Elizabeth Earl

Tighter restrictions for charter halibut likely in 2019

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council approved preliminary regulations for the halibut charter sector in Southeast and Southcentral Alaska during its recent meeting in Anchorage, but the final rules still depend on what the International Pacific Halibut Commission decides about quotas. The council members approved measures to outline fishing time and retention in regulatory areas 2C and 3A, depending on the final limits determined by the International Pacific Halibut Commission this January. In area 2C, which encompasses Southeast Alaska, the proposed limit is a reverse slot limit of one fish per day either shorter than 38 inches or longer than 80 inches. In area 3A, which encompasses the Central Gulf of Alaska between Yakutat and the Alaska Peninsula, the restrictions will be a little looser than in Southeast. Charter anglers are allowed to keep two fish per day with a four-fish annual limit, with one fish capped at a maximum of 28 inches long. Additionally, there won’t be any fish retention on Wednesdays. While the Southeast charter sector was about 10 percent less than its allocation limit in 2018, the Central Gulf charter sector exceeded its limits, running about 4 percent over its allocation. Some of the restrictions proposed by the council are meant to help bring that sector back in line, such as closing additional Tuesdays. In an analysis provided to the council, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game outlined how halibut harvest would drop with each additional closed Tuesday — at the high end, if all Tuesdays were closed, it would drop about 8.2 percent. At status quo, charter operators would lose about six Tuesdays through the season, plus Wednesdays being entirely closed. However, even if management and effort stay status quo, total catch may still drop because all areas are showing a decline in harvest per unit of effort, or HPUE, according to the ADFG analysis. “The weighted average HPUE forecast for Area 3A overall is 1.18 halibut per angler-trip,” the analysis states. “Glacier Bay, Yakutat, North Gulf Coast, and Kodiak subareas had HPUEs of less than 1 halibut per angler-trip, reflecting the lower retention of second fish in the bag limit in those areas.” Due to falling halibut abundance in the Gulf of Alaska and near Southeast, the council has been adding more regulations and cutting allocations in an attempt to protect the stocks. This year, the International Pacific Halibut Commission’s stock status report showed yet another drop in biomass — 7 percent in the Gulf of Alaska and 15 percent in the Southeast area. The commission will meet in January to discuss final quota setting, but with decreasing biomass, fishermen may see yet another cut across both the charter and commercial sectors. Under the reference catch levels for 2019, all Tuesdays could be opened and there wouldn’t be a need for any other closed days, according to the analysis. The council’s Charter Halibut Management Committee supported the regulations the council ultimately adopted, noting that if the IPHC’s allocation came in ultimately greater than 2.023 million pounds, the managers could increase the lower end of the over-under limit to 30 inches from 28 inches. The committee also urged the members to opt for a more conservative management regime for area 3A than is technically necessary. The committee noted in its minutes that its members also recommended more conservative regulations for the area in 2018, which the council members did not ultimately approve. Many of those who submitted comments noted that while they didn’t love the additional restrictions, they understood the necessity for conservation. Multiple commenters touched on a frustration that the council has yet to address: the lack of comparable restrictions on private angler and subsistence halibut harvest. Matt Kopec, owner of Whittier Marine Charters and Whittier Boat Rentals and serves on the Charter Halibut Management Committee, noted that his area has seen a significant increase in private boat traffic. “From what I have seen, private boaters are far more successful in harvesting halibut than rental boat customers,” he wrote in a letter to the council. “They fish much more and they’ve simply gotten good at it. While I’m still not sure that current data suggests that any restriction is needed, they should be considered before stricter regulations are placed on guided anglers, especially if you’re looking at limiting the catch of anglers on rental boats. Perhaps a new ‘sport’ allocation for all sport anglers that is linked to abundance would be a clean and simple answer.” Noting those concerns from users, the council has discussed actions to regulate the halibut boat rental business, in which businesses rent boats to private anglers without a guide so they are not subject to the charter sector restrictions. A private angler may keep two fish of any size per day. The Alaska Division of Motor Vehicles already requires registration of motor boats, so the council members have debated whether to add more regulations to keep a closer watch on the sector, including aligning the bag limits on both. ^ Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Dismal outlook for Stikine, Taku king salmon continues in 2019

Poor king salmon runs predicted for the Stikine and Taku rivers in Southeast Alaska are prompting “extreme conservation” measures, likely resulting in less fishing time for commercial and recreational fishermen. The Stikine is expected to see a terminal run of 8,250 large fish, while the Taku is expected to see a run of 9,050 large fish, according to the forecast published by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game on Nov. 30. Neither run is large enough to meet the allowable catch by the U.S. or Canada and both are less than the lower end of the escapement goal ranges. On the Stikine, the escapement goal range is 14,000 to 28,000 large fish; on the Taku, it’s 19,000 to 36,000 fish. ADFG allowed a commercial opening in 2016 on the Stikine after years of struggling runs, held in May. The 2017 season brought restrictions but no full closures for sport fishing on the Stikine. The 2018 forecast again came out poor with no king salmon fishing allowed on either the Stikine or the Taku for kings. The Taku River king run has been struggling for years, hitting its record low in 2016. It was closed to directed fisheries from 1974-2004, until larger runs prompted openings in 2005, according to ADFG. Recent years have brought more low runs, leading to restrictions and closures for king salmon fishing across Southeast Alaska. ADFG managers could not be reached for comment as of deadline. The Taku and Stikine are two of the 12 “indicator” stocks listed by ADFG, or king salmon runs the department watches to track the regional health of king salmon runs in Alaska. The indicator stock project began as part of the Chinook Salmon Research Initiative, a massive statewide project that arose under Gov. Sean Parnell’s administration following major declines in king salmon returns starting around 2007. The program’s funding was eliminated as the state budget was cut since oil prices started falling in 2014. Both the Stikine and Taku are transboundary rivers, which begin in Canada and pass through Southeast Alaska on their way to the ocean. As such, their salmon runs are subject to the Pacific Salmon Treaty, negotiated between the U.S. and Canada. The fisheries are managed by abundance rather than by hard caps, allowing the managers to adjust for the size of the run. The two countries reached an agreement for another 10-year extension of the treaty Sept. 18, depending on both fleets allowing more king salmon through to Canada: a 7.5 percent reduction for Alaska and a 12.5 percent reduction for Canada. The final agreement was sent to both governments for final approval. Southeast Alaska fishermen have had several tough salmon seasons in a row. Record low abundances of king salmon led to early closures in 2017 and restrictions and poor fishing in 2018. On top of that, Southeast fishermen have had three poor pink salmon harvests in a row — 2016 brought disastrously low returns and 2017 was an off year with lower numbers. This summer, however, was even worse than 2016. Significantly less than preseason forecasts, the pink salmon harvest was the lowest in decades. The upcoming 2019 season is predicted to be a weak run as well, in part based on low numbers of juveniles in 2018 connected to poor survival among the 2017 brood year. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Survey again shows drop in halibut stocks in Gulf of Alaska

Things aren’t looking good for many Alaska halibut fishermen next year, though official quota limit decisions are still to come. The 2018 stock status report presented to the International Pacific Halibut Commission at its interim meeting on Nov. 27 shows yet another drop in the biomass of Pacific halibut in the North Pacific — about 7 percent down from the 2017 fishery-independent setline survey. That doesn’t mean every single region dropped, as it’s an average, but Alaska’s three main areas of effort — 2C, the entirety of Region 3, and Region 4 excluding the western Aleutian Islands — all dropped. The most significant drop was in Area 2, which stretches from northern California to Southeast, falling 15 percent. Region 3, which stretches across the Gulf of Alaska out to the Alaska Peninsula, fell 7 percent. Halibut stocks dropped year-over-year from the late 1990s through 2011, when it appears to have stabilized, according to the report. “That trend is estimated to have been largely a result of decreasing size-at-age, as well as somewhat weaker recruitment strengths than those observed during the 1980s,” the report states. The spawning female biomass stabilized in 2011, increasing the stock through 2016, with a projected spawning biomass of 190 million pounds at the beginning of 2019. Researchers are linking the fluctuations with favorable ocean conditions in connection with the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, an ocean temperature trend correlated with fisheries regimes. Historically, conditions were favorable from 1978–2006 and poor from 2007–13, with more positive indications from 2014 through October 2018. However, that’s not the only variable playing into ocean conditions for halibut in the North Pacific. Sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Alaska jumped in 2015 and remained anomalously high for several years, earning the warm water mass the nickname “the Blob,” and wreaking widespread havoc on fish stocks and leading to uncertainty for forecasters. “Many other environmental indicators, current and temperature patterns have been anomalous relative to historical periods and therefore historical patterns of productivity related to the (Pacific Decadal Oscillation) may not be relevant to the most recent few years,” the report states. Though conditions have been favorable, the cohorts from 2006–10 were smaller than the prior few years, which will affect abundance as time goes on and those age cohorts become a more significant part of the fishery. The International Pacific Halibut Commission will set its quota limits at its annual meeting in January. Last year, when the stock status led to recommendations for significant cuts to harvest, the commissioners could not come to an agreement and decided to have the U.S. and Canada set their fisheries limits independently, though no higher than the previous year. The stock status report doesn’t make direct recommendations for fishing limits but projects how fisheries limits will impact the population. For all total constant exploitation yield amounts, or TCEY — all halibut mortality for fish longer than 26 inches, including bycatch and research kills — more than 20 million pounds, the stock is project to decline from 2019–21. At the status quo TCEY of 37.2 million pounds total, there’s a 30 percent chance of a stock decline of at least 5 percent in 2019 that climbs to a 79 percent chance by 2022, according to the report. Total mortality of Pacific halibut in 2018 was about 38.7 million pounds. The commercial halibut catch, though — about 23.5 million pounds — was actually an all-time low for the last 10 years, according to the report. Bycatch mortality fell to 6.1 million pounds, the lowest since the arrival of foreign fishing fleets in 1962. Mortality from recreational catches was down as well, about 5 percent lower than 2017. The International Pacific Halibut Commission is scheduled hold its full annual meeting from Jan. 28–Feb. 1 in Victoria, British Columbia. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Board of Fisheries to take closer look at Nushagak king salmon plan

The Board of Fisheries passed a proposal to take a chunk out of the king salmon management plan on the Nushagak River, with plans to form a work group to keep discussing user group conflict on the river. At its meeting in Dillingham dealing with proposals related to the Bristol Bay finfish fisheries on Dec. 2, the board members approved a proposal that amends the management plan for the king salmon run on the Nushagak and Mulchatna rivers. Several clauses in the plan link closures in the commercial sockeye salmon fishery in the Nushagak District, salmon fishing closures on the Nushagak River and limited subsistence fishing periods if the projected spawning escapement is less than 55,000 kings, the lower end of the river’s escapement goal. The updated proposal repeals a number of numeric escapement-based trigger points that close fisheries based on the king salmon passage in the river. The original proposal, submitted by Brian Kraft, would have limited commercial fishing openings in the Nushagak District to no more than 12 hours of fishing per day when the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Division of Sport Fish issues emergency orders restricting the sport fishery, among other restrictions. In his rationale, he wrote that the burden to conserve king salmon is currently on sportfishermen. “The impact on the number of chinook making it in river is immediately diminished when commercial openers happen,” he wrote. “This is not intended by the (commercial fisherman), but it happens. We need help in preserving the Nushagak chinook run. When the chinook run falls below acceptable escapement numbers, the sport fishery is restricted or potentially closed, yet (commercial fishing) openings remain aggressive. “The commercial fishery in the Nushagak district, although targeting sockeye, certainly has a by-catch or interception of chinook bound for the Nushagak.” The Nushagak River, which flows into Bristol Bay just south of Dillingham, hosts a vibrant king salmon sportfishery. Nearby, the commercial sockeye salmon fishery brings in on average 6.4 million sockeye each summer. This year, a banner year for Bristol Bay, the fishermen in the Nushagak District landed about 24.1 million salmon, according to ADFG. Adding to the complexity of managing the return is a noted inaccuracy in the sonar counter in the Nushagak River, which ADFG acknowledges. In public comments, Michael Link of the Bristol Bay Science and Research Institute noted that recent mark-recapture and acoustic tagging studies found that the sonar was undercounting king salmon by variable degrees. “In 2017, low early-season sonar-based king salmon passage estimates triggered restrictions on harvest opportunities; subsequent examination of all information suggested the estimates were probably about 50 percent lower than actual,” Link wrote in his comments. “Although the restrictions helped increase king salmon escapement, skepticism grew among users about misplaced certainty in the assessment information.” ADFG staff opposed the original proposal because it would tie the department’s hands, said Tim Sands, the area management biologist for the Nushagak District. The board amended the proposal to remove sections based on sonar passage numbers, which the ADFG staff then supported, said Forrest Bowers, the director of the Division of Commercial Fisheries. “There’s some work going on to refine the sonar project,” Bowers said. “We have some concerns about the accuracy of the count there, whether we’re accurately assessing the size of the Nushagak run. This plan has some prescriptive triggers that may not be warranted based on the accuracy of our assessment tool.” Board member Israel Payton noted that the proposal reduces complexity and gives the Division of Sport Fish more flexibility to protect king salmon stocks based on abundance. He also noted that members of the public had requested the Nushagak River’s king salmon management plan be revisited, especially as ADFG has not planned to reassess the escapement goal. “The plan has some arbitrary in-river trigger points that aren’t really biological; in my mind, they’re kind of an allocative trigger point,” he said. “It gets rid of those trigger points but still allows the department to manage for the sustainable escapement goal … once again, this doesn’t tie the hands of any commercial fish manager, and in my mind, allow a little more flexibility for the sport fishing manager, or all the manages.” Board member Robert Ruffner noted that the amendment to the original proposal arose from a board member and stakeholder meeting but that there would be further work on the issue. “Our anticipation is that over the next 18 months or so, we’re going to work on this, and there is the possibility of bringing something up out of cycle to further flesh this out a little bit,” he said. “That’s part of what we’re trying to work through here.” A charge statement submitted on Dec. 2 would create a temporary committee to review fisheries recommendations to the board “on a comprehensive solution.” In the meeting between board members and stakeholders, attendees recognized uncertainty in sonar data and restrictions in the sportfishery without restrictions in the commercial fishery as continuing issues. ADFG will work with a stakeholder-led study team to review data on the Nushagak River king salmon enumeration and work on updating the goal by March 2020, according ot the charge statement. The work group, which will consist of no more than nine members of the public and three members of the board appointed by board chairman Reed Morisky, will meet before the Board of Fisheries’ October 2019 worksession and help create any proposals to address the issue before the March 2020 statewide meeting. The board passed the proposal 5-0, with members Fritz Johnson and John Jensen — both commercial fishermen — abstaining for conflict of interest. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Dunleavy: no ‘preferred choice’ to lead ADFG

Newly-inaugurated Gov. Mike Dunleavy has tapped Doug Vincent-Lang to temporarily head the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and a spokesman said he intends to let the nomination process by the boards of Fisheries and Game lead the way to select a commissioner rather than announcing his own choice. Dunleavy announced the appointment just after his inauguration Dec. 3 in Kotzebue. Vincent-Lang, a veteran of the department, will serve as commissioner on an interim basis, replacing Sam Cotten. Vincent-Lang, who holds degrees in biology and biological oceanography, has previously served as a research biologist, as the director for the Division of Wildlife Conservation and as a special assistant and assistant director of the Division of Sport Fish. In a press release announcing the appointment, Dunleavy noted that “it is important that someone is in the position to manage the Department while the Joint Boards of Fish and Game go through their process of nominating potential commissioners.” “The Governor respects that process and looks forward to the recommendations from the Joint Meeting of the Board of Fish and the Board of Game,” the release notes. In response to a follow-up question, spokesman Jeff Turner said Dunleavy “does not have a preferred choice for commissioner of fish and game. The board determines the best person to fill the job.” That’s a departure from Dunleavy’s two predecessors, who named their pick to lead ADFG before a joint meeting of the boards. The boards, which are independent of the department, appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Legislature, will advertise for the position and will meet in January to take up the appointment, Turner said. Dunleavy is following a fairly normal process for appointment so far, according to Glenn Haight, the executive director of the Board of Fisheries. The joint boards will accept applications for the position before interviewing candidates at the special board meeting in January. The application period is open through Dec. 14 and requires that applicants submit a letter of interest with statements of and personnel management philosophy as well as a resume and references. Depending on the number of applicants, the joint boards may meet with all the members or may designate a subcommittee of a few members, Haight said. In the past, the number of candidates has varied, from more than 20 to just five or six, he said. The position is notoriously contentious and different from the process for other commissioners, who are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Legislature. ADFG and Education Department commissioner candidates are selected by their respective boards before they can be appointed by the governor to be approved by the Legislature. Dunleavy has already announced he intends to retain current Education Commissioner Dr. Michael Johnson. Former Gov. Sean Parnell nominated Cora Campbell to lead the department in 2010, and her name was ultimately forwarded to him after interviewing with the joint boards. The same was the case for former Gov. Bill Walker’s choice of Sam Cotten, who was likewise interviewed by the joint boards and deemed a qualified choice. Only one other candidate applied for the position in both cases after the governors made their preferences known. Defined by statute, the commissioner should be “a qualified executive with knowledge of the requirements for protection, management, conservation, and restoration of the fish and game resources of the state. The commissioner is the principal executive officer of the department, whose mission is to protect, maintain, and improve the fish and game resources of the state, and manage their use and development in the best interest of the economy and the well-being of the people of the state, consistent with the sustained yield principle.” Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

State removes Kenai from ‘impaired’ listing, citing lack of data

The Kenai River has again escaped being labeled as an impaired water body because of turbidity, though there are other issues on the horizon. In the final report the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the state agency removed its initial recommendation for the lower 7.5 miles of the Kenai River to be listed as impaired based on turbidity levels. The additional data gathered over two weeks this July didn’t exceed acceptable turbidity levels and couldn’t verify the three years of data gathered from 2008-10. Turbidity, a measure of material suspended in the water, can be harmful to water quality for human consumption and for aquatic organisms. In the case of the Kenai River, which the neighboring communities do not use for drinking water, the primary concern is for the fish; the river supports the largest salmon and trout sportfishery in the state, including the popular Kenai River personal-use dipnet fishery in July. The listing, first announced in the public notice of the draft Integrated Water Quality and Assessment Report for 2014-16 in December 2017, sparked controversy among Kenai River users. The listing was not a surprise — the Kenai Watershed Forum, an environmental conservation nonprofit based in Soldotna, had been taking the readings nearly a decade before — but held implications for the sportfishing community in particular. The Kenai Watershed Forum’s readings found a significant uptick in turbidity in the lowermost reach of the river during July while the upriver readings stayed relatively level. The turbidity in the lower river was lower in June and dropped again in August, though the relative river velocity and temperature were similar. The area where the turbidity was read at a higher level, a popular area to fish for king salmon, also saw much more motorboat traffic at the time. However, things have changed since then, the DEC noted in its Nov. 2 transmittal letter to the EPA. “Public comments were received in opposition and support of the proposed turbidity listing; however, opposition statements indicating that motorized boating use and conditions in the lower Kenai River have changed substantially since 2010 warranted further investigation,” the letter states. “The 2018 turbidity data showed a reduction in overall turbidity levels and in difference between the upstream background site (river mile 23) and the downstream suspected impairment side (river mile 11.5).” Regulations on the river have changed significantly since 2008. In response to high readings of hydrocarbons in the Kenai River, the state required boat motors running on the river to be larger than 35 horsepower to switch to four-stroke engines or direct-injection two-stroke engines and set the maximum power to 50 horsepower, with exceptions for Kenai and Skilak lakes. The ban appeared to do the trick, with the hydrocarbon pollution levels dropping and the DEC’s listing of the Kenai as an impaired water body later removed. The salmon runs on the river have changed since 2008, too, changing fishing patterns. Years of poor king salmon returns have led guides and many private anglers to switch to targeting primarily sockeye salmon, moving to either bank angling or fishing further upstream, moving away from the lower river where the turbidity readings were taken. Fishermen pointed to this change in fishing effort as a reason to review the data for the determination. The DEC also funded a boat-count study in July 2018 to determine changes in boating patterns between two popular launches, the Pillars and Eagle Rock, appended to the turbidity monitoring. The agency noted in its response to public comments that many boats now launch from the Eagle Rock launch, downstream of the original turbidity sampling site at river mile 11.5, so in the future, the sampling site might need to be moved further downstream to capture those boats’ effect. The DEC is suspending classification of the river as a Category 5 impaired water body until “further information becomes available to reassess the condition of the river,” according to the letter to the EPA. Without the increase to a Category 5 impairment, the river reverts to its previous listing as a Category 3 water body, joining a long list of water bodies that the DEC “has insufficient information on” to make an impairment determination, according to the final report. “The Department will continue to work with local stakeholders on a watershed plan to prioritize emerging water quality issues on the Kenai River,” the letter states. Those “ emerging” issues include high fecal coliform bacteria near the mouth of the river — largely sourced to gulls, which flock to the rivermouth during the summer — indications of high copper and zinc readings on the lower Kenai River near the urbanized areas of Kenai and Soldotna. Copper and zinc readings are frequently connected to stormwater runoff and signs of urbanization. Stormwater runoff can be troubling for salmon health, as in the case of coho salmon, which have shown particular sensitivity to metals like copper. The DEC had not returned a request for comment as of deadline. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Poor pink runs forecast again; return to ‘normal’ in Bristol Bay

Next summer may be a slow one for Southeast and Bristol Bay salmon fishermen. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s annual salmon forecasts for the Southeast and Bristol Bay regions predict weaker runs for the 2019 season. In Southeast’s case, it’s the pink salmon predicted to come up short compared to recent averages; in Bristol Bay, it’s the sockeye. About 18 million pink salmon are predicted to be harvested in Southeast Alaska in 2019, placing the run in the weak range, or between 20 percent and 40 percent of the 59-year average in the history of the fishery. The forecasted number is about half the recent 10-year average of 36 million pinks, according to the ADFG forecast. If the forecast holds true, it will be the lowest odd-year harvest since 1987. The low number of juveniles in 2018 was unexpected, as the previous year’s escapements met goals. “This indicates that brood year 2017 pink salmon likely experienced poor freshwater and/or early marine survival,” according to the forecast. The forecast comes with an 80 percent confidence interval, but some uncertainty comes form the warmer-than-normal sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Alaska. An exceptionally warm body of water in the Gulf from 2013-16, nicknamed the “Blob,” appeared to have dissipated but has now returned. ADFG managers connected the disastrously low pink salmon returns in 2016 with poor marine survival due to warm conditions in the Gulf as well. “The return of anomalously warm sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Alaska may have a negative impact on the survival of pink salmon,” the forecast states. “Although the weak harvest forecast in 2019 is consistent with poor survival, the impact of Gulf of Alaska temperatures is unknown and adds uncertainty to the forecast.” In Bristol Bay, the total run is estimated to come in at 40.18 million sockeye salmon, with a commercial harvest of 27.6 million. That’s slightly less than the recent 10-year average harvest of 30 million reds, though greater than the long-term average of 34.2 million, and significantly less than this year’s harvest of 41.3 million. The majority of the run is expected to be age class 1.3 fish, or those that spend one year in freshwater and three years in the ocean. Of the five districts, the largest run is expected back in the Naknek-Kvichak district, with a forecast of 16.12 million sockeye. The second-largest is predicted to be the Nushagak district with 10.38 million, followed by the Egegik, Ugashik and Togiak districts. Forecasting the sockeye run in Bristol Bay presents a challenge, as nine different rivers contribute significant sockeye numbers to the total run from four different age classes. The numbers are presented in the forecast with an 80 percent confidence interval as well, based on historical contrasts between forecasts and runs. ADFG always provides a caveat in forecasts: they are primarily meant for planning purposes, not as a promise to the fleet on management. The managers will use in-season catch and escapement data as available to determine openings and restrictions where necessary as the run develops. Bristol Bay has had two strong sockeye years in a row, while Southeast Alaska has had three tough years for salmon fishermen. The 2016 salmon season brought exceptionally poor pink runs atop restrictions meant to protect troubled returning king salmon stocks; 2017 brought even more king salmon restrictions, forcing an early closure on the spring troll fishery, and 2018 again brought some disappointingly low pink salmon harvests — the lowest since the mid-1970s. The total harvest of approximately 7.8 million pinks, worth about $11.4 million, was less than a third of the 23 million forecasted harvest. The poor pink salmon returns have been roundly connected to the anomalously warm ocean temperatures in the Gulf of Alaska in fisheries around southern coast of the state. Poor sockeye returns across the Gulf in 2018 were pinned on the warm sea temperatures as well. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Final harvest numbers in hand, halibut commission set for meeting

All of Alaska’s Pacific halibut fisheries stayed within their quota limits this year, but not all individual sectors within the fishery areas did. The final regular landings update for 2018 from the International Pacific Halibut Commission, issued Nov. 15, outlines the final data available before the first interim meeting of the commission. Overall, all Pacific halibut fisheries for Canada and the U.S. harvested about 26.5 million pounds of halibut, or about 95 percent of the total limit of 27.9 million pounds. Alaska’s regulatory areas, stretching from Southeast to the northern Bering Sea, all harvested a lower percentage of their quotas than the West Coast and British Columbia, which harvested 99 percent and 98 percent of their quotas, respectively. The two areas with the largest participation and quotas, Southeast and the central Gulf of Alaska, harvested 92 and 96 percent of their quotas, respectively. Within those areas, though, not every sector stayed within its quota limits. In the central Gulf of Alaska, the guided recreational fishery harvested about 1.85 million pounds, or about 103 percent of its 1.8 million-pound limit. With the commercial discard mortality unavailable, all the other sectors stayed within their quota limits. The existing overall quotas will come under review at the upcoming interim meeting of the IPHC on Nov. 27-28 in Seattle. On the agenda is a stock assessment, data and harvest decision table for Pacific halibut for 2019, which the commissioners will use to determine quota levels for the upcoming fishing season. At the same meeting last year, IPHC staff presented stock data showing a significant drop in halibut numbers from Oregon to the Bering Sea, leading to recommendations to cut harvest quotas across the entire fishery by 20 percent. Political disagreements on the commission about the proper quota level led to Canada and the U.S. setting their own catch limits for halibut. The U.S. dropped its total allowable catch by about 9 percent from 2017, to 17.5 million pounds. IPHC scientists tied the lower numbers of halibut to poor recruitments of young halibut, beginning in approximately 2009-10, when younger fish did not survive as well to become adults. With that backdrop of falling numbers, prices at the beginning of the halibut season looked poor, too — about $2.50 less than the average 2017 opening price of $7 per pound, according to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s market bulletin for halibut. The lower price likely came from competition from existing sources, including existing halibut stocks and incoming Atlantic halibut catches. The halibut fishery has been trending downward for nearly a decade, according to the ASMI bulletin. “Since 2011, Alaska’s halibut TACs have been reduced by 46 percent, or about 15 million pounds,” the bulletin states. “Quota for Pacific halibut in British Columbia and the U.S. West Coast (Washington and Oregon) declined by 1.2 million pounds or 16 percent between 2017 and 2018.” The upcoming IPHC meeting will take a look at the season’s survey data and present recommendations for the commissioners to consider at the full annual meeting, scheduled for Jan. 28-Feb. 1, 2019, in Victoria, British Columbia. The stock assessment is scheduled to be presented to the council at 10:45 a.m. on Nov. 27. All open sessions are webcast at iphc.int. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Researchers work on better model for impact of fishery closures

Fisheries managers are faced with a firestorm every time they decide to close a fishery because of poor returns or low population numbers. A new economic model is trying to help them see into the future to understand the effects of a closure before it happens. Researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Washington worked together on the model, finished in 2017 and published in the journal Marine Policy this past September. It takes into account items like fishery participation, the amount of each vessel’s annual revenue that comes from the affected fishery, which vessels participate in other fisheries and the value of the fishery; the aim is to calculate the total impact when managers have to limit or close a fishery. The origin of the idea came after a disastrous broad closure in salmon fishing on the West Coast in 2008. The closure, caused by poor salmon returns correlated to unfavorable ocean conditions, resulted in a federal disaster declaration and a $170 million relief distribution. Had officials and fishery managers been able to estimate the impact better, relief funds might have been distributed sooner, said Kate RIcherson, a marine ecologist with NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center and the lead author of the study. Fisheries are a difficult economy to track, in part because of the multiple management agencies, fishermen participating in multiple fisheries and seasonal employment, among other factors. Many fishermen aren’t single-species reliant — they participate in multiple fisheries, depending on the season. For example, on the West Coast, some salmon fishermen jump over to participate in the crab fisheries while others fish solely for salmon. “It’s kind of hard to make a blanket statement about how fishermen might have reacted (to the 2008 closure),” Richerson said. “…What I found when I started looking into this was it was hard to make generalities about the folks who are salmon fishing.” Working off the model they developed, Richerson and her two co-authors — Jerry Leonard and Daniel Holland — estimated the economic impact of the 2017 closure on the ocean chinook salmon troll fishery between southern Oregon and northern California. Their result estimated that the closure cost between 200 to 330 jobs, $5.8 million to $8.9 million in income and $12.8 million to $19.6 million in sales. The impact didn’t fall equally among communities, either, they wrote in the paper. “The impacts are not distributed evenly in space, with the largest relative losses occurring in the Coos Bay, Brookings, and Eureka region,” the paper states. “This information may be useful as policymakers consider mitigating economic losses in the fishery and associated communities.” The model is far from a universally applicable model, Richerson said — rather, it’s a first step. First, it relies on landings data, so it’s more tied to vessels than to fishermen. Second, it’s only the ocean troll fishery, which occurs in federal waters and is under NOAA jurisdiction. It doesn’t estimate the economic impact on recreational fisheries or subsistence fisheries, nor would it include any fisheries occurring in state waters. The purpose of the model wasn’t so much to coordinate whether or not to close something; managers don’t always have a choice based on their biological guidelines for salmon stocks, RIcherson said. Instead, it was to help make faster determinations of the impact for fund distribution. “It’s not like you can tell your landlord, ‘Hey, I’ll pay you rent in two years when I get my money (from a fishery disaster),’” Richerson said. Fishery disaster declarations have to escalate up a long ladder before fishermen may see any cash. In Alaska, pink salmon fishermen were asking for a disaster declaration after the 2016 season when harvests were dismally below expectations. Gov. Bill Walker accepted the appeal for disaster declaration, escalating it to the federal government, where Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker accepted it and forwarded it to Congress for acceptance and to appropriate funds for the relief. Nearly two years later, in summer 2018, fishermen finally received notice that they were going to see some funds to provide relief after the 2016 season; $56 million was appropriated by Congress in response to the disaster declaration. Fisheries are by nature unpredictable, but with changing ocean conditions as waters warm and harvest pressures change, there may be more closures in the future. There’s interest in developing models for predicting fisheries closures based on environmental conditions, though that work is not complete, Richerson said. With the paper published and now having moved on to a different position, Richerson said she wasn’t sure she’d get the chance to look into it further but encourage further research on it. “I would definitely think of it as a first step,” she said. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

ASMI executive director Tonkavich steps down

After nine years with the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, Executive Director Alexa Tonkovich has resigned. The organization announced Tonkovich’s departure Nov. 10, though she will stay on as executive director until mid-December while the board of directors searches for a replacement. She plans to pursue a master’s degree in international business and has been accepted to a number of programs in the U.S. and abroad, according to a press release. “After nine years at ASMI, the timing felt right to further my education and prepare myself for wherever the next steps in my career may lead,” she said in the release. Tonkovich became executive director in 2015, taking over for former executive director Michael Cerne. Previously, she served as the international director for ASMI. She worked primarily in developing emerging markets in southeast Asia and Brazil, with an office opening in the latter in 2011. She said the opening of that office as one of the most memorable moments of her time as the international marketing program. “I love market exploration and expansion,” she said. “There have been a few ups and downs (with Brazil’s economy) … we still see good potential there, particularly with the loss in access to the Chinese market (from retaliatory tariffs).” She plans to continue her studies in international business, which is a key part of the seafood industry. Depsite the recently souring global trade positions in the U.S. — the nation has been caught up in an escalating trade war with China over a set of tariffs implemented by President Donald Trump’s administration, including on seafood products — Tonkovich said she hopes it isn’t forever. ASMI has spent years cultivating its relationship with China, but there are potentially other trade relationships on the horizon, too. “I’m hoping this is just a passing phase,” she said. “…(International trade) really is such an important part of the (seafood) business.” For now, she said she’s looking to international business schools in London. The board plans to meet Nov. 19 to discuss appointing a candidate for interim executive director and drafting a notice for recruitment. ASMI Communications Director Jeremy Woodrow said in an email that the board members should have more details about the parameters of the recruitment after that meeting. “With a heavy heart, the ASMI board accepted Ms. Tonkovich’s resignation,” said ASMI board of directors Chari Jack Schultheis, the general manager of Kwik’Pak Fisheries. “Her dedication to Alaska and the Alaska seafood industry is unparalleled. While she will be missed, we also support her decisions and wish her the very best in what is sure to be a very bright future.” ASMI has gone through a number of changes in the past few years, particularly since the budget cuts began in 2015 as the state descended into a fiscal crisis. The organization cut expenses, closed its Seattle office and changed out staff, Tonkovich said. The industry has changed in her time at ASMI, too, she said — more women are moving up into positions of power, and more people of diverse economic, educational and cultural backgrounds are beginning to step in. In the future, innovation and product development will continue to be issues for the Alaska seafood industry to keep pace with the world, Tonkovich said. Addressing the graying of the fleet and bringing more young people into the seafood industry is an issue in Alaska as well as the rest of the world that needs to be addressed, she added. With a degree in Asian studies, Tonkovich said she didn’t originally seek a job in seafood, but is glad for the time she spent there. “I’ve been so honored and it’s bee such a pleasure (to work with ASMI),” she said. “I really grew up here … the organization is in great hands.” Times have tightened financially at ASMI. While the organization, a public-private partnership intended to market Alaska wild-harvested seafood, used to receive state funding, the Legislature has been working on eliminating its support from the general fund, zeroing it out in the fiscal year 2019 budget. This year, the organization plans to request an additional $3.75 million from the Legislature to support programs, according to an Oct. 30 news release from the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development. The funds would go to support a match for competitive grant funding, according to the release. “Specifically, this appropriation would bolster the match on a federal grant program, which will strengthen ASMI’s annual application for federal funding,” the release states. “The competitively awarded federal grant for international marketing allows ASMI to market Alaska seafood internationally, funding consumer and trade programs in 30 countries. ASMI competes each year against such national stalwarts as Sunkist Growers, Washington Apples, the Cotton Council Incorporated, and the U.S. Meat Export Federation.” Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Upper Cook Inlet fishermen seek federal disaster declaration

This season was a sour one for salmon fishermen across the Gulf of Alaska, and participants in multiple fisheries are seeking funding for relief. The Board of Fisheries and Gov. Bill Walker already granted a disaster declaration for Chignik, which harvested next to zero sockeye salmon this year due to an unprecedented poor return to the Chignik River on the Alaska Peninsula. Sockeye salmon runs across the Gulf of Alaska failed to deliver this year, either in timing or in size, at a huge cost to fishermen. Now the Upper Cook Inlet fishermen want a chance at federal funding to recover some of their losses. The set gillnet and drift gillnet fleet in Upper Cook Inlet harvested about 1.3 million salmon, 815,000 of which were sockeye, or about 61 percent below the 10-year average harvest of sockeye. This year was forecasted to be lower than the average, but the harvest as of Oct. 5 — when all Upper Cook Inlet salmon fishing closed for the 2018 season — brought in about $11 million in ex-vessel value, a little more than a third of the $31 million recent 10-year average. The total run, however, was about 32 percent below what was forecast, according to the 2018 salmon fishing summary from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game issued Oct. 22. The trick of it was that the Kenai River sockeye run — the heavy-hitting run of the region, which usually peaks in July — didn’t arrive in force until August. For only the second time in Fish and Game’s records, more than half the run arrived after Aug. 1. That late arrival was exacerbated further by the existing management structure around the high-tension commercial, sport, personal-use and subsistence fisheries on the Kenai River. “In the previous 10 years, the average date where 50 percent of sockeye salmon passage has occurred in the Kenai River is July 23,” the report states. “In 2018, 50 percent of the final passage estimate did not occur until August 3, or 11 days later than average. The late run timing and smaller peak complicated management in 2018 as management plans with specific dates and triggers were developed to account for average run entry timing and magnitude.” The Kenai City Council unanimously adopted a resolution in October asking Walker to declare an economic disaster in the Upper Cook Inlet fishery for 2018, with Mayor Brian Gabriel abstaining due to a conflict of interest because he commercially setnets. With the city of Kenai’s support, the fishermen and a number of organizations and businesses are now seeking support from the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly to declare an economic disaster in the fishery as well. The assembly will consider a resolution to support the request at its Nov. 20 meeting. Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association, the Cook Inlet Fisherman’s Fund, Copper River Seafoods and the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District all submitted letters in support of the resolution, citing the difficulty to the fishery participants this year. “Most fishermen didn’t even cover expenses,” wrote Cook Inlet Fisherman’s Fund President Steve Vanek in the organization’s letter. “…Resident commercial fishermen are an important contributor to the economy of the borough. We appeal to the borough for assistance.” Copper River Seafoods Corporate Development Officers Martin Weiser wrote that the organization, which has “expansion plans in Cook Inlet,” doesn’t have a choice but to absorb the loss, but the fishermen don’t. “Being a large company with operations in almost every major fishery in this state, we will absorb this loss (as we do not have a choice) and continue with business. This is not the case for many of the folks who focus their fishing activities in Cook Inlet,” he wrote. “It is for their sake and the sake of the future of this fishery that we write this letter in support of a disaster recovery effort on the part of the State of Alaska.” Disaster declarations made by the governor then go to the federal Department of Commerce, requiring the Secretary of Commerce’s approval. Congress can then appropriate the funds to return to the fishermen. That process recently concluded with $56 million in relief for the 2016 pink salmon disaster, taking nearly two years before funds surfaced. A federal disaster was also declared in 2012 for low king salmon returns to Cook Inlet and the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers, for which $21 million was eventually appropriated. The process is too slow to help the people of Cook Inlet, Weiser noted in his letter. If a disaster is declared, it could open up opportunities for legislative appropriation of assistance grants as well as the opportunity of assistance to permit holders who have loans through the Commercial Fishing Revolving Loan program and may not be able to meet the terms of their loans, noted Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association Executive Director Gary Fandrei in his letter. The sockeye salmon fishery on the river was stop-and-start, with commercial fishing closed for up to six days at one point to boost passage in the Kenai River. Fishermen complained about the closure on sockeye, the most valuable commercial species in the Inlet, and their complaints were exacerbated later by restrictions on harvest to chum salmon stocks in Kamishak Bay due to low numbers of chum salmon in aerial surveys and a lack of offshore test fishery information to provide for openings for late sockeye salmon. Managers were working within tight date and opening confines, trying to meet strict Kenai River king salmon goals and multiple sockeye salmon sonar goals while opening up sockeye fishing opportunities with various tools. Adding to the complexity was the relatively decent-sized run of sockeye returning to the Kasilof River, mixed along the shore with Kenai River king salmon. This year marked the first time the North Kalifornsky Beach area was opened within 600 feet of shore in an attempt to focus harvest on Kasilof River sockeye while minimizing Kenai sockeye and king harvest. As the Kenai sockeye run continued to fail to materialize, the Kasilof run kept coming back, and managers used the 600-foot fishery in the Kasilof section and ultimately the Kasilof River Special Harvest Area — a one-mile square area around the mouth of the Kasilof River — to try to harvest that stock to prevent the run from surpassing the escapement goal. In the end, it did anyway, according to the salmon season management report. Pink salmon harvests were also significantly lower than average— about 84 percent below the recent 10-year average — mostly due to fishing restrictions during the sockeye season. One bright note, however, was the coho harvest. Upper Cook Inlet fishermen brought in about $1.3 million in ex-vessel value for cohos, about double the recent 10-year average of $699,300, according to the management report. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Southcentral Foundation helping lead study on precision medicine

A group of researchers is working on a study to take a broad look at how precision medicine could be used to benefit the health of Alaska Natives and American Indians in the Lower 48. Funded with $2.1 million through the National Institutes of Health’s Precision Medicine Initiative, the study has three main goals: how precision medicine research may benefit tribal people and align with tribal health priorities, how to return research results to tribal participants and their communities and how to address issues of data stewardship. Dr. Erica Woodahl of the University of Montana, Vanessa Hiratsuka of the Southcentral Foundation and Bert Boyer of Oregon Health and Sciences University in Portland are leading the study. Precision medicine is a term applied to medical treatments tailored to individuals based on their genetic and environmental backgrounds. Former President Barack Obama launched a national Precision Medicine Initiative to advance research on the topic in 2015, focusing largely on cancer. Within that effort, the NIH committed about $50 million specifically to study health disparities among minorities in the U.S. using precision medicine. The new study is just one more addition to the ongoing work at Southcentral Foundation to understand how genetic and environmental factors play into health outcomes in Alaska Natives, Hiratsuka said. Her other work includes a study on how diet, exercise, and other lifestyle and cultural activities impact chronic disease and facilitating a conversation with the tribal community on the ethical, legal and social implications of genomic research. The other public health researchers at Southcentral Foundation are working on a host of projects related to Native health as well, from the implementation of text message reminder impact on colorectal cancer screenings to developing interventions to increase alcohol abstinence among reservation-based and urban American Indian and Alaska Native people. “We’re an organization that’s very interested in learning from our members,” Hiratsuka said. “As the lead of this project, there are many other things we’re doing to improve (approaches to Native health).” American Indians and Alaska Natives experience disproportionately high incidences of cancer, earlier death and chronic disease compared to other groups in their regions. In Alaska, cancer is the leading cause of death of Native peoples. From 2009-13, Alaska Natives experienced higher rates of the nine leading causes of death in the U.S. than white populations, according to the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. Overall cancer rates for American Indians and Alaska Natives increased from 1990-2009, while rates among white populations went down in the same time period, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cancer can include a suite of diseases with a multitude of possible factors or causes, some genetic and some environmental, Hiratsuka said. “When it comes to … multi-health issues like cancer that have a multitude of causes, I think precision medicine becomes a research opportunity,” she said. Essentially, the study involves collecting data on patients to evaluate how individualized treatment can affect outcomes for specific groups. That data includes everything from electronic health records to data from wearable health devices to genetic information. That’s why part of the study will include a data stewardship component, Hiratsuka said. Health information is sensitive and tightly guarded under the restrictions of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, and who is authorized to have what data tends to be fairly fragmented within the medical system. “We’re working on several deliverables — what the return of results to an individual might look like, and results being returned to a provide as well,” Hiratsuka said. “Who among that team (has access), where that information might be stored, and what might be actionable.” As sovereign entities within the U.S., each Tribal group or nation has a health organization. Part of the study also considers how to incorporate the research and health outcomes into the tribal health organizations’ goals. Southcentral Foundation is already involved in personalized health care delivery through its Nuka System of care. The system, which received the Malcolm Baldridge Quality Award in 2017, places patients at the center of a care continuum designed to prioritize relationships. Southcentral Foundation refers to patients as “customer-owners,” a term that frames them both as purchasers of health care services that come first in service but also puts them in charge of their own wellness, Hiratsuka said. The researchers are currently in the second year of work on the study. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Distance learning keeps growing as technology catches up

On any given day at the Alaska Zoo, one of the staff members may be zipping around on a computer-laden golf cart preparing to show off some of the animals to a camera. That camera carries a live stream all over the state, or sometimes, all over the world. Educators at the zoo can talk to students in New York about polar bears or show students in Kaktovik how animals are adapted to cold environments. The only requirement is an internet connection. Some of the groups participating are school classes, but the audiences are diverse. The zoo began teaching distance education programs around 2013 and has embraced the technology to increase its reach, said Stephanie Hartman, the education coordinator for the zoo. “We have all sorts, honestly,” she said. “When we first started it, we didn’t want to throw it directly into schools … really, we focused on after-school and before-school programs, and libraries. Shockingly enough, a lot of senior centers started booking with us.” Anchorage is the biggest city in Alaska, but with about 300,000 people in the metropolitan area, it’s still a relatively small base to support the nonprofit zoo. Hartman said the distance education programs help accomplish the Alaska Zoo’s mission of connecting people to animals as well as broaden its potential support base. They’re not under the illusion that elementary schools in New York will visit the Alaska Zoo, but they may book a distance learning education program again in the future, supporting the zoo, she said. “We really try to make it so it’s an interactive experience,” she said. “Our packets (which are sent ahead) also round out the experience … and they can also be used throughout the school year because they do meet curriculum.” The use of distance and digital learning is practical in a state that’s largely roadless, sparsely populated and that stretches more than 1,000 miles from end to end. In the past decade, with expanding broadband availability and increasing attention on the cost of education in the state, educational organizations have rapidly embraced technology in the classrooms. That often includes distance and supplementary online education. It’s also been touted as a way to save money in delivering education while keeping pace on quality. Gubernatorial candidates Mike Dunleavy and Mark Begich both focused on educational funding throughout their campaigns, looking for ways to improve performance without inflating the state budget while the state is still recovering from a wounded economy. About 80 percent of K-12 education funding in 2014-15 was spent on personnel costs — salaries, health care and retirement benefits — while approximately 19 percent was spent on purchases of services and supplies, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. While educational technology may improve opportunities, it’s not cheap; school districts and universities nationwide have to budget for updated and refreshed technology every year. Distance learning and educational technology is projected to be a $252 billion global market by 2020, according to a 2016 analysis by EdTechX Global and Ibis Capital. The Alaska Department of Education and Early Development maintains a map with drop-pins marking schools with innovative uses of technology in their classrooms. That ranges from the the Anchorage School District’s use of teletherapy for speech therapists to the Petersburg School District introducing coding classes. That exposure is part of the rapidly evolving education atmosphere — technology is just a part of everything now, said Norm Wooten, the executive director of the Alaska Association of School Boards. “I recall when computers were first being put into schools, we were teaching kids keyboarding, how to type,” he said. “Districts don’t do that anymore. They’re starting students right away on coding, complex topics.” Alaska has embraced technology in classrooms, either on par with or faster than schools across the country, Wooten said. In 2006, the Alaska Association of School Boards embarked on a technology implementation initiative called the Consortium on Digital Learning, aimed at implementing a one-to-one ratio of computers to students in various districts. The goal was to make a laptop or mobile device available to every student. “We accomplished what we (set out to do), which was make technology integrated into every school in the state of Alaska,” he said. Steve Nelson, the communications manager for AASB who coordinated the Consortium on Digital Learning project, added that the cost of technology may not necessarily be a line-item increase for districts over other supplies. “What used to be spent on textbooks, I think, is going to be spent more and more on technology,” he said. Hartman identified the technology as one of the biggest frustrations in the implementation of distance learning — between bandwidth and compatibility issues, there’s rarely a day when a distance learning teacher at the zoo doesn’t encounter a problem. While they can solve some of their problems, in part with help from internet provider GCI, they may not always be able to help the teachers in the classroom solve the issues on their end. “The best part about it is connecting to people who’ve never seen a moose or a wolf or a red fox before. You can see something really igniting in a person,” she said. “Technology at this point is the bane of my existence. We always have a ton of trouble. You name it, it’s happened.” Technology is also a lynchpin in personalized learning, one of the largest pushes in public education in recent years, which provides resources for students to direct their own education with digital resources with the guidance of a classroom teacher, allowing each student to learn by the method that best suits them. Many of the school districts in Alaska have begun implementing tools targeted at personalized learning already, and that’s going to continue, Wooten said. It’s also an integral part of Alaska’s Educational Challenge, which was crafted out of submitted comments from Alaskans all over the state. “You cannot personalize learning in this state without the use of technology,” he said. “It’s not about seat time anymore. It’s about the mastery of the material … No teacher can stand up in front of a class of 30 kids and personalize learning for each of them. You can’t do it without technology.” Broadband is one limiting factor on the expansion of the use of technology in the state. Wooten said AASB regularly make sure the issue is before the Legislature, reminding them that improved broadband in communities brings benefits for business as well as education and residents. Technology is reaching beyond the classroom into extracurricular projects, too. Nelson said AASB has been working on “book slam” projects with Alaska Native village schools for about the last decade all over the state to design digital books targeted at revitalizing Native languages, many of which are in danger of going extinct within a generation. Some areas, like the Yukon-Kuskokwim School District, have completed a number of books replete with local collaboration on illustrations, narrations and storyboarding. “We’ve been working for close to a decade on this,” Nelson said. “As soon as you get the technology, teachers ask, ‘How are we going to use this?’ … It’s pretty cool. It’s got a lot of uses all across the learning spectrum.” ^ Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Electronic monitoring has smooth first year; human observer costs rising

After the first year of electronic monitoring on fishing vessels in Alaska, the National Marine Fisheries Service is expanding the pool for boats that want to get in on it. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council has been working on implementing an electronic monitoring program for commercial fishing vessels in Alaska for several years. The devices, essentially small cameras and sensors, replace a human observer and take note of the bycatch and total catch on eligible vessels. In 2018, the first year of the program, the council approved 145 vessels to participate. At its meeting Oct. 4 in Anchorage, council staff member Elizabeth Figus said things went so well on those vessels that not a single one had to be removed from the pool for a violation of the Vessel Monitoring Plan, or VMP. “That was really good news,” she told the council. In June, the council approved an expansion of the program to allow up to 165 vessels to participate. The deadline to register through the Observer Declare and Deploy System was Nov. 1. The small boat fleet in particular pushed for the implementation of electronic monitoring equipment after the council changed the requirements for observing to include small vessels — boats 60 feet or shorter— because it’s harder for them to provide the space and gear for another person besides the crew. Though the council recommended the pool expand to up to 165 boats, funding is a limitation. In the draft 2019 Annual Deployment Report — which lays out the plan for deploying observers in the partial observer coverage program for the upcoming year — council staff wrote that the EM pool will include 141 boats to start, based on the funding available. If that funding materializes, vessels will be prioritized based on whether vessels already have equipment, whether they’re fully wired and only lack the specific equipment or if the vessel is between 40 feet and 57.5 feet and doesn’t have enough bunk or life raft space for an observer, according to the ADP. “If additional funds become available, the number of EM boats could increase to the Council’s recommendation of 165 boats,” the report states. “If funding is not sufficient to accommodate all vessels in any one of these prioritized categories, NMFS will randomly select vessels from that category until funding is exhausted.” While EM systems have been shown to effectively monitor bycatch, NMFS also uses observers to gather biological data at sea. Human observers are still deployed across the fishing fleet, with varying coverage based on gear type and vessel size. For 2019, NMFS is recommending a 15 percent observer deployment allocation strategy plus optimization and consideration of catch limits of specific prohibited species including king salmon, crab and halibut. The ADP only governs the partial observer coverage fisheries — which is only about 8.8 percent of observer days, or about 3,606 days — and is designed to reduce gaps in coverage in partial-coverage fisheries and to shoot for at least a 50 percent chance that at least three trips are observed in each hook-and-line and trawl fishery, though the report states that the likelihood of that level of coverage isn’t as high in the other gear strata. Funding is an issue across the observer program. NMFS estimated in the ADP that the program would cost about $4.45 million, or about 3,110 observer days, though that may change after the EM application pool closes. The Fisheries Monitoring Advisory Committee, a stakeholder group advising the council on observer program issues, made note of a its concern about the increasing cost of observer days from $1,100 to more than $1,400 per day. The committee noted that the increase in cost for the days was multifaceted and wanted to know more about why the cost is increasing, Figus told the council. The reason for the increase isn’t clear, either. In a written comment to the council, North Pacific Fishermen’s Association President Malcolm Milne echoed the concern, saying the increase was about 35 percent more per day than in 2017. “In 2017, planned coverage rates were 11 percent for hook and line, 4 percent for pot fisheries, and 18 percent for trawl and 14 percent for tendered trawl trips and the cost was nearly a third lower — $935 per day,” he wrote. “In 2018 NMFS’ sampling design established a 15 percent base coverage rate in order to meet NMFS priority of filling gaps in remote fisheries in areas with low effort. “Does an equal coverage sampling design add to the increased cost? NPFA requests that the Council inquire into the causes of the increased cost and seek ways to reduce costs through the ADP process where feasible.” Based on that cost, the committee voted against supporting an ADP that included the crab Prohibited Species Catch limit into its metrics for coverage, which would increase coverage for pot fisheries and possibly reduce it for hook-and-line fisheries, where the members felt more management was likely necessary. The committee also “supports sticking with only halibut and chinook because of the real-world effect they have in closing down fisheries,” according to the minutes from the committee’s Sept. 13-14 meeting in Seattle. The council passed a motion in response to a Fisheries Monitoring Advisory Committee’s recommendation to write a letter to NMFS requesting additional federal funding to support the partial observer coverage program. The committee also requested an explanation of how fees for the EM program and the observer program will be split, which council staff is working on, Figus said at the meeting. ^ Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Fee hikes proposed to cover workload at marijuana office

KENAI — Cannabis business owners may have to pony up more cash in the near future for their licenses. The Marijuana Control Board is considering raising license fees to support the operations of the office. At its Oct. 17 meeting in Kenai, Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office Director Erika McConnell presented the initial idea to the board members of raising the license fees in a variety of ways, leaving the decision up to them on how the members would like to pursue it. “The board may want to only consider the increased license fee at the time of renewal,” she said. “Should the board want to entertain raising license fees, that would be through a regulation project.” The Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development — which houses AMCO and business licensing divisions — wants to see professional licensing programs and industries support the cost of regulating them through license fees. The Legislature kicked in about $4.5 million in unrestricted General Fund money to get the program going, but wants to see that paid back eventually, McConnell said. On top of that, cannabis business licensees have been raising concerns recently about the amount of time it takes for the office to review applications for a new license. The current waiting time is more than five months for a completed application to be reviewed. Some applicants have waited longer. However, AMCO doesn’t have enough staff members to speed that time up with all the other requirements placed on the office, and securing more staff is tricky with continuous state government cuts over the past four fiscal years in the Legislature. McConnell said the office managed to secure a regulations specialist this year between Legislative sessions, but will have to include the line item for the position in next year’s request to the Legislature and face the possibility that it will be cut out during the budget review process. To provide the services requested by the industry, the office needs enough money to support more staff, she said. Estimating revenue based on the rate of license renewal and current license costs, the office will bring in about $1.7 million in revenue, between the regular business licenses and the marijuana handling card fees. That may not be entirely accurate, though, she wrote in her report to the board. “That estimate may be high, as some licensees submit renewal applications and fees after the June 30 deadline, so their fees go into the FY20 revenue,” she wrote. In the report, she presented two ideas — raising the $500 license fee to $1,000 and the $5,000 license to $6,000, or raising the $500 license to $1,500 and the $5,000 license to $7,000. She also presented the idea of raising just the renewal fee for licenses, as the threshold of entry for people just getting into the industry is already high. The board took no action at the meeting, as that would require public notice and comment first. Cost to industry participants continues to be a major conversation driver, between trim taxes that business owners consider unfair to licensing and facility requirements. The board also shot down an AMCO staff proposal to lengthen the amount of time required for businesses to retain their security footage. Currently, businesses have to retain their high-definition security footage for 40 days, which requires a large amount of storage space and expense to maintain. For enforcement reasons, the staff had proposed requiring businesses to retain their security footage for 90 days. License holders objected, saying that would incur massive expense for the hard drive storage, and downloading that amount of footage when requested by the enforcement office would set them up to fail the deadline for turning it in because downloading footage of that length of time takes too long. The board unanimously declined the proposed regulation, agreeing that the requirement was too burdensome for businesses. Board member Nick Miller, an industry representative, said there was a section in code that allowed the AMCO enforcement division to require individual businesses to keep footage longer than the 40-day requirement if necessary. “We’ve heard a lot of discussions about how long it takes to download 40 days. I can’t imagine how long it’s going to take to download 90 days,” he said. “…I think they should (use that section of code) and not penalize the entire industry for one or two bad actors out there.” Brandon Emmett, the other industry representative, agreed, citing the other cost strains on business owners. Growers, especially limited cultivators, are struggling to make a profit on what they’re doing and adding more expense for everyone may push some of them under, he said. “I think that we have to weigh cost and benefit,” he said. “The cost to our growers who are struggling, there’s people going out of business, that adding this extra expense that they get no benefit from to potentially catch a bad actor or two is not prudent.” McConnell said the office had originally proposed 120 days, but reduced it to 90 after the board members rejected the 120 days. Oregon recently raised its video retention requirement to 90 days, while other states like Nevada only require 30 days’ retention, she said. This was the board’s first time meeting in Kenai. The board will return to Anchorage for its next meeting on Dec. 20-21. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Board of Fisheries again rejects curtailing hatchery production

For the third time in a year, the Board of Fisheries has shot down a proposal seeking to curtail salmon hatchery production in Prince William Sound. By a 6-1 vote at its meeting Oct. 16 in Anchorage, the board rejected an agenda change request seeking to reduce pink salmon production by the Valdez Fisheries Development Association. The request, filed by the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, sought to prevent the Valdez-area hatchery nonprofit from raising the additional pink salmon eggs it took as part of a production increase this summer and would have capped the hatchery’s egg-take numbers. KRSA cited concerns about the number of hatchery pink salmon being released in to the North Pacific Ocean every year, referencing a number of scientific reviews and studies about pink salmon diet and abundance in the North Pacific and linking it to potential downturns in the size and abundance of other species of salmon. None of the papers directly links the number of pink salmon in the ocean to declining populations or size at age for other salmon, but the requesters connected the dots. The agenda change request, or ACR, was the third attempt to block VFDA’s expansion of its pink salmon production before the Board of Fisheries. The board previously considered two emergency petitions on the same topic, submitted by a group of more than a dozen sportfishing groups, including KRSA. The version submitted as an ACR was submitted by KRSA alone. In a previous interview, KRSA Executive Director Ricky Gease said the group resubmitted the request because there was no place on the agenda to discuss the concern about hatcheries, and the group wanted to see the board have a conversation about the sustainability of hatchery production and the risk to wild stocks. And they did. The board spent most of the day Oct. 16 discussing the state’s hatchery program and the associated research and remaining questions, ultimately denying the agenda change request but agreeing that the conversation was worth having. “I think we can all agree this is an important topic to all fishermen in all user groups,” said board member Israel Payton. “We’re all here because of salmon and the protection of salmon. In one of the presentations, basically the intent of the Legislature was for the hatchery program to rehabilitate the depressed salmon fishery. To what end? Where is the limit? … That being said, I think we should take a breath, do some more studies in Lower Cook Inlet.” The other members of the board largely said they voted against it because they didn’t see it meeting the agenda change request criteria, not that it wasn’t a valid concern. The sole member voting for it was newly-elected board chair Reed Morisky. Three staff members from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game spent a chunk of the afternoon giving the board members a crash course in the state’s hatcheries and ongoing research. Public concern about the hatcheries, most notably the pink salmon production, has been mounting for the last several years, flaring higher in December 2017 when ADFG presented results from otoliths collected from pink salmon found in streams in the Homer area, finding an unexpectedly large number of Prince William Sound hatchery pink salmon. Sam Rabung, the head of ADFG’s aquaculture section, explained that the hatchery program has repeatedly come under scrutiny since its conception in the mid-1970s. Since the 1990s, hatchery production has been relatively stable in terms of smolt releases. It’s been about a decade since the Board of Fisheries convened a meeting specifically on hatcheries under the Joint Protocol on Hatcheries, Rabung said, adding that he hopes the members continue to do so in the near future. “The hatchery program has benefited from this scrutiny, and is one of the largest reasons I think it’s been successful,” he said. “It’s our hope that these meetings can be resumes so that accurate information about the hatchery program can be provided to the board and to the public in a timely manner.” The hatchery program was conceived in the 1970s in response to depressed fishery stocks and poor commercial harvests. Since then, the state conveyed the majority of its hatcheries to be operated by private nonprofits, or PNP, hatcheries, running operations in areas from southern Southeast north across the Gulf of Alaska out to Kodiak. The state still operates two sportfish production hatcheries, which are not subject to the same production oversights as the PNP hatcheries but which public statewide stocking plans subject to public review. The PNP hatcheries’ releases are available to harvest by all user groups, but are largely funded by and harvested by commercial fishermen. During the public discussion portion of the meeting, taking the form a committee-style forum, most of the comments came from commercial fishermen who spoke out in opposition to the agenda change request and against the Board of Fisheries taking an increased role in hatchery production regulation. Kenneth Jones, a Cordova-area fisherman and Prince William Sound Aquaculture Association board member, told the board to consider the number of commercial fishermen who took time and expense to come to the meetings to defend the hatcheries’ operations. “This effort by KRSA and company is nothing but a thinly veiled attack on commercial fisheries, and bringing it before the politically-appointed Board of Fisheries three times in the course of twelve months is an abuse of the public process,” he said. Clem Tillion, a Halibut Cove resident and former legislator, said the hatchery program has operated exactly as the legislators intended it to. “The hatchery program has been a success,” he said. “Don’t monkey around with something that works.” As he resumed his seat, the crowd offered significant applause. Research continues The longest presentation of the afternoon was from Division of Commercial Fisheries Chief Fisheries Scientist for salmon Bill Templin, who offered a crash course on the science of salmon hatcheries, straying and an update on the long-term hatchery-wild salmon interaction study. The study, a massive undertaking funded by the hatchery operations and coordinated by ADFG, is expected to last a little more than a decade and answer questions about the genetic composition of pink and chum salmon in Prince William Sound and Southeast Alaska, to what degree hatchery chums and pinks are straying into wild streams and whether they are impacting wild populations. It’s a massive study, tracking multiple generations of salmon in a variety of locations. Parts of it are completed, including a genetic baseline for pink salmon along the Gulf of Alaska, which was completed in connection with the longer-term Western Alaska Salmon Stock Identification Program. Templin said the data indicates that pink salmon have a relatively “shallow” genetic structure, varying only slightly from stream to stream, with most of the genetic differences existing between individuals rather than between populations. “Most of the genetic variation relies on individual to individual differences,” he said. “What this tells us is there’s very shallow genetic variation in pink salmon, not just in Prince William Sound but across the entire range.” Reviewing the papers submitted with the ACR, he critiqued the scientific reliability of several and said some others were good data sets but lacked context. In connection with the concerns from the proposers about ocean carrying capacity, he said ocean carrying capacity is a massively complicated question with far too many factors for anyone to easily calculate, and is beyond the scope of ADFG to be able to determine. He did point to the record run sizes in recent years that happened in conjunction with high numbers of hatchery pink salmon present in the North Pacific Ocean. He made a number of further research recommendations to the board, including developing a more complete research study on hatchery strays and evaluation of hatchery releases. In response to a question from Payton, he said ADFG has worked on a more complete research project regarding the straying of Prince William Sound pink salmon into Lower Cook Inlet streams and would like to implement it but lack the financial resources to do so. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Council considers options for tracking halibut rental boats

A lot of unanswered questions, concern about fishery access and uncertainty about who is responsible remain part of the debate over how to register and track halibut harvested by unguided anglers in rental boats. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council discussed a potential course of action on a registry system for rental boats carrying unguided anglers fishing for halibut. It’s been an issue for the council for several years, springing from a sore spot among the commercial and charter halibut fleets because of the more relaxed bag limits on unguided halibut anglers. Unguided anglers get to keep two fish per day of any size, while guided anglers only get to keep one in Southeast and two with a size limit on the second one in the Central Gulf of Alaska. The charter sector is also subject to a sector harvest limit, while there’s no real tracking on unguided angler halibut harvest. In recent years, both private citizens and guides have been asking the council to do something about businesses renting out boats for unguided halibut fishing, particularly in Southeast. The intent of the higher bag limits was to protect access to the fishery for Alaskans, but some operations have begun commercializing it to bypass the charter sector. Potential solutions, though, are difficult to pin down. Council member and charter business owner Andy Mezirow introduced a motion with three suggested alternatives for how to keep a closer track on unguided anglers in rental boats, including doing nothing, requiring registration for non-guided rental sportfishing vessels, and aligning the bag limits in the charter and non-guided sector. Mezirow said this will be necessary given the growth in participation among nonguided anglers. “Defining all of these entities as one sector, requiring registration and applying the same bag limits is a necessary action to understand and then manage this fleet,” he said. The total sportfishing harvest of halibut in regulation areas 2C and 3A — Southeast Alaska and the Central Gulf of Alaska, respectively — actually declined between 2003 and 2016, but the proportions of who was harvesting them changed. In 2011, the harvest by unguided anglers surpassed the harvest of the charter fleet in Southeast, which may account for why people say the unguided sector is growing while the overall harvest numbers have stayed relatively flat, said Steve MacLean, the protected species coordinator for the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. In the raw data, though, fish being caught on private boats by individual Alaskans are indistinguishable from fish coming off rental boats being hired by tourists, MacLean said. “Unfortunately, we don’t have data on the number of fish caught by rental boats,” he said. “We don’t have any way of understanding the number of halibut coming off these rental boats like other private boats.” Council staff researched the registration methods available and concluded that the Alaska Division of Motor Vehicles registry is likely close to accurate, though it’s hard to separate vessels specifically registered to rent for unguided halibut angling from other pleasure craft, he said. “We did identify at least one company that is known to offer boats to rent for anglers for halibut that does not have any registered rental boats, but does have registered pleasure boats,” he said. “We had to look up the business owner and look up their address, and then search for boats identified or registered to that owner or that address, and we did find that there were a number of boats registered to multiple people at that address, pleasure boats. “We also do know that there are several companies that do have a boat that is registered as a rental boat but they do not offer fishing services. There are a number of venture companies that offer zodiacs for (activities like) wildlife viewing, glacier access. Those are all counted as rental boats.” While staff members were building the discussion paper, they also investigated which would be the best agency to implement registration or logbook requirements. The National Marine Fisheries Service, which works with the council and the International Pacific Halibut Commission to regulate halibut harvest, has one type of registration established but does not collect logbooks. While the Alaska Department of Fish and Game does collect sportfishing guide logbooks and conduct a private angler statewide harvest survey, the agency indicated that a separate logbook just for private halibut anglers would be burdensome, MacLean said. Several residents of Southeast Alaska testified that they’ve seen operations like fishing lodges take advantage of the more liberal unguided bag limit by offering a day or two of guided fishing followed by a rental boat for unguided fishing or the establishment of “fishing clubs.” Linda Behnken, the executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, urged the council to move forward with registration requirements. Though it looks like harvest is flat, the council has to account for the fact that overall halibut abundance in the Gulf of Alaska has been declining, she said. “You’ve seen a drop in abundance, and you’ve seen the same level of removals,” she said. “That’s only happening because there’s an increased effort.” There’s a delicate line for the council to walk: protecting private resident access to the fishery and controlling business use of it. The motion isn’t intended to impinge upon private Alaskans’ ability to fish for halibut, especially as food, as citizen access to resources is provided for in the Alaska Constitution, Mezirow said. However, that’s something Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten said he’s concerned about in this motion. “There’s a strong level of support from the commercial halibut industry for the direction this will take, and it sounds like there’s a strong level of support from the charter industry … but there’s really no lobby for the resident angler,” he said. “When you look at the definition that’s been used here … resident anglers are going to be impacted differently based on their own economic situation, perhaps.” Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Researchers tackle data gaps in ocean acidification impacts

SEWARD — Increasingly acidic oceans are expected to affect marine species on which fishermen of all stripes rely. One of the things that’s not known is how it’s exactly going to affect each individual species, particularly in Alaska. A group of researchers from the University of Alaska Fairbanks is looking into the effect of ocean acidification on three clam species — littleneck and razor clams and cockles — that are important for subsistence and sport harvest in the state. Entrenched in their research is a desire to know more generally about how ocean acidification is going to play out in the state. “Our goal is really to define what those sensitivities are in the hope of managing these species,” said Amanda Kelley, an assistant professor of marine biology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. “What we can say is that okay, if our data supports what is happening with these species, we know that (a specific species) is more sensitive to climate change effects.” Kelley and two of her graduate students are working on research specific to how more acidic oceans will affect shellfish. For Marina Washburn, who is working toward a master’s degree in marine biology, there’s a personal connection, too: she grew up harvesting the once-plentiful razor clams on the beaches of Ninilchik and Clam Gulch. Due to depressed populations, that fishery has been closed for four straight seasons. Washburn successfully hatched razor clams this summer at the Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery in Seward, the first time it’s ever been done in a lab. Her project involves continuously bubbling a set amount of carbon dioxide into seawater, patterned after what scientists expect ocean conditions to be like by 2100. The project can be done all year because it’s done in a closed lab, she said. The collapse of the razor clam fishery on the east side of Cook Inlet likely isn’t solely due to ocean acidification — the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has cited harvest pressure, poor survival, storm damage and unfavorable environmental conditions among the possible causes — but it could be playing a role. Even if it isn’t now, it could in the future, Washburn said. “That sad truth about mollusks in in Alaska is that (the information available) is shockingly low,” Washburn said. “There is very little research. I think Alaska has a problem with not appreciating our resources like shellfish and fish until there is a problem.” Researchers worldwide have been tracking a gradual increase in the acidity of the ocean, linked to an increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Essentially, the ocean absorbs more of the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and breaks it down, absorbing the carbon molecules and creating carbonic acid. Some of that carbonic acid breaks down, though, freeing hydrogen molecules and increasing the pH of the water, making it more acidic and raising a host of issues for marine animals adapted specifically to a less acidic ocean. Shellfish are on the front lines of those risks. More acidic oceans can dissolve the calcium carbonate-based shells mollusks build to protect their soft bodies, exposing them to predation. Mollusks are important in the marine food chain — everything from fish to otters to sea stars predate on shellfish. Many Alaskans also depend on shellfish for subsistence. Ashley Rossin, a marine biology Ph.D. student working with Kelley, is studying the impact of ocean acidification on littleneck clams and cockles, both of which have been traditional subsistence foods. Out in remote coastal communities, where imported groceries are not as common and are more expensive, rural residents have relied on abundant shellfish for generations. That’s changed in the last decade or so, as populations of clams around the state have reportedly been in decline, Rossin said. “(In research, rural populations have) said they don’t even know what to do, and the clam and chiton populations are so small but they need to continue to fish there because that’s what available to them, but they don’t want to fish them because they know it may not be good for them,” she said. Her project includes looking at the water in beaches where littlenecks and cockles settle — called pore water — to see if the conditions there are different than the surrounding ocean and how that may affect them. The two species occupy the exact same habitats but have opposite life history strategies, Rossin said — littlenecks grow slowly while cockles grow quickly. “(Kelley) wanted to see what the difference in their responses would be,” Rossin said. “We’re going to see basically which one is the winner or the loser in this situation. The conditions that are there are kind of unknown … some people have hypothesized that the water in that sediment is actually more acidic.” One of the frustrations all three mentioned was a lack of overall existing data both about existing shellfish populations and about the effect of ocean acidification on Alaskan species overall. Kelley said there have been about six studies so far about ocean acidification’s effect on Alaskan marine animal species in Alaska. The work they’re doing on shellfish is the first of its kind in the state, she said. “We are only measuring one variable in the lab,” Kelley said. “But what you start to do is develop a series of mounting evidence. The only thing we can do is accumulate evidence … Alaska is behind the curveball for research on climate change. Funding is definitely a big part of it. I have to submit grants (for research) and when I submit a grant, I have to compete with everyone else who wants to study seabirds.” Rossin’s project includes a citizen science aspect using the Local Environmental Observation, or LEO, network and Epi Collect 5, asking individuals to record their observations about shellfish and shellfish harvests all over Alaska. Alaska SeaGrant is supporting both projects, in part because of the importance of the clam species to harvest by the subsistence, sport and commercial sectors alike. There is some baseline information being gathered around the state, though. In a back room at the Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery, shellfish biologist Jacqueline Ramsay is testing water samples from all across the Gulf of Alaska coast for their baseline water conditions to help track localized changes. At first glance, it looks like she’s storing shelves and shelves of six-packs of beer. But those are actually the sample containers: she has citizen scientists gather water samples in cleaned, recycled beer bottles and mail them to her at the hatchery. She then plugs them into a machine known as the Burke-o-lator — named for its creator, Burke Hales of Oregon State University — to continuously test them for water quality measures. “What this machine does is it just constantly sips on (the water sample) and measures salinity and pH (among other metrics),” she said. Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery, the only shellfish hatchery in Alaska, is an operation of Chugach Regional Resources Commission. Ramsay receives samples from many of the corporation’s member villages, from Seldovia to Eyak, with about three years of data on hand. She’s working with several other researchers through to build baseline data on existing conditions in Alaska using these longterm data sets. Longterm data is important for gauging changes, establishing baseline conditions to work with on different species and locations. “I think we alread know that pollock and crab and clams all react differently,” Ramsay said. “That’s why this is so important.” Alaska is especially vulnerable to ocean acidification in the future, as colder water holds more gas and is more susceptible to changing pH. With Alaska’s dependency on healthy marine ecosystems for healthy fisheries and subsistence, being able to look forward and estimate impacts will be important, Washburn said. “We’re kind of getting hit on both sides,” she said. “As terrible as it is, Alaska is a great place to study ocean acidification, because we are going to feel the effects of it.” Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

GCI objects to 26% cut in Rural Health Care payments

Alaska internet service providers are getting millions of dollars to provide lower-price service to rural health care centers, but not as much as they asked to cover their costs. The Federal Communications Commission provides cost assistance through its Rural Health Care program, intended to help rural medical clinics afford internet connections to facilitate telemedicine services without breaking the bank. By law, internet service providers have to serve rural health care clinics at the same cost they give to urban health care clinics, and to make up the difference, they can apply for funding through the RHC program. The catch is that they have to justify the rates they’re charging for rural connections. After an investigation, the FCC found that two non-Alaska carriers were inflating their rural rates to increase their payments from the program in 2017 and fined the companies about $40 million. The agency then requested more information from the participating companies to justify the rural rates they charged. That proved to be an issue for Alaska telecom providers, where internet connections are notoriously expensive and limited outside urban centers. The FCC announced Oct. 10 that GCI, one of the two largest internet providers in the state, would receive $77.8 million in funding through the program. That’s about $28 million less than the company requested in its cost estimates. “Among the carriers that received an information request was one of the largest carriers in Alaska, GCI Communications Corp.,” the release states. “As a result of this particular inquiry, the (FCC’s Wireline Competition) Bureau has determined that GCI has now provided sufficient information to justify $77.8 million in RHC funding for FY 2017, a 26 percent reduction from the $105 million originally sought.” GCI objected, saying in an Oct. 12 press release that the reduction from the funding request essentially forces the company to swallow $28 million in services that had already been provided. “GCI strongly disagrees with the Bureau’s decision,” said GCI President and Chief Operating Officer Greg Chapados in the release. “The decision ignores the fact that our services are competitively bid in a competitive market. It also fails to provide any compelling explanation of the methodology behind the reduction in support payments. It does not even set forth the specifics of the methodology.” The company challenges the Wireline Competition Bureau’s authority and “intends to pursue all available remedies,” according to the release. GCI Director of Corporate Communications Heather Handyside said in an email the company didn’t have any more to add to the press release at present. In its press release, the FCC emphasized the “fiscal responsibility” of the decision to reduce the funding to GCI. “Critically, this fiscally responsible determination will not require participating rural health care providers in Alaska to pay more for their telecommunications services or risk losing those services,” the release states. “By law, telecommunications carriers cannot cut off or deny service to existing rural health care provider customers for failure to pay a rate higher than the urban rate. Moreover, the methodology outlined in the Bureau’s approval letter will provide additional regulatory certainty and thus support continued investment in technologies that support telemedicine in communities across Alaska.” GCI stated that it has invested hundreds of millions of dollars into building out infrastructure for its network in rural Alaska and that the decision does not hold with industry practice, economics, policy or prior audits conducted back to 1997, in the earliest days of the RHC program. Alaska Communications, the other major internet provider in the state, previously outlined to the Journal the difficulties in meeting the information request specifications for the FCC to approve its rural rates. As of Oct. 16, most of the requests from the providers the company served in 2017 had been approved, but a handful had not yet been approved and therefore not funded, wrote Alaska Communications Director of External Affairs and Corporate Communications Heather Cavanaugh in an email. The RHC program has grown significantly in recent years, with growing concern from providers as requests for funding outstripped the funding provided. In June 2018, the FCC increased the available funding from $400 million to $571 million, which has since been scaled to $581 million for inflation, according to FCC spokesman Mark Wigfield in an email. ^ Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Native rights pioneer, next generation take Elders & Youth stage

The two speakers at the 35th First Alaskans Institute Elders and Youth Conference bring two different geographic perspectives, two different eras and two different cultures, but a similar energy to be active on behalf of their ancestral communities. The First Alaskans Institute, which organizes the annual Elders and Youth Convention that precedes the Alaska Federation of Natives Convention in Anchorage, has chosen Inupiaq elder Ugiqtaq Wesley Aiken as the Elder keynote and Kaltag resident Tristan Yaadoh Jovan Madros as its Youth keynote speaker. Aiken is scheduled to speak at 9:30 a.m. on Monday, Oct. 15, and Madros is scheduled to speak at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 16, according to a draft schedule. The conference’s theme is “Our Ancestors, Our Fire,” acknowledging the connection to ancestors and elders among Natives today and exploring the question: “What will we add to this fire to keep it burning brightly?” A leader from Utqiagvik Aiken is a longtime hand in Alaska and Native politics since long before statehood in 1959. Born in the North Slope town of Barrow, now called Utqiagvik, in 1926, Aiken herded reindeer in the area to provide for his family as a teenager before serving in the Alaska Territorial Guard from 1944–59, staying involved with the guard until 1973, according to a press release from the First Alaskans Institute. Aiken took up the banner of Native rights in the 1960s, participating in the civil disobedience movement in Barrow against federal restrictions on spring duck hunting that was later dubbed “the Barrow Duck-in” in 1961, when Inupiaq duck hunters presented signed statements of their duck hunting against federal rules en masse to game wardens. From there, he was heavily involved in the work to pass the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act that was signed by President Richard Nixon in 1973. He worked on the formation of the Alaska Federation of Natives, the North Slope Borough and the Arctic Slope Regional Corp., retiring from the latter in 1992. He was among the Ukpeagvik Inupiat Corp.’s first three employees upon its formation in 1973, holding the role of land chief, according to the corporation’s website. Throughout his life, he’s held onto a strong faith. He’s frequently invited to deliver prayers in Utqiagvik, whether over captured whales or community gatherings, said his daughter Martha Stackhouse. People often approach him to offer the latest news in town, such as which whales are going by or to ask for advice, she said. “Almost all the time he’s asked to pray for different entities, different things that are happening … they often ask for advice on what to do when a certain situation and the first answer is always that you will find the answer in prayer,” she said. Aiken identified his work on ANCSA and on a commercial whaling moratorium as his most important steps in Native politics, Stackhouse said. Both were hinged around subsistence rights — Aiken says that preserving access to traditional hunting and gathering foods is critically important to the isolated communities of the North Slope. Looking to the future, Aiken says erosion is one of the biggest issues facing Arctic communities. The community east of Utqiagvik that he grew up in, Isuk, has lost between two and four miles of coastline to erosion in recent years, Stackhouse said. Utqiagvik itself has lost a large amount of coastline, largely due to melting permafrost and warming temperatures. Looking to the theme of “Our Ancestors, Our Fire,” he said he looked to his ancestors for foresight and instruction in the past. “Those ancestors as he was growing up, as he was very young, those people use to talk about the things that were going to happen,” Stackhouse said. “They are happening. So the ancestors predicted this and they are happening.” Learning from elders Tristan Madros grew up spending time and learning from elders in Kaltag. Madros, who was adopted traditionally by his grandparents in the western Alaska village, is of Koyukon Athabascan descent. He learned the traditional way of life there, making birch sleds, hunting, trapping and fishing. At 20, he has already spent several terms on the board of Denakkanaaga, an organization representing Native elders in the Doyon and Tanana Chiefs Conference areas of the Interior and currently serves on the Kaltag Village Council as the Second Chief, in the Kaltag dance group, the Tanana Chiefs Conference Youth Advisory Emerging Leader’s Council, and Yukon River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission board, according to a press release from the First Alaskans Institute. In 2017, Doyon Ltd. named him as the Shareholder of the Year for the Chief Andrew Isaac Leadership Award. In a release accompanying the award, the corporation noted Madros’ work with elders and efforts to give back to the community. The 35th Elders and Youth Conference is scheduled to begin with the Warming of the Hands pre-conference session on Sunday, Oct. 14, at the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center in Anchorage, and the Tyonek peoples will host a welcome potlatch at the Alaska Pacific University sports center. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

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