Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Latest Pebble Plan Bump Hinges on Mine Access

Federal officials tasked with deciding whether to issue a crucial permit for the proposed Pebble mine, in Southwest Alaska, have identified as a preferred transportation route acreage owned by Alaska Native entities adamantly opposed to the mine.

The decision announced on Friday, May 22, by the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), identified the 82-mile two lane access road along the northern shore of Lake Iliamna as the least environmentally damaging way to develop a wetlands mitigation plan for the mine. The choice of a northern transportation route would change the port site for the mine to Diamond Point, which lies further north on Cook Inlet.

The USACE announcement was hailed as good news by Tom Collier, chief executive officer of the Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP) in Anchorage, Alaska. The PLP is a subsidiary of Hunter Dickinson Inc., a diversified global mining group with headquarters in Vancouver, British Columbia.

USACE said during the teleconference they expect to complete a final environmental impact statement for the mine in June or July, followed this fall by a record of decision, which would trigger significant federal permits for the mine, including a federal Clean Water Act Section 404 permit, allowing for construction in wetlands.

A portion of the land over which the new transportation route would be laid traverses Bristol Bay Native Corp. (BBNC) surface and subsurface lands, including at its eastern terminus, which sits on property jointly owned by subsidiaries of BBNC and Igiugig Village Council (IVC). Both entities had previously advised the Corps and the PLP that these lands are not and will not be available to accommodate the mine, BBNC said in a statement issued shortly after the Corps’ announcement.

The battle over development of the PLP’s copper, gold and molybdenum mine began nearly two decades ago, when Northern Dynasty Minerals, a subsidiary of Hunter Dickenson, found a large deposit of copper, gold and molybdenum on state land in the area of the Bristol Bay watershed, home of the world’s largest run of wild sockeye salmon.

Backers of the mine contend that they can build and operate the mine without harming the fishery, and, in Collier’s words, “bring substantial long-term economic activity and revenue to this part of Alaska. As interested stakeholder groups begin to see that the project can be done without harming the fishery and the benefits it will bring, we believe support for the project will continue to grow.”

Collier acknowledged that the new route would pass through land owned by BBNC, Pedro Bay Corp. and Igiugig Village Council. The Igiugig Village Council also owns the land at Diamond Point where the PLP wants to build a port on Cook Inlet.

In fact, according to Christina Salmon, a board member of the Igiugig Village Council and environmental manager for Iliaska Environmental LLC, a IVC subsidiary, Pebble has not even reached out to the council to try to negotiate an agreement. “Current plans are for a subsidiary of BBNC in partnership with a wholly owned subsidiary of the Igiugig Village Council, to establish a rock quarry, with large rock to be used for shoreline protection and breakwaters,” she said.

2020 Research Surveys for Alaska Waters Canceled

Federal fisheries officials have canceled five large-scale research surveys in federal waters off Alaska in 2020 in an effort to protect their crews and communities associated with the surveys from spread of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

NOAA Fisheries officials said on May 22 that it was a difficult decision to make, while balancing their core mission and the realities and impacts of the pandemic.

The cancelations include the Aleutian Islands bottom trawl survey, the Eastern Bering Sea bottom trawl survey, the northern Bering Sea bottom trawl survey, the Bering Sea Pollock acoustics survey and the fall ecosystem survey. The annual Alaska longline survey will take place as planned.

NOAA Fisheries said that after two months of careful planning and rigorous analysis of various options for conducting the surveys they concluded that there was no way to move forward with a plan that would effectively minimize risk to staff, crew and associated communities.

Conducting the key groundfish and crab surveys in a limited timeframe would require extraordinarily long stays, well beyond standard survey operations. Extended quarantines for the survey team prior to and following the projects would also be necessary to ensure team members and public health safety.

For now the agency plans to rely on previously collected series of fisheries and ecosystem data and stock assessment models to help ensure there is limited conservation impact from the loss of survey data this year.

NOAA Fisheries was also collecting acoustic data using unmanned surface vehicles to support the Pollock assessment and working with federal, state and industry partners to collect other fisheries, oceanographic and ecosystem data. That information will be presented to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee on June 1 and to the full council on June 8. Both sessions are slated to be held online only due to the pandemic.

Copper River Fishery Perking Up

In the wake of two slow openers on May 14 and May 18, and a third period when no fishing was allowed, commercial harvesters on Alaska’s Copper River brought home an estimated 1,467 Chinooks and 33,752 sockeye salmon in the 12-hour Memorial Day opener.

That fourth period catch boosted the overall harvest to date for the famed Copper River to an estimated 45,537 fish, including 4,935 kings and 39,823 reds, which was, in the eyes of veteran harvester Jerry McCune of Cordova “still not good.” McCune, who is the president of Cordova District Fishermen United, said he was doubtful that the Alaska Department of Fish and Game would allow a harvest for the fifth opener schedule for Thursday, May 28.

“First,” said McCune, “there will have to be some improvement on escapement numbers into the river systems.”

Cordova’s Bill Webber, another longtime fisherman and boat builder, agreed, noting that according to the latest Miles Lake sonar sheet count he’d seen the salmon were still behind on escapement upriver. Still he said there are definitely fish entering the Copper River Delta area now and he’s optimistic that the fishery, which may have started a little too early, will improve.

“We’ll see what we can do and hopefully we will do a little better,” he said.

The pressures of the Copper River opener aside, Cordova so far has kept the novel coronavirus at bay, thanks to strict mandates requiring everyone entering the community to immediately quarantine for 14 days. To date just one out-of-state processor worker has tested positive, while still in quarantine.

With the slow start of the fishery, fresh Copper River kings and reds were hard to come by in the Anchorage area. Costco and Fred Meyer stores still had plenty of refreshed, previously frozen Bristol Bay sockeye fillets for sale at $9.99 a pound.

In Seattle, Wash., meanwhile, prices for fresh Copper River kings and sockeyes were still commanding premium prices at the Pike Place Fish Market, including $659.99 for whole fresh Copper River kings and $174.99 for whole Copper River sockeyes.

Income Loss Tops Harvesters’ Pandemic Concerns

Independent fishermen hard hit by seafood markets crashing and prevention requirements for operating during a global pandemic say that loss of income, community health and safety and the proposed Pebble mine are their top concerns.

When the coronavirus was first documented in the United States and seafood markets crashed, SalmonState, a broad based non-profit communications network dedicated to protection of Alaska’s salmon habitat, realized the need to get a handle on what fishermen were experiencing and needing, said Tyson Fick, a Southeast Alaska fisherman and spokesperson for SalmonState. “As a result, we have an invaluable snapshot of what Alaskan fishermen want and need right now.”

Between April 14 and May 3, SalmonState surveyed 779 Alaska fishermen, primarily salmon harvesters, who also fish for other species. The group included permit holders, crew and individual fishing quota owners.

When asked about issues facing the fisheries prior to the pandemic, fish prices, the proposed mine and climate change were the top three concerns. With the impact of the novel coronavirus, primary concerns were identified as loss of income, prevention of the spread of COVID-19 into coastal communities, and bad policy decisions while fishermen are distracted, including regulatory decisions and Pebble mine issues.

SalmonState said fishermen are guarding against negative effects of COVID-19 by doing more work with less time and resources, with 51 percent of respondents indicating they would look for work outside the fishing industry.

The most common answer for how emergency relief funds can best help fishermen was “direct funds to affected fishermen.” Concerns were also voiced regarding debt consolidation and forgiveness issues. About an equal number of respondents thought that emergency funds would be best spent on increased infrastructure for direct marketing and allowing emergency transfers of permits and quota.

The full report can be found online at

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

NPFMC Approves Emergency Action on Halibut Issues

The federal fisheries managers have approved three emergency actions for Alaska’s halibut fisheries prompted by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Members of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council on May 15 approved allowing the transfer through the rest of this season for quota shares owed by halibut and sablefish IFQ holders, based on a request from 11 industry leaders. The council also recommended that the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) modify bag limits and size restrictions for the halibut charter industry in Southeast and Southcentral Alaska, and that the IPHC remove vessel use cap rules for IFQ halibut harvested in Areas 4B, 4C and 4D for the remainder of the season.

The council approved the quota share transfers without making it specific to harvesters with certain underlying health conditions or over 60 years of age, all included in a group that federal medical officials have identified as being at higher risk to become infected with COVID-19.

The request for the quota share transfers for the rest of 2020 came in a letter signed by Bob Alverson, general manager of the Fishing Vessel Owners Association; Linda Behnken, executive director of the Alaska Longliner Fishermen’s Association; Phillip Lestenkof, president of the Central Bering sea Fishermen’s Association; Luke Fanning, chief executive officer of the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Community Development Association; Robert Wurm, president of the Kodiak Vessel Owners’ Association, and others.

The council recommended that the IPHC, which met today, May 20, approve maintaining the daily bag limit of one halibut in Southeast Alaska, plus a reverse slot limit with an upper limit of 80 inches and lower limit of 45 inches for the remainder of this season.

For Southcentral Alaska the council recommended to the IPHC a daily bag limit of two halibut, one of any size and a second halibut equal to or less than three inches, with no annual limit and no daily closures, plus one daily trip per halibut charter vessels and one trip per charter halibut permit.

The council took no action on a requested change in the allowed rollover cap, which is currently set at 10 percent, to 30 percent for 2020, 20 percent for 2021 and then back to 10 percent in 2022.

Details on the special meeting are available at The Council plans to hold its June meeting virtually through Adobeconnect, and allow for public comment over the phone during the meeting. The intent is to use web cameras for council members and presenters during discussion and deliberation, council staff said.

Copper River Fishery Gets Off to a Slow Start

Commercial salmon harvesters are off to a slow start in the Copper River fishery, which in its first two 12-hour periods delivered a total of 3,255 Chinook and 6,025 sockeye salmon.

The celebrated opener on May 14 brought in 1,552 kings and 1,473 reds, for a total of only 3,059 salmon. One veteran harvester said he caught five fish in a total of eight sets. The second opener brought in 1,703 kings and 4,562 reds for a total of 6,382.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) biologists said there would be no commercial fishery tomorrow, May 21 and that they would decide on Friday, May 22, whether there would be a commercial fishing period on Memorial Day, Monday, May 25.

Jeremy Botz, the finfish area management biologist for ADF&G in Cordova, Alaska, noted that the water had been cooler than normal, which could be one reason for the small harvest to date, or it could also be that it’s going to be a smaller run than anticipated. Sockeyes are averaging about five pounds apiece and the kings about 13.5 pounds, he said.

ADF&G also announced that Miles Lake sonar was up and running and that 24-hour counts of salmon would begin today. The slow speed of the harvest notwithstanding, a portion of the first plane load of fresh Copper River fish to arrive in Seattle, Wash., went into gourmet dinners for more than 200 workers at Swedish Medical Center, a collaborative effort of Alaska Airlines, Trident Seafoods, Ocean Beauty Seafoods, Copper River Seafoods, the Copper River Marketing Association and Seattle chef Tom Douglas. Trident and Douglas also teamed up this past Sunday for a “Grilling for Good” fundraiser, preparing Copper River sockeye entrees for purchase, with all proceeds going to Food Lifeline.

Much of the focus on the fishery has been on keeping harvesters, processors and the community safe from spread of the COVID-19 virus. To date one individual, who cleared a temperature check and interview before boarding a plane to Cordova, has tested positive twice, but has shown no outward signs of any infection. Cordova also had a visit this past week from a team of state and federal medical officials who came to see what facilities and equipment the city had to work with, should they get a surge in infections as more seafood processing workers showed up.

Bristol Bay Leaders Continue to Call for Pre-Arrival Quarantine

Test results that showed an asymptomatic employee of Trident Seafoods testing positive in Dillingham, Alaska, have Bristol Bay economic, health and tribal leaders renewing their demand for pre-arrival quarantine and testing of seafood workers.

The individual involved tested positive while still in quarantine in Dillingham, and Trident Seafoods sent a charter aircraft to take the employee out of the area. Meanwhile several other workers who were quarantined in the same area have all tested negative for COVID-19.

Seafood industry veteran Norm Van Vactor of Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation said the incident exemplifies why testing and enforced quarantine must be a requirement for all incoming fishermen, a much more vulnerable group, which faces more challenges than processors when it comes to sanitation, adequate quarantine, health care and evacuation support.

Van Vactor said Bristol Bay leaders have been asking the state for the last six weeks to require mandatory pre-arrival quarantine and testing, as fishermen arrive daily.

State health officials say they will now provide testing at Anchorage International Airport for incoming harvesters and seafood workers and that these folks should be prepared to stay in Anchorage for a day or two to get test results. Trident officials said that they are now quarantining seasonal employees for 14 days in Anchorage before sending them out to several of their rural processing facilities, the exception being Ketchikan and Petersburg, where they will be locally isolated for the quarantine period.

Recent testing groups have shown that upwards of three percent of industry workers may be asymptomatic carriers of COVID-19.

Without testing and quarantine these workers could unwittingly spread the virus to more vulnerable members of the population, Bristol Bay leaders said. With the world famous largest sockeye salmon fishery to start up in June, many residents of Bristol Bay remain concerned that the influx of several thousand fishermen and seafood processing workers could result in a surge of positive cases of COVID-19 in a region devastated by the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918–1919.

BBRSDA Issues its Own COVID-19 Fishermen’s Handbook

The Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association (BBSDA) has posted its own COVID-19 Fishermen’s Handbook, online at

The intent is educating the fishermen on how to comply with state and local laws and to provide best practice to keep everyone safe from COVID-19 during the 2020 season. A set net mandate is also to be included soon.

The BBSDA advises that it is the responsibility of all Bristol Bay fishermen to understand and take steps to comply with mandates on the state and local level.

These regulations are mandatory and failure to comply is punishable by fines of up to $25,000 The fleet is advised to plan their season in Bristol Bay to minimize time spent in town and to get onto the water quickly. Harvesters are advised to consider all necessary items they will need for travel, preparation of their vessel, and to fish efficiently, before leaving home.

“The rules are long and complex and will make the 2020 salmon season unlike any we’ve ever experienced,” said BBRSDA President Fritz Johnson of Dillingham. “But for your well-being and others, and the future of our industry it’s essential that every captain and crewman understand the information in this manual, and strictly follow all state and local regulations.

Those arriving in Dillingham, including returning residents, must quarantine for 14 days and must wear face coverings in town. During the quarantine period temperatures must be taken and noted in the vessel logbook twice daily. While in Bristol Bay communities themselves, participation in public gatherings or social events is not allowed. In fact no crew should leave the vessel unless it is essential, according to the handbook.

The mandatory health screening requirements alone require the vessel captain to record health screenings and information, and to check all crew members daily for signs of illness, fever, cough, shortness of breath, loss of smell or taste and unusual fatigue.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

GAPP’s European Partners Plan New Pollock Products

An investment of nearly $1 million by the Association of Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers will result in an array of new Pollock products coming online this fall and in 2021 in retail shops in European marketplaces, says Craig Morris, CEO of GAPP.

Young’s Seafood, Nomad Foods, Angulas Aguinaga and Pickenpack Seafoods were the winning competitors for GAPP’s co-investment funds.

Like those engaged in GAPP”s North American Partnership Program the European partners agree to invest equal or greater funds and commit t using only U.S.-sourced wild Alaska Pollock for the duration of the program and beyond.

Angulas Aguinaga will launch two new product lines in Spain utilizing wild Alaska Pollock surimi seafood, including a “heat and eat” line of products and a new category of product with nutritional benefits. In the United Kingdom, Young’s Seafood will be launching a new “Chipshop Quarter Pounder” with wild Alaska Pollock. Partnership dollars from GAPP will be used to market and promote these new products to build awareness and trial.

In Germany, GAPP will work with Pickenpack Seafoods to bring their new Wild Alaska Pollock Fish and Sauce and Wild Alaska Pollock Potato Topper to popular retailers and discount retailers.

Nomad Foods will conduct consumer research focused on the provenance, nutritional and taste benefits of wild Alaska Pollock in markets where consumers are more familiar with other whitefish.

“In Europe, thousands of people eat Pollock every day often not fully knowing the species or understanding that Alaska has the highest standards for quality and sustainability,” said Mikel Durham, chairman of the board at GAPP and CEO of American Seafoods, in Seattle. “These innovative products celebrate the sustainably wild-caught wild Alaska Pollock in all of its versatile forms.”

The nonprofit GAPP, formed in 2003, promotes Alaska Pollock in major whitefish markets worldwide, with a focus on Europe, North America and Japan.

Copper River Wild Salmon Fishery Opens May 14

The famed Copper River wild salmon fishery gets under way tomorrow, with the excitement of the fishery somewhat dampened by concerns over keeping the novel coronavirus pandemic at bay. The Copper River District will open at 7 a.m. tomorrow, Thursday, May 14 for a 12-hour commercial drift gillnet fishing period.

Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle has posted prices for the first fish out of the Copper River at $74.99 a pound for Chinook filets and $659.99 for whole kings, plus $49.99 a pound for first run Copper River sockeyes or $174.99 for the whole fish. Several other major retailers were still waiting as of Tuesday May 12 to post any prices, including those accepting orders from retail customers willing to pay whatever that price will be.

All seafood industry workers arriving at Cordova from out of town to participate in the fishery, including harvesters and processing workers, are required to self-quarantine for 14 days and must abide by other restrictions, including mandates on the use of personal protective equipment now in place.

Coastal fishing communities like Cordova, Naknek and Dillingham have taken extensive measures, as have the seafood processors and independent fishermen themselves, to keep the virus from spreading. To date Bristol Bay has had no reported cases of the virus, while Nome, Kodiak and Cordova have had one each. The Cordova individual was an out-of-state seafood worker who tested positive while still in quarantine in Cordova. A small group of federal, state and tribal officials were visiting several coastal communities this week to listen to their concerns about keeping the virus at bay and to hear about any needs they have for additional equipment during the fisheries, which attract thousands of people from outside their communities.

Alaska Wildlife and state troopers announced this week that nearly 20 percent of all Alaska Wildlife Troopers would be in Bristol Bay to enforce rules in place for that fishery, which this year includes several state mandates directing specific behavior and use of protective gear on boats and in seafood processing facilities to guard against spread of the virus.

Norton Sound Region Takes Steps to Protect Against Spread of COVID-19

Fisheries entities in the Norton Sound regional of western Alaska are gearing up to protect harvesters, processors and communities in that region from the spread of the COVID-19 virus causing a worldwide pandemic. Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation announced on Tuesday, May 12, that it is developing a community and workforce protection plan to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus in communities where NSEDC and Norton Sound Seafood Products operate. The focus of NSEDC’s plan is to eliminate or limit the movement of individuals between regional communities as much as possible.

For its seafood plants and buying stations, NSEDC said it plans to only hire residents currently in those communities where they operate. They also plan isolate vessel crews to keep them from interacting with communities and residents as they move through the region in support of the fishery. The plan also includes measures to keep individuals distanced from each other as they work, plus protective measures for when social distancing is not possible.

Once the plan is finalized, NSEDC said it will be made available to member communities on the NSEDC website. The state of Alaska meanwhile issued its 18th health mandate related to the pandemic, noting that travel between communities on the road system and in-state travel by the Alaska Marine Highway System is permitted, but that travel is still prohibited between communities off the road system that are not served by the ferry system. The only exceptions would be travel supporting critical infrastructure or critical personal needs.

Meanwhile on the eve of the opening of the wild salmon commercial fisheries a group of federal, state and tribal health officials began visits to several coastal fishing communities to listen to community concerns and determine what additional resources are needed to help stem the spread of the COVID-19 virus into communities and participants in the fisheries.

The group includes Dr. Alexander Eastman, senior medical officer at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer. Part of the group traveled to Nome yesterday to speak with Norton Sound Health Corp. officials about sanitation issues. Today the entire group is to visit Kodiak and Cordova to meet with local officials and representatives of the fishing industry.

To date the Nome area has had no people reported to have tested positive for the virus.

One person tested positive in Kodiak and one in Cordova, but the Cordova individual, an out-of-state seafood processing worker for Ocean Beauty Seafoods, was identified by testing while still in quarantine and is now isolated to begin recovery.

Stakeholders to Discuss Transboundary Mining

Members of the International Joint Commission are set to meet online on Zoom on Thursday May 14 for a dialogue with key stakeholders on the U.S. and British Columbia transboundary watersheds to discuss the role of the Boundary Waters Treaty with respect to large BC mines.

The webinar registration site for the session is online at

The IJC is a bi-national organization established by the governments of the U.S. and Canada under the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909. Its purpose is to prevent and resolve disputes between the two nations under that treaty. Still, according to Jill Weitz, of Salmon Beyond Borders, in order for the U.S. State Department to move on this issue the state of Alaska must support federal engagement, and until Alaska does British Columbia will continue to move forward with multiple projects along the transboundary watersheds that rival the size of the proposed Pebble mine in Southwest Alaska.

Salmon Beyond Borders announced the forthcoming dialogue earlier this week. Stakeholders on both sides of the border, including fishermen, scientists, businesses, tribes and First Nations have urged the two federal governments to get involved and negotiate to protect the rich salmon habitat of the transboundary waters from potential pollution from nearby open pit mines and mine waste dumps.

While mining companies in British Columbia profit from these projects the government of British Columbia does not require full reclamation policies to cover the cost of water and fisheries degradation, leaving taxpayers in British Columbia and Alaska on the hook, she said.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Trident Closes False Pass Seafoods for Summer

Trident Seafoods officials say they will not operate their False Pass Seafoods processing facility this summer due to uncertain marketplace conditions.

The company released a statement saying it was a difficult decision made in response to the increased uncertainly in the marketplace due to the novel coronavirus pandemic., the 2020 salmon projections and the costs and logistics of managing risk in a remote community during the pandemic.

Company officials said they will continue to operate the fuel facility at False Pass and provide limited vessel support throughout the summer.

Trident is also working with the Eastern Aleutians Tribes to utilize their bunkhouse as a potential resident quarantine space.

Fleet services will not be impacted and independent fishermen who deliver to Trident in Area M will have the same level of service and support that they have had in the past.

Trident employees who normally work in False Pass will be offered positions at other locations for this season. The announcement also said that Trident’s acquisition of the False Pass plant is a long-term investment in the fishery and the community, and that they are hopeful that conditions will improve so they can resume operations at False Pass next season.

Seafood Industry Seeks More Federal Aid

A coalition representing the seafood industry and related groups, including some 30,000 commercial fishermen, is asking the federal government for an additional $1.5 billion in economic aid to keep them financially afloat during COVID-19 pandemic.

The letter of May 4 to Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said that the $300 million in disaster assistance allocated to the seafood industry in the CARES Act is appreciated, but not adequate to mitigate the unprecedented losses of dealing with the pandemic to date or anticipated challenges in the coming months.

Like the agriculture sector, which has received billions of dollars in disaster relief, the seafood sector plays a vital role in providing food security for the nation and deserves a sizable allocation of dedicated relief funds, they told Ross.

The letter recommends an additional $1.5 billion in funding for fishermen and American seafood businesses, designating at least 50 percent of relief funds for small and medium-scale operations to ensure that disaster assistance is fairly distributed to a diverse range of seafood harvesters and businesses.

While the recent expansion of the Payroll Protection Program is a positive step forward, many seafood businesses have struggled to get Economic Injury Disaster Loans and funding from the PPP because of administrative hurdles, high demand, competition from larger businesses, and rapid depletion of funds, they said. The coalition urges prioritizing access to relief funds for captains and crew who harvest fish, particularly young fishermen, whether or not they own fishing permits, and extending PPP benefits as needed for businesses that can show an inability to pay their workers or 1099 contractors because of COVID-19 emergency measures.

It would also be a tremendously help for the government to forgive or temporarily defer loans that fishermen and seafood businesses are currently unable to repay, they said.

Costly economic challenges facing the industry range from drastic reductions in sales from COVID-19 measures that closed down restaurants, large institutions and export markets, plus the high cost of maintaining safe operating conditions to prevent the spread of the virus. The seafood processing industry alone will spend millions of dollars to meet requirements of health mandates imposed in Alaska to ensure safe working conditions in their facilities.

The group urged the federal government to ensure that industry workers, including fishermen, have access to free COVID-19 testing, personal protective equipment, and free medical care. “They are putting their lives at risk by leaving their homes to work during the pandemic, and at a minimum, should not be denied access to testing or be forced to bear the burden of exorbitant medical bills in the event that they require treatment,” the letter said.

The group also urged federal officials to make them eligible to participate in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, which has received $19 billion in funding to support farmers and ranchers.

Bristol Bay Residents Want Additional Protections for 2020 Salmon Fishery

A working group representing health, economic, housing and tribal entities in Alaska’s Bristol Bay region says the state’s latest pandemic health mandate, focused on independent commercial fishermen, is not adequate to ensure the safety of area residents.

The Bristol Bay working group told Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy this week that the one size fits all Mandate 17 has two shortcomings: the expectation that independent commercial fishermen will self-quarantine upon reaching Bristol Bay and the lack of a mandatory testing component to screen all arrivals. They are concerned that spread of the novel coronavirus could potentially overwhelm the capacities of small medical facilities in Dillingham and Naknek.

Mandate 17 requires all vessel captains to ensure that they and their crew abide by a number of precautions, including a 14-day quarantine after arriving in Alaska, hand washing before eating or touching any food items or utensils, and sanitizing efforts including disinfecting of eating areas at least three times a day. According to the working group, the only way to keep the virus from spreading to Bristol Bay communities via incoming fishermen and industry support workers would be through testing and quarantine, monitoring of their health and stringent enforcement of all practices listed in Mandate 17. Unless this can be assured, the 2020 Bristol Bay salmon season should be shut down, they said.

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy has said several times during COVID-19 news conferences that his staff is working with community officials in Bristol Bay to reach agreement before the fishery begins, but those efforts are apparently focused on talks with community leaders not connected with the Bristol Bay working group.

Meanwhile several veteran Bristol Bay harvesters heading for the Bay on their own fishing vessels, as well as others flying in to connect with vessels they leave in Bristol Bay during the off-season have been adamant that they will self-quarantine themselves and their crew either before heading for the Bay or immediately upon arrival. Those self-quarantining in their home ports have said they plan to remain on their vessels during the entire fishery, with no trips into communities near where they are fishing.

Watershed Protectors Say Discharge Permit Needed for Proposed Mine

The Haines Fishermen’s Alliance, Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, Rivers Without Borders and the Chilkat Indian Village of Klukwan are calling on the Alaska officials to take a fresh look at the proposed Palmer mine project in Southwest Alaska.

Their request comes in light of a late April decision handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of County of Maui v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund.

That decision recognizes that polluters cannot avoid the Clean Water Act’s permit requirements just by pumping pollution into the ground where doing so is the functional equivalent of discharging that pollution directly into streams, lakes and oceans, the group said.

In the Chilkat Valley of Southeast Alaska this means that DEC must reconsider its decision not to require a discharge permit for wastewater from Constantine Metals’ exploration, which the company plans to channel into permeable ground just a short distance upgradient from Waterfall Creek, they said.

Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation officials said on Tuesday, May 5, that they are conducting an informal review of the Supreme Court decision, but there is no timeline requirement on whether they will decide whether to require a different permit than the one already approved.

Instead of a discharge permit, Constantine applied for a waste management permit, one that would not control pollutant discharges to surface waters. DEC initially endorsed Constantine’s approach, granting the waste management permit in July 2019 over the vigorous objections of several conservation and tribal entities. Then DEC agreed to reconsider that decision once the Supreme Court decided the Maui case, which was pending at the time, but refused to suspend the permit during the interim period.

Veteran Southeast Alaska gillnetter Don “J.R.” Churchill of Haines, speaking for the Haines Fishermen’s Alliance, hopes the DEC will opt for new permit requirements.

“If there’s just one mistake up there, that could have devastating effects on the spawning grounds in the Chilkat River,” Churchill said. “The Chilkat River produces all five species of salmon and not all rivers do that. It is the second largest coho stream in Southeast Alaska, which would have a huge effect on local trollers.”

News of the Supreme Court decision of April 23 buoyed the spirits of the mine opponents.

Constantine should never have applied for a groundwater discharge permit for the release of hundreds of thousands of gallons a day of wastewater into a gravel bed so close to several surface waters, including Hangover, Waterfall and Glacier creeks, said Gerson Cohen, project director of the Alaska Clean Water Advocacy, in Haines.

“The Ninth Circuit had already ruled a much more rigorous surface water discharge permit would be required,” said Cohen, an outspoken advocate for river and marine ecosystem protection who holds a master’s degree in immunology/molecular genetics.

Digging the exploration tunnel itself would create a discharge, which would have sediments and explosive residues and hydrocarbons, a massive amount of contaminated wastewater, just a couple of miles upstream from the second largest coho salmon producer in Southeast Alaska. Because DEC gave Constantine a permit that does not protect the public’s welfare, their fundamental mandate, and it serves no benefit to the applicant, they have to go back to square one, Cohen said.

Alaska Seafood: A Healthy Choice

Seafood harvesters facing the bumpy health and economic challenges of the global COVID-19 pandemic are getting a new wave of advice on business management and direct marketing, the bottom line being that Alaska seafood is a safe, nutritious and tasty choice.

All the concern about how the novel coronavirus is spread aside, there is currently no evidence supporting the transmission of COVID-19 through food to humans, the Alaska seafood Marketing Institute notes in its guidelines to the industry.

Alaska seafood is safe to eat and can be enjoyed without concern ASMI said.

The Centers for Disease Control, Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have not found that the COVID-19 virus can be spread through food, ASMI notes in a recent guideline for use by stakeholders in the Alaska seafood industry.

National Fisheries Institute cites an advisory from the World Health Organization that said “the likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low and the risk of catching the virus that causes COVID-19 from a package that has been moved, travelled, and exposed to different conditions and temperature is also low.”

Still everyone is encouraged to continue following food safety protocols, including washing hands for at least 20 seconds, and wiping down often used surfaces, before consuming any food products.

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services has been actively engaged with organizations representing fishermen, plus processors and coastal communities, to establish mandates to protect the health and safety of those in the industry and coastal communities.

Through early May, a total of 371 Alaskans were infected with the virus of which 277 had recovered, a total of 37 people were hospitalized and nine had died.

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