Fisheries

Trials set to begin for Alaska Native fishermen

Some call it a protest by Alaska Native subsistence fishermen, but that's not the way it looks to Harry David and a couple dozen others charged with illegally fishing for king salmon in waters severely restricted by the state because of dismal runs of the prized fish. "We've been taught since we were growing up to gather food from the land for winter," said David, a Yup'ik Eskimo from the western Alaska village of Tuntutuliak. David, 48, is heading for trial in Bethel northeast of his village and is contesting non-criminal charge of using the wrong-size net in June at the Kuskokwim River. The trials starting Monday reflect a clash between ancient traditional practices and modern government restrictions. Supporters say Alaska Natives should have a more of say in managing their fishing grounds and that it's their inherent right to fish. State and federal officials say Native input is important, but ultimately, ensuring sustainability for future runs is always the overriding priority. The poor king runs this year led to federal disaster declarations for the Yukon-Kuskokwim area as well as Cook Inlet. Enough fish need to escape to spawn, and lower runs in recent years have forced smaller allowances that subsistence fishermen aren't used to, said John Linderman, a biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. In the Kuskokwim this year, restrictions were the tightest ever implemented, shutting down most of the entire run, which occurs in June through early July. Later runs of other salmon species were plentiful. "It all boils down to — or comes back to — escapement and what's available for harvest," he said. "The actions taken with respect to the subsistence fishery on the Kuskokwim this year — there wasn't an adequate number of surplus fish." Altogether, 60 fishermen from several villages defied the restrictions and originally faced misdemeanor charges of fishing in closed waters and/or using restricted gear. The charges for all but a few were reduced to minor violations, according to prosecutors. A little more than half of the fishermen pleaded guilty to the reduced non-criminal charges and were ordered to pay $250 fines. Sammy Jackson, a 49-year-old Yup'ik fisherman from the village of Akiak originally was charged with both misdemeanors and is fighting the remaining gear violation. People have to catch kings to dry in June before rains and flies arrive. The largest salmon species, kings also are highly valued for their high fat content, which rural Alaska Natives say helps get them through extreme winters. Fishing in the closed waters was a necessity, not a protest, Jackson said. "We were exercising our God-given rights as a first people of this land," he said, adding Alaska Natives want more input in the face of increasingly shorter opportunities for fishing. "We pleaded for years for biologists to work with us. You had to be fishing around here all your life to understand and know the fish of this river." For decades, Alaska Natives have sought a Native subsistence priority on lands where they historically fished and hunted. Jim Davis, an Anchorage attorney representing the fishermen pro-bono, said this summer's conflict followed years of ever tightening restrictions. Government managers do consult with Alaska Natives through a salmon planning group. But managers always have the last say. "I think what's happening here," he said, "is there's this tipping point where you have just these law-abiding, devout, religious elders saying, 'We're not going to take it anymore.'" For every subsistence fisherman who contested the restrictions, scores more honored them, according to 21-year-old Megan Leary, who is part Yup'ik and has been subsistence fishing most of her life. Leary lives in Bethel and practices subsistence fishing near Napaimute, where she serves on the village's traditional council. She said the region is far more competitive today because of a larger population that didn't exist when Native elders were growing up. Chum and red salmon runs were enough to ensure that no one would go hungry this year, she said. For Leary and other young Natives, the restrictions were for the better for future runs. But many of her peers don't talk about it, fearing they'll be scolded by elders. Still, Alaska Natives survived for generations because they adapted to the changes, she noted. She believes that needs to happen today as well. "Subsistence is taking anything the land offers," she said. "And being thankful for it."

Fresh salmon fillet, roe prices up; Bristol Bay red king crab down

Alaska salmon sales had lots of ups and downs this summer, but held their own overall in a tough market awash with farmed fish. The wild salmon catch goes to market in many forms such as canned, fresh or frozen, fillets and roe. The state Revenue Department Tax Division provides quartile reports on first wholesale prices for all of Alaska’s salmon forms by species and region. Its report covering May-August shows lots of wild salmon fillets were tossed on the grill this summer, and people were willing to pay more for them. Alaska processors produced more than 13 million pounds of salmon fillets during the summer season. Prices for king fillets averaged $11.45 per pound, a 70 cent increase over last year. Fresh sockeye salmon fillets averaged $7.60 per pound, and $7.24 per pound for coho fillets – an increase of 66 cents for both. Only chum fillets fell at wholesale to $3.25 per pound, down 52 cents from last summer. Salmon roe prices, especially for pinks and chums, showed big jumps this summer. Pink salmon roe at $9.28 per pound was a 53 percent increase over last season; chum roe increased from $12.17 to $15 per pound. Nearly 2 million pounds of sockeye roe ($6.31 per pound compared to $5.31 per pound) came from Bristol Bay, valued at over $12 million. Prince William Sound led the pack for pink salmon roe at one million pounds worth more than $11 million. Southeast Alaska scooped the most chum roe: 1.2 million pounds valued at nearly $21 million. On the down side: most of Alaska’s salmon catch is sold in headed/gutted form, either fresh or frozen. Those wholesale prices were down nearly across the board. Here’s a sampler with 2011 prices in parentheses: Fresh H&G sockeye: $3.67 ($3.77); pink salmon: $1.31 ($1.43); chum: $1.67 ($2.10). The fresh king salmon wholesale price averaged $7.49 per pound, an increase of 82 cents per pound; cohos increased two cents to $3.42 per pound. Frozen H&G sockeye: $2.81 ($3.17); king salmon: $3.16 ($4.10); pinks: $1.23 ($1.45); coho: $2.58 ($2.66); chum: $1.40 ($1.87). Alaska’s preliminary salmon catch for 2012 totaled just less than 124 million fish.   King crab market clipped Crabbers agreed to an advance price of $7.25 per pound for red king crab shortly after they dropped pots last week in Bristol Bay waters. “This represents approximately 90 percent of the expected final price given current market conditions. Of course, market conditions are subject to change,” said Jake Jacobsen, director of the Inter-Cooperative Exchange, which represents a majority of the Bering Sea crab fleet. Nearly 8 million pounds of red king crab will come from Bristol Bay waters this season, about the same as last year. Prices topped $10 a pound to fishermen after sales in 2011; the market has shifted quite a bit this year. “After the record run up in prices last year when they were over $20 a pound (shipped to Japan or Seattle for brine/bulk crab) a lot of buyers backed away,” said John Sackton, a crab market expert and editor of Seafood.com. “There also were reports prior to the season that U.S. companies still had some crab from last season that was unsold.” Japan is the price setter this year, and demand for king crab there is down. Buyers have floated first wholesale prices in the $14 to $18 per pound range, Sackton said, down about 25 percent from last season. Another downward press on prices is coming again from king crab poachers in the Russian fishery. Sackton said the numbers between catch quotas and crab deliveries to Japan and elsewhere simply don’t add up. “Trade figures show that in 2005-2006 the global trade in king crab was literally four to five times as much as the legal landings,” Sackton said. “They have gone down but are still about twice as high. There is no question that this fishery still has a large component in the Far East that is being taken illegally.”   Big fish on the Rock More than 200 fishery scientists and professionals gathered in Kodiak last week to both teach and learn about current research and other goings on in Alaska. The state chapter of the American Fisheries Society welcomed the Kodiak community to share in the educational extravaganza. The American Fisheries Society, founded in 1870, is the world’s oldest and largest fisheries science society, with more than 9,000 members worldwide. The theme of the Kodiak event covered ecosystems, fisheries and food sustainability in a changing world. Other topics included seafood processing, marketing, invasive species and subsistence. The Coast Guard also provided courses on aircraft stranding and crashing, and land and raft survival.   Fish watch The Bering Sea pollock fishery is wrapping up for the year with a catch approaching 2 billion pounds. Fishing was good by most accounts, but the fleet had to travel far to get it — 500 miles out near the Russian fishing border. The state’s biggest herring fishery at Togiak has gotten even bigger. Fishery managers forecast a haul of 30,056 tons of herring in the spring sac roe fishery. That compares to a quota this year of 21,622 tons.

Council takes first steps toward Gulf catch share plan

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council is moving ahead on a rationalization program for the central Gulf of Alaska trawl fleet, but where it takes that program still has many questions. The council approved a purpose and needs statement, and goals and objectives for a rationalization program, and asked staff for a discussion paper outlining catch share options that could meet the program’s objectives. The steps taken at the October council meeting in Anchorage are the first toward creating the program. The council also set a control date of Dec. 31, 2012, which could be used in the future to gauge historic participation in the fleet. The control date is intended to limit speculative entrants in the fishery now that the council has started moving toward allocating fishing privileges, also known as catch shares. A rationalized fishery offers the fishermen more tools to prevent bycatch by allocating a portion of the allowable harvest to certain vessels, cooperatives or other entities. Julie Bonney from the Alaska Groundfish Databank, said the fleet is happy overall with the council’s motion. “We want to see the race for fish end,” Bonney said. That race is inherent in the current system, where all participants in the fishery are going after the same pool of fish. The result is fish of a lower quality and less strategic fishing than otherwise might be possible, Bonney said. Kodiak City Council member Terry Haines said the council’s motion incorporated much of the language that the city of Kodiak and the Kodiak Island Borough brought to the table. “We were very heartened by their response to what we brought them,” Haines said. But how, exactly, it will be fleshed out remains to be seen. “We’re going to have to see what some of that language really means,” Haines said. The purpose and needs statement lays out wide-ranging goals for the new management program. The statement says, in part: “It is expected to improve stock conservation by creating vessel-level and/or cooperative-level incentives to eliminate wasteful fishing practices, provide mechanisms to control and reduce bycatch, and create accountability measures when utilizing (prohibited species catch), target, and secondary specie.” Getting from the purpose and needs statement to a viable system is the next challenge. Creating the program will likely require compromise, said council member Sam Cotten. “It is pretty scary to put your entire livelihood on the council table with all the knives coming out, starting (to dice you) up,” Bonney said. “You want to be whole at the end of the day.”   Bycatch cuts The council has already taken steps requiring trawlers to reduce their bycatch. In August, a rule went into effect maximizing bycatch at 25,000 chinooks per year for pollock trawlers, which was prorated at 14,527 for the last half of 2012. And in June, the council voted to reduce allowable halibut bycatch by trawlers and longliners by 15 percent. The 15 percent cut, or about 660,000 pounds of halibut, is being phased in over three years, with implementation targeted to start in 2014. But those requirements came without enough tools, according to industry representatives, making it difficult to comply. Most of the focus is on reducing prohibited species catch, or PSC. The PSC cap dictates the amount of species like halibut and king salmon that can be pulled out of the ocean while fishing for target species like pollock or Pacific cod. Bycatch must be discarded or, in the case of salmon, donated to food banks. Vessels have tried to form voluntary cooperatives, ensuring that PSC limits aren’t met before the full harvest is complete, but fishery participation by other boats not in the program makes that difficult. Alaska Whitefish Trawlers Association President Bob Krueger told the council that some of the trawl issues came to a head in the C season that began Aug. 15 for pollock in Area 620, which is the Central Gulf of Alaska. “We had 40 vessels in our program, but had additional vessels come into the Gulf and fish outside the program,” Krueger said at the October council meeting. “Our harvest was exceeded by 2,000 metric tons, and now our entire D pollock season in area 620 is at risk.” Just avoiding the chinook is expensive, Bonney said. With the right management system, incentives and tools, Bonney said the fleet can try to minimize the catch of those species. But it’ll come with difficulties. Some fishing — like for arrowtooth flounder, rex sole, flat head sole, and shallow flat — is already limited because catching those would result in catching too much halibut. “That’s all money that’s staying in the water because there’s not enough halibut available to the fleet today,” Bonney said. “Do you reduce that halibut cap even more, even though we’re already losing millions of dollars every year because we can’t prosecute a fishery today in status quo?” The trawl fleet also doesn’t want the cap just ratcheted down because if abundance of those prohibited species increased, it could become even more difficult to avoid catching them. And there’s more to bycatch than just the PSC. “Bycatch is actually anything that you throw away and don’t keep,” Bonney said. Other fish are caught on bycatch only status, meaning that trawl vessels can just keep a certain percentage of them and throw the rest back to sea. Those are regulatory discards. “So that could be fishing flatfish, and you catch too much cod so you have to throw your cod away, or a portion of your cod away,” Bonney said. And there are economic discards, which are fish that are not kept because they’re too small. Ultimately, Bonney said the analysis will need to look at the various trade-offs involved in each decision point. Moving forward, Bonney said she’d like to see a system that cobbles together target catch and bycatch in an effective management structure. A cooperative is a likely way to accomplish that, she said, because fisherman have to work together to reach the targets.Avoiding fleet consolidation Bycatch isn’t the only concern about the new program. Haines and Bonney both said they want to see a solution that doesn’t push Alaskans out of the industry due to consolidation. Haines said the city and borough likely wouldn’t provide specific ideas about how to develop the rationalization program right away, nor would it get involved in the details of allocations. But the community does have some specific concerns. Those include the possibility of capital flight, and of consolidation. An active participation requirement might help, he said. The lack of good data on how fishermen play into the economy makes it difficult to capture the potential effects of the program, too, Haines said. While the processing sector is a known quantity, there are more unknowns for the trawl fleet. No one knows exactly how each boat impacts the local economy, since crew and other spending components vary greatly. There’s also a difference between resident fishermen, and visitors who spend money locally but don’t reside there, that hasn’t been quantified. Haines said fewer hands associated with each dollar, and losing the multiplier effect, if the program leads to consolidation, would be a concern. The city and borough of Kodiak came up with a good process for getting public feedback and coming to a consensus on what could be contentious fishing issues, and Haines said that same process could continue to help inform the council once the discussion paper is out and there’s some ideas for the community to consider. “A community like ours is a good place to vet these new management systems,” Haines said. Kodiak is an active fishing community with one of the most diverse fleets in the country, Haines said. Past programs — including the Bering Sea crab rationalization, the halibut catch share program, and the rockfish rationalization program in the gulf — can help inform this effort as well, Haines said. A prior effort at rationalizing the Gulf of Alaska was stopped after the first year of the crab rationalization in 2005 when two-thirds of the fleet was tied up and 1,000 crew positions, many in Kodiak, were lost. Fishermen from other areas and sectors had their own set of worries. Peninsula Fisherman’s Coalition Executive Director Beth Stewart spoke to the council on behalf of western Gulf fishermen. The council action only considers the central Gulf. “We certainly share Kodiak’s concerns and fear of what’s going to be going on with chinook bycatch and halibut bycatch,” Stewart said. But the association believes that the council can’t mess with one player in the Gulf without adverse affects for the others, she said. United Fishermen’s Marketing Association Manager Jeff Stephan echoed some of the western Gulf concerns. He said the council’s action could trigger a rush for fishing in other sectors. For instance, there are a lot of unused pot cod permits that could see more use in an effort to establish history. “It has tremendous impacts for us,” he said. “We don’t want to be the only open fishery.” The council Advisory Panel, made up of 21 fisheries stakeholders, had also recommended that the council consider a separate but parallel action for western Gulf of Alaska trawl fleet, but the council’s eventual motion said that the program would not modify the overall management of other sectors in the GOA or the central Gulf rockfish program. Others also asked the council to come up with new ways of considering bycatch. Pacific Seafood Processors Association President Glenn Reed asked the council to consider some totally new ideas regarding bycatch and the future of the groundfish trawl fleet. “How would the world look if we looked at that as a mixed stock fishery, and stopped having PSC, stopped having waste in the fishery?” Reed said. “I think it’s worthy of consideration at this time. I mean, why not? Why not look at it that way? We don’t have to just throw a bunch of dead fish away just ‘cause a regulation says we have to. Somebody wrote that, somebody could rewrite that. Somebody could rethink that.” Bonney said this is an opportunity to find creative solutions to the management challenges. “Hopefully as we move forward people can think more innovatively,” she said.

No easy answers on low king counts at salmon symposium

Salmon researchers, managers, and users gathered in Anchorage Oct. 22 and 23 to talk about what happened to chinook salmon around Alaska this summer. The simplest answer is that chinooks didn’t show up. And no one knows exactly why. “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 Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Bob Clark said, summarizing some of the two-day symposium’s findings. Attendees at the Salmon Symposium identified much of the information that would be helpful for future research and management efforts. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is working on a draft analysis for research needs in the future. Salmon management stems from escapement goals, which are set, by species, for various streams and rivers throughout Alaska. That number is the amount managers want to get upstream to reproduce. Fish and Game uses management tools to try and keep prosecution of state fisheries to a level that allow for escapement, and the National Marine Fisheries Service does the same in federally-managed waters through caps on allowable bycatch of king salmon in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska pollock fisheries. Developing the goals, let alone finding ways to meet them, can be difficult. The process is undertaken by ADFG, although the actual goals are set – and changed – by the Alaska Board of Fisheries. ADFG Biologist Tom Vania said that how often the goals are updated depends, in part, on how much information is involved in setting them. Escapement goals with more years of data are slower to change, because they generally reflect more knowledge of the river system in question. But sometimes, updates are necessary. One such instance is on the Kenai, where the transition to a new sonar system to count fish in 2012 has managers looking to update the numbers to better reflect how many fish are actually out there. Similar changes had to be made when counting on the Anchor River was changed from aerial surveys to a weir system. Escapement goals have a relationship with chinook survival that isn’t entirely clear. Generally, they’re the department’s best idea of the ideal number of salmon needed for reproduction. Too high or too a low a goal has potential for less than ideal spawning, which could result in less than ideal runs in the future. Managing exploitation to meet escapement goals is another challenge. Vania said different strategies are used on different rivers. Among those are openings on certain days of the week, regulations regarding gear, bag limits, and catch and release status. On the federal side, managing bycatch is the biggest part of helping ensure chinooks make it to their home streams each year. Several members of the public asked about the chinook bycatch. Jim Ianelli, from the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center, talked about what’s been done in terms of bycatch. The Bering Sea pollock fishery, the largest source of bycatch, has reduced its take of chinooks in recent years, after the North Pacific council approved a hard cap of 60,000 chinooks in 2009 that took effect in 2011. The 60,000 fish cap is partitioned between vessels who sign Incentive Plan Agreements, so it’s unlikely that the total cap would be met as bycatch of chinooks in the Bering Sea has only exceeded 60,000 in a few seasons over the last 20 years. The regulation states that the 60,000 cap cannot be reached more than twice in any seven-year period or the cap will revert to a limit of 47,591 chinooks. So far, the industry has stayed well below both numbers, although concerns were raised in 2011 after half the chinook bycatch of about 25,000 fish for the year was taken in the last month of the season as vessels tried to mop up the pollock quota. The impact of bycatch is hard to precisely gauge, because a salmon might be caught for subsistence needs, or it might make it upstream to spawn, creating fish for future years. And the unknowns about a chinook’s life are difficult to account for. But Ianelli said that based on the strength of the recent runs, there might have been about 4 percent more fish had there not been any pollock bycatch. Under the NMFS program in the Bering Sea, all vessels must be observed, and bycatch kept, which provides opportunities for inquiries into the bycatch, where it comes from and how it’s caught. After it’s offloaded at the docks, the bycatch goes to food banks where possible, Ianelli said. The program has also enabled more research to be done on what affects the amount of chinook caught while prosecuting other fisheries. Tow duration, time of day for fishing, and gear types all impact the final numbers. Generally, longer tows netted more chinooks, and early morning and pre-dawn tows had fewer salmon than other hours, Ianelli said. The Gulf of Alaska is joining the Bering Sea in terms of observer coverage and bycatch management, Ianelli said. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council approved an annual cap for the Gulf pollock fishery of 25,000, which took effect during the summer and fall seasons this year, and is also deploying a new observer plan in 2013. “(The plan) will improve the estimate of bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska,” Ianelli said. Full retention of chinook bycatch will allow more definitive genetic identification work to identify the river of origin compared to past “opportunistic” sampling by observers that does not allow for extrapolating findings to the entire catch. Another challenge for managing chinooks is that part of the Yukon run is required to make it across the border and into Canada under a treaty with the U.S. John Linderman, from ADFG, said that, generally, the first half of the chinook run is Canadian, while the second half is American. Alaska managers must not just try to meet Alaskan needs, but also comply with the international treaty regarding Canadian escapement despite declining Canadian stocks. A Galena fisherman, Greg Huntington, suggested potential causes of the Canadian chinook downturn. He said that freshwater habitat issues, like the river freezing down to gravel and spring flooding disrupting spawning grounds, could be partially to blame. Linderman and others agreed that more info is needed on survival in general.   Subsistence difficulties The symposium also included a discussion of subsistence fishing for chinooks. Those fisheries have faced closures in an effort to meet escapement goals. Department of Fish and Game Subsistence Program Manager Jim Fall presented some of the department’s information on subsistence harvests. More than half of the state’s subsistence chinook harvest comes from the Kuskokwim area, while another third is from the Yukon region. Bristol Bay rounds out the top three regions for subsistence chinook harvest. This summer wasn’t a new event for subsistence fishermen. Fall said the state’s predicted subsistence needs were not met on the Yukon from 2008 to 2011, on the Susitna River in 2009 and 2011, and on the Kuskokwim in 2011. Jackson Williams was one of many subsistence users who weighed in on the chinook dilemma. He asked about bycatch, but his comments offered a face to the people affected by the summer’s closures. “Us people depend on Chinook,” Williams said. “…I don’t work. I only depend on the fish my creator gave to me.” Fall talked about the importance of incorporating local knowledge and traditional ecological knowledge into the state’s base of information, something that several members of the public also suggested. Suggestions of what factors have, in the past, correlated with changes in the runs could be a helpful place for researchers to look. In his summation of the symposium, Clark agreed that utilizing other knowledge sources is important to the fishery. “More local and traditional knowledge is needed to understand the context of the downturns we’re seeing recently,” he said. The department is taking comments on its gap analysis of what research is needed until Nov. 9, and expects to publish the report in December.

Board of Fisheries creates task force for Cook Inlet salmon

The Alaska Board of Fisheries will likely talk about salmon out of cycle this spring. The board created a new task force to take up Cook Inlet king salmon issues at its Oct. 10 work session in Anchorage. Any solutions the group develops will likely be considered at the statewide finfish meeting in March. Various user groups and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game submitted eight Cook Inlet-related Agenda Change Requests, or ACRS, for the board’s consideration, regarding gear changes, escapement goals, personal use permits and other issues. The board took no action on four of those: the Kenai River late-run king salmon management plan, the Kenai and Kasilof rivers early-run king salmon plans, and the use of new gear for set gillnet permit holders. The ADFG request to adopt new escapement goals for Kenai and Kasilof kings will be rolled into the task force process for the March meeting. ADFG Sportfishing Director Charlie Swanton said the department is working on the new escapement goals for the Kenai River late run, and Kenai and Kasilof River early runs, to reflect the transition to the new DIDSON fish counters. Those should be ready for public review in February, which offers the potential for public education on how the goals are developed and should fit into the task force’s workflow, Swanton said. The nine-member task force is asked to develop recommended adjustments to the Kenai late-run king salmon management plan to result in the best mix of in-river and upper subdistrict set gill net fishing, while still providing a way to meet the escapement goals for the Kenai. The new task force will be chaired by board members Tom Kluberton, of Talkeetna, and Vince Webster, of King Salmon. They are tasked with choosing the nine members, including three east side Cook Inlet setnet representatives, one drift net fisherman, two sport fishermen, a guide, a marine recreation member and a personal use fisherman. The task force is supposed to be selected by Nov. 1, and start meeting in mid-November. The meetings will likely be held in Kenai. Kluberton said the idea is to find a way to avoid a situation like the past summer, where in-river and commercial fishermen alike felt the impact of low king returns, amid a very strong return of sockeye. Webster said he thought bringing together stakeholders might create a more comprehensive plan than adjusting various aspects of the management plan piece by piece. “I know it’s a vast undertaking, and I want to make sure that the public knows we’re giving them the opportunity to work this out if they can come up with an agreement,” Webster said. Meetings will be open to the public. A similar task force was used successfully to help develop Prince William Sound pink salmon allocations, said board chairman Karl Johnstone. Kenai River Sportfishing Association Executive Director Ricky Gease said the task force is a good way to try and solve some of the current issues on the Kenai River. “I think it’s always good when you try to get the major stakeholders together,” Gease said. The board also rejected some of the Cook Inlet ACRs outright. Those asked the board to consider modifying the Central District Drift Gillnet Fishery Fleet Management Plan to create certain restrictions for the fleet and conditions on fishing, altering the process for enforcing personal use permits, setting additional date-specific king salmon conservation measures, and changing the area for Kenai River personal use dip netting. The board considered 21 ACRs total, on a variety of issues. Of those, it agreed to add four to the 2012-13 work list. For an ACR to net a space on a meeting agenda, the issue had to be out-of-cycle and a regulatory change. If those criteria were met, the board looked at whether it was for a fishery conservation purpose or reason, if it would correct an error in regulation, and if it would correct an effect on a fishery that was unforeseen when a regulation was adopted. For ACRs the board took no action on or failed at the work session, it will consider generating its own proposals for the appropriate meetings. Those include changes to the gear that can be used in the lower Yukon area for commercial chum salmon harvesting, the anadromous waters language regarding salmon stream terminus, andan effort to designate herring as a forage species. Yukon salmon will be discussed at the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim finfish meeting in January, while the language change will likely get added to the March statewide meeting. The board also added a Pacific cod meeting next October, attached to the already-scheduled work session. The state is talking about salmon at the Chinook Salmon Symposium scheduled for Oct. 22 and 23 in Anchorage. State, federal, private and academic scientists will participate in a variety of presentations and panels on what is known, and what remains to be learned, about king salmon. The symposium is also meant to assist the state in drafting an analysis of what information is needed about salmon stocks.

Abundance of old shell snow crab leads to quota cut

Crabbers took to the Bering Sea Oct. 15 for the opening of Bristol Bay red king crab season with a harvest quota equal to last year, but when boats hit the water in January to take snow crab they will have a catch of some 22 million pounds less than 2012. At 2012 dockside prices of about $1.89 per pound, the 22-million pound cut for opilio, or snow crab, in 2013 is worth more than $40 million to harvesters and roughly twice that in first wholesale value for processors. Overall, though, the net value of Bering Sea crab fisheries should be similar to last season, according to Alaska Being Sea Crabbers President Jim Stone. Stone said he expects the decrease in quota to increase the price. He said a 25 percent increase in prices wouldn’t be surprising. Wholesale prices are already rising, he said, an early indicator of that change. And Canada is also looking at a decreased harvest, Stone said, which helps the value of Bering Sea snow crab. Although the snow crab fishery technically opens Oct. 15, harvesters don’t fish the stock until January. The 2013 total allowable catch, or TAC, for Bering Sea snow crab was set at 66.35 million pounds, a 25 percent cut compared to nearly 89 million pounds in 2012. The snow crab harvest cut comes from a decrease in the mature male biomass (females may not be retained), and a change in the stock’s age composition. The crab is much older than in the past — about 60 percent of the mature male biomass is old shell crab — compared to about 37 percent last year. The State of Alaska sets the TAC after the federal Crab Plan Team determines the over fishing limit, or OFL, and the acceptable biological catch, or ABC. The state, which sets the harvest strategy, may not set a quota that is larger than the ABC. Federal managers cut the snow crab OFL for 2012-13, but only by about 10 percent. The rest of the harvest cut comes from the state harvest strategy. When the proportion of old crab is higher, the state harvest strategy calls for a smaller harvest because those old shell crabs are less likely to be targeted or retained, said Fishery Biologist Doug Pengilly, from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Kodiak. The industry prefers to catch and process young crab, Pengilly said. Young crab typically has a cleaner shell, without barnacles or other impurities just a year or two out from molt, Pengilly said. If boats are pulling up older crab, they can move fishing locations to avoid catching too much of it, he said. According to a report from National Marine Fisheries Service, or NMFS, the amount of new shell crab in the catch was between 85 percent and 95 percent in the 2005-06 and 2007-08 fisheries. The state harvest strategy accounts for this by assuming that a smaller proportion of the old shell crab will be caught. But when old shell crab is the majority of the stock, as it is now, that leaves less crab available for the quota. Pengilly said it’s hard to say what the current age dynamics mean for the future of the stock. The changed proportion results from less recruitment — juvenile males reaching legal size — into the stock. “There’s good years and bad years,” he said. In a 2010 review of the crab rationalization program, federal scientists noted that large, clean crab are the most successful at mating. That same report — in the context of a section on “high-grading,” or discarding of old shell crab — cited 40 percent old shell crab for Bristol Bay red king crab in the 2005 survey as a larger proportion than in the past. Pengilly said that how the stock fares in the future will depend on recruitment in coming years. If a lot of crab the forage size or larger enter the stock during the spring 2013 molt, then the age proportion might return to more typical level. Pengilly said. On the other hand, if that doesn’t happen, the proportion of old shell crab could go up even more due to harvest of the preferred-age crabs and natural mortality. Pengilly said the variation in recruitment is normal for snow crab. “You don’t see just constant recruitment coming through from year to year,” he said. Trends in recruitment observed in 2010 and 2011 were not seen in the 2012 survey, according to the Stock Assessment and Fishery Evaluation, or SAFE, prepared annually by NMFS, ADFG scientists and others The SAFE document notes both that prosecution of young shell crab often takes them out of the fishery before they have a chance to reproduce, and that also that the older shell crab play less of a role in reproduction for the fishery. Also at play in the snow crab fishery is the possibility of localized depletion, according to the SAFE. That report noted that the exploitation rates for males in the southern part of the fishery near the Pribilof Islands may exceed the target harvest rate, although it also notes that there is some migratory movement in crab. That is listed as a possible conservation concern in the report. Pengilly said it was hard to say whether or not localized depletion at play. The areas where 4-inch crab come out of the fishery are just a slice of the crab’s summer distribution. Last year, he said, ice coverage also limited fishing, which could be showing up. Both Pengilly and the report noted that no tagging studies have been done to determine the exact patterns of crab movement. The snow crab fishery is closed in certain areas to protect Pribilof blue king crab stock, which has been closed to fishing for all but three of the last 20 years.   Bristol Bay king crab steady Bristol Bay red king crab is the most valuable Bering Sea crab fishery. The 2012 TAC for that fishery is nearly identical to 2011 at 7.85 million pounds, despite some indications that the fishery may be on the decline. Stone said that while king crab prices, particularly for the smaller specimens, have been decreasing, Bristol Bay red king crab prices will likely hold steady around $10 dollar per pound at the docks in Dutch Harbor. In 2011, the fishery had an ex-vessel value of about $70 million with an average price of $9 per pound. According to the SAFE, recruitment has been low over the past few years, and is expected to remain that way in the near term, meaning that mature and legal crabs will continue to decline. Stock biomass has also declined since 2009. Stone said an early boatload or two of Bristol Bay red king crab was delivered to the docks Oct. 15 for the ADFG observer cost recovery program. “The scuttlebutt I’m hearing is that the crab is very nice,” Stone said. St. Matthew’s blue king crab has a TAC of 2.03 million pounds, down slightly from 2.36 million pounds in 2011-12. Last year, only 80 percent of the St. Matthew’s blue king crab quota was actually harvested. The Bering Sea tanner crab fishery will again be closed because the estimate of mature female tanner crab biomass is below the state’s harvest strategy threshold. It’s the third straight year the tanner crab fishery has been closed. Federal scientists qualified the fishery as rebuilt when they released the 2012-13 stock assessments, but the state opted not to open it.

Mariculture industry small but growing in Alaska

A small mariculture industry for Alaska – oyster farming for the most part – has been developing in fits and starts for years, and a small group of dedicated seafood entrepreneurs are working away at it, convinced the business can succeed. Consumer demand in Alaska and the Lower 48 is steadily increasing among people who see oysters as healthy food, and who are becoming more sophisticated in their tastes. Yes – Alaska oysters do taste better. They’re sweeter, for one thing, due to a higher sugar content and a greater exposure to salt water in Alaska gives them a slight tangy taste, says Ray RaLonde, an aquaculture scientist with the University of Alaska Fairbanks Sea Grant advisory program . Weatherly Bates, a Kachemak Bay shellfish farmer, says Alaska oysters are more uniform in size, typically have more meat for their size than many Lower 48 oysters and are free of grit because they are grown in the water column with no contact with the ocean bottom. Alaska itself is a big seller for oysters grown here, said Rodger Painter, a Southeast Alaska shellfish farmer and long-time industry advocate. The superior taste and Alaska’s image of having clean, pure waters have put oysters from the state at the top of the menu at trendy East Coast oyster bars like Grand Central, in New York. Alaska oysters are at the top of the menu in price, too. Painter said Alaska oysters now have enough of a reputation to command a price advantage over Lower 48 oysters, which helps offset higher costs in growing them here. Bates and her husband, Greg, operate their farm in Halibut Cove, in Kachemak Bay near Homer. They see shellfish farming as helping reinforce the economies of small coastal communities, like hers, that are subject to volatile seasonal fisheries. Greg Bates fishes commercially for cod part of the year, but the couple, who have two young children, hope to combine that with shellfish farming to make a good living in Halibut Cove. They are also working to develop a new farmed shellfish product, mussels. Earlier this year the state awarded a $300,000 grant to the Halibut Cove Community Organization, a nonprofit, for the Bates to develop mussel-producing rafts as a demonstration. The rafts are being built this year. Married to mariculture Weatherly and Greg Bates have a lot of experience in shellfish farming. They’re both New England-raised, and on farms; Weatherly has a degree in aquaculture and fisheries technology from the University of Rhode Island. The two raised oysters in Maine for four years including a stint managing an oyster farm at a nonprofit affiliated with Jamie Wyeth in Maine. This involved a 16-acre oyster farm and hatchery, where the couple increased production from 10,000 to 200,000 oysters a year. Intrigued by Alaska, they pulled up stakes, headed north, and became interested in Kachemak Bay when the state began leasing tracts for oyster farms in the area. In 2010 the two secured their own 9-acre farm site in Halibut Cove, across the bay from Homer. Oysters from Alaska Shellfish Farms, owned and operated by the Bates, are sold in the Homer area and in Anchorage. The two also operate an oyster nursery, a facility that matures young oyster seeds from spat, or oyster eggs, brought in from specialized oyster hatcheries. Weatherly sees oyster farming at this point as “kind of a hobby” for many growers, but she sees possibilities particularly when other shellfish like mussels are brought into the mix. “We see huge possibilities,” for mussels, she said. Penn Cove Shellfish, in Washington State, is the biggest mussel farmer in the U.S., producing more than 2 million pounds per year. There are also farms in New England and the eastern maritime provinces of Canada, regions the Bates are familiar with, that produce tens of millions of pounds a year. There’s no reason why Alaska can do this in mussels and other shellfish, particularly since good sites for new shellfish farms are becoming scarce in establishing producing regions, like the Pacific Northwest, Bates said. In contrast, there are many good potential sites in Alaska coastal communities from Southeast to Southcentral. Salmon farms are now a fixture in many parts of the world (they are illegal in Alaska) but Bates feels oysters and other shellfish have strategic advantages over salmon farms anywhere. Free feed, spendy seeds The main advantage is that farmed salmon have to be fed in their pens, a cost shellfish farms don’t bear because oysters and mussels don’t have to be fed. They consume algae and other natural nutrients in the water. They don’t pollute, either, a second key advantage as far as Bates is concerned. “Shellfish farming is so much better for the environment. They filter the water and make it cleaner,” she said, in contrast to salmon farms, which can cause pollution.  Long hours of summer daylight in the north is also an advantage in that the light creates more phytoplankton nutrients in the water, which helps shellfish grow faster. There are challenges, however. For oysters, the main one is that oysters are not native to Alaska. They grow well, but Alaska waters are too cold for them to propagate and make spat, or seed. To deal with this oyster farmers have to buy seed from hatcheries. Unfortunately, the one spat hatchery in Alaska, in Seward, is engaged in a retooling and is not currently operating. Spat can meanwhile be purchased from hatcheries on the west coast, but production at these are being curtailed because of an upwelling of acidic ocean water off the coast. Hatchery operators are working on ways to deal with this and the Seward hatchery will be back in production at some point (Alaska waters are so far not affected by acidity), but the shortage of spat is now a major problem for the industry all over the west coast. Mussels, in contrast to oysters, are native to Alaska and prolific. The big challenge for mussel farmers is that sea otters love to eat mussels. The solution is enclosures around the mussel rafts to keep the sea otters out, Bates said. One of the goals at the first commercial mussel rafts Bates is developing at Halibut Cove is to see what kind of otter-protection enclosures work best. There are other unknowns, too, Bates admits. “We could find unexpected fouling organisms, or problems with starfish and barnacles. It will take some time to figure it out, through trial and error, just like any farming,” she said. Rodger Painter said there is still a lot of tinkering with the technology used in producing oysters. Most oyster farms involve rafts anchored in a cove with wire-mesh trays stacked down into the water column. Water circulates through the tray stacks, bringing nutrients. Variations on this are in use, such as a Japanese device that looks like a shrimp pot. A third approach being experimented with, Painter said, involves a type of plastic bag mesh that can be placed at or near surface in the inter-tidal zone. The advantage of this is that there are more nutrients at the surface, and tidal action keeps water circulating. Front-end capital costs are lower, and there is typically less labor. The disadvantage is that water movement can damage the bags, Painter said. Most oyster farmers may wind up using some combination of technologies, he said. The economics of oyster farming are meanwhile linked to how long it takes to produce a marketable batch. In the Pacific Northwest, where waters are warmer, it takes one to two years, Painter said. In Southeast Alaska’s cool waters it usually takes three years. Water temperatures in Kachemak Bay are cooler yet, and it can take four to five years. Bates said this is a key problem with oysters that faces her. Smaller-size oysters be produced in three years in Kachemak Bay but consumers and restaurant owners in the Anchorage area have to be educated that these are just as tasty as older, larger oysters. Painter said consumers in the Pacific Northwest, who are more sophisticated about shellfish, prefer the smaller oysters. The human side is important, too, because shellfish farming isn’t for everyone. Shellfish farms are typically small “Mom and Pop” operations. Painter believes it has a lot of potential, “but you have to be smart in what you are doing, do your homework and make the right decisions to avoid investing in the wrong technology at the start.” A typical small oyster farmer will need about $200,000 to get into operation but a lot depends on who the farmer is, whether he or she has assets at hand like boats or a place to live or stay near the site. Supporting the operation is relatively low-tech, “but it’s 24-7 for seven months of the year,” Painter said. Commercial fishermen are ideally suited for oyster farming because they have experience on the water and with boats, and have marine equipment at hand. Painter said he knows oyster farmers who successfully run farms as a sideline to commercial fishing, the challenge being that the sites have to be tended while the owner is away fishing. Some communities are embracing shellfish farming to create a local economy. In Naukagi, a small community on Price of Wales Island in Southeast, community leaders organized a facility to people develop small rafts and learn about oyster farming before moving with the own facilities, Painter said. He worked to help train people there. There is more support for the infant industry these days, too. Haa Aani, a Sealaska Corp. subsidiary in Juneau that works on regional development projects, is actively working with small oyster farms in several Southeast communities, providing business expertise and other assistance. The state Legislature also approved a special mariculture loan program last spring that is just now being put into effect.

State seeks answers to salmon shortage; cod stocks rebound

State fishery managers are asking for input from Alaskans to help solve the case of disappearing king salmon. Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell has invited stakeholders to a two-day symposium in Anchorage this month titled Understanding Abundance and Productivity Trends of Chinook salmon in Alaska. The goal is “to increase understanding and develop the most complete research plan possible.” A draft analysis by a newly-appointed fisheries research team represents initial efforts by the state to better understanding the causes for Chinook declines. The report, titled “Alaska Chinook Salmon Knowledge Gaps and Needs,” says that from 1994 through 2011, chinook catches have decreased 7 percent for subsistence users, 40 percent for commercial fishermen and 12 percent for sport users. Chinook salmon make up only about one percent of Alaska’s annual commercial catch. The analysis states that the Alaska-wide downturn in chinook abundance “has created social and economic hardships” in many regions and that “there is a significant need for Fish and Game to better characterize and understand changing productivity and abundance across the state to identify actions that could be taken to lessen the hardships.” While there are hundreds of individual chinook salmon stocks throughout Alaska, the research team recommends that the department establish a suite of “indicator stocks” that will “provide an ongoing index of statewide chinook salmon productivity and abundances trends across a diversity of drainage types and size representing a wide range of ecological and genetic attributes from Southeast to Arctic waters.” The team has selected stocks from 12 rivers: Unuk, Stikine, Taku, Chilkat, Copper, Susitna, Kenai, Karluk, Chignik, Nushagak, Kuskokwim and Yukon. The report also accounts for bycatch in groundfish fisheries and says the average number of chinooks taken in the Bering Sea from 2008-2011 has been about 19,000. In the Gulf of Alaska, bycatch takes peaked in 2010 at nearly 55,000 king salmon – the North Pacific Council adopted a hard cap of 25,000 kings in 2011. The registration form for the chinook symposium asks for input in planning the event, and what questions should be considered in three sessions that cover chinook stock assessments in Alaska, ecology and stock assessments in the marine environment, and the role of hatchery production and research in addressing observed trends. Cod rockets Call it gray cod, true cod or P-cod – it’s arguably the most popular fish in the world. And catches are set to increase as stocks rebound around the world. Alaska boasts one of the biggest and most robust cod fisheries – combined harvests from the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska next year could see slight increases to 331,000 metric tons, or nearly 730 million pounds. But that pales in comparison to the amount of cod coming out of the Barents Sea, which straddles Norway and Russia. Cod stocks there are considered the largest in the world and next year’s quota is set at a record one million metric tons, or 2.2 billion pounds. Adding to that will be another 56 million pounds from the North Sea, where cod stocks have been on an upward swing for six years. The increasing numbers of cod from those waters have already pulled Europe from Alaska’s fish market and put a downward press on dock prices to between 30-35 cents a pound, down about a dime. Alaska fishermen get a double whammy because most of the cod they’re pulling aboard are smaller sized; European fishermen have the same complaint, according to the Joint Norwegian/Russian Fisheries Commission. Researchers believe cod could get even smaller because of rising sea temperatures. University of British Columbia fish scientists studied 600 species of fish across the world’s oceans. “This is the first study that looks at the changes in the maximum body size of fish on a global scale,” said William Cheung, co-author of the study. Using computer modeling, the scientists concluded that fish sizes could shrink by 14 to 24 percent over the next 40 years. Cheung explained that as water warms, cold-blooded fish will see an increase in their body temperature, which speeds up their metabolism. While the demand for oxygen increases as fish grow, their ability to obtain it slows down and triggers a stop to their growth. Lost pots sought Skipper Oystein Lone of the Catcher/Processor Pacific Sounder has decided to do something about the high number crab pots lost under the record ice pack during last winter’s snow crab fishery. It’s estimated that 800 pots were lost, valued at over $1 million. Lone has set up an email address where any vessels fishing in the Bering Sea can report the ADFG tag number and position of lost crab pots they come across. Lists of pot sightings and locations will be posted at the fish and game office in Dutch Harbor. That way other crab boats can pick up the pots as they pass through an area, or boat owners can find out where they are and retrieve them. It also provides an opportunity for catcher processors and longliners to help recover the gear, Lone said.

North Pacific Fishery talks Stellar sea lions

Steller sea lions, vessel replacement, crab management and central Gulf of Alaska rationalization were all on the table at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting in Anchorage Oct. 3 to 9. The agenda included more than the council could accomplish, and some crab management issues and a vessel monitoring system discussion paper were postponed. The council moved on Steller sea lion issues Oct. 7, based on the advice of the Steller sea lion mitigation committee. The council’s motion, which was passed with the objection of National Marine Fisheries Service Alaska Region Administrator Jim Balsiger, noted Center of Independent Experts peer review findings that faulted the science behind fishing restrictions in the western Aleutian Islands to protect food sources for endangered Steller sea lions. The council motion made several recommendations to the National Marine Fisheries Service, or NMFS, asking the agency to update its management and science based on new information. NMFS is currently engaged in an appeal of a lawsuit brought by the State of Alaska and the fishing industry over the 2010 Steller sea lion biological opinion, and in the midst preparing a court-ordered environmental impact statement, or EIS, regarding the sea lion issues. On Oct. 8, the plantiffs in that lawsuit - the state of Alaska and fishing industry representatives - filed the CIE opinions with the Alaska U.S. District Court and stated the peer review would be part of the EIS decision process. The biological opinion and fishing closures were upheld by Judge Timothy Burgess, but he found that NMFS violated the National Environmental Policy Act by not preparing a full EIS to support the action and ordered one to be prepared. The council’s recommendations asked NMFS to change its management measures to reflect the CIE opinions before the 2013 fishery starts, expedite completion of the environmental impact statement currently in the works, and prepare a supplemental biological opinion that incorporates the new science. The motion was largely based on the work of the mitigation committee, which made similar recommendations from a nearly-consensus status. The council also weighed in on the EIS scoping process, suggesting certain alternatives for that process, including looking farther out geographically than just the central and western Aleutians. The council’s motion said the CIE reviewers thought the 2010 biological opinion was not based on scientific evidence, and that many of the conclusions and actions taken from the opinion were not support by science. That biological opinion was the basis for management that shut down Pacific cod and Atka mackerel fisheries to protect the Steller sea lion population. During a presentation to the council before a decision was made, NMFS said it was proceeding with the court-ordered timeline for the EIS and did not intend to make other changes before that process was finished. The current timeline calls for the EIS to be completed by March 2014. A decision would likely be finished by February of that year. There might be enough work done to discuss an emergency rule by October 2013.   Gulf of Alaska rationalization The council also discussed creating tools to better manage prohibited species catch in the central Gulf of Alaska trawl fleet. Representatives of that fleet, including Brent Paine, came to the council asking for a rationalization, or catch share, program that would allocate the harvest and the prohibited species catch among vessels, cooperatives or other entities. “You guys have the power to do this, and we ask you to do it,” Paine said. The council also heard from those in other fisheries who wanted the council to consider the protections they would need to avoid hurting their fleets in an effort to rationalize the central gulf trawlers. Terry Haines said he wanted to see the process enhance the Kodiak economy, not hurt it. “I think that we have a culture and a community that’s worth preserving and saving,” Haines said. The council asked for the public to come forward with ways to institute a catch share program, and creative management tools, when the issue is back before the council.   Vessel replacement programs The council also moved forward with three vessel replacement programs Oct. 7. The council took final action on a licensing change for Bering Sea freezer longline vessels, unanimously recommending that those vessels be allowed to build longer replacements. Under the recommended program, the vessels can be replaced or rebuilt with larger freezer longlines that have different processing capacities. The new vessels can be as long as 220 feet. They’ll likely be more efficient in addition to safer, and could have a better ability to reduce bycatch, as well. The council heard from the Freezer Longline Coalition Executive Director Kenny Down on the need for replacements, as well as from the U.S. Coast Guard and the National Institute on Occupational Safety and Health. All stated a need for safer vessels. Many of the Bering Sea vessels also operate in the Gulf of Alaska, where other freezer longliners are licensed to operate only in that region, and will not be eligible for the replacement program. To protect the Gulf-only vessels not upgrading their boats, the Bering Sea vessels, which are part of a voluntary cooperative, are working towards an agreement with those vessels, Down said. The fleet also includes some pot cod licenses. Those will have to choose to upgrade the boat and give up the pot cod license, or retain the license without upgrading past their current length limit. The council also directed staff to bring forward an analysis on a replacement program for the Amendment 80 fleet in the Bering Sea. The Amendment 80 fleet are groundfish trawl catcher-processors. The analysis will consider a status quo option, as well as an annual or one-time election to allow American Fisheries Act (pollock fleet) catcher-processors to replace Amendment 80 vessels, with the condition that the replacement vessels are subject to most AFA sideboards and other Amendment 80 regulations.   Crab stock assessments Council Plan Coordinator Diana Stram also updated the council on crab stock status. Stram said that Bering Sea tanner crab, which is closed for the third straight year, is no longer considered to be in a rebuilding status. Changes to the tanner crab model, approved by the council Statistical and Scientific Committee, alter the recruitment aspect of the model to consider a different base time frame. As a result, the stock is concerned to be at an acceptable biomass, and not working towards rebuilding to a higher level. The state of Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game recently announced the total allowable catch, or TAC, for several crab fisheries. The TAC is set by the state of Alaska, after it is provided with an overfishing limit and acceptable biological catch from federal scientists and regulators. For Bristol Bay red king crab, the TAC is holding steady at 7.853 million pounds, the same as last year’s quota. Just more than 7 million is for the individual fishing quota, or IFQ, program, while the Community Development Quota, or CDQ, portion of the TAC is 785,300 pounds. St. Matthew’s blue king crab has a TAC of 2.028 million pounds, down slightly from 2.36 million pounds in 2011-12. IFQ holders can take 1.47 million pounds of that, with the remaining 163,000 pounds going to CDQ groups. The snow crab TAC was set at 66.3 million pounds, down 25 percent from last year. The department announced the quota Oct. 5. IFQ holders will be able to harvest 59.7 million pounds, while CDQ programs will take the remaining 6.63 million pounds. Portions of the snow crab fishery will be closed to protect the Pribilof blue king crab stock. The department announced Oct. 2 that the Bering Sea tanner crab fishery will again be closed because the estimate of mature female tanner crab biomass is below the harvest strategy threshold. That fishery was declared overfished in 2010, and closed in 2011.

Council directs NMFS to modify new observer program

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council took up a new deployment plan for marine observers at its October meeting, asking the National Marine Fisheries Service, or NMFS, to conduct further outreach, clarify a few components and plan to review certain items after one year. The 2013 annual deployment plan uses random sampling of two different pools — a trip-based pool and a vessel pool — to assign observers to fishing vessels. Those selected in the vessel pool are responsible for carrying an observer for 90 days, while those selected from the trip pool would carry the observer for one trip. The observers provide NMFS with data about the fish being caught, and take samples of the catch. Testimony and action Oct. 6 was in regards to the partial coverage vessels in the two pools with random sampling. NMFS Fisheries Monitoring and Analysis Division Director Martin Loefflad said that program is meant to provide good data about the fishery. “We live to try and give you folks, and all of the folks that work with us, unbiased numbers,” Loefflad said. Council members questioned the high cost of the program per observer day, as well as the need to use such random methods that don’t account for pre-exisiting knowledge about observers or the fisheries. Council member Cora Campbell, Commissioner of Alaska Department of Fish and Game, noted that the observer data has a variety of uses, including in-season management and stock assessments in future years. “I’d like you to explain why you chose to develop a deployment plan that ignores all of that and deploys observers across sectors at the same rate,” Campbell asked. The answer was that everyone was considered equally, particularly as the new observer program seeks to secure baseline data about the fisheries. Ultimately, the council passed a motion that recommended that NMFS attach a priority to monitoring some vessels over others, change the three-month observation to two months for the vessel selection pool, work with the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands Pacific cod catcher vessel trawl fleet to institute 100 percent observer coverage, and conduct outreach so that the industry has a better idea of the program and possible options to make it less difficult. That trawl fleet relies on near 100 percent coverage for in-season management, and was willing to pay for the coverage. The council also asked that a provision for this be looked into for future deployment plans, so that it’s not a surprise change late in the process. Trawl vessels in the Gulf of Alaska less than 125 feet in length are required to carry observers 30 percent of the time under the current management. The changes came after recommendations from the council Advisory Panel, and significant public testimony from conservation groups and industry. The Alaska Marine Conservation Council made a statement saying it thought the bycatch priority was a positive change. The program has the potential to monitor more vessels than in the prior deployment plan, but the AMCC and others noted that the amount of coverage for trawl vessels with a high incidence of prohibited species catch, or PSC, would likely be lower than in the old program, which was contrary to conservation goals. Brent Paine, from United Catcher Boats, testified about the need for coverage in the Bering Sea, where the co-op management relies on observer data to keep bycatch down and the fishery open. Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association Executive Director Linda Behnken said the council’s action seemed to try to address those concerns, but she didn’t know if it would actually improve the program when it is implemented in 2013. The longline association represents smaller vessels, and has said that having an observer could prove difficult on the boats due to space constraints and other logistical issues. Smaller boats between 40 feet and 57.5 feet in length overall, will be part of the vessel selection pool. The program is funded by NMFS in 2013, and in subsequent years by a 1.25 percent fee on landings, but the cost came in high on the bids to provide observers, so the total observer days is less than hoped for. The primary funder of the new program will be the halibut and sablefish fleet because its landings are more valuable than the trawl fleet. Trawlers longer than 125 feet are required to carry observers 100 percent of the time and pay for that cost on a per-day basis. Council member Duncan Fields said developing a suitable program was much like searching for a car, in weighing the trade-offs of various aspects, and in the cost. “This program’s got sticker shock,” he said. The high cost means that the number of observer days is lower than many would like. There will likely be about between 4,000 and 4,500 observer days under the program, based on the contract awarded to the observer provider, but the exact number depends which vessels and trips are randomly selected for coverage. The council also recommended that NMFS review a number of things after one year of the program, including gathering information on catcher vessels that act as catcher processors for part of the year, considering changes to how vessels are part of the trip or vessel pools, and reviewing the costs and possible efficiencies. The council also asked NMFS for a plan to pursue an electronic monitoring, or EM, option. The council heard a report on electronic monitoring, which is still in a pilot program phase with voluntary participation. For now, the goal is to see if electronic monitoring data matches observer data before EM can be used in place of a human observer. Commercial fisherman Darius Kasprzak, from Kodiak, said he though EM would offer a good option for providing more observation of the industry, particularly for the trawl fishery that has much of the bycatch of chinook salmon, halibut and tanner crab. The observer program will be conducted by AIS Inc. That company has worked on smaller vessels out of New England in the past, but has not provided observers for Alaska fisheries.

Halibut split approved, both sectors view action as a loss

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council voted 10-1 to recommend a revised halibut catch sharing plan at its meeting in Anchorage Oct. 5. The motion recommends a combined catch limit for the commercial and charter sectors, with each receiving a percentage of the harvest, beginning in 2014. The exact charter-commercial split will be different in areas 2C, Southeast, and 3A, the central Gulf of Alaska. In 3A, which includes Cook Inlet and other Southcentral Alaska waters, the charter allocation at less than a 10 million pound combined catch limit, or CCL, is 18.9 percent. Between 10 and 10.8 million pounds, it receives a flat 1.89 million pounds. When the CCL is between 10.8 and 20 million pounds, the industry would receive 17.5 percent. Between 20 and 25 million pounds, the charter allocation would be 3.5 million pounds, and at times of high abundance — greater than a 25 million pound CCL — charter operators would have a 14 percent allocation. In 2C, the charter industry receives 18.3 percent when the CCL is less than 5 million pounds, and 15.9 percent when it’s greater than 5.75 million pounds. When the CCL falls between those two numbers, the charter industry would receive a flat 915,000-pound allocation. Had the percentages been in affect this year, the charter industry would have received a smaller allocation than the current guideline harvest level, or GHL. The allocation in 2C would have been 633,000 pounds, less than the actual 2012 GHL of 931,000 pounds. The 3A allocation would have been 2.63 million pounds, less than the 3.1 million pounds under the GHL. Charter customers in 3A were allowed a two-fish bag limit this year, but a lower allocation likely would have taken that away. Preserving a two fish of any size bag limit has been a priority for the charter sector in Southcentral. The flat pound amounts between each step-up are meant to avoid decreases in allocation when abundance increases as percentages change. In making the motion, member Ed Dersham, the lone representative of the sport fishing industry on the council, acknowledged that it was a compromise, and neither sector’s preferred alternative. Council member Dan Hull, who is a commercial halibut quota holder, agreed. “Like Mr. Dersham, I too would have preferred to see different alternatives or choices in this action, but I believe that the votes aren’t there for that, and where we have landed with this motion is the best place that we can get to at this point,” Hull said. Both commercial and charter representatives said the final action represented a loss for their industry. Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association Executive Director Linda Behnken said the final action represented a loss for commercial vessels, but was better than the GHL status quo. The association was glad for stability, she said. Southeast Alaska Guides Organization Vice President Russell Thomas said the move was extremely disappointing. Council member Sam Cotten, the only no vote, said he appreciated the work that went into the motion and noted that both the charter industry and commercial sector saw the plans as taking from their allocation and made it difficult to come up with a plan. Cotten cited the numbers the individual fishing quota, or IFQ, holders point as their losses under the last six years of harvest cuts, but also recognized where the charter industry was coming from seeing losses from their current GHL allocation. Seward charter operator Steve Zernia said the status quo GHL is a fair place to start, and should be seen as the current baseline. Any less fish than it granted was a reduction in allocation, he and others said. The council was clear in its discussion that the status quo option, which would have left the GHL in place, was not an option. Under the GHL program, the commercial sector received what halibut was left after subsistence, charter, and sport needs were calculated. After more than a decade of work, the council took final action on a catch sharing plan in 2008 that connected charter and commercial allocations. That CSP, which was scheduled to take effect in 2012, was not implemented after thousands of comments protesting the action led National Marine Fisheries Service to send the plan back to the council for further work in September 2011. Dersham, an Anchorage resident who introduced the motion for final action, was the only no vote on the 2008 plan. As the only council member with a history in the charter sector, his approval of this plan should give it more sticking power. Commercial fisherman Bill Burke told the council he fishes out of Homer, and has IFQ in both 3A and 3B (western Gulf of Alaska). Over the years, as the value of his quota dropped, Burke has taken on loans to purchase more. Since 2010, he’s seen the value of his quota drop between 9 percent and 25 percent per year. The exact management of the charter allocation is left up to discussion each year, with tools including bag limits, slot limits, or other yet-to-be determined measures. John Moline, a charter operator out of Seward, said that how the fishery is managed has a significant impact on whether or not clients opt to go fishing. Dersham said the intention of his motion was to have a flexible management scheme that could be updated yearly. As management improves, Dersham said he thought the charter sector could be managed closer to its limit. In 2011, the charter sector only harvested about half of its GHL in Southeast because of a 37-inch size limit proposed by the International Pacific Halibut Commission, which sets the annual harvest levels, to hold the charter sector within its allocation. “I think clearly, as we develop a baseline of effects with different slot limits for example, that our precision can get much better and the buffer we need in actual projected numbers can become much smaller,” Dersham said. Burke and Zernia weren’t alone during public testimony. Several charter operators from around the state testified about the challenges in their businesses. John Baker, a charter operator out of Ninilchik, said loans aren’t unique to the commercial sector. Charter businesses also have business loans, and need fish to continue their operations, he said. Other commercial fishermen talked about the drop in their quota – ranging from oldtimers with several decades of commercial fishing under their belts, to younger fishermen, like 18-year-old Stephen Peavey, of Craig. “I have lost three-quarters of my quota for conservation issues and allocations to other user groups,” Peavey said. “…It is not economically viable for me to take another cut.” The council’s action also recommended a number of other CSP details. It asked the Alaska Department of Fish and Game use logbooks as their primary data collection source, suggested eliminating skipper and crew catch, which was allowed in Area 3A but not 2C, and would make each sector responsible for its own wastage, or discarded fish. The motion also included a Guided Angler Fish program to allow the commercial sector to lease quota to charter operators, but said the council wants to see it reviewed annually. Several charter operators said they wanted to see that changed in the future, as the program would be hard to make equitable between operators. A group is working on a program to allow a pooled approach to purchasing quota.

Permit glitches lead Apache to suspend seismic work

Apache Corp. has temporarily halted its extensive Cook Inlet 3-D seismic program because of unexpected delays in securing permits from the National Marine Fisheries Service for a final section of marine seismic in the Inlet, a company spokeswoman said Oct. 2. “These are just glitches in the federal permitting, and it is not a serious setback. We have now completed 3-D seismic on about 300 square miles and we are very pleased with the results, but we have a lot of acreage yet to do and to evaluate,” company spokeswoman Lisa Parker said. Apache hopes to get the permit issues worked out and to resume the marine seismic in early 2013, she said. The company’s overall multi-year seismic program will cover 1,200 square miles, Parker said. Alaska state officials have said Apache is conducting the most extensive seismic program ever done in the Cook Inlet Basin, a mature producing region that has been producing oil and gas since the early 1960s. Apache has almost 1 million acres under lease in the region, combining state and private lands. Parker also said Apache’s preparations to drill its first exploration well are continuing with a goal of beginning drilling before the year-end. The well will be drilled on the west side of the Inlet about four miles north of the Native village of Tyonek. The company is now moving a rig to the location. “We’ve had a few setbacks due to weather in getting barges and materials to the site. Most of the rig components are there, but we’re still mobilizing,” Parker said. Apache brought the rig to Alaska from North Dakota. “It’s nice to see more drilling equipment being added in Cook Inlet,” where explorers are concerned about a scarcity of rigs and service contractors, Parker said. “I’m also happy to see equipment being brought to Alaska from North Dakota instead of the other way around,” she said. The Alaskan industry is also concerned about a drain of oil contractor equipment and skilled personnel from the state to the booming Bakken shale oil play. Parker said Apache also plans to extend its onshore Kenai Peninsula seismic program, on Cook Inlet’s east side, into the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in 2013. The company will explore subsurface lands in the refuge owned by Cook Inlet Region Inc., an Alaska Native corporation. Apache signed an agreement to explore Cook Inlet’s lands two months ago. Parker said the company is now preparing an environmental assessment to cover its seismic work in the refuge. No significant issues are expected with the assessment, Parker said, as the company is working closely with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the refuge. The assessment will also rely mainly on data from a conservation plan prepared for the refuge by the agency itself. Plans are to do the seismic in the refuge in fall, 2013, but if the plan is approved by the end of the year the work might be done next spring, Parker said. One positive note in Apache’s relations with federal agencies and the National Marine Fisheries Service in particular, Parker said, is a wealth of Cook Inlet marine mammal data, including on endangered beluga whales, the company is providing the agency from marine mammal observers stationed on offshore seismic vessels and aerial marine mammal surveys.

Commentary: Crab season under way Oct. 15; grant awarded for fishing energy audit

October is National Seafood Month – and it also marks the start of one of the busiest months for Alaska’s fishing industry. The state’s biggest crab fisheries get under way in the Bering Sea on Oct. 15. The Bristol Bay red king crab catch will hold steady at 7.8 million pounds, while the snow crab harvest has taken a dip to 66.3 million pounds, down from about 89 million pounds last season. The St. Matthew Island blue king crab fishery is also down a bit to 1.6 million pounds. Hundreds of divers in Southeast Alaska are plying the depths for 1.5 million pounds of sea cucumbers, 3.2 million pounds of sea urchins and more than a half million pounds of giant geoduck clams. A few dozen divers also target sea cucumbers and urchins in smaller fisheries at Kodiak, Chignik, the Alaska Peninsula and the Bering Sea (175,000 pounds total for cukes and 80,000 pounds of urchins). Fishing for big spot shrimp also opens in October throughout Southeast with a catch of just over a half million pounds. Also in Southeast: the Dungeness crab fishery reopened on Oct. 1, and trollers will be back out on the water fishing for king salmon starting on Oct. 11. Elsewhere, fishermen in the Gulf and Bering Sea continue fishing for pollock, cod, halibut, sablefish and various other groundfish. The halibut and sablefish fisheries close on Nov. 7 this year and will reopen in early March.   Fishing for fuel savings Diesel fuel is $5.27 per gallon in Kodiak and fishing boats elsewhere face similar or even higher fill up costs. Fishermen could soon find some relief from a state backed project that aims to find ways to reduce fuel needs for fishing vessels. “Fuel costs can really affect the bottom line for a fisherman when you’re skimming off 30-40 percent of your annual income for diesel fuel,” said Jim Browning, director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, which received $250,000 from the state to launch a three-year energy audit pilot project to begin next spring. AFDF will partner with Sea Grant marine advisory agent Terry Johnson in Homer to design and implement the project. The program will begin by obtaining baseline information on fuel usage by vessels of all sizes. It will then test various fuel additives, hydrogen generators and other new technologies aimed at saving fuel and increasing efficiency by up to 20 percent. AFDF is currently seeking industry stakeholders to serve on a steering committee, as well as vessel owners who would like to have an energy audit on their boats. Anyone interested can contact AFDF in Anchorage 907-276-7315. (see more at www.afdf.org)   Expo shift Football has forced a big change in dates this year for Pacific Marine Expo to after Thanksgiving. “The show dates rely on the Seattle Seahawks football schedule at Centurylink Field,” explained Expo director Bob Callahan. “This year there was a bit of a wild card – the Washington State Huskies are renovating their football stadium so they took up a few weekends in November at the Field. So between the Seahawks and the Huskies we had to move our dates.” The new Expo dates are set for Tuesday through Thursday, Nov. 27, and response has been “surprisingly positive,” Callahan said. Early registrations are up by more than 600 people compared to this time last year and the trade show continues to grow. “The show has been growing each year by about 10 percent and we are 4,000 square feet and 40 booths ahead of last year. We are actually in the running for one of the fastest growing shows in the country for its size,” he said. Expo is the West Coast’s largest marine industry trade event for 46 years and attracts over 400 companies and nearly 9,000 visitors. “Any trade show mirrors the success of the industry, so obviously, the industry is doing well and it is reflected in the growth Expo,” Callahan added. See the complete lineup at www.pacificmarineexpo.com.   Chinook salmon meetings Alaska Department of Fish and Game has scheduled a scientific symposium on Oct. 22 and 23 from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m at the Egan Center in Anchorage. The Department said, “The symposium will feature scientific presentations and panel discussions from a wide variety of experts from private, state, federal, and academic backgrounds. The goal is to discuss gaps in knowledge of Chinook salmon abundance and productivity, and assemble a targeted list of research priorities to fill these gaps. More details about this event will be forthcoming in the first weeks of October.”   BOF begins   The state Board of Fisheries had its annual work session on October 9 and 10 at the Egan Center in Anchorage. Its meeting cycle this session focuses on Bristol Bay, Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim and Alaska Peninsula/Aleutian Islands fisheries starting in December.   Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishfactor.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Cook Inlet issues set to dominate work session

Agenda changes, chinook research, and stock of concern statuses are up for discussion at the state of Alaska’s Board of Fisheries work session Oct. 9 and 10 in Anchorage. The board has 21 agenda change requests, or ACRs, to consider, ranging from gear changes in salmon fisheries to a new herring designation. Several of the agenda change requests ask the board to consider various Cook Inlet issues, which are not scheduled to come up under the regular, three-year meeting cycle until 2014. Kenai River Sportfishing Association, or KRSA, has said it would like to see all Kenai River king salmon issues considered, and submitted one of the proposals, but several other Cook Inlet groups offered only partial support for the taking up the controversial Cook Inlet issues out of cycle. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game submitted one of the proposals, which would allow the board to consider amending the Kenai River late-run and Kenai and Kasilof River early-run management plans to reflect new escapement goals for the 2013 season based on the new sonar counters. The department prepared comments on the other ACRs, but did not offer explicit support for taking up other Cook Inlet issues. KRSA Executive Director Ricky Gease said the department’s comments were neutral at best. “The Alaska Department of Fish and Game appears to be recommending against a full hearing of the Kenai River king salmon issues by the Alaska Board of Fisheries before the 2013 season. Such a decision is surprising, given the aftermath of the 2012 Upper Cook Inlet salmon season…” Gease said in a statement. Senior Assistant Attorney General Lance Nelson offered the Department of Law’s opinion that two of the Cook Inlet suggestions were not actually ACRs. According to Nelson, an effort to declare early-run Kenai River kings a stock of concern is not a regulatory change, and would have to come from the board in consultation with ADFG, rather than the public. A gear change for eastside Cook Inlet set gillnet permit holders could be beyond the scope of the board, according to the department, because it discusses fish traps, which are prohibited by state statute. That gear change was proposed by Brent Johnson. Kenai fisherman Brian Gabriel wrote in support of amending that to allow fishermen to submit their ideas of gear for testing. That could enable the fishery to find ways to harvest sockeye salmon without impacting kings, Gabriel said. A group of eastside setnetters submitted comments opposing out-of-cycle consideration of Cook Inlet issues beyond ACR 17, the proposal to consider some Kenai-area escapement goals. KRSA asked for a modification of the Kenai River late-run king salmon management plan, which was opposed in comments by United Fishermen of Alaska and the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association, or KPFA, which represents setnetters. United Cook Inlet Drift Association opposed most of the changes for that area, according to comments from Executive Director Roland Maw. The drift association did agree with the premise behind further work to determine what personal-use fishery users were not submitting their permit information to the state at the end of the season, as proposed in ACR 18. Pacific herring are also up for discussion. Subsistence user Aaron Bean submitted an ACR for the species to be designated as a forage fish under the Forage Fish Management Plan. That proposal would close commercial herring fisheries statewide, according to comments from Fish and Game. Herring were not included in the original forage plan, which mirrored a federal plan that also excluded them. The herring fishery is also a long-time commercial fishery, according to the department. In comments on behalf of the Southeast Herring Conservation Alliance, Executive Director Steven Reifenstuhl asked the board to reject the request. Herring fisheries are healthy overall, and increasing in biomass, Reifenstuhl said. The Alaska Federation of Natives and Sitka Tribe of Alaska both submitted comments in support of the proposal, as did other individuals. Fishing groups, including United Fishermen of Alaska and Southeast Alaska Fishermen’s Association submitted comments opposing the designation. Nelson’s department of law opinion said several of the proposals are not true ACRs because they address matters that could be considered on the agenda as-is. Those requests address gear for the Lower Yukon salmon fisheries, salmon seine gear measurements in the Alaska Peninsula area, changing the definition of salmon stream terminus statewide, and the commissioner’s salmon management authority in-season, each of which could be addressed at a meeting scheduled for this year. The opinion suggests that if the board wants to consider the ideas in those proposals, it could do so by generating its own proposals. The date for public proposals has passed. A change to the timing of when Pacific cod issues are discussed also would not be an agenda change because it isn’t a regulatory issue, but could be considered during the work session as miscellaneous business, according to Nelson’s opinion. The Board will also hear from the Department of Fish and Game regarding stock of concern statuses in the fisheries it is set to discuss at its meetings this year. In a Sept. 24 memo, the department recommended designating Swanson Lagoon sockeye salmon, in the Alaska Peninsula/Aleutian Islands area, as a stock of concern. The Swanson Lagoon Section was closed this summer to protect the stock. For the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim region, the department recommended that four salmon stocks retain their status. Those are Nome chum salmon, Golovin and Elim chum salmon, Shatoolik and Unalakleet king salmon, and Yukon River king salmon. The department did not recommend any additional designations in that region. In Bristol Bay, the department is recommending removing stock of concern status for Kvichak River sockeye salmon. The board will also discuss escapement goals for those fisheries. A presentation on the Western Alaska Salmon Stock Identification Project is scheduled for Oct. 11.

Commentary: Tsunami debris still Alaska-bound; cod could lose MSC label

At least 1.5 million tons of debris from Japan’s 2011 tsunami is still afloat, and at least half of it is expected to hit Alaska’s coastline. The region from Yakutat to Gore Point off the Kenai Peninsula will likely see the heaviest debris piles, but Southeast Alaska and other areas will see chunks of junk as well. Those are conclusions of a fascinating new report by Washington Sea Grant titled “Debris Accumulation Scenarios in Washington State from the March 2011 Tohoku Tsunami.” The report, authored by Ian Miller and Jim Brennan, says most of the debris should land within four years of the 2011 tsunami, with Alaska receiving more in subsequent years as it is released from ocean gyres. (See more at http://wsg.washington.edu/.) Most of the debris that has landed so far has been lighter items driven by the wind, such as buoys and astonishing amounts of Styrofoam. Trackers find that plastic particularly troublesome, said Dave Gaudet, marine debris program coordinator for the Juneau-based Marine Conservation Alliance Foundation. “We don’t have any definitive data on what Styrofoam does to the wildlife and the environment. We do know that it breaks up and animals ingest it and it gets into the ecosystem. So we need to be vigilant for that,” Gaudet said. The MCAF has spearheaded marine debris cleanup in remote Alaska regions for years. Shortly after the tsunami occurred in March 2011 it began tracking where and what types of debris are coming ashore at monitoring stations at Kodiak, Yakutat, Sitka and Craig. Arriving soon will be heavier, current-driven debris riding beneath the ocean surface. “We don’t know what’s next,” Gaudet said. The MCAF has compiled an extensive debris cleanup plan for Alaska, and is awaiting the results of a state-backed aerial survey done this summer to help prioritize actions. (See more at http://www.mcafoundation.org/.) “We are in the process of trying to identify the kinds of debris and if it is close to breeding areas for birds or mammals, or other ecologically important areas. Things like that will factor in to what areas are going to be cleaned,” Gaudet said. Or more accurately – if they get cleaned. “The biggest thing we are missing is funding. Nothing has been dedicated to the tsunami beyond the $50,000 that came from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is being used to clean up parts of Prince William Sound this year. But for the future, no money is identified,” he said. Japan donated $6 million to the U.S. government to help with cleanup. Gaudet said he’s hopeful the Washington Sea Grant study will make the case for Alaska to get a good portion of those funds. Might Alaska fishermen and vessels get contracts to help with marine debris clean up? “Unfortunately, this is unlike the Exxon Valdez oil spill where a lot of the clean up took place within the semi-protected waters of Prince William Sound,” Gaudet said. “A lot of the tsunami debris is hitting the outer coasts where it is extremely difficult to gain access to the shore. We are likely going to have to get people in by plane or helicopter and get it out the same way.” Pending more funding, the MCA Foundation hopes cleanup crews can be deployed next spring. Report debris sightings on Facebook at SeaAlliance/Restoring our Shores.   Cod ecolabel Getting a fishery certified as “sustainable” has become a cost of doing business in today’s seafood world. Without that stamp of approval, major buyers in the U.S. and Europe simply won’t source your fish. Alaska salmon, pollock and halibut have long merited eco-labels. Pacific cod was the latest Alaska fish to gain an eco-label in 2010 from the Marine Stewardship Council – but it is in danger of being yanked due to a need for more information. “We are having a really difficult time getting good, accurate information on the amount of lost gear, particularly pot gear that is out there,” said Jim Browning, director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation in Anchorage. AFDF is managing the MSC cod certification process. Alaska’s cod fishery certification includes all gear types – trawl, longline and pots. Obtaining and retaining the MSC label hinged on meeting 29 conditions, Browning said, and all have been met except for the lost gear estimates. “The assessment team is interested in that because they are worried about ghost fishing,” he explained. The biggest data gap comes from the pot cod fleet. It has been easier to get information to and from other gears because they have centralized groups and fishing members, such as the Freezer Longline Coalition, the Alaska Seafood Cooperative and Alaska Groundfish Databank. But the pot boats stand pretty much on their own. The lost gear information remains confidential, Browning, said, and only locations will be plotted to see if there are aggregations in particular areas. Cod boats are out on the grounds now, and AFDF is hoping that fishing organizations or fleet managers will encourage skippers to collect data on lost and retrieved pot gear. If that remaining bit of information is not in hand by May, it could derail the green label for Alaska cod. “This will be the second year that we haven’t been able to provide the data on lost gear, and it could suspend the certification or we would have to ask for a variance for more time,” Browning said. Lost gear reporting forms are available at www.afdf.org   America’s top 10 seafood list released Shrimp, canned tuna and salmon remained America’s top seafood favorites last year. Alaska pollock ranked fourth, bumping farmed tilapia to the fifth spot. Another farmed whitefish from Asia - pangasius - was the sixth most popular. Catfish, crabs, cod and clams round out the top 10. Those seafoods make up more than 90 percent of the fish eaten in the U.S., according to the National Fisheries Institute, which compiles the list of favorites each fall. The only two fish that saw increased consumption were Alaska pollock and pangasius, likely reflecting continued belt tightening by consumers and lower US catfish production.

Editorial: Board must take up kings, take no more from setnetters

The — now official —disaster in Cook Inlet during the 2012 salmon season is back in front of the Board of Fisheries at its upcoming annual work session Oct. 9 to 11 in Anchorage. Issues between the sport and commercial users that are contentious in the best of times will be front and center against the backdrop of a record-low return of Kenai kings in 2012 with the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, or KRSA, pushing for a full evaluation of king salmon management while Peninsula setnetters and the statewide United Fishermen of Alaska are opposing the KRSA agenda change request. The issue upon which the two sides agree is the need to formally adopt new escapement goals for the Kenai and Kasilof river kings based on the new DIDSON fish counters deployed fully in 2012 after three years of side-by-side testing against previous sonar counters. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game, which originally planned to present new DIDSON-based escapement goals for the regularly scheduled 2014 Upper Cook Inlet meeting, now says it has the capability to present goals in time for 2013. The discussion around the new goals developed by ADFG, what current counts reveal about the status of the Kenai River king salmon stocks, and how ADFG will use existing authorities under the current management to achieve the goals should be a productive step toward achieving a more orderly 2013 season. In 2012, near total closures of the sport and commercial setnet fisheries were required to meet Kenai River king salmon escapement goals. The setnet fishermen lost out on 95 percent of their typical annual harvest while the tourism sector suffered from cancelations and lost visitor traffic. Both commercial and sport fishing industries recognize the need to conserve king salmon and achieve a sustainable fishery. It is certainly not in the setnetters’ interest — especially after a total loss in 2012 — for diminishing returns of king salmon and the restrictions to their sector that go along with it. However, the setnetters also believe that when KRSA is pushing for a change in management it is typically going to cost them money. At the 2011 Upper Cook Inlet meeting of the Board of Fisheries, setnetters were helpless as the four-member majority took measure after measure proposed by KRSA that included a new mandated closures on Tuesdays in addition to the current “weekend window” closures on Fridays, the decoupling of their sector from the drift fleet and a provision for a more expedient closure to their season after Aug. 1. The allocative shifts away from the setnetters were worth millions during the first season under the new rules in 2011, and with low forecasts for Kenai River kings in the near future they can anticipate even more of their historical catch going up the river or into the drift fleet’s pockets. It is important for the board to remember that when it comes to allocations, a bedrock principle of management is history in the fishery. For setnetters who have, in some cases, fished the same sites for generations, it is no easy thing to swallow to see their allocations consistently eroded by a relatively new user group as is the sport guide industry. A setnetter shouldn’t lose fishing opportunity merely by the nature of someone starting a guide business or building a fancy cabin along the Kenai River. They also shouldn’t be told that a dollar they earn to feed their families and support the local communities is less valuable than a dollar earned by a guide or a B&B. For the value of the Cook Inlet commercial fishery to the state economy goes far beyond the $50 million in ex-vessel value it is usually pegged at by the sport industry. Only considering ex-vessel value ignores the impacts of fuel and supply purchases, processing jobs, crew wages spent throughout the community, the transportation and logistics infrastructure necessary to move 25 million pounds of salmon to domestic and international markets, and the end-user spending at retail and fine restaurants where Alaska salmon is served. The setnetters have more than borne their fair share of conservation for Kenai River kings. As the board considers changes in management, they should not weigh them down any more.

Halibut fleet concerned about new observer plan

Another major concern for the commercial halibut fleet is the restructured Gulf of Alaska observer program on the agenda at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council October meeting. The National Marine Fisheries Service will outline the deployment plan for the program, which will include halibut boats for the first time in 2013. Most fishing vessels are required to carry observers onboard at least a portion of the time they’re at sea, although halibut vessels have not been part of the program. The restructured program will include boats less than 60 feet, which captures much of the halibut fleet, random placement of observers and improved data collection. The program, passed by the council in October 2010, is slated to be finalized this fall and implemented in January. According to the draft program presented to the council Observer Advisory Committee, which met Sept. 17 and 18 in Seattle, vessels will be selected and receive observation based on random selection from a pool of all vessels in that program. The updated program does not apply to the full-coverage or no-coverage vessels. The full-coverage fleet are those longer than 125 feet, mostly catcher processors and motherships that may process and discard fish while underway. Zero-coverage vessels are generally less than 40 feet, have small amounts of catch, or are fishing only in state Guideline Harvest Level fisheries where the federal government does not have jurisdiction. Although the Alaska Longline Fishermen's Association was supportive of extending the observer program to the halibut industry, Executive Director Linda Behnken said the proposed plan isn’t what they were hoping would be implemented. “So far, it looks like a program that’s not going to work well for our small boat fleet,” Behnken said. The Southeast Alaska longline fleet consists mostly of smaller boats, less than 60 feet long, often with just two or three people onboard. The relatively big boats might have four. Those boats represent most of the commercial halibut sector in Southeast. “The boats are small. There’s just not enough room for another person,” she said. According to the report from the Observer Advisory Committee, vessels that are too small to accommodate an additional body will be able to tell NMFS and receive an inspection to confirm that. Behnken said the program, as proposed by NMFS, would give every boat an equal chance of observation. That could actually decrease monitoring on the larger pollock and groundfish trawl boats, where chinook salmon and halibut bycatch is a concern, she said. “A big part of the reason for doing this whole upgrade to the observer program was to increase coverage and accountability for bycatch,” Behnken said. The fleet was willing to pay for the observer program — 1.25 percent of their landings — in part because it wanted to see better accounting for bycatch, and thought the electronic monitoring option would help balance out the space concerns. Because the fleet takes high value species such as halibut and sablefish, it will be funding the majority of the new observer program. Electronic monitoring was developed as a way to have a camera record every fish that comes on board, Behnken said. As currently drafted, the electronic monitoring program would be separate from the observer program, and a camera would likely not replace a human observer. The advisory committee is recommending that the council make several suggestions to NMFS about the observer program, but whether or not the council will take action is unknown. Behnken said she thought it might take a directive from the State of Alaska to change the program. Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell is a member of the council, which has six of its 11 members from Alaska.

Steller sea lions and crab to be discussed

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which meets Oct. 3-9 in Anchorage, is poised to act on a vessel replacement plan, as well as discuss Steller sea lions and the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands crab and groundfish fisheries. Halibut management and observation will also be on the table. The council is slated for final action on a vessel replacement program for freezer longline licenses authorized for Pacific cod in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands. The preliminary preferred action, which is supported by the Freezer Longline Coalition, would allow catcher-processor vessels to have a maximum length overall of up to 220 feet long. The licenses that also have a pot Pacific cod endorsement would have to surrender that endorsement in order to take advantage of the new size limits, and would have 36 months to make a decision one way or the other. According to the council’s regulatory impact review, 37 licenses could be affected by the change, most for vessels currently between 124 and 174 feet. The replacement program is primarily meant to address safety, said Freezer Longline Coalition Executive Director Kenny Down. The larger sizes are meant to make new vessels financially feasible. “The current size limitations don’t allow you to build a vessel that’s efficient enough to cover the cost of construction, so it’s a fleet that’s going to continue to age without replacement without action by council,” Down said. The other alternatives allow new vessels as long as 150 feet, with certain conditions. Down said the increased boat size could increase revenue by about 20 percent for a freezer longliner. The financial benefit would come largely from improved processing capabilities on the vessels, Down said. Currently, various fish components can’t be processed onboard. Down said that skate wings, which are sold to retail markets in Asia and domestically, and various cod parts – like livers, heads and stomachs – are potential revenue sources on new vessels. The target species for the freezer longliners are Pacific cod, sablefish and Greeland turbot, but vessels also retain incidental catch of skates, rockfish, arrowtooth flounder and pollock. Larger boats or more powerful engines won’t be able to catch more fish, because the longline vessels catch fish by hook, Down said. The economic benefits are needed to outweigh the cost of vessel replacement, which is substantial. Vessel loans are typically 10 to 15 years, Down said. “The payback on building a new vessel is very, very long term,” Down said. The Coast Guard also supports the replacement plan. Newer vessels will make the fleet safer. Older vessels tend to have more fatal injuries associated with them, Down said, and the current freezer longliners are about 39 years old, on average. Shipyards in Alaska and Washington could also benefit if new boats are purchased. “I think the shipyards in those areas are very excited about the prospects of the replacement of the freezer longline fleet,” Down said. Steller sea lion review The council is also scheduled to talk about Steller sea lions. A 2010 National Marine Fisheries Service, or NMFS, biological opinion concluded that removals of Pacific cod and Atka mackerel in the western Aleutian Islands were likely to jeopardize food sources for endangered Steller sea lions and adversely modify their critical habitat. From that conclusion, NMFS imposed wide-ranging closures to all cod and mackerel fishing in an area half the size of Texas in the farthest west Aleutians, in addition to other restrictions. The State of Alaska and a coalition of fishing groups sued to overturn the biological opinion, of BiOp, and closures. Alaska U.S. District Judge Timothy Burgess allowed the rule to stand but ordered NMFS to prepare an environmental impact statement to support the action, requiring it to be complete in two years and demanding quarterly progress reports. The EIS discussion by the council will likely center on the recently released independent review of the biological opinion. NMFS contracted with the Center for Independent Experts to analyze the BiOp, with all three reviewers concluding the study was based on flawed science. How the CIE opinion will trickle into management is still unknown. The council is set to talk about the approach to the EIS, which was ordered by a judge. Larry Cotter, from the council Steller sea lion mitigation committee, said the EIS is supposed to look at all available information, which could include the new CIE opinions. “I think it’s going to be very interesting to see what the EIS concludes,” Cotter said. He said there are several possibilities for how the EIS will play out. The judge ordering the EIS only mandated that the assessment consider the Aleutians and the Bering Sea, but didn’t mention the Gulf of Alaska. The EIS now could conclude that the Gulf needs to be considered as well. “And it may be that they conclude that the biological opinion erred, and that jeopardy and adverse modification do not exist, and then we’ll see what happens,” Cotter said. If the EIS concludes that the biological opinion erred, Cotter said it’s hard to know what will happen. If the opinion is struck down, it is unknown what would replace it or how long that would take. Burgess allowed the current management to remain. Beyond the EIS, any direct action resulting from the CIE study is up in the air. “The big question is whether the NMFS will do anything, and if so, what are they going to do,” Cotter said. The council could advise NMFS to dismantle the rule and develop a new biological opinion, just discuss the EIS process, or take a different course of action entirely, Cotter said. “What will be frustrating is if nothing happens,” Cotter said. In a letter to Jane Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Down asked NMFS to withdraw the biological opinion. But Down said he doesn’t expect any direction action from the council based on the independent review. The Freezer Longline Coalition, which had prime cod grounds with a valuable export market closed by the rule, was among the groups who sued NMFS. The case was appealed to the 9th Circuit Court. Crab quota to be adopted Crab and groundfish management and research for the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands will also be part of the meeting. Bering Sea snow crab and Bristol Bay king crab quotas are due to be announced Oct. 1, and approved as part of the meeting. On the groundfish side, the council will adopt proposed catch specifications. The council will consider initial reviews of proposed regulatory amendments for management of the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands king and tanner crabs. Council documents discuss changing certain time requirements for communities’ right of first refusal for processor quota shares, as well as defining active participation requirements for acquisition and use of owner shares. The council will also look at regulations for crab economic data reporting, review the tanner crab rebuilding plan, and other related issues. Research on how crab and fish populations may expand northward into subarctic regions has been under way for several years, with some preliminary results showing that the species present are not commercially viable. The council will review a discussion paper on those efforts, which also looks at the potential of opening the area to bottom-trawling.

Commentary: Dutch Harbor holds down title for top fishing port once again

Dutch Harbor-Unalaska held onto the title of the nation’s top fishing port for the 15th year in a row, with more than 700 million pounds of fish and crab crossing the docks there last year, a 36 percent increase from 2010. New Bedford, Massachusetts remained the priciest port with landings, mostly scallops, worth nearly $370 million at the docks. Dutch Harbor ranked second again for seafood value at $207 million, an increase of $44 million. The numbers come from the annual Fisheries of the United States Report just released by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service. Overall, the report paints a healthy picture of the nation’s fisheries. Landings of edible fish topped 10 billion pounds, a 17-year high and up 21 percent from 2010. This increase was led by bigger harvests of Alaska pollock and cod, as well as increases in shrimp landings in the Gulf of Mexico, and lobster and crab landings in the Northeast. The dockside value of the U.S. catch also jumped to $5.3 billion, an increase of nearly $800 million. In all, a dozen Alaska ports made the Top 50 ports list for either landings, values, or both. Akutan made a big debut on the charts, ranking third for U.S. seafood landings (431 million pounds, up from 302 million in 2010), and fourth for value at $114 million, a $30 million increase. Kodiak ranked fifth in terms of landings (372 million pounds compared to 325 million) and third for value at $168 million, an increase of $40 million from 2010. Other Alaska ports with top seafood landings include Sitka (No. 14), Petersburg (No. 15), Ketchikan (No. 16), Naknek-King Salmon (No. 19), Cordova (No. 20), Seward (No. 22), Kenai (No. 29), Juneau (No. 43) and Homer (No. 44). Nearly 60 percent of all U.S. seafood landings come from Alaska, where last year deliveries topped 738 million pounds (down 2 percent), valued at almost $565 million (a 12 percent increase). Other report highlights: U.S. salmon landings in 2011were 780 million pounds valued at $618 million—a 1 percent decrease in poundage, and an 11 percent increase ($63.5 million) in value. Alaska provided 95 percent of the U.S. wild salmon catch. Pollock provided the most U.S. seafood poundage; crabs were the most valuable at $650 million, followed by salmon. Seafood exports surged last year with U.S. producers exporting 3.3 billion pounds, up 19 percent. The average price paid to U.S. fishermen last year was 53 cents, down from 55 cents. Alaska fishermen fared better, averaging 77 cents per pound across the board, up a dime from 2010. U.S. per capita consumption of fish and shellfish in 2011 was 15 pounds, a drop of .8 pounds per person. The fisheries report also includes recreational fishing. It’s a great read. Catch watch Catches of Alaska pollock, cod and other groundfish could climb higher next year if fishery overseers agree with the scientists. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council will take a first look at the catch recommendations at its meeting next month and make the final decisions in December. For Bering Sea pollock, the proposed catch of 1.2 million metric tons is just slightly above this year’s limit. Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands Pacific cod could also see an upward tick to nearly 263,000 tons, a 7 percent increase. In the Gulf of Alaska, the pollock catch could increase by nearly 8 percent to 125,000 tons; for cod, the proposed catch tops 68,000 tons, up 4 percent. Also in October: The council is set to make a final decision on a Halibut Catch Sharing Plan for charter and sport fishing. There’s a chance that 5 percent of the annual halibut allocation will be shifted from commercial fishing to those groups. Bering Sea crab fisheries also dominate the agenda. The council will discuss findings in a special report “as a first step in its consideration of a variety of measures to address issues related to share purchase opportunities for persons active in the crab fisheries, high lease payments in the fisheries, and the effects of those payments on active participants.” The North Pacific council meets Oct. 3-9 at the Anchorage Hilton. If you can’t make the Anchorage meeting you can participate online.. Quality kudos No town tops Cordova when it comes to touting their salmon, and this summer fishermen and processors took bragging about fish quality to a whole new level. For the past two summers fishermen have partnered with the region’s nine processors to use strict handling guidelines to improve salmon quality. “Everyone in the chain of custody agreed to participate in the project,” said Beth Poole, executive director of the Copper River/Prince William Sound Marketing Association, operated and funded by over 550 salmon fishermen with a 1 percent tax on their salmon catches. “Having nine independent processors working together on a project is pretty unheard of, and we are proud to have that support from all of them,” Poole added. The guidelines require using short soak times, proper bleeding and chilling, proper sanitizing, delivering often and quick transport from tenders to shoreplants. The extra time and effort really pays off, said Gary Johnson, plant manager at Peter Pan Seafoods. “The program exceeded my expectations quite a bit… there were very few fish we couldn’t fillet,” he said. This year the program called out fishermen for their salmon quality by giving awards and recognition to the top producers. “We asked each processor to track their fishermen over the season and at the end of the year to nominate their top quality harvester and their most improved,” Poole said. Along with the recognition, the fishermen get added bonuses for the higher quality salmon. The first “Top Quality Harvester Award” went to Mike Webber on the F/V Amulet. Crab calls Reports from the industry/agency crab plan team meeting in Seattle indicate the Bristol Bay red king crab quota may be between 7 and 8 million pounds; for Bering Sea snow crab the catch quota will likely be around 70 million pounds. Managers will announce the catch numbers in early October. No red king crab fishery in Southeast Alaska this winter.

Final action scheduled for charter-commercial halibut split

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council will consider several alternatives for Pacific halibut allocations at its October meeting. The council meets Oct. 3 to 9 in Anchorage, and has scheduled two full days for halibut issues. The council is slated to take final action on the halibut catch sharing plan for Southeast, or Area 2C, and Southcentral, or Area 3A. The council is tasked with finding a way to split a combined catch limit, set by the International Pacific Halibut Commission, or IPHC, between commercial and charter fishermen. The council must decide between four potential regulatory amendments that would create a catch sharing plan, or CSP, with sector allocations dependent on halibut abundance. Each alternative before the council would allocate a certain percentage of the halibut harvest to the charter sector. In Area 2C, the charter sector could receive between 15.1 and 21.8 percent of the catch. For Area 3A, the allocation could range from 14 percent to 20.7 percent. In each scenario, the lowest percent would be at times of high abundance, and the highest percent at the lowest abundance. Allocations are based on the combined catch limit. In Area 2C, less than 5 million pounds is the lowest, while a range of 5 to 9 million pounds is the middle abundance tier, and the greatest is a total catch greater than 9 million pounds. In Area 3A, the tiers are: less than 10 million pounds, between 10 and 20 million pounds, and 20 million pounds or greater. But according letter from Rex Murphy, of the Alaska Charter Association, the charter industry would see a reduction in allocation at many of the step-ups in abundance. Instead, the association suggests an approach that would eliminate those “jinks," using an equation that creates allocations that float with abundance. The council’s alternatives are based on the halibut catch sharing plan, or CSP, passed in 2008, which was set to take effect in 2012 until a flood of charter opposition last fall forced the council to reconsider the allocations. Of the allocation alternatives now under consideration, the original CSP would give the charter sector the lowest share of the catch, with a range of 14 to 15.4 percent for Area 3A, and 15.1 to 17.3 for Area 2C. The council’s preliminary preferred alternative is alternative three. That modifies the 2008 plan by eliminating a 3.5 percent buffer range around the allocations, and adjusting the allocations based on how harvest numbers changed when converted from a statewide harvest survey to logbooks data. Under the original CSP, if the charter sector was projected to be in either 3.5 percent above or below its target allocation, different management measures come into play such as bag or size limits. The matrix of charter options has since been discarded in favor of an annual selection of management measures for the charter sector. The charter sector would receive different allocations in Area 2C and 3A. Ricky Gease, from the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, said Kenai guides don’t support that option. Portions of the charter industry, including the Kenai organization, would prefer alternative five, which would make the greatest increase to the charter allocation. Like alternative three, it would eliminate the 3.5 percent target range and adjust allocations to reflect the harvest survey to logbook data difference. “We’re saying, we want alternative five to allow us the greatest degree of flexibility in management going forward,” said Heath Hilyard, from the Southeast Alaska Guides Organization. The ACA in Southcentral isn’t in favor of any of the options. “There is no need to rush to final action a second time on a plan with so many outstanding issues,” Murphy wrote in ACA’s comments. The allocations are based on halibut abundance, and were developed from the council’s 2008 preferred alternative. That alternative used the charter sector’s past percent of the harvest to determine the formula for its future share, with different years factoring in depending on different levels of abundance. The choice of which years to use is contentious. The Charter sector has grown over the past two decades. The no-action alternative sets the allocation based on 1995-1999 data; the other possibilities would set the levels using a formula based on the 2001-2005 harvest for times of low abundance. In times of higher abundance, the harvest for Area 2C would be based on 2005, while Area 3A would be based on 1995-1999 levels. For the charter sector, returning to past harvest levels is seen as a cut. But for the commercial side, it’s a way to preserve the investments they made in quota in the 1990s, said Linda Behnken from the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association. In 1995, the charter sector was taking 9 percent of the combined charter and commercial catch in area 2C, Behnken said. In 3A, they were taking 12 percent. “What’s on the table now could increase those percentages as high as 20 percent.” Behnken said for a long time, allocations were determined by deducting the subsistence, sport and charter needs from the IPHC’s total amount of halibut. But a growing charter sector meant that commercial operators had a reduction in their allocation, Behnken said. “When people have purchased quota in the commercial sector for 30 to 36 dollars a pound, to have that just reallocated away when you’re still making payments, you’ve got your house as collateral, it’s pretty hard for people to take,” Behnken said. According to the council’s analysis of the various alternatives, the price of halibut fluctuates only minimally based on harvest levels, so commercial vessels cannot expect to make up for decreased fish with higher prices. “An allocation to the charter sector that decreases the commercial allocation is expected to result in a small increase in ex-vessel price, but an overall decline in the net revenue of commercial harvesters,” according to the analysis. In his comments on behalf of ACA, Murphy suggested that the council reconsider its options, and look at combining the entire recreational sector. “The ACA suggests that a wiser approach might be to revise the CSP to include the entire recreational sector. Taking this route would solve the issues with guided and unguided accountability and sector separation, while allowing the time needed to analyze a permanent allocation transfer mechanism and sector accountability,” Murphy wrote. The alternatives also propose different ways to reconcile years where the target allocation is exceeded differently. Under the first two management scenarios, no action would be taken in such a situation. In the latter three, the council would provide IPHC an annual analysis and management recommendation for the upcoming season. Also on the table as part of the alternatives is the Guided Angler Fish program, or GAF. The GAF program, as discussed at the last council meeting, would allow IFQ shareholders to lease their quota to charter operators. The leasors would offer up a certain weight, which would then be converted into fish based on prior year’s size data, and would be limited to leasing 10 percent of IFQ holdings or 1,500 pounds in Area 2C, and 15 percent of 1,500 pounds in Unit 3A, whichever number is greater. Operators would have certain marking and reporting requirements for fish caught and retained under the GAF program. Behnken said the Halibut Coalition sees it as a fair way for charter operators to increase a client’s ability to catch fish. “The GAF allows them to lease quota from the commercial fleet,” Behnken said. She said that route levels the playing field. Gease said KRSA doesn’t support the program as a long-terms solution, but sees it as as a temporary measure. In the long-term, Kenai guides want to see a sector-wide program, he said. Hilyard said Southeast charter operators see the utility of the program, but don’t think the current iteration is ideal. The GAF, Hilyard said, is a viable option for some operators, but it’s unfair across the playing field, and could lead to confusion for clients when some operators can take them out for more fish and others can’t. Hilyard said charter organizations expect that the GAF will be included, but want to see it revised in the future. Ideally, they’re looking for a statement from council that its only temporary, he said. The council’s April motion, as amended in June, calls for a complete review of the GAF program within five years, meant to look at the economic effects for both sectors. Hilyard said operators would rather see allocations purchased on behalf of the entire charter industry, and applying to the whole group, perhaps done by area. The industry is working on a proposal for such an effort, in hopes that the council would consider it in the future. “The goal is to create a funding mechanism that allows a common pool approach,” Hilyard said.

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