Wednesday, June 24, 2015

KSM Mine Opponents Appeal Directly to Seabridge Gold Shareholders

Leaders of British Columbia and Alaska indigenous entities are attending the shareholders meeting of the Canadian mining firm Seabridge Gold in Toronto today to protest development of a mine at the headwaters of a key salmon fishery. The proposed Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell mine has a number of commercial, sport and subsistence fish harvesters, and environmental groups concerned that the mine could adversely affect fish habitat in the transboundary river area, where rivers from British Columbia flow into Southeast Alaska.

Frederick Olsen Jr., represents United Tribal Transboundary Mining Working Group, a coalition of 13 Southeast Alaska Tribes, and Annita McPhee representing the Tahltan Nation. Both have shares in the mining company that will give them access to the meeting. McPhee contends that in the wake of the Mount Polley mine disaster, Seabridge still plans to use “risky, discredited technology to store its mine wastes.”

Olsen said he is there to ask Seabridge whether it will publicly support an international joint commission review of the mine. The state of Alaska and Alaska’s congressional delegation have called for bilateral discussions, and Alaska tribes and the city of Juneau have requested a full International Joint Commission review to address transboundary water pollution issues.

Earlier in June Price Waterhouse Coopers released a forecast of a prolonged period of low metals prices, raising questions about the feasibility of large multi-billion dollar mine projects to attract financing. Last week the environmental organization Earthworks, with Salmon Beyond Borders, released its analysis of the PWC annual review of global trends in mining, a report critical of what it described as discredited mine waste tailings dam technology.

Salmon harvests in Southeast Alaska have a big economic impact on the region’s commercial and sport fisheries, as well as subsistence users.

IPHC Asks NMFS to Take Further Steps in BSAI Bycatch

The International Pacific Halibut Commission is asking the National Marine Fisheries Service to take further steps to implement necessary bycatch reductions of halibut in Bering Sea/Aleutian Island groundfish fisheries.

The request this week came in a letter addressed to Eileen Sobeck, assistant administrator for fisheries.

IPHC chair Jim Balsiger and vice-chair Paul Ryall noted that Sobeck had made recommendations in January that the IPHC adopt 2015 catch limits for IPHC Area 4CDE that provided “adequate harvest opportunities” for the area. The recommendation, they said, was based on Sobeck’s commitment to reduce halibut bycatch in the BSAI region and the Gulf of Alaska.

“We recognize that the council has a number of considerations concerning prohibited species catch limits, but the limits adopted by the council fall far short of those required to support the catch limits adopted by the commission,” they said. “The point of greatest concern to the commission is that, in establishing a BSAI PSC limit only 0.7 percent below 2014 bycatch, the council has not ensured any progress towards the meaningful bycatch reductions that are required to bring halibut management back into an acceptable conservation framework.”

The commission’s catch limit decisions for 2015 were based on an expectation that further bycatch mortality reductions would be implemented in 2016 to support catch limits adopted by the commission, Balsiger and Ryall said.

While the IPHC understands that the trawl sector may undertake some voluntary bycatch reduction this year, in the absence of regulatory revisions which might allow measures such as deck sorting, previous experience indicates that it is unlikely that these voluntary actions will achieve the necessary mortality reductions, they said. Indeed, they said, testimony from trawl captains at the June meeting of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in Sitka indicated that they had hopes for only very limited reductions beyond the current bycatch levels.

Accordingly, they continued, the IPHC requests that Sobeck now outline her plan for further steps to implement and effectively monitor those bycatch reductions of halibut in the BSAI.

Commercial Salmon Harvest in Alaska Climbing Slowly

Commercial harvests of wild Alaska salmon have reached more than 4.3 million fish, with the preliminary estimate of a catch of 2.6 million sockeyes, 1,347,000 chum, 348,000 pink, 63,000 Chinook and 12,000 silver salmon.

The preliminary Alaska commercial salmon harvest blue sheet is updated daily by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

From a statewide perspective, the sockeye salmon harvested to date have been 20 percent less than average size by age, says Jeff Regnart, director of commercial fisheries for ADF&G.

“That’s going to play into catachability,” Regnart said. “That size fish could be more difficult to catch in some of those gillnet fisheries, and that could lead to additional escapement.”

Area management biologist James Jackson at Kodiak says so far it’s been a very strange year, with a harvest through June 23 of some 315,746 sockeyes, which is roughly half of what the harvest was expected to be through that date. And the fish are being caught in areas where they don’t normally catch fish. “Typically the majority of sockeyes are harvested in the northwest Kodiak district and right now they are coming from the southwest, which is strange,” he said.

In the Cordova area, the sockeye run has been below forecast, but fisheries biologist Jeremy Botz said the run is still reasonably strong and shaping up to be close to the recent 10 year average. The Copper River drift fishery estimated catch to date is 1,127,000 salmon, including over a million sockeyes. The Montague district drift fishery in Prince William Sound has picked up somewhat, with an estimated total harvest of 84,000 fish, including 66,000 chums and 5,000 reds.

In the Cook Inlet fishery, the total estimated catch has reached 80,000 salmon, including 77,000 reds, plus about 2,000 each of kings and chums.

The drift fleet in Upper Cook Inlet had its first opener on June 22 and the Kasilof section of Eastside set netters are also fishing via an emergency order on a 50,000 fish escapement trigger, said Pat Shields, area management biologist for Upper Cook Inlet. For the 92 drift boats, the total catch was some 2,500 reds, or about 27 fish per boat, but that opener, said Shields, is kind of a shakedown cruise for the drift fleet with no expectations. Setnetters meanwhile harvested some 46 kings and 18,000 sockeyes on their first day, which is average to a little below average for the first period.

In the Bristol Bay fishery, also in its early season, the total estimated harvest reached 397,000 fish, including 378,000 reds. Right now, said state fisheries biologist Travis Elison, “we are just waiting. They could show up any time in the next few days.”

Craig, Hull Reappointed, Mezirow Named to NPFMC

Incumbents Craig Cross, of Seattle, and Dan Hull, of Anchorage, have been reappointed and professional saltwater fishing captain Andy Mezirow, of Seward, Alaska, has been appointed to three-year terms on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. Cross fills one of two Washington state obligatory positions on the council. He is the director of government affairs and business development for Aleutian spray Fisheries Inc. a Seattle-based fishing company that operates fishing vessels that harvest Alaska pollock, Pacific cod, Alaska crab and West Coast groundfish.

Cross also serves on the boards of directors for Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, At Sea Processors Association, Freezer Longliners Coalition and United Catcher Boats.

Hull, the current chairman of the federal council, was reappointed to the seat for a small boat commercial fisherman. A veteran harvesters and vessel owner, Hull fishes out of Cordova for salmon and halibut.

Mezirow, the owner of Crackerjack Charters in Seward, Alaska, is a professional saltwater fishing captain, has served on the council’s advisory panel, and is a maritime studies instructor at the Alaska Maritime Training Center. He has also served as chief navigational officer of the United Nations Oceanographic Laboratory System research vessel Alpha Helix for the University of Alaska Institute of Marine Science, and as a research vessel master for Alliant Techsystems/Honeywell Ocean systems in the Greater Seattle area.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Silver Bay Seafoods Fined $75,000 for Permit Violations

Silver Bay Seafoods has been fined $75,000 for alleged pollution violations resulting in the illegal discharge of 2.8 million pounds of seafood waste at the processor’s facilities in Valdez, Alaska.

The settlement was announced on June 15 by Mike Solter, compliance program manager for the Division of Water within the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation.

Silver Bay Seafoods, an integrated processor of frozen, headed and gutted salmon serving domestic and overseas markets, has offices in Sitka and Seattle, and operates processing plants in Sitka, Craig and Naknek. The company recently announced plans for expansion of its Valdez facilities, acquired in 2010, with new bunkhouses to accommodate seasonal workers. Chief executive officer Richard Riggs said the 70,000 square foot facility will be operating next year.

The violations of the Alaska Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permit happened in Valdez facility in 2013 after a 600-foot long outfall pipe used to discharge seafood wastes at a depth of 180 feet was damaged by a vessel anchor, DEC said.

In 2014, the company replaced the line, without DEC approval, resulting in 2.8 million pounds of seafood waste being discharged in the wrong location, DEC said.

State officials said Silver Bay indicated to DEC that the new line was 300-feet long and thought to be discharging at 40 feet below the surface. The original permit required the discharge to occur no shallower than 60 feet away. An end of season survey in 2014 found that the end of the discharge pipe was actually only at a depth of three feet.

The $75,000 penalty was calculated based on the estimated economic benefit Silver Bay gained by not complying with all requirements under the Seafood Processing General Permit, coupled with punitive elements for the severity of the violations.

Alaska’s Commercial Salmon Harvests Top 2.3 Million Fish

It started with the Copper River and now the harvest of Alaska’s wild salmon is growing quickly, as fisheries in the Alaska Peninsula, Kodiak , Cook Inlet, the Yukon River, and Bristol Bay start to kick in.

As of June 16, the estimated commercial harvest of 2.366 million fish included 1.3 million sockeyes, 924,000 chum, 87,000 humpies, 33,000 Chinook and 2,000 silvers.

In Prince William Sound alone, harvesters have delivered 1.8 million salmon, including 949,000 reds, 802,000 chums, 21,000 kings, 3,000 humpies and fewer than 1,000 cohos. The bulk of that harvest came from the Copper River drift fleet, which brought in 905,000 reds, 20,000 kings and 12,000 chum salmon, while the Coghill district drifter fleet added some 269,000 chum salmon.

In the Alaska Peninsula, fishermen have delivered 369,000 salmon to processors. The catch included some 200,000 sockeyes, 86,000 chums, 73,000 pink and 10,000 Chinook salmon.

For the Kodiak area, the catch included some 86,000 reds, 11,000 pinks and 10,000 chum salmon. The Cook Inlet harvesters brought in 62,000 reds, 2,000 kings and about 1,000 chum salmon, while on the Lower Yukon River, the harvest of keta salmon reached 19,000 fish. In Bristol Bay, drift gillnetters in the Egegik district have delivered 19,000 sockeyes, and harvests have also begun in the Naknek-Kvichak and Togiak districts.

In Southeast Alaska the harvest totals 6,000 chum and about 1,000 reds so far.

Other areas are yet to begin their harvests.

Report Questions Economic Feasibility of Proposed British Columbia Mine

A new report released this morning takes aim at a proposed mine in northwest British Columbia, contending that it faces mounting economic and political challenges. The analysis of Seabridge Gold’s Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell mine was written by the environmental organization Earthworks and Salmon Beyond Borders, a coalition of Alaska Native tribal members and commercial, sport and subsistence fishermen. They are concerned that the KSM mine would have a severely adverse impact on salmon habitat in nearby trans-boundary rivers flowing into Southeast Alaska.

The report ( points to “Mine 2015: The gloves are off,” a lengthy annual review of global trends in mining by Price Waterhouse Coopers ( , and contends that Seabridge’s economic feasibility analysis is based on unrealistic metal prices.

According to the analysis, KSM’s low-grade deposit, remote location and lack of infrastructure make the economics problematic. The PWC report itself speaks only to the top 40 global mining firms, saying the general outlook for the global metals and mining market remains subdued due to the combination of a slower rate of global economic growth., particularly in emerging markets. Seabridge Gold, a junior mining company, will hold its annual shareholders meeting on June 24 in Toronto.

The analysis is critical of what it describes as discredited mine waste tailings dam technology. It says KSM’s plan to leave submerged tailings after mine closure conflicts with the disaster review panel’s recommendations after the Mount Polley tailings dam disaster in British Columbia. And because KSM is a sulfide ore body, it is likely to require water treatment in perpetuity for acid mine drainage, the analysis said.

The analysis also notes political opposition to the KSM mine, with Alaska’s congressional delegation raising concerns and asking Secretary of State John Kerry to conduct bilateral discussions with the Canadian government, in the wake of the Mount Polley mine disaster.

NPFMC Moves Toward Next Steps for BSAI Halibut Issue

Staff of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council have begun working on a discussion paper for the council’s October meeting, exploring ways to index Bering Sea and Aleutian Island halibut prohibited species catch limits to a metric of halibut biomass.

The action comes in the wake of final action taken at the council’s June meeting in Sitka to reduce halibut PSC mortality limits in the BSAI groundfish fisheries overall from 4,426 metric tons to 3,515 metric tons, a 21 percent reduction. The council noted in its current newsletter that its decision was contentious, with some members considering that steeper reductions were warranted.

In addition, the council during its meeting in Sitka initiated three related actions.

The chair and executive director of the council are to evaluate ways to integrate the variety of halibut management and research activities currently underway, and develop a framework to improve coordination between the council and the International Pacific Halibut Commission. Council and agency staff, including the IPHC and representatives of state agencies serving on the council, are to be consulted.

The council requested both Amendment 80 cooperatives to provide halibut bycatch management plans for 2016 to the council at its December meeting in Anchorage, plans that will bring savings to levels below the hard cap. These are to include halibut avoidance practices on the grounds, increased communication between participating harvesters, sharing data for performance tracking, use and development of excluders, deck sorting, and more.

The council also initiated a discussion paper to examine options for community development quota entities to lease individual fishing quota for halibut without the IFQ owner on board in areas 4B and 4CDE, in years when there is low directed halibut harvest.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

NPFMC Cuts Halibut Bycatch In Bering Sea

Federal fisheries managers listened to hours of impassioned testimony at Sitka, then cut the bycatch of halibut in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands groundfish trawl fisheries by 25 percent, a decision that left nobody happy.

Commercial fishermen in coastal fishing communities dependent on directed halibut fisheries, charter boat operators, sport anglers and conservation groups had sought a 50 percent cut in the halibut prohibited species catch.

Those engaged in the BSAI groundfish fisheries said they were already doing everything possible to avoid the incidental catch of halibut and opposed cuts, which they said would have an adverse impact on the economies of the Puget Sound region, as well as Dutch Harbor.

The advisory panel to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council had recommended a 45 percent cut. Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner San Cotton proposed a 33 percent cut.

Then Bill Tweit, representing the Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife, came back with an amendment that cut the halibut bycatch for the Amendment 80 cooperatives by 25 percent, or 1,745 metric tons; Amendment 80 limited access by 40 percent, the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands trawl limited access sector by 15 percent, the Pacific cod hook and line catcher processor sector by 15 percent, and the community development quota sector by 20 percent.

Council member Duncan Fields of Kodiak urged the council to amend the current analysis and bring it back for final action at a subsequent meeting. His motion, which was defeated, also urged that the analysis be expanded to include analysis of an option for a performance standard for the Amendment 80 sector.

“I acknowledge on a personal basis my identity with the folks living in Western Alaska, and their loss of economic opportunity, personal identity and cultural legacy,” Fields said, in a lengthy impassioned plea for the coastal communities dependent on the directed halibut fisheries. “I get it.”

While the Bering Sea halibut belong to all the people of the United States, the cultural values of communities need to be considered, he said.

St. Paul Mayor Simeon Swetzof noted that while the Bering Sea groundfish fisheries generate millions of dollars in revenues, they had inflicted economic pain on the people of St. Paul, and those harvesting in the directed halibut fishery in Area 4CDE.

Chris Woodley, executive director of the Groundfish Forum, a trade association representing companies that fish for flatfish, said the 25 percent cut to the Amendment 80 fleet on halibut PSC was a major loss, one that would have a $30 million to $50 million impact, in Puget Sound and also at Dutch Harbor, primarily in the amount of flatfish that the fleet would be able to harvest.

“These cuts are extremely serious for us,” Woodley said. We had numerous (vessel) owners testify that at 25 percent they would be tying up boats and laying off crew.

With the 25 percent cut, there will be fewer port calls at Dutch Harbor, less fuel purchased and less landing tax paid at the Port of Dutch Harbor, which would have an impact on shore-based jobs there, he said.

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