Fisheries

Council acts on guide loophole, grenadiers; open seat debated

SEATTLE – Halibut guides and grenadiers will see management changes in coming years under action taken at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s February meeting. The council took final action to define a sportfishing guide at its February meeting, but a new regulation likely won’t be implemented until the 2015 fishing season, at the earliest. Grenadiers were added to the fishery management plans as an ecosystem component in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, and the Gulf of Alaska, which means catch reporting will be required and retention will be limited — also likely not until 2015. Grenadiers are a long-lived, deepwater flatfish that grow to less than a foot long. The council’s Feb. 6 action on guides more closely aligns the state and federal definitions. Under the new definition, a sport fishing guide does not have to be on board the same vessel as the person they are assisting, but must accompany or physically direct the angler during part of the charter trip for compensation. That means that anglers on one boat, receiving assistance from a guide on another boat, could be counted as charter clients — and are subject to charter regulations, rather than the more liberal unguided angler limits. This summer, unguided anglers will be able to catch two halibut of any size per day, while charter clients can catch two with one limited to 29 inches or less when fishing out of Southcentral and Kodiak ports, and one fish either less than 45 inches or longer than 76 inches per day when fishing out of Southeast Alaska ports. The action also defined compensation within the context of sport fishing guide services as direct or indirect payment, remuneration or other benefits received in return for services. The federal and state definitions do have one difference, however. The state specifies that reimbursement for actual daily expenses for fuel, food or bait are not considered compensation, while the federal definition terms it “reasonable” daily expenses for those same items. That passed in a 9-2 vote, with Oregon’s Roy Hyder and Alaska’s David Long voting against it. Prior to taking action, the council heard from charter operators about some potential issues that could arise under the changed regulation. One concern is that it will result in additional catch being marked as coming from the charter sector, and lead to a higher estimate of charter catches for a particular year, possibly resulting in lower bag limits in subsequent years. Mark Warner, who runs a lodge in Excursion Inlet near Gustavus, and Tom Ohaus, a Sitka operator, also warned the council that the action could hurt some operators with a long history of using that business model who don’t have halibut charter permits. During public testimony, representatives from the charter industry also said they would like to see the unguided angler limits match the guided angler limits, because that was the source of the loophole the council was trying to close by clarifying the definition of a guide. Reached after the decision was made, however, Sherri Miller from the Seward business Miller’s Landing, said she supported the council’s action. “For us, we would side on the rules that they just made up,” Miller said. She said holding everyone to the same standards is fair, and that the prior regulation left room for a loophole that some operators used, potentially disadvantaging those who didn’t take advantage of it. Miller’s Landing offers charters, and also rents small skiffs to individuals wanting to go out on their own. The outfit doesn’t offer assistance to those in the skiffs, however, and is not part of the fleet affected by the decision. Miller said she didn’t know of any operators in Seward that would be affected by the action. Miller’s business also has a small amount of commercial individual fishing quota for halibut, she said. Although she supported the most recent change, she said she was still concerned about the council’s prior action to stop captain and crew from fishing while chartering, which is part of the new catch sharing plan set to take effect this year. Grenadiers added to management plans The council also took final action to add three species of grenadiers — the giant grenadier, popeye grenadier and pacific grenadier — to the management plans. Under the council’s action, the grenadiers will be managed as an ecosystem component in the fishery management plans, or FMP, which apply in federal waters, or from 3 to 200 miles offshore. Directed fishing for grenadiers will be prohibited, and vessels will be required to keep a record of the grenadiers they land and report those numbers. The council also set a maximum retainable amount, or MRA, of 8 percent after hearing from members of the fishing industry that they would like more than the 5 percent recommended by the council’s Advisory Panel. Alaska Whitefish Trawlers Association President Bob Krueger asked for a 10 percent MRA. Krueger said that fleet would like a high enough MRA to allow for future grenadier deliveries if a market for them is ever developed. Julie Bonney, from the Alaska Groundfish Data Bank, said that for some trawl vessels, it’s hard to know you’ve caught grenadiers until they come on board, so an MRA that allowed for some variance in catch would be helpful. Oceana’s Jon Warrenchuck said he had concerns about not managing the fish — they are at somewhat of a risk for overfishing because of their lifecycle, and some years more grenadiers are caught than sablefish — and he was in favor of adding them to the FMP. Previously, there has not been a market for grenadiers, but they are caught indirectly in the deepwater trawl and hook-and-line fisheries, and sometimes kept for bait. According to estimates provided to the council, the total grenadier catch in the Gulf and Bering Sea-Aleutian Islands in 2013 was 15,353 metric tons. Since 2003, the catch has ranged from 11,034 metric tons to 17,500 metric tons. In the Aleutian Islands, the fish are primarily caught while targeting sablefish; in the Bering Sea, the highest incidental catch rate comes from Council nominees The Seattle meeting was council Chair Eric Olson’s final out-of-state meeting. Olson has two more meetings on the council, and finishes his term in August. Council members are limited to three, three-year terms. Olson sits in one of five seats that the governor of Alaska is responsible for nominating someone to fill. He works for Yukon Delta Fisheries Development Association, a Community Development Quota entity. According to Sharon Leighow, spokeswoman for Gov. Sean Parnell’s office, there are three applicants to fill the upcoming vacancy: Simon Kinneen, Art Nelson and Anne Vanderhoeven. Kinneen works for Norton Sound Economic Development Corp., and Vanderhoeven works for the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp., both CDQs. Nelson works for the Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association, a nonprofit, and has previously been employed by Coastal Villages Region Fund,  also a CDQ. Vanderhoven currently serves on the council’s Advisory Panel, and Kinneen has previously served on that body. Nelson has served on the council’s Steller Sea Lion Mitigation Committee, and is a former member of the Alaska Board of Fisheries. During public comment before the council began the staff tasking portion of its agenda, Kawerak Inc. Vice President of Natural Resources Rose Fosdick said her organization would like to see a Tribal representative on the council. Council member Duncan Fields asked Fosdick if her organization would consider Kinneen a tribal representative for her area. Fosdick said Kinneen works for NSEDC, the local CDQ, which is “not necessarily a Tribal representative.” Instead, she suggested contacting Kawerak’s president for suggestions. “We can move forward from there and give you some good ideas about Tribal rep,” she said. Fosdick and Kawerak are not the only ones asking for tribal representation. Other organizations, such as the Alaska Federation of Natives and the Association of Village Council Presidents, have asked for a Tribal seat. Rep. Don Young told the Journal in a Jan. 23 interview he would like to add another seat to the council for a subsistence representative, and specifically added that he did not consider the CDQ seat to be the same as a subsistence representative. AVCP’s Myron Naneng said he supported Young’s request for the subsistence seat. According to information on the state’s website, Parnell is expected to make three nominations for the seat by March 15.

State DEC says seafood is free from Fukishima radiation

Alaska seafood is free of radiation stemming from Japan’s 2011 tsunami and Fukushima nuclear reactor disaster. That was the take home message from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation to the state Senate Resources Committee at a recent hearing. Citing information from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Pacific states including Hawaii, California, Oregon and Washington, as well as Health Canada, “all have demonstrated there are no levels of radiation that are of a public health concern,” said Marty Brewer, director of DEC’s Environmental Health Division. She added that only small amounts of radiation have been detected from the reactor source. “There has been detection of cesium that is reportedly from Fukushima but at miniscule levels,” Brewer said. DEC Commissioner Larry Hartig said programs in the Lower 48 are testing fish that swim between the Gulf of Alaska, the West Coast and Japan, and they have come up with a clean bill of health. The DEC also is monitoring marine debris washing ashore in Southeast Alaska and Prince William Sound, Hartig said.  None of the debris that has washed ashore anywhere in the U.S. so far has shown signs of radiation. Fish behavior cuts bycatch Fishing gear experts are using fish behavior to take a bite out of unwanted salmon bycatch in trawl nets. Video cameras inside nets revealed several years ago that Alaska pollock and salmon behave very differently when captured. Salmon were able to swim against the strong flow within the net better than the pollock, said John Gauvin, a gear specialist who for decades has worked closely with the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska trawl fleets. “You would see the salmon moving forward in the net at times, and you would see the pollock steadily dropping back, with some ability to move forward but at a loss. They would move a little bit forward and then move a lot back,” he explained. Trawlers will soon begin field testing a so called “over and under” net device to see how it performs.  “We are pretty excited about this device and we are going to be doing testing this spring in the Gulf and then, hopefully, in the fall in the Bering Sea,” Gauvin said. A “flapper” excluder device, used by many trawlers since 2012, has resulted in a 25 percent to 37 percent chinook salmon escapement with very little loss of pollock. While it works well, Gauvin said the design is difficult to adopt widely into the fishery and takes a lot of fine-tuning. Finding “cleaner” gear that is affordable and adaptable will drive the future of our fisheries, Gauvin believes.  “What is interesting to me today is that in many ways, success in the fisheries is not so much of what you catch, but what you don’t catch,” he mused. “Fishermen spend a lot of time figuring out how to avoid things they are not supposed to catch so they can continue to make a living.” Fish = Healthy Hearts February is American Heart Month and the role of seafood and heart health is being featured in a nationwide media blitz. The American Heart Association has placed one million magazine inserts in major newspapers from Boston to L.A., and they include full page ads about the importance of eating more seafood. “The science is there to help all of us understand that eating seafood twice a week can be great for our heart health, but that message is just not getting out. So this is our first effort to work with health partners to bring a credible message to Americans. We are very excited about it,” said Linda Cornish, executive director of the nonprofit Seafood Nutrition Partnership, which promotes the twice a week message across the country. “I can see that people understand that seafood is good for them,” she continued. “The hurdles come from knowing how to buy it and cook it, and understanding the different varieties of seafood they can include in their diet.” Getting women across those hurdles is especially important for women (who do most of the home food shopping), as heart disease is by far the No. 1 killer of American women. Cornish said the Seafood Nutrition Partnership also is testing various outreach messages to see how they resonate with consumers — and to balance out negative messages. “What you are seeing in terms of the different messages on mercury and toxicity is very well founded; it’s just that you hear more of those messages versus the good news on seafood. So our initiative is to try and get more positive messages out about seafood and provide a more balanced view.” Pick the winners! The Fishing Family Photo Contest from the Alaska Seafood marketing Institute attracted more than 700 entries, and it’s now time to vote for your favorites. Categories include Best Family or Kids photo, Best Old School or Throwback, Best Fish, Best Scenic, Best Boat, Best Humor and Best Action photo. The Fan Favorite wins two Alaska Airlines tickets; other top winners get iPads. The winning images may be used in ASMI’s promotions in 21 countries Finalist photos are hosted in a Facebook app that allows visitors to browse and vote for the images they like best. To vote, “like” Alaska Seafood on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/alaskaseafood and locate the contest app in the upper right, or by visiting http://bit.ly/1n7YVyP. Each visitor may vote once per photo per day. Voting ends at midnight Feb. 17. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Young calls for subsistence seats on Yukon panel

Alaska U.S. Rep. Don Young is looking to add a subsistence representative to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council as part of the pending changes during the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. The act provides the basis for federal fisheries management throughout the country, including between three and 200 miles offshore from Alaska. It was last updated in 2006, and is set to be reauthorized this year. A draft version, with changes, was released by the House Natural Resources Committee in December. Generally, Young told the Journal in January that he isn’t looking for major changes beyond that draft. “I think there’s going to have to be, on the council, a subsistence representative, primarily because of the conflict of the king salmon,” Young said. Young said that while the trawl fleet’s bycatch is not the only issue facing Alaska’s salmon, it would help to have a perspective on the council other than commercial stakeholders. A designated subsistence seat would not be a Community Development Quota group seat, Young said. CDQ groups include six organizations representing 65 Western Alaska villages within 50 miles of the Bering Sea coast that receive 10.7 percent of all federal fishing quotas, including pollock, halibut and crab. “CDQ is different,” Young said. The current chair of the council is Eric Olson, who works for the CDQ group Yukon Fisheries Development Association. The council is the body that makes management decisions for federal waters offshore from Alaska. The National Marine Fisheries Service, or NMFS, is responsible for overseeing day-to-day management and implementing most of those decisions. Myron Naneng, president of the Association of Village Council Presidents, said he supported adding a subsistence voice to the council. “The North Pacific Fishery Management Council is stacked high with industry,” he said. AVCP members live along the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers, which have some of the major salmon concerns in the state. Young said he thought some commercial fishermen might not support the idea, however. “It may not fly because some of the commercial fishermen I know would object to it,” he said. Bob Alverson, general manager for the Seattle-based Fishing Vessel Owners Association, said he could see why Alaska would want that representation. Alaska is a unique state in regards to subsistence, he said. “It’s part of the lifestyle, I don’t think that’s out of line,” he said. There’s concern about how an additional Alaska seat would shift the balance on the council, however. Currently, Alaska controls six of the 11 voting seats. Alaska’s governor nominates individuals for five seats, and there is a designated seat for the Department of Fish and Game commissioner, currently Cora Campbell. A seventh Alaskan is Jim Balsiger, who is the designated federal representative as Alaska Region director for the NMFS. Washington has three seats and Oregon has one. Some Washington stakeholders have already said Alaska has too much power on the council under the status quo, and their congressional delegation wouldn’t support another Alaska seat on the council, Young said. He doesn’t think the balance is a problem. Alverson said that if an Alaskan subsistence seat was added, Washington might want a seat of its own, or a provision that Alaska couldn’t use its supermajority to determine certain allocation issues. Washington’s governor currently nominates two members, and a third seat is held for a top Washington fisheries official. Adding another Washington seat to balance an Alaska subsistence seat would bring the total number of voting council members to 13. Alverson said that number likely wouldn’t be too many. He said he works with the Pacific Fishery Management Council, which has 14 voting members and still functions. The Pacific council also has a Tribal government representative as one of its voting members. Naneng said that a subsistence voice would be particularly helpful in discussion about bycatch. Currently, in-river fishermen face the largest burden of conservation at times when king salmon stocks on several western Alaska rivers and streams, including the Kuskokwim and Yukon, are low. Naneng said a subsistence representative could ask more questions about the king catch in the ocean, and raise concerns about whether or not the current observer program and caps are being implemented effectively. Sen. Mark Begich, who serves on the Senate’s oceans subcommittee, agreed that Alaska needs a way to include subsistence voices on the council. “Over the past year I have held four listening sessions on the Magnuson-Stevens Act all across the state — including two with subsistence users — and one thing came through loud and clear: Alaska Native people want a stronger voice on subsistence issues that come before the North Pacific Fishery Management Council,” Begich said in an statement provided by email. “We are looking at options available now and hope to move some recommendations forward through the MSA reauthorization process.” The Alaska Federation of Natives has also asked for a new seat on the council. In a resolution passed in 2013, AFN asked for a voting Tribal representative on the council that is nominated by Alaska’s Tribes, for subsistence to be added throughout the MSA, and for other changes that would give more weight to subsistence in the federal management process. Yukon River changes The North Pacific Fishery Management Council is not the only place Young said he would like to see changes. He also wants a Yukon River salmon management body with representation from villages along the river that “has bite,” he said. That could be done as part of the Pacific Salmon Treaty between the U.S. and Canada, which is up for negotiation next year. Currently, the Yukon River Panel makes Yukon recommendations under the Pacific Salmon Treaty. That body makes some recommendations, but much of the management is split between the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, depending on the location, in Alaska — and to a Canadian subcommittee and management entities for Yukon Territory. Young said the new body would include one member for each village along the river. Those are the people dependent on the river, and most affected by the declining king runs there, he said. Naneng said he supported giving communities along the Yukon more of a say in how that river is managed. Such a change would likely result in better buy-in from villages when there is a conservation concern, he said. People who live along the river year-round could also add observation and environmental impacts to the discussion that are not considered by seasonal fishery workers, Naneng said. In 2012, AVCP developed a resolution creating the Yukon River Inter-tribal Fisheries Commissions that would include representatives from all Yukon communities. In 2013, AFN passed a resolution asking those involved in Yukon River management to fully recognize and work with the fisheries commissions. AFN also called for the State of Alaska to provide funding for the commissions, and share scientific and historic data.

Debut of new seafood products planned at annual gala

Eleven new seafood products from seven companies will be showcased at the upcoming Symphony of Seafood galas in Seattle and Anchorage. In its 21 years the event has introduced and promoted hundreds of new Alaska seafood items to the marketplace. “Developing new products is really hard,” said Julie Decker, new executive director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, which hosts the event. (Decker replaces Jim Browning, who retired.) “It costs a lot of money, takes a lot of time and attention, and sometimes the products are wonderful and sometimes they are not. So this event really helps companies determine how the market place is going to receive their product.” Entries always come from major Alaska seafood companies to small “mom and pops.” This year they include beer battered cod, a ready-to-eat grilled pollock fillet, all-natural Keta Salmon Jerky and Little Sammies in a blanket made with salmon franks. On Feb. 5 in Seattle, an expert panel will judge all of the products in three categories: retail, food service and smoked. Winners will be kept secret and announced after a tasting bash at the Anchorage Hilton on Feb. 13. All top entries — plus a grand prize winner selected by voters — receive a trip and booth space at the International Boston Seafood Show in March. Last year’s Grand Prize went to Zesty Grill Sockeye Salmon by Copper River Seafoods; the 2012 big winner was Kylee’s Alaska Salmon Bacon by Tustumena Smokehouse in Soldotna. New life for old fishery Small boat fishermen will have a chance to drop dredges for Weathervane scallops this summer. Starting July 1, state waters of Yakutat, Prince William Sound, Shelikof Strait and Dutch Harbor will be open to any vessel that registers for the fishery before April 1. Only four or five boats have targeted Alaska scallops since the fishery went limited entry 15 years ago, after waves of East Coast boats boosted the number to more than 20. The boats today are usually 70 feet to 80 feet, but 58-footers also have participated, said Wayne Donaldson, state regional shellfish manager at Kodiak. The total Alaska catch is usually half a million pounds of shucked meats. “You need a boat that has enough horse power to pull a scallop dredge along the bottom, and you need enough deck space to haul up the dredge and to sort out the scallops. So we will see how small the boats are that decide to jump into it.” Donaldson added: “Since it is all new we encourage anybody who is thinking of getting into the scallop fishery to give us a call or stop by so we can go over how the regulations are structured.” USA Strong Seafood is by far Alaska’s top export, and a strong U.S. dollar means it will cost more for global customers to buy it. “The dollar is really strengthening against a basket of other currencies because the U.S. economy is doing better than many other places,” said market expert John Sackton of Seafood.com. “So it makes imports of things like farmed shrimp, salmon or tilapia less expensive for the U.S. to buy, and it makes exports from the U.S. more expensive in the host currency, whether it’s Yen or Euro, Canadian or Yuan or whatever.” Each year between 60 to 70 percent of Alaska’s seafood is exported to other countries, and a strengthening dollar will make it slightly harder for Alaska to be competitive, Sackton predicted. “But I would think of it more as a headwind,” he added, “rather than a change in direction.” Aqua Awards National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Sea Grant plans to award $3 million to fund a national competition for marine aquaculture research projects. It is part of the ‘overall plan to support the development of environmentally and economically sustainable ocean, coastal or Great Lakes aquaculture,’ according to the grant website. Institutions of higher education, nonprofit and commercial organizations, state, local and tribal governments and individuals are eligible. Topical priorities for the fiscal year 2014 include research to inform about pending regulatory decisions, informational outreach tools, social and/or economic research to understand aquaculture issues and impacts in a larger context. Pre-proposals must be received via email to the National Sea Grant Office by 5 p.m. eastern time on Feb. 21. Tune in to fish meetings The North Pacific Fishery Management Council meets Feb. 3-10 at the Renaissance Hotel in Seattle. The meeting will be broadcast at npfmc.webex.com. The agenda will be continually updated with the associated documents.  The state Board of Fisheries is meeting through Feb. 13 at the Egan Center in Anchorage. The agenda includes 236 proposals directed at Upper Cook Inlet finfish fisheries. Those meetings also are available as they happen on the web. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishfactor.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Board adopts further restrictions to Cook Inlet setnet fishery

Emotions ran high Feb. 5 as the Alaska Board of Fisheries deliberated a board-member generated proposal that outlined a new plan to pair restrictions between commercial setnet fishermen and in-river fishers who harvest the struggling Kenai River king salmon stock. As it became clear during deliberations that the board would be making substantive changes to the way the commercial setnet fisheries occur in July and August, more members of the group stood and moved away from the board to the back of the hall leaving the vast majority of the audience seats empty.   The restrictions to the commercial setnet fishery, if fully actuated, could result in a 50 percent reduction in effort causing an unknown reduction in sockeye harvest — the salmon species primarily targeted by the group. The language amends the Kenai River Late-Run King Salmon Management Plan to include “step-down measures” that board members said were meant to be paired with step-down measures in the in-river fishery when king salmon stocks are returning in low numbers. According to the new plan, from July 1 to July 31, if the in-river return is projected to be fewer than 22,500 fish — the midpoint of the current escapement goal range of 15,000 to 30,000 king salmon — the Alaska Department of Fish and Game may limit the sportfishery to no bait, or catch-and-release fishing and the East Side setnet fishery will be capped at 36 hours per week. Under the plan, if the in-river fishery is restricted to catch and release, setnetters will be limited to only one 12-hour period per week rather than the two regular 12-hour periods. The 2014 preseason forecast for Upper Cook Inlet sockeye salmon is estimated at 6.1 million fish across all rivers and streams, with 1.8 million needed for escapement leaving 4.3 million available for harvest, or about 500,000 more fish than the 20-year average. Under the old plan and if the 2014 forecast materialized, setnetters would have had up to 74 hours per week available to fish a sockeye run of that size. The plan also includes setnet gear reduction options that include potential limits on the number or size of the nets in the water. When the fishery transitions into Aug. 1 — the date the Kenai River Late-Run King Salmon Management Plan ceases to apply — the projected escapement of king salmon into the Kenai River must be more than 22,500 fish or commercial set gillnet fishers will be restricted to 36 hours total for the two-week period. Tom Kluberton, board member from Talkeetna, said he submitted the proposed changes after years of discussion with fishers who have been struggling to find a balance in harvest of abundant sockeye salmon when king salmon stocks are limited. The move could allocate several hundred thousand sockeye out of the commercial fishery in order to limit the group’s harvest of king salmon. “This is allocative. That’s our job,” said Board of Fisheries Chairman Karl Johnstone. Kluberton said the allocation was an unavoidable consequence of protecting the vulnerable Kenai River king salmon stock. “We’re being asked to turn a blind eye to kings and we just can’t do that,” he said after the meeting. “Our first priority is conservation.” During later testimony, Kluberton reminded the audience several times that ADFG could use emergency order authority to liberalize the setnet fishery. However, Jim Butler, a commercial setnet fisher and representative of the commercial fishing advocacy group the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association, said he did not believe the loss of fishing opportunity was being shared equally between the commercial and in-river users.  “We’ve heard a lot of talk about pairing the burdens of dealing with this perceived conservation problem,” Butler said. “Now what we’ve seen is 50 percent of the opportunity that the East Side setnet fishery has, goes away. There has been nothing in the river that been changed except ‘not-bait.’ There’s been not one less motorboat day, not one less drift boat day, there has been no limitation on the number of hours the commercial guide industry fishes.” Butler said he did not believe ADFG would open the setnet fishery for more hours in August until it reached the in-river return of 22,500 fish. According to the ADFG preseason outlook for the late run of Kenai River king salmon, the total run is expected to be 19,700 fish. “They put another 7,000 fish in the recommended goal for the river in August,” Butler said. “They’ve taken away the department’s management flexibility.” Ricky Gease, executive director of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, a sportfishing advocacy group, said his group supported the board’s changes. “We support what the board did, it’s an important addition to the management plan,” he said. Both Kluberton and board member Reed Morisky from Fairbanks said during deliberations that they supported the gear restriction options available to setnetters and welcomed new data that would come from some fishers using shorter nets. There has been ongoing debate in public testimony and private commentary during the meeting on the lack of consistent data on whether king salmon run lower in the water column than sockeye salmon and could avoid being intercepted if setnetters were to use shallower nets. Kluberton said new rules incentivized the use of shallower nets. Morisky said the king salmon are too important to risk the health of the stock. “What we’re talking about here is the state fish of Alaska. It’s not an arctic grayling, it’s not a chum, it’s the king salmon … it’s our state symbol and we’ve taken it down to next to nothing,” he said. “These salmon have a great capability of springing back. If we manage this right, we could have our runs back and we could be trying to figure out what we’re going to do with a great abundance of kings and reds.”

Local fishing organizations gear up for Cook Inlet meeting

KENAI — With more than 230 regulatory proposals, some several pages worth of suggested changes to the Cook Inlet finfish fisheries, nearly 500 written comments and several hundred pages of Alaska Department of Fish and Game opinions and reports, the seven members of the Alaska Board of Fisheries will have their work cut out for them in the coming two weeks. The board is scheduled to take up Cook Inlet issues from Jan. 31 to Feb. 13 at the Egan Center in Anchorage and several local organizations are gearing up for the triennial meeting that brings many of the area’s ongoing management issues to the forefront of statewide discussions on how to manage fish resources. The first few days of the meeting are scheduled to be taken up primarily by public comment and advisory committee testimony. Representatives from Fish and Game advisory committees, whose bodies spent the weeks leading up to the meeting finalizing comments on each proposal, will present their support and opposition to certain proposals, while individuals can also voice their concerns to the board.  During the Board of Fisheries meeting on Lower Cook Inlet issues held in December, board members said they expected the public comment portion of the Upper Cook Inlet meeting to be substantive. After public testimony, the board will address four proposals on the Upper Cook Inlet salmon management plan including one of 12 submitted by the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, a politically influential Soldotna-based sportfishing and conservation advocacy group. The proposal would require area ADFG managers to prioritize meeting the lower end of an escapement goal on a fish stock over exceeding the upper end of an escapement goal on another fish stock in the same fishery. It attempts to address a problem ADFG management biologists have said causes friction in a mixed-stock fishery like the Cook Inlet. The problem is exacerbated during years that one stock, such as king salmon, is returning in low numbers, while sockeyes are returning in high numbers. Commercial and personal use fishers primarily focus their fishing efforts on sockeye salmon, while sportfishing users focus on king and coho, or silver, salmon; all three user groups harvest several of the five species of Pacific salmon. According to ADFG comments on the proposal, the department is neutral on whether or not the proposal is passed, though it does not advocate for additional regulatory text requiring it to prioritize certain escapement goals over others. “Although it is not stated in regulation, the department has been consistent and clear that achieving the lower end of the escapement goal has the priority over exceeding the upper end of escapement goals,” according to ADFG comments. The board, as a whole, will then discuss 12 proposals on the late run of Kenai River king salmon including one submitted by local commercial fisherman Mark Ducker which would modify the management plan for the late run of Kenai River king salmon to establish an escapement goal of 12,000 to 28,000 king salmon (lower than the current escapement goal range of 15,000 to 30,000), increase emergency order hours available to fish for commercial fishers and delete habitat provisions in the plan. According to Ducker’s explanation, the current king salmon problem is related to an overescapement, or too many fish, into the river from 2003 to 2006 and a lowered goal and liberalization of the commercial and sport fisheries would eliminate the problem. The board will then address 10 proposals on the early-run of Kenai River king salmon, a run that Dwight Kramer, chairman of the Kenai Area Fishermen’s Coalition, said was his organization’s primary concern during the meeting. The coalition, which advocates for private, unguided anglers, submitted a proposal that would close certain areas of the Kenai River during king salmon season to prevent anglers from targeting vulnerable spawning king salmon. According to ADFG sonar data, the early run of Kenai River king salmon did not meet its minimum escapement goal in 2013, meaning too few fish entered the river. While the ADFG managers restricted the river to primarily catch-and-release fishing only and closed it to king salmon fishing on June 20, the final escapement is still estimated at 2,038 fish, far less than the minimum of 5,300 kings for the escapement goal. The coalition is also advocating for an expansion of the slot limit on the size of king salmon that can be kept bringing it down to 42 inches rather than the current 46-inch cutoff. The move is designed to protect female fish, which have smaller heads and therefore fall under the current slot limit. “We harvest more females in our fishery than males for that reason,” Kramer said. “Those females are real vulnerable because they’re right below the 46-inch cutoff.” The group is also supporting a proposal that would limit the Kenai River to drift boat use only for an additional day during the week. Kramer said the low numbers of king salmon returning to the Kenai River needed to be addressed quickly. “We think that (fishing) opportunity is going to have to take a backseat to resource protection during these times of low abundance,” he said. “You have to look out for the resource first and opportunity second, so we’re pushing for more conservation measures.” The board will then discuss 21 proposals on the Kenai king salmon sport fishery including some that would increase the “sanctuary” space at the mouths of tributaries on the river where king salmon are known to spawn, several that would modify the type of bait or hooks allowed in the fishery and one that would require stocking the Kenai River with 50,000 king salmon smolt. Several other proposals would amend management plans for coho and sockeye salmon, areas where commercial drift fishers can fish, open commercial fishing “windows” for longer periods of time, or modify the way commercial fishing permits are regulated. More than half of the public comments were submitted in support of certain proposals submitted by the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, generated through a form on the organization’s website. Ricky Gease, executive director of the sportfishing association, said his organization designed the web form after he got feedback from Board of Fisheries members that they wanted to hear from a diversity of anglers who participated in the fisheries and their perspectives on proposals that would affect those fisheries. “The majority of those comments are from long-term Alaskans who aren’t guides and are people who like to come down here and go fishing,” he said. “We tried to provide a venue or a method which was easier for members of the public to comment on somewhat complex fisheries issues, people that normally don’t get heard in the process.” While the 250 people who used the form to comment were only making decisions to support Kenai River Sportfishing Association proposals, Gease said he thought the perspectives still carried weight in the Board of Fisheries process. “I don’t know if it’s going to be effective or not, all I know is more than half the comments that are on the Board of Fisheries came through that one website of people that we reached out to basically through email and social media and said, is this an important issue to you,” Gease said. “250 people thought it was important enough to go online to at least read through the facts and just say ‘here’s my story’ and ‘consider it when you make decisions.’”

Setnet opponents file appeal; Begich, Murkowski on Pebble

A measure aimed at banning salmon setnetting is being held afloat by backers. The ban includes the Anchorage area, much of the Kenai Peninsula, Valdez and Juneau. It would completely eliminate Cook Inlet setnetters and affect roughly 500 fishing families in all. Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell decided two weeks ago (Jan. 6) to not allow the question to go before Alaska voters as a ballot initiative in 2016. The newly formed Kenai-based Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance followed up with an appeal filed in Alaska Superior Court. “In a measure based on conservation and Alaska law, our organization will challenge the decision to disallow our proposed statewide commercial set net ban in the urban, non-subsistence regions of Alaska from going to the state voters,” AFCA Director Clark Penney said at a press conference.  Alliance legal counsel Matt Singer called the legal opinion “incorrect.” “The decision by the Lt. Governor and the opinion by the Attorney General upon which it was based is wrong. They are wrong on the law,” Singer said. “The decision, should it stand, will set a dangerous precedent for Alaska.” The setnet ban is being driven primarily by the dwindling number of king salmon returning to Cook Inlet, which has curtailed salmon fishing across the board for several years. Removing setnetters would likely shift more fish to sport anglers and the drift fleet targeting sockeyes. Treadwell ruled it amounts to fish allocation decisions, which cannot be made through a voter initiative. The Alliance insists, however, that it is a conservation measure. Treadwell urged all users to find solutions, and to let decisions be made by the State Board of Fisheries. But Matt Singer countered that AFCA has no confidence in the board. “The board has not conserved kings, and the voters have a right to express their will,” he asserted. Cook Inlet sport fishermen would not oppose restrictions in the name of king conservation, said AFCA President Joe Connors. Alliance founder and sport fish icon Bob Penney said he recognizes the importance of commercial fishing in Alaska, but alleged that setnets have the “highest bycatch” of any fishing in state waters. Penney called setnets an “inappropriate gear” when king salmon numbers were steadily dwindling. “You don’t wait till the kings are gone to say we should have done something,” Penney said. “Now is the time to protect the fish. Conservation of the fish comes first.” The setnet ban is widely opposed by other Alaska fishing groups and the city and borough of Kenai. The Alliance hopes to fast track the setnet ban case, Singer said, so that a decision is made in the next few months. Pebble point/counterpoint Reactions last week by Alaska’s U.S. senators differed widely to the Environmental Protection Agency’s conclusion that the Pebble Mine would be “devastating” to the Bristol Bay salmon fishery and Native culture. That sets the stage for the agency to use its authority under the Clean Water Act to permanently ban mining in the region. Sen. Lisa Murkowski was critical of what she terms a ‘pre-emptive’ veto and not following a clear process. “I had expressed concern about an effort to prejudge where there has not been a plan that is clearly delineated, permit applications have not been made and the required analysis completed,” she said in a phone conversation. “The project is not located on federal lands, it’s on state lands and you have a federal agency weighing in ahead of such time as there has been a clear project outlined.” The EPA weighed in at the request of more than a dozen Alaska Native tribes in the Southwest region. Sen. Mark Begich had a different stance, calling Pebble “the wrong mine in the wrong place.”  The “science” drove his decision, Begich said, and a visit to Red Dog, an open pit zinc mine near Kotzebue that he supports, reinforced it. “In my view, that specific type of mine could devastate the long term subsistence, commercial and recreational fisheries, and I felt it was not worth trading off a nonrenewable resource for a renewable resource,” Begich said.   Acoustic comments extended In a quick, NOAA Fisheries has agreed to a 45-day extension for comments on its draft study of how man made noises affect marine mammals. The deadline was set for Jan. 27 but extended to March 13 at the urging of Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who was irate when the agency put out its notice during the holidays and few people were aware of it. The “Draft Guidance for Assessing the Effects of Anthropogenic [manmade] Sound on Marine Mammals” will be used by federal agencies and other stakeholders to predict a marine mammal’s response to sounds exposure from activities including construction, shipping, resource development and military operations. Fish watch Alaska’s share of this year’s halibut catch will be just less than 20 million pounds, down about 11 percent from 2013. Southeast Alaska was the only region where the catch limit increased, topping 4 million pounds (between commercial and charter fishermen). The halibut fishery will run from March 8 to Nov. 7 Alaska’s pollock fisheries began on Jan. 20 in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska. The Bering Sea catch will be nearly 3 billion pounds this year; another four million pounds will come from the Gulf, up nearly 45 percent from last year. Trawlers also are targeting cod and various flat fish in both regions. The Bering Sea snow crab catch has topped 30 percent of the 48.5 million pound harvest limit. Crabbers also are targeting Tanner crab and golden kings along the Aleutians. Southeast crabbers will drop pots for Tanners and goldens in early February. Fish bucks give back American Seafoods Company is again calling for applications for its Community Grants program. A total of $30,000 will be given to projects addressing issues of hunger, housing, safety, education, research, natural resources and cultural activities. The majority of grant awards range from $500 to $3,000.

Northern District issues also on tap for Board of Fisheries

Kenai Peninsula issues won’t be the only decisions before the Alaska Board of Fisheries as it considers the Northern District during its two-week Upper Cook Inlet meeting that began Jan. 31. Northern District streams primarily flow through the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, and that area contains the majority of the state salmon listed as stocks of concern. The source of the Mat-Su salmon woes is unknown, with some blaming interception by commercial fishermen in the Inlet, others blaming habitat issues, and still others asserting that the problem lies farther out in the ocean. The borough, and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, or ADFG, have worked to better understand salmon runs in the region and improve certain components of the habitat over the past several years, and fishing by all users has been restricted at some point. Proposals submitted for the upcoming meeting address what the board can change in regards to those hypotheses — primarily fishing effort and escapement goals. Much of the Northern District discussion will come up in Committee D, which is tentatively expected to be discussed in committee Feb. 10, with decisions made Feb. 11-13. Petersburg’s John Jensen will chair that committee, with Reed Morisky, from Fairbanks, and Talkeetna’s Tom Kluberton also participating. Members of the public will join them for the discussion. Northern District proposals will also come up elsewhere in the meeting. The Matanuska-Susitna Borough’s Fish and Wildlife Commission has asked the board to create more escapement goals for area waterways, and also wants to change commercial fishing regulations farther south. Some of the escapement goals were also proposed by the local advisory committee. Jim Colver, a Mat-Su Borough assembly member and vice chair of the fish and wildlife commission, said use of the expanded Kasilof and Kenai drift corridors, rather than fishing in the middle of the Inlet, or Area 1, would mean less interception of Northern District salmon. Colver said that would give the fish a chance to swim north. Fishing those corridors is less efficient, however, and drift fishermen generally oppose expanding their use. Eventually, Colver said he’d like to see the Upper Cook Inlet management shift to more closely mirror Bristol Bay, where commercial fishermen target specific runs. That would require a better understanding of where fish are headed as they swim through the Inlet. Some genetic and migration studies have been done, including a 2013 tagging effort, but more is needed to have a complete picture of what fish are where. Additional escapement goals could help managers understand what is needed to ensure future returns in the area, Colver said. “How do we quantify, manage the fishery, without having those goals?” Colver said. Colver said the commission also doesn’t support the efforts to limit personal use fishing, or restrict in-river users. “From a standpoint of a lifetime Alaskan resident, and representing the people in my assembly district, Alaskans like to go fish,” Colver said. Ideally, he’d like to ensure that all users had the opportunity to fish — commercial, and not just sport, he said. The borough assembly also passed three resolutions weighing on the upcoming board meeting, which are similar to the commission’s priorities. Those ask the board to conserve Northern District salmon by implementing regulations restricting the the drift fleet to the expanded Kenai and Kasilof sections, oppose regulations that would reduce personal use fishing, and support establishing escapement goals. Commercial fishermen, however, aren’t convinced that the Mat-Su stakeholders have proposed the right solutions. United Cook Inlet Drift Association Executive Director Roland Maw said that some Northern District salmon runs are stronger than users have acknowledged. UCIDA has suggested that efforts to improve Northern District runs should focus on what can be controlled in that area, like habitat. The organization has also submitted proposals that would limit in-river catches of some Northern District stocks. Maw also pointed to northern pike as a major problem — and one that isn’t related to the commercial catch. Generally, his organization doesn’t want to see their fishing time or area changed. “Restricting us has not solved a single problem for those folks in the Valley,” he said. Maw said the numbers of fish bound for the Northern District aren’t substantially different inside and outside the expanded corridors around the Kenai and Kasilof, and the fish don’t seem to separate themselves enough to allow the drift fleet to target one stock in a particular area. That means that Bristol Bay-style management likely isn’t a realistic goal for the region, he said. Maw also said UCIDA doesn’t support all of the new escapement goals being proposed, but would be interested in hearing from ADFG about establishing some goals for index stocks for the Northern District. In a letter submitted as public comment, residents of Nikolaevsk also weighed in, asking for fewer restrictions in the drift management plans. The letter asks that the board reconsider Yentna-related concerns. According to reports submitted by the Upper Cook Inlet Drift Association, salmon returning to that river have been significantly undercounted. The Nikolaevsk residents noted that they have a strong dependence on commercial fishing for their livelihood. The fishermen also asked that the board consider that pressure on the salmon resource has increased from Anchorage and Mat-Su residents, but that the drift fleet is limited in entry and has not changed. The Nikolaevsk letter was just one of many submitted as official public comment to the board about Northern District issues. Sen. Mike Dunleavy also wrote the board echoing many of the Mat-Su commission’s ideas — and noting that he serves on the finance budget subcommittee on Fish and Game, and will be aggressive in supporting his district. His top goal, he wrote, was establishing a priority that meeting the bottom end of escapement goals is more important than worrying about exceeding the top end. Dunleavy also asked for more escapement goals, further restrictions for the drift fleet and enhanced personal use fishing opportunity. He also asked that legislators receive additional time after the end of the session to make proposals to the board. Molly Dischner can be reached at [email protected]

Final action scheduled to define fishing guide, close loopholes

The definition of a fishing guide, Bering Sea halibut bycatch, tendering in the Gulf of Alaska and grenadier management will top the North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s February agenda. The council will meet in Seattle Feb. 5 to 11. Final action to define a fishing guide is scheduled, an action that could streamline state and federal definitions and make management and enforcement in the charter halibut fishery clearer. The council has options related to the definition, including each of the terms involved — compensation and assistance. Another option is that guide services could be rendered from a different vessel. The need for a definition came up because of concerns that guide operators were skirting the regulations by helping clients from a different boat or otherwise finding loopholes. The daily bag limit for an unguided angler is two fish of any size, while guided anglers are held to stricter bag and size limits. Fishermen have said, however, that defining guide operations differently could result in more catch being attributed to the guided sector. The council will also review a proposal that would allow charter operators to access a pool of extra fish. The newly created catch sharing plan included a provision for operators to lease fish for their clients from commercial fishermen. The proposal, which came from stakeholders, would allow multiple operators to share a pool of leased fish. The council will also review a discussion paper on halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea commercial fisheries. This is the first year halibut bycatch caps are being phased in for Gulf of Alaska fishermen, and the council could pursue a similar action for the Bering Sea. In Seattle, the council will hear a report on halibut bycatch, which was prepared by Northern Economics. No alternatives for action have been identified or analyzed yet, and the paper generally looks at the bycatch for various fisheries. Observer discussion continues The restructured marine observer program implemented by the National Marine Fisheries Service in 2013 will also be discussed. The council will hear an update on the structure of the annual report, scheduled for June, and hear about efforts to study electronic monitoring and see how cameras might replace human observers in certain situations. In 2013, an issue with vessels avoiding observer coverage, or behaving differently when observed and unobserved, arose. Changing that, however, could require a regulatory amendment. At the February meeting, the council will review a discussion paper about possible regulatory amendments to help solve issues in the observer program. The council will also talk about a related tendering issue in the Gulf of Alaska. Vessels targeting pollock and Pacific cod appear to have increased their use of tenders under the new observer program. If a vessel is not randomly selected for an observer, it can continuously deliver to a tender while counting the fishing as a single trip, and thus avoid coverage for weeks or an entire season. Tendered deliveries are also not observed, and according to the discussion paper: “Catch delivered to a tender vessel makes it more difficult both to project catch rates, to get information on deliveries in a timely way, and to precisely manage Chinook salmon prohibited species catch limits.” The tendering issue could also require a regulatory amendment to address. In addition to council’s discussions, a Community Fishing Association workshop will be held Feb. 10 to discuss rationalization programs. The workshop will bring together fisheries stakeholders from other regions to discuss how to protect fishing-dependent communities in rationalization programs. That’s being held with an eye toward the Gulf of Alaska, where the council is considering bycatch management measures including a catch share program that would slow down fisheries by allocating harvest privileges to certain participants based on their history in the fishery. Representatives from Kodiak and other coastal communities have asked the council to consider allocating certain quota to the communities to protect them from the changes, particularly consolidation, that rationalization often brings. Grenediers action Grenadiers are not currently managed, meaning there are no catch limits or required monitoring, and the council’s scheduled final action could amend the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska fishery management plans to add the fish. The analysis looks at three species of grenadiers. Typically, they are found between 600 and 3,000 feet deep, and previous attempts to develop a fishery for them have been unsuccessful, because the fish has a soft texture, is very moist, and is low in protein content. The council’s preliminary preferred action is to add grenadiers to the management plan as an ecosystem component species. That means fishermen would have to report any grenadiers caught, directed fishing could not occur, and the council would need to set a maximum retainable amount, or MRA, for the species. Other possible actions include adding grenadiers to the management plan as “in the fishery” meaning that total allowable catches would be set each year.

Halibut harvests cut for 10th straight season

SEATTLE — Halibut fishermen will see another year of cuts under catch limits adopted Jan. 17 at the International Pacific Halibut Commission’s annual meeting. Alaska’s portion of the 2014 catch is about 19.7 million pounds, out of a coastwide catch of 27.5 million pounds. The coastwide catch is about 10 percent less than 2013, marking 10 consecutive years of cuts. The 2013 limit was about 31.02 million pounds coastwide, and 23 million pounds in Alaska. The commission, or IPHC, met in Seattle Jan. 13-17 to set the catch limits from Northern California to the Bering Sea and discuss other issues in the Pacific halibut fishery. The six-member body is comprised of three representatives from America and three from Canada, and regulates halibut under the Pacific Halibut Treaty signed in 1923. By regulatory area, the 2014 catch limits are as follows: • 2A (Northern California-Washington): 960,000 pounds down from 990,000 pounds in 2013 • 2B (Canada): 6.85 million pounds, down from 7.04 million pounds in 2013 • 2C (Southeast Alaska): 4.16 million pounds, up from 2.97 million pounds in 2013 • 3A (Southcentral Alaska): 9.43 million pounds, down from 11.03 million pounds in 2013 • 3B (Western Gulf of Alaska): 2.84 million pounds, down from 4.29 million pounds in 2013 • 4A (Alaska Peninsula): 850,000 pounds, down from 1.33 million pounds in 2013 • 4B (Aleutian Islands): 1.14 million pounds, down from 1.45 million pounds in 2013 • 4CDE (Bering Sea): 1.285 million pounds, down from 1.93 million pounds in 2013 The limits all passed unanimously. 2014 will be the first year charter and commercial fishermen operate under a combined catch limit in Areas 2C and 3A, so the catch limits do not present as clear of a comparison for those areas. The commercial catch for Area 3A is 7.317 million pounds. Guided recreational fishermen will be limited to 1.782 million pounds, including wastage, in that area. For 2C, fishermen will see only a slightly increased catch compared to 2014, despite the 1.45 million pound catch limit increase. The commercial portion of the catch is 3.3 million pounds, while the charter catch will be 761,280 pounds. Although the conference board, which is the advisory body that represents harvesters, had advocated for higher limits, some Alaska fishermen said they were happy to see the commission take a conservation-minded approach. “While it’s economically painful in the short term, I’m glad to see that the commission took most of the recommended cuts,” said Homer fisherman Malcolm Milne, from the North Pacific Fisheries Association. “This will hopefully put us at the bottom and we can start rebuilding.” The cuts are the result of declining exploitable halibut biomass, although the IPHC’s quantitative scientist, Ian Stewart, said it appeared that the stock was leveling out. The cuts come at a time when halibut prices are low, and the overall value of the fishery has declined, which makes them particularly hard for fishermen. Last year, halibut prices started low. The average ex-vessel price for the opening period of the season, which ended March 31, was $3.78 averaged across all Alaska landing ports. By the final period, which ended Nov. 30, the price averaged across all ports was $5.05. Those prices are based on the information NOAA Fisheries uses to calculate the cost recovery bills it sends to fishermen each year. Those were down from 2012, when the March average for all areas was $6.29, and the final price in November for all areas was $5.66 per pound. According to the same estimates, the dockside value of the 2013 fishery was $105 million, about $32 million less than the 2012 value. Alaska fishermen also left some fish in the water last year, taking about 96 percent of the individual fishing quota, or IFQ, catch in 2013. IFQ holders are allowed to roll as much as 10 percent of their quota into the following year. This year, the halibut season will run from March 8 to Nov. 7 for the commercial IFQ fisheries. That’s shorter than the season the Conference Board recommended, but longer than the Processor Advisory Group had requested. The CB suggested March 8 to Nov. 15. The PAG recommended the season run from March 22 to Oct. 31. Those dates would allow some sales of halibut already in the freezer before the season opened, and end with plenty of time to market halibut before American Thanksgiving. The later start date was also meant to allow processors to go to the Boston Seafood Show before the season began, according to PAG Chair Tom McLaughlin. The commission, however, selected the middle length, noting that it did want to get the fishery closed before the conflict with Thanksgiving marketing began. Overall, the total 2014 limit is slightly higher than the blue line preliminary estimate released in December that couples the IPHC’s harvest policy with the current stock status. Commissioners noted, however, that the final limit was within the range presented by IPHC staff in its decision table. Much of the Alaska limit matched the blue line paired with apportionment policy, although Bering Sea fishermen saw a slight adjustment upward. Coastal Villages Region Fund, or CVRF, and Central Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association, or CBSFA, advocated for higher limits in the most northern halibut fisheries. CVRF is the Community Development Quota group for 20 villages in the Kuskokwim delta. CBSFA is the CDQ group for the village of St. Paul. Those CDQ groups pointed to a regional dependence on halibut for their economy as a reason more quota was needed, and individual fishermen submitted comments and testified in person supporting that position. The commission chose a smaller limit than was requested, but one that was higher than the blue line. New American commissioner Bob Alverson of Seattle, who made the motion for the 4B catch limit, said it was a way to stair step in the cuts that would have resulted from implementing the blue line. American Don Lane of Homer, the other new member of the commission, made the motion for the 4CDE catch limit, and echoed those comments. Lane said the limit reflected the need for a precautionary approach to protect the halibut, while also providing some fishing opportunity in the region. CBSFA CEO Jeff Kauffman said his group was glad for the increase over the blue line. “I think the solution is probably the fairest,” he said after the decision was made. “This halibut is really, really important to us.” Fishermen in Area 2A and 2B also received upward adjustments. In Area 2A, which includes northern California, Oregon and Washington, Alverson made the motion for the limit, and said the increase was partially reflective of a strong catch per unit effort in the area. In that area, there is strong accountability for the catch by the coastal states and treaty nations that manage fishing, and the trawl rationalization has reduced halibut catch as well, Alverson said. For Area 2B, the limit was reflective of issues in the stock, but also the fact that British Columbia does not have the same level of bycatch as the Alaska fisheries. Canadian Commissioner Paul Ryall made the motion for that limit, noting that the situation in B.C. is similar to the Area 2A fisheries in terms of observer coverage and accountability. Lane and Alverson were appointed to the commission in January, joining Jim Balsiger, who heads the National Marine Fisheries Service in Alaska as the American representation. Lane and Balsiger had indicated before the decision was made that they supported the preliminary estimate, and trying to give the stock an opportunity to rebuild. Although the coastwide catch is slightly higher than the estimate, it is lower than the 2013 catch. Alverson said the cuts weren’t surprising, and are necessary for the stock. “I knew going in that the resource is in trouble, and I knew that some tough decisions had to be made,” he said after the meeting ended Jan. 17. Molly Dischner can be reached at [email protected]

Treadwell to leverage Arctic expertise in Senate contest

Good science should drive all fisheries decisions, and Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell says he has the chops to maintain a true course. Treadwell, a Republican who hopes to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Begich in November’s election, paid a recent visit to Kodiak and “talked fish” in a brief interview. Few can claim Treadwell’s experience and understanding of the Arctic, where he has represented Alaska on U.S. Delegations in three circumpolar government groups, and been a director of the Institute of the North. He said he “doesn’t expect any major fisheries there anytime soon.” Treadwell called ocean acidification one of the “most pressing effects” of climate change, and “one of the toughest things to adapt to.” The solutions, he believes, lie in better technology. “I have always supported trying to make our energy cleaner,” he said, pointing to potential in CO2 sequestration technology and use of hydrogen vehicles. “I believe we can and must be a proving ground for some of these new technologies.” Treadwell added that he always has been a “tireless advocate for our oceans.” “But you are not going to find me, as a responsible official from a state known for three things:  cold, dark, distance — and where people are already paying too much for energy, trying to raise their energy prices,” he said. Treadwell has played a leading role in the launch of nearly every Alaska research center from Ketchikan to Barrow; he is a past director of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, served as Cordova’s director of oil spill response after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, and was a founder of the Prince William Sound Science Center. “I would come to the Senate with that background,” he said. “I am probably one of the most scientifically savvy people to have ever served.” On the fisheries side, Treadwell believes “knowledge is power.” He said his entire career has focused on “commons management” of resources, starting with his first job in Alaska as an intern to Wally Hickel when he unsuccessfully ran for governor in 1974.  Treadwell helped Hickel pen his position on the 200-mile limit, and he later wrote his graduate thesis at Yale on the limit’s history going back to 1937.    “I also am no stranger to the senior fisheries managers in this country. I have been part of the fight to get CDQs (Community Development Quotas) — and I will be there fighting with knowledge even if I don’t have seniority,” he said. Treadwell said he is “passionate” about protecting the livelihoods of fishermen and coastal communities.   “I think of our fishermen as some of the last free people on earth and I want to make sure we maintain that freedom,” he said. “To do that, it takes three things: make sure the biology is sustained, make sure any program works economically and you don’t drive the fishermen out of business, and make sure there is equity so that you keep fishing families fishing. My motto to any young person is ‘never leave your government alone,’” the Senate hopeful added. “If you do, they will get their own ideas and they are not always useful to you.”  Comment deadline flub No one appears to know that a deadline to have a say on how man-made sounds affect marine mammals is Jan. 27. Two days after Christmas, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, released its “Draft Guidance for Assessing the Effects of Anthropogenic (man made) Sound on Marine Mammals,” which seeks to improve understanding of acoustical impacts on the animals. Sen. Lisa Murkowski was irate at NOAA’s untimely “holiday surprise” in announcing the opportunity for the public to comment.  “This is a national issue, but when you think about Alaska, it is something that has the potential to affect our coastal communities, the maritime sector, the transit of all of our goods, the fishing industry, oil and gas — basically anyone who is out on the water,” Murkowski said in a phone interview. “It will include the noises of seismic activity from exploratory depth soundings, or driving piles to expand a dock at the Port of Anchorage or a coastal community.”   Specifically, the “guidance assessments” identify the thresholds above which marine mammals are predicted to experience changes in their hearing sensitivity from all underwater manmade sound sources. The document outlines NOAA’s updated acoustic threshold levels, describes how they were developed and how they will be updated in the future. It is the first time NOAA has presented this information in a single document. Murkowski has urged NOAA to allow an extra 60 days for the public to become more familiar with the draft report and comment. “If you are going to have good process and get meaningful feedback on such a complex issue, you have to allow for time to weigh in. We really need to have an extension,” she said, adding that she has yet to hear back from the agency. More information is available at http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/acoustics/guidelines.htm. Salmon permits soar The value of Alaska salmon permits are soaring in many fisheries. At Bristol Bay drift gillnet permits are being offered at $140,000, compared to $90,000 at the same time last year. A scan of listings by four brokers shows that Prince William Sound seine cards are more than $200,000 — they were in the $140,000 range a year ago. The Sound’s driftnet permits also are selling at more than $200,000. Southeast Alaska seine permits are the priciest at $320,000, up from $250,000 last January. Kodiak seine values continued an upward creep to $50,000 compared to $36,000 on average. Chignik permits are listed in the $225,000 range. At Area M on the Alaska Peninsula drift cards were at $90,000 and seine cards at $65,000, down slightly. Cook Inlet drift permits are being offered at $85,000 or higher, which is $10,000 more than a year ago. Cook Inlet seine cards are listed in the  $65,000 range and setnets at $16,000. Cook Inlet will be the focus of the Board of Fisheries when it takes up 235 proposals at its meeting later this month. Fishery managers have provided a list of frequently asked questions, or FAQs, about managing king salmon on the Kenai River in advance of the meeting. It uses the 2013 season to explain escapement policies, how salmon are counted, king salmon research and more. The Fish Board meets Jan. 31 to Feb. 13 at the Egan Center in Anchorage. Sessions will be webcast. Find a link to the FAQs at www.alaskafishradio.com. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Busan seafood expo a showcase for byproduct innovation

BUSAN, South Korea — In this seafood-loving country, where annual per capita consumption is more than eight times that of falling United States levels, fish isn’t just for breakfast, lunch and dinner anymore. With substantial government research support, Korean companies lead the Western Pacific region in development of vitamin supplements, snack foods, makeup and other often high-priced products from fish bones, skin and other byproducts commonly ground into meal by U.S. producers. Products on display in the “marine bio-tech zone” at the 11th annual Busan International Seafood & Fisheries Exposition, here Nov. 21-23, 2013, included $170 gift sets of lotions, creams and other beauty products made from collagen, a protein extracted from scales of many finfish species and the cartilage of skates, among other sources. Other innovations threaten the markets of traditional Alaska and other seafood products. Yeongsan exhibited in Busan entirely imitation salmon roe and sturgeon caviar. Both are manufactured from sodium alginate, a carbohydrate extracted from seaweed (per capita seaweed consumption in South Korea is 27 pounds per year). Both products look nearly identical to the real fish eggs but, like “all natural” flavoring in many foods, are test tube creations including calcium chloride, Carboxymethyl cellulose and squid ink, according to posters displayed at the Yeongsan expo booth. The imitation salmon roe contains a small percentage of salmon to provide aroma, Kim said. It is more chewy, and doesn’t pop when bitten like real fish eggs, this reporter found. At less than $20 and $4, respectively, for 120-gram jars of the sturgeon and salmon substitutes, Kim said the products are sold in North America through a Canadian distributor to Korean communities in Los Angeles and elsewhere. Any volume of product is available on demand. “Juice” from sea squirts, a relative of tunicate species that have infested and smothered other marine life in Sitka harbors, are distilled into vitamin supplement powders and sold in individual potion packets ready to be mixed with water. Chitons, a tiny shellfish, are the basic ingredient in all natural, non-polluting skin, food and kitchen cleaning products. Innovations are driven by economic necessity and the simple desire to make a lot of money. Danny Kim said his suburban Busan-based Haeser Products Co. developed sea cucumber soap as a new use for excess raw material. That was after sales of 100 percent dried sea cucumbers — a luxury gift food available at $500 per pound — fell in a South Korean economy still recovering from what is widely viewed here as the U.S.-caused economic crash. The amber-colored soap sells for just more than $13 per cake at duty free gift shops in Korean, Canadian and U.S. airports and the five-star Walkerhill Hotel in Seoul. After producing fillets and tails from monkfish, a white fish popular in French cuisine as a substitute for lobster, CNFC Zhoushan Marine Fisheries Corp. now turns out $2.40 jars of air-dried, fried, seasoned monkfish bones. George Tsai, international trading manager for the company, talked about the product as he distributed sample packets at the China Fisheries Expo in November. Resembling Frito-Lay barbecue corn chips in color, crunchability and taste, the dried bones are sold in China and exported to Russia, according to Tsai. “We have found kind of a niche market for this,” he said. In Busan, Dr. Dong-Goong Choi, senior researcher at the Gyeongbuk Institute for Marine Bioindustry, said his staff of 10 Ph.D.s each manages up to three projects accepted by the provincial research center from Korean entrepreneurs. As often as not, the projects come from Korean university professors who are free to commercialize potentially profitable discoveries found in the course of research conducted with academic “slave labor” of grad students. The province covers as much as 80 percent of upfront research and development costs for five to seven years, based on project progress, with a general understanding that some level of direct reimbursement or profit sharing will follow a product that becomes commercially viable. South Korea’s business development/government relationship exists in a loosey-goosey format protected within the country’s rigid traditionalism. It makes the revolving doors of official/lobbyist Washington, D.C., look positively rigid by comparison and produces occasional national political influence-peddling scandals like the appearance of red tides in Alaska. Giant “chaebols,” or multi-national business conglomerates, like Samsung, enjoy near monopolistic market control in the country with substantial public support. Fast food giant McDonald’s is out-sold in only two countries where it operates. Those are the Philippines and Korea, where Lotteria, the quick service restaurant subsidiary of chaebol Lotte Co. Ltd. offers squid, shrimp or beef burgers and fries at outlets found next to most McDonald’s outlets here. Choi said Gyeongbuk Institute’s acceptance of projects “comes down to capitalization.” Entrepreneurs must present business plans and demonstrate the financial ability to begin commercial production if research proves up their proposition. But he acknowledged that pre-R&D cost estimates are uncertain. “They just don’t know how much it’s going to cost at the beginning ... They are starting to see issues there,” Choi said through an interpreter. Most proposals demonstrate their realistic potential, allowing for continuing research, in six months to a year, Choi said. Gyeongbuk products on display at this year’s Busan expo included “Absolute Water,” a “deep sea” water taken from at least 1,500 meters below the surface and promoted as a high-mineral content drink. Similar products have been exhibited at past Busan expos in 4-ounce cans available at karaoke bars for their throat-soothing ability. The Gyeongbuk product is only available in pharmacies and used to hospitals for patients needing mineral supplements. Asked about a health product name identical to the Swedish vodka, Choi smiled and suggested that it can be mixed with the liquor for a healthier beverage. Other products claim to offer more direct and practical health benefits. South Korea’s business environment is a hard-drinking world where a host is obliged to match a visiting business partner’s after hours proclivity cup-for-cup and get them safely back to their hotel in the wee hours. Toward that end Simhaero Co. exhibited “Kan Pun An In Sang,” or “Comfortable Liver Life,” and Sok Pun An In Sang,” for stomach health. Both products, made from fermented seaweed and available at less than $5 per packet are available in Russia and China as well as Korea. Yeongsan Skate Co., producer of the high-ticket makeup and skin care gift sets, also offers a collagen body wash that principle researcher Sang-Ho Kim said lowers blood pressure and reduces cancer cell growth. Those properties, awaiting confirmation from ongoing Korean university testing expected to be concluded early in 2014, also make it dangerous for pregnant women because it also suppresses fetus development. Bob Tkacz is a correspondent for the Journal based in Juneau. He can be reached at [email protected]

Halibut commission tackles management, research issues

SEATTLE — In addition to setting the 2014 catch limits, the International Pacific Halibut Commission discussed other fishery regulations, research and bycatch at its annual meeting. The commission approved the various allocation plans throughout the Pacific, and provided charter management measures for Areas 2C (Southeast Alaska) and 3A (central Gulf of Alaska) based on recommendations from the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. Guided anglers will be limited to two fish when fishing out of Southcentral ports this summer, with the second fish limited to 29 inches or smaller in length. Charter vessels will also make only one trip per day. That’s stricter than last year, when there was no limit on the size of the second fish and vessels could make multiple trips in a day. The daily limit mostly affects operators on the Kenai Peninsula, where multiple trips are most common. The carcass of a filleted fish must also be retained on charter vessels now, because the size is limited. For Southeast Alaska, guided anglers can keep one fish per day, and it will again be under a reverse slot limit: the fish must be 44 inches or shorter, or 76 inches or longer. That’s more restrictive than the 2013 management measures were, due to the decreased catch. “Clearly, the commission took a conservative approach in the interests of the long-term health of the resource,” wrote SouthEast Alaska Guides Organizaton Executive Director Heath Hilyard in a statement. “We had hoped there might a modest upward adjustment over the blue line sufficient to help us return to the lower slot of 45 inches. However, as conscientious participants in the halibut fishery, we certainly understand the commission’s reasoning for adopting the numbers they did. Ultimately, the most important thing is the health and future of the resource.” The commission gave the North Pacific council the green light to develop regulations that could allow halibut caught incidentally in the directed sablefish fishery to be retained in Area 4A. That’s far from a done deal yet. The council still must go through its regular process to initiate and analyze a regulatory amendment. But the commission’s action allows it to do so — pots are not typically an allowable gear type for catching halibut. Homer’s Don Lane, a new commissioner, said the action was a good way to start addressing bycatch, but noted that the action specifically intended for the retention to be the result of incidental catch, and that the commission didn’t want to encourage a pot fishery for halibut in the area. The commission also had a report from its bycatch working group. This year, the report is expected to be finalized, with any recommendations to be discussed further as part of developing a bycatch strategy. No immediate bycatch changes are planned. Canadian Commissioner Michael Pearson talked about the need for national accountability, and said essentially it could be a way of having Alaska handle its bycatch much the way Areas 2A (Northern California) and 2B (British Columbia) have. In those areas, there is less bycatch and more of the total halibut mortality is accounted for. In Alaska, however, the total removals included room for 11.4 million pounds of removals outside the directed halibut fishery this year, Pearson noted. More accurate accounting is also needed, he said. “That 11.4 million is a guess,” Pearson said. “We know it’s a guess. It’s a guess because we don’t have enough full information from all regulatory areas about how much bycatch is being taken.” After the meeting ended, American Commissioner Bob Alverson said the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which manages federal fisheries offshore from Alaska, would need to take the lead on addressing halibut bycatch in its waters. Homer Fisherman Malcolm Milne agreed. “I think with this stock level, it’s more important than ever that (the council) takes definitive steps to reduce the bycatch,” Milne said. The council has implemented bycatch reductions in the Gulf of Alaska — with 2014 being the first year of a phased-in 15 percent cut in the bycatch by trawlers and longliners — and in February will discuss Bering Sea halibut bycatch. The 15 percent cut over three years amounts to about 660,000 pounds of halibut. IPHC staff also talked about 2014 research at the meeting. This summer, the IPHC will begin the first portion of a five-year effort to expand its survey efforts and get some additional data about the stock of halibut throughout the Pacific. The new sites for 2014 are in Areas 2A and 4A, with other areas to follow in subsequent years. The goal is to get a better sense of distribution and depth of halibut in each area. The biggest addition would be seen in Area 4B, where 75 to 100 new stations would be included in the 2015 survey. This year, IPHC staff also plans to work on several tasks including commercial catch per unit effort standardization, evaluating fixed catch allocations versus a survey-based biomass apportionment as a function of migration rate, and continue to enhance the ensemble model approach. The commission also discussed its future meetings. Canadian Commissioner Paul Ryall will be the chair for 2014-2015, and the next annual meeting will be held in Vancouver, B.C Jan. 26-30, 2015. The commission is also looking at having the 2014 interim meeting, scheduled for Dec. 2-3, at a commercial facility rather than the IPHC offices, in part to help with the ongoing effort to make the process more open and transparent. Molly Dischner can be reached at [email protected]

Winter fishing seasons begin, snow crab ramps up early

The federal Bering Sea pollock A season opened Jan. 20, marking the start of the largest fishery in the U.S. This year, fishermen in federal waters will have access to 1.267 million metric tons of pollock in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, or BSAI, and 162,351 metric tons in the Gulf of Alaska. Those total allowable catches, or TACs, are an increase compared to 2013, when fishermen had access to 1.247 million tons in the BSAI and 110,272 metric tons in the Gulf. The most recent stock assessments showed stronger pollock recruitment than had been seen in recent years. According to a National Marine Fisheries Service report, the Aleutian Islands portion of the TAC will be reallocated to the Bering Sea. Pollock fishing in the Aleutian Islands has been severely limited in recent years due to Steller sea lion protections. Pollock prices for much of last year were in the low teens in cents per pound, although trawlers in the Gulf successfully asked for more toward the end of the year, getting 15.5 cents per pound. The 2014 pollock harvest in the Bering Sea converts to nearly 2.8 billion pounds. Despite the low prices, that fishery makes up a large portion of the Alaska commercial catch by volume — in 2011, it was about 51 percent of the catch, according to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. There’s another change in the pollock fishery this year. The 2013 version of the American Fisheries Society Common and Scientific Names of Fishes has a new scientific name for walleye pollock — Gadus chalcogrammus, instead of the old Theragra chalcogramma. That means it has the same genus as cod, which is meant to better reflect its evolutionary lineage. According to an explanation from James Orr and Duane Stevenson at NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center, the change comes after genetic studies showed that pollock has the same lineage as Atlantic, Greenland and Pacific cod, although it is more closely related to Atlantic cod than the other species. Arctic and Polar cod do not share the Gadus genus. Pollock, however, remains the common name of the fish. Labeling it as cod will be considered incorrect, according to NOAA. The Pacific cod fishery is also now underway. This year, the TAC for that fishery was split between the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands. The federal Pacific cod TAC is 245,897 metric tons in the Bering Sea and 6,997 metric tons in the Aleutian Islands. That’s less than a combined TAC for the two areas of 260,000 metric tons in 2013. Hook and line catcher processors started fishing in early January, and took 6,949 metric tons in the first few weeks of the fishery, and are capped at 56,108 mt for the A season. For trawlers, the Pacific cod A season opened Jan. 20, with caps of 37,079 mt for trawl catcher vessels, 3,911 mt for catcher-processors, and 22,786 mt for the Amendment 80, or bottom trawl, cooperatives. In Adak, Adak Cod Cooperative is expected to start processing Pacific cod this year at the local processing facility, as well. In December, the company announced an effort to hire locally, and Jan. 15 held a hiring event in Anchorage, looking for individuals who could begin work in the processing plant Feb. 1. Other BSAI and GOA groundfish fisheries also begin in January, including Atka mackerel, flathead sole and rock sole, and yellowfin sole. State waters and parallel seasons for the groundfish fisheries are also getting going. The catch limits were set by the federal North Pacific Fishery Management Council in December. The council manages fisheries from 3 to 200 miles offshore from Alaska. Groundfish catches in the Bering Sea are limited to a total combined 2 million metric tons. Snow crab starts early While fishermen have just started targeting groundfish, other fisheries started early. The Bering Sea snow crab fishery opens in October each year, although it was slightly delayed by the government shutdown this year, but typically fishing doesn’t begin until Jan. 15. According to a Jan. 21 report from NOAA Fisheries, 13.8 million pounds were caught in the individual fishing quota fishery by that date, out of a 48.58 million pound allocation. That’s about 28 percent of the TAC for the season, taken in 126 landings. “They actually started fishing in December, which is very atypical,” said Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist Heather Fitch, out of Dutch Harbor. Fitch said about 10 to 15 vessels headed out for crab early, and that an influx of vessels were expected to start fishing later in January. The boats fishing in December and January haven’t encountered any sea ice issues, Fitch said. So far this season, the snow crab price has ranged from $2 per pound to $2.16 per pound, based on fish tickets, Fitch said. Last year, the final price was about $2.02. Those numbers don’t include post-season adjustments, or catcher processors, however, Fitch noted, and are just ADFG’s estimates.

Salmon species other than kings thriving around state

Editor’s note: this is the second part of the Morris Communications series “The case for conserving the Kenai king salmon.” On a bright July day, Auke Bay’s Don Statter Harbor was overflowing with commercial fishing vessels. Each slip appeared to be filled, as fishermen from across the state and the Pacific Northwest arrived for a scheduled opening for salmon fishing. Sig Mathisen, a commercial fisherman of 55 years, was among them. Mathisen has fished the waters of Southeast Alaska since he was 12, when he first stepped onto his father’s boat. Based in Petersburg, he fished through the historically tough years of statehood, when he said the salmon returns where dismal. He watched the state take over the management of Alaska fisheries and the subsequent rise in returns. Mathisen said he thinks Alaska’s salmon species — the chum, pink, silver, sockeye and king — have seen strong returns in recent years overall, but he has also seen the returns ebb and flow like the tides of the ocean. Some years are better than others, he said. This year — which saw a state record of some 270 million salmon harvested —Mathisen said he, “was impressed and proud by the way the salmon return came in. “The volume was incredible. The numbers we’re seeing on the good cycles are good enough to sustain the salmon fishermen.” Not counting the sport fishing industry, commercial fishing is the No. 1 private employer in Alaska, with more than 60,000 people working in all sectors from fishing to processing and support services. According to recent federal data, total fish landings in Alaska for 2012 totaled 5.3 billion pounds worth some $1.7 billion. The preliminary value for Alaska salmon at the docks in 2013 is pegged at $670 million, and that will increase in the next few months as processors make end-of-season price adjustments to fishermen. Back at the docks, the scene that July morning was quiet, but in a few short hours the men mending nets and tending lines were busily motoring out to the western coast of Admiralty Island, one of many islands that make up the Southeast Alaska Archipelago, to fish for pink and chum salmon. The smell of diesel filled the air as more than 50 boats could be seen fishing up and down Chatham Strait. Nets were being set as fast as possible, as boats lined up to take their turn. It’s no secret. Salmon fishing in Alaska this season was lucrative for most. Rob Swanson was born and raised in Petersburg and, like Mathisen, has fished all over the state — from Southeast to Prince William Sound. In all, he’s fished Alaska waters for the past 33 years. “It’s been good. It’s been better than good,” he said of the fishing in recent years. According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, pink and chum salmon swam in strong, with preliminary harvest numbers tallying 215.8 million and 18.3 million fish, respectively, for the entire state. Those same preliminary numbers show sockeye salmon harvest at about 29.5 million and coho harvest at 5.2 million fish. “We’re in a period that begin in the late ’70s, early ’80s, that is higher than any other period,” Geron Bruce, assistant director of commercial fisheries for the ADFG, said. “The ’70s were a low point of salmon production in Alaska.” Bruce said salmon numbers were not particularly strong around the time of statehood, which began in 1959. He cited 1975 as “possibly the worst year.” “Then it started climbing and we’ve maintained it at a high level for almost 30 years,” he said. “It goes up and down from year to year, but it’s at the highest level that we’ve ever observed in the 100 years of commercial fisheries.” Bruce said hatcheries have certainly helped to bolster those numbers. But it’s not all praise for Alaska’s salmon. Out of the five species that swim Alaska’s waters, the mighty chinook, or king, salmon falls to last place with preliminary harvest numbers from Fish and Game coming in at 309,000 fish. That’s a far cry from 1994, for instance, when the harvest statewide was at 640,000. The first major decline in king salmon returns was on the Yukon River in 1998, and returns there have remained persistently low ever since with severe subsistence and commercial fishing restrictions. Over the last several years, king salmon returns have also dropped dramatically across the state from the Kuskokwim to the Kenai rivers, creating user conflicts among those who both live and make a living from Alaska salmon. Mathisen and Swanson recognize the decline in king numbers. Their concern for that species is present but, as businessmen, they have been forced to evolve and diversify in order to absorb the lost revenue felt from poor returns in any of the state’s fisheries.   “We do everything from hand-trolling and seining, to gillnetting in Bristol Bay and longlining at the southern end of Southeast,” Swanson said. “It’s not ‘just in case.’ We know we that every year something will under perform.” Phil Mundy, a longtime fish researcher in Alaska, said there are differences in salmon harvest numbers by region — no matter the species — but “overall, chum and pink salmon are doing pretty well.” That follows a trend indicated by ADFG reports, which peg strong catch numbers for chum salmon coming out of Southeast. This year’s total rolled in at about 10.5 million fish. Over the past decade, the trend line for chum harvest in this region has largely remained steady — oscillating between 9.3 million and 11.1 million fish, according to ADFG data. The exception to that trend came in 2005, a year after a record drought in Alaska’s rainforest, when the harvest came in at 6.4 million fish. Pink salmon are also holding up well when compared to other salmon species, Mundy said. Strong preliminary harvest numbers, according to ADFG, have pink salmon totaling roughly 89.5 million fish from the state’s Central Region and 89.4 million from Southeast. In all, pink salmon made up 80 percent of all the fish harvested in the state for 2013. In contrast, king salmon harvest numbers made up less than a tenth of a percent. Mundy said, by far, the best indicator of fish species performance is the level of harvest — that is the amount available after enough salmon have reached the spawning grounds to ensure sustainable returns in future years. In Bristol Bay, researchers count sockeye salmon numbers in the rivers and this year they were down. “This year had the lowest number of returns they’ve had in a long time,” Mundy said. And the harvest numbers follow suit. According to ADFG harvest records, sockeye numbers in Bristol Bay decreased this year, coming in around 15.7 million fish after a nearly a decade of returns that tallied between 20 million and 26 million. One of the highest years of returns came in 1995, when the harvest numbers reached nearly 45 million, according to ADFG records. When it comes to coho, or silver, salmon, Bruce said Fish and Game has tallied high levels of harvest in Alaska from 2013. For Southeast, these silver salmon have returned to the region in the highest numbers since 1994, when the harvest totaled more than 9.5 million fish. This year’s preliminary harvest numbers from ADFG for the Panhandle aren’t too shabby either, as they’ve almost doubled the 1.9 million silvers caught in 2012. Historically, this region is the strongest producer of coho salmon in the state, with Prince William Sound and the Kuskokwim areas trailing behind. Mathisen said the strong overall salmon numbers currently being tallied in state waters do not surprise him. “I have fished in Southeast since I was 12 years old, and I’ve seen the whale populations grow, and seen fish increase and decrease, from very low when I was a kid to just amazing,” he said. For Mathisen, it’s all part of being a fisherman and he credits the state for good management of the resource. “The trickle-down effect is felt throughout the economy,” he said of a strong run. “You can see it and feel it in the communities and this year is one of those years.” Back on the water, the seiners worked until the final few minutes of the opening. The skiffs sweeping out in wide crescents, the crew stacking net and buoys and dumping salmon after chrome colored salmon into the hold below.    Next week: Examining the historical, social and economic value of the Kenai king salmon. Abby Lowell can be reached at [email protected] Comments on this series can also be sent to [email protected]  

Widespread decline points to natural forces on kings

The summer of 2012 was tough for king salmon runs. Economic disasters were declared in the wake of poor returns on the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers, and in Cook Inlet. Users in all of those areas faced severe restrictions. Although setnetters and sport anglers on the Kenai River were allowed more fishing opportunity than the near-complete shutdown in 2012, this past summer was a record-low return for king salmon. The minimum escapement goal of 15,000 kings to the Kenai River spawning grounds was achieved, however, but not until early August. An escapement goal is the amount of fish needed to reach the spawning grounds to ensure sustainable returns in future years. For the second year in a row, the king salmon return to the Kenai River was later than usual and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, or ADFG, didn’t count enough kings to meet the goal until August after all sport and commercial fishing had been closed. In the wake of the disastrous 2012 season for king salmon on several rivers, the State of Alaska convened a two-day symposium in Anchorage with fishermen and scientists from Alaska and Outside to talk about what had gone wrong that summer, and what can be done about it. “We’re not sure what is causing the downturn, and in many cases, we do not have the basic information needed to understand the causes,” said ADFG’s Bob Clark, summarizing some of the symposium’s findings. Commercial fishing and tourism are two of Alaska’s largest businesses, and in Cook Inlet those users collided in 2012 as setnet fishermen targeting sockeyes but also catching king salmon along East Side beaches, and sport anglers on the Kenai River targeting kings were completely closed to conserve king salmon. The closures cost each group tens of millions of dollars, and the threats to the Alaska economy from an ongoing decline in king salmon numbers in Cook Inlet are behind the Morris Communications Co. decision to publish this series entitled, “The case for conserving the Kenai king salmon.” From the 2012 symposium came a report by the ADFG Chinook Salmon Research Team that identified 12 indicator stocks from major river systems used to measure the status of Alaska’s kings, and research priorities to better understand the forces at play. The problem is more complex than just blaming the poor returns on managers, and data suggests that the statewide king salmon decline may be outside of the realm of control for area biologists and attributable to ocean conditions such as changes in temperature, currents or food competition. Some evidence of that is river systems around the state that have very little fishing pressure and few habitat concerns have also seen crashes in king salmon runs. Robert Begich is an area management biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game based in Soldotna. He’s worked on other rivers in Alaska, and seen the cyclical returns first hand. “The canary in the coal mine for me is the Nelson River,” Begich said. The river, also called Sapsuck, is on the Alaska Peninsula between Nelson Lagoon and Cold Bay. “They’ve closed the king fishing there the last couple of years and nobody sport fishes there,” Begich said. The Nelson River is just one of many waterways with cyclical returns. During the 1990s, Begich said he worked on the Karluk River on Kodiak, an island in the Gulf of Alaska. “That’s a wilderness, it’s in a refuge,” he said. “It was 22 miles long from the lake to the lagoon. We would get maybe, it’d be a stretch to say 50 rafts on wilderness trips, people on wilderness trips to fish for king salmon. We used to get runs of 8,000 to 14,000 consistently.” Now, the Karluk is a stock of concern, and one of the chinook team’s indicator stocks. That Karluk and the Ayakulik, Kodiak Island’s other major king run, have had king restrictions in most recent years. On the Ayakulik, which usually has the strongest king run on the island, the total weir count at the end of the season was 2,368 fish, less than half the 2012 count, and slightly lower than the 2009 count, the prior low year for the past decade. The high for the past decade was 24,742 kings, in 2004, according to ADFG data. Likewise on the Karluk, 1,824 fish were counted in 2013, down from 3,198 in 2012 but up from the recent past, when the count was 1,208 in 2009 and 752 in 2008, the lowest count on record. Those rivers, like others, have seen restrictions for in-river users. Ocean fishermen also saw certain restrictions to protect kings. But there is some indication that the lows are cyclical. The Ayakulik and Karluk saw a decline in king returns in the 1970s, but stocks rebounded from those lows, according to ADFG data. Yukon, Kuskokwim The Yukon and Kuskokwim, both indicator stocks, have faced some of the most severe restrictions, but those rivers, and others in the northern part of the state, had another year of low escapements in 2013. On the Yukon, which flows 1,980 miles from British Columbia to the Bering Sea across the width of Alaska, the king declines began in the late 1990s. The most recent runs have been lower, even, than ADFG predictions, and those estimates accounted for the low productivity in parent years in the late 2000s. Both ADFG and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service have jurisdiction on the Yukon, and kings are managed under a treaty with Canada. In 2013, like many in the recent past, the U.S. did not meet its treaty obligation to send between 42,000 and 55,000 kings past the border. An estimated 30,725 passed the sonar at Eagle, which is about 10 miles from Canadian border, by late August 2013. That’s less than the historic low of 2011, and despite significant limitations to subsistence fishermen and the shutdown of commercial king fishing on the river for the last six years. Protections enacted last winter by the state Board of Fisheries were aimed at conserving the stock, including using different gear to target chums in an effort to leave kings in the water or return them safely, and a prohibition on fishing on the lower river to allow the first pulse to pass upstream. Now, the Kuskokwim could be following a similar trend: since 2010, that river has had historically low king returns. The Kuskokwim flows through western Alaska from the foothills of the Alaska Range to the Bering Sea, and has one of the state’s largest king runs. ADFG estimated in January 2013 that subsistence users reasonably needed 67,200 to 109,800 kings from the entire drainage. But restrictions in 2012 and 2013 limited the subsistence harvest to just a fraction of that amount. In October 2013, Fish and Game released a season summary saying that it planned to work on a more conservative management strategy for 2014. Bristol Bay Bristol Bay’s Nushagak River, another indicator stock, is a bright spot among the king returns. The bay is a major salmon fishing region, with the largest natural sockeye run and a significant commercial king fishery. During the summer of 2013, ADFG data said 113,743 kings were counted on the river, up slightly from 110,117 fish in 2012 and ahead of the 75,000 fish in-river goal, which meant liberalized fishing opportunity for all users. The Nushagak return was more than any other river in the state, and a turnaround from years with particularly low runs in 2007 and 2010. Kings have had more variable performance on the Nushagak, with strong runs some years and weaker runs others. In 1999, the river was closed to fishing for part of the season. Copper River Copper River kings are doing better than some Alaska runs, but it took in-season restrictions this year to meet escapement goals. The Copper River, another indicator stock, runs from the Wrangell Mountains to Prince William Sound, in Southcentral Alaska. By mid-October, ADFG’s Mark Somerville, an area management biologist, said the department expected the king run to fall within the sustainable escapement goal range, although the numbers were not yet finalized. That came after restrictions to all users. The sustainable escapement goal calls for an escapement of at least 24,000 kings. While this year’s return looks to meet that, it hasn’t been the case every year. According to ADFG data, returns have ranged from 16,771 to 27,994 fish since 2009. The Native Village of Eyak estimates the run each year, based on a mark recapture effort at a fish wheel there. Southeast Alaska King salmon runs in Southeast Alaska have also experienced significant fluctuations in the past several decades. The Taku and Stikine rivers have the largest king salmon runs in Southeast Alaska, according to ADFG, but returns have varied and hit record lows in recent years. Both are indicator stocks for the chinook project. The Taku runs from the Coast Mountains in British Columbia to the Taku Inlet, just south of Juneau. The Stikine starts farther south in British Columbia, and ends near Wrangell. The recent lowest estimated escapement on the Taku River was 14,854 kings in 2007. Prior to that, the river hit 9,795 in 1983, but rebounded from that low in subsequent years, according to ADFG data. The Stikine has had a stronger run. The king run there plummeted in the 1970s, and, like other rivers, rebounded in later years. Despite stronger escapements in the early 2000s, runs have declined again in recent years. This year, 17,025 kings returned to the Taku, and 18,172 to the Stikine, according to preliminary ADFG estimates. Both rivers are managed under a treaty with Canada that calls for a certain number of fish to swim upstream to Canada. Fishing opportunity has been limited to meet the treaty goals in recent years. Molly Dischner is a reporter with the Alaska Journal of Commerce in Anchorage. Rashah McChesney is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion in Kenai.  

FISH FACTOR: Dutch still No. 1; Sitka considers waterfront development

For the 16th year in a row, Dutch Harbor ranked as the nation’s top fishing port with 752 million pounds crossing those docks last year valued at $214 million. The No. 2 port for landings again was Empire-Venice, La. The Aleutian Islands jumped to third place with 456 million pounds led by deliveries to Akutan, and bumped Kodiak to No. 4 with 393 million pounds landed in 2012. In all, 13 Alaska ports made the Top 50 list for poundage, according to the annual Fisheries of the United States report by NOAA Fisheries.   For value of the catch, New Bedford, Mass., retained the lead for the 13th consecutive year at $411 million, thanks to pricey scallops; Dutch Harbor ranked second, followed by Kodiak at $170 million and the Aleutian Islands with a dockside value of $119 million. In all, U.S. seafood landings totaled 9.6 billion pounds last year valued at $5.1 billion, down 2.2 percent and 3.2 percent, respectively, from 2011. Other highlights: •                  Alaska topped all other states for total landings at 5.3 billion pounds and for overall value at $1.7 billion. •                  Alaska provided 55.5 percent of all seafood landed in the U.S. last year. •                  The top five fish species landed by volume were pollock, menhaden, cod, flatfish and salmon. •                  For value, the “crabs” category ranked first followed by scallops, shrimp, salmon and lobster. Pollock and cod were sixth and seventh for value.    •                  Shellfish prices dropped by 3 percent while prices for industrial products, such as oils and feeds increased by 14 percent. •                  Dockside prices increased for 18 out of 32 species groups being tracked and decreased for 14 species. The skipjack tuna price index had the largest gain, up 112 percent, while sockeye salmon showed the largest decrease at 17 percent. •                  The average dock price paid to fishermen in 2012 was 53 cents per pound compared to 54 cents the previous year. •                  U.S. consumers spent about $82.6 billion for fishery products in 2012. •                  The U.S. fishing industry contributed $42 billion to the GNP. •                  Americans ate less seafood last year at 14.4 pounds per person, compared to 15 pounds in 2011. The decrease resulted primarily from a drop in the domestic landings utilized for food, the report said. Other Alaska ports on the Top 50 list include the Alaska Peninsula at 9, Naknek at 14, Cordova at 15, Ketchikan at 18, Sitka at 20, Bristol Bay at 22, Seward at 23, Petersburg at 24, Kenai at 31 and Juneau at 42 for seafood landings in 2012. Sitka industrial effort looking for fishermen feedback Input by mariners is wanted on plans being considered for a bigger boat haul out and other waterfront development at Sitka’s Sawmill Cove Industrial Park. “We’ve been hearing from the community for years that they would like to see our haul out capabilities expanded and our marine services expanded bit,” said Garry White, executive director of the Sitka Economic Development Association.  “Currently, the largest haul out we have in town is an 88-ton lift, and we are hearing from a lot of the fleet, especially the tender boats and some of the larger vessels, that they can’t be hauled out here in town,” White added. “The fleet has to go elsewhere to get serviced, and they would like to stay here in town to get that done.” To get feedback from boat owners, the association has launched a Sitka Marine Industry Development Survey. “The first thing we’re interested in is what size haul out should we put in to meet the fleet’s needs, and what other services are needed, such as sand blasting, bottom painting and diesel work,” White explained. “A lot of those industries exist here in town, but we are trying to figure out how we can broaden things to meet all our needs at the same time.” Sitka’s commercial fishing fleet is the largest in Southeast Alaska at 631 registered vessels. The City and Borough of Sitka also operate the largest harbor system in Alaska with five moorage basins and more than 1,300 permanent slips, plus transient moorage space. “We’re on the outside of Southeast Alaska facing the Pacific Ocean,” White said. “There is a lot of traffic that comes through Sitka on the way to other fisheries, or they come here for the fisheries. So we want to hear from those boats in Puget Sound and other parts of Southeast Alaska that may want to pop in here and get some work done or if they have some emergency. We want to hear what they think should happen in Sitka.” Find the survey at www.sitka.net or www.sawmillcove.com. The deadline is Nov. 30. White said a report will follow early next year. Fish watch Alaska’s biggest fishery, Bering Sea pollock, closed for the year on Nov. 1. Roughly 3 billion pounds will come out of that fishery. The Gulf of Alaska pollock fishery also ended for trawlers the same day, as did Pacific cod. Fishing for cod continues for other gear types in both the Gulf and Bering Sea; pot and jig fishing could last all year. Crabbers at Bristol Bay had taken more than half of their 8.6 million pound red king crab catch with about 3.7 million pounds left to go. Halibut longliners had taken 93 percent of their nearly 22 million pound catch limit, with about 1.4 million pounds remaining. For sablefish, about three million pounds remain for harvest in the 28 million pound quota. Both of those fisheries close Nov. 7. Homer will regain the title of the No. 1 halibut port, topping Kodiak by about 1 million pounds in landings this year. Seward is the top port by far for sablefish landings. In Southeast Alaska the pot shrimp fisheries were wrapped up in most districts with a total catch of half a million pounds. Demersal shelf rockfish opens Nov. 8 with a 35 ton harvest region-wide. Divers continued combing the deep for sea cucumbers and giant geoduck clams. Hat tip to highliners Two Alaskans were selected as National Fisherman’s Highliners of the Year — Robert Heyano of Dillingham is president of the fishermen funded/directed Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association and skipper of the 32-foot drift gillnetter Lady Mindy. Jerry McCune of Cordova is president of the United Fishermen of Alaska and the Cordova District Fishermen United, longtime industry lobbyist and skipper of the 33-foot drift gillnetter Wudahad. Robert Hezel of Clinton, Wash., also was selected. He is skipper of the Fishermen’s Finest 185-foot Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska trawler, U.S. Intrepid. The Highliner Awards began in 1975 in partnership with Furuno to honor fishermen who uphold a standard of excellence in their fishing operations and in their advocacy on behalf of the industry. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.  

ASMI to research Philippines market at Parnell's request

The first Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute “All Hands” meeting, possibly ever, held in the state also included an unusual request from Gov. Sean Parnell’s office for a new international marketing initiative. The ASMI board took no formal action Oct. 30 but followed standard procedure to accept the recommendation from its International Marketing Committee for an in-house feasibility study on the seafood market prospects in the Philippines. The initiative, also endorsed in a presentation by two Alaska House members, may also send an ASMI observer to one of three trade shows in the island nation next year. The governor himself met privately for 35 minutes with the seven ASMI board members and sat in on several committee meetings on the second day of the Oct. 28 to 30 meeting at the Hotel Captain Cook in Anchorage. Earlier in the day, special counsel Randy Ruaro explained Parnell’s offer to Philippines Ambassador Joe Cuisia, Jr. — to research the development of seafood business relations with Alaska to the IMC. Cuisia raised the seafood market prospect, including the possibility of secondary processing of Alaska seafoods in his country, during a visit to Juneau this summer in what was apparently part of an initiative for much broader relations between Alaska and the Philippines. Earlier this month, Juneau resident Jenny Gomez Strickler was named as honorary consul general of the Philippines to Alaska. Parnell “offered to assist in analysis of the options, identification of any barriers that would be prohibitive to trade and so we essentially agreed that we would present to the committee his comments and ask for any possible assistance in fleshing out possible product opportunities (and) barriers to opportunities,” Ruaro said. “Nothing specific, no specified project,” he noted. The progeny of Filipinos who came to work in Alaskan canneries over the past century, now comprise some five percent of Alaska’s population and have become substantial elements of coastal communities, particularly Juneau, Kodiak and Unalaska. Strickler is president of the Filipino Community Inc. in the capital city, now in the process of establishing a “sister borough” relationship with Aklan Province. Asked how high a priority the Filipino initiative is for him, Parnell said, “I think it’s important, like virtually every market in the world, but having an emerging market like that and an emerging effort is very important to us.” Juneau Rep. Cathy Munoz brought support for closer relations with Alaska back from what she said was Alaska’s first trade mission to the Philippines in November 2011. She noted that fish is the primary protein source of the 92 million island residents and said the seafood business could be the start of a broader trans-Pacific relationship. “The Philippines is the fastest growing economy in Southeast Asia ... We saw booming business happening in Manila in the travel industry,” Munoz said in an Oct. 30 presentation to the board with Bethel Rep. Bob Herron. Over the past year Munoz won the governor’s backing. “This is a priority for Rep. Munoz and we would like to have it thoroughly explored for her,” said governor’s office trade specialist Shelley James at the IMF session. She said Alaska’s currently exports less than $1 million worth of seafood annually to the Philippines. Committee members generally endorsed the governor’s initiative but also noted its unique features. Ruaro suggested ASMI conduct an “initial feasibility study” on Philippines seafood market opportunities. Torunn Halhjem, of Trident Seafoods, asked why the Philippines should become a priority and noted that India and other potential new markets have already been discussed. “I take Torunn’s point on traditional process. This is a little different because of the nature of the inquiry,” said Jeff Stephan, of the Kodiak-based United Fishermen’s Marketing Association and IMC chairman. Stephan also observed, “Maybe the governor’s office has resources” to fund any research. Jeff Reynolds, of the Seafood Producers Co-op, said his outfit has a large Filipino workforce that is “mobbed when they take the fish back to the Philippines. There is a desire for Alaska fish already. I think it’s a possible market we’re just not aware of.” Norman Aoyagi, of Pyramid Island Seafoods LLC, said his company used a “very good cannery” in the Philippines, managed by a British Columbian company, to help handle this year’s pink salmon glut. He said the Philippines is a “surging sardine importer” that could become an Alaska herring market, but also noted that regions of the island nation are “politically unstable.” IMC Vice Chairman Michael McGinley, of Ocean Beauty Seafoods, suggested the Philippines could buy as well as pack some of this year’s record pink salmon run but added, “The people in the Philippines are not rich. You do have to focus on some low value items.” McGinley also suggested the need to research the “cold chain situation,” meaning the ability of processors in the tropical country to maintain proper seafood temperatures. ASMI last opened a new international office three years ago in Brazil. Alexa Tonkovich, ASMI’s international promotions director, said a market feasibility study was completed before that move. She suggested the McDowell Group, ASMI’s contract research agency, could complete such a review. Tonkovich said food trade shows where ASMI could gauge market opportunities are scheduled next June, August and September in the Philippines. The U.S. embassy there has “good events we can tie in to dip our toe in,” Tonkovich added. The Oct. 28-30 session also achieved the highest legislative attendance ever at a session outside of Juneau. The All-Hands meeting features a cast of, literally, hundreds including some 70 harvesters and processors on its species (salmon, shellfish, whitefish, halibut/black cod) and operational (international, seafood tech, food service/retail) committees, most of the ASMI Seattle and Juneau staffs and a score of consultants, contractors and trade group representatives. Over the three-day session the panels review past year’s events and results and work out marketing strategies for the 107 countries that bought Alaska seafood in 2012. Many of the participants are based in the Seattle region, but the five-figure travel and hotel costs to bring them to Anchorage for the meeting was welcomed as spending seafood industry-generated dollars in Alaska. Kodiak Rep. Alan Austerman, who replaced Rep. Bill Stoltze as the Alaska House liaison to ASMI, was a driving force behind the move north and said the All-Hands should make Alaska its home. “There is nothing more heartening than to come to a meeting like this, especially when it is opened to the public, and walk around the (Oct. 29) reception and talk to Alaskans who said, ‘Wow, this is really going on here!’” Austerman urged at the close of the business meeting. “Reconsider that this is Alaska seafood marketing and hold the All-Hands in Alaska every year.”   Bob Tkacz is a correspondent for the Journal based in Juneau. He can be reached at [email protected]  

Tribal consultation plays unofficial role in council process

Historical participation weighs heavily in fisheries management decisions, and Alaska Natives have thousands of years of history of fishing throughout the state, relying on salmon, halibut, crab, herring and other species for food and trade. When it comes to management, however, the oldest users report mixed success in participating in the decision-making process. Management decisions for Alaska’s fisheries are largely made by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council and the state Board of Fisheries. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council, creates fishery management plans for federal waters, three to 200 miles offshore. The Board of Fisheries is responsible for rivers, lakes and the ocean out to three miles from Alaska’s coast. The National Marine Fisheries Service, or NMFS, executes the decisions made by the council, while the Alaska Department of Fish and Game manages state waters on a day-to-day basis based on rules passed by the board. Both structures incorporate public testimony into their processes, which Alaska Native tribes and organizations are entitled to participate in, but neither offers a role beyond that. Rob Sanderson, second vice president for Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Tribes, said that’s partially because when leaders agreed to the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, the law didn’t address aquatic resources. “Everyone was too worried about the land, and they forgot about the sea,” Sanderson said. In June, the North Pacific council took up several issues that had Alaska Natives organizations weighing in, including chinook salmon bycatch caps for Gulf of Alaska trawlers and Pribilof and Zhemchug canyons conservation and research. Sanderson and Alaska Inter-Tribal Council’s George Pletnikoff testified at the meeting and both said they thought the council’s action was responsive to their testimony, and to that of other Alaska Native organizations. Pletnikoff, who also works for Greenpeace, was part of a significant delegation asking the council to preserve the Bering Sea canyons. The council’s action, which was to pursue an ecosystem management, was “courageous” he said in June after the decision was made. Sanderson said he had heard from others involved in the council process that his testimony on bycatch had made a difference. At the June meeting, he called for a lower bycatch cap, emphasizing that coastal communities in Southeast Alaska are dependent on salmon and halibut, and cannot afford to see those species decline. Ultimately, the council passed a lower cap on chinook salmon bycatch than he thought they would at the start of the meeting, Sanderson said. But as responsive as the council can be, Sanderson would like a more formal role for Alaska Native stakeholders. At the federal level, there’s a requirement that Tribes be consulted as part of the decision-making process. A June opinion from the U.S. Department of Commerce, which was released as part of a policy statement on how the bodies that entity governs conduct tribal consultations, stated that federal fishery management councils are not responsible for doing so. The policy statement acknowledges that council meetings are a critical part of fishery management, and that it’s most beneficial for Tribes and groups to get involved in that level. However, it confirms that the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration, or NOAA, is ultimately responsible for working with tribes. The clarification on fishery councils came after a comment on the proposed policy asked for a revision to require consultation at the council level. Sanderson wants a designated seat on the council for an Alaska Native representative. After all, the fishing industry gets the majority of the seats, he said, so the 228 federally-recognized tribes should also have one. There’s some precedent for Sanderson’s request, although the official opinion stated that it wasn’t necessary. The Pacific Fishery Management Council, which has oversight in federal waters offshore from California, Oregon and Washington, does have a dedicated seat for a Tribal representative. Federally-recognized tribes submit their nominations for that seat to the U.S. Secretary of Commerce. The Pacific council also has 14 voting members, more than the 11 on the North Pacific council. But a seat would be a start, Sanderson said. Then, it’d just be a matter of finding a representative the Alaska Native community could agree on, he said. The current council chairman is Eric Olson, who is an Alaska Native and works for Yukon Delta Fisheries Development Association, one of the six Community Development Quota groups representing 65 Western Alaska villages that receive 10.7 percent of Bering Sea fishing quotas. Olson is also a shareholder in the Bristol Bay Native Corp., one of the 12 Alaska Native regional corporations. For now though, both Sanderson and Pletnikoff have said indigenous groups also need to take a greater role in testifying and participating in the decisions. In June, Pletnikoff said indigenous groups need to work on solutions for the canyons. “It behooves us now for organizations interested to pay close attention to this issue as it develops and to demand a seat at the table,” Pletnikoff said. Sanderson would like his colleagues from other tribes to get more involved at the council, particularly in bycatch. He testified again on the matter at the October council meeting, and said he was disappointed not to see greater representation. “We need more Tribal people there to testify,” Sanderson said. Not every item of the council agenda is of interest to noncommercial users, but Sanderson said it’s crucial that Alaska Natives weigh in. “We are all dependent on some sort of fishery, at the least, the Natives that live on the gulf coast,” Sanderson said. “...We must do all that we can to protect what’s left.” Sanderson said that it’s a crucial time for Alaska’s fisheries. The council is looking to rationalize the Gulf of Alaska, and has discussed bycatch several times in the last few years. “I believe that there needs to be a process,” Sanderson said. “I believe that more tribes need to jump aboard on the issue of bycatch.”   Molly Dischner can be reached at [email protected]  

Regulators prepare for open access scallop fishery in '14

Alaska’s Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission took a preparatory step for regulating an open access scallop fishery for the 2014 season when it approved a new permit structure Oct. 11. The state’s limited access program, which is vessel-based, is set to expire Dec. 30. Due to concerns about consolidation, the legislature last spring did not pass a bill that would have extended the program. The bill, however, could be passed this spring and apply in time for the July 1, 2014 start of the season. Some of Alaska’s scallop beds straddle the three-mile line that divides state and federal waters, and the two areas are managed in tandem, with both operating under limited entry programs and a single harvest level. CFEC’s new permit structure will require fishery participants to apply for separate state and federal waters interim use permits. Vessels shorter and longer than 80 feet in length will receive different permits for each area. CFEC Chair Bruce Twomley told Alaska’s Board of Fisheries Oct. 10 that he hoped a bill would pass this spring, so that the work to prepare for an open access fishery was not necessary. If that happens, the regulations in the works now would be nullified, Twomley said. In the meantime, regulators and managers are preparing for the open access fishery. In addition to CFEC’s work, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, or ADFG, is drafting a state waters management plan, which the Board of Fisheries will discuss in January. This is the first time the commission has been charged with taking a limited-access fishery and preparing it for open access, said CFEC Commissioner Ben Brown at the Oct. 11 CFEC meeting. Brown and CFEC Chair Bruce Twomley approved the new permit structure at a commission meeting. No members of the public attended the meeting. CFEC Law Specialist Doug Rickey was also present and the Journal listened telephonically to the meeting held in Juneau. Twomley said the commission sent out written notice to scallop fishery participants, but did not receive any written comments, either. Twomley said Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, pushed the commission to account for its preparations and get ready for the open-access fishery, which was helpful as it turned out to be more complicated than expected. The fishery has a pre-season registration deadline of April 1, and Twomley said at the Board of Fisheries meeting Oct. 10 that the commission wanted to have regulations in place in November in preparation for that. Under the new structure, federal participants will likely need to carry both the state and federal waters permits, and fill out additional fish tickets to reflect whether scallops were harvested in the state or federal waters, which could make operations more difficult for those participants. According to CFEC, it is unknown how many vessels will participate in the state waters fishery next year. Twomley described it as “unknown and unknowable” when he addressed the Board of Fisheries about the coming changes. However, when the state fishery was limited, there had been about 13 different participants in the years prior to limitation, Twomley said. Originally, there were 9 state and federal permits once the fishery was limited, but the majority are controlled by a small group of Washington-based partners. Through December 2012, only 5 federal and state permits were still active, and just two vessels operated regularly in state waters. After the CFEC meeting Oct. 11, Twomley said the permit applications will give the state a sense of how many vessels intend to participate in the fishery and prepare to manage it accordingly, including setting appropriately permit fees. Participants in the federal fishery will likely need to apply, and pay, for both state and federal permits, while state-only participants will only be subject to the state waters cost. Twomley said the permit fees must reflect the expected economic return from holding a permit, and knowing the number of state waters participants will help in setting that fee. For the federal side, the permit fee is based on the last three years of fishery values, but for the state, CFEC needs a new method for developing the fee in the first year, Twomley said. The state permit will likely be less expensive, reflecting the smaller resource available in that area, he added. About 80 percent of the scallop harvest is taken in federal waters. The Board of Fisheries had a brief discussion of scallops when it agreed to consider ADFG’s management plan. A request to do so was submitted as an agenda change request, or ACR, at the board’s Oct. 9 and 10 work session. The management plan will come back before the board at the January meeting in Kodiak. Although the board will not discuss a second management plan proposed by Don Lane, of Homer, it could incorporate vessel size restrictions for the state waters fishery as part of the new management plan. The board took no action on Lane’s ACR for a scallop management plan because it had agreed to discuss the ADFG proposal. Limiting the state fishery to vessels less than 80 in length was one of the primary differences between the ADFG and private proposals. Twomley said the management plan up for discussion is compatible with CFEC’s permit structure, and that the vessel length limitations would also fit into the new permit structure. As of January 2013, six of the nine vessels permitted for the fishery were longer than 80 feet. Twomley also provided the board with a general update on the scallop fishery changes. Although the fishery will be open access in 2014, he said the commission could look at limiting it in the future. CFEC will watch the fishery to see how participants fare. If open access results in economic distress to the participants, it could once again be limited, Twomley told the board. “We still have our traditional tools, and with a fresh start in the fishery we may be called upon to use them at some point in the future,” he said.   Molly Dischner can be reached at [email protected]  

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