Fisheries

Pending Gulf rockfish lawsuit has major policy implications

Motions for summary judgment have been filed in a lawsuit over the new rockfish catch share program in the Gulf of Alaska. Four companies with processing operations in Kodiak sued the National Marine Fisheries Service, or NMFS, in the U.S. Western District of Washington in January to overturn the new Gulf of Alaska rockfish catch share program, which took effect in May. In their July 20 motion for summary judgment, the processors also requested an opportunity for oral argument Oct. 5. As of Sept. 5, Judge Marsha Pechman had not yet ruled on the processors’ request for oral argument. NMFS filed its motion for summary judgment on Aug. 23. The lawsuit revolves around whether processors should receive a guaranteed share of the rockfish harvest, and has policy implications for the rockfish program, Gulf of Alaska fisheries management, and catch share programs as a whole nationwide. Catch share programs allocate shares of the total harvest to indivdual owners, typically based on catch history. The Kodiak processors — Trident Seafoods, Ocean Beauty, Westward Seafoods, and North Pacific Seafoods — want to be guaranteed delivery of a portion of the harvest each year. The current rockfish program does not give them that guarantee, as the past five-year pilot program did from 2007 to 2011. The processors argue that the legal opinion upon which the harvester-processor linkage was severed was flawed, and offered contradicting management examples and segments of the Congressional record. The 2009 opinion on which much of the case rests was a memo from general counsel of the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council stating that the Magnuson-Stevens Act did not give the council the authority to give on-shore processors a guaranteed share of the harvest. The North Pacific council was in the process of revising the rockfish program in advance of its 2011 sunset date, and the NOAA legal opinion stated processors were not “fishing” operations under the Magnuson-Stevens Act and therefore were not entitled to quota allocations. The motion filed on behalf of the processors July 20 stated: “The 2009 Opinion is premised on the assertion that the term ‘fishing’ in the (Magnuson-Stevens Act) does not include on-shore processing. That Opinion is inconsistent with the MSA, other (NOAA) legal opinions, and agency practice.” Attorneys for the processors did not respond to calls for comment. A share of the fishery for processors was part of the prior rockfish program because Congress created the program through legislation that specifically authorized such a linkage requiring harvesters to deliver to the processors where they had historically made deliveries. The NMFS motion for summary judgment explains the rationale that led managers to sever the tie between catcher vessels and processors, and details possible consequences of leaving the linkage intact. The NMFS motion reads, in part: “Plaintiffs are on-shore processors who seek to expand the definition of ‘fishing’ to include on-shore processing, which could have the effect of creating individual processor quota or justifying ‘fixed linkages’ following expiration of the Pilot Program.” The program eventually passed by the council in June 2010 replaced the expired rockfish pilot program, and was the first catch share program created after the Magnuson-Stevens Act was reauthorized by Congress in 2007. Management programs for pollock and crab in the Bering Sea, which took effect in 2002 and 2005, respectively, currently give processors a share of the harvest. The rockfish program was a purposeful step away from that policy, and could be the model for future programs if the judge upholds the severed tie in the new program. United Catcher Boats Association Executive Director Brent Paine said the lawsuit could have an effect on any effort by the North Pacific council to have a multi-species management program in the Gulf of Alaska. “This will set a precedent for what any council in the United States will have to do when they consider development of a catch share program,” Paine said. UCB vessels operate in the Gulf, as well as in Bering Sea fisheries and elsewhere on the west coast. UCB, along with Gulf harvester association Alaska Whitefish Trawlers, moved to intervene in the case to defend the rockfish program as crafted by the council. The harvester associations were denied their motion to defend the rockfish program, but will be allowed to participate in the remedy phase should Judge Pechman elect to order changes in her eventual ruling. The relationship between processors and catchers impacts the price processors pay for the fish. In their lawsuit, the processors argued that without fixed linkages, they would be forced to compete for fish, and pay more for it, effectively cutting into their profit. “Really what’s going on here is who gets the power, when you sit at a bargaining table, to determine the price of fish,” Paine said. The Magnuson-Stevens Act will be up for reauthorization in 2013. The lawsuit could be the beginning of an effort to include processors in future programs as part of the redrafting. “I think you’ll see processors proposing language that gives them a little better footing or gives them more consideration than what is currently defined by law if they lose this lawsuit,” Paine said. Under the pilot rockfish program, on-shore processors were guaranteed a portion of the harvest because catcher vessels had to deliver their catch to one processor, based on historic relationships. When the program was revised in 2010, that requirement was purposefully struck from the new program based on NOAA legal advice. “The (state) didn’t feel or believe that, as a matter of policy, the processors be granted a share of the fishery, a harvester quota, or have some kind of forced delivery requirement that vessels would have to deliver specific processors,” said council member Duncan Fields of Kodiak at the time. “The closed class of processors in the pilot program was something the state of Alaska just didn’t think was good public policy.” The program allocates northern rockfish, pelagic shelf rockfish, Pacific Ocean perch and secondary, more valuable targets: sablefish and Pacific Cod, to trawl catcher vessels and catcher-processors. Rockfish are large, colorful fish that congregate either in schools (pelagic) or stay close to the bottom in rocky areas (non-pelagic). Despite the changes in the rockfish program, the council built in some protections for the processors. The program requires catcher vessels to belong to a cooperative that is associated with a shore-based processor, but allowed more flexibility in that vessels can change cooperatives and cooperatives can change processors without repercussion. The program also prevented any one processor from receiving more than 30 percent of the harvest, ensuring that at least four receive business. The council also set the program to come up for review in three years, rather than five, which is what is usually required under the Magnuson-Stevens Act. “The council wanted to make sure we did it right,” Fields told the Journal in 2010. “An earlier review will particularly look to, are vessels leaving the fishery or are crew losing jobs? Are processors being disadvantage? These are some of the things we’ll review.”

Fishing boat sinks, crewman missing

Three people were rescued from a fishing boat Friday after it sank south of Kodiak Island but one crewman remained missing, the Coast Guard said. As first reported by KMXT-FM (http://is.gd/frPRcA ), the search for the missing crewman aboard the 58-foot vessel Advantage began shortly after midnight. The Coast Guard was first alerted to a problem when the command center in Juneau received an emergency radio beacon indicating the location of the vessel 14 miles southeast of Kodiak Island. After several attempts were made to contact the boat by radio, the Coast Guard launched an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter and crew from Air Station Kodiak to go to where the emergency beacon indicated the distressed boat was located. By the time the helicopter arrived on scene, the fishing vessel had already sunk and just a debris field remained where the Advantage went down. "It looks like it sank fairly quickly," said Coast Guard spokeswoman Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis. At the time the boat sank, the National Weather Service was forecasting 8-foot seas in the area. The three crewmembers were found in a life raft. None of them was wearing survival suits. They were hoisted to safety at 1:55 a.m. and brought back to Kodiak where they were treated for hypothermia at Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center, she said. The helicopter with a fresh crew returned to the area of the sinking vessel to look for the missing crewman. By noon Friday, Francis said four searches of the area had been made but there was no sign of the missing crewman. Francis said conditions were favorable for searching with 2-foot seas, good visibility and a water temperature of 52 degrees. She said the search would continue for the foreseeable future. The names of the crewmen have not been released. Francis said it is too early to know why the fishing boat sank. Information from: KMXT-FM, http://www.kmxt.org

Nome meeting closure prompts debate over CDQ privacy

Amid continuing tensions between community development quota groups and their regional village residents over the impacts of Bering Sea pollock trawling on salmon stocks, the Norton Sound Economic Development Corp. has barred a long-time critic from its property, meetings and direct contacts with board and staff after a July 31 incident in Nome. Already years-long, the feud between Tim Smith, president of the Nome Fishermen’s Association, and the NSEDC has continued since the minor confrontation was reported in the pages of the Nome Nugget and as recently as the Aug. 27 city council meeting. The dispute’s current round began at a public session of NSEDC’s fisheries development committee on July 31 when Smith was threatened with arrest for “eavesdropping,” by a Nome police officer who also ordered him to leave the session when he refused to turn off his digital recorder. “’As a law enforcement official, we’re allowed to record at all times,’” Officer Michael Yant is heard to declare on Smith’s recording, which he posted on Youtube. “’You’re recording me now, which is illegal to do. You need permission, a warrant, permission from the courts to record.’” Smith’s wife Rita, a local schoolteacher who was taking written notes for the NFA, was also ordered to leave the session. Tim Smith was warned in an Aug. 8 letter from an NSEDC attorney that he is not allowed on the CDQ group’s property or to attend any of its meetings and should only communicate with its board of members in writing through the attorney. “Any violation of these restrictions and any threats or confrontations with board members or employees will be reported immediately to the proper authorities,” declared attorney Howard Trickey in the letter that was copied to the Nome Police Department. “It is not NSEDC’s intent to limit your participation in any of NSEDC’s programs.” Kenneth Jacobus, Smith’s attorney, said Officer Yant was wrong. In comments published in the Nome Nugget, Jacobus noted that eavesdropping, generally in law, is considered to mean a secret recording and that Alaska’s eavesdropping statute, AS 42.20.310, allows anyone to record their own conversation. Nome Police Chief John Papasodora did not respond to repeated requests for an interview. NSEDC spokesman Tyler Rhodes said that while the session was publicly advertised and a public comment was on the agenda, it was not a “public meeting” in the sense of one held by a city council of legislative committee hearing. “As a private nonprofit we are not required to have the public at our meetings,” Rhodes said Aug. 17. Smith, who was the only person to offer public testimony prior to a report from the Department of Fish and Game, recorded his own comments through the confrontation despite NSEDC’s long-standing no-recording policy. Smith complained that while Norton Sound “had 30 years of very, very poor salmon runs,” the problem had not drawn the attention of state officials until it reached Alaska’s population centers. “Now that it hit the road system it’s an issue that brings the governor and the commissioner of fish and game out to do a press conference on it,” Smith said, referring to a July 20 news conference at which Gov. Sean Parnell and ADFG Commissioner Cora Campbell announced the formation of a special team to research salmon stock problems. Smith said the Pilgrim River “is definitely an endangered species situation” with a return of only 27 salmon through that date and only 44 the prior year. He urged NSEDC to begin enhancement rather than research or salmon counting programs. “NSEDC has been part of the problem, not part of the solution,” Smith said. He concluded his comments asking for a response from the committee. When none was forthcoming, Chairman Oscar Takak called for the ADFG report. As a state biologist began speaking NSEDC attorney Kyan Olanna asked Smith to stop recording. The meeting was temporarily recessed and Officer Yant arrived shortly afterward. In later interviews, Rhodes indicated that NSEDC financially supported the Nome Fishermen’s Association’s operation of the nearby Hobson Creek Hatchery for several years, including $350,000 from 2005 to 2008. He said financial support was terminated when the association failed to receive an ADFG permit to collect eggs for future incubation projects and because the association did not meet NSEDC grant reporting requirements. Rhodes also referenced NSEDC’s 2010 annual report, the most recent published. Among various fisheries projects, the report notes that ongoing salmon egg-planting projects in various Nome-area waterways began in 2004 but says 2010 returns in most cases indicate “a very poor survival rate.” In a statement prepared at the request of the Nugget and published with an account of the July incident, the NSEDC declared that it would not accept “disruptive, abusive and threatening behavior directed toward its board members, staff and public” who attend its events. In an Aug. 9 letter to the Nugget, NSEDC President Janis Ivanoff wrote that the group was “forced to have an individual removed who became disruptive” after refusing the request to stop recording. She claimed Smith became “verbally abusive,” though no foul or threatening comments can be heard on Smith’s recording. “Those attending NSEDC’s meetings should be free to participate in the proceedings without fear of an audio or video recording of them later being published and/or utilized for unforeseen purposes,” Ivanoff added without explanation. Rhodes, the NSEDC spokesman, said that the group records its meetings only to accurately prepare minutes and destroys its recordings afterwards. He and Ivanoff noted that Smith is appealing a court ruling on his 2009 lawsuit against NSEDC challenging the results of its board elections, in which he unsuccessfully ran for a seat. “While Smith will likely argue that NSEDC is actively working to suppress its critics, this is not the truth,” Ivanoff wrote. In an Aug. 19 response to Trickey, Smith said the attorney’s letter contained “false allegations and misstatement of facts” and also referred to the “defamatory nature of the allegations” relative to the July 31 meeting that had been published in the Nugget. Smith also wrote that NSEDC is required by Internal Revenue Service regulations to make “tax documents” available to the public during normal business hours and that the group has not yet responded to his February 2010 request for that information. Smith also copied Trickey’s letter to Nome Police Chief Papasodora, noting the attorney’s warning that Smith’s violation of the NSEDC’s directive to the “proper authorities.” “I am unaware of any legal authority for Mr. Trickey’s directives and assume that it is nothing but lawyerly bluster,” Smith wrote. Smith also noted his allegation of NSEDC’s violation of the federal tax code. “I am confident that NPD has no desire to aid and abet NSEDC in violating any laws,” he wrote, also asking that the chief inform Smith if he expects his department to respond to respond “with an enforcement action to reports of any of the acts listed” in Trickey’s letter “so that we can be clear on the legality of that potential action by the NPD in advance.” The letter debate in the Nugget is continuing and at the Aug. 27 Nome City Council meeting Smith asked for assurance “that the same thing won’t happen again,” with reference to the July meeting. “All I’m asking for is that they desist from charging me with breaking nonexistent laws,” Smith said in an email to this reporter. Coincidentally, Mayor Denise Michels and Chief Papasodora were traveling and missed the meeting. Councilwoman Mary Knodel said Smith asked if he would be arrested if he attended the next NSEDC meeting. “We didn’t know what rules the police office follows so we didn’t answer,” but directed the city clerk to get an answer for Smith, Knodel said. Emphasizing that she is not an attorney, nor interested in NSEDC affairs, Knodel suggested Smith may have a right to attend the group’s meetings partly depending on whether a CDQ group is a public or private corporation but also based on local residency. “We’re all members of the CDQ group, anyone who lives here. We’re all stockholders as far as I’m concerned, except we didn’t buy stock,” Knodel said. Rhodes indicated the legal relationship between village residents and their CDQ group is not clear. “Maybe at the community level, not the individual level,” he said.

Coastal management initiative fails by a heavy margin

The ballot proposition that would have reestablished a state coastal management program in Alaska was heavily defeated by voters in the state’s primary election held Aug. 28. The measure was being closely watched by natural resource industries. Had Ballot Measure 2 passed, the new coastal management program would have added new layers of complexity to permitting for projects in the coastal zone, which has been broadly defined. As of Aug. 29, data from the state Division of Elections showed that 64,210, or 61.8 percent, had voted against the measure and 39,624, or 38.1 percent, had voted for it. The count showed a total vote of 103,384. The final tally may change with absentee and challenged ballots counted, but not enough to change the result. It was a low turnout election, with about 25 percent of registered Alaska voters showing up at the polls. The measure was controversial because the program being proposed would have given coastal communities, who are opposing Outer Continental Shelf, exploration more influence over federal and state permits for projects in the coastal zone. “We’re very pleased with the vote, and we’re all sorry this even had to come up,” said Judy Brady, a former state natural resources commissioner who co-chaired the “Vote No on 2” campaign against the ballot initiative. “All of the resource development groups had supported an extension of the coastal management program through a bill the Legislature had reached a compromise on. We were very disappointed when all of the issues that destroyed the compromise were included in initiative,” Brady said. “People who believe in coastal management were told that the initiative was the same as the former program but they were given misleading information. This was in no way a fight against coastal management but was a reaction to very poorly crafted initiative that would have turned management of state resources over to a coastal policy board not elected nor approved by the Legislature.” Supporters of Ballot Measure 2, primarily municipal leaders in small coastal communities, argued that having a coastal management program would give local residents a say in federal and state decisions in coastal regions. Bruce Botelho, the chairman of the Alaska Sea Party, the group pushing for the initiative, said that while he was disappointed with the outcome of the race, he took heart in being able to raise awareness among Alaskans about coastal management and hearing from the opposition that they didn’t oppose coastal management generally, just this specific approach. “I look forward to being able to work with them in fashioning a viable coastal management program,” Botelho said. “Hopefully the Legislature, when it convenes in January, will see this as one of its highest priorities.” Opponents to the measure heavily outspent proponents, raising about $1.5 million to defeat the measure compared with about $200,000 raised by supporters of the ballot proposition, according to reports filed with the Alaska Public Offices Commission. Alaska is now the only coastal U.S. state that does not have a coastal management program. A previous coastal management program expired in 2011 when the state Legislature did not extend it. The program required a periodic review by state lawmakers. Alaska adopted its coastal management program in the 1970s when the federal government put a national coastal zone management program in place and invited coastal states to enact state-level coastal management regimes to link with the federal program. Alaska’s program was unusual in that it was decentralized, allowing regional “coastal districts” to adopt their own plans. Other states took a more centralized approach, with the state government managing coastal management. In 2006 former Gov. Frank Murkowski changed the program to bring it more under state control, arguing that the previous program effectively gave coastal communities a form of veto over state and federal permits for projects of statewide significance. Minerals explorers also became concerned because the reestablished program would have defined “coastal region” as including areas far inland in Alaska where developments such as mines could affect the watersheds of major streams flowing to the coasts. When the Legislature took up the possible renewal of the program in 2010, however, rural legislators pushed to have the earlier version of the program reestablished. This led to an extended deadlock on the issue through 2011, when a compromise bill agreed to between the governor and the House died after rural state senators opposed it. After the bill failed and the program ended, Botelho, Juneau’s mayor, organized the Alaska Sea Party to draft an initiative and gather signatures to put it on the ballot.

Humpy harvest is key to forecast as season winds down

Salmon season is winding down and it’s still a guess if the statewide catch will reach the 132 million fish forecast. Achieving that all comes down to those hard to predict pinks, whose catch makes up more than half of the total harvest. “I think it’s going to be close. It all depends on what happens with the pink salmon runs in the three major producing areas: Prince William Sound, Kodiak and Southeast,” said Geron Bruce, assistant director of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game commercial fisheries division. This summer a catch of 70.2 million pinks were forecasted, down 40 percent from last year. So far, the Kodiak pink catch has topped 15 million; 16 million at Southeast; and nearly 25 million pinks were taken at Prince William Sound. That brings the total Alaska humpy harvest to more than 56 million so far. “But all of the three areas are past their peak it appears. So we’ve got maybe a couple weeks left of decent fishing if these pink salmon runs have a nice tail on them and stretch out a little bit,” Bruce said. Looking at other salmon catches: Alaska’s sockeye take will tick up slightly, but still will come up short of the nearly 35 million sockeye forecast, a 4 percent decline from last year. Likewise, Bruce said chum salmon catches will also be down a bit. “But it’s been a good year for chums, and we are definitely going to hit 16 million and might hit 17 million. So that’s a good harvest,” he said. Good summer and fall chum runs appeared on the Yukon River and at Kotzebue, while the Kuskokwim chum returns were disappointing. For coho salmon, Bruce said the catch outlook for coho salmon, “looks kind of mediocre at best.” Overall, except for the major fishing upheavals caused by fishing closures in major rivers to protect low chinook returns, Alaska’s salmon catch is panning out pretty much like managers expected. “We expected a down year and this is going to be one of the smallest harvests we’ve had in a while. We’ve been at 30 million salmon or above that pretty consistently,” Bruce said. While the lower salmon catches might be good in the short term, Alaska needs to maintain a fishery that is as robust as possible to satisfy its growing customers. “One of the things we have going for us is our large production. There’s so much competition out there from farmed fish that (as) Alaska’s supply shrinks, there are all sorts of competitors waiting to step into any opportunities we offer,” Bruce said. “It’s not like the old days when there was a lot of price elasticity with salmon because there were not a lot of alternatives. Now there are a lot of alternative salmon sources and also all kinds of other proteins competing as well.” Salmon finder Two Alaska fishing groups are using social media to build more awareness and customers for their salmon brands. Starting this summer, locator apps were introduced to help customers find where salmon from Copper River and Bristol Bay are sold or served. “The point is to allow people across the country to find Bristol Bay sockeye and if it is not already in our locator, to tag it as well so that other people will know where they can purchase our salmon,” said Bob Waldrop, director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, which is operated and funded by the fishermen. The app directs users to a Facebook page where typing in an address or zip code will locate nearby Bristol Bay salmon sellers. Restaurants or retailers not listed can be tagged and added to the larger list. Waldrop said that’s been a good selling point to get retailers on board. “When they learn that we are driving customers to them if they will call out their locations, it’s become a sort of virtuous cycle, one hand washing the other,” Waldrop told KDLG in Dillingham. Copper River fishermen were the first to use a salmon locator app this year. Their “find it/tag it” page touts “full season flavor” with kings in the spring, sockeye in summer and cohos in the fall. Along with Facebook, the group also uses Twitter to get in touch with restaurant followers to make sure they’ve been added to the data base. “The app has been very successful,” said Jessyka Dart-McLean, a spokesperson for the Copper River/Prince William Sound Marketing Association. The locator app uses Google mapping so little information is needed to make a positive identification of the restaurant or market, she explained. “We had quite a rush at the beginning of the season of markets and restaurants who wanted to get involved. To populate the locator app we developed a program called the Fresh Catch Crew that enlists bloggers throughout the country to search for our salmon in their city,” she added. Salmon lovers today really want to know the source of their fish, said BBRSDA’s Waldrop. “It means a lot to consumers now to know where their food comes from,” he said. “When it’s Alaska, that’s great – when it’s a particular part of Alaska, that’s even better. What we are doing is taking them to the place where their product is being caught and harvested.” Ice revolution NanoICE is coming to Alaska! The ice-making technology that was invented in Iceland more than a decade ago is newly available in the U.S. The product is made up of tiny ice “fractions” that immerse fish completely, and unlike flake ice, eliminate air pockets that allow bacteria to grow. The ice quickly brings the core temp of the fish down to 31 degrees and holds it there for as long as needed. Instead of shoveling ice into a fish hold or container, NanoICE can be pumped into the fish storage area; likewise, in a processing plant, it can be pumped from a central icehouse to wherever it’s needed instead of scurrying flake ice to and fro with forklifts. At-sea processors also could dip fish in the ice solution to reduce freezing time aboard the vessels. “It’s a holistic approach to the whole cold chain in terms of seafood quality,” said Dan Strickland, a longtime Alaska fishermen who is now working with the NanoICE company. “It begins at the harvest to the tender through to the processors to cold storage and shipping, all the way to retail displays. So from start to finish we can improve quality every step along the way can make dramatic improvements.” NanoICE will make its first Alaska appearance at the Kodiak Marine Science and Research center where more testing will occur along with workshops for local processors. Processors at Bristol Bay have expressed interest in the new technology, where Strickland said it could put an end to trip limits. “People could bring their fish into a processor and put it in a NanoICE tank for storage and bring them out 2-3 weeks later. The fish would literally be like they were brought out of the water that day,” Strickland said. As an added plus, the machines use up to 70 percent less energy than conventional ice machines and up to 90 percent less refrigerants. The cost for a NanoICE generator and installation into an engine room or fish hold is $30,000 - $40,000 and can be customized to fit the size of any operation. “I really believe this will change the face of the seafood industry in Alaska,” Strickland said.

Begich proposes national seafood marketing program

Alaska’s seafood could get a marketing boost as part of a national effort to spread the word about American ocean products. A coalition of 75 fishing-related organizations and states are supporting new legislation to enhance seafood marketing throughout the nation and abroad. Sen. Mark Begich announced proposed legislation at a press conference Aug. 24 that would spend $50 million per year to market American seafood. The legislation is still being finalized, and will be introduced when the senate reconvenes in September. Begich said the initiative, “will bring forward a new way to market an incredible product.” Begich said the effort will work toward getting seafood from all over the country — from Gulf of Mexico shrimp to New England lobster — onto American and international plates. Selling seafood will, in turn, “promote industry and create jobs in the U.S. and enhance local economies and be able to ensure sustainable fisheries,” Begich said. Begich announced the legislation at Copper River Seafoods in Anchorage and was joined by others from the National Seafood Marketing Coalition. Bruce Schactler of Kodiak, director of the coalition, said he thought a national marketing effort could revitalize the seafood industry. “There’s great opportunity for us to expand and to bring more volume,” Schactler said. Schactler said the U.S. seafood industry has needed such an effort for a long time. Only 15 percent of the seafood eaten in America is produced domestically, he said. Begich said the legislation could increase that amount, and also boost sales of American seafood in foreign markets. “This is a great American job creator,” Begich said. “You’re harvesting from our own lands, our own waters.” Legislation creating the national coalition is modeled after the 2010 Travel Promotion Act, Begich said, which took two years to realize. Funding is still in the works, though Begich said he’s looking for a source, like duties, that would not add to taxpayers’ bills. The money would be used by five regional seafood marketing boards, established by the legislation, which would include harvesters, processors and others involved in the industry. The legislation also draws on the record of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, or ASMI, which is paid for by a combination of state and industry funds. Schactler said that the success Alaska had at bringing the salmon industry back from the brink when farmed salmon depressed global prices could be replicated in other industries facing challenges. Outgoing ASMI Executive Director Ray Riutta, who is retiring in December, agreed. “I think Alaska’s a good example of the fact that marketing does work,” Riutta said. Riutta said marketing Alaska salmon a decade ago helped increase the value for fishermen four-fold, without increasing the size of the harvest. Such a success could revitalize coastal America, Begich said. The national marketing effort represents a unified effort to market an American product, Begich said. It brings together various regional entities, including gulf fisheries, Great Lakes representatives, and others. “We find it pretty exciting to now be moving ahead, to create national partnerships,” said Arni Thomson, executive director of United Fishermen of Alaska.

Alaska asks EPA to intervene in mine contamination

An abandoned mercury mine presents a threat to Alaska Native villagers that has not been adequately addressed by the federal Bureau of Land Management, according to Alaska Attorney General Michael Geraghty. He's asking the Environmental Protection Agency to intervene. BLM officials on Friday said they're following federal environmental law for the cleanup of the Red Devil Mine 255 miles west of Anchorage. However, in a letter this month to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Geraghty said Alaska since 1988 has tried working with federal land managers to properly investigate and clean up the abandoned mercury mine in the Kuskokwim River, the nation's ninth largest by discharge at its mouth in the Bering Sea. "Despite Alaska's repeated requests, neither a thorough investigation of the nature and extent of the contamination nor an appropriate risk assessment to determine impacts on Alaska citizens have been completed," he wrote. Residents of 24 Alaska Native villages downstream of the mine eat fish from the river, he said. Many are subsistence users and others catch them commercially or for recreation. Geraghty asked Jackson to place the mine on the Superfund National Priorities List. The step would help ensure the federal government protects citizens by cleaning up soil, sediments and surface waters, he said. Mike McCrum, BLM's Red Devil project manager, said federal Superfund law lays out the process his agency must follow, including an investigation to understand physical characteristics of the site, extent of contaminants and risk to humans. Likewise, cleanup alternatives must be screened by the EPA, state agencies and the public. The date to start additional cleanup is uncertain but not likely before 2014, he said The mine operated from 1933 until 1971 and sent out 35,000 2.5-quart flasks of mercury that each weighed 76 pounds. Operators mined most below ground but eventually could not keep water out of shafts, McCrum said. During their final years, they mined nearby hillsides. The total area affected was about 20 acres. Initial cleanup in 1987 removed processing chemicals and PCBs. BLM also backfilled open mine shafts. Fuel spilled from above-ground storage tanks was a target after 2003. However, the lingering effect of metals mining, including leaching from tailings, remains a concern. Flooded shafts allow groundwater to contact ore and host rock and enter surface water, the agency said on its website, and metals can accumulate in the food web. Samples collected from game fish in the Kuskokwim and tributaries showed elevated mercury concentrations. The study prompted state health officials to issue warnings for consuming northern pike and burbot for women of childbearing age and young children. According to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services fact sheet, mercury at high levels can damage the brain and other organs. Young children and fetuses are more sensitive to mercury. Women of child-bearing age who eat fish in the Middle Kuskokwim River area can submit hair samples for free state analysis of their bodies' mercury levels.

Sport closures put hurt on Peninsula tourism business

It was a tough year for Dave Blackley. He guided dipnet fishing trips, sockeye and trout fishing trips, anything he could do to accommodate clients who wanted to catch king salmon. He still lost a third of his bookings. While it’s hard to pinpoint exactly how much money a king salmon fisherman spends in local bait and tackle shops, at lodges, hiring guides or buying groceries and fuel, local business owners said the loss of tourism money was substantial and painful. The step-down system that eventually led to the fishery’s closure began on the first day of the season when sport fishermen started with no-bait. Alaska Department of Fish and Game officials issued another emergency order restricting the king fishery to catch-and-release and trophy king retention a week later. On July 19, with about two weeks left in the season, the river was closed to fishing for kings. At the time, Fish and Game area biologists said their projections showed a run that could be the lowest on record. While those projections have since changed, due to an unexpected push of late-run kings in August, the economic impact of a king fishery closure has been felt throughout the commercial and sport fishing industries. For Steven Anderson, it was $50,000. “How much of that money would have gotten spent locally? The majority would go to guides, there’s lunches, fishing licenses, fish shipping boxes, welcome gifts that we supply, all that stuff,” said, Anderson, owner of the Soldotna Bed and Breakfast lodge. “That’s probably about $40,000 out of that $50,000. That’s what I can measure that I know we lost. But what about stuff that I can’t measure that we’ll never know because those people never came?” Anderson said he also wouldn’t be doing any renovations this year. “I was going to buck the trend and expand my property but I can’t do that. I’m not going to spend any money. I was considering spending about $200,000 in improvements this winter, I canned all that.” Blackley, who runs Caribou Run Alaska Fishing Adventures with his wife, said he was in a better position than some other guides because he doesn’t live entirely on the money he makes through guiding. “We thought we would be able to crunch the numbers, we thought we would be able to make enough from guiding and lodging to be able to not have another job,” he said. “We found out that it wasn’t as easy as it looks.” In an effort to keep from hemorrhaging clients when the king fishery closure was announced, Blackley said he talked people into sport fishing for sockeye instead. “It’s like, you know, you’re coming and this is what we can do. You know, it’s either that or we’ve got to give you your money back and most people want to go fishing,” Blackley said. “You kind of just hope that they’ll stick with you.” According to the Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council, sales tax data indicates area guides made close to a million dollars in taxable sales in the third and fourth quarters of 2010. Those quarters see the most local tourism and tourist revenue, said KPTMC Executive Director Shanon Hamrick. That revenue, while a boon for the area, can be a double edged sword when it dies down, she said. “When tourism takes a hit, everyone feels an impact,” Hamrick said.   Painful perceptions Greg Brush, owner of EZ Limit Guide Service, is immediately defensive when people use the phrase “Kenai River closure” to describe this year’s king fishing season. “We haven’t been shut down,” he said. “There hasn’t been a river closure. There was a closure to king salmon fishing in July. The river is open and we can sockeye fish, we can trout fish.” The perception difference between a king closure and a river closure can have a severe economic impact, he said. While he lost a few clients, Brush said people who had already bought their plane tickets usually came anyway and he arranged other types of fishing for them. “Where it really hurts is ... people from Anchorage and Wasilla didn’t even come down,” he said. “As word gets out and people are worried about the health of the king fishery and future restrictions, then you wonder what’s going to happen down the road.” Anderson said his lodge has been taking phone calls all season from people who hear the Kenai River is closed. “They hear the Kenai River is closed and they figure it’s for the next 10 years,” he said. “It’s only through the month of July, they don’t know that. People who are calling us already have reservations in August and September. Then I think about people who don’t call, who don’t come, don’t consider coming because they’ve heard the Kenai River is closed.” The loss in revenue from tourists who decide to go elsewhere is immeasurable. “An area like ours does have a reputation and people come here to fish,” Hamrick said. “When it has closures, it affects people’s decisions to come here.” When the marketing council goes to trade shows, Hamrick said educating fishermen is part of the job. “They’re aware of some of our issues but they’re not necessarily getting all of the facts,” she said. “For instance with the halibut fishery there are a lot of people nationwide who believe that the Cook Inlet is a one fish fishery because that’s how it is (elsewhere).” Anderson said people are starting to notice a trend of king restrictions and he’s not sure if offering other fishing or activity options will entice them to continue vacationing in the area. “People are getting cold feet. This is not the first time this has happened, it happened last year. Most people in the know, already know in June its primarily catch and release for kings. June is a very, very hard sell. Its only going to get harder. This July is going to become a harder sell.”   A growing problem Custom Seafood Processors owner Lisa Hanson was not surprised when the king fishery closed. “This isn’t something that happened overnight. This has been in gradual decline for the last five to eight years,” she said. “To say, ‘Oh my this is a surprise’ is not right. We’ve over fished the king fishery for years.” Hanson estimated that 95 percent of her business came from processing sport-caught fish. However the company also processes game and buys and prepares commercial fish. Through 17 years, Hanson has seen ups and downs, and a steady income is hard to find with such a fluctuating market and resource. She said the last few years of strong sockeye runs are a good example of a boom cycle for fish, one she has used to supplant the income lost from declining revenue for king processing. “You don’t plan your finances on a boom year and then have a feeling of entitlement, like, ‘I deserve this all the time,” this is a give-and-take thing; it’s a resource and it fluctuates,” she said. For Custom Seafoods, which charges by the pound, the loss of king revenue comes down to weight. Sockeye usually weigh about six pounds while kings are the largest of all the Pacific salmon and typically weigh about 36 pounds, according to Fish and Game. “It is an absolute loss. Ten years ago we used to catch 60-80 pound kings all day long, I mean dozens,” Hanson said. “Now it’s a rare thing even before the closures and whatnot. So our big fish are in absolute peril.” While she does feel the loss to her business, Hanson said she’s lucky that she can diversify and appeal to sport fishermen who target other kinds of fish. “I am one of the fortunate people and I consider myself blessed beyond measure because I have the red season run and the halibut fishery with local people and tourists getting those two fish that are basically the bread and butter of my business right now,” Hanson said. “I’m able to absorb the loss of the kings much more successfully than some of the guides or the bed and breakfasts.”   What happens next Fish and Game estimates more than a quarter of the run has entered the river since the season closed July 31. Based on passage estimates, there may be enough kings in the river to provide for an adequate spawning escapement. According to the department, between 10-16 percent of the late run of king salmon pass its sonar site in August so the run-timing is later that usual. Other fisheries may have been able to soften the economic blow as well. Hamrick said she’d heard anecdotal evidence of significant economic boosts in the halibut fishery. “I’m very curious to see what the sales tax come back as this summer and how they compare to the previous year,” she said. “While there was some people who cancelled their trips, most people still came and did different activities. That doesn’t help at all the guides on the Kenai River, but it might not be as big of an impact on the Peninsula as a whole in regards to sales tax.” Hanson added a 1,500 foot freezer into her plant after she was so swamped by last year’s banner sockeye salmon run. She also had to close her doors for a few days. “If you can’t capture the income from that high volume — and it’s so very short then it’s gone — you missed the boat,” she said. This year’s strong sockeye run again swamped her processors. But Hanson said with the new freezer she was able to run for a full 24 hours with a second crew to keep up with the demand. “A few people looked at me like I was crazy with the kings closing down, but it was a big investment totally based on faith,” she said. Hanson said she’d gladly give up any income she got from processing kings if it meant the fishery would stay healthy. “If we don’t handle it well and we over fish an area it will go away,” she said. “We can mess things up that nature has provided and we can mess it up so badly that we ruin it.” While the king run may prove healthier than expected, Brush said he would still change the way he runs his business. He said he is only going to book catch-and-release king fishing trips next year. “My clients will no longer be killing Kenai kings,” Brush said. “That’s one thing that a local can do is he can voluntarily release what king salmon he catches. That’s not something that everybody’s going to do but it’s a small step that we can do to educate others and conserve the resource.”

Cost recovery gives Southeast seiners more opportunities

Eight years after an enabling law passed the Alaska Legislature, the Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association accomplished a long-sought goal of the Panhandle seine fleet. It raised the taxes they pay on the chum fishery at its Hidden Falls special harvest area by more than 600 percent. The addition of a 20 percent “cost recovery” assessment on the catch from the six-week Hidden Falls harvest to the regional 3 percent enhancement tax was the cost of replacing the traditional cost recovery model with a common property fishery open to any licensed commercial seiner. “It’s something the seiners have wanted to try for a number of years,” said Steve Reifenstuhl, NSRAA general manager a few days before the fishery opened on June 17. To pay its operating costs in the traditional cost recovery approach, a hatchery takes bids from processors for a percent of a specific run of salmon returning to a hatchery or remote site where the stock was released as juveniles a few years earlier. The winning bidder hires a couple of boats that catch the contracted poundage before the remainder of the run is open to the common property commercial fishery. Beside giving the fleet access to almost the full Hidden Falls run — roughly 1.2 million fish this year — the new method also allowed the Department of Fish and Game to open fisheries on small, wild stock returns to Tenakee Inlet and Point Augusta that would otherwise have remained closed to protect them from being overharvested by boats that couldn’t fish at Hidden Falls. “If we had collected cost recovery the old fashioned way we would have had to shutdown two or three openings to get those fish ... As a new management tool I thought it was very successful because it did allow every opening to occur,” Reifenstuhl said. NSRAA took 13 percent of the run, about 156,000 fish, for brood stock. The new system had no impact on regional sport fisheries, which pay no enhancement taxes. While the Hidden Falls hatchery is near Angoon on Admiralty Island, its namesake fishery takes place across Chatham Strait on the east coast of Baranof Island. It was a particularly good fishery to try the new method because of the discrete location and gear type. The super-assessment was intended only for the seine fishery but a Department of Law opinion that wasn’t issued until the spring declared that an “allocative tax,” levied only on seine-caught chum, would be illegal. That meant trollers that incidentally caught chums while targeting other stocks would be required to pay the higher tax. Regulations also require boats to off-load their Hidden Falls catch before fishing outside the harvest area or to pay the super-tax on their entire catch. “I do know some chum were caught because I had calls from processors asking me about it,” Reifenstuhl said. He noted that NSRAA’s board, “did not want to tax the trollers. Unfortunately they have to on this go-round. They will go to the Board of Fisheries and get the trollers excluded.”   Revamping revenue model Department of Revenue regulations establishing tax rules for Hidden Falls weren’t finalized until the end of May. The push to revamp the cost recovery model began in 2004 with the introduction of Senate Bill 322 by then-Senate President Ben Stevens. The bill was one of a dozen proposals originating with the Legislative Salmon Industry Task Force to respond to the impacts of the new global salmon farming industry. It replaced what had been a 3 percent limit on assessments levied by regional hatchery associations with anything from 1 to 10 percent, 15, 20 or 30 percent, as approved by a vote of eligible commercial fishing permit holders. Despite the harvester vote requirement, it met widespread opposition before passing the Senate on a 14-4 vote, and the House by 36-1. “My guys and the fishermen I talk to are not interested in an additional taxes, are not interested in participating in a campaign to convince a lot of people to do it or not do it,” said Ken Duckett, then executive director of the United Southeast Alaska Gillnetters, with reference to an assessment vote election, at a 2004 Senate Labor and Commerce Committee hearing. “This bill, as written now, will not help the commercial fleet. It will make a bad situation disastrous,” said Kate File, a Juneau harvester, at the hearing. NSRAA ran a five-year retrospective analysis of Hidden Falls chum returns and prices to arrive at the 20 percent rate, which was also approved by a vote of Southeast commercial seine permit holders. “In a five-year chunk of time it comes out pretty even to what we would need,” Reifenstuhl said. The law also allows the assessment to cover not only operating costs but also a reserve of up to 100 percent as insurance against a run collapse. Hidden Falls’ revenue target is $720,000, but $600,000 is “contingency,” Reifenstuhl said. He also noted that last year’s chum prices put $3.5 million in NSRAA’s pocket from its 3 percent assessment alone, also holding down the assessment. With tax collection systems and other processes already in place, Reifenstuhl said administration of Hidden Falls was easier and cheaper than the bidder/contract method. The traditional cost recovery system allows a processor to secure a substantial portion of their salmon needs for the year. Harvesters have long complained that contract cost recovery also allowed processors to depress grounds prices in common property fisheries, but the packers didn’t indicate major problems with the new method. “I never heard any specific comments that they wish we weren’t doing this because I think there’s somewhat of a conflict between fishermen and processors in that way,” Reifenstuhl said. He also noted that, “the major processors were involved back at the beginning when we initiated this roughly a year ago.” Glenn Reed, president of the Pacific Seafood Processors Association said none of his members had raised any concerns. Mike Forbush, a salmon buyer for Ocean Beauty Seafoods and occupant of the processor seat on the NSRAA board, did not respond to requests for a comment. Reifenstuhl said about 100 boats was the maximum participation on any single opening this year. How that turnout compares with past years is difficult to compare due to run size variations and because of a seine permit buy-back that permanently took 64 permits out of the fishery this spring. NSRAA also sent its own boat to list the participants and Reifenstuhl said “self-enforcement” within the fleet helped assure that all participants paid their tax. “As far as I know everybody played by the rules. The proof will be in the pudding when we see what (the Department of) Revenue says are the proceeds,” Reifenstuhl said. NSRAA should have hard numbers by November. With a common property catch of about one million fish and a grounds price averaging 80 cents per pound Reifenstuhl expects $1.1 million in direct revenues. Those results, plus this year’s operating costs and projections on next year’s costs and stock will determine — by March 2013 — whether the assessment will remain at 20 percent.   Limitations Whether the new model becomes the wave of the future remains to be seen, but geography and other factors limit its viability. Cost recovery contracting, “was never a popular thing to do with the fleet. Taxes aren’t popular either but if it creates more openings, which is the belief of the fishermen, I could see it being used elsewhere,” Reifenstuhl said. Eric Prestegard, general manager of the Douglas Island Pink & Chum Hatchery in Juneau, called it “the ultimate benefit” in terms of public fishery access but suggested that a fleet of seiners chasing salmon bound for its Gastineau Channel hatchery amid the cruise ships, sea planes and other traffic would create a safety hazard. He also said his organization may analyze its use at Amalga Harbor, north of Juneau, after the season closes. John Burke, general manager of the Southern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association said its flagship hatchery at Neets Bay, north of Ketchikan, is its only cost recovery and broodstock collection site. That allows common property fisheries at several remote release sites with only its regional two percent assessment. Using the NSRAA model could have required an assessment north of 100 percent at Neets Bay, depending on fish prices, Burke noted.

BBNA lands job training grant; U.S. oceans No. 26 in new survey

Jobs are being put on the fast track in Bristol Bay, with a focus on careers that go hand-in-hand with the region’s culture and economy: commercial fishing and seafood processing. “The fishery is our largest industry; it’s the backbone of the economy here,” said Patty Heyano, Program Development Director for the Bristol Bay Native Association in Dillingham. “So it made a whole lot of sense to concentrate on that. It seemed like we could make the biggest impact in the shortest amount of time because the industry is already here.” Heyano is referring to a $405,000 Rural Development grant that BBNA has received from the U.S. Dept of Agriculture. In collaboration with the Southwest Alaska Vocational and Education Center, the money will help ramp up industry related training programs. “The Rural Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge can be summed up to say job accelerator,” said Larry Yerich, Public Information Coordinator at the USDA Rural Development office in Anchorage. BBNA was one of just 13 out of 62 applicants nationwide to win a Challenge grant, which allow recipients to craft programs designed to fill the needs of their own regions. It is also the first award of its type in Alaska. “The first one in Alaska, and the first in the nation to a Native organization,” Heyano noted proudly. The grant will be used to develop curricula and a cluster of training and certification programs at the Voc/Ed Center focused on two tracks: helping more people enter the region’s fisheries or start small fish processing operations. “They will teach a wide range of things fishermen need – navigation, boat maintenance, engine repair … and then there’s things like compliance with management and US Coast Guard regulations,” Heyano said, adding that the program will also help existing fishermen with their operations. BBEDC also has a salmon permit loan program and training will help people meet the requirements for loans. The grant money also will enable instructors to be based in the Bristol Bay region. “They have a state of the art facility for training, but they don’t have instructors and their own curriculum. Other training programs bring their programs to SAVEC,” explained Heyano. Developing the curricula and training clusters for the jobs accelerator program will begin this fall, she said, and it should be up and running by next year. “They didn’t call it a challenge for nothing, because implementing this program is going to be a big challenge,” she said. “But I think it’s going to be great because with SAVEC being located here in the region, they are in a really good position to be responsive to the needs of the people.” Ocean Index The world’s oceans get a grade of 60 out of 100 according to new Ocean Health Index, or OHI. The mediocre grate indicates we are not “managing our use of the oceans in an optimal way,” according to index creators at Conservation International, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit focused on “a healthy and productive planet and smarter paths to development.” Its members include a who’s who of planet advocates such as National Geographic. The OHI “provides for the first time a comprehensive, science based measurement of what’s happening in our oceans and a global platform from which to evaluate the implications of human action or inaction,” said Dr. Greg Stone, a co-author of the paper in Nature. The index evaluates the health of the oceans adjacent to 171 countries and territories out to 200 miles. The rankings are based on an average of 10 ecological, social and economic “goals” such as fishing opportunities, clean water and coastal protection. The U.S. ranked No. 26 with an OHI of 63. Positive upward trends for U.S. oceans were providing a “sense of place,” food provision, natural products and local fishing opportunities. Trending down in U.S. oceans were carbon storage, biodiversity, clean waters, coastal protection and coastal livelihoods and economies. Coming in at No. 1 with an index of 86 was uninhabited Jarvis Island in the South Pacific. Germany ranked No. 4, the Netherlands and Canada both came in at No. 9, Japan at No. 11 and Australia ranked No. 14 for the health of oceans off its coasts. The statewide salmon catch topped 107 million fish by Aug. 17 (up by 16 million fish from last week) on its way to a preseason forecast of 132 million salmon. Pink catches will tell the tale – they were nearing 55 million (a weekly increase of 16 million fish); a catch of 70 million is projected. Other tallies: 217,000 kings, 15.7 million chums, 1.4 million coho and 35 million sockeye. Golf fights hunger America’s food banks were the big winners in the annual Ocean Beauty Benefit Golf Tournament, which raised $10,000 last week to help feed hungry families. The money goes directly to SeaShare, which has linked the seafood industry and suppliers to food banks across the country since 1994. Through SeaShare the seafood industry has become one of the largest private sources of protein for hunger relief in the nation.

Commentary: Money pouring in to defeat coastal management initiative

Alaska has more coastline than all of the other U.S. states combined, but unlike all those other states, Alaskans have no say in how their coasts are managed or developed. If Outside and foreign corporations have their way, that’s how it will remain. A successful coastal zone management program has been in place since the 1970s, but the program expired last year when lawmakers and Gov. Sean Parnell failed to agree on its extension. Despite constant criticism of “the feds” always trying to butt into Alaska’s business, the state surrendered authority to guide and control development of its coastline to the U.S. government. That didn’t rest well with many Alaskans. More than 33,000 residents signed a petition to reinstate a coastal management program and to put the question to voters as a ballot initiative this fall. On Aug. 28, Alaskans will decide if they want to have a voice at the table. That’s brought out some big guns to defeat the pro-vote. Opponents say the ballot initiative is poorly worded and would create more bureaucracy and hurdles to coastal permitting decisions. The opposition is mostly non-Alaska based entities, according to the Alaska Public Offices Commission, or APOC. Disclosures from April through July show that $776,000 has been spent to prevent the coastal management initiative from ever making it to the ballot. Of that, 70 percent came from Outside and foreign interests. Shell Oil of the Netherlands, for example, gave $150,000. Four Canadian-owned mining companies gave a total of $135,000. An Idaho-based mining company contributed $75,000. Donations by the Alaska Oil and Gas Association also can be traced to its 15 member companies, 14 of which are based outside of the state. Those numbers are likely to go much higher when the next APOC report comes out on Aug. 21. “We assumed all along big Outside money would oppose our local voices, but we didn’t expect such a huge flood of non-Alaska funding. These mostly foreign companies are opposing Alaskans having a say in how our coastal lands are managed,” said Terzah Tippin Poe, co-director of the Alaska Sea Party, a grassroots group formed to regain a coastal voice. So far more than 200 Alaskans from across the state have donated a total of $64,000 to support a Vote Yes campaign. “Over 30,000 Alaskans signed the petition to get the initiative on the ballot, it has 280 co-sponsors, and is supported by the majority of Alaska’s mayors and hundreds of Alaska organizations,” said Sea Party co-chair Bruce Botelho said. “Our opponents may throw all kinds of big Outside money at us, but Alaskans know what’s right and what’s best for the state in the long term.” Frankenflop The push to keep genetically tweaked salmon off American dinner plates has stalled for now and isn’t likely to get traction in Congress till next session. Before the August recess, Alaska U.S. Sen. Mark Begich pulled an opposition bill he had introduced when it appeared it would fail to pass through a Commerce committee by one vote. “I want to stress that on this legislation we really worked hard to compromise with members and to make it very clear that the bill focused on genetically engineered fish,” Begich said. “Consumer concerns are very widespread – over 70 different groups have opposed this type of fish.” For more than 15 years, a Massachusetts-based company called Aqua Bounty has been trying to get FDA approval to market its super salmon – a fish that is genetically modified to grow three times faster than both wild and farmed salmon. Dubbed Frankenfish by critics, it would be the first GM animal product OK’d for human consumption. Because the changeling process is listed under “veterinary procedures,” no labels are required to alert consumers they are buying it. “It is not just an Alaska issue, it is a national issue regarding our fisheries,” Begich told KDLG/Dillingham. “We have no interest in dealing with the other GM products in this country. We are talking about fish and creating a process that allows more review and ensuring consumers are protected. The FDA has now delayed almost two years, mainly because we have brought up complaint after complaint about the process they have used and the lack of consumer response by their agency.” Alaska U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski said, “You wouldn’t catch me serving that to my sons. And it stuns me there has been this attitude of ‘don’t worry, it’s fine.’ I am worried and I will do everything I can to make sure it doesn’t get out on the market.” She added that when it comes to food safety, it is an area where she wants more involvement by the federal government. Begich and others also point to concerns over disease and Frankenfish escaping and mixing with wild stocks. Congressman Don Young, the Alaska legislature and state fishing groups have come out strongly against Frankenfish, as has the National Humane Society, among others. Salmon watch The statewide catch through Aug. 10 was 90 million fish, of a forecast of 132 million. The breakdown: 210,000 Chinook; 14.8 million chums; 1.1 million coho; 39 million pinks, 34.6 million sockeye salmon.

Editorial: Attacks on 'Outside' companies wrong, undemocratic

Here we go again. An initiative governing resource development is on the Aug. 28 primary ballot and it was only a matter of time before the backers of Proposition 2 to reinstate a coastal zone management program played the “Outsider” card. After finance disclosures were filed with the state for June and July, the Alaska Sea Party put out a press release decrying the fact the group has been outraised 10-1 by their opponents who were characterized as “foreign” and “Outside” companies. Notably, while accusing these companies of a nefarious scheme to buy an election and silence Alaskans, the Sea Party did not attempt to refute the main argument against Prop 2 — that it will inject a tremendous amount of new uncertainties into a permitting process already fraught with them. Those favoring Prop 2 also continue to imply that they are simply restoring the previous coastal zone management program when that is hardly the case. Instead, the only counter to the Vote No on 2 group by the Sea Party appears to be that the their position is illegitimate because of the location of their company headquarters. These attacks on “foreign” or “Outside” companies participating in the political process in a state where they have invested billions of dollars and employ tens of thousands of Alaskans aren’t just wrong. They are undemocratic, and, in the end, stunningly hypocritical. We’ve seen this argument about “foreigners” deployed repeatedly against the developers of the proposed Pebble mine project, Anglo American of London and Northern Dynasty Minerals of Vancouver. The constant use of “foreign” as a pejorative to cast these companies in an unfavorable light is farcical while bordering on xenophobic. No one believes the opposition to Pebble would somehow melt away or diminish if Anglo American and Northern Dynasty were headquartered in Alaska. We’re not surprised to see this volley fired against the opponents of Prop 2. The Sea Party has only raised about $63,000, but at least a third of that came in two donations from opponents of the Pebble mine. While the anti-Pebble forces have no problem with a consortium of Japanese-owned fish processors coming out against the project, we are supposed to believe there is something wrong with a Japanese mining company, Pogo owner Sumitomo, contributing to the “Vote No on 2” effort. Our courts, our airwaves and our ballot boxes are open to all sides and viewpoints. Yet the Prop 2 and the anti-Pebble forces act like these venues should only be available to those they agree with. Such double standards are unfortunately ubiquitous in Alaska. When Lake and Peninsula Borough passed a residency requirement stricter than state standards and rejected some ballots in the 2010 and 2011 elections, a lawsuit was filed and the ordinance was overturned to great cheers from the anti-Pebble forces. Yet when the Pebble Partnership uses the courts to challenge an equally constitutionally dubious Lake and Pen ordinance that would supersede the state role in permitting, the same folks cry foul. Similarly, environmental groups will sue, sue and sue again to contest permitting documents and decisions, yet they have rushed to embrace a scientifically indefensible assessment of mining impacts on the Bristol Bay watershed. Environmental activists would never stand for a document as incomplete as the EPA assessment to be used to allow resource development, yet they have no problem looking the other way in this case because they think it can help them short-circuit the permitting process to shut Pebble down. In December 2010, a coalition of fishing groups and the State of Alaska sued the federal government, and eventually won, on the grounds that National Marine Fisheries Service didn’t follow the law when it imposed wide-ranging cod and mackerel closures in the western Aleutians based on a theory the action would protect food sources for endangered Steller sea lions. A federal judge agreed with the state and fishermen, and noted the resulting economic harm in ordering NMFS to prepare a full environmental impact statement to support the action. Like free speech, the rule of law is not a one-way street, and stakeholders who decry the feds cutting corners when it works against them cannot credibly argue that the same government should do an end-run around the process when it suits them. There are plenty of arguments in favor of Prop 2 or against the Pebble mine, but the location of corporate headquarters is hardly one of them.

ASMI taps new executive director; Collier, Palmer reappointed to board

Retired Coast Guard Captain Michael Cerne has been selected as the new executive director of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute and will replace current Executive Director Ray Riutta upon his retirement in December. Cerne served in the U.S. Coast Guard for 31 years and retired in 2011 with the rank of Captain. He is a graduate of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy with a degree in marine science, and also has a master of marine affairs degree from the University of Rhode Island. He served on five Coast Guard cutters in his career, three of which were based in Alaska, including command of USCGC STORIS in Kodiak. Ashore, his assignments included Commanding Officer of the North Pacific Fisheries Training Center in Kodiak, and Chief of Fisheries Law Enforcement for the U.S Coast Guard from 1998-2002 at Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington, D.C. Cerne’s final assignment was at the Coast Guard District office in Juneau where he managed Alaskan fishery patrol operations and served on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, North Pacific Research Board, and a number of international fishery management organizations. Barry Collier and Mark Palmer were reappointed to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute board of directors. Collier has been president and chief executive officer of Peter Pan Seafoods Inc. since 1997, and was vice president of administrative operations from 1989-1997. His career also includes service as an administrative assistant, then president of the Pacific Seafood Processors Association from 1985-89, two years as executive director of the North Pacific Fishing Vessel Owners’ Association, and two years as executive manager of the Purse Seine Vessel Owners’ Association. Collier earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Puget Sound in 1978. He has served on the ASMI board since 2004. Palmer has been president and chief executive officer of Ocean Beauty Seafoods Inc. since 2005, and has been with the organization since 1984, beginning in the Boise distribution location and eventually rising to various sales and management positions. Palmer earned a bachelor’s degree from Boise State University. He has served on the ASMI Board since 2004.

Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute announces new executive director

JUNEAU — Following an extensive nationwide search, the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute Board of Directors has selected retired Coast Guard captain Michael Cerne to replace Executive Director Ray Riutta upon his retirement. Cerne will begin with working in the ASMI Juneau office in September to allow for several months of overlap before Mr. Riutta retires in December.   “While it will be difficult to replace someone the caliber of Ray Riutta, I’m very happy with the board’s decision and we are quite confident that Mr. Cerne will be an effective leader at ASMI for years to come,” said Board Chairman Joe Bundrant of Trident Seafoods.  “I’ve known Michael and his good work for years.  His combination of skills and experience will make him a very good addition to ASMI,” added current director Ray Riutta.   Michael Cerne served in the U.S. Coast Guard for 31 years and retired in 2011 with the rank of Captain. He is a graduate of the United States Coast Guard Academy with a degree in Marine Science, and also has a Master of Marine Affairs degree from the University of Rhode Island. He served on five Coast Guard cutters in his career, three of which were based in Alaska, including command of USCGC STORIS in Kodiak. Ashore, his assignments included Commanding Officer of the North Pacific Fisheries Training Center in Kodiak, and Chief of Fisheries Law Enforcement for the U.S Coast Guard from 1998 - 2002 at Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington DC. Captain Cerne's final assignment was at the Coast Guard District office in Juneau where he managed Alaskan fishery patrol operations and served on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, North Pacific Research Board, and a number of international fishery management organizations. He is currently completing a project with the United Nations to improve the management of global tuna fisheries.  Cerne is married to the former Holly Hagerty of North Carolina. They have two children, Kathryn (18) and Sarah (16).

Commentary: UAF study reveals the ups and downs of fishing in Kodiak

Kodiak fishermen are a happy lot, but they are also anxious about the future of their industry. Those are some of the early findings of an ongoing survey that focuses on the social and cultural perceptions of the fishing life in Kodiak and how things have changed over two decades. The survey is part of a multi-year project titled Social Transitions and Wellbeing in Kodiak Fisheries and Communities by Courtney Carothers, an assistant professor UAF’s School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences. Carothers lived for more than a year in Kodiak villages to research peoples’ experiences and perceptions; extensive interviews and the survey are helping to flesh out more findings. “In terms of fisheries policy, when there is an analysis of some social or human component it’s often just the economics. It all boils down to how much money people are making and what are the costs, that sort of thing,” Carothers said. “I think the social and cultural connections people have to fishing, to communities, to shared ways of living are really important.” In June, about 1,000 surveys were sent to a random sample of Kodiak fishermen in all gear groups and fisheries. It asked them to rank questions that asked how happy or satisfied they are with fishing and various aspects of it today compared to 20 years ago. Carothers has compiled responses from the first 150 returns by fishermen having an average of 26 years experience out on the water. “It’s really great that folks who have had a ton of fishing experience, mostly out of Kodiak, are sharing their insights,” she said in an interview that revealed some of her findings. Overall, commercial fishermen said if they had their lives to live over again, they would be fishermen, with most responding “yes” or “strongly yes.” Most also agreed that Kodiak is a healthy fishing community. “Very few strongly agreed, though,” Carothers said. “Most were sort of in the middle or neutral. So I think that suggests people have some concerns about certain aspects of Kodiak compared to 15 to 20 years ago.” The survey asked what people see as major threats to the sustainability of Kodiak as a fishing community and got back a wide range of perspectives. Unforeseen environmental challenges, such as ocean acidification made the list of worries. Another is friction among local fishermen. “People often mentioned the disharmony among the different gear groups in town. They feel like that has gotten a bit more pronounced and they recognize that everyone in Kodiak needs the fish to be healthy and everyone needs to get along,” Carothers said. The cost of entry into fisheries was cited as a major stressor, as was fear that spiraling costs will prevent young people from entering fisheries. Not surprisingly, the impact of catch share programs was mentioned as a major cause of change and concern for Kodiak fishermen. “Haves and have nots – that’s the way people say fishing is characterized now as compared to the past. Certain programs have been put in place and they have been great for certain people but others feel they have been left out of those programs. I think that has affected some people’s sense of wellbeing,” Carothers said. “For example, some of the crewmembers say they have less power than 20 years ago when they were able to command a good job and wage relative to other skippers and captains.” As for earnings, most said earnings are much better, others said they are worse. “I think it depends on the fishery, gear group and whether you are a crew member, a skipper or an owner,” Carothers said. About 60 percent of the fishermen said they would recommend a fishing career to young people, but worry they won’t be able to afford to buy in. Above all, Kodiak fishermen said they love the fishing lifestyle. “I think that’s another key finding,” Carothers said. “They love the livelihood of fishing, being able to make your living based in a coastal community, to be out on the water and in control of your own operation, to be your own boss, to get away from all the bureaucratic goings on in town, the teaching and learning that goes on when you bring your kids out on the boat, learning hard work and not to complain — it’s highly valued and people see that as something they always want young people to be able to access.” Carothers said her hope is that her research will help “inform regulators and others whose policies very much affect how and when people can fish.” Fish watch Alaska’s statewide salmon harvest has neared the halfway point of the 132 million fish forecast. From here on out, hitting that target will depend on how well those hard to predict pinks come in. State managers predict a catch of 70.2 million pinks, down 40 percent from last year. Pinks were moving into the major producing regions of Kodiak, Southeast and Prince William Sound, where the catch had topped 10 million. The PWS humpies are hefty, averaging 4.3 pounds, one pound heavier than last summer. At Bristol Bay, most of the fleet was heading home after catching nearly 21 million sockeye salmon. A couple hundred boats and over 50 setnetters were still fishing however – targeting pinks. Two years ago Bristol Bay had the first pink salmon fishery since 1984 with a catch of 1.3 million humpies, 800 percent higher than the past two decades. You can track Alaska’s weekly salmon catches by species and region at the “Blue Sheet” on the Alaska Department of Fish and Game website. Lots more ‘sides salmon Halibut fishermen have landed 56 percent of their 24 million pound quota with less than 10.5 million pounds to go. For sablefish (black cod), 64 percent of the 29 million pound quota has been caught. Both fisheries remain open till mid November. Weathervane scallops are still being harvested in some regions of the Gulf and Bering Sea. Trawling for pollock and various flatfish is ongoing in the Bering Sea, along with jigging for cod. The small boat red king crab season continues in Norton Sound, to be followed on Aug. 15 by the Aleutians golden king crab fishery. In the Gulf of Alaska, fishermen are still going after Dungeness crab around Kodiak and throughout the Panhandle. Gulf of Alaska pollock reopens Aug. 25 and also trawling for cod on Sept. 1. A lingcod fishery at Prince William Sound could last through the end of the year. Salmon smells Research shows that the tiniest traces of copper affect a salmon’s sense of smell, and that results in a change in their behavior. A study three years ago by Oregon State University and federal scientists revealed that copper deposited on roads from vehicle brake pads and exhaust runs off into streams and rivers. Copper levels as low as two parts per billion adversely affected the sense of smell in juvenile salmon, which they use to avoid predators. “In the environment that has some serious implications,” said Jason Sandahl, co-author of the Oregon copper study. “If there are predators around and the fish are not able to response to these danger signals in the water, I guess they would be the next snack for these larger predators in the water.” Sandahl said at higher levels, a salmon’s avoidance ability was almost nonexistent. Now another study at the University of Washington has confirmed that finding. Researcher Jenifer McIntyre, also working with NOAA scientists, found that a copper exposed fish is not getting the information it needs to protect itself. McIntyre exposed juvenile coho salmon to between 5 and 20 parts per billion of copper and placed them in tanks with a common predator, cutthroat trout. The results were striking. “A copper-exposed fish is not getting the information it needs to make good decisions,” said McIntyre, a postdoctoral research associate at WSU’s Puyallup Research and Extension Center. Salmon that were not exposed to copper would stop moving when they sensed a predator, making it harder to detect them. McIntyre called it “going into lockdown mode.” But salmon in water with just five parts of copper per billion failed to detect the predator, kept swimming and were attacked in a matter of seconds. The exposed fish were killed 30 percent of the time in the first strike; the salmon not exposed to copper managed to escape nine times out of 10 because they were poised to take evasive action. The behavior of the predator fish was the same whether or not they had been exposed to copper. Testimony by McIntyre and her team has prompted the Washington State legislature to start phasing out brake pads and linings over the next 15 to 20 years.   Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishfactor.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Coast Guard prepares for expanded Arctic role

The Coast Guard is ready for expanded activity in Arctic waters, including petroleum exploration, Commandant Robert Papp told a U.S. Senate subcommittee Monday, even though the nearest agency base is more than 750 miles southeast of the Bering Strait, on Kodiak Island. "For right now, we are well prepared, because like we always do traditionally, we have multi-mission assets that we can deploy, that are very capable, and that are sufficient for the level of human activity that's going on this summer and perhaps for the next three or four summers," Papp told a U.S. Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee. U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., conducted the hearing in a hangar of Air Station Kodiak at the request of Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, with the intent of discussing Coast Guard needs as melting summer sea ice opens more of the Arctic to cargo vessels, ecotourism and possibly commercial fishing. Landrieu said climate models indicate the Arctic Ocean could be free of summer ice after 2030. "This is an extraordinary change on our planet and we must be ready for it," she said. Landrieu asked whether the Coast Guard was prepared if something went terribly wrong with petroleum drilling, as happened in the Gulf of Mexico two years ago when the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded. Shell Oil hopes to drill exploratory wells this summer in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska's northwest coast and the Beaufort Sea off the state's north coast. Landrieu said the gulf spill drew a response of 47,000 personnel and 7,000 vessels and she didn't see those kinds of assets at the Kodiak base if Shell's response measures were insufficient. "The Coast Guard is it," she said. In response, Papp said he had faith in Shell's preparations. "I have to say I'm impressed with the amount of effort, work, and commitment of resources Shell has done," he said. The Deepwater Horizon rig was by itself, Papp said. Shell will have 22 spill response vessels and a containment apparatus staged near Arctic Ocean drilling sites. "They will have everything in place, ready to go, an overabundance of caution in case something happens," he said. Papp said the comparison between the Gulf of Mexico and Shell's proposed Alaska wells as a comparison of apples to oranges, to a certain extent. The Alaska wells will be drilled in water up to 150 feet deep, compared to 5,000 in the gulf, and pressure in the petroleum reservoirs will be far less. "But even saying that, we're looking at the worst case discharge possibility and I think Shell has well prepared for that," he said. One containment vessel remains to be certified, he said. Papp said the agency is conducting summer operations in Arctic waters, getting to know the region, testing equipment, working with residents of coastal villages. The information will be used to plan a long-range Arctic strategy.

Former Murkowski aide to be released from prison

A former fisheries aide to Sen. Lisa Murkowski, convicted of falsifying his own fishing records, is scheduled for release from prison by Saturday. According to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, Arne Fuglvog has been serving time at a minimum security camp in Virginia. Fuglvog last year pleaded guilty to falsifying commercial fishing records for profit. He resigned as an aide to Murkowski shortly before his plea deal with prosecutors was made public. He was sentenced to five months in prison, and it was known he was helping prosecutors in another case. Fuglvog recently testified against an Oregon man who once operated a fishing vessel co-owned by Fuglvog. Freddie Joe Hankins faces up to five years in prison after being convicted of falsely reporting where he caught fish in Alaska.

Treaty obligation likely won't be met

FAIRBANKS (AP) — Poor king salmon returns on Alaska's rivers mean that a treaty obligation with Canada likely won't be met. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game says that projected escapement goals to Canadian spawning grounds are expected to fall short. Fish and Game says sonar data in the Yukon River at Eagle indicates that the king salmon run is poor. The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner (http://is.gd/CNKT4W) reports that so far about 24,400 kings have been counted by the sonar as of last Thursday. That is about half the historic average for that date. At that rate, the projection at Eagle is a run of between 34,000 and 42,000 kings. A U.S.-Canada treaty has set an escapement goal of between 42,500 and 55,000 kings to Canada. ___ Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, www.newsminer.com  

State seeks input on how marine trades are faring

With 82 percent of Alaska’s communities unreachable by roads, water is the way to go. Businesses that serve the marine industry, including ports and harbors, are a lifeline for coastal communities. State economic specialists want to highlight the importance of the marine trade sector, and the jobs it provides, which are often overlooked. In March they launched an online Business Retention and Expansion questionnaire hoping to get feedback from coastal residents on how their marine businesses are faring. “Ship building and repair businesses, all modes of transportation, marine vendors, such as welders or automotive folks, marine construction people, anyone dealing with logistics or fuel, harbormasters and the infrastructure associated with that, and marine professional services we forget about such as engineers, banks, insurance companies, and seafood processors,” said Kevin O’Sullivan, a specialist with the Division of Economic Development. The goal is to identify immediate problems challenging businesses as well as future opportunities. Deadline to participate in the brief online survey is Aug. 15th. Results will be released in September. Skins state side! Salmon skins have finally made it to the U.S. in a line of clothing and accessories set to make the fashion scene this fall. Los Angeles designer Lindsay Long features the salmon leather on jackets and cuffs, bracelets, belts, yokes and collars on dresses. “It is a very interesting textile and it’s a good eco-friendly, sustainable alternative to other exotic skins, like snakes and things like that,” Long told KMXT. She said it’s still rare in the US, but the supple, durable salmon leathers are used widely in Europe as upholstery in luxury cars, yachts and jets, as well as in the high fashion world. “Givenchy has used it on this killer pair of shoes I would love to wear,” Long said. “But other than that it’s new to the US. It’s kind of a cross over material – branching its way out into different industries. So we are the first that we know to be using it on the whole range – jackets, dresses, belts and everything like that. The salmon skins come from an organic fish farm in Ireland; they are tanned and sold by a German company called Nanai, which recently opened an office in LA. The company, reportedly wants to source more salmon skins state-side. “They researched an ancient tanning method that uses no harsh metals or chemicals and creates these beautiful, colorful pieces of leather. I just couldn’t resist,” Long said. See Long’s $88 salmon belts at www.Lindsaylong.co. Salmon surge Alaska’s wild salmon harvest was nearing 60 million fish by July 27, increasing by 18 million salmon in just two weeks. Here’s the statewide tally: Chinook: 198,000; sockeye: 33.7 million (nearly 21 million from Bristol Bay); coho: 536,000; chum: 11 million; pink: 13.1 million. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishfactor.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Board to consider emergency Kenai petitions

The Alaska Board of Fisheries is expected to again meet in emergency session to consider several petitions dealing with Kenai River king and sockeye salmon. The board will meet Wednesday morning to consider petitions proposing for the harvest of late-run kings and sockeye. The board won't be taking public testimony during the teleconference. In-river king fishing was shut down earlier this month because so few kings are returning to the river. At the same time, the Kenai has seen near record number of red salmon. While driftnetters have been allowed to fish for sockeye off-shore, setnetters near the beach have been shut out. That's because their nets not only catch sockeye but some kings. Fishery experts say those kings need to get upriver to spawn.

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