Fisheries

FISH FACTOR: More cuts to halibut harvest expected in 2019

Alaska fishermen are bracing for more cuts to their halibut harvest next year. Results of this year’s surveys showed that the Pacific stock from California to the Bering Sea continues to decline, and will likely result in lower catches. “We estimate that the stock went down until around 2010 from historical highs in the late 1990s. It increased slightly over the subsequent five years and leveled out around 2015 or 2016 and has been decreasing slowly in spawning biomass (total weight of mature fish to catch) since then,” said Ian Stewart, lead stock assessment scientist with the International Pacific Halibut Commission, at its interim meeting last week in Seattle. The IPHC oversees the Pacific halibut resource and sets annual catch limits for the U.S. and British Columbia. A summary of the 2018 data show that coastwide fishery landings were about 23.5 million pounds, a low for the last decade. For Alaska, the total halibut take was nearly 16.7 million pounds, 5 percent shy of the fishery limit. Total halibut removals by all users, including bycatch, added up to 38.7 million pounds in 2018. Sixty-one percent of the catch went to commercial fisheries; recreational users took 19 percent and 3 percent went for subsistence use. Halibut bycatch in other fisheries accounted for 16 percent. Halibut bycatch in the Central and Western Gulf totaled 2.1 million pounds, nearly all taken by trawl gear. In the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, halibut bycatch is projected at 3.5 million pounds, primarily by Seattle trawlers fishing for flatfish. The average price at the docks for Pacific halibut this year was $5.74 per pound, compared to $6.53 in 2017. Nearly 2,000 fishermen participate in Alaska’s halibut fishery. Catch limits for 2019 will be revealed by the IPHC in Vancouver in January. Warm water watch In recent years, IPHC scientists have included ecosystem impacts in their assessments of the Pacific halibut stock, such as how the fish are reacting to warming oceans. At the IPHC meeting, Ian Stewart referenced the massive, warm blob in the Pacific Ocean from 2014 through 2017 and said remains of it appear to be hanging around. “We’ve seen a continued presence of warm surface waters through the fall of 2018. It’s not quite the magnitude of the previous blob, but it is definitely different from what would be the norm in the North Pacific,” Stewart said. “Particularly of note, and relevant to halibut in Region 4 (Bering Sea), which means halibut across the entire coast because much of the coastwide recruitment likely comes from Region 4,” Stewart added, “is the fact that there was virtually no sea ice in the winter of 2018 in the Bering Sea. And that led to no cold pool in the summer, that being a tongue of cold bottom water that extends southward, generally corresponding to the extent of ice cover in the winter time.” The lack of that cold pool, he said, has caused big behavioral changes. “It’s led to more than half the cod biomass being distributed in the northern Bering Sea north of the normal survey grid, and a northward shift as well of pollock, although not quite as extreme,” Stewart said. “We saw a shift as well in Pacific halibut on the order of about a 20 percent increase in density between 2017 and 2018 in the northern Bering Sea.” The halibut scientists also track Pacific Decadal Oscillations that show recurring patterns of ocean/atmospheric climate variability. Stewart said the PDO is used as an index of halibut productivity. “A positive PDO tends to correspond to relatively warm and relatively productive conditions in the North Pacific. On average, this tends to be correlated with the level of halibut recruitment, historically,” he said. “We have seen a period starting in 2014 of relatively positive values, with 2018 moving back to almost a neutral value.” Salmon stats The average chinook salmon caught by Alaska fisherman this year weighed 11.6 pounds and paid out at nearly $70 per fish, or more than a barrel of oil. That’s just one of the interesting stats to come out of the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game’s 2018 salmon season wrap up. The fishery ranks as one of the most valuable on record to fishermen at nearly $596 million, and at just over 114 million salmon, one of the smallest harvests in 34 years. The average ex-vessel, or dockside, price per salmon in 2018 was $5.20 per pound, up more than $2 from 2017. The average salmon price paid to Alaska fishermen was 98 cents per pound. Each sockeye salmon was valued at $7 for fishermen, on average, and it was those fish that saved the day for a fishery that was a bust Gulf-wide. Sockeyes accounted for 44 percent of the total 2018 salmon harvest and nearly 60 percent of the value. Statewide, fishermen caught 50 million reds valued at $350 million. Fewer than 9 million of the fish came from non-Bristol Bay regions where catches were the worst in more than four decades. At Bristol Bay, a catch of over 41 million reds was the second-largest ever. It also was the most valuable catch for fishermen, topping $281 million. After bonuses and postseason adjustments are added in, that could climb to more than $335 million, said Andy Wink, director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association. Bristol Bay is home to the largest red salmon run in the world and the fishery accounted for 57 percent of global sockeye production this year. It’s the third year in a row that Bristol Bay has accounted for more than half of world supply. Alaska Salmon Price and Production Reports for the key sales months of July and August show a first wholesale value of Bristol Bay frozen and fresh sockeye products was 36 percent higher than last year. The average wholesale value increased from $4.01 to $4.51 per pound and sales volume increased 21 percent. Bristol Bay fishermen averaged $1.26 a pound for their sockeyes this summer, up from $1.02 last year, but 43 cents less than the average of sockeyes caught elsewhere. At Prince William Sound, sockeyes paid out at $2.71 per pound to fishermen; Cook Inlet averaged $2.27; Kodiak fishermen got $1.56 and sockeyes averaged $1.23 per pound at the Alaska Peninsula. Fishermen in other Alaska regions averaged $1.69 for their red salmon. Find more information about Alaska sockeye salmon at www.bbrsda.com. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Survey again shows drop in halibut stocks in Gulf of Alaska

Things aren’t looking good for many Alaska halibut fishermen next year, though official quota limit decisions are still to come. The 2018 stock status report presented to the International Pacific Halibut Commission at its interim meeting on Nov. 27 shows yet another drop in the biomass of Pacific halibut in the North Pacific — about 7 percent down from the 2017 fishery-independent setline survey. That doesn’t mean every single region dropped, as it’s an average, but Alaska’s three main areas of effort — 2C, the entirety of Region 3, and Region 4 excluding the western Aleutian Islands — all dropped. The most significant drop was in Area 2, which stretches from northern California to Southeast, falling 15 percent. Region 3, which stretches across the Gulf of Alaska out to the Alaska Peninsula, fell 7 percent. Halibut stocks dropped year-over-year from the late 1990s through 2011, when it appears to have stabilized, according to the report. “That trend is estimated to have been largely a result of decreasing size-at-age, as well as somewhat weaker recruitment strengths than those observed during the 1980s,” the report states. The spawning female biomass stabilized in 2011, increasing the stock through 2016, with a projected spawning biomass of 190 million pounds at the beginning of 2019. Researchers are linking the fluctuations with favorable ocean conditions in connection with the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, an ocean temperature trend correlated with fisheries regimes. Historically, conditions were favorable from 1978–2006 and poor from 2007–13, with more positive indications from 2014 through October 2018. However, that’s not the only variable playing into ocean conditions for halibut in the North Pacific. Sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Alaska jumped in 2015 and remained anomalously high for several years, earning the warm water mass the nickname “the Blob,” and wreaking widespread havoc on fish stocks and leading to uncertainty for forecasters. “Many other environmental indicators, current and temperature patterns have been anomalous relative to historical periods and therefore historical patterns of productivity related to the (Pacific Decadal Oscillation) may not be relevant to the most recent few years,” the report states. Though conditions have been favorable, the cohorts from 2006–10 were smaller than the prior few years, which will affect abundance as time goes on and those age cohorts become a more significant part of the fishery. The International Pacific Halibut Commission will set its quota limits at its annual meeting in January. Last year, when the stock status led to recommendations for significant cuts to harvest, the commissioners could not come to an agreement and decided to have the U.S. and Canada set their fisheries limits independently, though no higher than the previous year. The stock status report doesn’t make direct recommendations for fishing limits but projects how fisheries limits will impact the population. For all total constant exploitation yield amounts, or TCEY — all halibut mortality for fish longer than 26 inches, including bycatch and research kills — more than 20 million pounds, the stock is project to decline from 2019–21. At the status quo TCEY of 37.2 million pounds total, there’s a 30 percent chance of a stock decline of at least 5 percent in 2019 that climbs to a 79 percent chance by 2022, according to the report. Total mortality of Pacific halibut in 2018 was about 38.7 million pounds. The commercial halibut catch, though — about 23.5 million pounds — was actually an all-time low for the last 10 years, according to the report. Bycatch mortality fell to 6.1 million pounds, the lowest since the arrival of foreign fishing fleets in 1962. Mortality from recreational catches was down as well, about 5 percent lower than 2017. The International Pacific Halibut Commission is scheduled hold its full annual meeting from Jan. 28–Feb. 1 in Victoria, British Columbia. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Board of Fisheries to take closer look at Nushagak king salmon plan

The Board of Fisheries passed a proposal to take a chunk out of the king salmon management plan on the Nushagak River, with plans to form a work group to keep discussing user group conflict on the river. At its meeting in Dillingham dealing with proposals related to the Bristol Bay finfish fisheries on Dec. 2, the board members approved a proposal that amends the management plan for the king salmon run on the Nushagak and Mulchatna rivers. Several clauses in the plan link closures in the commercial sockeye salmon fishery in the Nushagak District, salmon fishing closures on the Nushagak River and limited subsistence fishing periods if the projected spawning escapement is less than 55,000 kings, the lower end of the river’s escapement goal. The updated proposal repeals a number of numeric escapement-based trigger points that close fisheries based on the king salmon passage in the river. The original proposal, submitted by Brian Kraft, would have limited commercial fishing openings in the Nushagak District to no more than 12 hours of fishing per day when the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Division of Sport Fish issues emergency orders restricting the sport fishery, among other restrictions. In his rationale, he wrote that the burden to conserve king salmon is currently on sportfishermen. “The impact on the number of chinook making it in river is immediately diminished when commercial openers happen,” he wrote. “This is not intended by the (commercial fisherman), but it happens. We need help in preserving the Nushagak chinook run. When the chinook run falls below acceptable escapement numbers, the sport fishery is restricted or potentially closed, yet (commercial fishing) openings remain aggressive. “The commercial fishery in the Nushagak district, although targeting sockeye, certainly has a by-catch or interception of chinook bound for the Nushagak.” The Nushagak River, which flows into Bristol Bay just south of Dillingham, hosts a vibrant king salmon sportfishery. Nearby, the commercial sockeye salmon fishery brings in on average 6.4 million sockeye each summer. This year, a banner year for Bristol Bay, the fishermen in the Nushagak District landed about 24.1 million salmon, according to ADFG. Adding to the complexity of managing the return is a noted inaccuracy in the sonar counter in the Nushagak River, which ADFG acknowledges. In public comments, Michael Link of the Bristol Bay Science and Research Institute noted that recent mark-recapture and acoustic tagging studies found that the sonar was undercounting king salmon by variable degrees. “In 2017, low early-season sonar-based king salmon passage estimates triggered restrictions on harvest opportunities; subsequent examination of all information suggested the estimates were probably about 50 percent lower than actual,” Link wrote in his comments. “Although the restrictions helped increase king salmon escapement, skepticism grew among users about misplaced certainty in the assessment information.” ADFG staff opposed the original proposal because it would tie the department’s hands, said Tim Sands, the area management biologist for the Nushagak District. The board amended the proposal to remove sections based on sonar passage numbers, which the ADFG staff then supported, said Forrest Bowers, the director of the Division of Commercial Fisheries. “There’s some work going on to refine the sonar project,” Bowers said. “We have some concerns about the accuracy of the count there, whether we’re accurately assessing the size of the Nushagak run. This plan has some prescriptive triggers that may not be warranted based on the accuracy of our assessment tool.” Board member Israel Payton noted that the proposal reduces complexity and gives the Division of Sport Fish more flexibility to protect king salmon stocks based on abundance. He also noted that members of the public had requested the Nushagak River’s king salmon management plan be revisited, especially as ADFG has not planned to reassess the escapement goal. “The plan has some arbitrary in-river trigger points that aren’t really biological; in my mind, they’re kind of an allocative trigger point,” he said. “It gets rid of those trigger points but still allows the department to manage for the sustainable escapement goal … once again, this doesn’t tie the hands of any commercial fish manager, and in my mind, allow a little more flexibility for the sport fishing manager, or all the manages.” Board member Robert Ruffner noted that the amendment to the original proposal arose from a board member and stakeholder meeting but that there would be further work on the issue. “Our anticipation is that over the next 18 months or so, we’re going to work on this, and there is the possibility of bringing something up out of cycle to further flesh this out a little bit,” he said. “That’s part of what we’re trying to work through here.” A charge statement submitted on Dec. 2 would create a temporary committee to review fisheries recommendations to the board “on a comprehensive solution.” In the meeting between board members and stakeholders, attendees recognized uncertainty in sonar data and restrictions in the sportfishery without restrictions in the commercial fishery as continuing issues. ADFG will work with a stakeholder-led study team to review data on the Nushagak River king salmon enumeration and work on updating the goal by March 2020, according ot the charge statement. The work group, which will consist of no more than nine members of the public and three members of the board appointed by board chairman Reed Morisky, will meet before the Board of Fisheries’ October 2019 worksession and help create any proposals to address the issue before the March 2020 statewide meeting. The board passed the proposal 5-0, with members Fritz Johnson and John Jensen — both commercial fishermen — abstaining for conflict of interest. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Dunleavy: no ‘preferred choice’ to lead ADFG

Newly-inaugurated Gov. Mike Dunleavy has tapped Doug Vincent-Lang to temporarily head the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and a spokesman said he intends to let the nomination process by the boards of Fisheries and Game lead the way to select a commissioner rather than announcing his own choice. Dunleavy announced the appointment just after his inauguration Dec. 3 in Kotzebue. Vincent-Lang, a veteran of the department, will serve as commissioner on an interim basis, replacing Sam Cotten. Vincent-Lang, who holds degrees in biology and biological oceanography, has previously served as a research biologist, as the director for the Division of Wildlife Conservation and as a special assistant and assistant director of the Division of Sport Fish. In a press release announcing the appointment, Dunleavy noted that “it is important that someone is in the position to manage the Department while the Joint Boards of Fish and Game go through their process of nominating potential commissioners.” “The Governor respects that process and looks forward to the recommendations from the Joint Meeting of the Board of Fish and the Board of Game,” the release notes. In response to a follow-up question, spokesman Jeff Turner said Dunleavy “does not have a preferred choice for commissioner of fish and game. The board determines the best person to fill the job.” That’s a departure from Dunleavy’s two predecessors, who named their pick to lead ADFG before a joint meeting of the boards. The boards, which are independent of the department, appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Legislature, will advertise for the position and will meet in January to take up the appointment, Turner said. Dunleavy is following a fairly normal process for appointment so far, according to Glenn Haight, the executive director of the Board of Fisheries. The joint boards will accept applications for the position before interviewing candidates at the special board meeting in January. The application period is open through Dec. 14 and requires that applicants submit a letter of interest with statements of and personnel management philosophy as well as a resume and references. Depending on the number of applicants, the joint boards may meet with all the members or may designate a subcommittee of a few members, Haight said. In the past, the number of candidates has varied, from more than 20 to just five or six, he said. The position is notoriously contentious and different from the process for other commissioners, who are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Legislature. ADFG and Education Department commissioner candidates are selected by their respective boards before they can be appointed by the governor to be approved by the Legislature. Dunleavy has already announced he intends to retain current Education Commissioner Dr. Michael Johnson. Former Gov. Sean Parnell nominated Cora Campbell to lead the department in 2010, and her name was ultimately forwarded to him after interviewing with the joint boards. The same was the case for former Gov. Bill Walker’s choice of Sam Cotten, who was likewise interviewed by the joint boards and deemed a qualified choice. Only one other candidate applied for the position in both cases after the governors made their preferences known. Defined by statute, the commissioner should be “a qualified executive with knowledge of the requirements for protection, management, conservation, and restoration of the fish and game resources of the state. The commissioner is the principal executive officer of the department, whose mission is to protect, maintain, and improve the fish and game resources of the state, and manage their use and development in the best interest of the economy and the well-being of the people of the state, consistent with the sustained yield principle.” Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Trident takes Symphony honors for pollock-based noodle

Protein Noodles by Trident Seafoods took top honors at the 26th annual Alaska Symphony of Seafood, winning first place in the retail category and the Seattle People’s Choice award. The winners were announced last week at Pacific Marine Expo. The refrigerated noodles are made from pollock surimi and touted as a high-protein, gluten-free alternative to traditional pastas. “All pastas are wheat-based and they don’t contain any protein and there’s not a lot of nutritional value,” said John Salle, Trident’s senior vice president of marketing, innovation and corporate accounts when accepting the awards. “Lots of carbs, lots of sugars. We think these pollock noodles will fill a void in the market. Just heat them up and add sauce!” Salle said the Protein Noodles will debut at Costco stores early in 2019. Trident also won first place in the Beyond the Plate category for its Alaska Natural Pet pollock oil, an omega-3 enriched additive for dog foods. In the food service category, Alaska Cod Dumplings from Tai Foong USA was the winner. The Symphony moves to Juneau on Feb. 19 where second- and third-place winners will be announced along with a Grand Prize winner. The winning products are entered into Seafood Expo North America’s new product competition in Boston in March. “That’s a really big deal,” said Keith Singleton, president of the value added division of Alaskan Leader Seafoods, which won the grand prize last year for its Alaska Cod with Lemon Herb Butter. The company also took a first place for its Cod Crunchies pet treats. “The exposure we got from the Symphony of Seafood, we used that in all of our marketing. We’re fishermen and for us as a company that’s pretty new at this, it was pretty impressive that we won. And we definitely have picked up a lot of new accounts,” Singleton added. “Anybody that’s out there who wants to compete in the Symphony, I strongly encourage them. It’s a lot of fun and it really gets your name out there. It’s really helped us as an industry for sure.” The annual contest is aimed at encouraging new products to increase the value of Alaska’s fishery resources to fishermen and communities. “It starts at the boat,” said Julie Decker, executive director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, host of the event. “The quality level that fishermen are producing has gone up tremendously over the past 25 years and it is directly related to the quality you can manufacture into new products. “You can do more things and they turn out much better. We are doing better as an industry across the board and that’s why we want to keep fishermen involved. They are important to the process because when they do better, everybody does better.” Seafood faces and places A Seafood, Sea Jobs video campaign is taking its message on trade to the people who make policy decisions. The project was launched by the National Fisheries Institute to show the trickle down effects of the steep tariffs on U.S. seafood in Donald Trump’s trade war with China. “It’s meant to showcase the faces and places of seafood jobs around America,” said Lynsee Fowler, NFI communications manager. “Whether it’s a fisherman or a processor, cold storage, sales and procurement, a restaurant server or a trucker, the seafood community has diverse impacts that not everyone knows about.” Fowler has traveled the country capturing people at work from coffee shops in coastal towns to truck stops and food making factories in the mid-west. “It’s a lot further down the supply chain where you see the impacts and a lot of those jobs are in the heartland,” she told SeafoodNews.com The project has produced 34 videos so far, which are delivered to policy makers and key opinion leaders on trade in Washington, D.C. “We want to make sure they are talking about seafood when they talk about industries that are hurt by tariffs,” Fowler said. A 25 percent tariff on U.S. seafood exported to China began in September; another 25 percent on seafood coming from China to the U.S. is set to hit in January. Fowler said NFI’s hundreds of member companies already are paying that rate. “It takes our members anywhere from 8 to 15 weeks to put in an order to China and get it here,” she said, “so they are operating under that 25 percent tariff and it has a big impact.” NFI is the nation’s largest industry trade group representing member companies from fishing vessel operators to seafood restaurants for nearly 75 years. Captain’s crab recollections Trying to outwit killer whales … fights aboard 300 foot factory trawlers … falling overboard … waves in the wheelhouse — lots of fish stories stem from a life at sea. A new book titled “Chronicles of a Bering Sea Captain” captures five decades of fishing in the Bering Sea. The motivation for the book came from a health scare 20 years ago at sea, said author Jake Jacobsen. “The thought struck me that I have six kids and they know very little about what I have done out at sea, and I wanted to leave some stories for them,” he said in a phone interview. Jacobsen began jotting down stories in fits and starts, put them down for about a decade, and became inspired again when he came upon old notebooks and photos. One of Jacobsen’s favorite stories describes trying to outwit killer whales, what he calls “the most organized and intelligent adversaries,” from robbing fish from longline hooks. “You try and develop strategies,” he said. “You cut your line, anchor it off, run away for a while and stop the engines and then come back. The whales leave sentries around at your strings, and then they call each other. So you can’t get very far hauling gear again because here come the whales.” Jacobsen said in writing the book he also wanted to correct misconceptions people might have about fishing the Bering Sea. “It’s hard and dangerous work and we are very competitive, but I want people to understand about sustainable fisheries,” he said. “When I tell these stories about staying up for three days in a row without sleep, we are not talking about decimating the resource. We are talking about a fishery that takes a small percentage of the available biomass, and it is all controlled by the best science available. In Alaska we are very proud of the sustainable seafood program we have.” Find Chronicles of a Bering Sea Captain at Amazon, and more information at www.beringseacaptain.com. Fish funds American Seafoods has issued a call for grant applications targeting community programs in Kodiak, the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands, Western Alaska Peninsula, Bristol Bay, Lower Kuskokwim, Lower Yukon, Norton Sound and regions north. A total of $90,000 will be allocated in grants that range from $2,000 to $15,000 each for projects that focus on hunger, housing, safety, education, research, natural resources and cultural activities. Since 1997 American Seafoods has given more than $1.5 million to Alaska organizations and programs through its grant program. Grant request forms are available online at www.americanseafoods.com or by contacting Kim Lynch at [email protected] or 206-256-2659. The deadline to submit applications is Dec. 10. The company’s Western Alaska Community Grant Board will select recipients on Dec. 19. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

State removes Kenai from ‘impaired’ listing, citing lack of data

The Kenai River has again escaped being labeled as an impaired water body because of turbidity, though there are other issues on the horizon. In the final report the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the state agency removed its initial recommendation for the lower 7.5 miles of the Kenai River to be listed as impaired based on turbidity levels. The additional data gathered over two weeks this July didn’t exceed acceptable turbidity levels and couldn’t verify the three years of data gathered from 2008-10. Turbidity, a measure of material suspended in the water, can be harmful to water quality for human consumption and for aquatic organisms. In the case of the Kenai River, which the neighboring communities do not use for drinking water, the primary concern is for the fish; the river supports the largest salmon and trout sportfishery in the state, including the popular Kenai River personal-use dipnet fishery in July. The listing, first announced in the public notice of the draft Integrated Water Quality and Assessment Report for 2014-16 in December 2017, sparked controversy among Kenai River users. The listing was not a surprise — the Kenai Watershed Forum, an environmental conservation nonprofit based in Soldotna, had been taking the readings nearly a decade before — but held implications for the sportfishing community in particular. The Kenai Watershed Forum’s readings found a significant uptick in turbidity in the lowermost reach of the river during July while the upriver readings stayed relatively level. The turbidity in the lower river was lower in June and dropped again in August, though the relative river velocity and temperature were similar. The area where the turbidity was read at a higher level, a popular area to fish for king salmon, also saw much more motorboat traffic at the time. However, things have changed since then, the DEC noted in its Nov. 2 transmittal letter to the EPA. “Public comments were received in opposition and support of the proposed turbidity listing; however, opposition statements indicating that motorized boating use and conditions in the lower Kenai River have changed substantially since 2010 warranted further investigation,” the letter states. “The 2018 turbidity data showed a reduction in overall turbidity levels and in difference between the upstream background site (river mile 23) and the downstream suspected impairment side (river mile 11.5).” Regulations on the river have changed significantly since 2008. In response to high readings of hydrocarbons in the Kenai River, the state required boat motors running on the river to be larger than 35 horsepower to switch to four-stroke engines or direct-injection two-stroke engines and set the maximum power to 50 horsepower, with exceptions for Kenai and Skilak lakes. The ban appeared to do the trick, with the hydrocarbon pollution levels dropping and the DEC’s listing of the Kenai as an impaired water body later removed. The salmon runs on the river have changed since 2008, too, changing fishing patterns. Years of poor king salmon returns have led guides and many private anglers to switch to targeting primarily sockeye salmon, moving to either bank angling or fishing further upstream, moving away from the lower river where the turbidity readings were taken. Fishermen pointed to this change in fishing effort as a reason to review the data for the determination. The DEC also funded a boat-count study in July 2018 to determine changes in boating patterns between two popular launches, the Pillars and Eagle Rock, appended to the turbidity monitoring. The agency noted in its response to public comments that many boats now launch from the Eagle Rock launch, downstream of the original turbidity sampling site at river mile 11.5, so in the future, the sampling site might need to be moved further downstream to capture those boats’ effect. The DEC is suspending classification of the river as a Category 5 impaired water body until “further information becomes available to reassess the condition of the river,” according to the letter to the EPA. Without the increase to a Category 5 impairment, the river reverts to its previous listing as a Category 3 water body, joining a long list of water bodies that the DEC “has insufficient information on” to make an impairment determination, according to the final report. “The Department will continue to work with local stakeholders on a watershed plan to prioritize emerging water quality issues on the Kenai River,” the letter states. Those “ emerging” issues include high fecal coliform bacteria near the mouth of the river — largely sourced to gulls, which flock to the rivermouth during the summer — indications of high copper and zinc readings on the lower Kenai River near the urbanized areas of Kenai and Soldotna. Copper and zinc readings are frequently connected to stormwater runoff and signs of urbanization. Stormwater runoff can be troubling for salmon health, as in the case of coho salmon, which have shown particular sensitivity to metals like copper. The DEC had not returned a request for comment as of deadline. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Poor pink runs forecast again; return to ‘normal’ in Bristol Bay

Next summer may be a slow one for Southeast and Bristol Bay salmon fishermen. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s annual salmon forecasts for the Southeast and Bristol Bay regions predict weaker runs for the 2019 season. In Southeast’s case, it’s the pink salmon predicted to come up short compared to recent averages; in Bristol Bay, it’s the sockeye. About 18 million pink salmon are predicted to be harvested in Southeast Alaska in 2019, placing the run in the weak range, or between 20 percent and 40 percent of the 59-year average in the history of the fishery. The forecasted number is about half the recent 10-year average of 36 million pinks, according to the ADFG forecast. If the forecast holds true, it will be the lowest odd-year harvest since 1987. The low number of juveniles in 2018 was unexpected, as the previous year’s escapements met goals. “This indicates that brood year 2017 pink salmon likely experienced poor freshwater and/or early marine survival,” according to the forecast. The forecast comes with an 80 percent confidence interval, but some uncertainty comes form the warmer-than-normal sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Alaska. An exceptionally warm body of water in the Gulf from 2013-16, nicknamed the “Blob,” appeared to have dissipated but has now returned. ADFG managers connected the disastrously low pink salmon returns in 2016 with poor marine survival due to warm conditions in the Gulf as well. “The return of anomalously warm sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Alaska may have a negative impact on the survival of pink salmon,” the forecast states. “Although the weak harvest forecast in 2019 is consistent with poor survival, the impact of Gulf of Alaska temperatures is unknown and adds uncertainty to the forecast.” In Bristol Bay, the total run is estimated to come in at 40.18 million sockeye salmon, with a commercial harvest of 27.6 million. That’s slightly less than the recent 10-year average harvest of 30 million reds, though greater than the long-term average of 34.2 million, and significantly less than this year’s harvest of 41.3 million. The majority of the run is expected to be age class 1.3 fish, or those that spend one year in freshwater and three years in the ocean. Of the five districts, the largest run is expected back in the Naknek-Kvichak district, with a forecast of 16.12 million sockeye. The second-largest is predicted to be the Nushagak district with 10.38 million, followed by the Egegik, Ugashik and Togiak districts. Forecasting the sockeye run in Bristol Bay presents a challenge, as nine different rivers contribute significant sockeye numbers to the total run from four different age classes. The numbers are presented in the forecast with an 80 percent confidence interval as well, based on historical contrasts between forecasts and runs. ADFG always provides a caveat in forecasts: they are primarily meant for planning purposes, not as a promise to the fleet on management. The managers will use in-season catch and escapement data as available to determine openings and restrictions where necessary as the run develops. Bristol Bay has had two strong sockeye years in a row, while Southeast Alaska has had three tough years for salmon fishermen. The 2016 salmon season brought exceptionally poor pink runs atop restrictions meant to protect troubled returning king salmon stocks; 2017 brought even more king salmon restrictions, forcing an early closure on the spring troll fishery, and 2018 again brought some disappointingly low pink salmon harvests — the lowest since the mid-1970s. The total harvest of approximately 7.8 million pinks, worth about $11.4 million, was less than a third of the 23 million forecasted harvest. The poor pink salmon returns have been roundly connected to the anomalously warm ocean temperatures in the Gulf of Alaska in fisheries around southern coast of the state. Poor sockeye returns across the Gulf in 2018 were pinned on the warm sea temperatures as well. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Final harvest numbers in hand, halibut commission set for meeting

All of Alaska’s Pacific halibut fisheries stayed within their quota limits this year, but not all individual sectors within the fishery areas did. The final regular landings update for 2018 from the International Pacific Halibut Commission, issued Nov. 15, outlines the final data available before the first interim meeting of the commission. Overall, all Pacific halibut fisheries for Canada and the U.S. harvested about 26.5 million pounds of halibut, or about 95 percent of the total limit of 27.9 million pounds. Alaska’s regulatory areas, stretching from Southeast to the northern Bering Sea, all harvested a lower percentage of their quotas than the West Coast and British Columbia, which harvested 99 percent and 98 percent of their quotas, respectively. The two areas with the largest participation and quotas, Southeast and the central Gulf of Alaska, harvested 92 and 96 percent of their quotas, respectively. Within those areas, though, not every sector stayed within its quota limits. In the central Gulf of Alaska, the guided recreational fishery harvested about 1.85 million pounds, or about 103 percent of its 1.8 million-pound limit. With the commercial discard mortality unavailable, all the other sectors stayed within their quota limits. The existing overall quotas will come under review at the upcoming interim meeting of the IPHC on Nov. 27-28 in Seattle. On the agenda is a stock assessment, data and harvest decision table for Pacific halibut for 2019, which the commissioners will use to determine quota levels for the upcoming fishing season. At the same meeting last year, IPHC staff presented stock data showing a significant drop in halibut numbers from Oregon to the Bering Sea, leading to recommendations to cut harvest quotas across the entire fishery by 20 percent. Political disagreements on the commission about the proper quota level led to Canada and the U.S. setting their own catch limits for halibut. The U.S. dropped its total allowable catch by about 9 percent from 2017, to 17.5 million pounds. IPHC scientists tied the lower numbers of halibut to poor recruitments of young halibut, beginning in approximately 2009-10, when younger fish did not survive as well to become adults. With that backdrop of falling numbers, prices at the beginning of the halibut season looked poor, too — about $2.50 less than the average 2017 opening price of $7 per pound, according to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s market bulletin for halibut. The lower price likely came from competition from existing sources, including existing halibut stocks and incoming Atlantic halibut catches. The halibut fishery has been trending downward for nearly a decade, according to the ASMI bulletin. “Since 2011, Alaska’s halibut TACs have been reduced by 46 percent, or about 15 million pounds,” the bulletin states. “Quota for Pacific halibut in British Columbia and the U.S. West Coast (Washington and Oregon) declined by 1.2 million pounds or 16 percent between 2017 and 2018.” The upcoming IPHC meeting will take a look at the season’s survey data and present recommendations for the commissioners to consider at the full annual meeting, scheduled for Jan. 28-Feb. 1, 2019, in Victoria, British Columbia. The stock assessment is scheduled to be presented to the council at 10:45 a.m. on Nov. 27. All open sessions are webcast at iphc.int. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Researchers work on better model for impact of fishery closures

Fisheries managers are faced with a firestorm every time they decide to close a fishery because of poor returns or low population numbers. A new economic model is trying to help them see into the future to understand the effects of a closure before it happens. Researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Washington worked together on the model, finished in 2017 and published in the journal Marine Policy this past September. It takes into account items like fishery participation, the amount of each vessel’s annual revenue that comes from the affected fishery, which vessels participate in other fisheries and the value of the fishery; the aim is to calculate the total impact when managers have to limit or close a fishery. The origin of the idea came after a disastrous broad closure in salmon fishing on the West Coast in 2008. The closure, caused by poor salmon returns correlated to unfavorable ocean conditions, resulted in a federal disaster declaration and a $170 million relief distribution. Had officials and fishery managers been able to estimate the impact better, relief funds might have been distributed sooner, said Kate RIcherson, a marine ecologist with NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center and the lead author of the study. Fisheries are a difficult economy to track, in part because of the multiple management agencies, fishermen participating in multiple fisheries and seasonal employment, among other factors. Many fishermen aren’t single-species reliant — they participate in multiple fisheries, depending on the season. For example, on the West Coast, some salmon fishermen jump over to participate in the crab fisheries while others fish solely for salmon. “It’s kind of hard to make a blanket statement about how fishermen might have reacted (to the 2008 closure),” Richerson said. “…What I found when I started looking into this was it was hard to make generalities about the folks who are salmon fishing.” Working off the model they developed, Richerson and her two co-authors — Jerry Leonard and Daniel Holland — estimated the economic impact of the 2017 closure on the ocean chinook salmon troll fishery between southern Oregon and northern California. Their result estimated that the closure cost between 200 to 330 jobs, $5.8 million to $8.9 million in income and $12.8 million to $19.6 million in sales. The impact didn’t fall equally among communities, either, they wrote in the paper. “The impacts are not distributed evenly in space, with the largest relative losses occurring in the Coos Bay, Brookings, and Eureka region,” the paper states. “This information may be useful as policymakers consider mitigating economic losses in the fishery and associated communities.” The model is far from a universally applicable model, Richerson said — rather, it’s a first step. First, it relies on landings data, so it’s more tied to vessels than to fishermen. Second, it’s only the ocean troll fishery, which occurs in federal waters and is under NOAA jurisdiction. It doesn’t estimate the economic impact on recreational fisheries or subsistence fisheries, nor would it include any fisheries occurring in state waters. The purpose of the model wasn’t so much to coordinate whether or not to close something; managers don’t always have a choice based on their biological guidelines for salmon stocks, RIcherson said. Instead, it was to help make faster determinations of the impact for fund distribution. “It’s not like you can tell your landlord, ‘Hey, I’ll pay you rent in two years when I get my money (from a fishery disaster),’” Richerson said. Fishery disaster declarations have to escalate up a long ladder before fishermen may see any cash. In Alaska, pink salmon fishermen were asking for a disaster declaration after the 2016 season when harvests were dismally below expectations. Gov. Bill Walker accepted the appeal for disaster declaration, escalating it to the federal government, where Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker accepted it and forwarded it to Congress for acceptance and to appropriate funds for the relief. Nearly two years later, in summer 2018, fishermen finally received notice that they were going to see some funds to provide relief after the 2016 season; $56 million was appropriated by Congress in response to the disaster declaration. Fisheries are by nature unpredictable, but with changing ocean conditions as waters warm and harvest pressures change, there may be more closures in the future. There’s interest in developing models for predicting fisheries closures based on environmental conditions, though that work is not complete, Richerson said. With the paper published and now having moved on to a different position, Richerson said she wasn’t sure she’d get the chance to look into it further but encourage further research on it. “I would definitely think of it as a first step,” she said. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

ASMI executive director Tonkavich steps down

After nine years with the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, Executive Director Alexa Tonkovich has resigned. The organization announced Tonkovich’s departure Nov. 10, though she will stay on as executive director until mid-December while the board of directors searches for a replacement. She plans to pursue a master’s degree in international business and has been accepted to a number of programs in the U.S. and abroad, according to a press release. “After nine years at ASMI, the timing felt right to further my education and prepare myself for wherever the next steps in my career may lead,” she said in the release. Tonkovich became executive director in 2015, taking over for former executive director Michael Cerne. Previously, she served as the international director for ASMI. She worked primarily in developing emerging markets in southeast Asia and Brazil, with an office opening in the latter in 2011. She said the opening of that office as one of the most memorable moments of her time as the international marketing program. “I love market exploration and expansion,” she said. “There have been a few ups and downs (with Brazil’s economy) … we still see good potential there, particularly with the loss in access to the Chinese market (from retaliatory tariffs).” She plans to continue her studies in international business, which is a key part of the seafood industry. Depsite the recently souring global trade positions in the U.S. — the nation has been caught up in an escalating trade war with China over a set of tariffs implemented by President Donald Trump’s administration, including on seafood products — Tonkovich said she hopes it isn’t forever. ASMI has spent years cultivating its relationship with China, but there are potentially other trade relationships on the horizon, too. “I’m hoping this is just a passing phase,” she said. “…(International trade) really is such an important part of the (seafood) business.” For now, she said she’s looking to international business schools in London. The board plans to meet Nov. 19 to discuss appointing a candidate for interim executive director and drafting a notice for recruitment. ASMI Communications Director Jeremy Woodrow said in an email that the board members should have more details about the parameters of the recruitment after that meeting. “With a heavy heart, the ASMI board accepted Ms. Tonkovich’s resignation,” said ASMI board of directors Chari Jack Schultheis, the general manager of Kwik’Pak Fisheries. “Her dedication to Alaska and the Alaska seafood industry is unparalleled. While she will be missed, we also support her decisions and wish her the very best in what is sure to be a very bright future.” ASMI has gone through a number of changes in the past few years, particularly since the budget cuts began in 2015 as the state descended into a fiscal crisis. The organization cut expenses, closed its Seattle office and changed out staff, Tonkovich said. The industry has changed in her time at ASMI, too, she said — more women are moving up into positions of power, and more people of diverse economic, educational and cultural backgrounds are beginning to step in. In the future, innovation and product development will continue to be issues for the Alaska seafood industry to keep pace with the world, Tonkovich said. Addressing the graying of the fleet and bringing more young people into the seafood industry is an issue in Alaska as well as the rest of the world that needs to be addressed, she added. With a degree in Asian studies, Tonkovich said she didn’t originally seek a job in seafood, but is glad for the time she spent there. “I’ve been so honored and it’s bee such a pleasure (to work with ASMI),” she said. “I really grew up here … the organization is in great hands.” Times have tightened financially at ASMI. While the organization, a public-private partnership intended to market Alaska wild-harvested seafood, used to receive state funding, the Legislature has been working on eliminating its support from the general fund, zeroing it out in the fiscal year 2019 budget. This year, the organization plans to request an additional $3.75 million from the Legislature to support programs, according to an Oct. 30 news release from the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development. The funds would go to support a match for competitive grant funding, according to the release. “Specifically, this appropriation would bolster the match on a federal grant program, which will strengthen ASMI’s annual application for federal funding,” the release states. “The competitively awarded federal grant for international marketing allows ASMI to market Alaska seafood internationally, funding consumer and trade programs in 30 countries. ASMI competes each year against such national stalwarts as Sunkist Growers, Washington Apples, the Cotton Council Incorporated, and the U.S. Meat Export Federation.” Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Salmon harvest value drops but fishing jobs jump

Alaska salmon fishermen harvested 114.5 million fish during the 2018 season for a payout of $595 million at the docks. That’s down 13 percent from the value of last year’s salmon catch. A preliminary wrap up of the 2018 salmon season by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game provides summaries for every fishing region across the state. It shows that sockeye salmon accounted for nearly 60 percent of the total value and 44 percent of the statewide salmon harvest. A catch of 50 million sockeyes added up to nearly $350 million for Alaska fishermen. Chums were the second most valuable catch at $125 million and made up 18 percent of the statewide catch at just more than 20 million fish. Pinks accounted for 36 percent of the harvest and 12 percent of the value at nearly $70 million. Coho salmon comprised just 3 percent of the catch at 3.6 million fish valued at $35.5 million. The chinook salmon harvest of 234,614 fish was the lowest since limited entry began in 1975, with a value of $16.3 million. Salmon prices paid to fishermen increased across the board this year. Chinook salmon averaged $5.98 per pound, compared to $5.86 last year. Sockeyes averaged $1.33, up 20 cents. Coho prices at $1.34 increased 15 cents per pound. Pinks averaged 45 cents, an increase of 13 cents over last season; chum prices at 78 cents were up 12 cents per pound. The dock prices don’t include postseason bonuses and adjustments and the salmon harvests and values will change as fish tickets are finalized. Forecasts for the 2019 salmon season already are trickling in. At Bristol Bay, a run of just more than 40 million sockeye salmon is projected next summer which would allow for a catch of 26.6 million fish: 26.11 million at Bristol Bay and 1.49 million in the South Peninsula fisheries. ADFG said more salmon forecasts for the 2019 season “will roll out in coming weeks.” Fish watch Some major Alaska fisheries are winding down for the year, while others are still going strong. In Southeast, a fishery opened on Nov. 8 for seven different kinds of rockfish. About 170 divers are still going down for more than 1.7 million pounds of sea cucumbers, and more than 700,000 pounds of giant geoduck clams. The Dungeness crab fishery is ongoing and Southeast’s golden king crab fishery ended district wide on Nov. 13. Trollers also are out on the water along the Panhandle targeting winter king salmon. Pollock fishing closed to trawlers in both the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska on Nov. 1. Ditto for cod except for boats using longline, jig and pot gear. Boats also are still fishing for flounders and many other species of whitefish. Crabbers are close to wrapping up the four million pound red king crab fishery at Bristol Bay; likewise, the take of 2.4 million pounds of Bering Sea Tanner crab is going fast. No landings are reported yet for snow crab; that fishery typically gets underway in mid-January. Fishing for halibut and sablefish (black cod) closed on Nov. 7. For halibut, 95 percent of the nearly 20 million pound catch limit was taken; for sablefish 79 percent of the 26 million pound quota was caught. Homer regained its title as Alaska’s top port for halibut landings, followed closely by Seward and Kodiak. The industry will get its first look at potential halibut catches for next year at the International Pacific Halibut Commission meeting set for Nov. 27-28 in Seattle. Finally, the state Board of Fisheries meets in Dillingham from Nov. 28-Dec. 3 to take up 47 management proposals for Bristol Bay commercial, sports and subsistence fishery issues. Fishing jobs jump After a steep drop in 2016, seafood harvesting jobs grew 8.3 percent last year, the most in percent terms among all Alaska industries. Harvesting hit a record in 2017 at 8,509 monthly jobs on average and jumped to nearly 25,000 jobs in July. According to the state Department of Labor’s November Economic Trends, salmon fishing jobs grew overall but varied considerably by region. The crab fisheries had the only employment loss. By region, harvesting jobs in the Aleutians jumped by nearly 20 percent, mostly through gains in groundfish catches. Bristol Bay’s fishing jobs also grew overall by 6.2 percent. The Southcentral region continued its trend of harvester job gains, adding 116 jobs for 7 percent growth. Southeast Alaska’s fishing jobs were up by 7.7 percent with halibut harvesting growing the most by150 jobs. Kodiak was one of the few areas to lose fishing jobs. While halibut and salmon harvesting jobs increased, losses in groundfish pushed down Kodiak harvesting employment by 81 jobs each month on average. The Yukon Delta also lost fishing jobs in groundfish and salmon for an overall decline of 12.7 percent. The November Trends shows that among all Alaska industries, seafood processing tops the list for injuries. A rate of 8.8 injuries per 100 full time workers is more than double for other Alaska industries, and is 1½ times the national average for food manufacturing. The magazine also spotlights the six small communities that make up the Aleutians East Borough. Fish moves Alexa Tonkovich is leaving the helm of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute to pursue a master’s degree in international business. Tonkovich has been at ASMI for nine years and has been executive director since 2015. She will leave her position in mid-December. After more than a decade as director of NOAA’s northernmost research lab at Kodiak, Dr. Bob Foy has been named as Science and Research Director for the Alaska Fisheries Science Center. Foy will be based at the Auke Bay lab in Juneau starting this month and will oversee nearly 500 employees at facilities in Seattle, Oregon and Alaska. Foy has gained international recognition for his work on Bering Sea crab stock assessments and impacts of climate change on crabs and other marine organisms. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Upper Cook Inlet fishermen seek federal disaster declaration

This season was a sour one for salmon fishermen across the Gulf of Alaska, and participants in multiple fisheries are seeking funding for relief. The Board of Fisheries and Gov. Bill Walker already granted a disaster declaration for Chignik, which harvested next to zero sockeye salmon this year due to an unprecedented poor return to the Chignik River on the Alaska Peninsula. Sockeye salmon runs across the Gulf of Alaska failed to deliver this year, either in timing or in size, at a huge cost to fishermen. Now the Upper Cook Inlet fishermen want a chance at federal funding to recover some of their losses. The set gillnet and drift gillnet fleet in Upper Cook Inlet harvested about 1.3 million salmon, 815,000 of which were sockeye, or about 61 percent below the 10-year average harvest of sockeye. This year was forecasted to be lower than the average, but the harvest as of Oct. 5 — when all Upper Cook Inlet salmon fishing closed for the 2018 season — brought in about $11 million in ex-vessel value, a little more than a third of the $31 million recent 10-year average. The total run, however, was about 32 percent below what was forecast, according to the 2018 salmon fishing summary from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game issued Oct. 22. The trick of it was that the Kenai River sockeye run — the heavy-hitting run of the region, which usually peaks in July — didn’t arrive in force until August. For only the second time in Fish and Game’s records, more than half the run arrived after Aug. 1. That late arrival was exacerbated further by the existing management structure around the high-tension commercial, sport, personal-use and subsistence fisheries on the Kenai River. “In the previous 10 years, the average date where 50 percent of sockeye salmon passage has occurred in the Kenai River is July 23,” the report states. “In 2018, 50 percent of the final passage estimate did not occur until August 3, or 11 days later than average. The late run timing and smaller peak complicated management in 2018 as management plans with specific dates and triggers were developed to account for average run entry timing and magnitude.” The Kenai City Council unanimously adopted a resolution in October asking Walker to declare an economic disaster in the Upper Cook Inlet fishery for 2018, with Mayor Brian Gabriel abstaining due to a conflict of interest because he commercially setnets. With the city of Kenai’s support, the fishermen and a number of organizations and businesses are now seeking support from the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly to declare an economic disaster in the fishery as well. The assembly will consider a resolution to support the request at its Nov. 20 meeting. Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association, the Cook Inlet Fisherman’s Fund, Copper River Seafoods and the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District all submitted letters in support of the resolution, citing the difficulty to the fishery participants this year. “Most fishermen didn’t even cover expenses,” wrote Cook Inlet Fisherman’s Fund President Steve Vanek in the organization’s letter. “…Resident commercial fishermen are an important contributor to the economy of the borough. We appeal to the borough for assistance.” Copper River Seafoods Corporate Development Officers Martin Weiser wrote that the organization, which has “expansion plans in Cook Inlet,” doesn’t have a choice but to absorb the loss, but the fishermen don’t. “Being a large company with operations in almost every major fishery in this state, we will absorb this loss (as we do not have a choice) and continue with business. This is not the case for many of the folks who focus their fishing activities in Cook Inlet,” he wrote. “It is for their sake and the sake of the future of this fishery that we write this letter in support of a disaster recovery effort on the part of the State of Alaska.” Disaster declarations made by the governor then go to the federal Department of Commerce, requiring the Secretary of Commerce’s approval. Congress can then appropriate the funds to return to the fishermen. That process recently concluded with $56 million in relief for the 2016 pink salmon disaster, taking nearly two years before funds surfaced. A federal disaster was also declared in 2012 for low king salmon returns to Cook Inlet and the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers, for which $21 million was eventually appropriated. The process is too slow to help the people of Cook Inlet, Weiser noted in his letter. If a disaster is declared, it could open up opportunities for legislative appropriation of assistance grants as well as the opportunity of assistance to permit holders who have loans through the Commercial Fishing Revolving Loan program and may not be able to meet the terms of their loans, noted Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association Executive Director Gary Fandrei in his letter. The sockeye salmon fishery on the river was stop-and-start, with commercial fishing closed for up to six days at one point to boost passage in the Kenai River. Fishermen complained about the closure on sockeye, the most valuable commercial species in the Inlet, and their complaints were exacerbated later by restrictions on harvest to chum salmon stocks in Kamishak Bay due to low numbers of chum salmon in aerial surveys and a lack of offshore test fishery information to provide for openings for late sockeye salmon. Managers were working within tight date and opening confines, trying to meet strict Kenai River king salmon goals and multiple sockeye salmon sonar goals while opening up sockeye fishing opportunities with various tools. Adding to the complexity was the relatively decent-sized run of sockeye returning to the Kasilof River, mixed along the shore with Kenai River king salmon. This year marked the first time the North Kalifornsky Beach area was opened within 600 feet of shore in an attempt to focus harvest on Kasilof River sockeye while minimizing Kenai sockeye and king harvest. As the Kenai sockeye run continued to fail to materialize, the Kasilof run kept coming back, and managers used the 600-foot fishery in the Kasilof section and ultimately the Kasilof River Special Harvest Area — a one-mile square area around the mouth of the Kasilof River — to try to harvest that stock to prevent the run from surpassing the escapement goal. In the end, it did anyway, according to the salmon season management report. Pink salmon harvests were also significantly lower than average— about 84 percent below the recent 10-year average — mostly due to fishing restrictions during the sockeye season. One bright note, however, was the coho harvest. Upper Cook Inlet fishermen brought in about $1.3 million in ex-vessel value for cohos, about double the recent 10-year average of $699,300, according to the management report. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Salmon permits, halibut shares plummet on poor outlooks

Values for Alaska salmon permits have remained stagnant all year, except for two regions, and costs for halibut quota shares have plummeted. For salmon permits, an off kilter fishery that came in 30 percent below an already grim harvest forecast kept a downward press on permit values. The preseason projection called for a salmon catch of 147 million this year; the total take was closer to 114 million. “All of these salmon fisheries in the Gulf, both gillnet and seine permits, had a lousy year. And we see that in the lackluster permit market,” said Doug Bowen of Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer. Farther west, Bristol Bay with its back-to-back record-breakers is an exception and permit prices there reflect increased buying interest. A scan of multiple broker listings show Bay drift gillnet permits at $165,000 compared to the $145,000 range before the fishing season. Salmon fishermen at Bristol Bay pocketed a record $280 million at the docks, not including postseason bonuses, on a catch of 35 million sockeyes. Bowen said more fishermen from regions of repeated poor salmon runs are eyeing Bristol Bay. His company has nearly 30 listings of Cook Inlet drift permit holders who want to exit that fishery. “Folks are wanting to move out of the Inlet, which had another terrible year and go to Bristol Bay and people want to move from Southeast to the Bay,” he said. Drift permits for False Pass (Area M) on the Alaska Peninsula also are increasing in value after several years of good fishing. “We recently sold one for $175,000 which is $10,000 more than what the Bay permits are selling for,” Bowen said. Permit prices remain stalled elsewhere. Prince William Sound seine permits have stayed at $165,000 and drift gillnet permits at around $150,000. At Cook Inlet, drift permits are in the $30,000 to $50,000 range. Kodiak seine permits have ticked up a bit to $28,000. For Southeast, seine permits are in the $210,000 to $250,000 range and drift gillnets at or slightly above $85,000. Farther north, Norton Sound and Kotzebue again set records in their salmon fisheries, but permit transactions in those regions operate differently. “There aren’t very many of them and not many change hands. When they do, a lot of those folks know each other and it’s word of mouth. So we’re not that involved in those permit markets,” Bowen said. Higher salmon prices should show a big boost in the value of this year’s catch but it won’t make up for the shortfall in fish. “It’s a matter of price and production,” Bowen said. “If you’re limited on how much you can harvest, that great price is not going to save the day.” Catch share values plummet High prices for halibut quota shares that one year ago were in the nose bleed area have now taken a nose dive. “Negative news about recruitment into the fishery and more bad news about lower ex-vessel prices — that was enough to turn that IFQ (Individual Fishing Quota) market downward. There are some stiff headwinds for sure,” said Alaska Boats and Permits Doug Bowen in Homer. Multiple broker listings show quota shares in Southeast Alaska (Area 2C) that for several years topped $70 per pound are now 20 percent to 25 percent less, in the $48 to $59 range. For the Central Gulf (Area 3A), halibut shares have dropped 30 percent to 40 percent to $40 to $50 per pound. The value for halibut quota in the Western Gulf (Area 3B) is down 50 percent to less than $30 dollars per pound. Surveys of the stocks in 2017 showed a lack of young halibut recruiting into the fishery and managers pushed for drastic cuts for future fisheries. Then last fall, halibut prices dropped by $2 per pound at the docks and boats sometimes couldn’t even find buyers for their fish. Another broadside came from seven million pounds of cheaper Atlantic halibut from eastern Canada displacing Alaska’s fish in traditional U.S. markets. The industry will get its first look at potential catches for next year at the International Pacific Halibut Commission meeting set for Nov. 27-28 in Seattle. Chilling assists The fisherman is the first link in the cold chain and refrigerated seawater, or RSW, is their go-to system. At Bristol Bay (and elsewhere), processors are now requiring that the salmon they buy from fishermen must be chilled, and they are paying nice bonuses for the better quality fish. The chilling rate for Bay salmon jumped from 24 percent a decade ago to 73 percent in 2017, and it will surely be higher for this season. Several RSW buying assists are being offered as more Bristol Bay boats acquire the chilling technology. “The gold standard for Bristol Bay used to be 7.5 ton hydraulic, that’s what everyone wanted. It’s really changed a lot. Now RSW systems go from three ton electric to 12 ton diesel drive,” said Kurt Ness, director of operations and co-owner of Seattle-based Integrated Marine Systems. One ton of refrigeration will chill 12,000 pounds of water and fish one degree in one hour. IMS has developed a new system for smaller vessels, some dealing with RSW for the first time. “Some boats don’t have the hydraulic power to power a traditional unit or don’t have the space for a larger diesel drive,” Ness explained. “So we came up with a three ton and five ton electric that can be run by a single faced generator so the footprint is much smaller. It’s designed for boats that pack in the 5,000 to 8,000 pound range.” Costs for an RSW system can range from $15,000 for small electric units up to $44,000 for large diesel drives. “There are a lot of other costs involved too,” Ness said. “There could be flush decking, insulation, maybe some hydraulic upgrades. You could easily double that just in terms of the actual installation itself.” Despite the initial hit to the pocketbook, “practically to the person, everyone admits RSW is the best thing they ever did,” said Bristol Bay veteran Buck Gibbons. With the quality incentives that many processors offer the difference can be upwards of 40 to 50 cents per pound. Last year, those who sold dry fish received around $1.25. Those who did everything right received $1.55 to $1.61. When you run that through 100,000 to 200,000 pounds, it adds up quick.” To help defray the RSW cost, IMS is offering a $1,500 discount for Bristol Bay fishermen “for retrofits, new builds and everything in between” through March 1. The Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, funded and operated by fishermen, also negotiated a bulk RSW purchase with Pacific West Refrigeration for 7.5 ton units for resale for $20,500, said executive director Andy Wink. Contact 907-677-2371 or email [email protected] The Bristol Bay Borough also is offering a tax credit to fishermen in the Naknek-Kvichak District who install a chilling system by the end of this year. Participants will be eligible for a $1,500 rebate from the three percent fish landing tax paid to the Borough. The Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp. is also offering a limited number of free RSW systems to qualified residents. ASMI budget axed The budget has been zeroed out for the state run Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. “With zero state general funds, the fiscal year 2019 budget was reduced by just over $1 million. Every program took a reduction this year,” said Becky Monagle, finance director for ASMI at an “All Hands” meeting last week in Anchorage. For fiscal year 2018, ASMI spent $16 million in marketing promotions and outreach at home and abroad. That was funded by $10.8 million from fisheries related taxes, $4.2 million from the federal government and $1 million from the state’s general fund. Compare that to the budget of one of Alaska’s biggest competitors, Norway. That country imposes a small tax on its seafood exports that generates over $50 million per year to fund sales and marketing. As with barrels of oil, all Alaskans benefit when the price of our seafood increases. The added tax revenues end up in state coffers to be distributed at the whim of the legislature. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Electronic monitoring has smooth first year; human observer costs rising

After the first year of electronic monitoring on fishing vessels in Alaska, the National Marine Fisheries Service is expanding the pool for boats that want to get in on it. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council has been working on implementing an electronic monitoring program for commercial fishing vessels in Alaska for several years. The devices, essentially small cameras and sensors, replace a human observer and take note of the bycatch and total catch on eligible vessels. In 2018, the first year of the program, the council approved 145 vessels to participate. At its meeting Oct. 4 in Anchorage, council staff member Elizabeth Figus said things went so well on those vessels that not a single one had to be removed from the pool for a violation of the Vessel Monitoring Plan, or VMP. “That was really good news,” she told the council. In June, the council approved an expansion of the program to allow up to 165 vessels to participate. The deadline to register through the Observer Declare and Deploy System was Nov. 1. The small boat fleet in particular pushed for the implementation of electronic monitoring equipment after the council changed the requirements for observing to include small vessels — boats 60 feet or shorter— because it’s harder for them to provide the space and gear for another person besides the crew. Though the council recommended the pool expand to up to 165 boats, funding is a limitation. In the draft 2019 Annual Deployment Report — which lays out the plan for deploying observers in the partial observer coverage program for the upcoming year — council staff wrote that the EM pool will include 141 boats to start, based on the funding available. If that funding materializes, vessels will be prioritized based on whether vessels already have equipment, whether they’re fully wired and only lack the specific equipment or if the vessel is between 40 feet and 57.5 feet and doesn’t have enough bunk or life raft space for an observer, according to the ADP. “If additional funds become available, the number of EM boats could increase to the Council’s recommendation of 165 boats,” the report states. “If funding is not sufficient to accommodate all vessels in any one of these prioritized categories, NMFS will randomly select vessels from that category until funding is exhausted.” While EM systems have been shown to effectively monitor bycatch, NMFS also uses observers to gather biological data at sea. Human observers are still deployed across the fishing fleet, with varying coverage based on gear type and vessel size. For 2019, NMFS is recommending a 15 percent observer deployment allocation strategy plus optimization and consideration of catch limits of specific prohibited species including king salmon, crab and halibut. The ADP only governs the partial observer coverage fisheries — which is only about 8.8 percent of observer days, or about 3,606 days — and is designed to reduce gaps in coverage in partial-coverage fisheries and to shoot for at least a 50 percent chance that at least three trips are observed in each hook-and-line and trawl fishery, though the report states that the likelihood of that level of coverage isn’t as high in the other gear strata. Funding is an issue across the observer program. NMFS estimated in the ADP that the program would cost about $4.45 million, or about 3,110 observer days, though that may change after the EM application pool closes. The Fisheries Monitoring Advisory Committee, a stakeholder group advising the council on observer program issues, made note of a its concern about the increasing cost of observer days from $1,100 to more than $1,400 per day. The committee noted that the increase in cost for the days was multifaceted and wanted to know more about why the cost is increasing, Figus told the council. The reason for the increase isn’t clear, either. In a written comment to the council, North Pacific Fishermen’s Association President Malcolm Milne echoed the concern, saying the increase was about 35 percent more per day than in 2017. “In 2017, planned coverage rates were 11 percent for hook and line, 4 percent for pot fisheries, and 18 percent for trawl and 14 percent for tendered trawl trips and the cost was nearly a third lower — $935 per day,” he wrote. “In 2018 NMFS’ sampling design established a 15 percent base coverage rate in order to meet NMFS priority of filling gaps in remote fisheries in areas with low effort. “Does an equal coverage sampling design add to the increased cost? NPFA requests that the Council inquire into the causes of the increased cost and seek ways to reduce costs through the ADP process where feasible.” Based on that cost, the committee voted against supporting an ADP that included the crab Prohibited Species Catch limit into its metrics for coverage, which would increase coverage for pot fisheries and possibly reduce it for hook-and-line fisheries, where the members felt more management was likely necessary. The committee also “supports sticking with only halibut and chinook because of the real-world effect they have in closing down fisheries,” according to the minutes from the committee’s Sept. 13-14 meeting in Seattle. The council passed a motion in response to a Fisheries Monitoring Advisory Committee’s recommendation to write a letter to NMFS requesting additional federal funding to support the partial observer coverage program. The committee also requested an explanation of how fees for the EM program and the observer program will be split, which council staff is working on, Figus said at the meeting. ^ Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Dunleavy skips Kodiak fishing forum

Rack up another empty seat on the Alaska debate stage for Mike Dunleavy. The Republican candidate for Alaska governor bailed out of Kodiak’s traditional fisheries debate — after saying he’d show up. “We plan on being there,” Dunleavy said on public radio’s statewide Talk of Alaska call-in show on Aug.31. But from then on, there was silence from the Dunleavy campaign as Kodiak organizers struggled to plan the Oct. 22 event that is broadcast live statewide on radio and television. Days before the event, after weeks of unreturned phone calls and emails, organizers finally learned that Dunleavy would not be attending. “Mike is unfortunately not going to be able to attend the debate as he will be visiting with Alaskans in Barrow. We wish you the best with you (sic) event,” wrote Gina Ritacco, deputy director of scheduling and events, in an Oct. 16 email to the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce. The conflicting trip to Barrow was posted on the Dunleavy event calendar that same day. “Certainly, it makes us in Kodiak feel like even though the fishing industry is so important to Alaska, it may not be that important to him,” said Frank Schiro, executive director of the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce which has hosted the debate since 1991. Shiro added that he was not surprised. “People had predicted from the beginning that it might not be to his advantage to come here. I think he believes he doesn’t need to pay attention to people down here and will walk into office anyway,” he said, “We gave him two months to schedule it,” Schiro added. “The other two candidates for governor responded immediately and Dunleavy’s lag time made our planning extremely difficult.” Since late March Dunleavy’s calendar shows that he has participated in a debate on rural issues in Naknek in early June and visited Juneau and Ketchikan. Besides that to date he had not visited any coastal communities beyond the Kenai Peninsula. Dunleavy also has not responded to requests for interviews by any media in coastal towns. The seafood industry is Alaska’s largest private employer and second only to oil in the tax revenues it puts into state coffers. Seafood also is Alaska’s top export by far. Dunleavy has missed an opportunity to share his views and vision for Alaska’s oldest industry to a statewide audience. Dunleavy is the first major candidate for Alaska governor or U.S. Congress to snub the Kodiak fisheries debate in nearly 30 years. “We aren’t supporting a particular candidate,” said Schiro. “Our position is we want to have an informed public. It’s a shame that Mr. Dunleavy has chosen to not be a part of that.” Hatchery reprieve Two proposals to limit production of hatchery salmon were rejected by the Alaska Board of Fisheries at a special meeting on Oct. 16 in Anchorage. Both claimed that hatchery fish are straying and intermingling with wild stocks and are out competing wild salmon for food in the open ocean. Typically, more than 30 percent of Alaska’s total salmon harvest each year is fish that began their lives in state hatcheries, mostly pinks and chums. Longtime studies by state fishery scientists show some straying of the fish but in very small numbers. A proposal by the Kenai River Sportfishing Association asked the board to rescind an authorized 20 million increase of pink salmon eggs at a Prince William Sound hatchery. The group claims the fish threaten wild sockeye and king salmon bound for their region. It lost by a 6 to 1 vote. Another proposal by former fish board member Virgil Umphenour of Fairbanks asked to cut statewide hatchery egg takes by 25 percent. That failed by a 5 to 2 vote. According to the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission, which has tracked salmon abundances and catches for five countries for more than 25 years, salmon catches throughout the North Pacific remain near all-time highs and Alaska’s take tops them all. The NPAFC also tracks releases of hatchery salmon from Canada, Japan, Korea, Russia, and the U.S. The five countries released just over 5 billion fish in 2017, similar to numbers over three decades. U.S. hatcheries released the most salmon at 37 percent, followed by Japan at 35 percent and Russia at 21 percent. Chum salmon made up 64 percent of all hatchery releases, followed by pinks at 25 percent. The half-day board meeting drew lots of support from fishing stakeholders. SeafoodNews.com’s Peggy Parker said when people in the packed room were asked how many depended on hatchery fish for their livelihood, more than half stood up. Ugly crab is better In the Bering Sea fisheries, crabs with ugly shells can comprise up to 30 percent of a catch at certain times of year and crab molting cycles. Shells that are discolored, scarred or covered with barnacles can be a turn off to customers, and fishermen get paid less for the so-called No. 2s, or dirty crab catch. Alaska crabbers aim to get more value from the crab by convincing customers that it’s what is on the inside that counts in a Get Ugly campaign. “We’re promoting it in a new way,” said Jeremy Woodrow, communications director at the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. “We’re educating retail and food service professionals that once you get inside the shell it’s no different. And a lot of times these ugly crab are older and have greater meat fill so they are actually a better value often at a lower price.” The ugly crab campaign is modeled after similar “food enhancement” programs underway by farmers that is designed to reduce food waste and improve sustainability practices. “Whether it’s produce or proteins, consumers are becoming more educated and definitely more thoughtful about where their food comes from. This dovetails right into that same mindset that it’s ok that your food might look a little different, it’s all about how it tastes and what it does for you as a person,” Woodrow said. ASMI’s annual All Hands meeting is set for Oct. 29-31 at the Captain Cook Hotel in Anchorage. The public is invited to attend. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Board of Fisheries again rejects curtailing hatchery production

For the third time in a year, the Board of Fisheries has shot down a proposal seeking to curtail salmon hatchery production in Prince William Sound. By a 6-1 vote at its meeting Oct. 16 in Anchorage, the board rejected an agenda change request seeking to reduce pink salmon production by the Valdez Fisheries Development Association. The request, filed by the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, sought to prevent the Valdez-area hatchery nonprofit from raising the additional pink salmon eggs it took as part of a production increase this summer and would have capped the hatchery’s egg-take numbers. KRSA cited concerns about the number of hatchery pink salmon being released in to the North Pacific Ocean every year, referencing a number of scientific reviews and studies about pink salmon diet and abundance in the North Pacific and linking it to potential downturns in the size and abundance of other species of salmon. None of the papers directly links the number of pink salmon in the ocean to declining populations or size at age for other salmon, but the requesters connected the dots. The agenda change request, or ACR, was the third attempt to block VFDA’s expansion of its pink salmon production before the Board of Fisheries. The board previously considered two emergency petitions on the same topic, submitted by a group of more than a dozen sportfishing groups, including KRSA. The version submitted as an ACR was submitted by KRSA alone. In a previous interview, KRSA Executive Director Ricky Gease said the group resubmitted the request because there was no place on the agenda to discuss the concern about hatcheries, and the group wanted to see the board have a conversation about the sustainability of hatchery production and the risk to wild stocks. And they did. The board spent most of the day Oct. 16 discussing the state’s hatchery program and the associated research and remaining questions, ultimately denying the agenda change request but agreeing that the conversation was worth having. “I think we can all agree this is an important topic to all fishermen in all user groups,” said board member Israel Payton. “We’re all here because of salmon and the protection of salmon. In one of the presentations, basically the intent of the Legislature was for the hatchery program to rehabilitate the depressed salmon fishery. To what end? Where is the limit? … That being said, I think we should take a breath, do some more studies in Lower Cook Inlet.” The other members of the board largely said they voted against it because they didn’t see it meeting the agenda change request criteria, not that it wasn’t a valid concern. The sole member voting for it was newly-elected board chair Reed Morisky. Three staff members from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game spent a chunk of the afternoon giving the board members a crash course in the state’s hatcheries and ongoing research. Public concern about the hatcheries, most notably the pink salmon production, has been mounting for the last several years, flaring higher in December 2017 when ADFG presented results from otoliths collected from pink salmon found in streams in the Homer area, finding an unexpectedly large number of Prince William Sound hatchery pink salmon. Sam Rabung, the head of ADFG’s aquaculture section, explained that the hatchery program has repeatedly come under scrutiny since its conception in the mid-1970s. Since the 1990s, hatchery production has been relatively stable in terms of smolt releases. It’s been about a decade since the Board of Fisheries convened a meeting specifically on hatcheries under the Joint Protocol on Hatcheries, Rabung said, adding that he hopes the members continue to do so in the near future. “The hatchery program has benefited from this scrutiny, and is one of the largest reasons I think it’s been successful,” he said. “It’s our hope that these meetings can be resumes so that accurate information about the hatchery program can be provided to the board and to the public in a timely manner.” The hatchery program was conceived in the 1970s in response to depressed fishery stocks and poor commercial harvests. Since then, the state conveyed the majority of its hatcheries to be operated by private nonprofits, or PNP, hatcheries, running operations in areas from southern Southeast north across the Gulf of Alaska out to Kodiak. The state still operates two sportfish production hatcheries, which are not subject to the same production oversights as the PNP hatcheries but which public statewide stocking plans subject to public review. The PNP hatcheries’ releases are available to harvest by all user groups, but are largely funded by and harvested by commercial fishermen. During the public discussion portion of the meeting, taking the form a committee-style forum, most of the comments came from commercial fishermen who spoke out in opposition to the agenda change request and against the Board of Fisheries taking an increased role in hatchery production regulation. Kenneth Jones, a Cordova-area fisherman and Prince William Sound Aquaculture Association board member, told the board to consider the number of commercial fishermen who took time and expense to come to the meetings to defend the hatcheries’ operations. “This effort by KRSA and company is nothing but a thinly veiled attack on commercial fisheries, and bringing it before the politically-appointed Board of Fisheries three times in the course of twelve months is an abuse of the public process,” he said. Clem Tillion, a Halibut Cove resident and former legislator, said the hatchery program has operated exactly as the legislators intended it to. “The hatchery program has been a success,” he said. “Don’t monkey around with something that works.” As he resumed his seat, the crowd offered significant applause. Research continues The longest presentation of the afternoon was from Division of Commercial Fisheries Chief Fisheries Scientist for salmon Bill Templin, who offered a crash course on the science of salmon hatcheries, straying and an update on the long-term hatchery-wild salmon interaction study. The study, a massive undertaking funded by the hatchery operations and coordinated by ADFG, is expected to last a little more than a decade and answer questions about the genetic composition of pink and chum salmon in Prince William Sound and Southeast Alaska, to what degree hatchery chums and pinks are straying into wild streams and whether they are impacting wild populations. It’s a massive study, tracking multiple generations of salmon in a variety of locations. Parts of it are completed, including a genetic baseline for pink salmon along the Gulf of Alaska, which was completed in connection with the longer-term Western Alaska Salmon Stock Identification Program. Templin said the data indicates that pink salmon have a relatively “shallow” genetic structure, varying only slightly from stream to stream, with most of the genetic differences existing between individuals rather than between populations. “Most of the genetic variation relies on individual to individual differences,” he said. “What this tells us is there’s very shallow genetic variation in pink salmon, not just in Prince William Sound but across the entire range.” Reviewing the papers submitted with the ACR, he critiqued the scientific reliability of several and said some others were good data sets but lacked context. In connection with the concerns from the proposers about ocean carrying capacity, he said ocean carrying capacity is a massively complicated question with far too many factors for anyone to easily calculate, and is beyond the scope of ADFG to be able to determine. He did point to the record run sizes in recent years that happened in conjunction with high numbers of hatchery pink salmon present in the North Pacific Ocean. He made a number of further research recommendations to the board, including developing a more complete research study on hatchery strays and evaluation of hatchery releases. In response to a question from Payton, he said ADFG has worked on a more complete research project regarding the straying of Prince William Sound pink salmon into Lower Cook Inlet streams and would like to implement it but lack the financial resources to do so. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Council considers options for tracking halibut rental boats

A lot of unanswered questions, concern about fishery access and uncertainty about who is responsible remain part of the debate over how to register and track halibut harvested by unguided anglers in rental boats. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council discussed a potential course of action on a registry system for rental boats carrying unguided anglers fishing for halibut. It’s been an issue for the council for several years, springing from a sore spot among the commercial and charter halibut fleets because of the more relaxed bag limits on unguided halibut anglers. Unguided anglers get to keep two fish per day of any size, while guided anglers only get to keep one in Southeast and two with a size limit on the second one in the Central Gulf of Alaska. The charter sector is also subject to a sector harvest limit, while there’s no real tracking on unguided angler halibut harvest. In recent years, both private citizens and guides have been asking the council to do something about businesses renting out boats for unguided halibut fishing, particularly in Southeast. The intent of the higher bag limits was to protect access to the fishery for Alaskans, but some operations have begun commercializing it to bypass the charter sector. Potential solutions, though, are difficult to pin down. Council member and charter business owner Andy Mezirow introduced a motion with three suggested alternatives for how to keep a closer track on unguided anglers in rental boats, including doing nothing, requiring registration for non-guided rental sportfishing vessels, and aligning the bag limits in the charter and non-guided sector. Mezirow said this will be necessary given the growth in participation among nonguided anglers. “Defining all of these entities as one sector, requiring registration and applying the same bag limits is a necessary action to understand and then manage this fleet,” he said. The total sportfishing harvest of halibut in regulation areas 2C and 3A — Southeast Alaska and the Central Gulf of Alaska, respectively — actually declined between 2003 and 2016, but the proportions of who was harvesting them changed. In 2011, the harvest by unguided anglers surpassed the harvest of the charter fleet in Southeast, which may account for why people say the unguided sector is growing while the overall harvest numbers have stayed relatively flat, said Steve MacLean, the protected species coordinator for the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. In the raw data, though, fish being caught on private boats by individual Alaskans are indistinguishable from fish coming off rental boats being hired by tourists, MacLean said. “Unfortunately, we don’t have data on the number of fish caught by rental boats,” he said. “We don’t have any way of understanding the number of halibut coming off these rental boats like other private boats.” Council staff researched the registration methods available and concluded that the Alaska Division of Motor Vehicles registry is likely close to accurate, though it’s hard to separate vessels specifically registered to rent for unguided halibut angling from other pleasure craft, he said. “We did identify at least one company that is known to offer boats to rent for anglers for halibut that does not have any registered rental boats, but does have registered pleasure boats,” he said. “We had to look up the business owner and look up their address, and then search for boats identified or registered to that owner or that address, and we did find that there were a number of boats registered to multiple people at that address, pleasure boats. “We also do know that there are several companies that do have a boat that is registered as a rental boat but they do not offer fishing services. There are a number of venture companies that offer zodiacs for (activities like) wildlife viewing, glacier access. Those are all counted as rental boats.” While staff members were building the discussion paper, they also investigated which would be the best agency to implement registration or logbook requirements. The National Marine Fisheries Service, which works with the council and the International Pacific Halibut Commission to regulate halibut harvest, has one type of registration established but does not collect logbooks. While the Alaska Department of Fish and Game does collect sportfishing guide logbooks and conduct a private angler statewide harvest survey, the agency indicated that a separate logbook just for private halibut anglers would be burdensome, MacLean said. Several residents of Southeast Alaska testified that they’ve seen operations like fishing lodges take advantage of the more liberal unguided bag limit by offering a day or two of guided fishing followed by a rental boat for unguided fishing or the establishment of “fishing clubs.” Linda Behnken, the executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, urged the council to move forward with registration requirements. Though it looks like harvest is flat, the council has to account for the fact that overall halibut abundance in the Gulf of Alaska has been declining, she said. “You’ve seen a drop in abundance, and you’ve seen the same level of removals,” she said. “That’s only happening because there’s an increased effort.” There’s a delicate line for the council to walk: protecting private resident access to the fishery and controlling business use of it. The motion isn’t intended to impinge upon private Alaskans’ ability to fish for halibut, especially as food, as citizen access to resources is provided for in the Alaska Constitution, Mezirow said. However, that’s something Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten said he’s concerned about in this motion. “There’s a strong level of support from the commercial halibut industry for the direction this will take, and it sounds like there’s a strong level of support from the charter industry … but there’s really no lobby for the resident angler,” he said. “When you look at the definition that’s been used here … resident anglers are going to be impacted differently based on their own economic situation, perhaps.” Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Researchers tackle data gaps in ocean acidification impacts

SEWARD — Increasingly acidic oceans are expected to affect marine species on which fishermen of all stripes rely. One of the things that’s not known is how it’s exactly going to affect each individual species, particularly in Alaska. A group of researchers from the University of Alaska Fairbanks is looking into the effect of ocean acidification on three clam species — littleneck and razor clams and cockles — that are important for subsistence and sport harvest in the state. Entrenched in their research is a desire to know more generally about how ocean acidification is going to play out in the state. “Our goal is really to define what those sensitivities are in the hope of managing these species,” said Amanda Kelley, an assistant professor of marine biology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. “What we can say is that okay, if our data supports what is happening with these species, we know that (a specific species) is more sensitive to climate change effects.” Kelley and two of her graduate students are working on research specific to how more acidic oceans will affect shellfish. For Marina Washburn, who is working toward a master’s degree in marine biology, there’s a personal connection, too: she grew up harvesting the once-plentiful razor clams on the beaches of Ninilchik and Clam Gulch. Due to depressed populations, that fishery has been closed for four straight seasons. Washburn successfully hatched razor clams this summer at the Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery in Seward, the first time it’s ever been done in a lab. Her project involves continuously bubbling a set amount of carbon dioxide into seawater, patterned after what scientists expect ocean conditions to be like by 2100. The project can be done all year because it’s done in a closed lab, she said. The collapse of the razor clam fishery on the east side of Cook Inlet likely isn’t solely due to ocean acidification — the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has cited harvest pressure, poor survival, storm damage and unfavorable environmental conditions among the possible causes — but it could be playing a role. Even if it isn’t now, it could in the future, Washburn said. “That sad truth about mollusks in in Alaska is that (the information available) is shockingly low,” Washburn said. “There is very little research. I think Alaska has a problem with not appreciating our resources like shellfish and fish until there is a problem.” Researchers worldwide have been tracking a gradual increase in the acidity of the ocean, linked to an increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Essentially, the ocean absorbs more of the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and breaks it down, absorbing the carbon molecules and creating carbonic acid. Some of that carbonic acid breaks down, though, freeing hydrogen molecules and increasing the pH of the water, making it more acidic and raising a host of issues for marine animals adapted specifically to a less acidic ocean. Shellfish are on the front lines of those risks. More acidic oceans can dissolve the calcium carbonate-based shells mollusks build to protect their soft bodies, exposing them to predation. Mollusks are important in the marine food chain — everything from fish to otters to sea stars predate on shellfish. Many Alaskans also depend on shellfish for subsistence. Ashley Rossin, a marine biology Ph.D. student working with Kelley, is studying the impact of ocean acidification on littleneck clams and cockles, both of which have been traditional subsistence foods. Out in remote coastal communities, where imported groceries are not as common and are more expensive, rural residents have relied on abundant shellfish for generations. That’s changed in the last decade or so, as populations of clams around the state have reportedly been in decline, Rossin said. “(In research, rural populations have) said they don’t even know what to do, and the clam and chiton populations are so small but they need to continue to fish there because that’s what available to them, but they don’t want to fish them because they know it may not be good for them,” she said. Her project includes looking at the water in beaches where littlenecks and cockles settle — called pore water — to see if the conditions there are different than the surrounding ocean and how that may affect them. The two species occupy the exact same habitats but have opposite life history strategies, Rossin said — littlenecks grow slowly while cockles grow quickly. “(Kelley) wanted to see what the difference in their responses would be,” Rossin said. “We’re going to see basically which one is the winner or the loser in this situation. The conditions that are there are kind of unknown … some people have hypothesized that the water in that sediment is actually more acidic.” One of the frustrations all three mentioned was a lack of overall existing data both about existing shellfish populations and about the effect of ocean acidification on Alaskan species overall. Kelley said there have been about six studies so far about ocean acidification’s effect on Alaskan marine animal species in Alaska. The work they’re doing on shellfish is the first of its kind in the state, she said. “We are only measuring one variable in the lab,” Kelley said. “But what you start to do is develop a series of mounting evidence. The only thing we can do is accumulate evidence … Alaska is behind the curveball for research on climate change. Funding is definitely a big part of it. I have to submit grants (for research) and when I submit a grant, I have to compete with everyone else who wants to study seabirds.” Rossin’s project includes a citizen science aspect using the Local Environmental Observation, or LEO, network and Epi Collect 5, asking individuals to record their observations about shellfish and shellfish harvests all over Alaska. Alaska SeaGrant is supporting both projects, in part because of the importance of the clam species to harvest by the subsistence, sport and commercial sectors alike. There is some baseline information being gathered around the state, though. In a back room at the Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery, shellfish biologist Jacqueline Ramsay is testing water samples from all across the Gulf of Alaska coast for their baseline water conditions to help track localized changes. At first glance, it looks like she’s storing shelves and shelves of six-packs of beer. But those are actually the sample containers: she has citizen scientists gather water samples in cleaned, recycled beer bottles and mail them to her at the hatchery. She then plugs them into a machine known as the Burke-o-lator — named for its creator, Burke Hales of Oregon State University — to continuously test them for water quality measures. “What this machine does is it just constantly sips on (the water sample) and measures salinity and pH (among other metrics),” she said. Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery, the only shellfish hatchery in Alaska, is an operation of Chugach Regional Resources Commission. Ramsay receives samples from many of the corporation’s member villages, from Seldovia to Eyak, with about three years of data on hand. She’s working with several other researchers through to build baseline data on existing conditions in Alaska using these longterm data sets. Longterm data is important for gauging changes, establishing baseline conditions to work with on different species and locations. “I think we alread know that pollock and crab and clams all react differently,” Ramsay said. “That’s why this is so important.” Alaska is especially vulnerable to ocean acidification in the future, as colder water holds more gas and is more susceptible to changing pH. With Alaska’s dependency on healthy marine ecosystems for healthy fisheries and subsistence, being able to look forward and estimate impacts will be important, Washburn said. “We’re kind of getting hit on both sides,” she said. “As terrible as it is, Alaska is a great place to study ocean acidification, because we are going to feel the effects of it.” Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Salmon stakeholders split over ballot initiative

Opinions on the salmon habitat initiative officially dubbed Ballot Measure 1 are about as diverse as Alaska’s fisheries. About the only thing uniform in the environmental policy debate is the resource development industry’s collective opposition to it. Nearly, but not all, of the 12 Alaska Native regional corporations oppose it; Bristol Bay Native Corp. has maintained a neutral position on the voter initiative for most of 2018 after CEO Jason Metrokin originally said the company was against it. Commonly known as the Stand for Salmon initiative, Ballot Measure 1 is seen by many as a way to stop the controversial Pebble mine in Western Alaska, which BBNC has long and vigorously opposed. The initiative seeks to overhaul Title 16, the Department of Fish and Game’s statutory directive on how to evaluate development projects in salmon habitat. Current law directs the Fish and Game commissioner to issue a development permit as long as a project provides “proper protection of fish and game.” The sponsors contend that is far too vague and an update is needed to just define what “proper protection” means. The initiative would, among other things, establish two tiers of development permits that could be issued by the Department of Fish and Game. “Minor” habitat permits could be issued quickly and generally for projects deemed to have an insignificant impact on salmon waters. “Major” permits would be required for larger projects such as mines, dams and anything determined to potentially have a significant impact on salmon-bearing water. Mitigation measures would be acceptable as long as they are implemented on the impacted stream or wetland area. A series of public notices and comment periods would also be added to the salmon habitat permit adjudication process; it is currently one of the few public resource-use permits issued by the State of Alaska that does not provide an avenue for public input. Additionally, the project sponsor would have to prove that impacted waters are not salmon habitat during any stage of the fish life cycle if the waters are connected to proven salmon habitat in any way but not yet listed in the state’s Anadromous Waters Catalog. The sponsors insist it is not aimed to stop development projects; rather, they argue would set high but transparent permitting standards that are necessary to protect salmon resources that are already being stressed by multiple factors. While Alaska Native corporations are mostly against Ballot Measure 1 and are actively fighting it as members of Stand for Alaska–Vote No on 1, many of their shareholders feel differently. Stand for Salmon, one of the nonprofits leading the advocacy for the initiative, lists 21 Alaska Tribes, Tribal consortiums and other Alaska Native organizations such as the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp. and the Bristol Bay Native Association as supporters on its website. A separate list identifies roughly 200 Alaska businesses and organizations — many fishing-focused, many not — as supporters as well. Conversely, Stand for Alaska touts a coalition of more than 500 businesses and trade groups in opposition to Ballot Measure 1. The list of those opposed includes the Pacific Seafood Processors Association, which represents some of the largest companies in Alaska’s fishing industry, although some of them focus on species other than salmon. PSPA officials declined to go into much detail about their position on Ballot Measure 1, but noted the group has long been against natural resource management via voter initiative and highlighted its opposition Pebble mine. United Fishermen of Alaska, the largest trade organization in the state representing a broad spectrum of fishing industry and marine-related members, voted to remain neutral on Ballot Measure 1, according to UFA Executive Director Frances Leach. Leach said in an interview that the complexity of the initiative led to the middle-ground vote at the group’s fall meeting. “We would like to see natural resource groups work together to foster a collaborative approach to preserving our Alaska water resources and habitat,” Leach said, adding that if the initiative is voted down on Nov. 6, UFA wants the Legislature to take up the issue of updating the state’s salmon habitat protections again. UFA sent a letter to legislative leaders in March 2017 urging them to make changes to Title 16, which hasn’t been revised since statehood — a primary reason many cite for supporting Ballot Measure 1. UFA’s letter followed a letter from the state Board of Fisheries to House Speaker Rep. Bryce Edgmon and Senate President Sen. Pete Kelly in January 2017, urging them to revise Title 16. The board specifically requested changes that would allow for public participation in habitat permitting and enforceable standards for the Department of Fish and Game to evaluate development proposals against. The board’s letter spurred House Fisheries Committee Chair and Kodiak Rep. Louise Stutes to introduce House Bill 199 — which the initiative largely mirrors the original version — in early 2017. However, HB 199 did not move out of Stutes’ committee after more than a year of discussion and revision. Other than Israel Payton of Wasilla, Board of Fisheries members were generally reluctant to discuss their thoughts on Ballot Measure 1. Payton said in an interview that he would certainly prefer the issue of further protecting salmon habitat be handled through the legislative process, but said he would be voting for the initiative. “Of course, everyone on the board is pro-fish; I think everyone is kind of pro-development as well,” said Payton, who noted he has worked at North Slope oil fields and now is in real estate development. Payton said he finds a provision in the initiative that would put the onus on project proponents to prove the waters they propose to impact are not salmon habitat as particularly beneficial. ADFG Habitat Division officials estimate roughly half of the state’s anadromous fish habitat has been identified and therefore receives additional permitting protections under Title 16. “At the end of the day I have to believe some stronger habitat protections have to be a good thing,” Payton said. Board member John Jensen, who was chairman when the Title 16 letter was written to the Legislature and owns a boat rental business in Petersburg, said he will be voting “no” on Nov. 6. Jensen, who is also a board member for the Southeast Alaska Power Agency, said he doesn’t believe there is enough science supporting the provisions in Ballot Measure 1. “I think we should take better care of our fish streams but naming every stream and creek a salmon stream is problematic,” he said. Jensen added that he believes the initiative was generated from anti-Pebble sentiment, but it could add roadblocks for developing and maintaining Southeast’s power grid. Robert Ruffner and board chair Reed Morisky both withheld how they will be voting on Ballot Measure 1. Ruffner, a former leader of the nonprofit Kenai Watershed Forum said he, too, would prefer the Legislature deal with fish habitat issues, but acknowledged legislators have been dealing with more pressing budget issues in recent years. He said he does not want his position to be used by either side of the Ballot Measure 1 debate. “It’s really important that we protect our habitat by some mechanism and unfortunately the initiative process brings out rhetoric on both sides,” Ruffner added. Morisky, a fishing guide from Fairbanks, said “everything in that letter is still how I feel about it,” but like Ruffner said revealing how he feels about the initiative would detract from the more important debate. Morisky noted that he is a lifetime member of Trout Unlimited, which strongly supports the initiative, but also has spent time working on the North Slope. He will continue to advocate for a legislative solution. “I might not know until I get in there behind the curtain,” he said on how he will vote on Ballot Measure 1. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Whitefish quotas revealed; cod seeking colder water

Catches for next year’s groundfish fisheries reflect ups and downs for Alaska’s key species — pollock and Pacific cod — and the stocks appear to be heading north to colder waters. The bulk of Alaska’s fish catches come from waters from three to 200 miles offshore with oversight by federal fishery managers. Their advisory arm, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, reviews stock assessments for groundfish each October and sets preliminary catches for the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea and updates them as new data become available. If the proposed catches get the go-ahead in December, the Bering Sea pollock harvest will increase slightly to nearly 1.4 million metric tons, or more than 3 billion pounds. For Pacific cod, Bering Sea the catch could be reduced to 350 million pounds, a drop of 64 million pounds from this year. The cod numbers might change due to big differences between the 2017 and 2018 survey results in southeastern and northern waters, where large numbers of fish appear to be migrating. Over the year, the cod biomass dropped 21 percent in the southern region but increased 95 percent in the northern area. The northern cod are genetically similar to the southern cod, making it unlikely that the fish hail from Russia or the Gulf of Alaska, said National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research biologist Ingrid Spies in a presentation to the council last week. “What happens to those fish in the north is still an open question,” NOAA scientist Grant Thompson told Undercurrent News. “Are they spawning up there? Are they maturing and dying? It’s kind of uncharted territory.” The numbers are more straightforward for pollock and cod catches in the Gulf of Alaska and reflect declines for both species. Proposed pollock catches show a 34 percent drop to 228 million pounds, a drop of 118 million pounds from this year. For Gulf cod, next year’s catch is likely to be down 5.5 percent to 27.2 million pounds, a decline of 1.6 million pounds. One of the brightest Gulf of Alaska findings is the continuing upward trend of sablefish (black cod) seen over several years. The preliminary sablefish catch for 2019 was boosted by 40 percent to nearly 36 million pounds. OTIS redux Alaska lays claim to over half the nation’s coastline and a third of the U.S. exclusive economic zone, making it prime real estate for those wanting to get in on the push to develop our oceans. That’s requiring new ways of thinking about traditional sectors such as fisheries, tourism, marine trades and oil/gas, as well as providing opportunities for new “blue economy” business ventures. To hone a wave of entrepreneurs, a second Ocean Technology Innovation Sprint will task 30 Alaskans this month with finding a problem and creating a prototype solution for a venture of their choice. They will be assigned to five teams and meet one day a week for five weeks before revealing their ideas to the public. While the meet-ups are mostly in Anchorage, teams also can connect virtually from anywhere in the state. “The remote teams are live streamed to every event and they can work together on a digital whiteboard as if they were in person,” said Meg Pritchard, marketing and communications manager for the Alaska Ocean Cluster and OTIS co-organizer. “There was so much interest last year it has become a huge part of OTIS, because it’s meant to bring together people from diverse locations.” The goal of OTIS, which is modeled after a Google Ventures program, is to create an “economic ecosystem” of innovators, educators, mentors and businesses to help grow new products from the bottom up. Last year’s OTIS winner was a Sea Green energy bar made from 20 percent seaweed. Other teams created a bycatch reduction system using net cameras, a tidal generator and one group investigated using machine learning to count salmon. Pritchard said connections are increasing across the state. “There is a steadily growing network of people who believe that ocean technology and developing a blue economy is the way to move forward for Alaska’s economy,” she said. OTIS is a partnership of the Alaska Ocean Cluster and the University of Alaska Anchorage Economic Development and Business Enterprise Institute. The Sprint runs from Oct. 20 through Demo Night on Nov. 20. Winning women videos Women who mend nets for a living in Vigo, Spain took home the top prize in the International Association for Women in the Seafood Industry video competition. The contest was launched last year as a way to increase awareness about women’s roles in the industry and to recognize their value. This year’s contest attracted 15 videos (limited to four minutes) from around the world. The winner, Puntada Invisible, highlights a woman named Beatriz who has been mending nets for 33 years, often outside in all weather. “I think nobody is aware of how important our work is for the fishing sector, because everyone here looks at the fishing, the skipper, the boat, a good engine, a good engineer. Nobody looks at us here. We are totally invisible,” Beatriz said. The second-prize winner was Mujeres del Mar del Cortés, a film about women in Santa Cruz, California, who formed a sustainable clam farming cooperative. Two films tied for third place. Girls who fish in Petty Harbour is about women in Newfoundland who are mentoring others to run their own fishing operations and gain the experience and knowledge that has traditionally been dominated by men. The Invisible Hands tells the story of Ratna, the wife of a fisherman from the Bay of Bengal in India. Tired of struggling to make ends meet, Ratna partnered with five local women and got a government grant to start a food truck called a “fish nutri cart.” The women cook and sell their husband’s catches and are so successful they are applying for a second cart. The women said “their families now have enough to eat and their children are able to go to school.” There was one video entry from Alaska called Copper River that showcased the life of veteran Cordova fisherman, Thea Thomas. The judges were delighted with the breadth of the entries, said WSI president and founder, Marie Christine Monfort. “A lot of effort is being put into tackling illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing around the world,” she told SeafoodSource. “We see WSI’s mission as tackling IIU – invisible, ignored, and unrepresented women.” The top video took home 1,000 euros ($1,162) and 500 euros ($581) for second and third places and will be featured this month at the Gender in Aquaculture and Fisheries conference in Thailand, at the first women in fisheries international symposium in Spain in November, and at the international film festival of world fisherfolks in France in March 2019. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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