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.

Crab–Snow Quota Up, Red King Quota Down

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 from the 2018-2019 season 4,330,000 pounds based on trawl survey studies, ADF&G said.

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

The Bering Sea Tanner crab fisheries east and west of 166 degrees west longitude are 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 again 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, the agency said.

Alaska Salmon Harvest Exceeds 203 Million

Alaska’s wild salmon harvest reached more than 203 million fish as the season drew to a close in October, largely exceeding last year’s 115.7 million fish, with the sockeye proving to be a star performer.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) biologists had predicted a statewide 2019 harvest of 213.2 million salmon, including 41.7 million reds. However, by Oct. 3, ADF&G’s preliminary harvest data showed some 55.3 million sockeyes delivered to processors statewide.

Chinook catches met their modest forecast of 274,000 fish while pink salmon totaled some 125.7 million fish, compared to a forecast of 137.8 million. Keta salmon harvests stood at 18.3 million, nearly 12 million fewer fish than anticipated, and coho production also lagged, down roughly 25 percent from the expected harvest of 4.6 million fish, noted Garrett Evridge, of the McDowell Group, who produces weekly Alaska salmon harvest updates during the fishery for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.

The 2019 sockeye harvest is the fourth largest on record, measured in numbers of fish, with Bristol Bay accounting for 78 percent of the total. The Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian Islands accounted for 7 percent while Prince William Sound came up with 5 percent, and Southeast Alaska with 16 percent of the total, while other areas of Alaska brought in the last 4 percent, Evridge said.

The keta harvest of some 18 million fish is the 16th largest on record and nearly equal to the five-year average. Southeast Alaska harvests accounted for 42 percent, followed by Prince William Sound with 31 percent, the Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian Islands with 8 percent and the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim with 7 percent. All other areas, led by Bristol Bay, accounted for the remainder, Evridge said.

The Chinook harvest of some 274,000 fish proved slightly larger than the 2018 catch, but still ranked among the lowest harvests since 1975. The biggest region for kings, at 63 percent, was Southeast Alaska. Bristol Bay was the second biggest producer for kings, at 13 percent. The Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian Islands had 11 percent and Prince William Sound 7 percent.

Climate change brought rising temperatures again to Alaska and drought conditions resulted in unknown thousands of salmon dying before they reached spawning grounds due to lack of sufficient water in streambeds. In some areas, including Prince William Sound, salmon milled around for days waiting for waters to rise. Several state biologists said they likely won’t know the impact of those temperatures and drought conditions until 2021.

“It was a dry summer and the way climate conditions are continuing this is more than likely to become more commonplace,” said Charlie Russell, a seine management biologist for ADF&G in Cordova.

Effort Continues to Remove Marine Debris

Several efforts are underway in the Pacific Northwest to remove tons of marine debris washed up on the tidal shorelines of Oregon and Washington, as well as areas of Alaska, in coordination with NOAA Fisheries’ marine debris program.

Professional fishers and diver services are often needed to remove lost fishing gear from both commercial and recreational harvesters along the outer coast, in rivers and inland waters, but a larger issue is marine debris washing up along sparsely populated coastal areas of the Pacific Northwest from all across the Pacific Rim. The latter is testimony to the global nature of the marine debris problem, NOAA officials said.

Volunteers remove most of the debris from remote and largely inaccessible coastal areas. Fall and winter weather conditions bring more of it on the beaches, making removal more challenging.

One project from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) at the College of William and Mary is working to reduce ecological and economic impacts associated with lost gear in coastal Washington and Alaska. The goal is to reduce ecological and economic impacts associated with lost gear by incorporating an innovative bio-hinge mechanism into Dungeness crab traps. The project is funded by a Fishing for Energy grant, a partnership between the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Covanta and NOAA’s Marine Debris Program.

The Northwest Straits Foundation and its partners are in the midst of a three-year derelict crab pot survey and removal project supplemented with a targeted outreach campaign to recreational crabbers in Washington marine waters of the Salish Sea. The project, which runs through Nov. 30, 2021, directly addresses actions identified in the Puget Sound Lost Crab Pot Prevention Plan and in the Washington Marine Debris Action Plan.

A third marine debris removal project involves the University of Washington’s Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team (COASST) in collaboration with the NOAA Marine Debris Program. The team is conducting shoreline monitoring field trials for evaluation and to update the NOAA Marine Debris Monitoring and Assessment Project and COASST marine debris monitoring protocols. This citizen scientist initiative engages both domestic and international volunteers in conducting standardized shoreline surveys for marine debris items larger than 2.5 centimeters.

In Alaska, a community-based marine debris removal grant that concluded in October worked to remove debris from more than 80 local beaches accessible from the road system on Kodiak Island. Volunteers gathered, sorted and measured debris to better understand the composition and trends of debris accumulating onshore. Island Trails Network, with support of a NOAA community-based Marine Debris Removal grant, worked with the local community at Kodiak.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Federal Fisheries Board Meets in Homer

Final 2019-2020 specifications for five crab stocks are on the agenda at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s fall meeting under way in Homer, Alaska, through Oct. 9. Specifications will be determined for Eastern Bering Sea snow crab, Bristol Bay red king crab, Eastern Bering Sea tanner crab, Pribilof Island red king crab and St. Matthew blue king crab.

According to the council’s crab plan team members, Aleutian Islands golden king crab, Eastern Bering Sea snow crab and Pribilof Island red king crab are currently estimated to be above biomass maximum sustainable yield for 2019/2020. Eastern Bering Sea Tanner crab, Bristol Bay red king crab and Norton Sound red king crab are estimated to be below maximum sustainable yield.

Saint Matthew blue king crab was declared to be overfished in October of 2018. Pribilof Islands blue king crab stock remains overfished and is estimated to be well below is sustainable yield, but according to the crab plan team overfishing is not occurring for any crab stocks.

Also on the agenda, an initial review of the preliminary draft environmental impact statement for Bering Sea/Aleutian Island (BSAI) halibut abundance-based management prohibited species catch limits. A major change from current bycatch limits is under consideration. Restrictions would fluctuate up and down annually with changes in Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands halibut abundance. Prohibited species catch limit modifications are being considered for various groundfish sectors including the Amendment 80 and BSAI trawl limited access sector, longline catcher vessels, longline catcher processors and the Community Development Quota sector.

The meeting is open to the public and will be broadcast via

Sustainability of Current Tuna Fishing Habits Questioned

A new report by researchers at the University of British Columbia and University of Western Australia has found that global tuna catches have increased more than 1,000 percent in the past six decades, fueled by a massive expansion of industrial fisheries.

Their findings, published in Fisheries Research, by scientists engaged in the Sea Around Us initiative, indicate that these fisheries, which have caught nearly six million tons of tuna annually in recent years, are operating substantially over capacity. Researchers said fisheries have fully exploited or over-exploited populations of tuna and other large fish species and spread out to a point where no new fishing grounds remain to be explored.

According to the research, continuation of tuna fisheries’ catch and revenue at similar levels to present day will depend on long-term sustainable management of the fisheries and fleets exploiting these stocks and ecosystems, as well as the cooperation of over 100 countries engaged in tuna fisheries.

Lead study author Angie Coulter of UBC’s Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, and her colleagues, have produced the first comprehensive global data set since 1995 that estimates the amount of tuna taken from the ocean and where the fish are being caught.

They found that skipjack and yellowfin are the most commonly caught species of tuna, with combined catches of four million tons annually in recent years. Meanwhile catches of the sushi-favorite blue fin tuna have declined heavily since the mid-20th century, with that species now considered critical.

Researchers also found that the Pacific Ocean provides 67 percent of the world’s total tuna catches, which are mostly taken by Japanese and US fleets. Another 12 percent is caught in the Indian Ocean by mostly Taiwanese, Spanish, Indonesian and French fleets. An additional 12 percent comes from the Atlantic Ocean taken by Spanish, French and more recently Japanese and Korean vessels operating under Ghana’s flag.

Coulter said that hopefully results of this study will encourage stakeholders and policymakers to boost monitoring, share information and agree on coordinated efforts like cutbacks, to foster sustainability of tuna stocks.

Congress Urged to Speed Relief for Fishery Failures

A bipartisan effort is underway in the US Senate to provide harvesters hard hit by fisheries disasters with more funding and timely relief. During a Sept. 25 hearing of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, Senators Roger Wicker, R- Miss., chairman, and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., ranking member, voiced concerns for the importance of responding to fisheries disasters and pushed for reforms.

Wicker said he welcomed news from Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross of approval of a federal fishery disaster declaration and relief process for Mississippi, “but problems remain with the fisheries disasters declaration process. Our fishermen deserve more timely consideration and relief,” he said.

“In Washington, fisheries are a cornerstone of our maritime economy,” Cantwell said. “Its related businesses and seafood processors, ship builders, gear manufacturers, support 60 percent of our maritime economy, which is about 146,000 jobs and $30 billion in economic activity.” Cantwell spoke of the importance of fisheries and particularly of the 2016 salmon fishery disaster, which impacted fisheries across the state. “Washington has experienced 17 fishery disasters since 1992 including crab, groundfish and salmon,” she said. “Unfortunately, the fisheries disaster process has become more burdensome, and has resulted in less funding and lengthy delays, putting an unnecessary burden on fishermen and fishing communities.”

“The coho disaster impacted tribes, commercial fishermen, charter and recreational fishermen, but not all groups received adequate funding from NOAA,” Cantwell wrote.

Commercial fishermen in Alaska hard hit by the 2016 Prince William Sound pink salmon disaster are still waiting for compensation under the promised disaster relief.

“[NOAA] need to address the timeliness in facilitating these disasters, but they need some clarifying parameters,” said Alaska Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak. “They need to involve stakeholders. They did not involve the fishermen” (in determining the formula for payment in the 2016 pink salmon disaster). “Without stakeholder input that’s how the formula got screwed up. They need to make sure that the people affected are appropriately compensated. If not then it needs to be an even distribution across the board,” she said.

The current application period for those impacted by the Prince William Sound 2016 disaster is Oct. 31, 2019. The amount of time it has taken for those impacted to get paid “is almost criminal,” she said. “There is no excuse for it.”

New Director Named at Auke Bay Fisheries Science Center

NOAA Fisheries has named Dana Hanselman to be the new director of the Auke Bay Laboratories Division of the Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Juneau, Alaska.

Prior to this appointment, Peter Hagen had served as acting division director.

The federal fisheries agency said in his 16 years with the science center that Hanselman has distinguished himself through his innovative analytical methods and that he has been recognized by his peers as a leader in stock assessment methods.

Hanselman is the sablefish stock assessment lead and co-author on several rockfish assessments. He also served as co-chair of the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands groundfish plan team and is a member of the councils scientific and statistics committee.

Hanselman has earned a Department of Commerce Bronze Medal for his contributions to the NOAA Scientific Integrity Committee and is a past winner of the prestigious Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers.

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