Fisheries

Revised observer program needs funds to start in 2013

Coming soon to a small halibut boat near you: fishery observers. New rules set for 2013 will change how observers are placed on fishing boats as small as 40 feet – and for the first time, they will be aboard longliners. Onboard observers have been deployed on larger U.S. vessels since the early 1990s, when fisheries were “Americanized” and all foreign fishing within a 200-mile zone of the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska was terminated. Prior to that, fleets from Japan, Russia, Poland and other nations were tapping Alaska’s groundfish and crab resources starting in 1933. Fishery observers, who are trained and overseen by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Monitoring and Analysis Division, do not play an enforcement role. Rather, they take biological samples of the catch, track bycatch and collect other data for fishery managers and scientists. Observers also are on the job in Alaska processing plants during fish deliveries. Currently, there are about 400 observers working in Alaska’s seafood industry. Observers were originally deployed according to vessel length. Boats less than 60 feet were exempt from coverage; vessels from 60 feet to 125 feet carried observers 30 percent of the time, and larger vessels had 100 percent or more coverage. The “restructured” observer program will expand coverage to vessels “all the way down to 40 feet, and NMFS has the authority to place observers on vessels below that,” said Julie Bonney, a trawl industry consultant and director of Alaska Groundfish Data Bank in Kodiak. And for the first time observers will be aboard longline vessels. “There’s never been observer coverage in the IFQ halibut fisheries, so now we’ll have information from that sector, as well as all the small vessels,” Bonney said. “We all have issues and we all need to work hard to address those. So getting that information will help us understand how we can move forward in the best practices.” Another fisheries first — for both Alaska and the U.S. — collecting data via video cameras that monitor the catch. “Vessels in the 40 to 57.5 foot sector that are not capable of carrying another person on board can have that as an option,” Bonney said. “It’s kind of exciting because electronic monitoring has not been approved in any regional areas in the US as a monitoring tool. So this will really push the envelope to move that technology forward through the observer restructuring package.” The 2013 launch of the retooled observer program depends on getting a $3.8 million jumpstart from Congress. Alaska is the only state where for more than 20 years, the seafood industry has paid for fishery observer coverage. Sen. Mark Begich said it is time for the federal government to kick in a little. “We’ve been doing it all along with our own money. This is an important national resource it is a small amount that can be added to make sure we maintain our sustainable fisheries,” Begich said at a press conference. “The good news is that it has made it through the process to date, which is very positive. They are working under the financial limitations and caps of the budget, so that’s good.” Alaska opinions A statewide poll of 802 Alaska voters done last month asked opinions of various public figures, industries and issues. The poll was done by research powerhouse Strategies 360 for the Bristol Bay Native Corp. and included voters from all demographics and regions. A sampler: 54 percent said they believe Alaska is heading in the right direction; 27 percent said the economy and jobs is the most important issue facing Alaska today. The fishing industry got the highest favorable rating at 79 percent followed by the Alaska gas pipeline at 75 percent, and the oil and gas industry at 66 percent. Sen. Lisa Murkowski had a 61 percent favorable rating, Gov. Sean Parnell was at 52 percent, Rep. Don Young at 51 percent and Sen. Mark Begich at 48 percent. The Alaska legislature had a 45 percent favorable rating by voters. The proposed Pebble mine ranked last among voters with an unfavorable rating of 54 percent.  Meanwhile, as exploration at the Pebble site expands, BBNC President and CEO Jason Metrokin said he worries that the state Department of Natural Resources simply doesn’t have the manpower to monitor a project the size of Pebble, along with other big development projects. “From what we’ve seen the DNR has not been able to handle sizeable projects that are on the time and horizon today. The project is expanding, the potential footprint is getting larger, and there is a lot of activity happening in Bristol Bay today. We are not convinced the state is doing its part to monitor this exploration,” Metrokin said in a phone interview. “But beyond that, if the Pebble project continues to go forward and they get into a permit application phase late next year, is the state prepared to take on that process, knowing that there are several other development projects happening around the state? The DNR should be gearing up and staffing up and resourcing up now in order to prepare for something like that, and we just don’t see that happening.”

Alaska governor talks gas, oil with BP CEO

Gov. Sean Parnell said Wednesday that he met for several hours with the chief executive of BP PLC during the first leg of his European trip, touching on issues ranging from a natural gas pipeline to how Alaskans might benefit if oil taxes are cut. Parnell said he told Bob Dudley he wants to get Alaska's gas to market as soon as possible. Last week Parnell told an oil and gas group that if the gas market has truly shifted from the Lower 48 to the Pacific Rim, he wanted the major North Slope players — Exxon Mobil Corp., ConocoPhillips and BP — to get behind a pipeline project that allows for liquefied natural gas exports to the Pacific Rim. He told The Associated Press that he left the meeting believing the two held a similar view that the region's market is worth investigating. TransCanada Corp. is working with Exxon Mobil to advance a natural gas pipeline project but it has not announced any agreements with shippers necessary to move the effort along. On Tuesday, the president and chief executive of TransCanada, Russell K. Girling, told a conference call the continued focus of the project remains the Lower 48. But he said this is a market-driven project, "and we'll move the gas to wherever the market decides it wants to move the gas to." A BP spokesman in Alaska, Steve Rinehart, said the company has studied and will continue to study the potential for liquefied natural gas. He said the goal is getting North Slope gas to market. Rinehart couldn't comment on specifics related to Parnell's meeting with Dudley but said "there clearly is much they could discuss and it is good they had that opportunity." Parnell is in the midst of his first state-sponsored trip overseas, what he's calling an "investment mission." It is the latest in a series of trips that Parnell or other members of his administration have taken in an effort to tout Alaska's development and investment potential. Later this month Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan is expected to be in China, a leading export market for the state, where among other things he plans to talk up Alaska's gas potential. Parnell still plans to meet with the CEOs of two other energy firms, Royal Dutch Shell PLC, Europe's largest oil company, and Eni SpA. He began his trip in the United Kingdom, where in addition to meeting with Dudley he also promoted one of the state's top exports, seafood. Parnell said he was "professionally and graciously" received by Dudley, who Parnell said he also pressed to be more specific on what kind of benefits Alaskans could see if oil production taxes were cut. The president of BP Exploration Alaska, John Minge, said earlier this year that he supported the $5 billion investments that a ConocoPhillips executive envisioned if the tax regime were changed, and said he saw that as a start "in terms of what is possible." Minge's comments came as Parnell's tax cut bill stalled in the Senate, with leading lawmakers saying they didn't have the information they needed to make a sound policy call and some seeking firm commitments from energy companies for what Alaska would see in return if taxes were cut. "I think that number they put out there, the $5 billion number, of new investment or additional investment, I think that's a bare minimum from one company," Parnell said. While other companies would benefit from tax changes, too, "I'm in this to assure that Alaskans see more investment and see more jobs." Parnell plans to revive the tax issue when the Legislature convenes in January.  

Deadly salmon virus raises concerns in US, Canada

SEATTLE (AP) — Scientists in Washington state are working to improve testing of a deadly, contagious marine virus as a precaution, after the virus was detected in wild salmon for the first time on the West Coast. Researchers with Simon Fraser University in British Columbia and elsewhere announced Monday they had found the influenza-like virus in two juvenile sockeye salmon collected from the province's central coast. The virus, which doesn't affect humans, has caused losses at fish farms in Chile and other areas, and could have devastating impacts on wild salmon in the region and other species that depend on them, the researchers said. "This is potentially very big. It's of big concern to us," said John Kerwin, who supervises the fish health unit at the Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife. Even though the virus was detected in salmon collected hundreds of miles away, at Rivers Inlet in British Columbia, the virus could pose a threat because "fish don't have any boundaries in the ocean ... and salmon species stray," he said. The state tested about 56,000 hatchery and wild fish last year and hasn't found signs of the virus — infectious salmon anemia, Kerwin said. But Monday's news sent Kerwin scrambling on Tuesday to work with other agencies to find ways to beef up current testing methods. If the virus is ever detected in Washington, the state would follow containment plans that could include killing fish, he said. "It's a disease emergency," said James Winton, who directs the fish health section of the U.S. Geological Survey's Western Fisheries Research Center in Seattle. Officials on both side of the border should increase surveillance and research to understand how broadly the virus is distributed, in what species, how fish are infected, among other questions, he said. "We don't have enough information on what this strain will do today and what it will do in the future," he said. "We're concerned. Should it be introduced, it might be able to adapt to Pacific salmon," added Winton, who is not connected to the British Columbia study. U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell is calling on government scientists to develop a response to a newly discovered virus that could wreck the salmon industry in the Pacific Northwest. Canadian scientists this week announced that the influenza-like virus was found in two juvenile sockeye salmon collected from British Columbia's central coast. The same virus, called Infectious Salmon Anemia , has caused losses at fish farms in Chile and elsewhere. Cantwell, a Democrat from Washington, introduced the bill with Alaska Senators Lisa Murkowski, a Republican, and Mark Begich, a Democrat. This measure calls on interagency group of scientists to provide Congress a report in six months that details surveillance, susceptibility of species and populations, potential vectors, gaps in knowledge, and recommendations for management. Cantwell says the government needs a coordinated game plan "to protect the Pacific Northwest's coastal economy and jobs." The virus was found in two of 48 juvenile sockeye salmon collected as part of a long-term study of sockeye salmon led by Simon Fraser University professor Rick Routledge. "It is certainly possible that this disease may be benign for Pacific salmon, but I still don't rest easy because it was initially benign for Atlantic salmon and it mutated," he said Tuesday. Researchers said Fred Kibenge of the Atlantic Veterinary College at the University of Prince Edward Island, confirmed the presence of the virus in two fish and noted it was a European strain of the virus. Routledge and biologist and wild-salmon activist Alexandra Morton suggested Monday that the source of the virus is Atlantic salmon farms in British Columbia, which has imported millions of salmon eggs since 1986. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency was informed of the suspect case over the weekend and will run its own tests and analysis at a federal laboratory in New Brunswick, said Dr. Cornelius Kiley, a veterinarian with the agency. It may be weeks before that's complete, he said Tuesday. "It's very important to ensure that the test was carried out properly and done under the proper condition," Kiley said. "If you can repeat it, then your level of confidence will increase." Morton on Monday called for the removal of Atlantic salmon from British Columbia salmon farms. And the Washington-based Wild Fish Conservancy on Tuesday called for a halt to more net pen salmon aquaculture on the West Coast. It also wanted widespread testing of wild and hatchery salmon and a halt to fish farms in British Columbia until those results are known. But Kiley said, "We have no indication at this time that there's any involvement with the aquaculture industry." In Washington state, Kerwin said one company raises Atlantic salmon in western Washington and has not detected the virus. John Kaufman, a fish biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, said he wasn't as concerned, partly because the virus seems to affect Atlantic salmon the most and Oregon does not raise Atlantic salmon off its coast.  

Measure aimed at Pebble narrowly passes, 280-246

Voters in the Lake and Peninsula Borough of southwest Alaska narrowly passed a ballot initiative that attempts to block the large Pebble copper/gold mine planned by Anglo American and Northern Dynasty Minerals, officials of the Lake and Peninsula Borough announced late Oct. 17. Voters in 17 borough communities returned 526 ballots in the Oct. 4 election conducted by mail, but the ballots weren’t counted until Oct. 17. According to the unofficial election results, 280 ballots were cast in favor of a “Save Our Salmon” ballot proposition, and 246 ballots were cast against it. The borough mailed 1,192 ballots to registered voters, borough clerk Kate Conley said. Results of the election will be certified Oct. 24, Conley said, but there could be challenges. Even with the initiative approved, legal challenges by the state of Alaska and the mining companies will continue in state court. Alaska Superior Judge John Suddock had put a challenge to the initiative on hold until Nov. 7, and with the vote now held the legal proceedings will get under way. If it is developed, Pebble could be a combination underground and surface mine, said Mike Heatwole, spokesman for the Pebble Partnership, a joint-venture company formed by Anglo American and Northern Dynasty. The mine has sparked a sharp local controversy. A major concern of opponents is that the mine and its tailings storage could result in contamination of local streams which flow into rivers where salmon spawn. The Bristol Bay region is one of the world’s largest commercial and sports salmon fisheries with annual harvests of salmon that range between 20 million and 40 million fish.   Heatwole said the project, if it is developed, will be subject to strict state and federal regulatory controls. The mine would be located in an area that would affect only a few streams, he said, and not major river systems that largely support a rich salmon fishery in Bristol Bay, which is to the southeast of the mine. Under the ballot proposition, which was put forth by local opponents of the Pebble project, any mine that affects salmon streams and is larger than 640 acres would be banned. State of Alaska officials argue it is illegal for a municipality to block development of a project on state-owned lands where the project is located, and have filed suit over the ballot initiative, along with the Pebble Partnership.  In a statement, the Pebble Partnership said, “This was a very close election and we are appreciative of the many voters from the Lake and Peninsula Borough who dedicated time to understand the true risks presented by this ill-conceived ordinance and the very real impacts it could have regionally.”  “The State of Alaska has stated that this ordinance is unenforceable as a matter of law and will not withstand the legal challenge that continues in Alaska’s Superior court next month. We agree and will continue our legal challenge for the reasons we have stated throughout this process,” the statement said.  Supporters of the initiative urged Anglo American to drop the legal challenges. "Anglo American CEO Cynthia Carroll has repeatedly claimed the company will not proceed in communities that are opposed to mine development," said Lane and Peninsula Borough resident Jackie Hobson in a statement. "Local residents have made their opposition to the development of the Pebble Mine crystal clear with the passage of the SOS Initiative. We hope that Ms. Carroll and Anglo American keep their promise and let the voice of local Alaskans stand unchallenged." In a statement, Northern Dynasty CEO Ron Thiessen said his company and the partnership remain committed to preserving the Southwest Alaska fisheries, but, “Unfortunately, this initiative would also halt economic development throughout the Lake & Peninsula Borough, and represents yet another misuse of Alaska’s democratic processes by paid opponents of the Pebble Project, whose goal is to stop the project before it receives comprehensive and objective review by federal and state regulators. “What’s most important is that the rule of law in Alaska and the United States is clear and reliable, such that this unconstitutional attempt by narrow self-interests to restrict economic development in a region the size of South Carolina will not stand. We believe the State of Alaska’s constitutional obligation to manage natural resources on its land for the benefit of all Alaskans will ultimately be acknowledged by the courts.” The Pebble Partnership statement said, “Voters in the Lake and Peninsula Borough have been subjected to a prolonged advertising campaign of fear-mongering and misinformation about the Pebble project. We believe this has done a disservice to the people of Southwest Alaska and we will continue our efforts to share our perspective that Pebble can be done safely to co-exist with clean water, healthy fisheries and traditional ways of life, while generating decades of economic and social benefits for the people of the region.”   Exploration and engineering work has meanwhile continued on the Pebble project with about $90 million being spent in 2011 on drilling and technical work, Heatwole said. A pre-feasibility study for the mine is expected to be completed in the third quarter of 2012, and late this year the results of several years of environmental baseline studies will be made available to state and federal agencies, he said. Last month, a Alaska Superior Court judge rejected challenges by Pebble opponents that alleged the state exploratory permit regime was unconstitutional and stated there was no evidence of harm to the environment after 20 years of exploration at the site. Separately, Northern Dynasty is soliciting offers to purchase its 50 percent share of the project. The company, based in Vancouver, B.C., is largely an exploration company that specializes in finding and developing projects and then bringing in partners. Pebble was originally discovered by Cominco in the mid-1980s but was later purchased by Northern Dynasty, which then brought in Anglo American as a partner. Northern Dynasty has always indicated its intention to eventually sell its share of Pebble.   

Study examines availability of seafood to area residents

Do you eat fish? If you do, where do you get it? Do you get it as often as you want to? Can you afford it? Soon, if they haven't already, 1,500 Kenai Peninsula residences will receive a post card from the University of Alaska Fairbanks asking them to answer six questions like these as part of a new study about food security on the Kenai Peninsula. The study is the project of Hannah Harrison, a Homer-grown UAF grad student working with research professors Phil Loring and Craig Gerlach. The questions they're asking in this study are specifically aimed at identifying local use of seafood with an emphasis on salmon. The researchers use the United Nations definition of food security, which Harrison summarizes as "Can you get food that's safe to eat, that's nutritious, that is affordable and that is culturally preferred?" She said that with the abundance of food resources available on the peninsula, the idea that some residents can't access enough good food might seem strange. But it seems to be true. From interviews conducted around the region last month, Harrison said need is up at area food pantries and a number of barriers prevent people from benefiting from local foods. "It makes no difference if a fish is here, but if it's like $20 a pound nobody can afford it, it might as well not be here," Harrison said, also pointing out that a person can't buy a locally caught fish at a grocery store in Homer. Overall, Alaska has much higher food insecurity rate than rest of United States, and though data indicates the Kenai rate to be lower than statewide, approximately 18 percent of residents experience food insecurity. "The study is about identifying barriers that keep local, sustainably caught or grown foods from making it into local markets and diets at prices people can actually afford to buy it," Harrison said. While seafood is considered a non-essential food source in some places, Harrison sees it as an important part of Southcentral Alaskans' physical and cultural health. "My personal opinion having grown up here is that no, it's not a luxury food. This is a local food we catch it right here. It should be a part of our diets," she said. Raised in a commercial gillnetting family, Harrison got her bachelor of science in natural resource management at UAF and is now going for a masters of science through the School of Cross-Cultural Studies there. This project fits her criteria for helping change the world by considering the Kenai's environmental ethnography, that is, the role of this region's resources in the culture of its people: what it is to live in a fishing culture and how food security affects that culture. Loring has a long list of publications on the topic of food security, though most has focused on subsistence in the interior. He said the current study the first real push to involve the commercial fishery component in the question of food security. It's also a first hard look into the Kenai Peninsula. "Based on what I know it's going to be a very productive area," Loring said, calling it a microcosm of the entire state. "You have people who hunt for subsistence, you have commercial fishing and tourism as major employers, you have a whole variety of ecosystems, you also have different communities of different cultural heritages; and you have the single line of connectivity to Anchorage," he explained. So far, response to the study has been positive, and the researchers are hopeful to receive enough feedback from survey to make results useful to future work on the topic. "We want to ask questions that are meaningful to the communities that we're researching and will eventually assist them in making choices about food. We don't want to just ask a question for the heck of asking," Harrison said. The survey will come in the mail between now and the first weeks of October. It will also be available to fill out online. Though the study sample will be limited to the 1,500 randomly selected residences, Harrison and Loring welcome input on the topic.

Judge upholds state permit system, denies claims against Pebble

Superior Court Judge Eric Aarseth has upheld the state’s exploratory permitting system against a challenge from Pebble mine opponents. In a ruling issued Sept. 26, Aarseth denied every claim by Nunamta Aulukestai, a coalition of villages in the Bristol Bay area that sued the state in July 2009 alleging the exploratory permit system was unconstitutional and that public notice, comment and appeals processes should be available for the miscellaneous land use and temporary water permits issued to the Pebble Limited Partnership. Pebble joined the case as an intervenor in defense of the state exploratory permitting system. Nunamta, represented by environmental law firm Trustees for Alaska, further alleged that exploratory activity by Pebble was harming the vegetation, water resource and wildlife in the area. Aarseth wrote that he was unpersuaded by any of the expert or anecdotal evidence presented by Nunamta at the trial, which took place over 10 days last December. Further, he found that the permits issued for exploratory activity at Pebble did not require public notice or comment because they are not a “disposal” of rights as the permits are fully revocable. Regarding damage to the environment, expert testimony provided by Nunamta only spoke to “potential” harm, Aarseth wrote, while offering no evidence of actual harm. He described one expert witness, Lance Trasky, as providing “seat of his pants speculation” regarding alleged impacts on fish from water withdrawals by Pebble and by helicopters on caribou herds. After summarizing the state’s monitoring of Pebble’s exploratory activity to ensure compliance with the terms of the permits, Aarseth wrote: “All of these documented efforts support the conclusion that the state was proactive when issuing permits with appropriate restrictions on Pebble’s activity and not merely rubber-stamping the applications. Further, the review process as well as the field surveys/investigations indicate that the State was actively enforcing the permits issued and thus placing itself in a reasonable position to revoke the permits if necessary. Last, by responding to concerns by Nunamta both in the review process as well as in enforcing the [permit] conditions, the State showed a reasonable concern for the concurrent users of the Pebble Area.” Aarseth found Nunamta did not meet its burden of proof to show environmental harm and concluded, “Moreover, contrary to Plaintiffs’ assertions, the weight of the evidence tends to show that exploration activities are not changing water quality in the Pebble study area.” He was also persuaded that Pebble has a “successful reclamation program” and there was no evidence of damage to vegetation. Aarseth similarly dismissed claims of harm to caribou or fish populations. “The evidence shows that more than 20 years after minerals were first discovered at Pebble, the site continues to have pristine water and support wildlife and fisheries resources," Aarseth wrote. "The harms that Plaintiffs’ witnesses describe are speculative; they are neither harms occurring in fact nor did they show that the harm will necessarily occur.” Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

COMMENTARY: Ocean zoning gets ax, assessments get increase in NOAA budget

Fisheries are on the receiving end of federal dollars, instead of the other way around. As Congressional lawmakers slash budgets in Washington, D.C., money for all-important fishery stock assessments was actually increased from $51 million to $67 million for the next fiscal year, the amount requested by President Barack Obama.  The money was included as part of a Commerce, Justice and Science subcommittee appropriations bill that passed in a bipartisan vote this month. Despite the fisheries increase, the bill is $600 million less than the amount in fiscal year 2011 and $5 billion less than the president’s request, said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a subcommittee member.   “The overall appropriations account is dramatically reduced, so the fact that we were able to increase our fisheries dollars is really quite significant. I was very pleased,” Murkowski said in a phone interview from her Senate office. One big NOAA budget item that was zeroed out drew sighs of relief from Alaska’s two senators: ocean zoning, or marine spatial planning.  The plan, which would affect all users and uses, on and beneath the oceans, was listed as a priority in the president’s national ocean policy, with a price tag of $60 million. “It made no sense to me for this administration to request funding to move forward with this.  The concept was a bad idea from the get go and unwanted by Alaskans,” said Murkowski, who insisted that the federal funding be removed.  Both she and Sen. Mark Begich also were concerned that the new program would siphon dollars away from fishery research and assessments. Begich said as chairman of the Commerce Subcommittee on Oceans, Fisheries, and Coast Guard ocean zoning is an issue that has given him “the biggest earful.” “We don’t need to do it right now and that’s the bottom line,” Begich said. “NOAA does not need another big project and expenditure when they have so many other things they need to keep on track with.” Murkowski cautioned that while ocean zoning might appear to be deep sixed, it might resurface.  “In the CSJ appropriations budget there is funding for what they call Regional Ocean Partnership Grants, and some may be able to argue that these are a backdoor approach to continue implementing coastal and marine spatial planning. It is something I will be watching very closely,” Murkowski said.  Begich was jubilant that $920 million was allocated for the NOAA Joint Polar Satellite System, after not being funded in the 2011 cycle, “The need for Alaska is huge, not only in our fishing industry but for aviation and the Coast Guard. Without these satellites, accuracy of weather forecasts would go back to the 1980s,” said Begich, who spearheaded the push in the Senate for the funding. “And that satellite will be critical for us as we do additional work in the Arctic, and in 2016 it’s anticipated there will be a lot of activity up there from a variety of industries, as well as research.”  Begich added that he hopes to introduce a Coast Guard reauthorization bill, “hopefully in the next three weeks.” Both senators were optimistic that progress will be made in Congress this year on ratifying the Law of the Sea Treaty, or LOST. Alaska and the U.S. can’t lay any claim to the Arctic unless it signs on to the treaty, whereas all other Arctic nations support it as the legal framework for governance. The Law of the Sea Treaty originated in 1982 by the U.N. as a way to govern activities on, over, and beneath the oceans. But some sovereignty provisions were strongly opposed by then President Ronald Reagan and the U.S. has never signed on. Meanwhile, Russia has planted a flag on the seabed at the North Pole and is building the first offshore oil rig to withstand extreme cold and pack ice. Norway has staked claims to vast oil and gas deposits, and Canada has plans for an Arctic military training base. Meanwhile, the U.S. remains sidelined. “As an Arctic nation we have an opportunity as to extend our territory on the outer continental shelf to an area nearly the size of California. That would be available to us for resource exploration and development,” Murkowski has lamented for years. Both Alaska senators said they get a sense that there is more understanding why ratification of LOST is so important. Murkowski added that she believes there will be “a level of stepped up activity towards the end of the year.” Both also are optimistic about a new 15-member, bipartisan Oceans Caucus, which Senator Murkowski will co-chair. “In the Senate and House there are more caucuses than you can shake a stick at, but this one is different,” Murkowski said. “It will be a working caucus where we will connect with outside groups to shine the light on the health of our oceans. We will really key in on policy issues beyond just legislation. Our biggest challenge is to get people to understand how little we know about our oceans. “We as a nation have committed ourselves to discoveries in outer space, and good for us. But it has come at an incredible cost,” she continued, referring to a new $35 billion super fast space rocket. “And then we fight and nickel and dime over what we spend on learning what goes on within our oceans. We are oblivious to what is going on around us and we take it for granted.” Both senators continue to push legislation that will pull the plug on any funding to advance genetically modified salmon, dubbed Frankenfish. Begich said it is a good sign that the Food and Drug Administration has done nothing to enact the measure since complaints were filed a year ago.  “ So that’s a good sign and we are working aggressively to see if we can get an amendment that really prohibits this type of production of fake fish,” Begich said. Finally, Murkowski said she may announce a new fisheries advisor within a couple of weeks to replace Arne Fuglvog, who resigned July 31 and awaits sentencing in November after pleading guilty to a Lacey Act violation for illegal fishing, and agreeing to penalties including $150,000 in fines and 10 months in prison. “We have had the reputation of being the go to place when it comes to fish issues, and I am not willing to cede that to anybody,” she said. “This is an exceptionally important position that requires a real depth and breadth of understanding. I am taking my time to make sure that I have the right person for this position.” Seafood favorites Shrimp, canned tuna and salmon remained as America’s seafood favorites last year, but there were interesting shifts in fish eating patterns. The annual list by the National Fisheries Institute showed that Americans ate more canned tuna, cod and farmed favorites: tilapia and Pangasius (also called basa). The cheaper choices were likely driven by the recession.  An Intrafish analysis shows tilapia gained the most with consumption up 20 percent, bumping Alaska pollock from fourth to fifth place on the list. Rounding out the top 10 were catfish, crab, cod (up 11 percent) pangasius and clams. In all, Americans ate 15.8 pounds per person of seafood last year, down from 16 pounds in 2009. To see the power that prices played at the grocery store, in every case where prices increased, consumption dropped. Along with seafood, that included the biggest competing proteins: beef and pork. A breakdown by Seafood Trend’s Ken Talley shows that pork saw the biggest drop in per capita consumption to just less than 45 pounds, down 5 percent. Beef was derailed last year as America’s most popular protein. As with pork, the supply of beef was constrained by high production costs, which translated to higher retail prices. Beef consumption fell 2.6 percent to just less than 57 pounds per person, the lowest in 10 years. Less expensive chicken was the big choice by cash strapped Americans last year at nearly 59 pounds per capita, a 3.3 percent increase. For those dining out, seafood topped the list of favorites. The annual Zagat survey of 103 US restaurant chains and more than 6,000 diners showed the Bonefish Grill at No. 1 for food, facilities and service as well as best seafood. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit alaskafishfactor.com for more information or contact [email protected]

Washington crab interests take aim at Alaska council majority

Washington and Oregon individuals with stakes in the Bering Sea crab fishery are taking aim at the Alaska majority on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council and the Community Development Quota program. Citing concerns about potential council actions that could restructure the Bering Sea crab fishery to improve crew compensation, a letter sent to the Congressional delegations, governors and state legislatures of Washington and Oregon alleges discrimination by the six-member Alaska majority and blasts the CDQ program for enjoying unfair competitive advantages that are crowding out private businesses. The undate letter sent sometime in late August was signed by former North Pacific council member David Fluharty, marine biologist Dayton Alverson, Puget Sound Ports Council President Vince O’Halloran, former North Pacific Fishing Vessel Owners Association President Dennis Peterson and Bering Sea crab pioneer Kris Poulsen. Alverson is also a former chairman of the North Pacific council Scientific and Statistical Committee. Poulsen’s son, Ed Poulsen, is the executive director of Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers and a member of the North Pacific council Advisory Panel. Ed Poulsen has also been the lead representing vessel owners and quota shareholders in discussions on ways to improve crew compensation for Bering Sea crab crewmen. A planned report on the effort originally scheduled for the upcoming council meeting in Dutch Harbor has been delayed until December. The letter from Kris Poulsen, et al, describing the CDQ groups as “predatory” was presented to the city of Newport, Ore., in support of a Sept. 13 resolution seeking an additional two seats for Oregon on the North Pacific council. While the Newport resolution supports two additional seats for Oregon on the North Pacific council, the Poulsen letter asks for two additional seats for Washington and another for Oregon. The current 11 voting members of the council include six members from Alaska, including Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell, three from Washington, one from Oregon and National Marine Fisheries Service Alaska Region Administrator Jim Balsiger. The Poulsen letter suggests Balsiger should be considered a member of the Alaska delegation, and it would create a 14-member body with seven members from Washington and Oregon. Alternatively, it suggests, the council should be required to have 8 votes of 11 to institute any further quota share programs. Alaska Sen. Mark Begich said the idea is going nowhere. “As chairman of the Senate Oceans Subcommittee, I will work to make sure this proposal never sees the light of day,” Begich said in a statement provided by his office. The CDQ program was passed by Congress in 1992 to aid 65 economically depressed Western Alaska communities that are divided into six non-profit corporations that with tax exempt status. The six CDQ groups receive rights to harvest 10.7 percent of the total harvest of 36 species in the Bering Sea Aleutian Islands fisheries, with the greatest revenue produced by pollock, crab and halibut. According to the most recent annual reports and tax filings, net assets at the six groups now top $600 million. Larry Cotter, executive director of CDQ group Aleutians Pribilof Islands Community Development Association, said the Poulsen letter was “full of factual errors and revisionist history.” “The gentlemen who wrote this and signed this have enough experience to not be associated with as poorly done a work product as this,” Cotter said. “This is a group of individuals who are upset that the days when Alaska was a colony are gone, and are incredibly asking their delegations to do whatever they can do to make Alaska a colony once again.” The letter also mentions the potential for CDQ group Coastal Villages Region Fund to move its 24-boat fleet to Seward as soon as 2014, which may cost the Seattle area $25 million in annual moorage fees and maintenance. Ironically, if CVRF does move its fleet to Seward, three boats formerly owned by Kris Poulsen will go with it. Poulsen sold three crab vessels to Coastal Villages in 2007 for somewhere between $8 million and $12 million according to CVRF annual reports and tax filings. Poulsen also was paid $445,000 in 2007 to manage the boats and quota for CVRF, also according to the company tax filings. “What hypocrisy is this?” Cotter said. “Are these guys complaining because they voluntarily sold their assets to Alaskans? This is pathetic.” Because the North Pacific council cannot reallocate harvest quota set aside for CDQ groups, any change in the structure of the crab fishery to benefit crew members would come out of private industry holdings either through lost harvest shares or some kind of cap on lease rates. The Poulsen letter refers to a December 2010 council motion for the crab vessel owners and quota shareholders to find solutions that would advantage crew members who now receive 15 percent to 20 percent of the harvest value compared to about 35 percent before the fishery was rationalized in 2005. In the Bristol Bay red king crab fishery, the crew who harvest the most crab are actually paid less than fellow crew who harvest as much as 155,000 pounds less, according to the five-year review of the program. High lease rates charged by quota shareholders are roundly blamed for the crew loss in share, and the letter alleges CDQ groups are charging some of the highest rates. “The council voted to take steps so that private holders of crab quota would readjust their quota lease fees, so crews would get more revenue,” the letter states. “A similar approach to CDQs was not made, yet they charge as much as 70 percent to catch their red king crab harvest quotas. This will leave CDQ groups with a larger profit margin than that of the private family holders, most of whom are in the South, further enabling a shift of economic benefits to the North.” U.S. Rep. Don Young, who was instrumental in crafting the CDQ program, declined comment on the letter. Aggie Blandford, executive director of the Western Alaska Community Development Association (made up of all six CDQ groups), said a formal response to the letter will be made after the WACDA meeting Sept. 23. Supporting materials for the Newport resolution included an email from Hyder, the lone voting member from Oregon on the council. In the July 19 email to crab fisherman Gary Painter, Hyder said the council process has come to be dominated by Alaska politics. “The permanent Alaska majority on the Council consistently controls the outcome of Council actions and usually favor Alaskan interests,” Hyder wrote to Painter. “There seems to be an attitude that fish and fishing activity in the North Pacific Region EEZ belong to Alaskans. I am concerned that continual allocation pressure on Oregon participants will destabilize the industry and eventually may result in fleet consolidation that would not otherwise be necessary.” Hyder said he didn’t know if two more Oregon votes would make a difference, but said it would be a “healthy change.” “The NPFMC would have the ability to actually function as a council rather than as an extension of Alaska politics,” he wrote. Bill Tweit, a designated member of the council as the representative for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said politics at both ends of the North Pacific influence council actions. “When I look at the vast suite of issues in front of the council, the council is motivated by basic stewardship concerns and meeting the national standards of the Magnuson Act,” Tweit said. “Certainly we have allocation battles that end up winding up different ways. I completely agree with Roy that the political climate in Alaska influences how the delegation votes. The political climate down here influences how this delegation votes. Overall I think we do a good job addressing basic stewardship of the resource.” Tweit also noted that the CDQ program was created by Congress and any ability for the council to alter it is “pretty limited.” Since foreign fishing in the 200-mile exclusive economic zone off Alaska’s coast ended in 1988 (the original intent of the Magnuson-Stevens Act), the letter alleges Alaska representatives on the council, as well as state and national politicians have “methodically employed the federal fishery management system to effect massive wealth transfers from Washington and Oregon.” “When (the late former Washington Sen. Warren Magnuson) agreed to the Alaskan majority on the North Pacific Council, he certainly did not anticipate a strategic campaign to deprive his State of the very industry he sought to promote,” the letter states. “Indeed, all the coastal states including Alaska agreed to a national standard of non-discrimination of fishermen from different states. This has been ignored by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.” The Poulsen letter pegs the value of quota shares under Alaska rationalized fisheries at $10.3 billion — $1.5 billion for halibut, $6 billion for pollock, $1.4 billion for cod and flounder, and $1.4 billion for crab. For a fishery to be rationalized, Washington and Oregon fishermen had to pay a price to CDQs, the Poulsen letter states. By asking for an 8-vote majority to approve new quota share programs, Poulsen et al are now saying the price is too high. “The cost to them of receiving individual quotas and coops was a perpetual 10 percent allocation to all Bering Sea species to coastal Alaska,” the letter states. That’s how Earl Comstock remembered it at a Honolulu meeting of the Marine Fisheries Advisory Council, or MAFAC, in February 2010 to discuss the federal draft catch share policy. (MAFAC is a federal body that offers advice to the Secretary of Commerce.) According to transcripts, Comstock, a former legislative director for the late Sen. Ted Stevens, said CDQs were created in exchange for rationalizing the halibut fishery in 1992. “And so each time, and the same thing with crab and the same thing with pollock, you want the AFA [pollock rationalization], you are going to get CDQ,” Comstock said. “So I mean it was always done as a political exchange as the price that the industry paid for getting this improvement they were receiving.” The letter states that CDQ groups have leveraged their 10 percent annual allocation to now control 40 percent to 45 percent of the pollock trawl fleet in the Bering Sea, “much of the Pacific cod freezer longliner fleet, and increasing amounts of Bering Sea crab quota.” It also cites Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp., another CDQ, for having a 50 percent ownership of Ocean Beauty Seafoods, which it claims has $500 million in sales per year. “With the advantage of their tax exempt status,” the letter states, “CDQ organizations have become predatory in acquiring fishing opportunities and segments of the industry.” Heather McCarty, a lobbyist for St. Paul CDQ group Central Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association and a member of MAFAC, addressed the success of CDQs at the Honolulu meeting. She said, “there is one CDQ group, for example, has I think $8 million in the bank just sort of in the bank and they have already bought fish companies and all kinds of stuff, all from the money that comes mostly from pollock fishery and now more and more from the crab fishery.” McCarty continued: “Frankly I can’t think of very much that is wrong with it. The main thing that is wrong with it is that people envy it. And there is a lot of hostility in the rest of the fisheries toward the CDQ program. And some people consider it social engineering, which indeed it is, and it is hugely successful for these communities and people resent the program. “And it comes out in testimony at the council. It comes out on radios at the fishing grounds. ‘Oh, you are a CDQ group, you can buy anything you want. You can pay your crew anything you want. We can’t compete with you because you are so successful,’ and that is really what the net effect has been of the CDQ program because it has been so successful.” McCarty said vessel owners have also benefited from crab rationalization and the attendant rise in the value of harvest shares. “Now the tide has turned to the point where skippers and the owners of the crab vessels are ecstatic because they are all millionaires,” she said. “They are doing extremely well.” Apparently not as well as some would like. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]  

Rising seafood values boost tax coffers; ADFG pushing internships

Millions more dollars are being pumped into Alaska communities and state coffers by the seafood industry. All fish/shellfish catches are assessed a 3 percent raw fish tax with half remaining in the local community and half going to the State general fund disbursed at the whim of the Legislature. Based on big boosts in landings and values for many major fisheries last year and this year, there will be lots more Alaska fish bucks to go around. The just-released Fisheries of the U.S. Report by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows that 11 Alaska ports made the top 50 list for seafood landings and values in 2010. For the 22nd year in a row, Dutch Harbor/Unalaska ranked No. 1 with more than a half billion pounds of seafood crossing its docks, an increase of 9 million pounds from 2009. Kodiak dropped from 4th to 5th place with deliveries of 325.3 million pounds, up from 283 million pounds in 2009. Cordova ranked No. 8 with landings soaring to nearly 148 million pounds compared to 45.5 million in 2009. Similarly, Seward (No. 17) deliveries jumped from 29.3 million pounds to 75.4 million. Six Alaska ports were in the top 10 in terms of seafood value. New Bedford, Mass., held on to the lead for the 11th consecutive year at $306 million, thanks to pricey scallops. Dutch Harbor ranked No. 2 for value at $163 million (an increase of $3.4 million), and Kodiak bumped up a notch to third place with seafood values topping $128 million, a $24.3 million increase from 2009. Naknek-King Salmon ranked No. 4 for value at $101 million, up from $76 million. Cordova was No. 5 with seafood values of $84.3 million, a $51.5 million increase. Seward ranked No. 9 with landings valued at $69.2 million, compared to $33.1 million the previous year. Sitka came in at No. 10 with seafood values totaling $62.2 million, a $10 million increase over 2009. Other Alaska ports making the top 50 list for landings and values include Petersburg, Ketchikan, Kenai, Homer and Juneau. Other highlights: • The dockside (ex-vessel) price for fish increased 16 percent and 18 percent for shellfish. • US seafood landings of 8.2 billion pounds were up 2.4 percent; the dock value of $4.5 billion was a 13.3 percent increase ($600 million) from 2009. • U.S. consumers spent $80.2 billion for seafood products last year, a $5 billion increase. • Salmon rose from 3rd to 2nd place as the most valuable US fishery at nearly $555 million, second to crab at $573 million. Rounding out the top 10 for value: scallops, lobster, shrimp, pollock, halibut, clams, cod and flatfish. • The value of processed seafood products was $8.5 billion, an increase of $774 million over 2009. • The overall value added to the economy by the U.S. seafood industry in 2010 was $41.4 billion. • The majority of the U.S. seafood supply — 86 percent — was imported from other countries. Americans ate slightly less seafood last year – 15.8 pounds per person, down from 16 pounds in 2009, reflecting the lowest rate of seafood consumption since 2002. Where in the world do they eat the most fish? The Maldives Islands in the Indian Ocean at 314 pounds per capita. The annual U.S. fisheries report includes recreational fishing and much more. It’s a great read. Careers in the Last Frontier More than 20 percent of the staff at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game could retire in the next five years, and a special team is going all out to attract new workers. “It’s an alarming statistic and the department has undertaken an ambitious recruitment program,” said Candice Bressler, ADFG Workforce Development Program Coordinator. “We are trying to get in the next generation of biologists, fisheries managers, wildlife professionals, accountants, across the board to come into the department.” In the past year the workforce team really ramped up its recruitment with 40 career fairs at Alaska high schools and colleges. Several new internship programs give hands on experience in numerous fields of interest. “It’s all about choosing your adventure,” Bressler said. “That’s what students like to hear.”  Students also like hearing they get paid well for their internships, plus college credits. (Paying student interns is almost unheard of, Bressler said.) ADFG pays $13 to $25 per hour based on high school and upper graduate levels. Ultimately, the goal is to show there are good careers right here in Alaska, Bressler added, and hook a new generation into ADFG. “We are really trying to tap into what is in our back yard,” she said. “To maintain the great work that we do is to have Alaskans in those positions, folks who are truly committed to our mission in maintaining the resources.” Find out more at [email protected] Fish Watch As expected, catches of red king crab at Bristol Bay are likely to take a big drop, possibly down 35 percent from the 15 million pound quota in 2010. That could mean a catch of less than 10 million pounds when the season opens Oct. 15. Conversely, the Bering Sea snow crab harvest could increase by 20 percent to more than 65 million pounds, 10 million pounds more than last season. Fish managers will announce the crab quotas in a few weeks … All gear types are back out on the water fishing for Pacific cod, also called true cod and gray cod. This year Alaska fishermen have a total codfish harvest of nearly 800 million pounds, up 30 percent from last year. At an average price of 40 cents per pound, the fishery will be worth more than $320 million at the docks. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit alaskafishfactor.com for more information or contact [email protected]

Fish Bytes: Writer raises stink about Legal Sea Foods

A USA Today writer apparently unfamiliar with a typical Legal Sea Foods commercial raised a stink this morning over the company’s latest trio of quick-hitting ads he took as mocking the environmental movement. Taking a detour into politics, Bruce Horowitz wrote: “A Tea Party-infused nation — with Texas Gov. Rick Perry now a top Republican presidential candidate — seems ever-ready to embrace such seemingly anti-liberal marketing imagery.” David Gianatasio had a slightly different take after noting the complaints from Greenpeace elicited by Horowitz: “The ads are actually pretty funny. Of course, Greenpeace wouldn't recognize a joke if it torpedoed one of their Left-listing party rafts. Sorry for the tidal wave of puns. Guess I went overboard.” So what’s the big deal? The 15-second ads (featuring salmon, trout and crab) begin like an environmental PSA: "Save the crab,” begins one ad. “Save it to show that every creature is sacred, no matter how small. Or, just save it so we can chop it up into tasty little crab cakes." I guess that violent imagery of chopping up crab or sautéing a salmon was a little too much for Horowitz, who led his story with the line that “environmentalists are becoming roadkill on Madison Avenue.” It’s difficult, though, to understand why environmentalists would have a problem with the ads at all. Isn’t the whole goal of sustainable fisheries management to make sure we have plenty of tasty wild seafood to eat? Legal Sea Foods CEO Richard Berkowitz made that argument in a press release issued in response to the complaints from Greenpeace. "Sure, people may jump to the conclusion that we're being flip about the topic, but it's quite the opposite. This is a debate we need to have. We need to constantly question where fish comes from and how it was caught and, moreover, demand more from those tasked with protecting the fish supply," said Berkowitz. The release says Legal Sea Foods has “long taken an active role in the sustainability debate, making strong arguments for the protection of both endangered fish and commercial fishermen” and that “the objective of the ad campaign is to encourage a discussion on the topic and to open everyone's eyes to the nuances of the issue.” Berkowitz also appeared to echo many complaints voiced by commercial fishermen in New England about the 2010 implementation of sector management, which has been the subject of litigation and bipartisan opposition in Congress. "We're passionate about sustainability, but we also feel the issue has been clouded by outdated and faulty data, and a reliance on simplistic dictums from groups that help turn the public against certain species of fish. This campaign will hopefully facilitate an open dialogue and better understanding that seafood sustainability is not such a black and white issue," said Berkowitz. One place Legal Sea Foods may be going wrong in its strategy is its stated reason for choosing salmon, trout and crab — because they “enjoy ample stocks.” Berkowitz and Legal Sea Foods would probably find some more justified disagreement about that.  Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]  

Extension for comment period puts time squeeze on NMFS

 The comment period for a proposed halibut catch sharing plan has been extended, but not by enough time to delay its potential implementation in 2012. In response to requests from some charter operators and groups for a 60-day extension — which would have effectively prevented it from taking effect in 2012 — the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration extended the comment period by 15 days until Sept. 21. That will put a time crunch on the National Marine Fisheries Service, the NOAA agency in charge of the regulatory process. NMFS, which published the draft rule July 22 for a 45-day comment period, is tasked with responding to the hundreds of comments now pouring in about the halibut CSP. Glenn Merrill, NMFS Alaska region representative, announced the extension at a special House Fisheries Committee meeting Sept. 1 in Anchorage. Each comment must be responded to when the final rule is published, and the extension means NMFS will be under pressure to have the process complete by the time the International Pacific Halibut Commission holds its interim meeting Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 in Anchorage. Under a treaty between the U.S. and Canada signed in 1923, the IPHC sets the total harvests for halibut from California to the Bering Sea. It is up to the federal governments of both countries to divide the allowable harvest among commercial and recreational sectors, and to then create management structures to ensure the quota is not exceeded. At the interim meeting (which precedes the annual meeting in late January), the IPHC reviews survey data of the halibut stock, retrospective harvest reports from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for unguided and subsistence removals from the previous year, projections for the upcoming year charter harvest from ADFG, and staff recommendations for the harvest quota. If the final rule has not been published by the interim IPHC meeting, it is unclear how that would affect the ADFG ability to project charter harvest without knowing the regulatory structure, or how that uncertainty may affect IPHC staff recommendations for harvest levels in 2012. The IPHC annual meeting will also be in Anchorage Jan. 24 to Jan. 27. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which designed and approved the halibut CSP over 10 meetings spanning several years culminated by a final vote in October 2008, has expressed its desire for the rules to take effect in 2012. The CSP approved by the council would split the halibut harvest as a percentage between charter and commercial — with a range of 83 percent to 86 percent allocated for commercial depending on abundance and region — and set default bag limits based on the amount of halibut available. The plan also provides for charter operators to lease pounds from the commercial sector to provide additional fishing opportunity for their clients if the rule requires a bag limit of one fish or a size limit. Because the CSP was not yet ready in 2011, the IPHC took steps independently to constrain the Southeast charter sector by approving a 37-inch size limit in addition to the one-fish bag limit already in place. The IPHC instituted the size limit for Southeast to address chronic overages that have ranged from 400,000 pounds to 1.1 million pounds greater than the charter guideline harvest level since 2004. At the House Fisheries Committee meeting Sept. 1, Alaska Charter Association board member Richard Yamada argued that the IPHC has been allowing the commercial sector to overharvest halibut while the stock is in a declining trend, and that those overages are far greater than the charter sector. The IPHC has a 20 percent target harvest rate for the exploitable halibut biomass (longer than 32 inches), but its 2011 annual report stated the harvest rate in Southeast has exceeded 50 percent in recent years. Yamada said the commercial sector accounts for about 78 percent of that overage between 2007 and 2010. Commercial halibut representatives, which included Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Haines, point to the severe cuts they’ve endured in that time. Although Yamada suggested it should have been cut even more, Southeast commercial quota has been slashed by 79 percent from 10.6 million pounds in 2005 to 2.33 million in 2011. Rep. Craig Johnson, R-Anchorage, noted the increasing price of halibut during the declining harvest period. Johnson suggested cutting the commercial allocation would boost the price and therefore benefit the industry. In Southcentral Alaska, charter operators and the hospitality industry in general are concerned about how the proposed rule could affect them based on the status of the halibut stock in 2011. Had the CSP been in place this year, both Southeast and Southcentral would have seen the charter allocation cut by about 31 percent, or 1.4 million pounds; in Southcentral, the current two-fish of any size bag limit would have been cut to one of any size. Although it is certain Southcentral would have been on a one-fish limit in 2011, it is not yet known if anglers fishing out of Homer or Seward will be on a one-fish limit if the CSP does take effect in 2012. The combined commercial/charter harvest in 2011 was 18.1 million pounds. At a biomass of 20 million or more pounds for Southcentral, the default bag limit is for two fish with one required to be less than 32 inches. There may still be unanswered questions at the IPHC interim meeting if the final rule hasn’t been published, but survey data should give a better indication of what the bag limits might be for the charter sectors in Southeast and Southcentral if the halibut plan takes effect in 2012. However, as charter operators noted to the House Fisheries Committee, not knowing what management structures will be in place for the next season until November or January when trips typically are booked years in advance threatens their business just as much as possible cuts in allocation or bag limits.   Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]    

Kenai Peninsula divided over halibut plan

KENAI (AP) — Kenai Peninsula commercial fishermen and sport anglers have often had disputes about who should have the right to catch salmon. These days, the focus is on another valuable fish, halibut. A dispute over a federal plan to protect the halibut population has pitted commercial fishing interests against businesses that make money off sport anglers — lodge owners and managers, plus charter operators — who say new rules could spell the end of their industry. Bill Davis of the Salmon Catcher Lodge in Kenai told the Peninsula Clarion that a provision in the plan that would regularly adjust the guided angler’s bag limit between two fish of any size to one fish, based on results of stock estimates, would “break” the Peninsula. “If they take the halibut away from us, there is a good chance we will put this up for sale,” he said of the lodge he manages. Anglers will not travel to Alaska and spend thousands of dollars to catch one halibut per day, he said. Roland Maw, executive director of the United Cook Inlet Drift Association, doesn’t believe it. Commercial fishermen already have been hit with previous conservative regulations, he said. “I think it’s a little bit of ‘Chicken Little,’ you know running around saying the sky is falling and ‘Woe is me,’” Maw said. “Will it affect their business? Undoubtedly. But, will it force them out of business, every last one they are claiming? No. We’re businessmen — we make things work.” Glenn Merrill, assistant regional administrator for sustainable fisheries with the National Marine Fisheries Service, said his agency has received hundreds of letters on the proposed rules and expects more. The comment period has been extended through Sept. 21. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is gathering feedback on the “catch sharing plan,” a draft rule recommended by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. The proposal affects Southcentral Alaska, which includes the Kenai Peninsula, plus the Panhandle. Commercial and charter fishing now are managed separately. Under the new plan, the total catch would be split between the two sides after managers subtract out the catch by subsistence fishermen and unguided anglers. Charter operators could land in one of four tiers, giving them a percentage of the catch varying between 10.5 percent and 18.9 percent. The tier system also sets bag limits: two fish of any size, two fish with one less than 32 inches long, or just one fish. NOAA Fisheries spokeswoman Julie Speegle said the top consideration is protecting a halibut population that has seen a steep decline. A one-halibut limit for guided anglers, she said, is not a sure thing despite the claims of the charter industry. However, she acknowledged that a one-fish limit would have been in effect for 2011. Mike Crawford, head of the Kenai-Soldotna Fish and Game Advisory committee, said the catch sharing plan would leave a “huge dent” in the charter industry, if not worse. “This is a charter boat killer, this is an industry killer,” he said. Maw, who has fished commercially since 1973, said the plan is a balanced approach to conservation. “When we have the biomass and the fish that can be exploited, when that’s high, then we all share, and when the abundance is low as it is now ... the plan says everyone is to back off and let the stocks recover,” he said. Davis, however, contends the Kenai Peninsula economy rests on the sport fishing industry and the ability to catch two halibut as a way to satisfy customers when salmon fishing is slow. “They are destroying tourism here and when tourism leaves the Peninsula, the last guy brings the flag and shuts the lights off because it’s statistically proven that fish is worth 10 times as much in the river or in the freezer through sport caught than it is through commercial caught,” he said. Along the Panhandle, charter fishermen are now limited to one halibut per day no longer than 37 inches. “In Southeast my friends have either gone out of business this summer, or they are going out of business,” Davis said.  

Salmon forecast still coming up short on scattered pink returns

Alaska’s salmon harvest has topped 170 million fish and it is pretty clear by now that disappointing pink catches in prime producing regions will pull the season up short of the projected 203 million salmon. Southeast is the pink salmon winner with catches topping 61 million humpies so far, blowing past projections of 55 million. In fact, combined good salmon returns, hefty pink weights and strong prices have pushed the value of the Southeast seine fishery alone to $100 million. The pink fishery was topsy-turvy with the bulk of the catch coming from northern districts. Pink salmon prices were averaging 42 cents, up from 30 cents last summer. Elsewhere, pink salmon catches were lackluster – at Prince William Sound they were nearing 30 million, 8 million shy of projections. At Kodiak, the pink season has just been strange, said biologist James Jackson at Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Kodiak. “It’s been one of those years that really makes you scratch your head and wonder what happened,” he told KMXT. “We either had record or well above average pink salmon returns to Alitak, the east side of Kodiak and even around town, and then had record low returns to the west side, Afognak, and at the hatchery.” Jackson said Kodiak fishermen, “will be lucky,” to get 17 million pinks, a shortfall of 13 million fish. When it’s all over, Alaska’s 2011 salmon harvest will be comparable to last year’s catch of 168 million fish — but the value could top its ex-vessel value of $534 million. Speaking of values … The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute pegs the value of Alaska’s total commercial seafood harvest in 2010 at $1.7 billion, a 22 percent increase over the 2009 harvest of $1.4 billion. Salmon competition Alaska salmon will face competition in world markets from Russia, where a record harvest could reach 555,000 tons of mostly pinks and chums (more than 1 billion pounds). Looking ahead, Intrafish reports that global salmon production could rise by 15 percent in 2012, largely driven by a 60 percent growth in farmed salmon output from Chile. World production of Atlantic salmon will approach 1.8 million tons next year, more than twice the growth from the past year. Reward for research gear Research equipment that provides ocean data alongside with halibut stock assessments is sitting on the ocean floor and scientists hope to get it back. Called water column profilers, they were deployed two years ago by fish scientists, thanks to a half-million dollar grant from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to the International Pacific Halibut Commission. A profiler was dropped at each of nearly 1,280 survey stations between Oregon and the Bering Sea and along the Aleutian Islands. “It goes down through the water column and measures salinity, temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen and chlorophyll content. So it gives us a fairly good snapshot of the whole coast,” said IPHC director Bruce Leaman. “It is a very important data set and we are sharing it with many other users.” Most of the profilers have been retrieved, but one was lost in 2009 off the east side of Kodiak Island; another disappeared this summer on the south side of Adak. The 60-pound profilers are housed in a steel cage and could be snagged on the bottom. Leaman said they might be detected with depth sounders. “Particularly the one off Kodiak Island,” Leaman told KDLG. “It doesn’t have floats on top, but it’s sitting on hard bottom and you would get a little bit of a bump. The one that is off Adak, you can actually see the floats on your echo sounder if you’re going by.” The IPHC is offering a $1,500 reward for each lost profiler. “We hope that is incentive enough so people will actually go looking for them. It’s a small thing in a large area, but we have some fairly precise location information,” Leaman said. “We would dearly love to get them back because they have important data, plus they are reusable and are very durable pieces of equipment.” State stall Concerned Alaskans are telling the Parnell Administration to stick to its own rules. Cook Inletkeeper and Trustees for Alaska have fired off letters to the governor and the federal Office of Surface Mining, or OSM, questioning why the state Department of Natural Resources is dragging its feet on its decision-making. At issue is a January 2010 petition that asks DNR to designate lands within the Chuitna River watershed as unsuitable for large-scale surface coal mining. The proposed mine would be the first to mine completely through 11 miles of a wild salmon stream. After numerous delays, DNR promised a decision by June 3, 2011, 45 days after the statutory deadline. There still was no decision by Sept. 2.  In its Aug. 29 letter to OSM, Trustees for Alaska wrote: “DNR failed to offer any subsequent time-frame for the issuance of a final decision or explanation to Petitioners as to the significantly extended delay. … DNR has violated the statutory mandate that the ULP (unsuitable lands petition) be decided within 60 days.” The petition is close to coming out, “with just a few details to finalize,” said Russell Kirkham, DNR’s coal regulatory program manager. “Then it has to go before DNR Commissioner Dan Sullivan for a full review,” Kirkham told the Homer Tribune. “It can’t be discussed until the merit review process and the decision document are finished.” Cook Inletkeeper’s Bob Shavelson said if there is no response, the next level is to seek legal recourse for unmet deadlines, amounting to a violation of laws on behalf of the State of Alaska.

Fish Bytes: A chat with IPHC biologist Gregg Williams

@font-face { font-family: "Cambria"; }p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal { margin: 0in 0in 0.0001pt; font-size: 12pt; font-family: "Times New Roman"; }div.Section1 { page: Section1; } Welcome to the Fish Bytes blog on the new and improving Alaska Journal of Commerce website. As a fisheries reporter, the main advantage of working at a weekly publication is having the time to sit through days of regulatory meetings or spend hours reading through discussion papers and analyses that typically number in the hundreds of pages. The big disadvantage — until now — was the inability to provide fresh daily content about a global industry in which Alaska plays a vital part. A perfect example came yesterday morning on “press day.” We send our latest issue to the printer every Wednesday, which means copy is pretty much set by early morning if we’re not dealing with breaking news. So with my latest story on the proposed halibut catch sharing plan already on the page when International Pacific Halibut Commission biologist Gregg Williams called around 8:30, I wasn’t able to update with his insights on the latest statements from charter operators opposed to the rule. Before the launch of the new website, I would have had to wait more than a week to get a new story up. Now, I can share Williams’ thoughts with you today. As I discuss in the story that will publish to the web Friday, Alaska Charter Association board member and longtime operator Richard Yamada argued to the Alaska House Special Committee on Fisheries at a Sept. 1 hearing that the IPHC has been allowing the commercial sector to overharvest halibut in Southeast. In an argument that’s been gaining traction among the charter sector lobbying for changes in the rule, Yamada pointed to IPHC data that shows a harvest rate of greater than 50 percent for several recent years in Southeast. The target harvest rate of the exploitable biomass for IPHC is 20 percent. The Southeast charter operators contend that while they are often blamed for going over their allocation (which they have for every year since 2004), it is actually the commercial sector that has been allowed to overharvest the stock while it is in a declining trend. Williams said that comparing the target harvest rate to the actual harvest rate is “kind of an apples to oranges comparison” and that it was “a bit of a red herring” to point to high harvest rates as being evidence of IPHC allowing the commercial fleet to overharvest the stock. Williams also talked about the change in 2011 to the “slow up, full down” approach versus the previous “slow up, fast down” policy, the talk of changing the legal commercial size to 30 inches (from 32) and what will happen at the interim IPHC meeting in November if the halibut CSP is not yet in place.    Williams said delays in data collection (such as the previous season unguided and subsistence estimates from Alaska Department of Fish and Game) and revisions to the stock assessment over time are contributing factors to the high harvest rate in Southeast: “There is some lag in the data being reported. There’s also an issue of fish stock assessments in which the most recent year is frankly the most poorly estimated one because you don’t have as good a look at the younger age classes that you do as you do down the road when those age classes get to be larger components in the stock.  “That’s why we have this sort of retrospective pattern in our assessment of what we estimate for say, this year is like 313 million pounds for coastwide biomass, five years from now what we estimate for 2011 will be a much lower number because we have a better look at the strength of those age classes coming in. “We also have this target harvest rate and the subsequent look at what that rate is and how it gets calculated out tends to bump that value up quite a bit as well. “It’s a bit of a red herring to look at those high exploitation rates as being commercial overharvest. It’s more appropriate to look at each year on a stand-alone basis.” Williams also explained how the change to a “full down” policy from “fast down” contributed to an even greater reduction in commercial allocation for Southeast in 2011 (it was cut from 4.4 million pounds in 2010 to 2.33 million in 2011): “The difference is from ‘slow up, fast down,’ in periods of declining biomass, the staff recommendation would be for 50 percent of the difference between last year’s catch limit and this year’s available yield. In other words, it wouldn’t go all the way down to what the assessment said the available yield is for the current year. “What we changed this year was to go ‘full down,’ to actually take that available yield from the assessment as our recommendation. As we looked at this in hindsight, when you have a declining biomass as we do now, you end up chasing your tail all the way down. You never catch up. “The other reason for only bringing it 50 percent down is, like anything you estimate, are the error bounds on those estimates. There is some error or variability around the estimate.” Williams said about half the drop in quota for Southeast this year was because of the change to “full down” in policy: “If we’d gone ‘fast down,’ we might have been up in the 3 (million pounds), something along that line.” Williams said the previous “fast down” policy charter groups are pointing to as the IPHC allowing the commercial sector to overharvest the stock was not based on economics:    “The 50 percent is not necessarily from an economic argument, it’s more of a recommendation of the assessment process that we’re using. Guys are saying we’re trying to save the commercial industry, or that we’re giving them more fish when they don’t need it. I can see where they say that, but it’s not even part of the thinking.” Williams said the IPHC will most likely come to its interim meeting in Anchorage Nov. 30-Dec. 1 with two options for management in 2012 because of uncertainty over whether the CSP will be in place: “At the interim meeting, we’ll be discussing and making public the status of the stock after this year’s fishery, survey results. Usually we have our catch limit recommendations in that presentation also. People will be able to see what those look like. But with this catch sharing plan on the horizon, not knowing if that will be implemented next year or not, we’ll have to do a Plan A and Plan B.  “In case it is, we’ll have a combined catch limit for charter and commercial. If not, it would be as we’ve done before with the straight commercial catch limit and GHL for the charter industry.” At the Sept. 1 hearing, Yamada from ACA also raised the possibility of lowering the legal commercial sized halibut from 32 inches to 30 inches. The number of halibut in the Gulf of Alaska is healthy, but the commercially exploitable stock of 32 inches or longer is in a declining trend. Williams said the idea has been discussed for the last few years, but that the IPHC is “uneasy” with it. “The market is set up for 10 pounds and up (a 32-inch halibut net weight). If for whatever reason, guys don’t retain those small fish and throw them back, you have mortality for those small fish. What goes along with changing the size limit is you’ve expanded the exploitable biomass. You’re exploiting a larger portion of the stock. That technical increase in the stock, you increase the harvest rate proportionally. “So you have a higher catch limit, but if the fishermen don’t target those small fish but instead shift to areas where they’re catching bigger fish, you’ve exacerbated the problem because now they’re putting even more effort on the large fish when they should be moving away from by virtue of having more pounds of small fish to retain. “That could have serious ramifications. The fishermen’s behavior is the big unknown on that.” Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected] 

Economic analysis of controversial halibut plan easier said than done

Comments being made about the halibut catch sharing plan currently under consideration by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for Area 3A, the central Gulf of Alaska including Cook Inlet and Homer, frequently identify the need for an economic impact analysis. • A vote by the Homer Chamber of Commerce and Convention Center's general membership directed Executive Director Monte Davis to submit a comment to the National Marine Fisheries Service to include a request for an economic impact analysis using current data; • The Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council's board of directors asked its executive director to submit a comment to include "the need for an economic impact study to be conducted using current data to inform CSP allocations;" • An ad run by the Alaska Charter Association asked for "an updated economic analysis to replace the 13-year old data referenced in the proposed rule;" • In a "Point Counterpoint" column in Saturday's Anchorage Daily News, Jim Martin, West Coast regional director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance, wrote, "This decision needs to be based on optimizing the economic value of the resource to the nation. That is why the charter fishing industry is insisting on accurate economic data on the value of the fishery to the economy." "A very difficult task" is how Jim Calvin of the McDowell Group, a research and consulting firm with offices in Anchorage and Juneau, summed up an economic impact analysis of this nature. "If the idea is to measure the economic consequences of reduced harvest levels, the challenge is recognizing that catching fish is part of the experience that people pay for when they hire a charter operator," said Calvin. Unlike commercial halibut fishing, with a direct connection between buyer and seller, multiple factors must be taken into consideration when attempting to understand the value of a charter-caught halibut, said Calvin. "More important are reasonable methods of understanding the value of a halibut to a sport fisherman who lives in, say, Pennsylvania and comes up here," said Calvin. "How do you measure the value of that fish to him ... to Alaska's economy?" For individuals who come to Alaska specifically to catch halibut, the economic impact of travel, lodging and food are closely related to the fishing experience, rather than the number of halibut caught, said McDowell. The economic consequences are reduced and more complicated, however, when taking into consideration an individual coming to Alaska on a cruise ship and going out on a half-day charter. Preparing an economic impact analysis of the catch-sharing plan is no small request, said Gunnar Knapp with the University of Alaska Anchorage Institute of Social and Economic Research. "The problem is, it's obviously a devilishly difficult situation for the people potentially affected by this, the operators and communities and so on, and a number of complicated questions that it raises aren't entirely obvious," said Knapp. For starters, such a study would need to identify the people impacted: who are they and how many exist? What businesses are impacted — direct and spin-offs — and how many exist? Creating a comprehensive list of areas to be addressed is just the tip of the iceberg. "The challenge from an economic study point of view is always what's the alternative? What are you assuming?" said Knapp. "In other words, the economic impact of some management action presumes a change compared with what you would have had otherwise." For the CSP, there is the status quo: two halibut per day per person in Area 3A. The preferred alternative of the National Marine Fisheries Service includes different scenarios based on the catch limit set annually by the International Pacific Halibut Commission. Each scenario comes with its own economic analysis. Among them are a two-fish-a day limit with one fish less than 32-inches in length and a one-fish-a-day limit. "I'm sure that a lot of charter operators would like to save what they have and don't want a change, but when it comes to the issue of leaving things the way they are, what does that mean about the sustainability of the resource? What does it mean about who else would have to cut back and what are the impacts of that?" said Knapp. The area to be analyzed expands further when resource allocations are shared by commercial and charter halibut fishermen. While Knapp considered an economic impact analysis of the CSP "complicated," he also viewed it as a "useful" way to answer questions being raised. "But on a highly polarized issue like this, unfortunately an economic study can be viewed as biased one way or the other," said Knapp. "The ideal study be one looks at the overall, entire (issue), all the uses of halibut and how they all effect the economy and what are overall changes and implications to each group and the options." The complexity of an economic analysis can be found in the North Pacific Fishery Management Council's June 23 environmental assessment, regulatory impact review and initial regulatory flexibility analysis for a CSP regulatory amendment. A section addressing the economic impact to communities turns to data from a 10-year-old University of Alaska Fairbanks angler survey and a 14-year-old Alaska Department of Fish and Game angler survey used to estimate economic data for the Kenai Peninsula Borough. The results indicated 197,556 saltwater sportfishing trips in 1997 generated $28.5 million in expenditures, $12 million in personal income and 822 jobs. However, impact to halibut charters is over-estimated because the numbers included both guided and non-guided fishing trips. Financial and time constraints of a thorough analysis also are raised in that same section. Referring to information on expenditures by limited entry permit holders by community, the report states, "Collecting that information would be both expensive and time consuming, and is outside the scope of this amendment." As Knapp pointed out, a thorough economic analysis is a difficult task. "It takes a long time and ultimately doesn't solve the underlying political issue," he said.

Big Island fish farm says experiment going well

HONOLULU (AP) — The operator of a Big Island experiment that has the potential to increase the volume of fish raised in farms said Monday that initial tests were going well. The test is being run by Kampachi Farms, which is run by the same people who pioneered farming Kona Kampachi in Hawaii waters over the past decade as Kona Blue Water Farms. The company sold its operation growing fish in anchored pens and is now pursuing new technology by growing the fish — amberjack or Hawaiian yellowtail — in a large unanchored, underwater pen in federal waters off the Kona Coast. Only one quarter of one percent of the 2,000 Kona Kampachi fish stocked in the pen on July 20 have been lost, said Neil Anthony Sims, the head of Kampachi Farms. The fish are eating vigorously and growing "very well," he told media in a teleconference call from Kailua-Kona. The fish are being kept in a pen 30 feet below the surface that is tethered to a boat that has traveled between seven and 75 miles offshore over the past several weeks. The fish expected to be ready for harvest in March. "This is the world's first beta test of an unanchored fish pen system," Sims said. Open ocean aquaculture has the potential to expand fish farm production because there is more space further from shore for larger pens that should in theory be able to grow more fish than cages closer to coastlines. The experiment has faced legal challenges. Earlier this month, two environmental groups sued the National Marine Fisheries Service, saying the federal agency failed to adequately assess the environmental effects the fish farm was likely to have when it issued a permit to the company to carry out the experiment. Honolulu-based KAHEA and Food and Water Watch Inc. of Washington, D.C., asked the court to declare the permit illegal and order the fisheries service to suspend or revoke it. Sims said the project had minimal environmental impact. Asked about the potential harm from fish waste, Sims said the pen is in waters at least 12,000 feet deep in an area with strong currents. He said the farm would have no impact on coral reefs in waters that deep. The National Marines Fisheries Service showed its support for the project at the news conference. Eric Schwaab, fisheries service administrator, issued a statement read at the news conference praising Kampachi Farms for its innovations. Schwaab said aquaculture was a critical component of meeting increasing consumer demand for "healthy, sustainable seafood" and was a tool to restore fisheries. Increased aquaculture would also create employment and business opportunities in coastal communities, he said. About 30 percent of the fish's diet comes from Peruvian anchovies, but Sims said it would not be sustainable to feed amberjack this much fish if it were farmed on a larger scale. Kampachi Farms is working with the Illinois Soybean Association to raise the share of soybean protein concentrate that the fish eat to reduce the ratio of fish meal and fish oil in the farmed fish's diet. Currently about 20 percent of the fish's diet comes from soybeans. The venture also has help from defense contractor Lockheed Martin, which is supplying satellite technology to link shore facilities and the pen. Sims said the technologies could be taken elsewhere in the world if proven. "Everybody wants to eat sashimi, so pretty much everybody around the planet is looking at where they're going to get the next seafood from. And almost universally around the globe countries are no longer looking at wild stocks as being where they can grow their seafood supply. They are looking at aquaculture," he said.  

Charter sector faces changes, but not like Canada

@font-face { font-family: "Cambria"; }p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal { margin: 0in 0in 0.0001pt; font-size: 12pt; font-family: "Times New Roman"; }div.Section1 { page: Section1; } Charter halibut operators concerned about how a proposed rule to divide the harvest between their sector and the commercial fishery can take solace in one thing: at least they’re not in Canada. The Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans closed the recreational halibut fishery effective Sept. 5 because sport fishermen have reached their harvest allocation for the season. Alaska charter operators have long and successfully resisted in-season management measures such as changes in bag limits — and especially closures — designed to keep them within their allocation. The DFO closure in Canada is the result of the recreational fishery, which includes charter and unguided anglers, exceeding its allocation for five of the last six years. This hasn’t proven to be a problem in Southcentral Alaska, which has stayed within the charter allocation of 3.65 million pounds for every year but one since 2004 while managed under a two-fish of any size daily bag limit. That hasn’t been the case in Southeast, a triangle-shaped regulatory area called 2C with the panhandle as one side and a horizontal border with Canadian waters as another. The charter sector in Southeast has exceeded its allocation ever year since 2004, more than doubling up in 2008 with 1.9 million pounds while on an allocation of 930,000 pounds. In 2008, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council approved a plan to split the halibut harvest as a percentage between charter and commercial and set default bag limits based on the amount of halibut available. The plan also provides for charter operators to lease pounds from the commercial sector to provide additional fishing opportunity for their clients if the rule requires a bag limit of one fish or a size limit. Now that the proposed final rule has been published and the National Marine Fisheries Service is taking comments through Sept. 6, much of the attention has focused on what it would have meant for the charter sector were it in place for 2011. The biggest effect on Southcentral anglers would be a cut from a two-fish to a one-fish bag limit, in addition to a likely cut in allocation of about 1 million pounds. Southeast has already gotten a taste of the rule, known as a catch sharing plan, in 2011. The International Pacific Halibut Commission, or IPHC, placed a 37-inch size limit on Southeast guided anglers in addition to the one-fish daily bag limit put in place by the North Pacific council in 2009. Through June, the Southeast charter sector had harvested about 120,000 pounds of halibut with an average weight of 9 pounds each, compared to 350,000 pounds and an average weight of 27 pounds in 2010. Looking back What are always contentious allocation fights among sport and commercial fishermen of all species is exacerbated by the current low levels of halibut of the commercially legal size of 32 inches or longer. Commercial allocations of halibut have declined 79 percent in Southeast since 2005 and by 43 percent in Southcentral, which makes the chronic problem of charter overages in Southeast even harder to take. While there remains a large biomass of halibut in the Gulf of Alaska, it is taking longer for fish to recruit into legal size, and concerns about localized depletion are being raised in Southeast from both commercial and subsistence users. However, despite the heartburn about how the charter sector would have been affected in 2011, it’s likely there wouldn’t have been nearly as much of a fight had the rule taken effect in the season following the 2008 council action. In 2009, under the proposed rule, Southcentral charter anglers would have received an allocation of 3.55 million pounds, (nearly identical to the current 3.65 million) and been on a two-fish bag limit with one required to be less than 32 inches. In Southeast, the charter sector would have received an allocation of 900,000 pounds (larger than the actual 2009 charter allocation of 788,000 pounds) and would have been on the same two-fish bag limit as Southcentral with one less than 32 inches. According to commercial harvest data, 2011 is the only year since 1983 when Southcentral anglers would have been under a one-fish bag limit. In only eight of the last 27 years would the two-fish bag limit have been required to have one less than 32 inches. Southcentral’s halibut biomass has also been remarkably resilient. Since 1984, it has rebounded quickly after declining trends. If the proposed catch sharing rule had been in place, Southcentral charter anglers would have been on a restricted two-fish bag limit for no more than two consecutive years (1984-85; 1995-96; 2000-01; 2009-10). Looking at Southeast, charter operators would have also faced mostly liberal harvest rules under the plan up until the point where the IPHC began cutting commercial allocations to address declining legal-sized halibut in 2008. At any commercial harvest greater than 8.5 million pounds, the charter allocation would be about 1.5 million pounds, which is nearly identical to where the North Pacific council set the guideline harvest level in 2000. The commercial harvest for Southeast was at least 8.5 million pounds in all but one year from 1985 to 2007. Even at low levels of abundance in Southeast during 2010, under the proposed rule the charter sector would have been on a restricted two-fish bag limit as long as they were projected to stay within their upper allocation range of 960,000 pounds.   Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]  

August-Issue-1 2011

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Seafood industry looks to reach the youngest customers

Cruise the baby food aisles of any American supermarket and you’ll see jars of beef, chicken, lamb, eggs - every kind of protein except fish. That could soon change if an initiative by Alaska food scientists and the seafood industry is successful. Fueled by $443,000 in federal funding from the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, a project is underway at the University of Alaska Fisheries Industrial Technology Center in Kodiak to create baby food made from salmon. AFDF is an industry based nonprofit created in 1978 to help provide a bridge between research and the marketplace. "Starting last year we began developing two prototype products - a pate’ form for infants and a chunk-style food for toddlers made from pink and/or sockeye salmon, with or without fish oil additives. We may also use ground up salmon bone as a source for organic calcium," said FITC director Scott Smiley. Another project will focus on using salmon roe as a baby food ingredient. Smiley said it will be two or three years before the salmon products are ready to hand off to baby food manufacturers. But that is something that is beyond the realm of science. "We can tell seafood processors what they need to do to make a product that is 100 percent pure salmon and meets specific nutritional standards. It’s up to them to sell the idea to baby food manufacturers and to market researchers to try and make it fly in the market place," Smiley said. Smiley displayed jars of seafood baby food from Japan adorned with labels showing colorful pictures of flounder and cod. He said infant formulas throughout Asia also contain fish oils to meet minimum requirements for omega 3 fatty acid levels. With all the health positives surrounding fish, why is the same nutrition not available to American babies? "We can’t get it past the gate-keepers. Parents just seem to have a bias against fish," was the response 10 years ago by Gerber spokesperson Nancy Lindner. That attitude holds true today. "At this time, Gerber does not manufacture a baby food containing fish. The selection of products we offer is determined in large part by the preferences of parents," was the reply to a query at Gerber’s consumer questions line. (Other companies did not respond.) One baby food company expressed concern over the "odor" of processing fish at their manufacturing plants, said AFDF director Bob Pawlowski. To that end, AFDF has invited food scientists from major baby food makers to visit processing plants next month in Kodiak and one other Alaska community. "We want to show them that we have the most healthful, all-natural salmon in the world with no bio-accumulation issues of contaminants or impurities. We will try and convince them that we can produce it and they can distribute it," Pawlowski said. He and Smiley have already scheduled follow-up meetings in August with research and development staff at baby food companies headquartered in Urbana, Ill. Both men are optimistic that salmon baby food is an idea whose time has come. "Moms recognize it as healthful, low-fat, loaded with omega 3s, it comes from pure Alaska waters ... there is a whole lot going for fish," Smiley said. "It just depends on how willing people are to make that vision translate into new products on the supermarket shelves." New rules Mariners have long been required to take steps to test anyone involved in a serious accident or incident for evidence of drug and alcohol use. Many might be caught off guard by new U.S. Coast Guard rules that go into effect on June 20 setting specific time limits for conducting the tests and mandating that approved testing equipment be carried on board. The new requirements say that alcohol testing must follow a serious marine incident (SMI) within two hours, and no later than eight hours, following the incident. Drug testing must be done within 32 hour of an SMI. An SMI includes such things as a death, an injury that requires treatment beyond first aid, property damage in excess of $100,000, loss of a vessel, or various pollution incidents. Lt. Randy Waddington said the Coast Guard recognizes that sometimes testing can’t be done within the required time frame, such as when "people are being plucked out of the ocean." "Enforcement will be done on a case-by-case basis," Waddington said. Regardless, mariners must have approved testing devices on board by June 20 and know how to use them. The only exception is for vessels operating within two hours of a location where testing can be done, such as a police station or hospital. Waddington was not sure if the devices will be available from outlets other than the Internet. A list of approved testing equipment, which sell for $100-$150, is available from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Failure to comply with the new chemical testing regulations can result in fines of $27,500 for each violation. For more information, contact Lt. Waddington at the Marine Safety Office in Juneau at (907) 463-2444. New sea bird guides An ongoing collaboration between the Juneau-based Marine Conservation Alliance and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has produced a new series of colorful placards showing 51 bird species that might be encountered on the fishing grounds. The guides contain life-size outlines of the birds’ beaks so they can easily be identified by fishermen or onboard observers. The new series follows on a release last year of guides produced in both English and Russian that identify three types of endangered short-tailed albatross. Accidentally catching just four of those in a two-year period can have serious ramifications, potentially closing down a fishery. "Happily, we have not gotten close to those limits. We have not taken a short-tailed albatross since 1998," said Thorn Smith, director of the North Pacific Longline Association and an MCA board member. Alaska’s longline fleet already uses avoidance measures to keep sea birds away from their fishing gear. "The streamer lines we deploy over our baited hooks while we’re setting them out are extremely effective and we have reduced our incidental take of birds eightfold," Smith said, adding that the bird guides have been very popular. "We’ve got some real birdwatching fishermen out there. It tends to raise their consciousness and has been a very successful series." The collaboration also has provided guides to identify and avoid the world’s most endangered whales - right whales. "The series represents a remarkable cooperative effort by industry, government and environmentalists," said MCA director Dave Benton.

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