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.

New Viruses Found in Wild Pacific Salmon

University of British Columbia researchers have discovered three new viruses in endangered Chinook and sockeye salmon populations, all of which are related to other viruses known to cause serious disease in other species.

“These new viruses, whose effect on wild salmon is not yet know, have probably been circulating in salmon populations for a long time, so they are new to science, but not salmon,” said Gideon Mordecai, a researcher at UBC’s Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences. “Although there’s no risk to humans, one of the viruses is evolutionarily related to respiratory coronaviruses and is localized to the gills. That suggests it has a similar infection strategy to its distant relatives that infect mammals.

“Something to bear in mind is that there are probably tens of thousands of different fish viruses, and we only know of a few hundred,” Mordecai said. “New technologies are enabling us to discover them at a faster and faster rate, but the challenge is working out if these viruses have any implications in the health of wild or cultured populations.”

Viruses are microscopic parasites that lack the capacity to thrive and reproduce outside of a host. At times they may become pathogens, viruses that can cause disease.

“In the wild, the virus wants to live lightly on its host and shed itself all over the place, but in captivity everybody dies, so suddenly everything changes,” said Alexandra Morton, a Canadian American marine biologist whose work in British Columbia since the 1990s has focused on the impact of salmon farming on Canadian wild salmon. She has been studying the piscine orthoerovirus (PRV).

Morton noted that Washington State prohibited PRV-infected farmed salmon from being transferred into fish farms. “It is almost impossible to study disease in wild salmon because predators take them out of the population almost immediately. As for the new viruses all we know is what is in the papers. What we do know is that viruses mutate to higher levels of virulence in feed lot environments. And so, we can expect a nonstop stream of new virus strains from aquaculture,” she said.

UBC and Fisheries and Oceans Canada researchers used DNA sequencing followed by tests specific to each virus to screen over 6,000 salmon from along the coast of British Columbia, including wild, hatchery and aquaculture fish. Mordecai’s research group has, for this study, cultured only Chinook, not sockeye. “I would expect to find these viruses in fish either side of the border. In fact, we have sampled Chinook which originate from the Columbia River which were positive for salmon percareavirus-1. Fish don’t respect international borders,” Mordecai said. Researchers have drawn no conclusions though on whether these viruses spread more readily from hatchery to wild stocks or vice versa.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Disaster Fund Deadline for CFEC Permit Holders
Set for Oct 31

Harvesters with Alaska’s Commercial Fishery Entry Commission (CFEC) permits have until Oct. 31 to apply for their share of the $31.8 million in financial relief for fishery participants impacted by the 2016 Gulf of Alaska pink salmon fishery disaster.

Application materials for crew members, according to details released in August by the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission (PSMFC), are to be distributed after the Oct. 31 deadline. Crew members will have until Jan. 31 to file for their benefits. The $53.8 million distribution plan for all impacted parties, as approved by NOAA Fisheries on July 1, also includes $17.7 million to processors and $3.63 million for research.

Eligible harvesters include CFEC permit holders named on the Alaska Department of Fish and Game fish tickets that fished for pink salmon in 2016 and showed a demonstrated revenue loss in the fishery. Crew members, in turn, will be eligible for compensation based on the CFEC permit holder being eligible to receive disaster funds.

Compensation for fishery participants is to be calculated based on the loss of pink salmon ex-vessel value to each management area as compared to the area’s five even year average ex-vessel value. The PSMFC said each management area disaster funds will be distributed such that each area’s fishery value is equal to 70.56 percent of their respective five even year average ex-vessel value.

The $17.7 million allocated for processors will be distributed to those who processed humpies in 2016 in the affected management areas. Payments to processors are to be proportionate to their demonstrated loss in 2016. A total of 15 percent of each eligible processing company’s total disaster payment will be distributed equally to eligible processing workers, based on unique facility, the PSMFC said. The demonstrated loss for each processor will be equal to its five even year average pink salmon gross first wholesale value from 2006 through 2014 minus its 2016 pink salmon gross first wholesale value.

The $3.63 million in research dollars is earmarked for applied research or research activities to improve the resource managers’ ability to better understand pink salmon ecology and abundance and improve pink salmon forecasts in the future. The PSMFC allocated $450,000 for the Kodiak Pink Salmon Saltwater Marketing Sample Plan, $2,500,000 for the Alaska Hatchery Research Program, and $680,000 for the Southeast Alaska Coastal Monitoring Survey.

In addition, Congress appropriated $2.4 million in disaster relief funds to municipalities affected by the disaster. PSMFC officials said they are working with the state of Alaska and the National Marine Fisheries Service to identify a process for distributing those funds to municipalities.

Further information is available at the PSMFC fisheries disaster website, at https://www.psmfc.org/fishery-disaster-programs or call 1-888-517-7262.

IPHC Sets Interim Meeting Date

Commissioners of the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) are scheduled to hold their 95th session interim meeting Nov. 25-26 in Seattle, Wash., to discuss the 2019 preliminary stock assessment and draft harvest decision table.

In his August 27 letter to the commissioners, IPHC Executive Director David T. Wilson wrote that information concerning the meeting, including electronic versions of documents to be considered would be published on the IPHC website as they become available, but no later than Oct. 26, which is 30 days prior to the start of the session, in accordance with the commission’s rules of procedure.

The IPHC website currently provides a link to an independent, 31-page peer review of the stock assessment, conducted by Kevin Stokes.

The last full stock assessment of Pacific halibut occurred in 2015. Updates were made in 2016, 2017 and 2018. The in-development stock assessment currently being reviewed is the first waypoint of the process, Stokes noted. His review covers the full spectrum of stock assessment related matters, guided by terms of reference set out by the IPHC. The commission currently operates an extensive annual fishery-independent setline survey to provide the stock assessment with critical information on Pacific halibut abundance and distribution, as well as biological data. Exploratory work to improve that survey has been in progress since 2014 and should come to fruition in late 2019 or early 2020 to inform the 2020 design, Stokes said. The survey itself is considered critical for providing information on fish that will enter the fishery three or four years later.

Stokes also noted in the review that the IPHC is conducting a management strategy evaluation likely to result in adoption of rules for setting mortalities in 2021. Once implemented, it could potentially remove the need for annual stock assessment updates.

Stokes’ assessment document can be found at https://www.iphc.int/uploads/pdf/sa/2019/stokes_2019-independent_peer_review_for_the_2019_iphc_stock_assessment.pdf.

The provisional agenda and schedule for the 95th session interim meeting is posted online at https://iphc.int/uploads/pdf/cir/2019/iphc-2019-cr-017.pdf, along with a list of documents for review and discussion at the meeting.

The 96th session of the IPHC annual meeting is scheduled for Feb. 3-7 at the Hotel Captain Cook in Anchorage, Alaska.

Salmon Deliveries to Alaska Processors Reach 192.7 Million

Commercial catches of Alaska’s wild salmon fishery reached 192.7 million fish this past week.

Some much needed rain and cooling temperatures helped to boost the pink salmon overall harvest to nearly 120 million fish, still well below the 137.8 million forecast. Meanwhile, the sockeye catch, holding at nearly 55 million fish, exceeded the 41.7 million fish forecast.

The chum harvest of approximately 15 million fish is still well below the predicted 29 million. Harvests of cohos were on the rise, with an overall catch at 2.6 million fish, and expected to go at least through the third week of September in Prince William Sound, unless further restrictions are imposed due to escapement issues. The Chinook harvest, on the other hand, edged up slightly to 252,000 fish.

Costco stores in Anchorage, Alaska, were still selling fresh fillets of sockeye salmon for $9.95 a pound, but also had fresh headed and gutted cohos for $5.99 a pound on sale during the Labor Day holiday weekend.

In Prince William Sound the catch to date includes 46,290,000 pink, 5,318,000 chum, 2,552,000 sockeye, 347,000 coho and 18,000 Chinook salmon. Kodiak processors have received 29,786,000 pink, 1,922,000 red, 505,000 chum, 249,000 coho and 7,000 kings, for a total of more than 32 million fish. On the Alaska Peninsula the harvest of more than 26 million fish included 20,252,000 pink, nearly 4 million sockeye, 1,354,000 chum, 510,000 coho and 27,000 kings.

Within the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim region, small boat harvesters on the Lower Yukon River have reached an overall catch of 541,000 salmon, including 474,000 keta, 53,000 coho, 11,000 humpies and 3,000 kings. At Kotzebue, fishermen have delivered to date 494,000 chum and 3,000 pink salmon. Other small boat fishermen in the Norton Sound region brought in 370,000 fish, including 157,000 chum, 130,000 coho, 75,000 pink and 7,000 sockeyes.

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