Molly Dischner

Processors denied in challenge to Gulf rockfish program

A Washington judge ruled to uphold the rockfish catch share program in the Gulf of Alaska on procedural grounds. The technical ruling left unanswered the broader question of whether processors should be considered “fishing” operations under the Magnuson-Stevens Act and thus entitled to a guaranteed share of the harvest. The rockfish program implemented in 2012 allocated shares of the total harvest to vessel owners, but did not guarantee processors a share of the harvest, as the prior pilot program had done. The rockfish program also allocates set amounts of high-value secondary targets such as sablefish and Pacific cod to catcher vessels. Four Kodiak processors — Trident Seafoods, Ocean Beauty, Westward Seafoods, and North Pacific Seafoods — filed suit in January, asking for a guaranteed delivery of a portion of the harvest each year. U.S. District Court Judge Marsha Pechman upheld the program, denying the processors request, Nov. 30, after hearing oral argument in the case Nov. 19. Pechman’s Nov. 30 order stated that the processors did not have standing to bring a National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, claim and that the economic argument made by Trident and the other processors didn’t qualify as an environmental concern protected by NEPA. Pechman further wrote that without a NEPA violation, the plaintiffs had no grounds to make a claim based on the Magnuson-Stevens Act, or MSA. The MSA was the authority by which the National Marine Fisheries Service, or NMFS, implemented the catch share program. The new rockfish program was crafted by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council over several years and was approved in June 2010. NMFS is charged under the MSA with implementing council programs. Trident spokesman John Van Amerongen said the company had no comment on the judgment. The program allocates northern rockfish, pelagic shelf rockfish, Pacific Ocean perch and secondary, more valuable targets: sablefish and Pacific Cod, to trawl catcher vessels and catcher-processors. Rockfish are large, colorful fish that congregate either in schools (pelagic) or stay close to the bottom in rocky areas (non-pelagic). Processors do receive some protections under the new program. Catcher vessels must belong to a cooperative that is associated with a shore-based processor, although the cooperatives can change processor affiliations, and no processor can receive more than 30 percent of the harvest, meaning at least four receive business. Glenn Merrill, NMFS assistant regional administrator for Sustainable Fisheries, Alaska Region, said the ruling was narrowly focused on the procedural question. “From our standpoint, that means business as usual for the rockfish program,” Merrill said. The question the court answered was whether or not the processors had NEPA standing, and more specifically, whether or not their complaint fell within the NEPA zone of interest, Merrill said. NEPA is concerned largely with the environment; the complaint was entirely economic, with processors stating that the catch share program drove the price of rockfish up. How the ruling affects future programs remains to be seen, Merrill said. Catch share programs allocate shares of the total harvest to individual owners, typically based on catch history. Generally, the programs are intended to end the race for fish and give vessels a better way to minimize prohibited species catch. Management programs for pollock and crab in the Bering Sea, which took effect in 2002 and 2005, respectively, currently give processors a share of the harvest. So did the rockfish pilot program, which ended in 2011. The current rockfish program was a purposeful step away from that, and was based on legal guidance from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “The (state) didn’t feel or believe that, as a matter of policy, the processors be granted a share of the fishery, a harvester quota, or have some kind of forced delivery requirement that vessels would have to deliver specific processors,” said council member Duncan Fields of Kodiak in June 2010 after the new program was approved. “The closed class of processors in the pilot program was something the state of Alaska just didn’t think was good public policy.” A crux of the argument on both sides of the suit was whether or not on-shore processing was included in the definition of “fishing” within the Magnuson-Stevens Act. Processors have been included in past programs, with specific congressional authorization, but a 2009 NOAA legal opinion stated that processing was not fishing, and thus not eligible for a quota shares under the MSA for any programs created by a regional fishery management council. “The court didn’t address that,” Merrill said. If the case had answered those broader questions about catch share programs, it would have set a precedent as the council looks toward rationalizing the central Gulf of Alaska trawl fleet, and toward other rationalization programs. Now, policy makers and industry may look elsewhere for those answers with the 2009 NOAA legal opinion still guiding regional councils. Whether shoreside processors can be defined as “fishing” operations will likely come back in 2013 when the MSA is up for reauthorization. When the lawsuit was still in progress this fall, United Catcher Boats Executive Director Brent Paine said it could be the beginning of an effort to include processors in future programs as part of the redrafting. “I think you’ll see processors proposing language that gives them a little better footing or gives them more consideration than what is currently defined by law if they lose this lawsuit,” Paine said in September. UCB had motioned to intervene and help defend the current program, but was denied that role in the case. The group and other harvester associations were given status to participate in the remedy phase, but because the judge did not order any changes to the program, that never came to pass. Sen. Mark Begich, chair of the Senate Commerce subcommittee with oversight of NOAA, said he’s aware that the definition could be a question for some. “Let me say, I’m sure (processing) will come up, what will be the result, can’t tell you,” he said. Begich said he thinks the discussion on MSA reauthorization will include a variety of interests and concerns. He wants to see them discussed before any bill is actually on the table as part of a thorough process to seek out concerns across the country. “We’re not just gonna pop the bill open,” he said. “We’re gonna have a process that engages, and as chair of the oceans committee, I’ll spend the time to do that, and obviously Alaskans will be fully engaged in this.” The rockfish program will be up for review after the 2014 fishing season. That’s just three years out, rather than the usual five, but will likely come after the MSA reauthorization.

Alaska seafood industry still aiding Japanese peers after 2011 tsunami

The Alaska Fishing Industry Relief Mission Inc. had good news from Japan just in time for Thanksgiving. The nonprofit group raised more than $375,000 for tsunami relief efforts in 2011. This summer, Canadian Linda Ohama helped the group distribute the money to Japanese fishermen. Ohama, who is currently in Japan, delivered the good news in a Nov. 20 email. “Last week, I saw the two small boats that the Arahama fishermen were able to purchase with your donation! They were putting on the names: Alaska Maru 1 and Alaska Maru 2!!” Ohama wrote the group. The Miyagi Fishermen’s Association received $5,700 for the vessels earlier in the fall, and said 23 families would benefit from the boats. Ohama passed on thanks from the fishermen who received the boats, and said they talked about how each dollar was spent with gratitude. The new fishing vessels are just one of 10 projects AFIRM supported. The Alaska money has purchased various fishing supplies, storage tanks, air conditioners for a sorting plant, a forklift and truck for a market, a training simulator for a local high school, and assorted safety equipment. More than 1,000 fishermen, and even more families, have benefited. Ohama, who helped identify the projects, has seen many of the projects successfully funded and fishermen return to the sea. “I have (seen them come to fruition) and each of them is so wonderful to witness,” Ohama wrote in an email about her efforts in Japan. “The gratitude and the giving coming together. But AFIRM Chair Larry Cotter said that it is Ohama to whom they’re grateful for all her help in finding an effective way to distribute aid. “We raised close to $400,000 after the tsunami, and then the question is how’s it going to be spent in the best possible way?” Cotter said. “…When Linda came along, we knew just where to go.” AFIRM Secretary-Treasurer Mark Vinsel said the group was connected with Ohama after putting the word out that they were looking for assistance helping fishermen impacted by the tsunami. Ohama told the Alaskans about fishermen in Sendai who had everything they needed to get back on the water, except for lifejackets. The group provided $5,500 for the lifejackets, and the men were able to return to fishing right away. Then, Ohama worked with them to find others in need of assistance. The group prepared a form for the Japanese to fill out, seeking information on how much money was needed, who would benefit, and where the people applying were located. Ohama took the forms with her when she went to Japan in June. “She met with all these different fishing groups throughout the region,” Vinsel said. Ohama said she found the projects for AFIRM to support while traveling the coastline of Tohoku. “It is not difficult to meet the fishermen because most of the towns and harbors that were swept away were fishing and farming towns,” Ohama wrote. Ohama also translated the forms for AFIRM, Vinsel said. She has stayed in touch with the Alaskans through Skype and email while abroad. Ohama said her interest in helping the fishermen came from a variety of factors. She grew up in a small prairie community on family farm where everyone helped each other out, and her grandfather was a fisherman in British Columbia. Ohama is also anchored to coastal Japan through her maternal grandmother, who is from a fishing town there. She headed to Japan this summer as part of the “Canada-Tohoku-Japan Cloth Letters” project that started in Vancouver, B.C., after the tsunami. Now, she’s also working on a documentary about the Tohoku region. “Sometimes life just puts you in a position where two things are before you that could be maybe I am just a connector,” Ohama wrote in an email. “Others have also called me a ‘Watari Dori’, a bird of passage that bridges two places.” The Alaskan side of the connection Ohama helped create involved a wide swath of the fishing industry, Cotter and Vinsel said. Fishermen, processors, and entire industry came together on the fundraising effort. “The response was phenomenal,” Vinsel said. In the Bering Sea crab and groundfish fisheries, most vessels donated $5,000 to $10,000, with Unisea, owned by Nippon Suisan of Japan, matching those efforts. Other processors, including American Seafoods and Glacier Seafoods also matched fishermen’s efforts. Vinsel said the strong industry response was indicative of the fishermen’s mentality. They compete at sea, but will drop everything to help one another out when necessary, Vinsel said. AFIRM was founded in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina to support fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico. The group supplied fishermen with a lift to get boats back in the water near Plaquemines Parish, La., icemaking equipment for fishermen near Biloxi, La., and other aid. After relief efforts for the hurricane wound down, the group knew it might be needed again. “We didn’t close the organization down,” Cotter said. They opted to maintain a minimal bank account so work could ramp up when needed. “We do think it’s important for the Alaska fishing community to be prepared to help others,” Vinsel said. Vinsel said the thanks the fishermen have sent Alaskans are very powerful. A sign the lifejacket recipients held said something along the lines of, “We will succeed with feeling of thanks as power,” Vinsel said. “It’s very poignant that they feel such strong thanks.” Vinsel said they’re still hearing the results of AFIRM’s contributions in Japan. Most of the money has been sent to the selected groups, and reports of the fishermen returning to sea are rippling back to AFIRM. “They’ve received the help,” Vinsel said. One project is still pending. Cotter said AFIRM has designated $30,000 for rebuilding the Iwaki Fish Market. The group is waiting to for the Iwaki Fishermen’s Organization, Hisanohama Branch, to raise the rest of the funds for that project. Vinsel said the holidays are a good time to reflect on everything people are thankful for. “Linda Ohama’s at the top of my list,” he said. Vinsel said that the nonprofit spends virtually every dollar on assisting fishermen. Ohama enabled them to continue that practice without having to pay out-of-pocket for translations or help finding projects to support. She also saved them from having to give to a larger organization, he said. Cotter agreed. The help enabled the group to focus on small fishing communities that needed help, and provide a grassroots effort, he said. “It was perfect,” Cotter said.

North Pacific council to discuss bycatch, set 2013 harvests

The 2013 fisheries harvests and preliminary discussions of certain bycatch top the North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s December agenda. The council meets in Anchorage Dec. 5 to Dec. 12, and will also have another round of discussion on issues raised in October. The council is slated to identify alternatives for the Steller Sea Lion environmental impact statement analysis and hear more from the National Marine Fisheries Service, or NMFS, about the retooled observer program. NMFS is working on a court-mandated EIS regarding protection of Steller Sea Lions. The council will hear a report from NMFS on the scoping process, and provide direction on the range of alternatives for NMFS to consider. According to the current timeline, the council would review a draft of the EIS and identify a preliminary preferred alternative at its April meeting. Final action would follow in October, with Steller sea lion protection measures implemented in January 2015. NMFS published a final rule on its new observer program, which changes the fee structure and coverage for vessels receiving partial coverage. Vessels in the partial coverage program will be sorted into three pools — trip selection, vessel selection and zero coverage — depending on size and gear type. Generally, trip selected vessels are those longer than 57.5 feet overall, the vessel selected pool includes those between 40 and 57.5 feet, and the smallest vessels are in the zero coverage segment. Trip selected vessels would be selected for coverage on a trip-by-trip basis, while those in the vessel pool would be randomly selected to receive coverage all year long. The council asked NMFS for several changes to the program as it was presented in October, including making an accommodation for Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands cod trawl vessels to receive 100 percent coverage where necessary for the fleet’s in-season management, and shortening the length of coverage for the vessel pool to 60 days, rather than 90. Those changes would be part of the annual deployment plan, which is changed at NMFS discretion each year. The most recently published plan for 2013 came out before the October meeting, so any changes are not yet certain. Martin Loefflad, from NMFS, said the service would provide the council with a response to each of its recommendations before the meeting. The council will adopt catch specifications for Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea groundfish and pollock, and make recommendations for the charter halibut management. Halibut management for 2013 will depend on the amount available for harvest, which has not yet been set, but the charter management committee met in October and asked for analysis of some possibilities. For Area 2C, which includes mostly Southeastern Alaska waters, the committee asked for analysis of a reverse slot limit over a wider range of lower limits, and of an annual limit. For Area 3A, or mostly the central Gulf of Alaska, the committee talked about retaining the status quo of two fish of any size. The council will also review recommendations from the plan team regarding groundfish, and see stock assessments for those species. The council’s Plan Team has recommended a larger acceptable biological catch, or ABC, for Gulf of Alaska pollock. That would go from 116,444 metric tons in 2012 to 121,046 mt in 2013. The ABC is the highest allowable harvest figure, and the total allowable catch, or TAC, can be set at a lower number. Smaller ABCs are recommended for Pacific cod, shallow water flatfish and arrowtooth flounder. Under the recommendations, most rockfish would remain the same, although Northern and Dusky rockfish see a slight decline. The Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands recommendations are similar, with an increased ABC for pollock, and a decrease for Pacific cod. Sablefish and Atka mackerel would also see increases. The ABC for Pacific Ocean perch would decrease. Bycatch is also on the docket. The council agenda includes the initial review for Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands chum salmon bycatch, and the initial review of Gulf of Alaska Chinook bycatch in nonpelagic, or bottom, trawl fisheries. The council adopted a cap for pelagic, or midwater, trawl vessels targeting pollock in 2011 that took effect in the latter half of the 2012 season. Those initial reviews look at possible management measures to reduce prohibited species catch. The Bering Sea chum action would address bycatch of chums in the pollock fishery, while the Gulf of Alaska chinook action looks at all bottom trawl fisheries in the central and western Gulf. The Gulf of Alaska alternatives include retaining the status quo, setting a PSC cap at 5,000, 7,500, 10,000 or 12,500 chinooks, and retaining all salmon. The Bering Sea chum alternatives include retaining the status quo, setting a PSC cap, instituting iterations of a triggered closure with certain exemptions that would include changes to the Chum Salmon Savings Area boundaries. The council will also review an exempted fishing permit application to develop a salmon excluder device for the Central Gulf of Alaska pollock trawl fishery. According to a letter from NMFS Administrator James Balsiger, the excluder would be tested in that fishery during certain periods of 2013 and 2014 as a way to reduce chinook prohibited species catch, or PSC. Most likely, one or two trawl vessels would fish with the permit. The vessels participating in the test would likely catch up to 4,608 metric tons of pollock over the two-year period, and would need to be exempt from the PSC limit for halibut. The application also included a request to be exempt from chinook PSC limits, and the project would likely require a catch of up to 2,400 chinooks each year. They would not have an observer, but instead would need a sea-sampler. John Gauvin applied for the exempted fishing permit to develop and test the device. The Alaska Fisheries Science Center recommended approving the application, according to a letter from Alaska Region Science and Research Director Doug DeMaster. Also on the agenda is a discussion of subsistence halibut harvests, a Round Island transit corridor and a review of a vessel monitoring discussion paper.

Gas imports are 'last resort' says governor

Where Southcentral will get its energy in the near future was up for debate between the Anchorage mayor and the governor at the Resource Development Council’s annual conference. “Everyone needs affordable energy,” said Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan during his opening remarks Nov. 14, and added it was almost a given that Southcentral would be importing natural gas in the near future to bridge supply shortages projected for the 2014-15 winter. Speaking a few minutes later during the same opening session, Gov. Sean Parnell disagreed. “Mayor Sullivan, importing gas, I don’t think so,” Parnell said. “We have got to do better than that. And I will work my tail off, to make sure that we don’t have to do that. My hope is that these incentives will work in Cook Inlet so that’s not necessary. Not when our resources here are so vast. “Importing has got to be a last option, or a last resort.” Southcentral utilities told the Regulatory Commission of Alaska in October that they’ve reached the time to explore the last resort option of importing either liquefied natural gas or compressed natural gas. Natural gas heats many Southcentral homes, and fuels power plants throughout the region. But a shortfall is predicted for 2014 without a major new source of gas coming online before then. And such a source is unlikely, given lead times for development and the fact that any in-state pipeline project would not be finished by then. But Parnell said that other oil and gas projects have been aided by incentives and the state’s role in litigation, and he’d like to see another option move forward. Companies are now working on production facilities, gravel pads, and roads to support Point Thomson development, he said. That work will act as the lynchpin for the commercialization of Alaska’s North Slope natural gas. And the jack-up rigs in Cook Inlet are a sign that Cook Inlet incentives are working, he said. “We can look all around the state, and see our uptick in activity,” Parnell said. Parnell said that providing energy for Anchorage is a priority, as is providing energy for Fairbanks, where lower cost energy could help spur further resource development. Parnell also responded to Sullivan’s comments about Anchorage’s port project. Sullivan told the audience that it was too important to the state to fail. Parnell said he’d like to see the plan before the state commits any more money for the project. “Just know that you’ve got a willing partner here,” he said. Parnell’s remarks followed a musical act — Skagway businessman Steve Hites sang an adaptation of a Johnny Horton song he called “Battle of new ECA.” The opening lines praised Gov. Parnell for taking up the fight against the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, when it implemented the Emission Control Area Aug. 1 that requires low-sulfur diesel fuel within 200 miles of the Alaska coast. “Boy, Steve, thank you for that wonderful song,” Parnell said. Fights like the ECA one, which will add significant cost to shipping and cruise businesses operating in Alaskan waters, are part of his job, Parnell said. “I represent Alaskans and I will stand up for you,” Parnell said. Parnell said the state will continue to work on providing comments to the federal government regarding proposed projects in Alaska and proposed federal action that impacts Alaskans. Parnell mentioned some of the lawsuits the state has taken on recently, including working against attempts to shut down mining, fighting federal delays in timber sale, the ECA implementation, and wilderness designations, supporting delisting of certain endangered species and defending private property rights from EPA encroachment. Beyond federal fights, Parnell said the state is working on its own processes to enable projects to move forward. Parnell said that the state’s Department of Natural Resources has also worked to reduce the backlog of permits in its hands so that applications receive consistent, timely reviews, and projects can move forward. A state timber task force also recently provided several recommendations on how the state can push the federal government on action that could benefit timber. The state is also working to create another state forest, the Susitna State Forest, to provide opportunity on its own. Parnell also talked about the challenges the nation has faced, including natural disasters and economic crisis. While economic recovery might seem distant to some, Parnell said that Alaska’s story is different because of the state’s resources. “Resources remain Alaska’s advantage in this unpredictable world,” Parnell said. “Alaskans can walk a greater trajectory of opportunity because of our unique position in this world.”

Northern District salmon not faring better than Kenai

WASILLA — Southcentral residents gathered in Wasilla Nov. 15 to talk about Northern District salmon issues with fisheries managers and local politicians. Mat-Su fishermen mostly target the Northern District of the Cook Inlet, including the Susitna River drainage and various Parks Highway streams. Salmon in those waters haven’t fared any better than their Kenai Peninsula and Yukon-Kuskokwim delta counterparts, with several declared stocks of concern. Rep. Mark Neumann, R-Wasilla, introduced the other Mat-Su elected officials, and reminded the public that the meeting was as much for them to share their concerns as for Alaska Department of Fish and Game managers to explain the current status of area fish. “These fisheries belong to you,” Neumann said. Attendees raised a variety of concerns — including the roles of commercial and subsistence fisheries, to shortfalls in various species, to the possibility of a dam changing salmon runs. ADFG Area Management Biologist Sam Ivey said there’s been a decline in king salmon for the past several years in western Cook Inlet and Matanuska-Susitna area rivers. In 2011, 12 of the area’s 17 king escapement goals were not met. That goal is the number of fish managers wants to get upstream to reproduce. The Alaska Board of Fisheries sets those escapement goals for streams and rivers throughout Alaska based on recommendations from ADFG, which uses management tools to keep prosecution of state fisheries to a level that allows for the goal to be reached. In the Mat-Su, most escapement goals are gauged by aerial surveys looking at the number of fish returning. This year, Ivey said ADFG tried to reduce the number of king salmon taken with a number of strategies. Those included limiting the time when fishing was allowed, reducing the annual limit, and limiting gear types. On Parks Highway streams, fishing was catch and release only. At midseason, managers felt they still weren’t going to meet some goals, so they took further action, closing the Little Susitna, then the entire Susitna drainage. On the Deshka River, bait was prohibited. Commercial Fisheries Biologist Pat Shields explained that the commercial fleet’s effort was also cut significantly. The reductions came from shorter openings, closing some planned openings to try and allow more kings to go north, and spacing out the northern setnetters more than in the past. “We took some pretty significant restrictions in the fishery to reduce our harvest potential on king salmon,” Shields said. Shields said the division will likely implement similar restrictions next year. Despite the efforts, escapement goals were not met. The Deshka River, Little Susitna, Clear Creek and Little Willow Creek were the only places where escapement goals were met. By the end of the summer, 13 of the 17 escapement goals weren’t met, Ivey said. Ivey said the poor returns had a dual impact. Fishermen and businesses catering to them were hurt, and the department lost revenue from its king tags. Ivey also talked about coho management in the area. No action was taken before the start of the season, but during the season, the department issued four emergency orders limiting fishing. The final order closed the entire Knik Arm Management Area to coho fishing, other than the Eklutna Tailrace. Next year there will likely be see restrictive coho management, Ivey said. Shields said his division is also trying to figure out what to do about cohos. The strong sockeye run, combined with king and coho issues, made for particularly difficult management, Shields said. Commercial fishermen were restricted in the area they could fish, in an effort to conserve coho, and setnetters didn’t fish, in an effort to conserve kings, but ultimately it still didn’t work out the way everyone wanted, Shields said. “We’re left with this challenge,” Shields said. “You don’t ignore Northern District-bound stocks, and you don’t ignore Kenai-Kasilof sockeye stocks. It puts us in a difficult situation.” In response to a question from members of the public concerned about how the escapement goals are set, Bob Clark of ADFG explained that while some escapement goals have been reduced in the past decade, it’s not because of the low returns. Reductions are generally because the department has more information, and realizes that fewer salmon are required to maintain the same population. Despite those adjustments, of which there have been only a few, Clark said the department needs more information. “We need some better information to understand why production is down and try to do something about it,” Clark said. Better information could also help provide better management tools, he said. For now, the tools are too blunt to provide any fishing opportunity when abundance is low. Some action is planned to help give the department better information next year. Ivey said that next year, the Little Susitna will get a king weir, which should provide more timely in-season information. Most of the streams are assessed with aerial surveys, but a weir generally provides better data. The department is working on adding other additional weirs, including two in the Yetna River system, and two in the Susitna system. The department also operated a test fishery near Kalgin Island. That test fishery is expected to provide information on whether or not Susitna sockeyes can be separated from other sockeyes in the Cook Inlet either spatially or temporally. The first round of genetic data is expected to be processed in early 2013. There’s also a new two-year project beginning to collect, organize and analyze local and traditional knowledge about Susitna River drainage king salmon stocks. Each of those efforts would better inform managers about the fish they’re trying to apportion. But users want information now, they said. Bruce Morgan said he sees a lot of reaction after fisheries don’t produce as hoped or expected, and hears a lot of unknowns when the state talks about how to best manage the fisheries. But he wanted some concrete answers. “I realize there’s no silver bullet to cover everything, give me a little bit. Tell me, just tell me something,” Morgan said. Like other salmon discussions this year, subsistence was a question at the Wasilla meeting. Subsistence fishing is managed by the commercial fisheries division, and, for the Northern District, mostly occurs on the west side of Cook Inlet. Howard Delo, a retired ADFG fisheries biologist, acknowledged that subsistence fishing can be a touchy subject, and said he’s heard anecdotal information that there’s some “extracurricular activity” in the west side subsistence king fisheries. “How closely is this being enforced and has Commercial Fisheries considered making any restrictions to the subsistence fisheries on the west side, in this sharing of the conservation burden?” Delo asked. Shields said subsistence users are considered a higher priority than others, to some extent. Restrictions were considered, but ultimately the division felt it was making the necessary reductions in harvest to provide for escapements. But, Shields said he likes to hear those reports of extra activity, and can ask enforcement to check them out when he hears about them. Central Region Supervisor Tracy Lingnau said all possibilities for conservation will be back on table when the division looks at management for 2013. Jim Savage, from the Anchorage ADFG Advisory Committee, also asked managers to tighten restrictions on commercial fishing, believing that they’re contributing to the lack of fish making it to the northern district. “You can do all you want in the streams up here… but if they never get up here, what’s the point?” Savage asked. “(It seemed like) last year, the drift fleet just ran amuck.” Other users questioned if there should be commercial fishing at all, which Shields said was a Board of Fisheries issue, not something managers would change. He noted just 10 percent of the king harvest comes from commercial fishermen.

Barrow students provide health education for young peers

Middle schoolers in Barrow have some untraditional teachers for touchy coming-of-age subjects. Area high school and college students are part of the Junior Public Health Educator program, organized and run by Ilisagvik College and the Northwest Area Health Education Center, or NW AHEC. Ilisagvik is a tribal college in Barrow. The college also houses the Northwest AHEC, one of five such education centers in Alaska. Ilisagvik College’s Dean of Students Gloria Burnett coordinates the Northwest AHEC, and the JPHE program. Burnett said the JPHEs go to middle school classes and talk about public health topics. Usually, one or two of the older students present to a class along with someone from the AHEC who talks about health careers. Presentation topics include teen pregnancy, alcohol abuse, child abuse, suicide and sexually transmitted diseases — areas in which Alaska’s status is worse than the national average. Educators choose their presentation topics based on what they’re interested in, and what they think affects middle school students. “I think it could really make an impact with specific topics that the students find passion for in their communities,” Burnett said. Burnett said the students usually present to classrooms with 15 to 25 people. In that setting, the middle school audiences often feel comfortable opening up about concerns in their own lives, she said. April Phillip, a JPHE who attends Ilisagvik, said the older students have become mentors of sorts for the middle schoolers. “There’s such a close relationship and a lot of the students grow to look up to you,” Phillip said. She will graduate this spring with an allied health degree, and plans to go to nursing school. Phillip’s presentation is on substance abuse. She talked about her experience as a JPHE at the American Indian Science and Engineering Conference in Anchorage earlier this month. Phillip said she chose the subject because it’s something middle schoolers are making decisions about. She wants to make sure they have information before doing so. “They’re gonna make this choice on their own,” Phillip said. Phillip talks about the effects of a variety of substances, mostly those that rural youth consider using, like alcohol, marijuana, and cigarettes. And she talks about alternatives — ways to stay busy, and other options for entertainment in their community. Some of the JPHEs, like Phillip, are already interested in health careers. For others, it’s their first introduction to the field. “It winds up being a really good recruitment tool for health care careers,” Burnett said. That dual-role is particularly important because Alaska Natives are underrepresented in health care fields, Burnett said. Ilisavgik offers an associates degree in allied health, as well as summer camps for middle and high school students meant to introduce them to those fields. The program has helped recruit not only high schoolers for the college, but it gets middle schoolers more interested in higher education. The junior educators, or JPHEs, take a 10-hour training course before they start presenting their public health topics to middle school students. Burnett said the training course talks about what public health is and how it can be used to improve the community. Students also learn the skills needed for teaching: communication, public outreach, research and presentation. At the end of the course, the junior educators give a mock presentation and receive feedback before they take their presentation to local youth. The program is in its second year with funding from the First Nations Development Institute’s Native Youth and Culture Fund. Originally, it started as an AHEC pilot program, which was supported by the Department of Health and Social Services. The program also runs through the summer, and includes summer camp students who are interested in becoming junior public health educators. Burnett said it’s a flexible program, and they can offer the training more than once each year to get new students involved. Last year, the program included eight educators. The program doesn’t have a set length of time that JPHEs must participate, but Ilisagvik student Laura Nicolai said she thinks it will result in life-long sharing of public health information. Nicolai is also studying allied health. Eventually, she wants to go into crisis counseling.  Her presentation is on suicide. She shares statistics with the students, and talks about how they can help, particularly by being non-judgmental and listening to their peers. The program is still developing. “It’s something we’re planning to grow and expand and use as a tool,” Burnett said. Burnett said they’re adding an elder guidance and support component to the program, as well as aligning it with the borough’s Inupiaq curriculum standards. “The next time the course is taught, it will continue to be more and more culturally relevant,” Burnett said. The North Slope Borough School District launched Inupiaq standards last spring, which take a holistic approach that have a variety of culturally relevant objectives, Burnett said. While some educational standards focus on the academic nuts and bolts of a curriculum, these standards address Inupiaq standards, Burnett said The standards are being incorporated into the training course, and will also assist students in choosing and presenting culturally relevant topics. The program is also trying to move beyond Barrow and impact communities throughout the region, Burnett said. The goal is to expand both to North Slope Borough villages, and to hub communities elsewhere in rural Alaska. Wainwright will be the next home to a JPHE program, Burnett said. There’s a teacher interested in helping coordinate the program there, and Burnett is working on scheduling the training course. The program is looking for teachers interested in coordinating the programs in other communities as well, with Nome and Kotzebue two likely sites for expansion.

Southeast guide sentenced for sport license violations

A Southeast Alaska charter guide and lodge owner pled guilty to four counts of residency-related false statement on a sport license in Sitka court Nov. 6. Angling Unlimted majority owner Tom Ohaus was fined $4,000, with $1,500 suspended, ordered to pay $3,165 in restitution to the State of Alaska, and placed on probation, according to court documents. As part of his probation, Ohaus’ sport fish license was revoked for a year, with that suspended, meaning that he can continue fishing as long as he upholds the terms of his probation. Ohaus declined to comment, but referred to a Nov. 12 statement released by Southeast Alaska Guides Association Executive Director Heath Hilyard. Ohaus is president of the guide association, or SEAGO. The organization’s statement supported Ohaus. “All of us know Tom to be one of the most ethical operators in the business and I don’t think any member of our board ever believed Tom did anything knowingly that led to these charges,” said SEAGO Vice President Russell Thomas in a statement. “He has been a thoughtful leader for SEAGO and our industry and the fact that he was being seriously considered for the IPHC is a testament to that.” The Ohaus case was originally filed in May 2012, when Ohaus was charged with five counts of false statement on sort licenses, a Class A misdemeanor. The timeline for the offenses was January 2008 to March 2011. The Alaska State Troopers said Ohaus was a resident of Dartmouth, Mass., and supported their charges with an affidavit regarding property ownership and a letter seeking a non-resident seat on the International Pacific Halibut Commission, or IPHC. Charges were filed nearly immediately after Ohaus wrote the IPHC letter, which he gave to National Marine Fisheries Service Alaska Region Administrator Jim Balsiger, who oversees the IPHC nomination process. Originally, Ohaus had sought a resident seat. Hilyard said in the spring that he changed Ohaus’ nomination to a nonresident seat on Balsiger’s advice. After Ohaus withdrew his application June 4, a NMFS spokesperson told the Journal that it would not comment on Balsiger’s advice to Ohaus. The IPHC has a seat for an Alaskan, and for a nonresident. Those still have not been filled, although Balsiger remains at the helm of the selection process. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game residency requirement includes a provision that residents cannot take any action that would constitute residency in another state. Trooper Tim Hall’s affidavit said that Ohaus and wife Linda Kristofik own a home in Dartmouth, Mass., and that in 2004 he applied, with a notarized signature, for a homestead tax exemption. In Massachusetts a homestead exemption is for a primary residence, according to the affidavit. The affidavit also says that two of their children attended a private school in Massachusetts, while one graduated from a public high school, which required proof of residency in that state. In his statement, Hilyard said that Ohaus owns a home in Sitka, operates his primary business in Alaska, regularly votes in Alaska and has a valid Alaska driver’s license. Hilyard said the charges will inform the group’s legislative agenda for 2013, as the residency standards are too unclear. During the IPHC application process, enforcement personnel for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said there may be as many as 20 standards of residency in statute, depending upon the benefit or program being applied for, according to Hilyard. “When looking at existing statute (on resident/non-resident fishing privileges), I believe the statute is both highly subjective and somewhat unclear,” Hilyard said in a statement. “We believe it is important for the legislature to establish a clearer standard, both for fishermen and for enforcement.” Charles McNamee, of Nevis Minnesota, also pled guilty to four counts of false statement on sport licenses, and received the same fines and probation as Ohaus. McNamee is Ohaus’ partner at Anglers Unlimited. Another guide from Anglers Unlimited, David Gross, was charged with similar violations in March 2012. He was convicted of one charge for license, tag or permit violations according to court documents.

Small-scale gold mining grows as prices remain high

While major mining companies continue to produce and explore Alaska’s gold, smaller-scale efforts are increasing their reach. Recreational and smaller-scale mining efforts throughout the state are on the rise, due in part to increasing gold prices, reality television, and regulatory obstacles Outside. Kerwin Krause, from the Alaska Department of Natural Resource’s Division of Mining, Land, and Water, said permit applications have increased over the past few years. Gold is off its record high prices but is still trading for more than $1,725 per ounce. The 2013 numbers are not yet finalized, as applications will come in until April. So far, the state has received 27 new hard rock permit applications, and 146 new placer applications. Total, there are 69 hard rock applications, 420 for placer mining, and 211 for suction dredging. Those are nearly the same as the January 2011 to November 2012 figures, which includes two seasons of mining, rather than just one. For that time frame, the state received 98 hardrock permit applications, 549 placer applications and 272 suction dredge applications. And not everyone who tries mining in Alaska needs a permit. Some new prospectors visit places like Crow Creek Mine in Girdwood or claims owned by the Gold Prospectors Association of America, or GPAA, both of which have also seen an the increase in interest. Bill Dunlevy, vice president of the GPAA’s Anchorage chapter, said there are a lot of folks interested in recreational gold panning, both in-state and Outside. “There’s a lot of interest in the gold mining,” Dunlevy said. The association has been getting six to 10 new members every month. The organization has about 60 to 100 active members, and 300 total. Dunlevy also fields calls from people from all over the United States — and even as far away as Frankfurt, Germany — looking for places to rent or lease equipment when they come to the north for a gold-oriented vacation. While the most basic equipment isn’t too expensive, there aren’t many rental options. So after talking to the would-be miners, sometimes Dunlevy just lends them his own gear. Different people use different equipment, but Dunlevy said the common types are high banking, sluicing, and dredging. Dunlevy said that the most basic equipment probably costs less than $200. That’d cover picks, shovels, a good sluice box. For a metal detector or dredging equipment, a prospector can expect to pay thousands. Many of the GPAA miners go prospecting most weekends throughout the summer, Dunlevy said. As a group, they have a few functions each year. This year they did season-opener and closer gatherings at Crow Creek Mine in Girdwood, and went to Chicken for July 4. Those gatherings give newcomers a chance to learn from someone more experienced. The rest of the time they go out on their own. “There’s quite a few members (who) have their own claims,” Dunlevy said. The Kenai Peninsula is a popular destination for Southcentral miners, and also home to a GPAA chapter that meets in Kenai. But creeks elsewhere in the state, including near Fairbanks and Valdez, are also prospecting destinations. Dunlevy said the GPAA claims can be used by members, and are located throughout the country. The Alaska claims range from smaller sites on the road system, to mining camps in Nome and other gold hot spots. Using those can be easier than navigating the permitting and claim processes, Dunlevy said. Some of the camps have been around for 20 years, Dunlevy said. They see as many as 200 or more people a week, some staying as long as six weeks. While prospectors have a lot of options for where to mine, Dunlevy said there’s not enough. Increasing interest means an increasing need for claim sites. “I just wish that we had more open area up here,” Dunlevy said. Dunlevy is on the small-scale miners committee for the Alaska Miners Association, where they discuss regulations that help and hinder Alaska’s prospectors. Dunlevy said he tries to encourage the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to open up more land. That’s the biggest issue, he thinks. “I just keep encouraging them to open up more creeks, more areas for that sort of thing,” Dunlevy said. But for now, when Dunlevy’s phone rings with a would-be miner from out-of-state, he often suggests they go to Crow Creek Mine, in Girdwood. There they can pay a daily fee, and don’t have to worry about claims or permits. Despite the increased interest, last summer didn’t necessarily go smoothly for miners, Dunlevy said. The best gold is often in the center of the waterway, so high and fast creeks and streams from the heavy rain made mining difficult. Dunlevy said the mining TV shows are just one contributor to the growth in prospecting. The national GPAA actually produces some gold-related shows that air on TV, in addition to the well-known reality-style shows like Gold Fever and Bering Sea Gold. But Dunlevy said other factors are also at play: difficulties mining Outside, and the high price of gold. New regulations have shut down dredging in some states, or just made it harder to get a permit, Dunlevy said. “It’s getting tougher and tougher to gold mine,” he said. The price of gold also spurs interest. While it isn’t high enough to pay for a vacation to Alaska to try mining, it’s high enough to pique people’s curiosity. Nate Williamson from Crow Creek Mine agreed that people are more interested than ever. “I think people are more interested, they’re paying more attention for sure,” Williamson said. Crow Creek offers people the opportunity to try their hand at mining, and educates them about the industry, Williamson said. Visitors now know a little more about mining than they used to, he said. “People know the terminology, they’re interested in it,” Williamson said. “I can definitely say that people that are coming know a lot more about it.” Williamson said the recreational mine gets about 100 visitors a day in the summer, and around 15,000 over the course of the season. Most of the miners are Alaskans who bring their families or visiting guests. “A lot of people come out to the mine every weekend with their kids,” Williamson said. He also sees a lot of recreational miners. Would-be miners at Crow Creek mine mostly pan for gold. Williamson said he also educates them on sluice boxes and metal detecting. He also tries to provide information about the realities of mining, including on an industrial scale, so they know more than what TV shows.   Placer operations increase Gold panners aren’t the only source of growth in small-scale mining. Permit data shows that placer operations are also on the rise. A new operation in Nome has 26 leases for marine placer mining. Placer Marine Mining is owned by AngloGold Ashanti and DeBeers, who also co-own AuruMar, a technical services contractor that does much of Placer Marine’s Nome work. So far, Placer Marine is focused on baseline and conceptual studies, along with exploration. Mining could commence in 2017 if the early work pans out, said AuruMar General Manager Gary Van Eck at the recent AMA convention in Anchorage. The company is reliant on more than a dozen contractors, including AuruMar. Many of those are Alaska-based, including Sitnasuak Native Corp. While placer mining is small-scale compared to some other mines, the permitting and pre-mining work is still extensive. This summer, Placer Marine’s Nome efforts included permitting, environmental baseline studies, geophysical surveys, core samples, and economic modeling, said Neil Fraser, a venture manager for AuruMar. Much of this summer’s work included looking at the seafloor. The currently available information is from WestGold’s dredging more than 20 years ago. The new program is trying to update that. This summer’s survey work relied on two vessels looking at a 20-mile by 2-mile area. The initial data provided high quality sea floor images. Some of the work shows the type of ground, while other images show the topography. A full suite of seismic work was also part of the summer’s program, Fraser said. The company also worked on a resource estimation from some of the sampling that was done. Overall, the work enabled the company to get funding for another summer’s effort. With some placer operations just getting started, and more Outside miners coming north every year, the current upswing in popularity doesn’t look like it’s ending anytime soon. “I think it’s going to be here for quite a while,” Dunlevy said. New shows are still enticing new prospectors. And Dunlevy said there’s nothing like the thrill of finding a little flake of gold for the first time. Once you catch gold fever, he said, it’s hard to shake it. “I’ve been doing it about 47 years,” he said. “I still get excited.”

GCI calls 3Q mixed as net income declines

Third quarter results were mixed for General Communications Inc. Third quarter earnings released Nov. 7 show total revenues up for the Anchorage-based telecom, but net income down year-over-year. Total revenues were $178.5 million, up slightly compared to the third quarter of 2011, when they were $177.7 million. And it was also up sequentially from second-quarter revenue of $176.1 million. But the third quarter net income for 2012 was $3.7 million, down from $7.2 million in the third quarter of 2011. Chief Financial Officer John Lowber said a number of factors were at play in the company’s performance, including many of the same challenges that other telecommunications companies face. The company is aided by its TERRA expansions throughout rural Alaska, he said, and by a relatively strong economy in the state. The company has also undertaken a number of efforts to strengthen its position in healthy areas. GCI subsidiary Denali Media Holdings also announced Nov. 9 that it will purchase three broadcast stations, pending Federal Communications Commission, or FCC, approval. Denali will purchase KTVA-TV in Anchorage, a CBS affiliate, and KATH-TV in Juneau and KSCT-TV in Sitka, both NBC affiliates. Alaska Broadcasting Company, Inc./Media News Group, of Denver Colorado, owns KTVA, while Juneau’s North Star Broadcasting owns the two Southeast stations. Final approval of the transaction is expected in early 2013. One of the financial challenges was the decrease in subscribers due, in part, to tighter federal regulations regarding participation in the Lifeline program. There was also some growth in non-lifeline wireless. GCI is also feeling the same trends as others in the industry, primarily that voice is down, Lowber said. “Data was the only category that saw an increase in revenues year to year,” Lowber said. Consumer data revenues increased 18.2 percent compared to 2011. Roaming traffic also helped wireless revenues, a seasonal boost Alaska carriers receive from summer tourist traffic. Lowber said that the number of local access lines, video subscribers and consumer wireless customers were all down compared to 2011. But not every metric is down. The company did see an uptick in cable modem revenue, with 1,400 more cable modems compared to the second quarter, and 6,800 more commercial and consumer cable modem customers than the third quarter of 2011. Average monthly revenue for cable modems also increased, up 11.9 percent for the third quarter of 2012 compared to the same period in 2011. The commercial side is doing well overall. “Commercial margins continue to increase,” Lowber said. Revenues for that sector increased 1.8 percent year-over-year, and 5.1 percent sequentially, despite decreased Universal Service Fund support. The company saw a decrease in USF support for voice and wireless of about $2.8 million compared to the third quarter of 2011. Managed broadband was another high spot, Lowber said, thanks to the TERRA network expansions. Year-over-year, revenue was up 30.3 percent, and increased 4.5 percent compared to the second quarter. Those TERRA expansions are continuing, which means the company could see some additional increases as more communities receive the service. “The project is currently under budget, and is on schedule,” Lowber said. Mountaintop construction is scheduled to start in March, with phase three mountaintop construction getting under way next summer. The project is still working through the permitting process for the Kotzebue arm of the expansion, with public meetings scheduled in Buckland and Kotzebue as part of the Bureau of Land Management’s Environmental Assessment. All is expected to be done and ready to go live in 2014. Lowber said the company’s future plans include further 3G expansion, an LTE rollout in Anchorage at the end of this year or in early 2013 and the pending Alaska Wireless Network transaction. Alaska Communications and GCI will combine all of their wireless infrastructure assets, with GCI paying ACS $100 million to acquire a two-thirds interest in the new company. The two companies will maintain separate retail operations and sell products separately on the combined network. Lowber said the move will eliminate duplication, and enable both companies to sell the fastest, most extensive service in a cost-effective way. That effort is still pending FCC approval. Lowber said the company would likely refinance senior debt to meet its obligations. AWN related costs were $500,000 for the third quarter, and $2.6 million so far this year. Overall, however, the company’s capital expenditures are actually down slightly for the third quarter of 2012 compared to the third quarter of 2011, but up from the second quarter of this year. Total, GCI expects to spend about $150 million on capital expenditures in 2012. GCI is also aided in its expansions by state and federal grants. The company received a $6.3 million grant from the Regulatory Commission of Alaska, and a $2.3 million grant from the FCC ‘s mobility fund for 3G wireless expansion in rural Alaska. Overall, Lowber said the company is maintaining the year-long guidance it has provided earlier, with total revenue expected to be between $690 million and $720 million, and earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, or EBITDA, of between $230 and $240 million. Those numbers do not include the costs associated with finalizing the Alaska Wireless Network. Wireless and infrastructure efforts aren’t the only arenas where the company is working on a stronger position. The Denali Media Holdings purchase of three Alaska TV stations is meant to enhance the company’s ability to add value to GCI’s media enterprise. “Our intention is to invest our resources and transform KTVA, KATH and KSCT into a news and entertainment leader unparalleled in Alaska,” said GCI President Ron Duncan in a statement. “We look at these purchases as the first step toward providing a new statewide platform for news and information, as well as providing unique content and value for GCI’s video subscribers.” John Tracy, former News Director at KTUU in Anchorage, will be the lead consultant for transitioning the news departments. “Denali Media Holdings is committed to investing significant resources to provide Alaskans with a new choice for quality news programming and high-definition offerings,” Tracy said. “I welcome the challenge of helping restore KTVA to the community leader it once was and building on KATH and KSCT’s reputations.” Molly Dischner can be reached at [email protected]

Rockfish lawsuit up for oral argument in Washington

An answer could be on the way soon for Kodiak processors who asked the courts to intervene and give them a guaranteed share of the Gulf of Alaska rockfish harvest. Oral argument in the rockfish lawsuit is scheduled for Nov. 19. Four companies with processing operations in Kodiak sued the National Marine Fisheries Service, or NMFS, in the U.S. Western District of Washington in January to overturn the catch share program, which took effect in May. The lawsuit revolves around whether processors should receive a guaranteed share of the rockfish harvest. The rockfish program also allocates set amounts of high-value secondary targets such as sablefish and Pacific cod to catcher vessels. Catch share programs allocate shares of the total harvest to individual owners, typically based on catch history. The hearing is regarding NMFS and the processors’ motions for summary judgment, as well as the NMFS memorandum in opposition to the processors’ motion. Judge Marsha Pechman announced the hearing Oct. 30, giving each side 20 minutes to argue their case, and 10 minutes each for rebuttal. The processors — Trident Seafoods, Ocean Beauty, Westward Seafoods, and North Pacific Seafoods — want to be guaranteed delivery of a portion of the harvest each year. The current rockfish program does not give them that guarantee, but the five-year pilot program, which ran from 2007 to 2011, did. Under the current program, vessels can deliver their take to any of the processors in Kodiak. The pilot program, however, had a contractual linkage between vessel owners and shore-based processors, obligating vessels to deliver to a specific shore-based processor based on past delivery history. After the initial motions for summary judgment were filed, Trident Seafoods’ Joe Plesha filed a declaration stating that processors had paid more for rockfish this year than in the past. That September declaration is based on the more up-to-date financial information than processors had provided previously, and was filed on the same day as the processor’s response to NMFS prior filing. In 2011, the pilot program’s final year, Trident paid 12 cents per pound for northern rockfish at the Kodiak plant and 10 cents per pound for pelagic shelf rockfish and Pacific Ocean perch. In 2012, the first year of the new program, Trident paid 27 cents for all species. “My understanding is that the other (rockfish pilot program) processors have had similar increases in the costs of rockfish,” Plesha said in his filing. According to the processors’ filing, the pilot program ensured a predictable amount of rockfish would be delivered, and allowed the processors to handle rockfish while other fisheries were closed. But under the program now in place, any processor could handle all of the fish, changing economics for all the processors. “Processors, therefore, will unavoidably bid up the price for deliveries of rockfish and its associated bycatch such that they will cover only their variable costs of production of rockfish,” Plesha wrote in his filing. NMFS response to the processors’ Sept. 14 filing did not include a response to the pricing issue, instead continuing to address the major crux of the case: whether or not processing is considered fishing, and the alleged National Environmental Policy Act issues, or lack thereof. Those are the issues that will likely dominate the Nov. 19 hearing. The fishing definition issue is a major matter of contention. A 2009 opinion from general counsel of the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council stated that the Magnuson-Stevens Act did not give the council the authority to give on-shore processors a guaranteed share of the harvest. The North Pacific council was in the process of revising the rockfish program in advance of its 2011 sunset date, and the NOAA legal opinion stated processors were not “fishing” operations under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, or MSA, and therefore were not entitled to quota allocations. But the processors say that legal opinion was flawed, and that the role of processors in the pilot program should have been continued. They also argued that the pilot program’s inclusion of processors was entirely the result of the MSA, not the program’s congressional authorization, as the defendants have said. How processors are defined will matter greatly as the North Pacific Fishery Management Council is now looking at a rationalization program for the Gulf of Alaska trawl fleet. Earlier this fall, United Catcher Boats Association Executive Director Brent Paine said the lawsuit would have an effect on future rationalization. “This will set a precedent for what any council in the United States will have to do when they consider development of a catch share program,” Paine said. UCB vessels operate in the Gulf, as well as in Bering Sea fisheries and elsewhere on the west coast. UCB, along with Gulf harvester association Alaska Whitefish Trawlers, moved to intervene in the case to defend the rockfish program as crafted by the council without any fixed linkages between catcher vessels and shoreside processors.

Researchers suggest ways to improve salmon management

The Salmon Symposium held in Anchorage last month delved into research questions that managers, fishermen and others believe might help them understand what’s going on with the low returns of chinook salmon. Much of a salmon’s life cycle between the time they’re born and the time they return to their home streams to spawn is a mystery. For now, it is hard to even say if recent low chinook runs are part of a general trend, or if they’re just an oddity, a so-called black swan event. Assessing that would require longer-term data sets, said Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s John Linderman. For now, knowledge is limited by the available data. University of Alaska Fairbanks Researcher Phil Loring has offered some research ideas — and management solutions — that look at more than just the salmon. Ultimately, Loring said he thinks an ecosystem-based approach, and an effort that puts food security as the top priority for salmon utilization, would have better long-term success for the fishery. Loring’s suggestion is that the first concern in managing Alaska’s fisheries would be ensuring that every Alaskan has access to fish — whether by subsistence fishing, at an affordable fish market in their community, or other solutions, as appropriate. Loring said that maintaining the availability of subsistence food can help keep Alaskans healthy, while leaving a significant chunk of fish for the commercial industry. “We’re not talking about a lot of fish here,” Loring said. General mandates to protect fishing communities and resources already exist. But Loring said more state and federal policy protections are needed. “I think there’s an opportunity for the state to say we value food security first,” he said. Such a mandate would enable people to innovate and develop local markets, Loring said. If the state set a precedent to feed itself, it would be a benchmark for others, Loring said. “I think Alaska has a real opportunity,” he said. “The world thinks of us as a leader.” Loring’s suggestion comes after a summer in which subsistence, commercial and sport fishermen throughout Alaska faced closures due to low chinook runs. In September, the U.S. Department of Commerce issued a resource disaster designation for the Yukon River, Kuskokwim River and Cook Inlet king salmon fisheries.   Research needs Those shutdowns and disaster declarations prompted the symposium hosted by Alaska Department of Fish and Game, where people talked about all the research that might help identify what is going on with the salmon. Fish and Game’s Bob Clark said scientists don’t know if the survival rate is due to saltwater or freshwater issues. Improved adult monitoring could also help researchers and managers better understand a salmon’s life, Clark said. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Doug McBride said that one of the recommendations for future research includes tagging juvenile salmon. That could help address a lot of the questions, he said. Another mystery researchers discussed is a reduction in length-at-age. Some salmon are shorter than they used to be at a given age. ADFG Biologist Tom Vania said the department is looking at everything from fresh water to marine conditions as possible contributors to that change. But it’s difficult to tease out what specific condition results in any given change in the salmon, as there are so many variables, and so many unknowns, at play. Another attendee suggested that some of it may relate to carrying capacity issues, and changes as the population Jim Fall, from the ADFG Subsistence Division, had a suggestion for how to address those, and other, research questions — using local knowledge. Fall said that one of the strengths of local knowledge is that it can help shape research questions and inform researchers of things that might be going on for them to further look into. Local observations might also have a longer history of seeing correlations between certain environmental factors and certain ocean conditions. Fall said there are a few instances of traditional knowledge and local knowledge being used in research already.   Management strategies Loring agreed that there is a need for more research on a host of marine issues. “The ocean is a blackbox for a lot of fisheries,” he said. But he also had another solution. Change the management regime. Loring said he thinks the Alaska Department of Fish and Game does a wonderful job of managing based on the state’s current strategy. Salmon management stems from escapement goals, which are set, by species, for various streams and rivers throughout Alaska. That number is the amount managers want to get upstream to reproduce. Fish and Game uses management tools to try and keep prosecution of state fisheries to a level that allow for escapement, and the National Marine Fisheries Service does the same in federally-managed waters through caps on allowable bycatch of king salmon in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska pollock fisheries. Loring pointed to the Cook Inlet as an example of numeric management. An escapement is set for the Kenai River, and then various users — including commercial and sport fishers — are able to each harvest a portion. Loring has two ideas for changing resource management : utilize a parametric approach rather than a numeric one, and look at the ecosystem as a whole, rather than in pieces. Putting food security at the forefront of management would constitute a parametric management approach. The current escapement goal strategy is a numeric approach. Current managers do a great job with the tools they have, Loring said, but a shift in approach could benefit the resource. Loring said that work in the social sciences has shown that in the long-term, fisheries managed on a numeric basis fail. The alternative he suggests is to look at where the resources are, who needs them, and how they get them, and go from there. “We do make some of those decisions in our fisheries, but we make them as secondary choices,” Loring said. Loring would also like to see more consideration of the ecosystem overall, and the human role in the web. For instance, management strategies should consider that when there is less of one species, people tend to compensate by relying more heavily on another, Loring said. If people can’t feed themselves with salmon, they tend to rely more heavily on a different food source. In 2009, Loring said that resulted in more reliance on moose when certain salmon runs were below par. Those changes, too, would require more research, as a more complete view of the connections is needed. Loring said that a retrospective look at harvests of various species could help tease out some of the information. The state already collects subsistence harvest data, as well as commercial and sport data. A sharing survey, that looks at how subsistence foods are shared within a network, also provides some insights into the connections between food sources and people. That surveys illustrates the importance of resources, and the ways in which some communities are not market-based, Loring said. Loring’s suggestions aren’t without precedent. The researcher noted that Maine’s lobster fishery has long been managed on a less-numeric system for 70 years. Fishermen can’t take egg-bearing females, and other management constraints are used in an effort to promote productivity. For the most part, the fishery has thrived, Loring said.

Alaska financial institutions benefit from stable economy

By many metrics, Alaska’s financial institutions are doing well. All of the state’s banks posted an increase in total assets for the second quarter of 2012 compared to the second quarter of 2011. First National Bank Alaska saw the largest second quarter increase: 6.8 percent. That number crept up some more in the third quarter, said Director of Corporate Communications and External Affairs Cheri Gillian, reaching the bank’s highest-ever level. “We just for the first time exceeded $3 billion in total assets,” Gillian said. The bank has seen an increase in total assets due to its entire portfolio — loan portfolio, cash, and various other contributors, Gillian said. At Northrim, total assets increased 1.8 percent for the second quarter of 2012, compared to the year prior. Northrim Chief Financial Officer Joe Schierhorn said the increase was driven primarily by a growth in loan balances, and the bank saw loan growth in every category. Denali State Bank saw a 2.9 percent second quarter increase year over year. Denali President and CEO Steve Lundgren said the bank is having a good year, but that the driving factor behind the increased assets is that people aren’t investing elsewhere. “I think assets are up because people are nervous about what to do with their cash,” he said. Uncertainty in other sectors — like stocks and global market factors — can make the stability of a bank very attractive. And at Alaska USA, the largest credit union in the state, total assets have been steadily growing, hitting $5 billion for the third quarter of 2012. Ketchikan-based First Bank had a 2 percent yearly increase for its second quarter total assets, while Alaska Pacific had a 2.5 percent increase, and Mt. McKinley bank had a 5 percent increase. President Craig Ingham said Mt. McKinley has seen deposits grow, and may have a record earning year when they close out. “We’re just having a stronger year,” Ingham said. Ingham said the health of local banks is a sign that Alaska’s economy didn’t tank the way other places did. Another sign of that, he said, is in unemployment statistics. Alaska usually has higher unemployment than elsewhere in the country; right now, it’s lower. “It’s certainly a sign of a stable economy,” Ingham said.   Loan performance Despite some depressed demand, loan performance overall is looking good. Northrim saw an 8.4 percent increase in total loans and leases for 2012, the highest of any of Alaska’s banks. At Denali State Bank, total loans and leases were up 8 percent for the second quarter compared to the same time in 2011. In part, that was driven by an increase in commercial loans because it was nearing summer, and construction season. Lundgren said the bank expected to end the year with a pretty similar amount of loans as it has in past years. “My view of our Fairbanks economy is our economy’s kind of flat,” Lundgren said. Denali also had fewer past due loans, but more in nonaccrual for the second quarter. Lundgren said some of that was seasonal, and improved in the summer. “We see some improvement in the summertime because more people are working,” Lundgren said. Total loans and leases were down at Mt. McKinley Bank for the second quarter although the bank has seen increases in some sectors. “We’ve seen an uptick in some lending activity on the commercial side, which has been an encouraging sign,” Ingham said. And while the number of loans 30-89 days past due has increased, Ingham said they still represent about the same percentage of the bank’s loans. The bank also saw a huge decrease in charge-offs compared to 2011. Those fell more than 89 percent year over year for the second quarter. “Loan losses have been very, very minimal,” he said. Instead, loans are moving from nonaccrual back into payment status, Ingham said. Alaska USA’s total loan value was also up for both the second and third quarters of 2012, compared to prior quarters and a year ago. Alaska USA Senior Vice President, Corporate Administration, Daniel McCue said the credit union was on record pace for originating first mortgage loans. Alaska USA also had an increase in car loans that contributed to the total growth. “Alaska USA has continued to grow its car loan portfolio consistently over the last several years,” McCue said. First National Bank also saw a slight increase, 0.9 percent, in total loans and leases, and significant recovery of nonaccrual loans, Gillian said. “We like to make good loans because that’s what moves Alaska and Alaskans forward,” Gillian said. Loans and loan performance at community banks play a key role in the economy, Northrim President and CEO Joe Beedle said. Across America, community banks hold 10 to 11 percent of the country’s loans, but 40 percent of the loans to small businesses. Each of those loans has a greater impact through the multiplier effect. “The economy… really needs community banks, and needs to keep them healthy,” Beedle said.   Diversifying Loans and leases aren’t the only thing propelling Alaska’s banks. Lundgren said refinancing due to low mortgage rates is the driving factor behind Denali State Bank’s 8.2 percent increase in net income year over year for the second quarter. First National and Northrim also saw substantial growth in their noninterest income, due in part to mortgages. Gillian said First National’s increase was a direct result of low mortgage rates. For the third quarter, Northrim’s noninterest income contributed about 28.2 percent of its total revenue, compared to 26.2 percent in the second quarter, and 24.5 percent for the third quarter of 2011. Northrim earns noninterest income from financial services affiliates, electronic banking, and other sources. Schierhorn said the contributors to that increase include Residential Mortage, Northrim Benefits Group, a receivables purchasing business, and wealth-management affiliates. Mortgages have done well as a result of low interest rates, with residential lending actually increasing. Schierhorn said Northrim owns 25 percent of Residential Mortage. Northrim also owns 100 percent of a Bellingham, Wash.-based receivables purchasing company, which was up 19 percent year-over-year. Northrim Benefits, the health insurance brokerage company of which Northrim is a partial owner, was up 14 percent year over year in the third quarter. The bank also had revenue from various customer transactions, including electronic banking, certain deposit charges, and NSF fees. Beedle said Northrim has worked hard at diversifying its revenue stream, which offers some protection from challenges in one sector or another. Northrim’s 28 percent noninterest income is higher than other banks throughout the Pacific Northwest that Northrim considers its peers, Beedle said. At those institutions, other revenue is typically 12 percent to 16 percent. “We feel that’s a factor that distinguishes us from our peers,” Beedle said. Diversification is nothing new. Northrim got into mortgages in 1998. “We have been doing that for the last 14 years,” Beedle said.   Future challenges Despite the growth, bankers say they’re still concerned about the future. New federal regulations are one of the big concerns. Banks must comply with additional oversight and reporting as a result of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, passed in the wake of the financial crisis. “Much of that wasn’t caused by community banks, yet we’re struggling as community banks to implement these regulations,” Lundgren said. Beedle said that one of the current challenges for banks are greater equity requirements, meant to avoid a systematic failure. “The regulatory environment wants more capital, wants less risk for government,” Beedle said. In the future, banks may not see as much return on equity, and may look at higher taxes, Schierhorn and Beedle said. The increased costs of operation are particularly difficult given the small margins that community banks operate on. Gillian said First National Bank is seeing businesses wait to see how various economic issues play out – whether they’re waiting on North Slope development, the national election, or other issues is unknown, but likely all play into it. “Folks are still sitting back a little and holding on to their cash,” she said.

Native American science conference draws 2,000 in Anchorage

Alaskans played a key role in the American Indian Science and Engineering Society’s conference that drew about 2,000 people to Anchorage Nov. 1 to Nov. 3. The event included sessions geared toward Native American and Alaska Native students, professionals, educators, and others — many with the theme “Adaptability.” AISES is a national organization based in New Mexico. Willie Hensley, one of the key leaders in drafting the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, said the conference’s theme was fitting given its location. Alaska Natives have long relied on adaptation to survive in the north. “They use the snow to protect them. They use the earth for their homes,” Hensley said at the start of the conference. Sessions throughout the event talked about ways in which Alaskans have adapted and how to integrate traditional knowledge with scientific practice. During the opening ceremony, Lockheed Martin’s Olav Kjono said adaptability is also a trait needed in the science and engineering world. “The ability to adapt is a relevant and necessary trait that scientists and engineers must continue to hone,” Kjono said. Students from Bristol Bay talked about the ways in which their community has done just that, presenting their research on wood-burning heating systems, solar energy, gardening and local fisheries. Sarah Evans, a technician for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and a student in Bristol Bay, shared work on local fisheries. Her project looked at how traditional gathering of certain resources was impacted by fishing in the area. “Subsistence is really important to the Bristol Bay area because we’re a fly-in only area,” Evans said. Incorporating local knowledge just made sense for her project, but Evans said she’d like to see more of that in research. Heidi McCann, from the Exchange for Local Observations and Knowledge of the Arctic, or ELOKA, talked about how that organization works with local knowledge. ELOKA is housed at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo. The project works to create systems for preserving local knowledge, while allowing indigenous communities to choose who that information is shared with and how it is presented. Some of the projects ELOKA has worked with include knowledge about sea ice that can be accessed publically — some elders have even suggested smartphone apps that would allow the younger generation to easily check the information before they go out hunting on the ice, McCann said. Essentially, the project is using technology to make local knowledge useful for a wider variety of people — within the constraints of the people providing the knowledge. “As Native people, we’re always having to adapt to Western ways, and this project is the reverse,” McCann said. The conference wasn’t limited to scientific discussions. It also included a career fair that organizers said is the largest in Indian country each year. Several dozen businesses and colleges from throughout the country — including many Alaska organizations — offered information about their operations. Some even held interviews onsite. Bristol Bay Native Corp., or BBNC, was among the exhibitors. “We have many opportunities within our subsidiaries for engineers, scientists, and doctoral candidates,” said Shareholder Development Manager Catherine Reamey. “This is a great way to meet indigenous bright young people and entice them to work for a family of companies that has deep cultural values.” BBNC wasn’t the only Alaska company that participated in the career fair. The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, Sealaksa, and the Aleyska Pipeline Co. were among those present. So were some Alaska educational outfits, as well as several colleges and universities from Outside. April Phillip, a lifelong Barrow resident now attending Iḷisaġvik College, said she attended the AISES conference in Minneapolis, Minn. last year. The career fair was one of the best parts. “So much info about other colleges,” she said. Phillip will graduate from Iḷisaġvik College this spring, and is applying to nursing schools. She and the other Barrow students planned to attend this year’s fair as well — after their presentation about the Junior Public Health Educator program. Not every business at the conference was a corporation looking to attract new hires. Common spaces in the Denai’na and Egan centers hosted more than a dozen artisans from Alaska, and around the country, who sold art and other goods. Theresa Mike was one of many Alaska entrepreneurs. “People are really interested in how I made it, where I make it from, the skins and furs and my beads, where I get them from, too,” Mike said. She sold a variety of her handiwork, including beaded items, like earrings and decorated bags, and fur products, like footwear. Mike usually sells her art at holiday bazaars and the Alaska Native Heritage Center. When she heard about the conference at the Alaska Federation of Natives conference in October, she decided to participate. Mike spends much of the year in Chugiak, but returns to her hometown, Kotlik, each summer to participate in subsistence activities. The conference included a slice of Alaska Native traditions beyond just the arts vendors. A local volunteer committee did much of the work to coordinate area efforts, including organizing cultural activities, including dancing and games, on the final evening. Alaskans also received recognition during a final banquet. The AISES Professional of the Year award went to Jeff Kinneeveauk, president and CEO at Arctic Slope Regional Corp. Energy Services. Two other awards went to members originally from Alaska. The technical excellence award was given to Christopher Nordahl, who works for Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems, and Linda Benson Kusumoto, who works for the U.S. Navy’s Business and Force Support Center Pacific, won the executive excellence honor.

Alaska Communications will end dividend

Alaska Communications Systems Inc. reported third quarter growth in several sectors, although certain revenues continue to decrease and the company announced it is suspending its dividend as a means to lower its debt burden. Chief Financial Officer Wayne Graham said the company’s total third quarter revenues were strong at $96.8 million, up $6.5 million or 7.2 percent from the third quarter of 2011. Wireless revenue was up 16.5 percent or $5.7 million compared to the same time in 2011. The biggest factor in that increase was roaming, Graham said. Alaska Communications also saw an increase in business and wholesale revenue of $1.2 million, or 4.6 percent, compared to third quarter 2011. Those increases helped offset decreases in voice revenue, which continues to decline. The number of consumer and business access lines decreased compared to the prior quarter and compared to this time last year. Consumer lines went from 59,480 in June 2012 to 57,483 in September. There were 81,330 business lines in September, compared to 82,083 in June. Broadband connections also showed slight drops, although the decline slowed down compared to prior quarters. The company ended the third quarter with 92 fewer consumer connections than in June, and six fewer business connections. Graham said the company will address some of the access line erosions with upcoming promotions. ACS is seeing the same trends as others in the industry, said President and Chief Executive Officer Anand Vadapalli. Traditional cashcows, like voice services, are being eroded, Vadapalli said. And the opportunities for growth, like broadband data, require significant investments. To better position itself for future investments and expenses, ACS is working on deleveraging. Part of that effort includes suspending its common stock dividend. “The $8 million of cash that was used to pay dividends will now be used to accelerate our debt paydown, with every dollar of deleveraging creating value for all shareholders,” Vadapalli said during an investor call Nov. 1. Vadapalli said he knew that might not be good news for shareholders. “We acknowledge the near-term impacts to our shareholders, but we believe this course of action strengthens us for the longterm,” Vadapalli said. The move is meant to keep Alaska Communications competitive. “We compete with many companies for capital, and the strongest companies are getting stronger by reducing their levels of debt and driving down their costs of capital.” Vadapalli said. The company also announced new credit and labor agreements. Increasing deleveraging efforts helped to secure better terms on the credit side, Vadapalli said. “We had an opportunity to get favorable terms by making a decision now to accelerate deleveraging. So this certainly gave us the catalyst to make the decisions we did. And the amortization break you see in there certainly is a reflection of that.” The new labor agreement allows the company to introduce defined contribution retirement packages, and cost-sharing for defined benefit plans. It also offers the potential of lower labor costs in the future, without risking current employee jobs, Vadapalli said. “These are substantial improvements in our labor relations model, and reflect a shared commitment with the IBEW to secure our future,” Vadapalli said. The Alaska Wireless Network is also part of the company’s deleveraging effort. The partnership with General Communications Inc. includes a $100 million payment from GCI to Alaska Communications in exchange for a two-thirds interest in the new network. Vadapalli said Alaska Communications will use $65 million from that transaction – if it is approved – to pay down debt. The plan for 2013 and beyond is to maintain and build customer relationships, continue buulding out the 4G LTE network, and pursue the Alaksa Wireless Network expansion with GCI. “AWN makes us stronger by allowing us to better compete with new entrants.” That network is still pending regulatory approval. Vadapalli said he’s pleased with the company’s performance overall, but aware of the reduction in share price over the past year. That, he said, has come from three things happening in the industry — the future entry of a national competitor into the wireless market, FCC regulation changes, and dealing with both of those external events while the company’s balance sheet has debt. In the long-term, Vadapalli said he thinks the company will remain healthy. Vadapalli said the company had been executing its business plan as anticipated. “We have one of the strongest brands in Alaska, with a reputation for reliability, customer service, trustworthiness, and local community presence,” Vadapalli said. “These are the things that our customers value the most.” Vadapalli said the company is not setting a specific target leverage ratio. There are milestones, but for now the focus is on paying down the debt. In the long-term, Graham said the company will likely see higher levels of capital spending than it has traditionally done. Neither indicated that the company would resume a shareholder dividend at a specific time, but they didn’t rule it out, either. The company board of directors makes all decisions on dividend payments. Aside from debt-leveraging and the pending Alaska Wireless Network transaction, the company’s other future plans include offering customers more value-added products, adding sales people in the business division, and working on investments that simplify business practices and improve the speed and quality for delivery of services, Vadapalli said. Looking ahead, Graham said the company will likely round out the year with revenues of between $355 and $365 million, and capital expenses of about $54 to $57 million. Both ranges fall in line with what the company predicted for 2012 after the close of 2011, and an increase over past years. In 2011, the company ended the year with total revenue of $349.3 million, which was an increase over 2010, when it ended with $341.5 million.

TERRA network improving health care in rural communities

For some rural communities, better telecommunications means better healthcare. GCI launched its TERRA-Southwest network in June, improving telecommunications for much of southwestern Alaska. The new network created a terrestrial connection from Anchorage to much of western Alaska, primarily in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta and Bristol Bay areas. The $88 million project extended a broadband connection to 40 communities, with another 25 expected to be connected in the near future. The network includes more than 400 miles of fiber-optic cable, and 13 new microwave towers. The TERRA network is making a difference for local healthcare organizations, as well as for telehealth providers trying to connect with the area remotely. Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation, or YKHC, is one of those benefactors. The new network reduces latency, improving a variety of services, said Joe Shawler, who works in YKHC’s technology division. “It’s just a substantial improvement,” Shawler said. Previously, data sent from a rural clinic traveled from its location to a ground station, to a satellite orbiting beyond the earth, and then to a ground station on the receiving end before reaching it’s destination. Data that timed out during that process had to start again. Sending an image could take several tries, upwards of 20 or 30 minutes. Now, information travels by fiber optic cable or microwave tower. For many YKHC clinics, that means it travels from the clinic to Bethel out of Bethel by fiber optic. The same image that once took half an hour can be sent in a matter of seconds. “It allows a lot quicker response from doctors,” Shawler said. Telehealth services delivered by Alaska Federal Health Care Access Network, or AFHCAN, is another beneficiary of the reduced latency. AFHCAN is a product of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, or ANTHC, which is based in Anchorage and serves communities throughout Alaska. AFHCAN software is used at 248 sites in Alaska, by 44 different organizations. The TERRA improvements primarily affect the sites in the YKHC region, and in the area served by the Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation. The software enables information to be collected at remote health clinics, stored, and sent to providers in other regional hubs, Anchorage, or even Outside. AFHCAN refers to that process as store-and-forward. The benefits to AFHCAN come from reduced latency, and increased capacity, said Acting Director of AFHCAN Telehealth Cheryl Moon. “This all results in improved patient healthcare with faster data exchange and an improved clinical user experience when using our network-based tConsult telehealth application,” she said. TERRA can facilitate the implementation of real-time video and medical device data streaming, rather than the current store-and-forward system, which could eventually lead to better and faster care for patients. The improved service could also be a deciding factor for future use of the AFHCAN network. “…The improved clinical experience that results from low latency will be a positive factor (in) getting physician support for virtual clinical programs like our current tele-cardiology program,” Moon said. Those programs help connect patients with specialists outside of their area electronically, preventing the need for travel. Moon said video-conferencing can benefit WHAT ORG as well. Tele-consults are more feasible with a better connection, she said. The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, New York, provides consultations via videoconferencing for patients at a high-risk for breast cancer. Now, that could be conducted from a regional village clinic that’s part of the improved network. YKHC also benefits from the ability to conduct health care via videoconference. YKHC Director of Public Relations Donna Bach said that’s an area of definite improvement for the health corp. About 40 clinics are able to use videoconferencing capabilities, connecting patients with providers elsewhere in the state, and even outside of Alaska. Shawler said that latency could create pixilated video-conferencing in the past, but now it’s a more feasible option. Mental health is an area that is especially enhanced by the ability to have face-to-face interaction, Shawler said. Bach said the better communications capabilities allows the health corp more flexibility in its operations. Instead of scheduling each data transfer or other use, images can be sent as needed. That can mean faster service for patients. “We are offsetting the patient wait time, or delay, for results,” Bach said. Bach and Shawler said video-conferencing is another area where reduced latency has benefitted local health care. Less latency can mean better quality, less pixilated, images, Shawler said. That means patients can have a face-to-face meeting with a mental health provider. The mobile mammography program is also enhanced by the faster speeds, Bach said. The mobile mammography unit travels to subregional clinics in Emmonak, St. Mary’s, Aniak, Toksook Bay and Hooper Bay. Each of the subregional clinics is also part of the new TERRA network. Now, images can be sent to a radiologist immediately, and an estimated diagnosis might be received in just a day. That’s compared to two weeks or more, when film had to be sent for developing, then for reading, before a patient found out their results. “We can get faster responses to preliminary assessments,” Bach said. Dental health also benefits. Shawler said that a tooth extraction might be performed at a village clinic, but a dentist has to ok the process. If the dentist is in Bethel, the patient info and images can be sent electronically. With the faster service, that can happen nearly instantly, allowing the care to proceed and the patient to see some relief. On the technology side, better connections make it easier to participate in an increasingly electronic world of data, Moon said. A terrestrial connection offers better access to cloud-based data solutions, and an ability to store electronic health record data with an out-of-state vendor, Moon said. Each example might be a small improvement, but collectively they make a big difference for health care in rural Alaska. “All of these…ultimately improve patient healthcare within Alaska, which moves ANTHC closer to its vision for Alaska Natives to be the healthiest people in the world,” Moon said. The upgrades aren’t over yet. GCI is continuing to build out the TERRA network. On the horizon is TERRA-Northwest, will extend the terrestrial connection to Kotzebue and elsewhere in Northwestern Alaska. And improved connections aren’t the only change for the tribal health consortium. ANTHC recently received a $1.2 million grant to serve as the country’s National Telehealth Technology Assessment Resource Center. That means it helps organizations throughout the United States determine what telehealth services best fit its needs.

Major fish ports part of state transportation bond package

Port projects in Seward and Bristol Bay will receive $20 million if voters approve the general obligation bond on the Nov. 6 ballot. The Seward, Naknek and Togiak efforts are three of more than 30 projects, including several port upgrades and expansions, which will receive $453.5 million if approved. The Seward Marine Industrial Center is slated for $10 million toward an estimated $63.5 million upgrade. Combined, the Bristol Bay projects are slatted for $10.3 million. Port upgrades in Naknek would receive most of that money, $7 million, while a dock in Togiak would receive the rest, $3.3 million. In Naknek, the money will go toward replacing a dock built in 1982. The Bristol Bay Borough has finished earlier phases of its port work, adding an entirely new dock that has seen increased container traffic at the port and buying a crane that can lift heavy vessels out of the water for storage. The impetus for the Seward work is to develop a feasible homeport for the Coastal Villages Region Fund fishing fleet. Seward Assistant City Manager Ron Long said the city is also working to find other customers for the expanded port. The Togiak project would build a multi-purpose dock, the first in that coastal community, eliminating the need for freight to be offloaded onto the beach. Each project would help the fishing industry as well as other businesses and community needs.   Seward upgrade Long and other local officials in the port communities said the multi-faceted projects offer communities more economic stability. The work needed at the Seward center includes dredging to make the port deep enough for large catcher processors, a float system to add moorage space, a 600-foot rock breakwater for swell protection, and other additions. Over the years, Seward has lost port customers in part because it didn’t have the breakwater protections, Long said. The Seward project also includes on-shore work like site grading, pacing, and the addition of shorepower and lighting. The cost estimate does not include some other potential work, such as infrastructure or services for the adjacent industrial area. Coastal Villages, or CVRF, has is one of Community Development Quota groups for several Bering Sea fisheries, and fishes on behalf of 20 communities. Currently, the fleet is ported in Seattle. CVRF Project Manager Dawson Hoover said the group would like to bring the boats – and the associated jobs – home. But that requires a deepwater port with certain services. The $10 million from the general obligation bond would get work going on the project, like doing design and engineering work, but further funding would be needed to finish it out, Long said. The exact timeline for completion would depend on when funding comes through. The city is also looking for other funding sources for the project, including using its own bonding authority, a legislative appropriation, and private sector investment, Long said. Seward is also working on an agreement with the Alaska Industrial and Export Authority, or AIDEA, for project oversight and management, Long said. That could include some help coordinating with the private sector, support industries, and other involved parties. Any private investment would likely be for uplands development only, not the dock, which will be public infrastructure, Long said. The city is also looking for other tenants at the expanded dock. Although Costal Villages would be an anchor tenant, Long said the fleet’s goal is to be away from the port, maximizing fishing time. The city’s goal is to have every berth filled as often as possible, so it’s earning revenue. “We want to have a mix of customers whose schedules coincide enough,” Long said. Long said the project doesn’t have any other confirmed tenants yet, but is working on a mix of them. In the past, the Seward port has had more customers than it does now. “We’ve lost some freight companies, some tug companies,” Long said. The city would like to regain those customers, as well as find some completely new ones: arctic oil and gas exploration could fill that niche. None of those customers are committed yet, but Long said meetings this fall have been positive. There’s “enough interest to be encouraging to me,” Long said. Seward received $400,000 from the State of Alaska in the 2012 capital budget for a study on moving the CDQ fleet in 2011. That study was done by Northern Economics, and released in June. Ultimately, the report found that moorage fees would likely be higher in Seward than they are in Seattle. But it also detailed economic benefits to the city and the state if the port is expanded and the fleet moved. Hoover said the fleet would also save money by not having to travel to Seattle and back every year. The economic benefits outlined in the study include 710 temporary jobs, and a majority of the project spending taking place in Alaska. In the long-term, the fleet would pay for more Alaska goods and services. Of $26 million spent in Washington on vendors, employees and other ancillary costs, at least $6 million would be transferred to Alaska, based on 2010 numbers. About 132 sectors or business types service the fleet in Seward, according to the study. Of those, about 50 can be found in Seward itself, while 118 are available elsewhere in Southcentral: the Kenai Peninsula Borough, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, and the Municipality of Anchorage. The expansion fits with Seward’s overall effort to diversify its marine economy. Long said the city wants to have some fisheries traffic, some science, some oil and gas, some tug and freight, “so we’re not a one sector economy.” Another vessel will soon be calling Seward home, although like the fishing fleet, it’ll be out on the sea much of the year. Sikuliaq, the new University of Alaska Fairbanks research vessel, will live in Seward, although not at the marine industrial center. Instead, it will be at the university’s mooring facilities. Having another big ship in port adds to the need for support services, and plays into the city’s goal to have both industrial port traffic and a science component, fitting in with UAF’s Seward Marine Center and the Alaska SeaLife Center. Long said the research vessel will share some needed support services with the fishing fleet, but will also have some research-specific needs that are very different.   Naknek replacment The Naknek funds would cover most, but not all, of a dock replacement project that addresses the needs stemming from increased use of Bristol Bay ports. Bristol Bay Borough Manager Patrick Jordan said $7 million would let the borough get started with work in the spring, but they’re still talking to the engineers about what components would be done first. The borough would also likely make another request to the legislature for the balance of the project. The exact remainder is still being determined, as some additional land may also be needed. Originally, the borough asked for $10 million. The need for the project makes it difficult to gauge the exact timeline for replacement. If the funding is approved, the borough has to find a way to accommodate the current level of use. “We can’t tear down the old dock and rebuild it,” he said. The work already completed in Naknek has led to a significant increase in use of the port. Jordan said that from 2002 to 2009, the number of containers moved across the docks at Naknek has more than tripled, going from 3,000 to 11,000. Jordan said the borough expects the increase to continue. “This is a regional hub,” he said. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Naknek-King Salmon port has the fourth highest value for commercial fisheries in America, and the third highest in Alaska, at $100.9 million. In addition to the containers, the port has seen more use in recent years due to the purchase of a heavy-lifting crane. Now, ships can be hauled out of the water and stored in Bristol Bay, rather than traveling all the way back around the Alaska Peninsula to a port elsewhere in the state. The possible land acquisition would add space for more boat storage, Jordan said. If the dock isn’t replaced, the borough will continue to repair the current dock every year. Jordan said he was underneath the dock about two weeks ago, and saw the pilings that need to be replaced. Maintenance has to be done yearly, to the tune of about $200,000. Further decay could increase that cost. The replacement dock will use the same open cell technology as the borough’s new dock at that port, which requires virtually no maintenance, Jordan said.   Togiak waterfront According to the state’s Total Project Snapshot, or TPS, report for the Togiak dock, the facility would serve the local processing plant as well as other community needs. The dock would be a 160-foot wide sheet pile dock, with a 30-foot concrete boat launch ramp. According to the TPS, having the dock in town would mean fishermen could offload fish and reload supplies, sea freight companies could more easily and safely deliver goods to the community, and gravel could be loaded onto vessels to transport it to other communities. The dock could also house a new fuel header for a tank farm upgrade. Freight is currently is loaded and unloaded at the beach, according to a permit filed with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The project is about 95 percent shovel ready, according to the TPS, with some permitting work remaining. The dock could be finished by 2013, according to the timeline in the TPS. American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding was used for design work, and Bureau of Indian Affairs and Bristol Bay Economic Develop Corp. funding has covered the costs of some purchases and site work. The local processing plant, which would use the dock, is a joint venture between the Traditional Council of Togiak and Copper River Seafoods.

Council takes first steps toward Gulf catch share plan

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council is moving ahead on a rationalization program for the central Gulf of Alaska trawl fleet, but where it takes that program still has many questions. The council approved a purpose and needs statement, and goals and objectives for a rationalization program, and asked staff for a discussion paper outlining catch share options that could meet the program’s objectives. The steps taken at the October council meeting in Anchorage are the first toward creating the program. The council also set a control date of Dec. 31, 2012, which could be used in the future to gauge historic participation in the fleet. The control date is intended to limit speculative entrants in the fishery now that the council has started moving toward allocating fishing privileges, also known as catch shares. A rationalized fishery offers the fishermen more tools to prevent bycatch by allocating a portion of the allowable harvest to certain vessels, cooperatives or other entities. Julie Bonney from the Alaska Groundfish Databank, said the fleet is happy overall with the council’s motion. “We want to see the race for fish end,” Bonney said. That race is inherent in the current system, where all participants in the fishery are going after the same pool of fish. The result is fish of a lower quality and less strategic fishing than otherwise might be possible, Bonney said. Kodiak City Council member Terry Haines said the council’s motion incorporated much of the language that the city of Kodiak and the Kodiak Island Borough brought to the table. “We were very heartened by their response to what we brought them,” Haines said. But how, exactly, it will be fleshed out remains to be seen. “We’re going to have to see what some of that language really means,” Haines said. The purpose and needs statement lays out wide-ranging goals for the new management program. The statement says, in part: “It is expected to improve stock conservation by creating vessel-level and/or cooperative-level incentives to eliminate wasteful fishing practices, provide mechanisms to control and reduce bycatch, and create accountability measures when utilizing (prohibited species catch), target, and secondary specie.” Getting from the purpose and needs statement to a viable system is the next challenge. Creating the program will likely require compromise, said council member Sam Cotten. “It is pretty scary to put your entire livelihood on the council table with all the knives coming out, starting (to dice you) up,” Bonney said. “You want to be whole at the end of the day.”   Bycatch cuts The council has already taken steps requiring trawlers to reduce their bycatch. In August, a rule went into effect maximizing bycatch at 25,000 chinooks per year for pollock trawlers, which was prorated at 14,527 for the last half of 2012. And in June, the council voted to reduce allowable halibut bycatch by trawlers and longliners by 15 percent. The 15 percent cut, or about 660,000 pounds of halibut, is being phased in over three years, with implementation targeted to start in 2014. But those requirements came without enough tools, according to industry representatives, making it difficult to comply. Most of the focus is on reducing prohibited species catch, or PSC. The PSC cap dictates the amount of species like halibut and king salmon that can be pulled out of the ocean while fishing for target species like pollock or Pacific cod. Bycatch must be discarded or, in the case of salmon, donated to food banks. Vessels have tried to form voluntary cooperatives, ensuring that PSC limits aren’t met before the full harvest is complete, but fishery participation by other boats not in the program makes that difficult. Alaska Whitefish Trawlers Association President Bob Krueger told the council that some of the trawl issues came to a head in the C season that began Aug. 15 for pollock in Area 620, which is the Central Gulf of Alaska. “We had 40 vessels in our program, but had additional vessels come into the Gulf and fish outside the program,” Krueger said at the October council meeting. “Our harvest was exceeded by 2,000 metric tons, and now our entire D pollock season in area 620 is at risk.” Just avoiding the chinook is expensive, Bonney said. With the right management system, incentives and tools, Bonney said the fleet can try to minimize the catch of those species. But it’ll come with difficulties. Some fishing — like for arrowtooth flounder, rex sole, flat head sole, and shallow flat — is already limited because catching those would result in catching too much halibut. “That’s all money that’s staying in the water because there’s not enough halibut available to the fleet today,” Bonney said. “Do you reduce that halibut cap even more, even though we’re already losing millions of dollars every year because we can’t prosecute a fishery today in status quo?” The trawl fleet also doesn’t want the cap just ratcheted down because if abundance of those prohibited species increased, it could become even more difficult to avoid catching them. And there’s more to bycatch than just the PSC. “Bycatch is actually anything that you throw away and don’t keep,” Bonney said. Other fish are caught on bycatch only status, meaning that trawl vessels can just keep a certain percentage of them and throw the rest back to sea. Those are regulatory discards. “So that could be fishing flatfish, and you catch too much cod so you have to throw your cod away, or a portion of your cod away,” Bonney said. And there are economic discards, which are fish that are not kept because they’re too small. Ultimately, Bonney said the analysis will need to look at the various trade-offs involved in each decision point. Moving forward, Bonney said she’d like to see a system that cobbles together target catch and bycatch in an effective management structure. A cooperative is a likely way to accomplish that, she said, because fisherman have to work together to reach the targets.Avoiding fleet consolidation Bycatch isn’t the only concern about the new program. Haines and Bonney both said they want to see a solution that doesn’t push Alaskans out of the industry due to consolidation. Haines said the city and borough likely wouldn’t provide specific ideas about how to develop the rationalization program right away, nor would it get involved in the details of allocations. But the community does have some specific concerns. Those include the possibility of capital flight, and of consolidation. An active participation requirement might help, he said. The lack of good data on how fishermen play into the economy makes it difficult to capture the potential effects of the program, too, Haines said. While the processing sector is a known quantity, there are more unknowns for the trawl fleet. No one knows exactly how each boat impacts the local economy, since crew and other spending components vary greatly. There’s also a difference between resident fishermen, and visitors who spend money locally but don’t reside there, that hasn’t been quantified. Haines said fewer hands associated with each dollar, and losing the multiplier effect, if the program leads to consolidation, would be a concern. The city and borough of Kodiak came up with a good process for getting public feedback and coming to a consensus on what could be contentious fishing issues, and Haines said that same process could continue to help inform the council once the discussion paper is out and there’s some ideas for the community to consider. “A community like ours is a good place to vet these new management systems,” Haines said. Kodiak is an active fishing community with one of the most diverse fleets in the country, Haines said. Past programs — including the Bering Sea crab rationalization, the halibut catch share program, and the rockfish rationalization program in the gulf — can help inform this effort as well, Haines said. A prior effort at rationalizing the Gulf of Alaska was stopped after the first year of the crab rationalization in 2005 when two-thirds of the fleet was tied up and 1,000 crew positions, many in Kodiak, were lost. Fishermen from other areas and sectors had their own set of worries. Peninsula Fisherman’s Coalition Executive Director Beth Stewart spoke to the council on behalf of western Gulf fishermen. The council action only considers the central Gulf. “We certainly share Kodiak’s concerns and fear of what’s going to be going on with chinook bycatch and halibut bycatch,” Stewart said. But the association believes that the council can’t mess with one player in the Gulf without adverse affects for the others, she said. United Fishermen’s Marketing Association Manager Jeff Stephan echoed some of the western Gulf concerns. He said the council’s action could trigger a rush for fishing in other sectors. For instance, there are a lot of unused pot cod permits that could see more use in an effort to establish history. “It has tremendous impacts for us,” he said. “We don’t want to be the only open fishery.” The council Advisory Panel, made up of 21 fisheries stakeholders, had also recommended that the council consider a separate but parallel action for western Gulf of Alaska trawl fleet, but the council’s eventual motion said that the program would not modify the overall management of other sectors in the GOA or the central Gulf rockfish program. Others also asked the council to come up with new ways of considering bycatch. Pacific Seafood Processors Association President Glenn Reed asked the council to consider some totally new ideas regarding bycatch and the future of the groundfish trawl fleet. “How would the world look if we looked at that as a mixed stock fishery, and stopped having PSC, stopped having waste in the fishery?” Reed said. “I think it’s worthy of consideration at this time. I mean, why not? Why not look at it that way? We don’t have to just throw a bunch of dead fish away just ‘cause a regulation says we have to. Somebody wrote that, somebody could rewrite that. Somebody could rethink that.” Bonney said this is an opportunity to find creative solutions to the management challenges. “Hopefully as we move forward people can think more innovatively,” she said.

Board of Fisheries creates task force for Cook Inlet salmon

The Alaska Board of Fisheries will likely talk about salmon out of cycle this spring. The board created a new task force to take up Cook Inlet king salmon issues at its Oct. 10 work session in Anchorage. Any solutions the group develops will likely be considered at the statewide finfish meeting in March. Various user groups and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game submitted eight Cook Inlet-related Agenda Change Requests, or ACRS, for the board’s consideration, regarding gear changes, escapement goals, personal use permits and other issues. The board took no action on four of those: the Kenai River late-run king salmon management plan, the Kenai and Kasilof rivers early-run king salmon plans, and the use of new gear for set gillnet permit holders. The ADFG request to adopt new escapement goals for Kenai and Kasilof kings will be rolled into the task force process for the March meeting. ADFG Sportfishing Director Charlie Swanton said the department is working on the new escapement goals for the Kenai River late run, and Kenai and Kasilof River early runs, to reflect the transition to the new DIDSON fish counters. Those should be ready for public review in February, which offers the potential for public education on how the goals are developed and should fit into the task force’s workflow, Swanton said. The nine-member task force is asked to develop recommended adjustments to the Kenai late-run king salmon management plan to result in the best mix of in-river and upper subdistrict set gill net fishing, while still providing a way to meet the escapement goals for the Kenai. The new task force will be chaired by board members Tom Kluberton, of Talkeetna, and Vince Webster, of King Salmon. They are tasked with choosing the nine members, including three east side Cook Inlet setnet representatives, one drift net fisherman, two sport fishermen, a guide, a marine recreation member and a personal use fisherman. The task force is supposed to be selected by Nov. 1, and start meeting in mid-November. The meetings will likely be held in Kenai. Kluberton said the idea is to find a way to avoid a situation like the past summer, where in-river and commercial fishermen alike felt the impact of low king returns, amid a very strong return of sockeye. Webster said he thought bringing together stakeholders might create a more comprehensive plan than adjusting various aspects of the management plan piece by piece. “I know it’s a vast undertaking, and I want to make sure that the public knows we’re giving them the opportunity to work this out if they can come up with an agreement,” Webster said. Meetings will be open to the public. A similar task force was used successfully to help develop Prince William Sound pink salmon allocations, said board chairman Karl Johnstone. Kenai River Sportfishing Association Executive Director Ricky Gease said the task force is a good way to try and solve some of the current issues on the Kenai River. “I think it’s always good when you try to get the major stakeholders together,” Gease said. The board also rejected some of the Cook Inlet ACRs outright. Those asked the board to consider modifying the Central District Drift Gillnet Fishery Fleet Management Plan to create certain restrictions for the fleet and conditions on fishing, altering the process for enforcing personal use permits, setting additional date-specific king salmon conservation measures, and changing the area for Kenai River personal use dip netting. The board considered 21 ACRs total, on a variety of issues. Of those, it agreed to add four to the 2012-13 work list. For an ACR to net a space on a meeting agenda, the issue had to be out-of-cycle and a regulatory change. If those criteria were met, the board looked at whether it was for a fishery conservation purpose or reason, if it would correct an error in regulation, and if it would correct an effect on a fishery that was unforeseen when a regulation was adopted. For ACRs the board took no action on or failed at the work session, it will consider generating its own proposals for the appropriate meetings. Those include changes to the gear that can be used in the lower Yukon area for commercial chum salmon harvesting, the anadromous waters language regarding salmon stream terminus, andan effort to designate herring as a forage species. Yukon salmon will be discussed at the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim finfish meeting in January, while the language change will likely get added to the March statewide meeting. The board also added a Pacific cod meeting next October, attached to the already-scheduled work session. The state is talking about salmon at the Chinook Salmon Symposium scheduled for Oct. 22 and 23 in Anchorage. State, federal, private and academic scientists will participate in a variety of presentations and panels on what is known, and what remains to be learned, about king salmon. The symposium is also meant to assist the state in drafting an analysis of what information is needed about salmon stocks.

Abundance of old shell snow crab leads to quota cut

Crabbers took to the Bering Sea Oct. 15 for the opening of Bristol Bay red king crab season with a harvest quota equal to last year, but when boats hit the water in January to take snow crab they will have a catch of some 22 million pounds less than 2012. At 2012 dockside prices of about $1.89 per pound, the 22-million pound cut for opilio, or snow crab, in 2013 is worth more than $40 million to harvesters and roughly twice that in first wholesale value for processors. Overall, though, the net value of Bering Sea crab fisheries should be similar to last season, according to Alaska Being Sea Crabbers President Jim Stone. Stone said he expects the decrease in quota to increase the price. He said a 25 percent increase in prices wouldn’t be surprising. Wholesale prices are already rising, he said, an early indicator of that change. And Canada is also looking at a decreased harvest, Stone said, which helps the value of Bering Sea snow crab. Although the snow crab fishery technically opens Oct. 15, harvesters don’t fish the stock until January. 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. The State of Alaska sets the TAC after the federal Crab Plan Team determines the over fishing limit, or OFL, and the acceptable biological catch, or ABC. The state, which sets the harvest strategy, may not set a quota that is larger than the ABC. Federal managers cut the snow crab OFL for 2012-13, but only by about 10 percent. The rest of the harvest cut comes from the state harvest strategy. When the proportion of old crab is higher, the state harvest strategy calls for a smaller harvest because those old shell crabs are less likely to be targeted or retained, said Fishery Biologist Doug Pengilly, from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Kodiak. The industry prefers to catch and process young crab, Pengilly said. Young crab typically has a cleaner shell, without barnacles or other impurities just a year or two out from molt, Pengilly said. If boats are pulling up older crab, they can move fishing locations to avoid catching too much of it, he said. According to a report from National Marine Fisheries Service, or NMFS, the amount of new shell crab in the catch was between 85 percent and 95 percent in the 2005-06 and 2007-08 fisheries. The state harvest strategy accounts for this by assuming that a smaller proportion of the old shell crab will be caught. But when old shell crab is the majority of the stock, as it is now, that leaves less crab available for the quota. Pengilly said it’s hard to say what the current age dynamics mean for the future of the stock. The changed proportion results from less recruitment — juvenile males reaching legal size — into the stock. “There’s good years and bad years,” he said. In a 2010 review of the crab rationalization program, federal scientists noted that large, clean crab are the most successful at mating. That same report — in the context of a section on “high-grading,” or discarding of old shell crab — cited 40 percent old shell crab for Bristol Bay red king crab in the 2005 survey as a larger proportion than in the past. Pengilly said that how the stock fares in the future will depend on recruitment in coming years. If a lot of crab the forage size or larger enter the stock during the spring 2013 molt, then the age proportion might return to more typical level. Pengilly said. On the other hand, if that doesn’t happen, the proportion of old shell crab could go up even more due to harvest of the preferred-age crabs and natural mortality. Pengilly said the variation in recruitment is normal for snow crab. “You don’t see just constant recruitment coming through from year to year,” he said. Trends in recruitment observed in 2010 and 2011 were not seen in the 2012 survey, according to the Stock Assessment and Fishery Evaluation, or SAFE, prepared annually by NMFS, ADFG scientists and others The SAFE document notes both that prosecution of young shell crab often takes them out of the fishery before they have a chance to reproduce, and that also that the older shell crab play less of a role in reproduction for the fishery. Also at play in the snow crab fishery is the possibility of localized depletion, according to the SAFE. That report noted that the exploitation rates for males in the southern part of the fishery near the Pribilof Islands may exceed the target harvest rate, although it also notes that there is some migratory movement in crab. That is listed as a possible conservation concern in the report. Pengilly said it was hard to say whether or not localized depletion at play. The areas where 4-inch crab come out of the fishery are just a slice of the crab’s summer distribution. Last year, he said, ice coverage also limited fishing, which could be showing up. Both Pengilly and the report noted that no tagging studies have been done to determine the exact patterns of crab movement. The snow crab fishery is closed in certain areas to protect Pribilof blue king crab stock, which has been closed to fishing for all but three of the last 20 years.   Bristol Bay king crab steady Bristol Bay red king crab is the most valuable Bering Sea crab fishery. The 2012 TAC for that fishery is nearly identical to 2011 at 7.85 million pounds, despite some indications that the fishery may be on the decline. Stone said that while king crab prices, particularly for the smaller specimens, have been decreasing, Bristol Bay red king crab prices will likely hold steady around $10 dollar per pound at the docks in Dutch Harbor. In 2011, the fishery had an ex-vessel value of about $70 million with an average price of $9 per pound. According to the SAFE, recruitment has been low over the past few years, and is expected to remain that way in the near term, meaning that mature and legal crabs will continue to decline. Stock biomass has also declined since 2009. Stone said an early boatload or two of Bristol Bay red king crab was delivered to the docks Oct. 15 for the ADFG observer cost recovery program. “The scuttlebutt I’m hearing is that the crab is very nice,” Stone said. St. Matthew’s blue king crab has a TAC of 2.03 million pounds, down slightly from 2.36 million pounds in 2011-12. Last year, only 80 percent of the St. Matthew’s blue king crab quota was actually harvested. The Bering Sea tanner crab fishery will again be closed because the estimate of mature female tanner crab biomass is below the state’s harvest strategy threshold. It’s the third straight year the tanner crab fishery has been closed. Federal scientists qualified the fishery as rebuilt when they released the 2012-13 stock assessments, but the state opted not to open it.

Alaska-bound research vessel launches in Wisconsin

An Alaska-bound vessel capable of traveling through first-year ice was launched in Marinette, Wis., Oct. 13. The R/V Sikuliaq will homeport in Seward, likely beginning in January 2014, and can operate in ice year-round. The research vessel will be owned by the National Science Foundation and operated by the University of Alaska Fairbanks. UAF is expected to take control of the ship next summer. “It’s a wonderful platform for doing oceanographic and fisheries-related research in the Arctic, in the Bering Sea and in areas we have not been able to go or have only been able to go at really great expense,” said UAF Chancellor Brian Rogers. “It certainly will grow UAF, but, more importantly, it will grow the knowledge of the Arctic. That’s what really important about this. It’s not just about us; it’s about the future of arctic science.” The 261-foot vessel cost nearly $200 million, and was funded largely through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. It’s the first new NSF vessel since 1981, and the first research vessel with ice-breaking capabilities. According to a statement from UAF, the Sikuliaq was side-launched into the Menomonee River by UAF Professor Emeritus Robert Elsner, a co-sponsor of the vessel. Construction will continue this winter. The Marinette Marine Corp., in Marinette, Wis., is building the ship. It was designed by Glosten Associates, a Seattle-based firm. The ship has a reinforced double hull, two rotating thrusters, and scalloped propeller blades, which will allow it to break ice up to 1.5 feet thick. It is also equipped with research technology, including an advanced navigation system, acoustic mapping systems and sensors, and systems for deploying science equipment. The ice-breaking abilities will enable the vessel to support polar and subpolar research in the Bering, Chukchi and Beaufort seas for much of the year. Sikuliaq is an Inupiaq word that means “young sea ice.” The Oct. 13 launch event included a christening by co-sponsor and UAF Dean Emerita Vera Alexander, from the School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, and the “Song of Sikuliaq,” composed by Emerson Eads, a UAF graduate student. That piece was recorded by the Arctic Chamber Orchestra for the launch.


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