Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Spending Bill Benefits West Coast Trawlers

A federal spending bill that passed the US House on Dec. 17 is being heralded by a bipartisan group of House members as a major victory for West Coast trawlers.

The provision secured in the legislation would forgive more than $10 million in accrued loan interest forced on the West Coast groundfishing fleet because of mismanagement by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the group said.

The bipartisan group said in a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee on Dec. 9 that NMFS had mishandled implementation of a $36 million buyback program in the wake of the West Coast groundfish fishery economic disaster of 2000. Thirty-six million dollars of that amount was provided in the form of a loan that remaining vessel owners agreed to repay over 30 years based on a percentage fee on ex-vessel revenues.

After the buyback was approved by the fishing industry, NMFS expended $36 million in loan proceeds to retire fishing vessels in late 2003 and interest began accruing on March 1, 2004.

However, the letter said, NMFS failed to implement a repayment system until September 2005 and during that 18-month delay, NMFS prohibited the remaining vessels from making loan repayments, adding $3.8 million in interest from the outset.

This oversight and the resulting compounding interest had led to the remaining vessels owing over $13 million more than they would have owed had repayment started immediately.

The letter was signed by Senators Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.; Patty Murray, D-Wash.; Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.; Ron Wyden, D-Ore.; Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.; and Kamala Harris, D-Calif.; along with Representatives Jared Huffman, D-Calif.; Peter DeFazio, D-Ore.; Greg Walden, R-Ore.; Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash.; Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., and Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore.

The legislation is part of a package expected to be passed by both the House and Senate in the third week of December and signed into law prior to Dec. 20 to avert a government shutdown.

Pebble Told to Halt Use of DOI Insignia

Interior Department officials have identified unauthorized use of the insignia of that federal agency and others in an advertising campaign in support of the proposed Pebble mine and demanded that the Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP) cease such activity.

Lisa A. Kilday of the Interior Department’s Branch of Acquisitions and Intellectual Property advised Tom Collier, chief executive officer of the PLP, in her letter dated Dec. 13 that the company had until Dec. 27 to take action and agree not to use the names and logos of the Interior Department, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, Fish & Wildlife Service or National Park Service.

Kilday also advised that the DOI reserves the right to require that the PLP prominently display a disclaimer that the PLP has no affiliation with any of these agencies. The issue came to DOI’s attention through advertisements sent by mail and published in Alaska newspapers, which included reproductions of department insignia, including a mailer in which the PLP incorrectly shows logos of 16 federal, state and tribal entities as being involved in the Pebble mine project draft environmental impact statement.

“It is misleading for PLP’s advertisements to attribute “production” of the DEIS to the bureaus, thereby suggesting that the department or other federal agencies endorse the DEIS,” she said.

“The bureaus have participated and will continue to participate in the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) review of the proposed Pebble mine project in their respective roles as cooperating agencies. But their participation does not rise to the level of producing or controlling the documents released by the USACE (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) and their involvement in the environmental review of the proposed Pebble mine project does not represent the bureaus’ endorsement of the DEIS or any future FEIS (final environmental impact statement),” she told Collier.

Alaska Marine Science Symposium

Alaska’s premier marine research conference, the Alaska Marine Science Symposium, will be held Jan 27-31 in Anchorage, Alaska, at the Hotel Captain Cook. Several hundred scientists, educators and other participants will gather to hear reports on marine research.

Keynote speakers, whose names are to be announced later, will be featured on the opening day of the symposium. The second day will focus on the Gulf of Alaska, the third day on the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands and the last day on the Arctic. Presentations for each day include research topics on ocean physics, fishes and invertebrates, seabirds, marine mammals and local traditional knowledge.

Presenters on Gulf of Alaska issues will include NOAA Fisheries biologist Steven Barbeaux, who will address heat waves and Pacific cod and University of Alaska Fairbanks Professor Emeritus Gordon Kruse who will talk about developing a NOAA Integrated Ecosystem Assessment Program for coastal communities in the Gulf.

For the Bering Sea/Aleutian Island session on Wednesday, Jan. 29, Lisa Eisner of NOAA’s Auke Bay Laboratories in Juneau, Alaska, will offer a presentation on oceanographic impacts on walleye Pollock distributions in the northern Bering Sea, and Phyllis Stabeno a physical oceanographer with the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle, Wash., will discuss the reduction of sea ice in the Bering Sea in 2018 and 2019 and its implications for the future of that ecosystem.

Topics for the Arctic session will range from the role of ocean waves and sea ice in the coastal erosion of the Arctic to evidence for massive and expanding harmful algal blooms in the Alaskan Arctic and algal toxins in the Arctic food web.

The complete list of presenters is available online at

The sponsor and key organizer of the annual event is the Anchorage-based North Pacific Research Board. Other supporters include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Pollock Conservation Cooperative and the World Wildlife Fund.

Those interested in attending should register online at

Partial Deliveries of Crab Approved by Federal Council

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council has approved final action to allow vessels to deliver a partial load of crab and then continue harvesting under the crab rationalization program. The council reasoned during its December meeting in Anchorage, Alaska, that being able to resume fishing after a partial offload could help vessels faced with an advancing ice pack and also allow a vessel to maintain efficiency after delivering designated quota shares to the Pribilof Islands before continuing to fish and completing deliveries in the southern region.

An additional advantage would be that if an offloading vessel was forced out of a harbor by weather, this action would allow the vessel to fish rather than wait for multiple days at anchor waiting for the weather to calm down.

The council said it does not expect this provision to create any significant challenges for catch accounting or to substantially increase deadloss in the fishery. Still the council directed staff to specifically review the biological, economic and management impacts of this action during its next required crab rationalization program review, which is scheduled for completion in 2023.


Warming ocean waters have raised the metabolism of small Pacific cod, so that their appetites increase, but their prey is less available due to changing oceans. The result has been a lower survival rate of the Pacific cod into the adult stage.

Pacific cod stocks in the Gulf of Alaska have declined so dramatically that the council’s decision to shut down that fishery in the Gulf in 2020 came as no surprise.

When the biomass of Pacific cod falls below 20 percent of the long-term biomass of the Gulf of Alaska, the federal fishery must be closed to comply with Steller sea lion protection measures.

In the Bering Sea the NPFMC cut the Pacific cod TAC from 14,214 metric tons in 2019 to 13,796 MT for 2020. An error in the Dec. 11 online briefs incorrectly stated that the TAC was cut from 24,319,000 MT to 22,000 MT. Our apologies for the error.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Adak, Groundfish Trawlers at Odds on P-cod Processing

Pacific cod stocks hard hit by warming ocean temperatures are becoming a focal point at federal fisheries meetings, where harvesting sectors and processors fight over who gets to catch and process this versatile vitamin and protein packed white fish.

Stock assessments in the fall of 2019 put the population of P-cod in the Gulf of Alaska below the federal threshold that allows for commercial harvest, for the benefit of endangered Steller sea lions who rely on them as a food source.

The Gulf cod fishery was cancelled. The Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands TAC was cut from 24,319,000 metric tons in 2019 to 22,000 metric tons for 2020.

The lower quota is intensifying the race for fish, and a fight between the trawlers and the community of Adak, Alaska, over where that fish will be processed.

At the heart of the battle is Amendment 113 to the fishery management plan for BSAI groundfish. This amendment set aside a portion of the Aleutian Islands cod fishery TAC for harvest by vessels directed fishing for Aleutian Islands Pacific cod and delivering their catch for processing to a shoreside processor located on land in Adak. The 5,000 metric tons P-cod harvest set-aside was designed to provide the opportunity for vessels, Aleutian Islands shore plants and communities where Aleutian Islands shore plants are located to benefit from the P-cod fishery.

Litigation was brought against the federal Department of Commerce and the city of Adak by The Groundfish Forum in U.S. District Court in Washington D.C., in which the judge ruled against Amendment 113. The case is now under appeal.

According to city manager Layton Lockett the money made by processing the cod pays for the plant the rest of the year, as efforts continue to diversify.

The plant is closed in December, and most of the golden king crab processed there has already been delivered. In other months the plant processes halibut and black cod and is trying sea urchins and geoducks, plus a test fishery for opilio crab, and pink salmon, Lockett said.

Brent Paine, executive director of United Catcher Boats, backs the US District Court’s decision that Amendment 113 did not meet National Standards 4 and 8.

Paine also said that UCB boats prefer to deliver to processors at Dutch Harbor, where they get between 10 to 12 cents a pound more for their cod than at Adak. Paine said that while the allowable harvest of cod in the Bering Sea declines, the set aside portion for processing at Adak is a fixed amount of fish. “As the TAC goes down that represents a larger percentage of the catch of the trawl fishery,” he said.

There are other issues too, including closure of the cod fishery in the Gulf of Alaska for 2020. Vessels that would have fished the Gulf with an Eastern Bering Sea trawl endorsement will be looking to establish a cod market for their trawl boats in the Eastern Bering Sea, because it is an open access fishery, he said.

A report issued by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations notes a NOAA forecast predicting reduced catches in 2020, 2021 and 2022, but said that after that biomass and catches should increase.

Meanwhile, the fishery economy of Adak has only the state waters fishery to depend on for P-cod, putting the future of Adak, the small westernmost municipality in the nation, at risk.

Togiak Herring Harvest Forecast 38,749 Tons

State of Alaska biologists are forecasting a 2020 Togiak sac roe herring harvest of 38,749 tons in purse seine and gillnet sac roe fisheries. The purse seine allocation is set to 30,999 tons, or 80 percent while he gillnet allocation is 7,750 tons, or 20 percent.

Biologists noted that the 2020 forecast uses a 20 percent exploitation rate because the department has greater confidence in the 2019 aerial survey biomass estimate than those of the last three years. The Togiak mature herring population biomass has been estimated by aerial surveys since the late 1970s.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADG&G) announcement on Dec. 6 said the 2020 forecasted biomass should be similar in size to the 2019 biomass and, like then, be dominated by partially mature age classes (age-6 and age-7 fish).

The forecast percentage composition of the mature population is comprised of mostly age-6 and age-7 fish by both number – 39 percent and 27 percent respectively – and biomass, 33 percent and 27 percent respectively. Projected average weight of the herring in the 2020 harvest is 329 grams. The age-structured assessment (ASA) model was used to forecast the Togiak herring population.

The 2019 preseason biomass forecast for Togiak was 217,548 tons with an exploitation rate of 14 percent, or 30,457 tons, due to three consecutive years of poor aerial surveys and the associated uncertainty. The purse seine season opened on April 16, 2019 with a harvest of 1,310 tons, and with weather conditions better than in previous years the fishing proceeded at a fast pace. ADF&G said the harvest was generally steady all season long, peaking on April 23 with a 4,430-ton purse seine harvest. Participation in the purse seine fishery documented 19 vessels, down from 20 in 2018. The gillnet fishery opened on April 18, and all harvest information remained confidential due to there being only one processor and three harvesters participating.

Projected ex-vessel value of the 2019 Togiak herring fishery was $1.73 million, based on an advance price estimate of $75 a ton, not including any post-season adjustments.

Bristol Bay Red King Crab Harvest Shows Average Weight of 7.1 Pounds

The 2019 Bristol Bay red king crab fishery has wrapped up with quota of 3,797,000 pounds with an average catch per unit effort (CPUE) of 15.6 crab in a pot and 7.1 pounds, the highest average weight per crab dating back to 1973.

“We’ve seen average weight increasing for several years now, which is a little concerning,” said Ethan Nichols, the state’s assistant area management biologist for the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands. “We think we are fishing on the same group of adult male crab who are a year older and heavier.”

Biologists are seeing many recruits of small crab coming into the system, “but if we had a better mix of small crab, we would see a lower average weight,” he explained. “What is coming in is mostly large older males.”

The catch per unit effort also was a concern, as it compared with a CPUE of 20 in the last two seasons. The CPUE in 2019 was the lowest since crab rationalization went into effect in 2005, Nichols said.

Bottom fish in general, including Pacific cod and skate, will prey on small juvenile red king crab, so likely part of the predation is from bottom fish, but biologists have also noted very high bottom temperatures and think changes in the environment may affect the crab. Nichols said there is a lot of uncertainty around the impact of climate change in the Bering Sea on crab biomass.

NMFS Corrects Final Rule on P-cod Bycatch

Federal fisheries officials have issued a correction on a final rule published on Oct. 15 regarding on-deck sorting of Pacific halibut bycatch.

The final rule as published on Oct 15 consisted of regulations to implement catch handling and monitoring requirements to allow halibut bycatch to be sorted on the deck of trawl catcher/processors and motherships participating in the non-Pollock groundfish fisheries off the coast of Alaska.

National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) noted on Dec. 9 that the agency erred in stating that collection of information requirements subject to the Paperwork Reduction Act had been approved by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) at the time that the final rule was published.

Although the proposed and final rule preambles explained that certain obsolete and unnecessary regulations would be removed, the final rule inadvertently omitted amendatory language to remove a now obsolete and unnecessary regulation.

The effective date for final rule’s collection of information requirements has been delayed. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will publish a document in the Federal Register announcing an effective date for these information collection requirements, once approval is received from OMB.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Future of CGOA Rockfish Program Rests in
Hands of NPFMC

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) will decide this week at its winter meeting in Anchorage, Alaska, whether to reauthorize the Central Gulf of Alaska Rockfish (CGOA) Program, which would otherwise sunset on Dec. 31, 2021.

According to a problem statement adopted a year ago by the council, the rockfish plan has improved safety at sea, controlled fleet capacity, and enhanced the National Marine Fishery Service’s ability to conserve and manage species under that program. It has also increased vessel accountability, reduced sea floor contact, allowed for full retention of allocated species and reduced halibut and king salmon bycatch.

The council could reauthorize the program by either removing the current sunset date or establishing a new one. This would retain the current management, economic, safety and conservation gains to the extent practicable, consistent with the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

Alternatively, the council could decide to allow the rockfish program to sunset and return to management under the license limitation program. Should that option be selected, the council would need to provide some additional direction, including how to treat halibut prohibited species catch set-asides under the program.

The rockfish program was established for a decade back in 2012, replacing the rockfish pilot program that had been in place from 2007 through 2011.

Proposed Change Would Limit Access to BSAI P-cod Parallel State Waters Fishery

Federal fisheries managers are slated to take final action this week on whether to limit access by all federally permitted vessels to the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands Pacific cod parallel state waters fishery in Alaska or not.

The proposed amendment would require that participating hook-and-line, pot, jig, and trawl vessels have a license limitation program (LLP) license with the correct P-cod endorsements and a designated federal fisheries permit. It was written with the intent of ensuring a robust catch accounting, while preventing vessels circumventing the intent of previous council decisions on license limitations and sector allocations. The amendment would also recognize that new entrants who do not hold federal fishery permits may participate in the parallel fishery.

Council documents note that the purpose of such action is to address inadvertent fishing in these parallel waters off a federal Pacific cod total allowable catch area when that sector’s Pacific cod allocation has been achieved.

There are currently no limits on entry by federally permitted catcher vessels into the BSAI parallel waters groundfish fisheries, and no limit on the amount of BSAI Pacific cod TAC that may be harvested in parallel waters. There is concern that harvests of Pacific cod in parallel waters by vessels who do not hold BSAI groundfish LLP licenses or the appropriate Pacific cod endorsement may continue to increase, complicating conservation and management measures holding sectors to their allocation.

Preseason Forecasts for Some SE Alaska Kings still not Enough for a Harvest

State fisheries biologists for Alaska say very low forecasts and recent poor runs of Chinook salmon returning to the Stikine and Taku rivers in Southeast Alaska do not provide for allowable catches on these transboundary rivers on either the United States or Canadian side of the border.

The 2020 preseason terminal run forecast for the Stikine River large Chinook salmon is 13,350 fish, which is below the lowest end of the escapement goal range of 14,000 to 28,000 fish.

For the Taku River, the preseason terminal run forecast for large kings is 12,400 fish, which is below that river’s lower end of the escapement goal range of 19,000 to 36,000 fish.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game said all salmon fisheries in Districts 8 and 11 will follow extensive conservation measures through the duration of the 2020 Chinook runs.

Low as it is, this year’s numbers exceed the 2018 forecasts for these rivers, when biologists predicted 9,050 kings to spawn in the Taku and some 8,250 kings to do the same in the Stikine. Since the forecasts were below the low-end escapement goal range for those rivers, neither were deemed to have an allowable catch on either side of the border.

The record king salmon run for the Stikine occurred in 2006, with some 90,000 fish. For the Taku, the record run of nearly 115,000 kings occurred in 1997.

More Delays and a Possible End in Sight for Humpy Disaster Relief Payments

A legislator from Kodiak, Alaska, is urging the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) to start distributing crew shares in the 2016 Gulf of Alaska pink salmon disaster sooner than later.

Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, acknowledges the issue of a systemic underreporting of applications for crew compensation but says that, in her opinion, that is due more to a poorly designed process than pervasive dishonesty or omissions among permit holders.

“The most serious issues seem to be a direct symptom of the application, appeal and distribution process running in sequential order instead of congruently,” Stutes said in a late November letter to ADF&G Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang, “or to put it simply, committing to funding before you have the necessary information.”

The most recent delay of payments is hardly the first, she noted. “Now, shortly before Christmas and after over three years of waiting, ADF&G is asking permit holders to wait at least an additional three months,” she told Vincent-Lang. “My constituents have already made significant budgeting and tax decisions, shipyard appointments, or simply cannot afford to wait any longer.”

Stutes proposed that more ADF&G staff be prioritized from elsewhere in the agency to review crew applications for disaster relief. Where no red flags exist and a normal number of crew are listed in a Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission permit application, contact the crew, confirm what is on the application and barriers discrepancies, and put those applications in the approved pile, she said. Her point, she told Vincent-Lang, is that waiting until Jan. 31 to get the information needed from crew “seems like a very hands-off approach to a problem that warrants a full-scale response from the department.”

Vincent-Lang acknowledged in his response concerns over receiving only a two-thirds response by the initial deadline of applications to CFEC permit holders for disaster relief funds. He said ADF&G also heard from some crew members with concerns about the accuracy of crew share information submitted on a CFEC permit holder’s application. He said Stutes’ suggestions would be considered, and that ADF&G would work with the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission to determine if they can expedite the collection of crew information.

The situation is also complicated by the payout amounts being calculated without differentiating between the catch in drift gillnet, where the humpy catch is not high, and the seine fisheries, where most humpies were caught.

In Prince William Sound, a good portion of the fleet started out as drift gillnetters, but also bought seiner permits to diversify, noted Chelsea Haisman, executive director of Cordova District Fishermen United. If a gillnet permit holder caught a low number of humpies in that fishery in one or more years, and then seined in 2016, when the overall harvest of pinks was very low, that harvester couldn’t show enough loss to qualify for disaster aid.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Oregon Rep. DeFazio Challenges DEIS on Pebble Permit

The chair of the US House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., says a federal draft environmental impact statement (EIS) on the application for a Clean Water Act permit for a mine in the Bristol Bay watershed is fundamentally flawed.

DeFazio sent a letter on Nov. 15 to the US Army Corps of Engineers, urging the Corps to immediately prepare a revised EIS for the Pebble mine project and take no further action on the permit application until this is accomplished.

The Pebble Limited Partnership, which is seeking the Clean Water Act Permit, is a subsidiary of Northern Dynasty Minerals Inc., itself a subsidiary of Hunter Dickinson Inc. a diversified global mining group based in Vancouver, British Columbia.

DeFazio told Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, 54th Chief of Engineers and Commanding General of the Corps, that he is deeply concerned with the Corps’ review of the permit application and the associated review of the project under the National Environmental Policy (NEPA) “are so fundamentally flawed and inadequate as to preclude any meaningful review on the likely impacts of this project – in violation of your responsibilities under both the Clean Water Act and NEPA.”

Mike Heatwole, spokesman for the Pebble Limited Partnership in Anchorage, Alaska, said the Corps is appropriately managing the EIS process for the project. “Most observers of the permitting process in Alaska call this one of the most transparent processes they have seen for a resource project in Alaska.”

Those who oppose development of a mine abutting the watershed, which produces the largest run of sockeye salmon in the world, spoke of their concerns about the EIS process when they testified during a subcommittee on Water Resources and Environmental hearing in Washington, DC in October chaired by DeFazio. Dennis McClerran, former head of EPA Region 10 in Seattle, Wash., told the committee that compensatory mitigation would not be effective nor appropriate to address impacts to a pristine environment, such as the Bristol Bay watershed. Richard Borden of Midgard Environmental Services LLC, in Salt Lake City, Utah, described the conceptual need to treat up to 19,000 gallons of wastewater a minute as “truly unprecedented.” Similarly, Borden told DeFazio’s subcommittee, even after formal mine closure more than 5,000 gallons of wastewater a minute would need to be managed in perpetuity, for centuries to come.

Spokespersons for the Corps said on Nov. 26 in their monthly teleconference update with news media that the Corps has received some 115,000 comments on the draft EIS and that no decision has been made yet on whether a supplemental draft EIS is required.

Bristol Bay Red King Crab Shows Average Weight of
7.1 Pounds

The 2019 Bristol Bay red king crab fishery has wrapped up with quota of 3,797,000 pounds.

Numbers show an average catch per unit effort (CPUE) of 15.6 crab in a pot. The 7.14 pounds average weight per crab is the highest dating back to 1973.

That high average weight is a concern, according to Ethan Nichols, the state’s assistant area management biologist for the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands. “We’ve seen average weight increasing for several years now, which is a little concerning. We think we are fishing on the same group of adult male crab who are a year older and heavier.”

Biologists are not seeing many recruits of small crab coming into the system, “but if we had a better mix of small crab, we would see a lower average weight,” he said. “What is coming in is mostly large older males.”

The catch per unit effort is also a concern. The CPUE in 2019 was the lowest since crab rationalization went into effect in 2005, Nichols said, a sharp contrast with a CPUE of 20 in the last two seasons.

Bottom fish in general, including Pacific cod and skate, will prey on small juvenile red king crab, so likely part of the predation is from bottom fish, but biologists have also noted very high bottom temperatures and think there is some impact on red king crab populations from changes in the environment. Nichols said there is a lot of uncertainty around the impact of climate change in the Bering Sea on crab biomass.

Southeast Alaska Pink Salmon Forecast Low

Alaska state biologists are forecasting a harvest of 12 million pink salmon in Southeast Alaska in 2020. It would represent one-third of the recent 10-year average harvest of 35 million fish, and 60 percent of the average even year harvest since 2006.

Pink salmon that went to sea between 2014 and 2018 returned in numbers below expectation and below recent odd-and-even-year averages. The impact of warm sea surface temperatures on survival of pink salmon that went to sea in 2019 remains unknown, adding uncertainty to the forecast.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) plans to manage the 2020 commercial purse seine fisheries in-season based on run strength, the agency said, in its forecast issued on Nov. 20.

The harvest forecast is based primarily on juvenile pink salmon abundance indices collected during the NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center’s Southeast Alaska Coastal Monitoring (SECM) project. The SECM project was initiated in 1997 to learn more about the impact of climate and nearshore ocean conditions on year class strength of salmon and ecologically related species.

Since 2018, the SECM project has been conducted cooperatively by NOAA and ADF&G, the agencies combining efforts to produce a joint pink salmon harvest forecast using SECM data.

State biologists said the low juvenile abundance index in 2019 was not unexpected. Pink salmon escapements in 2018, the parent year, were very poor throughout northern Southeast Alaska inside waters and the escapement goal was not met in that sub region, which may have resulted in below optimal egg deposition.

The forecast report notes that escapement and harvest of pink salmon in the Northern Southeast Inside sub region have been very poor since 2012 and the 2020 forecast indicates this pattern is likely to continue. Pink salmon escapement goals for the Southern Southeast and Northern Southeast Outside sub regions were met in 2018, but harvests were well below average. The low juvenile abundance index in 2019 may also indicate that brood year 2018 pink salmon had poor freshwater and/or early marine survival.

Biologists said it is possible that drought conditions in Southeast Alaska from the parent year 2018 spawn through the spring of 2019 reduced spawning success or negatively impacted overwinter survival of juvenile salmon, but exact reasons for the low juvenile abundance are unknown. Juvenile pinks caught during the 2019 SECM survey trawls were among the largest in length in the 23-year time series and were in good condition, indicating favorable nearshore marine conditions in the spring. The size of juvenile pinks was similar to the large size of juvenile seen during the marine heat wave of 2014-2016 and returns from those juvenile years were all below average.

Alaska Symphony of Seafoods Announces 2020 Winners

Alaska Leader Seafoods’ meal kit of wild Alaska cod in tempura batter with Panko breading and a side of fries has won the Seattle People’s Choice award in the 2020 Alaska Symphony of Seafood competition.

The kit includes a pound of pre-cut wild Alaska cod, and a pound and a half of Idaho potato fries, plus packets of tempura batter mix and buttery breading, and easy to follow cooking instructions.

Barnacle Foods of Juneau, Alaska, took first place in retail with its Bullwhip Kelp Salsa. High Liner Foods of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada, was first in food service with its Pollock powered Alaska Wild Wings-Southern Style, and WILD By Nature, Sitka, Alaska, bested the competition in the Beyond the Plate category with its silver plated, resin coated Alaskan Fin Fish Earrings.

The awards were announced during the Symphony’s Seattle Open House presented in collaboration with the Northwest Fisheries Association at Dockside at Duke’s on Nov. 20.

A complete list of first, second and third place winners will be presented during the legislative reception in Juneau, Alaska on Feb. 24 co-hosted by United Fishermen of Alaska.

The annual competition is hosted by the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, with each entry judged on its product packaging and presentation, overall eating experience, price and potential for commercial success.

First place winners in each category and the grand prize winner receive booth space at the Seafood Expo North America in March, plus roundtrip airfare from Symphony sponsor Alaska Air Cargo, and entry into the Seafood Expo’s new products contest.

Major sponsors for this year competition include: Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, Bristol Bay Regional Development Association, Northwest Fisheries Association, Alaska Air Cargo, At-Sea Processors Association, Lineage Logistics, Marine Stewardship Council, Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association, Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation, Marel, Kwik’Pak Fisheries LLC, Trident Seafoods, Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers, UniSea, and United Fishermen of Alaska.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Bioplastic Made of Organic Fish Waste is Award Winner

A university student’s attempt to solve the problem of single-use plastics and fish wastes has won her the international James Dyson Award for the creation of a unique alternative.

Lucy Hughes, a product design student at the University of Sussex, created MarinaTex, a biodegradable material made of scales and fish skin that would ordinarily wind up in a landfill.

To claim the award, Hugues bested 1,078 entrants from 28 countries.

“Young engineers have the passion, awareness and intelligence to solve some of the world’s biggest problems,” said James Dyson, the British inventor and contest founder, in a news release.

MarinaTex is a translucent and flexible sheet material which makes it ideal for applications in single-use packaging. While it may look and feel like plastic, its similarities end there, the foundation notes, and “in fact, it is stronger, safer and much more sustainable than its oil-based counterpart.”

With a unique formula of red algae to bind the proteins extracted from fish waste, MarinaTex has strong overlapping bonds that give it strength and flexibility, and it biodegrades after four to six weeks, making it suitable for home composting.

According to Hughes, one Atlantic cod could generate as much organic waste as is needed to produce 1,400 bags of MarinaTex.

“Plastic is an amazing material, and as a result, we have become too reliant on it as designers and engineers” Hughes said. “It makes no sense to me that we’re using plastic, an incredibly durable material, for products that have a life-cycle of less than a day. For me, MarinaTex represents a commitment to material innovation and selection by incorporating sustainable, local and circular values into design.”

Hughes said she plans to commercialize her invention, using her award money for further research into how MarinaTex can become a global answer to the abundance of plastic waste.

The James Dyson Foundation released the winner information on November 13, 2019.

Pebble Mine Opponents Set to Present at Pacific Marine Expo

Bristol Bay stakeholders and commercial fishing leaders from Alaska and Washington who feel the proposed Pebble project in Southwest Alaska poses a threat to the multi-million-dollar wild salmon fishery have scheduled a panel discussion on the matter during Pacific Marine Expo. It will take place on Thursday, Nov. 21, from 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m., at the CenturyLink Field Event Center in Seattle, Wash.

The panel participants will include University of Washington aquatic ecologist Daniel Schindler, veteran Bristol Bay harvester Mike Friccero of Kodiak, Alaska, and Andy Wink, executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, which represents the Bay’s drift gillnet fleet.

The event was announced by Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay and United Tribes of Bristol Bay, two of several groups who have voiced strong concern for what they contend is an effort to fast-track the project despite area and national opposition, and scientific evidence that it could destroy the fishery.

The Pebble Limited Partnership, based in Anchorage, Alaska, is a wholly owned subsidiary of the international mining corporation Hunter Dickinson, of Vancouver, British Columbia, which claims that the mine can be constructed and operated in harmony with the fishery.

A public statement released on Nov. 19 by Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd, the Hunter Dickenson subsidiary that oversees the Pebble Limited Partnership, said that the Pebble project, which it describes as one of the world’s most important copper-gold-molybdenum-silver resources, is currently advancing through the U.S. federal permitting process under the National Environmental Policy Act.

The US Army Corps of Engineers’ draft Environmental Impact Statement, which was released last spring, has been criticized by federal and state agencies as a flawed document, a rushed and politicized effort to aid a foreign mining company at the expense of the fishery.

Hatcher Proponents Oppose Several Proposals Before Alaska Board of Fisheries

Salmon Hatcheries for Alaska is urging opposition to several proposals before the Alaska Board of Fisheries, because of concern of adverse impact to hatcheries. The meeting is scheduled for Dec. 10-13 in Seward, Alaska.

In a statement issued on Nov. 18, Salmon Hatcheries of Alaska spelled out its reasons for opposing six proposals, including Proposal 22, which the organization contends would change the entire dynamic of funding for non-profit salmon hatcheries in Alaska. The proposal urges the fisheries board to cap or otherwise numerically limit the amount of hatchery-produced fish returning to a hatchery that a hatchery operator could have for cost-recovery purposes. Such a limit, according to the proposal, would eliminate the unintended adverse consequences of hatcheries producing too many pink salmon solely for the purpose of fulfilling the hatchery’s revenue targets and enhancing depleted fish populations.

Salmon Hatcheries for Alaska also opposes Proposal 27 which would modify the Tutka Bay Lagoon Hatchery Management Plan by deleting the Halibut Cove subdistrict special harvest area from the plan for commercial enhancement and cost recovery. The proposal contends that the subdistrict lies within waters fully allocated for statutory park uses.

Halibut Cove Lagoon, on the south side of Kachemak Bay from Homer, Alaska, is a known nursery and reproductive area preferred by very valuable species like spot shrimp and crab. Chinook salmon have been stocked there using federal sport fish funds for four decades specifically for recreational users, the proposal read.

Salmon Hatcheries for Alaska contends that Halibut Cove has been a commercial harvest site for many years, that the site provides an opportunity for pink salmon harvest and that pink salmon are not detrimental to release of Chinook salmon smolt, since no Chinook have been released at Halibut Cove for two years and there are no future plans for their release.

Copies of all proposals on the Seward meeting agenda can be found online at,fixed,,10

Cannery History Project Marks 100th Anniversary of Spanish Flu in Bristol Bay

The NN Cannery History Project is focused on the historic salmon cannery at Naknek in Bristol Bay Alaska. It features a tragic chapter in 1919 when a second round of the Spanish Flu outbreak devastated residents of villages in Bristol Bay. Crews from the Alaska Packers Association (APA) arriving in Bristol Bay to can salmon late that spring ended up caring for the afflicted villagers.

The history project, in collaboration with executive director Tim Troll of the Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust, and the Alaska Humanities Forum, will host a conversation and commemoration of the pandemic at the Alaska Humanities Forum on Dec. 3.

As Troll noted in articles on the history of the pandemic, the cannery workers were the first responders to the sickened population in the infection plagued villages. The packing company, by its own account, spared no expense in providing medical help to the sick, to comfort the dying, build coffins, bury the dead, and to feed, clothe and house many, many orphans. The flu, an H1H1 variant, “has curiously spared the young while reserving its wrath for their parents,” Troll wrote. When the territorial governor later asked the packing company for a bill for reimbursement, APA President Henry Fortmann declined the offer. Fortmann told the governor that it would be almost impossible to segregate the quantities and costs of food, fuel, drugs, clothing, bedding and other commodities furnished to the Natives during the plague, to say nothing of similar articles given to them for the winter by the company. “We feel ourselves well paid by the knowledge that we were able to relieve the suffering and that our employees carried out the spirit and the wishes of the Alaska Packers Association,” Fortmann said.

By the end of June, Troll noted, the flu had run its course, but the disaster was far from over. The anticipated salmon run never came in July, as overfishing to provide ore food for Allied troops in World War One apparently decimated the 1919 brood stocks, leading to the first major collapse of the commercial fishery in Bristol Bay.

The orphans who survived the deadly flu have all passed on now, though the known ancestry of many Bristol Bay families today begins with them.

The photo exhibit, titled Bristol Bay Remembers: The Great Flu of 1919, is on display at Humanities Forum through Dec. 4.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

2020 Bristol Bay Harvest Forecast Set to 34.56M Salmon

The 2020 Bristol Bay sockeye salmon forecast, issued on Nov. 8, anticipates a total run of 48.95 million fish, which would allow for a potential harvest of 34.56 million. Those figures are higher than this past season 26.11 million fish forecast but lower than the actual 44.5 million harvest.

Should the 2020 run come in as anticipated, it will be 6 percent larger than the most recent 10-year average of Bristol Bay total runs (45.9 million) and 29 percent greater than the long-term (1963-2019) average of 34.6 million fish.

The annual forecast is the sum of individual predictions of nine river systems, all of which are expected to meet their spawning escapement goals. The 2020 forecast accounts for 19.97 million salmon to the Naknek-Kvichak District, 10.75 million to Egegik, 4.67 million to the Ugashik, 12.63 million to Nushagak, and 0.93 million to Togiak.

Actual 2019 harvests by district included 11.4 million salmon from the Naknek-Kvichak, 15 million from Egegik, 1 million from the Ugashik, 15.7 million from the Nushagak, and 1.3 million from Togiak.

Biologists also estimate that 19.14 million (39 percent) of the total run would be age-1.2 fish; 7.06 million (14 percent) age-2.2; 21.04 million (43 percent) age-1.3; and 1.68 million (3 percent) age-2.3.

According to state biologists, the impact of abnormally high water temperatures in Bristol Bay and other Alaska fisheries during the 2019 summer, as well as drought conditions that caused a thermal block in many rivers and streams which led fish to die before getting to spawning grounds, will not be determined until the summer of 2023.

The ADF&G 2020 forecast acknowledges that individual river forecasts always have greater uncertainty than bay-wide predictions. Since 2001, on average, biologists have under-forecast river returns to the Alagnak (33 percent), Togiak (12 percent), Kvichak (22 percent), Wood (17 percent), Nushagak (20 percent), Ugashik (0.5 percent), and Naknek (14 percent) and over-estimated returns to the Igushik (13 percent) and Egegik (14 percent).

ADF&G extended thanks to the Bristol Bay Fisheries Collaborative (BBFC) for providing $750,000 in funding assistance in 2019. The BBFC was established in 2016 as part of an agreement between ADF&G and the Bristol Bay Science and Research Institute (BBSRI) to work together with stakeholders to restore a world-class fishery management system and raise funds to support and maintain management.

The agreement has support from ADF&G, BBSRI, Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, set net fishermen, processors, municipalities, villages, support industries and other stakeholders. A complete list of participants is available online at

Adak Seeks Exclusive Registration Area for P-cod Fishery

A proposal to make the Aleutian Islands subdistrict an exclusive registration area for Pacific cod during the state waters season is slated for consideration when the Alaska Board of Fisheries meets in Seward Dec. 10-13.

Proposal 278 put forward by the city of Adak, Alaska, and the Adak Community Development Corp. notes that a shore-based processor at Adak began processing Aleutian Islands Pacific cod in 2017. Since, effort has increased and the guideline harvest level has been fully harvested.

According to the proposal, declines in Pacific cod abundance in the Gulf of Alaska have redistributed state-waters fishing efforts away from fisheries in the Gulf of Alaska to the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands. This change has boosted effort and competition among harvesters and reduced season lengths in both the Dutch Harbor and Aleutian Islands subdistricts.

In recent years, the Dutch Harbor subdistrict has closed prior to the Aleutian Islands subdistrict, allowing for an influx of Dutch Harbor pot boats to enter the Aleutian Islands fishery mid-season, creating a race for fish and increased competition for Aleutians fishermen.

There are eight state waters (guideline harvest level) Pacific cod fisheries: Eastern Gulf of Alaska, Prince William Sound, Cook Inlet, Kodiak, Chignik, South Alaska Peninsula, Dutch Harbor subdistrict and the Aleutian Islands subdistrict. Currently only the Eastern Gulf of Alaska and Aleutian Islands subdistrict are designated as nonexclusive fisheries.

Golden Harvest Alaska Seafood, which opened its doors three years ago in Adak, buys Pacific cod from approximately half a dozen small boat (under 60 feet) fishermen, and moves large volumes of fresh and once frozen cod fillets out of Adak by air mostly to domestic markets.

“We are using 100 percent American labor and doing most of the value-added processing in Alaska,” said Steve Minor, a Washington state consultant to Golden Harvest. From January through April the processing facility employs about 350 people, many of them housed in old military housing rehabilitated by the Aleut Corp. and leased by Golden Harvest. After the A season, the plant provides work for 80 fulltime employees.

Golden Harvest is working with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to develop other small fisheries, including crab, halibut, sablefish and the pink salmon seine fishery, in addition to dive fisheries for sea urchins and geoducks.

The effort is focused on keeping the city of Adak ––population just over 300 people– open, including its schools, “but none of this works without Pacific cod, because that is the big fishery,” Minor said. “The state waters cod fishery is a small boat fishery, Alaska boats and these guys have worked hard to help us develop these markets,” he said. “All we are trying to do is get equal treatment for them. This year we are the only fishery with a cap on the (Pacific cod) quota of 15 million pounds.”

The fisheries board will also address several dozen other proposals regarding Lower Cook Inlet finfish. The meeting will take place at the Alaska Vocational Technical Center.

Proposals are available for review online at,fixed,,14

Study Shows Larval Fish Are Ingesting Plastics

A new study released by the University of Hawaii at Manoa shows that larval fish species from different ocean areas are ingesting plastics in their preferred nursery habitat.

The study, conducted by NOAA’s Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center and an international team of scientists, concluded that the further investigation is needed to understand the effects of plastic ingestion by larval fish on individuals and populations.

Researchers combined field-based plankton tow surveys and advanced remote sensing techniques to identify larval fish nursery habitats in coastal waters of Hawaii for their study, which was published on Nov. 11 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study was also reported on EurekAlert, the online publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Researchers found that surface slicks –naturally occurring, ribbon-like, smooth water features at the ocean surface – contained far more larval fish than neighboring surface waters. The surface slicks are formed when internal ocean waves converge near coastlines. They are observed in coastal marine ecosystems worldwide. These slicks also aggregate plankton an important food source for larval fish.

”We found that surface slicks contained larval fish from a wide range of ocean habitats, from shallow-water coral reefs to the open ocean and down into the deep sea – at no other point during their lives do these fish share an ocean habitat in this way” said Jonathan Whitney, a marine ecologist for the Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric research and NOAA, and a co-lead of the study. “Slick nurseries also concentrate lots of planktonic prey, and thereby provide an oasis of food that is critical for larval fish development and survival.”

Larval fish in these surface slicks were found to be larger, well developed and having increased swimming abilities, but researchers noted that plastic densities in these surface slicks were on average eight times higher than the plastic densities recently found in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. In fact, there were seven times more plastics than there were larval fish, and most were less than one millimeter is size. Plastics were also found in flying fish, which apex predators such as tunas and most Hawaiian seabirds eat.

Tiny plastic pieces were also found in the stomachs of commercially targeted pelagic species, including swordfish and mahi-mahi, as well as coral reef species like triggerfish, Whitney said.

SeaShare Donations to Hungry Alaskans Are Growing

Hungry Alaskans can now feed on more than 200,000 pounds of seafood donated annually by SeaShare. The non-profit entity based out of Bainbridge Island, Wash., delivers seafood portions donated by harvesters and processors nationwide to help feed people across the country.

“Our donors have asked us to do more for hungry families in Alaska,” said Jim Harmon, executive director of SeaShare, in response to a query about SeaShare’s recent donation of a 40-foot freezer van and more than 20,000 pounds of seafood to the Southeast Alaska Food Bank.

“To date we’ve supplied freezer containers in Dillingham, Bethel, and now Juneau,” Harmon wrote in an email, upon his return from Juneau where he went to be sure the new freezer was up and running.

“These freezers, along with expanded freight and food bank partnerships, allow us to send food in by barge, rather than bypass mail, reducing freight costs and increasing volumes. SeaShare is donating approximately 200,000 pounds per year across Alaska, where seafood has cultural and dietary significance,” he said.

SeaShare began in 1994 with a small group of commercial harvesters in Alaska who donated bycatch fish to food banks. Nowadays 90 percent of the seafood that SeaShare provides is first-run, marketable fish donated by generous fishermen and processors around the country who believe in the power of seafood to help food banks and feeding centers. To date more than 200 million seafood servings have been distributed by the non-profit organization.

Two weeks ago, SeaShare identified its newest partner in the fight against hunger, Nicola Dixon of the General Mills Foundation. “General Mills is taking the lead on innovative food recovery programs in North America and we are happy to be a part of this important work,” Harmon wrote on the organization’s blog.

This past summer, SeaShare was selected to be one of 20 entities nationwide recognized as a 2019 General Mills Food Recovery Champions. Those selected shared more than $1 million to expand surplus food recovery programs to feed people facing hunger. General Mills hopes that these grants will help communities ensure that the majority of their surplus food is used to feed the hungry, rather than go into landfills. Donors and partners of SeaShare include harvesters, processors, the US Coast Guard, community development quota programs and others. A complete list is available online at, along with information about how to donate or to become a partner.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Alaska’s 206.9 Million Salmon Harvest Valued at $657.6 Million

This year’s robust wild Alaskan salmon 206.9 million fish harvest has an estimated preliminary ex-vessel value of $647.6 million.

Statisticians at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) calculated the totals, which amount to a 10 percent increase over the 2018’s value of $595.2 million.

Average prices for Chinook, sockeye, coho, pink and chum salmon varied by fishing district, ranging overall from a high of $8.59 a pound for Chinook caught in Prince William Sound to 35 cents a pound for kings caught in the northern district of the Alaska Peninsula. The Prince William Sound kings weighed in at an average of 18.42 pounds, compared to 7.42 pounds for those harvested in the northern district of the Alaska Peninsula.

Sockeye prices likewise went from a high of $2.49 a pound in Prince William Sound for reds, averaging 5.35 pounds, to $1.35 a pound for Bristol Bay reds, averaging 5.20 pounds. Pink salmon weighing in on average at 3.4 pounds in Prince William Sound paid 34 cents a pound, compared to Bristol Bay humpies coming in at 3.8 pounds and earning a nickel a pound.

Sockeye salmon statewide accounted for approximately 64 percent of the total value at $421.1 million and 27 percent of the harvest with 55.2 million fish. Pink salmon were the second most valuable species, representing 20 percent of the total ex-vessel value at $128.6 million, and bringing 62 percent of the harvest with 129.1 million fish. Chum salmon accounted for 10 percent of the value at $63.8 million and 9 percent of the harvest at 18.5 million fish. The coho salmon harvest of 3.8 million fish was valued at $29.6 million, and accounted for 5 percent of the overall catch, while kings, with an estimated harvest of just under 0.3 million fish, had an estimated preliminary ex-vessel value of $14.4 million.

Measured in pounds the overall harvest of 872.1 million pounds ranked eighth in the 1975-2018-time span. Chums ranked 16th, sockeyes 10th, humpies 9th and cohos 33rd for that same time period. The 2019 values for Chinook salmon were the third lowest on record since limited entry began in 1975.

State fisheries officials noted that these are preliminary figures that will change as fish tickets are processed and finalized. Dollar values provided by ADF&G are based on estimated ex-vessel prices and do not include post-season price adjustments. The final value of the season’s harvest will be determined in 2020, after seafood processors, buyers and direct marketers report total value paid to fishermen in 2019.

The harvest summary was released on Nov. 4.

Alaska Officials Seek to Revise Oil Spill Prevention Standards

Alaska’s environmental conservation agency is looking for public input into revising oil spill prevention and contingency plan requirements, prompting criticism from the advisory council created in the wake of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster.

“Strong statues and regulations are a big part of why Alaska has not had a major oil spill since the Exxon Valdez disaster,” said Donna Schantz, executive director of the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council. “It is unreasonable for the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to claim now, after 30 profitable years of industry compliance, that the requirements are too onerous.”

The council wants the state to halt the scoping process until more information is offered to the public on the driving factors that have prompted the move for changes in current regulations.

DEC officials said they specifically want to hear whether the current regulations can be made more understandable without compromising environmental protection or if any portions of those regulations may be outdated or duplicative. The agency also is seeking comment on its statutory authorities relevant to contingency planning. Current regulations on both issues are available online as 18 AAC 75 Article 4 ( and AS 46.04 (

The council’s announcement of Nov. 4 included a copy of its resolution passed on Oct. 29, advising against any legislative or regulatory changes that erode oil spill prevention and response standards, increase the risk of a catastrophic spill or demonstrate what the council describes as a return to complacency on the part of the oil industry and regulators that Congress determined were a primary cause of the Exxon Valdez disaster. The oil slick spread to cover some 1,300 miles of coastline, causing the collapse of salmon and herring fisheries, and killing thousands of seabirds, otters, seal and whales.

Protecting coastal communities and the environment is the cost of doing business in Alaska, said Robert Archibald, president of the council board. “Reducing any perceived burden to industry by rolling back or eliminating proven oil spill prevention and response requirements transfers the risk and burden of another oil spill to the communities, citizens and environment they were designed to protect,” he said.

More information about the history and legislative intent of the Response Planning Standards is included in the council’s August 2018 report, available online at

Comments are being accepted through Jan. 15, 2020. They may be submitted electronically by visiting or mailed to Seth Robinson, Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, Division of Spill Prevention and Response – Prevention, preparedness, and Response Program, 610 University Avenue, Fairbanks, AK 99709 or emailed to

NPAFC Plans 2021 Pan Pacific High Seas Research Expedition

The North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission (NPAFC) member countries plan to conduct coastal and high seas salmon surveys during the spring, summer and fall of 2020-2021.

NPAFC in Vancouver, British Columbia, is preparing for a 2021 expedition, to run in conjunction with the 2021 winter surveys, that would include three or four vessels to cover a pan-Pacific grid. An additional ship would conduct fine scale research to provide greater detail to help understand how salmon interact in the high sea environment.

At the present time national requests for vessels are being considered by Canada, the United States, Russia, Japan and Korea.

During the last NPAFC meeting held in October in Victoria, British Columbia, the commission received substantial funding from the British Columbia Salmon Restoration and Innovation Fund. A total of $3.3 million allocated over three years will support this project.

Building on a single vessel expedition in February and March of 2019 in the Gulf of Alaska, the 2021 expedition will employ up to five research vessels operating simultaneously to survey the full breadth of the North Pacific Ocean. The expedition will provide a platform for international collaborative ecosystem research to monitor the distribution, abundance and productivity of salmon, to inform fisheries managers and enforcement decisions to be made in the future.

Earlier this year, 21 scientists from the five Pacific Rim nations aboard a chartered Russian research vessel completed the International Gulf of Alaska Expedition 2019. The expedition was the first in decades to study salmon in winter high seas, and NPAFC said it set a precedent for addressing knowledge gaps through survey work of salmon, plankton and physical conditions in the central Gulf of Alaska.

During the 2019 expedition all five species of salmon were caught. Distributions of each species in the Gulf of Alaska differed and showed preferences for particular regions associated with ocean features such as higher or lower temperatures or types of prey.

Most surprising, said NPAFC, was the presence of coho salmon in the high seas, give that they are thought to be coastal in distribution, and the presence of North American sockeye in the small set of western North Pacific samples. Chum salmon of Asian and North American origin mingled in the survey area.

Sampling of micro-plastics in open ocean of the Northeast Pacific indicated that their level has not increased since the collection of baseline samples in the 1980s.

Kodiak’s Tanner Crab GHL Set at 400,000 Pounds

Commercial Tanner crab harvesters for the Kodiak, Alaska district will have a 300,000-pound guideline harvest level (GHL) for the eastside section and 100,000 pounds for the southeast section for the 2020 fishery opening on Jan. 15.

The GHLs are based on analysis of the 2019 Tanner crab survey. They were announced by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s (ADF&G) Kodiak office on Oct. 31.

ADF&G reminds harvesters that because this year’s Kodiak District Tanner crab GHL is less than 2,000,000 pounds, the regulatory gear limit is 20 pots per vessel.

The southwest, south mainland, north mainland, westside and northeast sections of the Kodiak district are closed to Tanner crab harvests this year.

“We are fishing on the end of a large cohort of crab,” said Natura Richardson, assistant area management biologist for ADF&G in Kodiak, who acknowledged that the catch opportunity was down from a year earlier. “We saw a large cohort of crab first enter (the fishery) in 2013. Those crabs got to legal size in 2018,” she explained. Richardson noted that there were also a large number of juvenile Tanner crab in last year’s survey and that those crab were seen again in the 2019 survey, “so they are tracking well; they are surviving at a higher rate and growing a little faster than the previous cohort,” she said.

“I don’t think that it is a small coincidence that there are not a lot of cod in the water,” she added. “Cod eat crab and there are not a lot of cod out there.” The decline of cod in both the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea has been dramatic over the past two years.

The 2019 GHL for the eastside section is 500,000 pounds, with another 115,000 pounds for the southeast section. In 2018, the GHL was 260,000 pounds for the eastside and 140,000 pounds for the southwest section. Federal biologists have also noted that the relief in predation from Pacific cod may be a factor in the increased abundance of Tanner crab in the Gulf of Alaska. Pacific cod tend to prey on one and two-year-old Tanner crab. In the wake of the cod crash over two years ago, Tanner crab coming into the fishery now may have benefited from that crash, and if that is true, the fisheries managers can anticipate seeing more Tanner crab entering the fishery. Tanner crab are also prey for halibut, sculpins and other flatfish, including arrowtooth flounder.

While the relationship of ocean temperatures to the health of young Tanner crab has not been specifically studied, the expectation is that they would grow faster in warming waters as long as they have sufficient food, given success in recruitment over the past few years. The young crab, living on the bottom of the ocean, feed on small organisms on the surface of the mud.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Fishermen Want Coast Guard Communications Channel Fixed

Commercial fishermen in Southeast Alaska say there is a critical breakdown in reliability of the Coast Guard channel they rely upon for updated weather reports and mayday calls, and they want it fixed.

“We have a crisis in Coast Guard coverage of channel 16 here in Southeast (Alaska) with 35 percent of stations down and 45-50 percent of fishing grounds not monitored and no plan to restore them before 2024,” said Linda Behnken, executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association (ALFA) in Sitka, Alaska.

Behnken, herself a veteran harvester of black cod and halibut, said it was near the end of summer before other fishermen brought to her attention how much of channel 16 was proving unreliable. “It’s a real concern,” she said. “Commercial fishermen are all trained to go to channel 16 for maydays, as are sport anglers and hunters. It’s a whole community of people calling 16 and nobody hears them.”

ALFA shared a news release from the Coast Guard confirming that they are experiencing VHF-FM radio outages throughout Southeast Alaska and may not be able to hear or respond to distress calls on channel 16. Affected waterways identified by the Coast Guard include the Gulf of Alaska between Yakutat and Sitka, Cross Sound, Peril Strait, Hoonah Sound, Southern Chatham Strait, Summer Strait, waters surrounding Zarembo Island and the west side of Prince of Wales Island.

The Coast Guard said all mariners transiting these waterways should have another means of emergency communication, such as cellphones when in range, satellite phones, high frequency radio communications on 4125 kHz, 6215 kHz and 8291 kHz, EPIRBs/personal locating beacons, and satellite messengers.

At this time, said ALFA harvester and board member Jeff Farvour, “if I make a mayday call on channel 16 thinking I am calling the Coast Guard and they can’t hear me, my best luck is for another vessel within range that has good enough reception to hear me and relay the message to the Coast Guard, if they are within range.” He also noted that when these sites are down, they don’t get updated weather reports.

Behnken said ALFA is working with the office of Sen, Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, to resolve the issue, which involves a contract the US Coast Guard has with Lynxnet LLC, a small business firm in Herndon, Virginia, that is a subsidiary of NANA Regional Corp., an Alaska Native firm with offices in Kotzebue and Anchorage, Alaska. Reaching the various channel 16 maintenance and repair sites requires helicopter transport. Inclement weather conditions have been known to keep maintenance crews grounded at these sites for days on end.

Murkowski aide Karina Borger confirmed that their office has been hearing from constituents about their concerns, that this is a high priority they are working with the Coast Guard to restore VHF capabilities as soon as possible.

Big Boost Anticipated in Arctic Vessel Traffic

Drivers of Arctic vessel activity, from natural resources to geopolitics and changing weather patterns, are expected to boost maritime vessel traffic in the US Arctic to an estimated 377 vessels annually by 2030, a new government report predicts.

The report compiled by the US Committee on the Marine Transportation System (CMTS), which was released in late October, makes no policy recommendations, but its findings highlight some implications of increasing use of the region without continued and corresponding development of the groundwork to support evolving vessel activity.

These include, but are not limited to, more ships operating within the region, longer navigational seasons and more people, both mariners and passengers, at risk should a maritime incident occur.

The mandate of CMTS, established in 2005, is to periodically assess the marine transportation system, integrate the marine transportation system with other modes of transportation and the environment, and to establish and maintain a partnership for interagency engagement in support of that system. The committee chairman, Rear Adm. Tim Gallaudet, is the deputy administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Each transit represents its own unique risks and potential for emergency response, environmental incidents, collision, allision or grounding, depending on the area of operation, the report concludes. Total transits and movements into, out of, and within the US Arctic will likely be more than double the vessel numbers, underscoring the urgency to take on planning and evaluation exercises to be prepared for a changing Arctic maritime environment, the report said.

Implications of this increased vessel activity and shipping from Arctic and non-Arctic areas will impact the potential mission of many US government agencies. It also raises the level of requirements for successful development and safe and sustainable maritime operations in an increasingly accessible, global waterway.

The report most plausible scenario –an estimated 377 vessels in the region by 2030 – represent a more than 200 percent growth from 2008 levels, and a nearly 50 percent increase over current maritime vessel levels.

The report notes that Arctic waters around the Bering Strait are transitioning from a mix of regional operators to an increasingly diverse and international set of operators and waterway users, with the number of unique vessel flag states increasing by 28 percent in recent years. The navigation season also grew from 159 days in 2016 to 180 days in 2018, as measured by the presence of vessel traffic.

NOAA Awards $2.3M for Bycatch Reduction Research

NOAA Fisheries has awarded more than $2.3 million to partners in support of innovative bycatch reduction research projects through its Bycatch Reduction Engineering Program.

Among the 16 grantees for 2019, announced on Oct. 21, are:

• FishNext Research, Mountlake Terrace, Wash., $199.679;
• Wild Fish Conservancy, Duvall, Wash., $171.050;
• Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, Portland Ore., $165,000;
• Coastal Monitoring Associates, San Diego., Calif., $119,746; and
• Natural Resources Consultants, Inc., Seattle, Wash., $100,874.

The FishNext Research project proposes to develop a new class of bycatch reduction technology for Alaska Pollock and Pacific whiting off Oregon and Washington. Bycatch reduction devices for trawls work by allowing selective release of bycatch species while retaining target species during fishing operations.

The Wild Fish Conservancy has proposed further testing of pound net traps for selective harvest and ecological monitoring in Lower Columbia River salmon fisheries. Specific objectives include construction and monitoring of a modified pound net trap in a currently untested area within the lower Columbia River in Oregon and determining the effectiveness of the modified trap in targeting hatchery-reared Chinook and coho salmon stocks while reducing protected species bycatch mortality.

A study planned by Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission would begin with a collaborative workshop to discuss and identify gear modifications that can enhance performance of an existing bycatch reduction device that harvesters and gear researchers feel can reduce rockfish bycatch. Sea trials will then measure the gears’ selectivity performance, with fish retention and escapement rates quantified using a recapture net.

Coastal Monitoring Associates will use its grant to develop and demonstrate proof-of-concept for a rope-less fishing system, with the focus ranging from a low-cost underwater release system to the right balance of risk reduction and cost effectiveness.

Natural Resources Consultants proposes to reduce king and snow crab bycatch in the Pacific cod and halibut pot fisheries by developing and testing pot modifications most effective to not allowing crab to enter pots. Initially the project team plans to host an industry gear committee meeting to determine what gear modifications to test. Cooperating industry will test the most promising pot designs in active fisheries.

Deadline Approaches to Comment on Gulf of Alaska Oil and Gas Proposal

With less than a week until the Nov. 4 deadline for comment on the Alaska Division of Oil and Gas’ preliminary findings on a proposal for oil and gas exploration along the Gulf of Alaska, the state agency says they can’t say how many and who has commented to date.

According to agency spokesperson Sean Clifton “usually most comments arrive on the last day.” Once the agency issues a final decision, anyone who has participated in the comment process during the initial solicitation back in 2015 or during this preliminary decision comment period is eligible to appeal that decision, Clifton said.

Cordova District Fishermen United (CDFU) meanwhile is making clear its concerns about potential adverse impacts of such exploration, should Cassandra Energy Corp. of Nikiski be issued an exploration license. CDFU represents some 900 commercial families of harvesters in Prince William sound, the Copper River region and the northern central Gulf of Alaska.

According to CDFU executive director Chelsea Haisman, granting exclusive license to Cassandra Energy corporation for oil and gas exploration in this region is not in the best interest of the state, nor coastal communities adjacent to the exploration area, whose economic mainstay is commercial fisheries. Issuing a license for this area would place unnecessary risk on small, and primarily rural business owners and regional stakeholders who would bear the burden of loss in the event of an oil spill or blowout, Haisman said. CDFU notes recent aerial surveys by Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists who have documented increases in herring spawn within the proposed license area. Their concern is that seismic exploration may impact this recovering species in a negative manner.

Salmon present in saltwater and freshwater may also be adversely impacted by exploration activities, CDFU notes. Wetland systems known to be migratory pathways, as well as spawning habitat for multiple salmonid species are critical habitat. Coho salmon embryos develop over the winter and emerge in early spring as fry. During this time period, these fish are particularly susceptible to seismic activity and any impacts could include both environmental and economic damage, Haisman said.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Congressional Subcommittee Considers Pebble Project

A US House subcommittee on water resources and environment is holding a hearing on October 23, in Washington DC, titled “The Pebble Mine Project: Process and Potential Impacts.”

The list of six witnesses scheduled to address the sub-committee include Dennis McLerran of the Cascadia Law Group in Seattle, Wash., and former head of the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 10 office in Seattle, as well as Tom Collier, chief executive officer of The Pebble Partnership, a subsidiary of Northern Dynasty Minerals in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The hearing follows a request by Washington-based advocacy group Earthworks to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to investigate possible insider trading involving Northern Dynasty, which wants to build a massive copper, gold and molybdenum mine in southwest Alaska, near the headwaters of the world’s largest run of millions of wild sockeye salmon.

News reports show that Earthworks filed a complaint with the SEC, the New Jersey Bureau of Securities and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority detailing stock trades and communication related to Northern Dynasty days prior to decisions by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that benefitted mine proponents. Records show that Northern Dynasty’s stock price rose after the EPA decisions were made public this summer.

Northern Dynasty has denied any wrongdoing by company officials.

Under the Obama Administration, the EPA in 2014 gave special protections to the Bristol Bay watershed, making it nearly impossible for Northern Dynasty to get required permits to build the mine. Then on June 26, 2019, the Trump administration’s EPA appointees announced reconsideration of those special protections and the start of processes to remove them. On July 30, 2019, the EPA lifted those restrictions.

Legislation Calls for Core Salmon Conservation Areas

Legislation before the US House calls for protection of designated salmon conservation areas, to ensure that future federal government actions do not adversely impact these lands.

The Salmon Focused Investments in Sustainable Habitats (FISH) Act was introduced on Oct. 17, 2019, by Rep. Jared Huffman, D- San Rafael, Calif., chair of the House Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife, and cochair of the Congressional Wild Salmon Caucus.

HR 4723 will focus on protecting essential habitats that have not yet been degraded and will help support jobs and economic activity that depend on healthy salmon runs.

The bill would direct the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and US Fish and Wildlife Service to designate core centers of salmon abundance productivity and diversity as salmon conservation areas. It would also designate the most pristine areas of salmon abundance as salmon strongholds. The determination would be made by reviewing the best available science and existing analysis used for essential fish habitat and the watershed condition framework program.

The bill would allow states, tribes, nongovernment organizations and the public to nominate additional areas for consideration. In addition, the bill would authorize a federal grant program through 2025 that focuses on conservation and restoration projects and sanctions funding to support current watershed health programs.

The legislation is supported by the Wild Salmon Center and Smith River Alliance in northwest California. “Salmon stronghold rivers and other important salmon conservation areas contain the most important wild salmon populations left on the planet,” said Guido Rahr, president and chief executive officer of the Wild Salmon Center. “By protecting them, we will ensure strong runs of wild salmon into the future.”

“There is definitely a need for restoration within these core salmon producing watersheds,” said Grant Werschkull, co-executive director of the Smith River Alliance. “Investing in salmon habitat restoration brings diverse partners together and truly is investing in the health and future of our communities.

Organizations Push to Boost Grants for Fishing Safety

Instructors with the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association (AMSEA) will provide fishing vessel drill conductor classes from Unalaska to Maine through April 2020, thanks in part to a two-year federal grant totaling $650,000.

The grant, which was awarded on Sept. 1, 2019, requires AMSEA, based in Sitka, Alaska, to come up with equal matching funds. According to Jerry Dzugan, executive director of AMSEA, it took nearly eight years for the money to be awarded.

The federal legislation approved by Congress back in 2010 for the marine safety training and research grants called for a 75 percent federal contribution and 25 percent local matching funds, but in 2018 that federal share was reduced to 50 percent.

Now Reps., Don Young, R-Alaska, and Jared Golden, D-Maine., have introduced the Funding Instruction for Safety Health and Security Avoids Fishing Emergencies (FISHSAFE) Act, to raise the federal grant portion back to the original 75 percent.

“Fishing is one of Alaska’s most important industries, and we need to be doing all that we can to ensure our fishermen remain safe on the job,” Young said, in an Oct. 18 statement announcing the introduction of the new legislation.

“This bill would make fishing safety programs available to as many fishermen as possible to prevent unnecessary injuries and deaths,” Golden added.

The current funds were included in the budget for the U.S. Coast Guard, which partnered with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to award the grants. AMSEA is one of four organizations receiving funding.

The bipartisan legislation sponsored by Young and Golden would also reauthorize the safety training and research programs for $6 million a year for 2019-2021.

Companion legislation introduced in the U.S. Senate by Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., is co-sponsored by Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Margaret Hassan, D-N.H., Angus King, I-Maine, Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, John Reed, D-R.I., Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.

Dzugan thinks the chances of the bill passing are good. “It's bipartisan for the most part, and moderates are looking to anything they can reach across the aisle on. I'm optimistic by nature, which is needed for this kind of work.”

“The 2010 legislation stated that "the federal share of the cost of any activity carried out with a grant from this subsection shall not exceed 75 percent",” Dzugan said. “Thus, there was an assumption that the co-share (as it is called) by a private entity would be 25 percent. Apparently when Congress for the first time finally appropriated the authorized funding in 2018, the Senate side raised the co-share to 50 percent of the grant. It is also confusing, because while they call it a $650,000 grant, it is over the course of two year (thus $325K/year) and 50 percent of the amount has to come from other non-federal sources. But it’s still called a $650K ‘grant’.”

SE Alaska Salmon Harvesters Support Roadless Rule

Seine, troll and gillnet harvesters in Southeast Alaska are appealing to federal authorities to keep the Roadless Rule intact for Tongass National Forest to protect spawning grounds for salmon and the livelihoods of hundreds of area residents.

“We need to manage Southeast Alaska for fish habitat, not logging,” says commercial harvester Jeff Farvour, vice president of the board of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association.

Farvour noted that there have been record low returns of pink and coho salmon in Southeast Alaska these past few years and back to back droughts too, plus back to back blobs in the Pacific Ocean, which have not been kind to salmon. “Why would anybody support this (exemption to the roadless rule for the Tongass) knowing it’s going to add more challenges?” he asked.

Farvour is one of more than 200 commercial harvesters in Southeast Alaska who signed a letter addressed to US Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and Chief of the US Forest Service, Vicki Christiansen, urging continued support for the Alaska Roadless Rule in the Tongass.

The letter was sent out originally to Perdue and Christiansen to express the fishermen’s concerns over an exemption. In early October copies were hand delivered to Alaska’s congressional delegation, who along with Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy favor that exemption.

They contend that the roadless rule hinders responsible timber harvest, mineral development and energy projects to lower costs, and that the exemption would benefit the economy of Southeast Alaska Opponents said removing of Roadless Rule protections in the Tongass threaten salmon habitat, food security, tourism and some of the wildest places remaining on earth.

“Please protect our livelihoods and Alaska’s salmon spawning grounds by selecting an alternative that broadly protects fish habitat, continues the phase-out of industrial scale old growth clear-cutting, and prioritizes the restoration of degraded watersheds and streams,” the letter from the fishermen read. “Commercial fishing is the economic backbone of Southeast Alaska. There are troll permit holders living in every single community in Southeast Alaska. Eighty percent of all the Southeast salmon permit holders – trollers, seiners, and gillnetters – are Alaskan residents.

“Our livelihoods rely on the health of the salmon, and salmon are reliant upon the health of the Tongass National Forest; these streams and rivers produce 80 percent of the commercial salmon harvested from Southeast Alaska each year,” they wrote.

A fact sheet compiled by the US Forest Service notes that Tongass fisheries biologists have recorded 14,873 miles of anadromous rivers and streams and 123,173 acres of lakes and ponds that support and produce wild salmon in the forest. Salmon-derived nitrogen has been found in trees more than 500 yards away from salmon streams, particularly in areas where bears feed on salmon,” the document notes, and “more than 50 species of animals feed on salmon when they return to spawn in freshwater.”

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Snow Crab Quota Up, Red King Crab Quota Slides

Bering Sea snow crab are continuing to rebound from three years ago, prompting the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) to announce a 34,019,000-pound quota for the 2019-2020 fishery, up from 27,581,000 pounds in 2018 and 18,961,000 pounds in 2017.

Holders of individual fishing quota (IFQ) permits are allocated 30,617,100 pounds, with another 3,410,900 pounds allocated for community development quota (CDQ).

The fishery opened in Bering Sea district waters west of 165 degrees west longitude at noon on Oct. 15 and will remain open through May 15, 2020 in the Eastern Subdistrict, east of 173 degrees west longitude, and through May 31, 2020 in the Western Subdistrict, west of 173 degrees west longitude.

Due to closure of the 2019-2020 Eastern and Western Bering Sea Tanner crab fisheries, east and west of 166 degrees west longitude, retention of Tanner crab during the Bering Sea snow drab fishery is prohibited.

The quota for Bristol Bay red king crab, also opening on Oct. 15, was reduced to 3,797,000 pounds, down from 4,330,000 pounds for the 2018-2019 season, based on trawl survey studies, ADF&G said.

Harvesters with individual fishing quota will share in 3,417,300 pounds, a reduction from 3.9 million pounds a year ago. Holders of CDQ permits are allocated a total of 379,700 pounds of the red king crab, down from 430,800 pounds last year.

The Bering Sea Tanner crab fisheries east and west of 166 degrees west longitude were closed for the 2019-2020 season due to estimated mature male biomass in those Bering Sea waters being below thresholds required for the fishery to open. Last year the western district for Tanner crab opened with a total allowable catch of 2,439,000 pounds, down slightly from 2,500,200 pounds a year earlier. The eastern district was closed, as it was in 2017.

Pribilof district red and blue king crab remained closed due to failure to meet federal minimum harvest strategy thresholds required for the fishery to open. ADF&G crab biologists said that the stocks had been declared over fished. The total mature biomass also fell below minimum harvest strategy thresholds required for a fishery.

Pacific Cod Following their Core Habitat North

A new federal research, led by Ingrid Spies, a biologist at NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center, reports that there are strong indications that Pacific cod are moving north in the Bering Sea because of changing ocean temperatures, “Specifically, the effect of climate warming on the Bering Sea cold pool,” she said.

That cold pool is a body of water below 2 degrees celsius (35.6 degrees fahrenheit) left on the eastern Bering Sea bottom after sea ice retreats. It has a strong influence on distribution of walleye Pollock and most flatfish, and Pacific cod avoid it.

As ocean temperatures have warmed and sea ice diminished, the cold pool has shrunk and last year, for the first time in recorded history, the pool was gone.

“Until 2017, cod would usually avoid the cold pool – they’d bump into it and go no farther north,” Spies said. “Then in 2018, the cold pool was gone. There was nothing stopping fish from going north.”

That prompted more questions about where those cod were headed.

Biologists don’t know if the fish whole life cycle has shifted northward or whether they will return to their typical southeastern Bering Sea spawning areas for the winter and then undertake long feeding migrations north during the summer. “This emphasizes the need for continued northern and southeastern Bering Sea surveys and for tagging studies,” Spies said. “This is probably not the only species we will see changing. We really need to monitor the northern Bering Sea with surveys every single year until things stabilize,” she added.

The report indicates that until recently Pacific cod were rarely encountered in the northern Bering Sea. In the 1970s, fishery surveys reported “trace amounts” of cod. A 2010 survey, by the Alaska Fisheries Science Center, estimated that the entire northern population of Pacific cod amounted to approximately 3 percent of the large southeastern Bering Sea stock supporting the commercial fishery.

The 2017 summer survey however, recorded dramatically higher abundances in the north, a 900-fold increase since 2010. At the same time, southeastern Bering Sea abundances were down by 37 percent from 2016. Researchers noted that the increase in the north nearly matched the decrease in the southeastern Bering Sea. In 2018, survey results revealed more cod in the northern than southeastern Bering Sea.

Because cod show natal homing and spawning fidelity, they return to where they were spawned to spawn, the spawning population is considered representative of a population.

Spies’ team compared genetic markers of the northern cod with spawning fish from the three other stocks.

“We found that the northern fish were indistinguishable from the southeastern Bering Sea population,” she said. “That meant the fish were moving north from their historical southeastern Bering Sea habitat.”

Proposed Roadless Rule Exemption Puts Salmon Habitat in Jeopardy

The US Forest Service has released its draft Roadless Rule for Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska, with a preferred alternative calling for repeal of the rule for the Tongass.

Proponents of the exemption, including Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy and the state’s congressional delegation, praised the announcement, saying the roadless rule hinders responsible timber harvest, mineral development and energy projects to lower costs, and that the exemption would benefit the economy of Southeast Alaska.

Opponents said removing of Roadless Rule protections in the Tongass threaten salmon habitat, food security, tourism and some of the wildest places remaining on earth.

SalmonState Executive Director Tim Bristol said that for the last 18 years the roadless rule has protected the Tongass from logging roads and clear cuts that for decades were allowed to degrade, and in some cases destroy, some of the finest salmon and wildlife habitat anywhere in the world. The push to remove protections for the Tongass habitat comes in the wake of pressure from the timber industry, the state’s congressional delegation and governor in spite of public testimony against the move in Southeast Alaska.

Meredith Trainor, executive director of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, concurred. The Roadless Rule is great for the fishing industry. Intact forest helps protect salmon streams. "The shade is important," she said. "Leaving logs in the streams give salmon protection in their natal streams.”

Forest Service officials are in the process of scheduling public meetings and subsistence hearings, which will be made available on the Alaska Roadless Rule project website,

Written comments may be submitted, until Dec. 17, on the Forest Service web at or sent via email at Comments can also be mailed to USDA Forest Service, attn.: Alaska Roadless Rule, P.O. Box 21628, Juneau, Alaska, 99802, or fax to 907-586-7852. They can also be delivered in person at the Forest Service’s offices located at 709 W. 9th Street, Room 535B, Juneau, Alaska 99801.

AFDF is New Client for Salmon Certification

Pacific Seafood Processors Association has transferred the clientship and Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certificate for Alaska salmon to the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation (AFDF).

The transfer concluded a deliberate and cooperative transfer process, according to the Oct. 12 statement from AFDF in Wrangell, Alaska.

On April 23, the Alaska salmon fishery successfully completed the full five-year recertification, and the current certificate is valid through Nov. 11, 2023. The organization initially received its sustainability certification from MSC in 2000.

AFDF is also the client for MSC certification of Pacific cod and the client for the Responsible Fisheries Management certification of Pacific cod and Alaska salmon. Housing both MSC and RFM Alaska salmon certificates and client groups under AFDF will lead to efficiencies for industry to coordinate and share resources, ideas and work products, AFDF officials said.

To sell Alaska salmon as MSC certified, primary processors are required to be members of the MSC Alaska Salmon Client Group and pay an equitable share of the cost of certification in proportion with the pounds of salmon purchased.

There are currently 37 AFDF members in good standing allowed to use the MSC certification for Alaska salmon, including Copper River Seafoods, Icicle Seafoods, Kwik’Pak Fisheries, LLC, Leader Creek Fisheries, North Pacific Seafoods, Ocean Beauty Seafoods, Peter Pan Seafoods, Silver Bay Seafoods LLC, and Trident Seafoods. The complete list is available online at

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Bristol Bay Fishermen Sue EPA

Five Bristol Bay entities speaking for fishermen, economic and tribal concerns sued the US Environmental Protection Agency on Oct. 8 in Anchorage, Alaska, challenging a Trump administration effort to remove Clean Water Act protections for the salmon rich watershed.

The complaint filed in US District Court alleges that “the proposed Pebble mine would destroy thousands of acres of critical habitat and miles of salmon streams that are essential to Bristol Bay’s commercial, recreational and subsistence salmon fisheries."

The Bristol Bay entities, speaking collectively as the Bristol Bay Defense Alliance, includes the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, Bristol Bay Economic Development Association, Bristol Bay Native Association, United Tribes of Bristol Bay and the Bristol Bay Reserve Association.

“My homeland will fight them tooth and nail and that’s why we are here today,” said veteran Bristol Bay harvester Robin Samuelsen, of Dillingham, Alaska, whose grandfather started the first cannery in Bristol Bay 150 years ago. “This mine threatens to wipe out our culture,” said Samuelsen, who contends that top leadership at the EPA has been making decisions behind closed doors to reverse its own determination in July 2014 regarding Section 404 (c) of the Clean Water Act.

Samuelsen also noted that the EPA had previously been critical of the proposed mine on the edge of the watershed that is home to the world’s largest run of sockeye salmon. The fishery is of great economic, cultural and ecological importance to residents of that area of Southwest Alaska, and many others engaged in commercial, sport and subsistence fishing.

In 2019 Bristol Bay produced a harvest of over 44 million salmon. The fishery generates annual revenues of about $1.5 billion and supports 14,000 jobs.

“Bristol Bay is the crown jewel of Alaska’s salmon industry,” said Andy Wink, executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association. “There is simply no precedent for open pit mining coexisting with sockeye salmon on the scale proposed by the Pebble mine in Bristol Bay.”

“The EPA’s proposed determination to enact 404 (c) Clean Water Act protections is an important tool for safeguarding the world’s most productive salmon habitat, and we cannot allow it to be cast aside without due process,” Wink added.

“Because of our careful stewardship, Bristol Bay is home to the last fully intact wild salmon fisheries and cultures in the world,” said Ralph Andersen, president and CEO of Bristol Bay Native Association.

Last July, the EPA withdrew proposed Obama administration restrictions on mining in the Bristol Bay region, contending that those proposed restrictions were based on hypothetical scenarios and were outdated now that the Pebble Limited Partnership, a subsidiary of the Canadian global mining group Hunter Dickinson Inc., had submitted project plans.

The lawsuit contends that EPA’s withdrawal decision is not supported by the record and that EPA failed to acknowledge and explain its reversal. The lawsuit further claims that EPA improperly relied on factors, which Congress has not intended it to consider, and failed to consider relevant key factors in making its decision.

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