Wednesday, September 27, 2017

NOAA Takes a Closer Look at Bering Sea Bloom

NOAA researchers embarked from Dutch Harbor on September 22, hoping to witness changing colors in the Bering Sea and gather more samples for a continuing investigation in what these changes mean for an ecosystem critical to one of the nation’s biggest fisheries.

Survey samples will be taken from up to a depth range of 70 meters from the southeast Bering Sea to the southwest of St. Lawrence Island, with hopes that in later years more sampling may be done on the shelf area. The focus will be on coccolithophores – single-celled phytoplankton that live in oceans worldwide, and play a vital role in regulating atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Coccolithophores, unlike other marine algae, armor themselves with plates of calcium carbonate-chalk. They shed multitudes of these tiny white discs, called coccoliths, into surface water, where they linger long after the coccolithophores themselves, have gone. These plates reflect light the same way coral sands do in shallow Caribbean waters with similar shimmering turquoise results, NOAA scientists said.

By clouding the water, they make it difficult for visual predators like seabirds and fish to find food and they make the food web less efficient.

Under certain conditions, the number of coccolithophores can skyrocket locally into enormous “blooms” that cloud water, resulting in potentially catastrophic consequences for other marine life, researchers at the NOAA Fisheries Science Center said.

The researchers are aboard the NOAA ship Oscar Dyson, the first in a class of ultra-quiet fisheries survey vessels built to collect data on fish populations, and conduct marine mammal and seabird surveys and study marine ecosystems.

The summer of 1997 was the first time anyone could remember when a vast swath of the deep blue Bering Sea turned milky turquoise. That year 190,000 seabirds died of starvation. The culprit in the color change, and suspect in the seabird deaths, was coccolithophores. Exactly what conditions cause the blooms to cloud the waters and what they portend for the ecosystem of the Bering Sea is the mystery researchers are trying to solve.

To that end, NOAA researchers have been tracking late summer coccolithophore bloom extent from 1998 to 2016 using satellite color data. They compared this index with ocean conditions and looked at possible implications for forage fish and predators.

The study was initiated by oceanographers Lisa Eisner at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center and Carol Ladd of the Pacific Marine Environmental Lab after they found themselves in the midst of a bloom during a Bering Sea research cruise. The impact of the bloom on commercial fisheries has not yet been determined, they said.

Oil Spilled at Valdez Marine Terminal

A faulty check valve at Alyeska Pipeline Service Co.’s Valdez Marine Terminal is believed to be the culprit in a crude oil spill at Valdez, Alaska, on September 21, which has proven larger than anticipated.

An updated report from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC) on September 26 noted that ADEC was continuing to monitor response actions and work with the US Coast Guard and Alyeska on waste management and decontamination plans. Early indicators show that oily water in the oil loading system may have drained through the berth firewater system during a pressure test, the agency said.

Response to the spill, estimated at up to 100 gallons of crude oil, continued around the clock, with Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. reporting by September 23 that crews in the field had recovered an estimated 400 gallons of an oily water mix.

Response teams had deployed more than 23,000 feet of boom, and more than 25 vessels were on the water responding, as of September 23. There were no reports of wildlife being impacted by the spill.

Meanwhile, ADEC and the U.S. Coast Guard, along with the Ship Escort/Response Vessel System were scrambling to clean up an oil sheen in the terminal area.

The sheen was noted shortly before noon on September 21 and by midnight booming was completed in two sensitive areas of the Port of Valdez, the Solomon Gulch Hatchery and Valdez Duck Flats, said Kate Dugin, Alyeska’s spokeswoman. There were no reports that the sheen had reached either area, but they were boomed because they are both considered to be environmentally sensitive, she said.

“We recognize and share the public’s concerns and are activating all available resources, including pre-staged equipment around Port Valdez, to respond to the incident and protect the environment and surrounding community,” Alyeska said in a statement. The Valdez Star skimmed the north of the Valdez Marine Terminal with five vessels, pulling some 1,700 feet of absorbent boom, and wildlife personnel were on the water, equipped to respond, the company said.

On March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez oil spill occurred in Prince William Sound when the Exxon Valdez, an oil tanker owned by Exxon Shipping Co., struck Bligh Reef shortly after midnight, spilling 10.8 million gallons of crude oil. The incident is considered one of the most devastating environmental disasters ever caused by people and resulted in efforts to assure prevention of further spills and to have emergency responders in place in the event of any other spills.

Ferry System Budget Issues On Tap for Alaska Special Legislative Session

A budget issue critical to the commercial fishing industry, the future of the Alaska Marine Highway System (AHMS), is on tap for discussion during a special session of the Alaska Legislature beginning on October 23.

At issue is a budget oversight that could leave the marine highway without sufficient funds to operate next spring, but it will be corrected, says Alaska Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak.

The ferry system is crucial to Stevens’ legislative district, which includes Kodiak, Homer and Cordova, as well as the commercial seafood industry and tourism in Alaska.

A 2016 economic report from Juneau’s McDowell Group notes that AMHS provides essential transport for passengers, their vehicles and freight, including fresh seafood and other products critical to businesses operating in Alaska.

“A number of seafood companies rely on AMHS for shipment of fresh seafood,” the McDowell report read. “The ferry offers an essential alternative to air freight, which can be prohibitively expensive, have insufficient capacity and lack proper refrigeration. Having a ferry option lowers transportation costs, allowing seafood processors to pay local fishermen more for their product,” the report concluded.

Commercial harvesters also use the ferry to transport nets, line, equipment and other supplies from the Kenai Peninsula, Anchorage, Mat-Su Valley and other locations to Cordova.

The budget shortfall for the ferry system came to light in September when legislative leaders were advised that AMHS would run out of money in early April of 2018.

Brian Fechter, an analyst with the Alaska Office of Management and Budget, said it was due to a bad timing situation, as legislators were struggling to pass a budget to avoid a government shutdown.

Every year legislators pass a budget bill to approve spending for the upcoming fiscal year. Knowing unforeseen events, including emergencies, may arise they add an allotment to cover those costs. That allotment comes from Alaska’s savings account, the Constitutional Budget Reserve. Last year legislators approved an allotment of $100 million, which was much lower than in previous years, and included covering the state’s commitment to Medicaid expansion. Also, there was no way of knowing what would be appropriate for the ferry system in the capital budget, so AMHS funding, which was to be $30 million, was cut down to $7 million. “Everything was moving so fast,” Fechter said. “By the time the bill was sent to the governor we were days before a government shutdown, and there was no time to review the situation.”

Stevens said it’s a situation that needs correcting and legislators will do their best to get funds back to continue smooth operating of AMHS.

Coalition Urges Investigation into BC Mines

A coalition of conservation groups and Alaska Native tribal governments are asking Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross to investigate six hard rock mines in British Columbia and their anticipated impact on salmon-rich transboundary watershed.

The coalition petitioned Ross on September 26 to join the Interior Department and other federal agencies in bringing the issue before the International Joint Commission, the governing body of the Boundary Waters Treaty between the two countries.

The coalition’s concern is that development of these six British Columbia mines will adversely impact the salmon-rich transboundary watersheds of the Taku, Stikine and Unuk rivers, which flow across the Canadian border into Alaska. The salmon are critical for sustenance to wildlife, as well as to thousands of people who harvest and process these fish commercially, for sport and subsistence. While not among the signers of the petition, Dale Kelly, executive director of the Alaska Trollers Association, said that ATA shares their concerns and has worked alongside some of those signers for years.

The petition was submitted on behalf of the signers by the Alaska regional office of EarthJustice under the Pelly Amendment to the Fishermen’s Protective Act of 1967, a federal law enacted in 1971. The aim of the Pelly Amendment itself was to boost the effectiveness of international programs for the conservation of threatened and endangered species.

The petition analyzes the mine projects and their potential impacts on watersheds and invokes the shared duty of the federal agencies to investigate when foreign nationals may be diminishing the effectiveness of U.S. conservation treaties.

The conservation and tribal entities contend that the transboundary watersheds are endangered by the development of metals mines in British Columbia. Listed in the petition are the Tulsequah Chief, Red Chris, Schaft Creek, Galore Creek, Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell and Brucejack mines. All six mines involve large-scale infrastructure development and generate large quantities of tailings and mine wastes, and require water treatment in perpetuity.

The petition is posted online at

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Alaska’s Salmon Harvest Reaches 216.5 Million

In the final weeks of Alaska’s summer salmon fishing season, with the yield estimated at 216.5 million fish, the harvest just keeps on coming. In the second week of September alone, fishermen delivered 2.4 million salmon, mostly coho and late running keta, the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute said in a September 18 market update report produced by the McDowell Group in Juneau.

Late sockeye runs are producing more fish for processors in Southeast Alaska, while the Bristol Bay harvest is being hailed as one for the history books. The total inshore run is the second largest in 20 years and the preliminary value, $214 million, is nearly double the 20-year average. Bristol Bay sockeye averaged 5.5 pounds this season, below the long-term average of 5.9 pounds, but similar to recent years, according to the report.

The statewide catch to date of 136 million pink salmon compares to a forecast of 142 million fish and 190.6 million humpies harvested in 2015, while the sockeye harvest of more than 52 million fish far exceeds the nearly 41 million reds estimate, and is slightly lower than the 52.9 million reds caught in 2016. The pink salmon catch is down by 26 percent from the last odd year harvest of 2015, while the sockeye yield is down just 2 percent from last year.

The coho harvest, still underway, stands at 4.5 million, nearing the predicted 4.7 million silvers and already exceeds the 2016 harvest of 3.9 million fish by 36 percent. The keta harvest, also still ongoing, stands at 23.5 million fish, far above the 16.7 million forecast and up 54 percent over last year’s 16 million fish intake. The keta harvest for Alaska’s Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim region – mostly the Lower Yukon – has come in to date with 1.7 million fish, up from the 2016 1.4 million fish, although below the 2017 forecast of 2.7 million.

Resolution Designates September as Alaska Wild Salmon Month

A resolution recognizing the contributions of Alaska’s wild salmon industry to the health and economy of the nation, and saluting September as “Alaska Wild Salmon Month” has passed the U.S. Senate.

The resolution, by Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, highlights a sustainable commercial fishery that contributes more than 38,000 jobs and nearly $2 billion annual labor income to the nation’s economy. The commercial catch of wild salmon in Alaska represents about half of the wild salmon caught worldwide. The sport fishing sector of salmon harvests in Alaska, by comparison, generates $500 million in economic output.

The resolution also recognizes that wild salmon returning to streams and rearing young in Alaska waters are the basis for one of the state’s most valuable and important industries.

“This bountiful resource has helped sustain our entire state for thousands of years,” Murkowski said.

“Alaska’s fisheries remain the most abundant and sustainably managed in the nation. Educating others about the strength of our fisheries, and the efforts to ensure that our wild stocks remain strong and healthy is so important.”

Panel Will Explore Potential for Building Alaska’s Blue Economy

A panel discussion on building Alaska’s blue economy is among dozens of sessions offered tomorrow, Thursday, at the Oceans ’17 conference in Anchorage, Alaska, hosted by the Marine Technology Society and the IEEE Oceanic Engineering Society.

The application and commercialization of technology in marine science and oceanography is one of the fastest growing sectors of the global blue economy. Panelists will explore the challenges and opportunities for building Alaska’s blue economy.

The session, beginning at 1:30 p.m., will be chaired by Joel Cladoulos, director of the Alaska Ocean Cluster Initiative, and moderated by Bradley Moran, dean of the College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The Alaska Ocean Cluster Initiative, a program of the Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association, is looking at opportunities for development of feasible ocean related products and services to be produced in Alaska.

There are more than 50 blue economy initiatives going on right now worldwide, but to date only five percent of oceans have been explored, Cladoulos said. “Right now we know more about the surface of the moon than the sea floor,” he said.

Panel members include Michael B. Jones, president of the Maritime Alliance; Molly McCammon, executive director of the Alaska Ocean Observing System; Rear Admiral Jonathan W. White, US Navy retired, president of the Consortium for Ocean Leadership; and Al Eisian, chief operating officer and founder of IntelinAir. Inc.

The theme of the international gathering, being held for the first time in Alaska, is “Our Harsh and Fragile Ocean,” or “How to protect the fragile from the harsh with application of modern technology and traditional knowledge working together.”

Also on the agenda is another panel, scheduled at the same time, on unmanned air systems for maritime operations. Panelists in this session will discuss the challenges, opportunities and potential synergies of new unmanned air system capabilities that will allow concepts of operation, which could have not been imagined before and will post new organizational and legal challenges.

The conference complete list of speakers and a schedule showing all technical discussions, is posted online at

NOAA Seeks Comment on Reducing Paperwork

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has published in the Federal Register a notice seeking comment on proposed information collection related to individual fishing quotas for Pacific halibut and sablefish in Alaska fisheries. The deadline for comments is November 20, 2017.

It is all part of NOAA’s continuing effort to reduce paperwork, as required by the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995.

The individual fishing quota program was established to improve the long-term productivity of the Pacific halibut and sablefish fisheries by promoting conservation and management. The Individual Fishing Quotas (IFQ) program includes provisions such as ownership caps and vessel use caps that protect small harvesters and processors and others who could be adversely affected by excessive consolidation. Other restrictions of the IFQ program prevent the halibut and sablefish fisheries from domination by large boats or by a specific vessel class.

Now NOAA is inviting comment on whether the proposed collection of information related to these fisheries is necessary for the performance of the agency. NOAA wants the public’s opinion on the accuracy of the agency’s estimate of the burden of the proposed collection of information, and ways to enhance the quality, utility and clarity of information to be collected, as well as ways to minimize the burden of collecting information on respondents, including through the use of automated collection techniques or other forms of information technology.

Complete information is online at

(The link, above, is correct. Apparently NOAA is reducing word use as well. –Ed)

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

NPFMC Offers Review Documents Prior to Meeting

In advance of its autumn meeting at the Anchorage Hilton Hotel, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) has posted online, at, documents that are available for review prior to the meeting.

Included are a discussion paper on abundance-based management for Bering Sea and Aleutian Island Pacific halibut prohibited species catch limits, and a draft of a regulatory impact review related to charter halibut permit annual renewal.

Major issues on the October agenda include final specifications for six stocks of Bering Sea and Aleutian Island crab, initial reviews of the charter halibut annual permit registration and mixing of guided and unguided halibut, and a review of the 2018 observer program annual deployment plan.

The agenda and meeting schedule are complete and posted on the website.

The deadline for written comments is September 26, and they should be emailed to

All council meetings are open to the public, except for executive sessions. The council meeting will be broadcast at Motions will be posted following the meeting.

Failed Net Pen Now Disposed

Washington State’s Department of Fish and Wildlife says that Cooke Aquaculture crews working with salvage and waste removal contractors have disposed of the final three stock nets from a failed net pen that released some 305,000 Atlantic salmon into waters of the San Juan Islands.

The nets were offloaded directly into waste disposal trucks, covered with a roll-top tarp and taken to a waste transfer station.

The company’s final count on fish removed from the damaged structure was 145,851, including 5,166 fish that were harvested before the major damage occurred on August 20. Cooke crews captured 388 escaped Atlantic salmon using beach seines under an emergency permit issued by the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

State officials said daily water quality sampling showed no irregularities compared with ambient samples taken up and downstream from the site.

Tribal, commercial and recreational harvesters who recapture any Atlantic salmon from the site are being asked to voluntarily report catch numbers and locations online at

An investigation into the incident is continuing.

SeaShare Offers Food Aid to Hurricane Victims

SeaShare, the Bainbridge Island, Washington, based non-profit dedicated to providing seafood to food banks, pantries, and shelters across America, has delivered thousands of pounds of Pollock and salmon to a Houston, Texas, food bank in the wake of hurricane damage.

Deliveries to the Houston food bank in mid-September include 30,000 pounds of Pollock portions donated by Trident Seafoods, and 36,000 pounds of salmon steaks from Unisea, confirmed Kate Tomkins, development director for SeaShare.

Jim Harmon, executive director of SeaShare, said that his organization has also received an additional 180,000 pounds of catfish from Harvest Select, some of which will probably go to feed victims of hurricanes Harvey and/or Irma, with the rest to backfill food banks sending food to other food banks in hurricane stricken areas.

SeaShare is now seeking more seafood donations and monetary contributions to help provide seafood to hurricane victims.

“Freight, cold storage and food bank partners are lined up and ready to receive these donations,” Harmon said. “Generous seafood companies have already pledged more than 100,000 pounds of salmon, Pollock and catfish, but the need is great and will continue for months head,” he said.

In the wake of hurricane Katrina in 2005, SeaShare sent 525,000 pounds of seafood to Louisiana and Texas. More information is online at or contact Harmon at

UN Forecasts Fish Production Rise

Global fish production is expected to grow by 1.1 percent in 2017, in line with the long-term trend, according to the biannual report on global food markets by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Stagnating capture fisheries production continues to contrast with an aquaculture sector that is growing consistently at four to five percent annually, the report said. The contrast between the lack of growth in traded volumes over the last three years and the steady increase in total production, points to strong growth in the domestic market demand of major seafood producing countries, particularly in the developing world.

The impact on supply due to El Nino, disease and an algal bloom in Chile in 2016 saw prices rise for various species, with the FAO fish price index rising 10 points over the year.

This year, the forecast for production increases, for a number of species, is likely to exert downward pressure on seafood prices across multiple markets and commodity categories, the UN entity said.

On the demand side, seafood trade in the United Kingdom and the United States could be negatively affected by the UK’s impending exit from the European Union and the policy decisions of the current U.S. administration, the FAO report said. More broadly, early indications in 2017 suggest that political uncertainty in multiple world regions is suppressing growth in international seafood trade, with the total annual value of seafood trade expected to decline by one percent in U.S. dollar terms.

The complete report is available online at

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Recovery of Escaped Atlantic Salmon
Reaches 145,101 Fish

Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife officials say that 145,101 of the Atlantic salmon that escaped with failure of a net pen in the San Juan Islands owned by Cooke Aquaculture have been recovered, and more fish are being counted.

Current estimates are that the incident released upwards of 165,000 of some 305,000 fish.

An investigation into what caused the net pen failure is continuing.

The unified incident command also noted that Cooke Aquaculture crews are continuing to deconstruct damaged net pen array two, with outside walkways removed from two of the pens, as well as one half and one full outrigger.

All ten stock nets have now been taken out and all fish left on site have been recovered, along with four anchors, including chain and rope. Structures removed from the wreckage are being staged for lifting by the crane barge. All rope and netting must be discarded and the pieces split into 40-foot lengths, state officials said.

Water quality samples are being conducted on a daily basis and have shown no adverse effects.

Meanwhile tribal, commercial and recreational harvesters are continuing to recapture fish that escaped the enclosure, and the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife is collecting data on those catches.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists noted that Atlantic salmon, which are not native to the Pacific Ocean, could potentially compete with native salmon and trout for spawning and rearing habitat and/or introduce pathogens.

Wild Fish Conservancy Northwest meanwhile has served a 60-day notice of intent to file a citizen suit against Cooke Aquaculture under the Clean Water Act. The conservancy said that the net pen failure resulted in the discharge of the farmed salmon, dead fish carcasses and massive amounts of debris, among other pollutants. These discharges represent blatantly negligent violations of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits under which Cooke Aquaculture’s Atlantic salmon net pens currently operate.

Harvesters Asked to Help Stem
Alaska’s Opioid Epidemic

Fishing vessel owners are being asked to help combat the opioid epidemic sweeping the country, as families, businesses and communities struggle to cope with the devastating effects of opioid misuse, heroin abuse and addiction disorders.

With heroin and opioid addiction issues reaching epic proportions in the state, Alaska Commissioner of Public Safety Walt Monegan sent letters to commercial fishing vessel owners operating in Alaska in August asking them to be vigilant in preventing opioid abuse and distribution.

It is in the best interest of every vessel owner, crew, their families and all Alaskans for the commercial fishing fleet to be free of opioid abuse, Monegan said. “All Alaskans have the right to work and live in safe and healthy environments, and it is time to reverse the destructive impact opioid abuse has had on our state, so I am reaching out to you to ask that you do your part to ensure that Alaska’s fishing crews are safe from the impact of opioid abuse.”

“We’re not singling out the fishing industry,” said Alaska Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten. “There are some really alarming statistics about overdose in Alaska,” he added. From 2009 through 2015, the number of heroin deaths throughout Alaska more than quadrupled, Cotten explained. That’s 50 percent higher than the national rate.

In the letter to vessel owners, Cotton said that “the fishing industry is only one of the industries in Alaska that may be affected by the opioid epidemic.

“The impacts of this epidemic affect fishing families, fishing communities and the safety of our men and women at sea,” he said. “Please help your crew be aware of the risks involved, including the risks to the lives of their fellow crewmen and the potential financial losses to the owners of the business.”

Gov. Bill Walker has decided to declare a public health crisis, and most people agree that this is not some small concern, Cotten said. “The governor has organized a cabinet team to deal with this issue and actually comes to all the meetings. We suggested this one outreach method, the letter.

Cotten and Bill Comer, deputy commissioner of public safety, said the focus of the letter was to encourage boat owners and fishermen to be vigilant about opioid abuse. The response to date has been good, they said. Cotton added he has heard personally from people in small fishing communities concerned about young people caught up in drugs, and how the issue is affecting family fishing businesses, where parents want to pass on their permits to their children.

In addition to stemming the tide of opioid use, the state hopes to get all people who are addicted to opioids into treatment.

For additional information on preventing opioid dependence, reducing addiction by recognizing and treating it, and saving lives by using the spray Naloxone go online to

SeaShare Delivers 15,000 Pounds of Halibut
to Nome, Kotzebue

SeaShare partnered with harvesters, processors, the U.S. Coast Guard, Norton Sound Economic Development Corp. in Nome, and Maniilaq Association, in Kotzebue, to deliver 15,000 pounds of donated halibut to people in western and northwest Alaska in August.

This is the fifth year that SeaShare, based on Bainbridge Island, Wash., has donated seafood to communities in remote communities in this area of Alaska.

Ocean Beauty Seafoods processed the halibut donated by fishermen in Kodiak. The U.S. Coast Guard’s Air Station Kodiak provided transport on their C-130 plane, and NSEDC and Maniilaq Association, a non-profit providing health and social services in Northwest Alaska, are coordinating the donation to people struggling with hunger in their communities.

Ocean Beauty Seafoods’ plant manager James Turner said it was “just the right thing to do. This helps communities in Alaska, especially the outer lying areas of Alaska.” SeaShare is the only non-profit in the United States dedicated to bringing seafood to food banks. The organization donated over 185,000 pounds of high protein seafood throughout Alaska last year, and 30,000 pounds went to remote villages in Western Alaska.

Founded in 1994 to help the seafood industry donate to hunger relief efforts across the country, the non-profit has to date provided over 216 million servings to food banks across the nation.

October 6 Deadline Set for Alaska Symphony of Seafood Entries

Entries are due by October 6 for the 25th annual Alaska Symphony of Seafood competition, with gala events set for November in Seattle, Wash. and February in Juneau, Alaska.

The Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation announced on September 5 that entries would be accepted in the retail, food service, beyond the plate and beyond the egg categories, with the last two reserved for products made with seafood byproducts or roe.

All entries must be market ready and already in commercial production.

Each entry will be evaluated by a panel of judges, based on packaging and presentation, overall eating experience, price and potential for commercial success.

Prizes for first, second and third place are to be awarded in each category, along with a grand prize winner and People’s Choice award winners in both locations.

First place winners will get complimentary booth space and free airfare to and from the Seafood Expo North America in Boston, March 11-13, 2018, the industry’s biggest domestic event of the year.They will also be entered into new products competition held during the expo.

Judging and open house events are scheduled for November 15 in Seattle and tentatively for February 27 in Juneau, where the Juneau Legislative Reception will be co-hosted by United Fishermen of Alaska.

All entry information is available online at

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