Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Deadline Approaches for IPHC Meeting

All documents for the upcoming annual meeting of the International Pacific Halibut Commission in Victoria, British Columbia – including regulatory proposals, working papers and agency reports – must be received by Dec. 29 in order to be discussed at the meeting. Any documents received after the deadline will be considered for informational purposes only, the IPHC said.

A number of documents are already posted online at, including a proposal from the IPHC Secretariat that the overall commercial fishing period for all IPHC regulatory areas be fixed from March 15 to Oct. 31. Fixing the season, the IPHC said, will allow the IPHC Secretariat to more effectively monitor and manage the fishery.

For Regulatory Area 2A, the IPHC Secretariat proposes fishing periods for the non-tribal directed commercial fishery either five-days or 10-days but suggests that any version of a longer fishing period, from two to 10 days, would be preferable to the 10-hour derby fishing period in current use. The IPHC said this change should be made now, in the interest of safety and within the current management structure of the fishery, ahead of and apart from any consideration of extensive modifications to management of this derby fishery. Reasons for longer fishing periods, according to the proposal, include safety, reduced regulatory discards, and flexibility for harvesters and processors.

The meeting will take place Jan. 28 through Feb. 1, 2019. All open sessions will be webcast, and webcast sessions will take audience comments and questions as directed by the commission chairman.

Registration for either in-person or webinar attendance is available online at

Higher Carbon Levels May Threaten Salmon’s Sense of Smell

New research from the University of Washington and NOAA Fisheries shows that the sense of smell critical to survival of salmon may be in trouble as carbon rises in the ocean.

Salmon depend on their sense of smell to avoid predators, sniff out prey and find their way home to natal streams to spawn and die at the end of their lives.

Researchers from UW and NOAA Fisheries’ Northwest Fisheries Science Center note that ocean acidification is changing the chemistry of ocean water. Higher levels of carbon dioxide in the water can affect the ways in which coho salmon process and respond to smells.

The study, published online in December in the Global Change Biology journal, is the first to show that ocean acidification affects the sense of smell of coho salmon. Researchers said the study also takes a more comprehensive approach than earlier work with marine fish by looking at where in the sensory-neural system the ability to smell erodes, and how that loss of smell changes their behavior.

Lead author Chase Williams, a postdoctoral researcher in the UW Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, said that “salmon are potentially facing a one-two punch from exposure to pollutants and the added burden of rising CO2. These have implications for the long-term survival of our salmon.”

Researchers said that Puget Sound’s waters are expected to absorb more CO2 as atmospheric carbon dioxide increases, contributing to ocean acidification. Their tests involved a series of behavioral and neural test to see whether the fishes’ sense of smell was affected in laboratory tanks with three different pH levels.

Sunken Tender Faces Disposal

The 71-foot fishing tender Nordic Viking, which sank at the T-dock in Seward, Alaska, is now destined for final disposal.

A spokesperson for the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation said Dec. 21 that the fishing tender had been lifted and dewatered by Global Diving and Salvage and would be disposed of by Raibow Fiberglass and Boat Repair of Seward. Alaska Chadux Corp. meanwhile was continuing to monitor deployed boom for any new signs of contamination and was to remove the boom once it is determined that there is no further risk of contamination.

The cause of the sinking remains unknown.

Alaska DEC officials said that no hazards to wildlife had been reported.

The Nordic Viking’s hull tanks had capacity for 2,500 gallons of fuel, but the US Coast Guard said that Larry March, the vessel owner, estimated some 700 gallons were in the tanks at the time of the sinking.

The sinking of the vessel was reported to DEC by Seward Harbormaster Norm Regis, who discovered the sunken tender while he was on a routine walk around the harbor.

Rebuilding Efforts Can Lead to Lasting Fisheries Conservation

A new scientific study has found that conserving renewable resources like fish can be self-perpetuating once started, but when conservation is not in place, the opposite is true.

The Rutgers University-led study examined a global database that includes maximum sustainable yield and harvest rate data for 217 fisheries that harvest most of the catch in the developed world, managed by 21 national and international institutions, from 1961 to 2009.

They found that modern efforts to rebuild fish stocks, such as the 1996 and 2006 revisions to the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act, made conservation more likely, and that such rebuilding efforts can lead to lasting conservation.

The study, published in mid-December in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, looked at why conservation succeeds or fails in a world where overfishing has intensified for half a century.

“Our results challenge the conventional expectation that the collapse of fast-growing resources is unlikely, but they also offer hope that conservation is much easier to continue once we start,” said Edward W. Tekwa, who works in the lab of senior author Malin Pinsky. Pinsky, a Rutgers associate professor, oversees a laboratory focused on advancing global understanding of marine populations and communities in a rapidly changing environment.

The research suggests that short, intensive harvest-reduction efforts, such as recovery mandates, can spur conservation that is self-perpetuating, but that achieving conservation rather than overfishing will hinge on harnessing existing policy tools to navigate transitions.

For depleted resources to become conserved resources, institutions often need to implement fast, controlled management campaigns that reduce harvest rates below the largest sustainable catch over the long run, the study said.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Alaska Still Leads in Volume and Value of Commercial Landings

NOAA Fisheries’ latest Fisheries of the United States annual national report shows that nationwide commercial harvesters landed 9.9 billion pounds of seafood valued at $5.4 billion in 2017.

Alaska is ranked first in the nation for volume and value of its commercial landings, while for the 21st consecutive year, Dutch Harbor led the nation as the port with the highest volume of seafood landed with a total of 769 million pounds valued at $173 million. Alaska Pollock made up 91.6 percent of the volume and 47.9 percent of the value. Snow crab and king crab accounted for an additional 33.5 percent of the value of Dutch Harbor landings and 1.8 percent of the volume.

Harvesters in Alaska waters brought in 6 billion pounds of seafood, valued at $1.8 billion.

Louisiana ranked second by volume, at 890.6 million pounds, and fourth by value with $354.3 million. Washington State came in third at 665.9 million pounds and fifth in value at $313.7 million.

Virginia, with 344 million pounds of seafood delivered, was fourth in volume and Mississippi, at 311 million pounds, placed fifth by volume. Massachusetts, with deliveries worth $605.3 million, came second for value, followed by Maine, at $511.3 million.

The report notes that to meet consumer demand the US continues to be a major importer of seafood, with between 85 and 95 percent of seafood consumed being imported, as measured by edible weight. While there has been an increase in imported seafood in recent years, the report also notes that a significant portion of that seafood was caught by American fishermen, exported overseas for processing and reimported into the US for consumption.

The report further indicates that the US aquaculture industry, both marine and freshwater, continues to boost production, with the top marine aquaculture species being oysters, clams and Atlantic salmon.

Alaska, Washington, Oregon and California in Top 20 for Landings and Values

Seven ports from Alaska, two from Oregon and one from Washington ranked among the top 20 ports in the nation for commercial seafood landings in the latest Fisheries of the United States 2017 report authored by NOAA Fisheries.

Dutch Harbor was first in the nation, with 769 million pounds of seafood delivered–down from 770 million pounds a year earlier–followed by the Aleutian Islands ports with 552 million, up from 508 million pounds. The other top Alaska area ports by volume were Kodiak, 530 million pounds, up from 417 million pounds; the Alaska Peninsula, at 268 million pounds, up from 243 million; Naknek, 187 million pounds, up from 170 million; Cordova, 99 million pounds, up from 35 million; Sitka, 91 million pounds, up from 56 million; Ketchikan, 77 million pounds, up from 65 million; and Petersburg, 65 million pounds, up from 41 million pounds the year before. Oregon ports included Astoria at 151 million pounds, up from 94 million; and Newport with 112 million pounds, up from 77 million; while Westport, Washington saw delivery of 150 million pounds up from 108 million pounds.

In addition, eight Alaska ports, and one from Washington ranked among the nation’s top 20 ports for the value of commercial seafood deliveries.

New Bedford, Massachusetts, held fast as the top port for value of seafood deliveries, at $390 million, up from $327 million a year earlier.

Dutch Harbor deliveries brought in $173 million, down from $198 million. Other Alaska ports in the top 20 nationally for value were Naknek, $544 million, up from $108 million; Kodiak, $152 million, up from $107 million; the Alaska Peninsula, $112 million, up from $85 million; Aleutian Islands, $106 million, up from $105 million; Sitka, $75 million, up from $55 million; Cordova, $65 million, up from $38 million; Bristol Bay, $64 million, down from $76 million; and Seward, $60 million, up from $42 million. Deliveries to Westport, Washington had a total value of $64 million, up from $59 million a year ago.

Offshore Arctic Drilling Challenged in Federal Court

Trump administration approval of the first offshore oil drilling development in federal waters in the Arctic is being challenged in the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals.

The litigation was filed on Dec. 17 by environmental law firm Earthjustice on behalf of five conservation groups. The appeal contends that artificial drilling island and underwater pipeline for Hilcorp Alaska’s Liberty presents a risk of spills in the Beaufort Sea and threatens polar bears and Arctic communities. As climate change continues, research has shown that more fish species are moving north. The Liberty project involves construction of a nine-acre island with a 24-acre footprint in about 20 feet of water and a 5.6-mile pipeline under Arctic waters to transport the oil to pipelines onshore.

Kristen Monsell of the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the five plaintiffs represented by Earthjustice, said the conservation groups have a right to petition the appeals court for a review under provisions of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, which provides guidelines for implementing an OCS oil and gas exploration and development program.

“Liberty is the bad step down a very dangerous path,” Monsell said. “An oil spill in the Arctic would be impossible to clean up in a region already stressed by climate change.”

Construction of the Liberty project has already been delayed by a lack of stable shoreline sea ice in the rapidly warming Arctic region. Federal officials noted this month that the past five years have been the warmest on record.

Concerns about Hilcorp’s track record rose last year when the company’s underwater gas pipeline in Alaska’s Cook Inlet leaked for nearly four months while Hilcorp said the presence of sea ice prevented its repair, and earlier this month a Hilcorp contract oil worker died in a North Slope accident.

Hilcorp officials were not immediately available for comment.

Parties to the appeal, in addition to the Center for Biological Diversity, are Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Defenders of Wildlife and Pacific Environment.

The plaintiffs already have a scheduling order from the appeals court. Opening briefs are due in March and all briefing will conclude at the beginning of May. The court will hear arguments and should take a few months to rule.

Groundfish Fisheries for P-cod and Pollock Opening Soon in PWS

The parallel Pacific cod season for Alaska’s Prince William Sound ends at midnight Dec. 31 for pot gear and state-waters seasons for longline and jig gear, with the parallel P-cod season then immediately opening to pot, jig and longline gear.

State biologists are reminding harvesters to land all fish caught in the 2018 fishery with 24 hours following the closure and before beginning the 2019 season. The Prince William Sound parallel P-cod season closures for jig and pot gear coincide with their respective closures in the adjacent federal Central Gulf of Alaska regulatory area. The Prince William Sound parallel season closure for longline gear meanwhile coincides with the federal closure of the less than 50-foot hook-and-line gear sector in the Central Gulf of Alaska.

Prince William Sound parallel P-cod season registration must be completed with Alaska Department of Fish and Game officials prior to beginning that fishery. Participants using pot or longline gear in parallel P-cod fisheries must also have a functioning National Marine Fisheries Service approved vessel monitoring system and adhere to federal seabird avoidance measures.

Also coming up for Prince William Sound groundfish harvesters is the start of the directed walleye Pollock fisheries for pelagic trawl gear scheduled to open at noon on Jan. 20 The registration deadline for that fishery is 5 p.m. on Jan. 14. Registration for the Prince William Sound Pollock pelagic trawl fishery will be issued only to those who have a 2019 miscellaneous saltwater finfish permit card for trawl gear. Those permit card applications are available from ADF&G offices, online at, or from the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission at 1-907-589-6160.

The available harvest is set at approximately 900,000 pounds.

ADF&G will be soliciting bids for a test fishery, which funds research in Prince William Sound, prior to the start of the season.

All Pollock caught during the Pollock pelagic trawl fishery must be brought on board the vessel and retained, even if this results in a trip limit overage, state officials said. Excess Pollock above the trip limit must be weighed and reported as a trip limit overage on an ADF&G fish ticket.

Once the allowable harvest limit within each section is attained, the directed trawl fishery within that section will be closed by emergency order.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

NPFMC Adopts Fishery Ecosystem Plan

Federal fisheries managers, in a move to provide sustainable fisheries in an area impacted by dramatic climate shifts, have adopted a new fishery ecosystem plan for Bering Sea fisheries.

The action taken by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council at its December meeting in Anchorage is intended to be the beginning of a process of using the plan framework and its action modules to maintain this rich ecosystem by incorporating local knowledge and traditional knowledge into management plans. In adopting the new ecosystem plan on Dec. 7, the council tasked its Bering Sea fishery ecosystem plan team with prioritizing work plans for two action modules.

The first would evaluate short- and long-term effects of climate change on fish and fisheries and develop management considerations. The second is to develop protocols for using local knowledge and traditional knowledge in management and understanding impacts of council decisions on subsistence.

The council also tasked the team with developing work plans for three other action modules and to come back for council review of those plans at a later date. These include gap analysis of Bering Sea management with ecosystem-based fishery management best practices, creation of a series of interdisciplinary conceptual models for the Bering Sea ecosystem and aligning and tracking council priorities with research funding opportunities.

The council’s advisory panel and scientific and statistical committee said in their reports to the council that they favored moving forward with the plan, but the SSC did express concern that plan authors underestimated the resources that would be needed to fully implement the plan.

The nonprofit organization Ocean Conservancy, whose work is directed at keeping oceans healthy, applauded the council’s action.

“It provides a path forward to improve understanding and to guide the management changes needed to ensure that fisheries management continues to be sustainable in the face of these (climate) changes, said. Becca Robbins Gisclair, Ocean Conservancy’s senior director for Arctic programs. “Sustainable fisheries are vital to Alaska’s economy, culture and way of life and the incredibly productive Bering Sea ecosystem produces more than half of Alaska’s seafood,” Gisclair said. “It supports large and small-scale fisheries, local, state and national economies, and coastal and indigenous communities.”

The fisheries ecosystem plan will also enhance the council’s ability to manage sustainably in changing conditions by identifying ecosystem objectives and improving understanding of ecosystem processes, she said.

Pollock and Cod TAC Announced

Decisions reached during the December meeting of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in Anchorage will give groundfish harvesters in the Bering Sea a larger allowable catch of Alaska Pollock and less Pacific cod. In the Gulf of Alaska, meanwhile, the total allowable catch for both Alaska Pollock and Pacific cod is down from the 2018 TAC for the coming year.

The Alaska Pollock TAC for the Eastern Bering Sea was set at 1,397 metric tons, up from 1,364 million metric tons in 2018, while staying at 19,000 metric tons for the Aleutian Islands and dropping from 450 metric tons to 75 metric tons in the Bogoslof. The Pacific cod TAC for the Bering Sea meanwhile dropped from 188,136 metric tons to 181,000 metric tons, and in the Aleutian Islands slid from 15,695 metric tons to 14,214 metric tons.

The Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands Arrowtooth flounder TAC went from 13,621 metric tons to 8,000 metric tons. For Atka mackerel I the BSAI the TAC dropped from 71,000 metric tons to 68,500 metric tons, but the Pacific Ocean perch TAC for the BSAI rose from 37,361 metric tons to 44,069 metric tons.

In the Gulf of Alaska, the Alaska Pollock TAC fell from 166,228 metric tons to 141,227 metric tons and the Pacific cod TAC went from 13,096 metric tons to 12,368 metric tons. The Arrowtooth flounder TAC meanwhile rose from 76,300 metric tons to 99,295 metric tons.

NPFMC Recommends Halibut Charter Numbers

Federal fisheries managers have approved a two-fish daily bag limit of halibut for clients of the charter boat industry in Southcentral Alaska, with one halibut of any size and a maximum size of one of the two fish being 28 inches. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council also set a one charter vessel fishing trip per day limit charter halibut permit per boat and a four-fish annual limit for clients, and closed Wednesday all year for the charter halibut fishery in area 3A. That fishery will continue to include a requirement to record retained halibut on the back of the license or harvest record card as an enforcement mechanism for the annual limit.

For Area 2C in Southeast Alaska, the council recommended a one fish per day bag limit. The council also recommended that if the allocation is above or below 0.81 million pounds to adjust the lower limit of the reverse slot limit up or down to keep the projected harvest within the allocation.

The council’s recommendations will now be given to the International Pacific Halibut Commission in advance of its January meeting.

The IPHC’s own 2017 fishery-independent setline survey in December 2017 showed that halibut stocks declined continuously from the late 1990s to around 2010 due to decreasing size-at-age, as well as somewhat weaker recruitment strengths than those observed in the 1980s. The 2018 fishery-independent setline survey showed a second consecutive year of decrease, down seven percent from 2017.

ADF&G Concerned About the Next Generation

Alaska’s new acting director of the state’s Department of Fish and Game says that assuring the future of the state’s fisheries industry by attracting more young people to it will be one of his priorities. Doug Vincent-Lang, who is coming out of retirement to take the temporary post, said he has also put in his paperwork to be considered for the permanent job by the state’s Joint Boards of Fish and Game, which will consider all applicants and make its recommendations to Gov. Mike Dunleavy.

Vincent Lang, a veteran of more than three decades with ADF&G, has a biology degree from the University of Wisconsin -Green Bay and a master’s degree in biological oceanography from the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

In the heated politics that preceded the general election in November, Vincent-Lang was one of several former state fisheries officials who came out against ballot measure one, which would have strengthened state regulations on permitting of resource development projects, including mining. He said he felt that the state already has a vibrant permitting system. Dunleavy also opposed the ballot measure, which failed in the general election.

Vincent-Lang retired after losing his ADF&G post during the administration of Gov. Bill Walker, but said he was now eager to come out of retirement as commissioner.

He said the state needs to be sure that youngsters growing up in Alaska understand the value of fishing and hunting to the state and that he hopes with the help of educators that many young people will learn much about opportunities and consider careers in fisheries. He also said he wants to find ways to protect small boat fisheries and processors.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Coast Guard Reauthorization Signed into Law

Coast Guard reauthorization legislation that passed the US Senate on Nov. 14 and was unanimously approved in the US House on Nov. 27, was signed into law on Dec. 4 by President Trump.

Passage is expected to bring welcomed relief to shipyard workers in Washington state and owners and operators of small commercial fishing vessels in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere across the nation’s commercial fisheries locations.

Sen. Dan Sullivan R-Alaska, co-author of the bill, noted that the new law includes a focus on the Coast Guard’s recapitalization efforts, positioning of Coast Guard assets to respond in the Arctic, addresses ice breaking capabilities and more. The new law will help the men and women of the Coast Guard with their mission to protect national security and U.S. citizens when they are in trouble on the seas.

“This bill is a step towards further developing our presence in the Arctic and will help us engage more deeply in activities in the north, providing an opportunity for increased development in the region,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who voted for the bill.

“I’m particularly pleased that this bill will permanently exempt Alaskans from the EPA incidental discharge regulation, providing much needed protection for our fishermen and coastal communities.” In past years, harvesters in Alaska had more than 8,000 boats statewide risks fines for rinsing fish guts off their decks, or rainwater washing other materials off. This bill “finally resolves this issue off their decks” she said.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, earlier hailed the bill as “finally a win for Dakota Creek and the hardworking men and women who build fishing, Navy and other vessels in our state.” The huge package deal includes legislation protecting shipbuilding jobs at Dakota Creek Industries in Anacortes, Washington.

Co-sponsors of the bill in the Senate included Senators Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski, both R-Alaska, John Thune, R-SD, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, and Bill Nelson, D-Florida.

Opposition Voiced Against Net Pens

Fishing industry groups and several dozen individual harvesters are calling on Congress to oppose any attempts to legitimize open net pen finfish aquaculture in the upcoming congressional session. They contend in a letter sent to members of both houses on Dec. 4 that this type of fish farming will have long term impacts on their industry.

“The letter was signed by over 130 harvesters and industry groups from Washington State, California, Oregon, Alaska, Louisiana, New York, North Carolina, Maine, Massachusetts, and Maryland, including the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations and Institute for Fisheries Resources.

“We are concerned about the economic burdens that aquaculture, an emerging industry, poses to our long-established industry, America’s oldest,” they wrote. “Marine finfish aquaculture facilities aim to produce large amounts of fish at the lowest cost possible, which places downward pressure on seafood prices, harming our wild capture seafood markets. Flooding the market with cheap, low quality farmed seafood reduces the price that consumers are willing to pay for wild and sustainable seafood products, which directly impacts our well-being as sustainable seafood producers and the overall coastal economy,” they said.

The letter was also critical of industrial ocean fish farming resulting in farmed fish escapes that can adversely impact wild stocks. “The culture of non-native fish brings attendant risks of introduction and invasion, while interbreeding of escaped aquaculture fish with wild stocks – a substantiated risk even with limiting cultivated species to ‘virtually’ sterile or all-female native stocks – can lead to the modification and dilution of wild stocks’ genetic integrity,” they said.

The letter also voiced concern over marine pollution caused by excess feed, untreated fish waste, antibiotics, and antifoulants. “Such pollution alters the surrounding ecosystem and harms wild stocks,” signers said.

Sitka Sound 2019 Herring GHL Set at 12,869 tons

The guideline harvest level (GHL) for the 2019 Sitka Sound sac roe herring harvest has been set at 12,869 tons. Alaska Department of Fish and Game officials said the forecast is based on a 20 percent harvest rate of the forecasted mature biomass of 62,343 tons. The 2019 forecast is a boost from the 55,637 tons seen in 2018, but less than the 2016 and 2017 forecasts of 74,707 and 73,245 tons respectively. The figure represents a nine percent increase from the model estimate of 2018 mature pre-fishery biomass of 59,257 tons.

This past year the Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery, which shut down early, fell 8,330 tons short of the GHL. It was the fourth time in six years that the fishery closed before meeting the quota because aerial surveys did not spot herring schools of marketable size.

State biologists said results of the spawn deposition survey showed that while spawn mileage was about half that of 2017, the spawn extended nearly twice as far offshore, and that egg density was higher. In both 2005 and 2008, a similar situation occurred where the spawn extended far offshore on Kruzof Island due to the very wide shelf of herring spawning habitat. Biologist pointed out that due to exceptional spawn along the Kruzof Island shoreline, the 2018 herring spawning biomass was much higher than was apparent from the spawn mileage alone, highlighting the need to conduct annual spawn deposition surveys.

Eastern Aleutian Tanner Crab Fishery Closed

Eastern Aleutian District commercial fisheries for tanner crab will be closed in 2019, according to a statement released on Dec 4 by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

The season for the Akutan, Makushin/Skan Bay and Unalaska/Kalekta Bay sections normally runs from Jan. 15 through March 31.

Survey abundance estimates of mature male Tanner crab were 39,756 crab for the Akutan section, 250,744 for Makushin/Skan Bay and 251,708 crab for Unalaska/Kalekta Bay.

State biologists said the abundance estimate is below the allowable threshold of 200,000 crab for the Akutan section to open. For the Makushin/Skan section, the abundance estimate was above the threshold of 45,000 crab required for a fishery opening, but due to the high exploitation rate on legal males necessary to meet the minimum regulatory guideline harvest level of 35,000 pounds, that section would remain closed. The same hold true for the Unalaska/Kalekta Bay section which saw abundance survey numbers above the 65,000-crab threshold.

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