Fisheries

Coming season is going for hurt for Alaska crabbers

Cuts and cancellations are causing anxiety for crab fisheries. “I’m scared,” said Simeon Swetzof, mayor of St. Paul, a central Bering Sea island with considerable crab dependence. “I don’t know what’s going to happen.” 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, one of eight councils that manage fisheries from three to 200 miles off the coast, 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. In 2015, the biomass prediction for tanner crab was 163 million pounds. This year, surveys chart a drop down to a biomass of 100 million pounds. It is the female crab that cancelled the fishery, rather than the overall biomass directly. According to the survey, there isn’t enough female crab in the sea for the tanner crab fishery to open, despite the fact that the overall Bairdi stock itself is not overfished or experiencing overfishing, according to federal definitions. “The 2016 area-swept survey estimate of mature female biomass (8.067 million pounds)is below the minimum regulatory threshold of 9.832 million pounds necessary for a fishery opening,” reads the announcement. “Therefore, the Bering Sea Tanner crab fisheries east and west of 166° W long will be closed for the 2016/17 season.” This is a marked departure form last year’s increased quota. In 2015, a total of 19.67 million pounds of tanner crab was set, compared to 15.1 million pounds in 2014. However, the crab industry thinks ADFG’s harvest policy is an outdated holdover from a stock rebuilding program that is no longer relevant. In a Sept. 8 emergency petition to the Alaska Board of Fisheries, industry stakeholders requested that the board revisit the harvest policy so the tanner crab fishery can remain open. Unalaska Mayor Shirley Marquardt, St. Paul Mayor Simeon Swetzof, and Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers science advisor Ruth Christiansen signed the petition. Among other proposed changes to the harvest policy, stakeholders argue that the Bairdi crab fishery is the only crab stock tied to the biomass of mature females, while the other stocks chart a combination of male and female. “A female only threshold makes little sense for commercial fisheries specifically designed and executed to harvest only mature male crab,” the petition reads. Further, stakeholders think the survey results themselves do not accurately reflect biomass, as static survey results taken during the warm summer months do not match the winter-driven catches of the mobile crab fleet, which has seen a rising amount of Bairdi crab per pot in recent years. Managers also divide the Bering Sea tanner crab fishery into eastern and western sections, which crabbers say is inconsistent ADFG commissioner Sam Cotten denied the petition saying the situation does not meet the criteria for an emergency, which requires a conservation concern. Christiansen sent a second letter directly to Alaska Board of Fisheries director Glenn Haight with another emergency request, appealing Cotten’s decision. “We have yet to hear from two board members,” Haight said. If two board members agree to take up the matter at the next board meeting in October, and if it decides to grant the petition, the tanner crab fishery could potentially open late. If not, the fishery will stay closed for the next two years. Crab stock has to meet the minimum threshold for two consecutive years before managers can open the fishery again. The closure comes at a time when the other main crab stocks are dropping in biomass and harvest quotas are declining. Cuts and Quotas Apart from an entirely canceled fishery, the other two main crab stocks have declining catch quotas. Bristol Bay red king crab is taking a 15 percent cut. The 2016-17 crab season, which runs from Oct. 15 through Jan. 15, will allow a total allowable catch of 8.5 million pounds, which matches the quota from 2014. The downturn in quota ends a two-year streak of nearly 10 million pound catches. Last year, crabbers were allowed to take 9.97 million pounds of Bristol Bay red king crab. In 2014, the Bristol Bay red king crab total allowable catch, or TAC, is 9.98 million pounds. That’s up from the 2013 limit of 8.6 million pounds. Biomass for Bristol Bay red king crab has declined. Legal size males dropped from 61 million pounds in 2015 to 53 million pounds for the 2016 season. For snow crab, ADFG set the total allowable catch to 21.57 million pounds, nearly half the 40.6 million pounds allocated last season. For snow crab, an allowable biological catch of 137.4 million pounds in 2015 dropped to 47 million pounds this year. “The lower 2016/17 TAC reflects continuing declines in survey biomass for both mature male and female snow crab and the high proportion of old shell crab in the exploitable population,” reads an ADFG announcement. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Disastrous harvest for pink salmon

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 fish between. Bowers said he had to comb records back to 1977 to find a year that bad. “Certainly one of the worst harvests we’ve had in the last 35 years,” he said. In terms of overall value, pinks salmon pale beside sockeye, Alaska’s most valuable salmon species. In Bristol Bay, the world’s largest natural sockeye run, fishermen in 2016 harvested an estimated ex-vessel value of $156.2 million, which is 40 percent above the 20-year average of $111 million. 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. “If you look back historically, ADFG has a really poor track record forecasting pink salmon,” said Andy Piston, a biologist at the ADFG Ketchikan office. “The bottom line is they never worked well.” Unlike sockeye salmon, pink salmon have less predictable migration patterns and life cycles. “One of the big problems with pink salmon is they’re all the same age. They all go out to sea at the same time and come back at the same time,” said Piston. This makes estimating returns difficult. Biologists can determine age and sibling relationships between which sockeye salmon return to spawn in a given year and how many will come back in a following year. “For pink salmon, I think that’s why there’s a very long track record of very poor forecast,” said Piston. The life cycle and age composition of pink salmon create the even/odd year split pinks are known for. In North America, pink salmon return in force every odd year — both 2013 and 2015 set records for pink salmon returns of both hatchery and wild stocks. This pattern could be at the root of 2016’s abysmal return, according to ADFG biologist Leon Schaul. Available literature points to variations in the intensity in these cycles. “In Puget Sound, there are hardly any pink salmon in even years,” said Schaul. “In the Kamchatka Peninsula, the east side is extremely odd year dominant. On the west side, it used to also be odd year and it switched in the early 80s. Those are huge producing areas. “The east side had a larger pink catch than all North America. Pink salmon generally in the (Gulf of Alaska), used to be even year dominant in the 1960 and ‘70s. They switched in the late ‘70s. Both cycles were strong in the ‘90s. In the last few years the odd year dominance has intensified. So that’s kind of a background factor, it being an even year now.” Most agreed that some kind of marine condition is the likely culprit for the miserable pink salmon return in 2016. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration performs studies on pink salmon that show a steady correlation between how many fry swim out to ocean and how many return two years later. “It kind of points to something a little more off shore,” said Schaul. “The NOAA surveys have been amazingly accurate as far as surveys go.” Schaul does consider that warmer ocean temperatures in the Gulf of Alaska have something to do with poor returns, but pinks have been performing better in warmer water since the turn of the millennium. “Pink salmon have been generally thriving under warmer conditions,” Schaul said. “Pink salmon, across the Pacific, have been getting more abundant. Even as the general climate pattern changed…they’ve been doing quite well, with two of the biggest returns in history in 2013 and 2015.” Warmer waters could mean changes in food chain or any one of a thousand different variables. There are simply too many to consider, and the kind of work NOAA performs may not be an option for ADFG. Offshore work is expensive. In desperate budgetary times, the comparatively meager commercial value of pink salmon simply doesn’t warrant the kind of money it would take to learn more about marine conditions. “Trying to pinpoint what exactly the factor is probably impossible without spending more money than all the governments of the world have combined,” Piston laughed. “The NOOA program…It is expensive. But that’s the kind of thing you have to do. In this budget situation, the idea that we’re going to start some millions of dollar ocean research program is fairly unlikely.” Piston cautioned that although the harvest numbers are terrible for the last few decades, if you stretch them over time they bend closer to normal. “The overall harvest for Southeast is 18 million,” said Piston. “It seems pretty terrible, but the average harvest in the 1960s was 13.5 million. In the 1970s was 10.3 million. Then it goes to 30 million in ‘80s, 50 million in the ‘90s. Since statehood, it’s about 22 million. So this year, it’s terrible for the last few decades, but if you look at the entire time series since statehood, it’s average to poor.”

Cod Crunchies come to Costco

Alaskan Cod Crunchies begin a national roll out this week with a debut at Costco’s two stores in Anchorage. The dog treats are one of the newest products stemming from Alaskan Leader Seafood’s commitment to complete “head to tail” usage of their catches. “It’s pure, 100 percent human grade trimmings coming right off the cod fillets,” said Keith Singleton, president of the company’s value added division. Alaskan Leader’s four freezer/longline vessels are owned in partnership with the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp. and fish primarily for cod in the Bering Sea. Besides the frozen at sea fillets, Alaskan Leader also has developed markets for (and thereby monetized) all of the cod heads, livers and skins. The Crunchies, which have been under development for about a year, are dried and shaped into crispy, domino-sized wafers. Taste tests with numerous dogs proved the product was a winner. “Boy, they get going on that crunch and it’s like that potato chip commercial that says ‘you can’t just eat one.’ They keep coming back for more,” Singleton said. Dillingham dogs agreed, according to Robin Samuelson, president of Ocean Beauty Seafoods and chairman of BBEDC. “When I came home to Dillingham I had two sacks with me and there was a 12-week old black lab. I opened them up and said ‘let’s put it to the test,’ and that little dog loved the cod treats,” Samuelson said with a laugh. “What’s most exciting is Costco chose Alaska to debut the product. We feel really blessed about that,” Singleton added. The buzz surrounding the new Cod Crunchies is exciting, echoed Samuelson, but to him, the bigger story is the full use of the fish that comes over the rails. “It’s a new product that we think will do good throughout the U.S.,” he said. “And it’s the full utilization of the species and we’re just tickled pink.” Celebrate seafood! October is National Seafood Month — a distinction proclaimed by Congress more than 30 years ago to recognize one of our nation’s oldest industries. Government figures show that nationwide, the seafood industry contributes $60 billion to the U.S. economy each year. Alaska deserves special merit during Seafood Month, as it produces about 65 percent of our nation’s wild-caught seafood, more than all the other states combined. The seafood industry also is Alaska’s number one private employer; it puts more people to work than oil and gas, mining, timber and tourism industries combined. Americans eat about 16 pounds of seafood per person each year, which pales in comparison to other parts of the world.  The Japanese, for example, eat 146 pounds of seafood per person annually. Figures from the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization show that people in Greenland eat 186 pounds per capita, and in Iceland more than 200 pounds of seafood are eaten annually. The country with the lowest seafood consumption is Afghanistan at zero. And where in the world is the most seafood eaten? The South Pacific island of Tokelau where each person eats more than 440 pounds of seafood every year. Think pink! To whet more American appetites for seafood, Chicken of the Sea has claimed Oct. 8 as National Salmon Day. The company uses Alaska pink salmon in its pouched and canned products and the promotion is a way to highlight the iconic fish. “We wanted to get behind an effort to create a Salmon Day for anyone and everyone who provides salmon, and/or serves salmon. Wild or packaged, anyway that we can get people to eat more salmon, that is our goal,” said company spokesman Bob Ochsner. “Tuna has a day, lobster, crab, even clams have a day,” he continued. “We believed strongly that it was appropriate for the second most popular seafood in the United States to have its own day.”
 To coincide with the second annual event, Chicken of the Sea has rolled out its list of the Top 10 U.S. Salmon Cities, where residents eat more fresh and shelf-stable salmon per person than counterparts in other cities.
 The top 10, in no particular order, are Anchorage, Seattle Chicago, Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio; Baltimore, Nashville, New York City, San Diego and Washington, D.C. Salmon lovers can use the hashtag #NationalSalmonDay on their social media platforms on Oct. 8 to be entered for a week-long Alaska cruise and other prizes.

 Fall fish meetings Fish meetings over the next few months give industry stakeholders a chance to participate in policy-making that directly affects their livelihoods.
 The North Pacific Fishery Management Council meets October 5-11 at the Anchorage Hilton. The agenda includes a first look at next year’s catch quotas for pollock, cod, flounders and other groundfish in federally managed waters (three to 200 miles out), which account for over 80 percent of Alaska’s harvest poundage. The public has until Oct. 4 to comment to the state Board of Fisheries on agenda change requests and stocks of concern for its meeting cycle that begins with a work session Oct. 18-20 in Soldotna. Through March the Fish Board will take up 276 commercial, sport, subsistence and personal use fishery proposals focused primarily on Kodiak and Cook Inlet. The International Pacific Halibut Commission is calling for 2017 regulatory and catch limit proposals, due by Oct. 31. The industry will get a first glimpse at next year’s halibut catch recommendations at the IPHC interim meeting set for Nov. 29-30 in Seattle. The halibut commission’s annual meeting will take place Jan.23-27 in Victoria, British Columbia. The eight-month halibut fishery opens in March. All of the fish meetings are available online as they happen. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Fish and Game cuts Bering Sea crab quota

The day before the North Pacific Fishery Management Council will review drastically declining snow and tanner crab stocks, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game cut Bering Sea red king crab stocks by 15 percent. The 2016-17 crab season, which runs from Oct. 15 through Jan. 15, will allow a total allowable catch of 8.5 million pounds, which matches the quota from 2014. The downturn in quota ends a two-year streak of nearly 10 million pound catches. Last year, crabbers were allowed to take 9.97 million pounds of Bristol Bay red king crab. In 2014, the Bristol Bay red king crab total allowable catch, or TAC, is 9.98 million pounds. That’s up from the 2013 limit of 8.6 million pounds. Biomass for Bristol Bay red king crab has declined. Legal size males dropped from 61 million pounds in 2015 to 53 million pounds for the 2016 season. While king crab remains on the long-term level, the other two main crab fisheries are on a downswing. Stocks for both snow crab and Bairdi Tanner crab were down according to surveys in 2016, and stakeholders are holding their breath to see if the Alaska Department of Fish and Game will need to close fisheries if abundance doesn’t meet the department thresholds. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Cook Inlet salmon falls short of forecast

The Upper Cook Inlet’s 2016 harvest came in beneath expectations. According to season summary released by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game on Thursday, the season brought in fewer fish than average and carried a value less than average. “The 2016 Upper Cook Inlet commercial harvest of approximately 3.0 million salmon was 12 percent less than the recent 10-year average annual harvest of 3.5 million fish,” the summary reads. “The estimated exvessel value of the 2016 harvest of approximately $22.3 million was 23 percent less than the previous 10-year average annual exvessel value of $28.9 million.” Sockeye salmon, which make up 93 percent of the overall Upper Cook Inlet harvest value, contributed the most to the drop in value from the average, though all Upper Cook Inlet salmon runs returned in numbers less than average. ADFG forecasted 7.1 million fish for the total UCI sockeye run, but 5.2 million fish returned, or 27 percent less than forecast. At an average $1.50 per pound, Upper Cook Inlet fishermen earned a total ex-vessel value of $21 million for the season. Despite sub-average numbers, gear groups kept roughly the same catch percentage relative to the overall harvest. “The 2016 total sockeye salmon harvest breakdown between set and drift gillnet gear was very close to the previous 10-year average,” the report reads. “Drifters harvested 1.3 million sockeye salmon or 53 percent of the total harvest, compared to the previous 10-year average of 51 percent…while setnetters harvested 1.15 million or 47 percent of the total sockeye salmon harvest compared to their previous 10-year average of 49 percent.” King salmon comprised only 2 percent of the total value, less than average. “In all of UCI, approximately 9,613 king salmon were harvested in 2016, which was 6 percent less than the previous 10-year average annual harvest of 10,227 fish. Using a price of $2.50 per pound for king salmon, the estimated exvessel value of the 2016 harvest was $447,000. This value was approximately 2 percent of the total UCI commercial fishery.” Pink salmon made a negligible 1.4 percent of the area’s total harvest value and small numbers at 379,000, which was slightly more than the 10-year average of 373,000 fish. However small a portion of the commercial harvest, the pinks reveal an interesting trend. The most recent 10-year average pink salmon weight for Upper Cook Inlet is 3.6 pounds. This year, the average was 5 pounds, the largest average weight for pink salmon on record. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]  

It's time to talk crab season projections

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council will meet in Anchorage from Oct. 5-11 to overview crab season projections, hear further discussions of halibut management, and decide what to do about a recent federal appeals court decision that will require more attention to salmon management. The council will approve catch limits for the 2016-17 crab fisheries and review the stock assessment for the last year. Stocks for both snow crab and Bairdi Tanner crab were down according to surveys in 2016, and stakeholders are holding their breath to see if the Alaska Department of Fish and Game will need to close fisheries if abundance doesn’t meet the department thresholds. The crab fishing management plan, or FMP, requires federal scientists to set an overfishing limit, or OFL, and an acceptable biological catch, or ABC. Based on these numbers, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game will determine a total allowable catch, or TAC, under its joint management with the council. Commercial snow crab landings were 40.61 million pounds last season, a 40 percent decline from 67.9 million pounds the previous year. The snow crab TAC in 2016 of 40.6 million pounds was based on an ABC of 137.4 million pounds. This corresponds to a sharp drop in the total amount of legally harvestable male crab. From a projection of 302 million pounds last year, the amount of legal sized males has declined to 202 million pounds. The TAC for the 2016-17 season will be much lower, as the acceptable biological catch is 47 million pounds. Similarly, Tanner crab stocks appear to be in decline. In 2015, the biomass prediction for tanner crab was 163 million pounds with a TAC of 19.67 million pounds. This year, surveys chart a drop down to a biomass of 100 million pounds. Biomass for Bristol Bay red king crab has also dropped, though not as precipitously as that of snow crab and Tanner crab. Legal size males declined from 61 million pounds in 2015 to 53 million pounds for the 2016 season. Halibut Responding to years of halibut allocation fights among direct harvesters and trawlers who take the fish as bycatch, the council will present a discussion paper on linking prohibited species catch limits to halibut abundance. Currently the International Pacific Halibut Commission manages the directed halibut fishery, shifting catch limits with abundance. The North Pacific council manages halibut bycatch, which has been reduced but still uses a static number that does not fluctuate with abundance. Notably, this led to a situation in 2015 during which halibut fishermen in the Central Bering Sea received a smaller amount of the total halibut quota than the groundfish trawl fleets, which take large amounts of halibut incidentally in pursuit of other groundfish.  Shifting halibut bycatch limits with abundance would distribute the pain of stock decline evenly between directed halibut users and bycatch users. Halibut fishermen say the stocks depend on more cooperation between the two bodies. Such cooperation, though, would require a heavy workload for the council. “Changing PSC limits or metrics (i.e., halibut mortality in weight or numbers of halibut) would require changes in the existing regulations for and administration of the groundfish fisheries by changing the catch accounting system, in-season management, and other issues that would need to be explored in future discussion papers and analyses,” states the paper. The discussion paper outlines different models the council might use to determine abundance. Key to the discussion is the difference in survey methodology and science used by the North Pacific council and the IPHC. The paper has recommendations on how to bridge these differences as well as how to change rules to allow the council and commission to operate in tandem. Salmon court decision impact The council will also hold a discussion on a recent federal court decision that could potentially heavily impact its workload over the next few meetings leading up to the 2017 salmon season. Industry group United Cook Inlet Drift Association filed a lawsuit in 2013 to repeal the council’s 2011 decision, which was officially Amendment 12 to the Alaska salmon FMP. The council removed three historical net salmon fisheries from the FMP, delegating salmon management entirely to the state of Alaska and removing that management from the rigors of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the central piece of federal fisheries law. The initial suit was rejected by U.S. Alaska District Court Judge Timothy Burgess in September 2014. 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 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had hoped to rid itself of in 2011 by passing Amendment 12 in the first place. Installing an FMP before the next salmon season will be critical. Representatives from UCIDA are asking the council to create a committee to help in the process. “The purpose of committee would be to consider the scope of alternatives, and as appropriate, to initiate and expedite the development of a salmon FMP for Cook Inlet,” wrote Dave Martin, UCIDA’s president. “We recommend that the salmon committee includes two individuals representing the Cook Inlet salmon drift and setnet fisheries, a member representing the seafood processing and marketing sector and additional salmon committee members as the Council deems appropriate.” DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

State, federal managers unsure of next move after salmon decision overturned

State and federal managers don’t yet know what to expect after the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a 2011 decision by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to remove several Alaska salmon fisheries from federal management plan. With several regulatory meetings on the schedule before the start of the 2017 salmon season, fisheries managers will have opportunities to plot courses of action. Industry group United Cook Inlet Drift Association, or UCIDA, filed the lawsuit in 2013 to repeal the council’s decision, which was officially Amendment 12 to the Alaska salmon fishery management plan, or FMP. The amendment formally turned over control of salmon fisheries in Cook Inlet, Prince William Sound and the Alaska Peninsula to state management. The initial suit was rejected by U.S. Alaska District Court Judge Timothy Burgess in September 2014. A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit unanimously remanded the case back to Burgess with instructions to find in favor the plaintiffs. For some of the fishermen concerned, the court’s ruling was a momentous victory, while state and federal fisheries regulators resent it. “It’s going to develop salmon management plans under the law that use the best available science and protects the habitat and harvests the surplus,” said Dave Martin, president of UCIDA, one of two groups that filed the lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Commerce, which ultimately signs off on the decisions made by the North Pacific council. “That’s a win for the resources of the state, and for the people dependent on those resources and the economies. Even the state itself, the tax they generate, the raw fish tax and processor tax, if you’re harvesting the surplus, it benefits everybody. It takes the political management out of it.” State managers balk at the idea. “We do not need the U.S. government’s help in salmon management,” said Alaska Department of Fish and Game Sam Cotten. “We obviously have to get this resolved. The U.S. doesn’t want to manage salmon in those waters.” Julie Speegle, the communications officer for the National Marine Fisheries Service Alaska Region, said the agency is currently reviewing the court’s decision and doesn’t yet know what actions it will take. Several fisheries meetings at the state and federal level will take place between now and the beginning of the 2017 salmon season. If the North Pacific council decides not to appeal, it will need an operational FMP by the beginning of the 2017 salmon season and likely need to collaborate with the Alaska Board of Fisheries, which manages fisheries within three miles off the Alaska shore. Glenn Haight, the executive director of the Alaska Board of Fisheries, said he doesn’t yet know what the board will need to consider until the National Marine Fisheries Service reviews the decision and decides whether to appeal or to move forward with a federal FMP. “I’m not sure what’s going to happen for the board. As I understand, there’s the option to appeal; it’s getting sent back to the lower court for its final decision work,” Haight said. “It’s going to be a lot of work to the council. Trying to get the two systems to mesh would be a huge pull. It’s a big question mark.” The North Pacific Fishery Management Council will meet Oct. 5-11 in Anchorage. NMFS could indicate its intentions at that meeting, he said, which could in turn change both an upcoming Oct. 18-20 Alaska Board of Fisheries working group meeting along with the 2017 Upper Cook Inlet Board of Fisheries meeting in February. “I’d hope the board would be attuned to making decisions based on the science and biology and the 10 National Standards the court has laid out that management has to follow,” said Martin. “That’s kind of what the job is.” State managers are less enthusiastic. Cotten said on Sept. 23 that he fears federal management would be redundant and could potentially backfire. “I understand the interest on part of the plaintiffs in trying to improve their situation, but I was never convinced that even if they won it would improve their situation,” he said. “What we don’t want to have happen, is a situation could come up where you would have to close those waters, and the very people asking for this decision would be impacted the worst by it.” FMP history The lawsuit responded to a 2011 decision by the North Pacific council, one of eight councils established by the Magnuson-Stevens Act in 1976 to oversee federal fisheries between three and 200 miles off the U.S. shore. The act, or MSA, contains 10 guidelines called the National Standards. All federal FMPs must meet the National Standards that require fisheries managers to consider optimum yield, best available science, equitable allocations and community health among other factors.  Historically, the federal government has ceded salmon management to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game since 1979, not long after the MSA was passed in 1976. At the time the council passed Amendment 12, the council had not even reviewed the federal salmon FMP since 1990. When the MSA was reauthorized in 2006, it required every federal FMP to be updated by 2012, leading to the council’s decision to officially hand over control to the state for the three fisheries, while keeping the Southeast troll fishery under federal management because of the Pacific Salmon Treaty with Canada. NMFS and the council heard widespread frustration with state salmon management in Cook Inlet from both drift and setnet fishermen and a desire for a federal FMP subscribing to the National Standards. State management, some said, is lacking. “The current Board of Fish is … dysfunctional, unprofessional, unqualified, and wrought with special interest influence,” said Paul Shadura, executive director of the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association, in 2011. Dave Martin testified that the state’s management directly contradicts the National Standards. FMPs require annual catch limits and accountability measures to prevent overfishing, while Alaska manages to a sustainable escapement goal that commercial fishermen said robs them of harvesting opportunity.  “Management plans restrict us out of the (Exclusive Economic Zone) and forego real-time abundance-based management because of mandatory time and area restrictions,” said Martin to the council. “These plans result in loss of harvestable surplus of 33 percent for sockeye, 98 for pinks, 96 percent for chums and 40 percent for coho. “This results in gross overescapement, reduces future returns and economic loss. This is far from Magnuson compliance.” The council went ahead with the move and approved it unanimously. “The State has managed the salmon fisheries since statehood in 1959, and the Council has relied on State management of the salmon fisheries in the EEZ since 1979,” stated the final rule published in the Federal Register. “State salmon management is consistent with the policies and standards of the Magnuson-Stevens Act…The State actively manages Alaska salmon stocks in every region of the State through its use of escapement-based management. Escapement-based management takes into consideration the unique life history of Pacific salmon and escapement goals maintain spawning levels that provide for maximum surplus production. The State has the expertise and infrastructure to manage Alaska salmon as a unit in consideration of all fishery removals and to meet escapement goals.” Alaska’s history of salmon management, the council believed, set it up to run the fishery without the feds. However, the 9th Circuit disagreed and said the council could not get out of having an FMP that meets the National Standards simply by declaring that it does. “The panel held that the National Marine Fisheries Service cannot exempt a fishery under its authority that required conservation and management from an FMP because the agency is content with state management,” the decision states. “The (Magnuson-Stevens Act) requires a regional fishery management council to create an FMP for each fishery under its authority that requires conservation and management.” DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Walker requests disaster declaration for humpy fishery

Gov. Bill Walker has officially requested that the federal government declare a disaster for four Alaska regions hurt by one of the poorest pink salmon returns in decades. In a Sept. 19 letter to U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, Walker said fishery failures that occurred this summer at the Kodiak, Prince William Sound, Lower Cook Inlet and Chignik management areas are having a “significant impact on those who depend on the fishery for their livelihood” and asks for the “soonest possible review” due to the economic importance of these fisheries. How bad were the humpy hauls? At Kodiak, fishing remained closed during 70 percent of the pink salmon run and the catch of just 3.2 million was 28 percent of the expected harvest. The estimated value to fishermen, Walker wrote in his letter, is $2.21 million, compared to a five- year average of $14.64 million. At Prince William Sound the total pink catch of 12 million was more than 46 percent below the preseason forecast. The dockside value of $6.6 million compares to an average of nearly $44 million over the past five years. The pink salmon catch of 97,000 at Lower Cook Inlet was 13 percent of the 759,000 forecast. That means a payday of $78,000 for Inlet fishermen, who have averaged $501,000 in recent years. Fishermen at Chignik did not even get any directed openers for pink salmon this summer. The 140,000 humpies taken during the region’s sockeye fishery were valued at $110,000, down from a five-year average of $740,000. The pink salmon disaster declaration, should it occur, won’t set a precedent. Alaska received $20.8 million in federal money for fishery failures due to three years of low king salmon returns on the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers and in the Cook Inlet region. The money was paid out in two installments over two years with an initial grant of $7.8 million divided among commercial fishermen. A second grant of $13 million was distributed as $4.5 million to the sport fishing sector, $7.5 million for research and restoration, and $700,000 was paid directly to Cook Inlet processors and salmon buyers who proved losses in income due to the fisheries failure. “This is not going to be a blanket money grab for anybody who fished pinks. If you’re in the disaster area and the large portion of your income was based on pink salmon, then I believe you will be eligible,” said Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, who spearheaded the push for the pink disaster declaration. Stutes said her office is now compiling the details of “time frames and the who’s and how’s” for people to apply for monetary payouts, should the move get a green light from the federal government. Affected fishermen also can apply for a waiver of state loan payments for this year, to be tacked on to the end of the loan term. A memo from Walker directs the state Department of Commerce and Economic Development to “commit as many resources as possible to assisting pink salmon fishery permit holders, and that review of individual loan payment waivers be expedited.” Cameras count fish To get better data on what’s coming over the rails, three years ago fishery managers expanded onboard observer coverage for the first time to include halibut longline vessels less than 50 feet in length. That’s prompted a push to replace those extra bodies aboard with electronic monitoring systems, or EMS, already in use in other U.S. and Canadian fisheries. “Those of us who live here know that some of these boats are too small to carry an extra person. There are bunk space issues, the wheel house is too small for them to spread all their stuff out and still be able to eat at the galley table and sometimes there’s just nowhere to put them on deck safely,” said Dan Falvey, program director for the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association in Sitka. 
 Armed with funding from National Marine Fisheries Service and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, ALFA has been recruiting boats to field test an EMS that includes a control center connected to GPS, cameras to monitor the lines for species identification, a deck camera to track discards and a seabird camera. The system, provided at no cost through the EM Cooperative Research Program, is turned on only if a vessel is selected randomly for coverage prior to a fishing trip. “We’ll get it installed on the boats and next year before they go fishing, they log in their trip in and if the system says they have to have at-sea monitoring, they just flip the switch and fish like they normally do,” Falvey explained. The goal is to equip up to 90 longline vessels and 30 pot boats of all sizes with EMS for next year; about 70 from Kodiak, Homer, Sitka, Seward and Petersburg had signed up by the Sept. 20 deadline.  Anyone interested should still register, Falvey said, as they may be included as funding permits, and they can also be part of future programs. Contact Liz Chilton at 206-526-4197 or [email protected] Tipping the scales In its quest to streamline catch accountings and say so long to paper fish tickets, state managers are planning to integrate salmon weights with hopper scales aboard tender boats next summer. “We were approached by industry to see if we could modify one of our tLandings application onboard tenders to allow for automatic documentation of the scale weights,” said Gail Smith, eLandings program coordinator for the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game, adding that Trident Seafoods and Rice Lake Weights are collaborating with the pilot project in Cordova. About 20 percent of Alaska’s 600 to 700 tender boats use hoppers over hanging scales, Smith said, but more are moving towards vacuuming the fish from the catcher boats and conveying them to a hopper scale for better weighing accuracy. “A brailer bag that is hung from a hanging scale has quite a lot of weight associated with the fish inside and bounces up and down more, so it’s hard to get a good accurate weight,” she explained. Trial tests last year on tendered cod and pollock taken near Sand Point were very successful, Smith said, and the department is eager to try out the new system on salmon. “Now we want to modify it to salmon landings because we’ve got more species and different delivery conditions, so we want to make sure it provides rapid, efficient documentation of the catch,” she added. Another tLandings tablet platform, in partnership with Alaska General Seafoods and North Pacific Seafoods, will benefit small operators in more remote regions starting next summer at Bristol Bay. “This will accommodate setnetters and beach-based deliveries to trucks or to smaller tenders. It will provide for greater reporting flexibility to meet the situations that occur in the industry,” Smith said. Both projects are funded by NOAA Fisheries and Pacific State Marine Fisheries Commission. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Cordovans want serious look at Tanners

Cordovans are hoping to revive a long lost Tanner crab fishery in Prince William Sound as a step towards keeping the town’s waterfront working year round. The crab fishery produced up to 14 million pounds in the early 1970s and had declined to about half a million pounds by the time it was closed after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. State managers believe the Tanner stock remains depleted and cannot provide for a commercial fishery, but locals believe it’s time to take a closer look. “It’s largely the opinion of the people around here that the fishery could support an expanded harvest,” said John Whissel, director of natural resources for the Native Village of Eyak. “The goal here is to get away from the boom and bust cycle, where the town doubles in size in May and then shrinks when the salmon fisheries wind down.” Over the past year the town has turned out to support expanding research for the crab fishery in meetings with state commissioners and local legislators. “This is as much of a grassroots effort as I’ve ever seen in terms of getting some science done. Everyone understands the benefits of having canneries and boats working year round,” Whissel said. State biologists have conducted periodic trawl surveys in Prince William Sound since 1991, but Cordovans believe that method does not accurately count densities of crab in other regions. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game acknowledged in a memo that the existing survey “does not reflect Tanner crab abundance outside the survey grounds” but they believe the trends “are reflective of Tanners throughout the Sound.” Starting this fall, Cordovans plan to supplement the trawl data by doing something different: a mark recapture study. “Marking and then recapturing crab is a pretty standard measurement of densities and age structures, and much more involved than a trawl survey,” Whissel said, adding that the Eyak tribe is now working out the study design and readying funding proposals for federal matching grants to jumpstart the Tanner project this winter. State crab biologists said they will provide the Board of Fisheries with information next March “that could lead to a development of a harvest strategy and allow additional harvest,” according to ADFG Commissioner Sam Cotten. Meanwhile, Cordovans will begin their study with Tanners pulled up in their subsistence pots this fall. Whissel is hopeful the project will serve as a model to evaluate other potential fisheries in the region. “There’s other opportunities around here and it would be good for our town and for our state,” he said. “With oil prices being what they are and the tax rate being what it is, commercial fishing could play a larger role in the state budget if we gave them more chances to do that.” Whissel called the crab project collaboration by the state and tribal government “an exciting new way forward.” “The state will find that it is able to do a lot by collaborating with tribes because we have access to different pools of federal dollars in times of tightening budgets,” he said. “Coming together on projects like this instead of being territorial is going to be the way we do things in the future.” Got skates? Giant skates is another fishery that could get underway in Prince William Sound and other regions after more is learned about their lifestyle and habits. A few skate fisheries have occurred on and off in the central Gulf over the past decade. More recently, managers have put on the brakes because of the fast pace in which they can be caught, and the fact that little is known about Alaskan skates. “There’s quite a bit of skate fishing going on in the Atlantic, both on the U.S. and European side, but here in Alaska it’s hasn’t been a target for very long at all. So we really don’t know that much about them,” said Thomas Farrugia, a doctoral student at the UAF School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, or SFOS. Farrugia and SFOS professor Andrew Seitz are studying whether there can be a sustainable and profitable fishery for big and long nose skates in the Gulf of Alaska. One thing they’ve learned in a yearlong satellite tagging study is that skates really get around. “It was previously thought that skates sit in one spot and look for crabs, clams and little fish to eat, but don’t have much need to move a whole lot like an oceanic predator,” Farrugia explained. “But it turns out big skates can move over hundreds of nautical miles, which we hadn’t been sure about before. The take away message is we have to look at the entire Gulf population as one big stock and not a bunch of subunits. And this will affect how the species is managed.” Farrugia calls skates “flat sharks” because the two are identical biologically. Both have a very slow life history and produce only two to eight offspring each time they mate. In Alaska, skates can fetch nice prices — 45 cents per pound for whole fish and a dollar a pound for skate wings frozen at sea. “Fishermen, especially bottom trawlers or halibut and cod longliners, will catch quite a few skates and retain them because the price for them is fairly high, often higher than cod,” Farrugia said. Currently, skates can only be retained as five percent bycatch of a targeted catch, such as cod or halibut. About 4.5 million pounds are taken in Gulf fisheries each year. It’s mostly fishermen in Prince William Sound, Seward and Homer who are pushing for a skate fishery, while others in Kodiak believe it would be best to leave skates as a bycatch portion in their other fisheries. “There’s a sort of geographical divide,” Farrugia said. “If they do have a fishery, it would be a short season, maybe for a week, where all these boats would target skates and then not be able to fish them for the rest of the year. Others want to be able to retain skates as bycatch over a longer period of time.” The next phase of Farrugia’s research is to create a Gulf-wide stock assessment model that could be used by fishery managers, followed by a bio-economic model that evaluates whether a skate fishery would be feasible. “Until we know more about the biomass and what the sustainable level is, it is probably not going to be possible to have a profitable directed skate fishery because there is just not enough quota to go around,” Farrugia said. 

 Climate pros/cons Every fish in the sea responds differently to warming oceans and off kilter ocean chemistry. A new report titled Climate Change and Alaska Fisheries highlights how some top species might be helped or harmed by changing weather patterns. “The take home message seems to be that it will affect fisheries resources differentially. Some species of salmon such as pinks and chums seem to do a little better under warmer conditions, some not so well,” said Terry Johnson, a fisheries professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and a marine advisor with Alaska Sea Grant in Anchorage. Milder winters can be a boon to freshwater growth and survival of some salmon, he pointed out, and hot summers can mean more plankton blooms in sockeye producing lakes and rivers.  “The whole issue with all of the salmon is in the end it comes down to what they find when they get to the ocean,” Johnson said. Halibut also could respond well to more plankton blooms from warmer waters, though little research has been done on that popular fish. Species likely not to fare as well are pollock and crab. “A big concern is both pollock and crab are expected to decline significantly in this current century, over the next four or five decades. People who are newly coming into the industry may see those fishing opportunities decrease,” he cautioned. Warmer temperatures and milder sea conditions that sometimes accompany them also may improve safety and reduce costs for harvesters and processors. Expanded or shifted ranges can bring new fishery resources into a region, or increase abundance of those already there, the report adds. Johnson said his main goal was to explore ways the seafood industry can adapt to the inevitable changes. “Change is constant in fisheries,” he said. “What distinguishes fishermen from other occupational groups is they are constantly adapting to change on a year-by-year and day-by-day basis. Rather than obsessing about the good and the bad the ocean is producing because of climate, the focal point should be what on each community or each individual can do.” Johnson hopes to hear fishermen’s ideas and experiences at a forum this fall at Pacific Marine Expo. Find the report at the Alaska Sea Grant bookstore. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

9th Circuit overturns state control of Cook Inlet salmon

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 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had hoped to rid itself of in 2011 by passing Amendment 12 in the first place. In a release, UCIDA said the lawsuit bodes will for the health of Alaska’s fishermen and the resource. “With the use of standards described in the MSA, such as conservation, sustainability, prevention of over fishing, and by utilizing the best scientific information available, the salmon resources of Cook Inlet will be sustainable and bountiful for all Alaskans who rely on Cook Inlet salmon for recreation, healthy food, and jobs, for generations to come,” the statement reads. 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. The court notes that giving the State of Alaska management authority isn’t a problem, but clarifies that the state should manage to the requirements of a federal plan, not its own. “The panel held that the National Marine Fisheries Service cannot exempt a fishery under its authority that required conservation and management from and FMP because the agency is content with state management,” the decision reads. “The (Magnuson-Stevens Act) requires a regional fishery management council to create an FMP for each fishery under its authority that requires conservation and management.” The biggest change from the council’s decision concerned a switch in salmon management focus away from the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which established the regional fishery councils in 1976. Federal FMPs must subscribe to the National Standards of the federal Magnuson-Stevens Act, the 10 commandments of the federal fisheries world that require fisheries managers to consider optimum yield, best available science, equitable allocations and community health among other factors.   UCIDA has long held that the state’s escapement goal-based management — which is not held to the National Standards — leads to massive amounts of unharvested salmon and overescapement in Cook Inlet.  Erik Huebsch, UCIDA's vice president, said it's unclear whether the decision will apply to all the areas affected by Amendment 12. "It depends on what the prescribed remedies are," he said. The organization does not want Cook Inlet to go into direct federal management, but instead, Huebsch said the members want to see the North Pacific council develop a management plan for the fishery that complies with the Magnuson-Stevens Act and delegate it to the state. Huebsch highlighted the lack of state action on invasive species — specifically northern pike, which infest a large number of streams and lakes in the Mat-Su Borough and prey on salmonids — and hope that with the new decision will spur ADFG to deal with those invasive species. "A lot of the problems in Cook Inlet are because the state has been managing Cook Inlet differently than other areas of the state," he said. Huebsch said some kind of interim plan would have to go into place for fisheries management before next season’s start. The fisheries cannot go on under a management plan ruled illegal, he said. The fisheries regulators who will make a new plan have no concrete details yet. Sam Cotten, ADFG’s commissioner and one of 11 voting members of the North Pacific council, said he thinks the decision defies the will of both the state and the federal government, both of which wanted Alaskan management for the region’s salmon. The state and the National Marine Fisheries Service, he said, want to work together. “We do not need the U.S. government’s help in salmon management,” Cotten said. “We obviously have to get this resolved The U.S. doesn’t want to manage salmon in those waters.” Cotten said he and representatives of the National Marine Fisheries Service have already talked to review the state’s strategy, which could include an FMP that delegates management to the state or an appeal to the three-judge panel’s ruling. He fears federal management would be redundant and could potentially backfire. “I understand the interest on part of the plaintiffs in trying to improve their situation, but I was never convinced that even if they won it would improve their situation,” he said. “What we don’t want to have happen, is a situation could come up where you would have to close those waters, and the very people asking for this decision would be impacted the worst by it.” The North Pacific council’s future actions are uncertain. Chris Oliver, the executive director of the North Pacific council, said he could not yet comment on the court decision pending further discussions with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Department of Justice. Alaska region NMFS administrators Jim Balsiger and Glenn Merrill were not immediately available for comment. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected] Elizabeth Earl contributed to this report. She can be reached at [email protected]

Sockeye output blows previous seasons out of water

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 blew previous sockeye seasons out of the water, second only to last year's run of 59 million. “The 2016 inshore Bristol Bay sockeye salmon run of 51.4 million fish ranks 2nd out of the last 20 years (1996–2015) and was 46 percent above the 35.1 million average run for the same period,” according to a season summary from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Along with being above average run, the 2016 Bristol Bay sockeye harvest surpassed ADFG forecasts. “The 37.3 million sockeye salmon commercial harvest was 26 percent above the 29.5 million preseason forecast,” the summary reads. “All escapement goals were met or exceeded, with a total sockeye salmon escapement of 14.1 million fish. A total of 29,545 chinook salmon were harvested in Bristol Bay in 2016.” 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 timing and fish size. “The 2016 sockeye salmon run timing was similar to 2015 as it was one of the latest on record, approximately seven days late,” reads the report. “Fish weights and lengths were smaller than the historical average with an average sockeye salmon weight of 5.4 pounds, but overall fish were slightly larger than 2015.” 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. Only the run’s volume made contributed to the overall value’s health. ADFG estimates the ex-vessel value at $156.2 million, which is 40 percent above the 20-year average of $111 million. This marks the fourth and largest in a series of high volume years for Bristol Bay, part of a confluence of factors leading to depressed ex-vessel prices in 2015. In that year, fishermen received 50 cents per pound, half the average of 99 cents. The U.S. dollar’s strength against key export markets collided with oversupply for Alaska processors. Tyson Fick, communications director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, or ASMI, said this year’s situation differs, though some of market particulars are similar to last year. “Some of the same factors are still there like the value of the dollar, the strength of the dollar being difficult in export markets,” said Fick. “That alleviated somewhat in Japan, so that’s done well for us. Our marketing efforts were pretty successful in stimulating more demand to match that supply, and we should see a nice increase in domestic demand throughout the year as people bring on refresh programs nationwide.” ASMI is a collaboration between industry and the state to increase the value and markets for Alaska seafood. Fick said ASMI has aggressively focused on expanding domestic consumption over the last year, and the results have been paying off for processors looking to move stockpiled salmon. The U.S. Department of Agriculture also helped with a series of purchases of canned salmon, the last of which neared $6 million. “(Strategies) would include promotions that are very much focused on moving volume, partnered with retailers and distributors, and also the USDA canned salmon buys,” Fick said. “They’ve been trickling in pretty regularly over the last couple of years. There’s also interest in frozen portions. It’s a large customer. It’s millions of dollars. It goes a long way in correcting the market by using some of these programs that farmers have been using for years.” Alaska processors also had less supply to compete with from other sockeye producing regions, notably Canada’s Fraser River, which harvested far below average. “Places like the Fraser River, that just didn’t happen,” Fick said. “That’s big for us. That was part of the multi-year lead up to the prices last year, that huge batch of supply from the previous year in Canada on top of prices.” Tim Sands, the area management biologist for Bristol Bay’s commercial fishery, said despite the off timing and the fish’s small size, the 2016 sockeye run was successful for the overall health of the system. “The run timing being so much more protracted and later is definitely a twist that took some getting used to,” he said. “Biologically, all our escapement goals were achieved or exceeded. That’s the best we can hope for biologically speaking.” Fishermen themselves adjusted better than in 2015, when processors sent many fishermen home after the run passed its historical midpoint. In several Alaska fisheries, weird is the new normal, and in Bristol Bay the fishermen remembered to roll with it. “Certainly, industry was better,” said Sands. “They didn’t send their boats out too soon, there wasn’t the big stretch of limits we had in 2015. That made a big difference in what the escapements ended up being and what the harvest ended up being. I think the fishermen weren’t as surprised as they were in 2015 when things were so late.” Editor's note: This article ealier misstated that the 2016 Bristol Bay production surpassed that of 2015, when in fact 2015 was a higher volume. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Pinks end season on a low note as other fisheries heat up

It surprises many people across the state that fall is one of the busiest times for Alaska’s fishing industry from the Panhandle to the Bering Sea. As salmon season gets tucked away, hundreds of boats of all gear types are still out on the water, or gearing up for even more openers in just a few weeks. Here’s a sampler: Longliners have taken 82 percent of their 17 million-pound halibut catch quota with 3 million pounds left to go by the Nov. 7 close of that eight-month fishery. Homer, which bills itself as the nation’s top halibut port, is being out-landed by Kodiak by just a few thousand pounds. Longline fleets also are targeting a 20.3 million-pound sablefish (black cod) catch. Scallopers are still dropping dredges around Yakutat and in other parts of the Gulf and Bering Sea. Lingcod fisheries are ongoing in parts of the Gulf, primarily by small boats using jig and hand troll gear. Trawlers are targeting pollock and other groundfish in both the Bering Sea and the Gulf. And tons of cod are crossing the docks with Sept. 1 openers for longline gear and pot boats. Southeast’s summer chinook fishery closed to trollers on Sept. 3; the winter troll fishery will reopen in early October. Crabbers will be back out on the water for the Oct. 1 start of the fall Dungeness fishery. The summer dungie season that ended in mid-August produced a two million pound catch valued at $6 million at the Southeast docks. October also marks the start of Alaska’s premiere shrimp fishery — big spots from the Panhandle. Pots will haul in more than a half million pounds of spot shrimp during that opener. Beam trawling for pink and coon stripe shrimp also is ongoing in several Southeast regions. Hundreds of divers will head down for sea cucumbers and urchins in October. More than one million pounds of sea cukes are usually taken in Southeast waters, with smaller takes around Kodiak Island, and the price often tops $3 a pound. Hundreds of big “seven by” crab pots are stacked to the sky at Dutch Harbor and Kodiak in readiness for the start of the Bering Sea crab fisheries that get underway on Oct. 15. Pink relief updates Fishermen hurt by the pink salmon no-show can apply now for a breather in their state loan payments. “This would not be a forgiveness, but would add this year’s loan payment onto the end of the loan period and forgive the payment just for this year,” said Rep. Louise Stutes of Kodiak, who sponsored the relief measure. Stutes said it is “absolutely imperative” for anyone wanting a waiver of their loan payments to contact the Division of Economic Development prior to the due date of the loan. She urged that fishermen not be put off by the 16-page application packet they will receive. “Not all of the pages need to be filled out. This is a loan application and these individuals already have a loan. They are only asking for a waiver in the provision of the existing loan,” Stutes explained, adding that division staff is on point to help. “They are anticipating fishermen calling and they will walk them through to help them put in only the pertinent, required information,” she said. “That streamlines it somewhat until we can fine tune it a bit further. Call the Division at 1-800-478-5626. The state also continues to build a case for declaring the pink salmon fishery failure a disaster. “There are certain steps to go through before the governor feels comfortable making that determination. And that’s the process we’re in currently,” Stutes said. Affected communities can contact her office at (907) 486-8872 to get the appropriate wording to use in a resolution, Stutes said, “indicating how devastating this lack of pink salmon has been to their communities and requesting that they do declare it a disaster.” Debris tracker Forget Pokémon Go, take part in a bigger effort to help clean up the Blue Planet! The Marine Debris Tracker App helps you locate where and what types of trash are littering our waterways and coastlines. The app, created through the NOAA Marine Debris Program and the Southeast Atlantic Marine Debris Initiative, has cataloged over one million items reported by trackers. “For any form of litter or marine debris, you can pull up a list and it’s one click to enter in what the user sees,” said Jenna Jambeck, co-creator of the Tracker App. “You can also add a quantity, a description and a photo.” The app works with GPS, so it knows the location where the user is collecting debris. “So you can be out fishing or in some remote area and log all your data along with the GPS. I think that it is a really powerful component of the app,” she said. The tracker app also gives people feedback and makes them feel good about what they are doing. “It is really fun for people to feel like they are a bigger part of a larger effort,” Jambeck said. “We have a top tracker list, so those who do it most frequently are definitely acknowledged on the website and they can share their efforts through social media. It is a win-win for the collector, the marine initiative and the planet.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Crab harvest to take a nosedive; Bristol Bay rocks Boulder

Bering Sea crabbers were stunned last week when the outlooks for the upcoming fall and winter fisheries were revealed. Results of the annual summer surveys by state and federal scientists showed that numbers of mature male and females dropped sharply across the board for the big three: opilio (snow crab), their larger cousins, Bairdi Tanners, and red king crab. “I don’t think anybody was expecting the numbers to be as low as they ended up. That was a shock,” said Ruth Christiansen, science adviser and policy analyst for the trade group, Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers. Managers use different criteria for setting quotas for the three crab species. For snow crab, the state chooses from what they believe is the most reliable of three data sets. Christiansen said she feels sure that fishery will be a go, albeit with a smaller catch quota. “I’m not worried about that one not opening. But given the information we have and the state’s tendency to always be cautious, the catch will be lower than the 40.6 million pounds from last year,” Christiansen said. The harvest strategy for Bairdi tanner crab is based on a threshold of mature females. Not enough females means no fishery, and the survey results showed a drop of nearly 60 percent from just a year ago. But the crabbers believe the Bairdi are still out there; they’ve just moved to a different spot. “It’s not one of those things where we don’t think the crab is there, it’s a result of the survey not being able to find them,” Christiansen said. The surveys are standardized and trawl samples are taken from the same stations each year throughout the eastern Bering Sea. Bairdi crab catches have been on a steady climb since 2013, approaching 20 million pounds last season, and the fleet has logged good catches. The crabbers believe the cause of the disappearing crab is changing ocean conditions, pointing out that 2016 is one of the hottest years on record for Bering Sea water temperatures, both at the sea surface and on the ocean floor. “We’ve seen dramatic drops in crab numbers from last year to this year. It’s not an overfishing issue or fishing mortality or natural mortality. Something else is going on,” Christiansen stressed. The outlook for red king crab at Bristol Bay is a bit brighter. The survey numbers for both males and females were down, but managers use a different balancing act there to set catch quotas. “The state bases its strategy on the spawning biomass, which is a combination of the males and females, and even though one went up and one went down, the balance is the same. So we are not anticipating that catch to change dramatically,” she explained. The red king crab quota last season was about 10 million pounds. Crab scientists are now busily crunching the raw data and will present more complete findings to the industry later this month. The Bering Sea crab quotas will be released in early October; the fisheries open Oct. 15. Bristol Bay reds rock Boulder “Wild Taste, Amazing Place” is the theme of an ambitious Bristol Bay sockeye salmon branding program that launched this month in Boulder, Colo. “We’ve been working for months with just about every level of the supply chain from processors to distributors and retailers to help them get Bristol Bay sockeye into their stores,” said Becky Martello, executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, or BBRSDA. The group is bankrolling the $700,000 pilot program with a 1 percent tax paid by member driftnet fishermen on the dockside value of their catch. The fishermen have partnered with Anchorage-based Rising Tide Communications, whose creative experts have longtime, hands on involvement in Alaska fishing. The campaign includes training people behind the retail counters about the special features of Bristol Bay, recipes, posters, special dinners by local chefs, mugs and even branded wrapping paper for the bright red sockeye fillets. “When people buy the salmon it is wrapped up in beautiful craft paper and sealed with a Bristol Bay sticker,” Martello said. Fishermen will be on hand throughout the four-month promotion as a tie in to their new website’s “Know your Fisherman” section. “That is huge with consumers and with our Millennial target,” she said. “They really want to know where their food comes from and connecting them to the fishermen is the most natural way to tell that story and connect people to Bristol Bay.” The Wild Taste, Amazing Place promotion will run through the end of the year and be evaluated by an independent firm. The BBRSDA will then decide where to go next. “We want to use this very targeted campaign to measure what we are doing. We are investing a lot of our fishermen’s dollars in this and we want to make sure we are on the right track,” Martello said, adding that the response to the effort has been overwhelmingly positive. “We’ve had so much great feedback,” she said. “It’s so gratifying to see how many people are getting onboard with it. It’s really exciting.” See the snazzy new website at http://bristolbaysockeye.org/ Salmon bright spot Unlike most other Alaska regions, Yukon salmon fishermen are enjoying some record salmon catches. The combined fall chum and coho harvest of more than 1 million fish is the largest in the 55 years of the commercial fishery, according to regional managers. “It’s a pivotal year,” said Jack Schultheis, longtime manager of KwikPak Fisheries in Emmonak. Another first was a healthy pink salmon fishery complete with interested buyers. “There’s never been a pink fishery in the river before and this was the first year we targeted them,” Schultheis told Seafood.com “The catch of 127,250 may not sound like much, but considering no one has ever bought pinks on the Yukon, we’re encouraged about that.” Schultheis credited the good returns to “excellent management.” “The department (of Fish and Game) has done an exceptional job managing the fishery,” he said. “That’s why I feel very positive about the future. I think this is going to be the norm, to have consistent runs like this.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.  

Rep. Stutes moves for disaster declaration for pink salmon

Rep. Stutes moves for disaster declaration for pink salmon Wheels are already in motion to provide two measures of relief for Alaska’s pink salmon industry, which is reeling from the lowest harvest since the late 1970s. Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, began the process last week to have the Walker Administration declare the pink salmon season a disaster, which would allow access to federal relief funds. Pinks are Alaska’s highest volume salmon fishery and hundreds of fishermen depend on the fish to boost their overall catches and paychecks. So far the statewide harvest has reached just 36 million humpies out of a preseason forecast of 90 million. That compares to a catch of 190 million pinks last summer. “This is the worst salmon year in nearly 40 years, and that’s huge,” she said. “It doesn’t just affect the fishermen; it’s a trickle-down effect on the cannery workers, the processors, and nearly all businesses in the community. It’s a disaster, there’s no other way to describe it.” Stutes, who chairs the House fisheries committee and is known as a straight talker, said she has gotten very positive response from the state Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development. “They are on it and already moving forward,” Stutes said. At the same time, she is working with the Division of Investments to allow a “blanket pardon” of state-funded fishermen’s loan payments for this year. “This would not be a forgiveness, but would add this year’s payment onto the end of the loan period and forgive the loan payment just for this year,” she explained. The disaster declaration and the loan suspensions “go hand in hand,” Stutes said, “but don’t depend on each other.” While visiting constituents in Kodiak, Cordova and Yakutat, Stutes said that “literally people are in fear about making mortgage payments and paying their bills. They can’t claim unemployment because they are still employed. There is just no work.” By week’s end she was awaiting word from Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, who is the Administration’s fishery “point person,” to take the ball and run with it. But Stutes said the process has already begun and her job is to make sure it keeps moving. “I’m a squeaky wheel and this is crucial to the resident workers and to people in so many communities. I’ll keep the pressure on so things will move quickly,” she said. It won’t be the first time a salmon disaster has been declared in Alaska. In 2012, a disaster was declared due to fishery failures on the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers and in Cook Inlet due to low Chinook salmon returns for that season and in previous years. Crab con National surveys show clearly that most Americans want to know where their foods come from. Seafood lovers can easily tell at retail counters where their salmon and other fish choices come from, and if the fish is wild or farmed. That’s due to Country of Origin Labeling, or COOL, laws, which went into effect a decade ago. But the laws do not apply to seafood that has been “processed,” no matter how minimally. A processed food item is defined as “a retail item derived from a covered commodity that has undergone specific processing resulting in a change in the character of the covered commodity.” Under this definition, “cooking (e.g. frying, broiling, grilled, boiling, steaming, baking, roasting)” is an example of a specific process that results in such a change, meaning those products are exempt from the COOL requirements. “It was a surprise to all of us who worked very hard to get seafood included in all product forms,” said Mark Vinsel, executive administrator for United Fishermen of Alaska, which represents 35 fishing groups. The Bering Sea king and snow crab fisheries have been hurt the most by the lack of labeling. “Since all crab are required to be cooked right after delivery they are exempt,” said Jake Jacobsen, director of the Inter-Cooperative Exchange, a harvester group that catches 70 percent of the Bering Sea crab quota.  The push to exclude products such as canned, pouched or smoked fish and steamed crab, Jacobsen said, came from the U.S. tuna fleet. “All we wanted to do was carve out crab but they had a much more powerful lobby than we did,” he said. The crabbers believe the public has a right to know where their crab comes from and they have not backed down from the COOL battle. “Right now when a consumer goes into a grocery store they don’t know if the crab comes from Russia or Newfoundland or Alaska,” Jacobsen said, “and we think that the American consumers will prefer Alaskan product, especially if there is a chance that much of the crab imported from Russia might be illegal.” A McDowell Group analysis showed that almost 100 million pounds of pirated Russian crab entered the U.S. in 2013, valued at roughly $600 million. An estimated 40 percent of king crab sold in world markets was from illegal Russian harvests. The situation has improved somewhat due to tighter international regulations, but Jacobsen said the outcomes are too soon to tell. “There is still illegal crab going into China and Korea and finding its way into the U.S. but there is no way to tell if it’s legal or not because there is no traceability requirement,” Jacobsen explained. Appeals so far to U.S. policy makers have fallen on deaf ears, so crabbers have gone directly to buyers and retailers. HyVee and Publix only source crab from Alaska and Jacobsen hopes more will follow suit.  Meanwhile, the push to get USA labeling on Alaska crab will continue. “Absolutely,” he said. “It is a big issue to us and very important in the overall program of eliminating illegally caught crab that is imported into the U.S.” Fishy jobs Two high visibility fishery related organizations are recruiting for top jobs. Alaska Sea Grant is seeking a Communications Manager to be based in either Anchorage or Fairbanks. The position oversees a team that works to create public awareness of Sea Grant’s projects, programs and outreach activities across the state. A good understanding of Alaska coastal communities and marine issues is a plus. The position will remain open until filled. The second job covers broader terrain: executive director for the nonprofit Seafood Harvesters of America. The group provides a unified voice for U.S. fishermen from all regions. “We need a strong voice in Washington, DC and around the country to educate policy makers and the public about the value of our fisheries, the income, jobs and nutrition they provide and issues that concern commercial fishermen,” it states on its website. The location is flexible although it has traditionally been in Washington, D.C. Deadline to apply is Sept. 8. Seafood champions wanted The Obama Administration want to honor fishermen and coastal communities that are helping to preserve and protect America’s fishing industry and communities. “This is your chance to nominate someone you know and admire for contributing to the ongoing recovery of America’s fishing industry and our fishing communities as a White House Champion of Change for Sustainable Seafood,” Obama wrote in a press release. Nominees may include fishermen who are leaders in promoting sustainable fishing practices, seafood processors, purveyors, chefs and other business owners, community leaders and innovators in the field of mariculture. Visit www.whitehouse.gov/champions and select “Sustainable Seafood” as the theme. Deadline for nominations is Sept. 9. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.  

Sport humpy record broken twice in a day

SOLDOTNA — After 42 years, the Alaska state record for a sport-caught pink salmon was broken — twice. Thomas Salas hauled a monster pink salmon out of the Kenai River near Big Eddy in Soldotna on Aug. 22. The California resident, who said he visits the Kenai every other year or so, was originally going to throw it back when a friend told him to hang on to it. “(He) said, ‘You gotta keep it, that might be a record,’” Salas said. As it turns out, he was right. When the anglers took the fish into the Alaska Department of Fish and Game office in Soldotna the next morning, it weighed in at 12 pounds and 13 ounces and 28.5 inches long, claiming the state record from the previous 12 pound and 9 ounce fish, caught in 1974. Multiple biologists certified it and sent Salas on his way, the new holder of the state record. About three hours later, Robert Dubar brought in his own humongous pink salmon. He’d pulled the monster out of the Kenai River just downstream of Angler’s Lodge in Sterling on Aug. 23. “I thought it was hooked on a log,” Dubar said. “Then it started moving a little bit. Took about five minutes to get him to the shore.” Dubar, who is visiting the Kenai Peninsula from Incline Village, Nev., brought the pink salmon into the Fish and Game office in early afternoon. The biologists there again took its weight and measurements and certified it — 13 pounds, 10.6 ounces, 32 inches long, the new state record. Dubar said he plans to mount the monster. Salas took the news with a laugh. “Really?” he said. “Another guy caught a bigger fish?” Fish and Game certifies and seals particularly big fish caught by sport anglers through its trophy fish program. For pink salmon, the minimum weight to qualify is 8 pounds. Entries have to be weighed in the presence of witnesses and a trophy fish official on a certified scale. Catch-and-release fish can qualify for an honorary certificate as long as the angler doesn’t remove the fish from the water and someone gets a photo of it. Honorary certificates are measured by length. The previous record was held by Steven A. Lee for a 12 pound, 9 ounce pink salmon caught in the Moose River in 1974. Two other state trophy fish — a 16 pound sockeye salmon and a 97 pound, 4 ounce king salmon — were both caught on the Kenai River as well, both in the 1970s. Anglers have been catching enormous pink salmon in the Kenai River this season, said Jason Pawluk, the acting area management biologist for the Division of Sportfish in Soldotna. “I have lost track of how many pinks have been brought in this year for our trophy program, and that’s a pink over 8 pounds,” Pawluk said. The pink salmon have been consistently larger. Commercial fishermen began reporting early in the season that the pink salmon were larger, but the average has been consistently increasing throughout the season. The Kenai River experiences high even-year pink salmon runs, but these are some of the largest anglers have recalled seeing. “We’ve observed this in the inriver sport fishery and confirmed for sure in the commercial fishery,” Pawluk said. “The pound average per fish is an order of magnitude difference than it has been in previous years.” The reason for the larger size isn’t really clear. Low pink salmon runs have been a mystery in Prince William Sound, Kodiak and Southeast Alaska this year — managers have suggested ocean temperatures as a possible cause. The pink salmon have been larger than usual in Kodiak as well. Pawluk said it’s still uncertain how large the run is, but the trend in larger size is clear. “It’s possible there’s still a record fish out there,” he said. Reach Elizabeth Earl at [email protected]  

FISH FACTOR: Alaska salmon is not in the pink; seafood recipe contest open

Alaska’s 2016 pink salmon fishery is set to rank as the worst in 20 years by a long shot, and the outlook is bleak for all other salmon catches except sockeyes. “Boy, sockeye is really going to have to carry the load in terms of the fishery’s value because there’s a lot of misses elsewhere,” said Andy Wink, a fisheries economist with the Juneau-based McDowell Group. The historical peaks of the various salmon runs have already passed and the pink salmon catch so far has yet to break 35 million on a forecast of 90 million. That compares to a harvest of 190 million pinks last year. Weekly tracking through Aug. 15 shows the pace of the chinook salmon harvest (341,000) is down 42 percent versus last year in net fisheries, cohos (under 2 million) are down 20 percent, and the chum catch (12 million) is down 25 percent. “As far as chums go, we’re probably looking at the second worst harvest in the past 10 years,” Wink said. Severely reduced supplies of farmed salmon from Chile to the U.S. really put the onus on fresh fish this year, and Alaska processors “game planned” for getting as much salmon into that market as possible. According to commodities tracker Urner Barry, the fresh-farmed salmon price index (based on combined average values) is up 33 percent across the U.S., going from $3.79 in January to $5.03 in mid-August. And a rising tide floats all boats. “Yes, that kind of tide is really helpful and it makes our wild product that much more attractive,” he said. “Conversely, when farmed prices are really low, it’s a much tougher sell.” Both fresh and frozen sockeyes have been moving well — good news for a fishery that unexpectedly has topped 52 million. Not so for Alaska’s competitors — the sockeye fishery at British Columbia’s Fraser River was a complete bust, and Russia’s sockeye fisheries also were down considerably. A big plus this year is that some currency rates are more favorable for buying Alaska. “Another major thing is the 20 percent shift in the yen in our favor,” Wink explained. “The euro hasn’t done much and neither has the Canadian dollar, but Japan is a big trading partner and the fact that their purchasing power has increased that much should be helpful.” In terms of Alaska’s total salmon fishery value, any price gains from reds will likely be offset by the blowout with pinks. Less supply also should add some upward pressure to the disappointing 20 cents per pound paid to fishermen, Wink said, and pink roe markets could benefit from the stronger yen. Market watchers now will be tracking how Alaska salmon in its various forms moves through the global market. “We’ll definitely be looking at through-put and watching prices,” Wink said. “It’s another big sockeye harvest, so we need to get sales pushed through the market so it doesn’t back up in the spring. Hopefully, we’ll also see canned prices stabilize and those sales volumes come up.” Alaska’s 2016 salmon forecast called for a harvest of 161 million fish. Through Aug. 19, the salmon catch had topped 101 million salmon. Seafood recipe sweeps A seafood recipe sweepstakes is underway as a way to entice more Americans to eat more of it. “The purpose is to help Americans understand how easy it is to incorporate seafood into their diets at least twice a week, following the regulatory guidelines for Americans,” said Linda Cornish, executive director of the nonprofit Seafood Nutrition Partnership, or SNP. Only one in 10 Americans follows the twice a week dietary guidelines and U.S. per capita consumption has stalled at about 15 pounds a year. That compares to a global annual seafood eating average of 44 pounds per person. More people do recognize the health benefits of eating seafood, Cornish said, but it can be a complicated food category for many. “You’re not just talking about one animal like beef, chicken or pork,” she said. “You’re talking about 1,800 species of seafood that are commercially available.” The SNP operates outreach programs so far in eight U.S. cities, and also partners with hospitals and health professions to promote its Healthy Heart Pledge program. “Over 8,000 people have taken the pledge and as we track sales, we can see upticks in sales of frozen and shelf stable seafood in cities we’re working in, which is ahead of national sales trends,” Cornish said. Salmon especially has a “healthy halo” associated with it, and she said the term “omega 3s” is now a common theme among consumers. “Two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, and most of that is caused by inflammation in our bodies caused by what we eat. Omega 3s have anti-inflammatory properties,” Cornish said. The SNP is using social media to drive home the message that seafood is easy to buy and prepare. Entrants are asked to take photos of seafood dishes prepared with five ingredients or less and post them to Twitter or Instagram using the hashtags #HealthyHeartPledge and #SNPSweepstakes. Ten winners each will receive $250 gift cards. Enter the seafood recipe sweepstakes through October 21 at www.SNPSweepstakes.com Fish Board beat The state Board of Fisheries will take up 276 proposals during its upcoming meeting cycle that begins this winter. The board sets regulations and policy for commercial, sport, personal use and subsistence fisheries within three miles of shore. The focus for the 2016/17 meetings is Upper and Lower Cook Inlet, Kodiak and state king and Tanner crab fisheries, except for Southeast and Yakutat. The meeting dates are: Lower Cook Inlet, Nov. 30-Dec. 3 in Homer; Kodiak, Jan. 10-13 in Kodiak, Upper Cook Inlet, Feb. 23-March 8 in Anchorage; Crab and supplemental issues, March 20-24 in Anchorage. Fishing photos The call is out for photos for the 2017 Fishermen’s News calendar. Winners take home $150 cash, 25 calendars to share over the holidays and a year’s subscription to the magazine that has been a voice of commercial fishing since 1945. Send digital photo entries to [email protected] Deadline is Aug. 26. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.  

Managers statewide mystified by poor production of pink salmon

Weather patterns contributed to a screwy sockeye run in 2015, and this year the same is happening to pinks, the second-largest salmon harvest in Alaska. In 2016, commercial fishermen have only harvested 8 million pinks as of Aug. 15 in Prince William Sound, the state’s largest pink run. Only one-third are hatchery fish, a marked turn from last years’ massive pink haul of 96 million in the Sound, a 20-year record-breaker over 93 million pinks in 2003. Of these, 80 percent were hatchery fish. Southeast Alaska’s run is doing as badly with only 13.4 million harvested, less than half the already-substandard forecast of 34 million fish. Dan Gray, the area management biologist for Southeast Alaska’s commercial fisheries, said he and fishermen both are stumped as to the poor run’s nature, but seem to think the warm Gulf of Alaska “blob” of 2015, which raised surface temperatures 2 degrees Celsius, has some impact. “Maybe it wasn’t the best thing for high sea survival,” he said. Hope for a midseason pickup in returns is dim. The Southeast pink salmon run midpoint is typically the first week of August. Gray has noted low male-to-female sex ratios throughout the run. “They generally indicate an early and possibly compressed run timing,” he said. “We’re kind of seeing that’s coming to pass. This run looks like it could just fall off the table here quite soon.” Causes might be unclear, but Gray is certain of one thing: weirdness. “The fact this seems to be early and compressed is just a head scratcher for everybody,” he said. “Maybe it shouldn’t be, because we’ve seen such anomalies in the last couple years, with Bristol Bay being two weeks late (in 2015). If that thing was ever two days off the average peak it was big news. We’re seeing some historical really weird stuff. I ask around, ‘Have you ever seen anything like this?’ Across the board, the answer is ‘no.’ This is just historically odd.” Charles Russell, the area management biologist for ADFG’s Cordova office, echoed Gray. “You used to be able to set your clock to a lot of things,” said Russel. “Now every year there seems to be a new variable introduced.” Like last year, Prince William Sound fishermen have made deliveries of species found in waters further south like sunfish and chub mackerel. Nobody has reported a delivery of the latter since 1932. Russel noted other oddities as well. Like in Southeast, the Prince William Sound run seems to be 7 to 10 days early and slightly compressed. “Usually, you’ll start seeing jumpers early in the season, indicators that the fish are coming in,” he said. “This year we had very few jumpers in the Sound. The fish were holding deep because the water was warmer, swimming off shore. We had gorgeous weather here. There wasn’t any rain, so they weren’t going up the streams. The water was warm, and there was a lack of water.” Like Gray, Russell said the blob could be a potential culprit, but doesn’t rule out other unknown factors. “From what I can gather, something knocked them down early,” said Russell. “As to what that variable is, it could’ve been ocean temperature or food variables, something that affected the stock across the board.” Hatcheries are feeling the squeeze of bad returns. The Valdez Fisheries Development Association predicted a catch of 17 million fish, but Russell said 8 million is more likely. The Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corp. expected 20 million in total, and up to 6 million by Aug. 11. By that date, however, fishermen only caught 1.2 million. Russell said the drop in hatchery production shouldn’t raise eyebrows. Wild runs and hatchery runs will vary in production from year to year. “It’s not that there’s anything up with hatchery returns in the Sound,” said Russell. “All these places are seeing a decline in abundance of pink salmon.” In Kodiak, the state’s third largest pink run, “things are even crazier,” said ADFG management biologist James Jackson. Last year, the commercial fleet harvested 33 million fish, an enormous run by Kodiak’s standards. This year, Jackson said a 4 million harvest is rather optimistic, the worst return Jackson has seen since the 1970s. Like Southeast and Prince William Sound, the run was early, to boot. “It’s a phenomenal shift,” said Jackson. “Probably the most frightening thing is not only is this run weak but it looks like it peaked already. Usually right now we’re about 60 percent of our run timing. I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re around 80 percent of our run timing right now.” Hatcheries will likely not meet their cost recovery harvest, he said, and fishermen on Kodiak will deal with a rare island-wide weeklong closure. A bright but no less odd spot arises in above average pink salmon sizes statewide. “We are seeing the largest pinks we’ve ever seen here,” said Jackson. “Our average weight for pink salmon now is five, five and half pounds. Normal is three and half pounds. These guys are almost twice the size they usually are. Fishermen are bringing in 10-pound pink salmon. There’s a guy who brought in a 14-pound pink salmon. They’re enormous.” Jackson had a detailed explanation for the poor production. Weather patterns and ocean temperatures combine for hostile waters for pink salmon fry. “We’ve got ocean temperatures we’ve never seen,” said Jackson. “We’ve got near shore conditions too. Kodiak hasn’t really had a winter in three years. Kodiak has these really deep inner bays, almost like fjords. “We usually get a lot of snowmelt, so you have a lot of abundant fresh water. We haven’t been getting a lot of the snow lately, so a lot of those inner bays have been a lot warmer than we usually see. You have less productive water. Pink fry…if they come out early because there was no winter…those fish have to get to a certain size before they go offshore and start feeding. Those in shore conditions are really important.” The environmental factors carry over from last year, when Kodiak experienced a glut of sea bird and whale mortalities. The irregularities in whether and marine survival, he said, lead to more questions and few answers. “We’ve had the same pink salmon fishing schedule for four years. It’s a beautiful bell curve,” he said. “Our effort has been consistent for the last 20, 25 years. Now, everything is different. Last year’s run was huge around Kodiak. That was a late run. It was just so huge that we thought it was early. When you look at the peak, it was well past what we usually have. In 2014, the run was weak and early, which you don’t usually see. These runs are usually very consistent.” Gone are the days when managers could tell the day of the week by the fish. “It’s a strange year,” he said. “It’s one for the books.” DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Alaskan restrictions help Yukon kings meet Canadian goals

For the second year running, Yukon River chinook salmon seem to be climbing out of an abundance pit. The river is home to a bulk of Alaska’s subsistence communities that suffered from a statewide decline in king salmon, the staple subsistence harvest, since the early 2000s. Historically, the river sees an average return of 300,000 fish, but that hasn’t been seen since 1997. The most recent five-year average is less than half at 126,000 king salmon. Though subsistence users are still restricted to protect kings, 2016 saw good news on the Yukon in terms of commercial chum salmon fishing harvest and king salmon escapement over the Canadian border. At the Eagle sonar station on the border, ADFG counted 71,000 fish by Aug. 10, comfortably more than the 42,500 to 50,000 escapement goal Holly Caroll shoots for. Caroll is the summer management biologist for the Yukon River. She said managing over the escapement goal can look like unnecessary restrictions for subsistence users. However, she said, people forget that the Canadians want to harvest king salmon as well. The escapement goal only aims for how many salmon will spawn on their birthing grounds, not for the entire amount of chinook to be used by the end of the run. By treaty, Canada must have 23 percent to 26 percent of the total escapement goal to harvest on their own. “It’s hard to manage that harvest,” said Caroll. “It’s kind of confusing. We’ll say the ‘harvest-sharing objective’ and people don’t know what that is. Even the total in-river run is confusing.” Last year, Yukon villagers harvested only 7,000 kings for subsistence, according to ADFG survey estimates that take place after the season ends — far below the historical average ranging closer to 60,000 per year. In 2016, Caroll said she hoped to double that number by loosening subsistence restrictions. ADFG will not have those final survey estimates until December. Caroll doesn’t measure success by the fish themselves, but instead by how many of the state’s most remote population gets to eat them. “This is still not an awesome number,” she said. “Subsistence fishermen are still severely restricted. I’m not going to be happy till the run is large enough to stop restricting subsistence harvest. That’s how it’s supposed to be.” This year the commercial fishing season broke harvest records not seen since the 1980s, providing a welcome cushion for the cash-strapped region. Jack Schultheis, the manager of the Yukon River’s only commercial fishing processor, Kwik’pak, said the commercial fleet harvested over 500,000 fish, a marked uptick from the typical 300,000 seen by the summer season’s close.  “All things considered, the best summer fishery this company ever had,” said Schultheis. He did note that conservation measures for kings cut into the potential to harvest the 2.4 million chums, though he commended ADFG managers for opening every commercial opportunity possible once king salmon had cleared through the area. “The foregone harvest was something over a million fish that was available,” Schultheis said. “Once the kings were through here, they did let us fish a lot. The run wasn’t compressed. People did well fishing.” Schultheis believes what’s good for commercial fishermen is good for subsistence fishermen. Yukon commercial fishermen, he said, are invariably subsistence users as well and even adopt commercial methods for home use. Subsistence users often ask Schultheis for ice; commercial fishermen ice and bleed their catch for better storage and marketability. “Subsistence and commercial, it’s like the same thing to them,” he said. “It’s a big factor in their lives here. Everything gets better here when they’re allowed to commercial fish. It’s how they can afford to live here.” The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration co-produces a series of surveys with ADFG that predict two more years of improving chinook runs on the Yukon River. The studies began in 2007, when NOAA could no longer secure its own funding and had to get grant money to continue. By 2010, NOAA decided ADFG might like juvenile salmon studies for management purposes, and the federal and state biologists have worked together ever since. Katie Howard, an ADFG biologist, co-manages the juvenile Western Alaska salmon stock portion of the study alongside NOAA’s Jim Murphy. The survey takes place in the Bering Sea north of Nunivak Island. Research teams use pelagic, or midwater, trawls to gather juvenile salmon in the top part of the water column where they usually swim. Among other research points, Howard and Murphy look for abundance estimates, indication of the size range, dietary habits, physical condition, genetics, and presence of diseases or parasites. From the study, Howard knows the amount of marine juvenile salmon correlates closely with final escapement back to upriver spawning grounds. “It’s a pretty stable relationship, at least for the years we have data,” Howard said. Salmon spawn in the fall and hatch in the spring. They usually journey into saltwater between May and August. By the time Howard and Murphy see them in the Bering Sea in September, the numbers of juveniles is consistent with the final number of adults.  “What would have to explain these big changes in productivity on the Yukon is probably occurring before we see them in September,” said Howard. “After that point, it’s been pretty stable marine survival.” The timeline could mean that the first few weeks of a juvenile salmon’s ocean life are critical. Changing weather conditions could be a culprit, she said.  “The first few weeks in the ocean is being really important to whether not you’re going to have a strong cohort or weak cohort,” she said. “That’s the next step (in research). Some of the ideas that have been floating around are differences in timing, as fresh water systems are warming, fish are migrating earlier, and there could be a mismatch with wind conditions.” ADFG’s funding for the Chinook Research Initiative begun under former Gov. Sean Parnell fell prey to declining state revenues, and many of the more robust research and management programs have been cut as well. Howard said ADFG is considering similar juvenile studies for pink salmon in Prince William Sound, but juvenile studies for chinook are still lacking. She hopes the team can continue to develop more grant money to try the chinook surveys further south. “There aren’t a lot of projects like this out there for Alaska,” said Howard. “We are working on funding to do something very similar that would get information on Kuskokwim and Nushagak, mostly Bristol Bay stocks. We’ve kind of fine-tuned things in the Northern Bering and figured out how we can make it work. We think we can just take it south and apply the same thing.” DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]  

Ninilchik tribe finishes Kenai subsistence season

The heads of passing boaters swiveled toward the bank, curious to see the only subsistence gillnet allowed in the Kenai River. The Ninilchik Traditional Council’s subsistence gillnet takes up about 30 feet of bank. The net swayed in the strong current, bucking when a fish struck the mesh. Though the gear made it in the water this season, whether it will make its way through the regulatory process next year is unclear yet. “Seeing any rainbows?” a boater called out to the tribal staff near the net as his boat passed. “None!” called back Daniel Reynolds, one of the designated fishers for the tribe. “Just reds.” The boaters nodded and called back good luck before navigating down the river. Gina Wiste, an environmental technician who fishes for the tribe, said the exchange was one of the kindest they’d had since their first day fishing there July 28. “It’s a mix. Some people can be really unpleasant, and some are just curious,” Wiste said. Wiste, Reynolds and Resource and Environmental Director Darrel Williams have fished for Ninilchik residents most days this summer. The tribe got permission to use a subsistence gillnet in the Kasilof River in January 2015 and ran that for the beginning part of this summer. However, though the tribe was approved for nets on both the Kenai and Kasilof rivers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service only granted the permit for the Kasilof net in 2015. The federal agency issued a permit for the Kenai River net on July 27 after the tribe filed a special action request with the Federal Subsistence Board, the body that oversees subsistence activities in Alaska, amid a year-long legal tangle with the U.S Department of the Interior and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The tribe has been working on a permit to fish with a gillnet in the Kenai since 2006. Williams said the tribe didn’t know what to expect from the special action request. “To be honest, we were all pretty surprised that it went through,” Williams said. Williams zigzagged the tribe’s boat up the Kenai River from Swiftwater Park outside Soldotna on Aug. 14. He passed lines of anglers casting for silvers and reds in the Moose Range Meadows and the yellow sign marking the end of state waters, passing into the portion of federally managed part of the river. Williams said they have tried out different portions of the river to find where is the most effective to set up. About 40 feet offshore, Williams stalled the boat and Reynolds dropped an anchor and sandbags off the bow, following it with a buoy to mark the edge of the net area. Williams guided the boat over to the shore, where Reynolds disembarked with the gear. Williams and Wiste joined him after mooring, running the 5.25 inch-mesh net out into the current. The first fish hit within six minutes. “We’re in a channel right here, and the fish like that,” Wiste said. “They head right up this way and toward the bank, and that’s where we catch them.” The tribe staff fishes for Ninilchik residents who may not be able to do it themselves. They can only harvest as many fish as people who submit permits — 25 per head of household with five additional fish per family member. So while they were allowed to harvest up to 2,000 sockeye, 50 king salmon, 50 rainbow trout and 100 Dolly Varden this year, they can only catch as many fish as the submitted permits allow. Wiste tallied each fish caught while Williams and Reynolds picked them from the net. Per regulation, she clipped each one’s dorsal fin and recorded it on the permits. They deliver the fish whole to the permit holders, who clean them at home. Regulations prohibit the tribe’s fishermen from cleaning the fish on site because it could attract bears, Williams explained. The fish are fewer and smaller on the Kasilof. Williams said some days on the Kasilof would produce less than 10 fish after several hours of netting. “These fish (on the Kenai) are so much bigger, and some people will say, ‘Those fish are huge, I can’t take any more’, ” Wiste said. “Everybody on this list has gotten fish.” Only tribal employees can fish because of the federal requirement to carry a $500,000 insurance policy. They also take samples of every king salmon they catch. “People were sort of wondering if they were going to get any (fish from the Kasilof gillnet),” he said. “That’s really what this is all about, doing something for the people.” After three hours of netting, the designated fishers had hauled in 54 salmon, all sockeye except for two coho. As of Aug. 14, the tribe had only caught one king salmon and one Dolly Varden, both of which were less than 18 inches long, according to the catch records. The Federal Subsistence Board, the body that oversees subsistence activities in Alaska, approved the nets on the Kenai and Kasilof rivers in January 2015 but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did not issue a permit for the 2015 season. The permit for the 2016 season only came after legal action in the courts, and it was approved as experimental, meaning that next year’s gillnet activity hangs in the balance of federal approval. A subsistence fisheries regulation cycle is approaching this winter as well, bringing two proposals to ban the Ninilchik tribe’s gillnet in the Kenai River entirely — one from Fish and Wildlife Service itself and the other from the Cooper Landing and Hope Federal Subsistence Community. The latter complains that the net is detrimental to stocks of conservation concern. Fish and Wildlife Service managers haven’t had time to evaluate what happened on the fishery but they will do so since the fishing season ended Aug. 15, said Andrea Madeiros, spokesperson for Fish and Wildlife Service in Anchorage. “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service remains concerned about the use of a gillnet in the Moose Range Meadows because it is a spawning area,” Madeiros wrote in an email. Both Williams and Wiste said they were unsure what would happen for next year. Williams said he understands the conservation concerns and the tribe has carefully evaluated the net’s effects on the river’s habitat and the fish populations. The tribe brought on a fisheries biologist for advice as well. “If anything, we’re conservation minded,” Williams said. As they were packing the fish into bags to leave the site Aug. 14, Wiste said they would have to plan for more fish storage next year because more people would likely take part. What she’d really like, she said, is a fish tote. “It’s not gonna do us any good this year, since the season’s almost over,” Williams said. “Wait ‘til next year.” Reach Elizabeth Earl at [email protected]  

FISH FACTOR: Website launched to monitor ocean acidification off Alaska

Alaska is one of a handful of U.S. states to launch a go-to website aimed at keeping ocean acidification in the public eye. The Alaska Ocean Acidification Network, a collaboration of state and federal scientists, agencies, tribes, conservation, fishing and aquaculture groups, went live last month. Its goal is to provide a forum for researchers to share their findings, and to connect with coastal residents concerned about future impacts on their communities. Ocean acidification, or OA, is caused by the ocean absorbing excess carbon dioxide, CO2, from the atmosphere, generated primarily from the burning of fossil fuels for energy. The off kilter chemistry causes the seawater to become corrosive, making it tough for marine creatures to grow scales and shells. Alaska is more susceptible to OA than other regions because its waters are colder and older, and thereby hold more C02. “We are so reliant on the ocean for our lives and livelihood. The seafood industry is valued at about $5.8 billion every year, and it’s the largest private sector employer in the state. So just think about the direct and indirect effects of OA and the implications,” said Darcy Dugan, Network project coordinator who also works for the Alaska Ocean Observing System, or AOOS. “The more educated Alaskans are, the more creative they can be in thinking about adaptation strategies and the more confident they can feel about working together to have a sustainable future,” she added. Since 2011 the AOOS and its partners have sampled acidic fluctuations (pH levels) at moorings in the Bering Sea, Gulf of Alaska and at the Alutiiq Pride Hatchery in Seward. Researchers also have taken 1,200 shipboard water samples over several years. Starting this fall, the Network has partnered with the state ferry system to have OA measuring instruments onboard the Columbia, which makes twice-weekly runs between Bellingham and Skagway. The average pH in the world’s oceans today is 8.1, according to NOAA. The lower the pH, the higher the acidity. While no direct effects of OA are showing up yet in Alaska’s sea creatures, computer models predict that normal acidic ranges will become off kilter sooner than previously thought. “They are anticipating that the Beaufort Sea will be first to leave its natural range of pH variability around 2025, followed by the Chukchi in 2027 and the Bering in 2044,” Dugan said. “Based on global estimates of ocean acidification, the Bering Sea may reach a pH level of 7.5 to 7.8 in the next 75 to 100 years, if not earlier,” estimated Bob Foy, director of NOAA’s research lab at Kodiak “Once, it reaches those levels there will be significant decreases in survival and subsequent fishery yields and profits within 20 years,” Foy added. “We can be informed and prepared,” said Dugan. “We can come together as a community to respond and adapt.” Ocean acidification in Alaska will be featured at the Aleutian Life Forum Aug. 16 in Unalaska and at a (free) “State of the Science” Workshop Nov. 30- Dec. 1 in Anchorage. Alaska #1 For the first time, the “Alaska” seafood brand has topped all others on menus across the nation. “We do research every couple of years to look at brands that are featured on restaurant menus,” said Claudia Hogue, foodservice director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. The research was done by Chicago-based Datassentials, which has the nation’s largest database on U.S. menus. The group targeted “penetration,” Hogue said, or the percentage of menus that feature different brand names. “Alaska seafood ranks highest among all other proteins for the first time,” she said. “Research shows that consumers are trying to eat healthier by the choices they’re making at the restaurant.” “Alaska seafood” appears on 3.4 percent of all menus, compared to “certified Angus” with 3.1 percent and “Norwegian” at 1.9 percent. The Alaska brand also outranked many other well-known food category brands, including Hershey’s, Kahlua, Tabasco and Grand Marnier. Fish Cures Shrimp shells may offer the solution to harmful sulfites in wine. Currently, wine producers add sulfites such as sulfur dioxide (SO2) to wine to keep it fresh during storage. But SO2 damages the atmosphere, and can cause allergic reactions in some people. Green Chemistry reports that researchers at the University of Aveiro in Portugal have discovered that thin films made from the polymer chitin in shrimp shells removes traces of iron and copper in wine barrels. This would prevent bacterial growth or oxidation reactions, both of which can impair the wine’s flavor. In taste tests the new material performed as well or better than sulfite preservatives. The researchers said “the process of making the shrimp based additive is easy to scale up for wholesale production and it could be adapted for other drinks in future.” Fish eyes Bureo, a Los Angeles startup that makes skateboards from marine debris, has broadened its fight against pollution by launching the world’s only collection of sunglasses made from recycled fishing nets. The Ocean Collection is designed by Chilean eyewear company Karun from nets collected by Net Positiva, a recycling program developed and operated by Bureo, which means “waves.” Last year the program collected more than 110,000 pounds of fishing nets from 16 communities in the country. “Discarded fishing gear,” Bureo points out in its video, “accounts for an estimated 10 percent of the ocean’s plastic pollution.” The program has earned recognition from the U.S. State Department and won an innovation award and grant funding from the Chilean Government The Bureo fish net sunglasses cost $139. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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