Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Sportsmen: Just Say ‘No’ to Pebble mine

On the eve of another congressional hearing to examine alleged predetermined efforts to block development of the Pebble project in Southwest Alaska, an international prestigious sportsmen’s club is telling Congress to just say “no.”

Sportsmen for Bristol Bay told Texas Republican Lamar Smith, who chairs the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, to consider the views of tens of thousands of hunters and fishermen from Texas who oppose the proposed copper, gold and molybdenum mine, which would be built near the headwaters of the Bristol Bay watershed.

The committee hearing this morning in the Rayburn House Office Building is a follow up on the committee’s hearing last November, to receive testimony from Dennis McLerran, administrator of EPA Region 10 in Seattle. According to the committee, it wishes to examine the EPA’s intention to use section 404 (c) of the Clean Water Act to block the Pebble Mine from development before the project applies for any permits.

Backers of the mine have still not said when they would apply for permits. In an email response to that question this past February, Pebble Partnership spokesman Mike Heatwole said the uncertainty created by the EPA’s actions precluded them from advancing the project to permitting and that the Pebble Partnership is also still seeking a long term partner for the project.

Proponents of the mine allege that the EPA had made predetermined efforts to block the massive mine, which in their view would create jobs, provide tax revenue to Alaska and reduce American dependence on foreign sources of raw material. Opponents argue that the mine would adversely impact the entire watershed, home to the world’s largest run of sockeye salmon, abundant wildlife and a population largely dependent on commercial, sport and subsistence fisheries.

The letter, signed by over 6,000 members of the Dallas Safari Club, and others, said Bristol Bay supports one of the planet’s best remaining salmon fisheries, which produce 46 percent of the world’s sockeye salmon, as well as an abundance of brown bear, moose, caribou, waterfowl and ptarmigan that attract hunters from around the world.

Economically speaking, the Texas group told Congressman Smith, sportfishing, hunting and tourism alone generate more than $160 million in local economic activity, creating nearly 2,500 local, sustainable jobs. The proposed Pebble mine, by comparison, would create only about 1,000 temporary jobs, while threatening 14,000 commercial and recreational fishery jobs in a $1.5 billion annual salmon fishery that can last indefinitely.

Legislation Updating OPA 90 Passes House

The US House of Representatives has given its unanimous approval to legislation updating the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 as it relates to foreign sourced oil spills. The matter now awaits further action in the Senate.

Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, an original sponsor of OPA 90 and the Foreign Spill Protection Act of 2016, which passed the house on April 26, applauded passage in the House.

Young said that with increasing maritime activity in the Arctic, particularly as Russia expands its offshore operations, it is increasingly important to ensure American interests and waters are protected.

“If a vessel transporting oil within Russian waters were to ever suffer an oil spill, ocean currents may very well bring that oil into Alaskan waters,” Young said. “H.R. 1684 would force the responsible party to cover all costs associated with cleanup with US waters and upon nearby shores.”

Current law requires that the responsible party must pay in full for spills occurring within US waters. Foreign oil spills that reach US waters, meanwhile, are paid for through the Oil Liability Trust Fund, which covers $150 million for cleanup and up to $850 million for claims. Any party refusing to do so or denying guilt would face civil penalties imposed by the US Attorney General’s office in district court.

OPA 90, passed in the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster of March 1989 in Alaska’s Prince William Sound, also banned single hull tank vessels of 5,000 gross tons or more from US waters from 2010 onward. Prevention measures within OPA 90 included double hull requirements for oil tankers, the use of towing vessels, vessel communication systems, as well as liners for onshore facilities.

Prince William Sound Salmon Update

Alaska state fisheries biologist have issued an update on the 2016 Prince William Sound salmon fishery, saying that the first announcement concerning the Copper River District fishery will be issued between May 1 and May 8.

The most likely start date for the first commercial fishing period in the Copper River District is Monday, May 16, and 2016 harvest projections for the commercial common property fishery for the Copper River district are 1.6 million sockeye, 201,000 coho and 21,000 Chinook salmon.

The initial management strategy will be based on anticipated weekly sockeye and Chinook salmon harvests for the Copper River District and additional assessments of river conditions, biologists said, in an announcement this past week. Once the Miles Lake sonar is deployed, the in-river goal becomes one of the primary factors in management decisions. By late June, aerial estimates of Copper River Delta sockeye salmon escapement are also considered. Standard commercial fishing schedules are two evenly spaced fishing periods a week with the first period each week starting on Mondays at 7 a.m. Then beginning in early to mid-August when coho salmon harvests become predominant, the Copper and Bering River districts will be managed for silvers.

The 2016 commercial common property fishery harvest projections for the Bering River District are 14,000 sockeye and 46,000 coho salmon.

In the Eshamy District the Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corporation’s Main Bay Hatchery has a forecast of 1.6 million sockeyes, and the management strategy this year will be to provide two extended periods a week in the hatchery subdistrict similar to the strategy used for the past five years. The Eshamy District is expected to open for the season on May 30, as is the Coghill District, with a forecast of 110,000 reds, biologists said.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Overfished Stock Numbers Remains Low

US fisheries are continuing to rebuild, with the number of overfished stocks remaining near all-time lows, NOAA Fisheries said April 20, in its 2015 Status of US Fisheries report to Congress.

Two stocks that came off the overfished list were the canary rockfish along the Pacific Coast, and blueline tilefish in the South Atlantic. Blue king crab in Alaska’s Pribilof Islands remained on the overfished list, along with Pacific Ocean perch and Yelloweye rockfish in the Pacific region.

Eight stocks, from the Gulf of Mexico, New England and Puerto Rico came off the overfishing list, while Chinook salmon in the Columbia River Basin, and areas of the Washington coast, as well as coho salmon, were added to the overfishing list.

A stock is listed as overfished when the population size of a stock is too low, whether because of fishing or other causes, such as environmental changes.

A stock is put on the overfishing list when the annual catch rate is too high.

The federal agency attributed the progress to the combined efforts of NOAA Fisheries, commercial and recreational fishermen, regional fishery management councils, states and other partners.

“It’s fitting that this report aligns with the 40th anniversary of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Management and Conservation Act,” said Eileen Sobeck, assistant NOAA administrator for fisheries.

“Magnuson-Stevens provided the dynamic, science-based management process that is proving successful year after year at keeping US fisheries among the world’s most sustainable and resilient. This year’s report highlights the act’s continued success,” she said. “This rebuilding success demonstrates the importance of the scientific monitoring and responsive management approach Congress built in to the Magnuson-Stevens Act,” she said. “It also shows that managing fisheries to sustainable levels in an ever-changing environment is an ongoing process of science informing management.”

Togiak Herring Surprises Harvesters, Processors

A record early start date for Alaska’s Togiak herring fishery has caught harvesters and processors by surprise.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game area biologist Tim Sands, in Dillingham, says they are still working to get to the grounds and are expected to be up to full speed by the weekend.

The weather, as of yesterday was not cooperating. Sands said the Togiak herring district was hit with high winds, making it difficult to locate the herring, slowing down fishing vessels and making it difficult to set gear.

ADF&G staff flew a survey of the Togiak herring district, the largest herring fishery in the state, on April 17 and observed 37 miles of spawn, prompting a quick opening of the fishery. By and large this is a May fishery, said Sands, but even before the ADF&G survey, private pilots were reporting that they were spotting the herring spawning all over the place.

A year ago, it wasn’t until April 27 that 63,382 tons of herring was documented, exceeding the threshold biomass of 35,000 tons, and prompting the opener.

Managing the fishery is more challenging this year because of across the board state budget cuts that resulted in the budget for Togiak herring being zeroed out.

Estimates are that 20 to 25 seine vessels and three gillnet vessels will participate in this year’s fishery, delivering to Icicle Seafoods, Trident Seafoods, North Pacific Seafoods and Silver Bay Seafoods.

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