Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Nome Deep Water Port Study Takes a Step Forward

A proposed deep water port at Nome, Alaska, to support offshore oil and gas development, search and rescue and oil spill response, is still years away from construction, but for now, the federal government has a tentatively selected plan.

The next step, says Bruce Sexauer, chief of the civil works branch for the US Army Corps of Engineers in Anchorage, is to get as much comment on the tentatively selected plan as possible, during a public comment period that ends March 23.

The Corps is working with the National Marine Fisheries Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and state officials on matters that include water quality issues.

In discussions with the Coast Guard, the US Navy and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “Everyone is in favor of an Arctic port, but we don’t have a sense of yes or no for this particular plan,” Sexauer said on Feb. 24.

“It is most important to get the word out about this project and get input in, to see how folks feel about this and if we need to make adjustments.”

The plan under consideration would include demolition of the existing spur breakwater at the end of the causeway at the port of Nome, construction of a 2,150-foot causeway extension and 450-foot dock, and dredging of the newly created protected area and associated entrance channel to 28 feet, the Corps said. Costs for the project are currently estimated at $150 million.

Another $61 million in costs are estimated for construction of local service facilities. These would include docks, mooring dolphins, utilities and security gates.

Joy Baker, project manager for the Port of Nome, applauded the Corps’ progress to date, in its cooperative venture with the state of Alaska. “They have both done a very good job on getting it to this point,” Baker said. “We provided statistics on vessel traffic and commodities movement and they have done the economic feasibility, environmental and some early pre-engineers ideas on the project.”

The city will assist by getting cost proposals for other value engineering designs so everything is considered, to get the best price for work to be done, she said.

The Corps has posted the Alaska Deep-Draft Arctic Port System study online at Comment on the draft report by email to

Gourmet Pet Snacks, Smoked Black Cod are Symphony of Seafood Favorites

Arctic Paws’ Yummy Chummies gourmet pet treats took the grand prize, while smoked black cod tips from Pickled Willys won three People’s Choice awards in the 2015 Alaska Symphony of Seafood galas held in Seattle, Juneau and Anchorage. Brett Gibson’s wild Alaska caught salmon, Pacific cod and halibut Yummy Chummies, are produced in Anchorage, are available in nearly two dozen varieties. They placed first in the Symphony’s new “Beyond the Plate” category for creative use of seafood byproducts, then captured the coveted grand prize.

Trident Seafoods’ Alaska Natural Wild Seafood Pet Treats took second place in “Beyond the Plate” competition, and Copper River Seafoods was third, with Wildcatch for Pets Alaska Wild caught Salmon Sticks.

The awards for the 2015 Symphony, which held gala soirees in all three cities, were announced Feb. 21 in Anchorage. Pickled Willys, owned by Bill Alwert in Kodiak, Alaska, also placed first in food service competition. Trident Seafoods’ Alaskan Whitefish Burger, took second place in food service. No third place prize was announced for food service.

First place in retail competition went to Copper River Seafoods for their Fisherman Favorites-Zesty Grill wild Alaska Cod Portions. C&H Classic smoked Fish, of Cathlamet, Washington, placed second with Applewood Smoked Alaska Wild King Salmon-Garlic Pepper; and third with their Applewood Smoked Salmon Candy.

Tilgner’s Ruby Red Sockeye Salmon Chips, by retired Cordova, Alaska physician Art Tilgner, swept the smoked fish competition. Tilgner’s also took second place with Ruby Red Sockeye Salmon Candy. C&H Classic Smoked Fish was third with Applewood Smoked Alaska Wild King salmon-original flavor.

The event is organized annually by the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation in Anchorage, with numerous sponsors from the seafood industry and related firms.

Major sponsors for the 2015 event, along with AFDF, were the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, United Fishermen of Alaska, Northwest Fisheries Association, At-Sea Processors Association, Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association, Marel, Marine Stewardship Council, UniSea, Trident Seafoods and Bowhead Transport.

BC Officials Vow to Hold Mining Companies to Regularly Scheduled Inspections

A spokesman for British Columbia’s Ministry of Energy and Mines says a copper/gold mine seeking permits to operate in the northwest part of the province will have to prove that the tailings facility performs to design specifications.

Those are the requirements of a temporary permit granted to the officials for the Red Chris Mine, owned by Imperial Metals, the same company that owns the Mount Polley copper/gold mine, the scene of a massive tailings facility disaster last year.

Energy and Mines spokesman David Haslam said in an email statement Feb. 24, in response to an inquiry, that only if the tailings facility performed as per design specifications would the mining company be issued approval to continue to operate its North Tailings dam facility, and that would be contingent on the company being able to construct the additional lifts as required by the design engineers.

Once the Red Chris mine is producing tailings, the company would have regularly scheduled compliance inspection programs to complete, including daily visual inspections, he said.

Approval of the interim permit is not sitting well with the transboundary environmental group Rivers Without Borders, whose spokesman, Chris Zimmer, said it was “reckless for British Columbia to permit the kind of outdated watered tailings facility at Red Chris that failed at Mount Polley.”

The interim permit for the Red Chris mine is just the latest concern of Alaskan commercial, sport and subsistence fishing groups, conservationists and others concerned that several British Columbia mines could have adverse impact on transboundary fisheries critical to the economy of Southeast Alaska.

They have been working with Alaska’s congressional delegation in hopes of getting an international joint commission– with three members from Canada and three from the US – to look into their concerns.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R- Alaska, said she has spoken with her Canadian counterparts and Secretary of State John Kerry about an international joint commission on the matter started, but so far the idea has not won support from the Canadian government. Murkowski said maybe what is needed is to direct the US. Environmental Protection Agency to do some baseline monitoring to know what current conditions are in the transboundary rivers, but that the IJC is the real forum for these transboundary conversations.

Salvage Operations Continue Near Kodiak for Grounded Fishing Vessel

Salvage efforts are continuing at Long Island, southeast of Kodiak, Alaska, for the Savannah Ray, an 81-foot steel-hulled fishing vessel that ran aground on Feb. 16 while returning to Kodiak with some 25,000 pounds of cod onboard.

Cause of the grounding is so far undetermined and is under investigation by the Coast Guard and Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

Global Diving and Salvage Inc. implemented an approved defueling plan on Feb. 23, removing an estimated 2,300 gallons of diesel fuel from the vessel’s three aft tanks, all of which were found to be intact. Coast Guard personnel conducted a shoreline assessment during defueling operations and said they observed no impact, but a minor sheen was observed in the vicinity of the Savannah Ray during defueling operations. The owner of the vessel estimated approximately 3,000 gallons of diesel fuel, 300 gallons of hydraulic oil, and 75 gallons of lube oil were onboard the vessel at the time of the grounding. An updated situation report on Feb. 24 said at least one tank containing fuel had been compromised, with about 200 gallons of diesel fuel estimated to have been in the compromised tank.

Officials said there have been no reports of fish or wildlife in the area being impacted. All five species of wild salmon are present in the area. Also among the fish and wildlife listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act that may be in the area are Steller sea lions, Northern sea otters, Steller’s eiders, humpback, North Pacific right and sperm whales. A harbor seal was observed near the defueling operation on Feb. 23, but swam off unaffected, the report said.

Officials said the ability to safely conduct pollution mitigation operations and the need for further pollution mitigation would be evaluated over the next two weeks as weather and tide conditions permit.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

British Columbia’s Commitment to Mining Prompts Growing Fisheries Concerns

In the wake of the release of an independent expert engineering investigation and review into the Mount Polley mine disaster in British Columbia, a watershed-based conservation group is voicing concerns over approval of a new permit for another BC mine.

Chris Zimmer, Alaska campaign director for Rivers Without Borders, says he questions the provincial government’s decision to grant Imperil Metals, of Vancouver, BC an interim permit for filling and testing its watered tailings facility at the Red Chris Mine, a copper and gold property in Northwest BC. That tailings facility is similar to the one at Mount Polley, which the independent report recommends against, he said.

The lengthy Mount Polley report predicts more dam failures if reforms are not implemented. Specifically, on Page 118 of the report, reviewers said “if the inventory of active tailings dams in the province remains unchanged, and performance in the future reflects that in the past, then on average there will be two failures every 10 years and six every 30. In the face of these prospects, the Panel firmly rejects any motion that business as usual can continue.”

The Red Chris mine sits above the nine lakes of the headwaters of the Iskut River in the Iskut-Stikine watershed, a major salmon producer in the transboundary region.

Commercial and conservation groups in Alaska meanwhile have been working with Alaska’s congressional delegation to encourage an International Joint Commission study into the potential implication of several mines planned or permitted in British Columbia.

“Right now there is no process to investigate the long term, cumulative effects of this major industrial development on downstream water, fish and jobs, especially across the broad region of the Taku, Stikine/Iskut, and Unuk watersheds over the long term,” Zimmer said. “There is no process that gives Alaskans a meaningful seat at the table where we can obtain and enforce guarantees that upstream BC development will not harm our downstream interests.”

An IJC study “would give us an equal seat at the time, and it would give the public a forum for speaking out,” said Heather Hardcastle, a spokesperson for Trout Unlimited in Southeast Alaska. Dale Kelley, executive director of the Alaska Trollers Association, said commercial fishermen have also expressed their concerns to the Alaska congressional delegation for an IJC study, which would address, among other things, how to make whole those engaged in transboundary fisheries, should mine development and operation have adverse affects on fisheries.

Coast Guard Rescues Four from Grounded
Fishing Vessel

An investigation is underway into the grounding of the 81-foot fishing vessel Savannah Ray at Long Island, about five miles Southeast of Kodiak, Alaska, following the rescue of four crewmen on Feb. 16.

US Coast Guard officials said they responded to a 406 Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon alert from the Savannah Ray, saying they had run aground and that the four crewmembers were donning survival suits and had deployed their life raft. All four were reported in good condition when hoisted aboard an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter and taken to emergency medical services at Kodiak.

Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Andrew Sheean said the rescue highlights how critical it is to have a registered 406 EPIRB on board when operating a vessel of any size.

At the time of the grounding the vessel was returning to Kodiak with 25,000 pounds of cod on board.

The owner of the Savannah Ray estimated that at the time of the grounding there were 3,000 gallons of diesel fuel, 300 gallons of hydraulic oil and 75 gallons of lube oil on board. The Coast Guard said an overflight showed no evidence of fuel or oil leaking from the grounded vessel.

ADF&G releases Volume Two of Chinook News

Alaska Department of Fish and Game officials have released volume two of Chinook News, with updates on the agency’s work on the Chinook Salmon Research initiative. The publication can be found online at chinooknews.main.

The winter edition provides overviews of stocks and research projects of 12 important Chinook river systems and features articles on marine sampling in the Kodiak and Westward regions, Cook Inlet and Southeast Alaska. The 16-page report also highlights initiative funded environmental and ecological studies done in collaboration with the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

The goal, says Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten, is to not only share what the state is learning, but to fully engage the public in the process. Questions and comments on the Chinook Salmon Research Initiative can be sent to

Alaska has hundreds of Chinook salmon stocks, and to better understand their productivity across a wide geographic range, 12 stocks were chosen as indicators of the overall health and production of Alaska’s Chinook salmon. These indicator stocks provide the bulk of Alaska’s wild Chinook salmon production and are vitally important to the subsistence, cultural and economic sustainability of nearby rural and urban communities, the report notes.

During their 2013 and 2014 sessions, the Alaska Legislature provided $15 million in support for the initiative, funding 35 Chinook salmon projects in 2014. According to Ed Jones, ADF&G’s Chinook salmon research initiative coordinator, these research projects are increasing the state’s confidence in estimating adult spawning abundance. Current efforts will ultimately take years of effort to provide a sufficient time series of run statistics useful for production and trend analyses, Jones said. Nevertheless, the state’s investments are worthy because, lacking information, fisheries managers often let more fish escape than may be necessary to sustain the population, he said.

Henderschedt Will Lead NOAA Office
of International Affairs

NOAA Fisheries officials have announced the appointment of industry veteran John Henderschedt to head the merged Office of International Affairs and the Seafood Inspection Program, effective April 6.

Henderschedt has been active in business and policy since 1988, from both the commercial fishing and seafood sections, and more recently from the conservation and management perspective, said Maggie Mooney-Seus, communications program director at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Seattle.

Henderschedt was in the midst of his third term as one of Washington State’s two representatives on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council when word of his appointment came. His resignation from the council is effective Feb. 20. He has also, since 2011, served as the executive director of the Fisheries Leadership and sustainability forum, a Seattle-based entity that serves as a communications bridge builder for the industry. In his new role, he will lead NOAA’s core stewardship missions in the global economy, which require a more active and strategic engagement by the agency in international markets of conservation policy, seafood production and trade.

Meanwhile Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has submitted to National Marine Fisheries Service as candidates to fill Henderschedt’s position on the council Kenny Down, president and CEO of Blue North Fisheries; Lorrie Swanson of the Groundfish Forum; and Milton Bundy, a past member of the council and currently a senior advisor to Glacier Fish Company.

Henderschedt has spent the past 25 years working in Alaska and West Coast groundfish fisheries, managing seafood harvesting and production for domestic and international markets.

He holds a bachelor’s degree in Russian studies from Muhlenberg College and a certificate in Russian language and literature from Moscow’s Pushkin Institute.

Henderschedt will join NOAA Fisheries officials at the North American Seafood Show in Boston in mid-March, where Eileen Sobeck, NMFS Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, will introduce him in his new role to representatives of the domestic seafood industry. He will also meet in coming months with staff, and stakeholder communities to be served by the merged office to help better align services and priorities for fulfilling NOAA’s stewardship missions, Mooney-Seus said.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

NPFMC Adds 50 Percent Reduction to Options on Reducing Halibut Bycatch

Federal fisheries managers are scheduled to take final action at their June meeting in Sitka, Alaska, on further measures to reduce the incidental harvest of millions of pounds of halibut, and one of those options is now a 50 percent cut in bycatch.

During the North Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting in Seattle this past week, council member Duncan Fields of Kodiak introduced the measure, telling the council that they needed to act decisively in order to avoid the possibility of an emergency situation in a subsequent year.

After hours of testimony and discussion, the council passed a motion putting the halibut prohibited species documents out for public review, with modifications to alternatives that include up to a 50 percent reduction for the trawl limited access sector, the Pacific cod hook and line catcher vessel sector and the Pacific cod hook and line catcher processor sector, and the community development quota sector.

The option for up to a 50 percent reduction in bycatch also was listed for hook and line catcher vessels and catcher processors targeting anything except Pacific cod or sablefish.

For the Amendment 80 limited access fishery, the options for bycatch allowance reduction is up to 60 percent.

Halibut fishermen in the Bering Sea had faced major cuts in their directed fishery when the International Pacific Halibut Commission met recently in Vancouver, British Columbia, but the IPHC agreed not to make those cuts on condition that the NPFMC take further action on reducing bycatch.
The IPHC and NPFMC also held a joint session during the council meeting, where they heard from many halibut fishermen and groundfish harvesters about the need for and costs of reducing bycatch allowances.

In its testimony to the council, the conservation group Oceana noted that the Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act requires that the National Marine Fisheries Service, to the extent practicable minimize bycatch and minimize the mortality of bycatch which cannot be avoided.

From 2004 through 2013, an estimated 82 million pounds of halibut were killed as bycatch in federal groundfish fisheries in the Bering Sea, including millions of adult halibut and even more juvenile halibut, Oceana said.

And of greater irony, Oceana said, at the same time, 37 million pounds of this dead halibut bycatch game from the “halibut closed area,” an area created by the IPHC to protect juvenile halibut. Unfortunately that protection was undone by the NPFMC in their very first Bering Sea/Aleutian Island fishery management plan amendment 1, which allowed year-round domestic trawling in the “Halibut Closed Area” starting in 1984, the conservation group said.

Court Decision in Bristol Bay Forever Case May Be Challenged

Plaintiffs in failed litigation to keep off the ballot an initiative to require legislative approval of mining activities in the Alaska’s Bristol Bay region are evaluating whether to appeal the court’s decision, counsel for the pro-mining litigants says.

But no decision has been made yet and the deadline for filing such a challenge won’t be established until the Alaska Superior Court enters a fee order or a new final judgment, said Matt Singer, an Anchorage attorney. Singer represented the plaintiffs, including mining consultant Richard Hughes, the Alaska Miners Association and the Council of Alaska Producers in the case against former Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell and the state of Alaska.

The Superior Court decision handed down Jan. 28 awarded fees of nearly $64,000 to intervenors in the case on the side of the state, three residents who sponsored the initiative. The Superior Court noted in its decision that plaintiffs’ council had stated in oral arguments on attorney’s fees that plaintiffs’ attorney’s fees were being paid by the Pebble Limited Partnership, Alaska Miners Association and Council of Alaska Producers, and that the PLP had agreed to indemnify plaintiffs for any fees awarded against them in the case.

The decision is related to an Alaska Supreme Court decision in which the justices ruled in favor of the state and initiative sponsors. While the high court had issued its decision last year, it released a lengthy opinion on Jan. 30 explaining how it reached that decision.

The Renewable Resources Coalition, an Alaska group whose stated purpose is to preserve and protect the viability of Alaska’s abundant fishing and hunting resources, and lands and waters they need to survive, hailed the Supreme Court’s opinion on its decision as validation of the Bristol Bay Forever initiative.

In last November’s general election, 65 percent of voters approved the initiative.

Reality Show Series on Bristol Bay Prompts Concerns From Harvesters

An Animal Planet reality show series on the Bristol Bay sockeye salmon fishery has a number of factual errors and misrepresentations that have many of its harvesters concerned, says the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association.

“Alaska: Battle on the Bay,” which began airing in January, describes the highly competitive fishery in terms of five captains “preparing to battle the unforgiving bay, the battering ram of boats jockeying for position, and the law, which strictly monitors the season with recon choppers and police squads.”

Sue Aspelund, executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, has contacted Animal Planet executive Marjorie Kaplan to point out a number of factual errors and misrepresentations in trailers for the series and in the first episode. Aspelund said she got a prompt reply from Kaplan, who said she was looking into the matter and would get back to her.

One area of major concern, and one with significant potential to increase costs in the fishery, is that of safety, Aspelund said. “You may not be aware that it is illegal for fishermen to ram one another. If your producers are staging rammings for dramatic effect and ratings, then Discovery/Animal Planet may be skirting violation of the law; and even if the rammings are not being staged, the skippers of the vessels at fault are in probable violation.”

Aspelund told Kaplan that safety is the number one priority of BBRSDA members and that the show’s portrayal of fishermen demeans and insults them. Of greater concern to our members is the likelihood that vessel insurance will become more costly due to Battle on the Bay’s portrayal of our fishery,” she said.

“The Bristol Bay fleet is comprised of hundreds of small businesses, many of them multi-generational families that have fished for decades,” she told Kaplan. “We are the proud stewards of one of the most sustainably managed fisheries on the planet and fishing in Bristol Bay is a tradition. Therefore it is hard to see our fishery so sensationalized and misrepresented.”

Aspelund said there are many stories about the Bay as a place of timeless cultural and family values and the BBRSDA would welcome the opportunity to help Animal Planet tell those stories.

House Gives IUU Legislation Another Try

The 114th Congress will take a second look at new bipartisan legislation to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, the product of extensive negotiations between Democrats and Republicans in the House during the 113th Congress.

In a news release Feb. 10, Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, said he has joined Rep. Madeleine Bordallo, D-Guam, in introducing H.R. 774, the Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing Enforcement Act of 2015.

The legislation is a newer version of a bill sponsored by Bordallo that was the subject of extensive negotiations between Republicans and Democrats in the House during the 113th Congress, and progressed to unanimous consent passage in the House Natural Resources Committee on Sept. 18, 2014.

Co-sponsors of the new legislation include Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-OR; Rep. John Garamendi, D-CA; Rep. Ed Royce, R-CA; and Rep. Rob Wittman, R-VA.

Introduction of H.R. 774 came just a day after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released its latest biennial report to Congress on IUU fishing. Global losses attributable to IUU fishing have been estimated to be between $10 billion and $23 billion annually, undermining the ability to sustainably manage fisheries as well as economic opportunities for US fishermen, the report said.

Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico were the three nations of 10 identified in NOAA’s 2013 biennial report for engaging in IUU practices were identified again in the 2015 report for new IUU activity.

Bordallo said that countries like Australia, Palau and now even Papua New Guinea have led the way in combating IUU fishing, and the US must take immediate and forceful action as well. The bill provides much needed enforcement tools to the Coast Guard and NOAA to combat IUU fishing, and it implements a treaty ratified by the Senate last year to deny vessels port entry and services if they engage in IUU fishing, she said.

“The hard working men and women of Oregon’s fishing industry abide by some of the strictest laws in the world in order to maintain sustainable, healthy fisheries,” DeFazio said. “But if the rest of the world continues to look the other way when it comes to illegal catches, West Coast fisheries will be devastated. We need strong, enforceable action to make sure our fishermen can compete on a level playing field,” he said.

“Criminal international fishing outfits rob American fishermen of their paychecks, devastate marine ecosystems, and fuel a range of other illegal actions, including terrorism,” said Garamendi. H.R. 744, he said, would further empower the Coast Guard to better coordinate with other federal agencies to crack down on IUU fishing.

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