Wednesday, July 29, 2015

House Bills Would Address Oil Spill Cleanup, Establish Icebreaker Fund

Two bills under consideration in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Coast Guard Subcommittee stand to aid the fisheries industry.

H.R. 1684, the Foreign Spill Protection Act of 2015, would ensure that the responsible party, regardless of origin, pays for all American cleanup costs associated with an oil spill.

Under current laws, spills occurring in US waters must be paid for in full by the responsible party, But foreign oil spills reaching US waters are paid for through the Oil Liability Trust Fund, which covers $150 million for clean up and up to $850 million for claims.

Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, a co-sponsor of H.R. 1684, said this legislation is increasingly important as maritime activity near Alaska increases. If a vessel transporting oil in Russian waters suffers a spill, ocean currents may very well bring that oil into Alaska’s waters, he said. H.R. 1684 would force the responsible party to pay for the costs associated with clean up, he said.

The second piece of legislation, for the National Icebreaker Fund Act of 2015, would establish an alternative funding process for building a new icebreaker, renovating an existing icebreaker, or leasing private icebreakers. That fund would be eligible for monies from a variety of sources, including congressional appropriations.

The National Icebreaker Fund would allow the Coast Guard to use funds to renovate its existing polar icebreakers, acquire a new one, or lease such a vessel from a private owner, said Young, who also is a co-sponsor of this legislation.

The benefits of this approach would be that Congress could build the fund up over years rather than trying to appropriate the significant overall costs of a new icebreaker in a single year, he said.

Catch Tops 12M Salmon; Price to Harvesters is Low

Fishing has all but halted in Bristol Bay, with permit holders and processors alike packing up for the season, after a harvest of more than 36 million salmon, including 35.5 million sockeyes. The robust harvest came over a week later than expected, and a perfect storm of economic factors has resulted in the base price offered by most processors to be 50 cents a pound, plus bonuses for chilling and bleeding fish before delivery.

Veteran Bristol Bay harvester Dave Harsila, president of the Alaska Independent Fishermen’s Marketing Association in Seattle, said fishermen did not expect the price to be that low. A year ago the base price was $1.20 a pound.

Still the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, which represents some 7,000 drift gillnetters, is calling the harvest a historic one, with a much higher than average return and a surprisingly late, long run.

The BBRSDA said that because most of the Bristol Bay sockeye were flash frozen during the peak of the season, late July and August signal the real start of the Bristol Bay salmon season for consumers.

Fishermen were aware of a large carry over of canned and frozen fillet inventory, plus a lack of leverage in wholesale markets, due to the value of the dollar against the yen and euro, along with Russia’s continuing embargo on US seafood.

“The strong dollar has worked against us in the export market,” Harsila said.

There’s still hope of markets rebounding by fall, and the prospect of adjustments in prices to fishermen.

The statewide harvest of wild Alaska salmon has now reached more than 112 million fish, including 55,847,000 humpies, 47,262,000 reds, 8,310,000 chums, 930,000 silvers and 481,000 Chinook salmon. Deliveries to date to processors, estimated by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, include 7.5 million fish from the Alaska Peninsula, more than 6 million salmon from Kodiak, 10.4 million from Southeast Alaska, 47.8 million salmon from Prince William Sound, 2.4 million salmon from Cook Inlet, and 795,000 salmon from the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim region.

Labeling of Frankenfish Back Before Senate

Efforts to require labeling of genetically modified salmon, should the Food and Drug Administration approve their sale to the public, are back on board in Congress.

An amendment introduced by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, would require such labeling if sale of the so-called Frankenfish were allowed to US consumers.

The amendment was added to the fiscal year 2016 Agriculture, Rural Development and Food and Drug Administration spending bill now headed to the Senate floor.

“Genetically engineered salmon starts from a transgenic Atlantic salmon egg, which has had genes from an ocean pout (an eel-like fish) combined with the genes of Chinook salmon,” Murkowski told the Senate Appropriations Committee when introducing her amendment.

“It is designed to produce a fish that grows twice the size in half the time. If the FDA moves forward, as it currently is, there would not be a requirement to ensure that people know what it is that they are eating.”

The Alaska Republican said she had heard from those in the agriculture sector that they were concerned that this move might overlay on top of labeling requirements for crops.

“I would just remind you,” she said, “corn does not swim from one field to another and propagate with other corn in another state. Fish move. Fish escape. We’re told these genetically engineered fish will not mix with our wild, healthy stocks. Yet you can’t assure us that this in fact will be the case.”

In the US House last week, meanwhile, Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, voted in favor of H.R. 1599, a bill that would block states like Alaska from requiring mandatory labeling of genetically modified fish. The measure passed the House by a vote of 275-150.

Young posted a statement on his Facebook page after the vote on establishing federal standards for voluntary labeling of genetically modified foods.

He said he has been very clear in his opposition to this legislation, but that he incorrectly voted in favor of it. “Unfortunately,” Young told Facebook followers, “by the time I realized my error, the vote had closed and I was unable to change my vote to no.”

Young said he submitted a statement for the record to clarify his opposition to the bill, but wanted to share the information directly with his Facebook readers.

Study Questions Soundness of Present Mining Metric

A study released today in conjunction with the first anniversary of a British Columbia mining disaster questions whether the present mining metric is environmentally or economically sustainable. “The Risk, Public Liability and Economics of Tailings Storage Facility Failures” contends that modern metal mining techniques have driven the creation of increasingly risky mine waste facilities, enabled by regulators who have failed to require best practices to minimize financial and environmental risk.

The document released by the Center for Science in Public Participation says that more mining waste disasters like the Mount Polley mine in British Columbia are inevitable. “If mining practices continue as usual, we are going to see more severe spills, more frequently, that will cost the public hundreds of millions to billions of dollars to clean up,” said David Chambers, director of the Center.

The Mount Polley disaster, along with the number of mines planned near transboundary waters flowing into Southeast Alaska, have raised concerns of fish harvesters and others about potential adverse affects of the mines on salmon habitat.

And the outlook predicted by Chambers and study co-author Lindsay Newland Bowker of Science & Research in the Public Interest, is not optimistic.

They note that the rate of serious tailings dam failures is increasing, and that the increasing rate of tailings dam failures is propelled by, not in spite of, modern mining practices. Their study also predicts that mining companies cannot afford, and cannot secure insurance to cover the costs of catastrophic failures.

“As a result of the Mount Polley investigation, mining companies and regulators know they have to change mine waste disposal practices to minimize the risk of future disasters,” Chambers said. “Unfortunately, as evidenced by the recent approvals for mines in the Alaska/British Columbia transboundary area, they are failing to do so,” he said.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

MSC Certificate for Alaska Salmon Changing Hands

Two seafood industry trade associations have come to an agreement to transfer, effective for the 2016 season and beyond, ownership of the Marine Stewardship Council sustainability certificate for Alaska salmon.

The transfer announced July 21 by the Pacific Seafood Processors Association and the Alaska Salmon Processors Association is to be completed by Oct. 1.

The agreement will have no impact on sales for 2015.

The decision was made in the best interests of the industry, said Glenn Reed, president of the Pacific Seafood Processors Association, and Rob Zuanich, executive director of the Alaska Salmon Processors Association. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Lengthy earlier efforts by Trident Seafoods and other processors who had dropped their MSC certification in favor of a similar certificate offered through the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute had failed.

PSPA, which was not involved in the previous negotiations, then approached MSC to begin the process of getting a second sustainability certificate for Alaska salmon, which also would not be effective until 2016.

PSPA took into consideration the time involved and the extra burden that a second client group would put on the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the industry, Reed said. “We decided to manage this under one certificate and we were able to come to an agreement on that.”

Zuanich said his group did not feel a new client group was a practical approach, “ so we decided to consolidate and move on to other matters.

“We enjoyed being the client, but we don’t need two clients, so from a matter of being practical, they are now the client,” he said.

Once the certificate is transferred, membership will be available to anyone who wishes to participate and there will be a cost structure for those who want to become involved,” Reed said. “Those companies who choose to join the client group will collectively determine how the certificate is managed.”

Alaska Salmon Harvest reaches 85.6 Million and Climbing

Commercial harvesters in Alaska delivered 85.6 million wild salmon to processers through July 21, and the harvest grows daily.

Preliminary harvests calculated by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game show that the catch includes 43.5 million sockeyes, 34.6 million humpies, 6.6 million chums, 518,000 silvers and 464,000 Chinook salmon.

Fishermen in Bristol Bay are saying that the market has not yet settled out for sales of salmon, so there has been a conservative approach by processors, who have not yet announced base prices. Traditionally harvesters then also receive a bonus for proper chilling, plus a post-season production bonus.

The largest harvest is in the central region, including Bristol Bay, Cook Inlet and Prince William Sound, with a total of 68.8 million fish.

Deliveries to Bristol Bay processors through July 21 include 33.6 million reds, 601,000 chums, and 53,000 kings. Within Bristol Bay fishermen in the Naknek-Kvichak district alone delivered more than 15 million reds, compared with about 8 million reds in the Egegik district and over 5 million reds each for the Nushgak and Ugashik districts.

The catch in Prince William Sound reached over 33 million fish, the bulk of them accounted for with delivery of nearly 28 million humpies.

Cook Inlet harvesters have delivered 1.4 million salmon, including 965,000 reds, 231,000 pinks and 117,000 chums.

On the Lower Yukon, the summer run of keta salmon rose to a total catch of 354,000 fish, and for Norton Sound, deliveries included 185,000 salmon, the bulk of them chums.

Southeast Alaska fisheries have caught 5.8 million salmon, including 2.6 million pinks and 2.3 million chums, plus 307,000 kings, 219,000 silvers and 201,000 reds.

At Kodiak, processors had 3.3 million salmon, in a catch of nearly 2 million pinks, 972,000 reds, 259,000 chums, 105,000 silvers and 5,000 kings.

For Chignik, the catch to date totals 1.3 million salmon. Processors have received 774,000 reds, 432,000 pinks, 44,000 chums, 40,000 silvers and 8,000 kings.

The Alaska Peninsula has delivered 5.8 million salmon, including 3.3 million fish from the South Peninsula and 2.5 million from the north peninsula, the bulk of them being sockeyes. Their catch included over 4 million reds, 1.3 million pinks, 270,000 chums, 93,000 cohos and 52,000 kings.
The statewide forecast calls for a total harvest of nearly 221 million salmon.

Preliminary harvest totals are published daily online at

Red Lobster to feature Alaska’s Bairdi Crab

Alaska’s succulent bairdi crab are being celebrated in the dining rooms of Red Lobster restaurants nationwide for a limited time this summer, as a featured item during the chain’s annual Crabfest.

The menu also features a variety of other crab entrees, including a combo of snow crab, king crab and Red Lobster’s signature crab linguini Alfredo, plus a combo dish of snow crab legs with shrimp, sea scallops, mussels and tomatoes in a garlic and white wine broth.

Red Lobster officials would not say how long the Crabfest would last, but while it does they are also offering wild caught sockeye and coho salmon, fresh from Bristol Bay and Prince William Sound in Alaska.

Claudia Hogue, food service director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, said Red Lobster’s proud history of supporting seafood sustainability makes it a great partner to help tell the story of the quality of Alaska seafood and bring this wild caught crab and salmon to tables across North America.
To help diners learn more about Alaska seafood, Red Lobster is releasing three chef videos on the restaurant chain’s YouTube channel.

Red Lobster, which bills itself as the world’s largest seafood restaurant company, is headquartered in Orlando, Florida. Its focus is on freshly prepared seafood at reasonable prices, served in a contemporary seaside atmosphere. Red Lobster has over 700 restaurants in the US and Canada, plus a growing international footprint.

Big Push to Avoid Mine Waste Disasters in Canada

More than 50 environmental, First Nations and community organizations in Canada and the United States are asking the Canadian government to take action to prevent mine waste dams and impoundments from adversely affecting the environment.

The groups made their stance clear in a letter sent July 20 to energy and mines ministers from across Canada, who are holding their annual conference in Halifax.

They say they want the provincial and territorial governments to respond to lessons learned from the August 2014 Mount Polley mine disaster in British Columbia.

The group notes that the Independent Expert Review Panel on the Mount Polley failures determined that current Canadian and global standards for mine waste disposal are fundamentally flawed and that future failures at other mines are simply a matter of time.

The letter told the mine ministers “the panel does not accept the concept of a tolerable failure rate for tailings dams. To do so, no matter how small, would institutionalize failure. First Nations will not accept this, the public will not permit it, government will not allow it, and the mining industry will not survive it.”

The group urged mines ministers to work together to support and implement all the recommendations of the review panel to avoid any future similar catastrophic tailings failures in Canada.

They called for immediate measures to assess the safety of existing and proposed tailings sites and maintaining an inventory of sites and review results accessible to the public.

They also urged creation of independent tailings review boards, including International Joint Commission reviews for transboundary mines located on the Canada-U.S. border that presents a risk to either country’s waters. Fish harvesters engaged in commercial, sport and subsistence harvests in Southeast Alaska have been particularly concerned about this issue, given the number of potential mines seeking permits along transboundary waters.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Late Run Into Bristol Bay Boosts Harvest, Prompts Limits

Days past the anticipated surge of salmon into Bristol Bay, the reds came en masse, filling drift gillnets so quickly that a few processors put limits on how much of the sudden abundance of sockeyes they could deliver.

It has, by all accounts, been a strange year for commercial salmon harvesters in Alaska, where the statewide harvest through July 14 stood at a little over 53.5 million fish, including 30.6 million sockeyes, 17.3 million humpies, 4.9 million chums, 388,000 Chinooks and 293,000 silvers.

Of that preliminary harvest estimate, 23.4 million salmon came from Bristol Bay, including 22.8 million sockeyes.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Bristol Bay daily run summer summary through July 13 showed that some 1,664 permit holders had delivered 22.8 million salmon to processors out of a total run of 33.7 million fish. That included 8.9 million fish from the Naknek-Kvichak, 6 million fish from Egegik, 4.2 million fish from the Nushagak, more than 3.5 million fish from the Ugashik, and 82,494 fish from Togiak.

Cumulative escapement stood at 9.8 million salmon.

If catch and escapement continue as expected the run could push upwards of 40 million sockeyes, said Chuck Brazil, area research biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game at King Salmon, Alaska, in an interview on July 12. That given, biologists anticipated that sockeye harvests would go to more than 20 million fish. An average run of red salmon into Bristol Bay is about 29 million fish, so this would put the 2015 run at above average.

“The fishing has picked up substantially,” said Dave Harsilla, of Seattle, president of the Alaska Independent Fishermen’s Marketing Association, who was fishing in the Naknek-Kvichak District of the Bay, and delivering to Alaska General Seafoods. “The size has gotten quite a bit bigger.”

“Nice, big fish,” said Shawn Dochtermann, a Kodiak harvester in Egegik, who delivers to Ocean Beauty Seafoods. “For the last few days they’ve been an average of 6.2 pounds.”

No prices had been posted as of July 14.

On the Lower Yukon, the harvest of keta salmon reached an estimated 337,000 fish by July 13.

“The fish are great, good size,” said Jack Schultheis, sales manager for Kwik’Pak Fisheries in Emmonak. “At this time of year, the summer run should be tailing off, but it built up. It has helped us tremendously getting back on track. We are getting close to being tied for last year, which was a record for us.“

The Cook Inlet salmon harvest climbed from 388,000 fish through July 7 to 790,000 fish through July 14.

For Prince William Sound, the salmon harvest total reached more than 19 million salmon, including 14.3 million pinks.

In Southeast Alaska, the harvest total rose to 2.8 million salmon, including 1.3 million chums and over one million humpies.

In the Alaska Peninsula the harvest has reached 4.4 million salmon including 3.4 million reds.

At Kodiak, salmon deliveries to processors rose to 1.7 million salmon. ADF&G posts daily updates on salmon harvests, online at

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