Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Demise of Herring in Prince William Sound Still a Mystery

By Margaret Bauman

Twenty-five years after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and millions of dollars in research, marine scientists still have no conclusions about the relationship between that environmental disaster and the demise of Pacific herring in Prince William Sound.

What we do know is that the Exxon Valdez oil tanker struck Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound shortly after midnight on March 24, 1989, spilling 260,000 to 750,000 barrels of thick, toxic crude oil, creating one of the most devastating human caused environmental disasters on record.

Then in subsequent storms and currents, the oil spread over 1,300 miles, fouling the shoreline, resulting in the deaths of vast numbers of wildlife, including sea otters, herring and birds.

Some of that crude oil is still not cleaned up, and while some species have recovered, herring have not. A once lucrative commercial fishery, the herring, which also provided nutrition for seabirds, salmon and marine mammals ranging from sea otters to whales, is still listed as “not recovering.”

What is not clear is the direct relationship between the Exxon Valdez oil spill and the demise of the herring fishery in Prince William Sound, but marine conservation scientist Rick Steiner of Anchorage says that without doubt the oil spill had a significant effect on the Prince William Sound herring population, and it is almost certainly one of the reasons for the crash in 1993.

“Most of the 1989-year class, that was spawned as oil washed ashore, was killed,” Steiner noted, in comments Sept. 10. “And, most of the adults were exposed to varying levels of toxic oil. The Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia, Ichthyophonus, and Viral Erythrocytic Necrosis outbreaks were likely caused, at least in part, by suppressed immune systems in adult herring due to acute oil exposure, making them more vulnerable to such diseases and parasites.”

Still, marine ecosystems are complex, and many variables go into the herring equation – ocean conditions, zooplankton, stress induced by capture for the herring pound fishery, predation, and so forth, he said. “There are almost certainly multiple causes in the herring crash, but without doubt, the oil spill is one of them,” he said.

Steiner points to the April 2013 final report on the Prince William Sound herring survey program written by Scott Pegau of Cordova’s Prince William Sound Science Center, a document that concludes that “there is no consensus on the cause of the herring collapse in 1993 or the factors that have led to the low recruitment levels over the past 20 years.”

The survey program was funded by the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council. The goal was to develop an integrated research program to identify potential bottlenecks to recovery.

Pegau noted in the final report that there appears to be agreement that Prince William Sound herring stocks are not likely to recover without multiple large recruitment events, and that large recruitment events can occur from a small adult spawning biomass.

“A single large recruitment event may be able to increase the adult population to a level where future large recruitment events occur,” Pegau wrote in his conclusions of the study. “The rapid increase in adults may cause new spawning grounds to be used and therefore increase the possibility of retention of larvae leading to strong recruitment.”

Pegau also observed that there is some evidence that change in recruitment is related to zooplankton levels, but also noted that researchers’ ability to identify the conditions that lead to a successful recruitment event have been hampered by the fact that during all of the herring observation periods there had not been a large recruitment event.

Steiner has been recognized by the British national newspaper, The Guardian, as one of the world’s leading marine conservation scientists, and one of the most respected and outspoken academics on the oil industry’s environmental record. At the time of the oil spill disaster he was a marine conservation professor with the University of Alaska, stationed in Cordova.

As a university marine advisor for the Prince William Sound region of Alaska from 1983 to 1997, he provided leadership in response to the Exxon Valdez oil spill, proposed and helped establish the regional citizens advisory councils, the Prince William Sound Science Center, and the billion dollar legal settlement between Exxon and the government, with which much of the coastline of the oil spill region was protected. He has also worked on oil issues in Pakistan, China, Russia, Lebanon, Nigeria, Shetland, central Asia and the Gulf of Mexico.

Today he conducts the Oasis Earth project, a global consultancy working with non-government organizations, governments, industry and civil society to speed the transition to an environmentally sustainable society.

In science, Steiner said, there is a theorem called “Occam’s Razor,” which is that among competing hypotheses to explain an observation, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected. “Essentially saying that, when in doubt, the simplest hypothesis is usually the most accurate. Or,” said Steiner, “as they say in the south, “if it quacks, it’s a duck.

“The simple explanation for the decline of Prince William Sound herring, the hypothesis with the fewest assumptions, is the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

“Nowhere else in Alaska has the herring population crashed as it has in the Sound, and nowhere else in Alaska has had 40,000 tons of a toxic chemical (crude oil) dumped into it, right at the time of herring spawning.”

While it has become fashionable in the marine research community to assert that there was no baseline data on the herring fishery in Prince William Sound prior to the oil spill, that is simply untrue, he said. Herring has been assessed and managed by government agencies for many decades prior to the spill, and they had a pretty good idea of herring population dynamics in Prince William Sound prior to the spill, he said.

Meanwhile, studies related to the demise of and hope of rebuilding the Pacific herring stocks in Prince William Sound continue, with marine biologists at Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the Prince William Sound Science Center, and others.

“There are no conclusions,” said Rich Brenner, a research biologist with ADF&G at Cordova. “That is the nature of scientific consensus. We build information toward conclusions. That is the way it is.
“You think of science as building a glass house and people throw objects at it, and when those objects no longer break the glass, then you have reached scientific consensus,” he said.

Brenner also points to several studies on the herring fishery, published from 2007 to 2011 in scientific journals, which came up with different hypotheses.

One study published by the Ecological Society of America in 2008 noted effects of competition and predation by juvenile hatchery pink salmon on herring juveniles, poor nutrition in the winter, ocean temperatures in the winter, viral hemorrhagic septicemia virus and the pathogen Ichtyophonus hoferi, and suggested that it may well be difficult to simultaneously increase production of pink salmon and maintain a viable Pacific herring fishery.

The ADF&G studies include acoustic and aerial surveys, said Brenner, whose role is to facilitate a variety of studies, including current herring biomass trends. He also works with other agencies, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the US Geological Survey, on studies into physiology and disease related to herring.

ADF&G keeps in contact with researchers with the Prince William Sound Science Center, who may be on the Sound at the same time, doing acoustic surveys, he said.

“We have been fairly focused on adult herring and adult spawning biomass. We are looking at prosecuting a fishery, and they are focused on juveniles.”

So the research continues, with many questions still to be answered.

Did the initial absence of zooplankton from the herring diet weaken their resistance to disease, ability to reproduce or defend themselves against predators?

Did the oil spill somehow inhibit the ability of the herring to fight off viruses and predators determined to have them for lunch?

Has there been too much competition with pink salmon from hatcheries in the area for the same food?
How do changing temperatures and other environmental conditions, or fishery management and harvests play into this picture?

Meanwhile, Steiner recently resubmitted a proposal he made to the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustees Council in 2002, proposing a herring permit buyback initiative as a restoration effort.

When he first submitted that proposal to the council in 2002, many permit holders were in support of the idea, Steiner said.

The money could then be used to buy individual fishing quota or other salmon permits, thus giving the former herring fishermen an opportunity to turn an inactive herring permit into some real fishing time.

And, said Steiner, this would clearly be best for the marine ecosystem, leaving all the herring in the water for the many predators that rely on them.

Unlike other fishery buyback, or capacity reduction/rationalization programs, programs based on economic efficiency rationale, the Prince William Sound herring fishery buyback for spill restoration purposes would have to be applied on an all-or-nothing basis, he said.

Participation would have to be mandatory, not optional, and to accomplish this, permit holders should be compensated at higher than current market value for their permits, he said.

Dutch Harbor, New Bedford Hold Steady as Top Fishing Ports

Dutch Harbor retained first place as the nation’s top commercial fishing port by volume in 2013, while New Bedford, MA., led all other ports for value in the latest annual report on the status of United States fisheries, released today.

Deliveries of commercial seafood to Dutch Harbor in 2013 totaled 753 million pounds, up slightly from 752 million pounds a year earlier, while at New Bedford, MA., the overall value of seafood delivered slipped from $411 million in 2012 to $379 million in 2013.

The 2013 edition of Fisheries of the United States, compiled by the National Marine Fisheries Service, notes that U.S. fishermen in 2013 landed 9.9 billion pounds of fish and shellfish, an increase of 245 million pounds from 2012. Valued at $5.5 billion, these landings represent an increase of $388 million from 2012, the report said.

The average American, meanwhile ate 14.5 pounds of fish and shellfish in 2013, essentially unchanged from 2012.

Overall U.S. commercial landings of fish and shellfish for human food rose steadily since 2004, which 7,794 million pounds landed were valued at $3,611 million. By 2013, those landings reached 8,053 million pounds, valued at $5,292 million.

Landings for industrial purposes meanwhile dropped from 1,889 million pounds in 2004 to 1,827 million pounds in 2013, while the value rose from $145 million in 2004 to $198 million in 2013.

Eileen Sobeck, assistant National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration administrator for NOAA Fisheries, noted the importance of the commercial and recreational fishing sectors to the national economy, including job creation.

The report shows that while national totals of fish and shellfish landings remained about the same, total landings of wild salmon topped one billion pounds, up 68 percent from 2012, for a new record. The report also shows that for the 17th consecutive year, the Alaska port of Dutch Harbor led the nation with the highest amount of seafood landed, primarily walleye pollock.

Harvesters delivering to Dutch Harbor brought in 753 million pounds valued at $197 million, the report said.

And for the 14th consecutive year, New Bedford, MA, had the highest valued catch- 130 million pounds, valued at $379 million – due mostly to the highly valued sea scallop fishery. Sea scallops accounted for more than 81 percent of the value of the New Bedford landings.

Volume and Value of Seafood Deliveries at Western Ports Significant

By volume and value, seafood ports in Alaska, Washington and Oregon stand out in the latest federal seafood status report released today.

The statistics included in the 2013 edition of Fisheries in the United States, released by NOAA, ranks Dutch Harbor in first place.

Alaska’s Aleutian Island ports ranked second in landings, with 470 million pounds, up from 456 million pounds in 2012, and Kodiak, AK., was third with deliveries totaling 426 million pounds, up from 393 million pounds in 2012.

Alaska Peninsula ports, ranked eighth for volume, saw poundage slip from 191 million pounds in 2012 to 187 million pounds last year, while Cordova, AK, ranked 11th by volume, saw a huge jump from deliveries of 84 million pounds landed in 2012 to 147 million pounds in 2013. Ketchikan, AK., ranked 12th by volume, likewise saw a jump from 74 million pounds delivered in 2012 to 144 million pounds delivered in 2013.

Westport, WA., ranked 13th, saw its deliveries rise from 133 million pounds, in 2012 to 140 million pounds in 2013.

New Bedford, MA., ranked 14th, saw a drop in volume from 143 million pounds delivered to 130 million pounds. At Newport, OR., deliveries rose from 80 million pounds to 127 million pounds. Harvesters delivered 126 million pounds at Sitka, up from 67 million pounds a year earlier, and at Petersburg, AK., deliveries rose from 52 million pounds to 123 million pounds.

In rankings by value of deliveries to top U.S. seafood ports, Dutch Harbor, like New Bedford, saw a drop in the overall value of deliveries in 2013, down from $214 million in 2012 to $197 million in 2013, while Kodiak saw value drop from $170 million to $154 million.

Rounding out the top 10 ports nationally for volume, the Aleutian Islands slipped from $119 million to $105 million, the Alaska Peninsula saw value rise from $99 million to $102 million, and Honolulu, Hawaii, slipped from $100 million to $95 million.

Seventh ranked Cordova meanwhile saw value of deliveries jump from $40 million to $92 million. Values of fish delivered rose from $78 million to $89 million at Naknek, from $66 million to $84 million at Sitka, and from $80 million to $83 million at Empire-Venice, LA.

Ketchikan, ranked 11th in value of overall deliveries, saw a jump from $54 million to $76 million, and Petersburg, from $50 million to $73 million. Brownsville-Port-Isabel, Texas, ranked 13th, reported value rose from $54 million to $73 million, while Galveston, Texas, reported values slipped from $74 million to $72 million.

Fifteenth ranked Seward, AK. saw value rise from $62 million to $70 million, and 16th ranked Westport, WA., from $59 million to $65 million, while 17th ranked Bristol Bay experienced a drop in value from $79 million to $64 million.

Rounding out the top 20, value of deliveries at Dulac-Shauvin, LA were steady at $64 million for both years; Newport, OR values rose from $37 million to $55 million, and at Astoria, OR, values rose from $39 million to $50 million.

BBRSDA Looks Into Potential Drift Permit Buyback

A fisheries organization representing drift gillnet permit holders in the famed Bristol Bay sockeye salmon fishery are looking into a potential buyback program.

With the potential of boosting permit prices and earnings of harvesters.

The Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association is taking this first step in the wake of a 2013 survey to which 81 percent of the Bristol Bay salmon drift gillnet permit holders who responded said they want to know more about a potential buyback program.

Prompted by such interest, the BBRSDA contracted with Northern Economics in Anchorage, which produced a report to assist the drift gillnet fleet in determining whether to further explore a buyback plan for their fishery.

Now BBRSDA plans to discuss the lengthy document with its membership at a conference on Nov. 20, during Pacific Marine Expo in Seattle.  Panelists for the discussion will include Matt Luck, BRSDA; Jonathan King, vice president and senior economist for Northern Economics; Jeff Regnart, Alaska Department of Fish and Game; Mike Sturtevant, National Marine Fisheries Service; and Bruce Twomley, Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission.

Copies of “Possible Design and Economic Outcomes of a Permit Buyback Program in the Bristol Bay Salmon Drift Gillnet Fishery” may be downloaded online at

The BBRSDA notes that the report does not address socio-economic information needed to fully evaluate the potential outcomes and impacts of a buyback program in the Bristol Bay drift fishery.

Following membership review and analysis of this report, BBRSDA will survey its members again, as to whether or not to proceed with a socio-economic impact analysis of a potential buyback. Both analyses are necessary to provide comprehensive information upon which to base a decision regarding the pros and cons of a potential buyback, the BBRSDA noted in a letter to members.

The report does provide objective economic information about the Bristol Bay salmon drift gillnet fishery, and projects how different buyback scenarios and associated payback schedules might impact gross and net revenues.

The report offers details on previous buyback programs for Washington salmon, Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands king and tanner crab, Pacific Coast groundfish and Southeast Alaska purse seine salmon fisheries.

The report notes that while the purchase of fishing vessels and/or permits under a buyback program is an effective approach to quickly reduce fishing capacity to the desired level that buybacks are not a panacea for solving overcapacity problems over the long term.

In particular, the report notes, buyback programs, by themselves, do not address a root cause of excessive fishing capacity- the race-for-fish.”  In this situation, the report said, each fisherman has an incentive to increase his or her fishing capacity in order to catch fish before someone else does.

The study also looks at options for what may be purchased in a buyback program, in terms of permits and vessels, and different economic effects of purchasing active and inactive permits.

The study does recognize that a buyback will likely result in increased profit needed to invest and improve quality while it may also create an incentive for some permit holders to over-invest.

For further information contact Sue Aspelund, executive director of the BBRSDA at or 1-360-927-4259.

Transboundary Mine Issues Prompt More Meetings in Southeast Alaska

Growing concern over plans for several Canadian mineral projects located on transboundary watersheds of key salmon rivers has prompted a series of meetings in Southeast Alaska fisheries communities that will end Oct, 30 in Ketchikan.

The meetings in community gathering places in Juneau, Sitka, Wrangell, Petersburg and Ketchikan were organized by Salmon Beyond Borders and the United Tribal Transboundary Mining Working Group.

At least five of the proposed Canadian mineral projects are located in transboundary watersheds for important salmon rivers – the Taku, Stikine and Unuk, which originate in British Columbia and flow into Southeast Alaska.

The Taku, Stikine and Unuk watersheds span some 30,000 square miles, an area roughly the size of Maine, and have cultural and economic significance for Southeast Alaska.   The non-profit group Salmon Beyond Borders says the proposed mines in these watersheds are likely to produce acid mine drainage and toxic heavy metals which would harm Southeast Alaska’s fishing and tourism industries, as well as traditional subsistence activities of Alaska Native tribes.

For months now, Southeast Alaska commercial fishermen have been seeking help from the federal government to protect their region’s fisheries and tourism industries from potential water pollution from these proposed mines.

They want guarantees that Alaska’s water and fish will not be harmed by British Columbia’s mine development efforts.

Seabridge Gold noted in a news release several weeks ago that the company’s Kerr Sulphurets Mitchell mine project has already received its environmental assessment certificate from provincial authorities and expects to receive final federal approval by year’s end. The company estimates proven and probable reserves totaling 38.2 million ounces of gold and 9.9 billion pounds of copper, and on its community website estimates a 52-year mine plan.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

New Market Niche for Hagfish?

High school student's research project might ultimately lead to one

By Terry Dillman

A bright, enthusiastic high school senior in Illinois – far removed from the ocean – has found a compelling new use for hagfish, one that, if followed to its logical conclusion, could provide an equally compelling and potentially lucrative market for commercial fishermen.

Grace Niewijk pursued a very unusual premise for a science project during her final year at Oak Park and River Forest High School in Oak Park, Illinois: creating absorbent antimicrobial bandages and ointment from Pacific hagfish slime to use on burns and wounds. And she succeeded.

"If you had told me last year that I'd spend much of my senior year of high school researching, handling, and writing about slime eels, I'd have fallen out of my chair laughing," said Niewijk. "Even though I can't say I loved every minute of it – there were some awfully late nights along the way – I wouldn't trade the experience for the world."

After she finished testing her hypothesis, she wrote a 38-page academic research paper, which is under review for publication, and created a presentation about her research that she offered at several science symposia, winning local, regional and national awards along the way.

"I have had a truly astounding amount of success with my hagfish project. I did successfully create absorbent, antimicrobial bandages from hagfish slime," Grace noted. "It was so gratifying to have all my hard work pay off, and to have all that scientific experience under my belt."

This ugly primitive sea creature already fetches sort of pretty prices for some Oregon fishermen, mostly in overseas markets. Drawing on an abundantly available resource and willing buyers, a small number of fishermen cash in on a relatively small, but extremely hungry Asian market.

Demand for both flesh and hide exceeds supply, particularly in Korea, where hagfishing is almost nil due to extensive overfishing. They are prized as edible delicacies, and their hides yield, among other things, eel-skin wallets that patrons can use to shell out the money needed to purchase the eels of their choice from a restaurant's live tanks in a process similar to selecting live lobsters. Fishermen tend to enter and exit the slime eel fishery quickly, so catch numbers fluctuate, said Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) officials. For many of the commercial fishermen involved, it's a way to supplement income if another fishery they participate in didn't do so well in a given year. 
But the main reason for fluctuations in participation and landings is the market itself: it remains small compared to other fisheries, with low domestic demand because slime eels don't please palates of people at home. The capricious market takes a toll on processors and hagfishermen alike.

The live market is especially trying, because keeping the eels alive for shipment is no easy task. The prime concern is keeping them from suffocating in their own slime.

"It's all about the survival rate," says Brad Bailey from Eko Uni Import & Export of Tacoma, Washington. "There's so much work involved. You have to babysit the darn things."

Pacific hagfish have numerous glands along both sides of their bodies that emit a protein whenever they feel threatened – which is always. It reacts with seawater to create huge amounts of tenacious mucous to help them easily slip away. Researchers say a single eel can quickly turn a five-gallon bucket of seawater into a slime pit. After the catch, fishermen and processors stay busy removing slime from hagfish tanks to keep them alive. For shipping, processors pack the eels into containers filled with saltwater and liquid oxygen to keep them breathing and keep the containers cool.

Bailey says it's a touchy process, but those with the know-how can deliver the goods alive and well – and keep them alive.

Niewijk, who contacted Fishermen's News last year for information on where to find live hagfish for her project, quickly discovered this firsthand.

Using live Pacific hagfish from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and Olympic Coast Seafoods shipped directly overnight to the high school lab, Grace transferred them immediately to a 75-gallon tank filled with ocean-mimicking chilled salt water. She tested salinity weekly and adjusted as needed. She provided the hagfish with PVC piping to hide in, and used minimal lighting "to mimic a natural benthic environment as closely as possible." She fed the hagfish all-they-could-eat whole squid once a month, and followed proper protocol for vertebrate care and treatment. An institutional review board reviewed her procedures, and the slimers were imported under importation and transfer permits she obtained from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. She frequently consulted hagfish experts throughout the project.

Niewijk carefully collected slime (in sea water) and exudate (raw fish product collected without sea water) from multiple fish at various times over several months to ensure random sampling.

Douglas Fudge, associate professor and head of the Comparative Biomaterials Lab at the University of Guelph, Ontario, acted as Grace's primary mentor throughout the research process, and Dr. John-Paul Rue, a Naval Academy orthopedic surgeon, served as her expert on bandages and wounds. Classmate Maura Dahl collaborated on parts of the research, Niewijk's family offered support and financial assistance throughout the project, and numerous others provided overall project guidance and assistance, helping her "to design and perform a successful experiment to derive new and unique products."

"This study culminated in the successful creation and testing of absorbent antimicrobial bandages and ointment using the slime of Pacific hagfish," Grace concluded, noting that it backed up her hypothesis that processing hagfish slime correctly would preserve its antimicrobial properties and would form a tough, absorbent material ideal for creating a bandage "because of its unique intermediate filament structure, its ability to capture liquids, and its high levels of antimicrobial activity."

"Future research based on this study should refine materials, develop methods of mass production, and investigate efficacy against other bacteria," she noted.

Niewijk said further development could lead to superior absorbent bandages that promote faster, more complete healing, and "decrease infections by creating an environment less conducive to microbial growth" in wounds and burns without unsightly or crippling scar tissue. Biodegradability and relatively simple methods of processing would also make the bandage materials "more environmentally friendly than most current synthetics." Production costs could also be significantly less.

Hagfish or slime eels play a vital role in the ocean ecosystem as bottom-feeding scavengers. They clean the ocean bottom and release nutrients into the food web to boost the overall health of the ecosystems they inhabit.

Based on the results of Niewijk's experiments, the maligned yet (in some cultures) revered bottom dwellers could play a top role in human health – and possibly in hagfishermen's economic health – sometime in the future.

Slime collection and use would not significantly affect ocean ecosystems, Grace noted, because hagfish are already harvested in large quantities without apparent negative impact (don't tell the Korean fishermen). Making the slime a "marketable commodity" instead of a mucky nuisance could enhance, rather than harm the fishermen's bottom line.

Overharvest From Illegal Fishing Threatens Crab Populations

A new study released by the World Wildlife Fund says that crab populations in the Russian Far East are at risk of collapse because of overharvest from illegal fishing.

The ten-year study of trade and customs data identified major discrepancies between the amount of crab reportedly harvested in Russian waters and the amount imported into other countries.

The study concluded that two-to-four times the legal harvest limit had entered the global marketplace. The magnitude of illegal crab fishing puts the entire Bering Sea marine ecosystem at risk, the report said. The waters where the crab was taken are shared by Russia and Alaska and produce almost 200 million pounds of legally caught crab each year.

Michele Kuruc, WWF vice president of marine policy, said the US is likely importing large quantities of crab and other seafood which may have been illegally caught. The problem, said Kuruc, is the US is unable to say how much is illegal. “We need a way to obtain and assess this information if we want to address this global illegal fishing problem,” he said.

Konstantin Zgurovsky, who heads the WWF-Russia marine program, called for better port control and a transparent, international monitoring system of fishing activity and seafood trade.

The report notes that Russia has in recent years worked to shrink the illegal crab problem by developing bilateral agreements with Japan and South Korea, developing a national plan of action to address illegal fisheries, and continued enforcement at-sea. Yet the problem is multilateral and it demands a multilateral solution, the report said.

Official customs data from South Korea, Japan, China and the US indicate that in 2013 these four countries imported 1.69 times as much live and frozen crab from Russia as official Russian harvest levels.

The report also noted that foreign-flagged vessels harvest crab illegally in Russian waters, and some Russian-flagged vessels either overharvest or harvest crab illegally. Misdeclaring product quantities, off-loading undeclared product onto a transport vessel at sea, or delivering undeclared drab, or declared using fake documentation, directly to a foreign port are known techniques to launder crab.

The report, Illegal Russian Crab: an Investigation of Trade Flow, is online at

Forecast for Togiak’s 2015 Sac Roe Herring Harvest is 29,012 Tons

State fisheries biologists in Alaska say the Pacific herring spawning biomass in the Togiak District was estimated at 203,267 tons in 2014 and is forecast to be 163,480 tons in 2015.

Herring are expected to comprise 50 percent of the biomass in the coming year, while the remaining run is forecast to be ages 4-6, ages 7-8 and ages 12+

A run biomass of 163,480 tons would be 110 percent of the recent 10-year average, with the potential to produce an overall harvest of 32,696 tons in all fisheries and 29,012 tons in the Togiak purse seine and gillnet sac roe fisheries.

This past season the commercial fishermen at Togiak brought in a sac roe herring harvest of 25,136 tons. The purse seine harvest of 18,668 tons had a reported average weight of 364 grams and an average roe percentage of 10.3 percent. The gillnet harvest of 6,469 tons had a reported average weight of 404 grams and an average roe percentage of 11.3 percent, Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists at Dillingham said.

Still, prices to fishermen were down, as demand in Japan dropped due to changing habits of buyers with a growing taste for meat dishes.

The biomass of the Togiak herring spawning population has been estimated with aerial surveys since the late 1970s, concurrent with development of the sac roe fishery. Most of the biomass surveyed occurred in the center of Togiak Bay, with a smaller concentration to the east in Kulukak Bay.

NPFMC Endorses Steps to Implement Electronic Monitoring

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council has endorsed a target date of 2016 for taking the first steps towards operationalizing electronic monitoring on small fixed gear vessels.

While the council acknowledged this to be an ambitious goal, the council intends to work toward having an electronic monitoring alternative in 2016, at least for the vessels for which accommodating an observer onboard is problematic, the council notes in its October newsletter.

The council’s electronic monitoring workgroup reported on their progress during the October council meeting in Anchorage, outlining a framework for the regulatory amendment package to integrate electronic monitoring as part of the observer program, and continuing efforts to refine the 2015 cooperative research plan to be responsive to the decision points and information needs of the analytical framework. The council has asked the electronic monitoring work group to have a complete research plan ready for the scientific and statistical committee to review in February. The work group is expected to report on its progress at the council’s December meeting in Anchorage.
Dan Hull, a commercial fisherman who was elected chairman of the council at the October meeting, also chairs the electronic monitoring work group.

Other members of the work group include Dan Falvey, Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association’ Brian Lynch, Petersburg Vessel Owners Association; David Polushkin, K-Bay Fisheries Association; Bernie Burkholder, F/V Northern Endurance; Malcolm Milne, North Pacific Fisheries Association; Jeff Stephan, United Fishermen’s Marketing Association; Morgan Dyas, Saltwater, Inc., Howard McElderberry, Archipelago; Diana Evans and Chris Oliver of the NPFMC staff; Bruce Leaman, International Pacific Halibut Commission; Nicole Kimball, Alaska Department of Fish and Game; and several representatives of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Alaska Symphony of Seafood Adds New Contest Category

The Alaska Symphony of Seafood will have a third location and a new product category for the 22nd annual competition in February.

In addition to the usual gala soirees in Seattle and Anchorage, the host Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation in Anchorage has added a venue in Juneau, and along with retail, food service and smoked product competition, a fourth category: Beyond the Plate, for entries made with parts of seafood that would typically be deemed fish waste or a byproduct of the primary processing. Entries may include fish oil, pet treats, fish leather and many other products, says Julie Decker, executive director of AFDF. The industry, said Decker, has heavily invested in development of new products from traditionally unused seafood parts. The new category is being offered to highlight and promote the improvements the industry has made to reduce fish waste, develop new products and increase the value of Alaska’s seafood.

Entries will be judged on the product’s packaging and presentation, overall eating experience, price and potential for commercial success.

Dates of the Symphony of Seafood events will be announced at the end of October along with the call for product. Entry forms and fees are due by Dec. 31

Information on how to enter is online at
Since 1993, the Alaska Symphony of Seafood has celebrated creative and innovative ideas in the seafood industry, bringing new products before a panel of judges and the public. The event was created by the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation to promote new product development for seafood harvested in Alaska waters by encouraging participation and sponsorship from a variety of companies and organizations that together are building the future of the Alaska fishing industry.

AFDF is a private, non-profit organization created in 1978 to further develop Alaska’s seafood industry. AFDF works with harvesters, processors and the support sector to identify and prioritize problems common in Alaska’s seafood industry, and collaborates with scientists, government agencies and coastal communities to resolve these issues.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

NPFMC Approves Observer Deployment Plan

Federal fisheries managers have approved the 2015 annual deployment plan for the marine observer program, with several recommendations, including one for conditional releases for some vessels in the small vessel trip selection stratum.

The recommendations to National Marine Fisheries Service came at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s fall meeting in Anchorage, during the second week of October, came after the council heard additional testimony on NMFS’s draft 2015 annual deployment plan.

The council recommended two selection strata for 2015, a small vessel trip selection and large vessel trip selection, with a 12 percent selection probability for the small vessel trip selection stratum and 24 percent selection probability for the large vessel stratum. The council was urged to allow conditional releases in 2015 for vessels in the small vessel trip selection stratum that don’t have sufficient life raft capacity to accommodate an observer and/or to assist in addressing vessels with limited bunk space.

The council recommended that vessels selected by NMFS to participate in the electronic monitoring cooperative research be placed in the no selection pool while participating in such research. Also recommended was that trawl vessels that fish for Pacific cod in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands be given the opportunity to opt-in to full observer coverage and carry an observer at all times while fishing in those areas, using the same approach as in 2014.

The council further recommended that the annual report on the deployment plan include information to evaluate a sunset provision, including information on the potential for bias that could be introduced through life raft conditional release, the cost to an individual operator of upgrading to a larger life raft, and the enforcement disincentives from downgrading one’s life raft.

The council also addressed industry concerns from the Freezer Longline Coalition over the shortage of Lead Level 2 observers for deployment on catcher processor hook-and-line vessels. “In order to provide and maintain a viable observer pool, there is a need to ensure that there is a sufficient training opportunity for new LL2 observers as well as consideration of incentives to retain existing trained LL2 observers,” the council said in a motion.

The council encouraged the Freezer Longline Coalition and observer providers to work together, with a representative from the NMFS observer program present at such work sessions to help resolve the matter.

NOAA, American Seafoods Settle on Flow Scale Cases

Federal fisheries officials have settled with American Seafoods Co. over three civil enforcement cases involving flow scales on board the company’s fishing vessels, with ASC agreeing to pay a combined civil penalty of $1.75 million.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in an announcement in mid-October that the cases relate to events that occurred during 2007, 2008, 2011 and 2012 in the Alaska pollock fishery.

NOAA charged that personnel aboard the ASC’s catcher-processor vessels American Dynasty, Ocean Rover and Northern Eagle violated the Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act and the American Fisheries Act by causing the flow scales to weigh inaccurately.

American Seafoods Co. harvests, processes, distributes and markets a diverse seafood product line from fisheries in waters off of the coasts of Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. The company has regional sales offices in Asia and Europe.

Flow scales are used to ensure accurate catch accounting on catcher processors, and the data they collect are essential to effective management of the Alaska pollock fishery, one of the largest, most valuable fisheries in the world. Pollock processed on these vessels is used for a variety of products, including fish fillets, imitation crab, roe, fish oil and fishmeal.

Inge Andreassen, president of American Seafoods, said the company is satisfied with the outcome of these cases. “Our cooperative dialogue with NOAA has helped us improve our internal procedures and, we believe, will improve the agency’s oversight of flow scale matters throughout the fleet.

The violations were investigated by NOAA”s Office of Law Enforcement and prosecuted by the enforcement section of NOAA’s Office of General Counsel. The cases resulted from reports from observers assigned to the American Seafoods Co. vessels who noticed discrepancies between weights recorded by the flow scale and their own motion-compensated scales. Observers are responsible for monitoring and documenting the fishing activities on board the vessels, and their reports are used for scientific, management and compliance purposes in the Alaska pollock fishery.

Separate from these enforcement cases, the National Marine Fisheries Service has proposed a change to its flow scale regulations that would tighten daily scale testing standards, require that test results be electronically reported to NMFS, improve the agency’s ability to detect accidental or intentional introduction of scale bias and require flow scale video monitoring aboard all catcher processors using at-sea scales.

Port of Toledo Enhances Operations
for Commercial Fishermen

New processing plant opens, boatyard improvements pending

By Terry Dillman

Call it the little port that can.

Located seven miles inland from Oregon's central coast on the banks of the Yaquina River and adjacent sloughs, the Port of Toledo encompasses 443 square miles of territory, including the cities of Toledo and nearby Siletz, as well as a considerable chunk of unincorporated land in Lincoln County. Operating since 1910, the port's main focal point is Toledo's waterfront on Depot Slough, a longtime haven for commercial moorage and marine-related businesses catering to the needs of commercial fishermen. Among them are Yaquina Boat Equipment, providing repair and manufacturing for commercial vessels since 1968, and Winter Hawk Seafood, which sells salmon, albacore tuna, Dungeness crab and Pacific halibut – caught aboard the Newport, Oregon-based F/V Winter Hawk – directly to the public.

Port Manager Bud Shoemake said the port's key role is economic development for the region, especially traditional industries like commercial and recreational fisheries. One recent marine business addition and pending enhancements at another should keep those economic ambitions on course.

Fishpeople of the Pacific Northwest officially opened its new seafood processing facility on August 15 in the port's office complex, located in Toledo's former fire hall. Exactly one week later, Shoemake announced receiving a $4,673,000 ConnectOregon grant to pursue a planned build-out of the port's Yaquina Boatyard, which since its inception in 2010 has forged a reputation as one of Oregon's premier vessel service and repair facilities.

In a Flash

Founded in 2012 by former commercial fisherman Duncan Berry and financier Kipp Baratoff, Fishpeople wants folks "to have fresh fish anytime, anywhere" by providing "some of the world's most prized seafood" caught off Oregon's shore – salmon, albacore tuna, Dungeness crab, pink shrimp – as part of "all-natural, value-added" entrees sold by "trend-setting natural retailers" and larger conventional supermarket outlets. Their "dock to dinner plate" process promises high quality, fresh-tasting seafood for the consumer, while simultaneously protecting ocean resources and boosting the economic fortunes of the fishermen and coastal communities that rely on those resources.

"We are a place defined by our fish. We are all fish people," said Berry.

Fishpeople entrees went into grocery stores and seafood departments throughout the Pacific Northwest at the end of 2012, and soups debuted in autumn 2013. With products already on shelves in 2,000 outlets, Berry and Baratoff want to extend the company's reach by having consumers eating fresh Oregon seafood "from sea to shining sea." And they want to do it their way, or more precisely, the seafood consumers' way.

"We understand the new seafood customer," Baratoff said, noting that those consumers want fresh wild fish caught in a sustainable, eco-friendly fashion.

Market analysts say about 85 to 90 percent of seafood consumed in the United States (including Oregon, Washington and California) is imported. About 80 to 90 percent of Oregon's seafood catch is exported to other states, and other nations (mainly Canada, Japan, China, South Korea, Germany, France, the Netherlands, and Spain). And about 70 percent is consumed in restaurants for one main reason: convenience.

Mike Marshall, Fishpeople's operations manager, said they want to drastically change those statistics, or at least make a noticeable dent in them.

Landing the processing plant in Toledo gives them a vital piece in their corporate plan that "let's us do what we've wanted to do since the company started," noted Marshall.

Port officials netted a $250,000 loan for initial construction (most repaid via revenues) – $40,000 of it "forgiven" if the plant creates eight new jobs in Toledo. Gov. John Kitzhaber signed an agreement to provide a $30,000 state loan if those jobs are maintained. The United States Department of Agriculture recently added a $30,000 grant for additional renovations and quality control measures at the processing facility.

"It's all about partnerships," said Shoemake, calling it "a step in the right direction," despite some concerns from nearby residents, who were still leery after the city's prior bad experience with a now-defunct slime eel facility only a few blocks from the Fishpeople site.

Berry, Baratoff and Marshall said Fishpeople wants to "lift all boats" by creating a recognizable market brand that keeps the value of Pacific Northwest fisheries where it belongs: at home in local communities. Fishpeople, they noted, also wants to create "a different relationship with the sea." Above all, they "want to support the fishermen who go out to sea every day."

"We belong here as much as the fish do," said Berry. "But how we're here needs to change, or we're not going to have a lot of seafood left."

Fishpeople, they noted, aims to "strike a balance" between human communities and ocean communities in a way that "resonates with" consumers and the fishing industry by "creating a brand community of fishermen, processors, transport companies, and retailers, all working together" to give seafood customers what they demand: freshness, convenience, and sustainably harvested seafood. As "a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment," Fishpeople creates its own "local waters rating" of fish species based on ratings by the international Marine Stewardship Council and Monterrey Bay Seafood Watch, but "tailored to local conditions" using information gleaned from federal and state agencies, non-profit environmental organizations, leading universities, and Native American tribal sources.

Berry said they believe the Oregon Coast's future lies in adding value to its natural resources, including seafood, instead of shipping them raw and unimproved for others in distant locations to benefit.

"The seafood in our value-added meals is worth five times more than it is in the back of a freezer truck leaving the state," said Baratoff. "More money stays here in our coastal communities, where it's needed most." Doing so, he noted, could keep $400 million in annual revenues in communities on Oregon's central coast. Statewide, potential value-added revenue is an estimated $1.14 billion. The Fishpeople process starts at the Trident Seafoods docks in Newport. For now, they buy more tuna and salmon than crab and pink shrimp. That could change as they add to their product line.

"We buy direct from fishermen, using our own fish tickets," Baratoff said, noting they only use the trident dock to offload the catches. "The challenge is to buy fresh fish. Our focus is on quality, on having that fresh fish quality."

From there, the fish goes to the Toledo processing facility, where they use state-of-the-art water-jet cutters and nitrogen freezing tunnels to create premium-grade, bite-size seafood pieces. The frozen product is shipped to a co-packer in Salem. Using fresh land-based ingredients gleaned from farmers, wild mushroom gatherers, vintners and other producers throughout the Pacific Northwest and northern California, and recipes created by a "flavor council" of renowned Pacific Northwest chefs, they combine ingredients into flexible pouches and cook them to "seal in flavors and keep them as fresh as the day they were cooked." The sealed pouches have a shelf life of up to 18 months. From there, they go to the Fishpeople headquarters and warehouse in Portland for distribution.

Seafood consumers need to cook the pouches for just a few minutes in the microwave or boiling water to create "a fresh gourmet meal."

Baratoff said Fishpeople products offer all the attributes consumers say they value in their seafood. He noted the marriage of convenience and gourmet – a key marketing component, making it possible for consumers to have "fresh fish" anytime, anywhere. Flavor and appearance, affordability, proven health factors, environmental benefits, and benefits to local fishermen are also essential. Berry said their company's hallmark is "relentless transparency," with tracking numbers on all products that allow customers to go online and get detailed information on "where it all came from."

Fishpeople is registered as a B corporation in Oregon, which means they "consider people, planet and profit when making all business decisions," said Baratoff. "It's a different way of doing business."

Berry said they consider themselves "purposeful but playful." While they seriously believe in sustainable fishing practices and supporting local communities, they balance it with a sense of humor and fun, because "this is food or what we call eater-tainment."

It all starts with the ocean and the commercial fishermen who ply the waves for a living.

Size Matters

Approved by the Oregon legislature in 2005, ConnectOregon is dedicated to non-highway projects, focusing on multimodal transportation connections. The Port of Toledo is ideally situated at an intersection of river, railroad and highway.

The boatyard project – one of 36 approved by the Oregon Transportation Commission from among 104 applicants – is another surge forward in the port's resurrection of the boatyard it purchased for $1.5 million in December 2010. Former owner Fred Wahl shut down the operation in 2008 after nearly a decade on the sliver of land at Sturgeon Bend on the Yaquina River near Toledo. The port's purchase set the stage for major improvements and offered commercial fishermen and marine science researchers a much-needed place to keep their vessels shipshape. The port's do-it-yourself open yard provides access to a group of preferred and approved independent contractors.

"We are one of the few remaining repair facilities that not only allow, but welcome the do-it-yourself owner," Shoemake said. "We encourage boat owners to be as involved in the maintenance of their boats as possible."

Yaquina Boatyard currently offers a full range of services, including a 300-ton dry dock capable of handling vessels up to 100 feet long and 46 feet wide, and a 90-ton mobile lift able to accommodate vessels up to 21 feet wide and 24 feet high. For this project, however, size matters even more.

Shoemake said they'll replace the aging, failing dry dock with a 300- to 440-ton mobile lift, new pier for the lift, and new wash-down pad. "Then we can lift anything that's coming up the river," he noted.

They will also expand hard moorage spaces and create a cargo transfer area by relocating the boatyard's access road and utilities. It should also greatly enhance efficiency. Shoemake said the current dry dock set-up "is pretty cumbersome," since they "can only do one boat at a time, which isn't very efficient." And sandblasting and painting over water, no matter how carefully and precisely it's done, creates additional environmental concerns. Adding the new lift to "pull the boats out and put them in the yard" for servicing virtually eliminates those concerns.

The project stems from a build-out plan for the 20-acre property approved in 2013, with backing from city and county officials. Shoemake said the port used its investment in the property – now appraised at $4.2 million – to meet the port's 24 percent match requirement for the grant.

Because the boatyard provides a vital link for commercial fishing and marine research vessels, the Newport, Oregon-based Midwater Trawlers Cooperative, commercial fishermen Mike Pettis (F/V Patriot, F/V Challenge and F/V Jake-B), Bob Eder and Michelle Longo Eder (F/V Timmy Boy), and Kurt Cochran (F/V New Life, F/V Marathon and F/V Islander), the Port of Newport, and several marine service businesses joined many others in backing the project with enthusiastic letters of support.

The Oregon Transportation Commission considers the port and its boatyard "essential" to maintaining Oregon's economic competitiveness by keeping fishing and research vessels shipshape and seaworthy, and connections to markets intact and fully functional.

Boatyards are vital to a viable commercial fishing industry, which generates about 4,000 jobs and accounts for about 15 percent of earned income in Oregon's central coast communities (Newport, Toledo, Depoe Bay), according to an economic analysis. The port's business plan for the boatyard stated that more than half of the economic activity is generated by the distant water fleet, the remainder from the local/regional fleet. Ocean research conducted from Oregon State University's Hatfield Marine Science Center and the nearby NOAA research homeport in Newport further enhances the local, regional and state economy. Port of Toledo commissioners took a chance and bought the Yaquina Boatyard to stave off potential ebbing of the local and regional economy.

So far, the gamble has paid off.

One new addition to the boatyard that has already paid big dividends is manager Leo Newberg, who came aboard 15 months ago. Shoemake said the boatyard overseer is "really on top of things," and has proven a valuable asset to the growing operation.


To learn more about the new processing facility and its needs, go to Contact Berry at 503-342-2424, ext. 101 or Contact Baratoff at 503-342-2424, ext. 107 or To find out more about the Yaquina Boatyard, contact Newberg at 541-336-0333 or Or go to

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