Fisheries

Invasive elodea leads to Alexander Lake shutdown

Editor's note: This article has been updated to clarify that the Alaska Department of Fish and Game closed sportfishing on Alexander Lake with the goal of controlling the spread of elodea.  Mat-Su Valley residents and state agencies are trying to gather enough support to stop an invasive water weed in the area before it’s too late. Elodea, an aggressive aquatic plant, has made itself at home in several large lakes in the Susitna River drainage. When it was first detected in Alexander Lake in 2014, it only covered about 20 acres; by this year, it had increased to 90 percent of the lake’s area. Nearby Sucker Lake is in a similar state. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has closed Alexander and Sucker lakes to all sportfishing this summer, specifically targeting controlling the spread of elodea. The plant often hitches rides on boat propellers, in bilgewater and on floatplane floats. Kristine Dunker, who manages the invasive species program for ADFG, said she didn’t expect the closure this summer to impact the invasive northern pike population in the lake much because it will open again in the winter, when people frequently fish for them there. ADFG encourages people to harvest as many northern pike as they can, which can devastate salmon populations in lakes. While elodea is just a plant, it’s more than an innocent bystander. When it’s invasive, it can grow so thick as to make lake water anoxic. Salmon can have a hard time navigating a deeply forested lake to find food as juveniles or spawning areas as adults, and other fish can be flat out strangled in the lakes for lack of oxygen. What’s more, it can spread by fragmentation — only a small piece has to be introduced to good habitat for the plant to flourish. It can survive under ice, and does well in slow-moving, shallow water. “It’s really gotten bad in the Mat-Su,” said Mike Wood, the president of the Susitna River Coalition, a conservation group focused on protecting Susitna River fish habitat. The Susitna River Coalition is among the participants in a task force aimed at eradicating elodea from the Mat-Su Valley. Led by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, the group includes ADFG, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, the Tyonek Tribal Conservation District and a number of landowners. The main point is not the direct threat to fish at present, but the potential for elodea to move out of those two lakes and affect the rest of the system, said Dan Coleman, a natural resource specialist with DNR’s Alaska Plant Materials Center. Coleman said he thought the chances of keeping elodea out of the rest of the Mat-Su were “very good” if the project successfully eradicates the weed in Alexander and Sucker lakes. “These are just source populations sitting out there right now,” he said. “The sooner we get going on this project … the better.” With the current prescriptions needed to kill the elodea, DNR estimates the cost at $850,000 for the first year for both lakes — and that’s just for the herbicide. Some organizations have already committed funding, including the Mat-Su Salmon Habitat Partnership and the Mat-Su Borough Fish and Wildlife Commission, but it’s not enough to carry the project through. The group is looking for federal and state grants to support the eradication program, said Nicole Swenson, the conservation director for the Tyonek Tribal Conservation District and coordinator of the elodea task force. The local funding they’re looking for would serve as match funds to access federal grants, she said. The sticker price may look high, but the price to eradicate it in the future would be much higher, she said. “This project is getting close to a million (dollars) per year based on the predictions,” she said. “And the state is hurting, as we all know, for money, and we were just chasing grants and putting it all together. We’re piecemealing it together — when it takes a million dollars a year to get it done, (it’s difficult).” Alexander Lake is complicated, with multiple streams feeding into it, multiple outlets and a system of wetlands around it. The strategy the group would use would include releasing two herbicides — diquat and fluoridone — into the lakes and maintaining high enough concentrations for long enough to kill the elodea. Alexander Lake in particular has high water turnover — all the water in the lake is flushed out within 10 days, Coleman said. Seeking additional funding, Wood said the Susitna River Coalition approached Donlin Gold for help. Donlin, which is working to obtain permits for a proposed gold mine in Southwestern Alaska, has proposed a pipeline to run through the Mat-Su Valley to Cook Inlet for natural gas to power the operations. However Donlin’s community projects committee did not receive the request with enough time, and the requested amount — $700,000, according to the company — was too much for the budget, according to external affairs manager Kristina Woolston. The company only had a few days to respond, and when the Susitna River Coalition reduced its request to about $172,000, Donlin’s community investment committee did not have enough time to adequately consider engaging in a project of that size. “We would consider working with Fish and Game, sport fish groups, industry and other local entities to solve the problem, not just treat the symptoms,” Woolston wrote in an email. Melissa Heuer, the executive director of the Susitna River Coalition, said the group saw the project as a way for Donlin to contribute to a conservation area near the pipeline corridor, which will be impacting wetlands in the construction process. Donlin has agreed to conditions set by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to do 4.5 acres of wetlands mitigation in the Mat-Su Borough in connection with its project, in addition to wetland conservation projects in the Calista region and in Cook Inlet. “Where things could actually make a difference, I don’t think this was a time for (Donlin),” she said. “Hopefully they’ll come through in the future. I think they still would be a good partner, and people would appreciate seeing a company step up.” The Mat-Su is far from the only place with elodea infestations in Alaska. The plant was first discovered in Eyak Lake near Cordova in the 1980s, thought to have been introduced from someone dumping an aquarium in the lake. Since then, it has spread to Chena Slough near Fairbanks, Lake Hood in Anchorage and several lakes on the Kenai Peninsula, among other locations. Residents say they think the elodea in Alexander Lake was likely introduced there by floatplanes arriving to fish in the lake. There haven’t been any definitive documented cases of elodea infestations negatively impacting salmon runs in Alaska yet, but that may be due to a lack of data, Swenson said. It would have been great to address the elodea a few years ago when it first surfaced, but time is of the essence now, Heuer said. “I think if we could have done it two or three years ago, that would have been great,” she said. “I think we’re really just reaching a key time that we still have an opportunity to stop it before it gets out of control. If we don’t stop it now, it’s just going to grow exponentially. Once it moves out of these water bodies and into the rest of the Mat-Su, it’s going to be almost impossible.” Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

MSA reauthorization still stalled with 2018 House bill expired

More than a decade has passed since the last reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act was signed into law, but the latest effort has stalled in Congress. The act, originally passed in 1974, is the nation’s landmark legislation on federal fisheries policy. In the intervening years, Congress has passed a number of reauthorizations, most recently in 2006, tweaking language and adding provisions. The House passed HR 200, sponsored by Rep. Don Young, in July 2018. However, it never progressed through the Senate and thus expired at the end of the 115th Congress. Young’s bill included a number of new provisions — most notably, changing the word “overfished” throughout the bill to “depleted” — and allowing regional fishery management councils consider economic impacts to communities when determining catch limits. One of the reasons Young decided to include changing the word “overfished” to “depleted” was to recognize non-fishing impacts on stock abundance, said Zack Brown, Young’s press secretary. “The term ‘overfish’ implies that our commercial fishing industry alone has the potential to impact fish stocks and the overall health of our marine ecosystems,” Brown wrote in an email. “’Depleted’ is a far more comprehensive term that takes a broader and more evidence-based assessment of the risks to marine life.” The language change applies in a situation like the St. Matthew’s Island blue king crab stock. The stock hasn’t been fished since the 2016-17 season because of low abundance, and only four years overall since 1999, but was declared overfished in October 2018 because the estimated biomass was below the minimum stock size threshold specified for the crab fishery management plan. A protected area was established in 2008 and expanded in 2010 to include blue king crab habitat. The MSA requires a stock rebuilding plan to be established for overfished stocks, and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council adopted a purpose and need statement for the rebuilding plan at its June meeting in Sitka. But it’s not just fishing affecting the stock. Stock projections show recruitment in the St. Matthew’s blue king crab stock falling since the mid-1990s. Fishing and bycatch have played roles in the fishery’s decline, but fisheries have been restricted or closed off and on since 1999, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service. Environmental factors on the populations may be at play impacting the stock, according to a report to the council. Young wanted the language to reflect threats to stocks beyond just fishing pressure, Brown said. “While using the term ‘depleted’ still allows for oversight of fishermen, it also encompasses other potential threats such as predation and ocean acidification,” he said. Young’s bill would have also granted more flexibility to councils in crafting rebuilding plans to account for species’ lifecycles. The current MSA requires stocks to be rebuilt within 10 years of being declared overfished, which may not be possible for certain species. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council agreed with allowing for the term “depleted” to be used in the act to account for cases like the St. Matthew’s blue king crab, but didn’t agree with the proposed change of including economic impact to communities in the determination of catch limits, according to a February 2019 letter to Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan. The letter, signed by council chairman Simon Kinneen, noted that the measure would tilt the development of harvests away from their scientific basis. The council would have two choices: ask the Scientific and Statistical Committee to consider social and economic consequence, driving it away from science, or close fisheries early before the total allowable catch has been reached, according to the letter. “Incorporating social and economic factors into the determination of annual catch limits as proposed in the draft will severely impact the conservation and management of resources in the North Pacific by increasing scientific and management uncertainty and reducing public transparency and participation in the decision-making process,” Kinneen wrote. “From our perspective, this may be a cure in search of a problem.” Though HR 200 expired with the last Congress, some elements made it into law as a separate bill: the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2018, or Modern Fish Act. The rest of the provisions will have to start from scratch back in the House, likely with some edits, Sullivan noted in an email. “With the changeover in the House leadership, I expect the Democratic majority will have their own priorities and will want to advance their own legislation on this, and other topics,” he wrote. Sullivan agreed with the inclusion of the language change from “overfished” to “depleted,” noting the North Pacific council’s support. He said that while on the whole the MSA has resulted in Alaska’s fisheries dominating the nation, eliminated foreign fishing off Alaska’s coasts and kept stocks from being overfished like those in other regions, there is room for reconsideration as time goes on. “While I think it’s always healthy to reexamine and update our laws as a matter of course—particularly as technology and science evolve—I have heard from Alaska’s fishermen that my role as a steward of the MSA should largely be that of a doctor practicing the mantra of ‘First, do no harm,’” he wrote. ^ Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Alaska senators gain support on transboundary mining issues

Senators from the Western U.S. are joining the Alaska congressional delegation to press the issue of Canadian mining practices in transboundary watersheds . The bipartisan group of six senators — Mike Crapo, R-Idaho; Jim Risch, R-Idaho; Jon Tester, D-Mont.; Steve Daines, R-Mont.; Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.; and Patty Murray, D-Wash. — sent a letter along with Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan June 13 to British Columbia Premier John Horgan highlighting the steps states and the federal government have taken to monitor transboundary rivers and what they want provincial officials to do in return. They were compelled to send the correspondence because there weren’t enough delegates to the International Joint Commission from either country to hold its biannual meeting in April, according to the letter. IJC spokeswoman Sally Cole-Misch said it took roughly a year for President Donald Trump’s three appointees to the commission to be confirmed by the Senate and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed three new Canadian commissioners as soon as the terms of those appointed by his predecessor were completed. The panel of six new IJC commissioners was sworn in May 17. The Boundary Waters Treaty with Canada established the IJC in 1909 specifically to settle disputes over watersheds that cross or comprise the international border. For years, members of the Alaska congressional delegation have been asking provincial leaders, and domestically, State Department officials, to address potential water quality problems from large hard rock mines at the upper reaches of transboundary watersheds in British Columbia; this is the first time senators from other border states have formally joined them. In the Lower 48, transboundary concerns have centered on Canadian coal mines. While numerous Alaska environmental, commercial fishing and Alaska Native groups have called for IJC involvement to provide further protection for Alaska salmon fisheries downstream from mining activity, the commission can only be spurred by a formal call from either the State Department or Canada’s Global Affairs Department. Attempts by the Alaska delegation to get former Secretary of State John Kerry to review Alaska’s concerns regarding Canadian mining activity in transboundary watersheds largely proved unfruitful. Concerns over the British Columbia mine permitting process were heightened after the 2014 Mount Polley mine tailings dam failure. The Mount Polley copper and gold mine is in the upper reaches of the large Fraser River watershed, a major salmon producer for Canada and the U.S. A British Columbia auditor general report concluded the Mount Polley dam breach was the result of inadequate engineering and poor oversight from regulators. The senators’ letter notes that the departments of State, Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency set up a joint working group to determine what could be done to safeguard U.S. economic interests related to the commercial fisheries and tourism enterprises that could be compromised by the impacts from upstream mines. Congress last year approved $1.8 million for Interior Department agencies to spend on improved downstream water quality monitoring systems in transboundary rivers. “While we appreciate Canada’s engagement to date, we remain concerned about the lack of oversight of Canadian mining projects near multiple transboundary rivers that originate in B.C. and flow into our four U.S. states,” the senators wrote to Premier Horgan. “To address these concerns, we have taken steps in partnership with our federal and state governments to improve water quality monitoring and push for constructive engagement with Canada. “In sharing an update on our efforts, we hope to encourage you, in your role as Premier, to allocate similar attention, engagement, and resources to collaborative management of our shared transboundary watersheds.” Alaska Tribes and conservation groups insist a host of mines proposed in the Canadian portions of large salmon-bearing transboundary rivers that flow into Southeast Alaska, such as the Stikine and Unuk, could degrade water quality and endanger those fisheries. They also contend Canadian bonding requirements for mining companies are inadequate. “This is a multi-state, international problem for which we need a multi-state, international solution,” United Fishermen of Alaska Executive Director Frances Leach wrote in a formal statement following the release of the senators’ letter. “Right now B.C.’s massive open-pit mines and waste dumps put some of Alaska and B.C.’s most important salmon rivers, and the fishing jobs that rely on them, at risk. Alaska fishermen and the thousands of people across the world who enjoy wild salmon expect and deserve better from B.C regulators.” Former British Columbia Minister of Energy and Mines Bill Bennett said in a prior interview with the Journal that the provincial and federal Canadian governments have environmental protection requirements for mines on par with the U.S. and Alaskans’ concerns come from a lack of adequate communication between the governments on the issue. Bennett is now a director for the British Columbia-based mining exploration firm Eagle Plains Resources Ltd. The Alaska delegation specifically has asked provincial environmental regulators to provide State of Alaska officials, tribes and Alaska Native corporations a formal consultation process during mine permit reviews. In November 2015 former Gov. Bill Walker and then British Columbia Premier Christy Clark signed a memorandum of understanding to create a transboundary Bilateral Working Group to facilitate the exchange of best practices, marine safety, workforce development, transportation links and joint visitor industry promotion. Bennett said at the time that the MOU represented a significant change in how the state and province interact. Last November British Columbia mine regulators began the process of seeking firms to clean up acid rock leakage from the Tulsequah Chief mine in the Taku River drainage east of Juneau. State officials contend the multi-metal mine that operated for just six years has been leaking acid wastewater into the Tulsequah River, which feeds the Taku, since it was closed in 1957. ^ Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Summer fishing ramps up; gov opposes council’s Pebble letter

Salmon dominates the summer fishing headlines but it’s among many other fisheries going on throughout the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea. Alaska’s salmon season has gotten off to a mixed start, with strong catches in some regions over the past month and dismal hauls in others. Good harvests have continued at the Copper River and more recently throughout Prince William Sound. That’s not been the case at Kodiak, Cook Inlet and Chignik where fishing is off to a very slow start. Trollers are targeting chinook salmon in Southeast, and other salmon fisheries are popping up all over that region. The state research vessel Pandalus is on its way to Port Moller to start sampling ahead of the big sockeye run expected in a few weeks at Bristol Bay. State managers predict a total Alaska salmon catch this year of 213 million fish, 84 percent higher than 2018. In other Alaska fisheries, a lingcod fishery reopened at East Yakutat on June 7 and Southeast’s shrimp beam trawl fishery reopens on July 1 with a 175,000-pound combined harvest of pink and sidestripes. Fishing for Alaska pollock reopened on June 10 in the Bering Sea where a catch this year will top 3 billion pounds. Hundreds of other Bering Sea and Gulf boats also are targeting cod, flounders, rockfish, and myriad other whitefish. Alaska halibut longliners are nearing a catch of 8 million pounds out of a 17 million-pound catch limit. For sablefish, about 10 million pounds has crossed the docks from a 26 million-pound quota. Several summer crab fisheries are coming online. The Dungeness season opens in Southeast Alaska on June 15. State fishery managers will use catch stats from the first seven days to predict the harvest for the season. Last summer’s dungy fishery produced three million pounds. The Aleutian Islands golden king crab fishery also opens on June 15 for a slightly increased catch topping seven million pounds. A red king crab fishery will open at Norton Sound on June 26 for a 147,300-pound harvest. Finally, a wrap up by state managers shows that 19 seiners set a record at Alaska’s largest herring fishery at Togiak in April with a 23,060-ton harvest. Fishermen got just $75 per ton for the roe herring making it worth $1.73 million at the docks. Pebble pushback As the July 1 deadline approaches for public comments on plans for the Pebble mine, the project is getting unprecedented pushback from unexpected people and places, to the ire of Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy’s administration. The City of Kodiak, Aleutians East Borough, North Pacific Fishery Management Council, Trident Seafoods and 53 members of Congress are newly on record to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opposing the draft environmental impact statement, or DEIS, for the massive copper and gold mine, saying it is flawed, inadequate and leaves more questions than answers. At Kodiak, where more than 500 resident fishermen and tenders work at Bristol Bay, city council members said in a comment letter that there is no discussion in the DEIS of how Pebble affects fisheries beyond the Bay and Cook Inlet. “Any potential negative impacts, release of toxins or damage to the watershed and consequently on the fisheries at Bristol Bay, has the potential to have a profound impact on all our fisheries by damaging the Alaska brand,” said Councilman John Whiddon Likewise, the Aleutians East Borough, representing six communities adjacent to the mine area, commented they were never even invited for consultations, and discussions about impacts to their borough were “non-existent.” Mayor Alvin Osterback’s letter called the project “an avoidable risk” and said the best option is no Pebble mine. Similarly, a comment letter written by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council recommends that the potential impacts of large-scale mining be assessed not only for fish populations, but also “on both the value and reputation of North Pacific Fisheries.” That had the Dunleavy administration calling foul at the recent NPFMC meeting in Sitka. Alaska Department of Fish and Game Deputy Commissioner Rachel Baker entered the state’s formal opposition to the letter, calling the Pebble DEIS “outside the Council’s purview” and “a distraction from the large number of fishery management issues on our agenda,” reported KCAW in Sitka. In Congress, led by US Representative Jared Huffman of California who chairs the committee on water, oceans and wildlife, 53 House Democrats sent a letter last week to the Corps asking them to simply drop the Pebble mine project because it would “destroy thousands of acres of wetlands in Alaska and threaten the most valuable wild salmon fishery in the world.” “We urge the Corps to listen to the tribes, village corporations, commercial fishermen, hunters, anglers, and those whose lives and livelihoods depend on the integrity of the Bristol Bay watershed, and we urge the Corps to deny the permit for the Pebble Mine,” the letter stated. Trident Seafoods, the largest seafood company in the U.S., has sent a letter to Alaska fishermen sharing its comments to the Army Corps that the Pebble mine “poses a significant risk to the many families, businesses and communities that rely on the natural resources of Bristol Bay.” Finally, Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s office in Washington, D.C. is being deluged with hundreds of net corks being sent by Alaskans with messages entreating her to stand with them in opposition to the Pebble Mine. Building blue businesses Seward is the first Alaska community to work with the Alaska Ocean Cluster to jump and grow ocean-based businesses. A first cohort of four early-stage businesses that signed up with AOC’s Blue Pipeline Incubator last October has so far attracted $1.6 million from an investment goal of $2.3 million, 10 times more than anticipated. “They include seafood manufacturing, ocean energy, mariculture and coastal tourism,” said Justin Sternberg, director of the Blue Pipeline Incubator in Seward which is a partnership with the AOC, the City and local Chamber of Commerce, UAF College of Fisheries and Ocean Science, and the Alaska Small Business Development Center. One business also filed a provisional patent on a new technology that won the Invention of the Year award at the University of Alaska/Fairbanks. “It’s a technology that pulls hydrogen out of ocean water that can then be stored as a battery for use later. It also de-acidifies the water,” Sternberg said. “If it proves to be commercially viable it would allow for a mass scale way to produce energy and at the same time reduce the carbon that is in the water creating acidification.” Another Blue Pipeline company was a semi-finalist at the first Alaska Angel Conference last month in Anchorage, which brings investors and business startups together. Sternberg said the cohorts receive mentoring and “MBA level training” that helps them “with the whole suite of starting a business from the idea all the way to the implementation to selling it down the road.” The Incubator also offered ASBDC support to 18 Seward businesses, including two new ones, with eight new jobs created as a result. Sternberg, who also helped launch Alaska’s kelp industry in Kodiak, said AOC collaborators are refining the Blue Pipeline to make sure it “fits the dynamics of entrepreneurship in Alaska communities” as they expand to more regions. The Alaska Ocean Cluster is a project of the Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Council turns down petition sought to protect Adak processor

Editor's note: This article has been updated to correct the spelling of Steve Minor's last name. The Aleutian Islands won’t be getting an emergency boost in quota for Pacific cod, despite stakeholders’ assertions that the processing plant in Adak needs it to survive the next season. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council decided not to approve an emergency petition from a group of Aleutian Islands stakeholders at its meeting June 9, instead taking a longer route through a discussion to look at the set-aside options for the area. The petition had sought an emergency quota set-aside of Pacific cod, separate from the general Bering Sea-Aleutian Islands quota, to help sustain the shore-based plant and thus the community. Adak, a small community on an island west of Unalaska that once housed a naval base, relies heavily on Pacific cod processing. The community there taxes fishery landings to pay for public services as well. In recent years, the shore-based processors have had to increasingly compete with larger companies’ catcher-processor vessels participating in the Bering Sea Pacific cod fishery. The fishery has grown as well, and as the fishery is not under rationalization, fishermen have complained of an increasingly dangerous “race for fish” that makes the season shorter and shorter. In spring 2019, the Bering Sea Pacific cod “A” season lasted less than two weeks. Since 2016, the Aleutian Islands area has had a leg-up in the fishery through a provision in the council’s management plan for the area called Amendment 113. Essentially, it created a priority quota for cod to be delivered to shore-based processing plants west of the 170-degree west latitude line in the Aleutian Islands, protecting Adak’s plant from being outrun by the at-sea processing vessels. However, in May, a federal judge ruled in favor of a group of fishermen that complained about that amendment being against the provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, saying the council needed to either revise or remove the amendment. The City of Adak is appealing the decision, but in the meantime, the fishermen and plant operator hoped to get an emergency policy from the council to protect the plant in the upcoming season. Steve Minor, who testified to the council June 8 on behalf of the petitioners, said the proposed petition wouldn’t have ensured that fish were delivered to the Adak plant, but it provided a chance to do so. “The emergency rule will not restore Amendment 113,” he said. “It also does not guarantee that a single pound of Pacific cod will be landed by any shore-based processor, but it will create opportunity for us.” The petitioners argue there is an emergency because with the increasing participation in the Bering Sea fishery, the season is shortening as vessels run up to the halibut protected species catch limit quickly, forcing all the other fisheries closed to protect halibut. Fishermen have told the council in the past that with the pressure to fish quickly, vessels may not move off a particular ground even if the catch of halibut is high because they are concerned about not keeping up. With the challenge of more vessels fishing on the same limit of halibut, the petitioners argue they’re concerned that without a set-aside of 5,000 metric tons above the guideline harvest limit of Pacific cod, they may not get a season at all. George Pollock of Aleut Enterprise urged the council to establish a Limited Access Privilege Program fishery, which would add additional protections for that area. The community is working on developing other fisheries, such as for geoduck clams, he said. “These activities are directly or indirectly supported by shore-based Pacific cod processing,” he said. However, Bering Sea trawlers opposed the emergency petition. In the complaint filed over Amendment 113, the Groundfish Forum, the United Catcher Boats, B&N Fisheries Co. and the Katie Ann LLC complained that the set-aside for the Aleutian Islands did not meet the MSA criterion for conservation purposes, and the court agreed. Heather Mann, representing the Midwater Trawlers Association, told the council the petition did not meet the criteria for an emergency and was instead another attempt to reinstate Amendment 113. “(Emergency rules) are not a management tool to be used as an end-run around court decisions,” she told the council. “In this case, the criteria have not been met.” The council members did not agree that it was an emergency and voted instead to ask staff to produce a discussion of trawl catcher vessel harvests and the set-aside in the Aleutian Island Pacific cod fishery. Council alternate member Rachel Baker, representing the State of Alaska for Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Douglas Vincent-Lang, proposed the amendment, saying that she didn’t think that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would view it as an emergency even if the council sent it on. “I as one council member can’t do that,” she said. Council members Craig Cross and Bill Tweit agreed with her, saying they would support the motion of looking at the problem holistically. Council member Andy Mezirow said he was disappointed the members had not done more to support Adak, and council member Theresa Peterson said she would have preferred some kind of more immediate action to help the community out of its predicament. “This is most likely going to take a long time,” she said. “I think about the vulnerability of the plant and those dependent on the success of the plant to move forward.” Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Cook Inlet fishermen celebrate ‘Return of the Reds’ with hope for 2019

Cook Inlet fishermen are looking forward to their salmon season with high hopes that the sockeye will arrive in better numbers than last year. On June 11, fishermen and processors grilled up some of the first Cook Inlet salmon of the year at the Pacific Star processing plant in Kenai, gathering to build excitement for the coming season. The plant is now receiving salmon from the west side of Cook Inlet, while the fishermen in the drift gillnet and east side set gillnet fleets gear up for their first expected openings in the coming weeks. The event, dubbed the Return of the Reds, was reminiscent of the recent gatherings in Anchorage and Seattle to receive the first Copper River salmon of the year, a heralded fish in the culinary and fisheries world. The Kenai version is the first in what the Alaska Salmon Alliance hopes will be a new annual tradition for the area, said ASA President Nate Berga. Retailers, fishermen and local government officials gathered at Pacific Star and donated proceeds from sale of grilled fish to the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank. The event was less about promoting the processor or the industry than connecting Alaskans with their locally available fish as well as building excitement for the season, he said. “The biggest thing that we wanted to focus on is getting fresh Alaska salmon onto Alaskans’ plates,” he said. Alaska salmon is an internationally valuable commodity, with a huge percentage being shipped overseas to Asia and some being consumed in the Lower 48. Many Alaskans fill their freezers with salmon they harvest themselves at personal-use dipnet fisheries or in sport fisheries, but others may not have the chance — and the ASA wants to see Alaskans more connected with their commercial fisheries, Berga said. Commercial fisheries are also one of the largest private industry employers in Alaska, and most of the Cook Inlet fishermen live in the state according to permit data. “This is a time when our state is struggling,” he said. “This money is staying here.” Upper Cook Inlet faced a terrible sockeye harvest in 2018 — about two-thirds below the recent 20-year average — with the total estimated run coming in at 1.7 million sockeye to the Kenai River and 697,000 to the Kasilof River. Fishermen sat on the docks for much of the season, and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game closed the Kenai River dipnet fishery a day early with an eye toward making escapement goals. The sonar has yet to click on for the Kenai River, the major driver in the region, this year, but early reports from sport fishermen on the river indicate good abundance. The Russian River sport fishery opened June 11 at midnight, with more than 8,400 sockeye past the weir on Lower Russian Lake as of June 10, though it takes about a week for sockeye to typically make it to the Russian River from the lower Kenai, according to ADFG. The large early numbers and fish holding in the Kenai River prompted ADFG to open the area known as the Russian River Sanctuary — a section of the Kenai River close to the confluence of the two rivers — earlier than usual, according to a news release. “Looks like the Russian River is off to a strong start. We haven’t seen numbers like this for several years,” stated Area Management Biologist Colton Lipka. “Sport fishing for sockeye salmon in the Russian River area will likely be good to excellent.” If ADFG’s forecast proves out, about 6 million sockeye will return to the stream systems throughout Upper Cook Inlet this year, about 200,000 more than the 20-year average. That increase is mostly in the Kenai River, where the forecast estimates about 3.8 million salmon to return this year. The Kasilof, which is the second-largest sockeye system in the region, is forecasted at 873,000 sockeye, which is about 94,000 fish less than its 20-year average. Sockeye are the primary driver in Cook Inlet, but fishermen are also out for chum, silver and pink salmon as well. In Lower Cook Inlet, fishermen are oriented toward pink salmon harvests, both wild and hatchery, and some smaller sockeye runs than further north. ADFG’s preseason forecast about 2.4 million in commercial common property harvest for the area. That’s only the commercial common property harvest, as researchers have recently found a high percentage of hatchery-marked fish in Lower Cook Inlet streams, possibly confusing the traditional spawner-recruit forecasts the department has done in the past, according to the forecast. Other species were also produced as commercial common property harvest forecasts, including 125,000 sockeye, 84,800 chum, 13,700 silvers and 452 kings, according to the forecast. The first Cook Inlet drift gillnet period is expected after June 19 this year, which would fall on June 20, while the East Side setnet fisheries won’t open until the first regular period on or after June 25 in the Kasilof section and July 8 in the Kenai and East Forelands sections. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Feds still working on plan for $56M in disaster relief funds

Alaska fishermen are still awaiting disaster relief funds for the 2016 pink salmon run failure that was the worst in 40 years. Congress approved $56 million that year for Alaska fishermen, processors and communities hurt by the fishery flop in three Alaska regions: Kodiak, Prince William Sound and Lower Cook Inlet. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game and National Marine Fisheries Service finalized plans and procedures for payouts last August. Since then, the paper push has stalled on various federal agency desks. NMFS missed a promised June 1 sign off deadline and now says the funds will be released on the first of July, according to Rep. Louise Stutes of Kodiak, who has been tracking the progress. “It affects all the cannery workers all the processors, all the businesses in the community,” she said. “This has a big trickle-down effect.” The draft spending plan awaiting approval provides for funds in four categories. Coastal communities that would have gotten 1.5 percent of the landed value of the foregone pink catch would receive $2.43 million. Just more than $4 million was set aside for pink salmon research, and processors would get $17.7 million for lost wages as a result of the humpy bust. Alaska fishermen would get the biggest chunk at $32 million. The funds would be distributed using a calculation to restore lost dockside value equal to 82.5 percent of their five even year averages. As for the July 1 promise, Stutes said she “is not holding her breath because of the fed’s current track record in adhering to its own timelines.” “They know I’m a squeaky wheel and my job is to keep this moving in a forward direction,” she said. Season of uncertainty Fisheries are always fraught with uncertainties, but there is an added element this year: trade tariffs on Alaska’s largest export: seafood. “The industry is accustomed to dealing with uncertainty about harvest levels, prices and currency rates. The trade disputes just add another layer to that,” said Garrett Evridge, an economist with the McDowell Group. Tariffs of up to 25 percent on U.S. seafood products going to China went into effect last July and more are being threatened now by the Trump administration. China is Alaska’s biggest seafood buyer purchasing 54 percent of Alaska seafood exports in 2017 valued at $1.3 billion. “It’s important to remember that a tariff is simply a tax and it increases the prices of our products,” Evridge explained. “As Alaskans we are sensitive to any increase in the price of our seafood because we are competing on a global stage. And right now we have tariffs imposed on seafood from the Chinese side and the U.S. side.” In terms of Alaska salmon, the new taxes could hit buyers of pinks and chums especially hard. Managers expect huge runs of both this summer and much of the pack will be processed into various products in China and then returned to the U.S. “There is uncertainty as to whether or not those products will be tariffed and the Trump administration has indicated they want to tariff all products from China,” Evridge said. For salmon, in a typical year Alaska contributes 30 percent to 50 percent of the world’s wild-caught harvest. But when you include farmed salmon, Evridge said, Alaska’s contribution is closer to 15 percent of the global salmon supply. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is predicting a total catch of 213.2 million salmon this year, more than 80 percent higher than in 2018. The harvest breakdown this year is pegged at about 42 million for sockeye salmon, 9 million fewer than last year. For pinks, a haul of nearly 138 million would be an increase of 97 million fish over last summer. A coho salmon harvest of 4.6 million would be up 900,000 silvers over 2018. Chum catches are projected to be at an all-time high with a catch of 29 million, topping the 25 million record set in 2017. The harvest for Chinook salmon is 112,000 fish at areas outside of Southeast Alaska, where catches are determined by a treaty with Canada. The all gear limit in Southeast this year is 137,500 kings. You can track Alaska’s salmon catches via weekly emails that Evridge compiles for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. “It gives folks a sense of what the various Alaska areas are producing versus prior years. The goal is to provide a quick snapshot of 2019 versus 2018 as well as the five year average,” he said. Sign on at [email protected] Big boat buy? The Bristol Bay Native Corp. is in talks to buy the two largest U.S. Pacific cod longline fishing companies, according to Undercurrent News. The companies — Clipper and Blue North — have 20 percent and 17.5 percent, respectively, of the longline portion of the Pacific cod catch. Clipper has a fleet of six vessels while Blue North has five larger longliners. Buying the fishing companies would be the first move into seafood for BBNC, which reported revenue of more than $1.6 billion in 2018. Undercurrent said the corporation “generates around half its revenue from providing services to the oil and gas industry. The company’s next biggest business units are firstly construction and then providing engineering and technical services primarily for the U.S. government.” New fish hire Scott Kelley has joined United Fishermen of Alaska as its new executive administrator. Kelley was former director of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game commercial fisheries division from 2015 until his retirement last year. He worked with ADFG since 1990, starting as a port sampler at Excursion Inlet near Juneau. Kelley replaces Mark Vinsel, who has worked at UFA for 18 years, including as executive director. “Scott’s immense knowledge of commercial fisheries in Alaska is well-respected and his relationship with commercial fishermen is extremely valuable. We are very lucky to have him join our organization,” said UFA Executive Director Frances Leach. UFA is the nation’s largest commercial fishing trade group, representing 35 member organizations. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Mariculture expanding in area, species so far in 2019

More Alaskans are turning to seaweed farming as the state’s fledgling mariculture industry expands to more regions. Shellfish growers also are finding that an oyster/aquatic plant combo boosts their bottom line. Sixteen applications were filed for new or expanding aquatic farms during the January through April time frame, of which 56 percent were for growing various kelp, 31 percent for a combination of Pacific oysters and kelp, and 13 percent for oysters only. While it was the same number of applications as 2018, the underwater acreage increased considerably, said Cynthia Pring-Ham, aquatic farming coordinator at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, which issues the farm permits. “There were about 616 acres that were applied for in 2019 compared to 462 acres in 2018. That’s about a 33 percent increase,” she said, adding that ADFG partners with the Department of Natural Resources, which leases the tidal and submerged lands where aquatic farming takes place. For the first time, interest came from a westward region beyond Kodiak. “In 2019 we had our first applications from the Alaska Peninsula, two from Sand Point, and for kelp species,” said Pring-Ham. “It’s difficult for bivalves in that area to grow successfully, so maybe that will be a new avenue for people. We are very excited.” Two Kodiak growers pioneered kelp farming in Alaska by getting the first state permits in 2016. A mixed sugar and ribbon kelp harvest of 16,000 pounds followed in 2017; that jumped to nearly 90,000 pounds in 2018, valued at $33,000. Currently in Alaska there are 58 aquatic farms, 5 hatcheries and 7 nurseries operating, with most involved in oyster production at Kachemak Bay, Southeast and Prince William Sound. In 2017, 41 operators produced a crop of nearly 2 million Pacific oysters, valued at $1.53 million. Pring-Ham said Alaska oyster farmers are finding that fast growing kelp can boost their bottom lines. “The major species people are growing can be grown in a very short amount of time. They put them out in the fall and can harvest in the spring. So in four to six months they can have a product ready for market, which is a lot shorter than for shellfish like our Pacific oysters which can take two to four years,” she said, adding that aquatic plants also provide opportunities for more people in fishing communities. The global commercial seaweed market is projected to top $22 billion by 2024, with human consumption as the largest segment. Besides kelp, 21 of Alaska’s aqua-farmers also have added dulce, nori and sea lettuce to their macroalgae or shellfish menus. Other undersea crops being grown in Alaska include urchins, sea cucumbers, mussels and giant geoduck clams. Shrimp shines in the Panhandle Southeast Alaska is the state’s biggest producer of America’s No. 1 seafood favorite: shrimp. And much of it is enjoyed right where it’s landed. Four varieties of shrimp are taken at various times throughout the year by permit holders, with recent catches topping 1.5 million pounds and worth $3 million at the docks. “We have 19 different areas around Southeast and each has its own appropriate harvest level for sustainability,” said Dave Harris, area manager for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Juneau. Catching shrimp with beam trawls, in fact, is Southeast’s longest ongoing fishery since 1915. The trawlers target tiny northern, or pink, shrimp and larger sidestripes, mostly near Petersburg and Wrangell, with recent harvests topping 1 million pounds. Most of the pinks pay out at around 20 cents per pound and are frozen into blocks and currently processed elsewhere; the sidestripes fetch more than a dollar per pound from local processors and lots of customers pay much more buying direct from the boats. Fewer than 10 boats are participating in the trawl fishery of late; it’s the better known and more lucrative pot fishery for big spot shrimp that is drawing the most interest. “That’s been getting more popular,” Harris said. “In 2016, 116 fished, the next year it was 157,” adding that 175 of 256 active permits fished the current season for a half million pound harvest. Fishermen have several sales options for spots. They can fetch $5 to $7 per pound from processors; $10 at the docks and boats rigged to freeze the shrimp onboard get even more. “Guys are catching, hand packing and freezing whole shrimp onboard their boat primarily for the Japanese sushi market,” Harris said. “They can get $10 to $12 for the whole product, which is about twice the weight of the tailed product.” Fishermen also catch coon stripe shrimp in pots along with the spots, which usually pay out at around $2 per pound. Shrimp are unique in that they are protandric hermaphrodites, meaning they start out as males and switch to females after reproducing for a year or two. The sex switch can make it a tricky species to manage. “As part of the overall population dynamics, it doesn’t really matter when you harvest that shrimp; you’re taking away their reproductive potential,” Harris explained. “For a young male, you’re taking them a couple of years before they convert over to female for the rest of their life. That’s a key part of the management which makes it makes it so difficult because it is very easy to over-fish shrimp if you’re not careful.” It also has been difficult to gauge impacts on the shrimp stocks from personal users. In 2018, new state rules required that personal use fishery permits be issued for the first time. “We have some information from specific areas that it can be quite significant, equal to or more than the commercial harvest in some cases,” Harris said. Other shrimp bits: Total U.S. shrimp production in 2016 was 4 million pounds valued at $10 million. Texas is the largest U.S. shrimp producer at nearly 3 million pounds annually, followed by Alabama and Florida. The U.S. imported nearly 700,000 metric tons of shrimp in 2018 (1.54 billion pounds), setting a new tonnage record for the third year in a row. India achieved the milestone of becoming the first country to top 500 million pounds of shrimp to the U.S., followed by Indonesia and Ecuador. Wood who? Seemingly out of nowhere, Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy last week named fly fishing enthusiast John Wood of Willow to the state Board of Fisheries, to which industry stakeholders responded with a collective “who?” Wood, who is an attorney and local chairman of the Alaska Republican party, was a legislative staffer for then Dunleavy from 2012-14 and focused on Northern Cook Inlet salmon allocation issues. Wood also has participated in the Mat-Su Fish and Game Advisory board, according to a press release. The surprise timing of the appointment also raised eyebrows, because the Legislature won’t be able to confirm him until next year when the regular session resumes. Meanwhile, Wood will be making decisions starting this fall on Cook Inlet regulatory issues when the Board of Fisheries begins its meeting cycle in October. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Copper River sockeye show up early, give optimism for fleet

Copper River fishermen are getting a nice change of pace from the last two years this season as the sockeye run is shaping up better than expected so far. As of June 2, approximately 240,234 sockeye salmon had passed the sonar at Miles Lake on the Copper River, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. That’s about 65,000 more fish than the cumulative management objective so far on the river, which is based on average past escapements. It’s definitely better than in 2017 and 2018, when slow and weak sockeye runs kept commercial fishermen at the docks as managers struggled to make escapements. On the same date in 2018, only 55,840 sockeye had passed the sonar. There’s a significant lag between fish entering the mouth of the Copper and Miles Lake, which is far upstream — about 33 miles — and the passage time can depend on the water levels, according to ADFG. There’s also a lag between the passage at the sonar site and the popular Chitina personal use dipnet fishery area, which is about 70 miles upstream from the sonar. So far, commercial catches have been good, too; 326,257 sockeye have been landed in 2,801 deliveries. More than half of that total was landed in the periods on May 27 and May 30, with about 189,000 sockeye harvested between the two days. It’s not a banner year, but it’s also not too shabby in the context of the last two years, said Jeremy Botz, the commercial gillnet area management biologist for Prince William Sound. The run in-river is a little ahead of schedule, but so far, the run may shake out close to the forecast estimate. “This’d be pretty typical for timing for a peak in the fishery,” he said. “The run has been ahead of the curve, especially in-river. (It’s) right about anticipated in the commercial fishery, throughout the first two periods. We’re far enough into it now to have what appears to be a pretty reasonable fishing schedule.” The Copper River fishing season kicks off with kings. In 2017, concern for enough king salmon escapement in the river prompted commercial fishing restrictions on the fleet that curtailed early sockeye harvest; in 2018, the run lagged through May into June, leaving fishermen in the typically first-on-the-market Copper River mostly emptyhanded. The overall run shaped up into a decent season, but only toward the latter half. The forecast for this year in the Copper is somewhat lackluster — between hatchery and wild production, ADFG projected about 1.5 million sockeye, with wild production at just more than 1.4 million fish and Gulkana hatchery production at about 98,000 fish. If it proves true, the wild run would be about 31 percent less than the recent 10-year average and the hatchery run would be about 69 percent below the average, according to the forecast. In the forecast, managers warned caution. While the Copper River’s sockeye salmon forecast is widely regarded as the most reliable in Prince William Sound, managers have been unpleasantly surprised in the last two years as sockeye failed to materialize in the numbers or schedule they predicted. Managers have indicated that warm water conditions in the Gulf of Alaska may have contributed to poor survival for salmon. The Copper River has separate goals: one for the upper drainage and the other for the lower drainage, Botz said. The fish in the earlier part of the run tend to be headed farther upstream, while those in the latter part of the season tend to be more delta-bound fish. “Last year (the run) kind of came online in the second half of the season,” he said. “That’s still a big question mark.” It’s good news for Cordova, where a large number of the residents depend on the commercial fishing industry for their income. In general, the fleet is optimistic about the run, said Chelsea Haisman, the executive director of the Copper District Fishermen United trade group. “Our whole community — the schools, the restaurants, the small businesses — not just the commercial fishermen, depends on healthy salmon runs, so it is a breath of fresh air for everyone here,” she wrote in an email. “The weather has been tough in the early season, but as we move into June, we’re definitely ready for some calmer days and a little more sun.” The Copper River’s salmon run is typically the first Alaska wild salmon to hit the market and thus commands a high price. Chefs on the West Coast were reportedly asking $55 for a Copper River sockeye dish upon first delivery this May, and fishermen reportedly getting $9 to $10 per pound at the dock for sockeye and $14 for kings. Typically, supply goes up at the season goes on and the price drops, with fishermen in other areas seeing much lower prices for their salmon by the time they come online in June. Bristol Bay typically floods the market with sockeye in June and July, pushing the prices significantly down. It’s also a canary in the coal mine for other salmon runs across the Gulf of Alaska, including Cook Inlet and Kodiak. Last year, all three tracked together with disappointing sockeye salmon runs and widespread closures. Cook Inlet’s commercial fishermen are due to hit the water in mid-June, though some fisheries in Lower Cook Inlet open at the beginning of June. In the Kodiak Management Area, managers may announce sockeye salmon openers after June 1. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Fishery observer survey seeks answers for high turnover

Many of Alaska’s commercial fisheries depend on observers having a place on board, but fewer than a fifth of them feel appreciated by the industry, according to a new survey. Fishery observers sail on vessels with fishermen in federal waters and keep track of catch and bycatch and take biological samples throughout trips. Managers use this information to evaluate stocks and manage fisheries. The job can be tough, requiring up to a month at a time on the water in rough conditions, and turnover can be high. The survey, conducted by the National Marine Fishery Service in 2016, asked 553 observers why they did the job and what their experiences have been like. Although three-quarters of them thought the job helped them in their careers and about 69 percent said the days at sea matched their expectations, nearly half them reported being harassed. Only 20 percent said they felt valued by the fishing community, and many said they were disappointed by a lack of opportunity to learn more about science and management, according to the survey findings, published in May. The original intent of the survey was to help improve retention. Most observers quit after a few years — the West Coast, with about 5½ years, has the longest average tenure. Alaska’s average tenure is about 4.8 years, according to the survey data. Although observers have to have some training or education before taking the job, there’s a lot they learn through experience. “Because the technical skills observers possess take time to hone and are essential to good data collection, retaining knowledgeable and hardworking observers is important to NOAA Fisheries,” the report states. “It is widely recognized that an observer’s job requires field skills and scientific knowledge that may require many deployments before gaining proficiency.” Many of the observers start their careers young, between the ages of 20 to 29, and leave the job as they get older. Most cite a chance for fieldwork as a major motivation for taking the job, but relatively low pay, lack of a predictable schedule and distance from home leads them to leave later. About 46 percent reported being harassed on the job, though, with only about a third reporting it every time. About 40 percent reported it some of the time and 27 percent never reported, according to the survey. “This survey also did not specify what type of harassment observers may have experienced or reported during their careers,” the survey states. “Incidents reported in this survey could include anything from a glare, to interfering with a workstation, to physical or sexual assault.” Observers cited different reasons for not reporting: disappointment with how the report was handled, a chance to resolve the issue at sea, worry about work reputation or choosing to let the issue go. Connected to the reports of harassment, the NOAA Office of Law Enforcement is conducting a followup anonymous survey specific to the North Pacific region. Preliminary data was presented to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in 2018, with final data included in a report to the council in December 2018. Only 25 percent of observers responded, according to the Office of Law Enforcement report. Responses indicated that incidents of harassment fell between 2016 and 2017, though 45 percent of female observers still said they experienced verbal sexual harassment in 2017 though few reported it. The national observing program is massive. Alaska alone had about 413 observers, and about 4,423 trips were either observed by a person or an electronic system in 2018, according to the 2018 annual report on the observer program in the North Pacific from NMFS. Some of Alaska’s vessels require full coverage, such as catcher-processors, meaning all of the catch is recorded on every trip, while others only require partial observation, such as catcher vessels fishing for halibut or sablefish, meaning only some of the fishing trips are observed. About 53 percent of the respondents worked in Alaska, with the majority in halibut or groundfish fisheries. One of the common problems is a shortage of certified observers for fisheries in the region; not enough observers have been certified in fixed-gear lead level 2, or LL2, fisheries. Survey respondents cited too much work with low salaries as the reason for not seeking further certification, or a lack of flexibility in choosing deployments. Alaska-based observers responded that they were happy with the variety of deployment types, according to the survey. Changes are on the horizon for fishery observer coverage, though; vessel owners are beginning to install electronic monitoring devices or use electronic reporting systems. Most survey respondents said they supported electronic monitoring and reporting, though electronic systems can’t collect the biological samples that observers do. Last year was the first year that Alaska commercial fishing vessels were allowed to use electronic monitoring systems, and according to NMFS reports, it went off without a single violation on the 145 vessels that used those systems. The agency planned to open up an additional 20 spots to vessels for electronic monitoring in 2019. EM is particularly attractive for smaller vessels, where it’s hard to fit an additional person on board without leaving a crewmember behind. It may also pencil out to be cheaper; the 2018 annual report from NMFS cites an average daily cost for EM of between $956 and $1,527, while the average observer cost per sea day on a partial-coverage vessel was $1,380. The survey findings noted that the program will communicate better that electronic report and monitoring may have practical applications but that EM “is unable to replace observer coverage in all circumstances.” Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Salmon census stable; algal bloom bites Norway

Salmon abundance in the North Pacific has declined slightly over the past decade, but salmon catches remain near all-time highs. For nearly 30 years the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission has summarized abundances and catches of salmon as reported by its five member countries: Canada, Japan, Korea, Russia, and the U.S. The Commission tracks all salmon species caught in the North Pacific, Bering Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk, and also provides the venue for coordinating research and enforcement activities. For 2018, the total salmon catch topped 1 million metric tons, or more than 651 million fish, the highest catch ever for an even-numbered year. That’s nearly 200 million more salmon than were caught in 2017. Russia led all other nations for salmon catches in 2018, taking 63 percent, or 676,200 mt. The U.S. ranked second for salmon catches at 27 percent at nearly 287,000 mt, with Alaska taking all but 8,700 mt of the total U.S. catch. The other three nations all were in single digits for salmon catches. Pink salmon made up 55 percent of the North Pacific catches by weight, followed by chums at 26 percent and sockeyes at 16 percent. Cohos comprised just 2 percent of the total salmon catch and Chinook was less than 1 percent. Hatchery releases from the five countries have been fairly stable since 1993 at about 5 billion fish released annually. The U.S. accounted for 44 percent of total hatchery salmon releases last year, mostly coming from Alaska. That was followed by Japan at 34 percent, Russia at 17 percent and 5 percent from Canada. Chum salmon made up 59 percent of all hatchery releases with pink salmon at 29 percent. Chinook salmon made up 5 percent, sockeyes at 4 percent and coho salmon at 2 percent of hatchery releases. The commission said variability in annual North Pacific salmon catches has been more pronounced during the past decade, primarily due to unpredictable pinks. A particularly low pink salmon catch in 2018 (71,300 mt) resulted in the lowest total North American catches of salmon in 40 years. Nature bites Norway Global salmon markets are getting shuffled by a massive algae bloom that has suffocated more than 8 million farmed salmon in Norway with no end in sight. Norway is the world’s largest farmed salmon producer and its supply numbers can set the mark for fish prices around the world. The Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries estimated the salmon loss so far at more than 25.5 million pounds of Atlantic salmon valued at more than $82 million. That would still amount to less than 1 percent of the industry’s output last year, when Norway produced nearly 1.3 million metric tons (nearly 3 billion pounds) of salmon, according to the New York Times. (That compares to Alaska’s catch of more than 605 million pounds of salmon.) “The algae has a chemical composition that affects the membranes of the cells in the gills and they are destroyed, so the fish actually dies due to lack of oxygen,” said Lars-Johan Naustvoll, a biologist at Norway’s Institute of Marine Research. Though the algae bloom is a natural event, fish growers said it is rare for it to be so concentrated and so lethal. Salmon farms are especially at risk since the salmon held captive in large net pens can’t swim away from it. Most blame an off kilter climate and warming oceans for the killer algae event. More salmon challenges The makers of genetically modified salmon are embracing the “Frankenfish” name, saying it’s much like the Frankenstein monster in the book written by Mary Shelley in 1817. Undercurrent News reports that Sylvia Wulf, CEO of AquaBounty Technologies, said: “It was the uneducated mob that didn’t understand the benefits of the science that killed Frankenstein. Let’s applaud the Frankenfish, because it’s designed to solve real-world global challenges.” Wulf was speaking at a Recirculating Aquaculture System Technology conference last week in Washington, D.C. In March, the Food and Drug Administration removed a three-year-old import alert that prevented AquaBounty from importing eggs from a Panama facility for grow out and sale in the U.S. With that regulatory barrier gone, the company is now gearing up to go to market. A first batch of eggs is on its way to a growing facility in Indiana with a goal of sending thousands of 8- to 11-pound genetically tweaked Atlantic salmon to supermarkets next fall. The fish is altered to grow three times faster than normal salmon. AquaBounty tested its fish in Canada in 2017 and 2018 and each time it sold out within a few days, the company said. The fish were not labeled as genetically modified, as Canada does not have a labeling requirement. By law, U.S. companies have until 2020 to begin labeling foods that contain 80 percent or more genetically engineered materials with a mandatory compliance date of Jan. 1, 2022. But it will fall to customers to find out on their own, as labels may be a symbol, a digital link, text message, phone number or web site. AquaBounty called the labeling requirement “good news” saying that the market will be awash in so many bioengineered products, customers won’t focus on their fish. Nearly 2 million Americans opposed the FDA’s approval of Frankenfish and 60 major grocery chains pledged not to sell it, including Safeway, Kroger, Target and Whole Foods. In a touch of irony, Wulf said AquaBounty plans to expand sales to China and South America, but has no plans to pitch Frankenfish to Europe because of “their anti-genetically modified leanings.” Seafood minus the sea Wild fish, farmed fish, Frankenfish — get ready for seafood grown directly from cells — with no head, tail, bones or blood. National Public Radio calls it “fish without the swimming and breathing part. It’s seafood without the sea.” In fact, it is whole fillets grown from a needle biopsy’s worth of muscle cells from a single fish. The cells are cultivated and fed a blend of liquid vitamins, amino acids and sugars. The resulting fillets can be sold fresh or frozen or made into various seafood dishes. A San Diego based company called BlueNalu is pioneering the cellular aquaculture as one of six companies focused on growing cell-based seafood. Finless Foods, for example, is focused on blue fin tuna; a company called Wild Type is working on salmon. All are likely five to 10 years away from having actual product on the market. The companies point out cell-growing uses no genetic tweaking, nor does it introduce anything new that doesn’t already exist in nature. They claim they’re not looking to replace wild or farm-raised seafood, and instead offer a third alternative. But the fledgling industry is poking at some tender industry spots: illegal and overfishing, climate impacts, bycatch and food waste. They note that cell-grown seafood is free from antibiotics and pesticides used in fish farms, potential ocean contaminants and micro particles of plastics. Referring to the more than 3.2 billion people globally who depend on seafood for at least part of their protein, a BlueNalu spokesman said “Catch, grow or make it, I’m not even sure we’ll be able to meet demand.” Alaska fish keeps Seattle afloat If not for Alaska’s fisheries, the Port of Seattle would be a shadow of what it is today. An economic report released in May reveals that Seattle is home port to about 300 fishing vessels and all but 74 make their living in Alaska. The Seattle-based boats harvest Alaska pollock, Bering Sea crab, flounders, salmon and many other high value species, and they vary in size from huge catcher-processors with 150 crew to small seiners and trawlers. In 2017, vessels that moored at one of Seattle’s three terminals and operated in the Alaska fisheries generated gross earnings of more than $455 million, nearly half of the total gross earnings from those fisheries. Boats fishing in Puget Sound and other Washington areas earned $26.6 million at the Seattle docks. An estimated 7,200 jobs were directly associated with commercial fishing at the Port of Seattle in 2017. Of those jobs, 5,100 were on fishing vessels, and all but 200 operated in Alaska fisheries. Additional revenues to the port came from various support services, staff and on-shore port tenants, including seafood processing and cold storage facilities. Factoring in all segments of commercial fishing at the Port of Seattle, fishing activities generated more than $671 million in business output in 2017. It also produced more than $13 million in state of Washington taxes. Between 2011 and 2017, Port of Seattle customers harvested between 800,000 and 1.3 million metric tons of seafood from the North Pacific fisheries. Harvested tonnage increased by more than 500 percent over this period, or approximately 23 percent per year, based on a compound annual growth rate. Factoring in indirect and induced impacts, the total statewide economic impact of commercial fishing operations to the Port of Seattle accounted for 11,300 jobs, $543 million in labor income and over $1.4 billion in business output in 2017. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Young renews push to restrict salmon farms from U.S. waters

In his 46 years as Alaska’s lone representative in Congress, Don Young helped toss out foreign fishing fleets from Alaska’s waters with the onset of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act in 1976, and today he is intent on doing the same with offshore fish farms. The MSA established an “exclusive economic zone,” or EEZ, for U.S. fleets fishing from three to 200 miles from shore. Now, a bill introduced by Young aims to stop the Trump Administration’s push to use those waters for industrialized fish farming operations. The fish farms are being touted as a silver bullet to boost seafood production, provide jobs and reduce the $15 billion seafood trade deficit that comes from the nation importing more than 85 percent of its seafood. Earlier this month, Young filed the Keep Fin Fish Free Act that would stop officials from allowing fish farms in U.S. offshore waters unless specifically authorized by Congress. “The biggest selling power we have in Alaska is wild caught salmon and other fish products and I don’t want that hurt,” Young said in a phone interview. “If we put in a commercial operation offshore, outside of State jurisdiction, we’d have a big problem in selling our wild Alaskan salmon.” Young’s effort follows a push begun a year ago by over 120 aquaculture and food-related industries to have lawmakers introduce an Advancing the Quality and Understanding of American Aquaculture Act, which failed to get any traction. The campaign is organized under a new trade group called Stronger America Through Seafood and includes Cargill, Red Lobster, Pacific Seafoods and Seattle Fish Company. “I was assured they were not going to grow salmon but they will have to feed all the fish. And that pollution factor can get into the water and contaminate our salmon. And I don’t know who’s going to be involved in it,” Young said. “I’m very supportive of the state waters production of shellfish and kelp, but I’m trying to keep all fish farms off the Alaskan shores, that’s the big thing.” Young, who is in his 24th term, said he believes most other coastal states are opposed to the idea of large fish feed lot operations off their shores. He added that no one likes the idea of so much fish being imported to the U.S. but said, “we shouldn’t weaken our natural system to try to feed our appetite. We should try to increase our natural system and make sure we have more finfish and I’m confident we can do that.” Young’s bill was immediately hailed by numerous environmental organizations. “Raising fish in massive cages in federal waters is completely against the public interest and will not solve our food system crisis,” said Shannon Eldredge of the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance. “This is what I’m doing this for,” Young said. “To keep our fish safe and make sure that the best product gets to the market.” He added that the AQUAA Act has not yet been re-introduced to Congress and he does not believe there is much interest in advancing it. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., the bill’s sponsor, is reviewing the legislation and working to find a Democratic co-sponsor before re-filing it. Pebble suit gets tossed A lawsuit by the Pebble Partnership and six fishermen against the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association was dismissed on May 17 by an Anchorage Superior Court. The plaintiffs argued that the association was overstepping state statutes in aligning itself with Tribal and other groups to speak out against the threats posed by the proposed mine and should instead restrict its messages to marketing. The lawsuit was supported by the State of Alaska, a stance contrary to two previous governors, Parnell and Walker, who both acknowledged the association’s authority to spend its own funds at its own discretion. In dismissing the case, Judge Yvonne Lamoureux said the association had the right to not only promote Bristol Bay salmon, but to take steps necessary to protect the integrity of that brand. “Interpreting the statute as restricting RSDAs’ abilities to devote efforts regarding environmental concerns in their regions has the potential to produce some absurd results. For example, a RSDA could advertise and market its salmon as wild, pristine, and sustainable but would not be able to spend funds in a way to keep those brand identities authentic in its view or spend funds to signal to its consumers its efforts to maintain that brand identity,” Lamoureux wrote. She also ordered the Pebble Partnership to pay the defendants’ attorney fees and costs. In an email correspondence, I asked Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy what he would say to a room full of Bristol Bay salmon fishermen, Native groups and others about his support of the Pebble lawsuit. Spokesman Matt Shuckerow responded: “Governor Dunleavey has said that like all natural resource development projects, he would like to see the Pebble project follow the established permitting process. He says the outcome of that process will ultimately determine if the project meets the standards set forward in law and regulation. “More broadly, the governor’s position on resource development continues to be that we should take care of our environment while responsibly seizing opportunities here in Alaska. Rather than developing minerals across the globe in locations with little to no environmental safeguards, we should be doing our part here to allow Alaska resources to move safely to market.” Dunleavy also did not support expanding the public comment period on the Pebble Mine permit, which was extended to July 1. Salmon starts! Alaska’s 2019 salmon season officially got underway on May 16 with catches of sockeyes and kings at Copper River. A total of 2,237 king salmon and 20,474 sockeyes were taken during the 12-hour opener. “It looks like we might be back to normal,” said Bill Webber, a 52-year fishing veteran at Copper River, referring to last year when the total sockeye salmon harvest of 44,000 was the lowest in 120 years. Starting prices also were reported as the highest ever with sockeyes paying out at $10 per pound and $14 for chinook. “Fish and Game takes three data points to create a trend and establish how the fishery is going and Mother Nature might throw a curve ball but I feel optimistic,” Webber added. For 16 years, Webber’s Paradigm Seafoods has sold much of his salmon directly to customers and he is renowned for the equipment he has created to enhance fish quality. All of the salmon are immediately processed onboard the Paradigm Shift using an automated intravenous pressure bleeding system, which as of this season can be regulated via a cell phone. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Optimism abounds after strong showing of snow crab recruits

Bering Sea crabbers saw upticks in crab recruits during a good fishery for the 2018-19 season, along with strong prices. The crab season opens in mid-October for red king crab, Tanners and snow crab, or opilio, and while fishing goes fast for red kings in order to fill orders for year-end markets in Japan, the fleet typically drops pots for the other species in January. Crabbers said they saw strong showings of younger crab poised to enter the three fisheries. Only male crabs of a certain size are allowed to be retained for sale. “For Bristol Bay red king crab the reports were very positive,” said veteran crabber Jake Jacobsen, director of the Inter-Cooperative Exchange that represents the majority of Bering Sea crabbers. “I got a lot of reports from people saying they saw a lot of recruitment around, a lot of females and small crab, but some boats didn’t see any. So, it depended on where you were. Overall, the catch seemed to go pretty fast and the fishing was good, it wasn’t scratchy at all for most of the boats.” The price also was good. The red king crab fetched $10.33 per pound, up from $9.20 last season, for a catch of 4.3 million pounds. Crabbers also saw good numbers of bairdi Tanners which had a harvest limit of 2.4 million pounds. Jacobsen said price negotiations are still ongoing for both Tanners and their smaller cousin, snow crab. “We should be close to record prices for opilio (snow crab),” Jacobsen said. The record snow crab price set in 2012 was $4.98 per pound; last season’s price was $4.04 per pound. Competing imports from Russia are up substantially, Jacobsen said, and they are trying to get rid of product held over from last season. “That’s brought the price down and I expect prices will start to climb again as people get a feel for availability of the resource and what the crab looks like,” he added. Snow crab is a bright spot for the Bering Sea fleet. A catch of 27.5 million pounds this season was a 47 percent increase after the 2018 summer survey showed a 60 percent boost in market-sized males and nearly the same for females. Bob Foy, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration director of science and research based at the Auke Bay lab in Juneau, called it “one of the largest snow crab recruitment events ever seen.” Jacobsen said that was consistent with what the crabbers saw on the fishing grounds. That has speculation running wild that the snow crab catch could double again for next season, but he added it’s best to wait and see. “I’ve been in the business too long to get excited about that kind of news because I’ve heard it before. It all depends on the summer survey and we’ve been trying to make some improvements in the stock assessment model. But it looks pretty positive,” he said. “What we’re looking for isn’t dramatic swings. We’d rather have a steady, fishable population but with nature that’s not always possible. Crab are very cyclic in their population numbers.” There’s been some tension between crabbers and managers in recent years over big differences in what crabbers are seeing on the fishing grounds and the numbers managers pull up in the summer trawl survey. “Apparently, the crab go on vacation somewhere else in the summertime because they haven’t been showing up in the survey recently,” Jacobsen added with a laugh. Last season the three Bering Sea crab fisheries were valued at $190 million for a fleet of about 85 boats. Wanted: Young fishermen The call is out for young Alaska fishermen who want training in career opportunities in fishery management, advocacy, research, marketing, conservation, business and much more. The Young Fishing Fellows Program, now in its third year, is an initiative of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council. The program this year will include five mentor groups across the state. “The Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association in Sitka, the North Pacific Fisheries Association out of Homer, and the Alaska Fishermen’s Network is hosting a fellow of our own this year to help us out with the Young Fishermen’s Almanac,” said Jamie O’Connor, director of the network, an AMCC program. “Also, Koniag, the Native (corporation) out of Kodiak, is doing a policy fellowship focused on fisheries access. And the N&N Cannery History Project is hosting a fellow and will focus on the history of canneries in Alaska and the folks who work in them.” O’Connor, who got the job at AMCC after participating in the first Fellows cohort, said the fellowships are open to fishermen 35 and under who are paid from $16 to $26 per hour for their work, depending on their experience. “It’s part time and usually ends up being about 10 hours a week for a few months in the winter. There’s a lot of flexibility built in so people can work around their winter schedule or jobs, and of course, the fishing seasons,” she said. Past Fellows have gone to work as legislative aides in Washington, D.C., and as part of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council advisory panel. One is a subsistence fishing advocate; another is doing research at the Kachemak Bay National Estuarian Research Preserve on adaptability for fishing businesses in a changing climate. “One of our mentors likes to say ‘if you’re not at the table you’re on the menu,’ and these fellowships teach people like myself and the others how to effectively be at the table, whether it be regulatory or direct marketing or whatever young fishermen might need to diversify their business,” O’Connor said. The fellowships begin this fall and the deadline to apply is May 26. “We are hoping to have enough applications to get everybody matched up before I go fishing,” O’Connor said. Learn more at www.akyoungfishermen.org. The Young Fishing Fellows Program is funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Edgerton Foundation. Salmon starts + fishing updates Alaska’s 2019 salmon season officially opens on May 16 with a 12-hour opener for sockeyes and king salmon at Copper River. Salmon openers in other Alaska regions will quickly follow. Trollers in Southeast began targeting spring king salmon starting May 1. Some Southeast areas opened to beam trawlers for side stripe and pink shrimp on May 1 and a pot shrimp fishery opens on May 15 with a catch of 39,500 pounds. Two areas remain open to golden king crab, and Panhandle divers continue going down for geoduck clams. At Prince William Sound a third opener for spot shrimp opens on May 14 for a fleet of nearly 70 boats who are competing for a catch of 68,100 pounds. A sablefish season is underway in the Sound with a 134,000-pound target. The recent Tanner crab fishery in Prince William Sound produced nearly 125,000 pounds for 14 fishermen who received $3.30 per pound. A one-day-per-week bait herring fishery is open at Upper Cook through May 31, and a small smelt (hooligan) fishery opened on May 1. Clammers also are busy at Alaska’s only razor clam fishery at beaches on the west side of Cook Inlet with a 400,000 pound limit. Kodiak’s roe herring fishery continues with a harvest set at just more than 1,400 tons. Togiak’s herring fishery closed May 3 with a record catch for seiners topping 23,060 tons. A herring bait fishery is underway near Unalakleet area and Norton Sound Seafood Products plans to buy about 40 tons. There is more than 6,000 tons for the herring quota this year, but no buyer interest for a roe fishery, which pays out much less than herring purchased for bait. Halibut landings have crept up to about 4 million pounds and 6 million for sablefish. Fisheries for cod, pollock, flounders, other whitefish and more are ongoing throughout the Gulf and Bering Sea. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Pebble mine critics cite concerns over dust from operations

Editor's note: In response to the statement below that "little to no baseline data on soil or sediments is presented in the draft environmental impact statement, or DEIS, compiled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers," the Pebble Partnership supplied the following links to appendices in the DEIS containing the baseline soil and sediments data: Appendix K3-14 discusses soils  Appendix K3-18 discusses sediments  Analytical chemistry database  EBD Chapter on Trace Elements  According to the Pebble Partnership, the appendices contain data from approximately 20,000 soil/sediment sample results collected from 150+ sites across several hundred square miles.  ORIGINAL STORY Bulldozers, blasters, excavators, vibrators, jaw crushers, drillers, graders, crushers, huge trucks and other heavy equipment are tools of the trade when building and operating large mines — and they all kick up a lot of dust. In the case of the Pebble mine, the project is expected to generate 8,300 tons of so called fugitive dust in its annual mining operations. Another 5,700 tons will come from building the 83-mile main road to Cook Inlet, and the 35 times daily round trips trucking mineral concentrates will churn out 1,500 tons of road dust each year. When it’s blowing in the wind, the dust will land on at least 1,500 acres of wetlands and 300 acres of lakes, ponds and streams, according to analyses done for the United Tribes of Bristol Bay, a tribal consortium representing 15 Bristol Bay tribal governments that represent more than 80 percent of the region’s total population. The dust will contain particles of the metals being mined, notably, copper, which when it leaches into water bodies, has been proven to be toxic to the olfactory system of salmon. “Increases in copper concentrations of just 2 to 20 parts per billion, equivalent to two drops of water in an Olympic-sized swimming pool, have been shown to impact the critical sense of smell to salmon,” said Dr. Thomas Quinn, a professor at the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington. “Salmon use smell to identify predators, prey, mates, and kin. And importantly, they use sense of smell to return to their natal streams.” But little to no baseline data on soil or sediments is presented in the draft environmental impact statement, or DEIS, compiled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that is currently undergoing public review. “One of the most eye-opening things was, when you’re looking at fugitive dust, you’re looking at it from the perspective of human health and there are 10 or 11 hazardous air pollutants that you must look at when you’re permitting for air quality. Copper is not a human health hazard, so that was completely omitted from any mention in the discussion on dust,” said Kendra Zamzow, an environmental geochemist with the Center for Science in Public Participation. Zamzow, who is from Chickaloon, has pored over thousands of supplemental documents to the DEIS called requests for information, or RFI, on behalf of the United Tribes. “They have a table in the soils chapter that lists how much they expect in concentrations of things like arsenic or cadmium or mercury increases over time in soils based on loading from dust. But there is no mention of copper. And this is going to be a copper mine,” Zamzow said. “We know from the element analyses they’ve done on concentrations in the ore and the waste rock that copper will be one of the top two components in the rock, and probably the highest of the trace metals. “And there’s absolutely no mention of the copper, which to me is really surprising because we know how copper is toxic to aquatic life, and everyone knows impacts to aquatic life is the entire reason that people are concerned about the Pebble mine.” The copper will inevitably leach into water bodies where fish and aquatic life in general will be exposed. “A lot of these particles could become available to the base of the food chain, the benthic feeders and zooplankton,” Zamzow said. The copper-saturated dust would blow from the mining area, whereas road dust would likely have a different composition. “The road dust is expected to impact a lot more waters than the mine site. But we don’t know to what extent concentrates could be making up part of the dust because it is not discussed at all. And mitigation mostly talks about watering the road,” Zamzow said. According to a 2014 Assessment of Potential Mining Impacts on Salmon Ecosystems at Bristol Bay by the Environmental Protection Agency, the transportation corridor in the Kvichak River watershed would cross approximately 64 streams and rivers of which 55 are known or likely to support migrating and resident salmonids, including 20 streams designated as anadromous waters. The corridor would run near Iliamna Lake and cross multiple tributary streams. Lower Cook Inlet also will get impacts from the Pebble dust as Amakdedori Creek in Kamishak Bay will be the export terminal to ship out the mined materials. Trucks from the mine site will transport the finely powdered concentrates to ice breaking barges for an 18 mile daily transit across Iliamna Lake, truck it on a 30-mile road to the coast, load it onto barges, then offload to a mothership 12 miles or more offshore. “They’re going to take 38-ton shipping containers off of trucks, lower them into a ship’s hold and turn them upside down to dump out the concentrates. And it will have very high concentrations of copper,” Zamzow said, adding that the DEIS says the transports will include nearly 630,000 tons of materials per year. Pebble’s mine site structures will include an open pit, a tailings storage facility, low grade ore and overburden stockpiles, quarry sites, water management ponds, milling and processing facilities, a 188-mile natural gas pipeline from the Kenai Peninsula to the site, a power plant, water treatment plants, camp facilities and storage facilities. “Building and powering a mine like Pebble or Donlin is like adding a new city to Alaska,” said Zamzow. “Dust is another example of how the Corps of Engineers has not done their job and is not holding Pebble up to a high standard of scientific rigor that Bristol Bay demands. And our decision makers are letting them,” said Alannah Hurley, United Tribes executive director. The public comment period for the Pebble Mine has been extended to June 29. Find more information at www.pebbleprojecteis.com. Expo No. 3 The third annual Bristol Bay Fish Expo is just weeks away as the region gears up for the world’s biggest sockeye salmon fishery. The event is a fundraiser for local childcare held in Naknek, the fishing hub for 10 major seafood processors and a fleet of nearly 1,000 boats. “There was no child care whatsoever in the community,” said Sharon Thompson, Expo co-organizer and board president of Little Angels Childcare Academy. The Expo so far has raised nearly $40,000 to open the doors and pay staff at the Academy, which received its state license last week to serve up to 15 children. “It has been the reason that Little Angels could continue existing while we got through the licensing process,” Thompson said. The Expo is on track to match or beat the 50 trade show vendors from last year. Other features include the premiere of The Wild, a film by Mark Titus and a visit from renowned sushi chef Taichi Kitamura who will be serving salmon dishes. Two of the biggest Expo hits are the Fashion and Wearable Art Show followed by an Auction featuring Bristol Bay fisherman and auctioneer Kurt Olson. (Donations are needed for the auction.) Invitations also have been sent to Alaska’s policy makers. “Those who are in public service and our politicians are forming the policies that will affect everything from our industry to our way of life. So, we are putting invites out to Sen. (Lisa) Murkowski, Gov. (Michael J.) Dunleavy, and a lot of others because it is an important part of our show,” Thompson said. The Expo theme this year is “feeding our families and fueling our dreams,” which Thompson said is exactly what the Bristol Bay salmon do. “We are just so grateful because our wild salmon resource is supporting all of this,” she said. “In times of budget crises, they’re putting food on our table, food in our freezers, and the wild salmon has provided a child care facility.” The Bristol Bay Fish Expo is set for June 9 and 10 at the Naknek school. See more at www.bristolbayfishexpo.com. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Fish economics updated; skins show healing power

Why should every Alaskan budget watcher care about the price of fish? Because when the price at the docks goes up by just one penny, it means more money for state coffers. In 2017, for example, the average dock price per pound for all Alaska seafood was 41 cents. If the price had increased to 42 cents, it would have added nearly $2 million more from fisheries landing and business taxes. That was one of the takeaways in an updated McDowell Group report presented last week at the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s spring board of directors meeting. It offers a good snapshot of the industry that spawned Alaska statehood and is now a seafood superpower. Here’s a sampler: Alaska’s seafood industry puts 60,000 people to work and supports at least $150 million a year in taxes and fees. More than 9,000 vessels are home-ported in Alaska and deliver fish to 87 large shoreside processing plants. Catches of nearly 6 billion pounds of seafood worth about $2 billion were the industry averages for 2016 and 2017. Pollock accounted for 57 percent of the volume caught and 22 percent of the value. Salmon ranked second for volume at 14 percent but was tops for Alaska seafood value at 34 percent. Cod catches were third and accounted for 11 percent of the value. Halibut, sablefish and crab each accounted for 1 percent of the total catch volume and 12 percent of the value. The U.S. is usually the largest market for Alaska seafood, followed by China, Japan, South Korea and the European Union. The export value over the past decade has averaged $3.3 billion, making seafood Alaska’s largest export by far. (By value, fishery products accounted for more than two-thirds of Alaska’s exports in the first quarter of 2017, according to the first quarter economic report by the state Department of Commerce.) Alaska’s top exports are pollock surimi and fillets (a combined $845 million) and frozen sockeye salmon ($313 million). Exports to China, which in 2018 comprised 32 percent of Alaska’s seafood sales and 23 percent of the value, dropped 20 percent due to ongoing trade spats with the Trump Administration. That included a 54 percent drop in Alaska salmon sales, a 49 percent decrease for crab and cod sales to China dropped 29 percent. In another trade hit: Imports to the U.S. of fresh Atlantic halibut from Canada have nearly doubled since 2012 to 8.8 million pounds last year. Looking at 2019, harvests of Alaska salmon, crab, halibut, sablefish and pollock are expected to increase, with declines for cod and rockfish catches. The market outlook for salmon is “stable to strong” said fisheries economist Garrett Evridge, who presented the report. “While there is optimism surrounding the harvest volume for the 2019 salmon season, we have been hearing reports of buyers pushing back against strong prices,” he said in an email message. Get skinny Those billions of fish skins tossed out each year could turn into a steady stream of more dollars for Alaska. Most recently, fish skins are making international headlines for their proven ability to heal burns. Last December tilapia skins treated the burnt paws of bears and mountain lions during the California wildfires. Earlier this year a tissue-like bandage created in Iceland from intact cod skins began use on burn patients in Europe and in the U.S. The fish skin product is called Kerecis Omega 3 Burn Treatment and when it is grafted onto damaged tissue, it builds up the body’s own cells to rapidly regenerate healthy tissue. Kerecis credits omega 3s for the healing power along with collagen. Fish skins contain the type of collagen protein that makes up most parts of human skin and bodies. Most has traditionally come from livestock and is used in a wide array of products. But the more remarkable properties of fish skins have experts pegging the value of marine collagen for the nutraceutical, cosmetic, food and medical market at $620 million in 2018 and nearly $900 million by 2023. Fish skins have extra appeal because they are available at a large scale and come with no religious constraints. “They’re fish — not beef or pork. So it satisfies kosher and halal dietary restrictions,” said Cindy Bower, a former U.S. Department of Agriculture food researcher at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Bower’s studies also showed that skins destined for collagen extraction can be stabilized with common drying agents to hold them prior to shipment and don’t need to be chilled. Dan Lesh, a senior economist with the McDowell Group, said with catch volumes for Alaska pollock averaging more than 3 billion pounds annually, that adds up to over 1.4 million pounds of skins, assuming a 5 percent yield. Skin yield percentages were similar for Pacific cod and in the 8 percent to 10 percent range for salmon. Studies show that the fish skins are loaded with collagen. Nearly 20 percent was extracted from salmon skins and 11 percent from cod, according to a 2017 Portuguese study. Alyeska Seafoods and one other processing company in Dutch Harbor have reportedly been extracting collagen from fish skins for decades for sale to the Japanese cosmetic industry. And there’s this: fried salmon skins are becoming a snack rage in England. A former chef created Sea Chips after diners called for more crispy salmon skins as garnishes on their meals. The chips come in three flavors and are being cranked out at 100,000 bags a week. They are being sold at major retailers in Britain and the makers expect sales to top $1 million over the next 18 months with 10 percent going to ocean charities. Don’t do drugs Customer backlash has Chilean farmed salmon producers promising to reduce their use of antibiotics by half by 2025. Members of the Chilean Salmon Marketing Council made the announcement last month at Seafood Expo North America in Boston. The group will work with the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program to secure a coveted better rating by that watchdog group. Chile is the world’s second-largest producer of farmed salmon after Norway and most of the farmed salmon that Americans buy comes from Chile. The country was court ordered three years ago to disclose its antibiotic use after 37 companies refused to give any details, saying it would pose a “competition and commercial risk.” Chilean salmon farmers use florfenicol, a common veterinary antibiotic, to kill a bacteria that kills the fish that are grown in crowded net pens near coastlines. The court case was filed by Oceana that showed that Chile was using more antibiotics than any other fish and livestock producers in the world: 950 grams to raise one ton of fish. In 2014, usage was 1.2 million pounds of antibiotics on 2 billion pounds of fish. In contrast, Norway uses just 0.17 grams per ton of salmon. The Chilean marketing council said it plans to spend millions in its effort to win over wholesalers, retailers and food service companies with its new “Promise of Patagonia” campaign. Meanwhile, U.S. salmon lovers can easily tell if the fish they are choosing is drug free. Country of Origin Labeling laws since 2009 require fish sold in the U.S. to be identified as to where it comes from and if it is wild or farmed. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Emerging mariculture industry seeks to streamline permitting

Alaska may be famous for its wild fish, but some are working to make room in the state’s waters for more shellfish, kelp and crabs on aquatic farms. Mariculture is a hot topic in fisheries right now. Essentially, mariculture can be defined as the cultivation of plants or animals in controlled saltwater environments, but in Alaska it doesn’t include finfish, as that’s illegal in the state. So mariculture farmers have stuck to primarily kelp and oysters so far, but they’re starting to get more adventurous. As of December 2018, 58 aquatic farms were operating in the state along with five hatcheries and seven nurseries, though only 41 of the farms documented production in 2017, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Oysters are still the most widely grown product, though kelp is gaining ground; after the first operations for kelp were permitted in 2016, four farms had produced 16,570 pounds of ribbon and sugar kelp by the following year. A major obstacle remaining, though, is the regulatory hurdle to get an aquatic farm permitted. A bill in the Legislature — House Bill 116 — would trim down some of that procedure with an eye toward getting more operations out the gate. The bill, sponsored by representatives Andi Story, D-Juneau, and Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka, would fast-track permit renewals for farms in good standing for their first renewal cycle, which covers 10 years. Story clarified in a hearing before the House Fisheries Committee on April 23 that it would make no changes for salmon hatcheries, which operate in the state largely without saltwater net pens. There’s been a recent surge in license applications to the state for aquatic farms, increasing the wait time, Story said. “Because of the recent increase in the number of aquaculture farm leases … it now takes on average 18 months or more to approve an aquatic farm lease,” she said. To obtain a permit, the applicant first has to apply to the Alaska Department of Natural Resources for the use of the tidelands, which requires a 30-day public review and comment period and may require a site survey by ADFG. After the public comments are compiled and evaluated, DNR and ADFG issue a final decision. If the permit is denied, the applicant can appeal; if it’s approved, the permit is good for 10 years. The DNR permit’s annual fees are $450 or $875 for the first acre and $125 for each additional acre, with a $2,500 minimum performance bond required and a commercial use requirement by the fifth year with $3,000 per acre or a $15,000 max per farm site. ADFG requires an annual operating report for each species cultured as well as permits to acquire and transport wildlife. On top of that, to harvest and sell food products, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation requires that the operator obtain a water qualify classification, conduct shellfish sampling for paralytic shellfish poison and obtain shellfish processing permits, according to documentation submitted to the Legislature. It can be expensive and time-consuming. Meta Mesdag, co-owner of Salty Lady Seafood Company in Juneau, told the committee members that it’s taken about $150,000 of investment so far for her family’s approximately 1-acre operation growing geoduck clams and oysters. “(Oysters) take about three years to grow, and the geoduck will take seven,” she said. “Unfortunately, we only have five years left on our lease so we won’t see any revenue from our geoducks before we have to go through the renewal process all over again.” The Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, which promotes the exploration and development of fisheries throughout the state, credited the work of the state Mariculture Task Force with the growth in interest. In a letter of support for HB 116, the foundation noted that the vetting process for renewing a permit slows down the process for new applicants. “HB 116 is important step toward efficiently developing a mariculture industry in Alaska,” wrote AFDF Executive Director Julie Decker in the letter. “HB 116 will allow for one renewal of an aquatic farm site through a simpler internal process which does not require public comment, if the lease is in good standing/compliance. However, the second renewal would still be required to go through the extended process similar to a new application.” The Mariculture Task Force, established by Gov. Bill Walker in 2016 after the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation obtained a federal grant in 2014 to fund its Alaska Mariculture Initiative, developed a strategy released in March 2018 aiming to make Alaska’s mariculture industry worth $100 million in the next 20 years. The industry produced about $1.5 million in sales annually in the state in 2017. In the future, the primarily revenue drivers would be oysters, seaweed and geoduck clams, with smaller markets in mussels, sea cucumbers and king crab, according to the group’s Mariculture Development Plan. The primary recommendations the group produced are securing seed supply through hatcheries, passing state legislation to help fund hatcheries through the mariculture revolving loan fund and allow shellfish enhancement and filling several research and coordination positions for mariculture, among other goals. Alaska is significantly behind the Pacific Northwest in mariculture development. Some farms in Washington operate thousands of acres and employ hundreds of people. Taylor Shellfish Farms, which has been operating in the Seattle area since the 1890s, employs about 500 people and holds leases on more than 10,000 acres of tidelands in Washington. Some commenters raised a concern about the size of farms in the future. DNR does not currently have a size cap, other than that a farm cannot take up more than a third of the bay or inlet where it is located. Though the DNR considers risks like navigation hazards when reviewing farm permits, the agency is starting to consider ways to address concerns about farm size, said Christy Colles, who manages the shore leasing program for the Division of Mining, Land and Water, during the House Fisheries Committee meeting. “These new farms at this magnitude are by and large new to the state,” she said. “We haven’t really had much of a chance to think about how we can address those.” “Large” is a relative term in Alaska compared to the enormous operations in the Lower 48, said Mark Scheer, who operates Premium Aquatics near Craig, farming kelp and Pacific oysters. Though he said his lease is for more than 100 acres, he doesn’t use all of it at once. “I think it’s important to recognize that this is a new transition for Alaska,” he said. “The relative scale of what we’re doing here is modest at best.” HB 116 was passed out of the House Fisheries Committee to the House Resources Committee, scheduled for its next hearing on May 3. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Cook Inlet setnet buyback program gains support

Cook Inlet fishermen are again pushing for a bill that would authorize a commercial set gillnet permit buyback, but with the budget battles ongoing, it may not advance this year. Senate Bill 90 is the latest version of the plan to set up a buyback program for setnet permits on Cook Inlet’s east side. About 440 permits exist on the east side, targeting primarily sockeye salmon with secondary catches of king salmon headed for the Kasilof and Kenai rivers. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, aims to permanently remove up to 200 permits and their shore leases from the fishery. The fishermen have been debating a way to reduce the fleet for about four years, surveying stakeholders for support and working with Micciche to authorize a program to do so. The latest version of the bill would require a confirming vote by the fishermen, a voluntary signup for the program and would seek funding other than the state General Fund. With a set price of $260,000 per permit, the whole program would cost $52 million. “There are some private endowments that have mentioned some interest because of the conservation; there are federal programs that participate in conservation efforts,” Micciche told the Senate Resources Committee in a hearing April 22. “This is going to take some time to be ready with the election and settling any of the appeals and whatever goes with it, but the state is not paying for any of this. This is going to come from other sources that we’re not sure of at this point.” The conflict between fisheries user groups in Cook Inlet is notorious statewide. The Kenai River draws thousands of anglers from all over the world for its salmon runs, while commercial fishermen ply both the beaches and the Inlet. Personal-use dipnet fishermen come from all over the state each summer for the fisheries at the mouths of the Kenai and Kasilof rivers. As king salmon runs declined and both commercial and sport fisheries have been restricted in response, the allocation conflicts have become more pitched. Micciche said this bill is intended to help reduce the allocation conflict, allow more king salmon to make it through to spawn and make the remaining setnetters more economically viable. In an example of rare cooperation, multiple groups have come together to support the effort, he said. If the Legislature approves the bill, the initiative would go to a vote among permit holders. If they approve it, permit holders could put their names into a lottery to be drawn for the buyback. The bill also redefines the areas of the buyback, sectioning off the Cook Inlet East Side setnetters as Upper Subdistrict fishermen that are distinct from setnetters in the Northern District or on the west side of the Inlet. In the past, the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association, which represents the East Side setnetters, has been wary of bills establishing a buyback program. After taking surveys and working with Micciche on the language, the association offered its support for Micciche’s version of the bill, said Andy Hall, the president of the association’s board. That doesn’t mean every person in the fleet supports the concept, but the survey brought back about 70 percent to 80 percent support, he said. The price tag for the buyout may seem high to some people, Hall said, but it’s based on 10 years of average earnings and was closed to adjustment at the end of December 2018. Removing gear from the fishery will likely have an immediate financial benefit for the fishermen who are left. “We’re not looking to be martyrs; we’re business people,” he said. “If we’re going to step away, we want to be remunerated for it.” One source of contention is how so many fishermen wound up on the east side of the Inlet to begin with. Commercial fishermen are issued permits for Cook Inlet in general, and though they were more widely distributed across the west side, east side and Kalgin Island before the 1980s, they began migrating to the east side because of the accessibility of the fishery and the proximity of processing facilities in Kenai, Kasilof and Ninilchik. Fate Putnam, the chair of the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission, told the Senate Resources committee that the days of the East Side fishery being highly profitable are gone, though. “I will say this: There was a time about 20 years ago that these fishermen were making about $100,000 (per permit),” he said. “Now they’re making about $11,000.” However, the Senate Resources committee members expressed some hesitation about forwarding the bill on. Senate President Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, who sits on the committee, proposed an amendment requiring anyone participating in the buyback to have held the permit for at least 10 years and have fished actively at least five of those years. Her goal was to prevent speculation or system-gaming, she said. Micciche said the amendment could effectively kill the program, as many of the fishermen who want to participate have held their permits for less than 10 years. Permits are swapped every year in fisheries; according to information provided by Putnam to the Legislature, an average of 58 setnet permits in Cook Inlet in general are transferred each year. The ratio of permits being transferred is similar to other fisheries and hasn’t changed much over the years, suggesting that there isn’t much speculation going on about the buyback, Putnam wrote in a memo to the Senate Resources Committee. Speculation may happen, but that’s normal in fisheries, Micciche told the committee. “People speculate on fishing permits. That’s what they do,” he said. “We don’t care which permits they are — we just want 200 out. And if you don’t pass the vote, you don’t get the buyback and you don’t get the extra fish in the rivers.” During an April 29 hearing, the Senate Resources Committee moved SB 90 out of committee after amending it to require anyone participating in the buyback to have held the permit for at least four years and have fished for two of those years. The new amendment, proposed by Giessel, was intended to be a middle ground to prevent speculation but to still allow the program to continue. Micciche said the adjustment better served the intention to prevent speculation, and the committee passed the amendment and the bill without objection. Ken Coleman, who fishes a setnet site near the Kenai River and is one of the proponents of the buyback program through the East Side Consolidation Association, said he hopes to see the bill climb through the Legislature this year, but it still has a long way to go through even the Senate before it goes to the House. Several committee members expressed concern about funding, and though Micciche said the fishermen have no intention to seek state funding, they need a program established by a bill first before they can apply for funding elsewhere. Konrad Jackson, Micciche’s chief of staff, said he plans to keep working to get the bill heard, but with less than three weeks left before the Legislature’s 121st day and major budget items still to be debated, it’s unlikely the bill will make it far this year. Coleman said they may be able to seek federal funding, even though the fishery is not in federal waters. “I’ve had several talks with the federal delegation about funding, and also had talks with (The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) about their capacity reduction program,” he said. “To the extent we can seek funding, we have to have a work product. I’ve been in discussion with the federal delegation, and they’re amenable to seeking funding, but we need a bill.” Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

UAF Blue Economy Center designed to develop marine resources

The University of Alaska Fairbanks recently established the Alaska Blue Economy Center to help advance new research, education and economic opportunities for Alaska. “I am thrilled to have this new center approved by UAF Chancellor White. This represents an opportunity to help spur innovation and technology development in Alaska’s burgeoning blue economy,” said UAF College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences Dean Bradley Moran. “The launch of ABEC comes at a critical time as the state seeks to diversify and grow its economy and workforce.” The term “blue economy” refers to the use of ocean resources for economic growth, including traditional sectors such as fisheries, coastal tourism and oil and gas exploration, as well as the rapidly growing areas of ocean technology development, renewable energy and marine biotechnology. With more than half of the nation’s coastline and roughly one-third of the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone, Alaska is well-positioned to be a leader in the blue economy. A central goal of ABEC is to help grow and diversify Alaska’s marine workforce. For example, the center will facilitate collaboration and innovation to address ocean economic challenges and opportunities. ABEC combines expertise in research, instruction and public engagement related to Alaska’s aquatic resources and ecosystems. “Alaska has the opportunity to add tremendous value to our fisheries resources, bringing needed dollars and jobs into Alaska,” said UAF Chancellor Dan White. In addition to supporting Alaska’s existing sectors, the center seeks to find sustainable options for growth that preserve and protect Alaska’s thriving marine resources. Researchers at the UAF College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, or CFOS, are already actively engaged in projects and activities that benefit Alaska’s fishery and aquaculture industries around the state. One current project investigates the reproductive rates of seaweed in Southcentral Alaska to help determine whether changes in regulations could make it easier to sustainably harvest seaweed near Homer. Another looks at the causes and consequences of whale predation on hatchery-released salmon in Chatham Strait near Sitka. Researchers at the Kodiak Seafood and Marine Science Center are developing a technique and recipe to process fish skins from seafood processors into dog treats, a unique and innovative way to eliminate seafood waste. These projects highlight the role of research in developing sustainable ocean industries to benefit the state of Alaska. UAF also supports Alaska’s blue economy in ways outside of its traditional research programs. One such avenue is through training the next generation of blue economy leaders. In 2018, UAF established the nation’s only online Blue MBA degree to provide leaders with the tools to work at the intersection of business and aquatic resources. The program, designed for students with a background in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, will give students the knowledge and skills needed to develop business models to ensure the sustainable use of marine and freshwater resources. ABEC will serve as the umbrella organization for these research and teaching activities, relying on strong collaborations with research and agency partners at UAF and around the state. “We look forward to partnering with CFOS to ensure that our blue economies and industries have the necessary ocean observations, data and information products they need to make wise decisions about the sustainable use of our ocean and coastal resources,” said Molly McCammon, director of the Alaska Ocean Observing System. CFOS has also partnered with the Bering Sea Fisheries Association and the Alaska Ocean Cluster to implement a new Blue Pipeline Incubator, a think tank geared at promoting ocean-related businesses that support the resiliency of coastal economies around the state. Based at the CFOS Seward Marine Center, the new program will seek out innovative leaders and businesses aiming to increase revenues, expand their workforce and mentor new programs around the state. In 2017, the CFOS Kodiak Seafood and Marine Science Center received a half-million-dollar federal grant to partner with Blue Evolution — a private company that cultivates and markets seaweed products — to improve methods of growing, harvesting and transporting farmed sugar kelp, a common edible seaweed. Seaweed farming is a multibillion-dollar industry worldwide that presents a new economic opportunity for coastal Alaska. ABEC aims to be on the frontlines in providing research and workforce opportunities to catalyze Alaska’s participation in this burgeoning industry. ABEC will help unify organizations that already advocate for sustainable use of marine resources, such as Alaska Sea Grant and the UAF Alaska Center for Energy and Power. “The very essence of the blue economy is to promote sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, jobs and ecosystem health, and this is a mirror of Sea Grant’s mission,” said Alaska Sea Grant Director Heather Brandon. “Essentially all the work of Alaska Sea Grant supports and grows the blue economy. The new center will amplify Alaska Sea Grant’s impact, and vice versa.” Gwen Holdmann, director of ACEP, said, “Access to affordable and reliable energy sources to support the blue economy, and tapping into the vast potential Alaska has in tidal and current energy as one possible growth area, is something the Alaska Center for Energy and Power is very interested in supporting.” These projects and programs represent UAF’s commitment to grow Alaska’s blue economy, spur innovation and sustain the marine and inland aquatic resources that Alaskans depend on. With the new Alaska Blue Economy Center, we will be better equipped to capitalize on Alaska’s coastal energy and environmental resources.

Reps apologize after last-minute charges sink Johnstone nomination

Editor's note: This story has been updated with a list of names provided to the governor by the Alaska Marijuana Industry Association for the Marijuana Control Board. Last Wednesday night was a strange one for the Legislature. In a joint session of the House and Senate on April 17, the members confirmed most of Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy’s nominees for state boards and commissions and all of his cabinet appointments. Seven appointees were not confirmed, though, with one not being voted on and six being rejected. Although some were rejected based on their resumes, last-minute accusations of sexual harassment against one blew up the confirmation process. Karl Johnstone, one of Dunleavy’s four nominees to the Board of Fisheries, was voted down 24-33 late that night. Earlier in the day, Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D-Anchorage, surprised the members of the Legislature when she said during her comments that she had received texts from two women alleging sexually harassing behavior from Johnstone during his previous service on the board. The allegations were not mentioned during multiple previous confirmation hearings, when hundreds of people testified for and against Johnstone based on his past service with the board. After Spohnholz’s comments, the Legislature voted narrowly to table Johnstone’s nomination but brought it up again later that night, at which point he was voted down. The allegations were a surprise to many in the room, and Spohnholz did not identify the two people who put them forward, nor were they identified later. No formal investigation was conducted into the allegations, and Johnstone did not have the opportunity to make comments on the record about any allegations. Andy Hall, the president of setnetting group the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association and a setnet fisherman, wrote public testimony to the Legislature opposing Johnstone’s nomination but said he was surprised by the process of the vote. “It would’ve been cleaner if it was a vote based on the testimony provided to the Legislature about him,” he said. “That last incident may or may not have changed things. I don’t know.” Hall and many others who testified to the Legislature against Johnstone offered anecdotes about intimidating behavior, both toward members of the public and toward Alaska Department of Fish and Game staff. Commercial fishermen opposed Johnstone primarily because of a record of voting for sportfishing interests and his public commentary about the need to prioritize sportfishing and personal use fisheries over commercial fisheries, particularly in Cook Inlet. The United Fishermen of Alaska, which does not usually oppose or endorse Board of Fisheries candidates, made a point to oppose Johnstone’s nomination because of his record. The UFA did not have any connection to the allegations of sexual harassment that arose, wrote Executive Director Frances Leach in an email. “We feel it was unfortunate timing that these allegations came out on the floor right before the vote as Mr. Johnstone was not provided time to respond,” she wrote. However, according to UFA’s tracking, it didn’t change the ultimate outcome. Political organizations regularly keep track of how legislators have said they would vote in a record called a chit sheet, and UFA’s chit sheets made before the joint session showed that Johnstone would have been defeated anyway, Leach added. In a statement to KTVA, Johnstone wrote that, “I believe that legitimate claims should be taken seriously and investigated. But let me be clear, I never made inappropriate sexual comments as stated by Rep. (Spohnholz) … I have thick skin and can take the hits, but it stings to know my four daughters have been hurt by this. My appointment to the Board of Fisheries is no longer at stake. My hope is that the truth comes out because the only thing at stake now is my reputation. All Alaskans should be concerned that the truth comes out. What happened to me can happen to anyone.” The vote left a bad taste in some mouths, even among those who did not vote for Johnstone. Reps. Sarah Vance, R-Homer, and Ben Carpenter, R-Nikiski, issued a joint apology to Johnstone and another appointee, Bob Griffin, for what they said was inappropriate behavior from the Legislature impugning nominees’ characters without giving them a chance to respond. Both Vance and Carpenter hail from the Kenai Peninsula, which is rife with fisheries conflict but home to most of Cook Inlet’s commercial fishermen, who heavily opposed Johnstone’s nomination. Both are members of the House minority. House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, and Spohnholz did not return calls for comment. “Neither Rep. Carpenter nor I voted to confirm Mr. Johnstone to the Board of Fish, but our decisions had nothing to do with the unfair accusations levied against him on the floor,” Vance said in a statement. “To wildly throw out such offensive accusations with a clear intent to derail someone’s nomination is a sick political stunt, and I hope Mr. Johnstone and Mr. Griffin will accept our apologies on behalf of the body.” Stiver shot down for Marijuana Board In a cleaner, but narrower, vote, the Legislature also turned down the nomination of Vivian Stiver of Fairbanks to fill a seat on the Marijuana Control Board. Members of the cannabis industry heavily campaigned against her based on her past participation in a campaign to ban commercial marijuana activity in Fairbanks and her lack of background in the industry. She was to replace Brandon Emmett, also of Fairbanks, who had represented industry on the board since its inception in 2015. The Legislature did confirm Dunleavy’s second appointment to the board, Alaska Wildlife Trooper Lt. Christopher Jaime of Soldotna. Stiver was turned down in a 29-30 vote, one shy of what she needed for a majority. Carey Carrigan, the executive director of the Alaska Marijuana Industry Association, said the members of the industry were relieved at the vote and that “common sense prevailed.” “We’re not trying to oppose people to oppose them,” he said. “(For) that second seat that everyone’s considering a public seat, I’d like to see two seats for industry on the board. To have two seats on the board representing industry on the board is not unreasonable.” The industry group has assembled a group of suggested individuals for appointment to submit to Dunleavy’s administration, Carrigan said, aiming for a person with industry background and knowledge, he said. That list, submitted Wednesday, includes Bruce Schulte of Anchorage, Joseph Martin of Anchorage, Rebecca Rein of Houston, Michael White of Anchorage and Gary Evans of Fairbanks. Schulte served on the board from 2015–2016, including as chairman, until former governor Bill Walker dismissed him. “I don’t know if there’s going to be any desire to accept our assistance,” he said. “I hope there is.” Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Salmon permit values rise on optimism; halibut shares sinking

Nearly all Alaska salmon permits have gone up in value since last fall and buying/selling/trading action is brisk. “We’re as busy as we’ve ever been in the last 20 years,” said Doug Bowen of Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer. “Boat sales are doing well and between IFQs (individual fishing quota) and permit sales, we’ve got a busy year going.” The salmon permit interest is fueled by a forecast this year of more than 213 million fish, an 85 percent increase over 2018. Also, salmon prices are expected to be higher. For the bellwether drift permit at Bristol Bay, the value has increased from around $165,000 and sales are now being made in the low- to mid-$170,000 range. Several good salmon seasons in a row pushed drift permits at Area M on the Alaska Peninsula to about $175,000 last fall, Bowen said “and if you can find one now, it’s going to cost you over $200,000.” At Cook Inlet, where salmon catches have been dismal for the drift fishery, permit values bottomed out at $28,000 and have climbed a bit to $38,000. At the salmon fishery’s peak in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Cook Inlet drift permits were traded at more than $240,000, Bowen said. “When Alaska’s salmon industry crashed in the early 1990s due to the flood of farmed fish, those permits dropped to under $10,000 and since then have been all over the map,” he added. The drift fleet at Prince William Sound also had one of its worst years last summer and that permit is one of the few that has gone down in value. “They were over $150,000 and the last one we sold was at $145,000,” Bowen said. For Prince William Sound seiners, who are expecting a good pink salmon year, the permit value is listed at $170,000, a $5,000 increase from last fall. At Kodiak, seine permits have held steady for several years in the $28,000 range. At Chignik, where seiners experienced the worst fishery ever last year catching just 128 sockeyes, there is little to no interest in permits. Salmon permit action in Southeast Alaska “is kind of a mix,” said Olivia Olsen at Alaskan Quota and Permits in Petersburg. For both buying and leasing, there’s less interest in power troll permits for a second year but prices “are holding at a respectable $27,000 to $28,000,” Olsen said. “The permit holders have a really positive outlook for all species except kings, so they don’t understand why the price isn’t going up,” she said, adding that there is little interest in hand troll permits. Southeast drift permit prices are up with expectations of good prices and lots of fish. “Last year they were selling for $79,000 to the low $80s and currently prices are at $95,000. So that’s been a hot permit,” Olsen said. “They are opening new fishing areas which they feel should thin out the herd and have plenty of fish for everybody.” Demand also is up for Southeast seine permits and the price has increased to $250,000, a boost of $25,000 since last fall. Both Olsen and Bowen agreed that Alaska salmon permit holders are looking toward a good year. “We’re seeing a lot of optimism pretty much across the board,” Bowen said. Halibut quota slump A slight increase in this year’s halibut catch and respectable dock prices haven’t done much to boost the value of IFQs. Halibut quota shares that topped $70 per pound in some regions took a 30 percent nose dive in 2018 and have remained there ever since. Now $63 per pound is the high for halibut IFQs in the Southeast fishing region, with most moving at the $52 to $58 range, said Olivia Olsen. In the Central Gulf of Alaska, quota is listed in the $35 to $45 per pound range, down from a high of $50 last November. The value per pound in the Western Gulf, is down by 50 percent from 2017. “It’s advertised at $27 and selling for less,” Olsen said. Last fall, halibut prices dropped by $2 per pound to the $5 range at the Alaska docks and boats sometimes couldn’t find buyers for their fish. The biggest hit was a flood of seven million pounds of cheaper Atlantic halibut from eastern Canada displacing Alaska’s fish in east coast markets. But things seem to be looking up. “This year there is an increased confidence level for halibut. There is some optimism that we’ll see better recruitment into the fishery,” said Doug Bowen, referring to strong year classes from 2011-12 that are showing up in the fishery. Olsen agreed. “The confidence level is up a bit in halibut after last year being our slowest selling year ever for IFQs,” she said. “Buyers are interested but at last year’s prices and it seems to be working. Considering that the IFQ prices were out of whack on the high end, perhaps it’s a good adjustment.” Baited fisheries Herring and smelt at Upper Cook Inlet are fisheries that pay out nicely for the few who participate, and both are open to all. Ten to 20 fishermen usually take part in the bait herring fishery that runs from April 20 to the end of May. A combined take of 150 tons can be taken from four areas by set or drift gillnets, although nearly all comes from the upper east side, said Pat Shields, commercial fisheries management coordinator for Lower and Upper Cook Inlet at the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game office in Soldotna. “It’s a pretty small quota but we’re not even reaching the quota of up to 40 tons on the east side,” he said, adding that all of herring goes into the bait market for halibut fishermen, either commercial or sport. The catch might be small, but it fetches big bucks as bait. “Currently the fishermen are selling that product for $2,000 to $3,000 a ton, or $1 to $1.50 a pound,” Shields said. In contrast, the average price for herring caught only for their eggs at places like Sitka, Kodiak or Togiak averages 12 cents per pound. Shields speculated the price is so high because there are so few bait herring fisheries in the state. Most Alaska fishermen purchase herring for bait from the east coast, often at about $1 per pound. The Cook Inlet herring is frozen and sold throughout the year and Shields said demand far exceeds the supply. Also at Upper Cook Inlet: A smelt fishery with a 200-ton limit will open from May 1 and run through June. Fewer than 20 fishermen participate in what Shields calls “one of the most interesting and challenging fisheries in the state.” “It’s done with dip nets at the mouth of the Susitna River. People usually take a drift boat across the mudflats. That’s eight or nine miles of a muddy mess that you have to navigate with winds coming in from three different areas: Knik Arm, Turnagain Arm and Cook Inlet. Some people refer to it as a cesspool because the waters are just swirling and it’s shallow,” Shields said. The boats come back to the Kenai River to offload their catches and the smelt is frozen, boxed up and shipped out. “Then it gets distributed primarily along the West Coast for human consumption, where Columbia River smelt fisheries are very restricted or closed,” Shields said. “It also goes into the bait market for the sturgeon fishery and the marine aquarium market.” Fishermen can get a nice price, twice: 25 cents to 75 cents per pound for their catch, and up to $2 per pound after it goes to market. Estimates from 2016 peg the annual smelt run to the Susitna River at 53,000 tons but Shields said the catch remains very conservative. “The reason for the small limit is that this is a beluga critical habitat area and this is a forage fish that is considered very important to that species,” he explained. Both the smelt and herring fisheries are open to anyone but require special permits. “Anytime you have an interest in what we call these smaller fun, interesting fisheries, please give us a call and we’ll do all we can to help you get involved in them,” Shields said. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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