Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Alaska APOC Wrestles with New Salmon Initiative Allocation

With just weeks to go before the Nov. 6 general election, opponents of an Alaska ballot initiative to create a new regulatory system to manage fish habitat are filing a new complaint alleging violations by backers of the initiative.

The complaint filed by Stand for Alaska Vote No on 1 with the Alaska Public Offices Commission (APOC) alleges that several groups campaigning in support of the initiative have violated state campaign finance laws and regulations by not disclosing the source of their funding.

The allegations target three environmental groups, including The Alaska Center. According to the complaint these groups “failed to report the true source of the dark money they have received from Lower 48 non-profit entities that are used to launder large outside donations into respondents’ campaign in support of Ballot Measure 1.”

The APOC held a special hearing on Sept. 25 that lasted for several hours. A final decision is expected on Oct. 3.

Stand for Alaska Vote No on 1, whose campaign resources total more than $9 million, counts among its financial supporters the oil and gas and mining industries, including backers of the Pebble mine.

Yes for Salmon’s campaign funds amount to about $1 million, including in-kind contributions from conservation and environmental groups.

The new complain comes on the heels of an APOC decision just a week earlier to fine Stand for Alaska $1,925 for violating a rule that requires an organization contesting an initiative to clearly state its opposition to the initiative in its name.

Stand for Alaska Vote No on 1 started out as simply “Stand for Alaska.”

Harvest of Sockeye, Chum and Silvers Slowing

The season may be slowing, but the fish are still running. Slightly more than 150,000 salmon were harvested in Alaska last week, including 70,000 keta, 60,000 coho and 20,000 sockeyes. That’s according to Garrett Evridge of the McDowell Group in Juneau, Alaska, who prepares the weekly salmon harvest updates for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.

The year-to-date harvest of about 17.4 million keta salmon is 28 percent lower than 2017’s pace but similar to the five-year average.

Coho harvests of about 3.4 million, is a third lower than 2017 and 29 percent below the five-year average, with only a week or two of silver salmon fishing remaining.

A minimal number of pink or Chinook salmon were harvested in Alaska last week.

Evridge said that few additional sockeye are expected to be harvested this year.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s (ADF&G) preliminary summary for Bristol Bay describes this year’s harvest as the largest on record, measured by value and size of the return.

All this brought the 2018 preliminary Alaska commercial salmon harvest as of Sept. 25 up to 110,643,000 wild salmon delivered to processors, including more than 50 million sockeyes, nearly 40 million humpies, more than 17 million chum, 3.4 million silver and 223,000 kings.

On a regional basis, those preliminary ADF&G catch totals include over 75 million salmon in the central region, including Bristol Bay, Cook Inlet and Prince William Sound; 18.5 million fish for Southeast Alaska; nearly 15 million for the Westward region, including Kodiak, the Aleutians and Alaska Peninsula; and 2.3 million salmon for the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim region.

Proposal to Privatize Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council

The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council has received a proposal urging that after nearly three decades of efforts to restore environment damaged by a massive oil spill in Prince William Sound that the council switch from government to private non-profit status.

Establishing an EVOS Restoration Foundation would remove conflict of interest issues of government agencies funding themselves, says marine conservationist Rick Steiner of Oasis Earth, an environmental consulting entity in Anchorage, Alaska. Steiner was a marine conservation professor with the University of Alaska stationed in Cordova at the time of the spill.

The move to a private non-profit is necessary to refocus primarily on restoring the injured environment, Steiner said in a letter to the council this past week. He acknowledges some notable successes, such as the habitat protection program, but says agencies tend to look at the EVOS process in terms of what they consider may be in their immediate self-interest, rather than how to best assist environmental recovery.

Steiner also notes that all six of the council’s trustees have full time government jobs and simply can’t focus on EVOC restoration with the effort it demands.

The current trustees including Alaska Commissioner of Fish and Game Sam Cotten, Alaska Commissioner of Environmental Conservation Larry Hartig, Alaska Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth, NOAA Regional administrator for Alaska Jim Balsiger, Chugach National Forest Supervisor Terri Marceron, and Steve Wackowski, senior advisor for Alaska Affairs to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

Elise Hsieh, executive director of the council, acknowledged that the council had received Steiner’s proposal, but did not say when it might be considered by the council, whose next meeting is set for Oct. 17 in Anchorage.

NPFMC, AK Board of Fisheries Plan Joint Meeting

Federal fisheries officials have announced an upcoming meeting of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council with the Alaska Board of Fisheries on Oct. 17 in Anchorage, Alaska, to discuss issues of joint concern, including salmon fishery management in Cook Inlet.

Also up for discussion will be a status report on Southeast Chinook salmon management, the status of Pacific cod stocks, an overview of total allowable catch allocation and federal management of Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands cod, an update on the council initiative of BSAI cod fishery participation, an update on council action of Aleutian Islands cod community and shoreside processor protections, an overview of state management of Pacific cod fisheries, and a review of state-managed Pacific cod proposals.

Public comment letters should be sent either electronically to the council’s executive director, David Witherell, at or mailed to North Pacific Fishery Management Council 605 W. 4th Ave., Suite 306, Anchorage, AK 99501-2252.

The agenda is subject to change. The latest version is posted at

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Project will Help Keep Whales from Depredating Longline Gear

Longline harvesters in Southeast Alaska are embarked on development of a new user-friendly tool to detect sperm whales and avoid depredation on longline gear.

The Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association (ALFA) was awarded a one-year, $245,000 grant from the NOAA Bycatch Reduction and Engineering Program to adapt towed array hydrophone systems that can spot whales up to eight miles away and then share this information between a network of fishermen.

The project is an interdisciplinary collaboration of fishermen, NOAA fishery managers, university-based biologists and hydrophone equipment developers building on prior work by the Southeast Alaska Sperm Whale Avoidance Network (SEASWAP) during a 2016 pilot study.

There are three stages to this project. The first involves use of 2016 field data to improve automated detection/localization functions, improve the user interface, incorporate automated real time sharing of whale detection data to allow avoidance and upgrade existing SEASWAP hydrophone hardware. Phase two will focus on field testing the upgraded software/hardware on commercial fishing vessels, before incorporating the systems into ALFA’s whale avoidance network.

“Sperm whale depredation on longline gear poses an economic challenge to fishermen and complicates stock assessment for fisheries managers,” said Linda Behnken, executive director of ALFA. “Fishermen need tools to avoid whale depredation and this support from NOAA’s BREP will allow us to create fishermen- and whale-friendly tools.”

ALFA Research Director Dan Falvey noted that ALFA’s goal is to provide harvesters with an effective means of detecting sperm whalers before setting gear, to facilitate sharing that information with a network of fishermen and assist the fleet with avoiding sperm whale depredation. “With support from the NOAA Bycatch Reduction and Engineering Program, we hope to turn research oriented towed array hydrophone systems into a plug and play tool for the longline fleet,” he said.

Pacific Salmon Commission Reaches New Coastwide Agreement

A new 10-year harvest agreement between the United States and Canada has been reached at the Pacific Salmon Commission.

Under the new Pacific Salmon Treaty every participating jurisdiction accepted a reduction in harvest, unlike recent treaties in which Alaska bore the bulk of the burden. According to the terms of the new agreement, Alaska sustains a 7.5 percent reduction, compared with 12.5 percent cut back for Canada, and diminutions ranging from 5 to 15 percent for Oregon and Washington. The agreement is now under legal review by the respective ministry in Canada and the US State Department, prior to ratification.

The treaty covers salmon fisheries on transboundary waterways flowing to Southeast Alaska, northern British Columbia, Washington and Oregon. Separate negotiations are currently underway for the Fraser River while talks for the Yukon River take place only when both countries agree that there is a need for them.

“For the first time since the treaty was originally negotiated in 1985, Alaska’s diverse treaty team unanimously approved the final deal,” said Pacific Salmon Commissioner and Alaska Department of Fish and Game Deputy Director Charles Swanton. “It speaks volumes that salmon subsistence users, seafood industry leaders, commercial fishermen, and recreational representatives all ended up endorsing this deal,” said Swanton.

As a result of this agreement, harvests will increase proportionally when abundance increases. New accountability provisions advocated by the 59-member Alaska treaty team enact limits on fish available for harvest relative to how many salmon return that year.

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker said that the agreement would protect the health and sustainability of salmon stocks and guarantee Alaska’s ability to directly manage its fisheries without federal interference. Walker met with fishing groups opposed to this treaty and took their message to a meeting with the Secretary of Commerce to explore the option of a one-year delay, but that did not prove feasible.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said she support the terms of the agreement and would continue to push for robust funding to sustain its implementation and support necessary mitigation to ensure that all parties meet their treaty obligations.

Alaska Wild Salmon Season Draws to a Close

Commercial harvests of wild salmon for 2018 in Alaska are nearing an end, with about 500,000 salmon harvested in the past week, putting the overall preliminary harvest total at 110,450,000 fish. That total accounts for upwards of 50 million sockeyes, 39 million pinks, 17 million chums, 3.3 million cohos and 223,000 kings.

Fisheries economist Garrett Evridge of the McDowell Group in Juneau, Alaska, says in his latest weekly report to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute that Alaska’s 2018 pink salmon harvest is about six percent above 2016 levels, but well below the 2018 forecast of about 70 million humpies.

In the wake of two strong weeks of keta harvest, production in that fishery has slowed, with the past week yielding some 120,000 fish. The year-to-date keta numbers are about one third lower than 2017 and 13 percent below the five-year average, Evridge wrote.

Year-to-date coho harvests are 33 percent lower than a year ago, with only two more weeks of production remaining. Few Chinooks have been caught in recent weeks, and year-to-date production is now seven percent lower than a year ago. In sockeye fisheries, the last week’s addition of 113,000 salmon brought the red salmon harvest over the 50 million fish mark.

ADF&G’s Hartill Will Join American Seafoods

Trent Hartill, federal fisheries coordinator for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G), will join American Seafoods Company in Seattle, Wash., in late October as the company’s vice president of fisheries and sustainability.

The veteran ADF&G biologist said that his new role will be tracking legislative and regulatory developments in state and federal bodies.

Hartill has been with the state agency for a decade, predominantly with the extended jurisdiction section. His responsibilities have also included serving as an alternate for ADF&G Commissioner Sam Cotten at meetings of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. Earlier, he was a management biologist for groundfish and shellfish at Kodiak and Dutch Harbor, and prior to that a management biologist for salmon and herring on the Alaska Peninsula.

NFWF Offers $1.5 Million in Fishing for Energy Grants

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) has awarded seven new grants totaling $1.5 million on behalf of Fishing for Energy partners Covanta Energy Corp. and the NOAA Marine Debris Program. The goal is to provide free solutions for fishermen to dispose of old, derelict or unusable fishing gear and reduce the presence of such gear in and around coastal waterways. Three of the seven recipients have Pacific Northwest ties.

The grants include $140,568 to the College of William and Mary, Virginia Institute of Marine Science for a Dungeness crab trap biodegradable hinge escape mechanism. The project aims at reducing ecological and economic impacts associated with lost gear in coastal Washington and Alaska. The group will incorporate this innovative mechanism into crab traps, to test an effective, inexpensive mechanism to disarm derelict traps.

Another $174,913 was awarded to Natural Resources Consultants to remove up to 30 derelict gillnets from marine waters in Puget Sound, Washington. The project will clear areas of historically high concentrations of derelict nets to protect critical habitats for listed species, including Chinook salmon, bocaccio rockfish, yellow-eye rockfish and marbled murrelet.

A third grant of $213,627 was awarded to Island Trails Network of Kodiak, Alaska, to remove derelict fishing gear from prioritized locations in the Kodiak archipelago to reduce entanglement and mortality of whales, Stellar sea lions and other marine mammals, and to make more people aware of the impact of entangling debris.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Salmon Hatcheries Back on Agenda for Alaska Board of Fisheries

The Alaska Board of Fisheries will revisit salmon hatchery issues on October 16 following the conclusion of their scheduled October 15 work session at the Egan Convention Center in Anchorage, Alaska. The meeting will include reports by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, followed by a town hall style public forum moderated by the board with open public participation.

The fisheries board announced the timing of that special session on September 11. The regular work session will address agenda change requests (ACR).

Among the 11 ACRs to be considered are two that would cap hatchery production. The first, from the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, proposes to prohibit Valdez Fisheries Development Association from incubating, rearing and releasing pink salmon resulting from additional egg take capacity permitted during 2018 and cap egg take capacity.

The second is from former fisheries board member Virgil Umphenour, now chairman of the Fairbanks Fish and Game Advisory Committee. The Umphenour ACR would cap statewide private non-profit salmon hatchery egg take capacity.

A complete list of ACRs is available online at fisheries board will hold a joint protocol meeting with the North Pacific Fishery Management Council on October 17 to discuss several ideas. The list includes the status of the council’s fisheries management plan development for Cook Inlet salmon in federal waters, the status of state management of Chinook salmon in Southeast Alaska, and Bering Sea Pacific cod abundance and management issues. Live audio streaming of the meetings can be found at

Ocean Cleanup Test Run Underway

The Ocean Cleanup, a Dutch non-profit organization, has launched the world’s first ocean cleanup system. It will complete a two-week test run in the Pacific Ocean of the coast off California before continuing toward floating plastic debris in the Pacific Gyre between California and Hawaii.

Boyan Slat, founder and chief executive officer of The Ocean Cleanup, said that the launch of the equipment is an important milestone, but that the real celebration will come once the first plastic returned to shore. “For 60 years, mankind has been putting plastic into the oceans; from that day onwards, we’re taking it back out again,” he said.

Officials with Ocean Cleanup say their cleanup system, System 001, consists of a 600-meter-long U-shaped floating barrier with a 10-foot skirt designed to be propelled by wind and waves, allowing it to passively catch and concentrate plastic debris in front of it, like a giant Pac-Man. The debris will be funneled to the center of the system, moving slightly faster than the plastic trash.

According to the organization officials this will be the first time free-floating plastic will be successfully collected at sea. Upon returned to land, The Ocean Cleanup plans to recycle the materials into products and use the proceeds to help fund the cleanup operations.

Ocean Cleanup officials say they anticipate that the first plastic will be collected and returned to land within six months of the deployment. While the main objective is to prove the technology and start the cleanup, the secondary goal is to collect performance data to improve the design for future deployments. To that effect, the system is currently equipped with solar-powered and satellite-connected sensors, cameras and navigation lights to communicate its position to passing marine traffic and allow for extensive monitoring of the system itself and the environment.

Keta Catches Push Alaska’s YTD Salmon Harvest Above 110M

A commercial harvest boost of some two million more salmon, mostly keta, last week in Alaska has pushed the year-to-date harvest to more than 110 million fish, says Garrett Evridge, economist for the McDowell Groups in Juneau, Alaska.

Preliminary harvest figures posted daily by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game put the total catch as of September 11 at 111,729,000 fish. That total includes more than 50 million sockeyes, of which in excess of 41 million came from Bristol Bay. The pink salmon harvest of 39.5 million fish includes 23.8 million from Prince William Sound. Ten million of the nearly 19 million keta salmon caught statewide came from Southeast Alaska fishing communities.

Evridge notes in his weekly update to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute that pink salmon production slowed last week with the addition of 390,000 fish, putting the year-to-date volume just under 40 million fish, six percent above 2016 numbers.

Keta salmon harvests have bumped up significantly over the past two weeks due to Southeast Alaska’s Crawfish Inlet production of three million fish. Statewide year-to-date keta volume is 21 percent below the 2017 pace and seven percent above the five-year average. Add to that 280,000 coho harvested last week, with about three more weeks of fishing expected, the year-to-date harvest is about a quarter below the five-year average.

Chinook production meanwhile was nearly equal to 2017 levels and 170,000 sockeyes were harvested last week primarily in Kodiak.

Effort Intensifies to Recycle Old Commercial Fishing Nets into New Products

A research scientist intent on helping the seafood industry responsibly dispose of old fish nets, preferably by recycling them into ingredients for or actual new products, met this past week in Anchorage, Alaska, with an eclectic group offering a variety of potential uses for tons of discarded nets.

“Key to success in this program is to see these old nets as raw material for new products” says former fisheries observer Nicole Baker, who now works with fisheries professors at the University of Washington.

Baker held her Alaska Net Hack Challenge last weekend in Anchorage – with a simultaneous event in Kodiak – at Anchorage Makerspace, a non-profit facility that provides everything from 3D printers and a professional laser cutter to electronics and woodworking equipment. The group, which included engineers and a federal fisheries analyst, designed and produced a variety of basic product samples ranging from stiff bristle deck brushes to filament for 3D printers, to display boards, backpacks and soccer goal nets. They also discussed how the nets could be used to create emergency shelters and cots for use in disaster areas.

Baker collaborated with Joe Cladouhos, director of the Anchorage-based Alaska Ocean Cluster initiative, and others including representatives from NOAA and a private equity fund. Cladouhos is also the founder and organizer for the Ocean Technology Innovation Sprint, or OTIS, developed in conjunction with the Alaska Ocean Cluster Initiative, Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association and the University of Alaska’s Business Enterprise Institute.

Baker’s passion for net recycling stems from her days as fisheries observer traveling in and out of Dutch Harbor where she saw piles of discarded nets weighing thousands of pounds. Through her collaborative efforts in the industry some of those nets were shipped out last summer to Europe for processing into materials to make new products.

The next step will be to work on design details and determine which products could become economically viable.

Alaska Symphony of Seafood Seeks Product for Competition

Plans are shaping up for the 26th annual Alaska Symphony of Seafood. The call went out this week from Wrangell, in Southeast Alaska, for new value-added product competitors to enter either of four categories: retail, food service, beyond the plate and beyond the egg.

Judging and open house events are slated for Seattle, Washington on November 14 and in Juneau, Alaska, in mid-February.

First place winners and Seattle People’s Choice will be announced at the Pacific Marine Expo in Seattle, which runs from November 18 -20. The overall grand prize, second and third place winners in each category and the Juneau People’s Choice winner will be divulged at the Juneau Legislative reception, which will be co-hosted by the United Fishermen of Alaska. First place winners will receive complimentary booth space and free airfare to participate in Seafood Expo North America in Boston in March.

“A significant portion of the value and health benefits in any fishery resource is found in the byproducts and roe,” said Julie Decker, executive director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, which organizes the symphony competition.

Products are evaluated based on their packaging, presentation, overall eating experience, price and potential for commercial success.

Entry forms and fees are due by October 19.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Secretary of State Makes Two Appointments to IPHC

NOAA Fisheries has announced two alternate commissioner appointments for the United States to the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC): Bob Alverson, long-time manager of the Fishing Vessel Owners Association in Seattle, Wash., and Richard Yamada, of Auke Bay, Alaska, president of the Alaska Charter Association. Their terms run through January 31, 2019.

Alverson, who was reappointed, has served on the IPHC since 2014 filling in the commission seat reserved for a Washington resident. The Fishing Vessel Owners Association is a trade association formed in December of 1914 to represent halibut boat owners involved in longline fishing in the North Pacific who harvest halibut, sablefish, Pacific cod, rockfish and turbot.

Yamada, who will serve in the seat reserved for an Alaska resident, has been involved in recreational fishing in Alaska for over three decades as a business owner and recreational fishing advocate. He came to Alaska from Hawaii in 1972 as a Russian linguist in the US Air Force. In 1982 he opened Shelter Lodge in Juneau. He also served for five years as chairman of the board of United Anglers of Alaska. He replaces Linda Behnken, executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association who occupied the seat on an interim basis.

Final Scoping Report on Pebble Mine Released

The US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) on August 31 released its final scoping report for the environmental impact statement (EIS) on the proposed Pebble mine, a massive copper, gold and molybdenum project that would be built in Southwest Alaska.

Having produced the report, the USACE now begins developing the draft environmental impact statement, which should be released in January 2019. That release will be followed by another public comment period, with the final EIS anticipated to be out in late 2019, according to the corps.

The report has drawn criticism from Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay and United Tribes of Bristol Bay. In a statement released on September 4, Mike Friccero, of Kodiak, Alaska, a representative for Bristol Bay Commercial Fishermen and president of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, points out that based on the corps’ scoping report it is clear that “this administration has no interest in conducting an honest review of the impacts that the Pebble mine would have on Bristol Bay’s salmon and the people who depend on it. If they did, then they would not have produced such a cursory report that omits thousands of comments, including that of expert scientists and commercial fishermen.”

“The scoping report is just the latest example of how the US Army Corps of Engineers is steamrolling local communities and streamlining Pebble’s incomplete application at unprecedented speeds, despite the science being crystal clear that this type of mine is too destructive for the headwaters of the last great sockeye salmon fishery in the world, which produced a record-breaking return of more than 62 million sockeye this year,” said Robert Heyano, president of UTBB, a tribal consortium representing 15 Bristol Bay tribal governments, which comprise over 80 percent of the region’s population.

Bristol Bay fishermen had asked that the analysis consider the socioeconomic impacts for their communities in Alaska, California, Oregon, Washington and other states, as the fishery draws harvesters nationwide. There is no mention of this analysis in either the fishery impacts or socioeconomic sections.

“Residents of lower Bristol Bay and the Alaska Peninsula communities had also asked the USACE to consider the downstream impacts, both to the fishery resource and the fishery economy, but these comments are not mentioned in either the fishery impacts or socioeconomic impacts sections of the report,” Heyano added.

The complete scoping report and further details about the corps’ timeline on related work can be viewed online at

Comment Now on Federal Funds for 2016 Pink Salmon Disaster Fund

The state of Alaska is seeking public comment on how to distribute $56.3 million in federal funds allocated to those impacted by the 2016 Prince William Sound fish salmon fisheries disaster.

The money is part of the $200 million in disaster relief allocated by the Secretary of Commerce in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018. Fisheries in Washington, California, the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean will also share in the overall fund.

Harvesters, processors and people impacted have until September 18 to tell state officials how they think the money should be allocated.

The state has developed a draft distribution plan for the funds administered through the Pacific States Marine Commission, in consultation with the Alaska regional office of NOAA. It calls for portions of the money to go to fishery participants, processors, municipalities as well as research. Now the state wants to hear from impacted users and user groups.

To view the proposed distribution plan and enter public comments go to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game website at

Fish Oil Supplement in Pregnancy Linked to Increase in Lean and Bone Mass

A study published in The BMJ concludes that fish oil supplements given in the later stages of pregnancy are associated with a higher body mass index in children in the first six years of life.

The article notes that prior studies in animals have shown that supplementing the diet with fish oil during pregnancy affects the development of fat cells. Human trials, however, have shown that pregnant women with a higher intake of fish oil give birth to higher birth weight infants, but the impact of these children in later life has been unclear.

A team of researchers based in Denmark and the United Kingdom examined the effect of fish oil supplements during the pregnancies of women on the growth and body composition of children later in life. They found in measuring height, weight, head and waist measurements 11 times from birth to age six that those given the fish oil supplements sustained higher body mass index during that period.

Researchers concluded that the body composition at age six in children given fish oil supplements was characterized by a proportional increase in lean, bone and fat mass suggesting a general growth stimulating effect.

The BMJ, previously known as the British Medical Journal, is one of the world’s oldest general medical journals. The study can be viewed online at

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