Three-year respite from EPA small vessel regulation passes
It went down to the wire, but fishermen were relieved to learn they can continue to hose down their decks without fear of violating the Clean Water Act.
Congress voted unanimously Dec. 10 to extend a moratorium for three years that exempts commercial fishing vessels 79 feet and under from needing incidental discharge permits from the Environmental Protection Agency for deck wash. The current moratorium, which affects 8,500 Alaska vessels, was set to expire on Dec.18.
The regulation is aimed at preventing fuels, toxins or hazardous wastes from entering the water. That makes sense, said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, but needing permits for hosing down a boat is going overboard — especially when recreational boats, even 300-foot yachts — are exempt from the rule.
“We want to abide by environmental regulations that make sense,” Murkowski said in a phone call from Washington, D.C. “But I don’t think any of us believe it should be a requirement for a fishermen who has had a good day out on the water and they are cleaning up the boat and hosing slime and maybe some fish guts off the deck and that then becomes a reportable discharge to the EPA.
“What are you supposed to do – direct it all into a bucket and keep it in the fish hold and take it to shore to dump it? Let’s use some common sense here,” Murkowski added, saying she will continue to push for a permanent fix.
The discharge exemption is part of the U.S. Coast Guard Act, which also was reauthorized this week with a unanimous and bipartisan vote by Congress.
“It’s very exciting to get this bill done,” said Sen. Mark Begich. “It’s something we’ve worked on for some time and seeing it done is good news for Alaska and good news for this country.”
As chair of the Fisheries, Oceans, Atmosphere and Coast Guard subcommittee for four years, it’s the second USCG Act he’s authored and been passed unanimously during his tenure.
Among other things, the USCG acquisitions fiscal year 2015 budget represents a nearly $1 billion increase to modernize the fleet and strengthen its capabilities.
It also includes permanent funding and inflation adjustment for the Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Committee, which oversees oil and gas projects and development in that region.
So who will fill the seat of Fisheries and Oceans committee chair now that Begich is heading home to Alaska?
“That’s a great question,” he said. “It won’t be an Alaskan and it will be a great challenge for us. Senator-elect (Dan) Sullivan does not have the seniority and Sen. Murkowski is not on the committee. So Alaska will not have the authority that it used to have.”
What will Begich miss most about being in Washington? Working on behalf of individual Alaskans, he said.
“Things like helping with social security needs or a veteran’s disability issue or fishermen and federal bureaucracy,” Begich said. “We had over 300,000 inquiries on individual issues we dealt with every day. I’ll miss that. The job of a senator is not only to represent issues on a national level, but to never forget where you’re from.”
Trident buys up processors
Trident Seafoods is now a triple owner of fish plants in Kodiak with its purchase last of Western Alaska Fisheries from Maruha Nichiro/Japan.
Trident has long operated the large Star of Kodiak processing plant, which is mostly housed in a moored World War II Liberty ship.
Last year Trident bought the small Alaska Fresh Seafoods plant located next door. That property will expand Trident’s frozen holdings, said CEO Joe Bundrant.
“We’re building a new freezer facility there, and the fish we used to tender out of the Gulf of Alaska to our Akutan plant will now be processed in Kodiak. Also, when you get your big pink salmon runs in places like Prince William Sound, we’ll be able to tender salmon here as well as handle any large seasons of pinks that come into Kodiak,” Bundrant said.
The new freezer plant will mean more jobs for Kodiak’s resident workforce, said Trident plant manager Paul Lumsden.
“We’re anticipating a minimum of 50 per shift,” Lumsden said, adding that the facility will be operating by next June or July.
Trident’s takeover of Western Alaska Fisheries begins Jan. 1, Bundrant said.
“We’re excited to operate that plant and we’ll operate business as usual starting in January and all qualified employees will be offered a job with Trident,” he added.
Trident Seafoods was launched by Chuck Bundrant in 1973 and it is now the largest “source to table” seafood company in the nation. Son Joe said one constant is that Trident “is all about its people.”
“Trident runs our business for our stakeholders,” Joe said. “My dad has never paid a dividend to the shareholders, it’s all gone back into the business. They are one of the stakeholders — we take equally serious the other stakeholders, and that is the communities and certainly our fishermen. That’s our employees and that’s our customers.”
Bundrant said investing in Kodiak holds special meaning for him.
“I was born here, my parents lived on Island Lake when I was young,” he mused. “To be able to make this investment in Kodiak is something special.”
Trident operates in 10 Alaska communities including the world’s largest crab processing plant at St. Paul and the nation’s largest seafood processing plant at Akutan.
Trident also has five research and development facilities, three in the Lower 48, one in China and one in Japan, “to help add value to every pound of fish,” Joe Bundrant said.
The company has three project divisions that make and =market pet treats and supplements made from fish meals and oils; another focuses on human nutrition, and a third produces fertilizer.
“Full utilization is our goal. We are constantly trying to find new homes and new markets for Alaska seafood. That commitment and effort is how we really return more to the fishermen. And I challenge anyone to show me another processor that is more committed and done more for innovation,” Joe Bundrant added.
“We are totally committed to the state of Alaska,” said Chuck Bundrant with a strong handshake as he went out my door.
The story of Trident Seafoods and Chuck Bundrant — who literally began his career in the hold of a crab boat — parallels the development of Alaska’s seafood industry. Read it in “Catching a Deckload of Dreams” by John Van Amerongen.
Cargo gets cleaner
A new approach to an old idea could pioneer a cleaner planet. A small Seattle-based company called Pacific Sky Power aims to design a new style of cargo ship that cuts air pollution. Experts estimate that the 10,000 or so cargo ships that cover the globe each year produce 20 million tons of greenhouse gases each year.
The end goal of the project is to have a fleet of sail powered cargo vessels operating in the Pacific Ocean, traveling from the west coast to Hawaii, then to Asia and back over to Alaska,” said project leader Don Tracy.
Pacific Sky Power has come up with a “Transformers” kind of wide stance ship design that can extend and retract its size.
“We’re looking at a catamaran configuration that uses a folding cross member and a telescoping mast to collapse at port, so it can efficiently manage the containers to onload and offload without an issue,” Tracy explained.
The Sky Power team is designing and conducting trials on two fully operational prototypes of a 300 foot ship carrying more than 200 containers.
Sky Power also is raising funds to keep the project afloat via Kickstarter, a web based “crowd funding” community that, according to its website, “brings creative ideas to life.” Since its launch in 2009, Kickstarter claims over 7 million people in 214 countries have pledged $1 billion to fund 71,000 projects.
Tracy said the early funding provides fine-tuning and feasibility data before seeking out other backers.
“A big part of the project is coming up with all the mechanics that will allow us to fold the ships up and redeploy the sail and give the ship a wide stance at sea,” Tracy said. “It’s a big engineering challenge and it has to be worked out on a small scale first. Then we will be able to work with naval engineers to design the full size ships.”