Fisheries

Sockeye output blows previous seasons out of water

For the third season in a row, the world’s largest sockeye salmon run featured above-average numbers, a late run, and sub-average prices for the fishermen. Unlike last year, however, the fishermen’s pockets so far aren’t as empty in 2016, and the overall market outlook seems to have improved. In terms of output, the summer of 2016 blew previous sockeye seasons out of the water, second only to last year's run of 59 million. “The 2016 inshore Bristol Bay sockeye salmon run of 51.4 million fish ranks 2nd out of the last 20 years (1996–2015) and was 46 percent above the 35.1 million average run for the same period,” according to a season summary from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Along with being above average run, the 2016 Bristol Bay sockeye harvest surpassed ADFG forecasts. “The 37.3 million sockeye salmon commercial harvest was 26 percent above the 29.5 million preseason forecast,” the summary reads. “All escapement goals were met or exceeded, with a total sockeye salmon escapement of 14.1 million fish. A total of 29,545 chinook salmon were harvested in Bristol Bay in 2016.” The 2016 season repeated that of 2015 not only in quantity, but also in run particulars that made last year’s harvest so strange, including timing and fish size. “The 2016 sockeye salmon run timing was similar to 2015 as it was one of the latest on record, approximately seven days late,” reads the report. “Fish weights and lengths were smaller than the historical average with an average sockeye salmon weight of 5.4 pounds, but overall fish were slightly larger than 2015.” The ex-vessel price for the salmon — what processors pay the fishermen — was above the final price for the 2015 season but still 25 percent below average. Processors paid 76 cents per pound for Bristol Bay sockeye. Only the run’s volume made contributed to the overall value’s health. ADFG estimates the ex-vessel value at $156.2 million, which is 40 percent above the 20-year average of $111 million. This marks the fourth and largest in a series of high volume years for Bristol Bay, part of a confluence of factors leading to depressed ex-vessel prices in 2015. In that year, fishermen received 50 cents per pound, half the average of 99 cents. The U.S. dollar’s strength against key export markets collided with oversupply for Alaska processors. Tyson Fick, communications director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, or ASMI, said this year’s situation differs, though some of market particulars are similar to last year. “Some of the same factors are still there like the value of the dollar, the strength of the dollar being difficult in export markets,” said Fick. “That alleviated somewhat in Japan, so that’s done well for us. Our marketing efforts were pretty successful in stimulating more demand to match that supply, and we should see a nice increase in domestic demand throughout the year as people bring on refresh programs nationwide.” ASMI is a collaboration between industry and the state to increase the value and markets for Alaska seafood. Fick said ASMI has aggressively focused on expanding domestic consumption over the last year, and the results have been paying off for processors looking to move stockpiled salmon. The U.S. Department of Agriculture also helped with a series of purchases of canned salmon, the last of which neared $6 million. “(Strategies) would include promotions that are very much focused on moving volume, partnered with retailers and distributors, and also the USDA canned salmon buys,” Fick said. “They’ve been trickling in pretty regularly over the last couple of years. There’s also interest in frozen portions. It’s a large customer. It’s millions of dollars. It goes a long way in correcting the market by using some of these programs that farmers have been using for years.” Alaska processors also had less supply to compete with from other sockeye producing regions, notably Canada’s Fraser River, which harvested far below average. “Places like the Fraser River, that just didn’t happen,” Fick said. “That’s big for us. That was part of the multi-year lead up to the prices last year, that huge batch of supply from the previous year in Canada on top of prices.” Tim Sands, the area management biologist for Bristol Bay’s commercial fishery, said despite the off timing and the fish’s small size, the 2016 sockeye run was successful for the overall health of the system. “The run timing being so much more protracted and later is definitely a twist that took some getting used to,” he said. “Biologically, all our escapement goals were achieved or exceeded. That’s the best we can hope for biologically speaking.” Fishermen themselves adjusted better than in 2015, when processors sent many fishermen home after the run passed its historical midpoint. In several Alaska fisheries, weird is the new normal, and in Bristol Bay the fishermen remembered to roll with it. “Certainly, industry was better,” said Sands. “They didn’t send their boats out too soon, there wasn’t the big stretch of limits we had in 2015. That made a big difference in what the escapements ended up being and what the harvest ended up being. I think the fishermen weren’t as surprised as they were in 2015 when things were so late.” Editor's note: This article ealier misstated that the 2016 Bristol Bay production surpassed that of 2015, when in fact 2015 was a higher volume. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Pinks end season on a low note as other fisheries heat up

It surprises many people across the state that fall is one of the busiest times for Alaska’s fishing industry from the Panhandle to the Bering Sea. As salmon season gets tucked away, hundreds of boats of all gear types are still out on the water, or gearing up for even more openers in just a few weeks. Here’s a sampler: Longliners have taken 82 percent of their 17 million-pound halibut catch quota with 3 million pounds left to go by the Nov. 7 close of that eight-month fishery. Homer, which bills itself as the nation’s top halibut port, is being out-landed by Kodiak by just a few thousand pounds. Longline fleets also are targeting a 20.3 million-pound sablefish (black cod) catch. Scallopers are still dropping dredges around Yakutat and in other parts of the Gulf and Bering Sea. Lingcod fisheries are ongoing in parts of the Gulf, primarily by small boats using jig and hand troll gear. Trawlers are targeting pollock and other groundfish in both the Bering Sea and the Gulf. And tons of cod are crossing the docks with Sept. 1 openers for longline gear and pot boats. Southeast’s summer chinook fishery closed to trollers on Sept. 3; the winter troll fishery will reopen in early October. Crabbers will be back out on the water for the Oct. 1 start of the fall Dungeness fishery. The summer dungie season that ended in mid-August produced a two million pound catch valued at $6 million at the Southeast docks. October also marks the start of Alaska’s premiere shrimp fishery — big spots from the Panhandle. Pots will haul in more than a half million pounds of spot shrimp during that opener. Beam trawling for pink and coon stripe shrimp also is ongoing in several Southeast regions. Hundreds of divers will head down for sea cucumbers and urchins in October. More than one million pounds of sea cukes are usually taken in Southeast waters, with smaller takes around Kodiak Island, and the price often tops $3 a pound. Hundreds of big “seven by” crab pots are stacked to the sky at Dutch Harbor and Kodiak in readiness for the start of the Bering Sea crab fisheries that get underway on Oct. 15. Pink relief updates Fishermen hurt by the pink salmon no-show can apply now for a breather in their state loan payments. “This would not be a forgiveness, but would add this year’s loan payment onto the end of the loan period and forgive the payment just for this year,” said Rep. Louise Stutes of Kodiak, who sponsored the relief measure. Stutes said it is “absolutely imperative” for anyone wanting a waiver of their loan payments to contact the Division of Economic Development prior to the due date of the loan. She urged that fishermen not be put off by the 16-page application packet they will receive. “Not all of the pages need to be filled out. This is a loan application and these individuals already have a loan. They are only asking for a waiver in the provision of the existing loan,” Stutes explained, adding that division staff is on point to help. “They are anticipating fishermen calling and they will walk them through to help them put in only the pertinent, required information,” she said. “That streamlines it somewhat until we can fine tune it a bit further. Call the Division at 1-800-478-5626. The state also continues to build a case for declaring the pink salmon fishery failure a disaster. “There are certain steps to go through before the governor feels comfortable making that determination. And that’s the process we’re in currently,” Stutes said. Affected communities can contact her office at (907) 486-8872 to get the appropriate wording to use in a resolution, Stutes said, “indicating how devastating this lack of pink salmon has been to their communities and requesting that they do declare it a disaster.” Debris tracker Forget Pokémon Go, take part in a bigger effort to help clean up the Blue Planet! The Marine Debris Tracker App helps you locate where and what types of trash are littering our waterways and coastlines. The app, created through the NOAA Marine Debris Program and the Southeast Atlantic Marine Debris Initiative, has cataloged over one million items reported by trackers. “For any form of litter or marine debris, you can pull up a list and it’s one click to enter in what the user sees,” said Jenna Jambeck, co-creator of the Tracker App. “You can also add a quantity, a description and a photo.” The app works with GPS, so it knows the location where the user is collecting debris. “So you can be out fishing or in some remote area and log all your data along with the GPS. I think that it is a really powerful component of the app,” she said. The tracker app also gives people feedback and makes them feel good about what they are doing. “It is really fun for people to feel like they are a bigger part of a larger effort,” Jambeck said. “We have a top tracker list, so those who do it most frequently are definitely acknowledged on the website and they can share their efforts through social media. It is a win-win for the collector, the marine initiative and the planet.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Crab harvest to take a nosedive; Bristol Bay rocks Boulder

Bering Sea crabbers were stunned last week when the outlooks for the upcoming fall and winter fisheries were revealed. Results of the annual summer surveys by state and federal scientists showed that numbers of mature male and females dropped sharply across the board for the big three: opilio (snow crab), their larger cousins, Bairdi Tanners, and red king crab. “I don’t think anybody was expecting the numbers to be as low as they ended up. That was a shock,” said Ruth Christiansen, science adviser and policy analyst for the trade group, Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers. Managers use different criteria for setting quotas for the three crab species. For snow crab, the state chooses from what they believe is the most reliable of three data sets. Christiansen said she feels sure that fishery will be a go, albeit with a smaller catch quota. “I’m not worried about that one not opening. But given the information we have and the state’s tendency to always be cautious, the catch will be lower than the 40.6 million pounds from last year,” Christiansen said. The harvest strategy for Bairdi tanner crab is based on a threshold of mature females. Not enough females means no fishery, and the survey results showed a drop of nearly 60 percent from just a year ago. But the crabbers believe the Bairdi are still out there; they’ve just moved to a different spot. “It’s not one of those things where we don’t think the crab is there, it’s a result of the survey not being able to find them,” Christiansen said. The surveys are standardized and trawl samples are taken from the same stations each year throughout the eastern Bering Sea. Bairdi crab catches have been on a steady climb since 2013, approaching 20 million pounds last season, and the fleet has logged good catches. The crabbers believe the cause of the disappearing crab is changing ocean conditions, pointing out that 2016 is one of the hottest years on record for Bering Sea water temperatures, both at the sea surface and on the ocean floor. “We’ve seen dramatic drops in crab numbers from last year to this year. It’s not an overfishing issue or fishing mortality or natural mortality. Something else is going on,” Christiansen stressed. The outlook for red king crab at Bristol Bay is a bit brighter. The survey numbers for both males and females were down, but managers use a different balancing act there to set catch quotas. “The state bases its strategy on the spawning biomass, which is a combination of the males and females, and even though one went up and one went down, the balance is the same. So we are not anticipating that catch to change dramatically,” she explained. The red king crab quota last season was about 10 million pounds. Crab scientists are now busily crunching the raw data and will present more complete findings to the industry later this month. The Bering Sea crab quotas will be released in early October; the fisheries open Oct. 15. Bristol Bay reds rock Boulder “Wild Taste, Amazing Place” is the theme of an ambitious Bristol Bay sockeye salmon branding program that launched this month in Boulder, Colo. “We’ve been working for months with just about every level of the supply chain from processors to distributors and retailers to help them get Bristol Bay sockeye into their stores,” said Becky Martello, executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, or BBRSDA. The group is bankrolling the $700,000 pilot program with a 1 percent tax paid by member driftnet fishermen on the dockside value of their catch. The fishermen have partnered with Anchorage-based Rising Tide Communications, whose creative experts have longtime, hands on involvement in Alaska fishing. The campaign includes training people behind the retail counters about the special features of Bristol Bay, recipes, posters, special dinners by local chefs, mugs and even branded wrapping paper for the bright red sockeye fillets. “When people buy the salmon it is wrapped up in beautiful craft paper and sealed with a Bristol Bay sticker,” Martello said. Fishermen will be on hand throughout the four-month promotion as a tie in to their new website’s “Know your Fisherman” section. “That is huge with consumers and with our Millennial target,” she said. “They really want to know where their food comes from and connecting them to the fishermen is the most natural way to tell that story and connect people to Bristol Bay.” The Wild Taste, Amazing Place promotion will run through the end of the year and be evaluated by an independent firm. The BBRSDA will then decide where to go next. “We want to use this very targeted campaign to measure what we are doing. We are investing a lot of our fishermen’s dollars in this and we want to make sure we are on the right track,” Martello said, adding that the response to the effort has been overwhelmingly positive. “We’ve had so much great feedback,” she said. “It’s so gratifying to see how many people are getting onboard with it. It’s really exciting.” See the snazzy new website at http://bristolbaysockeye.org/ Salmon bright spot Unlike most other Alaska regions, Yukon salmon fishermen are enjoying some record salmon catches. The combined fall chum and coho harvest of more than 1 million fish is the largest in the 55 years of the commercial fishery, according to regional managers. “It’s a pivotal year,” said Jack Schultheis, longtime manager of KwikPak Fisheries in Emmonak. Another first was a healthy pink salmon fishery complete with interested buyers. “There’s never been a pink fishery in the river before and this was the first year we targeted them,” Schultheis told Seafood.com “The catch of 127,250 may not sound like much, but considering no one has ever bought pinks on the Yukon, we’re encouraged about that.” Schultheis credited the good returns to “excellent management.” “The department (of Fish and Game) has done an exceptional job managing the fishery,” he said. “That’s why I feel very positive about the future. I think this is going to be the norm, to have consistent runs like this.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.  

Rep. Stutes moves for disaster declaration for pink salmon

Rep. Stutes moves for disaster declaration for pink salmon Wheels are already in motion to provide two measures of relief for Alaska’s pink salmon industry, which is reeling from the lowest harvest since the late 1970s. Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, began the process last week to have the Walker Administration declare the pink salmon season a disaster, which would allow access to federal relief funds. Pinks are Alaska’s highest volume salmon fishery and hundreds of fishermen depend on the fish to boost their overall catches and paychecks. So far the statewide harvest has reached just 36 million humpies out of a preseason forecast of 90 million. That compares to a catch of 190 million pinks last summer. “This is the worst salmon year in nearly 40 years, and that’s huge,” she said. “It doesn’t just affect the fishermen; it’s a trickle-down effect on the cannery workers, the processors, and nearly all businesses in the community. It’s a disaster, there’s no other way to describe it.” Stutes, who chairs the House fisheries committee and is known as a straight talker, said she has gotten very positive response from the state Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development. “They are on it and already moving forward,” Stutes said. At the same time, she is working with the Division of Investments to allow a “blanket pardon” of state-funded fishermen’s loan payments for this year. “This would not be a forgiveness, but would add this year’s payment onto the end of the loan period and forgive the loan payment just for this year,” she explained. The disaster declaration and the loan suspensions “go hand in hand,” Stutes said, “but don’t depend on each other.” While visiting constituents in Kodiak, Cordova and Yakutat, Stutes said that “literally people are in fear about making mortgage payments and paying their bills. They can’t claim unemployment because they are still employed. There is just no work.” By week’s end she was awaiting word from Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, who is the Administration’s fishery “point person,” to take the ball and run with it. But Stutes said the process has already begun and her job is to make sure it keeps moving. “I’m a squeaky wheel and this is crucial to the resident workers and to people in so many communities. I’ll keep the pressure on so things will move quickly,” she said. It won’t be the first time a salmon disaster has been declared in Alaska. In 2012, a disaster was declared due to fishery failures on the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers and in Cook Inlet due to low Chinook salmon returns for that season and in previous years. Crab con National surveys show clearly that most Americans want to know where their foods come from. Seafood lovers can easily tell at retail counters where their salmon and other fish choices come from, and if the fish is wild or farmed. That’s due to Country of Origin Labeling, or COOL, laws, which went into effect a decade ago. But the laws do not apply to seafood that has been “processed,” no matter how minimally. A processed food item is defined as “a retail item derived from a covered commodity that has undergone specific processing resulting in a change in the character of the covered commodity.” Under this definition, “cooking (e.g. frying, broiling, grilled, boiling, steaming, baking, roasting)” is an example of a specific process that results in such a change, meaning those products are exempt from the COOL requirements. “It was a surprise to all of us who worked very hard to get seafood included in all product forms,” said Mark Vinsel, executive administrator for United Fishermen of Alaska, which represents 35 fishing groups. The Bering Sea king and snow crab fisheries have been hurt the most by the lack of labeling. “Since all crab are required to be cooked right after delivery they are exempt,” said Jake Jacobsen, director of the Inter-Cooperative Exchange, a harvester group that catches 70 percent of the Bering Sea crab quota.  The push to exclude products such as canned, pouched or smoked fish and steamed crab, Jacobsen said, came from the U.S. tuna fleet. “All we wanted to do was carve out crab but they had a much more powerful lobby than we did,” he said. The crabbers believe the public has a right to know where their crab comes from and they have not backed down from the COOL battle. “Right now when a consumer goes into a grocery store they don’t know if the crab comes from Russia or Newfoundland or Alaska,” Jacobsen said, “and we think that the American consumers will prefer Alaskan product, especially if there is a chance that much of the crab imported from Russia might be illegal.” A McDowell Group analysis showed that almost 100 million pounds of pirated Russian crab entered the U.S. in 2013, valued at roughly $600 million. An estimated 40 percent of king crab sold in world markets was from illegal Russian harvests. The situation has improved somewhat due to tighter international regulations, but Jacobsen said the outcomes are too soon to tell. “There is still illegal crab going into China and Korea and finding its way into the U.S. but there is no way to tell if it’s legal or not because there is no traceability requirement,” Jacobsen explained. Appeals so far to U.S. policy makers have fallen on deaf ears, so crabbers have gone directly to buyers and retailers. HyVee and Publix only source crab from Alaska and Jacobsen hopes more will follow suit.  Meanwhile, the push to get USA labeling on Alaska crab will continue. “Absolutely,” he said. “It is a big issue to us and very important in the overall program of eliminating illegally caught crab that is imported into the U.S.” Fishy jobs Two high visibility fishery related organizations are recruiting for top jobs. Alaska Sea Grant is seeking a Communications Manager to be based in either Anchorage or Fairbanks. The position oversees a team that works to create public awareness of Sea Grant’s projects, programs and outreach activities across the state. A good understanding of Alaska coastal communities and marine issues is a plus. The position will remain open until filled. The second job covers broader terrain: executive director for the nonprofit Seafood Harvesters of America. The group provides a unified voice for U.S. fishermen from all regions. “We need a strong voice in Washington, DC and around the country to educate policy makers and the public about the value of our fisheries, the income, jobs and nutrition they provide and issues that concern commercial fishermen,” it states on its website. The location is flexible although it has traditionally been in Washington, D.C. Deadline to apply is Sept. 8. Seafood champions wanted The Obama Administration want to honor fishermen and coastal communities that are helping to preserve and protect America’s fishing industry and communities. “This is your chance to nominate someone you know and admire for contributing to the ongoing recovery of America’s fishing industry and our fishing communities as a White House Champion of Change for Sustainable Seafood,” Obama wrote in a press release. Nominees may include fishermen who are leaders in promoting sustainable fishing practices, seafood processors, purveyors, chefs and other business owners, community leaders and innovators in the field of mariculture. Visit www.whitehouse.gov/champions and select “Sustainable Seafood” as the theme. Deadline for nominations is Sept. 9. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.  

Sport humpy record broken twice in a day

SOLDOTNA — After 42 years, the Alaska state record for a sport-caught pink salmon was broken — twice. Thomas Salas hauled a monster pink salmon out of the Kenai River near Big Eddy in Soldotna on Aug. 22. The California resident, who said he visits the Kenai every other year or so, was originally going to throw it back when a friend told him to hang on to it. “(He) said, ‘You gotta keep it, that might be a record,’” Salas said. As it turns out, he was right. When the anglers took the fish into the Alaska Department of Fish and Game office in Soldotna the next morning, it weighed in at 12 pounds and 13 ounces and 28.5 inches long, claiming the state record from the previous 12 pound and 9 ounce fish, caught in 1974. Multiple biologists certified it and sent Salas on his way, the new holder of the state record. About three hours later, Robert Dubar brought in his own humongous pink salmon. He’d pulled the monster out of the Kenai River just downstream of Angler’s Lodge in Sterling on Aug. 23. “I thought it was hooked on a log,” Dubar said. “Then it started moving a little bit. Took about five minutes to get him to the shore.” Dubar, who is visiting the Kenai Peninsula from Incline Village, Nev., brought the pink salmon into the Fish and Game office in early afternoon. The biologists there again took its weight and measurements and certified it — 13 pounds, 10.6 ounces, 32 inches long, the new state record. Dubar said he plans to mount the monster. Salas took the news with a laugh. “Really?” he said. “Another guy caught a bigger fish?” Fish and Game certifies and seals particularly big fish caught by sport anglers through its trophy fish program. For pink salmon, the minimum weight to qualify is 8 pounds. Entries have to be weighed in the presence of witnesses and a trophy fish official on a certified scale. Catch-and-release fish can qualify for an honorary certificate as long as the angler doesn’t remove the fish from the water and someone gets a photo of it. Honorary certificates are measured by length. The previous record was held by Steven A. Lee for a 12 pound, 9 ounce pink salmon caught in the Moose River in 1974. Two other state trophy fish — a 16 pound sockeye salmon and a 97 pound, 4 ounce king salmon — were both caught on the Kenai River as well, both in the 1970s. Anglers have been catching enormous pink salmon in the Kenai River this season, said Jason Pawluk, the acting area management biologist for the Division of Sportfish in Soldotna. “I have lost track of how many pinks have been brought in this year for our trophy program, and that’s a pink over 8 pounds,” Pawluk said. The pink salmon have been consistently larger. Commercial fishermen began reporting early in the season that the pink salmon were larger, but the average has been consistently increasing throughout the season. The Kenai River experiences high even-year pink salmon runs, but these are some of the largest anglers have recalled seeing. “We’ve observed this in the inriver sport fishery and confirmed for sure in the commercial fishery,” Pawluk said. “The pound average per fish is an order of magnitude difference than it has been in previous years.” The reason for the larger size isn’t really clear. Low pink salmon runs have been a mystery in Prince William Sound, Kodiak and Southeast Alaska this year — managers have suggested ocean temperatures as a possible cause. The pink salmon have been larger than usual in Kodiak as well. Pawluk said it’s still uncertain how large the run is, but the trend in larger size is clear. “It’s possible there’s still a record fish out there,” he said. Reach Elizabeth Earl at [email protected]  

FISH FACTOR: Alaska salmon is not in the pink; seafood recipe contest open

Alaska’s 2016 pink salmon fishery is set to rank as the worst in 20 years by a long shot, and the outlook is bleak for all other salmon catches except sockeyes. “Boy, sockeye is really going to have to carry the load in terms of the fishery’s value because there’s a lot of misses elsewhere,” said Andy Wink, a fisheries economist with the Juneau-based McDowell Group. The historical peaks of the various salmon runs have already passed and the pink salmon catch so far has yet to break 35 million on a forecast of 90 million. That compares to a harvest of 190 million pinks last year. Weekly tracking through Aug. 15 shows the pace of the chinook salmon harvest (341,000) is down 42 percent versus last year in net fisheries, cohos (under 2 million) are down 20 percent, and the chum catch (12 million) is down 25 percent. “As far as chums go, we’re probably looking at the second worst harvest in the past 10 years,” Wink said. Severely reduced supplies of farmed salmon from Chile to the U.S. really put the onus on fresh fish this year, and Alaska processors “game planned” for getting as much salmon into that market as possible. According to commodities tracker Urner Barry, the fresh-farmed salmon price index (based on combined average values) is up 33 percent across the U.S., going from $3.79 in January to $5.03 in mid-August. And a rising tide floats all boats. “Yes, that kind of tide is really helpful and it makes our wild product that much more attractive,” he said. “Conversely, when farmed prices are really low, it’s a much tougher sell.” Both fresh and frozen sockeyes have been moving well — good news for a fishery that unexpectedly has topped 52 million. Not so for Alaska’s competitors — the sockeye fishery at British Columbia’s Fraser River was a complete bust, and Russia’s sockeye fisheries also were down considerably. A big plus this year is that some currency rates are more favorable for buying Alaska. “Another major thing is the 20 percent shift in the yen in our favor,” Wink explained. “The euro hasn’t done much and neither has the Canadian dollar, but Japan is a big trading partner and the fact that their purchasing power has increased that much should be helpful.” In terms of Alaska’s total salmon fishery value, any price gains from reds will likely be offset by the blowout with pinks. Less supply also should add some upward pressure to the disappointing 20 cents per pound paid to fishermen, Wink said, and pink roe markets could benefit from the stronger yen. Market watchers now will be tracking how Alaska salmon in its various forms moves through the global market. “We’ll definitely be looking at through-put and watching prices,” Wink said. “It’s another big sockeye harvest, so we need to get sales pushed through the market so it doesn’t back up in the spring. Hopefully, we’ll also see canned prices stabilize and those sales volumes come up.” Alaska’s 2016 salmon forecast called for a harvest of 161 million fish. Through Aug. 19, the salmon catch had topped 101 million salmon. Seafood recipe sweeps A seafood recipe sweepstakes is underway as a way to entice more Americans to eat more of it. “The purpose is to help Americans understand how easy it is to incorporate seafood into their diets at least twice a week, following the regulatory guidelines for Americans,” said Linda Cornish, executive director of the nonprofit Seafood Nutrition Partnership, or SNP. Only one in 10 Americans follows the twice a week dietary guidelines and U.S. per capita consumption has stalled at about 15 pounds a year. That compares to a global annual seafood eating average of 44 pounds per person. More people do recognize the health benefits of eating seafood, Cornish said, but it can be a complicated food category for many. “You’re not just talking about one animal like beef, chicken or pork,” she said. “You’re talking about 1,800 species of seafood that are commercially available.” The SNP operates outreach programs so far in eight U.S. cities, and also partners with hospitals and health professions to promote its Healthy Heart Pledge program. “Over 8,000 people have taken the pledge and as we track sales, we can see upticks in sales of frozen and shelf stable seafood in cities we’re working in, which is ahead of national sales trends,” Cornish said. Salmon especially has a “healthy halo” associated with it, and she said the term “omega 3s” is now a common theme among consumers. “Two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, and most of that is caused by inflammation in our bodies caused by what we eat. Omega 3s have anti-inflammatory properties,” Cornish said. The SNP is using social media to drive home the message that seafood is easy to buy and prepare. Entrants are asked to take photos of seafood dishes prepared with five ingredients or less and post them to Twitter or Instagram using the hashtags #HealthyHeartPledge and #SNPSweepstakes. Ten winners each will receive $250 gift cards. Enter the seafood recipe sweepstakes through October 21 at www.SNPSweepstakes.com Fish Board beat The state Board of Fisheries will take up 276 proposals during its upcoming meeting cycle that begins this winter. The board sets regulations and policy for commercial, sport, personal use and subsistence fisheries within three miles of shore. The focus for the 2016/17 meetings is Upper and Lower Cook Inlet, Kodiak and state king and Tanner crab fisheries, except for Southeast and Yakutat. The meeting dates are: Lower Cook Inlet, Nov. 30-Dec. 3 in Homer; Kodiak, Jan. 10-13 in Kodiak, Upper Cook Inlet, Feb. 23-March 8 in Anchorage; Crab and supplemental issues, March 20-24 in Anchorage. Fishing photos The call is out for photos for the 2017 Fishermen’s News calendar. Winners take home $150 cash, 25 calendars to share over the holidays and a year’s subscription to the magazine that has been a voice of commercial fishing since 1945. Send digital photo entries to [email protected] Deadline is Aug. 26. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.  

Managers statewide mystified by poor production of pink salmon

Weather patterns contributed to a screwy sockeye run in 2015, and this year the same is happening to pinks, the second-largest salmon harvest in Alaska. In 2016, commercial fishermen have only harvested 8 million pinks as of Aug. 15 in Prince William Sound, the state’s largest pink run. Only one-third are hatchery fish, a marked turn from last years’ massive pink haul of 96 million in the Sound, a 20-year record-breaker over 93 million pinks in 2003. Of these, 80 percent were hatchery fish. Southeast Alaska’s run is doing as badly with only 13.4 million harvested, less than half the already-substandard forecast of 34 million fish. Dan Gray, the area management biologist for Southeast Alaska’s commercial fisheries, said he and fishermen both are stumped as to the poor run’s nature, but seem to think the warm Gulf of Alaska “blob” of 2015, which raised surface temperatures 2 degrees Celsius, has some impact. “Maybe it wasn’t the best thing for high sea survival,” he said. Hope for a midseason pickup in returns is dim. The Southeast pink salmon run midpoint is typically the first week of August. Gray has noted low male-to-female sex ratios throughout the run. “They generally indicate an early and possibly compressed run timing,” he said. “We’re kind of seeing that’s coming to pass. This run looks like it could just fall off the table here quite soon.” Causes might be unclear, but Gray is certain of one thing: weirdness. “The fact this seems to be early and compressed is just a head scratcher for everybody,” he said. “Maybe it shouldn’t be, because we’ve seen such anomalies in the last couple years, with Bristol Bay being two weeks late (in 2015). If that thing was ever two days off the average peak it was big news. We’re seeing some historical really weird stuff. I ask around, ‘Have you ever seen anything like this?’ Across the board, the answer is ‘no.’ This is just historically odd.” Charles Russell, the area management biologist for ADFG’s Cordova office, echoed Gray. “You used to be able to set your clock to a lot of things,” said Russel. “Now every year there seems to be a new variable introduced.” Like last year, Prince William Sound fishermen have made deliveries of species found in waters further south like sunfish and chub mackerel. Nobody has reported a delivery of the latter since 1932. Russel noted other oddities as well. Like in Southeast, the Prince William Sound run seems to be 7 to 10 days early and slightly compressed. “Usually, you’ll start seeing jumpers early in the season, indicators that the fish are coming in,” he said. “This year we had very few jumpers in the Sound. The fish were holding deep because the water was warmer, swimming off shore. We had gorgeous weather here. There wasn’t any rain, so they weren’t going up the streams. The water was warm, and there was a lack of water.” Like Gray, Russell said the blob could be a potential culprit, but doesn’t rule out other unknown factors. “From what I can gather, something knocked them down early,” said Russell. “As to what that variable is, it could’ve been ocean temperature or food variables, something that affected the stock across the board.” Hatcheries are feeling the squeeze of bad returns. The Valdez Fisheries Development Association predicted a catch of 17 million fish, but Russell said 8 million is more likely. The Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corp. expected 20 million in total, and up to 6 million by Aug. 11. By that date, however, fishermen only caught 1.2 million. Russell said the drop in hatchery production shouldn’t raise eyebrows. Wild runs and hatchery runs will vary in production from year to year. “It’s not that there’s anything up with hatchery returns in the Sound,” said Russell. “All these places are seeing a decline in abundance of pink salmon.” In Kodiak, the state’s third largest pink run, “things are even crazier,” said ADFG management biologist James Jackson. Last year, the commercial fleet harvested 33 million fish, an enormous run by Kodiak’s standards. This year, Jackson said a 4 million harvest is rather optimistic, the worst return Jackson has seen since the 1970s. Like Southeast and Prince William Sound, the run was early, to boot. “It’s a phenomenal shift,” said Jackson. “Probably the most frightening thing is not only is this run weak but it looks like it peaked already. Usually right now we’re about 60 percent of our run timing. I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re around 80 percent of our run timing right now.” Hatcheries will likely not meet their cost recovery harvest, he said, and fishermen on Kodiak will deal with a rare island-wide weeklong closure. A bright but no less odd spot arises in above average pink salmon sizes statewide. “We are seeing the largest pinks we’ve ever seen here,” said Jackson. “Our average weight for pink salmon now is five, five and half pounds. Normal is three and half pounds. These guys are almost twice the size they usually are. Fishermen are bringing in 10-pound pink salmon. There’s a guy who brought in a 14-pound pink salmon. They’re enormous.” Jackson had a detailed explanation for the poor production. Weather patterns and ocean temperatures combine for hostile waters for pink salmon fry. “We’ve got ocean temperatures we’ve never seen,” said Jackson. “We’ve got near shore conditions too. Kodiak hasn’t really had a winter in three years. Kodiak has these really deep inner bays, almost like fjords. “We usually get a lot of snowmelt, so you have a lot of abundant fresh water. We haven’t been getting a lot of the snow lately, so a lot of those inner bays have been a lot warmer than we usually see. You have less productive water. Pink fry…if they come out early because there was no winter…those fish have to get to a certain size before they go offshore and start feeding. Those in shore conditions are really important.” The environmental factors carry over from last year, when Kodiak experienced a glut of sea bird and whale mortalities. The irregularities in whether and marine survival, he said, lead to more questions and few answers. “We’ve had the same pink salmon fishing schedule for four years. It’s a beautiful bell curve,” he said. “Our effort has been consistent for the last 20, 25 years. Now, everything is different. Last year’s run was huge around Kodiak. That was a late run. It was just so huge that we thought it was early. When you look at the peak, it was well past what we usually have. In 2014, the run was weak and early, which you don’t usually see. These runs are usually very consistent.” Gone are the days when managers could tell the day of the week by the fish. “It’s a strange year,” he said. “It’s one for the books.” DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Alaskan restrictions help Yukon kings meet Canadian goals

For the second year running, Yukon River chinook salmon seem to be climbing out of an abundance pit. The river is home to a bulk of Alaska’s subsistence communities that suffered from a statewide decline in king salmon, the staple subsistence harvest, since the early 2000s. Historically, the river sees an average return of 300,000 fish, but that hasn’t been seen since 1997. The most recent five-year average is less than half at 126,000 king salmon. Though subsistence users are still restricted to protect kings, 2016 saw good news on the Yukon in terms of commercial chum salmon fishing harvest and king salmon escapement over the Canadian border. At the Eagle sonar station on the border, ADFG counted 71,000 fish by Aug. 10, comfortably more than the 42,500 to 50,000 escapement goal Holly Caroll shoots for. Caroll is the summer management biologist for the Yukon River. She said managing over the escapement goal can look like unnecessary restrictions for subsistence users. However, she said, people forget that the Canadians want to harvest king salmon as well. The escapement goal only aims for how many salmon will spawn on their birthing grounds, not for the entire amount of chinook to be used by the end of the run. By treaty, Canada must have 23 percent to 26 percent of the total escapement goal to harvest on their own. “It’s hard to manage that harvest,” said Caroll. “It’s kind of confusing. We’ll say the ‘harvest-sharing objective’ and people don’t know what that is. Even the total in-river run is confusing.” Last year, Yukon villagers harvested only 7,000 kings for subsistence, according to ADFG survey estimates that take place after the season ends — far below the historical average ranging closer to 60,000 per year. In 2016, Caroll said she hoped to double that number by loosening subsistence restrictions. ADFG will not have those final survey estimates until December. Caroll doesn’t measure success by the fish themselves, but instead by how many of the state’s most remote population gets to eat them. “This is still not an awesome number,” she said. “Subsistence fishermen are still severely restricted. I’m not going to be happy till the run is large enough to stop restricting subsistence harvest. That’s how it’s supposed to be.” This year the commercial fishing season broke harvest records not seen since the 1980s, providing a welcome cushion for the cash-strapped region. Jack Schultheis, the manager of the Yukon River’s only commercial fishing processor, Kwik’pak, said the commercial fleet harvested over 500,000 fish, a marked uptick from the typical 300,000 seen by the summer season’s close.  “All things considered, the best summer fishery this company ever had,” said Schultheis. He did note that conservation measures for kings cut into the potential to harvest the 2.4 million chums, though he commended ADFG managers for opening every commercial opportunity possible once king salmon had cleared through the area. “The foregone harvest was something over a million fish that was available,” Schultheis said. “Once the kings were through here, they did let us fish a lot. The run wasn’t compressed. People did well fishing.” Schultheis believes what’s good for commercial fishermen is good for subsistence fishermen. Yukon commercial fishermen, he said, are invariably subsistence users as well and even adopt commercial methods for home use. Subsistence users often ask Schultheis for ice; commercial fishermen ice and bleed their catch for better storage and marketability. “Subsistence and commercial, it’s like the same thing to them,” he said. “It’s a big factor in their lives here. Everything gets better here when they’re allowed to commercial fish. It’s how they can afford to live here.” The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration co-produces a series of surveys with ADFG that predict two more years of improving chinook runs on the Yukon River. The studies began in 2007, when NOAA could no longer secure its own funding and had to get grant money to continue. By 2010, NOAA decided ADFG might like juvenile salmon studies for management purposes, and the federal and state biologists have worked together ever since. Katie Howard, an ADFG biologist, co-manages the juvenile Western Alaska salmon stock portion of the study alongside NOAA’s Jim Murphy. The survey takes place in the Bering Sea north of Nunivak Island. Research teams use pelagic, or midwater, trawls to gather juvenile salmon in the top part of the water column where they usually swim. Among other research points, Howard and Murphy look for abundance estimates, indication of the size range, dietary habits, physical condition, genetics, and presence of diseases or parasites. From the study, Howard knows the amount of marine juvenile salmon correlates closely with final escapement back to upriver spawning grounds. “It’s a pretty stable relationship, at least for the years we have data,” Howard said. Salmon spawn in the fall and hatch in the spring. They usually journey into saltwater between May and August. By the time Howard and Murphy see them in the Bering Sea in September, the numbers of juveniles is consistent with the final number of adults.  “What would have to explain these big changes in productivity on the Yukon is probably occurring before we see them in September,” said Howard. “After that point, it’s been pretty stable marine survival.” The timeline could mean that the first few weeks of a juvenile salmon’s ocean life are critical. Changing weather conditions could be a culprit, she said.  “The first few weeks in the ocean is being really important to whether not you’re going to have a strong cohort or weak cohort,” she said. “That’s the next step (in research). Some of the ideas that have been floating around are differences in timing, as fresh water systems are warming, fish are migrating earlier, and there could be a mismatch with wind conditions.” ADFG’s funding for the Chinook Research Initiative begun under former Gov. Sean Parnell fell prey to declining state revenues, and many of the more robust research and management programs have been cut as well. Howard said ADFG is considering similar juvenile studies for pink salmon in Prince William Sound, but juvenile studies for chinook are still lacking. She hopes the team can continue to develop more grant money to try the chinook surveys further south. “There aren’t a lot of projects like this out there for Alaska,” said Howard. “We are working on funding to do something very similar that would get information on Kuskokwim and Nushagak, mostly Bristol Bay stocks. We’ve kind of fine-tuned things in the Northern Bering and figured out how we can make it work. We think we can just take it south and apply the same thing.” DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]  

Ninilchik tribe finishes Kenai subsistence season

The heads of passing boaters swiveled toward the bank, curious to see the only subsistence gillnet allowed in the Kenai River. The Ninilchik Traditional Council’s subsistence gillnet takes up about 30 feet of bank. The net swayed in the strong current, bucking when a fish struck the mesh. Though the gear made it in the water this season, whether it will make its way through the regulatory process next year is unclear yet. “Seeing any rainbows?” a boater called out to the tribal staff near the net as his boat passed. “None!” called back Daniel Reynolds, one of the designated fishers for the tribe. “Just reds.” The boaters nodded and called back good luck before navigating down the river. Gina Wiste, an environmental technician who fishes for the tribe, said the exchange was one of the kindest they’d had since their first day fishing there July 28. “It’s a mix. Some people can be really unpleasant, and some are just curious,” Wiste said. Wiste, Reynolds and Resource and Environmental Director Darrel Williams have fished for Ninilchik residents most days this summer. The tribe got permission to use a subsistence gillnet in the Kasilof River in January 2015 and ran that for the beginning part of this summer. However, though the tribe was approved for nets on both the Kenai and Kasilof rivers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service only granted the permit for the Kasilof net in 2015. The federal agency issued a permit for the Kenai River net on July 27 after the tribe filed a special action request with the Federal Subsistence Board, the body that oversees subsistence activities in Alaska, amid a year-long legal tangle with the U.S Department of the Interior and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The tribe has been working on a permit to fish with a gillnet in the Kenai since 2006. Williams said the tribe didn’t know what to expect from the special action request. “To be honest, we were all pretty surprised that it went through,” Williams said. Williams zigzagged the tribe’s boat up the Kenai River from Swiftwater Park outside Soldotna on Aug. 14. He passed lines of anglers casting for silvers and reds in the Moose Range Meadows and the yellow sign marking the end of state waters, passing into the portion of federally managed part of the river. Williams said they have tried out different portions of the river to find where is the most effective to set up. About 40 feet offshore, Williams stalled the boat and Reynolds dropped an anchor and sandbags off the bow, following it with a buoy to mark the edge of the net area. Williams guided the boat over to the shore, where Reynolds disembarked with the gear. Williams and Wiste joined him after mooring, running the 5.25 inch-mesh net out into the current. The first fish hit within six minutes. “We’re in a channel right here, and the fish like that,” Wiste said. “They head right up this way and toward the bank, and that’s where we catch them.” The tribe staff fishes for Ninilchik residents who may not be able to do it themselves. They can only harvest as many fish as people who submit permits — 25 per head of household with five additional fish per family member. So while they were allowed to harvest up to 2,000 sockeye, 50 king salmon, 50 rainbow trout and 100 Dolly Varden this year, they can only catch as many fish as the submitted permits allow. Wiste tallied each fish caught while Williams and Reynolds picked them from the net. Per regulation, she clipped each one’s dorsal fin and recorded it on the permits. They deliver the fish whole to the permit holders, who clean them at home. Regulations prohibit the tribe’s fishermen from cleaning the fish on site because it could attract bears, Williams explained. The fish are fewer and smaller on the Kasilof. Williams said some days on the Kasilof would produce less than 10 fish after several hours of netting. “These fish (on the Kenai) are so much bigger, and some people will say, ‘Those fish are huge, I can’t take any more’, ” Wiste said. “Everybody on this list has gotten fish.” Only tribal employees can fish because of the federal requirement to carry a $500,000 insurance policy. They also take samples of every king salmon they catch. “People were sort of wondering if they were going to get any (fish from the Kasilof gillnet),” he said. “That’s really what this is all about, doing something for the people.” After three hours of netting, the designated fishers had hauled in 54 salmon, all sockeye except for two coho. As of Aug. 14, the tribe had only caught one king salmon and one Dolly Varden, both of which were less than 18 inches long, according to the catch records. The Federal Subsistence Board, the body that oversees subsistence activities in Alaska, approved the nets on the Kenai and Kasilof rivers in January 2015 but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did not issue a permit for the 2015 season. The permit for the 2016 season only came after legal action in the courts, and it was approved as experimental, meaning that next year’s gillnet activity hangs in the balance of federal approval. A subsistence fisheries regulation cycle is approaching this winter as well, bringing two proposals to ban the Ninilchik tribe’s gillnet in the Kenai River entirely — one from Fish and Wildlife Service itself and the other from the Cooper Landing and Hope Federal Subsistence Community. The latter complains that the net is detrimental to stocks of conservation concern. Fish and Wildlife Service managers haven’t had time to evaluate what happened on the fishery but they will do so since the fishing season ended Aug. 15, said Andrea Madeiros, spokesperson for Fish and Wildlife Service in Anchorage. “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service remains concerned about the use of a gillnet in the Moose Range Meadows because it is a spawning area,” Madeiros wrote in an email. Both Williams and Wiste said they were unsure what would happen for next year. Williams said he understands the conservation concerns and the tribe has carefully evaluated the net’s effects on the river’s habitat and the fish populations. The tribe brought on a fisheries biologist for advice as well. “If anything, we’re conservation minded,” Williams said. As they were packing the fish into bags to leave the site Aug. 14, Wiste said they would have to plan for more fish storage next year because more people would likely take part. What she’d really like, she said, is a fish tote. “It’s not gonna do us any good this year, since the season’s almost over,” Williams said. “Wait ‘til next year.” Reach Elizabeth Earl at [email protected]  

FISH FACTOR: Website launched to monitor ocean acidification off Alaska

Alaska is one of a handful of U.S. states to launch a go-to website aimed at keeping ocean acidification in the public eye. The Alaska Ocean Acidification Network, a collaboration of state and federal scientists, agencies, tribes, conservation, fishing and aquaculture groups, went live last month. Its goal is to provide a forum for researchers to share their findings, and to connect with coastal residents concerned about future impacts on their communities. Ocean acidification, or OA, is caused by the ocean absorbing excess carbon dioxide, CO2, from the atmosphere, generated primarily from the burning of fossil fuels for energy. The off kilter chemistry causes the seawater to become corrosive, making it tough for marine creatures to grow scales and shells. Alaska is more susceptible to OA than other regions because its waters are colder and older, and thereby hold more C02. “We are so reliant on the ocean for our lives and livelihood. The seafood industry is valued at about $5.8 billion every year, and it’s the largest private sector employer in the state. So just think about the direct and indirect effects of OA and the implications,” said Darcy Dugan, Network project coordinator who also works for the Alaska Ocean Observing System, or AOOS. “The more educated Alaskans are, the more creative they can be in thinking about adaptation strategies and the more confident they can feel about working together to have a sustainable future,” she added. Since 2011 the AOOS and its partners have sampled acidic fluctuations (pH levels) at moorings in the Bering Sea, Gulf of Alaska and at the Alutiiq Pride Hatchery in Seward. Researchers also have taken 1,200 shipboard water samples over several years. Starting this fall, the Network has partnered with the state ferry system to have OA measuring instruments onboard the Columbia, which makes twice-weekly runs between Bellingham and Skagway. The average pH in the world’s oceans today is 8.1, according to NOAA. The lower the pH, the higher the acidity. While no direct effects of OA are showing up yet in Alaska’s sea creatures, computer models predict that normal acidic ranges will become off kilter sooner than previously thought. “They are anticipating that the Beaufort Sea will be first to leave its natural range of pH variability around 2025, followed by the Chukchi in 2027 and the Bering in 2044,” Dugan said. “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,” estimated Bob Foy, director of NOAA’s research lab at Kodiak “Once, it reaches those levels there will be significant decreases in survival and subsequent fishery yields and profits within 20 years,” Foy added. “We can be informed and prepared,” said Dugan. “We can come together as a community to respond and adapt.” Ocean acidification in Alaska will be featured at the Aleutian Life Forum Aug. 16 in Unalaska and at a (free) “State of the Science” Workshop Nov. 30- Dec. 1 in Anchorage. Alaska #1 For the first time, the “Alaska” seafood brand has topped all others on menus across the nation. “We do research every couple of years to look at brands that are featured on restaurant menus,” said Claudia Hogue, foodservice director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. The research was done by Chicago-based Datassentials, which has the nation’s largest database on U.S. menus. The group targeted “penetration,” Hogue said, or the percentage of menus that feature different brand names. “Alaska seafood ranks highest among all other proteins for the first time,” she said. “Research shows that consumers are trying to eat healthier by the choices they’re making at the restaurant.” “Alaska seafood” appears on 3.4 percent of all menus, compared to “certified Angus” with 3.1 percent and “Norwegian” at 1.9 percent. The Alaska brand also outranked many other well-known food category brands, including Hershey’s, Kahlua, Tabasco and Grand Marnier. Fish Cures Shrimp shells may offer the solution to harmful sulfites in wine. Currently, wine producers add sulfites such as sulfur dioxide (SO2) to wine to keep it fresh during storage. But SO2 damages the atmosphere, and can cause allergic reactions in some people. Green Chemistry reports that researchers at the University of Aveiro in Portugal have discovered that thin films made from the polymer chitin in shrimp shells removes traces of iron and copper in wine barrels. This would prevent bacterial growth or oxidation reactions, both of which can impair the wine’s flavor. In taste tests the new material performed as well or better than sulfite preservatives. The researchers said “the process of making the shrimp based additive is easy to scale up for wholesale production and it could be adapted for other drinks in future.” Fish eyes Bureo, a Los Angeles startup that makes skateboards from marine debris, has broadened its fight against pollution by launching the world’s only collection of sunglasses made from recycled fishing nets. The Ocean Collection is designed by Chilean eyewear company Karun from nets collected by Net Positiva, a recycling program developed and operated by Bureo, which means “waves.” Last year the program collected more than 110,000 pounds of fishing nets from 16 communities in the country. “Discarded fishing gear,” Bureo points out in its video, “accounts for an estimated 10 percent of the ocean’s plastic pollution.” The program has earned recognition from the U.S. State Department and won an innovation award and grant funding from the Chilean Government The Bureo fish net sunglasses cost $139. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Proposals in, 2017 board meeting to revisit Inlet battles

Deadlines have passed for proposals to the 2017 Upper Cook Inlet finfish meeting of the Alaska Board of Fisheries. The proposal book, now under review, is stuffed with 499 pages that largely carry over the battles fought in the 2014 meeting, when the two-week Board of Fisheries marathon gave way to new rules for the Kenai River management plans that added fuel to the so-called Cook Inlet “fish wars.” The book is currently under review for the 166 proposals submitted. More than a dozen proposals look to modify or entirely repeal the Kenai River Late Run King Salmon Management Plan and the Kenai River Late Run Sockeye Salmon Management Plan. The current late run king salmon plan include restrictions on commercial sockeye fishing and sport fishery bait usage when the department projects an in-river run of less than 22,500 fish. The late run sockeye plan, which begins after the sport fishery closes on July 31, restricts the commercial setnet fleet to 36 hours through Aug. 15 if the Alaska Department of Fish and Game projects a king salmon escapement of less than 22,500 fish. Commercial fishermen largely resent the August sockeye rules and have been restricted by them to some degree in each of the last three years since they were adopted in 2014. However, ADFG used its emergency management authority to allow a 12-hour setnet opener on Aug. 9 after using the allowed 36 hours for the month in the previous week in order to keep late run sockeye from exceeding the in-river goal for the Kenai River. Some fishermen say the August restrictions are a de facto optimum escapement goal. While ADFG sets the sustainable escapement goal, or SEG, the board may set optimum escapement goals, or OEG. An OEG may not be lower than the sustainable escapement goal, but the board may choose a higher range for reasons such as passing more fish to in-river users. “The current provisions in 5 AAC 21.359(e) and (f), which were adopted in 2014, have essentially created an optimal escapement goal (OEG) for Kenai River late-run king salmon bore disproportionately by the Upper Subdistrict set gillnet fishery,” wrote Joel Doner. “The current management plan places the entire burden of conservation for this stock in August solely on the set gillnet fishery.” Because the Kenai River is managed with a sustainable escapement goal of 15,000 to 30,000 king salmon, commercial fishermen wonder why the number comes up at all. “There is no biological reason or data, that can justify for this number,” wrote Gary Hollier in his proposal. “22,500 puts unnecessary restrictions on the ESSN (East Side setnet) fishery. In the Kenai-East Forelands sections, where in some years up to 25 percent of their harvest can occur in August, the current regulation is very devastating. If 15,000 is the minimum goal, and the minimum escapement goal is projected, why are there any time restrictions put on the set net fleet?” The Anchorage Advisory Committee, one of dozens around the state that make recommendations to the Board of Fisheries, wants to decouple the restrictions on commercial sockeye harvest for the Kenai and Kasilof rivers if the use of bait is prohibited in the Kenai River for king salmon. “Allowing ADFG to independently use the 36 hours in each beach will make meeting the objective of maximizing sockeye salmon harvest more effective, and thus, more efficient,” wrote the committee. Elements of the August plan, said others, have tied ADFG management’s hands with the 36-hour limit. “The restrictions in place are too static and will not allow any flexibility to managers,” wrote Paul Shadura, spokesperson for South K-Beach Independent Fishermen’s Association, or SOKI. “The question of pairing is not fundamentally possible in a fisheries with so many different moving parts.” Not only is the August plan unmanageable, others said, but a clear violation of ADFG’s constitutional charge to manage fisheries to ensure maximum yield. “The current version of 5 AAC21.360 and 5AAC21.365 set gillnet fishery management plans are in violation of the constitutional mandate and does not allow adaptive in-season management,” wrote the board’s Central Peninsula Advisory Committee, which also asks repeal the optimum escapement goal of 700,000 to 1.4 million for sockeye. “The result has been gross annual over-escapements and annual loss of harvest in the tune of millions of salmon and tens of millions of dollars.” The Upper Cook Inlet Drift Association, an industry group of Cook Inlet drift net fishermen, notes that sockeye have indeed surpassed the upper end of the goal the majority of the most recent years. “The Kenai River late-run sockeye have exceeded the inriver goal for seven of the last 10 years and the Kasilof River sockeye have exceeded the (biological escapement goal) for nine of the last 10 years,” wrote UCIDA, which also wants to revise the Central District drift plan. Personal use fisheries have a wealth of proposals in the queue as well, asking for expanded hours and zones and restricted hours and zones. Rich Koch, city manager of Kenai, wants to repeal the ability of ADFG to open dipnetting to 24 hours by emergency order, saying the city has enough trouble cleaning up the normal dip net season. “There are inherent safety conflicts between personal use fishery participants and the operation of heavy equipment in a confined area during a dark period of the night/morning, during 24 hour openings of the fishery,” wrote Koch. While commercial fishing representatives are trying to repeal some 2014 restrictions, guided angler representatives will try to enact even more at the 2017 meeting. The Kenai River Sportfishing Association, a guided angler industry group, wants to limit East Side set netters to 29-inch mesh, in addition to increasing the daily bag limit of coho salmon to three after the set net fishery closes in August and expanding boat usage further upstream. “Research conducted at the request of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and widespread experience of set net fishermen both demonstrate that fishing with shallower set net gear will more selectively harvest large numbers of sockeye with reduced harvest of king salmon,” reads the proposal. “Most fishermen currently use 45 inch mesh depth gear. A maximum net depth of 29 meshes is currently thought to provide the best efficiency for harvesting sockeye while avoiding kings.” KRSA also wants to establish an optimum escapement goal of 15,000 to 40,000 for king salmon and expand Kenai sockeye restrictions to the Kasilof Special Harvest Area. “Higher in-river runs produce tremendous sport fishery benefits with no significant impact on future production or yield for escapements up to 40,000,” the proposal reads. “The proposed upper goal of 40,000 includes the historical average escapement and maintains high production and yield according the Department’s recent escapement goal analysis. “Returns from all historical escapements below 40,000 exceeded replacement and produced substantial yields. There was no significant correlation with returns for escapements between 22,500 and 40,000.”  

FISH FACTOR: Second straight season of strong sockeyes; pinks few but big

Two big fish stories have been spawned so far by the 2016 Alaska salmon season: 1) sockeyes save the day, and 2) colossal pinks. A larger than expected sockeye salmon catch that has topped 50 million will salvage a summer that has seen lackluster catches of other salmon species, notably, those hard to predict pinks. “I think if you’re a Bristol Bay fisherman, you’re probably pretty happy, and if you fished anywhere else in the state, it probably hasn’t been a great season for you,” said Forrest Bowers, deputy director of commercial fisheries at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The Alaska salmon catch so far of 88 million fish is little more than halfway to the preseason forecast of 161 million salmon, down 40 percent from the 2015 harvest. Pink salmon, the “bread and butter” fish for the fleet, were projected to come up short this year, and so they have in the big three producing areas: Southeast, Prince William Sound and Kodiak. “We really haven’t been any bright spots in terms of pink salmon across the state,” Bowers said. The Panhandle fleet has taken less than 10 million pink salmon so far on a forecast of 34 million. “Right now it doesn’t seem likely that we’ll hit that number,” he said “We would’ve expected to see more catch at this point. We still have half the run to come in, so it should be well over 20 million.” The story’s the same at Prince William Sound where pink catches were at 9 million on a forecast of 32 million.  “We are below average in terms of run timing so it’s unlikely we’ll hit the forecast there,” Bowers said. Kodiak’s pink salmon fishery is being called the slowest since the 1970s, with only 1.5 million humpies taken so far. “The catch and the escapement is currently running at about a quarter the strength it should be at this time of the season,” said James Jackson, regional manager at Kodiak. What’s running big is the size of the fish, which usually weigh about four pounds on average. “I’ve had a 14 pound pink on my scale,” said Tyler O’Brien, a Kodiak salmon tender operator. “And lots of 10-pounders.” Jackson concurred that a parade of porky pinks has come through his office. “The larger size is an indication of no competition for food out in the ocean, and that usually means you have a weak run. It’s not always true, but yeah, big pinks,” he said. (The world record pink salmon weighed 14.49 pounds and was caught in 2001 in the Skykomish River, Wash., according to landbigfish.com.)
 So far the total Alaska pink salmon catch is at 25 million; the forecast called for 90 million. Perhaps the puny catch will help push up disappointing prices for pinks, which were in the 20 cents per pound range at the Alaska docks. The opposite is true for Alaska’s sockeye salmon fishery, which has yielded larger than expected catches already topping 51 million fish. The bulk of the “big money” fish, of course, came from Bristol Bay where a catch of 38 million was far larger than expected. “Historically, the 2016 season will probably be the largest sockeye harvest at Bristol Bay since 1995,” Bowers said. Ditto the Alaska Peninsula, which produced a nearly 6 million sockeye salmon harvest. Upper Cook Inlet also is having a good red run, with 2.5 million taken so far. “With a statewide sockeye harvest over 50 million fish statewide,” Bowers added, “that will rank in Alaska’s all-time top 10.” Fish Watch Beam trawling continues for coon and side stripe shrimp in Southeast waters. The summer Dungeness fishery is going strong with crabbers averaging $3.05 per pound, up slightly from last year. Scallopers are still dropping dredges around Yakutat and in other parts of the Gulf and Bering Sea. Lingcod fisheries are ongoing in Southeast Alaska, Cook Inlet and Prince William Sound, primarily by small boats using jig and hand troll gear. Alaska longliners have taken 64 percent of their 17 million pound halibut catch limit with 6 million pounds left to go. Kodiak and Homer remain nearly tied for ports with the most landings. Fishing fleets are targeting Pacific Ocean Perch, rockfish, cod, flounders and other groundfish in the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea. The Gulf reopens to pollock fishing on Aug. 25. The golden king crab fishery along the Aleutians opened Aug. 1 with a catch below 6 million pounds for the first time in decades. A 25 percent cut was made due to stock declines in the western district. Norton Sound’s summer red king crab fishery closed in late July after about a month that yielded over 440,000 pounds of crab. The public has until Aug. 18 to submit agenda change requests to the state Board of Fisheries for its upcoming meeting cycle that begins in mid-October. The Board will take up fisheries in Cook Inlet, Kodiak and statewide king and Tanner crab. Dutch Harbor stories “Deadliest Catch” producer Christian Skovly can’t get Dutch Harbor out of his mind, after spending time there while filming the popular reality show. “After talking to people both in town and on the boats, I would hear these stories about Dutch Harbor and how it used to be; and I found it fascinating,” he said. After he researched the town’s history and found it wanting, it fueled his interest in creating a history project based on personal stories. “I am hoping to add a different perspective of this boom town,” Skovly said. “We know Dutch Harbor from the television show, but the in-town stuff is rarely visited, it is all mostly out on the water. Many people have told me that it was the Wild West in the middle of nowhere, where a lot of money was being made and where a lot of interesting people and stories happened.” Skovly hopes to hear from bartenders, police officers, cannery workers, families and anyone who lived and worked in Dutch Harbor during the 1970’s and 80’s. He said the stories he gets will dictate the shape his project will take. Contact him at [email protected] Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.  

ADFG cuts Kenai setnet hours

After allowing liberalized harvest of Kenai River sockeyes and king salmon throughout July, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is implementing restrictions on the East Side setnetters in response to its latest forecast for escapement. ADFG announced on Aug. 2 that it is projecting an escapement of less than 22,500 king salmon on the Kenai River, meaning the commercial setnet fishery may only be opened by emergency order to no more than 36 hours of fishing time until Aug. 15 when the commercial fishery for sockeye closes. When the sport fishery closes on July 31, ADFG tracks escapement numbers instead of total run size. During the season, ADFG was projecting a total run size larger than 22,500 kings, allowing for more commercial fishing time and the retention and use of bait in the sport fishery. After Aug. 1, different rules kick in if ADFG predicts an escapement of 16,500 to 22,500, which it has now done after managers were optimistic earlier in July that the restriction would not be triggered. If managers predict anything less than 16,500, the commercial fleet cannot fish at all. ADFG can loosen the restrictions if it projects an escapement greater than 22,500 before Aug. 15. ADFG area commercial manager Pat Shields said the department will be making daily reassessments to see if the forecast changes. The release said the department didn’t see what it needed to achieve the mid-point of the river’s 15,000 to 30,000 escapement goal for late-run kings. “In order to maintain escapement estimates at that level, daily passages rates of approximately 1,000 king salmon were needed through the peak of the run during the last week of July,” reads ADFG run analysis. “Those daily passage rates were not realized and low king salmon passage now project an escapement less than 22,500 Kenai River late-run king salmon for all on-time and early run timing scenarios.”  

Ninilchik group finally gets Kenai subsistence net OK’d

A year and half after it was first approved, the Ninilchik Traditional Council has been allowed to set its subsistence sockeye gillnet in the Kenai River in 2016. On July 27, the Federal Subsistence Board approved a special action request from the NTC that asked for the subsistence gillnet’s operational plan be approved. Over the conservation concerns of the public, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management, the board approved the request 6-2. “This successful outcome underscores years of efforts by the Tribe to operate this fishery,” said NTC in a statement. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service permit allows the Ninilchik Traditional Council to harvest up to 2,000 sockeye, 50 king salmon, 100 Dolly Varden and 50 rainbow trout. The net can be in the water through Aug. 15 or until 50 kings are caught. In its statement, NTC said this year’s improved king salmon runs should allay any worries that the gillnet will damage chinook stocks or take sockeye from commercial fishermen. There are plenty of fish to go around, it said, and the community gillnet harvests a negligible amount. “Over 5,000 Chinook salmon have been harvested so far in the 2016 Kenai sport fisheries,” NTC said in its statement. “NTC’s allowed harvest of 50 chinook is 1 percent of this harvest. The tribe’s 2016 harvest limit for 2,000 sockeye is far less that 1 percent of the total Kenai harvest. NTC’s fishery is carefully structured to be conservative and precautionary while catching salmon that are vital to its subsistence way of life.” As of Aug. 1, the Kenai River king salmon have returned with more vigor than the previous years, though strong numbers in July slowed toward the end of the month. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has counted 17,215 kings having escaped past sonar, 400 more than the same time last year and 6,000 and 4,000 more than that of 2014 and 2013, respectively. This meets the lower end of the escapement goal of 15,000 to 30,000. ADFG commissioner Sam Cotten said he worries about potential impacts for the fish, fishermen and the federal board itself. ADFG has voiced concerns repeatedly about the gillnet. “It just adds one more controversy in the mix,” said Cotten. “It’s a one year deal, relatively small number of fish, but it adds a wrinkle of controversy.” After July 31, Kenai River management switches to escapement based from in river run total-based. If this amount does not pass 22,500 king salmon, the commercial sockeye fishery endures more restrictions. Cotten said 50 fish are unlikely to make the difference, but fears it all the same. Further, that the Federal Subsistence Board overrode the federal agency that manages the fishery in question unsettles Cotten. “I remain confused about who should be making these calls on the behalf of the U.S. government in these decisions,” said Cotten. “I felt like USFWS should be given some deference when it’s the exact conservation unit they manage, and they weren’t given any at all.” Local voices, which have been largely against to the idea since its inception, remain concerned about the health of king salmon stocks. Tim Cashman, a member of the Soldotna city council and angler guide operating from Homer, said the tribe’s net remains a bad idea. “I’ve yet to find anybody in favor,” said Cashman. “I do know the importance of a fishery that’s barely hanging on and barely making minimum escapement, to have these fish that have beaten all odds to get to spawning grounds. They beat the commercial nets, they beat sport fishermen, they beat the guides and they beat Mother Nature. And they’re being yarded out by a group that lives 50 miles away from us. If the people who manage our fishery are telling us this is a bad idea, it’s a bad idea.” The approval comes after a lengthy and heated battle involving hundreds of letters from the public asking the board to reconsider the gillnet, accusations of wrongdoing against U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service managers, earlier special action requests, a lawsuit brought by the council against the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture and opposition from neighboring subsistence communities. In January 2015, the Federal Subsistence Board voted 4-3 in favor of NTC’s proposal to hold a community subsistence gillnet for the Kasilof and Kenai rivers. State and federal biologists advised against the action at the time. They claimed a subsistence gillnet, even if targeted for sockeye salmon, could endanger returns of king salmon, which had been on the downswing statewide since the beginning of the decade. Within months, more than 700 requests for reconsideration flooded the Office of Subsistence Management asking the federal board to overturn its decision to let a subsistence gillnet into the state’s most heavily used and heavily politicized river. Several legislators submitted letters of their own, including Anchorage’s Rep. Les Gara and Sen. Bill Wielechowski. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages the Kenai Wildlife Refuge, which is the federal land on which the Ninilchik Traditional Council proposed it put its gillnet. The USFWS was one of the parties represented on the Federal Subsistence Board that voted against approving the gillnet. The proposal required that the USFWS manager Jeff Anderson approve an operation plan before NTC be allowed to actually put the net into the water. Though he approved the operational plan for the Kasilof River during the 2015 sockeye season, he denied the Kenai River plan. NTC leadership was outraged and filed a special action request with the Federal Subsistence Board to force Anderson to approve the operational plan, similar to the one approved in 2016. On July 29, 2015, the board denied the request, backing up the USFWS decision. Ninilchik Tribal elder and Council President Greg Encelewski spared no venom describing how the council feels about Anderson’s management of the Kenai River gillnet. “It’s absolutely ludicrous,” Encelewski said at the time. “It’s shameful and we’re disgusted.” In response, the council filed a lawsuit against the board and secretaries of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Interior Sally Jewell. Others jumped into the fray as time rolled on. In April 2016, The Cooper Landing and Hope Federal Subsistence Community filed a proposal change in the 2017-2019 Federal Subsistence Board proposal book that would eliminate Ninilchik Traditional Council’s gillnet. The gillnet, the Cooper Landing and Hope filers said, has a direct impact on them. Cooper Landing subsistence users are upriver of NTC and fish with dipnets. “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 stated. NTC filed its latest special action request while a judge was considering an injunction that would have forced USFWS to approve the net. NTC’s attorney, Sky Starkey, said the group plans to continue its lawsuit against USFWS. “We’re still weighing how to proceed,” said Starkey. “We believe that the FWS violated the subsistence priority of NTC in 2015. This fishery was actually supposed to start on June 15. That would have allowed NTC to get the bulk of the sockeye run. “What NTC wants is just whatever help the court might provide so that we don’t end up in the same situation next year.”  

FISH FACTOR: UFA starts project to collect salmon info from fishermen

Who knows more about local salmon and their habitats than Alaska fishermen? That’s the impetus behind a new information-gathering project spawned by United Fishermen of Alaska, or UFA, that aims to provide useful and timely news about the health of the state’s salmon runs. The Salmon Habitat Information Program, or SHIP, launched last week with an online survey to provide commercial fishermen with a way to share their local intelligence. “We are asking people what issues they are most concerned about in their region,” said SHIP manager Lindsey Bloom. “We also ask what sources they use to get habitat related information, such as newspapers, websites, or social media, and who they trust and are listening to for information as well.” UFA wants to recognize and tap the wisdom and knowledge of Alaska’s 10,888 current salmon permit owners in 26 distinct fisheries to ensure that the SHIP information is useful and relevant. Bloom said the survey results also could be helpful in shaping fishery rules and regulations. “Fishermen are some of the smartest and best equipped people to guide fish policy,” Bloom asserted. “With the multi-generational nature of salmon fishing in Alaska, they are grounded in community and family and sustainability and stewardship. We believe that by working together, fishermen can be powerful advocates for pro-salmon policies that ensure commercial fishing jobs remain strong for generations to come.” Respondents to the SHIP survey are entered to win a $500 Alaska Airlines certificate and a $200 gift card from LFS Marine stores. Extra entries also will be given to people who “like” the SHIP Facebook page and share the survey socially. Find the SHIP survey at the United Fishermen of Alaska website. Deadline to respond is Labor Day, Sept. 5. Mariculture momentum Plans to grow more shellfish and aquatic plans are taking shape following two meetings this summer by the Alaska Mariculture Task Force. The 11-member panel, which includes reps from the Departments of Fish and Game and Commerce, Alaska Sea Grant and seven public members, was created by order of Gov. Bill Walker in February. Its mission is to provide a statewide strategy for expanding the burgeoning industry by March 1, 2018. “We’re focusing on both aquatic farming as private businesses and fishery enhancement programs which are more of a common property activity,” said Julie Decker, a task force member and director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation. “We are looking at different models to advance, basic infrastructure and research that’s needed to really launch this industry.” Mariculture could model Alaska’s successful salmon enhancement program, she said, where the state backed a $100 million low interest, revolving loan to jump start the fledgling industry for several years. “It was developed as a public/private model where the state helped get the infrastructure for the salmon hatcheries started, and then it was taken over through private partnerships and regional nonprofits,” Decker explained. “And it was developed in rural Alaska where it is very difficult to make businesses work. Through taxes and cost recovery mechanisms, the industry paid the state back with interest, and every year those hatchery fish produce between $100-$300 million in value.” “For mariculture, we have high dollar products like king crab and geoducks, abalone, sea cucumbers, sea weeds, oysters and other shellfish. There is really a lot of opportunity,” she added. While Alaska’s mariculture operations to date have focused mostly on Southeast and Southcentral regions, the new vision includes broadening the industry to westward regions. “It’s a different time in history and people are looking at ways to diversify Alaska’s economy,” Decker said. “The state has such a large seafood industry and mariculture is a natural fit. Mariculture would provide more steady supplies and keep processing companies open on shoulder seasons and provide more jobs.” The mariculture task force wants to attract more expertise via advisory panels on investment and infrastructure, regulations, research and development, environmental impacts, public education and marketing and workforce development. Salmon skin! A chance discovery by farmed salmon hatchery workers has spawned a line of skin care products that help cure disorders like eczema and also keeps skin younger looking. Scientists became curious several years ago after it was noticed that hatchery workers who spent long hours handling salmon fry in cold seawater had softer, smoother hands. Researchers at Norway’s University of Science and Technology discovered the skin-softening component came from the enzyme zonase, found in the hatching fluid of salmon eggs. The enzyme’s task is to digest the protein structure of the tough eggshells without harming the tiny fish. The scientists hailed this dual ability as the secret behind the beneficial properties for human skin. Their research showed that zonase helps flake off dead skin and stimulates the growth of healthy new skin cells. It’s also proved helpful in healing wounds. Norway-based Aqua Bio Technology, which develops marine based ingredients for the personal care industry, now markets a zonase infused product under its Aquabeautine brand. Skin care expert to the stars, Dr. Nicholas Perricone of New York, also promotes salmon as the secret for younger-looking skin “that works from the inside out.” In his best-selling books, Perricone promises that eating wild salmon for 28 days is the cure for wrinkles and provides a “nutrition based face lift.” Closer to home, Chevak triplets Amy, Michelle and Cika Sparck have found success with their “land and sea” ArXotica line that uses salmon and berry infused products to promote healthy skin, hair and nails. The sisters hand gather crowberry, fireweed blossoms and Arctic sage, called “ciaggluk” which translates to “nothing bad about it.” “Because no matter how you use it, it’s good for you,” said Michelle. “We add extra virgin, cold pressed salmon oil to our formula. The omega properties blend with the botanicals that are really high in antioxidants. It’s ingredients we have trusted for thousands of years, so we can pass on that trust to our customers.” The ArXotica blend won first place this year in the “Beyond the Plate” category at the annual Alaska Symphony of Seafood. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.  

Ninilchik subsistence gillnet is in the Kenai River

Editor's note: this story has been updated from the original version with the latest Kenai River king salmon counts as of Aug. 1. A year and half after it was first approved, the Ninilchik Traditional Council has been allowed to set its subsistence sockeye gillnet in the Kenai River in 2016. On July 27, the Federal Subsistence Board approved a special action request from the NTC that asked for the subsistence gillnet’s operational plan be approved. Over the conservation concerns of the public, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management, the board approved the request 6-2. “This successful outcome underscores years of efforts by the Tribe to operate this fishery,” said NTC in a statement. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service permit allows the Ninilchik Traditional Council to harvest up to 2,000 sockeye, 50 king salmon, 100 Dolly Varden and 50 rainbow trout. The net can be in the water through Aug. 15 or until 50 kings are caught. In its statement, NTC said this year’s improved king salmon runs should allay any worries that the gillnet will damage chinook stocks or take sockeye from commercial fishermen. There are plenty of fish to go around, it said, and the community gillnet harvests a negligible amount. “Over 5,000 Chinook salmon have been harvested so far in the 2016 Kenai sport fisheries,” NTC said in its statement. “NTC’s allowed harvest of 50 chinook is 1 percent of this harvest. The tribe’s 2016 harvest limit for 2,000 sockeye is far less that 1 percent of the total Kenai harvest. NTC’s fishery is carefully structured to be conservative and precautionary while catching salmon that are vital to its subsistence way of life.” As of Aug. 1, the Kenai River king salmon have returned with more vigor than the previous years, though strong numbers in July slowed toward the end of the month. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has counted 17,215 kings having escaped past sonar, 400 more than the same time last year and 6,000 and 4,000 more than that of 2014 and 2013, respectively. This meets the lower end of the escapement goal of 15,000 to 30,000. ADFG commissioner Sam Cotten said he worries about potential impacts for the fish, fishermen and the federal board itself. ADFG has voiced concerns repeatedly about the gillnet. “It just adds one more controversy in the mix,” said Cotten. “It’s a one year deal, relatively small number of fish, but it adds a wrinkle of controversy.” After July 31, Kenai River management switches to escapement based from in river run total-based. If this amount does not pass 22,500 king salmon, the commercial sockeye fishery endures more restrictions. Cotten said 50 fish are unlikely to make the difference, but fears it all the same. Further, that the Federal Subsistence Board overrode the federal agency that manages the fishery in question unsettles Cotten. “I remain confused about who should be making these calls on the behalf of the U.S. government in these decisions,” said Cotten. “I felt like USFWS should be given some deference when it’s the exact conservation unit they manage, and they weren’t given any at all.” Local voices, which have been largely against to the idea since its inception, remain concerned about the health of king salmon stocks. Tim Cashman, a member of the Soldotna city council and angler guide operating from Homer, said the tribe’s net remains a bad idea. “I’ve yet to find anybody in favor,” said Cashman. “I do know the importance of a fishery that’s barely hanging on and barely making minimum escapement, to have these fish that have beaten all odds to get to spawning grounds. They beat the commercial nets, they beat sport fishermen, they beat the guides and they beat Mother Nature. And they’re being yarded out by a group that lives 50 miles away from us. If the people who manage our fishery are telling us this is a bad idea, it’s a bad idea.” The approval comes after a lengthy and heated battle involving hundreds of letters from the public asking the board to reconsider the gillnet, accusations of wrongdoing against U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service managers, earlier special action requests, a lawsuit brought by the council against the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture and opposition from neighboring subsistence communities. In January 2015, the Federal Subsistence Board voted 4-3 in favor of NTC’s proposal to hold a community subsistence gillnet for the Kasilof and Kenai rivers. State and federal biologists advised against the action at the time. They claimed a subsistence gillnet, even if targeted for sockeye salmon, could endanger returns of king salmon, which had been on the downswing statewide since the beginning of the decade. Within months, more than 700 requests for reconsideration flooded the Office of Subsistence Management asking the federal board to overturn its decision to let a subsistence gillnet into the state’s most heavily used and heavily politicized river. Several legislators submitted letters of their own, including Anchorage’s Rep. Les Gara and Sen. Bill Wielechowski. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages the Kenai Wildlife Refuge, which is the federal land on which the Ninilchik Traditional Council proposed it put its gillnet. The USFWS was one of the parties represented on the Federal Subsistence Board that voted against approving the gillnet. The proposal required that the USFWS manager Jeff Anderson approve an operation plan before NTC be allowed to actually put the net into the water. Though he approved the operational plan for the Kasilof River during the 2015 sockeye season, he denied the Kenai River plan. NTC leadership was outraged and filed a special action request with the Federal Subsistence Board to force Anderson to approve the operational plan, similar to the one approved in 2016. On July 29, 2015, the board denied the request, backing up the USFWS decision. Ninilchik Tribal elder and Council President Greg Encelewski spared no venom describing how the council feels about Anderson’s management of the Kenai River gillnet. “It’s absolutely ludicrous,” Encelewski said at the time. “It’s shameful and we’re disgusted.” In response, the council filed a lawsuit against the board and secretaries of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Interior Sally Jewell. Others jumped into the fray as time rolled on. In April 2016, The Cooper Landing and Hope Federal Subsistence Community filed a proposal change in the 2017-2019 Federal Subsistence Board proposal book that would eliminate Ninilchik Traditional Council’s gillnet. The gillnet, the Cooper Landing and Hope filers said, has a direct impact on them. Cooper Landing subsistence users are upriver of NTC and fish with dipnets. “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 stated. NTC filed its latest special action request while a judge was considering an injunction that would have forced USFWS to approve the net. NTC’s attorney, Sky Starkey, said the group plans to continue its lawsuit against USFWS. “We’re still weighing how to proceed,” said Starkey. “We believe that the FWS violated the subsistence priority of NTC in 2015. This fishery was actually supposed to start on June 15. That would have allowed NTC to get the bulk of the sockeye run. “What NTC wants is just whatever help the court might provide so that we don’t end up in the same situation next year.”  

Ships, Coast Guard rush to rescue 46 from sinking boat off Aleutian Islands

Two ships heard the Coast Guard’s emergency call to help a sinking fishing boat and rushed to rescue 46 crew members who had hopped into life rafts off Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. There were no reports of injuries as the vessels plucked the crew from the Bering Sea on July 26, Coast Guard Petty Officer Lauren Steenson said. The ships then began a 13-hour voyage to a port in Adak. When the 220-foot Alaska Juris started taking on water, all crew members donned survival suits and got into three rafts. An emergency beacon alerted the Coast Guard to the sinking ship. The Spar Canis and the Vienna Express rushed to the scene in response to the agency’s emergency broadcast for help, as did two other merchant vessels. “The good Samaritans’ willingness to respond ... was paramount to getting the Alaska Juris crew to safety,” said Lt. Greg Isbell, Coast Guard District 17 command duty officer. Video footage showed one of the bright orange life rafts floating some distance from the stricken boat, while another appeared tethered to it. The Coast Guard footage shot from an aircraft also showed a merchant ship in the distance, apparently headed toward the boat. The agency diverted a cutter and dispatched two C-130 transport planes and two helicopters to the sinking ship near Kiska Island, which is about 690 miles west of Dutch Harbor, one of the nation’s busiest fishing ports. It wasn’t immediately known what caused the fishing boat to begin taking on water, and that will be part of the Coast Guard investigation, Steenson said. Conditions on the Bering Sea were calm, but there was low visibility because of heavy fog. It’s not the first trouble the Alaska Juris has encountered in recent years. In March 2012, a fisherman aboard the boat died after a cable snapped and struck him in the head. Days later, another fisherman was treated for a head injury after a cable snapped again and hit him. In May 2012, the Alaska Juris requested help from the Coast Guard after three crew members were exposed to ammonia from a leak. The agency flew the trio to Cold Bay.  

Upper Cook Inlet commercial fishermen near 2M salmon harvest

KENAI — Salmon are rolling into Upper Cook Inlet’s commercial fishery. The drift fleet and setnetters in Cook Inlet have been out frequently in the past two weeks and were out for extended hours Thursday. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game also opened the drift gillnet fishery in the Expanded Kenai and Expanded Kasilof Sections of the Upper Subdistrict and the Anchor Point Section of the Lower Subdistrict for an additional 12-hour period on Friday to increase harvest on the sockeye salmon bound for the Kenai and Kasilof rivers, according to an emergency order issued Thursday. The salmon harvest came in just shy of 2 million as of Tuesday, with sockeye leading the pack at 1.6 million, followed by pink salmon at approximately 244,000 fish. Silvers and chum are starting to come in as well, with about 43,000 silvers and about 57,000 chums so far, according to Fish and Game’s inseason harvest estimates. The drifters in the central district have brought in 868,959 fish so far as of Tuesday, with 648,248 sockeye and 147,740 pinks. The chum salmon are mostly coming into the central district drifters — they accounted for 43,662 of the total 56,434 caught in the Upper Cook Inlet Central district. All told, the setnetters in the Ninilchik, Coho, Kalifornsky and Salamatof sections have brought in about 629,000 fish as of Tuesday, according to Fish and Game’s data. Similar to the total, the vast majority of those are sockeye, followed in numbers by pinks and kings. Fish and Game is expecting large runs of sockeye to return to the Kenai River this year — the river is already more than halfway to its escapement goal of 1.1 million to 1.35 million fish, with 607,787 fish having passed the sonar as of Wednesday. The department widely exceeded the upper end of its escapement goal last year, putting more than 1.7 million fish into the river by the end of counts on Aug. 26, according to Fish and Game data. However, the harvest is less than would be expected from a high forecast, said Division of Commercial Fisheries Area Management Biologist Pat Shields. It looks like the run will be multiple days later than the typical midpoint this year, similar to last year’s run, he said. “Based on our forecast, the harvest so far is probably a little bit less than you would expect of this time in July,” Shields said. Prices have varied between $1.10 and $1.20 for sockeye, less than the average of $1.54 that Cook Inlet fishermen received last year. Competition and a strong U.S. dollar damaged salmon prices in the state last year, but commercial fishermen had hoped prices would improve after last year because of an algal bloom that killed millions of farmed salmon in Chile. Anne Poso, the dock manager at Snug Harbor Seafoods, said the low prices have disappointed fishermen so far. The season so far has been “tepid,” despite the fact that the third week of July should be the peak of the season, she said. “I would normally expect it to be a lot better right now,” Poso said. Sorting fish at the Pacific Star Seafoods’ dock on Thursday, dock manager Mike Johnson said the season has looked best for setnetters fishermen so far. “It’s been looking good for the shore-based guys right now,” Johnson said. “Not so much for the drifters ... The fish have all been down low, with the warm water.” In the Kenai River, Fish and Game biologists have observed the sockeye salmon migrating further out into the river than they normally do, Shields said. They are still trying to understand why, but the migration pattern could contribute to the low success rates in the sportfishery and the personal use dipnet fishery on the Kenai, he said. Because of the low success rates in the personal use dipnet fishery, Sen. Bill Wielechowski (D-Anchorage) sent a letter to Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten’s office requesting a suspension of emergency commercial fishing openers on the Kenai and Kasilof rivers. Many of his constituents complained that they had traveled hours and spent days on the river with little success while Fish and Game issued several emergency commercial fishing openers last week, according to a news release from Wielechowski’s office. A representative from Cotten’s office said he was not currently crafting a response to the request. Reach Elizabeth Earl at [email protected]  

More opportunity on Kenai in ‘16, but setnetters still wary

Hope and fear both spring eternal on the Kenai River. This year marks a turning point from the abysmal king salmon returns beginning that led to a total closure and federal disaster declaration in 2012. Commercial sockeye fishermen are reaping the rewards in regular commercial openings alongside freshly baited hooks for the king salmon sport fishery. Still, the threat of paired restrictions hangs without a clearly defined mark of success to ease tensions. In times of relative plenty, like 2016, East Side setnetters still feel a cloud over them, said Pat Shields, the area commercial fishery manager for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.  Nearly 12,000 kings escaped past the Kenai River sonar counter by July 18, nearly double the most recent three-year average of 6,882. With 3,850 kings harvested in the commercial fishery and 3,450 in the sport fishery, the total king run clocks just less than 20,000 salmon as of July 19. More than 574,000 sockeye have escaped past the Kenai sonar as of July 19, also more than twice the number of last year by the same date and 90,000 more than the most recent three-year average. Though “highly unlikely,” according to Shields, ADFG could still end up forecasting a total king salmon escapement of less than 22,500, which could trigger commercial restrictions in August. If the sockeye run is late, as in 2015 — and Shields anticipates it will be — the August restrictions could mean a lot of dollars left in the water. Shields said the commercial fleet still frets with concern due to the August portion of the paired restrictions that call for reduced fishing time if the escapement is projected to be less than 22,500 kings. “The part of the paired restriction plan when you get into August has caused the East Side setnet fishery the most heartburn,” he said. The setnetters largely feel a commercial restriction in August is “an unfair burden they have to shoulder” due to the switch from total run to escapement. By that point, the sport fishery has already closed. “That’s the biggest concern now,” he said. “People always are always asking, ‘Are we alright? Are we going to have more than 22,500?’ Spreading the pain Kenai River paired restrictions came from the 2014 Upper Cook Inlet finfish meeting of the Alaska Board of Fisheries. The meeting was the area’s first since a series of poor king salmon runs culminated by the total shutdown in 2012. Reasons for the decline are still unclear to ADFG biologists but likely involve marine survival conditions. Conservation was a paramount concern at the time and sport and commercial fisheries between 2012 and 2014 were packed with restrictions. In 2012, East Side setnetters had limited openings. The sport fishery in 2012 started with no bait, then opened for catch and release only July 10 before being closed entirely on July 20. In 2013, the sport fishery started with no bait, opening to catch and release only on July 25 and closing July 28. The paired restrictions pushed by the Kenai River Sportfishing Association and approved by the board in 2014, which also included the August restrictions, tie the commercial sockeye fishery to the king sport fishery. If ADFG forecasts an in-river run of fewer than 22,500 fish — the midpoint of the 15,000 to 30,000 escapement goal — it may limit the sport fishery to no bait or catch-and-release fishing and the East Side setnet fishery to 36 hours per week. If the in-river fishery is restricted to catch and release, setnetters have only one 12-hour period per week. Normally that fleet has two such 12-hour periods per week with more hours as needed. When the sport fishery closes on July 31, the plan changes. Instead of a total run size of 22,500, the plan tracks escapement numbers. If ADFG predicts an escapement of 16,500 to 22,500, setnetters may have only 36-hour weeks for the rest of the commercial sockeye season, which ends Aug. 15. If managers predict anything less than 16,500 for escapement, the commercial fleet cannot fish at all. In both 2014 and 2015, ADFG forecasted small enough chinook salmon returns for the East Side commercial sockeye restrictions to kick in. Fishermen concerned with millions in abandoned sockeye harvest accused ADFG managers of waiting too long to open the fishery in 2015. No other river system ties the sportfishing and commercial fishing restrictions to each other in regulation. Most rely on a system of emergency orders from either the Sport Fish or the Commercial divisions to keep the right balance. No measure of success Few agree on whether paired restrictions do what they are intended to. Other benchmarks for fisheries management plans can include productivity, harvest, or maximum sustainable yield.  Managers and fishermen do agree that paired restrictions aren’t tied to salmon productivity. Ricky Gease, executive director of guided angler industry group Kenai River Sportfishing Association, said increasing returns was never the goalpost. “Paired restrictions is not tied to productivity,” he said. “It’s to ensure shared burden of conservation.” Shields agreed that productivity isn’t the aim, but said escapement was the point, rather than conservation per se. “The intent of paired restrictions was to have a way to slow down both the in-river fishery and the East Side setnet fishery as much as possible,” Shields said. “The idea was, ‘let’s slow both the setnet fishery and the inriver fishery together to ensure the minimum escapement for king salmon would be met.’ That (existing escapement goal) 15,000-30,000 already takes into account production. “To the extent they helped ensure they made those goals, that’s about as far as we can go. They tie into getting to the numbers to maximize the yield. That said, this is Cook Inlet, and everybody has a different version of success,” he noted. Even if productivity could quantify paired restrictions’ success, managers could not trace this year’s run back to 2014 anyway.  Jason Pawluk, the acting ADFG sport fishing management biologist for the Kenai River, said the fishery is too complex to link returns to any single factor. “I don’t know if you could narrow it down to an effect,” said Pawluk. “You’ve got lots of variables. Runs around the state are all rebuilding this year, and there are no paired restrictions in those fisheries. I’m not sure you can draw that conclusion.” The late chinook run on the Kenai River usually follows a certain age structure. Younger fish come in first, followed by older fish as the run picks up strength. Most runs, according to Pawluk, have a fairly consistent age composition. “Looking historically, not including the poor years, you would say it’s approximately somewhere 56 percent four-ocean kings,” said Pawluk, referring to fish who have spent four seasons in the ocean before returning to spawn, typically a six-year-old salmon. Because these fish make up the bulk of the run, managers can’t trace the link between productivity and paired restrictions passed in 2014 until that brood year returns in 2020. “Given life history of kings, they stick to it pretty good,” said Pawluk. “The kings returning this year are from spawning events that occurred in 2009 to 2013.” Linked to restrictions or not, the 2016 kings have been kinder to fishermen than last year, but the 2015 season scares East Side setnetters. Last year, the late sockeye run collided with an ADFG escapement forecast of less than 22,500 king salmon. The Upper Cook Inlet salmon harvest dipped below average in 2015 at 3.1 million fish, 15 percent less than the most recent 10-year average of 3.7 million fish. Like other Alaska rivers, bar a few outliers like the Copper and Taku rivers, Kenai River king salmon seem to be rebounding. Pawluk said ADFG remains upbeat but careful. Kings may run strong now, but projections change. “We’re not ready to say it’s a great run,” he said. “When king runs start to rebound, it’s typical to under forecast. The projections should start to come down. But it looks like we’re starting to come out of this.” As to forecasting an escapement of 22,500 kings for the August commercial fishery, Shields responds with cautious optimism. “The answer is yes,” Shields said. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]  

Yukon, Kuskokwim kings rebound, but not to historic levels

For two of the state’s largest king salmon runs — the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers — conservative management is biting into commercial fisheries and in some cases the subsistence harvest itself. Kings are rebounding on the Yukon River. The Pilot Station sonar counter has tracked 171,678 kings by July 13, nearly 30,000 more than the same time last year and far greater than the most recent three-year average of 147,096. Summer chum salmon, the Yukon River’s largest commercial fishery, is coming in above last year’s showing with 1.8 million fish by July 13 as opposed to the 1.5 million seen by the same date last year.  Jack Schultheis, the manager for Kwik’pak Fisheries, the Yukon’s sole remaining commercial buyer, said the fishing couldn’t be better. “We’re really fortunate,” said Schultheis. “We’re gonna wind up with 500,000 fish for the summer season, which for this company, is the most summer fish we’ve ever done.” The Alaska Department of Fish and Game opened pink salmon for commercial fishing at its last area meeting, which Schultheis said has helped. Kwik’Pak has harvested more than 100,000 of the newly authorized species. The Yukon River’s price is climbing along with yield. “The market is definitely easier. It’s easier to sell fish this year,” said Schultheis. “Demand is up. Processors prices up 10-20 percent based on what we’re seeing last year. The demand is definitely higher this year.” Only one downside rained on the commercial parade, Schultheis said. The fleet had to leave hundreds of thousands of dollars in the water due to king salmon-related commercial restrictions. “As far as available harvest, there was 1.2 million fish available over what we harvested,” Schultheis said. “That’s the only part that was hard to take, because we could’ve taken more fish. It’s hard to watch all that fish go by and not have a way to catch them.” Area manager Holly Carroll said the commercial chum harvest is the largest the area has seen since the 1980s. Despite the increase in the commercial fishery and the overall increase of kings from the past few years, Carroll said the chinook run is still far from healthy. ADFG still restricted subsistence opportunities, though it allowed for more opportunities in 2016 than in the last three years. “I do like to remind people that we are not out of the woods,” said Carroll. “A true productive run won’t happen until we’re at a place where we don’t need to restrict subsistence harvests.” The benchmark for subsistence harvest is 40,000 kings, but the river hasn’t produced that number since 2011. The run itself, though better than years prior, is still a shadow of its former self. “Total run size is around 300,000 king salmon, long-term average,” Carroll said. “The recent average run has been about half that. Around 1999, 2000, the run started tanking. It’s been fluctuating a lot. 2011-2015, that average is 140,000 kings.” Kuskokwim River Like the Yukon River, the Kuskokwim River watershed is still tinkering with management plans for depressed king stocks – to the point where people should have hit the water harder both for themselves and for the resource health, said area manager Aaron Poetter. In state waters, hook and line, fish wheels, beach seines, and other selective gear types carried no restrictions after the early season closure that lasted until June 11, the first year the Board of Fisheries mandated such a closure. In federal waters upstream, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had an open or closed management system, rather than last year’s staggered closures that followed the king run up the river. Poetter said subsistence users in the area have grown used to conservation management, and are happy with the amount of opportunities provided by state and federal managers, though restricted. “It’s a fascinating dynamic out here,” said Poetter. “You hammer that conservation factor so much, then when we get a run that’s harvestable you tell people, ‘Get out there and kill fish.’ And they say, ‘No, we need to conserve them.’” Poetter said Kuskokwim area fishermen might be a little too happy, in fact. Managers haven’t received nearly the same amount of hostility as previous restricted years now that folks have come to side more and more with conversation concerns — even though he believes no one should ignore overescapement and lost harvest that can result when the subsistence opportunities are too clamped. “Last year we ended up 30,000 or so above the upper end of the escapement goal for kings,” he said. “That’s just lost harvest opportunity, and it’s really just unfortunate. From my perspective, we could’ve done better.” ADFG projected 170,000 kings for the Kuskokwim River, still less than the average but enough to allow for harvest. Unlike other Alaska river systems, ADFG has no sonar counter for the Kuskokwim River. Instead, Poetter relies on the Bethel test fishery, a comparatively imprecise measurement for run strength and passage rates. For king salmon, Poetter said the Bethel test fishery looks promising compared to last year. “As far as Bethel goes, we’re definitely better than last year,” said Poetter. “Our catches in Bethel have been better, and with the amount of harvest and the harvest we’ve heard taken, it was definitely a better run than in 2015. We’ll see what that ends up looking like for escapement.” Along with foregone subsistence harvest, Poetter said a lack of commercial fishing could also harm fishermen. There were plenty of sockeye available in the river to have had a commercial season, Poetter said, so much that the Good News River alone — a Kuskokwim tributary — has gone past the upper end of its escapement goal of 49,000. More than 100,000 sockeye have made it through the river so far. “We had more than enough fish for a commercial fishery,” Poetter said. Despite sizable sockeye availability, 2016 marks the first year the Kuskokwim River has no commercial fishing season. Coastal Villages Region Fund is a Community Development Quota Group, or CDQ. The CDQ program gives 10 percent of the overall federal Bering Sea groundfish harvest to 65 villages within 50 miles of the coast. The 20 villages of CVRF are in the Kuskokwim Delta and do not include the upriver villages from Bethel. Typically, CVRF buys the commercially harvested salmon in the region for its processing plant at Platinum and it has sent tenders to Bethel in the past to buy salmon. This year, the group’s leaders made the call to forgo the harvest in the impoverished region. Poetter said several individuals and groups have called to offer tendering, processing and commercial purchasing services, but each decided not to continue with plans after conversations with CVRF. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

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