. The determination would be made by reviewing the best available science and existing analysis used for essential fish habitat and the watershed condition framework program.

The bill would allow states, tribes, nongovernment organizations and the public to nominate additional areas for consideration. In addition, the bill would authorize a federal grant program through 2025 that focuses on conservation and restoration projects and sanctions funding to support current watershed health programs.

The legislation is supported by the Wild Salmon Center and Smith River Alliance in northwest California. “Salmon stronghold rivers and other important salmon conservation areas contain the most important wild salmon populations left on the planet,” said Guido Rahr, president and chief executive officer of the Wild Salmon Center. “By protecting them, we will ensure strong runs of wild salmon into the future.”

“There is definitely a need for restoration within these core salmon producing watersheds,” said Grant Werschkull, co-executive director of the Smith River Alliance. “Investing in salmon habitat restoration brings diverse partners together and truly is investing in the health and future of our communities.

Organizations Push to Boost Grants for Fishing Safety

Instructors with the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association (AMSEA) will provide fishing vessel drill conductor classes from Unalaska to Maine through April 2020, thanks in part to a two-year federal grant totaling $650,000.

The grant, which was awarded on Sept. 1, 2019, requires AMSEA, based in Sitka, Alaska, to come up with equal matching funds. According to Jerry Dzugan, executive director of AMSEA, it took nearly eight years for the money to be awarded.

The federal legislation approved by Congress back in 2010 for the marine safety training and research grants called for a 75 percent federal contribution and 25 percent local matching funds, but in 2018 that federal share was reduced to 50 percent.

Now Reps., Don Young, R-Alaska, and Jared Golden, D-Maine., have introduced the Funding Instruction for Safety Health and Security Avoids Fishing Emergencies (FISHSAFE) Act, to raise the federal grant portion back to the original 75 percent.

“Fishing is one of Alaska’s most important industries, and we need to be doing all that we can to ensure our fishermen remain safe on the job,” Young said, in an Oct. 18 statement announcing the introduction of the new legislation.

“This bill would make fishing safety programs available to as many fishermen as possible to prevent unnecessary injuries and deaths,” Golden added.

The current funds were included in the budget for the U.S. Coast Guard, which partnered with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to award the grants. AMSEA is one of four organizations receiving funding.

The bipartisan legislation sponsored by Young and Golden would also reauthorize the safety training and research programs for $6 million a year for 2019-2021.

Companion legislation introduced in the U.S. Senate by Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., is co-sponsored by Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Margaret Hassan, D-N.H., Angus King, I-Maine, Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, John Reed, D-R.I., Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.

Dzugan thinks the chances of the bill passing are good. “It's bipartisan for the most part, and moderates are looking to anything they can reach across the aisle on. I'm optimistic by nature, which is needed for this kind of work.”

“The 2010 legislation stated that "the federal share of the cost of any activity carried out with a grant from this subsection shall not exceed 75 percent",” Dzugan said. “Thus, there was an assumption that the co-share (as it is called) by a private entity would be 25 percent. Apparently when Congress for the first time finally appropriated the authorized funding in 2018, the Senate side raised the co-share to 50 percent of the grant. It is also confusing, because while they call it a $650,000 grant, it is over the course of two year (thus $325K/year) and 50 percent of the amount has to come from other non-federal sources. But it’s still called a $650K ‘grant’.”

SE Alaska Salmon Harvesters Support Roadless Rule

Seine, troll and gillnet harvesters in Southeast Alaska are appealing to federal authorities to keep the Roadless Rule intact for Tongass National Forest to protect spawning grounds for salmon and the livelihoods of hundreds of area residents.

“We need to manage Southeast Alaska for fish habitat, not logging,” says commercial harvester Jeff Farvour, vice president of the board of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association.

Farvour noted that there have been record low returns of pink and coho salmon in Southeast Alaska these past few years and back to back droughts too, plus back to back blobs in the Pacific Ocean, which have not been kind to salmon. “Why would anybody support this (exemption to the roadless rule for the Tongass) knowing it’s going to add more challenges?” he asked.

Farvour is one of more than 200 commercial harvesters in Southeast Alaska who signed a letter addressed to US Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and Chief of the US Forest Service, Vicki Christiansen, urging continued support for the Alaska Roadless Rule in the Tongass.

The letter was sent out originally to Perdue and Christiansen to express the fishermen’s concerns over an exemption. In early October copies were hand delivered to Alaska’s congressional delegation, who along with Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy favor that exemption.

They contend that the roadless rule hinders responsible timber harvest, mineral development and energy projects to lower costs, and that the exemption would benefit the economy of Southeast Alaska Opponents said removing of Roadless Rule protections in the Tongass threaten salmon habitat, food security, tourism and some of the wildest places remaining on earth.

“Please protect our livelihoods and Alaska’s salmon spawning grounds by selecting an alternative that broadly protects fish habitat, continues the phase-out of industrial scale old growth clear-cutting, and prioritizes the restoration of degraded watersheds and streams,” the letter from the fishermen read. “Commercial fishing is the economic backbone of Southeast Alaska. There are troll permit holders living in every single community in Southeast Alaska. Eighty percent of all the Southeast salmon permit holders – trollers, seiners, and gillnetters – are Alaskan residents.

“Our livelihoods rely on the health of the salmon, and salmon are reliant upon the health of the Tongass National Forest; these streams and rivers produce 80 percent of the commercial salmon harvested from Southeast Alaska each year,” they wrote.

A fact sheet compiled by the US Forest Service notes that Tongass fisheries biologists have recorded 14,873 miles of anadromous rivers and streams and 123,173 acres of lakes and ponds that support and produce wild salmon in the forest. Salmon-derived nitrogen has been found in trees more than 500 yards away from salmon streams, particularly in areas where bears feed on salmon,” the document notes, and “more than 50 species of animals feed on salmon when they return to spawn in freshwater.”

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Snow Crab Quota Up, Red King Crab Quota Slides

Bering Sea snow crab are continuing to rebound from three years ago, prompting the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) to announce a 34,019,000-pound quota for the 2019-2020 fishery, up from 27,581,000 pounds in 2018 and 18,961,000 pounds in 2017.

Holders of individual fishing quota (IFQ) permits are allocated 30,617,100 pounds, with another 3,410,900 pounds allocated for community development quota (CDQ).

The fishery opened in Bering Sea district waters west of 165 degrees west longitude at noon on Oct. 15 and will remain open through May 15, 2020 in the Eastern Subdistrict, east of 173 degrees west longitude, and through May 31, 2020 in the Western Subdistrict, west of 173 degrees west longitude.

Due to closure of the 2019-2020 Eastern and Western Bering Sea Tanner crab fisheries, east and west of 166 degrees west longitude, retention of Tanner crab during the Bering Sea snow drab fishery is prohibited.

The quota for Bristol Bay red king crab, also opening on Oct. 15, was reduced to 3,797,000 pounds, down from 4,330,000 pounds for the 2018-2019 season, based on trawl survey studies, ADF&G said.

Harvesters with individual fishing quota will share in 3,417,300 pounds, a reduction from 3.9 million pounds a year ago. Holders of CDQ permits are allocated a total of 379,700 pounds of the red king crab, down from 430,800 pounds last year.

The Bering Sea Tanner crab fisheries east and west of 166 degrees west longitude were closed for the 2019-2020 season due to estimated mature male biomass in those Bering Sea waters being below thresholds required for the fishery to open. Last year the western district for Tanner crab opened with a total allowable catch of 2,439,000 pounds, down slightly from 2,500,200 pounds a year earlier. The eastern district was closed, as it was in 2017.

Pribilof district red and blue king crab remained closed due to failure to meet federal minimum harvest strategy thresholds required for the fishery to open. ADF&G crab biologists said that the stocks had been declared over fished. The total mature biomass also fell below minimum harvest strategy thresholds required for a fishery.

Pacific Cod Following their Core Habitat North

A new federal research, led by Ingrid Spies, a biologist at NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center, reports that there are strong indications that Pacific cod are moving north in the Bering Sea because of changing ocean temperatures, “Specifically, the effect of climate warming on the Bering Sea cold pool,” she said.

That cold pool is a body of water below 2 degrees celsius (35.6 degrees fahrenheit) left on the eastern Bering Sea bottom after sea ice retreats. It has a strong influence on distribution of walleye Pollock and most flatfish, and Pacific cod avoid it.

As ocean temperatures have warmed and sea ice diminished, the cold pool has shrunk and last year, for the first time in recorded history, the pool was gone.

“Until 2017, cod would usually avoid the cold pool – they’d bump into it and go no farther north,” Spies said. “Then in 2018, the cold pool was gone. There was nothing stopping fish from going north.”

That prompted more questions about where those cod were headed.

Biologists don’t know if the fish whole life cycle has shifted northward or whether they will return to their typical southeastern Bering Sea spawning areas for the winter and then undertake long feeding migrations north during the summer. “This emphasizes the need for continued northern and southeastern Bering Sea surveys and for tagging studies,” Spies said. “This is probably not the only species we will see changing. We really need to monitor the northern Bering Sea with surveys every single year until things stabilize,” she added.

The report indicates that until recently Pacific cod were rarely encountered in the northern Bering Sea. In the 1970s, fishery surveys reported “trace amounts” of cod. A 2010 survey, by the Alaska Fisheries Science Center, estimated that the entire northern population of Pacific cod amounted to approximately 3 percent of the large southeastern Bering Sea stock supporting the commercial fishery.

The 2017 summer survey however, recorded dramatically higher abundances in the north, a 900-fold increase since 2010. At the same time, southeastern Bering Sea abundances were down by 37 percent from 2016. Researchers noted that the increase in the north nearly matched the decrease in the southeastern Bering Sea. In 2018, survey results revealed more cod in the northern than southeastern Bering Sea.

Because cod show natal homing and spawning fidelity, they return to where they were spawned to spawn, the spawning population is considered representative of a population.

Spies’ team compared genetic markers of the northern cod with spawning fish from the three other stocks.

“We found that the northern fish were indistinguishable from the southeastern Bering Sea population,” she said. “That meant the fish were moving north from their historical southeastern Bering Sea habitat.”

Proposed Roadless Rule Exemption Puts Salmon Habitat in Jeopardy

The US Forest Service has released its draft Roadless Rule for Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska, with a preferred alternative calling for repeal of the rule for the Tongass.

Proponents of the exemption, including Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy and the state’s congressional delegation, praised the announcement, saying the roadless rule hinders responsible timber harvest, mineral development and energy projects to lower costs, and that the exemption would benefit the economy of Southeast Alaska.

Opponents said removing of Roadless Rule protections in the Tongass threaten salmon habitat, food security, tourism and some of the wildest places remaining on earth.

SalmonState Executive Director Tim Bristol said that for the last 18 years the roadless rule has protected the Tongass from logging roads and clear cuts that for decades were allowed to degrade, and in some cases destroy, some of the finest salmon and wildlife habitat anywhere in the world. The push to remove protections for the Tongass habitat comes in the wake of pressure from the timber industry, the state’s congressional delegation and governor in spite of public testimony against the move in Southeast Alaska.

Meredith Trainor, executive director of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, concurred. The Roadless Rule is great for the fishing industry. Intact forest helps protect salmon streams. "The shade is important," she said. "Leaving logs in the streams give salmon protection in their natal streams.”

Forest Service officials are in the process of scheduling public meetings and subsistence hearings, which will be made available on the Alaska Roadless Rule project website, https://www.fs.usda.gov/roadmain/roadless/alaskaroadlessrule.

Written comments may be submitted, until Dec. 17, on the Forest Service web at www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=54511 or sent via email at akroadlessrule@fs.fed.us. Comments can also be mailed to USDA Forest Service, attn.: Alaska Roadless Rule, P.O. Box 21628, Juneau, Alaska, 99802, or fax to 907-586-7852. They can also be delivered in person at the Forest Service’s offices located at 709 W. 9th Street, Room 535B, Juneau, Alaska 99801.

AFDF is New Client for Salmon Certification

Pacific Seafood Processors Association has transferred the clientship and Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certificate for Alaska salmon to the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation (AFDF).

The transfer concluded a deliberate and cooperative transfer process, according to the Oct. 12 statement from AFDF in Wrangell, Alaska.

On April 23, the Alaska salmon fishery successfully completed the full five-year recertification, and the current certificate is valid through Nov. 11, 2023. The organization initially received its sustainability certification from MSC in 2000.

AFDF is also the client for MSC certification of Pacific cod and the client for the Responsible Fisheries Management certification of Pacific cod and Alaska salmon. Housing both MSC and RFM Alaska salmon certificates and client groups under AFDF will lead to efficiencies for industry to coordinate and share resources, ideas and work products, AFDF officials said.

To sell Alaska salmon as MSC certified, primary processors are required to be members of the MSC Alaska Salmon Client Group and pay an equitable share of the cost of certification in proportion with the pounds of salmon purchased.

There are currently 37 AFDF members in good standing allowed to use the MSC certification for Alaska salmon, including Copper River Seafoods, Icicle Seafoods, Kwik’Pak Fisheries, LLC, Leader Creek Fisheries, North Pacific Seafoods, Ocean Beauty Seafoods, Peter Pan Seafoods, Silver Bay Seafoods LLC, and Trident Seafoods. The complete list is available online at https://www.afdf.org/wp-content/uploads/MSC-Alaska-Salmon-Client-Group-LIst-2019-10-2-FINAL.pdf
.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Bristol Bay Fishermen Sue EPA

Five Bristol Bay entities speaking for fishermen, economic and tribal concerns sued the US Environmental Protection Agency on Oct. 8 in Anchorage, Alaska, challenging a Trump administration effort to remove Clean Water Act protections for the salmon rich watershed.

The complaint filed in US District Court alleges that “the proposed Pebble mine would destroy thousands of acres of critical habitat and miles of salmon streams that are essential to Bristol Bay’s commercial, recreational and subsistence salmon fisheries."

The Bristol Bay entities, speaking collectively as the Bristol Bay Defense Alliance, includes the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, Bristol Bay Economic Development Association, Bristol Bay Native Association, United Tribes of Bristol Bay and the Bristol Bay Reserve Association.

“My homeland will fight them tooth and nail and that’s why we are here today,” said veteran Bristol Bay harvester Robin Samuelsen, of Dillingham, Alaska, whose grandfather started the first cannery in Bristol Bay 150 years ago. “This mine threatens to wipe out our culture,” said Samuelsen, who contends that top leadership at the EPA has been making decisions behind closed doors to reverse its own determination in July 2014 regarding Section 404 (c) of the Clean Water Act.

Samuelsen also noted that the EPA had previously been critical of the proposed mine on the edge of the watershed that is home to the world’s largest run of sockeye salmon. The fishery is of great economic, cultural and ecological importance to residents of that area of Southwest Alaska, and many others engaged in commercial, sport and subsistence fishing.

In 2019 Bristol Bay produced a harvest of over 44 million salmon. The fishery generates annual revenues of about $1.5 billion and supports 14,000 jobs.

“Bristol Bay is the crown jewel of Alaska’s salmon industry,” said Andy Wink, executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association. “There is simply no precedent for open pit mining coexisting with sockeye salmon on the scale proposed by the Pebble mine in Bristol Bay.”

“The EPA’s proposed determination to enact 404 (c) Clean Water Act protections is an important tool for safeguarding the world’s most productive salmon habitat, and we cannot allow it to be cast aside without due process,” Wink added.

“Because of our careful stewardship, Bristol Bay is home to the last fully intact wild salmon fisheries and cultures in the world,” said Ralph Andersen, president and CEO of Bristol Bay Native Association.

Last July, the EPA withdrew proposed Obama administration restrictions on mining in the Bristol Bay region, contending that those proposed restrictions were based on hypothetical scenarios and were outdated now that the Pebble Limited Partnership, a subsidiary of the Canadian global mining group Hunter Dickinson Inc., had submitted project plans.

The lawsuit contends that EPA’s withdrawal decision is not supported by the record and that EPA failed to acknowledge and explain its reversal. The lawsuit further claims that EPA improperly relied on factors, which Congress has not intended it to consider, and failed to consider relevant key factors in making its decision.

Crab–Snow Quota Up, Red King Quota Down

Bering Sea snow crab are continuing to rebound from three years ago, prompting the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) to announce a 34,019,000-pound quota for the 2019-2020 fishery, up from 27,581,000 pounds in 2018 and 18,961,000 pounds in 2017.

Holders of individual fishing quota (IFQ) permits are allocated 30,617,100 pounds, with another 3,410,900 pounds allocated for community development quota (CDQ).

The fishery opened in Bering Sea district waters west of 165 degrees west longitude at noon on Oct. 15 and will remain open through May 15, 2020 in the Eastern Subdistrict, east of 173 degrees west longitude, and through May 31, 2020 in the Western Subdistrict, west of 173 degrees west longitude.

Due to closure of the 2019-2020 Eastern and Western Bering Sea Tanner crab fisheries, east and west of 166 degrees west longitude, retention of Tanner crab during the Bering Sea snow drab fishery is prohibited.

The quota for Bristol Bay red king crab, also opening on Oct. 15, was reduced to 3,797,000 pounds from the 2018-2019 season 4,330,000 pounds based on trawl survey studies, ADF&G said.

Harvesters with individual fishing quota will share in 3,417,300 pounds, down from 3.9 million pounds a year ago. Holders of community development quota permits were allocated a total of 379,700 pounds of the red king crab, down from 430,800 pounds.

The Bering Sea Tanner crab fisheries east and west of 166 degrees west longitude are closed for the 2019-2020 season due to estimated mature male biomass in those Bering Sea waters being below thresholds required for the fishery to open.

Last year the western district for Tanner crab opened with a total allowable catch of 2,439,000 pounds, down slightly from 2,500,200 pounds a year earlier. The eastern district was closed, as it was in 2017.

Pribilof district red and blue king crab again remained closed due to failure to meet federal minimum harvest strategy thresholds required for the fishery to open. ADF&G crab biologists said that the stocks had been declared over fished. The total mature biomass also fell below minimum harvest strategy thresholds required for a fishery, the agency said.

Alaska Salmon Harvest Exceeds 203 Million

Alaska’s wild salmon harvest reached more than 203 million fish as the season drew to a close in October, largely exceeding last year’s 115.7 million fish, with the sockeye proving to be a star performer.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) biologists had predicted a statewide 2019 harvest of 213.2 million salmon, including 41.7 million reds. However, by Oct. 3, ADF&G’s preliminary harvest data showed some 55.3 million sockeyes delivered to processors statewide.

Chinook catches met their modest forecast of 274,000 fish while pink salmon totaled some 125.7 million fish, compared to a forecast of 137.8 million. Keta salmon harvests stood at 18.3 million, nearly 12 million fewer fish than anticipated, and coho production also lagged, down roughly 25 percent from the expected harvest of 4.6 million fish, noted Garrett Evridge, of the McDowell Group, who produces weekly Alaska salmon harvest updates during the fishery for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.

The 2019 sockeye harvest is the fourth largest on record, measured in numbers of fish, with Bristol Bay accounting for 78 percent of the total. The Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian Islands accounted for 7 percent while Prince William Sound came up with 5 percent, and Southeast Alaska with 16 percent of the total, while other areas of Alaska brought in the last 4 percent, Evridge said.

The keta harvest of some 18 million fish is the 16th largest on record and nearly equal to the five-year average. Southeast Alaska harvests accounted for 42 percent, followed by Prince William Sound with 31 percent, the Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian Islands with 8 percent and the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim with 7 percent. All other areas, led by Bristol Bay, accounted for the remainder, Evridge said.

The Chinook harvest of some 274,000 fish proved slightly larger than the 2018 catch, but still ranked among the lowest harvests since 1975. The biggest region for kings, at 63 percent, was Southeast Alaska. Bristol Bay was the second biggest producer for kings, at 13 percent. The Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian Islands had 11 percent and Prince William Sound 7 percent.

Climate change brought rising temperatures again to Alaska and drought conditions resulted in unknown thousands of salmon dying before they reached spawning grounds due to lack of sufficient water in streambeds. In some areas, including Prince William Sound, salmon milled around for days waiting for waters to rise. Several state biologists said they likely won’t know the impact of those temperatures and drought conditions until 2021.

“It was a dry summer and the way climate conditions are continuing this is more than likely to become more commonplace,” said Charlie Russell, a seine management biologist for ADF&G in Cordova.

Effort Continues to Remove Marine Debris

Several efforts are underway in the Pacific Northwest to remove tons of marine debris washed up on the tidal shorelines of Oregon and Washington, as well as areas of Alaska, in coordination with NOAA Fisheries’ marine debris program.

Professional fishers and diver services are often needed to remove lost fishing gear from both commercial and recreational harvesters along the outer coast, in rivers and inland waters, but a larger issue is marine debris washing up along sparsely populated coastal areas of the Pacific Northwest from all across the Pacific Rim. The latter is testimony to the global nature of the marine debris problem, NOAA officials said.

Volunteers remove most of the debris from remote and largely inaccessible coastal areas. Fall and winter weather conditions bring more of it on the beaches, making removal more challenging.

One project from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) at the College of William and Mary is working to reduce ecological and economic impacts associated with lost gear in coastal Washington and Alaska. The goal is to reduce ecological and economic impacts associated with lost gear by incorporating an innovative bio-hinge mechanism into Dungeness crab traps. The project is funded by a Fishing for Energy grant, a partnership between the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Covanta and NOAA’s Marine Debris Program.

The Northwest Straits Foundation and its partners are in the midst of a three-year derelict crab pot survey and removal project supplemented with a targeted outreach campaign to recreational crabbers in Washington marine waters of the Salish Sea. The project, which runs through Nov. 30, 2021, directly addresses actions identified in the Puget Sound Lost Crab Pot Prevention Plan and in the Washington Marine Debris Action Plan.

A third marine debris removal project involves the University of Washington’s Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team (COASST) in collaboration with the NOAA Marine Debris Program. The team is conducting shoreline monitoring field trials for evaluation and to update the NOAA Marine Debris Monitoring and Assessment Project and COASST marine debris monitoring protocols. This citizen scientist initiative engages both domestic and international volunteers in conducting standardized shoreline surveys for marine debris items larger than 2.5 centimeters.

In Alaska, a community-based marine debris removal grant that concluded in October worked to remove debris from more than 80 local beaches accessible from the road system on Kodiak Island. Volunteers gathered, sorted and measured debris to better understand the composition and trends of debris accumulating onshore. Island Trails Network, with support of a NOAA community-based Marine Debris Removal grant, worked with the local community at Kodiak.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Federal Fisheries Board Meets in Homer

Final 2019-2020 specifications for five crab stocks are on the agenda at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s fall meeting under way in Homer, Alaska, through Oct. 9. Specifications will be determined for Eastern Bering Sea snow crab, Bristol Bay red king crab, Eastern Bering Sea tanner crab, Pribilof Island red king crab and St. Matthew blue king crab.

According to the council’s crab plan team members, Aleutian Islands golden king crab, Eastern Bering Sea snow crab and Pribilof Island red king crab are currently estimated to be above biomass maximum sustainable yield for 2019/2020. Eastern Bering Sea Tanner crab, Bristol Bay red king crab and Norton Sound red king crab are estimated to be below maximum sustainable yield.

Saint Matthew blue king crab was declared to be overfished in October of 2018. Pribilof Islands blue king crab stock remains overfished and is estimated to be well below is sustainable yield, but according to the crab plan team overfishing is not occurring for any crab stocks.

Also on the agenda, an initial review of the preliminary draft environmental impact statement for Bering Sea/Aleutian Island (BSAI) halibut abundance-based management prohibited species catch limits. A major change from current bycatch limits is under consideration. Restrictions would fluctuate up and down annually with changes in Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands halibut abundance. Prohibited species catch limit modifications are being considered for various groundfish sectors including the Amendment 80 and BSAI trawl limited access sector, longline catcher vessels, longline catcher processors and the Community Development Quota sector.

The meeting is open to the public and will be broadcast via https://npfmc.adobeconnect.com/october2019.

Sustainability of Current Tuna Fishing Habits Questioned

A new report by researchers at the University of British Columbia and University of Western Australia has found that global tuna catches have increased more than 1,000 percent in the past six decades, fueled by a massive expansion of industrial fisheries.

Their findings, published in Fisheries Research, by scientists engaged in the Sea Around Us initiative, indicate that these fisheries, which have caught nearly six million tons of tuna annually in recent years, are operating substantially over capacity. Researchers said fisheries have fully exploited or over-exploited populations of tuna and other large fish species and spread out to a point where no new fishing grounds remain to be explored.

According to the research, continuation of tuna fisheries’ catch and revenue at similar levels to present day will depend on long-term sustainable management of the fisheries and fleets exploiting these stocks and ecosystems, as well as the cooperation of over 100 countries engaged in tuna fisheries.

Lead study author Angie Coulter of UBC’s Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, and her colleagues, have produced the first comprehensive global data set since 1995 that estimates the amount of tuna taken from the ocean and where the fish are being caught.

They found that skipjack and yellowfin are the most commonly caught species of tuna, with combined catches of four million tons annually in recent years. Meanwhile catches of the sushi-favorite blue fin tuna have declined heavily since the mid-20th century, with that species now considered critical.

Researchers also found that the Pacific Ocean provides 67 percent of the world’s total tuna catches, which are mostly taken by Japanese and US fleets. Another 12 percent is caught in the Indian Ocean by mostly Taiwanese, Spanish, Indonesian and French fleets. An additional 12 percent comes from the Atlantic Ocean taken by Spanish, French and more recently Japanese and Korean vessels operating under Ghana’s flag.

Coulter said that hopefully results of this study will encourage stakeholders and policymakers to boost monitoring, share information and agree on coordinated efforts like cutbacks, to foster sustainability of tuna stocks.

Congress Urged to Speed Relief for Fishery Failures

A bipartisan effort is underway in the US Senate to provide harvesters hard hit by fisheries disasters with more funding and timely relief. During a Sept. 25 hearing of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, Senators Roger Wicker, R- Miss., chairman, and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., ranking member, voiced concerns for the importance of responding to fisheries disasters and pushed for reforms.

Wicker said he welcomed news from Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross of approval of a federal fishery disaster declaration and relief process for Mississippi, “but problems remain with the fisheries disasters declaration process. Our fishermen deserve more timely consideration and relief,” he said.

“In Washington, fisheries are a cornerstone of our maritime economy,” Cantwell said. “Its related businesses and seafood processors, ship builders, gear manufacturers, support 60 percent of our maritime economy, which is about 146,000 jobs and $30 billion in economic activity.” Cantwell spoke of the importance of fisheries and particularly of the 2016 salmon fishery disaster, which impacted fisheries across the state. “Washington has experienced 17 fishery disasters since 1992 including crab, groundfish and salmon,” she said. “Unfortunately, the fisheries disaster process has become more burdensome, and has resulted in less funding and lengthy delays, putting an unnecessary burden on fishermen and fishing communities.”

“The coho disaster impacted tribes, commercial fishermen, charter and recreational fishermen, but not all groups received adequate funding from NOAA,” Cantwell wrote.

Commercial fishermen in Alaska hard hit by the 2016 Prince William Sound pink salmon disaster are still waiting for compensation under the promised disaster relief.

“[NOAA] need to address the timeliness in facilitating these disasters, but they need some clarifying parameters,” said Alaska Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak. “They need to involve stakeholders. They did not involve the fishermen” (in determining the formula for payment in the 2016 pink salmon disaster). “Without stakeholder input that’s how the formula got screwed up. They need to make sure that the people affected are appropriately compensated. If not then it needs to be an even distribution across the board,” she said.

The current application period for those impacted by the Prince William Sound 2016 disaster is Oct. 31, 2019. The amount of time it has taken for those impacted to get paid “is almost criminal,” she said. “There is no excuse for it.”

New Director Named at Auke Bay Fisheries Science Center

NOAA Fisheries has named Dana Hanselman to be the new director of the Auke Bay Laboratories Division of the Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Juneau, Alaska.

Prior to this appointment, Peter Hagen had served as acting division director.

The federal fisheries agency said in his 16 years with the science center that Hanselman has distinguished himself through his innovative analytical methods and that he has been recognized by his peers as a leader in stock assessment methods.

Hanselman is the sablefish stock assessment lead and co-author on several rockfish assessments. He also served as co-chair of the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands groundfish plan team and is a member of the councils scientific and statistics committee.

Hanselman has earned a Department of Commerce Bronze Medal for his contributions to the NOAA Scientific Integrity Committee and is a past winner of the prestigious Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Study Estimates Vulnerability of Eastern Bering Sea Fisheries

A climate vulnerability assessment released on Sept. 19 by NOAA scientists and partners has determined that six stocks in the Eastern Bering Sea, including Tanner crab, are the most vulnerable to climate change.

Also included among the most vulnerable were Pacific ocean perch, rougheye rockfish, shortraker rockfish, shortspine thoryhead and flathead sole.

Snow crab and Bristol Bay red king crab were among species determined to be less vulnerable. The study looked at potential impacts of changing climate, ocean temperatures and other environmental conditions on 36 groundfish, crab and salmon stocks in the Eastern Bering Sea.

Several other fish stocks were determined to be potentially more resilient because they may be able to move to areas with more favorable environmental conditions, such as more food and optimum water temperatures or growth and survival.

“Alaska fisheries are really important,” said Bob Foy, director of the Alaska Fisheries Science Center. “They contributed 58 percent of US landings and 29 percent of US ex-vessel value in 2016, with the majority of Alaska landings and value obtained from the Eastern Bering Sea shelf. In the past few years water temperatures have been much warmer than average, making the need for studies like this all the more imperative.

“Our science both in the field and in the lab is critical to monitor ecosystem changes and provide short-term and long-term forecasts to help commercial, recreational and subsistence communities anticipate and respond to changes that impact their way of life.”

The 34 scientists who assisted in this stock analysis considered the likelihood of exposure to climate change for all stocks studied, and the sensitivity and adaptability if exposed. They used existing information on climate and ocean conditions, species distributions and species growth and development, then estimated each stock’s overall vulnerability to climate related changes in that region.

“Our models projected more variability in salinity and water temperatures in the offshore ocean habitats where all of these species tend to be found, making them more vulnerable than other species which inhabit different areas,” said Paul Spencer, a fisheries biologist and lead author of the study.

Participating scientists classified nine flatfish stocks, crab, forage fish, rockfish, sablefish, Giant Pacific octopus, sculpin, Pacific cod and walleye Alaska pollock as having lower vulnerability due to their mobility. Still additional research conducted by the Alaska Fisheries Science Center suggests that the story for Alaska pollock, Pacific cod and possibly other species is more nuanced, the report said.

Field and laboratory studies of Pacific cod have shown that warmer water and lower pH levels can affect prey availability, as well as Pacific cod egg, larvae and juvenile development, which ultimately affects Pacific cod survival. Fewer young fish mean fewer adult fish, so there could be delayed impacts of changing climate and ocean conditions on this species, the report said.

Murkowski: No Permit for Mine That Damages Fishery

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska says a mine that can’t stand on its own without negative impact to fisheries resources should not be permitted.

Murkowski’s concerns, addressed during a Washington DC celebration of Bristol Bay’s wild salmon, came in the wake of her reading the draft environmental impact statement for the proposed Pebble mine produced by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, plus comments critical of the report from several federal and state agencies.

“I am a policy maker and as a policy maker I need to be able to say that we are sure we have processes that people can trust,” Murkowski told a gathering in Washington D.C. on Sept. 18 hosted by sponsors of Bristol Bay Salmon Week.

Murkowski said she read reports from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Interior Department and other federal and state agencies and concluded that if science issues raised by these agencies can’t demonstrate that a successful mining project is possible “in an area that is as sensitive as the Bristol Bay watershed than a permit should not issue.”

The senator said she wants to make sure that the Corps and the EPA look very carefully at information gaps regarding various aspects, and work to address them. If they are unable to address them, “than the permit should not issue,” she said.

She vowed to continue to use her seat on the Senate Appropriations Committee “to make sure that the EPA and the Corps hear clearly that they must address these,” she said. “If the applicant continues to pursue this project that is their right,” she said. “I can’t stop them, but what we need is to be able to believe whether the science that drives the process can be trusted, whether it is this project or any other project out there.”

The Pebble Limited Partnership, a subsidiary of the Canadian mining firm Hunter-Dickenson, which is based in Vancouver, British Columbia, has filed for many permits.

Events during Bristol Bay Salmon Week in the nation’s capital included 26 restaurants and Wegmans grocery stores in Virginia and Maryland featuring wild Bristol Bay sockeye salmon. Each of the restaurants took a unique approach in their preparation of the sockeye. One of them, Mitsitam CafĂ© within the National Museum of the American Indian, used traditional Alaska Native recipes for two of its dishes. All events were sponsored by the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association.

This year’s celebration of Bristol Bay salmon came in the wake of a season that saw a preliminary ex-vessel value of $306.5 million dollars of all salmon species that ranks first in the history of the fishery. The catch was 248 percent of the 20-year average of $124 million, noted Tim Sands, with the Alaska Department of Fish and Games’ commercial fisheries area management staff in Dillingham, Alaska. The 44.5 million harvest of all salmon species in Bristol Bay was the second largest in the history of the fishery behind 45.4 million fish in 1995. The sockeye salmon harvest of 43 million fish ranks second behind 44.2 million fish harvested in 1995.

The overall harvest included 42,967,737 sockeye valued at $303,897,039; 30,579 kings, $173,725; 1,379,169 chum, $2,250,721; 5,680 pink, $1,079; and 75,517 coho, $250.737.

USDA Purchases $25M+ in Canned Pink Salmon

US Department of Agriculture officials have purchased canned Alaska pink salmon valued at nearly $26 million for nationwide child nutrition and other domestic food assistance programs, with deliveries to be made from Nov. 1 through March 31, 2020.

The purchases came in the wake of offers received as of the Aug. 17 deadline.

The purchases include 199,120,000 cases of canned pinks valued at $11,658,570 from Ocean Beauty Seafoods; 115,520,000 cases at $6,782,893 from Peter Pan Seafoods; 72,960,000 cases at $4,681,235 from Icicle seafoods and 54,720,000 cases at $2,741,684 from Trident Seafoods.

A total of 182,000 cases of pink salmon were not awarded due to a lack of bids received or vendor constraints, USDA officials said in their Sept. 20 announcement.

The canned pinks for various programs are to be delivered to Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Guam, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming.

Back in June, USDA bought about $6.5 million in canned pinks, said Bruce Schactler, director of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s global food aid program.

“They usually buy canned salmon two to three times a year,” he said. “it goes into various nutrition programs, including elder take home boxes. School lunches don’t use canned salmon. What they just bought is all going to food banks.”

Schactler said he expected an announcement in the last days of September from USDA officials announcing the purchase of about $40 million in Alaska Pollock fish sticks and four-ounce un-breaded fillet portions cut from blocks. “All of that is also going specifically for food banks,” he said, with deliveries set for from January through September of 2020.

ASMI’s efforts to promote the federal purchase of wild Alaska seafood to feed the hungry have met with increasing success. In 2017 USDA bought $20 million in Alaska Pollock products, about mostly fillet portions. In 2018, USDA bought $30 million worth of Alaska Pollock products, of which about 45 percent was fish sticks and this year the purchase is anticipated to include about 55 percent fish sticks, he said.

Appropriations Bill Provision Aimed at GE Salmon Labels

Legislation now before the US Senate would slow introduction of genetically engineered salmon to US markets.

The provision specially states that no food containing genetically engineered salmon shall be permitted into interstate commerce until a consumer study of the efficacy of the Commerce Department’s National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard for informing consumers of the genetically engineered content of salmon products is delivered to Congress.

The provision dictates that the study be performed by a joint commission of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration under the Federal advisory Committee Act, with the study to begin no later than 180 days after enactment of the Agriculture Appropriations bill for fiscal year 2020.

The provision was secured by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who said she acted after USDA published inadequate labeling guidelines for genetically engineered foods, including GE salmon.

These guidelines didn’t require mandatory labeling of GE salmon, Murkowski said. Instead they allow producers to use QR codes or 1-800 numbers for more information. These guidelines had led the FDA to deactivate an import ban that prevented GE salmon from entering U.S. markets.

Murkowski and others opposed to the introduction of GE salmon into the domestic marketplace often refer to the product as “Frankenfish.”

The Alaska Republican said she opposes introduction of GE salmon into U.S. markets until clear labeling rules are established to inform consumers that they are purchasing a genetically engineered salmon product. “FDA made a serious misstep by lifting the import ban on GE salmon in response to the untested, inadequate labeling guidelines approved by USDA earlier this year,” she said.

In December of 2015 Murkowski inserted a provision in the federal omnibus appropriations bill that blocked the FDA from introducing GE salmon into the market until it publishes labeling guidelines so consumers knew the content of what they were buying. A month later, the FDA announced an import ban on GE salmon until labeling guidelines had been published.

On March 8, 2019 the FDA lifted an import restriction, allowing the biotech company AquaBounty, with facilities in Canada and Panama, to start raising genetically engineered salmon eggs in America, effectively clearing the way for the first commercially raised genetically engineered seafood to come to market.

AquaBounty’s AquAdvantage salmon has been in development since the 1990s, and is already available in Canada, noted The New Food Economy, an independent nonprofit newsroom that investigates the forces shaping how and what people eat. The company’s proprietary breed of fish is modified to contain genes from Chinook salmon and an eel-like creature called an ocean pout, allowing it to grow twice as fast, on less food, than normal Atlantic salmon.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Bristol Bay Harvesters Call for Halt to Pebble Permitting Process

Word that the US Army Corps of Engineers will not require public input or scrutiny into major changes in a massive mine permit application has prompted a call, by Bristol Bay fishermen and others, to halt the permitting process for the Pebble mine.

“Allowing for changes to be made over and over, basically behind closed doors further erodes my trust in the Army Corps of Engineers to make a responsible and science-based decision in the process that has been demonstrated over and over to fail the public’s trust,” said Lindsey Bloom, a veteran harvester speaking for Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay.

“The vast majority of Bristol Bay residents and Alaskans do not want this project to move forward, period,” said Bloom. “Nothing that I see here makes this a better, safer or more responsible project.”

The subject of concern is a memo from the Pebble Limited Partnership delivered to the Corps on Aug. 12 listing proposed changes to its Clean Water Act Section 404 permit application. During a teleconferenced news briefing on Tuesday, September 17, Corps officials affirmed there would be no additional public process to get comment on the changes involving a new transportation route, new locations for major water treatment infrastructure at the mine site and a new location for water used in mine operations to be discharged.

According to the Pebble Partnership’s Mike Heatwole, these changes are “all environmental enhancements undertaken in response to agency and public input, and will have the effect of reducing the project's overall footprint, its impact on wetlands and waters of the US, and otherwise improve its environmental performance… “We have outlined ten physical improvements and two design and execution improvements that reduce overall project impacts and further avoid, or minimize, impacts to WOTUS,” Heatwole said.

The Bristol Bay Economic Development Association and United Tribes of Bristol Bay joined commercial fishermen in calling for suspension of the permitting process.

“Absolute baloney,” said Norm Van Vactor, CEO of the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp. “These project changes only reinforce that the Pebble Partnership was not prepared to go into permitting and the Corps should not have accepted their incomplete application in the first place. From day one, the Corps has made exceptions for the Pebble Partnership, lowering the bar for them at the expense of Bristol Bay’s residents, fishermen, tries and other stakeholders.”

The permitting process is being corrupted, Van Vactor said. “They owe it to the people of Alaska to step in and make it right, to follow the science in front of them.”

Former Alaska Senate President Rick Halford and Alannah Hurley, executive director of United Tribes of Bristol Bay, criticized the Corps’ handling of the permitting process. Halford said the Environmental Protection Agency’s watershed assessment showed that the project cannot be done without harming the Bristol Bay fishery because of three unchangeable facts: location, type and size. “For the political process to push the professionals in the Corps to even accept this application as complete is shameful,” he said.

Hurley also voiced concerns for the safety of Bristol Bay fisheries, contending that the project is being pushed forth at record speed, with no regard for the science and facts promised to be used to assess the project during permitting.

The Corps documents site on the project, https://pebbleprojecteis.com/documents/library, is updated continuously. The public comment period on the draft EIS ran from March 1 through July 1, and those comment too are included on the site.

BBNC Will Acquire Blue North and Clipper Seafoods

Bristol Bay Native Corporation (BBNC) has announced the pending acquisition of two major operators in the freezer longline cod sector of the Bering Sea fishery.

The Alaska regional native corporation, with offices in Anchorage and Dillingham, plans to acquire Blue North Fisheries and Clipper Seafoods on September 30. This would put the company in a position to bring more Bering Sea earnings home to Alaska, for the benefit of its 10,000 shareholders and the local economy.

Blue North and Clipper Seafoods would be reorganized under Bristol Bay Alaska Seafoods, a newly formed subsidiary of BBNC. Former Clipper Seafoods President David Little would continue to manage operations, and both Michael and Patrick Burns of Blue North Fisheries would stay involved in operations. In addition, BBNC has created Bristol Bay Seafood Investments LLC to serve as a holding company for Bristol Bay Alaska Seafoods LLC and future seafood investments.

Jason Metrokin, president and CEO of BBNC, noted that the successful financial and environmental track records of both firms made this an attractive investment for BBNC.

The freezer longline cod sector of the Bering Sea, which harvests thousands of tons of Alaska cod annually, is certified by the Marine Stewardship Council as a well-managed, sustainable fishery.

Both Blue North and Clipper seafoods have been industry leaders for decades, pioneering many fishing practices and technologies aimed at making the fishery one of the world’s most environmentally sustainable commercial fisheries.

Blue North’s current fleet of five vessels includes the F/V Blue North, which produces boneless cod fillets, cod loins and vacuum-packed consumer-ready cod products on board for global markets. Clipper Seafoods, also a leader in the freezer longline sector has six vessels.

Alaska’s Commercial Wild Salmon Harvest Tops 200M Fish

Alaska’s commercial wild harvest for 2019 reached 200,342,000 fish through Tuesday, September 17. Historically an average of 800,000 additional salmon are harvested between now and the end of the season, in about three weeks, says the McDowell Group’s Garrett Evridge, who compiles weekly reports on the Alaska wild salmon harvest in season on behalf of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.

Year-to-date sockeye harvests have reached 55,284,000 fish, with minimal additional production expected. Just under 50,000 sockeyes were added to the tally last week, mostly in Kodiak.

Year-to-date pink salmon harvest stands at 124,370,000 fish, approximately 10 million, or 7 percent lower than in 2017. That’s 45 percent lower than 2013 level and 34 percent behind 2015, Evridge noted. Some 400,000 pinks were harvested last week, nearly all in Kodiak.

Keta volume so far stands at 17,134,000 fish, approximately 2.5 million or 13 percent lower than in 2018. While the current harvest represents only 58 percent of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) forecast, the 2019 season remains comparable to the five-year average. Southeast Alaska produced most of the 280,000 keta harvested last week.

The addition of 130,000 coho brought the year-to-date total to approximately 3.3 million fish, 8 percent behind the 2018 pace. Coho account for at least half of total production in the final weeks of most Alaska salmon seasons, and Evridge noted that historical data suggest most of the remaining coho harvest will come from Southeast Alaska.

Preliminary data indicates that Alaska’s 2019 Chinook harvest of 255,000 fish met or slightly exceeded last year’s volume.

The state’s westward region overall through this week caught more than 65 million salmon, including 55,390,000 humpies, 6,664,000 sockeyes, 2,027,000 chum, 1,123,000 coho and 38,000 kings. Of that total 35,842,000 fish came from the Kodiak area, 126,174,000 from the Alaska Peninsula and 3,226,000 from Chignik.

An ADF&G season summary report on the Bristol Bay fishery released on September 17 noted that the 2019 inshore Bristol Bay sockeye salmon run of 56.5 million fish is the fourth largest and was 45 percent above the 39 million fish average run for the last 20 years. It was also the fifth consecutive year that inshore sockeye runs exceeded 50 million fish. 2019 was the second highest harvest of all species of salmon combined and reached the highest ex-vessel value of all time.

ASMI’s All Hands Meeting Set for Oct. 8–10 in Anchorage

The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s All Hands on Deck meeting is set for Oct. 8-10 at the Hotel Captain Cook in Anchorage, Alaska. The meeting, which is open to the public, offers updates on all programs ASMI is engaged in, along with discussion on current marketing efforts, strategies and challenges now facing the industry.

General session presentations will include fisheries and fiscal updates, followed by program reports on international marketing, seafood technology, sustainability, global food aid, domestic marketing and communications, and public relations.

Species committee meetings are planned for halibut and sablefish, whitefish, salmon and shellfish, as well as a separate meeting on ASMI’s responsible fisheries management program.

A working draft agenda for the meeting, is now available online at https://www.alaskaseafood.org/all-hands-on-deck-meeting-documents. Check back for adjustments as ASMI continues to update its agenda. ASMI staff plan to add the actual reports to the agenda in advance of the meeting. Meanwhile questions about the schedule of events or attendance may be emailed to Sara Truitt at struitt@alaskaseafood.org or call 1-907-465-5560.

ASMI’s board, chaired by Jack Schultheis of Kwik’Pak Fisheries, has announced the appointment of Michael Erickson of Alaska Glacier Seafoods and Alf “Gus” Skalfestad both to a processor seat on the board. The board of seven directors includes five processors and two harvesters all voting members appointed by the governor.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Alaska’s Salmon Harvest Exceeds 198 Million Fish

As the 2019 Alaska commercial salmon harvest winds down, the catch has climbed to a total of more than 198 million fish which is approximately 8 percent, or 18 million fish, lower than in 2017.

Still, the 2019 season is on track to become the eighth largest harvest since 1975, measured in numbers of fish, according to Garrett Evridge who produces weekly in-season salmon harvest updates for the McDowell Group, on behalf of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.

Catch of more than 55 million sockeyes in 2019 represents the largest yield since 1995 and the fourth strongest season since 1975. Some 130,000 red salmon were caught last week, primarily in Kodiak. Harvest has also been relatively strong for Chignik, with the region beating its five-year average for the past five weeks, Evridge said. Nearly 124 million pink salmon have been harvested year-to-date, 8 percent behind 2017’s pace. Production in recent weeks has closed the gap between 2019 and 2017. Some 3.5 million humpies were added to the total last week, the second strongest yield for statistical week 36 in at last 12 years, with 2.9 million of those fish caught at Kodiak.

The year-to-date keta harvest of 16 million fish is 16 percent behind 2018 and 7 percent lower than the five-year average. Although Southeast Alaska is well below last year’s numbers, and its 2019 forecast, the area has produced 39 percent of the state’s total – the most of any region.

Prince William Sound has caught nearly double their forecasted volume and contributed 33 percent to this year’s production. Historical data indicates some 500,000 fish are typically harvested through the end of the season, which is three weeks away.

Preliminary numbers show coho production slowed last week to about 250,000 fish. The five-year average for the week is nearly 500,000 fish. The year-to-date total of some 2.9 million cohos is 11 percent lower than last year and 23 percent behind the five-year average. Prince William Sound is currently the primary source, with other volume coming from Kodiak and Chignik.

Recent production in the Alaska-Yukon-Kuskokwim region has been disappointing, with weekly catches less than half the five-year average. Chinook volume of nearly 240,000 fish is nearly equal to the 2018 harvest. The king harvest through the rest of the season is expected to be minimal, based on historical data.

NOAA Releases Eastern Bering Sea Crab Survey

A new NOAA Fisheries report on the eastern Bering Sea bottom trawl survey shows that the overall biomass and abundance of Bristol Bay red king crab remains relatively stable, although there has been a decline in legal male crab.

The draft 2019 Eastern Bering Sea Continental Shelf Trawl Survey, which was released last week, points out that the number of mature and legal red king crab males in the Pribilof Islands have increased, while females and immature males have declined or remained about the same. Both red king crab populations saw an increase in pre-recruit abundance.

Blue king crab biomass and abundance increased overall, except for the Pribilof Islands immature females, since none were caught in the survey, the draft report reads.

Biomass and abundance of Tanner crab have declined for legal and mature males. Numbers of females and immature males remained about the same, except for the biomass of immature males, east of 166 degrees west, which increased. According to the report, there was an overall increase in legal, mature and pre-recruit male snow crab, while immature males and all females declined.

The 2019 Eastern Bering Sea bottom trawl survey included 375 total bottom trawls conducted between June 3 and July 28 over an area from the southeast corner of Bristol Bay, moving east to west and fishing with the northernmost stations.

In addition to the standard assessment survey to collect specific biological data from particular crab species, the Alaska Fisheries Science Center conducted seven other projects, including collection of live, mature, egg-bearing female snow and Tanner crab for studies with larval growth and hatching, as well as crab specimens for the observer training collection.

NPFMC Meeting in Homer

Members of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) will hold their fall meeting Sept. 30 through Oct. 9, in Homer, Alaska for the first time since July 1983.

The preliminary agenda includes an evaluation of modifying halibut bycatch limits in the Bering Sea to account for halibut abundance. Final action on a proposal to change observer fees for partial coverage fisheries as well as discussion of potential changes to the Bering Sea cod fisheries, development of salmon management for the portion of the Cook Inlet fishery access and management that occurs in federal waters are also on the agenda “We’re excited for the council to meet back in Homer and to hear directly from the local fishermen and stakeholders that have an interest in federal fisheries,” said Council chairman Simon Kinneen, of Nome, who represents Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation.

The council’s Cook Inlet salmon committee will meet informally on Sept. 1 to discuss progress on federal management of the salmon fishery in the exclusive economic zone of Cook Inlet.

The council’s community engagement committee will meet on Oct. 1 at the Land’s End resort to develop strategies to improve the council’s engagement with rural and Alaska Native communities.

David Witherell, executive director of the NPFMC, said the council plans to hold an introduction to the council process workshop on the evening of Oct. 1 to provide an opportunity for stakeholders to learn about the council process and how to participate effectively. The workshop will also provide a brief outline of topics on the agenda so participants can gauge how they might be of interest.

All meetings, except for executive sessions, are open to the public and broadcast through a link on the council’s webpage.

The agenda is available online at https://meetings.npfmc.org/Meeting/Details/823.

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