Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Commercial Salmon Harvest in Alaska Climbs to 11.5 Million Fish

Overall commercial harvests of wild Alaskan salmon more than doubled over the past week, boosting the catch to 11.5 million salmon of all species, up from 5 million fish harvested through June 18.

The preliminary commercial harvest report issued June 25 by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game included 8.6 million sockeye, 2.5 million chum, 333,000 pink, 107,000 Chinook and 16,000 silver salmon.

The biggest jump came in the central region, including Bristol Bay, Cook Inlet, and Prince William Sound, where the catch rose from 2,465,000 salmon of all species to 7,151,000 fish.

The Egegik harvest alone in Bristol Bay reached 1,679,000 sockeyes.

Elsewhere in Bristol Bay, the harvest of red salmon included 953,000 fish from the Ugashik district, 906,000 fish from the Naknek-Kvichak, 500,000 fish from the Nushagak and 8,000 from Togiak.

Bristol Bay harvesters also brought in 54,000 chum and 8,000 king salmon.

The central district of Upper Cook Inlet brought in 20,000 reds and the southern district of Lower Cook Inlet had a catch of 11,000 reds.

In Prince William Sound, the Copper River drift district saw its harvest rise to over 1 million sockeye, 9,000 chum, 8,000 king and 4,000 pink salmon.  The Coghill district delivered 974,000 chum and 17,000 reds, and the Prince William Sound general seine district had a catch of 141,000 pink, 131,000 chum and 17,000 reds.

The Prince William Sound hatchery district fishermen delivered 240,000 chum, while the Montague drift district caught 177,000 chum and 1,000 each of sockeye and pink salmon.

In the Westward region, harvesters in the Alaska Peninsula caught 1.4 million reds, 303,000 chum, 158,000 pink and 2,000 king salmon.

Chignik harvesters delivered 959,000 reds, 39,000 chum, and 8,000 pink, while in Kodiak, processors received 850,000 reds, 78,000 chum, 16,000 pink and 10,000 king salmon.

The preliminary Alaska commercial salmon harvest totals are updated daily by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game at

Brazil Begins Importing Alaska Seafood

Wild Alaska salmon, cod and pollock are in the spotlight this week at SIAL Brazil, a major food and beverage trade show in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

The promoter at the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s booth at SIAL Brazil is Noronha Pescados of Recife, which is targeting middle class and upper middle class shoppers in retail markets. The company plans in-store demonstrations, and recipes will be included with the packages of filleted fish. The big seafood competition in this beef-eating nation, according to ASMI, is Atlantic cod and Chilean salmon.

The company will also benefit from ASMI’s generic promotional efforts in the market, including trade shows, advertisements and recipes in food magazines, Sao Paulo Restaurant week, and more, ASMI officials said.

“The market for Alaska seafood in Brazil is showing rapid growth,” said Michael Cerne, executive director of the state’s seafood marketing entity.

ASMI opened an office in Brazil in the fall of 2011 and conducted trade missions there in March and December of 2012. ASMI’s market research indicates exports from Alaska to Brazil doubled last year and that the trend should continue.

ASMI officials said that Noronha Pescados will be importing the frozen headed and gutted salmon, cod and pollock for further processing, to be sold directly to Walmart, Pao de Acucar, Cencosud and other retail stores in Brazil.

In prior years, Alaska cod destined for Brazil was first exported to Portugal and Norway, where it was reprocessed as high value bacalhau- dried, salted cod. Under the new agreement with Noronha Pescados, Alaska will retain full traceability and final product quality control.

Lower Yukon Commercial Dip Net Fishery Better than Anticipated

Harvesters on the Lower Yukon River have landed close to 50,000 oil rich Yukon summer chums to date in the river’s first commercial dip net fishery.

“It’s going very well, way better than anyone anticipated,” said Jack Schultheis, sales manager for Kwik’Pak Fisheries at Emmonak, a subsidiary of the Yukon Delta Fisheries Development Association established in 2001. “We bought the gear in anticipation that they would have the fishery and they opened it on June 18, and it kind of took hold.” 

“This is the second day in a row that I did 10,000 fish,” Schultheis said in an interview on June 25. “Last year at this time I had nothing, so I’m well ahead of last year.

“It’s very successful.  The fishermen are enjoying it, and I’ve had some customers down here who just loved the fish they saw.”

Kwik’Pak has buyers coming from the Lower 48 states, as well as Europe.

The dip net caught chums are very high quality, with no net marks, and average 6.4 pounds to 6.5 pounds, he said.

The dip nets allow for a chum fishery while protecting king salmon escapement up the Yukon River toward the Canadian border, in compliance with an agreement with the Canadian government. Regulations adopted by the Alaska Board of Fisheries this past winter allow for this first time use of dip nets for commercial harvests, with any king salmon caught in the nets to be released.

Schultheis said he had 164 people working and that he expected the summer chum drift fishery to open by this coming weekend. Kwik’Pak’s efforts are aimed at improving the regional economy through local employment, training and educational opportunities, while supporting small businesses in villages along the river.

Legislation to Label Frankenfish Moves Forward in Congress

An amendment to the Agricultural Appropriations bill that allocates $150,000 to implement a requirement to label genetically engineered salmon has passed the Senate Appropriations Committee, making it ready for a vote on the Senate floor.

The measure offered by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, was approved during the Senate Appropriation Committee meeting on June 20. Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska was a co-sponsor. Alaska’s congressional delegation and the Alaska Legislature have opposed efforts by the Food and Drug Administration, which has the matter under review, to approve use of genetically engineered salmon for human consumption.

In a draft assessment released last year, the FDA said genetically modified salmon would not jeopardize U.S. populations of Atlantic salmon, but Murkowski said approving genetically engineering salmon for human consumption would be “messing with Mother Nature in a very serious and big way.”

“This proposal under review by the FDA is being promoted and funded by a Russian entity,” she said. “The genetically engineered eggs would include material from an eel that’s grown in Canada, and then this GE fish is grown in Panama and introduced to us,” she said. “I’m confused how support of those foreign based activities is going to help with jobs here. It’s going to have the potential to devastate a salmon industry in my state.”

Should the genetically modified fish get FDA approval, at a minimum it should be labeled, Murkowski said.

“These fake fish are a serious threat to the health of American seafood lovers and consumers have a right to know what’s on their dinner plate,” Begich said.

Chinook Bycatch Limit Set for GOA Trawl Fleet

Federal fisheries managers voted June 8 in Juneau to put a 7,500-fish limit on Chinook salmon bycatch by some 60 bottom trawlers harvesting flatfish, rockfish and Pacific cod in the Gulf of Alaska.

The action during the June meeting of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council still needs approval from Commerce Secretary John Bryson, and there will be a public comment period, so when the new limit will go into effect is still uncertain.

The Chinook, prized by all salmon harvesters, has been on the decline in abundance and harvests for more than 50 years in Alaska, and on the entire Pacific coast.

National Marine Fisheries Service is required by law to the extent possible to minimize bycatch, and minimize the mortality of bycatch that cannot be avoided.

“Overall, it is a good thing,” said Jon Warrenchuk, a senior scientist for the environmental organization Oceana, based in Juneau. “Not catching salmon will be the first thing on the trawlers’ minds, or they will risk being shut down for the season. It will force these guys to work together, share information, maybe tow shorter distances,” said Warrenchuk, whose organization had advocated for a Chinook salmon bycatch cap of 5,000 fish.

But Julie Bonney, executive director of the Groundfish Data Bank in Kodiak, said that from a trawl perspective “it is going to be very painful. We’re looking at between $28 million and $40 million in economic loss, assuming the fleet can’t change its behavior,” she said. That loss would hit hard at Kodiak, with the residential processing labor force seeing the biggest impact, she said.

What would have been better, she said, would be to have individual vessel accountability, stop the race for fish and build a cooperative system.

“Basically there is nothing the vessels can do. We will hit the cap and will get shut down,” she said. “From a fleet perspective, it is scary as hell because there are so many kings on the grounds right now. It’s pain for no gain,” she said. “I am sympathetic to what is happening to other resource users for king salmon, but this is not going to solve the problem.”

Salmon in the Gulf of Alaska come from over 100 river systems, the bulk of them in the Pacific Northwest, British Columbia and Southeast Alaska, but there is no science to know which rivers are hit hardest, Bonney said. “We do know there is no presence of western Alaska stocks in the Gulf of Alaska, so we are not affecting those river systems at all.”

The decline in king salmon runs statewide has been a matter of growing concern for Alaska’s commercial, sport and subsistence harvesters. Salmon harvesters’ concern mounted extensively in 2010 when the number of king salmon caught incidentally to the Gulf of Alaska pollock fisheries reached 54,449 fish. In 2011, the incidental harvest was 20,769 fish and in 2012 the number was 5,909, according to statistics provided by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Last August, the limits on Chinook salmon bycatch for pollock trawlers went into effect, with a 25,000 Chinook salmon limit. That rule also required that all Chinook salmon caught by pollock trawlers be delivered to a processing facility where an observer could count the number of salmon and collect scientific data or biological samples.


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

…Like a Fish Needs a Bicycle

Those of us who have grown up in the Puget Sound region are deeply committed to the fishing industry, and appreciate that Seattle, as the homeport of the North Pacific fishing fleet, plays an important role in the survival and success of the companies and individuals whose livelihoods, families and history are tied to the commercial fishery.

Unfortunately, the City of Seattle seems not to appreciate our industry– and why would they? Mayor Mike McGinn is from Long Island, New York. Peter Hahn, the Director of the Department of Transportation, is also from the East Coast. They must have liked Seattle’s culture and quality of life enough to move here – why are they working so hard to change it?
The current administration has been systematically dismantling the city’s surface transportation system, replacing vehicle lanes with bike lanes, narrowing roadways and increasing traffic congestion, in an effort to reduce the number of vehicles, commercial and otherwise, on the streets of Seattle.

To add insult to injury, early last month, as the fishing fleet was preparing their vessels for the annual Alaska salmon season, putting the final touches on major repairs and refurbishments at the local boatyards, stocking up on supplies at chandlers and fuel docks and preparing for a successful season, the city closed Shilshole Avenue Northwest, the main thoroughfare that provides access to dozens of commercial businesses, for an entire day, with no notice.

For a bicycle race.

Dozens of businesses were directly affected, hundreds indirectly, and the only notice many of them received was the barricaded road they encountered on the way to their business that morning.

Bicycles and industry don’t work together very well, which is why the North Seattle Industrial Association, Seattle Marine Business Coalition and others have been working tirelessly to keep the powerful Seattle bicycle lobby, led by Mayor McGinn (former Washington State chairman of the Sierra Club) from building a bike trail through the heart of the Ballard industrial core. An effort to push through an extension of a trail that already passes through the eastern part of the city’s industrial area has met enough opposition to require an Environmental Impact Statement from the city. In response, the city is making “safety improvements” including the narrowing of lanes and the addition of a bike lane on each side of the road giving priority to bicycles over vehicular traffic.

In a state where the Fish and Wildlife Commission continues to make policy in spite of more than four years without mandated commercial representation, and the largest city can unilaterally close roads to commercial traffic or severely restrict that traffic with impunity, the lure of other ports of call is becoming stronger every day. Newport, Oregon won the NOAA fleet, and Bellingham, Washington is working hard to take business from Seattle as well.

The Port of Seattle commission has shed ineffectual commissioner Rob Holland, and an upcoming election promises to further restructure the commission, which will put them in a good position to exert some influence on behalf of the businesses that validate their jobs.

Seattle is a maritime city, and needs to retain that heritage. Mayor McGinn will probably never have the same love of the maritime heritage as someone who was raised with it, but if he can’t learn to love the taxes paid by the successful fishing industry, perhaps he should find a more suitable position in another field.

Wild Salmon Harvest in Alaska Hits 5 Million Fish

As the Copper River harvest begins to wind down, commercial harvesters from Cook Inlet to Chignik, Kodiak and Bristol Bay are starting to deliver, with the catch as of June 19 at 5,116,000 salmon of all species delivered.

For Prince William Sound, the commercial fleet had brought in over 2 million fish, including 1,138,000 chum and 882,000 sockeye salmon, plus 8,000 kings.  Most of the reds  - 838,000 fish – came from the Copper River drift fleet, while most of the chum – 680,000 fish – came from the Coghill district drift fleet.

Prices for Copper River salmon remained robust, as well as promotions for famed fish, but those prices were coming down as the market began offering more salmon from Cook Inlet. Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle was offering fresh Copper River sockeye fillets for $20.00 a pound and fresh Copper River king fillets at $43.00, plus fresh whole Copper River reds for $64.95 each. Copper River Seafoods meanwhile was offering options that included 5-pound packages of fresh sockeye salmon fillets for about $164, with next day air shipment included.

The commercial harvest in Bristol Bay reached 414,000 salmon, with the majority  -338,000 sockeye – from the Egegik district, while the Naknek Kvichak had 48,000 reds and the Ugashik some 21,000 reds.

Cook Inlet’s Central district has harvested 12,000 reds and in the Southern district of Lower Cook Inlet, some 8,000 reds have been delivered.

In the westward region, meanwhile, the Chignik fishery delivered 729,000 fish, including 690,000 reds, 32,000 chum and 6,000 pink salmon.  For Kodiak, the catch stood at 608,000 fish, including 563,000 reds, 33,000 chum, 7,000 king and 5,000 pink salmon.  In the South Alaska Peninsula, the harvest was 1.1 million fish, including 903,000 reds, 195,000 chum, 39,000 pink and 2,000 kings.

All totals are preliminary and are updated daily online by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game at

Gulkana Hatchery Hit by Flood Waters, But Remains Viable

A commercial salmon hatchery on Alaska’s East Fork Gulkana River that is a major contributor to the Copper River salmon run was hit by flood waters last week that reshaped the path of the river.  Still the hatchery’s core infrastructure is intact, says Jeff Regnart, director of commercial fisheries for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.  The Gulkana Hatchery releases some 30 million fry annually, getting 300,000 to 400,000 back, depending on the year, Regnart said.  Of the fry released to nursery lakes, the survival rate is 5 percent to 20 percent, he said.

The Gulkana Hatchery, a public resource of the state of Alaska, is under a long term lease to the Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corp., and managed by Gary Martinek, a former Fish and Game employee who has been at the hatchery for some 30 years. In 2011, the state renewed and extended PWSAC’s contract through 2030 for the Gulkana Hatchery.

 Martinek said he expects that by week’s end the river should be down to its normal level, and there is potential for moving the river’s path back toward where it was before.  According to a New York City consultant for PWSAC, the corporation has reached out to two permitting consultants to determine their availability to work with authorizing agencies to re-establish the river to its pre-flood location.  That’s something that Martinek said will take time, considering the permitting process.

The good news is that hatchery staff completed an air drop of sockeye salmon fry into Crosswind Lake – one of three nursery lakes in the area – on the eve of the flooding.  The air drop had been delayed because Crosswind Lake was iced over, but enough of a lead opened to allow for that air drop on June 9 – hours before the flooding began.

Martinek said material losses from the raging flood waters could be in the $200,00 range, but that incubators for salmon fry are intact and so is the spring water that feeds those incubators. Regnart said that he expects that the hatchery will be able to complete egg takes this year in August and September.

Citizen Groups, State at Odds over Protecting Habitat from Coal Miners

A citizens group that sought greater protection for salmon habitat in advance of development of a coal mining venture says the state of Alaska is putting fisheries at risk by not providing that additional protection.

Alaska Commissioner of Fish and Game Cora Campbell says there is sufficient protection already.

The issue came to light this week with the release of correspondence between the public interest law firm representing the Chuitna Citizens Coalition and Cook Inletkeeper and Campbell.

Trustees for Alaska attorneys had written Campbell to petition for changes in regulations that permit offsite mitigation and monetary compensation for stream destruction, a situation that Trustees said “is inadequate to prohibit destruction of streams that provide irreplaceable spawning and rearing habitat for wild salmon.”

Trustees noted in its petition to the state that “mitigating long-term destruction of anadromous fish habitat is difficult to impossible and ADF&G has not demonstrated that it can provide meaningful compensatory mitigation that would be equal or greater to the type of loss defined as “long-term removal of habitat.”

Trustees requested an amendment to state regulations that would prohibit approval of any coal extraction activity that would result in long term removal of habitat within a river, lake or stream important to spawning, rearing or migration of anadromous fish.

Campbell said her agency reviewed the petition and denied it because ASF&G already had the authority to prohibit such activity in a catalogued anadromous water body for activity deemed insufficient for the proper protection of fish and game. That viewpoint was challenged by Judy Heilman, president of the Citizens Coalition, whose members include commercial and sport fishermen, hunters, subsistence users and property owners in the area.

Heilman said the state’s stand underscores “the state’s refusal to pass commonsense protections and the need for our federal agencies to play a more active role protecting Alaska’s magnificent salmon resources.  The Parnell administration is saying our salmon streams are open for coal strip mining,” she said.

Leaks Repaired, Troubled Cargo Ship Heads for Mexico

A cargo ship flagged in Antigua and Barbuda that had an unplanned layover at the Port of Valdez, Alaska because of oil leaks has been cleared by the U.S. Coast Guard to proceed on its planned voyage to Mazatlan, Mexico.

The Coast Guard issued the BBC Arizona’s owner a federal notice of violation for failure to notify the Coast Guard of hazardous conditions aboard the ship, a violation that slaps the vessel owner with a $5,000 fine.

The BBC Arizona, operated by BBC Chartering and Logistics, was transporting transformers, their accessories and transformer oil when leaks in the oil-filled containers were discovered.  The containers were moved to a shore side decontamination site to be emptied, cleaned and later returned to the ship.

Field tests confirmed there was no presence of PCBs, a hazardous substance sometimes associated with transformer oil. Coast Guard officials said since the non-contaminated oil is a commodity the product’s owner will sell it to the highest bidder, in accordance with U.S. Customs and Border Protection regulations.

The cleanup process involved the Coast Guard, state of Alaska agencies, the city of Valdez, Gallagher Marine Systems LLC, Emerald Alaska Inc., Alaska Chadux, North Star Terminal and Stevedore Co., and several marine survey firms.

The incident began following a small fire and the discovery of multiple leaking oil containers aboard the BBC Arizona on May 31.

Initially the response involved environmental mitigation measures, offloading of all Alaska-bound cargo and construction of a shoreside decontamination area.  Then came the offloading, emptying and cleaning of the oil containers.

Investigation continues into the cause of the container leaks.


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Tuna Trollers Trash Treaty Talks

Call it an uneasy truce rather than a treaty.
Two days of intense negotiations held between government representatives from the United States and Canada in Portland, Oregon in mid-April failed to mollify either nation’s commercial tuna fishermen. The session, which featured representatives from the National Marine Fisheries Service, United States Coast Guard, State of Oregon, Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) and tuna trollers, focused on revising and updating a 1981 treaty between the two nations that allowed cross-border tuna fishing in each other’s territorial waters. The treaty expired in 2011, and in the wake of a good 2012 season boosted by the absence of Canadian vessels in US waters, the US harvester delegates went into the negotiation session trolling for another no fishing regime for Canada this season.
They didn’t get it.
Not this season, anyway.
Wayne Heikkila, executive director of the Western Fishboat Owners Association (WFOA), said “other factors were involved, including economic and political” in the US government negotiating position.
In the end, the government representatives forged more of a one-year “truce” for 2013, allowing 45 Canadian vessels into US waters and an unlimited number of US boats allowed to ply Canada’s territorial sea. A phase-out of the entire tuna fishing regime would begin in 2014, still with a reduced number of Canadian vessels allowed. The 2013 season for Canadian vessels in US waters would start June 15 and end September 15, rather than the usual October 31.
Under this agreement, catches by Canadian fishermen within the US exclusive economic zone (EEZ) would count toward future US allocations, dating back to 1981. Those allocations would appear in a separate document and remain in force only as long as the treaty – not the fishing regime – remained in force. An EEZ is a specified section of the ocean where the U.S and other coastal nations have jurisdiction over economic and resource management. The EEZ includes waters three to 200 miles (five to 322 kilometers) offshore (or nine to 200 miles – 14.5 to 322 kilometers – offshore in western Florida and Texas). Coastal states are responsible for inshore waters out to three miles (five kilometers) from the coast (or nine miles, 14.5 kilometers, off the west coast of Florida and off Texas)
The agreement continues access to Canadian ports for unloading, boat work, crew transfers and taking on provisions, and includes South Pacific boats. US officials also agreed to continue working on add-measured vessels and the ability to pick up foreign crews in US ports.
No More Sharing
Tuna fishermen were “quite disappointed in the outcome, and will continue to strive for the elimination of the fishing regime in the near future and beyond,” noted Heikkila, who heads up a non-profit association representing more than 400 family-owned albacore fishing vessels, fishermen and supporting businesses based in Oregon, Washington, California, Alaska, Hawaii, New Zealand and British Columbia. The boats fish for wild Pacific albacore tuna from June through October, and in the South Pacific from January through April.
Since 1981, they have competed not only with each other, but with Canadian vessels that plied US waters under the fishing regime set up by the expired treaty. The Oregon Albacore Commission (OAC), WFOA, American Albacore Fishing Association (AAFA) and the Washington Trollers Association (WTA) called the existing arrangement unfair. A cooperative effort by those groups led to a suspension of the US-Canada reciprocal agreement in 2012. Negotiators decided on no reciprocal fishery, pending additional negotiations toward re-signing the treaty, which meant Canadian fishing vessels couldn’t catch albacore tuna in American waters, and American boats couldn’t venture into Canadian waters.
It enhanced the bottom line for many US trollers.
“Many of us got to fish without a Canadian presence for the first time in our lives,” said Rick Goche, a Coquille, Oregon-based tuna fisherman who also chairs the OAC. “What a difference it made. Without Canadian competition, the US fleet was able to more than make up for the fish the Canadians have historically caught.”
Although final numbers aren’t in, estimates indicate that the American fleet hauled in almost 5,000 tons more tuna than the previous season, even though “fishing in 2012 was not that great,” noted Goche, who trolls for tuna aboard the F/V Peso II.
“More commercial boats delivered fish,” he added. “Most of them, I’m told, were smaller salmon boats that found fish close to the beach, but would not have attempted to compete with the ‘wolf pack’ fishing practices of the Canadian fleet.”
“The fishermen said it was pretty peaceful out there and a lot less crowded without the Canadians around,” Heikkila said. WFOA is immersed in fishery management issues at the state, federal, and international levels, and negotiating the tuna treaty topped their list of initiatives for 2013.
Out With The Old
Heikkila said the old agreement – amended in 2002 and codified by law in 2004 – is too lopsided and requires some modifications to make it fair. Nancy Fitzpatrick, executive director of the OAC, agrees.
The treaty allowed US vessels to fish for albacore tuna in Canadian waters to 12 miles from shore, while allowing 110 Canadian vessels the same privilege in US waters. It also allowed Canadian and US boats to use certain of the other country’s ports to offload fish or take on fuel and supplies.
“For many years, everything was fairly equal,” said Fitzpatrick.
In fact, it worked quite well until the past decade, when changes in weather and water conditions skewed the balance.
Collectively, the US and Canadian fisheries bring in 15,000 to 20,000 metric tons of tuna annually. About 60 percent goes to Asia and Europe, 10 percent to United States canneries, and the remaining 30 percent is sold in US and Canadian markets for domestic consumption.
Fitzpatrick said in seven of the past 10 years, Canada’s boats have drawn 80 percent of their catch from US waters, with an annual albacore tuna harvest of about 12,000 tons. US fishermen take less than 1,000 tons of albacore from Canadian waters each year. The 110 boats allowed more than three decades ago, she added, “were mostly family boats and smaller private boats. Now they’re much larger and have way more capacity, meaning they’re harvesting more fish.”
“Not renewing the treaty was our way of telling the Canadian fishing fleet we have been getting the short end of the stick too long, and we’re not going to do it anymore,” said Heikkila, noting that they need to negotiate some new terms “to keep up with the times.”
He, Fitzpatrick and the tuna fishermen want terms in any renewed pact to even things out in determining long-term reciprocal privileges. Suggested changes have included limiting the number of Canadian boats in US water, limiting harvest tonnage, or stipulating how close Canadian boats can get to American boats while fishing.
Heikkila said they would either like to forge an agreement that doesn’t require frequent renegotiation, or preferably eliminate it completely, phasing out all access to Canada’s tuna fleet. Fishermen say they wanted another year of no encroachment from their northern neighbors to determine whether or not last season “is an anomaly” or a potential long-term boon for the American fleet.
Such suggestions didn’t sit well with their Canadian counterparts during the April negotiating session.
Heikkila said the US Department of State (DOS) in early April put out a proposal that a fishing regime would indeed be negotiated in 2013 for one year, with the number of vessels allowed between 35 and 55. US harvesters opposed the idea “every step of the way” heading into the negotiations.
Season length, catch attribution, port check-ins and check-outs, etiquette, research and other issues were all on the table.
Canadian representatives countered the initial US proposal of 20 to 25 vessels with 75 to 80 vessels – close to the historic treaty level of 110. US fishermen argued that numbers had to be near zero or close to it “if something was to be negotiated.” The fishermen said the US was obligated to reduce numbers to pre-1998 levels, dating back to 1981 for an average.
“When the plenary began, both sides agreed that issues like research and on-grounds behavior would remain outside the regime,” Heikkila said.
They also agreed to freeze the Canadian list, with no more license transfers during the season and no increase in vessel size and US approval required for transfers occurring outside the season. Neither side could agree on number of vessels or season length. Everyone but the government representatives were dismissed. When they all returned, Heikkila said “we were told the Canadians did not like what was agreed to and did not come back.”
US leaders opted against a joint briefing, where the terms forged by the government representatives were spelled out.
Despite the universal dislike, Heikkila said “they did a good job to forge an agreement.” And, as he, Goche and Fitzpatrick point out, it’s only in place for 2013. In a letter to OAC commissioners and albacore fishermen, Goche called it “worse than we hoped for and better than we feared.”
“It is what it is,” he added. “Let’s just hope that fish are abundant and those 45 Canadian boats are virtually invisible to us.”
Goche noted that the “trajectory of future agreements is toward zero” and the objective is to phase out the agreement “on a shorter rather than longer timeline.” Canada’s representatives, he stated, “were also repeatedly put on notice” that the one-year agreement is essentially a “probation” and any problems they cause (“such as happened in the past”) could end the possibility of any phase-out.
“They tried to reassure us that any of their boats in our waters will be on their very best behavior, and they’re just grateful to be fishing here again, no matter how temporary,” Goche pointed out, encouraging US tuna trollers to avoid any negative interactions with Canadian vessels, and to keep a log of any problems that do arise, including date, time, boat name, position and nature of the interaction.
Seal of Approval
One agreement still in place is helping the albacore fishery market its product. Ironically enough, in 2009 the WFOA forged a collaborative funding agreement with the Canadian Highly Migratory Species Foundation to undergo full assessment by the international Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) to earn its blue seal of eco-certification for North American North Pacific albacore tuna. They received it, and it has paid some dividends by helping to open up more market niches worldwide.
“It’s a global market, and the MSC logo is an internationally-recognized symbol of good management and sustainability,” Heikkila said. Adding the MSC eco-label to their tuna products enhanced their already high standard of sustainability and consumer awareness and recognition of those efforts.
The WFOA followed in the wake of its smaller cousin, the AAFA, which – with its 26-vessel membership – became the first tuna fishery in the world to earn the designation in August 2007. “A good fisherman is not necessarily one who catches lots of fish, but one who takes good care of what he catches and protects the resources of the sea,” noted Newport-based tuna fisherman and AAFA member Herb Goblirsch.
Troll-caught one fish at a time, wild Pacific albacore is considered a superior tuna with a mild, rich flavor, and firm flesh. It’s available fresh, frozen, or as canned “white”, “troll-caught”, or “US-caught” albacore. The albacore harvested by Oregon fishermen are younger (three to five years old), weigh from 10 to 30 pounds, and are higher in beneficial omega-3 fish oils than larger, leaner, older albacore snagged in the central Pacific. Because they are young, mercury accumulation is not a concern.
Albacore trollers or jig boats tow 10 to 20 lines of varying lengths from the outriggers and stern, with a lure (jig) attached to the end of each un-weighted line. Boats range from 38 to 100 feet long, and carry crews of two to three fishermen. Catches can range from none to as many as 300 on a good day – and last season’s experiences are proof.
Mixed Results
The ebb and flow of the 2012 albacore tuna season, which started slightly later than normal and ended early for many commercial fishermen, was nearly as capricious as the ocean itself. While some were still out fishing – way out – pursuing their elusive quarry 100 to 150 miles offshore late in the season, many called it quits and went into wait-until-next year mode.
Most fishermen called it an average season, but their experiences ran the gamut from good to fair to mercurial.
Markets in 2012 were “softer” than 2011’s record prices, but didn’t drop as far as some fishermen feared, and even strengthened somewhat during the season. Market prices fluctuated, with processors paying as little as $1.10 per pound and as high as $1.35, while fishermen selling fresh tuna off their boats are getting anywhere from $2.50 to $3.50 per pound.
Only about 200,000 pounds is sold directly off the boats each year, say ODFW officials. The remainder goes to processing plants or is exported.
Counting everyone who brings in 50 pounds of tuna or more, Heikkila said the albacore tuna fishery has about 600 to 700 individual boats, but maybe 200 to 300 are “serious tuna fishermen.” The best tuna trolling, he noted, takes place off the Oregon coast from Coos Bay northward to the Columbia River, with some available off Washington’s southern coast.
Most fishermen focus on Oregon waters, including Newport-based Dave Logsden, who chases his quarry 30 to 100 miles out aboard the F/V Grace Elizabeth. “It was a pretty good season – one of the best for me,” said Logsden, who started fishing in 1972 and also pursues salmon, ling cod and halibut. “I sell everything off the boat, and prices were about the same as last year.”
Logsden, who only uses jig, not bait, said his catch fetched $2.75 per pound. Others were going as low as $2.25 or $2.50 and as high as $3. A tight market in 2011 pushed prices about $1 per pound higher than normal, but he said 2012 prices ebbed and flowed, especially at processing plants.
“The season started a bit late and ended early,” Logsden noted. “I usually begin about July 1, but we didn’t have fish here until mid-July – and by mid-September, they were too far offshore for my boat. The warm water and the tuna were gone.”
Other fishermen deemed the season anywhere from good to great, at least while it lasted. After “rocking and rolling” in some places in June with an opening off-the-boat price at $3.50 per pound, a saturated market in July dropped the price to $2.25 before it rebounded to hover at $2.50, although it varied from port to port.
Price these days is generally a function of fishermen talking to buyers first, said Fitzpatrick – getting their fish in a barrel, as it were, before venturing out. Things were really fizzling out as the 2012 season neared its traditional endpoint in early October.
Taylor Frierson from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife reports a total of 447 vessels making at least one landing of albacore in Oregon ports in 2012 - 1,608 total trip landings to be exact, up from 1,554 landings in 2011.
August was the peak month, with landings of 4.39 million pounds - the most productive August since 1997. Overall commercial landings reached 9.9 million pounds, besting the 2011 total of 9.7 million pounds and the 10-year (2003-2012) average of 9.6 million pounds.
Newport received most of Oregon’s albacore landings with 5.04 million pounds, just under the port record of 5.07 million pounds in 2009. Newport netted $7,696,622 in revenues - a state record for the highest tuna revenues at a single port, easily besting the previous record of $6,942,548 set in Astoria in 2011. Landings at Astoria, meanwhile, were down by 36 percent, reaching just 2.01 million pounds. Frierson noted speculation about the absence of the Canadian fleet causing the precipitous drop. Pacific City’s dory fleet featured a port record of 20 vessels that landed 37,974 pounds of albacore, surpassing their ten-year average (2002-2011) by 650 percent.
“The West Coast albacore market in 2012 was not quite as strong as the all-time record revenues for 2011, but remained well above average from past years,” noted Frierson.
Ex-vessel revenue stood at $15,089,164 – down 20 percent from the $18,800,634 gleaned in 2011. Average price for 2012 was $1.53 per pound, down from $1.94 in 2011. Average price from 2001 to 2010 was 95 cents per pound.
“This phenomenon of sudden increased values began in 2011 after the tsunami in Japan destroyed their tuna fleet and the largest fish freezer in the world, which contained millions of pounds of albacore,” noted Frierson. “Other world market factors may have also influenced the value spike.”
Albacore deliveries in early July “were rewarded” with a peak of $1.84 per pound average price before the market declined to the season’s lowest average price of $1.41 per pound by the second week of August.
“The slump in price was likely due to the highest volume of landings in the first week of August,” Frierson noted. “Average prices then rose steadily until the end of the season, finishing at up to $2.04 per pound. Many large deliveries of frozen albacore were made within the final two weeks of October, where blast-frozen tuna sold for as high as $2.18 per pound.”
For the season, fresh-iced tuna average prices ranged from $1.25 to $1.50 per pound; brine-frozen tuna averaged $1.35 to $1.55; blast-frozen tuna averaged $1.60 to $1.85; and direct sales of fresh-iced tuna ranged from $2.50 to $3.00 per pound. Blast and brine-frozen tuna sales each accounted for 38 percent of the market, while fresh-iced tuna sales were 24 percent.
Albacore accounted for 13 percent of Oregon’s marine fish revenue in 2012, with the ex-vessel revenue from albacore landings ranked third among all Oregon’s marine fishery landings behind Dungeness crab and pink shrimp.
As for this season, as of press time, Fitzpatrick said she had “no idea” as to what the season might bring. “There’s no way to know yet,” she added.
Catches and market prices, as usual, are sure to fluctuate, and the Canadian influence is back in the mix. Cold water has led to a slow start, and Fitzpatrick and Goche both noted that much can happen to both catch and markets between now and October.
“The markets are a little more fluid than last year,” said Heikkila. “Demand is starting to go up, but it depends on what’s caught elsewhere worldwide.”



Copper River Kicks In; Alaska’s Wild Salmon Harvest Swells

The famed Copper River district salmon fishery is running well ahead of forecast and appears likely now to have a robust regular commercial fishing schedule, with openers twice weekly averaging 24 to 36 hours, state biologists say.

“We were way ahead of the forecast (for sockeyes) for the first three openers,” said Jeremy Botz, the state Department of Fish and Game’s gillnet area management biologist at Cordova.

The projected harvest for the first three 12-hour openers was 410,000 sockeye and 8,000 Chinook salmon. The preliminary estimate on the actual harvest is 586,000 reds and 5,400 kings, plus some 7,000 chums. Except for the first period, weather conditions have been favorable for the fleet and the fourth opener on June 10 was under sunny skies with temperatures near 60 degrees.

Statewide, as of June 12, the preliminary cumulative statistics show a harvest of 1,922,000 salmon of all species, including some 1,072,000 reds, 802,000 chum, 45,000 kings, and fewer than 1,000 silver and 3,000 pink salmon respectively.

Beginning this season, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is updating the harvest estimates nightly, and posting them online at:

In Seattle’s famed Pike Place Fish Market, whole fresh Copper River king salmon are selling for $29.99 a pound and fresh Copper River king fillets for $43.99 a pound. Whole fresh Copper River sockeyes are $64.95 per fish and fresh Copper River sockeye fillets are $21.99 a pound. In Anchorage, FishEx is offering fresh Copper River sockeye fillets for $25.95 a pound and fresh Copper River king fillets for $38.95 a pound.

As usual with the Copper River fish, it was a case of first come, first serve, and they were going fast, keeping fishmongers very busy.

Prices have come down a bit with some, but not all, online retailers since the celebrated annual opener of the Copper River fishery. On May 29, 10th and M Seafoods in Anchorage was retailing whole kings for $26.95 a pound and king fillets for $32.95 a pound, and sockeyes were priced at $7.95 a pound for whole fish and $11.95 a pound for fillets. Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle meanwhile was offering whole Copper River kings for $35.99 a pound, king fillets for $35.99 a pound, whole Copper River sockeyes at $94.95 each and fillets for $28.99 a pound.

Chinook Bycatch Limit Set for GOA Trawl Fleet

Federal fisheries managers meeting in Juneau plan to put a 7,500 fish limit on Chinook salmon bycatch by some 60 bottom trawlers harvesting flatfish, rockfish and Pacific cod in the Gulf of Alaska.

The action during the June meeting of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council still needs approval from Commerce Secretary John Bryson. There will be a public comment period, so when the new limit will go into effect is still uncertain.

The Chinook, prized by all salmon harvesters, has been on the decline in abundance and harvests for over 50 years in Alaska, and on the entire Pacific coast.

National Marine Fisheries Service is required by law to the extent possible to minimize bycatch, and minimize mortality of bycatch that cannot be avoided.

“Overall, it is a good thing,” said Jon Warrenchuk, a senior scientist for the environmental organization Oceana, based in Juneau. “Not catching salmon will be the first thing on the trawlers’ minds, or they will risk being shut down for the season. It will force these guys to work together, share information, maybe tow shorter distances,” said Warrenchuk, whose organization had advocated for a Chinook salmon bycatch cap of 5,000 fish.

But Julie Bonney, executive director of the Groundfish Data Bank in Kodiak, said that from a trawl perspective “it is going to be very painful. We’re looking at between $28 million and $40 million in economic loss, assuming the fleet can’t change its behavior,” she said. That loss would hit hard at Kodiak, with the residential processing labor force seeing the biggest impact, she said.

What would have been better, she said, would be to have individual vessel accountability, stop the race for fish and build a cooperative system.

“Basically there is nothing the vessels can do. We will hit the cap and will get shut down,” she said. “From a fleet perspective, it is scary as hell because there are so many kings on the grounds right now. It’s pain for no gain,” she said. “I am sympathetic to what is happening to other resource users for king salmon, but this is not going to solve the problem.”

Salmon in the Gulf of Alaska come from over 100 river systems, the bulk of them in the Pacific Northwest, British Columbia and Southeast Alaska, but there is no science to know which rivers are hit hardest, Bonney said. “We do know there is no presence of western Alaska stocks in the Gulf of Alaska, so we are not affecting those river systems at all.”

The decline in king salmon runs statewide has been a matter of growing concern for Alaska’s commercial, sport and subsistence harvesters. Salmon harvesters’ concern mounted extensively in 2010 when the number of king salmon caught incidentally to the Gulf of Alaska pollock fisheries reached 54,449 fish.

Five West Coast Senators Say Pebble Mine Threatens Fisheries

Five Senate Democrats representing West Coast states told President Barack Obama on June 10 that his administration should consider the impact on the West Coast fishing industry before permitting a large-scale mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay region.

The comments, contained in a letter to the White House, were signed by Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, both D-WA; Jeff Merkley, D-OR, and Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, both D-CA.

The senators cited a new report from the University of Alaska Institute of Social and Economic Research, which concluded that the Bristol Bay commercial salmon fishery generates $1.5 billion in economic activity annually. The report also found that Bristol Bay salmon fishing and processing is worth $674 million to Washington, Oregon and California while creating 12,000 seasonal jobs and approximately 6,000 full-time jobs in those states.

The senators said the report clearly demonstrates that Bristol Bay is an integral component of the broader Alaska and Pacific Northwest seafood industry, with thousands of family wage jobs dependent on the Bristol Bay salmon run.

“We support a valid, sound science based approach to ensuring that Bristol Bay salmon are safeguarded,” they said. “To that end, we respectfully ask that you make staff from both the Council on Environmental Quality and the Department of Commerce available to our staff to discuss the implications of this economic report, and how these two agencies, specifically, are working with the EPA to protect our maritime economies.”

“Water contamination and habitat loss from the construction and operation of a hardrock mine in Bristol Bay would put thousands of fishery-related family wage jobs at risk,” the senators said. “Our states have a strong maritime history of which our commercial fishing industries are a key part. In order to maintain these direct fishing and processing jobs, and the jobs supported by associated businesses like gear manufacturers, shipbuilders, suppliers and other maritime businesses, we must maintain healthy, sustainable fishery resources.”

More Protection Urged for Fish in Tongass National Forest

 A group of more than 230 scientists is urging Congress to enact stronger protections for wild salmon in the Tongass National Forest in southeast Alaska by supporting a legislative proposal called the Tongass 77.

That legislation would permanently conserve the most productive and currently unprotected watersheds for salmon and trout across nearly two million acres, the scientists said in an announcement June 10.

The 17-million acre national forest produces about 70 percent of all wild salmon harvested from national forests in the United States and roughly 28 percent of Alaska’s overall salmon catch, U.S. Forest Service data shows.

Tongass 77 legislation would permanently protect 58 percent of all Tongass salmon and trout spawning and rearing habitat at the watershed scale, said Heather Hardcastle, a Juneau gillnet fish harvester and biologist who works for the Trout Unlimited Alaska program, a supporter of the legislation.

Scientific research conducted by Audubon Alaska and The Nature Conservancy and reviewed by local fisheries experts identified the Tongass 77 watersheds as the highest-quality habitat for salmon, trout and other wildlife that lacks permanent protection in the Tongass. Timber and mining, road building, more than 40 proposed and existing energy projects, and several initiatives to privatize large swaths of the Tongass are currently in the works for these lands. Efforts to privatize several million acres of the forest come from Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell’s Alaska timber jobs task force, Sealaska Corp., and other Southeast Alaska Native groups.

These initiatives and development activities have the potential to significantly impact the spawning and rearing habitat of Tongass salmon and trout as well as other species dependent on old-growth forest, the scientists said.

The scientists noted in their letter to Congress that populations of many species that are rare or have declined significantly in their southern ranges, including all Pacific salmon and steelhead trout species, brown bears, wolves, marten, bald eagles, marbled murrelets, and northern goshawks, are still abundant in Southeast Alaska, but face threats from climate change and ongoing habitat loss and fragmentation from development.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Numbers Offer Possibility of More Promising Salmon Season

By Terry Dillman

Cautious optimism again best describes the attitude of commercial salmon fishermen in the wake of the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC)’s adopted ocean salmon seasons for 2013. PFMC recommends management measures for fisheries off the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California.
Nancy Fitzpatrick, executive director of the Oregon Salmon Commission, said cold ocean water has led to a slow start, but prospects for the season are looking up. “The numbers are very positive,” she said. “We’re hoping.”

Strong abundance forecasts for both Sacramento River and Klamath River fall Chinook promise commercial and recreational fishing opportunities along the entire coast, especially Oregon and California. PFMC adopted the recommendations in April, and forwarded them to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) for approval the first of May. Dan Wofford, the council chairman, noted the potential for “another strong year for ocean salmon fisheries off California and Oregon, with reasonable seasons north of Cape Falcon” while still satisfying conservation goals for more than 50 salmon stocks.
Salmon fisheries south of Cape Falcon (in northern Oregon) rely primarily on Sacramento River fall chinook.

In 2008 and 2009, poor Sacramento returns led to the largest ocean salmon fishery closure on record. The abundance forecast of Sacramento River fall chinook in 2013 is 834,200, similar to last season and far above the number needed for optimum spawning this fall (122,000 to 180,000 fish). The Klamath River fall chinook ocean abundance forecast for 2013 is 727,600 – third highest on record since 1985.
Eric Schindler, ocean salmon sampling project leader with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW)’s Marine Resources Program, said predictions look rosy south of Cape Falcon, Oregon, but especially from Humbug Mountain on the California coast to the Oregon-California border. In fact, fishermen in the California Klamath Management Zone already caught the May quota of 3,000 chinook.

“The good news is they’re catching fish, and fishing could be really good, but it depends on the zone,” said Schindler. “The fish were there last year – they just weren’t along the Oregon coast. This year, it’s really hit-or-miss for numbers of fish north of Cascade Head. We hope to see more of the Sacramento fish between Humbug Mountain and Cape Falcon.”

This is also a “pink year,” he added, meaning there could be some pink salmon landings. Just how much is anybody’s guess.

Despite the generally rosy predictions, a number of commercial fishermen prefer to remain cautiously optimistic. As Schindler noted, “the fish have to cooperate, the weather has to cooperate, and the fishermen have to get out.”

Commercial salmon fishermen, however, have watched their livelihoods dwindle to almost nothing during the past several seasons – even the promising ones in 2011 and 2012 that didn’t really reach their anticipated potentials.

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, and a somewhat improved, yet quite limited season in 2010, most fishermen were optimistic about 2011 prospects. Fishery managers predicted much stronger returns of fall Chinook and coho, opening the hatch to more sizeable commercial ocean salmon season that sadly never materialized. Managers certainly expected more than the 513,000 pounds of Chinook landed in 2010.

It wasn’t even close.

Despite the healthy forecasts, fish were scarce, with some calling it an absolute bust. A few boasts averaged as low as one salmon per day, and many trollers simply quit fishing because operating costs – for licenses, permits, insurance, maintenance, fuel and more - far outweighed any potential income.
Many fishermen ended up in debt or broke after gearing up for a season that failed to live up to expectations, said Fitzpatrick.

Since 2004, when Oregon’s salmon trollers landed 2.9 million pounds of fish, and 2005, when they hauled in 2.6 million pounds, they have endured 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, a disappointing 2011, when fish were scarce, despite healthy forecasts, followed by last season’s improved, but less than stellar results.
The fleet again faces much-improved prospects for the 2013 season, but those who don’t want to follow in the wake of others who were driven out of the business during these lean, mean years are again taking a wait-and-see attitude.

The cumulative economic effects during that stretch of poor fishing opportunities were substantial, not just for the commercial fishery, but recreational, marine and freshwater fisheries and the communities that depend on them. It’s an image fishermen want to keep from becoming iconic. Commercial salmon fishermen have lost much of the capacity to fish, and wishing and hoping have become standard gear.
In 2008 and 2009, federal disaster funding reimbursed salmon fishermen at 100 percent of their best season of the previous five years. Some fishermen used the disaster funds to train for other jobs. Some retired. More than a few stayed the course, because fishing is a lifestyle, a culture of folks who thrive at sea, despite its vagaries.

Fitzpatrick said it’s where they want to be and what they want to do. Most vitally, it’s who they are.

Cause and Effect
Blame for declining runs of Pacific Northwest salmon has focused on habitat loss from logging and development, predatory sea lions, power-generating dams, terns and other coastal birds that prey on juvenile fish, changes in hatchery operations, and over-fishing by commercial and sports fishermen. Still, the most common factor in determining good seasons or bad is the ocean itself, and scientists are continually monitoring ocean conditions – temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen content, and other factors – to determine their effect on salmon distribution.

Researchers like Bill Peterson, a biologist with NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center (NWFSC) at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center (HMSC), and others are working diligently to discover the reasons behind salmon run declines and collapses, and to find ways to more accurately predict those fluctuations and deal with them.

The survival rate of juvenile salmon in the ocean is a key indicator of future salmon runs, and ocean conditions at the time those juveniles migrate from estuaries and rivers into the ocean determine their survival rate.

When those young salmon enter the ocean, they need enough food to not only survive, but to grow quickly enough to escape predators. The smaller the juveniles are, the more potential predators they face offshore. And if ocean conditions aren’t favorable, the predators won’t have other fish like herring, anchovies and sardines as alternative meals, leaving the salmon even more vulnerable. Anchovies, sardines, herring, and other small fish also make up the main part of the diet for the salmon themselves.
Fisheries biologists say coho return as adults after 18 months. Spring chinook return after two years, and fall chinook take three years or longer.

Juvenile salmon spend months in fresh water estuaries and rivers, but can leave anytime. Scientists aren’t sure exactly what triggers the migration to the ocean, but studies indicate the importance of timing. Favorable or unfavorable ocean conditions at the time of migrations determine survival rates for juvenile salmon, researchers note.

The ocean’s Jekyll-and-Hyde personality makes it difficult for biologists to make accurate predictions.

Genetic Markers
A collaborative project between scientists and commercial fishermen from Oregon, Washington, and California on a critical study to learn more about salmon distribution, migration and behavior in the ocean. Based at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center (HMSC), it uses genetic markers of individual ocean-caught salmon to pinpoint their river of origin. 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 with a full sampling season and a program expansion.

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 into the project’s computer system. Data so far indicate that salmon from different river systems behave differently, which could have important implications for future management and stock protection decisions.

Project leaders say 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.

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.

This Season
“We’re hoping for a season that provides plenty of opportunity for folks to get out on the water and hook a salmon,” said Steve Williams, ODFW deputy administrator for Fish Division. “A solid salmon season could be a real economic shot in the arm for coastal communities.”

Commercial fishermen already have been fishing along the Oregon Coast south of Cape Falcon, and have been reporting good success from Newport to Bandon, according to Chris Kern, ODFW salmon manager.

Summary of the Ocean Seasons Adopted by PFMC:
North of Cape Falcon to Leadbetter Pt., Washington: Commercial troll salmon seasons and quotas very similar to last year. Seasons will start on May 1 for chinook and July 1 for hatchery coho and should continue through mid-September.

South of Cape Falcon: Commercial troll chinook salmon seasons from Cape Falcon to Humbug Mt. that provides for full fishing from April 1 through Aug.29, and fall fishing with weekly trip limits from Sept. 4 through Oct. 31. Commercial troll chinook salmon seasons from Humbug Mt. to OR/CA border from April 1 through May 31 without trip limits or quotas, followed by June, July, August, and September seasons managed by quota with daily trip limits.

Commercial salmon fishermen off the Oregon coast are landing fish, but despite the optimism and a 2012 harvest notably higher than the previous two years, industry leaders are seriously pondering the fishery’s future. Despite the significant improvement, it’s nowhere near the fishery’s halcyon days of the 1970s and most of the 1980s, when 2,000 to 4,000 vessels plied the waters trolling for the Pacific Northwest’s signature fish species.

According to ODFW, the commercial salmon troll fishery began developing off the Oregon coast by 1912, and within seven years, 1,000 to 2,000 boats were trolling off the mouth of the Columbia River. Oregon began recording troll landings separately from gillnet fisheries in 1925.

Landings of ocean troll caught coho salmon remained relatively stable from 1925 to 1941, with landings between 2 million and 4 million pounds most years. From 1942 to 1950, catches remained near 1 million pounds annually, but by 1957 landings climbed to 3.4 million pounds. The El NiƱo of 1958-59 resulted in landings dropping back below 1 million pounds or 200,000 fish.

During the 1960s and early 1970s, improved hatchery production and rearing techniques, a growing troll fleet, and good ocean survival rates of smolts to adults resulted in record landings that peaked in 1976 with 1.8 million coho landed. From the mid-1970s through the 1990s, Oregon’s ocean coho fishery faced on-going poor ocean environmental conditions and poor overall survival, increased management restrictions and reduced ocean harvest opportunities.

Although chinook harvest has also fluctuated dramatically, the long-term trend was toward higher landings, with record harvests in 1987 and 1988. Harvests dropped during the early 1990s due to decreases in many stocks and concern for critical natural stocks under both state and federal management and the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA), along with escalating allocation conflicts between river and ocean user groups.

Coho salmon landings have historically eclipsed chinook, but ODFW records show that for the last decade, chinook landings have either equaled coho or many times made up most of the catch. Chinook are likely to continue to predominate in the landings unless coho populations recover substantially to allow directed coho fisheries to resume coastwide, ODFW officials noted.

Entry into the troll fishery went unrestricted until 1980 when a permit moratorium was adopted.
Although 4,311 vessels already had Oregon troll permits, managers established a goal of 2,400 vessels licensed to troll for salmon in Oregon. In 1993, it dropped to 1,800 vessels, and to 1,200 in 1995 based on recommendations by an industry review panel. As of 1999, permit numbers had dropped below the 1,200 cap, and a lottery was introduced in 2001 to issue available permits.

Fitzpatrick referred to the PFMC’s annual review of ocean salmon fisheries, which showed that the number of vessel owners with salmon permits has dwindled from a high of 4,314 in 1980 to slightly more than 1,000 in 2011, due in large part to fishery management efforts, most notably permit restrictions and salmon quotas. In 1980, 3,875 vessels landed salmon – the highest on record. Last season, just 302 vessels harvested fish.

The worst year was 2008, when only 138 vessels landed salmon in the middle of a federally-declared disaster season.

In 1976, salmon fishermen hauled in almost 11 million pounds of salmon worth $14.7 million. By comparison, they landed 499,000 pounds in 2006 valued at $2.7 million, 565,000 pounds in 2007 valued at $2.8 million, only 70,000 pounds in 2008 worth $494,000 and 146,000 pounds in 2009 valued at just $345,000. The numbers rose in 2010 (513,000 pounds worth $2.8 million) and 2011 (403,000 pounds valued at $2.4 million).

Last season was a definite improvement, but nowhere near what’s needed to revive the fishery and keep it viable for those who once depended only on it for a living. Fishery managers say salmon fishing has declined precipitously and stocks have dwindled due to a complex set of circumstances.

Based on Pacific Coast Fisheries Information Network (PacFIN) data, only 194 vessels participated in the West coast commercial salmon fishery in 2008, down from 1,007 the previous year. The overall harvest (14,500 fish) plummeted to the lowest on record. Total ex-vessel value dropped to $1.2 million, again the lowest ever - 90 percent below the $11.9 million in 2007. The average per vessel inflation-adjusted ex-vessel value of salmon landings dropped to $5,300, half of the 2007 level. Ex-vessel value dropped 46 percent in Oregon, 33 percent in Washington and nearly 100 percent in California.

Income impacts for coastal communities are estimated per commercial pound and per recreational fishing day. They represent estimates – based on reported landings by area and other factors - of personal income associated with harvesting, processing, and “first level distribution activities” in the commercial and recreational salmon fisheries at the local community (county) and state levels.

Combined impact for all three states hit a record low of $6.9 million in 2008, well below the $39.9 million in 2007. The commercial fishery netted $1.4 million, down from $19.4 million the previous year, while the recreational fishery drew $5.5 million, down from $20.1 million in 2007.

Prices for ocean harvested chinook were the highest on record, averaging $6.96 per pound, besting the previous highs of $5.43 in 2006 and $5.38 in 2007.

“One of the main reasons 2008 prices were so high was due to the extremely restricted 2008 fishing season,” the PFMC review noted.

Fishermen and owners of related businesses reeling from the closure already knew that, and their misery continued through 2009. The outlook and harvest improved considerably in 2010 and 2011, but last season fell well short of expectations.

Unruly weather can foul things up for the fishermen, especially since – as “we’re the smaller boat fleet.” Most salmon trollers range from 20 feet to 50 feet, with only a few at 50-plus feet. “Lots of big boats have salmon permits, but they aren’t focused on salmon,” she added.

When the wind and waves rise, the smaller boats generally don’t go out. Safety is a key concern, and fishermen say the rewards these days don’t offset the risk.

Commercial salmon fishermen have become an endangered species themselves. Many of them are shunning salmon fishing and either turning to other fisheries to maintain their livelihoods or getting out of fishing altogether – an unpalatable decision for most of them. Salmon fishing just doesn’t pay as well as other fisheries anymore.

“If it had not been for the disaster relief funds, we would have lost a lot more boats,” said Fitzpatrick, who has been with the Oregon Salmon Commission since its inception in 1989.

Others hooked into an ongoing research project, trolling for salmon and science simultaneously, gleaning data that fishery managers hope could prevent complete closures of salmon fishing in the future. Because salmon management is so complicated and complex, the jury is still out on whether or not these and other efforts are enough to salvage the fishery.

One thing is certain: change is inevitable and the salmon fishery will never return to its former epic levels.

What Lies Ahead
“It’s an iconic fishery,” said Fitzpatrick, noting the history and “romance” as well as the generational aspect of salmon fishing. “These men and women decided that being on the ocean, being their own captain, being their own boss is what they want to do.”

Doing so is becoming more and more difficult.

Costs (moorage fees, insurance, equipment, fuel and more – “all the expenses of preparation paid out before you even put a boat in the water,” said Fitzpatrick) keep rising, market prices and weather fluctuate, regulations and restrictions change – usually becoming more onerous, and the ongoing debate between wild versus hatchery fish continues. To top it off, the fishery management equation – the way quotas and seasons are determined – has turned salmon into what Fitzpatrick calls “a credit card fishery.”

“Salmon is the most complicated and regulated fish in the Pacific Northwest,” she noted. “We basically catch fish on credit this year and pay for it next year (in reduced quotas or other ways).”

The state legislature passed a bill last year to remove the cap on salmon permits and eliminate the lottery system in place since 1991.

“Since 1992, not even half of the boats were fishing,” said Fitzpatrick. “If the numbers fell below 1,000, we had to open up a lottery to anybody to get the number back up.” The lottery hurt permit holders, since others could get permits by lottery for much less than the $5,000 to $10,000 it might otherwise cost.

“If we ever wanted a buyout – and I’m not saying we would – then we had to eliminate the lottery,” said Fitzpatrick. “Permit holders can renew every year, and if they don’t, the permit disappears. Under the lottery system, it didn’t disappear.”

The salmon commission’s focus is to get fresh wild caught Oregon salmon into the market. That means promoting high quality Oregon salmon to local restaurants, smaller retail stores and seafood counters – a strategy that is seemingly paying off. “It disappears fast,” Fitzpatrick said. “Buyers up and down the coast look for it.”

What the future holds remains uncertain. But for the third consecutive year, commercial fishermen could harvest more salmon.

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