Fisheries

North Pacific council gets review of Bering Sea pollock program

SEATTLE — After two years of almost ceaseless contention, the North Pacific regulatory waters have cooled down for now. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council oversees all federal fisheries between three and 200 miles off the Alaska coast. One of eight regions, the North Pacific fishery is by far the country’s most profitable, having produced two-thirds of the country’s total seafood value in 2015. Over the last two years, the council has been in battle mode over chinook salmon and halibut bycatch, and Gulf of Alaska groundfish catch shares. There have been parades of protest and industry stand-downs and rural Alaska villages emptied to give impassioned pleas alongside Seattle fishing crews and captains. At the council’s Seattle meeting Feb. 1-6, the council rested for the most part, taking scant public comment and few final actions. Rather, it focused on some of the structures behind the chaos, reviewing catch share programs and looking for areas to tune up following two years of pushing the gas. After indefinitely tabling a Gulf of Alaska catch share system four years in the works at its meeting this past December, the council reviewed the schematics behind the Bering Sea pollock fishery, Alaska’s largest fishery by volume. The council asked that some information be refined and sent back to it, including effects on the outmigration of rural employment, the amount of Community Development Quota ownership, and the individual ownership for catcher vessels. The American Fisheries Act was signed into law in 1998, designed to end foreign control of the Bering Sea pollock fishery. Under the new rules, vessels must be a minimum 75 percent U.S.-owned. As with most of the continually evolving North Pacific fisheries, the biggest points included how the program has encouraged U.S. and Alaskan ownership and employment. Indeed, the program did produce some consolidation. At start of 2000, 18 companies owned the 19 catcher-processors in the Bering Sea fishery. By 2015, seven companies owned them. Impacts to fishing communities have been “largely beneficial,” according to the review’s authors, Marcus Hartley and Gary Eaton of research firm Northern Economics. Frank Kelty, the city manager of Unalaska, talked of stability as the program’s best feature. Unalaska is the town home of Dutch Harbor, perennially the nation’s largest seafood port and where Kelty said AFA has led to steadier employment and steadier school enrollment. Stakeholders and council both acknowledge that the AFA program was a big step in fisheries management, bringing a host of management tools into practice. “We never talked about co-ops before AFA,” said Stephanie Madsen, executive director of the At-Sea Processors Association. “We never talked about sideboards.” Because issuing quota in the pollock fishery may free up opportunity to move into other fisheries, the sideboards set limits on the extent of those harvests so as not to crowd out other individuals not involved in harvesting pollock. Both co-ops and sideboards continue to feature heavily in management talks, including a recently discarded program for groundfish in the Gulf of Alaska. The review was not without problems, however. The council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee hadn’t reviewed the study, leaving several questions. Among other areas, council members wanted more information that the study had related to Community Development Quota, or CDQ, ownership and individual vessel ownerships. The CDQ program that gives 10 percent of the overall groundfish harvest quota to 65 western Alaska villages within 50 miles of the coast. The program was designed to promote economic health in those regions, and some of the review’s statistics point to success. Over the length of the pollock-based program, royalties going to CDQ groups from the AFA fishery have increased. From 2001 through 2005, CDQ royalties ranged between $42.6 million and $60.5 million per year, with increases every year. Pollock accounted for 79 percent to 86 percent of total all-species royalties in any given year during this period. From 2007 to 2013, estimates ranged between $59.9 million and $79.5 million per year, with a general upward trend. Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner and council member Sam Cotton wanted a more detailed breakdown of CDQ ownership in the fishery. “The question here is how much of that fishery is staying in Alaska,” said Cotten. “How big a share of the fishery is owned by CDQ groups? In terms of percentage of the vessels, or harvesting capacity, revenue?” Hartley said that he has made those calculations before, but not for the current study. The study had similar gaps where the AFA’s 100 individual catcher vessels were concerned. By AFA design, none of these vessels can have anything less than 75 percent U.S. ownership. Council member Buck Laukitis wanted to make sure that these vessels weren’t skirting the rules. Inshore catcher vessel ownership info, Hartley explained “was insufficient to determine changes in ownerships pattern.” Those records are held by the U.S. Maritime Administration, or MARAD, which is tasked under the AFA with ensuring compliance for the U.S. ownership rules. Hartley said Northern Economics could not get access to much of the proprietary information.

FISH FACTOR: Halibut gets bump; salmon prices soar

More Pacific halibut will be going to market this year due to an overall boost in the harvests for the West Coast, British Columbia and Alaska. The coastwide catch of 31.4 million pounds reflects a 5.1 percent increase, and for the first time in decades, not a single fishing region met with a decline in halibut catches. The heartening news was released on Jan. 27 by the International Pacific Halibut Commission, overseer of the stocks since 1923. Halibut catch limits are determined by summer surveys at more than 1,200 stations from Oregon to the Aleutians. In 2016, the results showed the stock had remained stable over a span of three years, although the fish remained small for their ages. Alaska always gets the lion’s share of the Pacific halibut catch and a take of 22.62 million pounds this year adds up to an extra million pounds for longliners who hold quota shares of the fish. The good news has been dampened somewhat by a potential delay to the March 11 start of the fishery due to the bureaucratic freeze by our new president. On Jan. 20, Donald Trump issued a memo to all federal departments and agencies to freeze new or pending regulations until his administration has time to look them over. That includes the rules for running the federally managed Pacific halibut fishery. Also potentially stalled is the use of pots to catch sablefish, or black cod, in the Gulf of Alaska. That gear was ok’d starting this year by federal advisors to prevent sperm whales from snatching the fish from hooks. “The National Marine Fisheries Service is working to determine the impacts of the Executive Order on our Alaska Region rule making actions,” said Rachel Baker of NOAA Fisheries in Juneau. Here are the 2017 halibut catch limits for Alaska in millions of pounds, provided by the Halibut Coalition: Southeast Alaska: 5.25m, a 6.1 percent increase Central Gulf: 10m, a 4.2 percent increase Western Gulf: 3.14m, a 15.9 percent increase Aleutians regions remain flat at 1.39m and 1.14m Bering Sea: 1.70m, a 2.4 percent increase Salmon squeeze A rising tide lifts all boats and a global shortage of farmed salmon is increasing fish prices across the board. “We’re looking at several years of either lower or constrained supply growth for farmed salmon. That is important because farmed salmon production has typically grown around 5 percent a year over the last 20 years,” said Andy Wink, Senior Seafood Analyst with the McDowell Group. The farmed salmon shortfall stems from a double whammy: tens of millions of fish have been lost in Chile due to an ongoing virus caused by toxic algae in warming oceans. At the same time, sea lice are ravaging fish farms in Norway with increasing frequency and intensity. Norway is the world’s biggest farmed salmon producer, and its exports last year fell by five percent. Sea lice are the farmed Atlantic salmon industry’s most expensive problem, costing around $550 million in lost output each year. Fish farmers also are coming under increasing criticism for the thousands of tons of antibiotics and/or pesticides they use to control the outbreaks of disease and parasites in the cramped salmon net pens. Despite the dousings, the farmed salmon shortfall has pushed prices to record highs. Twice last year spot prices of Norwegian fish for export approached $21 per pound, according to the Nasdaq Salmon Index. Limited supplies of wild salmon also continued to strengthen prices into the new year. Tradex Foods reports four to six pound sockeye salmon are holding steady in the $3.60 to $3.75 per pound range. And despite the abundance of salmon fillets, wild sockeyes continue to move steadily at $6.75 to $7.00 per pound at retail counters, “largely influenced by the lack of chum and pink salmon in the market,” Tradex said. The report added that in coming weeks “expect to see a rush for inventories as buyers analyze end user contracts to determine a need or a surplus of materials,” and “some processors mentioned strong refresh programs for sockeye, indicating that large volumes of raw materials would be destined for that. Expectations across the board for 2017 wild salmon pricing right now seem strong.” Fishing facts United Fishermen of Alaska has released its latest popular Fishing Fact sheets that highlight the seafood industry’s economic importance for each fishing town/region in Alaska, statewide, and for West Coast states. UFA is the nation’s largest commercial fishing trade organization, representing 33 diverse groups ranging from small skiff operators to big at-sea processing and crab boats. Find the fact sheets at www.ufafish.org. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Fisheries funding in focus in Juneau

Discussions continue on how to patch up the state’s $3 billion budget hole, and again fishermen will feel the cuts from one realm or another. Meanwhile, legislators are hinting at an overarching message: find money anywhere but here and prove that your job matters. Budget-wise, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has been hurting over the last few years, with a budget slashed 30 percent since 2014. Gov. Bill Walker’s budget for fiscal year 2018, which begins July 1, has a nominal department increase of 0.3 percent, but fishermen are still concerned about the effects of the last two years’ cuts. As with last year, a serious tax discussion is likely on the way after a cluster of industry tax increases including on fisheries failed to materialize in 2016. Until then, the concerns over management continue, largely over how ADFG can absorb the cuts and continue operations without harming fishermen’s economic prospects, which also hurt the state through lost tax revenue. In a Jan. 31 House Fish and Game Finance subcommittee meeting, Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, launched a heated tirade against Commercial Fisheries Division Director Scott Kelley. Stutes accused Kelley and ADFG of strong-arming the Legislature by cutting funding for salmon weirs — a crucial part of commercial fisheries management. “Weir counters are directly related to salmon sustainability,” Stutes said. “These salmon fishermen can’t survive without the information of these weir counters that the department has seen to eliminate. I almost have to question if this is an attention-getting measure….a message to the Legislature that you can’t cut our budget because we’re going to cut weirs.” Further, the committee questioned Kelley over ADFG’s plan to increase test fisheries by 27 percent as a cost recovery effort, which will by definition take away opportunities from the commercial fishermen themselves. Without a state solution to increase management, Kelley referred to a growing trend of private entities and fisheries groups dipping into their own pockets for support as the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association did in funding studies for its fishery. “I want to make sure everyone knows…what we’re talking about here is everyone opening up their pocketbook and helping us,” said Kelley. Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute Executive Director Alexa Tonkovich fielded a round of tough questions about cuts from a Senate Finance Committee meeting on Jan. 25, each aimed at weaning the institute completely off state funding as soon as possible. The institute, or ASMI, is a joint state-private venture that aims to increase the demand and price of Alaska seafood in the U.S. and abroad. Last year, the Legislature passed intent language that aimed broadly to cut ASMI from unrestricted general funds by 2019. The committee asked Tonkovich pointedly, however, how ASMI’s board could reach that mark by as early as 2018. Chair Sen. Anna McKinnon, R-Eagle River, asked Tonkovich for answers to questions by Feb. 15. State general funds to ASMI were $4.5 million as recently as fiscal year 2016, a match to the federal market access grants that make 20 percent to 25 percent of ASMI’s overall budget. ASMI’s budget has fallen to $2 million from the state’s general funds in fiscal year 2017 to $1 million in Walker’s proposed fiscal year 2018 budget. By 2019, no state funds will go into the program. To make up costs, ASMI has planned to raise its voluntary tax on fisheries from 0.4 percent to 0.5 percent. By statute, the rate can only rise to 0.6 percent. Lawmakers questioned Tonkovich on whether ASMI could possibly fold some of duties into the Alaska Tourism Industry Association or develop deeper relationships with Community Development Quota groups. The CDQ program gives 10 percent of the overall federal Bering Sea groundfish harvest to 65 villages within 50 miles of the coast. The committee hinted at deeper issues in talking to Tonkovich, asking how much money the state brings in from fisheries and the how much Alaskan employment the industry generates. Sen. Lyman Hoffman pinned Tonkovich down about six Seattle-based ASMI positions totaling more than $900,000 in pay and benefits, asking why ASMI’s board had not cut these jobs and given them to Alaskans. “Does the board feel that Alaskan individuals do not have the understanding of the management of salmon resources?” he asked. “Paychecks are paychecks and Alaskans are struggling at this point. For the board not to realize that gives me great concern.” ASMI’s six Seattle employees, though a $1 million expense, pale in comparison to the larger employment picture of Alaska’s fishing industry — a fact not lost on the senators when they began prodding Tonkovich for bigger picture information. As with ADFG, legislators also want ASMI to prove it works for its designated purpose. Among other questions, the finance committee wants ASMI to come back with a kind of success list of numbers proving not only that it increases visibility of Alaska seafood but increases demand and sales as well. Sen. Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks, asked Tonkovich to compare ASMI’s success compared to a similar Norwegian entity in terms of seafood sold versus program cost. The Norwegian program has a $55 million budget. By the numbers By sheer numbers, the commercial fishing industry directly employs more people than any other private industry in the state, more than 60,000 in 2014. More than half of those jobs, however, aren’t held by Alaskans. According to the McDowell Group economic impact analysis of the seafood industry used by ASMI for its presentation, 27,600 of a total 60,000 seafood workers in 2014 were Alaska residents. This total is less than the average 2014 employment in retail trade (36,800), professional and business services (30,000), health care (33,800) and leisure and hospitality (34,200), according to Department of Labor and Workforce Development statistics. In processing facilities, 72 percent of the workforce was non-resident. Fifty-five percent of fishermen including captain and crew, or 17,600, were Alaska residents in 2014, almost exactly as many as worked in mining (17,100) or in construction (17,800). Alaska’s fisheries not only employ more non-residents, but also make more gross earnings for non-Alaskan commercial permit holders than for Alaskans. According to the data compiled by UFA, Alaska resident fishing permit holders made gross ex-vessel earnings of $602.5 million in 2015. Washingtonian-held permits made $904.2 million, or 50 percent more than Alaskans. Oregonian permit holders made $126.1 million and Californians made $27.8 million. The state collected $88 million in fisheries taxes in 2014, along with $23.9 million from permits and license fees and $26.5 million from industry self assessments for a total $138.4 million. This does not take into account a slew of other commingled taxes and funding sources from federal programs, which UFA said total $250 million. The state shares half of some of these taxes with the localities in which they are landed. According to McDowell Group, 38 percent of all fisheries taxes go to local governments, 55 percent to the state and 7 percent to the federal government.

New indictment for Maw on PFD fraud charges

Two weeks after a Superior Court judge dismissed charges against former United Cook Inlet Drift Association Executive Director Roland Maw on procedural grounds, the State of Alaska secured a new indictment. The state, spearheaded by special prosecutor Lisa Kelley, charged Maw with six felony counts of theft, six felony counts of unsworn falsification, and five misdemeanor charges. The felony charges each correspond to years between 2009 and 2014 when Maw received an Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend. The Montana Department of Fish and Wildlife opened an investigation into Maw’s residency in February 2015 after he was found to be holding resident licenses in Montana while also drawing the benefits of Alaska residency. Maw pled no contest to the Montana charges in May 2015. The 12 counts now brought against Maw are new, technically, but the five misdemeanor charges are the same as in the previous set of indictments. A three-day trial is tentatively scheduled for April 24, but Kelley admits that date will likely change. Alaska Superior Court First District Judge Louis Menendez had dismissed the felony charges against Maw in Juneau on Jan. 3 after agreeing with the defense that the state prosecution had not properly presented hearsay evidence to the grand jury, which would incurably sour the jury against him. Kelley explained that Maw avoids double jeopardy — being tried twice for the same offense — because the charges themselves had no final resolution. Rather, it was only the indictments that Menendez threw out. The state presented evidence to another grand jury and will proceed to the trial process, which may or may not happen. “The next step is defense reviewing the new indictment,” she said. “It’s entirely possible they’ll have the option to challenge the new indictment. If they either don’t challenge it, or the judge dismisses, the next step would be going to trial.” Maw’s trial process is a vestige of a fisheries politics fiasco stretching back to Gov. Bill Walker’s first days in office in early 2015. That included the ousting of former Board of Fisheries chairman Karl Johnstone by Walker, a chaotic confirmation cycle to replace him including the nomination and subsequent withdrawal of Maw after the charges became known in Montana, a one-vote defeat in the Legislature for Walker’s next pick, and eventually the resignation of Walker’s Boards and Commissions Director Karen Gillis. Although Walker had already nominated Sam Cotten for the position, Maw also applied for the job of Alaska Department of Fish and Game commissioner in December 2014. Under state law, the Board of Fisheries must interview and forward a list of qualified commissioner candidates from which the governor may choose. The board, then chaired by Karl Johnstone, unanimously deemed Maw unqualified to be interviewed for the job. In response to criticism of the board action by UCIDA and then-House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, Walker chastised the Board of Fisheries and told Johnstone he wouldn’t be reappointed with his term about to expire June 30, 2015. Johnstone resigned on Jan. 14, and Walker appointed Maw to replace him on the board on Jan. 20, 2015. Maw dropped out of consideration soon after on Feb. 20, 2015, shortly before the investigation in Montana became public knowledge. Walker’s next choice, Kenai-area habitat advocate Robert Ruffner, was torpedoed in the Legislature by a 29-30 vote after sportfishing groups organized against him. Walker then appointed Bob Mumford, who later resigned after only a year on the board rather than seek confirmation for the seat. In 2016, Walker then chose not to reappoint Fritz Johnson of Dillingham, and chairman Tom Kluberton announced he was not interested in another three-year term on the board, citing the political burnout from the contentious job. With three openings, Walker had less trouble with his appointments and all three were confirmed unanimously by the Legislature last session, including Ruffner in his second try. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

IPHC sets 2017 halibut harvest, adopts charter rules and allocations

Halibut catch limits rose for the third year in a row on Jan. 27, this time by 5 percent, marking another year that the commission has gone millions of pounds north of the recommendations of its staff scientists. The International Pacific Halibut Commission, a joint U.S.-Canada body, sets the catch limits for halibut from the West Coast to Alaska every year. At their 93rd meeting in Victoria, British Columbia, the six IPHC commissioners voted to increase the total Pacific halibut quota from 29.9 million pounds in 2016 to 31.4 million pounds in the coming 2017 season that begins in March. For the third year, the commission has set the harvest limits above the recommended levels, known as the “blue line” — which a commissioner called “useless” during the meeting. The blue line number presented by staff biologists was for 26.1 million pounds at the commission’s interim meeting in December 2016. In 2016, the commission also set the harvest levels above the blue line by 3 million pounds. This is a notable difference from the U.S. federal policy. At the eight regional fishery management councils, harvest limits may not exceed the overfishing limits set by the Scientific and Statistical Committee. The blue line estimated by IPHC staff is based on incomplete information, according to analysis, particularly on the concept of “exploitable biomass,” or how many halibut can be sustainably removed. “The concept of exploitable biomass is no longer a relevant factor,” said Canadian commissioner Paul Ryall, who works for the Canada Department of Fisheries and Oceans. “If the scientists are telling me they’re estimating something based on a flawed understanding of the resource…how can the output be any longer relevant?” Indeed, IPHC scientists have been warning the commission of its model’s shortcomings in the last year. “The scaling of the current harvest policy revolves around the concept of exploitable biomass (EBio), which is based on externally derived selectivity curves that are not representative of the current stock assessment results,” wrote Dr. Ian Stewart in a missive to the IPHC. Among other problems, IPHC scientists can’t effectively split the overall biomass into each of the regulatory areas. Instead, Stewart advocates a different, more complete model that will allow the commission to clearly break out area-specific information. Other than the Aleutians chain and the Eastern Bering Sea, which have static allocations, every regulatory area under commission purview will have an increased harvest limit in 2017. • Area 2A (West Coast): 1.33 million pounds, up from 1.14 million pounds last year • Area 2B (British Columbia): 7.45 million pounds, up from 7.3 million pounds last year • Area 2C (Southeast Alaska): 5.25 million pounds, up from 4.95 million pounds last year. Guided charter anglers will have 915,000 pounds of this total. • Area 3A (Central Gulf of Alaska): 10 million pounds, up from 9.6 million pounds last year. Guided charter anglers will have 1.9 million pounds of this total. • Area 3B (Western Gulf): 3.14 million pounds, up from 2.71 million pounds last year • Area 4A (Aleutians): 1.39 million pounds, the same as last year • Area 4B (Eastern Bering Sea): 1.14 million pounds, the same as last year • Area 4CDE (Central Bering Sea): 1.7 million pounds, up from 1.66 million pounds. Charter rules, allocations The commission also adopted guided angler rules recommended by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in December. Area 2C will have a reverse slot limit of one fish of 44 inches or less or one longer than 80 inches with no annual limit and a one-fish daily bag limit. In 3A, or Southcentral Alaska, anglers have a two-fish bag limit, with a size limit for one of those fish of 28 inches, one inch less than last year. Guides are limited to one trip per calendar day. Anglers have an annual limit of four fish, the same as last year. Wednesdays will be closed all year. The council also added three Tuesday closures between July 18 and Aug. 1. The rise in harvest limits is the latest in a pattern over the last two years, following intense discussions, arguments and regulatory tightening over declining halibut stocks and the impacts on Pribilof Island communities dependent on them. Before the last three years of increases, the halibut harvest took a dive over the previous decade by more than 70 percent as the biomass grew but the number of commercially harvestable fish 32 inches or longer declined. In the last two years, however, IPHC scientists have said the stocks are leveling out. Further, one of the larger sources of halibut mortality has declined. In the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska, groundfish trawlers incidentally catch halibut, known as bycatch. Since 2014, bycatch has dropped nearly two million pounds for the groundfish trawlers in the Bering Sea. The recent drop in bycatch is part of a larger trend. Bycatch in non-halibut fisheries has fallen steadily from a height of 20 million pounds in 1990 to the present level of 7 million pounds — the lowest bycatch level since 1960. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Beyond the budget: Bills filed addressing healthcare, fisheries issues

Alaska’s $3 billion budget hole still needs patching, but in the meantime efforts don’t stop for new legislation in other areas. Several legislators, who began their 2017 session on Jan. 17, have filed bills addressing healthcare. Some aim to set in motion what one lawmaker calls a long overdue “overhaul” to the way Alaska manages state run child care efforts. House Bills 10 and 12 — both of which come from Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, encompass a wide array of adjustments to the Department of Health and Human Services. These would include allowances for parents looking to reclaim their children and a variety of adjustments about the determination process the state uses to remove children from parent’s care in the first place. HB 43, coming from freshman Rep. Jason Grenn, I-Anchorage, would allow physicians to prescribe investigational drugs. SB 19, coming from Anchorage Sen. Bill Wielechowski, mirrors Grenn’s bill. The bill would allow Alaska physicians to prescribe investigational drugs to patients with terminal illnesses. Investigational drugs are drugs the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved but have passed Phase 1 of the FDA’s approval process and are undergoing further clinical trials. Physicians may currently prescribe these methods or medications after filing extensive paperwork to detail the patient’s consent and the lack of effectiveness of other options. “For me this comes from a policy perspective to eliminate red tape and give terminally ill Alaskans more choice,” explained Grenn. The bills fall into a broader national effort of so-called Right to Try laws, which aim to get more terminally ill patients access to otherwise unavailable investigational drugs. Currently, 33 states have such laws on the books and another 15 have had Right to Try legislation introduced. If legislators are successful, another bill would add the right to die along with the right to try. HB 54, from Sen. Harriet Drummond, R-Anchorage, would allow the voluntary termination of life for terminally ill patients. Currently, only six U.S. states allow this measure. Still other bills are only peripherally related to healthcare in that they involve the Department of Health and Social Services. A Mat-Su Valley legislator has a pair of bills apparently designed to curb food stamp program expense by cutting off those who are able to work and those who are not fulfilling financial obligations. HB 67, from freshman Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, would “prohibit the Department of Health and Social Services from requesting, accepting, or attempting to renew or extend a waiver of work requirements or time limits for an able-bodied adult, without dependents, in the food stamp program.” HB 68, also from Eastman, would establish “An Act relating to disqualification from the food stamp program for refusal to cooperate with the child support services agency or for past due child support payments; relating to the duties of the Department of Health and Social Services; and relating to the duties of the child support services agency.” Another Wasilla legislator is looking to expand government program services, adding adult foster care homes to a Medicaid waiver system. In the Senate, SB 10 from Wasilla Republican Mike Dunleavy would offer Medicaid community-based waivers for adult foster care homes, establish an adult foster care home license and procedures in the Department of Health and Social Services, and provide for the transition of severely disabled individuals from foster care to adult foster care homes. Other bills look to get ahead of drug problems.  SB 20, coming from Anchorage Republican Sen. Kevin Meyer, would place the synthetic opioid U-47700 onto the state’s highest controlled substances list alongside other opioids. U-47700 is a foreign-made synthetic opioid and the topic of heated media coverage in the Lower 48, as it contributed to the overdose of pop music star Prince in combination of with another synthetic opioid, Fentanyl. Dozens of deaths in 2016 were attributed to the drug — including in Alaska — which itself comes during a nationwide opiate abuse crisis that has hit Alaska especially hard. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency declared its intent to move the U-47700 onto the Schedule I Controlled Substances Act listing, the most restricted category for substances in the U.S. The DEA said the scheduling “is necessary to avoid an imminent hazard to the public safety.” Fisheries bills Fish formed one of the slippery elements of Gov. Bill Walker’s suite of industry tax bills during the marathon 2016 legislative session. In trying to scrape together as many funds as possible, Walker’s general fish tax increase enraged virtually every commercial fishing sector in the state. Representatives from each sector acknowledged that they will likely need to kick more money into state coffers, but said the governor’s tax plan didn’t account for regional and operational variations across the board. Further, fishermen felt that if no other industry taxes moved forward, they should not be singled out. No word yet has surfaced on what kind of fishing industry taxes will come in 2017, but legislators nonetheless will continue pushing fish-related bills. HB 29, coming from Reps. Geran Tarr and Les Gara, would ban the sale of genetically modified fish in the Last Frontier. Genetically engineered salmon dominated headlines in 2016 after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and its Canada equivalent approved the sale of AquaBounty salmon, which splices several kinds of wild salmon with ocean pout to create a fish that grows twice as fast as wild salmon. Tarr’s and Gara’s bill could be seen as an act of solidarity with Alaska’s Congressional delegation, which has fought tooth and nail over the FDA’s decision.  Other bills will seek to make funding more available for commercial fishermen in coastal communities. HB 56, from Ketchikan independent Rep. Dan Ortiz, would add $100,000 to the amount of commercial fishing loans made by the Department of Community, Commerce, and Economic Development. Currently, fishermen may not have an outstanding balance of $300,000 on their loans. Ortiz’s bill would raise that amount to $400,000. These loans are intended for items like fishing vessel purchases and safety upgrades. According to Ortiz’s office, the $300,000 outstanding balance limit was last updated in 1982. If adjusted for inflation, that cap would be worth $746,000 this year. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]  

Board of Fisheries seeking updated habitat protections

The Alaska Board of Fisheries finalized a letter to the Legislature asking to give the Department of Fish and Game more authority over fish habitat permitting. Under Title 16 of the Alaska statute, the section outlaying fisheries habitats, the commissioner of Fish and Game must weigh in on development projects taking place in fisheries habitats by issuing them a “fisheries habitat permit.” The letter requests that “proper protections” for fisheries habitats be defined more extensively in statute. Under the current law, “proper protection” is a matter of discretion, as it has no statutory definition. The Board of Fisheries agreed with the proposal’s idea that the Alaska Department of Fish and Game should be involved from the start with a more robust idea of what is acceptable. “Additional guidance is warranted for the protection of fish, to set clear expectations for permit applicants and to reduce uncertainty in predevelopment planning costs,” wrote the Board of Fisheries. “To strengthen ADFG’s implementation and enforcement of the permitting program, the legislature may want to consider creating enforceable standards in statute to protect fish habitat, and to guide and create a more certain permitting system.” Title 16 gives the commissioner of Fish and Game authority to approve a fisheries habitat permit but doesn’t go any further. The board wants the “proper protections” to be in line with the standards of the Sustainable Salmon Policy, which “protects wild salmon and habitat to ensure sustained yields,” “manages for escapement ranges,” and “encourages public support and involvement,” among other goals. However, the Sustainable Salmon Policy only allows the Board of Fisheries to make recommendations to the Legislature, rather than give ADFG more criteria for its own decisions. Fishermen from around the state submitted the proposal to the Board of Fisheries, but the locales are telling. Many came from Cook Inlet and Bristol Bay — homes of the proposed Susitna-Watana dam, Chuitna coal mine and Pebble copper-gold mine. Lindsey Bloom, a Bristol Bay fisherman and a fisheries consultant for industry group United Fishermen of Alaska, explained that those items were the exact reason for the proposal. “Problem No. 1 is sort of these mega projects and our concern that Fish and Game does not have clear authority to say no,” said Bloom. “Those are the three standouts that do not seem to fit in any criteria for proper protection of fish and game. We wanted to make sure that Fish and Game is part of the process early on.” Each of these projects is currently in a hiatus over legal or budgetary issues. Pebble Limited Partnership is in the middle of a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency and hopes to settle out of court, but even a victory there is unlikely to bring back the major companies like Anglo American, which invested more than $500 million in exploration and development before pulling out under the threat of a preemptive veto by the EPA. As PacRim Coal’s proposed Chuitna Mine is still early in the permitting process, the company, the state and stakeholders are haggling over who’s allowed to be involved. In October 2015, the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority appealed a Department of Natural Resources decision to grant certain water reservation rights to a non-state entity for the first time ever. Chuitna Citizens Coalition received an instream flow reservation, or IFR, for the lower portion of Middle Creek, a salmon spawning stream in the proposed mine’s area. Gov. Bill Walker shut down agency efforts for the Susitna-Watana dam in June 2016 along with several other “mega projects” based on the state’s multibillion budget deficit. The Legislature hasn’t yet received the letter. The Legislature convened on Jan. 17, still hoping to solve a state budget gap that has played a part in launching the state into a recession since oil prices fell in 2014. Bloom said she doesn’t know what chance the change has given the Legislature’s focus on fixing the budget, but welcomes the discussion. “To be a realist, I think it could be a very tough, uphill battle,” she said. “I do think, though, that should the Legislature decide to take it up, we will all benefit greatly from learning more.” DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]  

After years of cuts, ADFG budget gets slight bump for FY18

As lawmakers convene this week in Juneau, Alaska’s fishing industry sees a glimmer of hope that its budget won’t be gutted again. Under Gov. Bill Walker’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2018 (beginning July 1), the Commercial Fisheries Division of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game reflects a 0.3 percent increase to $70.7 million. It’s a big relief for an industry whose oversight budget has been slashed by more than 30 percent over two years. “All regions show slight increases,” said Tom Gemmell, a numbers guru and executive director of the Halibut Coalition in Juneau. “It was a nice surprise this year to get a little bit of a plus up.” Fishery management offices in the Central, Westward and Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim regions show budget increases of less than 1 percent and Southeast’s proposed budget boost is 1.7 percent. One component of the fish budget that could take a 0.7 percent hit is at statewide management headquarters in Juneau. “The budget over the years has gone back and forth between what’s run out of the central office in Juneau and by the regional supervisors. Most recently, they’ve tried to identify projects in the specific regions. However, there still are statewide things like the genetics laboratory that have to be funded,” Gemmell explained. The governor’s budget also proposes to cut back on so called test fishing in which a portion of fishermen’s catches are used to fund critical management tools such as salmon counting towers and weirs. Those receipts totaled nearly $3 million in fiscal year 2016. The state’s lone marketing arm — the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute — appears poised to receive a paltry $1 million from the general fund. ASMI, which promotes Alaska seafood in the U.S. and more than 120 countries, is funded primarily by the seafood industry and lawmakers already have put the group on notice that state support will be zeroed out by 2019. (Compare that to Norway’s Seafood Council that is funded by a tax on all seafood exports and had a budget last year of $55 million.) While the early budget news is encouraging, there’s still a long way to go before it gets the nod from Alaska lawmakers. Gemmell believes it will be tough to cut an already barebones budget. “I think we’re at a point where if there is no management, there is no science. Fishery managers have to be conservative, and that means reduced fishing time and harvests with the net result being job losses for the harvesters, processors and communities,” he said. “They’ve cut all of the fat already and we’re down to bone. It would be very hard to cut the budget further without having dramatic impacts on fishermen.” Kodiak backs fish bucks Kodiak already has mustered strong backing for a sustained fisheries budget by rallying the Alaska Municipal League to unanimously support a resolution calling for no more cuts. The AML comprises 164 cities, boroughs and municipalities that “represent a unified voice for over 97 percent of the state’s residents.” The resolution also has the strong support of the Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference. “If the division of commercial fisheries doesn’t have adequate money to monitor and assess the fish stocks, they will close a fishery or they won’t open it, or it will be opened at a lesser level to maintain a safety buffer. All of those things reduce fishing opportunity and that hurts our small fishing businesses, communities, municipalities and the state,” said Rebecca Skinner, a Kodiak Island Borough Assembly member and co-author of the resolution. As a prime example, Skinner pointed to Alaska’s largest herring fishery at Togiak in Bristol Bay. “The allowable catch for that fishery was reduced for this year because the surveys to assess how many herring were available couldn’t be done,” she said. Kodiak officials also are pushing for a plan that would have new fish taxes or fees go to support commercial fishing, as is done with licensing and other fees in the sportfish and wildlife management divisions. Fish interest The Alaska Legislature’s Fisheries Committee had to turn away interested legislators this session because the seven member seats filled so fast. “We are going to be busy this year,” said Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, chair of the Fisheries Committee.  “We intend to educate not only legislators, but also the residents of Alaska that there is not one community in this state that is not impacted by fisheries in a positive way.” Stutes, who also represents Cordova and several communities in Cook Inlet, is Majority Whip in a new bipartisan coalition that will lead the Alaska House when lawmakers convene on Jan. 17. The new group takes House leadership away from Republicans for the first time in more than two decades. Protecting commercial fisheries from further budget cuts also will be a priority. Stutes said some dollars may be shuffled to make sure they are targeted to maintaining ongoing fisheries. “Such as stock assessments and weir counters — we need them to maintain a sustainable salmon fishery. There’s just no question about that,” she said. Work will continue on reorganizing the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission, as well as tweaking the formula that sets fees for permits in open access fisheries, such as whitefish. That system has not been updated for more than 20 years. “Right now if you have a 58-footer that can hold 200,000 pounds, and you have a 125-footer fishing the same resource in the same area that can only carry 100,000 pounds, the 125-footer is going to pay a much higher permit fee than the 58-footer that can out fish them. It is not a fair and equitable situation,” Stutes explained, adding that the issue will include lots of public input. Stutes, who is in her second term, believes Alaska’s seafood industry is gaining more recognition for its contributions to the state, especially since for several years one king salmon from Southeast has been worth more than a barrel of crude oil. (currently $108 vs. less than $53). “In my opinion it is no less important than oil. We must look at it and treat it as such,” she said. “The difference is, if we treat our fisheries appropriately, they are renewable; oil is not.” The seafood industry is second to oil in the revenues it puts into state coffers at more than $250 million in taxes and fees last fiscal year. Stutes says many don’t understand that half of those fish bucks go into the state general fund and are distributed at the whim of lawmakers.  “Particularly coastal communities or places where fish are landed — they are paying a 50 percent raw fish tax that goes directly into those communities,” she said. “Those are dollars that the state is not putting in. Those dollars are supplied by the resource and the fishermen and the stakeholders. And for that not to be acknowledged is criminal.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.  

Commerce secretary declares pink salmon disaster

Help could be on the way for the pink salmon fishermen whose catch sank to dismal lows last year. U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker granted Gov. Bill Walker’s request for a declaration of a disaster for Alaska’s pink salmon fishery on Jan. 18 along with eight other salmon and crab fisheries along the West Coast. In 2016, the pink salmon harvests in Kodiak, Prince William Sounds, Chignik and lower Cook Inlet came in woefully under forecast and stumped biologists as to why. The estimated value of Kodiak’s 2016 haul was $2.21 million, compared to a five-year average of $14.64 million, and in Prince William Sound the ex-vessel value was $6.6 million, far less that the $44 million five-year average. The total state harvest was the smallest since the late 1970s. Although state biologists weren’t ready to declare a cause for the poor pink salmon performance, the Commerce Department press release attributed the disasters to “unusual ocean and climate conditions.” “In recent years, each of these (nine) fisheries experienced sudden and unexpected large decreases in fish stock biomass due to unusual ocean and climate conditions,” the statement reads. Emily Menashes, deputy director of NOAA Fisheries Office of Sustainability, said drawing conclusions about the cause of the disasters was not intended. “I think it was difficult to pinpoint one specific thing,” she said. “We did not intend to make some kind of causal link to climate change.” Scientists interviewed during the 2016 season had no solid evidence of any causes for the small returns. “We recognized in the reviews that there were conditions during the time period that the disasters were requested (e.g., warm water “blob”), which met the criteria for an allowable cause under the Magnuson-Stevens Act,” wrote John Ewald of NOAA Fisheries public affairs office. “We did not make any determinations about the underlying reasons for the conditions.” Unusual ocean and climate conditions did occur in the Gulf of Alaska in the last few years, notably the so-called “Blob” of warm surface water in 2015 and 2016, which led to other factors including a large red algae growth stretching from the West Coast to the Gulf of Alaska. State and federal scientists interviewed directly following the poor pink salmon season each emphasized that they were mystified as to the run’s causes, though they acknowledged the “Blob” was a potential factor. Further, these conditions also coincided with positive results in at least one case. Though the 2016 season was a bust that earned a federal disaster declaration, in 2015 the pink salmon harvest doubled the forecast in Prince William Sound and broke the previous 20-year record. Menashes said in a telephone interview that the press release’s statement was a “high level” communication that did not capture the more detailed analysis in the Secretary of Commerce’s individual determination letters for each of the nine fisheries. That letter does draw similar conclusions to the press release’s statement. “The impacts resulted from poor pink salmon returns due to a variety of factors outside the control of fishery managers to mitigate, including unfavorable ocean conditions, freshwater environmental factors, and disease,” reads the secretary’s letter specific to the Gulf of Alaska fishery. Now that the disaster has been declared, it will be up to Congress to find the necessary funds and secure them for fishermen.  “I am relieved to see that the Department of Commerce has listened to Alaskan fishermen, the Governor, and the delegation by acknowledging the dire situation this past summer in the Gulf of Alaska pink salmon fishery by issuing a disaster declaration,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski in a statement. “However, this is not automatic relief for our fishermen or the industry. As we have learned before in previous fishery disaster declarations in Alaska, it is a long process. Now comes the hard work of fighting to secure funds through the appropriations process.” Fortunately for fishermen, Alaska’s Congressional delegation is seated well to handle the appropriations process. Murkowski sits on the Appropriations Committee, while junior Sen. Dan Sullivan was named chair of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard for the newest Congress. In the House of Representatives, Rep. Don Young sits on the Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans, which also oversees fisheries. Staff from these offices has said the quest for relief dollars has not yet begun. This will be one of growing number of disaster declarations for Alaska fisheries in the 2010s. Alaska received $20.8 million in federal money for fishery failures declared in 2012 over low king salmon returns on the Yukon River from 2010-12, the Kuskokwim River from 2011-12 and in the Cook Inlet region in 2012. The Magnuson-Stevens Act outlines how the U.S. Department of Commerce concludes that a fishery is a disaster. The MSA only says natural, manmade or undetermined causes: “At the discretion of the Secretary or at the request of the Governor of an affected State or a fishing community, the Secretary shall determine whether there is a commercial fishery failure due to a fishery resource disaster as a result of: natural causes; man-made causes beyond the control of fishery managers to mitigate through conservation and management measures, including regulatory restrictions (including those imposed as a result of judicial action) imposed to protect human health or the marine environment; or undetermined causes.” DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected] This story has been updated from the original with comments from NOAA officials regarding the reasons for the disaster declaration.

Victorious Inlet drifters file to vacate salmon rule

A Cook Inlet salmon plan will take a lot more work from federal managers in the next few years. The United Cook Inlet Drift Association, an industry group of salmon drift netters, has requested the U.S. District Court of Alaska to vacate a piece of fisheries policy they successfully sued to overturn after an appeal court ruling this past September. In the meantime, the old plan replacing the vacated plan will require some work. “Given the dire situation faced by UCIDA as a result of the federal government’s utter abdication of its (Magnuson-Stevens Act) responsibilities in this important fishery, the Proposed Judgment sought by UCIDA is immediately necessary,” according to the motion filed by UCIDA on Jan. 7. “It would ensure that the checks and balances guaranteed by the Act — including the requirement to use the best available science, to manage the fishery in accordance with the 10 national standards, and to achieve optimum yield — are provided to UCIDA and the fishery in the short term while NMFS works with the council to produce a new FMP.” A fisheries management plan, or FMP, is plan required by the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the governing law of U.S. federal fisheries. All federal fisheries must have one. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council, one of eight regional fisheries management bodies, is responsible for creating a viable FMP. A three judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with commercial fishing groups against a 2011 decision by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to remove several Alaska salmon fisheries from the FMP. The fisheries removed from federal oversight — those that at least partially take place within federal waters three or more miles offshore — and delegated officially to state management were Cook Inlet, Prince William Sound and the Alaska Peninsula. Southeast salmon fisheries remained under federal oversight because of treaty obligations with Canada. UCIDA filed the lawsuit in 2013 to repeal the council’s decision, which was officially Amendment 12 to the Alaska salmon FMP. The initial suit was rejected by U.S. Alaska District Court Judge Timothy Burgess. The 9th Circuit remanded the case back to Burgess with instructions to find for the plaintiffs. Roland Maw, former executive director of UCIDA, said in an interview that the group proposes a 24-month period for the North Pacific council to create a new FMP and that FMP is approved by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce. In the meantime, they will use the previous FMP. “The 9th circuit court struck down Amendment 12,” Maw said. “The 9th circuit court however did not strike down the regulations that were promulgated by virtue of Amendment 12. So if the foundation for the regulations was struck down, we still feel it’s appropriate the regs that follow Amendment 12 should be vacated. That’s the precedent at law.” In the absence of another plan and slow development of a new FMP, Maw said fishermen are getting “a little cranky” about how the fishery will proceed. “You can’t create chaos and create a void,” Maw said. “So we asked for the prior FMP, although we have issues with it. What else are we going to do?” The old plan, however, isn’t up to snuff. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council only removed these fisheries from the federal FMP after acknowledging it did not satisfy the 10 National Standards of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, or MSA. Specifically, the old FMP, which was last amended in 1990, did not and still does not follow National Standard 1, which requires annual catch limits. Under the reauthorization of the MSA passed in 2006, all federal FMPs were required to be updated to reflect the 10 national standards. The updated law, however, specifically cited Pacific salmon fisheries as some that may not be appropriate for annual catch limits because of the unique lifecycle of the species. To get the FMP up to compliance, the North Pacific council had a range of options, but agreed with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game that its management was sufficient to meet the national standards. The salmon FMP was the first one passed by the council after the regional bodies were created in 1976, and the federal government had essentially deferred to state management ever since until making the delegation of authority official in 2011.  “The State concludes that its program of inseason abundance estimates using contemporaneous data, with appropriate monitoring for achievement of escapement goals, is the most effective way to lessen the risk of overfishing while achieving OY (optimum yield) on a continuing basis,” according to a discussion paper from the council’s December 2010 meeting. Rather than update the old FMP to conform to National Standards, the council deemed state management compliant and unanimously decided to remove the three fisheries from the FMP. The council and the National Marine Fisheries Service that is charged with implementing management plans has given little indication yet as to how it will respond to the court ruling, though both bodies have been adamant about their opposition to UCIDA’s proposal. UCIDA has stressed that it doesn’t want day-to-day federal management of the fisheries, but it does want state management to be held accountable for meeting federal standards. Maw said the he doesn’t understand why managers are taking so long to respond to the lawsuit and make the necessary adjustments to management policies. “I don’t know why the fear, the reluctance, is occurring, he said. “If we knew what it was we’d address the issue.” DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Judge tosses felony charges against former fish board nominee

Three months after a U.S. appeals court sided with a group of Cook Inlet drift fishermen contesting the delegation of most salmon management from federal officials to the State of Alaska, the former leader of that group had a dozen felony charges dismissed related to allegations of illegally receiving Permanent Fund Dividends. Alaska Superior Court First District Judge Louis Menendez dismissed most of the charges against former United Cook Inlet Drift Association Executive Director Roland Maw on Jan. 3, capping a fisheries politics fiasco stretching back to Gov. Bill Walker’s first days in office in early 2015 that included the ousting of former Board of Fisheries chairman Karl Johnstone, a chaotic confirmation cycle to replace him and the resignation of Walker's Boards and Commissions Director Karen Gillis. Maw said the ordeal has not only drained him financially but left a sour taste in his mouth about his treatment from the State of Alaska, which he said was unfair and has resulted in damage to his reputation. “I’m a little cranked,” he said. “You’re darned right I am.” On Jan. 13, 2016, the State of Alaska hit Maw with 12 felony charges and five misdemeanors for claiming Alaska residency to obtain Permanent Fund Dividends and resident rates for hunting and fishing permits while claiming residency for similar licenses in Montana. The State of Montana filed similar charges against Maw in March 2015, less than a month after he withdrew his name from confirmation for the Board of Fisheries, and he pled no contest to those charges in May of that year. Yet on Jan. 3, the Alaska Superior Court threw out Maw’s felony indictments by the State of Alaska. The prosecution by Lisa Kelley didn’t properly present the hearsay evidence to the grand jury, according to the ruling. “A plain and simple reading of the law is that the reasons for presenting hearsay evidence shall be stated on the record at the grand jury, and not at some later point in time,” the ruling reads. “That did not happen in this case and the near entirety of the evidence heard by the jury did not comply with Alaska law.” According to the ruling, the state did not authenticate the records until nine months after they were presented to the grand jury. The ruling goes further, saying Maw couldn’t have gotten a fair trial as a result. “The issue is whether or not the exhibits were properly presented to the grand jury,” it reads. “The court finds that they were not and indictment should be dismissed because of the prejudice suffered by Mr. Maw as a result.” However, the state has not dropped five misdemeanor charges of unsworn falsification in second degree. The prosecution for these charges will continue as planned. Maw said he hopes those charges may go away in light of the ruling, though, as the Superior Court ruling finds all the admissible evidence insufficient to support the felony indictments. “Even if the court were so to find the remaining evidence is sufficient to support the indictment, the probative force of the admissible evidence is so weak and the unfair prejudice to Mr. Maw is so strong that it appears very likely that the improper evidence was a factor in the grand jury’s decision to indict,” according to Menedez’s ruling. The state now has three options regarding Maw’s felony indictments. Prosecutors can choose not to file the charges again, try to get a new grand jury indictment or pursue a plea agreement with the ongoing misdemeanor charges.  Maw said he hasn’t heard anything from the state regarding its intent, and Kelley said the state has not plotted a course of action yet. The now-dismissed indictment is tangled in a political situation at the beginning of the 2015 Legislative session. Although Walker had already nominated Sam Cotten for the position, Maw also applied for the job of Alaska Department of Fish and Game commissioner. Under state law, the Board of Fisheries must interview and forward a list of qualified commissioner candidates from which the governor may choose. The board, then chaired by Karl Johnstone, unanimously deemed Maw unqualified to be interviewed for the job. In response to criticism of the board action by UCIDA and then-House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, Walker chastised the Board of Fisheries and told Johnstone he wouldn’t be reappointed with his term about to expire June 30, 2015. Johnstone resigned on Jan. 14, and Walker appointed Maw to replace him on the board on Jan. 20, 2015. Maw dropped out of consideration soon after on Feb. 20, 2015, shortly before the investigation in Montana became public knowledge. Walker’s next choice, Kenai-area habitat advocate Robert Ruffner, was torpedoed in the Legislature by a 29-30 vote after sportfishing groups organized against him. Walker then appointed Bob Mumford, who later resigned after only a year on the board rather than seek confirmation for the seat. In 2016, Walker then chose not to reappoint Fritz Johnson of Dillingham, and chairman Tom Kluberton announced he was not interested in another three-year term on the board, citing the political burnout from the contentious job. That created three openings for the board, and all three of Walker’s choices, including a second shot for Ruffner, were unanimously approved by the Legislature. Maw said he never wanted the situation to play out as it did, and has no further plans to seek any board position. “I’ve scratched that itch,” he said. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Study: New North Pacific fleet would cost $11.6B

Rejuvenating Alaska’s large vessel fishing fleet could be nearly an $11 billion boon for Outside shipyards, according to a new McDowell Group report. The Alaska-based research firm pegged $11.3 billion as the cost to completely replace the 414 fishing and processing vessels longer than 58 feet that participate in North Pacific fisheries off the coast of Alaska in a study commissioned by the Port of Seattle and the Washington Maritime Federation. Regulations generally require boats in Alaska’s salmon fisheries to be less than 58 feet, which makes that length the common delineator between smaller boats focused on near shore fisheries and larger vessels that fish and process catch in federal waters at least three miles offshore. Additionally, most of the more than 5,000 smaller commercial fishing boats that operate in Alaska homeport in the state and nearly all of the larger vessels in federal fisheries have Puget Sound addresses for a host of reasons. While the $11.3 billion baseline figure includes the cost to eventually replace a dozen vessels among the 414 built since they year 2000, according to McDowell Group the fleet averages 40 years old and 87 percent of the vessels were built before 1990. To that end, the study estimates it would cost nearly $9 billion to replace all of the North Pacific fishing vessels more than 30 years old and about $4.4 billion for those at least 40 years old. There was no way for vessel owners to replace much of the fleet until federal regulators in 2012 and 2014 lifted restrictions on transferring vessel-tied fishing permits in acknowledgment of the aging fleet. The most expensive vessels to replace are naturally the largest in the North Pacific fishing fleet: the three, 300-plus foot processors at $170 million apiece and 16 dual-purpose catcher-processor vessels that average 285 feet at a cost of $130 million each. These vessels are primarily focused on pollock, the small whitefish that comprises the bulk of the offshore Alaska catch. Replacing the vessels that make up most of the fleet would cost $15 million to $18 million apiece for the smallest crab and trawl boats and up to an average of $78 million for smaller — generally less than 200 feet — catcher-processors that are part of the Bering Sea-Aleutian Islands “Amendment 80” groundfish trawler fleet, according to the study. How quickly the North Pacific fleet gets new additions depends on a host of factors, some of which are nearly as variable as any one fish’s location in the immense Gulf of Alaska. Modern engines and hull designs can improve fuel efficiency by up to 30 percent on new vessels, according to the study, and a strong impetus for new construction, as is the ability to integrate value-added processing equipment on new vessels. However, vessels participating in fisheries such as crab that have few on-board, value-added possibilities are much less likely to be replaced, the McDowell authors concluded. For these reasons, seafood companies that own multiple vessels may be inclined to build one efficient boat to replace two that are of age, which the study states is the circumstance for at least one Amendment 80 trawler currently being built. Conversely, some catcher-processor companies indicated a desire to not consolidate because more vessels fishing naturally means more opportunities to find fish, according to the study. The need to swap out old for new can also depend largely on the maintenance history of individual vessels, the authors acknowledge. “Despite the regulatory and financial benefits of operating new vessels, many owners of well-maintained, older vessels are hesitant to commit to reinvestment,” the study states. The ability of vessel owners to obtain financing with preferable terms — as is the case with nearly all multimillion-dollar construction projects — will also play a large role in how quickly the North Pacific fishing fleet is upgraded. According to McDowell Group, lenders view fishing vessels similar to real estate projects with the addition of some potentially challenging variables. First, the financing need could range from about $10 million for smaller, single-owner vessels to more than $100 million for processors owned by large companies. The one-off nature of large fishing vessels, each with an individual design to meet specific gear type and other ranging needs, is a large risk to ensuring a project can be done on time and within budget. Interest rates between 2 percent and 3.5 percent above the going prime rate are common in fishing industry loans, the report states. A trend in federal North Pacific fisheries towards “rationalizing” the harvest — in which vessel owners are allocated a set quota as opposed to historical derby-style fishing — has helped mitigate some lenders’ concerns about prospective revenue to offset loan payments because the owner is more or less guaranteed a portion of a given harvest. The report notes that harvest quota in rationalized fisheries can often be used as loan collateral, too. Still, the biggest impediment to paying for most new fishing vessels is the “financing gap” that often exists in the industry with very high overhead, the authors conclude. Repaying a no-interest loan for the full cost of a new vessel over the common maximum term of 12 years for commercial loans would in most instances require at least half of the vessels gross annual earnings to go towards loan payments across all North Pacific fishing vessel types, according to the report. To that end, the authors add that the average annual net earnings for the Amendment 80 fleet — the funds a loan would actually be repaid from — were just 15 percent to 28 percent of gross earnings from 2008 to 2012. The end result is a need for substantial down payments to close the financing gap, the report states. Despite the challenges, McDowell Group projects the need for modernizing the North Pacific fishing fleet will lead to 37 new vessels being built over the next decade at a total cost of more than $1.6 billion. Comparatively, 19 new vessels have joined the fleet since 2002. Those figures do not include a number of vessels that have been — or will be — retrofitted or otherwise significantly modified but not replaced. Looking further, the authors estimate three to five new North Pacific fishing vessels per year will be built each year after 2026. They also expect fleet consolidation to continue barring major increases to seafood prices or harvest limits, which could impact the rate of vessel replacement. “The primary driver of this consolidation will be transferrable quota, which will tend to concentrate in the hands of the most successful companies and therefore require fewer vessels to harvest,” the report states. While just more than one-third of historical North Pacific fishing vessel projects have been done by Puget Sound shipyards, McDowell Group estimates that market share will increase to about 50 percent in the near-term, assuming the region’s industry can maximize the benefit of local construction. According to the report, “Puget Sound shipyards are viewed favorably by the commercial fishing industry for their high-quality work.” Additionally, there are inherent benefits for Seattle-area owners in having their vessels built locally, such as the ability to closely monitor the project during construction and a “shipyard and crew familiar with a vessel are well-positioned to provide cost-effective maintenance and repair services in the future,” the report states. Capturing half of the new vessel projects through 2026 would likely result in up to 750 direct and indirect jobs for the Puget Sound region, according to McDowell Group. The primary competitors for the projects are Gulf Coast shipyards Southern states. Gulf Coast shipyards benefit from labor costs — up to half of the cost of a new vessel — that are about 30 percent less than those in Washington and about 45 percent less than Alaska. Also, Alaska currently has just one shipyard capable of building large fishing vessels. Portland, Ore.-based Vigor Industrial’s Ketchikan Shipyard finished the F/V Arctic Prowler in 2013, a 136-foot freezer-longliner and the first large fishing vessel built in the state. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Effort continues to replace humans with cameras on fishing boats

Several years into the controversial effort to bolster Alaska’s fisheries observer program, a top federal fisheries official defended the work at a Seattle gathering of fishermen. Eileen Sobeck, the NOAA Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, took the stage this past Nov. 18 to talk to fishermen gathered for the annual Fish Expo event to recap the program. Observers are the eyes and ears on boats, collecting a range of data, she explained. “We have been monitoring fisheries for decades, and we do it in a lot of different ways,” Sobeck said. But the details of the program have been under fire over the past few years. Federal efforts to put a human on smaller boats was met with concerns about safety and efficiency, and fishermen’s requests to use cameras have had logistical difficulties. Over the past few years, the effort to use cameras has increased nationwide, and the National Marine Fisheries Service has been tasked with sorting out how to make that work, both logistically and cost-wise. Over 10 years, the National Marine Fisheries Service has helped fund more than 30 electronic monitoring, or EM, pilot programs. Expenses include the cost of cameras, the cost to install them, and the cost of going through the immense amount of data they can collect. “We have, collectively, an interest in being as cost-effective as we can possibly be,” Sobeck said. That effort has translated into regional electronic monitoring plans that were finished more than a year ago, and are now being implemented with plans for regular reviews, said George LaPointe, one of the point people on the project. Although monitoring in some fisheries has developed successfully, like in the groundfish fisheries, LaPointe said, the agency is still working toward certain implementation, such as in Alaska’s small boat fixed gear and pot fisheries, where the target date is 2018. That fleet includes about 630 vessels right now, with a much smaller number that have opted in for 2017. The EM development effort has taken several years, from the 2013 decision to restructure the observer program, to 2016, when 51 vessels participated in a pre-implementation program. This year, the agency is hoping that 120 of the smaller fixed gear and pot boats will be on board with the program, preparing for 2018 implementation. For 2018, the vessels that are required to have some monitoring, but not be covered full-time, will have the option of electronic or human observation. As the agency has worked on implementation, several challenges have arisen, LaPointe said. “We can put cameras on boats. And we can get the data out of those. But it’s expensive,” he said. Now, work is underway to find a more efficient way to review the camera-collected data. Ideally, the agency wants accurate fish identification from computers, rather than requiring humans to review the data. While the agency is helping fund EM for now, LaPointe said they eventually want to transition to funding the program on its own. The agency is looking both at regular cameras, and stereo cameras, mostly testing those on longline boats. Those are machine vision systems, which ideally can process the imagery as fish come on board, limiting the time it takes to process images, as well as the cost. But it’s still in testing phase. The agency has heard years of critiques on the program, from costs to the logistical difficulties boats face in carrying an observer or camera. But in the November discussion, the first question was about fishermen who want to help test EM. “There are some remote places that would like to try this stuff,” Doug Rhodes, a longliner out of Prince of Wales, told the agency. He said in past years, he hadn’t been to a port where he could get a camera to try, but thought that many rural fishermen would give it a shot if there was a way to let them install it or get it installed at a closer port. Although that’s not yet possible, Suzanne Romain from the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission said the ultimate goal is to make the technology open source. Eventually, they want a system that fishermen can install themselves, she said. That’s one way to keep the cost down, and ultimately, minimizing the cost of the program is a primary goal. Fishermen in the North Pacific, unlike their Atlantic counterparts, have borne much of the cost of observation, although the agency has helped with costs of testing pilot electronic monitoring programs, and have said that it’s too much added expensive, particularly for small boat, lower-margin fisheries. Addressing that is a goal, Sobeck said. “We are trying to be innovative,” Sobeck said. “We are trying to find cost savings.”

Council cracks up over catch shares

Everyone in the Gulf of Alaska agrees on one thing: it was the other side’s fault. Depending on who you ask, catch shares are evil incarnate or an angel of good management. Depending on who you ask, they’ll either save Kodiak or kill it. Depending on who you ask, it’s either the State of Alaska’s fault or its credit for not allowing catch shares in the Gulf of Alaska’s groundfish fishery.  And depending on who you ask, they’ll either come up again or get sliced up into a handful of other little nibbles at the Gulf of Alaska bycatch problems. Either sighs of relief or defeat leaked from every mouth in the room on this past Dec. 12 when the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which oversees all federal fisheries from three to 200 miles off the Alaska coast, indefinitely tabled a complex range of options for the Gulf of Alaska groundfish fisheries. The tabled program has a long history of stops, false starts, foibles and thrown stones. This time, Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten charged the processor and trawl industry with refusing to bend — the same charge leveled at the state by the trawlers and processors. “Had elements of the program not been so focused on privatizing and monetizing the fishery, there could have been the broad structure of a plan. But there was no acceptance for compromise,” said Jeff Stephan, a Kodiak fishermen and one of the council Advisory Panel’s most outspoken opponents of catch shares. It was the state’s fault, others said. “I seriously question how dedicated the state was to an outreach effort, as was pledged in Kodiak, when they never came prepared to talk about any changes they wanted to see to a proposed program,” said Heather Mann of the Midwater Trawlers Cooperative, a staunch catch share advocate. Gulf of Alaska groundfish fisheries — Pacific cod, pollock, and flatfish — are one of the only groundfish fisheries in the North Pacific without a catch share or rationalization program. Catch share programs involve issuing fishing quota, or shares, to eligible fishermen based on factors such as history in the fishery. The goal is to end so-called “derby style” fishing also known as the “race for fish” in an open access environment. Such conditions often led to risky behavior chasing the harvest, particularly so in the Bering Sea crab fisheries that inspired the name for the TV show “Deadliest Catch.” Halibut and sablefish were the first to be rationalized in Alaska in the early 1990s, with similar programs created for crab, pollock, and flatfish in the Bering Sea. Like the Bering Sea, the Gulf of Alaska also has pollock and flatfish fisheries that are known for heavy amounts of bycatch of crab, halibut and salmon, which are taken while in pursuit of the target species. While Gulf trawlers do not have the catch shares of their Bering Sea counterparts, they do have halibut and chinook salmon bycatch caps that if met lead to the closing of the fisheries. Chinook bycatch caps were adopted in 2011 and 2012, respectively, and the halibut bycatch cap was lowered by 15 percent in 2012. Trawlers and processors have said for years they need better bycatch management tools than what the council offers and that catch shares are the best way. They aren’t wrong, in that catch shares are linked to effective bycatch management and reductions in other fisheries, including the six programs in the North Pacific. But the possible negative impacts of these programs — fleet consolidation, loss of crew jobs, and the death of the coastal Alaskan tradition of owner-operators — are also linked to catch shares, and hang like a cloud over the heads of coastal residents like Stephan. To him, the culture is at stake. “If you can design fisheries in a manner that are efficient as can be without damaging the social and cultural and economic characteristics of these communities…I think that there’s something that can be done there,” he said. The meeting Trawlers say they made every attempt to address the state’s concerns about community impacts. Such attempts included vessel harvesting caps, ownership caps, active participation requirements, port landing requirements for Kodiak, and other assorted bells and whistles to prevent the kind of behavior that turned some crab and halibut fishermen into what are known derisively as “mailbox fishermen” who lease their quota for rates anywhere from 50 percent to 70 percent or more with their fees coming out of the pockets of working crew that neither own or have any stake in the resource. But in the end Cotten said their solutions weren’t good enough. “The advocates just weren’t going to offer any compromises or any concessions,” Cotten said afterward. “We are in a different place now. I’m hopeful people will reconsider their stances, and we will too.” Heather McCarty, who lobbies for the City and Borough of Kodiak, said several fisheries working group meetings yielded the same thing. “We’ve been also hearing meeting after meeting that if there’s going to be a catch share program, there needs to be mitigation of some of these impacts,” she told the council. “I think there’s general acknowledgment that there’s a problem in the trawl sector. I don’t think there’s a common understanding of how that should be addressed.” Cotten ended the showdowns, at least for now, by making a motion to table the options indefinitely on Dec. 12. Catch shares are simply too large an issue not to have more support. “It’s clear both the council and the public are deeply divided on this issue, and something more closely resembling consensus is needed,” said Cotten. “Moving to a catch share program like this would be a major policy shift, and one of this magnitude should enjoy broader public support. “When the crab rationalization program was approved in 2003, the council vote was 11-0. I think we should look for boarder support and more consensus.”  Though divided on the subject of catch shares, most council members agreed with Cotten, voting 8-3 in favor of the motion in spite of hesitations. “I’m of quite mixed mind on this,” said Bill Tweit of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Though he hated the idea of staying in “limbo,” Tweit said Cotten’s motion was pragmatic. “I think we have to be smart of how we use our resources,” Tweit said. “I think the commissioner’s motion responds to that.” Others echoed Tweit’s reluctant yes vote. “This is not our finest hour,” said Roy Hyder of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. “We’re going to have to find a way to go forward, nibble around the edges, but as far as putting together a comprehensive plan … we’re not gonna get there. I’m going to support the motion, because we’re stuck.” Others disagreed, saying the council’s inaction amounts to a failure after all the meetings and infighting and collaboration. “This is the fourth time I’ve dealt with GOA ratz,” said council member Craig Cross, using the acronym for Gulf of Alaska and shorthand for rationalization. “Every time we get to the end something happens — a new governor, a new administration, a new philosophy. It’s getting very difficult and frustrating that we can’t help these fishermen. “If we take this and postpone it indefinitely, we are at status quo. You can call it what you want, but we’re going to continue to have a race for fish.” 15 years chasing catch shares The latest try at a comprehensive program ended in 2016, but since 2001 the Gulf of Alaska rationalization talks have encapsulated gubernatorial cancellations, rebrandings, surprise alternatives, accusations of political intrigue in Washington, D.C., stand downs, emergency season openings and closures, protest parades and even a pie throwing contest. The quest for a Gulf of Alaska groundfish rationalization program started in 2001 when Congress directed the North Pacific council to “examine the fisheries under its jurisdiction, particularly the Gulf of Alaska groundfish and Bering Sea crab fisheries, to determine whether rationalization is needed. In particular, the North Pacific Council shall analyze individual fishing quotas, processor quotas, cooperatives, and quotas held by communities.” The plan developed over the next half decade until former Gov. Sarah Palin saw the crab fleet shrink by two-thirds in the first year of rationalization and lose 1,000 crew jobs in a devastating blow to Kodiak and other small communities such as Cold Bay. Palin instructed the council to drop efforts to create a Gulf program after she took office. Alaska holds six seats on the 11-member council, meaning the state can effectively control the outcome. After the council passed a series of chinook salmon bycatch limits and halibut bycatch reductions in 2011 and 2012, the council took up the matter again, this time focusing on bycatch management that would do more than simply cap the allowed amount. Through Gov. Sean Parnell’s term, former Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell worked closely with groundfish trawlers and processors to craft the industry’s preferred alternative. One of the first appointments made by Gov. Bill Walker after being elected in 2014 was to replace Campbell with Cotten, who advanced another alternative at the council’s October 2015 meeting that would give trawlers bycatch quota, but no quota for the directed species. The ADFG commissioner is mandated to have a seat on the council and typically sets the direction for the Alaska delegation. Trawl and processing industry representatives lambasted the option as another race for fish — this time a race for bycatch — and accused Cotten of introducing it without the same public input that had gone into their own preferred alternative. The arguments between trawlers supporting Campbell’s alternative and Cotten’s motion boiled over during the council’s February 2016 meeting in Portland, when Cotten stood in hotel room surrounded by shouting trawlers accusing him of abusing the process. Only days before, the same trawlers had a spike of halibut bycatch after targeting non-pollock species. Rather than fish for the low prices being offered for small-sized pollock, trawlers went after groundfish and ended up taking 110 metric tons more halibut than they had in the same period a year earlier. During this time, Julie Bonney of the processor and trawl representative group Alaska Groundfish Data Bank organized a stand down specifically for trawl operators to travel to Portland in protest of Cotten’s motion.  Rumors later surfaced that Bonney and others were pressing Washington Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler to draft language to get their preference into a congressional appropriations bill, which Herrera Beutler denied. They later organized letter-writing campaigns to Gov. Bill Walker’s administration, and a parade and festival celebrating the trawl industry during the council’s June meeting in Kodiak. Processing workers and trawl crew marched through downtown Kodiak sporting signs reading, “Gov. Walker, don’t take our jobs” and “Don’t destroy what you don’t understand.” Red baseball caps with the words “Make Trawling Great Again” were de rigueur for attendees — even for Duncan Fields, one the council’s most outspoken critics of catch share programs, who later took a pie to the face for charity toward Kodiak’s Brother Francis shelter. Joe Bundrant, CEO of Trident Seafoods, which controls roughly 50 percent of the Gulf of Alaska groundfish harvest, and Heather Mann, executive director of the Midwater Trawlers Cooperate, paid $2,500 between the two to hit Fields with the pie. Between then and the December meeting, groundfish industry representatives like Bonney and Pacific Seafood Processors Association executive director Glenn Reed met with Cotten, Department of Commerce, Community & Economic Development Commissioner Chris Hladick, and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott. Catch shares and Kodiak As policy, two of the most direct means of reducing bycatch are catch share programs and straightforward bycatch caps. Modern catch share programs took hold as a management tool starting in the 1970s, but the U.S. saw its first catch share program in 1990 with the Mid-Atlantic Surf Clam and Ocean Quahog Fishery. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has 16 catch share programs spread among six of the eight regional fishery management councils that govern U.S. federal fisheries, which take place between three and 200 miles off the coast. Over 40 countries now use the programs for a variety of goals, including lowering fishing mortalities, consolidating over-capitalized fleets, reducing bycatch, extending season lengths, reducing fishermen’s cost of operations, and steadying supply for wholesalers and retailers. Catch shares accomplish these goals in theory by ending the “race for fish” in fisheries that only established a fleet-wide harvest limit and a season length. Fishermen could catch however much they could handle within the season limits and stop when the fleet reached the overall cap. Under a rationalized program, individual fishermen start the season with a set quota and fish until they catch their share, theoretically allowing a slower, safer pace to avoid prohibited species. Managers and conservationists tout the positives of catch share programs. Fishermen can more effectively plan their trips, deliver fish according to market demands, fish more carefully, deploy their gear more selectively and take greater pains to avoid fishing in sensitive habitats. Coastal communities, however, fear the “economic efficiencies” catch shares establish. For Kodiak, a town a built on fish, catch shares are seen as either savior or slayer. Most of Kodiak’s seafood landings value — $41 million in 2014 — comes from groundfish, according to Juneau economics firm McDowell Group, which contracted with the City and Borough of Kodiak in 2015 for a study on the community’s fisheries dependence. The island has 10 active processors, five of which are among the city’s 10 largest employers with more than 1,300 Kodiak resident employees. Together the 10 make more than two-thirds of their revenue from federal fisheries. Of this, 58 percent of the total dockside value comes from federal groundfish. Once touting itself as the “Crab Capital of the World,” there is also no shortage of hard feelings toward trawlers as fishermen have seen crab fisheries closed and halibut harvests cut while trawl bycatch continues unabated and often unobserved because of limited coverage on their boats. Kodiak has already seen its fisheries participation shrink, and community advocates wish to see it shrink no further, especially if caused by enriching trawlers with harvest shares. In Kodiak, cost of entry into fisheries has risen, and local participation has fallen. Between 2000 and 2010, Kodiak’s locally held Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission permits dropped from 1,646 to 1,279; halibut quota holders from 304 to 224; active crew licenses from 1,263 to 884; and locally owned vessels from 719 to 452. Some fear the statistics from other catch share programs, given Kodiak’s delicate fishy tightrope walk. Crab rationalization took place in 2005, but the outcomes had, and still have, certain Alaska coastal communities and fishermen reeling. Consolidation, one of rationalization’s most feared impacts and the biggest warning repeatedly given to the council, shrunk the crab fleet by 200 vessels in one season and eliminated 1,000 crew jobs overnight. Halibut rationalization also produced consolidation of vessels and harvest quota, shrinking the fleet from more than 3,000 vessels in 1992 to just more than 1,000 in 2012. Although the shares are classified as fishing “privileges” under the law, the issuance of quota is essentially permanent — and extremely valuable. The philosophical argument against rationalization is that it privatizes a public resource by gifting the right to a fish to a select few while cutting out the Americans who own it. Catch shares have often been promoted as investment tools and foundations run by Intel founder Gordon Moore and retail giant Walmart only drive the suspicion that a well-funded fish grab is underway in the guise of conservation. The issuance of halibut, sablefish and crab quota made a select group of vessel owners incredibly wealthy which in turn reduced working crew compensation and created a class of stakeholders who no longer needed to fish to make money from the fisheries. Quota is extremely expensive — halibut shares cost more than $60 per pound in 2016, which limits the ability of new entrants to join the fishery. At least one catch share progam hasn’t caused as many problems. In the Gulf of Alaska rockfish program, started in 2007 and reauthorized in 2012, the fleet has only lost two vessels since the program started, and halibut bycatch dropped 80 percent in the first year. The council made several changes when it reauthorized the program after a five-year review designed to correct mistakes in prior attempts. Among them were severing the ties requiring delivery to certain processors, effectively cutting processors out of the program as non-fishermen, and instituting a 4 percent vessel use cap that ensures a minimum of 25 vessels will always be in the fleet. Similarly, a 30 percent cap was put on processors, ensuring at least four plants could take deliveries. Trident lost a lawsuit challenging the revised rockfish program for cutting out processors, which are included in the Bering Sea pollock and crab programs, arguing they were having to pay higher prices to fishermen because the company had to compete for deliveries rather than have vessels tied to them based on history. Cotten predicts the trawlers are simply waiting until a new governor comes along to usher the issue back onto the council’s agenda. Gulf rationalization may be tabled once again, but the urgency for a solution won’t be until one is finally found. DJ Summer scan be reached at [email protected]  

NOAA plan: set aside more salmon for belugas

Cook Inlet could have a new group of salmon users joining recreational, commercial, subsistence and personal use fishermen: endangered beluga whales. The National Marine Fisheries Service, or NMFS, wants the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to start considering the dietary needs of Cook Inlet beluga in management plans, part of a nationwide Species in the Spotlight project aimed to boost eight different species to the point of delisting them from the status as a threatened species. In a release, ADFG called the plan “unrealistic,” and the criteria for recovery “untenable.” The department stated the criteria would make the recovery plan, and the acceptance of the plan by stakeholders, impossible to achieve. “Under the NMFS recovery plan, Cook Inlet belugas would be down-listed to threatened status when the population reaches 40 percent of their historic environmental carrying capacity (estimated in the plan as 1,300 whales) and delisted when numbers reach 60 percent carrying capacity,” reads the release. “These demographic criteria are problematic because the number of animals in a population is not necessarily an indication of the risk of extinction. Further, the plan includes threats-based recovery criteria that are not measurable and impossible to meet.” Cook Inlet beluga whales — one of five distinct beluga stocks in Alaska waters — have been on the downswing for decades. Alaska Natives used to harvest an average 77 a year until a big drop in stocks from 1994 to 1998 spurred NOAA to strictly rein in subsistence harvest. When stocks didn’t rebound as expected, NOAA listed them as endangered in 2008 and designated a critical habitat for them in 2011. Currently, NOAA Fisheries estimates there are 340 Cook Inlet belugas, down from the 1,300 estimated in 1979. The recovery plan has a range of goals, including better surveying and science. Ensuring more access to what they eat could be critical. Pointedly, Cook Inlet belugas like salmon even more than Alaskans. According to data gathered by NOAA between 2002 and 2010, salmon had a 67 percent occurrence rate in the stomachs of 28 dead beluga stomachs, a greater percentage than any other species and more than pollock and cod, beluga’s next favorite fish with a 39 percent occurrence rate. According to a plan, fisheries managers might have to start factoring more escapement into management plans to account for the salmon beluga eat. The plan calls for managers to “ensure fisheries management (e.g., escapement goals for CI beluga prey species) adequately accommodates CI beluga prey requirements, and if necessary, expand the number of species with escapement goals.” Currently, salmon escapement goals in Cook Inlet don’t explicitly account for whale predation. They are included in the “natural mortality” metric used by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to calculate salmon populations. “ADFG should ensure the management of anadromous species considers CI beluga dietary needs, particularly in a way that provides for a sustained abundance, density, and temporal availability of returning fish as prey in CI beluga feeding areas,” reads the report. “This may require review of the models being used to manage fisheries in Cook Inlet to gain insight about the potential effects of these fisheries on the Inlet’s ecosystem.” The endangered beluga rejuvenation plan also contains several mentions of the negative impacts of oil and gas development on habitat. Belugas live mostly in near shore waters, near human activity. “Concern is warranted about the continued development within and along upper Cook Inlet and the cumulative effects on important beluga whale habitat,” reads the plan. “Ongoing activities that may impact this habitat include: (1) continued oil and gas exploration, development, and production; and (2) industrial activities that discharge or accidentally spill pollutants.” Oil and gas drilling are also listed as a threat as a source of noise, which may interrupt the movements of prey. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Annual picks and pans from the year that was in Alaska fisheries

The start of 2017 marks the 26th year for this weekly column that targets news for and about Alaska’s seafood industry. The goal is to make all readers more aware of the economic and cultural importance of our state’s first and oldest industry. Today, Alaska fishermen and processors provide 65 percent of our nation’s wild-caught seafood; it is also Alaska’s most valuable export to more than 100 countries around the world. The seafood industry puts more people to work throughout Alaska than oil/gas, mining, timber and tourism combined. The bulk of Alaska’s fishing fleet of nearly 10,000 vessels is made up of boats under 50 feet. Each is a small business that supports several families. For fishing towns like Kodiak, Cordova and Homer, where 500 to 700 vessels are home ported, those boats are the majority of our downtown storefronts. I call it a mall in a marina. Here are my Fishing Picks and Pans for 2016 – a no holds barred look back at the best and worst fish stories of 2016, in no order, and my choice for the biggest story of the year. Biggest new industry potential: Seaweeds. Kelp alone is a $5 billion global industry. A task force has one year to provide Gov. Bill Walker with a statewide mariculture plan for producing more seaweeds and shellfish. Canada, California and Maine have already come knocking. Biggest fish hurry up already: Getting Electronic Monitoring Systems to replace fishery observers on small boats. Credit Saltwater, Inc. of Anchorage, Kenai Peninsula Fisheries Association and Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association of Sitka for getting EMS onboard in 2017. Best Fish Entrepreneurs: Salmon Sisters of Homer. Best fish sigh of relief: Gulf fishermen can use pots instead of hooks to keep whales from robbing their sablefish catches. At fish prices ranging from $4 to more than $9 a pound, depending on size, “getting whaled” makes for a payday bust. Best fish visionaries: Tidal Vision LLC of Juneau, for their eco-friendly method of extracting chitin from crab shells, a first in the USA. Uses for chitin range from fabrics to pharmaceuticals and are too numerous to mention. Best Fish Legislators: Rep. Louise Stutes (R) Kodiak, Rep. Bryce Edgmon (D) Dillingham Best fishing career builders: University of Alaska/Southeast, Kodiak College for “on the go” courses in boat hydraulics, electronics, repairs, fishery technicians and more. Best fish knowledge sharers: Alaska Sea Grant’s Marine Advisory Agents. Best Fish Giver: Sea Share, 225 million fish servings to food banks since 1994 Trickiest fishing conundrum: Sea otters vs. crab and dive fisheries in Southeast Alaska. Most earth friendly fishing town: Kodiak, for generating nearly 100 percent of its electricity from wind and hydropower, and for turning its fish wastes into oils and meals at a plant owned by local processors.  Biggest fish WTF? Recreational Quota Entities that will let halibut charter operators buy commercial shares of the catch – up to 15 percent from Southeast and 12 percent from the Central Gulf, making the RQE the largest halibut shareholders in the N. Pacific within 10 years. Scariest fish story: ocean acidification. The corrosion of crab/scallop/oyster/snail shells is already documented in Pacific waters. Best fish ambassadors: Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) Best global fish story: The US and other nations cracking down on Illegal, Undocumented and Unreported (IUU) catches by fish pirates—more than 20 percent of the global fish harvest. Best daily fish news site: Seafood.com Best fish watchers: Cook Inlet Keeper, Salmon Beyond Borders Most encouraging fish talks: Alaska and British Columbia officials meeting for the first time to implement cooperation aimed at protecting transboundary waters in Southeast from mining accidents up stream Best fish economist: Andy Wink, Senior Seafood Analyst, McDowell Group Best go to bat for fishing: The fishermen-funded Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association and eight processors for ponying up $250,000 to cover salmon management budget shortfalls. Otherwise, more than 1.6 million sockeye salmon would have been taken as “cost recovery” from the fishery to fund counting stations, weirs and other required oversight. Biggest fish flop: Putting the onus on fishermen to cover the research and management costs of going fishing (see above) Best fish connectors: Alaska Marine Conservation Council, for its Caught by Alaskan for Alaskans program. Best fish mainstream push: Alaska herring showcased as smoked, pickled, pated and filleted by 40 Seattle restaurants for Northwest Herring Week. Credit Bruce Schactler of Kodiak and ASMI’s Herring Development Project. Most ill timed fish story: U.S. Navy war games held again in May as Alaska’s salmon season gets underway. The area covers 60,000 square miles off the tip of the Kenai Peninsula. Requests to move the war games to September have been dismissed. Biggest fish bust: The no show of pink salmon was the worst since the 1970s to major regions and prompted a call for emergency relief from Uncle Sam. Biggest fish booboo: Forty-four percent of Bristol Bay’s 1,500 active drift netters still don’t chill their salmon. That pushes down fish prices in the Bay and beyond. Fish story of the year: On the final day of its December meeting, the North Pacific Council turned its back on plans to reduce chinook salmon and halibut bycatch taken by trawlers in the Gulf of Alaska. The program, under discussion for years, aimed to slow the race to catch up to 25 different kinds of whitefish (cod, pollock, flounders, etc.) that comprise more than 80 percent of Kodiak’s annual landings. Stakeholders were pushing for a mix of catch shares and cooperatives to help them avoid bycatch while catching their full quotas. Now, trawlers face strict bycatch caps that shut down various fisheries when the caps are reached. The closures result in an idled waterfront and no steady, year round work for Kodiak’s large seafood processing workforce. But calling it “too divisive,” the council, led by Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten, tabled the entire program and just walked away, bycatch and whitefish landings be damned. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Ringing in new round of ‘fish wars’ as ADFG manages budget

In the face of yet another round of budget cuts, Alaska’s largest private employer, the seafood industry, will have entirely new management schemes to sort out and live under in 2017 alongside status quo projections for harvest in key fisheries. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game will take another budget cutback responding to the state’s multi-billion dollar deficit that has yet to be patched. Gov. Bill Walker released a proposed fiscal year 2018 budget on Dec. 15. Among other cuts, Walker proposes a budget of $28.9 million for ADFG. This is a 36 percent reduction from the fiscal year 2015. ADFG will have to find ways to deal with budget cuts to monitor key fisheries stocks, including the iconic king salmon that has fallen in abundance beginning in the late 2000s. Further, commercial fisheries management programs will suffer, including the sonar and other survey methods used by the department to gauge incoming stock. Without robust programs and the information they yield, fisheries managers take conservative harvest approaches that could harm commercial fishermen’s bottom lines. That’s already happened in the Togiak herring fishery, as sampling surveys were not done in 2016 and leading the department to set a harvest at an average level reduced by a conservation buffer. Fish wars renewed As usual, much of Alaska’s year will center around salmon. Among the biggest items for Alaska’s state fisheries will be the two-week 2017 Upper Cook Inlet meeting of the Alaska Board of Fisheries. This meeting, held once every three years, pits the often-conflicting interests of sportfishermen, commercial fishermen, personal use and subsistence fishermen all vying for a limited supply of salmon. The proposal book, now under review, is stuffed with 499 pages that largely carry over the battles fought in the 2014 meeting, when the Board of Fisheries marathon gave way to new rules for the Kenai River management plans. The book is currently under review for the 166 proposals submitted. More than a dozen proposals look to modify or entirely repeal the Kenai River Late Run King Salmon Management Plan and the Kenai River Late Run Sockeye Salmon Management Plan. The current late run king salmon plan include restrictions on commercial sockeye fishing and sport fishery bait usage when the department projects an in-river run of less than 22,500 fish. The late run sockeye plan, which begins after the sport fishery closes on July 31, restricts the commercial setnet fleet to 36 hours through Aug. 15 if the Alaska Department of Fish and Game projects a king salmon escapement of less than 22,500 fish. Commercial fishermen largely resent the August sockeye rules and have been restricted by them to some degree in each of the last three years since they were adopted in 2014. Not helping matters for the meeting is that the Upper Cook Inlet forecasted commercial harvest of just 1.7 million sockeye is 1.2 million less than the recent 20-year average harvest. The matter will be further complicated by a court decision that will change the area’s salmon management entirely. The U.S. 9th Circuit Court overturned a decision made by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in 2011 to remove Cook Inlet salmon from the federal fishery management plan, or FMP. Cook Inlet’s salmon fisheries will now require an FMP that conforms to the 10 National Standards laid out in the Magnuson-Stevens Act. The council has not yet started on an FMP, but the Board of Fisheries will need to take the court ruling into consideration. Halibut headaches Halibut will continue as one of the biggest discussion points in the North Pacific’s federal fisheries. The International Pacific Halibut Commission will adopt harvest limits for commercial and charter halibut fishermen in late January 2017. These allocations will carry a new undercurrent due to a recent North Pacific Fishery Management Council decision that will allow charter halibut guides to purchase commercial halibut quota through a recreational quota entity. Developing the structure of the recreational quota entity, and potentially seeing its first sale, will be on fisheries managers agenda for 2017. Bristol Bay can look forward to a regular season in 2017 after two years of hard work, if the forecast is to be believed. Alaska’s largest sockeye run has blown past projections the last two years, but next year the Alaska Department of Fish and Game predicts an average harvest. A total of 41.47 million sockeye salmon (a range of 31.2 million to 51.7 million) are expected to return to Bristol Bay in 2017, according to an ADFG report released Nov. 15. This is virtually identical to the most recent 10-year average of Bristol Bay total runs (41.4 million) and 27 percent greater than the long-term mean of 32.76 million. For commercial fishermen, this means next year’s harvest will also be average, with a commercial harvest of 29 million. It’s anyone’s guess whether or not Bristol Bay’s fishermen will receive more than the last two years relatively depressed ex-vessel prices, which were 50 cents and 76 cents per pound, respectively. Reports from research firm McDowell Group say the salmon market has eased some of the back stocked salmon from processor shelves, which should raises prices for fishermen. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Year in Review: Fisheries

After a hectic fisheries year in 2015 involving felony charges, forced retirements and resignations, the 2016 Board of Fisheries confirmation cycle was mild, with few of last year’s inflamed arguments. This board shakeup precedes the Board of Fisheries Upper Cook Inlet finfish meeting in early 2017, which is held once every three years and is highly charged by the conflicts between user groups. The last two years took a toll on fisheries leadership, including one botched interview, one forced resignation, three failed nominations, a fistful of felony charges against one of those nominees, and two recent resignations — one by chairman Tom Kluberton who cited political burnout and stress, the other by Bob Mumford, coming before he even had the chance to be confirmed by the Legislature. Unlike 2015, Board of Fisheries appointees had no trouble being confirmed in a rare occurrence for the Legislature. In April 2016, the Legislature unanimously confirmed Al Cain, Israel Payton, and Robert Ruffner to the Board of Fisheries, replacing Mumford, Fritz Johnson and Kluberton. Last year, Ruffner’s confirmation hearing went especially wrong after a sustained campaign by sportfishing groups to characterize him as holding commercial fishing sympathies. The Legislature failed to confirm him on a 29-30 vote in 2015 but unanimously approved him in 2016. No. 2: Drifters win lawsuit challenging Cook Inlet salmon management A federal court tossed a North Pacific Fishery Management Council rule that will change the tenor of the upcoming Upper Cook Inlet Board of Fisheries meeting in February 2017. A three judge panel of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with commercial fishing groups against a 2011 decision by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to remove several Alaska salmon fisheries from the federal fishery management plan, or FMP. Industry group United Cook Inlet Drift Association filed the lawsuit in 2013 to repeal the council’s decision, which was officially Amendment 12 to the Alaska salmon FMP. The initial suit was rejected by U.S. Alaska District Court Judge Timothy Burgess. The 9th Circuit remanded the case back to Burgess with instructions to find for the plaintiffs. Federal fisheries policymakers and state managers will now have to work together on a suitable FMP, which the council had hoped to rid itself of in 2011 by passing Amendment 12 in the first place. In December 2011 the North Pacific council, one of eight councils that oversee fisheries in federal waters from three to 200 miles offshore, gave the Alaska Department of Fish and Game management authority of Cook Inlet, Prince William Sounds, and Alaska Peninsula salmon fisheries, removing the historic fisheries from the federal oversight. Only Southeast Alaska remained under direct federal oversight due to the Pacific Salmon Treaty with Canada. No. 3: Another Bristol Bay bumper crop; salmon markets start to improve For the third season in a row, the world’s largest sockeye salmon run featured above-average numbers, a late run, and sub-average prices for the fishermen. Unlike last year, however, the fishermen’s pockets so far aren’t as empty in 2016, and the overall market outlook seems to have improved. In terms of output, the summer of 2016’s 51.4 million fish run blew previous sockeye seasons out of the water, second only to last year’s run of 59 million. Along with being an above average run, the 2016 Bristol Bay sockeye harvest surpassed ADFG forecasts. The 37.3 million sockeye salmon taken in the commercial harvest was 26 percent greater than the 29.5-million preseason forecast. The 2016 season repeated that of 2015 not only in quantity, but also in run particulars that made last year’s harvest so strange, including late timing and smaller fish size. The ex-vessel price for the salmon — what processors pay the fishermen — was above the final price for the 2015 season but still 25 percent below average. Processors paid 76 cents per pound for Bristol Bay sockeye. The run’s volume drove the overall value. ADFG estimates the ex-vessel value at $156.2 million, which is 40 percent better than the 20-year average of $111 million. A new market analysis had an optimistic outlook for the 2016 salmon season — and goes a long way in explaining why Bristol Bay sockeye salmon received a low dockside price for last year’s catch. Juneau-based economics firm McDowell Group completed the report under contract from the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. The report says processors simply had less capital to spread to fishermen in 2015, as they were beset by a host of negative market factors. Strong U.S. currency values lessened purchasing power for key foreign export markets, important export markets vanished, and massive supply caused led to a decrease in overall value. No. 4: Pinks miss forecast in big way Sockeye salmon mostly had a good year in 2016, but pink salmon performed miserably. Around the state, biologists are unsure of what led to the lowest pink salmon harvest since the 1970s in a season that led Gov. Bill Walker to seek a disaster declaration from the federal government to bail out beleaguered pink fishermen. “We caught 39 million pinks this year,” said Forrest Bowers, the Commercial Fisheries Division director for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The department forecasted a harvest of 90 million pinks. Bowers said he had to comb records back to 1977 to find a year that bad. In terms of overall value, pinks salmon pale beside sockeye, Alaska’s most valuable salmon species. Walker, urged on by Kodiak Rep. Louise Stutes, requested that U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker declare the season a disaster. This would pour millions in disaster relief funding for Kodiak, Prince William Sound, Lower Cook Inlet and Chignik, all areas with high dependence on pink salmon. Prince William Sound is almost entirely hatchery-produced pink salmon while the other fisheries saw their wild pink salmon runs decline. ADFG biologists note that inaccurate pink salmon forecasts are common. Unlike sockeye salmon, pink salmon have less predictable migration patterns and life cycles. No. 5: Crab cut way back Cuts and cancellations are causing anxiety for Alaska’s valuable crab fisheries, and even though prices will rise they will not likely make up for the sinking quota. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game closed the 2016-17 bairdi, or Tanner, crab season on Oct. 5, following a 15 percent cut in the harvest quota for Bristol Bay red king crab and a 50 percent cut in the snow crab fishery. Without intervention from the Alaska Board of Fisheries, requested by Tanner crab stakeholders, the millions of pounds and millions of dollars of bairdi will remain in the sea. Last year, the fishery’s total ex-vessel value was $45.3 million. Crab stocks are managed jointly between the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. The North Pacific council sets the overfishing limits and annual catch limit for crab. ADFG then sets the total allowable catch, or TAC. Tanner crab was one of two stocks the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration charted as having a declined biomass. Always a costly product, the sharply reduced Alaska crab quota will surely raise prices, though nobody will know by how much until the season wraps up and processors set prices. The average dockside price paid to fishermen for bairdi Tanner, snow crab, and Bristol Bay red king crab from 1985 to 2015 is $2.17, $1.37 and $5.08 per pound, respectively, and have been rising for snow and red king crab over the same timeline.  

Charter rules set for halibut anglers

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council adopted charter management rules for the guided anglers of Alaska’s coastline. The actions follow several years of tightening restrictions for the fleet in the face of a declining biomass of legally sized halibut. This year continued the trend. In Area 2C, or Southeast Alaska, the Council recommended an array of management measures, all of which carry a one-fish bag limit. The options will depend on what actions the International Pacific Halibut Commission takes in January. The joint U.S.-Canada commission that sets halibut allocations came up with a recommended number, or blue line, during its interim meeting in November. The charter options will depend on whether the commission adopts the blue line or sets allocations less or greater than that number. If the halibut charter allocation is at the Blue Line, Area 2C will have a reverse slot limit of one fish of 40 inches or less or one longer than 80 inches, a two-inch loss from last year’s management set, with an annual limit of three halibut with a recording requirement. If below the blue line, there will be an annual limit of three fish and a reverse slot limit with a maximum size limit of 80 inches. If above the blue line, there will be a reverse slot limit of less than 40 inches and over 80 inches with an annual limit of five fish. In 3A, or Southcentral Alaska, anglers can take two fish per day a two fish bag limit with a maximum size limit of one fish of 28 inches, one inch less than last year. Anglers can take four fish per year, the same as last year. Wednesdays will be closed all year. The council also adopted a rolling closure of Tuesday in addition to the mandatory Wednesday closures. Between late June and early August, if the projected charter halibut harvest in Southcentral Alaska is over certain projections, managers will close as many as eight Tuesdays to charter anglers. Guided anglers in Southcentral Alaska went over their allocation by 8 percent in 2016. Groundfish quotas The council adopted the catch limits for groundfish in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, dropping the limits for the two largest harvests in the North Pacific. Groundfish — which includes pollock, Pacific cod and flatfish — makes the bulk of the volume pulled from the federal waters off Alaska’s coast. Harvest quotas totaling two million metric tons of those species are set each year in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands fisheries. Pollock, the largest groundfish harvest and the greatest volume of North Pacific fisheries landings, will maintain a relatively unchanged 1.35 million metric tons in the Eastern Bering Sea. Pacific cod, the second most voluminous species in the groundfish fishery, took another cut after moving from 240,000 metric tons in 2015 to 238,680 metric tons in 2016. For 2017, the BSAI Pacific cod harvest will be 223,704 metric tons. Some of that tonnage will be made up for with other species. Atka mackerel will increase from 55,000 metric tons to 65,000 metric tons in the Bering Sea. Arrowtooth flounder maintained a 14,000 metric ton limit, same as in 2016.  Northern rock sole dropped 10,000 metric tons from last year, from 57,100 metric tons in 2016 to 47,100 metric tons this year. Yellowfin sole increased limits from 144,000 metric tons in 2016 to 154,00 metric tons in 2017. Flathead sole went from 21,000 metric tons to 14,500 metric tons. In the Gulf of Alaska, groundfish harvest limits dropped from 727,688 metrics tons to 667,877 metric tons. However, pollock quota took a larger hit in the Gulf of Alaska, moving from 248,000 metric tons to 199,000 metric tons. This follows a season where Gulf of Alaska pollock fishermen only harvested 175,000 metric tons of their harvest limit. The pattern followed suit in the Gulf of Alaska, where the TAC dropped 10,000 metric tons from 98,600 metric tons to 88,300 metrics tons. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]  

Gulf rationalization dies a quiet death

Gulf of Alaska groundfish will remain an open access fishery indefinitely after the North Pacific Fishery Management Council tabled a policy package that has enraged fishermen of all stripes over the last year. Depending on who is asked, the council acted at either its best or its worst with the decision. “The council process didn’t work. They didn’t solve the problem,” said Julie Bonney, executive director of the Alaska Groundfish Data Bank, an industry group of trawlers and processors. “They just took the political part first and ignored the management. I have to keep reminding myself, this isn’t about management. It’s about politics.” Others said the council did exactly what it should have done in the face of so many contentious decisions on which so many people expressed opinions. “I think this is actually the best illustration of council process, rather than the worst,” said Duncan Fields, a Kodiak attorney and former council member who was among the most vocal on this subject. “It shows that one gear group with a particular ideology and particular economic interest with very good advocates can’t just jam something through the council,” he said. “The council allows other participants, small boat fishermen, community, stakeholders to also have a voice, and that voice has said a catch share program is not the best public policy. You don’t always get the result you want.” Sam Cotten, the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, advanced the motion to table the package. Cotten said he didn’t have much of a choice considering how intensely divided Gulf of Alaska fishermen and community members were on the issue. “I think we had to make or break to inspire recognition that we’re divided, that we need to consider a different direction,” Cotten said. “The advocates just weren’t going to offer any compromises or any concessions. We are in a different place now. I’m hopeful people will reconsider their stances, and we will to.” Gulf of Alaska rationalization The plan would have enacted one of several options to reduce the amount of halibut and chinook salmon bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska groundfish fishery. Groundfish includes pollock and non-pelagic, or bottom-dwelling, species such as Pacific cod, Arrowtooth flounder and rockfish. In the end, the plans satisfied no one. Cotton introduced the motion to table after another marathon session of grievances from trawlers, processors, Kodiak residents, Southeast Alaska residents and various small boat fishermen. The plan aimed to fix a bycatch issue in the Gulf of Alaska. Bycatch happens when groundfish fishermen pulling up Pacific cod, pollock, and flatfish haul in non-target species. In the Gulf groundfish fisheries, chinook salmon and halibut are the main species taken as bycatch, also known as prohibited species catch, or PSC. Conservation concerns led the council to lower the halibut bycatch limits by 15 percent in 2012; the council created chinook salmon bycatch caps for the pollock and non-pollock trawl fleets in 2011 and 2013, respectively. Hitting limits ends fishing, which happened to the non-pollock fleet in the Western Gulf last year, leading to an emergency council action to allocate some salmon bycatch from the pollock fishery to the non-pollock fishery to allow fishing to continue. Groundfish fishermen from the trawl sector argue in favor of quota systems, which they say will slow the “race for fish” that makes it difficult to reduce bycatch. Alternative 2 resembles a traditional catch share program, where fish are divvied out to fishermen in the form of quota. Small boat fishermen fear the effects of catch share programs, as they have a documented tendency to consolidate quota into the hands of better-capitalized fishermen. Alternative 3 would have only created quota for bycatch, not for the target species. Without a fix for the bycatch issue, trawl representatives say they have to wait until either a new governor and new commissioner of Fish and Game, or for their fishery to continue closing over bycatch concerns. “The fishery structure is broken and the council just couldn’t find a solution,” said Bonney. “Either you have a change in the administration or you have some kind of economic disaster. Those are the two things that would promote change. I can’t guess (which would happen first).” DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]  

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