Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Copper River Fishery Faces Escapement Challenges

With the opening of Alaska’s famed Copper River sockeye salmon fishery coming up in three weeks, commercial fishermen are trying to figure out ways to fish on the reds while assuring that escapement goals on the kings are met.

Harvesters with Cordova District Fishermen United met this week to discuss the issue with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and another session is slated for April 28.

“While the commercial harvests of sockeyes has been good over the past five years, the escapement goals upriver for kings were not met in 2015 or 2016,” says Jeremy Botz, area management biologist in Cordova for ADF&G. This year, with a forecast of a weak run of some 29,000 kings to the Copper River district, the allowable commercial harvest has been set at 4,000 Chinook, and the minimum threshold escapement goal for the kings is 24,000 fish. That is the preseason plan, based on the forecast. While the run could turn out to be stronger or weaker, state fisheries biologists won’t have enough information to assess the strength of the king run until the second week of the salmon fishery, which is expected to open May 15 or May 18.

Meanwhile ADF&G plans to substantially expand the inside closure area to the eastern end of the district to help assure that kings migrating through with the sockeyes are included in the escapement.

ADF&G is anticipating the possibility of the lowest Chinook harvest in that district since statehood. Management actions anticipated are above and beyond anything they’ve done before, to assure the required escapement of kings this year.

Jerry McCune, president of CDFU and a veteran commercial harvester from Cordova, said that the fleet will do its part to assure that the king salmon escapement is met, but he hopes that won’t mean losing the chance to harvest most of the sockeyes. McCune also expressed concern for the safety of smaller fishing vessels outside of the barrier islands in the gulf, where there is little protection from stormy weather.

AYFN Seeks to Connect the Next Generation of Fishermen

A spring shindig celebrating Alaska’s fishing traditions and the upcoming fishing season is on tap tonight (April 26, 2017) in Anchorage, the latest effort of the Alaska Young Fishermen’s Network to help the next generation of fishermen network.

AYFN is finding that social gatherings, such as this one hosted at the 49th State Brewing Co. in downtown Anchorage, are drawing young harvesters and their mentors together to share stories of their adventures at sea, and to learn about everything from harvesting to fish policy management.

AYFN’s Fishmas party in Homer this past winter drew some 200 people.

“Building these connections with each other is very important,” says Hannah Heimbuch, coordinator for AYFN, and a community organizer in Homer for the Alaska Marine Conservation Council. While young fishermen are technically defined as those under the age of 40, the group spread includes folks from their mid 20s to those with years in fisheries. “It takes all ages to make this industry set the next generation up for success, and mentorship should be part of the network as well,” she said.

Since AMCC initiated AYFN back in December of 2013 the network has introduced an array of projects and activities to support and educate young fishermen. In March of 2016, AYFN led a cross-country educational tour of 11 young fishermen to the Boston Seafood Show, to Washington DC to learn about the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management act, and then to New Orleans for the Slow Fish gathering. This past January a group of young halibut fishermen traveled to the first British Columbia Young Fishermen’s Gathering and to the International Pacific Halibut Commission meeting in Victoria, BC.

“As much as we need young people building strong businesses on the water, we need them learning to navigate the policy arena, advocating for their fisheries and communities,” Heimbuch said.

AYFN wanted to serve as a connector between young people and their mentors, and to important resources and opportunities around the state. “We are building a source for connection, information and inspiration,” she said.

AYFN’s activities, including fishing fellowships by host organizations, are funded by a two-year grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

More information is online at

Upper Cook Inlet Salmon Outlook

A run of some 4 million sockeye salmon is the forecast for Alaska’s Upper Cook Inlet this summer, with a harvest by all user groups of 2.6 million reds. That would include about 1.7 million sockeyes, which is 1.2 million fewer fish than the most recent 10-year average annual commercial sockeye harvest of 2.9 million fish.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has put the run forecast for the Kenai River at 2.2 million sockeyes, which is 1.4 million less than the 20-year average run of 3.6 million. For the Kasilof River, the sockeye run is predicted to be 825,000 fish, or 16 percent less than the 20-year average annual run of 987,000 fish. For the Susitna River, ADF&G is predicting a run of 366,000 reds, which would be 5 percent less than the 10-year average of 387,000 fish.

Several regulatory changes made by the Alaska Board of Fisheries at the board’s February-March meeting will be implemented during the upcoming season.

The regulatory booklets are to be published after the new regulations become law, which should occur in early June, ADF&G officials said.

Global Effort Launched on Seafood Traceability

The Global Dialogue on Seafood Traceability has launched a web-based platform inviting companies to join in a collaborative process to adopt voluntary standards and guidelines for interoperable seafood traceability systems.

The announcement during Seafood Expo Global in Brussels, Belgium, came from the World Wildlife Fund. “Companies around the world have been looking for ways to lower costs and improve access to reliable seafood traceability without getting trapped into inflexible proprietary systems,” said David Schorr, senior manager of WWF’s Transparent Seas Project. The organization plans to utilize its online platform ( to facilitate virtual and face-to-face meetings of working groups tasked with designing a new voluntary seafood traceability framework.

Traceability of seafood is recognized as a way to help meet sustainability commitments, fight illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, and reduce other supply chain risks, including the elimination of slavery at sea. Consumers as well as government entities in the European Union, United States and elsewhere have been increasingly demanding to know the origin of seafood for sale and whether those seafood products for sale in their markets were legally produced.

Organizers are planning a technical workshop in Bangkok, Thailand, in early May, and an informational meeting during the SeaWeb Seafood Summit ( in Seattle in June.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Alaska Seafood Ranked Most Popular Protein on US Menus

The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s 2016 annual report, celebrates an exciting first, says ASMI Executive Director Alexa Tonkovich.

After years of holding steady in second place among protein brands, Alaska seafood is now the number one ranked most popular protein on US menus among the top 500 restaurant chains, besting Angus beef, Kobe beef, Louisiana seafood and more.

Global currency challenges and a rocky fiscal climate in Alaska notwithstanding, the seafood industry remains an asset in the state’s portfolio, Tonkovich said.

According to the report, some 60,000 resident and non-resident workers in Alaska’s seafood industry earn $1.6 billion in annual wages based on 2013 and 2014 averages. A total of 31,580 harvesters – the majority of whom are Alaskans – earned income as skippers and crew, operating some 8,600 vessels.

Alaska fisheries provided work statewide, -creating in excess of 10,000 full-time-equivalent jobs in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, nearly 10,000 in Southeast Alaska, more than 8,000 in Kodiak, 7,000 in Southcentral Alaska, more than 4,500 in Bristol Bay and nearly 1,000 jobs in the Arctic and Yukon Kuskokwim regions.

America’s increased seafood consumption is partly attributed to federal food assistance programs that distribute surplus canned salmon to food banks nationwide. AMSI was instrumental in coordinating the sale of $77 million in canned salmon to those programs between 2014 and 2015, helping the industry manage inventories after record pink and sockeye salmon harvests.

ASMI expanded domestic market channels for Alaska sockeye, with partnerships with Sam’s Club, Walmart and Red Lobster, thus avoiding significant carryover inventory of frozen sockeye heading into 2016, which could have lowered prices for the 2016 harvest, the report noted.

Meanwhile, Alaska seafood exports to ASMI program destinations maintained value at about the same level as the prior year, despite a strong US dollar and the Russian embargo.

The complete report is available online at

Bill Would Boost Training of Young Fishermen

Bipartisan legislation introduced in the US House in April would establish the first national program to support young men and women entering the commercial fishing industry with educational opportunities through NOAA’s Sea Grant Program.

HR 2079, the Young Fishermen’s Development Act of 2017, would provide grants of up to $200,000 and a total of $2 million annually. The bill is a big step forward in the Fishing Communities Coalition’s effort to establish a coordinated, nationwide effort to train and assist the next generation of commercial harvesters.

“This legislation is about supporting the livelihoods that support entire fishing communities in Alaska and around the country,” said Rep. Don Young, R-AK, who introduced the bill with Rep. Seth Moulton, D-MA. “I am extremely proud to stand up with them.”

“This legislation will help to sustain the fishing industry by ensuring that our young people not only have a future in fishing, but are also empowered with the training and resources necessary to thrive in the 21st-century economy,” Moulton said.

The legislation is backed by the Fishing Communities Coalition, which represents commercial fishermen from New England, Alaska, California and the Gulf Coast.

Sea Lion Predation of Salmon Prompts Legislation

The latest effort to remove sea lions from areas of the Columbia River where they pose the greatest threat of survival of endangered salmon, steelhead and other native fish species was introduced in the US House in April.

The Endangered Salmon and Fisheries Predation Prevention Act “is critical because sea lion predation is posing a serious threat to our salmon populations, impacting our efforts to ensure their survival,” said Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-WA, who introduced the bill with Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-OR.

In the last few years there have been a record number of California and Steller sea lions in the Columbia River from Astoria to Bonneville Dam, numbers totally inconsistent with their historic range, Schrader said.

According to a statement released by Schrader, historic recovery efforts of endangered salmon and steelhead populations in the Columbia River have been compromised by exponentially increasing sea lion predation in recent years.

The issue is a complex one, according to reports issued by NOAA Fisheries, saying that birds, fish and marine mammal predation are a major cause of mortality for Endangered Species Act listed juvenile and adult fish in the Columbia River Basin. California sea lions and Steller sea lions consume substantial numbers of adult spring Chinook salmon, sturgeon and winter steelhead below Bonneville Dam, the agency reported earlier.

Similar legislation was introduced in the last session of Congress.

AFSC Study Examines Bering Sea Fish Populations Over 34 Years

A new study by the Alaska Fisheries Science Center examines how fish populations have changed over the past 34 years of varying climate conditions, and researchers say their work may provide clues to how future changes will affect fisheries.

According to fisheries biologist Steve Barbeaux, lead author of the study, climate variability has increased in recent years in the Bering Sea and the science center will use that information to study how ecosystems respond to change.

Summer bottom trawl surveys provide information fisheries managers need to set quotas for sustainable fishing. Data collected include where fish are, how many and what species are found, sex, size and age, as well as environmental data such as ocean temperature.

Barbeaux analyzed survey data from 1986 through 2015 to explore patterns of fish distribution by species, size and sex in relation to environmental conditions. He mapped that data to create visualizations that show fish life histories unfolding over space and time.

Sufficient data was available for in-depth analyses of 22 groundfish species, from arrowtooth flounder to yellowfin sole. While changes in Bering Sea fish distributions in relation to climate variability have been widely reported, no other study has specifically examined ontogenetic differences in how fish respond to climate variability, Barbeaux said. Ontogeny relates to the origination and development of an organism, usually from the time of fertilization of the egg to the organism’s mature form.

Barbeaux said the studies show that some species prefer relatively cold or warm, shallow or deep waters and this knowledge could help predict where they will go as conditions change. Climate affected middle life stages the most, he said. For species that shifted distribution between warm and cold years, mid-size fish were most affected, he said.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Senators Back National Sea Grant Program

Oregon Democrat Jeff Merkley and Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski have introduced a bipartisan Senate resolution expressing the support of the Senate for the National Sea Grant College Program.

The resolution, with 24 co-sponsors, highlights the importance of the program to improving the health of coastal ecosystems, sustaining fisheries and its economic impact in 31 states and two territories. President Trump’s proposed budget would eliminate funding for the Sea Grant College program.

Merkley called the Sea Grant Program “a textbook example of a smart and targeted investment in local communities that helps create economic growth. Our coastal communities are a key part of our economy in Oregon and numerous other states.”

“At a time when coastal ecosystems and infrastructure are under unique stress from a changing climate, it would be a terrible idea to cut back on support that will help our communities adapt and continue to thrive and create jobs,” he said.

Sea Grant plays a vital role in Alaska and throughout the state’s coastal communities, with the programs combining essential aspects of applied research, communication, extension and education, Murkowski said.

“For more than four decades, the National Sea Grant programs have aided in spreading economic sustainability and environmental conservation of our nation’s bountiful marine resources,” she added.

The resolution available online at notes than 42 percent of the population of the United States lives or works in coastal areas and that coastal counties contribute over $7.6 trillion annually to the economy.

The resolution also indicates that the National Sea Grant College program had an economic impact of $575 million in 2015 from a Federal investment of $67.3 million, an 854-percent return on investment.

Outlook Issued for Prince William Sound, Bristol Bay Salmon Fisheries

Commercial fishing in the Copper River’s famed wild salmon fishery is expected to begin the week of May 14, with a harvest projection for the Copper River District of 889,000 sockeye, 207,000 coho and 4,000 Chinook salmon.

State Department of Fish and Game biologists say the initial management strategy will be based on anticipated weekly sockeye and Chinook salmon harvests, with additional assessments of river conditions, fishing effort and harvest consistency. Beginning in early to mid-August, when coho harvest becomes predominant, the Copper and Bering River districts will be managed for coho stocks.

The 2017 pink salmon forecast run for Prince William Sound is 67.16 million fish, of which 58.92 million will be available for commercial harvest. If the natural stock pink salmon forecast is realized it would be the second largest natural run on record, and well above the 1997–2015 odd-year average return of 12.29 million fish. State biologists said the 2017 Prince William Sound pink salmon forecast is the largest on record and liberal fishing time and area is anticipated if returns are as strong as expected.

The 2017 Bristol Bay sockeye salmon forecast is for some 41.5 million fish, with a projected bay-wide harvest of 27.47 million reds. Last year the Bay produced a sockeye harvest of 37.3 million fish from a total run of 51.4 million, exceeding the forecasted 46.55 million fish.

The average ex-vessel price of 76 cents a pound put the total sockeye fishery value at $153.2 million, according to the Bristol Bay Fishermen’s Association (formerly the Alaska Independent Fishermen’s Marketing Association).

Forecasters call for a total run of 10.65 million reds into Egegik and projected harvest of 8.56 million fish, while the Naknek-Kvichak district is anticipated to have a run of 16.07 million fish and harvest of 8.29 million.

For the Nushagak district, the anticipated sockeye run is 8.62 million, with a harvest of 6.06 million. The Ugashik district has a forecasted run of 5.46 million reds and harvest of 4.09 million fish, while Togiak’s anticipated run of 0.66 million reds is expected to produce a harvest of 0.48 million fish.

Southeast Alaska Chinook Salmon All-Gear Harvest Limit Set at 209,700 Fish

The preseason Chinook salmon all-gear harvest limit for Southeast Alaska in 2017 has been set at 209,700 fish, under provisions of the Pacific Salmon Treaty, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced this week.

Southeast Alaska’s treaty harvest limit on Chinooks is determined by the Chinook Technical Committee of the Pacific Salmon Commission. It is based on the forecast of an aggregate abundance of Pacific Coast Chinook salmon stocks subject to management under the Pacific Salmon Treaty.

The allocation is shared by sport and commercial troll and net fisheries, under management plans specified by the Alaska Board of Fisheries.

For 2017, the troll sector will get 154,990 fish, and sport harvesters will get 38,720 fish, both after net gear is subtracted. The purse seiners are allocated 9,020 kings, drift gillnetters 6,080 kings and set gillnetters 1,000 fish.

Dale Kelley, executive director of the Alaska Trollers Association, said that even though they fish for kings year round right now everybody is fixated on how many fish they will get when they go fishing on July 1.

“Given that we just came off of a difficult winter fishery dominated by bad weather conditions, and we are going to be tightening our belts in the spring to protect local stocks, the quota announcement is extremely disappointing and presents enormous economic challenges for trollers and other fishermen in Southeast Communities,” she said.

NPFMC Take Action on CDQ Ownership Caps

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) has taken final action to establish limitations on ownership and use of limited access privileges to prevent the excessive consolidation of privileges under Community Development Quota (CDQ) caps.

During its spring meeting in Anchorage the council voted to revise the regulations governing the ownership attribution model for CDQ groups for excessive share limitations under the American Fisheries Act (AFA) Program.

The preferred alternative also calls for revision to regulations and to the crab fisheries management plan governing the ownership attribution model for CDQ groups for the processor quota share ownership and individual processor quota use caps under the crab rationalization program, as directed in the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

In addition to their allocations under the CDQ program, CDQ groups participate in other limited access privilege programs, including AFA and crab rationalization by purchasing quota shares or thorough vessel ownership and processors participating in these fisheries.

Since the 2006 amendment to the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the National Marine Fisheries Service has implemented the proportional ownership attribution method for CDQ groups to monitor excessive share caps in the AFA and crab rationalization programs. However, these and the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands crab fisheries management plan have not been updated to reflect that change. The council’s action would revise regulations and the crab FMP to make them consistent with the Magnuson-Stevens Act and current practice.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Progress Reported in Implementing Pot Cod Fleet Monitoring

An electronic monitoring (EM) project for Alaska’s pot cod fishery is building on two prior pilot projects by North Pacific Fisheries Association (NPFA) and Saltwater Inc. to determine the feasibility of this technology.

A critical goal of this pre-implementation effort is to develop sustainable infrastructure to support long-term implementation of EM in Alaska, says Nancy Munro, of Saltwater Inc., an observer and EM service provider based in Anchorage.

Munro was in Kodiak for ComFish 2017 to discuss the project in a forum with others on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s EM working team.

The project tests a model that focuses on the importance of high quality data and cost effectiveness, and highlights skipper engagement, integration of observers into the EM program, cross training of skilled EM personnel and a streamlined feedback loop between vessels and the data.

Saltwater has been collecting fisheries data via its observer programs for the past 30 years and EM data for the last eight. The firm currently provides EM services in multiple domestic fisheries, including Alaska’s fixed gear fishery.

The concept behind the project reflects the thinking of many industry participants, Munro said. With support from the National Marine Fisheries Service and North Pacific Fishery Management Council, the project is part of the pre-implementation of EM for Alaska’s fixed gear fleet.

“Considering the generic human resistance to change and the process of envisioning a program by a committee of competing interests, I think we’re doing OK,” Munro said. “We have a ways to go to design a program which will be cost effective for the industry, but we are making progress.

“As part of the pre-implementation model, current and prior NMFS observers are reviewing EM data in Anchorage. This has created a tight feedback loop between the boats and the data. With timely results, we are able to provide in-season feedback memos to vessels and correct issues that interfere with collecting good data. We are using open source review software, which decreases costs and encourage innovation,” she said.

Also packed into three days of ComFish were a number of other forums dealing with everything from fish politics to marketing efforts, the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s global food aid program, and educational opportunities for young fishermen through the University of Alaska and Alaska Sea Grant programs.

Oil Leak in Cook Inlet Stopped

In the aftermath of Hilcorp Alaska’s agreement with the state of Alaska to a temporary shutdown of its oil and gas production to halt the environmental impact from a gas line leak in Cook Inlet, another spill, this time from oil, was discovered on April 1.

The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) at first said an unknown amount of Cook Inlet crude oil was released into the environment on April 1, then revised that figure to under 10 gallons. The crude oil came from an 8-inch oil pipeline located in the Upper Cook Inlet near Granite Point.

On April 3, DEC issued an update, to say Hilcorp successfully and safely evacuated all crude oil from the suspected leaking pipeline by displacing it with filtered seawater. That pipeline is an oil gathering line connecting two of Hilcorp’s platforms in the area. The exact cause of the oil release is unknown and remains under investigation.

While Hilcorp activated its response contractor upon discovery of the spill, six oil sheens were observed, the largest being 10 feet by 12 feet, while two of the sheens were three to four feet by 20 to 25 feet in size, DEC said.

DEC also said that marine mammals likely to be present at the time of the spill include endangered Cook Inlet beluga whales, seal lions, harbor seals, other whales and porpoises.

Also present in the area at the time were likely to be Dolly Varden, rainbow trout, Pacific eulachon, Pacific halibut, Pacific herring, Bering cisco, humpback whitefish, American shad, Walleye pollock, sablefish, Pacific and saffron cod, yellowfin sole and smelt, DEC said.

The discharge occurred within designated critical habitat for Cook Inlet beluga whales. The area is also essential fish habitat for all five species of Pacific salmon.

“It has been less than a week since Hilcorp agreed to temporarily shut down oil and gas production as part of its response to a leaking gas supply line, said Alaska Gov. Bill Walker. “Now Hilcorp has reported a separate leaking oil line, which is significantly more harmful than natural gas.” The governor said he is deeply concerned about the potential impact to the environment, and that the state’s spill prevention and response team has responded.

Hilcorp Alaska agreed on March 25 to a temporary shutdown of its oil and gas production to reduce environmental impact and safety risks in the wake of the company’s gas line leak in Cook Inlet.

That decision came after discussions between company executives and Walker, who said “Alaskans want peace of mind that our waters are protected.”

Bipartisan Alliance Formed to Address Marine Debris

Bipartisan legislation to help address the marine debris crisis affecting America’s ocean shorelines and inland waterways has been introduced in the US Senate by Senators Cory Booker, D-NJ, Sheldon Whitehouse, D-RI and Dan Sullivan, R-AK.

The Save our Seas Act would allow the NOAA administrator to declare severe marine debris events and authorize funds to assist with cleanup and response. The governor of an affected state would also be able to request such a declaration from NOAA. The bill would reauthorize NOAA’s Marine Debris Program through fiscal year 2022, to conduct research on the source of marine debris and take action to prevent and clean up that debris.

It would also encourage the executive branch of government to engage with leaders of nations responsible for the bulk of marine debris, examine the causes of ocean debris, discuss effective prevention and mitigation strategies, and economic benefits for treaty nations in addressing the crisis.

The Save our Seas Act, S. 756, would also address other coasts across the globe.

“Marine debris threatens critical species and habitats, litters our shorelines, and hurts coastal businesses,” Booker said. “Our bipartisan bill authorizes NOAA to continue and expand its work to address this problem, and I look forward to working with Senator Sullivan and our other colleagues to secure additional funding for this program.”

“We have a long way to go, but this legislation is a start toward research, international efforts, and responsible trade policies that together will help us better care for the world’s oceans,” Whitehouse said.

Sullivan meanwhile praised the legislation as a way for the US government to hold accountable countries whom he said are responsible for the majority of debris in oceans. “This bill encourages the Trump administration to forge alliances with these countries and to take a stand against the dangerous levels of debris in our oceans and make sure that they do not reach America’s coastlines,” he said.

Harvest Strategy Approved for PWS Tanner Crab

A harvest strategy critical to future tanner crab fisheries in Prince William Sound was approved by the Alaska Board of Fisheries during its statewide king and tanner crab meeting in Anchorage in late March.

Proposal 268, from Cordova District Fishermen United (CDFU), amends state regulations for tanner crab in Prince William Sound specifying conditions under which a commercial fishery may occur. It also establishes a sport fishery for tanner crab there as well, when the threshold level is reached for mature male abundance.

The proposal says that a harvest strategy should be formulated from the trawl survey data.

The Cordova commercial fishermen’s group said thresholds above which a commercial fishery could occur, as well as guideline harvest levels, can be determined conservatively using the same format and formulas used for the Eastern Aleutians District tanner crab harvest strategy in the Westward Area, which supports a small commercial tanner crab fishery in most years.

Until the board’s action, Prince William Sound was the only area in Alaska with a stock assessment for tanner crab, but no harvest strategy in regulation.

Tanner crab abundance in Prince William Sound has been increasing and with the harvest strategy in place a commercial fishery there could offer economic opportunity to local fishermen and communities, CDFU said.

There has not been a commercial tanner crab fishery in Prince William Sound since the late 1980s because of the lack of abundance, noted Glenn Haight, executive director of the fisheries board.

Proposal 267, from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, also supports creation of a harvest strategy and amending regulations for tanner crab in Prince William Sound specifying conditions under which the commercial fishery could occur and also reducing the legal size limit in the subsistence tanner crab fishery.

The board also approved a number of other proposals, including a 20-pot per vessel limit on the South Peninsula tanner crab fishery.

Haight said that the board planned to take a harder look at the Bering Sea tanner crab harvest strategy during a meeting in mid-May.

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