Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Alaska Fish Tax Increase Challenged

Legislation requested by Alaska Gov. Bill Walker that would boost fish taxes – some say as much as 33 percent – prompted the seafood industry this week to tell legislators that the measure is unacceptable in its present form.

In advance of the Alaska House Special Committee on Fisheries’ hearing on Feb. 23, the Pacific Seafood Processors Association, Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association and the Alaska Trollers Association submitted written comments noting the international marketing challenges already facing their industry, and calling for new or increased taxes to be balanced and equitable to all industries.

Alaska is facing huge fiscal challenges due to the drop in oil prices and oil production, and the state is looking at every option for lowering that budget deficit.

Vince O’Shea, a vice president of Pacific Seafood Processors Association, told legislators that deciding how and where to implement increased taxes on the seafood industry is a complicated issue, and that House Bill 251 is an over-simplified approach. While some have said it is a 1 percent tax increase, in fact it increases our taxes on different fisheries from 20 percent to 33 percent, he said.

O’Shea said that new or increased taxes must be balanced and equitable to all of Alaska’s industries, and must consider the total contribution they make including taxes paid, total employment, sustainability, and economic opportunity. Moreover, he said, they must consider the impacts on the economic viability of the industries being taxes.

Linda Behnken of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association and Dale Kelley of the Alaska Trollers Association also testified in opposition to the bill in its current form. Behnken noted that under the current tax structure, fisheries that are labor intensive, high value and Alaska-based, such as longline halibut and sablefish fisheries or the troll salmon fishery, pay a disproportionate share of the tax burden.

She suggested that the committee review and revise the tax policy for state fisheries, and that the committee consider establishing a minimum or floor fee based on pounds harvested, rather than finished value.

Based on data provided to the committee, this revision to the tax basis would increase returns to the state and remove existing penalties to value added onboard procedures, she said.

Baby Food Wins Alaska Symphony of Seafood

Bambino’s Baby Food’s Hali Halibut, created by an Anchorage mom looking to provide healthier foods for infants, won the grand prize at the Alaska Symphony of Seafood. Zoi Maroudos, owner and president of the company, also took first price in retail competition, and won the People’s Choice awards at the Symphony’s Juneau and Anchorage galas.

Trident Seafood’s bite size Fiesta Salmon Bites was the People’s Choice winner at the Seattle gala.
First prize in food service went to Canned Smoked Herring, from Deckhand Seafoods, owned by Warner Lew, fleet manager in Bristol Bay for Icicle Seafoods, and Smoked Salmon Caviar from Dick Hand’s Alaska Seafood Co. in Juneau took first price in the Symphony’s new “Beyond the Egg” category.

While Maroudos and Lew are relatively new in the retail marketing of their products, Hand, whose company specializes in smoked fish, is not. He has been selling salmon caviar on the company’s website,, for years, promoting it as the only shelf stable caviar in Alaska. Sixteen years ago, his smoked salmon caviar won first prize in the Symphony’s smoked seafood competition, a category no longer included in the competition.

In the competition’s “Beyond the Plate” competition, showcasing specialty products made from non-traditional fish parts, first prize went to ArXotica’s Quyung-lii Anti-Aging Skin Serum, the creation of triplet sisters from Bethel, Alaska.

The awards were presented on Feb. 19 at the Anchorage gala. All four winners will receive booth space at the Seafood Expo North America in Boston in March, as well as airfare to and from the show provided by Alaska Airlines, one of the Symphony’s major sponsors. Other major sponsors include Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, Alaska Air Cargo, Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association, At-Sea Processors Association, Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp. Northwest Fisheries Association, Kwik’Pak Fisheries LLC, Trident Seafoods, Unisea and United Fishermen of Alaska.

Prowler Fisheries, Blue North Combine Management

Prowler Fisheries LLC has announced a combined management agreement with Seattle-based Blue North Fisheries, to help streamline efficiencies and optimize day-to-day operations for both companies.

This relationship represents a big step in operational innovation in our industry,” said Kenny Down, president and chief executive officer of Blue North.

This agreement allows for the autonomy of each group while combining management under one roof in a strong structure, stronger than could ever be accomplished separately.”

“Our agreement will enhance both companies’ strength and market agility,” said Larry Cotter, Prowler Fisheries LLC’s managing partner and chief executive officer of the Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association. “We believe the benefits will be far reaching. Vessel crews will see a continued focus on quality and efficiency, an increased presence in Dutch Harbor Alaska, and great support from the Seattle Blue North team. Further, the agreement allows efficiencies to be shared by Blue North and Prowler in everything from insurance, fuel and groceries to repairs, compliance and documentation.”

Under the agreement, Blue North Fisheries will manage Prowler Fisheries’ five hook-and-line catcher processors currently operating in the Bering Sea, Aleutian Islands and Gulf of Alaska. The fleet includes the F/V Arctic Prowler, F/V Prowler, F/V Ocean Prowler, F/V Bering Prowler, and F/V Gulf Prowler. Blue North Trading, a fully-owned subsidiary of Blue North, will market and sell all of the frozen-at-sea products produced by the Prowler vessels starting with this year’s B season.
Prowler Fisheries will also close its Seattle office of Alaska Longline Co., the operation that currently manages its Prowler vessels.

Many current Alaska Longline employees will be retained by Blue North, the companies said. Cotter will remain the managing partner of Prowler Fisheries, bringing his oversight to the new management group.

Southeast Alaskans Speak Out on Tongass

Thousands of residents of Southeast Alaska who depend on wild salmon for their livelihood told federal officials in a comment period that concluded Feb. 22 that protections are needed for high value salmon habitat in Tongass National Forest.

The Forest Service is currently in the process of amending the 2008 Tongass Land and Resource Management Plan, the blueprint for how the forest is managed.

Of particular concern are the Tongass 77 watersheds.

“Identifying high value fish and wildlife habitat, including Tongass 77 watersheds, as not suitable for timber production would be a significant step toward placing fish and wildlife on a more even footing with traditional extractive industries, and is far overdue,” said Austin Williams, Alaska director of law and policy for Trout Unlimited, in a statement released on Feb. 23.

Support for protection of this habitat has come from fishermen, hunters, recreational users, and many others who rely on wild salmon.

The Tongass is America’s largest national forest, and produces tens of millions of wild salmon each year. While the majority of Southeast Alaska salmon and trout streams are healthy, threats from ill-conceived timber projects, roads, mining and initiatives to privatize large swaths of the Tongass are still a concern in these productive salmon waters, Trout Unlimited said in its statement.

The process of amending the Tongass management plan began with a 2013 memo from US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, directing the Tongass to transition its forest management program to be more ecologically, socially and economically sustainable. The agency said an amendment to the plan was needed to accelerate the transition to a young growth forest management program, and to do so in a way that preserves a viable timber industry that provides jobs for residents of Southeast Alaska.

Mark Kaelke, Southeast Alaska project director for TU, said the intent of the Forest Service to transition is pretty clear and that he is hopeful that the agency will be responsive to the thoughts of people in the region on how that should take place.

According to the Forest Service, a final decision approving the plan amendment is anticipated by mid-December.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Some Alaska CFEC Functions Moved to ADF&G

With an administrative order signed on Feb. 16, Alaska Gov. Bill Walker has transferred administrative and research functions of the Alaska Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission to the state’s Department of Fish and Game.

It is the latest move by the state to combat a $3.5 billion budget deficit.

This reorganization alone will save the state more than $1.3 million a year, while continuing to provide the CFEC’s core functions, Walker said.

ADF&G Deputy Commissioner Kevin Brooks noted that there has been a lot of talk in recent years about reorganizing the CFEC, including discussions with United Fishermen of Alaska, about streamlining to save money, because those savings will go to ADF&G. Brooks said the state spoke with the seafood industry about the need to reorganize after the outcome of a legislative audit published in October.

Brooks said there will be some staff reductions and that the plan is to have the two commissioners work full time through Dec. 31 to get through their current work load, and then reduce their hours to part time. One of the three commissioner positions is currently vacant, as are one research and one licensing section position.

CFEC has been in existence for 40 years, and they have done great work, but things are changing, he said. The reorganization of state entities alone will not solve the state’s current budget challenges, but it is another step toward streamlining government and getting the most out of our public dollars, Walker said in announcing this move.

The state currently is trying to resolve a $3.5 billion budget deficit brought on by declining oil prices and oil production in Alaska.

State Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, said her intent with House Bill 112, which she introduced during the last session, was much the same as Walker’s, to make the government more efficient. Her bill, however, would have left status quo the transferring of licenses, the adjudications and the research department, she said. Fishermen she has spoken with over the interim months said they felt they could live with that, she said.

NOAA Action Plans Include Coho, Chinook

Central California Coast coho salmon, Sacramento River winter run Chinook salmon and Alaska’s Cook Inlet beluga whales are earmarked for new five-year action plans aimed at moving them toward recovery.

NOAA Fisheries officials this past week said eight marine species identified as most at risk of extinction are included in the plan. The others are the Gulf of Maine population of Atlantic salmon, Hawaiian monk seals, Pacific leatherback sea turtles, Southern Resident killer whales in Puget Sound and white abalone.

The Central California Coast coho salmon were first listed as threatened in 1996 and subsequently reclassified as endangered in 2005. This particular species has teetered on the brink of extinction, NOAA notes. Conservation hatchery programs in Sonoma and Santa Cruz counties in California have boosted populations and prevented extinction, Pacific Coastal Salmonid Funds matched with California state grants have provided resources supportive of outreach, education and habitat restoration

Eileen Sobeck, assistant NOAA administrator for NOAA Fisheries, said to ensure these species have a fighting chance at recovery, the agency will need help from its partners and the public. She encourages people to visit NOAA’s Species in the Spotlight Action Plans site, at, to learn about the science behind this effort and how they can help.

The action plans look at previous species recovery plans and highlight the focused, immediate actions needed to stabilize these species and help prevent their extinction.

One goal of the action plans includes expansion of flood plain and estuarine habitat restoration efforts to improve the fitness and survival of Central California Coast coho salmon. Sobeck said efforts are also aimed at detecting and preventing catastrophic disease outbreaks and disease-related mortality for Hawaiian monk seals, whose lack of genetic diversity leaves them vulnerable to respond to newly introduced diseases.

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