Former Alaska official pleads guilty in hunt case

ANCHORAGE (AP) — Alaska State Troopers say a former state wildlife official has pleaded guilty in a big game hunting case. Troopers say Corey Rossi pleaded guilty Friday to a consolidated count for falsifying a bear sealing certification and one count of unlawful acts by a big game guide. Rossi's plea was part of a plea deal. The case, involving a 2008 bear hunt, led to Rossi's resignation in January as head of the state Division of Wildlife Conservation. According to troopers, the plea agreement calls for the revocation of hunting privileges for one year and a one-year suspension of Rossi's big game license. The deal also calls for a $5,000 fine and informal probation for three years. Rossi's attorney, Bill Satterberg, says his client has accepted responsibility from the beginning.  

Panel: Reduced salmon fishing may not help orcas

SEATTLE (AP) — Reducing fishermen's catch of Chinook salmon may not increase the availability of prey for endangered Puget Sound orcas, a panel of U.S. and Canadian scientists have found. Their draft report released last week finds that while killer whales feed on Chinook salmon and their deaths are more likely to occur during years of low Chinook runs, the limited fish runs may not be causing the orca's decline, the Kitsap Sun reported. Another environmental factor could be affecting both the low runs and killer whale deaths NOAA's Fisheries Service and Canada's Fisheries and Oceans convened the group of seven scientists to figure out whether the orca population would do better if salmon fishing were reduced or eliminated. The study has important implications for the recovery plans for the killer whales that frequent the inland waters of Puget Sound and British Columbia, as well as salmon fisheries. The federal agency is taking comments on the draft report until June 15. A final report is expected in September. Chinook salmon stocks are currently harvested at a roughly 20 percent rate, so there's limited room to increase the salmon abundance by reducing fishing pressure, the draft report found. Reduced fishing also won't necessarily mean more Chinook salmon for the orcas, since other predators such as sea lions and harbor seals eat the fish and some of the fish would come nowhere near the orcas, the draft report found. The issue is complicated by many assumptions, said Ray Hillborn, University of Washington professor of fishery and aquatic resources who chaired the panel. At best, a reduction in fishing might slightly increase the orca population's rate of growth, he told the Kitsap Sun. Over the past four decades, the southern resident population has been growing an average of 1 percent per year, far short of the 2.3 percent listed as a recovery goal for the orcas. Based on the most recent analysis, Hillborn said, the rate might be bumped up to 1.5 percent, or it might not be improved at all. "The decision makers will have to make decisions considering the effects of the uncertainty," Hillborn said. "Some will say we should take the cautious approach and close all fisheries, and others will say the differences are too small to worry about." Food is one factor hindering the orcas' recovery. Other factors include toxic chemicals and human disturbances, such as noise and boats. "A lot of people originally concluded that orcas are in bad shape because Puget Sound Chinook are in bad shape," said Pat Pattillo, with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. "We have discovered that maybe the orcas are not doing so badly (with an annual growth rate of 1 percent) and that they are not even eating Puget Sound Chinook." Experts must consider the effects of fishing on killer whales, but the vast majority of Chinook eaten by the orcas in summer are those bound for the Fraser River in Canada, where the overall Chinook runs are quite healthy, he said. He added that his agency's strategy has been to recover Chinook stocks wherever possible — both in Puget Sound and along the West Coast, where the killer whales go in winter. That strategy should also help the whales, he said. "I'm not sure that there is any evidence showing that additional protections for Chinook stocks ... would improve the situation for the southern residents," he added. Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research on San Juan Island said it is clear that Chinook have declined from historical populations, so nobody can say the shortage of salmon has not affected the whales. "But the general feeling I'm getting from these fishery guys is that they are working as hard as they can," he told the newspaper. Balcomb agrees with the panel's preliminary recommendations to better determine where the orcas go in winter and what they are eating during those lean times.

Halibut bycatch cuts at June council meeting; snow crab harvest continues

It has taken a quarter of a century, but fishery managers are finally poised to take action to reduce the five million pounds of halibut taken as bycatch in Gulf of Alaska fisheries. Industry watchers are hoping that public comments will sway them to make the largest cuts under consideration. Currently, 2,300 metric tons of halibut bycatch, a prohibited species catch, or PSC, is allowed in the GOA groundfish fisheries. That is further broken down to 2,000 metric tons for the trawl sector and 300 metric tons for hook and line fisheries, primarily the cod fleet. Those are the two fisheries that have the highest amounts of halibut bycatch. At its June meeting in Kodiak, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council will vote to cut the Gulf PSC bycatch limits by 5, 10 or 15 percent. “These are fairly small cuts at this juncture but it’s a first step to continually reducing halibut bycatch,” said Theresa Peterson of Kodiak, who is a member of the Council’s Advisory Panel. “It has been 25 years since the bycatch limits were established and they have remained relatively unchanged since then. In this same time period the commercial halibut catch in the Gulf has been reduced 63 percent. There are a large number of people that depend on that resource and these cuts have had and will continue to have dramatic effects on our fisheries and businesses and community economies.” The International Pacific Halibut Commission, which manages the halibut fisheries, estimates that each pound of bycatch results in lost yield ranging from 0.9 pounds to 1.1 pounds, depending on the region. This means one pound of halibut caught as bycatch results in 1.5 pounds to 1.7 pounds of lost spawning biomass, according to the Alaska Marine Conservation Council. Because the IPHC manages the halibut fisheries based on the biomass of the halibut stock, bycatch has a direct impact on all halibut harvesters. Sport fishermen also are feeling the pinch. The annual bycatch total exceeds the combined harvest level for the sport halibut fisheries in Southeast and Southcentral Alaska, which together totaled more than 4.4 million pounds in 2010. “Many people in Alaska and around the nation are concerned with the condition of the halibut stocks and council members need to hear from people,” Peterson said. The AMCC has generated a sign on letter that provides an easy way for people to show their support for the 15 percent halibut bycatch reduction. It will be presented as a petition to the NPFMC when it meets in Kodiak in early June. Kodiak is the fishing community that will be most affected by the Council’s bycatch decision. “Halibut bycatch is first up on the agenda and it is critical that the voting Council members hear from people when they are in Kodiak,” Peterson said. “Every testimony matters and they really like to hear from community members.” Alaska vs. World Most fishing and seafood processing is done out of sight and it can be easy to lose track of what’s crossing the docks – and where Alaska fits in the global seafood picture. Data from 2010 by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute show that pollock makes up 44 percent of the landed tonnage, other groundfish at 22 percent, salmon at 17 percent, Pacific cod at 11 percent, shellfish and herring both at 2 percent and halibut and black cod produced one percent of Alaska’s total seafood tonnage. Salmon made up 30 percent of the total seafood value, followed by pollock at 25 percent, shellfish at 15 percent, halibut at 10 percent, cod at 9 percent, sablefish at 6 percent and herring was worth 2 percent of Alaska’s total seafood value. Broadening the picture: Alaska produces over half of all seafood landings in the US and 90 percent of the nation’s wild salmon. Globally, 12 percent of salmon comes from Alaska and 10 percent for crab. In all, Alaska produces just 2 percent of the world’s total seafood harvests. Speaking of world seafood harvests Thousands of tons of wild fish are caught each year to feed farmed fish. Spanish researchers at the University of Oviedo for the first time analyzed DNA fragments from fish-based feeds used in aquaria and salmon farms. The results showed that eight species high on the food chain are used, including anchovies, whiting, cod, herring and mackerel. Some of the feeds are made from byproducts produced from seafood processing, but much comes directly from fisheries. The researchers said using fish from commercial fisheries as feed does little to minimize the exploitation of natural fish populations. . They “urgently” suggested replacing wild fish in fish feeds with other proteins. Fish watch It has been a long winter for Bering Sea crabbers who since January have taken about 75 percent of their 88.9 million pound snow crab harvest. Crabbing also continues for blue kings at St Matthew Island, where there is a 2 million pound quota this year. There is little to no jig effort for cod around the Aleutian Islands, but the fishery will remain open until the 5.5 million pound quota is caught or till June 9, whichever comes first. In the Gulf, jigging for cod is going strong, and 117 boats have caught nearly half of their 7.8 million pound allocation. Kodiak herring also is more popular this year with up to 35 boats on the grounds, double last season. Halibut fishing continues slow but steady. So far about 12 percent of the 24 million pound catch limit has been landed. Sablefish deliveries are at 16 percent of the 29 million pound quota. At Prince William Sound, trawlers are targeting side stripe shrimp with a quota of 145,000 pounds. All herring fisheries remain closed in PWS again this year. Shrimping opened in Southeast May 1 along with the spring troll season for kings. (The winter fishery closed April 27.) A lingcod fishery opens May 16 with a regional harvest of more than 330,000 pounds. Southeast Divers are finally back in the water after almost a two-month hold, due to high PSP levels in geoduck clams. Just more than 100,000 pounds of clams remain for harvest in two regions. The first salmon openers for 2012 are kicking kick off at the Stikine and Taku rivers in the Panhandle on May 7, with Copper River following in mid May. And once again, there will be no commercial fishery this summer for Yukon River kings.

Exports have record year with seafood, weak dollar

Led by seafood, Alaskan exports enjoyed another record year in 2011 with a value of more than $5.2 billion, a $1 billion increase from 2010.The previous record for Alaska exports was set in 2010 at $4.2 billion, just greater than $4 billion in exports in 2006 and 2007, and last year’s numbers were a 57 percent increase versus $3.3 billion in exports in 2009.Seafood topped the growth with a 35 percent increase in value during 2011 compared to 2010, and accounted for nearly half the state exports at $2.5 billion. All data are from the U.S. Census Bureau.China became the No. 1 destination for Alaska seafood exports, displacing traditional top market Japan for the first time. Seafood exports to China, supplying a growing middle class as well as processing operations that re-export Alaskan seafood to Europe, the U.S. and elsewhere, rose to $836 million compared to $589 million to Japan.Total Alaska exports to China have nearly tripled since 2009, rising from $586 million to $1.44 billion in 2011. Exports have steadily risen in value to South Korea as well, growing from $458 million in 2009 to $644 million in 2011.“Alaska’s sustainable seafood is reaching a wider variety of destinations in a wider array of high quality product forms, and this directly benefits Alaska’s communities that share in production,” said United Fishermen of Alaska President Arni Thomson.Energy exports declined by 7.3 percent to $387 million after ConocoPhillips shut down its liquefied natural gas export facility at Nikiski last November. The plant will resume operations this year after securing new contracts and leasing an LNG tanker.LNG exports declined from $366 million in 2010 to $210 million in 2011. Energy, which includes LNG and coal, remains the state’s third largest export behind seafood and mineral ores followed by precious metals, forest products and fish meal.Most of Alaska’s exports — seafood, mineral ores, forest products and precious metals — grew more in value than they did in volume. The weakened dollar against the Japanese yen, the ballooning price of gold and new mineral export operations played a major role in the increase in value for Alaskan exports.From the middle of 2010 to the end of 2011, the U.S. dollar declined in value by 25 percent against the yen, giving a tremendous boost to the buying power of Japanese markets who covet Alaska salmon, crab, pollock and herring roes (eggs) and sablefish. The total Alaska salmon harvest (not all exported), was tabbed at $603 million for 2011 to rank as the third-highest ever and is expected to climb to second all-time after final price adjustments are reported. The Alaska snow crab harvest increased in 2011 versus 2010, to about 54 million pounds, but the high-dollar king crab harvest was cut in half from 14.8 million pounds to 7.8 million pounds. Nevertheless, the value of crab exports increased by 56 percent, from $73 million in 2010 to $113 million in 2011.The value of frozen fish fillets nearly doubled in 2011, to $519 million, compared to $280 million in 2010. The Bering Sea pollock quota was raised by about 50 percent in 2011, and the value of fish roe (one of three primary pollock products among surimi and fillets) increased by 77 percent to $269 million.Gold prices skyrocketed to more than $1,900 per ounce in 2011, contributing to large increases in the value of exports of gold bars to Switzerland — Alaska’s No. 6 export destination — and buoyed by the first full year of production at Kensington mine north of Juneau.Gold exports jumped from $213 million in 2010 to $265 million in 2011, with $250.9 million going to Switzerland. Exports of gold concentrates, mostly from Kensington, increased from $20 million in 2010 to $142 million in 2011.The Port of Skagway, a project led by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, or AIDEA, exported $199 million worth of copper ore concentrates from the Minto mine in Canada compared to $37 million in 2010. “The strong international work by industry and by state agencies, like the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute and Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, are reaping benefits for Alaskans across the state,” Gov. Sean Parnell said in a statement.Mineral ore exports from the Red Dog mine in Northwest Alaska accounted for $1.4 billion of the state’s $1.8 billion in such exports. Zinc ores and concentrates increased by nearly 12 percent to $981 million in 2011, and lead ores and concentrates increased by 8.7 percent to $437 million. The value of zinc exports from Red Dog, one of the largest such mines in the world, have doubled since 2008 and the value of lead exports have nearly tripled in the same period.The value of forest products increased slightly by 1.9 percent to $119 million, the highest value in seven years bound mainly for China, Japan, South Korea, Canada and Taiwan.The top 10 markets overall were as follows (percent change):• China, $1.44 billion (56.2 percent)• Japan, $1.08 billion (-10.9 percent)• South Korea, $644 million (35 percent)• Canada, $583.9 million (49.6 percent)• Germany, $261.1 million (49.7 percent)• Switzerland, $252.8 million (20 percent)• Spain, $205.6 million (25.8 percent)• Netherlands, $172.8 million (50.3 percent)• Australia, $96.1 million (46.7 percent)• Mexico, $78.9 million (488.5 percent)Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

FDA: Gulf seafood safe despite oil spill concerns

WASHINGTON (AP) — Photos of fish with sores may raise concern about long-term environmental effects of the massive BP oil spill — but federal health officials say the Gulf seafood that's on the market is safe to eat. After all, diseased fish aren't allowed to be sold, said Dr. Robert W. Dickey, who heads the Food and Drug Administration's Gulf Coast Seafood Laboratory. "It's important to emphasize that we're talking about a low percentage of fish," Dickey stressed. "It doesn't represent a seafood safety hazard." Two years after the oil spill, scientists cite lesions and other deformities in some Gulf fish as a sign of lingering environmental damage. They can't say for sure what's causing the fish ailments or if there really are more sick fish today than in the past. As marine biologists study the threats to the fish, here are some questions and answers about the safety of seafood: Q: What keeps sick fish off the market? A: Every wholesaler and seafood processor must follow longstanding FDA rules on what constitutes a safe and usable catch. Fish with lesions or signs of parasites or other disease aren't allowed, Dickey said. Q: What about oil contamination that's not visible? A: Federal and state laboratories tested more than 10,000 fish, shrimp and other animals for traces of certain chemicals in oil to be sure they were far below levels that could make anyone sick before commercial fishing ever was allowed to resume. Gulf Coast states are continuing that testing today as a precaution. Some species clear oil contaminants from their bodies more rapidly than others, the reason that fishing resumed before the oyster harvest. The FDA says that someone could eat 9 pounds of fish or 5 pounds of oyster meat a day for five years and still not reach the levels of concern for a key set of chemicals. Q: But what about the oil compounds that scientists have reported finding in the bile of some fish? A: Bile shows what a fish recently ate, but the fish's digestive system goes on to process and eliminate contaminants so they don't build up in edible tissue, Dickey said. Q: Are there other reasons to pay attention to seafood safety? A: Definitely. A California company recently recalled some yellowfin tuna used to make sushi because it was linked to an outbreak of salmonella food poisoning. And every year, health officials warn people with certain health conditions to avoid eating raw oysters — they may be contaminated with the Vibrio vulnificus bacteria that typically is found in warm coastal waters between April and October.  

Angoon residents petition for Southeast salmon closures

The U.S. secretaries of Interior and Agriculture are considering a petition from the Angoon village corporation to exert federal jurisdiction over state waters in Southeast to protect subsistence harvests of sockeye salmon. Following an unprecedented joint meeting of the Federal Subsistence Board and its Southeast Regional Advisory Council March 21 to March 23 in Juneau, the board forwarded its sealed recommendation to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. The decision could come within weeks — possibly before the start of the season — on the extraterritorial jurisdiction petition filed in May 2010 by Kootznoowoo Inc. The petition includes a number of potential remedies for the secretaries to consider, including: closing state fishing districts in Chatham, Icy and Peril straits from June until mid-August; reducing the fishing area or shutting down the Hidden Falls Hatchery just southwest of Angoon across Chatham Strait on Baranof Island; and ending state enforcement of subsistence bag limits within the Admiralty Wilderness Monument Area “until the state is in compliance with federal law” for ensuring subsistence priority is met. The closures are intended to allow enough salmon escapement into several streams and lakes both on Admiralty Island and across Chatham Strait from Angoon, where subsistence harvests traditionally take place, as well as to provide up to 250 sockeye per household. The exercise of extraterritorial jurisdiction is allowed under the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, which sets out the priority for subsistence use on federal lands. Under ANILCA, the secretaries of Interior and Agriculture have authority to regulate activities not occurring on federal lands in order to protect the subsistence priority, including to “restrict or eliminate” fishing in state marine waters defined as seaward of the mean high tide line. Commercial users, particularly seiners, in Southeast are nervous about the petition because of its potential effects on fishing areas that produced a harvest of more than 25.3 million salmon in 2011, mostly pinks. The combined ex-vessel value of the 2011 purse seine harvest in Chatham Strait (District 12) and Icy Strait (District 14), was about $43.3 million based on Alaska Department of Fish and Game reports. The total northern Southeast management area produced a harvest of some 45.6 million pinks, an all-time record, in 2011. The pink salmon harvest was about four times the 10-year average, but in the mixed stock fishery there was also a near-record amount of sockeye taken (212,057). The board announced before the meeting that its recommendation to Vilsack and Salazar would not be made public, only adding to the suspense of what action may come. The Southeast Regional Advisory Council, or RAC, did make a public recommendation to the full Federal Subsistence Board to defer action on the petition for three years to allow the state, board and local residents and organizations to achieve a series of milestones and management actions to address the Kootznoowoo concerns. Regarding the three questions it was asked to address by the board, the RAC determined Angoon is a subsistence community under ANILCA, that it is “more likely than not,” that commercial salmon fishing is reducing sockeye salmon returning to federal lands and that the subsistence priority for Angoon residents is not being met. However, the RAC recommended to the board that a local solution should be developed, and laid out a series of actions that should be taken by the state Department of Fish and Game to provide more salmon for subsistence harvest. Those actions include: establishing regulatory closures for certain terminal areas important to subsistence harvest, developing proposals for the Board of Fisheries and escapement goals for the affected streams and lakes, and performing genetic stock identification studies to determine how much of the sockeye intercepted by salmon seiners is bound for Angoon subsistence areas. In a staff report provided to the board, the lack of genetic identification of sockeye stocks prevented a conclusive finding that the salmon purse seine fisheries are impacting subsistence use. The staff report did note, though, that sockeye escapements hit record numbers in 2008 and 2010 when the seine fishery was limited or closed because of poor pink salmon returns. In its presentation to the Federal Subsistence Board, the state of Alaska reported that it has taken steps to prioritize subsistence harvests for Angoon, including limiting commercial openings until after the majority of subsistence harvest has occurred, and using its emergency order authority to close four miles of waters at Basket Bay northwest of Angoon across Chatham Strait and the nine miles from Parker Point south to Angoon at Mitchell Bay. By regulation, the first seine opening may not occur until the third Sunday in June. The only open area then is a one-mile stretch of beach at Point Augusta where Icy Strait meets Chatham Strait, which serves as an index fishery to measure run strength. To protect early runs during June and July, ADFG monitors for widespread distribution of fish stocks throughout the inside waters, and doesn’t ramp up aggressive fishing effort until late July or early August when the pinks are running heavy. Subsistence surveys show that 80 percent or more of the harvest has typically been taken by mid-July. In 2011, the department’s conservative approach in July led to record pink salmon escapement numbers in addition to the record harvest taken by seiners. The Kootznoowoo petition is just the third petition seeking federal jurisdiction over state waters to reach the cabinet secretaries. The two prior petitions — one filed in 2004 regarding the Area M fishery at the end of the Alaska Peninsula and another in 2008 for the herring sac roe fishery — were both denied for not meeting the threshold for exerting extraterritorial jurisdiction, or ETJ. Angoon residents have been working to restrict the purse seine fishery in northern Southeast since at least 2001 when the sockeye return to Kanalku Lake crashed. Kanalku Bay and Lake is the closest subsistence area to Angoon, and just 229 sockeye were estimated to have reached the Kanalku spawning grounds in 2001. The following year, ADFG asked Angoon residents to voluntary close subsistence fishing at Kanalku, and for the next four seasons Angoon residents shifted their efforts to bays and lakes across Chatham Strait on Baranof and Chichagof Island. In the meantime, Kootznoowoo submitted proposals to the Board of Fisheries during the 2006 and 2009 cycles requesting changes in the purse seine management plan to protect sockeye for subsistence harvest. In the 2009 cycle, a proposal developed by the subsistence division of ADFG recommended creating a local area management plan for Angoon, but was denied by the Board of Fisheries. “The communities led the effort to rebuild it (Kanalku salmon run), and at the same time the state has allowed commercial effort to increase and encroach,” said Peter Naoroz, president of Kootznoowoo Inc. “People have chosen to focus on saying we’re absolutely looking to close the Falls (hatchery) and these seining areas. The more modest proposals we put in were rejected by the Board of Fish.” Things came to a head in 2009, when State Sen. Albert Kookesh and three others were arrested and charged with exceeding their bag limits for 15 sockeye while fishing a beach seine operation at Kanalku Bay. Four months after Kootznoowoo filed its original extraterritorial jurisdiction petition, a Superior Court judge in Sitka dismissed the charges against Kookesh and others in September 2010, finding that the state did not follow the Administrative Procedures Act when it established the subsistence bag limits. Naoroz said that one way or another, the state has recognized its responsibility and made public commitments to address the subsistence priority for Angoon. “This is an opportunity to work with state and federal managers whether the petition is voted up or down,” he said. “That’s going to happen no matter what.”   Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

Farmed fish flood, exchange rate shifts will impact salmon markets

A resurgence of farmed fish and shifting world currencies could shake up salmon markets this year. “There are two trends going into the current salmon season that we haven’t seen for several years,” said Gunnar Knapp, a fisheries economist at the University of Alaska at Anchorage. “Exchange rates look to be weaker, not stronger, and perhaps more importantly, farmed salmon prices, rather than rising or holding steady, have fallen significantly. So we will be selling into a market where there is a lot more competing product available at a lot cheaper price.” There has been a huge rebound in world farmed salmon production over the past year — notably, by Chilean producers who have recovered from a killer salmon virus that devastated their industry four years ago. Chile pegs farmed salmon and trout production this year at 700,000 tons, or 1.5 billion pounds (round weight), just slightly less than Alaska’s total salmon poundage last year.  “I absolutely think what is happening in farmed salmon production and markets is the critical thing for the Alaska salmon industry to be paying attention to going into this salmon season,” Knapp said.  Norway, the world’s other major farmed salmon producer, also is ramping up sales of whole salmon to the U.S., now that a 24 percent import tax imposed 20 years ago has expired, said Seafood Trend’s Ken Talley. Talley pointed to total farmed Atlantic salmon imports (all products) for the first month of the year, when volume hit 37.4 million pounds, an increase of 16.1 percent over January 2011. The strong increase in volume has had the expected result, he said. The value and average price of imported farmed salmon has taken a hefty tumble: the value is down 6.2 percent to $118.7 million; the average price of $3.17 per pound was a drop of 19.3 percent to from $3.93 per pound in January 2011. Knapp said over the past six months there have been significant declines in farmed salmon prices in the European, U.S., and Japanese markets. At the same time, the currency values of Alaska’s biggest salmon customers – Japan and Europe – have shifted. “The two currencies that matter a lot to Alaskans are the Japanese yen and the Euro,” Knapp said. For the past three years, the value of the yen has been significantly stronger compared to the dollar and that was one of the factors that helped boost salmon prices, he added. Over the winter that trend has reversed and the yen has weakened about 9 percent since January. Meanwhile, political and economic turmoil in Europe has pushed down the value of that currency by about 9 percent. Of course, many other things affect varying cost structures for Alaska’s processors and fishermen – how the catches come in, fuel and labor costs, and this year, the question of visas for foreign processing workers. “Nothing is ever certain about fish prices,” Knapp said, and global financial and economic situations can change markets quickly for better or worse. “That said, there is still strong demand for Alaska salmon, and we are widely diversified in our markets compared to where we used to be, so we’ve got a lot going for us. But I do think this year is somewhat different in that several other things that play into the pricing equation don’t look as favorable as they have for the past several years.” On a historical note he added: “It is important to remember that every decade in the Alaska salmon industry has brought very significant changes since statehood. In the 1970s, we had very low runs and limited entry, in the ‘80s the runs and markets rebounded and things looked extremely promising. Then the price crashed in the ‘90s, and 10 years ago things looked terrible. “Over the past decade we have seen a dramatic rebound and a much better sense of optimism. This decade is no different. All you can do is be aware that there is no guarantee of stability in this industry and pay attention.” Fish watch Spring fisheries are in full swing from the Bering Sea to the Panhandle. The Bering Sea snow crab fishery has about 30 million pounds remaining in its 89 million pound quota. Fishermen report the crab are large and of excellent quality. Crabbing also continues around St. Matthew Island for blue king crab with less than 500,000 pounds remaining in the 2 million-pound quota … Jigging for cod in the Gulf has really picked up and fishermen are bringing in boatloads of fish … In Prince William Sound, shrimp fisheries open April 15 with a quota of 145,000 pounds of side stripes for trawlers and more than 51,000 pounds for pot gear. The PWS sablefish season also opens April 15 with a 242,000 pound harvest level … Kodiak’s roe herring fishery begins April 15 … The Sitka Sound sac roe fishery is in full swing right now and nearing the 29,000-ton quota … Also in Southeast, geoduck clam divers have been out of the water for more than six weeks now due to high levels of paralytic shellfish poisoning …The Southeast winter chinook troll fishery is about over, but will reopen in July. The forecast for this summer calls for about 198,000 chinook salmon for trollers, a decrease of about 21,000 thousand fish … More than three weeks into the halibut fishery, only about 1.3 million pounds were landed, mostly in Homer. Sablefish landings were higher, topping 1.8 million pounds, mostly at Seward. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit for more information or contact [email protected]

Seafood industry touts its economic impacts to federal lawmakers

For the first time ever, seafood industry reps were invited to brief policy makers in Congress on jobs and economic opportunities. The group presented a panel discussion March 22 called “Seafood Jobs in America” to the Senate Oceans Caucus and an audience of 80 people. According to, it included representatives of 12 senators and even one from the White House, plus a large contingent from the environmental community. Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich both made opening remarks at the event. “Nobody else has really had this conversation,” said Bruce Schactler of Kodiak, director of the National Seafood Marketing Coalition, which represents 75 industry groups. “We need them to realize what a big deal it is. We’re talking $115 billion in sales, 1.2 million jobs, and actual income to people involved in the industry of more than $30 billion. This is a big deal and we want them to understand that.” Panel members included Jack Brooks, CEO of J.M. Clayton Co. of Maryland, a blue crab processor; Natalie Webster of the American Albacore Fishing Association in California; David Veal, director of American Shrimp Processors Association of Mississippi; Dane Somers, director of the Maine Lobster Council; and Phil Lansing, a seafood economist and Bristol Bay fisherman. The panel pointed out that America’s seafood industry has a 14 percent market share right now, with the remainder coming from seafood imports. “The reverse of that is we have an 86 percent market opportunity here,” Schactler said in a phone interview. The Marketing Coalition aims to obtain long term funding from, among other things, duties and tariffs collected on seafood imports. The money would be distributed among five locally run regional boards to help grow consumer demand for U.S. seafood. Coalition studies show that seafood industry jobs could increase by 20 percent the value in some areas and fisheries could double. Schactler has been traveling the nation for more than two years to promote the national group’s message. He said the lack of knowledge in Congress about the seafood industry is shocking.  “I had no idea it was as invisible as it actually is. They had no idea of the dependence of coastal America on local seafood,” he said. “They’ve never looked at a boat as a small business. The more aware they are and the more people who get involved, they will understand a little help goes a long way, and the return on investment will be unbelievable.”  Tax credit a business tool Innovation can be time consuming and costly, but it also can spark private sector investments, business expansion and opportunities. That’s the intent of a bill before the Alaska Legislature that gives a 20 percent income tax credit for research and development conducted by corporate taxpayers in Alaska.  “For seafood companies that could include any work on increased protein recovery and new uses for fish protein or other fish products,” said Wanetta Ayers, director of the Division of Economic Development at the state Commerce Department. “For example, one well known project is work that’s been done at Washington State University using microwave sterilization on fish proteins and that is moving into commercialization now. All of those kinds of activities where you take basic research and movie it into the marketplace would be eligible under both the federal and state credit.” Thirty-eight other states offer the tax credit, which includes biofuels and wind power projects, building or improving facilities or software technologies and applying for patents. Ayers said the credit can also help processors comply with new rules from the EPA. “We know that the seafood processing sector is likely going to face new regulations from the EPA and anything they can do to improve their processes and reduce effluent would be eligible,” she said. Along with the private sector, university research also is eligible for the tax credit. “We want to see those kinds of tools put in place that transfers basic research and moves it out into the marketplace,” Ayers said. “In all likelihood it would create a whole new sector of businesses that are helping serve that purpose — whether it’s providing scientific work or engineering — all kinds of activities that would be needed to support this R&D activity.” The tax credit bill, House Bill118, has a hearing by Senate Resources this week. Ayers hopes they vote to put the R&D tax credit in Alaska’s toolbox. “In order for us to be competitive and capture some of the research and development work already happening in other places that is benefitting the seafood sector,” she said. “We’d like to have that work done here in Alaska as well.” Fish farts Researchers are hoping to better understand fish distributions by recording the sounds they make. Many fish make identifiable sounds, and it offers potential for research and management. The most recent sound discovered – fish farts! According to ScienceShot, a service of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a team from the University of South Florida picked up the barely audible, cricket-like noises using a robot called a glider that sampled ocean sounds in Tampa Bay. The sounds lasted throughout the day and night, and were most likely groups of menhaden and herring releasing gas from their swim bladders. Of the 30,000 fish species in the world oceans, researchers believe fewer than 1,000 have been recorded. They know that the tiny cusk eel can sound like a jackhammer. And for years the mating calls of cod fish have wreaked havoc for the Norwegian navy, because the love sounds are similar to enemy submarines.  Scientists believe the underwater sound scape can tell a lot about what’s out there, and what they are doing. By mapping these sounds, the researchers hope to get a better picture of species distributions and likely spawning areas. Salmon jam! Salmonstock is being held Aug. 3 to Aug. 5 in Ninilchik. This year’s headliners are: Leftover Salmon, Robert Randolph and the Family Band, Ozomotli, Todd Snider, Clinton Fearon and Great American Taxi. The event is hosted by the Renewable Resources Coalition. (See more at

Rare whale swims up West Coast

An endangered western Pacific gray whale tracked from Russia to Alaska and along the West Coast to Baja Mexico is on the move again, apparently preparing to cross the Pacific Ocean again. The 9-year-old western gray whale dubbed Varvara, the Russian version for Barbara, had passed California, Oregon and Washington and was off northwest Vancouver Island, as of Saturday. She is moving about 100 miles per day. She is expected to turn left to head back to feeding grounds off Russia’s Sakhalin Island, said Bruce Mate, director of the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University. “That’s going to be real exciting soon,” he said by phone. “One of the big questions is, will she retrace the route she came on, or will she take a different route home?” If she backtracks, Mate said, she will reinforce scientists’ theory that gray whales learn migration routes from their mothers as they move from a calving area to the mother’s foraging area. “But if she takes some other route,” he said, “then we’re going to have to attribute even more navigational skill to her than we’ve done in the past.” Varvara and two other western gray whales have already changed what scientists thought they knew about the migration routes, with their deep-water crossing of the Pacific. “We used to think of gray whales as near-shore oriented animals in the eastern North Pacific because that’s how they moved along,” Mate said. “It may be that that’s largely an attribute of trying to stay as clear of killer whales as possible. That’s certainly a strategy that mothers with calves use that we see in places where killer whales are abundant — moving to shore and defending toward the deep water is easier for moms with calves.” Another question that remains unanswered is whether whales off Sakhalin Island are a distinct population from eastern Pacific gray whales or an extension of the range of the latter, Mate said. Western Pacific gray whales were hunted, and by the 1970s, were thought to be extinct until a population was spotted off Sakhalin. Just 130 animals remain but they face threats from shipping and offshore petroleum development. Whales have been killed by fishing nets set off Japan. In contrast, California gray whales, also called eastern Pacific gray whales, are a recovery success story. Their numbers were decimated by whalers but are now estimated at 18,000. They were taken off the endangered species list in 1994. Mate is part of an international research team that includes the National Marine Fisheries Service, the A.N. Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Kronotsky State Nature Biosphere Reserve and the Kamchatka Branch of the Pacific Institute of Geography. The team in September 2010 attached a satellite tag to a 13-year-old male whale named Flex to find out where western grays spend winters. The whale shocked researchers by swimming east across the Bering Sea through Alaska waters and then south off central Oregon, where the tag was lost. Researchers last September attached tags to six whales. Four quit working before whales left Sakhalin Island, but in late November, Varvara and another female, named Agent, crossed the Sea of Okhotsk. Traveling separately, they headed east across the Bering Sea toward Alaska, and both crossed the Aleutian Islands into the Gulf of Alaska in late December. Agent’s tag stopped transmitting during the first week of January when she was two-thirds of the way across the gulf. Varvara is the first western Pacific gray whale documented all the way to Baja Mexico, where most California gray whales breed and give birth. Scientists know Varvara did not give birth because she would have stayed in one place for four to eight weeks as the calf gained strength. She was, however, tracked to all three major breeding and calving areas for eastern gray whales, and she may have found a partner. The whale’s gestation period is about one year. “In good years, females are alternately calving and breeding,” Mate said. “Every-other-year-calving is a normal calving interval for healthy adult females when the environment is doing well for them.” The satellite tags average 123 days on a gray whale and the longest documented is more than 380 days. Varvara’s has been in place for 200 days. Mate hopes it will last for the crossing of the Pacific. The Sea of Okhotsk is frozen and scientists would like to see if Varvara heads for the Kamchatka Peninsula or for waters off Japan to approach Sakhalin Island from the south, Mate said. Either way, he marvels at the voyage. “Keep in mind that Varvara hasn’t fed since she basically left Russia,” Mate said. “So several months crossing to get over here, a month in the reproductive areas, several months back — she’ll be five months without food, so she’s having to do all this on whatever she put in her gas tank, so to speak, before she left Russia.”

Hatcheries boost salmon value; fishing fatalities decline

Homegrown salmon are Alaska’s largest crop – but don’t ever refer to it as farming. Where farmed fish are crammed into closed pens or cages until they’re ready for market, Alaska salmon begin their lives in one of 35 hatcheries and are released as fingerlings to the sea. When the fish return home, they make up a huge part of Alaska’s total salmon catch.  The state’s annual report on its fisheries enhancement programs show that last year, hatchery returns and harvests were down by more than half from 2010, when a record 77 million hatchery salmon were caught when returning to their home hatcheries. That added up to 49 percent of Alaska’s total salmon catch valued at $168 million, or 34 percent of the fishery’s dockside value.   By comparison, last year 33 million hatchery salmon, or 20 percent of the state harvest, were caught by commercial fishermen. The 2011 catch rang in at $109 million — 18 percent of the total dockside value.   Statewide the hatchery program is credited for contributing 53 percent of the chums, 26 percent of coho, 21 percent of pinks, 16 percent of chinooks and 6 percent of sockeye salmon to the 2011 commercial harvest. Prince William Sound is Alaska’s largest region for hatchery production, accounting for 73 percent of the Sound’s salmon catch last summer. The breakdown of hatchery contributions was   84 percent chums, 75 percent pinks, and 50 percent of both sockeye and coho salmon. Combined, the salmon were valued at $59 million, 57 percent of the value of the PWS fishery. Southeast ranks second for hatchery production, which accounted for 10 percent of the Panhandle’s salmon catch: 75 percent chums, 29 percent coho, 22 percent Chinook, 13 percent sockeye and 1 percent of the pinks. The Southeast hatchery catch was valued at $43 million, 21 percent of the commercial fishery’s value.  Kodiak’s hatcheries accounted for 7 percent of the region’s total salmon catch: 37 percent of the chums, 34 percent of cohos, 21 percent of the sockeye and 4 percent of the pinks. Hatchery fish contributed $6 million to the Kodiak fishery, 14 percent of the total value.  At Cook Inlet, 2 percent of the total sockeye catch came from hatcheries, valued at just under $1 million, or 2 percent of the dockside value. In 2011, hatchery operators collected nearly 2 billion eggs and released more than 1.5 billion juvenile fish. This year more than 54 million hatchery produced salmon are projected to return to Alaska. Alaska spends $20 million each year on fish feed for its 35 salmon hatcheries — feed made primarily from anchovies from South America. At the same time, the tons of fish feed produced by Alaska seafood companies are sold to aquaculture operations in Asia. Wanted: Fishing boats for research The call is out for commercial longline vessels to help with annual halibut stock assessments. The surveys, which occur from June through August, have been conducted by fishery scientists since 1998 and cover waters from southern Oregon to the Bering Sea. “We have a total of 1,274 stations coastwide, and the coast is divided into 27 regions that the vessels are able to bid on,” said Claude Dykstra, survey program manager with the International Pacific Halibut Commission. “We generally have from 11 to 14 boats working for us in a summer.” The IPHC hires the vessel and crew to fish for halibut, along with two halibut samplers to collect various data on the stocks. Dykstra said with running time and weather, each trip takes 22 to 34 days overall. The standard charter rate for most areas in the Gulf of Alaska down to Oregon is $60,000 to $75,000 per region. The regions in the western Aleutians and Bering Sea incur more costs, so rates there are in the $120,000 range. Each vessel can bid to do from one to three regions over the summer. Boats also receive 10 percent of the value of the legal sized halibut that is sold at auction. “They have to clean the fish like they normally do on a commercial trip. So they get that compensation for the extra work involved,” Dykstra said. “The other 90 percent is used to offset the costs of the program to the Halibut Commission. The ultimate goal is to have the survey program be cost neutral.” Another pilot project in Southeast Alaska seeks one longline vessel to participate in a “whisker hook” study aimed at reducing the take of rockfish on halibut hooks. Dykstra said the project is driven by observations of hook modifications in sport fishing for bass or walleye that used a sort of lock spring across the mouth or gap of the hook. “It’s like a piece of wire that’s springy and as the animal goes to bite it, it needs a certain amount of pressure to overcome that springiness and actually get hooked by the hook. The theory is a rockfish won’t get captured, but a halibut that is biting harder will, thereby reducing rockfish bycatch,” Dykstra said. Bids for the halibut stock assessments and the rockfish whisker hook project must be mailed or faxed to the IPHC office in Seattle by 12 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time March 16. Fishing no longer the deadliest job Deaths on the job in Alaska have always been higher than the rest of the nation. It is not surprising considering the extreme weather and work conditions, and the challenges of getting around a state where 82 percent of the communities are not accessible by road. Workplace fatalities are measured by the number of deaths per 100,000 workers. In its March edition of Economic Trends, the state Labor Department shows that Alaska’s workplace deaths have continued to decline, even as overall employment increased 31 percent from 1992 to 2010. Historically, Alaska’s highest fatality rates have been in flying and fishing jobs. During that time period, air taxi and helicopter services accounted for 13 percent of work deaths, compared to 1 percent nationally.   For seafood harvesting, there have been 275 deaths in the past 18 years, or 30 percent of the total. However, Alaska’s fishing industry has dramatically improved its safety record, with on the job fatalities falling from 12 in 1992 to five in 2010. The Labor Department credits laws requiring safety training and equipment for the drop in fishing deaths, along with a move towards management programs that slow the pace of fisheries. In fact, just 10 percent of job fatalities were from fishing in 2010, compared to 18 percent for aircraft pilots. Alaska’s deadliest jobs were in construction, mining and oil and gas, accounting for 26 percent of workplace deaths in 2010.

ADFG granted waivers allowing travel expenses for board chairman

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has cited the "best interests of the state" in granting waivers to Board of Fisheries Chairman Karl Johnstone to stay in a hotel and receive per diem allowance at meetings in Anchorage, where he has a home off Potter Valley Road. Johnstone, who also has a home in Prescott, Ariz., has been pre-approved for an upcoming meeting in Anchorage this month. His unplowed driveway buried in snow is seen here. (Photo/Andrew Jensen/AJOC) UPDATE: Johnstone responds to residency questions, expenses below. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has granted several waivers to Board of Fisheries Chairman Karl Johnstone that allow him to stay in hotels and receive per diem payments for meetings taking place in his hometown of Anchorage. In response to questions from the Journal regarding $1,440 in expenses for Johnstone paid at the work session and Pacific cod meeting held Oct. 4 to Oct. 10, 2011, ADFG Director of Administrative Services Kevin Brooks stated that Johnstone is not a state employee and is therefore not covered by state law prohibiting per diem payments in the community of residence. However, such payments are prohibited under the Alaska Administrative Manual and Johnstone did require a waiver to receive his expenses paid for meetings held in Anchorage. The waiver was granted by ADFG Finance Officer Christine O’Sullivan. The October 2011 expenses were $108 for surface transportation, $792 for hotel and $540 for per diem. It is not yet known what the surface transportation costs covered, as the category includes rental car, parking and mileage. The waiver granted for Johnstone at the October meeting only mentioned per diem and lodging, not surface transportation expenses. According to the Alaska Administrative Manual, waivers to the prohibition on travel expenses in communities of residence may be granted if it is “in the best interests of the state.” It goes to say that such a waiver may be granted if, “for example, it might be authorized if the travel home would present a hardship due to the age or health of the board member.” Brooks said Commissioner Cora Campbell was unaware of either Johnstone’s request for a waiver or the subsequent approval. (See the approvals here, and the relevant part of the Alaska Adminstrative Manual here.) “The (Alaska Administrative Manual) delegates authority to the commissioner or designee to authorize reimbursement when a meeting takes place within the vicinity (within 50 miles) of the member’s residence, when in the best interest of the state,” Brooks wrote. “Approval was granted to Mr. Johnstone because meeting days require long hours and work sessions in the evenings, and informal meetings with the public and other board members before and after formal, on-the-record sessions. Preparation for meetings also requires review of hundreds of pages of reading material.” A total expense isn’t known yet as the Journal is awaiting expense summaries for prior board meetings after making a public records request, but Brooks did say that Johnstone also had his expenses paid for two board meetings held in Anchorage last Feb. 20 to March 5 and March 22 to March 26. He has also been pre-approved for travel expenses at the upcoming meeting in Anchorage March 20 to March 23. The driveway at Johnstone’s Anchorage home is unplowed and currently has about four feet of snow from the street to the three-car garage. According to an email provided by Brooks from Board of Fisheries Executive Director Monica Wellard to O’Sullivan requesting the waiver prior to the October 2011 meetings in Anchorage, “it’s not practical for Karl to have to drive home at the end of the day and turn around the next morning for the meeting.” Johnstone’s home off Potter Valley Road in Anchorage is less than 13 miles from downtown where board meetings take place. UPDATE: In an email to the Journal, Johnstone addressed questions on residency regarding property tax exemptions, and noted he pays for flights from Arizona to Alaska board meeting destinations out of pocket. "In Anchorage the law provides that if you are qualified for the permanent fund dividend that provided you meet the age requirement you are entitled to the tax exemption. I have been eligible for and received the permanent fund dividend and thus have been eligible for the exemption. And while my spouse may have not been in the state 185 days, she is not 65, and thus she could not apply for the benefit. The law does not require that we both be 65 or that we  both be qualified for the dividend in order for me to receive the benefit. The suggestion that she was in the State 184 days and not 185 is from what I know not relevant to the exemption I receive. Finally you are probably unaware that I provide transportation to and from all Board meetings at my own expense when I travel from anywhere outside of Anchorage. The State would pay for travel from Anchorage to Board meetings, but rather than go to Anchorage first and then fly to say Petersburg or Ketchikan, I fly directly to those locations at my own expense." Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

Vessel sold after red flags raised about foreign control

The American Fisheries Act was passed in 1998 to prohibit foreign control of U.S. fishing vessels, but a well-known member of the Alaska fleet and one of the state’s largest Japanese-owned processors may have been in violation of the law for the first seven years it was in effect. Evidence presented in a case recently decided against Peter Pan Seafoods for violating crab processing limits included correspondence from the Maritime Administration, or MARAD, reflecting a high level of concern about the relationship between Peter Pan, fully owned by Nichiro Corp., and the 315-foot floating processor Steller Sea. (Nichiro has since merged with Maruha Corp.) MARAD is responsible for ensuring vessel ownership complies with the citizen control requirements of the American Fisheries Act, or AFA, and issues endorsements to fish in U.S. waters. In September 2007, MARAD notified Seven Seas Fishing Co., the charter holder for the Steller Sea, that it had become aware of a $5 million line of credit the company had with Peter Pan and Nichiro with a balance that had ballooned to $10.3 million. MARAD told Seven Seas President Mark Weed that it was, “unable to provide an unqualified finding that Steller Seafoods Inc. remains eligible to document the vessel Steller Sea.” Citing the advance of funds agreement signed in March 2002 provided to the agency by National Marine Fisheries Service investigators in 2007, MARAD wrote to Weed that, “the level of non-citizen participation reflected in the unsecured lending is evidence which suggests the possible existence of impermissible non-citizen control over the fishing industry vessel Steller Sea.” MARAD allowed the Steller Sea to have a temporary fishing endorsement while it reviewed the advance of funds agreement. On June 9, 2008, MARAD notified Seven Seas that it would have to present a plan for restructuring its debt with Nichiro to continue to receive an unconditional fishing endorsement for the Steller Sea. The correspondence with MARAD went no further. The Steller Sea charter was allowed to expire a few months later, in September 2008, and the vessel was subsequently sold soon after to Icicle Seafoods Inc. Icicle rechristened the vessel the Robert M. Thorstenson in honor of its late company founder in 2009, and the vessel now takes crab deliveries in St. Paul in addition to salmon and herring during the spring and summer. Somewhat ironically, Icicle General Counsel Terry Leitzell was one of several members of the seafood industry who complained to law enforcement officers in 2000 about the relationship between Peter Pan and the Steller Sea, when the processor and vessel were not listed as affiliates under the AFA. According to the court record in the case against Icicle settled Jan. 31 (see story here), Leitzell testified that he believed Icicle’s arrangement with Adak Fisheries signed in 2001 was permissible because he had not heard of an enforcement action against Peter Pan or Seven Seas after he’d tipped off investigators. On Sept. 26, 2011, Peter Pan Seafoods was found to have committed 45 violations of the AFA from 2004 to 2005 for going 4.1 million pounds over its caps for red king crab and snow crab. The company was fined $450,000 and settled with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration General Counsel office for $525,000 a month later. U.S. Coast Guard Administrative Law Judge Parlen McKenna did not agree with NOAA prosecutors’ proposed penalty of $4.3 million, but he did side with them on the issue of whether Peter Pan Seafoods was exercising an impermissible level of control over the Steller Sea. McKenna also took note of the communications from MARAD in analyzing whether Peter Pan and Nichiro controlled the Steller Sea. By controlling the Steller Sea, McKenna determined all crab purchased from the vessel should count against Peter Pan’s processing limits for king and snow crab. After the AFA took effect, processors covered by the law that had received lucrative pollock allocations were required to list all affiliated companies for the purposes of establishing their limitations in other fisheries such as crab. Peter Pan never reported Seven Seas as an affiliated entity on any of its AFA applications. Attorneys for Peter Pan objected to the MARAD evidence because it was from years beyond the period of violations from 2004 to 2005, but McKenna disagreed and found it damaging to Peter Pan’s arguments that it did not control the Steller Sea. Peter Pan did not respond to a request for comment on either the settlement with NOAA or its relationship with the Steller Sea. Owning the Sea The Steller Sea was chartered by Seven Seas Fishing Co. from Cypress Leasing in San Francisco. That arrangement was signed in 2001 to comply with the American ownership requirements of the American Fisheries Act. In the years leading up to then, Seven Seas had been 75 percent owned by Peter Pan Seafoods CEO Barry Collier, 15 percent by Peter Pan and 10 percent by Nichiro Corp. The Steller Sea vessel had been owned since 1992 by First Hawaiian Bank and leased to Seven Seas. The bank was 45 percent owned by a French financial institution and wouldn’t qualify for American ownership under the AFA. Nor would Collier still be allowed to be the majority shareholder as an employee of Nichiro. The arrangement entered into in 2001 was for Cypress Leasing to buy the Steller Sea from First Hawaiian Bank, then to lease the vessel to Seven Seas. To comply with the AFA, Collier sold his interest in Seven Seas to Gary Greenwood for $75,000. (Greenwood would later sell that stake to Weed for $78,000. Weed worked for Peter Pan for 22 years before buying the Seven Seas shares.) In order for Cypress Leasing to agree to buy the Steller Sea, Peter Pan and Nichiro were required to guarantee the $175,000 per quarter lease payments from Seven Seas. Cypress obtained the loan to purchase the Steller Sea from Fuyo Bank in Japan, and internal documents generated during the process show Fuyo considered the arrangement to be effectively an extension of credit to Peter Pan and Nichiro. MARAD approved this charter arrangement with Cypress in 2001, with the condition that the only financial support Peter Pan and Nichiro could supply to Seven Seas was the guarantee of charter lease payments. Correspondence from MARAD cited in the court record shows that Seven Seas was notified May 29, 2001, that the agency must be notified if Peter Pan or Nichiro supplied any funding beyond the guarantee of fees in their processing agreement. Seven Seas soon began borrowing money from Peter Pan in November 2001. In March 2002, Seven Seas and Peter Pan entered into a $5 million advance of funds agreement. The companies did not notify MARAD of the agreement. In 2003, revised American ownership regulations published by MARAD required that applicants for fishing endorsements must report any loans from foreign entities. Again, Seven Seas did not notify MARAD of its loans from Peter Pan and Nichiro related to the Steller Sea vessel. The advance of funds agreement with Peter Pan and Nichiro was virtually unrestricted, and Seven Seas was in default of the arrangement after the first season in 2002. Fund requests from Seven Seas were paid without question and Weed as president testified that nobody from Peter Pan or Nichiro ever expressed concern about the level of the debt or repayment. In its internal reports on the deal in 2001, Cypress determined Seven Seas and Peter Pan were essentially the same entity and that the company operated as a “cost center” for Peter Pan with Seven Seas operated on a break-even basis. Both before and after the AFA took effect in 2001, Peter Pan and Nichiro would provide a “true up” to Seven Seas at the end of each season to make its accounts balance. The “true up” payments ranged from a few hundred thousand dollars up to $3 million per year over the course of the relationship between Seven Seas and Peter Pan. Peter Pan and Nichiro also supplied Weed and Seven Seas with $4.6 million in financing to purchase the fishing vessel AJ in 2003. Nichiro Corp. board minutes from 2002 presented at trial indicated an interest the company had for investing in a pollock vessel with quota. Peter Pan executives notified Weed of the opportunity to purchase the AJ, and provided the financing on the condition that the vessel’s pollock allocation would be shifted to the Peter Pan shoreside cooperative for at least 15 years. According to Peter Pan’s annual co-op reports, the AJ quota represents about 25 percent of its annual allocation, by far the most of any member of its co-op. In 2010, the AJ quota was about 2,500 metric tons, or 5.4 million pounds. The court record shows that Seven Seas drew on its line of credit with Peter Pan to make its loan payments to Nichiro, meaning the company was basically paying itself for the AJ purchase. At trial, Peter Pan CEO Collier said the balance of debt owed by Seven Seas to Nichiro is still about $4.5 million. The company no longer has any employees and Weed now works for Peter Pan subsidiary Golden Alaska Seafoods. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

NOAA cuts deal with Icicle, reduces $3.44M fine to $615K

U.S. taxpayers are footing the bill for seven years of litigation against Icicle Seafoods Inc. after high-ranking officials in the U.S. Commerce Department settled on a penalty of $615,000 on Jan. 31. This despite the fact that federal prosecutors twice won $3.44 million judgments for 82 violations of the American Fisheries Act. The process of resolving the case in Icicle’s favor dates back to the first days in office for Jane Lubchenco, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Lubchenco was sworn in March 20, 2009, and issued an order on Icicle’s appeal 11 days later that instructed the presiding judge to reconsider half of the violations, as well as the overall size of the penalty. The NOAA Office of General Counsel won’t say much about why it overruled a judge and its own enforcement staff by settling the Icicle case for pennies on the dollar, and neither will Lubchenco. It is NOAA General Counsel policy to not discuss settlement negotiations, and Lubchenco refused to answer several other questions not related to the negotiations. Lubchenco, whose office touted her efforts to increase transparency in its response to the Journal, would not answer questions, such as how the Icicle case came to her attention, how much of the court record she reviewed, or if she has issued other similar orders after taking office. “That’s what you’re going to get,” said NOAA spokesperson Monica Allen in response to the Journal’s follow-up inquiry, referring to an email from Lubchenco’s office that was little more than a timeline of the case dating back to 2004 and a comment that she “does not play a role” in decisions by General Counsel Lois Schiffer. The questions about Lubchenco’s review of the Icicle case either before or after taking office in 2009 are key because her order to U.S. Coast Guard Administrative Law Judge Walter Brudzinski stated that he erred in upholding the $3.44 million fine against Icicle and Adak Fisheries. The initial decision in the Icicle case was issued in March 2007, when Brudzinski sided with NOAA Office of Law Enforcement prosecutors after he found that Icicle and its partner Adak Fisheries LLC exceeded the amount of western Aleutian Islands golden king crab they were allowed to process under the American Fisheries Act, or AFA, and approved the proposed penalty of $3.44 million. Icicle was allowed to process about 221,900 pounds of such crab per year under terms of the 1998 American Fisheries Act, but its operation with Adak Fisheries exceeded that amount by some 3.8 million pounds over 82 deliveries from 2002 to 2004. The Icicle settlement comes on the heels of another major Alaska seafood processor busted for going over its crab processing limits. On Sept. 26, 2011, Peter Pan Seafoods, owned by Maruha Nichiro Corp., was found to have committed 45 violations of the AFA from 2004 to 2005 for going 4.1 million pounds over its caps for red king crab and snow crab that was worth more than $12 million. The court records from both cases show the complex business arrangements used by Icicle and Peter Pan to avoid crab processing caps in the years leading up to the 2005 crab rationalization program, when they were awarded lucrative processing quota worth hundreds of millions of dollars. The Peter Pan court record also raises issues about whether a foreign company illegally controlled a U.S. flagged fishing vessel for seven years after the American Fisheries Act took effect in 2001 (see story here). In a statement provided to the Journal, Icicle noted the settlement does not include an admission of liability and the two prior decisions issued by Brudzinski have been withdrawn. The company also said it appreciated the, “recent efforts of the NOAA Office of General Counsel to finally bring this matter to a conclusion.” “Icicle strives to comply with all regulations, and in this instance we carefully analyzed the structure of the Adak crab processing operations to comply with applicable law, including discussing the structure with NOAA,” said Icicle President and CEO Dennis Guhlke. “From the beginning, we believed the allegations in the (notice of violation and assessment) were without merit, both legally and factually, and were fully prepared to press our position in court. However, the fact that it took more than seven years to work through the administrative process was incredibly frustrating and factored into our decision to settle at this time.” Crab caps and cash According to the court record, Icicle sold the excess crab it purchased for more than $17 million. In July 2004, five months before NOAA released its notice of violations and assessment, Icicle sold its 50 percent interest in Adak Fisheries to Kjetil Solberg for $4.25 million. In its proposed finding of facts, Icicle wrote that its $5 million offer to buy out Solberg was worth twice the book value of his 50 percent ownership. That means Icicle also received about double its share value when Solberg paid it $4.25 million. Icicle bought its 50 percent interest in Adak Fisheries for $200,000 in 2001 and shortly after, an agreement was signed with Adak Fisheries Development Corp., or AFDC, to process crab at the former Naval base. Icicle prepared an internal report in November 2001, presented at trial, that concluded Adak Fisheries would be considered an “affiliate” under the American Fisheries Act and would therefore be subject to Icicle’s crab cap. Nevertheless, Icicle determined that it did not control AFDC and the company was not limited by its 221,900-pound cap. AFDC was fully owned by Solberg of Adak Fisheries, which in turn was being managed by Icicle, and Judge Brudzinski found the arrangement did exceed the permissible level of control under the American Fisheries Act and all crab processed by AFDC and purchased by Icicle counted against the 221,900-pound limit. Brudzinski was persuaded that the arrangement between Adak Fisheries and AFDC was designed to circumvent Icicle’s crab cap and demanded a strong penalty, but Lubchenco disagreed in her April 1, 2009, order. “The (Administrative Law Judge’s) decision with respect to the entire penalty assessed in this case seems to rest in part on a conclusion that Respondents (Icicle and Adak Fisheries) engaged in an improper scheme to evade the law,” Lubchenco wrote. “The record does not support that conclusion. The record demonstrates that Respondents attempted to structure their business arrangement to meet the requirements of the law and cooperated fully with the Agency when it raised questions about that arrangement. The fact they did not succeed in achieving compliance does not increase their culpability. “On remand, the ALJ should reconsider the penalties assessed with respect to all of the charges proved in light of these comments.” Penalty upheld in 2010 In his decision on the order issued Oct. 29, 2010, Brudzinski flatly rejected Lubchenco’s reasoning and upheld the $3.44 million penalty and all 82 violations. He also told Lubchenco that reconsidering the penalty could lead him to a conclusion the fine should have been higher based on the $4.25 million Icicle received for its share of Adak Fisheries. “Respondents’ actions frustrated the very purpose of the AFA and undermined the direct efforts of Congress, (National Marine Fisheries Service), NOAA, the (North Pacific Fishery Management) Council, and other Bering Sea fishing representatives who were instrumental in enacting the legislation,” Brudzinski wrote. “The administrative record shows Respondents sought to maximize crab processing and avoid the crab processing sideboard limitations.” Brudzinski estimated the total revenue before expenses realized by Icicle over the course of the Adak partnership, including the buyout, was more than $22.3 million. “The existing penalty is fair and appropriate under the circumstances,” Brudzinski wrote to Lubchenco in his concluding paragraph. “It reflects the substantial amount of unlawful overages occurring for well over two years and all factors required by the applicable law. It is also more than the cost of doing business and should deter future violations.” He emphasized evidence in the record from his initial decision, particularly the testimony of Solberg that AFDC was designed to be a “sleeper” company until crab rationalization was in place and the processing caps would be removed. Brudzinski wrote to Lubchenco that Icicle’s control over AFDC was “pervasive and overt” and Icicle was “fully aware” of the control issues raised by the arrangement. Lubchenco and NOAA ended up overruling Brudzinski and their own enforcement staff when they settled with Icicle for $615,000. The NOAA General Counsel office won’t say why it settled for the amount that it did, but the penalty is similar to the $567,244 Icicle claimed was its share of the net profits from the excess crab purchased at Adak. Brudzinski had expressly denied such reasoning in calculating the penalty. “To tie a civil penalty exclusively to net profit would result in a civil penalty amounting to no more than the cost of doing business,” he wrote to Lubchenco, “thereby thwarting the intent of AFA to discourage such unlawful conduct.” Settling up One bit of insight into the decision to settle the Icicle case at $615,000 provided by NOAA was the Peter Pan case. In response to questions from the Journal regarding the reduced penalty for Icicle, Office of Law Enforcement spokesperson Lesli Bales-Sherrod said NOAA General Counsel determined it was “appropriate” to settle the Icicle case for an amount “similar” to the Peter Pan case. But that explanation raises some questions. In the Peter Pan case, it was the presiding judge who lowered the proposed penalty. U.S. Coast Guard Administrative Law Judge Parlen McKenna found Peter Pan and Seven Seas Fishing Co. guilty of 45 AFA violations for exceeding their limits for red king crab and snow crab by 4.1 million pounds from 2004 to 2005. The Icicle penalty was proposed on a per violation basis, but prosecutors in the Peter Pan case proposed the $4.3 million penalty based on their estimates of the net revenue earned from the crab overages. Judge McKenna determined the formula used was too simplistic in that it merely took the difference between the dock and wholesale prices, and he further concluded prosecutors had not presented evidence of alleged economic harm to other participants in the crab fishery. McKenna reduced the fine to $450,000, or $10,000 per violation. NOAA settled with Peter Pan a month later for $525,000. In contrast, NOAA prosecutors had won two judgments upholding the $3.44 million fine against Icicle yet the General Counsel office settled for 18 cents on the dollar, with each side responsible for costs incurred over the seven-year litigation that was preceded by a two-year investigation. The NOAA General Counsel office also settled the Icicle case for far less on a per violation basis than the Peter Pan case. NOAA settled with Icicle for $7,500 per violation compared to $11,666 per violation for Peter Pan. As evidence of its transparency, Lubchenco’s office pointed to the Enforcement Section website where violations and settlements are posted every six months. In examining the most recent report of 23 settlements, 18 of those violations were settled for at least 70 percent of the original proposed penalty. Back at Adak After leaving in 2004, Icicle is back in business on Adak after signing agreements last April with creditors in the bankruptcy proceeding of Adak Fisheries filed by Solberg in 2009. Icicle took its first deliveries last July after the processing plant was idled during 2010. According to testimony in the court record, the Aleut Corp., owners of the Adak plant, have always wanted Icicle on the island based on their desire to work with an American company that didn’t have conflicting shore-based operations at Dutch Harbor. By law, at least 50 percent of the golden king crab harvest must be delivered to Adak as long as the plant is open. This year that amount was 1.6 million pounds. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

State forecast: salmon harvest will be 25 percent lower than 2011

State fishery managers project a lower Alaska salmon harvest this year, due to an expected decrease in those hard to predict pinks.  The total catch forecast by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is 132 million salmon, down 25 percent from the 177 million fish taken in 2011. The statewide breakdown is 120,000 chinook (in areas outside Southeast, where catches are dictated by treaty with Canada); 38.4 million sockeye salmon, a decline of 4 percent; 4.3 million coho (similar to last year); 19 million chums, 12 percent higher; and 70.2 million pinks, a 40 percent decrease.   Each year’s annual report on salmon harvest projections also includes a detailed review of the 2011 season for every Alaska region. In all, the fishery produced a catch valued at $603 million at the docks, the third-highest ever. Some 2011 highlights: Southeast Alaska’s salmon catch rang in at $200 million, a record since statehood, and the highest value salmon fishery for the year. The region’s pink salmon catch of 59 million fish fetched an average price of 42 cents per pound at the docks, and totaled $94 million.  Chums at 81 cents per pound were the second-most valuable, adding another $60 million to the Panhandle this summer. More than 1,900 permit holders fished in Southeast, a 4 percent increase.   At Prince William Sound, the salmon harvest topped 39 million fish, most of which were pinks (33.4 million). At Copper River, the sockeye catch topped 2 million fish, nearly double for the previous decade. The 20,000 Chinook catch was below the 10-year average. At Upper Cook Inlet, the harvest of 5.5 million sockeye salmon was the fourth-largest in the past 20 years. The dockside value of $51.6 million was the fifth-highest since 1960, and the highest since 1992. All five salmon species are caught in the upper Inlet, but sockeye have accounted for nearly 93 percent of the fishery over the past 20 years. The estimated value of $518,000 for chinook was about 1 percent of the value of the UCI fishery.  Bristol Bay’s sockeye catch of 21.9 million was 21 percent below expectations. The preliminary value of the Bay’s total salmon catch of 22.7 million fish was  $137.7 million, 17 percent above the 20-year average.   Kodiak had its highest participation in 11 years with 339 of the region’s 593 permit holders, or 57 percent, going fishing. Kodiak’s salmon catch of 20 million fish topped $44.2 million, the highest since 1990 and double the 10-year average. Kodiak salmon seiners averaged $120,161 among 175 permits last summer; 157 set gillnetters averaged $31,137. That was dwarfed at Chignik, where 65 permit holders each averaged $371,327, the highest value ever. At Chignik, the salmon fishery was worth almost $24 million. Nearly 2.5 million sockeye were taken at Chignik, 150 percent higher than the average harvest for the past five years. The Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim region had a total harvest of nearly 1.5 million salmon, valued at $8 million. Chinook salmon catches were well below average, while chum and coho salmon harvests were well above.  A total of 510 permit holders fished in the Kuskokwim area, where the ex-vessel value was about $2.3 million for the region. At the lower Yukon, a total of 82 chinook were taken in the commercial fishery and zero in the upper river. A total of 409 permit holders participated in the summer chum fishery, about 15 percent below the 10-year average. The fall chum fishery on the lower Yukon was the largest since 1995; the coho harvest was the largest since 1991. The average price for both was $1 per pound, making a record value of $2.1 million for the region. Norton Sound’s salmon fishery included the second-highest chum catch since 1986, and a record $1.27 million in dockside value. A total of 123 permits fished, the highest since 1993. The average prices were $1.70 per pound for coho salmon, and 68 cents per pound for chums. At Kotzebue Sound, the catch of 264,321 chums was the second highest since 1995. A total of 89 permit holders fished, compared to 67 last year, and the highest number since 1995. The total value was nearly $868,000, meaning $9,743 to each fisherman. All of the values are preliminary and will go higher after the final Commercial Annual Operator Reports are submitted to the state by Alaska fish buyers. Those will include bonuses paid for iced fish (up to 15 cents per pound in some regions) and other price adjustments and sales factors. It will be interesting to see if Bristol Bay topples Southeast to regain its title as Alaska’s most valuable salmon fishery. Pings, scales and skins Underwater alarms called pingers are putting a stop to marine mammal bycatch in fishing nets. The pingers emit a low frequency specifically aimed at migrating humpback whales to warn them away from shark nets off Australia’s East Coast. The pingers are designed and made by Fumunda Marine at the University of the Sunshine Coast’s Innovation Centre. Since the pingers began use two years ago, only one whale was entangled in each year and both were safely released. The Queensland government, which backed the pinger project, said the devices could save hundreds of thousands of marine mammals every year. Extra tough fish scales that can crack piranha teeth have been discovered by University of California researchers. The scales come from a huge fish from Brazil called the arapaima. Known as the ancient river monster, it’s one of the world’s largest fresh water fish and can grow to 10 feet long and top 400 pounds. It’s also one of the few air breathing fish in existence. Each of its scales is coated with a rock-hard mineral material, with soft cores made from strings of stretchy protein. Researchers believe the scales could be replicated and used to make better body armor for soldiers or sturdier prostheses. Find a report on the fish scales in the journal Advanced Biomaterials. Pollock skins are a new source for nanofibers that have a similar tissue structure to human organs and skin.  “Hopefully, if you have a damaged organ you can grow these cells outside the body and they can be introduced into the wound and help improve the ability of the organ to heal itself,” said Bor-Sen Chiou, lead researcher at the U.S. Department of Agriculture lab in Albany, Calif. “Studies show that fish gelatin improves cell growth better than mammalian gels.”  Catch this!  Find Fish Radio and new Fish Factor video fishing updates at

Safety, co-op research programs on NOAA budget chopping block

It’s a mixed bag in America in terms of bankrolling “the best available science” for our nation’s fisheries. Based on the preliminary federal budget, funds for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration went from $4.7 billion to $5.5 billion, an increase of about $750 million. Within the NOAA budget, funding for the National Marine Fisheries Service comes in at $1 billion — a drop of $15 million from its actual budget for the last fiscal year. Out of NMFS’ 2013 fiscal year budget, $174 million will fund science and management of U.S. fisheries. NMFS oversees more than 80 percent of Alaska’s fisheries, which occur in federal waters from three to 200 miles from shore. The largest increase in funding — $36 million — goes to a new line item called National Catch Share programs. John Sackton of said the agency does not predict an increase in catch share programs over the next five years. Instead, most of the money will pay for implementation, observer coverage, monitoring and other start-up costs. “The rationale for catch shares,” Sackton said, “is that NOAA believes these programs are the best way to rebuild fish stocks to maximum sustainable yield, which would lead to a 54 percent increase in overall value of U.S. fisheries, worth more than $2 billion at the docks.” One red flag is that the cash for catch share programs comes from a transfer of $17 million from cooperative research programs.        “Cooperative research is used for the payments NMFS makes to industry, often including matching funds, for work involving commercial vessels, gear modifications, and other developments which have had spectacular success in areas such as bycatch reduction,” Sackton said. Another spectacular success set for elimination is fishing vessel safety research. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, or NIOSH, is set to lose all research funding for its Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing Sector, totaling $19.6 million. Of that, the budget for fishing safety programs is $1.5 million. “I am very disappointed in this,” said Jerry Dzugan, director of the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association in Sitka. “It’s interesting that those are three of the highest risk groups for workers in the country.” Dzugan said funding cuts have become an annual thing because of lack of support within the Center for Disease Control, the parent agency for NIOSH. “Although it touts fishing safety research as one of its most successful programs, it is a low priority within CDC,” he said.  When the president’s budget came out, Dzugan said he was prompted to investigate the budget of other another risky industry. “The mining industry in the U.S. gets $53 million of research inter-prevention efforts from the federal government. The fishing vessel safety program that NIOSH is doing gets $1.5 million.   That’s about 3 percent of the budget that mining safety gets,” he said.  Dzugan said both industries lose 45 to 65 workers on average per year, but the fatality rates are far different. “When you look at the fatality rates, or the number of fatalities per 100,000 people, fishing vessels have something between 100 and 200 fatalities per 100,000 on average. The mining industry has 0.20 per 200,000 on average,” he said. “There is just no comparison to the risks in those industries and the lesser amount of fund they are getting. And now they are talking about eliminating that $1.5 million. It makes no sense to me whatsoever.” The president’s proposed budget now goes to the House of Representatives and then to the U.S. Senate. Other fisheries budget highlights: a $15 million increase for stock assessments and fisheries research; a $5.5 million increase to support the Endangered Species and Marine Mammal Protection Acts; $8 million to plan and design a new Arctic icebreaker. Employment at NMFS will increase by 75 positions for a total of 2,897 full-time positions. Jump on jobs  High school and college students can sample a career in the last frontier as interns with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Available positions this summer range from working at hatcheries and wildlife information centers to tagging and sampling fish in the field and tracking sea lions in Southeast. The internships are paid positions, ranging from $13 to $20 per hour. “They can get out and actually get their hands dirty and see if it is something they want to do for a life career,” said internship program coordinator Sheila Cameron in Juneau. Ultimately, the goal is to show there are good careers right here in Alaska and hook a new generation into ADF&G. We are trying to attract the best and the brightest to the department.” Internship applications should be made to ADFG. Get more information at [email protected] Deadline to apply is March 5. Seafood winners The Symphony of Seafood played to a packed house last weekend, as fans flocked to taste the new products, vote for their favorites and be the first to hear the contest winners. The event, now in its 19th year, is hosted by the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation to showcase innovation in three categories: retail, food service and smoked. Winners are: Food Service, Sweet Potato Crunch Alaska Pollock Sticks by American Pride Seafoods; Retail, Aqua Cuisine Naturally Smoked Salmon Frank; Smoked, Kylee’s Alaska Salmon Bacon by Tustamena Smoke House in Soldotna. The People’s Choice Award in both Seattle and Tracy’s Alaskan King Crab Bisque by Tracy’s King Crab Shack in Juneau. Kylee’s Alaska Salmon Bacon also took the top honor as grand prize winner. All winners now head to the International Boston Seafood show in March.

Processors sue after being cut out of rockfish program

The prospect of paying fishermen higher prices has processors protesting the new rockfish program. Five companies with processing operations in Kodiak that took nearly every delivery under the expired Gulf of Alaska rockfish pilot program sued National Marine Fisheries Service Jan. 24 in the U.S. Western District of Washington to overturn the new program set to take effect this May. Trident Seafoods, Ocean Beauty, Westward Seafoods, North Pacific Seafoods and International Seafoods of Alaska said in their complaint that competition from the other three Kodiak processors under the revised program will drive up prices paid to fishermen and cut into their profits. Seattle-based Trident Seafoods is the largest seafood company in the state. Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp., one of six western Alaska Community Development quota groups, owns 50 percent of Ocean Beauty, also based in Seattle. Westward Seafood is owned by Maruha Nichiro, North Pacific Seafoods is owned by Marubeni Corp. and International Seafoods of Alaska is owned by a subsidiary of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s church. It was the second lawsuit in as many days to hit NMFS over the Gulf of Alaska rockfish catch share program. Loughbeg Fisheries Inc., also of Kodiak, filed suit in the U.S. Alaska District alleging the company will be short-changed on quota shares because agency failed to properly write the regulations regarding “entry level” catch from 2007 to 2009. Based on legal guidance from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council dropped the requirement that harvesters deliver to their historic processors when it reauthorized the program in June 2010. The species allocated under the program to trawl catcher vessels and catcher-processors are northern rockfish, pelagic shelf rockfish, Pacific Ocean perch and secondary targets sablefish and Pacific cod. While rockfish species are the target fish, the secondary catch of sablefish is the true payday for harvesters and processors. In 2006, the sablefish landings in Kodiak were a third of rockfish landings by weight at 2.4 million pounds, but accounted for eight times more than rockfish in ex-vessel revenue at $8.8 million. The vessel quota shares are allocated to the cooperative, which then manages the harvest of the target species, secondary species and the halibut bycatch allocation for the sector. Under the new rockfish program, vessels must form cooperatives to receive their shares and to associate with a processor, but are free to deliver to any processor during the season. That means harvesters are going to deliver to the processor paying the best price, according to the complaint: “Processors will, therefore, unavoidably bid up the price for deliveries of rockfish and its associated bycatch such that they will cover only their variable costs of production for processing rockfish. All the rents generated from the fishery will no longer be shared, but instead will be transferred exclusively to the vessel owners who receive rockfish harvesting quota.” The revised rockfish program is schedule to take effect when the season opens May 1. When the council took action in June 2010, it placed vessel use caps and processor use caps in the program to limit consolidation and encourage competition. There is a 30 percent cap on processors, meaning at least four companies will take deliveries. The council also lowered the vessel use cap to 4 percent of the allocation, assuring the fleet would not consolidate below the 25 vessels participating in the program. It also placed a 10-year sunset date on the program to limit speculative share purchases that drive up the cost of entry for new participants. The council also took steps to reduce halibut bycatch and incentivize savings in by limiting the amount of bycatch that could be rolled from the rockfish season into the fall trawl fisheries. The authority for the North Pacific council to tie harvesters to processors was established in the legislation authorizing the rockfish program attached as a rider by the late Sen. Ted Stevens to a 2004 appropriations bill. That legislative authority to recognize historical processor deliveries under the rockfish program expired Dec. 31, 2011, and it is the interpretation of NOAA legal counsel that such ties are not allowed under the Magnuson-Stevens Act because shoreside processors are not “fishing” operations and therefore may not be allocated a share of the fishery. The Kodiak processors suing NMFS allege that interpretation of the Magnuson-Stevens Act excluding shoreside operations is wrong, as is the conclusion that the authority for binding harvesters to processors under the rockfish program expired in 2011. The complaint states that the legislation authorizing the rockfish pilot program in 2004 provided no directive for fixed-linkages between harvesters and processors, and they charge the council action violates the MSA, the Administrative Procedures Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. Indeed, the 2004 rockfish legislation did not require linking harvesters to processors, only that the council devise a program that “recognizes the historic participation of fish processors” from 1996 to 2000 while setting aside 5 percent of the quota to processors not eligible for the pilot program. Under the pilot program from 2007 to 2011, the processors state they took deliveries of 100 percent of the pelagic shelf rockfish, 100 percent of the Pacific Ocean perch and 99.9 percent of the northern rockfish allocated to the catcher-vessel sector. The only other catch share program in the nation to have processor quota is the Bering Sea Aleutian Islands crab rationalization program, which was also authorized by a rider to must-pass appropriations legislation by Stevens in 2003. That program allocated 90 percent of the fishery as “A” shares that must be matched with corresponding individual processor quota, or IPQ, based on historical share of deliveries.  As the North Pacific council constructed the crab rationalization program, the U.S. Department of Justice advised NOAA that it should oppose the creation of IPQ on antitrust grounds. In an Aug. 23, 2003, letter to the Commerce Department, the Justice Department wrote IPQ should not be implemented because it, “will likely reduce beneficial competition among processors with no countervailing efficiency benefit.” In testimony Feb. 25, 2004, before the Senate Commerce Committee, U.S. Deputy Attorney General Bruce McDonald of the Antitrust Division reiterated those concerns. “Adding IPQ further distorts the market’s operation, and introduces competitive harm, without offering similar kinds of competitive benefits,” McDonald told the committee. Under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, all regulations approved by the U.S. Commerce Secretary are subject to judicial review if a petition within 30 days of the final rule being published. The new rockfish program rules were published in the Federal Register Dec. 27, 2011, and the Commerce Secretary now has 45 days to file a response.

Symphony of Seafood to crown winners

An array of 19 new seafood products will compete for top honors at the annual Symphony of Seafood contest, and the crowd will choose the popular People’s Choice award. The Symphony began nearly two decades ago as a way to celebrate innovation and introduce new Alaska seafood products. The event provides an even playing field for Alaska’s major seafood companies and small “mom and pops,” such as Tustamena Smokehouse in Kasilof with its salmon bacon. “It is the most wonderful stuff. It doesn’t taste fishy; it just tastes like wonderful low fat bacon,” said Jim Browning, director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, which hosts the Seafood Symphony.   Another small business entry is by Pickled Willy’s of Kodiak, with its pickled crab, salmon, lingcod and halibut. Kwik’Pak Fisheries at Emmonak has three entries of its smoked Yukon Keta. They will compete against such items as Sockeye Salmon Pinwheels by Ocean Beauty Seafoods and Sweet Potato Crunch Alaska Pollock Sticks by American Pride Seafoods. The seafood entries will be judged by an expert panel in three categories: retail, food service and smoked. The judging takes place Feb. 2 at the Palace Ballroom in Seattle. All winners are kept secret until the Symphony returns to Alaska Feb.10, when they will be announced at a gala bash at the Anchorage Hilton grand ballroom. Attendees get to sample and vote on all the seafood items and select the crowd’s favorite. Last year’s Symphony grand prize winner was Trident Seafoods for its Wild Alaskan Smoked & Peppered Sockeye. Top winners receive a free trip and booth space in March at one of the nation’s biggest events — the international Boston Seafood Show. Fishing boat first in Alaska Alaska Ship and Drydock in Ketchikan is set to build its first big fishing boat – a 136-foot, all-steel catcher processor for Alaska Longline Co. of Petersburg. The company operates three vessels in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska targeting sablefish, cod and turbot. ASD began building ships 12 years ago and has constructed several ferries and an Exxon fuel barge. Now, the shipyard is courting the commercial fishing fleets in the Bering Sea. “We’ve really never had the capacity to build modern steel vessels in the state of Alaska, so those fleets have always turned to yards in the Pacific Northwest,” said ASD Director of Development Doug Ward. “They are good yards and very competitive, and to be able to compete in that market and actually land one of the projects early in this fleet rebuild program is a great opportunity for our company and for Ketchikan,” he told KRBD. Ward credits changes to federal laws in 2010 that now allow American vessel owners to upgrade and modernize their fleets.  “Previously, they were unable to add new capacity,” he said. Ward said over the past year there has been a lot of speculation about who would build the first fishing vessel, and what kind it would be. “There are four major fleets in the Bering Sea groundfishing fleet, and it looks like the longliners are making the first moves to replace or modernize their vessels,” he said, adding that the boat will be out on the water next year. Ward said the boat rebuilding effort will occur over the next 10 years to 20 years, and provide hundreds of millions of dollars in ship building, conversion and repair work for west coast ship yards. The move to build large fishing boats in state follows the lead of Western Alaska vessel owners who plan to homeport their Bering Sea boats in Seward instead of Seattle. Tanner time! This winter has been cold even by Alaska standards, and icy winds delayed the start of the Tanner crab season at Kodiak, Chignik and along the Alaska Peninsula. Small boat fleets are now pulling pots in the fishery that will produce 3.3 million pounds of bairdi tanners, the larger cousin of snow crab, or opilio. Chignik has 27 boats on the grounds, the Alaska Peninsula has 58, and 63 signed on to fish for tanners at Kodiak, down from 80 vessels last year. Managers said the drop might be due to a lower catch quota of 900,000 pounds, and the district closest to town was not open to tanner fishing. “That makes it a bit more difficult for the smaller boats to participate in this fishery,” said Nick Sagalkin, regional manager at Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Kodiak. Still, the fishery is going at a good clip and most of the Kodiak crab should be caught within a week, even faster along the Peninsula. The tanner crab is reportedly fetching between $2.50 per pound to $3 per pound at the docks. That will bring the value to nearly $10 million for the westward fishing regions. Seafood is tops Alaska exports topped the $5 billion mark for the first time in 2011 – thanks in great part to seafood. According to a state press release, Alaska’s seafood exports posted the largest year-to-year increase of nearly 34 percent, to $2.4 billion.   Mineral ore exports rose 31.4 percent to $1.7 billion. Exports of refined petroleum products more than tripled in value to $73.2 million, and coal exports increased 14.6 percent to $27.3 million. Precious metals rose 28.3 percent to $243.4 million.

Judge upholds fishing closures while finding feds violated NEPA

Alaska U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Burgess has handed down his ruling in the case brought against National Marine Fisheries Service by the state and a coalition of fishing groups. Burgess found that NMFS violated the National Environmental Policy Act by not preparing an environmental impact statement, or EIS, and for not adequately informing the public or allowing for comment before implementing its wide-ranging fishing closures for Pacific cod and Atka mackerel in the western Aleutian Islands. Burgess denies all other claims brought by the state and fishing groups, which included allegations the Steller sea lion regulations violated Magnuson-Stevens Act, the Administrative Procedures Act and the Endangered Species Act, and wrote that he does not intend to vacate the biological opinion or the interim final rule that put the fishing closures in place. “It does appear to the court, however, that some degree of injunctive relief is appropriate to remedy the NEPA violations given that the restrictions at issue are expected to continue into the future indefinitely,” Burgess wrote. “Accordingly, the Court intends to remand the matter to NMFS to prepare an EIS in compliance with NEPA procedures. … The Court also intends to set a reasonable, but definite, deadline for NMFS to complete this process.” The state and fishing groups had hoped Burgess would agree with their contention that NMFS exceeded its mandate under the ESA by applying recovery standards to subunits of Steller sea lions smaller than the distinct population segment, or DPS. Burgess did not announce a remedy in his 56-page order, and will take briefings from both sides up until Feb. 8. The affected fishing seasons began this month. Earthjustice attorney Colin O'Brien, who intervened in the case, praised Burgess' decision. "We are pleased the court upheld measures required by the Endangered Species Act to protect Steller sea lions," O'Brien wrote in an emailed statement. "Still, there is significant concern about whether the protection measures are enough. We are hopeful that authorities will move quickly to adopt additional protections if the endangered Steller sea lion population continues to falter.” Michael LeVine of Oceana was similarly pleased. "Overall, today is a good day for the oceans," he said. Freezer Longline Coalition Executive Director Kenny Down said the plaintiffs are in discussions about next steps, including whether they will appeal the ruling. "We’re extremely happy the judge ruled in our favor on the NEPA grounds," Down said. "We’re happy he agreed with us that NMFS did not prepare an EIS as they should have. At the same time, we’re disappointed the judge did not vacate the rule. We want to make it clear that finding in our favor on NEPA grounds is no small victory. This is a favorable outcome. The judge did agree with us that NMFS did not follow the procedures laid out by law."   Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

ADFG site shows off sonar; seafaring superstitions persist

Most people don’t know that 40 years ago Alaska pioneered the use of sonar to track salmon runs, or that state fishery managers operate 15 sonar sites on 13 rivers from Southeast to the Yukon. The goal of making Alaskans more aware of one of Alaska’s most important fish counting tools has been accomplished with the launch of a new web-based project that lets visitors see three types of sonar in action.  The site explains that traditional tools, such as weirs and counting towers, can be used to count salmon in clear, narrow streams, but not in wide, turbid rivers. “To gauge salmon runs we can’t see, we have taken a lesson from one of Mother Nature’s fish finding experts. In glacial silt laden bays and rivers, beluga whales find salmon by emitting high pitched calls and listening for returning echoes. Similarly, we have adopted sonar as a tool to detect salmon not by sight, but by sound,” it says. Sometimes conditions are so harsh, the equipment can’t operate properly, such as at the Pilot Station site on the Yukon River.  “It is a mile wide and you almost have to imagine sand dunes changing in a wind storm on the bottom,” said Debby Burwen, a research biologist with the state Department of Fish and Game’s sport fish division in Anchorage, who helped spearhead the project. “But that is where they need to count the salmon because they are trying to ensure that enough fish escape to Canada. In order to do that, they have to know how many fish are coming into the river.” Burwen said people also don’t realize that managers never depend solely on sonar information, especially on the more complicated rivers, like the Yukon and the Kenai. “But the public doesn’t know that. So when we do have a problem, say on the Yukon, they look askance at all sonar,” she said. “They think that once again the sonar is broken, and Fish and Game doesn’t know what it is doing. We write these wonderful reports and we communicate with other scientists, but if your user groups don’t know what you’re doing, what good is it?” The sonar web site project provides virtual tours of all 13 rivers, as well as radio programs and downloadable brochures. See more at Friday the 13th A life of danger and uncertainty has seafarers observing a strict set of rules that are steeped in myth and superstition.   Many seagoing beliefs are based on the Bible. For example, Friday is the worst day to set out to sea because most sources credit that to the belief that Christ was crucified on a Friday. Similarly, Sunday is the best day to begin a voyage, because Christ’s resurrection on that day is seen as a good omen. Thus the old adage, “Sunday sail, never fail.” A traditional view for centuries was that women had no place at sea. They weren’t strong enough and men would be distracted from their duties, angering the seas and dooming a ship. Lore has it, however, that a naked woman would calm the seas. That’s why many vessels have a bare-breasted figurehead of a woman on the bow. Some others: For hundreds of years bananas have been regarded as bad luck – reasons stem from causing ships to disappear to spider bites. Pouring wine on the deck will bring good luck on a long voyage as a libation to the gods. Dolphins swimming with a ship are a good omen, while sharks following is a sign of inevitable death. Black cats are considered lucky – not so flowers, which could be used for a funeral wreath. It’s unlucky to kill an albatross or a gull at sea, as they host the souls of dead sailors. And whistling on the bridge will whistle up a storm. Cutting your hair or nails at sea is a no-no, and don’t ever step onto a boat with your left foot, or stir a pot or coil a line counter clockwise. Marine myth has it that sailors pierced their ears to improve their eyesight. A gold earring was both a charm against drowning and the price paid to Davy Jones to enter the next world if a sailor died at sea.    Fish abundance This year the U.S. became the first country to put catch limits on every species it manages. That includes all fish and shellfish caught in waters from three to 200 miles from shore. For Alaska, that means 80 percent of the total annual catch.  The outlook this year for both supply and markets is good. Market expert Ken Tally summed it up as, “supplies of major species are expected to increase worldwide, with prices to stabilize with the strong demand.”  Pollock – the world’s largest food fishery – is holding steady for the biggest producers: Alaska and Russia. For cod, the groundfish bellwether global fisheries are picking up in the Atlantic, and the Barents and Baltic seas. In Alaska, Pacific cod supplies this year are expected to increase 4.2 percent. Total groundfish catches in the Gulf of Alaska are pegged at 3 percent higher to about a half billion tons. That includes a nice 15 percent increase for black cod (sablefish). Here is something you don’t often hear: for fisheries in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands region, scientists said groundfish stocks could sustain a catch of 2.5 million tons, or roughly 5.5 billion pounds in 2012. But years ago overseers on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council – with full support of the industry — imposed a 2 million metric ton cap on total allowable groundfish catches in the BS/AI as a conservation measure.

Strong fishing highlights year in review, picks and pans

Alaska’s seafood industry continued its mission to ramp up its message to policy makers, especially those from rail belt regions who tend to overlook its economic significance. How important is the seafood industry to Alaska and the nation? At a glance: 62 percent of all U.S. seafood landings come from Alaska, as does 96 percent of all U.S. wild- caught salmon. Seafood is by far Alaska’s No. 1 export, valued at nearly $2 billion (next in line: zinc and lead exports at $785 million); and Alaska ranks ninth in the world in terms of global seafood production. The industry provides more than 70,500 Alaska jobs, more than oil/gas, mining, tourism and timber combined. The seafood industry is second only to Big Oil in revenues it generates to Alaska’s general fund each year. Alaska’s abundant and sustainable fishery resources are the envy of all other seafood producers, and its fishery management is regarded as a model around the world.  Here are some fishing notables from 2011, in no particular order, some of which are included in the annual “Fish picks and pans” that follow: • Halibut catches continued to tumble – the Pacific coast-wide catch limit was cut by 19 percent to 41 million pounds.  Fishery managers put the industry on notice that catches could be reduced drastically in the very near future.  • Kodiak toppled Homer as the No. 1 halibut port for landings for the first time since 1996. Polls continued to show that a majority of Alaska voters oppose the Pebble mine project, and lack trust in both foreign mining and Alaska’s permitting process.   • It took six years, but National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries/Financial Services finally began accepting loan applications for skippers and crew who want to buy into the Bering Sea crab fisheries.  • For the first time, researchers caught sperm whales on video biting longlines at one end and shaking the fish free, similar to shaking apples from a tree. The video is part of SEASWAP, the  Southeast Alaska Sperm Whale Avoidance Project.   • The Department of Commerce and NOAA released draft national aquaculture policies that aim to “increase the U.S. supply of healthy seafood.” • For the first time, fishery managers set a cap on the number of salmon that can be taken as bycatch by Gulf trawlers. • Recycled seawater began warming the Ted Stevens Research Institute in Juneau instead of oil.  • The value of Alaska fishing permits and catch shares took a big jump along with fish prices.    At Bristol Bay, most drift permits were being offered at $160,000 — up from $132,000 in 2010 — and more than double the price in 2009. In prime fishing regions of Southeast Alaska and the central Gulf, halibut shares ranged from $30 to $36 per pound. • Hundreds of one-ton sacks of pollock bone meal were shipped from Dutch Harbor to California to remove lead from neighborhoods. The calcium phosphate in the fish neutralizes the toxic metal.   • Fish tags with iPhone technology were used for the first time to track halibut migrations based on the earth’s magnetic field. The invention of the iPhone and its advancements made the pitch and roll detectors small enough to put in fish tags • Dock prices for Alaska halibut and black cod (sablefish) broke records, topping $7 and $9 per pound, respectively.  • Likewise, advance prices for Bristol Bay red king crab were $9 a pound. A reduced harvest of just 8 million pounds had buyers scrambling for crab. • Crabbers in Southeast Alaska also dropped pots for red king crab for the first time in six years when a fishery opened on Nov. 1. • Bering Sea crabbers were shocked at the catch increase for snow crab, Alaska’s largest crab fishery. The harvest for the 2011-12 season was boosted by 64 percent to nearly 90 million pounds.  • Shrimp, canned tuna and salmon remained as America’s seafood favorites, although seafood consumption dropped slightly to 15.8 pounds per person.   • The state took nearly two years to deny a citizens’ petition aimed at protecting Cook Inlet fisheries from coal mining. The petition asked that buffer zones be required to protect salmon streams of the Chuitna River should Alaska’ largest coal mine be built in the region.  • State officials said there was “no reason to panic” and that Alaska salmon are “relatively safe” from a deadly fish virus that appeared for the first time in Pacific waters. British Columbia said it will test 8,000 wild and farmed salmon for signs of the virus.  • Anchorage ranked No. 1 for Alaska cities with the most resident skippers and crew at more than 1,800. • At $603 million, Alaska’s 2011 salmon catch is the third most valuable since 1975 and likely to end up at No. 2 after final sales are reported by processors and buyers next spring. (Alaska’s most valuable salmon season was $725 million in 1988.) • Southeast Alaska ranked first in the state with the most valuable salmon harvest at $203 million ex-vessel, a $70 million increase over 2010. Bristol Bay came in second with a value of $137 million, compared to $185 million the previous year. • The 2011 pink salmon harvest of 116 million fish was valued at over $170 million, an all time record. Chum salmon rang in at $93 million, the third highest value; sockeye salmon were worth almost $296 million, ranking at sixth place among historic sockeye harvests. Chinook and coho harvests, at $20 and $23 million, were in the middle of their historic values. Alaska processors continued to ramp up their output of customer-friendly salmon fillets.  Production approached 20 million pounds, and increase of 26 percent.  More than 6 million pounds of salmon fillets went out fresh this summer, a gain of more than 30 percent.   For the first time ever, fresh and frozen pink salmon wholesaled for virtually the same price this summer, both at about $1.45 per pound. • A new McDowell Group analysis revealed that sea otter predation on local fisheries has cost Southeast Alaska’s economy more than $28 million in direct and indirect impacts since 1995. • Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich, along with Rep. Don Young, introduced legislation to stop genetically modified salmon (“Frankenfish”) from getting to US markets, and to require labeling should it get federal approval. • Marubeni Corporation, parent company of North Pacific Seafoods, purchased the Yardarm Knot seafood processing plant at Naknek, making it Japan’s largest sockeye salmon buyer.  • Dutch Harbor ranked as the nation’s No. 1 port for seafood landings for the 22nd year in a row. 2011 Fish Picks and Pans Best fish partnerships: The fishermen financed/operated Regional Seafood Development Associations for Bristol Bay and Prince William Sound/Copper River Best Alaska seafood cheerleaders: ASMI (Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute) Best fish outreach: Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Agents Best ‘future fish eaters’ ambassador: GAPP (Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers) for getting top quality seafood onto America’s school lunch trays Best Fish Samaritans: United Fishermen of Alaska and AFIRM  (Alaska Fishing Industry Relief Mission)  Best fish invention:  NanoIce from Iceland, made of crystallized ice particles that can be pumped  into a hold or container to cover fish. The generators use 90 percent less refrigerant and 70 percent less power than conventional ice making machines.  Best celebrates its local fish town: Cordova Best fish feeders: Sea Share and Kodiak processors and fishermen who partnered to donate bycatch to food banks Fishiest ‘best available science’ snafu: NMFS’ questionable biological opinion on impacts of Steller sea lions on western Aleutian fisheries. Resulting closures to the cod and Atka mackerel fisheries cost the industry $200 million a year.  Biggest fish shocker: Arne Fuglvog  Best fish clean up: The Juneau-based Marine Conservation Alliance, in partnership with local communities, hauled away more than two million pounds of coastal debris since 2003 from Southeast to the Pribilofs (including a derelict fishing vessel). Best She-Fish: Cora Campbell, Commissioner ADF&G Best fish byproducts booster: Peter Bechtel, UAF/USDA and Scott Smiley, Kodiak Fisheries & Marine Science Center. Biggest fish blunder: Trading 11 miles of productive salmon streams on the Chuitna River for low grade coal for China Scariest fish story: Ocean acidification Best fish PR: Norton Sound Seafood House at Ted Stevens Int’l Airport/Anchorage Biggest fish slam: The state siding with the Pebble Partnership in court to prevent Lake & Peninsula residents from voting on the Save Our Salmon initiative Biggest fish snub (third year in a row): Cynthia Carroll, CEO of Anglo American/Pebble Mine who told Bristol Bay residents “If the people don’t want the mine, we won’t build it.” Biggest fish waste: Alaska spending $20 million on Peruvian fish feed for its 33 salmon hatcheries while sending 200,000 tons of homemade fish feeds to Asia. Biggest fish stall:  The U.S. still not signing on to the Law of the Sea Treaty (LOST), meaning it has no claims to the Arctic Best fish advocates: Alaska Congressional Delegation: Lisa, Mark and Don Trickiest fish solution: sea otters vs. fisheries in Southeast Alaska Most troublesome fish dilemma:  Millions of pounds of halibut taken as bycatch while sport and commercial catches get trimmed. Biggest fish story of 2011:  Federal guidelines for the first time recommend that Americans eat two seafood meals a week. That means new fishmeal guidelines are required for schools, military mess halls, VA hospitals, prisons and other federally-backed institutions.  This year marks the 21st year for the weekly Fish Factor column that focuses on Alaska’s seafood industry. It began in 1991 in the Anchorage Daily News, and now appears in more than 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 all people aware of the economic, social and cultural importance of Alaska’s fishing industry, and to inspire more people to join its ranks.


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