Fisheries

Reps apologize after last-minute charges sink Johnstone nomination

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. “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.

Copper River opener to kick off salmon season in week of May 12

Every spring, Alaska commercial fishermen hold their breaths before taking the plunge of salmon season and the unpredictability of what the runs will bring. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game does its best to forecast what fishermen might expect, but as it’s a prediction, fishermen have to take it with a grain of salt. This year, ADFG is forecasting fairly average sockeye salmon runs, even in Bristol Bay. However, pink salmon and chum runs may help make up for some of the lackluster sockeye runs and still-struggling king salmon runs across the state. Prince William Sound, traditionally the first salmon fishery to hit the markets, is expected to open May 13 in the Copper River and Bering River districts, with the subsequent areas opening in June. The sockeye salmon are the most famous fish from the Copper River fishery, but the kings kick off the season with the annual airplane ceremonies in Anchorage and Seattle for the first king deliveries. The forecast for a return 55,000 Copper River kings is about 20 percent above the recent 10-year average run of 46,000 fish, according to the Prince William Sound 2019 forecast. The forecast for sockeye salmon in the Copper, which is regarded as the most accurate forecast in the region, is about 1.4 million wild fish and 98,000 hatchery fish, about 31 percent and 69 percent below the recent 10-year averages respectively. But ADFG warns caution there as well; last year, the summer brought about 1 million fewer fish than the forecast predicted and there were just a handful of openings for kings. “This forecast is uncertain and should be interpreted with caution as poor runs of many Gulf of Alaska sockeye salmon stocks in 2018 suggest there is considerable likelihood of over-forecasting in 2019,” the forecast states. Pink salmon may be a bright spot as the summer moves along for Prince William Sound, though. ADFG’s forecast projects about 23.5 million wild-run pink salmon to come back, largely based on good escapements in 2015 and 2017. That’s on top of an estimated 22.3 million pinks estimated to return to Prince William Sound Aquaculture Association facilities and an estimated 20.1 million to return to the Valdez Fisheries Development Association’s Solomon Gulch Hatchery. Pink salmon runs have been unreliable in recent seasons, though. The 2018 season was disappointing for salmon fishermen all over the Gulf of Alaska. Pink salmon catches were dismal and sockeye runs were late, if they appeared at all. The 2016 pink salmon season was disastrously poor for Gulf of Alaska fishermen as well, with the federal government appropriating disaster funds to help make up for some of the loss. Fisheries scientists have drawn possible connections between the poor pink salmon returns and persistent warm water conditions in the Gulf of Alaska through 2015 and 2016. Bristol Bay benefited from some of that downturn in sockeye salmon, though. While the rest of the Gulf of Alaska struggled to meet escapement goals and still allow for commercial fishing, Bristol Bay fishermen and processors could barely keep up with record-breaking sockeye salmon runs last year. Things might return to a little more normal this year, though. The 2019 projected total run of 40.18 million would allow for a commercial harvest of about 26.1 million to 27.6 million in Bristol Bay fisheries, according to Fish and Game’s forecast. For comparison, the total run in 2019 would be smaller than just the harvest in 2018; commercial fishermen hauled in 41.3 million sockeye in 2018, with a total estimated run of 62.3 million sockeye to all river systems. The dearth in sockeye elsewhere helped keep prices higher for Bristol Bay fishermen, who caught all those sockeye and were able to sell them for an average ex-vessel price of about $1.26 per pound, according to Fish and Game. “2018 prices were strong, Bristol Bay processors and fishermen were able to move a lot of product at a pretty high price,” said McDowell Group seafood economist Garrett Evridge. “Part of that high price came from weakness in other areas of the state, so that’s a factor. In terms of the 2019 price, the market appears to be pretty stable when you consider the level of inventory. We haven’t heard too many reports of significant existing inventory out there.” Salmon prices fluctuate wildly in-season, with prices typically starting higher early in the season and moving down as more fish hit the market. Before the season begins, processors work on contracts both domestically and internationally, and though ADFG clearly states that salmon forecasts are subject to change, they do affect markets and prices, Evridge said. “The bottom line is these forecasts can be off significantly and sometimes they’re right,” he said. “We should recognize that these are forecasts … Those Fish and Game forecasts are talked about at the highest level of negotiations and they do impact expectations.” Forecasts aren’t the only thing that impact prices. Internationally, farmed salmon production can also affect how consumers demand and purchase fish. Producers like Norway and Chile have not increased production dramatically in the last few years and struggle with pests like sea lice, but other countries are working on expanding their industries. Iceland, for example, has been taking steps to expand its aquaculture industry dramatically over the next decade. Evridge said outlook over the long term is for farmed salmon production to increase as high prices attract investment into aquatic farming. Trade conflicts between the U.S. and China and talk of new tariffs in the European Union on American seafood due to a trade dispute may also affect prices, though nothing is solidified. The issue with forecasting prices is that many factors affect them, and the bottom line is that it’s never a clear projection, Evridge said. “It’s just unknowable,” he said. “But I can say that in recent years we have seen strong prices basically because demand has been strong and demand has been stable. You have the industry that’s marketing and you have ASMI that’s investing significant time and resources into telling the story of Alaska salmon. We generally think that the Alaska name has value to the consumer. Thinking long-term, there are certainly challenges right now with salmon management, but we do have a robust, scientifically managed, sustainably harvested fishery. We are endeavoring to preserve these fisheries in perpetuity.” One bright spot this year may be an exceptionally large run of chum salmon, with a potential harvest of 29 million chums, potentially the largest in the state’s history. Last year brought huge numbers of chum salmon to Norton Sound, and this year may bring a burst of them to Southeast Alaska. Between the region’s hatcheries, an estimated 18 million chum may return. The Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association alone is forecasting almost 9 million chums to return, with just shy of 8 million available for commercial harvest. That may help make up for some of the other disappointing forecasts in Southeast. Pink salmon forecasts are weak, with only 18 million forecasted, and king salmon stocks in the Chilkat, King Salmon and Unuk rivers not even projected to meet their escapement goals. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Net recycling effort spreads to Southeast; almanac seeks stories

The Panhandle plans to be the next Alaska region to give new life to old fishing gear by sending it to plastic recycling centers. The tons of nets and lines piled up in local lots and landfills will become the raw material for soda bottles, cell phone cases, sunglasses, skateboards, swimsuits and more. Juneau, Haines, Petersburg and possibly Sitka have partnered with Net Your Problem to launch an effort this year to send old or derelict seine and gillnets to a recycler in Richmond, British Columbia. “We’re going to be working in a new location with a new material and sending it to a new recycler,” said Nicole Baker, founder of Net Your Problem and the force behind fishing gear recycling in Alaska. Baker, a former fisheries observer who also is a research assistant for Ray Hilborn at the University of Washington, jumpstarted recycling programs for trawl nets, crab and halibut line two years ago at Dutch Harbor and Kodiak quickly followed. The nets can weigh from 5,000 to 25,000 tons and can cost $350 to $500 per ton for disposal in landfills. The community/industry collaborations in both towns have so far sent 300,000 pounds of gear in seven vans to Europe for recycling. “Each fishing port will have its own special logistics plan but the general role is the same,” she said. “You need somebody to give you the nets, truck them around, load them and ship them.” No two plastics are the same, and the B.C. recycler opened the door for removals of seine and gillnets made from nylon. Baker said only gear that contains lead, such as longline gear or leaded lines, cannot be accepted for recycling. “The recycler I have been using in Europe told me it is illegal to import lead into the EU. So that is something that is still a bit of a struggle,” she said. “But as far as polyethylene and polypropylene trawl gear, or nylon seine or gillnet gear, I can recycle all of those at the moment.” The pace of the fishing seasons will determine the best time for the Southeast towns to begin collecting the nets from fishermen, Baker said, and she hopes to hear from other communities that have net pile ups. “If you are dealing with this issue please feel free to reach out to me because I am happy to try to establish the logistics for a program in your community,” she said. “My goal is to expand slowly but surely and add one new location every year while still continuing support for recycling efforts at the previous locations.” Baker will start off the Southeast tour in Haines during its Earth Day events on April 19. Hatchery numbers Salmon that got their start in Alaska hatcheries are maintaining a decade long trend of comprising one third of the statewide catch. In 2018, a hatchery harvest of 39 million salmon — mostly chums and pinks — was 34 percent of the total statewide take, valued at $176 million to Alaska fishermen. Forty-one million adult salmon returned to Alaska’s 29 hatcheries last year, shy of the 54-million fish forecast, and below the 61 million 10-year average. That’s according to the 2018 salmon enhancement report released each year by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Prince William Sound is Alaska’s largest hatchery salmon producer and last year’s catch of 19 million fish accounted for 76 percent of the region’s total, and 75 percent of the value to fishermen at $65 million. Southeast is the second biggest hatchery producer. The 2018 catch of about 8 million fish was 46 percent of the region’s harvest, and 59 percent of the value to fishermen at $63 million; $53 million of that was from chums. At Kodiak, just less than 4 million fish from two hatcheries made up 42 percent of the Island’s total catch last year. The fish were valued at $7 million, or 25 percent of the salmon value. At Cook Inlet, a catch of just more than a half-million hatchery salmon accounted for 26 percent of the total harvest and 30 percent of the dockside value of $5.3 million. About 70 percent of those fish were pinks. Nearly 1.8 billion tiny salmon were released to the sea in 2018 from pink and chum salmon eggs collected in 2017, and from chinook, sockeye, and coho eggs collected in 2016. Alaska hatchery operators forecast a return of about 79 million fish in 2019. This includes returns of 54 million pink, 21 million chum, 2.5 million sockeye, 1.5 million coho, and 109,000 king salmon. Almanac calls Personal glimpses that chronicle the fishing life make up the Alaska Young Fishermen’s Almanac and the call is out for submissions. The second version of the Almanac is in the works and sales of the first run last year were so good, it’s covering costs for the whole project. “People loved it. They’d ask which submission is yours. And you’d be eternally flipping to the picture of the fillets and peanut butter you fed your crew all summer,” said Jamie O’Connor, a Homer-based fishermen and head of the Alaska Young Fishermen’s Network for the Alaska Marine Conservation Council. “It’s a really fun way to communicate to people outside of this community about the culture of fishing, especially from the perspective of the young fishermen.” Last year’s 141-page Almanac featured nearly 60 items from almost every region of the state. “Everything from essays to recipes to photos, poems and art. There’s also a lot of useful stuff in there,” O’Connor said. “Plus, fun stories, a little bit of mischief, pro tips from more mature fishermen to people who want to get into the industry.” The Almanac is styled similar to a younger version of a publication for farmers that dates back to 1792. “It’s modeled after the Young Farmer’s Almanac as a way to share the culture and put out a touchstone every year that people can refer back to or share with their families,” O’Connor said. “That’s what we’re hoping to do for young fishermen as well.” “We’re looking for anything people want to send in. We’re hoping they really flex their creativity, she added. Deadline to submit to the Almanac is Sept. 1 at www.akyoungfishermen.org or via email at [email protected] Fishing watch Lots of April fishing is underway all across Alaska. One sad exception is the roe herring fishery at Sitka Sound where seiners have yet to wet their nets. Typically the fishery has come and gone by mid-March and the harvest this year called for a nearly 13,000-ton haul. The herring, which are valued for their eggs, are showing up but they are too small to call an opener. The last time a fishery was called off at Sitka Sound was in 1977. Golden king crab also has been slow going: 10 to 15 crabbers have pulled up less than 50,000 pounds out of a 76,000-pound limit. The crabs have paid out at $11 per pound, making each worth $70 to $80 to fishermen, reported KFSK in Petersburg. Southeast’s winter Tanner crab catch of 1.3 million pounds was the third-best in 15 years. The month-long fishery was valued at $4.2 million for a fleet of 69 crabbers. Divers are still going down for geoduck clams and Southeast’s spring troll fishery for chinook begins on May 1 in some districts. There’s lots of fishing action at Prince William Sound with a shrimp pot fishery opens April 15 to the 23. Ninety-nine boats will compete for 68,100 pounds of the popular prawns. A sablefish season also opens on April 15 for 134,000 pounds. And due to weather, the Tanner crab fishery was extended in parts of Prince William Sound to April 18. A one-day a week herring fishery opens at Upper Cook Inlet on April 20 through May 31, and a small smelt fishery opens on May 1. Kodiak’s herring fishery kicks off on April 15 with a harvest set at just over 1,400 tons. And spotters are already flying at Togiak looking for early herring arrivals there. That herring fishery, which should come in at around 23,000 tons, usually opens in May. Halibut and sablefish are still crossing the docks and fisheries for cod, pollock, flounders and other whitefish and more are ongoing throughout the Gulf and Bering Sea. Believe it or not, in just a few weeks Alaska’s salmon season will officially begin with runs of reds and kings to the Copper River in mid-May. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Salmon harvest projection takes big leap from 2018

Alaska fishermen could catch 85 percent more salmon this year (nearly a hundred million more) if state forecasts hold true. That’s good news for fishermen in many Gulf of Alaska regions who in 2018 suffered some of the worst catches in 50 years. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is predicting a total salmon catch of 213.2 million fish for 2019, compared to about 116 million salmon last year. The increase comes from expectations of another big haul of sockeyes, increases in pinks and a possible record catch of chum salmon. The harvest breakdown calls for 112,000 chinook salmon in areas outside of Southeast Alaska. The catch for the Southeast troll fleet, which is determined by a treaty with Canada, will be 101,300 kings, or an increase of 5,600 fish. For sockeyes, a catch of just less than 42 million is projected, about 9 million fewer than last year. A harvest of nearly 138 million pink salmon would be 97 million more that last summer, and a coho harvest of 4.6 million would be an increase of 900,000 over 2018. Chums could set a record with a projected catch of 29 million, a boost of nine million and well above the 25 million chum catch record set in 2017. Some highlights and lookbacks: Copper River’s commercial sockeye salmon catch for 2019 is pegged at 756,000 million and 31,000 for chinook (all fisheries). Managers said the forecast should “be interpreted with caution as poor runs of many Gulf sockeye stocks in 2018 suggest there is considerable likelihood of overforecasting.” Last year the Copper River drift gillnet catch of 47,000 reds was the second-fewest in 100 years. Southeast Alaska’s pink salmon run is predicted to be weak this summer with a catch of 18 million, half of the 10-year average. That follows on a catch of just more than 8 million pinks in 2018, which ranks 51st in harvests since 1962. Biologists said a big source of uncertainty is abnormally warm Gulf sea surface waters “may have a negative impact on the survival of pink salmon.” At Kodiak, the predicted 27-million pink salmon harvest is in the “excellent” category and compares to a catch of just 6 million pinks in 2018. The total salmon take last year at Kodiak of just nine million salmon compares to a 10-year average of more than 21 million. Upper Cook Inlet could see a slightly improved sockeye harvest of three million. The 2018 catch at UCI of 1.3 million sockeyes was 61 percent less than the 10-year average and the smallest harvest since 1975. At Chignik on the Alaska Peninsula where an astonishing 128 sockeye salmon were caught last year, a hopeful harvest of about 965,000 reds is projected this year. At Bristol Bay, a sockeye harvest of about 27 million compares to a catch of 41.3 million in 2018. That stemmed from a run of more than 62 million reds, the largest on record. It was the fourth consecutive year that the Bay’s sockeye runs topped 50 million. State salmon managers don’t produce formal forecasts for most salmon runs in the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim, or AYK, region, but they predict continued good returns to Norton Sound, Kotzebue and a half-million chum catch at the Lower Yukon. Salmon fishermen near Nome set records for coho and chum catches last year, and a 4,000 sockeye take was the second-most ever. Pink salmon runs also were stronger than expected but met with little interest from the one buyer. Fishermen at Kotzebue Sound caught a record 695,153 chum salmon in 2018 and managers said a 700,000-chum harvest would be possible if there was a market for the fish. The lack of a buyer will beach Kuskokwim salmon fishermen for the fourth year, although it’s not due to a lack of fish. For example, the weir on the 75-mile Kanektok River did not operate in 2018 due to a lack of funding, but aerial surveys showed the second-largest escapement of sockeye salmon on record. A fish plant at Platinum that bought salmon, herring and halibut starting in 2009 closed abruptly in 2015. According to owner Coastal Villages Region Fund, a group created to provide economic benefit for its 20 member communities, the plant “never became sustainable” and was a big money loser. CVRF has instead invested in five vessels, the largest at 341 feet, that fish for pollock, crab and cod in the Bering Sea, Three of the boats are homeported in Seattle. CVRF claims it “has grown to be the largest seafood owner/operator headquartered in Alaska.” Herring on hold Herring at Sitka Sound is still a waiting game in a fishery that’s usually come and gone by late March. Many seiners and tenders left on March 28, reported KCAW, along with the state research vessel Kestrel that does fish sampling. Most of the herring, which are valued only for their eggs or roe, have so far been too immature for an opener. By April 3, more than 21 miles of herring spawn had been mapped, usually signaling the beginning of the end for a fishery. But spotters were still flying and biologist Eric Coonradt at ADFG in Sitka said some seiners and processors were sticking around. “I feel like there’s still time left. Some years the larger versus smaller fish kind of split up. It’s just kind of a wait and see game,” he said. Seiners were hoping to haul in nearly 13,000 tons of roe herring after a total bust last year that produced just 2,800 tons. Sitka Sound’s latest herring fishery was April 15 in 2002. The last time there was no commercial fishery there was in 1977. Meanwhile, Alaska’s largest roe herring fishery at Togiak in Bristol Bay is expecting a big run and an earlier start as soon as mid-April. ADFG area manager Tim Sands told KDLG in Dillingham that unusually warm waters are making it tough to predict run timing. “This year there’s no ice anywhere near Bristol Bay and sea surface temperatures are much warmer. We have different models that worked relatively well when conditions were normal. But we’re so far from normal this year, we don’t have a lot of faith in our predictive ability,” Sands said. Budget cuts and a lack of aerial surveys for three years also have also contributed to the uncertainty and caused a more conservative approach to the Togiak herring fishery. “We retroactively introduced this idea of reducing the exploitation rate by 2 percent a year for years of poor data,” he explained. Togiak has a 2019 herring catch quota of 26,930 tons, up slightly from last year. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

ADFG proposes sweeping changes to Cook Inlet salmon goals

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s recommendations for salmon escapement goal ranges in Upper Cook Inlet are out significantly earlier than they have been in past years. Upper Cook Inlet, which reaches north from the Kasilof River, encompasses a number of heavily fished salmon stocks, including the Kenai and Susitna rivers. ADFG reviews the escapement goal ranges for the rivers every three years or so and makes recommendations before the Board of Fisheries takes up the proposals for the area during the in-cycle meeting. For several rivers in the Mat-Su Valley, ADFG is recommending decreasing the lower end of king salmon escapement goal ranges, meaning that fewer salmon would have to make it up the river before ADFG determines the goal had been met. On the Kenai and Russian rivers, the sockeye sustainable escapement goals would tick up slightly. The goals are recommended for the 2020 season, so the current goals would remain in effect for the 2019 season. The sustainable escapement goal for sockeye on the Kenai River, which is the largest sockeye salmon river in the region, would increase slightly to 750,000 to 1.3 million. The Kasilof River’s sockeye biological escapement goal would decrease slightly to 140,000 to 320,000 fish. The early-run sockeye goal for the Russian River — a popular sportfishing river on the Kenai Peninsula — would remain the same, but the late-run sustainable escapement goal would adjust to 44,000 to 85,000, which is an increase in the lower end but a decrease in the upper end. The sockeye salmon goals in the Susitna River drainage would remain unchanged. The king goals in the Susitna drainage would change substantially, though. ADFG is recommending consolidating and revising the Susitna River king stock escapement goals into four “sub-basins”: the Deshka River, the Eastside Susitna River, the Talkeetna River and the Yentna River. Consolidating the goals would have advantages over the current single aerial survey model as they are based on total escapement as opposed to an index, derived using stock-recruit analyses and could account for years in which surveys were not conducted, according to the memo. “Each sub-basin is unique in terms of geography, harvest and accessibility, and therefore the regulatory structure varies between areas; streams within each sub-basin tend to share the same set of regulations,” the memo states. The Deshka River would have a biological escapement goal of 9,000 to 18,000; the Eastside Susitna River would have a sustainable escapement goal of 13,000 to 25,000; the Talkeetna River sub-basin would have a sustainable escapement goal of 9,000 to 17,500; and the Yentna River sub-basin would have a sustainable escapement goal of 13,000 to 22,000. Alexander Creek and Chulitna River would keep their own separate sustainable escapement goals of 1,900 to 3,700 and 1,200 to 2,900 king salmon, respectively. The Little Susitna River arial survey goal would be lowered slightly to 700 to 1,500 kings, and the Crooked Creek king salmon goal would be increased slightly to 700 to 1,400 kings. The Kenai River’s king goals would remain unchanged. The coho salmon goal in the Deshka River would remain the same, while the Jim Creek and Little Susitna River coho goals would be lowered slightly; the Jim Creek goal’s upper end would increase, according to the memo. Escapement goals are complicated, with multiple types and methodologies for determining them. At its most recent meeting, the Board of Fisheries noted that there is significant confusion around how escapement goals are developed and why certain rivers have one type while others have another. The Upper Cook Inlet escapement goal memo was released several months earlier than originally intended, in part because of public requests for the goals to be released before proposals for the 2020 Upper Cook Inlet meeting are due. “The department recognizes the importance of releasing escapement goal recommendations earlier in the year so the public may submit proposals relative to goal recommendations before the deadline of (April 10),” the memo states. “Thus, department staff completed their review on an accelerated timeline, and developed recommendations for UCI salmon escapement goals.” Kevin Delaney, a former fisheries biologist for ADFG and currently a consultant for the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, said the early release of the escapement goal recommendations allows stakeholders to gather more information as they finalize their proposals and review them for the next year before the meeting in early 2020. “This is the first time ever (ADFG has) gotten them out before proposals were due,” he said. “That should be applauded.” The slight uptick on the Kenai River sockeye goal doesn’t necessarily shift any more fish toward the sportfishery, Delaney said. The recommended lower end of the goal is only 50,000 fish more than the current lower end, and the Kenai River can see 50,000 fish come through on a single day during the peak of the sockeye run. The lowering of the goal on the Kasilof River might be a concern, but the Kenai River is the major driver in the region for sockeye salmon, he said. “The big issue is the Kenai River, and 50,000 fish isn’t going to make a huge difference,” he said. The Kenai River’s sockeye salmon management plan is immensely complicated, with three management tiers based on the strength of the forecasted run and an in-river escapement goal as well as the sustainable escapement goal. The in-river goal is set at 900,000 to 1.1 million sockeye, which accounts for a sportfishery harvest of about 200,000 sockeye in the river above the sonar. The recommendation included in the escapement goal memo only updates the SEG; adjusting the in-river goal would be up to the Board of Fisheries, as that’s an allocative decision compared to escapement goals which are management decisions. Mike Wood, a Northern District setnet fishermen, said it was interesting how some goals decreased in the Susitna River drainage while others increased in the Kenai River drainage. The Susitna valley has struggled with decreasing returns in recent years, with closures for salmon fishing, and the users are concerned that not enough fish are making it past the commercial fisheries in Kodiak and central Cook Inlet to return to spawn. Wood said he was glad to see the department address goals in the Lewis, Theodore and Chuitna, smaller rivers on the west side, and noted that better genetics data from ADFG has helped the staff separate the Cook Inlet west side rivers into individual stocks. “I was glad to see that, because it does have implications,” he said. “They’ve kept the king salmon closed to anything above Tyonek for just about 20 years now to let more fish return to the Susitna River. It’s good to see the Chuitna is bouncing back, and it does make sense to lower it a little bit in the Theodore and not have it at all in the Lewis. The Lewis doesn’t even reach (Cook) Inlet anymore.” Lowering escapement goals for Susitna drainages is concerning, he said, in part because of the nature of the stream. Spawner-return analyses — which calculate how many offspring return on average per spawning salmon — have shown that the Susitna is not as productive as a river like the Kenai, and thus would need more spawners to produce the same volume of return, he said. Wood, who also chairs the Mat-Su Borough’s Fish and Wildlife Commission, said the group is looking at the recommendations and working on a Northern District management plan and how that connects to regulations on setnetters in the area. “Maybe things will come back they way they’re supposed to,” he said. “But just lowering our goals, our expectations, I don’t think is wise in general. I’m cautious of it. Does it mean that we should lower them and then allow people to kill more of them? I don’t think that that really works to the advantage of the fish.” Proposals for the Upper Cook Inlet meeting are due April 10. ^ Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

ADFG leaders tout $11 billion return on agency spending

Though it’s a relatively small percentage of the state budget each year, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game wants to show that it’s a worthwhile investment. Each year, the state spends in the neighborhood of $65 million to $70 million from the General Fund to pay for the department. Combined with user fees and federal grants and matches, the total budget clocks in at about $197 million. According to a number of studies conducted in-house and by the McDowell Group, that supports an economic return of about $11.8 billion annually. It’s not a huge surprise, even though the numbers are large, said ADFG Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang. Some of the wages estimated in the industries certainly do leave the state, but much of it stays as well, he said. The numbers are useful to the department as well as for the public to know what the spending is bringing in, he said. “(About) seven or eight years ago, I think the department slowly started realizing we needed to have a better idea of what our return on investment was,” he said. “I think the Sportfishing Division did a study looking at its benefit to the state of Alaska, then the Division of Wildlife Conservation … not too long after the Subsistence Division got into it, then of course commercial fisheries has been doing it for a long time.” Commercial fishing is the largest private sector employer in the state, with about 60,000 direct jobs provided by the industry. The vast majority of those jobs are in salmon — about 60 percent — followed by groundfish, halibut and crab, according to the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Sportfishing supports 15,879 jobs, while hunting supports 27,000, according to information provided by the department. Sam Rabung, the director of the Division of Commercial Fisheries, cited a McDowell report and noted that commercial seafood harvesting contributes about $5.2 billion in economic output to the Alaska economy annually in testimony to the House Finance Committee’s subcommittee on ADFG on March 14. “Managing our fish and wildlife resources comes at a cost that is dwarfed by the return on investment,” he said. “The comfish division’s budget is about $70 million annually, and about half of that is (general fund). But what that does for the state is the direct economic value of commercially harvested seafood contributing to the state’s economy.” Commercial fisheries contribute about $146 million annually in local taxes, fees and self-assessments while the sportfishing industry contributes about $246 million in taxes. Hunters and wildlife viewers paid a total of $3.87 billion in 2019 inflation-adjusted dollars. Roughly $35 million to $37 million of the taxes paid by commercial fishermen are directed back into the Commercial Fisheries Division, while the rest goes into the general fund or to pay for other services like aquaculture through a self-assessed fee, Rabung said during the House Finance Committee hearing. Anglers and hunters also draw down federal funds into the state through license purchases. In 2016, the Legislature passed a bill to increase hunting and sportfishing license fees in response to a stakeholder-led effort to do so, thus allowing the department to access more federal match funds through the Dingell-Johnson and Pittman-Robertson fund programs. According to ADFG, 281,823 Alaskans bought sportfishing or hunting licenses in 2018, or more than half of the state’s adult population. The department also enumerated the economic impact of subsistence resources. Alaskans harvest about 18,000 tons of wild food annually, according to the department. Calculated at about $6 per pound, subsistence provides between $200.8 million and $391 million in 2019 dollars each year, according to a 2014 report from the Division of Subsistence. Going into the fiscal year 2020 budget, ADFG received one of the smaller proposed reductions at about 5 percent. Vincent-Lang said he thought it showed that the department is already well-managed and provides a good return. “When you look at the department budget overall, we came out of the budget scenario largely intact,” he said. “We are having a good return on investment, and I think there was a good understanding by the governor’s office that commercial fishing, sportfishing and subsistence fishing as a key part of the Alaskan identity.” The department’s default is to manage more conservatively when less information is available to managers. However, cutting the management side can also cause the department to manage more conservatively, Vincent-Lang said. Significant reductions to the budget would certainly impact the economic benefit the department sees, but a significant increase doesn’t necessarily mean a significant increase either, he said. However, an increase in funding could result in increased opportunity in fisheries like herring or crab, which are currently conservatively managed, he said. Commercial fisheries are major drivers in communities across the state, especially in coastal communities where there are often not many other economic opportunities. Vincent-Lang said he is planning to work with processors to try to increase seafood processing capacity in communities like those around Norton Sound, where there have been harvestable surpluses of salmon in recent years but not very many processors to buy them. During the House Finance subcommittee meeting on March 14, Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, noted that the reductions to the department were concerning because the loss of funding could mean more conservative management, and thus lost opportunities for fishermen. “I would like to see you have not only a focus on the impact to the economy but the impact to the fishermen themselves,” Stutes said. “That should be the number one concern of this state: allowing these fishermen to go out and fully prosecute the fisheries. The state wins when that happens.” ^ Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Plan to end local fish tax split panned at Senate hearing

None of the members of the Senate Community and Regional Affairs committee lives near the sea, but at a hearing last week they were not impressed by Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy’s plan to pull millions of dollars in fish taxes from remote coastal towns. Bills submitted to the Legislature by the governor would remove the ability of towns to keep their share of local fisheries business and landing taxes. For decades, the taxes have been split 50-50 with the state. Dunleavy wants to take all of the funds for state coffers, meaning a combined loss of $29 million to fishing towns come October. More than 20 mayors, financial officers, harbormasters and fishermen testified against the tax grab at the CRA and outlined how it would devastate coastal Alaska. “The share of fish taxes is used to ensure sustainable communities,” said Nils Andreassen, executive director of the Alaska Municipal League. “They contribute to general funds, operate and maintain ports and harbors, many of which the state transferred in neglect to municipalities 10 years ago; they support education, hospitals, public works, solid waste, grants to local nonprofits and to replace gaps in state capital investment.” Yakutat City and Borough Manager Jon Erickson said the loss would likely close down the community’s lone fish plant. “What part of shutting down rural Alaska equates to Alaska is open for business?” he asked. Kodiak City Mayor Pat Branson called the tax loss “cost shifting and revenue grabbing” and a “quick fix to a long-term problem of the state budget deficit.” “Every municipality and every Alaskan should have in-depth research and analysis,” Branson said. “This budget approach lacks the understanding and awareness of the realities of living in a resource economy and in a geographically remote location.” “Moorage rates in Wrangell would increase from 43 to 57 percent to cover the loss of money dedicated to our harbors,” said Lee Burgess, financial manager of the City and Borough of Wrangell. “It’s an example of arbitrarily picking winners and losers and causing disproportionate harm to certain communities relevant to how much of their economic platform is made up by commercial fishing.” “Fisheries is our only industry and fish tax revenues make up 26 percent of our $31 million general fund revenues, over $8 million annually. We use fish and sales taxes to pay our own way,” said Frank Kelty, mayor of Unalaska/Dutch Harbor, the nation’s top fishing port for more than two decades. “If the state takes away the share of fish taxes, who will step up to assist communities across Alaska with projects needed to support the seafood industry, which is the economic engine of all fishery dependent communities?” “If you’re looking for money to run the state why not revise the oil subsidies to big oil that collect more profits per barrel than any other oil field in the world. We fish hard and pay our taxes. We deserve our taxes to benefit our communities,” said Shawn Dochtermann, a longtime Kodiak fisherman. “You took oaths to defend Alaskans,” said Jeff Guard, a Cordova city council member. “We are under attack and you have the power of the purse to defend us from these draconian budget cuts.” Fisherman Stosh Anderson of Kodiak closed his testimony with a haiku: “Fishermen pay tax, “Absconded by the government. “Infrastructure fails.” And so it went as Alaskans from Petersburg, Akutan, Bristol Bay, Adak, Homer, St. Paul, Kenai and more shared their concerns. Sens. Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks, Chris Birch, R-Anchorage, and Elvi Gray-Jackson, D-Anchorage, asked Department of Revenue Commissioner Bruce Tangeman if there had been any communication with communities about the fish tax loss, or any economic impact analyses done. The answer was no. Tangeman said the governor intends to share 50 percent of state alcohol tax revenues through a community assistance program to soften the loss, or about $20 million. Birch asked about the motivation behind allocating alcohol taxes to the fishing towns. “I don’t know what the policy call was,” Tangeman responded. (Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, and Dunleavy policy advisor John Moller both said they were unaware of the alcohol tax proposal at subsequent public meetings in Kodiak.) “The thinking behind this is we need to bring all our revenue streams together to benefit all Alaskans,” Tangeman said. “Obviously, these folks are seeing this from their backyards. I hope they can all appreciate the state is really struggling and we have a budget that is unsustainable.” “Is this bill a priority of the Dunleavy administration?” asked Bishop. “Yes, it is,” Tangeman said. “I want to tell you how much I appreciate and respect your comments that the state is struggling,” said Gray-Jackson. “But you can’t punish communities because the state is struggling. That is just not the way to handle this.” Halibut intel More halibut from Atlantic Canada and a shift in consumer preferences are two new drivers in the halibut market. The Pacific fishery opened on March 15 to prices similar to last year, where they’ve pretty much stayed: in the $6 per pound range to fishermen on the Alaska mainland; $5.50 to $6 in Southeast and in the $4.75 to $5.25 range at Kodiak. A major Kodiak buyer said the market is favorable for fish headed to fresh markets, but that won’t absorb all of the halibut coming out of Alaska. Contrary to preseason reports, just about every major packer is sitting on frozen inventory from last year, “a halibut hangover,” and buyers will be cautious about freezing more. The market for frozen halibut is really changing, he added. “Two of the largest buyers in the old steaking program, where they’d buy an 80-or 100-pounder, that’s just completely going away,” he said, adding that it’s tough to even move frozen halibut in the smaller sizes. What consumers want now is the convenience of vacuum-packed halibut fillets or chunks, either fresh or frozen. All market reports show that the biggest hurt in Alaska’s halibut market is coming from Atlantic halibut from eastern Canada. That could put more than 10 million pounds into the U.S. market this year compared to 300,000 to 400,000 pounds just six years ago. Alaska fishermen can catch 17.7 million pounds of halibut through Nov. 14. Salmon surprises An ambitious winter research trip to study salmon in the deepest waters of the Gulf of Alaska yielded some surprises. The five-week trip by an international team of 21 researchers docked in Vancouver last week. CBC News said researchers collected thousands of samples in their quest to learn more Pacific salmon survival in the open seas of the Gulf, a major feeding ground. “The main inspiration of this project is to increase our awareness of the challenges the salmon meet in the open ocean and in the coastal areas,” said Dr. Vladimir Radchenko, director of the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission with five member countries: the US, Canada, Russian, Japan and Korea. The Gulf project was a centerpiece of its International Year of the Salmon initiative, a five-year project to study salmon in the northern hemisphere as they face challenges from an off kilter climate. Aboard the research vessel Professor Kaganovsky the team trawled a span of nearly 5,000 miles in waters 200 miles from shore and collected salmon data at 60 locations. “Since during the winter all salmon species migrate off shore, the main spots of aggregation should be located beyond 200 miles in February and March,” Radchenko said. Researchers also pioneered a new DNA testing method to identify where the salmon hatched. The research led to some surprising discoveries. One of the most abundant species in their catches was coho, contradicting the belief that most coho overwinter in coastal areas. Pink salmon — the most abundant of all Pacific species — comprised only 10 percent of their trawl catches. The scientists also hope to learn if large releases of hatchery pinks and chums from Pacific Rim countries are impacting wild fish in the open ocean. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Legislators learn hatcheries are a self-sustaining salmon program

Commercial fishermen pick up the tab for just about anyone who catches a salmon in Alaska that started its life in a hatchery. That was a finding that wended its way to the surface during a hearing last week of the House Fisheries Committee on the state’s hatchery program. The program began in the mid-1970s to enhance Alaska’s wild salmon runs. Unlike meetings that are top heavy with fishery stakeholders, most of the committee members are not deeply familiar with many industry inner workings and their interest was evident. “Who funds the hatchery programs?” asked Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka, referring to the 25 private, non-profit associations that operate in Prince William Sound, Southeast Alaska, Kodiak and Cook Inlet. Turns out, it’s commercial fishermen. “In each region where there is an aquaculture association, commercial salmon permit holders have levied a salmon enhancement tax upon themselves from one to three percent,” said Tina Fairbanks, executive director of Kodiak Regional Aquaculture Association. Fishermen also catch and sell returning adult salmon to the hatchery, which operators use to pay operating expenses, a process called cost recovery. In 2017 cost recovery fish, which fetch a lower price for fishermen than selling to processors, accounted for 79 percent of hatchery income. There have been discussions about sport charter operators contributing, but it’s not really needed, said Steve Reifenstuhl, executive director of the Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association. “Because of the mechanism we have for doing cost recovery there is not really a need to bring in additional money,” he said. “That’s very refreshing to hear right now that you have adequate revenue. That is not something we hear very often,” said Rep Sarah Vance, R-Homer. “So thank you to all the fishermen who contribute and make it sustainable.” “The hatchery programs truly represent one of the most successful public/private partnerships in the state’s history,” Fairbanks said. “These facilities produce salmon for sport, subsistence, personal use and commercial fisheries at no cost to the state of Alaska. The revenues generated through commercial landings and fish taxes go back into the communities and state coffers and represent a great return on the state’s initial investment.” “It’s very uncommon,” said Dan Lesh, an economist with the McDowell Group. “It is quite impressive that it produces such large economic benefits with no cost to the state.” “It seems to me that the commercial fishing industry is paying out millions of dollars through foregone revenue in cost recovery and enhancement revenues that benefit Alaskans collectively,” responded Kreiss-Tomkins, adding that he would like to see an analysis done. “It’s paying for all Alaskans in a sense by underwriting this common benefit.” Alaska’s hatchery harvest in 2017 of 47 million fish accounted for 21 percent of the statewide salmon harvest valued at $162 million to fishermen, which was 24 percent of the statewide value. That was the lowest percentage of hatchery fish in the overall catch since 1995, and due largely to a wild stock harvest that was the third-highest in Alaska history. An additional 194,000 Alaska hatchery fish were caught in the sport, personal use and subsistence fisheries. Fish differences Americans have very different perceptions on wild versus farmed fish, and whether it is grown in fresh or saltwater. In a new report called Aquaculture/Mariculture, US Market Insights and Opportunities, food industry trackers Changing Tastes and Datassential surveyed 1,500 consumers and 400 restaurant operators about their preferences for America’s three favorites: salmon, tuna and shrimp. Nearly half of consumers and 40 percent of restaurateurs said they prefer wild fish and shellfish because it has better flavor, quality, texture, is free of antibiotics, pesticides and other chemicals. For salmon, 57 percent of consumers said they prefer wild caught; it was 64 percent for restaurants. Both believe less than half of the seafood we eat today comes from aquaculture. Overall, land based and near-shore aquaculture operations got much lower marks across the board. Water pollution and impacts on water quality were listed as the top concerns by 66 percent of consumers for land-based fish farms and 58 percent for near-shore. Water concerns jumped to 80 percent among buyers. The use of antibiotics and pesticides in fish farms ranked as the second concern by 64 percent of consumers and 68 percent for restaurant operators. Consumers and buyers believe a substantial amount of seafood is already farmed in the deep ocean, and one quarter believe that open ocean mariculture is better for the environment than wild capture fishing. The report concludes that as more Americans shift to eating seafood, the share with no established preferences for wild versus farmed increases. Fish bits Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy has nominated Nicole Kimball, vice president of Pacific Seafood Processors Association, and Cora Campbell, CEO of Silver Bay Seafoods, to seats on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. They would replace two current members whose terms expire this summer: Theresa Peterson of Kodiak and Buck Laukitis of Homer. The NPFMC oversees more than 25 fisheries in federal waters off Alaska, meaning from three to 200 miles out. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council meets April 1-9 at the Anchorage Hilton. On the agenda: Navy war game plans for May in the Gulf of Alaska. Comments on any items can be made through March 29. For its upcoming meeting cycle, the state Board of Fisheries is accepting proposed changes to subsistence, personal use, sport and commercial and statewide fisheries at Kodiak and Lower and Upper Cook Inlet through April 10. Tariffs on U.S. imports from China will continue indefinitely the Trump Administration announced last week. The trade war, which began last July, has hit the seafood industry on both sides. SeafoodSource reports that Trump said he plans to “leave them on for a substantial period of time.” ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

PWS Tanner crab fishery gives winter season a boost

A rejuvenated Tanner crab fishery in Prince William Sound is showing positive signs of finishing out its second season in 30 years. The fishery opened for the first time since 1988 in 2017, operating on commissioners permits. A test fishery operated as an information-gathering pot fishery in the area in 2016 to a limited number of vessels. Based on Alaska Department of Fish and Game survey data, the stocks were good to go for another season this year, opening March 1 and closing either by EO or on March 31. So far, 11 vessels have landed about 16,850 Tanner crabs, totaling about 28,699 pounds. Harvest has been better than expected in two areas, said Jan Rumble, the area management biologist for commercial shellfish fisheries in Prince William Sound. One, in federal waters off of Cape Puget, had a harvest of 14,754 pounds and the Icy Bay/Whale Bay area harvested 7,042 pounds. “Fishing for the first week of the fishery has been more spread out than last year, and not as focused in one statistical area, with 10 statistical areas fished to date,” she wrote in an email. Fishermen in the area are feeling fairly optimistic about the catches and catch per unit of effort so far, said Chelsea Haisman, the executive director of Cordova District Fishermen United. “The weather has been the biggest buzzkill,” she said. “(One fisherman has) sat out 11 days so far. It’s been hardly any fishing at all. It’s part of the game, I guess.” There was enthusiasm on the docks when the fishermen first came in with the crab in Whittier, Seward and Cordova, she said. The catch provides a new seafood opportunity for residents before the summer fishing season kicks into gear. It also fills in some of the space for the Prince William Sound fleet before the summer salmon season starts — there are several quiet months right now around December and January, and the salmon season doesn’t start in earnest until early May, she said. “It sounds like right now, the fishery can keep going as long as the biomass is there,” she said. “The fleet is seeing some smaller crabs that they are releasing back.” Deliveries have been made in Whittier, Seward and Cordova, she said. Tanner crab, often marketed as its cousin the snow crab, is a fairly valuable product for fishermen. In 2017, the average ex-vessel price was $3.53 per pound, the highest price since 1994, according to ADFG records. The scientific species name of Tanner crab is C. bairdi, though another species of crab — C. opilio — is also often marketed as snow crab and sold for more than $4 per pound at the dock in 2017, according to ADFG. The commercial Tanner crab fishery in Prince William Sound boomed from 1968 until the late 1970s, when the catch began to decline before the fishery was closed in 1988. At its peak, fishermen brought in 13.9 million pounds, according to a March 2017 memo from Fish and Game. That was before the minimum carapace width of 5.3 inches was set, though. By 1988, fishermen only brought in about a half-million pounds, with little to no harvest in the Eastern District because there were fewer legal males available. The collapse of the stock could be due to overharvesting and changes in environmental conditions, according to the memo. The early fisheries on legal-size males were limited by season rather than by Guideline Harvest Level, which is the current limit set by the Board of Fisheries for Tanner crab fisheries. “Handling mortality of undersized and female crab may have contributed to the decline, particularly during fishing seasons of seven months duration, which encompassed some of the molting and mating seasons,” the memo states. “Changes in environmental conditions, documented on a Gulf of Alaska-wide basis, may have caused high mortality of Tanner crab larvae, impaired growth and reproduction, and coincided with increased production of crab predators such as gadoid fishes.” The fishery depends on daily call-ins from fishermen on the grounds for tracking and port sampling of the catch. At the beginning of this season, ADFG asked fishermen to call in faithfully to provide accurate information so the fishery can stay open. In the face of less information, ADFG tends more conservative in its management in the best interest of stocks. So far, fishermen have been providing regular reports, Rumble said. “The mandatory call-in compliance has been good and has allowed harvest and effort tracking by the statistical area; harvest has been relatively stable,” she said. “The fishery will continue to be closely monitored via the call-in reports and deliveries for the next weeks to determine if any management action is necessary.” At this point, Fish and Game feels confident enough in its information that there are no immediate plans to close the fishery early, she said. Without early intervention from Fish and Game, the fishery will close March 31. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Groups collaborate to launch fishermen’s loan fund

A new lender is offering loans to young Alaska fishermen who want to buy into the halibut and sablefish fisheries, and repayment is based on their catches. The Local Fish Fund opened its doors this month to provide alternative loan structures to young fishermen as a way to help turn the tide on the trend called the “graying of the fleet.” The average age of an Alaska fisherman today is 50 and fewer recruits are choosing the fishing life. A big part of what’s turning them away is the cost to buy into fisheries that are limited through permits, or in the case of halibut, catch shares that can cost up to $75 per pound. The high values have made conventional loans unobtainable, especially for crewmen who may know how to catch fish but have little collateral. “The cost and risk involved in accessing Alaska’s quota share fisheries are comparable to purchasing a hotel as a first step in home ownership,” said Linda Behnken, founder of the Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust and director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association in Sitka. “We’re looking for ways to help the next generation of fishing families get that start and build sufficient equity to eventually access conventional loans.” The Trust is among a group of entities that collaborated on the unique lending concept for more than a decade. They include The Nature Conservancy, Craft3, Rasmuson Foundation, Catch Together, Oak Foundation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The Local Fish Fund was jump started with $1.5 million from Catch Together and the Rasmuson Foundation and will be centered for now on fisheries in Southeast Alaska. “We’re hoping to build the fund to be available more broadly and capitalize at a higher level,” Behnken said. The Fund’s flexible “revenue participation” approach will let fishermen repay their loans according to the ups and downs of fishing. “Part of what has made it really challenging to buy into the fisheries is the uncertainty and how that will affect their ability to make fixed payments that don’t fluctuate as catches or fish prices drop,” Behnken said. “We share and reduce that risk so the payments are based on what fishermen are paid at the dock. If the price falls, so does the payment; conversely, if they go up, it’s a bigger share.” The Local Fish Fund comes with another good catch. Fishermen are encouraged to participate in local resource conservation projects, such as electronic monitoring or networking to keep whales away from fishing gear. They are given a 1 percent break in their loan interest if they do. “Part of our goal is to involve more fishermen in conservation research and fisheries management. Our perspective has always been that fishermen are the best problem solvers and when we engage them, we find solutions,” Behnken said. “Some of the partners we’re working with are coming specifically from that impact investment sector that is trying to obtain conservation goals through innovative lending,” said Dustin Solberg of The Nature Conservancy in Cordova. “There are great opportunities for fishermen and scientists to team up to get a better understanding of our fisheries and the ocean environment.” Get more information at LocalFishFund.org or [email protected] Halibut starts The Pacific halibut fishery started on March 15 with more fish to catch and favorable market conditions. The coastwide catch limit from California to the Bering Sea is just less than 30 million pounds, an 8.2 percent increase over 2018. Alaska’s share of the halibut catch is 22 million pounds, up 1.5 million pounds, with increases in all fishing areas except the Western Gulf of Alaska. Market conditions are more favorable this year, due mostly to fewer fish in the freezers. SeafoodNews.com reports that less carry over going into the new season has renewed interest in halibut, especially during Lent which runs until April 20. Buyers pulled back on halibut purchases last year after years of high prices and a sudden flood of cheaper fish from eastern Canada sucked the wind out of the Pacific market in 2017. The Canadian fishery, which operates year round, has recently been putting up to 11 million pounds of halibut into U.S. markets. Starting prices to Alaska fishermen last year were in the $4 to $5 range, down $2 on average from previous years. Prices ticked upwards during the season but never reached the levels of a few years ago. Roughly 2,000 Alaska longliners hold quota shares of halibut, which they can fish through Nov. 14. ComFish at 40 Hundreds of visitors will flock to “the Rock” to celebrate the 40th ComFish Alaska trade show March 28-30 at Kodiak. Joining all the vendors and exhibits at the downtown convention center will be U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, who reportedly plans to stay a few days. From the governor’s office, special advisor John Moller and Rachel Baker, deputy commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, will hold open meetings, as will Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak. Trending topics on the ComFish agenda also include a Q &A with Mark Lester, president of Alaska Aerospace Corp., which has over 30 rockets planned for the Kodiak launch pad that could curtail fishing. Also, updates on the Pebble mine, seafood marketing, “throw me a rope” safety tips, fish stories and sea songs, legal advice, net recycling and much more. Recognizing Kodiak’s processing workers has become a ComFish Saturday tradition and teams from different companies compete in skill competitions. This year includes a shark dissection, a new Fish in a Box contest where a line up must be identified by touch and/or tail, and a fish toss. A contest to showcase the most able fisherman will bring ComFish to a close. Alaska Airlines is offering a 7 percent off ComFish special for Kodiak flights. See the full line up of ComFish events at www.kodiakchamber.org and on Facebook. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Board votes down personal-use priority proposal

The Board of Fisheries has voted down a controversial proposal that would have given personal-use fisheries priority in its allocation criteria as well as two proposals to change the way the Alaska Department of Fish and Game sets and manages escapement goals. All three proposals attracted testimony from stakeholders across the state, both for and against, during the board’s Statewide Finfish and Supplemental Issues meeting in Anchorage from March 9-12. Though the board turned down several proposals related to escapement goals and allocation priorities, the members indicated they’d be open to longer discussions on those subjects in the future. Proposal 171, submitted by the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, would have changed the criteria in the board’s allocation policy to include a priority for personal-use fisheries. The personal-use fisheries in the state, most notably the Chitina, Kenai River, Kasilof River and Fish Creek dipnet fisheries, attract thousands of participants every year. Because they do not have participation limits and harvest sockeye, a valuable species to the other user groups, they are a frequent source of allocation conflict, especially in Cook Inlet. The Board of Fisheries uses the allocation criteria as a checklist for considerations when making allocative decisions about fisheries issues. Subsistence users always get a priority, but in nonsubsistence areas, the board can weigh the different user groups and factors equally. In its proposal, KRSA asked that the board rewrite its allocation criteria in nonsubsistence areas with a number of changes, including considering the number of residents and nonresidents participating in the fishery, the importance of each fishery to provide residents with fish for personal and family consumption and the history of the fishery within the last 20 years. During public testimony at the meeting, KRSA fishery biology consultant Kevin Delaney told the board that the criteria does not block the board from making decisions in favor of other user groups but would add weight to the criteria when making allocative decisions in nonsubsistence areas. “If the desire is to prioritize historical use as it has been, rather than generating broad public support and maximizing economic value, that decisions would still be possible,” he said. “It would just be transparently obvious that that’s the reason.” Large numbers of commercial fishermen, particularly from Cook Inlet, came out to oppose the proposal. Many cited feelings of being marginalized by regulations in Cook Inlet, where families have generations of commercial fishing history, while others cited concerns about the biological wisdom of prioritizing the personal-use fisheries. Duncan Fields, who represented the communities of Ouzinkie and Old Harbor on Kodiak and as the chairman of the Kodiak Salmon Workgroup, testified against proposal 171, saying it would tie the hands of future boards on allocation decisions and that it would set a precedent for allocation based on the number of users. “That goes to the very heart of what we believe in as Americans with a constitutional government where we protect aspects of minority rights, people who are not in the majority,” he said. “We have a common use clause, which means that the resources are to be used for the good of all the people, not just those who happen to have a majoritarian point of view. I think I’m most offended by the change in language that would change your criteria based on sort of a numerical hierarchy.” The board voted down the proposal 2-5, with members Israel Payton and Reed Morisky supporting it. Payton, who lives in the Matanuska Valley, said many people in the area have “given up” on policies improving the quality of their fisheries. The board is charged with making allocation decisions, which are difficult, but it’s important to consider the needs of a growing population in Cook Inlet, he said. “I sympathize with commercial fishermen in Cook Inlet who have a long history in commercial fishing that feel like they’re getting squeezed out,” he said. “But the population has grown … we’re not providing the opportunity for that growing need.” Board member Fritz Johnson noted there are biological issues in the Susitna River impacting salmon returns there as well, and there are ways to remedy that using board processes, but said he would oppose the proposal because of the majority of users being against it. Both Morisky and board member Robert Ruffner noted that they would be willing to discuss the issue further in the future, as it’s a common issue brought up between user groups. It continued the thread of the meeting, as the board held an entire special meeting Friday to discuss issues related to hatcheries. No regulatory action was taken, but the board listened to public comment and information from ADFG about current hatchery programs and research to gather more information after several years of the public raising concerns about hatchery operations in the state. Two other proposals, 169 and 170, also raised long-term issues. Both dealt with the way ADFG sets salmon escapement goals in rivers, which impact how managers are able to open fishing and regulate harvest. The department sets a variety of different types of goals, including sustainable escapement goals, or SEG, biological escapement goals, or BEG, and optimum escapement goals, or OEG, and develops them based on the data available. Proposal 169 would have rewritten the state’s policy for developing escapement goals and required the department to release them earlier, before in-cycle Board of Fisheries proposals are due, and proposal 170 would have changed how escapement goals are set and required management targets based on maximum sustained yield. The board turned down both proposals unanimously, but several members noted that the escapement goal setting process may be due for a review. Currently, the department reviews and sets escapement goals, presenting information to the board at each three-year meeting cycle, but the board does not necessarily vote on setting individual escapement goals. Ruffner noted that the process of how Fish and Game decides whether to set an OEG, BEG or SEG can be confusing and could use clarification. “I think if we ignore this, I think in a couple of years we’re going to be right where we are with hatchery issues, where we have to do something,” he said. “I’d much prefer to get ahead of that now with a committee process or something.” Jensen said he agreed with Ruffner about the long-term considerations on the escapement goal policies. Payton said he thought the escapement goal policy is one of the stronger documents the department has but there could be some improvements to the board’s action on goals. “Process-wise, I think we could work on some things,” he said. ^ Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

ADFG advances logbook repeal; OMB takes director salaries

Alaska Department of Fish and Game officials want input on a proposal to repeal rules requiring sport fish guides to report their clients’ catch. ADFG issued a public notice March 7 requesting public comments on eliminating the Freshwater Sport Fish Guide Logbook program. The department currently mandates all fishing guides and charter operators to complete detailed summaries of each fishing trip they run in logbooks provided by the department. Freshwater guides are required to record the time and location of each trip; the number of each species caught and harvested or released; as well as the sport fishing license number of each guide and client that participated in a given outing. Those logbooks must then be turned in to the department each week during the fishing season. Saltwater fishing guides would still be required to record their trips in the state logbooks. While ADFG monitors fish stocks in many popular commercial and sport fisheries across the state with fish weirs, sonar, and various other survey methods, many other fisheries, even on large, heavily used waters, are not tracked. The logbooks offer fisheries managers a frame of reference for how fisheries typically not actively managed in-season are performing by tracking catch rates and angler effort. Logbook data can also be used in gathering other harvest information as well. The popular Kenai River coho fishery, for example, largely occurs after the sonar focused on enumerating the river’s sockeye run is pulled in mid-August. Questions about the reasons behind repealing specifically the freshwater logbook requirement were referred to the Office of Management and Budget despite being a regulatory proposal and were not answered in time for this story. Acting Fish and Game Administrative Services Director Samantha Gatton told the House Fish and Game budget subcommittee March 5 that repealing the program would save approximately $100,000. Gatton previously said the overall saltwater and freshwater logbook program costs the state $650,000 to $690,000 per year. Overall, the department is facing a $4.5 million cut from a roughly $200 million budget under the Dunleavy administration’s proposal. Incoming Kenai River Sportfishing Association Executive Director Ben Mohr said the group is fairly ambivalent about the proposal to repeal it. The freshwater logbook program is scheduled to sunset in October and, according to Mohr, has not been used for in-season management as much as intended. On March 12 ADFG Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang also clarified in response to questions from legislators on the House budget subcommittee that the department is cutting the Habitat and Subsistence Division director positions so the PCNs, or position control numbers, can be transferred to the Office of Management and Budget for director-level positions there. He stressed that the department will continue to operate the Habitat and Subsistence aspects of its work as it has done; the difference will be that division operations managers leading each area will report to a deputy commissioner. The Habitat and Subsistence director positions are vacant and not required by statute, according to Vincent-Lang. “I’d rather not lose two permitters; I’d rather lose a vacant director and figure out how to oversee that division by a deputy commissioner,” he told the committee. Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, questioned the plan for putting science-based permitting decisions on an appointee-level position. Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka, said OMB needs to explain the rationale behind transferring the positions out of Fish and Game. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Trade war takes big bite out of Alaska seafood sales

So how’s that trade war with China going? Up until last July, China was Alaska’s biggest trading partner for seven years running. In 2017, China bought 54 percent of Alaska’s fish and shellfish products, valued at $800 million. The initial U.S. tariffs on Chinese imports were followed by a retaliatory 10 percent tariff from China last September that included U.S. seafood exports; U.S. tariffs against $200 billion worth of Chinese imports were to increase to 25 percent on March 2, but that deadline was extended by 60 days late in February as trade negotiations continue. All the tariff tit-for-tat has taken a big bite out of Alaska’s seafood market share and sales continue to sink. The new taxes have tamped down Alaska seafood sales to China by one-fifth through 2018, said Jeremy Woodrow, acting director of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. In a presentation this month to the House Fisheries Committee, Woodrow said “sales so far this year are off by more than 20 percent and we expect to take a big hit from China this year.” Woodrow said a survey of Alaska processors and industry stakeholders revealed that “65 percent reported they had immediately lost sales from the increase of these tariffs, 50 percent reported delays in their sales, and 36 percent reported they lost customers in China. Another 21 percent said they had unanticipated costs because of the trade conflict.” He added that the taxes have caused inventories to pile up in freezers as Alaska seafood sellers seek markets to fill the China shortfall. Sales inroads are being made in other countries like Spain and Brazil, Woodrow said, but the loss of China would leave a lasting hurt. Meanwhile, state general fund dollars have been zeroed out for ASMI’s budget by the Dunleavy Administration and its travel budget slashed by more than half to $158,000. Other trade impacts A new report by economists from Columbia, Princeton, and the New York Federal Reserve explores the impacts of the Trump Administrations trade policy on prices and pocketbooks. In the short term, it says the U.S. has experienced substantial price increases, large changes to supply chain networks, a drop in the availability of imported varieties, and complete passthrough of the tariffs to domestic consumers. While the long-run effects are still to be seen, the economists said, “we also see similar patterns for foreign countries who have retaliated against the U.S., which indicates that the trade war reduces real income for the global economy as well.” Seaweed to the rescue “They are coming to take our cows away!” yelped critics of the proposed Green New Deal that’s cropped up in Congress. The deal calls for major investments in clean-energy jobs and infrastructure to help the U.S. transform to a more earth friendly economy. The GND is making farmers uneasy because fingers are pointing at cows as big polluters from the methane gas they pass. Most of the gas is actually belched from the cow’s mouth and not released from the back end. Cow burps account for 26 percent of the nation’s total methane emissions according to the EPA. Seaweed can help put the brakes on all those burps. Researchers in Australia started investigating after a dairy farmer noticed cows that grazed on washed-up seaweed along the shore were healthier and more productive than those in the field. Another study five years ago confirmed those results and 20 different kinds of seaweed were tested in cow feeds. Overall, they reduced methane production by up to 50 percent but required high doses of seaweed, almost 20 percent by sample weight. Enter Asparagopsis, a red seaweed found throughout the Pacific. The Queensland researchers found that adding less than 2 percent of that particular seaweed to a cow’s diet reduced its methane output by up to 99 percent! The cows have good taste; asparagopsis is one of the most in Hawaiian cuisine and used traditionally in poke. The problem now is producing enough of the methane suppressor. Wild harvesting is not sustainable, the researchers said, and it will take financial and industry backers to cultivate production to an industrial scale. Meanwhile, that dairy farmer has sold his farm and is selling kelp and rockweed infused livestock feed full-time with a Prince Edward Island company called North Atlantic Organics. Fish gals on the job Women at work in the seafood industry is the focus of an international video competition that’s now open for entries. The scope includes all segments of the industry: fishing on boats, fish farming, processing, selling, managing, research, monitoring, teaching and any related services. It’s the second round for the contest that was launched last year by the Paris-based group Women in the Seafood Industry. “Women are very numerous in the industry, but not very visible,” said Marie Christine Monfort, WSI president and co-founder. Studies show that one in two workers in the seafood industry is a woman, but most are over-represented in low skilled, low paying positions. Montfort said women account for less than 10 percent of company directors and just 1 percent of CEOs. A WSI international survey last year revealed that 61 percent of women reported perceptions of gender inequality in the seafood industry compared to 48 percent of men. Raising awareness of gender biases is the first step towards making positive changes, Montfort said. And that is what the film contest is all about. Last year’s winner showcased women who mend nets for a living in Vigo, Spain. Second place went to a film about California women who formed a clam farming cooperative. Tied for third place were films about female fishing mentors in Newfoundland and women in India who started food trucks to sell their husbands’ catches. One entry from Alaska called Copper River featured veteran Cordova fisherman, Thea Thomas. Individuals and groups are invited to contribute videos of up to four minutes showing women at work in the industry. Winners receive 1000 euros along with two 500 euro prizes. Deadline to enter is Aug. 2. Learn more at womeninseafood.com. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Genetically-engineered salmon cleared for US sales by FDA

The Food and Drug Administration last week cleared the way for genetically engineered salmon to be sold in the U.S. The agency on March 8 deactivated a 2016 import alert on such salmon, FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement. That ban restricted the sale of genetically engineered salmon in the U.S. until the agency issued labeling guidelines. The change has alarmed some in Alaska about what genetically engineered salmon on the market might mean for Alaska’s salmon industry, which harvests wild fish. Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican, pushed back in December 2015 against the market introduction of genetically engineered salmon and called for stricter labeling requirements on such products. The import ban was put in place the following month. “I’m extremely disappointed in the FDA’s shortsighted decision,” Murkowski said in a statement Friday. “It is wrong-headed and a bad idea, simple as that. I am not going to back down and will continue my fight to ensure that any salmon product that is genetically engineered be clearly labeled.” At the end of last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture put out rules for genetically engineered foods, Reuters reported, and “consumer groups criticized the USDA for saying companies need to use the term ‘bioengineered’ rather than the more commonly used terms ‘genetically engineered’ or ‘GMO.’” The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute supports Murkowski’s position, said Jeremy Woodrow, the institute’s communications director. The group’s research shows that consumers “want to know where their seafood comes from,” he said. Alaska Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan also opposed the change. The FDA’s decision “to allow genetically modified ‘salmon’ for sale to everyday consumers without clear, discernible labeling is wrong and totally unjustified,” he said in a written statement. “American families deserve to know when they’re serving their families wild Alaskan salmon versus some genetically tampered fish.” It’s not yet clear what genetically engineered salmon could mean for Alaska. The way that such products may affect pricing for Alaska salmon has yet to be seen, Woodrow said. “That would be the concern: If you can raise a salmon faster and be able to deliver this product for potentially less overhead, is that going to affect the price of salmon in the marketplace?” Woodrow said. “And that is something we will continue to watch.” In 2015, the FDA approved an application related to genetically engineered salmon from a Massachusetts company called AquaBounty Technologies. But the import alert prevented the company’s products from entering the U.S. Lifting the ban means the company’s AquAdvantage salmon eggs “can now be imported to the company’s contained grow-out facility in Indiana to be raised into salmon for food,” the FDA said. The company has a facility in the province of Prince Edward Island in eastern Canada, where the salmon eggs are produced, according to the FDA. AquaBounty’s technology integrates a chinook salmon growth hormone gene into the genome of Atlantic salmon, resulting in a fish that grows faster than a standard Atlantic salmon, according to the company’s website. The FDA determined in a 2015 review that the fish is safe to eat. With its technology, AquaBounty wants to “spur a radically more responsible and sustainable way of farming Atlantic salmon,” its website says. The product is already sold in Canada. The United Fishermen of Alaska referred to the genetically engineered salmon as “frankenfish” in a statement March 8. The group said the FDA lifting the ban without requiring clear labeling for the product is a “disservice” to consumers and a blow to the state’s fishing communities. It’s not clear when genetically engineered salmon might hit the market, said Woodrow. A phone call and email to AquaBounty were not returned March 11. Instead of mandatory labeling for genetically engineered salmon, Murkowski’s office said, producers will be allowed to use QR codes or 1-800 numbers that would refer customers to more information. “So let’s say you’re in a grocery store and you see a 1-800 number. Are you going to pick up a phone and call that 1-800 number before you check out?” said Karina Borger, a spokeswoman for Murkowski. “The senator has been pushing for clear labeling from the get-go.” Another one of Murkowski’s concerns, Borger said, is about a man-made fish that could outgrow natural stocks. The senator has introduced legislation over the years to mandate the labeling of genetically engineered salmon. “When we talk about GE salmon, it’s separate from the larger GMO debate,” Borger said. “Genetically engineered animals are not crops.” Frances Leach, executive director of United Fishermen of Alaska, is concerned that genetically engineered salmon on the market could potentially mean consumers will buy less Alaska salmon. “The consumer … is going to see wild Alaska salmon and this other salmon that they don’t know what it is. They just know it’s salmon, and likely it’s going to be cheaper because they can create these GMO salmon for cheaper than we go out and fish for salmon,” she said. ASMI won’t be specifically targeting marketing efforts against genetically engineered salmon, Woodrow said. ASMI sees it as another farmed product to which wild-caught Alaska salmon is superior. “In the retail space or food service space, it’s another farmed salmon product, and we’ll be competing against this product like we have with other farmed salmon,” he said.

FISH FACTOR: Trident’s pollock noodles sweep Symphony of Seafood awards

Push that pasta aside. Noodles made from Alaska pollock are poised to become a center of the plate favorite. Alaska Pollock Protein Noodles from Trident Seafoods swept the awards at the 26th annual Alaska Symphony of Seafood new products competition in Juneau. The low carb, “flavor neutral” noodles contain 1O grams of protein per serving and can be swapped with any pasta favorites. The ready to eat item drew raves from judges and samplers from Seattle to Southeast who gave the noodles quadruple awards at the Feb. 20 bash. “That’s never happened before,” said Julie Decker, executive director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation,” host of the Symphony event. “It really blew everything out of the water.” The new products played to a packed house as part of United Fishermen of Alaska’s annual legislative reception where everyone gets to sample and vote on the goods. “It’s a great chance for policy makers to mix with people in Alaska’s statewide seafood industry,” Decker said. “Sen. Murkowski gave away the grand prize. Lots of legislators were there and a number of them presented awards. A number of people from the governor’s office also attended.” The annual competition kicks off at Pacific Marine Expo in Seattle in November where the new products are judged and first place winners in three categories are announced. All other winners are kept under wraps until the Juneau event. Trident’s protein noodles took top honors in the retail category, People’s Choice awards in Seattle and Juneau and the overall grand prize. Second at retail was Wild Alaskan Salmon Jerky by Fishpeople Seafood of Portland, Ore.; Smoked Sockeye Salmon Chowder by Heather’s Choice of Anchorage took home third place. First place in the Food Service category was awarded to Alaska Cod Dumplings by Tai Foong USA, followed by Trident’s Entrée Redi pollock fillet portions. The winner in the Beyond the Plate category, which features items made from seafood byproducts, was Wild Alaska Pollock Oil by Alaska Naturals Pet Products. Second place went to Tidal Vision’scrab shell based Tidal-Tex Odor Preventer that “de-funks” footwear, camp gear and pet beds. Top winners are automatically entered into the Seafood Excellence competition at the Seafood Expo North America March 17-19 in Boston. Fishing updates Hundreds of boats are out on the water all winter throughout the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea targeting pollock, cod, flounders, other whitefish and more. The Bering Sea snow crab fishery is still ongoing as are openers for their bigger cousin, bairdi Tanners, in Southeast Alaska. The Tanner harvest should top 1 million pounds. Southeast crabbers also are finishing off a golden king crab fishery that has a catch limit of 76,000 pounds. A fishery for seven types of rockfish will remain open in outside waters of Southern Southeast until March 14 or until the fleet takes the nearly 112,000-pound quota, whichever comes first. A Tanner crab fishery opened in Prince William Sound on March 1; Norton Sound’s red king crab fishery opened on Feb. 25 with a winter harvest limit of 12,048 pounds. The Pacific halibut fishery opens on March 15, soon to be followed by herring fisheries. Love wild? Eat wild Fish farming does little if anything, to conserve wild stocks. In fact, aquaculture has failed to reduce the pressure on the world’s fish stocks, it has not advanced fishery conservation, and should focus more on species lower in the food web, such as clams and other bivalves. Those are the conclusions of a study published in Science Daily by researchers at the University of North Carolina, who base their findings on historical data from the World Bank and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization from 1970 to 2014. Yet the push to convince consumers that eating farmed saves wild has gotten new life by meal kit makers LoveTheWild. The Boulder-Colorado based group, which launched its oven-ready farmed salmon, trout and barramundi offerings in 2014, has announced they will be available at Whole Foods stores nationwide this month. Among their investors is actor Leonardo DiCaprio who claims that “the exploitation of our oceans has left many marine ecosystems on the brink of total collapse” and that LoveTheWild is “empowering people to take action on the crisis in a meaningful way.” LoveTheWild omits the fact that meals and oils made from wild fish are used to feed farmed fish, thereby removing more from the ocean, not less. Also, many fish are grown in packed net pens and are routinely doused with additives, antibiotics and pesticides. “There are some perceptions in the consumer market on the production and management of our wild fisheries that are misconstrued and quite frankly, wrong,” said Michael Kohan, Seafood Technical Director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. “Alaska’s fisheries support over 60,000 jobs by people whose livelihood is putting wild fish on the market for people to purchase. You support wild fish by eating wild fish.” Andy Wink, director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, called the farmed saves wild push “misplaced.” “Their hearts might be in the right place but I don’t think they are thinking it through,” Wink said. “When you buy fish from a sustainably managed fishery, you’re voting with your dollars to support those who are doing things right.” Fish funds American Seafoods has issued a call for grant applications targeting community programs in Kodiak, the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands, Western Alaska Peninsula, Bristol Bay, Lower Kuskokwim, Lower Yukon, Norton Sound and regions north. A total of $45,000 will be allocated in grants that typically range from $1,000 to $7,500 each for projects that focus on hunger, housing, safety, education and cultural activities. The deadline to submit a request is April 10; the company’s Western Alaska Community Grant Board will select recipients on April 25. Grant request forms are available online at www.americanseafoods.com or by contacting Kim Lynch at [email protected] or 206-256-2659. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Board of Fisheries to reconvene committee on hatcheries

For the first time in about a decade, the Board of Fisheries will reconvene its committee focused on the state’s salmon hatcheries. The Hatchery Committee — which actually consists of all the members of the board — is set to meet March 8, the day before the board begins its Statewide Finfish and Supplemental Issues meeting in Anchorage at the Sheraton Hotel from March 9-12. Rather than making regulatory policies, the committee meeting will focus on receiving reports from staff and hearing from the public on hatchery issues. Glenn Haight, the board’s executive director, said the committee will base its activities on a joint protocol on hatcheries developed in 2002. “The agenda shows that the department will provide a number of reports and then they were just going to open discussions not unlike Committee of the Whole,” he said. “It’s not clear to me what will come out of it. It’s an information session.” The Joint Protocol on Salmon Enhancement, signed in 2002 by the chairman of the Board of Fisheries and the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, outlines the authorities of the department and the board and outlines the board’s intention to hold meetings “on a regular basis wherein the department will update the board and the public on management, production and research relating to Alaska’s salmon enhancement program.” Most hatcheries in the state are run by private nonprofit organizations, funded in part by taxes paid by commercial fishermen as well as cost recovery revenue from harvests; the state also runs two sportfish hatcheries in Anchorage and Fairbanks. Their permits for egg-takes and salmon releases are administered by the state and vetted through the Regional Planning Team process. The board has the authority to regulate harvest on those returning salmon and to modify hatchery permits relating to the source and the number of eggs harvested. Sam Rabung, the director of Fish and Game’s Division of Commercial Fisheries and the former section chief for the division’s Statewide Aquaculture, Permitting and Planning office, said the committee met annually until 2008 or so. “Quite frankly, I think the board at that time just lost interest because there was nothing new or exciting happening,” he said. “In the 10 years that went by, there wasn’t an opportunity for the public to receive information, and because that information wasn’t being made available in public formats, it kind of created an information vacuum.” In a series of meetings in 2018, the board considered petitions and Agenda Change Requests from the public raising concerns about hatchery production — particularly about pink salmon production in Prince William Sound. The Kenai River Sportfishing Association, a Soldotna-based organization which advocates for sport anglers, connected its concern to an ADFG analysis showing that unexpectedly large numbers of hatchery-origin Prince William Sound pink salmon were straying into streams in Lower Cook Inlet in 2016 and 2017. The organization submitted a number of scientific papers connecting pink salmon abundance in the Gulf of Alaska to concerns about the Gulf’s carrying capacity for fish as well. Hatchery representatives and commercial fishermen countered these papers, submitting their own review saying many of the studies were flawed or incomplete, and asking the board to have a broader discussion on hatcheries before modifying permits or capping production. Division of Commercial Fisheries Chief Fisheries Scientist for salmon Bill Templin presented an analysis of the papers as well, saying many of the papers either had flaws or lacked context. The board members repeatedly voted down the requests to cap hatchery production or modify current hatchery permits, but agreed to reconvene the committee on hatcheries to open up the opportunity for more public forum on hatchery production and impacts. Hatcheries are important to many commercial fishing communities, enhancing the salmon returns to many areas. The cities of Juneau, Valdez and Craig all submitted letters in support of hatchery programs in the state, as well as a number of Native corporations and commercial fishermen in various regions. The Afognak Native Corp. submitted comments for the meeting supporting hatcheries and the reconvening of the committee, calling the Kodiak Regional Aquaculture Association’s work “critical contributions.” “We specifically request that the State support the convening of the Salmon Hatcheries Committee Meeting and Joint Protocol on Salmon Enhancement,” executive director Alisha Drabek wrote in the letter. “This Joint Protocol is particularly essential as it provides a forum for open discussion on hatchery topics to improve dialogue and transparency between the Board of Fisheries, ADF&G, fisheries stakeholders, and the public to generate statewide perspectives on issues associated with hatchery production of salmon.” Conservation and sportfishing groups submitted comments asking the board to take action with concerns about the effect of pink salmon on the ecosystem of the Gulf of Alaska. The Homer-based Kachemak Bay Conservation Society criticized Templin’s analysis of the scientific papers on the effects of pink salmon on the Gulf in its comment, saying ADFG staff menbers are not able to act in an unbiased manner on hatcheries. The group calls for an independent Hatchery Impacts Advisory Group to advise the board’s Hatchery Committee. “An independent Hatchery Impacts Science Advisory Group must be formed to determine whether release sized need to be limited by the board and/or sanctuaries for significant wild stocks need to be created,” wrote Kachemak Bay Conservation Society board president Roberta Highland in the letter. The Hatchery Committee is scheduled to meet on Friday, March 8, starting at 8:30 a.m., followed by the Statewide and Supplemental Finfish meeting starting Saturday at 8:30 a.m. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Administration tight-lipped on budget; UFA promotes priorities

Alaska’s new slogan is “open for business” but good luck trying to find out any budget details when it comes to the business of fishing. The Dunleavy administration has a full gag order in place at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and all budget questions, no matter how basic, are referred to press secretary Matt Shuckerow. Likewise, queries to the many deputies and assistants at the ADFG commissioner’s office are deferred to Shuckerow, who did not acknowledge messages for information. “It isn’t just the media or Alaskans. Legislators are faced with that same gag order,” said Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak. “I don’t know if the administration is just trying to settle in and thinks that the Legislature is their worst enemy and they want to keep people at bay or what,” she added. “Hopefully, they will realize that we have to work together and the sooner we do it, the better relationship we’re going to have.” Stutes, who is the majority whip in the House and also chairs both the House Fisheries and Transportation Committees, said that “the governor has made very few appearances and nobody can get an appointment with him.” She confirmed that anyone who meets with Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy must relinquish cell phones, Apple watches and any recording devices. The executive committee of the Alaska Municipal League was able to meet briefly with the governor during its annual meeting last week in Juneau, said Pat Branson, a committee member and mayor of the City of Kodiak. The AML includes 165 cities, boroughs and municipalities that represent more than 97 percent of Alaska’s residents. “We were grateful to meet with the governor because he did not come to any of the AML meetings,” Branson said. “All we heard was that he’s all ears. I told him that we are problem solvers and it is something we do every day. We’re all aware that the state’s fiscal plan has not been in order for many years. How can we maintain our services and work through a plan that meets our community needs?” Branson said the AML is “shocked and upset” at the drastic cuts in the governor’s proposed budget and the way it came about. “It was done without any communication with municipalities, school boards, or boroughs and, I believe, without any care or understanding of how things work in Alaska, or the importance of the marine highway system or fisheries to local communities or how it will affect Alaska’s overall economy,” Branson said. “Why would people want to come or stay here? We’ve never seen a budget come forth from an administration like this. It’s just not acceptable.” AML members plan to hold town hall meetings, Branson said, and return to Juneau with ideas to present to the legislature and the governor. “We, as elected officials, are just getting a grasp on this budget. I don’t know if Alaskans understand the degree that these cuts affect them individually,” Branson said. “We want to bring in a neutral party to explain the cuts and how it affects our communities. We’re hopeful the governor will listen to some alternative solutions from Alaskans.” Fish committee The House Fisheries Committee has several new faces among its members that include Stutes, Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon of Dillingham, and Reps. Geran Tarr, Chuck Kopp and Lance Pruitt of Anchorage, Sarah Vance of Homer and Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins of Sitka. “We are going to focus on fish, fish and more fish, and how important and critical it is that we sustain our fisheries in a healthy manner. And part of that equation is making sure that the Department of Fish and Game is fully funded,” Stutes said. Frances Leach, executive director of United Fishermen of Alaska, said she is excited about the make-up of the committee. UFA is the nation’s largest fisheries trade organization with 35 diverse member groups. “Stutes as the chair really knows how to run the show and I think it’s going to deliver some great benefits,” Leach said. She agreed with the committee’s main focus to educate people in the capital about how critically important commercial fisheries are to the economic stability of Alaska. “UFA is proud of the fact that commercial fishing is the number one private sector employer in the state of Alaska employing over 60,000 men and women and I think that’s often forgotten,” Leach said. Both UFA and the Fisheries Committee will continue to push for HB 35, an act relating to participation on the Boards of Fisheries and Game that resolves conflicts of interest. “This bill will ensure that people who are sitting on the boards have an opportunity to participate in the discussion even if they can’t vote,” Stutes said. “That’s why they are there, because of their expertise, and right now they are conflicted out.” UFA also is focused on shellfish enhancement bills that were reintroduced this year. “We’re really excited because if it all goes through, in 20 years Alaska mariculture could be a $100 million industry,” Leach said. UFA also will strongly support the state’s hatcheries and “urge use of good science and facts to guide the future of the program,” Leach said. UFA is opposed to the governor’s proposal to divert $28 million in fisheries landing and business taxes from local towns to state coffers. “We’re very concerned and believe it will cause a lot of hardship for coastal communities,” said Leach. “Not just for fishermen, but for the towns that use that money for education and infrastructure. It impacts everybody.” Budget bits Dunleavy’s proposed budget for the state’s Commercial Fisheries Division is $69.45 million, a $1.64 million reduction, according to Stutes’ office. Details are sketchy but it aims to reorganize and consolidate the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission into the Commercial Fisheries Division. Also, the directors of the Habitat and Subsistence divisions would be moved from ADFG to the Office of Management and Budget. The travel budget for all state departments would be cut by 50 percent, which will be difficult for the Boards of Fisheries and Game to hold meetings in constituent regions. A proposed 16.3 percent increase to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute was removed and ASMI will receive zero from the state. Fish meetings A push for a personal use fishing priority over all other users in Cook Inlet will be among 16 proposals before the Board of Fisheries at its meetings on March 9-12 at the Anchorage Sheraton. Dubbed “Help Move Alaskans Up the Food Chain,” proposal 171 by the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, would “require the BOF to consider Alaskans’ food needs and use of fisheries by Alaskans when setting fishery allocations. The current allocation method prioritizes the export of Alaska’s fish for consumption by outsiders over the need of Alaskans.” On March 8 the board’s Hatchery Committee also will hold a special meeting. All meetings are open to the public and available via live audio at www.boardoffisheries.adfg.alaska.gov. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Board adjusts some Chignik plans after 2018 fishery failure

Editor’s note: The original version of this story omitted two changes that altered some fishing opportunity for seiners near Dolgoi Islans and changing the opening schedules for setnetters in the area. The story has been updated to include these changes. With a year of poor sockeye runs, unfavorable ocean conditions and allocation fights before them, the Board of Fisheries chose to change part of the season for some nearby commercial fisheries to improve passage of sockeye salmon to Chignik. After a long debate, the board voted down some proposals to change the allocation in the Chignik management area at its meeting in Anchorage, but later passed two proposals to realign setnetting time and to close seining in June in parts of the Southwestern, Southeastern and Southcentral districts of the South Unimak and Shumagin Island fisheries. The proposals before the board were submitted before the 2018 season, when a disastrously poor sockeye run kept Chignik fishermen on shore for virtually the entire season, but they still scratched at an allocation itch between the terminal fishermen at Chignik and the commercial fishermen along the Alaska Peninsula.  During the public comment period, speakers oscillated between Chignik residents pleading with the board to restrict fishing to restrict offshore fishing so the fishermen in Chignik can harvest more sockeye and commercial fishermen pleading with the board to leave regulations as they are so the fishermen can make a living. “Sockeye salmon is the main and only industry in Chignik,” said Alana Anderson, a Chignik City Council member. “The city’s operating budget relies heavily on fish taxes … Chignik is a small fishery.” At the same time, further restrictions to harvest in other management areas — to the west and east of Chignik, respectively — would cut into the profit margins of the fishermen who have invested in boats and permits to fish in those areas. Multiple fishermen from Sand Point and Area M asked the board to leave regulations at status quo. The management plans of the Chignik area are complicated and rely on allocation percentages of the salmon passing through. The proposals the board considered were submitted before the 2018 season, but the poor runs last year played into board members’ discussion because of how significantly the Chignik economy depends on a single fishery. Within its allocation criteria, the Board of Fisheries includes a consideration for the importance of a fishery to a local economy. Board member Al Cain said during a debate over a proposal that would have changed allocation percentages that based on discussion with stakeholders in the area, he didn’t want to change allocation much during the meeting. “It seems there’s two very valid sides to every coin we’re looking at,” he said. “Both sides of the equation have valid points … it’s hard to make a decision when one side or the other may benefit or one side or the other may have something removed from them. The economy of the local area is very high in my decision.” The board members spent significant time debating the allocation percentages in the area, with several proposals failing on narrow vote margins. Board members Israel Payton and Fritz Johnson both suggested multiple changes based on one proposal to the Southeastern District Mainland management plan, which focuses on an area southwest of Chignik. Payton’s version of the proposal focused on changing some of the harvest patterns for seiners in Area M, reducing some of the harvest pressure on eastern-bound sockeye stocks. He noted that changes made to the management plan in 2004 resulted in increased harvest on eastern bound stocks, based on Alaska Department of Fish and Game data, and wanted to shift more of the harvest back to the west. “If you just add up all the harvest rates … it takes a pretty big chunk out of eastern-bound stocks,” he said. “Given the pressure, I think it is fair to shift the burden to the seiners.” With board member Al Cain absent from the debate on Payton’s amended proposal, the six remaining board members split 3-3, resulting in the proposal failing. During the debate, board member Robert Ruffner said he wanted to be cautious to make any major changes to fisheries that would result in shifting effort. Moving effort reactively based on one year’s poor run could result in damage to another stock in the future, he said. Plus, the poor sockeye runs in 2018 were most likely due to environmental conditions in the Gulf of Alaska, based on the fact that sockeye runs were poor everywhere from the Copper River to Chignik. “If we look at harvest and we think that this is going to solve those problems that are out in the Gulf that are apparent in all these stocks, I don’t’ think this is going to do it,” he said. “I’m just not confident enough at this point with what I know to think that we should start changing this allocation plan.” Board members John Jensen and Orville Huntington agreed with Ruffner and voted against the proposal. Payton replied that while the Gulf of Alaska conditions certainly had an effect, the board was obliged to do what it can. “What we catch is in our control,” Payton said. “That’s what we do. We control what we can. We can blame all these things, and kick the can, but this board is tasked with controlling harvest.” Later, the board moved to amend and passed proposals to limit commercial fishing time in sections of the fishery in the South Unimak and Shumagin Islands near Dolgoi Island. Proposal 138, which originally asked to reduce commercial salmon fishing time to 75 percent of the current level; the Board of Fisheries amended it to close the Dolgoi Island area to seiners throughout June. Ruffner noted that data showed that many of the salmon passing through the area in June are headed for Chignik and that removing the seine fleet could help the Chignik fishermen and the escapement to the river. “This would take the seine fleet out,” he said. “I know people want more, but if there’s one thing that we could do that according to the genetics data that we have, it does suggest … that this would be the most effective thing that we could do as one action to help.” On the proposal to shift setnet fishing schedules, the board amended the proposal to align the hours with the other commercial fishermen in the area. The final language allows setnets in the South Unimak and Shumagin Island fisheries to begin June 6 at 6 a.m. and fish for 64 consecutive hours instead of the previous 88, and then will open for 88-hour consecutive periods beginning June 10 until June 28. The board approved both the amended proposals unanimously. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

ADFG cuts aim at logbook program, division directors

Sportfishing guides on Alaska’s rivers and lakes would no longer have to submit logbook records of what their clients catch if the cuts proposed in Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy’s fiscal year 2020 budget come to fruition. The elimination of the freshwater sportfish guide logbook program is just one of a handful of changes proposed for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to save money. A letter from acting Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang to staff sent out on Feb. 13 detailed some of those cuts to accommodate the approximately 4.3 percent proposed cut in the department’s budget. “As we all know, the state continues to face fiscal challenges in the wake of low oil prices,” Vincent-Lang stated in the letter. “I, along with our budget team and the staff at the Office of Management and Budget, have worked diligently over the last six weeks to align our programs with our core services and identify areas of opportunity for efficiencies.” Those cuts include moving the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission into the Division of Commercial Fisheries, eliminating the director positions for the Habitat and Subsistence divisions, a 50 percent travel reduction for all divisions, eliminating General Fund support for Special Wildlife Viewing Areas as well as eliminating the logbook program. Currently, sportfishing guides have to meticulously record the fish their clients catch and submit them in a timely manner to the state so biologists can get a better idea of harvest rates and some survey information on stocks that may not be monitored. The department enumerates and tracks many runs of fish, especially salmon, using weirs and sonars, but the expense makes it impossible for all species on all rivers. Even some major stocks, such as coho salmon on the Kenai River, are not tracked by sonar or weir every year, though the department conducts periodic assessments in the river. This applies to guides both in freshwater and saltwater. Guides on the ocean would still have to record and submit logbooks, but the freshwater program would go away entirely, said Samantha Gatton, the acting director of administrative services for ADFG. Together, the salt and freshwater guide programs cost between $650,000 to $690,000 annually, she said. “(The freshwater logbook program) would just go away,” she said. “That doesn’t mean we don’t have fisheries biologists out in the field.” ADFG biologists regularly travel to remote locations all over the state in a variety of vehicles to monitor fisheries and wildlife, from periodic aerial salmon surveys to diving surveys for clams to moose collaring. Beyond just the staff, members of the regulatory boards of Fisheries and Game travel from their respective regions to where the regulatory meetings are being held. A 50 percent travel reduction would impact the entire department, including the boards. Gatton said the goal is to eliminate unnecessary travel. The department leaders also want to find ways to use technology instead of flying for some meetings, for example, which could save the time and expense for the boards. It might also improve logistics, she said — travel in Alaska can often be unpredictable. The changes to the CFEC aren’t coming from nowhere; former governor Bill Walker’s administration also tried to consolidate some of the agency’s functions into Fish and Game through an administrative order issued in early 2016. The CFEC, which administers the limited entry permit system for Alaska’s commercial fisheries, has been plagued by complaints of inefficiency in both expense and permit adjudication. A judge blocked the implementation of the administrative order in August 2016 and the Walker administration put the action on hold to consult more stakeholders. In the case of Dunleavy’s budget, the consolidation of the CFEC would have to be done through statute approved by the Legislature, Gatton said. Though contained within ADFG, the CFEC would retain independence in functions like permit adjudication, but sharing services and other expenses like office space could result in savings, Gatton said. “They would be creating efficiencies,” she said. “You’re kind of duplicating a lot of services right now.” Of all the state departments, ADFG is proposed to take one of the smallest cuts. That may be in part because the department has been working to shift away from its dependence on the General Fund to operate, Gatton said. When the Legislature authorized the department to raise its fees for sportfishing and hunting licenses, that helped access more federal funds and split the cost between user fees and federal dollars rather than relying on the state. The Division of Commercial Fisheries did not shift at the same time, so has experienced more general fund cuts as the Legislature has cut the budget over the past three years, she said. The specific cuts to the department were made in “a collaborative effort” between the Office of Management and Budget and ADFG, Gatton said. “The goal here at Fish and Game is to continue to do our core functions … while learning to operate within what we’re given,” she said. ^ Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

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