Fisheries

Report: Optimism for salmon prices in ‘16

A new market analysis has an optimistic outlook for the 2016 salmon season — and goes a long way in explaining why Bristol Bay sockeye salmon received a low dockside price for last year’s catch. Juneau-based economics firm McDowell Group completed the report under contract from the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. ASMI is a state- and private-funded marketing organization specifically set up to increase the foreign and domestic demand and prices for Alaska’s seafood. ASMI’s report responds in part to fishermen’s concerns about salmon prices paid to fishermen by processors, called the ex-vessel price. In 2015, fishermen in the state’s most valuable fishery, Bristol Bay’s sockeye salmon, only received half their usual ex-vessel price for fish while the processing and retail industries appeared to maintain their prices. The report says processors simply had less capital to spread to fishermen in 2015, as they were beset by a host of negative market factors. Strong U.S. currency values lessened purchasing power for key foreign export markets, important export markets vanished, and massive supply caused led to a decrease in overall value. Combined with 2013 and 2014, two of the largest volume years on record for statewide salmon harvest, last summer’s harvest created downward market pressure as processors were left with an oversupply. Researchers have a hard time gathering as much first wholesale data as they can with ex-vessel value data. Net processing revenue, they say, makes for the best widely available data to analyze processors’ financials. Even though wholesale price and corresponding retail prices may not have seemed to vary along with the ex-vessel price, total processing revenue for 2015 was very low. Ex-vessel prices dropped to control costs. “Net processing revenue averaged $706 million in 2013 and 2014 (about 10 percent below the previous three-year average), and net processing revenue per pound dropped 21 percent (inflation-adjusted basis),” the report reads. “This left many processors in a relatively poor financial position heading into 2015. With less working capital, a large 2015 salmon forecast, mounting canned inventories, and a declining wholesale market, processors were far more conservative with ex-vessel price commitments in 2015.” The report details that the 2015 ex-vessel price of 50 cents per pound is only the latest in a series of annual price drops. Ex-vessel value for Alaska salmon has declined sharply since 2013, when economists adjusted prices for inflation. “Ex-vessel value fell by approximately 41 percent between 2013 and 2015 - years which produced the two largest Alaska salmon harvest volumes on record,” explains the report. “Ex-vessel prices fell for all five salmon species during this time: sockeye (-61 percent), pinks (-51 percent), coho (-45 percent), chinook (-19 percent), and chum (-17 percent).” Dockside prices reached a peak in 2013 not seen since 1995. In 2013, the total inflation-adjusted value of Alaska salmon was more than $750 million, a level only reached twice in the last 20 years. The McDowell Group believes prices will stabilize this year, as supply will shrink. “There are several reasons to be cautiously optimistic that prices for most key products/species will at least stabilize and likely rise somewhat in both ex-vessel and wholesale market,” according to the report. “However, even if prices do increase somewhat, the smaller expected harvest in 2016 will probably result in a lower overall resource value.” This year, both pinks and reds are set to decline in production. Chinook and coho salmon will increase, but processors rely far more on reds and pinks. Together, the two species make up 84 percent of salmon volume and 78 percent of salmon value. According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the sockeye salmon harvest — which makes up 55 percent of the state’s salmon sales by value — is expected to be about 7.3 million fewer than in 2015. ADFG forecasts the Bristol Bay sockeye harvest — the most valuable in the state — to be 29.5 million, far less than the 2015 harvest of more than 36 million but still greater than the 20-year average of 23.2 million. Both reds and pinks contributed last year to one of the largest overall salmon harvests on record. Statewide, the commercial salmon harvest of all species was 247 million fish, greater than the 2015 harvest projection of 220 million and the 2005-14 average of 179 million fish. The harvest was the second highest since 1994, following only 2013, when the harvest was 273 million fish. The projected harvest of pink salmon — which run strong every other year — is about 100 million fewer than in 2015 at 190.5 million. In Prince William Sound where pink salmon is the major harvest, the forecast is 23.4 million, less than average and a change of pace from the 2015 season that broke the 20-year record for the largest harvest with 96 million fish. Southeast Alaska will have a harvest of 34 million pinks. In Kodiak, 16.2 million is projected, and 13.4 million is forecast for the South Peninsula and Aleutian Islands. Chile’s farmed salmon situation should also benefit Alaska fishermen as the nation’s large farmed salmon export industry is beset by environmental damage and protests. Chile is the world’s second largest farmer of salmon, and one of the three main exporters of farmed salmon into the U.S. market along with Norway and Canada. In 2016, a massive red algal bloom killed upwards of 100,000 tons of Chilean Atlantic and coho salmon stocks — between 12 and 17 percent of the total output, according to various reports — representing tens of millions of dollars of lost product. The massive supply loss came with a price spike of upwards of 65 cents per pound, according to seafood industry news source Intrafish. Bristol Bay sockeye fishermen, who compete directly with Chilean farmed salmon, say the price spike should make Alaska exports that much easier both in domestic and foreign markets. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Port State Measures targeting IUU fishing takes effect June 5

The international Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter, and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing will go into effect next month as one more step in curbing a worldwide network of fish piracy. On May 16, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization announced that 29 nations and the European Union have joined the international agreement, representing 62 percent of worldwide fish imports and 49 percent of fish exports, that were $133 billion and $139 billion in 2013, according to official state estimates. The agreement only needs 25 countries to enter into force. It will go into effect on June 5. The agreement is an international attempt to control illegal, unreported and unregulated, or IUU, fishing by tightening port controls for member nations. It requires participating nations designate specific ports for foreign vessels. Foreign vessels may only enter with permission after providing a host of fishing documentation, and participating nations must compile lists of vessels known as IUU fishermen. These vessels should be refused port entry. President Barack Obama ratified the U.S. agreement in November 2015 as part of the IUU Enforcement Act of 2015, but U.S. behaviors changed very little as a result, according to officials’ statements from 2015. The U.S. already bars foreign fishing vessels from offloading at its ports.  Rather than focusing on domestic changes, the port agreement wants to tighten a noose around IUU deliveries worldwide before multiple nations can launder illegal fish among several processors and make their way into the U.S. market as mislabeled fish. The more countries that join the agreement, the fewer worldwide ports that serve as offload points for IUU seafood. “To have maximum impact, we need more countries to join the fight against IUU fishing,” said Secretary of State John Kerry in a statement. “As countries close off ports to illicit fishing products, those involved in IUU fishing will have to incur more expense and travel greater distances to land and sell their illegally caught fish.” Estimates vary regarding the economic impact of IUU fishing. Economists have a hard time compiling the expansive and elusive data required. “There have been numerous studies about the impact of IUU fishing but NOAA does not single out any specific study for reference,” wrote Katherine Brogan, a public affairs officer for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Division. “A survey of the literature indicates the challenge and variety of approaches associated with quantifying the value and impacts of IUU fishing. That said, one would certainly conclude that the economic impacts, social costs, and environmental threats resulting from IUU fishing are significant.” The U.S. Coast Guard, however, estimates IUU fishing annually drains $10 billion to $23 billion away from the legitimate seafood industry worldwide. One of the major IUU sources, the Russian Federation, has still not joined the agreement, though it signed intent to join in April 2010, according to FAO records. Russia and the U.S. did enter a bilateral agreement in 2015 involving IUU fishing. The agreement instructs Russian and U.S. law enforcement to share the names and information of vessels and vessel owners involved in IUU fishing. Alaska’s congressional delegation has emphasized the importance of Russia joining the agreement. Rep. Don Young introduced and passed the IUU Enforcement Act of 2015, which added the U.S. to the Port State Measure Agreement among other changes. In Alaska, the largest fishing region in the U.S. with an annual $2 billion to $4 billion value, IUU cuts into the bottom line of pollock and crab, two of the most valuable species. According to a GMA Research consumer report, up to 40 percent of what has been sold as “Alaska pollock” is in fact from Russian waters. Young and Rep. Jaime Beutler, R-Wash., introduced legislation on Oct. 22, 2015 to amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to change the term “Alaska pollock” to “pollock.” The FDA subsequently announced Jan. 21 that only pollock caught in Alaska waters can be labeled “Alaska pollock.” Alaska waters are defined the Alaska-adjacent Exclusive Economic Zone three to 200 miles offshore, according to the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which governs U.S. federal fisheries. Pollock is the largest fishery in the U.S., producing 2.9 billions pounds and accounting for 11 percent of U.S. seafood intake. In the North Pacific management region, pollock accounted for $406 million worth of landings. Similar to pollock, North Pacific crab is often mislabeled as Alaskan. Russian IUU crab alone has cost Alaska Bering Sea crab fishermen up to $560 million, according to one estimate by United Fishermen of Alaska, the state’s largest commercial fishing industry group. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Rosier outlook for salmon prices; board changes considered

Alaska’s salmon season has gotten underway with lots of optimism, a far cry from the bleak feelings of a year ago. Last year’s fishery was blown asunder by a perfect storm of depressed currencies, salmon backlogs and global markets awash with farmed fish. Prices to fishermen fell by nearly 41 percent between 2013 and 2015, years, which produced the two largest Alaska salmon harvest volumes on record. But in the past six months, those trends have turned around. “Based on current market conditions and harvest expectations, it appears probable that prices will begin improving in 2016 and there is an excellent chance total ex-vessel (dockside) value will rebound in 2017,” heralds the Salmon Market Information Service just released by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. The user-friendly reports include a salmon industry analysis, harvest and forecast summaries, salmon market overviews and Alaska seafood exports. One of the biggest turn arounds this year is with global currencies. “Going into last year the dollar was getting stronger against our major customers and competitors. That makes our salmon more expensive to foreign buyers and the competing imports less expensive,” said Andy Wink, a fisheries economist with the McDowell Group. That trend has reversed and the dollar has weakened against other currencies, notably with the Euro (slightly) and the Japanese Yen, which has strengthened about 13 percent from a year ago. “That will make our products less expensive to those two key Alaska salmon markets,” Wink said. Another positive turnaround is with salmon supplies. “If you want to see what’s happening with fish prices, look at supply and demand. Look at how much was produced in Alaska and how much our competitors produced,” advised fisheries economist Gunnar Knapp, director of the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of Alaska Anchorage. The loss of tens of millions of Chilean farmed salmon from an ongoing toxic algae brew caused by warming oceans has taken the biggest bite out of world supplies. The U.S. is Chile’s largest customer, last year importing 295 million pounds of farmed salmon valued at $1.16 billion. “In Japan, Alaska sockeye’s biggest competition is farmed Chilean coho salmon and it is estimated 20 to 30 percent has died in the algae bloom,” Wink said. Japan buys 80 percent of Chile’s farmed coho salmon and wholesale prices last month skyrocketed to $3.10-$3.35 per pound, up 20 percent from the same time last year. A failure of Japan’s wild and farmed salmon fisheries also has spawned a surge of sockeye demand. Alaska sockeye exports to Japan at the end of 2015 were up 320 percent over the previous year, and are expected to remain high as holdings clear out prior to the new fishing season. That’s another plus: backlogs of Alaska salmon, primarily sockeye, have moved briskly all year at retail. “Promotions during Lent pretty much cleaned out the freezers,” Wink said. “I definitely think things will be better than a year ago,” agreed Norm Van Vactor, President of the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation and former manager at Leader Creek and Peter Pan Seafoods. “Last year we would be talking about all the frozen fish in inventory. This year things moved smoother and we’re sitting in good shape.” Other supply and demand indicators: Alaska’s projected salmon catch this year of 161 million fish year is a 40 percent decrease, due to an off year for pinks. Salmon fisheries along the West Coast will be at a fraction of their former selves this year, and Russia’s catches also are expected to be down. Some of the supply shortfall will be made up by Norway which is battling its own fish losses caused from salmon lice. Another reason to choose wild salmon: the FDA last month lifted the ban on U.S. imports by Norway and other countries that use lice killing chemicals (azamethiphos) in their fish farms.  It comes after years of pushing by the Fish Vet Group, bankrolled by Benchmark, a lice treatment producer. (By law, all seafood sold in the U.S. must be labeled as wild or farmed and list the country of origin.) Pick up the pace The state Board of Fisheries could vote this month to streamline the way it reviews proposals that deal with oversight of Alaska’s commercial, sport, personal use and subsistence fisheries. The seven-member BOF addresses several hundred regulation change proposals during its annual meeting cycle each year and fishery management is based on its decisions. During a May 24 teleconference, the board could vote to deal with some proposals in a more timely way.  “We want to see if there is a way to speed up the proposal review process on certain proposals at board meetings,” said Glenn Haight, executive director for the BOF. In the face of tightening budgets, time is money. Haight said the board is looking at quicker ways to deal with technical proposals, often submitted by fishery managers. “Things like marker identifications – rather than using the old stump that’s down by the point across the bluff as an identifier, they might use GPS,” he explained. “Those kinds of things get introduced, they’re reported on before meetings, then discussed in committee…It would be an attempt to streamline that.” The BOF could vote on a “consent agenda concept” for technical proposals, commonly used by local governments. “Where things that are fairly pro forma and aren’t terribly controversial. The board would try and identify those things in advance and make them known, and if none of the proposals raised concern, the board could take them under consent agenda and vote them all in the affirmative at one time,” Haight explained, adding that “it would allow more time to work on the more substantive proposals.” The May 24 teleconference is listen only, but the public can comment on the revised proposal process through May 20. Blowhole blunder Toothed whales do have blowholes; I incorrectly implied they do not in last week’s pinger story. Baleen whales have not one, but two blowholes. Thanks to naturalist interpreter Lani Lockwood for the correction. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Pingers get a whale of a rebate; new report out on Kodiak

Alaska salmon fishermen can get rebates on pingers aimed at keeping baleen whales away from their gear. The six inch, battery operated tubes are tied into fishing nets and transmit animal-specific signals every five seconds to alert the animals to keep their distance. “Pingers can be really helpful to alert the whales to something in front of them so you have less entanglements,” said Kathy Hansen, director of the Southeast Alaska Fisheries Alliance. SEAFA received a $25,000 Hollings Grant from the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation to fund the pinger program, which offers a $25 rebate for up to five pingers per permit per vessel on units purchased after May 1. The pingers can retail for up to $100 each and the cost can deter fishermen from buying them. “A Southeast gillnet that is 200 fathoms long needs at least five,” Hansen said, adding that the rebates apply to any Alaska salmon fishery. The pinger signal in this case signal is aimed primarily at preventing entanglements of baleen whales. “Baleen whales don’t have sonar like people think all marine mammals have. They actually just hear,” Hansen said. “So the pinger emits a noise at a frequency that is not harmful and doesn’t scare the whales — it just lets them know something is there.” Baleen whales are the largest animals on earth, yet they feed on the smallest creatures in the ocean. They are named for the long plates of baleen, which hang like flexible teeth of a comb from their upper jaws, which strain huge volumes of ocean water through their plates to capture tons of zooplankton, crustaceans, and small fish. The whales also have blowholes; both features distinguish them from toothed whales. Hansen said she has used pingers in her salmon driftnet gear for six over years and swears by them. “You must be sure they are not spaced too far apart or the whales think there is an opening between them,” she advised. She added that the pingers do not act like a “dinner bell” for whales, nor do they scare away the salmon. Gear encounters by whales are rare in Alaska, with 130 large whale entanglement reports on the books since 1998. According to NOAA’s Protected Resources Division. Find rebate forms from the SEAFA website and wherever pingers are purchased. Hansen said it’s “first come, first served until the money runs out.” Kodiak runs on fish Kodiak ranks second in the U.S. for volume of fish landings and third for value. Now residents want to make sure new ways of running the fisheries sustain that status. Federal fishery managers are crafting a new management plan designed to give about 70 Gulf trawlers better tools to reduce halibut and salmon bycatch in their groundfish hauls. It will include some form of catch shares for to 25 different fish species, which together make up over 80 percent of Kodiak’s annual landings. To provide guidance, a new economic impact report breaks down how the entire seafood industry plays out throughout the Kodiak Island Borough, which includes six outlying villages for a total population of 14,000 residents. The draft report done by the McDowell Group gives a 10-year snapshot starting in 2005. Some highlights: Nearly 500 million pounds of seafood worth $150 million to fishermen was delivered to Kodiak Island in 2014. The seafood industry accounted for 38 percent of total Island employment. Kodiak’s eight seafood processors handle year-round deliveries of fish caught by boats from all parts of the Gulf and Bering Sea, and employ the highest percentage of local residents of any Alaska region. Fish landings in Kodiak have trended up over the last decade, increasing 34 percent since 2005.  Groundfish deliveries of cod, rockfish and flounders have doubled, and pollock landings have increased by 162 percent. The value of salmon permits held by Island residents has increased substantially over the last decade, while permit ownership has dropped. In 2005, 398 Kodiak residents owned permits worth about $11 million. Ten years later, local ownership was at 289 permits valued at $29 million. The study concludes that any management policies or priorities that change the volumes or values of fish harvested and processed in the Kodiak borough will have direct, indirect and induced economic effects over time. Fish tech training to go Fish Tech courses have gone mobile with iPads that allow students to start their training anywhere. The waterproof iPads are the latest tool offered by the University of Alaska/Southeast to prepare students for jobs as fish culturists, hatchery operators, field technicians and managers. “You don’t need accessibility to the internet because all the lectures, videos, readings and exams are preloaded on the iPad. So you could be out at sea and still have access to your classes,” said Ashley Burns in Kodiak, one of six UAS outreach coordinators also in Bethel, Valdez, Petersburg, Homer and Dillingham. The first iPad course is an introduction to fisheries of Alaska, and other classes will be added throughout the year. Each course earns credits toward occupational endorsements, certificates and other degrees. Jobs in Fish Tech fields are readily available due to a shortage of trained workers in Alaska, a trend expected to last for at least a decade. “Our program works heavily with the industry to make sure that our classes being offered are exactly what they are looking for in potential employees,” Burns said, adding that registration for new students is open now. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Canadian firm buys Icicle; Sealaska acquires share in Seattle processor

KETCHIKAN — Icicle Seafoods, a prominent Alaska fishing company with its roots in Petersburg, has been bought by a Canadian company that primarily raises farmed Atlantic salmon. Cooke Seafood Inc., based on Canada’s east coast, announced on May 9 that it had purchased Icicle for an undisclosed amount. The deal is expected to be concluded in less than a month. Icicle’s operations have expanded from its original operations in Petersburg to include both wild Alaskan salmon and salmon farming operations, but its purchase represents Cooke Seafood’s entry into the wild market. “We have tremendous respect for the Alaska fishery and its highly valued brand in the seafood marketplace,” said Cooke Seafood President Glenn Cooke in the May 9 announcement. Icicle Seafood, now based in Seattle, processes more than 330 million pounds of seafood every year, and it harvests wild salmon, crab, halibut and other groundfish. The company runs two large processing vessels, the Gordon Jensen and the R.M. Thorstensen, and 11 fishing vessels starting at 103 feet long. Its purchase will push Cooke Seafood’s production to more than 606 million pounds and $1.8 billion in sales, according to the announcement. Icicle Seafood’s salmon farming operations are based in Washington state. Christopher Ruettgers, CEO of Icicle Seafoods, said the purchase would allow the company to “focus on the expansion of our footprint in Alaska” and offer “access to capital to further modernize our platform, expanded market access for the products harvested by our fleets and a broader product offering for our customer base.” — Ketchikan Daily News staff Sealaska acquires share of Independent Packers Corp. JUNEAU — Southeast regional Native corporation Sealaska has announced the purchase of a minority stake in Independent Packers Corp., a Seattle-based seafood processor. The announcement, made by email May 9, comes a week after the company announced 2015 results that show in-house revenue on the rise. Sealaska Chief Operating Officer Terry Downes said the purchase is “our first foray” into seafood and part of Sealaska’s shift into businesses familiar to its 22,000 shareholders. “It straddles Southeast Alaska and the Pacific Northwest,” Downes said. “We want to have our businesses be really relevant to the ownership.” In the 1980s, Sealaska owned (through a subsidiary) Seattle Seafoods and Seafood Packers Inc., two Washington-based firms that were subsequently sold to Trident Seafoods. It has also previously invested in mariculture operations to grow shellfish. Downes declined to disclose the size of Sealaska’s investment or what percentage the minority share will be. Independent Packers president Jeff Buske did not respond to inquiries before press time. Independent Packers is a custom-processing company that works “in the middle of the supply chain,” Downes said. It doesn’t catch fish and it doesn’t sell them in stores. Rather, it finishes filets and products on behalf of other companies, effectively acting as a third-party contractor. According to Sealaska’s initial announcement, IPC has approximately 130 employees in Seattle and works principally with red and king salmon. The purchase is part of a new business strategy begun by Sealaska in 2012. In that strategy, Sealaska decided to focus on three corporate groups: natural resources (a group that includes timber), natural foods (home to the IPC stake) and Sealaska Government Services, which will focus on “water, energy and maritime services,” according to the company’s 2015 annual report. Sealaska posted a $73 million loss in 2013, but that loss was partially offset by income received through the 7(i) program, which requires Alaska Native regional corporations to share revenue from mineral development. Sealaska makes money when 7(i) money is included on its balance sheets, but the company’s own operations still post a loss. Last week, Sealaska CEO Anthony Mallott said the company is on track to break even on its own operations by 2017. He said the acquisition of two businesses would be part of that effort. Downes said IPC is one of those businesses. The other, an oceanography corporation, will fit into Sealaska’s government services grouping. A deal is expected to close on that acquisition by the end of the month, he said. — James Brooks, Morris News Service-Alaska/Juneau Empire

AOOS launches portal for Cook Inlet beluga whale data

KENAI — There’s a lot of research happening on Cook Inlet beluga whales at any given time. Unfortunately, a lot of the data has stayed isolated, held by the entities that collect it. The Alaska Ocean Observing System, an organization that monitors ocean and coastal conditions, is trying to link some of the data with a new online portal called the Cook Inlet Beluga Whale Ecosystem Portal. Varying information about the endangered whales, ranging from sightings to ocean conditions in their habitats, is presented in a map available to the public on AOOS’s website. Holly Kent, the program coordinator for AOOS, said some of the information — such as the records of sightings in Cook Inlet — has never been made available to the public before. Anyone can log onto the portal and use the data, mapped like color-coded honeycomb cells, showing the frequency of beluga sightings in any one area of northern Cook Inlet, Turnagain Arm or Knik Arm. The map allows for layers to be stacked, too, juxtaposing historical data from agencies like the Alaska Department of Fish and Game with other information pertaining to beluga whales, such as water temperature and the Marine Exchange of Alaska’ ship tracking information. “(The portal) gives you more information on how the whales interact within their ecosystem, which gives you a handle on how to better manage that resource, when you’re also dealing with development going on,” Kent said. “This is the first time that agency people and resource managers have had the ability to look at all of these things in one place at one site.” The public may find it interesting, too, Kent said. The data sets are available to be downloaded for research purposes as well. “We’re just trying to make the information easier and more accessible to more people,” Kent said. “That includes agencies.” The AOOS is one of a network of ocean observation system organizations in the Integrated Ocean Observing System, spanning from Alaska along the coasts of the U.S., reaching to Puerto Rico. Though these organizations receive funding from, and are overseen by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, they function separately, Kent said. AOOS had collected significant data on the Cook Inlet beluga whales, which are considered one of eight species most at risk of extinction in the near future, according to a February announcement from NOAA. The agency recently issued a five-year plan for managing the belugas, which have an estimated population of about 340 as of 2014. The priorities listed in the plan include reducing human-generated noise in the whales’ habitat, habitat protection to encourage foraging and reproduction, research on the whales’ population characteristics, ensuring prey is available and improving the stranding response program. Cook Inlet beluga whale managers from NOAA had initiated the process of accumulating information on beluga whale sightings from different sources several years ago, said Mandy Migura, the Cook Inlet beluga whale manager for NOAA’s Alaska Region. NOAA made contact with groups such as the Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and the Port of Anchorage to use their data from beluga sightings, she said. “There were all these different data sets of monitoring for beluga whales, but they hadn’t actually been compiled and made available … we wanted to go for the scientific sightings so we had some quality control over what was actually a beluga,” Migura said. “I’m not going to say it’s comprehensive of every potential data set that is out there, but these are the ones for the initial effort that we got permission to use.” Migura said AOOS approached NOAA to use its data for the beluga whale portal as part of an ecosystem-based management. Although the map tool is useful, it will not be a single stop for all the information about Cook Inlet beluga whales — there are still caveats to the information available there, she said. “I think this would be one tool in our toolbox,” Migura said. “We don’t expect that’s every single sighting. Just because there’s one area that doesn’t show beluga presence, it doesn’t mean there are no belugas there. (The map shows) just positive sightings. If there are not sightings, we can’t assume that means there’s no belugas there.” The portal links together data and allows viewers to see different data points in layers, possibly illuminating connections that bear implications for the whales, Kent said. With NOAA’s data available on the portal as well as other data, agencies and researchers can network on how to best manage the whales, she said. “We have now got (NOAA’s data) out on a map, open to the public, for lots of researchers and agency resource managers to do what’s called ecosystem based management, where they can manage that resource by using the ecosystem factors,” Kent said. “They can see if there’s any kind of connections.” The Cook Inlet Beluga Whale Ecosystem Portal can be accessed at portal.aoos.org/cibw.php. Reach Elizabeth Earl at [email protected]

Yukon, Kuskokwim king rules will remain cautious in ‘16

Along the states most heavily used subsistence waterways, Alaska’s lack of chinook salmon complicates food access in 2016. Despite an upward looking forecast for chinook on the Kuskokwim River, managers are still gun shy from the 2010 drop in king salmon recruitment. One average forecast, they say, does not merit a move to looser management. The 2016 Kuskokwim River king salmon forecast is for a range of 125,000 to 219,000 fish. The drainage-wide Chinook salmon escapement goal is 65,000 to 120,000. Average subsistence Chinook salmon harvest is 84,000. If the run comes back within the forecast range, then there may be enough chinook salmon to provide for escapement and subsistence needs. Managers are still uncertain how many kings actually came upriver in 2015. Unlike many other widely used Alaska waterways, the Kuskokwim River does not yet have a functional Alaska Department of Fish and Game sonar system to count returns. Other less accurate methods prevail, and even these disagree with each other over the amount of kings returning to the system in 2015. Weir counts and aerial surveys from a dozen Kuskokwim tributaries set a range of between 129,000 to 229,000 chinook returning to the river, or 172,000 as the median. Mark recapture studies say differently. They estimate 124,000 kings came up the river. Between the two, managers say, it pays to keep vigilant. “Given the uncertainty in the estimate of the 2015 run size, the large forecast range of the 2016 run, and consecutive years of low chinook salmon runs to the Kuskokwim River, a precautionary management strategy remains warranted,” according to the forecast. Managers say they will continue considering several of the tools used in the past several years to conserve chinook salmon, including early season chinook salmon subsistence fishery closure, tributary closures, restrictions on gillnet mesh size and length, live release of chinook salmon from fishing gear, time and area restrictions, and subsistence hook and line bag and possession limits. These restrictions could produce much the same season in 2016 as in 2015: a poor one. Management during low abundance of kings hobbled the 2015 Kuskokwim season. The Kuskokwim River produced some surplus chinook for subsistence, but nowhere near the official amount needed for subsistence, or ANS. The ANS, a number set by the Board of Fisheries, is 67,200 to 109,800, and hasn’t been met in five years. The average subsistence harvest is 84,000. ADFG estimates the Kuskokwim River chinook salmon subsistence harvest in 2015 was between 17,000 and 25,000. Native communities along the river continue to appeal to the federal government to manage the run. The Akiak Native Community has asked Federal Subsistence Board to close off all salmon harvest in the Kuskokwim River’s federal waters in the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge to anyone but federally qualified subsistence users. In 2015, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service closed all chinook fishing opportunities, including federally-qualified subsistence, in waters within and adjacent to the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge, and put gear and time restrictions for all other salmon to protect the chinook run. Yukon River ADFG hasn’t released Yukon River forecasts yet, but management plans from the area’s Board of Fisheries meeting aided commercial fisheries while still protecting kings.  During the Alaska Board of Fisheries Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim meeting in January, the board adopted several restrictions for the Yukon, but also opened new opportunities for commercial users. To provide more opportunity at the behest of Kwik’pak Fisheries, the board opened up a commercial pink salmon fishery for the lower Yukon River — provided there are enough chum and pink salmon forecasted to satisfy subsistence demands. The board also allowed for beach seines for the commercial chum harvest, subject to chinook-sensitive mesh size and depth restrictions. Each fishery and gear type has strict orders to closely watch for caught kings and live release them back into the river. This now applies to subsistence fish wheels for the first time. The Yukon River has a substantially greater commercial fishing industry than the Kuskokwim, and subsistence management has to strike a balance between the two user groups. Long before king salmon declines materialized starting around 2010, the Yukon River saw a precipitous decline in king salmon abundance beginning at the turn of the century that has led to restrictive management measures ever since and resulted in three federal disaster declarations for poor returns. These measures appear to be working, or at least not making things worse. In 2015, the Yukon River restrictions coincided with one of the best escapements in years. At the Eagle sonar station near the Canadian border, ADFG counted 83,372 chinook salmon, 20,000 more than 2014 and 50,000 more than the Canadian escapements in 2013 and 2012. The trick for ADFG will be to continue the evidently successful king restrictions while supporting commercial fishing, one of the region’s only employers. The 2015 Yukon River commercial harvest — only considering chum, the river’s main commercial crop — netted $1.3 million, up from the 2005-2014 summer chum value average of $832,055. Subsistence needs for chum were met, but at the expense of chinook subsistence harvest. Chum salmon are the Yukon River’s only commercial species, as ADFG discontinued the commercial chinook fishery in 2011 in response to poor returns. Prices were down in 2015, and the upper river’s only processor shut down. The lower Yukon will continue to hold processing capability for its new pink fishery. A fire took much of Kwik-Pak’s office and housing in 2015, but general manager Jack Schultheis said the company won’t lose a step before the 2016 season. None of the processing capability was affected. “We did not lose any production facilities,” said Schultheis. “We’re not going to miss anything.” In the meantime, Schultheis said Lynden Transport is shipping a barge with new housing and office materials to the lower Yukon to be ready for the season.

FISH FACTOR: Cuts force ADFG to make unpopular move to contract fishing

In the face of Alaska’s multi-billion dollar budget shortfalls, state policy makers are putting the onus on fishermen to cover the costs of going fishing. “One of the sources we have to offset general fund decreases is increased test fishing. We don’t like to catch fish or crab or anything just to raise money, but in this climate we’re having to look at that long and hard,” said Scott Kelley, director of the Commercial Fisheries for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Test fishing is typically done by department-chartered vessels to assess stocks, run strength and other projects. Now in many regions costs for those management necessities are being shunted to fishermen and processors. “I’m not 100 percent sure when we first started fishing specifically for money, but I do know we did so in Southeast for herring in 2003,” Kelley said. “We’ve also done some test fishing for revenue in Upper Cook Inlet. Such fisheries are not popular with anyone and in times of greater budget prosperity, the Legislature has provided general fund increments to allow us to not do such projects.” Nowhere is the practice more unpopular than at Bristol Bay. “The Legislature cuts the budget and says Bristol Bay can catch fish with a private contract with a processor, and use that money to pay for operating expenses like in-river test fish projects or counting towers or the Port Moller test boat,” fumed Tim Sands, area manager at Dillingham, adding that the price paid for the fish is a fraction of its true value. Last year’s contract for $100,000 paid out at 30 cents a pound shared by fishermen, processors and the state. That compared to a base sockeye price of 50 cents a pound for non-contract fish. “So you have to catch at least three times as many fish to pay the bills as you would if they had a regular flat tax,” Sands said. “It drives me nuts because it is so inefficient. They could have had a 25 percent tax in Bristol Bay and raised all the money we needed last year. Nobody likes taxes. But taking fish away from the fishermen before they catch them is just as much of a tax as taking money out of their pockets after they catch the fish. At least they can write that tax off.” This year’s $250,000 test fishing contract was covered by the fishermen-funded Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, a group funded by a one percent tax on their catches. Fishermen would have to catch up to 1.8 million pounds of sockeye this summer to cover the test fishing contract costs. Sands said the contract next year could reach $400,000. “That’s sockeye that would’ve been caught by industry and instead goes into department contract vessels and things like that. That doesn’t go over very well for reasons I totally understand,” Kelley said. Other sources also have stepped up to fund local fishing needs. The Bristol Bay Salmon Research Initiative provided $60,000 to keep the salmon counting tower at Togiak operating. “Our tower escapement projects are the basic backbone of our management,” Sands said. “To not have them means we can’t forecast for the system. We don’t have information to adjust escapement goals, or fish counts with the accompanying age compositions we get from the sampling tower. I figure we would lose 8-15 percent of our annual harvest because we would not be able to extend fishing periods at Togiak if we didn’t have that tower in.” Elsewhere, costs to save the Coghill River lake weir at Prince William Sound were covered for this year by the Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corporation. Test fisheries also will be used in several other regions to raise money, including a $200,000 tab for Southeast salmon seiners to cover costs for aerial surveys, Scott Kelley said. “I’ll bet that won’t be the end of the list when all is said and done,” he added. Salmon starts Alaska’s salmon season officially kicks off soon with runs of reds and kings at Copper River. State managers have put the 500-plus fleet on notice that the famous fishery will likely open on May 16. “Oh my gosh, it’s so exciting to see all the boats coming in and out of the harbor. A lot of our seasonal cannery workers are returning and everyone’s got nets strewn out in their front yards getting mended. You can feel the energy pulsating,” said Erica Thompson-Clark, project assistant and social media whiz at the Copper River/Prince William Sound Marketing Association, funded by area fishermen. No region celebrates their salmon better than the media savvy fishery forces from Cordova, highlighted with “familiarity tours” throughout the year with chefs, magazine writers and foodies from the Lower 48. “You name it, we bring ‘em,” Thompson-Clark said. “We tour them through Cordova and the Copper River area, and we have them meet with fishermen and management officials and other entities invested in the fishery. They learn what it takes to have this sustainable salmon run continue every year.” The group also features educational campaigns called “Know Your Fisherman” and “Salmon Fishing 101” on Facebook and Instagram. “We show fish being iced, short videos and interviews with fishermen. We are trying to educate consumers about how these salmon are being harvested by single boats, each salmon being picked out of the net,” Thompson-Clark said. “We talk to them about how every time they buy Copper River salmon, they are supporting a small business owner. We really want to drive that home.” The Copper River salmon website offers locator tabs to help customers find the famous fish in their regions. Those tabs will be getting clicks like crazy when Cordova again pulls off its most headline making media move: partnering with Alaska Airlines for a First Fish promotion that on opening day whisks salmon to awaiting chefs in Seattle and the Lower 48. The Copper River harvest this year calls for 1.6 million sockeyes, 21,000 kings and 201,000 coho salmon. Salmon love Salmon love letters best describes a new book called Made of Salmon: Alaska Stories from The Salmon Project. It is a compilation of essays from many of Alaska’s more well known writers, along with everyday salmon lovers. “These aren’t reports or essays about how we should do this or that, they are a reflection of their own lives and the way salmon fits into them,” said Erin Harrington, Salmon Project director. “Some of the most imaginative, insightful and creative authors living in Alaska have contributed to this book, and to make it so personal with their beautiful words is really out of this world.” A sampler from “Let nothing be wasted” by Leslie Leyland Fields of Kodiak: “When I walk a salmon in each hand up to my house to the kitchen, I will carve every bit of flesh from its bones…Every bite will taste of ocean and care; and look how filled we are. Let nothing be wasted, not this ocean, not any lake or sea, not a single fish.” Find the Made of Salmon book at The Salmon Project website. The book is also available at local bookstores and online at University of Alaska Press. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Processors pony up to fund herring surveys as budget cuts bite

Cuts affecting Alaska’s fisheries will be spread across all regions and species, depending on the final budget that is approved by state legislators. As it stands now, the total commercial fisheries budget for fiscal year 2017 from all state and federal funding sources is about $64 million, a drop of $10 million over two years. “With cuts of that magnitude, everything is on the table,” said Scott Kelley, director of the Commercial Fisheries Division at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Last year 109 fishery projects were axed, and another 65 are on the cut list for the upcoming fiscal year that begins on July 1, Kelley said. They include a golden king crab observer project and coho salmon evaluation plans in the Southeast region, a major salmon stock assessment program near Nome, numerous salmon enhancement pilot projects, crab research at Chignik, reduced time on the Nushagak River and loss of counting towers at Bristol Bay, cutbacks at the genetics lab and positions left unfilled at fish headquarters in Juneau, to name a few. “That’s just a flavor of what we are talking about. Once the governor signs off on a budget and the dust settles, we will know our allocations from all funding sources,” Kelley said. Some relief has come from funds generated by fees on purchases of limited entry permits and crew licenses, and Kelley credits industry members for stepping up to the plate. That was clearly the case at Togiak in Bristol Bay, where the state’s largest herring fishery is underway. When swarms of fish arrived on April 17, the earliest date ever, everyone was caught off guard. But with all herring management budgets zeroed out last year (except for Sitka Sound), there was little money for flyovers to assess the run. “We have a threshold biomass we are supposed to document before we open the fishery, and that requires flying and looking at the area,” said Tim Sands, area management biologist at Dillingham. The processors “immediately shook the bushes,” to come up with money to fly herring surveys, Sands said, with Silver Bay, Trident, North Pacific and Icicle Seafoods each contributing $2,500. That will provide for about 10 flights during the fishery, down by more than half. The lack of flying time has meant missed opportunities for fishermen further west at Good News Bay and Security Cove, as no surveys mean the fishery cannot be opened. Sands is worried that the zeroed herring budget means managers won’t be able to produce a forecast for next year’s herring run at Togiak, due to a lack of flying and fish sampling. “In order to forecast we need two things: biomass estimates from aerial surveys, and samples to run our age structure analysis models.” Sands explained. “This year’s data gap will cycle through our whole population estimate for at least eight years. It’s very problematic.” Budget boosters Along with marijuana, mariculture is in line to be one of Alaska’s most profitable new industries and plans call for it to get moving fast. The Alaska Mariculture Task Force Mariculture, created by Gov. Bill Walker’s Administrative Order in February, will hold its first meeting soon and fill out agency and public seats on the 11-member panel. “The state has a different mindset now about diversifying the economy, and looking at developing resources that weren’t as prominent in the past when we had a lot of oil money around,” said Julie Decker, executive director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation. AFDF believes mariculture could be a $1 billion industry in Alaska in 30 years. There are 56 sea farms operating in Alaska now, with sales topping $1 million for the first time last year. Oysters by far make up the main crop — one that could easily be supplemented with seaweeds. “It’s an excellent cash crop for aquatic farmers because you grow it, you harvest it, you sell it. Every year you’ve got some cash flow, which is really difficult for shellfish farmers because they have to wait three to five years with various shellfish, or up to 10 years with geoducks, to start seeing a return on your investment. So seaweed can play a really big role,” Decker said. Seaweeds are some of the fastest growing plants in the world. Kelp, for example, grows up to 9 feet to 12 feet in just three months. Seaweed prices depend on what it is being used for and where it is grown. Growers in Maine, for example, fetch 50 to 60 cents a pound for edible grades; their rock weed crop brings in $20 million a year. Chile estimates a kelp industry would bring in $540 million annually. Japan’s $2 billion nori industry is one of the world’s most valuable crops. Demand for seaweeds has soared over the past 50 years, far outstripping wild supplies, says the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. The task force will brainstorm a statewide strategic plan, and one area of focus will be Western Alaska. Decker said some village groups are backing data collection on possible growing sites, processing and transportation options and community interest. “I believe there is a lot of potential out there that we haven’t even recognized yet,” Decker said. Walker wants the mariculture task force plan on his desk by March 1, 2018. Fishing chronicles Outwitting fish swiping killer whales…fights aboard 300 foot factory trawlers…falling overboard…waves in the wheelhouse — a new book titled  “Chronicles of a Bering Sea Captain” captures five decades of crabbing, trawling and longlining in the Bering Sea. The motivation for the book came from a health scare 20 years ago at sea, said author Jake Jacobsen. “The thought struck me that I have six kids and they know very little about what I have done out at sea, and I wanted to leave some stories for them,” he said in a phone interview. Jacobsen began jotting down stories in fits and starts, put it down for about a decade, and became inspired again last fall when he came upon old notebooks and photos. He wrote furiously for three months and two weeks ago Chronicles was released on Amazon.com. One of Jacobsen’s favorite stories describes trying to outwit killer whales from robbing fish from longline hooks. “You try and develop strategies,” he said with a laugh. “You cut your line, anchor it off, run away for a while and stop the engines and then come back. The whales leave sentries around at your strings, and then they call each other. So you can’t get very far hauling gear again because here come the whales.” In writing the book, Jacobsen said he wanted to correct some misconceptions people might have about fishing the Bering Sea. “When I tell stories about staying up for three days in a row and working until we’re just exhausted, we are not talking about decimating the resource,” he said. “We are talking about a fishery that takes a small percentage of the stock, and it is all controlled by the best science available. In Alaska we are very proud of the sustainable seafood programs we have.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.  

Package of tax hikes on fishing, mining and fuel stalls

A bill to raise taxes on fisheries, fuel and mining remains unscheduled for a House Finance Committee hearing after public objections. Gov. Bill Walker introduced a suite of proposals at the beginning of the session designed to hitch up taxes on state industries and individuals to help close the $4.1 billion budget gap. Fisheries, fuel, and mining tax increases had varied levels of support. Each remained on the committee backburners after being recommended to it weeks or even months ago. Senate Bill 132 and its mirror House Bill 249 were passed to their chambers’ finance committees on Feb. 29 and Feb. 24, respectively. The fisheries tax moved out of a lengthy House Fisheries Committee holding pattern on April 5. Mining taxes moved to the committee on April 1. To keep legislators from having to muster individual votes, the House Finance Committee folded the three industry tax increases into a three-part minibus on April 14. The adjusted tax minibus did not provide new estimates for the state’s likely revenue. Previous estimates for the three taxes indicated $80 million for the state. The bills’ complexities brought mixed receptions. Industry leaders acknowledged the need to pay for state services, but contested portions of the package they found inequitable.   At an April 16 hearing, the House Finance Committee responded to concerns by postponing a discussion scheduled for the next day. “After hearing public testimony last night,” said committee co-chair Rep. Steve Thompson, R-Fairbanks, “We’ve realized there are a lot of problems with the tax bill HB 249, and we’re going to set it aside for the time being.” In an April 15 committee hearing, the Alaska Chamber testified against the newly bundled tax increases. Chamber President and Chief Executive Officer Curtis Thayer said the state needs to look to its own finances before raiding the private sector.  “The public won’t support a host of new taxes,” Thayer said. “Not while the state is handing out double-digit raises. How can they when their friends and family members are losing their jobs?” Thayer said public employee contracts promise too much. He said that pay raises between 3.25 percent and 10.5 percent over three years are still being considered.  “They’re trying to fill a $4 billion dollar budget gap by hammering fishing and mining with $49 million in new taxes,” Thayer said. “Meanwhile, another $70 million in pay raises just widens the gap.” Fisheries tax increases in the omnibus received much of the same treatment as the standalone bill. Industry representatives repeated many of the same concerns they had voiced in the House Fisheries Committee. Objections were widespread concerning the various fishing sectors that would each be impacted by tax increases differently: canned salmon simply cannot handle a tax increase, floating processors and inshore processors need different treatment, developing fisheries cannot handle a tax increase, the state’s reputed fiscal loss on fisheries management is a red herring, and tax increases will make it harder for young fishermen to enter the industry. Fishermen previously wanted to make sure they would not be alone in tax increases. Committee chair Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, held the bill earlier in session, saying she needed assurances that other industries would be taxed as well and that the existing fisheries taxes would be reexamined to maximize revenue to the state. With a modified bill and promises from the Department of Revenue to maximize existing fisheries taxes, the bill moved on to the House Finance Committee without opposition. Though the inclusion of the fisheries bill into an omnibus is a “step in the right direction,” said United Fishermen of Alaska, the states largest fishing industry group, they still do not support the package. Walker’s original bill would impose a 1 percent increase on both landings taxes and fisheries taxes on each fishery sector. The amended bill keeps the 1 percent increase for every fishery sector except the shore-based salmon cannery sector and the developing fisheries sector. A negative market outlook for Alaska fisheries caused many fishermen to reject the bill outright, saying they have little room to have more revenue scraped from their decks. Certain bill changes address two of the larger concerns for salmon canneries and developing fisheries. In previous testimony, representatives from the Pacific Seafood Processors Association spoke of the tax’s tone-deafness regarding the 2016 salmon market and how a tax increase could cripple canneries. Back-to-back years of large sockeye runs in the state’s largest salmon fishery, Bristol Bay, left salmon processors with a price-lowering glut of product. The U.S. dollar’s strength against key export market currencies added to the overstock to create a tough market outlook for salmon in 2016. Walker’s bill to increase state fuel taxes had support from some industry groups it would directly impact. The Senate Transportation Committee passed the bill onto the Finance Committee with lukewarm support on a 3-2 vote. Senate Bill 132, and its mirror House Bill 249, would raise the per gallon state fuel taxes as follows: highway fuel tax from 8 cents to 16 cents; marine fuel tax from 5 cents to 10 cents; aviation gasoline from 4.7 cents to 10 cents; and jet fuel from 3.2 cents to 10 cents. The legislation would correspondingly increase the per gallon highway fuel tax rebate for off-road use from 6 cents to 12 cents. In all, the tax hikes are projected to raise $49 million per year, according to the Revenue Department. The mining tax increase, originally HB 253, was badly received when introduced. It would raise the tax rate for mines with a net income of $100,000 or greater from 7 percent to 9 percent. This includes 14 mines statewide. The bill would eliminate a 3½-year tax exemption for new mines and implement a fee for mining licenses. Mining taxes collected $38.6 million in 2015 according to state records. The increase would collect another $6 million per year. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Subsistence group files opposition to Ninilchik gillnet

Federal subsistence groups upriver from a controversial subsistence gillnet have asked that the Federal Subsistence Board rescind its 2015 to allow it. The Cooper Landing and Hope Federal Subsistence Community has filed a proposal change in the 2017-2019 Federal Subsistence Board proposal book that would eliminate Ninilchik Traditional Council’s gillnet on the Kenai River. The gillnet, the Cooper Landing and Hope filers said, has a direct impact on them. The gillnet has not yet been in the water on the Kenai after the operational plan was not approved last summer and fishing for king salmon was prohibited by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manager. “We maintain firmly that the Federal Subsistence Board’s approval, which allows Ninilchik to place a community gillnet in the Kenai River, aggrieves the federal subsistence priority and right of Cooper Landing and Hope subsistence users,” the proposal states. The subsistence users echo biologists’ concerns that the gillnet is not “consistence with sound management principles and the conservation of healthy populations of fish and wildlife.” “The nonselective nature of a gillnet does no allow for close management or control of fish harvests by either the subsistence user of river management personnel,” reads the proposal,” and will likely result in chinook harvest numbers that are above sustainable population levels.” They also said the gillnet creates a priority for one set of subsistence users, which is specifically forbidden by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, which established subsistence laws in the state in 1980. According to ANILCA protocol, authorities must give equal priority to subsistence users in the same area. Because they both fish the waters of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, Cooper Landing and Hope subsistence fishermen are entitled to the same gillnet allowance. However, conservation concerns take the forefront. “While we firmly maintain that (the gillnet) adversely affects our subsistence priority by allowing Ninilchik an exclusive priority to place a community net in the Kenai River, we do not believe allowing all three communities to place a gillnet in the Kenai would rectify this adverse effect,” reads the proposal. Cooper Landing and Hope subsistence users claim in their proposal that the Ninilchik Traditional Council already has a host of methods and means of harvesting fish including rod and reel and dipnets, but the council underutilizes them. Only 2 percent of 807 year-round Ninilchik residents aged 20-69 applied for federal fishing permits. This excludes those who applied for a gillnet permit on the Kasilof River, which was passed by the Federal Subsistence Board and put in the water during the summer of 2015. In Cooper Landing in 2015, 40 percent of 214 resident 20-69 year olds participated in federal subsistence fishing. In Hope, 21 percent participated of 149 residents.  “An increased participation rate by the community of Ninilchik alone in the other available subsistence fishery methods and means on the Kenai River using selective gear will most likely result in a more than sufficient harvest result,” the proposal reads, “without the burden of incidentally targeting other fisheries with conservation concerns.” The Ninilchik Traditional Council gillnet has caused a heated and tangled legal battle. In January 2015, the Federal Subsistence Board, a multi-agency board that governs Alaska subsistence use, allowed NTC two community subsistence gillnets, one each on the federally managed portions of the Kasilof and Kenai rivers in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. The proposal allocated 4,000 sockeye — a small portion of the total Kenai River sockeye run — but king salmon form the center of the debate. State and federal biologists advised the board against passing the proposal over conservation concerns. In an era when king salmon are at a statewide low point, they said, a gillnet could indiscriminately snap up valuable king salmon along with the sockeye. As a condition, NTC would have to submit operational plans for each gillnet. The federal in-season manager Anderson, who works for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, must approve the plan before either net can go in the water. The proposal passed 5-3, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service voting against. Few besides NTC itself appreciated the gillnets. State and federal biologists opposed the gillnet idea on conservation grounds. More than 700 requests for reconsideration have flooded the Office of Subsistence Management urging a repeal; the previous record for such requests of a single proposal was six. Anderson reviewed and approved an operational plan for the Kasilof River sockeye gillnet on July 13, but did not approve the operational plan submitted for the gillnet on the Kenai River. In an emergency order, Anderson also closed all chinook fishing in the area, including subsistence fishing. Anderson argued that while the early chinook run did meet the lower end of the escapement goal, the low statewide numbers for chinook returns merited a conservation-minded approach. NTC Executive Director Ivan Encelewski said there were no conservation concerns, and that Anderson unfairly halted the fishery for political reasons. With a week to go in July, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game liberalized commercial fishing time for sockeye salmon and allowed the recreational take of Kenai River chinook salmon based on estimates that the minimum escapement goal would be met. The Ninilchik Traditional Council submitted two requests on July 17 and July 21 asking the subsistence board not only to rescind Anderson’s orders, but to remove Cook Inlet area subsistence fishing from the federal in-season manager’s authority. Further, NTC wanted to rewrite the proposal, requesting that the federal manager be forced to accept their operational plan. At a July 28 meeting in Anchorage, the board upheld Anderson’s decision to deny the operational plan and kept him as the manager of the fishery despite the council’s request to remove him. The special action request failed on a tie vote. Last fall, NTC filed a lawsuit against the Department of Interior seeking to order the Kenai River operational plan approved and to remove Anderson as the FWS manager for the refuge. The suit is ongoing. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]  

FISH FACTOR: Another study shows ocean acidification bad for crab stocks

Increasingly corrosive oceans are raising more red flags for Bering Sea crab stocks. Results from a first ever, two year project on baby Tanner crabs show that higher ocean acidity (pH) affects both their shell production and the immune systems. Bairdi Tanner crab, the larger cousins of snow crab, are growing into one of Alaska’s largest crab fisheries with a nearly 20 million pound harvest this season. “We put mom crabs from the Bering Sea in a tank, and allowed her embryos to grow and hatch in an acidified treatment,” explained project leader Bob Foy, director of the NOAA Fisheries laboratory at Kodiak. “We took the tiny crab and put them in different levels of pH to represent acidification and let them grow. We then took the moms and mated them and ran them again for another year. What that means is the full reproductive development of those females occurred in acidified conditions,” he said. The first year of exposure didn’t show many effects, he said, but the second year really had an impact on the tiny crabs’ ability to molt, which they do weekly or monthly depending on their growth stage. It takes five to seven years for a Bairdi Tanner to reach its mature, two-pound size. “Those larval and juvenile animals are constantly going through physiologically stressful times to build a shell,” Foy said. “And that’s where we are seeing the effects.” Researchers also studied the baby crab blood cells, which bring calcium to the shell and also help fight off illnesses. Those functions went down as well. “The bottom line is long-term exposure to acidified seawater negatively impacts Tanner crabs’ ability to grow and survive, and likely impacts their ability to defend against disease,” Foy said. Based on population modeling, which managers use to set annual catch limits, researchers can predict potential impacts the increasing corrosion will have on the crab stocks. “We can take data collected from surveys, such as the abundance and size of adult crab, and estimate how many crab will survive and recruit to a fishery seven years later,” Foy explained. “To estimate the effects of climate change and ocean acidification, we include the mortality of larval and juvenile crab we observed in the laboratory.” Based on global estimates of ocean acidification, the Bering Sea may reach a pH level of 7.5 to 7.8 in the next 75 to 100 years if not earlier, Foy said. Once that level is reached, the crab stocks are likely to begin a countdown. “For Tanner crab, the timeline for estimated effects on fishery yields and profits is on a scale of 20 years, but only if all life stages of Tanners are exposed to corrosive lower pH water,” Foy explained. He added that studies on red king crab from Bristol Bay show a double whammy from higher acidity and warming oceans. “Once the Bering Sea reaches those pH levels,” Foy said, “there will be significant decreases in survival and subsequent fishery yields and profits within 20 years.” Crab ka-ching! The last pots are being pulled in the Bering Sea crab fisheries and crews can count on good prices for their catch. “It’s been a really good year for crab all around,” said Jake Jacobsen, executive director of the Inter-Cooperative Exchange, a harvester group that catches 70 percent of the Bering Sea crab quota. Boats are finishing off the Tanner and snow crab fisheries, and final prices won’t be settled for a few months after sales are made. But advances of $2 per pound for snow crab and $2.20 for Tanners were on par with ending prices last season. “We expect to see a substantial increase when we complete negotiations for final prices,” Jacobsen said. “Prices for snow crab started to climb significantly last fall when it was announced the quota would be slashed 40 percent to just over 40 million pounds. And prices are still going up.” Snow crab sales are usually split between Japan and U.S. markets, whereas nearly all of the Bairdi Tanners are sold at home, where it’s really starting to catch on. “We’re really excited about it,” Jacobsen said. “We’d like things to go more to the domestic side, so our countrymen can appreciate this crab. It’s just got such a great, distinct flavor.” The red king crab fishery at Bristol Bay last fall also yielded a better payday. Crabbers averaged $8.18 per pound for their catch, compared to $6.86 the previous year. “That was due primarily to the crackdown on illegal fishing in Russia, which resulted in a reduced influx of Russian crab into the U.S. As supplies diminished, the price rose and it became a very favorable market for us. It’s been a long effort and it’s very satisfying to see some payoff,” Jacobsen said. Fish brush off When it comes to Alaska lawmakers cutting fishing related budgets, little discussion takes place on the trickle down effects to local communities. So claims Gunnar Knapp, a fisheries economist and director of the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Knapp also has been an advisor to the Alaska Legislature this session. “The kinds of conversations are not rational, careful considerations of the implications various cuts have on the industry,” he said during a visit to Kodiak. “Nobody says if you cut Fish and Game, they are going to close this counting tower and this research program, and they’re not going to not have these managers. There is no discussion as to whether cuts are penny wise and pound foolish, as I think a lot probably are.” Knapp pointed to the folly of gutting funds for the state’s lone seafood marketing arm, the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, as an example. “ASMI increases the value of Alaska fish products, and taxes are based on the value of the fish. There is likely a direct trade-off between funding for ASMI and fish value and fish taxes. But no one is thinking about that,” he said. With Alaska’s commercial catches on the order of 5 to 6 billion pounds per year, adding just one penny per pound to fish prices makes a difference of nearly $1 million dollars for state and local governments each. Knapp also called it “maddening” that lawmakers think of the seafood industry as a single entity. “It drives me nuts when people say ‘the fishing industry.’ Our industry is very diverse, from small skiffs to huge floating processors, and what it costs to manage them varies widely,’ he said. Rep. Louise Stutes (R-Kodiak), chair of the House Fisheries Committee, agreed. “They just don’t get it. It is the most bizarre thing I have ever seen. Some legislators are just anti-commercial fishing, and it is so apparent. It’s really bad. What do they think held this state up before oil?” Stutes said during a recent trip home. To Knapp, the most important point lawmakers miss is that Alaska’s fishing industry maximizes community and cultural objectives more than any other. “We have never in Alaska managed fisheries for the purpose of making it a cash cow of the state, as with oil,” Knapp said. “The Constitution says the ‘legislature shall manage natural resources for the maximum benefit of the people.’ For fisheries, we try to maximize employment, fishing income and a variety of social objectives.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

COMMENTARY: 40 years after Magnuson-Stevens, not all promises kept

The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act turned 40 last week and federal and state fishery managers marked that event with an opinion piece in the Alaska Dispatch News on April 12 extolling the successes of the Magnuson-Stevens Act and its implementation in Alaska as a “global model of sustainability.” As the authors point out, the Magnuson-Stevens Act sets up a “transparent governing process” intended to ensure that “science is behind every fishery management decision” in Alaska. Indeed, the Magnuson-Stevens Act sets up national standards ensuring that all fisheries are managed to achieve “optimum yield from each fishery” with management decisions “based on the best scientific information available,” and guided by carefully considered fishery management plans. We can all find common ground in recognizing the benefits associated with management under the Act, as well as many of the successes of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (the council) and NOAA Fisheries in ensuring the long-term stewardship of Alaska’s fisheries. The problem is that many important fisheries have been left out of the fold of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. The Cook Inlet salmon fishery is a prime example. Every year, some 10 to 30 million salmon pass through federal waters in Cook Inlet, in route to their native streams. These are some of the largest wild salmon runs in the world, and they go largely unharvested. But the North Pacific Fishery Management Council and NOAA Fisheries plainly don’t want anything to do with Cook Inlet salmon fisheries, despite their obligation under federal law. The council never took an active role in managing the fishery, and in 2012, with approval from NOAA Fisheries, removed Cook Inlet from the council’s Fishery Management Plan, despite the objections of the commercial fishing industry. The result is that the benefits of Magnuson-Stevens Act have never come to pass in Cook Inlet. Cook Inlet does not get the benefit of “drawing on NOAA’s environmental intelligence to improve stock assessments and assess the impact of climate change on fish population.” Cook Inlet does not get to draw upon the Magnuson-Stevens Act’s “transparent governing process” or the robust “public-private management process founded under MSA.” Cook Inlet does not get to draw on the Magnuson-Stevens Act’s promises of optimum yield for each fishery, or the promise that “science is behind every fishery management decision” in Alaska. Instead, Cook Inlet is left with the Board of Fisheries. Regardless of whether you believe those who claim the Board of Fish “isn’t broken” (ADN commentary March 16, 2016) or others who believe it certainly is broken (ADN commentary March 30, 2016), no one can reasonably argue that the Board of Fisheries process can match the transparency of the council, or claim that “science is behind every fishery management decision” made by the Board of Fisheries. There should not be any real doubt, of course, why the council doesn’t want to deal with salmon management in Cook Inlet. The resource disputes between user groups are contentious and longstanding. But the need for the scientific rigor and transparency that the council can provide has never been greater. The Board of Fisheries has made no real effort to find solutions to managing Cook Inlet salmon fisheries in light of poor returns of some stocks, the identification of several “stocks of concern,” impacts from invasive species, and growing habitat problems from both urbanization and climate change. The result in recent years has been sport and commercial fishery closures and restrictions, the loss of millions of unharvested salmon, the loss of tens of millions of dollars to the regional economy and the loss of millions of dollars to the State treasury. All Cook Inlet salmon fisheries would plainly benefit from coordinating the State’s long-standing salmon management experience with the council’s transparent, science-based process. This is precisely what the Magnuson-Stevens Act contemplates. Hopefully, the sport and commercial fishermen and the coastal communities in Cook Inlet won’t have to wait another 40 years for the promises of the Magnuson-Stevens Act to be fulfilled. David Martin is the president of the United Cook Inlet Drift Association.  

FISH FACTOR: Sen. Sullivan talks fisheries accomplishments in Kodiak

Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan has scored seats on nearly every Congressional committee that deal with issues on, over, and under the oceans. That fulfills a commitment he made to Kodiak when he ran for office two years ago, he said at a ComFish town meeting during a two-day stay on “the Rock.” Sullivan ticked off a list of fishery related actions he’s had a hand in getting accomplished over the past year: passage of an enforcement act that combats global fish pirating and seafood fraud; adding language to bills that lifts pricey classification requirements on new fishing vessels; and a one-year water discharge exemption so fishermen don’t need special permits to hose down their decks. He said he is “working to make sure new regulations are not an undue burden on the industry.” “We hear about overregulation in terms of costs from every single group I’ve met with,” Sullivan said. “We all want clean water and a safe environment, but we have federal agencies that are taking a one-size-fits-all approach to these regulations and it can be crushing on what you all do. I hear it loud and clear.” Sullivan said when it comes to Alaska’s fisheries, he is guided by three core principles: science is the foundation for sustainability, seafood is the engine for strong coastal economies, and the need to create more markets for what he dubs the “superpower of seafood.” “We’ve been looking at ways structurally to create more demand for Alaska seafood,” he said, citing recent legislation that was added to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement to fix a seafood oversight. “The authorizing legislation said our trade negotiators have to achieve objectives to open markets for different industry groups, such as agriculture, high tech, textiles…” Sullivan said. “Guess what industry was not in the bill — seafood. So my team drafted legislation that said in any future trade agreements, the U.S. has to get access for our fisheries and fish products in foreign markets, and go after the subsidies of foreign fleets that unfairly compete against us. It passed and was signed by the president. “So all trade agreements for the next six years must have major provisions focused on opening markets for U.S. seafood products. It also is included in a European trade agreement being negotiated now.” On the home front, Sullivan said he is working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to require the nation’s school lunch program to only include fish that is caught in U.S. waters. “Believe it or not, there are loopholes in the program that don’t require that,” Sullivan said. “In my view, we should not be feeding our kids fish that is caught in Russian waters and then processed in China and injected with phosphates. If our kids get fed fish that is not very good, you turn off a generation until they get about 30 or 40 and get over the fact that the fish sticks they had in second grade made them not like seafood.” In a separate media interview, Sullivan took exception to allegations that he and Alaska’s delegation aim to stymie U.S. and global protections for an increasingly off kilter climate to benefit the fossil fuel industry. “On the science side we’re trying to make sure that ocean acidification and other issues that impact the fisheries are completely and fully funded. I’m all over that,” he asserted. “In Alaska we’re seeing the impacts of climate change and a warming ocean. I have been very focused on making sure the agencies have the applied science capability to manage the stocks accordingly.” Sullivan agreed that human activity has an impact on climate change, to some degree. “With seven billion human inhabitants there is certainly a human impact, but to what degree, I don’t think the science is ever settled on that,” he said. Sullivan said he supports an “all of the above energy strategy, crediting the “natural gas revolution” of the past few years (fracking) for “driving down America’s greenhouse gas emissions significantly.” Sullivan said Alaska’s roads, ports and harbors will benefit from a $2.6 billion highway bill passed by Congress, and another in the pipeline will provide “significant” money for airports. The Coast Guard’s biggest airbase at Kodiak also is set for some upgrades, including new aircraft and cutters. Hatchery hauls Each year more than one third of Alaska’s salmon catch and value comes from fish that started out in hatcheries. It’s very different from fish farming, where salmon are crammed into nets or pens until they’re ready for market. In Alaska’s salmon enhancement program — which began in the early 1970s in response to low statewide runs — all fish originate as eggs from wild stocks, and are released as fingerlings to the sea. In the state’s 29 hatcheries operating today, most of the homegrown fish are pinks and chums. According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s annual Alaska Fisheries Enhancement Report, the 2015 salmon season produced the second-highest catch for hatchery stocks at 93 million fish with a dockside value of $125 million. Pink salmon accounted for 47 percent of the value of the statewide hatchery harvest, followed by chum salmon at 31 percent, sockeyes at 17 percent, cohos at 3 percent and chinook salmon at two percent of the value. By far most of Alaska’s hatchery production is in Prince William Sound, where last year’s 74 million hatchery harvest was worth nearly $80 million, or 67 percent of the Sound’s total salmon value. Southeast ranks second for hatchery production, which last year yielded about 11 million fish worth $37 million, or 42 percent of the total exvessel salmon value for the region. Kodiak’s two hatcheries produced over 5 million pink salmon last season, valued at $4.5 million, or 12 percent of the total salmon value. At Cook Inlet, about 2.4 million hatchery sockeyes were caught, valued at more than $3 million, or 10 percent of the fishery value. Nearly 150 Alaska schools K-12 participate in hatchery egg take and salmon release programs. Fish watch Kodiak’s roe herring fishery begins on April 15 with a low 1,670-ton harvest limit. Alaska’s biggest herring fishery at Togiak in Bristol Bay will follow with a catch pegged at nearly 30,000 tons. There’s lots of herring in the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim region but no buyers. A small herring fishery may occur this summer at Norton Sound. A fleet of 84 vessels signed up for a six day, 47,061-pound pot shrimp fishery set to open at Prince William Sound on April 15. In Southeast Alaska, salmon trollers will be back out targeting spring kings by May 1 at the Stikine River. Southeast crabbers had their second best Tanner fishery ever, topping 1.3 million pounds in just 12 days. The crab averaged $2.23 for 74 permit holders, 30 cents higher than last year. To the contrary, dwindling stocks of golden king crab yielded a catch of just 155,000 pounds, down by half from last year. The 17 crabbers got $10.50 a pound, compared to $11.86 last season. Crabbing was about over in the Bering Sea, where just 2.5 million pounds of snow crab remained in the 36.5 million pound quota. Also, the 17 million pound Tanner crab quota is a wrap. Halibut landings were approaching 2 million pounds of the 17 million pound catch limit. Ten percent of the 20.3 million pound sablefish quota had crossed the docks. Fishing for cod, pollock, rockfish, flounders and other groundfish continues throughout the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea.   Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Washington rep, trawlers scuttle rumors of Gulf legislation

A Washington congresswoman’s office and members of the North Pacific trawl industry deny rumors that they are collaborating on federal fishing legislation that would circumvent the North Pacific Fishery Management Council process. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council regulates federal fisheries from three to 200 miles off the Alaska coast. Currently, the council is considering a regulatory package of several options to implement a quota share system for Gulf of Alaska groundfish fisheries, one of the last remaining North Pacific fisheries without such a system. Word surfaced that a Washington legislator had crafted language at the behest of the trawl industry to implement a preferred industry alternative at the congressional level. The congressperson named in fisheries circles, Rep. Jaime Hererra Beutler, R-Wash., sits on the House Appropriations Committee. Fisheries legislation dictating North Pacific council actions regarding Bering Sea crab and Gulf of Alaska rockfish catch share programs have previously been passed through appropriations bills amended by the late Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens. Hererra Beutler’s office said it has no such legislation, and that anything resembling a federal order would have to come from Alaska. “Rep. Herrera Beutler’s office hasn’t drafted any legislation relating to this issue and Jaime believes that any potential legislative solution would need to come from and be led by the Alaskan delegation,” read a statement from Amy Pennington, Hererra Beutler’s communications director. Though the office has no legislation, Pennington did acknowledge that Hererra Beutler’s office — along with other congressional offices — does receive concerned pleas from trawl industry members based in the Pacific Northwest. The North Pacific trawl industry is largely ported in Seattle, though many independent trawlers operate in the Gulf of Alaska out of Kodiak. “We continue to hear from a variety of stakeholders in the fishery, from harvesters to processors in Northwestern states, who are frustrated with the long council process and we have encouraged them to continue work towards a solution with the North Pacific Fishery Management Council,” Pennington wrote. “Members of Congress from Washington and several other impacted states have been hearing complaints about this issue for some time, and Jaime continues to monitor the situation closely.” Trawl industry members echo Pennington. They said they have ongoing relationships with several members and their staff, and while they have expressed concern over the Gulf of Alaska issue they have made no request to draft federal legislation. “I’ve talked to anybody who would listen,” said Julie Bonney, executive director of the Alaska Groundfish Data Bank. “I talked to (Sen. Maria) Cantwell’s staffer, Jordan Evich (of Hererra Beutler’s office), and the Alaska congressional delegation as well. But it was basically expressing concern, not having any particular ask.” Brent Paine, executive director of United Catch Boats, also said he isn’t aware of any drafted legislation. Paine said he has an ongoing relationship with Hererra Beutler’s office regarding West Coast fisheries, but hasn’t discussed this particular North Pacific issue. Both Paine and Bonney said such efforts wouldn’t be unusual given the council’s pace; the groundfish fleet in the Gulf of Alaska began discussions of a catch share program as early as 2001. Many North Pacific fisheries regulatory changes have depended on congressional action, including crab rationalization, the American Fisheries Act that ended Japanese ownership of vessels harvesting pollock in U.S. waters, and the Gulf of Alaska rockfish pilot program. Trawl vessels mainly prosecute the Gulf of Alaska groundfish fishery, which includes the midwater species pollock, and non-pelagic, or bottom trawl, species such as Pacific cod and arrowtooth flounder. The trawl industry vehemently opposes one particular regulatory option — allocating quota shares for bycatch species but not for the target species — while assorted Gulf of Alaska fishermen and residents support its consideration, if not its passage. The rumors of congressional language culminated in a petition circulated at the annual ComFish gathering in Kodiak. A letter circulated by the Alaska Marine Conservation Council and signed by 250 Gulf of Alaska fishermen and residents was sent to each of Alaska’s three congressional delegation members in early April. The letter suggested that congressional actions could potentially be underway, and urged representatives to not support any such actions.  “Specifically, we request our Alaska delegation to support development of a Gulf of Alaska Trawl Bycatch Management Program (aka catch share) in the Council process so all stakeholders may contribute to a transparent process,” the letter asks. “Please do not support any attempt to circumvent the council process through legislation in Washington, D.C., as that would effectively preclude Alaskan coastal communities and stakeholders from having a direct voice in the process.” DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Gulf fishermen wary of Congressional intrusion into council process

Editor's note: Stephen Taufen of Groudswell Fisheries Movement did not write the petition distributed by AMCC. This article refers to a seperate memo of his own distributed to interested parties in which he alludes to Rep. Beutler.  Gulf of Alaska fishermen suspect that Washington, D.C., politics might come into play for fisheries regulations they want left to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. A letter circulated by the Alaska Marine Conservation Council and signed by 250 Gulf of Alaska fishermen and residents was sent to each of Alaska’s three congressional delegation members. The letter asks that the Alaska’s representatives in the nation’s capital oppose any legislation intended to press Gulf of Alaska fisheries regulations. “Specifically, we request our Alaska delegation to support development of a Gulf of Alaska Trawl Bycatch Management Program (aka catch share) in the Council process so all stakeholders may contribute to a transparent process,” the letter asks. “Please do not support any attempt to circumvent the council process through legislation in Washington, D.C., as that would effectively preclude Alaskan coastal communities and stakeholders from having a direct voice in the process.” During ComFish, an annual Kodiak commercial fisheries booster event, Stephen Taufen of Groundswell Fisheries Movement said that the Congresswoman in question is Rep. Jaime Hererra Beutler, R-Wash. Beutler, a representative of southwest Washington, sits on the House Appropriations Committee. Much of the Gulf trawl industry is based in Seattle. In the address and his own letter, Taufen alleged that Beutler’s office was contacted by trawl industry representatives and has drafted legislation. “It is most likely they helped draft the closeted legislation,” Taufen said. Beutler’s office did not respond to calls for comment. Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten, one of six Alaskans who make up the majority of the 11 voting council members, said he hasn’t seen any evidence, only rumor, and that members of Congress from Washington or Oregon would be unlikely to force such legislation at the federal level. Legislative action directing North Pacific council actions would not be unprecedented in Alaska’s history. Two North Pacific federal fisheries programs came from federal legislative action either in addition to or instead of council action. Crab rationalization — which assigned individual quota shares to vessel owners, captains and processors to replace the derby-style fishing that made it the most dangerous fishery in the nation — depended in part on the late Alaska U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens to implement. In 2001, Stevens urged the North Pacific council to examine whether the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands crab fishery should be rationalized. In 2002, the North Pacific council was in unanimous support of crab rationalization and approved it with an 11-0 vote. Stevens’ rider in the Consolidated Appropriations Bill of 2003 ordered the Secretary of Commerce to approve the council’s action on crab rationalization. The Commerce secretary must approve all council actions as meeting national standards and other applicable laws before they can be implemented, but Stevens’ rider removed any discretion from the cabinet position in the case of crab rationalization. Stevens put a similar mandate into the 2004 consolidated appropriations bill, this time directing the North Pacific council to establish a Gulf rockfish pilot program. The five-year pilot program ran from 2007-12 and was reauthorized by the council with significant changes in 2012. The letter to Alaska’s delegation aiming to stave off an intervention in council action is the latest in a protracted regulations dispute. The Gulf of Alaska forms the core of a contentious fishery management argument that has gotten more heated since an October 2015 North Pacific meeting. The trawl industry insists the council’s Alaska membership has an embedded antagonism towards it, evidenced by Gov. Bill Walker’s council nominations and an unpopular regulation option. At the October 2015 meeting, Cotten introduced a new management alternative into a broader regulations package that has been under consideration for years in its most recent iteration and traces its council roots to the early 2000s. The overall package contains a series of options to lower bycatch rates and increase safety in the Gulf of Alaska groundfish fisheries, potentially by creating a quota system. These fisheries are some of the last remaining in the North Pacific without a quota system assigning fishing privileges to harvesters. The trawl industry has adamantly opposed Cotten’s Alternative 3, and feels that the council erred in moving it forward in the regulations process. Alternative 3 would implement a bycatch quota system rather than a traditional catch share program, which allocates individual target species quota to fishermen based on historical catch and other factors. Instead of target species, Alternative 3 would only create a bycatch quota system. Trawlers say the bycatch quota system in Alternative 3 would cripple their industry, instead favoring Alternative 2, a more traditional catch share program that would assign both directed species quota and bycatch quota. Trawlers flocked to the council’s Portland meeting in February to urge the council to not move Alternative 3 forward into the environmental impact analysis process. Opponents of the catch share program fear job losses and widespread consolidation of capital and ownership, observed byproducts of past quota system implementations. Cotten’s alternative intends to avoid some of these consequences. The council did move Alternative 3 into analysis, saying it deserved thorough review despite its unpopularity with the trawl industry. Against this backdrop, Walker appointed two new members of the North Pacific council in March to fill seats that will expire in June. The nominations of Buck Laukitis of Homer and Theresa Peterson of Kodiak infuriated the trawl industry, which believes both are fundamentally opposed to large vessels, Outside fishermen, and trawlers. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]  

Anglers want personal use to pay share

As always, fishermen want to know revenue generating bills won’t single them out, and that they will actually benefit the area from which fees are taken. House Bill 137 from Rep. Dave Talerico, R-Healy, would raise fishing and hunting license fees in addition to creating a sockeye salmon stamp for Kenai and Kasilof rivers users. However, only sportfishermen on the state’s most heavily used rivers would have to pay the $15 resident or $150 non-resident stamp fee, while personal use fishermen who dipnet would continue paying nothing. The bill is part of the landslide of bills intended to snag as much spare cash as possible to help reduce the state’s $4.1 billion budget deficit and its ensuing budget reductions. Sportfishing advocates say the measure could potentially deter tourists from dropping money into the Alaska fishery. In addition to raising the non-resident annual fishing license fee from $100 to $150, the non-resident sockeye stamp would cost another $150. Only Alaska residents may participate in the personal use fisheries. Anglers also say they want assurances that the stamp, which only applies to the Kasilof and Kenai rivers, will only be used for management on the same rivers. “We don’t mind helping,” said Dwight Kramer, secretary and treasurer of the Kenai Area Fishermen’s Coalition. “We just don’t want to be singled out.” HB 137 would raise prices for resident and non-resident hunting, trapping, and fishing licenses, running the gamut from a $5 increase for resident fishing licenses up to a $500 increase for non-resident grizzly bear tags. The bill would also increase the age at which Alaska residents would require a license from 16 year old to 18 years old. In 2015, the bill was approved by the House and sent to the Senate, where it stopped in the Resources Committee at the end of the session. Last year, the stamp applied to both sportfishing and personal use fisheries. The personal use addition had been dropped when the bill was taken up in 2016. Kramer said his organization has begun a letter writing campaign to bend state representatives against the bill’s provision to only apply the sockeye stamp to sport users. Kramer is also a board member of the Kenai River Special Management Area board, which he said will reconsider its support of the bill in future discussions. Fishing and hunting licenses, permits, and stamp fees feed directly back into the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for management purposes. Kramer said that sportfishing is a self-contained expense directly proportionate to the amount of anglers engaging in the fishery. Personal use fisheries, however, generate no revenue despite raising department costs. Kramer said burdening sportfishermen alone is inequitable. “We just don’t think that’s right,” said Kramer. “When you look at the whole thing in perspective, the sportfishing isn’t generating new expenses. All its expenses are generated for years…on the other end of the spectrum, the (personal use) fishery is generating a lot of management expense. It just doesn’t make any sense.” Personal use comes from Alaska’s constitution, which declares residents owners of state resources. On the Cook Inlet rivers in question, the personal use sockeye fishery has become increasingly popular. In 2015, Cook Inlet personal use fisheries harvested 533,000 salmon. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game issued just less than 35,000 personal use permits. To deal with increased personal use of the Kasilof River — a record 89,000 salmon were harvested in 2015 — the Department of Natural Resources has appropriated $2.8 million to invest toward site improvements. As the personal use fishery on the Kasilof River grows, Kramer said it’s only fair that the personal use fisheries contribute. During a bill hearing in the Senate Resources Committee, Sen. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, a vocal personal use fishery proponent, said he appreciated the personal use stamp requirement being dropped from the bill. Personal use fishermen, he said, contribute to local economies around the rivers through local retail spending. Kramer said Stoltze misses the point; while personal use fishermen do indeed contribute to municipal coffers, much of the area management and upkeep come from the state. The Department of Natural Resources is planning several projects to accommodate the personal use fisheries, including the Kasilof River Improvement Project set to begin construction this summer. For the growing Kasilof River fishery, the state has yet to install sanitation and garbage disposal, however. Infrastructure developments like boat launch installation cost money the department will no likely have in the future due to budget cuts. Kenai River bank erosion associated with the personal use fishery will require walkway installation, another expense whose funding may not be secure.   DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Fishing groups voice opposition to CFEC reorganization

Following an April 4 hearing that drew unanimous opposition from fishing groups, the House Resources Committee held a bill that would make statutory changes to the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission. The bill is a relatively simple administrative fix, but sits in a tangle created by an administrative order by Gov. Bill Walker that has attracted criticism over its legality, a legislative audit of the agency, and opposition from fishermen. Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, introduced the bill, but drastically scaled down the original version introduced last year to simply meet the needs of a 2015 legislative audit recommending some of the changes directed by Walker’s order. Now, the bill’s main elements address administrative fixes: moving the CFEC commissioners to part-time pay and changing CFEC employees’ statutory designations. “It changes (commissioners) from being on a monthly rate to a daily rate,” summarized Stutes’ staffer Reid Harris. It also changes CFEC employees’ designation from “exempt” to “classified,” another statutory change. “This bill is drafted to the recommendations of the audit,” Harris said. Both recommendations enable Walker’s order, which folded CFEC duties into the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Walker’s order mandated the CFEC to fold some of its duties into the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The CFEC creates and licenses the limited entry commercial fisheries in Alaska state waters. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game, or ADFG, manages the fisheries in season and performs the scientific studies necessary to do so. The order folded several of CFEC’s administrative duties into ADFG’s domain, including: licensing and permitting services (ministerial services only); information technology services; accounting services; payroll services; procurement services; and budget services. Walker’s order was intended to be a cost-saving measure, and follows two bills introduced in the last two years that would have dismantled CFEC altogether, including Stutes’ bill. A legislative audit completed by former Administrative Services director Tom Lawson recommended several changes to CFEC structure that Walker’s order incorporated along with several changes independent of the audit. CFEC commissioners circulated two letters following the order, saying it exceeded the audit’s recommendations. They also said it borders on unconstitutional. Legislators took up the query. Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau, asked the legislative law office for its opinion of Walker’s order. The opinion, drafted by Legislative Affairs Director of Legal Services Doug Gardner, found a potential constitutional snag. According to the Alaska Constitution, the governor is indeed authorized to “reorganize” administrative duties in the executive branch, which includes both ADFG and CFEC. If the reorganization requires “force of law” — a change in statute — then it requires an executive order subject to the Legislature’s approval. Most CFEC duties are statutory, put in place by the Limited Entry Act. In particular, Walker’s administrative order could give ADFG the statutory duty to issue licenses under certain circumstances. This would require a statutory change — a force of law — which means Walker’s order should have been executive, according to Gardner. “Based on the language in (Walker’s order),” wrote Gardner, “it is hard to evaluate how ADFG can perform either of these licensing functions which are 1) specific statutory duties of CFEC that in some cases affect the rights and liabilities of permit holders; and 2) where these statutory functions could be more that purely ‘ministerial.’” The Resources Committee will hold another hearing for the bill on April 6. Fishermen spoke unanimously against the bill during the hearing, mostly because it relates to an administrative order they oppose but have no direct recourse to change. During the hearing, the scant public commentary mostly addressed the related administrative order rather than the bill’s elements. “We’re opposed to anything in this bill, as it’s helping the administrative order,” said Martin Lunde of the Southeast Alaska Seiners Association, or SEAS, who added that they believe it should have been done as an executive order. Bob Thorstensen, the executive director of SEAS, called Walker’s administrative order “far, far, far deeper and more destructive than even the audit.” Jerry McCune, president of the United Fishermen of Alaska, the largest fishing industry group in the state, said the agency crossover would present new problems as the State of Alaska develops new fisheries in the Bering Sea’s federal waters, that are controlled by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. ADFG Commissioner Sam Cotten sits on that council, as per federal law. McCune and others voiced a concern that conflict would occur if Cotten makes licensing calls in both the federal and the state fisheries. Ben Brown, one of two currently sitting CFEC commissioners, said he could support the bill, and did not speak directly of the administrative order itself. “The debate that’s started to happen doesn’t address the four corners of this bill,” said Brown.” Brown said the bill’s intent to lower commissioners to part-time pay and part-time workloads was acceptable, given that it falls in line with the legislative audit’s recommendation to streamline CFEC but maintain its existence. “I don’t know what the practical end result of the administrative order will be,” said Brown. “We commissioners can support (this version) of this bill.”   DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]  

Hatcheries made up one-third of 2015 salmon harvest

KENAI — Though hatcheries are a major part of the commercial fishing industry statewide, they’ve remained a small portion of the harvest in Cook Inlet. Fish from Alaska’s salmon hatcheries made up a third of the total commercial fishery harvest in 2015, mostly in pink and chum salmon. However, in Cook Inlet, hatchery fish made up less than 2 percent, according to a report from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The report, which is updated annually, provides a broad picture of the state of Alaska’s 28 producing hatcheries. Since their beginnings in the 1970s, the hatcheries have grown to be a substantial part of the fishing industry and contributed 93 million salmon to the commercial fishery last year, nearly a third of the 264 million total fish, according to the report. Cook Inlet’s hatcheries carried a total ex-vessel value of approximately $3.2 million in 2015, with approximately $1.7 million coming from sockeye and the remainder coming from pink salmon. However, Cook Inlet has the smallest hatchery value in the state — Prince William Sound led the market with a total of $79.5 million in ex-vessel value, followed by Southeast with $37.5 million and Kodiak with $4.5 million, according to the report. The commercial fisheries in Cook Inlet harvested 144,000 hatchery-produced salmon in 2015, approximately 2 percent of the total catch. Most of the return was harvested for cost recovery, approximately 2.2 million fish. One of the reasons for the smaller harvest is the recently reopened Tutka Bay and Port Graham hatcheries, operated by Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association. Both are building up their broodstock over time to reach the returns the facilities can handle. In 2015, only enough fish to fulfill broodstock and cost recovery returned to those two stocks, according to the report. Cook Inlet’s hatcheries mostly produce sockeye salmon, which garner a higher price per pound than pink and chum. Most of the hatcheries rely on pink and chum salmon, which are lower-value fish. However, Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association is in the process of diversifying its stock to include both pink salmon and sockeye. Sockeye are more expensive to raise because they must be retained in freshwater longer, requiring the hatcheries managers to overwinter them, said Mark Stopha, a fisheries biologist with Fish and Game in Juneau who wrote the report. They are more expensive to feed and run a higher risk of mortality, possibly because of the longer rearing time. Pink and chum salmon, on the other hand, can hatch in the spring and go directly to salt water, providing a faster return on investment, he said. The number of hatchery fish harvested in other fisheries is much smaller — the sport, personal-use and subsistence fisheries harvested about 275,000 salmon, rainbow trout, arctic char and grayling in 2015. The hatcheries are managed with the wild stocks as a priority, according to the report. Coded wire tags and thermal marking, which is the process of marking the earbones of hatchery fish to determine their origin and brood year, allow fisheries managers to sample returning fish during the season and estimate the total return for hatchery fish and thus more accurately estimate wild stock escapements. Straying of hatchery fish into wild fish systems has long been a concern with the programs statewide. There have been straying reports conducted on most systems where hatcheries operate, but not on Cook Inlet. Stopha said the relatively small hatchery operation did not necessitate a straying study. “I don’t know of any that have been done in Cook Inlet … and maybe that’s because we don’t have any concerns there because of the low level of hatchery production in some of the areas,” Stopha said. “I don’t think it has come up as a concern.” Fish and Game originally began evaluating all the hatcheries in the state as part of the Marine Stewardship Council certification process in 2012, but eventually reviewed them all, Stopha said. One of the main things he said he’s seen is that the hatcheries do not seem to have been damaging salmon runs. Many of the hatchery programs have enhanced the already existing stocks rather than shipping eggs in from elsewhere, he said. “I think the main thing, when I’ve looked at these over 40 years, no one just went in and put in a 100, 200, 300 million egg hatchery and said, ‘We’re just going to do it,’” Stopha said. “In truth, there’s been a lot of bad press about hatcheries over the years, and hatcheries down south have not followed the same protocols we have. 2013 and 2015 were some of the highest returns over the state.” Reach Elizabeth Earl at [email protected]    

FISH FACTOR: USCG improves distress call system; Frankenfish lawsuit filed

Alaska fishermen can send an SOS call directly to the Coast Guard, but many are not hooking up to the new lifeline. Digital Selective Calling, or DSC, instantly signals a distress call over VHF radios to other vessels, and the feature has been a required part of the hand-held units since 1996. In Alaska, the ability for mariners to hook up with the Coast Guard was acquired just last year when transceiver and antenna “high sites” in Southeast and Southcentral regions came on line (more are scheduled soon). “There was a lot of rumor going around that DSC didn’t work in Alaska. In reality, DSC does and has worked since the technology was introduced, but the Coast Guard couldn’t hear it. And that’s what we are in the process of improving now,” said Mike Folkerts, a USCG Guard Boating Safety Specialist based in Juneau. “Most mariners didn’t realize that they could actually use a DSC-equipped VHF radio and send a digital signal instead of a voice signal.” During safety training classes, it was discovered that many fishermen are not hooking up the DSC systems properly and completely, said Julie Matweyou, a Sea Grant Marine Advisor and trainer with the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association. “So the distress button can’t broadcast their location in the event that they can’t get off a full mayday,” she said. In fact, the Coast Guard learned that 90 percent of VHF radio distress calls they received do not contain vessel position information and 60 percent have no identity. With that discovery, they launched Operation Distress Connect. “We learned that many DSC/VHF radios are not connected to GPS,” Folkerts explained, adding that it takes a simple two-wire fix. Then, a Mobile Maritime Safety Information (MMSI) identification number must be obtained and registered with United States Power Squadrons, and the MMSI number entered into the VHF radio. “It’s like a personalized telephone number for your VHF radio, and when you press the distress button all the information on that MMSI form is automatically available to the Coast Guard so they are not calling you every two minutes to find out your emergency information,” Folkerts said. Pushing the distress button on your DSC radio without having the GPS connected and MMSI registered results in an “uncorrelated” distress call, says a USCG pamphlet. It adds: the search ‘box’ for the rescuers can be huge and without more specific location information, our Command Centers cannot launch a rescue. If we know where you are and who you are, we can come and get you. Making your DSC VHF radio fully functional will help take the “Search out of Search and Rescue”. Overall, Folkerts added that DSC is a far better system. “You can push that distress button and send out a DSC signal and your radio will continue to send out the all the positioning and personal information,” Folkerts said. “You’re not hooked by the microphone umbilical cord, you can actually go about taking care of business if you have a boat fire or person overboard or you’re taking on water. So it’s a huge advantage in that regard alone.” Frankenfish lawsuit A diverse coalition of environmental, consumer, and fishing organizations has sued the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for approving AquaBounty’s genetically engineered, or GE, salmon. The complaint, which was filed March 31 in a district court in California, claims that the FDA did not have proper authority to approve GM salmon last November. AquaBounty, which will grow the manmade salmon in pens located in Canada and Panama, pushed for 20 years to get the ok for the fish to be sold in U.S. markets. The larger and faster growing AquAdvantage fish is made by inserting genes from two fish — a chinook salmon and an ocean pout — into an Atlantic salmon. It is the first animal approved for human consumption. The lawsuit challenges FDA’s claim that it has authority to approve and regulate GE animals as “animal drugs” under the 1938 Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, said seafood market expert John Sackton. “It argues that those provisions were meant to ensure the safety of veterinary drugs administered to treat disease in livestock and were not intended to address entirely new GM animals that can pass along their altered genes to the next generation,” he wrote. The lawsuit also highlights FDA’s failure to protect the environment and consult wildlife agencies in its review process, as required by federal law. “FDA’s decision is as unlawful as it is irresponsible,” George Kimbrell, senior attorney for Center for Food Safety told SeafoodSource. “This case is about protecting our fisheries and ocean ecosystems from the foreseeable harms of the first-ever GM fish, harms FDA refused to even consider. It’s also about the future of our food: FDA should not, and cannot, responsibly regulate this GM animal, nor any future GM animals, by treating them as drugs under a 1938 law.” More than 1.5 million people wrote to the FDA in opposition to the so-called Frankenfish, and 65 supermarkets so far have said they won’t carry it. Mariculture money Loans up to $100 million are available from the federal government for businesses involved in fishing, aquaculture, mariculture or seafood processing for the purchase or improvement of facilities or equipment. The money comes from NOAA’s Fisheries Finance Program in loans ranging from five to 25 years at low interest rates. “We can do loans for everything but building a new boat or activities that contribute to overfishing,” said Paul Marx, NOAA Fisheries financial services division chief. The NOAA loans may be used to purchase a vessel as long as it is not brand new and does not increase overall harvesting capacity. The loans also can refinance existing debt under certain circumstances. Alaskans also can get state loans for mariculture ventures, as part of an initiative launched by Gov. Bill Walker. In February Walker created the Alaska Mariculture Task Force, a diverse group of 11 people with expertise in mariculture and business in remote areas. The group is set to have its first meeting this month and name more interested people to open seats. The task force is chaired by Julie Decker, director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation which believes an Alaska mariculture industry can be worth $1 billion in 30 years. Meanwhile, the state Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development has launched a $5 million Mariculture Revolving Loan Program aimed at helping start-ups or expanding mariculture businesses. Companies can borrow $100,000 per year with a $300,000 cap. Loans must be for the planning, construction, and operation of a permitted mariculture business. The state provides pre-approved tidal tracts for Alaskans interested in growing shellfish and seaweeds, and takes applications each year through April 30. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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