Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Commentary Urges Action on Transboundary Mining Pollution

Commentary published in the journal Science by an international group of science and policy experts calls for immediate action to address damages and risks of Canadian mine pollution floating downstream into the United States.

The commentary calls on the US and Canadian governments to invoke the US-Canada Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 and address British Columbia mine assessments, which are neither adequately based on defensible science nor adequately protect those salmon rich transboundary waters from mine pollution.

According to Jill Weitz, director of Salmon Beyond Borders, and one of the authors of the commentary, British Columbia’s mine assessment process leaves Alaskans unprotected because it underestimates the risk of mine failures and contamination and doesn’t rely on independent science.

The transboundary watersheds of the Taku, Stikine-Iskut and Unuk-Nass are home to world class salmon rivers that originate in northwest British Columbia and flow into Southeast Alaska. These rivers and their watersheds have been centers of culture, commerce and biodiversity for thousands of years, and critical to the economy of numerous Southeast Alaska communities. At the headwaters of these rivers lie over two dozen large scale Canadian mines already in some phase of development or operation.

The Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska have also called on the US government to take action under the Boundary Waters Treaty. The Central Council began working to collect baseline water quality data, sediment sampling and water quality surveys on the Taku and Stikine rivers back in 2015. In 2018, the Council expanded their scope to sampling on the Alsek River near Yakutat, and in 2019 added the Chikat and Klehini rivers outside of Klukwan and Haines.

Central Council Environmental Coordinator Raymond Paddock said the commentary validates the concerns of Southeast Alaska tribes as well as their request for increased federal engagement from Canada, the US and indigenous governments, to work together to manage proposed, existing and abandoned mines along shared rivers.

Alaska Mandates New Rules of Conduct

With the start of Alaska’s 2020 commercial salmon season less than three weeks away, the seafood industry is bracing for one like none they’ve seen before, in addition to the huge expense required to keep the fishery safe during a pandemic.

Alaska health officials this past week laid out yet another mandate for upcoming commercial salmon fisheries, designed to keep harvesters, processors and coastal communities safe from the spread of the novel coronavirus. Health mandate 17 covers the conduct of all independent harvesters coming into Alaska’s salmon fisheries aboard independent commercial fishing vessels or arriving to join them in coastal communities.

As of April 29, Alaska has a total of 351 people confirmed to be infected with COVID-19, including 228 who recovered, 37 hospitalizations and a total of nine deaths. The majority of these cases have been recorded in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau. None have been reported in the Copper River and Bristol Bay fisheries areas where health care facilities are very limited.

Those arriving by commercial or chartered aircraft must be wearing face coverings throughout their journey, except when going through security screenings, until they reach facilities where they are to self-quarantine for 14 days.

The city of Cordova on Prince William Sound, where the Copper River fishery opens in mid-May, has mandated a 14-day self-quarantine for everyone upon arrival, including residents returning from elsewhere in Alaska. Fishermen choosing to quarantine on their vessels are required to fly a “Lima” flag or similar yellow and black pennant if any crew on board have not completed their quarantine. They must also comply with all current COVID-19 mandates for the city, which can be found online at, as well as current state mandate available at

Several fishermen who will depart Kodiak for Bristol Bay on their own fishing vessels said they and their crew would quarantine before departing and remain on their fishing vessels for the entire fishery. Anyone not planning to do the same while fishing in Bristol Bay this year should just stay home, they said.

The Bristol Bay working group, which represents economic, health, housing and tribal entities in the region, has told state health officials that human health and the safety of residents of their communities has priority over the fishery. The working group is demanding a collaborative effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the region, particularly since many people coming to harvest or process the salmon are arriving from places where there is already a high rate of infection. The Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918–1919 devastated the region, leaving hundreds of children orphaned, some of whose descendants now fish commercially or process in Bristol Bay.

Participating processors are bringing their own personal protection equipment for employees and planning on other extensive deep cleaning and security measures throughout the fishery, for the protection of their own workers and the communities where they will be working.

Pandemic Prompts Boost in SeaShare Donations

SeaShare’s effort to provide high quality portions of seafood to food banks nationwide has moved into high gear in the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic, which has left millions of Americans unemployed and struggling to put food on their tables.

The Seattle-based nonprofit, with a growing number of several hundred partners and donors, is able to turn every dollar received into eight servings of seafood for those in need.

In early April, E&E Foods donated 110,000 pounds of nutritious wild Alaska smelt to SeaShare, which helped coordinate the first delivery of 30,000 pounds, or 120,000 servings to the Food Bank of Alaska, with three more similarly sized donations scheduled to address the growing needs.

Transportation logistics contributed by PBX Trucking, D&B Transload and Tote Maritime Alaska made it possible to move the first 30,000 pounds from Puget Sound to Anchorage in early April and another load is scheduled to reach Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula and other coastal communities.

Other recent shipments from SeaShare included 22 million servings of breaded portions of seafood to 16 food banks in 12 states and 500,000 servings of breaded seafood to four food banks in another three states, with the food banks themselves arranging shipment.

In Alaska 50,000 servings of salmon and halibut from Trident Seafoods in Kodiak were shipped to Bean’s CafĂ© in Anchorage, with freight costs donated by Matson.

SeaShare shipments to Alaska so far in 2020 have already reached more than 100,00 pounds, including 7,000 pounds of salmon burgers to Dillingham, salmon steaks and Pollock portions to the Juneau food bank and Pollock portions, halibut and salmon steaks to the food bank in Anchorage, according to Jim Harmon, SeaShare executive director.

In mid-March SeaShare sent more than two million servings of family-sized packages of wild Alaska Pollock donated by wild Alaska Pollock producers to 16 food banks in 12 states.

SeaShare started in 1994, when a small group of commercial fishermen in Alaska began donating fish caught incidentally to their directed harvest to food banks. To date more than 200 million servings of seafood have been distributed nationwide. To find out more about SeaShare, its partners and donors and ways to contribute,visit

Second Gulf of Alaska Salmon Expedition Returns with New Data

A second International Year of the Salmon and Pacific Salmon Foundation Gulf of Alaska expedition has concluded with new data gathered toward the goal of providing an early measure of the numbers of salmon that will return to North American rivers. Expedition leaders announced in late April that the international team of researchers reached Victoria Harbour, British Columbia, on April 7.

This expedition came in the wake of the 2019 voyage aboard the Russian research vessel the R/V Professor Kaganovskiy that engaged in similar studies.

The second expedition, aboard the Pacific Legacy, set sail from British Columbia on March 11 with a dozen scientists from Canada, Russia and the United States. It visited 51 stations spread over the southern Gulf of Alaska, each distanced approximately eight hours apart. Researchers conducted extensive oceanographic measurements and a trawl net fished at the surface for an hour at each station. Samples were collected from the catch including a tissue sample for DNA analysis to identify the exact spawning location for each fish.

Due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, scientists from the US disembarked from the vessel at Prince Rupert as a precaution against the possibility of borders being closed between the two countries. Once the vessel reached British Columbia, scientists from Russia were unable to return home quickly but began working on the expedition report from the home of a Canadian colleague residing in BC.

Researchers plan to make data from both expeditions available to all interested researchers and hold a conference whenever possible to finalize their work and publish their findings.

The second expedition, supported by the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission, is part of the International Year of the Salmon. It was privately funded by a number of entities, including Ocean Beauty Seafoods, Leader Creek Fisheries, Trident Seafoods, Icicle Seafoods, Peter Pan Seafoods, UniSea, Silver Bay Seafoods, E&E Foods, Keltic Seafoods Ltd., French Creek Seafood and the Canadian Fishing Co., as well as Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Coastal First Nations’ Great Bear Initiative.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Efforts Continue to Assure Safe Salmon Fisheries in Midst of Pandemic

With the Copper River salmon fishery in Prince William Sound just weeks away and the Bristol Bay salmon fishery coming up in June, plans are still in flux on how to ensure the safety of harvesters, processors and communities in the midst of a pandemic.

To date the areas of the Cordova based fishery and the Bristol Bay region have eluded the spread of the novel coronavirus, and they want to keep it that way. Most communities already have 14-day quarantine requirements in place, as well as restrictions on unnecessary travel.

The city of Cordova, Alaska, has posted a strict set of rules at, dictating protocols for everyone, including residents and visitors, to keep the virus at bay. All fishermen and other businesses are required to notify the harbormaster upon their arrival and to immediately isolate, abiding by traveler quarantine requirements. They must also complete a vessel/business assessment form for all employees and file a mutual aid agreement within 72 hours of arrival.

A detailed Covid-19 specific harbor operations plan is in place. The city has volunteers ready to make sure everyone arriving at the harbor or city airport knows the rules and fills out required travel forms. Cordova Mayor Clay Koplin said they don’t want to harass anyone, but they want the tools in place to be used to keep their community safe.

Meanwhile in Dillingham, the Bristol Bay Working Group – representing economic, health, housing and tribal entities – has told state officials what they consider minimally acceptable protocols to protect those engaged in the fisheries and residents from the virus. The protocols, outlined in a letter to the state, range from pre-screenings of those coming to the Bay for the fisheries to weekly health screenings once they arrive.

The working group’s concern is that the fishery attracts people from many areas where thousands of people have already been infected by COVID -19, and the Bristol Bay region is ill-equipped medically to deal with it. They also remember how the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1919 killed a high percentage of the adult population, leaving hundreds of children as orphans.

Veteran fishermen like Robert Heyano say if the fishery happens they will be out there fishing, but they want the fishery conducted in a safe manner. Heyano said that if everyone focuses their energy on the safest practices and protocols are in place, it will go a long way toward making the fishery a safe one.

To date each of the participating processors has presented its own plan for safe conduct of the fishery. Some of these plans include pre-isolating workers before bringing them to the Bay and protocols to restrict workers to travel between bunkhouses and processing facilities only. Several Bristol Bay harvesters from Kodiak plan to pre-quarantine themselves and crews before leaving Kodiak, and remain on board for the duration of the fishery. If all the incoming harvesters would do that, Dillingham leaders said, it would give them more assurance of a safe fishery.

Processors Looking to Hire 3,100 Seafood Workers

Seafood processors seeking to hire more than 3,100 workers to process the catch in the upcoming commercial salmon fishery are working with the Alaska Department of Labor to recruit people in a manner that keeps everyone safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

State labor officials, with an emphasis on Alaska hire, are screening applicants via telephone interviews and collecting their resumes, then forwarding to prospective employers those matching processor needs.

In normal times, many processors would have their own representatives at state employment offices to do their own screening, but in the midst of the pandemic, crowding of prospective employees into state labor department offices is not an option. Labor Department spokesman Sal Sasol in Anchorage, Alaska, said his staff is also making direct connection with officials in rural communities where the processing takes place to inquire about the availability of residents to fill those jobs.

Job seekers may view a 20-minute seafood processing orientation video available online at to learn what to expect in these jobs.

Current seafood processing recruitment fliers with self-referral instructions are posted at

Job openings are listed in Alaska’s Labor Exchange system, ALEXsys, at

More information is available through the Anchorage Seafood Employment Office at 800-473-0688 or 907-269-4746 or via email at

The state has issued several health mandates to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and identified critical workforce infrastructure industries, including fish processing.

Final details are still being worked out, but most processors, who offer transportation and room and board benefits for those who complete their contracts, are making special arrangements to quarantine incoming workers for 14-days, plus numerous other precautions to stem the spread of the virus in Alaska.

Special Meeting of NPFMC Set for May 15

Federal fisheries officials will convene a special May meeting to review emergency rule requests regarding the halibut and sablefish in the commercial and sport fishing sectors.

Leaders among the halibut and sablefish sector stakeholders are asking the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) to consider greater flexibility in allowing all quota shareholders temporary transfer of IFQ for the 2020 season while preserving the vessel class and other provisions associated with catcher vessel quota share.

The objectives would also include reduced costs and time burden of mandatory quarantines for individuals traveling to harvest their quota share.

The current quarantine protocol, they told NOAA Fisheries, could result in a time requirement of 30 to 40 days in order to harvest quota share of any amount, when considering a 15-day pre-travel quarantine, in addition to a 15-day quarantine upon arrival at the port of harvest.

The issue arose because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which poses a risk for some harvesters due to underlying health factors ranging from age, asthma or high blood pressure to diabetes, heart disease and pregnancy.

NOAA criteria allowing for a medical transfer of IFQ for quota share holders consider only the IFQ holder and do not more broadly include the health of crew or the communities they fish from as considerations for a medical transfer during this pandemic, stakeholders told Chris Oliver, assistant administrator for fisheries with NOAA. Nor do these criteria consider the increased risk of creating new vectors for the spread of COVID-19 due to travel necessary for quota shareholders to harvest their IFQ, or the cost of the newly imposed travel restrictions and quarantine mandates issued by the state of Alaska, they said. Another concern is that the current interpretation for medical transfers is applied only to individuals who are not otherwise eligible to use hired masters.

A second emergency rule issue to be considered at the May 15 meeting comes from the charter sector, seeking to amend Area 2C and 3A charter angler management measures for 2020 while Alaska COVID-19 interstate travel restrictions are in place. Details of their request are included under the meeting agenda available for review at

ATA Votes to Intervene in Litigation Against Federal Fisheries Managers

Board members of the Alaska Trollers Association (ATA) have voted to become an intervener in a lawsuit brought, and its subsequent injunction, against National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) on king salmon fishing and the troll fishery specifically.

An injunction to halt all king salmon trolling effective July 1 was filed in federal court on April 16 by Wild Fish Conservancy (WFC), a conservation ecology organization based in Duvall, Wash. The conservancy contends that the federal government violated the Endangered Species Act by failing to protect Southern Resident killer whales and wild king salmon in its analysis of the fishery. The WFC is asking the federal court to halt the fishing season set to begin July 1 until the NOAA assessment is corrected and it can be shown that the fishery would not push the surviving 72 Southern Resident killer whales further toward extinction.

The ATA contends that the lawsuit, which is calls frivolous, puts the short and long term future of their coastal communities and small fishery businesses at serious risk.

ATA officials said in a statement that they find “both disheartening and surprising” that the conservancy “has overlooked their dams, habitat degradation and toxic pollution in their own backyard and instead focus their attacks on a sustainable hook and line salmon fishery over a thousand miles away.”

The ATA notes that the hook and line fishery catches one fish at a time during tightly regulated openings and that in recent years they have harvested but a fraction of their historical Chinook catch. In Pacific Salmon Treaty negotiations in 1991 they took a 35 percent cut, followed by a 15 percent cut in 2009 and at least another 7.5 percent a year ago, the ATA said. New provisions renegotiated in the last Pacific Salmon Treaty between the US and Canada cut back catches of king salmon throughout their migration routes specifically expecting to increase prey available to the Southern Resident killer whales. The new agreement also invests millions of dollars in additional chinook hatchery production and habitat restoration to support salmon and recovery of these whales, they said.

The ATA statement also notes that the decline of the Southern Resident killer whales dates back to 1962 and 1976, when the state of Washington allowed the capture of 270 sexually mature whales for marine parks. Those whale harvests led to creation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

NMFS also issued a statement saying that “the capture of killer whales for public display during the 1970s likely depressed their population size and altered the population characteristics sufficiently to severely affect their reproduction and persistence.”

“Alaska trollers,” the ATA said, “should not be held accountable for those bad decisions.”

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Federal Fisheries Board June Meeting to be Via Web Conference

The COVID-19 pandemic has required a change of plans for everything, including the June meeting of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC).

The updated plan, announced on Tuesday, April 14, is for the Scientific and Statistical Committee and the Advisory Panel to meet via web conference June 1–5 in advance of the NPFMC online meeting on June 8–10.

The abbreviated agenda will include final action on the St. Matthew blue king crab rebuilding plan, the scallop OFL/ABC (overfishing limit and acceptable biological catch) specifications, Bering Sea/Aleutian Island king crab specifications, Cook Inlet salmon preliminary review, observer issue updates with respect to COVID-19 response, and staff tasking.

The council’s agenda and more details about the meeting can be found at The complete schedule is available at

Everyone is welcome to review and submit comments through each agenda item. The deadline for comments is Sunday, June 7, noon (Alaska time).

More information on how to join the web conference will be posted in May on the council’s website,, as well as on the agenda.

Those with questions regarding the logistics of the meeting or concerns about logging in are asked to contact the council at

The newsletter detailing what happened at the last council meeting in Seattle, Wash., is available at

The council’s April meeting in Anchorage, Alaska, was cancelled and several other committee meetings were postponed, including the Ecosystem committee, Trawl Electronic Monitoring committee, Bering Sea FEP (fishery ecosystem plan) Climate Change Taskforce, Individual Fishing Quota committee and the Community Engagement committee, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

2020 Commercial Salmon Fisheries Being Debated

Discussions are underway at the government level, as well as with the processing and harvesting sectors of Alaska’s commercial salmon fisheries on how to proceed this summer in the midst of a pandemic.

On one side are processors and harvesters who feel that with strict protocols in place the fisheries can proceed while assuring the health and safety of the communities where the fish is processed and of those engaged in every aspect of these fisheries. On the other side are people who live in these communities who recall the 1918–1919 Spanish flu pandemic that wiped out a substantial portion of the population, leaving hundreds of children orphaned.

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy said during a news teleconference on Tuesday, April 14, that the state is trying to determine if there is a way these fisheries can be conducted in a manner that will protect the workers and people who live in these communities. The governor acknowledged that the fisheries have a huge economic impact on the state, but noted that every community is different so there are various levels of discussion going on.

Processors have sent several letters to their fishermen and communities outlining details on protocols they would expect everyone to follow for the safety of all workers and residents of communities. They have issued detailed advisories to those coming to work for them on hand hygiene, encouraged them to get vaccinated against the flu and noting that all individuals joining on-going vessel or shoreside plan operations will be screened.

Temperature taking and individual interviews are to be conducted at the airport in Anchorage, Alaska, before these workers are allowed to depart for remote processor sites.

Andy Wink, executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, said that the BBRSDA is working with community officials and industry representatives to develop options for safe operation of the fishery for the health and safety of residents as well as the fleet and industry partners.

“The BBRSDA does not and cannot control individual fishermen or direct their operations, but we strongly advise all members of the fleet to strictly adhere to local, state, and federal guidelines in regards to quarantine requirements and all other health and safety measures,” he said.

Meanwhile community leaders in Dillingham, in Bristol Bay’s Nushagak district, have asked Gov. Mike Dunleavy to consider closing down the Bristol Bay fishery because of the grave risk to the region’s limited health care facilities. So far Dunleavy says he has no plans for closures.

Schindler: No Danger of Overpopulation of Bristol Bay Fish

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is disrupting economies all over the globe, many people are concerned that if the Bristol Bay wild salmon fishery were to be canceled for health and safety reasons, it would prove extremely damaging to the fishery itself.

“Not so”, said Daniel Schindler, an ecologist in the College of the Environment at the University of Washington, and one of the core faculty with the UW Alaska Salmon Program.

Schindler said he understands that safety is a real concern in rural Alaska, where health facilities are extremely limited, and where people are present in high density during the fishery.

According to him, the discussion that needs to take place is the economic consequences versus health concerns, rather than overpopulation of fish, which is not a concern, but a distraction.

As of Tuesday, April 14, Alaska health officials had reported a total of 285 people statewide testing positive for the virus, of which 32 have been hospitalized, 98 recovered and nine died. Alaska, to date, has the lowest number of people confirmed positive for the virus of all 50 states.

“It is clear,” said Schindler, “that people should dismiss concerns about negative ecological impacts of exceptionally high escapements.”

Over-escapement is an industry term used to describe issues that may arise if too many fish are allowed to escape into river systems, resulting in competition between spawning adults and their offspring or resulting in the spread of fish diseases.

Schindler, who has done boots on the ground research in Bristol Bay fisheries for years, said Bristol Bay watersheds have shown that prevailing science does not support evidence of an ecological program that will result in future depression of the Bristol Bay wild salmon populations. No matter what happens in 2020, the fishery will be sustained, he said.

In years when there is high escapement into the river systems a lot of the fish don’t spawn, instead dying with their eggs in them, he said. A lot of those fish will be eaten by bears, eagles, gulls, ravens and all sorts of other birds.

Icicle to Employ Floating Processor for Togiak Herring Fishery

Icicle Seafoods plans to use a floating processor, the Gordon Jensen, to process in the Togiak herring fishery, which is expected to open around the first of May with an 80-million pound quota.

Chris Pugmire, Icicle’s general manager of operations for Western Alaska, told public radio station KDLG in Dillingham, Alaska, that the vessel will anchor offshore and that the crew and staff of the Gordon Jensen will be onboard for the duration of the fishery.

According to Pugmire none of the workers aboard the boat have had contact with anyone other than their shipmates since early March, when Icicle stopped bringing on new crew because of the novel coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe.

Icicle also has submitted to the state of Alaska a required plan for disease prevention and has been working to develop customized protocols to ensure the best prevention measures possible, Pugmire told KDLG.

Icicle is the only processor this year in the Togiak herring fishery, whose markets have been declining in recent years, but Pugmire said his company is remaining optimistic about markets.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Cantwell Secures Economic Relief for Harvesters

Senator Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., has secured $300 million in economic relief for fishermen in a COVID-19 package approved by the US Senate.

“Thousands of fishermen in the Pacific Northwest and across the nation will now have access to grants and other forms of financial relief from NOAA,” Cantwell said.

The Washington state Democrat noted that the fishing industry has already seen layoffs and fishing season closures. “It is crucial that we support fishermen and ensure they have access to emergency grants and other assistance as they face the unprecedented challenges of this pandemic,” she said.

A provision within the package would direct the Commerce Department to distribute $300 million in financial assistance in the form of direct payments, including grants, as well as other forms of investments in the fishing industry and shellfish farms. Cantwell collaborated with senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, both R-Alaska, and Senator Susan Collins, R-Maine, on the relief package.

Cantwell noted that there are already reports of the devastating economic impact of COVID-19 on the fishing industry, with fishermen experiencing significant economic losses. This new financial assistance will help all fishermen, including those who may not qualify for other forms of aid because many fishermen are self-employed

Dillingham Wants Protections in Place Before Bristol Bay Fishery Opens

Community leaders in the Nushagak area of the Bristol Bay wild salmon fishery say they want restrictions in place before the harvesting begins to keep residents safe from the novel coronavirus, which has reached pandemic strength.

A unified message from regional organizations based in Dillingham, Alaska, calls for all individuals arriving for the fishery to be transported directly from the airport to quarantine facilities, and to remain there until testing negative for COVID-19. The Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation is one of a number of rural health care providers who are to receive testing kits from Abbott Laboratories that can produce results within minutes. The testing machines are being provided to a number of rural areas of Alaska through the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium.

The protocols also call for the fishing industry to work with approved health care providers for employees and fishermen on pre-arrival and post-arrival screenings. Regional officials sent an email to all processors who will be operating in the Bristol Bay fishery advising them that first and foremost among their priorities are the health and public safety of their communities and all salmon industry participants.

Norm Van Vactor, of the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation, told the processors that the regional corporations would be continuing to evaluate information on the status of the pandemic in Alaska as it becomes available. Meanwhile, Dillingham Mayor Alice Ruby and First Chief of the Curyung Tribal Council Tom Tilden, urged Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy to consider closure of the Bristol Bay salmon fishery, if necessary, to protect the health of residents of Bristol Bay communities. The immediate response from the governor’s office was that the state has no plans at this time to close down the fishery.

Tilden noted that over half of the fishing permit holders headed for the Bay are coming from California, Washington state and Oregon, where many people have already tested positive for the virus, and many have died. “What can the state do to assure us that our health won’t be jeopardized?” Tilden asked. “We have to start talking and coming up with solutions, but we have to work together. The state says this is an essential resource, but we are essential too.”

Trident Seafoods and PSPA Prepare COVID-19 Protocols

Trident Seafoods is telling residents of the Prince William Sound community of Cordova, Alaska, that they are finalizing Cordova-specific protocols to address plant operations and limit employee interactions with the community and fishermen because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The situation is rapidly changing and as it evolves, we will maintain open lines of communication with the community” said Rick Isaacson, regional manager for Trident Seafoods. “For us, it will only be a successful season if we are able to maintain and protect the health and safety of our community.”

Isaacson said that Trident is proactively monitoring key reports, updates and notifications from international, federal and state health officials and government authorities to ensure they quickly adapt to evolving circumstances, including best practices and testing technologies.

The city of Cordova itself is planning well in advance of the anticipated mid-May opener of the famed Copper River salmon run to keep the virus out of their community. City officials noted that statewide mandates already required all people arriving in Alaska, whether resident, worker or visitor, to self-quarantine for 14 days when reaching their destination in the state.

Having incoming crews self-quarantine on their vessels is a perfectly acceptable plan, in fact probably preferred, Cordova officials said in a lengthy document outlining their plan.

City officials also noted that companies traveling to Alaska for the fishery may put them to work immediately, provided that they have an approved community/workforce protective plan and they have enacted protective measures into the plan to safeguard the community.

Pacific Seafood Processors Association (PSPA) also sent a letter to Cordova to assure the community that their member companies have been participating in a seafood industry work group formed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The group worked with a medical risk management company that specializes in commercial maritime and remote worksites to develop guidance protocols specifically for the industry, said Chris Barrows, president of PSPA.

“PSPA will continue to closely monitor the situation, share information and support measures that protect the health and safety of Alaska communities,” Barrows said.

COVID-19 Prompts Copper River Seafoods to Find New Markets

When the novel coronavirus pandemic forced Anchorage, Alaska, area restaurants to close their doors, Copper River Seafoods (CRS) scrambled quickly into retail mode, selling frozen portioned inventory at bargain prices to people suddenly facing food insecurity. “Due to restaurants shutting their doors, the local wholesale market demand dropped almost overnight,” said Jim Kostka, marketing director for Copper River Seafoods.

With the market shifting rapidly, Kostka quickly devised a plan that would move frozen portioned inventory while helping a lot of people who had suddenly lost their jobs.

“Since CRS had inventory that was destined to the local restaurants, we cut prices to respond to the local demand and give back to our community,” he said.

His plan began to take shape when the first three restaurant owners began to lay off staff, who then applied for unemployment. “We said ‘what can we do to make a difference in the community’?” Kostka said.

“What started with literally three texts to see how we could help various colleagues that lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic went viral in Anchorage,” he said. CRS put together 15-pound boxes at $5 a pound ($75 a box) of portioned frozen individually wrapped halibut.

Word went out on a Friday evening and soon his phone was in meltdown mode through the following Tuesday. By 10 a.m. Monday they had sold 2,600 pounds of halibut portions.

Provided with each box is a copy of the “How to spot the symptoms” federal document on the COVID-19 virus.

“The response was amazing and the thank yous are still coming in,” Kostka said. “I have several customers that have a hug on hold for me for when we get through this for the positive impact we have with our offering to our community. We will continue to offer a weekly 10-pound variety box of the best seafood in the world, as well as smoked and bulk orders, as a means to get healthy protein out to feed our Alaska neighbors and loved ones at bulk/wholesale prices and to keep our commercial fishing industry viable,” he said.

The weekly offerings will be posted online at, the company’s new ecommerce site, established specifically for bulk and wholesale prices.

Meanwhile, Kostka’s new mantra is “Let us help you make your home, your new favorite restaurant featuring wild Alaskan seafood!”

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Alaska’s Commercial Harvesters Listed as ‘Critical Infrastructure’

Plans are in progress to conduct the multi-million dollar Bristol Bay salmon fishery this summer in a manner that keeps harvesters, processors and the seafood itself safe in the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“Everyone is working on it on a regular basis,” said Norm Van Vactor of the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp. in Dillingham, Alaska. “It is literally a plan in progress. We are moving forward with a positive attitude (but) nobody is in La La Land.”

Commercial fishermen are now officially identified as “critical infrastructure” by the state of Alaska. That means that fishing preparations and activities in Bristol Bay are cleared to continue, but under various safety protocols aimed at containing the spread of the pandemic coronavirus in the state, the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association (BBRSDA) told its members this past week. Those planning to travel to Alaska through May 1 are required to self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival at their final destination. Those traveling within Alaska, between now and May 1, do not have to submit a plan to the state at this time.

The BBRSDA is currently waiting for more direction from the state. Meanwhile the association is working with community leaders and processors to develop safety protocols pertaining to public and industry health. They are advising the drift gillnet fleet to use best practices for personal health and safety and to think about how they will personally protect themselves, their crew and the Bristol Bay communities they will pass through.

The BBRSDA said it is possible that the association will be allowed to submit a “blanket plan” on behalf of Bristol Bay fishermen. The association has been working on what that looks like and what information the state would require in such a document.

They are advising fishermen that if they cannot follow its protocols or need to incorporate other details they would need to submit their own plan, listing their crewmembers into the plan and protocols.

Meanwhile the association has advised all harvesters coming to Bristol Bay to practice social distancing, to wash hands frequently, avoid touching faces while in common areas, and cover coughs with their upper arm.

Complete guidelines are posted on the association’s website,

Ocean Beauty is Ready to Process in 2020

Ocean Beauty Seafoods is telling its fleet they are ready to process the wild salmon their fishermen harvest in the upcoming Alaska fisheries, with top priority being the safety of their communities, employees, fishermen, customers and fish.

“We have been in business since 1910 and have never missed a salmon season in time of war, pandemic or for any other reason,” the company said in a recent letter to its harvesters.

“The salmon business is our core business and is in our DNA. We are purchasing supplies as usual and will be processing salmon this season if it is humanly possible.”

Ocean Beauty officials noted that they are currently operating at high capacity at their Kodiak facility on bottom fish and have so far been able to address any concerns as they have arisen.

Ocean Beauty, like other processors participating in the annual wild salmon fisheries in Alaska, has engaged in some special planning this year, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Steps taken to date include creation of a virus working group with representatives from sales, distribution, Alaska operations, quality assurance and information technology. They have formulated and implemented a travel policy to reduce exposure, implemented a post travel self-quarantine and also developed an enhanced sanitation program.

Ocean Beauty officials said they are also expanding their recruitment efforts, both domestic and international, in an effort to combat a possible increase in numbers of workers who do not wish or are unable to travel to Alaska this year.

Copies of the Centers for Disease Control guidelines for staying safe during the pandemic are being distributed to all their employees and customers. They have also communicated with customers to ensure that they understand Ocean Beauty is working to guarantee as best they can that they will provide an uninterrupted flow of product to them.

NOAA Grants Temporary Waiver on Observer Coverage

Federal fisheries officials responding to novel coronavirus concerns of longline halibut and black cod harvesters put a waiver in place through April 9 on required partial observer coverage in the Alaska fishery, after which the waiver was to be evaluated on a weekly basis.

The temporary waiver was announced on March 26 by Jim Balsiger, Alaska regional director for NOAA Fisheries, who said the emergency rule was granted consistent with the agency’s authority under certain circumstances, in this case because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association (ALFA) had urged emergency action to exempt them from carrying observers on their commercial fishing vessels because of lack of space allowing for adherence to precautionary guidelines issued to avoid spread of the virus, which has sickened, and in many cases caused the deaths of thousands of people worldwide. Federal, state and local guidelines are for everyone to keep a six-foot space between themselves and others, wash hands frequently and to wipe down frequently all commonly used surfaces.

“All we need is for one of those observers to be a virus carrying vector that infects the crew and skipper, who infect people in the processing plant and their families and the whole industry is shut down—along with a community where access to health care is extremely limited,” said Linda Behnken, executive director of ALFA.

The limited duration waiver for observer coverage in the partial category fleet was based on four factors, including limitations on available air travel in Alaska, particularly to remote communities, due to increasing concern about the COVID-19 pandemic.

NOAA also cited the absence of Alaska Marine Highway System service as an alternative travel method, limitations on intra-state travel, including local shelter-in-place restrictions, which direct self-quarantine practices for anyone traveling into remote communities, and the ongoing need to conserve limited observer capacity and coverage capability for other vessels and processing facilities participating in the full coverage category.

The emergency order dictates that through April 9 vessel owners or operators with vessels in the partial coverage category have to log each fishing trip into the Observer Declare and Deploy System and otherwise comply with applicable regulatory and other requirements.

During the waiver period, Balsiger said, NOAA Fisheries would evaluate the impact of the waiver on the conservation and management of the affected fishery resources and might make adjustments to the fishery and catch accounting system in the future.

St. Paul Island Bans All Non-Essential Travel

The city’s location in the midst of the Central Bering Sea is usually considered a disadvantage because of its remoteness, but during the pandemic, the Saint Paul City Council has taken steps to keep the raging coronavirus from infecting their Pribilof Island fishing community.

In response to federal and state emergency declarations over the COVID-19 pandemic, the city council banned all non-essential travel to the island through April 15. City Manager Phil Zavadil said the council would meet again on the matter before that date to determine if that travel ban should be extended.

“The city council adopted this resolution both in response to the state’s mandates, but also in recognition of our community’s limited ability to treat individuals who might develop serious COVID-19 related symptoms,” Zavadil said.

The island is home to some 400 mostly Unangan (Aleut) residents. The Saint Paul Island Community Health Center, which is run by the Southcentral Foundation in Anchorage, Alaska, has no resident doctors and just one ventilator. “Residents with severe medical conditions are usually medivaced by plane to Anchorage area hospitals,” Zavadil said. “We need to first of all prevent contagion on the island, hence the travel ban, and secondly be prepared to treat cases locally through quarantining and other CDC (Centers for Disease Control) recommended methods,” he said.

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