Fisheries

ASMI executive director Tonkavich steps down

After nine years with the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, Executive Director Alexa Tonkovich has resigned. The organization announced Tonkovich’s departure Nov. 10, though she will stay on as executive director until mid-December while the board of directors searches for a replacement. She plans to pursue a master’s degree in international business and has been accepted to a number of programs in the U.S. and abroad, according to a press release. “After nine years at ASMI, the timing felt right to further my education and prepare myself for wherever the next steps in my career may lead,” she said in the release. Tonkovich became executive director in 2015, taking over for former executive director Michael Cerne. Previously, she served as the international director for ASMI. She worked primarily in developing emerging markets in southeast Asia and Brazil, with an office opening in the latter in 2011. She said the opening of that office as one of the most memorable moments of her time as the international marketing program. “I love market exploration and expansion,” she said. “There have been a few ups and downs (with Brazil’s economy) … we still see good potential there, particularly with the loss in access to the Chinese market (from retaliatory tariffs).” She plans to continue her studies in international business, which is a key part of the seafood industry. Depsite the recently souring global trade positions in the U.S. — the nation has been caught up in an escalating trade war with China over a set of tariffs implemented by President Donald Trump’s administration, including on seafood products — Tonkovich said she hopes it isn’t forever. ASMI has spent years cultivating its relationship with China, but there are potentially other trade relationships on the horizon, too. “I’m hoping this is just a passing phase,” she said. “…(International trade) really is such an important part of the (seafood) business.” For now, she said she’s looking to international business schools in London. The board plans to meet Nov. 19 to discuss appointing a candidate for interim executive director and drafting a notice for recruitment. ASMI Communications Director Jeremy Woodrow said in an email that the board members should have more details about the parameters of the recruitment after that meeting. “With a heavy heart, the ASMI board accepted Ms. Tonkovich’s resignation,” said ASMI board of directors Chari Jack Schultheis, the general manager of Kwik’Pak Fisheries. “Her dedication to Alaska and the Alaska seafood industry is unparalleled. While she will be missed, we also support her decisions and wish her the very best in what is sure to be a very bright future.” ASMI has gone through a number of changes in the past few years, particularly since the budget cuts began in 2015 as the state descended into a fiscal crisis. The organization cut expenses, closed its Seattle office and changed out staff, Tonkovich said. The industry has changed in her time at ASMI, too, she said — more women are moving up into positions of power, and more people of diverse economic, educational and cultural backgrounds are beginning to step in. In the future, innovation and product development will continue to be issues for the Alaska seafood industry to keep pace with the world, Tonkovich said. Addressing the graying of the fleet and bringing more young people into the seafood industry is an issue in Alaska as well as the rest of the world that needs to be addressed, she added. With a degree in Asian studies, Tonkovich said she didn’t originally seek a job in seafood, but is glad for the time she spent there. “I’ve been so honored and it’s bee such a pleasure (to work with ASMI),” she said. “I really grew up here … the organization is in great hands.” Times have tightened financially at ASMI. While the organization, a public-private partnership intended to market Alaska wild-harvested seafood, used to receive state funding, the Legislature has been working on eliminating its support from the general fund, zeroing it out in the fiscal year 2019 budget. This year, the organization plans to request an additional $3.75 million from the Legislature to support programs, according to an Oct. 30 news release from the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development. The funds would go to support a match for competitive grant funding, according to the release. “Specifically, this appropriation would bolster the match on a federal grant program, which will strengthen ASMI’s annual application for federal funding,” the release states. “The competitively awarded federal grant for international marketing allows ASMI to market Alaska seafood internationally, funding consumer and trade programs in 30 countries. ASMI competes each year against such national stalwarts as Sunkist Growers, Washington Apples, the Cotton Council Incorporated, and the U.S. Meat Export Federation.” Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Salmon harvest value drops but fishing jobs jump

Alaska salmon fishermen harvested 114.5 million fish during the 2018 season for a payout of $595 million at the docks. That’s down 13 percent from the value of last year’s salmon catch. A preliminary wrap up of the 2018 salmon season by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game provides summaries for every fishing region across the state. It shows that sockeye salmon accounted for nearly 60 percent of the total value and 44 percent of the statewide salmon harvest. A catch of 50 million sockeyes added up to nearly $350 million for Alaska fishermen. Chums were the second most valuable catch at $125 million and made up 18 percent of the statewide catch at just more than 20 million fish. Pinks accounted for 36 percent of the harvest and 12 percent of the value at nearly $70 million. Coho salmon comprised just 3 percent of the catch at 3.6 million fish valued at $35.5 million. The chinook salmon harvest of 234,614 fish was the lowest since limited entry began in 1975, with a value of $16.3 million. Salmon prices paid to fishermen increased across the board this year. Chinook salmon averaged $5.98 per pound, compared to $5.86 last year. Sockeyes averaged $1.33, up 20 cents. Coho prices at $1.34 increased 15 cents per pound. Pinks averaged 45 cents, an increase of 13 cents over last season; chum prices at 78 cents were up 12 cents per pound. The dock prices don’t include postseason bonuses and adjustments and the salmon harvests and values will change as fish tickets are finalized. Forecasts for the 2019 salmon season already are trickling in. At Bristol Bay, a run of just more than 40 million sockeye salmon is projected next summer which would allow for a catch of 26.6 million fish: 26.11 million at Bristol Bay and 1.49 million in the South Peninsula fisheries. ADFG said more salmon forecasts for the 2019 season “will roll out in coming weeks.” Fish watch Some major Alaska fisheries are winding down for the year, while others are still going strong. In Southeast, a fishery opened on Nov. 8 for seven different kinds of rockfish. About 170 divers are still going down for more than 1.7 million pounds of sea cucumbers, and more than 700,000 pounds of giant geoduck clams. The Dungeness crab fishery is ongoing and Southeast’s golden king crab fishery ended district wide on Nov. 13. Trollers also are out on the water along the Panhandle targeting winter king salmon. Pollock fishing closed to trawlers in both the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska on Nov. 1. Ditto for cod except for boats using longline, jig and pot gear. Boats also are still fishing for flounders and many other species of whitefish. Crabbers are close to wrapping up the four million pound red king crab fishery at Bristol Bay; likewise, the take of 2.4 million pounds of Bering Sea Tanner crab is going fast. No landings are reported yet for snow crab; that fishery typically gets underway in mid-January. Fishing for halibut and sablefish (black cod) closed on Nov. 7. For halibut, 95 percent of the nearly 20 million pound catch limit was taken; for sablefish 79 percent of the 26 million pound quota was caught. Homer regained its title as Alaska’s top port for halibut landings, followed closely by Seward and Kodiak. The industry will get its first look at potential halibut catches for next year at the International Pacific Halibut Commission meeting set for Nov. 27-28 in Seattle. Finally, the state Board of Fisheries meets in Dillingham from Nov. 28-Dec. 3 to take up 47 management proposals for Bristol Bay commercial, sports and subsistence fishery issues. Fishing jobs jump After a steep drop in 2016, seafood harvesting jobs grew 8.3 percent last year, the most in percent terms among all Alaska industries. Harvesting hit a record in 2017 at 8,509 monthly jobs on average and jumped to nearly 25,000 jobs in July. According to the state Department of Labor’s November Economic Trends, salmon fishing jobs grew overall but varied considerably by region. The crab fisheries had the only employment loss. By region, harvesting jobs in the Aleutians jumped by nearly 20 percent, mostly through gains in groundfish catches. Bristol Bay’s fishing jobs also grew overall by 6.2 percent. The Southcentral region continued its trend of harvester job gains, adding 116 jobs for 7 percent growth. Southeast Alaska’s fishing jobs were up by 7.7 percent with halibut harvesting growing the most by150 jobs. Kodiak was one of the few areas to lose fishing jobs. While halibut and salmon harvesting jobs increased, losses in groundfish pushed down Kodiak harvesting employment by 81 jobs each month on average. The Yukon Delta also lost fishing jobs in groundfish and salmon for an overall decline of 12.7 percent. The November Trends shows that among all Alaska industries, seafood processing tops the list for injuries. A rate of 8.8 injuries per 100 full time workers is more than double for other Alaska industries, and is 1½ times the national average for food manufacturing. The magazine also spotlights the six small communities that make up the Aleutians East Borough. Fish moves Alexa Tonkovich is leaving the helm of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute to pursue a master’s degree in international business. Tonkovich has been at ASMI for nine years and has been executive director since 2015. She will leave her position in mid-December. After more than a decade as director of NOAA’s northernmost research lab at Kodiak, Dr. Bob Foy has been named as Science and Research Director for the Alaska Fisheries Science Center. Foy will be based at the Auke Bay lab in Juneau starting this month and will oversee nearly 500 employees at facilities in Seattle, Oregon and Alaska. Foy has gained international recognition for his work on Bering Sea crab stock assessments and impacts of climate change on crabs and other marine organisms. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Upper Cook Inlet fishermen seek federal disaster declaration

This season was a sour one for salmon fishermen across the Gulf of Alaska, and participants in multiple fisheries are seeking funding for relief. The Board of Fisheries and Gov. Bill Walker already granted a disaster declaration for Chignik, which harvested next to zero sockeye salmon this year due to an unprecedented poor return to the Chignik River on the Alaska Peninsula. Sockeye salmon runs across the Gulf of Alaska failed to deliver this year, either in timing or in size, at a huge cost to fishermen. Now the Upper Cook Inlet fishermen want a chance at federal funding to recover some of their losses. The set gillnet and drift gillnet fleet in Upper Cook Inlet harvested about 1.3 million salmon, 815,000 of which were sockeye, or about 61 percent below the 10-year average harvest of sockeye. This year was forecasted to be lower than the average, but the harvest as of Oct. 5 — when all Upper Cook Inlet salmon fishing closed for the 2018 season — brought in about $11 million in ex-vessel value, a little more than a third of the $31 million recent 10-year average. The total run, however, was about 32 percent below what was forecast, according to the 2018 salmon fishing summary from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game issued Oct. 22. The trick of it was that the Kenai River sockeye run — the heavy-hitting run of the region, which usually peaks in July — didn’t arrive in force until August. For only the second time in Fish and Game’s records, more than half the run arrived after Aug. 1. That late arrival was exacerbated further by the existing management structure around the high-tension commercial, sport, personal-use and subsistence fisheries on the Kenai River. “In the previous 10 years, the average date where 50 percent of sockeye salmon passage has occurred in the Kenai River is July 23,” the report states. “In 2018, 50 percent of the final passage estimate did not occur until August 3, or 11 days later than average. The late run timing and smaller peak complicated management in 2018 as management plans with specific dates and triggers were developed to account for average run entry timing and magnitude.” The Kenai City Council unanimously adopted a resolution in October asking Walker to declare an economic disaster in the Upper Cook Inlet fishery for 2018, with Mayor Brian Gabriel abstaining due to a conflict of interest because he commercially setnets. With the city of Kenai’s support, the fishermen and a number of organizations and businesses are now seeking support from the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly to declare an economic disaster in the fishery as well. The assembly will consider a resolution to support the request at its Nov. 20 meeting. Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association, the Cook Inlet Fisherman’s Fund, Copper River Seafoods and the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District all submitted letters in support of the resolution, citing the difficulty to the fishery participants this year. “Most fishermen didn’t even cover expenses,” wrote Cook Inlet Fisherman’s Fund President Steve Vanek in the organization’s letter. “…Resident commercial fishermen are an important contributor to the economy of the borough. We appeal to the borough for assistance.” Copper River Seafoods Corporate Development Officers Martin Weiser wrote that the organization, which has “expansion plans in Cook Inlet,” doesn’t have a choice but to absorb the loss, but the fishermen don’t. “Being a large company with operations in almost every major fishery in this state, we will absorb this loss (as we do not have a choice) and continue with business. This is not the case for many of the folks who focus their fishing activities in Cook Inlet,” he wrote. “It is for their sake and the sake of the future of this fishery that we write this letter in support of a disaster recovery effort on the part of the State of Alaska.” Disaster declarations made by the governor then go to the federal Department of Commerce, requiring the Secretary of Commerce’s approval. Congress can then appropriate the funds to return to the fishermen. That process recently concluded with $56 million in relief for the 2016 pink salmon disaster, taking nearly two years before funds surfaced. A federal disaster was also declared in 2012 for low king salmon returns to Cook Inlet and the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers, for which $21 million was eventually appropriated. The process is too slow to help the people of Cook Inlet, Weiser noted in his letter. If a disaster is declared, it could open up opportunities for legislative appropriation of assistance grants as well as the opportunity of assistance to permit holders who have loans through the Commercial Fishing Revolving Loan program and may not be able to meet the terms of their loans, noted Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association Executive Director Gary Fandrei in his letter. The sockeye salmon fishery on the river was stop-and-start, with commercial fishing closed for up to six days at one point to boost passage in the Kenai River. Fishermen complained about the closure on sockeye, the most valuable commercial species in the Inlet, and their complaints were exacerbated later by restrictions on harvest to chum salmon stocks in Kamishak Bay due to low numbers of chum salmon in aerial surveys and a lack of offshore test fishery information to provide for openings for late sockeye salmon. Managers were working within tight date and opening confines, trying to meet strict Kenai River king salmon goals and multiple sockeye salmon sonar goals while opening up sockeye fishing opportunities with various tools. Adding to the complexity was the relatively decent-sized run of sockeye returning to the Kasilof River, mixed along the shore with Kenai River king salmon. This year marked the first time the North Kalifornsky Beach area was opened within 600 feet of shore in an attempt to focus harvest on Kasilof River sockeye while minimizing Kenai sockeye and king harvest. As the Kenai sockeye run continued to fail to materialize, the Kasilof run kept coming back, and managers used the 600-foot fishery in the Kasilof section and ultimately the Kasilof River Special Harvest Area — a one-mile square area around the mouth of the Kasilof River — to try to harvest that stock to prevent the run from surpassing the escapement goal. In the end, it did anyway, according to the salmon season management report. Pink salmon harvests were also significantly lower than average— about 84 percent below the recent 10-year average — mostly due to fishing restrictions during the sockeye season. One bright note, however, was the coho harvest. Upper Cook Inlet fishermen brought in about $1.3 million in ex-vessel value for cohos, about double the recent 10-year average of $699,300, according to the management report. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Salmon permits, halibut shares plummet on poor outlooks

Values for Alaska salmon permits have remained stagnant all year, except for two regions, and costs for halibut quota shares have plummeted. For salmon permits, an off kilter fishery that came in 30 percent below an already grim harvest forecast kept a downward press on permit values. The preseason projection called for a salmon catch of 147 million this year; the total take was closer to 114 million. “All of these salmon fisheries in the Gulf, both gillnet and seine permits, had a lousy year. And we see that in the lackluster permit market,” said Doug Bowen of Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer. Farther west, Bristol Bay with its back-to-back record-breakers is an exception and permit prices there reflect increased buying interest. A scan of multiple broker listings show Bay drift gillnet permits at $165,000 compared to the $145,000 range before the fishing season. Salmon fishermen at Bristol Bay pocketed a record $280 million at the docks, not including postseason bonuses, on a catch of 35 million sockeyes. Bowen said more fishermen from regions of repeated poor salmon runs are eyeing Bristol Bay. His company has nearly 30 listings of Cook Inlet drift permit holders who want to exit that fishery. “Folks are wanting to move out of the Inlet, which had another terrible year and go to Bristol Bay and people want to move from Southeast to the Bay,” he said. Drift permits for False Pass (Area M) on the Alaska Peninsula also are increasing in value after several years of good fishing. “We recently sold one for $175,000 which is $10,000 more than what the Bay permits are selling for,” Bowen said. Permit prices remain stalled elsewhere. Prince William Sound seine permits have stayed at $165,000 and drift gillnet permits at around $150,000. At Cook Inlet, drift permits are in the $30,000 to $50,000 range. Kodiak seine permits have ticked up a bit to $28,000. For Southeast, seine permits are in the $210,000 to $250,000 range and drift gillnets at or slightly above $85,000. Farther north, Norton Sound and Kotzebue again set records in their salmon fisheries, but permit transactions in those regions operate differently. “There aren’t very many of them and not many change hands. When they do, a lot of those folks know each other and it’s word of mouth. So we’re not that involved in those permit markets,” Bowen said. Higher salmon prices should show a big boost in the value of this year’s catch but it won’t make up for the shortfall in fish. “It’s a matter of price and production,” Bowen said. “If you’re limited on how much you can harvest, that great price is not going to save the day.” Catch share values plummet High prices for halibut quota shares that one year ago were in the nose bleed area have now taken a nose dive. “Negative news about recruitment into the fishery and more bad news about lower ex-vessel prices — that was enough to turn that IFQ (Individual Fishing Quota) market downward. There are some stiff headwinds for sure,” said Alaska Boats and Permits Doug Bowen in Homer. Multiple broker listings show quota shares in Southeast Alaska (Area 2C) that for several years topped $70 per pound are now 20 percent to 25 percent less, in the $48 to $59 range. For the Central Gulf (Area 3A), halibut shares have dropped 30 percent to 40 percent to $40 to $50 per pound. The value for halibut quota in the Western Gulf (Area 3B) is down 50 percent to less than $30 dollars per pound. Surveys of the stocks in 2017 showed a lack of young halibut recruiting into the fishery and managers pushed for drastic cuts for future fisheries. Then last fall, halibut prices dropped by $2 per pound at the docks and boats sometimes couldn’t even find buyers for their fish. Another broadside came from seven million pounds of cheaper Atlantic halibut from eastern Canada displacing Alaska’s fish in traditional U.S. markets. The industry will get its first look at potential catches for next year at the International Pacific Halibut Commission meeting set for Nov. 27-28 in Seattle. Chilling assists The fisherman is the first link in the cold chain and refrigerated seawater, or RSW, is their go-to system. At Bristol Bay (and elsewhere), processors are now requiring that the salmon they buy from fishermen must be chilled, and they are paying nice bonuses for the better quality fish. The chilling rate for Bay salmon jumped from 24 percent a decade ago to 73 percent in 2017, and it will surely be higher for this season. Several RSW buying assists are being offered as more Bristol Bay boats acquire the chilling technology. “The gold standard for Bristol Bay used to be 7.5 ton hydraulic, that’s what everyone wanted. It’s really changed a lot. Now RSW systems go from three ton electric to 12 ton diesel drive,” said Kurt Ness, director of operations and co-owner of Seattle-based Integrated Marine Systems. One ton of refrigeration will chill 12,000 pounds of water and fish one degree in one hour. IMS has developed a new system for smaller vessels, some dealing with RSW for the first time. “Some boats don’t have the hydraulic power to power a traditional unit or don’t have the space for a larger diesel drive,” Ness explained. “So we came up with a three ton and five ton electric that can be run by a single faced generator so the footprint is much smaller. It’s designed for boats that pack in the 5,000 to 8,000 pound range.” Costs for an RSW system can range from $15,000 for small electric units up to $44,000 for large diesel drives. “There are a lot of other costs involved too,” Ness said. “There could be flush decking, insulation, maybe some hydraulic upgrades. You could easily double that just in terms of the actual installation itself.” Despite the initial hit to the pocketbook, “practically to the person, everyone admits RSW is the best thing they ever did,” said Bristol Bay veteran Buck Gibbons. With the quality incentives that many processors offer the difference can be upwards of 40 to 50 cents per pound. Last year, those who sold dry fish received around $1.25. Those who did everything right received $1.55 to $1.61. When you run that through 100,000 to 200,000 pounds, it adds up quick.” To help defray the RSW cost, IMS is offering a $1,500 discount for Bristol Bay fishermen “for retrofits, new builds and everything in between” through March 1. The Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, funded and operated by fishermen, also negotiated a bulk RSW purchase with Pacific West Refrigeration for 7.5 ton units for resale for $20,500, said executive director Andy Wink. Contact 907-677-2371 or email [email protected] The Bristol Bay Borough also is offering a tax credit to fishermen in the Naknek-Kvichak District who install a chilling system by the end of this year. Participants will be eligible for a $1,500 rebate from the three percent fish landing tax paid to the Borough. The Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp. is also offering a limited number of free RSW systems to qualified residents. ASMI budget axed The budget has been zeroed out for the state run Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. “With zero state general funds, the fiscal year 2019 budget was reduced by just over $1 million. Every program took a reduction this year,” said Becky Monagle, finance director for ASMI at an “All Hands” meeting last week in Anchorage. For fiscal year 2018, ASMI spent $16 million in marketing promotions and outreach at home and abroad. That was funded by $10.8 million from fisheries related taxes, $4.2 million from the federal government and $1 million from the state’s general fund. Compare that to the budget of one of Alaska’s biggest competitors, Norway. That country imposes a small tax on its seafood exports that generates over $50 million per year to fund sales and marketing. As with barrels of oil, all Alaskans benefit when the price of our seafood increases. The added tax revenues end up in state coffers to be distributed at the whim of the legislature. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Electronic monitoring has smooth first year; human observer costs rising

After the first year of electronic monitoring on fishing vessels in Alaska, the National Marine Fisheries Service is expanding the pool for boats that want to get in on it. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council has been working on implementing an electronic monitoring program for commercial fishing vessels in Alaska for several years. The devices, essentially small cameras and sensors, replace a human observer and take note of the bycatch and total catch on eligible vessels. In 2018, the first year of the program, the council approved 145 vessels to participate. At its meeting Oct. 4 in Anchorage, council staff member Elizabeth Figus said things went so well on those vessels that not a single one had to be removed from the pool for a violation of the Vessel Monitoring Plan, or VMP. “That was really good news,” she told the council. In June, the council approved an expansion of the program to allow up to 165 vessels to participate. The deadline to register through the Observer Declare and Deploy System was Nov. 1. The small boat fleet in particular pushed for the implementation of electronic monitoring equipment after the council changed the requirements for observing to include small vessels — boats 60 feet or shorter— because it’s harder for them to provide the space and gear for another person besides the crew. Though the council recommended the pool expand to up to 165 boats, funding is a limitation. In the draft 2019 Annual Deployment Report — which lays out the plan for deploying observers in the partial observer coverage program for the upcoming year — council staff wrote that the EM pool will include 141 boats to start, based on the funding available. If that funding materializes, vessels will be prioritized based on whether vessels already have equipment, whether they’re fully wired and only lack the specific equipment or if the vessel is between 40 feet and 57.5 feet and doesn’t have enough bunk or life raft space for an observer, according to the ADP. “If additional funds become available, the number of EM boats could increase to the Council’s recommendation of 165 boats,” the report states. “If funding is not sufficient to accommodate all vessels in any one of these prioritized categories, NMFS will randomly select vessels from that category until funding is exhausted.” While EM systems have been shown to effectively monitor bycatch, NMFS also uses observers to gather biological data at sea. Human observers are still deployed across the fishing fleet, with varying coverage based on gear type and vessel size. For 2019, NMFS is recommending a 15 percent observer deployment allocation strategy plus optimization and consideration of catch limits of specific prohibited species including king salmon, crab and halibut. The ADP only governs the partial observer coverage fisheries — which is only about 8.8 percent of observer days, or about 3,606 days — and is designed to reduce gaps in coverage in partial-coverage fisheries and to shoot for at least a 50 percent chance that at least three trips are observed in each hook-and-line and trawl fishery, though the report states that the likelihood of that level of coverage isn’t as high in the other gear strata. Funding is an issue across the observer program. NMFS estimated in the ADP that the program would cost about $4.45 million, or about 3,110 observer days, though that may change after the EM application pool closes. The Fisheries Monitoring Advisory Committee, a stakeholder group advising the council on observer program issues, made note of a its concern about the increasing cost of observer days from $1,100 to more than $1,400 per day. The committee noted that the increase in cost for the days was multifaceted and wanted to know more about why the cost is increasing, Figus told the council. The reason for the increase isn’t clear, either. In a written comment to the council, North Pacific Fishermen’s Association President Malcolm Milne echoed the concern, saying the increase was about 35 percent more per day than in 2017. “In 2017, planned coverage rates were 11 percent for hook and line, 4 percent for pot fisheries, and 18 percent for trawl and 14 percent for tendered trawl trips and the cost was nearly a third lower — $935 per day,” he wrote. “In 2018 NMFS’ sampling design established a 15 percent base coverage rate in order to meet NMFS priority of filling gaps in remote fisheries in areas with low effort. “Does an equal coverage sampling design add to the increased cost? NPFA requests that the Council inquire into the causes of the increased cost and seek ways to reduce costs through the ADP process where feasible.” Based on that cost, the committee voted against supporting an ADP that included the crab Prohibited Species Catch limit into its metrics for coverage, which would increase coverage for pot fisheries and possibly reduce it for hook-and-line fisheries, where the members felt more management was likely necessary. The committee also “supports sticking with only halibut and chinook because of the real-world effect they have in closing down fisheries,” according to the minutes from the committee’s Sept. 13-14 meeting in Seattle. The council passed a motion in response to a Fisheries Monitoring Advisory Committee’s recommendation to write a letter to NMFS requesting additional federal funding to support the partial observer coverage program. The committee also requested an explanation of how fees for the EM program and the observer program will be split, which council staff is working on, Figus said at the meeting. ^ Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Dunleavy skips Kodiak fishing forum

Rack up another empty seat on the Alaska debate stage for Mike Dunleavy. The Republican candidate for Alaska governor bailed out of Kodiak’s traditional fisheries debate — after saying he’d show up. “We plan on being there,” Dunleavy said on public radio’s statewide Talk of Alaska call-in show on Aug.31. But from then on, there was silence from the Dunleavy campaign as Kodiak organizers struggled to plan the Oct. 22 event that is broadcast live statewide on radio and television. Days before the event, after weeks of unreturned phone calls and emails, organizers finally learned that Dunleavy would not be attending. “Mike is unfortunately not going to be able to attend the debate as he will be visiting with Alaskans in Barrow. We wish you the best with you (sic) event,” wrote Gina Ritacco, deputy director of scheduling and events, in an Oct. 16 email to the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce. The conflicting trip to Barrow was posted on the Dunleavy event calendar that same day. “Certainly, it makes us in Kodiak feel like even though the fishing industry is so important to Alaska, it may not be that important to him,” said Frank Schiro, executive director of the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce which has hosted the debate since 1991. Shiro added that he was not surprised. “People had predicted from the beginning that it might not be to his advantage to come here. I think he believes he doesn’t need to pay attention to people down here and will walk into office anyway,” he said, “We gave him two months to schedule it,” Schiro added. “The other two candidates for governor responded immediately and Dunleavy’s lag time made our planning extremely difficult.” Since late March Dunleavy’s calendar shows that he has participated in a debate on rural issues in Naknek in early June and visited Juneau and Ketchikan. Besides that to date he had not visited any coastal communities beyond the Kenai Peninsula. Dunleavy also has not responded to requests for interviews by any media in coastal towns. The seafood industry is Alaska’s largest private employer and second only to oil in the tax revenues it puts into state coffers. Seafood also is Alaska’s top export by far. Dunleavy has missed an opportunity to share his views and vision for Alaska’s oldest industry to a statewide audience. Dunleavy is the first major candidate for Alaska governor or U.S. Congress to snub the Kodiak fisheries debate in nearly 30 years. “We aren’t supporting a particular candidate,” said Schiro. “Our position is we want to have an informed public. It’s a shame that Mr. Dunleavy has chosen to not be a part of that.” Hatchery reprieve Two proposals to limit production of hatchery salmon were rejected by the Alaska Board of Fisheries at a special meeting on Oct. 16 in Anchorage. Both claimed that hatchery fish are straying and intermingling with wild stocks and are out competing wild salmon for food in the open ocean. Typically, more than 30 percent of Alaska’s total salmon harvest each year is fish that began their lives in state hatcheries, mostly pinks and chums. Longtime studies by state fishery scientists show some straying of the fish but in very small numbers. A proposal by the Kenai River Sportfishing Association asked the board to rescind an authorized 20 million increase of pink salmon eggs at a Prince William Sound hatchery. The group claims the fish threaten wild sockeye and king salmon bound for their region. It lost by a 6 to 1 vote. Another proposal by former fish board member Virgil Umphenour of Fairbanks asked to cut statewide hatchery egg takes by 25 percent. That failed by a 5 to 2 vote. According to the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission, which has tracked salmon abundances and catches for five countries for more than 25 years, salmon catches throughout the North Pacific remain near all-time highs and Alaska’s take tops them all. The NPAFC also tracks releases of hatchery salmon from Canada, Japan, Korea, Russia, and the U.S. The five countries released just over 5 billion fish in 2017, similar to numbers over three decades. U.S. hatcheries released the most salmon at 37 percent, followed by Japan at 35 percent and Russia at 21 percent. Chum salmon made up 64 percent of all hatchery releases, followed by pinks at 25 percent. The half-day board meeting drew lots of support from fishing stakeholders. SeafoodNews.com’s Peggy Parker said when people in the packed room were asked how many depended on hatchery fish for their livelihood, more than half stood up. Ugly crab is better In the Bering Sea fisheries, crabs with ugly shells can comprise up to 30 percent of a catch at certain times of year and crab molting cycles. Shells that are discolored, scarred or covered with barnacles can be a turn off to customers, and fishermen get paid less for the so-called No. 2s, or dirty crab catch. Alaska crabbers aim to get more value from the crab by convincing customers that it’s what is on the inside that counts in a Get Ugly campaign. “We’re promoting it in a new way,” said Jeremy Woodrow, communications director at the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. “We’re educating retail and food service professionals that once you get inside the shell it’s no different. And a lot of times these ugly crab are older and have greater meat fill so they are actually a better value often at a lower price.” The ugly crab campaign is modeled after similar “food enhancement” programs underway by farmers that is designed to reduce food waste and improve sustainability practices. “Whether it’s produce or proteins, consumers are becoming more educated and definitely more thoughtful about where their food comes from. This dovetails right into that same mindset that it’s ok that your food might look a little different, it’s all about how it tastes and what it does for you as a person,” Woodrow said. ASMI’s annual All Hands meeting is set for Oct. 29-31 at the Captain Cook Hotel in Anchorage. The public is invited to attend. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Board of Fisheries again rejects curtailing hatchery production

For the third time in a year, the Board of Fisheries has shot down a proposal seeking to curtail salmon hatchery production in Prince William Sound. By a 6-1 vote at its meeting Oct. 16 in Anchorage, the board rejected an agenda change request seeking to reduce pink salmon production by the Valdez Fisheries Development Association. The request, filed by the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, sought to prevent the Valdez-area hatchery nonprofit from raising the additional pink salmon eggs it took as part of a production increase this summer and would have capped the hatchery’s egg-take numbers. KRSA cited concerns about the number of hatchery pink salmon being released in to the North Pacific Ocean every year, referencing a number of scientific reviews and studies about pink salmon diet and abundance in the North Pacific and linking it to potential downturns in the size and abundance of other species of salmon. None of the papers directly links the number of pink salmon in the ocean to declining populations or size at age for other salmon, but the requesters connected the dots. The agenda change request, or ACR, was the third attempt to block VFDA’s expansion of its pink salmon production before the Board of Fisheries. The board previously considered two emergency petitions on the same topic, submitted by a group of more than a dozen sportfishing groups, including KRSA. The version submitted as an ACR was submitted by KRSA alone. In a previous interview, KRSA Executive Director Ricky Gease said the group resubmitted the request because there was no place on the agenda to discuss the concern about hatcheries, and the group wanted to see the board have a conversation about the sustainability of hatchery production and the risk to wild stocks. And they did. The board spent most of the day Oct. 16 discussing the state’s hatchery program and the associated research and remaining questions, ultimately denying the agenda change request but agreeing that the conversation was worth having. “I think we can all agree this is an important topic to all fishermen in all user groups,” said board member Israel Payton. “We’re all here because of salmon and the protection of salmon. In one of the presentations, basically the intent of the Legislature was for the hatchery program to rehabilitate the depressed salmon fishery. To what end? Where is the limit? … That being said, I think we should take a breath, do some more studies in Lower Cook Inlet.” The other members of the board largely said they voted against it because they didn’t see it meeting the agenda change request criteria, not that it wasn’t a valid concern. The sole member voting for it was newly-elected board chair Reed Morisky. Three staff members from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game spent a chunk of the afternoon giving the board members a crash course in the state’s hatcheries and ongoing research. Public concern about the hatcheries, most notably the pink salmon production, has been mounting for the last several years, flaring higher in December 2017 when ADFG presented results from otoliths collected from pink salmon found in streams in the Homer area, finding an unexpectedly large number of Prince William Sound hatchery pink salmon. Sam Rabung, the head of ADFG’s aquaculture section, explained that the hatchery program has repeatedly come under scrutiny since its conception in the mid-1970s. Since the 1990s, hatchery production has been relatively stable in terms of smolt releases. It’s been about a decade since the Board of Fisheries convened a meeting specifically on hatcheries under the Joint Protocol on Hatcheries, Rabung said, adding that he hopes the members continue to do so in the near future. “The hatchery program has benefited from this scrutiny, and is one of the largest reasons I think it’s been successful,” he said. “It’s our hope that these meetings can be resumes so that accurate information about the hatchery program can be provided to the board and to the public in a timely manner.” The hatchery program was conceived in the 1970s in response to depressed fishery stocks and poor commercial harvests. Since then, the state conveyed the majority of its hatcheries to be operated by private nonprofits, or PNP, hatcheries, running operations in areas from southern Southeast north across the Gulf of Alaska out to Kodiak. The state still operates two sportfish production hatcheries, which are not subject to the same production oversights as the PNP hatcheries but which public statewide stocking plans subject to public review. The PNP hatcheries’ releases are available to harvest by all user groups, but are largely funded by and harvested by commercial fishermen. During the public discussion portion of the meeting, taking the form a committee-style forum, most of the comments came from commercial fishermen who spoke out in opposition to the agenda change request and against the Board of Fisheries taking an increased role in hatchery production regulation. Kenneth Jones, a Cordova-area fisherman and Prince William Sound Aquaculture Association board member, told the board to consider the number of commercial fishermen who took time and expense to come to the meetings to defend the hatcheries’ operations. “This effort by KRSA and company is nothing but a thinly veiled attack on commercial fisheries, and bringing it before the politically-appointed Board of Fisheries three times in the course of twelve months is an abuse of the public process,” he said. Clem Tillion, a Halibut Cove resident and former legislator, said the hatchery program has operated exactly as the legislators intended it to. “The hatchery program has been a success,” he said. “Don’t monkey around with something that works.” As he resumed his seat, the crowd offered significant applause. Research continues The longest presentation of the afternoon was from Division of Commercial Fisheries Chief Fisheries Scientist for salmon Bill Templin, who offered a crash course on the science of salmon hatcheries, straying and an update on the long-term hatchery-wild salmon interaction study. The study, a massive undertaking funded by the hatchery operations and coordinated by ADFG, is expected to last a little more than a decade and answer questions about the genetic composition of pink and chum salmon in Prince William Sound and Southeast Alaska, to what degree hatchery chums and pinks are straying into wild streams and whether they are impacting wild populations. It’s a massive study, tracking multiple generations of salmon in a variety of locations. Parts of it are completed, including a genetic baseline for pink salmon along the Gulf of Alaska, which was completed in connection with the longer-term Western Alaska Salmon Stock Identification Program. Templin said the data indicates that pink salmon have a relatively “shallow” genetic structure, varying only slightly from stream to stream, with most of the genetic differences existing between individuals rather than between populations. “Most of the genetic variation relies on individual to individual differences,” he said. “What this tells us is there’s very shallow genetic variation in pink salmon, not just in Prince William Sound but across the entire range.” Reviewing the papers submitted with the ACR, he critiqued the scientific reliability of several and said some others were good data sets but lacked context. In connection with the concerns from the proposers about ocean carrying capacity, he said ocean carrying capacity is a massively complicated question with far too many factors for anyone to easily calculate, and is beyond the scope of ADFG to be able to determine. He did point to the record run sizes in recent years that happened in conjunction with high numbers of hatchery pink salmon present in the North Pacific Ocean. He made a number of further research recommendations to the board, including developing a more complete research study on hatchery strays and evaluation of hatchery releases. In response to a question from Payton, he said ADFG has worked on a more complete research project regarding the straying of Prince William Sound pink salmon into Lower Cook Inlet streams and would like to implement it but lack the financial resources to do so. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Council considers options for tracking halibut rental boats

A lot of unanswered questions, concern about fishery access and uncertainty about who is responsible remain part of the debate over how to register and track halibut harvested by unguided anglers in rental boats. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council discussed a potential course of action on a registry system for rental boats carrying unguided anglers fishing for halibut. It’s been an issue for the council for several years, springing from a sore spot among the commercial and charter halibut fleets because of the more relaxed bag limits on unguided halibut anglers. Unguided anglers get to keep two fish per day of any size, while guided anglers only get to keep one in Southeast and two with a size limit on the second one in the Central Gulf of Alaska. The charter sector is also subject to a sector harvest limit, while there’s no real tracking on unguided angler halibut harvest. In recent years, both private citizens and guides have been asking the council to do something about businesses renting out boats for unguided halibut fishing, particularly in Southeast. The intent of the higher bag limits was to protect access to the fishery for Alaskans, but some operations have begun commercializing it to bypass the charter sector. Potential solutions, though, are difficult to pin down. Council member and charter business owner Andy Mezirow introduced a motion with three suggested alternatives for how to keep a closer track on unguided anglers in rental boats, including doing nothing, requiring registration for non-guided rental sportfishing vessels, and aligning the bag limits in the charter and non-guided sector. Mezirow said this will be necessary given the growth in participation among nonguided anglers. “Defining all of these entities as one sector, requiring registration and applying the same bag limits is a necessary action to understand and then manage this fleet,” he said. The total sportfishing harvest of halibut in regulation areas 2C and 3A — Southeast Alaska and the Central Gulf of Alaska, respectively — actually declined between 2003 and 2016, but the proportions of who was harvesting them changed. In 2011, the harvest by unguided anglers surpassed the harvest of the charter fleet in Southeast, which may account for why people say the unguided sector is growing while the overall harvest numbers have stayed relatively flat, said Steve MacLean, the protected species coordinator for the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. In the raw data, though, fish being caught on private boats by individual Alaskans are indistinguishable from fish coming off rental boats being hired by tourists, MacLean said. “Unfortunately, we don’t have data on the number of fish caught by rental boats,” he said. “We don’t have any way of understanding the number of halibut coming off these rental boats like other private boats.” Council staff researched the registration methods available and concluded that the Alaska Division of Motor Vehicles registry is likely close to accurate, though it’s hard to separate vessels specifically registered to rent for unguided halibut angling from other pleasure craft, he said. “We did identify at least one company that is known to offer boats to rent for anglers for halibut that does not have any registered rental boats, but does have registered pleasure boats,” he said. “We had to look up the business owner and look up their address, and then search for boats identified or registered to that owner or that address, and we did find that there were a number of boats registered to multiple people at that address, pleasure boats. “We also do know that there are several companies that do have a boat that is registered as a rental boat but they do not offer fishing services. There are a number of venture companies that offer zodiacs for (activities like) wildlife viewing, glacier access. Those are all counted as rental boats.” While staff members were building the discussion paper, they also investigated which would be the best agency to implement registration or logbook requirements. The National Marine Fisheries Service, which works with the council and the International Pacific Halibut Commission to regulate halibut harvest, has one type of registration established but does not collect logbooks. While the Alaska Department of Fish and Game does collect sportfishing guide logbooks and conduct a private angler statewide harvest survey, the agency indicated that a separate logbook just for private halibut anglers would be burdensome, MacLean said. Several residents of Southeast Alaska testified that they’ve seen operations like fishing lodges take advantage of the more liberal unguided bag limit by offering a day or two of guided fishing followed by a rental boat for unguided fishing or the establishment of “fishing clubs.” Linda Behnken, the executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, urged the council to move forward with registration requirements. Though it looks like harvest is flat, the council has to account for the fact that overall halibut abundance in the Gulf of Alaska has been declining, she said. “You’ve seen a drop in abundance, and you’ve seen the same level of removals,” she said. “That’s only happening because there’s an increased effort.” There’s a delicate line for the council to walk: protecting private resident access to the fishery and controlling business use of it. The motion isn’t intended to impinge upon private Alaskans’ ability to fish for halibut, especially as food, as citizen access to resources is provided for in the Alaska Constitution, Mezirow said. However, that’s something Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten said he’s concerned about in this motion. “There’s a strong level of support from the commercial halibut industry for the direction this will take, and it sounds like there’s a strong level of support from the charter industry … but there’s really no lobby for the resident angler,” he said. “When you look at the definition that’s been used here … resident anglers are going to be impacted differently based on their own economic situation, perhaps.” Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Researchers tackle data gaps in ocean acidification impacts

SEWARD — Increasingly acidic oceans are expected to affect marine species on which fishermen of all stripes rely. One of the things that’s not known is how it’s exactly going to affect each individual species, particularly in Alaska. A group of researchers from the University of Alaska Fairbanks is looking into the effect of ocean acidification on three clam species — littleneck and razor clams and cockles — that are important for subsistence and sport harvest in the state. Entrenched in their research is a desire to know more generally about how ocean acidification is going to play out in the state. “Our goal is really to define what those sensitivities are in the hope of managing these species,” said Amanda Kelley, an assistant professor of marine biology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. “What we can say is that okay, if our data supports what is happening with these species, we know that (a specific species) is more sensitive to climate change effects.” Kelley and two of her graduate students are working on research specific to how more acidic oceans will affect shellfish. For Marina Washburn, who is working toward a master’s degree in marine biology, there’s a personal connection, too: she grew up harvesting the once-plentiful razor clams on the beaches of Ninilchik and Clam Gulch. Due to depressed populations, that fishery has been closed for four straight seasons. Washburn successfully hatched razor clams this summer at the Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery in Seward, the first time it’s ever been done in a lab. Her project involves continuously bubbling a set amount of carbon dioxide into seawater, patterned after what scientists expect ocean conditions to be like by 2100. The project can be done all year because it’s done in a closed lab, she said. The collapse of the razor clam fishery on the east side of Cook Inlet likely isn’t solely due to ocean acidification — the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has cited harvest pressure, poor survival, storm damage and unfavorable environmental conditions among the possible causes — but it could be playing a role. Even if it isn’t now, it could in the future, Washburn said. “That sad truth about mollusks in in Alaska is that (the information available) is shockingly low,” Washburn said. “There is very little research. I think Alaska has a problem with not appreciating our resources like shellfish and fish until there is a problem.” Researchers worldwide have been tracking a gradual increase in the acidity of the ocean, linked to an increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Essentially, the ocean absorbs more of the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and breaks it down, absorbing the carbon molecules and creating carbonic acid. Some of that carbonic acid breaks down, though, freeing hydrogen molecules and increasing the pH of the water, making it more acidic and raising a host of issues for marine animals adapted specifically to a less acidic ocean. Shellfish are on the front lines of those risks. More acidic oceans can dissolve the calcium carbonate-based shells mollusks build to protect their soft bodies, exposing them to predation. Mollusks are important in the marine food chain — everything from fish to otters to sea stars predate on shellfish. Many Alaskans also depend on shellfish for subsistence. Ashley Rossin, a marine biology Ph.D. student working with Kelley, is studying the impact of ocean acidification on littleneck clams and cockles, both of which have been traditional subsistence foods. Out in remote coastal communities, where imported groceries are not as common and are more expensive, rural residents have relied on abundant shellfish for generations. That’s changed in the last decade or so, as populations of clams around the state have reportedly been in decline, Rossin said. “(In research, rural populations have) said they don’t even know what to do, and the clam and chiton populations are so small but they need to continue to fish there because that’s what available to them, but they don’t want to fish them because they know it may not be good for them,” she said. Her project includes looking at the water in beaches where littlenecks and cockles settle — called pore water — to see if the conditions there are different than the surrounding ocean and how that may affect them. The two species occupy the exact same habitats but have opposite life history strategies, Rossin said — littlenecks grow slowly while cockles grow quickly. “(Kelley) wanted to see what the difference in their responses would be,” Rossin said. “We’re going to see basically which one is the winner or the loser in this situation. The conditions that are there are kind of unknown … some people have hypothesized that the water in that sediment is actually more acidic.” One of the frustrations all three mentioned was a lack of overall existing data both about existing shellfish populations and about the effect of ocean acidification on Alaskan species overall. Kelley said there have been about six studies so far about ocean acidification’s effect on Alaskan marine animal species in Alaska. The work they’re doing on shellfish is the first of its kind in the state, she said. “We are only measuring one variable in the lab,” Kelley said. “But what you start to do is develop a series of mounting evidence. The only thing we can do is accumulate evidence … Alaska is behind the curveball for research on climate change. Funding is definitely a big part of it. I have to submit grants (for research) and when I submit a grant, I have to compete with everyone else who wants to study seabirds.” Rossin’s project includes a citizen science aspect using the Local Environmental Observation, or LEO, network and Epi Collect 5, asking individuals to record their observations about shellfish and shellfish harvests all over Alaska. Alaska SeaGrant is supporting both projects, in part because of the importance of the clam species to harvest by the subsistence, sport and commercial sectors alike. There is some baseline information being gathered around the state, though. In a back room at the Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery, shellfish biologist Jacqueline Ramsay is testing water samples from all across the Gulf of Alaska coast for their baseline water conditions to help track localized changes. At first glance, it looks like she’s storing shelves and shelves of six-packs of beer. But those are actually the sample containers: she has citizen scientists gather water samples in cleaned, recycled beer bottles and mail them to her at the hatchery. She then plugs them into a machine known as the Burke-o-lator — named for its creator, Burke Hales of Oregon State University — to continuously test them for water quality measures. “What this machine does is it just constantly sips on (the water sample) and measures salinity and pH (among other metrics),” she said. Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery, the only shellfish hatchery in Alaska, is an operation of Chugach Regional Resources Commission. Ramsay receives samples from many of the corporation’s member villages, from Seldovia to Eyak, with about three years of data on hand. She’s working with several other researchers through to build baseline data on existing conditions in Alaska using these longterm data sets. Longterm data is important for gauging changes, establishing baseline conditions to work with on different species and locations. “I think we alread know that pollock and crab and clams all react differently,” Ramsay said. “That’s why this is so important.” Alaska is especially vulnerable to ocean acidification in the future, as colder water holds more gas and is more susceptible to changing pH. With Alaska’s dependency on healthy marine ecosystems for healthy fisheries and subsistence, being able to look forward and estimate impacts will be important, Washburn said. “We’re kind of getting hit on both sides,” she said. “As terrible as it is, Alaska is a great place to study ocean acidification, because we are going to feel the effects of it.” Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Salmon stakeholders split over ballot initiative

Opinions on the salmon habitat initiative officially dubbed Ballot Measure 1 are about as diverse as Alaska’s fisheries. About the only thing uniform in the environmental policy debate is the resource development industry’s collective opposition to it. Nearly, but not all, of the 12 Alaska Native regional corporations oppose it; Bristol Bay Native Corp. has maintained a neutral position on the voter initiative for most of 2018 after CEO Jason Metrokin originally said the company was against it. Commonly known as the Stand for Salmon initiative, Ballot Measure 1 is seen by many as a way to stop the controversial Pebble mine in Western Alaska, which BBNC has long and vigorously opposed. The initiative seeks to overhaul Title 16, the Department of Fish and Game’s statutory directive on how to evaluate development projects in salmon habitat. Current law directs the Fish and Game commissioner to issue a development permit as long as a project provides “proper protection of fish and game.” The sponsors contend that is far too vague and an update is needed to just define what “proper protection” means. The initiative would, among other things, establish two tiers of development permits that could be issued by the Department of Fish and Game. “Minor” habitat permits could be issued quickly and generally for projects deemed to have an insignificant impact on salmon waters. “Major” permits would be required for larger projects such as mines, dams and anything determined to potentially have a significant impact on salmon-bearing water. Mitigation measures would be acceptable as long as they are implemented on the impacted stream or wetland area. A series of public notices and comment periods would also be added to the salmon habitat permit adjudication process; it is currently one of the few public resource-use permits issued by the State of Alaska that does not provide an avenue for public input. Additionally, the project sponsor would have to prove that impacted waters are not salmon habitat during any stage of the fish life cycle if the waters are connected to proven salmon habitat in any way but not yet listed in the state’s Anadromous Waters Catalog. The sponsors insist it is not aimed to stop development projects; rather, they argue would set high but transparent permitting standards that are necessary to protect salmon resources that are already being stressed by multiple factors. While Alaska Native corporations are mostly against Ballot Measure 1 and are actively fighting it as members of Stand for Alaska–Vote No on 1, many of their shareholders feel differently. Stand for Salmon, one of the nonprofits leading the advocacy for the initiative, lists 21 Alaska Tribes, Tribal consortiums and other Alaska Native organizations such as the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp. and the Bristol Bay Native Association as supporters on its website. A separate list identifies roughly 200 Alaska businesses and organizations — many fishing-focused, many not — as supporters as well. Conversely, Stand for Alaska touts a coalition of more than 500 businesses and trade groups in opposition to Ballot Measure 1. The list of those opposed includes the Pacific Seafood Processors Association, which represents some of the largest companies in Alaska’s fishing industry, although some of them focus on species other than salmon. PSPA officials declined to go into much detail about their position on Ballot Measure 1, but noted the group has long been against natural resource management via voter initiative and highlighted its opposition Pebble mine. United Fishermen of Alaska, the largest trade organization in the state representing a broad spectrum of fishing industry and marine-related members, voted to remain neutral on Ballot Measure 1, according to UFA Executive Director Frances Leach. Leach said in an interview that the complexity of the initiative led to the middle-ground vote at the group’s fall meeting. “We would like to see natural resource groups work together to foster a collaborative approach to preserving our Alaska water resources and habitat,” Leach said, adding that if the initiative is voted down on Nov. 6, UFA wants the Legislature to take up the issue of updating the state’s salmon habitat protections again. UFA sent a letter to legislative leaders in March 2017 urging them to make changes to Title 16, which hasn’t been revised since statehood — a primary reason many cite for supporting Ballot Measure 1. UFA’s letter followed a letter from the state Board of Fisheries to House Speaker Rep. Bryce Edgmon and Senate President Sen. Pete Kelly in January 2017, urging them to revise Title 16. The board specifically requested changes that would allow for public participation in habitat permitting and enforceable standards for the Department of Fish and Game to evaluate development proposals against. The board’s letter spurred House Fisheries Committee Chair and Kodiak Rep. Louise Stutes to introduce House Bill 199 — which the initiative largely mirrors the original version — in early 2017. However, HB 199 did not move out of Stutes’ committee after more than a year of discussion and revision. Other than Israel Payton of Wasilla, Board of Fisheries members were generally reluctant to discuss their thoughts on Ballot Measure 1. Payton said in an interview that he would certainly prefer the issue of further protecting salmon habitat be handled through the legislative process, but said he would be voting for the initiative. “Of course, everyone on the board is pro-fish; I think everyone is kind of pro-development as well,” said Payton, who noted he has worked at North Slope oil fields and now is in real estate development. Payton said he finds a provision in the initiative that would put the onus on project proponents to prove the waters they propose to impact are not salmon habitat as particularly beneficial. ADFG Habitat Division officials estimate roughly half of the state’s anadromous fish habitat has been identified and therefore receives additional permitting protections under Title 16. “At the end of the day I have to believe some stronger habitat protections have to be a good thing,” Payton said. Board member John Jensen, who was chairman when the Title 16 letter was written to the Legislature and owns a boat rental business in Petersburg, said he will be voting “no” on Nov. 6. Jensen, who is also a board member for the Southeast Alaska Power Agency, said he doesn’t believe there is enough science supporting the provisions in Ballot Measure 1. “I think we should take better care of our fish streams but naming every stream and creek a salmon stream is problematic,” he said. Jensen added that he believes the initiative was generated from anti-Pebble sentiment, but it could add roadblocks for developing and maintaining Southeast’s power grid. Robert Ruffner and board chair Reed Morisky both withheld how they will be voting on Ballot Measure 1. Ruffner, a former leader of the nonprofit Kenai Watershed Forum said he, too, would prefer the Legislature deal with fish habitat issues, but acknowledged legislators have been dealing with more pressing budget issues in recent years. He said he does not want his position to be used by either side of the Ballot Measure 1 debate. “It’s really important that we protect our habitat by some mechanism and unfortunately the initiative process brings out rhetoric on both sides,” Ruffner added. Morisky, a fishing guide from Fairbanks, said “everything in that letter is still how I feel about it,” but like Ruffner said revealing how he feels about the initiative would detract from the more important debate. Morisky noted that he is a lifetime member of Trout Unlimited, which strongly supports the initiative, but also has spent time working on the North Slope. He will continue to advocate for a legislative solution. “I might not know until I get in there behind the curtain,” he said on how he will vote on Ballot Measure 1. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Whitefish quotas revealed; cod seeking colder water

Catches for next year’s groundfish fisheries reflect ups and downs for Alaska’s key species — pollock and Pacific cod — and the stocks appear to be heading north to colder waters. The bulk of Alaska’s fish catches come from waters from three to 200 miles offshore with oversight by federal fishery managers. Their advisory arm, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, reviews stock assessments for groundfish each October and sets preliminary catches for the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea and updates them as new data become available. If the proposed catches get the go-ahead in December, the Bering Sea pollock harvest will increase slightly to nearly 1.4 million metric tons, or more than 3 billion pounds. For Pacific cod, Bering Sea the catch could be reduced to 350 million pounds, a drop of 64 million pounds from this year. The cod numbers might change due to big differences between the 2017 and 2018 survey results in southeastern and northern waters, where large numbers of fish appear to be migrating. Over the year, the cod biomass dropped 21 percent in the southern region but increased 95 percent in the northern area. The northern cod are genetically similar to the southern cod, making it unlikely that the fish hail from Russia or the Gulf of Alaska, said National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research biologist Ingrid Spies in a presentation to the council last week. “What happens to those fish in the north is still an open question,” NOAA scientist Grant Thompson told Undercurrent News. “Are they spawning up there? Are they maturing and dying? It’s kind of uncharted territory.” The numbers are more straightforward for pollock and cod catches in the Gulf of Alaska and reflect declines for both species. Proposed pollock catches show a 34 percent drop to 228 million pounds, a drop of 118 million pounds from this year. For Gulf cod, next year’s catch is likely to be down 5.5 percent to 27.2 million pounds, a decline of 1.6 million pounds. One of the brightest Gulf of Alaska findings is the continuing upward trend of sablefish (black cod) seen over several years. The preliminary sablefish catch for 2019 was boosted by 40 percent to nearly 36 million pounds. OTIS redux Alaska lays claim to over half the nation’s coastline and a third of the U.S. exclusive economic zone, making it prime real estate for those wanting to get in on the push to develop our oceans. That’s requiring new ways of thinking about traditional sectors such as fisheries, tourism, marine trades and oil/gas, as well as providing opportunities for new “blue economy” business ventures. To hone a wave of entrepreneurs, a second Ocean Technology Innovation Sprint will task 30 Alaskans this month with finding a problem and creating a prototype solution for a venture of their choice. They will be assigned to five teams and meet one day a week for five weeks before revealing their ideas to the public. While the meet-ups are mostly in Anchorage, teams also can connect virtually from anywhere in the state. “The remote teams are live streamed to every event and they can work together on a digital whiteboard as if they were in person,” said Meg Pritchard, marketing and communications manager for the Alaska Ocean Cluster and OTIS co-organizer. “There was so much interest last year it has become a huge part of OTIS, because it’s meant to bring together people from diverse locations.” The goal of OTIS, which is modeled after a Google Ventures program, is to create an “economic ecosystem” of innovators, educators, mentors and businesses to help grow new products from the bottom up. Last year’s OTIS winner was a Sea Green energy bar made from 20 percent seaweed. Other teams created a bycatch reduction system using net cameras, a tidal generator and one group investigated using machine learning to count salmon. Pritchard said connections are increasing across the state. “There is a steadily growing network of people who believe that ocean technology and developing a blue economy is the way to move forward for Alaska’s economy,” she said. OTIS is a partnership of the Alaska Ocean Cluster and the University of Alaska Anchorage Economic Development and Business Enterprise Institute. The Sprint runs from Oct. 20 through Demo Night on Nov. 20. Winning women videos Women who mend nets for a living in Vigo, Spain took home the top prize in the International Association for Women in the Seafood Industry video competition. The contest was launched last year as a way to increase awareness about women’s roles in the industry and to recognize their value. This year’s contest attracted 15 videos (limited to four minutes) from around the world. The winner, Puntada Invisible, highlights a woman named Beatriz who has been mending nets for 33 years, often outside in all weather. “I think nobody is aware of how important our work is for the fishing sector, because everyone here looks at the fishing, the skipper, the boat, a good engine, a good engineer. Nobody looks at us here. We are totally invisible,” Beatriz said. The second-prize winner was Mujeres del Mar del Cortés, a film about women in Santa Cruz, California, who formed a sustainable clam farming cooperative. Two films tied for third place. Girls who fish in Petty Harbour is about women in Newfoundland who are mentoring others to run their own fishing operations and gain the experience and knowledge that has traditionally been dominated by men. The Invisible Hands tells the story of Ratna, the wife of a fisherman from the Bay of Bengal in India. Tired of struggling to make ends meet, Ratna partnered with five local women and got a government grant to start a food truck called a “fish nutri cart.” The women cook and sell their husband’s catches and are so successful they are applying for a second cart. The women said “their families now have enough to eat and their children are able to go to school.” There was one video entry from Alaska called Copper River that showcased the life of veteran Cordova fisherman, Thea Thomas. The judges were delighted with the breadth of the entries, said WSI president and founder, Marie Christine Monfort. “A lot of effort is being put into tackling illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing around the world,” she told SeafoodSource. “We see WSI’s mission as tackling IIU – invisible, ignored, and unrepresented women.” The top video took home 1,000 euros ($1,162) and 500 euros ($581) for second and third places and will be featured this month at the Gender in Aquaculture and Fisheries conference in Thailand, at the first women in fisheries international symposium in Spain in November, and at the international film festival of world fisherfolks in France in March 2019. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Snow crab up, king crab quota down in Bering Sea

UNALASKA — It’s not much, but there is a red king crab season. And snow crab is up 45 percent, and Tanners are down slightly, but at least that one will go forward due to a revised harvest strategy. Bering Sea commercial crabbing started Oct. 15, with the smallest quota for Bristol Bay red king crab in more than 30 years of 4.3 million pounds, a 35 percent decrease from last year’s 6.6 million pounds. The last time there was such a low number when a fishery was held was in 1985, at 4.1 million pounds, according to Alaska Department of Fish and Game Assistant Area Management Biologist Ethan Nichols in Unalaska. Nichols expects fewer boats fishing this year, with fishermen combining quotas onto one boat that otherwise would have been fished by two vessels, because of the harvest reduction leading to the efficiency move. At least there is a red king crab season, despite earlier fears of a complete cancelation, according to Unalaska Mayor Frank Kelty. “We wish it was more, but we’re happy there’s a king crab season,” said Jake Jacobsen, executive director of the Seattle-based Inter-Cooperative Exchange, which negotiates prices for the crab fishing fleet. The season began Oct. 15 with red king crab, with snow and Tanner crab typically fished in the winter. On a brighter note, the snow crab quota of 27.6 million pounds is up 45 percent from last year’s 19 million pounds. And there will be a Tanner crab fishery in the western district, which wouldn’t have happened two years ago. That’s because of a major lobbying effort led by Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, the political arm of the Inter-Cooperative Exchange, with the support of Fish and Game, adopted in May 2017 by the Alaska Board of Fisheries, following the closure of both districts the prior year. “Both the eastern and western Bering Sea Tanner crab fisheries would have been closed for 2018-19 using the old harvest strategy due to being below the female threshold,” according to Nichols. The Tanner quota is 2.4 million pounds, a 2 percent decrease from last year’s 2.5 million pounds in the western district, west of 166 degrees west longitude between Unalaska and Akutan islands. The eastern district remains closed. Jacobsen said the trade war between the U.S. and China will have little effect on the crab fishery, since most of the product goes to domestic markets and Japan, although Chinese consumers will pay more because of the tariffs imposed by China in retaliation for President Donald Trump’s new taxes imposed on imports from China. The U.S. import taxes don’t matter, because Alaskan crab is not re-exported back to the United States from China, he said. Various groundfish and salmon from Alaska are re-exported back to the U.S. following processing by low-wage Chinese labor. Jim Paulin can be reached at [email protected]

Crabbers thankful to have a season for Bristol Bay red king crab

Crab catches dominate Alaska’s fish news in early October as boats gear up for mid-month openers in the Bering Sea. As expected, crabbers will see increased catches for snow crab after the annual survey showed a 60 percent boost in market-sized males and nearly the same for females (only male crabs can be retained for sale). Managers announced last week a catch of 27.5 million pounds of snow crab, up 47 percent from last season. Even better, biologists documented one of the largest numbers of small snow crab poised to enter the fishery they’ve ever seen. Also as expected, the news is bad for bairdi Tanners, the larger cousins of snow crab. A take of just 2.4 million pounds, down 2 percent, will be allowed from the western fishing district of the Bering Sea, with the eastern district closed for the season. Crabbers breathed a sigh of relief to learn there will be a red king crab fishery at Bristol Bay with a catch of 4.3 million pounds, a 36 percent drop. Those stocks have been on a downward spiral for several years and talk on the docks was that there would likely not be a fishery this year. “It helps sustain king crab markets that might be lost if the season were closed,” reacted Jake Jacobsen, director of the Inter-Cooperative Exchange, which represents the majority of Bering Sea crabbers. There again will be no king crab openers at the Pribilofs and St. Matthew Island due to low stock numbers. Similarly, a king crab fishery was canceled at Southeast Alaska where a small 120,000-pound red king crab fishery occurred last fall for the first time in six years. Looking good for Gulf crab The official word won’t be out until November, but signs are pointing to another Kodiak Tanner crab opener in January 2019. Last winter saw the first season after a four-year closure, with a 400,000-pound harvest. “It looks positive because we had a big group of crab last year that were just sub-legal, and we thought we might get two years of fishing on that group, said Nat Nichols, area shellfish manager at Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Kodiak. A big pulse of crab in 2013 was the largest biologists had ever seen since trawl surveys began, Nichols said. “At that time, we estimated 200 million crab in the water. They were one- to two-year-olds, the size of a nickel,” he said. “They don’t survive well because everything likes to eat a small Tanner crab, and about 90 percent drop out of the population before they reach legal size. But even 10 percent still turns into a lot of crab.” Nichols said Tanner numbers also are looking up at Chignik and the South Peninsula, but those regions are likely to remain closed. Biologists talk about “episodic recruitment” of Tanner crab, Nichols said, when massive spikes arrive all at once, roughly on a five- to seven-year time line. The largest one ever may be in the lineup. “This year we saw the next recruitment pulse and it’s possibly 50 percent bigger than 2013,” he said. “But we’re looking way down the road to 2023.” “We try not to get too excited because we’ve seen these drop off between the first year we see them and five years later when they become legal. But it’s good to see we’re still producing big cohorts of crab,” Nichols added. We’re sort of along for the ride, is how we put it.” The abundance of tiny Tanners could be a benefiting from the crash of the cod stocks in the Gulf of Alaska, he said. “If you’ve got 80 percent fewer mouths to feed, I don’t think it can hurt.” Tanners, too, at PWS Crabbers at Prince William Sound could also get to drop pots for Tanners again in March. “We’re getting all our information together so we can see where we’re at,” said Jan Rumble, area manager for Prince William Sound and Cook Inlet shellfish and groundfish at ADFG in Homer. A one-month fishery in March 2018 was the first Tanner crab opener in PWS since 1988. It was allowed under a Commissioner’s Permit that is issued in special circumstances and was limited to two regions. It was a sort of fact finding mission, Rumble said, that was prompted by increasing numbers of crab coming up in subsistence pots and a lack of survey data. Fifteen permit holders participated in the fishery and pulled up 82,000 pounds of crab. Rumble said based on last year’s harvest, managers are “pretty confident” there will be another special permit fishery next March. “Hopefully, processors will come into Cordova and set up for that fishery again. We also had buyers in Whittier and Seward and they will appreciate the opportunity to buy Tanner crab again,” Rumble said. Expo Updates Pacific Marine Expo is one of the industry’s oldest (52 years) and most popular trade shows and organizers were scrambling a few months ago when its traditional November dates were spiked by a football game at Seattle’s CenturyLink Field where the event is held. That pushed Expo into Thanksgiving week amid worries that it would cut into the show’s draw. The Nov. 18-20 date change hasn’t worked for some exhibitors, said Expo director Denielle Christensen, but for others, it’s provided more motivation to come to the show. “Some folks are already traveling at Thanksgiving time, so this is actually a good schedule for them. No down time — you can go right from Expo to family and your turkey dinner,” Christensen said, adding that early registrations are ahead of last year. Dominating the Expo floor again is an even bigger Alaska Hall, which will house 52 Alaska companies and the show’s main stage. Christensen said over one-third of the visitors at Expo in 2018 said they were “specifically looking for products from Alaska.” A new focus this year is a Young Fishermen’s Track for those just starting out. “We realized that was a group that was being overlooked. We know they need help and we hope we can be a bigger part of that for them,” Christensen said. Also in the Expo line up: a public hearing on the Pebble Mine. “Pebble Mine comes up every year and it is such an important topic to have in our educational program,” she said. Visit www.pacificmarineexpo.com for more information. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Hatchery production back on Board of Fisheries agenda

KENAI — The Board of Fisheries will once again have to tangle with the issue of hatchery pink salmon production at its upcoming work session Oct. 15-19 in Anchorage. Two of the agenda change requests, or ACRs, filed for the work session address concerns about hatchery production. One references an issue from the early 2000s, with concerns about the impact of salmon releases in Southeast Alaska, while the other is a revival of an emergency petition about a Valdez-area hatchery the board considered and voted down in July. Both are linked to overall concerns about the number of hatchery pink salmon being released into the Gulf of Alaska each year. The first, from Fairbanks Advisory Committee chair Virgil Umphenour of North Pole, asks the board to reduce overall hatchery production to 75 percent of what it was in 2000. He states in the proposal that the state and hatcheries agreed to cap production in 2000. He referenced the second request, filed by the Kenai River Sportfishing Association. KRSA’s ACR asks the board to block the release of salmon resulting from an egg take increase at Valdez Fishery Development Association’s Solomon Gulch Hatchery this summer and permanently cap the hatchery’s egg take capacity. It’s virtually identical to an emergency petition the board previously turned down, saying it didn’t meet the criteria for an emergency. At the time, the emergency petition was backed by a broad coalition of sportfishing groups from around Southcentral Alaska, objecting to the increase because of the risk of Prince William Sound hatchery pink salmon straying into other streams. They cited data from a Lower Cook Inlet salmon otolith analysis in 2016 and 2017, showing that Prince William Sound hatcher-origin pinks outnumbered local stocks in a number of streams. Ricky Gease, the executive director of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, said the organization chose to refile the request as an ACR because the board said they would take it up later, just not as an emergency petition. “They said we’d discuss it in a meeting in October,” he said. “Well, this is October, and there wasn’t a place for it on the agenda.” The board has a similarly stringent set of criteria for accepting ACRs, one of which is a requirement that an effect of a regulation threatens the conservation of a fishery. In its request, KRSA noted that a number of scientific papers have connected increased pink salmon numbers in the Gulf of Alaska is decreased king and sockeye salmon survival. Increased returns and the risk of straying create a conservation risk, the request notes. Gease noted the concern for impacts to sockeye and king salmon stocks, which are important to commercial, recreational and subsistence fisheries around the state, particularly king salmon on rivers like the Kuskokwim and the Yukon, where the Alaska Native people have long depended on them for winter stores. The board turned down the petition in July in part because there had been a public process for the egg take increase, through the Regional Planning Teams and the Alaska Department of Fish Game, over several years. Scientists from the state’s various hatcheries presented a packet of information to the board at the time reviewing a number of the studies connecting pink salmon to decreased survival of sockeye and kings, stating that several of the studies cited have flaws. The hatchery managers say they are interested in research about the impact of pink salmon releases into the North Pacific — that’s why they’re paying into the 11-year study coordinated by Fish and Game and the Prince William Sound Science Center to examine hatchery-wild salmon interaction. The question of the impact of pink salmon on the entire North Pacific ecosystem is a complicated one, said Mike Wells, the executive director of the Valdez Fisheries Development Association. He noted ongoing research work through the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission on the same subject. “The carrying capacity question is a big, big question,” he said. “I think what’s important to recognize is it’s an international question.” Casey Campbell, the executive director of the Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corporation, cited data that only about 15 percent of the pink salmon in the North Pacific Ocean are hatchery-origin. He also pointed to the hatchery-wild study as a major piece of the puzzle to understand the dynamics of pink salmon in the Gulf of Alaska, with some preliminary data expected in December. Wells said the hatchery managers are watching the board’s decision at the upcoming meeting to determine a future direction for its involvement hatchery management. Until now, the board’s function has been primarily allocative, leaving hatchery management decisions primarily to ADFG. “I think what’s important with this upcoming meeting in October is that there will be a forum and a discussion,” Wells said. “The public will have an opportunity to come and discuss their concerns with the board. That’s a good venue to come and get concerns out but at the end of the day what has been practiced for 40 years in hatchery production is that it has been centered around science.” Wells, Campbell and Cordova Mayor Clay Koplin all wrote op-eds for newspapers in various regions of the state in recent months, presenting an argument for hatcheries as supporting local communities and jobs in the seafood industry. Wells said that connects with the research about the effects of hatcheries on wild stocks. “The hatchery operators around the state recognize that there is a need to educate the public about what we do,” he said. “That would include the types of salmon species that we raise, for the user groups that we benefit, and about the science work that’s being done.” Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Guides honored for catch-and-release program

SOLDOTNA — Like many efforts involving Cook Inlet salmon, Fish for the Future started with frustration. Unlike many of those, it didn’t end there. The brainchild of two Soldotna-area residents, Fish for the Future is both amorphous and very clear. The goal hasn’t changed in its three years of operation: make sure more Kenai River king salmon make it onto the spawning beds, primarily through encouraging sport fishermen to release the king salmon they catch. What it exactly is isn’t as defined. Co-founders Greg Brush and Mark Wackler essentially run a contest that awards prizes for the best photos and videos of people releasing the Kenai and Kasilof river king salmon they caught. Virtually everything happens on Facebook, and both carefully keep their names off the page. Brush said that was a conscious choice because of the negativity long associated with the salmon fisheries on the Kenai River. He and Wackler both work as guides, but they wanted Fish for the Future to stand on its own and not carry the connotation of being a “guide” project. “We’re just two concerned residents,” he said. After three seasons of increasing growth, though, with photos submitted almost every day during the three-month fishery, their work is getting some attention. The Kachemak Heritage Land Trust, a regional land conservation trust based in Homer, awarded Fish for the Future its annual “Kingmaker” award, intended to recognize individual or group contributions to conserving salmon, Executive Director Marie McCarty and Communications and Development Director Denise Jantz noted in a letter accompanying the award. “By creating the simple, non-allocative, education-based Fish for the Future program, you have ensured that more king salmon will make it to their spawning grounds upstream and will be in our rivers far into the future,” the letter states. “As the Fish for the Future website states, this important catch and release program allows anglers opportunity while minimizing impact.” When Brush and Wackler conceived the idea three years ago, it was based on frustration that while Kenai king runs kept coming back weaker, smaller and later, people continued to proudly post pictures of huge fish they caught. Both had converted their guide businesses to catch-and-release only for kings years before, explaining to each prospective client that Kenai kings are special but in trouble and they’d release each one. Both expected that the conversion would cost them business, but they say it hasn’t set them back; some clients would choose not to come if they couldn’t keep fish, while others understand. They modeled Fish for the Future after other catch-and-release programs, offering prizes for photographs of released fish — not necessarily the biggest fish, just the best photo. The first year, they got a few donated prizes from various companies, including plane tickets and fishing gear. By the second year, they had people coming to them, including fishing gear giant Rappala, to donate giveaway items. “We had thousands of dollars worth of donations, and we were like, ‘How do we get these in the hands of people?’” he said. Kenai king salmon runs have been declining in recent years, most markedly beginning in 2008. The shortages, reaching a trough in 2012 when an extremely weak run forced commercial and sport fishing closures, have intensified longstanding tensions between user groups in the region. There are two words Brush says no one will find in any of the Fish for the Future posts: “commercial” and “allocation.” They make a point to stay positive and encouraging of catch-and-release rather than combative about those who don’t release their fish. Catch-and-release has helped other sport fisheries around the world come back from population declines. Michigan fisheries managers began using catch-and-release as a conservation mechanism for rainbow trout in the 1950s, and the United Kingdom has required catch-and-release for threatened Atlantic salmon stocks for years. In the Bristol Bay area, anglers are required to release all the rainbow trout they catch. Brush cited the example of the increasing use of catch-and-release in marlin sportfishing — with millions of dollars hinged upon catching the specific fish, catch-and-release has helped preserve the populations and thus the economies that depend on them. “It takes a culture change to go from (holding up a fish) as your advertisement to where you’re down in the water, release is your advertisement,” Wackler said. “It might be a different group of clientele or whatever, but it works. I think it’s been proven that works all over the world.” Catch-and-release remains controversial among some fishermen because of the potential mortality to the fish, but Brush said the way he sees it, there’s a better chance of survival for a released fish than a retained one. The evidence they’ve seen, both in data and anecdotally, indicates that a major percentage of the released fish survive, he said. “Part of Fish for the Future is educational in nature — if you’re worried about seven out of a hundred dying, I understand that,” he said. “It’s not perfect. Seven out of a hundred is a shame. But it’s seven out of a hundred. It’s not fifty out of a hundred or a hundred out of a hundred.” Right now, Fish for the Future exists as a Facebook page and nothing more — Wackler and Brush don’t even accept the donated prizes, they just connect the prizewinner with the donor. In the future, they’re considering new avenues to keep it going, they said. ^ Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Cook Inlet fishermen blame rigid management for season losses

KENAI — Cook Inlet’s commercial fishermen feel that mandated closures played a part in them missing the boat on many of the salmon they could have harvested this season. At a meeting in Kenai on Sept. 28, Upper Cook Inlet commercial fishermen grilled Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten and Gov. Bill Walker with questions about regulation of the fishery and policy changes to support it in the future. Some of the concern is about inflexible management. A number of the questions Cotten fielded were about why Kasilof area setnetters were closed, allowing sockeye to go past for the sake of the Kenai River escapement, while the Kenai River personal-use dipnet fishery remained open. By the end of the season, the Kasilof River sockeye escapement goal had been exceeded, with the Kenai in the middle of its goal range. Toward the end of the season, drift gillnet fishermen also target the silver and chum salmon on the west side of the Inlet. Georgie Heverly, who moderated the discussion, asked about the delay in openings on the west side of Cook Inlet in August, when chum and silver salmon were returning. “Specifically for the drift fleet, we sat around for weeks waiting for Chinitna to open, waiting for an aerial survey,” she said. “It was really unfortunate — a lot of us, the younger generation who don’t own a boat, we have boat payments. We hang on to scrape up what we can from that silver run in August, and that was a huge financial burden for us, to sit around for three weeks, waiting for (ADFG) to get data on Chinitna.” Cotten said he hadn’t heard of that issue particularly, but said weather and flight scheduling can delay aerial surveys. The department relies on aerial surveys when there are no weirs or sonars on stream systems but they need to estimate run sizes for a fishery. In this case, the fishermen said that had the fishery opened earlier, they could have salvaged their season on the silvers and chums after a dismal sockeye run, but they missed them as they passed up the Inlet. That resulted in a great catch for the setnetters in the northern district, said Dave Martin, a longtime drift fisherman in Upper Cook Inlet. The indices at the test fishery in Anchor Point showed high numbers of silver salmon, which are not enumerated by sonar or weir in any Kenai Peninsula stream system, were high this year, but the drift fishermen were closed and missed them, he said. “We could’ve salvaged a halfway decent season on the other species, the chums, the pinks and the silvers, and then it came out in the middle of August that the silvers in the test fishery were the largest we’ve ever had,” he said. “That’s the first we heard about it.” Those closures required under the management plan have long been a sticking point for Upper Cook Inlet’s commercial fishermen, who say the lack of flexibility makes the fishery ineffective and allows too many fish to escape into the stream systems. Martin said the fishery managers need to have the flexibility to go outside the management plans to prosecute an effective fishery. Dates play a major role in the management, and this year, when more than half the Kenai River sockeye run arrived in August — the first time in Fish and Game’s records — much of the fleet was shifted away from the Kenai or out of the water by Aug. 15 by regulation, with more sockeye still coming in. Cotten said the department has some flexibility to go outside the plans but cannot completely bypass them. He said in answer to concerns about the scientific accuracy of established escapement goals, the department would make a “very, very” serious effort to have public meetings on escapement goals in the Cook Inlet. “The problem is it’s very difficult to just completely ignore the Board of Fisheries,” he said. “I find it very, very difficult to ignore the management plans they’ve laid out.” Walker said he’s made a point not to be involved in fisheries management decisions during his administration, deferring to Cotten and ADFG. “I have absolutely stayed to my word, I don’t tell them how to run the department,” he said. “I just don’t have those credentials.” Walker, who is up for reelection in November, recently hired Ephraim Frohlich as a fisheries advisor in his office. He added that he hopes the Cook Inlet Salmon Task Force he appointed, intended to bring together user groups from around Cook Inlet to discuss the allocation and issues facing Cook Inlet fisheries. Early in the process, saying the task force was aimless, the Kenai River Sportfishing Association withdrew from the process, though other stakeholder groups have stayed involved. The task force’s first meeting, pending appointment of members, is scheduled for Oct. 12 in Anchorage. “We have been meeting about this a lot, and we have been talking about it a lot,” he said. “I’m really hopeful that what we’re trying to do on this task force, something is going to come of that.” Walker has found controversy in his board nominations as well. In 2015 he told former chair Karl Johnstone, who represented recreational fishermen on the board, that he would not be replaced and when Johnstone resigned in response Walker named UCIDA Executive Director Roland Maw to replace him. That nomination was scuttled when Maw faced charges for applying for resident hunting and fishing privileges in both Montana and Alaska as well as illegally receiving Permanent Fund dividends. KRSA opposed Kenai area biologist Robert Ruffner, Walker’s next choice, and he was narrowly defeated in the Legislature before Walker nominated him again the following year and he was approved. Encouraging young fishermen Part of the meeting’s tone was also about how to encourage young fishermen to enter and stay in the Cook Inlet fishery. But with increasing cost, relatively low earnings and unpredictable openings, Cook Inlet’s commercial fishermen are concerned about the future of the fishery with fewer young people attracted to making a career of it. In 2017, the average Cook Inlet drift gillnet permit holder brought home just about $28,000, according to the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission. That’s about two-thirds of the average permit price that year of $42,400. Over the past three decades, average gross earnings for the drift fleet have fluctuated wildly from year to year — from a high of more than $133,000 in 1988 to a low of $7,947 in 2001 — and 2017 is far from the lowest amount they’ve earned in a season. The east side set gillnet fishery is a little better off, where the average permit holder earned $23,991 in 2017, about $8,000 more than the 2017 permit value of $15,600. Like the drifters, their average earnings per season fluctuate, varying from a high of $91,099 in 1989 to a low of $5,551 in 2012, according to the CFEC. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Heavy nets, and wallets, for Bristol Bay and Norton Sound fishermen

Despite poor salmon runs dominating the news across the Gulf of Alaska, fishermen in Bristol Bay and western Alaska brought home heavy nets and wallets this year. Salmon runs in Bristol Bay and Norton Sound arrived in force and smashed records — again. It’s the second year in a row that runs have come in exceptionally large in the two areas. Bristol Bay measured an inshore run of 62.3 million sockeye, the largest run since 1893 and more than 69 percent greater than the 20-year average run of 36.9 million. It’s the fourth year in a row that Bristol Bay inshore runs have topped 50 million, and this year came in far above the preseason forecast of 51.3 million fish. Set and drift gillnet fishermen brought in a total harvest of 41.3 million, the second-highest harvest on record, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s year-end season summary for the area. On top of that, prices stayed significantly higher than usual as the supply flooded the market, bringing in a record ex-vessel value for the area as well— more than double what fishermen have made in the history of the fishery. The preliminary ex-vessel value of $281 million is more than 242 percent above the 20-year average of $116 million, and 39 percent above the previous record of $202 million, set in 1990. Though the run was much larger than usual, the processors were able to keep up, in part because the sockeye didn’t all arrive at the same time. The east side runs to Egegik and Ugashik were about 10 days later than the average, while the run to the Nushagak and Togiak areas were only two or three days late, said Nushagak/Togiak area management biologist Tim Sands. “It really worked out well for the processors here because there was such disparity in the run timing in Nushagak and the east side that there was never any limits or suspensions because of capacity issues,” he said. “The east side didn’t really hit until after it was starting to slow down on the west side, and that made it so they were never plugged. We had at least one processor buying in the Nushagak district that wasn’t traditionally in the Nushagak district. I think many of the processors would have liked to have more fish.” Usually, as more fish flood the market throughout the summer, sockeye salmon prices begin to drop. However, this year they didn’t. That may be in part due to poor harvests across the Gulf of Alaska from Kodiak to Southeast, though fishermen in Bristol Bay are also taking steps to improve the quality of their product on their own, said Division of Commercial Fisheries Deputy Director Forrest Bowers. “Their ex-vessel price has been ticking up the past few years anyway,” he said. “They’ve been doing a good job on their own, but they definitely got a little help this year.” Up north, it was less sockeye salmon and more chums, silvers and pinks flooding the rivers. Norton Sound’s commercial fishermen smashed their 1978 all-time harvest record of $3.5 million in ex-vessel value with a $4 million season, mixed between chum and silver salmon. It was a peak season in many ways. In addition to a new record of 260,000 silver salmon harvested and the second-highest chum harvest in the area’s history, the number of licenses fished reached a high of 155, the highest since 1987, said area management biologist Jim Menard. “This is the all-time greatest year we’ve had,” he said. “We went from a low of 12 (permits fished) in 2002, and now we’re up to 155.” Norton Sound has struggled with keeping processors in the area to buy fish. Several years passed in the mid-2000s with no processor available at all, so no fishing was available. However, Norton Sound Economic Development Corp. stepped in with a fish processing plant in Unalakleet and fishing has opened up again. This year presented a challenge because of the sheer number of fish being harvested but the plant was able to handle it, Menard said. One species that smashed a record but didn’t contribute much to the harvest was pink salmon, though. In the Nome River, ADFG counted 3.2 million of them, obliterating the previous record of 1.6 million, he said. “Luckily for us, this year, the water was higher,” Menard said. “I remember actually (pink salmon) were both about 1.2 million in 2008 and 2016 both, but in 2008 had just a touch lower water and those rivers just reeked.” However, there isn’t much of a market for pink salmon in the area, so there hasn’t been much interest in harvesting them, he said. The same is true for the herring in Norton Sound, which NSEDC is studying as a potential market expansion. The pink salmon burst in Norton Sound is fairly unique among salmon fisheries in Alaska this year. In addition to underwhelming king and sockeye runs across the Gulf of Alaska, pink salmon harvest fell behind expectations, with the total coming in about half of what the department had projected. That includes Bristol Bay, where the pink salmon harvest came in about 55 percent the 20-year average, according to the year-end summary. That isn’t a huge deal for the fishermen, though, as pink salmon don’t typically constitute a huge percentage of the annual harvest, Sands said. “We don’t have a very big pink run compared to Cook Inlet or Prince William Sound,” he said. “It has been better in the past, and it was lower than we would expect in an even year.” Bristol Bay, like other areas, has been experiencing later runs than historical trends in recent years, Sands said. This year followed that trend. The large run led to some rivers overescaping ADFG management goals, and the department will watch what happens about four or five years from now when this year’s offspring will return as adults to see how the large escapements affect production, he said. ^ Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Battle breaks out over growth of ‘Super 8s’ in state cod fishery

UNALASKA — The success of the state waters Dutch Harbor Pacific cod fishery in the Bering Sea is scaring both the industrial trawl and longline fleets, and even a local Unalaska fisherman who says a new breed of small boats known as Super 8s are catching way too many fish. In 2014, the new fishery opened with 3 percent of the total Bering Sea cod quota, and two years later it more than doubled to 6.4 percent, by votes of the Alaska Board of Fisheries to promote small boat fisheries. And it may get a lot bigger, as the board will soon hear proposals for growing the fishery to 8, 10 or as much as 20 percent of all the cod available to fishermen in the Bering Sea. Already, the boats less than 60 feet long have caught 10 times the average catch before the new rules took effect in 2014, according to opponent Chad See, executive director of the Freezer Longliner Coalition, representing factory boats that harvest cod with baited hooks anchored to the ocean floor. See called for observers monitoring the catch on the vessels, saying “there is no observer requirement in the state waters fishery.” He also cited conservation concerns, noting that while the Pacific cod decline in the Bering Sea is not as bad as in the Gulf of Alaska at 79 percent, it’s still significant, dropping 45 percent since 2014, according to the federal trawl survey. “Any increase to the state water fishery increases the amount of cod that is unobserved,” See said, adding that while most of the Area O cod are Bering Sea fish, there is some overlap with Gulf fish, especially around Unimak Pass in the Aleutian Islands. As ocean waters heat up, so do the politics of Pacific cod. Complaining that wide-body “Super 8” 58-foot fishing boats aren’t really small boats, the Unalaska/Dutch Harbor Fish and Game Advisory Committee wants them to carry less than capacity, with limits of 150,000 pounds of Pacific cod in the Dutch Harbor state waters fishery, supporting a proposal before the Alaska Board of Fisheries when it meets in downtown Anchorage Oct. 18 and 19 at the Egan Convention Center. “It does not resemble a small boat fishery, and is completely out of control,” said Dustan Dickerson, owner of the F/V Raven Bay, which he said can only pack 50,000 pounds, compared to a quarter-million pounds for a Super 8, at the Sept. 12 committee meeting at the Unalaska Public Library. Dickerson described the Super 8s as “a 120-foot boat cut in half,” and Don Goodfellow, the plant manager of Alyeska Seafoods, said the vessels are 22-feet wide, resembling “a barge with a wheelhouse.” Dickerson proposed limiting the amount of cod allowed on board to either 50,000, or 100,000 pounds of cod, but ultimately joined in the 7-0 vote to support Proposal 15 on the fish board agenda, submitted by Andrew Wilder. Wilder called for the onboard limit in the growing Dutch Harbor subdistrict Pacific cod fishery, now in its fourth year, with 6.4 percent of the federal cod quota in the Bering Sea. With quotas slashed in the neighboring Gulf of Alaska, the Dutch Harbor cod fishery saw an influx of boats from the Gulf. Goodfellow said the big winner is boatbuilder Fred Wahl Marine Constructioon, of Reedsport, Ore., and fishing crews from Oregon. But he predicted that even if onboard capacity is limited, the fishing industry will always look for an angle and loophole, like maybe hiring tenders to shuttle fish to the plants from the fishing grounds. He compared the “arms race” shaping up in the cod fishery to the longtime tendency to build wider and deeper boats in Bristol Bay where salmon gillnetters are limited to 32 feet in length. The fish board regulates fishing in state waters up to three miles from shore, and the new Dutch Harbor small boat fishery is increasingly attracting boats from the Gulf of Alaska, were the cod quota was down 80 percent in the past year. The decline of cod in the Gulf is blamed on the warm water “blob.” The committee also rejected proposals to increase the state waters cod fishery to 10 and 20 percent, to protect the trawl fleet that delivers larger quantities of cod to local plants. “This is way too big of a bite at one time,” said committee chair Frank Kelty. “This is a big hit,” said Brent Paine, executive director of United Catcher Boats, via teleconference. The committee also opposed a smaller request, for 8 percent, from Ernie Weiss of the Aleutians East Borough. The committee also rejected a proposal, by a 6 to 1 vote, to close trawling in state waters during the pot cod fishery in Dutch Harbor, proposed by Robert Magnus Thorstenson Jr. “Our boats continually lose pots to draggers in the Bering Sea pot cod fisheries,” he said in the written proposal, adding “there should be no trawling in state waters while our fishery is being prosecuted.” “We do not want to catch pots,” said trawler advocate Paine, saying that the trawl and pot fleets coordinate by sharing information to avoid such entanglements, although he admitted it still occasionally happens. The lone dissenter was Steven Gregory, who repeatedly complained the committee prioritizes economics over conservation. Thorstenson wrote that pot cod fishing is a cleaner fishery that “negates the bycatch impact” of cod caught with other gear types. Dickerson said the Super 8s are a conservation menace when they rapidly harvest large quantities of fish, and said the fishing effort should be spread out in space and time. In an effort to gain a local voice amongst the Super 8s, the Unalaska Native Fisherman’s Association decided to join a new small boat advocacy group, the Under Sixty Cod Harvesters, by buying a membership for Dickerson’s boat. The Under 60 group, in its proposal for 10 percent of the state waters cod quota, said their fleet is “largely comprised of vessels that are owned, crewed and maintained by Alaskans.” The portrayal of trawlers as non-local was challenged as a “myth” by At-Sea Processors Association Executive Director Stephanie Madsen, via teleconference, citing the ownership of factory trawlers by Alaska Community Development Quota groups. Kelty said cod landings in 2017 in Unalaska totaled 70 million pounds, worth $22 million at 30 cents per pound, in combined pot cod and trawl-caught fish, with the highest percentage from the trawl sector, paying $1.1 million in state and local taxes. Jim Paulin can be reached a [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: NOAA ramps up aquaculture effort; crab surveys disappoint

Offshore fish farms could soon dot the seascape along with those oil and gas platforms being proposed for U.S. waters by the Trump Administration. The fish farms, which would be installed from three to 200 miles out, are being touted as a way to boost seafood production, provide jobs and reduce the nation’s $16 billion trade deficit due to America’s importing nearly 90 percent of its seafood favorites. The U.S. Commerce Department is holding meetings around the country through November to talk about its strategic plan for getting aquaculture off the ground. At a recent session in Juneau, National Marine Fisheries Service Administrator Chris Oliver said that wild harvests simply can’t keep up with global demand. “Aquaculture is going to be where the major increases in seafood production occur whether it happens in foreign countries or in U.S. waters,” Oliver said. “Aquaculture would seem like an ideal industry for the country, since it has the second-largest exclusive enterprise zone in the world — meaning it has proprietary marine resource rights over an area totaling roughly 4.4 million square miles in three oceans, the Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico,” wrote Seafood Source. However, the U.S. is a bit player in the burgeoning global industry. In 2015, the U.S. produced just 0.4 percent, or 426,000 metric tons, of global aquaculture harvests, putting it in 18th place and trailing such countries as Ecuador, Malaysia, and North Korea. In contrast, the U.S. ranks No. 1 in the world in poultry and beef production. The potential is not lost on America’s big food producers. A new trade group called Stronger America Through Seafood has emerged to promote the push to farm the seas. Its backers include Cargill, Pacific Seafood, Red Lobster, High Liner Foods, Sysco and Seattle Fish Company. “There is no clear framework for allowing offshore aquaculture development, so while the rest of the world is growing and evolving and exploring the open ocean as an opportunity to farm our own fish, the U.S. continues with business as usual,” said spokesperson Margaret Henderson. “And as our population and our appetites increase, we become increasingly dependent on foreign production.” The group has come out in support of a bill pending in the U.S. Senate called Advancing the Quality and Understanding of American Aquaculture, or AQUAA, Act that would streamline the permitting process for offshore aquaculture projects. The act would create an Office of Marine Aquaculture within NOAA and provide a “one-stop shop” for federal approval of fish farm permits and “to the extent practicable,” avoid, minimize, or mitigate adverse impacts to the marine environment and wild fisheries. During the Juneau session, Under Secretary of Commerce Timothy Gallaudet cited climate change in his pitch for the fish farms. “Some of the changes in the environment are affecting fish stocks,” he said, “They are either moving or they’re not thriving and so aquaculture, done the right way and scientifically based, provides a means for employment of fishermen who are losing some of their gain through these changing conditions.” Sam Rabung, director of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s aquaculture division, respectfully disagreed. “I think it’s safe to say that we’re going to fight pretty hard to maintain the state’s opt-out option,” Rabung said, “and maintain the ability to prohibit finfish farming off of Alaska.” Crab news It’s a mix of good but mostly bad news for Bering Sea crabbers. The results from the summer trawl surveys showed “substantial” drops in numbers of king crab and bairdi Tanners. Conversely, the snow crab stock appears to be on a big rebound. The news was presented last week in the annual Stock Assessment and Fishery Evaluation Report for the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. For red king crab, at the eastern portion of the Bering Sea more commonly called Bristol Bay, numbers of mature males dropped more than 40 percent from last year; mature females were down 54 percent. Even worse, the survey continued to show no sign of younger red king crab coming into the fishery. “We haven’t seen recruitment in years,” said Bob Foy, director of the NOAA Fisheries lab at Kodiak and leader of the Council’s crab plan team. In the report the team noted “it feels that the rather unusual environmental conditions in the eastern Bering Sea this year (e.g., elevated bottom temperatures, lack of a cold pool) and the model’s poor fit to the 2018 survey data increase the uncertainty associated with this stock and warrant additional precaution.” The red king crab catch last year at Bristol Bay was 6.6 million pounds, a 20 percent drop from 2017. For Tanner crab, the number of mature females dictates the fate of a fishery and those numbers declined 70 percent in the eastern fishing district, continuing a trend over several years. The news was better for the west, where male Tanners held steady while females declined 14 percent. Foy also said there was a “substantial amount” of young crab poised to enter that region’s Tanner fishery. “Substantial” also sums up the good news for Bering Sea snow crab. The summer survey showed a 60 percent boost in market-sized males and nearly the same for females. The SAFE report said the 2018 survey showed the largest mature male biomass since 1998. Foy added that the survey “documented one of the largest snow crab recruitment events biologists have ever seen.” The snow crab fishery last season produced a 19 million-pound catch, the lowest since 2005. The reaction from fishermen was mostly over “disbelief” in the king crab data, said a veteran Bering Sea crabber and industry advocate who asked not to be named. “The survey results seem contradictory to what many saw while fishing last year,” he added. “Many believe a pre-season pot survey would yield a more accurate assessment of biomass. We respect the process and understand the reasons, but the dynamics of the Bering Sea are changing, and stock assessment methods may be less relevant than they once were.” Bristol Bay booms It’s a record-breaking payday for Bristol Bay salmon fishermen. The preliminary value of the sockeyes and other salmon they hauled in this summer topped $280 million, a first in the history of the fishery, and 242 percent above the 20-year average. The 2018 Bristol Bay sockeye salmon run of 62.3 million fish was the biggest since 1893 and nearly 70 percent above the 20-year average, according to a summary by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. It also was the fourth consecutive year that sockeye runs topped 50 million fish. In terms of catch, a harvest of 41.3 million red salmon was the second largest on record, after the 45.4 million fish taken in 1995. Symphony seafood surprises The call is out for new Alaska products to compete at the 26th annual Symphony of Seafood in Seattle and Juneau. “Looking back over the years it is striking how new product development techniques and possibilities have increased seafood investments. It’s really heartening because that drives value and prices and continues to keep Alaska seafood relevant to consumers,” said Julie Decker, director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, host of the event. The Symphony provides a level playing field where new products from small “mom and pops” can compete on a level playing field with majors like Trident and Ocean Beauty. Products are judged by an expert panel in four categories: Retail, Food Service, Beyond the Egg (roe products) and Beyond the Plate. “There are so many things being produced around the state, from kelp beer to pet treats, to things that are not edible …cosmetics, fish skins, things from crab shells — if it has Alaska seafood in it, it’s eligible for Beyond the Plate,” Decker said. Symphony goers can see and taste the new products and vote for their favorites during Pacific Marine Expo (Nov.18-20), where the top winners will be announced. All others will be kept under wraps until the Symphony again moves to Juneau in February for another bash. That’s where second and third place and the grand prize winner will be revealed. The winning products get more exposure with a free trip and booth space at the big Seafood Expo North America event in Boston in March. “It’s a fun side of the industry where we all come together and celebrate the work that goes into developing these products, and the entire supply chain from when the fish is caught to selling it to customers at grocery stores,” Decker said. Last year’s top winner was Alaskan Leader Seafoods for its Wild Caught Cod with Lemon Herb Butter and its Cod Crunchies Pet Treats. Product entries and sponsors can sign up through October 19 at the Alaska Symphony of Seafood website. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Council to review state of rules for unguided halibut anglers

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council may consider more registration requirements for motorized rental boats for halibut fishing, though a staff report concluded it will put more burden on either the federal or state government to do so. At its upcoming meeting from Oct. 1-9 in Anchorage, the council is set to review a discussion paper on further registration requirements for boats available for rental to unguided halibut anglers in Southcentral and Southeast Alaska, known by the International Pacific Halibut Commission as regulation areas 3A and 2C, respectively. In recent years, some have raised concerns that as guided fishermen are restricted to one halibut per day, some turn to self-guided rentals for fishing, where fishermen are allowed to keep two halibut of any size per day. In December 2017, the council members requested further analysis of possible registration for motorized rental halibut fishing boats. That paper, scheduled for the upcoming meeting, notes that there are already multiple registration programs in place for vessels. “The Council’s request included a purpose and need statement that proposed that differences in harvest regulations between guided and unguided anglers, and the presumed growth of the rental boat segment of the unguided sector, may negatively impact other halibut fishing sectors,” the paper states. The state requires vessel registration through the Division of Motor Vehicles for all motorized boats used in state waters, and the U.S. Coast Guard requires it for vessels greater than five net tons. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has an additional registration requirement for sportfish guiding vessels, denoted by an oval sticker on the vessels each year. Specifically for halibut, the National Marine Fisheries Service requires all halibut charter vessels fishing in areas 3A and 2C to have a valid Charter Halibut Permit, or CHP, the paper states. Despite the concerns from the charter sector about unguided harvest increasing, records show that sport halibut harvest has remained flat or declined in both areas in the past decade. Harvest in all sectors began falling in 2006 until about 2014, when it began to rise slightly, according to the International Pacific Halibut Commission. Total harvest in 2017 was slightly up from 2016, with about 42.8 million pounds total landed, 7.9 million of which were harvested by recreational fishermen. However, the portion of those fish being harvested by guided anglers dropped, with more of the harvest going to unguided anglers, according to the discussion paper. “In area 2C, the guided harvest declined while the unguided harvest, although variable, remained near 1 million pounds from 2003-2016,” the paper states. “In 2011, the proportion of halibut caught by unguided anglers in area 2C exceeded the proportion caught by guided anglers for the first time. This may explain the perception that unguided catch is increasing despite the overall stability shown in catch data.” Catches by both guided and unguided anglers fell in area 3A from 2003-2016, with the majority of the fish — about 60 percent — still going to guided anglers, according to the paper. The state DMV has 249 rental vessels registered by 47 businesses in Southcentral and Southeast, which council staff feels is fairly accurate, according to the paper. Any further registration requirement would likely create more work for the state and National Marine Fisheries Service as well as require state cooperation, the paper states. The recent decline in halibut stocks has led to additional restrictions on both the commercial and charter fleets, with charter fishermen losing additional fishing days and experiencing more size restrictions over the years. The looser limits on unguided fishermen have led to strain among user groups. In a comment submitted to the council, Kent Huff —a member of the council’s Halibut Management Committee and owner of Gustavus-based Glacier Bay Eagle’s Nest Lodge — noted that a single limit for unguided and guided halibut fishermen would equalize harvest pressure. “The future of halibut fishing in Alaska is moving to the self-guided sector as more and more fishermen choose the option to catch two fish of any size verses one fish in a reverse slot limit,” he noted in his comment. “This will only continue to increase the number of self-guided operations and the overall number of halibut harvested each year. I believe that the only way to reduce the increasing pressure on the resource is to have the same limit for all halibut fishermen (charter and boat rental) in Alaska.” The council will meet at the Hilton Hotel in Anchorage from Oct. 1-9. Comments are open until Sept. 28 at noon. ^ Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

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