Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Coast Guard Mobile App Offers Safety Features for Pacific Northwest Voyages

Coast Guard officials are promoting a Boating Safety Mobile App designed to aid maritime voyage planning, boating safety and maritime distress in the Pacific Northwest.

The app – available free on iPhone and Android devices – was developed as a tool that merges an easy-to-use interface with common cellphone operating systems and offers users a central application for commonly searched boating information.

Location settings in the app can be customized to offer real-time weather information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather buoys and to let mariners report navigational hazards or possible pollution incidents to Coast Guard responders.

The app is also designed to store vessel registration and contact information. User profiles can be vital sources of information to search and rescue teams dealing with maritime distress situations. A critical feature of the app is the bright red “Emergency Assistance” icon on the home screen. This icon will connect mariners in distress with the nearest Coast Guard unit or 911 emergency service while also providing a real-time GPS location.

The app also offers a unique way to file a float plan with designated contacts, including information on future voyages. Float plans can prove critical in emergency situations where facts need to be accurately remembered and provided to search and rescue teams. The Coast Guard does not actively monitor float plans, but many mariners may find comfort in providing voyage information to family and friends who can then provide detailed information to search and rescue officials if the boat does not returned when expected. More information on float plans is online at https://uscgboating.org/recreational-boaters/floating-plan.php.

For information on the app itself go online to https://uscgboating.org/mobile/.

Application Period Opens for Proposals for NFWF Fishing for Energy Program

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation is seeking proposals by March 30 for projects to host cost-free recycling and/or energy conversion gear disposal opportunities for fishing communities. This year the Fishing for Energy program is also seeking projects to build capacity and logistics development to prepare communities to host bins for gear collection in the future including exploring opportunities for gear recycling, upcycling or other alternative disposal options.

By helping to prevent and remove derelict gear, the program restores the quality of marine and coastal habitat, supporting communities that rely on these resources.

Eligible applicants include non-profit organizations, state or territorial government agencies, local governments, municipal governments, tribal governments and organizations, educational institutions, or ports.

This year program managers will give priority to projects that maintain an existing port, establish a new port opportunity, or host an event for the fishing community to dispose of old, derelict or unusable fishing gear. Priority will also be given to projects to develop capacity for comprehensive logistics for port communities interested in implementing a long-term bin program for the future.

The full request for proposals is online at https://www.nfwf.org/programs/fishing-energy. All application materials must be submitted online through NFWF’s Easygrants system, with registration available at https://easygrants.nfwf.org/NFWF/Implementation/Modules/Login/LoginModuleContent.aspx?Config=LoginModuleConfig&Page=Login or call the Easygrants Helpdesk at 202-595-2497.

The program is a partnership between NFWF, the NOAA Marine Debris Program, Convanta, a world leader in sustainable waste and energy solutions; and Schnitzer Steel Industries, one of the largest manufacturers and exporters of recycled metal products in North America.

Over the past decade, Fishing for Energy has worked directly with 59 domestic fishing communities in 14 states to provide a no cost solution for harvester to dispose of old, derelict or unusable fishing gear and to reduce the amount of derelict fishing gear in and around coastal waterways.

$50 Million In CARES Act Fisheries Assistance Approved for Alaska

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has given final approval to Alaska’s draft spend plan, to be shared by seafood processors, commercial harvesters, sport charters, subsistence users and aquaculture.

Under details spelled out on the Alaska Department of Fish & Game website, all sectors other than subsistence will have to certify that they suffered a loss of greater than 35 percent in fishery participation revenue from March 1, 2020 through Nov. 30, 2020 as a direct or indirect result of the pandemic.

They also must have been fishery participants in 2018 and 2019.

Nonresident commercial permit holders whose home states, including Washington and Oregon, are also eligible for this aid must apply in their own states.

Applications for aid are available on the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission webpage- www.psmfc.org/cares-act-the-coronavirus-aid-relief-and-economic-security-act.

NOAA is also working with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to identify subsistence users in Alaska. The completion date for that effort is not known yet.

State officials noted that the economic impact of the pandemic on fisheries was felt across the state, from reduced wholesale prices and reduction in demand due to economic shut down or sharp declines in tourism. The spend plan goal is to broadly distribute stimulus payments to those eligible while balancing rapidity, equitability and workload with limited resources, they said.

Questions related specifically to Alaska’s Section 12005 CARES Act Fisheries assistance relief may be emailed to AKCARES@psmfc.org or call 1-888-517-7262.

Also sharing in the total $300 million in Section 12005 funds for those economically injured by the pandemic are Washington, California, Oregon, Hawaii, federally recognized tribes in Alaska and on the West Coast, American Samoa, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.

eDNA May Prove a Cost-Effective Alternative to Better Understanding Coastal Species Diversity

NOAA Fisheries researchers are looking to use of environmental DNA metabarcoding as a feasible, cost-effective alternative to traditional sampling for collecting species diversity data in coastal areas and identifying essential fish habitat.

Preliminary results of an e-DNA study released in late February by the Alaska Fisheries Science Center’s Auke Bay Laboratories said a pilot study using eDNA techniques in 2020 identified more than 40 species in nine sites around Juneau.

According to Wes Larson, program manager for the genetics lab at AFSC at Auke Bay, there are many ways eDNA can help them do their jobs better. Through water sampling, researchers are able to detect a fish after it has left an area, including cryptic fish, those that may not typically be sampled in traditional survey gear, or may be a rare or low-density organism that surveys miss. e-DNA sampling can also help identify pelagic fish like Pacific cod and Alaska Pollock that may be offshore and could avoid smaller nets, he said. To assess species diversity, researchers are using eDNA metabarcoding, a cutting-edge technique that allows for identification of numerous species from a single water sample.

Resource managers at NOAA Fisheries Alaska Regional Office, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are all interested in this project also for its importance in identifying essential fish habitat (EFH), as well as the possibility of using eDNA as a cost-effective way to learn which fish and crab species are present at specific locations throughout Alaska.

State and federal fisheries managers, as well as the Corps of Engineers can use EFH information in numerous ways, from fisheries management to making decisions on permitting resource development projects. Larson also sees this work as an important complement to long term genetic studies, including estimating stock compositions of salon caught as bycatch in federal fisheries and understanding stock-specific impacts.

Other NOAA laboratories are already conducting eDNA research at Northwest and Northeast fisheries science centers. Long term plans are to conduct eDNA sampling in many areas of Alaska, including nearshore habitats near Baranof Island, Kodiak, Prince William Sound, the Gulf of Alaska, Aleutian Islands, and the Bering, Chukchi and Beaufort seas.

Larson and Gretchen Harrington, with NOAA Fisheries Alaska Region Habitat Conservation Division, said they are also exploring use of eDNA to understand fish and crab habitat use and distribution in the nearshore and to detect marine invasive species, such as European green crab. “As budgets shrink, we are continuing to find innovative ways to do more with less,” they said. “We are particularly excited about pairing eDNA with un-crewed instrumentation such as remote autosamplers.”

Researchers are currently piloting the use of eDNA autosamplers that can collect samples in remote locations, in hope that these samplers will be able to provide high-resolution data on species presence and/or absence and abundance without requiring a boat, crew and infrastructure to set and retrieve nets.

USACE Agrees to Hear Appeal from Pebble on Denial of Critical Permit for Mine

A Canadian mining company in pursuit of building and operating a copper, gold and molybdenum mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed has won the right to appeal a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decision denying them a crucial permit. The Corps has agreed to let Northern Dynasty Minerals’ wholly owned subsidiary, the Pebble Limited Partnership in Anchorage, appeal its decision regarding a Clean Water Act 404 permit. The Corps issued a record of decision late last year saying that issuing that permit would not be in the public interest.

NDM officials said USACE guidelines indicate the appeal process should conclude within 90 days, although it could be extended under certain circumstances.

The Corps declined to allow the state of Alaska to also appeal its permit denial to the PLP on grounds that the state did not meet the criteria of being an affected party. The Corps notified the Alaska Department of Law of its decision, prompting Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy to say that as the owner of the mineral estate impacted by that decision, the state would continue to pursue all options to have Alaskans heard.

“This is another example of the federal government imposing a flawed decision that blocks Alaska’s ability to responsibly develop its land and resources,” Dunleavy said. “We will not stop fighting for Alaska’s economic prosperity.”

Commercial fishermen and conservation opponents of the Pebble mine meanwhile urged the Biden administration to provide permanent protection for the Bristol Bay watershed, home of the world’s largest run of wild sockeye salmon. Tim Bristol, executive director of the conservation entity SalmonState, said the state of Alaska needs to accept the reality that the majority of Alaskans, except for Governor Dunleavy, have said for decades that the Pebble mine is the wrong mine in the wrong place.

It’s time for the EPA to take action to reenact lasting protections for Bristol Bay, he said.

The national coalition Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay also weighed in on the issue, urging federal action that would lay to rest once and for all the uncertainty of the future of the largest wild sockeye salmon run in the world. The fishermen want protections for the Bay, which provides some 15,000 jobs in commercial fisheries and $2.2 billion in economic activity and a generational fishing way of life, said Katherine Carscallen, executive director of Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay. A reversal of this permit denial would put Bristol Bay and the world’s largest salmon fishery back in peril, she said.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

International Scientific Conference Held on Status
of Pacific Salmon Stocks

Fisheries scientists from Russia, the United States, Canada, Japan and the Republic of Korea gathered virtually at Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk on Russia’s Sakhalin Island this past week to ponder the status and redistribution of Pacific salmon stocks.

During the Feb. 19 gathering participants agreed to continue monitoring the migrations of these fish, and to intensify the study of their marine life to improve the accuracy of forecasts, the website Fish Information & Services reported. FIS, which produces daily reports, is widely considered to be the standard for global seafood industry information on the Internet.

Ilya Shestakov, the head of Russia’s Federal Fisheries Agency, noted in his address to the conference that accurate forecasting is the most important component for successful fishing, given the value and demand for this resource in world fish markets. FIS noted that the total average annual maximum catch of salmon in the North Pacific fell from 1995 through 2019. The maximum catch recorded in 2009 came to 1,138,000 tons of fish. Shestakov told conference participants that the 300,000 tons of Russian catch taken in the Far East in 2020 is not critical compared to the previous period of population depression, which was observed from 1959 though 1973.

Conference participants also decided to hold another international conference in 2022. At that conference, plans are to discuss the status of the aquatic biological resources in the North Pacific, plus the economic and social aspects of fish and reproduction in the North Pacific region.

Trident Seafoods Resumes Operations at Akutan;
Fire Aboard Trident Vessel

Trident Seafoods resumed operations at its Akutan processing facility on Feb. 19, in the wake of a COVID-19 outbreak that had put work there on hold since Jan. 21.

Trident has taken additional steps to combat future COVID-19 risks there, including redesign of shift and break schedules to limit close contact and capacity limits to allow distancing in all areas outside of workstations.

115 employees who were quarantined in Sand Point and Anchorage have returned to Akutan to participate in crab and Pacific cod processing at a crucial point in the season and to prepare for Pollock processing to resume this week.

Trident CEO Joe Bundrant praised the determination of all involved that made restarting operations at Akutan possible after four weeks. “We will bring a renewed sense of diligence and focus to our primary goal, which is the health and safety of our employees, fishermen and communities delivering quality seafood from source to plate,” he said.

Resumption of plant operations were a positive note for Trident officials, who are also dealing with a fire aboard the company’s 230-foot Aleutian Falcon processing vessel at Tacoma, which resulted in total loss of the vessel. The fire began on the night of Feb. 16 and was brought under control by the Tacoma Fire Department, which managed to contain the massive blaze to the vessel itself. Firefighters used water resources from the pier and three other boats to fight the blaze.

No injuries were reported.

The Coast Guard said the fire broke out shortly before midnight at Pier 25 at the Port of Tacoma. The Hylebos and Blair Waterways were closed for several hours and absorbent boom was placed near the vessel to mitigate pollution.

Fire officials said at one point their biggest concern was that the Aleutian Falcon reportedly had approximately 48,000 gallons of diesel fuel onboard, but in the aftermath of the blaze no pollution issues were reported. The online publication Maritime Executive also reported that the 40-year-old vessel was carrying nearly 10,000 pounds of ammonia, a common refrigerant gas for processor vessels which is a toxic and potentially flammable gas, so fireboat crews paid extra attention to hull cooling in the area where it was stored on board.

A unified command was established by the Tacoma Fire Department, the Coast Guard, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Washington Department of Ecology. The fire department later reported that the hull of the vessel was sound and that the department was working with Trident Seafoods on a de-watering plan to keep the vessel from sinking.

When operated, the vessel with a crew of 120 supplemented Trident’s shore based and larger processing vessel operations throughout Alaska, company officials said.

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