Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Today's Catch - Rules Revisited

by Chris Philips, Managing Editor

In this space last month (Playing by the Rules, February 2013) we noted that a group of Southern California brail-boat squid fishermen were concerned about an influx of big foreign-built seiners participating in the fishery. The brail fishermen complained that the big boats were reaching the quota, and the fishery closed before the smaller brail boats had a shot at filling their holds.

We subsequently heard from several owners and operators of the seine boats in the fishery, who had a lot to say about the topic. One seiner noted that his boat is registered and has the proper tonnage license, and complies with all state, federal and US Coast Guard regulations.

Another pointed out that the resource is strong, and the markets have responded. He believes the state has been fairly liberal with the allocation of squid quotas. Another fisherman told us there hasn’t been a good assessment of the biomass, and believes the current quota is low. He says an increase in the resource in the Santa Barbara area should allow the state to raise the quota even further.

Last month we erred in addressing the concerns of the brail boats without giving the big catchers the opportunity to respond. This story is bigger than this space allows, and deserves more attention, so next month Terry Dillman will cover the Southern California squid fishery in much more detail.

Also in this space last month, we noted the vote by the Washington State Fish and Wildlife Commission to close the mainstem of the Columbia River to commercial non-tribal gillnets. Following the publication of the editorial, we were contacted by David Postman, Executive Director of Communications for Washington State Governor Jay Inslee, offering to answer some of our questions. Mr. Postman said the Commission’s Columbia River Basin Salmon Management Policy was developed through a transparent and extensive public process that included eight opportunities for stakeholders to provide comments to the Columbia River Fishery Management Workgroup or the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission.

We rephrased the question we had originally posed to Governor Inslee:
The nine-member Washington Fish and Wildlife commission has voted to close the Columbia to commercial gillnets. At the time of the vote, the commission included three members whose terms had expired the previous month, four members who had never been confirmed by the state legislature and zero members representing commercial fishing interests, in violation of state mandate. With the decision to close the Columbia having been made in violation of two Washington sections of the Revised Code of Washington, how does the Governor intend to address the illegal action of the Commission?

The Governor’s office declined further comment but promised to follow the issue and let us know when they had more to add. Mr. Postman also promised that Governor Inslee would carefully review the qualifications of new appointees to ensure a balanced representation of the interests that are affected by the Commission’s decisions.

In the meantime, the State of Oregon Court of Appeals, responding to a challenge from that state’s commercial fishermen, has ordered a stop to the enforcement of Oregon’s new gillnet regulations. According to The Oregonian, the decision came in response to two Oregon gillnetters who argued that the Oregon State Fish and Wildlife Commission’s decision last December violated several Oregon state laws. The Oregon decision led the way for the Washington decision, and we hope both decisions will be overturned, either by the courts or, preferably, on further review by the respective commissions.

To that end, we hope Governor Inslee’s new commission will include the representation of commercial harvesters that, although required by state law, was missing from Governor Gregoire’s commission. In the meantime, the Governor will need the input of the commercial fishing community to help him find appointees for the commission.

When making appointments, the law (RCW 77.04.040) directs the Governor to “seek to maintain a balance reflecting all aspects of fish and wildlife, including representation recommended by organized groups representing sportfishers, commercial fishers, hunters, private landowners and environmentalists.”

Three seats of the nine-member committee are open, and the other six commissioners represent environmental groups, landowners, hunters and sportfishers. Governor Inslee will need the fishing industry’s help to find three members who represent the interests of the commercial fishing community. We’ve reached out to the Governor’s office to offer our help in the matter, and will keep our readers updated as the process moves forward.

Court Mandated Revisions to Bristol Bay Plan Draw Criticism

Commercial and sport fish harvesters and other Bristol Bay residents dependent on the area’s salmon fisheries are voicing concern over a revised area management plan that could ease the way for a massive copper, gold and molybdenum mine.

The document in question is the court-mandated draft revision of the 2005 Bristol Bay area plan, for which the Alaska Department of Natural Resources is accepting public comment through April 4.
Following the 90-day public review period, which could result in changes to the document, the agency intends to adopt the proposed revisions to the 2005 Bristol Bay Area Plan, which will serve as the basis for management of state lands and waters within the planning area for the next 20 years.

The mine in question is the Pebble mine, a project managed by the Pebble Limited Partnership, a joint venture of a Canadian mining venture, Northern Dynasty, and the London based international mining entity Anglo American plc. Mining advocates say they can develop and operate the mining in harmony with the world renowned Bristol Bay wild sockeye salmon run, which provides thousands of jobs and millions of dollars to commercial and sport fisheries entities. The fishery has also been critical to generations of subsistence fish harvesters, as well as wildlife.

In 2009 Bristol Bay tribes, commercial fishing groups and Trout Unlimited challenged the 2005 area plan- a revision of the original 1984 plan- in court, arguing that it did not strike a balance that protects subsistence and fish and wildlife resources.

The original 1984 plan co-classified almost all of the state-owned land in the region as fish and wildlife habitat-including the Pebble deposit area- because of the importance of fish and game to resource users. The proposed revised plan reclassifies the entire 12 million acres, reduces habitat protection by 94 percent and opens the door for mining on almost the entire 12 million acres.

Information regarding the 2012 amendment to the Bristol Bay Area Plan is at
Comments on the amended plan may be sent to:

Ray Burger
Resource Assessment and Development Section
Alaska Department of Natural Resources
550 West 7th Avenue
Suite 1050
Anchorage, Alaska 99501-3579

The deadline is April 4.

Economist is Optimistic About Long Term Outlook for Alaska Salmon Markets

A veteran fisheries economist says there are many reasons for optimism about the economic future of Alaska wild salmon.

Gunnar Knapp of the University of Alaska’s Institute of Social and Economic Research told Alaska legislators in the House Fisheries recently that the global demand for salmon is likely to keep growing because of growing populations, growing incomes, the health benefits of salmon and new product forms that appeal to a broader range of consumers. And wild salmon, said Knapp are in limited supply, so there is potential for niche market differentiation.

There are also potential limits, said Knapp, to the growth of farmed salmon production due to potential for disease problems and limits to fish oil and fish meal feed sources.

Wild salmon also face some potential challenges, he said, including regime shifts and climate change that would pose resource uncertainty. Adding to that are the potential for farmed salmon supply growth to exceed demand growth, glutting markets and depressing prices, as has happened in the past, plus world economic and political uncertainty.

As of this month, the short-term outlook for Alaska salmon markets looks relatively favorable, Knapp said. He attributed this to likely lower sockeye harvest volumes, strong canned salmon markets because of low inventories, and strengthening farmed salmon prices.

Still, he cautioned, many factors can affect prices and every year brings surprises.
Knapp’s entire report to the legislators is online at

The state of Alaska meanwhile has released its statewide forecast for all salmon fisheries for 2013, predicting a total harvest of 179 million fish, up from 127 million last year – thanks mainly to a projected pink salmon harvest of 118 million pinks, which is 73 percent higher than a year ago.

Copper River Seafoods, Triad Fisheries, Aqua Cuisine Score at Symphony

Top honors at the 20th annual Alaska Symphony of Seafoods were shared by Copper River Seafoods, Triad Fisheries and Aqua Cuisine, with the grand prize going to a CRS entry – Zesty Grill Sockeye Salmon.

Zesty Grill Sockeye Salmon also placed first in the symphony’s retail competition and was selected for the “People’s Choice” award at the symphony’s gala in Anchorage on Feb. 23.

Triad Fisheries won the “People’s Choice” award at the symphony’s Seattle gala for its Alaskan Sablefish Unagi Style, and the same entry garnered Triad first place in food service competition.
Aqua Cuisine claimed first place among smoked fish entries for its Lit’l Sammies cocktail salmon rolls.
Copper River Seafoods placed second in retail competition with its Roasted Garlic Alaskan Cod, one of several other ready to bake and serve fillet products that went into the retail food market in 2012. Orca Bay Seafoods’ Teriyaki Style Sockeye Salmon Seafood Burger was the judges’ choice for third place in retail.

Second place in food service went to Trident Seafoods for its Seafest Alaskan Salmon Loins, and Chang International Inc. took third place with its Sealectables Cod Fish ‘n sticks.

Trident Seafoods took second place in smoked competition with their Smoked Sockeye Salmon Sea Salt nova style, served up on toast points at the galas.

First place winners, as well as People’s Choice winners got free space to promote their products at the International Boston Seafood Show in March, along with round-trip airfare to the event.

The competition kicked off on Feb. 13 in Seattle, where judges tasted, deliberated and selected their favorite products. Evaluations were based on the products’ packaging and presentation, overall eating experience, price and potential for commercial success.

The Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, now in its 34th year of working on behalf of the fishing industry, encourages the development of new retail, food service and smoked seafood products from Alaska through the annual competition.

This year’s major sponsors, in addition to AFDF, included the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, American Seafoods Group, Northwest Fisheries Association, At-Sea Processors Association, Trident Seafoods, Alaska Longline Co., Marine Stewardship Council, the city of Unalaska, Copper River Seafoods, Alaska Air Cargo, Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association, and Marel.

Other sponsors included NSF Seafood, Alaska Commercial Fishing and Agriculture Bank, Alaskan brewing Co., Port of Seattle, Kwik’Pak fisheries, Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp., Lynden, Pacific Seafood Processors Association, Alaska marine Nutrition, Global Seas, United States Seafood, Signature Seafoods, North Pacific Seafoods, Young deNormandie, Pacific Seafoods, Coastal Transportation, Ken Simpson, Columbia Bank, Northern Air Cargo, Alaska Brand group, Westmar Co., and E&E Seafoods.

Coast Guard Pinpoints Violations on Shell Drill Rig

US Coast Guard officials have identified safety and environmental violations on a drilling rig used by Shell Oil Co. in Alaska’s Arctic during the past season. Details on those violations obtained by a top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee prompted the congressman, Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass, to demand a response by March 8 from Shell President Marvin Odum.

Markey made the demand to Odum in correspondence this week, and also released a list of violations found by the Coast Guard following inspection of the drill rig Noble Discoverer in November. The Noble Discoverer is scheduled to undergo more inspections and maintenance work in Asia.

Meanwhile another Shell drilling rig, the Kulluk, which ran aground during stormy weather in late December near Kodiak, while en route from Dutch Harbor to Seattle, was being towed back to Dutch Harbor by three tugs. From there plans are to dry tow the Kulluk to a shipyard in Asia for repairs and maintenance.

While there were no reports of fuel leaking from the Kulluk and contaminating fishing waters, the fact that the rig lost its tow and later grounded near Kodiak was of major concern to commercial fishing interests in that area.

“It is imperative that any drilling operations in the Arctic Ocean occur with the highest levels of safety and environmental protections in place, and I am not convinced that these levels can ever be met given the extreme weather conditions and Shell’s performance thus far,” Markey said in his letter to Shell.

Problems with the Noble Discoverer detected by the Coast guard included a propulsion arrangement that does not result in sufficient speed at sea to safely maneuver in all expected conditions with out tow assistance, multiple dead-end wires and improper wire splices throughout the main engine room, and abnormal propeller shaft vibration on Nov. 22, 2012, requiring main engine shutdown and dead ship tow to the Port of Seward.

The Coast Guard also said the rig’s main engine piston cooling water was contaminated with sludge and oil, with crew skimming the oil off with a ladle and bucket during rounds, and “oily water separator audible and visual alarms and oil content meter inoperable.”

Markey has also asked Shell to provide all internal correspondence as well as any correspondence between the oil company and Noble and personnel aboard the drill ship related to each infraction.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Salmon Runs Boom, Go Bust Over Centuries

Salmon runs are notoriously variable: strong one year, and weak the next. New research shows that the same may be true from one century to the next.
Scientists in the past 20 years have recognized that salmon stocks vary not only year to year, but also on decades-long time cycles. One example is the 30-year to 80-year booms and busts in salmon runs in Alaska and on the West Coast driven by the climate pattern known as the Pacific Decadal Oscillation.
Now work led by University of Washington researchers reveals those decadal cycles may overlay even more important, centuries-long conditions, or regimes, that influence fish productivity. Cycles lasting up to 200 years were found while examining 500-year records of salmon abundance in Southwest Alaska. Natural variations in the abundance of spawning salmon are as large those due to human harvest.

“We’ve been able to reconstruct what salmon runs looked like before the start of commercial fishing. But rather than finding a flat baseline – some sort of long-term average run size – we’ve found that salmon runs fluctuated hugely, even before commercial fishing started.

That these strong or weak periods could persist for sometimes hundreds of years means we need to reconsider what we think of as ‘normal’ for salmon stocks,” said Lauren Rogers, who did this work while earning her doctorate in aquatic and fishery sciences at the UW and is now a post-doctoral researcher with the University of Oslo, Norway.

Rogers is the lead author of a paper on the findings in the Jan. 14 online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“Surprisingly, salmon populations in the same regions do not all show the same changes through time. It is clear that the salmon returning to different rivers march to the beat of a different – slow – drummer,” said Daniel Schindler, UW professor of aquatic and fishery sciences and co-author of the paper.
“The implications for management are profound,” Schindler said. “While it is convenient to assume that ecosystems have a constant static capacity for producing fish, or any natural resource, our data demonstrate clearly that capacity is anything but stationary. Thus, management must be ready to reduce harvesting when ecosystems become unexpectedly less productive and allow increased harvesting when ecosystems shift to more productive regimes.
“Management should also allow, and probably even encourage, fishers to move among rivers to exploit salmon populations that are particularly productive. It is not realistic to assume that all rivers in a region will perform equally well or poorly all the time,” he said.
The researchers examined sediment cores collected from 20 sockeye nursery lakes within 16 major watersheds in southwestern Alaska, including those of Bristol Bay. The scientists homed in on the isotopic signature of nitrogen that salmon accumulate in the ocean and leave behind in lake sediments when they die: When there was a lot of such nitrogen in the sediments, it meant returning runs during that time period were abundant; when there was little, runs had declined.
Climate is not the only reason for long-term changes in salmon abundance. Changes in food webs, diseases or other factors might be involved; however, at present, there are no clear explanations for the factors that cause the long-term variability observed in this study.
Most, but not all, of the lakes examined showed declines in the kind of nitrogen the scientists were tracking beginning around 1900, once commercial fisheries had developed. However, earlier fluctuations showed that natural processes had at times reduced salmon densities as much as recent commercial fisheries, the co-authors said.
“We expected to detect a signal of commercial fishing – fisheries remove a lot of the salmon, and thus salmon nitrogen, that would have otherwise ended up in the sediments. But we were surprised to find that previous returns of salmon to rivers varied just as dramatically,” Rogers said.

As the paper said, “Interestingly these same fluctuations also highlight that salmon stocks have the capacity to rebuild naturally following prolonged periods with low densities, suggesting a strong resilience of salmon to natural and anthropogenic depletion processes. Indeed, total salmon production (catch plus escapements) has been relatively high in recent years for most sockeye salmon stocks in southwestern Alaska, despite a century of intense harvesting.”
Other co-authors are Peter Lisi and Gordon Holtgrieve with the UW, Peter Leavitt and Lynda Bunting with University of Regina, Canada, Bruce Finney with Idaho State University, Daniel Selbie with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Canada, Guangjie Chen with Yunnan Normal University, China, Irene Gregory-Eaves with McGill University, Canada, and Mark Lisac and Patrick Walsh with Togiak National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska.
Funding for the project was provided by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

FN Online Advertising