Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Obama Orders Closure of Oil Leases

President Obama has withdrawn offshore areas of the Arctic and Atlantic oceans from future oil and gas extraction to protect these ecologically sensitive marine environments from the potential impact of such activities. In the Arctic Ocean alone the withdrawal encompasses 3.8 million acres offshore.

The announcement from the White House was coordinated with similar action by Canadian Prime Minister to protect Canada’s Arctic waters from potential adverse impact of drilling activities.

While the announcement was applauded by various national environmental groups and criticized by Alaska’s congressional delegation, it is not expected to have any immediate impact on commercial fisheries in the Alaska Arctic.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council back in 2009 moved to prohibit most commercial fishing in that area of the Arctic until such time as research provides a better understanding of how such mineral extraction efforts would impact the marine habitat.

The president used the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to protect major areas of the Chukchi and Beaufort seas in the Arctic, as well as areas of the Atlantic Ocean from new offshore oil and gas exploration. The announcement does not affect existing leases in these federal offshore waters and would not affect nearshore areas of the Beaufort Sea, totaling about 2.8 million areas that has high oil and gas potential and is adjacent to existing state oil and gas activity and infrastructure. Canada’s measures likewise would not affect existing leases.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said that while there are concerns regarding oil and gas activity in this area it is subject to additional evaluation and study to determine if new leasing could be appropriate at some point in the future. Interior’s five-year offshore leasing program for 2017-2022 does not include lease sales in this area or the withdrawn areas.

Pacific Fisheries Act Signed Into Law

President Obama has signed into law H.R. 6452, the Ensuring Access to Pacific Fisheries Act. The bill implements the Convention on the Conservation and Management of High Seas Fisheries Resources in the North Pacific Ocean, the Convention on the Conservation and Management of High Seas Fishery Resources in the South Pacific Ocean, and amendments to the Convention on Future Multilateral Cooperation in the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries.

In signing the legislation this past week, Obama urged the US Senate to ratify all of these treaties to help promote sound fishery management, and to better combat illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing.

The bill provides that the US will be represented on the North Pacific Fisheries Commission by five commissioners, two appointed by the president, plus three chairpersons of the North Pacific, Pacific and Western Pacific fisher management councils, who are selected by members of those councils.

The bipartisan legislation was introduced by Senators Brian Schatz of Hawaii, and Edward Markey of Massachusetts, both Democrats, and Dan Sullivan, a Republican from Alaska. Together with other existing treaties this bill will bring all high seas fisheries in the Pacific Ocean under international management bodies to ensure access for US fishermen and responsible management of ocean resources, the senators said.

Alaska, BC Begin Talks on Mining, Water

The governments of Alaska and British Columbia say they have begun implementing their statement of cooperation to address concerns over potential impact of mining near transboundary rivers over salmon habitat.

Alaska Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott and British Columbia Minister of Energy and Mines Bill Bennett were among those engaged this past week in the first bilateral working group teleconference on this issue.

A statement of cooperation signed by both governments in October provides for coordinating on a water quality monitoring program and exchange of information regarding the environmental performance of British Columbia mines.

While they have come a long way, with the help of residents of both countries in addressing these concerns, success will be measured only by how well the bilateral working group does going forward, Mallott said. A team of six technical staff representing both governments responsible for developing the joint monitoring program will work with tribes, First Nations, federal agencies and stakeholders over the next four months to prepare a draft program description and work plan for consideration by the bilateral working group. The statement of cooperation calls for the draft plans for the water quality monitoring program and the communication plan to be taken up by the bilateral working group no later than April 2017.

The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation plans to host a public workshop to provide opportunity for the public to give input to the technical staff of ADEC, the Alaska Departments of Fish and Game, and Natural Resources who are working on plans for the joint water quality monitoring program.

Salmon Beyond Borders, a campaign group of commercial harvesters and others, meanwhile is continuing to urge an agreement between the federal governments of the US and Canada that includes enforceable protections and financial guarantees for transboundary rivers, should the mines adversely impact salmon habitat.

ADF&G Announces Openings

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has new announcements this week regarding Pacific cod and Pollock fisheries in Prince William Sound.

The Prince William Sound area parallel Pacific cod seasons for pot and jig gear close at midnight on Dec. 31, and parallel Pacific cod fishing will open immediately on Jan. 1 for vessels using pot, jig and longline gear.

ADF&G is reminding harvesters that all fish must be landed within 24 hours following closure of the 2016 season and prior to participating in the 2017 season.

Prince William Sound parallel Pacific cod season closures for jig and pot gear will coincide with their respective closures in the adjacent federal Central Gulf of Alaska regulatory area. Also, the Prince William Sound parallel season closure for longline gear will coincide with the federal closure of less than 50 foot hook-and-line gear sector in the Central Gulf.

The directed fishery for walleye Pollock using pelagic trawl gear in the Prince William Sound registration area of Alaska opens at noon Jan. 20 with a guideline harvest level of 9.43 million pounds. The deadline to register for this fishery is 5 p.m. on Jan. 13, and registrations will be issued only to those who possess a 2017 miscellaneous saltwater finfish permit card for trawl gear.

Registration packets are available only at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game offices in Cordova, Homer and Kodiak.

ADF&G has also announced a solicitation for bids to contract a vessel to conduct a test fishery from Jan. 12 through Jan. 19, to harvest up to 900,000 pounds of Pollock in Prince William Sound. Eligible vessels must be registered for the 2017 Prince William Sound directed Pollock trawl fishery.

The minimum bid price is $0.030 a pound. Bids will be accepted for three individual lots of 300,000 pounds each. Bids must be received at ADF&G’s Homer office by noon on Jan. 6. Those interested in bidding should contact Jan Rumble or Elsa Russ at ADF&G in Homer, Alaska.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Alaska Pollock TAC up Slightly for BSAI, Down Significantly for GOA

Federal fisheries managers meeting in Anchorage in early December raised the total allowable catch of Alaska Pollock in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands by 5,000 metric tons, while lowering the TAC in the Gulf of Alaska by nearly 50,000 tons.

While the BSAI has a 2 million ton cap on total commercial groundfish harvests, there is no such cap for the Gulf.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s Advisory Committee had recommended that the council adopt for the Gulf of Alaska TACS for both Alaska Pollock and Pacific cod that had been adjusted to account for the state water guideline harvest level fisheries for those species.

Council member Craig Cross, of Aleutian Spray Fisheries in Seattle, said it is important that the public and markets understand that the Alaska Pollock TAC in groundfish fisheries was not increased overall for the 2017 fisheries.

“If you looked at just the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, you would say the Pollock TAC is up,” Cross said, “but in reality the entire Alaska Pollock TAC is down by 40,000 metric tons.” While the council increased the Alaska Pollock TAC for the BSAI by about 5,000 MT, they decreased it by almost 50,000 MT in the Gulf, he said.

The overall Eastern Bering Sea 2016 Pollock catch as of Dec. 5 was 1,352,007 MT, while in the Gulf, the latest reports showed a harvest of 172,927 MT from a 2016 TAC of 257,872 MT.

The Pacific cod TAC for the Bering Sea was down from 238,680 MT in 2016 to 223,704 MT in 2017. The overall 2016 catch as of Dec. 5 was 220,039 MT. In the Gulf, the catch stood at 172,927 MT for 2016, out of a TAC of 257,872 MT.

Also in the BSAI, the council approved a 10,000 MT increase in the TAC of yellowfin sole, after the 2016 TAC of 144,000 MT yielded a harvest of 128,236 MT, and boosted the TAC for Greenland turbot from 2,873 MT to 4,500 MT, after a harvest of 2,205 MT.

The TAC for Pacific Ocean perch, with a harvest of 30,408 MT, rose from 31,900 MT to 34,900 MT, and the TAC for northern rockfish, for which there was a harvest of 4,532 MT, rose from 4,500 MT to 5,000 MT.

GHL Set for Sitka Sound Sac Roe Herring Fishery

A guideline harvest level of 14,649 tons has been set by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for the 2017 Sitka sound sac roe herring fishery.

The GHL, based on a 20 percent harvest rate of a forecast mature biomass of 73,245 tons, compares with the preliminary GHL of 15,674 tons for 2016, based on a 20 percent harvest rate of a forecast mature biomass of 78,372, of which just under 10,000 tons was landed.

ADF&G said that their forecast issued on Dec. 12 would not be updated with winter test fishery weights, as was the practice in previous years. The change was made to save on costs associated with processing winter test samples and staff time developing and reporting an updated forecast and GHL. The accuracy of the forecast was not expected to be impacted significantly by not updating the model with the winter test fishery weights at age due to the relatively small variability seen in weight at age, the agency said.

The forecast indication was that the mature biomass in 2017 would consist of 6 percent age-3, 6 percent age 4, 73 percent age-5, 2 percent age-6, 6 percent age-7 and 7 percent age-8+. The forecast used spring commercial purse seine weights at age from last year’s fishery and average weights were age-3, 64 grams; age-4, 95 grams; age-5, 104 grams; age-6, 132 grams,; age-7, 149 grams; and age 8+, 178 grams.

The department mapped 63.3 nautical miles of herring spawn in the Sitka Sound area in the spring of 2016, compared to the recent 10-year average of 65 nautical miles. The estimated post-fishery spawning biomass in 2016 was 74,676 tons, the total sac roe harvest was 9,833 tons, and an additional 223 tons were harvested in personal use and test fisheries.

Estimated age composition of spawning herring in 2016 was 2 percent age-3; 79 percent age-4; 2 percent age-5; 8 percent age-6; 1 percent age-7, and 8 percent age 8+.

State biologists said the mature biomass forecast for 2017 was similar to the spawning biomass in 2016 because the increase in maturity of the 2012 and 2013 cohorts and the additional age-3 recruits in 2017 balanced the decreases due to natural mortality.

NOAA: Unprecedented Warming in Arctic

A new NOAA-sponsored report identifies unprecedented Arctic warmth issues, including above average Arctic Ocean temperatures and changes in Arctic Ocean productivity, and predicts new stresses to marine fisheries. The Arctic Report Card released during the annual American Geophysical Union fall meeting in San Francisco on Dec. 13, is a report compiled from the work of scientists from 11 nations, and a key tool used worldwide to track changes in the Arctic.

The report notes that the Arctic Ocean, more than other oceanic areas, is more vulnerable to ocean acidification.

“Ocean acidification is expected to intensify in the Arctic, adding new stress to marine fisheries, particularly those that need calcium carbonate to build shells,” the report said. “This change affects Arctic communities that depend on fish for food security, livelihoods and culture.”

“Rarely have we seen the Arctic show a clearer, stronger or more pronounced signal of persistent warming and its cascading effects on the environment than this year,” said Jeremy Mathis, director of NOAA’s Arctic Research Program.

“While the science is becoming clearer, we need to improve and extend sustained observations of the Arctic that can inform sound decisions on environmental health and food security as well as emerging opportunities for commerce.”

In a presentation at the Alaska Ocean Acidification State of the Science Workshop in Anchorage on Nov. 30, Mathis spoke of the important of NOAA’s beginning to work on ocean acidification adaptation strategies, saying that as yet there are no known answers on how to adapt.

Even small amounts of carbon dioxide can cause significant chemical changes that other areas do not experience. Current data indicates that certain areas of the Arctic shelves presently are experiencing prolonged ocean acidification events in shallow bottom waters, which are eventually transported off the shelf. As a result, the report said, corrosive conditions have been expanding deeper into the Arctic Basin over the last several decades. The inherently short Arctic food web linkages generate an increased urgency in the need to understand the impacts of ocean acidification on the Arctic marine ecosystem, the report said.

The new Arctic Report Card notes that Arctic air temperatures are continuing to increase at double the rate of the global temperature increase, and that contrary to conditions in much of the previous decade, neutral to cold temperature anomalies occurred across the central Arctic Ocean in the summer of 2016. Read more of the NOAA report at

NPFMC Approves Charter Halibut RQE Quota Entity

Action to set up regulations for a charter halibut recreational quota entity to purchase and hold commercial halibut quota share in International Pacific Halibut Commission Areas 2C and 3A has been approved by federal fisheries managers.

The controversial vote came during the December meeting of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in Anchorage after extensive testimony from set line harvesters opposed to the move and charter operators who favored it.

The council’s vote clears the way for regulations to be written and for the NPFMC to seek approval for the federal Department of Commerce. After that an RQE can be formed and the charter operators will have to find the financial means for purchasing halibut quota, “so it has quite a long way to go before we can anticipate seeing any transfers and purchasing ability out of the charter sector from the commercial fleet,” said council member Theresa Peterson, a commercial harvesters from Kodiak. Peterson estimated it would be at least two to three years before an RQE is formed and it could be longer than that before they have actually identified a means to raise the money to purchase quota.”

Linda Behnken, executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, in Sitka, said that the council’s decision to establish the RQE as a qualified non-profit entity to purchase and hold commercial halibut quota share for use by the guided halibut sector gave the charter industry priority over subsistence, sport and commercial fishermen.

“As proposed, the subsidized reallocation will destabilize and undermine subsistence, non-guided sport and commercial sectors to provide a few more inches of halibut opportunity to guided sport clients,” Behnken said. “The very title, ‘recreational quota entity,’ is a misnomer. This amendment fosters charter client opportunity at the expense of non-guided recreation opportunity,” she said.

“The Halibut Catch Sharing Plan, which took the council over 20 years to develop and has only been in place for three years, balanced the concerns of all sectors in arriving at an allocation and provided charter operators with a market based opportunity to increase harvesting options for their clients,” she said. “The subsidized reallocation established through the RQE will raise the cost of entry to commercial halibut fisheries, undermine the viability of the commercial processors, support sectors and communities, and reduce public access to Alaska’s halibut.”

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

NMFS Seeks Comments on Proposed 2017, 2018 Groundfish Harvest Specifications

National Marine Fisheries Service has proposed 2017 and 2018 harvest specifications, apportionments and prohibited species catch allowances for groundfish for the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands.

The proposed rule, published in the Federal Register, seeks comments by Jan. 5.

NMFS said the action is necessary to establish harvest limits for groundfish for these fishing years and to accomplish the goals and objectives of the Fishery Management Plan for groundfish in the BSAI management area.

The intended effect of this action, said NMFS, is to conserve and manage the groundfish resources in this area in accordance with the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

Electronic copies of the Alaska Groundfish harvest specifications final environmental impact statement, record of decision, supplementary information report to the EIS and initial regulatory flexibility analysis prepared for this action are at or also available from the Alaska Region website at

Submit comments electronically via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal at!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2016-0140, click the “Comment Now!” icon, complete the required fields and enter or attach comments.

Submit comments by mail to Glenn Merrill, Assistant Regional Administrator, Sustainable Fisheries Division, Alaska Region NMFS, Attn: Ellen Sebastian. Via P.O. Box 21668, Juneau, AK 99802-1668.

Comments sent by other methods may not be considered by NMFS.

For further information, contact Steve Whitney, at 1-907-586-7228.

Ocean Acidification Workshop Draws Seafood Harvesters, Researchers

Growing concern over increased acidity in the ocean and the need for adaptation strategies drew seafood harvesters, researchers and others to an ocean acidification workshop in Anchorage to learn how to enhance monitoring and engage communities.

“At least we know what we don’t know at this point,” said Jeremy Mathis, director of the Arctic Research Program for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“There isn’t going to be one magic bullet,” Mathis said. “I don’t have the answer. We don’t know how we are going to adapt.” What Mathis and other speakers at the workshop are aiming to do is to educate the public on the processes and consequences of ocean acidification on marine ecosystems and northern societies that depend on them.

There is a need, said Mathis, to implement adaptation strategies that address all aspects of Arctic change, including ocean acidification, tailored to local and societal needs, and to develop strategies that will allow communities to be successful in the future.

“We have three options,” he said. “We can mitigate, we can adapt, or we can suffer. We can do something now or deal with the consequences later on.”

Acidity in the ocean is measured in terms of pH (potential of hydrogen) on a scale from 0 to 14. The level of pH tells how acidic or alkaline a substance is. The more acidic the solution, the lower the pH. More alkaline solutions have higher pH. Substances that aren’t acidic or alkaline – neutral solutions- usually have a pH of 7.

Ocean acidification refers to a reduction in the pH of the ocean over an extended period of time, caused primarily by uptake of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. Ocean acidification affects many species, including pteropods, small calcifying (or shelled) organisms that live as zooplankton in the water column and are an important prey species for many fish.

Researchers at NOAA’s Kodiak laboratory, led by Bob Foy, are doing extensive research on the physiological response of crab to ocean acidification, and the impact of ocean acidification on different life stages of the crab, including embryo, larvae and juveniles.

Studies have shown that in general crab survival decreased at every life stage when crab were exposed to lower pH water. The Alaska Fisheries Science Center crab scientists at Kodiak and Bering Sea Fisheries Research Foundation have worked cooperatively since 2004 on research relative to Bering Sea king, snow and southern Tanner crab surveys, biology and assessment. Learn more about ocean acidification and its biological impacts at

Alaska Issues Chinook Salmon Forecasts for Stikine, Taku Rivers

Directed Chinook salmon fisheries in Districts 8 and 11 in Southeast Alaska appear to be out in the coming year because forecasts for both districts are below the midpoint of the escapement goal range for both the Stikine and Taku rivers.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game this week issued preseason forecasts for Chinook salmon returning to the Stikine and Taku rivers in Southeast Alaska in 2017.

A 2017 preseason terminal run size forecast for the Stikine River large Chinook salmon is 18,300 fish. Biologists said that a preseason terminal run forecast of this size does not provide an allowable catch for either the United States or Canada, as the forecast is below the midpoint of the escapement goal range of 14,000 to 28,000 fish, and that no directed fisheries will be allowed in early May.

Inseason terminal run size estimates may be produced starting in late May of 2017, but biologists said it is unlikely that any directed Chinook salmon fisheries will be occurring in District 8 next year.

The 2017 preseason terminal run size forecast for the Taku River large Chinook salmon is 13,300 fish.

A preseason terminal run forecast of this size does not provide an allowable catch for either the US or Canada, since the forecast is below the lower end of the escapement goal range of 19,000 to 36,000 fish, and no directed fisheries will be allowed in early May, biologists said.

Inseason terminal run size estimates may be produced starting in late May, but again, biologists said, it is unlikely any directed Chinook salmon fisheries will occur in District 11, in 2017.

Marine Debris Removal Continues in Kodiak Archipelago

More than a quarter- century after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, oil on the shores of Shuyak Island in the Kodiak archipelago has been replaced by marine debris, prompting a long-term cleanup project set to conclude in September of 2017.

With a grant from the NOAA Marine Debris Program, the Island Trails Network in Kodiak has been leading the two-year effort to remove marine debris from this remote island in the western Gulf of Alaska.

The ITN has assembled a team of 100 volunteers and trained crew to reach its goal of removing some 40,000 pounds of marine debris from Shuyak Island, an area that offers critical habitat for numerous species of fish, birds and marine mammals. A large amount of marine debris accumulates due to strong currents and high winds.

Following aerial surveys that identified numerous medium to large debris items and long stretches of high marine debris accumulation, specific areas of Shuyak Island were identified as high priority targets for removal of debris and selected as the focus of this project.

NOAA notes in its December newsletter on the Marine Debris Program that overall the ITN plans to clean up 60 miles of shoreline on Shuyak Island.

Because of the rugged terrain and active surf, debris can often be hard to reach and harder to remove. Sea kayaks are used to deploy qualified volunteers from around the world. They work in two-week shifts over an eight-week period, paddling to target areas and removing marine debris, collecting it in super-sacks and piling it at more accessible locations.

Later the collected super-sacks are loaded onto a large vessel for transport back to Kodiak, where the debris is sorted and later transported for disposal.

Following the field season, the crew, additional community volunteers and student groups analyze and sort the removed debris to determine its composition and quantity. The information is then documented in photographs videos and displays for use in local, statewide and national education and outreach on the impacts of marine debris, NOAA officials said.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Bristol Bay Salmon Prices Trending Up

A new market report on the Bristol Bay wild salmon fishery says wholesale prices for sockeye products are trending up, and that product appears to be moving faster this year.

Wholesale prices of farmed salmon are also up considerably over the past 12 months, noted the fall 2016 sockeye market analysis prepared for the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association by the McDowell Group.

The report notes that the preliminary ex-vessel value of Bristol Bay sockeye increased 66 percent in 2016, due to a price increase and strong harvest volume. Meanwhile the value of all other Alaska sockeye declined 7 percent.

After a couple of years of negative trends, currency rate movements have generally been favorable for Alaska sockeye producers in 2016, and the estimated market value of Bristol Bay salmon driftnet permits is up 22 percent, or approximately $24,000, from the beginning of the year, the report said.

Andy Wink, who follows salmon markets for the Juneau, Alaska research firm, says that with wholesale prices tending up, albeit still low, and major product forms selling faster this year, “a fantastic opportunity is developing in the US market, but it’s going to require top notch quality.”

“US fresh and refreshed sockeye markets offer the best chance for growth,” Wink told BBRSDA members at a gathering on Nov. 18 during Pacific Marine Expo in Seattle. “Fishermen who provide high quality fish to these channels will be in the best position to benefit,” he said.

The success of the branding program that the BBRSDA is rolling out will depend on a sufficient supply of high quality fish, he said. Chilled fish in fillet and headed and gutted markets creates higher value, so the goal is to provide enough chilled fish for billet and H&G production, plus a buffer, he said.
The report itself notes that ideally all chilled Bristol Bay sockeye would be directed to fillet and H and G lines and unchilled sockeye would be used in canned product. The chilled sockeye produces higher quality fillet products that require fewer discounts. In the canned market, there is currently very little difference in prices regardless of whether the fish was chilled or not.

Ocean Acidification Workshop Opens in Anchorage

A free Alaska Ocean Acidification Workshop is underway today and tomorrow at the Downtown Marriott Hotel in Anchorage, and open to the public.

Topics range from ocean acidification basics to monitoring efforts, lab research, impacts to marine species, future forecasting and more.

For those unable to attend in person, there are remote viewing sites in Cordova, Fairbanks, Homer, Juneau, Kodiak, Nome, Seward, Sitka and Unalaska.

The first day is aimed at a broad audience, to include harvesters, shellfish growers, resource managers, researchers, coastal residents and anyone else interested in ocean acidification, while the second day will be more discussion-oriented and include breakout groups and a session for ocean acidification researchers.

Participating speakers include Jeff Hetrick of the Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery, Hannah Heimbuch of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, Bob Foy, director of the National Marine Fisheries Service crab laboratory at Kodiak, Jeremy Mathis, of the NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, and more. On Day 2, Meg Chadsey from Washington Sea Grant will lead a session on ways to engage audiences and inspire local action to address ocean acidification.

A second session will address expanding and leveraging the Alaska Ocean Acidification Network.

Contact Alaska Ocean Observing System network coordinator Darcy Dugan at with questions.

New Assessment Shows Abundant Pollock

A new assessment produced by the Alaska Fisheries Science Center shows that the abundance of Alaska Pollock stocks – Alaska’s largest fishery by volume – in the Eastern Bering Sea is quite robust.

According to a draft copy of the assessment prepared for the December meeting of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in Anchorage next week.

It is at the council’s December meeting each year that the total allowable catch for groundfish in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands, as well as the Gulf of Alaska, are set.

The recommended acceptable biological catch for Bering Sea Pollock for 2017 is 2,800,000 tons and the recommended ABC for 2018 is 2,979,000 tons.

That compares with last year’s estimated ABC of 2,090,000 tons for 2016 and 2,019,000 tons for 2017.

The projections are based on estimated catches assuming 1,350,000 tons used in place of maximum permissible ABC for 2017 and 2018, biologists said.

New data in this assessment suggests that the above average 2008 year-class is slightly higher than before and that the 2012 year-class also appears to be above average, biologists said.

Alaska Pollock is the dominant species in terms of catch in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, accounting for 69 percent of the BSAI’s fishery management plan groundfish harvest and 89 percent of the total Pollock harvest in Alaska.

Retained catch of Pollock increased 2.2 percent to 1.3 million tons in 2015.

BSAI Pollock first-wholesale value was $1.28 billion in 2015, down slightly from $1.3 billion in 2014, but above the 2005-2007 average of $1.25 billion.

Prior to 2008, Pollock catches were high at about 1.4 million tons in the BSAI for an extended period. The complete draft report is online at

2015 Groundfish Harvests off Alaska Totaled 2.2 Million Tons

The latest draft federal Stock Assessment and Fishery Evaluation report for groundfish in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands concludes that 2015 groundfish harvests off Alaska totaled 2.2 million tons.

That amount was about equal to the catch in 2014, according to the report prepared for next week’s North Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting in Anchorage. Groundfish made up 80 percent of Alaska’s 2015 total catch, which was slightly less than typical because of high Pacific salmon harvests.

Notable increases in catch were observed in the Alaska Pollock, particularly in the Gulf of Alaska, and Atka mackerel fisheries, while the flatfish catch was significantly decreased, the report noted.

The gross value of the 2015 groundfish catch after primary processing (first wholesale) was $2.26 billion, a decrease of 3.6 percent from a year earlier.

Pacific cod fisheries, the second largest by volume in Alaska, with a total catch of 289,000 tons in 2015, saw a decrease of 3 percent from 2014. Decreases in both catch and ex-vessel price had the combined effect of an 8.7 percent decrease in exvessel value to $186 million.

The ex-vessel value of all Alaska domestic fish and shellfish catch, including the amount paid to harvesters for fish caught, and the estimated value of pre-processed fish species caught by catcher processors, decreased from $1,853 million in 2014 to $1,720 million in 2015. The first wholesale value of 2015 groundfish catch after primary processing was $2,262 million.

The 2015 total groundfish catch decreased by 1 percent, and the total first wholesale value dropped by 4 percent, relative to 2014. The complete draft report is online at

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Study Highlights Need to Modernize North Pacific Fishing Fleet

A new study on modernizing of the North Pacific commercial fishing fleet emphasizes the need to do so, and the significant economic impact this effort will have on Puget Sound, the economic hub of the fleet. The Port of Seattle and Washington Maritime Federation commissioned the study from the McDowell Group, a research and consulting firm in Juneau, Alaska.

The report says “it is incumbent upon Puget Sound stakeholders to encourage leadership and participation in the modernization effort, generating economic activity in the region for many years into the future.”

As of 2016, the report notes, the fleet of vessels over 58 feet numbers 414 and averages 40 years in age. Momentum behind the growing need to recapitalize includes rationalization of federally managed fisheries, removal of legislation prohibiting new builds in certain fisheries, and changing Coast Guard regulations, to name a few.

The report concludes that to maintain safety, economic viability and the competitive edge in a global market that modernization of the fleet must occur.

The report calls for advocacy and support for the preservation of the Puget Sound working waterfront, improvement in transportation infrastructure, workforce development and affordable housing, collaboration among vessel owners, shipyards, and lenders, and support for the maritime industry in Seattle, Olympia and Washington DC.

The report urges better financing assistance in the form of loan guarantees and reduced mooring rates for vessels constructed and modified in Washington State and the education of the banking community on the fishing fleet.

It also urges facility improvements, including increased dock space for the fleet, upgrades to fishermen’s terminal and Pier 91, and improved services and facilities on Harbor Island.

The complete report is online at

Diversity is the Strength of Bristol Bay’s Sockeye Run

A University of Washington professor who has spent years researching the Bristol Bay watershed in Southwest Alaska says it’s important to maintain the diversity of the waters contributing to the world’s largest sockeye salmon run.

The river systems flowing into the watershed compensate for each other, much like a diversified investment portfolio, Daniel Schindler told the Matanuska-Susitna Salmon Science and Conservation Symposium in Palmer, Alaska, on Nov. 17.

Within that watershed, habitat variation is important down to the very small scales, with each set of habitat having its own features, Schindler told biologists, conservationists, and commercial, sport and subsistence harvesters attending the symposium.

Schindler is a principal investigator of the university’s Alaska Salmon Program, which has studied Pacific salmon, their ecosystems and their fisheries in western Alaska since the 1940s. The program’s current research is focused on understanding how watersheds function in areas ranging from processing nutrients and carbon to how geomorphic attributes of watersheds regulate these ecosystem processes and services.

“We can do a lot of tangible things now to protect ecosystems, to make ecosystems resilient to climate change,” he said. “Protecting habitat networks is a way to build climate resilience. Stability and productivity of fishery systems is derived from diverse and changing habitat.”

In the some 130 years that people have fished commercially in Bristol Bay, that fishery has been sustainable because the commercial fishery interacts with a sustainable population, because individual rivers compensate for each other, he said.

Climate change notwithstanding, the fishery remains resilient because each river within the watershed is genetically distinct, down to the smaller rivers and tiny streams, he said. Removing some of those streams would weaken the strength of that diversity, he said.

The US Environmental Protection Agency has expressed concern that the proposed Pebble copper, gold and molybdenum mine in the area of the Bristol Bay watershed could result in potential loss of 1,100 or more acres of wetlands, lakes and ponds that connect with streams and tributaries of those streams where salmon are documented.

Final decisions regarding the permitting of that mine are still pending.

Bristol Bay 2017 Sockeye Run Forecast is 41.47 Million Fish

Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists are forecasting a run of 41.47 million sockeye salmon into Bristol Bay in 2017 with a Bristol Bay harvest of 27.47 million fish, and a South Peninsula harvest of 1.53 million reds. That’s virtually identical to the most recent 10-year average of Bristol Bay runs and 27 percent greater than the long-term mean of 32.76 million fish. All systems are expected to meet their spawning escapement goals.

The anticipated harvest of 27.47 million reds into Bristol Bay would be 2 percent lower than the most recent 10-year harvest, which has ranged from 15.43 million to 37.53 million fish and 34 percent greater than the long-term harvest average of 20.52 million fish, for the years 1963 through 2016.

The run is expected to consist of 12.05 million age-1.2 fish (or 29 percent of the total run; 9.35 million age-2.2 fish (23 percent of the run), 16.50 million age-1.3 fish (40 percent of the run, and 3.50 million age 2.3 fish (8 percent of the run).

The 2016 inshore Bristol Bay sockeye run this year totaled 51.4 million reds, which was the second highest such run since 1996, and 46 percent above the 35.1 million average run for the same period.

The 2017 run forecast to each district and river system includes16.07 million reds to the Naknek-Kvichak District (7.76 million to the Kvichak River, 4.04 million to the Alagnak River and 4.27 million to the Naknek River); 10.65 million to the Egegik District; 5.46 million to the Ugashik District; 8.62 million to the Nushagak District (5.50 million to the Wood River, 1.87 million to the Nushagak Rier and 1.25 million to the Igushik River); and 0.66 million to the Togiak District.

The Bristol Bay 2016 harvest of all salmon species was 39.2 million fish, raking first over the last 20 years and worth a preliminary exvessel value of $156.2 million, 40 percent above the 20-year average of $111.0 million.

The complete state of Alaska forecast is online at

Study: Transboundary Salmon Rivers Worth Millions to Southeast Alaska

A new economic study concludes that three transboundary watersheds that could be adversely impacted by mining in British Columbia have a value of just under $1 billion to the economy of Southeast Alaska.

The study for Salmon Beyond Borders was commissioned from the McDowell Group, a research and consulting firm in Juneau, Alaska.

The study measures the economic impact in Southeast Alaska of the Taku, Stikine and Unuk River watersheds, and also considers economic contributions from the Nass and Skeena rivers, which also have cross-border economic impact in commercial fisheries, tourism and recreation industries.

The study found that the combined watersheds account for $48 million in annually economic activity, including multiplier effects. This includes $34 million in direct spending, 400 jobs for the Southeast region, and nearly $20 million in labor income.

“Despite the limitations in the study, there is no question that the bounty from these rivers provides thousands of jobs that contribute to the well-being of communities on both sides of the border,” said Dale Kelley, executive director of the Alaska Trollers Association. “These watershed are economic powerhouses and worthy of international protections.”

Heather Hardcastle of Salmon Beyond Border said her group wanted to get the study out to local, state and federal officials, including the State Department, given that one mine is already in operation and two others are under construction. Hardcastle also said that the British Columbia government “is clearly not requiring bonds/sureties that will come anywhere close to covering the true liabilities associated with these mega projects.”

The complete study is online at

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Experts Speak at Fishermen’s News Booth This Week

Stop by the Fishermen’s News booth 220 at Pacific Marine Expo to talk to experts about the business of fishing.

On Friday, November 18th, from 11:00 a.m. to noon, Quality Operations Manager and Fishermen’s News contributor Brandii Holmdahl will answer questions about how to keep your catch fresh.

Over the last 24 years Brandii has worked in the seafood quality assurance field in every major region in Alaska, handling most species of seafood harvested in Alaska at the foreman and plant manager level. She has also served on the quality sub-committee of the Salmon Legislative Task Force, developed training and branding programs throughout Alaska and operated an independent dock for fishermen wanting to retain and sell their own catch.

Brandii will be happy to talk about things you can do to increase the quality of your catch, and keep it fresh from hook or net to dock.

On Saturday, November 19th, from 11:00 a.m. to noon Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Fisheries Manager Kirt Hughes will be on hand to answer questions from interested Washington State fishermen including questions about allocation, areas, regulations and hatchery programs.

Last year the Director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife met the fleet at our booth and answered questions about the Department’s role in the state’s commercial fisheries, and the discussion led to an expanded series of meetings with fishermen along the coast.

Fishermen who don’t often have a chance to talk to the WDFW in an informal setting are encouraged to bring your questions for Kirt and be prepared to take notes!

Upper Cook Inlet Harvest Forecast Is 1.7 Million Sockeyes

Biologists with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game are forecasting a run of some 4.0 million sockeye salmon to Upper Cook Inlet in 2017, with a commercial harvest of 1.7 million fish.

That forecasted harvest is 1.2 million fish less than the 20-year average harvest.

For 2016, the red salmon harvest by all user groups in Upper Cook Inlet totaled 3.3 million fish, which was 2.0 million less than the preseason forecast of 5.3 million fish, biologists said.

The run forecast for the Kenai River is approximately 2.2 million, which is 1.4 million less than the 20-year average run of 3.6 million fish.

The Kasilof River sockeye salmon run forecast is 825,000, which is 16 percent less than the 20-year average of 987,000; the Susitna River forecast is 366,000, which is 5 percent less than the 10-year average of 387,000 fish, and the Fish Creek forecast is 75,000, which is 11 percent less than the 20-year average of 84,000 reds. The 2017 forecast for other salmon species in Upper Cook Inlet includes commercial harvests of 98,000 pink, 184,000 chum, 167,000 silver and 6,300 king salmon.

While all five species of Pacific salmon are present in Upper Cook Inlet, sockeyes are the most valuable, accounting for nearly 93 percent of the total value over the past 20 years.

Sockeye prices varied during the season, but based on an estimated average price of $1.50 per pound, the total exvessel value of the 2016 Upper Cook Inlet sockeye harvest was about $21 million, which was 93 percent of the total exvessel value of Upper Cook Inlet salmon in 2016.

Western Alaska Salmon Harvests for 2016 Valued at $27.7 Million

Commercial wild salmon harvests in 2016 for Alaska’s western region totaled some 9,654,699 fish with a preliminary exvessel value of $27,730,204, state fisheries officials say.

That compared with a 2015 total harvest of 64,892,000 fish, valued at $75,256,000, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game report issued this past week.

Preliminary state harvest data showed harvests of 112,640,000 salmon worth $406,379,000 in 2016 compared with an overall commercial salmon harvest of 263,463 salmon valued at $414,219,000 a year ago.

The 2016 commercial salmon fishing season in the Alaska Peninsula, Aleutian Islands and Atka-Amlia Islands yielded a total of 15,345 kings, 5,981,217 sockeye, 260,922 silver, 2,883,577 humpies and 513,338 chum salmon, according to a preliminary report issued by ADF&G on Nov. 9.

Exvessel value information was generated from fish tickets and does not include postseason adjustments paid to fishermen.

The South Unimak and Shumagin Islands June commercial salmon fishery began on June 7 for set gillnet gear and on June 10 for seine and drift gillnet gear. Their preliminary commercial salmon harvest for the June fishery came in at 6,055 Chinook, 1,260,883 sockeye, 1,716 coho, 2,499,140 pink and 261,318 chum salmon.

For the South Peninsula Post-June fishery, including the Southeast District mainland from July 26 through Oct. 31, the commercial harvest totaled 6,804 Chinook, 807,336 sockeye, 176,799 coho, 339,864 pink and 139,519 chum salmon.

The low number of pink salmon returning to local streams resulted in no commercial fishing in the South Peninsula in August. Below average coho salmon harvest in September also limited commercial fishery openings until processor interest was withdrawn, biologists said.

In the North Alaska Peninsula, the total 2016 commercial harvest, excluding home pack and department test fishery, the projected harvest included 1,896 kings, 3.5 million reds, 75,818 silver, 12,274 pink and 88,894 chum salmon.

The North Peninsula harvest of sockeye and coho salon on the North Peninsula exceeded projected harvest levels, while the Chinook, pink and chum salmon were below projected harvest levels.

Commercial salmon harvests in the Kodiak management area of 5,926,918 salmon were well below the 2016 forecast and the previous 10-year average of some 24,068,105 salmon, according to the ADF&G season summary.

The catch, including 7,478 king, 2,063,472 red, 206,540 silver, 3,245,549 humpy and 403,879 chum salmon, had an estimated exvessel value of $14.5 million, the fourth lowest value since 1975, and well below the previous 10-year-average exvessel value of $362 million.

Comment Period on Sablefish RFM Ends Dec. 11

Comment is being accepted through Dec. 11 on the report for re-assessment of the Alaska sablefish fishery under the Alaska Responsible Fisheries Management program.

The reassessment is being conducted by Global Trust/SAI Global, said officials the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.

Registered stakeholders will be sent a copy of the report by filling out the online form at

/Ext/contact?subject=US%20Alaska%20Sablefish%20(Black%20cod)%20Commercial%20Fisheries The assessment team appointed to this assessment will review each comment submitted by stakeholders to determine if clarifications, updates or modifications to the report are necessary. The certification body will ultimately preside over the final outcome on certification consistent with accreditation requirements and the certification program’s rules. Information is most useful to this assessment team when it is specific and includes constructive suggestions for improving existing situations. Supporting documentary evidence for any issues of concern is also appreciated.

For further information on stakeholder involvement,

ASMI’s Responsible Fisheries Management Committee will hold a meeting Nov. 22 at the Seattle offices of the Pacific Seafood Processors Association. The call in number is 1-800-315-6338, or 1-913-904-9376, and the access code is 89501.

A copy of the draft agenda is online at

Partnership Tracks Debris in Columbia Estuary

Efforts are underway to track and map the location of marine debris in the Columbia River estuary, the online Columbia Basin Bulletin reports.

The Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership is asking for help in identifying small to medium scale marine debris in the lower Columbia River from Bonneville Dam to the river’s mouth, in order to map the area and develop plans for cleanup.

Debrah Marriott, executive director of the partnership, notes that marine debris can be adversely affect fish and wildlife habitat, water quality and human safety.

The small to medium scale debris the organization wants to identify includes everything from small abandoned boats and large tires to old machinery, and anything else that does not belong along or in the river.

The inventory the partnership is compiling does not track abandoned ships greater than 35 feet. Those are classified as derelict vessels and are tracked by the US Coast Guard and others. Through the first week of November, the partnership mapped more than 100 marine debris locations between Kalama and Portland. The intent of the project is to complete mapping for 146 miles of the lower river from Bonneville Dam to the Pacific Ocean, Marriott said.

The LCEP is part of the National Estuary Program, and the project is funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Volunteers are also contributing their time and expertise, she said. Once the mapping and debris identification is complete, the partnership will work to secure funds, likely from competitive grants, to begin removal.

Marine debris can be reported on the LCEP’s website,

The LCEP was established in 1955 by the governors of Washington and Oregon and the EPA to provide regional coordination, advance science and get on-the-ground results in the Lower Columbia River and estuary.

The Columbia Basin Bulletin website is published independently by Intermountain Communications of Bend, Oregon. Journalist Bill Crampton, editor, publisher and owner of Intermountain Communications, launched the entity in Bend, OR, in 1997 as an information services firm specializing in natural resource issues.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Monitoring, Charter Issues on NPFMC Agenda

Final action is scheduled at December’s North Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting on electronic monitoring integration and the charter halibut recreational quota entry program.

Also on the agenda for the Dec. 6-14 meeting in Anchorage are announcements on the final specifications for the harvest of groundfish in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands and the Gulf of Alaska, 2017 charter halibut management measures, a preliminary analysis of Gulf of Alaska trawl bycatch management, a review of an application for a red king crab savings area, and industry reports on Amendment 80 cooperatives’ halibut prohibited species catch measures.

Amendment 80, implemented in 2008, allocates Bering Sea and Aleutian Island yellowfin sole, flathead sole, rock sole, Atka mackerel and Aleutian Islands Pacific Ocean perch to the head and gut trawl catcher processor sector, and allows qualified vessels to form cooperatives. The program establishes Gulf of Alaska groundfish sideboard limits for Pollock, Pacific cod, Pacific Ocean perch, northern rockfish, and pelagic shelf rockfish, as well as Gulf halibut prohibited species catch. The Gulf sideboard restrictions are based on historic participation from 1998 through 2004.

A highlight of the December meeting will be an already sold-out dinner marking the 40th anniversary of the federal fisheries council.

Speakers for the anniversary dinner have not yet been announced.

Other meetings slated at the Hilton in conjunction with the NPFMC session include the Scientific and Statistical Committee, Dec 6-9, the Advisory Panel, Dec. 7-11, the Charter Halibut Management Committee, Dec. 6, the Recreational Quota Entity Committee, Dec. 6, and the Ecosystem and Enforcement committees, both on Dec. 7.

All meetings are open to the public, except executive sessions.

The deadline for written comments is 5 p.m. on Nov. 29. Those comments should be emailed to

A link to information on submitting comments in writing or in person can be found in the public comment information, by clicking on the council agenda.

The council meeting will be broadcast at

43 Million Pinks Forecast for SE Alaska in 2017

Biologists with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game are predicting a run of 43 million pink salmon in Southeast Alaska in 2017, which would be just above the recent 10-year average of 39 million humpies.

The forecast was adjusted using peak June-July juvenile pink salmon catch-per-distance-trawled statistics provided by the NOAA Fisheries, Alaska Fisheries Science Center, Auke Bay Laboratories, state biologists said Nov. 7.

Department staff planned to be available at the Southeast Alaska Purse Seine Task Force meeting on Dec. 1 in Juneau to discuss the forecast and plan for the season.

NOAA has been conducting these surveys for more than 20 years in upper Chatham and Icy straits in northern Southeast Alaska.

Perhaps the largest potential source of uncertainty regarding the 2017 pink salmon return is the anomalously warm sea surface temperatures that have persisted throughout the Gulf of Alaska since the fall of 2013, biologists said. Pink salmon that went to sea in 2014 and 2015 returned in numbers well below expectation and pink salmon that went to sea in 2016, and are set to return in 2017, may have experienced similar conditions, the forecast report said.

The NOAA Auke Bay Laboratories have been using juvenile pink salmon catch and associated biophysical data to forecast adult pink salmon harvest in Southeast Alaska since 2014. The 2017 NOAA forecast is online at

ADF&G forecasts have been adjusted using NOAA’s juvenile pink salmon data since 2007. Although the forecast performance was relatively poor over the past three seasons, overall performance since 2007 is much improved over forecasts made prior to 2007 and recent forecasts have performed better than naïve forecasting models, biologists said.

The 2017 commercial purse seine fisheries will be managed in-season based on the strength of salmon runs.

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