Falling halibut prices add to woes from harvest cuts

Alaska fishermen are feeling the squeeze of lower prices at the same time that their operating costs continue to spiral upward. For halibut, in a reversal of trend and fortune, prices have dropped by 70 cents per pound in recent weeks. Dock prices usually peak from September until the halibut fishery closes in November, but that is not the case this year — overstocked freezers and resistance from buyers has put a downward press on fish prices. “Buyers simply aren’t buying,” said several Alaska fish processors. Prior to the start of the season in March, processors believed carryover halibut from last year would be sold out by May, but that didn’t happen. Now they are still holding the fish in freezers and selling it at a loss, while at the same time the high-end fresh market has fizzled. Prices at Kodiak were reported at $5, $5.40 and $5.80 per pound, depending on size. At Homer, halibut prices dropped as low as $5.25 but were up slightly to $5.40. Last year’s average halibut price for the season was $6.61 a pound. Those prices still might seem high, but they don’t balance out when you factor in the millions of pounds in lost catch. Pacific halibut catch limits have been reduced by 40 percent in the past two years resulting in an Alaska take of just 24 million pounds for 2012. So far 79 percent of the Alaska halibut catch has been landed, with 5 million pounds remaining in the catch limit. Kodiak was the leading port for landings at nearly 3.7 million pounds, with Homer a close second with 3.6 million pounds. That’s followed by Seward (2.2 million), Dutch Harbor (1.7 million) and Sitka (1 million pounds). The market also “stinks” for sablefish (black cod), said major buyers. As with halibut, freezers also are still full of sablefish from last year. An added downer — most of the fish crossing the docks this season are small, and Japan, the No. 1 customer for black cod, wants larger sizes. Sablefish prices were ranging from $2.25 for 1- to 2-pounders to $7.50 a pound for “seven ups.” Prices for large fish reached $9 per pound earlier in the season. The sablefish fishery also ends in November. Prices for Pacific cod also took a dip to between 32 to 35 cents per pound, down about a dime. That’s due to good catches in the North Sea, where cod has been rebounding for six years. That’s pulled Europe out of the buying equation for Alaska cod, there is less demand from China, and nearly all the catch is now going to U.S. markets. Looking ahead – the cod catch next year in the Barents Sea off of Russia was increased 25 percent to 940,000 metric tons (more than 2 billion pounds), the highest quota in 40 years. Finally, Gulf of Alaska pollock boats remained tied to the docks until Sept. 12, although the fishery reopened Sept. 1. The trawlers wanted 18 cents per pound for pollock – the usual price is closer to 12 cents. The fleet settled for 15.5 cents before heading out. Coral caution Many of Alaska’s fisheries have been booted out of areas to avoid Steller sea lions and various bycatch – now corals loom as a red flag for traditional fishing grounds. A petition by the Center for Biological Diversity is asking the federal government to list cold water, deep sea corals as either threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. “This has great potential in the future to affect a lot of fisheries in the Gulf, the Bering Sea and in the Aleutian Islands,” said Denby Lloyd, Kodiak fishery advisor, at a joint Kodiak Island Borough/City meeting. “I and a number of industry observers see this as having the same potential as Steller sea lions initially had in the early 1990s where it was speculative, and a side issue that soon became an extremely major issue and had dramatic impacts on fisheries.” Alaska corals don’t form reefs like tropical varieties – instead, they grow into dense gardens and can live for hundreds of years. Scientists point to climate changes and ocean acidification as the biggest threats to coldwater corals, Lloyd said – but as usual, fishing would bear the brunt of any restrictions. “The only thing other than climate change that the federal government could control would be fishing activity,” Lloyd said. “And it’s very similar to the results of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service having declared polar bears as threatened. The cause of that was labeled as climate change, but the only thing that could be controlled was immediate human activity and therefore, polar bear hunting and import of trophies and things like that were the way the federal government exerted control. “In this case it’s probably going to be fishing activity that is going to be the outlet for control if corals are declared threatened or endangered.” All fisheries in federal waters (3 miles to 200 miles offshore) with bottom contact gear would be targeted if the corals are listed, said Linda Kozak, a Kodiak-based fishery consultant. “This would be despite clear evidence that the fixed gear fisheries (longline, pots) have been fishing in these areas for many years with no impacts to coral. The Aleutian crab fisheries are targeting the same grounds they have fished for 20 years and their interactions with coral are extremely minimal,” Kozak said. Lloyd added: “If the agencies are persuaded, people are projecting that in 50 years, there is great potential that the acid environment and the temperature environment are going to impact corals to the point of making them threatened or endangered.” The North Pacific Fishery Management Council will discuss the coral issue at its upcoming meeting Oct. 3-9 in Anchorage. Salmon planners Chinook salmon numbers have been declining steadily in major regions throughout Alaska since 2007. Gov. Sean Parnell announced in July the formation of a team of fishery scientists to develop a research plan for the disappearing kings. The team was finally announced by the governor’s office. According to Wesley Loy’s Deckboss blog, it includes Alaska Department of Fish and Game fisheries scientists Eric Volk and Bob Clark, Andrew Munro and Steve Fleischman, fishery biologist Ed Jones, geneticist Bill Templin and Jim Fall from the subsistence division. The U.S. Department of Commerce last week announced a disaster declaration for the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers, and for the Cook Inlet region south of Anchorage, including the Kenai River. That means commercial fishermen will be eligible for disaster relief. Eastside setnetters on the Kenai River lost nearly 90 percent of their annual income when the fishery was restricted and closed this summer. Same for Salmon fishermen at the Kuskokwim; the Yukon was closed completely to king Salmon fishing. No one is sure what is causing the declines; most blame ocean factors. The research team is drafting an analysis that will be discussed at a symposium next month in Anchorage.

Fisherman survives day at sea adrift in fish bin

SITKA (AP) — A fisherman who spent a night adrift in a 4-by-4 foot plastic fish bin after his boat sank off Alaska says he gave himself pep talks and sang “Rudolf, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” to keep his spirits up. His fellow crewmember managed to get into a survival suit and washed ashore on a beach after his own night afloat. A Coast Guard helicopter hoisted Ryan Harris, 19, of Sitka, from his plastic “lifeboat” on Saturday, more than 24 hours after the boat sank on Friday, the Daily Sitka Sentinel reported Sept. 10. Two hours before Harris’ rescue, crewmate Stonie “Mac” Huffman of Sitka was rescued from a beach about 25 miles northwest of Sitka. Harris told the newspaper he’s happy both he and his buddy survived after their 28-foot aluminum boat got hit by big waves and overturned. They were dumped into the water before they could send a mayday. The search for them started after friends reported them overdue Friday night. “It’s truly a miracle they survived,” said Sitka Mountain Rescue Director Don Kluting, who helped in the search. “I never thought I was going to die, but I was worried about Mac,” Harris told the newspaper Monday. “I’m glad to be here.” The two men were fishing for coho salmon about two miles off Cape Edgecumbe when the hydraulics failed on their boat. They fixed that problem, but decided to head back to port. Then they encountered waves, one of which tipped the boat onto its side. Two survival suits were on board, but neither man was wearing one when the boat went down. After the boat capsized, the two men climbed onto the upturned hull. “We had no radio, no cell phones,” Harris said. Huffman later found a survival suit that floated from the wreckage. The two managed to grab some empty fish totes that had washed loose. Huffman stabilized one while Harris climbed inside. The men weren’t able to get Huffman into a bin but he took a plastic bin lid for flotation. Eight-foot waves soon separated the men. The Coast Guard said that Huffman told them the lid drifted away during the two hours that he struggled to get into the survival suit. At one point, Harris said, his bin dumped him and he struck his head, but he was able to get in and keep it balanced for the remainder of the 26 hours until his rescue. The toughest part was not knowing the fate of his friend, Harris said. “I gave myself a pep talk,” he said. He kept repeating for four hours: “I’m Ryan Hunter Harris and I’m not going to die here.” During his sleepless night, he sang songs to keep up his spirits. The Coast Guard dispatched a helicopter early Saturday and three others later that day. Alaska State Troopers and Sitka Mountain Rescue sent four boats out searching, Kluting said. The troopers found Huffman, an experienced fisherman in his mid-40s, who had reached the beach at Point Amelia about an hour before troopers spotted him waving on the shore. Harris suffered blistered hands from clutching the bin and a cut above his eye from where his “lifeboat” struck him, but he declared Sept. 10 that he was “almost 100 percent.”

Feds declare disaster for king salmon fisheries

The U.S. Department of Commerce issued a resource disaster designation for the Yukon River, Kuskokwim River and Cook Inlet king salmon fisheries Sept. 13. The Yukon River designation was made for 2010, 2011 and 2012; the Kuskokwim River commercial failure was declared for 2011 and 2012; and the 2012 declaration was made for Cook Inlet, according to a letter from Rebecca Blank, acting Secretary of Commerce, to Gov. Sean Parnell. Runs on each of those rivers were well below average. “Some Cook Inlet salmon fisheries have experienced revenue losses of up to 90 percent of their historical average during the 2012 season, seriously hurting local economies that are dependent on fishing,” said Blank in her announcement. Although the declarations are for commercial fishery failures, Blank’s letter confirms that the commercial failures can also involve economic impacts for subsistence and sport fisheries, as were felt on the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers and in Cook Inlet. The state is estimating economic damages exceeded $10 million, according to Sharon Leighow, a spokeswoman for Parnell. The governor’s office was asked for information on how the $10 million figure was calculated, but unable to respond by press time. Leighow said the Alaska Department of Commerce, Department of Fish and Game, and the governor’s office are working together with Alaska’s congressional delegation to determine the damages and get an appropriation from Congress. If Congress appropriates funds for disaster relief, the National Marine Fisheries Service will help determine who administers the money. NMFS would first solicit the state of Alaska for a grant proposal, according to a statement from the service. But there are other potential administrators as well. The Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission administered the $5 million congressional appropriation after the 2009 Yukon king disaster, NMFS said. In terms of timing, the best-case scenario would be for funding to reach affected communities in 90 days, according to the NMFS. But there’s no statutory timeline, and it could depend on the conditions of the appropriation, the entity administrating the funds, and other factors. The declarations follow Parnell’s July and August requests for the designation. Parnell initially requested a the designation for the 2011 and 2012 chinook seasons on the Yukon and Kuskokwim in July, and then asked for a disaster declaration for upper Cook Inlet chinook in August. Although the request for the designation came from Parnell, Alaska’s delegation worked together to support it. “This is an important declaration for the people of Alaska - especially those living on the Yukon River, Kuskokwim River and Cook Inlet,” said Rep. Don Young in a statement. “The fact is, Alaskans depend on fish for survival and with such a terrible run of Kings this year, people are hurting.” The impacts were widespread. On the Yukon, damages were felt by in the commercial and subsistence sectors. Commercial chinook fishing, which has had an average value of $1.5 million over the past ten years according to the state’s Department of Fish and Game, was completely shutdown. Commercial chum fishing was also limited to preserve chinooks. Subsistence chinook fishing was also significantly limited. This was the fourth year of limited chinook fishing on the Yukon, and the disaster declaration was for 2010, 2011 and 2012 as an extension of a 2009 designation. The Kuskokwim was also closed to commercial chinook harvests, with limited commercial fishing for chum and sockeye, and had limited subsistence fishing. The resource disaster designation was given for the past two years, as 2011 also saw a weak return. Cook Inlet closures also had a larger impact than just commercial chinook fishing. Northern District set gillnetters and east Cook Inlet setnetters both faced restrictions, as did sport fishermen. Fish and Game estimated that the east side setnet fishery had an ex-vessel value of $1.1 million, which is about 10 percent of the five-year average. On the sport side, a total of 103 chinooks were caught, about 99 percent below the five-year average, with rippling effects for sport-related businesses. In 2007, sport angler expenditures totaled $732 million. Much work remains before it is known how much aid fishermen will receive, or the form that assistance will take. Paul Shadura, from the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association, said it’s too early for the group, which represents Cook Inlet setnetters, to say very much about the declaration. “We really don’t know what all this means yet,” he said. The association hasn’t talked to the state about the declaration or how any aid might affect fishermen. Nor was it contacted for information about how the low runs impacted them this summer, Shadura said. The group is hoping for more answers at a Sept. 21 town hall forum it organized in Soldotna. The meeting will bring together fishermen and the community to talk to state and federal, representatives about the summer’s fishing and the recent disaster designation. “We’re asking for answers and we’re hoping to hear something,” Shadura said. Although the process seems slow to some, so far it’s going faster than the state’s last resource emergency. In 2009, the designation didn’t come until January 2010. “The fishery disaster process can seem frustratingly slow since each program is unique,” said U.S. Sen. Mark Begich. “It has to be designed to meet the needs of fishermen and funding has to be secured. It’s our intent to work with the state, affected fishing groups and others here in Congress to speed up this process and get help out to Alaskans as quickly as possible.” The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration created a policy for considering such requests in 2011. The National Marine Fisheries Service, or NMFS, evaluates requests for fishery disaster declarations under authority from the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act and the Interjurisdictional Fisheries Act. Once a declaration is made, Congress may appropriate funds for disaster assistance. The NMFS plan does not dictate a timeline for the funds to be dispersed, or even a protocol for determining how much is necessary, so it can vary from disaster to disaster. Over the past two decades, the federal government has made a handful of disaster declarations for Alaska fisheries, the most recent coming in 2000 and 2009. In 2009, the designation was for the Yukon River kings. The 2000 designation applied to salmon fishing in the Norton Sound and Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers. That time, more than just kings were part of the picture: chum and sockeye salmon fisheries were also declared failures. The Federal Emergency Management Agency coordinated federal efforts after the 2000 declaration, with home energy assistance, emergency food supplies, small business loans, and other aid provided by various departments. In that case, some of the support was actually appropriated before the disaster declaration. Other designations, in 1997 and 1998, landed $57 million in federal assistance, according to a press release from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. The cause of Alaska’s low king returns in unknown. Fish and Game has said that a variety of biological factors, like survival in prior years and ocean conditions, could be at play. In July, Parnell created a state team of fisheries scientists to study the issue of low king returns throughout the state. That group is expected to present a research plan at an October meeting in Anchorage. Alaska was one of several states to receive the fisheries disaster designation this fall. In the Northeast, a disaster determination was made for the 2013 groundfish fishery. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said he will work to secure $100 million in relief for New England fishermen. Mississippi’s 2011-2013 oyster fishery and 2011 blue crab fishery were also declared commercial fishery failures.

US seafood catch reaches 17-year high

  PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — The U.S. seafood catch reached a 17-year high in 2011, with all regions of the country showing increases in both the volume and value of their harvests. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Wednesday that commercial fishermen last year caught 10.1 billion pounds of fish and shellfish valued at $5.3 billion. That's a 23 percent increase in volume and a 17 percent increase in value over 2010. New Bedford, Mass., had the highest-valued catch for the 12th straight year, due largely to its scallop fishery. Dutch Harbor, Alaska, was the No. 1 port for seafood volume. Alaska led all states in catch volume, followed by Louisiana, California, Virginia and Washington. Alaska was also tops in the value of its catch, followed by Massachusetts, Maine, Louisiana and Washington.

Jack-up rig could have brought invasive organism

KENAI (AP) — Although the Kang Sheng Kou heavy-lift vessel brought the Endeavour-Spirit of Independence jack-up rig to Cook Inlet waters from Singapore, the Endeavour rig might have carried its own unique cargo. Alaska Department of Fish and Game officials confirmed Wednesday they have been communicating with the rig's owner, Buccaneer Energy, about what organisms might have still been attached to the rig when it was brought north — specifically if those organisms might be invasive to Kachemak Bay where the rig has been receiving upgrades and work since Aug. 24. Homer resident Larry Smith toured the rig several weeks ago and plucked a small shell he said appears to be a foreign oyster off one of the rig's legs and brought it to the attention of Fish and Game and the Kachemak Bay Research Reserve staff. Smith said the shell was "one of thousands" in the area where he found it. Tammy Davis, a Juneau-based Fish and Game biologist who leads the department's invasive species program, said the department offered to assist Buccaneer by taking samples of any organisms on the jack-up rig and identifying them. "That came about apparently when there was a significant outcry by the public, several conservation organizations and the media had been informed that this organism had been taken off of the vessel by someone who was on a tour," Davis said. However, Buccaneer in response hired a private biologist from a consulting agency to do that task, Davis said. Fish and Game has requested the results of those samples and biological analysis be forwarded to them for further review, she said. Buccaneer issued a statement late Wednesday through Jay Morakis of JMR Worldwide saying the company considered environmental safety a "top priority" and it would "never knowingly do anything to compromise it." "We have passed both our customs inspection as well as Coast Guard inspection, and no environmental concerns have been raised by either organization," Morakis wrote in an email statement to the Clarion. "The issue of a 'photograph' of a 'shell' on the Endeavour came to our attention, and whether it be factual or not we immediately hired an independent biologist to board and inspect the Endeavour and confirm that there was not a problem. "Initial findings show that (there) is no issue and we will issue the final results upon its completion, which we expect shortly." Davis said Fish and Game officials are still considering what it would do if the organism found were indeed an invasive species and could pose a threat to the environment. But they can't do much until they know what the organisms onboard are, she said. "The crux is we don't know what's on (the rig)," Davis said. Fish and Game's upper management has been in contact with the state attorney general's office. It is against the law to "knowingly introduce" an invasive species in Alaska, specifically "fish, invertebrates and amphibians," Davis said. "We haven't enforced that non-indigenous fish statute in this way, so we would want to make sure that we are doing so legitimately," she said. However, whether a company "knowingly" introduces an invasive species is hard to prove, she said. "That's definitely where the water gets muddy," she said. In addition, some of the organisms found on the rig may, or may not be included in injurious species lists made and regulated by the federal government, Davis said. "Very possibly every single one of the species that are on that rig are not considered injurious and so the Lacey Act or any sort of federal regulation that would prohibit bringing in injurious species is sort of out the window," she said. The penalty for an organization introducing an injurious species and violating the Lacey Act is a $10,000 fine, according to information found in a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service document published online. Grant DeVuyst, a U.S. Coast Guard spokesman, said the Homer-based Coast Guard Marine Safety Detachment did inspect and clear both the Kang Sheng Kou and Endeavour rig on Aug. 24. During such inspections the Coast Guard looks for invasive species, he said. If a cleared vessel was found to later have introduced an invasive species into the ecosystem, DeVuyst said the Coast Guard could enforce applicable laws against the responsible company, but could not elaborate on what those laws could entail. Davis said Fish and Game takes invasive or injurious species seriously because, in general, they can cause shifts in ecosystems and could prey upon, or compete for habitat with native species. "Invasive species generally are very successful at reproducing and establishing viable populations," she said. "They tend to out-compete native species often because they either don't have a predator or just because their reproductive rate is high in comparison to native species." ____ Homer News reporter Michael Armstrong contributed to this report.  

Closures prompt requests to take up Kenai management

The Kenai River Sportfishing Association, is one of several organizations that submitted a agenda change request, or ACR, to the Alaska Board of Fisheries after the summer closures asking that body to consider Cook Inlet management issues out of cycle. Normally, Cook Inlet fisheries would be discussed in 2014. But KSRA and others have requested that several management issues in the region be considered this year. Of 21 ACRs for the upcoming management season, 10 relate to Cook Inlet. KRSA’s proposals focus on the Kenai River, which faced numerous sport and commercial closures this summer. Gease said one of the organization’s main concerns is the escapement numbers for late-run king salmon, which haven’t been met for three of the last four years. KRSA also wants a change in the time-period covered by the management plan, and an alteration in how the burden of conservation is shared. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game also has a proposal in to look at Kenai and Kasilof escapement goals, and there’s a proposal to consider changing the gear used in eastern Cook Inlet setnetting to avoid catching king salmon. This summer, setnetters were shut down for nearly the entire season as a king salmon conservation measure. Other proposals address a change to the area for the Kenai personal use fishery and a stock of concern designation for Kenai River early run king salmon. The board will consider the ACRs at its October meeting in Anchorage.   — Molly Dischner

Commentary: Market forces kick in as 2012 salmon season wraps up

As Alaska’s salmon season winds down, selling the bulk of the harvest gears up for seafood companies that purchased the pack. “This is the season for negotiations, you might say,” said salmon guru Gunnar Knapp, longtime fisheries economist at the University of Alaska Anchorage. “You never know the price until the product is actually sold.” The salmon season runs on different tracks starting with sockeye, and fish sales have varying schedules and market patterns throughout the year. Plus, salmon markets depend on the species and how they are sold. “You can’t just say what is the market for sockeye salmon this year,” Knapp explained. “You have to ask what’s the market for roe, or frozen H&G (headed/gutted), or fillets or canned. Each faces different market circumstances, and the total picture is the sum of those things.” Not a lot of public data on sales is available yet, but there are some bright spots. Salmon roe markets look really strong, due to shortfalls in supply from Russia. Also strong: the canned market, due to strong interest and low carryovers from last season. “That’s really good news, in particular for sockeye and pinks. A very significant share of the harvest goes into producing canned products,” Knapp said. Notably, canned wild salmon and roe do not face competition with farmed salmon. What does compete directly is frozen H&G salmon — the bulk of the Alaska pack — and fillets. But despite huge volumes of cheaper farmed salmon pushing down prices in the U.S., Europe and Japan, the impact on Alaska fish sales seems less than expected. Prior to the season, all the news from Japan indicated the market for frozen H&G sockeye was going to be down significantly because farmed salmon imports were way up and prices were down. “That led to a sort of self-correction of the problem,” Knapp said. “If processors had the option, instead of producing frozen H&G, they canned more of the salmon or made fillets. So the amount of frozen H&G produced and sent to Japan was lower than expected.” Prices today are still lower than last year but not as much as people had feared, Knapp said, adding that the fillet market is uncertain as those sales continue over a year. Overall, Knapp said salmon markets appear a bit better than people expected going into the 2012 season. “I think the key,” he said, “is the diversity of products that Alaska produces.” The fact that there will be less wild salmon available from Alaska also will come into play in global markets. As of Sept. 7, the statewide catch topped 118 million salmon, just 1 million more from the previous week. The pre-season forecast for Alaska’s 2012 salmon was 132 million fish, down from 177 million salmon last year. Besides salmon Alaska’s halibut fishery has 6 million pounds remaining in its 24 million pound catch limit. Kodiak is topping the charts for landings at just more than 3.5 million pounds, followed by Homer just less than that amount. For sablefish (black cod), nearly 8 million pounds remain in the 29.5 million pound quota. Both fisheries run through mid-November … Fishing for cod reopened on Sept. 1 in the Gulf and is ongoing in the Bering Sea. Also, the pollock fleet was approaching its catch limit this year of more than three million billion pounds, or 1.2 million metric tons … Fishing for golden king crab continues along the Aleutian Islands where there is a healthy 6 million pound catch quota … Small boat crabbers at Norton Sound had one of their best summer seasons ever, fetching $5.25 to $5.60 per pound for nearly 500,000 pounds of red king crab. Prices also were up for Dungeness crab at Southeast Alaska where fishermen averaged $2.55 per pound for 1.8 million pounds, slightly below last summer. Dungies reopen in the Panhandle on Oct. 1. Dive fisheries for sea cucumbers and urchins also open in Southeast and Kodiak that same day.

Better communication needed to combat closures

Kenai and Ketchikan might be more than a thousand miles apart, but charter fishing operators are finding a stronger tie than the map might indicate. When a river in one place in Alaska closes, guides throughout the state feel the hit. “Bad news anywhere in the state translates to a dropoff everywhere,” said Heath Hilyard, executive director of Southeast Alaska Guides Organization. And that’s bad news for the state economy, said Ricky Gease from the Kenai River Sportfishing Association. Guided fishing trips contributed about $641 million to various sectors of the Alaskan economy in 2007, according to a study produced by Southwick Associates for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Nonresident anglers spent $652.5 million in 2007. According to Gease, angling activity contributed about 40 percent of the value of the tourism industry that year. This summer, both the early and late king Salmon runs on the Kenai River were closed. That news hurt guides on the Kenai and in Southeast Alaska alike. “I don’t know how many clients ended up actually canceling,” Hilyard said. “I know that I heard from operators that they were fielding phone calls from clients who had yet to come who were saying they were thinking about canceling.” Now charter operators want to make sure that in future summers, anglers are clear on all their fishing options, and how the season is going around the state — not just where they can’t fish. Hilyard is working with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game on getting data more easily throughout the season. But numbers aren’t the only solution, he said. “We have to really do a better job of telling the story throughout the season and before the season to those people to say, ‘look, just because you hear about a closure on the Kenai River doesn’t mean it’s in anyway going to affect your fishing experience in Sitka,’” Hilyard said. In Southeast, the problem stemmed in large part, he said, from a mid-summer Wall Street Journal article about king Salmon closures. “Certain clients saw that article and started talking to operators, saying, ‘well, you know, maybe I’m not going to come, maybe I’m going to cancel,’” Hilyard said. Gease said the king closures definitely hurt business on the Kenai. But some anglers transitioned to other rivers and fish in Southcentral. And the Kenai Peninsula netted a few anglers when Anchorage and the Mat-Su were closed to silver fishing, he said. Despite those increases, Gease said the king closures had the largest impact on the economy locally, and it wasn’t a positive one. “I know some guides had lost up to half their bookings this summer,” Gease said. But the Kenai Peninsula did see some additional fishing clients when there are other closures. One example of that, Gease said, is when the Mat-Su was closed to silver fishing, some people traveled to Kenai or Homer or Seward. Those anglers often returned home with pinks, too, he said. There are fewer destination-changes across the Gulf of Alaska on the Panhandle, however. Last year, Southeast operators were concerned that business would migrate to Southcentral because of new halibut charter rules, Hilyard said. Under the 2011 halibut rules, charter customers in Area 2C — or Southeast Alaska — could keep one fish 37 inches or smaller. The bag limits in Area 3A, or Southcentral, allowed anglers to keep two fish of any size. This year, the charter bag limit in Southeast was relaxed to allow retention of one fish per day, either up to 45 inches or greater than 68 inches. A measure known as a “reverse slot limit,” halibut between 45 inches and 68 inches are required to be gently returned to the water. A few clients moved from Southeast to Kodiak in 2011, but for the most part operators didn’t see that sort of transition, Hilyard said. In Southcentral, about half the clients are Alaskans and half are from Outside. Alaskans, particularly on the road system, can move their trips around. But the Outside clients are less likely to change their destination, as about 90 percent of the customers in Southeast are visitors. While it might be hard to predict or prevent the closures in many cases, Hilyard said this fall, he’s working on a way to at least help guides with concrete evidence for clients that fishing in their region was still strong. “Not just hey we think that it’s pretty good,” Hilyard said. “We need to be able to say, ‘Alaska Department of Fish and Game is saying x.’” Hilyard said he’s working with ADFG on that effort. Lagging data The Alaska Department of Fish and Game mostly uses logbook information to track fishing. That information is only collected periodically and has to be entered into the system, there’s no instant data source. The logbooks are accurate, and a change charter operators were happy to see enacted, Hilyard said. But they’ve had some unintended consequences. “It has created a problem in terms of collection and analysis and reporting in terms of timeliness,” Hilyard said. This summer, when Hilyard wanted to quantify how the season was going, it took three to four weeks to get very rough estimates, he said. Hilyard said operators would like to see more frequent collection of the logbook information. He is talking to the department about the possibility of real-time data reporting, maybe even electronically so that the data can be turned around more quickly. Hilyard said the department has the same desire for more frequent data collection; it’s mostly just a matter of funding. A smartphone app is in the works that would allow for electronic data transmission, he said. “The department can then turn those numbers more quickly,” Hilyard said. Marketing is also part of the answer. “We can all peacefully coexist and enjoy prosperous fishing,” Hilyard said. “We all want to kinda say hey look, don’t mark Alaska off your calendar just because you heard there’s a closure.” Guides in Southeast have already been successfully upping their marketing efforts, Hilyard said. As a rough estimate, Hilyard said bookings were up about 10 percent overall in Southeast compared to 2011. “That experience is different from operator to operator, port to port,” he said. The increase was largely the result of marketing and ingenuity, he said. Early in the season, one operator on Prince of Wales had bookings up 20 percent to 25 percent compared to 2011. “That’s because they had really changed their internet marketing and social media strategies preseason and really worked on that a lot more heavily so their marketing tactics increased their bookings,” Hilyard said. Another Prince of Wales operator had a sizable increase as well — about 30 percent to 40 percent. In his case, the upswing was the result of an expanded season and additional offerings beyond fishing such as chartered bear hunting. “He tries to be kind of a turnkey full solution resort for families,” Hilyard said. “So hey, the wife shows up, she doesn’t want to fish at all, well we’re going to have guided nature hikes and crafts and you know, different stuff like that.” There are still a few operators who have the same experience, same clientele, as they have for decades. Hilyard spent time with a Sitka guide who took clients out this summer that had been coming back, year after year, for 15 or 20 years. “These guys are really serious fishermen,” Hilyard said. Southcentral slowed Gease said that the picture on the Kenai wasn’t as positive as in Southeast. Without logbook data, he couldn’t say exactly how bookings had fared. But from 2008 to 2011 they decreased by about a third. He attributed that to the economic downturn, and the continuing low king returns. This summer’s closures likely resulted in another decrease. “We’re just seeing the front end of the effects of the closure that we had this year,” Gease said. In the past, it’s taken about five years for bookings to recover after a summer with closures, Gease said. Complicating future bookings is the uncertainty introduced in the closures. It’s possible that early run king Salmon will be designated a stock of concern — there is a proposal in for the Board of Fisheries to consider such a move in October — which could change management. Exactly how the changes will play out is unknown, so guides don’t know exactly what sort of experience to market to potential clients. “That closure brings a lot of uncertainty into the business and inevitably that uncertainty will lead to decreased bookings until it becomes a more stable fishery once again,” Gease said.  

Commerce secretary declares Alaska salmon disaster

The acting U.S. Commerce secretary has declared a commercial fishery disaster for king salmon in major Alaska fisheries. Acting U.S. Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank on Thursday announced the disaster declaration for the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers , which flow into the Bering Sea off Alaska's west coast, and in Cook Inlet in southcentral Alaska, which includes the Kenai River. Blank says low chinook salmon returns this year and in previous years are the reason for the declaration. The declaration makes commercial fishermen eligible for relief if Congress approves funding. Blank says some Cook Inlet salmon fisheries this year lost up to 90 percent of their historic average revenue. A state report assessing reasons for the poor returns is due later this year.   Fishery disaster declared in New England The U.S. Commerce Department declared a national fishery disaster Thursday in New England, opening the door for tens of millions of dollars in relief funds for struggling fishermen and their ports. Acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank said the declaration comes amid "unexpectedly slow rebuilding of stocks," which is forcing huge fishing cuts that are jeopardizing the New England industry. And she said her agency had determined the trouble with fish stocks comes despite fishermen following rules designed to prevent overfishing. "The future challenges facing the men and women in this industry and the shore-based businesses that support them are daunting, and we want to do everything we can to help them through these difficult times," Blank said. The declaration doesn't guarantee any money will actually be funneled toward fishermen, but U.S. Sen. John Kerry said it's a big step forward. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has committed to include $100 million for fishermen and fishing communities in emergency assistance legislation that will be debated during the lame-duck session after the election, Kerry said Thursday. Lawmakers must now fight for the money in a potentially reluctant Congress, he said. Kerry compared fishermen to farmers, saying they're just as dependent on the vagaries of the ecosystem as farmers are, and just as deserving of assistance when things go bad through no fault of their own, like when farmers face a drought. "We put billions into the heartland of our country for farmers, billions, literally," said Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat. "When you have a massive layoff of an industry like that because of circumstances that are entirely outside the fishing industry's control, we have to respond as a country." Federal and state lawmakers have pursued the disaster declaration since 2010, when new regulations were enacted in New England that put tough limits on how much fishermen can catch of a given species. In the two years since, federal scientists have reported key stocks aren't rebuilding quickly enough, including cod in the Gulf of Maine and yellowtail flounder in the Georges Bank fishing grounds off southeastern New England. Cuts in the allowed catch have already been enacted, but ruinous catch reductions are projected for the 2013 fishing year that have put the future of the historic industry in doubt. The money in the $100 million aid package forwarded by Kerry includes direct aid to fishermen and money to cover required costs, such as the independent observers to monitor their catch. It also includes funds to improve fishery science and stock assessments, which fishermen complain are inaccurate. The Northeast Seafood Coalition, an industry group, applauded the disaster declaration and said regulations are needed that better account for how fisheries fit into the larger environment. "It is unfair to hold fishermen exclusively accountable for natural cycles of complex ecosystems," the coalition said. Johanna Thomas of the Environmental Defense Fund said a better grasp is critically needed on how fish abundance is affected by factors such as climate change, pressure on local coasts and warming ocean temperatures. "The problems facing the fishery ... are long-term and the solutions should be also," she said.  

Review doubts science on sea lion protection

A panel of independent reviewers has concluded that the federal government's decision to restrict commercial fishing in Alaska's Aleutian Islands is not supported by sound science. The reviewers say a biological opinion prepared by the National Marine Fisheries Service two years ago does not support for the conclusion that continued fishing for Alaska pollock, Pacific cod and Atka mackerel would jeopardize sea lions or harm their critical habitat. The western population of Steller sea lions was listed as endangered in 1997. According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, their numbers fell sharply from 250,000 in the early 1970s to 49,000 in 2008. Over the objections of the state of Alaska and commercial fishing companies, the agency in late 2010 announced that commercial mackerel and cod fisheries in the western Aleutians would be restricted. However, the agency also contracted with the Center for Independent Experts, a program designed to review of agency science, to look over its conclusions. A three-scientist panel concluded this week that the science was flawed. Panel member Brent S. Stewart, a senior research scientist at Hubbs-Sea World Research Institute in San Diego, concluded that the biological opinion equated "language of possibility" with "language of substantial chance" — confusing what might be with what was likely. "Speculative and hypothetical suggestions for jeopardy and adverse modification do not, I think, meet the standard established by the Endangered Species Act," he wrote. Commercial fishing causing nutritional stress to sea lions was one hypothesis put forward for sea lion decline. Another was killer whale predation, Stewart said. "There has been no causal evidentiary support for any of them," he said. NMFS spokeswoman Julie Speegle said the conclusions submitted by Stewart, Don Bowen of the Bedford Institute of Oceanography in Nova Scotia, and Kevin Stokes of Wellington, New Zealand, will be closely reviewed. "We are committed to making sure that our decisions and analyses are based on the best available scientific information," she said by email. "We are reviewing the report carefully and will determine whether any follow-up actions are warranted." State of Alaska attorneys in an unsuccessful court case argued against fishing restrictions and said the population of western Steller sea lions was growing 1 percent to 1.5 percent annually. Doug Vincent-Lang, director of the state's Division of Wildlife Conservation, said Friday the independent review supports the state challenge to the fishing restrictions. "Their reviews confirmed our assessment of the foundational science," he said by email. A federal judge in January said the agency in general followed proper procedures as it restricted commercial fishing of Atka mackerel and Pacific cod. However, U.S. District Judge Tim Burgess also ordered the National Marine Fisheries Service to perform additional environmental work, with the chance for public comment, for its rules.  

Pending Gulf rockfish lawsuit has major policy implications

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

Fishing boat sinks, crewman missing

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

Nome meeting closure prompts debate over CDQ privacy

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

Coastal management initiative fails by a heavy margin

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

Humpy harvest is key to forecast as season winds down

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

Begich proposes national seafood marketing program

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

Alaska asks EPA to intervene in mine contamination

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

Sport closures put hurt on Peninsula tourism business

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

Cost recovery gives Southeast seiners more opportunities

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

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

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


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