Editorials

The Bookworm Sez: 'Think First' when dealing with co-workers

The lady in the next cubicle over is making you almost speechless. She talks too loud, first of all, and you constantly hear every word she says — most of it incessant and inconsequential, which makes you want to scream. She’s a whiner and a gossip, too, and you wonder what she says about you. Someday, you’re sure to find out since she’s also on your team. You’d like to talk to her about it but you’re not sure you could, at least not calmly. But after you’ve read “Powerful Phrases for Dealing with Difficult People” by Renée Evenson, you’ll know exactly what to say. You know who your friends are. You know because you chose them, but you’re not that lucky at work. Yes, your co-workers “can test your mettle, tick you off, and sour your attitude.” Dealing with them can be a challenge because you know how quickly things can go bad, and you don’t want that to happen. So how do you create harmony, work out problems, and still keep your dignity and your sanity? First of all, says Evenson, think before you speak and don’t let your temper take over. Plan what you intend to say and how you hope it will go. Consider what the other person may think, and expect to communicate “in a constructive manner.” Then practice before you gently pounce. Remember to start the conversation with an “I Phrase” to disarm the situation. In confrontation, never say never or always because few things ever are. Know that an apology — something women are often accused of overusing — “doesn’t necessarily mean saying you’re wrong.” Get used to assertiveness, which is not aggressiveness; learn the difference. Watch your body language, as well as that of your co-worker. Learn a few useful “phrases of compromise” that can be used to diffuse the situation and tie up its resolution. But what if the guy at the top is being difficult, or what if you’re to blame? This book takes a look at those scenarios, and other ways to deal with personalities that make your teeth grind. First, though, remember this: “… not confronting any sort of conflict will not make the problem go away. Rather, it makes the problem fester and grow.” Can’t we all just get along? With “Powerful Phrases for Dealing with Difficult People,” you’ve got a chance of it. I loved the way author Renée Evenson reminds readers in every possible way to “Think First,” a definite key to not overreacting. I also appreciated how each problem in this book is broken into bite-size, specific sections for maximum help. And yet, despite the careful literary role-playing and example-stories for envisioning scenarios, it’s easy to be lulled into forgetting two things. You can’t control a co-worker and, well, let’s face it: sometimes, people are jerks. Still, isn’t workplace harmony worth a try? Wouldn’t you rather have truce than trouble?  If the answer to those questions is affirmative, then grab this book. “Powerful Phrases for Dealing with Difficult People” will make you say “Yes!” Terri Schlichenmeyer is the author of The Bookworm Sez, which is published in more than 200 newspapers and 50 magazines throughout the U.S. and Canada. Schlichenmeyer may be reached at [email protected]

EDITORIAL: Shoring up pension liabilities is right move for state budget

Alaska is on an unsustainable financial track if it doesn’t adjust its spending and liabilities. The unfunded pension liability for public employees and teachers’ retirement systems in particular stands at $12 billion. The state currently makes annual payments of $600 million. The Alaska Retirement Management Board has proposed Gov. Sean Parnell direct $2 billion toward the pension liability over the next four years. Gov. Parnell has proposed $3 billion, which the board supports. Such an injection would reduce annual payments to $500 million, preventing the number from increasing to more than $1 billion annually. It would save the state between $374 million and $424 million per fiscal year, according to the state. The liability affects the comfort level of bond rating agencies, which could compromise the state’s ability to bond. Governments bond for capital projects. If the rating agencies are concerned with the pension liability, then Alaska must be attentive to. It also should be keen on funding the pensions and removing the debt. In addition, if it cannot afford its current pensions, then it should honor what it has promised and adjust to what it has the wherewithal to support financially, especially as Alaska’s oil production, which is Alaska’s main revenue source, is declining along with the price per barrel. Gov. Parnell and the Legislature adopted an oil-tax cut in the most recent legislative session. He expects oil revenue to be about the same as the old tax system because of lower oil prices. But, if prices increase, then the revenue would, too. Legislators and others opposed to last session’s oil-tax cut support an initiative expected to be on the 2014 election ballot. The initiative would invalidate the new tax. It won’t be until well after that election that it becomes apparent whether the new tax had the desired effect of reducing the revenue decline anticipated under the old tax. Alaska simply has to deal conservatively with its finances regardless of which tax structure is in place. It already expects to depend on its $16 billion in savings to maintain state government in years to come, and it cannot exist on reserves forever. Reserves will expire, too, if not replenished. Alaska, with its oil wealth, can look at other states in serious financial straits and be relieved not to be in their situation at this time. But it cannot remain confident it won’t be in a similar situation if it doesn’t deal with its pension liability and revenue — the latter being addressed with the tax change. At the same time, it must not allow the state to disintegrate as a desirable place for economic development, which means building and maintaining infrastructure required by business and industry. The track ahead looks like one with less capital-project spending and more paying down debt. That’s as it should be. First, Alaska pays for what it has already bought. Then, it can buy new stuff. That is the way to a long-standing, economically sustainable state.

EDITORIAL: IRS should keep its mitts off 'political activity'

It remains beyond dispute that there is much wrong with American campaign-finance law. So much of the so-called dark money. So little disclosure. Political campaign finances have entered a “black ops” stage in which tens of millions of dollars are being spent each year by faceless organizations. Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, we seem to know little about activist organizations and less about the people cutting the checks. The sum of such ignorance is a terrible weight on the integrity of American elections. How can we possibly know our candidates when we have little clue who is spending money to support them? We can think of just one thing worse than the current state of campaign-finance affairs, and that is having the Internal Revenue Service propose “fixes” to the system. The IRS has created new rules governing “political activity” as they apply to non-profit organizations designated with a 501c4 status. Among several changes, this “initial guidance” from the tax-collecting agency would forbid certain communications by the non-profits during an election cycle, especially those that identify a certain candidate. In addition, the IRS definitions governing “political activity” would include voter-registration drives, grants to political groups, events touting a certain candidate and distributing material on a candidate’s behalf. There are problems with this. Let’s move from the less obvious ones to the painfully clear ones. However well-intentioned, such rules tread dangerously close to inhibiting free speech, especially as that speech has been defined by the high court in Citizens United. The greater problem, however, is the widespread concern that such rule changes in fact are not well-intentioned but constitute yet another IRS attempt to throttle conservative non-profit groups. The investigations into the IRS’ years-long campaign of harassment of “tea party” non-profits are still ongoing. The entire trail of responsibility for the agency’s malicious behavior has not yet been uncovered — although we know now that it extends far beyond the handful of “front line” personnel in Cincinnati who initially were served up for sacrifice. Perhaps some time in the (likely distant) future, the IRS can claim some neutral ground from which to issue ground rules for non-profit groups conducting political activity. That time is not now. There are threats to the integrity of the American system of elections. And then there are threats. “Dark money” in our elections is a real threat. Even in a world in which ruthless activists use their opponents’ donor lists to harass contributors simply for the “crime” of participating in politics, disclosure is vital. Just as vital, however, is the expectation that the great machinery of the federal government should not be abused from within for partisan advantage. Between 2010 and the 2012 presidential election, a handful of liberal-oriented non-profit groups were briefly inconvenienced by the IRS before being approved and sent along on their happy way. Meanwhile, hundreds of conservative groups were held up for months and years. Some still await IRS approval. Whatever one calls that, it is not the behavior of a politically neutral organization. Neither is it the behavior of an agency that, at this point, should be making rules governing “political activity” of any kind.

AJOC EDITORIAL: Happy Thanksgiving … now pass the turkey(s)

It’s that time of year when we give thanks, and pass the turkey. We’ll get to the turkey, but first let’s give thanks. As we near the end of another year, we are thankful to our readers that we work for every week. We are thankful for our families and friends, and for our unofficial family here in the green Morris building off Dimond in Anchorage. We are thankful for our military serving here in Alaska and around the world sacrificing time with their loved ones to keep us safe. We’re thankful the F-16s are staying at Eielson and that Fort Greely is being beefed up to address growing threats around the world. We are thankful for those keeping us safe at home: our State Troopers, U.S. Coast Guard and Alaska Air National Guard. They watch over our hardworking fishermen plying dangerous waters and risk their lives to pull some of the more adventurous among us out of deadly situations whether on the mudflats or Hatcher Pass. Finally, we are thankful for Alaska abundance. Alaska has abundant jobs, with its unemployment rate of 6.5 percent less than the national average for five years running. In our urban areas such as Fairbanks, Juneau and Anchorage, it is less than 5 percent. A rate that low can cause its own problems, but those are the good kind to have. Thanks to the efforts of Hilcorp, Southcentral has an abundant supply of natural gas for the next several years, and Inlet oil production has nearly doubled from 2010 levels after the Hilcorturnaround on the formerly neglected assets of Chevron and Marathon. Alaska is seeing an abundance of investment on the North Slope, with billions being spent at Point Thomson, Prudhoe Bay, Kuparuk, and NPR-A. That’s not to mention the steady progress of the effort to truck LNG to Fairbanks, which has suffered far too long from high energy prices and poor air quality caused by burning wood or fuel oil. The pieces underway at Point Thomson and the Slope processing plant for LNG trucking can also fit into the effort to build a large gas pipeline that could serve both our state and the burgeoning Asian markets. We are thankful for the abundance of visitors this year, with more than 1 million cruise passengers topping a threshold last crossed in 2008 before the national economy went into a sharp recession. We are thankful for the abundance of salmon: a state record of some 270 million fish crossed the docks in 2013 and could establish an all-time record for value as well. And of course we are thankful for the abundance of natural beauty in Alaska, and the opportunity to live every day in a way that most people can only put on their “bucket list.” Now let’s pass the turkeys. The national media: Now they figure out Obamacare. Good job, guys. Democrat senators voting to nuke the filibuster: Just what we need, more liberal judges and extremist cabinet secretaries. And speaking of extremist cabinet secretaries … Interior Secretary Sally Jewell: Still no decision on the King Cove road, still ignoring the law on ANWR exploration. Anchorage politics: Tennis courts? We talkin’ ‘bout tennis courts? Medicaid expansion: There has been plenty said — and almost none of it good — about Gov. Sean Parnell’s decision to not expand Medicaid eligibility in Alaska. Of everything that has been said, though, I find it hard to call it a “political” decision as many have. Virtually every organization with an email list across the ideological spectrum endorsed the expansion and the prospect of billions in new federal dollars from Uncle Sugar. Parnell had nothing to gain, other than dozens of negative headlines, and more to lose by making the decision he did. The political decision would have been to take the “free” money and the kudos from his allies while simultaneously taking away an attack from his opponents. But in any case, the onus is now on Parnell to offer up an alternative proposal for those in need, and that alone will be the ultimate arbiter of whether his decision was right or wrong. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

EDITORIAL: A big gas line remains possible, fiscal stability necessary

With so much focus on the local natural gas trucking project, we haven’t heard much about a big natural gas line lately. The project’s success is far from certain, but several recent developments seem to bode well for it. Nevertheless, the state still must address the need to provide a firm tax rate on the gas. Until that’s done, the gas will remain less marketable. Alaska’s challenge has always been that potential customers will go elsewhere if they can find cheaper, more reliable natural gas. The “cheaper” part is the greatest obstacle. Pipeline construction could cost up to $65 billion. You have to be awfully reliable to offset that price tag, but the state should make an effort. Doing so appears worthwhile. Consider some of the latest news, news that indicates the private sector still views this as a potentially viable project. The three major North Slope oil companies and the pipeline company TransCanada have agreed upon the best location of any liquefied natural gas export terminal: Nikiski, on the Kenai Peninsula south of Anchorage. This announcement, made Oct. 7, was a surprise to many Alaskans and a disappointment to community leaders and business owners in Valdez, site of the trans-Alaska pipeline terminal. The best clue to the reason for Nikiski’s selection seemed to come from a statement attributed to Steve Butt, senior project manager for Exxon Mobil: “The Nikiski site also results in a pipeline route that provides an access opportunity to North Slope gas by the major population centers in Fairbanks, the Mat-Su valley, Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula.” Of course, a line to Valdez could do the same thing, but only with expensive spur lines. Still, one must wonder how the companies will get the big pipe through, under or around Cook Inlet. Wouldn’t that be far more expensive than building a line to Valdez? It appears that the combination of the proximity to Alaska’s cities and the potential savings in tanker costs, resulting from a location closer to Asian markets, might be enough to tip the balance. The other news that bodes well for the big line comes from far to the north, at the Point Thomson gas field east of Prudhoe Bay. Exxon Mobil is working away on the field and last week flew in a group of legislators to view the progress. Point Thomson initially will produce liquids that will be pumped through a pipeline to Prudhoe Bay. Exxon Mobil plans to start production in May 2016. Initial production will only be 10,000 barrels per day, though. The big prize at Point Thomson is the natural gas. It seems unlikely that Exxon Mobil would have stuck out a long fight with the state and then invested billions in the field development if it didn’t have its eye on selling that gas. It won’t sell it, though, if it can’t find a buyer. Buyers want cheap, reliable gas. Alaska’s government can’t change the cost of an 800-plus-mile pipeline by much, but it can make itself more reliable by committing to the most stable tax regime possible.

AJOC EDITORIAL: No fixing Obamachaos

The Running of the Bulls in Pamplona is a tiptoe through the tulips next to the stampede of Democrats fleeing the effects of their law known as Obamacare. Tons of angry reality armed with razor-sharp hooves and horns is barreling toward Democrats in the form of millions of canceled policies, skyrocketing premiums and deductibles, lost network providers and what can only be described as the greatest website failure of all time. Washington, D.C., is a funny place. Last month it was only the anarchist, arsonist, hostage-taking, racist, suicide bombers in the Republican Party who wanted to repeal or delay Obamacare. Now blue state Democrats like Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire along with endangered red state Democrats like Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and our own Sen. Mark Begich are desperately trying to undo all the damage the law they rammed through is causing. Damage, by the way, that has been predicted for years by those radical know-nothings in the tea party who tried every means at their disposal to save the country from this epic boondoggle while being rewarded for their foresight with ridicule heaped upon derision and defamation. Unfortunately for the Democrats who must stand for reelection next year, putting powdered sugar on manure doesn’t make it a donut. The “fixes” being proposed — from Landrieu’s “Keep your plan Act” to Begich’s proposal for a cheaper “Copper Plan” with lower premiums exchanged for higher deductibles — are only going to make the problem worse and throw millions of people as well as the insurance markets into further chaos. Landrieu’s legislation is purely unworkable, and Begich’s ignores the reason why both premiums and deductibles are doubling and tripling for the young and healthy or otherwise previously insured through the individual market. Under Obamacare, insurance companies are subject to price controls that limit the differences they can charge based on age, gender or health status. That means premiums must rise for the young and healthy to subsidize the risk for the older and sicker. A lower premium for the former group as proposed by Begich will force the insurance companies into insolvency, because paying more out-of-pocket expenses under a higher deductible does nothing to subsidize the customers in the latter group for whom the insurers are being forced to cap prices. Based on what we are seeing among the millions in the individual market, it is certainly easy to understand why President Obama unconstitutionally delayed the employer mandate until 2015. The maelstrom of criticism now doggedly dragging down the White House and its Congressional water-carriers will resemble the splashes of a kiddie pool in comparison. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

AJOC EDITORIAL: Legal, historic harvest is not bycatch

“Words have meaning, and names have power.” The word of the day is bycatch, and those who would use it against Cook Inlet setnetters well understand the power of words. The quote is attributable to Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, the 17th century Spanish author who wrote the classic novel “Don Quixote” about the man from La Mancha who travels the land engaging in misguided quests that always end badly yet never shake a groundless faith he has acted heroically. Much like the reality Don Quixote stubbornly ignored while repeatedly falling victim to it, words retain their definition regardless of any attempts to pretend they mean the opposite. Few words are more poisonous in the world of fisheries management than “bycatch,” and there is now an effort underway to tag setnetters with a term that is properly associated with the taking of salmon, halibut and crab by trawlers operating off the coasts of Alaska. It is simply wrong to call the legal, historic harvest of king salmon by Cook Inlet setnet fishermen by the same name as the prohibited species catch otherwise known as PSC taken by trawlers. Bycatch like the trawl PSC is not to be caught or sold. This is obviously not the case for setnetters, who have caught and sold kings for a century from the beaches of Cook Inlet. Attempting to conflate trawl bycatch with legitimate setnet harvest is erroneous, because by regulation a prohibited species catch limit conveys no right of use and by law bycatch is required to be minimized to the extent practicable. Neither of those conditions can apply to the setnet harvest of kings or sockeyes, which are allocated in regulation and are limited mainly by abundance. According to the federal analysis used to support a cut in the allowed bycatch of halibut by Gulf of Alaska trawlers approved in 2012, “Because PSC must be avoided, to the extent practicable, it cannot be regarded as an asset of fixed quantity, but instead as an upper-bound threshold, the farther below which the total PSC mortality level, the better, all else equal.” (emphasis mine) The federal analysis makes a strong distinction between an “allocation,” which is the amount of fish that can be harvested by various direct user groups, and an “allowance” for indirect users such as trawlers to take those same fish while targeting other species. “PSC allowances do not convey ‘property-rights’ to use of a given amount of the prohibited species,” according to the federal analysis, “but rather reflect society’s upper-limit on its willingness to incur uncompensated losses of prohibited species.” It cannot be clearer. Regarding bycatch, trawlers chasing groundfish have no legal claim to an allocation of halibut, but the public through its regulatory authority in the North Pacific Fishery Management Council allows them a certain limit and will shut them down if the cap is reached even when a harvest of their target species is still available. The amount and account for halibut bycatch is undoubtedly controversial, but make no mistake, under the law direct users outrank indirect users and by that fact alone there can be no confusing trawlers with Cook Inlet setnetters who are direct users under the most basic of fisheries management principles. There is no right of trawlers to keep salmon or any other kind of bycatch, but some bycatch is legally required to be retained in order for a full accounting of the prohibited species catch. It is a perverse interpretation of the rules to suggest a trawler who is legally required to retain and account for bycatch is the same thing as a setnetter who is allowed to retain and sell king salmon. Although recent programs now retain trawl bycatch for donation to food banks, those takes of salmon or halibut once required by regulation to be discarded still result in “uncompensated losses” to the public through foregone yield by direct users. Again, this situation cannot be applied to Cook Inlet setnetters, who pay fish taxes to the state for their harvest and wages to their crew all the while supporting Peninsula communities and generating a value-added chain that ends at retail outlets and restaurants around the world serving Alaska salmon. The harvest of king salmon, which generates value to the public in and of itself, also allows for the primary harvest of sockeye salmon that supports hundreds of fishing families who have called Alaska home for generations. There is also talk that some king salmon harvest by setnetters goes unreported to minimize the overall take. However, setnet catch of king salmon is one of the indicators the Alaska Department of Fish and Game uses to measure run strength, so underreporting the harvest would only make the run appear weaker and therefore result in more fishing restrictions to setnetters. This is the reverse outcome of underreporting bycatch, which results in a fishery staying free of restrictions as long as it remains under the limit. The closer parallel to the king salmon harvest by setnetters is “secondary” catch. Trawlers in the Gulf of Alaska catching rockfish are allowed to retain and sell an allocated amount of other species such as sablefish that are the primary target catch for other gear types, namely longliners. These “secondary” allocations issued to trawl boats are based on historic catch in the same way setnetters are allocated a historic harvest of king salmon. While we are discussing fisheries management terms, I find it unlikely that those who wish to call setnet harvest by the inflammatory term “bycatch” would welcome the word “wastage” being applied to the death of king salmon after being hooked and released. There is no equating bycatch with legal harvest, but there is a correlation between the term “wastage,” used to describe the death of halibut hooked and released by commercial fishermen, and the death of king salmon hooked and released by sport fishermen. “Discard mortality rate” is a more clinical, and equally accurate, term for caught-and-released kings that die before spawning, but my guess is the public might more readily comprehend the term “wastage.” Words have meaning, and having an honest debate about Cook Inlet salmon fisheries means they can’t be redefined as a means to win the argument. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Observers track 'substantial discards' from halibut fleet

Keeping tabs on how many and what kinds of fish are coming over the rails is a key tool in Alaska’s highly successful fishery management programs. For nearly four decades, that has been the job of fishery observers who track everything that is hauled aboard trawlers, crabbers and most other fishing vessels 60 feet and longer. Starting this year and for the first time ever, observers were placed aboard smaller boats and Alaska’s hook and line fleet to start getting information about “removals” in that gear group’s fisheries. The primary finding after eight months can be summed up as: “substantial discards.” “The category with the most new coverage was the catcher vessel hook and line fleet in the Gulf of Alaska,” said Glenn Merrill, assistant regional administrator for NOAA Fisheries in Juneau. “In that fishery we did see some substantial discards compared to some other gear types — in the skate fisheries, rockfish, shark and in the directed halibut fishery, in particular.”    From January through August, a total of 7 percent of all the hook and line fishing trips in the Gulf were monitored by observers, according to documents the agency provided for the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, or NPFMC. Those trips produced an estimated 601 metric tons of directly observed discards in the directed halibut, sablefish and Pacific cod fisheries. When that tonnage and the observer rate are extrapolated over the entire fleet, the discards add up to more than 20 million pounds of halibut, nearly 3 million pounds of cod and 5 million pounds of skates. “That is not necessarily mortality, it is fish going over the rails,” Merrill explained. The new catch and discard data could eventually result in new fishery management plans and bycatch caps, Merrill said, but any changes are a few years away. “This is a brand new program for us,” he said. “I think we feel confident with the data, but it’s always nice to have at least a year or two of information under your belt before you start making decisions about future management — but ultimately, it could.” Find links to the NPFMC observer documents at www.alaskafishradio.com. Halt to halibut It’s all over for this year’s halibut fishery — the eight-month season ended on Nov. 7, a week earlier than usual.  Early numbers show that there was more than 1 million pounds left of the nearly 22 million-pound harvest.  Kodiak processors called the season “scratchy” and fishermen seemed to agree. “As a whole it was kind of slow fishing,” said Rick Turvey, skipper of the Big Blue. “There is fish out there, they are just harder to get and they don’t seem like they are getting big. There are a lot of small fish.” Prices to Kodiak fishermen averaged about $4.50 for the season, but ended as high as $5.65 at the closure. Fishing was better down at the Panhandle, with one Petersburg buyer calling it “very good, historically good.” A dollar drop in price also helped kept the market moving more steadily, after some early push back from buyers to the high priced fish. That, combined with overall lower halibut catches that have cleaned out any backlogs in freezers, bodes well for next year. The International Pacific Halibut Commission will reveal the first peek at what next year’s catches might be in early December. The fishery will reopen in March. Expo grows Pacific Marine Expo (Fish Expo to most Alaskans) is one of the nation’s top 50 fastest growing trade shows, and it has expanded again this year. “We’re at 492 companies displaying products in 69,000 square feet and that’s up from a little over 400 companies and 65,000 square feet last year,” said show director Bob Callahan, speaking of space at the CenturyLink Field Event Center in Seattle. “We have exhibitors from 14 foreign countries and 107 brand new companies on the show floor,” he added. Last year a scheduling conflict forced Expo to change its dates from a weekend to mid-week. “We were concerned about it but it worked out so well that we have kept the mid-week dates based on feedback from exhibitors, visitors and our advisory board,” Callahan said. “It was overwhelmingly positive.” Expo is celebrating its 47th year and Callahan credits its success to the direct contacts and networking a trade show provides. “Plus it’s a learning environment — you can see what your competitors are doing, attend free education sessions and interact with your peers.” Callahan said. “You can’t get that from the internet. We think the trade show model is healthy and here to stay.”   Pacific Marine Expo is Nov. 20 to 22 in Seattle. For more information visit www.pacificmarineexpo.  Fish bucks give back American Seafoods Co. is again calling for applications for its Community Grants program. A total of $30,000 will be given to projects addressing issues of hunger, housing, safety, education, research, natural resources and cultural activities. The majority of grant awards range from $500 to $3,000. Deadline to apply is Nov. 22; recipients will be selected by a community advisory board on Dec. 5. Contact Kim Lynch at [email protected] or (206) 256-2659. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

AJOC EDITORIAL: More math education needed ... for Democrats

For a party that spends as much time as it does carping about education funding, the least the state Democrats could do is open a math book. A pair of late October announcements had Democrats falling over themselves yet again with embarrassing attempts at arithmetic and basic accounting in their ongoing campaign against the oil tax reform passed as Senate Bill 21 this spring. Leading off was the chair of the state Democrat party issuing a press release Oct. 28 blasting Gov. Sean Parnell’s reaction to Pioneer Natural Resources selling its North Slope assets. Pioneer cashed out for $550 million to a relatively new startup company called Caelus headed by an industry veteran who has known the Pioneer CEO for 30 years. Parnell welcomed the announcement and touted the purchase as evidence of Alaska as an attractive investment climate after the passage of SB 21, noting Caelus’ declared intent to spend $1.5 billion in Alaska over the next six years. The company is retaining Pioneer’s 70 full-time Alaska employees, adding some of its own staff, and keeping another 300 contractors working. What a bum deal for Alaska. Naturally Parnell’s attempt at a little political hay could not go unanswered by the Democrats with a governor’s election and the referendum to repeal SB 21 in 2014, but the response was laughably incoherent. As someone who occasionally goes over the top, I had to chuckle at the Democrats’ opening description of Parnell’s statement as “Orwellian.” (I’ll let it slide, though, that the Democrats misspelled “Oooguruk” in their release.) “In fact, Caelus was taking advantage of a fire sale after Pioneer Natural Resources fled Alaska following passage of Parnell’s Oil Giveaway,” stated the Democrats, who went on to assert Pioneer was “moving its investments from Alaska to Texas and taking a $350 million loss.” Never mind the inherent contradiction in proclaiming an Oil Giveaway! as the reason an oil company would flee the state, Mike Wenstrup, chair of the Alaska Democratic Party, huffed thusly: “No amount of spin can conceal the fact that Pioneer’s departure is bad news for Alaska and the latest casualty of Parnell’s Oil Giveaway.” And no amount of huffy puffery can conceal that state Democrats and Wenstrup haven’t spent 10 minutes reading a Pioneer financial report. The loss the Democrats point to refers to the Pioneer announcement it would recognize a $350 million noncash loss in the fourth quarter after receiving $550 million cash for Slope assets that produced about 4,300 barrels per day so far this year. That means Pioneer had its Slope assets including the Oooguruk field valued on its books at $900 million, so selling for $550 million results in a $350 million “noncash” writedown for the quarter. At the end of the third quarter, Pioneer had $744 million in cash and cash equivalents on hand. Its total assets were valued at a bit more than $14 billion. The Slope transaction increased the Pioneer cash position by 74 percent, to nearly $1.3 billion, while taking an accounting writedown representing 2.4 percent of its assets. What a bum deal for Pioneer. Not to pile on, but Pioneer isn’t “moving” its investments to Texas, either. Texas is now its entire portfolio. Alaska production accounted for a fraction of Pioneer’s 173,000 barrels per day in production in the third quarter, and represented just $190 million of its $3 billion in capital expenditures this year. The tax credits Democrats so often point to about their beloved ACES were also running out for Pioneer after years spent developing the Oooguruk field, declining from $49 million in 2010 to $29 million in 2012. Some people might wonder if ACES is a great deal with the credits but a bad deal once the taxes kick in, and whether that might be a reason a company would flee the state. Not Democrats, apparently. At $100 per barrel, Pioneer’s North Slope daily production adds up to about $157 million in gross revenue per year. That revenue will be taxed less under SB 21 than it would be under ACES and will free up more money for investment by a company focused on the Slope. What a bum deal for Caelus. Speaking of the sacred ACES, I missed the press releases this summer after Alaska finished fiscal year 2013 with a deficit of nearly $400 million while operating under the Democrats’ preferred tax regime and their budget.  One of the chief ACES proponents and an equally prolific press releaser, Sen. Bill Wielechowski issued his quarterly congratulations to ConocoPhillips for making money in Alaska on Nov. 1. Hyping ConocoPhillips Alaska third quarter earnings as usual, Wielechowski helpfully divided the $494 million up into increments of days and hours. He got the daily rate right at about $5.3 million, and only missed on the hourly rate by a factor of 10 by headlining it as $22,731. When he wasn’t getting simple math wrong or perhaps as he debated whether it would be silly to divide into seconds (the answer is $62.15), Wielechowski for whatever reason ignored the bigger picture staring at him from the investor presentation he linked to in the press release. That shows ConocoPhillips Alaska earnings declined 7.6 percent year-over-year. Compare that to its Lower 48 and Latin America holdings, which increased 15 percent year-over-year and 18 percent from the second quarter. For Canada, ConocoPhillips earnings increased from $5 million in the second quarter to $181 million in the third; its European earnings grew nearly 9 percent in the same period. Overall, ConocoPhillips total earnings increased 7 percent year-over-year at the same time its Alaska income decreased 7.6 percent. The most profitable ConocoPhillips unit may be in Alaska, but its earnings in the state under ACES were actually a drag on its net income growth. Forgive the bookkeeping pun, but the bottom line is the Democrats should spend less time on the PR and more time on the three Rs.   Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]  

EDITORIAL: Dems see light on Obamacare

So now they tell us. It may take some of us a while to get the word, but at least a couple of U.S. senators, including one from Arkansas, have finally seen the light where Obamacare is concerned. And all it took was a trainwreck-in-process, specifically the one called Obamacare. Here is Jeanne Shaheen, the gentlewoman from New Hampshire, in a letter to the president Oct. 22: “Given the existing problems with the (Affordable Care Act’s) website, I urge you to consider extending open enrollment beyond the current end date of March 31, 2014. Allowing extra time for consumers is critically important so they have the opportunity to become familiar with the website, survey their options and enroll … “Further, in light of the difficulties individuals may be having with enrolling through healthcare.gov, I ask that you clarify how the individual responsibility penalty will be administered and enforced. If an individual is unable to purchase health insurance due to technical problems with enrollment, they should not be penalized because of lack of coverage.” Our own Mark Pryor seconded the motion on the same day, saying he was all for a course correction, too. There’s something about a developing disaster that wonderfully concentrates the mind, however complacent it might have been before. It may also help to be a U.S. senator up for re-election next year, a circumstance that lends the obvious a certain urgency. Mark Pryor may have an interest in saving more than Obamacare, like his senatorial campaign. To quote Arkansas’ drowsy senior senator, who may be coming awake at last: “I read Senator Shaheen’s letter today and support the common sense idea to extend the date for open enrollment. I believe, given the technical issues, it makes sense to extend the time for people to sign up. In addition, the Administration should state clearly how the enforcement mechanism will work if people can’t sign up in time. We all want to see the law work, and I hope the Administration will take a hard look at this reasonable suggestion.” Thank you, good morning, and welcome aboard, Senator. We couldn’t have said it better ourselves, though perhaps we’ve already done so. Several times. Now if only this wake-up call could rouse the White House, too … and even get it to do something about this mounting crisis, not just dismiss it as a glitch. This little glitch with the Obamacare Express is about as minor as the one an engineer on the Illinois Central named Casey Jones encountered one foggy night this side of Canton, Miss. He didn’t survive that trainwreck. But something tells us this trainwreck isn’t as likely to live on in song and story as ol’ Casey’s did. It’s more likely to find a place in the fulsome annals of bureaucracy, incompetence and arrogance, always a sad combination.

EDITORIAL: Spending down under sequester; ACA site is a mess

Maybe you missed this good news, amidst all that shutdown, debt ceiling and continuing resolution talk. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the Budget Control Act — commonly known, and roundly disparaged, as “the sequester” — has quietly accomplished what many would have considered impossible. For the first 11 months of fiscal 2013, federal spending is down $127 billion. This likely means that when the final numbers are in for the full 12 months, overall spending will have fallen for two years in a row, a feat which has not been accomplished since the end of the Korean War. Furthermore, the Congressional Research Service reports that the automatic sequester caps are getting better results than any effort to curb spending since 1980. Particularly gratifying is the fact that, when compared with other successful efforts to balance spending with revenues — the 1990 pact between President George H.W. Bush and Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, and the Bill Clinton effort in 1993 — the sequester has accomplished this entirely through spending cuts, with no tax increases. So, even as we kick the continuing resolution can and the debt ceiling can down the road to January and February, the sequester caps remain on the job, promising eight more years of comparative spending restraint, if only the politicians can keep their hands off them. Two things, however, lend a note of cynicism to this good news. The first: Congress and the president blundered into this achievement. As you recall, the Budget Control Act was conceived as a prospect so horrible, with its automatic spending cuts, that the politicians would recognize the threat, sit down together and write a budget with which both parties and the president could agree. When they couldn’t agree late last year, the sequester kicked in, the president predicted all kinds of horrible consequences, and he even canceled tours of the White House. (The White House Easter Egg Roll, thought to be in jeopardy, was saved at the last minute.) Despite the dire predictions, however, a United Technologies-National Journal poll showed that 74 percent of Americans polled said they had seen “no impact” from the sequester cuts. Some catastrophe. The other thing to remember is that politicians from both parties would like nothing better than to do away with the sequester all together, and get back to the good old days of profligate spending. The Democrats want their social programs, and the Republicans want their defense spending. So, it looks like the spending restraint we’re suddenly seeing in Washington is despite the best efforts of our politicians, not because of any new-found desire to live on a budget and cut spending. We’ll take progress any way we can get it, though, and will say our prayers every night for a long, healthy future for the Budget Control Act. May the sequester live on. ACA marketplaces are a mess Lincoln (Neb.) Journal-Star On Oct. 1, the Obama administration was to throw back the curtains to reveal the sunlit uplands of a wonderful new world of medical insurance options under the Affordable Care Act. Instead, consumers found a wasteland of frustration. The administration’s new online insurance marketplace was next to nonfunctional. The Journal Star editorial board was willing to give the administration some time to work out the glitches in the $400 million system. But after more than two weeks, it’s clear the exchanges have serious problems that are going to take a long time to resolve. In Nebraska, only about 50 people have managed to sign up for policies, and some of those were able to complete the process only by bypassing the federal exchange and going directly to an insurance company website. If the administration ever expects to overcome the negative impression Americans have of the Affordable Care Act according to poll results, it needs to redouble its efforts to fix the problems. And that might take a while. USA Today this week quoted experts who said the site needed a total overhaul. Technology experts told the newspaper the exchange was built using 10-year-old technology. “Recent changes have made the exchanges easier to use, but they still require clearing the computer’s cache several times, stopping a pop-up blocker, talking to people via Web chat who suggest waiting until the server is not busy, opening links in new windows and clicking on every available possibility on a page in the hopes of not receiving an error message,” the newspaper reported. The New York Times reported that one of the reasons the site was “thwarting the efforts of millions to simply log in” is because the Obama administration delayed major rules until after the November election to avoid giving critics political ammunition. That didn’t give the firm that wrote the software much time to start writing code. Another pivotal decision that seems unwise in retrospect gave Medicare and Medicaid the responsibility of integrating each separately designed database into a system, the Times reported. The agency lacked the staff and expertise. Adding to the problems were decisions by more than 30 states to let the federal government run their exchanges, which gave the administration a much bigger project than it anticipated. In contrast with the federal exchange, state-operated exchanges were operating more successfully, with California leading the way. Officials estimated 50,000 Californians had completed applications by mid-October. In the early days of the federal exchange, the administration tried to spin the overload as evidence of consumer demand. And the administration is still predicting 7 million people will sign up through the exchanges. A high enrollment is essential for coverage to remain affordable under the new law. But after the first few weeks of trying to use the new federal exchanges, many consumers might be wondering whether the glowing vision of health care improvements described by ACA adherents was just a mirage, always shimmering out of reach.

FISH FACTOR: Crab fleet hits water after shutdown; 'cuke' quota rises

The Bering Sea crab fleet was ready to head to the fishing grounds over the weekend beginning Oct. 18 after the government shutdown and unissued licenses stalled the Oct. 15 start of the crab season. Skippers of the 80 boats estimated the extra time tied up in Dutch Harbor cost them each $1,000 per day. Meanwhile, the situation was even worse for small boat crabbers at Kodiak and the Westward region who learned there would not even be a tanner fishery come January. “It is not unexpected,” said Mark Stichert, a shellfish biologist at ADFG in Kodiak. “We’ve been seeing a decline in abundance of legal sized or mature male tanner crab for the last couple of years.” The closure affects tanner crab fisheries at Kodiak, Chignik and the South Peninsula. Stichert said the stocks have seemed to follow an up and down pattern since the late 1990s.  “Beginning in 2006/2007 we saw large recruitment of juvenile tanner crab, and those crab subsequently matured into the population and into the commercial fishery beginning in 2009 through 2011,” Stichert said. “We had a couple of pretty large years and now those crab are aging out of the population. That’s what has led the decline and resulted in closures for next year.” Those years produced region-wide catches of three to more than four million pounds; last January the harvest was less than one million pounds. The mid-January fishery is worth several million dollars to the coastal communities. Up to 40 Kodiak boats dropped pots for tanners and 25 at the Peninsula during the 2013 season, while Chignik has been closed for two years. Looking ahead, Stichert said there is a mix of good and bad news. “The bad news is we aren’t seeing any kind of continued recruitment in the near future for legal sized male crab. However, during the 2013 survey we just wrapped up we did observe a fairly large pulse of juvenile crab in all three areas. So the good news is the total number of crab in the water seems to be well above average, in fact it seems to be one of the larger sizes of recruitment of juvenile crab we have seen in 10 or 15 years.” Those tanners are two to three years out from maturity and lots can happen between now and then. “It’s definitely a bummer,” said Kodiak fisherman Tyler O’Brien. “Tanner crab is a nice shot in the arm for the smaller boats in the winter.” Kodiak’s resident processing workforce also will feel the pinch of no crab coming into town.  Diving for dollars Sea cucumbers are a popular delicacy dotting soups and salads throughout Asia. Right now 150 divers in Southeast Alaska are competing for a robust 1.5 million pound cuke harvest. “It’s actually the highest quota since 2000,” said Mike Donnellan, lead diver for ADFG at Juneau. Last year the divers got nearly $5 per pound for the one pound, red sea cucumbers plucked from the sea floor, making the fishery worth $7.5 million at the Panhandle docks. Kodiak is the only other Alaska region where a cucumber fishery occurs, albeit far smaller at 140,000 pounds. The 26 divers there are fetching $3.50 per pound for sea cukes, two dollars less than last year. Regardless, Lance Parker has dive fished in Kodiak since 1986 and says it is by far his favorite fishery. “Everything that I’ve done has been profitable and a blast, because the things I’ve got to see I wouldn’t trade for anything,” Parker said. “I think I have dove in every bay on this island for one thing or another, and the variety of bottom type and the surprises that you always see, there is always something to spice up the experience.” A good day for Parker he said is diving at around 35 to 50 feet, sometimes as long as eight to nine hours, day or night, plucking as many as 2,000 cucumbers per dive.  Jobs jump start Students at the Southwest Alaska Vocational and Education Center at King Salmon are getting on a training fast track thanks to a funding boost by local stakeholders. The Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp. made a nearly $195,000 donation to fund a wide range of SAVEC training programs through December, from crane and small boat operation to CPR and First Aid Certification to Marine Safety Instructors.  The funds will help leverage a $405,000 USDA Rural Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge grant received in August by the Bristol Bay Native Association, the first of its kind awarded to a Native organization. SAVEC was founded in 2002 as a nonprofit organization to provide career and workforce development training to the residents of Bristol Bay and rural residents from around the state.

EDITORIAL: The insufferable Karzai

It would be hard to imagine a more galling expression of ingratitude than Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s assertion in a BBC interview that NATO forces — which include our Diggers — have brought only suffering and loss of life to his country, and no gains in terms of security. Not a word from him, of course, about the 3,500 NATO soldiers who have been killed over the past 12 years, their lives sacrificed in the cause of propping up his government and defending Afghanistan against the obscurantist Taliban, or of the thousands more wounded or permanently maimed. In specifically Australian terms, too, no word about the 40 valiant soldiers who have died or the hundreds wounded, or of the $7.5 billion that fighting there has cost our country, as well as the $1 billion in civilian funds we have provided and the $200 million a year we are now committed to giving Kabul. Instead, more invective. Karzai used the interview to make the fatuous suggestion NATO was colluding with the Taliban to justify an ongoing military presence after the scheduled 2014 pull-out of international forces. Karzai owes his position entirely to the 2001 US-led invasion that expelled the Taliban from Kabul. Without the NATO coalition. it is unlikely Karzai and his corrupt regime would have survived for long. Yet six months from the end of his presidency, with the pull-out imminent, he articulates a position that will cause outrage and make many wonder about the grim sacrifices made in the cause of helping Afghanistan. It is nonsense to aver, as Karzai does, that NATO’s efforts have been a waste of time and brought nothing but death and misery. His cynical, self-serving motive is clear: survival. He is trying to cozy up to the Taliban ahead of the NATO withdrawal, even talking warmly about their return to Kabul and insisting it will not undermine progress; his insulting denigration of NATO’s efforts is unforgivable. The achievements in Afghanistan of our Diggers and coalition forces drawn from across the world have been magnificent. Their sacrifices have not been in vain. They have improved the lives of millions of Afghans — especially women and children — and helped defend the world against murderous Islamic terrorism. That is the reality; it cannot be erased, or even diminished, by anything the insufferable Karzai says.

EDITORIAL: Good, bad and ugly of Fairbanks gas arguments

Testimony about competing natural gas delivery plans before the Regulatory Commission of Alaska featured some sharp exchanges during the past few weeks, but the dispute isn’t about who has the best zingers. It’s about who can provide the cheapest gas to the most people in the Fairbanks area Fairbanks Natural Gas attorney Mark Figura belittled the Interior Gas Utility by calling it a “cheerleader.” The IGU board is composed of very experienced individuals in the fields of engineering, public administration and utility and business operations. They’re capable lifting items far heavier than pom-poms. The IGU’s attorney dipped into even uglier territory. He suggested FNG’s president would be incapable of committing even to a marriage proposal without putting conditions upon it. But these are attorneys, after all, and they are performing as they see fit to make the arguments of each side stick in the minds of the commissioners. Fortunately, the attorneys for each side also provided a vast amount of detail for the commissioners to mull. The fundamental question is which utility has the most credible plan to deliver gas to the most people at the best price. Of course, there are trade-offs between the two primary factors — price and expanse. The farther the gas lines go into the less densely populated areas of the borough, the higher the price of the gas will become for everyone. FNG proposes to lay pipe in a smaller area than the IGU proposes. So the private company gets lower marks for the number of people it proposes to serve. While that smaller territory would help keep gas prices down, the company also has some serious cost challenges when compared to IGU, a public utility. FNG must pay state, federal and local taxes, must return a profit to its Outside owners and lacks access to tax-free bonds and government grants to raise capital. During the hearing, the IGU also made much of FNG’s failure to expand service in Fairbanks during the past decade, suggesting the company can’t be trusted to carry out an expansion if it is granted the territory. The IGU proposes to serve a much larger area, but FNG claims the utility’s assumptions are too rosy and its system won’t deliver gas at the price promised. In addition, the IGU has no contracted source of gas. It has no experience in the business. And, as a government entity, it could suffer from politics and all the expenses that can generate. These are all legitimate arguments to ponder. However, a few observations seem possible at this point. First, the IGU’s complaint about FNG’s past failure to expand doesn’t seem terribly relevant looking forward. If chosen to serve the area as a rate-regulated utility, the FNG would be eligible for a guaranteed return on any build-out. That would give it great incentive to expand rather than to hold back and cherry-pick as it has in the past. FNG now can also build gas storage with a state subsidy, eliminating what might have been a bottleneck in the past. Nevertheless, it’s hard to deny the disadvantages inherent in FNG’s proposal. The company proposes to serve a smaller area than the IGU. Its tax expenses and need for profit-taking set up higher costs from the get-go. In addition, the IGU’s lack of experience and governmental liabilities can be mitigated by contracting most of the work to a private entity. We hope commissioners are able to give these arguments an impartial, fact-based review. However, as Gov. Sean Parnell said in an op-ed column published here last week, the commission shouldn’t take too long to decide. The commission has suggested a decision could come in December, but that seems like an unnecessarily lengthy review. Fairbanks needs cheaper energy soon, no matter who provides it.

FISH FACTOR: Shutdown stalls crab fleet; state shellfish farms need seeds

Kodiak’s waterfront is bedecked with hundreds of “7 by’s” as boats stack their pots and gear up for the big crab fisheries in the Bering Sea. The Bristol Bay red king crab season is set to open on October 15, with a harvest of 8.6 million pounds, similar to last year. A reopened tanner crab fishery will produce a three million pound catch; the numbers for Bering Sea snow crab, Alaska’s largest crab fishery, is about 54 million pounds. The fisheries are set to open on schedule, said Heather Fitch, regional manager for Alaska Department of Fish and Game at Dutch Harbor. However, due to the government shutdown, the season could be stalled because crabbers won’t know how much each boat can catch. The Bering Sea crab fisheries operate under a catch share system and the federal number crunchers who compute who gets what are off the job. Nearly 500 eligible vessels and companies have applied for 2013/2014 crab quota, said market expert John Sackton. Furthermore, the crab fishery depends on a share matching system between the harvesters and processors. That cannot be determined until the exact amounts of quota for each shareholder is determined by NOAA Fisheries. The agency “does not have the manpower” to process applications and issue federal fishing licenses, said Alaska region director Jim Balsiger at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting in Anchorage. Balsiger said he was appealing to the Commerce Department to make personnel available. Alaska’s red king crab fishery is “highly dependent on year-end sales to Japan, and this crab has to be landed, processed and shipped generally by the third week in November. If the season is delayed even by a week, that could impact the ability to fulfill the Japanese orders,” Sackton said. Shellfish learn ‘n slurp Shellfish growers will gather in Ketchikan later this month to update the state of Alaska’s mariculture industry. There are 69 shellfish farm sites in Alaska so far; 28 are operational, growing mostly oysters with sales topping a half million dollars last year. Dominating the growers’ agenda this year is the seed crisis for future crops. “The crisis is caused by ocean acidification in the Pacific Northwest, Oregon and Washington, where farmers get the predominant amount of seed for shellfish aquaculture on the west coast,” said Ray Ralonde, a Sea Grant aquaculture specialist in Alaska for over 35 years. “The upwelling of deeper water is more acidic, and because of that the larvae and juvenile seed can’t develop shells.” “It has happened at a terrible time, because we are really on the cusp of moving ahead in a hurry, especially since 2012 when we got appropriations for a revolving loan fund. We have the technologies, the brood stock, multiple species, decades of research and economic studies and the markets.” Some Washington shellfish farmers are setting up shop in Hawaii where the oceans are less corrosive. Alaska also is starting to produce its own seed sources at facilities in Ketchikan, Homer and Seward. Blue mussels are poised to be the next big thing in Alaska mariculture, based on the ongoing success of a demo project at Kachemak Bay near Homer. All of Alaska’s shellfish farms are located in the Central and Southeast regions. RaLonde said he is often asked about possibilities in Western Alaska. The problem is it’s hard to work in an information vacuum, he said. “With shellfish, temperature has an enormous impact on growth. We would have to do preliminary studies on focused locations to see what impact that would have on the ability to produce shellfish in a timely way,” he said.  It takes 18 months to two years for Southeast grown oysters to reach market size and up to four years at Kachemak Bay due to colder waters. RaLonde will lead a daylong workshop on Oct. 24, followed by the famous shellfish feast that evening. The Alaska Shellfish Growers meetings are Oct. 25-26. All events are at the Cape Fox Lodge in Ketchikan. Questions? Contact [email protected] Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Pebble opponents will press on; otters impact Dungie permits

News that mining giant Anglo American plans to withdraw from the Pebble Mine project was greeted with joy by opponents who hailed it as a victory for the people of Bristol Bay and for the region’s resources. Pebble would be the largest gold and copper mine in North America, and its location looms over the world’s biggest sockeye salmon fishery at Bristol Bay. But even though London-based Anglo has pulled out of the Pebble Partnership, Northern Dynasty Minerals of Canada still remains. And they insist the project is still very much alive. “This does not eliminate development of Pebble Mine,” said Bob Waldrop, director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association that is funded and operated by more than 1,800 salmon fishermen. “This just means we’re back to Northern Dynasty, which is where we were before Anglo came in several years ago. Northern Dynasty will shop around and in all likelihood will find another partner. So we are not going to rest on this news.” Northern Dynasty, which in 2001 launched the Pebble project, takes over sole ownership of all the mining claims. Unlike Anglo American, which is one of the world’s biggest mining companies, Northern Dynasty has never operated a mine.   The Pebble Partnership had announced its release of a mine plan by year’s end, with a goal of beginning permitting shortly after. The timeline could change, but the project will proceed, said Sean McGee, Northern Dynasty’s Vice president of Public Affairs. The company has the financial ability to get the project through the next step of seeking state and federal permits, he said. “Nothing has changed in terms of the mineral resource and the asset that exists in Southwest Alaska,” McGee told KDLG in Dillingham. “Pebble remains one of the most important undeveloped mineral resources in the world, with the potential to facilitate very significant capital investment and economic growth through decades. It needs to be developed right, and that means in a way that is acceptable and beneficial to the local people, and in a way that protects the fish and waters of the region. But there is tremendous potential and the corporate changes really don’t shake our confidence in the potential of the deposit whatsoever.”  Otters do Dungies Next to Kodiak, the Panhandle boasts the most diverse commercial fisheries in the state — but sea otters could be the undoing of some of Southeast’s most lucrative fisheries. Dungeness crabbers, who harvest several million pounds of crab per year, are really feeling the pinch, said Olivia Olsen with Alaskan Quota and Permits in Petersburg. “The sea otters are really causing havoc, and now they are moving north and just wiping out the grounds behind them. It has really hurt the Dungeness fishermen, it’s a definite problem, a major problem,” Olsen said. Most of the initial crab permits holders have sold out, Olsen said, and new entrants are buying at basement prices. “The permit prices are so low that the new buyers, the younger buyers who can maybe not afford to get into some of the bigger fisheries, are buying the permits at much discounted prices and trying their best to make it worthwhile,” she said. Olsen has Dungeness permits listed at $44,000 (300 pots); the state value was $43,000 in August. Listings at the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission show the value of those Dungie permits averaging $67,500 in 2012 and have been on a steady decline for more than a decade. Out of 15 Dungeness crab districts in Southeast, six have large otter populations. A report last year by the McDowell Group said that the crab pots have lost nearly 3 million pounds to otters in a decade.  “There are a lot of traditional grounds that they used to fish where there is nothing left. So they are out there trying to find new grounds,” Olsen said. State managers also claim that sea otters affect 39 percent of Southeast’s dive fishery harvest.  Best estimates say about 19,000 sea otters were residing in Southeast Alaska in 2011; the number is expected to approach 28,000 by 2015. Based on an estimated adult weight of 50 pounds, and daily food intake of 20 percent of body weight, the animals would consume over 10 million pounds of the region’s dive and crab species per year. The report said sea otter predation on Southeast’s crab and dive fisheries have cost the region nearly $30 million in direct and indirect impacts since 1995.    Fish video backlash It’s not smart business to publicly blast your biggest client base. The seafood industry has reacted with outrage to a video cartoon posted to YouTube that shows cartoon animals and plants being dragged across a farm landscape in what appears to be trawl gear. It then switches to an underwater ocean scene that asks: “We don’t farm like this. Why do we fish like this?” It ends with, “Choose MSC certified sustainable seafood.”    The cartoon was produced by the World Wildlife Fund and Loblaws, Canada’s largest food retailer and lists the London-based Marine Stewardship Council in its 39 credits. The problem? More than 80 percent of the seafood tonnage of the MSC’s certified fisheries comes from trawl gear.   “The MSC has a very rigorous process that looks at the science, and they use it around the world to certify fisheries. This cartoon plays to people’s emotions in a way that doesn’t look at the way the fisheries have been analyzed and certified,” said Richard Mullins of Alaska Marine Nutrition and a board member of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, which demanded an apology for “an assault to the whole industry.” “AFDF began work on MSC certification for the Alaskan Pacific cod fishery in January 2006, and completed the certification in January 2010, after considerable expense. We signed up for the certification process because we wanted to feature the sustainability of our fishery management, as well as the four gear types that are used to harvest cod. This video shows a complete absence of knowledge of the fishery or the industry,” wrote Jim Browning, AFDF executive director. Christina Burridge, director of the Association of Sustainable Fisheries, said her membership was “equally exasperated and angry” and called the cartoon a “tiredly stupid exercise.” “There is no room for a sustainability standard that rejects science in this manner,” agreed John Sackton, editor and publisher of Seafood.com. “That is the upsetting message in this video — that those who proclaim themselves the guardians of sustainability actually are putting their own fundraising, gatekeeper, and ideological biases ahead of a scientific investigation of the facts.” The MSC has disavowed involvement in the video or its message. It has since been removed from all online sites. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

The Bookworm Sez: 'Keeping it Civil' a captivating read

You went to work today, and nothing happened. Oh, there were the usual things: papers to sign, calls to make, clients to soothe. Your job didn’t entail someone losing their home. Nobody relinquished their children. Retirement accounts kept intact, belongings weren’t divvied up, and checkbooks weren’t decimated. Nobody lost their life at your job today. But Margaret Klaw sees those things — and more. She’s a family lawyer, and in her new book “Keeping It Civil,” she writes about her most memorable court cases. At the beginning of her college years, Margaret Klaw wanted a career as a professional musician. That didn’t work out very well, though. It wasn’t long before she realized that violin practice didn’t necessarily make perfect — and besides, the language, ideas, and the preciseness of law intrigued her more than did clefs and notes.  There was never any question about the kind of law she wanted to practice. Klaw was fierce about the rights of women in court and in family matters because she saw how divorce ruined lives and custody battles ripped families apart. “Lawyers either love or hate family law,” she says. She’s in the former camp — has been, for more than 20 years — but the job, admittedly, has its ups and downs. Klaw says that the courtroom is basically a “theater,” complete with costumes and special rituals performed at every trial. Though most people wouldn’t think it possible, lawyers are usually friends with opposing counsel — they have, after all, probably worked together before. There’s a lot of strategizing, prediction, psychology, and surprises involved when one is a lawyer, and that’s fascinating. On the flip side, lawyers need to “find the right balance” between identifying with clients and internalizing their problems. Lawyers need discretion and the ability to walk a fine line between what’s allowed and what they think is best. They know that law is “a public acknowledgement that not all playing fields are level,” and they try to fix that inequality. They need listening skills, “a degree of dispassion,” and the understanding that “there’s no guarantee of happily ever after.” And they need to know that the “unimaginable can and does happen.” What doesn’t happen very often is that I read a book straight through, but that’s what I did with “Keeping It Civil.”  I just couldn’t stop myself. That’s because author and Pennsylvania “Super Lawyer” Margaret Klaw shares her cases with excitement, energy, and compassion here. Among other tales, we’re treated to an account of a real-life case involving a he-said, she-said situation and two small children, as well as bits of other conflicts, judgments, legal wrangling, and personal anecdotes. That makes this an easy book to jump into, one that will hold your interest throughout, and one that’s over, sadly, altogether too soon. Though this book appears to be more consumer-based, I think anyone who is involved in keeping or practicing law will also get a kick out of it. If that’s you, then grab it because reading “Keeping It Civil” is what needs to happen. Terri Schlichenmeyer is the author of The Bookworm Sez, which is published in more than 200 newspapers and 50 magazines throughout the U.S. and Canada. Schlichenmeyer may be reached at [email protected]

AJOC EDITORIAL: Another Senate race, another attack on free speech

For the second U.S. Senate election in a row, the incumbent campaign is threatening Alaska television stations over political ads it doesn’t like. In 2010 while fighting for her political life after losing the Republican primary to Joe Miller, Sen. Lisa Murkowski had her legal counsel send letters to Alaska television stations warning them that they were putting their Federal Communications Commission licenses at risk by running ads against her that were paid for by the Tea Party Express. Murkowski’s counsel claimed the ads constituted “false advertising” and the stations could lose their FCC license by continuing to run them. Of course, Murkowski’s lawyers knew (or should know) full well that as a public figure, her chance of proving slander or libel were virtually nil and the stations were in no danger of losing their broadcast licenses. But that didn’t stop them from trying to put the arm on Alaska media stations — “nice FCC license you have there, be a shame if something happened to it” — and thankfully no one pulled the ads based on the Murkowski campaign threats. They all still have licenses, and as far as we know there was never any legal complaint filed against the stations or the Tea Party Express, which just goes to show the empty bluster of the initial threat. So here we are again almost three years to the day later, and Sen. Mark Begich had his lawyers at Perkins Coie in Washington, D.C., fire off a letter to Alaska TV stations Sept. 5 demanding they “immediately” stop running ads sponsored by the American Energy Alliance accusing Begich of wanting you to believe “a carbon tax is a good idea.” Like Murkowski’s, the letter from Begich’s attorneys also warns Alaska TV stations that their FCC licenses are at risk by continuing to run the AEA ads and helpfully concludes with their phone number and the presumptuous instruction to, “Please contact us to confirm the ad is no longer running on your station as soon as possible.” According to an AEA press release dated Sept. 11, all Alaska stations have once again round-filed the demand letter and are continuing to run the ad. (I saw it for the first time the morning of Sept. 17.) Regardless of the content of the ads in question, it is an attack on the First Amendment for sitting U.S. Senators to use the weight of their offices and the explicit threat of losing FCC licenses to intimidate broadcasters as a means to silence the political speech of their opponents. Private companies such as TV stations can make any decision they choose regarding what sort of ads are carried without infringing on the First Amendment. When government attempts to exercise this sort of restraint on speech, it’s flat out unconstitutional and must be identified as such. Nevertheless, we’ll examine the content of the accusation in question by the AEA regarding Begich and whether he supports a carbon tax. The AEA points to a March 22, 2013, vote by Begich in favor of an amendment offered by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., that would require revenue from a carbon tax — if one was imposed — to be “returned to the American people in the form of federal deficit reduction, reduced federal tax rates, cost savings or other direct benefits.” AEA points to the comments from Whitehouse on the Senate floor in support of his amendment when he said, “I urge that we support this amendment that will allow us to put a price on carbon and protect the American people.” The Whitehouse amendment failed 41-58, with 13 Democrats voting against it. Begich, naturally, has a different take from AEA and has emphatically stated that he opposes a carbon tax. That’s all well and good, but the trouble is that while Begich has declared he does not support a carbon tax, he has a vote on his record approving of Whitehouse’s plan for divvying up the money if there ever was one. In other words, a carbon tax is a bad idea, but Whitehouse has a good idea for how to spend the money. Not exactly an ironclad position. The record offers enough for both sides to make an argument to put this debate in the realm of interpretation rather than the black and white of true and false, especially in the realm of politics. It certainly doesn’t rise anywhere near the level of “false advertising” that Begich’s lawyers are claiming in their attempt to get the AEA ad pulled from the Alaska airwaves. Begich’s campaign manager Susanne Fleek told the D.C. publication The Hill in a Sept. 5 article that the AEA ad was “just another reason Alaskans don’t like Outsiders telling them what to do.” That’s an interesting take, given the role of Alaska in the national energy picture and the number of corporations with headquarters outside our borders that operate here. It is also interesting Fleek would single out the Koch brothers as the Democrats’ favorite billionaire bogeymen, who just happen to own the Flint Hills refinery at North Pole. Last I checked that’s inside Alaska. Regardless, the 2014 Senate elections, including Begich’s race, are going to have national impacts and any U.S. citizen or group has the right to participate. It’s the same right held by all the lawyers, lobbyists and corporations like Microsoft and Comcast who are the leading donors to Begich’s campaign. With $4 million raised since he took office in 2009, and about $2 million in cash on hand according to the latest report on opensecrets.org, Begich is more than capable of answering the AEA ad with one of his own. Of course, it’s probably cheaper to pay a $1,000/hour lawyer to write a letter and hope some TV stations cave, but that plan landed with a dull thud. What the AEA ad actually gets to is the deeper problem for Begich in this election: He caucuses with a party and a president that simply do not have the best interests of Alaska at heart. All too often — unlike his counterpart Murkowski who was primaried by Miller for her independent streak — Begich has been a dependable party-line voter for the Democrats since taking office and the Whitehouse amendment is just one example. For what it’s worth, I don’t believe Begich supports a carbon tax and I do believe he wants what’s best for Alaska. Too bad the same can’t be said for his party friends in D.C. who don’t care much for Alaska, or free speech for that matter. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Salmon permit prices rising along with price per pound

Alaska’s record salmon season has permit brokers hopping as buyers seek to break into or expand their fishing opportunities in many fisheries.     Notably, brokers say there is “a lot of great buzz” at Bristol Bay, despite a lackluster sockeye fishery that saw the bulk of the red run come and go eight days early. “Prior to the season the drift permits went for under $100,000, but we just sold one for $125,000,” said Doug Bowen of Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer. Most of the bump is due to optimism about the sockeye base price of $1.50 per pound, a 50-cent increase from last year. Data from the state Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission show that Bristol Bay driftnet permit values have remained near or well over $100,000 since 2010, and increased steadily each year after dropping below $20,000 in 2002. This summer also was a great one for salmon seiners, which has driven up interest in those fishing permits. “These folks had good seasons and made some money. They’re going to be looking to expand their operations, pick up another permit, another boat or upgrade,” Bowen said. Salmon seine permits at Southeast Alaska have the distinction of being the highest priced at more than $300,000.  “There’s very little on the market and it’s hard to tell where that will shake out,” said Olivia Olsen of Alaskan Quota and Permits in Petersburg. “Most people think the permits are headed up because they have had such a fantastic year, but they had moved up so fast prior to the season, that might not happen.” A Chignik seine permit recently sold for $225,000, Bowen said, and Prince William Sound seine permits just broke the $200,000 mark. At Cook Inlet, seine cards are stagnant after a disappointing season, but still valued around $70,000. That compares to a Cook Inlet permit value of about $54,000 last year and just $17,000 in 2010. Kodiak seine permits are still hovering around $40,000 and interest has picked up slightly; at the Alaska Peninsula, the seine value is holding steady in the high $60,000s. “All of these permit prices are extremely volatile,” Bowen said. “A good fishing year or forecast can make permit prices double in a year depending on the fishery. Then if they have a lousy year or it looks like they are heading into a bad time, you can watch permit prices tumble by 50 percent. But we are seeing a trend of better salmon prices and that has sparked enthusiasm with the fleet and buyers.”  Find a list of all Alaska limited entry permit values (based on the average price of actual sales) at www.cfec.state.ak.us. IFQ funk Brokers tell a far different story when it comes to sales of halibut catch shares. “In a word, it’s negative,” said Doug Bowen, adding that it’s been the slowest time for IFQ (Individual Fishing Quotas) sales in the 17 years he’s been in business. Halibut catch limits have been slashed by 70 percent over the past five years and the outlook, at least for the short term, is grim. Prices at the docks also have plummeted by a dollar or more. “Buyers are understandably reluctant to purchase quota that they believe will be cut next year, and sellers are faced with the difficult decision to either hold out for their price, or hold onto their quota and perhaps have less to sell next year. That’s pretty much taken all the wind out of the sails of the IFQ market, and demand is non-existent,” Bowen said. The one exception is Southeast Alaska, which has avoided halibut catch cuts for a few years. “Fishermen here are real happy with their catch, the numbers per skate, and availability of the fish,” said Petersburg’s Olsen. “They feel like maybe there won’t be more cuts in Southeast and there might be increases. So this is the only area where halibut has been moving at all this year. I have zero interest in any other area.”  The price for Southeast Alaska halibut shares also has “been out of sight,” selling at between $38 to $46 per pound. “And as soon as it’s in, it’s moving,” Olsen added.     Doug Bowen said he is confident the IFQ market will rebound for other Alaska regions, as it has in Southeast. “When it hit bottom there and then turned around, the optimism came back and that’s when we saw those prices take off,” he said. “So I imagine we would see the same scenario in these other areas when the cuts bottom out.” Here comes the crab! It’s mixed results for Bering Sea crab, based on the annual summer trawl surveys. For nearly 40 years fishery managers have surveyed 360 regions to track the health and abundance of the various crab stocks.  The annual report by NOAA Fisheries, dubbed the “road map” by crabbers, shows survey hot spots and other data prior to the season opener. Some highlights: red king crab stocks at Bristol Bay appear stable. Legal males are at the highest level in four years, up nearly 40 percent since last year’s survey. Mature females, however, declined 26 percent so chances of an increased quota are mixed. Last year’s red king crab catch was 7.8 million pounds.  Catch numbers could decrease for Bering Sea snow crab — the number of legal males dropped 5 percent and mature females declined 20 percent. Last year just more than 66 million pounds of snow crab were harvested.  The Pribilof region, which has been closed to king crab since 1999, is again unlikely to see a fishery. The surveys show that the male red king crab size has been stable for four years and abundance has increased, but a decrease in mature females is cause for concern. For blue king crab, both male and female abundances are extremely low with little evidence for improving. Conversely, hair crab stocks around the Pribilofs, central Bristol Bay and west of Nunivak Island appear to be on the upswing. That fishery has been closed since 2000, but has been slowing rebounding since 2005. Another bright note: a small fishery for Bering Sea tanners could reopen for the first time since 2010. The catches for the Bering Sea crab fisheries will be announced this month; the 2013/2014 season opens in mid-October. Puny pinks Alaska pink salmon set a record this summer but it turns out the fish in the three major producing areas were pretty puny. State data show the pinks at Prince William Sound averaged 2.76 pounds, down a full pound from last year. At Southeast, pink salmon weight averaged 2.9 pounds this season, down 18 percent from the 3.77 pounds of last summer. And at Kodiak, pink salmon averaged 3.06 pounds compared to 3.58 pounds last year, a 14 percent decrease. Alaska’s pink salmon catch topped 215 million as of Sept. 13, bringing the all species total to 267.7 million salmon. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

AJOC EDITORIAL: Jackboots and fines latest examples of federal overkill

Sept. 5 was just another day for the feds in Alaska. Two stories moved across the wire that day, both neatly encapsulating how the Environmental Protection Agency, like most all federal agencies now days, has morphed from public servant to public enemy. First up, we had the story from Gov. Sean Parnell expressing his outrage that armed and armored agents from the EPA and the Interior Department Bureau of Land Management descended on placer mining sites around the Fortymile area to check for violations in encounters described by the miners involved as “intimidating and uncomfortable.” There is no doubt that EPA and BLM have responsibilities to ensure that rules regarding water protection are followed, but there is equally no doubt that there is no reason whatsoever that these agencies should be equipped with body armor and guns, in Alaska or anywhere. Did they really consider shootout with the prospectors at Fortymile to be a possibility? To be sure, the assumption is miners in remote areas of Alaska are armed, as is assumed of most Alaskans in general. If these jackbooted federales really thought the situation could be dangerous, though, they should have asked to be accompanied by Alaska State Troopers. On the other hand, maybe it isn’t that often some bureaucrat gets a chance to play dress-up and go all supercop on the average taxpaying citizen who paid for the guns and armor being deployed against them. Par for the course, of course, is the shameless hypocrisy of federal agencies that have failed utterly for decades in their responsibility to clean up the legacy well mess they made in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. Instead of spending money on armor and guns, maybe some of that money could have been spent on cleaning up the protruding wells that are leaking who knows what throughout the NPR-A. Only a couple days after Parnell’s statement on the raids at Fortymile, BLM announced that issues with contractors were delaying any work on the legacy wells further into 2014. Again, one can only wonder what the federal government could accomplish if it was focused on serving the public rather than harassing it with such thuggish tactics. The hypocrisy extends beyond NPR-A as far as the Interior Department agencies go. Reports issued this year have shown that the Fish and Wildlife Service estimates some 573,000 birds are killed by wind farms every year. Stories from California document the deaths of thousands of protected migratory birds annually at Altamont Pass. But wind farms get a pass from silly rules like the Migratory Bird Act or the Eagle Protection Act while oil and power companies get hammered with fines. To paraphrase George Orwell, “all industries are equal, but some are more equal than others.” That brings us to the second Sept. 5 story reporting the EPA hitting Shell with $1.1 million in fines for air permit violations during the 2012 Arctic drilling season that the feds themselves admit didn’t cause any harm to anyone. Amazing. If the EPA were actually serving the public, it would work with Shell to improve the technology being used for the first time in the Arctic rather than imposing fines based on standards that even when exceeded cause no harm to air quality. Shell made plenty of mistakes in 2012 that it deserves to be accountable for, but slapping the company with a $1.1 million fine for something that did no damage is just another episode of EPA extortion of the sort we’ve become all too accustomed. That kind of extortion has extended to the cruise industry and marine shipping where companies such as TOTE and Carnival are having to spend hundreds of millions to comply with an onerous 200-mile “Emission Control Area” off the coast of Canada and Alaska that will have zero benefit other than to proponents of the broken window theory. Not to mention the comfortable, jet-setting, backslapping bureaucrats imagining themselves exercising world leadership even as they exempt the dirtiest ships in the heavily populated Great Lakes region based on political favoritism to Democrats in Wisconsin and Minnesota. The ECA was imposed on Alaska by the EPA through an international Maritime Pollution treaty known as Marpol, to which the U.S. is a signatory. Remember that the next time someone tells you the Law of the Sea Treaty is a good idea. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

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