Monday, May 24, 2010

Fishermen Participate in Herring Study

Marine Conservation Alliance

Cordova District Fishermen United and the Prince William Sound Science Center teamed up to solicit the participation of 10 local fishermen in an Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council funded juvenile herring survey that took place in Prince William Sound in March. This survey was the first part of a three-year study to collect data that will ultimately be used to help determine why the herring population in the Sound has not recovered since the Exxon Valdez oil spill and what efforts can be taken to implement a habitat restoration plan.

CDFU's portion of the project involved recruiting ten fishermen to participate in survey activities, and Alexis Cooper was hired to coordinate this effort. 

"New to Cordova, through this project I was able to dive right in get a unique introduction to Cordova's fishing community," Cooper said. "This truly is a great project. From the beginning, fishermen were positive about the project and our recruitment efforts demonstrated an incredible amount of interest from both herring permit holders and members of the fishing fleet that wanted to get involved in herring survey efforts."

Murkowski Panel Slams Endangered Species Act

Marine Conservation Alliance

A majority of the panelists invited by Sen. Lisa Murkowski to discuss the Endangered Species Act at a roundtable Tuesday afternoon in Anchorage slammed the law, saying it is used to block resource exploration, not protect animals. The costs of complying with the act are enormous and litigation abusing the law runs rampant, panelists said, claiming it has evolved into a tool in the crusade against climate change.
Signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1973, the ESA requires the Fish and Wildlife Service to review any federal action that could hurt a protected species. In Alaska, organizations like the Center for Biological Diversity routinely file lawsuits against federal agencies for not doing enough to protect species like the polar bear, various northern seals, and the Cook Inlet beluga whale.
Roundtable participant Marilyn Crockett, executive director of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, said Alaska's polar bear population has increased during the 40 years the oil and gas industry has operated on the North Slope. "The largest obstacle facing the industry is litigation," she said. Attorney General Dan Sullivan said he thinks Alaska can protect both its animals and its business and development interests, but added that currently the act is being misused to block development.
Another panelist, Arctic Slope Regional Corp. executive Oliver Leavitt, who spoke about learning to hunt the traditional way when he was a fourth grader in Barrow, said he doesn't like the fact that the ESA is being used to sue to stop development. "We don't much care for litigation in the north," he said. The only speaker to defend the ESA came last. (Murkowski joked that it was only because the speakers were sitting alphabetically.) Peter Van Tuyn, an Anchorage environmental lawyer, said the experience in the rest of the country has been that the cost of compliance with the ESA is not that high.

NOAA Report Shows Progress

Marine Conservation Alliance

A new NOAA report (Our Living Oceans: Report on the Status of US Living Marine Resources) shows that the last decade has been a period of progress in rebuilding depleted fish stocks, sustaining many fisheries populations, and gaining a better understanding of the complex relationships between marine species and their habitats.
The report cites the Alaskan groundfish fisheries – walleye pollock, Pacific cod, rockfishes and Atka mackerel – as a prime example of how managers and fishermen are working together to keep fish harvest rates at sustainable levels while reducing risks to other species in the ecosystem, including marine mammals, juvenile fish and other fish species not being targeted.
The report also describes how closed areas and other management of fishing areas – called place-based management – are helping to restore ecosystems. By closing several areas in the Northeast off New England, depleted groundfish stocks are being rebuilt while allowing some sustainable fishing for rebuilt populations of sea scallops. The West Coast is in the forefront of using place-based management through a network of marine conservation areas that have been established to protect habitat and assist in the rebuilding of depleted groundfish populations. –Marine Conservation Alliance

Salmon Product Development Tax Credit Heading Toward Extension

By Margaret Bauman

Legislation that would extend a salmon product development tax credit through 2015 was moving through the Alaska Legislature in final days of the current session, with passage anticipated.
The measure cleared the House on April 7 and moved to the Senate Finance Committee.
“Chances are close to 100 percent of passing,” said Pete Ecklund, an aide to House Finance Committee Vice-Chair Bill Thomas, R-Haines, who initially sponsored House Bill 344.
The current law expires on December 31, 2011. Extending the law for four years would allow processors ample time to continue long-range investment planning, Thomas noted in his sponsor’s statement.
If approved by the Senate, the measure would take effect in 90 days.
According to staff in the legislative information office, the state anticipates a decrease of $2.4 million annually in fisheries business taxes for each additional year that the credit is extended.
The program allows applicants to claim a credit on their annual fisheries business tax for 50 percent of purchase costs of eligible equipment. The bill adds ice making machines to the list, which already includes equipment used for filleting, skimming, portioning, mincing, forming, extruding, stuffing, injecting, mixing, marinating, preserving, drying, smoking, brining, packaging, blast freezing or pin bone removal.
Thomas noted in his sponsor’s statement that the House Fisheries and Finance Committees added ice machines to the list of investments that qualify for the tax credit. “Having a top quality base product delivered to processors is a prerequisite to further value adding processing of salmon,” Thomas said.
“Alaska's salmon industry is beginning to recover from years of low values caused by competition from fish farming, the recent economic depression, changes in the marketplace, and increasing labor and energy costs,” he said. “Extending the tax credit beyond its current sunset date of Dec. 31, 2011 will allow the industry to continue the progress that is being made in developing and producing salmon products that will keep Alaska's fisheries competitive in world markets. “
Thomas noted that the salmon product development tax credit was a key recommendation of the Joint Legislative Salmon Industry Task Force.
“First enacted in 2003, the credit was part of an effort by Alaska's elected leaders and the fishing industry to develop innovative value-added salmon products. Since then it has stimulated some important changes in Alaska's commercial fishing industry.
“New processing equipment eligible for the tax credit enables businesses to offer a more diverse complement of Alaska salmon products which helps increase overall customer acceptance. Modern equipment also helps increase efficiency of processing operations and improves output, resulting in improved quality. Increased investment in Alaskan equipment encourages in-state processing of our salmon resource which is critical to job creation and retention in fishing communities,” Thomas wrote.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Fish Board Appointee Faces Cook Inlet Vote Before Confirmation

By Bob Tkacz

Unlike recent Board of Fisheries appointees from Interior Alaska, Gov. Sean Parnell's first pick from the region, Michael E. Smith, has years of public policy experience with federal and international fishery management and state legislature. Whether he will apply his knowledge to state fisheries issues for more than a few months depends on a legislative confirmation vote he will face next year after passing through one of the toughest gauntlet in Alaska fish politics: a session on Cook Inlet salmon.
Smith was named to the board on April 23 to replace Janet Woods, the Sarah Palin appointee who quit on March 26. Both are Fairbanks residents. Even in the compressed time frame at the end of this year's legislative session it appears that Parnell could easily have named Smith to the seat in time for a previously scheduled confirmation vote on April 9 or the end of the session on April 18.
Years ago the legislature moved the start date for a three-year Fish Board term from March to July 1 specifically to give appointees the chance to win confirmation based on their experience and knowledge and before they started angering lawmakers' constituents with their votes on allocation proposals.
Gov. Parnell, who never interviewed Smith before the formal appointment, gave up that safeguard with his more measured approach to the appointment.
"We opened it up for other Alaskans (to apply). A decision was made. It didn't make the deadline," said Sharon Leighow, Parnell's press secretary.
State law requires a governor to name, by April 1, board members for terms starting on July 1 of a given year. This year two seats were available and Parnell announced the appointments of Claude Webster, the current board chairman, and new member Tom Kluberton, a Talkeetna lodge owner on April 1.
A governor gets 30 days to replace a board member who leaves in mid-term, but after Woods' March 26 departure many including Fish Board executive director Jim Marcotte expected three names to be announced on April 1.
Smith is a known factor in state fisheries management, but has been passed over for previous board terms. He first applied for a seat during the Murkowski Administration and last in 2009 when Palin chose Woods. Despite giving himself the full 30 days to replace Woods, neither Parnell nor fisheries advisor Cora Campbell talked to Smith who said the only executive office staffer he met was Jason Hooley, director of the Office of Boards and Commissions.
"The director of Office of Boards and Commissions is charged with finding the right candidate. It's up to the governor to make the ultimate decision," Leighow said.
If the legislature follows its normal process it will vote on Smith's confirmation next April, about a month after the Feb. 20-March 5 Fish Board meeting on Cook Inlet salmon and other finfish issues.
"That's not one I particularly am looking forward to in its complexity and conflicts, but I don't think there are going to be any surprises," Smith said when asked, April 29, how he'll approach that session. He added that his background in salmon management is no secret.
"I've been an advocate in the past. I'm well aware enough that I need to put those feelings aside and come to the board in an impartial manner. People know where I come from and I don't think there's any surprise that I have been doing the last ten years," Smith said.
Since 2002, Smith, 52, has been the director of subsistence resources for the Tanana Chiefs Conference, but also worked for the organization from 1985 to '89 as a local government specialist. From '89 to 1994 he was a legislative aid to Sens. Lyman Hoffman and John Binkley and Rep. Kay Wallis. He is a member of the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council's Bering Sea Bycatch Working Group" and the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim Escapement Goal Review Committee."
Smith is also involved in the Yukon River annex of the Pacific Salmon Treaty and appears to be on the losing end of a bureaucratic controversy. The TCC has a permanent seat on the Joint Technical Committee, the science advisory committee for the Yukon River Panel, which is the 11-member US/Canadian group that negotiates salmon allocations.
Smith is also one of eight "advisers" to the panel. Advisers represent residents of Alaskan villages on the Yukon but do not vote on decisions. There are no Canadian advisers. Unwritten policy of the Yukon Panel bans advisors from attending JTC meetings to avoid giving individuals an information advantage, but Smith has been using the TCC's seat on the JTC to get through the door, according to Craig Fleener, US co-chair of the Yukon Panel.
"If an individual can go to the science side he or she could take political muscle into there or science muscle into the other (Panel) meeting," Fleener said.
He also acknowledged that because the Yukon Panel has not yet adopted formal bylaws Smith's unique position allows him to attend both sessions. Rules, supported by the US and Canada now being written will keep Smith out of one meeting or the other, but it is not clear whether he will continue in any capacity in the treaty process while serving on the Fish Board.
Smith said he was asked to leave the JTC meeting during the March 2-4 treaty session but declined. "There was some question as to whether or not I could go and a question as to who could make that decision and then there was a huge argument over it between me and staff," Smith said.
Smith is a subsistence harvester on the Yukon River and has crewed on its commercial fishery but never owned his own permit. His work for the TCC over the past three years has included a range of chinook stock enumeration projects on the Koyukuk and Good Pasture Rivers. "I have a pretty good understanding of how all that data collection works. It can get extremely complex at times," he said.
Smith said his life in Interior villages since moving to Alaska in 1961 and the decline in Interior River salmon stocks that last year forced closures of subsistence fisheries motivated him to seek a board seat. "Up there we had commercial activity but that has gone away until it's virtually nonexistent as well," he added.
Smith also acknowledged the concerns of sport harvesters. "One of the things I have is an understanding of where the sports guys are coming from. I'm a subsistence advocate but that's also a personal use advocate," he said.

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