Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Salmon Bounce Back, Season Prospects Good Fishermen having mixed results so far

By Terry Dillman

The 2012 commercial salmon season has weighed anchor, and prospects look good along the Washington, Oregon and California coasts.

Nancy Fitzpatrick, executive director of the Oregon Salmon Commission, said she has heard that fishermen venturing out between bouts of poor weather are “doing well,” particularly out of Newport, but also from Coos Bay. She’s “not hearing much” from the south coast, but fishermen out of Astoria “are landing some fish.”

In mid-April, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission and the California Department of Fish and Game set the 2012 ocean fishing season for salmon for their respective state’s territorial waters extending three miles from the shoreline. They mirror regulations adopted by the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) the first week of April.

Salmon fisheries in California and Oregon looked particularly promising, due primarily to good river conditions, and excellent ocean conditions, for salmon. Sacramento, Klamath, and Rogue River Chinook returns are expected to be significantly higher than during the past several years, and Oregon Coast coho also have a strong forecast; however, fishery alternatives are necessarily constrained to protect Endangered Species Act-listed Sacramento River winter Chinook and Columbia River coho stocks. North of Cape Falcon, returns look similar to last year.

Idled for most of the past six years, Oregon’s commercial salmon fishermen face the possibility of a much-improved 2012 salmon season.

Encouraged by predictions of plentiful overall salmon returns, the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) on Wednesday announced three alternatives for managing salmon fisheries. The PFMC recommends management measures for fisheries off the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California. Officials say salmon fisheries in Oregon and California “look particularly promising,” thanks to good river conditions and excellent ocean conditions for salmon.

Fishery managers expect chinook returns in the Sacramento, Klamath and Rogue rivers at “significantly higher” levels than the past several years, and the Oregon coast coho forecast is also strong.

There is a caveat: fishery alternatives are, they noted, “necessarily constrained” to protect Sacramento river chinook and Columbia river coho stocks on the endangered species list. Still, Dan Woldford, PFMC chairman, noted the “nice rebound for California salmon populations and the prospect of good fishing in 2012.”

To the North
Fisheries north of Cape Falcon are expected to emulate last season, with an Oregon coho forecast of 632,700 fish – about equal to 2011. Although Columbia River hatchery coho returns were bigger than expected in 2011, fishery managers say they were still below average. Meanwhile, Columbia River chinook returns were generally lower than expected last year, but above historical averages.

Biologists anticipate about 742,5000 summer and fall chinook to return to the Columbia River compared to last year’s actual return of 684,400. The 2012 forecasts for the river’s tule chinook are “mixed, but overall above average.” Hatchery coho forecasts are slightly lower than 2011, while those for Oregon coastal natural coho is similar to last year’s actual return and “the highest forecast since 1996.”

Washington coast coho forecasts are “generally higher” than 2011, but generally lower for Puget Sound.

The ocean sport fishery alternatives north of Cape Falcon in Oregon and off the Washington coast offer seasons akin to last year, with mark-selective coho quotas ranging from 54,600 to 71,400 (2011 quote of marked coho was 67,200) starting in late June and lasting into September. Chinook quotas are 35,500 to 51,500 (compared to last year’s quota of 64,600). Two alternatives feature a mark-selective chinook fishery in June.

Commercial salmon fishery alternatives north of Cape Falcon feature traditional Chinook seasons between May and September.

Quotas for all areas and times range from 32,500 to 47,500 – higher than the 2011 quota of 30,900. Marked coho quotas are 10,400 to 13,600, compared to last year’s 12,800.

Chinook and coho quotas for tribal ocean fishery alternatives are 40,000 to 55,000. Last year’s quotas were 41,000 and 42,000, respectively.

To the South
“Biologists are forecasting four times more salmon than last year in the Klamath River, and an astounding 15 times more than in 2006,” noted Jennifer Gilden, PFMC’s communications officer.
Biologists estimate the ocean salmon population at 1.6 million adult Klamath River fall chinook, well above last year’s 371,100. That estimate derives mainly from the 85,840 two-year-old salmon (jacks) that returned to the river in 2011. “This is the highest of jacks to return since at least 1978, when recordkeeping began,” Gilden added.

Sacramento River stocks also show improvement, with a “conservative” forecast of 819,400 fall chinook, up from last year’s 729,000. Biologists expect at least 436,000 adult spawners in the river system. The 2012 annual catch limit is at least 245,820 spawners.

“These returns are particularly important when seen in the context of the last several years,” noted Gilden. “Klamath and Sacramento stocks drive ocean fishing seasons off California and Oregon.”

On the Money
Despite the optimism, commercial fishermen might not expect a silver lining in the black cloud that has hung over them for the past several seasons as they watched their livelihoods shrink to almost nil.
After a poor 2005 season, a federally-declared disaster in 2006, a well-below-average catch in 2007, another federally-declared disaster in 2008, a basically non-existent 2009 season, a somewhat improved, yet quite limited season in 2010, and a disappointing 2011, when fish were scarce, despite healthy forecasts.

“Commercial fishermen have noted that because of the series of poor years, much of the capacity to fish commercially – especially in California – has been lost,” Gilden stated.

But the best news centers on price, which Fitzpatrick deemed as “outstanding” at $6 to $7 per pound to the vessel. “Those who are going out there and are hard-charging are doing well,” she said. Still others are taking advantage of an ongoing research project, trolling for salmon and science simultaneously, gleaning data that could prevent the complete closures of salmon fishing that almost gutted the fishery itself during the past few years. The Cooperative Research on Oregon Ocean Salmon (CROOS) project is a Coastal Oregon Marine Experiment Station (COMES) effort based at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport.

CROOS Control
This major salmon project re-launched in May 2010 after two years of a commercial fishing shutdown is literally paying dividends in Oregon fishing communities, hooking some much-needed income for participating fishermen, and the coastal communities where they live and work. Federal disaster relief money, federal appropriations, and Saltonstall-Kennedy grants help provide the funding.

Started in 2006, the project originally focused on Oregon ‘s ocean salmon to determine where fish from specific rivers travel in the ocean, then switched to tuna as closures in 2008 and 2009 put a drag on the effort. It returned to salmon in 2010 and 2011 with full sampling seasons and a program expansion.

In 2010, Oregon State University (OSU) researchers worked with colleagues in Washington and California, along with 200 commercial salmon fishermen (128 of them in Oregon). Project leaders say Oregon fishermen collected more than 4,500 samples.

The collaborative effort unites state-of-the-art science with traditional salmon fishing know-how.
The fishermen function as ocean researchers, collecting and recording at-sea data during salmon fishing operations, and clipping fin samples that scientists use for genetic testing. As they catch salmon, the fishermen also log the time and location using global positioning system (GPS) technology, and enter the data through the Pacific FishTrax website ( Pacific FishTrax began last year as a joint venture involving OSU, the Community Seafood Initiative (CSI), and long-time Oregon fishermen to help alleviate growing consumer concerns about food safety, quality and origins, and to allow fishermen to market a high-quality product at high-end prices.
COMES Superintendent Gil Sylvia called the effort “a great partnership between scientists and the fishing community.”

The project keeps many fishermen on the water, and the data they contribute is leading to new insights about salmon migration and behavior.

Fitzpatrick said they have 75 vessels under contract along the coast, with vessels available in Oregon, California and Washington.

“The fishermen are sharing the data voluntarily because they want to improve the science and enhance the sustainability of the resource,” Sylvia said, noting that the project provides “innovative science” leading to real-time data that “more accurately reflects reality” for fisheries management, rather than using years-old information to make decisions.

The combination of scientific research and public outreach is designed to simultaneously get the word out about Oregon’s commercial fisheries, and strengthen wild fish runs, including salmon.

Sylvia said most of the money involved goes to fishermen, the project has “a proven track record” of creating and maintaining jobs on coastal communities, could help avoid full-scale salmon closures, and is a coast-wide collaborative approach to salmon management. By incorporating collaborative research efforts into everyday fishing operations, the project takes advantage of the knowledge and experience fishermen offer, while simultaneously improving fisheries science and management.
Using genetic analysis, scientists say they can tell in near real-time the river basin from which the salmon originated, allowing managers to know whether or not the stock is considered weak under annually derived regulations. Ultimately, fisheries managers say they want to use this information in combination with other biological and oceanographic information the fishermen collect, to move the fishermen to areas of healthy stock during the season. Improved access to healthy stocks would allow commercial salmon fishermen to stay on the water and avoid the full-scale fishing closures that hurt everyone – harvesters, seafood processors, and the rural coastal communities that depend on fishing for at least part of their livelihoods.

Sampling for the 2012 season began May 1.

Fitzpatrick said the project has already produced five years of fine-scale fish distribution data and fishing effort to support long-term ecosystem-based fisheries science and management. The primary objective, she noted, is “to prevent the kind of coast-wide fishing closures that have devastated the fishery, and enhance the economic benefits to the fishery and coastal communities that depend on it.”

Terry Dillman can be reached at

Bering Sea Research Tells of Impact of Changing Ecosystem on Fisheries

A special issue of the journal Deep Sea Research II available online documents how Bering Sea fish, birds and marine mammals are changing how they eat, bear their young and make their homes in response to changes in sea ice extent and duration. The work represents newly published findings from a partnership between the NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center, the Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean at the University of Washington, and several other academic and federal partners.

Because Alaska waters host some of the most commercially valuable US fisheries, scientists hope that understanding the role natural and human-influenced variations in temperature, nutrients, sea ice and other factors play in the ecosystem will enable better predictions of climate impacts that affect the economy and people of the region.

Measurements made during the six-year NOAA study show a potential impact of climate change on species ranging from zooplankton to whales living on the Bering Sea shelf. The study projects warming of southern shelf waters will limit the distribution of Arctic species such as snow crab, while the distribution and abundance of whales will change as their food source moves.

An electronic fish finder on an icebreaker was used to provide the first comprehensive observation of fish in the ice-covered portion of the Bering Sea. Researchers concluded that each winter, sea ice and the cold water that comes with it force fish southeastward, out of their summer habitat. Using similar electronic fish finders mounted on NOAA Fisheries survey vessels, researchers documented a recent increase in krill, which Pollock eat, that coincided with the end of a warm period and the start of a cold period in the eastern Bering Sea.

Articles must be purchased individually online from the publication.

Togiak Herring Fishery Coming Up Short

The Togiak sac roe herring fishery, with an allowable harvest this year of 21,622 tons of herring, is so far coming up short, due to a combination of factors, from wet and windy weather in Southwest Alaska to early spawn and allocation issues.

Wind is a major issue for the gillnet fleet. If winds get up to 20-25 knots or more, it’s too dangerous for the gillnetters to fish, said Tim Sands, area management biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game at Dillingham. 

The fishery is managed for 70 percent of the catch to be taken by the seine fleet and 30 percent by gillnetters, with the harvest being processed by Icicle Seafoods, Trident Seafoods, Yardarm Knot Fisheries and North Pacific Seafoods.

The seine fleet harvested 13,084 tons of herring, or 86.4 percent of its allocation, before its fishing period ended on the evening of May 28. 

The gillnetters by then had caught 2,870 tons of herring, or 44.2 percent of their allocation.
“The gillnetters are still out there,” Sands said. “We will go into June a little bit, so they can get closer to their quota.”

The Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery in Southeast Alaska closed early on April 12, with a harvest of 13,534 tons or 47 percent of the season’s guideline harvest level of 28,829 tons. State biologists said the decision to close the fishery was based on the completion of major spawning in Sitka Sound and vessel and aerial surveys that failed to identify a biomass of pre-spawning herring in the area at that time.

Copper River Salmon Harvest Slows in Fourth Opener

Harvests of salmon Alaska’s famed Copper River have reached more than 727,000 sockeye salmon and 4,100 Chinook salmon, but slowed considerably in the 36 hour opener, the fourth of the season, which ended on May 29.

Windy, rainy conditions notwithstanding, some 350 drift gillnetters out on the grounds of the Copper River fishery were reportedly in good spirits, and one processor, speaking on condition of anonymity, said prices for the red salmon would likely rise because of a significant slowdown in the harvest in the latest opener.

The harvest total was still being calculated today, but the preliminary estimate was that about 1,000 kings and about 100,000 reds were netted in the fourth quarter.

State area gillnet manager Jeremy Botz said the sockeyes this year are averaging close to 6.5 pounds, compared with the usual weight of just under 6 pounds, while the Chinooks are coming in at their usual average weight of about 19 pounds.

Commercial harvesters caught 978 kings and 156,059 reds in the first period, 1,261 kings and 217,900 reds in the second period, and 905 kings and 253,053 reds in the third period, for a total of 5,467 kings and 451,707 reds.

Marketplace demand remained high, with the popular downtown Anchorage retailer Tenth and M Seafoods reporting heavy sales of whole kings and whole reds at $21.95 a pound and $7.50 a pound respectively during the Memorial Day holiday weekend, as well as king fillets at $29.95 a pound and red fillets at $9.95 a pound.

Restaurant entrées brought prices of $29.95 for sockeye and $39.95 for king salmon entrees at the popular Anchorage restaurant Orso.

At Seattle’s Pike Place Fish Market, whole fresh Copper River kings were $29.95 a pound, and fillets were priced at $44.99 a pound. Fresh Copper River sockeyes were $59.95 per fish and $21.99 for fillets.

Bristol Bay Fishermen Have New Marketing Website

While most of the news on wild Alaska salmon is focused for now on the famed Copper River sockeye and king salmon, hundreds of harvesters are preparing for the Bristol Bay sockeye salmon fishery opening, which opens officially on June 1.

The forecast for this year’s Bristol Bay sockeye salmon run is about 32.3 million fish, with some 21.7 million fish potentially available for harvest.

The Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association is wasting no time getting the word out to wild Alaska salmon aficionados about the high quality and good taste of their product.

The BBRSDA has launched a colorful new website,, featuring information on the world’s largest sockeye salmon run, sustainability issues, recipes, nutritional value and stories from the Bristol Bay fish harvesters.

There are detailed instructions, with photos for preparing sockeye salmon strips, sockeye strip tacos, smoke sockeye salmon ball spreads, seared salmon with sesame vinaigrette, party platters, party sliders, sockeye caviar canapés, salmon chowder and more. The collection includes a barbecued plank sockeye salmon recipe from David Harsilla, president of the Alaska Independent Fishermen’s Marketing Association, and a veteran Bristol Bay fisherman.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game reminds the commercial fleet that during the season, Bristol Bay salmon announcements are broadcast on marine VHF Channel 07A and 2509 MHz SSB. Current fishing announcements are aired on local radio stations – KAKN and KDLG. Regular announcement times that may be utilized are 9:00 a.m., 12:00 noon, 3:00 p.m., 6:00 p.m., and 8:00 p.m., unless otherwise stated. Information is also available via telephone; for east side fisheries (Naknek-Kvichak, Egegik, and Ugashik), dial 246-INFO (4636), for west side fisheries (Nushagak and Togiak) dial 842-5226. The direct line from the Dillingham boat harbor will be operational in late April and is located on the west end of the harbormaster's house.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Safe Fishing is Smart Fishing

In the wake of the Coast Guard Authorization Act, demand for safety training is skyrocketing
By Kathy A. Smith

Progressive and up-to-date safety training and equipment for commercial fishermen is critical to this most dangerous of sea-going careers. And the organizations that provide lifesaving products and services to the industry are meeting a wide variety of needs across the country.

“Our demand for commercial fishermen training is skyrocketing,” says Rick Petersen, Training Coordinator for the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association (AMSEA), a non-profit corporation that provides safety training to the commercial fishing industry as well as recreational boaters, agency personnel and school children. “It definitely has something to do with regulation changes.”

The new Coast Guard Authorization Act, which became law in October 2010, has outlined pending training regulations for commercial fishermen but it is not yet known when those regulations will come into effect. “The whole fishing industry is confused about it because it’s a law but not a written regulation that is enforceable yet, and people don’t quite know what the specific regulations are going to require,” says Jerry Dzugan, AMSEA’s Executive Director.

Petersen explains: “People are worried. For instance, in California, a lot of fishermen have heard a rumor that this law was going to be enacted on August 1st, but it’s not. They are worried that they won’t be able to make a living unless they get this training, so we did a huge push in California for training.” “There will be a phase-in period,” adds Dzugan. “There is a document on our website with both the current and future training requirements listed.”

AMSEA has taught safety training courses to fishermen around the United States for more than 25 years, and also run their acclaimed train-the-trainer course called Marine Safety Instructor Training. “We have instructors working from Alaska to American Samoa, Washington, California, the entire Gulf of Mexico, and from Florida to Maine,” says Petersen.

“We’ve doubled the number of drill conductors over last year,” adds Dzugan. “In fact, we’re getting classes with too many people in them.” Dzugan says that in order to meet present and future training requirements, there needs to be a lot more training infrastructure in the industry. “Ideally, we’d have a port-based instructor network around the US where people with a fishing background would teach their peers, and that way, the training is relevant to their fisheries and affordable and accessible because it’s local.”

Dzugan points out that though there has been a lot of improvement in survivability of vessel disasters because of survival equipment and training, there has been very little improvement in falls overboard. According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), 31 percent of the fatalities in Alaska in the past 10 years were falls overboard. “It actually runs between 25 and 50 percent, depending on the part of the country. The Gulf of Mexico has the highest number of man overboards. In fact, in the 70s and 80s, it would be typical to hear about five or six vessels lost with all hands. Now just having one vessel lost with all hands is a rather unique experience, maybe one a year.”

He notes that stability (how the shifting of weights and actions of moments affect the safety of vessels) is the cause of 50 percent of fatalities, so AMSEA is spending more time on this issue, along with damage control. “We’re offering those classes now although it’s not required yet.”

As part of AMSEA’s safety training, they’ve devised a quick checklist called Seven Steps to Survival. 
  1. Recognition: recognize you’ve got a problem.
  2. Inventory: what can help you, what can hurt you? 
  3. Shelter: protect yourself from the elements.  
  4. Signals: attract attention and ask for help.  
  5. Water. 
  6. Food. 
  7. Play: positive mental attitude, keeping spirits up and fighting depression.
They also emphasize that in an emergency, staying with the boat is critical. Dzugan reports that last summer a fishing vessel working out of Yakutat, Alaska capsized crossing a river bar in good weather. There were three men aboard; one had recently taken AMSEA’s training. He stayed with the boat and survived while the other two men went off swimming and subsequently perished.

“Survival starts with staying onboard your vessel, keeping her upright and afloat and not cutting corners that increase risk,” say Julie Keim of Compass Courses in Edmonds, Washington. “With 85% of maritime incidents and injuries caused by human error, minimizing that is key.”

“We like to focus on fatigue management, safety equipment familiarization, operational equipment familiarizing and drill instructor training in many of our courses,” she says. “And all Compass Courses classes are exportable. We have delivered classes in many locations throughout the US stretching from Tampa, Florida to Alaska. We’ve even had the pleasure of delivering classes to the US Virgin Islands.”
Keim says she’s seeing an overall increase in a safety culture, that people understand it has real value and deserves focus, study and practice, noting that today’s fishermen and owners realize that safety also increases their bottom line. Additionally, she says crewmembers are more aware than ever about licensing and documentation opportunities due to the sweeping use of the Internet. For instance, she notes that their sea time, together with Compass Courses’ 4-day Lifeboatman (PSC) class and one-week AB class, along with their USCG application, enables fishermen to get their AB document. Compass Courses also delivers a two-week 100-ton class licence course that is in lieu of exam, with the US Coast Guard testing done right in the classroom.

Karen Conrad, Executive Director of the Seattle-based North Pacific Fishing Vessel Owners’ Association (NPFVOA) says: “We’ve trained more than 40,000 people to date and what I’ve noticed is every year, we’ve increased the number of people we’ve been training. That to me is a good thing.”

She says the influx comes from both pending regulation changes as well as wake-up calls. “When a catastrophic incident occurs, people get jolted into taking safety more seriously. When a vessel capsizes, people in the industry start thinking what would they do if they had to get 120 people from the ship into the water? How would they do that?”

NPFVOA has been dedicated to providing safety training courses for commercial fishermen since 1985. Among their 13 USCG-approved courses, their Medical Emergencies at Sea course is specifically designed for the industry. Based on the Red Cross CPR/First Aid curriculum, it also covers medical evacuations, hypothermia and other items specific to the maritime industry. NPFVOA also offers OSHA safety courses for crew onboard processing trawlers.

Additionally, the organization provides various non-Coast Guard certified courses such as in-the-water survival training. Conrad states: “Basically, we take anyone like processors and run them through a two-hour program where they put on the immersion suit, learn what to do in case of an emergency, and how to jump off the ship. They actually jump into the pool off a diving board and learn how to huddle up, keep together, and enter a liferaft.”

Teaching safety training that is transferable to a company’s vessel is paramount. “The first thing we do is assess the class level,” says Jon Kjaerulff, Director of Fremont Maritime in Seattle that provides training on preparing for fire, flooding, abandon ship, man overboard emergencies, and more. “We need to know if anyone has ever had any real-life emergencies, what kind of vessels they’re on, what kind of survival gear they have, how far offshore they work, how big their crew is, etc. For example, there is a really big difference in how you would train a classroom full of guys who work a four-man crew on a Bristol Bay gillnetter which is rarely more than three miles from shore as opposed to a factory trawler or processing barge that might have over 100 people on it, working hundreds of miles from shore.”

Using an up-to-date Station Bill is also critical he says. “We talk about the importance of it because it is the foundation of their response plan.” He also points out that the Station Bill may need updating for different times of the year. “Some fishing boats during one season might have four people on and at other times of the year, they might have eight,” he adds. “Making sure the Station Bill takes all of that into consideration and that the people are able to fulfill their responsibilities is very important.”

Fremont’s one and two-day survival classes incorporate many of the above classroom-taught skills and also put participants through their paces on the water. “We have them don immersion suits and tell them their first responsibility is to make sure it’s in operable condition,” explains Kjaerulff. “Then we have them put the suit back in the bag, set it up as if they are going to use it to abandon the vessel, then we launch a liferaft and go through the liferaft’s features,” he says, referring to the fact that some have the entry way on the side, some have two entry ways, and that those details can be significant in a life and death situation.

Next, a practical drill is carried out. Students put their immersion suits on, get into the water and swim 50 to 60 feet, and then have to right an upside down liferaft, climb in, get back out and swim over to a rescue boat. Kjaerulff does the in-water training in a harbor in order to make it as realistic as possible. “The act of swimming around in the harbor, seeing boats around them, getting the perspective of what it would feel like to do this for real is crucial. Typically even in a very controlled situation, participants still have problems staying together or communicating with each other. And we can say, ‘look, if you had this kind of problem on a nice day, with no seas and plenty of visibility, imagine what it could be like in other circumstances.’”
And he emphasizes that fishermen need to know what brand of immersion suit they have because each of them has a little different design, and there have been fatalities documented where someone died when most of the crew survived simply because that person had the wrong size suit. “It is the captain’s responsibility to make sure that there is a suit that fits everyone onboard.”

“The US Coast Guard recommends that survival suits are pressure tested,” says Shawn Simmons, owner of Marine Safety Services (MSS) in Seattle, a company that sells and services marine safety equipment and devices. “We’re seeing survival suits that have never been pressure tested for 10 plus years, and they look great, but when you pressure test them, you can find little leaks.” Simmons explains that different people may wear the same suits at different times during drills, and that suits stored in bags can deteriorate in ways that are not immediately recognizable to the naked eye.

“An older immersion suit is just like an old tire. They sit there, cracks are created, then leaks. In a pressure test, you’re actually seeing if all the seams and zippers are fully intact,” he says. “There are also pressure relief valves on the feet. Once you jump in the water, you have all that air that’s trapped in your survival suit. It actually purges the air out so it has somewhere to go and then it sticks to your body. Making sure those valves work properly is important, too.”

Guardian liferafts are one of MSS’ most popular items. Made by SSPI, the Guardian raft has a double floor, a double canopy, a non-puncture boarding ramp, zipper doors, an LED strobe light that blinks on the exterior as well as an internal LED light. “The old school lighting system wasn’t the greatest, whereas this blinking strobe light is a lot more visible. And that’s really important when it’s 2 o’clock in the morning with 30-foot waves and you’re trying to see something,” Simmons says. Liferafts for 10 people and below have one entryway and portholes enough for all. For 10 people and above, there are dual entryways.

Simmons is also finding a lot of customer demand in EPIRBs with internal GPS. “When an internal GPS goes off, it keeps updating and pinpointing the location within a hundred feet, which is much better than a standard unit.”

DBC Marine Safety Systems Ltd. carries a variety of liferafts and rescue boats. In business for more than 30 years, they manufacture their own brand at their Richmond, BC-based facility and also distribute Zodiac Liferafts and SOLAS-approved boats to commercial fishing clients across North America. Sales Manager Mark Hansen says that he sees the marine industry overall putting more emphasis on safety, but he also knows there are still some commercial fishermen who don’t put liferafts on their boats. “It’s an unfortunate reality.”

A future change in extending the servicing interval for liferafts is coming, according to Hansen. “Right now, liferafts have to be serviced on an annual basis, which can be costly, especially to those who work in remote areas, because of the cost of shipping the liferaft away to be serviced.” he says. “When the Coast Guard makes the certification change – and we don’t know when that will be yet – this product will allow servicing intervals to be extended to two and a half years.”

Rain gear is another critical piece of must-have safety equipment. A relatively new rain gear product for commercial fishermen has been gaining attention. The Regatta Fisherman’s Oilskins, distributed by Seattle-based Global Marine Safety (GMS), have the traditional style bibs and a jacket, but the unique difference is the bibs have flotation built into the chest and back.

This product, designed by fishermen for fishermen, has been on the global market for about six years and was introduced to the US market back in 2009 by GMS. Owner Mike Brockmann says it has been a challenge to get fishermen to try something new but the industry is really drawn to the safety feature of the product. The Fisherman’s Oilskins were involved in a 2009 PFD study conducted by NIOSH and received high performance marks from a number of fishing groups, and most specifically the Bristol Bay gillnetters.
“The whole idea of building the flotation into the rain gear that they wear on a daily basis is pretty novel,” he explains. “Wearing anything new takes getting used to, but once we get fishermen into the bibs with flotation, they love it. And the fishermen’s wives love it, too. They think it’s a fantastic idea because they know their husbands are wearing their Regatta bibs, so they’ve essentially got their lifejacket on.”

GMS also carries a line of commercial-grade jackets like the parka-length Harbor Float jacket which has tape-sealed seams that make it waterproof, and the closed cell foam flotation is quilted into the lining of the jacket, making it easier to wear than the traditional bulkier float jackets. “A lot of fishing captains and dock workers like them because not only does it float you, it’s comfortable and keeps you warm and dry,” says Brockmann. “Wearing a product like this, whether it’s a Regatta product or any safety product, it’s smart fishing. If you fish smart, you fish longer. If we can get fishermen and women into wearing safety gear while they’re working, we’re going to have a lot fewer casualties, and ultimately that’s our goal.”

American Seafoods Company’s safety culture is strongly in place. “Our goal is to create the safest possible work environment for our employees and have all of our workers confident in their ability to address and correctly respond to any threat to personal safety on board our vessels,” says R. Alan Davis, Safety and Compliance Manager.

The Seattle-headquartered company believes in continuous safety training, the execution of effective up-to-date safety plans, an open door approach to hearing employee’s safety concerns, and correctly implementing safety policies that meet or exceed regulations. Davis says last October, new changes were made to the Lockout Tags PLUS regulations, which have expanded requirements for the control of hazardous energy such as electricity, fuel and hydraulic pressures. “These include important safeguards to prevent accidental ‘start-up’ of powered machinery where workers are in positions where they could be harmed.”

Additionally, he notes that the commercial fishing sector of the industry has developed several safety initiatives that have made their way into regulatory requirements. “We are pleased that our sector could provide this sort of ‘working laboratory’ for the development of safety equipment and practices that have been more broadly implemented across the maritime industry.”

It’s clear that safety training and equipment is a vital part of the commercial fishing industry, and the better prepared workers are, the better the outcome will be, should disaster strike. “All decisions are made in the wheelhouse,” adds Dzugan. “So the better you can train that person in the wheelhouse to make better decisions, the less risk there is to all.”

Reactions Keep Coming on Bristol Bay Watershed Draft Report

A US Environmental Protection Agency draft assessment of the Bristol Bay watershed, which concludes that large-scale mining operations would harm wild salmon habitat, is continuing to get a cross-section of praise and criticism.

While the EPA says the 339-page document is focused on a hypothetical mining scenario using available public documents, its focus is clearly on evaluating what might happen if a large-scale mine, such as the Pebble mine in the exploration phase at the headwaters of Bristol Bay, is developed. 

A brief excerpt from the report’s abstract says, “Based on this mine scenario, we conclude that, at a minimum, mining at this scale would cause the loss of spawning habitat for multiple species of anadromous and resident fish.”

The study was undertaken at the request of tribal groups, environmentalists and several entities engaged in the commercial salmon fishery, which produce nearly half of the world’s sockeye salmon. They want the EPA to invoke a section of the Clean Water Act to protect fishing habitat.

On the other side, the Pebble Partnership, owned by Northern Dynasty Minerals of Vancouver, British Columbia, and Anglo American plc, of London, has found allies in the state of Alaska and others, including a group called Truth About Pebble, who feel the mine should proceed to permitting. On May 15 the company announced plans to spend some $107 million of Anglo American’s money this year to prepare the project for permitting by year’s end. 

Pebble Partnership CEO John Shively issued a statement expressing concern that the EPA “may use this rushed process as the basis for an unprecedented regulatory action against the Pebble Project… Until we complete our work and submit an application under NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) the EPA’s work as it relates to our project is based entirely on speculation,” he said.

The project has the support of a nonprofit citizens’ organization called Truth About Pebble, whose incorporators include Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan.

The eclectic group of opponents of the mine range from commercial and sport fishing groups nationwide to Alaska Native tribal groups and environmental organizations, including the National Parks Conservation Association.

“The science exists now to show that the proposed Pebble mine does not fit with a sustainable future for Bristol Bay, and should not be allowed to proceed,” said Jason Metrokin, president and chief executive officer of the Bristol Bay Native Corp.

Congress is also weighing in.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-WA, called the draft document an important step toward protecting wild Bristol Bay salmon and the thousands of Washington state jobs that rely on them.
Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, meanwhile issued a statement saying he remains opposed to any preemptive decision on the mine.

The draft document can be downloaded at

ASMI Board Approves $21.3 Million Budget

Board members of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute this past week approved a $21.3 million budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, and plan to spend several million of that money on increased consumer advertising. Last year’s budget was $19.8 million.

Ray Riutta, executive director of ASMI, said the board wanted to add the consumer advertising component that ASMI hasn’t had in several years.

ASMI has also been busy talking with buyers about a decision of 27 Alaska salmon processing companies to withdraw support from the Marine Stewardship Council program for certification of sustainable fisheries. Instead they are choosing certification through Global Trust, an Irish firm with which ASMI has contracted.

Riutta said ASMI has been meeting with European buyers on a one on one basis to explain that the responsible fisheries management program with Global Trust is a very robust certification program.

Riutta said the decision of the Purse Seine Vessel Owners Association to take over as the client for MSC certification of Alaska salmon has “created a significant amount of confusion in the marketplace about how much product will be available in calendar year 2013,” when the current MSC certification of Alaska salmon fisheries will no longer be valid.

Meanwhile the 27 Alaska processors this week reaffirmed their intent to withdraw support from MSC salmon certification.

“While we recognize that PSVOA has the right to become the client for MSC salmon, it should not be construed that we have changed our minds about this decision,” they said, adding their full support of FAO-based Responsible Fisheries Management certification that was developed for the industry by ASMI and the state of Alaska.

“This fully accredited program responds to requests from many customers to provide a reasonable alternative to MSC,” they said.

Those signing the letter included 10th and M Seafoods, Alaska General Seafoods, Alaska Glacier Seafoods, Boreal Fisheries Inc., Favco Inc., Great Pacific Seafood, Great Ruby Fish Co., Icicle Seafoods, Kwik'Pak Seafoods. Kwik’Pak Fisheries, Ocean Beauty Seafoods, Peter Pan Seafoods, the Seafood Producers Coop, Trident Seafoods, Ugashik Wild Salmon, and more.

In other action, ASMI has begun seeking a new executive director, as Riutta plans to resign at the end of 2012, after a decade at his post.

The job description posted on the ASMI website,

Diet Supplementation Boosts Blue King Crab Survival Rate

Researchers at the Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery in Seward, Alaska, are reporting great success culturing blue king crab this spring. They credit their progress with investigation of effects of microalgae diet supplementation on survival and larval health.

Researchers found that a diet of live Thalassiosira weissflogii microalgae and enriched Artemia resulted in survival rates of 80 percent from matching to the glaucothoe stage and 53 percent from matching to the first juvenile stage.

These survival rates are the highest to date for either red or blue king crab since the project began, they said.

Before this year, large-scale culture of blue king crab was less successful than for red king crab. High rates of mortality were attributed to suboptimal hatchery rearing conditions. While the life histories of red and blue king crab are similar, different culturing protocols may be required to achieve similar production success, they said. 

The project is one of several underway through the Alaska King Crab Research, Rehabilitation and Biology program, also known as AKCRRAB, sponsored by industry members, community groups, the Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery, NOAA Fisheries, the University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, and the Alaska Sea Grant College Program.

While high survival of red king crab has been achieved without microalgae in the diet, microalgae may be essential for blue king crab larvae. However, use of microalgae in large-scale, flow-through systems poses logistical challenges because of their small cell size, which allows algae to be quickly flushed out of the tanks. To solve this problem, AKCRRAB biologists Jim Swingle and Den Daly developed a semi-static rearing technique where microalgae is retained in tanks to optimize larval exposure, they said.

Juvenile blue crab cultured at the Seward hatchery will be used in experiments to better understand the biology of early juvenile king crab at NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center Behavioral Ecology Lab in Newport, Ore., the NOAA Kodiak Fisheries Research Center, and the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Juneau Center.

Sockeye Forecast for Upper Cook Inlet at 6.2 Million Fish

State biologists for Upper Cook Inlet are forecasting a run of 6.2 million sockeye salmon in 2012, with a harvest of 4.4 million reds by all user groups. 

That’s about 0.4 million fish higher than the 20-year average harvest of 4 million reds by all user groups.

The fishing season for most of Upper Cook Inlet opens in mid to late June, but participation and harvests remain fairly low until early July, state biologists said.

For the Kenai River, the run forecast is 4 million fish, which is 6 percent higher than the 20-year average run of 3.8 million fish. Expectations are that predominant age classes in 2012 will be age 1.3, 50 percent; age 1.2, 8 percent and age 2.3, 35 percent.

On the Kasilof River the forecast is for a run of 754,000 fish, 21 percent below the 20-year average run of 950,000 fish. The forecast for age 1.2 sockeyes is 148,000 fish, which is 47 percent less than the 20-year average return of 280,000 fish for this age class. The predominant age classes here for 2012 should be age 1.2, 20 percent, age 1.3, 34 percent and age 2.2, 34 percent, state biologists said.

For the Susitna River, the red salmon forecast is for 443,000 fish, which is 50 percent less than the 20-year average run of 881,000 fish.

The total sockeye salmon run to Upper Cook Inlet in 2011 was estimated to be 8.4 million fish, or 31 percent more than forecast. The harvest, after all fish tickets were tallied, was 5.3 million commercially caught fish, compared with a preseason harvest estimate of 4.2 million fish. 

Commercial harvesters also caught 11,000 kings, 95,000 silvers, 34,000 pinks and 129,000 chum salmon. In only one year since 1999, when the abundance based escapement goal to the Kenai River was developed, has commercial fisheries management ended up in the same tier as the preseason forecast, biologists said.

Friday, May 18, 2012

EPA Draft Study speaks to Dire Potential Impact of Mining to Bristol Bay

By Margaret Bauman

A draft assessment of the Bristol Bay watershed released May 18 by the US Environmental Protection Agency says facilities failures in a large-scale mine would destroy rivers and streams and degrade area habitat for decades.

The document cited 10 major areas for potential failures under the mine scenario, as well as half a dozen damaging impacts on the world’s largest wild sockeye salmon fishery, even in the event of no failure or routine operation, including impact on fish from habitat loss and modification within and beyond the area of mining activity.

The draft document is available to download at The website also contains information on upcoming public meetings on the draft document and how to submit comments during the 60-day comment period.

Dennis McLaren, regional administrator for the EPA in Seattle, said during a news teleconference that there would also be opportunity for public participation in the peer review process in Anchorage in August.

The draft document notes that the watershed’s fisheries support at least 14,000 full and part-time jobs and is valued at about $480 million annually.

The Pebble Partnership, which wants to develop the mine at the headwaters of Bristol Bay, is owned by Northern Dynasty Minerals, Ltd. of Vancouver, British Columbia, a subsidiary of Hunter Dickinson, a diversified global mining firm, and London-based Anglo American plc. Northern Dynasty estimates the area has 5.94 billion tons of measured and indicated resources, including 55 billion pounds of copper, 67 million ounces of gold and 3.3 billion pounds of molybdenum.

John Shively, chief executive officer of the Pebble Partnership, said mine proponents should be given the chance to complete their project design, including an environmental mitigation strategy designed to protect the fish and water resources, before conclusions are drawn.

Bristol Bay commercial fishermen meanwhile applauded the draft document.

“The EPA’s scientific report makes it clear Pebble Mine’s plan to dig a hole displacing 10 billion tons of waste material is bad for Bristol Bay’s fish and salmon habitat,” said Lindsey Bloom, a leader of Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay, a national coalition of 95 American commercial fishing organizations and industry-related businesses. “The EPA should take the next logical step and prohibit or restrict toxic mine waste in the Bristol Bay watershed.”

“Too many American fisheries have been wrecked by habitat damage and chemical pollution,” said Robin Samuelsen, of Dillingham, a veteran Bristol Bay fisherman. “This may be our country’s last chance to get it right the first time. Bristol Bay is the largest and most valuable salmon fishery on the planet, and this is where the American people are drawing the line.”

US Sen Maria Cantwell, D-WA, called the document “an important step toward protecting wild Bristol Bay salmon and the thousands of Washington state jobs that rely on them.

“This draft report validates the concerns of the Alaska and Washington fishing fleets that the proposed Pebble mine could have devastating impacts to the Pacific Northwest’s maritime economy,” she said.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Antitrust Lawsuit Against Pacific Seafood Settled – Fishermen, processors reach mediated agreement

By Terry Dillman

Under a freshly-forged settlement agreement, almost two years of parry-and-thrust antitrust litigation filed against Pacific Seafood Group and Ocean Gold Seafoods would likely end with the processors paying attorney fees, but not one penny in damages. The companies would also remain intact, avoiding the breakup requested in the complaint.

The companies must, however, chart a course toward making prices and markets more equitable and competitive.

If US District Court Judge Owen Panner approves the agreement during a hearing scheduled for May 21 in Eugene, Oregon, company officials would face the task of enacting several “pro-competitive” practices outlined in the settlement.

Fishermen who filed the complaint said those practices – if followed – would go a long way toward alleviating the circumstances that led to the legal action.

The initial complaint – filed in June 2010 by Portland-based attorney Mike Haglund for Brookings-based fishermen Lloyd Whaley and Todd Whaley and other “similarly situated fishermen and fishing vessel owners” – alleged monopolization of the Dungeness crab, Oregon coldwater (pink) shrimp, groundfish and whiting seafood markets along the West Coast by Pacific and its owner Frank Dulcich.

Prices paid to fishermen are the central issue. The complaint alleged that Pacific uses its market share of 50 to 70 percent in each of those four critical fisheries and coordinates with other processors to drive down those prices, thus violating federal antitrust laws. It alleges that PSG uses vertically integrated acquisitions, multiple tactics to set and enforce ex-vessel prices, exclusive dealing and tying arrangements, restrictions on output, “theft of seafood commodities” from fishermen, “fraudulent representations” to public agencies, and “miscellaneous dirty tricks.”

During the discovery process, Pacific affiliate Ocean Gold was named as a co-defendant.
The lawsuit requested a trial by jury, and asked the court, among other things, to declare Pacific’s conduct illegal and award the fishermen and fishing vessel owners a class judgment for damages. Judge Panner granted the class action motion in February.

The complaint went through four iterations, including a July 2011 re-filing that added Newport-based pink shrimp fisherman Jeff Boardman, Brookings-based fisherman Brian Nolte and Dynamik Fisheries, Inc. and Miss Sarah LLC as plaintiffs. It also narrowed the scope of the proposed class by dropping the Dungeness crab market, coastal areas south of Fort Bragg, Calif., and crew members who receive salaries rather than a percentage of proceeds.

Both sides appeared ready to go full speed ahead into a July courtroom showdown, but after intense negotiations mediated by US District Court Judge Michael R. Hogan, the fishermen agreed to drop their damages claims in exchange for a package of measures they say are designed to strengthen the West Coast fishing industry, make processing and marketing more transparent and competitive, and to hold Pacific and Ocean Gold accountable.

Fair Prices and Following Markets
Haglund said the five-year agreement was a trade-off between trying to recover damages for past actions and focusing on actions to improve the situation now. Sailing into the stormy seas of a trial would prolong the matter by as much as three years or longer, followed by appeals. Haglund said the number of unsettled questions concerning antitrust law that the complaint dredged up could eventually have carried the legal action into the US Supreme Court.

While Newport-based Oregon pink shrimp fisherman Jeff Boardman – who signed onto the complaint in July 2011 and participated in the settlement negotiation process – has “mixed emotions” about the agreement, he said it “should benefit the fleet in the long run.”

“It was never really about the money, anyway,” Boardman added. “It was about making the situation better for the fleet.”

Specifically, they focused on boosting to-the-boat prices for fishermen by breaking the processors’ stranglehold on the markets and what fishermen say is the companies’ ability to unfairly suppress those prices.

Company attorneys led by Portland-based Michael Esler never contested the notion that the companies have large market shares in the whiting, groundfish, Dungeness crab and pink shrimp fisheries. But they did note that prices in a number of fisheries have actually gone up due to their market clout, based on their ability to “reliably deliver” huge quantities of fresh fish and open up new markets throughout the world. They say the complaint lacked sufficient evidence to prove antitrust violations, which required the fishermen to show that the companies used their powerful market positions to unfairly hold down prices or otherwise harm fishermen and competing processors.

Boardman fished for Newport Shrimp and Clearwater before PSG took over the processing facility on Newport’s Bayfront, remaining for a time afterward until he decided things weren’t going in the best direction for the fishermen.

“I tend to be loyal, but I felt they weren’t loyal to me,” he noted.

Boardman and others say wholesale and retail prices have risen, but to-the-boat prices have fluctuated considerably and most often unfavorably for the fishermen. Other fishermen say nothing is wrong, that ex-vessel prices reflect market fluctuations and they are satisfied with the status quo.

Coming to Terms
While Pacific and Ocean Gold escaped a potential $70 million-plus judgment had they eventually lost the case, they will reportedly pay as much $2.6 million in attorney fees, and must adhere to multiple terms written into the agreement.

Under the agreement, a 10-year contract between Pacific and Ocean Gold will not renew in 2016, and within 10 days of the settlement’s approval, sections of the contract dealing with setting fish prices will become void. The fishermen alleged that the contract allowed the companies to use collective buying power to fix and hold down prices paid to fishermen. Nothing prevents the companies from inking a new contract, but if it requires Pacific to “act as the exclusive marketer” of any OGS seafood product, Judge Hogan would have to approve it.

Haglund called this “one of the most significant features” of the agreement, noting that if a new contract between Pacific and Ocean Gold were considered anti-competitive, Hogan couldn’t and wouldn’t approve it.

This opens the hatch for Ocean Gold to become a major independent competing processor four years from now. Also, Haglund said market forces emerging from the rise of the middle class in Asia and China could foster additional competition by bringing new processors to the West Coast.

The agreement also eliminates potential conflicts of interest involving fishermen’s cooperatives in Oregon, Washington and California.

The lawsuit claimed a Pacific employee in Charleston also ran a fish co-op there, which the fishermen called a serious conflict of interest. The processors agreed their employees could no longer serve as co-op managers. Pacific and Ocean Gold vessels and their affiliates may still participate in fishermen’s cooperatives, associations, joint purchasing and/or harvest and risk pools “authorized or permitted by court order, statute, administrative rule, order, law or other regulatory action.” They may also enter purchase agreements with cooperatives, and regularly meet with cooperative members “to discuss industry concerns, including harvesting, bycatch reduction and scheduling.”

Pacific also agreed to sell a piece of fallow waterfront property in Crescent City, California at fair market value to anyone who would use the location as a seafood processing plant, unless Pacific has “reasonable business purpose” in keeping the property for current or future needs.

Pacific and Ocean Gold, which operate the largest processing plants that turn fish waste into fishmeal, must now accept “on commercially reasonable terms” weighbacks and scrap fish from new and existing processors if the companies’ plants have the capacity “to reasonably handle scrap from other processors.” Company attorneys said both companies were already purchasing from competitors, refuting the lawsuit allegation that, as the only buyers in certain ports, Pacific and Ocean Gold were eliminating competition by refusing to buy product from competitors.

Both companies agreed to pay ex-vessel prices “negotiated with fishermen” for all groundfish and whiting processed at their plants, except when “an individual fishing vessel enters into an agreement under which the fishing vessel is harvesting species allocated to quota owned by the processor or otherwise agreed between the parties.” They also agreed to continue the “open door” practice of allowing captains or vessel owners to observe weighing and grading of catches “whenever and wherever reasonable under the circumstances.”

For the 2013 fishing seasons, Pacific and Ocean gold agreed to “separately negotiate in good faith” with fishermen for “alternative pricing approaches” for onshore whiting, groundfish and pink shrimp.
Both companies also agreed to buy from the fishermen represented in the lawsuit, including those who sued, for at least the next 10 years. It did have two stipulations: the vessel owners or operators must provide 90 days notice, and the companies “will not have to deal directly” with Lloyd Whaley.

In the Pink
Pacific also agreed to not concentrate its large fleet of pink shrimp fishing vessels at any one of its processing plants, and agreed to not send out any processor-owned vessel before they reach an agreement with fishermen on ex-vessel prices or other vessels have started to fish. Pacific and Ocean Gold also agreed – if fellow processors Bornstein Seafoods and Hallmark Fisheries would do the same – to provide their average pink shrimp wholesale prices to commodity market news reporting service Urner Barry, allowing fishermen access to that information to use in price negotiations.

Both companies also agreed to purchase and pay for pink shrimp on a peel-count basis, and to standardize ice sampling procedures at all plants.

Judge Hogan inserted a “czar rule” in the agreement, which gives the judge final say in such matters, including whether or not to grant a five-year extension when the initial five-year time frame expires. Boardman, who now delivers his catches to Charleston-based processor Hallmark Fisheries, called the czar rule “one of the best things we could get,” but Hogan’s refusal to include a cap on how many vessels Pacific could own disappointed him.

Overall, Boardman considered the agreement “the right thing to do.”

According to the agreement, the fishermen acknowledged that some of their concerns arose “out of mistrust and a lack of understanding” between them and the processors, who “have made substantial investments that contributed to the development of international markets for West Coast seafood products that benefit the industry.”

The processors, in turn, acknowledged that the measures outlined in the settlement would “reduce fleet-processor conflict over ex-vessel prices, increase transparency and improve competitiveness of the West Coast fishing industry.”

Those fishermen who were caught up in the class action net and have issues regarding the terms of the settlement had until May 7 to file any objections and prepare for the May 21 hearing before Judge Panner, who granted the class action motion in February. Haglund said they would mail out or publish court-ordered notices for the estimated 1,200 to 1,500 individuals encompassed by the class of commercial fishermen and fishing vessel owners who delivered trawl-caught groundfish, whiting or pink shrimp to seafood processors on the West Coast from Ft. Bragg, Calif., to the Washington-Canada border at any time between June 21, 2006 and Dec. 31, 2011.

Hogan commended both sides for their willingness to “make huge compromises” to reach an accord.
“This case could have gone on for years, including appeals,” he said. “The fishermen and the processors, especially Pacific Seafood Group, are to be commended for taking a statesmanlike approach to resolving a complicated case. These parties focused on how to ensure the West Coast fishing industry for the future. Competition in this industry benefits both fishermen and processors, but also consumers over the long run.”

Ironically, Boardman said fishermen were still mired in price negotiations well past the season’s April 1 opening, although some vessels had already ventured out. Shrimpers wanted what Boardman deemed as “a modest 10 percent increase over last year’s prices, which he said “would be fair on both ends,” especially when market indicators point to a 20 percent hike in ex-vessel prices as being a fair market price.

The 2011 season started late because shrimpers and processors were haggling over opening prices.
Boardman said he and other fishermen were looking into creating a committee of representatives from different fishing associations along the coast “to look at wholesale prices and market access.” Such a committee, he noted, could help negotiate prices and “put out a report card” on different fisheries and processors.

Terry Dillman can be reached at

Commercial Harvest of Bering Sea Snow Crab Extended Through June 15

Commercial harvesters were understandably excited when the Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced an allowable harvest of 88 million pounds of Bering Sea snow crab this year, up from 54 million pounds in 2011. 

That’s some 80 million pounds for individual fishing quota permit holders, and 8.9 million pounds for community development quota groups. Then came the ice, in record amounts, slowing harvest at times almost to a standstill. Now state fisheries biologists in Dutch Harbor have extended the season through June 15 for waters west of 171 degrees west longitude in the Bering Sea.

The fishery west of 173 degrees west longitude normally is closed by regulation on May 31.
Mark Gleason, executive director of the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, which represents nearly 70 percent of the harvesters in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands crab fisheries, sees opportunity there.

“Without a doubt, the unprecedented ice event in the Bering Sea this year is a natural disaster worthy of the department’s attention,” Gleason said. “The foregone harvest, and the economic calamity that would have resulted had the season extension not been granted, would have adversely affected not only the harvest sector, but also CDQ groups, the processing sector, and crab-dependent Alaskans communities.

Gleason estimated this week that the extended season would allow for a harvest of nearly 20 million pounds of allowed snow crab still trapped under the ice.

More good news for the crab harvesters came May 14 from the National Marine Fisheries Service, which said the snow crab fishery is stabilizing. 

According to the Status of US Fisheries report for 2011 Bering Sea snow crab is among a record six fish populations declared rebuilt to healthy levels last year.

The status report also determined the golden king crab in the Pribilof Islands and the Gulf of Alaska shallow water flatfish complex were not overfished. The status of both of those stocks was previously unknown, the report said.

Pebble Budgets $107 Million to Prepare Mining Project for Permitting in 2012

Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. in Vancouver, British Columbia, has announced a budget of $107 million to ready the Pebble Mine project for permitting in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act later this year. 

The company has said they are finalizing a proposed design to meet and exceed environmental regulations and permitting requirements on both the state and federal levels. Northern Dynasty is partnered in the multi-million dollar mine prospect with London-based Anglo American plc.

John Shively, chief executive officer of the Pebble Partnership, said in the coming months there will be ongoing environmental studies on groundwater hydrology, water quality and fish and marine resources and more.

The mine site lies at the headwaters of the Bristol Bay watershed, the world’s largest sockeye salmon run. A number of individuals, organizations and businesses engaged in the Bristol Bay salmon fisheries, including biologists, are concerned that the mine could adversely affect the health of the fisheries and their habitat. They are awaiting the draft report expected soon from the US Environmental Protection Agency on its scientific research into the watershed, which could allow the agency to use its authority under the Clean Water Act to block a required federal dredge-and-fill discharge permit for the proposed mine.

Former Alaska legislative leader Rick Halford – now a consultant to Nunamta Alukestai (Caretakers of the Land) and Trout Unlimited – said $107 million is not inconsistent with the spending packages of the Pebble Partnership.

“Whenever Northern Dynasty announces anything on Pebble, you don’t know if they are mining in the field or in the stock market,” Halford said. “They have said numerous times that they are for sale and don’t plan to be one of the major operators. I think it is their intention to sell out before the mine ever goes into production.”

Halford said the EPA has an opportunity here to prevent disposal of large amounts of toxic waste into salmon streams or for perpetual remediation. “The EPA has done that in other places far less valuable than Bristol Bay,” said Halford, who has a home in Bristol Bay as well as one near Anchorage. “The EPA has an opportunity to restate the existing interpretation of the Clean Water Act to insure that the protections already provided in other places will apply in Alaska.”

Salmon-Thirty-Salmon II Will be Airborne This Fall

Look to the skies over Seattle this fall for the world’s largest king salmon, a tribute to Alaska’s seafood industry and Alaska Airlines, which flew nearly 25 million pounds of seafood from Alaska last year to domestic markets, Mexico and Canada.

Alaska Airlines says the new “Salmon-Thirty-Salmon II” design, stretching nearly 129 feet long, will be adorning a Boeing 737-800 come fall, and feature fish scales on the winglets, plus a salmon-pink colored “Alaska” script across the fuselage.

The new fish-themed design is derived from an earlier version of the paint scheme Alaska Airlines unveiled on a 737-400 in 2005, which was re-painted with the carrier’s traditional Eskimo livery last year.

Word of the new seafood promotion came during the Great Alaska Seafood Cook Off in Anchorage May 14, a gala at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport that attracted some 400 folks involved in Alaska’s seafood industry.

Marilyn Romano, Alaska Airlines’ regional vice president in Alaska, said the 91,000-pound airplane celebrates the air carrier’s unique relationship with the people and communities of Alaska and underscores “our air transport commitment to the state’s seafood industry.”

Momentum Building for the Salmon Fisheries

Down on the Copper River, harvesters and processors are bracing for the first commercial opener of 2012 on the river’s famed Copper River red and king salmon. 

Weather permitting, the first catch will arrive in Seattle and Anchorage the next day.

As Bristol Bay drift net and set net harvesters and processors ready for the start of their season in late June, fishing is already in progress in the commercial king salmon fishery in the Pacific Salmon Treaty waters of the Stikine and Taku rivers.

Both fisheries began May 7 with three 24-hour openings each for the troll fleet, as the gillnet fisheries were also open for 24 hours on those days.

Alaska’s share of the trans-boundary fishery on the Stikine River, which remains open until June 30, is 5,890 large Chinook salmon. 

On the Taku River, which remains open until the third Saturday of June, the allowable 2012 catch is 6,703 large Chinook salmon.

The number of permit holders registered for each of these trans-boundary fisheries had not yet been calculated in early May. 

On the Stikine River in 2008, 92 troll permit holders harvested 1,699 kings, while 146 gillnet permit holders netted 13,056 fish.

On the Taku River in 2009, with less than three troll permits fished, the harvest remained confidential. Eighty-three gillnet permit holders harvested 5,297 kings during that season.

The all-gear harvest quota for Southeast Alaska Chinook salmon, under provisions of the Pacific Salmon Treaty is 266,800 treaty fish, down 28,000 fish over last year’s preseason estimate of 294,800 treaty fish. The commercial troll fishery preseason Chinook salmon harvest allocation for 2012, announced by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in late March, is 197,300 fish, down 20,700 kings from last year’s troll allocation.

The allocations for the treaty Chinook salmon include 11,472 to the purse seiners, 7,737 to the drift gillnetters, 1,000 to set gillnetters; 197,272 to trollers, and 49,318 to sport anglers.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has projected a statewide harvest of 132 million salmon of all species, including about 120,000 kings, 38.3 million reds, 4.3 million silvers, 70 million pinks and 19 million chums. Should the actual harvest match or exceed 132 million salmon, say officials with the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, 2012 will mark the 25th consecutive year of a harvest in excess of 100 million salmon. While initial openings are amongst the smaller troll-caught salmon fisheries, the season will go into full swing with larger openings throughout the summer and continue into September.

The all-species salmon harvest for 2011 totaled 177.1 million fish, which was about 26.4 million less than the preseason forecast of 203.5 million. The combined harvest included some 468,000 Chinook, 40 million sockeyes, 3.5 million coho, 116.1 million pinks and 17 million chums.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Norton Sound CDQ Applauds Changes in Commercial Crab Guidelines

A community development quota association representing 15 villages in the Bering Strait region is applauding decisions made at the recent Alaska Board of Fisheries meeting regarding guidelines for the Norton Sound red king crab fishery.

A change made last summer in how the state Department of Fish and Game estimates the crab population in Norton Sound meant that commercial fishermen risked seeing their quota cut nearly in half this year. Despite all signs pointing to a healthy and thriving crab population, revising the estimate meant that either the commercial harvest or the rule that governed it would have to change if fishermen were going to be able to fish at levels they had for the past decade.

Norton Sound Economic Development Corp. officials said the state board put concerns of Norton Sound fishermen and processors at ease when it approved a proposal brought forward by NSEDC to change the rules and essentially keep the harvest at status quo.

“The red king crab population appears to be at a 20-year high in Norton Sound,” said NSEDC biologist West Jones. “Our rate of commercial harvest has supported a number of fishermen while allowing the crab stocks to enjoy slow, steady growth.”

To understand this change, it helps to understand how the current guidelines work. Each year, the level of the summer commercial harvest is set as a percentage of the legal male biomass, or LMB. The harvest guidelines for the past decade or so have capped harvests at 10 percent of this biomass. The state agency uses a model to determine LMB, which has found a biomass between 3 million and 4 million pounds for the past decade. This has resulted in harvests between 300,000 -400,000 pounds of crab.

Last year, the state Department of Fish and Game took another look at the model and concluded that their formula for estimating the crab population had been incorrect for the past decade, resulting in an over-estimation for all those years. That means commercial crab fishermen were actually harvesting at an approximate rate of 12 percent for the past decade, rather than 10 percent as was believed.

With the new model lowering the population estimate by about 1 million pounds, the 10 percent threshold would have taken a big bite out of the commercial harvest had it remained on the books. “The reduction in the crab biomass was purely due to changes in the model,” said Kevin Keith, a biologist with NSEDC. “The actual crab population in Norton Sound is doing quite well. All indicators lead us to believe that we have a stable or increasing population of crabs. It’s a wonderful resource.”

In spite of the stability of the crab population, changes in the model meant that the harvest level was going to be drastically reduced from the range of 300,000 to 400,00 pounds down to between 200,000 and 300,000 pounds.

Charlie Lean, NSEDC director of fisheries research and development, worked with the state agency to develop harvest guidelines for the summer commercial crab fishery, with included a 7 percent harvest limited at between 1.25 and 2 million pounds LMB, 13 percent harvest limit between 2 and 3 million pounds LMB, and 15 percent harvest limit above 3 million pounds LMB.

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