Stakeholders of all types leave Cook Inlet meeting unsatisfied

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

Legislature considering bills to advance state mariculture

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

Pendulum ticks toward commercial fishermen as Cook Inlet meeting wraps

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

FISH FACTOR: Reduced catches send crab prices soaring

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

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

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

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

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

Prices, lawsuit over cod allocation keep Adak plant closed

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

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

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

North Pacific council director a possibility for top fish post

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

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

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

North Pacific council gets review of Bering Sea pollock program

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

FISH FACTOR: Halibut gets bump; salmon prices soar

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

Fisheries funding in focus in Juneau

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

New indictment for Maw on PFD fraud charges

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

IPHC sets 2017 halibut harvest, adopts charter rules and allocations

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

Beyond the budget: Bills filed addressing healthcare, fisheries issues

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

Board of Fisheries seeking updated habitat protections

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

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

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

Commerce secretary declares pink salmon disaster

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

Victorious Inlet drifters file to vacate salmon rule

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


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