Molly Dischner

Federal judge upholds decision to transfer salmon control to Alaska

A federal judge ruled Sept. 4 to uphold the federal decision to remove Cook Inlet from the salmon fishery management plan. Alaska has managed salmon since statehood, and the National Marine Fisheries Service removed Cook Inlet salmon from the federal fishery management plan, or FMP, after the North Pacific Fishery Management Council unanimously voted in December 2011 to officially delegate that authority to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. United Cook Inlet Drift Association and Cook Inlet Fisherman’s Fund filed suit in federal district court in Washington, D.C., in February 2013, asserting that the federal government erred when it removed Cook Inlet from the FMP. That case was moved to Alaska U.S. District Court in Anchorage in June of that year, and oral argument was heard there in May. The groups were not questioning the management structure, but asked for federal oversight of state salmon management — and argued that is what Congress intended in its regulations of fish in federal waters. The council manages most fisheries in federal waters from three to 200 miles offshore shore under the authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. The council action to delegate salmon management to the State of Alaska in 2011 made official what had been the policy since the act passed in 1976, but was required under revisions to the law that passed in 2006. Cook Inlet, Prince William Sound and Alaska Peninsula salmon fisheries were removed from the federal FMP, leaving only Southeast salmon still under federal jurisdiction because of the Pacific Salmon Treaty with Canada. The fishing groups also argued that the federal managers had not followed the correct process in making the change. Burgess wrote that the agency considered other alternatives before removing Cook Inlet from the FMP – as is required by the National Environmental Policy Act – and had followed other regulatory standards for making such a decision. The fishing groups also argued that there could be unregulated fishing in the exclusive economic zone, or EEZ, offshore from Alaska if federal oversight of salmon management was removed. Burgess disagreed. “The court finds that NMFS adequately considered the risks of unregulated fishing in the EEZ and concluded that risk to be minimal, in compliance with NEPA,” he wrote.

Cook Inlet drift fleet critical of new management measures

The Cook Inlet drift fleet is largely done fishing for the summer, with a catch of more than 2 million salmon. Through Aug. 12, when fishing had ended in most areas, the fleet had landed 1.4 million sockeyes, 402,138 pinks, 65,678 silvers and 107,299 chums according to call-in estimates provided by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. United Cook Inlet Drift Association Executive Director Roland Maw said the average drifter caught about 18,000 pounds of sockeye. Most fishermen saw lower catch per unit effort, or CPUE, this summer. According to ADFG biologist Pat Shields, the CPUE never exceeded 500 fish for the whole summer. Maw attributed that to management plan changes that meant fishermen spent more time and moved around more to catch their fish, as well as changes in fish behavior and location. “All that did was increase our fuel cost, made us less economic,” he said. Like other sectors, Cook Inlet’s drift fleet faced changes this summer as the result of Board of Fisheries action at the Upper Cook Inlet meeting in February — including a change to the allowable fishing area, which led to the increased movement required to catch fish this summer, according to Maw and other drifters. Cook Inlet fisheries are generally managed with a commercial preference for sockeyes and a sport preference for silvers, or cohos, and kings, or chinook, salmon harvests. The Matanuska-Susitna Borough successfully advocated for the board to create a corridor to allow silvers to swim north and enter borough waterways, with drifters targeting other salmon. Maw and David Martin, another fisherman and UCIDA member, said the change meant boats spent more time trying to catch their fish. Martin described it as broken tool in ADFG’s toolbox. “We told ‘em it was broke before they put it in there,” he said. The Mat-Su Borough, however, has lauded the use of the tool this summer, and during an Aug. 28 borough Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting, members attributed strong silver runs in the region to the changes. Several Northern District streams and rivers have seen strong silver runs, and the borough credits the returns with the fact that drifters weren’t catching those fish in the middle of the Inlet. In 2013, drifters caught 163,193 silvers in the central district through Aug. 12. Through Aug. 11 of this year, the fleet caught 65,678 silvers in that same area. Shields said the interplay is more complicated than that. “At first glance, one could conclude that the new plans must have made a difference because the coho salmon harvest was substantially less. While there may be some merit to that conclusion, there are also other factors that affect coho salmon harvest,” he wrote in an email. Shields said that those other factors include the fact that sockeye are the more valuable species, and in 2014, drifters spent much of their time chasing sockeye, rather than fishing areas of coho abundance. “Moving the drift fleet out of the middle of Cook Inlet over to the east side undoubtedly reduces the harvest of coho salmon headed north,” Shields wrote. “But, the department has multiple stocks to manage to various escapement goals and we will need more time before we can arrive at any conclusions about whether or not the new management plans are ‘working.’” Northern District biologists could not be reached in time to comment on the changes, or how it affected escapements in those streams. Generally, however, sport fishing limits were liberalized in the Mat-Su streams, and some — including the Little Su — exceeded their escapement goals, with an estimated 23,788 cohos counted through Sept. 4, compared to a goal of 10,100 to 17,700 fish. Maw also pointed to a change in fish behavior that likely affected the drift fleet’s catch and the returns to rivers — fish swam deeper this summer than in some past years. Martin said fishermen could see sockeyes and silvers down deep in the ocean, between 30 to 60 feet below the surface according to depth sounders. Driftnets are about 18 feet deep, and the fishermen just couldn’t get to them. Martin also noted that fish seemed more spread out than in past summers. That’s just a normal part of fishing, he said. “By the time you think you’ve got them figured out, they do something different,” Martin said. The board also created a new Anchor Point section for the drift fleet. Limited data is available about how extensively it was used, but fishermen and managers said anecdotally, it didn’t appear to be widely used. The new Anchor Point section runs from Anchor Point up the shore to the south end of the Kasilof section, near Ninilchik. ADFG runs a test boat in the area, and told the board at the meeting that it’s typically the section with the lowest sockeye catches. Maw said it wasn’t an ideal spot for fishing. “Lots of mom and dad and the kids trying to catch halibut, and no salmon,” Maw said at the end of the season. Martin said fishermen told the board it likely wouldn’t be used, and that’s what was seen this summer. The fleet was also managed under the one percent rule this summer, which was passed as a way to focus effort on sockeyes and shut down fishing when sockeye catches dropped compared to other species, In part because of that rule, which shut down many fishing areas, the drift fleet was largely out of the water by mid-August. Toward the end of the month, Martin estimated that four or five fishermen were still going over to the available fisheries on the west side of Cook Inlet to catch a few more fish. Martin said he sells most of his fish as homepacks at the end of the season. Maw agreed that the late-season fish typically is used to supply local, niche markets. Both said that they’d like to see an adjustment to the rule that could at least allow for targeting pinks later in the season, and an agenda change request has been submitted to the board to consider such an adjustment this year.

Sport fishermen, guides, cope with more restrictive rules

Kenai River sport fisheries saw several changes this summer — including a closure of the early king run, new gear restrictions and pairings with the commercial fisheries. Fishery management started conservatively, said Alaska Department of Fish and Game Division of Sport Fish biologist Robert Begich. In the end that paid off, as both the early and late-run kings met their escapement goals. The preliminary estimate is that the total run of Kenai River late-run kings was about 18,000 or 19,000 fish, said ADFG Division of Commercial Fisheries area management biologist Pat Shields, which was similar to the preseason forecast. ADFG estimated the escapement at about 16,061 kings. The run size estimate includes the fish that are harvested and the fish that make it into the river. Reaching that goal involved managing under certain changes instituted by Alaska’s Board of Fisheries at its Upper Cook Inlet meeting in February, and largely meant that the commercial fishery restrictions were dictated by management within the sport fishery. Begich said the pairings didn’t affect how the Division of Sport Fish managed — they remained focused on managing for escapement goals and using the provisions and tools available to them. Shields said that the two divisions talked regularly, however, and management of several fisheries was focused on Kenai kings. Kenai River Sportfishing Association Executive Director Ricky Gease said the pairings worked as intended. “I think sharing the conservation burden allowed fishing opportunity for all of the sectors throughout the season,” Gease said. Although the decision to start the early-run fishery as closed was hard for guides and local businesses dependent on the sport fishing industry, Gease said it was the right decision for the run. For Rod Berg, co-owner of Rod ‘N Real, the closure of the early run king salmon fishery was another blow to the guided sportfishing industry — one that has undergone drastic changes in the 30 years that he has been working on the Kenai River. Berg, whose guide business typically runs five river boats on Kenai Peninsula streams, one marine boat out of Ninilchik and another out of Seward, said regulatory restrictions in the halibut and king salmon fisheries in the Cook Inlet added to those on the Kenai and Kasilof Rivers made the fishing season tough to weather. The lower harvest outlook for halibut during 2014 limited Southcentral operators to one trip per day in addition to clients being restricted to one fish of any size and a second of 29 inches or less. Cook Inlet halibut guides restricted to one trip per day saw a drop in revenue; Berg said Rod ‘N Real’s charter captain lost 40 percent of his business. “When the crowds are here and it’s busy, we had to turn away literally hundreds of people this summer,” Berg said. “They’re going into each (charter) office and it’s just money walking in and walking out just as quickly as it walks in. They go to the next office and the next and they make phone calls and nobody can get them a trip.” Berg said he and his business partners were considering buying another boat — just to have the option to run two halibut trips per day. “That’s a huge investment for us,” he said. “We’re talking about the skipper coming, switching all the gear over, taking the permit over and there’s just no money it for us. It just doesn’t pencil out … we’re in big trouble there with our halibut business and it’s a common (problem) for anybody in Homer or Seward.” The halibut business had provided Berg and other guides with a place to send tourists who had come up for king salmon fishing during May and June, but that has become a difficult proposition with the new restrictions. “They closed the saltwater kings down too, so that didn’t help us any,” Berg said. ADFG managers also used a provision added to the management plans this winter that allowed the department to require the use of barbless hooks during the catch and release Kenai River king fishery. That provision passed after the board amended a proposal from the United Cook Inlet Drift Association to require barbless hooks. ADFG does not have data on how the hook change reduces mortality, and whether barbless or barbed hooks are used are not factored into the final king estimate. Begich said that there wasn’t a lot of fishing effort when barbless hooks were required, and it looked like it mostly affected guided anglers on the Kenai River. KRSA Executive Director Ricky Gease said that even if the restriction was more symbolic rather than affecting the mortality estimates, the sector was willing to switch hooks to help share the burden of conservation. Dwight Kramer, a sport fisherman with a long history of Kenai River fishing who advocates for unguided anglers, said he supported the change to barbless hooks last winter, and saw it as a way to reduce hook damage. “I think going barbless would help in reducing that,” he said. Kramer said he didn’t think that the regulation affected people’s ability to participate in the fishery, and the greater impact came from the run sizes and characteristics this summer. Low king numbers and the lack of a major red pulse limited fishing overall, he said. Regulations, however, weren’t the issue — it was just how fishing goes. In the future, however, Kramer said further management restrictions could help the runs. “It’s got to be more conservative than we have now even,” Kramer said. For his own part, Kramer said he no longer participates in the king fishery. “I haven’t fished for kings for several years because of the closures,” he said. “If they’re down that far, I don’t want to participate myself, that’s just a personal choice.” For management, Kramer said catch and release was an appropriate measure to tone down the fishery, because it enables people to participate while still protecting the fishery. Under the paired restrictions, it’s also a compromise that allows for some commercial fishing and some guide activity, without overwhelming the area. “It’s a good tool to have,” he said. Kramer said a slot limit could also be helpful to protect larger fish. A slot limit — used in other fisheries — can require the release of the smallest and largest fish, while allowing anglers to keep a certain mid-size fish. In-river, Berg said the focus had been on sockeye salmon and silver salmon during 2014 — Rod ‘N Real guides took clients on sportfishing trips and they took Alaskans on personal use dipnetting trips, though personal use guiding is a smaller portion of their business. “We haven’t really relied on (dipnetting),” he said. “We don’t want to start relying on it because I don’t think it’s going to last, personally… It has worked out for some guys and it’s something we’re probably going to be forced to do more and more of if these kings don’t turn around.” Ultimately, Berg said, the guided sportfishing industry on the Kenai Peninsula will have to evolve to stay viable. “It’s a whole different business model now. We added clam trips to the other side of the Inlet, we offer eco-tours, things like that,” he said. “But, how do you go from a harvest-type industry to an eco-tourism type thing? It is really hard to incorporate the two and we’ve had to farm out a lot of our business.” Berg said he and his partners, including his brother and their wives — would be putting their guide business up for sale, but he is not optimistic that selling will be profitable. “We really don’t have a business model at this point, we don’t know what we’re going to do,” he said. “We’re (selling) mainly because we’re retirement age and we’re supposed to have some golden years coming up, but it’s going to be very difficult to get the kind of money out of our business that we would have gotten ten years ago when we had a fishery.” Rashah McChesney of the Peninsula Clarion contributed to this story.

Officials amend disclosures in response to APOC complaints

In the latest round of the Cook Inlet fish wars, the Alaska Public Offices Commission received about 200 complaints primarily from commercial fishermen against a sportfishing advocacy group. Kenai Peninsula and Anchorage residents with ties to Cook Inlet commercial fisheries — including United Cook Inlet Drift Association Executive Director Roland Maw — submitted the complaints to the commission Aug. 25 regarding the Kenai River Sportfishing Association’s Kenai River Classic and other outreach and lobbying of public officials regarding fisheries management. The Alaska Public Offices Commission will hear three of those complaints, but rejected the other 198 on Aug. 27. The volume of complaints was about 10 times the amount APOC typically receives over an entire year; in 2013 the commission received 12 complaints according to its biennial report. The accepted complaints address the Kenai River Classic participation of Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell, Department of Natural Resources Deputy Commissioner Ed Fogels and the daughter of Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell. Campbell and Fogels said Aug. 28 that they amended their APOC filings to include the event. Treadwell said that his daughter did not participate in the event. For APOC to accept a complaint for consideration, it must meet technical standards, and must be something that, if the allegation is true, would be a violation, according to APOC Executive Director Paul Dauphinais. The technical component requires that the complaint is correctly filled out, signed, notarized, and accompanied by proof that the appropriate parties were served. The rejected complaints did not meet the standard of constituting a violation if true, although some of the forms also were not filled out correctly. More than half of the complaints were filed against KRSA directly, including dozens for the Kenai River Classic and several addressing how the organization has filled out required gift disclosure forms in the past. KRSA successfully lobbied the legislature in 2013 to reject Vince Webster’s re-nomination to the Board of Fisheries, and has succeeded at pushing management changes through the board process, including introducing the paired restrictions for the commercial and sport fisheries instituted in February of this year. KRSA founder Bob Penney is also backing a proposed ballot initiative that would ban setnets from Cook Inlet. All of the complaints against KRSA were rejected. KRSA Executive Director Ricky Gease said the organization spends a significant amount of time on APOC reporting and compliance, and the fact that the commission rejected the complaints validated that work. “I think the fact that they were rejected shows that we do a good job of complying with the APOC reports,” Gease said. The KRSA complaints revolved around how the organization reported expenditures for lobbying in Juneau and Anchorage, whether it declared gifts to public officials who participated in the Kenai River Classic and Kenai River Women’s Classic, whether it declared other gifts, such as free fishing trips, and how it reported various aspects of the expenses associated with the annual fishing events. Each was rejected because the complaint did not constitute an actual violation under current state statute, in part because a complex mixture of regulations is at play, with different activities, individuals and entities governed by different rules. A number of complaints targeted the association’s expenses for its lobbyists, and how they prorated the costs of hotel rooms and travel; the commission wrote that prorating is allowed. “Regardless of how low a given amount may seem that is what was reported as reimbursed by the Employer to the representational lobbyist,” commission staff wrote. The commission will hear three of the complaints about public officials, likely within 90 days of Aug. 27, Dauphinais said. The Kenai River Classic is an annual invitational fishing event held to raise money for the Kenai River Sportfishing Association’s work in habitat restoration, and fisheries education, management and research. According to KRSA’s website, the event has raised more than $14 million during the past 20 years. Participation in the classic cost $4,000 in 2014, and the complaints assert that the value ranges from $4,000 to $5,000. The fee is typically waived for public officials, including those against whom the complaints were made. Campbell said Aug. 28 that she had initially reported her participation to her ethics supervisor as required by the state’s Ethics Act. More recently, she has amended her 2011 filing to APOC to include the classic, she wrote in an email. Fogels said Aug. 28 that he is working on his response to APOC, and has filed an amended APOC disclosure reflecting his participation. Like Campbell, he said he had reported his attendance to his ethics supervisor, and thought that was adequate. He also noted that he thought the event was a valuable experience, and he thought it was in everyone’s best interests for officials to continue attending and seeing the Kenai River — parts of which are a park managed by the Department of Natural Resource’s state parks arm. Treadwell said that the complaint was not accurate, and his daughter and friends paid a guide service to take them out fishing after the 2013 classic, but did not participate in the actual event. “Natalie was not there, she was not with us on the boats fishing,” Treadwell said. The complaint was based on information provided by KRSA that said Treadwell’s daughter participated. Treadwell noted that Natalie did eat one meal — a taco — when her visit to the area overlapped with the classic, but that he had been told the value of that was not high enough to include on his disclosure form. The complaints were filed with the Alaska Public Offices Commission, or APOC, Aug. 25, and published on the commission’s website Aug. 27. According to Dauphinais, the commission will be ready for hearings on each of the complaints in about 45 days, and generally tries to hear each issue within 90 days of accepting the complaint. That timeline can vary based on the commission’s meeting schedule and because individuals have the opportunity to ask for extensions, he said. For now, each of the officials must respond to APOC by Sept. 11. APOC staff also has 30 days from Aug. 27 to complete its investigation and issue a staff report. Once the report is prepared, each official has 15 days to respond. Then the commission will have a hearing on each complaint. The individuals who submitted the rejected complaints can also appeal the staff decisions in which case the commission would consider whether or not there was a possible violation. The accepted complaints also note that gifts were given to event attendees, in addition to the comped participation fee. For 2011, the year Campbell attended, KRSA estimated the value of the gifts given to each of the officials in 2011 at $5, elaborating that it was unclear if every attendee received them. The list of gifts included a gear bag, turtle neck, baseball cap and gloves, each with KRSA’s name or logo on them, which the organization reported devalues the items. For 2013, the year Fogels attended, KRSA’s financial disclosure estimated the value of the gifts it provided at $6. Those included a gear bag, quarter-zip shirt, baseball cap, softshell jacket and gloves, with a reduction of value because they had KRSA’s name or logo on each of them. The attendee list for the 2011 and 2013 Kenai River Classics included several legislators, fisheries managers and other public officials. KRSA has advocated for fisheries management in Juneau, as well as at the Board of Fisheries Upper Cook Inlet meeting in 2014 and other past board meetings. The other complaints were targeted at legislators and fisheries managers who did not file financial disclosures with APOC regarding their participation in the event. The commission wrote in its explanations of the rejections that legislators must only report their participation to the legislative ethics division, which they did. Among the rejections were seven complaints against ADFG Assistant Commissioner Kelly Hepler for participation in the Kenai River Classic and related gifts for several years. Ultimately, the commission determined that he was not required to file a disclosure because his official job title is “special projects coordinator,” and is not included in the statute that dictates who must file disclosures.

Cook Inlet leads Agenda Change Requests for fish board

Fisheries stakeholders are asking the state Board of Fisheries to consider 27 changes out of cycle in the upcoming year. The agenda change requests cover several regions, although the largest portion are targeted at Cook Inlet — a region that saw significant management plan changes during the 2013-14 meeting cycle. In addition to nine Cook Inlet requests, five address Bering Sea tanner crab and Norton Sound king crab, three ask for changes to Kuskokwim River salmon fisheries, and two address Yukon River salmon fisheries. There are also two proposals each for Bristol Bay salmon fisheries, Southeast herring and Pacific cod, as well as one relating to purse seine lengths. The Board of Fisheries sets the management plans for fisheries throughout the state on a three-year cycle. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game, or ADFG, is charged with carrying out those plans using the tools provided by the board. The board will decide at its October work session in Juneau whether or not to add each ACR to its agenda for the year. They would likely be discussed in March, which is when the board’s schedule calls for supplemental issues. The standard for accepting an ACR is if the proposal is for a fishery conservation purpose or reason, to correct an error in a regulation or to correct an effect on a fishery that was unforeseen when a regulation was adopted. Cook Inlet is set to come back up on the board’s schedule in 2017. The majority of the changes there were proposed by setnetters, who are asking the board to change fishery regulations in part based on how major management plan changes passed at the February 2014 Upper Cook Inlet meeting have played out this summer, although one would also limit participation and harvest in the personal use fishery. Setnetter Christine Brandt submitted a request asking the board to adjust the Kasilof setnet fishery so that when there are restrictions because of conservation concerns, setnetters can fish along the beach. This year, Alaska Department of Fish and Game managers relied extensively on the Kasilof River Special Harvest Area as a tool to catch sockeyes while limiting the catch of Kenai River kings; Brandt is asking that setnetters also be allowed to fish within a half mile of shore when that occurs. Brandt has also asked the board to consider changing the management plan to allow ADFG to manage the Kasilof and Kenai/East Forelands sections separately when fishing is restricted to no more than 12 or 36 hours. That was rejected as an emergency petition in March, but the threshold for an ACR, rather than an emergency petition, is slightly lower. Chris Every, another setnetter, submitted a similar request, asking the board to change the management plan so that when fishing time is limited, fishing in one section doesn’t count against the time available in another section. Every also submitted an ACR asking the board to consider allowing managers to restrict the mesh size in the setnet fishery when the Kasilof River sockeye goal is being met or exceeded. Every wrote that Kasilof sockeyes are small, and the fishery needs to target the fish that are the reason for the opener — and avoid catching others.  Another setnetter, Joseph Person, submitted an ACR asking for an adjustment to the gear restrictions so that fishermen can use four shorter nets rather than three 35-fathom nets, as long as the total length remained shorter than 105 meshes. Every has also asked the board to remove one of the provisions added to the management plan last winter, which calls for limited August fishing timing when the Kenai River late-run king salmon escapement is likely to come in between 16,500 and 22,500 fish. The drift fleet is also asking for a change, which would adjust how the one percent rule is calculated. Under the one percent rule, fishing ends when the sockeye harvest in consecutive periods is less than one percent of the total season harvest. The rule is intended to transition from sockeye management to coho management in August. Fisherman Michael Hatten has requested a change to the calculation so that the fleet would have more of a chance to target other species, including pinks and chums. Fishermen this summer said they would have appreciated more opportunity to harvest pinks as the sockeye run ended, and the rule change would likely allow that in the future. Not every change proposed relates to the management plans as adjusted this year. Every asked the board to consider limiting the personal use fishery. Every’s proposal would create a tiered drawing for participants, and a 300,000 sockeye limit, as monitored by four check stations. Every also submitted an ACR asking the board to allow setnetters with two permits to use them in different areas. Currently, a setnetter with two permits can only fish them in one area. Sportfishermen aren’t asking for any changes right away. Kenai River Sportfishing Association Executive Director Ricky Gease said that there are a couple errors in regulation the board might be able to adjust, but there was nothing major that needed to be revisited from his perspective. “It’s the first year that the management plans were put in place, and overall, I think that the management plans worked as intended,” Gease said. ADFG submitted one ACR to adjust fishing guide regulations to better match state law. That change would address the licensing and registration requirements for sport fishing guides so that they match what is in state statute. According to the ACR, not all of the current regulations are enforceable. The other area changes include a smaller mesh for subsistence setnets in the Kuskokwim River during times of conservation, allowing driftnets to target chums on part of the Upper Yukon, and adjusting fishing boundaries in the Kuskokwim River and Bristol Bay’s Naknek-Kvichak District. For Norton Sound, ADFG has asked the board to shorten the fishing season for the red king crab and hanasaki king crab through-the-ice fishery. A local fisherman, Adem Paul Boeckmann, also asked the board to develop a guideline harvest level for the winter fishery. In the Bering Sea, crab proposals would enable the harvest of smaller male tanner crabs, extend the tanner crab season so that it can run through May 15 in a certain area, and allow more incidental harvest of tanner crabs in the Bristol Bay red king crab fishery. Those were all proposed by the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers.

Alaska commercial salmon harvest tops 146 million

Alaska’s commercial salmon catch continues to climb, reaching 146 million fish through Sept. 2. Statewide, the total catch includes 42.9 million sockeye, 89.5 million pink salmon, 3.9 million cohos, 9.2 million chums and 477,000 kings, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s bluesheet estimate. Fishermen are now primarily targeting pinks, with about 400,000 caught in the Central Region, almost 600,000 caught in Southeast and about 200,000 caught in the Western Region, from Aug. 27 through Sept. 2. The Central Region includes Bristol Bay, Prince William Sound and Cook Inlet, where catches are winding down. In Prince William Sound, the remaining fishing effort is from purse seiners, with openings planned for early September. There, fishermen have harvested a total of about 10,000 kings, 255,000 cohos, 1.1 million chums, 3.3 million sockeyes and 42.8 million pinks. According to an Aug. 29 ADFG update, the hatchery coho return for Valdez Fishery Development Association appears to be weak, with 400 cohos collected for broodstock out of 1,000 fish needed. The fishery at Port Valdez was closed until escapement improved and a harvestable surplus was available. Through Aug. 31, Prince William Sound Aquaculture Association had met its pink salmon escapement goal at one facility, and was on its way at two other facilities. Western Region fishermen — including those in Kodiak, Chignik and the Alaska Peninsula — are catching cohos and pinks, with an estimated 788,000 cohos and 11.4 million pinks landed through Sept. 2. At Kodiak, about 100,000 each of cohos and pinks were landed between Aug. 27 and Sept. 2. About 1,000 kings were also caught there. Kodiak, Sand Point and Cold Bay salmon fishery openings were set to continue through early September, with ADFG announcing openings in both of those regions. Southeast Alaska is the only region with king catches outside of Kodiak as the season ends, with about 423,000 caught through Sept. 2. Fishermen in Southeast also caught about 600,000 pinks between Aug. 27 and Sept. 2, 100,000 cohos, and smaller numbers of chums and sockeyes. Additional Southeast purse seine openers were planned for early September, including some additional opportunity for king retention and sales. Setnet openings in several Yakutat-area fisheries were also extended. Other fisheries have had closures to allow regional aquaculture associations to meet broodstock goals, including in the Bear Cove Special Harvest Area in northern Southeast, where trolling was shut down Sept. 3. In the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim Region, commercial fishing effort is focused on chums and cohos, with no pink catches reported and added to the bluesheet between Aug. 27 and Sept. 2. The Yukon River saw most of the catch during that time frame. Yukon fishermen landed 14,000 chums, all on the upper river, and 18,000 cohos, mostly on the upper river although a few were caught in the lower portion. For Kuskokwim fishermen, the commercial catch from Aug. 27 through Sept. 2 was about 20,000 cohos. Norton Sound fishermen harvested about 8,000 chums during the same time.

Seafood industry, delegation seek Russian ban

The United States seafood industry is pushing for Russia to end its import ban on food from several countries including the U.S., but if it doesn’t, a coalition of companies wants an import ban in response. Industry groups and seafood businesses have asked for a ban on Russian seafood. They include Alaska General Seafoods, Aleutian Pribilof Islands Community Development Association, Alyeska Seafoods, Icicle Seafoods, North Pacific Seafoods, Ocean Beauty Seafoods, Peter Pan Seafoods, Trident Seafoods, UniSea, Wetward Seafoods, and Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers. Russia is not allowing food imports, including seafood, in response to the economic sanctions other countries instituted after a Malaysian Airlines flight was downed over eastern Ukraine. That means Alaska has lost its second-largest salmon roe market, and also will result in additional Norwegian salmon on the global market, affecting salmon prices further. Russia is also a primary market for surimi, a product made from Alaska pollock. “We did not start this fight, and we hope the Russians will call off their embargo. But a U.S. ban will signal to President Putin that America will not sit idly by while Russia disregards international law and tries to coerce the world into ignoring its transgressions through retaliatory actions,” said Terry Shaff, president and CEO of UniSea Inc., in a formal statement issued jointly by several companies. Alaska’s congressional delegation has also sent a letter to the State Department Aug. 26 asking that the U.S. work to convince Russia to end its ban — and if that country does not do so, that the U.S. institute an import ban, and coordinate with international allies on such an action. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich and Rep. Don Young are signing a joint letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker. The delegation wrote: “We do not make this request lightly as there is significant seafood trade between the two countries, but in light of the direct impact on our constituents’ interests we believe it is necessary for the U.S. to respond quickly and emphatically. It was the Russian government that decided to use food, in addition to energy resources, as economic weapons, and inaction should not be an option.” The delegation’s letter also asks the administration to find a way to better track Russian-origin products, including those processed or shipped through other countries. According to a press release from Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, the ban would be in retaliation for the Russian ban, as well as the tension over the situation in Ukraine and Russia’s militant stance on foreign policy. The press release states: “Mr. Putin has demonstrated that he is more than willing to flex Russian economic muscle to achieve its foreign policy objectives. It’s time for the U.S. to follow suit and flex some muscles of its own.” Larry Cotter, from the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Community Development Association, or APICDA, said that entity supports the rest of the seafood industry in calling for the ban. The effects of Russia’s ban are going to be significant, he said. “The salmon roe industry is going to take quite a hit,” Cotter said. Cotter said he mentioned the proposed ban to Pritzker during her recent visit to Alaska, and she seemed responsive to the issue. He also noted that this is an opportunity for the U.S. to change the game on several issues where Russia has a long-history of hurting America’s seafood industry, including pollock and crab fisheries, which are not as well regulated as Alaska’s but affect the prices and market for Alaska product, he said. Murkowski and Begich have said previously that the estimated impacts of illegal, unreported and unregulated crab to harvesters since 2000 is about $560 million, with an additional cost to crab processing ports of over $11 million in lost landing revenues. Cotter said there is a need to change regulations to require country of origin labeling on cooked products, like crab, so that consumers know where the crab they are purchasing is from. The crabbers’ release also details some of those issues, particularly that there is significant illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing activity in Russia’s exclusive economic zone for crab, and the country is supplying that to the world market. Russia exported 195 million pounds of crab in 2013, compared to a legal harvest that year of 96.1 million pounds. That affects prices and has an impact on Alaska’s crab fisheries, according to the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers. On the pollock side, Russian management is not as robust as Alaska’s, but the fishery is able to call itself sustainable because it has a Marine Stewardship Council certification, Cotter said — and, the Russian pollock can be sold as “Alaska pollock.” That’s something Cotter said the industry would like the Food and Drug Administration to change through regulation. Russian pollock is also sometimes twice-frozen, which is of a lesser quality than Alaska’s once-frozen product, and reduces the price for both products, Cotter said.

Pinks, sockeyes drive commercial catch well past forecast

Alaska’s commercial salmon catch continues to climb, with an estimated 143.9 million caught statewide through Aug. 26 according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. That surpasses the department’s preseason commercial harvest forecast of 132 million salmon. Pink catches this summer have been strong, and an estimated 88.3 million were harvested through Aug. 26, compared to a forecast of 74.7 million. That’s largely the result of Southeast Alaska, which is based primarily on natural runs; there, about 32 million pinks were harvested through Aug. 26, more than the forecast of 22 million. Purse seiners have taken the largest portion of the catch, about 30 million, with additional openings planned for Aug. 28. Prince William Sound, where the pink run is mostly hatchery produced, has also exceeded expectations. There, 42 million pinks were caught through Aug. 26, well ahead of the 33 million pink forecast for the region, again with purse seiners making the majority of the landings. Fishermen in Upper Cook Inlet also took almost double the expected pink harvest, with about 632,000 caught through Aug. 26, compared to a forecast of 338,000. The pink fisheries are also still continuing, which means those numbers will continue to climb. Sockeye fisheries, which have largely wrapped up for the year, were another driver behind the higher-than-predicted harvest, with an estimated 42 million landed so far this year, compared to an expected 33 million. The Bristol Bay harvest was the largest component of the state’s sockeye catch, with about 28 million fish landed there, compared to an expected 17 million. Cook Inlet and Prince William Sound harvests, however, came in less than forecast for sockeye. The statewide coho catch of 3.4 million through Aug. 26 is less than the 4.3 million harvest forecast so far, but some fishing for that species continues, so the numbers could still increase. The Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim Region has already exceeded its coho forecast of 295,000, with about 365,000 reported through Aug. 26, including about 201,000 from the Kuskokwim River and bay fisheries, and 94,000 from the Norton Sound region. Bristol Bay fishers also exceeded the forecast for coho catches, with a bout 266,000 landed through Aug. 26, compared to a forecast of 85,000. The Chignik and Alaska Peninsula fisheries have also exceeded the coho expectation, offsetting slightly below expected harvests in Kodiak, with a total 648,000 caught in the Westward Region, compared to an expected 560,000. Cook Inlet and Prince William Sound fisheries, however, are less than forecast. Despite near record chum catches in Kotzebue, the entire Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim Region has not met the prediction for chums, which called for a harvest of about 1.6 million fish. So far, the Kotzebue catch is at about 628,000 chums, with 104,000 taken in Norton Sound, 624,000 on the Yukon and 36,000 in Kuskokwim fisheries, for a regional total of 1.3 million through Aug. 26. The Kotzebue catch is higher, however — through Aug. 26, it was tied with 1974 for the second-largest harvest, behind the 1981 harvest of 677,000, and participation has been strong, with 43 fishermen making landings during the Aug. 25 opening. Additional openings were planned there for Aug. 26 and 27. The Central Region also came in below the forecast, with about 1.7 million chums caught so far, including 1.1 million in Prince William Sound, compared to a forecast of 4 million, with 2.8 million expected in the Sound. The Southeast Alaska chum catch has also been about half of the forecast, with 5 million chums caught through Aug. 26, compared to an expected 11.7 million. The forecast did not include Southeast Alaska kings, which have been strong this summer, with an estimated harvest of 419,000 fish. Overall, the king catches were lower than forecast, with 38,000 caught in the central region compared to an expected 41,000 and just 23,000 in the westward region, compared to an expected 37,000. The Central Region includes Bristol Bay, Cook Inlet and Prince William Sound. The Westward Region includes Kodiak, Chignik, the Alaska Peninsula and the Aleutians. The farthest north king catches came in slightly higher than expected, with an estimated harvest of 3,000 kings in the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim Region, compared to a 2,000 fish forecast.

Board of Fisheries releases proposals for 2014-15 cycle

Fishermen and other stakeholders are asking the Alaska Board of Fisheries to consider 162 proposals to change subsistence, commercial, personal use and sport regulations in fisheries throughout the state during the 2014-15 meeting cycle. The board proposal book for the upcoming meeting cycle can be downloaded from its website. The longest meeting is likely to be the Southeast and Yakutat finfish meeting in Sitka, which is scheduled to run March 3 to Feb. 23, with 121 proposals on the table. The majority of those address salmon management throughout the region, including 61 looking at changes to various commercial salmon fisheries, mostly from industry groups and fishery managers. Sport proposals would also reduce the king salmon size limit, establish nonresident annual limits for coho, sockeye, chum and pink salmon in marine and fresh waters, and to allow party fishing in Southeast saltwater recreational fisheries. Party fishing allows everyone onboard a fishing vessel to continue fishing until everyone has limited out, instead of requiring an individual to stop fishing once they reach their limit. Several entities and individuals have also asked for a variety of changes to herring management in Southeast, including requests expanded commercial fisheries around Sitka, a reduced “amount necessary for subsistence” finding for the Sitka area, reduced harvest in the sac roe commercial fishery and a reduced area for the commercial herring fishery in part of Sitka Sound. A handful of proposals would also expand the use of pot gear in groundfish fisheries, including dogfish and sablefish. The finfish meeting also includes one proposal that will also be discussed at the Southeast/Yakutat shellfish meeting. That proposal would close fishing for bottomfish, crab and shrimp by all users within 300 feet of Cache Island. The Prince William Sound and Upper Copper/Upper Susitna finfish meeting will be held in Cordova Dec. 3 to 8. The board received 57 proposals for changes in those fisheries. For Prince William Sound’s commercial fisheries, the board will discuss gear changes, harvest limits, season dates and a new pollock fishery. The Fairbanks Advisory Committee has also asked the board to consider a new biological escapement goal for Copper River king salmon of 28,000 kings — higher than the current sustainable escapement goal of 24,000. Other proposals also address management and oversight of the subsistence and personal use fisheries on the Copper River — including more king salmon management tools and a check station for permit compliance — and changes to area sport fisheries, such as the ability to limit king salmon fishing to barbless hooks in the Upper Copper/Upper Susitna area, and an increased bag and possession limit for Arctic grayling in the Gulkana River drainage. The Southeast and Yakutat crab, shrimp and miscellaneous shellfish meeting is scheduled for Jan. 21 to 27 in Wrangell, with 56 proposals on the agenda including one that overlaps with the Southeast and Yakutat finfish meeting. Almost half of the proposals for that meeting address Dungeness crab management in Southeast, with requests to protect soft-shell crab, manage based on catch per unit effort in Upper Lynn Canal, close the commercial fisheries to protect personal use, subsistence and sport opportunity in near Angoon, Hoonah, Petersburg, Sitka and other communities. Other proposals would create new golden king crab commercial fishery near Yakutat and Cross Sound, and change gear, reporting and size requirements for various king and tanner crab fisheries. The board’s final meeting of the year will be the statewide Dungeness crab, shrimp and miscellaneous shellfish, except for Southeast/Yakutat, and supplemental issues meeting. So far, there are 34 proposals for discussion at that meeting, which will be held in Anchorage March 17 to 20. The proposals for that meeting run the gamut and include reducing Cook Inlet razor clam harvests, changes in the Prince William Sound shrimp fisheries, and one to repeal the prohibition on felted soles while sport fishing in fresh water. Additional changes to be discussed in October The board will also meet in Juneau Oct. 15 to 16 to discuss agenda change requests.  Those were due Aug. 18, and board Executive Director Glenn Haight wrote in an Aug. 19 email that about 28 were submitted. A breakdown by region or subject was not available as of that day, but Haight said they would likely be out in the near future. An ACR typically asks the board to consider an issue out of cycle. In October, the board will decide whether or not to take up each request, and then add it to one of the regularly scheduled meetings — usually the supplemental issues meeting in March. ADFG Biologist Pat Shields said the department had not submitted any agenda change requests for Cook Inlet fisheries, but that he thought stakeholders had submitted some, given that the 2014 fishery was the first year after a board meeting with a lot of changes to area salmon management plans. Typically, the board also discusses other items at its October meeting, including setting the location of future meetings and hearing escapement goal reports for the fisheries being discussed in the coming year.

Verizon nears September launch of voice over LTE in Alaska

After $115 million and several years of work, Verizon Wireless is nearing the complete launch of its Alaska network. The company has not yet provided a date for when it will open stores in Alaska or turn on its new voice network, except that it will likely occur sometime in September. When the service is turned on, Verizon will be launching a complete LTE — or long term evolution — network, including voice over LTE service, or VoLTE. Verizon will launch VoLTE nationwide in September, although the exact date is not available either. By using voice over LTE rather than traditional cell service, the company will debut its new “Advance Calling” features, including high-definition voice calls and video calls, both of which work on the company’s regular data network and compatible phones, without needing an additional app. With VoLTE, the phones use data to send calls, enabling them to have better clarity. Through the second quarter of 2014, Verizon has spent about $115 million on its Alaska network, according to Verizon Alaska Vice President Demian Voiles. Voiles said the company purchased spectrum in Alaska in 2010, and began work on the network the next year. This year, the company has had hundreds of employees testing the network in Alaska, and thousands testing it nationwide. “This is a technology that has been years in the making,” said Scott Charlston, Verizon’s public relations manager. The Alaska network is the first place Verizon has built a complete 4G LTE network from scratch rather than upgrading legacy networks, Voiles said. And customers here will get the newest service alongside those in the Lower 48. “I like to look at this as Alaskans get to be on the cutting edge, finally,” Voiles said. The network includes the Anchorage, Matanuska-Susitna, Copper River Valley, Prince William Sound, Fairbanks, Juneau, and Ketchikan areas, with some of those areas built out by Verizon’s partners — Matanuska Telephone Association, Copper Valley Telecom and Ketchikan Public Utilities. The company is exploring options for expanding to the Kenai, according to Charlston. Voiles said the company is also looking at opportunities to expand into rural Alaska, but middle mile connectivity is the major challenge for that work. Until the launch, Verizon customers in Alaska access Verizon’s network for data services, but roam on other networks for voice calls. Verizon demoed the new Advanced Calling during an Aug. 25 press event in Anchorage. For the new calling features to work, both the person making the call and the person receiving it must be on Verizon’s 4G LTE network. If, for instance, a person is driving and leaves the 4G LTE network, the LTE call will end and the person would have to redial. Coming onto the network, calls will not drop, although they won’t upgrade to VoLTE automatically. Compatible phones will be needed to access the new calling features. Voiles could not provide the number of options customers will have, but said the full line-up will be available in the coming weeks, when the launch is announced.

Seafood industry, delegation seek Russian import ban

The United States seafood industry is pushing for Russia to end its import ban on food from several countries including the U.S., but if it doesn’t, a coalition of companies wants an import ban in response. Industry groups and seafood businesses have asked for a ban on Russian seafood, including Alaska General Seafoods, Aleutian Pribilof Islands Community Development Association, Alyeska Seafoods, Icicle Seafoods, North Pacific Seafoods, Ocean Beauty Seafoods, Peter Pan Seafoods, Trident Seafoods, UniSea, Wetward Seafoods, and Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers. Russia is not allowing food imports, including seafood, in response to the economic sanctions other countries instituted after a Malaysian Airlines flight was downed over eastern Ukraine. That means Alaska has lost its second-largest salmon roe market, and also will result in additional Norwegian salmon on the global market, affecting salmon prices further. Russia is also a primary market for surimi, a product made from Alaska pollock. "We did not start this fight, and we hope the Russians will call off their embargo. But a U.S. ban will signal to President Putin that America will not sit idly by while Russia disregards international law and tries to coerce the world into ignoring its transgressions through retaliatory actions," said Terry Shaff, president and CEO of UniSea Inc., in a formal statement issued jointly by several companies. Alaska’s congressional delegation also sent a letter to the State Department Aug. 26 asking that the U.S. work to convince Russia to end its ban — and if that country does not do so, that the U.S. institute an import ban, and coordinate with international allies on such an action. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich and Rep. Don Young are signing a joint letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker. The delegation wrote: “We do not make this request lightly as there is significant seafood trade between the two countries, but in light of the direct impact on our constituents’ interests we believe it is necessary for the U.S. to respond quickly and emphatically. It was the Russian government that decided to use food, in addition to energy resources, as economic weapons, and inaction should not be an option.” The delegation’s letter also asks the administration to find a way to better track Russian-origin products, including those processed or shipped through other countries. According to a press release from Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, the ban would be in retaliation for the Russian ban, as well as the tension over the situation in Ukraine and Russia’s militant stance on foreign policy. The press release states: “Mr. Putin has demonstrated that he is more than willing to flex Russian economic muscle to achieve its foreign policy objectives. It’s time for the U.S. to follow suit and flex some muscles of its own.” Larry Cotter, from the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Community Development Association, or APICDA, said that entity supports the rest of the seafood industry in calling for the ban. The effects of Russia’s ban are going to be significant, he said. “The salmon roe industry is going to take quite a hit,” Cotter said. Cotter said he mentioned the proposed ban to Pritzker during her recent visit to Alaska, and she seemed responsive to the issue. He also noted that this is an opportunity for the U.S. to change the game on several issues where Russia has a long-history of hurting America’s seafood industry, including pollock and crab fisheries, which are not as well regulated as Alaska’s but affect the prices and market for Alaska product, he said. Murkowski and Begich have said previously that the estimated impacts of illegal, unreported and unregulated crab to harvesters since 2000 is about $560 million, with an additional cost to crab processing ports of over $11 million in lost landing revenues. Cotter said there is a need to change regulations to require country of origin labeling on cooked products, like crab, so that consumers know where the crab they are purchasing is from. The crabbers’ release also details some of those issues, particularly that there is significant illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing activity in Russia’s exclusive economic zone for crab, and the country is supplying that to the world market. Russia exported 195 million pounds of crab in 2013, compared to a legal harvest that year of 96.1 million pounds. That affects prices and has an impact on Alaska’s crab fisheries, according to the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers. On the pollock side, Russian management is not as robust as Alaska’s, but the fishery is able to call itself sustainable because it has a Marine Stewardship Council certification, Cotter said — and, the Russian pollock can be sold as “Alaska pollock.” That’s something Cotter said the industry would like the Food and Drug Administration to change through regulation. Russian pollock is also sometimes twice-frozen, which is of a lesser quality than Alaska’s once-frozen product, and reduces the price for both products, Cotter said.

Cook Inlet fisheries wind down after season of changes

Although other salmon fisheries around the state continue, Cook Inlet setnetters pulled their nets out of the water for good Aug. 6 after harvesting almost a million fish this season. Setnetters harvested about 930,300 salmon in the Kasilof, Kenai, and East Forelands sections and the Kasilof River Special Harvest Area this summer, about one-third of the 3.1 million salmon caught commercially in Upper Cook Inlet. The setnet harvest included about 704,272 sockeye, 216,233 pinks, 6,461 coho, 2,055 kings, and 792 chums. Ultimately, setnetters in the Kenai and East Forelands sections had six openings this summer; Kasilof section setnetters had 14, while the Kasilof Special Harvest Area was open for 17 periods. The total Upper Cook Inlet harvest is on par with 2013, when commercial fishermen also harvested about 3.1 million salmon, although that was a non-pink year, and the total is less than the 1966-2012 average of 4.1 million salmon. Those estimates, from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, are based on daily call-in numbers, and could change based on fish ticket data at the end of the summer. ADFG Area Management Biologist Pat Shields said that looking at the department’s most basic charge — meeting escapement goals — the season was a success, although he noted that restrictions and reduced harvests were difficult for all fishermen. ADFG started the season with restrictions in sport, commercial and personal use fisheries to help protect early-run king salmon, including reduced fishing time in the Northern District direct king fishery, and reduced fishing time for the Kasilof personal use fishery. Those appeared to pay off. “Many of the early-run king salmon goals were made,” Shields said. On the Kasilof, the management plan allows for an early opening if the sockeye run starts off strong enough; this year that occurred, but managers waited a few days to open up because of early-run king concerns, Shields said. This summer, managers were tasked with conserving kings while providing opportunity to harvest sockeye — within the constraints of changed management plans passed by the Alaska Board of Fisheries in February. The changes created paired restrictions between the Kenai River king sport fishery and the commercial setnet fishery, and meant that essentially, the Division of Sport Fish was driving commercial management as it tried to meet the Kenai late-run king escapement goal. Given those constraints, setnetters said the season went as well as it could have. “Managers did the best they could with the tools they have,” said Ken Coleman, an East Side setnetter. Megan Smith and Sarah Frostad-Hudkins, two other East Side setnetters, agreed. “They managed fairly with what they were given,” Frostad-Hudkins said. King conservation took a front seat throughout the commercial fishing season. “All eyes were on the daily estimates of king salmon passage,” Shields said, noting that sport and commercial biologists were talking daily. Setnetters are allowed to harvest all five species of salmon, but they primarily target sockeye — and king and silver salmon are generally managed with a priority for sport harvest. Because the Kenai River late-run king salmon sport fishery was restricted to no-bait when the season opened July 1, the commercial setnet fishery had no regular periods and was limited to 36 hours per week. “That was brand new and that was a challenge for the department,” Shields said. That was also difficult for the fleet. Smith noted that for setnetters with full-time jobs outside of fishing, not having any regularly-scheduled fishing periods made it more difficult to plan for every opening. Ultimately, however, she said the department seemed to do its best to follow the plans and provide fishing opportunity — and the sector was trying to follow suit. “We’re just trying to do the best that we can with the new regulations and the new management plans,” she said. Smaller sockeye run, strong pinks ADFG also tries to manage for a certain range of sockeye in the Kenai and Kasilof rivers. To meet those goals, Shields said managers wanted to open the setnet fishery at the times of highest abundance, to maximize the sockeye harvest. Although the final sockeye run was healthy, it was not as large as in the recent past, so the high abundance near the beach didn’t materialize, he said. The Kenai sockeye run will likely be about 700,000 or 800,000 less than projected, he said. The discrepancy in the number of Kenai-bound fish could be due to variability in runs, and possibly less survival in some brood years than expected. Coleman said the lower Kenai abundance made for a difficult fishing year. The Kasilof sockeye run estimate will likely come in around 1.2 million, compared to a 1.1 million forecast, he said. Shields said that the department wound up using the Kasilof Special Harvest Area extensively to catch sockeye and keep those fish from exceeding the upper end of their escapement goals. Despite that, the Kasilof biological escapement goal was exceeded, and while the Kenai escapement estimate isn’t complete, it will likely come in at or above the in-river goal. Both the early and late-run king salmon goals were met, and Shields said the final run size estimate for the late-run kings will likely be similar to the projection of about 19,000 fish. Farther north in Cook Inlet, other sockeye goals will likely be met, although counting is still underway at certain lakes, and aerial surveys have not yet been flown. Shields said it wasn’t as robust a year for Susitna sockeye, and every goal will not necessarily be met there. Pink salmon runs have also been strong in Cook Inlet, and the Kenai, which made things more difficult for the team operating the sockeye sonar, Shields said. There, ADFG stopped posting daily sockeye counts Aug. 5 because it has been difficult to figure out the correct apportionment between sockeyes and pinks. But while fishing ended for setnetters Aug. 6 because they had received the maximum allowable time under the management plan, they would have liked more opportunity to catch them, Smith said. The 36-hour time limit in August is based on the projected king run, and intended to preserve king salmon. That was another change instituted this year by the board. Despite the challenges of the season, managers and fishermen both noted certain bright spots. Strong prices helped make up for low harvests. Coleman said that early prices started around $2.40 per pound of sockeye, although that dropped about 20 percent by the time nets went in the water in the East Forelands section. “Every time our nets get in the water we’re just thankful to be fishing,” Smith said. Pinks fill nets in August Alaska’s commercial salmon catch reached 136.5 million fish through Aug. 19, with several fisheries still open. The mid-August catch has been almost entirely pinks: about 10 million were caught between Aug. 13 and Aug. 19, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s bluesheet estimates. Southeast Alaska seiners took the largest share of those — almost 7 million were caught there in mid-August, with another opening scheduled for Aug. 20 and 21. Southeast Alaska trollers ended their king season after an Aug. 14-18 opening, with a total catch of 209,000 kings for the season. Trollers continue to target cohos, however. About 400,000 pinks were also caught in Prince William Sound during the Aug. 13-20 time period, and about 500,000 were caught near Kodiak. Several Kodiak-area sections opened Aug. 19 and 20 for extended openings, although king salmon still cannot be retained in certain areas by purse seiners. Chignik area fisheries also continue to open for regular fishing periods, and harvest estimates are now available for that region for the first time this summer — an estimated 1.1 million fish have been caught there, including 8,000 kings, 55,000 chums, 122,000 cohos, 340,000 pinks and 596,000 sockeye. Fishermen in the far north continue to target coho and chums; through Aug. 20, about 1.29 million chums were landed in the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim region, and about 229,000 cohos were caught. The Yukon River fall chum fishery was set for an opening Aug. 22-24, and Aug. 25-27. On the Kuskokwim River, about 153,000 cohos were caught through Aug. 19, and additional openings were planned for Aug. 21. The Kotzebue-area chum catch was 573,000 salmon through Aug. 19, and the run has been particularly strong, with the harvest expected to exceed 600,000 for the first time since 1981. However, chums in the region aren’t doing as well once they get into the river, and healthy-looking fish are washing up dead along the Kobuk.

Commercial fishermen to receive $7.8 million in direct disaster aid

Cook Inlet, Yukon and Kuskokwim commercial fishermen will receive payments this fall as part of the 2012 fishery disaster relief funding. The National Marine Fisheries Service announced Monday that $7.8 million of the $20.8 million appropriated for the 2012 disaster declarations for Cook Inlet, Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers salmon returns would be used for direct aid payments. Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, a Portland, Ore.-based organization, will administer the grant and make the payments to eligible fishermen with $3.2 million intended for Yukon-Kuskokwim region fishermen, and $4.6 million for Cook Inlet fishermen. Eligible Cook Inlet fishermen will receive a $2,000 fixed payment, plus a percentage based on their landings history from 2007 to 2011, according to National Marine Fisheries Service, or NMFS, spokeswoman Julie Speegle. According to information provided by the National Marine Fisheries Service, an estimated 443 permit holders from Cook Inlet’s East Side setnet fishery will be eligible to apply for payments, as will an additional 96 Northern District fishermen. Yukon River fishermen will receive an estimated $4,952, with 631 permit holders eligible to apply, Speegle wrote in an email. That accounts for about $3.1 million of the total $3.2 million for Yukon and Kuskokwim permit holders. An estimated 489 Kuskokwim River fishermen will be eligible for $165 payments, Speegle wrote. That money is intended to compensate fishermen — at least partially — for losses in salmon fisheries that received a federal disaster declaration. “I think it will be helpful to everyone at the end of the day,” said Ken Coleman, vice president of the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association. Upper Cook Inlet settnetters were almost entirely shutdown during the 2012 fishery due to concerns about the number of king salmon returning to the Kenai River. The Yukon River designation was made for 2010, 2011 and 2012; the Kuskokwim River commercial failure was declared for 2011 and 2012; and the 2012 declaration was made for Cook Inlet, according to a letter from Rebecca Blank, acting secretary of commerce, to Gov. Sean Parnell. Runs on each of those rivers were well below average. When the disaster declaration was being made, Alaska Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development Commissioner Susan Bell gave a letter to the federal government with a breakdown of the impacts on affected fisheries. According to that information, commercial fishery permit holders lost about $16.8 million in direct ex-vessel revenue in the years included in the disaster designation. “From the moment we learned that Alaska would receive fishery disaster relief funds, our first priority has been to get those dollars directly into the hands of fishermen who were impacted by the fisheries failure,” said Alaska Regional Administrator Jim Balsiger in a formal statement. “Approval of the grant application for direct assistance means that will happen very soon.” According to the announcement, impacted fishermen will receive their applications for disaster relief funds in the mail. Pacific States Executive Director Randy Fisher said applications would likely be sent out Aug. 22, and due back to the organization by Sept. 12. Payments will be made shortly after the due date, he said. Pacific States was also responsible for distributing the $5 million appropriation for the 2009 Yukon disaster. Congress appropriated $20.8 million in aid for the 2012 disaster. According to the announcement from NMFS, Pacific States is developing a second grant proposal based on the spending plans developed by the several organizations, and NMFS expects to award that grant in the coming months.

Russian bans add to uncertain picture for salmon prices

Alaska’s commercial fishermen have hauled in more than 125 million salmon this year, but the prices for those fish are still in limbo. Fishermen have landed about 72.5 million pinks, 41.7 million sockeye, 2.1 million coho, 8.4 million chums and 413,000 kings, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s bluesheet estimate Aug. 13. Russia’s recent ban on imports from the United States, Canada, Norway and other countries could affect the price for Alaska salmon, however. The country is not allowing food imports, including seafood, in response to the economic sanctions other countries instituted after a Malaysian Airlines flight was downed over eastern Ukraine. That means Alaska has lost its second largest salmon roe market, and also will result in additional Norwegian salmon on the global market. ASMI’s International Program Director Alexa Tonkovich said that in 2013, Alaska exported $46 million of salmon roe directly to Russia. That figure doesn’t capture the full value of the market, because some is also exported to Ukraine and re-exported from there to Russia, she noted. “It does have a significant impact for salmon roe markets,” she said. Loosing a secondary buyer could also weaken Alaska’s position in price negotiations with Japan, as there are fewer alternatives for where else the roe could go, she noted. Japan is Alaska’s largest salmon roe market, worth about $125 million in 2013, and China rounds out the top three with a value of $20 million in 2013. In the coming months, Tonkovich said ASMI’s salmon committee will likely explore ways to capitalize on other markets, such as China, France and Germany. Tonkovich said the other impact on salmon prices that could result from Russia’s ban is an increase in farmed Norwegian salmon on the global market. Norway sends about $1 billion worth of farmed salmon to Russia each year. Now, that fish could be sent to the European Union, the United States, Japan, China or elsewhere. Although farmed and wild salmon typically command different prices, the large influx in available salmon will still likely affect the price for Alaska’s salmon as the overall supply increases. “The salmon has to go elsewhere,” she said. Another question mark for 2014 sockeye prices is the Fraser River Run in British Columbia, where a run of about 23 million fish was forecast. If that materializes, it could also push prices down, as it’s another source of wild salmon on the market. Canadian-waters Fraser River fisheries opened Aug. 6, and some American-waters Fraser River fisheries were also set for mid-August openings. The Globe and Mail reported that Canadian prices started at about $1.50 per pound for Fraser River sockeye. Pinks drive catches Pink salmon make up the bulk of the commercial catches statewide, although chum and coho landings also continue. Southeast Alaska fishermen are harvesting the majority of the catch, with about 10 million pink salmon landed from Aug. 6 through Aug. 12. Those were caught by several gear types, although seiners took the largest portion of the harvest. At Prince William Sound, fishers landed more than 6,500 pinks from Aug. 6 through Aug. 12, according to ADFG’s bluesheet estimate. Bristol Bay fishers harvested about 528,000 pinks during that same timeframe. Coho and chum catches continue in the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim region. There, just 1,000 pinks were caught in early August, but almost 150,000 chums and 70,000 cohos were caught during the Aug. 6 to 12 timeframe. Most of the cohos were caught in Norton Sound, where managers issued an update Aug. 11 that said the commercial catch would likely be at the upper end of the forecasted harvest of 60,000 to 90,000 fish range. According to information from ADFG’s Aug. 11 Kuskokwim update, the Kuskokwim coho run was also tracking ahead of the 5-year average while chum escapements were below average for all projects but still within historical ranges. Sockeye escapements were also at or above average at escapement projects. Cook Inlet counts still a question At Cook Inlet, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is still counting fish — but not all of those numbers are being posted anymore. ADFG stopped posting Kenai River sockeye counts Aug. 5 due to the increasing number of pink salmon in the river. The final count was about 1 million fish; ADFG managers will continue counting the fish and likely have an end-of-season estimate that incorporates a longer time-series, and factors out in-river harvest, but that number is not yet available. The escapement goal for Kenai River sockeyes is 700,000 to 1.2 million salmon. Kenai River king counts continue, but the numbers are dropping off. On Aug. 10 and 11, ADFG counted 72 and 73 kings, respectively, at the sonar, bringing the total run count to about 16,671 salmon. That’s within the escapement goal range of 15,000 to 30,000 late-run kings, and ADFG estimated that the goal was achieved Aug. 5, after in-river harvest and catch-and-release mortality was accounted for. The Russian River late-run sockeye count was 28,649 fish through Aug. 12, less than the escapement goal range of 30,000 to 110,000 salmon. Kasilof sockeye counts ended Aug. 7, and the total for 2014 was 439,959 sockeyes, fewer than the 489,654 sockeye counted in 2013 but ahead of the optimum escapement goal range of 160,000 to 390,000 fish.

GCI quarterly revenue boosted by AWN, television deals

The Alaska Wireless Network and a broadcast subsidiary helped boost the second quarter performance for telecommunications provider General Communication Inc. GCI, held an investor call Aug. 7 to discuss second quarter results released the day before. The company reported $224 million in second quarter revenue, an increase both sequentially and year-over-year. During the first quarter of this year, GCI reported $216 in revenue, the company’s best first quarter ever. GCI’s stock was $11.05 per share Aug. 8, near the 52-week high of $11.75 and up from $9.60 on Aug. 8, 2013. GCI’s earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, or EBITDA, was also up. The second quarter adjusted EBITDA was $84 million, a 13 percent increase compared to the prior quarter and a 36 percent increase year-over-year. GCI Chief Financial Officer Pete Pounds said that the year-over-year increase was largely driven by the changes from the Alaska Wireless Network. AWN was formed in July 2013, and merged GCI’s wireless infrastructure with that of Alaska Communications Systems Group Inc., although the two companies continue to sell separate retail products and do not share other infrastructure. GCI owns two-thirds of AWN and ACS owns one-third. The sequential EBITDA increase was driven by wireless performance and revenue from GCI’s subsidiary Denali Media, a local television broadcaster. The company’s broadcast subsidiary, Denali Media, has seen strong election cycle ad revenue, Pounds said, and has brought competition to the market. That partially offset the challenges to that revenue, largely from lower margin time and materials businesses. Wireless revenue also contributed to the bottom line with $69 million for the second quarter, up 11 percent compared to the first quarter and 95 percent compared to the second quarter of 2013. The large year-over-year change was due to the AWN transaction, Pounds said. The company now also offers Lifeline data service; Lifeline is the federally-subsidized phone service for qualifying low income individuals. GCI also saw strong performance in the managed broadband category, Pounds said. Second quarter managed broadband revenues were $31 million, up 7 percent year-over-year, although down slightly from the prior quarter, he said. “This positive performance is driven, in part, by expansion of and increasing demand for the TERRA services in rural Alaska,” Pounds said. TERRA is a multi-year effort to build out terrestrial fiber cables and microwaves towers in much of Southwest and Northwest Alaska to enhance broadband connectivity. Pounds said the company will add Kotzebue in the fourth quarter of this year, and also plans to bring TERRA service from Nenana to Galena. The company also plans to expand to additional villages in the Norton Sound and Kotzebue Sound regions, As the network expands, GCI is also seeing increased traffic and demand for connectivity as well. The call also addressed future performance issues. Roaming continues to contribute to GCI’s performance, as AWN carries significant roaming traffic, particularly in the summer tourism season. The company saw about $30 million in roaming and backhaul for the second quarter, up from $13 million for the same quarter of 2013 and $25 million for the first quarter of 2014. Pounds noted that the AWN transaction affects the comparability of those numbers, and the third quarter will give the clearest picture of how that has changed. Although the network may see diminished roaming revenue as Verizon enters the market, CEO Ron Duncan said that there should be substantial Verizon traffic from legacy networks and from LTE phones that are outside of Verizon’s LTE network. GCI did not have a breakdown of roaming traffic by providers. Although Verizon has turned on its LTE network, and has said it will launch voice-over-LTE service this year, Duncan said that would compete more with AT&T than it would GCI, as AT&T is the major national carrier, while much of GCI’s strength is in rural coverage, where Verizon’s network won’t extend. Duncan said the company didn’t see an immediate need to acquire more spectrum, but that the company will look to see what the opportunities are in the future. GCI had previously provided guidance expecting annual consolidated revenues between $910 million to $930 million, and adjusted EBITDA between $285 and $305 million. In its second quarter release, the compaby said it expected the annual revenues to come in lower at between $880 and $900 million, but for the EBITDA to come in at the high end of its original prediction.

ACS focuses growth strategy on business broadband, services

Alaska Communications Systems Group Inc. saw a decrease in revenue for the second quarter of 2014, while growing some segments of its business. Revenue for the second quarter of 2014 were $80.5 million, down from $97.7 million in the second quarter of 2013. Alaska Communications stock closed at $1.76 Aug. 11, less than the $3.79 it was going for on Aug. 12, 2013, and lower than the 52-week high of $3.86. This is the second quarter in a row of decreased revenue — during the first quarter of 2014, revenue was down $12.7 million year-over-year, which the company attributed largely to changes from the new Alaska Wireless Network. ACS and General Communication Inc., or GCI, merged their infrastructure into the Alaska Wireless Network, or AWN, in July 2013, although they still sell separate retail products. The merger has continued to affect the two companies’ bottom lines. GCI owns two-thirds of the company and Alaska Communications owns one-third. CEO Anand Vadapalli said the company remains focused on creating value by growing broadband revenue and EBITDA and reducing debt, and is successful in all three of those areas. Vadapalli discussed the company’s second quarter results during an Aug. 7 investor call. The quarterly results were announced Aug. 6. “Overall, we are doing well against our operating plan for the year, and leading the industry in growth,” Vadapalli said, referring to broadband. Business broadband revenue was $11 million for second quarter 2014, about an 11 percent increase compared to the second quarter of 2013. Total business and wholesale revenue also increased, at $27.7 million for the second quarter of 2014, up about 9 percent compared to the second quarter of 2013. Business broadband connections increased from 19,104 to 19,618 year-over-year. On the consumer side, total revenue for the quarter was $10.4 million, about a 1 percent increase compared to the second quarter of 2013. Consumer broadband revenue was $6.2 million, about an 11 percent increase compared to the second quarter of 2013. Consumer broadband connections decreased compared to the prior quarter, with about 39,022 connections as of June 30 this year, compared to 39,468 as of March 31, although they increased year-over-year from 37,611 at the end of second quarter 2013. CFO Wayne Graham said the change in consumer connections was related to a change in available products. As it did in the prior quarter, Alaska Communications’ net income also decreased. Second quarter 2014 net income was about $1 million, less than the $37.6 million in net income the company reported for the second quarter of 2013. However, it was an improvement from the first quarter of 2014, when net income was a loss of $385,000. Vadapalli said the company landed multiple contracts during the second quarter that will boost future performance. One was a multi-year contract with a large national carrier to build strategic fiber facilities for a federal customer; that was based on technical superiority and relationships, not on providing the lowest price, he noted. Alaska Communications also extended a relationship with an Alaska-based financial institution to provide connectivity between its Alaska and Lower 48 data center operations, Vadapalli said. And, the company extended its relationship to provide networks to a rural health care provider, he said. Vadapalli said the company would look toward the business sector, particularly managed services and its TekMate subsidiary, for future growth. For the second quarter of 2014, Graham said TekMate contributed $900,000 to the company’s revenue. Vadapalli also reaffirmed the company’s 2014 performance guidance, although he noted that capital spending would likely by $40 to $45 million instead of $40 million as a result of the fiber project. The payments for that will cover the additional costs, however, he noted, so there will be no impact to free cash flow from the expense. The other guidance called for revenue of $310 million for the year, an adjusted EBITDA of $90 million and free cash flow of $20 million. ACS is also continuing its work paying down debt. Graham said the company has made $17.3 million in debt payments so far this year, with net debt at $411.2 million, down from a high of more than $650 million before the AWN merger with GCI. In response to an investor question, Graham said the company would also look at possible refinancing when term loans are due in 2016; good debt markets and strong company performance would likely help that, he said.

State will appeal ruling allowing setnet ban

The State of Alaska will appeal a Superior Court decision to allow a ballot initiative that would ban setnets in urban areas of the state. The Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance, or AFCA, filed a ballot initiative petition last November seeking to ask voters whether to ban setnets in urban parts of the state, which would primarily impact Upper Cook Inlet setnetters. Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell rejected the initiative in January, based on a state Department of Law opinion asserting that it would be a prohibited resource appropriation not allowed under the Alaska Constitution. In July, however, Anchorage Superior Court Judge Catherine Easter overturned Treadwell’s decision, and ordered the lieutenant governor to certify the initiative and allow proponents to continue the process of gathering signatures to get the question on the 2016 ballot. Department of Law Assistant Attorney General Cori Mills wrote in an Aug. 5 email that the state will appeal the decision. “The State plans on appealing the Alaska Superior Court’s decision in the set-net ban initiative case (Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance v. State) once the final judgment is filed,” Mills wrote in an emailed statement. “Alaska’s Constitution requires sustainable and responsible allocation of our fisheries for the benefit of all Alaskans. The Alaska Constitution also prohibits use of the initiative process for appropriations, including appropriations of our resources. We believe the Superior Court erred in finding that the proposed ban on set-netting does not amount to an appropriation and look forward to presenting our arguments before the Alaska Supreme Court.” Unless a stay is granted, which requires a separate motion, the initiative process will continue moving forward, Mills wrote in an email. AFCA President Joe Connors said in a statement that his organization was disappointed that the state was appealing. “We are disappointed that the State of Alaska has decided to appeal a very clear ruling by the Anchorage Superior Court that would allow a ballot initiative to ban commercial set nets in urban, non-subsistence areas of Alaska,” Connors said in the statement. “We look forward to making our case to the Alaska Supreme Court because this is an important issue and voters have a right to participate in the conservation of fish and wildlife.” Connors said the group will begin gathering signatures as soon as the Alaska Division of Elections provides the signature booklets and gives the go-ahead. AFCA has said it is targeting the 2016 ballot. The organization must collect about 30,000 signatures before the question can appear on the ballot. Once the signature booklets are ready, the organization will have one year to collect the signatures. In the meantime, the issue will go to the state Supreme Court, where the record must first be established before briefs are filed or any activity occurs in the case. AFCA’s attorney Matt Singer said he expected the state Supreme Court to affirm Easter’s decision. Singer has argued that the public’s right to weigh in on fish and wildlife management using the ballot initiative process should be interpreted broadly, with the appropriations limitation interpreted narrowly. “We look forward to making our case to the Alaska Supreme Court,” Singer said Aug. 5. The state’s decision was welcome news, however, for the groups who opposed the initiative. Cook Inlet East Side setnetter Andy Hall said it was good news for him personally, and that he also thought it was the right decision for the state. “You really don’t want to open the door to ballot box resource allocation,” Hall said Aug. 5. Hall said the initiative could be a disaster for the state, given its dependence on resource development and extraction. “We don’t want to compromise that,” he said.

Coast Guard reports decrease in Alaska search and rescue

The Aug. 5 U.S. Coast Guard rescue of three boaters in Prince William Sound who were reported missing the night before was its latest life-saving mission, but such search and rescue operations are less frequent than they used to be. The Coast Guard’s total search and rescue cases, or SAR, in Alaska have declined steadily each year from 2010 to 2013. There were 534 SAR cases in Alaska in 2013, down from 635 in 2010. Nationally, that decline also holds true: in 2013, there were 17,793 SAR cases, down from 22,226 in 2010. Search and rescue cases include a range of activities, with a focus on minimizing loss of life, injuries and property damage, with vessels and boaters in distress on the water. The SAR numbers include some, but not all, commercial fishing vessel groundings. For 2013, the USCG tracked 28 groundings, down from 31 in 2012 but up from 12 in 2011 and 22 in 2010. So far this year, there have been 8 groundings. USCG Public Affairs Officer Veronica Colbath said that the commercial fishing vessel groundings are only included in SAR numbers when there is a search and rescue component to the grounding — for instance, if an airlift is needed. In other instances, the Coast Guard might just monitor the grounding, with no rescue needed. The decreasing SAR numbers are aided by a focus on safety from several marine sectors, including the fishing and transportation industries. Many of the efforts in the commercial fishing industry are targeted through the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association, or AMSEA. AMSEA offers a variety of fishing vessel safety courses and other education and outreach programs. According to the group’s newsletter, the Marine Safety Instructor classes are planned in Sitka this fall and Seward next spring. That course was also offered in King Salmon and Seward previously, and the trained instructors have taught marine safety courses in their communities and private companies. Foss Maritime Co., a marine transportation company that operates in Alaska, has several programs of its own that focus on safety, such as a Safety Management System that tries to prevent human injury or loss of life and damage to the environment, a vessel safety inspection system, and the Foss Shipmate Plus program to ensure workers practice safe operations, according to information provided by the company. Foss also uses a similar program in shipyards, and also does work on job safety analysis. The Coast Guard itself has also worked on its outreach and education efforts to reduce safety problems at sea as part of its exercises in the far north this summer. The Coast Guard has conducted its 2014 Arctic Shield operations in the Bering Strait and Seward Peninsula region this summer, with vessel safety checks and other test operations in August. Those are aimed not only at vessel safety, but also oil spill response and communications. The Cutter Healy will also participate in that exercise, and was scheduled to leave Seward Aug. 8 to head north with a team of Coast Guard researchers conducting a technology evaluation in the Arctic. The team will look at upgrades to Coast Guard boats intended to help their Arctic operations, as well as test satellite coverage.

Senate releases new draft of fisheries act

The newest draft of the Magnuson-Stevens Act proposes changes to fisheries management including new fees, sustainability standards, and a possible national marketing effort. The U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard chaired by Alaska Sen. Mark Begich released the latest draft version of the act July 21. The act, or MSA, provides the framework for fisheries management in federal waters from three to 200 miles offshore. It also authorizes the regional fishery management councils, including the North Pacific Fishery Management Council that makes decisions for federal waters offshore from Alaska. The act is up for reauthorization, and both the House and Senate have released amended versions. North Pacific Fishery Management Council Executive Director Chris Oliver said the newest draft seemed responsive to the council’s comments on the prior draft, which the Senate subcommittee released in April. Oliver said he planned to review the draft, and then work with the council on how it would respond. Generally, the council and others in Alaska’s fishing industry have said that the current act is working well, and major changes are not needed as North Pacific fisheries are already managed with some of the provisions included in the new draft. One such element would enable councils to charge a fee for management programs that allocate a percentage of the total allowable catch, or TAC, among sectors. Oliver said that the National Marine Fisheries Service is already working on that in Alaska, although the new provision could bring a few more fisheries into such fee a collection program. Exactly how the draft language could affect various sectors — or which ones might have fees added — isn’t clear yet, Oliver said. In some fisheries, such as the Gulf of Alaska rockfish program, NMFS already collects a cost-recovery fee for management. Fees also already exist for individual fishing quota programs for halibut and crab. Freezer longline vessels operating in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands work through voluntary cooperatives; whether or not those would be included in a new fee program is not yet known, Oliver said. The draft also requires a report on a North Pacific Observer fund and other funds supported by fishery fees. Another element in the draft would allow the National Marine Fisheries Service to use money received from law enforcement to pay for stock assessments, surveys and other data collection efforts necessary for managing fisheries. The language also addresses data collection efforts beyond funding, calling for more data and analysis of recreational fisheries and requiring stock assessments to be completed at least every five years, and in some instances more often, although there’s also a provision allowing the Secretary of Commerce to change the timing. Alaska, where half the U.S. seafood harvest is taken, has a more robust stock assessment program than other parts of the nation, however, so that likely won’t change how they are scheduled here. The Senate draft also adjusts the language about overfished fisheries, so that it refers to overfished or otherwise depleted fisheries throughout, instead of just overfished. The change in language acknowledges that some fisheries may be depleted from causes other than overfishing. The draft also includes a provision that would allow more flexibility in the rebuilding timelines for depleted fisheries. Currently, stocks must be rebuilt in 10 years. The changed language mentions 10 years, but also for a longer duration if biology or environmental conditions require it. The prior draft included language that allowed harvest reductions to be implemented over time to lessen the economic impact of the restrictions; the current draft does not specifically allow that. Flexibility in rebuilding timelines is something the North Pacific council has supported, although Oliver said it likely wouldn’t have an immediate impact in Alaska. Previously, the rebuilding timeline for Pribilof blue king crab has been as issue. Like the prior Senate draft, the newest version would add more consideration of subsistence fisheries and incorporate them into management decisions, and adds references to tribal governments throughout. The draft also adds Tribes to the language about disaster relief, and requires a decision on disaster declarations to be made within 90 days after a economic impact estimate is received. Another element that was maintained in the new Senate language is a provision that would allocate 10 percent of any new Arctic fisheries to new Community Development Quota, or CDQ, groups. The current CDQ groups represent communities along the Bering Sea and hold quota in Bering Sea fisheries; new Arctic quota would go to communities north and east of the Bering Strait. The draft also includes a directive to the U.S. Secretary of Commerce to consider a national seafood marketing program, including possible funding mechanisms, and could establish a sustainability standard for America’s fisheries. That standard would assert that fish caught in accordance with the act, and not overfished or otherwise depleted, was considered sustainable. Another element of the draft sets certain standards for information about fish, making it illegal to falsify fishing records and labels. The draft language also would increase the penalties for civil and criminal violations of the act. Other provisions in the new draft likely won’t apply to Alaska’s fisheries. A prior draft required regular reviews of allocations in mixed stock fisheries; the new Senate draft narrows that provision, so that it applies primarily on the Atlantic coast and in the Gulf of Mexico, and not in Alaska. Another provision that will apply in those areas, but have little affect in Alaska, changed the allowable management tools for recreational fisheries. The new version removed some elements of the initial Senate draft, including a section about ecosystem planning, and one about focusing assets on improving fisheries. However, the training for new council members would include a section on ecosystem planning, under the new draft. It also removes a provision from the prior Senate version that would have required the Secretary of Commerce to prepare a report on cost reductions in fisheries management. Overall, the new Senate draft is shorter than the old one. “This shorter, revised draft incorporates many comments from Alaskans and others around the nation who responded to our initial discussion draft in April,” said Begich in a formal statement. “I hope the public will review these changes and get back to me soon so we can advance to the next step in the process.  That’s why I posted the revised draft online — so everyone has the opportunity to review it and send their comments to my office or to the committee website.” The Senate version has not yet been formally introduced, although the House passed a version through its Natural Resources Committee.

ANTHC receives grant to study food safety

A grant from the Environmental Protection Agency will enable the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium to study climate change and contaminant shifts in the Bering Strait region. The researchers will look at how contaminant shifts could affect human health in rural communities, and develop an adaptation plan. Much of the focus is on traditional foods. The health consortium, or ANTHC, will receive $888,282 as one of six organizations to receive an EPA grant for environmental health research, the agency announced July 23. The grants were focused on supporting health and sustainable tribal communities by focusing on two areas — climate change impacts and air quality issues — according to EPA Project Grants Officer Cynthia McOliver. “The purpose is to support Tribal communities to understand and address different environmental health issues that face them,” McOliver said. The six grants total about $5 million, and were awarded through a competitive grant process, McOliver said, that looked at whether the proposal was technically sound and fit the EPA’s mission. Tribal governments, universities, environmental groups and others were all eligible to apply. ANTHC’s application fell into the climate change category. “Their application was found to be very strong by the reviewers,” McOliver said. She noted that the project had an integrated approach to the issue, and looked not only at the contaminant shift, but also what the change could mean for human health, and how to adapt. Reviewers “felt like this was a very critical approach to addressing the needs in Alaska,” she said. Work on the project will likely begin in the next several months, McOliver said. ANTHC has three years to use the funding. Researchers will use previously collected data to look at contaminant shifts, work with communities to gauge the potential impacts and collect more data. The fieldwork component of the project includes water sampling, looking at tissue of subsistence-harvested animals, and sampling shellfish for the presence of paralytic shellfish poisoning, or PSP. The researchers are interested in macrobiological pathogens that can move between animals and humans, McOliver said. The idea is to see if there are any animal-related infections that can be tested or measured based on climate and winter shifts in pathogens over time. The water aspect of the project looks for tundra water sources where warmer seasons could result in a bacterial impact of mercury that is transported by air from Asia, according to the project proposal. Village water treatment systems don’t measure or treat the bacteria, but the researchers wrote that it could be found in village water sources due to changes. The project looks at PSP because shellfish are a common subsistence harvest, and there could be increasing PSP levels due to more algae blooms from environmental changes. The team will also look at some data on contaminants that already exists, as well as information about animal movements, to gauge future changes. Eventually, the research will include an adaptation plan “That will be heavily driven by communities,” McOliver said. The researchers plan to work with Tribal councils and community members to identify top concerns and develop strategies to handle changes in foods, water supply. ANTHC researchers have had two previous projects funded through similar EPA tribal health grant programs, McOliver said. “They’ve been very successful as applicants,” she said. A past project, which ends this year, was focused on environmental justice and climate change, particularly maternal and child health. That project also looked at the human health impacts of different contaminants, and focused on Alaska Natives in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta Region. ANTHC worked with the Center for Disease Control, or CDC, on that project, McOliver said.

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