McDonald's to put Alaska pollock 'Fish McBites' in Happy Meals

NEW YORK (AP) — McDonald's says it is offering its first new Happy Meal entree in a decade: Fish McBites. The world's biggest hamburger chain said the Fish McBites will be widely available at U.S. restaurants starting this week through March, to coincide with Lent. The Happy Meals will come with seven pieces of Fish McBites, French fries, apple slices and a drink. The company had already announced last month that the Fish McBites would be sold on the standard menu in three sizes — snack (10 pieces), regular (15 pieces) and shareable (30 pieces). Fish McBites, which are fried pieces of fish, will use the same Alaska Pollock used in the fast-food chain's Filet-O-Fish. The launch marks the start of what McDonald's says is a bigger pipeline of new limited-time offers for the year ahead. By adding more variety to its menu, the company is hoping it can fend off intensifying competition and tempt customers to eat out more at a time when many are being more careful about their spending. Brian Irwin, director of marketing for McDonald's USA, said the Fish McBites are a twist on the popular Chicken McBites that were introduced as a limited-time offer last year. He said the company thought they'd work well in Happy Meals because there's a "fun, poppable" aspect to them. That's why McDonald's sells more Happy Meals with Chicken McNuggets than hamburgers or cheeseburgers, he said — there's something about the dipping that kids like. Additionally, Irwin said the company's internal research showed that moms wanted more seafood options on the menu. Although the Fish McBites will be offered temporarily, Irwin said the company might bring them back periodically if they perform well. Depending on which drink is selected, McDonald's says the Happy Meals with Fish McBites have between 385 calories and 415 calories. McDonald's, often a target for health advocacy groups that say Happy Meals encourage kids to eat junk food, in 2011 began adding apple slices and reduced the portion of French fries in the meal boxes. For adults, the Fish McBites will come with tartar sauce and be served in cartons that make them easy to share or eat as a snack on the go, which Irwin said is an important attraction for customers. "It fits in your cup holder in the car," he said. The big question is whether they can boost sales in the months ahead. In the last quarter of 2012, McDonald's managed to eke out a higher profit in part by touting its Dollar Menu and urging franchisees to stay open on Christmas. But for January, the company warned that a key sales figure is expected to fall again. That would follow a drop in October, which was the first decline in the monthly figure after nearly a decade.

Senators express frustration on fisheries aid

JUNEAU (AP) — Alaska's U.S. senators voted with the majority in supporting a $50.5 billion emergency relief package for victims of Superstorm Sandy. But Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich expressed frustration that $150 million for Alaska and other states affected by fisheries' disasters wasn't included. Both said they would continue pushing for that aid. Begich said Alaska may be farther away, but that doesn't make fisheries disaster any less damaging or significant to the people affected by it. Murkowski referred to fisheries disasters as "fish droughts in our rivers and our oceans." The measure now goes to the president. The package also doesn't include money that could be used to protect U.S. shores from debris from the 2011 tsunami in Japan. An earlier version that had cleared the Senate had.

NE, Alaska, Gulf fishermen shut out of House disaster aid bill

BOSTON (AP) — The U.S. House of Representatives has shut out fishermen from New England, the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska from any emergency aid in its pending disaster relief bill. The House began debate on a $50.7 billion Superstorm Sandy relief bill Tuesday, and the only money included for fishermen was a possible $5 million for fishermen in New York and New Jersey affected by Superstorm Sandy. Three Democratic lawmakers from Massachusetts had each proposed amendments that would have meant between $116 million and $150 million in assistance for the fishing industry in the Northeast, Gulf Coast and Alaska. In Alaska, fisheries disasters were declared for the Upper Cook Inlet, Yukon and Kuskokwim salmon fisheries after low chinook returns restricted subsistence and commercial harvests. An initial State of Alaska estimated the losses at nearly $17 million. But on Monday, the Republican-led House Rules Committee didn't allow votes on the amendments, meaning they had no chance to be included in the bill. Massachusetts Rep. John Tierney, who proposed an amendment, along with Reps. Ed Markey and Bill Keating, called the committee's refusal to allow the votes "callous and outrageous." In remarks on the House floor Tuesday, Markey accused Republicans of cutting a lifeline to a struggling industry. "This bill says 'no' to them, 'no' to their needs," he said. Keating said the Republican leadership's claims of being small business champions have proven hollow. "When you strip it all down, I think it was just a callous disregard for an important industry and small businesses that are doing their best just to hang on," he said. But a spokesman for the House Rules Committee, Doug Andres, said the committee had asked the Democrats "to unify around one approach to deal with the fisheries issue." "They failed to do so," he said. Northeast fishermen became eligible for federal aid last year after a national fishery disaster was declared in the region, due to the unexpectedly slow recovery of stocks of bottom-dwelling groundfish, such as cod and flounder. That slow recovery means massive cuts in 2013 catch limits, which fishermen say could cause the Northeast's industry to collapse. Nick Brancaleone of the Northeast Seafood Coalition, a Gloucester-based industry group, said the coalition is "extremely disappointed" by the House bill. He said the aid is critically needed and justified by the disaster declaration. "Fishermen have and will continue to face insurmountable challenges with reduced landings and low revenues," he said. In its $60 billion Sandy relief bill, the Senate included $150 million for fishermen. But the House didn't take up the bill before the last Congress ended this month, and the legislation expired. The Senate will again consider a Sandy relief bill, and a spokesman for Sen. John Kerry said he's hopeful the Senate will restore the money for fishermen. "There's no reason why Sandy relief and fisheries assistance can't both be included in this package," said spokesman Alec Gerlach. Still, the differences between the House and Senate versions must be worked out in a final bill. And with the House already rejecting aid for New England's industry, prospects for any money remain uncertain.

Report: Kenai had busiest dipnetting season ever

(AP) — Kenai residents concerned about the increasingly popular personal use fishery on the Kenai Peninsula are calling for the city to put limits on dipnetters. The Kenai City Council on Monday held its first work session to discuss the 2012 dipnetting season report, which says that the Kenai Peninsula experienced its busiest dipnet season to date in 2012. The personal use fishery is open to Alaska residents who are allowed to use large nets with long handles to scoop salmon either from shore or from boats. The fishery brings thousands of people to Kenai when sockeye salmon runs peak in the summer. Kenai resident Megan Every said dipnetting season has become a time for people to come to Kenai and "trash the beach" and city officials should place limits on dipnetters. The report says revenues exceeded the previous year by 19.7 percent. That was attributed to a $5 camping fee increase and a larger number of participants. However, the report also says expenditures totaled $482,070. That means the city ended up losing more than $8,900. Fish waste continues to be a big problem. The city intends to pursue an aggressive program to mitigate waste on the north and south beaches. To mitigate the influx of dipnetters, City Manager Rick Koch proposed increasing efforts to move fish waste to the beaches' shores during low tides and collect other solid waste in new waste receptacles. Koch laid out his plan for 2013 in the latter half of the work session. He outlined six possible methods to deal with increasing waste. In the end, he suggested putting additional waste receptacles on the north and south beaches and raking the fish waste during low tides. Residents instead pushed for a prohibition on any fish waste disposal on the beaches or in the waters of the river. Users would be required to take whole fish home. Koch said that approach would require six additional officers to enforce the ban. Residents also spoke in favor of putting more pressure on the state and its agencies to alleviate the burgeoning "Woodstock of Alaska," as one attendee described the three-week dipnet season. "It's not the city's responsibility to clean up everyone else's trash," resident Megan Smith said. "If it ends up strewn from here to wherever, it becomes a state problem, and this is a state fishery."      

Prince William Sound holds top spot for salmon landings

Prince William Sound topped all other Alaska regions for salmon catches last year — but not by much. Fishermen in the Sound, or PWS, squeaked by their colleagues in the Panhandle by just 44 fish to get the No. 1 ranking for the 2012 season. The tally: 34.4 million salmon crossed the docks at PWS compared to 34.34 million for Southeast. For the second year running, Southeast Alaska beat out Bristol Bay for the most valuable salmon catch. According to preliminary numbers from the state, Southeast landings totaled $153 million at the docks, compared to $121 million at Bristol Bay. Bristol Bay can still lay claim to being home to Alaska’s most valuable salmon fishery by far with the sockeye catch valued at $117 million. Alaska’s second most valuable salmon catch in 2012 was chums in Southeast worth about $83 million ex-vessel. Prince William Sound ranked third for salmon value at $111 million; Kodiak was number four with a salmon season worth  $46 million. Cook Inlet’s fishery rang in at $36 million; at the Alaska Peninsula the value was $17.5 million, $2 million for the Kuskokwim, just more than $3 million at the Yukon, and the 2012 salmon season brought in less than $1 million to fishermen at Norton Sound and Kotzebue. In all, 124 million salmon were caught in Alaska in 2012, the smallest volume since 1997, but third largest by value ($505 million) since 1992. It also marked the 25th year in a row that Alaska’s salmon catch topped 100 million fish. Cod crunch Pacific cod kicks off Alaska’s commercial fisheries each January, but an anticipated glut in global supply pulled the bottom out of the market this year. When the dock price dropped a dime over the holidays to around 25 cents per pound, fishermen wondered if they could even afford to head out.  Cod, which accounts for 11 percent of Alaska’s total fish landings, is Kodiak’s second largest fishery, after pollock. In 2011, 85 million pounds of cod fish crossed the Kodiak docks, valued at $30 million. In the big picture, Kodiak is a small player, and this year its catch is facing a huge competing harvest of more than 1 million tons from Russian fleets in the Barents Sea, along with a cod comeback in the North Sea. “There is simply an oversupply of cod in the world market,” said John Whiddon, general manager at Pacific Seafoods in Kodiak. “And we also are competing against pollock and tilapia and Pangasius. And for the consumer, it all comes down to the fact that it is whitefish protein, and cod is just one component of that.” A portion of Kodiak’s cod catch goes to the U.S. market as fresh or frozen fillets, but most goes to China to be reprocessed and packaged for markets around the world. Whiddon said Kodiak’s remote location makes it tough to compete due to added freight costs.     “Right now the transportation cost to get the same cod from Russia to China is about half the price of the cost from Kodiak to China,” he said. “So you have the high volume of cod coming out Russia, the lower cost to get it to China, and it makes it very, very difficult for us to compete.”   Going into the 2013 season Whiddon said the worldwide first wholesale price for headed and gutted cod to China was down 30 percent and, “that would correspond with a reduction of the boat price here in town.”  “We’re off to a slow start. But before anyone gets truly alarmed, I think we need to wait and see how the cod market settles out,” he cautioned. “If the fish comes in slow from Russia, for example, then there will be a high demand for Alaska cod. The Chinese are also waiting to buy and seeing how prices play out.” For now, most Kodiak boats have begrudgingly set out for 27-28 cents a pound. “My hope is that as we start to see the cod flow from all around the world, there might be adjustments to the price that will allow fishermen to make a margin, and on the buying side too,” Whiddon added. “I want to emphasize that the prices paid in Kodiak for every species, but particularly for cod and pollock, are driven by global factors that are well beyond the control of any one entity here in town,” said Whiddon, who is also a Kodiak City Council member. “Cod is a global commodity, so we are always reacting to the changes and adjustments in the world market, both on the buying and selling side.” Fish watch Along with P-cod, lots more Alaska fisheries got under way with the start of the new year. Lingcod seasons opened in Southeast with a catch topping 300,000 pounds. Longliners and jiggers also set out for about 75,000 pounds of seven different kinds of rockfish. A few t-pot shrimpers were still out on the water in Southeast, along with trollers targeting winter king salmon.  Tanner crab seasons open Jan. 15 around Kodiak Island with a 660,000 pound quota. The Bering Sea snow crab fleet heads out this month for a 66 million pound catch; they are concerned again about an early ice pack covering the crab grounds. Pollock, Alaska’s largest fishery, begins Jan. 20, for trawlers in the Gulf and Bering Sea. Nearly 3 billion pounds of pollock will come from Alaska waters this year. More salmon forecasts: The Upper Cook Inlet sockeye catch is projected at nearly 5 million fish for all users. The Copper River catch is pegged at 1.3 million sockeye salmon and just less than 20,000 kings. Halibut cuts Pacific halibut fishermen will know in a few weeks if they will face double digit cuts again in their catches again this year. The International Pacific Halibut Commission will announce the catch limits at its annual meeting Jan. 21-25 in Victoria, British Columbia.  The catches could be cut by 30 percent, meaning a coast wide harvest of just 22.7 million pounds for fisheries in California, Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Alaska. Alaska’s share of the halibut catch would be 17.4 million pounds, down from about 25 million this year. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

Chinook conservation, permit stacking approved for Bristol Bay fisheries

Bristol Bay fisheries will operate under some revised regulations this year. The Alaska Board of Fisheries met in Naknek in December to consider changes to Bristol Bay finfish regulations, including 73 proposals regarding area salmon fishing. Commercial salmon fishermen will see a number of changes. Under the changes to how permits can be stacked, two driftnet permit holders can fish from the same vessel and jointly operate 200 fathoms of drift gillnet gear except in the Togiak District, in a special harvest area, or when the Naknek River Special harvest Area is open. The Togiak Traditional Council proposed that such permit stacking not be allowed in the Togiak District because the salmon runs in the area are small, and stacking increases the race for fish. The request to allow 200 fathoms of joint gear was made to allow more flexibility for permit stacking than was allowed under a regulation change in 2009. The board also agreed to prohibit additional drift gear for dual permit vessels in the Togiak District. The board also unanimously approved an amended proposal that closes an area near the Togiak River to commercial driftnet fishing from June 1 to July 15. That change is intended to help protect chinook salmon, which can be caught in that area and have had low escapements into the Togiak in recent years. In the Naknek-Kvichak Management and Allocation Plan, the commercial drift fleet targeting sockeye salmon will only be open between seven-foot flood and seven-foot ebb tide stages. That was proposed an effort to conserve chinooks. The original proposal wanted to stagger fishing but didn’t offer a specific management strategy, and board member Vince Webster proposed the amendment that passed. For the same plan, an effort to open a new set gillnet fishery at Levelock failed. On the Ugashik River, the area for setnetting has been decreased. Those nets now must be within 600 feet of the 18-foot high tide mark, rather than the prior requirement of 1,000 feet. According to the proposal — which came from individuals, the area Alaska Department of Fish and Game advisory committee, and the Ugashik Traditional Village Council — 1,000 feet was too large for some of the small spaces around Ugashik village. That carried unanimously. The board also approved slight changes to the area closed to salmon fishing at the mouth of the Igushik and Togiak rivers. In both cases, the area now open is more consistent with historic openings. The boundaries were inadvertently altered when the state switched from delineating the open and closed waters with markers and loran coordinates to using latitude and longitude coordinates. Near the Igushik, that means an existing setnet site will once again be in open waters. After the boundary transition, the site was placed in closed waters. Setnet vessels can now transport salmon through the Snake River Section. That proposal, as amended by Webster, passed unanimously. A previous regulation change had limited navigation in the Snake River Section to eliminate illegal fishing in that area. Various marking requirements also changed. Shoreside setnet markings will have to be larger this year, as the board approved a proposal changing the marking requirement from six inches to 12 inches. That brings those boats in line with the requirements for drift and setnet boats, which must also have Fish and Game numbers displayed in 12-inch letters. Another regulation change clarifies the vessel marking requirements for setnet vessels. Those vessels no longer have to have a commercial fisheries entry commission, or CFEC, permit serial number displayed on the boat. Now the vessels are just required to have the vessel name, and the permanent vessel license number. Bristol Bay CFEC setnet permit holders are also now required to register for a statistical area in the Nushagak District if they intend to fish in that district. Area management plans were also up for discussion. The king salmon reference points for the Nushagak-Mulchatna king salmon management plan were revised as suggested by ADFG to match the change in technology. The department has switched from a Bendix sonar to a DIDSON (dual identification sonar), which enumerates more fish. The biological escapement was changed to a range from 55,000 to 120,000. Previously, the escapement was a single number rather than a range. Other reference numbers within the plan, including the in-river goal, were also adjusted. Reference points for the Wood River Special Harvest Area Management Plan were changed as well, as were some regulations for operating setnets or drift nets in that harvest area. Five herring-related proposals also failed unanimously. The proposals were split between changing how herring is allocated, and closing certain areas or aspects of the fishery. Individuals brought forward two of the allocation-related changes, while the Togiak Traditional Council proposed both closures and one allocation change. While the proposals failed, board members said they wanted more information on the possible closures, which were put forth as a way to help protect subsistence opportunities in the area. Those will likely come back with additional research during the next cycle. New sport, subsistence regs Under the new subsistence schedule approved in December, the final subsistence fishing opening in the Nushagak District each week will begin at 9 a.m. Saturday and close at 9 a.m. Sunday, instead of running from Friday to Saturday. The other subsistence openings are on weekdays, so the change allows for a weekend harvest opportunity for those who work Monday through Friday. That change, which was proposed by the Nushagak Advisory Committee, was approved unanimously. Sportfishermen will see changes this year as well. The non-retention, no-bait area for the Nushagak River was increased to include the full drainage upstream of its confluence with Harris Creek, and fish parts were prohibited in the waters where bait is prohibited. According to the proposals, both changes are meant, in part, to promote conservation and enhance the rainbow trout fishery. The board also considered requiring barbless hooks in unbaited, single-hook, artificial fly waters, but that motion failed with a 3-3 vote. The board did not pass a number of other proposals, including creation of a general district for sockeye fishing, development of a process for addressing future proposals deemed as restructuring the salmon industry. An effort to increase the setnet allocation in the Nushagak, Naknek-Kvichak, Egegik and Ugashik districts also failed. An effort to establish a sockeye salmon fishery in the Cinder River Section from June 20-Sept. 20, and changes to the allowable fishing areas near Port Heiden were also brought forward at the meeting. Those proposals will be discussed at the Alaska Peninsula/Aleutian Islands finfish meeting, scheduled for Feb. 26 to March 4 in Anchorage. At that meeting, the board will also discuss two proposals it generated at the December meeting. One would close sport fishing for king salmon in the Big Creek drainage, and the other would allow permit stacking for set netting in the Egegik and Ugashik districts. Any proposals resulting from the Western Alaska Salmon Stock Identification Project, or WASSIP, will also come forward at that meeting.

Board of Fisheries to discuss Yukon, Kuskokwim fishery changes

Commercial fisheries disasters were declared after low chinook runs on the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers in 2012, and several proposals to be considered by the Board of Fisheries will consider ways to preserve fishing opportunity for residents reliant on those fish. The board will discuss regulation changes for the Arctic, Yukon, and Kuskokwim, or AYK, areas Jan. 15-20 in Anchorage. The board is scheduled to discuss 70 proposals at the meeting, which include revisions to subsistence, sport and commercial fishing regulations for area fisheries. For the Kuskokwim area, the board will look at four subsistence-related proposals as the committee of the whole. An Alaska Department of Fish and Game proposal would update the Kuskokwim River Salmon Rebuilding Management Plan so that there is more management flexibility to meet subsistence needs and offer commercial fishing opportunity when possible. The changes include additional subsistence openings when the run is strong, and ways to manage for different species depending on their relative strengths. That proposal received support in public comments from retired Fish and Game Biologist Douglas Molyneaux, who lead a working group looking at changes. The working group also offered its own suggestions, such as to allow commercial coho fishing that doesn’t impact chum escapement when the chum run is weak. The Association of Village Council Presidents also proposed creating an optimum escapement goal for chinooks, rather than the drainage wide escapement goal for chinooks that ADFG is likely to implement. That would also be a change to the Kuskokwim River Salmon Rebuilding Management Plan. The board will also discuss whether or not to allow the sale of some subsistence-taken finfish in the Kuskokwim area, which was proposed by the Orutsararmiut Native Council. Under the proposal, sales would be capped at $500 per year, the fish could not be resold and such sales would be contained to the Kuskokwim area. According to comments from ADFG, this will be the first time the board considers whether customary trade of finfish is a customary and traditional use of fish, as required for subsistence uses. Another department proposal also calls for reviewing the amount necessary for subsistence, or ANS, in the Kuskokwim River drainage. According to proposal, the department changed how it estimates subsistence salmon harvest in 2008, and the current ANS findings are based on the old methodology. The options offered by the department do not change the ranges for ANS, despite using the different methods. When the board splits into committees, it will also look at a variety of proposals for sport fishing in the Kuskokwim area. Those include efforts to limit or close salmon fishing on the Eek and Kwethluk rivers, and in the Kanektok and Arolik River drainages. Most of those efforts are opposed by ADFG. As the committee of the whole, the board will also take up Yukon Area salmon proposals. Several pertain to subsistence fishing, including a proposal by ADFG to revise the ANS findings to reflect changes in customary and traditional subsistence use patterns, and proposals to create a harvest reporting system for subsistence-taken salmon. Other proposals would affect Yukon chinooks, including gear changes to protect chinooks but allow for the catch of other fish, pulse protection to better allow for fish to make it to Canada, and prohibiting chinook sales when the commercial chinook fishery is closed. Proposed changes to the Yukon River Summer Chum Salmon Management Plan would create a chinook bycatch cap, and change chum escapement and trigger points. ADFG did not offer support for any of those Yukon proposals in its comments, aside from its own effort to update the ANS findings, although it remained neutral on some, including certain gear changes, and chum escapement and triggers. The board will also look at proposals for salmon in the Norton Sound and Port Clarence Area, which come with ADFG support. Proposals from an individual would open up additional areas to subsistence fishing and increase the amount of money a household can receive for selling subsistence-caught fish. Other proposals the board will consider would provide managers with the ability to open up commercial and sport fishing in parts of Norton Sound. Those proposals came from individuals, and the department was neutral in its comments. In separate committees, the board will look at other sport and subsistence proposals. Several relate to sport and subsistence opportunity for northern pike in the Tanana drainage and on the Yukon. Generally, the department’s comments support opportunity in those fisheries and opposed restrictions, although ADFG supported closing Little Harding Lake to sport fishing for northern pike. Other proposals could change rainbow trout fishing areas, stocking and hook allowances for a variety of waters. Salmon fishing at Fielding Lake and chinook fishing on the Black River are also up for discussion. The board’s other committee will look at a variety of subsistence and commercial management plans. Those include efforts to allow for additional commercial and subsistence opportunities for coho, chum and pink salmon, as well as grayling, in various Norton Sound areas under certain conditions. The meeting begins with staff reports and public testimony Jan. 15, while discussion of specific proposals as the committee of the whole will begin Jan. 16. Work done in committees will come back to the full board toward the end of the meeting.

ADFG predicts uptick in sockeye run for Upper Cook Inlet

Fishermen could catch a few extra sockeyes in Upper Cook Inlet waterways in 2013. Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game announced its sockeye salmon forecast Dec. 27, projecting a total run of 6.7 million fish, and a harvest of 4.9 million for all users. That’s up slightly compared to a 2012 harvest of 4.4 million, and about 1 million more than the 20-year average harvest of 3.8 million fish. The projections are good news for Kenai and Kasilof Rivers, but not so hot for Northern District waterways. The Kenai River forecast is down slightly compared to 2012. The prediction is for 4.4 million sockeyes in the Kenai, compared to a run of 4.7 million in 2012. That’s still above the 20-year average for the Kenai. The sockeye run on the Kasilof River is expected to come in just less than a million fish at 903,000, about 200,000 more than last year. Northern District systems Fish Creek and the Susitna River aren’t expected to be as strong. The Susitna River forecast is for 363,000 fish compared to 443,000 in 2012. The Fish Creek forecast is 61,000 fish, down from 84,000 in 2012. Fish Creek drains from Big Lake into the Cook Inlet at the Knik Arm. Fish and Game Biologist Pat Shields said the Kenai forecast ties to a management plan, which Fish and Game will use in the summer to oversee the fisheries. “This puts us in the middle tier for management next year,” Shields said. Under the middle tier Kenai management, Shields said east side setnetters will have two closed windows on Tuesdays and Fridays after July 8, with some flexibility regarding the timing of the closures. It also means that there will be 12-hour openings on Mondays and Thursdays, with an additional 51 hours of fishing time allowed each week. And it sets an escapement goal of 1 million to 1.2 million sockeyes passing the Kenai River sonar. The forecast also included projections for a few other river systems. The Crescent River, on the west side of Cook Inlet, could see an increase, with 110,000 sockeye predicted to swim upstream compared to 89,000 last year. And about 872,000 fish are expected to return to unmonitored systems. The Kenai, Kasilof and Crescent River predictions are all above escapement goals listed in the department’s forecast, while the Fish Creek estimate is within the escapement goal range. An escapement goal isn’t available for the Susitna River, because that river is gauged based on three different lake escapements: Larson Lake, Chelatna Lake and Judd Lake. NOAA lists ringed, bearded seals The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, announced Dec. 21 that it was categorizing ringed and bearded seals as threatened. The protections are based on declining sea ice, a primary habitat for the seals. In U.S. waters, the listing impacts Arctic ringed seals and the Beringia distinct population segment, or DPS, of bearded seals, although other subspecies and distinct population segments were included. There are no immediate restrictions for human activity as a result of the listing, but federally permitted activities in seal habitat — such as fishing or oil and gas development — could face additional scrutiny to protect the seals in the future. “Our scientists undertook an extensive review of the best scientific and commercial data. They concluded that a significant decrease in sea ice is probable later this century and that these changes will likely cause these seal populations to decline,” wrote Jon Kurland, protected resources director for NOAA Fisheries’ Alaska region, in a statement announcing the decision. “We look forward to working with the State of Alaska, our Alaska Native co-management partners, and the public as we work toward designating critical habitat for these seals.” The listing will go into affect 60 days after publication in the Federal Register, or in late February. Now, NOAA Fisheries is seeking public comment to inform future critical habitat proposals for Arctic ringed seals and Beringia DPS bearded seals. The NOAA Fisheries announcement said subsistence harvest of ice seals will not be affected. Steller sea lions are listed as a threatened species, and have had critical habitat designated. Those protections have led to significantly reduced fishing for Atka mackerel and Pacific cod in the Aleutians. The listing came on the last possible day under a court order. In November, the Alaska district court ordered NOAA to respond to a complaint by Dec. 21. The listings were originally proposed in December 2010, with a period of public comment following. The administration extended its final determination from December 2011 to June 2012, but did not provide a determination at that time. The Center for Biological Diversity sued the National Marine Fisheries Service when that June deadline was not met. The announcement drew criticism for the timing as well as the action. “I believe that Alaska’s wildlife must be protected, but not by relying on overbroad, overreaching analysis that runs counter to the abundant seal populations we presently see,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski wrote in a statement about the designation. “There is something misguided about policy that is guaranteed to cause real economic impact on the horizon based on a hundred year hunch. No wonder NOAA decided to release this decision the Friday before Christmas, hoping it won’t register with Alaskans.” According to a statement from Gov. Sean Parnell, the State of Alaska is considering legal challenges to the listings. 2013 Kodiak Pacific cod harvest down from 2012 Pot and jig vessels can catch a combined 13.58 million pounds of Pacific cod in the Kodiak area state-waters fishery this year, down from 2012, when the limit was 15.69 pounds. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced the 2013 guideline harvest level, or GHL, Dec. 24. Each gear type will receive half of the GHL, or 6.79 million pounds. The state fishery opens after the closure of the central Gulf of Alaska Pacific cod pot gear A-season federal fishery. For pot vessels, the opening comes seven days after the CGOA closure. Jig vessels will likely open 48 hours after the federal side closes, although the two can be open simultaneously if the federal fishery hasn’t closed by March 15. The state fishery comes with a variety of restrictions, and participants must have a state-waters Pacific cod vessel registration. Vessels are limited to either 60 pots or five mechanical jigs. Also, pot vessels greater than 58 feet in length are limited to harvesting at most 50 percent of the pot vessel share of the GHL. Senate approves NOAA Corps bill A bill that would more closely align the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Corps obligations and benefits with other uniformed services passed the senate unanimously Dec. 20. Corps members operate ships and aircrafts to enforce fisheries regulations and conduct other ocean-related duties. “The men and women who make up the NOAA Corps are our eyes and ears on Alaska’s key frontlines – fisheries, ocean mapping and engineering,” wrote Sen. Lisa Murkowski in a statement. Murkowski and Sen. Mark Begich co-sponsored the legislation with several other senators. “In Alaska, oceans are key to our economic prosperity, from fishing to responsible oil and gas development to transportation of goods and people,” Begich wrote in a statement. “We rely on the NOAA Corps to chart shipping routes and survey fish populations. As we expand activity in the Arctic, we will rely on the Corps even more for baseline scientific research in that region. We need to attract the best and brightest young men and women to the Corps and ensure that we retain knowledgeable senior officers.” The bill aims to improve recruiting and streamline procedures for moving up in rank, in addition to work at making benefits and obligations more similar. The House has not yet passed similar legislation, which is necessary before any such bill becomes law. Copper River Campus fined for asbestos violation Copper River Campus LLC pled guilty to violating the federal Clean Air Act for negligently endangering others when it released asbestos into the air in Anchorage. Copper River Campus is the corporate headquarters for Copper River Seafoods, located on East 5th Avenue in downtown Anchorage. The company was told to pay a $70,000 fine and serve three years probation, and contract with an environmental consultant to comply with environmental laws and safety standards in the future. According to a statement from U.S. prosecutors, the company purchased the building in 2009 knowing it had asbestos, and did not take the appropriate precautions when it began demolition and other work on the building. Alaskans respond to genetically modified fish decision Alaskans have been largely unsupportive of the Food and Drug Administration’s environmental assessment of genetically modified salmon. The administration, or FDA, released an environmental assessment, or EA, with a preliminary finding that genetically modified salmon pose “no significant impact” to the environment or public health. The fish under consideration are produced by Aqua Bounty and grow twice as fast as conventional salmon. Alaska’s congressional delegation responded negatively to the announcement. “I am concerned with the recent news that FDA is moving forward with the approval of genetically modified fish,” wrote Sen. Lisa Murkowski in a statement. “This is especially troubling as the agency is ignoring the opposition by salmon and fishing groups, as well as more than 300 environmental, consumer and health organizations.” Rep. Don Young expressed a similar sentiment in his statement, referring to the modified salmon as “frankenfish.” At a minimum, Young wrote that he plans to reintroduce legislation that would require labeling genetically engineered salmon. Sen. Mark Begich also released a statement questioning the FDA’s finding. “I am also concerned that the FDA is continuing to disregard the will of Congress,” Begich said. “It seems incredibly irresponsible to be moving forward on Frankenfish before they’ve taken a step back, consulted with experts on marine fisheries, and considered the potential impacts more broadly.” The FDA has not yet released a report on the potential impacts of genetically modified fish to the environment generally, something that was required under the 2007 FDA reauthorization. The FDA is taking comment on the EA for 60 days from publication in the federal register, which was done Dec. 26.

Nonprofit files legal challenge to NMFS observer program

An Alaska nonprofit filed suit in U.S. Alaska District Court Dec. 21 over the new observer program set to take effect Jan. 1. In an amended complaint filed Dec. 26, The Boat Company questioned whether the new at-sea observer program the National Marine Fisheries Service plans to use is adequate to monitor and manage bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska trawl fisheries. The Boat Company is a nonprofit that operates tours on two vessels in Southeast, and provides fishing opportunity as well as conservation education. NMFS published the final rule for a new observer program in November. In a NMFS summary of the new program, the service said the new program will increase the statistical reliability of data collected by the program, address cost inequality among fishery participants and expand observer coverage to previously unobserved fisheries, such as halibut longline vessels. “It’s really about getting good numbers,” said Martin Loefflad, who heads the Alaska observer programs for NMFS, earlier this year. Those numbers are used for federal management of the fisheries. The amended complaint says that by allowing the ex-vessel fee to dictate deployment, the program does not ensure enough observer coverage to generate reliable information about bycatch. The complaint notes that NMFS documentation talks about a 30 percent level of coverage as being statistically robust, but that the new observer program only covers about 13 percent, and shifts coverage from larger, higher-impact trawl vessels to smaller, lower-impact selective gear vessels. The complaint also says that NMFS does not account for species- and fisheries-specific bycatch monitoring needs. “Accordingly, The Boat Company brings this lawsuit to compel the Fisheries Service to reconsider the Final Rule, to revise and supplement its environmental analysis, and to revise its restructured observer program to ensure at least 30 percent observer coverage, which the Fisheries Service has determined is the bare minimum required to generate statistically reliable information on the amount and type of bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska federal fisheries as required to manage them in compliance with controlling law,” the complaint reads. The suit asserts violations of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Administrative Procedure Act, and raises issues with the details of the new observer program. The Boat Company has asked that the final rule for the observer program be remanded, with a new program developed with an adequate funding mechanism and NEPA analysis. The complaint notes that the high cost an observer day under the new program means fewer observer days than was called for in the final rule. It also faults NMFS for not analyzing that change as part of its environmental assessment. The lawsuit argues that the decrease in observer coverage to Gulf of Alaska trawl fisheries could result in less robust information about bycatch, and management measures that are not appropriately informed. Such a change should have required an environmental impact statement, not the environmental assessment that came with a finding of no significant impact, according to the complaint. The suit is directed at Acting Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank, NMFS, and NMFS Alaska Region Administrator James Balsiger. NMFS spokesperson Julie Speegle wrote in an email that the complaint is under review. Trawlers, the vessel type the complaint references, are in the trip coverage category for the new observer program’s 2013 deployment plan. As of Jan. 1, they’re required to log each fishing trip at least 72 hours in advance and take an observer when randomly selected. Hook-and-line and pot gear vessels of at least 57.5 feet will also be part of the trip selection pool. Smaller vessels are sorted into a vessel selection pool, in which a subset of vessels will carry an observer for 60 days, and the zero coverage pool, which includes catcher vessels less than 40-feet and those using jig gear. Although NMFS has said that the new program provides better data due to its design, the complaint argues that the partial coverage pools allow for non-representative fishing to be extrapolated to the entire fleet. That could mean more bycatch occurs than is accounted for, according to the complaint, because fishing could be cleaner when an observer is onboard. As developed, the program decreased coverage for certain sectors of the pollock and groundfish trawl fleets in order to begin observing the smaller longline boats targeting halibut and sablefish. The decreased coverage applies to those with greater prohibited species catch — chinook salmon in the pollock fishery and halibut in the bottom trawl fisheries.

2012 Picks and Pans from a year in Alaska seafood news

Alaska’s seafood industry worked hard this year to ramp up its message to policymakers, especially those from rail belt regions who tend to overlook the industry’s economic significance. How important is the seafood industry to Alaska and the nation? At a glance: nearly 60 percent of all U.S. seafood landings come from Alaska and 96 percent of all wild-caught salmon. Seafood is by far Alaska’s No. 1 export, valued $2.4 billion last year. Alaska ranks 9th in the world in terms of global seafood production. The seafood industry is second only to Big Oil in revenues it generates to Alaska’s general fund each year, and it provides more Alaska jobs than oil/gas, mining, tourism and timber combined. Here are some fishing notables from 2012, in no particular order, followed by my annual “Fish picks and pans”: • High winds, frigid temperatures and a record ice pack put the brakes on Alaska’s winter fisheries; ice forced the snow crab fleet to extend its season into June. • The U.S. became the first country to put catch quotas on every fish/shellfish species it manages in waters from three to 200 miles from shore. For Alaska, that means 80 percent of the total annual catch. • Construction of the first Bering Sea-sized fishing boat built in state got under way at Alaska Ship and Dry Dock in Ketchikan — a 136 foot, all steel catcher processor for Alaska Longline Company of Petersburg.  • The world’s first portable floating dry dock was launched at Allen Marine in Sitka; the modular dock can stretch to 160 feet and handle vessels up to 1,000 tons. • Western Alaska CDQ group vessel owners started making plans to homeport their big Bering Sea boats in Seward instead of Seattle. • For the first time, China emerged as the top market for Alaska exports, led by seafood.  • Halibut catch limits declined again by 20 percent and the outlook is for a similar reduction in 2013. Since 2004, the Pacific halibut commercial catch has been trimmed 54 percent coastwide. • Pollock skins were cited as a new source for nano-fibers that have a similar tissue structure to human organs and skin. Studies show that fish gelatin improves tissue cell growth better than mammalian gels. • Gov. Sean Parnell changed the mission statement of the state Department of Natural Resources and removed the word “conserve.” (He changed the governor’s mission statement too.) It was news to the Alaska legislature, which is supposed to approve such changes. • Bristol Bay fishermen continued to get improved grades for improving the quality of their salmon using a “report card” system and lots of ice.  • The industry braced for new rules that will place observers aboard fishing boats smaller than 60 feet, and for the first time, include the 2,000-plus boat halibut longline fleet. The expanded program begins in January. • Alaska’s salmon season came up short, topping 123 million fish, 7 percent shy of projections. • Chile’s farmed salmon industry came back on track after fighting disease outbreaks for several years, and flooded markets with fish. Still, Alaska’s wild catch held its own in world markets. • It took a quarter of a century, but fishery managers finally began putting the brakes on the 5 million pounds of halibut taken as bycatch by trawl and longline fisheries in the Gulf of Alaska. The North Pacific Council agreed to phase in a 15 percent reduction plan starting in 2014. The annual Gulf bycatch allotment exceeds the combined harvests for sport halibut fisheries in Southeast and South central Alaska. • Soccer balls, motorcycles and mounds of buoys and Styrofoam began washed ashore in Alaska from the massive 2011 tsunami in Japan. The worst is yet to come, but it remains a head scratcher as to who picks up both the debris and the tab. At least 750,000 tons of debris is expected to hit Alaska’s coastline. • Another head scratcher: Growing populations of sea otters continued feasting on Southeast Alaska’s stocks of sea cucumbers, crabs, urchins and clams. Estimates peg commercial fishing losses from the otters at $30 million since 1995. • Trident Seafoods introduced 100 percent recyclable “AquaSafe” fish box starting with its shipments of some of the first Copper River reds in mid-May. • A first ever accounting of bycatch in US fisheries was unveiled by federal scientists, setting a baseline for the accidental takes of fish, marine mammals, and seabirds by fishing gear. The Southeast region of the U.S. (Gulf of Mexico) led all others with total fish bycatch, Alaska ranked second for fish bycatch and nearly last for marine mammals. • The state gave a $3 million show of support for University of Alaska Fairbanks researchers to buy high tech buoys to measure ocean acidity levels in Alaska waters year ‘round. Alaska fishermen will play an important role in the water sampling research. • More research backed the fact that the tiniest traces of copper in water affect a salmon’s sense of smell and changes their behavior. A University of Washington/NOAA project confirmed that as little as five parts of copper per billion made the salmon unable to detect predators and were attacked in a matter of seconds. • Dutch Harbor-Unalaska held onto the title of the nation’s top fishing port for seafood landings. • Shrimp, canned tuna and salmon remained as America’s top seafood favorites; Alaska pollock bumped farmed tilapia for the No. 4 spot. Overall, Americans ate slightly less seafood at 15 pounds per person per year. • The no-show by Alaska chinook salmon merited a federal disaster declaration for the Yukon, Kuskokwim and Kenai  Rivers. The State ramped up research for king salmon rehab statewide, and believe ocean factors are causing the salmon declines. • Despite outpourings of opposition from Congress and constituents, the Food and Drug Administration gave a “clean bill of health” to genetically tweaked salmon. That clears the way for Frankenfish to become the first scientifically altered animal approved for human consumption anywhere in the world. The 60-day public comment period is going on now. • The “graying of the fleet” continued in Alaska. State data showed that 45 percent of all Alaska permit holders were between the ages 45 and 60, with an average age of 47.  • A grassroots effort to bring back Alaska’s coastal zone management program failed to get enough votes to get the measure on the ballot. • Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell certified the Bristol Bay Forever citizens’ initiative, which aims to protect wild salmon from any new, large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay region. Citizens have one year to gather 30,169 signatures to get the measure on the 2014 general election ballot. • Ever-savvy Copper River salmon producers launched a Locator App to help customers easily find the famous salmon at restaurants and markets across the nation. Bristol Bay salmon fishermen quickly followed suit and launched a locator app.  • It was back to the drawing board for a widely criticized federal “biological opinion” on the impact of Western Aleutian fisheries on Steller sea lions. The opinion was used to justify closures of cod and Atka mackerel fisheries, although many felt the conclusions were not supported by the data. The BiOp will be peer reviewed by the Center for Independent Experts. • More local seafood started making its way to Alaska’s school lunch trays with the help of a USDA funded Fish to Schools program launched at UAF. 2012 Fish Picks and Pans Best Fish Samaritans: UFA’s Alaska Fishing Industry Relief Mission, or AFIRM  Fondest fish farewell: Ray Riutta, leaving the helm of ASMI after 10 years Best fish gadget: SCraMP app for iPhones, a Small Craft Motion Program that tracks vessel stability Biggest fishing change: The expanded observer program that includes coverage of small vessels and the 2,000+ halibut longline fleet. Worst fish omission: tens of thousands of pages of documents on the proposed Pebble Mine — but no images to be found anywhere of what the mine area might look like?    Most savvy fishing town: No town promotes its salmon better and with more pride than Cordova. Least savvy fishing town: No town promotes or celebrates its fisheries less than Kodiak. Biggest fish adjustment: The expanded onboard observer program Best Alaska fishing icons: Bering Sea crabbers Biggest fish fiasco: NMFS Steller sea lion BiOp blunders Best hungry fish feeders: Sea Share, Ocean Beauty Best fish to school boosters: GAPP, the Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers Biggest fish blunder: setting a precedent by removing 11 miles of salmon streams to accommodate a coal mine at Upper Cook Inlet Scariest fish story: ocean acidification Best home spirit fish move: CDQ boats home porting in Alaska Worst global fish story: Illegal, Undocumented and Unreported, or IUU, catches by fish pirates. UN estimates say IUU catches amount to 20 percent of the global harvest. Best fish news site: Best fish advocates: Alaska Marine Conservation Council, Renewable Resources Foundation Biggest fish mix up: Alaska spends $20 million on Peruvian fish feed for its 33 hatcheries while sending 200,000 tons of Alaska-made feeds to Asia. Best fish bash: Symphony of Seafood Biggest consumer fish snub: No labeling will be required for genetically modified salmon. To be sure you are getting the real thing and not a manmade mutant look for the Alaska or wild salmon label! Best seafood advocate: Ray RaLonde, Alaska Sea Grant aquaculture specialist Trickiest fishing conundrum: What to do about sea otters in Southeast Alaska Best fish invention: NanoICE. Created in Iceland, it’s a frigid slurry of ice “fractions” that immerses fish completely, and can be pumped into storage areas on fishing boats and in plants. Biggest fish WTF? Millions of pounds of halibut tossed as bycatch (by law) while sport and commercial catches get clipped well below their bottom lines.  Biggest fish story of 2012: Alaska’s disappearing chinook salmon and the anguish and heartbreak, not to mention economic hardship, it has caused for so many.  This year marks the 22nd year for this weekly column that focuses on Alaska’s seafood industry. It began in 1991 in the Anchorage Daily News, and now appears in over 20 newspapers and web sites. A daily spin off – Fish Radio – airs weekdays on 30 radio stations in Alaska. The goal of both is to make people aware of the economic, social and cultural importance of Alaska’s seafood industry, and to inspire more Alaskans to join its ranks.

Seafood contest is underway

Alaska’s Symphony of Seafood will celebrate its 20th anniversary next year and the call is out for new entries to be introduced in the annual competition.  The Symphony, hosted by the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, showcases new Alaska seafood products in three categories: retail, food service and smoked. Top winners in each receive booth space at the international Boston Seafood Show in March.     A unique and fun thing about the seafood contest is that it provides a level playing field with entries from major seafood companies and small Mom and Pop’s.  “The expert judges don’t have any idea who enters the products. They vote purely on taste, presentation and other criteria,” said Jim Browning, AFDF executive director. Between 15 and 20 new seafood items are usually entered into the annual competition. Fred West and his small, family-run business of Tustumena Smoke House in Soldotna took home the 2012 grand prize for his Kylee’s all-natural Alaska salmon bacon, made from pinks and chums.  Past winners include a wide range of innovative seafood items: cold smoked halibut, salmon chorizo, chowders and “ultimate” fish sticks. The 2013 seafood judging will take place in Seattle on Feb. 13; all winners will be kept secret and announced at a gala tasting bash on Feb. 23 in Anchorage. Deadline to enter the Symphony is January 16. Dine out, Eat fish Americans eat most of their seafood in restaurants, and trend watchers predict more offerings on menus next year. That’s good news for Alaska, which provides more than half of all U.S. caught seafood, and 90 percent of wild salmon.      A poll by the National Restaurant Association asked its 2,000 members for their calls on the hottest trends for 2013 menus. Topping the list: locally sourced meats, seafood and produce.   Another top trend for restaurants is healthful kids’ meals. Also popular are environmental sustainability as a culinary theme, gluten-free cuisine, using new cuts of meats and sustainable seafood.  When asked how to best handle the increasing cost of ingredients, one-third of the chefs said changing menus, one-quarter said adjusting plate composition, and another quarter said exploring new sourcing options.   Social media are trending at the dining table — 27 percent of the respondents ranked tablet computers, such as iPads, as the hottest technology trend in restaurants in 2013, 25 percent said  Smartphone apps, followed by  mobile/wireless/pay-at-the-table at 19 percent. Score one for Frankenfish Genetically tweaked salmon just got one step closer to American dinner plates. The Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, released its environmental assessment of the “AquaAdvantage salmon” Dec. 21 concluding that the fish “will not have any significant impacts on the quality of the human environment of the United States.” The FDA also said the fish, which grows three times faster than normal, is unlikely to harm populations of natural salmon. If federal regulators clear the salmon, as expected, it would be the first scientifically altered animal approved for food anywhere in the world. No labeling will be required to alert human consumers that the salmon is not the real thing, as it is classified under ‘veterinary medicine’ and is therefore exempt. The FDA will take comments from the public for 60 days before making it final. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. This article is protected by copyright and may not be reprinted or distributed without permission. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

FDA says fast-growing fish would not harm nature

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal health regulators say a genetically modified salmon that grows twice as fast as normal is unlikely to harm the environment, clearing the way for the first approval of a scientifically engineered animal for human consumption. The Food and Drug Administration on Friday released its environmental assessment of the AquaAdvantage salmon, a faster-growing fish which has been subject to a contentious, yearslong debate at the agency. The document concludes that the fish "will not have any significant impacts on the quality of the human environment of the United States." Regulators also said that the fish is unlikely to harm populations of natural salmon, a key concern for environmental activists. The FDA will take comments from the public on its report for 60 days before making it final. Alaska Sen. Mark Begich issued a statement blasting the decision. “The notion that consuming Frankenfish is safe for the public and our oceans is a joke,” Begich said. “I will fight tooth and nail with my Alaska colleagues to make sure consumers have a clear choice when it comes to wild and sustainable versus lab-grown science projects.” The FDA said more than two years ago that the fish appears to be safe to eat, but the agency had taken no public action since then. Executives for the company behind the fish, Maynard, Mass.-based Aquabounty, speculated that the government was delaying action on their application due to push-back from groups who oppose genetically modified food animals. Experts view the release of the environmental report as the final step before approval. If FDA regulators clear the salmon, as expected, it would be the first scientifically altered animal approved for food anywhere in the world. Critics call the modified salmon a "frankenfish." They worry that it could cause human allergies and the eventual decimation of the natural salmon population if it escapes and breeds in the wild. AquaBounty has maintained that the fish is safe and that there are several safeguards against environmental problems. The fish would be bred female and sterile, though a very small percentage might still be able to breed. The company said the potential for escape is low. The FDA backed these assertions in documents released in 2010. Since its founding in 1991, Aquabounty has burned through more than $67 million developing the fast-growing fish. According to its midyear financial report, the company had less than $1.5 million in cash and stock left. It has no other products in development. Genetically engineered animals contain DNA that has been altered to produce a desirable trait. The AquaAdvantage salmon has an added growth hormone from the Pacific Chinook salmon that allows the fish to produce growth hormone all year long. The engineers were able to keep the hormone active by using another gene from an eel-like fish called an ocean pout that acts like an "on" switch for the hormone. Typical Atlantic salmon produce the growth hormone for only part of the year.  

EU committee backs reforms to salvage fish stocks

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union on Tuesday took a significant step towards protecting its threatened fish stocks when a parliamentary committee backed a series of reforms aimed at boosting fish supplies to sustainable levels by 2020. The 13-10 committee vote surprised environmentalists used to decades of policy inaction as fish stocks plunged in the continent's waters. Statistics released the day of the vote show that EU catches have declined by almost 40 percent in 15 years. Even if the full parliament backs the proposals — which aim to toughen fleet management while easing pressure on dwindling stocks — legislators still have to wrestle with member governments before such measures could be pushed through. Nonetheless, environmentalists lauded the committee's action. The fishing committee "has voted to end 30 years of failed fisheries management by requiring EU fisheries ministers not to exceed scientific advice when setting fishing limits, and to restore fish stocks," said Uta Bellion of the Pew Environment Group. Greenpeace expert Saskia Richartz said the vote "marks a turning point after decades of complacency." Ulrike Rudust, who led the parliamentary talks, said the committee had cleared "a very tough hurdle." The Eurostat agency released statistics showing that catches declined from 8.07 million tons in 1995 to 4.94 million tons in 2010 as stocks of fish such as cod and Bluefin tuna dwindled dramatically. Quotas for fishermen also became more restrictive to reflect the dearth of supplies. Meanwhile, EU fisheries ministers started their marathon negotiating session on catch quotas for 2013. Environmental groups fear the quotas will be set well above scientific advice for sustainable fishing, while fishermen fear they will further threaten employment.

Senator seeks $15M for tsunami debris

HONOLULU (AP) — An Alaska senator wants $15 million for tsunami debris cleanup on the West Coast included in a federal disaster relief package for states affected by Superstorm Sandy. Sen. Mark Begich said it's embarrassing that the government of Japan has put more funding toward the debris cleanup than the U.S. government has. He said the impact of debris from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan reaching U.S. shores is as much a natural disaster as a hurricane, drought or wildfire — it's just unfolding in slow motion. "We have to recognize that it's different than any other type of disaster because if it's like Sandy, you see it; it's right there in your face, everything at once," he said. "And in this situation it's kind of like climate change. Things don't happen overnight, they happen over a period of time, and when it happens and accumulates you look back and say, 'Why didn't we do something?' "We have that option right now to do something," he said. Japan has pledged $5 million for tsunami debris cleanup, more than the entire National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration budget for dealing with marine debris in general in fiscal year 2012. Begich said he considers a three-to-one match of the Japanese funding "the very least" the federal government can do to help cleanup efforts in Alaska, Hawaii, California, Oregon and Washington. It's not clear just how quickly Congress will take up the aid package, or how big it might be. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, said he hasn't taken a position yet on how much money may be needed for debris cleanup. "There are significant discussions yet to be had but I agree that there is a need for funds to help mitigate the effects of tsunami debris impacting our shores," he said in a statement. Some states haven't yet used their $50,000 grants provided by NOAA earlier this year. In Washington state, for example, after seeing an increase in debris from May through July, officials say things have quieted down and the state's plan for dealing with the debris calls for conserving resources where possible. NOAA announced the grants to the five West Coast states in July. In Alaska, the grant's gone, having gone toward cleanup along 25 miles out of about 2,500 in the state before the weather turned too nasty for crews to be out. The work was done by Gulf of Alaska Keeper, which is dedicated to cleaning marine debris from the Alaska coastline. Monitoring by the group found a huge jump in the weight of debris found at four sites it regularly visits. "It's just devastating, just sick," said the group's president, Chris Pallister, who worries about the impact of the debris on fish and wildlife. Tsunami debris is difficult to monitor, given that debris can break up and winds and ocean currents consistently change. And it's tough to distinguish it from the everyday debris that has been an ongoing problem for coastal communities for years. Just 16 items from among more than 1,400 reports have been firmly traced to the tsunami, including a small boat found recently in the northwest Hawaiian islands. The Japanese government estimated that 1.5 million tons of debris were floating in the ocean in the immediate aftermath of the tsunami, but it's not clear how much is still floating nearly two years on or just what will U.S. shores, when. NOAA estimates the bulk of what is coming either has arrived or will in the next year or so — but that's a rough guess. The Japanese government last month predicted the most buoyant debris, such as buoys that littered some Alaska beaches earlier this year, has already arrived. Lumber from houses and boats is expected to begin reaching the West Coast around this month, and mostly submerged debris, like driftwood or waterlogged lumber, is expected around June next year. In Oregon, after a fairly normal year for debris — save for the massive dock that washed ashore from Japan — a recent storm brought foam and other rubbish onto isolated sections of shoreline, said Chris Havel, spokesman for the state's Department of Parks and Recreation. State response teams were also recently activated to dispose of a gas can that washed up. Havel shares Pallister's concerns about the environmental impact of debris as it breaks up. Unlike in Alaska, where beaches are often remote and treacherous during the fall and winter, beaches in Oregon are largely accessible year-round, and Havel was placing orders earlier this week for another 10,000 bags that will be used in cleanup. He placed his last order in July, but anticipates needing more as the winter wears on. "We do need resources now, people and money now, to deal with it here at the beginning of a two- to three-year effort," he said.  

Trials reset for Native fishermen in salmon cases

A Bethel court magistrate has rescheduled the trials of 22 Alaska Natives who are charged with illegal fishing during a weak king salmon run. Magistrate Bruce Ward reset the trials for the subsistence fishermen to begin April 15. The fishermen's attorney, James J. Davis Jr., had sought to consolidate the trials into one case to allow two specialists on Yup'ik Eskimo culture to act as pro bono experts for all the defendants. Davis says Ward did not officially rule on the consolidation request in a hearing Friday, but agreed that the experts would not have to testify in all of the cases. Three other fishermen tried separately in October in Bethel were found guilty of violating strict fishing restrictions for king salmon last summer. The men were each fined $250.

Grounded tug, barge recovered from Aleutian island

The tug and barge that ran aground last month along the Aleutians and leaked diesel fuel have been recovered. The state Department of Environmental Conversation says in a release late Saturday that the vessels were recovered from the grounding site and will undergo inspections and repairs. The Polar Wind and the barge went aground Nov. 13 on uninhabited Ukolnoi Island, about 40 miles from Alaska's Cold Bay. Officials say the tug spilled about 6,000 gallons of diesel fuel, while about 13,000 gallons of diesel fuel and lube oils were recovered from the vessel. The state says nearly 1.5 million pounds of frozen seafood has been transferred from the barge to another barge. The seafood has been maintained at 15 degrees below zero since the grounding.  

Fishing fleet still graying; pollock harvest could increase

The “graying of the fleet” continues in Alaska as fewer young folks obtain permits for various fisheries. Data from 2011 show that 45 percent of all Alaska permit holders were between the ages 45 and 60, with an average age of 47. That was roughly twice as many permit holders as there were between the ages of 30 and 44. Crewmembers were much younger, averaging around 21 years old. There also was a higher incidence of crewmembers in their mid-30s, dropping off in the older age range. This may be due in part to aging crew eventually purchasing their own permits. Those are just a few of the findings by the state’s Department of Labor in its November issue of Economic Trends, which focuses on Alaska fishing and processing jobs. The harvesting sector also continued to grow, with the salmon and groundfish sectors each adding more than 200 jobs last year, while halibut, crab, and herring fisheries all had drops in employment. Overall, the seafood industry provides more jobs in Alaska than the oil/gas, mining, timber and tourism industries combined.  A breakdown shows that roughly 10,000 permit holders went fishing last year, along with more than 22,000 crewmembers. Salmon represents more than half of the total fishing jobs, and more than 60 percent of Alaska’s total harvesting employment takes place from June through August. The salmon sector averaged more than 16,000 jobs a month during those months, 80 percent of the total summer harvesting employment. Three gear types accounted for almost 60 percent of total harvesting jobs in the state in 2011: longliners, gillnetters and set netters. In terms of gender, 85 percent of the fish harvesters last year were men. Of that, 7,253 were permit holders, or 23.9 percent. Male crew totaled 18,678, or 61.6 percent. Just over 1,100 women held fishing permits, or 3.7 percent. Women crew numbers topped 3,200, or 10.8 percent of Alaska’s fishing jobs.   Alaska remains the nation’s leaders for value of fisheries at nearly $2 billion of the $5.3 billion US total. The Economic Trends report also includes analyses of seafood processing, fishermen’s other jobs and a focus on the Aleutians West region. Find the full report at Eat more fish The American diet includes the second lowest percentage of seafood in the world – about 15 pounds per capita per year, compared to 110 pounds of red meat and 73 pounds of poultry. The lack of essential nutrients from seafood (notably, omega 3 fatty acids) causes tens of thousands of preventable deaths each year, according to health professionals. “It has just been in the last few decades as we’ve industrialized our food supply that we’ve almost eradicated this nutrient from our diet. When you don’t get it, all kinds of bad things start happening,” said Randy Hartnell, a former Bristol Bay fishermen and creator of Vital Choice Seafoods. Now U.S. nutritionists are getting serious about turning that deficit around.  “New federal dietary guidelines in 2010 promote eating seafood twice a week, but unfortunately today Americans eat less than half of that,” said Linda Cornish, director of the Seafood Foundation, a new nonprofit launched this month as part of the National Fisheries Institute.  The Foundation will focus on building awareness of the health benefits of seafood to a wider population using a three-pronged approach. “An education component teaching about the benefits of eating seafood; getting our moms, dads and children to understand the great tastes seafood has to offer, and helping Americans understand how to incorporate seafood meals into their daily routine,” Cornish said. “We need to help Americans become more confident seafood buyers, and to show how easy it is to cook seafood at home. That, she said is the biggest hurdle. “The biggest obstacle will be to overcome the routine of the daily meal, and the notion that fish is smelly and harder to prepare,” Cornish said. “When in fact fish is so easy and quick to prepare you can get a meal on the table in well under 30 minutes. It is a matter of just showing how easy it is to incorporate that into their daily meals.” The Seafood Foundation is forming partnerships with health organizations, seafood companies and industry stakeholders to help fund media and hands on campaigns, such as cooking demonstrations in supermarkets, hospitals and community centers. Cornish said the seafood effort is very timely, as more people care about what they are eating. “I think there is definitely an awakening among our American citizens in terms of what our food system looks like. People want to be more aware of what we put into our bodies,” she said. “So often in our busy daily lives we run to pick up something fast and we don’t realize how detrimental that is to our overall health. I don’t think the average American understands what nutrients they really do need to function well. They take lots of supplements to get a feeling of well-being when in fact, they need to find and buy the best seafood and produce they can to have an overall wellness that is natural.” Omegas can’t be produced by our bodies and must be obtained from foods, notably fish and some plant sources. ROV tops divers Urchins, sea cucumbers and giant geoduck clams are some of Southeast Alaska’s most lucrative, albeit dangerous, fisheries. Divers go down to pluck the creatures from the bottom, using long hookah-like devices that provide air supplied from attending boats on the surface. Now a new device from Norway could remove the dangers of diving. A remotely-operated underwater vehicle, or ROV, called a Seabed Harvester has performed extremely well in some of Northern Norway’s most remote and frigid waters. According to World Fishing, during testing in January, the ROV harvested nearly two metric tons of urchins, or 4,400 pounds in four days. The average take by divers was about 200 pounds per day. The ROV is undergoing more testing with a goal of using it to harvest other species, including scallops and other crustaceans. Scientists said the device is very gentle on the seabed, and they are anticipating a significant improvement in the harvest rate when the operators become more experienced. The ROV also may be used to inspect seabed conditions and stocks over larger areas. The research is financed by the Norwegian Seafood Research Fund. Fish watch Alaska pollock — the world’s largest food fishery — could see an even bigger catch next year!  Scientists are recommending a harvest of 1.375 million metric tons for 2013, a 13 percent increase. That adds up to more than three billion pounds of pollock. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council will set the catch limits for more than 25 fisheries under its purview at its Dec. 3 to Dec. 11 meeting at the Anchorage Hilton. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

Alaska seafood industry still aiding Japanese peers after 2011 tsunami

The Alaska Fishing Industry Relief Mission Inc. had good news from Japan just in time for Thanksgiving. The nonprofit group raised more than $375,000 for tsunami relief efforts in 2011. This summer, Canadian Linda Ohama helped the group distribute the money to Japanese fishermen. Ohama, who is currently in Japan, delivered the good news in a Nov. 20 email. “Last week, I saw the two small boats that the Arahama fishermen were able to purchase with your donation! They were putting on the names: Alaska Maru 1 and Alaska Maru 2!!” Ohama wrote the group. The Miyagi Fishermen’s Association received $5,700 for the vessels earlier in the fall, and said 23 families would benefit from the boats. Ohama passed on thanks from the fishermen who received the boats, and said they talked about how each dollar was spent with gratitude. The new fishing vessels are just one of 10 projects AFIRM supported. The Alaska money has purchased various fishing supplies, storage tanks, air conditioners for a sorting plant, a forklift and truck for a market, a training simulator for a local high school, and assorted safety equipment. More than 1,000 fishermen, and even more families, have benefited. Ohama, who helped identify the projects, has seen many of the projects successfully funded and fishermen return to the sea. “I have (seen them come to fruition) and each of them is so wonderful to witness,” Ohama wrote in an email about her efforts in Japan. “The gratitude and the giving coming together. But AFIRM Chair Larry Cotter said that it is Ohama to whom they’re grateful for all her help in finding an effective way to distribute aid. “We raised close to $400,000 after the tsunami, and then the question is how’s it going to be spent in the best possible way?” Cotter said. “…When Linda came along, we knew just where to go.” AFIRM Secretary-Treasurer Mark Vinsel said the group was connected with Ohama after putting the word out that they were looking for assistance helping fishermen impacted by the tsunami. Ohama told the Alaskans about fishermen in Sendai who had everything they needed to get back on the water, except for lifejackets. The group provided $5,500 for the lifejackets, and the men were able to return to fishing right away. Then, Ohama worked with them to find others in need of assistance. The group prepared a form for the Japanese to fill out, seeking information on how much money was needed, who would benefit, and where the people applying were located. Ohama took the forms with her when she went to Japan in June. “She met with all these different fishing groups throughout the region,” Vinsel said. Ohama said she found the projects for AFIRM to support while traveling the coastline of Tohoku. “It is not difficult to meet the fishermen because most of the towns and harbors that were swept away were fishing and farming towns,” Ohama wrote. Ohama also translated the forms for AFIRM, Vinsel said. She has stayed in touch with the Alaskans through Skype and email while abroad. Ohama said her interest in helping the fishermen came from a variety of factors. She grew up in a small prairie community on family farm where everyone helped each other out, and her grandfather was a fisherman in British Columbia. Ohama is also anchored to coastal Japan through her maternal grandmother, who is from a fishing town there. She headed to Japan this summer as part of the “Canada-Tohoku-Japan Cloth Letters” project that started in Vancouver, B.C., after the tsunami. Now, she’s also working on a documentary about the Tohoku region. “Sometimes life just puts you in a position where two things are before you that could be maybe I am just a connector,” Ohama wrote in an email. “Others have also called me a ‘Watari Dori’, a bird of passage that bridges two places.” The Alaskan side of the connection Ohama helped create involved a wide swath of the fishing industry, Cotter and Vinsel said. Fishermen, processors, and entire industry came together on the fundraising effort. “The response was phenomenal,” Vinsel said. In the Bering Sea crab and groundfish fisheries, most vessels donated $5,000 to $10,000, with Unisea, owned by Nippon Suisan of Japan, matching those efforts. Other processors, including American Seafoods and Glacier Seafoods also matched fishermen’s efforts. Vinsel said the strong industry response was indicative of the fishermen’s mentality. They compete at sea, but will drop everything to help one another out when necessary, Vinsel said. AFIRM was founded in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina to support fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico. The group supplied fishermen with a lift to get boats back in the water near Plaquemines Parish, La., icemaking equipment for fishermen near Biloxi, La., and other aid. After relief efforts for the hurricane wound down, the group knew it might be needed again. “We didn’t close the organization down,” Cotter said. They opted to maintain a minimal bank account so work could ramp up when needed. “We do think it’s important for the Alaska fishing community to be prepared to help others,” Vinsel said. Vinsel said the thanks the fishermen have sent Alaskans are very powerful. A sign the lifejacket recipients held said something along the lines of, “We will succeed with feeling of thanks as power,” Vinsel said. “It’s very poignant that they feel such strong thanks.” Vinsel said they’re still hearing the results of AFIRM’s contributions in Japan. Most of the money has been sent to the selected groups, and reports of the fishermen returning to sea are rippling back to AFIRM. “They’ve received the help,” Vinsel said. One project is still pending. Cotter said AFIRM has designated $30,000 for rebuilding the Iwaki Fish Market. The group is waiting to for the Iwaki Fishermen’s Organization, Hisanohama Branch, to raise the rest of the funds for that project. Vinsel said the holidays are a good time to reflect on everything people are thankful for. “Linda Ohama’s at the top of my list,” he said. Vinsel said that the nonprofit spends virtually every dollar on assisting fishermen. Ohama enabled them to continue that practice without having to pay out-of-pocket for translations or help finding projects to support. She also saved them from having to give to a larger organization, he said. Cotter agreed. The help enabled the group to focus on small fishing communities that needed help, and provide a grassroots effort, he said. “It was perfect,” Cotter said.

North Pacific council to discuss bycatch, set 2013 harvests

The 2013 fisheries harvests and preliminary discussions of certain bycatch top the North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s December agenda. The council meets in Anchorage Dec. 5 to Dec. 12, and will also have another round of discussion on issues raised in October. The council is slated to identify alternatives for the Steller Sea Lion environmental impact statement analysis and hear more from the National Marine Fisheries Service, or NMFS, about the retooled observer program. NMFS is working on a court-mandated EIS regarding protection of Steller Sea Lions. The council will hear a report from NMFS on the scoping process, and provide direction on the range of alternatives for NMFS to consider. According to the current timeline, the council would review a draft of the EIS and identify a preliminary preferred alternative at its April meeting. Final action would follow in October, with Steller sea lion protection measures implemented in January 2015. NMFS published a final rule on its new observer program, which changes the fee structure and coverage for vessels receiving partial coverage. Vessels in the partial coverage program will be sorted into three pools — trip selection, vessel selection and zero coverage — depending on size and gear type. Generally, trip selected vessels are those longer than 57.5 feet overall, the vessel selected pool includes those between 40 and 57.5 feet, and the smallest vessels are in the zero coverage segment. Trip selected vessels would be selected for coverage on a trip-by-trip basis, while those in the vessel pool would be randomly selected to receive coverage all year long. The council asked NMFS for several changes to the program as it was presented in October, including making an accommodation for Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands cod trawl vessels to receive 100 percent coverage where necessary for the fleet’s in-season management, and shortening the length of coverage for the vessel pool to 60 days, rather than 90. Those changes would be part of the annual deployment plan, which is changed at NMFS discretion each year. The most recently published plan for 2013 came out before the October meeting, so any changes are not yet certain. Martin Loefflad, from NMFS, said the service would provide the council with a response to each of its recommendations before the meeting. The council will adopt catch specifications for Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea groundfish and pollock, and make recommendations for the charter halibut management. Halibut management for 2013 will depend on the amount available for harvest, which has not yet been set, but the charter management committee met in October and asked for analysis of some possibilities. For Area 2C, which includes mostly Southeastern Alaska waters, the committee asked for analysis of a reverse slot limit over a wider range of lower limits, and of an annual limit. For Area 3A, or mostly the central Gulf of Alaska, the committee talked about retaining the status quo of two fish of any size. The council will also review recommendations from the plan team regarding groundfish, and see stock assessments for those species. The council’s Plan Team has recommended a larger acceptable biological catch, or ABC, for Gulf of Alaska pollock. That would go from 116,444 metric tons in 2012 to 121,046 mt in 2013. The ABC is the highest allowable harvest figure, and the total allowable catch, or TAC, can be set at a lower number. Smaller ABCs are recommended for Pacific cod, shallow water flatfish and arrowtooth flounder. Under the recommendations, most rockfish would remain the same, although Northern and Dusky rockfish see a slight decline. The Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands recommendations are similar, with an increased ABC for pollock, and a decrease for Pacific cod. Sablefish and Atka mackerel would also see increases. The ABC for Pacific Ocean perch would decrease. Bycatch is also on the docket. The council agenda includes the initial review for Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands chum salmon bycatch, and the initial review of Gulf of Alaska Chinook bycatch in nonpelagic, or bottom, trawl fisheries. The council adopted a cap for pelagic, or midwater, trawl vessels targeting pollock in 2011 that took effect in the latter half of the 2012 season. Those initial reviews look at possible management measures to reduce prohibited species catch. The Bering Sea chum action would address bycatch of chums in the pollock fishery, while the Gulf of Alaska chinook action looks at all bottom trawl fisheries in the central and western Gulf. The Gulf of Alaska alternatives include retaining the status quo, setting a PSC cap at 5,000, 7,500, 10,000 or 12,500 chinooks, and retaining all salmon. The Bering Sea chum alternatives include retaining the status quo, setting a PSC cap, instituting iterations of a triggered closure with certain exemptions that would include changes to the Chum Salmon Savings Area boundaries. The council will also review an exempted fishing permit application to develop a salmon excluder device for the Central Gulf of Alaska pollock trawl fishery. According to a letter from NMFS Administrator James Balsiger, the excluder would be tested in that fishery during certain periods of 2013 and 2014 as a way to reduce chinook prohibited species catch, or PSC. Most likely, one or two trawl vessels would fish with the permit. The vessels participating in the test would likely catch up to 4,608 metric tons of pollock over the two-year period, and would need to be exempt from the PSC limit for halibut. The application also included a request to be exempt from chinook PSC limits, and the project would likely require a catch of up to 2,400 chinooks each year. They would not have an observer, but instead would need a sea-sampler. John Gauvin applied for the exempted fishing permit to develop and test the device. The Alaska Fisheries Science Center recommended approving the application, according to a letter from Alaska Region Science and Research Director Doug DeMaster. Also on the agenda is a discussion of subsistence halibut harvests, a Round Island transit corridor and a review of a vessel monitoring discussion paper.

Lawyer files motion for consolidated fishing trial

A lawyer is asking a judge to consolidate the trials of 22 Alaska Native fishermen charged with illegal fishing during a poor salmon run. Attorney James J. Davis Jr. says in a motion filed Monday in Bethel that consolidating the multiple separate cases into one would allow two specialists on Yup'ik Eskimo culture to act as pro bono experts for all the fishermen. Davis says a status hearing is scheduled for Friday. Three other fishermen tried separately last month in Bethel were found guilty of violating strict fishing restrictions last summer. The men were each fined $250. In another motion filed Monday, Davis says the U.S. Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act protects fishermen's "right to engage in the activities for which they have been criminally charged."  


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