Fisheries

Kenai personal-use fishery opens Tuesday

The Kenai River personal-use dipnet fishery opens today at 6 a.m. for a season that has historically brought several thousand people to Kenai until its close July 31. The group aims to catch some of the more than 1 million sockeye salmon that enter the Kenai river every year. As of Sunday, 42,946 have been counted by a sonar located 19 miles upstream from the mouth of the river. The optimum escapement goal for Kenai River late-run sockeye salmon is 700,000 to 1,200,000. Last year, Kenai River dipnetters harvested an estimated 537,765 sockeye salmon due in part to an expanded fishing period by Fish and Game. Dipnetters will not get a chance to harvest kings this year as an emergency order released Friday prohibits retention of king salmon due to low numbers of kings in the river. Kings cannot be removed from the water and must be released immediately according to the order. In June the Kenai City Council voted to raise camping fees at the North and South beaches to $20 per 12-hour period.  The city estimates that only 3 percent of fishery participants are Kenai residents, while hundreds of tents spring up on the beaches for the duration of the season, sheltering dipnetters from around the state. The fishery is open to Alaska residents only. The fishery is open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Fish and Game has released several guidelines for people who utilize the fishery. * The total yearly harvest of salmon is limited to 25 per head of household plus 10 salmon for each additional household member. Permits are limited to one per house-hold. * All fish retained must have the tips of both tail fins clipped and should be recorded before leaving the beach. * Participants are asked to stay off of the dunes and remove their own trash from the beach. * According to Fish and Game, fishing success in the first few days of the dipnet fishery will likely be poor as “few fish are moving at this time.” * Dipnetting from a boat is allowed, but two-stroke motors are prohibited and people should be prepared for long waits at the Kenai City Dock.  

US scientist: Ocean acidity major threat to reefs

SYDNEY (AP) — Oceans' rising acid levels have emerged as one of the biggest threats to coral reefs, acting as the "osteoporosis of the sea" and threatening everything from food security to tourism to livelihoods, the head of a U.S. scientific agency said Monday. The speed by which the oceans' acid levels has risen caught scientists off-guard, with the problem now considered to be climate change's "equally evil twin," National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chief Jane Lubchenco told The Associated Press. "We've got sort of the perfect storm of stressors from multiple places really hammering reefs around the world," said Lubchenco, who was in Australia to speak at the International Coral Reef Symposium in the northeast city of Cairns, near the Great Barrier Reef. "It's a very serious situation." Oceans absorb excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, increasing sea acidity. Scientists are worried about how that increase will affect sea life, particularly reefs, as higher acid levels make it tough for coral skeletons to form. Lubchenco likened ocean acidification to osteoporosis — a bone-thinning disease — because researchers are concerned it will lead to the deterioration of reefs. Scientists initially assumed that the carbon dioxide absorbed by the water would be sufficiently diluted as the oceans mixed shallow and deeper waters. But most of the carbon dioxide and the subsequent chemical changes are being concentrated in surface waters, Lubchenco said. "And those surface waters are changing much more rapidly than initial calculations have suggested," she said. "It's yet another reason to be very seriously concerned about the amount of carbon dioxide that is in the atmosphere now and the additional amount we continue to put out." Higher acidity levels are especially problematic for creatures such as oysters, because acid slows the growth of their shells. Experiments have shown other animals, such as clown fish, also suffer. In a study that mimicked the level of acidity scientists expect by the end of the century, clown fish began swimming toward predators, instead of away from them, because their sense of smell had been dulled. "We're just beginning to uncover many of the ways in which the changing chemistry of oceans affects lots of behaviors," Lubchenco said. "So salmon not being able to find their natal streams because their sense of smell was impaired, that's a very real possibility." The potential impact of all of this is huge, Lubchenco said. Coral reefs attract critical tourism dollars and protect fragile coastlines from threats such as tsunamis. Seafood is the primary source of protein for many people around the world. Already, some oyster farmers have blamed higher acidity levels for a decrease in stocks. Some attempts to address the problem are already under way. Instruments that measure changing acid levels in the water have been installed in some areas to warn oyster growers when to stop the flow of ocean water to their hatcheries. But that is only a short-term solution, Lubchenco said. The most critical element, she said, is reducing carbon emissions. "The carbon dioxide that we have put in the atmosphere will continue to be absorbed by oceans for decades," she said. "It is going to be a long time before we can stabilize and turn around the direction of change simply because it's a big atmosphere and it's a big ocean."  

Commentary: Bycatch tabulated across U.S.; farmed salmon swamps market

A first ever accounting of bycatch in U.S. fisheries has been achieved by federal scientists in a user friendly report that aims to set a baseline for the accidental takes of fish, marine mammals, seabirds, and other creatures by fishing gear. The National Bycatch Report, based primarily on 2005 data, shows fish landings and estimated bycatch ratios of nearly 400 types of sea creatures by gear type and region. It is part of an effort to track changes in bycatch over time, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and to help managers meet mandates to preserve the nation’s fisheries.   Here’s a sampler: The total estimate for fish bycatch was 1.2 billion pounds on U.S. landings of 6 billion pounds. The Southeast region of the U.S. led all others with total fish bycatch of nearly 683 million pounds – meaning two-thirds of their catch is getting tossed. Alaska ranked second for fish bycatch at 339 million pounds on 4.5 billion pounds of fish landed. By far the fishery with the most bycatch is Gulf of Mexico shrimp trawl, followed by Gulf of Alaska flathead sole and rex sole trawl. For marine mammal bycatch, nearly 1,900 from 54 different species were caught by accident in U.S. fisheries, with the Northeast region leading at almost 1,300 animals. Alaska ranked almost at the bottom for marine mammal bycatch with 36 harbor porpoises, fewer than 10 Steller sea lions and less than 3 humpbacks, killer whales and harbor seals. Alaska led all other regions for sea bird bycatch at 7,280 in 19 fisheries. Nearly half of the birds were fulmars, followed by sea gulls. The report has 78 pages of Alaska charts covering 27 fisheries and 91 fish stocks. In general, bottom trawl and bottom longline fisheries had the highest bycatch ratios, mostly of groundfish. Other fisheries with high estimates included sablefish and Pacific cod longline fisheries and pot cod fisheries in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea. Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands pollock trawl was among the lowest levels of bycatch. The National Bycatch Report makes seven recommendations for improving Alaska’s fisheries and bycatch assessments, including hiring 13 full time staff and providing nearly 30,000 observer days at sea. NOAA Fisheries plans to provide an abbreviated update of the report in 2013, according to Chris Rilling at NOAA headquarters in Maryland. (See more at http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/by_catch/bycatch_nationalreport.htm)   Salmon surge As predicted, farmed salmon from Chile is swamping U.S. markets, with first quarter imports of 18 million pounds up more than 56 percent from the same time last year. A deadly virus crushed Chile’s multi-billion dollar fish farm industry four years ago, but since then growers have worked with a vengeance to regain their market share in the U.S. That market is primarily fresh, user-friendly salmon fillets. Food industry tracker Urner Barry said other countries, like Norway, can’t even come close to the amount of fish Chile is sending to the U.S. More than 35 million pounds of fresh fillets were imported from Chile through March, a 114 percent increase. Chile is expected to produce 700,000 metric tons of whole salmon this year — more than 1.5 billion pounds — just slightly below Alaska’s total poundage last year. The oversupply of Chilean farmed fish has pushed down fillet wholesale prices to $3.40 a pound, per drop of $2.30 from last year. Urner Barry said a few factors are stemming the surge: a lack of Styrofoam boxes for packing/shipping, and a lack of boats to pump fish from the net pens for processing.   Scoopin’ scallops Alaska’s scallop fishery got under way July 1. A fleet of just three to four boats fish for weathervane scallops from Yakutat to the Bering Sea, with most of the catch coming from waters around Kodiak. Weathervanes are the largest scallops in the world with a shell diameter averaging ten inches. It can take up to five years for scallops to reach market size, and they can live up to 20 years. Scallop boats drop big dredges that make tows along mostly sandy bottoms of strictly defined fishing regions, and are closely monitored by onboard observers. “All boats must carry observers,” said boat owner Jim Stone. “It’s a heavy cost at around $350-$400 a day. But we accept that in order to go into the areas and make sure our bycatch and impact are minimal.” Crews on scallop boats catch, package and freeze the shucked meats and can remain at sea until Thanksgiving. Scallop meats are the adductor muscle that keep the shells closed. They are a wildly popular delicacy and can pay fishermen up to $10 per pound. This year’s Alaska catch has dipped a bit from the usual level of nearly 500,000 pounds to just more than 417,000 pounds, the lowest harvest in four years. It’s pricy scallops that each year nudge Dutch Harbor out of the top spot for the nation’s most valuable seafood port. Dutch has the most landings by far, but New Bedford, Mass., has held the lead for value for 11 years running – due to East coast scallop catches that can top 50 million pounds of shucked meats.

Arguments for, against coastal zone plan given

The public got a preview Monday of an upcoming series of hearings on a ballot initiative that would re-establish a coastal management program in Alaska. A news conference called by Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell in Anchorage featured arguments for and against the initiative that are expected to be delivered during each of 10 hearings on the proposal. Terzah Tippin Poe, with the Alaska Sea Party, spoke in favor of the proposal, saying Alaskans deserve a say in development decisions, and the program the initiative would establish would aid developers in navigating the permitting process. The Sea Party is behind the ballot initiative. Rick Rogers, executive director of the Resource Development Council for Alaska, spoke for "Vote No on 2," a group that opposes the measure. He said the program would not cut red tape and would instead pose an obstacle to development. The coastal management program lets states put conditions on certain activities on federal land and water. Alaska's program lapsed last year after attempts by lawmakers failed to revamp and save it. Earlier this year, after the initiative petition was filed, a bill similar to the measure was introduced during the regular legislative session but went nowhere. The Legislature can pre-empt initiatives by passing substantially similar legislation, but some lawmakers and Gov. Sean Parnell said they preferred to let voters have their say on the issue. The initiative is the first to fall under a 2010 state law requiring at least eight hearings be held up to 30 days before the election that will decide the measure. One of the bill's sponsors, Rep. Charisse Millett, R-Anchorage, spoke at the news conference. Millett said initiatives are powerful, and that a goal of the law was to help people better understand ballot measures. The initiative is set to appear on the Aug. 28 primary ballot. Treadwell has scheduled hearings around the state next month and plans to run each like a legislative hearing. A summary of the proposal will be given along with a cost estimate prepared by the Office of Management and Budget. There will be a question and answer period and the public will be given an opportunity to speak, with a dial-in number provided, where possible, to allow people to call in and testify. He said the state will not bear the cost for representatives of the pro and con sides to address the hearings, which could last at least three hours. Hearings are scheduled for July 2 in Soldotna; July 3 in Bethel; July 9 in Anchorage and Wasilla; July 10 in Kotzebue; July 11 in Fairbanks; July 12 in Kodiak; July 23 in Barrow; July 25 in Ketchikan and July 26 in Juneau.  

Kenai, Kasilof closed for kings

The Kenai River, from its mouth upstream to Skilak Lake, will be closed to king salmon fishing beginning Friday through the end of the early run on June 30 as the Alaska Department of Fish and Game tries to meet its minimum escapement goal. According to Fish and Game, preliminary indicators of the run show that it may be the lowest on record for the department. When the king salmon late run begins July 1, bait and scent will be prohibited. According to a media release, the department cannot justify “additional mortality associated with catch-and-release fishing” given the low abundance of kings. The emergency order also prohibits all sport fishing for king salmon, including catch-and-release fishing, in the waters of the Kenai River from the Fish and Game marker about 300 yards downstream of the mouth of Slikok creek, upstream to the northernmost edge of the Sterling Highway Bridge beginning July 1 through July 14. The use of bait is prohibited during the late run, beginning July 1 from the mouth of the Kenai River to the Fish and Game marker located at the outlet of Skilak Lake and in the Moose River from its junction with the Kenai River upstream to the northernmost edge of the Sterling Highway Bridge. Only one, unbaited single-hook, artificial lure may be used. These restrictions supercede the emergency orders issued previously restricted the Kenai River to catch-and-release and trophy king salmon fishing. In addition, the Kasilof River fishery is still restricted to the hatchery-reared king harvest only and an additional ban on the use of bait and multiple hooks will go into effect June 22 through June 30.

Commentary: Ocean acidification research buoyed by state funding

Thanks to a nearly $3 million show of support from the state, high tech buoys will soon be measuring ocean acidity levels year round, and Alaska fishermen will play an important role in the research. Basic chemistry proves that ocean waters are becoming more corrosive and it is happening faster in colder waters. The acidity, caused by increasing carbon dioxide emissions, can prevent shells from forming on crabs or oysters and tiny shrimplike organisms essential to fish diets. Alaska’s monitoring project will allow scientists to develop a “sensitivity index” for the Gulf of Alaska, Bering Sea and the Arctic, and key species in the regions. “By doing that we will get an idea of which regions are the most vulnerable,” explained Jeremy Mathis, a chemical oceanographer and director of the Ocean Acidification Research Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. “After that, we will be able to start modeling out some scenarios using our ocean observations combined with subsistence and economic data — where if there was a disruption in a certain species, we could quantify those costs. We can communicate with stakeholders and policy makers using numbers instead of in terms of pH levels and saturate rates.” Mathis and his team will begin ordering and building the buoy equipment next month with deployment planned for next March. The fully loaded buoys each come at a price tag of about $300,000, or roughly the price of one 10-day research cruise. The buoys will be located in Southeast, Resurrection Bay off Seward, Kodiak, and the Bering Sea. “That buoy sits about 100 miles west of Bristol Bay, right in the middle of the big crab fishery. So between those four sites we are able to monitor where the stakeholders and the fisheries are, and ultimately we will be able to answer some of those ecosystem questions,” Mathis said. The OA research center will contract with fishermen and vessels for buoy deployments and maintenance, as well as for collecting water samples to expand the ocean chemistry database. “We hope to be able to utilize the fleets in these different locations, rather than charter a research vessel from somewhere else,” Mathis said, adding that he gets a dozen calls a week from fishermen and others offering to collaborate on OA related research. Mathis said he was amazed at how quickly Alaskans have organized in support of expanding OA research and called the state money, “a major victory for science this year.” “We are at the tip of the spear in terms of the impacts we are going to have and because of the fisheries we rely on. It is truly amazing to see the support at the grass roots level and have the legislature and the governor step up and allow us to take the national lead on this,” Mathis said. The state will get a good return for its investment. By putting up the seed money for the buoys, federal agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Science Foundation can partner with the Alaska project for the long term. “It is a way to bring funds into the state,” Mathis said. “We will now be more competitive in bringing in federal science dollars into Alaska and the university with a high return. Over the next five years, my group alone will be able to bring in significantly more federal dollars than what the state has invested in it. But we would probably not have been able to do it if the initial investment had not been made.”   Pollock dodge One key species that appears to be dodging the corrosive ocean bullet is Alaska pollock. Based on the first multi-year studies, pollock seem to be unaffected changes in ocean acidity levels. “We didn’t see dramatic declines in growth or death rates when we exposed them to the more acidic conditions,” Mathis said. “We are hoping we can continue research to show that pollock might have some natural resiliency to changes in ocean conditions.” The report on pollock and ocean acidification is on its way to science journals.   Fish watch Bristol Bay opened its salmon season on June 1; Kodiak followed on June 9. Catches of Copper River reds have topped the one million mark … No fishing for Yukon kings for the third year in a row. State managers predict a lower statewide salmon harvest this year of 132 million fish after 177 million last year due to a forecast decrease in pink catches. Halibut fishermen have taken 37 percent of their 24 million pound catch limit … sablefish longliners have taken nearly half of their 29 million pound quota. Prices for halibut are still topping $6 pound at major ports, and $9 for large sablefish. The Bering Sea pollock and cod fisheries reopened on June 10. The Bering Sea snow crab fishery, which got under way in January, has finally wrapped up its longest season ever, due to ice freezing up the fishery. Estimates peg the snow crab catch at just shy of the 80 million pound quota.

Balsiger keeps control of IPHC process after Ohaus charged

The head of the National Marine Fisheries Service in Alaska, whose advice is alleged to have played a role in the state criminal charges filed against an applicant for a seat on the International Pacific Halibut Commission, won’t talk about his involvement in the matter. NMFS Alaska Region Administrator Jim Balsiger will, however, retain control of the ongoing regional review process for the nine remaining applicants, with the blessing of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Balsiger sits on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council and also occupies the IPHC seat designated for an employee of NMFS. The two IPHC seats up for appointment are specified for an Alaskan and a non-resident. Thomas Ohaus, majority owner of the Angling Unlimited lodge and charter fishing service in Sitka, was hit on May 25 with five charges of false statements on his sport fishing license applications from 2007 to 2011. Ohaus was applying for the Alaska resident seat, and was charged by Alaska State Troopers within days of sending a letter to change his IPHC application from the Alaskan set to the nonresident seat, allegedly on the advice of Balsiger. On June 4, the day Ohaus withdrew his application entirely, NMFS refused to comment on whether Balsiger advised Ohaus to change his application status. “NMFS declines to respond in light of the pending charges levied by the State of Alaska against Mr. Ohaus,” wrote Julie Speegle, NMFS Alaska Region public affairs officer in Juneau. On June 14, Speegle responded to follow-up questions sent to NOAA headquarters in Silver Springs, Md., about whether Balsiger’s alleged involvement in the Ohaus case cast an ethical shadow over his ability to continue the selection process. Connie Barclay, NOAA press officer in Silver Springs, declined to comment. “The Alaska Region, under the administrator’s direction, will complete the nomination package and send it forward to NOAA. It is anticipated that NOAA will seek the guidance of the administrator relative to nominee qualifications,” Speegle wrote in the June 14 email. Because the IPHC is an international organization, also including three Canadian commissioners, President Barack Obama officially makes the appointment after consultation with the State Department and Department of Commerce. NOAA Administrator Samuel Rauch, in Silver Springs, Md., is also involved in the process, but all the information they receive comes from or through Balsiger. “The Regional Administrator vets the list of nominees for qualifications to represent the U.S. and where appropriate, consults with stakeholders to provide a summary of each candidate’s strong points to the assistant administrator,” wrote Speegle on June 14. As of June 18 the nominating package had not been sent to Maryland and had no deadline to get there. Ohaus has also declined to be interviewed to date but claims through a spokesman that he was advised by Balsiger to change his application. Ohaus asked Balsiger for guidance on what “residency standard” he should use for his application, according to Heath Hilyard, executive director of the Southeast Alaska Guides Organization. Ohaus founded, and remains president, of SEAGO. Hilyard said Ohaus sought advice from both of Alaska’s U.S. senators and the Department of Fish and Game, but that Balsiger was apparently the only one to respond. Balsiger consulted federal attorneys and told Ohaus it would be “more appropriate” to apply as a nonresident and advised that he send a letter requesting that his application be changed, Hilyard said June 2. Ohaus met the March 19 deadline for all IPHC applications. The state troopers were led to him by the investigation on an identical charge against David J. Gross, a guide employed at his lodge. Ohaus and business partner Charles McNamee, also facing five charges for the same crime, are scheduled for arraignment in District Court in Sitka on July 11. Charging documents filed with the court say Ohaus is resident of South Dartmouth, Mass., and McNamee lives in Nevis, Minn. Gross pleaded not guilty after charges were filed against him on March 20, but he is scheduled for a change of plea hearing on July 11. He, Ohaus and McNamee are represented by Sitka attorney James McGowan. Among the nine remaining candidates for the IPHC seats is John Whiddon, manager of Pacific Seafoods in Kodiak, who was rumored to be withdrawing from consideration during the North Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting there earlier this month. Like Ohaus, Whiddon is up for the Alaska resident seat. “News to me,” Whiddon said, June 15, when asked if the rumors were true. “I’ve had quite a bit of support from Kodiak and other areas.” Whiddon declined to comment on the Ohaus case, or the involvement of Balsiger in the process. Balsiger’s wife, Heather McCarty, is a lobbyist for Pacific Seafoods. Another McCarty client, Philip Lestenkof, president of the Central Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association, was appointed to the IPHC in 2002. He did not seek another term on the commission.

Sec. Clinton urges international cooperation in Arctic

TROMSO, Norway (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton ventured north of the Arctic Circle on June 9 and urged international cooperation in a region that could become a new battleground for natural resources. On her trip to the northern Norwegian city of Tromso, she conveyed that message of working together in one of the world’s last frontiers of unexplored oil, gas and mineral deposits. The region is becoming more significant as melting icecaps accelerate the opening of new shipping routes, fishing stocks and drilling opportunities. To safely tap the riches, the U.S. and other countries near the North Pole are trying to cooperate to combat harmful climate change, settle territorial disputes and prevent oil spills. “The world increasingly looks to the North,” Clinton told reporters after a two-hour boat tour of the nearby Balsfjord and meeting with Arctic scientists. “Our goal is certainly to promote peaceful cooperation,” she said, adding that the U.S. was “committed to promoting responsible management of resources and doing all we can to prevent and mitigate the effects of climate change.” At the least, the U.S. and the other Arctic nations hope to avoid a confrontational race for resources. Officials say the picture looks more promising than five years ago when Russia staked its claim to supremacy in the Arctic and its $9 trillion in estimated oil reserves by planting a titanium flag on the ocean floor. The United States does not recognize the Russian assertion and has its own claims, along with Denmark, Norway and Canada, while companies from Exxon Mobil Corp. to Royal Dutch Shell PLC want to get in on the action. China also is keeping a close eye on the region. Moscow has eased tensions somewhat by promising to press any claims through an agreed U.N. process. But Washington has yet to ratify the 1982 Law of the Sea treaty regulating the ocean’s use for military, transportation and mineral extraction purposes. With 160 countries having signed on, the Obama administration is making a new push for U.S. Senate approval. Refusal puts the U.S. at risk of getting frozen out of its share of the spoils. Arguing for its ratification at a recent Senate hearing, Clinton said the treaty would offer the U.S. oil and gas rights some 600 miles into the Arctic. She said American companies were “equipped and ready to engage in deep seabed mining,” but needed to join the treaty to take exploit oil, gas and mineral reserves. On Saturday, in the eight-nation Arctic Council’s home city, she stressed that the international agreement “sets down the rules of the road that protect freedom of navigation and provides maritime security, serving the interest of every nation that relies on sea lanes for commerce and trade.” The Arctic’s warming is occurring at least twice as fast as anywhere else, threatening to raise sea levels by up to 5 feet this century and possibly causing a 25 percent jump in mercury emissions over the next decade. The changes could threaten polar bears, whales, seals and indigenous communities hunting those animals for food, not to mention islands and low-lying areas much farther away, from Florida to Bangladesh. The changing climate also is changing the realm of what is possible from transportation to tourism, with the summer ice melting away by more than 17,000 square miles each year. During the most temperate days last year, only one-fifth of the Arctic Circle was ice-covered. Little of the ice has been frozen longer than two years, which is harder for icebreakers to cut through. Europeans see new shipping routes to China that, at least in the warmth and sunlight of summer, are 40 percent faster than traveling through the Indian Ocean, the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean Sea. A northwest passage between Greenland and Canada could significantly speed cargo traveling between the Dutch shipping hub of Rotterdam and ports in California. The Arctic Council is hoping to manage the new opportunities in a responsible way. It includes former Cold War foes U.S. and Russia, but Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere said governments were prepared to deepen cooperation “in a region that used to be frozen, both politically and climatically.” “Now there is a thaw,” he said. Last year in Greenland, Clinton and her counterparts from other nations took a small step toward international cooperation by agreeing to coordinate Arctic search-and-rescue missions for stranded sailors and others. Officials are now trying to enhance the cooperation, including through joint plans to prevent oil spills in an environment that would make cleanup a logistical nightmare. The U.S. has been championing measures such as shifting away from dirty diesel engines, agricultural burning and hydrofluorocarbons to lessen the effect of short-lived greenhouse gases that are a particularly potent source of climate change in the Arctic.

OysterFest celebrates future of Southeast shellfish industry

Photo/Courtesy/Governor’s office Gov. Sean Parnell signs House Bill 121 in Juneau at OysterFest on June 6. The bill creates several new revolving loan funds, including a $5 million pool for developing mariculture. JUNEAU — The economic development branch of Sealaska Corp. celebrated the first production of three Yakutat shellfish farms it helped launch, and the future of a regional aquaculture industry at the first annual Alaska Oyster Festival June 6 in Juneau. “We can have a $30 million industry instead of a $400,000 industry,” said Anthony Lindoff, mariculture manager for Haa Aani, a wholly owned Sealaska subsidiary. The smaller figure was last year’s production from the Yakutat farms, including two that are independently owned and one as a “training platform” for future farmers. Gov. Sean Parnell was among more than 100 guests who enjoyed “Pearl of Alaska” oysters. The occasion was also the venue for a signing ceremony for House Bill 121. Introduced at the governor’s request, the bill established independent revolving loan funds for mariculture operations, Community Quota Entities, halibut charter fishing businesses and general business microloans. The bill allocated $5 million for mariculture, $5 million for charter operators, $10 million for CQEs and $2.5 million for microloans. “Something important is happening. We are creating better access to capital for those folks in the mariculture industry who want to enter by creating a mariculture revolving loan fund,” Parnell said. Commerce Department Commissioner Susan Bell, also in attendance, said Alaska shellfish, among other seafood products, are promoted on cruise ships but, “We need to grow more shellfish for them really to be able to buy.” “We really think this will be he beginning of a new day and opportunity,” added Chris McNeil, Sealaska president and CEO. “Communities were becoming economically unviable.” McNeil emphasized that the cooperative development of oyster farming with Southeast villages through Haa Aani is intended to reverse a regional decline. “At the end of the day our culture and our heritage is rooted in our traditional rural communities and if we continue to have the outmigration that we have today and that we see today, then we risk losing our culture,” said Russell Dick, Haa Aani president and CEO. “That, to Sealaska and our team at Haa Aani, is unacceptable.” Dick said “considerable impediments to economic development” remain in the region. He cited insufficient access to capital and technical assistance among the gaps. McNeil said extent of mariculture expansion has not been determined, but significant plans for regional operations have been made. A new farm will begin operations in Angoon this year and Hydaburg could become a nursery with the installation of a “flupsy.” Akin to a salmon hatchery, the floating upweller system, which operates on a barge or dock, forces seawater through shellfish seeds that are protected from predators in floating containers. The units allow greater seed density and increase their growth rate over natural conditions. Kake, where Sealaska has processing and cold storage facilities, will serve as market logistics center for regional farm production, McNeil noted.

US braces for tsunami debris, but impacts still unclear

Gulf of Alaska Keeper/Ryan Pallister/AP In this June 6 photo providedby Ryan Pallister, Patrick Chandler removes tsunami debris on Montague Island near Seward. JUNEAU AP) — More than a year after a tsunami devastated Japan, killing thousands of people and washing millions of tons of debris into the Pacific Ocean, the U.S. government and West Coast states don’t have a cohesive plan for cleaning up the rubble that floats to American shores. There is also no firm handle yet on just what to expect. The Japanese government estimates that 1.5 million tons of debris is floating in the ocean from the catastrophe. Some experts in the United States think the bulk of that trash will never reach shore, while others fear a massive, slowly-unfolding environmental disaster. “I think this is far worse than any oil spill that we’ve ever faced on the West Coast or any other environmental disaster we’ve faced on the West Coast” in terms of the debris’ weight, type and geographic scope, said Chris Pallister, president of a group dedicated to cleaning marine debris from the Alaska coastline. David Kennedy, assistant administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Ocean Service, told a U.S. Senate panel last month that in most cases debris removal decisions will fall to individual states. Funding hasn’t been determined. U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, and other West Coast political leaders, have called that scenario unacceptable, saying tsunami debris poses a pending national emergency. “If this was a one-time event all at once, we’d declare it an emergency and we’d be on the ground like that,” he said, during the hearing he led. One astonishing example of how the unexpected can suddenly appear occurred June 6 in Oregon when a concrete and metal dock that measured 66 feet long, seven feet tall and 19 feet wide, washed ashore a mile north of Newport. A Japanese consulate official in Portland confirmed that the dock came from the northern Japanese city of Misawa, cut loose in the tsunami of March 11, 2011. “I think that the dock is a forerunner of all the heavier stuff that’s coming later, and amongst that heavier stuff are going to be a lot of drums full of chemicals that we won’t be able to identify,” Pallister said. His group, Gulf of Alaska Keeper, works in the same region devastated by the Exxon Valdez oil spill, which dumped 11 million gallons of oil into Prince William Sound in 1989. Tsunami debris is tough to monitor. Winds and ocean currents regularly change, while rubbish can break up. Some trash, like fishing gear, kerosene and gas containers and building supplies, can be tied to the tsunami only anecdotally. But in other cases — a soccer ball and a derelict fishing boat in Alaska and a motorcycle in British Columbia, for example — items have been traced back to the disaster through their owners. NOAA projects the debris having spread over an area roughly three times the size of the contiguous United States, but can’t pinpoint when or how much might eventually reach the coasts of Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California and Hawaii. An independent group of scientists and environmental activists are scheduled to sail aboard the “Sea Dragon” from Japan Saturday to an area north of the Hawaiian islands, with plans to zigzag through the debris, document what’s floating and try to determine what might reach the West Coast. “You have a unique experiment,” said Marcus Eriksen, a researcher at the Algalita Marine Research Institute in Long Beach, Calif., who is leading the expedition. “You have entire homes and all their contents ... anything you may find in a Japanese home could be floating in the ocean still intact.” Seattle-based oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer, who has been tracking ocean trash for 20 years, predicts the main mass of tsunami debris will reach the U.S. coast from Northern California to southeast Alaska as early as October, with the beginning of fall storms. Cleanup plans should be finalized no later than September, Ebbesmeyer cautioned. There may also be sensitive issues to be decided, he said, including how to deal with any human remains or personal mementos. But just who will clean up the debris and who will pay for it hasn’t been fully determined. Begich wants to make at least $45 million available for local community groups to conduct clean-up efforts. Gulf of Alaska Keeper believes Congress should set aside $50 million a year for four years. As it stands now, NOAA has $618,000 allocated to clean up tsunami debris. The agency’s total marine debris program budget could drop by 26 percent to $3.4 million, under President Obama’s proposed budget. Marine trash isn’t a new problem. The ocean is littered with all kinds of things that can trap and kill wildlife, hurt human health and navigation and blight beaches. NOAA has previously given grants to local groups for cleanup work. The agency expects the tsunami debris to simply add to the ongoing problem of massive amounts of trash flowing into the ocean every day. Volunteers in California report their efforts being stretched thin just in dealing with day-to-day rubbish. Seasonal opportunity for cleanup could close as early as September at spots in Alaska, where some beaches are accessible only by boat or aircraft and removing trash can be difficult and expensive. Washington has monitored some incoming debris for radioactivity. Eben Schwartz, marine debris program manager for the California Coastal Commission, said more recognition needs to be given to the fact that it will be beach cleanup volunteers who respond to tsunami debris. “Given that, I would like to see more state and federal support for the volunteer programs that will be taking the lead,” he said. They’re going to need help, resources and funding, he said. NOAA’s marine debris program expects solid plans from the states within the next few months. The governors of Washington, Oregon and California, as well as the premier of British Columbia, have said they will work together to manage debris. Widespread or concentrated die-offs of marine animals aren’t expected, said John Hocevar, oceans campaign director for Greenpeace, but there could be local impacts. NOAA officials say they don’t think there’s any radiation risk from the debris, despite the meltdown at a nuclear power plant in Fukushima. Merrick Burden, executive director of the Marine Conservation Alliance in Alaska and Washington, said he thinks states, local governments, volunteers and industries including fishing and tourism need to pull together to clean up debris, and not simply wait and hope for federal funds. “One of the things standing in the way is a unified, coordinated approach to this,” he said. Pallister worried that a lack of awareness may hamper the effort. “You just don’t have that visceral, gut-wrenching reaction to having oiled otters and drowned seabirds in that crude to get the public pumped up about it,” he said of the tsunami debris. “And even if you could get the public pumped up, again, you don’t have that culprit to go after — a bad guy. It’s kind of a tough one to deal with.”   McAvoy reported from Honolulu. Associated Press writers Rachel La Corte in Olympia, Wash., Jeff Barnard in Grants Pass, Ore., and Jason Dearen in San Francisco contributed to this report.

'Pingers' show promise to keep whales away from nets

Acoustical “pingers,” required in some Atlantic Coast fisheries to help porpoises stay out of driftnets, are getting strong reviews from salmon harvesters on both sides of the Gulf of Alaska along with almost desperate interest from others here trying to avoid costly whale encounters. Federal officials in Alaska have raised the possibility that use of the herring-sized transmitters might amount to “harassment” under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The Juneau-based distributors who use and sell them, backed by a Kodiak researcher, expressed confidence in their utility and legality. A recent email from Garland Walker, an attorney in Juneau for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, stated, “Injury, intent to injure or doing something in negligent fashion that while not intended to injure a marine mammal, would in the view of a reasonably informed person would cause injury to a marine mammal, would be considered harassment.” Walker, on annual leave, could not be reached for comment. Matt Brown, deputy chief of NOAA enforcement in Juneau, said June 7 that federal managers are planning to discuss the question. “Some Protected Resources people had concerns,” Brown said of the NOAA division. “Somebody could try to stretch it to harassment but they would really have to stretch it and in the court system, I would bet, you would very easily be able to defeat it,” said Kathy Hansen. With her husband Ed, Hansen is a salmon driftnetter and owner of Kathy’s Net Loft and Gear Supply in Juneau, the exclusive Alaska distributor for Fumunda Marine “whale pincers.” Neither the Hansens nor NOAA released the full email but Kathy Hansen said Walker didn’t say using pingers is illegal but left a question. “He doesn’t write what people are actually looking for, which is that this is a legal item to use,” she said. Pingers are pointy-ended tuboids, just over 6 inches long, that contain a small transmitter and lithium battery. When seawater completes the connection between contacts built into the polymer units they emit a mammal-specific signal every five seconds. Pingers were first used more than a decade ago, attached along the top of shark nets along swimming beaches, to prevent dolphin entanglement. Fumunda, headquartered in Sippy Down, Queensland, developed their use, at a lower frequency, for humpback whale avoidance in response to a population growing at ten percent annually, according to James Ross Turner, managing director of Fumunda Pingers Proprietary Ltd. Unlike their large and small toothed cousins, humpbacks and other baleen whales hear sound much like humans and don’t use “sonar” to send out a signal that bounces off other creatures or things. Tanglings and interactions off Australian beaches dropped from 14 in 2008 to one in 2010, Turner said. Success Down Under allowed pingers to migrate to South African beaches where their use is on beach shark nets is also growing. Fumunda now operates in 26 countries and works with academic and government researchers in more than a dozen countries. Although their first whale-related research use in North America was in a 1992 project to warn humpbacks away from buoy lines in the Newfoundland cod fishery, they didn’t reach Alaska until 2009 when Turner sent several to Kate Wynne, a University of Alaska Fairbanks professor researching marine mammals from Kodiak. “The reaction, if I can call it that to the deployment of the pingers was pretty well immediate,” Turner said. Alaska’s humpback whale population is growing at about 7 percent annually, and becoming an increasingly expensive problem for commercial harvesters. Kathy Hansen, who is also executive director of the Southeast Alaska Fishermen’s Alliance, had been in touch with Wynne on possible solutions. Wynne said a few Kodiak setnetters gave pingers a “test drive” in 2011 and reported great results. “They had whales come within, what sounded like about 25 yards, and casually move around the end of the net. That’s why everyone got so excited about them. “That’s why the word spread throughout the fleet, that these things seem to work very well.” The Hansens reported similar results in more than a month of use last summer. Their whale encounters “dropped immensely,” said Ed Hansen, who suggested that “pinger” is a poor name. When strung along a driftnet, they act more like a row of lighthouses warning a humpback that it is approaching a shoreline, he explained. “It got to the point where, at times, when we would have run away from fishing an area because there were so many whales around, we just quit worrying about it and just continued to set our net, is how comfortable it started to make us feel,” Kathy Hansen said. This year Wynne is measuring the “whale perspective” on pingers. She plans to attach temporary tags to whales to record the level of sound they receive from a pinger and track their movement. “We’re hoping to be able to see if they actually are responding to our approach with the pinger at different distance,” Wynne said. Pingers aren’t very loud. The 3 kilohertz whale pinger broadcasts at 135 decibels, and Wynne is concerned that their tone may be lost to whales amid general background noise, especially if it includes vessel engines. Wynne also said she’s heard that a Petersburg seine skipper is working out a way to launch a pinger upstream from his net so that it drifts toward the purse and, hopefully, keeps whales away. “I think it’s very doable,” Wynne said. She was less optimistic about the Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association’s ongoing use of pingers positioned on buoys along the shoreline near salmon smolt release sights. Steve Reifenstuhl, NSRAA general manager, agreed but said he’s getting desperate. “We’ve had tremendous problems with whale predation so we are looking at different strategies,” he said. Over the last few years chum salmon returns to its Hidden Falls hatchery and a remote release site on nearby Takatz Bay have fallen dramatically. He thinks learned behavior by the Southeast panhandle’s growing whale population may be the reason. “To think that they can come right back to Hidden Falls is pretty dead certain. I think that they remember feeding strategies and can even teach others,” Reifenstuhl said. Results from the project weren’t yet available at that time, but the pessimistic outlook is a result of the subtly different use of pingers in this case. NSRAA is using pingers to keep whales away from a known food source rather than the foreign object that is a net. “That’s the huge difference, if there’s positive reinforcement. If there’s food on the other end, just alerting them could be worse,” Wynne said. All of the operations have huge incentives to find a way to keep whales away. Fumunda whale pingers cost $150 each, and have a range of about 100 yards. Salmon driftnets are 200 or 300 six-foot fathoms long, depending on the fishery. That requires an investment of up to $1,200, plus replaceable batteries. A new seine net can cost $138,000, according to Ed Hansen, while a new salmon driftnet can cost $5,800 and a whale can easily punch a $2,000 hole in a net that is salvageable. “They’re all looking for some type of humane, or whatever you want to call it, legal, deterrent because these nets are so expensive,” Ed Hansen said.

Kodiak diesel cleanup ongoing after Army craft grounding

KODIAK (AP) — When Petty Officer 1st Class Jeffry Crews was awoken by his phone at 11:30 p.m. on June 8, he knew he was in for a long day. That long day turned into a long weekend and now a long week, as cleanup continues on Kodiak’s largest fuel spill in more than a decade. Up to 15,000 gallons of No. 2 diesel leaked into Chiniak Bay after the U.S. Army landing craft Monterrey struck Kalsin Reef at or near Humpback Rock just before Friday turned into Saturday. “We consider this a significant spill,” said Steven Russell of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. “We have spills of this size (statewide) fairly frequently, usually in the winter months during vessel groundings. This one is a little bit unique because of the location. We’re right in downtown Kodiak.” The Monterrey has grounded on Puffin Island and remains visible from both downtown Kodiak and a scenic overlook frequented by tourists. Meanwhile, gloved workers are trying to soak up fuel on the beaches below. “Part of our job here is to respond to oil spills,” said Crews, a Coast Guard marine science technician. “Those calls can happen at any time.” The Coast Guard isn’t working alone. On Monday, slab-sided corrugated containers bearing the name of Alaska Chadux clustered on the St. Paul Harbor spit. Chadux is a private oil spill response group in Western Alaska, and the containers were among those it has stationed in Kodiak to respond to an Exxon Valdez-like disaster. While the spill from the Monterrey isn’t as severe as the one from that ill-fated tanker — No. 2 diesel evaporates much more quickly than crude oil — its scale is huge. From Puffin Island to the shore of Kodiak Island is six square miles of Chiniak Bay. “This is the largest pollution incident on my watch,” said Lt. Matthew Zinn, head of Marine Safety Detachment Kodiak, the Coast Guard’s unit in charge of spill response in Kodiak. Zinn has been on duty for two years in Kodiak and said he isn’t aware of a larger incident since the 1980s. That was corroborated by the Kodiak harbormaster’s office. Zinn said the Monterrey was ringed by 600 feet of oil containment booms by 4:30 a.m., about five hours after the wreck. That’s surprisingly fast, considering the booms’ heavy plastic snakes had to be transported from Coast Guard Base Kodiak in the early morning hours. “It was a little challenging, but we got it anchored,” Crews said. A second boom followed by noon Saturday and a third is in place now. Chadux, which sent a handful of workers from Anchorage on a specially chartered flight, moved into high gear by noon Saturday. With labor from Kodiak-based TC/MK Enterprises, oil-skimming operations were in full swing within the booms on Monday, and additional crews laid oil-absorbing pads in Gibson Cove and Dog Bay, where much of the diesel was blotted up. “It’s kind of a unique spill response, because everything worked out,” Crews said. “The weather drove everything into good collection points and away from sensitive areas like the Buskin (River).” The Buskin River contains a vital salmon stream as well as waterfowl nesting grounds. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service surveyed Puffin Island on Monday but reported no oiled wildlife. No evidence of diesel was found at the Buskin, according to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. Russell of ADEC said those reports are good news, but they don’t mean the cleanup is over. “We’re still finding some hot spots, some areas of pooled petroleum products in the area of Gibson Cove and St. Herman Harbor,” he said. “Those activities will continue until there is no more recoverable product.” Attention will next turn to the fate of the Monterrey, which had been on a mission to deliver construction supplies and heavy machinery to Bethel. Maj. Annmarie Daneker, spokeswoman for the U.S. Army Reserve, which operates the landing craft, said the ship will remain in place until examined by divers and engineers to ensure it remains seaworthy. After that, it will be floated to Lash Dock and unloaded. “Right now it’s still up in the air as to whether they’ll be able to support the (Bethel) mission,” Daneker said. The damage to the Monterrey’s human crew is less severe, she said. Three of the 17 people onboard the landing craft were injured, treated and released, she said. Because of damage to the Monterrey, the landing craft’s crew remains at Coast Guard Base Kodiak, rotating onboard the ship as needed. “They will stay with the vessel as long as they’re needed,” Daneker said. The biggest remaining question — what caused the accident — will not be answered any time soon, she said. The Army Reserve has begun what it calls a 15-6 investigation, named for the Army regulation that governs it. An impartial officer will be selected to collect information about the accident, then issue a report and recommendations. “It’s not a quick process,” Daneker said. “This is probably going to take months to not just finish the investigation but go up through channels, through the chain of command.” She declined to name the investigating officer or comment on the investigation, citing confidentiality. Coast Guard officials said the Army is the lead agency in the investigation and they will contribute at the Army’s request. “Obviously something went wrong,” Daneker said, “so we need to figure out where that happened.”

Workforce cut at Ketchikan Shipyard

KETCHIKAN (AP) — Alaska Ship and Drydock has had 23 fewer people working in the Ketchikan Shipyard since May 1 and the company says the main reason is a seasonal slowdown in routine vessel repair and maintenance work. “It’s unfortunate, but it’s fairly typical for the work slowdown in the summer,” said ASD President Adam Beck. “As you can imagine, all of the ferries are working, most of the commercial vessels are working, and that’s not when they want to get their maintenance done.” The workforce dropped from 128 to 105 as of Wednesday. Not all were layoffs. The Ketchikan Daily News reports some workers voluntarily took time off and are working with other companies. “They’re not necessarily laid off, but ... where they can find other work, they’ve done that,” said Doug Ward, director of shipyard development. “And I’m not suggesting that they’re doing it out of the kindness of their heart, but they understand that this is a slow time, and that it’s difficult to keep everybody going.” In past years, new construction and emergency repairs have made up for the usual summer slowdown at the shipyard, Ward said. There’s also been a decline in government vessel work. “This year, there just hasn’t been many government contracts with performance periods in the spring, that we normally have in the spring, early summer,” Ward said. Also absent are large new-vessel projects. The company has begun building a 136-foot, longliner-freezer fishing boat but the project cannot absorb a lot of labor. “We’re looking at another new build on a fish boat that could start up, and when the ship assembly hall opens here in July and August ... it will really allow us to build for the future on a new-build program,” Ward said. A solid new-build program would risks and cycles of the ship repair business, he said. “That’s the value of new build, because new build goes on seven days a week, every day, all year long,” Ward said. The company is a subsidiary of Portland, Ore.-based Vigor Industrial, which operates several shipyards in the Pacific Northwest. Vigor has recently redirected work to Ketchikan that likely would have gone elsewhere.

Sea otter study ongoing

Sea otters are expanding throughout Southeast Alaska and dining on crab, sea cucumbers, geoduck clams and more as they go. An ongoing study aims to track the otters, what they’re eating and where they are going — and researchers hope to get “grounds truth” from Southeast residents. For the past two years, Sea Grant marine advisory agents have spearheaded a project to learn more about the region’s sea otter diets and behaviors. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has provided aerial surveys and otter tagging to track their movements around Kupreonof Island, and Alaska Department of Fish and Game helps with logistics and data. “This is just for Southern Southeast Alaska,” said Sea Grant’s Sunny Rice in Petersburg. “It includes Kupreanof Island, Prince of Wales Island, Kuiu Island and inside in the Ketchikan, Petersburg, Wrangell areas. We’ve sort of drawn a line at Frederick Sound, although we will be interested in how they’ve moved up the north shore.” Aerial surveys have provided snapshots of otter activity but Rice wants to hear about otter sightings from longtime residents. “We want to learn when they first saw otters entering the areas they use on a regular basis, when they started seeing bigger groups if they did, and if they noticed what those otters were eating,” Rice said, adding that it’s most important to hear from people with a long term perspective. “People who frequent those areas continually year after year, so commercial fishermen will be great sources as well as recreational or subsistence users who to the same place time after time and have witnessed an influx of sea otters,” she said. The resident surveys will be combined with other research to make some otter predictions. “Hopefully, we can use that information and add it to what we know and come up with a good model on how the sea otter population has expanded, with the long term goal of being able to predict how it will continue to grow so people can make decisions based on more information,” Rice said. Sea otters were reintroduced to the southern regions in the late 1960s. Best estimates peg the population at about 19,000 animals in 2011. The animals are able to reproduce at any time of the year, and have a population doubling time of about five years. The otters are predators of almost every species that fishermen target. They have completely wiped out urchins and sea cucumbers in several areas, and are making inroads into some prime geoduck areas, according to Phil Doherty, director of the Southeast Alaska Regional Dive Fishery Association. Out of 15 Dungeness crab districts, six have large otter populations and Dungie pots have lost nearly 3 million pounds to otters in a decade, based on ADFG estimates. A report last year by the Juneau-based McDowell Group said otter predation has cost Southeast’s economy more than $28 million since 1995. Sunny Rice hopes to interview as many people as possible this summer and will travel to Prince of Wales Island and Ketchikan later this month. Ray reflects on ASMI After 10 years at the helm of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, executive director Ray Riutta is stepping down. “It’s time to bring in some new blood and new ideas,” he said. Prior to ASMI, Admiral Riutta spent 38 years in the U.S. Coast Guard. Now, retirement is looking pretty good. During his tenure, Riutta said he is most proud of ASMI’s role in helping to revitalize Alaska’s salmon industry. “We’ve participated in seeing the resurgence in value of the Alaska salmon fishery by orders of magnitude. I think of all the things that have happened through the 10 years I’ve been here, seeing that value come back to the fishermen is probably the thing I am most pleased with,” he said in a phone interview. Riutta said the power of the Alaska seafood brand has gotten stronger over the years. “We spent a lot of money on that – separating Alaska from the pack and we’ve carved out a pretty good niche for salmon and all Alaska seafood products,” he said. “The resulting value in the market demonstrates that. “The industry is putting a lot more time, money and effort in adding more value to products and there is far more respect for frozen products.” Riutta added that the biggest challenge will be holding onto that position in world markets. “We are the highest priced commodity on the shelf and we’ve got a special niche — fortunately ‘Alaska’ sells people and they are really excited about it, but holding that position and holding our value is going to be a big challenge,” he said. “And with the growth of all these certification programs and some of the restrictions that come with those, the ability to hold our market access and keep our name out there will be a challenge to us in coming years.” Riutta said what he has liked least about ASMI the job is all the necessary bureaucracy. His favorite part of the job is the people. “It has been a lot of fun and there’s a lot of really talented and sharp people and a lot of characters,” he said with a laugh. “This is really a fun industry to work in. I’ve just had a ball the last 10 years.” Riutta is quick to credit the state for its strong backing for ASMI, in both funding and support. “The administration and the legislature have joined the seafood industry as true partners in marketing our products,” he said. “The state is now putting up matching funds that come to almost 50 percent of our core budget up to $9 million, depending on what the industry brings to the table. That’s pretty remarkable considering it was zero when I first came to town.” In spite of tough competition in world markets, Riutta believes Alaska seafood will continue to have a bright future because “cream rises to the top.” “We have the best fish and the best industry in the world,” he said. “Certainly there will be bumps in the road but as long as we keep focused on producing terrific products and take good care of our fish, we’re going to be fine.”

Group forms to contest coastal management initiative

A new organization has formed to challenge the Coastal Management ballot measure, and make sure the Alaska Sea Party efforts get challenged before voters decide the issue in August. “Up until now this has been kind of a one-sided discussion,” said Willis Lyford, spokesman for the “Vote No on 2” committee, which organized last week. Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, said the Alaska Sea Party welcomed the conversation. The Vote No on 2 group outlined its likely campaign strategy in its announcement last week, saying the measure is “confusing, poorly written and easily could hamstring development activities statewide.” Lyford said members of Vote No on 2 generally supported having a Coastal Management program, just not the overly expansive one proposed by the initiative campaign that began last year. “Our group is not opposed to all coastal zone management, we think there is a place for responsible and effective management of our coastal resources,” he said, calling the initiative “a real step backwards.” Kerttula said the initiative to restore the Coastal Management program allows Alaskans to safely and efficiently develop their coastal areas, which happened for years before the Legislature failed to renew Coastal Management last year. At the same time, it gives Alaskans a say in federal activities in the state. “That’s the beauty of coastal management, it cuts through red tape,” she said. “Without it you are going to have federal agencies making decisions for Alaskans.” It is not clear what the initiative-sponsored program will do, Lyford said. That’s because the regulations to implement it won’t be written until after it is created, if voters in fact adopt it. Under the initiative, the program is “undefined” and “open ended,” making it difficult to warn voters about what powers it could take on. “You never know what you don’t know,” Lyford said. Kerttula said if the Vote No on 2 group found it confusing, she’d be happy to help them understand it. The initiative recreates the program Alaska once had, which worked well, she said. “I’d be happy to sit down and explain it to them,” she said. She may get a chance to do that soon. Both the Alaska Sea Party and the Vote No on 2 committees have been invited to address the Juneau Chamber of Commerce’s Thursday luncheon. Kerttula said she’s likely to be representing the Sea Party there, facing off against one of the Vote No on 2 co-chairpeople, Kurt Fredriksson of Juneau. The two will likely need little information from each other on Coastal Management. Kerttula once represented Coastal Management as an assistant attorney general with the Alaska Department of Law, while Fredriksson is a former commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation who spent most of his career in coastal zone management. Other leaders in Vote No on 2 are fellow co-chairwoman Judy Brady of Anchorage, a former Department of Natural Resources commissioner, Lorna Shaw, director of external affairs for Pogo Sumitomo Gold Mine, and Treasurer Cheryl Frasca, director of the Office of Management and Budget for the Municipality of Anchorage. Lyford did not say how much the group planned to spend, but said they’d be soliciting contributions from the oil and gas, mining, hotel and tourism and service industries, all groups that could be affected by Coastal Management.

Commentary: Move on Bering Sea canyons a victory for subsistence

Recently the North Pacific Fishery Management Council passed a motion to go beyond simply reviewing the science and actually start developing new management options on the Pribilof and Zhemchug Canyons of the Bering Sea shelf. These two canyons are the largest underwater canyons in the world. From the Tribal Community perspective, we believe this to be one of the biggest victories in a Council process that has historically watched out for the interests of the large industrialized commercial fishing interests of the Bering Sea and other areas of the planet. The primary concern of Greenpeace, Alaska Inter-Tribal Council, Southern Norton Sound Fish and Wildlife Advisory Committee, The Bering Sea Elders Group and many other Tribal Communities who provided very strong and much needed testimony to the Council supporting this request is subsistence. Certainly there are major concerns about benthic habitat destruction and the need to protect them, but without a healthy ecosystem our foods we depend upon and have for generations will begin to go away. There are two “old sayings” that come to mind here — “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it,” and, “If we disrespect the animals we depend upon for food, they will go away.” I think we are all familiar with the first. The second one comes from an elder in my village of St. George Island when I was a child. He said: “if we disrespect the animals, and we knowingly allow others to do the same, the animals know it and will move away from us.” Let’s look at the first saying mentioned above. In 1990, over 22 years ago, Katie John and others filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government regarding subsistence rights. Let’s not forget the courage and wisdom of these people and what they did to protect our subsistence rights and needs. The Bering Sea is our source of subsistence foods. Almost everything we need to sustain our lives and that of our children comes from the Bering Sea. And although we look at the Bering Sea on a map and consider its size, in reality it is not that big. Only about half of the Bering Sea is really usable for economic development and sites for the foods our food need to sustain themselves. Of that half, there are only a few places where our foods can go. Perhaps it has always been this way, but certainly it does look this way today. If one part of this extremely productive marine system is damaged, other parts of this system will begin to fail as well. The problem is, we simply do not know, and thus the need to try to protect some of it. From the Aleutian Islands, up northwest past the Pribilof Islands and further north to Russia there is the Bering Sea shelf. On that shelf are six large underwater canyons, Pribilof and Zhemchug being two of them. And these two canyons, from all understanding, are extremely productive providing nutrients, nursery grounds, corals and sponges for almost the entire Eastern Bering Sea. And they have been hit hard in the last fifty years with deepwater commercial fishing, the most damaging of all by the bottom and mid-water trawlers. For the sake of our foods and that of our Tribal Communities, these canyons need to be protected from further destruction. Unless this happens we may lose much of our much needed subsistence foods. The second saying above is equally critical to our survival as Tribal Communities. Let’s not forget from whence we came. As indigenous peoples we have a long history with our ancestors, our cultures and our ways of living. Generations of our ancestors, our elders and our people sacrificed everything to fight the good fight, to protect who we are, our cultures, languages and ways of life. Without them, their insight, wisdom and courage we may be a lost people. Drifting and wondering who we are. Sometimes it is easy to forget, especially when we begin to believe we have all we need. Without remembering what they have done for us and how important what they fought for, we begin to stumble and fall and eventually lose who we are. As then, subsistence is critical to our people, especially now when there is so much demand for the resources of the Bering Sea, Chukchi Sea and the Arctic Ocean. The world is getting desperate for these resources, and unless we protect what’s important to us, so will we.

Editorial: Council gets it right on bycatch, more work to do

“Glacial” is the word most often used to describe the North Pacific Fishery Management Council process, but that’s actually unfair to glaciers. Not even time-lapse photography would reveal much movement on reducing halibut bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska until the council’s vote June 8 in Kodiak to cut it by 15 percent starting in 2014. The only previous cut in trawl halibut bycatch was a 27.4 metric ton reduction for the rockfish program passed in 2010 that represented about 1.4 percent of the 2,000 metric ton, or 4.4 million pound, trawl halibut bycatch allotment in place since 1986. Rather than compromise on the amount of the reduction, as many expected, the council compromised with the trawl fleet on time by phasing in the maximum cut under consideration over three years. We applaud the council action as an important first step, and encourage the members to continue pushing toward more meaningful measures to reduce bycatch even further. The trawl fleet made a series of self-defeating arguments against cutting halibut bycatch, taking the position the move was more allocation than conservation, pointing fingers at discards in the commercial halibut fishery, suggesting trawlers are balancing the ecosystem by removing arrowtooth flounder and juvenile halibut, and even attacking the International Pacific Halibut Commission. A majority of the council — namely, the Alaska delegation — didn’t buy any of that. However, we agree with the trawl fleet that some sort of organization of the Gulf fishery is necessary, and that a reduction in bycatch of much more than 15 percent is possible along with it. That said, the council acted properly to not trade a bycatch cut for a trawl catch share program that will take five years or more to craft and implement. Both the Bering Sea catcher-processor groundfish fleet and the Gulf rockfish program have demonstrated that significant bycatch savings are possible under a cooperative fishing program. Bycatch dropped 80 percent in the first year of the rockfish program in 2007 and the Bering Sea fleet has continued to cut its bycatch since 2008 despite an increasing biomass of halibut on their grounds. The council must use this time wisely to make real progress for a lasting management solution in the Gulf. Catch share programs of the type sought by the trawl fleet are inherently controversial based on legitimate philosophical differences about the degree to which a public resource becomes privatized, and at least in the case of the rockfish program the council has shown an ability to address some of those concerns. In the rockfish program redesigned over several years and passed in 2010, the council prevented consolidation through vessel use caps, cut mandated processor ties while also setting a minimum amount of companies that can take deliveries, and directed more of the harvest shoreside to Kodiak. The council also cut the bycatch allowance, incentivized more bycatch savings by limiting the amount that can be rolled over to subsequent seasons, and forced the fleet to work together by requiring membership in cooperatives to access harvest quota. The council also put a 10-year sunset date on the program to limit speculation and affirm public ownership of the resource. It remains to be seen whether the sunset date was the proper way to limit ballooning costs of entry that typically accompany rationalized programs where shares are bought and sold at 5-1 rates to dockside prices, but it was an action that showed at attempt by the council to address a real problem. The North Pacific council was once on a path toward Gulf rationalization early last decade. Then the Bering Sea crab rationalization took effect in 2005. Two-thirds of the fleet was tied up overnight, and 1,000 crew positions were gone from one season to the next. By allowing unlimited quota stacking and leasing, the program made millionaires out of a handful of initial shareholders and slashed crew pay by more than half from historical percentages in some cases. The fallout from the crab program, with ground zero centered in Kodiak, killed the Gulf rationalization efforts. If the council has trouble pursuing a rationalized management program in the Gulf because of public reservations, the failure to correct the crew situation in the crab program is a major reason why those hard feelings still exist. The current council didn’t construct the crab program back in 2003, but it hasn’t moved an inch to resolve this issue even after being confronted with compensation tables in 2010 showing the situation has deteriorated to the point at which crew who harvested 150,000 more pounds of lucrative Bristol Bay red king crab than others actually received less pay because of lease rates and quota stacking. A myriad of forms and regulations apply to federal fisheries, but this council hasn’t mustered the ability to require so much as a standardized settlement sheet for crew or the reporting of leasing data as a condition of receiving annual shares. This despite having the opportunity to do so in February when it adopted revisions to the economic data reporting system. Rather than require the kind of data that would have gotten more clearly at the issue of crew compensation, the council curtailed reporting requirements in an action that its own Scientific and Statistical Committee called a betrayal of the social contract implicit in the crab program. There is a direct correlation between the lack of an organized Gulf fishery today and the mistakes that were made — and continue to be made — in the Bering Sea crab fishery regarding the allocation of a public resource and how those benefits should be distributed. The council took a sensible action regarding halibut bycatch. Some would call it too little, too late. We consider it better late than never. When it comes to organizing the Gulf fishery, to borrow a title from Steppenwolf, it’s never too late to start all over again. But as the council embarks once again on this effort, it’s worth remembering why it has taken so long to return to this point — and that the underlying issue that set the council back remains unresolved.

Council approves 15% cut in halibut bycatch

KODIAK — The North Pacific Fishery Management Council voted June 8 to reduce the allowable halibut bycatch by trawlers and longliners by 15 percent, to be phased in over three years with a targeted implementation in 2014. After nearly two days of public comment from about 100 stakeholders at the Harbor Convention Center, the council passed the measure introduced by Dan Hull of Anchorage by a 10-1 vote. Outgoing member Dave Benson of Washington was the lone dissent. The 15 percent reduction was the maximum amount under consideration by the council and amounts to about 311 metric tons, or about 685,000 pounds, once fully implemented. In year one, a 7 percent cut will be implemented, followed by another 5 percent cut in year two and a 3 percent cut in year three. The phase-in was a compromise with the trawl and non-halibut longline fleets to allow them time to adjust to the cuts in the bycatch caps. Other than a 27.4 metric ton reduction in the rockfish catch share program approved in 2010 that took effect this year, the council had not reduced trawl halibut bycatch since the 2,000 metric ton cap (4.4 million pounds), was passed in 1986. Halibut bycatch has been sought for years, but the last five years of drastic cuts to commercial halibut harvests and restrictions on the Southeast charter sector have brought the issue front and center and created an enormous amount of pressure on the council to take a decisive and meaningful action. “This motion shows the council is willing to step up,” said member Duncan Fields of Kodiak, adding the action was “consistent with the conservation requirements” of the Magnuson Stevens Act national standards to minimize bycatch and consider community impacts of management actions. The motion included other accommodations to the various trawl sectors, including greater flexibility in managing the halibut cap by rolling over unused bycatch between seasons, and aggregating the available amount for use in both the deep water and shallow water trawl fisheries. Several members of the council said they were only reluctantly supporting the measure based on the difficulty of managing a hard cap in an open access fishery. Under the catch share style program long sought by the trawl fleet, allocation of fishing privileges and bycatch offered a better path toward more meaningful bycatch reductions, they said. Roy Hyder of Oregon, and Bill Tweit and John Henderschedt of Washington were the council members who said they didn’t like the final action but were compelled to vote for it because they did not want to go on record as opposing bycatch reductions. Benson, who was attending his last council meeting after serving nine years, or three terms, echoed the complaints of his fellow Pacific Northwest members in casting the lone “no” vote. The Alaska delegation fought off several attempts to modify Hull’s motion during deliberations. Henderschedt introduced a motion that would have been a 12 percent cut over two years, with the goal to begin working toward a comprehensive catch share system for the trawl fleet. That failed 2-9, with Hyder joining Henderschedt on the vote. Then Tweit introduced an amendment that would have phased in the cuts over four years, with 7 percent in year one, no further cut in year two, 5 percent in year three and 3 percent in year four. That amendment earned the support of National Marine Fisheries Service Alaska Region Administrator Jim Balsiger, who said would help the trawl fleet because the council hadn’t given it the “tools” to reduce bycatch through a catch share program. Chairman Eric Olson quickly spoke up against that idea, as did Alaska Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell. In reference to Balsiger’s comment that the trawl fleet could start working now on the 7 percent reduction, Campbell said, “this is something they should have been thinking about for the last two years as we’ve been considering this package. What’s already on the table represents a lot of time and there’s no reason to stretch that out.” Tweit’s amendment failed 4-7. The one amendment that did pass was to only cut the longline catcher processor fleet by 7 percent rather than the full 15 percent, based on halibut savings the fleet has achieved through its voluntary co-operative and other reduction in the recent Pacific cod sector splits between longline and trawl sectors. In speaking in support of his motion to address the trawl industry arguments that this debate over bycatch is about allocation and not conservation, Hull pointed to a footnote the analysis that stated a bycatch limit is not an allocation. “Instead,” the document stated regarding bycatch limits, “it reflects the maximum removal amount of the designated species that society is prepared to tolerate, before it takes punitive action to curtail further (prohibited species catch) losses … Because PSC must be avoided, to the extent practicable, it cannot be regarded as an asset of fixed quantity, but instead as an upper-bound threshold, the farther below which the total PSC mortality level, the better, all else equal.” Based on the massive volume of public comment and written submissions seeking a bycatch cut, Hull noted, society’s willingness to tolerate halibut bycatch in an environment of declining abundance of catchable fish has clearly reached its limit.   Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

Council approves 15% cut in halibut bycatch

KODIAK — The North Pacific Fishery Management Council voted Friday to reduce the allowable halibut bycatch by trawlers and longliners by 15 percent, to be phased in over three years with a targeted implementation in 2014. After nearly two days of public comment from about 100 stakeholders at the Harbor Convention Center, the council passed the measure introduced by Dan Hull of Anchorage by a 10-1 vote. Outgoing member Dave Benson of Washington was the lone dissent. The 15 percent reduction was the maximum amount under consideration by the council and amounts to about 311 metric tons, or about 685,000 pounds, once fully implemented. In year one, a 7 percent cut will be implemented, followed by another 5 percent cut in year two and a 3 percent cut in year three. The phase-in was a compromise with the non-halibut trawl and longline fleets to allow them time to adjust to the cuts in the bycatch caps. Other than a 27.4 metric ton reduction in the rockfish catch share program approved in 2010 that took effect this year, the council had not reduced trawl halibut bycatch since the 2,000 metric ton cap (4.4 million pounds), was passed in 1986. Halibut bycatch reductions have been sought for years, but the last five years of drastic cuts to commercial halibut harvests and restrictions on the Southeast charter sector have brought the issue front and center and created an enormous amount of pressure on the council to take a decisive and meaningful action. “This motion shows the council is willing to step up,” said member Duncan Fields of Kodiak, adding the action was “consistent with the conservation requirements” of the Magnuson Stevens Act national standards to minimize bycatch and consider community impacts of management actions. The motion included other accommodations to the various trawl sectors, including greater flexibility in managing the halibut cap by rolling over unused bycatch between seasons, and aggregating the available amount for use in both the deep water and shallow water trawl fisheries. Several members of the council said they were only reluctantly supporting the measure based on the difficulty of managing a hard cap in an open access fishery. Under the catch share style program long sought by the trawl fleet, allocation of fishing privileges and bycatch offered a better path toward more meaningful bycatch reductions. Roy Hyder of Oregon, and Bill Tweit and John Henderschedt of Washington were the council members who said they didn’t like the final action but were compelled to vote for it because they did not want to go on record as opposing bycatch reductions. Benson, who was attending his last council meeting after serving nine years, or three terms, echoed the complaints of his fellow Pacific Northwest members in casting the lone “no” vote. The Alaska delegation fought off several attempts to modify Hull’s motion during deliberations. Henderschedt introduced a motion that would have been a 12 percent cut over two years, with the goal to begin working toward a comprehensive catch share system for the trawl fleet. That failed 2-9, with Hyder joining Henderschedt on the vote. Then Tweit introduced an amendment that would have phased in the cuts over four years, with 7 percent in year one, no further cut in year two, 5 percent in year three and 3 percent in year four. That amendment earned the support of National Marine Fisheries Service Alaska Region Administrator Jim Balsiger, who said would help the trawl fleet because the council hadn’t given it the “tools” to reduce bycatch through a catch share program. Chairman Eric Olson quickly spoke up against that idea, as did Alaska Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell. In reference to Balsiger’s comment that the trawl fleet could start working now on the 7 percent reduction, Campbell said, “this is something they should have been thinking about for the last two years as we’ve been considering this package. What’s already on the table represents a lot of time and there’s no reason to stretch that out.” Tweit’s amendment failed 4-7. The one amendment that did pass was to only cut the longline catcher processor fleet by 7 percent rather than the full 15 percent, based on halibut savings the fleet has achieved through its voluntary co-operative and other reduction in the recent Pacific cod sector splits between longline and trawl sectors. In speaking in support of his motion to address the trawl industry arguments that this debate over bycatch is about allocation and not conservation, Hull pointed to the analysis that stated a bycatch limit is not an allocation. “Instead,” the document stated regarding bycatch limits, “it reflects the maximum removal amount of the designated species that society is prepared to tolerate, before it takes punitive action to curtail further (prohibited species catch) losses. Because PSC must be avoided, to the extent practicable, it cannot be regarded as an asset of fixed quantity, but instead as an upper-bound threshold, the farther below which the total PSC mortality level, the better, all else equal.” Based on the massive volume of public comment and written submissions seeking a bycatch cut, Hull noted, society’s willingness to tolerate halibut bycatch in an environment of declining abundance of catchable fish has clearly reached its limit.   Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

Murkowski, Young urge more time for comment

JUNEAU (AP) — Members of Alaska's congressional delegation are joining the state's attorney general in asking that the public be given more time to comment on a study looking at the impacts of mining in the Bristol Bay region. Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Rep. Don Young on Thursday sent a letter to the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, asking that the public comment period be extended to Nov. 20. They say they're concerned that the current 60-day period is inadequate. Public comment is scheduled to end July 23, though EPA says it is considering requests to extend it.  

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