Fisheries

FISH FACTOR: FCC issues warning on fishing gear beacons

Small electronic beacons that are being widely used by increasing numbers of fishermen could net them big fines. Automatic Identification Systems, or AIS, are easily attached to nets, longlines and pots and signal the locations of the gear via a vessel’s navigation system, laptops, or even cell phones. The inexpensive buoys, which range from $47 to $199 from most online retailers, are regarded as a Godsend by fishermen in the way they help locate gear as well as being a potential money saver. “If you’re not sitting on your gear with your vessel either on radar or on AIS, somebody can come along that doesn’t think there’s any gear in the water in the absence of an AIS marker and set over the top of you. Or a trawler could potentially come and nail your gear and it could result in substantial financial loses,” explained Buck Laukitis, a Homer-based fisherman and a member of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. AIS is required for boats longer than 65 feet and in certain shipping lanes, said Jerry Dzugan, director of the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association. But warning bulletins are advising that other users and sellers are subject to fines of more than $19,000 to $147,000 per day for those who continue to use them. A Federal Communications Commission bulletin says “anyone advertising or selling these noncompliant fishing net buoys or other noncompliant AIS devices should stop immediately, and anyone owning such devices should not use them. Sellers, advertisers, and operators of noncompliant AIS equipment may be subject to substantial monetary penalties.” The reason for the severe warning? The systems being used on fishing gear are not authorized by the Federal Communications Commission nor the U.S. Coast Guard. The small AIS buoys transmit a strong signal without essential navigational safety information and can interrupt or obscure the situational transmissions of other boat operators. “In crowded areas, the signals create a lot of clutter for vessels to navigate around — is it a vessel they are seeing on their plotter or just a buoy?” said Dzugan. “It’s especially problematic for large vessels or tugs with a tow that can’t maneuver quickly.” He added that the cheaper, small units coming from China also do not have proper standards for signals, which cause more identification problems. The FCC seems very committed to getting AIS fishing gear buoys out of the water and off the market, said Michael Crowley of National Fishermen. “Even if you have a certified AIS device, it shouldn’t be used for a fishing buoy because its purpose is vessel safety or personal rescue,” he wrote. “Equipment for tracking nets is authorized only when it operates in the 1,900 to 2,000 KHz band, not AIS frequencies, and they cannot be advertised as AIS approved.” Alaska’s congressional delegation sent a letter last month to the FCC requesting reconsideration for AIS use by fishermen, Laukitis told radio station KMXT in Kodiak. Meanwhile, he advises fishermen to forego the beacons. “I don’t think the word’s really gotten out, but we’re kind of in a pickle for this summer,” he said. “Fishermen are definitely not going to want to use these AIS beacons given the FCC’s warning. That means we’re probably going to have a lot more conflicts on the fishing grounds.” Tanners round two Crabbers are gearing up for another Prince William Sound Tanner fishery next month. It will be the second go for Tanner crab after last year which was the first opener since 1988. “The fishery will open March 1 in the western and eastern districts of Prince William Sound, which covers the southwest area of the sound and wraps around to the outside,” said Jan Rumble, area manager for Prince William Sound and Cook Inlet shellfish and groundfish at the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game office in Homer. Last March 14 boats dropped pots for Tanners and hauled up 82,000 pounds of crab with average weights of just under two pounds, or about 44,000 animals. Rumble said summer trawl surveys and a first ever pot survey last November came up pretty scratchy. “In our trawl survey it was pretty much half of the legal males we saw the previous year, so we are not opening the Northern and Hinchenbrook part of the Sound based on those results,” she explained. “In the pot survey we saw some crab, but it was not as good as we hoped so we will be monitoring each area throughout the fishery to make sure we are comfortable keeping it open.” Crabbers are required to get a Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission card, a commissioner’s permit and pot tags, which have been reduced to 25 due to the expected number of participants. Also mandatory: daily call-ins by 3 p.m. from the fishing grounds. “There was a mandatory call in last year but the compliance was pretty low,” Rumble said. “We’re really encouraging fishermen to call in because low compliance will result in our being more conservative. We want to work with information that’s coming from the grounds and not try to speculate on what’s going on out there.” Depending on catch rates, the fishery could remain open through March 31. The deadline to register for the Tanner crab fishery is Feb. 15. Bivalves help beat diseases Shellfish such as oysters, clams and mussels may hold clues to fighting flu and cancer in humans, as well as aiding in bone regeneration. In studies at the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Science in Maine, oysters were exposed to human bacteria and viruses and fought off the pathogens without antibodies, the proteins that immune systems in mammal use to attack disease. Likewise, clams could contract a contagious cancer, but also cured themselves without antibodies. “Clams don’t have chemotherapy or radiation, and somehow they are able to get rid of cancer,” said Jose Robledo, lead author on the study that was published in the journal Developmental and Comparative Immunology. “How on earth do they do it? Their strategy can give us clues about how to fight cancer in humans,” he told the Bangor Daily News. Studying immunity in bivalves could help researchers find an alternative to antibiotics, which are becoming more resistant to pathogens. And mimicking the antimicrobial compounds that mussels produce may yield new drugs for both humans and livestock, Robledo added. Along with helping humans, the research could also benefit the shellfish industry. Robledo plans to develop recommendations to guide farmers and hatcheries in breeding bivalve stocks for resistance to disease, and for development of strong shells and rapid growth. The bivalve study was funded by grants from the Saltonstall-Kennedy Foundation, the National Science Foundation, and the National Institute of Health. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Council takes first step toward rationalizing P-cod fishery

Pacific cod fishermen in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, one of the last remaining unrationalized federal fisheries in Alaska, may finally have to cross that bridge. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council passed a motion at its meeting Feb. 9 to take action on the Pacific cod fishery, which is facing a number of issues in abundance, processing and participation. Depending on public review and the council’s action at the next several meetings, the Pacific cod fishery could see significant changes to seasons, limits and vessel participation. The motion hinges around an analysis developed on the trawl catcher vessel fishery and releases Alternatives 1, 2, 3 and 6 for public review separate from the rest. Rationalization, also known as catch shares, refers to a system in which set amounts of the harvest are issued as quotas to various gear and vessel types, typically based on participation history in the fishery. Halibut and sablefish were the first fisheries to be rationalized in Alaska in the early 1990s, followed by Bering Sea pollock later that decade and Bering Sea crab fisheries in the mid-2000s. Proponents tout the benefits of such programs for ending the dangerous, “derby style” races for fish and curbing bycatch; opponents point to the high cost of entry for newcomers to purchase quota shares, consolidation of effort and the accompanying loss of jobs. The council’s Advisory Panel, made up of fishing industry stakeholders, unanimously supported the move to release some alternatives sooner, in part because of the urgency of the problems in the fishery. The shortened season was a particularly painful point for many: the 2018 Bering Sea trawl cod season was the shortest in the fishery’s history at just 13 days. “The (Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands) trawl catcher vessel Pacific cod fishery is facing multiple issues simultaneously that are negatively impacting the sustained viability and rational prosecution of the fishery for all its participants,” the council motion states. “These factors include: decreasing Pacific cod TACs (total allowable catch), an increase in the number of participating LLP licenses, the potential for additional new participants, a race among existing participants (often in unsafe conditions), and an increasingly shortened season.” Pacific cod are managed by both the state and the federal government, with some fisheries allowed in state waters. In recent years, participation has been growing, both in the state and federal fisheries. The state Board of Fisheries recently created a new cod fishery for pot gear for small vessels near Dutch Harbor, gaining record-high participation in the fishery this January. Pacific cod is a valuable fishery in Alaska. Most of that value goes to out-of-state residents. In 2016, $76 million in ex-vessel value went to Alaska residents; $117.7 million went to out-of-state residents, according to a December 2017 report to the council. The harvest of Pacific cod was cut by 80 percent in the Gulf of Alaska last year, and by nearly half in the Bering Sea. That’s attracting more boats to the open access state waters fishery, where the harvest comes out of the overall TAC. In its report, the Advisory Panel also pointed to an increase in mother-shipping by catcher-processors in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, pushing down shoreside processing and thus tax revenue for the Bering Sea communities. Those communities have long depended on the economic base provided by shore-based processors to sustain economies in incredibly remote, meteorologically hostile areas. During the council’s hearing, more than a dozen stakeholders offered testimony in person and by letter, and one by voicemail. Most testified in favor of the Advisory Panel’s motion and spoke about the danger of the fishery without changing the race for fish and the impact of the painfully short season this year. “Unfortunately, the season was so short this year that it allows me to be here to testify,” said Chris Cooper, who fishes on the F/V Perseverance. “…One thing that has not changed is our participation and commitment in this fishery. In the past, we’ve relied on the fishery for as much as half of our income … We’ve watched a two-and-a-half month to three-month season go down to under two weeks this year. To say that we’ve been directly affected by this change is an understatement.” The halibut bycatch is a perpetual problem for the trawl fisheries. The Pacific cod fishery, like other groundfish fisheries, have bycatch caps after which the fishery will close to protect non-target stocks. Brent Paine, the executive director of stakeholder group United Catcher Boats, said the halibut are victims of the race for fish; when fishermen are racing against the clock, they may not move to a new fishing area when they encounter large numbers of halibut in the bycatch. “In a 15-day fishery where these boats are racing for fish, you can’t exclude halibut bycatch. It doesn’t work,” he said. “We don’t like to compete. We can rationalize this fishery … if you just look at a catch share program.” The areas included in the fishery are often subject to poor weather, and with a breakneck race for fish before the managers close it, safety can go out the window. “The cod fishery has turned into a dangerous, irrational fishery recently here,” said Robert Smith, who said he owns and operates a trawler for cod and pollock. “We need to move forward with some kind of a rationalization program. The safety sometimes gets overlooked here. In these nice, warm rooms and stuff, I wish we could somehow convey how bad this weather can be up there at times.” Opposition came from the floating catcher-processors, who said implementing the rules suggested by the advisory panel would push them out of the area. Changing the rules on mothership deliveries would upset a large part of the fishery, said Matt Upton, representing U.S. Seafoods. “If you change it on us now, it’s basically jeopardizing our entire business operation,” he said. “We support the AP motion — it’s a wide range of alternatives for you to consider.” Shoreside processors said it’s important for the their sector to have a fair shot, as they support the communities that often depend on the economic support of the processors. Nicole Kimball, representing the Pacific Seafood Processors Association, said the council motion should not affect the Amendment 80 fleet, either, which is a group of Seattle-based groundfish catcher-processors. The council batted amendments back and forth but ultimately unanimously supported releasing the separated alternatives of the analysis. Council member Andy Mezirow said he hoped the federal process would not bog down the council’s ability to make progress on the changes before the next Pacific cod season, based on the concerns the members heard. “Hopefully, even though our schedule Is fairly jammed up here … hopefully in the three-meeting outlook we can get this moving,” he said. Council member Craig Cross encouraged members of the public to begin meeting and looking at the alternatives. Unlike other council actions, which start with an abstract discussion paper, this is further along in the process, he said. “I think this is further along and I think the public should understand that this is further along than a discussion paper, and it has intent,” he said. ^ Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Concerns raised over increase to Pacific halibut harvest

Contrary to all expectations, commercial catches of Pacific halibut were increased for 2019 in all but one Alaska region. The numbers were revealed Feb. 1 at the International Pacific Halibut Commission annual meeting in Victoria, British Columbia. The reason was due to increased estimates of the overall halibut biomass based on expanded surveys last summer from Northern California to the Bering Sea, said Doug Bowen who operates Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer. “There’s a couple of strong year classes from 2011 and 2012 that are just starting to show up in the commercial catches and I think the scientists are cautiously optimistic that we could see some better harvests as a result of those halibut entering the fishery,” he said in a phone call as he was leaving the meetings. The coastwide commercial catches were increased to nearly 25 million pounds, almost 6 percent higher than 2018. Alaska’s share will be just less than 20 million pounds, a boost of about 3 million pounds. Southeast Alaska’s catch was upped by just more than 1 percent to 3.6 million pounds; the Central Gulf gets a nearly 10 percent increase to more than 8 million pounds. The Western Gulf is the only Alaska region to get a halibut reduction; a catch of 2.3 million pounds is a drop of more than 11 percent. Halibut harvests at the two Aleutian Islands regions were increased to more than 1 million pounds and the Bering Sea catches went up by nearly 30 percent to top 2 million pounds. Bowen said the increases came despite concerns by IPHC executive director, Dr. David Wilson. “He feels that any coastwide catches over 20 million pounds will result in declines in the biomass. So, it is interesting that the catch limits are going up in light of the fact that we do have both declining recruitment and harvest rates coastwide,” Bowen said. The halibut fishery will open on March 15 and run through Nov. 14, said Malcolm Milne, president of the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association. And in more good news for Alaska, Milne added that next year’s IPHC annual meeting will be held in Anchorage. Deckhands wanted The call is out for Alaskans interested in learning firsthand about commercial fishing. It’s the second year for the Crewmember Apprenticeship program hosted by the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association in Sitka. More than 100 applied last year from all over the country, over half were women, and 13 were placed on local boats. “It’s very exciting to see so many young people interested in entering the industry,” said Tara Racine, ALFA communications and program development coordinator. “You always hear about the graying of the fleet but it shows that the interest is out there. Young people just need these resources to explore and get involved.” ALFA received a $70,000 matching grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to launch the program last year and to help support expansion of similar apprenticeships in Alaska. “We are hoping to share any information and lessons that we’ve learned and materials we’ve created from this program and give it to anyone interested in doing a program like this,” Racine said. Most of the recruits last year went out on longline and troll vessels and plans include expanding to seiners and gillnetters in a flexible fishing schedule. “We have short and long term programs,” she explained. “It could be just a couple of days for people who just want an introduction to fishing. We also have plenty of individuals who go out for the entire season or several weeks at a time.” The rookies are paid for their work and Racine said skippers are eager to show them the ropes. “The skippers that are interested are looking for reliable crew and want to mentor the next generation of resource stewards and skilled fishermen,” she said. “So not only are they training a pool of young people as deck hands, they also are ensuring the life of this industry that they love and is so important to our coastal communities.” Longtime salmon troller Eric Jordan has mentored over 40 young fishermen aboard his vessel, the I Gotta. Out on the water, he teaches them the intricacies of commercial trolling and encourages a strong conservation ethic. He calls the apprenticeship program “a win-win for the crewmembers and the skippers.” “The future of our fisheries is dependent on young fishermen learning to love and care for the fish we harvest and the habitat essential to their well-being,” said Jordan. “Finding crew with some experience is critical for individual businesses and the industry as a whole. Our generation’s legacy will be defined how we, as Alaskan fishermen, rebuilt and enhanced our fisheries, and how we mentored the next generation.” Applicants must be 18 or older to apply and the deadline is Feb. 28. Sign on at www.alfafish.org/apprenticeship. Fish farm fans The push for industrialized offshore fish farms is gaining steam among American lawmakers. Farming fish is banned in Alaska waters, but the Trump administration proposes to put net pens in federal waters, meaning from three to 200 miles out. The farms are being touted as a silver bullet to boost seafood production, provide jobs and reduce the nation’s $15 billion seafood trade deficit from importing more than 85 percent of its seafood. Since last June a coalition called Stronger America Through Seafood, or SATS, has swelled from 14 to 21 large companies, including Cargill, Red Lobster, Sysco, Pacific Seafoods and Seattle Fish Company. Currently there is only one offshore farm operating in U.S. waters, a mussel farm called Catalina Sea Ranch six miles off the coast of Los Angeles. At a U.S. Commerce Department hearing in Juneau last September, spokesperson Margaret Henderson said that Alaska’s stance is a sticking point. “We in no way mean to impede a state’s authority to manage their own waters, but when it comes to managing federal waters outside the state line, we think that there’s a balance to be had there, that there’s room for both,” she said. Undercurrent News reported last week that SATS has begun collecting signatures to support legislation to streamline the permitting process for offshore fish farms and plans to submit its petition to Congress on February 6. An earlier effort failed, but the Advancing the Quality and Understanding of American Aquaculture Act will be reintroduced soon in the U.S. House and Senate by lawmakers from Mississippi, Florida and Minnesota. At the Alaska hearing, Undersecretary of Commerce Timothy Gallaudet cited climate change in his pitch for the push. “Changes in the environment are affecting fish stocks,” he said. “They are either moving or they’re not thriving and so this aquaculture, done the right way and scientifically based, provides a means for employment of fishermen who are losing some of their gain through these changing conditions.” A group of about 140 small-scale fishermen and fishing groups has formed to fight the effort. At the Juneau hearing, Sam Rabung, new director of Alaska’s commercial fisheries division, also spoke out against offshore fish farms. “I think it’s safe to say that we’re going to fight pretty hard to maintain the state’s opt-out option and maintain the ability to prohibit finfish farming off of Alaska.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

US, Canada agree on 2019 halibut harvest limits

American and Canadian halibut fishermen finally have an approved set of catch limits for the 2019 season. With the discord of its last annual meeting hanging in the air, the International Pacific Halibut Commission agreed on a set of total allowable catch limits for Pacific halibut in American and Canadian waters during its meeting from Jan. 28 to Feb. 1. The overall catch limit of 38.61 million pounds is slightly up from the 2018 quota — about 1.4 million pounds more. That’s up from 29.9 million pounds in 2016 and from 31.4 million pounds in 2017. Total removals in 2018, including bycatch in nontarget fisheries, added up to about 38.7 million pounds. By area, the total constant exploitation yield, or TCEY, limits are as follows in millions of pounds: Area 2A (West Coast): 1.65 Area 2B (Canada): 6.83 Area 2C (Southeast Alaska): 6.34 Area 3A (Central Gulf of Alaska): 13.5 Area 3B (Western Gulf of Alaska): 2.9 Area 4A (Aleutians/Bering Sea): 1.94 Area 4B (Aleutians/Bering Sea): 1.45 Area 4CDE (Bering Sea): 4 Last year, the commissioners from the U.S. and Canada could not come to an agreement about how to reduce halibut catches in Pacific waters and adjourned their meeting with no agreement. Each individual country handled its catch limits, as long as they were no higher than the 2017 limits the commissioners last agreed on. The commissioners noted multiple times that they needed to work together this year. “America and Canada have been partnering for 100 years,” said commissioner Paul Ryall of Canada at the beginning of the meeting. “Though we did come to an impasse we hope we can work together for a productive future.” The commissioners met about eight times between the last annual meeting and this year’s, Ryall said, with “good” discussions but no agreements in the interim. The combined value to fishermen of the halibut and sablefish fisheries for 2018 was $161 million, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service, a 22 percent decrease from $208 million in 2017. The average halibut price of $5.35 per pound in 2018 was down from $6.32 in 2017. The increase in the overall catch limit follows a trend of the commission increasing the quotas, despite warnings from the IPHC researchers that the halibut surveys indicate that the stock is decreasing and reductions in the fishery levels are necessary for sustainability. The researchers noted in their survey data that the stock is projected to decline from 2019-22 for all TCEYs set greater than 20 million pounds. The 2019 TCEY is nearly double that. The 2018 setline survey data showed yet another decrease in the stock across its range: 7 percent down in the Gulf of Alaska and 15 percent down in Southeast. However, the commissioners have previously noted doubt about the survey data’s accuracy. The researchers also noted at the 2017 meeting that their conclusions were based on incomplete data and that they were working on a new model to account for current stock dynamics. Former North Pacific Fishery Management Council Executive Director Chris Oliver, the administrator for the National Marine Fisheries Service and a U.S. commissioner to the IPHC, thanked the Canadian delegation for its cooperation and said he has gained a deeper understanding of the halibut fishery after working through the year on the IPHC issues. “Based on our inability to reach consensus last year and coming into this meeting based on some of the preliminary meetings we had, I was somewhat fearful, skeptical that we would be able to reach a conclusion in this meeting,” he said. “I was eager to do so, because I feel like if we came out of this meeting with an inability to reach consensus it would be extremely negative to the reputation of this international management body.” He added that in its process of setting catch limits, NMFS reshuffled some of the halibut quota and moved it to Southeast from the other U.S. areas to avoid a significant drop that would have resulted from going directly with the apportionment model. “We opted to move some of the fish from the other U.S. apportionment areas back into 2C to get it where it was last year,” he said. “(For consistency) we felt it was appropriate to move a little fish out of 3A, out of 4B, a small amount of 4C, in order to get area 2C to a level of 6.34 million pounds.” Halibut bycatch, a perennial issue, took center stage at the meeting as well. The commission unanimously approved a recommendation to redefine TCEY to include the bycatch of halibut less than 26 inches long, or U26 bycatch. Nontarget commercial fisheries, notably the commercial trawlers, catch a significant number of halibut as bycatch each year, which managers and fishermen have been trying to figure out how to address. Several people at the IPHC noted work currently under progress at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to manage Bering Sea halibut bycatch by abundance. Heather McCarty of the Central Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association urged the IPHC to get involved with the council’s efforts there. “You now have an opportunity to participate in a very meaningful way in what some of us believe is the best way to manage halibut bycatch,” she said. The commissioners rebalanced the allocation as well, with 17.7 percent of the total catch going to Canada and 82.3 percent going to the U.S. Canada’s allocation would be slightly up from 2018, when it was suggested at about 15 percent. The allocation between countries was a big hangup at the last meeting. In a press release issued Feb. 4, Oliver said the 2019 quota still conserves stocks, though it is higher. “While the overall quota for 2019 is a slight increase over 2018, the catch limits agreed to at the meeting reflect a sensible, conservative approach that will secure the future of this iconic and economically important species,” he said. The commission agreed on a halibut season of March 15 to Nov. 14. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Sablefish season to open with slight increase, along with uncertainty

Alaska’s sablefish fishermen will go into the 2019 season in March with no change to their overall catch limit but some debate about the state of the stock. Sablefish, also known as black cod, regularly opens to fishing in Alaska in March, at the same time as the halibut fishery. Commercial fishermen in the Bering Sea, the Gulf of Alaska and Southeast Alaska catch them using trawls, longlines or, in some areas, pots. Fishermen landed about 13,956 metric tons of them last year between the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands fisheries. (A metric ton is 2,204 pounds, making the catch last year about 30.7 million pounds.) The North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which manages the species, voted to slightly increase the sablefish total allowable catch in the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands — from 11,505 to 11,571 metric tons in the Gulf, from 1,464 to 1,489 metric tons in the Bering Sea and from 1,988 to 2,008 metric tons in the Aleutian Islands. The increases were recommended by the council’s advisory panels, based on an observed increase in the fishery surveys conducted in 2016 and 2017. Researchers noted a 14 percent increase in the longline survey index from 2016-17, which built on a 28 percent increase from 2015–2016. The spawning biomass is expected to “increase rapidly from 2018 to 2022, then stabilize,” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s 2018 assessment of the sablefish stock. Alaska’s sablefish are a high-value species, but with a caveat — they’re far more valuable when they’re large. Fishermen can make $7 to 8 per pound when the fish is greater than a certain weight, but for small fish, they make less per pound. That’s driven by consumer preferences, said Garrett Evridge, an economist with the McDowell Group who tracks seafood markets. Consumers in Europe, China and, increasingly, Middle Eastern countries like Dubai and the United Arab Emirates, are beginning to demand sablefish. However, Japan is far and away the biggest market for sablefish, 70 percent of which comes from Alaska, Evridge said. Japanese fishermen pioneered the fishery in Alaskan waters after World War II, and new generations have grown up developing a taste for sablefish. “When we talk about sablefish, it’s all about Japan,” he said. “Japan continues to value that larger fish.” Demand definitely weakened in 2018, pushing prices down after a peak year in 2017, Evridge said. Remaining inventory and high retail prices repressed demand last year, pushing down prices for fishermen in 2018. With roughly the same catch limit and relatively stable demand, the price trend should remain relative stable for the fish, he said. International currency strengths also play a role — when the dollar is stronger against the yen, it makes things more expensive for Japanese consumers. The slight TAC increase in 2019 follows an increase of about 14 percent from 2017-18. The surveys have continued to show an increasing abundance, with focus on the 2014 age class entering the spawning biomass. However, it doesn’t mean the news is completely rosy. In the survey summary for 2017, the researchers recommended an acceptable biological catch, or ABC, less than the maximum permissible, albeit 14 percent higher than in 2016. That was because of uncertainty regarding the strong 2014 age class and the existing spawning biomass. “While there are clearly positive signs of strong incoming recruitment, there are concerns regarding the lack of older fish and spawning biomass, the uncertainty surrounding the estimate of the strength of the 2014 year class, and the uncertainty about the environmental conditions that may affect the success of the 2014 year class,” the survey states. “These concerns warrant additional caution when recommending the 2018 and 2019 ABCs.” Despite high numbers turning up in the surveys, some fishermen have reported seeing the opposite out on the fishing grounds. During the North Pacific council’s deliberations in December, two groups submitted public comments asking the council to keep the TAC at the current level because of concerns about the sustainability of the stock into the future. Sablefish can be long-lived — the maximum recorded age is 94 years old, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service — with 40-year-old fish caught frequently in the commercial sector. They mature at approximately 5 to 7 years old, spawning annually after that, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, a group of stakeholders in the small-boat longline fleet, requested the council set the 2019 TAC equal to 2018. Because of the concern about the uncertainty of the incoming age class and the decline of mature spawning biomass, the group asked the council to limit increases to fishing for the coming year. The North Pacific Fisheries Association, a commercial stakeholder group based in Homer, raised similar concerns in a letter to the council. Erik Velsko, a board member, said the catch per unit of effort where he fishes out of Homer has recently increased significantly, even in areas that were historically excellent fishing grounds. Other fishermen have said they’re seeing large numbers of juvenile sablefish, he said. “I think it’s true, that age class is there, it’s just a question of whether those fish are going to grow up enough (to be part of the spawning biomass),” he said. One of the major issues the council and fishermen are still dealing with in the sablefish fishery, though, is whale depredation. Longliners have long been frustrated by orcas and sperm whales arriving as they begin hauling in lines and stripping the fish from their hooks, causing them to lose hours of effort and thousands of dollars. The federal surveys and recommendations account for whale depredation as part of the fishery now — based on existing data, researchers estimated the total whale depredation on the fishery in Alaska at 371 metric tons, according to the 2017 survey. To combat the problem, some fishermen have begun switching to using pots to catch sablefish instead, which the whales reportedly have not been able to break into yet. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Alaska management untouched under revised Modern Fish Act

Though a landmark piece of fisheries legislation will affect how many Lower 48 federal sportfisheries are managed, there won’t be many changes for Alaska. President Donald Trump signed the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Act — known as the Modern Fish Act — into law on Dec. 31, 2018. The law revises the management framework for recreational fisheries in federal waters, heralded by supporters as a way of differentiating sportfishing from commercial fishing and providing more fishing opportunity in the recreational sector. In Alaska, though, the act won’t have much direct impact. Mike Leonard, the vice president of government affairs for the American Sportfishing Association, said it’s fair to say the provisions in the bill don’t herald many changes in the Pacific Northwest saltwater sportfisheries. The final version of the bill itself removed some of the particular provisions directly changing management strategies, but the essential purpose of the bill remains, Leonard said. “The passage of a bill itself that is focused on saltwater recreational fishing … I don’t know that Congress has ever done that,” he said. “The motivations behind this were to get a recognition within the (Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act) that recreational fishing is important but that (commercial and sport) are fundamentally different activities.” The bill inserts language into the existing MSA stating that recreational and commercial fisheries are “different activities” and science-based management approaches should be developed for both. It also instructs the federal Comptroller General to conduct a study of the allocations within the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico fisheries and that the National Academy of Sciences shall study the limited access privilege programs in all council-governed fisheries except for two — the Pacific Fishery Management Council and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which governs Alaskan federal fisheries, is specifically exempt from parts of the law, in part because the catch share plans that partition the allowable catch of halibut each year are already established. Those catch share plans are working well in large part, said Andy Mezirow, a member of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. “I think the problem with catch share plans is when there isn’t enough of the resource, which is the case in many places, or they didn’t build a catch share plan based on other ones … and then you end up with these impossible structures,” he said. “Even though we have our own challenges, they’re very different than those that gave rise to the Modern Fish Act.” Mezirow signed onto a letter raising concerns about the initial draft of the act, in part because of the act’s intention of shifting away from catch shares. In affected fisheries, the intent is to allow recreational fishery managers to allow sportfishing even without new available survey data. Advocates said this was to allow the sport sector — which they argue is an inherently different activity than commercial fishing — to continue operating when survey data is deficient. The initial version of the bill required mandatory five-year reviews of the catch share program and prohibited the establishment of more limited access privilege programs, but both requirements were toned down in the final version of the bill. The initial design of the bill would have also allowed recreational fishery managers who lacked survey data to step away from catch limits, providing more recreational opportunity. “The part that we really objected to was a component that was removed from it,” Mezirow said. “The problem was that there was some provisions in the Modern Fish Act that if they were applied to the federal fisheries in Alaska, they would create a lot of chaos. And that was the desire to step away from a catch share plan … That didn’t really resonate with us … the idea that you would do less science and give more fish away.” In Alaska, halibut is managed by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council with input from Canada via the International Pacific Halibut Commission. The way the recreational halibut fishery is managed already contains some of the principles the authors of the Modern Fish Act aimed for, including more flexibility on catch limits, Mezirow said. For example, the Gulf of Alaska charter sector has gone over its allowed quota for the past several years, but the fishery is not closed as soon as the catch limit is reached — in part because it would be a harsh restriction on the fishery, and in part because there is no in-season management for the recreational sector. The commercial sector groups largely removed their objections to the Modern Fish Act when the mandatory allocation review requirements were removed and the language allowing “alternative management measures” was refined, said Linda Behnken, the executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association. “(The Modern Fish Act) as first floated or introduced had a plan or included language to allow ‘alternative management’ measures in the recreational sector,” she said. “It left wiggleroom for ‘alternative’ to mean overfishing by the recreational sector. That was our primary concern with (the bill). No one was opposed to designing management measures for the recreational sector that are more well suited to their fishing, but no one supports overfishing.” Several groups in the commercial sector worked together to educate legislators and the public about the impacts of the original bill as drafted, Behnken said. The commercial sector’s main concern was if the recreational sector was not held to the same scientific data-based management that commercial fishermen are, which could endanger fishing stocks for all users. “That was where the real hue and cry came from the commercial sector,” she said. “We are all very committed to conserving this resource in the long term. That’s been a bipartisan commitment over the years to manage our fisheries with that as the highest standard.” The Modern Fish Act amends the Magnuson-Stevens Act, but does not reauthorize it. Behnken said she hopes the Senate will continue the reauthorization process in the upcoming session. Leonard said the American Sportfishing Association found the process of working with various groups on the Modern Fish Act “interesting,” as it gave stakeholders of all groups a chance to scrutinize a bill that focused solely on recreational fishing as opposed to fishing in general. The group is looking forward to working with the Senate on the MSA reauthorization in the future, he said. “This is a good start,” he said. “There were several provisions in the original Modern Fish Act that got left behind, just through the nature of working through the legislative process… I think that would likely need to get done through the MSA.” Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Smaller crab fisheries give winter business boost

When most people think of Alaska crab, they envision huge boats pulling up “7-bys” for millions of pounds of bounty in the Bering Sea. (“7 bys” refers to the 7 foot-by-7 foot-by-3 foot size of the crab pots.) But it is the smaller, local crab fisheries that each winter give a big economic boost to dozens of coastal communities across the Gulf of Alaska. They occur at a time when many fishing towns are feeling a lull while awaiting the March start of halibut and herring openers. The gearing up means a nice pulse of extra work and money for just about every business tied to fishing. High winds and overall snotty weather delayed Kodiak’s Tanner crab fishery, but 83 boats dropped pots a day late on Jan. 16. They will compete for a 615,000-pound catch quota, an increase from 400,000 pounds last season. At an average weight of 2.2 pounds, that will yield about 280,000 crabs. The fishery will go fast, said Natura Richardson, assistant area manager for shellfish at the Department of Fish and Game office at Kodiak. “It could be as quick as a couple days but it’s looking more like four to six days, something like that,” she said, adding that the mid-winter crab season picks up the pace at work. “Oh yeah, there’s a lot of activity with all the registrations and figuring out who’s going where. There’s a lot of excitement in the office. It’s fun,” she said. Reports of prices starting at $4.65 per pound also were exciting, an increase from $4.50 last year. That could mean a payout of nearly $3 million to Kodiak fishermen. Crab fisheries for Tanners and golden king crab will open throughout Southeast Alaska in mid-February. A fleet of about 60 boats typically participates each winter for a harvest of less than one million pounds of Tanners; around 30 boats fish for golden king crab which has a harvest guideline of about 70,000 pounds. Southeast’s Dungeness crab fishery, which occurs in the summer and late fall, is one of the region’s most lucrative fisheries. In the 2017-18 season, a fleet of about 200 boats took just less than 2 million pounds (937,701 crabs) valued at nearly $6 million to local fishermen. Processor reports for 2017 show that they paid $194 million for total crab purchases from Alaska fishermen and sold it to customers for nearly $252 million. Fish stats One click will take you to a site where you will find all you need to know about prices and landings for nearly every Alaska fish species, where they were caught, how much of each was processed and into what products, and what processors sold it all for. It’s called Commercial Fisheries Statistics and Data from the Department of Fish and Game and it extends back to the early 1980s. For salmon, charts and graphs show historical harvest rankings by the number of fish, the total poundage and average prices for each species by Alaska region and more. It shows that at Cook Inlet, for example, the highest sockeye price ever paid was $2.54 per pound in 1988, the lowest price was 56 cents in 2002. The best sockeye price to fishermen at Kodiak was $1.83 paid in 2014. At Bristol Bay, the lowest sockeye price was 42 cents a pound paid in 2001. The highest price for chum salmon at Southeast was $1.03 per pound in 1988; in Prince William Sound the low for pinks was 9 cents in 1996, the high was 82 cents in 1988. Click on herring and you’ll see that for Southeast Alaska’s sac roe fishery, the average price in 2017 was 38 cents per pound and 51 cents for food and bait herring. The shellfish data includes octopus, shrimp and all crab taken in state waters, meaning out to three miles from shore It also covers aquatic farming and shows that through 2017, 35 farms in Alaska were producing shellfish and sold nearly 2 million oysters in 2017. The first harvest ever of seaweed (from Kodiak) that year totaled nearly 17,000 pounds. The dive fisheries are included, as are harvests of lingcod, pollock, cod, rockfish and other whitefish. Data from Alaska processors are compiled in Commercial Operator’s Annual Reports, or COAR, and show how much fish was processed into frozen, fresh, canned and other forms, plus the wholesale poundages and values by species and area going back to 1984. For sea cucumbers from Southeast, for example, processors purchased 1.3 million pounds in 2017 and sold them to customers for nearly $12 million dollars. At the Alaska Peninsula, nearly 17 million pounds of cod were processed valued at $27 million to local processors. Find the statistics and data pages at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game website on the left sidebar under fishing. WA is big AK fish winner Each year United Fishermen of Alaska updates its Fishing Facts that provide snapshots of coastal communities and municipalities throughout Alaska, plus the west coast. The numbers show that is where most of the fish bucks flow. The latest data show that just less than 9,000 permit holders fished in 2017, of which 70 percent were Alaska residents. Nearly 22,000 crew licenses were purchased, split almost evenly between in-and out-of-state residents. The 2017 Alaska harvest totaled 6.4 billion pounds valued at $1.8 billion in gross dockside earnings for fishermen. The seafood industry provided more than 64,000 direct jobs making it Alaska’s largest private-sector employer, and it contributed more than $245 million in taxes and fees to the state and over 50 local municipalities. Permit holders live in 214 Alaska communities and every U.S. state except for West Virginia. Fishing vessels registered to California owners totaled 1,423, which harvested 160 million pounds of seafood valued at $36.6 million. There were 2,723 vessels registered to Oregon owners who landed 576 million pounds valued at $136 million at the Alaska docks. It’s the state of Washington that takes home the bulk of the benefits from Alaska’s fisheries. A total of 1,713 fishing vessels plying Alaska’s waters in 2017 were registered to Washington owners. Permit holders plus crew from Washington who fished in Alaska added up to 6,707. And it was those fishermen who took home most of Alaska’s catch and paychecks. Of the 6.4 billion pounds landed in Alaska, just less than 4 billion pounds were taken by Washington residents. And of the total $1.8 billion dockside seafood value, $873 million went to Washington. United Fishermen of Alaska is the nation’s largest commercial fishing trade organization with 35 member groups ranging from small skiff operators to huge at-sea catcher processors. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

In surprise reversal, Board of Fisheries moves Upper Cook Inlet meeting

The Kenai Peninsula fishermen who want to speak to the Board of Fisheries at the 2020 Upper Cook Inlet meeting will have to pack their bags after all. In a surprise deliberation and vote, the Board of Fisheries voted 4-3 to relocate the Upper Cook Inlet 2020 regulatory meeting from the Kenai-Soldotna area to Anchorage. The meeting was originally scheduled to take place in Anchorage, but the board reconsidered the decision in March 2018 and voted 4-2 to hold the meeting on the central Kenai Peninsula. The reversal vote, which took place on Jan. 18 during the board’s Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim finfish meeting, moved the Upper Cook Inlet meeting back to Anchorage. Board chair Reed Morisky said there was interest in revisiting the decision in part because the board had voted on it several times in the past two years; board member Israel Payton said there had been “political pressure” from former Gov. Bill Walker’s administration. Morisky reiterated points the board has discussed before about why to have the Upper Cook Inlet meeting in Anchorage, including that Anchorage is central, is home to many fishery participants and has many hotels and meeting spaces. Board members John Jensen and Payton agreed that Anchorage was a neutral location, and were joined by Morisky and Orville Huntington in approving the move; members Robert Ruffner, Al Cain and Fritz Johnson voted against it. “The reason I vote to have the meeting there is it is a centrally located area,” Jensen said. “It’s halfway between Soldotna and the Wasilla area up above. You have to remember there’s a lot of people who live in the Anchorage area, both sport and commercial.” Ruffner, who lives in Soldotna, contested the process through which the board was reconsidering the location. No formal notice was issued, nor was the discussion brought up during the board’s “miscellaneous business” agenda, typically addressed at the end of a meeting. No formal notice was given in the meeting documents, and because the meeting was dealing with Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim fishing issues, Upper Cook Inlet stakeholders would have been unlikely to attend. “To me, it’s patently unfair,” Ruffner said. “My community has been asking this meeting for over a decade. People have gone from diapers to college and not been able to weigh in in their community. I apologize to you in the audience who have to listen to this because it’s garbage.” Morisky said he did offer notice that the discussion would take place, and that the board does note in its tentative agenda that items are subject to change. On Tuesday, Jan. 15, as the board was beginning its discussions for the meeting, he stated briefly that the board would be discussing the Upper Cook Inlet meeting location later in the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim meeting. “Regarding reasonable notice, this decision to take this up again was discussed early on in the meeting that this would be talking about this later,” he said. “This is later.” Seth Beausang, the legal counsel for the board, said the process most likely had not violated the Open Meeting Act, as the meeting location decision was a nonregulatory decision and could fall into the miscellaneous business agenda. Jensen said he had asked for the discussion to be held Friday because he had to be absent for the last day of the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim meeting on Saturday and wanted to weigh in on the Upper Cook Inlet meeting location. Huntington said that while he sympathized with the Kenai Peninsula fishermen, he would support having the meeting in Anchorage in part because of his health. Johnson contested the argument that the meeting should be held in Anchorage because of the number of stakeholders that live in the region. “If we were to make these decisions based on sheer numbers (of permit holders), we might as well hold the Bristol Bay meeting in Seattle,” he said. “Just because of what the board would gain by being in those communities … I don’t think we get a proper sense of what’s going on in those communities without being there.” During the March 2018 discussion, Cain proposed a rotating schedule that would move the meeting between Anchorage, Kenai-Soldotna and Palmer-Wasilla on a nine-year rotation. At regional meetings, he said he’s seen more young people attend and hopefully absorb some of the board process. The location of the Upper Cook Inlet regulatory meeting is always contentious. During the regulatory meetings, stakeholders are invited to comment on proposals and to participate in committees offering advice. There are also last-minute amendments and changes to proposals that can drastically alter fisheries. However, the agenda is frequently subject to change and no firm deadlines are given, so fishermen who have to travel out of their community frequently have to do so for days at a time, incurring hotel, food and travel expenses. The Upper Cook Inlet board meetings commonly last at least 14 days. Central Kenai Peninsula stakeholders have been asking for a meeting in their community for two decades. In 2018, most of the local governments of the central peninsula as well as community organizations jointly submitted documents requesting a meeting in the community with an offer of free venue space, free IT services and free ground transportation in an effort to reduce cost as a consideration. Upon hearing that the board planned to reconsider its meeting location, officials from Kenai and Soldotna traveled to the meeting on Friday. When they arrived, they spoke to a number of board members who told them that the vote would not happen Friday, said Kenai Mayor Brian Gabriel. He and his wife then turned around at noon and drove three hours back to Kenai. The board took the issue up immediately after its recess for lunch, around 1:45 p.m. Friday. “This to me isn’t about a particular user group getting a leg up — it’s about bridging the geographic divide,” Gabriel said. “This was flat-out wrong, the way this went down (Friday). The way it was handled was disrespectful. It doesn’t do much for bridging the geographic divide in this state.” The city managers of Kenai and Soldotna submitted record copy comments saying they had been planning for months to host the board on the peninsula and were committed to providing venue and IT services to the board at no cost, in part to prove the communities could host the event well and encourage the board to return on a rotation. Morisky said in the meeting that he took responsibility for the misunderstanding — he had told the city representatives from Kenai and Soldotna that it wouldn’t be taken up Friday, but then the schedule had changed. The Kenai Peninsula Fisherman’s Association, an industry coalition representing Cook Inlet east side set gillnet fishermen, called the move disenfranchising. “KPFA’s position is that Morisky knows it’s easier to disenfranchise people when he doesn’t have to look them in the eye,” the group said in a statement. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Disaster declarations, relief in limbo for multiple fisheries

The last few years of commercial fishing for Alaska have turned up poor for various regions of the state, resulting in disaster declarations and potential federal assistance. The 2018 season proved no different, with at least two disaster requests in the works at the state level. A third is in process at the federal level, and yet another is finally distributing money to affected fishermen from the 2016 season. The three in process still have to be approved before going to Congress, where funds can be appropriated to assist fishermen. The process is affected by the federal government shutdown, as most of the National Marine Fisheries Service employees are furloughed until a resolution is reached. The pink salmon disaster, which was requested in 2016 after catches across the Gulf of Alaska came in dismally below expectations, is awaiting a finalized plan for distributing $56 million in relief funds. The plan is currently being reviewed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration before the fund distribution is coordinated by the Pacific State Marine Fisheries Commission, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Chignik The fishermen in the communities of Chignik Lagoon, Chignik Bay and Chignik Lake sat on the docks for the majority of the summer watching dismally as the sockeye salmon run to the Chignika River failed to materialized. The fishermen that normally catch more than a million sockeye among them walked away with 128. Former Gov. Bill Walker declared an economic disaster for the fishery on Aug. 23, 2018, to start the process of distributing relief to the area’s residents. The three villages on the Alaska Peninsula are subsistence-dependent and obtain most of their cash income as well as winter food supplies from the fishery and wrote in deep concern for the residents this winter. Walker’s initial disaster declaration stated that relief would be distributed in the form of capital projects in the village and hiring preference for locals. That didn’t solve the villagers’ immediate concerns, according to a letter from the Chignik Coalition to Walker’s administration in October. “While we appreciate and look forward to building much needed infrastructure in our region, we are in dire need of immediate relief,” the letter states. The letter stated that the coalition requested a refund of permit renewal fees for 2018 from the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission, a deferment on payments to the state’s commercial fisheries revolving loan program and a declaration of a federal disaster to make assistance available. The CFEC planned to send out letters to individual fishermen for potential refunds in November after reviewing the fishery circumstances, according to the Native Village of Chignik Lagoon’s website. A representative from Chignik could not be reached by press time for comment. Upper Cook Inlet The fishermen of Upper Cook Inlet’s drift gillnet fishery are also seeking assistance for their poor sockeye salmon harvest in 2018. Though the run met its escapement goals and the fishermen did have a number of openers, they walked away with only about a third of the average ex-vessel value. Fishermen in the drift gillnet fleet complained of not being able to make boat or loan payments, adding another poor year atop two below-average sockeye salmon years in 2016 and 2017. Though the fishermen haven’t received a disaster declaration from the governor’s office, they’ve found support with local governments on the Kenai Peninsula. The city councils of Homer and Kenai have both passed resolutions supporting a disaster declaration for the drift gillnet fishery, as has the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly. The request was sent to the governor’s office before the transition between administrations, but the fishermen haven’t heard anything about it since, said Erik Huebsch, the vice president of the United Cook Inlet Drift Association board. “It sounds like that was pushed forward in the last few days or weeks of the Walker administration,” he said. “We’re working on that, waiting to see if it fell through the cracks somewhere.” Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy’s office had not returned a request for comment by press time on the disaster declaration request for Upper Cook Inlet. Pacific Cod Walker’s administration filed a request for a federal disaster declaration in the Gulf of Alaska’s 2018 Pacific cod fishery in March 2018. A drastic cut in the quota due to a forecasted decline in abundance in the gulf led the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to cut the fishery’s quota by about 80 percent between 2017 and 2018. Others were closed outright, and the remaining fishery performed poorly. “Throughout the Gulf of Alaska, direct impacts will be felt by vessel owners and operators, crew and fish processors, as well as support industries that sell fuel, supplies, and groceries,” Walker wrote in his request letter to the Department of Commerce. “Local governments will feel the impact to their economic base and the state of Alaska will see a decline in fishery related tax revenue.” As of Jan. 15, no determination had been made on the Pacific cod fishery disaster request. Some disaster determinations take longer than others; while the 2016 Gulf of Alaska pink salmon disaster declaration only took three months until a determination was granted, the Washington state coho and pink salmon 2015 tribal disaster request was filed in 2016 and took more than two years to attain a determination of disaster. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Vincent-Lang to focus on sustainability, trust and state control as commissioner

As the state administration turns over, most departments have a new face in the commissioner’s office. At the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, that’s only half true. Though Acting Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang is new to the commissioner’s office, he’s hardly new to the agency. He led the Division of Wildlife Conservation from 2012-14 and worked in various capacities with the department dating back to 1981. As soon as Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy was inaugurated, he named Vincent-Lang as his acting commissioner pending the approval of the joint boards of Fisheries and Game, who were scheduled to interview him on Jan. 16. Unlike other cabinet-level positions, commissioners of the departments of Fish and Game and Education must be recommended as qualified by the respective boards. Dunleavy is retaining Dr. Michael Johnson as the commissioner of Education. Although Dunleavy said he had “no clear preference” for commissioner, Vincent-Lang was the only applicant for the position. Should the board approve his candidacy, his name will be forwarded to the governor for confirmation by the Legislature. Stepping into the commissioner’s office isn’t necessarily a career move for Vincent-Lang, he said. “This is a challenging job,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the challenge. I have two new grandkids and I enjoy spending quality time with my grandkids … I hope to find the best work-life balance.” As the commissioner, all decisions boil down to sustainable management of animals, Vincent-Lang said. One of the biggest challenges moving forward will be how to continue the department’s operations and management with declining funds from the state general fund, he said. ADFG has not taken as steep a general fund cut as other departments, but as oil prices remain low and the Legislature turns down other revenue options, departments are having to get creative on maintaining operations. At ADFG, that has meant reducing surveys and research projects and reducing some staff positions. On the sport fishing and hunting side, that decline has been buffered some by an increase in hunting and fishing licenses, allowing the department to draw down more federal dollars to support operations like weirs and boat launch maintenance. Vincent-Lang was involved in the push to increase in sport hunting and fishing license fees in 2015 and 2016. The effort was unique because it came from the stakeholders themselves, he said; it saw little opposition because the users saw the need to increase funding for management. “As we move forward, we’re going to have to figure that out on the commercial fishing side,” Vincent-Lang said. In the long term, the department also faces the challenge of how to draw more young people into hunting and fishing, both on the commercial and sport sides. Millennials purchase fewer sportfishing and hunting licenses than their elders; the American Sportfishing Association found that sportfishing licenses sales nationwide declined among people 18 to 34 between 1980 and 2011. That decline has affected Alaska, too, which is something the department needs to consider for the future, Vincent-Lang said. That also applies to the commercial fisheries, which are broadly experiencing a “graying of the fleet” as the average age of permit holders increases because the financial threshold of entry is too expensive for young fishermen. The commissioner also holds the responsibility of connecting the department staff to the boards of Fisheries and of Game. In his application letter to the joint boards, Vincent-Lang wrote that he supports the boards’ role in management and their citizen Advisory Committees, ensuring that they have “the best available information to inform their resource allocation decisions” and not impact sustainability. He also wrote that while science plays an important role in management decisions, it is not the only consideration. “These are public trust resources,” he said. “We’re scientific experts, but we can’t do that in a vacuum without gaining people’s trust. It’s a two-way street.” To that end, Vincent-Lang has already delegated a staff member specifically to help build relationships with the public on sportfishing and hunting issues: Rick Green, widely known as Rick Rydell, a longtime conservative radio host and former Anchorage Advisory Committee member. A major theme that Dunleavy heard while campaigning was a lack of public trust and frustration with ADFG’s decisions. Green was appointed a special assistant to the commissioner to work on that problem, Vincent-Lang said. “(Green) has a lot of different people that he knows across the state,” he said. “(He’ll work on) trying to rebuild that trust.” On the hunting side, one major issue the department will continue to press on is state control over regulations on game management. The state sued the federal Interior Department in January 2017 over new regulations restricting certain hunting methods on federal lands in national parks and preserves and specifically on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. The state felt the rules interfered with the Board of Game’s ability to regulate game populations and, after pressure from Rep. Don Young in Congress in May 2017, the federal government began the process of reconsidering the regulations. If he’s confirmed as commissioner, Vincent-Lang said he would continue to press for state control over game management. “We are going to continue that battle, because we think they’re intruding on the state’s right to manage,” he said. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Cook Inlet sockeye forecast improves; kings closed in North

After two disappointing sockeye seasons in a row, the 2019 season may look up for Upper Cook Inlet commercial fishermen. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s sockeye salmon forecast, published Jan. 4, predicts a total run of 6 million sockeye to Upper Cook Inlet stream systems, with an expected commercial harvest of 3 million and 1 million for sportfishing and subsistence harvest. If the forecast proves true, the run will be nearly double the 2018 run of 3.1 million. The Kenai River, the largest sockeye-producing river in the region, is projected to receive a run of about 3.8 million sockeye, the majority of which are the 1.3 age class (one year in freshwater, three years in saltwater). The Kasilof River, the second-largest producer, is projected to see about 873,000 sockeye come back, with a slight majority in the 1.3 age class. The Kenai’s forecast is greater than its 20-year average of 3.5 million, while the Kasilof’s is behind its 20-year average of 979,000 fish. The Susitna River is forecast to see about 343,000 sockeye come back, while Fish Creek is forecast with a run of 124,000 sockeye, according to ADFG. The Susitna’s forecast is less than its recent 20-year average return of 377,000, while Fish Creek’s is significantly greater than its 20-year average of 83,000. In salmon, age correlates to the size and weight of the fish. In the Kenai, the predominance of the 1.3 age class-fish tracks with the 20-year average, while the Kasilof’s 20-year average has seen more fish in the 1.2 age class. For the Susitna and Fish Creek, the predominant age class is forecast to be 1.2-age class fish, which falls in line with the 20-year average trend for Fish Creek. The Susitna River’s 20-year average usually sees more 1.3-age class fish than 1.2, according to ADFG. The commercial harvest is projected to be about 200,000 more than the 20-year average, and more than triple last year’s harvest of 800,000 sockeye. If the forecast holds true, it’ll be good news for Upper Cook Inlet’s commercial fishermen, who largely depend on sockeye salmon as their commercial species and have had two disappointing seasons in a row. Despite a sockeye run that turned out greater than the forecast in 2017, the commercial harvest came in about 1.8 million, which was close to the forecast but about 37 percent below the historical average in the fishery. The next year, a below-average forecast proved to be even worse than expected in 2018, with more than half the run arriving after Aug. 1 and commercial fishing management openings misaligned with the timing of the runs. By the end of the season, commercial fishermen had landed about $11 million worth of salmon, about 67 percent less than the previous 10-year average, according to ADFG’s 2018 season summary. The one exception was silver salmon, which arrived in large numbers late in the summer. “All species-specific exvessel values other than coho salmon were significantly below average in 2018 in UCI,” according to the 2018 season summary. Most of the failing was in two specific age classes — the age class 1.3 and 2.3 fish, also called “three-ocean” fish because they’ve spent one or two years in freshwater and three years at sea. The 1.3 age class fish returned at 10 percent of the forecasted level, while 2.3 fish returned at 50 percent, according to the season summary. Northern Cook Inlet closures Though sockeye forecasts in Upper Cook Inlet are looking up, the king salmon season in Northern Cook Inlet isn’t. ADFG announced preseason restrictions on Jan. 7 on king salmon fishing for sport, commercial and subsistence fisheries across the region, largely based on poor projected returns to the Deshka River. “The department must make these closures and restrictions because of a recent pattern of extremely poor returns for king salmon stocks in the NCI area,” said ADFG Acting Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang in the announcement. “The outlook for this season is particularly worrisome with the Deshka River king salmon forecast well below the escapement goal.” The Deshka River is an indicator stock for king salmon in the region. The forecast projects 8,466 king salmon between age classes 1.2 and 1.4 to return to the river, far less than the lower end of the sustainable escapement goal of 13,000 to 28,000 fish. Like other rivers across Alaska, the Northern Cook Inlet streams have seen declining king runs in the last decade; the forecast is about half of the recent 10-year average of 16,647 kings and less than a third of the long-term average of 31,416 kings, according to Fish and Game. The Susitna River, Yentna River and Little Susitna River drainages will be closed to sportfishing for kings, as will the directed commercial salmon fishery in Northern Cook Inlet. Subsistence fisheries, which receive a management priority, will be restricted to two days per week during the respective subsistence fishery seasons, according to the announcement. ADFG will monitor the runs and provide more fishing opportunity should the run warrant it, Vincent-Lang said in the announcement. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Southeast purse seiners to hold another permit buyback vote

Southeast Alaska purse seine fishermen are preparing to vote on another permit buyback, with an eye toward making the fishery more viable in an era of more efficient vessels and smaller salmon runs. The National Marine Fisheries Service is scheduled to send out ballots to fishermen starting Jan. 15 asking whether the fleet should take on $10.1 million in federal loans to buy out 36 permits, removing them from the fishery forever. If successful, the move would reduce the number of permits in the fishery to 279, down about 100 permits since 2012. Like many things in the U.S. right now, the vote may be delayed as a consequence of the ongoing federal shutdown because most NMFS employees are on furlough. Pending the resolution of the budget battles in Congress, proponents of the buyback are hoping to get the ball rolling soon. This would be the second buyback since the loan program was authorized by Congress in 2006, and so far, it’s been successful from the perspective of the fleet, said Bob Kehoe, the executive director of the Purse Seine Vessel Owners Association. “I think it’s been successful; we’ve removed permits,” he said. “We’ve been able to generate more than enough revenue to service the loan. The service rate has been decreased.” The purse seine permit buyback program in Southeast is something of an outlier; it’s a federally authorized loan program to buy back state-issued fishery permits. The Southeast Revitalization Association, a group of stakeholders formed to pursue the buyback, worked with former Sen. Ted Stevens to pass the authority through Congress, establish a floor for the number of permits with the state Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission and communicate with permit holders. The first fleet capacity reduction buyback happened in 2008, outside the loan program, through a federal grant. In 2008, about 415 permits existed in the fishery, though only about 200 were fished, according to information in the Federal Register. The Southeast Revitalization Association used a reverse auction to purchase 35 permits in 2008, reducing the capacity to 380. After the buyback program was authorized, NMFS worked with SRA to request bids for permits on a $13.1 million loan, which the fleet approved to buy about 64 permits. Kehoe said the original interest in fleet capacity reduction was because of very poor prices for salmon. “There was a lot of (pink and chum) salmon available for harvest, but the prices were so low that it was hard for people to make a living,” he said. “There was very little competition among the processing sector, and so it worked fine for the processors having more capacity than was needed for harvest, but it wasn’t working for fishermen. Back in the early 2000s, there were some fishermen that couldn’t even find a market to sell their fish.” With about $10.1 million remaining on the loan authority after the first buyback, the SRA asked for other bids to further reduce the size of the fishery. In 2016, after receiving 22 bids and asking the fleet if they cared to move forward with the buyback, the fleet voted it down and sent the second round of the buyback back to the drawing board. Susan Doherty, the executive director of the Southeast Alaska Seiners Association, said the vote didn’t fail by much in 2016, but many ballots weren’t returned and communication efforts about the buyback were low. Neither the Purse Seine Vessel Owners Association nor the Southeast Alaska Seiners Association boards of directors chose to take a position on the 2016 buyback and thus didn’t reach out to permit holders about the vote. The vote also took place over the Christmas holiday when people may have been away from home and did not see the ballots. “Last time there were several issues with the process,” she said. “We didn’t do enough with encouraging folks to return their ballots. Anything that’s not returned is an automatic ‘no’ vote.” This would be the last buyback for the foreseeable future, given that it would use up the remaining loan authority, Doherty said. The 279 remaining permits would still be greater than the floor of 260 set by the CFEC, which is the level at which it would be too exclusive. For the fishermen, it’s primarily an economic decision, Doherty said — the average vessel earnings in 2016 was $65,000. For scale, the average permit value at the end of 2016 was $163,400, according to the CFEC. The fleet now has several seasons of extremely poor runs under its belt since 2016, so that may increase interest in voting for the buyback, said Dan Castle, a seine vessel owner and the president of the Southeast Alaska Seiners Association board. “I think this time, after a few more mediocre to poor years, we have a full slate of people willing to extinguish their permits, and it will also extinguish all the money,” he said. “I think we have a much better chance of making the case … it’s going to grab more than 10 percent of the fleet. That’ll be permits that are not going to be fished, whether they’re latent or not … it’s going to be better.” Castle said the buyback program was unique to start and required jumping through a “containerload of hoops to approve.” One of the effects of the program, though, has been to overall increase the quality of the fleet, he said. Older boats, ready to retire anyway, left the fishery, and other concerns that people brought up over the buyback have proved to be non-issues, he said. One motivation for permit holders currently fishing is the hope to keep opportunistic fishermen from returning and ballooning the size of the fleet again when the runs return to larger numbers, he said. Overall, he said he’s more optimistic about the vote this time. “We’ve dispelled a lot of myths over the years,” he said. “Everybody’s familiar with how the process works. We have a lot better understanding in the fleet. This is going to be it … People can see the benefits of squashing the fleet down a little bit. We’re so efficient now, compared to how it was when the first issued the permit program.” The buyback program works as a reverse auction, with each bidder asking a price to be bought out, but the average price per permit would be about $280,555 if the loan is approved. At the end of 2018, the average value for a permit was $195,000, down from an average value of $307,000 in 2014, according to the CFEC. Kehoe said the price is based on bids, but there may some speculation going on as permit holders try to maximize the return based on the loan amount available. “You’re asking people to give up a permit that has value forever and then the permits that will remain assuming the fishery bounces back will have a higher value,” he said. “People are free to put in their bid amount. These permit prices change constantly. It could be when we put this program together, the permit values were higher. If you look at the permit prices now, you’re just coming off two consecutive poor seasons. In order to make this work, you’re going to have to remove permits.” Doherty said the value of permits may also be pushed down currently because people aren’t eager to get into a fishery that’s been hurting for the past several years. Addressing concerns The Alaska Department of Fish and Game raised concerns to NMFS about the reduction in the size of the fishery just before the 2016 buyback vote, according to a letter from former commissioner Sam Cotten dated Dec. 6, 2016. The letter raised concerns about the lack of fishery impact analysis after the 2008 and 2012 buybacks and the buyback increasing the value of permits, making it harder for new fishermen to buy into the fishery, exacerbating the problem of high entry costs blocking younger fishermen entering the fleet, among other concerns. “We are troubled by the lack of analysis informing this process, the lack of objective and measurable goals with which to measure the relative success of these buybacks, the potential impacts of this action, and the commensurate constitutional implications,” Cotten wrote. Castle said that the SRA worked with the CFEC based on fleet size concerns and exclusivity, and if the fishery is judged to be too exclusive, the state can always issue more permits. To pay for the loan, fishermen pay a levy to processors at the dock, who then pay the federal government. So far, the ex-vessel value has also proved itself able to service the loans, with NMFS lowering the loan service rate because the applied rate was generating more revenue than needed. The vote is currently scheduled to run from Jan. 15 to Feb. 14. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Few problems so far for fisheries amid partial shutdown

The government shutdown has caused few problems so far in Alaska’s fisheries, but concern is growing as it enters a third week. The shutdown of nine out of 15 federal departments and agencies on Dec. 21 has furloughed about 800,000 workers nationwide, most with no pay, including fishery oversight and research jobs. In many cases, that means there’s no one to issue fishing permits, licenses or other documents and services required before setting out. “I have not heard of any problems, but that’s not to say that there aren’t any,” said Forrest Bowers, acting director of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Commercial Fisheries Division, referring to the cod fishery that opened on Jan. 1 and the ongoing Bering Sea crab fishery. State operations are not directly affected by the shutdown, but fisheries in Alaska waters intertwine and are closely timed with the federal ones. In the co-management case of Bering Sea crab, for example, the feds provide the surveys and science, the state does the rest. “The state sets the total allowable catch and we handle the in-season management of the fishery, including vessel registrations, observer coverage and harvest tracking,” Bowers said. The cod and crab boats had their paperwork in order prior to the shutdown, Bowers said, except for one straggler who needed the services of a furloughed electronic scale inspector and was stuck at the dock. “They haven’t been able to have that scale inspection done and it’s delaying them. We’re hoping we can get that resolved for them,” Bowers said, adding that other such “behind the scenes” unavailable services in the tightly regulated fisheries could cause problems as more boats come online this month. The shutdown also is causing a headache for federally contracted onboard fishery observers who collect stock data and track what’s coming and going over the rails. Regulators at NOAA are not holding debriefings for the observers when they return from a fishing trip, which are required before they can sign on to another. That’s sidelined five of her employees so far, said Stacey Hansen, program manager at Saltwater, an Anchorage-based company that provides observer services to the fleets. “I’ve got a group of people that are now stuck. They’re just sitting and waiting until they can get on with their lives,” Hansen told Alaska’s Energy Desk. Meanwhile, Alaska’s largest fishery, pollock, gets underway on Jan. 20 along with openers for flounders and myriad other whitefish. “I think there is uncertainty right now about what’s going to happen,” Bowers said. “Fortunately, we have a pretty sophisticated group of folks in the fishing industry in Alaska who are very professional and know how to do their jobs. It helps a lot when there is a good working relationship with the managers; it makes these uncertain times go more smoothly.” One is done Only one person applied for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game commissioner’s job and it’s the same one who’s holding it now. Doug Vincent-Lang was selected as acting commissioner in early December by incoming Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy. The governor said in a statement that he believed it was important to have someone managing the department while the boards of Fish and Game compiled a list of other potential applicants. State law requires that a new governor select a commissioner from nominees suggested by the joint boards and the group will fulfill that statutory obligation on the evening of Jan. 16 at the Anchorage Sheraton. It will be a quick meeting, said boards support executive director Glenn Haight. “For this particular year, we have one applicant so it’s a fairly simple task for the joint board to go through the review process,” Haight said. “Anyone could’ve applied, it’s up to the individuals. Sometimes in the past there’s been more than 10 names that have come into the department for consideration and sometimes there’s just five or so.” No testimony will be taken at the Jan. 16 joint board meeting but the public is invited to listen in. Vincent-Lang was director of the division’s wildlife department under former Gov. Sean Parnell and was assistant director of the sportfish division in the early 2000s. The ADFG commissioner oversees 1,700 employees at 47 offices across the state and manages approximately 750 active fisheries, 26 game management units and 32 special areas. The commissioner appointment must be approved by the Alaska Legislature at the end of the upcoming session. Got gas? Liquified biogas from dead fish and other organic wastes will soon power a fleet of luxury cruise ships as a way to save money and protect the environment. The 125-year-old cruise operator Hurtigruten, known for its trips to the Arctic, will operate at least six of its 17 ships using a combination of biogas, liquified natural gas and large battery packs by 2021. “While competitors are running on cheap, polluting heavy fuel oil, our ships will literally be powered by nature,” spokesman Daniel Skjeldam said in a statement. “Biogas is the greenest fuel in shipping and will be a huge advantage for the environment. We would love other cruise companies to follow,” he added. Concerns over the atmospheric impacts of high-sulfur fuel favored by the shipping industry led the International Maritime Organization to set a 0.5 percent sulfur limit on marine fuel by 2020. A 2017 report by the Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union in Germany claimed that a midsize cruise ship can use more than 100 tons of fuel a day, producing as much particulate as a million cars. The Norwegian cruise ship company is taking other steps to boost its green credentials: it has ordered three new hybrid-powered cruise liners, has banned single-use plastics from all its ships and plans on becoming carbon neutral. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Annual Picks and Pans closes 27th year of Fish Factor

This column that each week focuses on Alaska’s seafood industry will enter its 28th year in 2019. It began in the Anchorage Daily News in 1991 at the request of longtime former business editor Bill White and has appeared in the ADN ever since. Fish Factor also is featured in more than a dozen weekly papers across Alaska and nationally. The goal is to make all readers more aware of the economic, social and cultural importance of one of Alaska’s oldest and largest industries. Here are Fish Factor’s annual Fishing Picks and Pans for 2018 – a no holds barred look back at some of the year’s best and worst fishing highlights, in no particular order, and my choice for the biggest fish story of the year. • Biggest new industry potential: Mariculture. Growing shellfish and seaweeds could be a $100 million Alaska industry in 20 years, says a comprehensive state report. Kelp farms are cropping up around Kodiak and, along with food makers, the Department of Energy already has its sights on Alaska for biofuels from macroalgae. • Best fish sigh of relief: Many Gulf fishermen began using pots instead of hooks to keep whales from robbing their pricey sablefish catches, called “getting whaled.” • Best fish visionaries: Tidal Vision of Juneau, for their eco-friendly method of extracting chitin from crab shells, a first in the US. Uses for chitin range from fabrics to filters to pharmaceuticals. • Best Fish Legislators: Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, Rep. Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, Rep. Dan Ortiz, I-Ketchikan • Best fish knowledge sharers: Alaska Sea Grant • Best fish giver: Sea Share, over 225 million fish servings to food banks since 1994. The program began as a way to use bycatch caught in Bering Sea fisheries. • Trickiest fishing conundrum: Sea otters vs. crab and dive fisheries in Southeast Alaska • Most earth friendly fishing town: Kodiak, for generating nearly 100 percent of its electricity from wind and hydropower, and for turning its fish wastes into high quality oils and meals • Biggest fish WTF? Rick (Rydell) Green being chosen as a special assistant to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to “restore trust” in the department. Green has no education or experience in fisheries or wildlife and was a talk show host on KENI/Anchorage since 2001. • Scariest fish stories: Ocean acidification and warming oceans • Best daily fish news site: SeafoodNews.com • Best fish watchers: Cook Inletkeeper, Salmon Beyond Borders • Best new fish economist: Garrett Evridge, McDowell Group • Best go to bat for their fish: Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers; the fishermen funded/operated Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association • Best fish motivators: The Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association’s Alaska Ocean Cluster Initiative that promotes Blue Economy business ideas and entrepreneurs. • Best fish mainstream push: The Get Ugly crab campaign by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. Older crabs with shells that are discolored, scarred or covered with barnacles can comprise 30 percent of the catch in Bering Sea fisheries. The “ugly” crab can be a turn off to buyers. “It’s what’s on the inside that counts,” the campaign says, adding that the older crab often have better meat fills. • Biggest fish bust: 25 percent tariffs on nearly all U.S. seafood products going to and from China. China is Alaska’s biggest seafood buyer, purchasing 54 percent of our seafood exports last year valued at $1.3 billion. • Best Industry Entrepreneurs: Salmon Sisters of Homer • Best eco-friendly fish feat: The removal of hundreds of thousands of pounds of old fishing nets, lines and gear from Dutch Harbor and Kodiak by Nicole Baker’s “net your problem” program. The nets are shipped to Europe where they are recycled into plastic products. • Biggest fish fake: Genetically modified salmon, aka Frankenfish • Biggest fish raised eyebrows: Offshore fish farms being proposed by the Trump Administration. Backers that include Cargill, Pacific Seafood, Red Lobster, High Liner Foods, Sysco and Seattle Fish Company are pushing a bill in the U.S. Senate called Advancing the Quality and Understanding of American Aquaculture (AQUAA) Act that will streamline the permitting process for offshore aquaculture projects. • Best new fish writers: Elizabeth Earl, Alaska Journal of Commerce; Alistair Gardiner, Kodiak Daily Mirror • Worst fish travesty: Commercial and sport fishermen get cuts every year while nearly six million of pounds of halibut are allowed to be taken as bycatch in other fisheries. It’s getting better, but still a long way to go. • Best fish assists: Every person at ADFG and NOAA Fisheries/Alaska. • Best go to bat for its future fishermen: Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, Sitka • Best fish showoffs: Alaska Symphony of Seafood, hosted for 26 years by the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation. • Biggest fish uncertainty: Dunleavy administration • Best fish switch: Herring taken for its roe pays $100 to $350 per ton in a fading Japanese market; herring used for food and bait can fetch up to $2,000 per ton. (While many fishermen pay over $1 per pound for bait herring from the east coast.) Time for a management shift? • Biggest fish opportunity: Turning Alaska’s three billion pounds of fish heads, skins, internal organs and other “wastes” into pet foods, nutraceuticals, pharmaceuticals, etc. An Analyses of Alaska Seafood Specialty Products report by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute says using byproducts could be worth an additional $700 million or more to the industry. • Biggest fish disappointments: Salmon catches throughout the Gulf of Alaska were the lowest in 50 years in some regions. Likewise, catches of cod, halibut and Bering Sea crab also tumbled. • Best fish boosters: Alaska’s salmon hatcheries • Biggest fish story: Alaska Fish are changing their behavior in search of colder waters. No sea ice in the winter of 2018 in the Bering Sea led to the disappearance of the “cold pool,” a big tongue of bottom water that corresponds to the usual southward extent of the ice cover. That’s led to more than half of the cod biomass being found in regions north of the normal surveys, as well as a big plug of pollock. There also was a 20 percent shift in the density of Pacific halibut from a year ago in the northern Bering Sea. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Work continues on federal plan for Cook Inlet salmon

More than two years after a court ruling ordered the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to develop a management plan for the Cook Inlet salmon fishery, a stakeholder group has made a first set of recommendations. The council convened a Cook Inlet Salmon Committee last year composed of five stakeholders to meet and offer recommendations before the council officially amends the Fishery Management Plan, or FMP, for the drift gillnet salmon fishery in Upper Cook Inlet, which occurs partially in federal waters. The committee presented a report with three main findings: first, that the fishery be managed cooperatively with the State of Alaska; second, that the committee schedule another meeting before the April 2019 council meeting; and third, that fishery participants be prohibited from retaining groundfish. The council went into rewriting the FMP for Cook Inlet unwillingly. The whole battle began in 2012 when the council voted unanimously to pass Amendment 12 to the existing Cook Inlet FMP, which essentially delegated all management authority for the fishery to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, along with the management of two other salmon fisheries in Prince William Sound and the Alaska Peninsula. The Cook Inlet Fishermen’s Fund and the United Cook Inlet Drift Association, the trade group for the drift gillnet fleet in the area, sued the National Marine Fisheries Service to restore the FMP to the fishery. After losing in the U.S. District Court of Alaska, the groups prevailed at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in fall 2016. The ruling went back before the council in April 2017, at which point the council decided to move forward with developing an FMP for Cook Inlet first before dealing with the other two areas, whose trade representatives said the fishermen would prefer to remain under state management. The UCIDA plaintiffs have long argued that the state’s management through escapement goals and allocations among sport, subsistence and commercial user groups has led to overly restrictive fishing regulations and left large numbers of salmon harvested beyond what’s necessary for biological escapement. The management plans are created by the Board of Fisheries and implemented by the Department of Fish and Game. The groups expressed frustration at the state’s management regime, saying it violates the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act’s mandate to manage fisheries for the maximum sustainable yield by leading to foregone harvest and overescapement of salmon they argue reduces future returns. Some of the committee members agreed with UCIDA about the use of escapement goals, according to the committee’s report to the council. “Some members of the Committee objected to escapement based analyses in general and urged movement toward alternative methods, however, no scientifically viable alternative methods were identified,” the report states. “… There were comments about other environmental factors that could contribute to variation in numbers of recruits including diminishing habitat quantity and quality.” In general, the state manages salmon fisheries in Alaska. In many areas, they occur primarily around rivers or near land, placing them in state waters — those waters within three nautical miles of shore. Direct federal management of salmon fisheries, then, presents a number of thorny issues. A primary hangup was a clause in the MSA referring to managing a fish stock “throughout its range” — in the case of salmon, that means inland harvest on rivers. Additionally, unlike groundfish, salmon reproduce in freshwater, which is within state jurisdiction inland. In this case, the FMP would apply to federal waters only, not extending inland. During the committee meeting, the group pointed out that state and federal regulatory areas don’t align, either, so it would have to be clarified which catches were in federal waters and which were in state waters. Additionally, monitoring for salmon runs is largely done with in-stream sonar or weir systems administered by ADFG. In Cook Inlet, ADFG also operates an offshore test fishery near Anchor Point that measures abundance of salmon running into the inlet in the summer. The federal government managers would rely on that data, given that no other data measures are established for abundance, unlike the regular surveys done for other kinds of groundfish. In many federal fisheries, as well, observer coverage is required, which would be tricky and burdensome for many of the small boat fishermen that fish in the Upper Cook Inlet drift fishery. Some difficulty also lies ahead in determining a method for stock status determination for the Upper Cook Inlet salmon fishery, which is a mixed-stock fishery. Salmon stocks don’t work the same as many groundfish species, so determining harvest thresholds, stock status and other federal fishery guidelines will require some discussion, the report notes. The committee agreed to recommend that the council pursue cooperative management with the state, but plans to look into other options for recommendations, according to the report. “Some of these approaches may include indexes, CPUE (catch per unit effort), and historic catch,” the report states. “There was also interest in Committee review of Pacific Council management approaches for salmon.” To avoid additional permit complication and because the drift fishery is relatively “clean” — meaning the nets in general don’t catch many groundfish, which are the other federal managed finfish species in Cook Inlet — the committee agreed to also recommend prohibiting groundfish harvest in the fishery and to use eLandings, an electronic catch reporting tool. The council passed a motion noting the committee should meet again before the April 2019 council meeting, making recommendation on “appropriate recordkeeping and reporting requirements, standardized bycatch reporting methodologies, and to further develop its recommendations on status determination criteria at its next meeting.” UCIDA itself is not happy with the committee process. In a public comment submitted to the council on the topic, UCIDA President David Martin wrote that the committee’s membership is not structured the way UCIDA has been requesting for years, excluding the Cook Inlet Fishermen’s Fund entirely, and has been handed a “truncated” task that will not be meaningful. “UCIDA had hoped that the Salmon Committee might be a step in the right direction toward addressing the underlying problems in the fishery,” Martin wrote. “But the narrow task of the Committee and its limited composition preclude that result. UCIDA will participate in the Committee proceedings, but it does so with these fundamental objections clearly stated.” Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Costs rise while values fall; season starts uncertain during shutdown

Fishermen in Alaska who own catch shares of halibut, sablefish and Bering Sea crab will pay more to the federal government to cover 2018 management and enforcement costs for those fisheries. For halibut and sablefish, also known as black cod, the annual fee, which is capped at 3 percent, is based on dock prices from the March start of the fisheries through September and averaged across the state. For this year, bills went out to 1,834 holders of halibut and sablefish shares, down by 60 from last year. Their tab ticked up from 2.2 percent to 2.8 percent to cover additional costs to maintain information systems, and yielded $4.6 million, said Carl Greene, cost recovery coordinator for NOAA Fisheries in Juneau. The combined value to fishermen of the halibut and sablefish fisheries for 2018 was $161 million, Greene said, a 22 percent decrease from last year’s payout of $208 million. “The value of the halibut fishery was down 24 percent year over year, while sablefish was down 21 percent,” Greene said, adding that the decreases stemmed primarily from lower dock prices. The average halibut price of $5.35 per pound was down from $6.32; sablefish at $3.68 per pound was down from $4.84 in 2017. Federal fish managers don’t track dock prices for the various Bering Sea crab catches, only the total value of the combined fishery, which continues its year-over-year declines. The total value of crab to fishermen for the 2017-18 season was $164 million, down $24 million, or 13 percent, from the previous year. The coverage fee for the crab fisheries, paid by just 18 permit holders, increased slightly to 1.8 percent and yielded $3 million for enforcement costs, Green added. Another group of about 18 boats that in 2016 began paying for coverage costs of their fisheries includes Bering Sea trawlers, mostly Seattle-based, that fish for flounders, pollock and other whitefish, including vessels owned by Alaska Community Development Quota groups. “The fee for these programs was less than 1 percent and were used to cover about $2 million in enforcement costs,” Greene said. Fish shutdown shaft Hundreds of boats that are gearing up for the January start of some of Alaska’s largest fisheries could be stuck at the docks due to the government shutdown battle between President Donald Trump and Senate Democrats. Nine of the government’s 15 federal departments and several agencies were shuttered at midnight on Dec. 21 when U.S. senators reached a stalemate over Trump’s demand that $5.7 billion be included for a wall of “artistically designed steel slats” at the Mexican border. The inaction by lawmakers meant funding expired for the Agriculture, Commerce, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Justice, State, Transportation and Treasury Departments. The shutdown sent home 380,000 workers, while more than 420,000 employees deemed “essential” will continue to work without pay. Hardest hit will be the Department of Homeland Security, said the New York Times. “Nearly 54,000 Customs and Border Protection agents and 42,000 Coast Guard employees are projected to work without pay and, as travelers flood the nation’s airports and train stations, 53,000 T.S.A. agents will keep working, as will air traffic controllers and aviation and railroad safety inspectors,” the Times reported. Also included in the work without pay list are correctional officers, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents and Weather Service forecasters. Alaska’s federally managed fisheries from three to 200 miles offshore fall under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Commerce Department, which has furloughed 87 percent of its 47,896 workers. That likely includes some or all of Alaska’s fishery managers, license and permit issuers, fishery trackers, onboard observers, researchers and enforcement agents, but details are vague at best. In an untimely and unusual first, no one at NOAA in Juneau could speak about the impacts a government shutdown might have on the upcoming fisheries. All questions were referred “to the White House.” Calls and email messages to those headquarters were not returned. At NOAA Fisheries in Alaska, about 105 fishery regulators are located in Juneau, 15 in Anchorage, one in Kodiak and two in Dutch Harbor. Another 100 or so are employed in fishery research labs in Seattle, Kodiak and Juneau. Alaska’s cod fishery is set to open in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea on Jan. 1 followed on Jan. 20 by pollock, flatfish and other whitefish fisheries. The snow crab fishery, also federally managed, gets underway in mid-January. Meanwhile, no one is predicting how long the Trump shutdown will continue. On Dec. 22, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell adjourned the Senate until Dec. 27. Holiday seafood traditions For centuries seafood has taken a special spot on holiday tables all over the world and is served up with traditional meaning. One of the oldest stemming back to Roman times is the Feast of Seven Fishes, an Italian Christmas Eve celebration by Catholics to honor the birth of Jesus. The number seven is considered the perfect number and is repeated 700 times in the Bible, making the Feast of Seven Fishes a symbolic Christmas celebration. Dining tables can include seven or up to 13 different seafood dishes as a way to refrain from eating meat or milk on holy days, a long ago dietary taboo. One of the most famous dishes is baccalào or salted codfish; celebrants also feast on fried fish such as smelt and calamari. In other countries around the world: Eating lutefisk is a Christmas tradition in Norway and Sweden. It is made from dried whitefish, usually cod, that is prepared with lye in a long series of water treatments until the fish becomes jelly-like. Lutefisk dates back to the days of the Vikings. In Japan, consuming prawns on New Year’s Eve is to ensure long life, and eating herring roe is to boost fertility. Feasting on pickled herring at midnight in Germany, Poland, and parts of Scandinavia is done in hopes of bringing in a bountiful catch. In China a fish is served whole, symbolizing a good beginning and end in the coming year. One seafood that isn’t popular in holiday celebrations in many parts of the world is lobster — because it swims backwards. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Year in Review: A dismal year for salmon and halibut in the Gulf, Bristol Bay booms, battles over hatcheries

This summer was a disappointment for salmon fishermen across the Gulf of Alaska, both in the timing and in the numbers. Salmon fishermen from Kodiak to Southeast saw poor harvests and poor profits this year due to unexpectedly small runs of sockeye, king and pink salmon. Copper River fishermen rang the first alarm bells when unprecedentedly small sockeye catches were coming into the docks. In response to escapement concerns, managers shut down the fishery in June for a string of days. The fishery reopened in mid-July when the number of sockeye passing the sonar at Miles Lake was strong enough to merit it, and fishermen managed to scrape together enough of a harvest by the end of the season to avoid complete disaster. Not so for Chignik over on the Alaska Peninsula. The run to the Chignik River and Chignik Lagoon never really materialized, and for the first time, neighboring fisheries had to be restricted to control escapement to Chignik. The fishery only opened for a handful of hours, and those hours brought dismal fishing success. The preliminary harvest estimate for the area came to 128 fish, less than 1/10,000 of 1 percent of the average harvest. Before the summer was even out, the Board of Fisheries and Gov. Bill Walker had declared disasters for the fishery on Aug. 23, triggering state relief efforts for the area to help offset the losses. In Cook Inlet, too, the sockeye run baffled and frustrated all user groups. Poor sockeye returns to the Kenai River up through early July led to days of closures in the commercial fishery, restrictions and eventual closures in the sportfishery and the early closure of the Kenai River personal-use dipnet fishery. Then, for only the second time since the sonar was put in place, more than half of the Kenai River’s sockeye run came in after Aug. 1. Fishery management plans backfired because they were timed to dates, and though the run did eventually end the season within the escapement goal, commercial fishermen particularly were frustrated by the restrictions hampering their ability to harvest silver, pink and chum salmon still returning to the inlet. The Upper Cook Inlet drift fleet is seeking support for a disaster declaration as well. Though there’s no definitive data supporting it, fisheries managers and fishermen have pointed to the warm water anomaly in the North Pacific Ocean from 2015–17, nicknamed “the Blob,” as a possible factor in the poor sockeye and king salmon returns. No. 2: Records smashed in Bristol Bay, Norton Sound While their Gulf of Alaska colleagues nursed their hurting wallets, Bristol Bay and Norton Sound salmon fishermen were busy hauling in heavy net after heavy net, loaded down with historic high numbers of sockeye and pink salmon. Bristol Bay marked a total inshore run of 62.3 million sockeye, the largest run since 1893 and 69 percent more than the recent 20-year average. The total harvest of 41.3 million was the second highest on record, and the ex-vessel value of $281 million was more than 242 percent above the preseason forecasted value, in part due to much higher-than-usual prices. The only thing some Bristol Bay runs had in common with the Gulf of Alaska runs was that they were later than usual — about 10 days later, in some cases. That delay helped the processors keep up with such a high harvest. Farther north, Norton Sound area fishermen also smashed their harvest and exvessel value records. The total value of $4 million knocked out the previous record of $3.5 million, and the 260,000 silver salmon harvest set a new record. A total of 155 permits were fished in 2018 as well, up from a low of 12 in 2002 and the highest number since 1987. Unlike elsewhere in Alaska, the Nome River saw a massive run of pink salmon — 3.2 million, about double the previous record of 1.6 million. There isn’t much of a market for pink salmon there yet, though, so many of them weren’t harvested. No. 3: Hatchery battles at the Board of Fisheries Amid concerns about the sustainability of salmon runs across the Gulf of Alaska, salmon hatcheries had to repeatedly defend themselves before the Board of Fisheries as a group of stakeholders and sportfishing groups sought to limit their operations. The battles began in May, when a group of sportfishing groups led by the Kenai River Sportfishing Association sought to block a pink salmon egg take increase by the Valdez Development Fishery Association, citing straying concerns from Prince William Sound pink salmon into Lower Cook Inlet streams and carrying capacity in the Gulf of Alaska. The Board of Fisheries turned down a request for an emergency petition relating to the hatcheries, and again shot it down in July, saying it didn’t meet the criteria for an emergency petition. The Kenai River Sportfishing Association brought it back again at the board’s October work session, where the board heard hours of presentations from Alaska Department of Fish and Game staff about the function of hatcheries and ultimately decided not to act on the proposal but would continue to meet on hatcheries in the future. No. 4: Halibut hardships, falling quotas and prices Unable to agree on how to cut harvest, the International Pacific Halibut Commission ended its January meeting with no joint decision on quotas for the U.S. and Canadian halibut fisheries. Each country independently set its limits, with the caveat that they could not be higher than the previous year’s quota. The argument arose after a stock status report showed a precipitous decline in harvestable biomass in North Pacific Ocean halibut stocks, recommending that quotas be cut to preserve halibut stocks in the future from becoming overfished. That decline, more than 20 percent, comes after years of declining size and abundance of halibut. The stock status report for 2018, released at the commission’s interim meeting in December, showed yet another decline of about 7.5 percent across the entire survey area. The commission is due to meet in January in Vancouver to resume the discussion about what to do about halibut harvests. Halibut fishermen are feeling the pinch, both in volume in price. At the beginning of the season, fishermen were getting about $4.50–$5.50 per pound at the dock, down from about $7 at the beginning of the 2017 season. The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute connected the lower prices to existing supply, an increase of supply from Atlantic halibut fisheries and price fatigue among consumers. Most of Alaska’s Pacific halibut is consumed domestically, with some consumed in Canada, Europe and Southeast Asia as well. ^ Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Only one applicant for ADFG chief

Members of the boards of Fisheries and Game will meet jointly Jan. 16 to choose an applicant to forward to Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy for the commissioner’s seat, but it likely won’t be a long meeting with just one applicant. Doug Vincent-Lang, whom Dunleavy appointed as Acting Commissioner on Dec. 4, was the only person to submit an application to be the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. He previously worked with the department from 1999–2014, last serving as the director of the Division of Wildlife Conservation. In his application to the board, he outlined his wildlife management philosophy, including preserving fish and wildlife for public use, sustainable population management and maximum sustained yield. Maximum sustained yield is embedded in the state constitution, requiring fish and wildlife managers to manage populations for the maximum benefit of Alaska’s residents. “I would exert the authorities of the Commissioner and recognize and work within the authorities of publicly appointed Boards and Commissions,” he wrote. “I believe that sustained yield can have different targets depending upon the population. Many, if not most of, Alaska’s fish and wildlife populations should be managed for their maximum sustained yield, including many of our salmon and ungulate populations. “Other populations, such as rainbow trout and some predator populations, should be managed for some other level of optimized yield different from maximum sustained yield.” He also wrote that while officials should listen to the advice of ADFG scientists, scientists should not be making policy decisions. “In short, science would inform my decisions, but not make them,” he wrote. “I recognize that there are many other inputs into the decision process than science only.” Vincent-Lang has been involved in a wide variety of projects in his time with ADFG, including leading a research group on the since-scrapped Susitna River hydroelectric project, working on legislation to require sportfish guide licensing and leading a team that developed a strategic plan for the Division of Sport Fish. Leadership at the ADFG has historically been fairly contentious. In 2015, five people applied for the seat, with former governor Bill Walker’s choice Sam Cotten ultimately winning the Joint Board’s approval; in past years, more than a dozen people have applied. By law, the joint boards interview and vet the applicants, forwarding an applicant to the governor for his approval before the nominee is forwarded to the Legislature for confirmation. The joint boards are scheduled to meet in Anchorage on Jan. 16, with comments due Jan. 7. Because the Board of Game is meeting in Petersburg just prior to that, the members will travel to Anchorage in time for the meeting to begin at 7 p.m., or if weather delays their travel, the meeting will be delayed or rescheduled for a following day, according to the notice, issued Dec. 18. Meanwhile, as acting commissioner, Vincent-Lang made three key appointments on Dec. 14: Benjamin Mulligan as deputy commissioner, Edward Grasser as director of the Division of Wildlife Conservation and Rick Green as a special assistant to the commissioner. Mulligan previously worked for Fish and Game from 2010–15 as a special assistant and holds a bachelor’s degree in fisheries biology from the University of Wyoming. Most recently, he served as the vice president of the Alaska Chamber. He also previously worked on staff for former Mat-Su Rep. Bill Stoltze, including as chief of staff. Grasser has served as the vice president of the Safari Club International since 2013 and worked as a lobbyist and activist on Alaska wildlife issues for decades. He has also worked with the Alaska Outdoor Council, the Alaska Fish and Wildlife Federation and the Outdoor Heritage Foundation of Alaska. He previously worked in the department as a special assistant from 2005-06, and Vincent-Lang listed him as a professional reference in his application for commissioner. Green, who is better known as conservative radio host Rick Rydell, broadcast his program until accepting the program. He will be charged with outreach to stakeholders, according to the press release. “Green will work closely with the state’s hunters and fishers to improve communication and build trust,” the release states. ^ Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Alaska dominates annual fisheries landings report once again

Alaska is the nation’s super power when it comes to seafood. American fishermen landed just shy of 10 billion pounds of fish and shellfish last year valued at $5.4 billion, both up slightly. Of that, Alaska accounted for 61 percent of total landings (6 billion pounds) and 33 percent of the value ($1.8 billion). That’s according to the 2017 Fisheries of the US Report just released by National Marine Fisheries Service that covers all U.S. regions and species, recreational fishing, aquaculture, trade and much more. The popular annual report also includes the top 50 U.S. ports for seafood landings and values and once again, Alaska dominated the list. “The Alaska port of Dutch Harbor led the nation with the highest amount of seafood landings – 769 million pounds valued at $173 million – for the 21st year in a row,” said Ned Cyr, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration director of Science and Technology at a media teleconference. “New Bedford, Massachusetts, had the highest value catch for the 18th year in a row – 11 million pounds valued at $389 million with 80 percent coming from the highly lucrative sea scallop fishery.” The “Aleutian Islands” ranked second for seafood landings thanks to Trident’s plant at Akutan, the nation’s largest seafood processing facility. Kodiak bumped up a notch from fourth to third place. The “Alaska Peninsula” ranked 7th and Naknek came in at No. 9. Alaska ports rounding out the top 20 were Cordova, Sitka, Ketchikan and Petersburg. In all, 13 Alaskan fishing communities ranked among the top 50 list of U.S. ports for seafood landings. The report also highlights the growing role for aquaculture in the domestic seafood industry. U.S. marine and fresh water aquaculture was valued at $1.5 billion in 2016, equal to about 21 percent of the value of the nation’s combined seafood production, with oysters, clams and salmon generating the highest value. The U.S. still imports more than 80 percent of its seafood and federal overseers are intent upon turning that tide. “The Department of Commerce and NOAA are committed to addressing the U.S. seafood trade deficit through regulatory streamlining, increasing aquaculture production and creating a better, fairer trading system for all Americans,” Cyr said. Nearly six billion pounds of fish and shellfish were imported to the U.S. last year, up 1.6 percent, valued at $21.5 billion, a 10.4 percent increase from 2016. Shrimp, salmon and tuna continued to top the list of imports. In other report highlights: • Alaska pollock accounted for 28 percent of all fish landed in the U.S. and 17 percent of the value. • Alaska accounted for nearly 98 percent of the nation’s salmon landings. • The average dock price paid to U.S. fishermen last year across the board held at 55 cents per pound. • Sport fish enthusiasts made 202 million saltwater fishing trips last year with striped bass and blue fish being the biggest catches. Only 2 percent of the anglers went to the Pacific coast. Alaska data were not available for 2017. • The U.S. seafood industry’s contribution to the economy increased slightly, according to an accompanying fisheries economic report for 2016. Commercial fisheries generated $53 billion in sales, supported 711,000 jobs and added $28 billion to the nation’s GDP, all up by 2 percent. Eat more fish! Americans ate more seafood in 2017, reaching the highest level since 2008. Per capita consumption was 16 pounds, an increase of 1.1 pounds from the year before. That’s according to the top 10 list of favorites compiled each year by the National Fisheries Institute and based on data from the NOAA fisheries report. Shrimp remained at the top of the list of favorites with Americans eating 4.4 pounds per person last year. Salmon ranked second at 2.4 pounds followed by canned tuna, at 2.1 pounds. Rounding out the top 10 were pollock, tilapia, catfish, crab, cod, clams and pangasius. Fish watch Cod catches will decline next year in both the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea, while catches for pollock will be up in the Bering Sea and down in the Gulf. The 2019 numbers were set this month by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council for more than two dozen fisheries in federal waters from three to 200 miles offshore. The Bering Sea pollock catch got a 2.4 percent increase to nearly 1.4 million metric tons, or more than three billion pounds. Bering Sea cod catches were cut 11.5 percent to just more than 366 million pounds (166,475 mt). In the Gulf, pollock catches will be down 15 percent to 311 million pounds, a drop of 55 million pounds from this year. Gulf of Alaska cod catches will again take a dip to just over 27 million pounds, down 5.6 percent. Meanwhile, boats are still out on the water throughout the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea hauling up final catches of various groundfish for the year. The 4 million-pound red king crab fishery at Bristol Bay is a wrap, but crabbers are still tapping away at the 2.4 million-pound Bering Sea Tanner crab quota. Snow crab is open but fishing typically gets going in mid-January. Divers are picking up the last 35,000 pounds of sea cucumbers in parts of Southeast Alaska. About 170 divers competed for a 1.7 million pound sea cucumber quota this year; diving also continues for more than 700,000 pounds of giant geoduck clams. Southeast trollers are still out on the water targeting winter king salmon. Looking ahead: There will be no king salmon catches allowed next year at the Stikine and Taku rivers due to low run forecasts. A fishery for seven kinds of rockfish will open in Southeast on Jan. 5. The 55,000 pound quota can include yelloweye, quillback, canary, copper, China, tiger, and rosethorn rockfish. The 2019 Sitka Sound sac roe harvest has been increased slightly to 12,869 tons. This past season the fleet took just 2,800 tons out of the 11,128 ton herring catch. At the state’s largest roe herring fishery at Togiak, the harvest for next year will be 24,430 tons, a slight increase. The year-round cycle of Alaska’s fishing industry will begin on Jan. 1. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Tighter restrictions for charter halibut likely in 2019

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council approved preliminary regulations for the halibut charter sector in Southeast and Southcentral Alaska during its recent meeting in Anchorage, but the final rules still depend on what the International Pacific Halibut Commission decides about quotas. The council members approved measures to outline fishing time and retention in regulatory areas 2C and 3A, depending on the final limits determined by the International Pacific Halibut Commission this January. In area 2C, which encompasses Southeast Alaska, the proposed limit is a reverse slot limit of one fish per day either shorter than 38 inches or longer than 80 inches. In area 3A, which encompasses the Central Gulf of Alaska between Yakutat and the Alaska Peninsula, the restrictions will be a little looser than in Southeast. Charter anglers are allowed to keep two fish per day with a four-fish annual limit, with one fish capped at a maximum of 28 inches long. Additionally, there won’t be any fish retention on Wednesdays. While the Southeast charter sector was about 10 percent less than its allocation limit in 2018, the Central Gulf charter sector exceeded its limits, running about 4 percent over its allocation. Some of the restrictions proposed by the council are meant to help bring that sector back in line, such as closing additional Tuesdays. In an analysis provided to the council, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game outlined how halibut harvest would drop with each additional closed Tuesday — at the high end, if all Tuesdays were closed, it would drop about 8.2 percent. At status quo, charter operators would lose about six Tuesdays through the season, plus Wednesdays being entirely closed. However, even if management and effort stay status quo, total catch may still drop because all areas are showing a decline in harvest per unit of effort, or HPUE, according to the ADFG analysis. “The weighted average HPUE forecast for Area 3A overall is 1.18 halibut per angler-trip,” the analysis states. “Glacier Bay, Yakutat, North Gulf Coast, and Kodiak subareas had HPUEs of less than 1 halibut per angler-trip, reflecting the lower retention of second fish in the bag limit in those areas.” Due to falling halibut abundance in the Gulf of Alaska and near Southeast, the council has been adding more regulations and cutting allocations in an attempt to protect the stocks. This year, the International Pacific Halibut Commission’s stock status report showed yet another drop in biomass — 7 percent in the Gulf of Alaska and 15 percent in the Southeast area. The commission will meet in January to discuss final quota setting, but with decreasing biomass, fishermen may see yet another cut across both the charter and commercial sectors. Under the reference catch levels for 2019, all Tuesdays could be opened and there wouldn’t be a need for any other closed days, according to the analysis. The council’s Charter Halibut Management Committee supported the regulations the council ultimately adopted, noting that if the IPHC’s allocation came in ultimately greater than 2.023 million pounds, the managers could increase the lower end of the over-under limit to 30 inches from 28 inches. The committee also urged the members to opt for a more conservative management regime for area 3A than is technically necessary. The committee noted in its minutes that its members also recommended more conservative regulations for the area in 2018, which the council members did not ultimately approve. Many of those who submitted comments noted that while they didn’t love the additional restrictions, they understood the necessity for conservation. Multiple commenters touched on a frustration that the council has yet to address: the lack of comparable restrictions on private angler and subsistence halibut harvest. Matt Kopec, owner of Whittier Marine Charters and Whittier Boat Rentals and serves on the Charter Halibut Management Committee, noted that his area has seen a significant increase in private boat traffic. “From what I have seen, private boaters are far more successful in harvesting halibut than rental boat customers,” he wrote in a letter to the council. “They fish much more and they’ve simply gotten good at it. While I’m still not sure that current data suggests that any restriction is needed, they should be considered before stricter regulations are placed on guided anglers, especially if you’re looking at limiting the catch of anglers on rental boats. Perhaps a new ‘sport’ allocation for all sport anglers that is linked to abundance would be a clean and simple answer.” Noting those concerns from users, the council has discussed actions to regulate the halibut boat rental business, in which businesses rent boats to private anglers without a guide so they are not subject to the charter sector restrictions. A private angler may keep two fish of any size per day. The Alaska Division of Motor Vehicles already requires registration of motor boats, so the council members have debated whether to add more regulations to keep a closer watch on the sector, including aligning the bag limits on both. ^ Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

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