Fisheries

As habitat initiative debate swirls, ADFG outlines current best practices

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

Cook Inlet salmon plan back in front of federal council in April

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council will continue its discussion of who should manage Cook Inlet salmon fisheries, and how, at its April meeting in Anchorage. The council is continuing court-ordered work to develop a federal fishery management plan, or FMP, for the salmon fisheries currently managed by the state in Cook Inlet, including creation of a new salmon management committee. From October 2017 to this February, the council solicited proposals regarding the membership of the new committee and the work it might do. Those are expected to be made public around March 16, and the council will discuss them at its April meeting in Anchorage. According to information provided by the council, the comment period generated 33 responses, 25 nominations or applications for participation on the new salmon committee. Those nominations won’t be considered right away, however. The council is also expected to issue the formal call for salmon committee members at the April meeting, and a decision on membership won’t come until after that comment period. The committee and other work to re-tool Cook Inlet salmon management all stems from a lawsuit brought by the United Cook Inlet Drift Association, or UCIDA, that challenged the council decision in 2011 to formally remove the Cook Inlet, Alaska Peninsula and Prince William Sound salmon fisheries from the federal management plan. The council is now working to write a Cook Inlet management plan at the directive of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which reversed a U.S. District Court of Alaska judge’s decision to dismiss UCIDA’s lawsuit in 2016. UCIDA’s suit asserted that federal managers should retain oversight of certain salmon fisheries currently managed by the State of Alaska to ensure it complies with the Magnuson-Stevens Act national standards. Those fisheries occur partially in federal waters but have historically managed by the state. The other areas of the state were not included in the federal order, and stakeholder groups from those regions have said they would prefer to largely remain under state management. Eventually, the council is expected to develop a management plan that addresses what Cook Inlet management work is delegated to the state, and how that delegation will work. Right now, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game manages Cook Inlet salmon fisheries, largely based on escapement goals that requires day-to-day decision-making that proponents of the status quo have argued makes it an ill fit for federal management. ADFG monitors salmon harvests in the marine and freshwaters, operates weirs and sonars to count they fish as the swim upstream, and makes in-season management decisions to open or close fisheries based on that data. Plans devised by the state Board of Fisheries outline many of the tools and decisions ADFG managers can use, including setting some openings and closures, and limiting commercial nets and sportfishing gear. Federal managers have said the state’s ability to use in-season information to run the fishery is a primary reason why the authority has been delegated. Cook Inlet commercial fishermen, including those who brought the lawsuit forward, have protested some of the restrictions they faced under the state management system and decisions by the board. They’ve argued that some of the actions by the state managers and the board conflict with the Magnuson-Stevens Act standards such as attaining optimum yield and that plans lack accountability measures when standards aren’t met. The new salmon committee will have to consider how that management structure could change, and look at various options for management systems, including continuing to delegate management to ADFG or having federal fisheries managers handle it directly. The council will eventually also have to consider how other marine mammals are affected by any changes, and a staff report is expected to analyze how the West Coast arm of the National Marine Fisheries Service handles managing salmon fisheries there. According to a written update from NMFS Alaska Region Administrator Jim Balsiger, the council will hear from NMFS regarding the scope of the new salmon committee, and receive a report from state and federal managers analyzing the proposals submitted for the new committee’s formation. The court is requiring updates every four months from NMFS on progress toward crafting the FMP. The council is also expected to hear from staff about how the Magnuson-Stevens Act applies the new management plan, and whether the management plan will apply to the sport and state-waters components of the fishery. In his most recent update to the court and stakeholders, Balsiger said state and federal scientists and other agency staff are working on putting together the information the council will need to develop status determination for Cook Inlet salmon stocks. Several Cook Inlet Northern District king salmon stocks as well as Susitna sockeye are currently listed as stocks of concern by the Board of Fisheries. Discussion of salmon management is supposed to begin on the first day of the upcoming council meeting, April 4, and there will be opportunity for public comment at the meeting. The council is also taking written public comments via its online portal through March 30. Attorneys’ fees dispute Although the council is working to develop the new management plan, the lawsuit is not completely resolved. Now, the parties involved are disputing who should pay attorneys’ fees. Plaintiffs UCIDA and the Cook Inlet Fishermen’s Fund filed for reimbursement in October 2017, asking for the federal government to pay nearly $500,000 in attorneys’ fees, as well as the cost of an independent report reviewing the state’s use of escapement goals in commercial fisheries. The federal agency engaged in the lawsuit has disputed that they should pay them, and the issue has not yet been resolved. An updated March 2018 filing added more than $30,000 to the request for work in 2018, bringing the total to more than $540,000. ^ Molly Dischner can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: State’s seiner fleet still slow to adopt winch safety gear

The most common piece of gear on a seine vessel is also one of the deadliest: the rotating capstan winch used for winding ropes. Anyone who has ever worked aboard a seiner has horror stories of close calls, or worse. “The deck winch is the most powerful thing on the boat. It’s the scariest piece of machinery that we work with. My feeling when I was caught in it was that I was completely helpless. There was nothing I could do,” said fisherman Noah Doncette, who participated in a video for the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, or NIOSH, called “The Most Powerful Thing.” “The corner of my raincoat caught under the capstan and started wrapping around. It snapped my head back and broke my neck,” said Randy Dobrylnia. “I was lifting the ring and I reached over with a pair of nylon gloves. My arm went down and started going around again and again. Then it jammed me against the deck and started to pull my arm off. It all happened in seconds,” said Gunnar Neilson. A simple device called an E-Stop has been available for more than 10 years to prevent deck winch injuries. “It’s a button that can be put on the horn of a capstan winch on a seiner. When the button is hit, it triggers a solenoid valve that stops the flow of hydraulic fluid to the winch and locks the capstan in place to prevent further entanglements,” said Ted Teske, a NIOSH Health Communications Specialist who invented the device. “It was in response to guys being wrapped in the winch and being pulled away from the controls back at the wheelhouse. This gives them an option right on the winch itself to lock the device and keep them from getting further injured,” he said. Between the years 2000 and 2014 there were 16 fatalities from winch entanglements in the U.S. In 41 percent of the cases, loose clothing or gloves were cited as the first thing getting entangled in the gear. But fishermen have been slow to adopt the devices aboard their seiners. In the Northwest and Alaska, only 50 to 60 E-Stops are being used out of a fleet of about 1,500 boats. Teske and his team are determined to find out why. “We are interested in talking to any seiners who have either installed one and what was the tipping point, and their experience using it, as well as guys who have considered it and did not install an E-Stop. Both perspectives are extremely valuable for us,” Teske said. “If we can identify the barriers, we can address them through other types of interventions – whether it’s risk awareness or developing rebate programs, or talking with insurance companies to see if they might offer a lower rate for installing safety equipment on their boats.” In a major success story for NIOSH’s Research to Practice initiative, all three major manufacturers in the Northwest now provide E-Stops as standard features on their new seine winches. Retrofits for older boasts cost around $3,800. The E-Stop outreach is part of a new multi-year NIOSH project to increase adoption of deck safety interventions in fisheries. Contact Ted Teske at [email protected]/ Ocean awareness challenge “Our oceans in a changing climate” is the theme for the seventh annual Bow Sea Ocean Awareness program, an online contest for kids aged 11 to 18 around the globe. The goal of the program is to create a generation of ocean advocates, said founder and president Linda Cabot, who created the program based on three guiding principles. “One was my love for the ocean and coastal communities. The second was a belief that youth have the power to change society. The third was to understand that art and creative literacy is a very powerful and necessary skill,” Cabot explained. She believes there is a general lack of education about the world’s changing oceans and was inspired to get young people involved by having them express environmental impacts through creative arts. Students are encouraged to submit entries individually or in groups in writing, art, poetry, film and music. “It can be self-driven, or teachers can use it as projects in their classrooms,” said program director Alyssa Irizarry, adding that submissions in multiple categories are welcomed. Last year’s contest attracted entries from 63 countries and 48 U.S. states, including several from Alaska. Irizarry said the ways in which the kids connected with ocean issues through their research and arts was “astounding.” “They are connecting emotionally and then becoming leaders in advocating for raising awareness and finding solutions,” she said. The program provides online resources and tools for students and teachers, along with a gallery featuring past winners. Cash prizes ranging from $100 to $1,500 are awarded in two divisions, along with $750 sponsor recognition awards. Deadline to enter the Ocean Awareness Student Contest is June 18. Get more information at www.fromthebowseat.com. Expo ideas The call is out for compelling ideas and speakers for Pacific Marine Expo, the largest commercial marine trade show on the West Coast which marks its 52nd year this November in Seattle. Topics can include but are not limited to safety, technology, marketing, boat building, climate change and more. “We strive to provide the most critical information and education every year and an important piece is hearing directly from mariners and service providers in the industry. The feedback provided in the Call for Proposals lets us know exactly what’s important to our customers. We encourage you to be creative and think outside the box!” said Denielle Christensen, Expo Director. Deadline for submissions is March 16. Visit www.pacificmarineexpo.com. Grants give back The Alaskan Leader Foundation is accepting applications from non-profits and projects for its annual grant giveaways in Kodiak and Bristol Bay. Funding typically goes to programs such as food banks, shelters, educational and youth programs, museums and recycling efforts. Alaskan Leader Foundation was founded in 2000 by six Kodiak fishing families and was joined in 2007 by the Bristol Bay Economic Development Foundation. Since 2009, the group has donated nearly $600,000 to local projects. Deadline to apply is March 30. For an application, contact Linda Kozak at 907-539-5585 or [email protected] Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: ASMI gives world buyers a taste of life in Dutch Harbor

The nation’s top fishing port welcomed seven European seafood buyers in late January — all women — and showed off its massive seafood industry during peak operations at Dutch Harbor. The women, whose companies import more than $60 million in U.S. seafood, hailed from France, Germany, Lithuania, Portugal, Spain, and the U.K., said Hannah Lindoff, international program coordinator for the trip host Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. “They are interested in Alaska pollock, cod, surimi, octopus, salmon, roe, black cod and king crab,” she explained. “The whole point was to show off Alaska and build relationships between these buyers and the seafood industry,” echoed Alice Ottoson-McKeen, the assistant program coordinator who made the trek to Dutch Harbor with the group. “ASMI often does trade missions, but this trip was really special because it was all women buyers and they could talk to one another about their shared experiences,” she said, adding that the trip was inspired by an inaugural women in seafood leadership summit last summer by Intrafish Media. The women spent four days in Dutch (including getting weathered in) at the busiest time of year when Alaska pollock, cod, crab and flatfish seasons are in full swing. “They didn’t realize how far away and remote it is. They were in awe of the landscape with no trees and all of the mountains and islands surrounding you,” Ottoson-McKeen said. “It’s obviously unlike anywhere else in the world.” The group experienced fish processing action on a massive scale at the Unisea and Westward processing plants, which handle much of the nearly 800 million pounds of seafood that crosses the docks each year. “They were really impressed with the size and scope of the operations and the degree of automation,” said Mayor Frank Kelty who also showed off Dutch Harbor’s cold storages, warehouses, container ships from around the world and the small town itself. “It was a real eye opener for them to see our world class facilities and the 24/7 activity in a bustling town of 4,500 people. They were a little amazed and frustrated with our spotty internet and cell phone connectivity. Welcome to our world!” Kelty added with a laugh. A highlight was time spent aboard fishing boats, including one bigger than 300 feet that catches and processes the fish at sea. “There was so much pride from the captains and crews in their jobs and their boats, and that was something the women were really impressed with. They could see that the people working in this industry really love it,” said Ottoson-McKeen. “Even getting stuck for an extra day was nice because we were able to meet up and have dinner with some of the crew we’d met, and talk in a more informal setting. That really added to the depth of understanding of our seafood industry.” Ultimately, the goal of the trip was to enlighten the buyers about Alaska seafood, and to entice them to buy more or try new products. “A lot of them already are buying Alaska seafood, but they saw firsthand how our industry cares about quality and sustainability and the environment,” she added. “They all are knowledgeable buyers, but seeing it at the source means so much more,” said Pat Shanahan, program director for the trade group Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers, who acted as a tour guide. “They got to see what they’ve been hearing about for years. Now they will be able to connect the story to the Alaska brand.” “We definitely felt like we created some wonderful Alaska seafood ambassadors,” added ASMI’s Ottoson-McKeen. Processors pay for doctors at the Bay During the salmon season at Bristol Bay, the number of people in the borough, which includes Naknek, South Naknek and King Salmon, surges from around 900 to 10,000 or more. That brings with it the need for more medical care. Many processors traditionally brought in their own doctors or relied on telemedicine programs. But that changed two years ago. “We approached the idea of bringing in an emergency room trained doctor and having him here locally and it’s gone very well,” said Mary Swain, executive director at Camai Community Health Center in Naknek, which staffs physician assistants and nurse practitioners. It was a spike in pricey medevacs, she said, that prompted the idea of having a doctor available from mid-June through the end of July. Medivacs can cost a company up to $40,000 to bring badly hurt or sick patients from the remote region to Anchorage. Now seven of Bristol Bay’s dozen processors each chip in $10,000 to bring in a doctor, including Ocean Beauty, Trident, Alaska General Seafoods, Leader Creek Fisheries, Alaska Marine Lines, Icicle and Peter Pan. The fishermen-funded/operated Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association and the health center also contribute the same amount. “It pays for the housing, trip up here and the doctor’s time,” Swain said. A new satellite clinic also is located at Leader Creek “right in the processors’ backyard” for non-emergency cases, Swain said. The Camai Center and the clinic treated a combined 1,600 patients last year. Swain said getting the processing companies on board was an easy sell. “In fact, one of the processors gave extra money so we could get x-ray equipment at the clinic, and we are looking to potentially use that to bring in ultrasound technology next year,” she said. “Having a doctor in Naknek saves on medevac incidents and it also gets people back to work more quickly,” said Ron Nebert, plant manager for Ocean Beauty Seafoods. “There are also occasional life-threatening scenarios that a doctor is more qualified to handle.” For some, the clinic is the only place where they have ever had any kind of health care. “The people deserve it,” Swain said. “We saw a bunch of people last year who had never seen a doctor of any kind even for basic medical care. But we see that more and more as we bring other cultures and nationalities into Naknek to process salmon.” The clinic has ‘round the clock translation services available for more than 200 languages through Language Select to accommodate the mix of people who work in the Bay’s processing plants each year. Swain said they use professional recruiters to make sure the doctors are aware of the region’s remoteness, but it is still a surprise. “They think they have seen rural when they’ve been 200 miles from a hospital,” Swain said. “When they come out here and realize that we are so remote and isolated that you must depend on yourself, your skills, your knowledge, and that’s about all. The first doctor was very shocked. It’s a learning curve for all of them. But I think we’ve done a better job at vetting so people really understand what they are getting into.” This year’s doctor hails from Montana, Swain said. “He has worked with Indian health and on reservations,” she added. “He’s written a paramedic program for the community where he lives, and is very skilled in both what we see out here and emergencies in rural areas where he is the only person available. We are very lucky.” Fish watch Crab and groundfish dominate winter fisheries and hundreds of boats are out on the waters of both the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea. In Southeast, fishing for rockfish could remain open through late March in some regions, and diving for sea cucumbers and geoduck clams continues throughout the Panhandle. Openers for golden king crab and Tanners will opened concurrently on Feb. 10. The harvest limit for golden kings is 70,000 pounds; a guideline for Tanners will be determined after a few days of fishing. Last year the catch came in at about 975,000 pounds, or 400,000 crabs. Southeast’s winter troll fishery for Chinook salmon will close on March 15 to help conserve dwindling stocks. That fishery usually stays open through April. Fishing for black rockfish is ongoing around Kodiak, Chignik and the Southern district of the Alaska Peninsula. There’s lots of action in the Gulf and Bering Sea for cod, flounders, pollock and other whitefish. Trawl fisheries opened on Jan. 20, but Gulf boats tied up for eight days before settling on an 11-cent pollock price, just a penny or so below the price in the Bering Sea. The season is winding down for crabbers targeting snow crab and Tanners in the Bering Sea. The year’s first opener for red king crab will kick off at Norton Sound in early March with a small 50,000-pound harvest. A bigger opener will occur in the summer and the combined catch will total 319,000 pounds, down slightly from last year. For fish meetings, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council is convening through February 12 in Seattle. The state Board of Fisheries will wrap up its meeting cycle March 6-9 in Anchorage with a focus on statewide Dungeness crab, shrimp and miscellaneous shellfish. The board also has a call out for proposals for its next cycle that targets fisheries at Bristol Bay, the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim, Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian Islands. The proposal deadline is April 10. The Pacific halibut fishery will open on March 24 and run through Nov. 7. The year’s first herring fishery also will get underway when the fish arrive at Sitka Sound next month. The harvest is set at 11,128 tons, down from 14,649 tons in 2017. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Millennialls a major potential market for Alaska seafood

Millennials are now the nation’s “peak spenders” and they are gravitating towards healthier eating which favors more seafood. “We see year over year that there is this cohort aged 35 to 54 that is going to be spending far more across categories, including food expenditures, than any others,” said Will Notini, consumer insights manager at Chicago-based Technomic, a leading market tracker for over 50 years. The company has contracted with the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute to identify trends in seafood consumption and how best to position Alaska seafood in a changing marketplace. The bottom line is that America’s households are becoming much more diverse and changes in taste and technology will shape the future of seafood eaters. A presentation called the Seafood Consumer of the Future showed that there has been a 30 percent increase in seafood consumption by millennials in the past year, and 70 percent have changed their diets to eat healthier foods. The trend is especially noticeable with millennial preferences for proteins. Nearly 60 percent of those consumers said that seafood is healthier than beef or pork; 43 percent said the same for chicken or turkey. “We’re seeing that people are moving towards seafood and plant-based proteins. There are significant increases among those particular categories, so seafood should expect to see large growth,” Notini said. Technomic surveys also showed that 71 percent of millennials said they are more interested in where their foods come from and how they are grown or produced. “That’s why they buy things labeled as organic or specific sourcing,” he explained. “People are looking for those origins that are known to have high quality products, whether that’s California wine or Georgia peaches, and Alaska is strongly associated with seafood. There is an expectation that those sources will be displayed, whether it’s online, at grocery stores or at restaurants.” Another trend gaining traction among millennials is knowing what’s in their food. “They are looking at labels and ingredient lists, can they pronounce it, have they seen it before — these are tools that consumers are using to identify what in their mind is healthy, familiar and not processed,” Notini said. Nearly 40 percent of those surveyed preferred wild seafood over farmed, and said it is important that their choices “don’t hurt the environment.” “In general, wild is the greater draw for consumers,” Notini said. “And I think that Alaska seafood is one of the labels that really speaks to that premium. But there is more education that needs to happen in order to assess the true value in wild caught versus farm raised.” Alaska seafood is very “on trend” in hitting the points consumers are tuned into, Notini added. A second phase of the ASMI study is digging further into the existing trends, he said, and asking consumers specifically about Alaska seafood and “how it fits into this landscape.” There may be some challenges with the growth of e-commerce shopping, but he believes Alaska seafood is better positioned than most others. Digital grocery usage last year increased to 23 percent, according to Technomic, and 43 percent of Americans said they do their online shopping in bed. Tanner trials Crabbers will help test the waters for Tanners next month at Prince William Sound. The fishery will open under a Commissioner’s Permit that is issued in special circumstances. It will be the first time since 1988 that commercial crab pots are dropped in western and eastern portions of outside waters. “Basically, it’s a fact-finding mission,” said Jan Rumble, area management biologist for Prince William Sound and Cook Inlet shellfish and groundfish at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game office in Homer. “We don’t know what is out there and we want to find out. What we do know is there was a small amount of crab in the western district, but we are encouraging people to go and explore.” The trial opener was prompted by increasing numbers of Tanner crabs being pulled up in subsistence pots, and the fact that the department’s trawl survey does not focus on those two districts. “The survey last summer produced poor legal male results but some good numbers of pre-recruits. Much of the western area can’t be accessed with trawl gear and crabbers can help us investigate further,” Rumble added. The fishery, which will open March 1 and could run through the month, will be small scale and it is anyone’s guess how much crab it will produce. “There is no guideline harvest level. This is a fact-finding mission,” she emphasized. Crabbers must get a permit from the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission and will be required to call in catches daily. The fishery also is super-exclusive, meaning it is off limits to those who have dropped pots for Tanners elsewhere, such as at Kodiak’s recent fishery. “People in Kodiak who are vessel operators and their vessels cannot jump over and participate in Prince William Sound,” Rumble said. Crabbers also must show that they have a market for their catch and Trident is planning to process the crab out of Cordova. Decades ago the Prince William Sound, Cook Inlet and Yakutat regions kept local processors busy all year with big catches of Tanners, king and Dungeness crab. But stocks plummeted with the arrivals of huge schools of cod and pollock and have been slow to recover, if at all. The Tanner trial gives a glimmer of hope, but Rumble said people should not have unrealistic expectations. “This is exploratory and we are optimistic that we can get some information, but we also are encouraging people to understand why we are doing this and what we are after,” she said, adding that the results of the Tanner test fishery will determine what happens next. Contact Fish and Game in Homer to sign on or learn more at (907) 235-8191. Pebble Mine permit comments The public has until Feb. 20 to comment to the Department of Natural Resources on an application to continue exploratory mining activities near Iliamna. The activities include “the drilling of geotechnical and exploratory boreholes, re-activation of an acid rock drainage test site, and continued reclamation and maintenance activities,” according to a DNR release. Other authorizations requested include Water Use, Miscellaneous Land Use Permits, or MLUP, and Reclamation Plan Approval for exploration and/or care and maintenance operations. The DNR Division of Mining, Land and Water proposes to issue a MLUP for “exploration activity on state mining claims, as well as reclamation approval on state lands. Winter cross country travel on state lands not within state mining claims may also be authorized.” Comments can be mailed to the DNR Division of Mining, Land and Water, attention Hollie Chalup, at 550 W. 7th Ave., Suite 900B, Anchorage, AK 99501 or via email to [email protected] ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Mallott, Sullivan meet with top Canadians on transboundary issues

Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott and Sen. Dan Sullivan watched Super Bowl LII together in Ottawa and spent time strategizing on their approach to the next day’s meetings. They were there to discuss issues as far-reaching as ocean debris, missile defense and the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canadian federal officials as well as provincial and First Nations leaders, according to Sullivan, but the priority topic brought up in every discussion was that of Canadian mines at the headwaters of rivers that terminate in Alaska. The state officials reviewed the meetings in a Feb. 5 call with Alaska press. From the outset, Sullivan said the fact that Mallott, a longtime Democrat leader in the state, and himself, a staunch conservative, were in lockstep on the transboundary rivers issue sent a “powerful message of unity and that this is a very important issue of concern for the people we represent.” At the heart of the matter are 10 mines in British Columbia that are either in operation or stages of exploration and development. Those mines or mineral prospects are mostly open pit projects focused on copper and gold recovery. The mine locations within the watersheds of the large Taku, Stikine and Unuk rivers that support large salmon fisheries are the primary cause for concern among Southeast Alaska commercial fishing and conservation groups that fear problems at the mines could damage or destroy the rivers’ fisheries. Mallott and Sullivan said they pushed four priorities they are seeking action on from Canadian officials — either at the federal or provincial levels. The Alaskans requested increased transparency in the permitting process for the mines and opportunities for Alaskan stakeholders to provide input when mine plans are being reviewed. They also asked for additional financial assurances or bonding requirements for the mine operating companies to protect Alaska fishing and tourism businesses that rely on robust fisheries in the rivers “if, God forbid, we had a Mt. Polley-type disaster that went into our waters,” Sullivan described. The 2014 Mt. Polley mine tailings dam breach spilled more than 6 billion gallons of wastewater into the upper Fraser River system in British Columbia. Mt. Polley mine operator Vancouver-based Imperial Metals Corp. opened the Red Chris copper-gold mine in the upper Stikine River watershed in 2015. Sullivan added that they also asked the Canadian government to join in funding baseline water quality studies and ongoing monitoring to track if the mines are impacting the rivers, a program which Congress started funding last year. Lastly, they insisted on immediate reclamation of the Tulsequah Chief mine that has been leaching acid rock drainage into the Taku River near Juneau since the mine was abandoned in 1957. A temporary water treatment plant was built in 2011 to deal with the leaching but it was quickly shut down in 2012, according to the Alaska Department of Natural Resources. Chieftain Metals Corp. is now proposing an underground mine at the Tulsequah site that is about 10 miles upriver from the Alaska border. The project received regulatory approval from British Columbia in 2012 but is awaiting financing. Sullivan said he thought the meetings were constructive but the transboundary issue is far from solved. “We put forward some specific requests and we’re going to press on those,” he said Feb. 5. “I think they’re legitimate requests; I think they’re reasonable requests but they’re requests for specific actions and we certainly hope our Canadian friends will work with us to follow up on it.” Mallott said the talks furthered the progress made by the Walker administration on the issue. In 2015, Gov. Bill Walker and British Columbia Premier Christy Clark signed a memorandum of understanding to promote economic development in concert with environmental protection. That led to a statement of cooperation signed by Mallott and British Columbia Environment and Mines ministers in Oct. 2016, which established a working group of state and provincial officials to discuss transboundary issues. Mallott said the meetings were important because the sides were able to discuss important policies that are outside of the nonbinding statement of cooperation. A possible referral of the issue to the International Joint Commission — strongly advocated for by Alaska Native and conservation groups — was not discussed in detail during the meetings but will be part of talks between the governments in the spring, according to Mallott. “The process involved for an IJC referral will continue to be discussed by the (federal) governments and we have asked them to do so,” he said. The International Joint Commission consists of five commissioners, two from Canada and three from the U.S., who review transboundary watershed issues. It was established after the 1909 Boundary Water Treaty, which at the time settled a battle between Montana and Alberta farmers who had dug competing canals to divert water from area rivers to their farms. According to its website, the commission has since settled more than 100 matters raised by the governments. An arbiter body, IJC can only get involved when called upon by both governments. In the U.S., the State Department makes that call. In November, Walker, Mallott and three members of the Alaska congressional delegation sent a joint letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, urging him to help protect Alaska’s economic interests of fishing and tourism in Southeast by raising the transboundary mine issue in talks with his Canadian counterparts. Charles Faulkner, of the State Department’s Bureau of Legislative Affairs, responded with a letter Dec. 14, writing that the State Department and the Environmental Protection Agency have established a workgroup to coordinate actions and communicate concerns to Canadian officials. State Department officials in October also got a commitment from Global Affairs Canada to take up a bilateral review of potential gaps or shortcomings in cooperative agreements between the countries that deal with transboundary issues. “The Department of State will lead this review process with interagency and stakeholder input, with the goal of sharing its findings with Global Affairs Canada at the April 2018 IJC meetings,” Faulkner wrote. “We value your assistance and input in this effort. As Canadian support would be required for a joint IJC reference, we will continue to raise this issue in upcoming bilateral meetings.” The issue of mines in British Columbia potentially impacting fisheries in Alaska waters has been one Alaska officials have tried to tread lightly on despite calls for a much tougher stance by some Southeast groups. That’s because, for one, they do not want to strain what has historically been a strong relationship with British Columbia and Canada in general, as well as the facts that the state has little actual leverage in addition to a long history if mining and support for the industry. To the latter point, Sullivan said he emphasized that Alaska supports resource development in the meetings, but he believes the state has valid concerns given what could happen downriver from the mines. He and Mallott also said the issue of oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain — one Canadian Embassy officials actively lobbied against in Congress during the tax reform debate — came up in the transboundary river meetings. Sullivan described it as “probably one of the more contentious issues of our meetings.” “There was a bit of an analogy between the Porcupine caribou herd and transboundary mining and I, at least in my response, said I rejected that completely,” Sullivan recalled. Canadian officials have opposed oil development in ANWR for the fear that it would impact the calving grounds of the caribou herd that migrates into the Yukon Territory and is relied on by there by First Nations people as it is by some Alaska Natives. In a December interview with the Journal, Sullivan contended that the only reason Canada opposes development in ANWR is because the country didn’t find any oil on its side of the border when exploratory drilling was done in the Yukon Arctic decades ago. In that interview, Sullivan said he told the Canadian ambassador to the U.S. to “stand down” or he was going to “do everything I can to screw your country.” The delegation in an October letter to the Canadian ambassador to the U.S. said British Columbia to that point had done “remarkably little” to consider their transboundary concerns and pointed to the Mt. Polley and the Tulsequah Chief mine as demonstrable indicators that “Canadian mining is not always carried out to the same safety standards as in the U.S.” Mallott said the state will follow through with consultation that is required under a 1987 treaty with Canada meant to ensure a healthy Porcupine caribou herd. The state is also working to develop an accord with the Yukon Territory to address climate change and economic development matters, according to Mallott. “We were very clear to say we’re supportive of the exploration that is now authorized in the 1002 area of ANWR but that we also wanted to work closely with particularly the indigenous people on both sides of the border as we proceed ahead,” Mallott said. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: US-Canadian impasse a first for halibut allocations

As expected, catches of Pacific halibut will decrease for this year, and likely into the foreseeable future. Following an increase in catches last year for the first time in several decades, the International Pacific Halibut Commission on Jan. 26 set a “suggested” coastwide catch for 2018 at 28.03 million pounds, a 10.7 percent reduction. Alaska’s share could be 20.52 million pounds, a drop of 2.1 million pounds from 2017. The numbers could decline further, as the six commissioners (three each from the U.S. and Canada) were not able to agree on catch allocations for the eight halibut fishing regions for the first time in memory since the IPHC began its oversight of the stocks in 1923. Halibut catch limits are based on summer surveys at more than 1,200 stations from Oregon to the Aleutians. “There was agreement that the general halibut stock is in decline, but no consensus on what the catches should be. Due to this impasse, the commissioners made suggestions for 2018 for their own countries,” said Tom Gemmell, executive director of the Juneau-based Halibut Coalition. “The Canadian’s main issue on harvest reduction is that they do not agree with the U.S. on the distribution of the stocks. However, all agreed that stocks are down and that reductions are needed.” Gemmell added in email posts from the Oregon meeting. “The bottom line is both parties agreed on what we needed to do in terms of reductions, but couldn’t agree on how to get it done,” said IPHC chairman Jim Balsiger. “That’s an awkward place to be, but I don’t believe for a second that any of the commissioners did anything other than what they thought was best and what they were required to do by their own ideals as we try to get to a solution.” The impasse means that each country will set its own catch guidelines within recommended limits. “The need to adopt quotas outside the IPHC process may result in a delay to the March 24 opening date,” cautioned Gemmell. The U.S. halibut fishery will close on Nov. 7. By all accounts, the five-day meeting was “spirited but agreeable.” “The U.S. and Canada are good friends and neighbors and we do not consider the result a failure,” said attendee Bruce Gabrys in closing remarks that met with sustained applause. “Principled people sometimes disagree. I do not see our relations changing irrespective of what path the IPCH takes as we move forward. We thank the commissioners for their efforts.” Here are the 2018 suggested catches in millions of pounds compared to last year by area with pounds in millions (2017 harvest, suggested 2018 harvest and percent change): 2A (Wash. to Calif.): 1.33, 1.19, -10.5 percent 2B (Canada): 7.45, 6.32, -15.2 percent 2C (Southeast Alaska): 5.25, 4.45, -15.2 percent 3A (Central Gulf of Alaska): 10, 9.45, -5.5 percent 3B (Western Gulf): 3.14, 2.62, -16.6 percent 4A (Aleutians/Bering Sea): 1.39, 1.37, -1.4 percent 4B (Aleutians/Bering Sea): 1.14, 1.05, -7.9 percent 4CDE (Bering Sea): 1.7, 1.58, -7.1 percent Total: 31.4, 28.03, -10.7 percent Total halibut removals in 2017 were 42.8 million pounds, up slightly from 2016. Of that, an estimated 26.6 million pounds were landed from commercial fisheries, 7.9 million pounds from recreational fisheries, 6 million pounds from bycatch, and 1.2 million pounds from subsistence. Gold mine comments due Few Alaskans even know of it, but the world’s biggest “pure” gold mine is being planned by two Canadian companies near Crooked Creek, a tributary 10 miles from the Kuskokwim River. The state plans to issue two draft permits for waste water discharges and waste management for the project and is taking comments now. According to KYUK in Bethel, one permit would allow 4,500 gallons per minute of treated wastewater to be dumped into Crooked Creek for the life of the mine. It also lays out the levels of contamination that would be allowed in the water. The other permit would regulate where other wastes from the mine would be stored. The draft permits also specify how that waste would be monitored. An environmental impact statement says that Crooked Creek and connecting tributaries are classified as essential fish habitat for five species of salmon and 12 other fish species. The Donlin mine, expected to operate for 27 years and yield nearly 40 million ounces of pure gold, would have a footprint of about 25 square miles. The open pit would be over two miles long, one mile wide and nearly 2,000 feet deep. A 30-mile road would be built to the site and include housing and offices, an airstrip, a barge terminal at Bethel, a water treatment plant and a port on the Kuskokwim for offloading. To power the mine, a 40-million gallon tank farm would be built on site for diesel fuel to be delivered via a 315-mile pipeline from Cook Inlet, including along the Iditarod trail from Skwentna to Finger Lake. The pipeline would cross streams for anadromous and resident fish species at 77 locations. Waste materials from the mine, called tailings, would be stored in a manmade pond held back by a 475-foot main dam and a 345 foot high upper dam. The pond will cover 1,356 acres and hold 110 million tons of waste materials forever. Donlin expects to receive a final impact statement from the Army Corps of Engineers in March. State and federal agencies will then decide on more permitting. Comments on the water discharges can be made to the Department of Environmental Conservation through Feb. 13. Crab shells protect meat An all-natural, crab shell-based spray keeps game meat free from bugs, bacteria and contaminants. Game Meat Protector is the latest product from Tidal Vision LLC of Juneau that uses chitosan, a wonder ingredient extracted from the exoskeleton of crab shells. “It protects game meat out in the field from spoiling, and it also prevents bugs and insects from landing and burrowing into it,” said Craig Kasberg, Tidal Vision president. “It’s a way for hunters to preserve the quality of the meat as it is being harvested.” The spray contains only water, chitosan and citric acid. “It leaves a thin film on the game meat, and because of chitosan’s natural, anti-microbial properties and low pH citric acid, it preserves the quality,” Kasberg added. One eight-ounce bottle is enough to cover an entire large game animal, Kasberg said, and it also can be sprayed on game bags for extra protection. The game meat protector is sold on Amazon and will be carried later this year by major outdoor outlets. Learn more about chitosan and Tidal Vision’s other products at tidalvisionusa.com. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Divers keep pushing for changes to Southeast sea otter plans

Sea otters and their devastating impacts on Southeast Alaska shellfish were among the many emotionally-charged topics at the state Board of Fisheries marathon meeting running from Jan. 11-23 in Sitka. The board was set to address 153 proposals for state subsistence, commercial, sport, guided sport, and personal use fisheries for the Southeast and Yakutat regions. Crabbers and fishermen who dive for lucrative sea cucumbers, geoduck clams and urchins again pleaded for changes to regulations to help protect their livelihoods from the voracious appetites of growing numbers of otters throughout the region. Olivia Olsen, who operates Alaskan Quota and Permits in Petersburg, summed up the problem in a previous conversation, saying, “Sea otters are really causing havoc. They are moving in and moving north and just wiping out the grounds behind them. It is a definite problem, a major problem.” About 400 sea otters were reintroduced to Southeast in the early 1960s after being nearly wiped out by fur traders. A 2012 estimate put their numbers at 25,000 and at a reproductive rate of 12 percent per year, the population likely tops 40,000 animals today. A 2011 report by the McDowell Group (the most recent analysis) said otter predation has cost the Southeast economy more than $28 million in losses to the Dungeness crab and dive fisheries since 1995. The report concluded that those fisheries and large populations of sea otters cannot coexist in the same waters, adding: “Once commercially viable numbers of geoducks, urchins, sea cucumbers and crab are gone, they are not likely to return while sea otters remain.” In testimony to the board, Kyle Hebert, dive fisheries research supervisor for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, called sea otters “the greatest threat to the future of the dive fisheries,” and said that fewer areas are now open with declines continuing in southern regions. “Although geoduck clam and sea cucumber areas are still open in this area, the populations are steadily declining and with each survey that we conduct, we expect commercial harvest opportunities to drop,” Hebert added. Sea otters are listed as a protected species under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Nearly 20 Southeast organizations, municipalities and Native groups are on record asking for management changes to the federal sea otter plan so that it interprets the act for an ecological balance of all species, including humans. Many urge that the state take over otter management from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which they criticize “for doing nothing to rectify or implement a sustainable management policy since the mid-1990s.” The Ketchikan Borough has suggested that more Alaska Natives be allowed to hunt otters, the only ones allowed by law to do so. Only about 1,200 are taken annually, which does not keep up with the otter birth rates. In a 2017 issue paper borough manager Ruben Duran suggested that the blood quantum (percentage) for Alaska Natives be reduced from one-quarter percent to one-16th, or 6.25 percent, to allow for more hunting. The continued loss of revenue through lack of sustainable otter population management, Duran said, is likely to remove over 650 fishermen and other full-time related jobs in the region. “I know the department has to have a sustainable management plan in place, and we don’t argue with that, but our question is that you don’t have a sustainable management plan in place when you have sea otters,” said Phil Doherty, executive director of the Southeast Alaska Regional Dive Fisheries Association. Most decisions on sea otter management are beyond the purview of the state Board of Fisheries. Member Orville Huntington suggested that the otter population would eventually limit itself. “I think nature will take care of itself at some point,” he said. The 2016-17 Southeast Alaska sea cucumber fishery was valued at $5.3 million to fishermen, geoduck clams at nearly $3 million, more than $7 million for Dungeness crab and $677,000 for red urchins. Fish seats Seven people have applied for a seat on the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission. Five of the applicants are from Juneau, including previous CFEC employee Yvonne Fink. Carol Petrabourg and Jeff Kasper are Department of Fish and Game Juneau employees. Dale Kelley is longtime director of the Alaska Trollers Association and Jim Sepal is a marine surveyor. Two applicants from Anchorage are Eric Olson, a former chair of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, and Werner Jon Dunham who operates Terratechnika, an earth science service company. The CFEC, which oversees a staff of about 20, was created by the Alaska Legislature in 1972, mostly as a means to control entry into salmon fisheries. It now regulates 68 fisheries including herring, crab, state water sablefish, shrimp and dive fisheries. The commission also issues and transfers annual fishing permits and licenses, rules on any appeals and collects commercial fishing data. The new commissioner will join one other: Fate Putman, a Juneau attorney and lobbyist. Stepping down in March is current CFEC chairman Bruce Twomley who has served for 35 years. He called the work of the CFEC “vital.” “Without Commissioners being able to pay attention and respond to emergency situations, fishing time is going to be lost for sure. This remains a demanding job. And it’s all about getting fishermen in the water,” Twomley told radio station KHNS in Haines. Gov. Bill Walker will make a selection in coming weeks. His choice must then be approved by the Alaska legislature. Seafood trends The whole point of catching fish is to get people to buy and eat it, both at home and at restaurants. Here are some of the latest trends for 2018, according to a Seafood Keynote report by Datassentials, a national market tracker. It combines the opinions and behaviors of over 1,000 consumers and hundreds of restaurant, retail, and onsite operators. Salmon remains Americans’ most seafood popular choice, but diners are interested in branching out to other fish and shellfish. Seafood also is becoming increasingly popular for breakfast and brunch, thanks to popular dishes like shrimp and grits, crab Benedict and salmon frittatas. Seafood is becoming more trendy in the growing snack market. Nearly 90 percent of consumers said they have snacked on seafood, such as popcorn shrimp, sushi or calamari. Nearly 90 percent of respondents said they eat seafood because it tastes good; 88 percent said because it is healthy. One-third of the operators said seafood sales increased over the past year. Two out of five said positioning seafood as a healthy, better-for-you choice is the most effective way to market it. The trend for seafood at more upscale restaurants is growing, but declining at fast food. Frozen seafood is perceived to be a great value, more convenient and to have a longer shelf life. “However, many consumers and restaurant operators still prefer fresh seafood, which means that there are opportunities for frozen seafood suppliers to educate restaurant buyers on specifics such as how quickly the fish was frozen and the story of where it was sourced,” the Keynote Report said. More consumers want to know where their foods come from. In a big plus for wild seafood, they also are seeking non-genetically modified foods “in droves.” People are demanding natural foods with fewer additives of anything, and are reading labels like never before. Healthy and light entrees are expected to grow at a faster rate through 2018, another opportunity for seafood. Touting seafood sustainability is still a rarity on U.S. menus, said Datassentials. Just over one percent use the word on menus, nearly three times higher than 5 years ago. The word “wild” is featured on more than 9 percent of U.S. restaurant menus and “local” at nearly 5 percent. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Seafood trimmings have huge uncaptured value

State seafood marketers are rebranding fish parts as “specialty” products and mapping a path for millions more dollars in sales. Alaska’s fisheries produce more than 5 billion pounds of seafood each year. When all the fish is headed and gutted or filleted and all the crab legs are clustered, it leaves about 3 billion pounds of trimmings. Some is turned into meal and oil, but for the most part, the “gurry” is ground up and discharged into local waterways. “Whether that’s heads or guts, milt, or meal or oil or something else, it should be held in high regard,” said Andy Wink, a seafood economist formerly with the McDowell Group. “These are products that are out of our normal range but they are specialty items serving niche markets.” A new Analyses of Alaska Seafood Specialty Products report compiled for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute takes a look at uses for fish heads, oil, meal, internal organs, crab products, roe, herring fillets, arrowtooth flounder, spiny dogfish and skates. It makes the point that Alaska’s combined seafood catches, valued at roughly $2 billion at the docks and twice that when processors sell to their buyers, could be worth an additional $700 million or more if so called “specialty” products were added to the mix. Take fish heads, for example. Alaska produces about 1 billion pounds of fish heads, which account for most of the processing waste. Just 1 percent is sold as frozen heads, although a single large salmon head can fetch up to $5 a pound at Beijing supermarkets. Increasing the frozen market alone could add $100 million to processors’ sales, the report says. Alaska processors produce more than 90,000 tons of fish oil,most ofwhich is burned as a substitute for diesel, or is sold into lower value commodity markets. A study by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority showed that fish oil used as fuel rarely must be processed further and is 75 percent as efficient as No. 2 diesel. Fish oil used as fuel in Dutch Harbor offset 13.4 million gallons of diesel fuel in 2015 and saved operators $44 million. But the payback for fish oils could be much higher. Producing more refined oils for human consumption could help Alaska cash in on the $1 billion supplement market, the ASMI report says, adding that the value of refined fish oil to Alaska could increase to well over $30 million each year. Arrowtooth flounder numbers have exploded for several decades in the Gulf of Alaska; the fish literally blankets the bottom of the Gulf of Alaska and competes for food with dwindling halibut. But arrowtooth has little market value because its flesh turns mushy when cooked, While it is considered a nuisance species, the fish has many unhailed pluses, said Wink. The 81 million pounds caught each year mostly as bycatch in trawl fisheries could provide more protein to the pet food, aquaculture and livestock feed markets. And the pesky flatfish has a pricy trim. “There is this line of frill meat around the edge of the fish that is a very valuable sushi product called engawa – it can go for upwards of $10, even $20 per pound,” he said. Other highlights: • Nearly 70 million pounds of skates are captured by Alaska fishermen each year, but only about a third are frozen flat and stacked in 50-pound boxes for sale. The wings are prized by fish and chips makers in the U.K. and also in upscale French restaurants. Fishermen usually are paid about 30 cents per pound for skates by Alaska processors. • Crab shells have the potential to be one of Alaska’s most lucrative specialty products due to high demand in diverse industries. The exoskeleton of crabs contains chitin, one of the most abundant biodegradable materials in the world. Chitin has anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-viral properties and is insoluble in water. Uses include blood-clotting products, brewing refining agents, pool water clarifiers, food preservation, textile and fabric components, weight loss supplements and agricultural fungicide treatments. Prices for chitin and chitosan, a refined derivative, range from $10 to $3,000 per pound, depending on quality. • Alaska’s seafood catches produce 700 million pounds of internal organs such as milt, livers, stomachs and enzymes. Salmon milt is being used as a substitute for silicon in computers and in LED lighting. The ASMI report clearly lays out the challenges Alaska faces in fully tapping the specialty markets: industrial-scale production costs, additional labor, freezer/storage capacity, transportation, marketing – all compounded by the remoteness and the vast distances between fishing ports. A suggested solution, Wink said, could be a cooperative approach. “Co-ops could be a way to bring the raw material together, share the investment costs and hopefully, bring down the breakeven point on a lot of these things,” he said. The project goal was to provide a one-stop, user-friendly reference with key takeaways on volumes/values, uses, markets, challenges and opportunities for Alaska’s y seafood offerings. Wink likened it to trail blazing. “Some of these barely have trails. We want to widen the road so more Alaska specialty products so more can go out into the world,” he said. Side note: Andy Wink has left the McDowell Group after seven years to open a research and consulting practice that will focus primarily on the seafood industry. See more at www.winkresearch.com Taste o’ Tanners Kodiak’s Tanner crab fishery opened on Jan. 15 for the first time in four years and Alaskans can pre-order the tasty crab for pick up in Anchorage. “Our plan is to have the crab put up a few days after it opens, ship it to Anchorage and have it available at our office on January 29,” said Theresa Peterson, Kodiak Outreach Coordinator for the Alaska Marine Conservation Council. AMCC has offered seafood “Caught by Alaskans for Alaskans” since 2010. Its Catch 49 “boat to plate” program is a Community Supported Fishery that offers pre-orders of seasonal local catches and creates more awareness between customers and fishermen. “The story of where the seafood comes from and who caught it accompanies each box. It tells a little bit about the fishermen who are involved in the program, and provides pictures of the families and boats and recipes,” Peterson said. “It also tells about the fishery and its importance to the community of Kodiak.” The 400,000 pound Tanner fishery will go fast since the cod crash has pushed more boats towards crab, which has a reputation for being especially tasty. The Kodiak crab is the first of several Catch 49 offerings made throughout the year. “Thus far they include Bristol Bay sockeye salmon, Prince William Sound spot prawns, Kodiak jig caught rockfish, Norton Sound red king crab, Homer halibut and Taku River coho salmon,” Peterson said. The 17 pound Kodiak Tanner crab boxes sell for $275 and must be picked up at the AMCC office in Anchorage. Orders must be made by Jan. 17 at Catch49.org or call (907) 277-5357. Salmon ballots The grassroots group “Yes for Salmon” delivered ballot initiative petition booklets signed by an estimated 40,000 Alaskans to the Division of Elections in Anchorage on Jan. 16. The group is pushing to update the state’s law governing development in salmon habitat. The law has not been changed since statehood in 1959. If the signatures are verified by DOE, it will qualify to put the question on the ballot before voters in the November election. Fish quickie The Trump Administration plans to offer 19 offshore oil and gas leases for sale from Southeast Alaska to the Arctic starting next year. One public meeting for Alaska is set for Jan. 23 from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. at the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center in Anchorage. The Interior Department has stated it could remove some areas from the final plan depending on public feedback. Public comment on the leasing plan is open for two months. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Initiative sponsors turn in signatures as BBNC shifts to neutral

Advocates of strengthening Alaska’s salmon habitat protection took a big step forward when they dumped roughly 49,500 signatures on the front desk of the Division of Elections Anchorage office Jan. 16. The signatures from Alaskans statewide were collected by Stand for Salmon, the nonprofit aimed at reforming anadromous fish habitat permitting requirements via the ballot initiative they’ve dubbed “Yes for Salmon.” Early morning drizzle and icy roads didn’t damper the spirits of about 20 initiative backers that gathered outside the Division of Elections to be ready to submit the signatures for certification as soon as the state offices opened at 8 a.m. Jan. 16, the start of the legislative session, was the last day to hand the petition booklets in and get the initiative on the 2018 ballot. It was also the day that Bristol Bay Native Corp., a major opponent of the Pebble mine, revised its stance on the initiative from against to neutral. While the signature hurdle is a big one, the initiative still faces stiff opposition from industry groups and the State of Alaska. Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott first rejected the initiative on the advice of the Department of Law because the state’s lawyers deemed it would appropriate Alaska’s water resources for salmon habitat — the state Constitution requires resource allocation be left to the Legislature — and therefore be unconstitutional. After Mallott’s ruling was appealed and overturned in Superior Court, the state took its turn to appeal to the Supreme Court in October. Oral Arguments in the case are now set for April 26. “This is a promising moment for all Alaskans. Tens of thousands of Alaskans from Nome to Ketchikan, from every single legislative district, have said that we want the opportunity to reflect a true balance between responsible development and protection of salmon,” said Stephanie Quinn-Davidson, an initiative sponsor and director of the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. Quinn-Davidson replaced Bristol Bay lodge owner Brian Kraft, an original sponsor, after Kraft stepped away from the campaign in November for personal reasons, according to Stand for Salmon representatives. Sponsors are required to gather signatures from registered voters equal to at least 10 percent of number of voters in the previous election from 32 of the 40 House districts in the state. For 2018 initiatives that meant getting 32,127 signatures, according to the Division of Elections. Campaign workers said they set a goal of 45,000 to account for unqualified signatures and were proud to have gathered the required amount in all 40 districts. Specifically, the initiative seeks to overhaul Title 16, the Department of Fish and Game’s statutory directive on how to evaluate development projects in salmon habitat. Current law directs the Fish and Game commissioner to issue a development permit as long as a project provides “proper protection of fish and game.” The sponsors contend that is far too vague and an update is needed to just define what “proper protection” means. The initiative would, among other things, establish two tiers of development permits that could be issued by the Department of Fish and Game. “Minor” habitat permits could be issued quickly and generally for projects deemed to have an insignificant impact on salmon waters. “Major” permits for larger projects such as mines, dams and anything determined to potentially have a significant impact on salmon-bearing waters would require the project sponsor to prove the project would not damage salmon habitat. Mitigation measures would be acceptable as long as they are implemented on the impacted stream or wetland area. Additionally, the project sponsor would have to prove that impacted waters are not salmon habitat during any stage of the fish life cycle if the waters are connected to proven salmon habitat in any way but not yet listed in the state’s Anadromous Waters Catalog. The sponsors insist it is not aimed to stop development projects; rather, it would set high but transparent permitting standards that are necessary to protect salmon resources that are already being stressed by multiple factors, they contend. Even if it wins at the Supreme Court, a laundry list of resource development, unions and trade groups, along with the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act Regional Association (made up of the 12 Native regional corporations) and the Alaska Chamber have formed an opposition group called Stand for Alaska. That group has already received contributions totaling $147,000 according to an Alaska Public Offices Commission report. Stand for Salmon has collected $271,000 as of Jan. 7 according to APOC with the biggest donor the Alaska Conservation Foundation at $60,000. Opponents contend the initiative would decimate the state’s economy and make even the smallest projects — down to road repairs — extremely difficult if not impossible to permit. SFA co-chair Joey Merrick of the Laborers’ Local 341, who is also a member of the Alaska Gasline Development Corp. board of directors, said in a press release that the initiative poses a risk to his members’ jobs. “Alaska already is in a serious recession with one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates. The last thing we need is more expensive, time consuming, and unnecessary policies that cost Alaskans their livelihoods,” Merrick said. AGDC President Keith Meyer has argued that the initiative would prevent the construction of the Alaska LNG Project, and Gov. Bill Walker has also expressed opposition to the measure. Walker said the initiative is too broad in its scope and it could hamper nearly every area of project development in the state. “I think when you’re making definitions that impact development of projects in Alaska and you do that through the initiative process — I was very concerned about that,” he said in a Dec. 22 interview with the Journal. “I would like there to be a discussion back and forth; hearings in the appropriate hearing rooms in Juneau and various folks being able to weigh in.” BBNC changes stance on initiative The Jan. 16 press release from Stand for Alaska lists Bristol Bay Native Corp. among the dozens of corporations, trade groups and chambers of commerce opposing the initiative, but that list may need to be revised. BBNC is no longer against the initiative, but is not for it, either. CEO Jason Metrokin said in a Jan. 16 statement to the Journal that “BBNC has been and continues to be neutral on the initiative; neither opposing it nor supporting it. The ANCSA Regional Association as a body took its own action in opposing the initiative. BBNC and other ANCSA regional corporations are discussing ways to improve Title 16; changes that would improve salmon habitat protection but not preclude responsible development projects.” Metrokin, in an October statement to the Journal, reemphasized the corporation’s longstanding opposition to the Pebble mine project, but also said that BBNC “did not support (House Bill) 199 last legislative session and cannot support the Stand for Salmon ballot initiative. Each would unnecessarily and negatively impact resource development projects and potentially the subsistence activities upon which our shareholders rely depend.” Metrokin continued to note in October that the Native corporation wants to work with the Walker administration and the Legislature to “appropriately update Title 16’s anadromous fish habitat provisions.” The ANCSA Regional Association, with a board comprised of the 12 regional corporation leaders and Alaska Federation of Natives head Julie Kitka, voted unanimously to oppose the initiative in July, according to an October op-ed penned by CIRI CEO Sophie Minich and Arctic Slope Regional Corp. CEO Rex Rock. Other media outlets subsequently reported in November that BBNC opposed the proposed ballot measure as well. BBNC issued a press release Jan. 5 urging the Legislature to revise Title 16 and stressing the company’s positions on salmon habitat and other resource issues are grounded in a belief that decisions about how to balance uses of competing resources should always start with putting “fish first.” “The protections in Title 16 help ensure that development projects do not threaten Alaska’s anadromous fisheries. It is imperative that Alaska periodically review and update those statutes. This has not been done in nearly 60 years. It is time for the Legislature to do so,” the Jan. 5 release concludes. Shortly thereafter, BBNC board of directors member H. Robin Samuelsen Jr. told the Journal there was a “misunderstanding” between Metrokin and board members regarding the corporation’s stance on the initiative, but referred further questions to BBNC executives. Those questions led to the Jan. 16 statement. Democrat House Speaker Bryce Edgmon of Dillingham has said the House Majority will hold hearings on House Bill 199 this session to gather information on how Title 16 can be improved with input from those that oppose the initiative and the current version of HB 199. The bill language largely mirrors that found in the initiative and Edgmon has said he does not expect it to pass this session because of the consternation the initiative has caused. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Walmart deal makes for year-round processing jobs in Anchorage

Copper River Seafoods highlighted its emerging role as a mainstay in the Alaska economy in a short ceremony Jan. 8 that celebrated selling 250,000 pounds of fish per year to Walmart and Sam’s Club. Even in winter, the plant on the shores of Ship Creek is filled with 100 employees cutting frozen fillets into portions that go out the door destined for plates in Alaska and the Lower 48. About 30,000 to 40,000 pounds of sockeye and kita, or chum salmon, per week continue to be processed throughout the winter, according Copper River Seafoods CEO Scott Blake. Plants like Copper River Seafoods in Anchorage are maximizing seafood jobs in the state’s economy and the blue ocean economy framework, said Alyssa Rodrigues, economic development manager at the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development. “Copper River is able to sustain 100 year-round jobs when most of our seafood jobs aren’t year-round,” Rodrigues said at the event, which included brief comments by Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, Blake and Walmart officials. What’s different from traditional seafood marketing is this mainstay of jobs are created from value-added frozen fillets. Filets cut into portions go into a “Members Mark” packaging that indicates the partnership between Copper River Seafoods and Walmart. “Typically seafood is minimally processed. Value-added bolsters the ocean economy, getting more value out of Alaska’s ocean resources,” Rodrigues said. Gaining more value-added Alaska production is on the department’s top 10 strategic goals. Berkowitz called Walmart “an Alaska-sized company” that helps stimulate the economy and “deserves our recognition.” Walmart has said its Alaska deal with the seafood company is part of its 10-year commitment through 2023 to buy an additional $250 billion in products to support American jobs, said Walmart’s Kevin Loscotoff. In 2013, Alaska fishermen picketed the South Anchorage Walmart because of a sustainability certification dispute when the state ended efforts to keep the Marine Stewardship Council label. Walmart required a third-party sustainability certification for its seafood and was not going to keep stocking Alaska salmon as a result. The fracas, joined by then-Sen. Mark Begich and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, resulted in a deeper commitment from Walmart to purchase Alaska’s wild salmon for its customers and the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute has since developed its own sustainability certification process. Walmart announced its intention to put its buying power into products manufactured, assembled and sourced in America, said spokesman Scott Markley. “We’re half way through that commitment,” Markley said. Walmart has since purchased $800 million directly from Alaska suppliers, “and Copper River was part of that. We’re buying more with our existing domestic suppliers, which creates more jobs that helps our stores and local communities. And we can move quicker on trends.” The Copper River Seafoods plants in Cordova, Kenai, Naknek and Anchorage employ more than 900 people seasonally, a hiring task shared with the Alaska Department of Labor’s Job Center. The center recruits workers and provides orientation, said Nelson San Juan, one of the recruiters. Fishing families in Cordova were struggling in 1998 when Blake said they entertained top Walmart officials on a visit to Cordova. Copper River Seafoods at its conception consisted of four fishermen and one employee, Blake told the gathering. But Walmart wanted Copper River Seafoods and Blake wanted to net a partnership with the giant retailer. Through the years, their partnership grew, enabling the seafood company to grow to its current size. “Thanks to Walmart and Sam’s Club, and their belief we could do it, we now process and ship 250,000 pounds a year,” he said. Wild caught salmon supplied by Copper River has been on WalMart and Sam’s Club shelves in some form since 2007. The company also sells to Costco, restaurants in Alaska and the Lower 48 and other retailers. “Twenty-two years later, we’re close to employing 200 people year-round and we’ve become a significant employer for 1,000 fishing families,” Blake said. The seafood wholesaler also obtained Homeland Security clearance for its facility, which means the Anchorage plant is subject to shipping scrutiny ahead of time. “Our products ride in the belly of commercial airlines and rather than having them opening and searching our boxes, we would rather screen them ourselves,” said manager Billy Green during a tour of the 50,000-square foot facilities. “That way no one bothers with it.” After more than four years of routine and impromptu inspections, “we haven’t had a single failure,” he said. Naomi Klouda can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Annual picks and pans

For 27 years this weekly column has featured news for and about Alaska’s commercial fishing industry. It began in 1991 in the Anchorage Daily News and now appears in more than 20 news outlets across Alaska, nationally and in the UK. Today, Alaska fishermen and processors provide 65 percent of our nation’s wild-caught seafood, and 95 percent of the wild salmon. The industry puts more people to work than oil and gas, mining, timber and tourism combined. Alaska’s diverse fishing fleet of nearly 10,000 vessels is made up mostly of boats shorter than 50 feet. Each is a small business that supports several families. For towns like Kodiak, Cordova, Homer, Petersburg and Sitka, where 500 to 700 vessels are homeported, boats are the majority of our downtown storefronts. Here are my annual Fishing Picks and Pans — a no-holds-barred look back at the best and worst fish stories of 2017 in no particular order, and my choice for the biggest fish story of the year. Best fishing career builders University of Alaska/Southeast for “on the go” iPad training for fishery technicians, boat hydraulics, electronics, vessel repairs and more. Kodiak College merits honorable mention for same. Biggest new industry potential Seaweeds. Kelp alone is a $5 billion global industry. Gov. Bill Walker will unveil a statewide mariculture plan in March for producing more seaweeds and shellfish. The U.S. Department of Energy already is eyeing Alaska for bio-fuels from macroalgae. Biggest fish break Electronic monitoring systems replacing fishery observers on small boats to track what’s coming and going over the rails. Best fish entrepreneurs Salmon Sisters of Homer. Even Xtra-Tuffs came calling for the sisters’ flair on its boots! Best fish visionaries Tidal Vision LLC of Juneau. Their list of Alaska crab shell-based filters, fabrics and an eye-popping list of other products continues to grow. Best fish legislators Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak; Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tompkins, D-Sitka Best fish knowledge sharers Alaska Sea Grant and its Marine Advisory Agents Best fish giver Sea Share, for donating more than 225 million fish servings to needy Americans since 1994. The program began as a bycatch to foodbanks effort by Bering Sea fishermen and processors. Trickiest fish conundrum Protecting transboundary waters shared by Southeast Alaska and British Columbia. More than a half dozen huge mines are operating or being built directly upstream in B.C.; some straddle headwaters of the Panhandle’s most important salmon rivers. Most earth friendly fishing town Kodiak, for generating nearly 100 percent of its electricity from wind and hydropower, and for turning its fish gurry into oils and meals at a plant owned by local processors. Biggest fish WTF? Over 70 percent of active fishing permit holders call Alaska home, but most of the gross earnings go out of state. In 2015 Alaska fishing residents and crew grossed more than $602 million at the docks, while 6,580 Washington-based fishermen took home over $904 million. Scariest immediate fish threats Warming water temperatures are throwing fish behaviors and diets out of whack. Ocean acidification. The corrosion of shells and skeletons in sea creatures is already documented in the Pacific Northwest. Best fish ambassadors Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. The Alaska seafood “brand” is No. 1 on US restaurant menus. Seafood sales are Alaska’s top export by far, topping $3 billion. ASMI, funded primarily by the industry, promotes Alaska seafood in the U.S. and in more than 120 countries. Most counterproductive fish cut Alaska legislators zeroing out the $1 million state ASMI budget in fiscal year 2018. (see above) In contrast, Norway’s Seafood Council, funded by a tax on seafood exports, has a $55 million marketing budget. Best daily fish news sites Seafoodnews.com; SeafoodSource Town that best promotes fishing futures Sitka. Training young fishermen, marketing local catches, fish quality studies, supporting buy-in options for new entries; the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association helps lead Sitka’s investment in future fishing careers. Best fish watchers Cook Inletkeeper, Trustees for Alaska Most encouraging fish talks The Stand for Salmon and United Fishermen of Alaska educational outreach on the push to update salmon habitat and permitting laws for the first time since statehood (1959). Most unacceptable fish story Nearly 60 million gallons of detergents, road runoff, human wastes, pharmaceuticals and other Anchorage effluent being legally piped into Cook Inlet every day thanks to decades long waivers from the Environmental Protection Agency. Best fish economist Andy Wink, Senior Seafood Analyst, McDowell Group Best go-to-bat for their fishery The Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, funded and operated by the Bay’s roughly 1,800 driftnet fishermen Best fish mainstream move Trident’s Fork and Fin food truck that is taking the message to the streets that overlooked Alaska pollock (aka “cod’s cousin”) is what’s for dinner. Most ill-timed fish story U.S. Navy war games held again in May as Alaska’s salmon season gets underway. The area covers 60,000 square miles off the tip of the Kenai Peninsula. The Navy is reportedly considering moving the training exercises to September. Biggest fish unknown Every Alaskan benefits from higher fish prices. Half of the taxes from all fish landings go into the state general fund and are distributed at the whim of the Alaska legislature. Biggest fish pipe dream Pebble Mine. “Wrong mine/Wrong place.” Best fish booster Alaska Symphony of Seafood by the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation. For 25 years AFDF has showcased tasty new Alaska seafood products with a level playing field for the majors and small mom and pops. A new category highlights items made from byproducts, such as pet treats and salmon skin wallets. (Teaser: the 2018 Symphony winners will be announced at a gala soiree in Juneau in February.) Best veteran fish writers Margie Bauman, Jim Paulin Best new fish writer Elizabeth Earl Best fish mixer Pacific Marine Expo/Seattle, which has topped the half-century mark and continues to grow each year. Saddest fish story King salmon returns to Southeast Alaska at their lowest levels since the 1970s. Town that celebrates its fish best Cordova. Helicopters and hand delivered salmon herald the salmon season’s kick off! Chefs and media tours, restaurant revels, First Fish delivered to elders. Town that celebrates its fish least Kodiak. Fishing starts Jan. 1. No shout outs. Halibut opens in March, salmon in June. Ditto. No “first of the season fish” featured on Kodiak menus. Most important fish study Turning the Tide, which offers hope and guidelines for Alaska’s next generation of commercial fishermen. Find it at Alaska Sea Grant. Fish story of the year: The cod crash in the Gulf of Alaska, where annual surveys showed stocks of one of Alaska’s largest fisheries are down by more than 80 percent. The cod shortfall, blamed on warm waters over an extended period, is expected to last for three or more years. Alaska typically produces 20 percent of global cod catches. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Grant funds deckhand apprenticeship program

The clamor of “take me fishing” is taking on new meaning in Alaska. Prospects for a deckhand apprenticeship program just got a big lift from a $142,000 national grant awarded to the Sitka-based Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, or ALFA, and the group plans to get more boots on deck statewide. Deckhand apprenticeships are recommended as one way to attract younger entrants into an industry where the average fisherman’s age in Alaska is over 50. ALFA has been crafting a local deckhand training program since 2015, and the grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation will be used to develop curricula and protocols for skippers and crew statewide, said ALFA outreach coordinator Alyssa Russell. Salmon troller Eric Jordan gets the credit for inspiring the program, Russell said, adding that he has taken out 25 greenhorns so far for short-term crew jobs on his F/V I Gotta. “Finding crew with some experience, who love fishing in Alaska, is so critical to the future of our individual businesses in the industry as a whole,” Jordan said. “This program gives them the taste of it. Deckhands know they like it, and skippers can recommend them for future employment. It is a win-win for everyone.” ALFA took Jordan’s model and developed it into a more formal ALFA program, and “tried to rope in other skippers and deckhands,” Russell said. “We want to give skippers the tools they need to mentor someone. For instance, safety procedures, crew contracts, and basic checklists of protocol for someone who has never been on a boat before.” Jordan said he has been inspired by the enthusiasm of budding fishermen is his many “experiential trolling” trips. He shared a quote from one: “Crewing was a dream come true. I had never been commercial fishing before; I had never even killed a fish. The days were filled with learning and fun. I learned how fishing works, the lifestyle about salmon and a lot more.” A report released this month called “Turning the Tide” highlights the “graying of the fleet” and recommends ways that a new generation of Alaska fishermen can enter the industry. The user-friendly study was compiled by Paula Cullenberg of Alaska Sea Grant, Rachel Donkersloot with Alaska Marine Conservation Council, and Courtney Carothers, Jesse Coleman, and Danielle Ringer of the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Fishery values Alaska’s halibut and sablefish fisheries produced a combined value of $208 million this year, a 10 percent increase. At the same time, the value of Bering Sea fisheries crab tanked. The data come from the tallies of Alaska fishermen who hold catch shares of halibut, sablefish and Bering Sea crab. They each pay an annual fee to the federal government to cover management and enforcement costs for the fisheries. The fee, which is capped at 3 percent, is based on dock prices through September and averaged across the state. For halibut and sablefish, a payback at 2.2 percent yielded $4.7 million for coverage costs. “Enforcement costs for those fisheries went down by 44 percent from last year,” said Carl Greene, cost recovery coordinator for NOAA Fisheries in Juneau. He said bills recently went out to 1,894 quota shareholders, down 74 from 2016. It was sablefish, not halibut, that bumped up the value of the combined fisheries. “The total fishery value for halibut at $111.5 million was relatively flat year-over-year, while sablefish increased 24 percent going from $78 million to $97 million,” Greene explained. “That resulted from an 11 percent increase in pounds landed and a 12 percent increase in average sablefish prices.” Prices to fishermen for halibut decreased by 35 cents this year, while sablefish dock prices increased by 50 cents. “The halibut prices decreased to $6.32 per pound and sablefish increased to average $4.84 per pound,” Greene said. Federal managers don’t track dock prices for Bering Sea crab, only the total value of the fishery, which took a steep drop. The value for the 2016-17 season totaled $188 million, a decrease of $40 million from the previous year. The fee for crab catches paid by 18 quota shareholders remained flat at 1.6 percent and yielded $3 million for enforcement costs. For just the second year, groups of big Bering Sea trawlers that fish for flounders, pollock and other whitefish, including vessels owned by CDQ groups, are pitching in for fishery coverage costs. Their fee of roughly one percent yielded just over $2 million. Fish watch It’s holiday time, but many Alaska fishermen are still out on the water and more openers are coming on line. Catch forecasts for 2018 also are trickling in almost daily from state and federal fishery managers. Trawlers are still able to fish for flounders, mackerel, perch and other whitefish, and cod is open to longline, jig and pot gears through Dec. 31. Then, the very next day, on Jan. 1, a cod season will reopen in both the Gulf and Bering Sea. In Southeast Alaska, divers are still going down for giant geoduck clams and sea cucumbers. Salmon trollers got the good news that the winter chinook fishery will remain open until further notice. A downturn in king salmon has managers using extra caution with catches. A closing date for the fishery, which typically can run through April, will be set at the upcoming Board of Fisheries meeting in Sitka. Also in Southeast: the 2018 forecast for the Sitka Sound herring fishery is 11,128 tons, down from 14,649 tons this year. The Sitka herring fishery usually kicks off in March. At the state’s largest herring fishery at Togiak, the 2018 catch is pegged at 24,042 tons, up slightly from this year. Bering Sea crabbers will be back out on the water in January targeting snow crab and Tanners. Alaska’s largest fishery, pollock, will open Jan. 20 in the Gulf and Bering Sea, including at Prince William Sound, which has a 7.1 million-pound catch quota. The Board of Fisheries meets Jan. 11-23 in Sitka. The board will consider 153 proposals regarding Southeast and Yakutat fish and shellfish issues for commercial, subsistence, sport and personal users. Catch limits for the 2018 Pacific halibut fishery will be announced by the International Pacific Halibut Commission at its Jan. 22-26 meeting in Portland, Ore. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Pollock and salmon projected for big year in 2018

Next year is looking like another big one for pollock in the Bering Sea and sockeye salmon in Bristol Bay. But times are tough for cod fishermen, especially in the Gulf of Alaska. At its December meeting in Anchorage, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council increased the already huge Bering Sea pollock quota to 1.345 million metric tons for 2018, up from 1.34 million mt in 2017. That’s good news for the pollock-dependent community of Unalaska for local revenues and jobs. Pollock is the fish that annually makes the Aleutian Islands community the nation’s No. 1 port in volume. For the 20th year in a row, Unalaska/Dutch Harbor was the nation’s top fish port with 770 million pounds of seafood landings in 2016, primarily pollock, which accounted for nearly 90 percent of that total, according to a Nov. 1 report from the National Marine Fisheries Service. In the Gulf of Alaska, the cod quota declined by 85 percent, from 64,442 metric tons in 2017 to 13,096 mt for 2018. That greatly impacts Kodiak, and King Cove and Sand Point in the Aleutians East Borough. The Gulf pollock quota is also down significantly, from 208,595 metric tons, or mt, in 2017, to 166,228 mt in 2018. Pacific cod also declined in the much larger Bering Sea fishery, from 239,000 metric tons this year to 188,136 mt for 2018. Cod trawlers are complaining of a race for fish, and some now want to restrict entry into the catcher vessel fishery. Atka mackerel stocks are up in the Bering Sea, a commercially important species to the factory trawlers in the Amendment 80 bottom trawl fleet. The quota for the little striped fish was set at 65,000 mt in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands in 2017, but will see an increase in 2018 to 71,000 metric tons. In another big Bering Sea fishery targeting rather small flatfish, the yellowfin sole quota is unchanged at 154,000 mt for the Amendment 80 boats. Atka mackerel and yellowfin sole are shipped mainly to Asian markets. Cod crash The Pacific cod quotas for 2018 are down in the Bering Sea, but the decline is not nearly as drastic as in the Gulf of Alaska, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. It’s the difference between a 16 percent drop in state waters in the Bering Sea, and an 80 percent decline in the Gulf’s nearshore fishery. State waters extend to three miles offshore. Last season, 24 vessels 58 feet long or less fished for Pacific cod with pots in the Dutch Harbor subdistrict, where there’s no limit on the number of boats. Expect more when the season opens early next year, according to Miranda Westphal, of ADFG in Unalaska/Dutch Harbor. “We’re expecting to see more boats fishing in the Aleutian Islands and Dutch Harbor subdistrict fisheries,” Westphal said. The Dutch Harbor quota is 28.4 million pounds, and the Aleutian Islands’ is 12.8 million, for a total of about 41 million pounds in state waters, according to the Dec. 14 announcement. That’s more than the entire 2018 Gulf-wide quota of 9.8 million pounds for small cod boats, an enormous drop from 48.4 million pounds in 2017. ADFG Biologist Nathaniel Nichols in Kodiak said the cod crash is probably the worst in the history of relatively-recent state waters fisheries, which date back to the 1990s. The alarming Gulf cod numbers prompted an outreach message to fishermen from the North Pacific council. “The Pacific cod stock in the Gulf of Alaska has drastically declined. Scientific information suggests that this decline is the result of an unusually warm mass of water (the ‘blob’) that persisted from 2014 through 2016. The warm water increased the metabolism of cod while reducing available food, resulting in poor body condition and increased mortality,” according to the council. “The warm water also impacted cod egg production and larval survival, greatly reducing recruitment during these years. The lower number of adult and juvenile cod will affect the population and fishery for several years to come. Management of Gulf of Alaska cod is now focused on maintaining the spawning stock and increasing the likelihood that the fishery will remain viable in the future. Accordingly, catch limits for Pacific cod were set at very low amounts for 2018 and 2019.” The council sets the federal offshore quota, using the same information that determine state waters quotas. Bristol Bay megaharvest? Sockeye salmon gillnetters with boats and setnets are looking at another big year, with a Bristol Bay run forecast at 51.3 million sockeye and harvest levels of 37.6 million fish for the bay’s five commercial fishing districts, and another 1.5 million for the South Peninsula, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The catch is projected at 35 percent above the average recent 10-year average of 28.9 million fish. One of the five districts, the Nushagak, near Dillingham, had a record-breaking year in 2017, with 12.3 million sockeye harvested from a run of 20 million fish, far exceeding the forecast of 8.4 million. The fish flood swamped both Nushagak boats and buyers. Four boats, heavily laden with salmon, partially submerged during a storm. And the overwhelmed processors limited the size of salmon deliveries from boats, limiting fishermen’s incomes. The Nushagak is projected as Bristol Bay’s biggest producer in 2018, with a run of 21.8 million and a catch of 18.5 million red salmon, a result again of the extremely productive 2013 brood year. The second-biggest catch of 8.9 million fish is forecast for the Naknek-Kvichak District, in the Bristol Bay Borough, from a projected run of 16.6 million fish. In the Egegik District, the waters of Lake Becharof are expected to produce a run of 9.12 million, with 7.45 million to fishermen. The Ugashik District run is prognosticated at 2.87 million fish, with a catch of 2.06 million. Togiak’s run is projected at 860,000 reds, with a harvest of 610,000. These, of course, are just predictions, as the Nushagak’s stunning performance attested last year. “Forecasting future salmon runs is inherently difficult and uncertain,” according to the authors, ADFG researchers Greg Buck and Katie Sechrist. Jim Paulin can be reached at [email protected]

YEAR IN REVIEW: As salmon booms, whitefish and crab take sharp turn down

Dismally low halibut numbers were found in surveys and announced last month by the International Pacific Halibut Commission, but final allocation decisions won’t be revealed until Jan. 22-26 when the commission meets in Portland, Ore. Scientists at the International Pacific Halibut Commission interim meeting in Seattle revealed that survey results showed halibut numbers were down 23 percent from last summer, and the total biomass or weight had dropped 10 percent. This means the commission may drop commercial Pacific halibut catch limits by 20 percent. The survey encompassed nearly 1,500 stations from Oregon to the far reaches of the Bering Sea, according to a news report by Laine Welch. Scientists for the first time are looking closely at environmental and habitat conditions, as well as trends in other fisheries. Warmer waters starting in 2007 appear to correspond to the lower halibut year classes, according to an IPHC senior scientist, Ian Stewart. Most relevant to the drop in halibut in recent years, as with Pacific cod, are the effects of “the blob,” an increase the past several years in pyrosomes or gelatinous zooplankton. These were also documented in sea bird die-offs and whale stranding, Sewart said. No. 2: Worse news is ahead for cod fishermen The Gulf of Alaska cod quota for 2018 was reduced by 80 percent compared to last year North Pacific Fishery Management Council. In response, the Kodiak Fisheries Workgroup is making efforts to have the steep decline in cod declared a fisheries disaster, the Kodiak Daily Mirror reported Dec. 18. Kodiak officials also said they will send a letter to Gov. Bill Walker to ask for federal disaster relief funds to alleviate the severe economic impact the decline could have on the region. In October, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration survey reported a 71 percent decline in Pacific cod abundance in the gulf since 2015. Research suggests the decline was caused by the same mass of warm water in the Pacific in 2014 through 2016, known as “the blob” that produces the harmful zooplankton. The higher temperature raised the metabolism of cod while reducing available food, resulting in increased fish deaths, the management council said. The warm water also affected cod egg production and larval survival. With the severe population decline, the focus of management of cod in the Gulf of Alaska shifted to maintaining the spawning stock and increasing the chances of the fishery’s future viability, the management council said. No. 3: Council forced to craft Inlet salmon plan The North Pacific Fishery Management Council is looking for input from Cook Inlet fishermen on how it should develop a management plan for the area’s salmon fisheries, the Peninsula Clarion reports. The federal council, which regulates fisheries in the federal waters between three and 200 nautical miles offshore, is currently working on an amendment to the fishery management plan for Cook Inlet’s salmon fisheries. The process is likely to take multiple years of meetings. Council members decided to form a Salmon Committee that includes stakeholders in the fishery to keep the public in the loop. Specifically, the council members are looking for ideas from the public on how the committee will work, according an announcement sent out in late November. That can include any fishermen of the salmon stocks in Cook Inlet. “To develop a scope of work for the Salmon Committee, the council is soliciting written proposals from the public to help the council identify specific, required, conservation and management measures for the Salmon Committee to evaluate relevant to the development of options for a fishery management plan amendment,” the announcement states. No. 4: Crab harvests drop, too Biologists had some less-than-stellar news about Alaska’s crab fisheries in October as well: surveys show several species’ biomass declined in the past year, although Tanner crab is on the rebound compared to past years. Last year, the major commercial crab harvests of Bristol Bay red king crab and snow crab were cut and Tanners were closed completely due to concerns about the amount showing up in surveys. So this year’s news was not out of the blue, and the reopening of the Tanner crab fishery was an upshot. The bottom line is that this year, unlike last, those three big crab fisheries will all open this year. But the quota for Bristol Bay red king crab and Bering Sea snow crab is down compared to the year prior. That’s all largely the result of the survey and modeling work during 2017, which was explained in detail at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council annual update in October. The season began Oct. 15. For Bristol Bay red King crab, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, which jointly manages the federal crab fisheries with the council, opted to set the total allowable catch, or TAC, at 6.6 million pounds, the lowest in at least 20 years. The Bering Sea snow crab quota is also a decline from the year prior, at about 18.9 million pounds. The Tanner crab fishery is open in the western district, with a quota of about 2.2 million pounds, while the eastern district is closed. — Molly Dishner for the Journal

FISH FACTOR: Kodiak, Gulf communities brace for cod disaster

Kodiak officials already are drafting a disaster declaration due to the crash of cod stocks throughout the Gulf of Alaska. The shortage will hurt many other coastal communities as well. Gulf cod catches for 2018 will drop by 80 percent to just under 29 million pounds in federally managed waters, compared to a harvest this year of nearly 142 million pounds. The crash is expected to continue into 2020 or 2021. Cod catches in the Bering Sea also will decline by 15 percent to 414 million pounds. In all, Alaska produces 12 percent of global cod fish. The bad news was announced by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which sets the catches for more than 25 species in waters from three to 200 miles from shore in the Gulf and the Bering Sea. “It’s almost like a double, triple, quadruple disaster because it’s not just one year,” said Julie Bonney, director of the Alaska Groundfish Data Bank. She added that the cod decline will decrease revenues for fishermen who use longline, pots, jig and trawl gear and make it more difficult for processors to fill their market demands. It also will be a huge hit to the coffers of local communities that get a three percent tax on all fish landings. Kodiak fisheries analyst Heather McCarty called the cod crash “devastating” for the short- and long-term. The cod decline is blamed on younger fish not surviving warm ocean temperatures that began in 2014. “It was different than other years in that it went really deep, and it also lasted throughout the winter. What can happen is the food source can deplete rapidly when the entire ecosystem is ramped up in those warm temperatures,” said Steve Barbeaux, a scientist with the Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Seattle. The warm water also hurt cod egg survival and wiped out several year classes of juvenile fish. The harvest numbers for state waters (inside three miles) also will plummet as they are based on the federal catches. That will really hurt small boat fishermen. A breakdown by the Aleutians East Borough shows state water cod catches next year in the Gulf will total less than 10 million pounds compared to more than 48 million pounds in 2017. As further examples of how badly it will play out in some Gulf communities: At Cook Inlet the cod take next year will drop to less than 700,000 pounds compared to more than 6.2 million pounds in 2017. At Prince William Sound, the cod catch will be less than 1 million pounds, down from 4.3 million pounds. At Kodiak, the state waters cod catch in 2018 will be 2.2 million pounds, down from more than 12 million pounds in 2017. Kodiak City Council member John Whiddon said there are criteria for declaring a fisheries disaster prior to an event occurring, which include certain thresholds. “An 80 percent reduction in quota over the five-year average, which in this case is where we are, gets us to the level where we can actually get this letter out prior to the prosecution of the fisheries, so we meet that threshold,” he said at a recent Council meeting. The City of Kodiak plans to get a disaster declaration request into Governor Walker’s hands by the end of this year. Bristol Bay Fish Expo No. 2 It’s more than six months away but participants are already signing up for the second annual Bristol Bay Fish Expo set for early June at Naknek. The Expo was launched last year as a way to open the doors of the Little Angels Child Care Academy. “It was pretty phenomenal. We raised $17,000 and our goal was $13,000. It was awesome,” said Katie Copps-Wilson, an Expo co-organizer. The theme of last summer’s Expo was “Bridging the Bay” with an intent of better connecting the surrounding communities with the fishing and processing sectors. “It really gave the people, the businesses, the fishermen — people who come into our community year after year — a venue to get to know each other better and help celebrate the community,” she said. The first Expo attracted 44 exhibitors plus sponsors of various events that will be repeated this go around. “We had a ‘speed dating’ job fair for captains and crew. It went really well and a lot of matches were made,” Copps-Wilson said with a laugh. Another popular event was a fashion show that showcased fishing regalia and vintage items from around the Bay. That event, sponsored this year by Nomar Fisheries Gear of Homer, will expand to include wearable arts on the fashion runway. The 2018 theme is “Celebrating the Past; Sustaining the Future” and will showcase Bristol Bay’s processing history. Copps-Wilson said local processors are some of the Expo’s biggest supporters. “They had so much fun having booths and are already planning for next year,” she said. “It’s their opportunity to get out into the community and see people and visit. A lot of these people have been coming here their whole lifetimes and they’ve never been able to be in a such an interactive setting.” The Fish Expo dollars will always go towards sustaining the child care center, she said, and next year will also benefit the local Boys and Girls Club. “People really appreciate that it’s not just a trade show and who knows where the money goes. The money is going back into the community to help out kids’ services,” Copps-Wilson said, adding that the Fish Expo has surpassed all expectations. “I don’t think we realized what we created,” she said. “We were interested in finding a way to raise some money so we could open the doors for Little Angels, but it grew into this other thing and we had no idea how big it would be.” Bristol Bay Fish Expo is set for June 8-9 at Naknek High School. Registration is open now at a reduced rate through the end of January. Learn more at www.bristolbayfishexpo.com. Fishing almanac debuts The first Alaska Young Fishermen’s Almanac has debuted in time for holiday giving and it is selling fast. The 140-page book, published by the Alaska Young Fishermen’s Network, includes stories, advice, recipes, photos and illustrations from across Alaska. The effort is touted as “a first-of-its-kind cultural touchstone that communicates and celebrates our unique, shared and cherished fishing ways of life”…and “it captures the ingenuity, persistence, humor and passion of the next generation of community and fishing leaders in Alaska and conveys the importance of community-based fishing livelihoods.” “It turned out so beautifully. I am so excited to see it finished and in people’s hands,” said Hannah Heimbuch, who participated in the project. “The vibrancy and beauty of fishing comes through from all of the contributions,” echoed Rachel Donkersloot, Working Waterfronts Director for the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, which helped fund the almanac along with the Alaska Humanities Forum. “From the poems and short stories and the colorful photos that bounce off the pages. These are our young Alaska fishermen and they are so creative and courageous and funny and hard-working. We also collected great advice from some of our veteran fishermen. I’m just thrilled with the way it came out.” All proceeds from sales of the $25 almanac will go towards volume #2. Find the Alaska Young Fishermen’s Almanac at the Salmon Sisters website at www.aksalmonsisters.com/. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Bering Sea cod conflict brewing between on and offshore buyers

“Cod Alley” is getting crowded, and some fishermen want to limit the boats in the narrow congested fishing area in the Bering Sea. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council is looking at changes, including restricting flatfish factory trawlers from buying cod offshore. The Pacific Seafood Processors Association is pushing for restrictions on factory trawlers to protect its members’ shore plants in Unalaska, Akutan, King Cove and Sand Point. According to the PSPA’s Nicole Kimball, seven factory trawlers bought cod from 17 catcher boats in 2017, up from just one factory trawler that traditionally participated in prior years. The Amendment 80 factory trawlers act as motherships, processing but not catching the Pacific cod. “The share delivered to motherships increased from 3.3 percent in 2016 to 12.7 percent in 2017, while shoreside processors had a reciprocal decline. This is a meaningful shift. At this point it is open-ended, and there is nothing to prevent future growth in this activity,” Kimball testified at the council’s December meeting in Anchorage. Local government representatives shared the shoreplants’ concerns, citing a loss of tax revenues needed for schools and other services. On a smaller scale, it’s reminiscent of the inshore-offshore battle in the pollock fishery about 20 years ago. “This is a big deal,” said Unalaska Mayor Frank Kelty. “It looks like we’ve got trouble coming down the road again.” Cod is Unalaska’s second-most important product, behind pollock, he said. From 2013 to mid 2017, Kelty said Pacific cod landings brought in $4.8 million in taxes to Unalaska-Dutch Harbor. That includes $1.9 million in local sales taxes, and $2.9 million in state business taxes shared with the city. The average price-per-pound averaged between 24 cents in 2015, to a high of 33 cents in 2014, according to Kelty’s figures. The most recent price was 31 cents per pound. Ernie Weiss, the natural resources director of the Aleutians East Borough, said he wanted every pound of fish to cross the docks in the borough, which includes King Cove, Akutan, Sand Point, and False Pass. “We fully support the onshore processing of Bering Sea Pacific cod,” Weiss testified. The Amendment 80 fleet comprises the bottom-trawl factory trawlers that don’t target pollock, but instead net sole, perch, and Atka mackerel. Defenders of the offshore buyers included Jim Stone, owner of the catcher vessel Ocean Hunter. “Motherships offer another market,” he said, saying the onshore sector is dominated by three major buyers. Two of the cod-buying factory trawlers are owned by Fisherman’s Finest, and company official Annika Saltman said they help preserve a competitive market. One catcher vessel temporarily delivered to a mothership only because a shoreplant’s cod facility was closed for renovations, but will return to the onshore sector, Saltman testified. Kimball said the shoreplants also provide a competitive cod market. Trident Seafoods’ Joe Plesha complained the rationalized Amendment 80 fleet “disrupts other fisheries” by buying cod offshore. Various ideas were floated for limiting catcher vessel participation in the Bering Sea cod fishery, including controversial catch shares or individual fishing quotas. Weiss said he was “not a big fan” of catch shares. IFQs are not among the alternatives the council will consider next year. The purpose and need statement, approved unanimously, includes limiting cod trawling to vessels actually fishing in various years between 2010 and 2017. Essentially, this would create a limited entry program within a limited entry program. Bering Sea cod fishing is already limited to boats with fishing licenses. Some of those boats don’t usually participate, but can when prices are high or stocks are low in their usual fisheries. Brent Paine, the executive director of United Catcher Boats, said something needs to be done to regulate fishing in the congested area with increasingly shorter seasons. He predicted a three-week season in 2018. “This is the last unrationalized fishery in the eastern Bering Sea,” Paine said. “If you don’t do anything, we’re all going to be losers.” However, Paine said his group is not opposed to the Amendment 80 fleet buying cod offshore. While the shoreplants are actively opposed, the factory trawler fleet’s trade association, Groundfish Forum, is staying out of the fish fight. Executive Director Chris Woodley said his members don’t all agree on the issue, so the group is neutral. The Forum represents five companies owning about 17 factory trawlers. The crowded cod fishing grounds known as “Cod Alley” and the “Breadline” are located off the northern coast of Unimak Island. Paine said the active fishing area is 1.5 miles long by 40 miles wide. Cod fisherman Steve Beard of the fishing vessel Golden Pisces said his revenues are down 50 percent in the past two years, because of the competition. “I don’t want to be a Walmart greeter. I just want to fish cod,” Beard said. His passion for cod was acknowledged by two council advisory panel members, Jerry Downing and Sinclair Wilt, who each said he’s known as the “Codfather.” Twice, Beard said he’s entangled his fishing gear with other vessels. He called on the federal regulators to “stop the Olympic-style fishery that’s going on, and try to control it.” “It’s turning into a parking lot,” said council member Craig Cross. Fisherman Dan Martin of the trawler Commodore described the fishery as chaotic. But one council advisory panel member accepts chaos. “Chaos in the fishery, that’s competitive fishing,” said Patrick O’Donnell. After much discussion, the council established “a control date of Dec. 31, 2017 that may be used as a reference date for a future management action to limit catcher processors from acting as motherships in the Bering Sea Aleutian Islands trawl catcher vessel Pacific cod fishery.” Jim Paulin can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: After rebound, halibut harvests may drop again

It’s going to be a tough year for many Alaska fishermen. Following on the heels of announcements of a massive drop in cod stocks, the industry learned last week that Pacific halibut catches are likely to drop by 20 percent next year, and the declines could continue for several years. That could bring the coastwide catch, meaning from Oregon to British Columbia to the Bering Sea, to about 31 million pounds for 2018. Scientists at the International Pacific Halibut Commission interim meeting in Seattle revealed that survey results showed halibut numbers were down 23 percent from last summer, and the total biomass (weight) dropped 10 percent. The surveys are done each year from May through September at nearly 1,500 stations from Oregon to the far reaches of the Bering Sea. While the Pacific halibut catches have ticked up slightly over the past three years, indications of a fall back have been noted, said IPHC senior scientist Ian Stewart. The biggest drop stems from a lack of younger fish entering the halibut fishery. Stewart said the 9- to 18-year-old year classes that have been sustaining the recent halibut fishery are not being followed up by younger fish. “In 2018, and especially projecting out to 2019, we are moving out of a fishery that is dominated by those relatively good recruitments starting in 1999 and extending to 2005. We see an increasing number of relatively poor recruitments stemming from at least 2009 and 2010,” he explained. Although they are not factoring them into their halibut catch computations, scientists for the first time are looking closely at environmental and habitat conditions, as well as trends in other fisheries. Stewart said warmer waters starting in 2007 appear to correspond to the lower halibut year classes. Most relevant to the drop in halibut recruitment in recent years, as with Pacific cod, are the effects of “the blob”. “Especially through 2015 to 2016 we saw that warmer water extending even to deeper shelf waters in the Gulf of Alaska,” he said. “We’ve seen a big increase the last several years in pyrosomes, which are these nasty gelatinous zooplankton, well documented sea bird die-offs and whale strandings. So some abnormal things are going on in the Gulf.” The IPHC does not always follow the recommendations of its scientists. Final decisions will be made at the annual meeting Jan. 22-26 in Portland, Ore. Sport halibut hike While commercial halibut catches are set to drop, charter operators will see an increase. A so-called Recreational Quota Entity program was approved by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council that will allow halibut catch shares to be purchased and held in a common pool for charter operators to draw from as needed. Under the plan, the RQE can hold 10 percent of the total commercial quota pool in Southeast Alaska and 12 percent from the Southcentral region, making it the single largest halibut-holding entity in the North Pacific. The program would be phased in over 10 years with transfers of one percent and 1.2 percent from each region, respectively. It is unclear where the RQE will get the estimated $25 million needed to buy halibut shares. Some have suggested a self-funding option such as a halibut stamp, similar to king salmon, or a voluntary tax. The RQE program is strongly opposed by commercial fishermen. In written comments, the Halibut Coalition’s Tom Gemmell stated that the RQE “undermines the goal of maintaining an owner-operated fleet, and will force fishermen to compete for quota against a subsidized entity.” Linda Behnken, director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, said charter effort has remained relatively constant or increased despite catch conservation measures. “Charter operators claim their clients need more harvesting opportunity despite low abundance, ignoring the obvious need for all sectors to conserve during times of low abundance,” Behnken said. Longtime fisheries advocate Clem Tillion called RQEs the “death of a small boat, owner-operated fishery” adding “Holland America and Carnival Cruise lines will buy the quota and hired hands will fish it, and the small boat fleet out of villages is gone.” The RQE plan is set to begin next year. Gender on the agenda Recognizing the roles of women in the seafood industry and making them more “visible” is the goal of the new group International Women in the Seafood Industry, or WSI, and input is being gathered from around the world. The non-profit, launched a year ago, was created by seafood and gender issues specialists to highlight imbalances in the industry, to shed light on women’s real participation and to promote greater diversity and inclusiveness. One in two seafood workers is a woman, WSI claims, yet they are over-represented in low-skilled, low-paying positions, account for less than 10 percent of company directors and a mere 1 percent of CEOs. “There is a gender imbalance,” said Marie Catherine Monfort, WSI president and co-founder. Monfort, who is based in Paris, has been working in the seafood industry for several decades, both as an economist and a seafood marketing analyst. “I noticed that in most meetings I was surrounded by men, and I could only see men speaking in most conversations. Women were very numerous in this industry, but not very visible. They are not taken into account by the policy makers and by employers as well. That was the main motivation,” she said in a phone conversation. To gather more perceptions on women’s roles in the industry, WSI launched a first of its kind survey in September at a World Seafood Congress in Iceland. It went so well, she said, that WSI decided to translate the survey into French, English and Spanish and expand it to the entire world. “The questions center around what is the position of women in your company, and what is your opinion of the situation of women in the industry. Are there areas where things could be improved, or maybe some feel there is no need for any improvement,” Monfort said, adding that responses by both sexes are welcomed. “It is very important to also collect men’s opinions, and it will be interesting to see if men and women have the same or differing opinions,” she said. “The results will help us cultivate a better future with equal opportunities and increase awareness of women’s roles in the seafood industry. The more we are, the stronger we will be.” The “Gender on the Agenda” survey is open through December, and results will be available by early March. Questions? Contact Monfort at [email protected] Crab wrap The Bristol Bay red king crab wrapped up after about five weeks and by all accounts it was an uneventful season. “Fishermen were seeing about what we expected from the survey, with a little bit slower fishing and pockets of crab without real wide distribution,” said Miranda Westphal, area management biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Dutch Harbor. The red king crab catch quota this year of 6.6 million pounds was down 22 percent from last season, and the lowest catch since 1996. The crab was “big and nice” said Jake Jacobsen, director of the Inter-Cooperative Exchange, a harvester group that catches 70 percent of the Bering Sea crab quota. No word yet on price and Jacobsen said negotiations will likely continue into January. Red king crab averaged $10.89 per pound to fishermen last year, the highest price ever. Jacobsen said the price is likely to be lower this year. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: DiCaprio backs farmed fish to save wild stocks

Recurring news headlines that have widely circulated about alarming declines of Pacific salmon have spawned a savvy new marketing strategy that tells consumers they can help save wild fish by eating farmed. Earlier this year actor Leonardo DiCaprio invested in a company called LoveTheWild (“a champion of sustainable, delicious fish”) that is promoting its oven-ready farmed fish dishes to U.S. supermarkets. “With LoveTheWild, we sought to create healthy and easy-to-prepare meals that people can feel good about — both in terms of how the fish is raised and how it tastes,” CEO Jacqueline Claudia told SeafoodSource news. The Denver-based company has now partnered with Amazon-owned Whole Foods Markets to sell its frozen fish dinner kits in more than 400 stores. (The dinners include Salmon with Coconut Red Curry, which features farmed fish from Norway.) Meanwhile, an investment fund called Aqua-Spark is backing LoveTheWild with $2.5 million to help them ramp up social media and marketing outreach to tempt consumers to opt for farmed fish at more than 6,000 supermarkets over five years. “The exploitation of our oceans has left many marine ecosystems on the brink of total collapse, and LoveTheWild is empowering people to take action on the crisis in a meaningful way,” DiCaprio said in a People Magazine splash earlier this year. In terms of salmon, “that is very misconstrued and quite frankly, wrong,” responded Michael Kohan, seafood technical director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. “Farmed production is in a completely different arena. It has no basis in terms of a consumer’s decision making whether or not to choose a wild or a farmed product at the supermarket. “Alaska’s science-based management is a model of sustainability for other fisheries around the world.” Andy Wink, senior fisheries economist with the McDowell Group, said the “farmed saves wild push” is misplaced. “Their heart might be in the right place, but I don’t think they are thinking it through,” he said. “They forget that the fisheries they are trying to protect are just a very small portion compared to all the fish that are caught in Alaska. If you’re worried about that, just buy fish from a responsible fishery. Then you’re voting with your dollar to support those who are doing things right.” The economic importance of supporting sustainable fisheries gets lost in the farmed fish message, Kohan pointed out. “Alaska’s fisheries support over 60,000 jobs,” she said. “We have a huge community of people who rely on consumers eating wild fish to support their livelihood. You support wild fish by eating wild fish.” Whitefish wins Cod and pollock were the big winners at the 25th annual Symphony of Seafood competition last week at Pacific Marine Expo in Seattle. The popular event, hosted by the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, showcases new Alaska seafood products that compete in four categories. Judges chose Wild Caught Lemon Butter Cod from Alaskan Leader Fisheries for the top retail prize. “We take all the fuss out of cooking. You take it from the freezer and pop it in the oven for 35 minutes and you have a dinner for four. It’s the first time it’s ever been done. It’s beautiful,” said Keith Singleton, vice president of marketing. Alaskan Leader also took top honors in the Beyond the Plate category for its cod crunchies pet treats. The category highlights new items created from seafood byproducts. The treats are made from the trimmings of cod fillets that are minced and turned into jerky-style wafers. “The pets go absolutely crazy over it. They do spins and hurdles, whatever you want. It is pretty comical,” Singleton said. Alaska pollock (cod’s cousin) also was a big winner. Trident Seafood’s Hot and Spicy Pollock Fish Sandwich took first place in the Food Service category. Trident also won the Beyond the Egg category for its squeeze tube style pollock roe. Salmon also snagged a win. The Seattle People’s Choice award went to Jack Link’s Salmon Jerky made from Alaska sockeye. The goal of the Symphony is to create more valuable products and expand markets for Alaska seafood, and salmon is a “poster child” for that diversification over the past two decades. “It used to be that we had two different types of salmon, canned and frozen/headed and gutted, sitting in a crate on the floor at the grocery store, like pumpkins during Halloween,” said Bruce Schactler, Food Aid Program Director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. “Now we have hundreds of new products that have created a several hundred percent increase in value.” Many second and third place winners also were selected at the Seattle event. Those, along with the grand prize winner, are being kept secret and will be revealed at a second Alaska Symphony of Seafood event in Juneau in February. Crab shares stall While it’s steady as she goes for the values of both Alaska salmon permits and high-priced halibut quota shares, there is little buy/sell/trade action for shares of Bering Sea crab. “It’s stagnant and that’s largely due to availability, and over the years there has been consolidation. Those people are in for the long haul. Likewise, the CDQ (Community Development Quota) groups and they don’t sell,” said Jeff Osborn at Dock Street Brokers, the “go to” guy for crab quota share insights. Also cutting into transactions are the declining Bering Sea crab catches. “Guys don’t want to sell on a low catch, even if the price of quota has increased. They’d rather wait till the quota comes back up.” Osborn said. Red king crab catches at Bristol Bay of 6.6 million pounds this season are down 22 percent. Snow crab at 19 million pounds is the lowest harvest since 2005. After a 20 million pound Tanner crab fishery just two years ago, the take tanked this season to just 2.5 million pounds. It’s hard to pinpoint a price for crab quota shares, Osborn said, since there have been so few transactions among the roughly 480 holders of crab quota. “Red king crab was pushing $70 a pound, but I don’t know if the market would bear that now. Snow crab would at least be in the mid-$20s, if not higher. But that’s a fair amount of speculation on my part,” he added. Osborn said that the “volatile biology” of the crab stocks and the potential impacts of an off-kilter ocean are “tough for crabbers to talk about.” “They aren’t ignoring it, but it’s kinda like what do you do? They wonder if and when it is going to affect the fishery and to what extent,” he said. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Forecast predicts another below-average sockeye year

Next year’s sockeye salmon forecast for Upper Cook Inlet looks only slightly rosier than this year’s forecast. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game released its 2018 forecast for the sockeye salmon return to Upper Cook Inlet on Nov. 21, predicting about 4.6 million total sockeye to return to all the stream systems in the area. About 2 million would go to meet escapement goals, about 1.9 million would go to the commercial fishermen and about 700,000 to other user groups, according to the forecast. The prediction is about 1.3 million below the recent 20-year average of about 5.9 million fish returning to Upper Cook Inlet, but slightly higher than the 2017 forecast of 4 million sockeye returning to all systems. The actual 2017 return was slightly higher than the forecast, in part because the Kenai River’s late run of sockeye was larger than forecast. The 2018 forecast still leaves the commercial harvest lower than 20-year average as well. “The forecast commercial harvest in 2018 is 0.9 million less than the 20-year average harvest,” the forecast states. The Kenai River is forecast to see 2.5 million sockeye return, about 1.1 million fewer than the 20-year average of about 3.6 million. The Kasilof River is forecast at about 866,000 sockeye, the Susitna River at 329,000 and Fish Creek at 211,000 with all other unmonitored systems in Upper Cook Inlet accounting for the remaining 665,000 fish. If the forecast proves true, it will be the third below-average harvest year in a row for Upper Cook Inlet’s commercial fishermen. Commercial fishermen brought in about 2.6 million sockeye during the 2015 season, substantially below the 20-year-average, and though the preseason forecast for 2016 was promising, the run did not live up to expectations and commercial fishermen had another poor year, bringing in about 3.3 million sockeye rather than the 5.3 million predicted. The 2017 season was predicted to be below average and actually exceeded expectations, with a later and larger run than predicted. However, commercial fishermen ended their season with about 1.8 million sockeye, the smallest sockeye harvest in the last decade. The forecast of 2.5 million places Kenai River late-run sockeye salmon management into the middle tier for management, changing some of the restrictions on commercial fishermen, including giving drift gillnet fishermen the option of one inlet-wide fishing period in July. The managers watch the run throughout the summer and update the forecast by about the third week of July and adjust management strategies accordingly. Commercial fishermen in Upper Cook Inlet are forecast to harvest about 7,400 king salmon, 389,000 pink salmon, 177,000 chum and 203,000 coho in 2018, though those numbers are based on harvests in the last five years and not on enumeration data. Reach Elizabeth Earl at [email protected]

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