Fisheries

Kauffman resigns from IPHC after fishing violation leads to $49K fine

Jeff Kauffman resigned as the Alaska resident member of the International Pacific Halibut Commission on June 22, shortly after he and two fellow fishermen agreed to a $49,000 fine for harvesting more than 10,000 pounds of halibut over their combined quota limit in June 2012. The settlement the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of Law Enforcement was nearly $13,000 less than the original Notice of Violation and Assessment of $61,781 issued on March 1 of this year. Kauffman, who is the vice president of the Central Bering Sea Fisherman’s Association, or CBSFA, and a member of the Advisory Panel to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, did not respond to a request for comment. Linda Behnken, executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, will replace him as interim commissioner, NOAA Fisheries announced June 22. "During his short tenure as commissioner, Mr. Kauffman has well served the U.S. interests on the IPHC, and we thank him for his service," said Jim Balsiger in the announcement from NOAA Fisheries. Balsiger is the NOAA Fisheries Alaska Region Administrator and is married to Heather McCarty, who works as a lobbyist for Central Bering Sea Fisherman’s Association. Balsiger is also the federal member of the IPHC that manages North Pacific halibut harvests between the U.S. and Canada. Each nation has three seats on the commission. Neither Kauffman or McCarty were present at the June meeting of the North Pacific council in Kodiak. McCarty also represents the City and Borough of Kodiak on fisheries matters. CBSFA is the Community Development Quota group, or CDQ group, for the island of St. Paul. CDQ groups — six organizations representing 65 Alaska villages within 50 miles of the Bering Sea coast — receive 10.7 percent of the total Bering Sea groundfish quota annually. CBSFA owns 100 percent of the F/V Saint Peter, which Kauffman was aboard on or around June 5, 2012, with Mike Baldwin, CBSFA’s board director, and Wade Henley. The violation occurred in 2012, but the NOAA Office of General Counsel did not file charges until March 1, 2016, following an investigative report from the NOAA Office of Law Enforcement. It was not immediately clear why the violation nearly four years ago was just now coming to light. “On or about June 5, 2012,” the charging document reads, “Wade Henley, the operator of the F/V Saint Peter, and Jeff Kauffman and Mike Baldwin, members of the crew and Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) permit holders, acting for themselves and on behalf of Saint Peter, LLC, owner of said vessel, did retain halibut in Regulatory Area 4A in an amount that exceeded the total amount of unharvested IFQ currently held by all IFQ permit holders aboard the vessel for the regulatory area in which the vessel was deploying fixed gear, to wit: they retained about 24,600 lbs. of Halibut in Area 4A and held only about 14,085 lbs. of Area 4A IFQ.” The original charge specified a penalty of $61,781 for the violation, but the group settled out of court for $49,000. IPHC appointment Kauffman’s was named an interim commissioner to the IPHC in December 2015, replacing Don Lane of Homer. Under a bilateral treaty, the IPHC sets the quota for both U.S. and Canadian halibut fishermen. Bob Alverson of Seattle is the non-Alaska resident member of the U.S. delegation. In a letter to the nominees in December 2015, Balsiger clarified that official presidential appointments are hard to predict. "The presidential appointments will be pursued for both of you,” Balsiger said, “but that timeline is difficult to anticipate in the present politics of Washington D.C.” The present politics were evidently unfavorable to a speedy appointment. The president had not confirmed Kauffman’s interim appointment as of his resignation from the position. Kauffman’s commissionership coincided with an increase in all but one regulatory area’s quota limits at the commission’s 2016 meeting in January. In total, the commission set the overall halibut harvest for the 2016 season at 29.89 million pounds, a 2.3 percent increase from 2015. This is also an increase from the catch limits recommended at the commission’s 2015 meeting, called the “blue line” limits. The 2016 limits exceeded the blue line by more than 3 million pounds. Each area either received an increase in quota or an equal amount to the 2015 season, except Area 3A, the Central Gulf of Alaska. Each area’s 2016 harvest exceeded the blue line harvest limit. Officials including the Secretary of Commerce had asked the commission to set quota at a bare minimum of 1.285 million pounds for the Central Bering Sea regulatory area adjacent to the island of St. Paul, which it did in 2015. The quota rose again in 2016.  CBSFA and the 2015 Halibut Wars Halibut monopolized the North Pacific council’s entire year in 2015, with CBSFA driving much of the discussion. Harvestable halibut stocks dropped sharply in the last decade, thought numbers have improved recently. In 2004, the coastwide Pacific halibut catch limit was 76.5 million pounds. By 2014, that had been cut 64 percent to 27.5 million pounds. Simply put, the halibut pie is smaller than before, and the directed fishery only gets a small piece. In 2014, over two-thirds of halibut removals were bycatch, not directed removals. Central Bering Sea fishermen made the case that their situation was the most dire, as employment options on the island are extremely limited to fishing. The trawl industry fishing Bering Sea groundfish has had a relatively stable bycatch limit for 20 years. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council governs bycatch while the International Pacific Halibut Commission governs the directed fishery quota. The two bodies haven’t coordinated the halibut biomass decline to work on the same system. The six Alaska member of the North Pacific council asked the Department of Commerce to make an emergency 33 percent cut to the Bering Sea bycatch quota. The Department of Commerce then asked the IPHC to parcel more than recommended to the Central Bering Sea fishermen. The commission agreed and set the Central Bering Sea harvest limit at 1.285 million pounds of halibut. CBSFA specified this amount as the minimum needed to survive. At its June 2015 meeting, the North Pacific council took a further step and slashed the Bering Sea and Aleutians Islands trawl fleet’s bycatch limits by 25 percent, which was too much for trawlers and too little for CBSFA. Following the vote, CBSFA scoffed at the council’s motion and board chairman Myron Melovidov said, “We got screwed.” DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Seattle pushes Herring Week; Alaska salmon prices improve

There’s much more to Alaska herring than roe and bait. To prove that point, nearly 40 of Seattle’s finest restaurants and retailers will celebrate Northwest Herring Week as a way to re-introduce the tasty, healthy fish to the dining scene. “There’s more herring eaten all over the world than you can imagine. Some years there’s as much as four million tons harvested in the world. You can have a year when the herring fishery is as large as the whole Bering Sea pollock fishery,” said Bruce Schactler of Kodiak, a longtime fisherman and director of the Food Aid Program for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. He is helping to coordinate the weeklong event as part of ASMI’s Alaska Herring Development Project. Featured in the fine dining showcase will be 5,000 pounds of herring fillets from this year’s Togiak fishery, donated by North Pacific Seafoods at Naknek. Herring long ago disappeared from American menus, although the fish has a mild flavor, similar to trout, and is loaded with healthy omega-3s. Herring week will showcase recipes ranging from smoked, pickled, pates and fancy fillet entrees. Schactler said he was “shocked” when he first tried the dishes at the first Herring Week last year, which only included eight restaurants. “I didn’t know what to expect. You walk into one of these restaurants and they set these beautiful dishes in front of you and by the time you’re done eating, you’re saying I’ll have another,” he said with a laugh. Each year in Alaska more than 40,000 tons of herring are harvested from Southeast to Norton Sound. Nearly all of it is valued for the roe-bearing females, with most of the male fish getting ground up and discarded. Smaller amounts of Alaska herring are used as bait. “Having one of our major processors come up with a customer to supply herring in any other way than bait or roe — I think it’s maybe the first time ever herring has been filleted for food for a commercial market in the state of Alaska. I think it’s a big step forward,” Schactler said. A McDowell Group study several years ago showed that Norwegian fishermen fetch over $1.40 per pound for herring. That compares to Alaska prices last year that averaged 18 cents per pound for bait fish and just 6 cents for roe herring. The study said if just Togiak and Kodiak expanded beyond those two products, the combined value of the two fisheries would be $15 million. The Togiak fishery this year, which yielded about 26,000 tons, was valued at $1.5 million. “The market now is in Europe and when you’ve got several million tons being harvested year round right on the doorstep of that primary market, it’s pretty hard for us to ship it half way around the world and compete,” Schactler said. Things could be changing. Deckhand Seafoods took top honors in Food Service for its canned smoked herring at this year’s Alaska Symphony of Seafood, and Ocean Beauty Seafoods has produced canned herring for hunger relief programs, said Tom Sunderland, vice-president of marketing and communications. Meanwhile, Schactler is hopeful that by next year, Northwest Herring Week might put out a call for even more Alaska herring as the program expands along the Pacific Coast. “I can at least help set the table with this development program to where the opportunity is there if any of the Alaska businesses want to take advantage of it,” he said. Northwest Herring Week runs from June 20 – 26. Salmon upswing As predicted, global market conditions are far more favorable and Alaska salmon prices are on an upswing. Unlike most years, many salmon fishermen will actually know how much they will get paid even before they set out their nets. At Kodiak, a base price of 95 cents a pound for sockeyes is posted around town, with a nickel more for refrigerated fish. That compares to an average of 65 cents last year. Icicle Seafoods, newly acquired by Canada’s Cooke Aquaculture, has posted a base of $1.15 for sockeyes at its remote Larsen Bay plant on the west side of Kodiak Island. At Bristol Bay, Copper River Seafoods has already posted a base price of 75 cents per pound at its two Bay plants for “excellent” sockeyes, with an extra 15 cents for chilled fish, 10 cents more if the fish is bled, and an additional 25 cents more for reds shipped out fresh. That compares to an average of 63 cents per pound in the Bay in 2015. Plant manager Vojtech Novak told KDLG in Dillingham that the owner of Copper River Seafoods “was a fisherman and always dreamed of knowing the price before going fishing.” He said the company plans to post salmon price information at both plants every Sunday. No word yet from other Bristol Bay processors. Elsewhere, the price for Copper River reds dropped to $2.75 per pound depending on various incentives, down from a whopping $6.50 for fish from the first opener in mid-May. Find more market news from dock to dinner plate in the Sockeye Market Analysis compiled by the McDowell Group for the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association. It includes markets for other species as well. Skate study Skates make up a huge biomass throughout the North Pacific. In Alaska, there have been targeted skate fisheries in the past, but they are mostly taken as bycatch and discarded. The various skate species can live up to 50 years and they have life history characteristics that make them very vulnerable to fishing pressure. A new study aims to find out how many of them die when they are caught and released. “Currently, management assumes 100 percent mortality, whether the skates are retained or discarded. We have anecdotal evidence that’s an exaggeration and it’s likely less,” said Daniel Michrowski, a researcher assistant at the School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks. Michrowski aims to get better numbers on how many skates die after being caught on longlines, which account for about 70 percent of skate bycatch in the Bering Sea. About 60 million pounds of skates are allowed to be taken incidentally in those waters. “We’ve seen skates coming up with their mouths mangled but they obviously have healed, and you see scar tissue and regrowth in certain areas. So just as halibut can survive with possibly losing part of their jaws, we imagine skates can as well,” he explained. Michrowski said he learned aboard Bering Sea longliners that handling by the crew is one of the biggest factors. Now he plans to compare rough and careful handling outcomes, and monitor injury recoveries with skates taken in the eastern Gulf. He has compiled data on injuries caused by skates being gaffed, ripped off the lines or from automatic hook removers called crucifiers. “Now we are looking to get some skates that are handled more carefully, as you would with halibut,” Michrowski explained. “We want to get both of those groups of skates into the lab to monitor their injury recovery. We are going to take video recordings of their eating attempts to see if there is any impairment — if it takes them longer to feed, if they’re eating less, or if there is a time delay between after they are injured till when they start feeding again. “We hope to get a better picture of how those injuries correspond with mortality, and then we can get a rate based on the injury severity as a general mortality rate.” A commercial longliner is needed to capture live skates in Southeast Alaska waters in short stints throughout the summer. They’ll be transported to NOAA’s Auke Bay lab in Juneau and monitored for three months. Michrowski said fishery managers will incorporate the results of the skate mortality study into future stock assessments so that future estimates of catch and retention can be more accurate. The skate study is funded by the Pollock Conservation Cooperative. Questions? Contact Michrowski at [email protected] or 907-796-5461. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Council adds guidance to Gulf alternatives

KODIAK — Many words created few changes to the Gulf of Alaska bycatch reduction package the North Pacific Fishery Management Council is pondering. At its June meeting in Kodiak, the council held another session dedicated to the plan, which would enact one of several options aimed at reducing the amount of halibut and chinook salmon bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska groundfish fishery. Groundfish includes pollock and non-pelagic species such as Pacific cod, Arrowtooth flounder and rockfish. Council member and Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten also added an “overarching goals and objectives” section to the plan, intended as guidance along with the existing purpose and needs statement. The council moved three alternatives into a public scoping process but before making adjustments to alternatives, the overarching goals and objectives debate spurred a two-hour word battle among members that the chair found unproductive. “Yes, words do matter,” said Dan Hull, a Cordova halibut fisherman and council chairman. “We have wrestled with some specific language. While words matter, we’re spending an awful lot of time on goals and objective, but…the trawl fleet is looking for some meaningful progress on the structure of the program. I’m concerned we get wrapped around the axle so much that we forget about the other elements of this package.” Cotten and the Alaska council members want more in the management plans than just raw economics. The new language adds a cultural ingredient to the mix. Not only should the plan reduce bycatch, as the purpose and needs statement says, but should also “promote increased utilization of both target and secondary species while minimizing economic barriers for new participants and limiting harvest privileges.” The council lingo is meant to protect new entrant fishermen from consolidation and overwhelming entry costs to purchase fishing quota. Opposing council members from Washington and Oregon felt the new language added too much new focus and detracted from a clear goal to reduce bycatch by the best means available. Only council members Bill Tweit of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Roy Hyder of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife voted against the language addition. Supporters argued that the plan needs to avoid some of the negative results of catch share plans with crab and halibut that caused job losses, fleet consolidation and a high entry cost driven by exorbitant quota prices. Eighty-five percent of North Pacific federal fisheries have some kind of catch share system. “Management efficiency can’t be our main driver,” Cotten said. The newly revised options will now head back to council staff for a preliminary analysis of the alternatives’ impacts. The National Marine Fisheries Service will publish a public scoping document in the Federal Register on the new alternatives and objectives and goals statement. The council will take action as needed on the issue at its Anchorage meeting Dec. 6-14. Kodiak’s future For Kodiak, a town a built on fish, catch shares are seen as either savior or slayer. The Gulf of Alaska, with Kodiak as its hub, has some of the most diversified fisheries in the state. Groundfish trawlers, halibut longliners, and skiff-sized salmon seiners share Kodiak’s St. Paul and St. Herman harbors. Alaska and the U.S. government issued 1,179 commercial fishing permits to Kodiak in 2014, with 845 Kodiak resident crew licenses. Most of Kodiak’s seafood landings value — $41 million in 2014 — comes from groundfish, according to Juneau economics firm McDowell Group, which contracted with the city and borough of Kodiak in 2015 for a study on the community’s fisheries dependence. The island has 10 active processors, five of which are among the city’s 10 largest employers with more than 1,300 Kodiak resident employees. Together the 10 make more than two-thirds of their revenue from federal fisheries. Of this, 58 percent of the total dockside value comes from federal groundfish. Kodiak has already seen its fisheries participation shrink. In Kodiak, cost of entry into fisheries has risen, and local participation has fallen. Between 2000 and 2010, Kodiak’s locally held Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission permits dropped from 1,646 to 1,279; halibut quota holders from 304 to 224; active crew licenses from 1,263 to 884; and locally owned vessels from 719 to 452. Much ado about trawling The trawl industry has hammered Cotten, the leader of the six-member Alaska delegation on the council, over his proposed Alternative 3, which they believe wasn’t thoroughly vetted before he introduced it in October 2015. In their eyes, the council is playing with untested social experiments while bycatch limit cuts reduce their groundfish harvest. “We are operating on the edge of disaster in this fishery,” Bob Krueger told the council. Krueger is executive director of the Alaska Whitefish Trawlers Association, a Kodiak-based industry group of groundfish trawlers. Krueger and Julie Bonney, Kodiak resident and executive director of the processor and trawler group Alaska Groundfish Data Bank, have opposed Cotten’s Alternative 3 because it does not have individual fishing quota; it only assigns bycatch quota. They and others organized fishing stand-downs, letter-writing campaigns to Gov. Bill Walker’s administration, and during the Kodiak meeting a parade and festival celebrating the trawl industry. The trawlers are supporting Alternative 2, which would allocate quota for both the directed species and for bycatch. Processing workers and trawl crew marched through downtown Kodiak sporting signs reading, “Gov. Walker, don’t take our jobs” and “Don’t destroy what you don’t understand.” Red baseball caps with the words “Make Trawling Great Again” were de rigueur for attendees — even for Duncan Fields, one the most outspoken of the council’s Alternative 3 supporters and critics of catch share programs. Amid a dockside crowd of hundreds munching free pollock burgers, Fields took his cap off for a charity pie-throwing contest. Heather Mann, executive director of Midwater Trawlers Cooperative, and Joe Bundrant, CEO of Trident, paid a combined $2,500 for the privilege. NMFS Alaska Region Assistant Administrator and alternate council member Glenn Merrill and Trident legal counsel Joe Plescha donated as well, collectively raising $7,000 for Kodiak’s Brother Francis Shelter.   The festival’s levity somewhat broke a longstanding hostile aura present since the council’s Portland meeting in February, when fuming trawler crew had a shouting contest directed at Cotten following one session.  Cotten appeared to extend an olive branch to Krueger during session, acknowledging the trawl industry’s backlash and asking to work together for an option all stakeholders can live with. “We do need your help,” said Cotten. “We’re trying to find some way to accommodate our concerns and yours. I’d like to make that offer to you again.” The raised voices were absent, but the issue remains contentious and raised a crowd. The council blocked days for the one agenda item and still needed overtime to keep schedule. Breaking roughly in half for and against catch shares, more than 70 people signed up for public testimony, from 20-year-old deckhands in Kodiak Brewing Company hoodies to well-scrubbed CEOs. Some testified as groups, including a Filipino family of processor workers brought in by Bonney who asked the council in broken English not to harm the trawl industry that keeps them working. “There are fewer and fewer economic opportunities for young people entering the workforce and more and more fish barons who now 100 percent control resources that were once public,” said Robert Carter, a 32-year Kodiak resident who jigs and longlines for cod from his F/V Faith, in speaking against issuing catch shares. “They own them now and forever. They own rights to fish that aren’t even born yet. They get rich while the rest of us work twice as hard for half as much.” Others supported catch shares as a proven method for bycatch management and regional economic stability. “The GOA (Gulf of Alaska) is surrounded by catch share plans, based on history in the fishery, that have been overwhelming successful in accomplishing their original goals,” said Tom Evich, owner and operator trawler/seiner based in Sand Point. “The cornerstone of all those plans was to stabilize the economic health of the fishing boats and the processing sector.” Alternative 3 seeks community protections, but the trawl and processing industries said they already protect the community. In each of the alternatives, vessel cooperatives would be connected to processor, ensuring that the shoreside plants keep money flowing into coastal towns. Alternative 2 has options to prohibit any processor from receiving or processing more than 10 percent, 20 percent or 30 percent of the total target quota. Alternative 3, in contrast, would only establish regional vessel cooperatives that could deliver to multiple processors. Representatives from the processing sector said Alternative 3 should incorporate some kind of processor linkage. Regardless of proposed caps, Trident now controls 50 percent of the total groundfish volume in Kodiak after buying Western Alaska Fisheries’ assets from Japan’s Maruha Nichiro in 2014. In the Alternative 2 language, any company that currently processors more than the 10 percent to 30 percent range would be grandfathered into the new program. Fields asked Trident CEO Bundrant why the council shouldn’t be concerned a single company might cement a 50 percent market share. Bundrant, who paid $1,250 to squash a chocolate cream pie into Fields’ face night before, said the council shouldn’t be concerned that processor consolidation could hurt Kodiak’s community or the fishing industry. “I believe we’ve been a leader in looking out for this industry,” said Bundrant. “Think of the contributions and investments we’ve made. We wouldn’t be at 50 percent if we weren’t doing this right, if we weren’t taking care of our employees.” The alternatives The alternatives aim to fix a bycatch issue in the Gulf of Alaska. Bycatch happens when groundfish fishermen pulling up Pacific cod, pollock, and flatfish haul in non-target species. In the Gulf groundfish fisheries, chinook salmon and halibut are the main species taken as bycatch, also known as prohibited species catch, or PSC. Conservation concerns led the council to lower the halibut bycatch limits by 15 percent in 2012; the council created chinook salmon bycatch caps for the pollock and non-pollock trawl fleets in 2011 and 2013, respectively. Hitting limits ends fishing, which happened to the non-pollock fleet in the Western Gulf last year, leading to an emergency council action to allocate some salmon bycatch from the pollock fishery to the non-pollock fishery to allow fishing to continue. Groundfish fishermen from the trawl sector argue in favor of quota systems, which they say will slow the “race for fish” that makes it difficult to reduce bycatch. Alternative 2 resembles a traditional catch share program. Alternative 3 would only create quota for bycatch, not for the target species. The alternatives would handle the quota differently, however. In traditional catch share programs and Alternative 2, quota would attach to the fishing license itself. The newly amended Alternative 3 will give the bycatch quota to cooperatives instead, theoretically stopping a few persons or vessels from holding several licenses with masses of quota. The alternatives have some similarities. Both alternatives would require all trawl vessels in the fishery to carry an observer contracted by the NMFS or to have electronic monitoring capability 100 percent of the time. Current observer coverage rates for Gulf vessels are less than 20 percent. Both would change the four season dates for pollock and cod, and shift more of the quota to the earlier seasons to avoid the halibut caught later in the year. Both alternatives could reduce the chinook salmon bycatch limit for the GOA pollock fishery by 25 percent, relative to its current cap of 25,000 and proportionate to the Western and Central Gulf areas where it is subdivided. Both alternatives would also lower halibut bycatch caps for the GOA non-rockfish trawl fishery, relative to the current 1,515-metric ton limit. The council could lower the cap by as much as 25 percent or as little as 10 percent. Both would encourage vessels to be members of a cooperative with each cooperative linked to an onshore processor. Both would divide the Gulf PSC limits between catcher processors, which process and catcher vessels. Catcher vessels in the Central Gulf take the most halibut bycatch, 68 percent of the total bycatch between 2003-15. Because the onshore sector takes this much, a bycatch cap reduction would mean catcher processors would have to improve performance if it wants to keep catching as much groundfish. “It is expected that the CP sector would need to improve its PSC usage rates in order to harvest GOA groundfish at historical levels under all the proposed options,” reads the paper. Council staff recommended tight rules from the onset to prevent over-consolidation of the fleet. The Gulf rockfish program — the only catch share program including trawlers in the region — has a vessel use cap of 4 percent that ensures at least 25 vessels will participate in the fishery. “It is likely better to begin the program with rules that more aggressively prevent consolidation, and loosen the rules as appropriate,” staff wrote in the discussion paper of the alternatives. “Tightening consolidation rules after the fact would be less effective, in part because consolidation will already have occurred.” Some of the new changes to Alternative 2 strengthen protections against consolidation. Vessels could be forbidden from transferring more than 5 percent to 40 percent of their overall quota, and be prohibited from making any transfers for two years after the program begins. A third alternative would create either one Gulfwide or two regional Community Fisheries Associations, or CFAs, to hold five percent to 15 percent of the available quota to dole out to qualify license and vessel holders in the community.  The governor would appoint the associations’ board members. Kodiak, Homer, Seward, Whittier, Valdez, Cordova, and Community Quota Entities in the Western and Central Gulf would qualify for membership in the CFA. The council recognized during the meeting that the CFA structure is only compatible with the catch share program in Alternative 2. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]  

Fields’ voice never louder as he ends nine-year council run

KODIAK — Duncan Fields ended his nine years on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in signature style at his final meeting in his hometown. In talks over Gulf of Alaska bycatch measures and catch shares, he tried to set aside some proposed groundfish quota for owner-operators only. The council didn’t take up the motion. Nobody would second it for a reading. From the onset, he’s had a particular vision for how North Pacific federal fisheries should look, and he’s lost a lot of votes along the way. As time has passed, though, the State of Alaska has come closer and closer to it.  Although he’s leaving the council, he isn’t leaving the public arena and is running as an independent for the Alaska House of Representatives challenging Kodiak Rep. Louise Stutes. Fields counts his greatest successes — and failures — as somehow related to active participation in fisheries. “Duncan has a reputation not being afraid to take an unpopular position and lose a vote 10-1,” said fellow council member and Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner SamCotten. An attorney and salmon fisherman in Kodiak, Fields had already served on the council’s Advisory Panel for seven years when Gov. Sarah Palin appointed him to the council along with current Cotten in 2007, replacing Doug Hogel and Stephanie Madsen. Gov. Sean Parnell renominated him in 2010 and again in 2013, maxing out the statutory three consecutive three-years terms council members are allowed under the Magnuson-Stevens Act. Wasilla fisherman David Long also served his last day on the council after a single term. “I stepped in to the council room nine years ago ready to fight,” Fields said. “Gerry Merrigan was there ahead of me, he was equally conversant, and we were the two young kids on the block. We were ready to change the world.” Changing the world meant something specific. Fields brought two priorities to the council. “One, protecting rural Alaska fishing within the communities and providing access to marine resources,” Fields said. “The number two priority is to have people with an ownership interest that are actively engaged in fishing being able to obtain the rewards from their fishing.” Community Quota Entity programs, which give fishing quota to coastal groups rather than to persons, became a pet project of his. He and the council carved out six amendments to the program and eventually implemented the new entities. Fields similarly counts the abolition of hired skippers in the halibut fishery in his win column. In 1993, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council created an Individual Fishing Quota, or IFQ, program for halibut and sablefish in the North Pacific. The program assigned quota shares to fishermen based on their historical participation in the fishery, and allowed share transfers among fishermen. The North Pacific council passed a rule in 2013 that prohibited the use of hired masters to harvest any quota acquired after Feb. 12, 2010. A U.S. District Court has since ruled that the rule broke administrative laws, however, and a ruling on a motion to overturn it is pending. Not all attempts to ensure active participation were successful for Fields. “The second thing I was very interested in because of its impact in Kodiak was making adjustments to the Bering Sea crab program to create active participation requirements for anybody with quota shares,” he said. “While we looked at that over a long period of time, I and the council were largely unsuccessful in changing that program for any substantive good.” Along with three governors, Fields has worked on the council alongside their three different commissioners of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game – Denby Lloyd, Cora Campbell, and Cotten, appointed by Gov. Bill Walker in 2014. Commissioners are expected to lead the six Alaska voting council members and steer votes towards goals that align with the administration. Fields said his relationships with commissioners were always cordial, but some possibly more productive than others. “The ability to affect change ebbs and flows with your co-council members,” Fields said. “I’ve enjoyed good relationships throughout the three commissioners over a nine-year period of time. A couple of the commissioners I had deeper and more personal relationships with, and perhaps a greater ability to build a coalition for change.” Participation in fisheries forms the core of Gulf of Alaska bycatch management measures, Fields’ last large-scale regulation package. Different commissioners have taken different routes to address the halibut and chinook salmon bycatch issues in the Gulf of Alaska groundfish fisheries. Lloyd didn’t want to take up the issue at all. Fields said he likely didn’t relish the time and expense. Campbell introduced the idea of catch shares. Cotten took the last step to Fields’ position, recognizing that catch shares can have unwanted blowback. “I think the state’s goals about the Alaska coastal communities have largely remained the same,” said Fields. “I think there are different ideas about the tools or the means to the common end, but the end in and of itself really doesn’t change from one commissioner to another.” Cotten agreed. “Duncan’s been pretty consistent,” said Cotten. “The administration’s positions have changed. None of the administrations have ever been interested in limiting access to fisheries, but Duncan and I both felt that if you did this rationalization wrong, it would really damage some of these communities.” Mike Szymanski, a government affairs coordinator with Fisherman’s Finest and council attendee for the last 25 years, said Fields finds himself now more closely aligned with the administration’s goals, but that his voice hasn’t shifted with the times. “From the day he took office I’ve watched his ability to represent Kodiak and his sector. He’s been effective,” said Szymanski. “He’s been a voice people listen to. His description of his philosophy is that his job on the council is not only to represent those who testify, the lobbyists…but the voices of the people who did not testify. I sincerely believe Duncan will go down as the best single representative of that voice I’ve seen.” The council, he said, rarely has a member with Fields’ ability to digest information and willingness to press it on the council. Even fellow Alaskans on the council disagreed with some of his motions. Like Szymanski, Cotten said Fields’ effectiveness only improved with time. The council valued his attorney’s skill to mine documents for information, his memory, and his loquacity “I think his effectiveness has become better,” said Cotten. “He became an expert mechanic. We may disagree on some things, but he’s pushed me to be more substantive in my own arguments.” Cotten has high praise for Fields’ and Long’s replacements: Theresa Peterson, who also hails from Kodiak, and Buck Laukitis. Still, he said the council will lose a valuable asset with Fields. “I voted against what he had to say a lot of times, but I did end up admiring and respective his unabashed advocacy and his tenacity,” said Cotten. “That experience and ability to make motions and have the historical perspective to remember something that happened on Amendment 91 from six years ago. Certainly experience that he brought won’t be there anymore.” Fields now makes the fourth former council member on his street in Kodiak, neighboring Kevin O’Leary, Doug Hodel, and Stosh Anderson.   DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Report: Temper expectations for sockeye price increase

The message on prices for Alaska’s sockeye fishermen from Juneau economics firm McDowell Group this season is good, but not great. “Despite some positive developments, fishermen should have tempered expectations about sockeye market conditions heading into the 2016 season,” reads the report, commissioned by the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association. Though prices will be better than in 2015, “analyses conducted for this report and expert interviews suggest it is unlikely that prices will jump back to pre-2015 levels this year.” The report builds on an April McDowell report commissioned by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute that touched on some of the new report’s points. Bristol Bay sockeye salmon production is forecast to dip this year, which will solve some of the oversupply issues the market faced in 2015. Meanwhile, farmed Atlantic production is down due to a massive algae outbreak in Chile. The U.S. dollar has weakened against key export currencies. Processors are recovering from low revenue. Prices are already looking better than last year. According to a June 12 KDLG article, the base price at a Copper River Seafoods plant in Bristol Bay is 75 cents per pound, with bonuses available up $1.25 per pound. Processors are geared for a big season. According to an ADFG processor survey, processors intend to purchase 35.5 million fish in 2016, which is 20 percent higher than the forecast harvest of 29.5 million fish. Processors could work 2.6 million fish per day for about 17 days. The Bristol Bay sockeye fishery opened June 8, but the fish have yet to come back in viable amounts to justify heavy fishing. Last year, a total supply of Bristol Bay sockeye produced a 10-year low of 50 cents per pound in dockside pay for fishermen, later revised to 63 cents per pound. Of the five major sockeye-producing Alaska regions including Prince William Sound, Cook Inlet, Kodiak and the Alaska Peninsula, only Bristol Bay had this low a price. Two-thirds of the world’s wild sockeye came from Alaska on average between 2011-14. Bristol Bay produced 38 percent of the world’s wild sockeye supply last year, more than any other region. Another 25 percent came from other Alaska areas. Much of price decline came from a spike in supply in 2014 and 2015. From a 10-year low of 301 million pounds in 2013, harvests went up 78 million pounds in 2014, the largest production figure since the mid-1990s. In 2015, the numbers shot up even more with about 36 million sockeye harvested in Bristol Bay. “Preliminary estimates suggest sockeye harvests increased by approximately 18 million pounds in 2015, with Bristol Bay accounting for nearly half of worldwide sockeye production,” according to the report. Bristol Bay wild sockeye salmon competes with farmed Atlantic salmon in both domestic and foreign markets. Last year, farmed production from Norway, Chile, and Canada was high, further deadening sockeye prices. This year, McDowell Group expects farmed Atlantic production to drop 6 percent and Chilean coho production to be down 20 to 30 percent, both due to a toxic algae bloom in Chile. Norwegian salmon producers have also experienced a dreaded sea lice outbreak that will hurt their production numbers along with Chile. During the low price slump in 2015, retail prices remained steady. Fishermen had concerns that retailers and processors were sticking them with the overstock price slump, but the study said retail sales shared the burden. Retail prices did fall later along with ex-vessel price. The average U.S. retail prices on sockeye fillets fell 9 percent to $9.98 per pound during the 2015 sales cycle.  “U.S. retailers have passed on most of the savings from lower raw material (i.e. ex-vessel) prices, though not all,” reads the report. “Retail sockeye fillet prices fell approximately $1.03/lb. during the 2015 sales cycle (compared to the previous cycle). Meanwhile, the cost of raw material (i.e. ex-vessel cost) included in a one-pound sockeye fillet fell from approximately $2.89 to $1.52 — a difference of $1.36/lb. However, this type of retail pricing behavior is not uncommon.” Exchange rates also influenced price. Typically, when the U.S. dollar is strong against the yen and euro — currencies to key export markets — sockeye prices will lag as exports become more expensive. In 2015, sockeye prices were at their strongest relative to these currencies since 2003 at a time when prices were at their lowest anyway. Exchange rates have improved slightly since then. The dollar’s value dropped 1.7 percent against the euro from May 2015 to May 2016. For the same time period the dollar declined against the Japanese yen by 10.3 percent. The study suggests several marketing strategies to prevent the same kind of pricing issues in later seasons, including emphasis on quality, increased marketing efforts for canned salmon, and even creating a subset of Bristol Bay wild sockeye to exist on its own to help strengthen prices. “Bristol Bay sockeye are typically marketed to consumers as ‘Alaska sockeye’ or simply ‘sockeye salmon,’” the report states. “It is possible that by differentiating Bristol Bay sockeye from other sockeye/salmon varieties, value could be added to the product. “BBRSDA has already committed to testing this hypothesis by funding a branding pilot project in Boulder, Colorado.” DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

After 10-year crab review, council seeks social impact information

KODIAK — Statistics help explain economics, but fisheries managers want to find a way to put number to cultural impacts as well. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council approved a 10-year review of rationalization on June 10, the program that ended derby-style crab fisheries in 2005 and gave quota shares to vessel owners, captains and processors. The aim was to reduce overcapitalization and create a safer fishery by allowing crew to fish slower with a guaranteed quota allocation compared to the previous free-for-all. The program mandates reviews every five years. The next is scheduled for 2020. The council voted to approve the review for publication, but allowed the Scientific and Statistical Committee to pepper additional points beforehand, including an extended summary and conclusion section and more context for the social impacts that accompanied fleet profile changes. At the committee’s suggestion, the council also voted to explore creating a working group dedicated to social impact studies. The study The 10-year review charted a continuation of trends found in the five-year review. Crab stocks rebounded from their mid-1980s dive, and have been rebuilt in some cases. Half as many crew and vessels now make twice the money as before the program began. Non-captain crew members remain roughly as Alaskan now as in 2005. Vessel consolidation continued along with quota consolidation, but both somewhat stabilized in the last five years. Fewer people hold quota than before. Each individual quota holder, naturally, holds more quota now than in 2004; 53 fewer people hold Bristol Bay red king crab crew shares now than in 2005. In the two years following rationalization, the crab fleet shrank from 256 vessels in 2004 to 91 in 2006. “In subsequent years, the aggregate number of participating vessels has varied between 75 and 88 vessels, with marginal increases in some years, but continuing a general declining trend,” reads the report. “The smallest active fleet of 75 vessels occurred in 2013/14, concurrent with the lowest aggregate catch of 63.75 million pounds across all fisheries since 2009/10 season. “ Vessel revenues increased as well. Per vessel, crabbers raked in $1.22 million to $3.38 million in the last 10 years — seven times the average from 1998, 2001 and 2004, the references years the council used. Council staff said it’s nearly impossible to compare pre-rationalization employment to post-rationalization, and to link a shrinking participation directly to quota shares.  “While crew employment and remuneration were clearly substantially changed following the transition to rationalized management, to what degree those changes were caused by the implementation of IFQ, per se, as opposed to the mitigation of overcapitalization generally, and of derby conditions specifically, is likely not possible to ascertain.” There were roughly 1,300 non-captain crew positions in the three pre-rationalization reference years. By 2006, this number was halved to 640. Vessels also fish far longer seasons and catch more crab. Over the 2006-14 period, average catch per vessel was 1.047 million pounds, 123 percent higher than during the reference years. Per person, a crew member made an average $57,000 between 2006 and 2014, about twice the $28,500 from pre-rationalization. Processors followed roughly the same route, halving in the 10 years after rationalization but each taking on double the pre-rationalization workload with the accompanying revenue. Crew has stayed as Alaskan as it was when rationalization began. Of the 584 commercial crew license holders in 2014, 34 percent were Alaska residents. This number of Alaska crew has remained steady since 2006 when it was first tracked. Between 2006 and 2014, the percentage of Alaska crew has stayed within the 36-34 percent range. Crew numbers have gone as high as 631 and as low as 515. The Alaska residency of gear operators has dropped five percent from 1998. The total number of gear operators has dropped from 349 to 92. During the first five years of the program, vessels in the two highest landings quartiles — meaning volume of landings — consistently paid both captain and crew members at lower rates per pound than vessels in the two lower volume quartiles. This disparity has smoothed since 2010. “In the most recent seasons, however, this has shifted in part, with vessels in the highest and lowest quartiles paying between 10.0 and 11.9 percent of gross revenue to captains, while crew member gross percentage shares continue to be highest (3.0-3.3 percent) on the vessels with smallest volume of landings, but nearly equal levels prevail across the other three quartiles (from 1.8 to 2.2 percent).” Stocks have recovered from their early 1980s collapse, but in some cases declined since rationalization began. Total biomass of Bristol Bay red king crab fell from 698 million pounds to 76.1 million pounds in 1985, but increased to 207.01 million pounds in 2007, and subsequently declined to 156.1 million pounds in 2015. Other stocks followed a similar route. Stocks that had been previously classified in danger rebounded. Several have been a classified as “rebuilt” since rationalization. Fishing above the total allowable catch stopped entirely. “Between 2000 and 2004, the (guideline harvest limit) for Bristol Bay red king crab was exceeded in 2 out of 5 years; the GHL for Bering Sea snow crab was exceeded in 5 out of 6 years; and the GHL for Aleutian Islands golden king crab was exceeded in 2 out of 5 years. “Since the implementation of the Crab Rationalization Program, the (total allowable catch) for these target fisheries has never been exceeded.” Mixed signals The Scientific and Statistical Committee and certain council members want catch share reviews to have more cultural studies in the future, leading to concerns about time management and labor costs for the council staff. The committee gave somewhat mixed messages about whether the 10-year review is ripe for publication in the Federal Register, confusing council members who wanted a clear-cut yes or no. “The SSC finds the document to be a satisfactory broad and comprehensive review of the crab rationalization program,” wrote the SSC in its recommendation to council. “The document presents the best data available on a broad range of measures affected by crab rationalization, and is summarized in a fashion that is useful for identifying ‘red flags’ in program performance.” Later in the minutes, the SSC said the opposite. “The SSC determined that the framework and format for this document falls short of the scientific standard for analysis that is mandated for a 10-year review,” reads the briefing. “This review did not identify program impacts separate from other causes and trends, or evaluate them against the goals and objectives laid out in the Council’s problem statement.“ The SSC referred to a letter written to U.S. Congress by then-chairman Dave Benton, outlining the expected impacts of crab rationalization, in particular community protections and the economic health of crew. To get the best information about these social impacts, the SSC wants the review, and further reviews, to give a quantitative weight to social studies. These would a need to reinstate fieldwork funds for the social impact assessment in the next program review, a description of active participation by quota holders, and methods to characterize how access and upward mobility has changed. The SSC already has a meetings scheduled for June to discuss social impact studies. Council members and the executive director fear the workload could distract from the myriad management duties it has elsewhere. “If we were to attempt what they were suggesting, it would take all of our staff,” said Chris Oliver, the council’s executive director. “With the various catch share programs we have…we would be doing nothing but program reviews for the rest of this council’s eternity.” Others believed fisheries management will depend more and more on such studies, and the council should at least examine what such a workgroup’s duties and contributions might look like.  “I believe social science plan teams are something that will be incorporated on a national level,” said member Duncan Fields, who introduced the motion. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]  

State fix on groundfish tax collection still a work in progress

Editor's note: this story has been updated with exact numbers provided by Kurt Iverson. KODIAK — A fishing tax rate glitch has new data that will increase state revenue in 2016, but the fix still needs work. “I don’t think this issue’s going to go away,” said Kurt Iverson, a research analyst for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Iverson said 2015 data has raised the price for formerly undervalued fish. The state won’t make the millions it believed the fishery is worth, but the aggregate tax increase is worth more than a half-million dollars. “The state was thinking the loss was in the neighborhood of $1-$2 million, but it’s closer to something like $600,000,” said Chris Woodley, executive director of Groundfish Forum, an industry group comprised of the flatfish catcher-processors that target the species in question such as yellowfin flounder and Atka mackerel. Following the June 15 publication of this article, Iverson had more specific numbers.  "The bottom line is a $787,295 increase," wrote Iverson in an email. "Most of that ($626,960) was yellowfin sole.  Then mackerel was $166,825.  Rock sole went down by about $54,000 because the price dropped; flathead sole stayed the same; and turbot went up by about $40,000." Though the payments have risen for 2015 based on the new prices, Woodley agrees with Iverson’s outlook for a final plan to fix the rate for good. “It’s a work in progress,” he said. Woodley was one of several industry leaders with whom the state consulted to fix a tax glitch discovered in late 2015. According to state research estimates at the time, the state had lost out on $1.8 million to $2.5 million per year, or more than $10 million over the last five years. The fishery resource landing tax levies a tax on fish that are landed in Alaska communities. Half the tax goes to the state and half to the community where it was landed.  The value, however, is based on ex-vessel price, or what fishermen receive at the dock from processors. Processors turn much of the flatfish caught as bycatch into low-value fishmeal, so the only known ex-vessel price for certain flatfish species is artificially low. “The federal government faces the same issue when tries to come up with economic analysis for the (North Pacific Fishery Management) Council,” Iverson said. “So they developed a formula to back calculate from the wholesale price.” The state, Iverson said, submitted this formula to the Department of Revenue and was in the process of notifying industry when the Commercial Operator’s Annual Reports came out in April with the increase in ex-vessel flatfish value. “Those former values were based on incidental instances of these species coming in and being ground up for fishmeal,” Iverson said. “The actual transactions for 2015 were not arm’s length transactions and the final products when into headed and gutted and frozen form that reflects the majority of the market. So prices went up.” According to Commercial Operator’s Annual Reports, or COAR reports, processors paid an average of two cents per pound for yellowfin sole in 2014, and only a penny per pound in 2013. Atka mackerel must have had more shoreside action to raise its price from fishmeal, but still came in very low at 10 cents per pound in 2014 versus 2 cents per pound in 2013. In 2015, these prices rose. Yellowfin sole sold for 9 cents per pound, and Atka mackerel sold at 19 cents per pound. Last year’s ex-vessel prices reflected more dockside information, but that kind of activity is rare in the flatfish fishery to the extent seen last year.   “What if these transactions that increased the ex-vessel value don’t occur again?” said Iverson. “How do you prepare for that?” The fallback, he said, will be to use the imputation formula derived from wholesale data the federal government uses. The calculation uses the total first wholesale product value, total round weight harvest, and a value reduction system of 0.4 percent to calculate true value. The landings tax issue formed a backdrop to fisheries tax discussions in the House Finance committee. Fishermen leery of proposed industry tax hikes said the state should maximize revenue where it can. Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, who chairs the Fisheries Committee, said her committee would watch closely to see the matter is resolved. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]  

FISH FACTOR: Clean Boating program expands outreach with Discount Cards

Boaters from Homer to the Mat-Su valley can help protect salmon and other aquatic creatures and get discounts from popular businesses by doing so. A pilot program launched this spring is an offshoot of Cook Inletkeeper’s Clean Boating program that began in the Valley five years ago. “It all started with oil and gas pollution in Big Lake,” said Heather Leba, director of the group’s Clean Boating Discount program.” The Department of Environmental Conservation was doing water quality testing in 2006 and they determined that Big Lake was an “impaired water body” due to oil and gas pollution, and it exceeded levels allowed under the Clean Water Act.” “People were upset and shocked, so the community came together and developed an action plan, and within it was a stipulation for education and outreach. And that’s how Cook Inletkeeper got involved,” she added. In times of high recreational boating, large amounts of oil and gas pollution, primarily from older, carbureted two stroke engines, concentrate mainly around boat launches. “The pollution stays in the water column for a few days and can evaporate over time,” Leba explained. “But if you have constant boat traffic over holiday weekends, of if the weather is really good, that pollution persists and can then start to harm aquatic life.” Other DEC “water bodies of concern” include the Little Susitna River, due to high levels of turbidity — the influx of silt and other particulate matter which can make it difficult for salmon and other fish to breathe. Also being monitored is the Deshka River. “Everybody loves to fish king salmon on the Deshka and there are a lot of recreational and commercial guiding boats there. That river is not impaired, it’s just a river to watch, so we’ve been doing outreach to increase knowledge about oil and gas pollutions to boats in the Valley,” Leba said. To get people engaged in protecting local lakes, rivers and coastal waters, Inletkeeper has partnered with local businesses to offer incentives for becoming cleaner boaters. The outcome is the Clean Boating Discount Cards program. To participate, boaters take a free and fun online boating course through the Boat US Foundation. That’s followed by a quick survey, and then simply signing up for the discounts. “I get all that information and then mail you a packet with your card and the list of businesses, more discount coupons, and you can start using them right away,” Leba said. Fifteen businesses have signed on so far, and each has the freedom to participate in ways that work for them. Sportsman’s Warehouse, for example, gives 10 percent discounts on all fishing department items in stores statewide. Denali Brewing Company, Cabela’s, Kaladi Brothers and NAPA offer various coupons, and the list goes on. Leba said there is growing boater awareness that minimizing oil and gas pollution will result in healthier salmon and cleaner waters throughout Cook Inlet, but added one caution. “I think the hydrocarbon pollution is not going to go away,” she said, “unless two-stroke engines are either banned or become obsolete.” About 25 boaters have signed up so far for the Clean Boating Discount Cards. Learn more about the program at the Cook Inletkeeper website. A mighty wind Chinook salmon are returning to the Yukon River, and while low numbers mean no commercial fishery again this year, the king counts are becoming more encouraging. Even with 55 years of Yukon data, it’s a tough run to track because the timing is so unpredictable, said Phil Mundy, Director of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Auke Bay lab in Juneau. Mundy has been studying Alaska salmon since the 1970s, but said it was Yukon elders who taught him how to fine-tune the run timing. “They told me ‘the wind blows the fish in the river; everyone knows that, young man.’ And I wondered how that works,” he said, adding that Cook Inlet fishermen told him the same thing about sockeye salmon. “They said, ‘it’s when the wind blows and you get the biggest tide closest to July 17. Everyone knows that.’ But we couldn’t figure out exactly how the wind was doing what it did. I didn’t think the fish put up their dorsal fin like a sail to blow into the river, but there had to be something because they seemed to be right,” Mundy mused. “I used to count fish from airplanes, and I’ve seen this at Cook Inlet and at Bristol Bay where you get the river water piling up against the marine water on the river plume. Then you’ll see the salmon weaving in and out along the edge of the front between the fresh water and the salt water. They will pile up if there is no wind to mix that fresh and salt water to make it brackish. They will mass up on that front until some other trigger, which we probably don’t understand, sends them all in.” In 2006 Mundy saw a scientific article that focused on how salmon make the change from fresh to salt water and vice versa. “There’s this thing called a calcium ion switch, and it is triggered by alternating exposure to different salinities,” he explained. “Young salmon can’t swim straight into salt water because it will kill them, and it’s the same for adults in the ocean returning to their fresh water home streams. They have to have alternating exposure to different salinities.” At the Yukon, Mundy said the wind mixing the water even trumps early ice melts as the best indicator of the salmon arrivals. He added that today satellites from the Alaska Ocean Observing System make the salmon run predictions easier and more reliable. Saint Salmon As Alaska’s salmon season gets fully underway, it is fitting to acknowledge the patron saint of salmon: Saint Kentigern of Scotland. Born in 518, Kentigern was the illegitimate son of a king’s daughter. He trained as a priest at a monastery, where his pending sainthood evolved around a dangerous love-triangle. Legend has it that King Riderchof Strathclyde suspected his wife, Queen Languoreth, of having an affair, because she had given one of her favorite rings to a court favorite. When the alleged paramour was sleeping, the king took the ring and threw it far out into the River Clyde. Then he angrily demanded that his wife show him the missing ring and threatened her with death if she could not produce it. In her misery, the queen beseeched the priest Kentigern to help her. Kentigern took a fishing rod to the spot where the ring had been flung into the river. He quickly caught a salmon and cut it open. Amazingly, the ring was found in the salmon’s belly. The queen was able to deliver the ring to her doubting husband and peace was restored. From the time of his death in 603, Kentigern was regarded as Scotland’s patron saint and the cathedral at Glasgow was built in his honor. To this day, Kentigern’s figure and symbols, including a salmon, make up Glasgow’s coat of arms. So who knows? Perhaps a quick prayer to the patron saint of salmon will lead more fish to your nets. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.  

Early-run Kenai king fishing opened for first time since 2012

After years of depressed stocks and depressed fishermen, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has opened the early king salmon sport fishery for the first time since 2012. This accompanies several other early king runs throughout Southcentral and in the Arctic, correlating with warmer marine temperatures. “We’re seeing stronger numbers of early-run kings returning to the Kenai,” said Robert Begich, the area management biologist in Soldotna, in a release. “This has allowed us to ease pre-season restrictions, and provide opportunity for anglers to fish for early-run king salmon.” Sport fishing for king salmon in the Kenai River will be from its mouth up to an Alaska Department of Fish and Game regulatory marker at the outlet of Skilak Lake. Fishing will be restricted to catch-and-release from June 4 through June 30 using only one, unbaited, barbless, single-hook, artificial fly or lure. Numbers for the early run have been promising. On the Kenai River, sonar has counted 3,658 fish as of June 6 — nearly double the 2,068 fish seen at the same time last year. ADFG closed the Kenai River early king salmon run to sport fisheries on Feb. 18 due to a low forecast. Only 5,206 fish were expected, which would rank 29th of the last 31 years ADFG has been counting. The optimal escapement goal for early-run Kenai River king salmon is 5,300 to 9,000. “Things are looking very promising right now,” said Jason Pawluk, Kenai area assistant management biologist, in a May 29 interview. “The question is it a really early, below average run, or is it a big run? That’s the ultimate question right now.” Other oddities are popping up with the early run. Pawluk said the returning fish are younger than usual. ADFG uses size measurements as a proxy for age. By these measurements, Pawluk notes more two-ocean and four-ocean fish than typically return this early. On other rivers, king salmon have seen promising numbers. The Deshka River’s weir counted 7,822 king salmon by June 6, an improvement over the 4,149 and 1,903 counted by the same date in 2014 and 2013, respectively. On the Anchor River, video weirs counted 2,326 by June 6, slightly less than last year’s measure of 2,728. Kings and chums are also coming back early farther north on the Yukon River, according to Kwik’Pak Fisheries sales manager Jack Schultheis. “We’ve been catching fish here for the last two weeks,” Schultheis said. Environmental changes accompany, and may explain, the early runs. In the Gulf of Alaska, surface temperatures average one degree Celsius above the average temperature. This is a leftover effect of the Gulf’s infamous Blob in 2015, which warmed Gulf of Alaska surface temperatures two degrees Celsius and ushered in a red tide of toxic algae. On the Yukon River, ice floes have vanished already with the same early run effects as in Southcentral, as predicted by ADFG in an earlier forecast. “This is a very unusual year, for the ice to go out as soon as it did,” said Schultheis. In 2013, for example, he said ice was still present on the river on July 10. “Then we got into this pattern lately when it would go out the 27th or 28th of May,” he said. “Now it’s going back to earlier breakups. Fish come in right after the ice goes out.” At the Pilot Station sonar counter on the Yukon River, 8,408 chinook have passed, nearly four times more than the amount passed the year before by June 6. The fish could be returning earlier to beat the heat. Anecdotal evidence of warming trends adds up. “We monitor Hidden Lake when the ice goes out,” said Pawluk. “This year, we went on April 7, but it was completely open. Jean Lake was open. It went out between April 1 and April 7. Typically it goes out the first week of May.”  Pawluk said ADFG has been monitoring stream temperatures as well. On the Russian River, he said temperature readings in April read between eight and nine degrees Celsius instead of the typical five degrees. For other Southcentral rivers not so sensitive to environmental changes, runs are decidedly slower. On the Copper River, sockeye returns are only a third of what they were at the same point in the last two years, and the early king salmon run is lackluster as well. “Our king salmon harvest was low,” said Jeremy Botz, the Copper River area management biologist. “Through Tuesday (May 31), we’ve got close to 9,000 harvested. The last five years we’ve had really small runs. Typical for this time period we had twice that. We would’ve wanted 13,400 by this time.” The Copper River, however, lacks the same environmental vulnerability its sister Southcentral rivers display. Glacial runoff forms the Copper River. When waters warm, the glacier simply pours more cold water into to the river to correct the imbalance. “That’s why the Copper River runs are so consistent,” said Botz. “A lot of it has to do with that regulation.” The boost in king salmon performance is not consigned only to Upper Cook Inlet, though Southeast kings have yet to come back in force. Further south, Kodiak’s chinook runs are performing better than the last two years. The Karluk River counted 315 by June 6, up from the 100-odd kings counted by the same time in 2015 and 2014. On the Ayakulik River, 597 kings have returned as of June 6, three times more than each of the preceding three years. Southeast Rivers have different timing than Southcentral’s. According to ADFG Division of Sportfish director Tom Brookover, chinook in Southeast rivers like the Taku and Stikine rivers are returning more slowly than their northern brethren. Unlike the Kenai River, Southeast Alaska managers have restricted king fishing on the Taku River, citing below average catches. “These regulations are in place because Taku River king salmon production is low at this time,” reads an ADFG report. “More liberal regional bag limits, set under the Southeast Alaska King Salmon Management Plan are not appropriate in areas where local king salmon stocks are in a period of low productivity.” DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]    

Judge allows part of Kenai subsistence suit to proceed

The Ninilchik Traditional Council’s battle for a Kenai River subsistence gillnet will run into the 2016 salmon season, with a lawsuit over last year’s operational plan potentially brushing up against this year’s plan.  The road to a Kenai River gillnet has been rocky for the Ninilchik Traditional Council. The federal fishing manager wouldn’t approve it in 2015 because of conservation concerns. State and federal biologists advised against it. Alaskans broke volume records begging the board to reconsider it. Other subsistence groups chimed in April to ask the Federal Subsistence Board to repeal it entirely. The Ninilchik Traditional Council filed a complaint against Federal Subsistence Board Chair Tim Towarak, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell in October 2015, saying both the Federal Subsistence Board and federal wildlife manager erred in not approving the 2015 gillnet operational plan for the Kenai River. In March, the federal defendents asked the judge to dismiss the case. He did so partially after an April 14 hearing, leaving certain elements of the complaint to be further considered. NTC intends to file an amended complaint against federal management now that the suit’s scope has been narrowed. The remaining complaints will examine whether or not Kenai National Wildlife Refuge manager Jeff Anderson acted legally when he did not approve the Kenai River gillnet operational plan in 2015. The defendants asked Judge John Sedwick to dismiss the case, saying the NTC has no legal standing to sue and that its claims are “unripe.” Among other arguments, the defendants said the decisions regarding the Kenai River gillnet are not final. More than 700 Alaskans submitted requests for reconsideration to the board; until these are resolved, the feds say the matter is not final and therefore unripe for a legal challenge. Sedwick disagreed, saying the law “does not state that a board action is not final until all third-party requests for reconsideration are resolved. It states that if a party requests reconsideration and the board denies that request, the board’s denial ‘represents the final administrative action’ on that specific request.” Because the matter is ripe, Sedwick said portions of NTC’s complaint fall under the court’s jurisdiction and give NTC standing to sue. Some portions of what NTC requests do not fall under the court’s authority. Sedwick said the court has authority to examine whether Anderson’s decision to not approve the gillnet was appropriate under the Administrative Procedures Act, but not to force Anderson or the board to approve the gillnet. “The court lacks jurisdiction over NTC’s request for an order compelling defendants to issue the Kenai gillnet permit because nothing in the (regulation) requires the in-season manager to issue that permit,” reads the ruling. “Instead, the regulation gives the in-season manager discretion to determine whether an operational plan is meritorious.” Many of NTC’s claims concern the subsistence section of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, Section 804. The act, or ANILCA, established conservation mandates for 100 million acres of Alaska land, including outlines for federal subsistence management. Sedwick notes nothing in ANILCA Section 804 can force the board to rescind Anderson’s order, as NTC originally requested last October. “NTC’s complaint alleges that Anderson has made several decisions that violate Section 804, in particular his decision to ‘close the fishing season for chinook salmon on the Kenai River before it began, and keep it closed throughout the season’ and his decision not to issue a Kenai gillnet permit.” NTC has requested an administrative record from the defendants in order to file an amended complaint about Anderson’s decision. The Federal Subsistence Board approved the Kenai gillnet in January 2015 to a statewide wave of vocal criticism. State and federal biologists opposed both the Kenai net and the Kasilof River net. Gillnets are a non-selective gear type, and could possibly snag precious king salmon when sockeye are the target species, they said. The board voted 5-3 in favor. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service representative on the board — which controls the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in question — voted against it. Both nets must have an operational plan, however, approved by area manager Anderson. Anderson approved the Kasilof plan, but did not approve the Kenai plan. Instead, Anderson closed the river to king fishing entirely last summer, even as escapements were enough that the Alaska Department of Fish and Game liberalized king salmon fishing rules to allow retention, as well as additional commercial fishing time, in the final week of July. NTC asked the board to overturn Anderson’s closure and rewrite regulations to take them out of federal fishing management scope, or to force the federal manager to approve their operational plan. The board shot down NTC’s requests; each failed by a tie vote. In response, NTC filed the lawsuit in October. In April, the Cooper Landing and Hope Federal Subsistence Community filed for a change in the 2017-2019 Federal Subsistence Board proposal book that would eliminate the Kenai gillnet. The gillnet, the Cooper Landing and Hope filers said, has a negative direct impact on them. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Unmanned vessels deployed for Arctic research

ANCHORAGE (AP) — Researchers in the Bering Sea off Alaska’s west coast will get help this summer from drones, but not the kind that fly. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and private researchers are gathering data on marine mammals, fish and ocean conditions from two “autonomous sailing vessels” built by Saildrone, an Alameda, California, company. “Think of a 20-foot outrigger canoe with an airplane wing sticking up from the middle,” said Chris Sabine, director of NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Lab, at a press teleconference June 3. They hold great appeal for researchers because they’re far cheaper to operate than research ships and they can work in dangerous conditions of the North Pacific. “Imagine the TV series, ‘Deadliest Catch,’ and you can imagine why we would like to remotely gather this information,” Sabine said from Seattle. Operating by solar and wind power, the vessels can carry 200 pounds of instruments. Two were deployed last week from Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands. Part of their payload will be acoustic gear that can pick up the sounds of North Pacific right whales, one on the most endangered animals on the planet. Scientists estimate just 30 North Pacific right whales remain in the eastern stock of the population. Their numbers were decimated by whalers starting in the 1800s. The population may have numbered as many as 20,000, but whalers found them to be highly desirable prey — big, slow, and still buoyant after they’re killed. Finding right whales has been a challenge. The Alaska Fisheries Science Center has sent out research vessels at $25,000 per day trying to find them by sight or acoustic survey, said Doug DeMaster, science director. “At that cost, we can’t afford to be out there very long,” DeMaster said. “The Saildrone should provide us a much more efficient, cost effective way to at least try to identify areas and times of year where we’re hearing right whales, and then we could reliably design surveys to take advantage of that information.” Jessica Crance, a marine mammal biologist with the Alaska Fisheries Science Center said the acoustic recorders could pick up the whales’ sounds if they pass within a few miles. Researchers will use the vessels to gather information on pollock, an important species for commercial fishermen and the main prey of northern fur seals, a species that has declined. Instruments on board also will collect oceanographic data used to track environmental changes. Saildrone developer Richard Jenkins, who in Dutch Harbor for the May 24 launch, said extreme weather is the main threat to the vessel. “Big seas and big winds are the real physical hazards but it’s designed to cope with that,” he said. “It’s self-righting. It’s incredibly durable. We’ve had it for 50,000 nautical miles of testing so far.” The longest mission has been eight months and 10,000 miles. “We haven’t seen a threshold or limit to how long it can stay out there,” he said. “I think the limit is going to be marine growth, rather than fatigue or failure. You just can’t stop the weed growing on the vehicle.” The vessels will be picked up in September after sailing back to Dutch Harbor. They can be steered with any web-enabled device. “I’m controlling the two drones in the Bering Sea right now with my iPhone,” Jenkins said. “I’m in California.”

FISH FACTOR: F/V Northern Leader gets TV turn; Gulf trawlers throw party

Alaskan fishermen have raised the bar for big fishing boats with the F/V Northern Leader of Kodiak, and Discovery Canada producers of the popular Mighty Ships programs have taken notice. Mighty Ships producers search for unique ships around the world and its seven-year run has featured a wide range of vessels including cruise ships, aircraft carriers, cargo ships, dredgers and more. The programs focus heavily on operational capabilities and technical aspects of the ships and also make use of computer-generated animation to show underwater operations. What attracted them to the 184-foot freezer/longliner Northern Leader is its joystick controlled, eco-friendly propulsion system that runs on electricity, the first U.S. fishing vessel to do so, and its head-to-tail use of the fish. “That’s the sweet spot — fully using the fish,” said Keith Singleton, vice president of marketing for Alaskan Leader Seafoods, a company started by Kodiak fishermen in 1991, and which now owns four fishing vessels in partnership with the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp. The three-year old Northern Leader fishes primarily for cod in the Bering Sea. As it was being designed, Singleton said the group traveled several times to Iceland to select processing equipment that would fully utilize each fish. Every fish coming over the rail gets bled and run through a chilled tank that produces “amazing snow white” fillets that fetch a much higher price, Singleton said. All of the fish heads go into a grinder for use in the pet food industry. “The head is 25-27 percent of the entire animal, so that’s a big number. And if you can monetize that, it really helps the bottom line,” he added. “It pays the crew better, and it fills up the holds faster and makes for shorter fishing trips and that saves on fuel.” “We also have a customer that takes 100 percent of the livers for cod liver oil, and a skin customer that takes all of the cod skins. Right now we’re trying to find markets for the other viscera.” Singleton said the Mighty Ships invitation is one of the company’s proudest moments, as it will be aired in 169 countries to over 40 million viewers. “More than anything it’s really going to give the Alaska seafood industry some great press and that’s really what we want to impress upon the general public,” Singleton said. “It isn’t about us, it’s about all of us.” A free premier showing of the F/V Northern Leader program, along with a catered codfish dinner, is set for June 10 at the Afognak Center in Kodiak. Questions? Check Alaskan Leader Seafoods on Facebook. Groundfish festival Gaining some recognition of the importance of groundfish in Alaska’s seafood portfolio is the goal of trawl groups who are hosting a festival and parade on June 11 from 5-8 p.m. in downtown Kodiak. The event, backed by the Alaska Whitefish Trawlers Association and the Groundfish Data Bank, features free seafood dishes, a pie toss and other games, prizes and raffles with all proceeds going to the Brother Francis Shelter. “This is a positive means of promoting our industry and shedding some light on how important groundfish fisheries are to the economy of Kodiak,” said fisherman Paddy O’Donnell. The event happens as the North Pacific Fishery Management Council convenes in Kodiak for a weeklong meeting dominated by plans to carve up 25 different kinds of groundfish catches among trawlers. The new plan aims to reduce unwanted bycatch of halibut, salmon and other species taken by trawl nets in the Gulf of Alaska. About 65 trawl vessels target pollock, cod and other groundfish throughout the Gulf; 40 of them are home ported at Kodiak. Groundfish made up 83 percent of all Kodiak landings in 2014 totaling 273 million pounds, an increase from 57 million pounds in 2009. What fish, Where fish? Have you ever wondered where all that Alaska fish ends up around the world? Seafood is by far Alaska’s largest and most valuable export — nearly 2.5 billion pounds valued at $3.28 billion in 2014. A new report titled “Where Do Alaska Fish Go?” profiles the markets for groundfish and crab, which accounted for 80 percent of Alaska’s total seafood volume and 65 percent of the first wholesale value. “It tells a story of Alaska fisheries products — where they are going, who the consumers are on the other end and what the competing species are — things that unless you’re really involved in the market, you might not know,” said Ben Fissel, an economist at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Seattle. The AFSC collaborated with the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission and McDowell Group on the project. “The idea was to produce a document that tells the story of what happens to the fish once it leaves the primary processors in Alaska. And we also wanted to put numbers behind it,” Fissel said. Here are a few numbers through 2014: Alaska’s fisheries are the most productive in the nation, accounting for 60 percent of total U.S. harvests. Alaska fishermen produce 18 percent of the world’s cod harvest. Pacific Ocean perch is Alaska’s most abundant rockfish species — there are 70 kinds of rockfish! Alaska produces 65 percent of the world’s sablefish (black cod); 80 percent goes to Japan. About three-quarters of Alaska’s halibut goes out frozen to U.S. restaurants and grocery stores. Ditto Alaska king and snow crab. One of the biggest booms for Alaska groundfish has been oils, nearly all from pollock. In 2014, nearly 28,500 tons of fish oil worth $32 million was produced primarily by Alaska shore side processors — a 271 percent increase in value from 2005. Prices for Alaska crude grade fish oil rose from an average $436 per ton in 2004 to $1,130 a ton in 2014. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.  

ADFG opens early run of Kenai kings to catch-and-release

After years of depressed stocks and depressed fishermen, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has opened the early king salmon sport fishery for the first time since 2012. This accompanies several other early king runs throughout Southcentral and in the Arctic, correlating with warmer marine temperatures. ““We’re seeing stronger numbers of early-run kings returning to the Kenai,” Robert Begich, the area management biologist in Soldotna, said in a release. “This has allowed us to ease pre-season restrictions, and provide opportunity for anglers to fish for early-run king salmon.” Sport fishing for king salmon in the Kenai River will be from its mouth up to an Alaska Department of Fish and Game regulatory marker at the outlet of Skilak Lake. Fishing will be restricted to catch-and-release from June 4 through June 30 using only one, unbaited, barbless, single-hook, artificial fly or lure. Numbers for the early run have been promising. On the Kenai River, sonar has counted 1,834 fish as of May 30 — more than double the 702 fish seen at the same time last year and nearly ten times more than in 2013. ADFG closed the Kenai River early king salmon run to sport fisheries on Feb. 18 due to a low forecast. Only 5,206 fish were expected, which would rank 29th of the last 31 years ADFG has been counting. The optimal escapement goal for early-run Kenai River king salmon is 5,300 to 9,000. “Things are looking very promising right now,” said Jason Pawluk, Kenai area assistant management biologist. “The question is it a really early, below average run, or is it a big run? That’s the ultimate question right now.” Other oddities are popping up with the early run. Pawluk said the returning fish are younger than usual. ADFG uses size measurements as a proxy for age. By these measurements, Pawluk notes more two-ocean and four-ocean fish than typically return this early. On other rivers, king salmon have seen promising numbers. The Deshka River’s weir counted 3,150 king salmon by June 1, a massive improvement over the 533 and 248 counted by the same date in 2014 and 2013, respectively. On the Anchor River, video weirs counted 1,614 by June 1, almost dead even with last year’s measure of 1,599. Kings and chums are also coming back early farther north on the Yukon River, according to Kwik’Pak Fisheries sales manager Jack Schultheis. “We’ve been catching fish here for the last two weeks,” Schultheis said. Environmental changes accompany, and may explain, the early runs. In the Gulf of Alaska, surface temperatures average one degree Celsius above the average temperature. This is a leftover effect of the Gulf’s infamous Blob in 2015, which warmed Gulf of Alaska surface temperatures two degrees Celsius and ushered in a red tide of toxic algae. On the Yukon River, ice floes have vanished already with the same early run effects as in Southcentral, as predicted by ADFG in an earlier forecast. “This is a very unusual year, for the ice to go out as soon as it did,” said Schultheis. In 2013, for example, he said ice was still present on the river on July 10. “Then we got into this pattern lately when it would go out the 27th or 28th of May,” he said. “Now it’s going back to earlier breakups. Fish come in right after the ice goes out.” The fish could be returning earlier to beat the heat. Anecdotal evidence of warming trends adds up. “We monitor Hidden Lake when the ice goes out,” said Pawluk. “This year, we went on April 7, but it was completely open. Jean Lake was open. It went out between April 1 and April 7. Typically it goes out the first week of May.”  Pawluk said ADFG has been monitoring stream temperatures as well. On the Russian River, he said temperature readings in April read between eight and nine degrees Celsius instead of the typical five degrees. For other Southcentral rivers not so sensitive to environmental changes, runs are decidedly slower. On the Copper River, sockeye returns are only a third of what they were at the same point in the last two years, and the early king salmon run is lackluster as well. “Our king salmon harvest was low,” said Jeremy Botz, the Copper River area management biologist. “Through Tuesday (May 31), we’ve got close to 9,000 harvested. The last five years we’ve had really small runs. Typical for this time period we had twice that. We would’ve wanted 13,400 by this time.” The Copper River, however, lacks the same environmental vulnerability its sister Southcentral rivers display. Glacial runoff forms the Copper River. When waters warm, the glacier simply pours more cold water into to the river to correct the imbalance. “That’s why the Copper River runs are so consistent,” said Botz. “A lot of it has to do with that regulation.” DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]  

Council convenes in Kodiak with Gulf catch shares in focus

Editor's note: this article has beeen updated to reflect that CFAs were part of council's considerations since 2014, not recently introduced as in an earlier article version. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council will meet in Kodiak from June 6-14 to hear a discussion paper that has enraged the trawl industry since late 2015. Two proposals are engineered to prevent harmful impacts such as the job losses and high cost of entry that have occurred under previous such programs in halibut and crab. This is an official state position, and the North Pacific council holds a six-member majority of the 11-member body that governs federal Alaska waters. Gov. Bill Walker’s administration prioritizes coastal communities’ economic prospects during the state’s oil-driven financial calamity. Part of that stance concerns keeping the fishing industry, the state’s largest private employer, in Alaskan fishermen’s hands.  “The greatest challenge facing fishery managers and communities to date has been how to adequately protect communities and working fishermen from the effects of fisheries privatization, notably excessive consolidation and concentration of fishing privileges, crew job loss, rising entry costs, absentee ownership of quota and high leasing fees, and the flight of fishing rights and wealth from fishery dependent communities,” the council’s discussion paper reads. “Collectively, these impacts are altering and in some cases severing the connection between Alaska coastal communities and fisheries.” For years, the council has mulled over a regulations to install catch shares in the Gulf of Alaska groundfish fisheries. Mainly trawlers go after this fishery, which includes pollock, a midwater fish, and species such as Pacific cod and arrowtooth flounder, which are bottom, or pelagic, fish. Catch shares are a form of rationalization that can allocate fishing privileges for both direct harvest and bycatch to individual fishermen, or groups of fishermen through cooperatives.  Fisheries managers say these systems slow the so-called “race for fish” — the old-school derby fisheries that contribute to depleted stocks and dangerous conditions that inspired the title of the popular show Deadliest Catch. Catch share programs have also been shown to reduce bycatch, which includes prohibited species catch such as salmon or halibut taken by trawlers or sub-legal size species that cannot be retained known as regulatory discards. Bycatch is hot topic in Alaska as two iconic species, chinook salmon and Pacific halibut, have suffered decline in recent years either in numbers in the case of salmon or legal-sized fish in the case of halibut. Most North Pacific fisheries already have some form of catch share system. The Gulf of Alaska groundfish fishery is one of the last remaining without one. Gulf trawlers have fought one regulatory option since October 2015 when it was first introduced by Alaska Department of Fish and Game commissioner Sam Cotten. The option, known as Alternative 3, would give individual fishermen or groups of fishermen bycatch quota instead of target species quota. Trawlers say this does nothing to slow the race for fish, and will virtually guarantee that fishermen use every available pound of bycatch. The trawl industry feels slighted by the alternative and mistreated by an administration it believes unfairly demonizes the gear type. Trawl captains and crew traveled en masse to the council’s February meeting Portland to object. Trawlers also vociferously objected to Walker’s appointments of Buck Laukitis and Theresa Peterson to the council as members they believe embody an anti-trawl bias. As a kind of booster, the Alaska Whitefish Trawlers Association and Groundfish Data Bank — Kodiak’s main trawl industry groups — will hold a trawler appreciation parade and festival on the city’s docks during the council’s June meeting. Alternative 3’s supporters argue the council should at least consider the plan before it moves to more vigorous economic impact analysis. Catch shares, they say, will consolidate the Gulf’s groundfish into only the trawl fleet and disenfranchise other fishermen. In Kodiak, cost of entry into fisheries has risen, and local participation has fallen, according to council studies. Between 2000 and 2010, Kodiak’s locally held Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission permits dropped from 1,646 to 1,279; halibut quota holders from 304 to 224; active crew licenses from 1,263 to 884; and locally owned vessels from 719 to 452. Alternative 4 wants to try a kind of community protection. It would install a catch share system for both target and non-target species, but give the share to non-profit entities representing entire communities instead of directly to industry. “A community allocation provides a clear mechanism to retain local access and protect coastal communities by bolstering locally based vessels and locally based ownership through affordable access to more quota,” reads the paper. The Community Fishery Association, or CFA, would function like a non-profit, complete with governing board and executive director. To get quota, each CFA would have to submit a community sustainability plan to a larger board of directors. Elected borough members from Central and Western Gulf areas would comprise this board along with fishing industry representatives. To qualify as a CFA, a community must be adjacent to saltwater located within the Western, Central, or West Yakutat regulatory areas of the GOA coast of the North Pacific Ocean, have a population of less than 6,500 as of the year 2000, consist of residents having any Gulf groundfish commercial permit and/or fishing or processing activity as documented by CFEC. The CFAs harvesters would have to join a fishing cooperative. As a fitting preamble, the council’s other main agenda item will review the 10-year mark since the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands crab fishery was rationalized.  The review details the extent of consolidation, which has continued since the plan’s last review in 2011. When the council rationalized Bering Sea crab, the number of boats in the crab fleet shrank by two-thirds in one season and eliminated 1,000 crew jobs. “Catcher vessel consolidation has continued,” reads the report’s summary. “As shown, the number of vessels decreased in every region, while the direction of change in percentage of vessels varied by region.” DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]  

FISH FACTOR: Project underway to study impact of limited entry program

Alaska began issuing limited entry permits for salmon fishing in 1975. Originally 1,372 permits (out of 2,758) were issued to residents of Bristol Bay; by 2007, only 735 permits remained under local ownership. An ambitious project is underway to find out how the system has played out over 40 years for the people of Bristol Bay. “I think there is a sense that the permit system was in some ways a necessary evil and it protected the resource. Some people feel misled about the way it was implemented, and felt like they didn’t understand the way permits were being allocated. Those feelings still come out to this day,” said Jennifer Meredith of Eagle River, now a development economist at the University of Washington. Meredith, with assists from tribal councils and locals, has been doing random surveys since March, with people throughout the Bristol Bay region. “We started in Aleknagik, Iliamna, Togiak, Naknek, King Salmon, South Naknek, Kaliganik, Manoktotak and we’re finishing off now in Dillingham,” Meredith said enthusiastically. The survey targets original permit holders from 1975, those who have fished more recently, and those who have never held fishing permits. “We’re really trying to measure where do you live now, where do your descendants live, what occupation do you have now if there is not a permit in the family. We also talk about ties to subsistence fishing, their social networks and we do household assets,” Meredith explained. The response so far, she said, has been “incredible” – an 80 percent success rate with nearly 700 participants before doing Dillingham. “I think part of the reason people have been so willing to cooperate is we really are there in the community to hear their stories, and to allow them to give voice to the way their permits affected them,” Meredith said, adding that there is a great deal of optimism throughout the Bristol Bay region. “They are scrappy and they are going to find a way to make it work,” she said. “They are committed to their traditional way of life, to subsistence and they are definitely committed to the commercial salmon fishery in a big way. There is definitely a sense that programs are needed that allow locals to get back into fishing and that the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation is trying to do that.” As she headed out for another survey, Meredith said, “I’m here for your voice to be heard. My intention is to have some evidence of how this system has affected you and your family, for good and for bad.” Meredith hopes to finish her report within a year and has promised to reveal the results in Dillingham. Her project is funded by the Marine Resource Economic Scholarship through WA Sea Grant and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Fish board update The Alaska Board of Fisheries proposal process will remain as is, for now. During a May 24 teleconference meeting, the board considered streamlining the way it reviews proposals seeking management changes to commercial, sport, personal use and subsistence fisheries. The board reviews 400-500 proposals during its annual meeting cycles. The meeting was live streamed via the internet. The Board was considering moving to a consent agenda format for technical proposals, whereby they could be approved all at once. But written comments from fishermen and organizations swayed them otherwise. Kelly Stier, a Bristol Bay driftnet fisherman, summed it up best: “I understand the drive for making the Board of Fish process of reviewing proposals more streamlined as I sat through the painful hours of public testimony in December,” he wrote. “However, I do not agree with changing to a ‘consent-agenda concept.’ One of the things that became apparent while attending the BOF meeting was that seemingly small issues can often greatly affect large numbers of participants. It is clear that those issues are best understood by the end user.” Board member Fritz Johnson of Dillingham called the current process “robust, and said he didn’t want to change it right now. Sue Jeffrey agreed, saying “I wouldn’t be comfortable right now putting this in place.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.    

Robot lab to help ID toxic algae off Wash.

SEATTLE (AP) — After a massive toxic algae bloom closed lucrative shellfish fisheries off the West Coast last year, scientists are turning to a new tool that could provide an early warning of future problems. Scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Washington last week deployed the so-called ocean robot about 50 feet into waters off the coast of La Push, Washington, near a known hotspot for toxic algae blooms. The tool, dubbed “a laboratory in a can,” will remain in the water until mid-July, providing real-time measurements about the concentrations of six species of microscopic algae and toxins they produce, including domoic acid. The instrument is equipped with sensors and cellular modems that will allow it to take water samples and send that information to shore three times a week for the next several weeks. Scientists plan to deploy it again in the fall, another critical time for harmful algae blooms. Last year, dangerous levels of domoic acid were found in shellfish and prompted California, Washington and Oregon to delay its coastal Dungeness crabbing season. Washington and Oregon also canceled razor clam digs for much of the year. The domoic acid was produced by microscopic algae that flourished during the summer amid unusually warm Pacific Ocean temperatures. The massive algae bloom produced some of the highest concentrations of domoic acid observed along some parts of the West Coast. Shellfish managers, public health officials, coastal tribes and others will be able to access the algae data and get advanced warning of toxic algae blooms off the Washington coast before they move to the coastline and contaminate shellfish. Domoic acid is harmful to people, fish and marine life. It accumulates in shellfish, anchovies and other small fish that eat the algae. Marine mammals and fish-eating birds in turn can get sick from eating the contaminated fish. In people, it can trigger amnesic shellfish poisoning. Stephanie Moore, a scientist with NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, said the instrument will make it much easier to get crucial information about blooms and toxins sooner. Researchers typically would have to go out in a boat, collect water samples and bring them back to a lab to be analyzed, a process that could take days, she said. “We’re actually miniaturizing a lab, putting it in a can and then leaving it out in the field to do the work for us,” Moore said. “This is so great because in so many of these remote offshore locations, we can leave the lab out there and get this information in a matter of hours rather than days.” The tool, called an environmental sample processor, was developed at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. Dozens of engineers, scientists and others from multiple institutions worked for about a year and a half on the processor, which was sent out for the first time in the Pacific Northwest a week ago. Dan Ayres, coastal shellfish manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, called the instrument “a huge step forward.” The state has a robust monitoring program on beaches, he said, but receiving data about offshore conditions would give people even more time to make decisions, such as when and where to sample shellfish for toxins or when and where to open beaches for razor clamming. “If we had more time and can give businesses more time to plan, staff and place orders, and residents to make decisions, the impacts would certainly be lessened,” he said. Last year’s toxic algae bloom roiled tourism in coastal communities and marine ecosystems and “hit us across the face,” he added. Vera Trainer, who manages the marine biotoxin program at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center, said this year appears to be a much more typical year for toxic algae blooms. The vision is to have multiple robots in multiple hotspots to track harmful algae blooms along the coast, she said.

Alaska holds its perennial spot atop NOAA fisheries rankings

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released its annual report detailing national and regional economic impacts of U.S. fisheries and as usual Alaska produced both the greatest value and volume of any area. The report includes economic impacts in the harvesting, processing, wholesale, retail, and import sectors, as well as those from recreational saltwater fishing. In 2014, the nation’s commercial seafood industry produced 1.4 million full-and part-time jobs, $153 billion in sales (including imports), $42 billion in income and $64 billion in value-added impacts. Domestic harvests produced $54 billion in sales. Alaska’s seafood industry employs more people than any other private industry in the state. California supported most of the nation’s 1.4 million seafood jobs in 2014 with 143,440. Alaska’s industry supported 60,749 jobs. NOAA oversees all fisheries in U.S. waters from three to 200 miles off the coast, with management rules crafted by eight regional councils created under the 1976 Magnuson-Stevens Act. In 2014, U.S commercial fishermen harvested a total market value of $9.4 billion worth of finfish and shellfish, worth $5.5 billion in dockside value to fishermen. The U.S. most valuable seafood product in 2014 was shrimp, which represents $702 million in market value. Pacific salmon came in second, representing $617 million in overall value. Lobster and scallops came in third and fourth, representing $567 million and $424 million, respectively. North Pacific fisheries, dominated by walleye pollock and Pacific salmon, accounted for the greatest volume and value of the eight regions. NOAA separates seafood into finfish and shellfish. Finfish includes groundfish like walleye pollock. Alaska caught the most finfish, representing 68 percent of the nation’s total. California produced the most shellfish with 260 million pounds, followed by Louisiana and Maine’s shrimp and lobster catches. In volume terms, pollock produced three times more sheer poundage than the next species, menhaden. Fishermen in the North Pacific harvested 3.1 billion pounds of walleye pollock in 2014, around 55 percent of the region’s total seafood landings. Pacific salmon’s value adds to pollock’s volume to make the North Pacific region the U.S. seafood industry’s largest. Of the $5.5 billion in nationwide dockside revenue, the North Pacific region produced $1.7 billion, or 31 percent of the total. Half came of that from Pacific salmon and pollock revenue. North Pacific fishermen made the most income from salmon, pollock, and crab in 2014. For Alaska fishermen, the three species comprised 69 percent of the region’s total value. Salmon produced the most revenue with $546 million, followed by $400 million from pollock and $238 million from crab. North Pacific waters did display some marked reductions in certain seafood, however. From 2013 to 2014, the overall halibut harvest declined by 70 percent, and the Pacific sablefish harvest declined by 31 percent. Pacific salmon landings declined by 33 percent, attributable mainly to the difference between 2013 pink salmon — one of the largest harvests on record — and the corresponding down cycle in 2014. Pink salmon run strong every other year. Recreational fisheries also played a large role in the U.S. marine economy, though Alaska’s numbers make a small amount of the national participation. Nationwide, 11 million anglers participated in U.S. saltwater recreational fisheries, taking a total 68 million trips. The recreational fisheries created $60.6 billion in sales impacts from fishing trips and related equipment, a 4 percent increase. Jobs supported by recreational saltwater fisheries were concentrated heavily in Florida and California, which together represent 31 percent of overall jobs. Alaska supported 1.2 percent of these jobs. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]  

Recent trend of small sockeye continues at Copper River

Alaska’s earliest sockeye run could be a rerun. Copper River sockeye are even punier than last year’s record-setting slim fish, matching warnings from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s preseason forecast. “The fish are still small,” said Steve Moffitt, Cordova area management biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. “So far, they’re even smaller than what we got last year.” The early trend could foretell small fish throughout the state. Last year, workers statewide from offices of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, or ADFG, noticed an early in-season trend of smaller-than-average fish. After the season ended, final tallies for each major salmon-producing area with brood stock from the Gulf of Alaska charted sockeye salmon an average pound less than the most recent 10-year averages. The Copper River run is still in its early stages, but Moffitt said the Copper River sockeye this year are following the same pattern. “First period we have about 4.4 pounds for sockeye, second period we had 4.3 pounds,” said Moffitt. “Last year, the year end was a little under 5.1 pounds. And that was the smallest we’d ever seen.” The average Copper River sockeye weighs an average 6 pounds, and hasn’t been measured smaller than 5.1 pounds anytime prior to 1966. The Copper River run precedes other major sockeye producing areas like Cook Inlet and Bristol Bay by several weeks. ADFG scientists in other areas have no data yet to compare sockeye size with the Copper River run. Moffitt emphasizes the fish are smaller across age classes, meaning scientists can’t attribute the size decrease to a prevalence of younger, smaller fish. More of the older and typically larger sockeye are returning this year than previous years, as predicted in ADFG’s area forecast. “The 2016 run of natural sockeye salmon to the Copper River will be composed primarily of returns from brood years 2011 and 2012. Five-year-old fish (brood year 2011) are expected to predominate Copper River Delta and upper Copper River runs,” the forecast reads. So far, Moffitt said ADFG forecast is spot on. “We’ve got a couple age class processed,” Moffitt said. “There’s been no change in the age composition. It pretty much matches the long-term average. We’re seeing the same age classes defining the run. The age five, which is usually predominant, is even more predominant this year.” Moffitt noted that adaptive fishing techniques could skew numbers downward. A reporting hitch has surfaced. In response to last year’s small fish, many Cordova area fishermen in 2016 swapped out gillnets for smaller mesh sizes to better catch the small fish. This could let the larger ones go unaccounted for and distort the true average, Moffitt said. This can produce commercial problems as well as statistical inaccuracies. Selling sockeye salmon nearly one-third beneath their average weight can be a problem for the Copper River brand, founded on high-end fillets that must meet certain marketability requirements for processors and retailers, including size. The change in mesh size could also affect harvest volume. Fishermen cannot drop smaller mesh sizes as deeply into the water column to snag salmon; many will swim underneath the net to escape warmer water, as fishermen reported last year from several Gulf-adjacent waters, potentially lessening the overall harvest. Limited supply comes with both benefits and drawbacks. As of May 24, Copper River gillnetters have harvested 72,733 sockeye, a slower beginning than average that has produced a $6.50 per pound price, more than a dollar better than last year’s opening price. Several factors could contribute to the small sockeye, according to Moffitt and other biologists who observed small fish in 2015. Most scientists link to warm water from the infamous Gulf of Alaska “Blob,” along with food competition between pink salmon and sockeye and among sockeye themselves. Warmer water has been the most visible marine change, and this year the trend is continuing, if on a smaller level than 2015. Through February 2016, Gulf of Alaska water was one degree Celsius greater than the most recent 10-year average, according to a majority of area buoy readings. This is an improvement from last year, when the same waters at that time were nearly two degrees Celsius above average. The so-called “Blob” has largely dissipated and mixed with colder water, though National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration studies say the effects will linger until a La Niña weather cycle cools the North Pacific. Reports say the cycle has a 75 percent chance of beginning this fall. Warm water raises sockeye base metabolic rate, Moffitt said. Fish need more food, but the cold water-loving plankton they eat are more scarce. The sockeye can’t beef up as normal. Small fish also coincide with large runs, lending scientific credibility to the Cordova fisherman’s adage, “Big run, small fish.” Sockeye compete with pink salmon and other sockeye for less available food sources at a time when their metabolism demands more than normal. Of the seven largest sockeye runs to Copper River, five of them were in the last five years. Prince William Sound pink salmon run was the largest on record in 2015. This year’s forecast is tamer for the area.  The Alaska Department of Fish and Game 2016 total run forecast of sockeye salmon for the Copper River is 2.56 million, similar to the recent 10-year average total run 2.60 million. If realized, the 2016 forecast total run will be the 11th largest in the last 36 years. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Canada OK’s GE salmon; Senate panel requires labeling

A fast-growing, genetically-engineered salmon got Canada’s stamp of approval on May 19, the same day a U.S. Senate Appropriations committee approved language that requires the salmon be labeled as “genetically modified” in the U.S. Called AquAdvantage, the genetically-engineered fish has met massive resistance from the U.S. commercial fishing industry and politicians from fishing states. AquAdvantage grows to marketable size in half the time as conventional farmed salmon, and a fraction of the time and effort to harvest wild salmon. AquaBounty splices of Atlantic salmon and chinook salmon with a continual growth hormone from ocean pout, meaning it grows twice as fast. The U.S. still won’t see the new fast-growing fish on market shelves in the next year, both by federal design and by marketing needs. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration passed ban on the import of genetically engineered fish in January, only to apply to fiscal year 2016. The ban itself is symbolic, not functional; AquaBounty said its product won’t be market ready for another year anyway. AquAdvantage is the first genetically-engineered animal product to be approved for human consumption, though the approval has taken the better part of a decade. AquaBounty has sought U.S. and Canadian approval for the product since 1996. Backlash from anti-GMO groups and the Alaska congressional delegation in particular has slowed the process. Despite fears of health and environmental impacts, however, both governments said in the last year that the fish is safe for humans to eat. The FDA approved AquAdvantage in February 2015, saying it has “no substantial nutritional difference” from wild or conventional farmed fish. Canada Health and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, that nation’s equivalent to the FDA, announced on May 19 that AquaBounty’s product is safe for human consumption. Canada has not yet required that the product be labeled, unlike the U.S. After AquAdvantage’s FDA approval, U.S. officials from fishing states, as well as environmental groups, have wrestled to force vendors to label the product as genetically engineered. On May 19, the Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously approved the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Fiscal Year 2017 appropriations bill, sending it to the full Senate for consideration, currently unscheduled. Among other provisions, the bill includes language to make vendors prominently include “genetically-engineered” in the product’s market name. “The acceptable market name of any salmon that is genetically engineered shall include the words ’genetically engineered’ or ‘GE’ prior to the existing acceptable market name,” reads the provision. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Alaska’s senior U.S. Senator and a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, added the language. Murkowski has doggedly pursued labeling mandates after a drawn-out fight with the FDA, which currently makes GE labeling voluntary. Murkowski had held the nomination of Dr. Richard Califf as FDA chief until the FDA agreed to labeling mandates. Murkowski attributes a list of problems to what she and other critics have dubbed “Frankenfish.” She said leaving the fish unlabeled would harm Alaska’s reputation and economy and the well being of Americans at large. “Genetically engineered salmon pose a serious threat to the livelihoods of fisherman and the health and well-being of Americans across the nation,” said Murkowski in a statement. “Alaska is known around the world for our sustainably-caught, wild, delicious seafood. Requiring labeling of genetically engineered salmon helps us to maintain Alaska’s gold-standard reputation for years to come, and protects consumers.”  Alaska’s state legislators also heavily oppose the product. In a series of releases in January, they expressed doubt over scientific basis of the FDA’s decision and called for a mandatory labeling requirement. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Salmon small but prices high; US seafood demand still low

Alaska’s salmon season officially got underway on May 16 with the arrival of thousands of sockeye and king salmon at the Copper River near Cordova, and high prices were the talk of the town. The first opener produced a catch of 25,000 sockeye and about 1,500 kings. “It was pretty slow to start. Small fish, not too many of them,” said Kelsey Appleton with Cordova District Fishermen United. Following a trend seen over the past couple of years across Alaska, the salmon were healthy but much smaller.  Weights taken on several hundred samples after the 12-hour fishery showed sockeyes averaging just 4.2 pounds, 15 percent smaller than last year when fish size was the smallest seen in 50 years. Sockeye salmon normally average 6 pounds. “It’s bad for our economy and bad for our fishermen; it’s not necessarily bad for our fish,” said Dr. Rob Campbell, a biological oceanographer with the Prince William Sound Science Center. “It’s just been astoundingly warm in the entire North Pacific for two or three years now, and for most cold-blooded things like salmon or plankton or what have you, in warmer conditions they tend to reach a smaller final body size.” Of course, the biggest fish story of the day was the price for the first fish: $6.50 per pound for sockeyes and $9.50 for kings. That compares to starting prices last year of $5.15 and $6.50, respectively. “Crazy high prices, which is fantastic,” said Appleton. The prices typically drop as more salmon come on line across Alaska, but those starting prices are some of the highest ever. It will fuel optimism across the state after last season when the value to fishermen fell by 40 percent. Overall, Alaska’s salmon fishery this year calls for a harvest of 161 million fish, down by 40 percent from the 2015 catch. The shortfall stems from a huge decrease projected for pink salmon with a harvest forecast of 90 million, a drop of 100 million humpies from last year. Eat more fish! Eating trends show some big plusses for wild seafood, but will that make Americans eat more of it? According to the NPD Group, an international market tracker, the top trend is that consumers want to know where their foods and fish come from. The Group credits seafood for improved traceability and local sourcing, and says that will continue to boost sales. Good fats also are in. People now know that some fats are healthy, such as those found in eggs, avocados and seafood. “Consumers are seeking non-genetically modified foods in droves,” NPD said. That will benefit wild seafood as people are demanding natural foods with fewer additives of anything, let alone tweaked genes. Along that line, people want foods with “real” ingredients and are reading labels like never before. Healthy and light entrees are expected to grow at a faster rate through 2018, another opportunity for seafood. Technomic, another top market research firm lists “trash to treasure” fish as its No. 3 seafood trend, as more restaurants serve up lesser-known fish. Both market watchers said more people are cooking fish at home, Maybe that will help boost consumption, which has stalled at under 15 pounds a year per American. Despite all of the conclusive health benefits from eating fish, a study last year by the U.S. Department of Agriculture showed only one in 10 Americans follow U.S. Dietary Guidelines to eat seafood at least once a week. Fish intake is associated with a 36 percent reduced mortality risk from heart disease and a 12 percent reduction in mortality. It improves children’s brain and eye development, slows brain aging, lowers the risk of depression and mood disorders, helps with weight management and more. So why are so many Americans taking a pass? According to the Washington Post, Americans have a fear of mercury, buying fish, and cooking it. For those worried about avoiding mercury, government guidelines suggest not eating tilefish, shark, swordfish and king mackerel. Instead, choose salmon, shrimp, pollock, light canned tuna, tilapia, catfish, cod, sardines, sole and trout. “Put in proper perspective, most of us should be more concerned with eating enough fish rather than worrying about mercury,” the Post article said. In terms of not buying more fish, a survey in the Journal of Food Service showed that affordability was a top reason, and most people said they did not have the knowledge to select the best quality. The survey added that most people said they don’t know how to cook fish. “I can see that people understand that seafood is good for them. The hurdles come from knowing how to buy it and cook it and really understand the different varieties of seafood that they can include in their diet,” said Linda Cornish, director of the Seafood Nutrition Partnership. The move away from fish is showing troubling signs in Japan, traditionally one of the world’s biggest seafood eating nations and a top customer for Alaska seafood. Seafood.com reports that a new government study states that Japan’s seafood consumption has declined drastically, especially among younger generations. The report reveals that total per-capita seafood consumption has declined to 60 pounds per year, down 30 percent from a peak of over 88 pounds in 2001. The trend is especially prevalent among people younger than 40, who are increasingly replacing Japan’s once most common food with meat, the report revealed. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.  

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - Fisheries