Wednesday, August 27, 2014


By Chris Philips
Managing Editor

Trust in government is at an all time low in the US, thanks in large part to local and state governments which, although closest to and most directly responsible to the people they serve, continue to make bad law and bad policy, and in some cases ignore the law altogether.

In 1994 the Washington State legislature enacted the Regulatory Fairness Act to protect small business from onerous and harmful regulation. The act states, in part, “…administrative rules adopted by state agencies can have a disproportionate impact on the state’s small businesses because of the size of those businesses. This disproportionate impact reduces competition, innovation, employment, and new employment opportunities, and threatens the very existence of some small businesses.”

Early last year, in spite of the Regulatory Fairness Act, the Washington State Fish and Wildlife Commission unanimously adopted a policy to close the lower Columbia River to commercial, non-tribal gillnets, even though the commission was at the time made up of several members whose terms had expired, and without the commercial fishing representation required by law. Eighteen months later, the commission still has a vacancy, and small businessmen have been forced to petition the State of Washington to invalidate the regulation. Meanwhile the mark-selective commercial seine fishery, proposed for the Columbia on an experimental basis, has experienced high mortality rates, as the area’s gillnetters, both tribal and non-tribal, had predicted. Trust in government remains in short supply among small business owners fishing the Columbia.

In Alaska the Pebble Mine controversy continues, with opponents claiming the breach of a tailings pond at the massive proposed mine would threaten the health of Bristol Bay, while sportfishing special interest groups, taking a cue from their counterparts in Washington and Oregon, are trying to close Cook Inlet to commercial gillnetters. Meanwhile, the breach of a tailings pond dam in British Columbia released an estimated 14.5 million cubic meters of mine wastes into the Fraser River watershed, giving the West Coast a preview, on a much smaller scale, of what a similar breach would mean to Alaska’s salmon industry.

And yet, Alaska Governor Sean Parnell has appointed Ben Mohr, a former publicist for the Pebble Limited Partnership, to serve as his new fisheries advisor – a position previously held by respected fisheries experts including Cora Campbell, current Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. While no commercial fishing groups seem to have been consulted prior to the appointment, Ricky Gease, executive director of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, has been quoted as believing Mohr will “…follow in the footsteps of good fisheries advisers to the governor’s office.”

Which footsteps Mr. Mohr will choose to follow remain to be seen, but we hope he wipes the mine tailings off his shoes before he starts wandering around the pristine waters of Alaska

White House Urged to Push Back Against Russia’ Seafood Boycott

Alaska’s congressional delegation has asked the White House to try using all diplomatic means to persuade Russia to rescind its ban on seafood imports, but failing that asks for a ban on importing Russian seafood into the United States.

This approach to Russia’s political brinksmanship has strong support from Alaska’s seafood industry, the Alaska delegation said in a letter Aug. 26 to President Obama.

Russia’s decision to ban imports from the US and Europe stemmed from economic sanctions brought against Russia after the downing of a Malaysian airliner over eastern Ukraine in July, and Russia’s support for separatist rebels whom Western officials blame for the crash.

If a ban is imposed on Russian imports, it is critical that US trade officials implement it in a way that tracks and covers all Russian-origin products throughout the distribution chain, including those reprocessed or transshipped through third countries, the delegation said.

This could be difficult, according to Gunnar Knapp, an economics professor who is director of the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Institute of Social and Economic Research. It may be difficult in some instances to really figure out what is a Russian product, he said.  For example, a lot of Russian fish, just like a lot of Alaska fish, gets shipped to China for reprocessing, and then sent here.  Knapp asked if the US bans imports of Russian fish, would that also include imports of fish caught by Russians in Russia shipped to us from China, and how would we effectively monitor and enforce that?

In general, said Knapp, when Country A bans imports from Country B, prices go up in Country A, and Country A domestic producers benefit.  Meanwhile consumers in Country A are worse off, with higher prices and perhaps the inability to get products they want. And exporters from Country B are also worse off.

Right now, said Knapp, Russian domestic producers are benefitting from higher prices, but Russian consumers are losing because of those higher prices. Meanwhile exporters in the US, including Alaska companies that export salmon roe to Russia, are harmed, as well as Norwegian salmon farmers for whom Russia was their largest market.

Economists, himself included, feel that everyone loses in a trade war when countries ban each other’s imports, he said.

NOAA’s Marine Debris Program Reports on Derelict Fishing Traps

A new report from federal fisheries officials says thousands of fishing traps are lost or abandoned each year in US waters and become what are known as derelict traps, continuing to catch fish, crab and other species, including turtles.  These traps result in losses to habitat, fisheries and those who depend on the resources – losses that are largely preventable, according to the study published in the Marine Pollution Bulletin by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The report is the first of its kind to examine the derelict fish trap problem and so-called “ghost fishing” nationally, and recommends steps to better manage and prevent it.

The report, issued Aug. 27, looks at results of seven NOAA-funded studies in US fisheries and compares the severity of the problem, and common management challenges across the regions.  It also reports certain findings from studies for the first time in peer-reviewed literature, such as estimates of derelict trap numbers and how long they remain in the environment.

Researchers have concluded that derelict traps have a cumulative, measurable impact that should be considered in fishery management decisions, and suggested a management strategy that emphasizes a collaborative approach, including involving the fishing industry in projects to find solutions.

Fisheries in the study include Dungeness crab in Alaska and Puget Sound, blue crab fisheries in Maryland, Virginia and North Caroline, spiny lobster in Florida and the coral reef fish fishery in the US Virgin Islands.

All seven fisheries contained derelict traps, with average numbers ranging from five to 47 traps per square kilometer, the report said. Between five and 40 percent of the derelict traps examined showed evidence of ghost fishing. The length of time a trap continued to ghost fish depended on environmental conditions and trap design, but in every fishery, ghost fishing occurred longer than anticipated based on assumptions about gear degradation, the report said.

Seafood Harvesters Oppose Reallocation of Fish Resources

Seafood Harvesters of America, whose membership includes several Pacific Northwest commercial fishing organizations, is raising concerns over a five-year reallocation mandate included in draft reauthorization of federal fisheries legislation.

Chris Brown, president of the organization, said his members feel “that those who want more access to fishery resources should be responsible for sustaining our fishery stocks.

The proposed mandate in question is included in work underway on reauthorizing the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

The organization’s 14 member commercial fisheries groups include Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, Alaska Whitefish Trawlers Association, Fishing Vessel Owners Association, United Catcher Boats and the North Pacific Fisheries Association.

Brown said fishing allocations should be based on thorough scientific analysis, as determined by regional fishery management councils, not arbitrary politics.

“Reallocating these resources to recreational users, who do not adhere to the same accountability and data collection requirements as the commercial fishing industry, would be a step backward in ensuring that America-caught seafood makes its way to millions of American consumers,” he said.

Brown said that Southeast Alaska serves as an excellent example of strong accountability and cooperation between recreational and commercial fishermen.

“There, halibut recreational charter and commercial fishermen must report their catches through an effective quota system, which are accounted for in the total allowable catch. So we are calling for a phased in approach for a recreational sport fishery harvest data collection plan in regions where recreational harvest accountability can be improved,” he said.

The Magnuson-Stevens reauthorization legislation at this point is still a work in progress and there is no deadline set for when it will be completed.

AFDF Seeks Proposals for Alaska Mariculture Initiative

The Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation is seeking proposals for its Alaska mariculture initiative, an economic analysis to inform a statewide strategic plan for enhancement, aquatic farming and restoration of shellfish and marine plants.  According to AFDF, the economic impact of mariculture could grow to $1 billion in Alaska by 2045, given a coordinated effort, a pubic-private partnership, and a strategic plan designed to reach this goal.

The deadline for proposals is Sept. 19. 

Proposals will be judged on knowledge and understanding of the project, experience with similar projects, demonstration of capacity to complete everything within the required time, and cost, said Julie Decker, executive director of the organization.

AFDF will fund the project with a $216,000 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

AFDF notes that the ex-vessel value of Alaska seafood in 2012 was some $2 billion, and of that salmon hatcheries contributed roughly $100 million to $300 million, depending on the year.

Challenges acknowledged by AFDF include the fact that they will be dealing with extremely remote sites which increase costs and logistics, infrastructure investment, lack of organizational capacity, lack of workforce which will require recruitment and training, regulatory hurdles and environmental issues, including sea otter predation and ocean acidification.

An example of success in wild fishery enhancement, shellfish farming and restoration operations has been found in several areas of the world, from New Zealand, to British Columbia, as well as Washington state and Alaska, AFDF said.

In Washington state alone, 3,200 people are employed with $27 million in payroll, more than $100 million in annual sales, providing a total economic contribution of $270 million, the report said.   In Alaska, meanwhile, salmon enhancement has produced millions of dollars in ex-vessel value each year since 201, and hatcheries have repaid most initial loans to the state with interest, the report said.

More information on the project is at

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