Fisheries

Copper River crash will cost commercial fishermen millions

Copper River sockeye fishermen are facing historic low returns this year, prompting some commercial fisherman to target other species elsewhere in Prince William Sound, and leaving others waiting onshore in what is usually a profitable fishery to the tune of $15 million or more in ex-vessel value. Through mid-June, the commercial Copper River District drift gillnet fishery had landed just less than 26,000 sockeye salmon and a little more than 7,000 kings during three mid-May fishing periods. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game had expected a harvest this summer of nearly 1 million sockeye in the district, and about 13,000 kings. As the harvest stands now, it’s the second-lowest in the past 50 years. The Copper River fish typically fetch a premium price as the first of the season, and this year was no exception, with prices as high as $75 per pound for kings at the Pike’s Place market in Seattle after the May 17 season-opening period. But the district hasn’t re-opened after the first three periods because the sockeye returns are so poor, so the final value is likely to be far lower than the $20 million-plus the fishery often nets. ADFG Area Management Biologist Jeremy Botz said it would take a significant improvement for the fishery to re-open. “(There’s) not anything to support a commercial fishery at this time,” he said on June 19. Botz said there’s a chance the commercial fishery could re-open if the numbers improved, but that wasn’t looking likely in the near-term. Typically, the sockeye fishery winds down in late July. Coho management begins Aug. 15, and Botz said that should be unaffected by the slow sockeye run. Before the season began, the ADFG forecast noted that the wild sockeye and king returns to Copper River were expected to be smaller than in years past, with a total sockeye run predicted to come in about 16 percent below the 10-year average, and a chinook run estimated at 4 percent below the average. Through June 19, the sonar counter that is about 70 miles downstream of the popular Chitna dipnet fishery had counted just above 243,000 fish, with slow daily counts. The in-river goal past the sonar this year is 644,000 to 1.03 million salmon. The low end of the escapement goal is 360,000 sockeyes. Botz said it is still possible to meet that goal, but it will depend how the rest of the run shapes up. The count so far is about the eighth-lowest on record, Botz said. The department also does an aerial survey count on the Copper River Delta, which was well below the anticipated range, too. Re-opening the fishery would depend both on the aerial survey numbers, and the sonar count, Botz said. The low numbers have meant restrictions for the in-river fisheries too, not just the commercial side. The department has closed the popular personal use fishery at Chitna, as well as sportfishing in-river. The run does look close enough to meeting its escapement goals that the department has offered some subsistence fishing time, Botz noted. Ocean conditions impacting size, run strength The fish that are showing up also aren’t as big as they used to be. “Overall, the average weight has continued to remain down,” Botz said. That was seen in the first few commercial openings, and continues to be the case for the subsistence fishery, he said. Botz said this is about the fourth year in a row of small sockeye in the Copper River. In 2015 and 2016, the average weight was down to about 5 pounds. Last year, it increased slightly, to 5.5 pounds, still far smaller than the typical size, which is typically more than 6 pounds. Botz said there are several theories about what is causing the smaller fish, which have also been seen in other parts of the state in the last few years, but some things are certain. “The smaller size-at-age, there’s definitely some competition or shortage of food out at the ocean,” he said. It’s hard to say exactly what causes poor fish runs, but Botz said it’s likely that ocean conditions play a role, including warmer ocean temperatures caused by the “Blob” of warm water that moved into the Gulf of Alaska in 2015 and 2016. He noted that although there were some large escapements in the years producing the current sockeye run, the large number of stocks in the Copper River system typically mitigate any big impact coming from a large escapement. “Overall, the bigger driver is out in the ocean,” Botz said. Small run, lean earnings The Copper River isn’t the only struggling fishery in Alaska this summer. By mid-June, the returns in Kodiak were weak as well, and several king fisheries were shut down around the state including the early run of Kenai king salmon. Staff for Gov. Bill Walker did not respond to a question about whether he was likely to seek a disaster declaration for the Copper River fishery, or any other shortcomings in the state. More often, that happens after the season is over. The high Copper River prices could help mitigate some of the economic impact of the shutdown, but not all. Copper River drifters typically harvest 60 to 70 percent of total Prince William Sound drift-harvest of sockeye each year, and take home a slightly larger proportion of the drift sockeye fishery’s ex-vessel value, because the Copper River and Bering districts typically fetch a better price per pound than the rest of the sockeye caught by PWS drifters. In 2016, they landed 1.1 million sockeye out of a total 1.6 million for all Prince William Sound drift fisheries, worth about $13.3 million at the average price for that district of $2.30 per pound. That was then considered a relatively lean year for the fishery, but 2018 is unlikely to match it. Botz said many fisherman are also fishing elsewhere in Prince William Sound since they can’t fish the Copper River district, the western Prince William Sound enhanced chum and sockeye fisheries are seeing the biggest uptick in effort. “Most folks, even folks that don’t typically go over to the westside, are over there this year,” he said, noting that just a few “die-hard” Copper River drifters are waiting in Cordova to see if their favorite fishery re-opens. But that won’t completely offset the losses fishermen face from the slow year in what Botz said is “normally a reliable fishery.” The only comparable years were 1979, when the fishery shut down after just a few periods, and 1980 when it was pre-emptively closed. “Now it’s kinda wait and see if we see some improvements here,” Botz said in June.

Coastal Villages study renews fight over CDQ quota allocations

A new study reaffirms that large and long-standing inequities still exist in a federal program aimed at improving the economic situation in Western Alaska. Coastal Villages Region Fund commissioned the report conducted by the Seattle-based research firm Community Attributes Inc., which concludes the fisheries allocations in the Community Development Quota Program prevent the groups representing the poorest regions in Western Alaska from fully achieving their mission. Coastal Villages is the CDQ group for 20 villages on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, which is one of the most economically depressed regions not only of Alaska, but the country as well. The Western Alaska CDQ Economic Needs Report notes that Coastal Villages serves 35 percent of the population meant to benefit from the program, yet has access to just 24 percent of the pollock, about 18 percent of the crab and 17 percent of the Pacific cod quota dedicated to the CDQ Program. Those fisheries quotas are allocated amongst the six CDQ groups that cover residents within 50 miles of the Bering Sea coast in an area starting north of Nome on the Seward Peninsula south and west through Bristol Bay and out the Aleutian chain. Overall, the CDQ Program is allocated 10 percent of federal groundfish fisheries quota as a means to keep more of the economic benefits from the fisheries in the region. The program was established in 1992 and is part of the federal Magnuson-Stevens Act fisheries management law. Comparatively, the Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association, or APICDA, covering communities on the western Alaska Peninsula and the island chain, and the Central Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association, or CBSFA, dedicated to St. Paul Island, represent just 2 percent and 1 percent of the total CDQ population but get 14 percent and 5 percent of the program’s pollock quota, respectively, according to the report. It states further that Coastal Villages represents 41 percent of the total CDQ population that lives on incomes below 125 percent of the federal poverty line while APICDA and CBFSA again are in the 1 to 2 percent range of the metric. “From this report we’re seeing that the most economically disadvantaged people in the region are receiving less benefit from the program than others,” Coastal Villages Outreach Manager Michelle Humphrey said in an interview. The goal of the study, which reinforces a message Coastal Villages has long been sending, was to again illustrate the economic disparities between the CDQ sub-regions and motivate officials to restructure the allocations amongst the groups, according to Humphrey. CDQ allocations were last addressed by Congress in the 2006 Coast Guard authorization bill, which generally kept the allocations in place but also directed the State of Alaska to conduct performance reviews of the groups and recommend quota reductions if they aren’t meeting their mission. The last reviews published in January 2013 concluded that Coastal Villages, APICDA and CBSFA all met the goals of economic improvement in their regions to varying degrees and thus no changes to quota allocations were recommended. However, Humphrey said the study also highlights the fact that the Norton Sound Economic Development Corp. and the Yukon Delta Fisheries Development Association also receive allocations that are disproportionately small relative to the economic need in their regions, but the disparity is not quite as great as it is for Coastal Villages. She said the allocations have never been based on a formula that takes into account population or economic need. Exactly how the quota distribution was originally determined is unclear, but Coastal Villages insists “they were created in a very political atmosphere,” Humphrey said. Coastal Villages acknowledges changing the allocations is a challenging process as it requires an act of Congress, but notes similar assistance programs are often driven by needs-based calculations. “I think at this point we’d be interested in seeing what the best practice for (this) type of program is. There’s lots of formulas that are currently in place for housing funds and other federal programs,” Humphrey said further. “So I hope that we can start the discussion about what that formula would look like but I don’t think we have a formula at this time.” Members of Alaska’s congressional delegation have generally shied away from the issue, insisting the CDQ groups need to agree on the matter before they can act. Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s spokeswoman Karina Petersen wrote in an email that Murkowski has encouraged the group’s leaders to discuss the issue. “If a reallocation effort is to move forward, it should be consensus-based and flow out of a constructive dialogue between all six groups,” Petersen wrote. A spokeswoman for Rep. Don Young, who authored the 2006 Coast Guard bill through his leadership position on the House Transportation Committee at the time, did not answer emailed questions in time for this story. In the past, Young has been emphatic that the allocations will not change without the CDQ leaders reaching agreement on what the changes should be. APICDA CEO Larry Cotter did not respond to requests for an interview on the topic and — exemplifying its sensitive nature — neither did Norton Sound officials, despite the report’s conclusions that the Nome-area group is on the short end of the stick. And while the performance of the CDQ groups has generally been positive, they have drawn criticism over executives’ pay and investment decisions in some instances. In 2009 Coastal Villages opened a $35 million fish processing plant in the village of Platinum that was meant to employ 125 people and make the group the third-largest employer in the region. Coastal Villages said at the time the plant would likely operate at a deficit for the first five years. It has been closed since 2016 and Humphrey said the group does not foresee itself working in local fisheries in the near future. Instead, Coastal Villages is focused on programs that bring broader benefits to all of its region’s residents, she said. Yukon Delta Executive Director Ragnar Alstrom testified in August 2017 before the Senate subcommittee covering oceans and fisheries and chaired by Sen. Dan Sullivan that the program has enabled the region’s communities to directly participate in the commercial fishing industry and now provides more than 5,500 jobs and $60 million in wages and other forms of income. Yukon Delta is the largest private employer in its region, accounting for 615 direct jobs in 2016 and investments of $10.2 million into the region over the year, according to Alstrom. He said that overall the program has worked well and needs stability, but the Western Alaska Community Development Association established in 2006 to act as a collective body for the CDQ groups to interact with Congress “has ceased to function in any meaningful way.” At the same time, Alstrom said Yukon Delta is encouraged that all six groups want to make the association functional again. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Alaska seafood exports hit with tariffs by China

Shockwaves rocked the Alaska seafood industry when China announced on June 15 that it will add an additional 25 percent tariff on seafood imports starting July 6 in retaliation to tariffs set by President Donald Trump. “The 25 percent will be added to the current base tariffs which typically range from 5 to 15 percent,” said Garrett Evridge, a fishery analyst with the McDowell Group. The list of seafood products includes all Alaska salmon, pollock, cod, herring, flatfish, Dungeness crab, snow crab, Atka mackerel, sablefish, geoduck clams and more. “This is devastating news,” said Frances Leach, executive director of United Fishermen of Alaska, which represents 34 groups. “The tariff will not just impact commercial fishermen but will also affect the more than 60,000 individuals who are employed by the state’s fishing industry.” China has been Alaska’s top seafood customer since 2011, purchasing 54 percent of all seafood exports valued at $1.3 billion in 2017. The bulk of Alaska’s fish harvests go to China for reprocessing before they are sent to customers around the world. Those also will be subject to the 25 percent tariff, said market expert John Sackton of SeafoodNew.com. “China has become the de facto export destination for virtually all seafood reprocessing done overseas. The cost of these tariffs will slam the seafood industry, because ultimately there is little choice but to continue to send these products to China,” he said. “So through no fault of our own, most companies will see a big hit to their bottom line because they will have to agree to lower prices in order to maintain marketability in the face of this 25 percent increase in costs.” “This represents the worst outcome feared by the industry,” Sackton added. “The Chinese are deliberately targeting smaller industries that have little ability to fight back.” Candidates mostly pan Pebble Five candidates for Alaska governor met up at the Bristol Bay Fish Expo in Naknek last week. The debate focused on a wide range of topics affecting rural Alaska, including two hot fish issues. Naknek is the hub of the world’s largest sockeye salmon run at Bristol Bay, which also is at the heart of the proposed plans for the Pebble Mine. Gov. Bill Walker said emphatically that he is not in favor of the Pebble mine. “I had an interesting discussion with a group that said it can be done safely. My response was ‘what if it doesn’t?’ Look at all that is at risk. I am very pro-development and pro-mining but not in that location,” Walker said. Mead Treadwell, a Republican candidate from Anchorage, said he will not trade one resource for another. As a former deputy commissioner of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, Treadwell said he helped write state water quality standards. “If this mine cannot meet the kind of water quality and habitat protection standards that we have created to protect our fisheries, then it won’t happen,” he stated. “From what I’ve seen it is going to be very hard for Pebble to make it through the process…But it makes sense to have a strong public process where we get to analyze what is happening,” Treadwell added. Republican candidate Scott Hawkins of Anchorage said the mine has the legal right to go through the permitting process, but that it “very well may be the wrong mine in the wrong place because if anything goes wrong, there is just so much at stake.” “I think the mine is losing momentum,” Hawkins added. “All the big investors have decided that it just doesn’t work on several levels. A lot of it is just how controversial it is to the people in this region and that is hurting the mining industry.” Mark Begich, a Democrat from Anchorage, has long touted the “wrong mine/wrong place” meme, which was first stated years ago by former Sen. Ted Stevens. “When people say they are against it, they should be against it all the way,” Begich said. “The first thing I would do as governor would be to immediately make sure the Corps of Engineers knows that state land or state right of way or state access would not be part of their plans or participate in any way. I believe that would finally put an end to this project and end the divisiveness it has caused throughout all of Alaska. This issue is like Groundhog Day, it never goes away and just keeps coming back.” Mike Dunleavy, a Republican candidate from Wasilla, was more equivocal saying it was difficult for him to answer until Pebble goes through the study process. “Once we can examine that data, then I think a final decision can be made,” Dunleavy said, adding that if the mine is going to endanger fisheries or other resources in the area, “I think we all should be against it.” “I do think there is a danger in politicizing this study process that we have. In the end, if it is not a good project we shouldn’t have it permitted.” No backers for salmon initiative The Stand for Salmon initiative that aims to update habitat protections for the first time since statehood could go before voters in November. But the measure has little support from the gubernatorial candidates. “While I don’t support it, I certainly understand that local input is critical in the process,” said Walker. “I believe the reason we have Stand for Salmon is because the Coastal Zone Management Program died in the 2011 legislative session and that took away local input into the development process,” Walker added. “I think this is what happens when you take away input by the people: you meet them at a ballot initiative or you meet them in the court room and I think that is unfortunate.” Treadwell also said he does not support the salmon initiative. “This bill essentially assumes that every stream is anadromous when it’s not. This would take away your property rights without protecting the fish,” Treadwell said. “Do I stand for salmon and believe we need to protect salmon? Absolutely. I don’t think this is the right law to do it.” Hawkins said the “devil is in the details” and he believes the ballot initiative would have a lot of unintended consequences and “shut down a lot of things in this state.” “It’s not that our permitting process couldn’t do with some tightening up,” Hawkins added. “We need to have a process that knows how to say no. Just because you apply for a permit should not mean that at the end of the day you are going to get it. We need a very stringent permitting system that holds projects to very high standards, but I don’t think the initiative is the way we get there.” Dunleavy echoed those sentiments. “I believe there are a number of projects throughout the state that could be at risk. This is a resource state and we need to develop our resources,” Dunleavy said. “We need to do it responsibly and I think the projects should be reviewed separately and held to a permitting and processing standard. I just don’t think an initiative such as Stand for Salmon is good for Alaska.” Begich said he will take a position when a state court rules on the constitutionality of the salmon ballot initiative. “At that point I will make a decision. But I will say that the laws should be revamped and reviewed and that has not been done,” Begich said. “This is a clear symbol of what’s broken in Juneau,” he added. “When you have almost 50,000 Alaskans bring forward an initiative, you have to respect their views and figure out how to fix this problem and make sure our salmon preserved for generations to come.” The entire debate is posted at KTVA’s website. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Net challenge builds on success; BSAI tops industry impact

Plastics in recycled fishing nets are being used to make an amazing array of products around the globe and Alaska plans to get in on the action. An Alaska Net Hack Challenge is being planned for Sept. 8 and 9 that aims to identify potential opportunities for using the tons of old nets piled up in landfills and storage lots across the state and develop new items from the materials. Fishing nets can weigh from 5,000 to 20,000 pounds each. “The purpose of the program is to change how people look at fishing nets and ropes. Instead of looking at them as waste materials, hopefully, they will start seeing them as a valuable resource and materials they can use in a different way,” said Nicole Baker, a former fisheries observer and founder of www.netyourproblem.com.  Baker spearheaded a project last summer in Dutch Harbor that collaborated with the local fishing industry and Global Ghost Gear Initiative to ship nearly 240,000 pounds, or about 40 nets, to a company called Plastix in Denmark where they were melted down, pelletized and resold to manufacturers of plastic products. “Socks are being made from recycled fishing nets, water bottles, cell phone cases, carpets, bathing suits, sneakers, sunglasses, skateboards, rugs, bowls, even 3-D printing and injection molds. People are becoming so creative about finding ways to reuse these plastic products,” Baker said. The Alaska Net Hack Challenge is based on the Circular Ocean program in the U.K. and Iceland that “aims to inspire enterprises and entrepreneurs to realize the hidden opportunities in discarded fishing nets.” Along with Baker, the two-day events are being organized in Anchorage by the Alaska Ocean Cluster Initiative, or AOCI, and by Brian Himelbloom, a retired University of Alaska seafood specialist in Kodiak. “We will dump a bunch of waste nets and rope in the middle of a room and encourage artists, students, designers, business owners, engineers, recyclers and others to take the materials and design products out of it,” Baker explained, adding that Arctic Wire and Rope of Anchorage and gear manufacturers in Seattle are providing supplies for the Anchorage challenge, whereas Kodiak has plenty of “end of life” nets to offer. “On the first day we will show presentations about the context and scale of the issue, the type of materials available, and some products and business models that have been implemented already to get people’s gray matter warmed up,” she added. “On the second day, teams will get together and use the material and design a prototype that will be presented to the judges to get their feedback.” Judges will score the projects on creativity, usefulness and scalability and follow the development over six months. Video conferencing also will be available so that other interested communities can have a guideline on organizing Net Hack Challenges in their fishing towns. The ultimate hope is that some of the prototype projects will become commercially viable through the AOCI’s Blue Economy push that helps develop products to their final stages. The Alaska Net Hack Challenge is in its early organizational stage and a website and social media where people can register will be up and running in a few weeks, said AOIC director Joel Cladouhos. In the interim, emails to [email protected] will serve as the contact point. Meanwhile, later this month Nicole Baker will be back in Dutch Harbor and also at St. Paul to collect more nets and give them new life in different useful forms. “My goal is to fill more than seven container loads and top least year’s take,” she said. BS/AI booming In Alaska’s fisheries, the regions of Southeast, Cook Inlet, Bristol Bay and Kodiak attract the most attention. But it turns out that the more far-flung and remote areas provide some of the state’s biggest fish bucks — notably, the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands regions, called BS/AI. A new McDowell Group report measured the statewide economic impacts of shoreside processing operations in Dutch Harbor, Saint Paul, King Cove, Sand Point, False Pass, and other small communities based on an average of 2015 and 2016 harvests and production. It turns out that approximately 30 percent of the seafood industry’s total economic impact in Alaska can be attributed to BS/AI inshore processing and related fishing activity, adding up to nearly $1.6 billion in 2016. Forty-four percent of all seafood processing wages paid in Alaska stemmed from that region, totaling almost $440 million. And a whopping 56 percent of all fish taxes paid in Alaska, including Fisheries Business Tax and taxes levied by local governments, totaled nearly $60 million. Unalaska/Dutch Harbor, with a population of about 4,300, is the largest community in the region and has been the top seafood port in the U.S. by volume for more than 20 years. Forty-seven percent of the town’s workers were employed in seafood processing. All other BS/AI communities have fewer than 1,000 residents. The seasonality and huge volumes of seafood require bringing in workers from elsewhere, but the proportion of Alaska residents on the job in the BS/AI has increased from 17 to 24 percent since 2006. The Economic impact of inshore seafood processing in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands Region was produced for Icicle Seafoods Peter Pan Seafoods Trident Seafoods UniSea, Westward and Alyeska Seafoods. Crab shell creations The young Tidal Vision entrepreneurs of Juneau continue to expand their line of “upcycled” products made from a crab shell extract called chitosan. An all-natural solution called High Tide enhances plant growth by triggering the natural immune response that results in larger and hardier crops. “In different plants that means increased yield or sap production, and increased likelihood of plants surviving fungal infections,” said Craig Kasburg, Tidal Vision president, adding that High Tide has been tested on a variety of plants from turf to trees. “It helps to revive stressed trees that are grown in nurseries, such as those that are transported or subjected to a sudden drop in temperature. It has increased their survival rate,” he said. “It also increases the size of berries and tomato plants and decreases the number that die of disease.” High Tide also has produced similar results in the growing of marijuana. “We did trials with over 500 cannabis growers and found the same results,” Kasburg said. “By increasing the sap production, it increased the essential oils and the THC and CBD, everything that makes cannabis valuable.” A crab shell infused spray called Game Meat Protector also is being sold to hunters that protects meat from spoiling and being infested by insects. “It’s simply water, chitosan, and citric acid,” Kasberg said. “When it’s applied it leaves a thin film on the game meat. Because of chitosan’s natural anti-microbial properties and the low pH citric acid, it acts as a preservative and protects the quality of the game meat. It also prevents bugs and insects from landing and burrowing into it.” “It is sort of an insurance policy for hunters,” he added. “When hunting deep in the backcountry there is always a risk of bad weather or other things that can cause a delay. Having a natural way to preserve the quality of the meat as it is being harvested is an important step for hunters.” One eight-ounce bottle is enough to cover an entire large game animal and it can also be sprayed on game bags for extra protection. Purchase Game Meat Protector at Amazon and other outdoor outlets, as well as at the Tidal Vision website. You’ll also find sponges, beverage fining agents, pool clarifiers and more — all originating from Alaska crab shells. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.  

FISH FACTOR: Hagfish studied for fishery potential; questions sought for Bay debate

Hagfish is the real name for what are commonly called slime eels and could become a viable fishery with ready markets standing by. Little is known about hagfish in Alaska, although they are commonly caught elsewhere in the U.S. and abroad. In Oregon, for example, a fleet of 15 to 20 boats catches up to 2 million pounds each year in customized five-gallon buckets or large barrels and pay fishermen up to $1.25 per pound. Now, two Alaska biologists who were given a special permit to catch 60,000 pounds of hagfish for their studies are testing the waters for a fishery with a longliner in Southeast. “It’s commonly seen as a pest,” said Andrew Olson, a biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Douglas. “In longline fisheries for sablefish, they often leave slime blobs on the hooks and strip bait, and they get into shrimp pots as well.” Olson is in the second year of a hagfish study with fellow researcher Aaron Baldwin. Their goal is to “keep the science ahead of any fishery to make sure it is sustainable” by learning more about the unique species. “We are looking at basic biology such as length, weight and egg counts in females. We can’t yet age the fish and they don’t thrive well in captivity. We are really starting from scratch,” Olson said. Reproduction and spawning have never been witnessed or documented, and biologists don’t know where or when hagfish do so. “We’ve seen eggs, and juveniles, but nothing in between,” said Baldwin. “No one has ever seen a baby hagfish.” A single foot-and-a-half, nine-ounce hagfish can fill a bucket with slime in seconds from 100 glands alongside its body. “It’s extruded and looks like a white latex liquid that comes out when it’s dry and it expands when it hits seawater. The slime molecules will entrap water molecules and it is an amazing substance,” he said. The slime has several functions: it suffocates predators, helps hunt prey by forcing them out of burrows and it lubricates entry into fish through the anus. “It has digestive enzymes so when you open up a sablefish, for example, it is literally bones, hagfish slime and a few hagfish inside the fish. They start with the internal organs and eat every bit of flesh that’s in there,” Baldwin explained. Most slime, as with slugs, is just mucus, he said and doesn’t have the capability of absorbing water molecules and expanding. “Hagfish produce a very unique substance. It is definitely one of a kind,” Baldwin added. Studies by the U.S. Navy and other researchers has shown that the chemical makeup of hagfish slime is stronger than spider silk. “Because of its qualities there are lots of efforts to make synthetic duplicates or bioengineer bacteria to produce the slime for industrial purposes,” Baldwin said. “The U.S. Navy is using synthetic hagfish slime to produce a substance that is lighter and stronger than Kevlar. The slime also shows potential as an anti-foulant for ship hulls. And medical research has shown that hagfish slime heals burns quickly and may be used as microfibers for cell repair.” A well-established market for hagfish is Korea where the meat is a barbecue and stir fry favorite and the skin is sold as “eel skin leather” products. “It’s been a fun project to work on,” Baldwin said. “We get to work with fishermen on developing a fishery and it’s a species we haven’t paid much attention to so everything we are learning is really new to us.” If Alaska fishermen encounter hagfish in waters outside of Southeast, Olson and Baldwin would like to know about it. Learn more about hagfish at Alaska Fish and Wildlife News where you also can see videos of commercial hagfish fishing aboard the Viking Sunrise and a biologist handling hagfish slime. Alaska tops for salmon catches Salmon catches throughout the North Pacific remain near all-time highs, and Alaska’s take tops them all. For 25 years the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission has summarized abundances and catches of salmon as reported by its member countries Canada, Japan, Korea, Russia and the U.S. The Commission tracks chums, cohos, pinks, sockeyes, chinook and steelhead trout in the North Pacific, Bering Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk, and also provides the venue for coordinating research and enforcement activities. For 2017, just more than 460 million salmon weighing more than 2 billion pounds were caught in those waters, less than recent odd-year averages. Salmon catches tend to increase in odd-numbered years when the most abundant species — pink salmon — tend to run higher. Last year the U.S. fleets topped Russia by catching more than any other nation with 53 percent of the total salmon catch, topping 1 billion pounds, with Alaska taking all but 22 million pounds of that. Russia took 38 percent of the N. Pacific salmon last year (nearly 77 million pounds), with all other countries in single digit percentages. As usual, pink salmon made up the bulk of the commercial catch at 49 percent by weight, followed by chums at 29 percent and sockeyes at 19 percent. Cohos made up three percent of the total N. Pacific catch, with Chinook salmon at one percent. The NPAFC report said catch trends for pinks and especially chums in Asia have been declining for 10 years with 2017 the lowest harvest since 2002. In North America, the abundance of salmon species varies from north to south. In Alaska, pink and sockeye salmon are the primary species, followed by chums. In Canada, sockeye, pink, and chums have historically comprised the largest catch, while in Washington, Oregon, and California chums, chinook and coho salmon are the most abundant species. The Commission also tracks releases of hatchery salmon. Member countries released just over five billion fish in 2017, similar to numbers over the past three decades. U.S. hatcheries released the most at 37 percent of the total (nearly 1.9 billion fish), followed by Japan at 35 percent and Russia at 21 percent. Canada released 7 percent of the hatchery fish in the North Pacific and Korea less than 1 percent. Chum salmon made up 64 percent of all hatchery releases, followed by pinks at 25 percent, sockeyes at 5 percent, Chinook salmon at four percent and cohos at less than one percent. Got questions? Organizers of the upcoming Bristol Bay Fish Expo are asking Alaskans to submit questions for the governor candidates’ debate on June 9 in Naknek. “This debate is so important for us in rural Alaska to educate our next governor about what issues we face every day,” said Katie Copps-Wilson. Gov. Bill Walker, Mike Dunleavy, Scott Hawkins and Mike Chenault quickly agreed to participate in the two-hour event. Chenault has since dropped out of the race and Mark Begich is in, causing some last-minute shuffling. “Anyone who has filed will get an invitation,” Copps-Wilson said. “We want to make sure that we address what’s on the minds of people in the community and the state of Alaska.” The question topics will include outmigration, substance abuse, domestic violence, mental health issues, energy needs and economics, “The candidates will be debating in Bristol Bay, the heart of the world’s largest sockeye salmon run, and at the forefront of that is the Pebble mine. There will definitely be a conversation about where the candidates stand on the mine,” Copps-Wilson said. The two-hour debate will be moderated by Rhonda McBride of KTVA and broadcast live on radio stations KDLG and KAKN. Alaskans are invited to submit written questions on line at [email protected] or at the Expo prior to the debate. The 2nd annual Expo is a fundraiser for Little Angels Childcare Academy and has attracted over 50 exhibitors so far to Naknek, home to 10 fish processing companies and over 1,000 fishing boats. The two-day event has a packed line up of presentations and events, including the biggest money-maker on Friday night – live and silent auctions with professional auctioneer Dan Newman of Alaska Premier Auctions and Appraisals in Anchorage. “We have some really cool items donated, such as breakfast with Governor Walker and a flight around the Pebble Mine site,” Copps-Wilson said. Other items include eight hours of welding, five hours of professional logo or website design and “a boatload of gear from Grundens.” Auction donations are still being accepted and can be made at www.bristolbayfishexpo.com The Expo takes place June 8 and 9 at the Naknek school. All events are free but visitor registration is encouraged. Last year’s Expo raised nearly $15,000 for Little Angels Childcare Academy and with more participants coming from far and wide, the organizers believe that this year’s tally will likely be even higher. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Salmon fishermen should see strong prices

Forces are aligned for a nice payday for Alaska’s salmon fishermen. There is no backlog from last season in cold storages, a lower harvest forecast is boosting demand, prices for competing farmed salmon have remained high all year, and a devalued U.S. dollar makes Alaska salmon more appealing to foreign customers. “Over the past year the dollar has weakened 11 percent against the euro, 9 percent against the British pound, 5 percent against the Japanese yen, and 7 percent against the Chinese yuan. That makes Alaska salmon and other seafood more affordable to those top overseas customers,” said Garrett Evridge, a fisheries analyst at the McDowell Group. Last year Alaska seafood exports set records in terms of volume and value: 1.1 billion metric tons valued at $3.45 billion. Alaska salmon accounted for 22 percent of the volume and 36 percent of the value. On the home front, the weaker dollar will make imports from Chile, the largest farmed salmon importer to the U.S. followed by Norway, more expensive. That also will apply to imports of competing wild salmon from Canada where — if it materializes — a big sockeye run is predicted at nearby British Columbia. “About every four years we expect a relatively large harvest from the Fraser River run in B.C. In 2014 they produced about 83 million pounds of salmon and sockeye was the largest component,” Evridge said. “Likewise, a weaker dollar will make wild salmon imports from Russia and Japan more expensive for U.S. buyers.” Russia, which had grown from a $10 million customer of primarily pink salmon roe to $60 million in 2013, has banned all imports of U.S. seafood since 2014. Meanwhile, that country continues to send millions of tons of salmon and other seafood into the U.S. For example, 2017 trade data from the National Marine Fisheries Service show that Russia sent nearly 4 million pounds of frozen sockeye salmon to the U.S. valued at just more than $13 million, a $2 million increase over the previous year. Alaska’s salmon forecast for 2018 calls for a harvest of 149 million fish, down 34 percent from last year. Salmon starters Copper River salmon fishermen were beached for a third scheduled opener on May 24 due to concerns over low numbers of sockeyes. The first fishery on May 17 produced a catch of just 1,900 reds out of an expected 38,600. For the second opener on May 21 the sockeye catch was 3,900 fish – predicted landings were 80,000. The king salmon take from the two 12-hour fisheries totaled 4,000 fish. Fishery managers said it’s too soon to say if the low numbers indicate a delay or a much smaller run than expected. The breakup of the Copper River is behind schedule and water levels are low. They also blame cold ocean temperatures for the delay in sockeye returns. “We will know soon where we are in the early run, which usually peaks on June 1,” said longtime fisherman Jerry McCune. Latest prices at Copper River were reported at $14 per pound for king salmon and $10.50 for sockeyes after the second opener. That’s down from $15.65 for kings and $10.65 for reds (or higher), plus delivery bonuses on opening day. More salmon fisheries around the state will start kicking off within days, with other areas in Prince William Sound opening on May 31. Districts at Lower Cook Inlet open June 1 with Upper Cook Inlet fisheries starting on June 18. Togiak at Bristol Bay also opens on June 1 with other Bay districts opening on June 4; the Nushagak district opens on June 11. Chignik also is set to open for sockeyes on June 1. Yakutat gillnetters will get to fish starting June 7, as will salmon fishermen at the South Alaska Peninsula. Kodiak’s first opener for sockeyes is tentatively scheduled for June 9 but could open as early as June 1 depending on runs to the west side. Southeast Alaska drift gillnet openings start on June 17. Once again there is unlikely to be any commercial salmon fishing at the Kuskokwim due to a lack of buyers since the new plant at Platinum stopped operating a few years ago. Norton Sound opens to salmon fishing on June 25 and Kotzebue on July 10. At the Yukon River, commercial fishing for chums will be based on in-season run estimates. As many as 1.4 million chums could be available to Yukon fishermen this summer, and 1.2 million in the fall. Find links to regional salmon summaries at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Commercial Fisheries page. Big chill in the Bay Salmon fishermen at Bristol Bay set a record last summer for chilling their fish. Despite an unexpected hit of one of the biggest sockeye runs in 20 years, 73 percent of the salmon deliveries by the region’s 1,447 driftnet boats were chilled, adding up to a record 130 million pounds of salmon. That’s a 5 percent increase over the previous year and compares to a 24 percent chilling rate from 2008. In addition, chilled raw product purchase amounts from the set net fleet increased by more than 33 percent. That good news came from the annual 2017 Processor Survey done by Anchorage-based Northern Economics for the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association. The RSDA is operated and funded by the drift fleet with a one percent tax on their catches. The better fish quality meant most of the salmon shifted away from the low value canning line into pricier products. Last year a record 83 percent of the sockeyes were put up whole/headed and gutted, or as fillets; only 14 percent of the Bay’s sockeye salmon last summer went into cans. That compares to upwards of 75 percent being canned 20 years ago. When asked if there are any notable quality improvements gained from chilled, floated fish in RSW systems (refrigerated sea water) compared to chilled, non-floated fish in slush ice, all respondents said the quality of RSW salmon is typically better. Consistent chilling combined with lower brailer weights (500 to 600 pounds or less per bag) were reported as the best practices having the largest impact on the quality of delivered fish. So what’s the big deal about Bristol Bay salmon if you fish or live elsewhere? “The sockeye resource at Bristol bay is very unique because of its size. Typically, it’s 35 to 40 percent of the global sockeye supply, and it is a huge chunk of Alaska’s salmon value overall,” said fisheries economist Andy Wink. Last year, Bristol Bay’s catch of nearly 37 million sockeye accounted for fully half of the value of Alaska’s entire salmon fishery, and a similar harvest is expected this summer. The size of that harvest, Wink said, has a big impact on salmon prices elsewhere. “Certainly in 2015 when the base price was just 50 cents at Bristol Bay and they had a large harvest, we saw coho prices come way down and sockeye prices in other areas were down quite a bit too,” he explained. “It’s a market moving fishery and that is why it affects so many other Alaska fishermen even if they don’t fish in the Bay.” The 2017 sockeye salmon price at Bristol Bay averaged $1.02 a pound, a six-cent increase over the year before, and the price is expected to be higher this summer. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Fight over America’s Finest vessel part of bigger processor battle

UNALASKA — The mothershippers are fighting with the groundfish shoreplants in a politicized Bering Sea commercial fishing tussle reaching all the way to Washington, D.C. The battle over Pacific cod pits the factory trawlers of the Amendment 80 fleet against Alaska shoreplants and local governments. And in February, it pitted two local governments against each other. A delegation of municipal and business leaders from Anacortes, Wash., traveled to the Aleutian Islands to ask the Unalaska City Council to reverse itself but didn’t change anybody’s mind. The brand spanking new factory trawler America’s Finest remains stranded in an Anacortes, Wash., shipyard, unable to fish in the United States because it hasn’t received a waiver from the Jones Act. The ship was built with too much foreign steel in its hull, a Jones Act violation, and it may be sold at a loss, probably to Russia. The Jones Act, which is intended to protect American ship-building and jobs, allows for no more than 1.5 percent foreign steel in a vessel. The America’s Finest has 7.5 percent. The visitors from Washington state asked the Unalaska City Council to stop asking the U.S. Congress to prohibit the stranded factory trawler from buying cod at sea in a practice known as mothershipping. Earlier, Unalaska Mayor Frank Kelty sent the Alaska congressional delegation a letter urging “sideboard” restrictions on offshore cod deliveries from catcher vessels attached to any Jones Act waiver. Now, the state-of-the-art $74 million flatfish factory trawler commissioned by the company Fishermen’s Finest can’t fish in the U.S., unless it gets a waiver. If the vessel can’t fish in the U.S., the fishing company won’t pay, leaving the shipyard with a huge loss and major negative impacts on the Anacortes economy, especially the 375 “family wage” welder and other skilled jobs in Anacortes. The visiting delegation included the mayor of Anacortes, Laurie Gere; the president of Fisherman’s Finest, Dennis Moran; and Dick Nelson, the owner of the shipyard Dakota Creek Industries. Nelson said the error occurred after shipyard officials overlooked “fine print” in federal rules that he said were “almost impossible to find.” Mayor Gere said Unalaska and Anacortes share a common bond in the boat business, citing the various vessels that work in the Bering Sea that were built in Anacortes, including the Aurora, Auriga, Nordic Viking, and Starbound. “We truly are connected,” she said. Moran said that Unalaska’s request for cod restrictions could block the waiver. He asked the city to reconsider, and allow the issue to be worked out at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. The floor of the U.S. Senate, he said, is a bad place to solve fisheries problems. Bigger battle The America’s Finest’s problems are part of a bigger “food fight,” as shoreplants and communities including Unalaska and the Aleutians East Borough oppose the fleet of about 17 Amendment 80 factory trawlers acting as motherships, buying cod from catcher boats offshore at the expense of local government revenues and shoreplant profits. (The groundfish fleet is known as the Amendment 80 fleet for the amendment in the Bering Sea fishery management plan that divided up the harvest for the many species among the bottom trawlers that target them.) The Amendment 80 flatfish factory trawlers are different from the larger American Fisheries Act pollock factory trawlers. The shoreplants were well represented at the city council meeting, sending in delegations of top officials and subordinates from Unisea, Westward, Alyeska and Trident. Don Goodfellow of Alyeska Seafoods in Unalaska said that he was sympathetic to Anacortes, but wanted to close a “loophole” in the American Fisheries Act to stop factory trawlers from mothershipping cod. Chris Riley of Trident Seafoods said the factory trawlers are already benefiting from rationalization through Amendment 80, which limits access into their fisheries. They harvest yellowfin sole, rex sole, Greenland turbot, Atka mackerel, Pacific Ocean perch, and idiots and other rockfish. He said rationalization programs aim to curb abuses of overcapitalization, now being perpetrated by the mothershippers. He said Trident strongly supports Congressional restrictions. “We think it needs to be done now,” Riley said. Sinclair Wilt of Alyeska Seafoods complained of cod catcher vessels stopping deliveries to shoreplants mid-season, and delivering offshore. That caused shoreplants to shut down cod processing lines early, he said. Speaking in support of the America’s Finest were Mark Horn of Sundance Stevedoring, of Unalaska, and Layton Wolf of Coastal Transportation, which operates a fleet of freighters with a big local dock. Wolf said Dakota Creek Industries is vital to maintaining the Bering Sea fishing fleet. Fishermen’s Finest Chief Vessel Officer Kristian Uri praised the new high-tech factory trawler as a necessary upgrade to the company’s aging two-boat fleet. Fisherman’s Finest owns two aging factory trawlers, the U.S. Intrepid and the American No. 1. The America’s Finest was intended to replace the two aging vessels, each about 40 years old, according to the company, which complains that Trident Seafood is in weak position to criticize Jones Act waivers. Both the company and Horn said Trident’s yacht, the Annandale, received a Jones Act waiver. The company calls the pleasure craft a “lobbying vessel.” Unalaska Mayor Kelty, with the city council’s approval, sent the state’s congressional delegation a letter urging “sideboard” restrictions which would keep the America’s Finest from receiving at-sea deliveries of Pacific cod from catcher vessels. “Alaska’s fishery dependent communities depend on catcher vessel deliveries to shoreplants,” Kelty wrote. During the pollock battles of the 1990s, the onshore and offshore sectors would encourage their various vendors and contractors to provide lobbying support. The pollock inshore-offshore battles ended with the passage of the American Fisheries Act, which established permanent quotas for the various sectors and guaranteed 50 percent of the pollock harvest would be delivered to shoreside plants. In a case of history repeating itself, one of Fisherman’s Finest’s local contractors in Unalaska is stepping up to the plate for the company. Horn, owner of Sundance Stevedoring, said the company is a major customer of his Unalaska cargo handling business. Horn said he’s spent $250,000 on new equipment to offload the state-of-the-art vessel. He views the restrictions sought by Kelty as part of an attempt to stifle competition by the big processing companies onshore. Unalaska Vice Mayor Dennis Robinson urged the denial of any waiver, saying the Jones Act protects communities. Horn countered that the community of Anacortes stands to lose big if the Dakota Creek shipyard fails should the vessel not be allowed to fish in the U.S. Horn said he’s been lobbying Congress in support of the America’s Finest. More recently, Horn, a Wasilla resident, said he plans to run for U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan’s seat, because of the factory trawler issue. The factory trawler company has recently posted vessel jobs on local bulletin boards in Unalaska. The same proposed sideboard restrictions favored by shoreplants opposed to Amendment 80 factory trawlers serving as cod motherships are also under consideration by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. Fishermen’s Finest fires back Unalaska opposes a loss of local fish tax revenues from offshore cod processing. Kelty is also angry about Fisherman’s Finest’s efforts to repeal the state’s resource landing tax, a 3 percent tax imposed on factory trawlers and split between the state and local governments. “This tax has been very important to communities such as Unalaska that are impacted by the offshore fleet’s use of area jobs, roads, docks, airports, clinic and jails,” Kelty said in the letter to Sullivan, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, and U.S. Rep. Don Young. Fisherman’s Finest complained that their tax appeal was leaked to the news media in a statement from a Seattle public relations firm. “Regarding the tax issue, Fishermen’s Finest’s engagement with the Alaska Department of Revenue is, like all tax cases, confidential and not subject to public disclosure under Alaska statutes, and disclosure of any such information by an agent of the state subjects the perpetrator to a punishment of two years in prison and $5,000 fine,” the company stated. “Mayor Kelty knows this. Further, Mayor Kelty knows full well that he is using confidential tax documents that were illegally stolen from the files of the Alaska State Department of Revenue to unfairly advance his personal position on this issue. The entire matter is still subject to a protective order and Mayor Kelty knows perfectly well he should not be discussing it.” But the company does have its issues with the fish tax. “However, on the general subject of fish taxes: Mindful of the importance of the revenue from the landing tax to the State of Alaska, Fishermen’s Finest has advocated that the Fisheries Landing and Business Taxes be repealed in favor of a single Commercial Fisheries Marine Fuel Tax,” the company stated. “The current fisheries landing and business tax structure has deep flaws, including exorbitant compliance cost, rampant cheating, uncertain revenue due to variable fish pricing, and the fact that very little of the revenue actually goes to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to pay for fisheries management costs.” The statement went on to call the shoreside plants and the vessels the companies own a “cartel.” “The America’s Finest is an Amendment 80 replacement vessel and Amendment 80 is a rationalized fishery. These vessels are prohibited by existing law from mothershipping pollock in the Bering Sea, cod and pollock in the Gulf of Alaska. In any case, mothershipping requires the cooperation of independent catcher vessels. Eighty-three percent of the catcher-vessel fleet is either owned or controlled by foreign-owned and Seattle-based shoreside processor companies who would never deliver fish to an Amendment 80 mothership. “That means we’re only talking about 20 independent vessels, so there is no real threat to shoreside Alaska communities. The sideboards would force these vessels to deliver to the shoreside cartel, at lowball prices dictated by that cartel.” Jim Paulin can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Federal study seeking input on long-term fisheries changes

The way that fisheries are managed determines the daily tempo for fishing families’ lives. Managers set the dates and times…the whens and wheres and whos … and the amounts that fishermen can catch. What happens to fishing families when any of the rules change? A new federal study aims to find out. “Those things are important for fishery managers to consider and try and integrate into their decision making, because there really are universal themes as far as how management changes have affected families,” said Marysia Szymkowiak, a social scientist for NOAA Fisheries based in Juneau. Over the past year, Szymkowiak has held scoping meetings in communities across Alaska to learn the impacts of fishing changes. The results, she said, will represent a history of how generations of families have adapted with the implementation of limited entry and catch share programs, and now with the decreasing abundance in certain key fisheries. “We’re getting into the thousands of years in terms of cumulative experiences and knowledge of Alaska’s fisheries,” Szymkowiak said. “It’s a wealth of information that we haven’t tapped into, and I feel so privileged to be able to talk with people who share heartfelt stories about families and the things that are built from that experience.” The project emerged from a 20-year review Szymkowiak co-authored about impacts of the halibut and sablefish fisheries that in 1995 switched from being open-to-all to an Individual Fishing Quota, or IFQ, system that gave shares of the catch to fishermen based on their historical participation. “One of the things we heard was the different impacts on women who participated prior to IFQs,” Szymkowiak said. “One said the new program made the halibut season too long and she could no longer participate because it conflicted with her responsibilities as a mom.” Limited access to fisheries is a main theme voiced in scoping meetings, combined with environmental concerns affecting the stocks. “For some families there is less of a buffer when a stock declines in terms of their ability to diversify within fisheries,” Szymkowiak said. “This can really lead to stress within families, having to seek other employment, and can really change the social fabric of fishing communities.” Another theme, she said, is a strong sense of resilience and values that go beyond the economics of going fishing. “In terms of shaping young people and creating a work ethic and a sense of place and community, there is a cross generational participation in fisheries that is really unique,” she added. A final Fishing Families scoping meeting is set for Kodiak on June 4, after which Szymkowiak will begin compiling a report on the findings. Questions? Contact [email protected] Nearly $500 for a Copper River king Alaska’s salmon season got off to a slow and drizzly start on May 17 at the first opener at the Copper River. The low catches by more than 500 gillnetters pushed prices to unprecedented levels. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s “blue sheet” of daily catches showed totals of just 3,000 king salmon and 2,000 sockeyes taken during the 12-hour opener. Bill Webber, a 51-year veteran highliner of the famous fishery, ended up with 10 king salmon and six sockeyes by closing time. “It’s not a great start to the season,” Webber said aboard his F/V Paradigm Shift while waiting for a slack tide to turn. If the fish tickets match the reports from the grounds, Thursday’s opener could be one of the slowest starts to the Copper River season since record keeping began 40 years ago, said Jeremy Botz, regional manager for ADFG in Cordova. The slim early catches had customers scrambling to source enough Copper River salmon for their “first fish of the season” celebrations, many promised within 24 hours of the salmon being caught. That pressure pushed prices to record levels. “The price wars are definitely going on due to the low production,” Webber said, adding that early price reports were $8.50 per pound for sockeyes and $13 a pound for king salmon. That compares to $8 and $11, respectively, during the first opener last year. The salmon prices ticked upwards all day, skyrocketing to $10.65 per pound for sockeyes and $15.65 for kings shortly after the 7 p.m. closure, “with a 65-cent dock bonus everywhere,” said a spokesperson for Alaska Wild Seafoods. “This opener is taking the cake on fish prices so far,” Webber added. Alaska Airlines made its first delivery of 16,000 pounds salmon to Seattle by early Friday morning. The airline celebrated its 9th annual Copper Chef Cook Off on the SeaTac tarmac, where chefs compete to prepare the best salmon recipe — in this case a 31-pound king salmon donated by Trident Seafoods. With the high prices at the end of opening day, that single “first fish” had a value of more than $485 at the Cordova docks. The Copper River salmon prices will drop off sharply after the early season hoopla fades, but the region’s famous fish will maintain some of the highest prices into the fall. The forecast calls for a Copper River harvest of about 950,000 sockeyes and 19,000 kings for the 2018 season. Football sidelines fish The North Pacific’s oldest and most popular marine trade show has been sidelined by Thursday night football. “Folks that have been with us for a long time know that holding Pacific Marine Expo at the CenturyLink Field Event Center in Seattle means that we have to come second to the NFL,” said Denielle Christensen, event organizer for Diversified Communications. The trade show, now in its 52nd year, has traditionally been held in November at the CenturyLink center the week before Thanksgiving. Last month organizers learned that a Thursday night game of the Seattle Seahawks versus Green Bay would spike those dates. “CenturyLink has been an excellent partner to us,” Christensen graciously added. “When they called us, they knew we were not going to be happy with our options. But they have always been clear with us that NFL and sports in general is their primary business.” The Expo team canvassed customers about holding the event either during Thanksgiving week or right before Christmas. “Most folks wanted us to stay closer to the usual time in November. So we’ve ended up at the Sunday, Monday and Tuesday of Thanksgiving week, which is November 18, 19 and 20.” Christensen said she does not expect the date change to dampen Expo enthusiasm. “I don’t think it will have a particularly large impact on the exhibits or attendance just because of the loyalty this show has built up over the years. People really love it,” she said. Pacific Marine Expo is rated as one of the nation’s top trade shows and last year it attracted 500 exhibitors and over 6,000 visitors from 40 states and 24 countries. Visit www.pacificmarineexpo.com. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Salmon season set for May 17 start at Copper River

Alaska’s 2018 salmon season officially gets underway this week with the first 12-hour opener on May 17 for sockeyes and kings returning to the Copper River. The catch there this year calls for 19,000 kings and 942,000 sockeye salmon targeted by a fleet of more than 500 drift gillnetters. Here’s a primer of how fishery managers project the rest of Alaska’s salmon season may play out: Statewide, the 2018 salmon harvest is projected at 149 million fish, down 34 percent from the 2017 take of 226 million salmon. The shortfall this season stems from lower projections for hard-to-predict pink salmon. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is forecasting a total humpie harvest of just more than 70 million, down by half from last year. For sockeyes, a statewide catch of about 52 million is down by 1.8 million fish from 2017, which was the fifth-largest red salmon catch since 1970. By far, most of the sockeyes will come from Bristol Bay’s nine river systems where a harvest of 37.5 million is projected. For chum salmon, this year’s Alaska catch is pegged at 21 million, down by nearly 4 million from last year’s huge 25 million haul, the largest catch in 47 years. The 2018 coho catch should be nearly 6 million, an increase of 600,000 silvers from last season. For chinook salmon, a catch of 99,000 is projected in areas outside of Southeast Alaska, where the numbers are determined by treaty with Canada. The Southeast harvest will be just 130,000 fish for all users, down 80,000 from last year. For commercial trollers the take is 95,700 taken from a few select areas. The salmon market outlook is good heading into the 2018 season. “Demand for Alaska salmon is fairly strong and competing farmed salmon prices are high. And despite catching over a billion pounds of salmon last year, there are no big inventory concerns,” said longtime fisheries economist Andy Wink of Wink Research and Consulting. Alaska sockeye could face some competition in its expanding fresh market sales from fish at the Fraser River in British Columbia. “Their runs have popped every four years and this is an up year for that system. That would bring a significant volume of fish to market this year,” Wink said, adding, “I’m not too concerned because demand for Alaska sockeye is robust and farmed prices are providing a lot of support.” The average sockeye price paid to Alaska salmon fishermen in 2017 was $1.13 per pound. The price for chinook salmon was $5.86; coho salmon at $1.19, pinks at 32 cents; and chum salmon averaged 66 cents per pound at the docks. The total value of the 2017 salmon fishery was nearly $680 million for Alaska’s fishermen, nearly a 67 percent increase over 2016. Clam diggers get down Razor clams from Alaska are a rare delicacy and are snapped up by restaurants on the west coast and Canada. The giant clams, which can reach more than 10 inches, are harvested by hand from a single 10-mile stretch of beach on the west side of Cook Inlet at the southwest corner of Polly Creek. The fishery, which opens in May and can run into August, is the only commercial razor clam fishery in Alaska. The diggers are allowed to take 350,000 to 400,000 pounds of clams in the shell this year and are paid 65 cents to 75 cents per pound. “About half of that is clam meat. Any broken clams go to the pet food market,” said Pat Shields, regional manager at ADFG in Soldotna. Coolers filled with whole clams are flown four to six times per day from the beach to the Pacific Alaska Shellfish plant in Nikiski, where they are immediately processed and sent to awaiting markets. “The processors also get 60 cents to 70 cents a pound to shuck them. Then they are vacuum packed and sent fresh or frozen to a lot of markets. It’s a really good product,” Shields said. Nearly all of the clam diggers out on the Cook Inlet flats are from out of state. “Most of the diggers are Hispanic from California,” Shields said. “It’s such hard work that we have a hard time finding local folks to participate.” “You put this big bag on your belt and you’re stooped over for hours at a time,” Shields explained. “Most of them use their hands or a very small spade. They dump them into a bucket and the clams get sorted in coolers.” Other Cook Inlet beaches have been closed to clam digging since 2014 due to a drop off in the stocks. More recently state fishery biologists have found encouraging signs of lots of juvenile razors signaling a potential rebound of the delicious clams. Cash for tags Hook a sablefish (black cod) with a bright orange or green tag and you would win cash. State fish managers awarded $3,000 to seven lucky winners in cash prizes ranging from $250 to $1,000. Their names were drawn by lottery among all those who had returned tags over the past year. Fishery biologists at ADFG have been tagging sablefish in Southeast Alaska since 1979 to learn more about the fish’s movement, growth, and abundance. The farthest north returned sablefish tag was from St. Matthew Island in the Bering Sea; the farthest south came from Humboldt, Calif. But for the most part, most sablefish stay close to home. “You have your sablefish that are like I love my home, I’m just going to stay here,” said Naomi Bargmann at ADFG in Sitka. “That is about 85 to 90 percent of the fish that we get in Chatham (Strait), they stay,” she added. “The rest of them will pick up like Magellan and go explore other places.” One of the oldest tags was 34 years old, returned in 2013, and nearly 35,000 have been recovered in all. This month 7,000 more tagged sablefish were released, bringing the total to more than 140,000 tags since the project began. To qualify for the lottery, the returned tags must include the latitude and longitude where the sablefish was caught and the capture date and method. Anyone who returns a tag receives a T-shirt. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Still deadliest job, but fishing deaths down drastically

Commercial fishing remains one of the most dangerous jobs in the nation, with a fatality rate that is 23 times higher than for all other workers. Vessel sinkings account for half of all fishing fatalities; second is falling overboard in deaths that are largely preventable. From 2000 through 2016, 204 U.S. fishermen died after falling overboard, according to a just released study called Fatal Falls Overboard in Commercial Fishing by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, or NIOSH. Nearly 60 percent of the falls were not witnessed, and almost 90 percent of the victims were not found. In all instances, not a single fisherman was wearing a PFD (personal flotation device). “I think there is a social stigma against it. It’s a sort of macho thing. I also think there is a lack of awareness that there are really comfortable PFDs,” said Jerry Dzugan, director of the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association for more than three decades. Today’s life jackets are not the bulky, cumbersome clunkers that most people are familiar with from childhood or have stashed in the cubbies of recreational boats. Newer models are lightweight and built right into rain bibs, or fit comfortably over or into deck gear. “I’ve got a couple that are so comfortable that when I leave my boat, I forget I have them on,” Dzugan said. He estimated that less than 10 percent of Alaska fishermen wear PFDs while working, whereas “a few years ago it was less than 5 percent.” According to the NIOSH report, the number of falls overboard decreased on average by 3.9 percent annually during the study’s time frame. Most falls occurred on the east coast (62), followed by the Gulf of Mexico (60). Alaska ranked third with 51 deaths overall. Alaska’s deadliest catch might surprise you: it’s the salmon drift gillnet fishery with 16 fatalities. “When things go south on a small open boat it happens quickly,” Dzugan said. “Swamping, being hit by a wave and not being able to recover. Sometimes they are fishing alone or with just two people, often in open waters. All of those combine to have those being a particularly high risk.” Dzugan believes wearing a PFD on deck is the No. 1 way that fishermen can save themselves from becoming a statistic. Second is doing onboard safety drills. “Everyone needs to know what to do in the case of an emergency. And every crew member needs to be part of the risk assessment on the boat, not just the captain,” he said. “Also, make sure your boat is watertight, keep your survival gear maintained and practice with it, and get enough sleep.” The NIOSH report also recommends reducing fall hazards on deck and using man overboard alarms and recovery devices. “It costs less than $100 to rig up your own floating lines to trap someone inside and tie them off to a cleat on the rail until you can get them back on the boat,” Dzugan said. Although fishermen have been somewhat slow to adopt preventive measures, he said there has been tremendous improvement in Alaska. “It’s been a total cultural change. In the 1970s there was an average of about 38 to 40 fishing deaths a year in Alaska; it’s averaged 3.5 over the past five years,” he said. “The arc of improvement in fishing vessel safety has been a long one, but it’s been steadily upwards. I’m very optimistic.” (The fatality numbers already have skewed upwards since the data in the NIOSH report were compiled through 2016. Total U.S. fishing deaths have risen to 224, according to report author, Samantha Case of NIOSH in Anchorage. In Alaska, there were 10 fishing deaths in 2017; six were from the sinking of the crab boat Destination in the Bering Sea) Salmon starts! Alaska’s salmon season officially kicks off on May 17 with a 12-hour opener for sockeyes and kings at the famous Copper River. In other fishing updates: Southeast fishery managers announced that under provisions of the Pacific Salmon Treaty, the chinook salmon harvest is limited to 130,000 fish for all users, down 80,000 fish from last year. For trollers, the take is 95,700 kings and the May-June season will open only in a few select areas. Fishing for lingcod in the Panhandle opens May 16 with a 310,700-fish limit. A fishery for coonstripe and spot shrimp opened in Southeast on May 1 with a 675,000-pound quota from four districts. Trawling for sidestripe shrimp also is underway at Prince William Sound with a nearly 113,000-pound catch quota. Norton Sound’s red king crab fishery closed on April 30 just shy of the 50,000-pound winter harvest. The shortage will be added to the summer crab fishery for a combined total of about 300,000 pounds. Alaska’s halibut catch was approaching 3 million pounds with Seward and Sitka leading all ports for deliveries. Sablefish catches topped 4 million pounds with Sitka in the lead for landings. Fishing continues for all kinds of whitefish in both the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska. Finally, Frankenfish is a step closer to U.S. supermarket sales. AquaBounty, the producer of the genetically engineered salmon won FDA approval last week to grow the fish in an Indiana plant it bought last year for $14 million with a goal to produce 3 million pounds annually. Currently, the salmon are being grown out in Panama. A final hold up is commerce laws that don’t allow the genetically tweaked salmon to be sold in the U.S. until labeling guidelines are in place to inform consumers. Import breaks “Made in America” grants are available to small- and medium-sized companies that have been clobbered by an influx of cheaper imports. “Basically, if it’s a product that competes with imports and the domestic firm is losing ground and the imports are rising, the assistance can be available,” said David Holbert, executive director of the Seattle-based Northwest Trade Adjustment Assistance Center, or NWTAAC. The NWTAAC is one of 11 regional non-profits funded by the U.S. Economic Development Administration and serves companies in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska. The group has been around since the 1970s, but is not very well known, Holbert said. It began as a means to help U.S. manufacturers facing competitive disadvantages often caused by global trade deals. The program now includes businesses in other sectors, such as timber, agriculture and fishing. The program offers matching grants of up to $75,000 to mid-sized companies aimed at helping them hire outside expertise to boost their bottom lines. “So that’s $150,000 for projects such as website building and creating marketing tools like brochures, brands and logos, as well as quality certifications, product design, to name a few. No two are the same,” Holbert explained. Eligible smaller businesses with less than $1 million in sales can receive up to 75 percent in matching funds for up to $30,000, meaning their output would be $7,500. “When a company faces destructive price competition, it’s a situation where they can’t win by trying harder. They have to change. For small to medium sized enterprises, change is often instigated by outside expertise. Generally speaking, the companies have to find their way to a customer base that values quality customization and/or rapid fulfillments,” Holbert said. Eligible companies need to show a drop in employment and in sales or production and other trade criteria. The Center handles all the qualifying paper work and if approved, also helps craft a business plan focusing on what would be required for the company to succeed. A company has five years to use the funds. “The companies select their projects and vendors. We’re not telling anyone what to do or who to hire. We’ll advise and help, but it’s your solution to your situation,” Holbert said. For smaller Alaska fishing companies, more than one can apply under the umbrella of a trade association. Bering Sea crabbers, for example, long hammered by imports of Russian crab, used funds to redesign a website, create marketing materials and design a weekly newsletter. “The support and guidance provided by NWTAAC staff throughout the entire funding process was amazing,” wrote the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers trade group. Other Alaska fishing beneficiaries include Taku Fisheries in Juneau and Fields Wild Salmon of Kodiak. Holbert said that Alaska halibut fishermen, who are facing stiff import competition from eastern Canada, also may be eligible. “Don’t be shy about calling. You’re not dealing with a big bureaucracy; you’re going to talk to a person who can relate to you and your business,” Holbert stressed. “If you’ve got a decline in business in recent years and you believe it’s due to imports, we can find out fast if you qualify.” The NWTAAC board of directors is meeting in Anchorage in mid-May. Learn more at www.nwtaac.org or email [email protected] Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: ComFish funding adds study on king salmon decline

A shuffle in some funding leaves Alaska’s commercial fisheries division in good shape to manage the resources and target important projects across the state. At first glance, the $69 million operating budget for fiscal year 2019 appears to be down slightly from last year’s $72.3 million, but that’s not the case. “Most of that difference is a sort of ‘cleanup’ in authority we no longer had funding for, such as the Alaska Sustainable Salmon Fund, test fishing and some interagency items. The rest is due to $1.1 million shortfall in Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission revenue which was made up from other Department funds,” said Scott Kelley, Commercial Fisheries Division director. Added to the budget was a nearly $1 million unrestricted increment offered by Rep. Dan Ortiz of Ketchikan, which got the nod from Alaska lawmakers. The extra money will be distributed among 11 projects in four regions: Southeast, Central, Westward and the AYK (Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim). The biggest project focuses on research to help determine the causes of declining chinook salmon. “It’s a $300,000 project for a juvenile chinook marine survey in the Bering Sea,” Kelley said. “Almost the first thing I get asked at meetings around the state is what’s going on with king salmon. That project looks at the early marine survival, which is where we think these mortality events are most affecting the species. It’s the only project in the state that really gives us a first look at what’s going on there.” Other projects back on the funding track include Southeast and Togiak herring research, westward salmon weirs, Southeast sablefish research and Prince William Sound Tanner crab. One thing cut from the commercial fisheries budget was nearly $400,000 for unpopular test fishing programs, where portions of fishermen’s catches are used to help cover management costs. “We don’t need to test fish because we got the general funds. I view that as a very positive development,” Kelley said. The entire state budget still awaits final approval but Kelley expressed confidence in a good outcome, thanks in part to Gov. Bill Walker. “I do believe that the governor is strongly supportive, not just of the Commercial Fisheries Division but for the Department of Fish and Game in general,” he said. Kelley also praised United Fishermen of Alaska and other fishing stakeholders for going to bat for their industry during the legislative session. “Their advocating has been extremely beneficial for the division and greatly appreciated,” Kelley said. Crab share shuffle It’s slow going for brokers who deal in quota shares for crab in Bering Sea fisheries. Most holders are taking a wait-and-see approach on the crab stocks, hoping for an uptick before they sell. Few sellers make it tough to place a value on the shares, said Jeff Osborn at Dock Street Brokers in Seattle, the “go-to guy” for crab quotas. “Red crab is down from around $70 to between $60 and $65 per pound,” Osborn said. “For opilio (snow crab) it’s hard to say because there are no sellers to speak of. For vessel shares, I’ll speculate somewhere in the $27 to $28 range. For bairdi Tanners, people see a lot of crab but nobody really knows what to expect for next season so everyone is gun shy on sales.” Crab shares are bought and sold in two categories: vessel shares and skipper shares. “Skipper shares are reserved for people who are actively fishing on crab boats,” he explained. “You have to have participated in the crab fishery in the past 365 days to purchase those shares. Vessel shares are much more lenient and can be held by a qualified entity, corporation or business regardless of recent participation.” On the skipper side, Osborn said crabbers face a looming “use it or lose it” deadline. “Basically, there needs to be participation in the crab fishery or another Alaska fishery within the past three years if you are an initial quota share recipient. Otherwise, effective June 30 for the upcoming season they will not receive any quota to harvest. And then if they still have not satisfied the recency requirement by June 30, 2019, they will lose their quota share, it will just go away,” Osborn said. Why? “It’s to ensure that those who own skipper shares are actually participating and not accumulating it and leasing it out and collecting a check and depriving the market of shares that could be used by guys that are actively participating,” he said. Osborn estimates between 100 to 120 crabbers have transfer eligibility for skipper quota but many could lose it under the new rules. Another right of first offer option, or ROFO, also makes crab shares available to crew to help them become invested in the fishery. “The intention of the ROFO is to set aside 10 percent of any transaction of vessel shares to be sold to qualified individuals,” he said. “They can then purchase some or all at the same price that is sold to whoever is buying the 90 percent of the quota. So it provides an avenue for people to pick up smaller chunks than they might be able to otherwise.” Candidates come to the Bay! Four candidates for Alaska governor will face off in a debate at the 2nd annual Bristol Bay Fish Expo at Naknek in early June. Naknek is the key logistics hub for 10 major seafood processors and a fleet of nearly 1,000 at the northeastern end of Bristol Bay. The debate is just one of the events in a lively line up that benefits childcare in the community. “We turned to our natural resource, salmon, to support Little Angels Childcare Academy and it has just been phenomenal,” said Sharon Thompson, Expo co-founder and organizer. “Salmon is supporting their early childhood education.” The first Expo last year raised $17,000, enough to open the doors of the childcare center. This year is likely to see even more donations. “We are getting boat builders and engine manufacturers and others from Texas and Washington and Oregon; it’s caught their eye. It just blows my mind,” said co-organizer Katie Copps-Wilson. The theme of the June 8-9 event is “Celebrating our Past, Sustaining our Future,” and a history of the region’s canneries will be highlighted. Historian Katie Ringsmuth will kick things off on June 8 with highlights of the Diamond NN Cannery History Project which aims to document, preserve and share the unique experiences of cannery life. The Diamond plant was the first industrial processing plant on the Naknek River in 1890. On that theme, Mug Up events will be ongoing during the two-day Expo. “Anyone who has ever worked in a cannery knows that mug up is a colloquial term for coffee break. Coffee and donuts will be available along with storytelling, because we all know that’s where the best stories are told,” Thompson said, adding that archivists from the National Park Service and project curators will be on hand to scan, photograph and identify old photos, labels, maps and other artifacts. The popular “speed hiring” will be back, which connects captains with potential crewmembers. “It’s like speed dating and many happy matches were made last year. That face-to-face contact is so important. We expect it will be bigger than ever,” Thompson said. One of the biggest hits of the Expo, Thompson said, is a fashion show and wearable art auction. “We always joke that Bristol Bay has a style of its own. Grundens has donated lots of gear from their new line for women, so we’re really stepping it up this year,” she said. “We are still accepting donations and it is a great way for businesses to get their names and services out there. All the products and services will be listed in an online catalog that will be on social media everywhere.” The Expo will end with a gubernatorial candidates debate on June 9 from 7-9pm that will include Gov. Walker, Scott Hawkins, Rep. Mike Chenault and Mike Dunleavy. The debate will be broadcast live on KAKN and KDLG. Looking ahead, the organizers plan to include more communities. “From Togiak to Ugashik and everwhere in between and beyond, we would love to expand our Expo to embrace crab, halibut, pollock, herring – all those other wild seafood products from Bristol Bay that are feeding the world,” Thompson said. “The bottom line is everything benefits Little Angels,” echoed Copps-Wilson. “Our mantra is kids, fish, future.” Learn more at www.bristolbayfishexpo.com Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Early Cook Inlet fisheries near; ballot initiative draws big bucks

Two commercial fisheries open each spring at Upper Cook Inlet that attract little notice and few participants, but each pays big bucks to fishermen. The first is a food and bait herring fishery that runs from April 20 through the end of May. The 150-ton catch quota is small compared to most of Alaska’s other herring fisheries, but the payout is far higher than all others. “They get $1.00 to $1.50 a pound, or $2,000 to $3,000 for a short ton, and the herring goes primarily into the halibut commercial bait fishery or the sport bait fishery,” said Pat Shields, regional manager for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Soldotna. In contrast, the statewide average price for roe herring at places like Sitka, Kodiak or Togiak is just 12 cents per pound, and fishermen make between $100 to $350 per ton. The Cook Inlet herring fishery serves a small, local market provided by 10 to 20 fishermen. The fish is captured in gillnets by 10 to 20 salmon setnet fishermen who are trying to get some money to start the season, Shields explained. The herring are frozen and sold throughout the year and the demand far exceeds the supply. Shields speculates the price is so high because there are so few bait herring fisheries in the state: two in Southeast, one at Kodiak and Dutch Harbor. Meanwhile, most Alaska fishermen buy pricy herring for bait from processors who usually purchase it from the east coast or Canada. Traditionally, herring management has been geared to sac roe fisheries, which years ago was in high demand by a single customer: Japan. But tastes there have changed. “Now the sac roe is far less valuable and there is a lot of demand for herring as bait,” said Forrest Bowers, deputy director of the state Commercial Fisheries Division. “Management plans could be restructured so that more herring could be harvested as bait. Someone just needs to propose it to the Board of Fisheries. If there is a harvestable surplus that is not being taken, why not allow it in a different fishery?” The other fishery at Upper Cook Inlet from May 1 through June 30 is for smelt, also called hooligan/eulachon or candlefish. That also attracts up to 20 people who compete for a 200-ton quota using dip nets at the Susitna River. Shields said a 2016 study estimated that 53,000 tons of smelt went up the Susitna that one year. “It’s just a phenomenal biomass,” he said, adding that fishermen have had to make their dip nets smaller to accommodate the catches. “If you have a net that’s a couple feet deep you can’t even lift it out of the water,” Shields said, adding that it’s a tough fishery. “Logistically, it’s kind of a nightmare to get drift boats through the mudflats of the Susitna River,” he said. “They bring them back to the Kenai River where they are frozen, boxed up and shipped to the Lower 48. Most of it goes into one of three markets: the human food, sturgeon bait fishery on the Columbia River or the marine mammal food market.” Smelt fishermen also fetch a nice price, twice: 25 to 75 cents per pound for their harvest, and again after it goes to market. “The market can vary widely,” Shields said. “I’ve heard anywhere from 50 cents a pound to a couple dollars a pound.” Both fisheries are open to all comers who get a miscellaneous finfish permit from the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission. “While they require a permit, it is not a limited entry permit,” Shields explained. “Anyone can get a permit to participate in the herring or the smelt fishery in Cook Inlet.” Salmon money Resource developers are pulling out all stops to block the push to strengthen Alaska’s salmon habitat protection law for the first time since statehood in 1959. Since early January the group Stand for Alaska has raised more than $2 million to stop a ballot initiative that could go to voters this fall. That is about four times more than the $475,560 the grassroots group Yes for Salmon has raised in support of modernizing permitting and habitat protection measures. Filings with the Alaska Public Offices Commission show that financial backing for both groups comes primarily from outside the state. Mining operations from Canada that put in $200,000 each include Kinross Fort Knox and Pebble Limited Partnership. Japanese-owned Pogo Mine, Illinois-based Coeur Alaska and Hecla Mining of Idaho also contributed $200,000 as well as Donlin Gold and Doyon Ltd. ConocoPhillips has donated $250,000 and BP has contributed $500,000 to Stand for Alaska. Those companies, along with Canada’s Teck Mining and Tower Hill Mines, the Resource Development Council, Alaska Miners Association and the Alaska Oil and Gas Association also have contributed in-kind donations to cover staff time, office expenses, travel, etc. To convince voters that the ballot measure is a bad idea, Stand for Alaska so far has paid $132,000 to Anchorage-based Bright Strategy and Communications; $36,000 to Public Opinion Strategies of Alexandria, Virginia; $20,000 to Blueprint Alaska and $10,000 to Dittman Research, both of Anchorage. Total expenditures by Stand for Alaska also include nearly $612,000, of which more than 40 percent has gone to DCI Group of Washington, D.C., as a subcontractor. DCI Group is widely cited as a “top Republican and lobbying group” that creates campaigns by masking corporate sponsors to make it appear that it is a grassroots effort, a practice known as “astro-turfing.” Most notably, the DCI Group has done campaigns for the tobacco industry and for Exxon’s climate change denial efforts. The APOC filings show that most of the money donated to Yes for Salmon’s campaign also comes from outside Alaska. From Jan. 8 through April 7, the group collected about $205,000 in contributions. Of that, $100,000 comes from John Childs of Florida who also is a board member of the Wild Salmon Center based in Portland, Oregon. The New Venture Fund Salmon State, backed by the Hewlett Foundation of Washington, D.C., has contributed $37,246 of in-kind contributions. The Alaska Center has donated $14,000 for in-kind services, along with Trout Unlimited, the Sitka Conservation Society and Cook Inletkeeper. Other monetary contributions are in the $75 to $250 range by nine individual Alaskans. Total expenditures in the first quarter by Yes for Salmon were reported at $124,388, and overall expenditures total about $317,000, of which $25,000 has gone to the Patinkin Research Group of Portland, Ore., for polling and other work as well as about $16,000 to Element Agency of Anchorage for media support. The salmon protection push must still prove it is constitutional before it goes to the voters. The Alaska Supreme Court will hear arguments on April 26. Fish prices The Alaska Department of Fish and Game provides dock prices for nearly every fish species caught in the state with comparisons going back to 1984. It’s called the Commercial Operator’s Annual Report and is compiled from annual inputs by processors. Here’s a sampler from 2016 (prices for 2017 will be available this summer): The average price for cod was 28 cents per pound; lingcod averaged $1.51. Those billions of pounds of pollock fetched 13 cents per pound for fishermen. Herring averaged 12 cents. Octopus was 46 cents per pound and sea cucumbers were $4.07. Spot shrimp paid out at $8.96 per pound; coon striped shrimp at $5.73 was up more than $2. For 10 types of flounders, pesky arrowtooth was at 7 cents; rex sole was the priciest at 34 cents. For 22 types of rockfish, yellow eye, or red snapper, topped the list at $1.29 per pound; rose thorn rockfish was the lowest at 6 cents per pound. Wolf eels paid out at 84 cents per pound; Geoduck clams were at $6.59. Longnose skates brought fishermen 44 cents per pound. Halibut averaged $6.06 per pound; sablefish, $6.50. The priciest of all was red king crab at $10.18 per pound; the lowest was for sculpin at just 3 cents per pound. Another report shows how much poundage was produced by processors and first wholesale values, meaning how much the fish sold for in initial sales. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Salmon permits stagnate on lower forecasts

Spring is usually the busiest time of year for brokers in the buy/sell/trade business for Alaska salmon permits. But that’s not the case this year. Values for several salmon permits had ticked upwards after a blockbuster salmon fishery in 2017, but they have remained stagnant since last fall. “That sort of summarizes the salmon permit market. There is not a lot of excitement about any of them,” said Doug Bowen of Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer. A lackluster catch forecast for the upcoming salmon season — down 34 percent — has helped dampen enthusiasm. Even at the one big bright spot at Bristol Bay, where another big sockeye catch of more than 37 million fish is expected, the value of drift net permits has stalled in the $150,000 range. “Sometimes before the season we see the price go up and up until the fishing begins. This year it just seems like it’s a calmer market and the price actually slipped.” Bowen said. Also at play in the Bay: major buyers will no longer purchase salmon from “dry” boats starting this year. “They put the fleet on notice a few years ago that they will not take any unchilled fish,” Bowen said. “So there has been a scramble for folks to get RSW (refrigerated sea water) systems installed or get a boat with RSW. There’s no doubt people are getting out of the Bay rather than invest another $150,000 to $200,000. I think that issue has calmed the market down for drift permits.” Dock Street Brokers, Permit Master and Bowen’s company all list 10 or more Bay drift permits for sale or lease. There’s not a lot of action for Southeast drift permits, which have slipped to $85,000 to $90,000. Likewise, there is little interest for Cook Inlet drift permits, which after several dreary salmon seasons have stalled at around $45,000 for the past year. A few Prince William Sound seine permits have moved at around $170,000 this year and at Kodiak in the $30,000 range, but there’s been minimal interest in seine cards across the state. “The forecast isn’t great for seine fisheries anywhere this year and you can see that in the permit markets. There’s just not a lot of interest this year,” Bowen said. One permit bucking the trend is salmon at False Pass (Area M) on the Alaska Peninsula. Several good salmon years have piqued interest in that fishery and boosted drift net values to more than $160,000 with listings few and far between. Overall, Bowen said Alaska brokerage and boat sales businesses are chugging along despite the humdrum mood. “Boats are still selling well and permits are selling and quota is selling too. It’s just that there’s definitely some dark clouds out there. I think in general it is going to be a skinnier year for the industry,” he said. Fishing watch April has brought a mixed bag so far for several Alaska fisheries, starting with a huge slump in the herring haul at Sitka Sound. The fishery closed on April 3 after two late March openers when the bulk of the herring size and roe quality was just not up to snuff. The total harvest of 2,800 tons was down by nearly 75 percent from the projected 11,128-ton catch. Meanwhile, 68 herring boats were operating near Craig in a herring roe-on-kelp fishery. Kodiak’s herring fishery opens on April 15 with a harvest set at just under 1,200 tons. Southeast’s May/June Chinook season for a fleet of over 700 trollers will open only in a few select areas and be limited to just 95,000 fish this season. The winter Tanner crab fishery at Southeast produced a catch of 1.2 million pounds, topping the 10-year average. Fishermen got a nice payday at $3.07 per pound, making the fishery worth $3.7 million at the docks. A 70,000-pound golden king crab fishery, which ran concurrently, paid out at $10.10 per pound to fishermen. A quick shrimp fishery opens at Prince William Sound from April to April 30. A fleet of 72 vessels has signed up to compete for the 67,000-pound quota. At Norton Sound, a red king crab harvest is ongoing with a catch of about 15,000 pounds so far out of a 50,000-pound winter catch quota. Halibut catches are still coming in slowly with about 750,000 pounds delivered by 150 landings; for sablefish the catch was at 900,000 pounds by 82 landings. Cod, pollock, flounders and other whitefish are still crossing the docks across Alaska and most of those fisheries will continue throughout the year. And before you know it, salmon season will officially be underway with the first returns of sockeyes and kings to Copper River in mid-May. A catch of 1.7 million reds and 19,000 kings is expected at the Copper River this year. Genders differ Feedback on gender equality in the seafood industry yielded insights on how women’s roles are perceived by women and men around the world. More than 700 survey responses were gathered starting last fall by the international non-profit Women in the Seafood Industry, of which 30 percent were from men and over 200 came from North America. “The questions centered around what is the position of women in your company, for example, and what is your opinion of the situation of women in this industry. Are there areas where things could be improved, or where there is no need for improvement,” said Marie Catherine Monfort, WSI president and co-founder based in Paris. The survey results showed differing perceptions depending on gender. “The majority of men didn’t feel that there is gender inequality in this industry, while the majority of women said there is gender inequality,” Montfort said. A main problem expressed by women in most regions was a range of discriminations; but that view also was not shared by men. “A good number of men think the problem is the lack of women in the industry,” Montfort said with a laugh. “Which is good, because we want to promote more women to enter into the industry. We need them on board as well.” The differing perceptions on what women experience, Montfort added, is one of the study’s most important findings. The top industry need expressed by women as well as some men was improving the work/life balance. “We know that in some countries this is better organized than in others, but the work/family balance is a really important point.” Results of the gender survey are being compiled into a report that will be widely distributed. Meanwhile, WSI has launched a worldwide short video contest (open to both genders) to highlight the lives of women in any segment of the seafood industry. “It may be aboard fishing vessels or at aquaculture sites, in offices or teaching or studying at school. This is a way to show that women are major stakeholders in this industry.” Montfort said. Winners will receive cash prizes and their videos will be showcased at industry events around the world. Deadline to enter is Aug. 31. Questions? Contact [email protected] Fish buzz Gov. Bill Walker and candidates Mike Chenault and Mike Dunleavy will participate in a gubernatorial debate on Saturday, June 9 at the Bristol Bay Borough School at Naknek. Other candidates have been invited. The two-hour event, which will be broadcast statewide, is part of the 2nd annual Bristol Bay Fish Expo and has a theme of “Sustainability in Rural Alaska.” All proceeds from the Expo will again benefit the Little Angels Childcare Academy in Naknek. Visit www.bristolbayfishexpo.com Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Latest fish habitat bill goes too far, or not far enough

A new version of legislation to revamp Alaska’s salmon habitat permitting system is aimed at increasing public involvement and the ability of regulators to impose penalties for noncompliance. The bill’s author, Kodiak Republican Rep. Louise Stutes, said the second iteration of House Bill 199 is the result of months of talks with stakeholders and what she believes to be an effective balance of fish protections while still allowing responsible development projects to go forward. “I believe this draft is more in line with the request by the Board of Fish. It is a much-needed improvement to Title 16 that focuses on public notice, public comment and the ability for the public to affect the process, criteria for the proper protection of fish and providing the Department of Fish and Game with more enforcement tools,” Stutes said during a hearing of the House Fisheries Committee, which she chairs. She added that she’s confident the provisions in the new HB 199 will be workable for development industries and good news for fish advocates. The Alaska Board of Fisheries, which regulates the gamut of fishing activities in the state, wrote a letter to legislative leaders in January 2017 urging them to update the state’s anadromous fish habitat permitting law, known as Title 16, to include more opportunities for public involvement and enforceable standards to the current law that many feel is outdated and too vague. 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,” leaving the definition of what is acceptable up to interpretation. The original version of the bill released about a year ago would have set stringent requirements in law on construction in and around salmon habitat. Specifically, it required habitat degradation mitigation measures to be applied to the water impacted, eliminating the possibility of using habitat improvements to nearby waters as a reasonable offset to expected damages. According to Fish and Game Habitat Division officials, such off-site mitigation is one of the last options for a project proponent when damage to habitat cannot be avoided, but it is a fairly common practice for very large projects, such as mines, that cannot be moved or effectively scaled to avoid impacting salmon habitat. The old bill also would have presumed that all waters connected to the ocean are anadromous fish habitat and put the onus to prove otherwise on project proponents. The original HB 199 largely mirrored the Stand for Salmon ballot initiative, which has drawn the opposition of oil and gas, mining, logging and construction trade groups as well as most Alaska Native corporations for being a de-facto prohibition on new development in Alaska, they contend. Gov. Bill Walker also opposes the Stand for Salmon initiative, saying it is too restrictive and major policy changes should be thoroughly vetted through the legislative process rather than being subject to a simple up or down referendum vote with no opportunity for adjustments. The Stand for Salmon initiative was certified with 41,999 supporting signatures by the Division of Elections to appear on the 2018 ballot March 15, but it still faces a Supreme Court decision on its constitutionality. The state Supreme Court will hear the Stand for Salmon case April 26. The state is appealing a Superior Court ruling from last fall that overturned the decision of Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott that the initiative is unconstitutional. The initiative sponsors have said they too would prefer to make changes to Title 16 via the Legislature, but they continue to push the ballot measure to assure action is taken if the Legislature fails to pass the bill. Passing some version of HB 199 would likely render Stand for Salmon moot, as legislative law changes deemed similar to the intent of a voter initiative would preempt the initiative. However, given the late timing of the new bill in a Legislature wholly preoccupied with resolving the state’s ongoing multibillion-dollar budget deficits, it appears HB 199 will be challenged to move through several more House and Senate committees to be passed in the waning days of the current session. House Majority coalition leaders have said they expect the salmon habitat discussion to be a long process. The bill would have to start from scratch in the new Legislature next year, but that would not be a major change from its current status given HB 199 is still in House Fisheries, its first committee of referral. Stutes pulled those major mitigation and anadromous fish habitat presumption policy changes from HB 199, but the bill would still establish minor and major tiers for habitat permits, a primary provision of the first version. The Fish and Game commissioner would have the ability to issue blanket minor permits for common activities such as crossing streams with an ATV. General permits for such activities would be renewed every five years. Major permits would require publication of both a draft and final version of salmon habitat impact assessments. Public notice and comment periods would be required for the issuance of a minor permit and when draft and final assessments are published. There are currently no public notice requirements for anadromous fish habitat permits, which proponents contend is insufficient given salmon are a valuable and public resource. HB 199 would also require project proponents post bonds sufficient to restore habitat if permit conditions are not adhered to. The other major change from current law in HB 199 is a provision giving designated Fish and Game officials authority to issue on-the-spot citations or tickets for disturbing salmon habitat without a permit or not complying with an issued habitat permit. Currently, all salmon habitat violations are Class A misdemeanor offenses that require a court appearance and Alaska State Troopers act as Fish and Game’s enforcement arm. Habitat Division Coordinator and fisheries biologist Ron Benkert, who has testified extensively to House Fisheries on the issue, said in March interview with the Journal that the current enforcement system is good in theory, but it requires substantial time from often overworked prosecutors and busy judges must be willing to hear the cases. The process lends itself to very few salmon habitat violations being prosecuted, according to Benkert. Rep. Mark Neuman, R-Big Lake, suggested giving Department of Natural Resource officials similar enforcement authority for the many land use and resource activity-related permits DNR issues. Rounds of public testimony April 7 and April 9 on HB 199 elicited far more support than opposition, though numerous testifiers’ comments seemed to relate to the original version of the bill. Alaska Support Industry Alliance CEO Rebecca Logan said HB 199 does not achieve the stated goals of protecting salmon habitat while correspondingly allowing for development. “At a time when we have the highest unemployment in the nation and have lost thousands of the best jobs we have in the state — to insert uncertainty into the permitting process leads to delay and delay leads to no jobs and for those reasons and many more the Alliance is opposed to HB 199,” Logan said. Americans for Prosperity Alaska Director Jeremy Price called it “a regulatory nightmare,” in his testimony. “It only adds to the cost of a project.” Stand for Salmon Director Ryan Schryver thanked Stutes for her work on Title 16, but said the new HB 199 doesn’t go far enough to guard anadromous habitat, as did several other testifiers. “While we don’t support the bill in its current version, we will continue to work with legislative leaders to update the law and fix the fundamental problems with salmon habitat protections in our state,” Schryver said in a formal statement April 7. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Salmon harvests, halibut prices take sharp turn down

Alaska is expecting a reduced salmon harvest this year, setting up a trifecta of falling fish revenues for Alaska fishermen, coastal communities and state coffers. Coming on the heels of an 80 percent crash of cod stocks in the Gulf of Alaska and a 10 percent decline in halibut catches, state fishery managers are projecting a 2018 salmon harvest at 149 million fish, down 34 percent from last season. The shortfall stems from lower forecasts for returning pink salmon. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is forecasting a humpie harvest of just 70 million fish, down by more than half from last summer. For sockeye salmon, a statewide catch of about 52 million is down 1.8 million fish from 2017, which was the fifth-largest red salmon harvest since 1970. By far, most of the sockeyes will come from Bristol Bay’s nine river systems where a projected harvest of 37.5 million would be down by more than a million, but still well above the 10- and 20-year averages for the Bay. Alaska’s chum salmon catch last year of 25 million also was the largest haul since 1970. This year’s statewide catch is expected to produce 21 million chums, down by nearly four million. The 2018 coho catch is pegged at 5.8 million, nearly 600,000 more silvers than last season. For chinook salmon, the forecast calls for a catch of 99,000 kings in areas outside of Southeast Alaska, where the numbers are determined by treaty with Canada. Declining stocks have forced fishery managers to impose tough restrictions on chinook catches for all users. Alaska’s salmon season officially gets underway in mid-May when sockeye and king salmon return to the Copper River near Cordova. That’s followed by commercial openers across the state from Ketchikan to as far north as Kotzebue. Alaska’s 2017 harvest of 224 million salmon was valued at nearly $680 million at the docks. Find a summary of the 2017 season and outlooks for 2018 at the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game website. Halibut tanks As feared, prices for halibut sank like a stone as the season’s first fresh fish crossed the Alaska docks last week. The fishery opened on March 24 and traditionally, the first landings fetch high prices and then drop as the market settles out. That’s not the case this year. Prices started at $4.50 to $5 per pound at major ports, or roughly $2 lower than fishermen have received in recent years. At Kodiak, for example, one major buyer paid $4.50 per pound for first deliveries and the price dropped to $4.25 the next day. Seward starting prices were reported at $4.50, $4.75 or $5 based on fish weights. Yakutat was paying the highest price at $5.25 across the board. “The market is really lackluster and buying is on spot,” said one Kodiak processor, meaning purchases and payments are made immediately rather than on longer-term contracts. The push back to escalating Pacific halibut prices began last October when payouts to fishermen tumbled for the first time in four years. Buyer resistance was bad enough to force some Alaska processors to turn away deliveries, or buy only from their long-term boats. One wholesale buyer commented: “Who in their right mind is going to pay $30 or more for a pound of fish?” Adding to the market snub momentum: reports of up to 10 million of pounds of fresh, less pricey Atlantic halibut coming into the U.S. from eastern Canada. The close proximity of that fresh fish to the eastern seaboard has cut into Alaska’s share of those customers, and the Canadian fish already is making inroads heading west. In 2005 Atlantic halibut accounted for just 4 percent of the total North American halibut harvest, said economist Andy Wink of Wink Research. Since then, Pacific halibut harvests have declined by 63 percent while Atlantic harvests have increased 195 percent and imports to the U.S. have nearly tripled. Another headwind for Alaska fishermen as the halibut season gets underway: hefty holdovers of halibut reportedly remain in freezers from last season. A fleet of about 2,000 Alaskans fish commercially for halibut each year from Southeast to the Bering Sea. The average price paid to fishermen in 2017 was $6.32 per pound with a fishery value of $112 million at the docks. The Alaska halibut catch limit for 2018 is 17.5 million pounds; the fishery runs through Nov. 7. Fish bucks for all The lower fish catches and/or prices should concern all Alaskans, even if they live far from the coast. Fishery landing taxes, which are based on dock prices, are split evenly between the port where the fish is delivered and the state’s general fund, to be distributed at the whim of the Legislature. With Alaska’s commercial catches on the order of 5 to 6 billion pounds per year, adding just one penny per pound makes a difference of nearly one million dollars in landing taxes for the state and local governments each. “While the tax implications are important,” Wink said, “the greater issue is that lower prices and lower quotas mean less income coming into coastal economies this year.” Fish map Are you considering your options for diversifying more fisheries? A new interactive map from Alaska Sea Grant lets you search 183 commercial fisheries across the state. “You can sort it by region, by species, and by gear type,” said Sunny Rice, a Sea Grant agent at Petersburg. “As you put in these limiting factors and hit Go, the icons will pop up representing those fisheries.” Fisheries also can be sorted by limited entry, quota shares, open access and other categories. The fishing map came about, Rice said, from frequent comments at the Young Fishermen’s Summits. “People would say ‘I didn’t realize there was this kind of fishery in that part of the state,’ or ‘I didn’t even know that there were other people fishing Dungeness crab in other regions.’ Or, ‘what are my options for moving into additional fisheries when I don’t even know what fisheries are out there,’” Rice explained. The map is an ongoing collaboration with Sea Grant agents across the state and United Fishermen of Alaska, and is aimed primarily at new fishing entrants or those who want to grow their operations. “Maybe you already are fishing a certain species and you didn’t realize there was a possibility of fishing that at another place. Or you already have the gear to do one fishery and maybe you could use that gear somewhere else. You can sort it in those ways,” she added. The map, which is part of Sea Grant’s popular Fish Biz tool kit, also provides links to money matters, such as permit costs and fishery earnings from the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission. “If you’re really considering getting into a fishery, you can look back into the quartile tables and find out what people in that fishery have earned in the past,” Rice said. The map is a good start, she added, but the best go-to place for answers is local fishery managers. “If fishermen are serious about considering a new fishery, call the manager for that area,” Rice advises. “Those guys are very available and can answer all your questions.” Feedback on the fishing map is encouraged. Contact Rice at [email protected] Fish call The Alaska Board of Fisheries is calling for proposals for suggested changes in the subsistence, personal use, sport, guided sport, and commercial fishing regulations for Bristol Bay, Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim, Alaska Peninsula, Aleutian Islands, Chignik, and statewide finfish general provisions. Deadline to submit proposals is April 10. Proposal forms are available at the Boards Support website and may be mailed to Juneau or submitted online or via email at [email protected] Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Halibut faces headwinds as catches drop 10%

Pacific halibut catches for 2018 won’t decline as severely as initially feared, but the fishery faces headwinds from several directions. Federal fishery managers announced just a few days before the March 24 start of the halibut opener that commercial catches for Alaska will be down 10 percent for a total of 17.5 million pounds. The industry was on tenterhooks awaiting the catch information, which typically is announced by the International Pacific Halibut Commission in late January. However, representatives from the U.S. and Canada could not agree on how to apportion the halibut catches in fishing regions that stretch from the west coast and British Columbia to the Bering Sea. “The Canadians felt there was justification in the survey and commercial fishery data that, in concert with a long-held position that the IPHC’s apportionment scheme was not accurate, supported a higher catch limit. They were also opposed to the slow pace the U.S. has taken in reducing its bycatch of halibut in the Bering Sea,” said Peggy Parker of Seafoodnews.com. The impasse put the decision in the laps of federal managers at NOAA Fisheries in Washington, D.C., who were pushed to the wire to get the halibut catch limits and regulations on the rule books in time for the fishery start. Adding to the halibut drama are reports of hefty holdovers of fish in freezers, and competition again from Atlantic halibut from eastern Canada. Prices for Alaska halibut are typically very high for the season’s first deliveries and then decrease after a few weeks. Last year they started out topping $7 per pound to fishermen at major ports. Prices remained in the $5 to $6 range for the duration of the eight-month fishery, prompting a push back from buyers who complained of “price fatigue” and switched their sourcing to less expensive Atlantic fish. When the first fish crossed after March 24, prices at $4.50 to $5 per pound at major ports are $2 or so lower than fishermen have been accustomed to receiving over the past few years. Kodiak, for example, was paying $4.50 on March 27, and likely to drop a bit. Seward prices were reported at $4.50 to $5. Yakutat was paying the highest at $5.25 across the board.Here is a breakdown of Alaska commercial halibut catches in pounds by region: Area 2C/Southeast: 3.57 million, down 15.2 percent Area 3A/Central Gulf: 7.35 million, down 5 percent Area 3B/Western Gulf: 2.62 million, down 16.6 percent Area 4B/Aleutian Islands: 1.05 million, down 7.9 percent Area 4CDE/Bering Sea: 1.58 million, down 7.1 percent Trump tariffs Seafood is Alaska’s largest export by far, usually totaling over $3 billion annually and China has is the top destination of those exports at nearly 30 percent. It’s too soon to tell how Trump’s nearly $60 billion in tariffs with China will affect Alaska’s seafood sales, but it will likely result in some backlash. Tariffs are taxes on imports that make them more expensive to consumers. “In general, access to international markets is a huge deal for Alaska and anything that restricts trade is generally a negative for the seafood industry,” said Garrett Evridge, a seafood analyst for the McDowell Group. “Often when the U.S goes down this road, other countries will reciprocate with the same industry. If China reciprocates with tariffs, that will raise the cost of all seafood products in those markets.” Evridge pointed to Trump’s refusal to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would have been the world’s largest trade agreement with 11 countries covering 40 percent of the global economy. Alaska seafood was set to net a big benefit from the TPP with lowered or zeroed out tariffs on seafood. Currently, the tariffs across the partnership countries range from 3.5 to 11 percent. For Alaska pollock roe and surimi, for example, 4.2 percent tariffs going into Japan would have immediately gone to zero, said Ron Rogness of American Seafoods Company. Tariffs on Alaska sockeye salmon – now at 3.5% - also would have been zeroed out. For other salmon species, the import tax would have been gradually reduced and eventually eliminated. The tariffs on king and snow crab, herring roe and frozen cod also would have ended immediately upon TPP passage. In another trade imbalance, the U.S. continues to import millions of dollars in seafood from Russia, even though that country placed a continuing embargo on purchasing seafood and other goods from the U.S. in 2013. Russian purchases of Alaska seafood totaled at least 20 million pounds of mostly pink salmon roe and pollock surimi annually, valued at $60 million, according to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. Through June of 2017, the U.S imported 36 million pounds of seafood from Russia valued at nearly $267 million. According to NOAA Fisheries trade data, so far this year imports to the U.S. from Russia total nearly 4.2 million pounds valued at more than $23.5 million. That includes 185,000 pounds of frozen sockeye salmon valued at nearly $700,000; over 375,000 pounds of red king crab valued at more than $6.6 million and nearly 1.3 million pounds of snow crab worth $4.3 million. Interestingly, the data show the U.S. imported 142,000 pounds of “Alaska” pollock fillets, valued at over $87,000. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: ASMI launches new marketing for old crabs

“It’s what’s on the inside that counts” is the message Alaska crab marketers are pushing to their customers, encouraging them to put appearances aside. “We’re telling them to ‘Get Ugly,’” said Tyson Fick, executive director of the trade group, Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, speaking of the new campaign launched last week in partnership with the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute at the big Seafood Expo in Boston. The promotion showcases Alaska crabs with darker, discolored or scarred shells or adorned with barnacles, that may be less appealing to shoppers. “It’s the initial step in the campaign to raise awareness among retailers, restaurants and consumers,” said ASMI communications director Jeremy Woodrow. We’re saying ‘go ahead, tell your customers to get ugly.’ After all, it’s what’s on the inside that counts.” “Ugly crab is safe and delicious to eat, it just isn’t as pretty,” a flyer distributed at Boston says, explaining that shell appearance varies based on crab maturity and timing of the molt. It says that shell variations demonstrate “the authentic nature of seafood caught in the wild,” and that “purchasing ugly crab is a way to support our planet’s wild resources.” The Get Ugly team is modeling Alaska crab after similar image enhancement efforts underway by farmers. “We’re taking a page out of the book of what some fruits and vegetable have done; that a blemish doesn’t affect the taste of the thing, and with crab, the meat fill might even be better,” Fick said, adding that avoiding food waste and improving sustainability are also part of the message. Creating more customers for less visually appealing crab also would improve fishermen’s bottom line, as the product drags down prices. “It is graded at the processor and may be graded further at the repacker. There may be several grades for off-color shells depending on the species, quantity and other factors. It varies from year to year,” said Jake Jacobsen, director of the Inter-Cooperative Exchange that negotiates prices for most Bering Sea crabbers. The ugly crab can comprise up to 30 percent of a catch at certain times of year, which has been the case during this year’s snow crab fishery, said Fick. “We are in a cycle, especially with snow crab, where there is a higher percentage of old shell crab. We are trying to create consumer demand to help with that situation,” he said. By all accounts, the Get Ugly campaign got lots of good feedback in Boston. Fick believes it offers potential for other Alaska seafood. “Fish with net marks or a little bit of blush to the skin color on a salmon; seafood products that have visual imperfections but are still fantastic quality otherwise,” he said. “It truly is what’s on the inside that counts.” Hatchery hauls The number of salmon returning to Alaska hatcheries last year nearly doubled over the 2016 return, but the proportion of the catch that hatchery fish contributed to the state’s total salmon catch declined. Hatchery fish made up 21 percent of Alaska’s commercial salmon catch in 2017, the lowest level since 1995. The hatchery take usually adds up to one-third of Alaska’s salmon catch or more. “The average return of hatchery fish was simply dwarfed by a near record high wild stock harvest,” said Mark Stopha, author of the annual salmon enhancement report for the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game in Juneau. Fishermen last year caught just less than 50 million salmon that began their lives in one of Alaska’s 25 privately operated hatcheries. The fish were valued at more than $160 million at the docks, 24 percent of Alaska’s total salmon fishery value. Currently, 29 salmon hatcheries are operating in Alaska — 25 are operated by private nonprofit corporations, which are funded primarily from the sale of a portion of salmon returns. Two sport fish hatcheries are operated by the state, one research hatchery by NOAA Fisheries, and one production hatchery by the Metlakatla Indian Community. Pink and chum salmon by far make up most of Alaska’s hatchery production. The fish are released as fingerlings to the sea and are offspring of brood stocks originally derived from wild salmon stocks near each hatchery. Most hatchery production occurs at Prince William Sound, where the 28 million hatchery-produced fish caught last year were valued at $70 million, nearly 60 percent of the region’s total salmon fishery. Southeast is next with hatchery catches of about 8 million, mostly chums. The fish accounted for nearly 40 percent of Southeast’s total salmon fishery value of $53 million. Kodiak’s two hatcheries contributed $3 million, or 6 percent, to the island’s salmon catch last year, mostly from sockeyes. About 150,000 hatchery salmon, mostly sockeyes, were caught last year at Cook Inlet, valued at over a half million dollars. The Department of Fish and Game also coordinates educational programs with state and private hatcheries at 150 Alaska schools where kids hatch and grow salmon in their classrooms. Hatchery operators forecast a return of about 54 million fish to Alaska this year. Fishing tracker I know that my son has been fishing on the west side of Kodiak Island. How? A new, free interactive map lets anyone zero in on near real-time views of fishing patterns of individual boats and fishing fleets anywhere in the world. Researchers at the University of California’s Bren School of Environmental Science &Management created a Global Fishing Watch map using satellite images and common ship-tracking technology, marking the first time that fishing’s global footprint has been quantified. After observing more than 40 million hours of fishing activity in 2016, they discovered that five countries account for more than 85 percent of high seas fishing: China, Spain, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea. Fishing activity now covers at least 55 percent of the world’s oceans, or four times the land area covered by agriculture. The trackers found that 70,000 vessels of the global fishing fleet traveled nearly 286 million miles in 2016, or equivalent to traveling to the moon and back 600 times. The team used machine learning technology to analyze 22 billion messages publicly broadcasted from vessels’ Automatic Identification Systems over four years. Based solely on movement patterns, the Global Fishing Watch algorithm was able to identify each commercial fishing vessel, their sizes and engine powers, what type of fishing they were doing, and when and where they fished down to the hour and mile. By making the Global Fishing Watch public, governments, managers and researchers now have information to make better decisions in regulating fishing activities and reaching conservation and sustainability goals. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Halibut fishery poised to open as NMFS works on 2018 catch limits

Alaska’s halibut fishery is set to open this month, but the final quota was still not completely set as of March 14, even as fishermen began to receive permits in the mail. Indications, however, are that the quota will decrease this year compared to last. Under regulations published by the National Marine Fisheries Service this month, the fishery will open March 24 and run through Nov. 7. But the total catch limits remain unknown. That’s because this year, for just the second time in the commission’s history that dates to its creation by a 1923 treaty, the International Pacific Halibut Commission could not come to an agreement about the 2018 catch limits at its annual meeting. That leaves it up to regulatory bodies in each country to determine the limits instead. Halibut Coalition Executive Director Tom Gemmell said he expects the quota to decrease by about 15 percent overall compared to 2017, when Alaskan fishermen had their total statewide quota set at about 22.62 million pounds. In 2017, and for a few years prior, the quota had increased slightly after nearly a decade of annual cuts totaling more than 70 percent from mid-2000 highs. The halibut commission is the six-member body (three each from the U.S. and Canada) charged with regulating the halibut fishery from Northern California to the Bering Sea under the international Pacific halibut treaty, including setting the catch limit each year. The IPHC meets each January and decides on the coastwide halibut catch limits, based on input from staff scientists. But this past January, at its annual meeting in Portland, the commission was not able to come to an agreement on the 2018 limits. Gemmell said the lack of agreement was not entirely surprising. “Last year, the commission was not unanimous about the quota,” he explained, which sort of foreshadowed future disagreements. Until new catch limits are published, the 2017 limits remain in effect. But the IPHC did agree unanimously that those limits were too liberal, and that the resource needs more protection, said Kurt Iverson of the NMFS Alaska Region Sustainable Fisheries Division. “The U.S. and Canada unanimously agreed that catch limits should be lower in 2018,” Iverson said. The two countries couldn’t, however, agree on how much lower to set the coastwide limit, or how to split it up between regions. Gemmell said there have been a few sticking points in the two countries negotiations over the past few years. One is that the Canadians have advocated for more quota for British Columbia fishermen than the stock assessment model appears to support. The other is the level of cuts for Area 3A, which encompasses much of the Central Gulf of Alaska. Canadians have favored larger cuts there than Americans, Gemmell said. Without new IPHC limits for 2018, the 2017 limits remain in place. But under the terms of the halibut treaty, NMFS has the authority to set its own regulations as long as they are not in conflict with those set by the commission, an option NMFS is exercising this year to meet the commission’s recommendation of a reduction. “Carrying the 2017 catch limits forward would not serve conservation purposes,” Iverson said, although those limits will remain in place until 2018 limits are published. This month, the federal agency published season dates and some other regulatory changes for the coming fishing season. The interim final rule with new 2018 catch limits was expected to be published soon, Gemmell said in mid-March. “The season opens March 24. There’s a really high probability that the rule is going to be out before then,” he said. Iverson agreed. “It is right now in the process. It is under review,” he said. “… We’re targeting before that first opening.” Typically, once the IPHC makes its recommendations on the annual catch limits, NMFS is able to publish those through a “pretty fast track” process, Gemmell said. Without that fast-track, the regulatory process is much more difficult. But NMFS appeared to be working to quickly get the fishery going despite the challenging winter, Gemmell said. “People are getting their permits in the mail starting today,” Gemmell said on March 13. “…It’s all kind of falling into place now.” In setting the 2018 limits, NMFS had some help from the commission staff, which provided an update on the halibut stock status as part of its meeting this fall, and also from the American commissioners specifically, who made a recommendation for some specific 2018 catch limits that were lower than the 2017 limits. The American commissioners suggested a catch limit of about 4.5 million pounds in Area 2C, which encompasses Southeast Alaska, and a limit of 9.5 million pounds in Area 3A. Those are both reductions from 2017, and include the combined charter-commercial catch. This likely won’t be the only year of cuts. In addition to its commissioners, which are appointed by each nation, the IPHC has staff scientists responsible for assessing the status of the halibut stock and determining what it will likely be in the future. This past year, the assessments showed a weaker stock. Both the halibut survey out in the ocean, and the review of fishermen’s catch per unit effort, appeared to show that decline. “There’s a couple year classes that aren’t showing up as strong as we’d like ‘em to be. So its probable that the quota is going to go down again (in 2019),” Gemmell said. The commission also regulates other components of the halibut fishery, including the season dates. Those were set as usual, and the commission also approved some other minor regulatory changes. They did not approve the catch share allocations or charter halibut management measures as usual, Iverson noted. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council recommends the charter management measures to keep the charter fleet within its allocation, and the IPHC typically adopts those as recommended. That did not happen this year. The IPHC is expected to meet in April to discuss its differences and how it might go forward in the future. Just who will represent the United States going forward is still unknown, however. Currently, the U.S. commissioners are NMFS Regional Administrator Jim Balsiger of Juneau, Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association Executive Director Linda Behnken of Sitka and Washington’s Bob Alverson, from the Fishing Vessel Owners Association. Behnken’s and Alverson’s terms expire this month. But have said they would like to continue serving on the commission, but NMFS also solicited other possible appointees in February. According to the call for nominees, would-be commissioners are vetted by the Department of Commerce and Department of State and forwarded to the Office of the President for consideration for presidential appointments. Molly Dischner can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Discarded nets find new use; still waiting on halibut quotas

More big bundles of old fishing nets will soon be on their way from Dutch Harbor to Denmark to be remade into high-end plastics. It will be the second batch of nets to leave Dutch for a higher cause and more Alaska fishing towns can get on board. Last summer a community collaborative put nearly 240,000 pounds, or about 40 nets, into shipping vans that were bound for a Danish “clean tech” company called Plastix. The company refines and pelletizes all types of plastics and resells them to makers of water bottles, cell phone cases and other items. “It seems so unreasonable and not logical to just throw it away when we know that if handling plastics right — if sorting and homogenizing it — you can actually reuse it over and over again,” said Plastix CEO Axel Kristensen. The collaboration with Dutch Harbor is the company’s first venture into the U.S., he told radio station KUCB. It was a news story about fishing nets being turned into footwear by Adidas that spawned the Dutch Harbor/Denmark connection, said Nicole Baker, founder of netyourproblem.com and leader of the net removal project in Dutch last summer. As a former fishery observer for five years, Baker had seen massive piles of derelict nets at far flung Alaska ports and the story inspired her to find a solution. “A light bulb went off in my head. I thought if this group is looking for more fishing nets to turn into shoes, I certainly know where they can get some,” Baker said. It turned out that Adidas can only use nylon nets it its footwear and fishing gear that targets cod, pollock and flounders is made of different plastics. With guidance and financial help from the Global Ghost Gear Initiative Baker connected with a taker and charted a course for Dutch Harbor. “I went to different boats and knocked on the door and said ‘hey, we’re doing net recycling, do you have any nets to get rid of, and if you do, would you go with me to the net yard and show me which ones they are,’” Baker said. From there, others in the fishing industry kicked in. “Swan Nets bundled them and delivered them to OSI (Offshore Systems, Inc.) where they were stored. They were loaded into containers and Trident and Plastix arranged the shipping,” Baker said. “They did not even require sorting. We basically bundled up the nets and put them in shipping containers and off they went.” Baker believes that fishermen have so few options for net disposal, they are becoming more receptive to recycling. “The reason that the nets are sitting around is because it costs too much money and preparation to take them to the landfill, or they literally do not have another option,” Baker said, adding that nets can weigh from 5,000 to 20,000 pounds each. At Dutch Harbor net storage costs were listed at over $1,000 per cubic yard. There have been many ambitious and successful marine debris and removal projects in Alaska over the past decade or more, but they come and go. Meanwhile, the old fishing nets continue to pile up. Baker hopes to expand the Plastix project to St. Paul Island this summer, and hopefully, to Kodiak and other fishing towns. “Each fishing port will have its own logistics plan but the general role will be the same,” Baker said. “You need somebody to truck the nets around, load them, ship them. Basically, I see my role as connecting fishermen with the recyclers. “This is a long-term vision,” she added, “but I would like to set up a program that when you buy a new net you know exactly what to do with the old one.” The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation is now offering grants on fishing gear removal programs. Deadline to apply is April 19. Contact Nicole Baker at [email protected] Fish watch Hundreds more boats will be out on the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska fishing grounds this month when halibut and herring fisheries get added to the mix. They will join a segmented patchwork of fishing fleets that have been targeting pollock, cod and other whitefish since the start of the year. The Bering Sea snow crab fishery that got underway in mid-January is winding down, while at the same time, the first Tanner crab fishery in decades is just starting at Prince William Sound. The year’s first red king crab fishery kicked off at Norton Sound on March 3. The winter king salmon season in Southeast closes to trollers earlier this year on March 15 to help conserve the dwindling stock. That fishery usually stays open through April. Alaska’s first herring fishery will begin in mid- to late March at Sitka Sound. The projected catch is 11,128 tons, down from 14,649 tons last year. The Pacific halibut fishery is scheduled to open on March 24 but there’s no word yet on how much fish might be caught. Because U.S. and Canadian halibut commissioners could not agree in January on how to divide the stocks between the two countries, the catch limits and fishing regulations are being set instead at each nation’s capital. “The Canadians refused to agree to the U.S. recommendations because they don’t agree with the way the coastline stock is apportioned among the management areas. They haven’t agreed with the process for a number of years,” explained fishery adviser Heather McCarty. “The U.S. commissioners refused to vote for the one management area off Canada because they believed it was too high from a conservation standpoint.” The interim rule from NOAA Fisheries will hopefully be out this week with the new quotas and halibut charter management measures. “It will be close to sending out permits for the March 24 opening,” said Tom Gemmell, director of the Juneau-based Halibut Coalition. The 2018 Pacific halibut catches are expected to decline in all regions. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

As habitat initiative debate swirls, ADFG outlines current best practices

The Alaska Supreme Court will still have its say, but there’s a good chance voters will be asked whether or not the state should overhaul its permitting regime for construction projects impacting salmon habitat. It’s the latest battle in the ongoing debate over how far the state should go to protect its prized fish resources while at the same time promoting development of the state’s renowned petroleum and mineral resources. The sponsors of the Stand for Salmon ballot initiative — Alaskans with commercial, sport and subsistence fishing interests — contend Title 16, the state statute for permitting projects in fish and wildlife habitat that has not been updated since statehood, needs serious strengthening to continue protecting anadromous fish as the state continues to grow. They argue the ambiguous wording of the law, which directs the commissioner of Fish and Game to approve projects that provide for the “proper protection of fish and game,” is too open for interpretation by political appointees who could be swayed to overlook stringent construction requirements for potentially profitable developments. Opponents of the initiative — led by trade groups for the state’s oil and gas and mining industries and Alaska Native corporations with huge land holdings that are also heavily involved in those industries — point to Alaska’s generally prosperous salmon runs as proof the significant changes to Title 16 the initiative would institute are unnecessary and would debilitate an economy dependent on resource development. They have formed their own campaign group, Stand for Alaska. The Supreme Court will hear arguments in April over whether the initiative is unconstitutional after conflicting opinions have been handed down from the Alaska Department of Law and Superior Court. The sponsors, who collected enough signatures to place it on this November’s general election ballot, retort that to date Alaska has for the most part been “lucky” that large developments have occurred outside of major salmon fisheries so the inadequacies in Title 16 haven’t been exposed. Gov. Bill Walker is among the opponents of the Stand for Salmon initiative. He insists such fundamental law changes should be left to the legislative process so the statute can be crafted with input from all impacted parties. The initiative would apply to all waters that support anadromous fish — those species that migrate freely between fresh and salt water — that, in addition to salmon, include everything from steelhead to smelt and lampreys. However, salmon are king in Alaska and therefore dominate the discussion. It should be noted that the Stand for Salmon sponsors did not stir this political hornets’ nest on their own. In January 2017 the Board of Fisheries wrote a letter to legislative leaders requesting revisions to Title 16. The seven-member board is comprised of individuals first appointed by pro-development Govs. Frank Murkowski, Sean Parnell and Walker. “Additional guidance is warranted for the protection of fish, to set clear expectations for permit applicants and to reduce uncertainty in predevelopment planning costs,” the letter states. “To strengthen ADF&G’s implementation and enforcement of the permitting program, the legislature may want to consider creating enforceable standards in statute to protect fish habitat, and to guide and create a more certain permitting system.” Kodiak Rep. Louise Stutes, who chairs the House Fisheries Committee, is currently working on a new draft to House Bill 199, which she submitted last year and originally mirrored the initiative. She decided to rework HB 199 after hearing testimony from supporters, detractors and regulatory agencies involved in development projects. What’s in it? Specifically, the eight-page initiative would start by setting up a two-tiered permitting regime for projects in salmon habitat. “Minor” habitat permit applications could be issued quickly and generally for projects deemed to have an insignificant impact on salmon waters. “Major” permits for larger projects such as mines, dams and anything determined to potentially have a significant impact on salmon-bearing waters would require the project sponsor to prove the project would not damage salmon habitat. Supporters assert upwards of three-quarters of the habitat development permit applications Fish and Game currently adjudicates would fall in the minor category and what exactly constitutes unacceptable or “significant adverse affects” on anadromous fish habitat would still be up to the Legislature and Fish and Game commissioners to determine. 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. Among other changes, it would also limit mitigation of habitat impacts by major projects to the impacted watershed, thereby eliminating offsite compensatory mitigation to other anadromous waters, and require sufficient fish passage be maintained throughout the life of the project. Finally, it would provide for public comment periods on major project permits, a provision the Board of Fisheries advocated for in its letter that is not part of the current permitting process. What’s the standard now? So, other than lacking public participation, which initiative opponents note is usually available through other permits developments need, what does the current anadromous waters permitting process consist of? That’s the question Ron Benkert with the Department of Fish and Game attempted to answer for the Journal during an hour-long interview. A fisheries biologist by trade, Benkert has been with the Habitat Division for 10 years after many years of salmonid experience through various research positions in the Pacific Northwest and California. In discussing what it takes to design, dig and develop in salmon habitat in Alaska, Benkert likes to start with what goes into the seemingly simple task of installing culverts in small salmon streams, which he refers to as one of the “bread and butter” projects the department oversees. “It’s one of the things we do an awful lot of because we have assessed a lot of the culverts in the state and obviously DOT and the boroughs and other entities have all got a lot of bad culverts out there,” he said. “We all recognize the problem out there and I think DOT and the boroughs are really stringently trying to correct those as funding becomes available.” The problem often lies in what work originally went into culverts set in road and rail beds decades ago — but under the same Title 16 — before rigorous design standards were applied that allow for fish passage. If not in the original installation, the issue is likely because of erosion or a changing stream channel that has made a once-suitable culvert impassable. ADFG has a catalog of “bad pipes,” as Benkert calls them, which officials reference each time there is roadwork scheduled, he said. “Every time DOT conducts some kind of maintenance or road construction DOT has been very responsive, as well as the boroughs, at recognizing that (a culvert) needs to be fixed as part of the project,” Benkert said. Installing a fish-friendly pipe is more than burying a culvert big enough for a few chinook salmon to squeeze through. In 2001, the departments of Transportation and Fish and Game signed a memorandum of agreement, or MOA, detailing how the former will ensure the culverts it puts in its roads are compatible with the species in a given stream. The 33-page document delves into the particulars of how to design a culvert to simulate stream water flow conditions as well as the sustained and burst swimming performance at varying water temperatures of 15 fish species common to Alaska. ADFG has enforcement authority over DOT projects despite the two being equal state agencies. Benkert said he considers the agreement to be a prime example of how Fish and Game works with project proponents to achieve specific but important characteristics of a project under the broad “proper protection” mandate. And while a culvert replacement isn’t the kind of project that garners headlines, the cumulative effects of restoring the ability of fish to move through small, seemingly insignificant braids of water can’t be overstated, according to Benkert. “Connectivity is huge,” he stressed. “You reconnect fish to habitats they haven’t been able to access; especially up in the headwater areas that are big rearing areas (for juvenile salmon). You’re just really expanding fish habitat or at least reestablishing fish habitat that was available to them before urbanization occurred.” At the same time, habitat regulators must be pragmatic and evaluate the practicability of improving fish passage. Benkert said in some instances — for example when the upstream portion viable fish habitat is particularly small, as can be the case where roads parallel mountainsides — the department won’t apply the MOA standards if the added costs are into the millions of dollars to restore access to a couple hundred feet or less of stream. “We like to put our money where it’s going to get the best bang for the buck,” he added. Large projects On larger projects things can get increasingly more complex. That’s where the department’s habitat impact mitigation sequence of avoid, minimize, rectify and reduce or, as a last line of defense, compensatory mitigation comes into play. It’s also why project plans rarely look the same after applying for an anadromous fish habitat permit. “That’s our first line of defense, if you will, as far as negotiating with an applicant. How can we change the project footprint or how you’re operating so that you’re not even having an issue with an anadromous water body,” Benkert said. In Feb. 15 testimony before the House Fisheries Committee, he said the department rarely denies a habitat application because proponents usually withdraw them first if it becomes clear that the project won’t be able to meet the department’s thresholds. “We have mid-sized placer miners that want to relocate anadromous streams all the time and I’ve still to this day not had one come in with a plan that’s good enough for us to permit,” Benkert said. “They usually withdraw their application because of that high bar.” Such small business miners simply don’t have the financial wherewithal or the “quiver of biologists and bioengineers” needed to succeed in that type of work, he added. However, on the largest projects such as major mines, dams or oil developments, significant restoration or mitigation can become viable. Real world examples Habitat Division Operations Manager Alvin Ott wrote in a Sept. 27 Superior Court affidavit for Stand for Salmon’s appeal of Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott’s rejection of the initiative that Donlin Gold — in the upper Kuskokwim River drainage — is proposing to destroy two anadromous streams, American and Anaconda creeks, to build the tailings dam and impoundment for its proposed gold mine. In exchange, the company would offset the loss of that habitat by restoring coho salmon rearing habitat damaged by historic placer mining activity in the nearby Crooked Creek watershed, according to Ott. He wrote further that he believes such offsite compensatory mitigation would not be permitted under the initiative language. Benkert acknowledged that constructing or restoring anadromous fish habitat is a tremendous undertaking that’s as much an “art form” as it is science. “It doesn’t matter how good the design looks, if you’ve got an operator that’s saying ‘that’s good enough;’ it’s a very precise thing. You’re talking (bank) elevations within tenths of an inch; making sure everything’s just right so when a big storm hits it doesn’t just unravel,” Benkert said. “It’s a very rigorous process if we’re going to try to replace some kind of anadromous habitat with something that’s artificially created that’s supposed to be able to maintain itself into perpetuity.” As a result, Fish and Game rarely agrees to a 1-1 tradeoff during mitigation negotiations; project proponents are expected to replace more than is damaged, according to Benkert. However, he was enthusiastic to discuss the artificial wetlands complex built similarly from what was placer mine waste below the tailings dam to the Fort Knox gold mine near Fairbanks. It’s not an anadromous system, Benkert conceded, but the department has been monitoring it for nearly 15 years and has many positives to report. “It went from a place that was fairly low density population of fish and wildlife because it was just trashed landscape,” he said. “Now we have huge numbers of grayling and burbot in that system; all kinds of wildlife that’s associated with that habitat.” He noted there are ospreys nesting in the area because there are enough fish — ospreys’ almost exclusive prey — in the system to support them. Whether a simple culvert replacement or a total rebuild to a former salmon stream, Fish and Game relies on best practices learned in Alaska or elsewhere and a lot of professional judgment to determine what activities will be permitted and what mitigation will be deemed sufficient, he said. It’s for that reason that the department has no regulations to accompany the Title 16 statute; the best way to do things is in constant evolution. Benkert said Fish and Game codifies in its own way what is “proper protection” through the information department officials rely on to make decisions. “There’s not a list of things in regulation that says you have to do this, this, this and this but we’ve got all kinds of guidance documents, technical reports, working guidelines and then we go to the literature, too,” he explained. “We always look to see what’s happening in the Pacific Northwest because there’s a lot of new technology out there and it keeps changing.” The 2001 agreement with DOT, for example, specifies culverts should be 0.9 bank full widths of the stream channel in diameter. Benkert described the rule as “old school now,” noting the latest recommendations out of Washington and Oregon call for culverts equal to 1.2 bank widths plus two feet, which DOT has agreed to abide by. Beyond advancing technical standards for development projects, the Habitat Division has expanded the areas it classifies as anadromous waters in the state’s catalog to wetlands in recent years as well. Wetlands, now understood to often be critical juvenile salmon habitat, can be afforded the same protections as well-known rivers under the Anadromous Fish Act if Fish and Game confirms a wetlands area to be anadromous fish habitat. The entire Colville River delta on the North Slope, which includes ConocoPhillips’ Alpine oil field and the large Nanushuk oil project that is in permitting, is officially anadromous territory, according to the state. Though the Department of Fish and Game has considerable leeway in how far it can go to demand fish protections, Benkert noted the state is obligated to accept all factors and utilize, develop and conserve “all natural resources belonging to the state, including land and waters, for the maximum benefit of its people.” “The wrinkle we always have to remember here is our constitutional mandate. It doesn’t say you’re just going to protect fish; you need to protect fish but consider the economic welfare and development of the state, too. Our mandate here is specific. We are supposed to figure out how to allow development in the stat with minimal or avoiding impacts to the fish. That’s something we need to consider all the time,” he continued. “We can’t just say no because the fish may have the potential of being impacted by it; that’s why we have this whole process. That’s the tricky part. The fish come first at the end of the day but we try really hard to get the project to the point where it can be environmentally acceptable.” It all comes back to differing views as to what’s acceptable. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

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