Fisheries

FISH FACTOR: Legislation takes on ‘graying of the fleet’

Numerous studies over the past decade have highlighted Alaska’s “graying of the fleet” (the average age of permit holders is 50), and the lack of opportunities for younger people to launch a career in commercial fishing. State data show that between 1975 and 2014, more than 2,300 limited entry permits (nearly 28 percent) migrated away from Alaska’s rural fishing communities to non-residents. A new measure gaining steam in the Alaska Legislature aims to reverse that trend by creating fisheries trusts in which communities could buy permits and lease them to fishermen who otherwise could not afford them. “It’s good to recognize the problem, but it’s even better to try and do something about it,” said Representative Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka, sponsor of the legislation (House Bill 188). Under the plan, regional trusts could buy or be gifted a maximum of 2.5 percent of the permits in any given fishery, and lease them for up to six years to fishermen who want to make the transition from deckhand to permit owners. The fishermen must then buy their own permits if they choose to continue in a fishery. The trusts would apply to all limited entry fisheries in Alaska. At the outset, the trusts would be authorized in up to three Alaska regions that choose to opt in, and must be approved by two-thirds of any municipality. Board members would be recommended by cities and boroughs in each region and appointed by the governor. Unincorporated communities may also be included on the board. “Just as people often rent before buying a house, fisheries trusts offer an opportunity to run a boat and gain experience before making the six-figure decision to finance a permit and become an independent small business owner,” Kreiss-Tomkins said. Interested stakeholders, which include Alaska Native groups, state agencies and fishing organizations from Southeast to Nome, have spent more than two-and-a-half years developing the idea. “We are continuing to craft and refine the model in terms of legality and policy,” Kreiss-Tomkins said, adding that the level of interest is very region specific. “Some are very bullish about the opportunity, some are not. That’s totally fine,” he said. “We expect some will watch and see how it goes, and then make a decision once they have more information.” The measure is scheduled for hearings during the current extended legislative session although it is not expected to be put to a vote. “We are taking it slow and steady,” Kreiss-Tomkins said. “In the interim, we are hoping to grow the conversation with fishing communities, economic development advocates and other stakeholders who would benefit from this tool in their tool box. Then we will be ready to revisit it next year.” Voices from the fishing front Fishermen are on the front line when it comes to the impacts of an off-kilter climate, and an ongoing “listening” project by The Nature Conservancy in Alaska is giving voice to what they are experiencing. Called Tidal Change.org, the project began gathering comments last fall from a wide cross section of fishermen on how a changing climate is affecting their lives and views on the future. “Our main intention is to make sure that people have an opportunity to hear stories that are truly authentic and rooted in personal experience that perhaps aren’t otherwise being heard,” said Dustin Solberg, a Nature Conservancy writer based in Cordova. Here’s a sampler: “I’ve noticed a lot of environmental changes,” said Melanie Brown of Juneau, a longtime setnetter at Bristol Bay. “The rivers don’t freeze anymore and the ice floes aren’t there to protect the bluff above where our site is. It’s starting to fill in my site so it goes dry more quickly and I have less fishing time. It’s daunting.” “The last 35 years I’ve noticed the ocean warming in places where the salmon have to navigate up coastal streams,” said Bob Snell who fishes the Washington and Oregon coasts. “It is difficult for them to get up to their spawning grounds, and to survive after they’ve laid their eggs in the warm water.” Eugene Anderson, a lifelong fisherman from Chignik, said most fishermen agree that, “something is not right.” “Over the past years since the waters have warmed up the fish blush earlier. By the first week of August you start getting fish in the river back and they are all red, and the salmon are smaller. Sometimes we have water temperatures as high as 60 degrees, and when the water is warmer the feed is not as prolific. The young people really have to think about what’s going on. It’s a very uncertain time. It’s kind of scary.” Larry Vander Lind, who has fished at Kodiak and Bristol Bay since the early 1970s, said fishermen are seeing more algae blooms in the water and more jellyfish. Peter Andrew of Dillingham, a 45-year fishing veteran added: “Scientists speak about water temperature being a key part of the survival of sockeye and other salmon species. I’ve seen the water temperature go up and it is very alarming to me. Bristol Bay is an absolute wonderful place and it’s going to take some good stewardship and policy makers to make sure this fishery stays as it has been for 10,000 years.” “I don’t care what people say, there is global warming and it’s changing things,” said Jon Gaedke who has trolled for king and coho salmon in Southeast for 26 years. “People look at me like I’m a nut, but I tell them the salmon are confused. The patterns they have followed for years and years — now they don’t seem to know which way to go or where or when to go. That’s pretty scary business.” Find more fishing voices at Then Nature Conservancy in Alaska online and on Facebook. Herring happenings Kodiak’s herring season, which began on April 15, has produced 70 tons so far and is on hold while awaiting a resurgence of fish. Unlike roe herring fisheries at places like Sitka Sound and Togiak that can wrap up after a few short openers, Kodiak’s herring hauls can occur at up to 80 different places and last into June. This year’s herring harvest is limited to 1,645 tons. Togiak in Bristol Bay is Alaska’s biggest roe herring fishery and all signs point to it kicking off at the traditional time in early May. Budget cuts last year had processors pitching in for aerial surveys to spot the herring swarms, and precluded any stock sampling. Now a $61,000 boost will help get herring monitoring back on track. “We need to have information on the age and size of the fish that are harvested,” said Tim Sands, area manager at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game office in Dillingham. “Without that we can’t forecast the next year’s return and we have to be much more conservative. That’s reflected in this year’s harvest level of 23,000 tons as we had no data to work on.” This year’s projected Togiak harvest is down by more than 10 percent from the past two seasons. Participation and price, however, are on an upswing and four buyers are expected. “It looks like we’re going to have 19 seine boats and 16 gillnetters. Last year we only had three gillnetters,” Sands told KDLG. “I’m hearing rumors of $100-$150 a ton so the price is back up and that’s bringing them back into the fishery.” Farther west, a lack of buyers has kept herring boats beached for about a decade. Nearly 12,000 tons could be taken from fisheries up the coast from Security Cove to Norton Sound if there was a market. Statewide, Alaska will produce less than 40,000 tons of herring this year. Only the female fish are valued for their eggs, all of which go to Asia; the males are typically ground up for meal or dumped. Last year, the average price for roe herring to Alaska fishermen was just 11 cents per pound. In Norway, where herring are smoked, pickled and canned, fishermen fetch more than $1.40 per pound. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

2017 sockeye forecast weak for Cook Inlet

KENAI — Upper Cook Inlet’s commercial salmon fishermen are predicted to have another slow season, if the forecast proves accurate. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s 2017 commercial salmon fishery outlook predicts a total run of about 4 million fish to all the stream systems in Upper Cook Inlet, which includes the Kenai, Kasilof and Susitna rivers as well as a number of smaller streams. Commercial fishermen are projected to harvest about 1.7 million of that, the lowest projected harvest in the last 15 years. It’s largely the Kenai River not living up to the recent 10-year average. The river is projected to see a return of 2.2 million sockeye, about 39 percent below the recent 10-year average of 3.6 million fish. By contrast, the Susitna River is projected to see about 366,000 sockeye return, about 5 percent below the average; the Kasilof River is expected to see about 825,000 sockeye, about 16 percent below the recent average, according to the forecast. The 2017 forecast follows a poor 2016 season, when the run came in significantly below the prediction. Total harvest by all user groups was about 3.3 million sockeye rather than the 5.3 million fish predicted. “Overall, the 2016 sockeye salmon run was 26 percent below forecast, largely due to the below forecast Kenai sockeye salmon run,” the forecast states. The biologists who conduct the forecast always include a margin of error — for the Kenai River run, it’s 20 percent below or above, with the 2.2 million as the point estimate. For the Kasilof, it’s a 12 percent margin of error. Area Management Biologist Pat Shields said the managers are relatively confident in the forecast models, though it’s always subject to error and is reviewed when in-season data starts to come in. “When you run those models and if you get a big difference, (the forecaster) tends to look at the performance of a model for the last few years … and look at which of the models has performed the best,” Shields said. “You can end up using multiple models.” Better than 2016 By late summer 2016, it was apparent that the big days of sockeye harvests weren’t going to materialize. Commercial fishermen had only harvested 1.6 million salmon by July 19 last year, what is typically in the middle of the sockeye season. By July 26, Fish and Game dropped its estimate for the return to all of Cook Inlet by 1.8 million to 1.9 million sockeye. Two age classes seemed to have had a hard time returning: the 4- and 5-year-old sockeye. It wasn’t the only strange run. Commercial fishermen all over Alaska puzzled over the disappointingly small pink salmon returns, but many noted the exceptionally large fish. Cook Inlet’s setnetters recorded an average of 5 pounds, the largest on record, as compared to the usual 3.6 pounds. But this year, pink salmon returns look better around the state, and sockeye runs outside Cook Inlet look rosy. Bristol Bay is expecting a run of approximately 41.5 million sockeye, about 26 percent more than the recent average, according to the 2017 Bristol Bay season outlook. Of that, about 27.5 million fish would be available for commercial inshore harvest. About 16.1 million sockeye salmon are expected in the Naknek-Kvichak District; about 10.7 million in the Egegik District; about 5.5 million in the Ugashik District; 8.6 million in the Nushagak District and 660,000 in the Togiak District, according to the outlook. All fisheries in Bristol Bay open June 1 by regulation, but additional fishing time is based on in-season data. “The department manages fisheries based on inseason information regarding abundance,” the outlook states. “The inseason management approach uses a suite of tools to provide information on abundance in each district as each run develops and that information is used by the department to determine fishing opportunity.” If the forecast holds true, it will be the second big year in a row for Bristol Bay. In 2016, salmon fishermen in the bay saw a run of 51.4 million fish, the second highest in the last 20 years. The preliminary ex-vessel value of $156.2 million was about 40 percent higher than the average in the last 20 years. Improving prices Prices look to rise as well, said Andy Wink, the seafood project manager for research firm McDowell Group. For several years, a large harvest of sockeye salmon in Alaska has pushed down prices, especially in competition with the massive numbers of farmed salmon entering the market from farms like Norway, Chile and Scotland. However, an algal bloom in Chile and widespread infections of sea lice have damage farmed salmon production, pushing up prices significantly. Processors’ backstocks of frozen sockeye are down, and with demand up but supply lower, the prices are likely to rise, Wink said. “We’ve got strong headwinds, but it hasn’t all been pulling against us,” he said. “Because, for the last 10 years, farmed salmon production has grown about 5 percent. Last year, they estimated production down 7 percent. That’s certainly a very large decline when you’re talking about 4.5 billion pounds of fish. That’s a lot of missing supply. That’s been helpful.” Processors have been hit hard by the extremely strong U.S. dollar. A valuable U.S. currency is bad for Alaska’s seafood market — when other currencies are worth significantly less than the dollar, it typically pushes prices down. Cook Inlet lost a major processor in spring 2016 when Great Pacific Seafoods filed for bankruptcy, closing its Kenai, Anchorage and Whittier plants. Bristol Bay saw an improvement in prices last year from the very low prices in 2015, but not quite up to pre-2015 levels, according to ADFG records. However, with the farmed market down and demand higher, signs look good for improved prices, Wink said. “This year it’s going to be kind of interesting how this year plays out,” he said. “I suspect there’s a lot of buyers out there who would like to reproduce what they’ve done in the last several years, but there’s probably not going to be as much going around this year.” Board of Fisheries changes Cook Inlet’s commercial fishermen also have some new regulations to watch for. The Board of Fisheries passed several proposals loosening regulations on East Side setnetters, including exempting the East Forelands statistical area from the paired restrictions system, which pairs setnet openings with Kenai River late-run king salmon escapements, and pushing back the effective date for the one-percent rule. Because the king salmon forecast predicts a run of 33,600 large king salmon, which is higher than the sustainable escapement goal of 13,500 to 27,000 large king salmon, the season can start off normally and be managed for in-season abundance, according to the outlook. The board also opened up the use of a near-shore fishery to help control Kasilof River sockeye salmon escapement and keep the managers from having to open the Kasilof River Special Harvest Area, a terminal fishery in the mouth of the Kasilof River that has been widely criticized by fishermen. When authorized, setnetters can operate their full complement of gear within 600 feet of shore, which allows them to stay on their sites and has shown promising results for controlling escapement without catching too many king salmon, Shields said. “It puts commercial fishermen more in their regular area,” he said. “It lets people fish from their regular fish sites rather than getting hundreds of people to move from their regular fish sites. That change the board made, probably of all the changes for setnetting, has potentially the largest impact.” Drift gillnetters can now stack multiple permits and have the potential to get one inlet-wide period in July if the projected run to the Kenai River is between 2.3 million sockeye and 4.6 million sockeye. Though the current projected run is less than 2.3 million, Shields noted that it would only take a relatively small variation to push the run into that management tier, so the managers may have the option to open up one inlet-wide period. Otherwise, the drifters are restricted to fishing in Drift Gillnet Area 1, a large area that stretches across the inlet between the south side of Kalgin Island and the Anchor Point Light. “If the forecast is correct, the change to the drift plan won’t come into play this year,” he said. “If the forecast is just a little off, that’s something the department will have at their discretion to use.” Reach Elizabeth Earl at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Salmon outlook looks bright for 2017

A brighter outlook for Alaska’s upcoming salmon season just got even better. Markets are looking good, the statewide salmon catch forecast of 204 million is up by a million fish, and the world’s biggest sockeye salmon fishery at Bristol Bay is breaking records for chilling its fish. Last year nearly 40 percent of Alaska’s total salmon value came out of Bristol Bay. When its fish fetch a better paycheck for boosted quality due to chilling, it is felt throughout the entire salmon industry. “The size of the Bay harvest has a big impact on salmon prices elsewhere. Typically, it’s 35 to 40 percent of the global sockeye supply,” said Andy Wink, senior seafood analyst with the McDowell Group. “When the base price in 2015 was 50 cents at Bristol Bay and they had a large harvest, sockeye prices in other areas fell and we also saw coho prices come way down. It’s a market moving fishery and that is why it affects so many other Alaska fishermen,” he said. The 2016 Bristol Bay harvest of 37 million sockeye salmon from the region’s five river systems was the second-largest in 20 years, and both drift and setnet harvesters chilled the largest amount of raw product in the history of the fishery. That’s according to a processor survey done each year by Northern Economics Inc. of Anchorage by contract with the driftnet fishermen-funded and operated Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association. “This is huge for the retail potential of Bristol Bay,” said Rebecca Martello, BBRSDA executive director. “The fleet is making great strides to ensure Bristol Bay is a quality product and this definitely ties into all aspects of marketing and making Bristol Bay the premium brand we know it to be.” The 2016 survey captured raw product data, fleet information, ice production volumes, chilling methods, and opinions of trends and priorities within the fishery. Some highlights: Responses by the region’s 12 major processors showed that 71 percent of the Bristol Bay driftnet fleet’s 1,390 participants chilled their catches, compared to the previous high of 59 percent in 2012. Of the total 212 million-pound Bristol Bay salmon harvest that crossed the docks, chilled fish topped an “astounding” 137 million pounds. Drifters delivered a record 123 million pounds of chilled sockeye, a 40 percent increase from the previous year. The amount of salmon chilled by 858 setnetters decreased by 3 percent. The number of “dry deliveries” (unchilled) dropped below 22 percent, down nearly half from 2009. Last year saw a big shift away from putting the reds into cans and focusing instead on more valuable products: fresh and frozen fillets and headed/gutted fish. Canned production dropped by nearly 17 million pounds (just 27 percent compared to over 70 percent two decades ago), while H&G fresh production increased eight-fold to nearly 14 million pounds. Salmon fillet production approached 50 million pounds, a 50 percent increase. Bristol Bay fishermen averaged 76 cents per pound for their sockeye salmon last year. The average chilling bonus has steadily increased since the processor survey began in 2008, from 11 cents per pound to 16 cents per pound in 2016. At an average weight of 5.4 pounds, that makes each sockeye salmon caught last year worth more than $4.75 to fishermen. The sockeye salmon harvest at Bristol Bay for 2017 is projected at 27.5 million fish. Swap Meat for seafood A new marketing angle is designed to lure more Americans to eat wild Alaska seafood. It’s called Swap Meat and the name says it all. “Alaska seafood is incredibly versatile, and Swap Meat is a way to use it in recipes where you traditionally use a different protein like pork or chicken or beef,” said Jeremy Woodrow, communications director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute in Juneau. Swap Meat, he said, aims to make seafood more approachable to American consumers. Studies show that many are hesitant to try fish or shellfish because they don’t know what to buy or how to prepare it. The Swap Meat promotion provides a cartload of familiar recipes aimed at busy families that can go from stove to table in less than 30 minutes. “Halibut corn dogs, quesadillas, sliders, soups, fajitas, cod parmesan, crab mac and cheese — there are so many ways to substitute Alaska seafood,” Woodrow said. Swap Meat is being widely promoted with social media and direct contact with retailers and chefs. The ultimate goal is to get Americans to eat more seafood; federal dietary guidelines advise eating fish at least twice a week. “The USDA recommends that Americans eat a minimum of 26 pounds of seafood a year. That’s only 8 ounces a week. Most Americans are averaging around 15 pounds a year,” Woodrow said. There are some positive trends. Salmon, for example, is America’s top fish favorite. “In the last year or so for the first time, salmon surpassed tuna as the number one fish consumed by Americans,” Woodrow said. “It’s number two behind shrimp still, but salmon is king of fish in the US.” (See more at www.wildalaskaseafood.com.) Young for young fishermen Alaska Rep. Don Young, along with Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., introduced a bill last week to help assure a future for up and coming U.S. fishermen. Called the Young Fishermen’s Development Act, the legislation would create the first ever national grant program through the Department of Commerce to support training, education, and workplace development for the nation’s next generation of commercial fishermen. In a press release, Young called the program “only one effort to preserve fishing heritage and encourage new participation in the industry.” “Young fishermen are facing bigger challenges than ever before — new barriers to entry, limited training opportunities and a lack of support. This legislation is about supporting the livelihoods of fishing communities in Alaska and across the nation,” he said. The program is modeled closely after the successful Department of Agriculture’s Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development Program. The legislation would authorize up to $200,000 in competitive grants through NOAA’s Sea Grant Program to support training in seamanship, navigation, electronics, and safety; vessel and engine repair and maintenance, fishing gear engineering and technology; marketing, finances, business practices and more. “Congressman Young understands the challenges young fishermen face, and we thank him for his strong leadership on this vital issue,” said Linda Behnken, executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association. “Empowering the next generation of young fishermen is essential to economic opportunity, food security and our way of life.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Habitat bill draws attention, but won’t get vote this year

JUNEAU — It is already being dubbed, “fish first, nothing else.” Reps. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, and Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage, have introduced a bill that would set up a new fisheries habitat permitting system, to be administered by the state Department of Fish and Game, for construction projects that affect waterways. Critics say the legislation would add serious burdens to environmental permit systems that are complicated enough, and set standards that many development projects will be unable to meet. Stutes brought the bill up in the House Special Fisheries Committee, which she chairs, for an initial hearing April 11. She said she will not push to move the bill this year, but will hold it for interim work and possible action in 2018. Although he is not listed as a co-sponsor, the bill is reportedly a priority for House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham. One effect of the bill is a presumption that all waters of the state support anadromous fish and would be listed by ADFG, which would trigger the permit requirement. Many Alaska streams do not support anadromous fish, and for those the developers would have to do site-specific studies to show salmon or other species are not present. Under current law, the Habitat Division of ADFG maintains the Anadromous Waters Catalog of streams that support anadromous fish. If projects affect a listed stream a state permit is now required, but what is proposed in HB 199 is far more stringent. For major projects ADFG would have to do a detailed analysis not unlike the state Best Interest Finding documents prepared by the Department of Natural Resources for major state decisions. Fisheries groups supporting HB 199 say the current Title 16, which sets out the anadromous fish stream protection dates from the early 1960s, needs an update. The state Board of Fisheries wrote a letter in January urging legislators to update the statute and include public notifications, which are not in the current law. Advocates for HB 199 argue the process for listing streams is cumbersome and expensive because state biologists must do field work to test for fish. Because of that only 50 percent of the streams that actually support anadromous fish are listed, it’s argued. HB 199 would also lay out criteria for unacceptable projects causing stream impacts, which would automatically trigger a denial. Unacceptable projects would be those requiring water treatment in perpetuity, which some mining projects must do; replacement of a wild salmon stock that would be affected with hatchery stock, or a project that would dewater or divert an anadromous fish habitat for more than five years. These requirements would effectively block projects like Pebble, the Chuitna coalmine and Susitna hydro projects. At the April 11 hearing, fisheries groups supporting the bill said it was proposals for the Susitna and Pebble mine projects that caused them to push for specific standards to protect salmon as well as public notice requirements, both which are absent from current law. Lindsey Bloom, a member of Juneau-based “Stand for Salmon,” said her group was among those urging the Board of Fisheries to write its letter in January. At the hearing, critics of HB 199 said the bill goes far beyond what the Board of Fisheries recommended, however. Maver Carey, president of The Kuskokwim Corp., or TKC, an Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act village corporation formed by several mid-Kuskokwim communities, said, “House Bill 199 appears to be an effort to fix something that is not currently broken.” “The overreaching regulation and processes proposed will not only have a detrimental effect on proposed economic activities in the Middle Kuskokwim region, but may have detrimental effects on our much-needed community infrastructure projects along the Kuskokwim and its tributaries,” Carey wrote. TKC is the surface landowner at the proposed Donlin Gold mine, a large project now in advanced permitting. Two Native regional corporations, Doyon Ltd. and Cook Inlet Region Inc., shared TKC’s concerns in letter to the committee. Both corporations signed on to a letter opposing the bill submitted by the Resource Development Council, or RDC. The letter was also signed by several business and community organizations. “Concerns with this bill start with the question of why it is necessary. What is it trying to fix?” said Marleanna Hall, executive director of the RDC, an Anchorage-based development advocacy group that counts both mining and fishing as its member industries along with oil and gas, timber and tourism. To comply with the bill, “the added time to resource agencies, as well as permit applicants, would increase uncertainty and costs for development opportunities without a corresponding benefit to fish habitat,” Hall told the committee. There would be effects on upgrades to community infrastructure, such as airports and roads and construction of wastewater treatment plants as well as economic development with fish processing, timber harvesting and mining and oil and gas development, Hall said. However, the state’s premier commercial fisheries group, United Fishermen of Alaska, and other commercial and recreational fish groups have signed on with support, as well as several Native organizations. Not all fisheries groups support HB 199, however. One, the Bristol Bay Fishermen’s Association, weighed in against the bill April 11, arguing that everything HB 199 proposes could be done by regulation, said David Harsila, president of the association, and Anchorage attorney Geoffrey Parker, who works with the Bristol Bay association. Several at the hearing said ADFG now has authority and the flexibility to achieve the goals of HB 199 without setting up a new permit system. In a separate statement, Kara Moriarty, president of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, weighed in against the bill: “HB 199 would create an expensive and cumbersome state permitting system that would be more onerous than current federal regulations. It would be harder to get state approval for oil and gas projects than it would be to get a section 7 permit under the ESA (Endangered Species Act) or a 404 (Clean Water Act) permit from the Corps of Engineers,” Moriarty said. “The bill would be duplicative,” of other permit systems, she said. “It’s easy for the anti-Pebble community to try and make this a fish verses mining bill, but it’s way beyond that.” Tim Bradner is co-publisher of Alaska Legislative Digest and a contributor to the Journal of Commerce. He can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Electronic monitoring rollout coming soon

Automation is coming to Alaska fishing boats in the form of cameras and sensors to track what’s coming and going over the rails. Starting next year, electronic monitoring systems, or EM, can officially replace human observers as fishery data collectors on Alaska boats using longline and pot gear. Vessel operators who do not voluntarily switch to EMS remain subject to human observer coverage on randomly selected fishing trips. The onboard observer requirement originally included vessels 59 feet and longer, but was restructured in 2013 to include boats down to 40 feet and, for the first time, was applied to the halibut fishery. “Those smaller vessels have had a hard time accommodating human observers so we have been focused on that,” said Bill Tweit, vice chair of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council that oversees the program. Smaller boats also had a hard time with skyrocketing observer costs under the restructured program, which in some cases, went from less than $300 to $400 per day to over $1,000. Starting in 2013, 15 pot cod boats aligned with the Homer-based North Pacific Fisherman’s Association and Saltwater Inc. of Anchorage to field test EM in the Gulf of Alaska. “We saw EM as a tool that could address many of the issues we had with the observer program. It has moved at a glacial pace, but it is finally moving and much more needs to be done,” said Malcolm Milne, NPFA president. The EM systems were purchased with funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, or NFWF, and proved they could track and identify more than 95 percent of species required for fishery management decisions. “Overall, the reception of EM by participants in the pot cod fishery has been positive,” said Abigail Turner-Frank, NPFA project coordinator. “Fishermen have expressed their enthusiasm about the potential cost effectiveness, not having to worry about an extra person onboard and the utility of the cameras showing hi-def deck views of their crew and gear while fishing.” Testing EM on longline vessels has been ongoing since 2011 via the Sitka-based Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, in collaboration with NFWF, the Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Seattle and Archipelago Marine of Canada. The trials showed the costs, including data analysis, were $198 per day for six Sitka vessels and $332 per day for Homer boats. The EM system most often used costs about $3,500 for hardware and installation, plus an additional $1,000 per year for data transfer fees from Alaska to Seattle. Nancy Munro, Saltwater president, suggests that the data review could be done in Alaska to “create a tighter feedback loop.” She also strongly advocates that instead of losing their jobs, many fishery observers can be integrated into the EM program as data analysts to “keep their talent and experience in the fisheries.” There are currently 458 fishery observers deployed in Alaska’s fisheries. The public has until May 22 to comment on the EM program to federal policy makers. “We want to hear how well we did at tailoring this and secondly, we want to hear what their next priorities are,” said Bill Tweit. Comment at alaskafisheries.noaa.gov. Spring fishing More Alaska fisheries get underway during the spring months while pollock, cod, ocean perch, rockfish, flounders and many more are ongoing throughout the Gulf and Bering Sea. Here are some highlights: In Southeast Alaska, the roe herring fishery at Sitka Sound wrapped up on March 29 after seiners took the 14,600-ton quota after four openers in about one week. The golden king crab fishery just wrapped up throughout the Panhandle with some of the lowest catches in 17 seasons. Pot pulls at Icy Strait and Northern Areas yielded just over half of the 20,000-pound limit for the two regions. Lingcod opens in Southeast waters on May 16 for jig and troll gear with a 310,700 pound harvest limit. At Prince William Sound an exclusive sablefish fishery kicks off on April 15 with a 117,000-pound quota. That same day, a trawl fishery begins for sidestripe shrimp in the Sound with a catch set at just less than 113,000 pounds. Kodiak’s herring season begins on April 15, with a lower harvest this year of 1,645 tons. Managers said they expect an uptick in the herring stock of mostly small, three to five-year-old fish. Thus, the smaller quota. Halibut catches are picking up slightly with more than 1 million pounds taken out of the 18 million pound catch limit. Landings are down 27 percent from the same time last year, while prices are up 10 percent in the $6.50 to $7 range. The Bering Sea snow crab fishery should wrap up its 19-million pound catch quota any day. Hope for climate change A new book that is part fast paced adventure, part philosophy and provides a road map to climate change “hope spots” is drawing rave reviews. “I am a firm believer that you have to find reasons for moving the needle, and being hopeful that you can still make a difference in this world,” said Kate Troll of Juneau, the author of “The Great Unconformity: Reflections of Hope in an Imperiled World.” Troll draws on her 22 years of experience in climate and energy policy, elected office, coastal management and fisheries. As a former director of the Southeast Seiners Association and United Fishermen of Alaska, she was instrumental in getting 100-foot buffers along salmon streams in Southeast Alaska. “That was a monumental step taken in an era of large scale clear cutting. Now we have those streams protected and it serves as a model for other areas. It’s become the norm, and that’s key to the sustainability of our fisheries.” “We have daunting challenges,” she added. “Whoever reads the book, your eyes are going to be opened wide. But I want to arm you with hope and resilience for the future.” One way to seed “hope spots”, she said, is “using our wallets” to support sustainable fisheries and other earth friendly causes. Another already is yielding big results. “Capitalism has progressed in renewable energy and wind and solar are now cost competitive with fossil fuels and natural gas. We’ve reached what is called grid parity with a lot of renewable energies and that’s an important development,” she said. Troll also documents how the “love of place” plays out in making major impacts in the crusade for sustainability. “It’s important to protect the right of regeneration of our species, salmon being one of those most iconic, and to talk about how we have done so in Alaska,” she said. What makes this book unique and fun to read is that Troll combines her messages with amazing adventures. “I’m a firm believer that if I can tell some really entertaining stories, the messages stick a lot better,” she said. “You’re climbing Denali with me, we’re running wild rivers, we’re kayaking among whales, we’re climbing Mount Kilimanjaro — I’m intent on entertaining the reader and taking you on a really good ride.” “The Great Unconformity” is available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble book stores. Troll will do a book signing at the UAA bookstore on April 24 from 5-7. Visit www.katetroll.com. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

North Pacific council takes first step in creating salmon plan

A lot of new faces are coming to the table at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, and not a lot of them are happy about it. Fishermen who had never previously been involved with the council now have to show up to have a hand in how their fisheries will be incorporated into a federal fishery management plan, or FMP. The council, which regulates federal fisheries off the coast of Alaska, on April 6 started in on the topic of the salmon plan for Cook Inlet, part of the Alaska Peninsula and part of Prince William Sound near Cordova. After removing the three areas from the plan by amendment in 2011, effectively exempting them from federal oversight and delegating entirely to the state despite occurring partially in federal waters, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the move was illegal. Now, the council is having to initiate the process of revising the salmon FMP to include the three areas, which is likely to take years. The State of Alaska is appealing the decision with a petition to the Supreme Court, but the court has not decided whether to take up the case yet. At the April 6 meeting, the council — which didn’t agree with the court’s decision but has to start addressing it anyway — got into the complex questions the plan will have to answer. The council didn’t make an attempt to answer any of the questions at the meeting April 6, but passed a motion solidifying the preliminary purpose and need, a number of alternatives and forming a stakeholder workgroup, which would decide its scope and agenda at future meetings. The motion will require council staff to focus on those questions to bring a more thorough analysis back to the council. The stakeholder committee, or committees, will not be formed until after the council gets its next review of the topic. One of the first hurdles is that the council doesn’t usually regulate directed salmon fisheries. As anadromous fish, most salmon are harvested within three nautical miles of shore in terminal fisheries, which are in the state’s jurisdiction. However, under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the council is required to manage harvested species throughout their ranges. For salmon, that would include state waters and potentially in-river fisheries, where essential salmon habitat is found. The council wrangled with the question of whether they could preempt state management, which is provided for in law, at the meeting April 6. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration legal counsel Lauren Smoker clarified that legal precedent says the council wouldn’t be able to preempt state management in internal waters, which puts in-river management off limits. The state waters near shore, though, may be a different story. Another part of the conundrum is setting criteria for overfishing. The Magnuson-Stevens Act requires the council to set accountability measures to meet the 10 sustainability criteria that are set out in the law, but the parameters of those are based on species and subject to evaluation by NOAA. For salmon stocks, management is based on the state’s analysis and setting of escapement goals, which are in-river and based on state data. The United Cook Inlet Drift Association, the trade group that sued to have the amendment removing the net areas overturned, argued that the state was not meeting Magnuson-Stevens Act sustainability criteria and needed to be held to federal oversight at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council level. In its comments submitted before the meeting, UCIDA said it was not opposed to the state’s escapement goal management, and state day-to-day management of openings and closures may be more effective than federal management, which can be slower. UCIDA Vice President Erik Huebsch said the group wants to see the state held accountable to the sustainability criteria and the fishermen get the opportunity to harvest surplus salmon in Cook Inlet to prevent overescapement. “We see problems in Cook Inlet, both with habitat problems and management problems,” he said. “…We would like to harvest these stocks for (maximum sustained yield), but for various reasons, we don’t really get to do that.” Cook Inlet’s fisheries are a tug-of-war when they come up before the state’s Board of Fisheries. In late February and early March, stakeholdes and the board met for 14 days to hash out regulations for the area’s sport, personal use and commercial fisheries, with hundreds of comments and sometimes hours of discussion on a single topic. Ricky Gease, the executive director of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, asked the council to consider the effects on in-river sport and personal use fishermen, who sustain a massive sportfishing and tourism industry in Southcentral Alaska. He said the group supported the council deferring as much management to the state as possible and suggested restrictions like limiting the number of openings in the federal waters and a genetic project on sockeye salmon harvested in federal waters to protect depressed Northern Cook Inlet stocks. “Though this salmon FMP will impact three areas, Cook Inlet definitely has some unique features to it, and it’s the most complex management system for salmon in the state,” he said. Two groups representing the fishermen in the other two districts affected by the lawsuit openly said they had been fine with state management and didn’t want to be involved — Concerned Area M Fishermen and the Cordova District Fishermen United. Huebsch said UCIDA didn’t want the other groups to have to be dragged into it, either, but it was part of the process. The Concerned Area M Fishermen are catching up with the process now that they’ve been pulled into it, but don’t want much to change, said Steve Brown, the president of Concerned Area M Fishermen. “Our perspective is that the state is the proper management for the fishery,” he said. Federal management comes with other requirements such as vessel observers, who watch commercial fishery bycatch. Electronic monitoring systems for bycatch are in the works, but for now, most observers are still people stationed on boats. Huebsch said the Cook Inlet fishery had had observers before and could accommodate them, but the Prince William Sound fishermen would be very inconvenienced, said Jerry McCune, the president of Cordova District Fishermen United. “It’s going to be very disruptive for our fleet,” he said. “…We want out of this FMP. And how we do that, if we can get out of this and go to state management, we’d be happy.”

FISH FACTOR: Retail seafood sales up sharply led by wild choices

Seafood sales at American retail stores are on an upswing and should remain that way for the foreseeable future. Better yet — demand for fish captured wild in the U.S.A. showed the biggest gains of all. That’s good news for Alaska, which provides nearly 65 percent of wild-caught seafood to our nation’s supermarkets (95 percent for salmon!). A new survey by trade magazine Progressive Grocer showed that retail seafood sales rose nearly 40 percent over the past year, and 56 percent predicted an upturn in seafood sales this year. U.S. wild caught seafood topped the list for the highest demand increase by nearly 58 percent of retail respondents, especially products from Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico. A breakdown of the 2017 Retail Seafood Review by Seafood Source showed that wild-caught seafood also was perceived as being of higher quality, and 53 percent said wild tastes better than farm raised goods. The review said Americans are buying less beef, chicken and pork due to health concerns, and issues linked to animal welfare and environmental impacts. Analysts at FoodDive said, “This gives retailers an excellent opportunity to grow the seafood category, but much work is needed in terms of advertising and consumer education to get customers to bite.” To lure more seafood shoppers, experts advised sellers to increase in-store signage and make smarter use of digital coupons and promotions. Workers behind the retail counters, they said, should be better trained about fish varieties, if it is wild or farmed, and how to prepare it. The Retail Seafood Review said that temporary price reductions were the most popular and effective form of promotion. Asked what they would like from seafood suppliers to help improve sales, respondents suggested “lower pricing on less popular fish to get people to try it.” Fast food fish flap Here’s a fun take on fast-food fish sandwiches with some biting feedback. Writers at BusinessInsider sampled seven sandwiches, with Arby’s “gummy” Crispy Fish “with no taste or joy” ranking last. Dairy Queen’s Alaska cod sandwich is described as “a fillet slicked by a spill of tartar sauce that would offend even the Exxon Valdez disaster.” Burger King’s fish sandwich is “gray and sad,” McDonald’s is “boring.” White Castle’s fish slider is crispy, but “bland and sorry looking.” Popeye’s Seafood Po’boy has “more breading than fish.” The winner? Wendy’s premium cod fillet that the Insiders said reminded them of an “honest to goodness fish fry.” Salmon center stage Any Alaskan will tell you they want to protect our wild stocks of salmon, but how to do that brings different perspectives. A Salmon Policy Forum in Juneau will advance the discussion, with a focus on the Alaska laws that protect salmon habitat. “This forum is not intended to push any agenda. It is educational and informational and a way to get ideas on the table and have a more in-depth conversation,” said Lindsey Bloom, manager of the Salmon Habitat Information Project for United Fishermen of Alaska, a forum co-sponsor. Panel discussions will include historians, scientists, managers, miners and hopefully, legislators. The forum is set for April 11 from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at the Rockwell Ballroom. It is co-sponsored by the Center for Salmon and Society at the College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences at the University of Alaska/Fairbanks, and Salmon Connect. Find more information on Facebook. Crew cash Fishermen can get cash back for their crew license fees — if they purchase them online. It’s the first year that the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is providing the online opportunity to replace paper licenses being purchased from vendors. It’s more convenient for customers and switching from paper to eLicenses saves the state lots of cash. “If we were able to achieve 100 percent online sales for licenses, it would save the department a couple hundred thousand dollars. Even at 50 percent sales, it’s a big savings for us,” said Forrest Bowers, deputy director of the Commercial Fisheries Division in Juneau. Crew licenses are the latest addition to ADFG’s online store, which offers print-at-home options for nearly every Alaska fishing and hunting license and more. The department hopes to lure fishermen to the online store with 10 free crew license giveaways. “If you’re randomly selected the cost of the license will be refunded to you,” Bowers said, adding that the deadline is Oct. 6. Annual commercial crew licenses cost $60 for Alaska residents and $277 for non-residents. Seven day licenses cost $30 for both resident and non residents. Navy training correction The ordnance expected to be used during the Northern Edge 2017 exercises in the Gulf of Alaska are two Navy Destroyers and one replenishment ship. According to a March 27 message from the public affairs office at Alaskan Command, the ordnance is similar to what was used during Northern Edge 2015: 15 inert/non-explosive naval gun shells, approximately 2,100 small arms rounds, five signal flares, six floating targets and 250 active sonobuoys. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Coastal communities want Navy’s Gulf training moved to fall

The required permits are not yet in hand, but the U.S. Navy is moving full steam ahead on its plans to conduct war training exercises in the Gulf of Alaska for two weeks in early May. Meanwhile, nine coastal communities have so far signed resolutions asking the Navy to instead conduct its training between September and mid-March, times that are less sensitive to marine life. Several more communities have indicated they will do the same by month’s end. “It’s not that we don’t want the Navy to do their training; it’s the time and locations,” said Emily Stolarcyk, program director for the Eyak Preservation Council of Cordova. “The community resolutions say that we are the people who depend on commercial, subsistence and recreational fishing,” she added. “The Navy exercises are planned during the most important breeding and migratory periods for salmon, birds, whales and marine mammals. About 90 percent of the training area is designated as essential fish habitat for all five species of Pacific salmon. May is the worst time to be doing this.” In the 43 years that the Navy has conducted war games in the Gulf, only twice have they occurred in May (2007, 2008). The Northern Edge joint training exercises include nearly 6,000 military participants “on and above central Alaska ranges and the Gulf of Alaska” according to the Alaskan Command Office of Public Affairs at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage. The Gulf portion includes an area from 12 miles off the Kenai Peninsula to 140 miles out. Live weapons will be used in and above the water, said Capt. Anastasia Wasem at a Cordova presentation. She could not reveal specifics, but said weapons will include exploding projectiles, sonars, small arms, machine guns and naval gun shells. Three Navy destroyers and a submarine will be on the water. No independent observers will be allowed to participate. The Navy does not yet have a required letter of authorization to proceed from the National Marine Fisheries Service, nor have they published a final record of decision. The paperwork is “forthcoming” according to Navy documents dated July 2016, the most recent updates describing the training exercises. The Eyak Preservation Council is sending letters to all Alaska fishing permit holders asking them to contact decision makers about moving the time of the Navy training. “It contains a letter for fishermen to sign and send to U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski with an option to send a courtesy copy to the NMFS and Pacific Command,” Stolarcyk said. Last September, Murkowski wrote a strongly worded letter to the Secretary of the Navy stating that they needed to do a better job of involving local communities and “listening to stakeholders.” Sen. Dan Sullivan also has encouraged more direct engagement with Alaskans to “clear up some of the confusion and misinformation being circulated.” “As an Alaskan, Senator Sullivan understands the importance of our fisheries and our coastal communities, and would never support an exercise that he believed would adversely affect Alaska’s fish stocks or prevent fishermen from doing their jobs,” Sullivan’s office said in an email message. “The Senator will continue to encourage productive and science-based dialogue between the U.S. military and Alaska’s coastal communities.” Despite the non-committal responses, Stolarcyk remains hopeful that the congressional delegation and the Navy will hear the unified voice of coastal Alaskans. “This is the water that we depend upon at the time we depend on it most,” she said. “I am hopeful they can understand that it’s not just about what they need — it’s about including the needs of communities that depend on these waters for sustenance.” Learn more about the Northern Edge exercises here and at www.summerisforsalmon.org/ High prices for halibut Catches of Alaska halibut have picked up after wild weather got the fishery off to a slow start when it opened on March 11. Catches by March 24 topped 800,000 pounds from 137 landings with Sitka leading all ports, followed by Seward, Kodiak and Homer. The prized flats were fetching big prices, up 30 cents per pound on average, compared to the early weeks of the fishery last year. Halibut prices usually are broken into three weight categories. Kodiak prices were said to be fluctuating quite a bit with reports at $6.45 per pound for 10- to 20-pounders; $6.75 for 20 to 40s and $7 per pound for “40 ups.” Ports at Juneau and Homer were reporting a straight $7 per pound, and halibut deliveries in Southeast were paying fishermen $6.70, $6.90 and $7 per pound. Buyers weren’t beating down the doors, said several major buyers, and there are reports of halibut holdovers in cold storage. It remains to be seen if the prices will remain as high throughout the eight-month season. The best fish story comes from Southeast where halibut fishing is said to be “fantastic” and the fish are robust and big. One major buyer said nearly half of their halibut landings were in the most popular 20- to 40-pound weight class and just 31 percent were smaller sizes. Nearly 2,000 hook and line fishermen hold quota shares of Alaska halibut. Alaska’s share of the coast wide catch this year is just more than 18 million pounds. The Pacific halibut fishery remains open this year through November 7. Herring hauls Sitka Sound traditionally kicks off Alaska’s roe herring circuit and this year’s harvest is lining up to be a good one. The Sound was “boiling” with the most herring they had ever seen, said fishermen on the grounds. A three-hour and 20-minute opener on March 19 was followed by a 15-minute opener on the March 22, bringing the total catch to about half of the 14,647-ton quota. Fishermen were awaiting word of another opener while processors were hustling to handle the herring hauls. The female herring are valued by Asian buyers for their roe as a percentage of body weight, and the Sitka fish were averaging good roe counts of 11 to 12 percent. Fishermen averaged $250 per ton last year and market reports indicate a good chance of higher prices this season. A herring pound fishery could be the next to go near Craig and Klawok. Fishermen there can catch 349 tons this year and place them in enclosures that contain blades of kelp that hold the sticky herring spawn, prized by buyers. Kodiak’s herring season begins in mid-April, and the harvest is set at a conservative 1,645 tons. “We expect an increase in the herring biomass but it will be mostly younger, 3- to 5-year-old fish. Thus, the smaller quota,” said area manager James Jackson at the local Alaska Department of Fish and Game office. Alaska’s biggest herring fishery occurs in May at Togiak in Bristol Bay. The harvest this year is pegged at about 30,000 tons, based on “best guess-timates” by state managers. Money for herring management for all areas but Sitka Sound was zeroed out in the state budget two seasons ago. That has eliminated the sampling necessary to accurately gauge herring stock abundance and age classes. “For us the bigger impact is that we can’t produce a good forecast for Togiak herring because we didn’t do the sampling,” said regional manager Tim Sands at Dillingham. “The data gap will cycle through our whole population estimate. Togiak herring live more than 12 years, so even if we were to start sampling again this year, we’ll have that data gap for at least eight years.” Togiak fishermen in 2016 received just $100 per ton for their roe herring. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Ocean conditions throw uncertainty into salmon forecast

KENAI — After last year’s disastrously low pink salmon runs to drainages all across the Gulf of Alaska, the forecasts offer a little more hope for the 2017 season. Alaska Department of Fish and Game managers in Southeast are predicting a strong pink year, with 43 million fish set to return, slightly greater than the recent 10-year average of 39 million fish. The forecast is high in Kodiak as well, with mangers predicting a total run of about 28.1 million fish between the wild and hatchery-augmented runs, though the confidence is only fair because runs are naturally variable and environmental conditions are unpredictable. In Prince William Sound, managers predict a total run of about 21 million fish, with a harvest estimate of 19.6 million salmon, according to the forecast. Biologists are also predicting a run of approximately 371,000 chum salmon and 74,000 sockeye. If the forecast plays out accurately, it would be welcome news to commercial fishermen all across the Gulf of Alaska. Pink salmon returns were so dismal in 2016 that Gov. Bill Walker asked for and was granted a federal disaster designation, which opened up the potential for funds to be appropriated in Congress for relief. It’s not clear why the pink salmon returns were so much below average, but ADFG’s forecast puts a large part of the blame for uncertainty on anomalously warm sea surface temperatures for the past three years in the North Pacific, colloquially called the blob. “Pink salmon that went to sea in 2014 and 2015 returned in numbers well below expectation and pink salmon that went to sea in 2016 (and set to return in 2017) may have experienced similar conditions,” the forecast states. Every forecast has its uncertainties, but last year’s moderate forecast and poor returns have lent skepticism. Kodiak commercial fisheries area management biologist James Jackson said the managers were moderately confident in the forecast, but ocean conditions are unpredictable and forecasts are best estimates. “I would say we’re moderately confident,” he said. “It really comes down to the fact that when you have such extreme variations in climate that we’ve seen over the past few years, it’s really had to have a predictable model. That ‘s why we have in-season management.” The stars seem to be aligned for Kodiak to have a good pink return this year. It’s an odd year, which is high for Kodiak — pink salmon have a two-year life cycle, so harvests tend to pitch from high to low depending on the area — and the area’s hatchery on Afognak Island is set to have its five-year high return as well, Jackson said. Kodiak is a complex area with multiple management plans and gear types. The management plans start out the season with regular weekly fishing periods that can be changed based on the salmon forecast. As with any fishery, the managers will evaluate the run and decide how to prosecute the fishery if the returns don’t live up to the forecast. That’s what happened last year — as it became clear the forecast was going to come in low, the managers closed the pink salmon fishery. In 2015, the total harvest of pink salmon was more than 33 million pinks. In 2016, it came in at about 3.2 million, or about a tenth of the previous year. The run in 2014 was weaker and early, while 2015’s run was large and late. Many of the streams missed their pink salmon escapements for the first time in decades, Jackson said. All told, the Kodiak pink salmon return was one of the worst since the 1970s. “It was fairly obvious from the get-go that the forecast was wrong,” he said. In Lower Cook Inlet, 2015 was a record-breaking year for pink salmon. Last summer was the area’s low cycle, and given the high returns in previous years, 2017 should be set to break more records, but the forecast doesn’t look that way, said commercial fisheries area management biologist Glenn Hollowell. “The forecasts don’t look rosy enough in comparison to the odd-year pink returns we’ve been getting,” he said. Lower Cook Inlet is expecting a pink salmon return of about 1.29 million fish, with an expected commercial harvest of about 777,000 fish. That is significantly less than the 2015 harvest, when the seiners in Lower Cook Inlet alone harvested nearly 4.5 million pinks, not counting other gear types. Lower Cook Inlet has a hatchery component as well, with Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association getting its Tutka Bay and Port Graham hatcheries operating to produce pink salmon. That should have pushed up the forecast further as well, but it’s only moderate, Hollowell said. With ocean conditions hard to predict and a precedent of a good forecast turned sour, the managers aren’t entirely sure what to expect. With the colder winter this year, sending near-shore conditions more toward normal for Alaska, the mass of warm water in the Gulf of Alaska may be beginning to dissipate, but stream production depends on snowmelt runoff to the rivers as well. Stream production varies on water level each year, and if water levels are lower, then the streams can produce fewer salmon than in higher water years, Hollowell said. “This is an interesting year,” Hollowell said. “It’s a year when we might diverge significantly from what we’ve forecast.” Reach Elizabeth Earl at [email protected]

UAF says ‘thanks, but no thanks’ to Kenai salmon research offer

KENAI — The University of Alaska Fairbanks turned down an offer for funding for research on Kenai River king salmon because it would only come from one side of Cook Inlet’s allocation war. The university’s College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, consistently recognized as one of the top fisheries research institutes in the country, regularly conducts studies on fish populations around the state. Funding comes from a variety of sources, both industry and from the university’s budget. However, after discussing potential funding for king salmon research from the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, the university decided not to take the funding because it couldn’t get buy-in from the commercial fishing side as well, according to a March 2 letter from interim chancellor Dana Thomas addressed to Kenai River Sportfishing Association board member and founder Bob Penney. “The UAF College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences feels that it would not be helpful to carry out research on salmon in the Kenai area without a cooperative effort supported by both commercial and sport fishery interests,” the letter states. “Their view is that commercial fishers will not have confidence in research which is financially supported solely by those who have been strong advocates for sport fishing.” Without funding from both commercial and sport interests, the College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences faculty didn’t want to expend resources when it would be “unlikely to lead to a productive result,” the letter states. Thomas said in an interview that cooperative funding between industry interest groups is a model the College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences has found useful in determining research projects, and the faculty had hoped to get there with the Kenai project. The model provides mechanisms for peer review as well, which sets a high standard for scientific research, and provides convincing evidence for management boards to make decisions, he said. “This particular approach is a little unique to this college and they’ve used it in a variety of settings,” he said. “It has served them well for both sides … in dealing with controversial issues.” Kenai River Sportfishing Association, or KRSA, a Soldotna-based sportfishing and conservation advocacy organization that funds projects and research, discussed some basic ideas for king salmon research with the university last summer, said executive director Ricky Gease. Since the dramatic decline of the king salmon runs hit a low in 2012, many questions have come up about the ocean conditions affecting king salmon production and returns. KRSA didn’t have a specific plan but provided ideas for potential research, such as marine factors affecting king salmon run timing and run size or sportfishing angler and economic impact surveys, he said. He said the university’s refusal of the funding was likely a function of shrinking budgets. “I think in this era of budget cuts, I think they were doing their due diligence in trying to reach out to different communities around the state to see if there were partnerships out there,” he said. The university doesn’t direct faculty research, and ultimately it was the faculty members’ decision not to take up the project, though he did have conversations with them about the project, he said. The university had hoped for a partnership to be formed in the area among user groups to fund research that would “ensure separation of the goals of individual organizations from impartial scientific research that would inform the best possible management and policy decisions,” the letter states. However, the commercial fishing organizations declined a partnership, according to the letter. The specific commercial fishing organization that handled it was the Alaska Salmon Alliance, an organization representing primarily processors and commercial fishermen in the Cook Inlet area. Though the organization’s board has considered funding research and is open to the idea of collaborating between user groups as long as the research benefits both, the board chose to turn the university’s request down, said Alaska Salmon Alliance board member Paul Dale. “It looked to us as though (the Kenai River Sportfishing Association) had already selected some topics that would seem to be, shall we say, more beneficial to KRSA than to the commercial fish industry,” he said. “Whether that’s true or not, I don’t know, but that was our impression. We as a group decided to pass on that opportunity ultimately.” It’s common practice for industry to fund research elsewhere in the state. The Alaska pollock industry funds research through the Pollock Conservation Cooperative Research Center, dispensing funds for research through a board with representatives from several stakeholders. Crabbers in the Bering Sea also fund studies through the Bering Sea Fisheries Research Foundation. But in the past, much of the research in Cook Inlet has been done by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, federal agencies or nonprofits, without direct funding or approval by the industry. With a still-gaping budget deficit at the state level, ADFG’s research budget isn’t likely to grow in the future, and funding at all levels of the state government is subject to cuts as the Legislature attempts to reduce the budget deficit. Federal research may also be on the rocks under President Donald Trump’s administration recently proposed a budget that would trim funds from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which manages fisheries in federal waters through the National Marine Fisheries Service. In Cook Inlet, commercial fishing industry members are interested in collaborating to provide more funding in the future if the focus of the research benefits both groups, Dale said. “There were some interesting funding mechanisms in the proposal that intrigued me, and it would be great if we could reduce some of the allocation frictions,” he said. Fishing stakeholders may have to step up and take the reins on funding research if they want the important baseline work to go forward as well as research with more direct management applications, Gease said. ADFG’s research tends to be more oriented toward freshwater research and achieving escapement goals, and marine factors tend to be underrepresented in salmon research and management, he said. “If we could have more data sources from the marine environment and figure out how to incorporate that into the run timing or the size of the return, it would help all fisheries out,” he said. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Stakeholders of all types leave Cook Inlet meeting unsatisfied

KENAI — The Board of Fisheries wrapped up its Upper Cook Inlet meeting with few changes for the inlet’s commercial drift gillnet fleet, with small gains possible for the drifters and disagreements between the sport and commercial users left intact. The drift gillnet fleet in Upper Cook Inlet, composed of about 570 limited-entry permit holders, wanted the Board of Fisheries to dismantle some of the regulations that have been enacted over the years restricting their fishing time and area. They argue that the restrictions make the fleet inefficient and tie the hands of the managers to allow commercial fishermen to harvest surplus salmon returning in any given year. On the other hand, sportfishermen from the Matanuska-Susitna Valley argued for the restrictions to remain in place, saying they allow depleted northern Cook Inlet stocks to rebound. Allowing the drift fleet to fish in the entire Inlet and giving them more time would lead to further interception of northern-bound stocks, they argued. In reality, the board only changed three main things relating to the drift fleet. They added the potential for one inlet-wide fishing period in the second half of July if the sockeye salmon run to the Kenai River is projected to come in between 2.3 million and 4.6 million fish, dropped the optimum escapement goal for Kenai River sockeye and moved back the date for the 1 percent rule for setnetters in August, which also affects the drift gillnet fleet. No one felt the changes were significant. But while the drifters saw them as minor concessions after years of losing time and area, Mat-Su advocates said the changes were small steps in the wrong direction. “Conservation is not the issue,” said Erik Huebsch, the vice president of the United Cook Inlet Drift Association. “Production is the issue.” The drifters have long held that sending more fish into the northern streams won’t do any good to rebuild stocks because of poor habitat conditions and predation by invasive northern pike. Pike prey on juvenile salmonids and are now documented extensively in lakes across the Mat-Su Valley. Additionally, an extensive infestation of elodea — an invasive water weed that can choke out oxygen in lakes — was documented in Alexander Lake, one of the larger lakes in the valley. The population growth in the valley also damages habitat, as roads have been placed across streams with insufficient culverts that don’t allow fish to pass through. The Matanuska-Susitna Borough has been trying to address the habitat issues by replacing culverts and putting up public education signs, but until there are meaningful efforts to address the pike, putting more fish into the system is just feeding the pike, Huebsch said. What’s more, the Inlet-wide period only goes into effect during years of very large sockeye runs, and it only a “may” rather than a “shall” in the code, leaving it up to the manager’s discretion. This year, the sockeye run is predicted to be less than 2.3 million, meaning the inlet-wide period won’t come into play unless the run comes in above the forecast. “We didn’t change a thing,” said UCDA President Dave Martin. “We’re still not going to be able to harvest the surplus.” At the other end of the Inlet, the Mat-Su Valley has been seeing declining escapements for a number of years and tight restrictions on sportfishing time and areas within the drainage. Three years ago, when the drifters were restricted out of the center of the Inlet to allow for a corridor to allow fish to pass north, Mat-Su fishermen said it would help rebuild stocks. The corridor is still in place, but with the drifters getting the potential for an extra period, it has been weakened, said Mack Minard, a fisheries consultant for the Mat-Su Borough. The residents wanted the corridor to remain in place for at least one full life cycle, or about six years, he said. “I think it was sort of unfortunate because virtually every action the board took, although individually small, were cumulatively in the wrong direction in terms of conserving king and coho and sockeye salmon in the Northern District,” he said. The board rejected a proposal to set optimum escapement goals for the three indicator lakes — Judd, Larson and Chelatna, which are the only lakes with weirs in the Susitna River drainage — and also moved back the date for the 1 percent rule for setnetters in August. In the past, when both the Kenai and Kasilof sections of the setnet fishery were closed by the one percent rule, the drifters were moved to the West Side of the Inlet. Ultimately, the managers should move from a mixed-stock management approach to a terminal fishery approach, which allows for more stock-specific targeting, he said. Bristol Bay managers have done it for some time, and though it constricts fishermen to specific areas, it can help preserve weaker stocks. “I think it will take a generational change,” he said. “It will take a manager who will embrace the idea and a board that has the political will to implement it. And the day we do that is the day we begin to help northern district stocks recover.” The valley does have habitat issues; the systems are not as productive as the Kenai and Kasilof, which have multiple large, deep lakes, which provide perfect sockeye rearing habitat. The Mat-Su Valley doesn’t have many deep lakes like that, and most sockeye spawn in non-lake habitats, said Larry Engel, a member of the Mat-Su Fish and Wildlife Commission. “The sockeye are spawning in environments that aren’t stable,” he said. “They’re subject to huge changes every year … these kind of sockeye are not as productive, anywhere close to what a large stable Bristol Bay or Kenai can produce. That’s a huge difference, just naturally, than any other type of environment.” Pike, warm water and urbanization are problems — no one is denying that, Engel said. However, before any people lived in the valley, the systems still produced fewer fish per spawner than the Kenai and Kasilof because of the nature of the water systems, he said. That’s why the Mat-Su advocates argue for additional escapement. The board’s actions to provide additional opportunity for the drift fleet weren’t major, but the Mat-Su Valley advocates would have liked for nothing to change, he said. “Our position was to leave the Central Distict drift management plan, the corridor, unchanged, to let it work for a few years, and basically that’s what the board did with minor exceptions,” he said. “… We wish the plan had stayed intact, but the change that did occur wasn’t a significant change to the rationale and basis for the plan. I guess you could say that we’re pleased that not much changed, but we wish nothing had. Reach Elizabeth Earl at [email protected]

Legislature considering bills to advance state mariculture

Alaska is getting closer to having a more robust seafood farming industry, potentially adding another billion dollars to the state’s economy over the next few decades. The House Fisheries Committee perused a pair of bills on March 7 that would make changes to the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development’s mariculture revolving loan fund and allow for more enhancement projects for Alaska king crab and other shellfish. The worldwide market, some believe, needs Alaska’s infrastructure to develop. “There will be a demand for Alaska farmed shellfish products,” said Rep. Dan Ortiz, I-Ketchikan, who introduced the bill. “What we need to do is put the pieces in place to meet that demand.” The fund makes loans available for shellfish farming, and the bill would expand those loan opportunities in order to jumpstart the industry. The fund itself takes no money from Alaska general fund, so it has no fiscal note. Rather, the treasury collects on loans interest to keep the program self-funding. Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, set the bill aside “until a future date.” Mariculture has gained steam recently as a potential economic driver. Recognizing seafood production as Alaska’s largest source of private employment, lawmakers and leaders are looking to expand the industry’s output. In early 2016, Gov. Bill Walker appointed an 11-member mariculture task force specifically to figure out how to grow shellfish and sea plant growth in the state. “The goal of this task force is to bring key stakeholders together and determine how the state can help this industry prosper with Alaska-grown products,” the governor’s press release read. To that end, representatives from fishing districts are trying to find ways for shellfish farmers to get more access to funding. “These days we’re all aware that economic diversification is going to be a necessity to get the state to move forward, to help get the state back on the road to a sound economy,” said Rep. Dan Ortiz, I-Ketchikan, who introduced the bill to the House Fisheries Committee. “We need to diversify. We need to find ways to make us less dependent on a one-engine economy. There’s an opportunity in the seafood industry with mariculture development. There’s some real prospects there.” In practice, the bill would open up shellfish and seafood farming to organizations, instead of just individuals as is currently law. Neuman said he didn’t see why companies that can’t get private financing would be a good idea for the state. Ortiz answered that he didn’t think the industry is established enough to justify funding, and that’s what he’s trying to change — currently, the fund has only loaned out $500,000 in principle to five individual shellfish farmers, out of an available $4.4 million. “This bill expands the opportunity, creates more players in the game that might source this fund,” said Ortiz. “I think you would agree that if we have capital sitting there for the purpose of developing the economy, we want to see those funds utilized.” The bill specifies that the farms and hatcheries funded must either benefit a common property fishery — like the state-sponsored salmon hatcheries do — or otherwise benefit the “public interest.” The bill is trying to solve what Ortiz staffer Elizabeth Bolling described as a “bottleneck.” The revolving mariculture fund was originally intended to encourage small farmers to get into the business of shellfish. However, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game requires all seed to be purchased from Alaska. This requirement makes it difficult for these farmers to purchase a steady supply of seed and feed. With this in mind, Walker’s mariculture task force wants to open more opportunities for larger organizations, including hatcheries, so that they can produce the building blocks for the smaller farmers. Julie Decker of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, a task force member, said she expects a need for more money. “We’re at sort of a chicken or the egg scenario, in that the industry is very small,” she said, “and to actually support that infrastructure is very difficult. This funding mechanism would allow for hatcheries to have a more stable source of funds to get going and allow for shellfish enhancement projects going.” Decker’s organization believes that Alaska’s mariculture can grow to a $1 billion industry within 30 years — if the state can pave the way. “We know we don’t have money, but we do have these assets like the revolving mariculture loan fund,” she said. “If we align it with where the industry’s needs are, we can develop it faster.” The public seems to like the idea, including the United Fishermen of Alaska, the state’s largest industry group. Most comments spoke highly of the kind of stability a developed mariculture industry would bring. Smaller farmers like John Kaiser, who owns Cordova’s Rocky Bay Oysters, are in favor of the bill. “As farmers we do need seed,” said Kaiser. “There were not that many farmers able to take advantage of it initially. This is a larger pot of money. If it were to be used correctly by even larger entities, I’d have no problem with that. If this would provide the seed…I would not see a problem.” Angel Drobnica works for the Aleutians Pribilof Islands Community Development Association, one of six Community Development Quota groups that represent 65 Western Alaska villages. Drobnica, another mariculture task force member, said her communities could benefit from some consistency in their seafood production. “Fisheries can be unpredictable and unstable,” she said. “Some of the most stable communities have year round processing plants. We believe that mariculture can play a significant role in bringing this stability to fisheries-dependent communities.” Ortiz also introduced a companion bill, HB 128, which would allow non-profit hatcheries to engage in enhancement projects and restoration projects for shellfish species, including red and blue king crab. With ocean acidification issues and overfishing concerns, Alaska should be putting effort into repairing and controlling some of its most valuable seafood products, proponents argued. Like HB 76, the bill requires that all such enhancement projects would have to benefit a common property fishery, and outlines permitting requirements.

Pendulum ticks toward commercial fishermen as Cook Inlet meeting wraps

The Board of Fisheries pendulum may have swung, but it’s still attached to the same clockwork. The triennial Upper Cook Inlet Board of Fisheries meeting ended March 8, leaving behind a big fish goal for the Kenai River late king salmon run, potential expanded hours for the Cook Inlet drift and setnet fleets, and a brand new early run king salmon plan on the Kenai River. Though the tone was mild compared to that of 2014, the same grudges against the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the board, and among rival user groups are bubbling away. After three years of buildup following an emotional 2014 meeting, the 2017 marathon was sparsely attended and largely civil, focusing mainly on what ADFG Commercial Fisheries Division Operations Manager Forrest Bowers called “minor changes.” “This early run king plan, that’s probably the biggest change outside the large fish goal,” Bowers said. “With the late run sockeye plan, there was a long discussion but at the end of the day it didn’t really do much. The late run king plan, I mean, again, long discussion, relaxed the August restriction a bit, but it’s fundamentally the same.” Commercial fishing board or not? The fundamental sameness Bowers spoke of could be defining feature of the 2017 meeting. In spite of a big board shakeup and three years of heated fishing seasons, the same undercurrents remain. Fishermen cluster together to speculate on board politics and count votes, or to speculate on the inner leanings of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, or the board process itself. Rival user groups invoke science, economics, and Alaska to back their proposals. For fishermen, perception is reality, and the next three years might well be a kind of film negative of the previous three years where that perception is concerned. Gov. Bill Walker put an end to a long-running board dynamic in 2015 when he ousted former chairman Karl Johnstone, who commercial fishermen continue to revile for pushing proposals that would benefit sportfishing interests. With three new board members — Israel Payton, Alan Cain, and Robert Ruffner — the perception has shifted somewhat. Commercial fishermen are happy with the changes, while sportfishermen say the inexperience level is contributing to the board’s tendency to be misled. Most at the meeting credit Johnstone’s absence with a renewed intellectual curiosity on the board’s part. “I think it’s more thoughtful,” said new board Chair John Jensen, a commercial fisherman from Petersburg. “There’s a lot more thoughts, more questions than usual. The questions are amazing. People really understand what we’re talking about.” As usual though, there is an equal and opposite reaction. “With no compelling evidence that there is an impending financial disaster in the Upper Cook Inlet commercial fisheries, this Board of Fisheries, all appointees of Governor Walker, has significantly weakened the 40-year directive of a sport fish priority for king and coho salmon in Upper Cook Inlet, potentially triggering untold damage to a billion-dollar economic driver in Southcentral Alaska,” stated a letter from the Kenai River Sportfishing Association. Certainly, the perception of commercial leanings within Walker’s administration has some merit. Walker appointed former commercial fisherman Andy Mack as his commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources. Walker also appointed purse seiner Sam Cotten as commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and through his position has taken many actions to advance the interests of Alaska’s small boat fishermen on the federal North Pacific Fishery Management Council. However, he also voted in favor of actions the sportfishing industry will benefit from, including a Recreational Quota Entity program for halibut chart guides that would allow them to purchase commercial quota. Meanwhile, stakeholders are watching new board members carefully for voting habits — some commercial fishermen claim to have already isolated some emerging patterns in Israel Payton, while sportfishermen have carefully scrutinized Robert Ruffner’s actions. Ruffner was defeated by a single vote in 2015 after sport groups led by KRSA defined him as a commercial fishing advocate who also upset the regional balance by not hailing from Anchorage. When Walker had the chance to fill three positions, KRSA backed off and all were unanimously confirmed in 2016. Minor changes What minor changes happened benefitted commercial fishermen more than sportfishermen. After several years of infighting between user groups, the board threw a few small bones to commercial drift and setnet sockeye fishermen. Early in the meeting, the board reworked the “1 percent” rule to allow more potential fishing time for East Side set netters with a narrow 4-3 split vote of the board’s seven members. The new rule closes commercial sockeye harvest when less than 1 percent of the season’s total sockeye harvest is taken in two consecutive periods after Aug. 7. Formerly, 1 percent rule took effect on Aug. 1, so the change could allow a week’s more fishing time for the commercial fleet. The paired restrictions between setnetters and the sport fishery tied to Kenai River king salmon abundance that were advanced by KRSA and passed in 2014 also got a makeover, but weren’t fully repealed. Setnetters have no more hours restrictions after Aug. 1, when the Kenai sport fishery closes, and have two additional 12-hour openings when the sport fishery is at no bait or catch and release. ADFG managers, of course, can close the fishery whenever they feel a need. Upper Cook Inlet drift fishermen also benefitted from the meeting, though only enough for high-profile drifters to describe it as “token.” Commercial fishing managers can open Central District hours for the drift fleet from July 16 to July 31, potentially giving more sockeye harvest than can be had on the inlet’s edges within the coho salmon “conservation corridor” that was also created in 2014 in order to protect northern-bound coho salmon. The Kenai River early-run king salmon plan could be the only proposal that escaped user group conflicts. The early king run on the Kenai River was indeed an outlier in the often contentious board process, a collaboration between Kenai River Sportfishing Association, the Kenai Area Fishermen’s Coalition and the Kenai River Professional Guides Association. Falling king salmon runs have plagued the state for the better part of a decade, and while improving in some places, the fishermen want to protect the early king salmon run on the Kenai River as much as possible. According to a new plan, if managers project fewer than 2,800 to 5,600 early run Kenai kings longer than 75 centimeters, the fishery is closed. If it is between the sustainable escapement goal and the optimum escapement goal of 3,900 to 6,600 salmon, the managers can close the fishery or allow catch-and-release. If it’s within or greater than the optimum escapement goal, managers can allow bait and retention of fish of a size the department deems appropriate. The measure also abolishes the slot limit, “All three groups got together and said, for this one stock, we need something,” said Kenai River Sportfishing Association Executive Director Ricky Gease. “We came together, put aside our differences — and they exist, we’re at each other’s throats on a number of issues — we came together and said for the good of management, we want to rebuild it. We’re going to forego harvest opportunity for the betterment of this stock.” Science-based management The perception that the board is managed on science continues to shift and bend according to who is on the benefitting end of management actions. Competing user groups each invoked the “best available science,” even when the science could be clearer. “Are we going to manage based on science, or are we not going to manage based on science?” asked Gease. “This should not be about politics, this should be about the science and the biology,” said David Martin, president of commercial fishing group United Cook Inlet Drift Association. Some science is more clearly defined, more up to date and more solidly available on which to base management. But the department budget has been slashed by $10 million in the last few years. In some cases, rival groups will even draw information from the same studies to justify two competing management proposals. This played out with many drift net and sportfishing-related management proposals for several areas in Upper Cook Inlet. “It’s no big secret we don’t have the information to really assess the coho population,” said board member Sue Jeffrey, a commercial fisherman from Kodiak. “I think the department has a handle on the coho fishery. It’s just that if the fishery groups all want more, you’re going to err on the side of conservation.” Erik Huebsch, vice president of the United Cook Inlet Drift Association, or UCIDA, readily admitted that the science sometimes serves interests. “We definitely cherry pick. We all do that, get what fits our argument,” said Huebsch. In UCIDA’s case, available coho data shows that salmon stocks are intermingled in the middle of Cook Inlet. Therefore, instead of being confined to the “conservation corridor,” he argues, drift fishermen should be allowed to fish in the middle of the inlet to catch more sockeye and prevent coho overescapement in Mat-Su river systems. With the same data, the Mat-Su Borough Fish and Wildlife Commission argued against drift fishermen in the middle of the inlet. “The folks in the Mat-Su are saying, ‘See? All these coho are out in the middle and we need to keep them from catching them so we get our coho through.’” Huebsch said. “We’re using the same data and have two different approaches to it.” Huebsch and UCIDA still don’t rule out spin, though. He said the department presented improper numbers to the board regarding coho exploitation rates, which were only corrected at UDICA’s insistence. “We’ve seen it too many times for it to be a mistake,” said Martin. And even though commercial groups like UCIDA point to this example as evidence of a bias within ADFG, sportfishing interests use other examples to point to the same issue, in particular to the three days it took the board to craft new language around Kenai River sockeye and king salmon restrictions. “When you look at science, one of the interesting things is when you have advocates within the department for a certain scientific viewpoint, that’s where we get frustrated,” said Gease. Gease pointed to the lack of discussion or action on escapement goals on the Kasilof and Kenai rivers as proof. “It’s a Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde approach,” he said. “You don’t know which department you’re talking to. Dr. Jekyll science based? Maybe it’s just a generational shift. Maybe we’ll grow out of it. Maybe in three years we’ll have an honest discussion about what the right SEG (sustainable escapement goal) is on the Kenai River, or a Kasilof counter for kings.” Along with science, both sides have continued to assert that in the end the board should make a decision based on economics — which like the science, depends on the source. “It does eventually all boil down to the economics, and the jobs, and the stability to the coastal communities that have nothing else but commercial fisheries,” said Martin. Gease said the same. “When you look at the allocation criteria in the Magnuson-Stevens Act, four of the seven deal with economic factors. Nowhere is that discussion is the sport fishery,” he said. “Our footprint economically is very large, comparably. Instead of doing the constitutional mandate of figuring out how this resource can benefit to all Alaskans….we seem to be asking, ‘how can we allocate this resource to benefit me and 300 to 400 of my other individuals user group who may or may not be Alaskans?’” From ADFG’s viewpoint, the squabbling is just part of the process. “You’ll always watch the pendulum swing back and forth,” said ADFG Southcentral Area Management Coordinator Matt Miller. “That’s always going to be the public perception. Certainly we try to be consistent.” “You hear the opposite about the same thing,” said Bowers. “People say the board process is broken. I think it’s a pretty cool process really. A two-week meeting’s not that cool, but the fact that person can submit a proposal and maybe it ends up adopted. That’s pretty cool, you know?”

FISH FACTOR: Reduced catches send crab prices soaring

Alaska crabbers are hauling back pots from the Panhandle to the Bering Sea, and reduced catches are resulting in record prices for their efforts. The year’s first red king crab fishery at Norton Sound has yielded 17,000 pounds so far of its nearly 40,000 pound winter quota for more than 50 local fishermen. The crab, which are taken through the ice near Nome, are paying out at a record $7.75 per pound. A summer opener will produce a combined catch of nearly half a million pounds for the region. Red king crab from Bristol Bay also yielded the highest price ever for fishermen, averaging $10.89 per pound. That catch quota of 8 million pounds was down 15 percent from the previous season. The Bering Sea snow crab fleet has taken 80 percent of its 19-million pound quota, down by nearly half from last year. That’s pushed market prices through the roof, topping $8.30 per pound at wholesale in both the U.S. and Japan, compared to more than $5.50 per pound a year ago. Alaska produces only about 10 percent of the world’s snow crab, with most of the pack by far coming from Eastern Canada, followed by Russia. On the snow crab menu front — McDonald’s has begun testing a new snow crab sandwich in several San Francisco Bay locations. If it’s a hit, the sandwich could advance to nearly 250 outlets this year. Since mid-February, about 100 small boat crabbers in Southeast Alaska have been hauling pots for 105,000 pounds of golden king crab, which can reach as high as $10 a pound at the docks. A local Tanner crab fishery just wrapped up, with a catch that will likely come in at around one million pounds. Tanner crab is the talk of the town throughout Cordova and Prince William Sound, where later this month the state Board of Fisheries could create a harvest plan and regulations to open a fishery for the first time in 27 years. The region produced 13 million pounds of Tanners before the Exxon Valdez oil spill, but locals believe the stock is now strong enough able to support a fishery for commercial and sport users. “It’s largely the opinion of the people around here that the fishery could support an expanded harvest,” said John Whissel, director of natural resources for the Native Village of Eyak. “The goal here is to get away from the boom and bust cycle, where the town doubles in size in May and then shrinks when the salmon fisheries wind down.” “There’s other opportunities around here and with oil prices being what they are and the tax rate being what it is,” he added. “Commercial fishing could play a larger role in the state budget if we gave them more chances to do that.” Currency calculations Along with supply and demand, the value of global currencies has a major influence on seafood sales in world markets. Exchange rates among competing currencies impact all Alaska seafood because they alter the value of the products being exported to foreign markets along with competing products coming into our nation. The U.S. dollar, or USD, value increased 27 percent between 2011 and 2015, tamping down the dockside value of Alaska seafood by 17 percent. Today, the dollar index remains roughly unchanged from last year and signals by our major purchasers are mixed. “The USD bull market has entered its sixth year and we are told to expect the USD to regain broad-based strength in 2017,” reported Poundsterlinglive.com, adding that the British Pound is valued at 1.22 against the dollar. “The Euro also is still weaker and who knows if that will continue, but it has been the trend for the last three years,” said Andy Wink, senior fisheries analyst with the McDowell Group. “One Euro was worth $1.10 in U.S. dollars last year and now it only buys about $1.05. So it takes more Euros to buy things denominated in dollars.” Along with frozen and canned salmon and roe, pollock fillets and surimi are some of Alaska’s biggest exports to Europe. “That’s been under a lot of price pressure and the currency market is not doing us any favors,” Wink said. “A lot of cod also goes to Europe so it’s going to make things tougher for cod. All of those products are going to face a tougher marketing year than the previous year.” The currency outlook is more hopeful for one of Alaska’s biggest customers, Japan. “Right now the yen is getting stronger,” Wink explained. “It was around 120 Yen to the dollar and now it’s closer to 112. So the dollar isn’t worth as many Yen as it was just a few months ago.” Elsewhere, currencies in places like Brazil and Eastern Europe are in the tank. Exchange rates don’t come into play as much with China, Wink said, because the Yuan is pegged to the value of the U.S. dollar. Halibut’s on The Pacific halibut fishery will open as scheduled on March 11. Fears were running wild that a 60-day freeze on all new and pending regulations imposed by President Donald Trump would delay the start of the eight-month season. On March 3, U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan announced that the regulations necessary to open the fishery were posted in federal law books and the halibut fishery will open on time. Sullivan, who chairs the Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard, said it is an issue his office has been working on for weeks and credited new Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross for expediting the paper work. The new rules allowing pot gear to catch sablefish in the Gulf of Alaska were also approved. Fishermen have long pushed for the use of pots to prevent whales from robbing the sablefish from hook and line gear. “I will be speaking with Secretary Ross again to express my thanks on behalf of Alaskan fishermen,” Sullivan said. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Seldovia fish jobs; salmon ice cream wins Seafood Symphony

Puppy Love will soon be putting more people to work in Seldovia, a town of less than 300 people at the tip of the Kenai Peninsula. The love comes in the form of salmon pet treats, formerly made in Anchorage and now ready to come home, thanks to funding from the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development. “The goal was always to come back to Seldovia,” said Brendan Bieri, chief operating officer of Seldovia Wild Seafoods. “It’s a value-added product, so it’s not like we’re processing and putting it on ice and shipping it across the bay. We’re making and packaging it here, and we can palletize it and ship it at a cost that makes sense business-wise.” Bieri combines his tech-savvy marketing skills with the cooking knowhow of his father, Michel, a trained chef who grew up in France and moved to Seldovia in 1986. The duo created a special smoked jerky recipe for the dog treats made from minced salmon. “Michel is a great cook because he’s got such a background in food chemistry. We made our own thing and we are really proud of it,” Brendan said. The Puppy Love line includes three items: jerky treats, trainers and sticks. “It’s all smoked salmon, shelf stable; you don’t need to freeze it. Just keep it on the counter and it’s good to go,” he added. The treats so far are sold at several feed and pet stores in Anchorage, as well as boutique shops. Bieri said they have interest from buyers in the U.S. and Asia and Europe. The focus now, though, is getting the new downtown plant operational to ramp up production, The company plans to put at least 10 people to work when it’s up and running, hopefully this spring, and purchase its salmon from local fishermen this summer. Pet treats are a $2 billion dollar business and the Bieri’s hope to bring a small portion of it to Seldovia. The Puppy Love line, Brendan said, is as much about promoting Seldovia as selling the treats. “It’s a beautiful area that we want to get people excited about again,” he said. Ice cream scoops top honors Candied Salmon Ice Cream by Coppa, a retailer in Juneau, took home the grand prize in the 24th annual Alaska Symphony of Seafood competition. The creamy ice cream, dotted with bits of candied smoked salmon, took a first in both the food service category as well as the People’s Choice award. All winners in four categories were announced at a Legislative soiree and awards ceremony Feb.22 in Juneau. Seafood Cakes with Dungeness crab from Odyssey Seafoods took second place in food service, and Orca Bay’s Mexican seafood soup (Albondigas) won third. In the retail category, Dear North’s Alaska Salmon Bites made by Authentic Alaska LLC won top honors. Dear North is a partnership with the Huna Totem Corporation. Second place went to Orca Bay’s Jjamppong, a Korean seafood noodle soup and Bambino’s Baby Food Sockeye Salmon Bites took home third place honors. In the Beyond the Plate Category, which features items made from byproducts, Tidal Vision’s Crystal Clarity, a crab shell-based pool and spa clarifier, won top honors. “It’s a great event for the industry but it also shows how much work and effort is going into developing new products, which is good for everyone because it creates more value for the resource,” said Julie Decker, executive director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, sponsor of the Symphony. “And in the case of Beyond the Plate, it is actually promoting using more of the resources.” Alaska Naturals Salmon Pet Oil from Trident Seafoods won second place in that category, and the Salmon Sisters’ Salmon Leather Clutch took home third. The winner in the Beyond the Egg category was Bruce Gore Coho Salmon Bottarga from Triad Fisheries. Second place went to Trident’s Sake Flavored Pollock Roe. In all, 18 new Alaska seafood products were entered in the popular event. The grand prize and first place winners get a free a trip to Seafood Expo North America in Boston in mid-March. Halibut hold It’s still anyone’s guess whether the Pacific halibut and sablefish fisheries will open as scheduled on March 11. President Donald Trump last month put a 60-day freeze on all new and pending regulations until they are reviewed by people in his administration. The fishery start dates and regulations must be published first in federal rule books, which still has not been done. Trump also is requiring that for every new regulation issued, at least two previous ones must be identified for elimination. That directly hits new rules that allow for sablefish to be caught with pot gear in the Gulf of Alaska to prevent sperm whales from robbing the fish from longlines. At a recent stop in Ketchikan Sen. Lisa Murkowski said she did not know if the halibut and sablefish fisheries would be able to start on time. Washington winning The state of Washington continues to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of Alaska’s fishing industry. According to the United Fishermen of Alaska’s annual Fish Facts, Alaska’s seafood industry puts more people to work than any other private industry, topping 60,000 workers in 2015. Of that, less than half — 27,600 — were Alaska residents. And while 71 percent of active fishing permit holders call Alaska home, most of the gross earnings go to the state of Washington. Alaska resident fishing permit holders and crew made gross dockside earnings of just over $602 million two years ago. That compares to more than $904 million made by nearly 6,580 Washington-based fishermen. Harvesters from Oregon took home more than $126 million from Alaska’s fisheries and Californians pocketed nearly $28 million. That adds up to more than $1 billion flowing out of the state by non-resident fishermen. In terms of poundage, the 2015 harvest by Alaska residents is estimated at 1.4 billion pounds. For Washingtonians, that skyrockets to 4 billion pounds, driven by that state’s dominance in Alaska’s pollock and other whitefish sectors. A McDowell Group analysis revealed that total ex-vessel (dockside) income from Alaska fisheries two years ago was $1.8 billion. Fishermen earned the lion’s share at $920 million, or 38 percent of all direct labor income generated by the seafood industry. Fishing-related taxes paid totaled $250 million, of which 38 percent went to local governments, 55 percent to the state and 7 percent to the federal government. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Cook Inlet meeting to kick off with new faces, old grudges

The Alaska Board of Fisheries has a full plate for its triennial Upper Cook Inlet finfish meeting beginning Feb. 23 and running through March 3 in Anchorage. The board will look quite different with three new members since the last meeting and so does the fishery after three years of restriction, tight markets, lawsuits, and accusations of disregarding the best science that revolve around the board decisions at its last Upper Cook Inlet meeting in 2014. Chinook, or king, salmon stocks on the Kenai River and around the state started to plummet in the late 2000s, and in 2014, the Board of Fisheries approved paired restrictions directing the Alaska Department of Fish and Game had to take certain actions when the Kenai king fishery was restricted, including limiting commercial fishing time. Sport representatives generally thought it fair to share the burden of conservation, while commercial fishermen said it hit them harder than the sportfishermen. This year, nearly 200 proposals from commercial, sport and subsistence fishermen will try to overhaul entire fishery management plans, revise escapement goals, expand or contract fishing areas and openings hours, add or remove new gear types and in general try to open up more fishing opportunity for each respective group. Commercial harvests decline since 2014 The situation in the Kenai River doesn’t seem quite as dire as in 2014, when king salmon runs were at a low point. King salmon show signs of being on the rebound throughout some of the state, but Cook Inlet commercial sockeye harvests will be as low as they’ve been in 15 years in 2017, if ADFG predictions are accurate. Area managers have already said that the season will be much more restrictive for the commercial fleet and all sockeye users should expect tighter rules if the run is as small as forecast. In 2014, 2015, and 2016, commercial sockeye fishermen cried foul over “foregone harvest” — fish they wanted to catch and sell but couldn’t due to the paired restrictions. Over the last three years, the commercial harvest of all five species of salmon in Upper Cook Inlet has been consistent at just more than 3 million fish per year. However that is about 1 million less than the 1966-2012 average of 4.1 million salmon per year. The management on the Kenai and Kasilof rivers needs adjusting, according to more than a dozen proposals seeking to modify or entirely repeal their respective sockeye salmon management plans. Some proposals want to get rid of key management measurements, while others want to add more. Upper Cook Inlet drift fishermen are trying to erase management that ties their openings to the run sizes of Susitna River-bound coho salmon and Kenai River and Kasilof River sockeye salmon. The Central Peninsula Fish and Game Advisory Committee is proposing some of the same ideas put forth by the United Cook Inlet Drift Association. The proposals criticize the current regulations as too restrictive. Several variations submitted say much of the same thing — the drift fishery should be more flexible with windows of allowable fishing time. Chilling board politics Commercial and sport fishermen throughout Upper Cook Inlet have laundry lists of complaints, but this year the tone may be different than in 2014. The board itself has changed substantially in membership since the last meeting, not only in people but in representativeness. The long-held idea dedicated user group or geographic seats was undone when Gov. Bill Walker was able to fill three spots in 2016, a year after removing sportfishing advocate Karl Johnstone as chair. Over the last 20 years, the seven-member Board of Fisheries has typically struck an informal balance among user groups by having three commercial fishermen, three sportfishermen, and one subsistence fishermen. Alaska law does not mandate geographic balance, but that was part of the Legislature’s rationale in 2015 when rejecting Kenai area habitat advocate Robert Ruffner by one vote after sportfishing groups organized against him for alleged sympathies to commercial fishing and the fact he does not live in Anchorage. This year, the board only has two commercial fishermen, vice-chair Sue Jeffrey and chair John Jensen, one sportfishing loge owner, Reed Morisky, and one subsistence fisherman, Orville Huntington. It also welcomes three newcomers — Alan Cain, Israel Payton, and Ruffner, who was confirmed on his second appointment by Walker in 2016. As a whole, the appointments follow Walker’s election promise to take the politics out of the Board of Fisheries process. “It seems like with the list of names…he still has that idea, that that dedicated seat idea is no the right way to do this business,” Ruffner told the Journal in 2016. “Picking a candidate based on how much they’re opposed to another particular gear type isn’t the right idea. I think picking individuals with a balanced view is a better way to look at it.” Cain and Ruffner come from conservation or enforcement backgrounds. Cain served as an Alaska Wildlife Trooper, while Ruffner is the executive director for the Kenai Watershed Forum. Payton grew up in the Bush as a subsistence user and was a member of the Mat-Su Fish and Game Advisory Committee, which has some history of advocating for sport-centered regulations. Fish fights The meeting caps three years of turmoil in fish markets and fish politics. Some in the fishing community object to the “Cook Inlet fish wars” moniker, claiming it mischaracterizes the issue as political, when it is in fact biological and scientific. Looking back over the last three years, Cook Inlet fisheries have their share of squabbles. Walker didn’t come out of the fray unscathed, having failed at three nominations to an empty Board of Fisheries seat in early 2015. Roland Maw, the former executive director of the United Cook Inlet Drift Association, kicked off the fray when he applied for commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game after Walker’s election, but was unanimously deemed unqualified to interview by the board chaired by Johnstone. That kicked off a series of events that began with commercial fishermen protesting Maw’s treatment and then Johnstone quitting in 2015 with six months left in his term after Walker said he would not be reappointing him and would replace him on the board with Maw. Maw eventually withdrew from consideration from the board after it came to light he had resident hunting and fishing privileges in both Montana and Alaska, which is illegal to do in both states. Maw pled no contest to charges in Montana and is still facing a dozen felony charges for PFD fraud in Alaska. Johnstone is still kicking, too, having written an opinion piece for the Journal in February 2017 on behalf of sportfishing interests that advocated for the gradual elimination of commercial fishing as a priority in Cook Inlet. Tom Kluberton, another sportfishing representative, announced he would not be interested in another term in a letter that read like a soldier’s post-war memoir. Walker also lost his boards and commissions director, Karen Gillis, when he Gillis said the governor planned to nominate Roberta Quintavell to the Board of Fisheries and she quit in protest considering Quintavell unqualified for the position. Bob Mumford, Walker’s last ditch appointment in 2015 to fill Johnstone’s seat after Ruffner was rejected and Quintavell’s name was not forwarded, resigned from the board in early 2016 for personal reasons. UCIDA recorded a legal win in the interim, succeeding in a lawsuit that challenged the North Pacific Fishery Management Council on a 2011 decision to remove Upper Cook Inlet salmon fisheries from the federal fisheries plan. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled last September that the council must craft a fisheries management plan for Cook Inlet, Prince William Sound and the Alaska Peninsula, and that it must conform to the 10 federal standards under the Magnuson-Stevens Act. One group tried to ban an entire sector of fishermen from the river. Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance, founded by Bob Penney, gathered enough signatures for a ballot initiative that would have banned all setnets from the Kenai River. The group said the measure was to protect king salmon caught in the setnets. The Alaska Supreme Court, however, ruled in December 2015 that the ballot would have been an unconstitutional giveaway and rejected it from appearing on the 2016 primary ballot. Residents of Anchorage and of the Central Kenai Peninsula even battled it out over the meeting location, with Kenai-area mayors offering the board $60,000 in savings if it moved the meeting from Anchorage. The next two weeks will reveal how much old grudges will be in play, but having three new members also offers a chance for a fresh start. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Prices, lawsuit over cod allocation keep Adak plant closed

For the second year running, Adak fishermen aren’t going after the pollock quota they’ve spent more than a decade trying to fish, claiming to need a more stable cod supply that’s now the subject of a lawsuit before they can make processing financially viable. The easing of some fishing restrictions revolving around Stellar sea lion protections in 2015 allowed the Aleut Corp., one of 12 Alaska Native regional corporations, to begin harvesting its pollock allocation of 15,500 metric tons. Prior to the changes, all or a portion of the Aleut Corp. allocation was typically split up each year within the Bering Sea fishery because of the Stellar sea lion rules that would have otherwise prevented its harvest. Ten percent of the 19,000 metric ton allocation for the Aleutians subarea harvest is classified as Community Development Quota, or 1,900 metric tons, and reserved for Adak. The Adak Cod Cooperative owned the pollock quota and leased the processing plant at Adak from Aleut Corp until the state of Alaska revoked its business license. On Feb. 3, with it clear the 1,900 mt issued to Adak would go unharvested, the allocation was shifted into the Bering Sea pollock fishery as it always has been. According to Clem Tillion, a lobbyist for the city of Adak, the pollock aren’t worth going after. “They’re not fishing the quota because no one has wanted it,” said Tillion. “Nobody’s looking for any new resource. Pollock is almost a worthless product at this point.” Pollock isn’t a moneymaker in 2017. Prices are at their lowest point in a decade for the fish and likely to fall even further as the 2017 season continues, according to market sources. Adak’s processing facility is only recently up and operable, having undergone ownership changes after Icicle sold the plant in 2013 and a fire that required expensive renovation. Tillion said the processor is ready to accept pollock deliveries, but likely won’t do so until it can bring in Pacific cod as well, which is faring better in terms of price and could subsidize the less cost-effective pollock. Cod fishermen, however, are now suing to stop a recent requirement they deliver tons of their harvest to Adak. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council, one of eight councils governing federal fisheries, guaranteed a minimum of 5,000 metric tons of Pacific cod each year to be delivered to any shoreside processor west of 170 degrees longitude. Groundfish trawlers objected to the motion when it was passed in September 2015. They said council’s action is an illegal set aside that “unlawfully and arbitrarily restricts at-sea processing and fishing by vessels that target Pacific cod in the ‘directed’ fishery,” according to court filings. In December 2016, Groundfish Forum, an industry group of groundfish trawlers, filed a lawsuit against U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker over the council’s decision, along with several other companies. “Although the Final Rule states that delivery pursuant to the set aside may be to any shoreside processor located on land west of 170 degrees west longitude in the Aleutian Islands, there are only two existing processors in that area, located in Adak and Atka, Alaska, neither of which is currently open for processing Pacific cod,” reads the lawsuit. “The Atka facility has never received and processed cod from the Aleutian Islands directed fishery, and the Adak facility has only been periodically operational over the last decade. “Neither plant processed cod during the 2015 and 2016 fishing years. On information and belief, neither plant intends to process cod during the 2017 fishing year.” Indeed, it appears that the Adak plant is waiting until the case is resolved before it starts taking either pollock or cod. “If we win, and I think we will, then we might start in the summer,” Tillion said. “We won’t know ‘til June, I’m guessing.” Even in the case that Adak hangs onto its shoreside cod delivery requirements, Tillion said there’s no guarantee they’ll fish the pollock quota — the market will still have to make fishing the quota economical. The decision to hold off fishing is somewhat surprising, considering the lengths Adak has gone through to get pollock quota in the first place. The Aleutian town has been on the wrong side of regulations, markets and government movements for the last half century. The U.S. Navy was the town’s income for half a century until it withdrew in 1999, leaving Adak without much revenue stream. Similar coastal towns within 50 miles of the coast are issued Community Development Quota amounting to 10 percent of all Bering Sea harvests, but the program began in 1991 when Adak was still a Naval base, so the town received no CDQ quota until the late former Sen. Ted Stevens managed to do it legislatively in 2004. Steller sea lion protections put in place after 2004 made the quota practically useless and the 1,900 metric tons were reallocated to the Bering Sea each year. The State of Alaska and a coalition of fishing groups sued over an expansion of the fishing closures in 2010, and a federal judge ruled in 2012 that the National Marine Fisheries Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act in the manner it implemented the restrictions designed to protect food sources for the endangered species. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council then recrafted the Stellar sea lion rules that have allowed the Aleutians quota to be fished, but that hasn’t yet helped Adak harvest its allocation. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Mariculture industry set to bloom; Board of Fisheries set to battle

Shellfish, sea cucumbers, geoduck clams, seaweeds and biofuels are crops envisioned by a group of Alaskans who are crafting a framework for a statewide mariculture industry expansion. An 11-member task force created last February by Gov. Bill Walker has wasted no time advancing its mission to put a comprehensive report on Walker’s desk by next March. The group, which has been meeting regularly, also has attracted wide interest from Alaskans who want to serve on advisory committees as the plan takes shape. The advisory committees include research and development, the environment, regulatory issues, investment and infrastructure, workforce development, and public education and marketing. “I get several calls a week from interested parties who want to participate,” said Barbara Blake, Walker’s point person on the task force. “People are charged up for this. It’s a new concept that allows our communities to engage in a way that allows them to maintain their residence in our rural coastal regions. Everyone participating is really committed to developing something that will be beneficial for the entire state.” Sen. Lisa Murkowski also has gotten onboard with the hiring of Charlotte Regula-White, a marine biologist who will be the Murkowski’s mariculture point person. Globally, shellfish and seaweeds add up to multi-billion dollar sustainable industries and in Alaska, much of the necessary infrastructure is already in place from the seafood industry and hatchery programs. Task force member Julie Decker, executive director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, believes mariculture could become a $1 billion industry for the state in less than 30 years. At a Feb. 17 public meeting in Juneau, the Task Force will advance its report, and also get an update on a U.S. Department of Energy grant program that moves mariculture into the macroalgae biofuel sector. “It not only contributes to small operations in our coastal communities, there also are huge benefits by it being a green industry and cleaning our oceans,” said Blake. “There are not any down sides to it. We just need to keep engaging the public so they will see this is something that will potentially benefit all Alaskans.” Interested? Call 1-800-315-6338/Access code 29660 to participate in the Feb. 17 mariculture task force meeting starting at 8 am. Sign up to receive ongoing information by email at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game home page. Fish finesse One of the year’s biggest fish gatherings occurs in two weeks when the state Board of Fisheries meets to sort out Upper Cook Inlet issues with often fractious groups of salmon users. The fish board sets policy and catch limits for the state’s subsistence, commercial, sport and personal use fisheries, and will consider 174 proposals at the upcoming meeting in Anchorage. The event will attract a huge audience and many are unfamiliar with the process, said board executive director Glenn Haight. To that end, an informal, one-hour lunch meeting on the first day will run people through the ropes. “We’ll walk through the Board of Fish process, the terms, how it moves from staff reports to public testimony to committees and deliberations,” Haight said. “We’ll tell them how to provide more effective testimony, how to speak to board members and make a strong impact, and just make them more familiar with it all.” When you have three minutes to make your case in public testimony, you need to make an impression. “It’s important to plan that out,” Haight added. “And if you’re going to come back and participate in any of the committees, that is the time to save your really detailed discussions. It’s a valuable opportunity for the board to hear from as many people as possible.” The Board of Fisheries meets Feb. 23 to March 8 at the Anchorage Sheraton. The meetings are live streamed on the web. Vacuum invaders Warming Alaska waters are luring all kinds of unusual creatures — and some of the smallest can be the biggest troublemakers. In the eastern Gulf of Alaska, for example, tiny filter feeders called salps are appearing in large numbers. The gelatinous, jet-propelled tubes can asexually bud off clones at a rapid rate. They then form long feeding chains that graze on the phytoplankton and rob it of the microscopic crustaceans, larvae and nutrients so important to small fish. “Just the fact that they are here is different from the usual,” said Wesley Strasburger, chief survey scientist for the eastern Gulf of Alaska, based at the NOAA Auke Bay lab in Juneau. Salp blooms were first spotted in the eastern waters about five years ago and made a big increase in 2015, based on samples taken in tiny, mesh surface trawl surveys that extended from 100 miles out to 200 miles for the first time. Strasburger said the salps also made up a big part of many small fish diets. “Juvenile pink salmon, chums, sockeye, juvenile rockfishes and juvenile sablefishes were all eating these salps. That is not typical, and their regular diets seem to have been at least in part, displaced by these salps.” “They are not an energetically dense diet,” Strasburger added. “The trade-off is that there are a lot of them.” Researchers have a seven-year time series comprising 10 categories of zooplankton, he said, and by rough counts salps were in many cases the largest biomass in the lot. A partnering plankton vacuum bloom called gymnosome also has made an appearance in eastern Gulf waters. “They were very abundant and ubiquitous this year,” Strasburger said. “So not only do we have these salps filtering all the primary productivity out of the waters; we also have gymnosomes doing the same thing.” Strasburger said researchers will be closely watching the impacts of the tiny invaders. “They are squarely on our radar,” he said. “We’re just now trying to figure out how often this happens, when it happens, and what effects it has on the ecosystem.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

North Pacific council director a possibility for top fish post

SEATTLE — It would make sense for an expert on Alaska to oversee the nation’s fisheries, even if he is a Texan. Chris Oliver, the executive director of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council for the past 16 years, didn’t ask for a consideration as the new assistant administrator for the National Marine Fisheries Service; rather, the most powerful fishing industry voices in the nation’s most profitable region asked. He doesn’t know if the new administration will offer it or if he’d want it if it did. Still, looking at his history, knowledge and reputation, he seems in many ways a natural fit. “There’s no guarantee…that I would say yes if they offered it to me,” he said after the North Pacific council wrapped up its recent meeting Feb. 6 in Seattle. “But I’ve got a lot of people who’ve expended a lot of effort, and my understanding is I’ve got a pretty strong backing from our congressional delegation. I’m inclined to do it because it interests me.” The National Marine Fisheries Service, or NMFS, accounts for virtually every fish in U.S. waters. A part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration within the U.S. Department of Commerce, the NMFS assistant administrator is the country’s fish czar. Oliver said when it became known that the current administrator, Eileen Sobeck, won’t be staying with the new administration, parts of the fishing universe aligned. Half a hundred letters poured into NOAA offices endorsing Oliver, from seafood companies, industry associations and Alaska Native organizations. Names like Trident Seafoods, Icicle Seafoods, Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, Alaska Marine Conservation Council, At Sea Processors Association, Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp., Fishing Vessel Owners Association, Pacific Seafoods Processors Association, United Catcher Boats, and United Fishermen’s Marketing Association have become well known to Oliver over the last 27 years. In 1990, Oliver turned down a recently acquired fisheries job in his native Texas to work as the Gulf of Alaska plan coordinator for the North Pacific council, putting his degrees in business and in fisheries science from Texas A&M to natural use. He moved to a deputy director position in 1992 and to his current executive director position in 2001. In the North Pacific, Oliver entered into a time of changing attitudes, as more and more fisheries moved from open access, or derby style fisheries, to limited access programs, which assign catch shares to individual vessel or cooperatives. In the North Pacific and elsewhere, catch share systems are a contentious issue; Oliver said in an interview he’s already had fisheries stakeholders from other regions probing for what his intent would be with their respective fisheries. Oliver’s answer sums up both his attitude and in part that of the new administration. “It’s not my call,” he said. “What makes sense in the North Pacific…may not make sense in New England, or in the Gulf of Mexico. I would like to see the agency be more decentralized. It goes hand-in-hand with regional flexibility. It’s a constituent, stakeholder driven process.” Oliver didn’t say one thing or another about President Donald Trump, but both his answers and his history indicate he would fit into the administration’s regulatory philosophy. Trump’s direction with regulatory agencies aims broadly to streamline regulations and cut bureaucratic fat. He rolled back Dodd-Frank Act laws only days after signing an executive order titled “Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs,” which aims to cut two old regulations per every new one and caps the cost of new regulations for the federal government. Oliver has run the council for 16 years with an oft-stated allegiance to “council process” and “regional flexibility” — that is, trusting fishermen to craft their own regulations through public council involvement and letting councils operate as they need to given their differences. “From a government structure perspective, the previous administration and NOAA has been quite centralized and top-down,” he said. “I’m of course a big believer in the regional council process and transparency. So hopefully that’s what they’re looking for. If it is, I think I might be a good fit.” Fisheries management is highly political, but Oliver said his role as director has insulated him. “To the extent that part of my job is to be neutral and objective,” he said, “it is a political position at NOAA. Maybe there’s a bit of a misfit in that sense, that I’m not a political person.” In practice, Oliver holds strictly to the executive director’s core mission, only weighing into council talks for procedural items or to remind them what kind of resources exist for which tasks. Among staff and fisheries stakeholders, Oliver has a reputation as clear thinking and bluntly spoken. “He’s just really practical,” said Sarah Merrinan, a fisheries economist who works as staff for the council.” He doesn’t want to form committees just for the sake of committees. He wants to know are we going to actually produce a product or are we going to sit around talking? I think that’s a really productive person to have in management.” Despite being apolitical, in the North Pacific, Oliver has directed more U.S. fisheries landings than the others combined. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is within the U.S. Department of Commerce for a reason — fish are worth money. U.S. commercial and recreational fisheries between three and 200 miles off the coast brought in $5.2 billion in 2015. Alaska’s massive area coverage of healthy fishing stocks makes it more productive than the rest of the U.S. combined. In 2015, the North Pacific region accounted for 62 percent of the total U.S. catch. Oliver, who insists he’s “not a city guy” ready for the Washington, D.C., Beltway, speaks of the potential position with worry, but also seems to see an upside to learning more about the nation’s waters. He had been planning to retire in two-and-a-half years, collect his pension and maybe do some consulting. Moving to Silver Spring, Md.,where NMFS is headquartered, would put a damper on his plans, Alaskan lifestyle, and finances. “Now I’d be taking on a four-year commitment,” he said. “I would look at it as sort of a career cap.” DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Seafood groups pick up $5.9M tab for hatchery salmon research

Processors and seven hatcheries have agreed to pony up millions to keep an Alaska Department of Fish and Game research project going. Pacific Seafood Processors Association and Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association Inc., committed $5.9 million to support the Wild/Hatchery Salmon Management Tools capital project. The project is intended to fuel management decisions around Alaska’s 29 salmon hatcheries, as well as secure a more marketable reputation for Alaska hatchery stocks. The program was originally started in 2012 as a collaboration between ADFG, the PSPA and private nonprofit hatcheries. “The state’s share ($3.5 million) got put in as a capital appropriation in 2012,” explained Sam Rabung at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. “It was a one-time deal. Our intention at the time — and times were better then — is we expected another increment. What’s going to carry this forward is the contributions from PSPA and (private nonprofits).” The program was originally slated to run through 2024, and with industry contributions totaling $850,000 per year over seven years, it will. This is a different situation than several other instances in the last year where private parties have picked up funding for ADFG studies that have been cut to patch up Alaska’s $2.7 billion budget deficit. In this case, the processors and hatcheries already had planned to kick in — simply not so much. “The stakeholders certainly feel it’s worth it, and that’s why they’re willing to fund it,” said Rabung. The state does have hatchery programs for sockeye, Alaska’s most valuable crop, but the bulk of hatchery production is pink salmon in Prince William Sound and chum salmon in Southeast Alaska. In 2015, the ex-vessel value of all commercially harvested hatchery fish was $125 million, half of which was pink salmon and a third of which was chum salmon. PSPA President Glenn Reed painted the program as a sustainability measure as much as an economic one. Securing a sustainability certification is a moneymaker for Alaska’s fisheries, and many retailers now require one for seafood products they sell. The Marine Stewardship Council, or MSC, issues one of the more widely accepted of these certifications, with the first it ever issued being for Alaska salmon. Alaska dropped out of the MSC program in 2012 in favor of one created by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, in part over the high costs of certification but mainly over the demands for the state to undertake an “improvement plan” for its hatchery management. In 2013, Walmart stated it wouldn’t buy salmon without MSC certification before evenutally relenting. “The goal of this 10-12 year effort is to illustrate, stated simply, that Alaska’s hatchery program is designed and managed in a way that does not cause genetic dilution of the wild stocks,” wrote Reed in an email. “The study was initiated to illustrate this for the benefit of markets that purchase seafood certified as sustainable by the MSC.” Indeed, Rabung said the program is an important way to differentiate Alaska’s hatchery stocks from the rest of the world’s in terms of negative impacts to wild stocks. “One of the things that drove this is an awful lot of criticism of hatcheries all over the place,” he said. “We in Alaska operate significantly differently. We have much more stringent guidance, we’re much more restrictive. For example, the only place in the world that requires local stocks.” Hatchery distrust is certainly a feature in Alaska, and at the highest levels. During a Jan. 31 House Fish and Game Finance subcommittee meeting, Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, said that it seemed improper for ADFG to focus more on their management than that of wild stocks. (Editor's note: The original version of this story paraphrased Rep. Stutes as saying hatchery stocks are killing off wild stocks. Her statement was "It seems to be the focus is on manmade runs as opposed to natural runs, which is killing off our natural runs." Stutes was stating that ADFG's management focus on hatchery runs versus natural runs was harming the natural runs, not that the hatchery runs themselves are hurting wild stocks.) Rabung points to empirical evidence that Alaska’s hatcheries do not harm wild stocks the same way they might in other salmon-producing countries and regions. Far from killing wild stocks, hatchery salmon and wild stocks have rebounded in tandem since the program was started in the 1970s to relieve historically low salmon runs. According to an ADFG hatchery report from 2015, wild stocks are healthier now than they were before the state launched it hatcheries. The 2013 season was a record salmon harvest. It was the second highest catch for wild stocks (176 million fish) and the highest catch for hatchery stocks (107 million fish) in Alaska’s history. The 2015 season was the second-highest harvest, with the third-highest catch for wild stocks and the second highest catch for hatchery stocks. “The hatchery harvests alone in both 2013 and 2015 were greater than the entire statewide commercial salmon harvest in every year prior to statehood except for years 1918, 1926, 1934, 1936, 1937, 1938, and 1941,” according to the report. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

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