Laine Welch

Three-year respite from EPA small vessel regulation passes

It went down to the wire, but fishermen were relieved to learn they can continue to hose down their decks without fear of violating the Clean Water Act.

Congress voted unanimously Dec. 10 to extend a moratorium for three years that exempts commercial fishing vessels 79 feet and under from needing incidental discharge permits from the Environmental Protection Agency for deck wash. The current moratorium, which affects 8,500 Alaska vessels, was set to expire on Dec.18.

Some hopeful signs in halibut; salmon prices dip from '13

The Pacific halibut stock appears to be rising from the ashes and that bodes well for catches in some fishing regions next year. It would turn the tide of a decades-long decline that has caused halibut catches to be slashed by more than 70 percent in Alaska, Washington, Oregon and British Columbia.

Three Alaska areas showed improvement in the annual stock surveys that range from Oregon to the Bering Sea, and could have higher catch levels in 2015. That’s according to information revealed at the International Pacific Halibut Commission’s interim meeting last week in Seattle.

Meeting season underway with halibut, fish board, council

It’s the time of year when Alaska’s fishery meetings kick into high gear — with five set for this week alone.

The industry got a first glimpse of potential 2015 halibut catches when the International Pacific Halibut Commission convenes Dec. 2-3 in Seattle. It’s been a wait and see attitude among fish circles — Will Alaska’s catch limits again be reduced, down already 70 percent over a decade to just 16 million pounds? Or has the Pacific halibut stock started to rebound as some of the science indicates?

Strong 2015 forecasts for pollock, Bristol Bay salmon

Alaska is poised for some big fish stories next year based on predictions trickling in from state and federal managers. 

For the state’s (and nation’s) largest fishery — Alaska pollock — the Eastern Bering Sea stock has more than doubled its 10-year average to top nine million tons, or 20 billion pounds. And the stock is healthy and growing, according to annual surveys.

Fishing adds jobs, salmon moves to second for US consumers

Alaska’s largest employer continues to add more jobs to its roster.

Commercial fishing jobs grew last year to a level not seen since the year 2000, according to the state Department of Labor. Driven primarily by an increased salmon harvest, notably from the record run of pinks, fishing jobs grew by nearly 2.5 percent last year. That brought the annual monthly average to 8,400 jobs, just 400 shy of the record over a decade ago.

Alaska ports top seafood landings list once again in 2013

Alaska claimed the nation’s top three fishing ports for seafood catches last year, and wild salmon landings — 95 percent from Alaska — topped one billion pounds, an all-time record and a 70 percent increase from 2012.

That’s according to the annual “Fisheries of the U.S.” report for 2013, just released by NOAA Fisheries.

Friction continues over B.C. mines; ASMI seeks seafood ambassadors

Throughout history, arguments over land and water usages have run the gamut from tussles over fences with next-door neighbors to shootouts over interstate grazing rights in the old west. But when land and water rights pit one country against another, that’s when things really get tricky. 

Crab quota owners make attempt to get shares on market for crew

The Bering Sea crab fleet now stands at 77 vessels, a far cry from the nearly 250 boats in a frenzied race to pull pots before the fishery downsized to catch shares in 2005. Fewer boats means less hands on deck, and as with other fisheries, the Bering Sea crabbers are “graying” and need to recruit young entrants to sustain the iconic fisheries. The shareholders have devised a way to give captains and crews a first crack at available crab.

Ballot measure would require legislative approval of Pebble

A ballot measure to protect salmon in Southwest Alaska hasn’t grabbed as many headlines as pot and campaign politics. Ballot Measure 4, sponsored by the group Bristol Bay Forever, asks voters to give the Alaska Legislature final say on any large oil, gas and mining projects in the 36,000 square miles of the Bristol Bay Fisheries Reserve.

The initiative does three significant things to the existing reserve, said Dick Mylius, a former state director for the Division of Mining, Land, and Water.

Fireworks featured at traditional Kodiak fisheries debate

I must admit that U.S. Senate candidate Dan Sullivan achieved something I have been trying to accomplish as a fisheries writer for more than a quarter of a century: he gave long legs to media stories about Alaska’s fisheries and, more importantly, it attracted unparalleled recognition of the seafood industry nationwide.

How did that come about for a fractious industry that bemoans a la comedian Rodney Dangerfield —“I don’t get no respect?”

Crab, pollock stocks show abundance in latest surveys

Alaska’s conservative management combined with the grace of Mother Nature is swelling the abundance of two of the state’s largest and most important fisheries.

Bering Sea crab scientists and stakeholders met last week to discuss the outlook for Alaska’s biggest crab fisheries that open Oct. 15.  The takeaway was that the stocks of red king crab, bairdi tanners and snow crab all showed big increases in mature size classes, based on data from the annual summer surveys. (Only mature male crabs cans be retained in Alaska’s crab fisheries.)

Sullivan reverses, will attend Kodiak fisheries debate

Fish on! The lure of reaching a statewide audience was too much to pass up for U.S. Senate hopeful Dan Sullivan, who will be at the Oct. 1 fisheries debate at Kodiak after all.

Sullivan was able to reshuffle a packed travel schedule to fit in the fisheries event, said Ben Sparks, campaign manager. Sullivan initially was going to be in Bethel on a multi-day swing through Southwest Alaska during the time of the Kodiak event.

Sullivan will attend Kodiak Chamber fisheries debate

Editor's Note: via Laine Welch on Friday morning: "Dan Sullivan is coming to the Kodiak fish debate after all. I confirmed it with Ben Sparks this morning.  So it will be an hour of Begich/Sullivan, then an hour of Don Young and Forrest."

Banning Russian seafood would pinch its king crab sales

If Russia won’t buy seafood from the U.S., we won’t buy seafood from them. 

That’s the gauntlet being thrown down by Alaska’s Congressional delegation to retaliate against Russia’s year-long ban on food products from the U.S. and several nations.

Chinook research begins; Fraser River prices decline with strong run

More than 100 researchers and three dozen projects are underway to find clues as to why Alaska’s chinook salmon production has declined since 2007.   

The ambitious effort marks the start of a state-backed five-year, $30-million Chinook Salmon Research Initiative that includes 12 major river systems from Southeast Alaska to the Yukon. And while it will be years before the project yields definitive data, the scientists have pinned down some early findings.

Russia-Ukraine conflict impacting Alaska seafood markets

Seafood is by far Alaska’s top export and as it heads overseas, global politics play a big role in making sales sink or swim. That dynamic took center stage last week when Russia banned imports of foods for one year from the U.S., Canada, Europe, Norway and Australia in retaliation for sanctions imposed due to its aggressive actions in Ukraine.

Republican Senate candidates talk environmental regs

Breached mine tailings dams be damned! As millions of Fraser River sockeye salmon head for spawning beds polluted by a brew of metal toxins oozing from the Mount Polley gold/copper mine disaster in British Columbia, Republican candidates vying for U.S. Senate want environmental regulators to butt out of Alaska’s mining development decisions.   

The three men hoping to unseat Sen. Mark Begich faced off last week for a Rural Alaska Republican Candidates forum hosted by Bethel’s KYUK.

Vessel discharge exemption advances

Fishermen won’t need special permits to hose off their decks thanks to a bill moving through the U.S. Senate. That’s garnered a big sigh of relief from harvesters across the nation and kudos to a rare show of bipartisanship by coastal lawmakers, notably Sens. Mark Begich of Alaska and Marco Rubio of Florida.

Comment deadlines approaching for Alaska fish issues

Nowhere in the world do people have more say in shaping fisheries policy than in Alaska. While the outcomes might get mixed rants and reviews, no one is ever denied the chance to state ideas, concerns and gripes to decision makers. Several opportunities are available right now.

Bristol Bay sockeye salmon run strong, but prices aren't

It came as no surprise when the first price postings last week tanked for Bristol Bay sockeye salmon to $1.20 per pound, with an extra 15 cents for chilled fish. That compares to a base price of $1.50 a pound last year.

The Bristol Bay catch topped 28 million reds by July 18, 11 million more than projected, and the fish were still coming. (Alaska’s total sockeye salmon catch as of July 18 was more than 37 million and counting.)

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