Molly Dischner

Arguments heard in challenge to state salmon management

A federal judge heard oral argument May 27 in the lawsuit over whether Cook Inlet salmon fisheries should be in a federal management plan. Alaska has managed its own salmon since statehood, and the plaintiffs United Cook Inlet Drift Association and Cook Inlet Fishermen’s Fund who brought the lawsuit forward in February 2013 are not questioning that structure. However, the groups want federal oversight of state salmon management — and argue that is what Congress intended in its regulations of fish in federal waters. 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. 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 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. The final rule implementing that change was published in the Federal Register in December 2012 and became effective Jan. 22, 2013, prompting the lawsuit filed by UCIDA a month later. During oral argument in Alaska U.S. District Court in Anchorage, Judge Timothy Burgess asked both sides to answer several questions about deference to federal management in certain situations, whether the Magnuson-Stevens Act precludes referring management to the state, and past situations where fish in federal waters have been managed exclusively by the state. Coby Howell, who represented the federal defendants, said the Cook Inlet tanner crab fishery is also managed solely by the state, after having been removed from the federal crab FMP. Other crab fisheries in the Bering Sea and Bristol Bay are managed jointly between the state and federal regulators under the FMP. The parties also discussed the 2012 salmon fishery disaster in Cook Inlet. The plaintiffs contend that disaster was not properly accounted for in the final rule that removed Cook Inlet from the federal management plan. “These are the kinds of problems that we need the council and the National Marine Fisheries Service to be weighing in on,” said Jason Morgan, counsel for UCIDA and CIFF. But Howell said the disaster came after the NMFS action, and it was not up for a change after the disaster occurred. Furthermore, he noted that the fishery disaster was an economic one — and the plaintiffs likely benefitted, because setnetters were shut down, affording the drift fleet additional harvest opportunity. The State of Alaska is also participating in the suit as an intervenor on the side of the federal defendants, and state Department of Law attorney Lance Nelson said that another issue raised in the lawsuit — the potential for harvest in certain federal waters where the Cook Inlet groups say a loophole allows vessels to fish unregulated by the state — has not occurred and likely will not. Nelson also said that the state has the resources to manage the fishery, while the federal government does not. Plaintiffs attorney Morgan said the fishing groups are not looking for day-to-day federal management, just oversight. Both sides will now wait for Burgess to issue a decision.

Council convenes in Nome, familiar bycatch topics on tap

Bering Sea fishery issues will top the agenda when the North Pacific Fishery Management Council meets in Nome this month. Several agenda items revolve around incidental catches of halibut, chum and king salmon in the Bering Sea. The council will also discuss the Norton Sound red king crab fishery, a potential new Pacific cod fishery for the Community Development Quota organizations, and adopt quotas for certain Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands crab seasons. The council manages federal fisheries from three to 200 miles offshore from Alaska, and is scheduled to meet at the Nome Mini Convention Center June 4-9. The bycatch discussion will include chum salmon, king salmon and halibut caught incidentally in various Bering Sea fisheries; no final action is expected. The council will see another draft of a discussion paper on Bering Sea chum and king salmon bycatch. The paper looks at the management measures already in place to reduce chum and king bycatch, changes under consideration, the amounts taken currently and the impact of that bycatch. The possible changes include an earlier end to the summer/fall “B” season —when there is more salmon bycatch — requiring salmon excluders, modifying the rolling hot spot program that requires vessels to avoid pockets of high salmon bycatch, and modify how prohibited species catch is accounted for to track the salmon lifecycle rather than the calendar year. None of those actions will be taken at this meeting, although the council could request further analysis of any of them. At the last council meeting in Nome in June 2011, dozens of Norton Sound residents testified asking the council to limit chum bycatch. In that region, many of the king salmon runs are weak, but there is still opportunity to catch chums, and residents have said they want the chums protected before there is a decline to worry about. The council will also review an application from John Gauvin to continue work on excluders, which are devices intended to enable salmon to escape from trawl nets in the Bering Sea pollock fishery while minimizing the pollock loss. Gauvin’s application proposes to continue refining the excluders to help kings and chums escape from the pollock hauls. The application asks to test the excluders in late summer and early fall of 2014 for chum escapements and winter 2014 for kings, with catch limits of 2,500 metric tons of groundfish in each test, 250 kings and 2,500 chums during the chum test, and 600 kings and 250 chums during the king test. The National Marine Fisheries Service recommended approving the application. The council will also review a discussion paper and hear from industry about halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea. The discussion paper was written by the International Pacific Halibut Commission and considers how Bering Sea halibut bycatch affects the stock. Included in the paper are 2013 catch limits re-figured at different levels of bycatch. The paper found that the catch limits would not have changed significantly even under a 20 percent reduction of bycatch either locally in the Bering Sea or coastwide extending to Northern California. The paper also acknowledges that the commercial catch per unit of effort has been significantly larger than the IPHC survey indicates over the past decade, a fact commercial fishermen have used to argue against quota cuts at recent meetings. Crab questions The council will also review a discussion paper on Norton Sound red king crab considering participation in the fishery. The paper was developed after hearing from an area resident who was concerned about overcapitalization and growth in the fishery. According to the paper, there are 62 licenses for the fishery, with 38 active in 2013. Although there is no residency requirement, 38 of the licenses were registered to an address in Norton Sound including 18 in Nome, and the remaining 24 were registered outside the area, including eight registered outside of Alaska. Smaller vessels do not have to have a license, and six vessels smaller than 32 feet have participated in the last several years. The council will also set catch limits for Norton Sound red king crab, Aleutian Islands golden king crab and Adak red king crab. The golden king crab harvest is set by the Alaska Board of Fisheries at 6.29 million pounds, Adak red king crab isn’t likely to be opened and there is a recommended harvest for Norton Sound red king crab of about 420,000 pounds. Observer review scheduled The council will conduct its first full-year review of the revised observer program. That’s scheduled for June of each year; last June, the council had just a partial year of data to review the new program implemented in January 2013. The new program expands observer coverage to a wider range of smaller, previously unobserved vessels, but has reduced the amount of coverage on certain fishing boats such as trawlers. According to the report, in 2013 the new program met its goal for coverage on vessels in the trip selection pool — larger vessels such as trawlers that are covered randomly on a trip-by-trip basis — but did not meet its coverage goals for the vessel selection pool, or for dockside sampling. The vessel selection pool, typically the previously unobserved longliners, have an observer onboard for 60 days at a time, and are generally boats less than 60 feet. In terms of dockside sampling, salmon from 91 percent of all pollock deliveries was sampled versus the goal for 100 percent sampling. Now, NMFS is recommending that the boats in the vessel selection pool may be moved to the trip selection pool and receive coverage on a fishing trip basis, rather than for 60 days at a time. In addition to reviewing the observer program, the council will receive a report on an issue with tendering in the Gulf of Alaska. Deliveries to tenders have gone unobserved, and there is a concern that vessels are using tenders to avoid returning to shore and logging another trip. Although that was seen in the trip length numbers presented in last June for the start of 2013, according to the report that pattern is not as apparent in the full year of data. Pacific cod, crab changes considered The council will also conduct its initial review on analysis of changes to crab contract provisions and in allowing the Community Development Quota halibut fleet to retain Pacific cod. The CDQ groups asked for that in public testimony, and the council has asked for the review as the first step toward possibly allowing it. The analysis looks at allowing hook-and-line vessels less than 46 feet to keep a larger portion of the Pacific cod caught while targeting halibut with CDQ quota, and ways to accomplish that in regulation. The crab issue addresses how communities, processors and others interface in terms of the right of first refusal. That’s a provision that was intended to help protect fishing communities by preventing Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands king and tanner crab processing quota from leaving an area without the community having the chance to keep it there.

Quintillion preps for $60M in 2014 work connecting Arctic

Several northern communities should see more vessel traffic and infrastructure work this summer as construction of a new submarine fiber optic network continues. Arctic Fibre is a Canadian entity building a new telecommunications network from Japan to Britain, with local company Quintillion partnering on the Alaska portion of the project, including landing spurs bringing the high-speed to connection directly to seven communities in Alaska. Quintillion was formed in 2012 to take advantage of what CEO Elizabeth Pierce calls a rare opportunity for Alaska to develop telecommunications infrastructure — and with it the state’s economy. Initially, Shemya, Nome, Kotzebue, Point Hope, Wainwright, Barrow and Prudhoe Bay will be connected to the new network. In time, Alaska telecoms could build out the network further, delivering faster service to more of the Arctic. The project also includes a terrestrial cable line from Prudhoe Bay to Fairbanks. When service is ready, likely in early 2016, half a dozen communities should have access to faster communication at a cheaper cost than they currently pay for satellite access. Quintillion is supported by private investors, most of whom have not yet announced themselves publically, although Calista subsidiary Futaris has announced that it is investing in the project, and Pierce said the major investors have given other Alaska Native corporations an additional opportunity to invest in the project. Arctic Slope Telephone Association Cooperative provides phone and internet service to several Arctic communities, including in the Quintillion landing points of Barrow, Wainwright, Point Hope and Kotzebue. “It’s obviously a very, very exciting evolution and a rapid evolution for these markets,” said ASTAC manager of sales and business development Jens Laipenieks. ASTAC is a member-owned cooperative, and has invested in the project. Laipenieks said the project should drive prices down throughout the region, based on the modeling the co-op has done so far. “The cost per bit will definitely come down from where we are with satellite,” Laipenieks said. This year, Quintillion and Arctic Fibre together will spend more than $60 million on the project, Pierce said. Although Quintillion is responsible for the Alaska segment of the project, this summer’s work — and the network build planned for next summer — will be done by the two entities jointly. “This summer, the plan is, complete all the survey work,” Pierce said. The survey work includes marine surveys and geotechnical drilling. The marine surveys will help engineers determine the lowest-risk locations for landings by using sonar to map the sea floor along the Arctic Fibre route and to shore. The geotechnical drilling will sample the ground at each location to determine what equipment is needed when the cable is laid next summer. The project will use horizontal drilling, but the sampling will help engineers decide exactly how to lay the cable and create the bores for landings. Afterward, contractors working on that component of the project can determine the exact length of the cable needed; the submarine cable will then be manufactured in New Hampshire and, if all goes as planned, installed next summer. Other prepatory work will be done away from the project site — including shelters being built out in the Matanuska-Susitna area that will eventually be assembled at the landing sites in Wainwright, Point Hope and Barrow. Permitting is also underway. Quintillion is working with Umiaq, a subsidiary of Barrow Native village corporation UIC, on the permitting process. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is the primary contact for permitting, although Quintillion is also working with dozens of entities to get approval, including the commissions that address various protected species, such as whales and walrus. Quintillion will also apply for landing licenses from the Federal Communications Commission, likely this summer. Pierce said the company was waiting to apply until it had confirmed some of the project details through this summer’s survey work. Arctic Fibre already has the necessary licenses from the Canadian government. Most of the work is done by various contractors, but Pierce herself is doing another aspect of the project: communicating with residents about what they’ll be seeing just offshore. Larger vessels will conduct the marine surveys on the main line, with up two operating along the coast at a time. Along the spur route — in the realm of 19 to 24 miles from shore to the main line near Barrow and Wainwright — three more small boats could be surveying and providing dive support, according to a briefing presented in those communities in May. Pierce has been visiting various northern communities to talk about the planned work. Some will receive the original landings while others will not, but will still see the ships working just offshore, so Pierce said it’s important to share information about what’s going on. The project has been well received, Pierce said. “We’ve spent time with whaling captains, with the Mayors, with board members from various Native corporations and management teams and I would say that pretty consistently, there’s a great deal of enthusiasm for the project,” Pierce said. “People are anxious for the capacity and the capability that it brings.” Quintillion is a carrier’s carrier. It will not directly sell service, but will sell to telecoms interested in using the capacity for its service, Pierce said. Any interested provider can access the new network, she said. That decision was made in part as a way to recoup the investment — the hope is that open access will help grow demand, and create more revenue over the long term — but also as a way to stimulate Alaska’s economy. Pierce said the project should provide capabilities for business growth within the communities. Local providers in each of the landing point communities are planning to use the new network, and there are $50 million in first-year contracted revenues in Alaska so far, Pierce said. Eventually, Alaska telecoms could build the network out beyond the planned communities. Pierce said that’s phase two of the project, and Quintillion is working with TelAlaska, ASTAC and others on those plans. Once there’s service in Nome, a company could spend about $14 million to build fiber optic out to Teller, about 73 miles west of Nome, she said. From there, it creates a jumping off point to build out to Brevig Mission or Port Clarence, Pierce said. Laipenieks said ASTAC is also looking at how it will expand the network. The landing point communities are mostly ready for the new service to be turned on, Laipenieks said. Quintillion will build all the way into the landing communities, and the local networks are situated well for an upgrade in capacity. “We have been preparing the network for the evolutionary step,” he said, and will see enhanced internet as soon as possible, with plans to also upgrade wireless services to 3G and 4G LTE speeds. The co-op is also evaluating the possibility of building out fiber or microwave to the other communities it serves, both along the coast, and farther south, such as Anaktuvak Pass. Beyond the technical buildouts, Laipenieks said he’s interested to see how communities use the services when speeds suddenly spike and latency drops. “This is a bit of a petri dish for how broadband will stimulate things,” he said, referring to the likely increase in use of the internet for entertainment, as well as enhancements to health care and education, and possible new businesses that could crop up. “For me that’s going to be the interesting piece, to see how quickly things evolve,” Laipenieks said. In Barrow, Pierce said the hospital will benefit from having fast enough speeds that it can actually use some of the high-tech equipment intended for remote-maintenance or to send out images produced by the CT machine, rather than sending patients out to have the CT done where it can also be read. “It really is about the difference it makes to people’s lives,” she said.

Halibut, salmon bycatch subject of symposium

Scientists, industry representatives and others interested in fisheries science, management and policy discussed all things bycatch at the Lowell Wakefield Fisheries Symposium in Anchorage May 13-16. From January through May 10, commercial fishermen targeting primarily pollock and other groundfish in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea have caught about 5,868 king salmon and 2,294 metric tons, or more than 5 million pounds, of halibut while targeting other species in federal fisheries offshore from Alaska. Those fish are classified as prohibited species catch, or PSC, and can’t be sold although in the case of Bering Sea king salmon they are required to be retained for a full count. Other PSC is discarded or sometimes donated to an organization that funnels them to food banks and organizations feeding hungry Alaskans. Symposium presenters talked about the value of those discarded fish, as well as ways to minimize discards and other possible uses for them, although the symposium took a somewhat wider view of bycatch, including fish released by sport anglers and other discards in the discussion. Lee Benaka talked about the 2014 update to the National Bycatch Report, which updated the first edition of that bycatch report to provide more recent information — the report now goes through 2010 — and change some methodology. The report includes information on discarded fish —not jut prohibited species — from about 76 percent of landings in Alaska fisheries, and about 58 percent of landings nationally. Benaka said that in the newest version, seabird catch in the halibut longline fleet was down 50 percent from 2005 to 2010 primarily because of a change in the lines used. Generally, trawl fisheries also saw a reduction in incidentally-caught fish, he said. Benaka also talked about the economic impacts of regulatory discards. Nationally, Benaka figured that regulatory discards are worth about $427 million in direct revenue, based on about 27 or the 45 managed fisheries, and just 86 percent of the commercial landings in the nation. The estimate likely under represents the true value of discards, he said. Examples of regulatory discards are releasing a halibut that is shorter than the legal size of 32 inches or female crab, because only males may be retained. Most other presenters talked about reducing or changing bycatch in some fashion. Martin Hall, from the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission, said the key to addressing bycatch is thinking outside the box. “Either you fish less, or you fish better,” he said. Hall said that the old way of fishing was to kill a bunch of things, and keep the one you wanted to sell. Now, he said, fishing needs to find a way to capture fish alive, and then kill only the ones that will be kept and sold. Hall said that gear improvements are occurring rapidly — what wasn’t even dreamed of a few years ago can now be implemented.  “We’re having our minds opened up,” Hall said. Steve Martell, from the International Pacific Halibut Commission, talked about how halibut bycatch is part of the IPHC’s management process, although that body primarily regulates the directed fishery, not halibut bycatch in other fisheries, which is left to the federal North Pacific Fishery Management Council. Martell talked about an idea that could significantly change how halibut is managed: bringing trawlers into the IPHC’s management system, and allotting them a certain quota of halibut. He asked the audience to consider whether that would result in targeting of halibut, or avoidance, and noted that halibut is a choke-species for the vessels targeting groundfish. In recent years, longliners have seen a significant decrease in their halibut catch, while trawlers have had about half as much of a decrease in their halibut bycatch. Such a change would have decreased the trawl catch proportionately with the longline fleet’s, Martell said. As-is, the IPHC has less ability to impact bycatch, Martell said. In the directed halibut fishery, size limits on retained halibut have actually resulted in more fishing effort, and more bycatch, because it takes longer to catch the allowable amount of legal halibut, he said. Changes in size at age of the halibut have exacerbated that, as well, he said. Essentially, there are more halibut less than the legal size of 32 inches, which causes more discards of small fish. That’s a trade-off considered necessary to conserve female halibut, which don’t reach reproductive maturity until age 11 and, unlike the males, continue growing. Other individuals are working on a way to reduce the other source of halibut mortality: fish released by charter anglers. UAF professor Terry Johnson is working on that project with representatives from the charter sector and the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, a nonprofit. Johnson said the project is trying to develop best practices for releasing halibut, develop a multi-faceted outreach plan to share those practices, and then implement it. The best practices list developed by the team includes minimizing handling, including unhooking the fish in the water if possible; avoid lifting the fish unsupported by the gill cover or tail; using circle hooks, and removing them by rolling out by hand; reel in the fish quickly to minimize exhaustion; and avoiding known “chicken patches” where fish are likely to be small. Now the group is working on a plan to educate the public about those tactics. Johnson said the team also did a survey to see how those practices are currently being used. According to the survey, a fifth of anglers and one-third of charter crews had seen potentially lethal behavior on the water. Almost none had seen the gentle release tactics utilized, he said. Salmon bycatch in the Bering Sea Jim Ianelli, a researcher at the National Marine Fisheries Service’s Alaska Science Center in Seattle, discussed king salmon bycatch in the Bering Sea pollock fishery. Ianelli talked about some of the complexities in modeling the impacts of the pollock fishery, including the lag between bycatch year and impact. When the pollock fleet took a record amount of more than 120,000 kings in 2007, the effects were felt in 2008 and 2009 as well, he said. Ultimately, Ianelli tries to gauge the salmon loss due to the pollock fishery in each year’s runs, which is different than the total salmon caught in a year, and heavily reliant on the model. Ianelli said that the pollock fishery has less than a 4 percent impact on the Upper Yukon king runs each year, and eliminating that bycatch entirely wouldn’t result in meeting the escapement goals.

GCI reports record 1Q revenue, TiVo stems video losses

General Communications Inc. reported record revenue of $216 million in the first quarter of 2014 and net income of $2 million. The company revenue was its best ever in a first quarter, and a sharp increase from the 2013 first quarter when it took in $186.2 million. Net income decreased, however, compared to $3.2 million in the first quarter of 2013.  “It was the best first quarter that we have ever had,” said GCI Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Pete Pounds during a May 8 investor call to discuss the results released May 7. GCI’s stock was at $11.32 per share May 12, near the 52-week high of $11.75, and up from $9.32 on May 13, 2013. The GCI share price was $9.09 on July 23, 2013, at the closing of the Alaska Wireless Network infrastructure merger with Alaska Communications Systems Group Inc. The company’s adjusted EBITDA, or earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization was $75 million. That’s a 28 percent increase compared to the prior year, and a 10 percent increase compared to the prior quarter. The increase over the first quarter of 2013 is attributable to the AWN deal, which merged the GCI and Alaska Communications infrastructure into one network although they sell separate retail products. Pounds said that the sequential increases were in part the result of a regular seasonal shift: lower subsidies for wireless handsets in the first quarter compared to the fourth quarter. Pounds said the company also showed strong performance in other areas. GCI added 1,100 cable modem subscribers, and 1,000 new wireless customers, Pounds said. That was attributed partially to speed increases for internet customers, and the build out of the TERRA network, which added new fiber-optic cable throughout much of Southwest and Northwest Alaska, as well as additional microwave towers. Juneau and Fairbanks also both received increased internet speeds in early May, Pounds said. The TERRA work is continuing, and Pounds said the company plans to reach Kotzebue by the first quarter of 2015. Eventually, the plan is to create a complete ring by going to Prudhoe Bay. GCI launched its fastest data service, long-term evolution, or LTE, in Fairbanks April 30. Bethel received 3G service in April as a result of $2.2 million in federal funding that upgraded an AWN cell tower. Nine other nearby villages will also be upgraded to 3G service later this year as a result of the work. The company also received a preliminary award from the Federal Communications Commission to upgrade several other communities to 3G and 4G services, although the details of the upgrades have not yet been made public. The upgrades are “being welcomed by our customers,” Pounds said, noting that the company has also increased its Turbozone wi-fi, and now has one hotspot for every 400 people in the state. The company also reversed the trend of losing video subscribers, he said, in part because it began bundling its cable package with TiVo. The first quarter of 2014 was also GCI’s first full quarter with ownership of new television stations, including Anchorage’s KTVA, or channel 11, which is now the first local station with HD news, Pounds said. Not all metrics performed as well. Business services revenues were $52 million for the first quarter, down sequentially and year-over-year. According to the company, that decrease was driven by a decline in voice products and professional services; data transport/storage, video and wireless demands grew. AWN challenges persist GCI and ACS are also still working out bumps in the new Alaska Wireless Network. According to GCI counsel Tina Pidgeon, ACS disagreed with the rates for wholesale services set by AWN, and now the two companies are in arbitration regarding how rates are set. GCI owns two-thirds of the combined AWN and Alaska Communications owns one-third. In the meantime, however, ACS continues to pay AWN for services, Pidgeon said during the May 8 call. The two companies are also still working on integrating their networks. Customers have access to networks that are working well, according to GCI, but there’s work left rationalizing the cell sites so there are fewer duplicative sites. That will likely take one to two years, and the networks want to maintain customer experience and the ability to take on roaming traffic. Pounds said GCI is also evaluating the handset subsidies that are available under AWN, and did not accept any in the fourth quarter of 2013 or first quarter of 2014. The company plans to use them by the end of the year, once it can figure out a better tracking system, Pounds said. GCI plans shareholder meeting GCI also announced May 12 that its 2014 shareholders meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. June 23 in Juneau. The business meeting will include election of three individuals to the company’s board of directors, and then GCI President Ron Duncan will give a presentation regarding the company’s performance and outlook. A question and answer session is also planned. The meeting will be held at the Juneau Yacht Club.

ACS revenue down after merger, service segments increase

Alaska Communications Systems Group Inc. announced a decrease in revenue for the first quarter, largely driven by changes from the new Alaska Wireless Network. ACS had $78.3 million in total revenue for the first quarter of 2013, down $12.7 million compared to the same quarter of 2013. That’s because $15.7 million in revenue was shifted to the Alaska Wireless Network, including roaming. The results were announced May 8, and the company held its quarterly investor call May 9. ACS and General Communications Inc., or GCI, merged their infrastructure into the Alaska Wireless Network in July 2013, although they still sell separate retail products. The merger has continued to affect the two companies’ bottom lines. Alaska Communications’ total service and other revenue, however, grew $3.8 million or 7.7 percent, compared to the prior quarter. Chief Financial Officer Wayne Graham said during an investor call May 9 that the increase was driven by strong performance, the TekMate acquisition and the release of about $1 million in revenue reserve due to certain regulatory-based revenue streams. The company also reported a reduction in net income for the first quarter of 2014 compared to the final quarter of 2013. First quarter 2014 net income was a loss of $385,000 compared to net income of $3.4 million for the first quarter of 2013. Year-over-year, the company’s revenue for each business line looked stronger. Business and wholesale service revenue was $26.4 million, up 17.1 percent compared to the first quarter of 2013. Consumer service revenue was $10.2 million, up 1.9 percent, driven by an 11.8 percent increase in broadband revenue. Wireless revenue at $19.4 million, however, was down, as a result of the AWN merger. The Alaska Communications stock price was $1.89 at the close of the market May 12, up from the week prior, and up from May 13, 2013 when it was $1.71, but below the 52-week high of $3.90, and less than the $2.67 it was July 23, 2013, when the AWN transaction closed. ACS President and CEO Anand Vadapalli said the first quarter results set the foundation and pace of performance that can be expected from the company. The company also started 2014 with some changes to subscriber metrics. Broadband connections increased sequentially, with about 19 additional business broadband connections and 801 new consumer broadband connections. Wireless subscribers, however, decreased compared to the prior quarter by 873 to 107,975. Alaska Communications has also continued its effort to pay down its debt this year. Graham said that in the first quarter, the company made more than $13 million in early debt payments, with another $5 million so far in the second quarter of 2014. Efforts to expand business continue Vadapalli said during the call that other efforts to grow and expand at ACS are doing well. The company’s purchase of TekMate, an Alaska information technology company, closed in the first quarter. “The first few months of operating results have been stellar,” Vadapalli said. “Sales are exceeding our expectations, creating opportunities for us to sell higher margin connectivity products.” Graham said the transaction contributed about $1 million in increased service revenue. This year, the acquisition is expected to provide $5 million to $7 million in revenue, Graham said in March. Vadpalli also announced a partnership with the Anchorage School District that was developed during the first quarter. ACS will invest in fiber to nearly 100 schools in the district, enhancing service at those schools as well as in nearby neighborhoods, according to Vadapalli. ACS is also competing for additional wireless backhaul revenue, according to Vadapalli. Although when AWN closed, the company transferred its backhaul to the new network, it has re-entered that market and is now competing for customers, Vadapalli said. ACS is also continuing to work to manage expenses, Vadapalli said.  FCC changes In late April, the Federal Communications Commission announced certain Universal Service Fund changes, but those largely won’t impact ACS. ACS spokeswoman Heather Cavanaugh wrote in an email that as Alaska’s only price-cap carrier, ACS is not impacted by the quantile regression analysis formula, so removing it won’t affect the company. The safety net additive also only impacts rate of return carriers. Those two changes were praised by others in Alaska. However, the company is still concerned about remaining components of the 2011 order, Cavanaugh wrote in an email. “We are concerned about the FCC’s plans to reduce support for maintaining and operating the network,” Cavanaugh wrote. “We are concerned the consequences will lead to reductions in services across Alaska.”

Alaska fish worth $1.7B in 2012

Led by salmon and pollock landings, North Pacific fishers earned more than $1.7 billion from the commercial harvest of 5.3 billion pounds of fish in 2012. In 2012, salmon landings were worth $441 million, pollock was worth $343 million, crab was worth $275 million and Pacific cod was worth $191 million, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service report titled “Fisheries Economics of the United States 2012.” Alaska’s harvest represents more than half of the seafood commercially harvested in the United States and about a third of the value. In 2012, the total commercial take in America was about 9.6 billion pounds, worth about $5.1 billion. Those numbers drive the seafood industry in Alaska, which generated $4.2 billion in sales impacts, $1.8 billion in income impacts and more than 56,000 jobs in 2012, according to the agency’s economics report. Despite leading in total catch and seafood value, however, Alaska’s seafood industry generates fewer jobs than other regions, and is not the largest portion of the jobs data. According to the report, the seafood industry in California and Massachusetts generate more than 100,000 jobs each compared to a national total of about 1.2 million jobs in 2012. Total, 98 percent of the commercial fisheries revenue was generated by 10 key species groups: salmon, pollock, crab, Pacific cod, Atka mackerel, flatfish, Pacific halibut, Pacific herring, rockfish and sablefish. The agency, or NMFS, recently released that report, along with the 2013 stock status report. In Alaska, the value of fisheries remains high, and stocks are generally considered healthy. The overfished list for 2013 includes just one North Pacific stock: Pribilof Island blue king crab, which is in year 10 of a 10-year rebuilding plan in 2014. According to a March 2014 update on stock status, Kamchatka flounder was previously listed as overfished, but is no longer on that list. The “overfishing” list is made up of stocks that are fished at a higher rate than the one that produces maximum sustained yield, but the stocks are not necessarily impaired. The “overfished” list, however, includes stocks that have a depleted biomass and are not necessarily being fished. There are no North Pacific stocks on the overfishing list for 2013. In 2013, the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands Octopus complex was removed from that list. Fisheries values on the rise Landings revenue has increased since 2003, although there was a slight decrease in 2012 compared to 2011, according to the report. Atka mackerel and flatflish had the largest increases in value, at 400 percent and 211 percent, respectively. Salmon landings had an average value of $357 million from 2003 to 2012, the most of any species group, and increased about 163 percent over that time frame, the third highest increase. Shellfish revenue also increased 68 percent, from $174 million in 2003 to $293 million in 2012, while overall finfish revenue increased slightly less — 66 percent from 2003 to 2012. The rising value comes despite declining catches. The 2012 total catch of both shellfish and finfish was about 0.3 percent less than the 2003 catch, with finfish specifically decreasing about 1.3 percent from 2003, when the catch was 5.2 billion pounds. In 2012, prices were above the 10-year averages for all seven of the primary species and species groups, according to the report. Atka mackerel increased about 379 percent compared to 2003 ex-vessel prices, salmon increased 171 percent, halibut increased 106 percent and herring increased 100 percent. Those increases do not account for inflation. Recreational fisheries also play into economy The economics report also includes information on recreational fisheries in Alaska. According to the report, about 4,800 jobs were generated by recreational fishing, and more than $397 million was spent in the region by recreational anglers, with most of the impacts coming from hiring or renting boats. About 55 percent of total trip expenditures came from guided fishing activities. Total, anglers spent 808,000 days fishing in 2012, down 6.9 percent from about 868,000 days in 2003, and also down from 2011, when there were about 811,000 angler days. The report only includes a number for saltwater recreational anglers, of which there were 278,000 in 2012, but not freshwater. That was down from 2011, when there were 286,000 saltwater anglers in the state. The decrease in angler numbers was driven by a decrease in non-resident anglers; in 2012 there were about 160,000 non-resident anglers, a 0.6 percent decrease from 2011 when there were 161,000 and a 5.6 percent decrease from 2003, when there were about 170,000. Halibut, rockfish and silver salmon were the top three species harvested or released recreationally, representing about 74 percent of the total recreational catch. Other economic impacts from recreational fisheries included equipment expenses — worth about $126 million 2012, or 32 percent of the total recreational expenditures for the region. Those purchases resulted in about 1,100 jobs in 2012, $125 million in sales impacts and $81 million in value-added impacts. That category included boat expenses, vehicles, second homes and fishing tackle. From 2003 to 2012, recreational rockfish, halibut and lingcod catches increased, while sockeye and king salmon catches decreased, according to the report. Both recreational harvest and release of kings decreased from 2003 to 2012, with about 63,000 harvested and 62,000 released in 2012 compared to 96,000 and 105,000 in 2003. Silver harvest and release numbers saw an even bigger decrease, from 263,000 harvested and 50,000 released in 2012 compared to 537,000 harvested and 156,000 released in 2003. At the same time, more rockfish were harvested, although fewer were released, from 2003 to 2012.

Additional Indian Health settlements announced

The Indian Health Service announced May 1 that it has settled additional contract support cost claims with Alaska providers, but an unknown number are still in limbo. IHS Acting Director Yvette Roubideaux sent a letter to Sen. Mark Begich May 1 informing him that additional Alaska claims have been settled. The Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association, Mount Sanford Tribal Consortium, Norton Sound Health Corp. and Metlakatla Indian Community received a combined $15.6 million for work done previously for which they were underpaid, bringing the total for the Alaska settlements so far to $209 million. Contract support costs are what Tribal organizations pay to manage Tribal health programs. In 2012, the Supreme Court said that Tribes should be fully compensated for the cost of delivering federal trust responsibilities, such as health care. Now, the IHS is working to repay those groups for prior years when they were not reimbursed for their full costs, and last week, the IHS announced more than $193 million in settlements to six Alaska Tribal health providers. But other Tribes are still waiting for settlements, including the Kenaitze Indian Tribe, which recently constructed the new Dena’ina Wellness Center in Old Town Kenai. “Contract support costs are an ongoing topic of conversation between the Kenaitze Indian Tribe and the Indian Health service,” said Jaylene Peterson-Nyren, executive director of the Kenaitze Indian Tribe.  “We’re waiting on Indian Health Services to decide how they’re going to proceed with the thousands of smaller claims like our own that have not been resolved,” she said. Nyren would not disclose the tribe’s claim amount.  “That’s not a number that we can talk about in public,” she said. Begich said in a May 1 interview with the Journal that he’s concerned about the number of providers who still haven’t received settlements, and he will not budge on Roubideaux’s reappointment until he sees additional progress, although the May 1 announcement indicated that the claims are moving in the right direction. Begich had previously told the Journal that he had put a hold on her reappointment until multiple issues related to Tribal health care funding were resolved. The number of unresolved claims is still unknown. Begich said he has asked the IHS for more information on the total number of claims, and how many Tribes are not even at settlement stage, and has not yet received a written response. “How many tribes are still in that group?” Begich asked. In addition to the Kenaitze Tribe, the Tanana Chiefs Conference has said its claims are still pending. Roubideaux’s May 1 letter also said that the Council of Athabascan Tribal Governments and Seldovia Village Tribe both have claims in federal court, which are scheduled for mediation this summer. The IHS has also made an additional 15 offers, which are still pending. The service will not release details about pending claims, so the value of those pending offers is not known. It’s also unknown how many Tribes would benefit from the 15 offers.   Despite the remaining questions, Begich said he was glad to see additional claims resolved in the past week, and the pace of resolution picking up. “It was a drip at a time, and now it’s a full waterfall,” Begich said. Alaska settlements have represented about 56 percent of the total claims settled by the IHS and 72 percent of the value of settlements to date, according to Roubideaux’s letter. “(Alaska has) the biggest contract service delivery system,” Begich said. Begich said he expected that the Alaska settlements would total around $250 million when they’re all completed, although that is an estimate, and the IHS has not provided a total of the pending claims. Each of the claims is being paid at an average of about 80 cents paid per dollar claimed, with interest, Begich said. The settlements aren’t just a political victory. It also represents an influx of cash into the Tribal health care system in the state. “This money comes into the Alaska economy,” he said. Health providers are still deciding how to use the funding. Although it is a long-time coming, Begich said that no one had wanted to decide how to use the money until it materialized. The providers will have discretion in deciding in how to use the funds. According to Director of IHS Public Affairs Staff Constance James, the money must be used consistently with the terms of individual settlement agreements and the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act. Under a 1975 Congressional act, authorized entities contract with IHS to operate health care programs ranging from clinics to hospitals, to fulfill the federal government’s trust responsibility to provide health care services to Alaska Natives and American Indians. In Alaska, members of 229 federally-recognized tribes receive health care services from 32 organizations, according to the IHS website. Rashah McChesney of the Peninsula Clarion contributed to this story.

IHS to pay Alaska Tribal health providers $193 million

Tribal healthcare providers in Alaska are set to receive $193 million in payments for past work, with more settlements expected. Six providers will receive payment for 45 past contract support cost claims from the Indian Health Service, or IHS, Sen. Mark Begich announced April 25. Contract support costs are what Tribes pay to manage Tribal health programs. In 2012, the Supreme Court said that Tribes should be fully compensated for their costs when delivering federal trust responsibilities, such as health care. Under a 1975 Congressional act, authorized entities contract with IHS to operate health care programs ranging from clinics to hospitals. In Alaska, members of 229 federally-recognized tribes receive health care services from 32 organizations, according to the IHS website. Southcentral Foundation will receive the largest payment — $96.5 million for 17 claims, dating back to 1997. That organization helps run the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage, and operates facilities in the Anchorage and Matanuska-Susitna Borough areas, as well as parts of rural Alaska. Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp. will receive $39 million for seven claims, Bristol Bay Area Health Corp. will receive $25.5 million for 19 claims, Maniilaq Association will receive $25 million for 6 claims, Arctic Slope Native Association will receive $6.7 million for 15 claims, and Ketchikan Indian Corp. will receive $364,989 for three claims, according to an announcement from Sen. Mark Begich. Begich said that about 15 additional claims are still pending, for about four or five Tribal providers. The IHS does not release information about pending claims. One of the remaining organizations waiting for a settlement is Interior Alaska’s Tanana Chiefs Conference, which operates the new Chief Andrew Isaac Health Center in Fairbanks and represents 42 Interior Alaska villages. Tanana Chiefs Conference has past claims that have not yet been resolved, but declined to comment further. Begich said the size of the organization doesn’t matter in addressing the claims, and that the settlements so far have ranged from Ketchikan Indian Corp.’s $364,989 to Southcentral Foundation’s $96.5 million. Eventually, every one of the claims should be fully recognized, he said. According to a letter from Acting IHS Director Yvette Roubideaux to Begich, the claims in Alaska total about $273 million, with almost $200 million of that settled so far. The unsettled claims are one reason he hasn’t supported moving IHS Acting Director Yvette Roubideaux’s reappointment out of the Indian Affairs committee, Begich said. He wants the claims settled, and a funding source identified, before she receives the reappointment. Begich is also looking for Roubideaux to develop a stable funding source for the IHS going forward, he said, so that contract support costs are paid every year, and the back-claims aren’t necessary. Begich said the contract support costs have been on his radar since he joined the Senate, but he’s gotten increasingly aggressive on the issue over time. “I don’t know why these have been stalled for so many years,” he said. Begich said he got particularly agitated last year when he was expecting President Barack Obama to make a bold statement about the settlements when he met with tribes, and the announcement didn’t come. “It was totally unacceptable,” Begich said. Once he started raising the issue about the unpaid Alaska claims, Begich said he started getting calls from other tribes looking for their payments, too. Then he tied to the issue to the question of Roubideaux’s reappointment. “I said no,” he said. “Not until I see some realistic settlements.” In an April 24 statement, Sen. Lisa Murkowski also praised the announcement of Southcentral Foundation’s settlement, but noted that more issues needed to be resolved. “This agreement to settle up $96 million in obligations is a major step forward, but also a reminder that promises remain unkept nationwide,” Murkowski wrote in a formal statement. “I will continue to press and advocate for our First People to receive the high quality medical care and treatment they are promised by America’s trust responsibility to them.” YKHC CEO Dan Winkelman said April 24 that while his organization had received a settlement for its contract support cost claims, he was also looking for more stable funding in general. “It’s really important for IHS to restore the pre-sequestration appropriation amounts,” he said. Although Congress fully funded contract support costs, the agency has still been subject to sequestration, which affects the funding Tribal health providers receive, he said, although not the services they provide. Pre-sequestration, YKHC received $72 million; this year, it received $68, he said. “We’re still providing at pre-sequestration levels,” he said.

IHS to pay Alaska Tribal health providers $193 million for contract support costs

Tribal healthcare providers in Alaska are set to receive $193 million in payments for past work, with more settlements expected. Six providers will receive payment for 45 past contract support cost claims from the Indian Health Service, or IHS, Sen. Mark Begich announced April 25. Contract support costs are what Tribes pay to manage Tribal health programs. In 2012, the Supreme Court said that Tribes should be fully compensated for those costs when delivering federal trust responsibilities, such as health care. Under a 1975 Congressional act, authorized entities contract with IHS to operate health care programs ranging from clinic to hospitals, to fulfill the federal government’s trust responsibility to provide health care services to Alaska Natives and American Indians. In Alaska, members of 229 federally-recognized tribes receive health care services from 32 organizations, according to the IHS website. Southcentral Foundation will receive the largest payment — $96.5 million for 17 claims, dating back to 1997. That organization helps run the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage, and operates facilities in the Anchorage and Matanuska-Susitna Borough areas, as well as parts of rural Alaska. Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp. will receive $39 million for seven claims, Bristol Bay Area Health Corp. will receive $25.5 million for 19 claims, Maniilaq Association will receive $25 million for 6 claims, Arctic Slope Native Association will receive $6.7 million for 15 claims, and Ketchikan Indian Corp. will receive $364,989 for three claims, according to an announcement from Sen. Mark Begich. Tanana Chiefs Conference has past claims that have not yet been resolved, as do other organizations. The IHS said in an email that it is against the agency’s policy to release information about the pending claims. Begich said in an interview with The Journal today that about 15 additional claims are still pending, for about four or five Tribal providers. Begich said the size of the organization doesn’t matter in addressing the claims, and that the settlements so far have ranged from Ketchikan Indian Corp.’s $364,989 to Southcentral Foundation’s $96.5 million. Eventually, every one of the claims should be fully recognized, he said. According to a letter from Acting IHS Director Yvette Roubideaux to Begich, the claims in Alaska total about $273 million, with almost $200 million of that settled so far. The unsettled claims are one reason he hasn’t supported moving IHS Acting Director Yvette Roubideaux’s reppointment out of the Indian Affairs committee, Begich said. He wants the claims settled, and a funding source identified, before she receives the reappointment. Begich is also looking for Roubideaux to develop a stable funding source for the IHS going forward, he said, so that contract support costs are paid every year, and the back-claims aren’t necessary. Begich said the contract support costs have been on his radar since he joined the Senate, but he’s gotten increasingly aggressive on the issue over time. “I don’t know why these have been stalled for so many years,” he said. Begich said he got particularly agitated last year when he was expecting President Barack Obama to make a bold statement about the settlements when he met with tribes, and the announcement didn’t come. “It was totally unacceptable,” Begich said. Once he started raising the issue about the unpaid Alaska claims, Begich said he started getting calls from other tribes looking for their payments, too. Then he tied to the issue to the question of Roubideaux’s reappointment. “I said no,” he said. “Not until I see some realistic settlements.” In an April 24 statement, Sen. Lisa Murkowski also praised the announcement of Southcentral Foundation’s settlement, but noted that more issues needed to be resolved. “This agreement to settle up $96 million in obligations is a major step forward, but also a reminder that promises remain unkept nationwide,” Murkowski wrote in a formal statement. “I will continue to press and advocate for our First People to receive the high quality medical care and treatment they are promised by America's trust responsibility to them." YKHC CEO Dan Winkelman said April 24 that while his organization had received a settlement for its contract support cost claims, he was also looking for more stable funding in general. “It’s really important for IHS to restore the pre-sequestration appropriation amounts,” he said. Although Congress fully funded contract support costs, the agency has still been subject to sequestration, which affects the funding Tribal health providers receive, he said, although not the services they provide. Pre-sequestration, YKHC received $72 million; this year, it received $68, he said. “We’re still providing at pre-sequestration levels,” he said.

Marine observer program now in hands of federal judge

Bycatch accounting in the North Pacific and the costs of the revised marine observer program implemented in 2013 are at the core of a lawsuit now in the hands of an Alaska U.S. District Court judge. Judge H. Russel Holland heard oral argument from The Boat Company, Fixed Gear Alliance and federal defendants regarding the observer program at an April 16 hearing. At the end of the hearing, Holland said a final decision on the motions for summary judgment would take some time. The Boat Company, a nonprofit that operates marine tours in Southeast, along with fishing opportunity and conservation education, sued the federal government over the revised at-sea observer program in December 2012. The Fixed Gear Alliance, which primarily represents commercial fishers using longline and pot gear, is also participating as an intervenor. The revised observer program was implemented by the National Marine Fisheries Service, or NMFS, in 2013. It was intended to increase the statistical reliability of data collected through the observer program, address cost inequality among fishery participants and expand observer coverage to previously unobserved fisheries, such as halibut longline vessels, according to a summary from the agency. The Boat Company has asserted that the revised program does not provide adequate information about bycatch for federal managers to properly manage the fishery, and it has asked for the program to be overturned. The disagreement largely revolves around the partial coverage category for vessels in fisheries that do not have a 100 percent observer coverage requirement and are instead split into two pools — vessel and trip selection. Smaller boats, like halibut longliners are generally in the vessel selection pool, meaning that they’re randomly selected for 60 days of coverage at a time. Large boats, including Gulf of Alaska trawlers, are in the trip selection pool, where they must log each fishing trip and are randomly selected for coverage on one trip at a time. Previously many of the smaller vessels were unobserved. Counsel for The Boat Company discussed the need for robust bycatch information in the North Pacific during the April 16 hearing. Boat Company Attorney Colin O’Brien also talked extensively about the need for good bycatch information, and whether the new program was implemented in a way that meets the requirements for that information. O’Brien said it was “revisionist history” for NMFS to say anything other than observer coverage is used for bycatch monitoring. “You have to observe if you expect to have anything to report,” he said. The federal defendants’ lawyer, Ethan Eddy, said that observer data is not the only source of bycatch information, however. Bycatch is estimated through the catch accounting system, or CAS, and in the Alaska Region, the observer data and other data feeds into the system to gauge bycatch in the fisheries, Eddy said. Eddy also noted that overall, the agency has more information about bycatch on a wider variety of vessels under the new program. Whether to collect more data from one fleet or data from more vessels is a policy call, he said, and it’s appropriate for the agency to make that decision. Getting rid of the program, Eddy asserted, would return the program to the days when the program only had information about some vessels. “They want to reverse all of the gains,” he said. In The Boat Company response, O’Brien said NMFS failed to consider a key part of the observer program when it was implemented — the effect on trawlers. He also noted that in the Federal Register document regarding the program, the agency wrote that it would improve NMFS’ ability to monitor bycatch. That, O’Brien said, has not happened. TBC and the federal defendants also discussed program costs at the hearing. Each year, the agency must first estimate how much funding it will have, then figure out exactly how much observer coverage is possible. O’Brien cited past lawsuits that have determined that type of funding-first approach is unlawful, although Holland interjected and asked if there was a risk that the program would run out of money half way through the year and provide no data on bycatch if the coverage was determined before funding. O’Brien said that wasn’t a risk. Eddy, however, noted that the prior observer program put all of the costs only on observed vessels, and the new program splits it among all fishers, making it more equitable. Electronic monitoring also discussed The Fixed Gear Alliance also addressed the role of electronic monitoring in the observer program. FGA attorney Bruce Weyhrauch said the North Pacific Fishery Management Council and the public had expected electronic monitoring would be an option for some boats when the council approved the new observer program. Most of the FGA members were previously unobserved, and expected to have the option of EM, Weyhrauch said. But that didn’t come to pass, and the program that was developed can be harmful to fishers using smaller boats, he said. FGA has asked the court to require the use of EM. Weyhrauch said that the impacts to small fishing boats in small fishing communities constitutes a violation of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which specifically protects fishery-dependent communities, and that EM would help reduce the impacts.

Legislators pass fish bills as session nears end

Fishers, processors and the general public will see changes to certain fisheries regulations under bills passed by the Alaska Legislature this session. In the final days of the 2014 session, lawmakers agreed to extend and expand a fisheries product development tax credit program for processors, change the fisheries landing tax for harvesters, authorize a new source of funding for fisheries infrastructure and alter the existing Commercial Fishing and Agriculture Bank. “I think that we did OK with fisheries issues this year,” said Julianne Curry, executive director of United Fishermen of Alaska. “We didn’t really have any big ticket items on the legislative horizon.” April 20, the Legislature passed a combo bill that included Senate Bill 71 and House Bill 204. Now that is just waiting for Gov. Sean Parnell’s signature. SB 71 was originally introduced to adjust the schedule and calculations of fishery landing tax payments, generally to better align the payments with when, and how much, fish was caught. That bill, which was introduced by Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, passed the Senate in February, and was heard in the House Finance Committee in early March, but did not make it to the House floor for a vote until the very end of the session. Toward the end of the session, that bill was expanded to also include hatchery cost recovery provisions, Curry said. On the House floor, HB 204 was added, which extends the tax credit that incentivizes processors to develop new salmon products, and expand it to include herring, as well. The two were combined April 19, with the joint bill passing the House April 20. Pacific Seafood Processors Association Vice President Vince O’Shea said his organization was glad to see the legislation passed. “It continues a program that has been successful in encouraging and enabling salmon processors to invest in equipment to improve the quality and value of Alaskan salmon products,” O’Shea wrote in an email. “The changes will encourage the purchase of equipment to more fully utilize salmon, as well as herring, and to produce more finished products within our state. This will benefit harvesters, enable Alaskan processors to better compete in global markets, and increase fish landing tax revenues paid to Alaska and municipalities.” The bill was originally introduced by Rep. Alan Austerman, R-Kodiak, in 2013. O’Shea said it was a “great capstone” to the representative’s career in the Legislature. Curry said the salmon and herring production tax credits encourage innovation in Alaska. Previously, the credits have helped encourage processors to change their canning lines to provide the size most desired on the market; they can also be used to better utilize fish, she said. “Whether its turning heads and guts into protein powder or developing fish oil or whatever else is on the horizon…it encourages processors to purchase the equipment necessary to be able to do that,” Curry said. The prior salmon production tax credits were set to expire in 2016. Now, the sunset will likely be pushed out to 2020. Curry said that adding herring to the program is beneficial to Alaska because currently, there’s a strong herring fishery in the state but the market to sell those fish isn’t as robust. This should help with that. Herring is caught statewide, however, so fishers in several regions could benefit, she said. “Lots of boats participate and lots of processors participate as well, so it’s great to see this kind of product development being encouraged by the state legislature,” Curry said. As of press time April 23, the Legislature was still considering House Bill 306, which is an overall look at tax credit programs throughout the state introduced by Rep. Steve Thompson, R-Fairbanks. Nearly all tax credits would be given a sunset date and be up for review in the next several years, with the exception of certain oil and mining credits. The affected fish tax credits include the salmon utilization tax credit, fisheries tax credits for scholarships, the fisheries business education credit and others. Most sunset in 2016 or 2018, with the salmon and herring production tax credit and a community development quota program credit due for review in 2020. Curry said that the sunsets came about as a result of concerns regarding foregone revenue to the state. Fisheries funding changes Two bills addressing fisheries loans also passed toward the end of the session. Senate Bill 140 — if signed by Parnell — will allow the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority to make loans or loan guarantees for fishing infrastructure as part of its Arctic Infrastructure Fund. The legislation created the infrastructure fund, and included the Arctic Ocean, and the Beaufort, Bering, and Chukchi seas, and the Aleutian Chain in its definition of the Arctic. Generally, it can be used for developing various Arctic infrastructure — ports, roads, emergency services and telecommunications projects. According to the legislation, a project may not receive more than one-third of its value in a loan from the fund. Curry said the purpose of that bill was to help incentivize some of the Alaska fishing fleet that is currently based in Seattle to make its home in Alaska. UFA did not take a position, but tracked the issue because there was interest in the fishing industry, she said. Earlier iterations of the bill would have allowed the fund to make loans for fisheries quota, too. The version that passed April 21, however, specified that loans could be used for “the construction, improvement, rehabilitation, or expansion of a shore-based plant, facility, or equipment used in support of a fishery in the Arctic.” AIDEA spokesman Karsten Rodvik wrote in an email to The Journal previously that even if the bill passed the legislature, such a program would not necessarily be enacted right away. “The Fund would need to be capitalized before any new infrastructure projects could be financed through the Fund,” Rodvik wrote in a March 4 email. “Also, before any investment or Arctic or fisheries infrastructure would be funded through the new Fund, the potential financing would go through the same rigorous due diligence that all of our infrastructure financing goes through.” House Bill 121 would expands the loans the Alaska Commercial Fishing and Agriculture Bank, or CFAB can make. If signed by Parnell, the bank will be able to make more tourism-related loans, and generally expand its work in the resource extraction and farming industries. Curry said that as the bill worked its way through the legislative process, there were some concerns about a provision to allow CFAB to hire a lobbyist, and with the bank’s request to loan to non-Alaska residents, but some of that language was tightened up through the process. The CFAB bill also includes a provision that would require the bank to consider “whether the principles of conservation and sustained yield will limit the potential borrower’s ability to repay the loan in a timely manner.” That language was a watered-down version of an amendment originally introduced by Rep. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, that would have prevented the bank from making loans using a limited entry permit as collateral if the permit is for a mixed stock fishery with the potential to affect any stocks of concern. The majority of the state’s salmon stocks of concern are in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, and swim through Cook Inlet where several commercial fisheries targeting other stocks, primarily Kenai and Kasilof River sockeye, occur. That was eventually removed from the bill before it passed. Crew licenses, air ambulance services addressed Regulations for short-term fishing crew licenses will also likely change under House Bill 143, which passed April 21 and is awaiting transmittal to Parnell. HB 143 was introduced by Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, and is meant to address an issue with commercial crew licenses, where crew members are purchasing several short-term licenses, originally intended to allow tourists or others to try out a day of commercial fishing. The legislation would cap individuals at purchasing one $30 license for a seven-day period; to crew for a longer duration, a full crew license would be required. Individuals would be reimbursed for the short-term license if they purchased an annual license that same year. Curry said she also tracked Senate Bill 159 through the session, because of its importance to rural communities. SB 159 addressed air ambulance services and the insurance or membership programs that allow residents to pay an annual fee for medevac coverage. A prior analysis had the potential to change or reduce those programs, but the bill enables them to be extended. Fishermen living in rural Alaska are often enrolled in those programs to ensure they can get to medical services at a reasonable cost, Curry said. “This was an easy way to show those providers that we support them, we support healthy regulations that make sure that we can save the lives of Alaskans and commercial fishermen,” Curry said. Parnell signed that into law April 23.

Court hears oral arguments on initiative to ban setnets

The Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance and the State of Alaska each made its case to an Anchorage Superior Court judge April 22 about why — or why not — a proposed ballot initiative to ban setnetters should be allowed to move forward. The alliance, or AFCA, filed the ballot initiative petition in November seeking to ask voters whether to ban setnets in urban parts of the state, which would primarily impact Upper Cook Inlet setnetters. At the heart of the case is a question about whether a ballot measure eliminating setnetting is considered an appropriation under state law, and thus not a question that can be placed on a ballot for the public to decide. Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell struck down the initiative in January based on a state Department of Law opinion asserting that it would be a prohibited appropriation. AFCA appealed, and during oral argument attorney Matt Singer said that organization believed the initiative is not an appropriation, and that the public’s right to participate in fish and wildlife management using the ballot initiative process should be interpreted broadly, with the appropriations limitation interpreted narrowly. Upper Cook Inlet setnetters target sockeye salmon for commercial harvest. Their permits also allow to them to target other salmon species, including kings, that swim into the nets. Eliminating setnetters in Cook Inlet would likely result in increased catch for in-river sport fishermen, personal use fishermen, and for the fleet of drift boats targeting sockeye. AFCA members have said they believe that eliminating setnets is necessary to conserve the kings. Alaska Assistant Attorney General Elizabeth Bakalar, who is representing Treadwell in the case, argued that because the ballot initiative would eliminate an entire fishery — Upper Cook Inlet setnetters — and send their catch to others, it was an appropriation. Singer, however, said that while it eliminated a gear type, it did not necessarily allocate them to any other users. Singer also said that the case was in line with the state’s first fisheries ballot initiative, which eliminated fish traps at the same time Alaska became a state, and other efforts to ban aerial wolf hunting and bear baiting since then. Bakalar said that this case is different, however because it does not allow a simple change in gear types. Instead, it would allow a majority user — sport and personal use fishers — to allocate fish away from a minority group — setnetters. The state has also said that the voters’ act to ban fish traps would not necessarily standup if it were challenged in court today, and has referred to the decision in the Pullen vs. Ulmer case, in which the court said an initiative giving preferential treatment to one user group was a prohibited appropriation. Bakalar said that eliminating setnetters would infringe on the board’s allocation discretion. It could also make management more difficult. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game tries to ensure that a certain range of sockeyes swim upriver to spawn, and eliminating setnetters would take away one tool for controlling how many fish get into the river. Judge Catherine Easter said at the conclusion of the hearing that she would try to make a written decision in 60 days. If she rules in favor of AFCA, the group would still have to collect about 35,000 signatures and would be targeting the August 2016 ballot. Either side could also appeal her decision to the state Supreme Court. Although the case is focused on Upper Cook Inlet, both sides have cited concerns over the precedent it could set throughout the state. Singer said that if this initiative were found unconstitutional, it could limit the public’s ability to enact direct legislation, an express public right. “If this stands, there’s no room for the public to participate in fish and wildlife management,” he said. Jerry McCune, president of United Fishermen of Alaska and a board member of Resources for All Alaskans, a nonprofit that filed an amicus brief in the case supporting and extending the state’s position, said he was concerned about what it could mean if a ballot initiative could be used to change fisheries allocations and appropriate fish from one user group to another. “What happens here could happen statewide,” he said after the hearing. The initiative itself could also have implications for other fisheries in the future. The initiative’s language uses the Board of Fisheries-designated nonsubsistence areas to define urban, meaning that setnetting would be prohibited in the Anchorage Bowl, Matanuska-Susitna Borough, most of the Kenai Peninsula, Valdez, Fairbanks and Juneau. If other regions were designated as nonsubsistence areas in the future, such as was considered for Kodiak and Bethel last October but rejected, setnetting would no longer be allowed there, either.

Data collection to begin as council moves toward Gulf ratz

Upcoming discussions on plans to rationalize the Gulf of Alaska trawl fisheries will consider adaptive management and the potential for community fisheries associations. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council, an 11-member body that manages federal fisheries from three to 200 miles offshore from Alaska, requested three discussion papers on rationalization issues at its meeting in Anchorage April 11. The council is looking at ways to reduce and manage bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska trawl fisheries, most likely by ending the race for fish through a rationalization program that assigns fishing privileges for a portion of the harvest based on past catch history or other factors. The council also took final action asking the National Marine Fisheries Service, or NMFS, to begin the economic data collection program for Gulf of Alaska fisheries. NMFS Assistant Regional Administrator Glenn Merrill, who was sitting in for Alaska Region Administrator Jim Balsiger during the Gulf of Alaska trawl discussions, made the motion for action. His motion also called for the council or its staff to have the opportunity to review the data collection forms if they change from version the council had approved. The data collection program is intended to provide baseline info on the current status and economics of the fishery beginning in 2015, which can then be used to gauge any changes caused by a future rationalization program. Council member and Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell made the motion for a discussion paper on several elements of a possible structure for the Gulf fisheries. As proposed by Campbell and passed unanimously by the council, the trawl program would apply in the central and western Gulf of Alaska and west Yakutat fishing areas. Her motion designated Pacific cod and pollock as target species, but also designated rex sole, arrowtooth flounder and deep water flatfish as possible targets in the central Gulf, rockfish as a possible western Gulf target and Pacific Ocean perch as a possible west Yakutat target. The motion included several other secondary target species. Initially, discussions of a Gulf program focused primarily on pollock and Pacific cod, but fishery participants, including Alaska Groundfish Databank Executive Director Julie Bonney, asked for other species to be included to avoid creating a secondary race for fish for those other species. “If you allocate only some species, then you may have a race within your structure,” Bonney said. Campbell said her motion responded to that point. Primary and secondary species catch would be allocated to cooperatives on the basis of fishing history associated with the fishing permits held by members of the co-op. That discussion paper will analyze reduction in prohibited species catch, such as halibut and king salmon, but the motion did not contain specific percentage reductions. The proposals that came forward from the council’s Advisory Panel, however, identified specific reductions for the program. The paper will also look at cooperative management and gear modifications as mechanisms for reducing bycatch. Council member Duncan Fields of Kodiak said he’d like to find additional ways to incentivize bycatch reduction and provide fishery participants with “carrots” to do so. The previous discussion paper looked at the idea of providing additional fishing quota to participants with the least bycatch, but concluded that there were issues with administrating such a program. The council also discussed including West Yakutat trawlers, where there is not currently a cap on chinook, or king, salmon bycatch, in the current Gulf chinook limits. Eligibility for the structure being studied would be based on trawl landings during qualifying years; the motion calls for reviewing 2008-12, 2007-12 and 2003-12 as possible qualifying periods. The paper will also look at cooperative structures, various types of community protections, and the potential to allow trawlers to use pot gear for their harvest. It will also evaluate the potential for operators to choose to remain in a limited access fishery, sideboards limits for participants from other fisheries, among other issues. The community protections that will be studied include regional landing requirements, processor and vessel use caps that would limit consolidation, and additional participation criteria. Campbell said participation criteria was something she wanted to see staff and the public weigh in on. “It might be important as a way to preserve entry opportunities,” Campbell said. Campbell said that the idea behind allowing conversions to pot gear was to allow a type of fishing that reduces bycatch. However, fish caught by former trawlers using pots would be counted against the trawl allocation, and the paper will look at ways to prevent such an allowance from affecting the pot sector. Campbell’s motion came after several hours of public testimony on the previous iteration of a Gulf discussion paper. Council member Roy Hyder praised Campbell’s motion, and said it was responsive to much of that testimony. “I’m looking forward to this discussion as we proceed,” Hyder said. Adaptive management, community fishing associations also discussed Fields and council member John Henderschedt of Seattle also made motions for additional discussion papers. Henderschedt asked for a paper studying the adaptive management quota used in the Pacific Fishery Management Council’s west coast groundfish trawl program. That paper will analyze how that program is working, including the costs and opportunities involved, and Henderschedt’s motion carried unanimously. The discussion paper presented at the April meeting considered limiting the duration of shares as one type of adaptive management. Campbell’s motion did not include that because the staff paper raised too many potential issues with doing so. Fields also asked for a paper reviewing community fishing associations, or CFAs. That’s intended as a way to help protect communities, particularly the locally-based Kodiak processing and harvester workforce, and preserve entry-level opportunities in the fisheries. The council Advisory Panel, made up of 20 fisheries stakeholders, recommended further study of CFAs as a possible element in a future Gulf of Alaska rationalization program. Fields’ motion included the outline of one CFA design, but council members said they were primarily supporting the notion of looking at CFAs and community protections in general, not supporting a particular structure. “My intent was to create a larger discussion about tools that might be helpful for council in attaining our goals and objectives,” Fields said in speaking to his motion. That passed in a 10-1 vote, with  Hyder voting against it. Hyder said he supported the idea of protecting communities, but thought there might be a better way to do so than creating additional bureaucracy and management through a CFA structure. Public testimony on CFAs was mixed. Some fishers and community groups, including local governments, supported the idea of using CFAs to preserve entry-level opportunity and protect communities from job losses or fewer landings. Other fishers, however, opposed the idea. Tom Manos, a fisherman from the western Gulf, said he thought a CFA could wind up taking quota away from a longtime participant and giving it to someone else. Manos fishes out of King Cove, and said he did want to provide entry-level opportunity in the western Gulf, but didn’t support a community fishing entity as the way to provide it. The papers will likely come back before the council at its October meeting, although council members said that if they weren’t ready well in advance for stakeholders, including communities, to review, they’d prefer to push the review to December. The council heard from both representatives of the Aleutians East Borough, the City of Kodiak and the Kodiak Island Borough. Those entities are all trying to weigh in on the coming fishery changes, but said it can take time to come up with an official government opinion on proposals because of the need to reach out to the public and reflect the diversity of opinions in each community. Kodiak has created a joint working group on the issues, and Campbell noted that she thought there might be a need for some more focused outreach in the western Gulf. Molly Dischner can be reached at [email protected]

Appeal scheduled for decision to reject setnet ban initiative

Oral argument in the Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance appeal of Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell’s decision to reject a proposed ballot initiative to ban setnetting will be held in Anchorage April 22. The alliance, or AFCA, wants to ask voters to ban setnets in urban parts of the state. If it passed, the initiative would eliminate setnetters in Cook Inlet. Treadwell denied the initiative petition in January based on a Department of Law opinion that found it was a prohibited appropriation of state resources. AFCA, however, has said that the effort is conservation-focused, and the voters have the right to make such a decision. The group filed an appeal of Treadwell’s decision in Alaska Superior Court Jan. 22. The AFCA has said that banning setnets would help protect king salmon, which can be caught incidentally in setnets. While the ban would apply to urban areas of the state, it effectively targets Cook Inlet setnetters as the primary user group affected. Those fishers primarily harvest sockeye salmon, but also catch some kings in their nets. Both parties have agreed that there likely will not be a dispute over facts in the case or any need for discovery, which are necessary steps before a judge can make a summary judgment ruling. AFCA and the state Department of Law have submitted their motions for summary judgment, opposition briefs and reply briefs in the suit. The newly-formed Resources for All Alaskans also submitted an amicus brief in the lawsuit, and asked to participate in the hearing as well. As of April 15, Judge Catherine Easter had not ruled on whether or not she would allow them to do so. The legal question in the case is whether the ballot measure would be an unconstitutional appropriation by initiative, and much of the discussion in the two sides’ briefs revolves around the definition of appropriation. Treadwell’s decision that the appropriation was inappropriate was based on a state Department of Law opinion that referenced a 1996 Alaska Supreme Court decision, Pullen vs. Ulmer, which maintained that salmon are assets that cannot be appropriated by initiative, and that preferential treatment of certain fisheries may constitute a prohibited appropriation. The AFCA appeal argued that the initiative would not establish preferences among user groups and “retains for the legislature and the Board of Fisheries full discretion as to how to allocate fish resources among competing users.” RFAA has supported the state’s position. The group claims commercial fishers from throughout the state as members, although it is a Cook Inlet-based group, and members have said they are concerned about any precedent that could allow such fishery decisions to be made via ballot initatives. Essentially, the State has asserted that by allowing voters to ban setnetters, in-river users would wind up with more fish, making it an allocation to that group. AFCA, however, counters that because the appropriation does not specifically give those fish to sport or personal use fishers, they remain available for the commercial sector as a whole. Alaska Assistant Attorney General Elizabeth Bakalar and Senior Assistant Attorney General Michael Mitchell wrote on behalf of the state, however, that the Board of Fisheries has recognized the Cook Inlet setnet fishery as a separate fishery from the drift net fishery, and salmon are allocated specifically among the groups. AFCA also asserts that just because the ban on setnets would change the current harvest structure, it does not mean the fish are actually being reallocated. AFCA and the State’s Department of Law will each have the opportunity to testify at the lawsuit. The April 22 hearing is scheduled for 3:30 p.m., and expected to take about an hour, according to the schedule discussed in February. It will be held at the Nesbett Courthouse in downtown Anchorage. According to the timeline discussed in February, a decision will likely not be made at the hearing, but would come in a ruling later this spring. AFCA lawyer Robert Misulich said in February that the planned timeline would meet AFCA’s desire to have the case heard at the state Superior and Supreme courts this year, so that the alliance could still collect signatures in 2015 and get the ban on the ballot in 2016. It’s likely a final decision will come from the Alaska Supreme Court, as either the State or the AFCA can appeal the Superior Court’s decision to that body.

Fisheries bills on the move as session enters closing days

As the Alaska Legislature enters its final stretch, work on fisheries issues continues. A bill that would enable the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, or AIDEA, to finance fisheries loans for a variety of purposes including quota and infrastructure, passed the Senate April 3. The bill, Senate Bill 140, would enable AIDEA to get involved in developing Arctic ports, roads, emergency services and telecommunications, subject to certain limitations, as well as the fisheries projects. The authority already has the ability to engage in certain work in the Arctic, and has partnered on other projects there. Sen. Lesil McGuire originally introduced the bill, and Rep. Bob Herron, D-Bethel, introduced a parallel bill in the House. The legislation defines the Arctic as including the Bering Sea and Aleutian chain, where the majority of Alaska’s rationalized federal fisheries take place. The bill was referred to the House Labor and Commerce Committee. If it passes that committee, it will likely proceed to House Finance before reaching the floor for a vote, but it could meet resistance in Labor and Commerce. The House version of the bill was heard there March 17, and legislators raised questions about some aspects of the fisheries loans, particularly having AIDEA involved in quota purchases. Ultimately, it did not move out of that committee, nor has a second hearing been scheduled. House Labor and Commerce Committee meetings were scheduled for the afternoons of April 9 and 11, but the AIDEA bill didn’t appear on the agenda for either day as of April 8. That’s not the only AIDEA bill waiting for a hearing in labor and commerce. Rep. Mia Costello, R-Anchorage, introduced House Bill 342 in February, which would move certain fishing loan programs from the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development to AIDEA. That was sent to House Labor and Commerce when it was introduced, but has not yet been heard there, and no supporting documents have been filed. In an emailed response to questions about HB 342, AIDEA spokesman Karsten Rodvik said that to his knowledge, the entity had not been involved in discussions about the bill. Tax credits, crew licenses move to Senate Fisheries loans aren’t the only issue to make it through one body of the Legislature. House Bill 204, which extends a salmon product development tax credit and extends it to herring, passed the House on March 14. House Bill 143, which changes the regulation for temporary commercial fishing crew licenses, passed April 2. Both were sent to the Senate’s Labor and Commerce Committee. The tax credits are meant to increase value-added processing in Alaska, as well as increase utilization or recovery of salmon and herring byproduct. The bill would extend the program through 2020, and also changes the language somewhat to allow certain additional expenditures to count toward the tax credit calculations. Rep. Alan Austerman, R-Kodiak, introduced the bill last April. This year, it made its way out of committee and to the full body where it passed easily. The Senate Labor and Commerce Committee was set to discuss that first, and then it was slated to move to Senate Finance. HB 143 was introduced by Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, and is meant to address an issue with commercial crew licenses, where crew members are purchasing several short-term licenses, originally intended to allow tourists or others to try out a day of commercial fishing. The legislation would cap individuals at purchasing one $30 license for a seven-day period; to crew for a longer duration, a full crew license would be required. Individuals would be reimbursed for the short-term license if they purchased an annual license that same year. Cook Inlet issues also raised Cook Inlet issues are also at percolating through fisheries discussions in Juneau. A bill enabling the Commercial Fishing and Agricultural Bank to make a wider variety of loans by reducing the restrictions on loans to tourism and mining businesses now also contains language that could make it harder to get a loan for permits in certain mixed stock fisheries. That bill, HB 121, was heard in House Labor and Commerce, and referred to House Finance committee, where it’s had two hearings but not yet moved. Rep. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, introduced an amendment that prevents the bank from making loans using a limited entry permit as collateral if the permit is for a mixed stock fishery with the potential to affect any stocks of concern. The majority of the state’s salmon stocks of concern are in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, and swim through Cook Inlet where several commercial fisheries targeting other stocks, primarily Kenai and Kasilof River sockeye, occur. Bruce Gabrys, a member of the bank and commercial fisher, submitted a letter supporting the original bill in early March, but said he didn’t support the amendment. “I don’t understand what Mr. Stoltze’s issue is, trying to tie fisheries management to the House bill,” he said April 8. “That’s inconsistent with the intent of the law.” Discontent over the most recent Upper Cook Inlet Board of Fisheries meeting also surfaced during House hearings on Gov. Sean Parnell’s nominees to the board. Parnell nominated incumbents Sue Jeffrey of Kodiak, John Jensen of Petersburg and Reed Morisky of Fairbanks to the board. During the April 8 hearing, several commercial users testified that they could not support the current lineup, and wanted to see new members. Ninilchik resident and commercial drifter John McCombs said he was particularly frustrated with the board-generated proposals that passed at the end of the Upper Cook Inlet meeting in February. Jeffrey and Jensen are considered commercial representatives, as both have commercial fishing experience, while Morisky is a guide and considered a sport representative. Other sport and commercial groups did support the three incumbents, however.

Southeast Alaska guides prep for strong king salmon season

Scientists are expecting Southeast Alaska’s marine waters to fill with king salmon this summer — and fishing guides are among those angling for a boost to their businesses as a result of the strong forecasts. Southeast Alaska’s all-gear allowable marine king salmon harvest is 439,000, the largest it has been in several decades. The all-gear harvest includes sport, purse seine, drift gillnet, set gillnet and troll users. For 2014, the sport share of that harvest allotment is 81,583 kings. The all-gear harvest is the number of kings, or chinooks, that can be caught in Southeast Alaska waters under the Pacific Salmon Treaty, based on an abundance index developed by U.S. and Canadian scientists. The 2014 abundance index for king salmon is 2.57, the highest it has been since scientists started generating it in this form in 1999. That number represents the strength of several runs that swim through Southeast waters: wild and hatchery fish from British Columbia, Washington and Oregon, and wild fish from Southeast Alaska. “It promises very good fishing,” said Tom Ohaus, who owns Angling Unlimited, a guide operation in Sitka. Ohaus started marketing a special package for May as soon as he heard the news. Forecasts elsewhere in the state aren’t as strong, and Ohaus said he wanted to encourage Alaskans to fish Southeast. “They’re the best fighting and the best food quality salmon are ever going to be,” Ohaus said. Heath Hilyard, executive director of SouthEast Alaska Guides organization, said all the operators he has talked to are excited about the king numbers. “Those waters are going to be boiling with king salmon,” Hilyard said. The strong abundance index means liberal king fishing regulations. As of April 2, Alaska residents fishing in Southeast and Yakutat have a bag and possession limit of three king salmon 28 inches or greater in length, while nonresidents will be limited to one king of that size, with a second 28-inch or larger fish allowed in May and June. Nonresidents are also limited to six kings for the year. Salmon numbers driven by southern stocks Alaska Department of Fish and Game manager Dan Gray said that the number of all-gear fish this year is driven by a large hatchery component coming from Oregon and Washington. The salmon come from Oregon and Washington, but spend time in the Gulf of Alaska before migrating back south. Alaska gets a crack at catching them on their way south, Gray said. ADFG Fisheries Scientist John Carlile said the biggest factor in the strong 2014 allowable harvest is the Columbia River Upriver Bright stock, a fall chinook stock that returns to the headwaters of the Columbia each year. When those kings enter the Columbia at its mouth on the Oregon-Washington border, they are still shiny, not dark colored like some kings, he said. Dani Evenson, another ADFG fisheries scientist said the Columbia River is seeing stronger runs that it has in decades, since before the Bonneville Dam was built in the 1930s. Evenson said the superabundance of Columbia salmon is the result of several factors. In general, Oregon and Washington’s returns have been more robust than Alaska’s in recent years. The returning kings in 2014 went out during high-water years on the Columbia, Evenson said. That means there was more water over the top of the dam, making the river was colder — which kings like — and higher to help the kings get pushed out to sea. Carlile and Evenson are both members of the Chinook Technical Committee’s analytical workgroup, which is part of the Pacific Salmon Commission and sets the abundance index each year. The Columbia brights are one of seven major drivers for the Southeast Alaska abundance figure, and one of about 30 stocks included in the indicator. Evenson said an increase in the salmon expected to return to the west coast of Vancouver Island, and increases in the returns expected to other streams in Oregon and Washington, also affect the allowable catch. Alaska’s hatchery fish are not included in the all-gear calculation because when the treaty was drafted in 1995, Southeast was just gearing up its hatchery production and Alaska didn’t want to disincentivize new hatcheries from getting started. So those fish are considered add-ons after the all-gear number is figured. Despite the strong abundance index, Carlile said managers will still face challenges this summer. Alaska’s wild salmon stocks are not as strong as the more southerly streams, so ADFG is working on a way to protect those fish, while still enabling fishers to catch the allowable allocation of the more southerly stocks. Halibut regulations hold steady Kings are the bright spot for Southeast Alaska charter fishing, but overall the industry looks healthy, Hilyard said. “I’m seeing some stability return to the sector,” Hilyard said. Hilyard said the economy and the regulations are both contributing to that stabilization. Operators have also worked to manage expectation, and this year’s halibut regulation is similar enough to 2013 to help as well, he said — one fish shorter than 44 inches or longer than 76 inches. The new halibut catch sharing plan also allows charter operators to lease fish from commercial quota holders, which is called the guided angler fish, or GAF, program. Hilyard said he only knows of one operator in Southeast using GAF: Petersburg’s Stan Malcolm, who owns and operates Magic Man Charters. Malcolm leased a little more than 800 pounds of halibut, or about 30 fish for the summer. He’s already started informing clients that he’ll have extra fish available, and they can decide whether or not to pay for an extra fish at the time they catch the fish, he wrote in an email. Malcolm said he’ll offer the extra fish at a cost that just recoups what he paid for the quota. “I did it to offer my clients a better experience at a reasonable cost than is possible under current regulations,” Malcolm wrote. This year, the calculation from commercial quota to charter fish was favorable, but that will likely change in the future after the number is based on the size of fish caught, so this may be the only time it’s economically sensible to do so, he wrote.

Challenge to marine observer program to be heard April 16

Oral argument in the lawsuit over the revised federal marine observer program will be heard April 16 in Alaska U.S. District Court. Judge H. Russel Holland will hear from The Boat Company, Fixed Gear Alliance and the National Marine Fisheries Service regarding the program at the hearing in Anchorage. The revised observer program was implemented by the agency, or NMFS, in 2013. It was intended to increase the statistical reliability of data collected through the observer program, addesss cost inequality among fishery participants and expand observer coverage to previously unobservered fisheries, such as halibut longline vessels, according to a summary from the agency. “It’s really about getting good numbers,” said Martin Loefflad, who heads the Alaska observer programs for NMFS, before the program was implemented. Those numbers are used for federal management of fisheries from three to 200 miles offshore from Alaska. But fishery participants have asserted that the program has resulted in an unfair cost to some participants, such as small halibut longliners, and reduced coverage on certain trawl vessels in the Gulf of Alaska. The Boat Company, a nonprofit ecotourism company based in Southeast Alaska, brought the suit forward in December 2012, questioning whether the new at-sea observer program the National Marine Fisheries Service is adequate to monitor and manage bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska trawl fisheries. The outfit asserted that implementation of the program violated the Magnuson-Stevens Act, Administrative Procedures Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, and asked a federal judge to require the agency to revise the program. The Boat Company, or TBC, operates tours in Southeast Alaska and offers fishing opportunity as well as conservation education. The National Marine Fisheries Service, however, has said that the program as implemented is defensible and effective. In a response to the complaint filed by The Boat Company, the agency addressed each point and generally disagreed with how the nonprofit characterized much of the agency’s action and federal regulations. NMFS also wrote that The Boat Company did not have standing for some or all of its claims. The Fixed Gear Association, or FGA, is an intervenor on TBC’s side of suit. FGA asserted that the agency failed to consider fishery-specific at-sea monitoring objectives in the new observer program, and did not consider reasonable alternatives to the program that was ultimately implemented. FGA formed to support the fixed gear commercial industry and provide education and outreach on issues of concern to that sector. FGA and TBC both argue that industry was initially led to believe that the cost of the program would result in more observer coverage than it has, making it particularly difficult for fishers to accept. The hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. in courtroom four at the federal courthouse. The Boat Company and FGA will each have 20 minutes for their arguments, and the federal defendants will have 30 minutes. Then, each party may reply. Oceana Inc., which filed an amicus brief will not present an argument. Outside of the litigation, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council has also questioned components of the observer program, and asked the agency to make some changes to reflect its concerns and provide better data. The council will again review the program in June, and will have the opportunity to make changes to the annual deployment plan for next year. The council is the body that makes management decisions for federal fisheries offshore from Alaska.

Reports scheduled on Gulf rationalization options

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council will discuss its pending Gulf of Alaska trawl bycatch management action at its April meeting. The council, which manages federal fisheries from three to 200 miles offshore from Alaska, has taken several steps since mid-2012 toward creating a Gulf of Alaska rationalization program. The program would end the derby-style “race for fish” by assigning harvest privileges for groundfish like pollock and cod as a means to reduce bycatch of species such as king salmon and halibut. At the April meeting in Anchorage, the council will review a discussion paper on Gulf rationalization and a data collection plan that could provide baseline information on how such a program is performing once the fishery is rationalized. The paper includes several options for rationalization, but essentially it would offer harvest privileges, also known as catch shares, to fishery participants, likely based on historical participation or dependence on the resource. The ultimate goal, the council has said, is to reduce Gulf of Alaska bycatch. The council has previously capped bycatch for king salmon and halibut, and industry has asked for tools to meet those goals; the council has indicated that a rationalization program could result in further bycatch reductions. The most recent iteration of the discussion paper identifies 13 issues the council should address as it moves forward, including how to address people or entities with multiple licenses, how to link catcher vessels and processors in a cooperative, cooperative size and the interplay with information confidentiality, prohibited species catch limits, participation of American Fisheries Act vessels, and sideboard limits, among others. American Fisheries Act vessels make up the Bering Sea pollock fleet, but some of those vessels also hold Gulf of Alaska licenses. The paper also discusses mechanisms the council wants to consider using, including making catch share renewal partially dependent on bycatch performance, cooperatives, how to protect communities, and how to prevent consolidation. The council will also review draft forms that the National Marine Fisheries Service, or NMFS, could use to gather information about how the catcher processor and catcher vessels work currently. That information could later be used to judge the impacts of the catch share program, including how much consolidation occurs, changes to fishery participation and other mechanisms. The forms ask for information about revenue, expenses, fuel use, labor and other data. As federal fishery managers consider the pending action, and how exactly to structure a program, affected entities are weighing in with suggestions. The last time the council was well on its way toward Gulf rationalization, then-Gov. Sarah Palin wrote a letter to the council asking it to stop working on the issue. Palin asked the council to stop working on the Gulf program in the immediate aftermath of the Bering Sea crab fisheries being rationalized. In 2005, the first season of rationalization, nearly 1,000 crew jobs were lost as the fleet consolidated to about one-third of its previous size with severe impacts on communities, particularly Kodiak. Now that it’s back up for consideration, several representatives in the Alaska State Legislature have supported a resolution that would urge Gov. Sean Parnell to ask the council to include Community Fishing Associations as one possible component on the new management plan. Reps. Bob Herron, D-Bethel, Eric Feige, R-Chickaloon, Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka and Paul Seaton, R-Homer, all provided “do pass” recommendations on the resolution after a March 25 hearing in the House Fisheries committee. During the hearing, the committee heard testimony primarily in support of the resolution, and in support community protections in the pending Gulf action in general. Now the resolution is in the House Rules committee, likely its last stop before a vote on the floor of the House. The testimony came from 10 different fishery participants and advocates representing Kodiak and other communities that could be affected by changes to the fishery’s dynamics. Aleutians East Borough Natural Resources Director Ernie Weiss said he appreciated the state’s leadership on the council on bycatch issues, and supported the resolution and the potential inclusion of CFAs in the bycatch management program. John Whiddon was the only person not wholly supportive of the bill. Whiddon said there isn’t a consensus to support CFAs in Kodiak, and that he’d like to see analysis of the idea, but wanted that done before they are decided on. Whiddon is a member of Kodiak’s city council and a manager at processor Pacific Seafoods, but said he spoke for himself. Freddie Christiansen, from the Old Harbor Tribal Council, said the smaller communities in the area want to see community protections, because the Gulf of Alaska fisheries have already changed the dynamics for residents. “We have lost access to the resources adjacent to our communities,” Christensen said. “All this fish that they process in Kodiak, they talk about this, they talk about that, that stuff comes out of our back door of our villages. And in this day and age to allow this to continue to happen is just absolutely unacceptable.” Much of the legislative testimony came from Kodiak, and the city and borough there are also trying to weigh in on what the fishery will look like in the future. Generally, there has been support for trying to ensure that the community thrives under a catch share program, although there is some disagreement on how best to accomplish that. The Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference, or SWAMC, also passed a resolution asking the council to include an option for community fishing associations to be analyzed as part of the Gulf action at its March meeting, according to a report from the Lake and Peninsula Borough. The SWAMC resolution also asked the council to ensure that the possible catch share program includes community protections and maximize economic benefits for Southwest Alaska communities.

Managers, stakeholders prep for another mixed salmon year

Fishery managers are preparing for the 2014 salmon runs, and forecasts call for a mixed outlook this summer. On the Yukon River, another year of poor king salmon returns is expected and will likely mean more conservative management measures, while Bristol Bay fishers can expect similar management to 2013 with a forecast of 26.6 million sockeyes. Southeast Alaska, however, is a bright spot, with a larger allotment of treaty-managed king salmon available than in past years. Alaska Department of Fish and Game scientists talked to fishery stakeholders about the 2014 Yukon forecasts at a March 26 Yukon River Panel meeting in Anchorage. ADFG is expecting a run of 153,446 kings on the Yukon, including 76,723 of Canadian-origin, or a range of between 64,000 and 121,000 kings. The Yukon River Panel is an international body established by under the Pacific Salmon Treaty between the U.S. and Canada that meets to address conservation, management and harvest sharing of Canadian-origin salmon on the Yukon River. It met for several days in Anchorage, including about two days open to the public. In recent years, however, the actual run has come in far less than the forecast, and ADFG will take a precautionary approach in part as a result of that, according to ADFG’s Stephanie Schmidt, who presented the forecast. Stakeholders asked several questions about the adjustments that have been attempted in an effort to fix the forecasts, but so far it doesn’t appear to have been corrected. Management this summer will err on the conservative side — partially to account for that trend, and partially because the low return calls for it anyway, Schmidt said. “We’re going to be very careful about what we see coming into the river,” she said. The Canadian managers are also prepping for the expected low returns. Yukon River Resource Manager Mary Ellen Jarvis told the panel that the Canadians are preparing for a small return, with harvest opportunity available primarily for subsistence users. The bottom line is likely more restrictions to protect king salmon, Schmidt said. Schmidt said that managers are preparing for the expected low king returns by working with area residents to talk about how they can harvest other fish to meet their needs. Dipnets and beach seines will again be used this summer on the lower Yukon River, in Districts 1 and 2, until the end of the king run, at which time gillnets will be considered. Schmidt said the department is also talking to users farther upriver, in Districts 3 and 4, about the potential for using dipnets to harvest chums. That was generally considered a success on the lower river last summer, but hasn’t been tried upstream. The focus this summer will be on targeting other species, such as chums, sheefish and whitefish, and leaving the kings in the water, Schmidt said. Strong Southeast king forecast The other king salmon managed under the Pacific Salmon Treaty are expected to come in stronger this summer. ADFG announced April 1 that the fishers in Southeast Alaska will have an “all-gear” harvest of 439,000 treaty kings, more than double the 2013 allotment, and the greatest Southeast has seen since under recent iterations of the treaty. The number is based on an abundance index developed in conjunction with Canadians under the treaty, and is the number of kings available to all users in Alaska waters. In 2013, fishers had access to 176,000 kings under the treaty, and a total commercial harvest of 254,000 wild and hatchery kings. In 2012, 266,800 treaty kings were available to all gear types. The 2014 allotment is the greatest all-gear allowable catch since the previous high of 416,400 fish in 2005, which was based on a prior version of the treaty that gave Alaska a larger proportion of the king harvest. The all-gear kings are allocated between sport and commercial users, with trollers taking the largest share. The hatchery king harvest is mostly in addition to the all-gear figure. The 2014 harvest quota means the following allocations in Southeast: • Purse seine: 18,894 kings • Drift gillnet: 12,743 kings • Set gillnet: 1,000 kings • Troll: 325,411 kings • Sport: 81,353 kings The sport portion of the quota means fishing regulations will be liberalized compared to last year. Beginning April 2, resident fishermen in Southeast and Yakutat have a bag and possession limit of three king salmon 28 inches or longer, while nonresidents are limited to one king of that size, with a second 28-inch or longer fish allowed in May and June. Nonresidents are also limited to six kings for the year. Bristol Bay The department also released its commercial outlook for the Bristol Bay sockeye fishery March 26. The expected return of 26.58 million sockeyes means a potential commercial harvest of 16.86 million fish, a slight increase from the 16.59 million forecast in 2013. Last year, most Bristol Bay rivers came in below their forecasts, and the total commercial harvest was about 15.3 million sockeyes, more than a million fewer than the prediction. The outlook calls for a run of about 10.5 million sockeyes in the Naknek/Kvichak District, and a harvest of about 5.48 million sockeyes there — a decrease from the 2013 prediction, but more than the actual harvest last year of about 4.79 million sockeyes. The season will likely open for driftnet gear at Naknek/Kvichak June 1 and setnet openings beginning June 2 with four fishing periods per week for the first two weeks of June. In the Egegik District, about 3.36 million sockeyes are expected to be available for harvest, down from the 4.7 million caught in 2013, and separate gear openings and extensions will be used. For Nushagak, the available harvest is expected to be about 6.60 million fish, more than double the 2013 catch of 3.17 million sockeyes. The Ugashik forecst is 1.81 million fish, with an expected potential harvest of about 0.89 million fish. That’s less than half of the 2013 harvest of 2.17 million sockeyes.

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