Molly Dischner

Northern District issues also on tap for Board of Fisheries

Kenai Peninsula issues won’t be the only decisions before the Alaska Board of Fisheries as it considers the Northern District during its two-week Upper Cook Inlet meeting that began Jan. 31. Northern District streams primarily flow through the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, and that area contains the majority of the state salmon listed as stocks of concern. The source of the Mat-Su salmon woes is unknown, with some blaming interception by commercial fishermen in the Inlet, others blaming habitat issues, and still others asserting that the problem lies farther out in the ocean. The borough, and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, or ADFG, have worked to better understand salmon runs in the region and improve certain components of the habitat over the past several years, and fishing by all users has been restricted at some point. Proposals submitted for the upcoming meeting address what the board can change in regards to those hypotheses — primarily fishing effort and escapement goals. Much of the Northern District discussion will come up in Committee D, which is tentatively expected to be discussed in committee Feb. 10, with decisions made Feb. 11-13. Petersburg’s John Jensen will chair that committee, with Reed Morisky, from Fairbanks, and Talkeetna’s Tom Kluberton also participating. Members of the public will join them for the discussion. Northern District proposals will also come up elsewhere in the meeting. The Matanuska-Susitna Borough’s Fish and Wildlife Commission has asked the board to create more escapement goals for area waterways, and also wants to change commercial fishing regulations farther south. Some of the escapement goals were also proposed by the local advisory committee. Jim Colver, a Mat-Su Borough assembly member and vice chair of the fish and wildlife commission, said use of the expanded Kasilof and Kenai drift corridors, rather than fishing in the middle of the Inlet, or Area 1, would mean less interception of Northern District salmon. Colver said that would give the fish a chance to swim north. Fishing those corridors is less efficient, however, and drift fishermen generally oppose expanding their use. Eventually, Colver said he’d like to see the Upper Cook Inlet management shift to more closely mirror Bristol Bay, where commercial fishermen target specific runs. That would require a better understanding of where fish are headed as they swim through the Inlet. Some genetic and migration studies have been done, including a 2013 tagging effort, but more is needed to have a complete picture of what fish are where. Additional escapement goals could help managers understand what is needed to ensure future returns in the area, Colver said. “How do we quantify, manage the fishery, without having those goals?” Colver said. Colver said the commission also doesn’t support the efforts to limit personal use fishing, or restrict in-river users. “From a standpoint of a lifetime Alaskan resident, and representing the people in my assembly district, Alaskans like to go fish,” Colver said. Ideally, he’d like to ensure that all users had the opportunity to fish — commercial, and not just sport, he said. The borough assembly also passed three resolutions weighing on the upcoming board meeting, which are similar to the commission’s priorities. Those ask the board to conserve Northern District salmon by implementing regulations restricting the the drift fleet to the expanded Kenai and Kasilof sections, oppose regulations that would reduce personal use fishing, and support establishing escapement goals. Commercial fishermen, however, aren’t convinced that the Mat-Su stakeholders have proposed the right solutions. United Cook Inlet Drift Association Executive Director Roland Maw said that some Northern District salmon runs are stronger than users have acknowledged. UCIDA has suggested that efforts to improve Northern District runs should focus on what can be controlled in that area, like habitat. The organization has also submitted proposals that would limit in-river catches of some Northern District stocks. Maw also pointed to northern pike as a major problem — and one that isn’t related to the commercial catch. Generally, his organization doesn’t want to see their fishing time or area changed. “Restricting us has not solved a single problem for those folks in the Valley,” he said. Maw said the numbers of fish bound for the Northern District aren’t substantially different inside and outside the expanded corridors around the Kenai and Kasilof, and the fish don’t seem to separate themselves enough to allow the drift fleet to target one stock in a particular area. That means that Bristol Bay-style management likely isn’t a realistic goal for the region, he said. Maw also said UCIDA doesn’t support all of the new escapement goals being proposed, but would be interested in hearing from ADFG about establishing some goals for index stocks for the Northern District. In a letter submitted as public comment, residents of Nikolaevsk also weighed in, asking for fewer restrictions in the drift management plans. The letter asks that the board reconsider Yentna-related concerns. According to reports submitted by the Upper Cook Inlet Drift Association, salmon returning to that river have been significantly undercounted. The Nikolaevsk residents noted that they have a strong dependence on commercial fishing for their livelihood. The fishermen also asked that the board consider that pressure on the salmon resource has increased from Anchorage and Mat-Su residents, but that the drift fleet is limited in entry and has not changed. The Nikolaevsk letter was just one of many submitted as official public comment to the board about Northern District issues. Sen. Mike Dunleavy also wrote the board echoing many of the Mat-Su commission’s ideas — and noting that he serves on the finance budget subcommittee on Fish and Game, and will be aggressive in supporting his district. His top goal, he wrote, was establishing a priority that meeting the bottom end of escapement goals is more important than worrying about exceeding the top end. Dunleavy also asked for more escapement goals, further restrictions for the drift fleet and enhanced personal use fishing opportunity. He also asked that legislators receive additional time after the end of the session to make proposals to the board. Molly Dischner can be reached at [email protected]

Final action scheduled to define fishing guide, close loopholes

The definition of a fishing guide, Bering Sea halibut bycatch, tendering in the Gulf of Alaska and grenadier management will top the North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s February agenda. The council will meet in Seattle Feb. 5 to 11. Final action to define a fishing guide is scheduled, an action that could streamline state and federal definitions and make management and enforcement in the charter halibut fishery clearer. The council has options related to the definition, including each of the terms involved — compensation and assistance. Another option is that guide services could be rendered from a different vessel. The need for a definition came up because of concerns that guide operators were skirting the regulations by helping clients from a different boat or otherwise finding loopholes. The daily bag limit for an unguided angler is two fish of any size, while guided anglers are held to stricter bag and size limits. Fishermen have said, however, that defining guide operations differently could result in more catch being attributed to the guided sector. The council will also review a proposal that would allow charter operators to access a pool of extra fish. The newly created catch sharing plan included a provision for operators to lease fish for their clients from commercial fishermen. The proposal, which came from stakeholders, would allow multiple operators to share a pool of leased fish. The council will also review a discussion paper on halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea commercial fisheries. This is the first year halibut bycatch caps are being phased in for Gulf of Alaska fishermen, and the council could pursue a similar action for the Bering Sea. In Seattle, the council will hear a report on halibut bycatch, which was prepared by Northern Economics. No alternatives for action have been identified or analyzed yet, and the paper generally looks at the bycatch for various fisheries. Observer discussion continues The restructured marine observer program implemented by the National Marine Fisheries Service in 2013 will also be discussed. The council will hear an update on the structure of the annual report, scheduled for June, and hear about efforts to study electronic monitoring and see how cameras might replace human observers in certain situations. In 2013, an issue with vessels avoiding observer coverage, or behaving differently when observed and unobserved, arose. Changing that, however, could require a regulatory amendment. At the February meeting, the council will review a discussion paper about possible regulatory amendments to help solve issues in the observer program. The council will also talk about a related tendering issue in the Gulf of Alaska. Vessels targeting pollock and Pacific cod appear to have increased their use of tenders under the new observer program. If a vessel is not randomly selected for an observer, it can continuously deliver to a tender while counting the fishing as a single trip, and thus avoid coverage for weeks or an entire season. Tendered deliveries are also not observed, and according to the discussion paper: “Catch delivered to a tender vessel makes it more difficult both to project catch rates, to get information on deliveries in a timely way, and to precisely manage Chinook salmon prohibited species catch limits.” The tendering issue could also require a regulatory amendment to address. In addition to council’s discussions, a Community Fishing Association workshop will be held Feb. 10 to discuss rationalization programs. The workshop will bring together fisheries stakeholders from other regions to discuss how to protect fishing-dependent communities in rationalization programs. That’s being held with an eye toward the Gulf of Alaska, where the council is considering bycatch management measures including a catch share program that would slow down fisheries by allocating harvest privileges to certain participants based on their history in the fishery. Representatives from Kodiak and other coastal communities have asked the council to consider allocating certain quota to the communities to protect them from the changes, particularly consolidation, that rationalization often brings. Grenediers action Grenadiers are not currently managed, meaning there are no catch limits or required monitoring, and the council’s scheduled final action could amend the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska fishery management plans to add the fish. The analysis looks at three species of grenadiers. Typically, they are found between 600 and 3,000 feet deep, and previous attempts to develop a fishery for them have been unsuccessful, because the fish has a soft texture, is very moist, and is low in protein content. The council’s preliminary preferred action is to add grenadiers to the management plan as an ecosystem component species. That means fishermen would have to report any grenadiers caught, directed fishing could not occur, and the council would need to set a maximum retainable amount, or MRA, for the species. Other possible actions include adding grenadiers to the management plan as “in the fishery” meaning that total allowable catches would be set each year.

Halibut harvests cut for 10th straight season

SEATTLE — Halibut fishermen will see another year of cuts under catch limits adopted Jan. 17 at the International Pacific Halibut Commission’s annual meeting. Alaska’s portion of the 2014 catch is about 19.7 million pounds, out of a coastwide catch of 27.5 million pounds. The coastwide catch is about 10 percent less than 2013, marking 10 consecutive years of cuts. The 2013 limit was about 31.02 million pounds coastwide, and 23 million pounds in Alaska. The commission, or IPHC, met in Seattle Jan. 13-17 to set the catch limits from Northern California to the Bering Sea and discuss other issues in the Pacific halibut fishery. The six-member body is comprised of three representatives from America and three from Canada, and regulates halibut under the Pacific Halibut Treaty signed in 1923. By regulatory area, the 2014 catch limits are as follows: • 2A (Northern California-Washington): 960,000 pounds down from 990,000 pounds in 2013 • 2B (Canada): 6.85 million pounds, down from 7.04 million pounds in 2013 • 2C (Southeast Alaska): 4.16 million pounds, up from 2.97 million pounds in 2013 • 3A (Southcentral Alaska): 9.43 million pounds, down from 11.03 million pounds in 2013 • 3B (Western Gulf of Alaska): 2.84 million pounds, down from 4.29 million pounds in 2013 • 4A (Alaska Peninsula): 850,000 pounds, down from 1.33 million pounds in 2013 • 4B (Aleutian Islands): 1.14 million pounds, down from 1.45 million pounds in 2013 • 4CDE (Bering Sea): 1.285 million pounds, down from 1.93 million pounds in 2013 The limits all passed unanimously. 2014 will be the first year charter and commercial fishermen operate under a combined catch limit in Areas 2C and 3A, so the catch limits do not present as clear of a comparison for those areas. The commercial catch for Area 3A is 7.317 million pounds. Guided recreational fishermen will be limited to 1.782 million pounds, including wastage, in that area. For 2C, fishermen will see only a slightly increased catch compared to 2014, despite the 1.45 million pound catch limit increase. The commercial portion of the catch is 3.3 million pounds, while the charter catch will be 761,280 pounds. Although the conference board, which is the advisory body that represents harvesters, had advocated for higher limits, some Alaska fishermen said they were happy to see the commission take a conservation-minded approach. “While it’s economically painful in the short term, I’m glad to see that the commission took most of the recommended cuts,” said Homer fisherman Malcolm Milne, from the North Pacific Fisheries Association. “This will hopefully put us at the bottom and we can start rebuilding.” The cuts are the result of declining exploitable halibut biomass, although the IPHC’s quantitative scientist, Ian Stewart, said it appeared that the stock was leveling out. The cuts come at a time when halibut prices are low, and the overall value of the fishery has declined, which makes them particularly hard for fishermen. Last year, halibut prices started low. The average ex-vessel price for the opening period of the season, which ended March 31, was $3.78 averaged across all Alaska landing ports. By the final period, which ended Nov. 30, the price averaged across all ports was $5.05. Those prices are based on the information NOAA Fisheries uses to calculate the cost recovery bills it sends to fishermen each year. Those were down from 2012, when the March average for all areas was $6.29, and the final price in November for all areas was $5.66 per pound. According to the same estimates, the dockside value of the 2013 fishery was $105 million, about $32 million less than the 2012 value. Alaska fishermen also left some fish in the water last year, taking about 96 percent of the individual fishing quota, or IFQ, catch in 2013. IFQ holders are allowed to roll as much as 10 percent of their quota into the following year. This year, the halibut season will run from March 8 to Nov. 7 for the commercial IFQ fisheries. That’s shorter than the season the Conference Board recommended, but longer than the Processor Advisory Group had requested. The CB suggested March 8 to Nov. 15. The PAG recommended the season run from March 22 to Oct. 31. Those dates would allow some sales of halibut already in the freezer before the season opened, and end with plenty of time to market halibut before American Thanksgiving. The later start date was also meant to allow processors to go to the Boston Seafood Show before the season began, according to PAG Chair Tom McLaughlin. The commission, however, selected the middle length, noting that it did want to get the fishery closed before the conflict with Thanksgiving marketing began. Overall, the total 2014 limit is slightly higher than the blue line preliminary estimate released in December that couples the IPHC’s harvest policy with the current stock status. Commissioners noted, however, that the final limit was within the range presented by IPHC staff in its decision table. Much of the Alaska limit matched the blue line paired with apportionment policy, although Bering Sea fishermen saw a slight adjustment upward. Coastal Villages Region Fund, or CVRF, and Central Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association, or CBSFA, advocated for higher limits in the most northern halibut fisheries. CVRF is the Community Development Quota group for 20 villages in the Kuskokwim delta. CBSFA is the CDQ group for the village of St. Paul. Those CDQ groups pointed to a regional dependence on halibut for their economy as a reason more quota was needed, and individual fishermen submitted comments and testified in person supporting that position. The commission chose a smaller limit than was requested, but one that was higher than the blue line. New American commissioner Bob Alverson of Seattle, who made the motion for the 4B catch limit, said it was a way to stair step in the cuts that would have resulted from implementing the blue line. American Don Lane of Homer, the other new member of the commission, made the motion for the 4CDE catch limit, and echoed those comments. Lane said the limit reflected the need for a precautionary approach to protect the halibut, while also providing some fishing opportunity in the region. CBSFA CEO Jeff Kauffman said his group was glad for the increase over the blue line. “I think the solution is probably the fairest,” he said after the decision was made. “This halibut is really, really important to us.” Fishermen in Area 2A and 2B also received upward adjustments. In Area 2A, which includes northern California, Oregon and Washington, Alverson made the motion for the limit, and said the increase was partially reflective of a strong catch per unit effort in the area. In that area, there is strong accountability for the catch by the coastal states and treaty nations that manage fishing, and the trawl rationalization has reduced halibut catch as well, Alverson said. For Area 2B, the limit was reflective of issues in the stock, but also the fact that British Columbia does not have the same level of bycatch as the Alaska fisheries. Canadian Commissioner Paul Ryall made the motion for that limit, noting that the situation in B.C. is similar to the Area 2A fisheries in terms of observer coverage and accountability. Lane and Alverson were appointed to the commission in January, joining Jim Balsiger, who heads the National Marine Fisheries Service in Alaska as the American representation. Lane and Balsiger had indicated before the decision was made that they supported the preliminary estimate, and trying to give the stock an opportunity to rebuild. Although the coastwide catch is slightly higher than the estimate, it is lower than the 2013 catch. Alverson said the cuts weren’t surprising, and are necessary for the stock. “I knew going in that the resource is in trouble, and I knew that some tough decisions had to be made,” he said after the meeting ended Jan. 17. Molly Dischner can be reached at [email protected]

Halibut commission tackles management, research issues

SEATTLE — In addition to setting the 2014 catch limits, the International Pacific Halibut Commission discussed other fishery regulations, research and bycatch at its annual meeting. The commission approved the various allocation plans throughout the Pacific, and provided charter management measures for Areas 2C (Southeast Alaska) and 3A (central Gulf of Alaska) based on recommendations from the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. Guided anglers will be limited to two fish when fishing out of Southcentral ports this summer, with the second fish limited to 29 inches or smaller in length. Charter vessels will also make only one trip per day. That’s stricter than last year, when there was no limit on the size of the second fish and vessels could make multiple trips in a day. The daily limit mostly affects operators on the Kenai Peninsula, where multiple trips are most common. The carcass of a filleted fish must also be retained on charter vessels now, because the size is limited. For Southeast Alaska, guided anglers can keep one fish per day, and it will again be under a reverse slot limit: the fish must be 44 inches or shorter, or 76 inches or longer. That’s more restrictive than the 2013 management measures were, due to the decreased catch. “Clearly, the commission took a conservative approach in the interests of the long-term health of the resource,” wrote SouthEast Alaska Guides Organizaton Executive Director Heath Hilyard in a statement. “We had hoped there might a modest upward adjustment over the blue line sufficient to help us return to the lower slot of 45 inches. However, as conscientious participants in the halibut fishery, we certainly understand the commission’s reasoning for adopting the numbers they did. Ultimately, the most important thing is the health and future of the resource.” The commission gave the North Pacific council the green light to develop regulations that could allow halibut caught incidentally in the directed sablefish fishery to be retained in Area 4A. That’s far from a done deal yet. The council still must go through its regular process to initiate and analyze a regulatory amendment. But the commission’s action allows it to do so — pots are not typically an allowable gear type for catching halibut. Homer’s Don Lane, a new commissioner, said the action was a good way to start addressing bycatch, but noted that the action specifically intended for the retention to be the result of incidental catch, and that the commission didn’t want to encourage a pot fishery for halibut in the area. The commission also had a report from its bycatch working group. This year, the report is expected to be finalized, with any recommendations to be discussed further as part of developing a bycatch strategy. No immediate bycatch changes are planned. Canadian Commissioner Michael Pearson talked about the need for national accountability, and said essentially it could be a way of having Alaska handle its bycatch much the way Areas 2A (Northern California) and 2B (British Columbia) have. In those areas, there is less bycatch and more of the total halibut mortality is accounted for. In Alaska, however, the total removals included room for 11.4 million pounds of removals outside the directed halibut fishery this year, Pearson noted. More accurate accounting is also needed, he said. “That 11.4 million is a guess,” Pearson said. “We know it’s a guess. It’s a guess because we don’t have enough full information from all regulatory areas about how much bycatch is being taken.” After the meeting ended, American Commissioner Bob Alverson said the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which manages federal fisheries offshore from Alaska, would need to take the lead on addressing halibut bycatch in its waters. Homer Fisherman Malcolm Milne agreed. “I think with this stock level, it’s more important than ever that (the council) takes definitive steps to reduce the bycatch,” Milne said. The council has implemented bycatch reductions in the Gulf of Alaska — with 2014 being the first year of a phased-in 15 percent cut in the bycatch by trawlers and longliners — and in February will discuss Bering Sea halibut bycatch. The 15 percent cut over three years amounts to about 660,000 pounds of halibut. IPHC staff also talked about 2014 research at the meeting. This summer, the IPHC will begin the first portion of a five-year effort to expand its survey efforts and get some additional data about the stock of halibut throughout the Pacific. The new sites for 2014 are in Areas 2A and 4A, with other areas to follow in subsequent years. The goal is to get a better sense of distribution and depth of halibut in each area. The biggest addition would be seen in Area 4B, where 75 to 100 new stations would be included in the 2015 survey. This year, IPHC staff also plans to work on several tasks including commercial catch per unit effort standardization, evaluating fixed catch allocations versus a survey-based biomass apportionment as a function of migration rate, and continue to enhance the ensemble model approach. The commission also discussed its future meetings. Canadian Commissioner Paul Ryall will be the chair for 2014-2015, and the next annual meeting will be held in Vancouver, B.C Jan. 26-30, 2015. The commission is also looking at having the 2014 interim meeting, scheduled for Dec. 2-3, at a commercial facility rather than the IPHC offices, in part to help with the ongoing effort to make the process more open and transparent. Molly Dischner can be reached at [email protected]

Winter fishing seasons begin, snow crab ramps up early

The federal Bering Sea pollock A season opened Jan. 20, marking the start of the largest fishery in the U.S. This year, fishermen in federal waters will have access to 1.267 million metric tons of pollock in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, or BSAI, and 162,351 metric tons in the Gulf of Alaska. Those total allowable catches, or TACs, are an increase compared to 2013, when fishermen had access to 1.247 million tons in the BSAI and 110,272 metric tons in the Gulf. The most recent stock assessments showed stronger pollock recruitment than had been seen in recent years. According to a National Marine Fisheries Service report, the Aleutian Islands portion of the TAC will be reallocated to the Bering Sea. Pollock fishing in the Aleutian Islands has been severely limited in recent years due to Steller sea lion protections. Pollock prices for much of last year were in the low teens in cents per pound, although trawlers in the Gulf successfully asked for more toward the end of the year, getting 15.5 cents per pound. The 2014 pollock harvest in the Bering Sea converts to nearly 2.8 billion pounds. Despite the low prices, that fishery makes up a large portion of the Alaska commercial catch by volume — in 2011, it was about 51 percent of the catch, according to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. There’s another change in the pollock fishery this year. The 2013 version of the American Fisheries Society Common and Scientific Names of Fishes has a new scientific name for walleye pollock — Gadus chalcogrammus, instead of the old Theragra chalcogramma. That means it has the same genus as cod, which is meant to better reflect its evolutionary lineage. According to an explanation from James Orr and Duane Stevenson at NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center, the change comes after genetic studies showed that pollock has the same lineage as Atlantic, Greenland and Pacific cod, although it is more closely related to Atlantic cod than the other species. Arctic and Polar cod do not share the Gadus genus. Pollock, however, remains the common name of the fish. Labeling it as cod will be considered incorrect, according to NOAA. The Pacific cod fishery is also now underway. This year, the TAC for that fishery was split between the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands. The federal Pacific cod TAC is 245,897 metric tons in the Bering Sea and 6,997 metric tons in the Aleutian Islands. That’s less than a combined TAC for the two areas of 260,000 metric tons in 2013. Hook and line catcher processors started fishing in early January, and took 6,949 metric tons in the first few weeks of the fishery, and are capped at 56,108 mt for the A season. For trawlers, the Pacific cod A season opened Jan. 20, with caps of 37,079 mt for trawl catcher vessels, 3,911 mt for catcher-processors, and 22,786 mt for the Amendment 80, or bottom trawl, cooperatives. In Adak, Adak Cod Cooperative is expected to start processing Pacific cod this year at the local processing facility, as well. In December, the company announced an effort to hire locally, and Jan. 15 held a hiring event in Anchorage, looking for individuals who could begin work in the processing plant Feb. 1. Other BSAI and GOA groundfish fisheries also begin in January, including Atka mackerel, flathead sole and rock sole, and yellowfin sole. State waters and parallel seasons for the groundfish fisheries are also getting going. The catch limits were set by the federal North Pacific Fishery Management Council in December. The council manages fisheries from 3 to 200 miles offshore from Alaska. Groundfish catches in the Bering Sea are limited to a total combined 2 million metric tons. Snow crab starts early While fishermen have just started targeting groundfish, other fisheries started early. The Bering Sea snow crab fishery opens in October each year, although it was slightly delayed by the government shutdown this year, but typically fishing doesn’t begin until Jan. 15. According to a Jan. 21 report from NOAA Fisheries, 13.8 million pounds were caught in the individual fishing quota fishery by that date, out of a 48.58 million pound allocation. That’s about 28 percent of the TAC for the season, taken in 126 landings. “They actually started fishing in December, which is very atypical,” said Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist Heather Fitch, out of Dutch Harbor. Fitch said about 10 to 15 vessels headed out for crab early, and that an influx of vessels were expected to start fishing later in January. The boats fishing in December and January haven’t encountered any sea ice issues, Fitch said. So far this season, the snow crab price has ranged from $2 per pound to $2.16 per pound, based on fish tickets, Fitch said. Last year, the final price was about $2.02. Those numbers don’t include post-season adjustments, or catcher processors, however, Fitch noted, and are just ADFG’s estimates.

Group behind effort to ban Cook Inlet setnets files appeal

The Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance will appeal the state’s decision to reject its proposed ballot initiative that would ban setnetters in Cook Inlet. In November, AFCA submitted signatures asking for voters to consider banning setnetting in the urban, nonsubsistence, areas of the state — such as the Anchorage area, much of the Kenai Peninsula, Valdez and Juneau. That would eliminate Cook Inlet setnetters and not have an immediate affect on anyone else, although fishermen in other communities would lose the right to setnet if Alaska’s Board of Fisheries and Board of Game removed a region’s rural, subsistence, designation in the future. Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell announce on Jan. 6 that the proposed ban on setnetting did not meet the legal standards to appear on a ballot. Treadwell used an Alaska Department of Law opinion that said the initiative was a prohibited appropriation of state assets in striking it down. AFCA announced the decision to appeal Jan. 22 during a press conference in Anchorage, and maintained that the initiative is about conservation, not appropriation. AFCA Executive Director Clark Penney said the appeal had been filed that morning in Alaska Superior Court. AFCA will seek expedited consideration so that a decision is made in the next few months, said Matt Singer, legal counsel for the group. Either party could choose to appeal the Superior Court’s decision to the Alaska Supreme Court, Singer said, so it is likely the decision will be made by that body. AFCA was targeting the August 2016 primary ballot for the initiative; that could still happen if the decision is overturned, and enough signatures are gathered. Singer said the legal opinion on which the state’s decision was based was incorrect, and could set a dangerous legal precedent. “They’re wrong on the law,” Singer said. Instead, Singer said that voters have a constitutional right to go to the ballot box, with very few limits on what they can do, although appropriations are one of the prohibited initiatives. Eliminating setnetters in Cook Inlet would likely result in increased catch for in-river sport fishermen and for the fleet of drift boats targeting sockeye. That state’s legal opinion was based largely on a 1996 Alaska Supreme Court decision in Pullen v. 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. In the Pullen case, a ballot initiative would have allocated a preferential portion of salmon to subsistence, personal use and sport fisheries, and limited them to about 5 percent of the projected statewide harvest. After it was initially certified, the state Supreme Court ruled that was an unconstitutional appropriation, and the initiative was not allowed on the ballot. But Singer said that AFCA initiative did not address that appropriation issue. It eliminated a gear type, and left it to the Board of Fisheries to determine what happens to the resulting abundance. AFCA board member Bill MacKay said he got involved in the effort because he believed the group was focused on conservation. “We expect to win this case,” MacKay said. That’s not how the state has characterized it. “Prohibiting shore gill nets and set nets in nonsubsistence areas effectuates an actual, measureable allocation of Chinook salmon from the East Side Set Net commercial salmon fishery in Cook Inlet to the Kenai River in-river sport fishery and to the Kenai and Kasilof personal use fisheries,” wrote Assistant Attorney General Elizabeth Bakalar on behalf of Attorney General Michael Geraghty. When asked why not shut down both sport and commercial catches of kings, if the goal is conservation, AFCA President Joe Connors said sport fishermen don’t oppose restrictions, and have accepted them in recent years. However, “a lot” of king salmon were caught by the setnet fleet, he said. “I think the numbers (of fish caught by each group) were significantly different,” he said. According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, in 2013 an estimated 2,256 late-run Kenai River king salmon were harvested in the Upper Subdistrict setnet fishery. In-river mortality, according to ADFG, was 1,620 late-run kings in 2013. AFCA founder Bob Penney said that the state more closely regulates sport fishermen. “They know what’s taking place in the river,” Penney said. Later, Penney and Connors also responded to a question about other protections, such as preventing fishing on spawning grounds. Connors said the Board of Fisheries has taken “drastic” action to reduce sport catches in the last 20 years. Members, however, would not specifically say whether or not the Board of Fisheries has been deficient in limiting setnetters or protecting kings, instead referring to the fact that voters have the right to weigh in on conservation needs regardless of what the board does. Some Cook Inlet setnetters participated in the press conference or teleconference to ask why the organization was trying to take away their jobs and livelihood. MacKay said the loss of jobs was a legitimate concern, and one of the reasons residents of the state would have a long time to discuss the initiative before voting on it. When asked about mitigating the impacts to fishermen, AFCA members said they thought that was something for the state to discuss. MacKay said it wasn’t appropriate for AFCA to weigh-in on whether or not conversion to a cleaner gear type, such as fish traps, would work. Penney also said that he supported commercial fishing around the state, and recognized its importance in providing jobs and food for Alaskans, however, he referenced setnets as having the “highest bycatch” of any fishing in state waters, making it a gear type that was not appropriate when there is a concern about the status of kings. Bycatch, however, is not the correct term. Setnetters target sockeyes, but have a legal right to retain and sell all five species of Pacific salmon, including king salmon. And while setnetters catch more kings than the drift boats fishing in Cook Inlet, they don’t have the highest catch of kings in the state. Earlier in January, Alaska’s Board of Fisheries approved a new regulation for seiners in Kodiak’s Alitak District that requires them to toss kings larger than 28 inches back when they are caught incidentally before July 6. That came after the seiners caught 29,921 kings in 2013 while mostly targeting sockeyes and pinks. Other fisheries groups have opposed the initiative, including the Alaska Salmon Alliance, Kenai Area Fisherman’s Coalition, the United Cook Inlet Drift Association, the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association, the United Fishermen of Alaska, the City of Kenai and the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly all officially opposed the initiative. Alaska Salmon Alliance’s Executive Director Arni Thomson said he was disappointed in the decision to appeal. “We agree with the attorney general’s well reasoned legal advice not to certify the Set Netter Ban because it is unconstitutional, and it’s shameful to see a special interest group now force innocent Alaskans to fight for their jobs in court. If passed, the Set Netter Ban will instantly destroy the jobs of more than 500 Alaskan families,” Thomson wrote in a statement provided after the appeal was announced. Dwight Kramer, from the Kenai Area Fishermen’s Coalition, agreed. “KAFC is very disappointed that AFCA has taken this course of action,” Kramer wrote in an email. “This initiative process crosses a line in our community when you are proposing to end the livelihoods of some of our neighbors and friends. It also makes it much more difficult to foster the level of cooperation and respect that is necessary to bring the various user groups together to resolve our fishery issues. Law suit or no law suit, this is still all about greed for an allocation advantage and a transfer of wealth for one commercial entity (guided sport) at the expense of another.” In Treadwell’s announcement about the decision not to certify the initiative, he suggested that all the users work together on solutions to the declining king numbers, and use the Board of Fisheries process. Shortly after the Jan. 22 press conference, most user groups attended a Cook Inlet Fisheries panel luncheon at the Kenai Visitor Center. The Alaska Salmon Alliance, Kenai Area Fishermen’s Coalition, Kenai River Sportfishing Association, Kenai Peninsula Fisherman’s Association, city of Kenai and Kenai River Professional Guide Association were all represented. AFCA was invited to participate, but chose not to attend. “We were all here,” Connors said. Connors said there was no specific reason for the conflicting timing, and that AFCA’s filing and announcement had been delayed already.

Slope students participate in hands-on geology lessons

Next summer, 24 students from the North Slope will travel to the Pacific Northwest through the GeoFORCE Alaska program. The students will spend a week visiting Mt. Hood, Crater Lake, Newberry National Monument and other sites, while learning about geology in the region. The participants were recruited from communities in the North Slope Borough including Barrow, Wainwright and Point Hope. Program Coordinator Anne Rittgers said GeoFORCE, which is modeled on a program at the University of Texas at Austin, is about bringing textbook geology to life. Rittgers said that by showing students spectacular geological features, letting them touch the rocks and hike around them, the program hopes to foster students’ interest in geology, and science in general. “We focus on geology and geosciences, but students are really learning how to think like a scientist,” Rittgers said. The Pacific Northwest trip will be the third of four trips the students take together. Previously, they traveled around Alaska, and visited the Grand Canyon. Each trip is about seven days in the field, and about 10 or 11 days away from home once travel time is factored in. Students have 100-page guidebooks, provided by GeoFORCE, filled with information about the geology they’re studying, Rittgers said. The students spend most of their day on the go and learning. Lunch is often just a stop in the park; they visit field sites during the day, and keep driving until dinner. Every day, there is a lecture, time for review, and a quiz. “It’s a pretty intense day, but the students rise to the challenge,” Rittgers said. Shell geologist Josh Payne, who has traveled with the Alaska cohort on the two trips so far, said he’s enjoyed seeing the students grow and learn as they travel together. “A couple days into it they start pointing to things and explaining it to their friends, and that itself is really cool to see happening in 48 hours,” Payne said. Payne has gone along on the trips as one of the mentors the sponsoring organizations send. Rittgers said two or three such individuals travel with the group. “For these kids to see their own state and then to step out and see some of the great geological wonders of the world is amazing,” Payne said. “They have a blast. It’s intense and it’s hard, it’s really hard work, they study a lot, but it’s fun.” GeoFORCE Director Sarah Fowell, who has been an instructor on the trips, said she’s seen the same growth as Payne. “We are so proud of our students,” Fowell said. Each year, the students take a pre- and post-test to measure what they learn. The average pre-test scores have been in the 40s; the average post-test scores have been in the 80s, showing that students are learning the material, Fowell said. To remain in the program, the students must earn at least an 80 percent on the final exam, and get at least a B average in their high school science and math courses during the year. Every participant has meet those standards, she said. There’s also personal growth as the students meet new people and see new places. “I think it’s a big confidence booster to find out that you can work with people you haven’t met before and it’s OK, you can find solutions,” Fowell said. When conversations about starting the program began in 2011, personal and educational growth were exactly what the founders were hoping would happen. Fowell, who is co-chair of the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Department of Geology & Geophysics, said the program helps serve the university’s mission of providing access to education for all Alaskans. Previously, UAF’s College of Natural Science and Mathematics, or CNSM, had noticed that rural and Alaska Native students were underrepresented in the sciences, especially chemistry, physics and geosciences. The program tries to help develop students’ interest in those fields, Fowell said. Geology has a particular relevance. Many of the participants are shareholders of Native corporations on the North Slope that are part of the oil and gas industry there. Those companies, like Arctic Slope Regional Corp., would like to hire more shareholders to help make balanced decisions about development of natural and cultural resources, Fowell said. The program was originally developed in Texas as a partnership between the University of Texas at Austin’s Jackson School of Geosciences and private companies. The Texas participants are from inner city Houston and rural Southwest Texas. The program came to Alaska through a partnership between private companies, the Jackson School, and UAF. CNSM hosts and supports the program, while private companies foot most of the bill. Rittgers said the Texas model was very successful, so the Alaska program is similar, with a few modifications to meet the needs of Alaskan students. In Texas, the graduation rate at the schools students come from is as low as 60 percent, Rittgers said. But 100 percent of the Texas GeoFORCE participants have graduated from high school, and 98 percent have gone on to college, Rittgers said. About two-thirds study STEM fields in college. That success is what drove executives at Great Bear and Shell to begin discussions about bringing the program to Alaska, Rittgers said. The North Slope Borough School District, where participants go to school, has a similar graduation rate to the Texas counterpart. In 2010, about 62 percent of students earned a high school degree. Ultimately, the partners hope the students are inspired to pursue further education in science, engineering, technology and mathematics, or STEM, fields. “We want to give them a taste of what college science courses might include,” Fowell said. The first Alaska trip was in 2012, and 16 students who had just finished eighth grade participated. The next summer, eight more students joined the cohort. This year the program will likely hold steady at 24 participants, who just finished 10th grade. Several adults, including representatives from the sponsoring companies, a geology instructor, a high school science teacher, and college-aged counselors also travel with the students. The first trip took students around the road system in Alaska — they visited Denali, hiked on the Matanuska Glacier, studied coal in Healy, and explored the Fox permafrost tunnel. The second summer, 2013, they went to the Grand Canyon, and got to spend some time with the Texas participants who were there at the same time. The Grand Canyon was Payne’s favorite site so far. “I’d been there a few times, and it’s awesome every time you see it, but to see the awe when they see it is pretty cool,” Payne said. This summer, they’ll fly in and out of Portland, Ore., and see much of the northwest. Payne hopes to attend, depending on scheduling. For their final trip, in 2015, the students will go to the east coast to study the structural geology of the Appalachian Mountains. The program likely won’t end when students go their separate ways at the end of the final trip. GeoFORCE is also about developing community amongst the participants and in Texas, Rittgers said those connections have continued when the students went on to college. Fowell said the Alaska program is also trying to foster those connections. So far, they’re seeing students connect with one another during the school year, and get excited about the next summer’s adventure, she said. When the current cohort is applying to college, GeoFORCE will provide some help navigating the admissions and financial aid processes, she said. Rittgers is also working on finding funding for a second Alaska cohort. Ideally, that will include 40 eighth and ninth grade students who will take their first trip — around Alaska — in 2014. GeoFORCE covers the full cost of the trip, including airfare, lodging and food, and Rittgers said she’s still looking for sponsors to make a second cohort possible. The 2013 sponsors were Arctic Slope Regional Corp., ASRC Energy Services, ExxonMobil, Great Bear Petroleum, GRANITE Construction, Olgoonik, Schlumberger, Shell, SolstenXP and Statoil.

MacArthur fellow focused on immigration, military issues

Attorney Margaret Stock is the most recent Alaskan to be named a MacArthur Fellow. But at first, the 51-year-old thought the Sept. 3 call informing her about the honor might be a joke. That thought was fleeting, and as she talked to a MacArthur representative, she realized the award and the $625,000 “Genius grant” were genuine. Stock, who has worked for Cascadia Cross Border Law’s Anchorage office since it opened July 1, has lived in Alaska since 1986, and practiced law here since 1993. She’s also retired from a 28-year career in the Army Reserve, which included a three-year active duty stint at Fort Richardson that originally brought her to Alaska. “I was given a choice of three places — Panama, Korea or Alaska, and I picked Alaska,” Stock said. The award recognizes the work she has done in combining her military background with immigration law, and influencing immigration and military policy. Stock was recognized largely for her work on projects relating to military recruiting, citizenship and legal assistance for military members and families with immigration issues. Stock’s work included a project called Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest, or MAVNI, that worked to enable the Army to recruit people in the United States legally, even if they didn’t have a green card. After realizing that the Army was self-limiting its recruit pool with the green card requirement, Stock brought it to the attention of the Secretary of the Army in the fall of 2007, and eventually helped develop a pilot program to recruit other legal residents. She worked on the project in active-duty status for short, part-time stints for the better part of her final years of service. During some of that time, she was also teaching at West Point. “It was a totally crazy couple of years of working on this project,” Stock said. Stock’s work on it ended when she retired from the reserves in June 2010. That retirement is required after 28 years of service. Stock called the MAVNI the “most creative thing I’ve ever done in my professional career.” Stock said the project brought tangible benefits to the U.S., including saving money and giving the military a higher-quality pool to recruit from. In the pilot program, the recruits had higher average test scores and degree attainment than their native-born peers joining the Army, which increased the service’s quality marks, Stock said. The recruits have included the 2012 U.S. Army Soldier of the Year, and a winner of the Marine Corps Marathon. “There were a whole lot of them like that, superstar types,” Stock said. Although not every recruit was a good fit, “most of the people were exceptionally terrific candidates for the army,” she said. Some Alaskans also joined through the program, including students studying at the University of Alaska Anchorage, and the children of small business owners, whose parents were here legally because of their businesses, but who no longer had a claim to stay in the U.S. once they reached adulthood. “As an attorney, its just a cool thing professionally to think of something that no one else has thought of,” Stock said. Stock’s other projects also reflect her ability to think creatively about what the military needs and how to improve immigration law. She also founded a pro bono legal assistance program, called the AILAMAP, or the American Immigration Lawyers Association Military Assistance Program, and getting the Army, and then other branches of service to integrate the citizenship process into basic training. The U.S. has long offered military service members citizenship, but previously there was no set policy for when it happened. Stock realized this, determined that it could be done more efficiently at basic training, and made that happen. Stock said her work isn’t done. The MacArthur Fellow designation comes with a $625,000 no-strings-attached award, which Stock said she’ll use to continue advocating for immigration and military issues. Next, she wants to improve how military families are treated in the immigration process, work to help banished veterans, and help enable young people who immigrated to the U.S as children join the service. Military families, which can include spouses or dependents who are not citizens, are treated differently throughout the country. In Anchorage, Stock said the local Citizenship and Immigration Services office does a great job of helping families. But that’s not the case everywhere. Once, an office in the Midwest even refused to change an immigration status for a National Guard member, saying that wasn’t a branch of military service. “I want to spend a lot of time trying to advocate for that,” Stock said. Changing the climate nationwide will likely require a policy from the top. Although Former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano detailed a possible policy in a letter, but it was not made official, so it’s not followed. “It takes a top down policy,” Stock said. Stock’s path to immigration law, and eventually combining that with military policy, began with a call from Alaska Legal Services when she was a young lawyer. “I got into immigration law because of this pro bono case,” Stock said. Alaska Legal Services asked her to take on a pro bono immigration case — it was supposed to be a short, 10-hour, case — because she had taken an immigration law course in law school. She won the case, but it took much longer than expected, about 400 hours, and the time spent working on it piqued her interest in immigration law. Then, she worked on several military-related cases. After Sept. 11, Stock said she began getting inundated with immigration questions, and the specialty took off.  “Things got a lot more difficult for immigrants serving in the military,” Stock said. An interest in history has also helped foster that work. Stock knew, as a student of history including research on her own family, that the U.S. has historically been dependent on immigrants to help provide the military workforce in times of war. Today, that’s at an all time low. History also helped with the naturalization program. Stock knew that in the past, soldiers became citizens at basic training. Her work helped restore that practice. The MacArthur Foundation recognizes a class of about 20 to 25 fellows each year. Past Alaskan recipients of the award include Katherine Gottlieb in 2004, Sven Haakanson in 2007 and Jill Seaman in 2009. There have been 873 awardees since the program began in 1981. She spent about three years in active duty based at Fort Richardson, and then was released to go to law school at Harvard. By the time Stock left for the east coast, she had met her husband in Alaska, and planned to return. She came back for summers while in law school, and returned once she completed school. She spent the remainder of her career in the reserves in Alaska, and retired from the Army reserve in 2010. Retired reserve members do not receive retirement pay until later in life, but do receive some military benefits, like the ability to shop on post, Stock said. Stock has worked as an attorney for much of her career, although she has done additional stints of active duty to teach at West Point and work on projects for the military, including those for which she was honored. Although she had to spend time Outside for some of that work, she maintained a home in Alaska and her family stayed here. “I love Alaska,” she said.

FCC suspends some cuts in rural high-cost support funding

Certain rural Alaska telecoms will receive federal assistance for about two more years under a move to delay changes and reductions to the Connect America program. The Federal Communications Commission’s Wireless Competition Bureau announced July 26 that it would suspend certain cuts under the proposed Universal Service Fund, or USF, high-cost support program reforms. The bureau’s July 26 order clarified its November 2011 reforms to USF support to high-cost rural areas, and delayed implementation of some changes and cuts to high-cost loop support, or HCLS, in part to allow additional time to study the reforms and how Alaska’s unique geographical distribution affects its telecoms. According to the bureau’s order: “These measures will provide additional predictability and certainty for rate-of-return carriers as the Bureau works to adjust the benchmarking methodology as directed by the Commission through an open and transparent process.” The Connect America Fund was designed to ensure that consumers in rural, insular and high cost areas have access to modern communications networks at rates comparable to those in urban areas. The program provides federal reimbursement to certain eligible carriers for some of the costs of serving rural communities. Brenda Shepard, TelAlaska’s CEO, said rural Alaska will benefit. “This order is a positive step that provides temporary relief to those of us serving high cost, remote rural Alaska communities,” Shepard wrote in a statement issued by Alaska’s congressional delegation. “It is encouraging in that it demonstrates understanding and cooperation on a critical, long-term issue. We look forward to working with Commissioners, their staffs, and the Alaska Congressional Delegation to return stability to USF so that we can fulfill our commitment and obligation to serve rural customers.” Although the new Alaska Wireless Network — an infrastructure merger between General Communications Inc. and Alaska Communications System Group Inc. — is eligible for USF support in some of its rural operations, the bureau’s order will not help its build out in rural Alaska. “While we are pleased that the FCC has granted some relief for some of the rural carriers in Alaska, Alaska Communications, which serves as the Incumbent Local Exchange Carrier in more Bush communities than any other provider in Alaska, has not received similar relief for its most rural locations,” Alaska Communications’ Heather Cavanaugh wrote in a July 29 email. In the order, the FCC said it would not change its approach to HCLS for 2014, and delayed a planned reduction to HCLS. The order also waived a benchmarking rule for Alaska for 2013 and 2014. According to the order, that was done in part to allow sufficient time for public input on the development of a single cap for high-cost loop support. The bureau is still working on studying the areas affected by the changes, according to the order, and more work is planned before the reforms are implemented. The order also dismissed a Matanuska Telephone Association, or MTA, petition for a waiver from the changes, because the bureau instead delayed the changes for all telecoms. Alaska’s congressional delegation praised the order. “Any good craftsman knows the saying, ‘Measure twice, cut once.’ Unfortunately, two years ago the FCC jumped the gun, and in terms of Alaska, they measured once and cut a half dozen times,” wrote Rep. Don Young in the delegation’s statement. “The reforms they are suspending today is great news for rural Alaska, and is confirmation of what we have been trying to tell them this whole time: Alaska is different. In my role as Chairman of the American Indian and Alaska Native Affairs Subcommittee, I have held numerous oversight hearings on the FCC reforms and their impact on rural America, and going forward I will continue to work with them to reform the USF and help expand broadband deployment to rural Alaska rather than constrict it.” Others in Alaska also supported the FCC’s decision. “AFN is pleased with the FCC’s decision to restore critical funding to Alaska’s rural carriers until 2015,” wrote Alaska Federation of Natives President Julie Kitka in the delegation’s statement. “This outcome is a positive example of what can be accomplished with a dedicated Congressional Delegation and stakeholder advocates, like AFN. We will continue to work with the FCC and Congress to ensure that USF reforms reflect Alaska’s unique needs.”

FCC approves Alaska Wireless Network

The Alaska Wireless Network is one step closer after a recent decision from the Federal Communications Commission. The commission, or FCC, approved a request from Alaska Communications and General Communication, Inc., or GCI, to transfer their licenses to the Alaska Wireless Network, or AWN, July 12. The decision means that Alaska’s major telecoms can combine their infrastructure, but must continue to sell separate retail products. The memorandum opinion, order and declaratory ruling was released July 16. In approving the transaction, the FCC wrote that any potential competitive harms were outweighed by the public benefit of having wireless carriers better able to provide coverage throughout the state. According to the approval: “Such benefits include network efficiencies from infrastructure consolidation, expanded coverage and improved service throughout Alaska, and increased competitiveness from a timely transition to LTE. We therefore conclude that, on balance, the assignment applications, as conditioned, would serve the public interest, and, accordingly, grant those applications.” Under the terms of the approved transaction, Alaska Communications, or ACS, and GCI would each contribute wireless assets to the new network. ACS would receive certain preferential cash flow initially, as long as it maintains certain subscriber levels, with GCI receiving the remainder. GCI would receive a consulting fee from the new network for its management work. GCI’s current executive vice president, Wilson Hughes, would be the CEO of AWN. The approval document also dictates that AWN will build out its LTE and 3G networks in rural Alaska by the end of 2014, and also maintain its 2G network. The telecoms had voluntarily committed to that work in a letter to the commission earlier this year. The companies will continue to market and sell their plans separately, and the order requires that they maintain confidentiality about some information to preserve competition. The two telecoms have said that the merger would allow them operational efficiencies to better compete with the national players in Alaska. The commission’s approval analyzes some of those, noting that the AWN should be able to operate on fewer cell towers than when the companies have overlapping, but separately-run, networks, which will save money while maintaining current coverage. This could also enable a further build out than each company would otherwise be able to afford on its own. According to information provided about the infrastructure merger earlier in the process, the telecoms have 120 days to secure approval from other entities. Either entity can still accept a topping offer, but must pay the other if it does so. In its approval, the commission also denied the late-filed petition from a competitor questioning the infrastructure merger. Jeremy Lansman, part of another broadcast operation, had filed his objection after GCI announced that it expand its broadcast presence, arguing that such a move raised concerns over the company’s expanding footprint overall. The commission rejected those arguments and denied Lansman and Fireweed Communication’s petition. Alaska Communications and GCI had originally discussed closing on the AWN by the second quarter of 2013, but FCC approval has slowed that down.

Verizon turns on Alaska 4G LTE network

Another telecommunications provider has entered the Alaska market. Verizon officially turned on its signal in Anchorage, Fairbanks, North Pole, Juneau and much of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough June 7. Demian Voiles, vice president for Verizon Wireless Alaska, said launching the new network was very exciting for the company. “A lot of work went into it,” he said. The telecom spent about $100 million and two years on the network so far, with more planned, he said. The money went toward purchasing wireless spectrum, building a switch center in Midtown Anchorage and building and connecting cell towers across the state. The major telecom provider now has 4G LTE, or long-term evolution, service in all 50 states. In Alaska, Verizon’s network is data-only for now. That means customers still roam on the Alaska Communications network for voice service. “That will not change for right now,” Voiles said. By the end of 2014, the company plans to provide high definition voice-over LTE service. That will launch statewide in all of Verizon’s markets once it’s ready. Where the provider doesn’t offer 4G LTE service, customers “fall back” to other carriers’ 3G networks. Although Alaska Communications, GCI and AT&T offer 4G LTE service, theirs is on a different spectrum, so Verizon customers can’t roam on that network. This is actually the first time Verizon has built a new 4G LTE network entirely from scratch, Voiles said. LTE networks use fiber optic cables to deliver data speeds far faster than 3G or 4G networks. Usually, Verizon is tasked with upgrading its networks to provide the newest technology, but in Alaska, the network was designed to optimize 4G LTE coverage from the start. That was a neat opportunity — and Voiles noted that it was fun to see Alaska be the first place to get new, optimized technology. Verizon purchased its wireless spectrum in 2010 with the purpose of building an LTE network in Alaska, Voiles said. The network is intended to serve existing Verizon customers, providing a comparable experience in Alaska as they receive Outside, and also to attract new ones. It will “provide additional competition for Alaskans,” he said. Verizon already has some Alaska customers. Although it has not previously sold contracts and devices in-state, the company has thousands of customers who signed up elsewhere. In July, the company will start selling devices in the state. Certain retailers including Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club, Target and Best Buy will sell 4G LTE-capable devices, including tablets, that work on the Verizon network. The company is also opening sales channels for Alaskan businesses, government agencies and non-profits. Standalone retail stores are planned for 2014. The launch meets the Federal Communication Commission’s timeline that was part of regulatory approval when the company purchased its spectrum. The requirement was to reach 40 percent of the state by the end of June 2013. “We’ve done that,” Voiles said. The FCC also requires a certain increase in the future, which Verizon is already working toward. “We’re always improving the network and expanding it,” Voiles said. Verizon’s Anchorage and Mat-Su coverage includes Eagle River, Chugiak, Big Lake, Wasilla and Palmer. Other parts of the state are expected to receive coverage in the coming months. Verizon is partnering with Matanuska Telephone Association to expand the Mat-Su service, Copper Valley WHO to expand into Cordova, Valdez and the Prince William Sound, and Ketchikan Public Utilities to expand to that city. Those companies will own and operate their own networks, but sell products and services using Verizon’s spectrum. Verizon’s Alaska 4G LTE network is built on the same spectrum as its lower 48 network, and partners will also meet the same standard, Voiles said. As for Alaska’s more rural locations, Verizon doesn’t have any short-term plans to build out its 4G LTE connection to those communities. Voiles said the company also hasn’t solidified any plans to expand to the North Slope, but is evaluating it for expansion. “We’re doing business case evaluations all over the state,” Voiles said. Any effort to expand will be paired with local discussions to ensure the company is prepared to build in a new location. Local knowledge, especially from local vendors and contractors, has been invaluable, Voiles said. For the North Slope, there are challenges to building, but no specific technology limitations. Verizon has a pretty good idea of what would be needed, he said.

Flatfish flexibility OK'd; Steller sea lion EIS not ready

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council took final action on several groundfish issues, and made preliminary moves toward additional changes in the future at its April 3 to 8 meeting in Anchorage. The council agreed to provide Amendment 80 cooperatives and Community Development Quota entities with some flexibility in its flatfish harvest each year. In another action, the council decided that American Fisheries Act, or AFA, pollock vessel owners can rebuild or replace their vessels and still utilize Gulf of Alaska sideboards, subject to certain restrictions. In both cases, the motions for action passed unanimously. The council also agreed to move forward in considering splitting the Pacific cod total allowable catch, or TAC, in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands. That will come back at a future meeting, and would mean that the TAC would be divided for the different areas. For now, the council’s action directed staff to study possible community impacts and protections if the TAC were split. Council member John Henderschedt made the flatfish motion, which allows the fleet to exchange flathead sole, rock sole and yellowfin sole quota, as long as the catch of each remains below the total allowable catch, or TAC. The council’s flatfish flexibility action was the similar to the Advisory Panel’s recommendation, adding a request asking for draft co-op reports each year so that the council can monitor how the exchanges are working and use that information in its TAC setting process. Glenn Merrill of National Marine Fisheries Service Alaska Region told the council that it would likely take some time for NMFS to enact the changes, as it will require altering the catch accounting system. It would be reasonable to expect that it to be in place for the October 2015 council meeting, he said, to impact the 2016 fishing season. Council member Craig Cross made the vessel replacement motion. The council’s action essentially selected a status quo option by bringing the regulations in-line with provisions in the Coast Guard reauthorization act that allowed vessels to be replaced. A status quo option was essentially available to the council because of the Coast Guard act provisions. The rebuilt vessels cannot exceed the maximum length overall, or MLOA, specified on the Gulf groundfish licenses. If a vessel exempt from GOA sideboard limitations is removed from the fishery, that exemption cannot be transferred to a new vessel. A sideboard limit restricts the amount of harvest available to vessels that fish mainly in one fishery, such as Bering Sea pollock, when they also have licenses for another fishery such as the Gulf of Alaska where quota is not assigned and the larger vessels would have an unfair advantage. Alaska Groundfish Databank’s Julie Bonney spoke in favor of the preliminary preferred alternative, which is the one the council selected, and noted that her members included all three sectors — AFA vessels exempt from sideboard limitations, non-exempt AFA vessels, and other vessels operating in the Gulf that aren’t part of the AFA sector. United Catcher Boats Executive Director Brent Paine also testified in support of that alternative. His organization represents 72 AFA vessels, he said. For the TAC split, the council heard testimony about the need to protect communities in any action, and opted to request more information on that before deciding how to proceed. Council member Cora Campbell, Alaska’s Fish and Game commissioner, made the motion for action. It was approved with no objections. The discussion paper will evaluate the impacts of a Pacific cod directed fishing allowance in Areas 541 and 542 (far west Aleutians) to the catcher vessel sector, and regionalized delivery requirements to shoreside plants in the Aleutian Islands. Such a fishery, as outlined in the motion, would have the same allocations as are currently available, and be based on abundance. Henderschedt, the only council member to comment on the action, said he supported looking at community provisions, but would retain a focus on how realistic such a program was as it moves through the analysis phase. There could be difficulties in splitting a fishery into such a small piece, particularly given concerns with the cod resource, he said. Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association spokesman Larry Cotter told the council that in that region, processing activity is vital to local communities. Steller sea lion protections reviewed After several hours of staff reports, questions and public testimony, the council stuck with the Advisory Panel’s preliminary preferred alternative for the new Steller sea lion environmental impact statement, or EIS, but did not release the draft document for public review. Council member Bill Tweit’s motion, which passed without objection, also asked NMFS to provide more information on a new biological opinion before a final decision must be made. The council had been presented with a range of alternatives, including the status quo and several that were considered less restrictive to Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands fishing, but the analysis did not provide any definitive information on what each alternative would mean for Steller sea lion populations. The motion also said that the council felt that it was too early for public review of the draft EIS, given that some information was unavailable, and that it was too early to schedule a final decision on a preferred alternative. The council’s action also asked NMFS to address the peer reviews of the 2010 biological opinion, and noted that the draft EIS relied on information that isn’t available to the public yet, including “in press” and “in preparation” scientific work. The council’s action did not keep pace with the planned timeline, and council members said they did not intend to delay action beyond the court-ordered deadline of completing the EIS by March 2014, but wanted issues addressed before the document was approved for public review. Sablefish and halibut issues discussed Halibut and sablefish issues were also on the table. Community Quota Entities are one step closer to purchasing quota share after the council selected a final preferred alternative that would allow those community groups, or CQEs, to purchase any size block of halibut and sablefish quota share. Previously, those groups were limited to purchasing certain blocks. Other existing restrictions on purchase, such as the total number of blocks a CQE can hold, will remain as-is. Council member Duncan Fields, of Kodiak, brought forward the motion for action. It passed in a 10-1 vote, with council member Roy Hyder of Oregon voting against it. During public testimony there was support from the Kodiak communities of Ouzinkie and Old Harbor for the council to take action. No one spoke in opposition. A more restrictive alternative, allowing additional purchases but from fewer sources, had been considered in the Advisory Panel, but that body did not bring a recommendation forward, as it wound up with a 10-10 split on its motion. Before CQEs can make a purchase, the National Marine Fisheries Service, or NMFS, will have to make a final regulation. The council agreed to have Bering Sea sablefish industry stakeholders work together on potential management approaches to increase yield, and asked to hear about those efforts in October. That was similar to the AP’s recommendation, and also supported by industry. Chad See, from the Freezer Longline Coalition, said a member of that group brought the issue forward several years ago, but that the group felt it would be premature for the council to select an alternative at the April meeting. The council also agreed to send a letter to the International Pacific Halibut Commission supporting allowing fishermen with halibut IFQ to retain halibut when targeting sablefish with pots. Scallops back on the table Council member Nicole Kimball, who represented the State of Alaska as Commissioner Cora Campbell’s alternate, put forward a motion that carried with no objection, setting the 2013-14 scallop catch limit at 1.16 million pounds. That was based on the AP and Scientific and Statistical Committee recommendations. Kimball also said she supported the plan team’s request for a workshop on what to do about the limited information regarding some portions of the scallop stock, which would include a look at how other fisheries and regions handle biological reference points for stocks with limited data. The action came after a report by council staff Diana Stram, who co-chairs the scallop plan team and talked about that body’s February meeting and general scallop management. The state manages the scallop fishery, as most scallop beds are in both state and federal waters, and is responsible for setting the guideline harvest level, or GHL, for the fishery, although there are entry requirements for the state and federal fisheries. The state program sunsets at the end of 2013, and the renewal effort has raised questions about its constitutionality. In prior hearings, it was stated that if the program isn’t renewed, the fishery could be shut down. But at the council meeting, when Fields asked what could happen, both Stram and Kimball said the state would have several options, including setting separate GHLs for the state and federal waters, attempting to manage under the current program, or closing portions of the state waters. The Department of Fish and Game requires 100 percent observer coverage on scallop boats, and the prior position of ADFG has been that such coverage makes the risk low for exceeding either the guideline harvest level or crab bycatch limits. “There are options if the legislature doesn’t act,” Kimball said. Transit corridor up for study The council also looked at fixing an unintended consequence of an action taken to protect walrus populations on Round Island, part of the Walrus Islands State Game Sanctuary. The action prevented certain vessels from transiting Round Island, but the requirement has made it difficult for federally permitted vessels to bring herring from Togiak seiners to processors in Dillingham or elsewhere. The council asked staff to develop one or more alternatives to the existing transit corridor options in consultation with affected stakeholders. Industry participants, the appropriate agencies, the Walrus Commission, and others were expected to be included in that stakeholder group. Henderschedt made the motion for action on that issue, and the council agreed without objection.

Tendering report sought after possible 'gaming' exposed

The North Pacific Fishery Management program heard about the status of the new marine observer program at its Anchorage meeting. After a preview of the marine observer program reports scheduled for June, the council created a taskforce to discuss electronic monitoring. Later, they asked for a report on a possible “gaming” situation in the Gulf of Alaska. The council unanimously approved a motion made by Dan Hull asking the National Marine Fisheries Service, or NMFS, to update the Electronic Monitoring, or EM, strategic plan to include a broad list of tools and relative ranking of those tools and add several items to the implementation section. That motion also created the working group. A full report on the strategic plan is scheduled for the council’s June agenda, as is a report on how the marine observer program is working so far. The council received an outline of each of those reports at its Anchorage meeting April 4. The council’s new EM working group will be guided by the strategic plan once adopted, and look at various EM options and associated tradeoffs, and assist with pilot project development. The council also asked staff for a report on a tendering issue in the Gulf of Alaska, where community members believe a feared gaming of the system under the new observer program has come to fruition. Council member Duncan Fields, of Kodiak, made the motion asking for a discussion paper on that issue, but it was eventually amended to a report instead. That report is intended to gather information, but not necessarily set the council down a path toward action. Council member Sam Cotten made the motion to amend, which was supported unanimously. Other council members said it was Cotten’s amendment that made the report tenable to them, as they were concerned about what has happened this year but did not want to see a far-reaching report. Council member Bill Tweit said he was going to oppose the motion, but appreciated Cotten’s amendment making it simply a report, and hoped the information gathered would be specific to the event that’s occurred this year. After the amendment, member John Henderschedt said he wanted the report to focus on whether tenders are considered fishing under the Magnsuon Stevens Act, the definition of a trip in the marine observer program, and the council’s authority to regulate tenders’ activities. The tendering issue in the Gulf of Alaska is that this year, fish caught in Area 620, or the eastern half of the Gulf of Alaska, have been delivered to offshore tenders instead of the processing plants in Kodiak. Eventually, those fish go to processors in Sand Point and Akutan. That means that the vessels are not logging additional trips that could be subject to observer coverage, and local processing activity is affected. The Kodiak Island Borough and City of Kodiak sent a letter to the council about the issue, as it has had a significant impact on the community. According to that letter, Kodiak has lost more than 14 million pounds of pollock and cod, which is equivalent to about $3.25 million in ex-vessel value. Industry and community stakeholders had warned NMFS last fall that such gaming could occur under the definition of a trip that NMFS was using. The Fishing Vessel Owners’ Association, or FVOA, sent a letter to the council in September, which said that the definition of the trip left room for gaming because it did not provide any performance standards. After the council opted to pursue the tendering issue, FVOA Manager Bob Alverson said the issue is what they had thought could happen. “Everytime you deliver, that should be one trip,” Alverson said. Alverson also said he thought the council could correct the issue. “I think the council is fair minded on this and they will correct that loophole,” he said. In response to a question from NMFS Administrator Jim Balsiger, a council member, about possible gaming, NMFS’ Martin Loefflad said he couldn’t say whether or not gaming was occurring, but he had heard about that issue. “Some people are doing it correctly, we’re hearing that others may not be,” he said. Whether or not there was a pattern won’t be known until NMFS analyzes the program, he said. Loefflad and Ferrin Wallace’s reports on the EM plan and observer program took longer than planned, in part due to many questions from the council and extensive public testimony. Loefflad provided the update on how the observer program is working this spring. NMFS selected 29 vessels for the second round of vessel selection pool, in which vessels have an observer for all of their trips in a 60-day period. Of those, 17 carried an observer once the halibut season started March 23. For May and June, 39 vessels were selected for coverage, and 9 have been released so far, Loefflad said. On the trip selection side, Loefflad said that logging trips on the web, rather than by phone, is becoming more popular. In public testimony, most people asked for a workgroup to look at EM issues, including Paul Gronholt from the Aleutians East Borough and Linda Behnken and Dan Falvey, from the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association. After the decision had been made to create a group, United Fishermen’s Marketing Association’s Jeff Stephan said he appreciated that step, but had also hoped to see other issues addressed. And, Stephan said, he wanted pot gear included in testing EM, perhaps even for vessels longer than 57.5 feet. That fleet, which has minimal bycatch, could be a good testing ground, he said. Alverson agreed with Stephen that EM could be an option for more than just the boats under 57.5 feet. “If EM can help reduce costs, we think it should be available to all vessels,” Alverson said. His members are primarily longer than the 57.5 foot threshold for the EM program so far. Although most of the testimony focused on EM, the council also heard from a fisherman who had difficult with the vessel selection pool. Zinon Kuzmin told the council that when he told NMFS he could not take an observer due to limited bunk space, he was given eight days to reconfigure his boat. Because that wasn’t possible, he wound up have someone sleeping on the floor, he said. The council did not address that issue or other potential problems for vessel owners, but could do so in June, when it hears the full NMFS reports.

Genetics study shows 68% of bycatch from Western Alaska

New genetics research on king salmon bycatch has provided industry and managers a little more insight into where they are headed when caught by pollock trawlers. According to a recently released report from the National Marine Fisheries Service, about 68 percent of the king salmon caught by pollock trawlers in the Bering Sea in 2011 originated in Coastal Western Alaska. The study, which was done by NMFS’ Auke Bay Laboratories in Juneau, looked at the pollock fleet’s king bycatch in both the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska, but the Gulf of Alaska information is less representative of the fishery as a whole because samples are not collected in uniform fashion. After Coastal Western Alaska, the North Alaska Peninsula stocks were the second largest grouping in the Bering Sea bycatch, at about 9 percent. Based on the new information, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council took action April 8 to ask for an updated Bering Sea pollock fishery bycatch report that incorporates the new genetics information. Council member Cora Campbell, Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game commissioner, made the motion asking for a report. The council approved her motion unanimously. The council’s Advisory Panel recommended a discussion paper, which is often the first step toward an amendment package or possible action. Although she asked for a report rather than a discussion paper, the substance of her request was much the same. During testimony, representatives from the pollock industry said they supported the request for information but didn’t want it characterized as a discussion paper, precisely because that could signal that action was coming down the pipeline.  “I’m opposed to this discussion paper,” said United Catcher Boats’ John Gruver, who is an inter-cooperative manager. “This paper is the beginning of a new chinook bycatch reduction amendment. I don’t know how you can interpret it any other way.” Gruver did, however, say he supported the idea of looking at the science regarding bycatch. The fleet would also benefit from knowing when and where it catches Western Alaska kings, he said. Non-industry stakeholders provided the bulk of the testimony at the meeting, asking the council to look at the bycatch issue. For 2011, the year the bycatch was studied, 25,499 kings were caught in the Bering Sea pollock fishery. That’s well below the performance standard of 47,591 and the hard cap of 60,00 fish in the region. The performance standard is the number the industry targets to be under; exceeding it twice in a seven-year period automatically lowers the hard cap to 47,591. Those standards were set in 2009, and took effect in 2011. Since then, including in 2011, fisheries disasters have been declared on the Yukon River due to a low return of kings for the last three years. The Kuskokwim River also received that designation for 2011 and 2012. That means that each fish matters, Yukon River Drainage Fisheries Association Policy Director Becca Robbins Gisclair told the council during testimony.  “We’re at a point where on the Yukon River, the stock is barely replacing itself,” Gisclair said. “And every single removal is critically important. One hundred fish makes a big difference. And at this point, thousands of fish is the difference between meeting escapement goals or not, let alone the different between putting food on people’s tables.” After the council made their motion, Gisclair, also a member of the council Advisory Panel, said she thought it was an important first step. Eventually, she said, the council may need to look at management measures in light of the recent declines. The report that comes back to the council is expected to include several items, although much of it is already existing work that must be compiled. The report should include a review of Alaska’s king stocks, including information on subsistence, sport and commercial fishery restrictions and whether escapement goals have been met, and data on bycatch rates per vessel within each sector for the last two years. The council also asked for inclusion of the 2011 genetic stock identification report, and a stock-based adult-equivalency run reconstruction, harvest rate analyses, and estimated impacts of bycatch for stock specific groupings at the various limits and real bycatch levels. Additionally, the council asked for a description of the way the current bycatch avoidance incentives work. The Bering Sea information was considered a systematic, random sample, meaning that the results could be extrapolated to represent all bycatch from that fishery. Guyon, who worked on the genetics study and presented the results to the council, said that the sample was proportional in time and area to all the bycatch in the fishery. Sampling in the Gulf of Alaska, however, was opportunistic and not representative of the entire fishery. NMFS still has 2012 samples to analyze, which will provide the council with another year’s worth of information for both fisheries. In response to a question from council member Duncan Fields of Kodiak, Guyon said that NMFS does not know yet whether or not the 2012 Gulf samples will be completely representative, but that the information should at least be better. The 2011 Gulf genetics showed that the sample studied was primarily from British Columbia and the West Coast of the U.S., with those stocks making up 40 percent and 26 percent of the sample. respectively. Because it wasn’t a representative sample, however, the results on apply to the sample itself, and cannot be used to characterize all bycatch in the Gulf. Fields also questioned the timing of the work, and asked if the council might see 2012 results sooner than it saw the 2011 results. Ideally, he said, a six to nine month timeframe would be helpful for the council, rather than waiting more than a year. NMFS Administrator Jim Balsiger, who is also a council member, told Fields that he would look into the timing for future genetics work. Gisclair agreed that getting the information quickly would be helpful. In-season data, that could help the fleet determine where to move, would be particularly useful, she said. But any data will help. Chum genetics reviewed Guyon’s report to the council also included an update on chum genetics for the Bering Sea. Those numbers show a smaller percentage of Western Alaska stocks being caught, but it is still enough to worry some stakeholders, particularly those in Norton Sound, where king runs are largely gone, but chums remain. Industry representatives talked about the difficulty of avoiding both chum and king bycatch, saying that when they avoid chum early in the season, it can push fishing later into the season, when it is harder to avoid kings. Council members asked members of the public what they thought about that trade-off, and which species they would prioritize. Most asked for a balance. “Chinook versus chum? You’re going to ask us that we should choose between the two resources for bycatch? No. Both bycatches should be coming down,” Sky Starkey told the council. “…It reminds me a little bit, that question and the councils action’s so far, of the infamous quote that led to one of the most famous revolutions in history, and that’s the aristocracy saying to those who are trying to get food, ‘let them eat cake.’ “’Let them eat pinks, let them eat chums.’” The same day the council asked for a report on bycatch from the Bering Sea pollock trawl fleet, the Alaska Senate passed a bill asking the council for action to reduce Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska bycatch. Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, introduced that bill earlier in the session. It passed the Senate 18-0, with two abstentions. The House had considered a similar bill, which was introduced in the House fisheries committee, but that was withdrawn by Fisheries Chair Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, after Rep. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, prepared to amend it to request limits in the Cook Inlet East Side setnet fishery, as well. The report isn’t the council’s only foray back into bycatch issues. In June, the council is scheduled to work on crafting an amendment package for Gulf of Alaska trawl bycatch management measures, and take final action on king bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska non-pollock trawl fleet.

Chinook conservation, permit stacking approved for Bristol Bay fisheries

Bristol Bay fisheries will operate under some revised regulations this year. The Alaska Board of Fisheries met in Naknek in December to consider changes to Bristol Bay finfish regulations, including 73 proposals regarding area salmon fishing. Commercial salmon fishermen will see a number of changes. Under the changes to how permits can be stacked, two driftnet permit holders can fish from the same vessel and jointly operate 200 fathoms of drift gillnet gear except in the Togiak District, in a special harvest area, or when the Naknek River Special harvest Area is open. The Togiak Traditional Council proposed that such permit stacking not be allowed in the Togiak District because the salmon runs in the area are small, and stacking increases the race for fish. The request to allow 200 fathoms of joint gear was made to allow more flexibility for permit stacking than was allowed under a regulation change in 2009. The board also agreed to prohibit additional drift gear for dual permit vessels in the Togiak District. The board also unanimously approved an amended proposal that closes an area near the Togiak River to commercial driftnet fishing from June 1 to July 15. That change is intended to help protect chinook salmon, which can be caught in that area and have had low escapements into the Togiak in recent years. In the Naknek-Kvichak Management and Allocation Plan, the commercial drift fleet targeting sockeye salmon will only be open between seven-foot flood and seven-foot ebb tide stages. That was proposed an effort to conserve chinooks. The original proposal wanted to stagger fishing but didn’t offer a specific management strategy, and board member Vince Webster proposed the amendment that passed. For the same plan, an effort to open a new set gillnet fishery at Levelock failed. On the Ugashik River, the area for setnetting has been decreased. Those nets now must be within 600 feet of the 18-foot high tide mark, rather than the prior requirement of 1,000 feet. According to the proposal — which came from individuals, the area Alaska Department of Fish and Game advisory committee, and the Ugashik Traditional Village Council — 1,000 feet was too large for some of the small spaces around Ugashik village. That carried unanimously. The board also approved slight changes to the area closed to salmon fishing at the mouth of the Igushik and Togiak rivers. In both cases, the area now open is more consistent with historic openings. The boundaries were inadvertently altered when the state switched from delineating the open and closed waters with markers and loran coordinates to using latitude and longitude coordinates. Near the Igushik, that means an existing setnet site will once again be in open waters. After the boundary transition, the site was placed in closed waters. Setnet vessels can now transport salmon through the Snake River Section. That proposal, as amended by Webster, passed unanimously. A previous regulation change had limited navigation in the Snake River Section to eliminate illegal fishing in that area. Various marking requirements also changed. Shoreside setnet markings will have to be larger this year, as the board approved a proposal changing the marking requirement from six inches to 12 inches. That brings those boats in line with the requirements for drift and setnet boats, which must also have Fish and Game numbers displayed in 12-inch letters. Another regulation change clarifies the vessel marking requirements for setnet vessels. Those vessels no longer have to have a commercial fisheries entry commission, or CFEC, permit serial number displayed on the boat. Now the vessels are just required to have the vessel name, and the permanent vessel license number. Bristol Bay CFEC setnet permit holders are also now required to register for a statistical area in the Nushagak District if they intend to fish in that district. Area management plans were also up for discussion. The king salmon reference points for the Nushagak-Mulchatna king salmon management plan were revised as suggested by ADFG to match the change in technology. The department has switched from a Bendix sonar to a DIDSON (dual identification sonar), which enumerates more fish. The biological escapement was changed to a range from 55,000 to 120,000. Previously, the escapement was a single number rather than a range. Other reference numbers within the plan, including the in-river goal, were also adjusted. Reference points for the Wood River Special Harvest Area Management Plan were changed as well, as were some regulations for operating setnets or drift nets in that harvest area. Five herring-related proposals also failed unanimously. The proposals were split between changing how herring is allocated, and closing certain areas or aspects of the fishery. Individuals brought forward two of the allocation-related changes, while the Togiak Traditional Council proposed both closures and one allocation change. While the proposals failed, board members said they wanted more information on the possible closures, which were put forth as a way to help protect subsistence opportunities in the area. Those will likely come back with additional research during the next cycle. New sport, subsistence regs Under the new subsistence schedule approved in December, the final subsistence fishing opening in the Nushagak District each week will begin at 9 a.m. Saturday and close at 9 a.m. Sunday, instead of running from Friday to Saturday. The other subsistence openings are on weekdays, so the change allows for a weekend harvest opportunity for those who work Monday through Friday. That change, which was proposed by the Nushagak Advisory Committee, was approved unanimously. Sportfishermen will see changes this year as well. The non-retention, no-bait area for the Nushagak River was increased to include the full drainage upstream of its confluence with Harris Creek, and fish parts were prohibited in the waters where bait is prohibited. According to the proposals, both changes are meant, in part, to promote conservation and enhance the rainbow trout fishery. The board also considered requiring barbless hooks in unbaited, single-hook, artificial fly waters, but that motion failed with a 3-3 vote. The board did not pass a number of other proposals, including creation of a general district for sockeye fishing, development of a process for addressing future proposals deemed as restructuring the salmon industry. An effort to increase the setnet allocation in the Nushagak, Naknek-Kvichak, Egegik and Ugashik districts also failed. An effort to establish a sockeye salmon fishery in the Cinder River Section from June 20-Sept. 20, and changes to the allowable fishing areas near Port Heiden were also brought forward at the meeting. Those proposals will be discussed at the Alaska Peninsula/Aleutian Islands finfish meeting, scheduled for Feb. 26 to March 4 in Anchorage. At that meeting, the board will also discuss two proposals it generated at the December meeting. One would close sport fishing for king salmon in the Big Creek drainage, and the other would allow permit stacking for set netting in the Egegik and Ugashik districts. Any proposals resulting from the Western Alaska Salmon Stock Identification Project, or WASSIP, will also come forward at that meeting.

Board of Fisheries to discuss Yukon, Kuskokwim fishery changes

Commercial fisheries disasters were declared after low chinook runs on the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers in 2012, and several proposals to be considered by the Board of Fisheries will consider ways to preserve fishing opportunity for residents reliant on those fish. The board will discuss regulation changes for the Arctic, Yukon, and Kuskokwim, or AYK, areas Jan. 15-20 in Anchorage. The board is scheduled to discuss 70 proposals at the meeting, which include revisions to subsistence, sport and commercial fishing regulations for area fisheries. For the Kuskokwim area, the board will look at four subsistence-related proposals as the committee of the whole. An Alaska Department of Fish and Game proposal would update the Kuskokwim River Salmon Rebuilding Management Plan so that there is more management flexibility to meet subsistence needs and offer commercial fishing opportunity when possible. The changes include additional subsistence openings when the run is strong, and ways to manage for different species depending on their relative strengths. That proposal received support in public comments from retired Fish and Game Biologist Douglas Molyneaux, who lead a working group looking at changes. The working group also offered its own suggestions, such as to allow commercial coho fishing that doesn’t impact chum escapement when the chum run is weak. The Association of Village Council Presidents also proposed creating an optimum escapement goal for chinooks, rather than the drainage wide escapement goal for chinooks that ADFG is likely to implement. That would also be a change to the Kuskokwim River Salmon Rebuilding Management Plan. The board will also discuss whether or not to allow the sale of some subsistence-taken finfish in the Kuskokwim area, which was proposed by the Orutsararmiut Native Council. Under the proposal, sales would be capped at $500 per year, the fish could not be resold and such sales would be contained to the Kuskokwim area. According to comments from ADFG, this will be the first time the board considers whether customary trade of finfish is a customary and traditional use of fish, as required for subsistence uses. Another department proposal also calls for reviewing the amount necessary for subsistence, or ANS, in the Kuskokwim River drainage. According to proposal, the department changed how it estimates subsistence salmon harvest in 2008, and the current ANS findings are based on the old methodology. The options offered by the department do not change the ranges for ANS, despite using the different methods. When the board splits into committees, it will also look at a variety of proposals for sport fishing in the Kuskokwim area. Those include efforts to limit or close salmon fishing on the Eek and Kwethluk rivers, and in the Kanektok and Arolik River drainages. Most of those efforts are opposed by ADFG. As the committee of the whole, the board will also take up Yukon Area salmon proposals. Several pertain to subsistence fishing, including a proposal by ADFG to revise the ANS findings to reflect changes in customary and traditional subsistence use patterns, and proposals to create a harvest reporting system for subsistence-taken salmon. Other proposals would affect Yukon chinooks, including gear changes to protect chinooks but allow for the catch of other fish, pulse protection to better allow for fish to make it to Canada, and prohibiting chinook sales when the commercial chinook fishery is closed. Proposed changes to the Yukon River Summer Chum Salmon Management Plan would create a chinook bycatch cap, and change chum escapement and trigger points. ADFG did not offer support for any of those Yukon proposals in its comments, aside from its own effort to update the ANS findings, although it remained neutral on some, including certain gear changes, and chum escapement and triggers. The board will also look at proposals for salmon in the Norton Sound and Port Clarence Area, which come with ADFG support. Proposals from an individual would open up additional areas to subsistence fishing and increase the amount of money a household can receive for selling subsistence-caught fish. Other proposals the board will consider would provide managers with the ability to open up commercial and sport fishing in parts of Norton Sound. Those proposals came from individuals, and the department was neutral in its comments. In separate committees, the board will look at other sport and subsistence proposals. Several relate to sport and subsistence opportunity for northern pike in the Tanana drainage and on the Yukon. Generally, the department’s comments support opportunity in those fisheries and opposed restrictions, although ADFG supported closing Little Harding Lake to sport fishing for northern pike. Other proposals could change rainbow trout fishing areas, stocking and hook allowances for a variety of waters. Salmon fishing at Fielding Lake and chinook fishing on the Black River are also up for discussion. The board’s other committee will look at a variety of subsistence and commercial management plans. Those include efforts to allow for additional commercial and subsistence opportunities for coho, chum and pink salmon, as well as grayling, in various Norton Sound areas under certain conditions. The meeting begins with staff reports and public testimony Jan. 15, while discussion of specific proposals as the committee of the whole will begin Jan. 16. Work done in committees will come back to the full board toward the end of the meeting.

Ice fishing guides offer winter experience

Frozen water doesn’t have to mean the end of fishing season in Alaska. Once lakes freeze up, ice-fishing season begins. Although many Alaskans go ice fishing on their own to lakes in nearly every region of the state, some guides also offer trips for those who don’t want to drill their own holes or bait their own hooks. Fishtale River Guides’ Andy Couch runs guided ice fishing trips from November to April. The end of the season, in March and April, actually offers some of the best conditions, Couch said, with longer days and sometimes warmer temperatures. Joe Letarte, from Wilderness Enterprises in Two Rivers, near Fairbanks, said Outside clients are often surprised that the ice fishing season lasts so long in Alaska. Outside, lakes melt much earlier. But he gets clients who head north to watch the northern lights, and are pleased to find they can also still go ice fishing in March, he said. While the winter pursuit has similarities with summer fishing, Couch said it is not identical. “Ice fishing certainly is a lot different than summer fishing,” Couch said. That’s partially because the winter sport is more sedentary, he said. Even with a few holes drilled through ice, Couch said clients wind up spending more time in one spot. He takes people to several lakes in the Matanuska-Susitna area, mostly stocked by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Generally, they’re targeting landlocked salmon, Arctic char and rainbow trout. The basics of ice fishing are simple. Drill a hole with an auger, put a baited hook on your line, drop it into the hole, and wait. The fish that come back up are usually smaller than they are in the summer. Couch said the stocked fish are often much smaller than ocean salmon. A typical catch is just 10 to 12 inches long. A 24-inch Arctic char caught in late December was one of the biggest he’s seen this year. Despite chilly temps, visitors interested in fishing are pretty eager to get on the ice. “There’s more demand than there is good weather to run it right now,” Couch said. Those trips are weather-dependent, of course, and Couch said that if the weather is bad, he lets his clients decide whether or not to go out that day. Couch operates the guided ice fishing under a simple business model. He provides the equipment and takes clients to easily accessible lakes. He doesn’t have an ice shelter, but he drills several holes and baits hooks for his clients, and the fishing is usually good. The cost of a four-hour guided experience plus a non-resident license comes in at $100, he said. That’s inexpensive enough that travelers will give it a shot, despite the cold. Most of Couch’s clients are from out of state. They’ve almost always been fishing before, and are interested in trying the cold version of the activity. Some return for a summer fishing experience, but he gets few repeat ice fishing customers. Letarte said some of his clients have experience fishing, but others are first-timers. Like Couch, he mostly gets people from out of state interested in the tours. Alaska residents can generally go out ice fishing on their own, Letarte said. “It’s kind of a niche market,” Letarte said. But there’s good demand from those who are interested, he added. Both Couch and Letarte offer summer fishing, and started ice fishing tours as an extension of that. While Couch just offers the four-hour trip, Letarte said he has a few different options. Most customers opt for a daytrip, although he also offers an overnight ice fishing campout. Letarte also runs trips to lakes accessible only by snowmachine, in addition to the road-accessible lakes south of Fairbanks. Couch said his business model works in part because he’s not dependent on it, and can just go out when the weather works and clients are interested. He’s seen other businesses, with higher costs from snowmachining or flying into lakes, come and go, and keeps his business simple so it’ll survive. Although ice fishing is available nearly everywhere in the state, guided trips are a little harder to find. Captain Steve and LeAnne Smith, from Captain Steve’s Fishing Lodge in Ninilchik, said they couldn’t think of anyone in that area that offers guided ice fishing trips, in part because it’s something you can do without a guide relatively easily. Other guides — like Trophy Drifters on the Kenai Peninsula — have tried offering ice fishing trips, but found that it doesn’t pencil out, particularly when there are other winter options, like commercial fishing.

ADFG predicts uptick in sockeye run for Upper Cook Inlet

Fishermen could catch a few extra sockeyes in Upper Cook Inlet waterways in 2013. Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game announced its sockeye salmon forecast Dec. 27, projecting a total run of 6.7 million fish, and a harvest of 4.9 million for all users. That’s up slightly compared to a 2012 harvest of 4.4 million, and about 1 million more than the 20-year average harvest of 3.8 million fish. The projections are good news for Kenai and Kasilof Rivers, but not so hot for Northern District waterways. The Kenai River forecast is down slightly compared to 2012. The prediction is for 4.4 million sockeyes in the Kenai, compared to a run of 4.7 million in 2012. That’s still above the 20-year average for the Kenai. The sockeye run on the Kasilof River is expected to come in just less than a million fish at 903,000, about 200,000 more than last year. Northern District systems Fish Creek and the Susitna River aren’t expected to be as strong. The Susitna River forecast is for 363,000 fish compared to 443,000 in 2012. The Fish Creek forecast is 61,000 fish, down from 84,000 in 2012. Fish Creek drains from Big Lake into the Cook Inlet at the Knik Arm. Fish and Game Biologist Pat Shields said the Kenai forecast ties to a management plan, which Fish and Game will use in the summer to oversee the fisheries. “This puts us in the middle tier for management next year,” Shields said. Under the middle tier Kenai management, Shields said east side setnetters will have two closed windows on Tuesdays and Fridays after July 8, with some flexibility regarding the timing of the closures. It also means that there will be 12-hour openings on Mondays and Thursdays, with an additional 51 hours of fishing time allowed each week. And it sets an escapement goal of 1 million to 1.2 million sockeyes passing the Kenai River sonar. The forecast also included projections for a few other river systems. The Crescent River, on the west side of Cook Inlet, could see an increase, with 110,000 sockeye predicted to swim upstream compared to 89,000 last year. And about 872,000 fish are expected to return to unmonitored systems. The Kenai, Kasilof and Crescent River predictions are all above escapement goals listed in the department’s forecast, while the Fish Creek estimate is within the escapement goal range. An escapement goal isn’t available for the Susitna River, because that river is gauged based on three different lake escapements: Larson Lake, Chelatna Lake and Judd Lake. NOAA lists ringed, bearded seals The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, announced Dec. 21 that it was categorizing ringed and bearded seals as threatened. The protections are based on declining sea ice, a primary habitat for the seals. In U.S. waters, the listing impacts Arctic ringed seals and the Beringia distinct population segment, or DPS, of bearded seals, although other subspecies and distinct population segments were included. There are no immediate restrictions for human activity as a result of the listing, but federally permitted activities in seal habitat — such as fishing or oil and gas development — could face additional scrutiny to protect the seals in the future. “Our scientists undertook an extensive review of the best scientific and commercial data. They concluded that a significant decrease in sea ice is probable later this century and that these changes will likely cause these seal populations to decline,” wrote Jon Kurland, protected resources director for NOAA Fisheries’ Alaska region, in a statement announcing the decision. “We look forward to working with the State of Alaska, our Alaska Native co-management partners, and the public as we work toward designating critical habitat for these seals.” The listing will go into affect 60 days after publication in the Federal Register, or in late February. Now, NOAA Fisheries is seeking public comment to inform future critical habitat proposals for Arctic ringed seals and Beringia DPS bearded seals. The NOAA Fisheries announcement said subsistence harvest of ice seals will not be affected. Steller sea lions are listed as a threatened species, and have had critical habitat designated. Those protections have led to significantly reduced fishing for Atka mackerel and Pacific cod in the Aleutians. The listing came on the last possible day under a court order. In November, the Alaska district court ordered NOAA to respond to a complaint by Dec. 21. The listings were originally proposed in December 2010, with a period of public comment following. The administration extended its final determination from December 2011 to June 2012, but did not provide a determination at that time. The Center for Biological Diversity sued the National Marine Fisheries Service when that June deadline was not met. The announcement drew criticism for the timing as well as the action. “I believe that Alaska’s wildlife must be protected, but not by relying on overbroad, overreaching analysis that runs counter to the abundant seal populations we presently see,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski wrote in a statement about the designation. “There is something misguided about policy that is guaranteed to cause real economic impact on the horizon based on a hundred year hunch. No wonder NOAA decided to release this decision the Friday before Christmas, hoping it won’t register with Alaskans.” According to a statement from Gov. Sean Parnell, the State of Alaska is considering legal challenges to the listings. 2013 Kodiak Pacific cod harvest down from 2012 Pot and jig vessels can catch a combined 13.58 million pounds of Pacific cod in the Kodiak area state-waters fishery this year, down from 2012, when the limit was 15.69 pounds. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced the 2013 guideline harvest level, or GHL, Dec. 24. Each gear type will receive half of the GHL, or 6.79 million pounds. The state fishery opens after the closure of the central Gulf of Alaska Pacific cod pot gear A-season federal fishery. For pot vessels, the opening comes seven days after the CGOA closure. Jig vessels will likely open 48 hours after the federal side closes, although the two can be open simultaneously if the federal fishery hasn’t closed by March 15. The state fishery comes with a variety of restrictions, and participants must have a state-waters Pacific cod vessel registration. Vessels are limited to either 60 pots or five mechanical jigs. Also, pot vessels greater than 58 feet in length are limited to harvesting at most 50 percent of the pot vessel share of the GHL. Senate approves NOAA Corps bill A bill that would more closely align the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Corps obligations and benefits with other uniformed services passed the senate unanimously Dec. 20. Corps members operate ships and aircrafts to enforce fisheries regulations and conduct other ocean-related duties. “The men and women who make up the NOAA Corps are our eyes and ears on Alaska’s key frontlines – fisheries, ocean mapping and engineering,” wrote Sen. Lisa Murkowski in a statement. Murkowski and Sen. Mark Begich co-sponsored the legislation with several other senators. “In Alaska, oceans are key to our economic prosperity, from fishing to responsible oil and gas development to transportation of goods and people,” Begich wrote in a statement. “We rely on the NOAA Corps to chart shipping routes and survey fish populations. As we expand activity in the Arctic, we will rely on the Corps even more for baseline scientific research in that region. We need to attract the best and brightest young men and women to the Corps and ensure that we retain knowledgeable senior officers.” The bill aims to improve recruiting and streamline procedures for moving up in rank, in addition to work at making benefits and obligations more similar. The House has not yet passed similar legislation, which is necessary before any such bill becomes law. Copper River Campus fined for asbestos violation Copper River Campus LLC pled guilty to violating the federal Clean Air Act for negligently endangering others when it released asbestos into the air in Anchorage. Copper River Campus is the corporate headquarters for Copper River Seafoods, located on East 5th Avenue in downtown Anchorage. The company was told to pay a $70,000 fine and serve three years probation, and contract with an environmental consultant to comply with environmental laws and safety standards in the future. According to a statement from U.S. prosecutors, the company purchased the building in 2009 knowing it had asbestos, and did not take the appropriate precautions when it began demolition and other work on the building. Alaskans respond to genetically modified fish decision Alaskans have been largely unsupportive of the Food and Drug Administration’s environmental assessment of genetically modified salmon. The administration, or FDA, released an environmental assessment, or EA, with a preliminary finding that genetically modified salmon pose “no significant impact” to the environment or public health. The fish under consideration are produced by Aqua Bounty and grow twice as fast as conventional salmon. Alaska’s congressional delegation responded negatively to the announcement. “I am concerned with the recent news that FDA is moving forward with the approval of genetically modified fish,” wrote Sen. Lisa Murkowski in a statement. “This is especially troubling as the agency is ignoring the opposition by salmon and fishing groups, as well as more than 300 environmental, consumer and health organizations.” Rep. Don Young expressed a similar sentiment in his statement, referring to the modified salmon as “frankenfish.” At a minimum, Young wrote that he plans to reintroduce legislation that would require labeling genetically engineered salmon. Sen. Mark Begich also released a statement questioning the FDA’s finding. “I am also concerned that the FDA is continuing to disregard the will of Congress,” Begich said. “It seems incredibly irresponsible to be moving forward on Frankenfish before they’ve taken a step back, consulted with experts on marine fisheries, and considered the potential impacts more broadly.” The FDA has not yet released a report on the potential impacts of genetically modified fish to the environment generally, something that was required under the 2007 FDA reauthorization. The FDA is taking comment on the EA for 60 days from publication in the federal register, which was done Dec. 26.

Nonprofit files legal challenge to NMFS observer program

An Alaska nonprofit filed suit in U.S. Alaska District Court Dec. 21 over the new observer program set to take effect Jan. 1. In an amended complaint filed Dec. 26, The Boat Company questioned whether the new at-sea observer program the National Marine Fisheries Service plans to use is adequate to monitor and manage bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska trawl fisheries. The Boat Company is a nonprofit that operates tours on two vessels in Southeast, and provides fishing opportunity as well as conservation education. NMFS published the final rule for a new observer program in November. In a NMFS summary of the new program, the service said the new program will increase the statistical reliability of data collected by the program, address cost inequality among fishery participants and expand observer coverage to previously unobserved fisheries, such as halibut longline vessels. “It’s really about getting good numbers,” said Martin Loefflad, who heads the Alaska observer programs for NMFS, earlier this year. Those numbers are used for federal management of the fisheries. The amended complaint says that by allowing the ex-vessel fee to dictate deployment, the program does not ensure enough observer coverage to generate reliable information about bycatch. The complaint notes that NMFS documentation talks about a 30 percent level of coverage as being statistically robust, but that the new observer program only covers about 13 percent, and shifts coverage from larger, higher-impact trawl vessels to smaller, lower-impact selective gear vessels. The complaint also says that NMFS does not account for species- and fisheries-specific bycatch monitoring needs. “Accordingly, The Boat Company brings this lawsuit to compel the Fisheries Service to reconsider the Final Rule, to revise and supplement its environmental analysis, and to revise its restructured observer program to ensure at least 30 percent observer coverage, which the Fisheries Service has determined is the bare minimum required to generate statistically reliable information on the amount and type of bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska federal fisheries as required to manage them in compliance with controlling law,” the complaint reads. The suit asserts violations of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Administrative Procedure Act, and raises issues with the details of the new observer program. The Boat Company has asked that the final rule for the observer program be remanded, with a new program developed with an adequate funding mechanism and NEPA analysis. The complaint notes that the high cost an observer day under the new program means fewer observer days than was called for in the final rule. It also faults NMFS for not analyzing that change as part of its environmental assessment. The lawsuit argues that the decrease in observer coverage to Gulf of Alaska trawl fisheries could result in less robust information about bycatch, and management measures that are not appropriately informed. Such a change should have required an environmental impact statement, not the environmental assessment that came with a finding of no significant impact, according to the complaint. The suit is directed at Acting Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank, NMFS, and NMFS Alaska Region Administrator James Balsiger. NMFS spokesperson Julie Speegle wrote in an email that the complaint is under review. Trawlers, the vessel type the complaint references, are in the trip coverage category for the new observer program’s 2013 deployment plan. As of Jan. 1, they’re required to log each fishing trip at least 72 hours in advance and take an observer when randomly selected. Hook-and-line and pot gear vessels of at least 57.5 feet will also be part of the trip selection pool. Smaller vessels are sorted into a vessel selection pool, in which a subset of vessels will carry an observer for 60 days, and the zero coverage pool, which includes catcher vessels less than 40-feet and those using jig gear. Although NMFS has said that the new program provides better data due to its design, the complaint argues that the partial coverage pools allow for non-representative fishing to be extrapolated to the entire fleet. That could mean more bycatch occurs than is accounted for, according to the complaint, because fishing could be cleaner when an observer is onboard. As developed, the program decreased coverage for certain sectors of the pollock and groundfish trawl fleets in order to begin observing the smaller longline boats targeting halibut and sablefish. The decreased coverage applies to those with greater prohibited species catch — chinook salmon in the pollock fishery and halibut in the bottom trawl fisheries.

Mixed outlook for fish stocks, new regs

Alaska’s fisheries are in for a mixed year in 2013, if current management expectations hold true. State forecasts and federal catch limits call for increased harvests of some species — like pollock — while other runs may fall shorter than in prior years. Pollock harvesters heard good news when the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, or NPFMC, set 2013 catch limits. The total allowable catch, or TAC, for Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands pollock was set at 1.27 million metric tons, about a 4 percent increase versus the 1.22 million metric ton harvest for 2012. The Pacific cod harvest for the BSAI was set at 260,000 metric tons, a slight decrease from 2012. In the Gulf of Alaska, pollock will also go up and cod will also go down. The TAC for Gulf pollock is 121,046 tons, up about 5,000 tons compared to 2012. Gulf Pacific cod is down about 5,000 tons, to 60,600 tons, and black cod, or sablefish, is down about 400 tons, to 12,510 tons. The final decision on halibut management will come at the International Pacific Halibut Commission in January, but preliminary numbers make it likely that North Pacific fishermen will see about a significant cut compared to 2012. Under the most likely scenario, the coastwide harvest from California to the Bering Sea would be 22.7 million pounds, down from a 33.54 million pound catch limit in 2012. Alaska’s portion of the 22.7 million pound limit would be 17.41 million pounds, down from 25.5 million in 2012. That number includes an increase in the harvest forecasted for Area 2C, or Southeast Alaska, because the model showed an increase in exploitable biomass for the area. Southcentral, or Area 3A, is in line for another cut, possibly to less than 10 million pounds compared to nearly 12 million pounds in 2012. The North Pacific council is recommending status quo management for the halibut charter industry in Alaska. The status quo measures are a reverse slot limit and one fish bag limit for Area 2C, and two fish of any size in Area 3A. The reverse slot limit prohibits keeping fish between 45 inches and 68 inches long. The recommended halibut management is contingent on the IPHC setting harvest levels that results in a guideline harvest level, or GHL, of 780,000 pounds for Area 2C and 2.37 million pounds for Area 3A. Those numbers are likely, but won’t be determined until the IPHC annual meeting in January. January will also mark the start of the Bering Sea snow crab and Kodiak tanner crab fisheries. The 2013 total allowable catch, or TAC, for Bering Sea snow crab was set at 66.35 million pounds, a 25 percent cut compared to nearly 89 million pounds in 2012. The snow crab harvest cut comes from a decrease in the mature male biomass (females may not be retained), and a change in the stock’s age composition. The crab is much older than in the past — about 60 percent of the mature male biomass is old shell crab — compared to about 37 percent last year. Fishing Quota holders will be able to harvest 59.7 million pounds, while Community Development Quota programs will take the remaining 6.6 million pounds. Kodiak tanner crab will be harvested from the eastside and southeast sections, for a total of 660,000 pounds. Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game has also announced some predictions for major salmon runs. In Bristol Bay, biologists are predicting that the red run will be about 26 million fish, with a harvest of 16.59 million fish. That’s down from the 2012 forecast of 32 million reds and a harvest forecast of 21.76 million fish. In Southeast Alaska, managers say king runs on the Stikine and Taku rivers may not meet escapement goals. They’re predicting about 22,400 for the Stikine, and 26,100 on the Taku. Those numbers aren’t large enough for an allowable catch in either Alaska or Canada, although a limited fishery could be opened later in May if the actual run looks greater than expected. Alaska fishermen will also see regulation changes beginning Jan. 1. Despite increased pollock harvests, those prosecuting that fishery will see their first full year under the new king salmon cap, which limits the central and western Gulf of Alaska fleets to 25,000 fish split between the winter and fall seasons. The National Marine Fisheries Service is launching a contentious new marine observer program, which includes more vessels than in the past, mostly in the partial observer coverage category. Vessels in the partial coverage program will be sorted into three pools: trip selection, vessel selection and zero coverage. The zero coverage vessels are catcher vessels less than 40-feet and those using jig gear. Trawlers of any size and hook-and-line and pot gear vessels of at least 57.5 feet will be part of the trip selection pool. After logging a trip, which must occur 72 hours beforehand, those vessels will be immediately informed if they will have an observer. The vessel pool includes catcher vessels between 40 and 57.5 feet, with hook-and-line or pot gear. In that pool, a randomly chosen group of vessels will receive coverage of their trips for 2 months, or 60 days. Some of the possible changes are still up in the air. The state’s Board of Fisheries will likely take up changes to the Kenai River king salmon management plan this March, but the details are still being worked out by the Upper Cook Inlet Task Force formed this fall. That body, however, is expected to find a way to protect kings while still allowing for harvest of other species. Last summer, managers shut down setnetters harvesting sockeyes to allow for maximum king escapement, a move that resulted in protests on the Kenai Peninsula.

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