Molly Dischner

Net income decreases as rates rise, lending activity slows

Alaska’s financial institutions ended 2013 strong, despite challenges from the economy and a flattening mortgage environment. Total assets at Alaska-based banks increased compared to the prior year, although net income generally decreased. Combined, Alaska banks posted about a 3 percent increase in total assets, with Northrim Bank and First National Bank Alaska posting the largest increases, at about 4.8 and 2.9 percent, respectively, compared to the prior year. Northrim ended 2013 with $1.2 billion in assets, an increase of about $56 million. First National Bank Alaska, or FNBA, finished the year with about $3.1 billion, and increase of nearly $100 million. Alaska USA Federal Credit Union also saw an increase in total assets, up to $5.4 billion at the end of 2013, compared to $5.1 billion at the end of 2012. The largest banks all saw a decrease in net income, however. At FNBA, fourth quarter net income was $7.8 million, less than the $9.4 million it had in the fourth quarter of 2012. Denali State Bank’s net income for the fourth quarter was $303,000, slightly more than a 50 percent decrease compared to the fourth quarter of 2012. For the full year, net income decreased to about $1.8 million from $2.3 million for 2012. Denali State Bank President and CEO Steve Lundgren said the drop in net income was driven in part by a decrease in loans and leases. Loans and leases were down about 9 percent. Lundgren said the decrease came in part because interest rates went up slightly, and all of the refinancing activity from 2011 and 2012 dropped off. For the most part, anyone who wanted to refinance has done so, he said. Despite those challenges, Lundgren said 2013 still showed strong earnings, and the bank increased its dividend, as it has done in recent years. “During a year of pretty low activity locally here in Fairbanks and a flat economy, we were still able to grow our reserves, grow our capital, and grow our dividend,” Lundgren said. “So we’re pleased to have been able to do that.” Southeast’s Alaska Pacific Bank was the only bank with an increase in net income for the fourth quarter of 2013 compared to the fourth quarter of 2012, at about $401,000 compared to $388,000. That bank, however, saw a decrease in both total assets and loans and leases. Other institutions had increases in loans and leases. Denali Alaskan Federal Credit Union had more than 11 percent loan growth, according to Denali Alaskan President and CEO Bob Teachworth. “Our loan growth was pretty impressive,” Teachworth said. Teachworth said the credit union has loaned out 102 percent of the shares it has on deposit, compared with 72.8 percent for its national peer group. “We’re pretty proud of that,” he said. This year the credit union will sell about $50 million in loans so that it can re-lend to its members, Teachworth said. Northrim saw the largest increase in loans and leases of Alaska’s banks, ending the year with about $781 million, an 8.7 percent increase from 2012. First National Bank Alaska and Ketchikan-based First Bank also saw loan and lease increases, as did some credit unions. Alaska USA had about $3.6 billion in loans and leases at the end of 2013, compared to $3.3 billion at the end of 2012. Credit Union 1 had about $621 million in loans and leases at the end of 2013, up from $567.4 million at the end of 2012. Denali Alaskan also saw a 3.77 percent growth in shares, up from 2.13 percent the year before, according to Teachworth, and has also seen a shift in the type of lending it is doing, with more of an emphasis on direct lending in recent years. That means more individuals are seeking out the credit union to get loans, rather than being connected with it via third party, like a car dealership. Growth anticipated The state’s banks and credit unions are expecting growth in 2014. Nationally, Lundgren said the low interest rate environment is expected to continue. If employment continues to improve nationally, and the national economy picks up a little, Alaska could see the benefit in 2014. Lundgren said that the continued military presence in Fairbanks would likely help the Interior’s regional economy for 2014, as would increased North Slope activity. For 2014, Denali State Bank is aiming to continue maintaining its credit quality, and provide competitive products, services and prices. Lundgren said Denali would also work to continue growing its customer base and increasing its market share. Northrim is working toward its merger with Alaska Pacific, according to Joe Schierhorn, the bank’s executive vice president, chief operations officer and chief financial officer, with an expected close later at the end of the first quarter. Alaska Pacific shareholders approved the merger March 11, and the banks were waiting for final regulatory approval as of mid-March. “We have been working very closely with them, and we definitely look forward to a successful close,” Schierhorn said. “We do plan to close that merger here… at the end of the first quarter of this year.” The merger won’t cause an immediate change for customers. Staff working with the public will remain the same, he said. Denali Alaskan FCU will also branch out for 2014 — but rather than acquiring another entity, the credit union will expand the products and services it offers by creating a credit union service organization, selling a risk mitigation program and other tools that will help other credit unions perform better and working to expand its offerings to business members, Teachworth said.

Reps question AIDEA fisheries quota financing deal

Note: This story has been updated to attribute comments to correct legislator. The Alaska Legislature could consider allowing a state entity to get involved in fisheries financing if bills in House and Senate committees continue moving forward, but some legislators are raising questions about the plan. The most recent versions of Senate Bill 140 and House Bill 288 — introduced by Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, and Rep. Bob Herron, D-Bethel, respectively — include language that adds fisheries projects to the proposed Arctic infrastructure fund. The infrastructure fund would enable the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority to get involved in developing Arctic ports, roads, emergency services and telecommunications, subject to certain limitations. The authority already has the ability to engage in certain work in the Arctic, and has partnered on other projects there. The new language in both bills would enable AIDEA to use the fund for financing, loans or bond guarantees for fishing vessels, quota shares or individual fishing quota in federally-managed fisheries, or to construct or enhance a plant, facility or equipment used in support of a fishery in the Arctic. The state has not previously gotten involved in loans to finance quota purchase. AIDEA has been involved in other aspects of financing fisheries, although it hasn’t made any quota loans. Fisheries-related businesses in Juneau and Sitka have received funding through the Loan Participation Program, and the organization is also involved in the Ketchikan shipyard. 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 fisheries language was originally added to the Arctic Infrastructure fund in the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee March 14, where it easily passed on to Senate Finance. When the identical bill was discussed at a March 17 House Labor and Commerce Committee hearing, however, legislators had questions. Rep. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River Rep. Charisse Millett, R-Anchorage said she was a commercial fisher, and aware of the variety of programs available to help support fishermen. She wasn’t sure there was a need for another, she said, or for state funds to support that value of loans. Millett questioned whether the loans should support vessels, but said she did support financing for other fisheries infrastructure, like equipment and plants, that are fixed to a location. Rep. Dan Saddler, R-Eagle River, also asked about the provisions to ensure the loans supported Alaskans, and the instances in which Outside entities could benefit. AIDEA Deputy Director for Infrastructure Development Mark Davis said the authority supported the fund, and said that generally, anything it is involved in must have a “nexus” to Alaska. Davis also said that generally, the idea of the program is to “repatriate” quota to Alaska, and help provide a stronger base for the fishing industry here. Currently, the boats participating in the rationalized Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands fisheries are largely based in Seattle. However, AIDEA could possibly wind up providing loans to businesses based outside the state through the program, although the vessels would need to work in the eligible fisheries, he said. According to AIDEA spokesman Karsten Rodvik, however, the entity did not pursue the amendments that could create the new program, and has not yet done analysis on expanding its fisheries financing as proposed. Previously, Rodvik wrote in an email that even if the amendments were added to the bill and passed the legislature, such a program would not necessarily be enacted immediately. “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.” AIDEA financing for quota purchases was an idea originally floated at the authority’s February board meeting. Anchorage-based asset management firm Pt Capital, which focuses on the Arctic, made the pitch to AIDEA’s board of directors Feb. 20 on behalf of three groups interested in such a program: the City of Seward, the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Community Development Association, or APICDA, and the Association of Village Council Presidents, or AVCP. AVCP President Myron Naneng and Seward’s Ron Long both testified in support of the fisheries financing during the March 17 House committee hearing. Rodvik wrote that to his knowledge, Pt, various communities, APICDA and Seward were behind the most recent push to get the fisheries financing enacted. The program as originally proposed would specifically allow low-interest loans or guarantees for quota purchases by community-based nonprofits, municipalities, and community quota entities. Community Development Quota, or CDQ, groups would not be eligible for the loans. CDQ groups are six entities representing 65 Western Alaska villages that receive 10.7 percent of Bering Sea fishing quota each year. Those community non-profit groups would then need to form joint ventures with others in the industry, like fishing companies or CDQ groups, to harvest the quota. APICDA, one of the proponents of the plan, is a CDQ group and would act as a partner in harvesting quota, not as an eligible entity for financing, under the original proposal. As proposed through the Arctic infrastructure fund, however, it appears that APICDA and other CDQ groups could receive the loans without community partners. That’s because those community requirements do not appear in the legislation, although they are mentioned in a supporting document submitted by Pt Capital. Rodvik said in an email March 18 that AIDEA will need to wait and see what the legislative intent is before determining whether the community requirement is part of the final program, or what other eligibility requirements might exist.

Forum highlights financial trends from personal to global

State and national bankers believe 2014 could be a strong year for the economy. Alaskans heard an update on what the year could bring and how to navigate future investments at a Wells Fargo forum Feb. 27 in Anchorage. Wells Fargo Alaska Regional President Joe Everhart said he is “cautiously bullish” in his forecast for the coming year, and Alaska’s economy will build on key changes from 2013. On the whole, the state’s economy didn’t experience the same downturn as other regions of the country, although there was some consumer pessimism. Everhart said an economic forecast from the Anchorage Economic Development Corp. painted a fairly positive picture as well, with about 55 percent of households reporting good or great financial health and 66 percent reporting a high standard of living. Oil and gas projects and regulations will be major drivers for 2014, Everhart said. The oil tax reform voted into place by the Alaska Legislature last spring is a factor, and work toward a gas pipeline will also play into what happens in the state. Everhart said that a gasline will take more infrastructure development, and an export license. Beyond Alaska, the Wells Fargo bankers talked about the national economy, and how investing is changing. Mike Serio, regional chief investment officer, markets and product strategy, said technology will be a major driver in the national economy in the years to come. For 2013, Serio said that certain markets, like the U.S. and Japan equities, did well — while others, like bonds, were flat or down. Technology, he said, has room to drive the market. He pointed to wearable technology as a major focus, and said that 3-D printing, particularly as it enters the health care field, will also become more prominent in coming years. Serio also talked about the role technology is playing in oil and gas development, and the importance of unconventional drilling as a game changer. “Going forward, our comparative advantage is going to be cheap and plentiful oil, gas and energy,” Serio said, of America’s role in the global economy. Serio also said that population growth will likely come from immigration, making that a key policy point that will drive economic decisions. Because of the dynamics of the American workforce, future GDP growth will likely come from technological advances, rather than working more hours or changes to the population, Serio said. The forum also focused on more specifics about investing and market choices. Wells Fargo Senior Vice President Jim Hodapp addressed bond markets and said in the short-term, interest rates remain low, as they have since 2008. That means that they’ll inevitably rise fairly significantly in the future, he said, although not immediately. He noted that 17 of 17 federal policymakers have indicated that overnight borrowing rates will be higher in five years than they are now. Beyond rates, Hodapp said that the economy also influences the bond market. Auto sales are up, and other performance metrics are also improving. “We think the economy continues to do better,” Hodapp said. Those changes, he said, also mean that it’s wise to lock in loans or floating rates before interest rates increase. Both Serio and Hodapp talked about the need to diversify as investors look at their portfolios, and Hodapp highlighted investments outside of U.S. markets. “We are very important, but we are not the whole game,” he said. “Diversification is key.” Everhart discussed the need for succession plan in businesses, and how individuals and companies can prepare for workforce changes. In Alaska, Everhart said there’s been a lot of consolidation in the business world as older owners retire and other entities such as Alaska Native corporations purchase their businesses. Transition plans can help owners determine their future before they’re ready to get out, he said. Carla Wigen, Alaska Market Leader for The Private Bank at Wells Fargo, said investing was once easier and the bank event was held to help individuals consider the new global economy, and how to invest in it, and start talking about their finances. “People would rather talk about politics, sex, shopping, family, all of these things rather than finances,” she said. On a smaller scale, Wigen also shared the financial vital sign checklist anyone should be reviewing regularly: goals and objectives for their financial portfolio, the status of their balance sheet, the risks of not meeting goals and objectives, and a basic plan for their estate.

Summer program preps students for future in business

A business-focused offering through the Rural Alaska Honors Institute is helping funnel high school students into the University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Management. The summer institute, or RAHI, is for rural and Alaska Native students who are juniors or seniors in high school, and have spent most or all of their life in rural Alaska, according to Program Manager Denise Wartes. Wartes has been involved with the program for 26 of its 32 years. UAF began the program at the request of the Alaska Federation of Natives. Students take 9 to 11 credits, including an academic elective, with classes all day. An introduction to business course is one of the options. The class teaches the high schoolers about financial management and the personal and business level. More than 1,397 students have attended the six-week summer program, including some second- and third-generation students. All have graduated from high school, and they’ve gone on to earn a total of 702 certificates and degrees, including at a graduate or doctoral level. Participants are about twice as likely to earn a bachelor’s degree as other Alaska Native students from rural communities, according to the American Institutes for Research. The largest portion of college-bound RAHI alumni attend UAF, and quite a few of the business-track students later attend to UAF to study business, said UAF professor Betty Ross, who teaches the course. UAF students Chalisa Attla and DeAnne Lincoln said the business class helped influence their decisions to attend UAF and study business there. Lincoln attended in 2010 and is now at UAF, and planning to graduate in spring 2015. RAHI influenced her decision to study accounting at UAF, she said. “I really enjoy the whole business field, and I enjoy doing math, too,” Lincoln said. Attla is a senior in UAF’s School of Management pursuing a bachelor’s degree in accounting and finance. She’ll graduate in December, and wants to take the CPA exam and work in accounting. Eventually, she said she’d like to work for an Alaska Native corporation, she said, and get her master’s degree. RAHI helped push her down that path when she attended in 2008; both Attla and Lincoln took the business course with Ross. The course covers a variety of topics: personal finance, the basics of running a business, ethics and character development. It’s much of the same material as the Introduction to Business class Ross teaches during the regular school year, but more hands-on, and with a smaller class. During the course, students develop a business plan that could be used in their village. They use what they learn in the finance model to develop a budget and incorporate it into the business plan, Ross said. Ross said she has been teaching the class for 10 years, and seen a variety of ideas. “They’ve been rather creative,” Ross said. The students have created business plans for restaurants, a youth and teen center, a game center, a rifle range and other entities. Once the plans are developed, students give a formal presentation about their idea, Ross said. Some of the students, like Lincoln, eventually end up members of the Native Alaskan Business Leaders program at UAF that Ross advises. There, they develop a business plan each year to take to the national American Indian Business Leaders competition, which is judged by members of the business community. In 2013, the UAF Native Alaskan Business Leaders group placed first in the nation. They have previously won chapter of the year, and usually place in the top third, Ross said. Lincoln’s RAHI business plan was for a gym, because White Mountain doesn’t have one, but Ross’ favorite NABL plan was to sell Alaska Native art, which the group developed for the 2013 competition. Students that don’t attend UAF also go on to use the skills they learn. Ross said some go back to their villages and start a business as a sole proprietor. She said one student from Point Hope eventually became a mechanic there. “He stays in the village, and during his off-whaling season, he works on machines,” Ross said. Ross said the course is a partnership with Wells Fargo. They provide funding, access to hands-on banking software and help with the course. New York Life and Alyeska Pipeline Co. are also sponsors of the program. The software teaches check writing, how to balance a checkbook, develop a personal budget and the value of money, as well as business budgeting and financial statements. Students each get a CD with the program on it. “It’s a wonderful tool,” Ross said. The partnership with Wells Fargo extends beyond the software, she said. In past years, Wells Fargo employees have observed the business plan presentations and talked with students as well, Ross said. In addition to using the Wells Fargo software and giving lectures, Ross said she invites guest speakers into the classroom and students visit on-campus business. RAHI also includes activities outside of the classroom — like whitewater rafting, camping and volunteering — and each student takes a recreation class. Attla and Lincoln both took Alaska Native Dance; Attla said she appreciated that the education focused on Native traditions and culture and she enjoyed learning dances from other Alaska Native cultures. Building connections, fostering growth The non-academic activities, and the classes, help build a community among the students. Lincoln said the connections she made with classmates, instructors and friends were a valuable part of the experience. “We’re still good friends,” she said. Lincoln said she also appreciated the chance to live on campus and experience dorm life, which eventually helped her choose UAF. It also eased the transition from White Mountain to Fairbanks when she started college. “It was a lot easier to come onto campus and actually know some people,” she said. Attla said the structure of the RAHI program helps students get to know one another: everyone had to have a roommate in the dorms, and all their activities were done in groups. It pushed them to open up to each other, she said. “You learned — these people are going to be your network in the future,” Attla said. Attla still checks in with her RAHI classmates from time to time, and said she has also finds a connection with alumni who attended in different years. “When I worked at Doyon, a lot of my coworkers were RAHI alumni,” Attla said. She worked at Doyon Ltd., the Alaska Native regional corporation for the Interior, for three years as a receptionist while also taking classes at UAF. Attla said she’s always been independent, but enjoyed seeing her peers become more independent and get a taste of college life during the summer program. Now she’s seen her younger cousins go through RAHI. “It really does seem like they kind of bloom during RAHI, they really get to open up,” she said. Character development and personal growth are meant to be part of the summer program, and Ross said she includes it in the business course. The business class includes a character enrichment week infused into the curriculum, based in part on a character development curriculum Ross learned at Air Force Academy training. The Wells Fargo hands-on banking program also includes a component about how personal values play into the workplace and businesses, she said. Ross said the students talk about what might be questionable in a business setting, and how to identify and handle an ethical dilemma. The issues they discuss are revolve both around life as a teenager, and business concerns, she said. “We talk about decision-making, doing the right thing,” she said.

New group supports state denial of setnet ban initiative

A new commercial fisheries group is getting involved in the lawsuit over the proposed ballot initiative to ban setnets. Resources for All Alaskans, or RFAA, filed an amicus brief March 6 supporting the State of Alaska’s decision that the setnet ban initiative was unconstitutional and sponsors could not attempt to collect enough signatures to put it on the August 2016 primary ballot. The ballot initiative to ban setnets in urban parts of the state was proposed by the Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance, or AFCA. If the initiative made it on to the ballot and passed, its primary effect would be to eliminate Cook Inlet setnetters. Lt. Gov. Mead 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 filed an appeal of Treadwell’s decision Jan. 22 in Alaska Superior Court in Anchorage. AFCA, which is comprised largely of sport fishing interests, formed in 2013. The initiative filed in November is its first major action. Resources for All Alaskans, or RFAA, filed its amicus brief supporting Treadwell’s position that the initiative represented an appropriation of state resources, a prohibited measure under the state constitution, and also argued that it would be an effort to enact local or special legislation by ballot initiative. It is up to Judge Catherine Easter to determine whether to allow RFAA’s amicus brief to be considered as part of the lawsuit. Motions for summary judgment by both the State of Alaska and AFCA were filed March 7. In AFCA’s motion for summary judgment, Matthew Singer wrote that other states have seen voters enact legislation that disallowed gillnets in particular areas. The nonprofit’s motion also refers to the Alaska initiative passed at statehood that prohibited fish traps, although RFAA noted in its own motion that measure would likely not survive a court challenge today. Singer also argued that the initiative is not an appropriation because it does not set the salmon aside for a specific group or purpose, as prior cases have determined is necessary to be considered an appropriation. According to the motion: “The proposed initiative would provide the Board of Fisheries with a specific directive as to one gear type in the commercial fishery. But unlike the impermissible in Pullen, (the initiative) does not dictate a preference for sport fishermen over commercial fishermen. The set net ban merely regulates the use of one gear type.” The state disagreed. Assistant Attorneys General Libby Bakalar and Michael G. Mitchell, representing Treadwell, wrote that the initiative would “appeal to the self-interests of an electoral majority to transfer a state asset to itself and would significantly reduce the Legislature’s and Board of Fisheries’ control of and discretion over allocation decisions.” The state motion asserts that the initiative would reallocate salmon from Cook Inlet East Side setnetters and Northern District commercial fisheries to in-river, non-commercial, users, and could set a precedent that allows voters to reallocate stocks to any fishery by eliminating a gear or means and methods for catching a fish. That’s exactly what concerns RFAA. “Allocating resources by initiative is not only unconstitutional, but it is also bad public policy,” said RFAA President Jim Butler in a formal statement. “The proposal to ban set netters is particularly destructive because it doesn’t address the real reasons for declining king salmon populations and would instantly destroy 500 small Alaska family businesses and hundreds of other jobs.” RFAA registered as a state nonprofit corporation named Salmon for All Alaskans in December according to state records, and changed its name to Resources for All Alaskans in late February. Butler said the group’s federal nonprofit status is pending. RFAA is registered in Kenai, but has a statewide focus. Board members include Kodiak setnetter and North Pacific Fishery Management Council member Duncan Fields, United Fishermen of Alaska President and Cordova District Fishermen United President Jerry McCune and Trident Seafood Executive Vice President John Garner. Snug Harbor Seafood co-owner Paul Dale and former Lt. Gov. Loren Lehman, a Cook Inlet setnetter, are listed as members of the group’s advisory council. Dale was also listed as president when the group was founded. Butler said that in this case, the group is concerned about the implications of allowing allocation decisions to be made by ballot initiative, and filed its brief to add another voice to the case. “There was an interest in making sure that the voice of the industry affected was heard on this important issue,” Butler said. The organization’s filing was two parts: a motion asking to be allowed to submit the amicus brief, and the brief itself, which argues that Treadwell’s decision not to certify the initiative was generally correct, and also that the initiative could be considered a prohibited attempt to enact local or special legislation by ballot initiative. RFAA’s motion, signed by attorney William Falsey, asserts that the proposed initiative is not of general or statewide application, while ballot initiatives are supposed to operate evenly throughout the state, and that there is no statewide interest in setnet use or fish conservation when only applying it to non-subsistence areas. According to the motion: “Tellingly, there is also no basis upon which to conclude that conservation needs within non-subsistence areas cannot be fully and adequately addressed by the statewide process of fisheries management that is generally applicable throughout the state.” Responses from the State and AFCA to the other’s motions are due March 21 and oral argument is scheduled for April 22 in Anchorage. The hearing is at 3:30 p.m., and expected to take an hour. AFCA is trying to have the case proceed on an expedited schedule so that alliance could still collect signatures in 2015 and get the ban on the ballot in 2016.

NMFS administrator highlight ComFish 2014

Note: This story was corrected to reflect NMFS head Eileen Sobeck's correct title. Kodiak’s 34th annual ComFish will host a first-time visitor to Alaska when National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Assistant Administrator for Fisheries Eileen Sobeck arrives in April for the three-day fisheries event. Sobeck, who was named to the top position at the National Marine Fisheries Service on Jan. 15, will attend with Sen. Mark Begich on April 17, said coordinator Laine Welch. “That’s really exciting to have her come here for her very first visit,” Welch said. Sobeck and Begich are scheduled to speak that afternoon. ComFish is a three-day fisheries gathering that includes forums and a trade show, as well as related events throughout the community. This year, the theme is “The Business of Fishing,” and it’s scheduled for April 17-19. Welch, who has been involved in ComFish since 1990, said she invited Sobeck to ComFish at Begich’s suggestion. “If she wants to see a working waterfront, this is the place,” Welch said, noting that Kodiak has top federal and state fisheries scientists, several processing plants, the nation’s largest Coast Guard base and one of the largest fishing fleets. Sobeck won’t be the only thing different for the 34th annual fishing industry event, now the largest of its kind in Alaska. This year, the usual political debates will be held in May and August instead of during ComFish, and a new processing-related event has been added to the schedule. Assuming that space and liability issues are worked out, the processing sector is planning a competition to showcase the skills used in that part of the industry is scheduled for April 19. Likely events include filleting contests, comparing how different fish are filleted, and possibly a shucking contest, Welch said. “It gives an opportunity for people in our community to just get a little bit closer to what this resident workforce in Kodiak is doing behind the doors of all these processing plants that line our community ... It should be really lively and a lot of fun,” Welch said. The other forums focus on current issues in the fisheries. During the last two decades of ComFish, Welch said she’s seen growing interest in other sides to the industry by fishermen, and increasing cooperative research between the industry and government agencies. “I’m always amazed at how smart these fellows are, mostly fellows, and with a broad brush,” Welch said, referring to the diversity of issues fishers are knowledgeable about and engaged in. Fishery participants are paying attention because they know how the decisions policy-makers make, whether in Washington, D.C., or locally, can affect the fleet, Welch said. Some of the highlights include a presentation organized by the Alaska Marine Conservation Council about how fishing communities can retain rights to local resources when catch share programs are implemented and a discussion on health insurance organized by Julie Matweyo from the Alaska Seagrant and Marine Advisory Program. There will also be a presentation on the economics of Alaska seafood and market trends by the McDowell Group. Presentations about the marine observer program, electronic monitoring projects and other fisheries research are scheduled. Welch said that the research conducted out of the Kodiak Alaska Department of Fish and Game lab is particularly interesting, including a project where two local researchers have a robot taking video of the ocean floor. “We’re seeing things just with this basic little sled that they’re dragging around with this camera — mating behavior of tanner crab, all kinds of things,” Welch said. This year, the various presentations will be streamed online at the ComFish website, www.comfish.com, Welch said. The trade show will also run as usual. Kodiak Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Trevor Brown said it will be full, with about 40 vendors, ranging from government agencies providing outreach and information to companies selling fishing gear. “It’s a small show, but we try to pack as much in there as we can,” Brown said. About half come from off the Island, he said and provides a nice boost in spring tourism. “It’s a good shot in the arm for Kodiak in April,” he said.

Weather slows halibut opener, first prices similar to 2013

Commercial halibut fishers began targeting 16.7 million pounds of quota March 8, but bad weather kept many off the fishing grounds. Individual fishing quota, or IFQ, holders will take the majority of the Alaska commercial catch limit, about 15.9 million pounds, with Community Development Quota landings from the Bering Sea areas making up the remainder of the catch. Sablefish IFQ holders have access to about 23.6 million pounds this year. Last year, IFQ holders landed about 20.8 million pounds of halibut and 25.5 million pounds of sablefish, or black cod. That was about 96 percent of the halibut limit, and 91 percent of the sablefish limit. The 2013 IFQ halibut fishery was worth about $105 million, and sablefish was worth $72 million, according to an estimate from Laine Welch of Alaska Fish Radio based on cost recovery values. The National Marine Fisheries Service does not yet have a final estimate for those fishery values. As of March 11, 28 IFQ halibut landings were reported to the National Marine Fisheries Service, totaling about 160,974 pounds. Southeast Alaska, or Area 2C, has seen slightly more deliveries, with about 73,738 pounds in 16 vessel landings. Southcentral, or Area 3A, has had fewer landings — 12 — but more total halibut delivered: 87,236 pounds. For sablefish, just 11 landings were reported, at about 136,890 pounds. The majority were in Southeast Alaska, with about 87,565 pounds delivered in seven landings, but the locations of the remaining landings were listed as confidential. Because of the limited number of landings made so far, port-specific information on where the halibut and sablefish landings were made is not yet available. The 2014 fishery will run through Nov. 7. Southcentral and Southeast Alaska fishers both reported bad weather that kept boats in port. Linda Behnken, executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, said she hadn’t been out yet but heard that people who did go out from Sitka were fighting awful weather, and many had opted to stay on shore. North Pacific Fisheries Association President Malcolm Milne, a Homer fisherman, said he didn’t go out for the opener either. “There’s a big storm here,” he said March 10. Milne said some fishers were also still out targeting Pacific cod, keeping them from getting out for the start of the halibut fishery. Kevin Hogan, owner of The Auction Block in Homer, said iffy weather was probably contributing to the slower pace of the fishery so far this year. However, Hogan said that he thought there might be a slight bright ray as the fishery gets started, although he said it was just an offhand observation. “Fish seem a little bit bigger than last year,” he said. “They’re still small, but not getting smaller.” In Seward, Jim Hubbard said he had been out fishing and made a delivery March 11. “We fished halibut and fishing was pretty decent,” he said. Hubbard confirmed the slightly larger fish Hogan mentioned, and said the smaller fish are a little thicker than in recent years. ‘The quality of the fish looked better than it has in the past,” Hubbard said. Prices throughout the state have varied. In Sitka, fishermen reported an ex-vessel price of $6.50 per pound, regardless of weight. Fishing Vessel Owners Association Manager Bob Alverson said he had a few guys go out fishing and report prices, although most of the fleet hadn’t left yet. In Homer, he heard that prices ranged from $6 per pound for 10 to 15 pound fish, to $7 dollars per pound for halibut 40 pounds or larger. At Yakutat, sablefish prices ranged from $4 to $6 per pound, again depending on weight, Alverson said. Hubbard said he was expecting both halibut and sablefish prices to be similar to what they were in the fall of 2013. That, he said, was somewhat disappointing since the halibut quota had been cut so significantly. Hogan couldn’t provide specific halibut prices due to confidentiality issues, but also said that generally, “it’s similar to last year.” From September 2013 through November 2013, the ex-vessel price for halibut averaged about $5.11 per pound at Central Gulf of Alaska ports according to NMFS. Sablefish was about $2.85 per pound during the same time period for the Central Gulf. Typically, the yen-dollar exchange rate also affects sablefish prices, and when the yen value drops — as it has over the past year — so do Japanese sablefish purchases. Processors this year had asked for a later opening date, March 22, but ultimately the International Pacific Halibut Commission sided with harvesters, who requested the fishery start no later than March 8. The processors’ request came in part because of a concern about halibut already in the freezer, and also because of the timing of other industry events, and a desire to figure out contracts at the Boston Seafood Show before the fishery started. Harvesters, however, said they wanted as long of a season as possible. Last year, the fishery opened March 23.

Crab fisheries, Yukon harvests, Bristol Bay on board agenda

The Alaska Board of Fisheries will discuss a range of new fisheries and increased opportunity for state crab management at its upcoming meeting March 17-21 in Anchorage at the Sheraton Hotel. The proposals on before the board include requests to open commercial tanner crab fishing in Prince William Sound and sport tanner crab fishing in Cook Inlet, increase the golden king crab fishery in the Aleutian Islands, adjust the gear and species regulations in the Norton Sound king crab fishery, develop a red king crab fishery near Adak, and certain Bering Sea changes. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has also proposed regulatory and management changes to nearly all of the crab fisheries up for discussion — Cook Inlet, Prince William Sound, Kodiak, Chignik, the South Peninsula, Aleutian Islands and Bering Sea. Adak Community Development Corp. submitted seven proposals that would develop certain regulations for a western Aleutian Islands red king crab fishery in state waters intended to be a small boat fishery prosecuted largely by local fishermen. The proposals would develop new Adak and Petrel districts in Area O for a guideline harvest level, or GHL, fishery managed on a daily basis, with a July 1 opening date. The group has also asked the board to close the federal waters in the same area when the state-waters GHL is less than 250,000 pounds. ADFG supported some of the proposals, but not all, noting concerns with reducing the timeline for registration or allowing non-ADFG officials to perform required inspections. Adak Community Development Corp. is a nonprofit focused on local seafood harvesting and processing, and successfully argued for vessel size and pot limits for such a fishery at a prior meeting. In public comments submitted to the board prior to the meeting, Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers opposed the new fishery, citing a lack of information about it among other concerns. Also in the Aleutians, the Golden King Crab Coalition has asked the board to increase the harvest limit for the golden king crab fishery, and Chad Hoefer, a crab fisherman, submitted a proposal to change the season in that fishery. The coalition, which has worked on cooperative research in the fishery, would increase the total allowable catch, or TAC, by 15 percent, from 6.29 million pounds to 7.24 million pounds. ADFG staff opposed increasing the quota in their written comments to the board, citing a lack of information about the stock. Hoefer’s proposal would shift the fishery to May 15 to Feb. 15, rather than the current August to May timeframe. ADFG staff opposed that proposal because it wouldn’t fit with the current timeline for setting the TAC, which happens after the North Pacific Fishery Management Council establishes the annual catch limit, or ACL. Norton Sound Economic Development Corp., or NSEDC, the local Community Development Quota group, has proposed changes to the king crab fishery there. CDQ groups are six organizations representing 65 Western Alaska villages within 50 miles of the Bering Sea coast that receive 10.7 percent of the annual federal fishing quotas including pollock, crab and halibut. NSEDC’s proposals would add spiny king crab to the defined king crab species, allow commercial fishermen to use hand lines, and change how the summer red king crab fishery quota is set. ADFG opposed the change to the summer fishery harvest thresholds, although the proposal was largely a placeholder and did not specify how it would change the harvests. The spiny king crabs are popular in Japan, and available in the winter crab fishery offshore from Nome. ADFG supports adding them to the defined species, which would mean they would no longer be characterized as miscellaneous shellfish. Hand lines are a common subsistence tool in the Norton Sound region, but not allowed for the commercial fishery. ADFG was neutral on the allocative aspects, but noted that the proposal could enhance the winter fishery in years when the ice conditions are not conducive to fishing through the ice. For Prince William Sound, stakeholders have asked for a new commercial tanner crab limits with various pot limits. In Cook Inlet, it’s a sport fishery that was requested. For Kodiak, a fisherman has asked to close Alitak Bay to tanner crab fishing. ADFG’s primary changes address registration issues, descriptions of fishing areas, weather-delay criteria, and tank inspection requirements in various areas and fisheries. A Cook Inlet proposal, however, would change the department’s harvest strategy for tanner crab to base it on three years of information, rather than five, which ADFG staff wrote would reduce the chance of over-harvesting. Another would change the harvest strategy for St. Matthew Island blue king crab. The proposal changes the threshold for considering opening the fishery, and reduce the proportion of legal males that can be harvested   ADFG also proposed a handful of changes to the crab observer program, which would primarily clarify terms and how the program works. Yukon River, Bristol Bay also up for discussion The board will also tackle other non-crab proposals for the Yukon River and Bristol Bay at the meeting. For Bristol Bay, the board is expected to consider a sport gear change on the Nushagak River and consider a navigational issue in the Ugashik setnet fishery. The proposal would limit the configurations allowed for setting nets on certain parts of the Ugashik. Written public testimony was submitted by a Juneau lawyer on behalf of several setnetters in the Ugashik fishery, however, who wrote that there is not a navigational issue and the change would be allocative. On the Yukon, the board will consider modifying the fish wheel regulations, changing the restrictions on dipnet sizes and allowing purse seines for the summer chum fishery. The Kuskokwim River could also be on the table, depending on whether or not an emergency petition is brought forward at the Anchorage meeting. The Kuskokwim River Salmon Working Group has discussed filing an emergency petition asking for dipnets to be allowed in place of gillnets this summer, but the exact timing of when that should be submitted in order to accommodate the summer fishery had not yet been established. Emergency regulations are limited in duration.

Oral argument scheduled for denial of setnet initiative

Oral argument in the Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance appeal of Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell’s decision to not certify a proposed ballot initiative to ban setnetting is scheduled for April 22 in Anchorage. The alliance, or AFCA, wants to ask voters whether to ban setnets in urban parts of the state. If the initiative made it on to the ballot and passed, it 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 filed an appeal of Treadwell’s decision in Alaska Superior Court Jan. 22. 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.” The State denied that in its response filed Feb. 27. The State is representing Treadwell, who as lieutenant governor controls the Division of Elections and is responsible for approving or denying ballot initiative petitions. Treadwell’s decision was based on a state Department of Law opinion that referenced a 1996 Alaska Supreme Court decision, Pullen vs. Ulmer, that maintained that salmon are assets that cannot be appropriated by initiative, and that preferential treatment of certain fisheries may constitute a prohibited appropriation. But in AFCA’s complaint, the organization asserted that the initiative at issue in the Pullen case created a harvest preference for sport fishermen, while the AFCA initiative does not create a preference between types of fisheries. The state attorneys denied that as well. In addition to denying much of AFCA’s arguments in the appeal, the State cited several affirmative defenses. In its request for relief, the State asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit and have its costs and fees reimbursed. The defenses the State listed included the argument that the State may have various types of immunity, that the timing of the case may not be appropriate, that the question may have been considered and handled elsewhere, and that the plaintiff may not have standing to bring the case forward. The response came at the request of Judge Catherine Easter, who met with attorneys for the alliance and Treadwell on Feb. 26 to schedule oral argument and discuss other issues that could arise. At that time, she also asked the State to file a response to the original complaint. Both sides are expected to file motions for summary judgment by March 7, with opposition briefs due March 21. If reply briefs are needed, those will be due April 2. The April 22 hearing is scheduled for 3:30 p.m., and expected to take an hour. The two sides agreed that there likely will not be a dispute over facts in the case or any need for discovery, which are conditions needed to reach the summary judgment stage. AFCA lawyer Robert Misulich said the proposed 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. If there is a dispute over facts, however, Easter said the schedule may need to be changed to accommodate an evidentiary hearing, which could make it difficult to proceed on AFCA’s requested timeline. Easter also agreed that briefs in the case could be 30 pages, but said any longer was not necessary because it is a fairly limited question of law. That was at the request of Chief Assistant Attorney General Libby Bakalar, who called into the hearing from Juneau and said that the byzantine issues of elections law and fisheries law would take more than 20 pages, the usual limit, to explain. In a statement, AFCA Executive Director Clark Penney said the organization was glad about the pace at which the case is moving.  “We are in this process for the long haul because it is about protecting fish stocks in all of urban Alaska,” Penney said. “We appreciate the Superior Court’s prompt actions, and we look forward to getting this issue into the hands of the voters.”

Senate hears from North Pacific on MSA reauthorization

While commercial users generally said the Magnuson-Stevens Act is working, subsistence and recreational fishers asked for a louder voice in the management process at a congressional hearing regarding the law up for reauthorization this year. The Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard held a hearing Feb. 27 to gather Alaska and North Pacific perspectives on the Magnuson-Stevens Act reauthorization currently underway. The act, or MSA, regulates management of federal fisheries from three miles to 200 miles offshore, including in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska. It was implemented in 1976, and most recently updated in 2006. Now it’s up for reauthorization, with amendments likely. The House Natural Resources Committee released their draft in December. Sen. Mark Begich, chairman of the Senate oceans subcommittee, said the Senate draft could be out near the end of March, but that the committee wanted to gather as much input as possible before working on the legislation. The hearing in Washington, D.C., was one of several held in both the House and Senate on possible changes. As-is, the MSA primarily addresses commercial fisheries management, but Begich was careful to refer to all three sectors, not just commercial users, when talking about who relies on fisheries in Alaska. He also noted the value of recreational fisheries to coastal economies, particularly anglers targeting halibut and salmon. He also referenced the long history of subsistence fishing. The participants also submitted longer written testimony, and after the hearing, Begich said the committee would keep the record open for two weeks to ask for answers to additional questions. Sport, subsistence users ask for voice Kenai River Sportfishing Association Executive Director Ricky Gease was one of several fishing industry representatives to participate in the hearing. He spoke largely about the recreational sector, and what is needed in the next iteration of the MSA. In terms of commercial management, he said, the MSA is being polished, and in terms of conservation efforts, the law is being further developed. “I think for the recreational fisheries in this country, we’re asking to be in stage one in this reauthorization process, where we get the basic definitions, characteristics and tools in the toolbox for regulators and managers to realize the full economic and social values of these very important recreational fisheries,” he said. Gease detailed the major differences between commercial and recreational fisheries management. Recreational fisheries are based on angler days, and reliant on maximum sustained production, which is getting the most fish into an ecosystem, rather than maximum sustained yield, which looks at value from the fishery harvest, Gease said. He also talked about the need to recognize the importance of stable bag limits and fisheries without in-season tweaking, and the need for more information about the economics of recreational fisheries. The value trickles through several industries, including tourism, gear sales, transportation and even real estate, Gease said. In response to a question from Begich, Gease also said that recreational allocations have been based on historical catches, but that doesn’t account for the economic value of the sector. Association of Village Council Presidents Director of Natural Resources Tim Andrew asked the committee to add a designated Tribal seat to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, and include the word subsistence throughout the MSA to help protect subsistence resources. AVCP represents Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta communities and Tribes. Andrew said he spoke on behalf of almost 100 Tribes in Alaska because he also was representing the Tanana Chiefs Conference. Right now, Andrew said Tribes don’t have an adequate voice in the management process. Commercial fishermen address catch shares Fisheries managers and commercial fishing groups largely supported how the act is working right now, although some also addressed various sectors’ views of catch share programs. Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association Executive Director Linda Behnken talked about the need to preserve and protect coastal communities, particularly as catch shares are developed. “I would call to Congress’ attention that the new threat to fishing communities is too few fishermen, not too many. Our fisheries are fully prosecuted but by a fragment of the fleet that once filled the harbors, and empty harbors hurt coastal economies,” Behnken wrote in her written testimony. She asked for a change to the MSA national standards governing all fishery management plans that would strengthen the language regarding community protections, and a requirement that fishing community plans be included as part of fishery impact plans. Trident Seafoods legal counsel Joe Plesha talked about processors’ desire to be included in future catch share programs. The Gulf of Alaska rockfish program included linkages between harvesters and their historic processor in the five-year pilot program from 2006-11, but specifically did not allow such links in the most recent iteration that began in 2012. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council did not continue the ties between harvesters and processors when it reauthorized the rockfish program based on federal legal guidance that determined on-shore processing is not fishing, and therefore cannot be included in catch share programs that divide the harvest among users. Plesha said that as the council looks at further rationalization in the Gulf of Alaska, his organization and other processors would like a specific inclusion in future programs. The House language does include processors in the language defining eligible participants in catch share programs. Groundfish Forum Executive Director Lori Swanson said her group, which largely targets flatfish with bottom trawl catcher-processors, generally supports catch shares as a management tool. “Since ending the race for fish, our fishery runs year round and our fishermen can target their operations when and where it makes sense.” Swanson also said the programs have allowed the fleet to work on gear modifications, voluntarily restrict fishing in sensitive areas, and build new vessels. Oceana counsel Mike Levine also praised the council’s efforts so far to implement ecosystem management, and recommended that ecosystem efforts be supported and expanded. National Marine Fisheries Service Alaska Region Administrator Jim Balsiger said the act is working for the NMFS and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. “Conservative management measures implemented through the council process have paid off,” Balsiger said. The council manages federal fisheries offshore from Alaska, such as those in the Bering Sea and the Gulf of Alaska. Balsiger also noted that North Pacific managers would like to continue to be able to use catch share programs and other limited access tools. Chris Oliver, executive director of the North Pacific council, made similar comments. He also suggested that any major changes be region-specific, and not necessarily apply to all councils throughout the country. He also suggested that legislation talk about the intended outcome of a change, rather than prescribing how council’s get to that point. United Fishermen of Alaska Executive Director Julianne Curry also supported the law, and asked for caution in making any changes. Fishers respond to changes proposed by House committee Representatives and managers also addressed some of the changes proposed in the House committee’s draft version of MSA changes, including catch limits, bycatch and electronic monitoring. One would reduce the information made public about bycatch in federal waters. Levine, from Oceana, talked about the importance of information availability. “The oceans are a public resource, managed by public agencies,” Levine said. “And information collected pursuant to that management should be available to the public.” Oliver did not have time to get to bycatch in presenting the council’s testimony, but referred to the council’s written testimony in noting the council allowed the disclose of weekly bycatch summaries by vessel, he wrote. “Such information allows us to identify ‘poor performers’ related to salmon bycatch in Bering Sea trawl fisheries, for example, and to remove this allowance for disclosure would be counter to the Council’s policy intent and goals with regard to transparency, accountability, and minimizing bycatch to the extent practicable,” according to the council’s testimony. Andrew also asked for tighter language mandating bycatch reductions. “That language is extremely weak and it needs to be further strengthened to make the Magnuson Stevens Act more effective in the enforcement of the bycatch provisions,” Andrew said. He talked about the challenges of reduced king salmon runs on the Yukon, and the fishery closures subsistence and commercial in-river fishermen have faced there in an effort to make the treaty-mandated escapement to Canada. “We have our backs against the wall, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee … Our Chinook salmon resources have dwindled down to almost nothing on the Yukon River,” he said. Begich also addressed one of the proposed changes while talking about the 2006 changes: “Another important improvement is the requirement that catch limits not exceed the fishing levels recommended by the council’s, by their scientific and statistical committees.” That was part of the last round of amendments and was a requirement based on how Alaska set its limits, but the House has proposed changing that and allowing councils to use more of their own discretion, and rely less on the Scientific and Statistical Committee recommendations when setting annual catches. Under the MSA, the council cannot choose a harvest level greater than the overfishing limits chosen by the SSC. Oliver said that proposed House change was, “probably not a good idea from a public policy perspective.” The House draft also could speed up implementation of electronic monitoring. Behnken said the Longline Association supports using electronic monitoring in place of human observers on certain vessels. She talked specifically about the challenges of observers for the small boat fleet, and said that in ALFA’s electronic monitoring pilot program, 94 percent of fish could be identified by species, and the daily cost was about one-third of the observer program’s cost. Balsiger also talked about the cooperative research being done by NMFS and the fishing industry to see how electronic monitoring can work, and said some is planned for 2014, with more expected in 2015.

USDA rural development initiative aimed at Western and Interior Alaska

Note: This story was edited to reflect that Strikeforce expansion also applies to Interior Alaska, and that Strikeforce spent $65 million in Southeast Alaska during the past three years. The federal government has launched a new initiative to improve rural Alaska infrastructure and address other issues. In January, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development arm announced the expansion of the StrikeForce program from Southeast to Western and Interior Alaska, as well as three telecommunications grants to Alaska entities. USDA Alaska Farm Service Agency State Executive Director Danny Consenstein said StrikeForce draws on several USDA entities working together, including the Forest Service, Rural Development and Farm Service. For the 2013 fiscal year, about $11 million was spent on StrikeForce work in Southeast Alaska. Now, Western and Interior Alaska will also benefit from the coordinated efforts, which are intended to both focus USDA efforts and leverage community resources with other funding to make those efforts more efficient in targeting improvements in areas with high poverty rates. USDA-RD officials from Outside including StrikeForce National Coordinator Max Finburg visited the state in January to see the realities of life and business in Alaska. “We are interested in creating opportunities,” Finburg said after the visit to Western Alaska. In Kwethluk, on the Kuskokwim River east of Bethel, the group saw a lack of adequate facilities, including sanitation and housing, Finburg said. “We’re doing everything we can to address those challenges in ways that are unique to Alaska,” Finburg said. The group also visited Bethel and Quinhagak, both on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta where the new StrikeForce initiative is focused, and went to Southeast Alaska, where StrikeForce originally launched in Alaska. The department also announced three telecommunications grants that will support the region. USDA Deputy Undersecretary for Rural Development Patrice Kunesh said during a Jan. 29 press conference that the department awarded a telecommunications grant of $718,000 to Bethel Broadcasting Corp. to enable the station to go digital. That was awarded as part of a competitive grant process, with entities that could use the funding quickly at the top of the list for receiving it. Kunesh said that while visiting the region, the USDA group heard that the station is very cultural, with Yup’ik programming, and an institution in the area. Digital transmission will help it continue its work. The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium and Chugachmiut are also slated to receive $114,000 and $180,000, respectively, for telemedicine and other telehealth work. In Western Alaska, the StrikeForce initiative will also work on collaborations with Alaska businesses and nonprofits, such as the Native corporations and the Rasmuson Foundation. The exact funding availability will depend on the details of the 2014 budget, but the department expected to announce funding availability in the near future. For the last three years the USDA’s rural development arm has spent $65 million in Southeast Alaska. The Western and Interior Alaska initiative will likely have similarities to the department’s work in Southeast. Constenstein said StrikeForce looked at reducing the barriers for businesses, such as those in the tourism industry, in addition to other endeavors in Southeast. USDA Rural Development Area Director Keith Perkins wrote in an email that the projects funded through StrikeForce in Southeast cover all areas of the Rural Development mission, including business programs, community programs and housing. Some of the projects included a water/sewer extension in Metlakatla, on which the USDA partnered with the Metlakatla Housing Authority. USDA provided an $823,388 through the Water and Environmental Program, which is administered by the USDA-RD's Rural Utilities Service. That leveraged about $1 million from other entities, Perkins wrote. In Ketchikan, Community Connections, Inc. received a $2.9 million direct loan through the Community Facilities program, which the entity used to leverage other funds. Perkins said that the funds may have been spent on those projects even without the initiative, as all were considered competitive enough to merit funding. “StrikeForce provides a more focused effort to get the USDA agencies to work closely toward helping the economy of the region,” Perkins said.

Health providers to finally receive contract cost funding

Alaska’s Tribal health care providers had good news in February. The Indian Health Service and Bureau of Indian Affairs will meet their contract support obligations, and pay certain staffing costs, for Tribal health providers throughout the state. The IHS and BIA operations plans, and congressional funding, mean that the tribes who contract with the federal government to provide health care under the government’s treaty obligation to do so will be repaid for the cost of doing so. A 2012 Supreme Court decision required full repayment, but the Obama Administration continued to attempt to set caps on reimbursement, and Tribes were further subject to sequestration budget cuts and reduced repayment in spite of the court ruling. Language in the 2014 appropriations bill does not allow the administration to use caps to limit funding. According to a letter from Sylvia Burwell in the Office of Management and Budget, the IHS will receive about $140 million more than in fiscal year 2013, and the BIA will receive about $135 million more. Alaska entities also received $66.2 million for staffing in Congress’ 2014 appropriations bill. Contract support costs are used by Tribes and health organizations to operate hospitals and clinics, but also go toward other federal treaty obligations fulfilled locally, such as running Tribal police departments, administering general assistance programs, and other education, housing and land management activities. Alaska has 229 federally recognized Tribes. The Tanana Chiefs Conference, in Interior Alaska, represents 39 of them, and provides services under contract with the government. The staffing funds are designated for facilities throughout the state. The Tanana Chiefs Conference, or TCC, will receive the largest portion of that — $20.1 million. Other Native health care providers throughout the state will also receive federal funding for staffing, including $3.5 million for the Copper River area; $12.5 million in Barrow; $11.2 million for Southcentral Foundation, which partners with the Alaska Tribal Health Consortium; $8.4 million to the Nome area; and $10.6 million for the Kenaitze Tribe. The Kenaitze Tribe is building the new 52,000-square-foot Dena’ina Wellness Center in Kenai. The tribe has a joint venture with the IHS for operating and maintaining the facility for at least 20 years. TCC Vice President Julie Roberts supported funding for contract support costs in congressional testimony about the appropriations bill. “The fact is, IHS cannot do this work,” Roberts said in her testimony. “All we ask is to be treated fairly, just like other contractors. The government sets our indirect cost rates — not us — and just like other contractors the government should pay those rates in full. If it cannot, or will not, prioritize those payments, then just like other contractors we must continue to be able to vindicate our rights under the Contract Disputes Act. Anything else is un-American, forcing us to do work without paying us what is due.” According to a statement from Sen. Mark Begich’s office, the overall IHS budget still remains $130 million short of the necessary funding and will require that Contract Support Cost funding come from other IHS operations. Alaska’s congressional delegation supported the announcements that those funding needs would be met. “I feel like I have been in a fight with this administration, just to get them to do the right thing and what the Supreme Court compelled them to do in the Ramah decision: fully fund Alaska Native hospital operations, ensure the adequate delivery of health care to Alaska Natives and fill hundreds of medical positions throughout Alaska,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski in a formal statement. “Today’s funding levels lock in this success for Alaska for the 2014 fiscal year. Imagine if a member of our military or a federal contractor received their check and found they were being paid 70 cents on the dollar — we wouldn’t accept that and I couldn’t accept the second-class treatment of our first people’s medical needs.” Rep. Don Young agreed: “For far too long, the federal government has failed its obligation to allocate the financial resources that these providers are due, which has meant that many American Indians and Alaska Natives have been shortchanged when it comes to receiving the high quality healthcare that they are entitled to. Tribal health programs have always been underfunded, and it is time for our federal government to hold up its end of the bargain.  The BIA and IHS spending plan is an important step in upholding the Supreme Court’s Ramah decision.” TCC operates its facilities through a joint venture with the IHS, and received less than its costs in recent years, Roberts said in her testimony. The staffing package, however, will help meet TCC’s needs. The most recent funding news, however, doesn’t ensure funding in future years, according to Begich, a Democrat who sits on the Senate Indian Affairs and Senate appropriations committees. “Today marks important progress for Alaska Tribes for the year ahead but there is still work to be done to make sure contract support costs are funded in full in the future,” said Begich in a formal statement. “These funds, used for health and public safety services, are critical to the Alaska Native community because they provide essential dollars that go a long way at improving conditions in Alaska Native communities. This is an issue I have hammered the administration on repeatedly and I’m glad it agrees it is time to pay up and fully fund contract support costs.” The funding also doesn’t address prior years where the full costs were not reimbursed. TCC’s Roberts and others have asked for reimbursement for those years.

Self-employed fishers prepare for ACA mandate

As the March 31 deadline for the individual insurance mandate under the Affordable Care Act nears, Alaska’s fishers are still navigating the changes. “My sense is, a lot of fishermen are still in a wait and see mode,” said United Fishermen of Alaska Executive Adminstrator Mark Vinsel. Fishermen and charter operators are often self-employed, and the mandate for Americans to procure health insurance will directly affect them. Officially, the mandate went into affect in January, but enrollment through the new health insurance exchanges is available until March 31, and penalties will not be assessed for those who enroll by that date. Those that don’t enroll will face a tax penalty. According to a 2009 study by the Small Business Majority, a California-based advocacy group that includes former Alaska state Rep. Terry Gardiner on its staff, 32 percent of commercial fishermen did not have health insurance coverage in 2009, based on a survey of 100 commercial fishermen. At the time, 72 percent of the fishermen who didn’t have coverage said they couldn’t afford it, and 40 percent said they were struggling to pay for it. Vinsel said that historically, it can be difficult for fishermen to access health insurance and health care, both because of the logistics of their employment and the logistics of where they work — away from roads and hospitals. UFA did its own study prior to the SBM study, and found that the lack of health insurance was a barrier for new individuals considering entering the sector, and also a concern for the majority those who man the fishing fleet who are aging. Now, however, a lot of self-employed folks seem generally pleased with the coverage, Vinsel said. That’s true for George Meintel and Cynthia Wallesz, salmon gillnetters who live in Petersburg. Meintel said the plan they found through the new health insurance exchange was cheaper, and provided better coverage, than their old plan. Meintel and Wallesz, his wife, have a joint policy. Previously, they purchased a policy independently, and a significant chunk of their income went toward health insurance that primarily covered catastrophic incidents. The new plan has some limits on what providers they can use, but generally provides better coverage, Meintel said. “It was a big pain to wade through the process, and the process is far from perfect,” he said. Ultimately, however, they saved about 80 percent on better insurance. “As a self-employed fisherman, I had a multitude of choices, which I’ve never had in the past,” Meintel said. The old plan was still available after the ACA changes went into affect, but the new plan was a better price and offered better coverage, so they switched. They also benefited from the subsidies available through the exchange. Meintel calculated their income based on an average of the last three years of fishing, and then estimated a little higher. “Commercial fishermen aren’t the richest guys in the world,” he said. Meintel said he was impressed by how things worked out, and told other fishing friends to try for themselves to make sure it wasn’t a fluke. They had similar experiences, he said. Despite some success stories, not everything has been smooth sailing. Northrim Benefits Enroll Alaska has done outreach throughout the state to educate people about the changes, including working with fishing groups. Chief Operating Officer Tyann Boling said enrollment has been less than expected — both for fishermen, and in general, she said. Fishers represent just a small portion of the total enrollment, she said. Vinsel said he was impressed with Enroll Alaska’s efforts, particularly in the fall when the federally-run exchange website wasn’t even working. Boling said her group had done education events with a couple fishing groups, including a presentation to the United Fishermen of Alaska in Sitka last fall, and one at the Alaska Young Fishermen’s Summit in Anchorage this winter. She’ll also attend the annual ComFish conference and trade show in Kodiak this spring. “We have definitely been doing everything we can to get the message out,” Boling said. Fishermen have largely been asking about the costs. There’s also been a lack of information about how the subsidies work, and questions about those, Boling said. “Overall, it’s ‘what’s the cost going to be to me?’ and ‘what’s the tax penalty?’” Boling said. The new exchange isn’t the only way fishermen get health insurance. Many get health insurance through second jobs or family members who work a job with that provides insurance, Vinsel said. That isn’t as available in some coastal and rural communities as it is in Juneau, however, he said. The state also administers the Alaska Fishermen’s Fund, which provides funds for the treatment and care of licensed commercial fishermen injured while fishing on shore or off shore in Alaska. The fund is financed from commercial fishermen’s license and permit fees. Charter operators Many charter operators are in a similar boat to commercial fishermen with respect to finding insurance before the coming deadline. Steve Zernia operates ProFish-N-Sea Charters out of Seward, and his wife, Elle Zernia, also has a sport and commercial processing business, Captain Jack’s Seafood Locker. Their experience with the new health care law hasn’t gone as smoothly. For 2014, Zernia and his family — two adults and two kids are on the policy — will have the same plan as last year, because of the extension that allowed old, non-qualifying, plans to continue for another year. Next year, however, the changes will affect them. “Our deductibles would go up and our premium would go up,” Zernia said. That’s because the old plan will go away, and they have to switch to a new one that meets all of the ACA plan requirements — even though some of the things the new plan provides aren’t services the family will use. Zernia said his insurance agent, Premera Blue Cross, found the plan that was most comparable to the family’s old plan for them, and has largely taken care of the legwork. Gerri Martin, who operates Homer’s North Country Charters with her husband, Sean Martin, has had a better experience. Martin said her new health care plan is the direct result of the plans made available by the Affordable Care Act. She purchased it directly through the provider, Moda Health, and not the exchange, but said it was only available because the law expanded coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. Martin and her husband both have pre-existing conditions — a pacemaker for him, asthma and a few non-cancerous lumpsectomies for her — but they’re generally healthy, she said. “We’re super healthy and we ski every day and we travel,” Martin said. From 1999 to 2012, they were insured under a Golden Rule plan. Then the company pulled out of Alaska. Health insurance was the family’s second biggest expense every year, after their mortgage payments. “At that time, our premiums, oh my gosh, they were so expensive,” Martin said. By the final year, that cost $32,592 per year for the two of them, plus one son, and they each had a $5,000 deductible, more than double what they paid as a family of four about a decade earlier — $9,501. Because of their conditions, she couldn’t find another plan when Golden Rule left the state. They turned to Alaska Comprehensive Health Insurance Association, or ACHIA, which is run by the State of Alaska and provides coverage to high-risk individuals. This year, the Martins would have paid $32,988 for just the two of them, again with the high deductible. Their son couldn’t be covered because he wasn’t high-risk. But because those conditions must be covered under ACA, Martin found a better deal. She searched through the exchange to locate the plan, but ultimately purchased it directly from Moda, in part because of the issues with the health exchange website that many reported. Because she and her husband weren’t eligible for subsidies, they didn’t have to use the exchange. “I went to Moda and I plugged everything in and I got insured almost instantly,” Martin said. The Moda silver plan is $14,748 cheaper than what they would have paid under ACHIA, and the deductible is $2,500 each instead of $5,000 each. Martin said her family has always been willing to buy insurance, and they have purchased it. The act leveled the playing field, however, and made it more accessible. It also made the process much simpler, Martin said. Before she signed up for ACHIA, applying for health insurances required several pages of health history. “Now the only health care questions are your age and whether you are a smoker or not, just as simple as that,” she wrote in an email.

Stakeholders ponder protections under Gulf rationalization

SEATTLE — Fisheries stakeholders gathered Feb. 10 to talk about community protections in the pending Gulf of Alaska rationalization program. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council has asked for a discussion paper on how to provide bycatch management tools for the Gulf of Alaska trawl fisheries, in particular through a rationalization program that ends the race for fish by allocating harvest privileges among user groups. In October, the council asked staff to analyze a general structure for rationalizing Gulf of Alaska trawl fisheries as a means to minimize bycatch. A program could allocate pollock and Pacific cod to cooperatives in the western Gulf, central Gulf and west Yakutat based on members’ catch history. The prohibited species catch, or PSC, of species such as chinook salmon and halibut would be apportioned out to cooperatives on a pro rata basis. Fishery participants could also have the option of operating in a limited access pool. A portion of the target species allocation could be based on performance standards that emphasize low bycatch rates. The council’s October motion also asked for analysis of regional delivery requirements, inclusion of processors and communities into the cooperatives and certain cooperative requirements addressing active participation, bycatch management and other issues. Caps on the allowable levels of king salmon and halibut bycatch have already been set, and the trawl fleet has asked for the action to help them meet those caps. Some past rationalization programs, however, have had unanticipated consequences for fishery participants and communities, particularly through consolidation of effort that has led to job losses. When the Bering Sea crab fisheries were rationalized in 2005, some 1,000 jobs were eliminated in the first season when the fleet consolidated its effort to about one-third of the boats that had operated under open access. Community entities have asked for certain protections, concerned that the rationalization program could lead to increased consolidation and will raise the cost of entry, limiting the number of participants who can invest in the fishery. At the workshop, the council heard from those who have implemented community-fishing programs in a response to rationalization in an effort to see how inclusion of communities in cooperatives, or in the program via another mechanism, might play out. The workshop was held in a panel format with representatives from East and West Coast community fishing organizations sharing their stories, as well as council members and analysts involved in the relevant rationalization programs. The West Coast representatives were involved in a Morro Bay program in Northern California, while the East Coast individuals were from the Cape Cod area. In Morro Bay, the city worked with other community groups to acquire quota share and vessel permits for the West Coast Groundfish Fishery’s trawl sector. Those are used by local fishermen, and have helped maintain a fishing industry in the community. After rationalization, fishing activity out of that port declined to the point where the only remaining processor considered leaving and other support businesses also faced the possibility of shutting down. A similar program is now being developed for Monterey Bay, according to David Crabbe, who talked about the West Coast program. The Cape Cod Fisheries Trust also provides access to quota to local fishermen participating in Notheast groundfish and scallop fisheries. Generally, the goal is to see help them enter the fishery, or continue fishing, until they are able to buy their own quota. Much of that quota has been purchased from retiring fishermen, and is then leased out with certain requirements for residency and other qualifications. In both regions, the community quota entities developed after the rationalization programs. That detail stuck out to council member John Henderschedt, who represents the state of Washington on the council, who said he thought it provided food for thought. “I was taken by how bottom up both of the models that we heard about were,” Henderschedt said. Ernie Weiss, from the Aleutians East Borough, noted that the North Pacific council has the opportunity to craft such programs from the beginning. “We have the possibility to get out in front of it,” he said. “Even a small initial allocation could help a community leverage more.” Nicole Kimball, who serves as the alternate to Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell on the North Pacific council, wrote in an email that the programs showed how a community can develop a way for both long-term fishermen and new entrants to participate in a fishery. “I don’t think they gave themselves enough credit for the community leadership necessary to make these programs successful,” Kimball wrote. “And what came out loud and clear was the need for regional councils to make the hard decisions upfront, both allocation decisions and other provisions that can avoid excessive consolidation and either facilitate or promote the continued direct and indirect participation of the coastal communities that are dependent upon the fisheries you are proposing to change.” The workshop also drew additional members of the public to the council meeting. Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka, came down from Juneau for the discussion. Kreiss-Tomkins said he’s had a few conversations with other legislators about the council’s pending Gulf of Alaska action, and that there’s increasing interest from lawmakers in making sure that Alaska fisheries benefit people in Alaska communities. That, he said, is hopefully a “healthy development” in the rationalization conversation. Kreiss-Tomkins said he had the chance to talk to the Cape Cod representatives, and was impressed with their ability to self-govern and deal with management politics. Council members have expressed concerns about creating a mechanism that required constant council oversight. In the case of the Cape Cod program, much of the management has been done by the fishery participants, and Henderschedt said he was interested by the collaborative relationship between managers and the communities. The council is expected to take the bycatch management package up again in April, and Weiss of the Aleutians East Borough said it’s now up to communities to come up with some possible ideas for community fishing associations. How to make one or multiple entities that reflect the diversity of needs and communities throughout the Gulf will be the challenge, he said. “That’s an unanswered question,” he said.

Magnuson-Stevens Act revisions focus of fishers in 2014

SEATTLE — Bycatch reporting, transparency and the role of the National Environmental Policy Act in fisheries management are among the proposed Magnuson-Stevens Act amendments the North Pacific Fishery Management Council scrutinized during its February meeting. The act, or MSA, is currently in the process of being reauthorized and amended. House and Senate committees have held hearings on the changes, and in December the House Natural Resources Committee released its draft version of possible new language in the bill. The Senate has not yet produced its version, but will likely do so this spring. The North Pacific council manages federal fisheries offshore from Alaska. The MSA, which was last reauthorized in 2006 and is up for renewal, regulates most fisheries in American federal waters 3 to 200 miles offshore, and authorizes the eight regional fishery management councils. The council is expected to provide comments for a February Senate hearing on the House draft and share North Pacific concerns. Generally, council Executive Director Chris Oliver said that the current iteration of the legislation is working for the North Pacific, and that much of the last round of MSA revisions were based on how Alaska manages its fisheries, so significant changes probably aren’t needed. But there were some issues he noted in the House committee’s language. That draft contains a provision specific to the North Pacific that would provide more confidentiality protections for bycatch information, and would prevent the current practice of releasing weekly bycatch data to the public, Oliver said. Council member Bill Tweit of Washington said that would essentially “gut” much of what the council has done in terms of requiring full retention. Council Chair Eric Olson said that making more data confidential would affect his judgment on initiating future catch share programs, given that such programs revolve around the use of a public resource. “To whom much is given, much is expected,” he said. Earlier in the meeting, the council also heard a report about the economics of Bering Sea chinook, or king, salmon bycatch that noted that public knowledge of bycatch was an incentive in keeping those numbers low. The survey provided quotes from fishery participants, and top reasons for avoiding bycatch that included pressure, moral responsibility and the quote, “I care about my reputation. I don’t want to be on the dirty list.” The draft House language would implement new standards for transparency in the council process requiring video streaming of meetings and full transcripts of council and Scientific and Statistical Committee meetings. Oliver said he thought those particular standards could be difficult to meet. Council member Nicole Kimball, the alternate on the council for Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell, who was at the Board of Fisheries meeting in Anchorage, said she thought the council could signal support for transparency in general, but not a prescriptive way to get there. Olson said that the council might also note cost and logistics issues with such a requirement; not all Alaska meeting locations have the same technology capacities, which would make live video difficult. Another change would address the interplay between the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, and the MSA. Tweit noted that NEPA can get cumbersome for the council process, and a change could simplify things. During public testimony, however, Becca Robbins Gisclair asked the council to consider supporting continuance of the NEPA process, as it provides an additional opportunity for stakeholder input on decisions. Another change on the table in the House draft would give the councils more of a role in setting the annual catch limits. Oliver said he didn’t think the North Pacific council would change its process if that change was implemented, but it would allow councils to override the recommendations of the SSC in favor of setting a higher catch limit. Currently, catch limits must be at or less than the SSC recommendation, and there is generally a buffer between the overfishing limit, or OFL, and the annual catch limit, or ACL, based on the uncertainty of stock assessments. The SSC sets the OFL, and the council approves catch limits based on that. The House draft also proposes to change the term “overfished” to “depleted.” Council member Jim Balsiger, who is the Alaska Region Administrator for the National Marine Fisheries Service, said that suggestion has been made previously and the agency has opposed it because “depleted” is a specific term used in the Marine Mammals Protection Act. Council members also said they generally supported the idea of providing more flexibility for rebuilding plans and allowing emergency rules to be used for a year rather than 180 days. The change to allow flexibility is intended as a way to lessen economic impacts of those plans, and to account for species with a lifecycle that may not rebuild on a 10-year timeframe. Another North Pacific provision would also eliminate a loophole that currently could result in vessels not registered with the State of Alaska fishing for salmon in areas exempted from the federal fishery management plan, which the council generally supported. Tweit also noted that the body should be cautious in supporting changes, as any alerted language could have unintended consequences. Council member John Henderschedt of Seattle echoed that, and talked about the need to consider overarching policy in any changes. Council member Duncan Fields of Kodiak also said that the council might want to consider drafting its own priority issues and taking a more proactive stance, rather than reacting to the changes others have considered. Council participates in MSA workshop Several members of the council also participated in a workshop on the Magnuson-Stevens Act organized by the Center for Sustainable Fisheries and National Fisherman magazine. The Center for Sustainable Fisheries is a New Bedford-based nonprofit. President Brian Rothschild was the primary speaker, offering his perspective on what changes to the Magnuson-Stevens Act are needed. Generally, Rothschild talked about the need for flexibility for the councils, a broader base of science on which to base decisions and the possibility of additional oversight for fisheries management. He also opened it up for the council members and fishery stakeholders from Alaska and Washington to participate in a discussion. Regarding flexibility, Rothschild discussed the possibility of enabling the council to set quotas without basing them on a single SSC recommendation or model. In Alaska, the SSC recommendations are generally based on more frequent stock assessments, making the numbers more reliable than they are on the East Coast. Some stock assessments here occur yearly, such as pollock and crab, with flatfish and other species surveyed every other year. On the East Coast, many species are surveyed on a triennial basis and severe harvest cuts in recent years have called the models and stock assessments into question. Rothschild also mentioned the idea of removing some of the weight given to science produced by the National Marine Fisheries Service, and  — in lawsuits, at least — giving some additional consideration to other science. For extra oversight, Rothschild mentioned the idea of creating a review board that reports to Congress. If that idea gained traction, he said there would likely need to be a national discussion about how big it would be and its exact role in fisheries. Rothschild’s comments also favored a shift in how overfishing and overfished are treated. He also emphasized that what is sometimes seen as an overfished stock is really the result of environmental factors that are not fully understood by scientists — or controllable. Aleutians East Borough Mayor Stanley Mack echoed that perspective. Mack said his parents moved to the Aleutians to fish cod. That stock declined despite the fact that fishing pressure was limited by the gear used. Now, that fishery has recovered and is again strong, he said. Rothschild also talked about changes to the 10 MSA National Standards that every fishery management plan must meet. His proposed language would essentially help incorporate National Standard 8, which requires plans to protect communities dependent on fisheries, into National Standard 1, which requires plans to achieve optimum yield while preventing overfishing. To do so, it would call for maximizing yield, while living within the constraints set by the applicable council. Currently, the language in National Standard 1 refers only to preventing overfishing while achieving optimum yield. Rothschild said “overfishing” and “overfished” are not well-defined terms, and noted that underfishing can be equally problematic. The regulations for implementing National Standard 1 are currently under revision, and some of those ideas could possibly come up in that process. CSF has previously held workshops elsewhere in the United States to get various perspectives on possible changes. In April, CSF is planning to host a workshop in Washington, D.C. and will provide the information it has gathered around the country to lawmakers.

Board of Fisheries adopts multiple changes to N. District

Nearly a dozen of the Upper Cook Inlet fisheries management changes decided by the Alaska Board of Fisheries this month will affect salmon that typically return to Northern District streams and the fishermen targeting them. The board met in Anchorage Jan. 31 to Feb. 13 for its triennial Upper Cook Inlet meeting, where it deliberated over more than 200 proposals to change finfish management in the region. Upper Cook Inlet drift gillnetters were handed a new management plan in a 7-0 vote, after much debate and several amendments to the proposal submitted by the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Fish and Wildlife Commission. Ultimately, the goal is to get more fish into Northern District streams, by restricting the commercial fleet to areas away from the central part of Cook Inlet known as Area 1. The plan attempts to shift effort earlier in July, when the fleet is more likely to catch Kenai and Kasilof salmon, and eliminates fishery openings later in the month. It also pushes fishing effort toward the east side of the Inlet, leaving the middle free of nets in an effort to let fish continue swimming north. The plan also creates a new Anchor Point section. The plan also shifts the allowable fishing areas in August, which is intended to allow for coho to swim north. Under the new plan, the allowed fishing areas vary depending on sockeye abundance. The commission that drafted the plan called it a success. “This is a historic day for the Mat-Su, similar to the banning of fish traps at statehood,” said Jim Colver, Mat-Su Fish and Wildlife Commission vice chair and a borough assembly member, in a statement. “We will look back on this action to implement conservation measures, as a game-changer in restoring the once robust salmon runs in the Valley.” The new plan, however, represents a significant loss to drift fishermen. “Like many Alaskans, we are discouraged by the needless, unscientific attacks on the more than 5,000 Cook Inlet commercial fishermen and their families that have occurred over the last 10 days,” said Alaska Salmon Alliance Executive Director Arni Thomson in formal statement. “These restrictions threaten an industry that pumps over $100-million in payroll directly into Southcentral Alaska’s economy every year. Alaskans cannot afford more half-baked attacks on our right to harvest our natural resources.” Although the plan creates more room for early-July sockeye harvest closer to the Kenai and Kasilof river mouths, that harvest opportunity is not guaranteed; other changes passed at the meeting limit commercial fishing when Kenai Kings are a concern, which could conflict with the provisions of the drift plan. Other proposals that change commercial fisheries management in the Northern District include one that changed some regulatory markers. Others changed the registration requirements for set and drift gillnet gear in Upper Cook Inlet to refer to electronic registration capabilities, and removed the registration requirement for joint drift gear. Subsistence, sport changes also discussed Sport and subsistence anglers also saw some changes from the board. The board voted 5-2 to require the use of four-stroke and direct injection two-stroke motors on the Little Susitna River, with Reed Morisky, of Fairbanks, and Orville Huntington, of Huslia, opposing the new regulation. The changeover must occur by Jan. 1, 2017. The Central Peninsula Advisory Committee proposed the new regulation, and noted that it would reduce hydrocarbons and turbidity in the river. The river is not designated as impaired, although the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation is considering additional designations this year. Morisky said that only a third of the motors on the river would have to change under the new regulation, and that the problems associated with use two-stroke motors would solve themselves over time without a regulatory change. In supporting the action, several board members cited the fact that motors on the Kenai River are already restricted, and, like the Kenai, the Little Susitna sees a large number of angler days. Board members Sue Jeffrey and Tom Kluberton noted that other fishers have been asked to bear the burden of conservation throughout Upper Cook Inlet, and the board had taken prior actions to get more salmon up to the Northern District streams. The engine requirement would help with habitat conservation, Jeffrey said. The original proposal called for limiting the number of the outboard motors on the river, but the board’s action did not do that, in part because of issues with how that could be enforced. A proposal to prevent sport fishing from a boat entirely during the coho season on the Little Su failed. The board also changed the subsistence fishing regulations on the Upper Yentna River. The fishery is prosecuted with fish wheels, and targets sockeye salmon. The change extended the dates the fishery is open to July 15 through Aug. 7, with four-hour fishing periods on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays during that time. Previously, the fishery ended July 31. Some years, users did not harvest what they needed because of high water during the available fishing window. Board Chair Karl Johnstone noted that the amount necessary for subsistence finding for the river justified a subsistence harvest there, and the extra time would help users meet that need. A proposal that would have created a new subsistence dipnet fishery upstream of the confluence of the Yentna and Susitna rivers failed, however. Board members referenced concerns about future road access to the area — it’s part of Gov. Sean Parnell’s roads to resources plan — and the potential for growth if access got easier. “Once we’ve opened this door we’ll never close it,” Kluberton said. Other Northern District proposals that passed: • Proposal 298 — Push the date for allowing bait on the Deshka River from May 15 to June 1. • Proposal 305 — Close the Fish Creek near Talkeenta to sportfishing. • Proposal 306 — Move several lakes from one unit to another in the Susitna River drainage. • Proposal 319 — Change the regulations for the Jim Creek drainage to close the area to sportfishing on Mondays and Tuesdays from mid-August through December, and preventing anglers from continuing to fish after reaching a salmon bag limit. • Proposal 318 — Open the Fish Creek, near Wasilla’s Knik-Goose Bay Road, personal-use fishery from July 10 to 31 unless the sockeye escapement is projected to be less than 50,000. • Proposal 322, 324, 325 — Change the Eklutna Tailrace fishing regulations, update the stocked lakes listing for the Knik Arm drainage and reduce the bag limit for Anchorage stocked lakes. • Proposal 323, 376 — Create youth-only coho and king fisheries in the Eklutna Tailrace. • Proposal 244 — Close Hidden Lake Creek and Jean Lake Creek to salmon fishing.

UFA wants legislature to put scallops back on the menu

The United Fishermen of Alaska are trying to revive the legislative discussion in Juneau about the vessel-based scallop limited entry program as managers and participants prepare for the new open access state-waters fishery that will open July 1. In a Feb. 16 email, UFA Executive Director Julianne Curry wrote to members of the legislature that extending the limited entry program for scallops was a priority for UFA. Curry cited economic concerns for the fleet, and sustainability issues in the fisheries, as reasons for continuing the program in her emails to the Legislature and to UFA board members. Scallops are fished with dredges in Alaskan waters and many of the scallop beds cross the three-mile line that divides state and federal waters. Previously, the fishery was managed jointly by state and federal entities. This summer, the state-waters scallop fishery is slated to become open-access for the first time in just more than a decade after the previous vessel-based limited entry program was not renewed by the Legislature during the 2013 session due to concerns over consolidation. The scallop fishery was the only vessel-based limited entry program in the state until the program expired Dec. 31, 2013. Curry wrote in an email to the Journal that if the Legislature allowed one limited entry program to expire, it could set a precedent that would concern permit holders in other fisheries. Last year, UFA passed a resolution supporting the program’s extension. Curry was unavailable to elaborate on why it was a UFA priority, however, and referred questions to the Alaska Scallop Association’s Jim Stone, a UFA member. The Senate passed Senate Bill 54 in 2013 extending the vessel-based limited entry programs for both scallops and Bering Sea hair crab for five years. The Senate bill stalled in the House Fisheries Committee chaired by Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, because of the concerns over consolidation in the scallop fleet under the limited entry program. Eventually, SB 54 was added to a House bill that was previously expected to pass easily to extend funding for the Alaska Regional Development Organizations, also known as ARDORs. With SB 54 attached, the ARDOR funding bill was not brought to a vote and both programs expired at the end of 2013. Now, a conference committee is working on a version of the legislation that would extend the hair crab program and reauthorize the ARDORs, but leave out scallops and keep the state waters as an open access fishery. The committee held its third hearing Feb. 19, and moved a bill to reinstate the hair crab permits and ARDOR program. Stone, however, attributes the failure to extend the program last year primarily to one legislator: Seaton of Homer. “No basis for ending the program was found by CFEC, ADFG or the Senate with an 18-1 vote in favor to extend the licenses. Rep Seaton knows full well the votes to extend the vessel licenses are on house floor, so he uses (abuses) his power as Chair and refuses to allow the fishermen a fair vote,” Stone wrote in an email (Editor’s note: Stone’s statement included the word abuses in parentheses). “If one man on an anti-scalloper jihad can single handedly burn one fishery’s permits, despite overwhelming support, whose permits are safe? This should scare the hell out of all fishermen across the state.” Open-access regs developed Meanwhile, fishery managers and participants have been preparing for the new open-access fishery. The Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission, or CFEC, issued new regulations for the fishery in the fall, and has begun issuing interim-use permits to interested skippers. Under the new program, separate permits are required for state and federal waters, and separate fish tickets will be required for the two areas. As of Feb. 18, five participants had received permits for the 2014 state-waters fishery. Of those, just two are new to the state-waters fishery. The other three hold permits in federal waters. Stone said that only one is a member of the Alaska Scallop Association, and additional participants in that group will also be applying. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is also working on its management efforts. In January, the Board of Fisheries approved a management plan drafted by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game that calls for vessel registration and provides regulations for the open-access fishery. Even if the legislature takes action to extend the scallop program, that will have to be reconciled with the new regulations. The newly-approved Board of Fisheries management plan will remain in place until the board takes action to rescind it, wrote ADFG’s Division of Commercial Fisheries Deputy Director Forrest Bowers in an email. On the CFEC side, the language in the original bill to extend scallops had a retroactivity provision, and would nullify the new interim-use permits and re-instate the old regulatory framework, wrote CFEC’s Benjamin Brown in an email. Despite the new regulations, ADFG is still figuring out the specifics of management for the fishery. Bowers said the department will formulate its management approach based on the number of vessels registered to participate. Registration opened Feb. 20, with an April deadline.. That will give the department an idea of the maximum participation in the fishery. ADFG’s preferred approach is to have a guideline harvest level, or GHL, fishery in tandem with the federal fishery, Bowers said. That, he expects, would be managed similarly to past years with in-season catch reporting and daily tracking of the harvest. Generally, the dredges used are pretty easy to pull out of the water, so the fishery can be managed close to the limit with a quick closure, Bowers said. If for some reason it appears a GHL fishery isn’t feasible, ADFG’s options include setting a fishery closure date when it opens to limit the season length, or closing the fishery entirely. That’s the worst-case scenario, he said. Until vessel registration is completed, however, it’s hard to judge what participation will look like. “I don’t think there will be any fewer boats scallop fishing,” Bowers said. That worries UFA. “Scallop harvest levels are so low that simple economics will not allow more vessels to harvest,” Curry wrote in her email to the Legislature. The original limitation program allowed for nine vessels to participate. Fewer participate now, due to consolidation and relinquished state permits. Stone wrote that an open-access fishery could also result in higher tanner crab bycatch. “If participants do not cooperate to avoid pockets of crab, then areas could be closed before scallop gets caught, costing crews and the State … The current participants currently work together and communicate to avoid crab, we can move to the federal side where there might not be any crab,” Stone wrote. “The open access fishermen will fish as fast as they can irregardless of crab bycatch. The current fishermen have years of learned experience, new fishermen will not know the beds, will not rig their equipment to it optimal ability and will need to make many more tows to catch the same amount.” Bowers said the potential exists for the scallop fishery to shut down due to hitting the crab bycatch cap more quickly, but couldn’t say how likely it is without knowing how many vessels are participating this year. The current crab bycatch limits reflect a concern for the crab stock, and will still be used, Bowers said. Most likely, ADFG will partition the limits between state and federal waters, and manage the state fishery with the state-waters portions of the limits. In recent years, the scallop fishery has shut down once before the GHL was reached because the crab bycatch limit was reached, Bowers said. However, that is not a common occurrence. Whether or not that’s likely to happen under the open-access program will depend on the number of vessels participating in the fishery, he said. With a smaller cap and relatively high fishing effort, closure could be possible, but it’s not a certainty. However, it is in the fleet’s best interest to avoid crab bycatch and keep the fishery open, Bowers said. Stone also had concerns about product quality. “The current co-op vessels freeze onboard within four hours of capture, locking in the sweet flavor the Weathervane is prized for,” he wrote. “They take their time and ensure a 5-star product is being made. New vessels racing for scallop will most likely tear the meats, put scallops on ice where they will soak in water and drastically loose their famous flavor. This could degrade the Weathervane Scallop name in the culinary markets again costing crews and the State.” In the past, some state-waters participants have delivered fresh scallops and permit holder Max Hulse of Eagle River has told the legislature he would deliver fresh scallops again in the future if he returns to the fishery. Fishermen gearing up for scallops Stone said that the vessels fishing for ASA will continue their voluntary co-operative structure but new entrants may behave differently. So far, the two new entrants are Alaskans with a history in state waters. Matthew Alward and Don Lane, both Homer residents, each said they’re interested in participating in the new open access fishery, which is why they applied for IUPs. Alward has fished for scallops on the F/V Kilkenny in the past. He has a seiner, and said he didn’t know if it would be feasible to fish for scallops on his vessel, but that since the fishery is open access, he thought he might as well try for it. The details of observer coverage, a low GHL and other challenges could ultimately prevent him from fishing, however, he said. The other new participant is Lane, a commercial fisher who longlines for halibut and tenders salmon on his 60-foot steel boat, the F/V Predator. Like Alward, he’s not certain that he will fish scallops. It will depend on the season dates and how some of the details work out, he said. Regardless of whether he fishes, Lane has been involved in discussions about how to manage the new fishery at the Board of Fisheries level. Scallops could provide “shoulder season opportunity” to fishers getting started, Lane said. “I wanted to be part of the process of creating another opportunity for coastal Alaska to participate in a fishery,” he said. Lane also has a history with scallops. In 1992 or ‘93, he said he had plans to fish for scallops with a friend. At the last minute, however, they changed their plans after getting back from longlining. He went to Southeast to fish a black cod opening with his boat, which already had gear ready, and his friend stayed for the scallops. That changed the course of their fishery participation, and when limited entry was instituted — “he got a scallop permit, and I didn’t,” Lane said. Lane also helped the Homer Advisory Committee develop Cook Inlet scallop fishery management in the 1990s, including requirements that made it a small-boat fishery, such as the dredge size limit, he said. “We spent a lot of time working on that fishery,” he said. When the federal management plan was implemented, however, the Cook Inlet fishery was absorbed into that, and it took opportunity away from the small boat fishermen, Lane said. The consolidation that occurred under the limited-entry program didn’t sit well with everyone, Lane said. Now he’s glad to see it revert to open-access and help structure it again. “I’m grateful for that opportunity,” he said.

Council acts on guide loophole, grenadiers; open seat debated

SEATTLE – Halibut guides and grenadiers will see management changes in coming years under action taken at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s February meeting. The council took final action to define a sportfishing guide at its February meeting, but a new regulation likely won’t be implemented until the 2015 fishing season, at the earliest. Grenadiers were added to the fishery management plans as an ecosystem component in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, and the Gulf of Alaska, which means catch reporting will be required and retention will be limited — also likely not until 2015. Grenadiers are a long-lived, deepwater flatfish that grow to less than a foot long. The council’s Feb. 6 action on guides more closely aligns the state and federal definitions. Under the new definition, a sport fishing guide does not have to be on board the same vessel as the person they are assisting, but must accompany or physically direct the angler during part of the charter trip for compensation. That means that anglers on one boat, receiving assistance from a guide on another boat, could be counted as charter clients — and are subject to charter regulations, rather than the more liberal unguided angler limits. This summer, unguided anglers will be able to catch two halibut of any size per day, while charter clients can catch two with one limited to 29 inches or less when fishing out of Southcentral and Kodiak ports, and one fish either less than 45 inches or longer than 76 inches per day when fishing out of Southeast Alaska ports. The action also defined compensation within the context of sport fishing guide services as direct or indirect payment, remuneration or other benefits received in return for services. The federal and state definitions do have one difference, however. The state specifies that reimbursement for actual daily expenses for fuel, food or bait are not considered compensation, while the federal definition terms it “reasonable” daily expenses for those same items. That passed in a 9-2 vote, with Oregon’s Roy Hyder and Alaska’s David Long voting against it. Prior to taking action, the council heard from charter operators about some potential issues that could arise under the changed regulation. One concern is that it will result in additional catch being marked as coming from the charter sector, and lead to a higher estimate of charter catches for a particular year, possibly resulting in lower bag limits in subsequent years. Mark Warner, who runs a lodge in Excursion Inlet near Gustavus, and Tom Ohaus, a Sitka operator, also warned the council that the action could hurt some operators with a long history of using that business model who don’t have halibut charter permits. During public testimony, representatives from the charter industry also said they would like to see the unguided angler limits match the guided angler limits, because that was the source of the loophole the council was trying to close by clarifying the definition of a guide. Reached after the decision was made, however, Sherri Miller from the Seward business Miller’s Landing, said she supported the council’s action. “For us, we would side on the rules that they just made up,” Miller said. She said holding everyone to the same standards is fair, and that the prior regulation left room for a loophole that some operators used, potentially disadvantaging those who didn’t take advantage of it. Miller’s Landing offers charters, and also rents small skiffs to individuals wanting to go out on their own. The outfit doesn’t offer assistance to those in the skiffs, however, and is not part of the fleet affected by the decision. Miller said she didn’t know of any operators in Seward that would be affected by the action. Miller’s business also has a small amount of commercial individual fishing quota for halibut, she said. Although she supported the most recent change, she said she was still concerned about the council’s prior action to stop captain and crew from fishing while chartering, which is part of the new catch sharing plan set to take effect this year. Grenadiers added to management plans The council also took final action to add three species of grenadiers — the giant grenadier, popeye grenadier and pacific grenadier — to the management plans. Under the council’s action, the grenadiers will be managed as an ecosystem component in the fishery management plans, or FMP, which apply in federal waters, or from 3 to 200 miles offshore. Directed fishing for grenadiers will be prohibited, and vessels will be required to keep a record of the grenadiers they land and report those numbers. The council also set a maximum retainable amount, or MRA, of 8 percent after hearing from members of the fishing industry that they would like more than the 5 percent recommended by the council’s Advisory Panel. Alaska Whitefish Trawlers Association President Bob Krueger asked for a 10 percent MRA. Krueger said that fleet would like a high enough MRA to allow for future grenadier deliveries if a market for them is ever developed. Julie Bonney, from the Alaska Groundfish Data Bank, said that for some trawl vessels, it’s hard to know you’ve caught grenadiers until they come on board, so an MRA that allowed for some variance in catch would be helpful. Oceana’s Jon Warrenchuck said he had concerns about not managing the fish — they are at somewhat of a risk for overfishing because of their lifecycle, and some years more grenadiers are caught than sablefish — and he was in favor of adding them to the FMP. Previously, there has not been a market for grenadiers, but they are caught indirectly in the deepwater trawl and hook-and-line fisheries, and sometimes kept for bait. According to estimates provided to the council, the total grenadier catch in the Gulf and Bering Sea-Aleutian Islands in 2013 was 15,353 metric tons. Since 2003, the catch has ranged from 11,034 metric tons to 17,500 metric tons. In the Aleutian Islands, the fish are primarily caught while targeting sablefish; in the Bering Sea, the highest incidental catch rate comes from Council nominees The Seattle meeting was council Chair Eric Olson’s final out-of-state meeting. Olson has two more meetings on the council, and finishes his term in August. Council members are limited to three, three-year terms. Olson sits in one of five seats that the governor of Alaska is responsible for nominating someone to fill. He works for Yukon Delta Fisheries Development Association, a Community Development Quota entity. According to Sharon Leighow, spokeswoman for Gov. Sean Parnell’s office, there are three applicants to fill the upcoming vacancy: Simon Kinneen, Art Nelson and Anne Vanderhoeven. Kinneen works for Norton Sound Economic Development Corp., and Vanderhoeven works for the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp., both CDQs. Nelson works for the Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association, a nonprofit, and has previously been employed by Coastal Villages Region Fund,  also a CDQ. Vanderhoven currently serves on the council’s Advisory Panel, and Kinneen has previously served on that body. Nelson has served on the council’s Steller Sea Lion Mitigation Committee, and is a former member of the Alaska Board of Fisheries. During public comment before the council began the staff tasking portion of its agenda, Kawerak Inc. Vice President of Natural Resources Rose Fosdick said her organization would like to see a Tribal representative on the council. Council member Duncan Fields asked Fosdick if her organization would consider Kinneen a tribal representative for her area. Fosdick said Kinneen works for NSEDC, the local CDQ, which is “not necessarily a Tribal representative.” Instead, she suggested contacting Kawerak’s president for suggestions. “We can move forward from there and give you some good ideas about Tribal rep,” she said. Fosdick and Kawerak are not the only ones asking for tribal representation. Other organizations, such as the Alaska Federation of Natives and the Association of Village Council Presidents, have asked for a Tribal seat. Rep. Don Young told the Journal in a Jan. 23 interview he would like to add another seat to the council for a subsistence representative, and specifically added that he did not consider the CDQ seat to be the same as a subsistence representative. AVCP’s Myron Naneng said he supported Young’s request for the subsistence seat. According to information on the state’s website, Parnell is expected to make three nominations for the seat by March 15.

On eve of Games, GCI, KTUU ink contract through 2017

GCI television customers throughout Alaska are able to watch the winter Olympics — and Alaska-based news — after a months-long dispute between the cable company and an Anchorage broadcaster was resolved. Broadcaster KTUU and GCI announced Feb. 6 that the two companies had reached an agreement on the contract under which GCI carries KTUU’s signal in rural Alaska. That comes after several months of on and off negotiations, including almost three months during which rural Alaska viewers in more than a dozen communities, were not able to see KTUU news programs or syndicated NBC content. GCI stopped carrying KTUU programming in rural Alaska in November, and in Southeast Alaska in December, as negotiations on multiple contracts between the two companies stalled. The new contracts will run through September 2017, according to GCI spokesman David Morris. In a statement, KTUU President and General Manager Andy MacLeod said getting to the new contracts required both sides to give in somewhat. “GCI and KTUU-TV worked to find middle ground on the contract language and the market-based agreement provides a level playing field for both companies to grow into the future,” MacLeod said. Morris confirmed that both companies had moved toward the middle since discussion stalled last year, but could not provide specific details of the contracts. KTUU Marketing Director Brad Hillwig said last December that the companies agreed in principle on economic terms for the agreement. The details stymied the process, however — specifically, what would happen if KTUU acquired another station. At that time, Morris said that KTUU inserted a provision that the same negotiation would occur if KTUU acquired another broadcaster. Morris said that effectively doubled KTUU’s ask. Hillwig wrote in a December email that he wasn’t involved in the negotiations, and didn’t know who brought up the discussion of the provision, but that GCI wanted language that would dictate the terms of future KTUU joint ventures or acquisitions by mandating acceptance of the existing retransmission agreements GCI had in place. “At this time, I’m not aware of any plans to acquire an additional station or enter into any joint ventures,” Hillwig wrote Dec. 10. “However, changes in the media industry happen often and it is important that we remain flexible enough to consider growth opportunities if and when they arise.” That issue, and other components of the contracts, has been resolved, although the two companies are not saying how. The new contracts, however, sufficiently protect GCI’s interests, Morris said. Morris said the timing of when the two companies put together contracts was not related to the international event. “We were pursuing any number of avenues, but the Olympics didn’t have anything to do with it,” Morris said. KTUU has said it is glad its Olympics coverage would reach a wider audience. “We are glad rural Alaskans will see the Olympics on KTUU-TV and that they and Southeast residents will be able to follow Channel 2’s in-depth coverage of the Alaska athletes competing in Sochi,” MacLeod said. Viewers were not entirely cutoff from winter Olympics coverage, however, Morris said. Rural Alaska GCI customers had access to online streaming of the games, he said. NBC offered the online stream to anyone who subscribed to a paid TV service, and the online site had more events than the televised broadcasts, Morris said, and at more convenient times. GCI subsidiary Denali Media acquired two Southeast Alaska stations last year, and was unable to reach an agreement with KTUU about rebroadcasting KTUU news. Those stations, however, were also NBC affiliates, so the network programming was not dropped and Olympics coverage remained. However, KTUU has reporters in Sochi, Russia, for the winter games, and is the only Alaska-based television station with staff there. That coverage is only available now that KTUU is being carried by GCI again. Alaska sent several athletes to the competition this year, and other Alaska media outlets are also covering them. Morris said he thought both entities would make an effort to avoid getting customers stuck in the middle during the next set of negotiations. All parties involved were frustrated that customers wound up in the middle, he said. In addition to the two recently purchased Southeast Alaska stations, GCI recently became a news producer, as well, by purchasing an Anchorage television station KTVA, and has announced plans for additional acquisitions in Southeast.

Young calls for subsistence seats on Yukon panel

Alaska U.S. Rep. Don Young is looking to add a subsistence representative to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council as part of the pending changes during the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. The act provides the basis for federal fisheries management throughout the country, including between three and 200 miles offshore from Alaska. It was last updated in 2006, and is set to be reauthorized this year. A draft version, with changes, was released by the House Natural Resources Committee in December. Generally, Young told the Journal in January that he isn’t looking for major changes beyond that draft. “I think there’s going to have to be, on the council, a subsistence representative, primarily because of the conflict of the king salmon,” Young said. Young said that while the trawl fleet’s bycatch is not the only issue facing Alaska’s salmon, it would help to have a perspective on the council other than commercial stakeholders. A designated subsistence seat would not be a Community Development Quota group seat, Young said. CDQ groups include six organizations representing 65 Western Alaska villages within 50 miles of the Bering Sea coast that receive 10.7 percent of all federal fishing quotas, including pollock, halibut and crab. “CDQ is different,” Young said. The current chair of the council is Eric Olson, who works for the CDQ group Yukon Fisheries Development Association. The council is the body that makes management decisions for federal waters offshore from Alaska. The National Marine Fisheries Service, or NMFS, is responsible for overseeing day-to-day management and implementing most of those decisions. Myron Naneng, president of the Association of Village Council Presidents, said he supported adding a subsistence voice to the council. “The North Pacific Fishery Management Council is stacked high with industry,” he said. AVCP members live along the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers, which have some of the major salmon concerns in the state. Young said he thought some commercial fishermen might not support the idea, however. “It may not fly because some of the commercial fishermen I know would object to it,” he said. Bob Alverson, general manager for the Seattle-based Fishing Vessel Owners Association, said he could see why Alaska would want that representation. Alaska is a unique state in regards to subsistence, he said. “It’s part of the lifestyle, I don’t think that’s out of line,” he said. There’s concern about how an additional Alaska seat would shift the balance on the council, however. Currently, Alaska controls six of the 11 voting seats. Alaska’s governor nominates individuals for five seats, and there is a designated seat for the Department of Fish and Game commissioner, currently Cora Campbell. A seventh Alaskan is Jim Balsiger, who is the designated federal representative as Alaska Region director for the NMFS. Washington has three seats and Oregon has one. Some Washington stakeholders have already said Alaska has too much power on the council under the status quo, and their congressional delegation wouldn’t support another Alaska seat on the council, Young said. He doesn’t think the balance is a problem. Alverson said that if an Alaskan subsistence seat was added, Washington might want a seat of its own, or a provision that Alaska couldn’t use its supermajority to determine certain allocation issues. Washington’s governor currently nominates two members, and a third seat is held for a top Washington fisheries official. Adding another Washington seat to balance an Alaska subsistence seat would bring the total number of voting council members to 13. Alverson said that number likely wouldn’t be too many. He said he works with the Pacific Fishery Management Council, which has 14 voting members and still functions. The Pacific council also has a Tribal government representative as one of its voting members. Naneng said that a subsistence voice would be particularly helpful in discussion about bycatch. Currently, in-river fishermen face the largest burden of conservation at times when king salmon stocks on several western Alaska rivers and streams, including the Kuskokwim and Yukon, are low. Naneng said a subsistence representative could ask more questions about the king catch in the ocean, and raise concerns about whether or not the current observer program and caps are being implemented effectively. Sen. Mark Begich, who serves on the Senate’s oceans subcommittee, agreed that Alaska needs a way to include subsistence voices on the council. “Over the past year I have held four listening sessions on the Magnuson-Stevens Act all across the state — including two with subsistence users — and one thing came through loud and clear: Alaska Native people want a stronger voice on subsistence issues that come before the North Pacific Fishery Management Council,” Begich said in an statement provided by email. “We are looking at options available now and hope to move some recommendations forward through the MSA reauthorization process.” The Alaska Federation of Natives has also asked for a new seat on the council. In a resolution passed in 2013, AFN asked for a voting Tribal representative on the council that is nominated by Alaska’s Tribes, for subsistence to be added throughout the MSA, and for other changes that would give more weight to subsistence in the federal management process. Yukon River changes The North Pacific Fishery Management Council is not the only place Young said he would like to see changes. He also wants a Yukon River salmon management body with representation from villages along the river that “has bite,” he said. That could be done as part of the Pacific Salmon Treaty between the U.S. and Canada, which is up for negotiation next year. Currently, the Yukon River Panel makes Yukon recommendations under the Pacific Salmon Treaty. That body makes some recommendations, but much of the management is split between the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, depending on the location, in Alaska — and to a Canadian subcommittee and management entities for Yukon Territory. Young said the new body would include one member for each village along the river. Those are the people dependent on the river, and most affected by the declining king runs there, he said. Naneng said he supported giving communities along the Yukon more of a say in how that river is managed. Such a change would likely result in better buy-in from villages when there is a conservation concern, he said. People who live along the river year-round could also add observation and environmental impacts to the discussion that are not considered by seasonal fishery workers, Naneng said. In 2012, AVCP developed a resolution creating the Yukon River Inter-tribal Fisheries Commissions that would include representatives from all Yukon communities. In 2013, AFN passed a resolution asking those involved in Yukon River management to fully recognize and work with the fisheries commissions. AFN also called for the State of Alaska to provide funding for the commissions, and share scientific and historic data.

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