Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Today's Catch: Bad Policy

By Chris Philips, Managing Editor

With the announcement last month that Cook Inlet setnetters have been granted a reprieve, gillnetters statewide might be breathing a bit easier.

On the recommendation of the Alaska Department of Law, Mead Treadwell, current Alaska Lt. Governor and 2014 US Senate candidate, rejected a proposed ballot initiative that would have banned non-subsistence setnetting in Cook Inlet. The state said the effect of the proposal would result in an allocation of resources (in this case, king salmon) prohibited by the Alaska Constitution.

The initiative had been sponsored by a coalition of sport fishing interests, funded by wealthy sport fishing advocate Bob Penney, with the purported goal of protecting fish species in non-subsistence areas of Alaska that are threatened by overfishing, bycatch and other issues.

The Alaska Department of Law concluded, in part that, “were this type of initiative permissible, voters could continue to reallocate stocks to any fishery simply by eliminating specific gear or particular means and methods of catching fish – for example, the next initiative might propose to eliminate purse seining, trawling, dipnetting, or catch-and-release sport fishing in particular areas to increase harvest opportunity for other types of users.”

That would be terrible. Much better to simply allow a hand-picked board of political appointees to make that decision, like they do in Washington State.

In January 2013, the State Fish and Wildlife Commission, acting with several members whose terms had expired, and without the commercial fishing representation required by law, unanimously adopted a policy to close the lower Columbia River to commercial, non-tribal gillnets.

At the time, commission chair Miranda Wecker, whose term had expired the month before, said the policy was designed to support the conservation of wild salmon and expand the economic benefits the state derives from sport fisheries.

Perhaps the Commission based their policy on an inaccurate 2008 study promoted and liberally distributed by the State of Washington, which claims that recreational fishing generates a larger economic impact in Washington State than commercial fishing. The introduction to the flawed study itself warns that the data contained within is inaccurate and imprecise and should not be used to compare the two fisheries. Nonetheless, the State of Washington promotes it as accurate, uses it for comparison, and apparently writes policy around it.

This politically expedient disinformation was commissioned by the previous governor’s administration, but current governor Jay Inslee has yet to correct it.

In reality, data released by the US Department of Commerce in the most recent report on fisheries economics shows that the seafood industry generated $8 billion in sales impacts in Washington State, compared to only $514 million for the recreational fishing industry (that’s a 16-to-one ratio), and that recreational fishing has actually been decreasing in the state at a rate of 28 percent since 2002.

At press time, Governor Inslee’s office has yet to correct the erroneous 6-year-old study, or address the inequities in the Wildlife Commission and their policy decisions. The Commission still has a vacancy after more than a year, and the only commercial fishing representative on the commission is an interim short-term appointment whose term expires in December of this year. It’s high time Washington State followed its own regulations, as Alaska has, instead of allowing special interests to run the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Pebble Opponents Say Thanks to Begich,
Urge EPA to Protect Watershed

Proponents of the controversial Pebble mine in Southwest Alaska are not expected to determine until later this year when they will submit their permit applications, but opponents are asking the federal government to put a halt to it now.

At a gathering in Anchorage on Jan. 27, fish harvesters, Alaska Native tribes and the Bristol Bay Native Corp. met to thank Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, for his opposition to the mine, in the wake of a final Environmental Protection Agency report that outlined potential catastrophic affects of development and production of the proposed massive copper, gold and molybdenum mine.

His stance in opposition to the mine meanwhile has gained Begich growing support from some fisheries organizations in a tough upcoming battle for re-election. The Alaska Democrat said he has long supported the mining industry in Alaska but that “years of scientific study (have) proven the proposed Pebble mine cannot be developed safely in the Bristol Bay watershed.

“Pebble,” said Begich, “is not worth the risk.”

Speakers at the informational session at Anchorage’s public library included former Alaska Senate President Rick Halford, Alannah Hurley, director of United Tribes for Bristol Bay, Katherine Carscallen, a board member of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Corp., Bristol Bay lodge owner Brian Kraft, and representatives of Bristol Bay Native Corp. and the Alaska Conservation Foundation.

“God could not have chosen a more dangerous place to put tis kind of a deposit,” said Halford, who applauded Begich’s stand and said he hoped the EPA and President Obama would act to protect Bristol Bay’s salmon habitat.

“We are asking the EPA to protect Bristol Bay from unsustainable development,” said Carscallen.

The vast majority of BBNC’s some 9,400 shareholders are opposed to the mine, said Andria Agli, vice president of shareholder and corporate relations. BBNC in January published a 50-page reference guide to the issues surrounding the Pebble mine.

The group asked more than 100 people participating in the session to write to the EPA and ask that the federal agency move forward with implementing protections to the Bristol Bay watershed available under the Clean Water Act.

Pebble Limited Partnership spokesperson Mike Heatwole said the PLP”s goal for 2014 is to work with Northern Dynasty Minerals in Vancouver, British Columbia in securing a new partner to advance responsible development for the mine. The PLP maintains that the mine can be developed and operated in harmony with the multi-million dollar wild salmon fishery in the Bristol Bay watershed, which provides thousands of jobs in the commercial and sport fishing industries and sustenance for area subsistence hunters and wildlife.

Walmart to Continue Purchasing Wild Alaska Seafood

Retail giant Walmart made it official this week: the company will continue to purchase sustainable seafood from Alaska. The company announced on Jan 27 an update to its sustainability policy that will ensure that wild Alaska salmon is back on its store shelves for purchase by millions of domestic consumers.

Walmart has expanded its sustainable seafood policy to accept certification from the United Nation's Food and Agriculture–based Responsible Fisheries Management program, which currently certifies wild Alaska salmon.

Fish harvesters, including Cordova District Fishermen United, said they were pleased with Walmart’s decision. “For years, Walmart has acknowledged publicly that wild Alaska salmon is among the world’s most sustainable seafood, and this decision finally ensures that their policies reflect this reality,” said John Renner, vice president of Cordova District Fishermen United and a spokesperson for Alaska Salmon Now.

The policy change came on the heels of months of discussions and negotiations over Walmart’s policy that allowed only Marine Stewardship Council certified seafood to be purchased. The bulk of Alaska salmon industry participants cut their ties with London-based MSC in 2012 over concerns about increasingly higher costs and other issues with MSC.

Incoming Walmart president and chief executive officer Doug McMillon said in a letter to Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, that “Alaska has been a model of fishery sustainability for decades, and American consumers have come to recognize the quality and sustainability of Alaska seafood.” McMillon said it was his goal to work with the Alaska seafood industry and its partners to uphold principles of The Sustainability Consortium, of which Walmart is a founding member, so that Walmart can continue to source seafood from Alaska for years to come.

That decision should reaffirm to the seafood purchasers around the world that there should not be just one arbiter of sustainability,” said Greg Gabriel, executive director of the Northwest and Alaska Seiners Association. “Alaska has proven time and time again that our fisheries have been sustainable long before MSC, and retailers everywhere should be proud to provide sustainable Alaska salmon to their customers.”

Lab Analysis Confirms North Pacific Salmon are Safe

Laboratory analysis of five salmon species harvested in Puget Sound and Southeast Alaska in 2013 confirms there are no indications of elevated radiation levels, says Pete Knutson, a fisherman and co-owner of Loki Fish Co., in Seattle.

The company released in January results of tests conducted by Eurofins Analytical Laboratories in Metaire, LA, in order to assure customers that salmon harvested in the waters of the North Pacific are safe to eat.

“As fishing families who put salmon on the table of consumers, we are as concerned as anyone about the health of our marine ecology,” Knutson said.

“We have long been active in environmental issues which affect salmon stocks and believe that environmental defense needs to be driven by science, not fear.”

Knutson contracted with the internationally accredited Louisiana laboratory in response to customer concerns over radiation releases into the Pacific Ocean from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant after a major earthquake generated tsunami struck the power plant on March 11, 2011.

Loki harvests and direct markets wild salmon through King county Farmers’ Markets and through national wholesale distribution.

Tests were conducted on pink, keta, coho, sockeye and king salon from Southeast Alaska and pink and keta salmon from Puget Sound.

Although the US Food and Drug Administration contends that there is no evidence that radionuclides from Fukushima are present in Alaskan and Pacific Northwest seafood at a level that would be harmful to human health, it has not published results. Unsubstantiated Internet rumors regarding the safety of North Pacific seafood have become widespread, prompting Loki Fish Co. to confirm that this fish is safe to eat.

All seven stocks of salmon were tested for the radionuclides associated with the nuclear plant failures in Japan: Cesium 134, Cesium 137 and Iodine 131. Two of the samples registered at trace levels- Alaskan Keta at 1.4Bq/kg for Cesium 137, and Alaska Pink at 1.2Bq/kg for Cesium 134. There were no detectable levels of iodine -131 in any samples, officials for Loki said.

“To put those numbers in perspective, the critical limit set by the FDA for either Cesium-134 or Cesium -137 is 370 Bq/kg, far above the amount found in Loki’s Alaskan Keta and pink salmon, the company said.

Bq/kg stands for Becquerel per kilogram, with Bq/kg being a standard scientific measure. It is “the number of particles decaying per second in each kilogram of a sample,” according to the University of California at Berkeley’s Department of Nuclear Engineering.

Radionuclides are present in may foods eaten every day, with bananas, for example, commonly testing at levels around 130 Bq/kg for potassium-40.

Copies of the Eurofin sampling results are available by inquiring at

Alaska Flatfish Fishery Certified as Sustainable

Alaska flatfish fisheries were declared certified as sustainable in January under the Responsible fisheries Management program sponsored by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.

Randy Rice, technical director with ASMI, made the announcement on Jan 20, saying that the state’s flatfish industry had worked tirelessly for years to reduce sea floor contact and improve habitat conservation.

Fleet fishing for Alaska flatfish pioneered the development of the innovative Bering Sea flatfish trawl gear, which elevates gear off the sea floor, reducing contact by 90 percent, Rice said. “We couldn’t be more pleased that their efforts of continuous improvement have now earned them RFM certification,” he said.

Jason Anderson, manager of the Seattle-based Alaska Seafood Cooperative, said that the Alaska flatfish fishery has worked hard to responsibly harvest its catch in a way that is collaborative and protects the ecosystem. “We are very proud to join the ranks of the other RFM certified fisheries from Alaska,” he said.

On its website,, the coop speaks to its participation in the federal catch share program that allocates fixed amounts of Pacific cod, yellowfin sole, rock sole, Pacific ocean perch and Atka mackerel to the coop.

“In return the fleet agreed to increase the amount of fish we retain, to reduce bycatch and to promote sustainable fishing practices,” the coop said. “By ending the race for fish and working cooperatively, the fleet now harvests more fish with fewer tows by targeting areas of high abundance. Our retention rates have increased, our bycatch rates have fallen, and the increased flow of product into the market has been good for everybody.”

The flatfish fishery is conducted in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands and Gulf of Alaska. The RFM certified Alaska flatfish catch is comprised of yellowfin sole, northern rock sole, southern rock sole, flathead sole, rex sole, Kamchatka flounder, arrowtooth flounder, Alaska plaice and Greenland turbot.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Kenai River Sport Anglers Group Files Lawsuit
Over Setnet Initiative Decision

The Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance says it has filed suit in Alaska Superior Court in Anchorage, challenging a state decision to reject a proposed statewide initiative to ban commercial shore gillnets and setnets in non-subsistence areas.

The ban would include areas around Anchorage, including the Kenai Peninsula Borough and Matanuska-Susitna Borough, plus Fairbanks, Juneau, Valdez and Ketchikan.

Clark Penney, executive director of AFCA, said in an announcement today that his organization believes the decision of Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, on the advice of the Alaska Attorney General’s office, is contrary to Alaska law.

Penney said AFCA hopes for quick resolution of the suit, so they can start collection signatures, to put the initiative on the statewide primary ballot in August of 2016. Penney is the grandson of sport fishing advocate Bob Penney, a board member and financial backer of AFCA, according to a spokesman for the organization. AFCA board chairman Bill McKay, a retired Alaska Airlines executive, said the lawsuit was “the right thing to do. We expect to win this case,” he said.

Treadwell based his decision on an opinion from the Alaska Department of Law that the proposed initiative is prohibited under the state constitution.

The Department of Law concluded, in part that, “were this type of initiative permissible, voters could continue to reallocate stocks to any fishery simply by eliminating specific gear or particular means and methods of catching fish – for example, the next initiative might propose to eliminate purse seining, trawling, dipnetting, or catch-and-release sport fishing in particular areas to increase harvest opportunity for other types of users. “This would ‘prevent …real regulation and careful administration’ of Alaska’s salmon stocks, contrary to the purpose of the prohibition on initiative by appropriation,” the opinion said.

The Alaska Salmon Alliance, which represents seafood processors and commercial fishermen on the Kenai Peninsula, praised Treadwell’s decision. The Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association, which represents Kenai Peninsula commercial setnetters, had denounced the initiative earlier.

Fins Up for Oregon’s Albacore Tuna Season

Trollers land second highest to-the-boat value in past decade

By Terry Dillman

It was almost the worst of times. It was almost the best of times.

After another lackluster opening that spawned worries among commercial fishermen, the Oregon albacore tuna fishery went on a wild late season run to bring in 10,104,702 pounds of tuna that fetched to-the-boat revenue of $15,916,410. Those numbers easily bested the 10-year averages of 9.8 million pounds and $11.9 million.

And those 2013 numbers from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) are preliminary as agency officials (as of press time) awaited the tally of remaining fish tickets not yet submitted.

Although a significant upward bump is unlikely, Cyreis Schmitt, the agency’s marine policy project leader in the fish division, said they “should go up some.”

Schmitt, who is based at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Oregon, noted that the numbers were Oregon landings only. They expected additional landings in Washington, but numbers were not yet available. Washington-based tuna trollers bring in more than 80 percent of their catch from Oregon waters.

Even without those tallies, Nancy Fitzpatrick, executive director of the Oregon Albacore Commission (OAC) called it “a good year,” noting “the price is really good.” She and Schmitt unveiled the preliminary numbers during the November 15, 2013 session of the OAC, the nine-member commission formed in October 1999 as part of the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) commodity commission program.

Fitzpatrick said the 2013 season initially mimicked 2012, which started slightly later than normal and ended early for many commercial fishermen, proving nearly as capricious as the ocean itself. Most fishermen called 2012 an average season, but experiences ran the gamut from good to fair to mercurial, at least while it lasted. This season mirrored those mixed results, but with an improved payoff for those who persevered.

Schmitt and Fitzpatrick said the landed tuna featured typical size and age distribution: 3.5 to 4.5 years old, averaging 28.5 inches long and 14 pounds.

A late season rebound provided the key to success, they added, noting that fishermen hauled in more than half the overall landings during the last two months – 4 million pounds in August and 2 million pounds in September.

“That’s a little bit later than normal,” Fitzpatrick said. “You guys know better where the fish were.”

The best tuna trolling takes place off the Oregon coast from Coos Bay northward to the Columbia River, with some available off Washington’s southern coast. Most harvesters fish off of Oregon’s central coast, where the tuna were “farther out and fewer” for most of this season, in another reflection of 2012.

Newport led the way with 4.9 million pounds valued at $7,582,756 – just shy of last season’s state record for highest revenue at a single port. Astoria was next with 2.6 million pounds at $4.4 million, followed by Charleston with 1.9 million pounds worth $2.8 million. Other South Coast ports took in a combined 491,977 pounds valued at $805,032, while other North Coast ports gleaned a combined 266,737 pounds worth $353,489.

Tuna sold fresh off the boat fetched prices of $2.75 to $3 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. Market prices fluctuated from $1.25 to $1.75 per pound for fresh tuna, $1.10 to $1.68 for brine frozen, and $1.75 to $2.20 for blast frozen.

Those prices and markets reflected trends from the previous two seasons.

A tight market in 2011 pushed prices about $1 per pound higher than normal, but 2012 prices ebbed and flowed, especially at processing plants. While markets in 2012 were “softer” than 2011’s record prices, they didn’t drop as far as some fishermen feared, and strengthened somewhat during the season.

“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,” notes Taylor Frierson from ODFW. After “rocking and rolling” in some places with an opening off-the-boat price at $3.50 per pound, a saturated market dropped the price to $2.25 before it rebounded to hover at $2.50, although, as always, it varied from port to port. Market prices also 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 were getting anywhere from $2.50 to $3.50 per pound.

Average price for 2012 was $1.53 per pound, down from $1.94 in 2011, but well above the 2001 to 2010 average of 95 cents per pound.

ODFW reported a total of 447 vessels making at least one landing of albacore in Oregon ports in 2012.

As it was this season, August was the peak month, with landings of 4.4 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 9.7 million pounds.

Newport received most of Oregon’s albacore landings in 2012 with 5.06 million pounds, just under the port record of 5.07 million pounds in 2009.

Newport netted $7,733,275 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. The final Newport tally for 2013 – already second-highest single-port revenue for a season – could almost eclipse the 2012 record.

Ex-vessel revenue in 2012 stood at $15,147,543 – well below the record high $18,803,492 gleaned in 2011, but still third highest on record. Albacore accounted for 13 percent of Oregon’s marine fish revenue in 2012, with the ex-vessel revenue from tuna landings ranking third among all Oregon’s marine fishery landings behind Dungeness crab and pink shrimp.

Newport, Astoria and Charleston have led the way in tuna landings and revenue since 2004. During the past five seasons, Newport has led the way, except in 2010.

In 2009, Newport landings reached 5.1 million pounds valued at $5.1 million. Astoria finished with 2.6 million pounds worth $2.7 million, and Charleston landed 2.1 million pounds worth $2 million. In 2010, it was Astoria (4.4 million pounds, $5.4 million), Newport (4.1 million, $4.6 million) and Charleston (1.8 million, $1.97 million). In 2011, Newport’s landings were higher than Astoria’s (3.7 million pounds to 3.2 million), but Astoria set the state revenue record with $6.9 million, while Newport’s haul was valued at $6.6 million. Charleston finished with 2.4 million and $4.2 million.

Since 2004, overall Oregon landings have fluctuated (10.7 million, 8.1 million, 8.5 million, 10.5 million, 8.9 million, 10.2 million, 10.7 million, 9,7 million, 9.9 million and 10.1 million pounds, respectively), as have revenues. Value of landings was $8.8 million and $8.1 million, respectively, in 2005 and 2006. Revenue reached $9.1 million and $9.5 million, respectively, in 2004 and 2007. Value exceeded $10 million in 2008 ($10.7 million) and 2009 ($10.3 million), then jumped to $12.4 million in 2010.

The past three seasons were phenomenal in terms of revenue, with a leap to $18.8 million in 2011, followed by $15.2 million in 2012 and $15.9 million so far this season. Market analysts say tuna fishermen must realize that those values derive to a large extent from a rise in exports to Asian markets – most notably Japan – in the wake of the 2011 earthquake-spawned tsunami that devastated much of Japan’s tuna fishing fleet. When the fleet recovers, fishery managers say they will return with newer vessels, the latest technology and more capacity, upping market competition with a potential corresponding influence on market prices and landings value. Other nations also began targeting albacore this season, including China, which put as many as 1,000 boats in the water.

Fishery managers also noted the diminished presence of albacore tuna fishing boats from Canada.

New Treaty?

Counting everyone who brings in 50 pounds of tuna or more, Wayne Heikkila, executive director of the California-based Western Fishboat Owners Association (WFOA), said the US albacore tuna fishery features about 600 to 700 individual boats, with 200 to 300 of them owned and operated by “serious tuna fishermen.” Until 2012, they also competed with a fleet of vessels from neighboring Canada under a 1981 treaty between the two nation’s governments that allowed cross-border tuna fishing in each other’s territorial waters. That treaty expired in 2011, the governments ended up temporarily suspending the reciprocity, and no Canadian vessels were allowed in US waters in 2012.

Negotiators opted for 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.

“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, noting that it enhanced the bottom line for many US trollers in 2012. “More commercial boats delivered fish,” added Goche, who trolls for tuna aboard the F/V Peso II.

In the wake of a season boosted by the absence of Canadian boats, US harvester delegates went into a 2012 treaty negotiation session trolling for another “no fishing” designation for Canada again during this season. To the chagrin of most US tuna trollers, government representatives forged a one-year “truce” for 2013, agreeing to allow up to 45 Canadian vessels into US waters and an unlimited number of US boats to ply Canada’s territorial sea.

A phase-out of the entire tuna fishing regime is scheduled to begin in 2014, with a reduced number of Canadian vessels allowed during the phase-out period.

The 2013 season for Canadian vessels in US waters started June 15 and ended September 15, rather than the usual October 31.

“A lot of Canadian boats stayed in their own water,” Heikkila said. “We didn’t see the effort here this year.”

Schmitt said 377 US vessels landed tuna in 2013. Just 17 vessels from Canada landed 1,052,415 pounds of tuna valued at $1,965,261 during July, August and September. Most of those landings – 852,456 pounds - went to Astoria, the remainder to Newport and Charleston. The presence of Canadian vessels remains a contentious issue for US albacore fishermen. With less than five percent of the total number of boats in the water, the Canadians took 10 percent of the overall Oregon catch this season, noted OAC member Laura Anderson from Local Ocean Seafood in Newport, Oregon, one of the commission’s three processor representatives. Some fishermen and fishery managers say the amount landed by the small number of Canadian boats (an average of almost 62,000 pounds per vessel) points to underlying issues concerning possible “loopholes” about admeasuring – determining the dimensions, capacity, weight and other details of a vessel for official registration, documentation or rating – and vessel ownership, in particular American-registered vessels that are partially Canadian-owned. The OAC, WFOA, American Albacore Fishing Association (AAFA) and the Washington Trollers Association (WTA) called the former treaty unfair, and a cooperative effort by those groups led to the 2012 suspension of the US-Canada reciprocal agreement.

Disappointed with the government’s approval to allow the return of some Canadian vessels in 2013, the OAC, WFOA, AAFA and WTA remain committed to presenting a common fishery position on the issue. After a lively discussion during their November session, OAC members opted to “stand down” until the fishing associations make final determinations and declare their positions on this issue before treaty negotiations move forward.

Tim Thomas, skipper of the F/V Steel Fin II out of Garibaldi, Oregon, one of five harvesters serving with the commission and an AAFA board member, expressed concerns about admeasuring, along with partial Canadian ownership of US vessels. He favors the proposed phase-out of the agreement.

“We represent the needs of the overall fleet,” Shawn Ryan, a Charleston, Oregon-based fisherman noted. “I still want options to fish in Canadian waters. I hardly saw a difference between no boats last year and 45 this year.”

Goche pointed to what he called a history of the Canadians “finding every little loophole and disregarding treaty terms.”

He opposes allowing any Canadian vessels into US waters, not even “a specified bottom line” of a minimum number of boats. “Every foreign vessel that comes into the US fishery decreases the value of my vessel,” he added, noting that the Magnusson-Stevens Act directs that US fisheries “should take precedence,” and due to the “significant negative impact” on the albacore fishery, he advocated continued suspension of the treaty and additional analysis of economic impacts of allowing Canadian vessels in US waters.

Heikkila said the WFOA supports the proposed phase-out during the next two to three years. “The quicker, the better for most guys,” he added.

Fishery managers say the only option other than treaty termination to circumvent these issues is adopting a limited entry program for albacore – something the fishermen don’t advocate, especially with a pending stock assessment.

Goche expressed concern about some of the potential parameters of the assessment that “could change the whole dynamic” of the fishery by having the assessment “based on fish not in our fishery or our stocks.” “That’s scary,” he added. Thomas sees a problem with doing stock assessments based on landings. “If we don’t catch a lot of fish trolling, it doesn’t necessarily mean the stock is in trouble,” he noted.

For now, as with the treaty negotiation, the stock assessment is a wait-and-see situation.

Walmart Agrees to Work With ASMI on Sustainability Particulars

The nation’s largest retailer has reaffirmed its commitment to buy Alaska seafood, and will work with the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute on sustainability issues to meet needed criteria.

Doug McMillon, incoming president and chief executive officer of Walmart, said in a letter to Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, on Jan. 21 that the company is excited that ASMI has agreed to work with Walmart to ensure the Responsible Fisheries Management standard employed by ASMI meets principles for credible sustainable fisheries programs developed by The Sustainability Consortium.

Walmart is a founding member of TSC, which works collaboratively to accurately quantify and communicate the sustainability of products.

“Alaska has been a model of fishery sustainability for decades, and American consumers have come to recognize the quality and sustainability of Alaska seafood,” McMillon told Begich. “It is my goal that by working together, the Alaska seafood industry and its partners will work to uphold TSC’s principles so we can continue to source quality seafood from Alaska for years to come. I look forward to the continued partnership with the state of Alaska.” Begich thanked ASMI and state officials “for showing Walmart what Alaskans already know- Alaskans put the ‘sustainable’ in sustainable seafood.”

Sustainability of the state’s seafood is mandated by the state’s constitution.

Walmart officials visited Juneau a couple of weeks ago at the invitation of Gov. Sean Parnell and urging of other representatives of the state.

The meeting, all agreed, was very productive.

The sustainability issue came to a head back in 2011, when Walmart made a decision to purchase only seafood that had been certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council, based in London. While a number of processors of Alaska seafood initially signed on for the MSC certification program, they dropped out, opting instead for a sustainability program sponsored by ASMI, citing cost and other issues.

State officials wanted the opportunity to show Walmart first-hand how serious the state is about its commitment to sustainable fisheries, and from that meeting, agreement was reached to work together for a solution.

USDA Will Make $20 Million Purchase
of Alaska Pink Salmon

A US Department of Agriculture decision to purchase $20 million in canned wild Alaska pink salmon will benefit food banks around the country and stabilize the market for processors of a record breaking 2013 harvest of Alaska humpies.

Bruce Schactler, of Kodiak, who coordinates the food aid program for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Association, said the timing of the USDA’s announcement in mid-January could not have come at a better time for the industry and its recipient consumers. The purchase will help to stabilize the market and the price structure that producers and the coastal communities of Alaska depend on, said Schactler, and supply more than 60 million meals to families in need.

Alaska fish harvested brought in a record wild salmon harvest this past year, and nearly 80 percent of that harvest was humpies.

Senators Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Mark Begich, D-Alaska, applauded the deal.

Murkowski said she initially encouraged Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to consider using Emergency Food Assistance Program funds to provide health food for Americans in need, to give food banks and their partners greater access to a wide variety of tasty, health food.

Begich noted that the USDA decision to spend $20 million on canned Alaska pink salmon compared with purchases in past years of $5 million to $10 million.

This latest purchase will help ease overstocked supplies following the record harvest, and benefit fishermen by reducing inventories that have weighed salmon prices down on the market, he said.

ASMI spokesmen meanwhile are continuing their effort to encourage use of pink salmon in domestic and international food aid programs because of its nutrition value, as a source of protein, omega-3 oils, calcium, selenium, phosphorous and potassium.

Pacific Halibut Quotas Dip to 27,515,000 Pounds

The International Pacific Halibut Commission has recommended to the governments of Canada and the United States a 27.5 million pound halibut catch limit for 2014, down some 3.5 million pounds for 2013.

The announcement this past week came at the conclusion of the IPHC’s 90th annual meeting in Seattle. The commission also approved a season of March 8 through Nov. 7 for the US and Canadian individual quota fisheries. The recommended catch limits are 960,000 pounds for Area 2A, including California, Oregon and Washington, and 6,850,000 pounds for Area 2B, British Columbia, and includes a sport catch allocation.

For Area 2C, in southeastern Alaska, and Area 3A, in the central Gulf of Alaska, the combined allocations were for the commercial and guided sport fisheries.

The commercial fishery in Area 2C got 3,318.720 pounds and guided sport anglers got 761,280 pounds, for a total of 4,160,000 pounds. Last year Area 3C was allocated 2,970,000 pounds, up 13 percent from the 2012 limit of 2,620,000 pounds.

In Area 3A, the commercial fishery had an allocation of 7,317,730 pounds, and guided sport anglers got 1,782,270 pounds. The total, 9,430,000 pounds, was down from 11,030,000 pounds a year ago.

Area 3B, the Western Gulf of Alaska, was allocated 2,840,000 pounds, a drop from 4,290,000 pounds in 2013, and 5,070,000 pounds in 2012.

Area 4A, the eastern Aleutians, got a quota of 850,000 pounds, down from 1.3 million pounds a year ago, and Area 4B, the central and western Aleutians, was given 1,140,000 pounds, compared to 1,450,000 pounds in 2013.

Area 4CDE got a total of 1,285,000 pounds, including 596,600 pounds each for the Pribilof Islands (4C), and the northwestern Bering Sea (4D0 and 91,800 pounds for the Bering Sea flats (4E).

Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment
Stirs More Commentary

Alaska Senator Mark Begich has come out in support of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Bristol Bay watershed assessment in its final form, saying “Pebble is not worth the risk.”

“Bristol Bay produces half the world’s red salmon and supports thousands of fishing jobs and way of life for thousands of Alaskans,” Begich said Jan. 20. “Thousands of Alaskans have weighed in on this issue and I have listened to their concerns. Pebble is not worth the risk.

“I agree with other pro-development Alaska leaders such as Senator Ted Stevens and former governors Jay Hammond and Tony Knowles, that Pebble is the wrong mine in the wrong place for Alaska,” he said.

The Pebble Limited Partnership, which has invested millions of dollars in mine studies, public relations and more, issued a statement expressing its disappointment in Begich’s stand, and again questioned whether the assessment is sound science.

Senator Lisa Murkowski meanwhile, maintains that the state, rather than the federal government, should decide whether the mine, which would be on state land, could be developed and operating without harm to salmon habitat. Murkowski’s position is that there is an existing federal permitting process that should be allowed to occur, and that if the EPA has concerns about a mine proposal there is an appropriate opportunity for the agency to weigh in during the permitting review process. The senator has not taken a position on the mine proposal itself, but has called on the Pebble Partnership to submit its plans for the mine so that Alaskans can judge for themselves the feasibility of the proposal.

The Bristol Bay watershed is home to the world’s largest wild sockeye salmon run.

The assessment, which was welcomed by numerous environmental, fisheries and business entities, concluded that a large scale mine in the Bristol Bay region would pose significant likelihood of adverse impact to salmon habitat. The report, online at, does not mention the Pebble mine specifically, nor does it recommend policy or regulatory decisions.

Dave Harsila, president of the Alaska Independent Fishermen’s Marketing Association, said his organization is pleased with the EPA’s work on the watershed assessment and urged the EPA to invoke its authority under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act to protect salmon resources in the Bristol Bay watershed from adverse impact from all potential mines at metallic sulfide deposits.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


A news brief of Jan, 8 entitled “Bycatch Limits Announced for Salmon Troll Fishery” detailed bycatch allowances for various species or species groups, and said in part that there is no limit on incidental harvest in other rockfish, sablefish and other groundfish fisheries.

There is no limit on incidental harvest of other rockfish and other groundfish taken in state waters. The state does have definite limits set for incidental bycatch of other Southeast rockfish, sablefish and groundfish fisheries.

Also bycatch allowance for sablefish is zero. For demersal shelf rockfish, the bycatch allowance is 10 percent, and for spiny dogfish, 35 percent.

Assessment Says Large-Scale Mine Could Be Disastrous to Salmon

By Margaret Bauman

A final Bristol Bay watershed assessment released Jan. 15 by the US Environmental Protection Agency says a large scale copper, gold and molybdenum mine in the Bristol Bay watershed could have catastrophic effects on fishery resources.

The report describes potential impacts to salmon and ecological resources from the proposed large-scale mine, concluding that the mine poses extensive risks to salmon and Alaska Native cultures. Bristol Bay, with annual runs averaging 37.5 million fish, produces nearly 50 percent of the world’s wild sockeye salmon.

The complete report is online at

The EPA said the report would serve as a technical resource for governments, tribes and the public to consider how to address challenges of large-scale mining and ecological protection of the Bristol Bay watershed.

The report says that depending on the size of the mine, the EPA estimates 24 to 94 miles of salmon supporting streams and 1,300 to 5,350 acres of wetlands, ponds and lakes would be destroyed. EPA estimates an additional 9 to 33 miles of salmon supporting streams would experience altered stream flows likely to affect ecosystem structure and function. Large quantities of mine waste, leachates and wastewater would have to be collected, stored, treated and managed long after the mining is concluded and under routine operations, EPA estimates adverse direct and indirect effects on fish in up to 51 miles of streams.

The report said failure of a tailings storage facility dam that released only a partial volume of stored tailings would have catastrophic effects on fishery resources. Consistent with recent record of petroleum pipelines and similar mines operating in North and South America, pipeline failures along the transportation corridor could release toxic copper concentrate or diesel fuel into salmon supporting streams or wetlands. A transportation corridor to Cook Inlet would cross wetlands and some 64 streams and rivers in the Kvichak River watershed, 55 of which are known or likely to support salmon.
Culvert failures, runoff, and spills of chemicals would put at risk salmon spawning areas in and near Iliamna Lake, the report said.

EPA also estimates failures in water collection and treatment are possible, and would have adverse effects on fish in 48 to 62 miles of streams.

The assessment found that the Bristol Bay ecosystem generated $480 million in economic activity in 2009, while providing employment for over 14,000 workers. The region also supports all five species of Pacific salmon found in North America, and is home to more than 20 other fish species, 190 bird species and more than 40 terrestrial mammal species, including bears, moose and caribou.

Financing Will Be Key to Next Generation Fleet

From the Fleet

Last month US Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Mark Begich (D-AK) visited Seattle and heard from local fishing leaders on the challenges and solutions to building a next generation fishing fleet.

The senators toured a freezer longliner under maintenance at Fishermen’s Terminal before holding a listening session at the Port of Seattle headquarters with Pacific Northwest fishing and shipbuilding industry leaders. The group commented on the challenges they face in getting access to financing from banks to build and renovate fishing vessels and the future competitiveness of the maritime economy. Below are the remarks presented to the Senators by Kenny Down, President and CEO of Blue North Fisheries.

Senator Cantwell and Senator Begich:
Thank you for holding this hearing today and thank you for the opportunity to appear before you and to provide testimony on these important maritime issues.

Blue North is based in Seattle, Washington and operates five commercial fishing vessels in the North Pacific federal fishery. Our vessels are hook-and-line catcher-processors that harvest and process seafood, primarily Pacific cod. The Blue North catcher processors all operate in the Freezer Longline Conservation Cooperative (FLCC), a cooperative made possible by Congressional legislation supported by you both, which allowed the FLCC sector to coop. I want to thank you Senator Cantwell as the original sponsor of that legislation and thank you Senator Begich as an original co-sponsor.

Blue North currently has a vessel under construction here in Washington State. This vessel is being built at a cost of $36 million. The vessel is of state of the art design; greatly reducing fuel consumption, increasing utilization of the resource and significantly increasing the value of the products produced through improvements to quality and value adding of products.

I am here to testify today on the necessity of rebuilding the aging North Pacific catcher processor fleet. While my testimony is particular in some respect to Blue North, the points I wish to make are equally important across gear types, sectors and fisheries. The flatfish catcher processors, the pollock catcher processors and the longline catcher processors all will need federal support to rebuild their aging fleets.

For Blue North, while we have one vessel under construction we will require two additional vessels to remain competitive. Many other companies will follow, but there are serious challenges to moving forward. One of the most important steps for the industry to rebuild and replace their aging vessels will be to support NOAA in changing the Fisheries Finance Program (FFP) to allow for new vessel construction and major reconstruction loans. For 17 years the agency has prohibited loans for the new construction of vessels because of concerns with over-capitalized fisheries. In a cooperative or rationalized fishery this concern is eliminated. I believe the agency is considering changing this policy, at the request of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, and I ask that you encourage them to do so.

Another important step will be to support the Maritime Administration in changes to the Title XI loan guarantee program. Currently the Secretary of Commerce has sole authority to issue loan guarantees for fishing vessels. So, in order for the fishing industry to be eligible to apply for a Title XI loan guarantee through MARAD, we need the Department of Commerce and MARAD to work out a procedure or process that would allow fishing companies to apply for Title XI loan guarantees. This is especially crucial for the larger vessels in the Bering Sea who are looking at large rebuilding projects at costs over $50 million and possibly building new vessels which could cost between $100 and 4150 million. Solving this roadblock would be extremely helpful in creating jobs, increasing exports, increasing the quality of our products and assuring we are doing all we can with the resources we have.

We will also need Congressional support for a legislative fix to remove a prohibition on loans or loan guarantees for new construction or reconstruction of fishing vessels over 165 feet. This will require something such as an amendment in the next Coast Guard authorization bill or as soon as possible to allow the aforementioned programs to become effective in our fleet.

Necessity of Rebuilding the Aging North Pacific Catcher Processor Fleet
Three of Blue North’s catcher processor fleet are World War II era vessels. These vessels were built in 1944 and 1945. These vessels are approaching 70 years in service, a respectable life for any seagoing vessel. Our “newest vessel” was built twenty-two years ago in 1991. While these older vessels are at the far end of the spectrum they represent a situation that eventually all North Pacific fishing vessel owners will be faced with, and many others are faced with now, the need to modernize their fleets for safety, quality and efficiency. The average age of the longline fleet is more than 40 years old.

Through the legislation I referred to earlier in my testimony the race for fish in our sector has ended. We are no longer directly competing with each other but we do compete in the global whitefish market. Other countries such as Norway and Russia have regulations in place that allow them to modernize their fleets at substantially lower costs than what is possible for our fleets. Blue North for example exports nearly 90 percent of its processed product overseas. We are competing in the global cod marketplace utilizing several 70-year-old vessels against countries like Norway where the entire fleet of like vessels is already fully modernized. We are at a definite competitive disadvantage with this older equipment in a modernized worldwide market place.

These older vessels simply do not have the room, labor force or equipment to fully realize their potential. Every day on our vessels, products that could be utilized are discarded, simply because we do not have the room on board to process and store. A modern vessel like our new vessel will have the equipment and machinery necessary to freeze and will not be limited in the number of crew we can carry to handle the additional labor.

Blue North, through our cooperative agreement will harvest 17.44% of the Bering Sea Pacific cod allocation available to our fleet in 2014. With newer vessels we will not catch more fish; we will realize more value out of the fish we do catch. From a business standpoint in a rationalized fishery this is absolutely the next move toward full utilization of the resource. Blue North projects to increase the value of every pound it catches on its new vessel by a minimum of 20 percent through utilizing all protein sources available from the allocation received.

All of the vessels Blue North operates are maintained to the highest standards to assure safety of life at sea. The Blue North vessels are all inspected yearly, dry-docked twice in any five-year period, and continuously maintained according the United States Coast Guard (USCG)’s Alternative Safety and Compliance Agreement (ACSA). Several of the Blue North vessels are load-lined vessels with the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS). The cost of maintaining these older vessels to new modern standards as required by ABS and USCG programs are simply not sustainable from a business perspective. In 2012 and 2013 the annual inspections and dry-docking costs for these vessels well exceeded a million dollars each. These are expenditures we would much rather direct toward construction and financing of newer vessels. Maintenance of the new vessels, as you can imagine, will be a fraction of the maintenance of a 70-year-old vessel.

In testimony before the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in 2012 the USCG along with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) testified in support of removing impediments to the rebuilding of the Bering Sea fishing fleet for safety reasons. While the current vessels are safe, studies quoted in their testimony show the new vessels will be much safer. Simply put, there is a strong correlation between the age of the fishing vessel and accidents resulting in serious injury and death. In the case of the new Blue North vessel and other new vessels, safety at sea is a primary consideration and motivation for new construction.

I would also like to thank you for the support in increasing the Fisheries Finance Program loan authority in the Senate CJS appropriations bill. Increasing the loan authority from $59 million to $100 million is a great start. However I would like to point out that even if the loan authority is raised, it is crucial that it ultimately be much higher, given the age of fishing vessels in the US and the need for new vessel construction and rebuilding to support safety, efficiency, increased utilization and global competitiveness.

I believe we make a strong case for the need and role of the federal government to provide low interest, long term loans and loan guarantees to support the replacement and rebuilding of the North Pacific fishing fleet.

Building these vessels in Washington State and Alaska will not only meet the needs of the fishing industry but will provide hundreds of jobs in shipyards and support industries and help make this region the nations leader in advanced shipbuilding and reconstruction.

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