Wednesday, July 31, 2013

New Freezer Longliner is Key in Cod Marketing Partnership

A new and much heralded addition to the freezer longline fleet working in Alaskan waters has been delivered to Alaskan Leader Fisheries LLC in Seattle, and is expected to be on duty in the Bering Sea by August.

In advance of the vessel’s christening in Seattle today, all of the Northern Leader’s Alaskan cod is already earmarked for distribution through a marketing partnership announced by Alaskan Leader Fisheries and Copper River Seafoods.

“The completion of the Northern Leader project represents the culmination of over three years of hard work and the commitment of many people,” said Robin Samuelsen, board chairman of Alaskan Leader Fisheries and Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp.

Nick Delaney, managing director of Alaskan Leader Fisheries, called the alliance, announced July 29, “a win for both companies. Copper River Seafoods gains access to the highest-quality hook-and-line caught Alaskan cod supply they need to meet customer demand and our company benefits from their strong customer relationships and domestic marketing expertise,” he said.

The alliance, said Scott Blake, president and chief executive officer of Copper River Seafoods, will allow Copper River Seafoods to offer its customers the highest quality whitefish along with world-famous salmon on a year-round basis, in quantities that will support high-volume programs.

Freezer longliners owned by Alaskan Leader Fisheries are a major source of sustainably harvested, frozen-at-sea, hook-and-line caught wild Alaskan cod, and the firm’s newest vessel, the Northern Leader, is the largest, most eco-friendly vessel in the North Pacific fishing fleet.   Rob Wurm, chief executive officer of Alaskan Leader Fisheries, said the company is dedicating 100 percent of the Northern Leader’s cod to the marketing partnership with Copper River Seafoods, giving customers “total traceability and the benefits of the most modern and innovative quality controlled processing line.”

Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp., with offices in Dillingham and Anchorage, owns 50 percent of Alaskan Leader Fisheries.

The Northern Leader, to be home ported in Kodiak, is designed for service in longline fisheries of the North Pacific, Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, targeting Alaskan cod, sablefish and other groundfish species. The vessel was delivered to Seattle in late June.

Many Pacific Northwest and international marine service providers were involved in the planning and construction of the vessel. From the builder, J.M. Martinac Shipbuilding, one of the oldest and most venerable West Coast shipyards, to Jensen Maritime Consultants, a Crowley owned leading naval architectural firm in Seattle, the building of the Northern Leader involved participation of over 100 companies and provided the job equivalency of over 200 employee-years to complete the vessel in Tacoma, Washington.

Retailers, Chefs Promote Bristol Bay Salmon Run

Eighty top restaurants and more than 3,200 retailers nationwide are hosting a rolling wave of events through mid-October featuring Bristol Bay sockeye salmon.

From bakeries to restaurants and lodges, chefs are showcasing their creativity and commitment to the Bristol Bay fishery with events ranging from one-night special tasting menus and month-long specials to dinner and a movie screenings of the Bristol Bay documentary “Red Gold.”  The events were coordinated in partnership with Chefs Collaborative ( a national nonprofit chefs network that educates seafood buyers and chefs about sustainable seafood.

Chef Kevin Davis of Seattle’s Blueacre Seafood, a participating chef, said he is a huge fan of Bristol Bay sockeye. “This is a beautiful fish, we love to serve it, and it is a crime against nature that anyone would consider building a copper mine where these fish reproduce year after year,” he said.

Retailers are promoting Bristol Bay sockeye at their seafood counters with custom point of sale materials urging customers “to protect wild salmon for the future by eating one today.” Promotional materials include posters, recipe cards, stickers, ice-spears and brochures.

Bob Waldrop, executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, said the association has two goals in this educational effort.

“First, we want people to understand that thousands of independently owned fishing businesses are involved in this highly successful and completely sustainable salmon fishery,” he said. “We are proud beyond words to be the current stewards of this amazing natural resource. And second, that Bristol Bay’s salon runs and our livelihoods are under direct threat from a large-scale copper mine that can still be stopped.  We need people to be aware of that and we need them to take action.”

The effort has attracted support from restaurants from coast to coast, including some in Seattle, Portland, Oregon, Boston, Washington D.C., New York, Atlanta and Newport, RI.

State Salmon Stream Decision Draws Criticism

The Alaska Department of Natural Resources has rejected a petition from local citizens who have been seeking, for more than two years, to protect wild Alaska salmon streams from coal strip mining in Upper Cook Inlet.

The decision, signed by DNR Commissioner Dan Sullivan, has drawn strong criticism from the Chuitna Citizens Coalition and Cook Inletkeeper, who are represented by Trustees for Alaska in their effort to stop PacRim Coal’s plans to mine in that area.

Judy Heilman, president of the Chuitna Citizens Coalition, called the state’s decision a horrible precedent for Alaska wild salmon and the families they support. “PacRim Coal’s mining plans would remove miles and miles of wild Alaska salon streams to a depth of over 300 feet,” Heilman said.  “The Alaska Department of Fish and Game calls the tributaries PacRim would remove as important to salmon, yet the state refuses to formally protect our wild salmon streams.”

“It’s a sad day when Governor Parnell’s policies protect a Delaware corporation’s profits over our wild Cook Inlet salmon runs and the Alaskan families salmon support,” said Terry Jorgensen, a Cook Inlet commercial fisherman and founding member of the Chuitna Citizens Coalition. “DNR’s rejection clearly illustrates the state’s failure to protect our wild salmon runs. The governor must understand the importance of salmon to Alaskans, yet his policies are leading us down the same path that led to the demise of salmon runs around the world.”

Back in 2010, the Chuitna Citizens Coalition and Cook Inletkeeper submitted a petition to the state seeking protective buffers around the Chuitna River and its tributaries under the Alaska Surface Coal Mining and Reclamation Act.  No coal strip mining would be allowed within salmon streams, but the petition would not preclude mining in the rest of PacRim’s coal lease area. Similar buffers are standard for logging operations and in municipal development plans.

DNR’s Sullivan, in a lengthy decision, said the state’s decision on reconsideration is not in any way an approval of coal mining, nor any particular coal mining project. He cited statutory and constitutional obligations to facilitate responsible development of coal resources, saying he had responsibilities under the Alaska Constitution to encourage and allow responsible resource development.

Alaska Salmon Harvest Edges Toward 100 Million Fish

Commercial harvests of wild salmon from Alaskan waters through July 30 reached more than 98,700,000 fish, the latest preliminary report from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game shows. The catch includes 55,618,000 pink, 28,001,000 sockeye, 13,601,000 chum, 1,248,000 silver and 294,000 kings.

In Prince William Sound, the catch has reached 29,584,000 pink, 3,377,000 chum, 2,240,000 sockeye, 23,000 silver and 10,000 kings – a total of  35,234,000 fish.

Harvesters in Cook Inlet netted 3.4 million salmon, mostly in Upper Cook Inlet, including 2.7 million sockeye, 382,000 pink, 165,000 chum, 163,000 silver and 5,000 Chinooks.

In the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim region, Yukon River fishermen have delivered 539,000 chum salmon, the bulk of them from the Lower Yukon.  On the Kuskokwim, fishermen have delivered some 117,000 chum, 14,000 silver and 2,000 kings to processors, and in Norton Sound, the catch included some 99,000 chum, 8,000 silver and 8,000 pink salmon.

Southeast Alaska harvests have reached more than 18 million pink, nearly 7 million chum, 793,000 silver, 519,000 red and 218,000 Chinook salmon.

On the Alaska Peninsula, the catch includes 6.2 million salmon, the bulk of them from the South Peninsula. Processors there received 2.6 million red, 2.6 million pink, 798,000 chum, 189,000 silver and 5,000 kings.

At Chignik, 2.6 million wild salmon have been delivered to processors, including 2.2 million sockeye, 237,000 pink, 121,000 chum, 19,000 silver and 3,000 kings, and at Kodiak, the fleet has delivered nearly 7.3 million fish, including 4.7 million pink, nearly 2 million red, 535,000 chum, 32,000 silver and 31,000 Chinooks.

Future Fishermen

At press time, the country is enveloped in a heat wave that’s reaching all the way to Alaska, where the youngest Philips learned all about picking fish from a gillnet on Bristol Bay this season. She reports a couple of 80-plus degree days in Egegik, and several very busy days, but lots of slow days as well. At 14, she hasn’t yet decided what she wants to do with her life, and she’ll most likely not make a career of fishing, but we’re glad she had the opportunity to experience a little of what our faithful readers do.

Short of sending kids to work in Alaska, how will the industry replace all the fishermen who are retiring? The average West Coast fisherman is in his late 50s, and the industry desperately needs a new group of committed individuals with boat-handling skills and the temperament to work long hours under difficult conditions. Those kids are out there… how does one introduce them to the industry?

One way is through the outreach of the local fishermen’s festivals, including the Commercial Fishermen’s Festival in Astoria, Oregon ( on September 14th and 15th, where this year’s event will include the model boats of Canadian model builder Ron Burchett.

Ron is well known around the maritime community as the guy with the big pool and the remote-control boats. The display draws kids of all ages, and for years he could be found at commercial maritime shows along the West Coast. His models are amazing in their level of detail and craftsmanship.

But to dismiss him as a toy builder is to miss several layers of Ron Burchett’s character. Ron grew up with tugs, workboats and fishing boats, and has extensive experience as both a seafarer and shipyard engineer. The boats he builds aren’t actually toys – they’re working models built to test seakeeping, efficiency and stability, and his “day job” is to build these boats as tank-test models for very big international companies that spend millions of dollars on fishing and work boats. His models have working scale model drive systems, controllable pitch propellers and Kort and Nautican systems. Ron’s talents are used by major tugboat companies and seafarer training institutions worldwide, and his knowledge of the industry, inside and out, is encyclopedic.

This year, Ron is providing resources to show the kids in attendance how the fishing industry works. He’ll have around 20 fishing boat models on hand, including a seiner that launches a remote-controlled seine skiff, deploys a net in a circle, closes the purse and then retrieves the net, all by remote control. Also on hand will be models of crab boats, including some famous TV boats, that can launch and retrieve crab pots. Ron says he’ll even have a US Coast Guard enforcement vessel on hand with lights and loudhailer.

Ron hopes other model builders will participate as well, and is offering space in the pool to show off your vessel to the future fishermen. He can be reached via email at or call him at 778-987-4201 if you have a model fishing boat you’d like to show off. It’s for the kids.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Comment Period Extended for Halibut Catch Sharing Plan

Federal fisheries officials have extended the public comment period for the proposed halibut catch sharing plan by 14 days, after receiving a number of requests for additional time for public input.

NOAA Fisheries said today that with the 14-day extension, comments are now due Aug. 26. The proposed rule to implement a halibut catch sharing plan for guided sport and commercial fisheries in Alaska published in the Federal Register on June 28 otherwise would have closed on Aug. 12.

Most requests submitted to NOAA sought a comment period extension of 45 days, noting that the comment period falls at the height of fishing season in Alaska, and fishermen who might want to comment are out on the water and may be unable to submit comments by the deadline.

This allows for a comment period of two months. An extension longer than this would jeopardize implementation of the catch sharing plan for the 2014 fishing season should NOAA proceed with a final rule after considering public comment.

Jim Balsiger, the Alaska regional administrator for NOAA, said the agency is strongly encouraging people to take the time to sit down and read the actual text of the plan so they have the facts before commenting.  Thousands of comments anticipated on the proposed rule must be analyzed and responded to if a final rule is to be published in late 2013 to allow for implementation for the 2014 charter halibut fishery.

The North Pacific Fishery management Council recommended the catch sharing plan to establish a clear allocation between the commercial and charter sectors in southeast Alaska and the central Gulf of Alaska, to provide stability for affected halibut fishery participants and to provide halibut fishery managers with greater precision in setting halibut catch limits and management measures that are responsive to annual changes in halibut exploitable biomass and fishing effort.

Address comments to Glenn Merrill, assistant regional administrator, Sustainable Fisheries Division, Alaska Region NMFS, Attn: Ellen Sebastian, and identified by FDMS Docket Number NOAA-NMFS-2011-0180. Comments may be submitted by any of the following methods:

Electronic submission: via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal at

Mail to P.O. Box 21668, Juneau, AK 99802-1668

Fax: 1-907-586-7557

The proposed plan is online at

Protection of Steller Sea Lions in Aleutians Upheld

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld protections for the western population of Steller sea lions, rejecting claims of fishing industry representatives and the state of Alaska in a challenge of limits to the commercial fishery.

In an opinion filed July 23, the judges affirmed the US District Court decision on limitations set by the National Marine Fisheries Service on sub-regions of the Pacific Ocean inhabited by the endangered western distinct population segment of Steller sea lions.

The case was brought by a number of commercial fishing entities, including the Freezer Longline Coalition, Alaska Seafood Cooperative, Groundfish Forum, Alaska Groundfish Cooperative, the Fishing Company of Alaska and others against the National Marine Fisheries Service, with the conservation organizations Oceana and Greenpeace as intervenor defendants. The plaintiff’s principal argument was that NMFS violated the Endangered Species Act because it based the fishing restrictions on declines in sub-regions rather than in the entire population of the endangered species.  Plaintiffs also contended that the agency utilized the wrong standard in measuring the effects of continued fishing and failed to find a sufficient causal link between authorizing fisheries and the population decline.

The appeals court held that use of sub-regions did not violate the ESA, and that the agency utilized appropriate standards to find that continuing previous fishing levels in those sub-regions would adversely modify the critical habitat and jeopardize the continued existence of the entire population.

Susan Murray, deputy vice president for the Pacific region for Oceanic, called the decision “a victory for healthy oceans.”

“Steller sea lions in the Aleutian Islands have had a tough history, from being shot for sport, to fisheries taking their food,” said Susan Murray, Oceana’s deputy vice president for the Pacific.

“The solution to recovering the Steller sea lion population is not more industrial fishing for important prey species,” said Jon Warrenchuk, Oceana’s senior scientist and campaign manager.  “The Steller sea lion is still facing a slow road to recovery, and the Aleutian Islands are key to their survival.”

A copy of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals opinion is online at

Commercial Wild Salmon Harvest in Alaska nears 75 million Fish

What a difference a week makes! The latest preliminary Alaska commercial salmon harvest totals from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game show the catch has jumped from 58 million to closing in on 75 million fish.

As of July 23, commercial harvesters had delivered to processors some 74,766,000 fish, including 34,558,000 pink, 27,109,000 sockeye, 12,085 chum, 729,000 silver and 284,000 king salmon.

While the Bristol Bay fishery was essentially over, after a run of some 23 million fish, with a cumulative harvest of 15.5 million sockeye, the total for Prince William Sound closed to over 28 million fish harvested, including 22,636,000 pink, 3,326,000 chum, nearly 2.2 million red, 14,000 silver and 10,000 king salmon.

In the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim region, the Lower Yukon harvest of chum salmon reached 404,000 fish, the Upper Yukon delivered 82,000 chum, Norton Sound had 58,000 chum, and Kuskokwim Bay and Kuskokwim River had a total of 105,000 chum, plus 4,000 coho and 2,000 king salmon.

In Cook Inlet, the catch has reached 2.6 million fish, including 2,355,000 red, 87,000 chum, 62,000 silver, 59,000 pink and 5,000 king salmon, mainly from the central district of Upper Cook Inlet.

In Southeast Alaska, the harvest stands at over 16 million fish, including 8.8 million pink, 6.1 million chum, 490,000 silver, 411,000 red and 214,000 kings.

Off the Alaska Peninsula, harvesters have delivered 4.3 million fish, mainly from the South Peninsula, including 2.5 million red, 1,043,000 pink, 620,000 chum, 118,000 silver and 4,000 kings.

Kodiak area harvesters have caught over 4 million salmon, including 1.8 million red, 1.8 million pink, 429,000 chum, 29,000 king and 19,000 silver salmon, and at Chignik, the harvest has reached 2.5 million fish, with a catch of 2.2 million red, 201,000 pink, 118,000 chum, 17,000 silver and 3,000 kings.

Wal-Mart Comments on its Fish Buying Practices

A spokesman for Wal-Mart says the retail giant has sourced salmon from Alaska for many years and wants to continue to source quality seafood for years to come, while ensuring sustainable seafood is available to future generations.

“That’s why we have been and will continue to be engaged in open and transparent dialogue with Alaska fisheries, suppliers, NGOs, industry experts and government to work toward a solution,” said Wal-Mart spokesman Chris Schraeder, in his response July 22 to an inquiry regarding Wal-Mart’s preference for a stamp of approval from the London-based Marine Stewardship Council for Alaska fish.

“We work with Marine Stewardship Council, recognized as the global standard for sustainable fishery management, to make sure fisheries are certified, and we also work with fisheries that are not currently certified, but are making progress toward better fishery management through a public fishery improvement project,” Schraeder said. “Today roughly 69 percent of the wild fish we purchase and sell in the U.S. comes from fisheries either MSC certified or under assessment.”

Schraeder’s comments prompted Tyson Fick, spokesman for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, to say that Alaska’s salmon fishery has been held up as a great example of fisheries management for decades before pay-to-play sustainability ecolabels came into being.

“Nothing has changed since most companies in Alaska decided to leave the MSC program and certification (in MSC) lapsed,” he said.  “The responsible fisheries management program offered through ASMI ( is ISO accredited and is just as robust, transparent, and credible as any certification program available today,” Fick said. “Regardless of any certification, the consumer demand for Alaska salmon remains very strong from people who recognize what a terrific product we have and it can be found at countless retail outlets in the US and abroad.”

Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell meanwhile has asked Wal-Mart to reconsider how it selects its seafood.  “Although your commitment to source only MSC seafood may have been sensible when first declared back in 2006, that policy is now sorely dated and is serving only to deprive your customers of high quality products produced in America, and forcing your company to source salmon from less sustainable fisheries in foreign nations,” Parnell said in a July 16 letter to Wal-Mart management.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Exxon Valdez recovery Plan Still Incomplete

More than 24 years after the Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster, a $92 million claim for the recovery plan for unanticipated harm to fish, wildlife and habitat remains unpaid, with the next federal court status hearing on the matter set for March of 2014.

At the latest court filing of June 28, both the US Justice Department and state of Alaska cited “unforeseen contracting issues, delays in “sample analysis” and stalled peer reviews as reasons why they haven’t begun implementing a multi-phase restoration project outlined back in 2006.

The issue prompted Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility to comment on July 15 that “this stalemate may foreshadow the official neglect to be expected after spills that will surely occur from drilling in the Arctic Outer Continental Shelf.” 

“Amazingly, it’s been seven years since the governments demanded this final payment, but have yet to collect a dime,” said PEER board member Rick Steiner, a retired University of Alaska marine professor who tried to intervene in the case to break the logjam. “"There is still a significant amount of Exxon Valdez oil in beaches, it is still toxic, it is still affecting the marine ecosystem, and yet the government and Exxon remain bickering about what, if anything, to do about it - pretty inexcusable behavior,” he said.

The $1 billion 1991 settlement with Exxon – now ExxonMobil – called for additional payment of up to $100 million for environmental damages unknown at the time of the settlement over the March 24, 1989 disaster.  In 2006, the federal and state governments jointly submitted a demand that ExxonMobil pay $92 million to fund recovery for the long term natural resources damages. Yet seven years later the governments are still waiting for long overdue scientific studies before collecting that $92 million, PEER said.

Meanwhile PEER earlier today took the nation’s federal pipeline safety agency to task for failing to conduct “a single surprise exercise for more than eight years to determine whether an operator can executive emergency response plans.”

Nor, said PEER, does the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration have a ready account of which emergency response plans it has approved, rejected or changed.

Federal guidelines call for up to 20 unannounced exercises annually to demonstrate an operator’s ability to respond to a worst case discharge spill event.

Wild Alaska Salmon Harvest Tops 58 Million; Bristol Bay Peaks at 16 Million

Preliminary wild salmon catch results show that Alaska’s wild salmon commercial harvest topped 58 million fish on July 17, including 16 million salmon for Bristol Bay—about one million fish shy of the already low harvest forecast for the famed fishery.

Still harvesters were elated this past weekend when processors started posting a base price of $1.50 a pound ---up 50 cents from the base price posted for the past two years.

One Bristol Bay veteran summed up the mood as “elation and dancing in the streets,” and noted that harvesters who caught the same amount this year as last year were much better off on this go around.

The Alaska Independent Fishermen’s Marketing Association was among those confirming the price.  At least several processors were also adding 15 cents a pound for refrigerated seawater, and one additional nickel for bleeding the fish. With new competition coming into the Bay in 2014 with the opening of Silver Bay Seafoods’ new processing facility at Naknek, other processors were expected to match the base price.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game forecast was for a Bristol Bay run of 26.03 million salmon, with a harvest of 17 million and escapement of 8.50 million fish.

The preliminary statewide commercial harvest has reached 58,283,000 wild salmon of all species, including 25.4 million sockeye, 21.6 million pink, 10.4 million chum, 455,000 silver and 270,000 king salmon.

In Cook Inlet, the catch to date includes1,770,000 fish, including 1.6 million red, 49,000 chum, 35,000 silver, 16,000 pink and 4,000 kings, while Prince William Sound has delivered 22.3 million fish, including nearly 17 million pink, 3.2 million chum, 2.1 million sockeye, 10,000 king and 5,000 silver salmon.

Southeast Alaska harvesters have caught nearly 9 million fish, including over 5 million chum, 3.1 million pink, 312,000 silver, 280,000 red and 209,000 king salmon.

In the Alaska Peninsula the harvest, mainly from the South Peninsula, has reached 3.7 million fish, including 2.6 million sockeye, 669,000 pink, 561,000 chum, 92,000 silver and 4,000 king salmon.

At Chignik, processors have received over 2.1 million salmon, including nearly 2 million sockeye, 99,000 chum, 87,000 pink, 3,000 silver and 2,000 king salmon,. Kodiak processors have seen delivery of 2.8 million fish, including 1.6 million red, 788,000 pink, 354,000 chum, 23,000 king and 8,000 silver salmon.

Dip Nets Prove the Charm for a Healthy Yukon River Commercial Chum Harvest

Commercial harvesters on Alaska’s Lower Yukon River netted 365,000 summer chum salmon through July 16 - 52 percent of them caught in dip nets.

Former Alaska Department of Fish and Game employee Gene Sandone, who proposed using dip nets early in the summer run, so that king salmon could be released unharmed, says he is flabbergasted with the success of the fishery. Sandone is a fisheries consultant for Kwik’Pak Fisheries at Emmonak, and proposed a test fishery last summer using dip nets for openers where the harvest of those Yukon kings was illegal. He said he hadn’t counted on the ingenuity of some fishermen, who tied more than one dip net to their boat and drifted with the tide, catching a lot of fish.

Kwik’Pak sales manager Jack Schultheis, who oversees operations at Emmonak, also was elated. The 2.2 million pounds catch of summer chum is the most summer chum the company has ever done and over half of that was dip net caught, he said.

About half the catch is processed as vacuum packed fillets and is shipped to Europe.  The other half – headed and gutted – goes to domestic and European companies for reprocessing as portions or steaks for retail markets.

The overall impact of introducing the dip net fishery was that more harvesters were able to start fishing earlier and because of the steady catch, it was quite a labor field day for other company workers, he said.

July 15 was the last opener for the summer chum run and harvesters are now fishing for the Yukon River fall chum run, fish with a higher oil content that get a higher price. And with the demand up for those Yukon River chum, Schultheis said the company is getting a better price for a couple of reasons. One is the higher price of sockeye salmon, he said, buyers were looking for other high quality salmon that will come in under the price of sockeyes.  The other reason is that when buyers realized the Bristol Bay harvest wasn’t going to reach 25 million fish this year, that set the tone for sales activity for the chums to pick up, he said.  In some cases, the company was even able to run two shifts—a bonus for Lower Yukon communities where commercial fishing is the mainstay of the local economy.


National Park Service Policy on Seafood Selection Questioned

 A National Park Service announcement that said it would only allow the sale of fish deemed sustainable by outside groups that do not currently recognize Alaska’s fisheries as sustainable is drawing criticism from Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.

Murkowski said in a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services, General Services Administration and National Park Service that while they are relying on the Marine Stewardship Council and Monterey Bay Aquarium to determine sustainability, government policy does provide leeway to permit “other equivalent groups” to be tapped for this service.  Murkowski said she has asked for a meeting to hear their explanation of how this policy was developed, “and to discuss how to ensure that federal policy on sustainability clearly recognizes seafood produced in Alaska.”

Murkowski also noted that this federal policy is “directly inconsistent” with federal guidelines that state “the government does not endorse any particular labeling or documentation system or program over another.”

The National Park Service recently introduced new sustainable food guidelines as part of its Healthy Parks, Healthy People initiative, requiring food service operators within these parks to begin offering healthy food options and to incorporate more sustainably sourced ingredients.

The Alaska Constitution mandates that all fisheries in the state must be managed sustainably. In addition, the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute in recent years has offered its own third party sustainability program, a United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization-based Responsibility Fisheries Management certification program, in an effort to assure that seafood from Alaska certified as coming from sustainably managed fisheries maintains a clear Alaska identity.  Seafood processors in Alaska have earlier expressed concern over keeping buyers aware that their product has not only come from sustainable fisheries but was wild caught in the pristine waters of Alaska.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Murkowski to Pebble: What’s the Plan?

Companies seeking to develop a massive copper, gold and molybdenum prospect near the headwaters of the Bristol Bay watershed are getting called on the carpet by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who wants to know just what their plan is.

In a letter addressed to top officials of the Pebble Limited Partnership, and its joint venture partners, Anglo American Plc and Northern Dynasty Minerals, the Alaska Republican said they should detail their proposed plans to develop the massive deposit in Southwest Alaska.

Murkowski’s comments were directed toward the PLP’s timeline for releasing a project description and submitting permit applications for development of the Pebble deposit.

“As you know, in anticipation of PLP taking these actions, I have been and remain neutral on potential development in this area,” Murkowski said in the letter to chief executive officers John Shively, of the Pebble Partnership in Anchorage; Mark Cutifani, of London-based Anglo American, and Ron Thiessen, of Northern Dynasty Minerals, in Vancouver, British Columbia.

To that end, Murkowski said, she has encouraged all stakeholders to withhold judgment until a project description is released, permit applications filed, and all relevant analyses completed.  Murkowski has also opposed the prospect of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency employing Section 404© of the Clean Water Act to veto development of the mine.

These comments, by Murkowski, are really overdue, said Bob Waldrop, executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, who noted that Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, also recently urged the EPA to complete its Bristol Bay watershed assessment.

“Let’s get this on the road,” Waldrop said. “Pebble has been telling us for six years now that next year they’re going to have a mine plan. Clearly they have something in mind, or they wouldn’t have said next year six times.” 

This underlines the need for the EPA to act fast, “and once we get a final watershed assessment, once we see Pebble’s plan, then we can have a public discussion on whether we should have a mine there,” Waldrop said. “That seems to me to be the logical process that both Murkowski and Begich are pushing.”

Pebble Limited Partnership spokesperson, John Shively, said he hopes to get a response to Murkowski within the next couple of weeks.

A lot of the pressure that backers of the mine are getting is coming from the opposition, and it would clearly be in their best interest to come out with the project before it is completely designed, he said.

Murkowski’s request is a reasonable request, Shively said. “We would like to be in permitting by the end of this year. If we can be permitting by the end of this year, we will be.”

Alaska Delegation Gives CDQ Program Thumbs Up

Alaska’s congressional delegation has made clear its support of the existing Community Development Quota program and says any proposals for change brought to them will need unanimous support from all six CDQ groups.

Senators Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska and Mark Begich, D-Alaska, and Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, said in their recent letter to the Western Alaska Community Development Association that they applaud the work done to date by the CDQ groups.

“The job growth and economic activity created by the program is a testament to your hard work and dedication to the program’s vision as established in 1992,” said the letter to Aggie Blandford, executive director of the association.

The 2006 amendments to the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act stabilized allocations between the groups and created the Western Alaska Community Development Association, so the program is now on firm footing, they said. 
“While we remain open to hearing from the CDQ groups, we expect any issue brought to us for resolution to be supported unanimously by all six groups before seeking congressional action to further improve the program,” they said.

The letter came in response to meetings that representatives of the CDQ groups have been having with members of Congress.

The five CDQ groups that favor the current allocations include Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association, Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp., Central Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association, Norton Sound Economic Development Corp., and the Yukon Delta Fisheries Development Association.

Coastal Villages Region Fund, which represents 20 of the 65 CDQ villages, issued a statement in September 2012 vowing to continue to seek changes to the allocation of fisheries resources, to correct what CVRF alleges are flawed allocations.

CVRF spokesman Dawson Hoover said that CVRF was disappointed by the letter, but was not planning to give up its effort to have changes made in the CDQ allocations.

Bristol Bay Slows; Statewide Salmon Harvest Tops 41 Million Fish

Alaska’s statewide wild salmon harvest topped 41 million fish by July 9, including overall strong returns at Chignik, Kodiak, Copper River and the Alaska Peninsula, while the Bristol Bay fleet was feeling the pain of a second surge that never came.

The total run in Bristol Bay through July 7 stood at 18.9 million salmon, with a cumulative harvest of 13,240,759 fish.

While economically the Bristol Bay harvest will be a big disappointment to commercial harvesters and processors, it is not by any stretch of the imagination a biological disaster, said Geron Bruce, assistant director of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Division of Commercial Fisheries.

“We are coming down from a period of pretty good productivity. It hasn’t been as good as it was in the mid 1990s, but it has been pretty good,” Bruce said.  “If you look at the history of Bristol Bay, you can see this has happened before, but for whatever reasons we didn’t have as high a productivity as we did in the past.”

Statistics compiled by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game show how widely the harvest fluctuation can vary.  The 20-year harvest average for Bristol Bay is 25,360,300 fish, while the 2002-2011 average is 24,214,831 fish.

The University of Washington’s Fisheries Research Institute meanwhile issued an updated forecast summary on July 7, noting that catch and escapement date from July 2 through July 5 had prompted researchers there to greatly reduce their in-season estimates of run strength.

Observations of catch and escapement data indicate the 2013 Bristol Bay run was eight days early. “District specific arrival timing shows a range of 15 days early (Ugashik) to 8 days early (Naknek-Kvichak),” the report said. “For all districts and baywide, this will be the earliest run on record.”

According to the state’s preliminary commercial salmon harvest report issued July 9, the Bristol Bay harvest had reached nearly 14 million fish, including some 15,000 kings, 514,000 chum and 13.4 million red salmon. 

The statewide total of 41,377,000 salmon included 214,000 king, 8,238,000 chum, 145,000 silver, 11,143,000 pink and 21,637,000 red salmon.

At Chignik, the commercial fleet’s harvest stood at over 1.9 million fish, including 1,000 king, 89,000 chum, fewer than 1,000 silver, 62,000 pink and 1,787,000 red salmon, while at Kodiak, fishermen had harvested an estimated nearly 1.9 million fish, including 16,000 king, 257,000 chum, 2,000 silver, 230,000 pink and 1,378,000 red salmon.  The Copper River harvest stood at 1.47 million fish, including 9,000 king, 11,000 chum, 1,000 silver, 12,000 pink and 1,443,000 sockeyes.

On the Alaska Peninsula, the harvest reached over 2.8 million fish, the bulk of them from the South Peninsula, where the catch was 2,000 king, 418,000 chum, 5,000 silver, 353,000 pink and 1,671,000 red salmon.

Upper Cook Inlet was showing a harvest of 684,000 fish, including 638,000 sockeye, 29,000 chum, 1,000 king, 12,000 silver and 4,000 pink salmon.

Coast Guard Monitoring Continues of Grounded Vessel

The Coast Guard is continuing to monitor the salvage of a fishing tender intentionally grounded on July 4 on Culross Island in Prince William Sound, after the vessel struck a rock that damaged the hull and caused flooding.

Coast Guard Lt. Allie Ferko said that all diesel fuel had been removed from the Hana Cove, owned by Hana Cove Fisheries LLC, and there were no reported signs of pollution in the water.

The Hana Cove, home ported at Falls Bay in Prince William Sound, was reportedly carrying about 2,000 gallons of diesel fuel and 800 gallons of gasoline at the time of the grounding. No injuries were reported and cause of the incident remains under investigation.

After the Hana Cove was beached, the Coast Guard launched an Air Station Kodiak MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew forward deployed to Cordova to assist.  Good Samaritans on the 28-foot fishing vessel AK 4 Star took the Hana Cove crew on board and safely transported them to Whittier.  Hana Cove Fisheries contracted Alaska Marine Response LLC out of Cordova following the grounding to deploy boom around the vessel, remove the fuel aboard and prepare a vessel salvage plan. On July 9, Ferko said plans were to refloat the Hana Cove at high tide and transit the vessel to a more protected area, where a decision would then be made on temporary repairs and what port to take the vessel for dry dock work.

It’s been a busy week for the Coast Guard in Alaska. The Naknek Spirit, a tender packer home ported in Homer, had run aground with five people aboard earlier and ruptured its starboard fuel tank. On July 8, responders from Coast Guard Sector Anchorage, with Alaska Chadux and the crew of the fishing vessel Naknek Spirit successfully refloated the vessel at high tide near Poe Bay and transited the vessel to Whittier for further assessment. 

The vessel was reportedly carrying an estimated 10,000 gallons of diesel and 1,200 gallons of gasoline, but less than 500 gallons of fuel was released and no negative impacts were observed to the shoreline or wildlife.


Wednesday, July 3, 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.

Public Opinion Rising Against Pebble Mine

A final tally isn’t available yet, but the majority of opinion offered to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on its draft Bristol Bay watershed assessment rests firmly on the side of the fish, rather than copper, gold and molybdenum.

The Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, having taken a hard look at responses posted on the EPA’s website, noted that as of June 28, 68 percent, or 362,235 of the 527,192 responses, felt that development of the foreign-owned Pebble prospect would threaten habitat of the Bristol Bay sockeye salmon fishery.

“This is an incredible victory for Bristol Bay, with hundreds of thousands of people across the United States recognizing that Bristol Bay’s jobs, economy and way of life shouldn’t be risked by a massive open-pit mine that could destroy this sustainable fishing industry, and the 14,000 jobs it supports,” said Bob Waldrop, executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association. “The results of two comment periods show that Americans want the federal government to act quickly to keep dangerous projects like the Pebble mine out of Bristol Bay.”

The Pebble Limited Partnership(PLP), with offices in Anchorage, is a joint venture of London-based Anglo American plc, and Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd., based in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The PLP maintains that it can develop and operate the mine in harmony with the multi-million dollar fishery critical to commercial, sport and subsistence users, as well as wildlife in Southwest Alaska. The PLP wants to move forward with the permitting process and get started with its project, which it says will provide jobs and put a lot of money in state tax coffers.

But the EPA’s draft watershed document, that was open for public comment through June 30, says that even under routine operation, the mine could result in 90 miles of streams blocked or eliminated and 4,800 acres of wetlands destroyed. This alone would have an adverse impact on water quality and habitat, and if a leak or spill of mine tailings occurred, the impact could be far worse, the report said.

Opposition to the mine has come from a broad range of business firms, the latest being a group of 27 investment firms led by Trillium Asset Management LLC and Calvert Investments.  The investment firms recently called on the EPA to initiate a Clean Water Act Section 404© review for the proposed Pebble mine.

Under Section 404© the EPA may prohibit or restrict the disposal of mine waste if it determines that the mine will have an unacceptable adverse effect on fishery areas, wildlife and recreational areas.

Gulkana Hatchery Survives Flood, Faces Major Work

A state-owned fish hatchery that contributes thousands of sockeye salmon annually to the famed Copper River salmon fishery survived recent flooding of the East Fork Gulkana River that swept millions of yards of material away.  That rock and gravel are critical not only to the Gulkana Hatchery, which is leased to and managed by the Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corp., but to the Richardson Highway, the access road to the hatchery.

Hatchery manager Gary Martinek, a former Alaska Department of Fish and Game employee who has been with the hatchery since 1980, says the hatchery will recovery, but it will be different.  Meanwhile, says Martinek, it’s a matter of rolling with the punches, and getting a plan and permits in place for site restoration, to include repair of damage to the hatchery and the road.

Last week Martinek was busy working with a salmon restoration hydrologist from Washington State, who assessed the damage and is now writing a report. PWSAC officials are working with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the Alaska Department of Transportation to get permits completed and approved so the restoration work can begin.

The flooding in June came as a result of a very high snowfall, late snow in April and May, coupled with very cold temperatures that deepened snow packs, and then very warm spring temperatures that brought rapid melting.

In part because of extensive growth of willow and alder over the past two decades that have encroached on the river, the East Fork Gulkana River redirected itself, and Martinek said that one of the hydrologist’s suggestions was that the river be redirected back to its old route by removing much of the vegetation growth.

Meanwhile, Martinek said hatchery workers are moving quickly to get incubators cleaned on time for the season’s first egg take, and that he’s optimistic that the necessary work will be completed.

Alaska’s Commercial Salmon Harvest nears 26 Million Fish

Commercial harvesters in pursuit of Alaska’s wild salmon saw their preliminary harvest total jump by more than five million fish in just a day, and prepared for more as the calendar closed in on the upcoming Fourth of July holiday. 

According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s preliminary commercial salmon harvest report the total number of sockeye, king, chum, silver and pink salmon jumped from 20,132,000 fish on July 1 to 25,780,000 fish on July 2.

The latter total includes 17,386,000 red, 4,141,000 chum, 1,059,000 pink, 130,000 king and 35,000 silver salmon.

It’s that time of year when fishermen in Bristol Bay in particular are bracing for a surge of sockeyes, and indeed over the last two days the sockeye harvest in Bristol Bay alone rose from 9,021,000 to 11,318,000 red salmon, with the bulk of harvests in the Egegik, Nakenk-Kvichak and Nushagak districts.

In Upper Cook Inlet, the harvest nearly doubled over the last two days, with fishermen netting 173,000 sockeye by July 2, up from 95,000 reds a day earlier.

In Prince William Sound the total harvest of all five salmon species rose from 13,452,000 fish to 18,555,000 fish, including 1,677,000 red, 2,738,000 pink, 2,240,000 chum, 10,000 king and 1,000 silver salmon.

Prices for fresh wild Alaskan salmon were apparently holding their own. 
At the famed Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle, whole fresh Copper River king salmon was $25.99 a pound, and whole fresh Copper River sockeye salmon was $64.95 per fish, while fresh Copper River king fillets were $33.95 and fresh Copper River sockeye fillets held steady at $20.99 a pound.  The management’s advice:

“It’s finally here. Get it while you can!”

FishEx in Anchorage was posting online prices of $25.95 a pound for fresh Copper River sockeye salmon fillets, $24.95 a pound for frozen Copper River sockeye fillets, $36.95 a pound for frozen Copper River king fillets, $26.95 a pound for white king salmon fillets, $23.95 a pound for flash frozen wild Alaska king fillets, and fresh king salmon fillets from Cook Inlet for $25.95 a pound.

King Salmon Political Fundraiser Draws Fishing Industry Honchos

Wild salmon weren’t the only ones attracting fishing industry executives to the Bristol Bay region this past weekend.

Industry sources say anyone who is anyone in the Bristol Bay fisheries, including officials with the region’s fish processing firms, was on hand July 1 at the King Salmon the fundraiser for Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, and Gov. Sean Parnell.  Young is seeking re-election to his 22nd term in Congress, while Parnell is seeking a second full term as governor. 

Parnell announced plans to seek re-election in May. Young filed for re-election in Anchorage on July 2.

Young traveled to King Salmon with Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, for the event at the home of Jim Jansen, chief executive officer of Lynden, Inc.

A guest who spoke on condition of anonymity said the guest list included virtually everyone involved in the Alaska seafood industry, plus state and local dignitaries, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.

And yes, there was a lot of real fresh salmon served up for the guests.

How much money was raised at the King Salmon gathering is unknown, but Young and Boehner headed next for Anchorage, for a July 2 fundraiser at the home of Dana Pruhs, a former member of the Alaska Board of Fish and Game, who is in the construction business. An invitation to that event suggested contributions of $500 to $1,000, with donors of $2,500 or more getting a photo reception opportunity, according to the political newspaper Politico, which obtained a copy of that invite.

The Anchorage event was a benefit for Boehner’s political action committee, the Republican National Congressional Committee, the Ohio Republican State Central and Executive Committee.

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