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

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

Processors sue after being cut out of rockfish program

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

Symphony of Seafood to crown winners

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

Judge upholds fishing closures while finding feds violated NEPA

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

ADFG site shows off sonar; seafaring superstitions persist

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

Strong fishing highlights year in review, picks and pans

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

Good salmon runs forecast for 2012 in Cook Inlet

Upper Cook Inlet is expecting another better-than-average salmon season in 2012, according to the forecast released by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game last week. Managers are expecting a total sockeye salmon run of 6.2 million fish in UCI, with a harvest by all user groups of 4.4 million sockeye. Four million of the returning fish are expected to come into the Kenai River. This comes on the heels of a surprisingly strong Kenai River run in 2011, which was the result of the return of many more than expected age 2-3 fish, or 6-year-old sockeye that spend two winters in fresh water and three winters in salt water. Managers had been expecting around 275,000 of that year class to return last year, and instead 2.9 million came back. Area Management Biologist Pat Shields said managers theorize that the reason that happened with last year's run was large over-escapements in the parent years. There were several years of over-escapement, which can lead to a vicious cycle and ever-diminishing returns. "You can have so many fry in the lake that by the next spring when they are ready to smolt out and leave the system, they haven't gotten big enough to do so, so they stay an additional year," Shields said. "Because they stay in the system an additional year, there's additional pressure on the fry that are from the following year's brood. So you have competition for resources." All of which made forecasting the 2012 run more difficult, according to Shields. He said that the research staff forecasts runs by year class, and when they got to the 6-year-old component for next year's return, there were three primary models they could use. Each one told them something different. "They were highly variable," he said. The model researches had the most confidence in was the one in the middle. It predicts a return of 1.4 million age 2-3 sockeye to the Kenai River, or 35 percent of the run. The 20-year average return of age 2-3 sockeye to the Kenai River is 19 percent. Shields said that the department did not have a great deal of confidence in the methods used to enumerate out-migrating smolt in 2008 and 2009, but if they compared the number of 2-year-old smolt leaving the system in 2008 with the number of 6-year-old sockeye that returned in 2011, and applied that ratio to the number of 2-year-old smolt leaving the system in 2009, it would predict a "very high number" of returning 6-year-olds next season. However, because of the lack of confidence in the model, that was not the number included in the 2012 forecast. The returns to the Kasilof River have been down lately, and the forecast for the 2012 Kasilof sockeye return is 754,000 fish, 21 percent below the 20-year average of 950,000. The forecast last year was for a return of 929,000 sockeye; the actual run came in 7 percent below forecast at 860,000. "The Kasilof is in a period of lower productivity right now," Shields said, noting that the lower numbers may be more a result of forecasting than actual run size. The Cook Inlet Aquaculture Associa-tion, which runs the smolt counting program in the Kasilof River has been counting fewer fish, but Shields said some of that might be attributed to water clarity. He said Fish and Game has received anecdotal reports of clearer water in Tustumena Lake and the Kasilof River, which may mean that the smolt are better able to see and avoid the traps set to estimate their numbers. Shields also said once the season begins there will be some management changes — partly because of regulations and partly because of new strategies based on lessons learned from last season. The 2011 run came in largely all at once, with hardly any fish showing up before the record drift fleet opening on July 14. Up until that point, there was a cumulative commercial harvest of 269,000 sockeye from all gear types, 43 percent below the average harvest of 475,000 from 2000-2010. On July 14, the drift fleet harvested 685,000 fish, or 1,600 per boat, the highest catch per unit of effort ever. The setnet fishery was closed down by regulation. After that, the fishery set several records, including the most fish ever caught by the setnetters in one period, on July 16 (450,000), the most days of the offshore test boat index exceeding 100 (9 days), and the most sockeye past the Kenai River sonar in a 24-hour period (233,000). That, combined with low returns of Kenai River late run king salmon, made headaches for managers, processors, and fishermen alike, something Shields would like to avoid this year. A low king salmon return in 2012 would again complicate things, especially if the sockeye run comes in at or above forecast. Shields said protecting the king salmon run while trying not to over-escape the sockeye run typically involves compromise. "You tend to be high or over the escapement on sockeye, and try to squeak in or barely make the bottom of the other stock," he said. "That presents problems for both." He has some tools in the toolbox that he can use to ease the situation, but is also looking at some new restrictions that did not take place last season, due to the Board of Fisheries clarifying its intent on regulations codified at the 2011 Cook Inlet meetings in Anchorage. "The (ADF&G) commissioner, through the Board of Fisheries, has drafted a kind of amended management plan for the drifters, and it specifies certain days (they) have to fish in the narrow corridor, or old corridor, not the expanded (corridor)" he said, "and then there are other days that (they) can fish the expanded corridor." Those are laid out by specific dates, as is the use of Area 1, south of Kalgin Island. The changes are to three periods, and generally involve removing the expanded corridor from openings that include Area 1. Boats will still be able to fish the original corridor with Area 1. At the anticipated run size for 2012, there also is the possibility of an extra Area 1 and original corridor opening, other than the regular Monday and Thursday openings, between July 9 and July 15, something Shields said may have come in handy last year if the dates had been different. "This coming year, for example, if we had a huge day on the 12th, I'd have the 13th, 14th and 15th that the management plan does allow for the option of a third period." Cristy Fry has commercial fished out of Homer and King Cove since 1978. She can be reached at [email protected]  

Halibut harvests cut again, steeper reductions may be coming in 2013

As expected, there will be less Pacific halibut to catch next year for fishermen from California to Alaska. Fishery scientists are recommending a 2012 coastwide halibut catch of 33 million pounds, a 19 percent decrease from the 41 million pound limit for this year. Several reasons for the cuts were offered: Pacific halibut stocks continue a decade-long decline; there appear to be too few younger fish entering the population; the halibut are smaller than they should be at a given age; and scientists believe they have overestimated the halibut biomass for years. For Alaska, the proposed 2012 catch is 25.52 millions pounds, a reduction from more than 30 million pounds this year, or about 22 percent. Bruce Leaman, director of the International Pacific Halibut Commission, said it has been one of the “toughest years ever” for stock assessments. He also put the industry on notice that more severe cuts are likely, possibly as soon as 2013. “It is worth pointing out to you the reality that using our assessment models the way we are, we are consistently overestimating biomass given the performance of the fishery,” Leaman said, speaking at a meeting last week in Seattle. How low could the Pacific halibut fishery go? One forecast model that weighs heavily on “retrospective” catch data projected a decrease to just 15 million pounds. The commission will make final decisions on 2012 catch limits and other proposals at its meeting Jan. 24 to 27 in Anchorage. Fishy Christmas poem There have been many twists to the poem, “The Night before Christmas,” since Clement Moore penned it in 1823. None is quite like the latest, which hails from Sitka as a tribute to commercial fishing. In “The Bight ... Before Christmas,” jolly old St. Nick arrives not in a sleigh pulled by reindeer, but in a skiff hauled by fish. “And then in a twinkling I heard on the deck, the slapping of tail fins in one steady thwack! The scraping of metal, the screech of the latch, and there was St. Nicholas, in through the hatch.” The fishy Christmas poem was first penned by Will Swagle as space filler for his bi-monthly newspaper, the Sitka Soup. “The fishing industry here is so colorful, and at Christmas there are lighted boat parades and all kinds of things that inspired me to make the poem personal to the commercial fishing industry in Alaska,” Swagle said in a phone interview. As it grew more popular, he searched for several years for an illustrator to help turn the “Bight” into a book. The chemistry finally clicked two years ago with local artist Colin Herforth, who created 18 original watercolors. “I’ve spent a lot of time in wheelhouses and on deck and I felt I could lend some authenticity to his verbiage,” Herforth said. Salmon summer sales sizzle It’s been a good year for Alaska’s salmon industry, with prices and sales continuing to tick upward. Alaska fishermen delivered just more than 176 million salmon to processors this summer, 3 percent higher than 2010, although well below the forecast. A breakdown by Seafood Trend’s Ken Tally shows that Alaska salmon fishermen and processors generated $1.14 billion in sales just this summer, up nearly 2 percent in a recession. Another bump up: average dock prices to 76 cents per pound, nearly 3 percent higher than last year, and compared to 57 cents per pound two years ago. Some price highlights: king salmon prices averaged out at $3.35 per pound this summer, down from $3.60 last year—except for Southeast trollers, who got $3.80. Fresh cohos saw nice increases at wholesale this summer, with fillets fetching $6.58 a pound, 31 cents higher than last year. More Alaska headed and gutted sockeye also went to the more lucrative fresh fish market —18.5 million pounds, an increase of 7 million pounds from last summer. Likewise, sales of fresh sockeye salmon fillets doubled to 5 million pounds. Talley calls chum salmon, “the new pinks,” and said many retailers find chums more appealing than sockeyes. Chum prices to fishermen increased a nickel this summer to an average of 75 cents per pound. Salmon sales continue well beyond the summer and the values are certain to increase when the 2011 pack is tallied early next year.

'Meeting season' starts as North Pacific council goes to Anchorage

The seafood business has two seasons — fishing and meeting — and meeting season is about to kick into high gear. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council begins its nine-day session Dec. 5 at the Anchorage Hilton, where it will revisit contentious halibut and Bering Sea crab issues, settle on 2012 groundfish harvest levels, continue its track of addressing chinook salmon bycatch by Gulf of Alaska trawlers and take final action to remove federal jurisdiction from state salmon fisheries. December to March is typically referred to as “meeting season” with its packed schedule for state, federal and international regulatory bodies. The North Pacific council meets three times over the next four months, the Alaska Board of Fisheries will meet four times and the International Pacific Halibut Commission, or IPHC, holds its annual meeting Jan. 24 to 27 in Anchorage this year. The most time on the agenda for the council is 12 hours dedicated to dealing with the halibut catch sharing plan after National Marine Fisheries Service punted it back to the council in an announcement Sept. 28 in Dutch Harbor at the last council meeting. The NMFS decision to request more information from the council rather than addressing public comment and publishing the final rule in time to take effect in 2012 will require the council to offer recommendations to the IPHC for managing the charter sector absent the plan under current guideline harvest level (GHL) rules. The catch sharing plan proposed rule was published July 22, and during the public comment period charter interests successfully pressed their arguments against it to achieve at least a temporary reprieve from implementation in 2012. The charter sector in Southcentral was successful in delaying the CSP by repeatedly pointing to the potential for a one-fish bag limit under the current levels of biomass they argued would devastate their businesses and communities such as Homer, Seward and Valdez relied upon both by tourists and in-state anglers. There are three agenda items related to halibut: the council will receive reports from the IPHC on proposed catch recommendations in 2012 and from Alaska Department of Fish and Game reports on sport harvest estimates; reviewing Charter Halibut Committee report on revising catch sharing plan provisions at low levels of abundance; and receiving a more specific report from NMFS on exactly what information it wants from the council to proceed to final rule. The council does not intend to reopen the allocation percentages in the original CSP passed in 2008 by a 10-1 vote, and it has told the charter sector that any changes in management at low abundance would be a trailing amendment to the overall CSP. Nevertheless, there is no doubt these issues will dominate public comment. ADFG has released its 2010 estimates for charter harvest, and preliminary estimates for 2011. The 37-inch size rule put in place by the IPHC for the Southeast region this year held the charter sector to 390,000 pounds, well under its GHL of 788,000 pounds. It was the first time since the GHL was put in place since 2004 that the Southeast charter sector has been under its allocation. Cumulatively, the sector has exceeded its allocation by some 3.4 million pounds since 2004. The charter harvest for 2010 in Southcentral was estimated at 2.7 million pounds, well under its GHL of 3.65 million. The Southcentral charter sector has only exceeded its allocation once, in 2007. Between the two areas, the charter sector left 1.3 million pounds of fish in the water, which could provide dividends for a stock lacking large numbers of exploitable biomass. Crab issues Bering Sea crab stakeholder reports have eight hours on the agenda as the council continues to deal with problematic issues in the crab rationalization program identified during the five-year review in December 2010. Rather than propose amendments to the crab rationalization program, the council tasked industry representatives of vessel owners and quota leaseholders with identifying ways to improve crew compensation and address excessive lease rates and active participation. Ed Poulsen of Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers has conducted eight workshops since last year to address the issues raised by the council. Poulsen manages the ICE Co-op, which represents some 70 percent of crab quota shareholders in the Bering Sea. The workshops have resulted in ideas for a voluntary cap on Bristol Bay red king crab lease rates of 65 percent among ICE members, and a Right of First Offer program that would make 10 percent of any shares sold among ICE members available to crew. Those proposals aren’t good enough for Shawn Dochtermann of the Crewman’s Association, which represents 170 skippers and crewmen with between 65 and 80 active in the crab fisheries and more than 2,500 years of combined fishing experience. Dochtermann believes the owner-generated proposals for allowing crew to buy quota shares — which typically sell for five to six times the ex-vessel price — does nothing to improve crew compensation as directed by the council, nor does the proposed cap on rates among ICE members that would not apply across the fleet. High lease rates charged by quota shareholders who no longer actively participate in the crab fishery are roundly blamed for cuts in crew compensation. For Bristol Bay red king crab, lease rates are 70 percent or more. For Bering Sea snow crab, the standard lease rate is 50 percent. Crew received 35 percent to 40 percent of the vessel’s crab harvest after food, fuel and bait deductions prior to the 2005 rationalization. The number of vessels contracted by some 170 boats in the first season of rationalization, wiping out more than 1,100 crew positions, and crew now receive between 15 percent and 20 percent of the vessel harvest. Because they are fishing large amounts of leased crab quota, those crew who harvest the most Bristol Bay red king crab actually received around $6,000 less pay than fellow crew who harvested an average of 155,000 fewer pounds in 2008, according to the five-year review. Dochtermann has suggested that crew should be paid as they were prior to rationalization, after standard deductions but before lease rates are charged. Some crew are also being charged the so-called “buyback tax,” which funds the repayment of a $100 million federal loan that bought out 25 crab vessels prior to rationalization. Crew didn’t receive any of the quota that was bought back in that program, and shouldn’t be paying off the loan, Dochtermann said. At its October meeting and over Poulsen’s objections, the council decided to consider collecting unique contracts and all settlement sheets for crew as part of its crab Economic Data Report program. Final action on that item is scheduled for the February meeting in Seattle. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

Senators irked by unpublished salmon virus study

  SEATTLE (AP) — American scientists and senators criticized Canadian officials after the disclosure that the country failed to reveal the results of tests that appeared to show the presence of a potentially deadly salmon virus nearly a decade before a salmon-virus scare this fall. The Canadian researcher's work recently resurfaced after she was denied permission by a Canadian official to try to have her data published in a scientific journal. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., is calling for stronger communication between the two countries. Sen. Lisa Murkowski joined Cantwell in speaking out, demanding answers from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on whether it knew about the Canadian report and how NOAA is addressing the issue. “Weeks ago, I was troubled to hear of the possibility of infectious salmon anemia in nearby fisheries.  But now I am absolutely alarmed that this was not the first our neighbors to the east had heard of this, and had sat on critical information for ten years – putting us ten years behind in addressing this situation.” Researchers with Simon Fraser University in British Columbia announced in October they had detected infectious salmon anemia, or ISA, in two wild juvenile Pacific salmon collected from the province's central coast. The disclosure prompted fears the influenza-like virus could wreck the salmon fishing industry in the Pacific Northwest. U.S. scientists on Tuesday said they were disappointed that Canadian officials never mentioned the researcher's earlier, 2002 work. "We had no knowledge of any of this," said Jim Winton, a top fish virologist at the U.S. Geological Survey in Seattle who recently reviewed the researcher's findings "No one ever revealed that there was a publication that was ready to go to a journal or that the data were as compelling as they appear to be. This is puzzling and very frustrating." Cantwell said there must be more cross-border communication. "American and Canadian scientists need to have access to all relevant research on this deadly virus," the senator said in a statement. "We can't afford to leave the Pacific Northwest's fisheries jobs at risk." Fisheries and Oceans Canada issued a statement acknowledging the researcher's work, but said the tests were in error. "Based on the best science available, it was concluded that her results had produced a false positive," the statement said. However, Winton and other scientists said the research appeared to be thorough. The type of genetic tests the Canadian scientist performed were unlikely to have produced all false positives, unless all samples were contaminated, they said.

Food banks welcome bycatch; seafood industry touts economic impact

Alaska food banks are the beneficiaries of fish taken as bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska, thanks to Kodiak fishermen and local processors. This fall and winter, the partnership has donated more than 5,000 pounds of processed/packaged halibut and salmon to the Kodiak Island Food Bank, and more than 10,000 pounds to the Food Bank of Alaska headquarters in Anchorage. The bycatch to food banks program in the Gulf is an expansion of a retention program authorized by the National Marine Fisheries Service in 1994. Federal law requires that species taken as bycatch in trawl fisheries be tossed overboard. Since then the program has been ongoing in the Bering Sea, and this year Kodiak trawl fishermen and processors asked that Gulf bycatch be added, “so good fish would not be wasted,” said Jim Harmon, director of Sea Share, the only nonprofit group that focuses on seafood as a source of nutrition for hunger-relief. “The Kodiak fishermen sign up their boats to be able to retain halibut or salmon taken in trawl fisheries that can’t be returned alive to the sea,” Harmon said. “They bring it ashore and the plants are authorized to retain it and hold it separately for Sea Share.”  Participating processors include Ocean Beauty, North Pacific Seafoods, Trident Seafoods, International Seafoods of Alaska, and Peter Pan Seafoods (King Cove). The Kodiak project also allowed for the food to be distributed locally. “We took as much as our freezers could hold,” said Alexander Tsurikov, director of Kodiak Food Bank. “I had to watch how I handed it out. It went really fast.” Kodiak has reflected the 26 percent national uptick in food bank traffic over the past five years, Tsurikov said. “I am really thankful to all the people who made the program work. I had given up on it ever happening and I hope it continues. And I am glad the fish is being used instead of thrown back into the ocean,” Tsurikov said. The bycatch to food banks program is what got Sea Share started, but today it’s just 10 percent of its seafood pantry. The Northwest Salmon Canners, for example, have donated more than 400,000 pounds of canned salmon to help with disaster relief in the Lower 48 and the upper Yukon River. In all, Sea Share has provided more than 150 million seafood meals to hunger relief since 1994. (See more at Overlooked jobs Out of sight, out of mind could describe Alaska’s seafood industry when it comes to recognition by many policy makers – despite the fact that the industry provides the most private sector jobs, it is second only to oil in terms of state tax revenues, and seafood is Alaska’s top export. To help set the record straight, United Fishermen of Alaska, the nation’s largest fishing trade group, has compiled fact sheets that highlight 18 Alaska fishing ports and their contributions to state coffers. The profiles include the number of permit holders and crew, processing jobs, boats home ported, and other economic data for Anchorage, Cordova, Dillingham, Homer, Juneau, Kenai, Ketchikan, Kodiak, Petersburg, Seward, Sitka, Wrangell, Aleutians West Borough, Aleutians East Borough, Bristol Bay Borough, Kenai Peninsula Borough, Lake and Peninsula Borough and the Mat-Su Borough. “UFA feels it is vital to our mission to bring this information out in a way that is clear and useful to help illustrate what the fishing industry brings back to the state of Alaska and its communities,” said Arni Thomson, UFA president. Fishery landings taxes, for example, are split 50/50 between the port where the fish is landed and the state’s general fund ($80 million in 2009). Here’s a sampler of the data: • Sitka is home to 605 vessels where 1,100 skippers and crew fished in 2010. Sitka fishermen earned more than $40 million at the docks; the community and the state shared nearly $2 million in fish taxes. • In Petersburg, 579 boats are home ported and 28.4 percent of the population goes fishing. Petersburg fishermen hauled in $51 million worth of seafood last year and shared $1.2 million in taxes with the state.     • More than 27 percent of Cordova’s population goes fishing and the city of Cordova and the State split $1.5 million in taxes. At Homer, 493 are home based, and nearly $1.5 million in fish taxes went to the state.  • The Bristol Bay Borough and the state split $3.5 million in fish taxes in 2010. Wasilla Palmer and Mat-Su Borough claimed 618 resident skippers and crew who took home nearly $15 million from fishing jobs. • Anchorage ranks No. 1 for Alaska cities with the most resident skippers and crew at more than 1,800. • The Aleutians West Borough, home to Dutch Harbor, ranked first for fish taxes at $3 million paid to the state in 2010.  • And while Dutch Harbor ranks No. 1 for seafood landings and values, Kodiak by far outpaces all other Alaska ports when it comes to fishing “ka-ching!”  The estimated income by Dutch Harbor’s 92 resident fishermen with 30 local boats was $3.3 million. By comparison, 622 vessels call Kodiak home with more than 1,400 permit holders and crewmen. The estimated ex-vessel income by Kodiak residents was $127 million and the port put nearly $2 million into state coffers. Values for the fishing industry typically use ex-vessel (dock prices) paid to fishermen, but that only represents half the value after the seafood is processed and sent to markets around the world. (Find the UFA Fact Sheets at Fish first For the first time since it was established in 1914, the Pacific Seafood Processors Association has taken a position on a politically charged development project: the Pebble mine. PSPA is a trade group representing Alaska shorebased processing companies. “After careful consideration, we are compelled to oppose development of the Pebble Mine project due to its unique location, size and potential harm. We look forward to continuing to work cooperatively with all Alaska industries on matters of mutual interest and to supporting projects that can ensure no negative impact on fishery resources or the marketability of Alaska seafood,” PSPA said in a release. It added: “We also encourage Bristol Bay fishermen who deliver to Trident, Peter Pan, Yardarm Knot or North Pacific Seafoods to extend their thanks to those for taking this unprecedented step.” (See more at

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 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 for more information or contact [email protected]


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