Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Alaska’s Wild Salmon Harvest Tops 60M in July

Commercial harvests of wild salmon in Alaska rose by more than 10 million fish between July 17 and July 22, bringing the total preliminary catch estimate to 60,530,000 fish.

That included nearly 43 million sockeyes, 9.1 million chums, roughly 8 million pink, 356,000 silver and 179 Chinooks, according to estimates by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

The harvest surge brought more sockeyes quickly into retail markets in the Pacific Northwest, including some areas that just weeks earlier were offering only refreshed fillets from the 2017 harvest.

Seattle’s Pike Place Fish Market had wild Alaska sockeye fillets for $17.99 a pound. Whole sockeyes for $54.99 apiece, and quarter pound Copper River salmon burgers for $4.99. Costco stores in Anchorage offered wild Alaska sockeye fillets for $9.99 a pound, which was the same price as Safeway’s weekly special for shoppers with the store card, while at Fred Meyers the sockeye fillets were $12.99 a pound.

Anchorage seafood specialists 10th & M Seafoods was advertising online its wild Alaska sockeye steaks for $7.95 a pound and wild king salmon fillets at $23.95 a pound. Online Anchorage retailer FishEx was offering wild Alaska king fillets for $59.95 a pound and $29.95 a pound for wild sockeye fillets. FishEx’s Yukon king fillets were $89.95 a pound and Copper River king fillets were $79.95 a pound, but they were sold out on July 22.

In Bristol Bay, where processors were paying $1.25 a pound for sockeyes, not including bonuses, the harvest in the Nushagak district led all others with an estimated harvest of 24.6 million salmon, including 23.4 million reds, 1.2 million chums and 35,000 Chinooks. The Naknek-Kvichak district saw over 7 million salmon, all sockeyes except for about 1,000 kings. Harvesters in the Egegik district brought in 4.7 million reds, while in the Ugashik district the catch included 2.1 million sockeyes and 1,000 kings.

Processors in the Alaska Peninsula received more than 4 million salmon through July 22, and Prince William Sound processors handled over 11 million salmon. In Southeast Alaska deliveries included over 3 million fish while some 1.3 million were received in Cook Inlet.

On the Lower Yukon the harvest climbed to 465,000 keta salmon and 36,000 humpies. The Lower Yukon River districts transitioned to the fall season management on July 16, with the run of chums projected to be 700,000 to 900,000 fish. Jack Schultheis of Kwik’Pak Fisheries, with processing facilities in Emmonak, said that small boat fishery was going well.

Coast Guard Cutter Healy Deploys to the Arctic Ocean

The Coast Guard Cutter Healy has begun a four-month deployment to the Arctic Ocean to conduct several science research missions.

Coast Guard officials in Seattle, Washington, said Healy’s first mission will be for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to increase understanding of biological processes along Alaska’s Continental Shelf. The second mission, sponsored by the Office of Naval Research, will focus on understanding how upper-level ocean stratification and sea ice in the Beaufort Sea is responding to inflow and surface forcing changes.

The goal of the Stratified Ocean Dynamics of the Arctic project is to raise understanding by deploying subsurface moorings and specialized on-ice instruments to observe the fluctuations across an annual cycle.

Healy’s final mission, sponsored by the National Science Foundation, will examine the effects of the Pacific water inflow into the Arctic and its associated boundary current on the ecosystem. This study is part of a multi-year effort that combines shipboard measurements taken in the spring and fall with measurements from a subsea mooring deployed in the center of the boundary current.

Healy is a premiere high-latitude research vessel and one of the only US military surface vessels that deploys to and can operate in the ice-covered waters of the Arctic. In addition to the research mission, the crew of the Healy can also conduct search and rescue operations, ship escorts, environmental protection and enforcement of laws and treaties in the polar regions. Homeported in Seattle, the 420-foot long vessel provides access and presence throughout the Arctic region to protect national maritime borders and to safeguard the maritime economy.

US Army Corps of Engineers to Offer Update on Pebble Project EIS

Officials with the US Army Corps of Engineers are planning a teleconference in Anchorage, Alaska, on Thursday, July 26 to provide an update on their work on the Pebble project environmental impact statement (EIS).

Meanwhile, groups opposed to the development of the controversial plan to mine copper, gold and molybdenum in the Bristol Bay watershed area have raised new concerns related to proposed infrastructure mine developers are hoping to get permitted.

The Pebble Limited Partnership plan includes development of a port near Amakdedori Creek, which drains into Kamishak Bay on the western shore of Cook Inlet, some 190 miles southwest of Anchorage, for ships to transport ore from the mine to foreign smelting facilities. That ort site would include shore-based and marine facilities to ship concentrate, freight and fuel for the project. Other port facilities would include fuel storage and transfer facilities, power generation and distribution facilities, maintenance facilities, employee accommodations and offices.

Tribal groups from the Bristol Bay region have written to the Alaska Department of Natural Resources to voice concerns that geotechnical drilling at the site would put at risk graves, cultural resources and important subsistence fishing sites.

Salmonfest Weekend Starts August 3

Salmonfest, the three-day weekend music festival aimed at entertaining and educating participants about the importance of salmon habitat, begins August 3 at Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula Fairgrounds in Ninilchik, Alaska.

The event, which attracts several thousand visitors, emphasizes the connection of all Alaskans to the salmon and waters that provide a sustainable food resource for the commercial, sport, personal use and subsistence harvesters. It began several years ago as Salmonstock, to educate the public about potential adverse environmental impacts of building the proposed Pebble mine in Southwest Alaska adjacent to the Bristol Bay watershed. Its goal is to educate more people about the need to protect and promote the abundant habitat that are spawning grounds and a transportation route for wild salmon.

Salmonfest is also recognized as a family-friendly occasion to enjoy music by nationally known and Alaska bands playing on four stages. This year’s headliners include Grammy winner Brandi Carlile, an American folk rock and Americana singer-songwriter from Ravensdale, Washington. Other popular bands on tap include Michael Franti and Spearhead, Fruition, Front Country, Gasoline Lollipops and Great American Taxi.

Many environmental entities participate in the annual event, with booths to share information on fisheries related issues.

Visit for the complete schedule, ticket prices, volunteer opportunities, and more.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Alaska Commercial Salmon Harvests Near 50 Million Fish

Commercial fish harvesters delivered nearly 50 million salmon to processors through July 17, including an estimated 36 million sockeyes, more than eight million chums, in excess of five million humpies, 261,000 silvers and 158,000 Chinooks. Harvest figures are compiled daily by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

The largest harvests, more than 42 million fish, are coming in from Bristol Bay and Prince William Sound in the state’s central region. Bristol Bay’s Nushagak District so far has produced some 22.5 million salmon, including more than 21 million sockeyes, over a million chums and 35,000 king salmon. The sockeye harvest has been well above forecast, and state fisheries biologists confirmed that a new record is being set every day. The Nushagak’s Wood River Special Harvest Area is open and transfer time has been waived, with the total run and harvest in record territory.

Prince William Sound fisheries have captured 8.3 million salmon, including some four million pinks, three million chums and more than one million sockeyes, with the bulk of those humpies from the Prince William Sound general seine fishery.

Kodiak harvesters have delivered an estimated 841,000 salmon, mostly sockeyes and chums. Biologists noted that as of July 12 the sockeye harvest was approximately 287,000 fish, compared to a typical July 12 cumulative harvest of 900,000 to 950,000 reds.

On the Lower Yukon, some 420,000 keta salmon and 35,000 pinks were delivered to processors through July 17. Jack Schultheis of Kwik’Pak Fisheries, with processing facilities in Emmonak, said that small boat fishery is going well. “We had to stay on dip nets until July 4 because of king (salmon) conservation claims by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, which caused us to lose a lot of production,” he explained. “But the run has been good, the markets (are) good and demand (is) stronger than last year. Some of that is driven by the high price of sockeyes, but the ongoing tariff war hasn’t affected Kwik’Pak, which sells fish into the European Union but not to China, he noted.

Fisheries Board Decision Gives Go-Ahead for Increase in Hatchery Humpies

In an emergency meeting in Anchorage, Alaska on July 17, the Alaska Board of Fisheries, in a 4-3 vote, declined to reverse an earlier decision allowing for an increase of 20 million pink salmon eggs for the Solomon Gulch Hatchery near Valdez.

The meeting was called to discuss several proposals, including one brought by the Kenai River Sportfishing Association (KRSA) to stop the Valdez Fishery Development Association from raising its take and incubation of eggs. The action was opposed by commercial fishermen, who were also critical of the timing of the emergency meeting when most harvesters who would be affected were out fishing.

In a commentary about the issue published in The Cordova Times, President Jerry McCune of Cordova District Fishermen United, called upon all stakeholders, to “band together to support sensible habitat protection, sustainable management, and continued research. We can’t afford the distraction of quibbling over a time-tested, well-managed, intensely studied program that feeds thousands of Alaska families.”

Marty Weiser, chief development officer for Copper River Seafoods, said the success of Prince William Sound (PWS) is reliant on these hatcheries. “If the science says we are not damaging wild stocks then we should continue to provide the stability to our fishermen and the market that these hatcheries provide.”

The sportfishing association contended in its petition to the board that in some streams across Lower Cook Inlet last year up to 70- percent of the humpies were released from Prince William Sound hatcheries.

“In addition to the straying issues of PWS hatchery-origin pink salmon observed in Lower Cook Inlet, recent scientific publications have provided cause for concern over the biological impacts associated with continued release of very large numbers of hatchery salmon into the North Pacific Ocean, including the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska,” the KRSA petition states.

Hatchery issues are set to be taken up again by the Alaska fisheries board during a work session in Anchorage in October.

Magnuson-Stevens Reauthorization in House Draws Criticism

Passage of Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act reauthorization legislation in the US House is drawing criticism from the Marine Fish Conservation Network.

The legislation, which now moves to the Senate, passed on July 11 as H.R. 200, “Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act of 2017.”

According to Robert C. Vandemark, executive director of the Marine Fish Conservation network, the legislation puts short-term economic gains above the long-term health of US fisheries that commercial fishermen, recreational anglers, seafood consumers, businesses and coastal communities across the US depend upon. The bill undermines “the Magnuson-Stevens Act’s science-based conservation principles that keep oceans and fisheries healthy and productive. By passing H.R. 200, the House put the future of coastal communities and working waterfronts at risk,” he said.

Reauthorization of Magnuson-Stevens legislation “must prioritize and promote community-based recreational and commercial fishing interests, ensure healthy ocean ecosystems and environments, support and strengthen catch accounting and data management, and manage recreational and commercial fisheries for abundance,” he added.

Military Says Planning Has Begun for Northern Edge 2019 War Games

With less than a year to go before the scheduled Exercise Northern Edge 2019 war games in Alaska, military officials confirmed they are planning to host the event in May, but so far declined to confirm exact dates.

The biennial military exercises prompt great concern from Alaska’s coastal fishing communities about the potential adverse impact on their fisheries and the marine environment. Beyond the actual exercises themselves, these communities want the exercises moved to times when they feel the games are less likely to have a potential adverse impact.

Officials from the Eyak Preservation Council in Cordova said they have learned from military sources that the 2019 exercises in the Gulf of Alaska will be held from May 13 through May 24, right when important salmon fisheries are getting underway in Prince William Sound.

“Although planning is still in the early stages and participants and activities have not been determined, the exercise is expected to be similar in size to Northern Edge 2017, which comprised of approximately 6,000 military personnel, 160 aircraft and three ships,” said Air Force Capt. P. Bryant Davis Jr., director of public affairs for Alaskan NORAD Region/Alaskan Command/11th Air Force, in response to an inquiry on the exercise. Davis declined to give exact dates for the exercise, citing operational security considerations.

The exercises involve several thousand troops from the Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, Navy and National Guard who engage in training on land, in the air and at sea over a wide area of Alaska, including the Gulf.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Eligibility Still Undetermined for Pink Salmon Disaster Relief Funds

Federal funds totaling more than $56 million out of some $200 million for fisheries disasters nationwide have been appropriated for those impacted by the 2016 pink salmon disaster in Alaska, but it could be months before it is paid out.

Alaska Rep. Louise Stutues of Kodiak said in a recent update on the relief appropriation that one of her concerns is who will be eligible. “What types of entities will be eligible and how much each category will receive remains unknown,” she told constituents in a recent newspaper column.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has identified shoreside infrastructure as a potential recipient category. Stutes said she is working with the state to ensure that along with the fishermen that processing workers and direct support businesses are afforded the relief that they are entitled to. The legislator said she is in daily communication with the office of Gov. Bill Walker and Alaska Department of Fish and Game to offer input and stay as up-to-date as possible on the timeline and details of those relief funds.

Alaska Commercial Salmon Catch Reaches
29.4 Million Fish

The Nushagak district of Bristol Bay is the hot spot in an Alaska commercial salmon fishing season that is otherwise falling far below last year’s harvests for king, sockeye, chum and pink salmon catches.

Some 698 drift gillnetters were fishing in the Nushagak district on July 10 and Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) officials said they expected that number to rise to 725 boats by July 12.

The harvest in the Nushagak is to date the third highest on record, setting a new single day harvest record of 1.69 million sockeyes, which state biologists expected to be exceeded by July 11. A new record for single day escapement was also set for the Wood River at 1.13 million salmon on July 2, with the Nushagak district marking three straight days of harvests in excess of one million reds.

Preliminary commercial harvest reports compiled by ADF&G show that through July 10 Bristol Bay fishermen delivered nearly 20 million salmon to processors, including 18.9 million sockeyes, 985,000 chums, and 38,000 kings.

Although the Bristol Bay fishery is robust, the overall pace of the statewide fishery is slower than expected. Statewide harvest has reached 29.4 million salmon, with an estimated 22 million reds, over 6 million chums, 1.2 million humpies, 111,000 kings and 51,000 cohos. The forecast calls for 51.6 million sockeyes, 21 million chums, 69.7 million humpies, 4.9 million silvers and 218,000 kings.

A report by the McDowell Group for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute notes that the statewide sockeye harvest is 31 percent below 2017 year-to-date due mainly to weak returns in Prince William Sound, Chignik, and Kodiak, although similar to the five-year average. Statewide keta harvests are about one quarter lower than a year ago, with particularly slow production in Southeast Alaska. Year-to-date pink salmon harvest slow production is anticipated to increase as Prince William Sound and Southeast harvests begin. Some 100,000 kings have been harvested so far in 2018, compared to roughly 180,000 kings by this time a year ago.

Mainly due to slow pink and keta production, the overall year-to-date harvest of Alaska salmon is about one third below that of 2017 and about 40 percent below the adjusted five-year average, the McDowell group noted.

Alaska Board of Fisheries Holds Emergency Meeting on Hatchery Issues

Alaska’s Board of Fishery will meet for several hours in Anchorage, Alaska, on the afternoon of July 17 to take up emergency petitions, including one regarding additional hatchery production in Prince William Sound.

Nine Alaska outdoor sporting groups signed an emergency petition submitted by the Kenai River Sportfishing Association seeking to delay an increase in the number of pink salmon eggs in a Prince William Sound hatchery, citing concerns that the release of millions of additional hatchery-produced humpies threatens the biological integrity of wild stocks of pink salmon in Lower Cook Inlet.

The fisheries board will also consider resolutions and petitions related to sockeye salmon regulations for the Chignik, Kodiak and the Alaska Peninsula management areas, and regulations regarding drift gillnet chum fishing on the Yukon River for the Native villages of Grayling, Anvik, Shageluk and Holy Cross.

The hatchery program has support from Cordova District Fishermen United’s Jerry McCune, who wrote in a recent commentary published in Alaska newspapers that the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) manages the hatchery program to avoid affecting wild stocks. McCune noted that in 2012 ADF&G, in collaboration with other agencies, initiated a multi-year study to map the genetic structure of Prince William Sound salmon stocks, quantify straining rates and collect stream samples over multiple generations. “Once that study is complete, it will provide a never-before-available look into interactions between hatchery salmon and wild stocks,” McCune indicated.

Army Corps of Engineers Urged to Suspend EIS Process of Proposed Mine

The state of Alaska is asking the US Army Corps of Engineers to suspend its environmental impact statement (EIS) process for a massive mine proposed in Southwest Alaska by the Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP).

Their concern, said Gov. Bill Walker and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott in a joint statement, is the potential adverse impact of the mine and related infrastructure on the multi-million-dollar fishery and area wildlife, as well as public access for fish harvesters, hunters, and recreationists.

“The Bristol Bay region is unique,” they wrote. “It supports the largest wild sockeye salmon fishery in the world – supplying almost half of the global wild sockeye and sustaining over 10,000 jobs. For many communities in the region, abundant salmon runs, clean water, and ecologically intact landscapes provide more than a paycheck, they sustain a treasured way of life that has existed for generations.”

Their administration believes the review should not advance now because Pebble has not demonstrated to Alaskans that the proposed mine is feasible and realistic. In their letter to the Corps, Walker and Mallott noted that beyond the mine itself, the PLP’s plan calls for construction and operation of a port and associated infrastructure that has the potential to adversely impact coastal wildlife and marine mammals. Construction, dredging, and port operations are likely to impact shoreline habitats, intertidal and offshore resources, they said.

Tom Collier, chief executive officer of the PLP, disagreed, saying that Walker’s request to suspend the National Environmental Policy Act process nearly mirrored that brought forward by mine opponents. He said the PLP feels its technical and environmental work would meet the state’s standards for development.

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