Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Today's Catch: Due Care and Caution

At 7:00 am on November 7th, John McDonald had been fishing from his 36-foot fiberglass gillnetter F/V Sanjo for several hours. Over the course of the Washington State Area 10 gillnet fishery, which began at 4:00 pm the previous day, the National Weather Service had upgraded from a small craft advisory to a gale watch, and then to a full gale warning. Outside Meadowdale Park in Puget Sound the wind was blowing hard at 35 knots and the seas were around five feet. As McDonald worked his gear a skiff approached with two Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officers aboard. The 28-foot Boston Whaler carried two Enforcement officers – one a 7-year veteran with a captain's license, and a second who had been on the force for only a few months, although both had been trained at a three-week course at a Federal facility in Georgia.

McDonald says the WDFW boat approached his boat with the wind, and it seemed to him the officer at the helm was having a hard time controlling the vessel. McDonald says the officer on the deck of the skiff called over the noise of the wind for McDonald's license and permit. "It was pretty hard to hear, and the weather was beating us up pretty good, so I suggested they move to the lee side of my boat. They should have known to do that anyway."

Once the State boat had maneuvered itself into the relative shelter of the bigger boat, McDonald had his papers in order, ready to show the State enforcement officer, but the water was too rough for the boats to stay together. As McDonald was suggesting alternatives to the current situation, such as waiting until the boats were unloading their fish in a more sheltered area, the junior officer, against the advice of the captain, jumped aboard the Sanjo, grabbing a projecting rail on the top of the house.

"That was crazy," McDonald says. "I wouldn't put my crew through that. What if that rail broke? My boat's too high to fish someone out of the water – especially if they're unconscious."

He told the officer, "That was stupid – never let your boss make you do that again." McDonald says the area where the officer landed wasn't ready to receive boarders. "There was a pike pole lying there – it would have been real easy to step on that and go over the side."

Once on board, the visibly shaken enforcement officer gave a cursory glance at McDonald's credentials, saw they were in order, didn't write anything down and jumped back onto the deck of the State boat. At that point, the smaller boat rammed the side of the Sanjo. "Their guard hit my boat on the guard," McDonald says. "I don't know yet if there was damage to my boat, but they hit us pretty good." McDonald says the officer at the helm shrugged it off and powered away.

McDonald notes that the next boat down the line didn't get boarded, and he says he was pretty shaken by the incident.

"I was amazed at the risk the two officers were willing to take just to check my licenses, when all they needed to do was call in the decal on the side of my boat to get their answer, or just wait until we got to a protected area from the prominent gale force winds and waves."

Sergeant Erik Olson, who commands the marine unit for Region 4 of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife defends the actions of his officers.

"Our job is to regulate and manage the resource and stop unregulated and unlawful competition," he says. "We get paid to take those calculated risks."

There is some question about that. McDonald says that in spite of the collision, the US Coast Guard declined to take an incident report because the other vessel is a state vessel, but his insurance agent has confirmed that he would be liable if the state officer had been hurt.

"I have 38 years of experience on the water in Washington and Alaska, including the Bering Sea, as a commercial fisherman," McDonald says. "It's inexcusable to put the lives of my crew, myself, my fishing vessel, and my fishing season, not to mention the lives of the two state officers, in jeopardy just to board my fishing vessel to check my licenses in those weather conditions."

The state disagrees. "If you're going to be out there fishing we're going to be out there making that contact," Olson says.

If you have had similar "contact" with Fish and Wildlife, let us know at

Industry Pitches In to Feed Residents of St. Lawrence Island

Residents of St. Lawrence Island, way out west of Nome, Alaska, in the Bering Sea, are scheduled to get a big holiday gift this year – 40,000 pounds of canned salmon from five seafood processors donating some 8,000 pounds each.

The island residents – some 681 residents of Gambell and 671 residents of Savoonga – had a poor subsistence walrus hunting season – a hunt critical to the island’s food supply and cash economy.

Pacific Seafood Processors Association decided to help out. Trident Seafoods Peter Pan Seafoods, Alaska General Seafoods, Ocean Beauty Seafoods and Icicle Seafoods are providing enough canned salmon to fill a 40-foot container.

Salmon Terminals donated the labeling, packaging and costs associated with loading and delivering the container and Horizon has donated the transportation of the container from Tacoma to Kodiak. The container is scheduled to depart on Dec. 4 and arrive at Kodiak by Dec. 9.

Logistics of getting that container on up north to St. Lawrence Island are still in the works, said Glenn Reed, president of PSPA.

The nonprofit seafood trade association is not looking for recognition for this effort. Said Reed, “We just wanted to help out, get some food to people.”

Reed said that it was brought to the attention of one of PSPA’s members that there was a crisis in the two communities on St. Lawrence Island because of a poor walrus hunt, which provides food and also ivory critical to the island’s cash economy.

“It was brought up at one of our board meetings, and people said ‘well, let’s help out’,” Reed said.

“All of our members work in isolated small communities,” he said. “We understand that things happen that put people in a jam.”

Number of Fishing Jobs Rose Slightly in 2012

Jobs harvesting salmon and halibut in Alaska declined slightly in 2012 but gains in other fisheries, especially crab and groundfish, more than made up the difference. Overall, Alaska’s seafood harvesting employment rose from 8,067 average monthly jobs n 2011 to 8,189 jobs in 2012, state labor economists reported in the November issue of Alaska Economic Trends.

In terms of average monthly jobs, more than 4,500 jobs - over 56 percent – were in salmon harvesting. Groundfish and halibut followed with about 15 percent and 12 percent respectively, the economists said.

While fishery employment for salmon is largely concentrated in summer months, some fisheries such as sablefish, crab and groundfish have longer seasons, with jobs spread out over a longer period of the year.

By gear type, the average monthly jobs in 2012 included gillnet, 1,706; longline, 1,552; set net, 1,433; seine, 892; pot gear, 863; troll, 679; trawl, 405; dive, 126, and other gear types, 531.

Most of the statistics gathered for the article were for time spent actively fishing, but those numbers did not include time crew spent on preparation at the start of the season and cleanup at the end. In 2013, the Alaska Department of Labor survey asked permit holders to specify the time their crew spent on preparation and cleanup in 2012. This work on the edges of the seasons generated an additional monthly average of some 385, economists said. Annual average monthly preparation and cleanup employment for longliners was about 130, higher than for any other single gear type.

The complete report is online at

Hilsinger Joins Aleutian King Crab Research Foundation as Science Advisor

Veteran fisheries biologist John Hilsinger is the new science advisor for the Aleutian King Crab Research Foundation, filling the post vacated when former Alaska Fish and Game Commissioner Denby Lloyd became executive director of the North Pacific Research Board.

Golden king crab, says Hilsinger, are Alaska’s most unique crab fishery.

Surveys to evaluate the Aleutian crab resource have been very limited due to the location of the fishery and the expense of such research. The fishery has been sustained for more than 30 years, with a fixed harvest cap of six million pounds annually. Crabbers have long felt that the catch could be higher and still sustainable.

Foundation president Rip Carlton, a veteran golden king crab fisherman from Bend, Oregon, said the harvesters want improved research and stock assessments of this fishery, which Carlton said is valued at $20 million to $30 million.

Carlton said the foundation, which is self funded, met with members of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game during the recent Fish Expo in Seattle and hopes to work with ADF&G and the National Marine Fisheries Services to find out more about golden king crab in the Aleutians.

Among the fisheries scientists working with the foundation are Bob Foy of the Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Kodiak, and marine fisheries scientist Chris Siddon of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

The fishery, in which five vessels currently participate, is open from Aug. 15 to May 15. Harvesters deliver to Unisea Seafoods, Westward Seafoods, Trident Seafoods and Bering Fisheries. Crew on these vessels are using big web pots that allow small crab to escape, and being very careful with crab they bring on board, in an effort to improve stock size, he said. Working last year with ADF&G, the fishermen used small web pots and came up some 200 to 300 small crab and 30 to 40 legal size golden king crab per pot, a strong indication of the health of the stock, Carlton said. Now the foundation is talking with state and federal fisheries officials and trying to figure out what other helpful data can be gleaned from the commercial fishery to better understand its potential.

Montgomery Will Address Salmon Science Workshop

Salmon, notes David Montgomery, a professor of geomorphology at the University of Washington, are like a natural bank account. Generations of Native Americans and Scots lived off of the interest from their accounts, wrote Montgomery, in “King of Fish,” his popular history of 1,000 years of salmon on Earth. “Keeping our salmon account solvent over the long run,” wrote Montgomery, “will require returning to the proven practice of only withdrawing the interest.”

Montgomery is on the agenda on the evening of Dec. 3 to address participants at the start of the three-day Southwest Alaska Salmon Science Workshop, at the University of Alaska Anchorage recital hall in Anchorage.

Montgomery will also participate in a panel discussion at the workshop at the Anchorage Hilton on Dec. 4, on whether state and federal water quality standards sufficiently protect Bristol Bay salmon. The discussion will be preceded by the presentation of papers about whether current water quality standards for copper and other metals are likely to be protective of salmon, and if not, how best to determine an appropriate standard that will protect salmon.

Anthropologist Alan Borass, a professor of anthropology at Kenai Peninsula College, will address the workshop Dec. 5, also at the Anchorage Hilton, on gathering and using traditional ecological knowledge to inform the Environmental Protection Agency’s Bristol Bay watershed assessment.

More information about the workshop and how to register to attend can be found at

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