Fisheries

Commentary: Money pouring in to defeat coastal management initiative

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

Editorial: Attacks on 'Outside' companies wrong, undemocratic

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

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

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

Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute announces new executive director

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

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

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

Coast Guard prepares for expanded Arctic role

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

Former Murkowski aide to be released from prison

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

Treaty obligation likely won't be met

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

State seeks input on how marine trades are faring

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

Board to consider emergency Kenai petitions

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

NOAA team continues debris survey

Government scientists have resumed their survey of Alaska's coastline for marine debris. Julie Speegle, a spokeswoman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, says the team set out from Yakutat for the second leg of the debris survey on July 16. She says the team surveyed the Yakutat region, from Cape Fairweather to Icy Cape, last week. She says the next leg is scheduled to begin next week in the Cordova area, and will include Kayak and Montague islands. Last month, a five-member team completed a 10-day trip beginning in Ketchikan and ending in Juneau. It was billed as the first NOAA survey in Alaska specifically for debris from last year's tsunami in Japan. NOAA typically does marine debris surveys every 5 to 10 years. The last was in 2008.

SeaLife Center takes in stranded walrus calf

The Alaska SeaLife Center is rehabilitating a male Pacific walrus calf that stranded near Barrow this past Saturday, July 21. The calf, estimated to be four to six weeks old, was found by local fisherman who spotted the calf in North Salt Lagoon. On July 17, a large group of walrus were sighted passing Barrow on floating ice and the calf is presumed to have been separated from this group. After a period of observation and approval from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, staff of the North Slope Borough’s Department of Wildlife Management facilitated the rescue. Two Center staff traveled to Barrow early Sunday, July 22, to evaluate the animal, already under the watchful eye of a local veterinarian. Air transportation from Barrow to Anchorage for the 200-pound animal was provided by Northern Air Cargo. In Anchorage, NAC also assisted in transferring the walrus to a specially-equipped truck for the 125 mile trip to Seward. The calf appears to be in good condition, however, Center veterinarians have identified and are addressing some health concerns while performing additional diagnostic testing to better understand his condition. The calf is suckling readily from a bottle, feeding every three hours around the clock, and consuming nearly 1,400 calories at each feed. He is actively seeking attention from care givers, and vocalizing when left alone. “Walrus are incredibly tactile, social animals, said Stranding Coordinator Tim Lebing. “Walrus calves typically spend about two years with their mothers, so we have to step in to provide that substitute care and companionship.” Walrus calves almost immediately habituate to human care and therefore are not candidates for release following rehabilitation. The Pacific walrus is a candidate for Endangered Species Act protection, mainly due to the threat that loss of sea ice could have on walrus population numbers. Pacific walrus use floating sea ice to give birth, nurse calves, avoid predators, and as a platform for feeding. The Alaska SeaLife Center is the only permanent marine rehabilitation center in Alaska, responding to stranded wildlife such as sea otters, harbor seals and walrus. The Stranding Program responds to walrus with the authorization of USFWS. The Center responded to four stranded walrus calves between 2003 and 2007, but this is the first walrus to be admitted in the last five years. Once a stranded marine mammal is admitted to the ASLC, it receives care from experienced and dedicated veterinary and animal care staff. “We have no federal or state funding to care for stranded walrus calves, and we rely on donations to keep this program going. We especially thank Shell Exploration and Production, ConocoPhillips Alaska and BP Alaska for their generous contributions to the Center in support of wildlife rescue,” said Tara Reimer Jones, president and CEO. The Alaska SeaLife Center operates a 24-hour hotline for the public to report stranded marine mammals or birds, and encourages people who have found a stranded or sick marine mammal to avoid touching or approaching the animal; instead, these individuals should call 1-888-774-SEAL (7325) The Alaska SeaLife Center is a non-profit research institution and visitor attraction which generates and shares scientific knowledge to promote understanding and stewardship of Alaska’s marine ecosystems. The Alaska SeaLife Center is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums. For additional information, visit www.alaskasealife.org.  

Board of Fisheries rejects setnetter appeals

The Alaska Board of Fisheries voted Thursday not to consider a half-dozen petitions from commercial setnetters aimed at allowing them to put their nets back in the water and participate in what is turning out to be a robust run of Kenai River red salmon. The move essentially shuts the door on the remainder of the season for setnetters. The majority of board members felt they had too little time to consider the petitions that were received late Wednesday afternoon, leaving no time to gather staff comment. Alaska Department of Fish and Game fishery managers closed the Kenai River to sport king fishing a week ago because of dismal returns this summer. The closure also included the setnet red salmon fishery because of the incidental catch of kings. About 400 permits were issued. The setnet fishery ends July 31. Robert Begich, Fish and Game's area management biologist, has said the Kenai king run looks to be the lowest on record going back to the 1980s. Gov. Sean Parnell announced last Friday that a team of top researchers and scientists is being formed to take a comprehensive look at why king salmon returns across the state are low this summer in what is a continuing downward trend. On the same day that the governor made his announcement, a group of nearly 200 people took to the streets of Kenai to protest the fishing closures aimed at protecting king salmon. "Some of the best minds are working on this," board member Vince Webster said during Thursday's emergency meeting. "To ask us to do something last minute for a couple of days into the season, to be an armchair quarterback, in my mind would be irresponsible to do that." Board members John Jensen and Sue Jeffrey voted in favor of considering the petitions. "I do understand the pain and injury going on," Jeffrey said. "Even though it is the last few days ... fishermen can make a season in those last few days." Setnetter Andy Hall of Chugiak was one of those offering an idea for opening the fishery. He said he didn't expect the board to go for his idea, which involved moving some setnetters to drift boats well off-shore, even if his petition had been allowed to be considered. Hall said instead of trying to get a return on his $10,000 investment to set up his fishing operation this summer, he and his crew were watching fish swim by. "Nobody asked me to make this sacrifice," he said. David Groggia, president of the Kenai River Professional Guide Association, said the sport fishery has had to make sacrifices, too. Some clients intent on fishing for kings canceled trips. Others that could be convinced to fish for reds cut their fishing trips short, he said. When a ban on bait was issued earlier this summer, a lot fewer kings were caught, Groggia said. "We have been restricted this whole year," he said.

Commentary: First oysters growing at Ketchikan mariculture operation

The OceansAlaska Marine Science Center has barely opened its doors and tiny oysters are already growing out at the new floating facility at George Inlet in Ketchikan. The 28-acre site was granted to the non-profit by the state and Ketchikan Gateway Borough in 2006. The Center houses the first home grown source of oyster “seed” for Alaska growers, and aims to be the go to place for mariculture research and training. There are 29 shellfish farms producing in Alaska so far in Southcentral and Southeast regions. The main crop is oysters, with sales valued at about a half million dollars last year. No shellfish farm applicants have ever come from Westward regions of Alaska, said Cynthia Pring-Ham, state mariculture coordinator. “I could sell all the oysters I could possibly produce and could double sales tomorrow with just a couple of phone calls, especially in New York. There is a lack of production throughout the country,” said Tom Henderson, OceansAlaska mariculture director, and a long time oyster farm near Kake, Henderson said the Center will begin working on geoduck mariculture projects and “then get into other things, among them seaweeds.” Seaweed is the second largest aquaculture industry in the world, second only to freshwater fish. Kelp is a multibillion dollar industry in Japan, and Henderson wants to work with the traditional, local black seaweed which he said tastes better than the Japanese nori, popular in sushi rolls Economists believe expanding mariculture just in Southeast Alaska could easily increase the industry’s revenues over time from the current $7 million to more than $100 million a year. Australia produces 80 million oysters a year worth $40 million; New Zealand’s government-funded mussel industry went from $15 million to over $100 million in 20 years, and scallop farming at Prince Rupert and Prince Edward Islands in Canada is a $60 million industry. See more at www.oceansalaska.org.   Catching small crabs Alaska’s most far-flung fishing fleet plans to catch lots of “small crab for a cause” when the golden king crab season gets underway next month. Golden kings are caught in deep waters along the 1,200 miles of the Aleutian Chain, a part of the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” and the westernmost region of the United States. Goldens are Alaska’s most stable king crab stock, with a harvest this season of 6.2 million pounds. The remoteness of their home turf, however, prevents managers from surveying the stocks as often as they’d like. To safeguard the fishery, the fleet of five to six boats voluntarily uses gear with larger mesh than required by law to make sure all small crabs can escape. And therein lies the problem. “By designing their gear to avoid juvenile crab during the commercial fishery, the information you get indicates there are no small crabs down there,” said Denby Lloyd, science advisor for the Aleutian King Crab Science Foundation, a harvester group. “To assess whether the population is in a productive cycle or not, you have to use a different method, such as the one in this project.” To help solve the riddle, the fleet will use 20 test pots made with small mesh to capture the juvenile crabs. Alaska Department of Fish and Game scientists will a collect the data and return them to the sea. “The fleet has a very stable fishery and they want to make sure it remains that way, as well as grow the harvest opportunity,” Lloyd said. “By using the commercial fleet directly it minimizes costs for the state and federal government and everyone benefits from the data.” Tracking golden king crab is tricky, no matter how it’s done. The crabs are down 1,800 feet or more and live amid steep underwater mountains. To prevent crab pots from tumbling down cliffs and getting lost, the fleet attaches them to longlines, “Rather than fishing one pot per buoy like other crab fisheries in the Bering Sea, the Aleutian fleet attaches 20-30 pots to a to a line that can be retrieved,” Lloyd said A $25,000 grant from the Bering Sea Fisheries Research Foundation paid for the test crab pots. The Aleutian Islands golden king crab fishery begins Aug. 15 and can run through February.   LAPP lapse IFQ holders will have a tougher time with any appeals issues and it will all be dealt with long distance. The laws that govern fishing limited access privilege programs, or LAPP, include an appeals process for fishermen who are eligible to receive shares of the fish. LAPPs are basically limited entry programs such as Individual Fishing Quotas (catch shares) for halibut and sablefish and Bering Sea crab. “It’s nothing new to Alaska. It’s been happening for over 30 years with the Alaska limited entry commission,” said Phil Smith, a retired limited access manager at NOAA Fisheries in Juneau. Among other things, Smith devised the appeals process for IFQ programs that began in Alaska in 1995. “That was a massive program with 8,000 applicants and built into the system was an administrative appeals process to make the determination if people were not eligible for any IFQ, or for as much as they wanted. There was a formal opportunity for people to appeal in the Juneau office at NMFS where they were treated fairly and got full due process. We handled hundreds of such appeals, some frivolous, some with merit,” Smith said. But the IFQ appeals process has changed. Two years ago the Alaska office was “centralized” and moved to federal headquarters in Maryland. At the same time, the new National Appeals Office devised a new list of regulations to govern the process. Smith called the new rules “punitive and non-user friendly” and said “it puts total control into the hands of a far away adjudicator.” Public comment on the appeals process ended June 9 and it may or may not make it to the law books. Smith said his advice is to pay attention. “I know the halibut charter catch share plan is coming down the pike... That is going to bring rise to certain entitlements and appeals — there always are with these things — and I would think that all of us in Alaska want our fishermen to be treated as fairly as possible.”

Editorial: King closures expose double standard on bycatch

A fisheries management nightmare is playing out across the state caused by weak king salmon returns. The social and economic harms have yet to be calculated, although we have no doubt they are immense. Sport and subsistence king fisheries have been shut down. The East Side setnetters on the Kenai and Kasilof rivers have been shut down as sockeye surge past the beaches. Commercial chum salmon runs in Western Alaska have been restricted and new fishing gear required — all to avoid killing any king salmon. Meanwhile, the Gulf of Alaska pollock fleet is about to hit the waters with an allocation of 14,527 king salmon as bycatch for the C and D seasons that begin Aug. 25 and Oct. 1. The Bering Sea pollock fleet, with until Oct. 31 to catch the rest of a 1.2 million metric ton quota, still has an allocation of 17,741 king salmon remaining as of July 14 with one-third of the harvest to go. To be clear: this is not meant to be an attack on the pollock industry, which is without question an important part of the Alaska economy. The Journal is not anti-pollock or anti-trawl fleet. What we are is pro-accountability, and in this time of extreme conservation measures nobody can escape their fair share of it. We find no fault in the fleet advocacy on behalf of its membership, which has entirely legitimate arguments. For instance, ocean conditions could naturally have a greater effect on productivity than interceptions, and it is true that the amount of salmon bycatch is indeed miniscule compared to the 1.2 million metric ton quota of pollock in 2012. However, consider the “bycatch” of king salmon taken by the East Side setnetters (which really isn’t bycatch because it can be commercially sold while pollock fleet takes cannot). In 2011, this group of setnetters caught more than 2 million sockeye compared to 8,356 king salmon, or a rate of 0.4 percent. Like the Bering Sea pollock fleet, that’s a pretty low rate, but they are still shut down because indications are not even the minimum escapement will be met for kings on the Kenai. King salmon conservation measures cost the setnetters about 500,000 sockeye from their historical split in 2011, or about $4.5 million in dockside value, and the 2012 closure to the East Side setnetters could wind up costing this group $20 million. The potential harm often cited by the pollock fleet in fighting against bycatch controls certainly stands in stark contrast to the very real economic devastation now being felt by salmon fishermen of all types around the state. While we don’t quarrel with the pollock fleet’s right to advance its interests, with its advocacy comes the need to either downplay or deny any impacts of bycatch on Alaska salmon runs. Again, this is their job, but their interests don’t always coincide with the public interest. This is where the federal regulators on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council are supposed to play their role. While drawn by design from industry stakeholders, their job is not to vote a constituency, but to use their knowledge of the fishery to make an informed decision. It is not an unreasonable observation that the trawl fleets for both pollock and groundfish wield major — and often decisive — clout at the council when it comes to management of salmon, halibut and tanner crab that are prohibited species catches for them. Nor is it unreasonable to note the glaring contradiction inherent in directed users being barred from even catching and releasing a single king salmon while a prohibited species user group catches them by the thousands. It may be true that the marine environment is a greater force than the pollock fleet in salmon abundance, but that only makes conservation of the kings that are out there more important. To argue that bycatch is not significant at a time of low productivity is to simultaneously ignore the disproportionate impact bycatch can have in such a period as well as the conservation burden now being borne by the direct users. The pollock fleet may argue that it isn’t practical or realistic to even consider shutting down their fishery as a conservation measure. A few months ago, the East Side setnetters would have probably said the same thing.

Team to tackle problem of disappearing king salmon

A team of top researchers and scientists is being formed to take a comprehensive look at why king salmon returns to Alaska’s rivers are dismal again this summer, Gov. Sean Parnell announced July 20. Parnell was joined by Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell at a news conference to talk about what the state intends to do about the problem of disappearing king salmon. Parnell said many Alaskans are suffering this summer because of poor runs. “The resource is so closely connected to our people, we cannot get it wrong,” Parnell said. The governor said he wants the team’s report and recommendations by the fall for bringing more king salmon back to the rivers to spawn. So few kings, also called chinook, have been showing up that several major rivers, including the Yukon and Kenai rivers, have been closed to king fishing. The closures include major rivers in western Alaska where commercial fishermen are sitting idle and people who rely on king salmon and its higher oil content for smoking, salting and freezing for winter are turning to other species of salmon for food. On the Kenai Peninsula south of Anchorage, setnetters are being prevented from fishing and sport fishing guides are seeing some clients cancel trips because there is no opportunity to catch an Alaska king. Gone also is the money from summer visitors that ripples through the local economy. “It is huge,” said Kenai Mayor Pat Porter, of the impact of the king closures. “This is their livelihood.” Nearly 200 commercial set-net fishermen protested river closures Friday afternoon in Kenai, many questioning the state’s management of Cook Inlet fisheries. The task of the team will be three-fold: evaluate king salmon stocks, find possible reasons for the decline and make recommendations to bring the kings back in numbers that will sustain future runs. Campbell said more resources and money will be put toward finding answers. But, she said, Alaskans should not expect king salmon stocks to suddenly rebound because what the state is experiencing is a prolonged downturn. The commissioner said the state already has put several million dollars in additional money toward chinook research and expects additional money to be allocated. Campbell said the state is working closely with the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife and the National Marine Fisheries Service on the chinook problem and that collaboration will continue. It is important that the state work with federal agencies to fill in any research gaps, she said, particularly as to what might be occurring in the marine environment where king salmon spend several years before returning to rivers to spawn. Some experts have suggested the decline in kings has to do with changes in the ocean environment, where the federal government has jurisdiction. “We want to understand what is happening with our fish,” Campbell said.

Alaskans wonder where the king salmon have gone

Alaskans again this summer are wondering: Where are the king salmon? Some of Alaska's largest and best rivers are closed to king fishing because state and federal fisheries managers have determined that the largest of the salmon species, also called Chinook, aren't showing up in enough numbers to ensure sustainable future runs. In western Alaska, people living in dozens of villages along the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers are turning to less desirable salmon species — fish with lower oil and fat content — to fill their freezers for winter in what one official described as a summer of "food insecurity." "It is pretty scary," said Timothy Andrew, director of natural resources with the Association of Village Council Presidents in Bethel. "Chinook salmon is probably the biggest species that people depend on for drying, salting and putting away in the freezer to feed the family throughout the winter." Fishery managers predict that this year's Yukon River king salmon run will be worse than last year, and that was the worst showing for Chinook in 30 years. Commercial fishermen on the Yukon and Kuskokwim are turning to less desirable but more plentiful species of salmon that sell for under $1 a pound. King salmon sells for more than $5 a pound. With gas costing $6.70 a gallon in Bethel, many fishing boats are sitting idle, he said. People living in the region's 56 villages are devastated, Andrew said. "It is an incredibly stressful time," he said. In mid-July, the Kenai River — considered by many to be Alaska's premier river for salmon fishing — is normally crowded and chaotic with fishing guides steering their boats to give their clients the best opportunity to catch a trophy king. But a ban on king fishing on the Kenai and Kasilof rivers went into effect Thursday. Robert Begich, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game's area management biologist, said the Kenai king run looks to be the lowest on record going back to the 1980s. While the continued downward trend in kings isn't clear, Begich suspects a combination of factors, with researchers looking more closely at changes in the ocean environment. King salmon usually spend several years in the ocean before returning to rivers to spawn. Ray Beamesderfer, a consultant with Cramer Fish Sciences in Gresham, Ore., also suspects changes in the marine environment. He thought he and his family would be fishing for king salmon on the Kenai River on Thursday. Instead, they were casting for rainbow trout or smaller sockeye salmon. Beamesderfer said in the late 1970s, there was a change in ocean currents that favored Alaska salmon but contributed to poor salmon runs in the Pacific Northwest. That situation appears to be reversing, with a change in ocean currents, he said. "We have seen some better runs in recent years," Beamesderfer said. But he said the persistent downturn in king salmon can't be fully explained by a change in ocean currents, especially when other salmon species in Alaska are thriving. "It doesn't seem to be that simple," Beamesderfer said. Jeff Regnert, director of the commercial fisheries division for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, also said something different in the marine environment likely holds the answer to the downturn in kings. "That is probably where we will see the change," he said.

Late-run kings closed for first time ever on Kenai River

For the first time ever the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has closed the Kenai River to king salmon fishing during the late run due to continued low counts of king salmon. Sport fishermen, as well as commercial setnetters and driftnetters, were restricted in and around the Kenai River in an attempt by the department to meet the minimum in-season management objective believed to be necessary for an adequate escapement of king salmon. “It could be the lowest run we’ve ever had,” said Robert Begich area management biologist in the sport fishing division of Fish and Game. “This is the action we’re taking to put as many kings in the river needed for seasonal goals.” The hope, Begich said, was to ensure there would be kings in the river in future years despite indications of dismal numbers this year. With about 40 percent of the run completed by July 17, none of the indices the department uses to measure run strength show that the king salmon run will meet minimum in-season management objectives in early August. The sport fishing division’s sonar measured the passage of 253 kings Sunday, bring the total number of late run kings to 4,033. The current in-season projections the department released show a maximum of 15,800 kings, which automatically triggers the closure of king salmon sport fisheries in the Kenai River according to the department’s late-run king salmon management plan. A series of emergency orders released July 17 closed or restricted sport and commercial fishing in several areas. • Commercial setnetting in the Kenai, Kasilof and East Forelands section of the upper subdistrict will be closed until further notice while driftnetting within one mile of the Kenai Peninsula shoreline north of the Kenai River and one and a half miles from the shoreline south of the Kenai river is also prohibited. • The Kenai River drainage will be closed for king fishing beginning July 19 through July 31 from the river mouth upstream to the outlet of Skilak Lake and in the Moose River from its confluence with the Kenai upstream to the northernmost edge of the Sterling Highway bridge. • The Kasilof River is closed to sport fishing for king salmon beginning July 19 and running through the end of the fishing season. • Sport fishing for king salmon is also prohibited in the salt waters of the Cook Inlet north of Bluff Point. Begich said the low number of king salmon passage numbers from July 15 weren’t available until July 16, so the sport fishery couldn’t be restricted before July 17, and a buffer of a few days is needed to inform everyone who participates in the fishery of the changes. The commercial fisheries can be restricted in a shorter period of time because it is a smaller group of people so its easier to inform them of a closure or an opening, Begich said. “We can’t turn the fish on and off with 20,000 people participating,” he said. “Word won’t get out for everybody and it wouldn’t be an effective action to make sure no one was doing it anymore.” The lag time between when the division gets its DIDSON data and when it is actually measured is further complicated by the large number of sockeye passing the sonar station, Begich said. “It’s actually taking them longer now because they measure the fish and there’s a lot more fish going through the ensonified zone,” he said. “We won’t get first blush at data from yesterday until tomorrow.” Begich said the department wanted to wait until the late run was closer to its normal midpoint, which fell on July 18 this year, before issuing the unprecedented closure. “We can’t afford to wait any longer given what we’re looking at,” he said. Some of the data from the indices the department uses manage the run in-season comes in daily but other indices, like some coming from the East Side setnet fishery, isn’t useful as the fishery had only been fished for 25 hours before July 16. The Kenai section of the upper subdistrict has fished one day of their regular fishing period, July 16, while the Kasilof setnetters have fished three. Brent Johnson, president of the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association and a Kasilof section setnetter, said his family expected the closure but it was still a blow in a season that is already horrible. “This is my 47th year of setnetting and I’ve had a lot of good ones and a few bad ones but this is by far the worst one I’ve ever had,” Johnson said. He said his family runs 33 setnets near Ninilchik at Coria Creek and he had gone into the season “a little bit optimistically.” “They predicted a real strong run of sockeye and a better-than-last-year run of kings,” he said. “In this particular case I actually hope that they will open us again; what it will take would be a number of king salmon getting into the river. I hope that happens.” Johnson said estimated that he’d made about $12,000 for the year despite fishing more nets than he had in the past. While he is faced with being unable to get a crew to return and work his nets, he said he was supportive actions based on king preservation. “Let’s do something with the kings, we’re looking at four years in a row,” he said. “Let’s not lower the escapement goal, let’s do something to see if we can’t get the kings back.”   Rashah McChesney can be reached at [email protected]

Late run kings closed for first time ever on Kenai River

For the first time ever the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has closed the Kenai River to king salmon fishing during the late run due to continued low counts of king salmon. Sport fishermen, as well as commercial setnetters and driftnetters, were restricted in and around the Kenai River in an attempt by the department to meet the minimum in-season management objective believed to be necessary for an adequate escapement of king salmon. “It could be the lowest run we’ve ever had,” said Robert Begich area management biologist in the sport fishing division of Fish and Game. “This is the action we’re taking to put as many kings in the river needed for seasonal goals.” The hope, Begich said, was to ensure there would be kings in the river in future years despite indications of dismal numbers this year. With about 40 percent of the run completed by July 17, none of the indices the department uses to measure run strength show that the king salmon run will meet minimum in-season management objectives in early August. The sport fishing division’s sonar measured the passage of 253 kings Sunday, bring the total number of late run kings to 4,033. The current in-season projections the department released show a maximum of 15,800 kings, which automatically triggers the closure of king salmon sport fisheries in the Kenai River according to the department’s late-run king salmon management plan. A series of emergency orders released July 17 closed or restricted sport and commercial fishing in several areas. • Commercial setnetting in the Kenai, Kasilof and East Forelands section of the upper subdistrict will be closed until further notice while driftnetting within one mile of the Kenai Peninsula shoreline north of the Kenai River and one and a half miles from the shoreline south of the Kenai river is also prohibited. • The Kenai River drainage will be closed for king fishing beginning July 19 through July 31 from the river mouth upstream to the outlet of Skilak Lake and in the Moose River from its confluence with the Kenai upstream to the northernmost edge of the Sterling Highway bridge. • The Kasilof River is closed to sport fishing for king salmon beginning July 19 and running through the end of the fishing season. • Sport fishing for king salmon is also prohibited in the salt waters of the Cook Inlet north of Bluff Point. Begich said the low number of king salmon passage numbers from July 15 weren’t available until July 16, so the sport fishery couldn’t be restricted before July 17, and a buffer of a few days is needed to inform everyone who participates in the fishery of the changes. The commercial fisheries can be restricted in a shorter period of time because it is a smaller group of people so its easier to inform them of a closure or an opening, Begich said. “We can’t turn the fish on and off with 20,000 people participating,” he said. “Word won’t get out for everybody and it wouldn’t be an effective action to make sure no one was doing it anymore.” The lag time between when the division gets its DIDSON data and when it is actually measured is further complicated by the large number of sockeye passing the sonar station, Begich said. “It’s actually taking them longer now because they measure the fish and there’s a lot more fish going through the ensonified zone,” he said. “We won’t get first blush at data from yesterday until tomorrow.” Begich said the department wanted to wait until the late run was closer to its normal midpoint, which fell on July 18 this year, before issuing the unprecedented closure. “We can’t afford to wait any longer given what we’re looking at,” he said. Some of the data from the indices the department uses manage the run in-season comes in daily but other indices, like some coming from the East Side setnet fishery, isn’t useful as the fishery had only been fished for 25 hours before July 16. The Kenai section of the upper subdistrict has fished one day of their regular fishing period, July 16, while the Kasilof setnetters have fished three. Brent Johnson, president of the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association and a Kasilof section setnetter, said his family expected the closure but it was still a blow in a season that is already horrible. “This is my 47th year of setnetting and I’ve had a lot of good ones and a few bad ones but this is by far the worst one I’ve ever had,” Johnson said. He said his family runs 33 setnets near Ninilchik at Coria Creek and he had gone into the season “a little bit optimistically.” “They predicted a real strong run of sockeye and a better-than-last-year run of kings,” he said. “In this particular case I actually hope that they will open us again; what it will take would be a number of king salmon getting into the river. I hope that happens.” Johnson said estimated that he’d made about $12,000 for the year despite fishing more nets than he had in the past. While he is faced with being unable to get a crew to return and work his nets, he said he was supportive actions based on king preservation. “Let’s do something with the kings, we’re looking at four years in a row,” he said. “Let’s not lower the escapement goal, let’s do something to see if we can’t get the kings back.”   Rashah McChesney can be reached at [email protected]

Commentary: Debris survey under way; salmon product smoothes skin

Marine debris trackers are taking to the air any day to get a better idea of where and what is washing ashore from last year’s devastating tsunami in Japan. Best “guesstimates” claim at least 1.5 million tons of debris are afloat on and under the current driven waters that routinely cover Alaska coastlines. The State has funded a $200,000 systematic aerial survey by Airborne Technologies Inc. of Virginia that will span waters and beaches from Cold Bay to Ketchikan to get a more complete view of the debris problem. “That should give a good picture of where the debris is concentrated and some idea of the makeup and quantities of it,” said Merrick Burden, executive director of the Marine Conservation Alliance. “That allows us to have the next conversation about what is it we are really talking about — is it a $1 million or a $40 million problem? Then we can start putting together a plan of attack. Right now we don’t have that level of information.” The MCA Foundation took the lead on debris tracking and radiation monitoring efforts in January when sightings began appearing a year earlier than expected. The group deployed experienced clean-up contractors over several months to multiple beaches at Sitka, Craig, Yakutat and Kodiak where debris was most likely to hit first. A report released last week said while heavy snow was a hampering factor in all regions, seven trips to Craig showed patterns of early debris; 12 trips to Sitka yielded 1,600 pounds of mostly Styrofoam debris, and 34 percent of the debris found in June was tsunami related. At Yakutat, in 10 trips, the crew hauled away 95 large Styrofoam blocks and 52 floats, along with 48 large black buoys; seven trips to Kodiak were foiled by bad weather. No radiation was detected at any of the Alaska sites. The amounts of Styrofoam are very worrisome, Burden said, because it breaks up into tiny particles that look like food and can be deadly when it accumulates in fish and birds. Much of what is coming ashore now are lightweight, wind driven objects, but many unknowns are riding below the surface. “What we do know is that it will be a different type of debris,” Burden said. “The next level will be more submerged and we don’t know what it will be, although it is likely to be docks and things of that nature like we have seen on the West coast. The third category should be almost entirely underwater and driven by currents. That will be something else entirely.” Meanwhile, questions remain over who will fund further debris monitoring and clean up efforts. “When it comes to the state and federal response, we see a bit of a road block,” Burden said. “There is an information gap that needs to be filled. Right now we have a lot of questions about the scope of the debris problem. With the aerial survey we can acquire enough information and data to put together a plan and that should get things moving.” The MCA Foundation plans to begin a “hot spot” clean up in Alaska by mid-September. Mariners can report debris sightings and see pictures of cleanup efforts at www.facebook.com/seaalliance. Find the marine debris report at www.marineconservationalliance.org.   Deadline sticks Fishermen and Alaska Native groups are jubilant at the Environmental Protection Agency’s refusal to extend the 60-day public comment period on its draft watershed assessment of the Bristol Bay region beyond July 23. The extension was requested by the Pebble Partnership and had the support of the Parnell administration. The EPA said in a draft assessment in May that the possible failure of a dam holding waste from a large scale mine near the headwaters of the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery could wipe out or degrade rivers and streams in the region for decades. Since then the agency has held hearings in six Bristol Bay communities, as well as in Anchorage and Seattle. Nearly 2,300 people attended the meetings and provided more than 450 oral testimonies. More than 90 percent of the people at the Bristol Bay region meetings supported the watershed assessment and the current timeline, according to Bristol Bay Native Corp. “We commend the EPA for recognizing that further delay would not be beneficial,” said Jason Metrokin, President and CEO of BBNC. “It was the right thing for EPA to stay with their original timeline. There is overwhelming support for the Watershed Assessment,” said state Rep. Bryce Edgmon, who represents the region in the Alaska Legislature. Senator Lisa Murkowski was not pleased. She said in a press release that the July 23 deadline “doesn’t allow for Alaskans to offer their comments because of the busy summer season” and that “it demonstrates, once again, that the agency does not understand Alaska.” To the contrary, Sen. Mark Begich said he believes the public has ample time to have their say. “Believe me, Alaskans have never had a problem giving their opinions and meeting a deadline,” Begich said in a phone interview. Opponents to the Pebble mine are urging the EPA to use its power under the Clean Water Act’s to protect Bristol Bay from future large-scale mining developments. Since 1972, when the Clean Water Act became law, the EPA has used this authority 13 times. The EPA will provide another opportunity for public comment during a peer review meeting for the draft watershed assessment in Anchorage on August 7. The 12-member peer review panel will accept comments on several “charge” questions relating to the science used in the assessment. For more information and to read the charge questions, visit https://federalregister.gov/a/2012-13431. Submit your comments through July 23 at www.epa.gov/region10/bristolbay   Salmon skin cream A chance discovery by farmed salmon hatchery workers has spawned a line of skin care products that keep skin softer and younger looking. “Aquapreneurs” in Norway became curious several years ago after it was noticed that hatchery workers who spent long hours handling salmon fry in cold seawater had softer, smoother hands. Researchers at Norway’s University of Science and Technology discovered the skin softening component came from the enzyme zonase, found in the hatching fluid of the salmon eggs. The enzyme’s task is to digest the protein structure of the tough egg shells without harming the tiny fish. The scientists hailed this dual ability as the secret behind the beneficial properties for human skin. Now, Norway-based Aqua Bio Technology, which develops marine based ingredients for the personal care industry, has launched the zonase infused product as Aquabeautine XL to make the name more user friendly, and it has signed with a major distributor in South Korea. The product also is available in Europe. Another personal care product using salmon hatching fluid is also set to be launched at the end of the year, according to ABT’s website. (See more at www.aquabiotechnology.com/)   Salmon jam! Check out three days of fish and music at Salmonstock, Aug. 3 to Aug. 5 in Ninilchik.

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - Fisheries