Fisheries

Proposals in, 2017 board meeting to revisit Inlet battles

Deadlines have passed for proposals to the 2017 Upper Cook Inlet finfish meeting of the Alaska Board of Fisheries. The proposal book, now under review, is stuffed with 499 pages that largely carry over the battles fought in the 2014 meeting, when the two-week Board of Fisheries marathon gave way to new rules for the Kenai River management plans that added fuel to the so-called Cook Inlet “fish wars.” The book is currently under review for the 166 proposals submitted. More than a dozen proposals look to modify or entirely repeal the Kenai River Late Run King Salmon Management Plan and the Kenai River Late Run Sockeye Salmon Management Plan. The current late run king salmon plan include restrictions on commercial sockeye fishing and sport fishery bait usage when the department projects an in-river run of less than 22,500 fish. The late run sockeye plan, which begins after the sport fishery closes on July 31, restricts the commercial setnet fleet to 36 hours through Aug. 15 if the Alaska Department of Fish and Game projects a king salmon escapement of less than 22,500 fish. Commercial fishermen largely resent the August sockeye rules and have been restricted by them to some degree in each of the last three years since they were adopted in 2014. However, ADFG used its emergency management authority to allow a 12-hour setnet opener on Aug. 9 after using the allowed 36 hours for the month in the previous week in order to keep late run sockeye from exceeding the in-river goal for the Kenai River. Some fishermen say the August restrictions are a de facto optimum escapement goal. While ADFG sets the sustainable escapement goal, or SEG, the board may set optimum escapement goals, or OEG. An OEG may not be lower than the sustainable escapement goal, but the board may choose a higher range for reasons such as passing more fish to in-river users. “The current provisions in 5 AAC 21.359(e) and (f), which were adopted in 2014, have essentially created an optimal escapement goal (OEG) for Kenai River late-run king salmon bore disproportionately by the Upper Subdistrict set gillnet fishery,” wrote Joel Doner. “The current management plan places the entire burden of conservation for this stock in August solely on the set gillnet fishery.” Because the Kenai River is managed with a sustainable escapement goal of 15,000 to 30,000 king salmon, commercial fishermen wonder why the number comes up at all. “There is no biological reason or data, that can justify for this number,” wrote Gary Hollier in his proposal. “22,500 puts unnecessary restrictions on the ESSN (East Side setnet) fishery. In the Kenai-East Forelands sections, where in some years up to 25 percent of their harvest can occur in August, the current regulation is very devastating. If 15,000 is the minimum goal, and the minimum escapement goal is projected, why are there any time restrictions put on the set net fleet?” The Anchorage Advisory Committee, one of dozens around the state that make recommendations to the Board of Fisheries, wants to decouple the restrictions on commercial sockeye harvest for the Kenai and Kasilof rivers if the use of bait is prohibited in the Kenai River for king salmon. “Allowing ADFG to independently use the 36 hours in each beach will make meeting the objective of maximizing sockeye salmon harvest more effective, and thus, more efficient,” wrote the committee. Elements of the August plan, said others, have tied ADFG management’s hands with the 36-hour limit. “The restrictions in place are too static and will not allow any flexibility to managers,” wrote Paul Shadura, spokesperson for South K-Beach Independent Fishermen’s Association, or SOKI. “The question of pairing is not fundamentally possible in a fisheries with so many different moving parts.” Not only is the August plan unmanageable, others said, but a clear violation of ADFG’s constitutional charge to manage fisheries to ensure maximum yield. “The current version of 5 AAC21.360 and 5AAC21.365 set gillnet fishery management plans are in violation of the constitutional mandate and does not allow adaptive in-season management,” wrote the board’s Central Peninsula Advisory Committee, which also asks repeal the optimum escapement goal of 700,000 to 1.4 million for sockeye. “The result has been gross annual over-escapements and annual loss of harvest in the tune of millions of salmon and tens of millions of dollars.” The Upper Cook Inlet Drift Association, an industry group of Cook Inlet drift net fishermen, notes that sockeye have indeed surpassed the upper end of the goal the majority of the most recent years. “The Kenai River late-run sockeye have exceeded the inriver goal for seven of the last 10 years and the Kasilof River sockeye have exceeded the (biological escapement goal) for nine of the last 10 years,” wrote UCIDA, which also wants to revise the Central District drift plan. Personal use fisheries have a wealth of proposals in the queue as well, asking for expanded hours and zones and restricted hours and zones. Rich Koch, city manager of Kenai, wants to repeal the ability of ADFG to open dipnetting to 24 hours by emergency order, saying the city has enough trouble cleaning up the normal dip net season. “There are inherent safety conflicts between personal use fishery participants and the operation of heavy equipment in a confined area during a dark period of the night/morning, during 24 hour openings of the fishery,” wrote Koch. While commercial fishing representatives are trying to repeal some 2014 restrictions, guided angler representatives will try to enact even more at the 2017 meeting. The Kenai River Sportfishing Association, a guided angler industry group, wants to limit East Side set netters to 29-inch mesh, in addition to increasing the daily bag limit of coho salmon to three after the set net fishery closes in August and expanding boat usage further upstream. “Research conducted at the request of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and widespread experience of set net fishermen both demonstrate that fishing with shallower set net gear will more selectively harvest large numbers of sockeye with reduced harvest of king salmon,” reads the proposal. “Most fishermen currently use 45 inch mesh depth gear. A maximum net depth of 29 meshes is currently thought to provide the best efficiency for harvesting sockeye while avoiding kings.” KRSA also wants to establish an optimum escapement goal of 15,000 to 40,000 for king salmon and expand Kenai sockeye restrictions to the Kasilof Special Harvest Area. “Higher in-river runs produce tremendous sport fishery benefits with no significant impact on future production or yield for escapements up to 40,000,” the proposal reads. “The proposed upper goal of 40,000 includes the historical average escapement and maintains high production and yield according the Department’s recent escapement goal analysis. “Returns from all historical escapements below 40,000 exceeded replacement and produced substantial yields. There was no significant correlation with returns for escapements between 22,500 and 40,000.”  

FISH FACTOR: Second straight season of strong sockeyes; pinks few but big

Two big fish stories have been spawned so far by the 2016 Alaska salmon season: 1) sockeyes save the day, and 2) colossal pinks. A larger than expected sockeye salmon catch that has topped 50 million will salvage a summer that has seen lackluster catches of other salmon species, notably, those hard to predict pinks. “I think if you’re a Bristol Bay fisherman, you’re probably pretty happy, and if you fished anywhere else in the state, it probably hasn’t been a great season for you,” said Forrest Bowers, deputy director of commercial fisheries at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The Alaska salmon catch so far of 88 million fish is little more than halfway to the preseason forecast of 161 million salmon, down 40 percent from the 2015 harvest. Pink salmon, the “bread and butter” fish for the fleet, were projected to come up short this year, and so they have in the big three producing areas: Southeast, Prince William Sound and Kodiak. “We really haven’t been any bright spots in terms of pink salmon across the state,” Bowers said. The Panhandle fleet has taken less than 10 million pink salmon so far on a forecast of 34 million. “Right now it doesn’t seem likely that we’ll hit that number,” he said “We would’ve expected to see more catch at this point. We still have half the run to come in, so it should be well over 20 million.” The story’s the same at Prince William Sound where pink catches were at 9 million on a forecast of 32 million.  “We are below average in terms of run timing so it’s unlikely we’ll hit the forecast there,” Bowers said. Kodiak’s pink salmon fishery is being called the slowest since the 1970s, with only 1.5 million humpies taken so far. “The catch and the escapement is currently running at about a quarter the strength it should be at this time of the season,” said James Jackson, regional manager at Kodiak. What’s running big is the size of the fish, which usually weigh about four pounds on average. “I’ve had a 14 pound pink on my scale,” said Tyler O’Brien, a Kodiak salmon tender operator. “And lots of 10-pounders.” Jackson concurred that a parade of porky pinks has come through his office. “The larger size is an indication of no competition for food out in the ocean, and that usually means you have a weak run. It’s not always true, but yeah, big pinks,” he said. (The world record pink salmon weighed 14.49 pounds and was caught in 2001 in the Skykomish River, Wash., according to landbigfish.com.)
 So far the total Alaska pink salmon catch is at 25 million; the forecast called for 90 million. Perhaps the puny catch will help push up disappointing prices for pinks, which were in the 20 cents per pound range at the Alaska docks. The opposite is true for Alaska’s sockeye salmon fishery, which has yielded larger than expected catches already topping 51 million fish. The bulk of the “big money” fish, of course, came from Bristol Bay where a catch of 38 million was far larger than expected. “Historically, the 2016 season will probably be the largest sockeye harvest at Bristol Bay since 1995,” Bowers said. Ditto the Alaska Peninsula, which produced a nearly 6 million sockeye salmon harvest. Upper Cook Inlet also is having a good red run, with 2.5 million taken so far. “With a statewide sockeye harvest over 50 million fish statewide,” Bowers added, “that will rank in Alaska’s all-time top 10.” Fish Watch Beam trawling continues for coon and side stripe shrimp in Southeast waters. The summer Dungeness fishery is going strong with crabbers averaging $3.05 per pound, up slightly from last year. Scallopers are still dropping dredges around Yakutat and in other parts of the Gulf and Bering Sea. Lingcod fisheries are ongoing in Southeast Alaska, Cook Inlet and Prince William Sound, primarily by small boats using jig and hand troll gear. Alaska longliners have taken 64 percent of their 17 million pound halibut catch limit with 6 million pounds left to go. Kodiak and Homer remain nearly tied for ports with the most landings. Fishing fleets are targeting Pacific Ocean Perch, rockfish, cod, flounders and other groundfish in the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea. The Gulf reopens to pollock fishing on Aug. 25. The golden king crab fishery along the Aleutians opened Aug. 1 with a catch below 6 million pounds for the first time in decades. A 25 percent cut was made due to stock declines in the western district. Norton Sound’s summer red king crab fishery closed in late July after about a month that yielded over 440,000 pounds of crab. The public has until Aug. 18 to submit agenda change requests to the state Board of Fisheries for its upcoming meeting cycle that begins in mid-October. The Board will take up fisheries in Cook Inlet, Kodiak and statewide king and Tanner crab. Dutch Harbor stories “Deadliest Catch” producer Christian Skovly can’t get Dutch Harbor out of his mind, after spending time there while filming the popular reality show. “After talking to people both in town and on the boats, I would hear these stories about Dutch Harbor and how it used to be; and I found it fascinating,” he said. After he researched the town’s history and found it wanting, it fueled his interest in creating a history project based on personal stories. “I am hoping to add a different perspective of this boom town,” Skovly said. “We know Dutch Harbor from the television show, but the in-town stuff is rarely visited, it is all mostly out on the water. Many people have told me that it was the Wild West in the middle of nowhere, where a lot of money was being made and where a lot of interesting people and stories happened.” Skovly hopes to hear from bartenders, police officers, cannery workers, families and anyone who lived and worked in Dutch Harbor during the 1970’s and 80’s. He said the stories he gets will dictate the shape his project will take. Contact him at [email protected] Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.  

ADFG cuts Kenai setnet hours

After allowing liberalized harvest of Kenai River sockeyes and king salmon throughout July, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is implementing restrictions on the East Side setnetters in response to its latest forecast for escapement. ADFG announced on Aug. 2 that it is projecting an escapement of less than 22,500 king salmon on the Kenai River, meaning the commercial setnet fishery may only be opened by emergency order to no more than 36 hours of fishing time until Aug. 15 when the commercial fishery for sockeye closes. When the sport fishery closes on July 31, ADFG tracks escapement numbers instead of total run size. During the season, ADFG was projecting a total run size larger than 22,500 kings, allowing for more commercial fishing time and the retention and use of bait in the sport fishery. After Aug. 1, different rules kick in if ADFG predicts an escapement of 16,500 to 22,500, which it has now done after managers were optimistic earlier in July that the restriction would not be triggered. If managers predict anything less than 16,500, the commercial fleet cannot fish at all. ADFG can loosen the restrictions if it projects an escapement greater than 22,500 before Aug. 15. ADFG area commercial manager Pat Shields said the department will be making daily reassessments to see if the forecast changes. The release said the department didn’t see what it needed to achieve the mid-point of the river’s 15,000 to 30,000 escapement goal for late-run kings. “In order to maintain escapement estimates at that level, daily passages rates of approximately 1,000 king salmon were needed through the peak of the run during the last week of July,” reads ADFG run analysis. “Those daily passage rates were not realized and low king salmon passage now project an escapement less than 22,500 Kenai River late-run king salmon for all on-time and early run timing scenarios.”  

Ninilchik group finally gets Kenai subsistence net OK’d

A year and half after it was first approved, the Ninilchik Traditional Council has been allowed to set its subsistence sockeye gillnet in the Kenai River in 2016. On July 27, the Federal Subsistence Board approved a special action request from the NTC that asked for the subsistence gillnet’s operational plan be approved. Over the conservation concerns of the public, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management, the board approved the request 6-2. “This successful outcome underscores years of efforts by the Tribe to operate this fishery,” said NTC in a statement. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service permit allows the Ninilchik Traditional Council to harvest up to 2,000 sockeye, 50 king salmon, 100 Dolly Varden and 50 rainbow trout. The net can be in the water through Aug. 15 or until 50 kings are caught. In its statement, NTC said this year’s improved king salmon runs should allay any worries that the gillnet will damage chinook stocks or take sockeye from commercial fishermen. There are plenty of fish to go around, it said, and the community gillnet harvests a negligible amount. “Over 5,000 Chinook salmon have been harvested so far in the 2016 Kenai sport fisheries,” NTC said in its statement. “NTC’s allowed harvest of 50 chinook is 1 percent of this harvest. The tribe’s 2016 harvest limit for 2,000 sockeye is far less that 1 percent of the total Kenai harvest. NTC’s fishery is carefully structured to be conservative and precautionary while catching salmon that are vital to its subsistence way of life.” As of Aug. 1, the Kenai River king salmon have returned with more vigor than the previous years, though strong numbers in July slowed toward the end of the month. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has counted 17,215 kings having escaped past sonar, 400 more than the same time last year and 6,000 and 4,000 more than that of 2014 and 2013, respectively. This meets the lower end of the escapement goal of 15,000 to 30,000. ADFG commissioner Sam Cotten said he worries about potential impacts for the fish, fishermen and the federal board itself. ADFG has voiced concerns repeatedly about the gillnet. “It just adds one more controversy in the mix,” said Cotten. “It’s a one year deal, relatively small number of fish, but it adds a wrinkle of controversy.” After July 31, Kenai River management switches to escapement based from in river run total-based. If this amount does not pass 22,500 king salmon, the commercial sockeye fishery endures more restrictions. Cotten said 50 fish are unlikely to make the difference, but fears it all the same. Further, that the Federal Subsistence Board overrode the federal agency that manages the fishery in question unsettles Cotten. “I remain confused about who should be making these calls on the behalf of the U.S. government in these decisions,” said Cotten. “I felt like USFWS should be given some deference when it’s the exact conservation unit they manage, and they weren’t given any at all.” Local voices, which have been largely against to the idea since its inception, remain concerned about the health of king salmon stocks. Tim Cashman, a member of the Soldotna city council and angler guide operating from Homer, said the tribe’s net remains a bad idea. “I’ve yet to find anybody in favor,” said Cashman. “I do know the importance of a fishery that’s barely hanging on and barely making minimum escapement, to have these fish that have beaten all odds to get to spawning grounds. They beat the commercial nets, they beat sport fishermen, they beat the guides and they beat Mother Nature. And they’re being yarded out by a group that lives 50 miles away from us. If the people who manage our fishery are telling us this is a bad idea, it’s a bad idea.” The approval comes after a lengthy and heated battle involving hundreds of letters from the public asking the board to reconsider the gillnet, accusations of wrongdoing against U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service managers, earlier special action requests, a lawsuit brought by the council against the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture and opposition from neighboring subsistence communities. In January 2015, the Federal Subsistence Board voted 4-3 in favor of NTC’s proposal to hold a community subsistence gillnet for the Kasilof and Kenai rivers. State and federal biologists advised against the action at the time. They claimed a subsistence gillnet, even if targeted for sockeye salmon, could endanger returns of king salmon, which had been on the downswing statewide since the beginning of the decade. Within months, more than 700 requests for reconsideration flooded the Office of Subsistence Management asking the federal board to overturn its decision to let a subsistence gillnet into the state’s most heavily used and heavily politicized river. Several legislators submitted letters of their own, including Anchorage’s Rep. Les Gara and Sen. Bill Wielechowski. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages the Kenai Wildlife Refuge, which is the federal land on which the Ninilchik Traditional Council proposed it put its gillnet. The USFWS was one of the parties represented on the Federal Subsistence Board that voted against approving the gillnet. The proposal required that the USFWS manager Jeff Anderson approve an operation plan before NTC be allowed to actually put the net into the water. Though he approved the operational plan for the Kasilof River during the 2015 sockeye season, he denied the Kenai River plan. NTC leadership was outraged and filed a special action request with the Federal Subsistence Board to force Anderson to approve the operational plan, similar to the one approved in 2016. On July 29, 2015, the board denied the request, backing up the USFWS decision. Ninilchik Tribal elder and Council President Greg Encelewski spared no venom describing how the council feels about Anderson’s management of the Kenai River gillnet. “It’s absolutely ludicrous,” Encelewski said at the time. “It’s shameful and we’re disgusted.” In response, the council filed a lawsuit against the board and secretaries of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Interior Sally Jewell. Others jumped into the fray as time rolled on. In April 2016, The Cooper Landing and Hope Federal Subsistence Community filed a proposal change in the 2017-2019 Federal Subsistence Board proposal book that would eliminate Ninilchik Traditional Council’s gillnet. The gillnet, the Cooper Landing and Hope filers said, has a direct impact on them. Cooper Landing subsistence users are upriver of NTC and fish with dipnets. “We maintain firmly that the Federal Subsistence Board’s approval, which allows Ninilchik to place a community gillnet in the Kenai River, aggrieves the federal subsistence priority and right of Cooper Landing and Hope subsistence users,” the proposal stated. NTC filed its latest special action request while a judge was considering an injunction that would have forced USFWS to approve the net. NTC’s attorney, Sky Starkey, said the group plans to continue its lawsuit against USFWS. “We’re still weighing how to proceed,” said Starkey. “We believe that the FWS violated the subsistence priority of NTC in 2015. This fishery was actually supposed to start on June 15. That would have allowed NTC to get the bulk of the sockeye run. “What NTC wants is just whatever help the court might provide so that we don’t end up in the same situation next year.”  

FISH FACTOR: UFA starts project to collect salmon info from fishermen

Who knows more about local salmon and their habitats than Alaska fishermen? That’s the impetus behind a new information-gathering project spawned by United Fishermen of Alaska, or UFA, that aims to provide useful and timely news about the health of the state’s salmon runs. The Salmon Habitat Information Program, or SHIP, launched last week with an online survey to provide commercial fishermen with a way to share their local intelligence. “We are asking people what issues they are most concerned about in their region,” said SHIP manager Lindsey Bloom. “We also ask what sources they use to get habitat related information, such as newspapers, websites, or social media, and who they trust and are listening to for information as well.” UFA wants to recognize and tap the wisdom and knowledge of Alaska’s 10,888 current salmon permit owners in 26 distinct fisheries to ensure that the SHIP information is useful and relevant. Bloom said the survey results also could be helpful in shaping fishery rules and regulations. “Fishermen are some of the smartest and best equipped people to guide fish policy,” Bloom asserted. “With the multi-generational nature of salmon fishing in Alaska, they are grounded in community and family and sustainability and stewardship. We believe that by working together, fishermen can be powerful advocates for pro-salmon policies that ensure commercial fishing jobs remain strong for generations to come.” Respondents to the SHIP survey are entered to win a $500 Alaska Airlines certificate and a $200 gift card from LFS Marine stores. Extra entries also will be given to people who “like” the SHIP Facebook page and share the survey socially. Find the SHIP survey at the United Fishermen of Alaska website. Deadline to respond is Labor Day, Sept. 5. Mariculture momentum Plans to grow more shellfish and aquatic plans are taking shape following two meetings this summer by the Alaska Mariculture Task Force. The 11-member panel, which includes reps from the Departments of Fish and Game and Commerce, Alaska Sea Grant and seven public members, was created by order of Gov. Bill Walker in February. Its mission is to provide a statewide strategy for expanding the burgeoning industry by March 1, 2018. “We’re focusing on both aquatic farming as private businesses and fishery enhancement programs which are more of a common property activity,” said Julie Decker, a task force member and director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation. “We are looking at different models to advance, basic infrastructure and research that’s needed to really launch this industry.” Mariculture could model Alaska’s successful salmon enhancement program, she said, where the state backed a $100 million low interest, revolving loan to jump start the fledgling industry for several years. “It was developed as a public/private model where the state helped get the infrastructure for the salmon hatcheries started, and then it was taken over through private partnerships and regional nonprofits,” Decker explained. “And it was developed in rural Alaska where it is very difficult to make businesses work. Through taxes and cost recovery mechanisms, the industry paid the state back with interest, and every year those hatchery fish produce between $100-$300 million in value.” “For mariculture, we have high dollar products like king crab and geoducks, abalone, sea cucumbers, sea weeds, oysters and other shellfish. There is really a lot of opportunity,” she added. While Alaska’s mariculture operations to date have focused mostly on Southeast and Southcentral regions, the new vision includes broadening the industry to westward regions. “It’s a different time in history and people are looking at ways to diversify Alaska’s economy,” Decker said. “The state has such a large seafood industry and mariculture is a natural fit. Mariculture would provide more steady supplies and keep processing companies open on shoulder seasons and provide more jobs.” The mariculture task force wants to attract more expertise via advisory panels on investment and infrastructure, regulations, research and development, environmental impacts, public education and marketing and workforce development. Salmon skin! A chance discovery by farmed salmon hatchery workers has spawned a line of skin care products that help cure disorders like eczema and also keeps skin younger looking. Scientists became curious several years ago after it was noticed that hatchery workers who spent long hours handling salmon fry in cold seawater had softer, smoother hands. Researchers at Norway’s University of Science and Technology discovered the skin-softening component came from the enzyme zonase, found in the hatching fluid of salmon eggs. The enzyme’s task is to digest the protein structure of the tough eggshells without harming the tiny fish. The scientists hailed this dual ability as the secret behind the beneficial properties for human skin. Their research showed that zonase helps flake off dead skin and stimulates the growth of healthy new skin cells. It’s also proved helpful in healing wounds. Norway-based Aqua Bio Technology, which develops marine based ingredients for the personal care industry, now markets a zonase infused product under its Aquabeautine brand. Skin care expert to the stars, Dr. Nicholas Perricone of New York, also promotes salmon as the secret for younger-looking skin “that works from the inside out.” In his best-selling books, Perricone promises that eating wild salmon for 28 days is the cure for wrinkles and provides a “nutrition based face lift.” Closer to home, Chevak triplets Amy, Michelle and Cika Sparck have found success with their “land and sea” ArXotica line that uses salmon and berry infused products to promote healthy skin, hair and nails. The sisters hand gather crowberry, fireweed blossoms and Arctic sage, called “ciaggluk” which translates to “nothing bad about it.” “Because no matter how you use it, it’s good for you,” said Michelle. “We add extra virgin, cold pressed salmon oil to our formula. The omega properties blend with the botanicals that are really high in antioxidants. It’s ingredients we have trusted for thousands of years, so we can pass on that trust to our customers.” The ArXotica blend won first place this year in the “Beyond the Plate” category at the annual Alaska Symphony of Seafood. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.  

Ninilchik subsistence gillnet is in the Kenai River

Editor's note: this story has been updated from the original version with the latest Kenai River king salmon counts as of Aug. 1. A year and half after it was first approved, the Ninilchik Traditional Council has been allowed to set its subsistence sockeye gillnet in the Kenai River in 2016. On July 27, the Federal Subsistence Board approved a special action request from the NTC that asked for the subsistence gillnet’s operational plan be approved. Over the conservation concerns of the public, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management, the board approved the request 6-2. “This successful outcome underscores years of efforts by the Tribe to operate this fishery,” said NTC in a statement. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service permit allows the Ninilchik Traditional Council to harvest up to 2,000 sockeye, 50 king salmon, 100 Dolly Varden and 50 rainbow trout. The net can be in the water through Aug. 15 or until 50 kings are caught. In its statement, NTC said this year’s improved king salmon runs should allay any worries that the gillnet will damage chinook stocks or take sockeye from commercial fishermen. There are plenty of fish to go around, it said, and the community gillnet harvests a negligible amount. “Over 5,000 Chinook salmon have been harvested so far in the 2016 Kenai sport fisheries,” NTC said in its statement. “NTC’s allowed harvest of 50 chinook is 1 percent of this harvest. The tribe’s 2016 harvest limit for 2,000 sockeye is far less that 1 percent of the total Kenai harvest. NTC’s fishery is carefully structured to be conservative and precautionary while catching salmon that are vital to its subsistence way of life.” As of Aug. 1, the Kenai River king salmon have returned with more vigor than the previous years, though strong numbers in July slowed toward the end of the month. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has counted 17,215 kings having escaped past sonar, 400 more than the same time last year and 6,000 and 4,000 more than that of 2014 and 2013, respectively. This meets the lower end of the escapement goal of 15,000 to 30,000. ADFG commissioner Sam Cotten said he worries about potential impacts for the fish, fishermen and the federal board itself. ADFG has voiced concerns repeatedly about the gillnet. “It just adds one more controversy in the mix,” said Cotten. “It’s a one year deal, relatively small number of fish, but it adds a wrinkle of controversy.” After July 31, Kenai River management switches to escapement based from in river run total-based. If this amount does not pass 22,500 king salmon, the commercial sockeye fishery endures more restrictions. Cotten said 50 fish are unlikely to make the difference, but fears it all the same. Further, that the Federal Subsistence Board overrode the federal agency that manages the fishery in question unsettles Cotten. “I remain confused about who should be making these calls on the behalf of the U.S. government in these decisions,” said Cotten. “I felt like USFWS should be given some deference when it’s the exact conservation unit they manage, and they weren’t given any at all.” Local voices, which have been largely against to the idea since its inception, remain concerned about the health of king salmon stocks. Tim Cashman, a member of the Soldotna city council and angler guide operating from Homer, said the tribe’s net remains a bad idea. “I’ve yet to find anybody in favor,” said Cashman. “I do know the importance of a fishery that’s barely hanging on and barely making minimum escapement, to have these fish that have beaten all odds to get to spawning grounds. They beat the commercial nets, they beat sport fishermen, they beat the guides and they beat Mother Nature. And they’re being yarded out by a group that lives 50 miles away from us. If the people who manage our fishery are telling us this is a bad idea, it’s a bad idea.” The approval comes after a lengthy and heated battle involving hundreds of letters from the public asking the board to reconsider the gillnet, accusations of wrongdoing against U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service managers, earlier special action requests, a lawsuit brought by the council against the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture and opposition from neighboring subsistence communities. In January 2015, the Federal Subsistence Board voted 4-3 in favor of NTC’s proposal to hold a community subsistence gillnet for the Kasilof and Kenai rivers. State and federal biologists advised against the action at the time. They claimed a subsistence gillnet, even if targeted for sockeye salmon, could endanger returns of king salmon, which had been on the downswing statewide since the beginning of the decade. Within months, more than 700 requests for reconsideration flooded the Office of Subsistence Management asking the federal board to overturn its decision to let a subsistence gillnet into the state’s most heavily used and heavily politicized river. Several legislators submitted letters of their own, including Anchorage’s Rep. Les Gara and Sen. Bill Wielechowski. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages the Kenai Wildlife Refuge, which is the federal land on which the Ninilchik Traditional Council proposed it put its gillnet. The USFWS was one of the parties represented on the Federal Subsistence Board that voted against approving the gillnet. The proposal required that the USFWS manager Jeff Anderson approve an operation plan before NTC be allowed to actually put the net into the water. Though he approved the operational plan for the Kasilof River during the 2015 sockeye season, he denied the Kenai River plan. NTC leadership was outraged and filed a special action request with the Federal Subsistence Board to force Anderson to approve the operational plan, similar to the one approved in 2016. On July 29, 2015, the board denied the request, backing up the USFWS decision. Ninilchik Tribal elder and Council President Greg Encelewski spared no venom describing how the council feels about Anderson’s management of the Kenai River gillnet. “It’s absolutely ludicrous,” Encelewski said at the time. “It’s shameful and we’re disgusted.” In response, the council filed a lawsuit against the board and secretaries of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Interior Sally Jewell. Others jumped into the fray as time rolled on. In April 2016, The Cooper Landing and Hope Federal Subsistence Community filed a proposal change in the 2017-2019 Federal Subsistence Board proposal book that would eliminate Ninilchik Traditional Council’s gillnet. The gillnet, the Cooper Landing and Hope filers said, has a direct impact on them. Cooper Landing subsistence users are upriver of NTC and fish with dipnets. “We maintain firmly that the Federal Subsistence Board’s approval, which allows Ninilchik to place a community gillnet in the Kenai River, aggrieves the federal subsistence priority and right of Cooper Landing and Hope subsistence users,” the proposal stated. NTC filed its latest special action request while a judge was considering an injunction that would have forced USFWS to approve the net. NTC’s attorney, Sky Starkey, said the group plans to continue its lawsuit against USFWS. “We’re still weighing how to proceed,” said Starkey. “We believe that the FWS violated the subsistence priority of NTC in 2015. This fishery was actually supposed to start on June 15. That would have allowed NTC to get the bulk of the sockeye run. “What NTC wants is just whatever help the court might provide so that we don’t end up in the same situation next year.”  

Ships, Coast Guard rush to rescue 46 from sinking boat off Aleutian Islands

Two ships heard the Coast Guard’s emergency call to help a sinking fishing boat and rushed to rescue 46 crew members who had hopped into life rafts off Alaska’s Aleutian Islands. There were no reports of injuries as the vessels plucked the crew from the Bering Sea on July 26, Coast Guard Petty Officer Lauren Steenson said. The ships then began a 13-hour voyage to a port in Adak. When the 220-foot Alaska Juris started taking on water, all crew members donned survival suits and got into three rafts. An emergency beacon alerted the Coast Guard to the sinking ship. The Spar Canis and the Vienna Express rushed to the scene in response to the agency’s emergency broadcast for help, as did two other merchant vessels. “The good Samaritans’ willingness to respond ... was paramount to getting the Alaska Juris crew to safety,” said Lt. Greg Isbell, Coast Guard District 17 command duty officer. Video footage showed one of the bright orange life rafts floating some distance from the stricken boat, while another appeared tethered to it. The Coast Guard footage shot from an aircraft also showed a merchant ship in the distance, apparently headed toward the boat. The agency diverted a cutter and dispatched two C-130 transport planes and two helicopters to the sinking ship near Kiska Island, which is about 690 miles west of Dutch Harbor, one of the nation’s busiest fishing ports. It wasn’t immediately known what caused the fishing boat to begin taking on water, and that will be part of the Coast Guard investigation, Steenson said. Conditions on the Bering Sea were calm, but there was low visibility because of heavy fog. It’s not the first trouble the Alaska Juris has encountered in recent years. In March 2012, a fisherman aboard the boat died after a cable snapped and struck him in the head. Days later, another fisherman was treated for a head injury after a cable snapped again and hit him. In May 2012, the Alaska Juris requested help from the Coast Guard after three crew members were exposed to ammonia from a leak. The agency flew the trio to Cold Bay.  

Upper Cook Inlet commercial fishermen near 2M salmon harvest

KENAI — Salmon are rolling into Upper Cook Inlet’s commercial fishery. The drift fleet and setnetters in Cook Inlet have been out frequently in the past two weeks and were out for extended hours Thursday. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game also opened the drift gillnet fishery in the Expanded Kenai and Expanded Kasilof Sections of the Upper Subdistrict and the Anchor Point Section of the Lower Subdistrict for an additional 12-hour period on Friday to increase harvest on the sockeye salmon bound for the Kenai and Kasilof rivers, according to an emergency order issued Thursday. The salmon harvest came in just shy of 2 million as of Tuesday, with sockeye leading the pack at 1.6 million, followed by pink salmon at approximately 244,000 fish. Silvers and chum are starting to come in as well, with about 43,000 silvers and about 57,000 chums so far, according to Fish and Game’s inseason harvest estimates. The drifters in the central district have brought in 868,959 fish so far as of Tuesday, with 648,248 sockeye and 147,740 pinks. The chum salmon are mostly coming into the central district drifters — they accounted for 43,662 of the total 56,434 caught in the Upper Cook Inlet Central district. All told, the setnetters in the Ninilchik, Coho, Kalifornsky and Salamatof sections have brought in about 629,000 fish as of Tuesday, according to Fish and Game’s data. Similar to the total, the vast majority of those are sockeye, followed in numbers by pinks and kings. Fish and Game is expecting large runs of sockeye to return to the Kenai River this year — the river is already more than halfway to its escapement goal of 1.1 million to 1.35 million fish, with 607,787 fish having passed the sonar as of Wednesday. The department widely exceeded the upper end of its escapement goal last year, putting more than 1.7 million fish into the river by the end of counts on Aug. 26, according to Fish and Game data. However, the harvest is less than would be expected from a high forecast, said Division of Commercial Fisheries Area Management Biologist Pat Shields. It looks like the run will be multiple days later than the typical midpoint this year, similar to last year’s run, he said. “Based on our forecast, the harvest so far is probably a little bit less than you would expect of this time in July,” Shields said. Prices have varied between $1.10 and $1.20 for sockeye, less than the average of $1.54 that Cook Inlet fishermen received last year. Competition and a strong U.S. dollar damaged salmon prices in the state last year, but commercial fishermen had hoped prices would improve after last year because of an algal bloom that killed millions of farmed salmon in Chile. Anne Poso, the dock manager at Snug Harbor Seafoods, said the low prices have disappointed fishermen so far. The season so far has been “tepid,” despite the fact that the third week of July should be the peak of the season, she said. “I would normally expect it to be a lot better right now,” Poso said. Sorting fish at the Pacific Star Seafoods’ dock on Thursday, dock manager Mike Johnson said the season has looked best for setnetters fishermen so far. “It’s been looking good for the shore-based guys right now,” Johnson said. “Not so much for the drifters ... The fish have all been down low, with the warm water.” In the Kenai River, Fish and Game biologists have observed the sockeye salmon migrating further out into the river than they normally do, Shields said. They are still trying to understand why, but the migration pattern could contribute to the low success rates in the sportfishery and the personal use dipnet fishery on the Kenai, he said. Because of the low success rates in the personal use dipnet fishery, Sen. Bill Wielechowski (D-Anchorage) sent a letter to Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten’s office requesting a suspension of emergency commercial fishing openers on the Kenai and Kasilof rivers. Many of his constituents complained that they had traveled hours and spent days on the river with little success while Fish and Game issued several emergency commercial fishing openers last week, according to a news release from Wielechowski’s office. A representative from Cotten’s office said he was not currently crafting a response to the request. Reach Elizabeth Earl at [email protected]  

More opportunity on Kenai in ‘16, but setnetters still wary

Hope and fear both spring eternal on the Kenai River. This year marks a turning point from the abysmal king salmon returns beginning that led to a total closure and federal disaster declaration in 2012. Commercial sockeye fishermen are reaping the rewards in regular commercial openings alongside freshly baited hooks for the king salmon sport fishery. Still, the threat of paired restrictions hangs without a clearly defined mark of success to ease tensions. In times of relative plenty, like 2016, East Side setnetters still feel a cloud over them, said Pat Shields, the area commercial fishery manager for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.  Nearly 12,000 kings escaped past the Kenai River sonar counter by July 18, nearly double the most recent three-year average of 6,882. With 3,850 kings harvested in the commercial fishery and 3,450 in the sport fishery, the total king run clocks just less than 20,000 salmon as of July 19. More than 574,000 sockeye have escaped past the Kenai sonar as of July 19, also more than twice the number of last year by the same date and 90,000 more than the most recent three-year average. Though “highly unlikely,” according to Shields, ADFG could still end up forecasting a total king salmon escapement of less than 22,500, which could trigger commercial restrictions in August. If the sockeye run is late, as in 2015 — and Shields anticipates it will be — the August restrictions could mean a lot of dollars left in the water. Shields said the commercial fleet still frets with concern due to the August portion of the paired restrictions that call for reduced fishing time if the escapement is projected to be less than 22,500 kings. “The part of the paired restriction plan when you get into August has caused the East Side setnet fishery the most heartburn,” he said. The setnetters largely feel a commercial restriction in August is “an unfair burden they have to shoulder” due to the switch from total run to escapement. By that point, the sport fishery has already closed. “That’s the biggest concern now,” he said. “People always are always asking, ‘Are we alright? Are we going to have more than 22,500?’ Spreading the pain Kenai River paired restrictions came from the 2014 Upper Cook Inlet finfish meeting of the Alaska Board of Fisheries. The meeting was the area’s first since a series of poor king salmon runs culminated by the total shutdown in 2012. Reasons for the decline are still unclear to ADFG biologists but likely involve marine survival conditions. Conservation was a paramount concern at the time and sport and commercial fisheries between 2012 and 2014 were packed with restrictions. In 2012, East Side setnetters had limited openings. The sport fishery in 2012 started with no bait, then opened for catch and release only July 10 before being closed entirely on July 20. In 2013, the sport fishery started with no bait, opening to catch and release only on July 25 and closing July 28. The paired restrictions pushed by the Kenai River Sportfishing Association and approved by the board in 2014, which also included the August restrictions, tie the commercial sockeye fishery to the king sport fishery. If ADFG forecasts an in-river run of fewer than 22,500 fish — the midpoint of the 15,000 to 30,000 escapement goal — it may limit the sport fishery to no bait or catch-and-release fishing and the East Side setnet fishery to 36 hours per week. If the in-river fishery is restricted to catch and release, setnetters have only one 12-hour period per week. Normally that fleet has two such 12-hour periods per week with more hours as needed. When the sport fishery closes on July 31, the plan changes. Instead of a total run size of 22,500, the plan tracks escapement numbers. If ADFG predicts an escapement of 16,500 to 22,500, setnetters may have only 36-hour weeks for the rest of the commercial sockeye season, which ends Aug. 15. If managers predict anything less than 16,500 for escapement, the commercial fleet cannot fish at all. In both 2014 and 2015, ADFG forecasted small enough chinook salmon returns for the East Side commercial sockeye restrictions to kick in. Fishermen concerned with millions in abandoned sockeye harvest accused ADFG managers of waiting too long to open the fishery in 2015. No other river system ties the sportfishing and commercial fishing restrictions to each other in regulation. Most rely on a system of emergency orders from either the Sport Fish or the Commercial divisions to keep the right balance. No measure of success Few agree on whether paired restrictions do what they are intended to. Other benchmarks for fisheries management plans can include productivity, harvest, or maximum sustainable yield.  Managers and fishermen do agree that paired restrictions aren’t tied to salmon productivity. Ricky Gease, executive director of guided angler industry group Kenai River Sportfishing Association, said increasing returns was never the goalpost. “Paired restrictions is not tied to productivity,” he said. “It’s to ensure shared burden of conservation.” Shields agreed that productivity isn’t the aim, but said escapement was the point, rather than conservation per se. “The intent of paired restrictions was to have a way to slow down both the in-river fishery and the East Side setnet fishery as much as possible,” Shields said. “The idea was, ‘let’s slow both the setnet fishery and the inriver fishery together to ensure the minimum escapement for king salmon would be met.’ That (existing escapement goal) 15,000-30,000 already takes into account production. “To the extent they helped ensure they made those goals, that’s about as far as we can go. They tie into getting to the numbers to maximize the yield. That said, this is Cook Inlet, and everybody has a different version of success,” he noted. Even if productivity could quantify paired restrictions’ success, managers could not trace this year’s run back to 2014 anyway.  Jason Pawluk, the acting ADFG sport fishing management biologist for the Kenai River, said the fishery is too complex to link returns to any single factor. “I don’t know if you could narrow it down to an effect,” said Pawluk. “You’ve got lots of variables. Runs around the state are all rebuilding this year, and there are no paired restrictions in those fisheries. I’m not sure you can draw that conclusion.” The late chinook run on the Kenai River usually follows a certain age structure. Younger fish come in first, followed by older fish as the run picks up strength. Most runs, according to Pawluk, have a fairly consistent age composition. “Looking historically, not including the poor years, you would say it’s approximately somewhere 56 percent four-ocean kings,” said Pawluk, referring to fish who have spent four seasons in the ocean before returning to spawn, typically a six-year-old salmon. Because these fish make up the bulk of the run, managers can’t trace the link between productivity and paired restrictions passed in 2014 until that brood year returns in 2020. “Given life history of kings, they stick to it pretty good,” said Pawluk. “The kings returning this year are from spawning events that occurred in 2009 to 2013.” Linked to restrictions or not, the 2016 kings have been kinder to fishermen than last year, but the 2015 season scares East Side setnetters. Last year, the late sockeye run collided with an ADFG escapement forecast of less than 22,500 king salmon. The Upper Cook Inlet salmon harvest dipped below average in 2015 at 3.1 million fish, 15 percent less than the most recent 10-year average of 3.7 million fish. Like other Alaska rivers, bar a few outliers like the Copper and Taku rivers, Kenai River king salmon seem to be rebounding. Pawluk said ADFG remains upbeat but careful. Kings may run strong now, but projections change. “We’re not ready to say it’s a great run,” he said. “When king runs start to rebound, it’s typical to under forecast. The projections should start to come down. But it looks like we’re starting to come out of this.” As to forecasting an escapement of 22,500 kings for the August commercial fishery, Shields responds with cautious optimism. “The answer is yes,” Shields said. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]  

Yukon, Kuskokwim kings rebound, but not to historic levels

For two of the state’s largest king salmon runs — the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers — conservative management is biting into commercial fisheries and in some cases the subsistence harvest itself. Kings are rebounding on the Yukon River. The Pilot Station sonar counter has tracked 171,678 kings by July 13, nearly 30,000 more than the same time last year and far greater than the most recent three-year average of 147,096. Summer chum salmon, the Yukon River’s largest commercial fishery, is coming in above last year’s showing with 1.8 million fish by July 13 as opposed to the 1.5 million seen by the same date last year.  Jack Schultheis, the manager for Kwik’pak Fisheries, the Yukon’s sole remaining commercial buyer, said the fishing couldn’t be better. “We’re really fortunate,” said Schultheis. “We’re gonna wind up with 500,000 fish for the summer season, which for this company, is the most summer fish we’ve ever done.” The Alaska Department of Fish and Game opened pink salmon for commercial fishing at its last area meeting, which Schultheis said has helped. Kwik’Pak has harvested more than 100,000 of the newly authorized species. The Yukon River’s price is climbing along with yield. “The market is definitely easier. It’s easier to sell fish this year,” said Schultheis. “Demand is up. Processors prices up 10-20 percent based on what we’re seeing last year. The demand is definitely higher this year.” Only one downside rained on the commercial parade, Schultheis said. The fleet had to leave hundreds of thousands of dollars in the water due to king salmon-related commercial restrictions. “As far as available harvest, there was 1.2 million fish available over what we harvested,” Schultheis said. “That’s the only part that was hard to take, because we could’ve taken more fish. It’s hard to watch all that fish go by and not have a way to catch them.” Area manager Holly Carroll said the commercial chum harvest is the largest the area has seen since the 1980s. Despite the increase in the commercial fishery and the overall increase of kings from the past few years, Carroll said the chinook run is still far from healthy. ADFG still restricted subsistence opportunities, though it allowed for more opportunities in 2016 than in the last three years. “I do like to remind people that we are not out of the woods,” said Carroll. “A true productive run won’t happen until we’re at a place where we don’t need to restrict subsistence harvests.” The benchmark for subsistence harvest is 40,000 kings, but the river hasn’t produced that number since 2011. The run itself, though better than years prior, is still a shadow of its former self. “Total run size is around 300,000 king salmon, long-term average,” Carroll said. “The recent average run has been about half that. Around 1999, 2000, the run started tanking. It’s been fluctuating a lot. 2011-2015, that average is 140,000 kings.” Kuskokwim River Like the Yukon River, the Kuskokwim River watershed is still tinkering with management plans for depressed king stocks – to the point where people should have hit the water harder both for themselves and for the resource health, said area manager Aaron Poetter. In state waters, hook and line, fish wheels, beach seines, and other selective gear types carried no restrictions after the early season closure that lasted until June 11, the first year the Board of Fisheries mandated such a closure. In federal waters upstream, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had an open or closed management system, rather than last year’s staggered closures that followed the king run up the river. Poetter said subsistence users in the area have grown used to conservation management, and are happy with the amount of opportunities provided by state and federal managers, though restricted. “It’s a fascinating dynamic out here,” said Poetter. “You hammer that conservation factor so much, then when we get a run that’s harvestable you tell people, ‘Get out there and kill fish.’ And they say, ‘No, we need to conserve them.’” Poetter said Kuskokwim area fishermen might be a little too happy, in fact. Managers haven’t received nearly the same amount of hostility as previous restricted years now that folks have come to side more and more with conversation concerns — even though he believes no one should ignore overescapement and lost harvest that can result when the subsistence opportunities are too clamped. “Last year we ended up 30,000 or so above the upper end of the escapement goal for kings,” he said. “That’s just lost harvest opportunity, and it’s really just unfortunate. From my perspective, we could’ve done better.” ADFG projected 170,000 kings for the Kuskokwim River, still less than the average but enough to allow for harvest. Unlike other Alaska river systems, ADFG has no sonar counter for the Kuskokwim River. Instead, Poetter relies on the Bethel test fishery, a comparatively imprecise measurement for run strength and passage rates. For king salmon, Poetter said the Bethel test fishery looks promising compared to last year. “As far as Bethel goes, we’re definitely better than last year,” said Poetter. “Our catches in Bethel have been better, and with the amount of harvest and the harvest we’ve heard taken, it was definitely a better run than in 2015. We’ll see what that ends up looking like for escapement.” Along with foregone subsistence harvest, Poetter said a lack of commercial fishing could also harm fishermen. There were plenty of sockeye available in the river to have had a commercial season, Poetter said, so much that the Good News River alone — a Kuskokwim tributary — has gone past the upper end of its escapement goal of 49,000. More than 100,000 sockeye have made it through the river so far. “We had more than enough fish for a commercial fishery,” Poetter said. Despite sizable sockeye availability, 2016 marks the first year the Kuskokwim River has no commercial fishing season. Coastal Villages Region Fund is a Community Development Quota Group, or CDQ. The CDQ program gives 10 percent of the overall federal Bering Sea groundfish harvest to 65 villages within 50 miles of the coast. The 20 villages of CVRF are in the Kuskokwim Delta and do not include the upriver villages from Bethel. Typically, CVRF buys the commercially harvested salmon in the region for its processing plant at Platinum and it has sent tenders to Bethel in the past to buy salmon. This year, the group’s leaders made the call to forgo the harvest in the impoverished region. Poetter said several individuals and groups have called to offer tendering, processing and commercial purchasing services, but each decided not to continue with plans after conversations with CVRF. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Bycatch donation program grows; Webber develops netwasher

The decades-old “bycatch to food banks” program has grown far beyond its original Alaska beginnings. Today, only 10 percent of the fish going to hunger relief programs is bycatch of primarily halibut and salmon taken accidentally in other fisheries. The remainder is “first-run” products donated to Sea Share, the nation’s only non-profit that donates fish through a tight network of fishermen, processors, packagers and transporters. Sea Share began in 1993 when Bering Sea fishermen pushed to be allowed to direct fish taken as bycatch to food banks instead of over the rails, as required by law. 
 “Back then that was the only thing that we were set up to do, and we are the only entity authorized to retain such fish. It became a rallying point for a lot of stakeholders, and from that beginning we’ve expanded to the Gulf of Alaska, and grown to 28 states and over 200 million fish meals a year,” said Jim Harmon, Sea Share director. Some seafood companies commit a portion of their sales, or donate products or overages. Vessels of the At-sea Processors Association have donated 250,000 pounds of whitefish blocks each year for 15 years, which are turned into breaded portions. Sea Share’s roster also has grown to include tilapia, shrimp, cod and tuna and other canned and frozen seafood products.
 Over the years, Sea Share has ramped up donations in Alaska where halibut portions from Kodiak fisheries are used locally, at Kenai and flown to Nome and Kotzebue, courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard. A new freezer container has been stationed at the Port of Dillingham holding 8,500 pounds of fish and several more are being added to hubs in Western Alaska, Harmon said. 
 “I think we’ll probably do 250,000 pounds in the state this year,” he added. A donation last week by Walmart will bring more seafood to hungry mouths in Washington. Sea Share was one of seven recipients to share grants from the corporation totaling $400,000 for community programs. “We’re trying to reach out beyond the seafood industry to larger foundations as well as the public at large,” Harmon said.
 He pointed out that giving fish to the needy also broadens a customer base to people who wouldn’t otherwise get it.
 “Food bank recipients aren’t the chronically homeless or unemployed, it’s the under employed, those between jobs who might access the bank for a few weeks,” Harmon said. “And if we give those people a great experience with seafood, when they are back on their feet again or they get that next job, they’ll start buying more seafood. It really is a win win.” Nice nets! A simple onboard net washing system is one of the latest quality boosting tools to come out of Cordova. 
 “There’s nothing that catches fish better than a brand new net. If you can maintain a clean net, you’re fully optimizing your ability to catch,” said Bill Webber of Webber Marine and Manufacturing in Cordova. For over 40 years, he has specialized in gear for primarily salmon gillnetters; the net washer is one of the newest tools to come out of his shop. 
 “It has vertical water chambers that weld onto the outboard sides of the rollers,” he explained. “The rollers still function as intended as the net goes through them. On the front and the back of a level line there’s vertical water jet holes that spray through the net as it goes through the lines.” Webber, who is fishing his 49th season at the Copper River, said he is fine tuning the net washer out on the water now and hopes to make them available this winter. Other Webber inventions include hydraulic rotating turrets for net reels, automated sea water chlorination systems and an electronic intravenous pressure process that bleeds a fish in about 30 seconds. 
 “I like building a better mouse trap, if you will,” he said.
            All of his inventions are designed to optimize salmon quality and were born out of necessity when Webber revamped his business model 20 years ago from fisherman to “Harvester-Direct.” He was one of the first to vertically integrate his operation by becoming both a catcher and a processor onboard his gillnetter, and directing each salmon into the hands of high end chefs and buyers. Today, Webber sells more than 95 percent of his salmon catch privately under his Gulkana Seafoods brand. 
            “Being the first owner in the supply chain, I control every aspect of my product’s existence,” Webber said. “I have developed specialized tools and very stringent handling standards and processing techniques that allow my harvest to be as Mother Nature intended. So many Americans have lost the connection to their food sources and I am their personal Alaska fisherman.” 
            Webber makes presentations around the nation advising fishermen on how they can reclaim more value for their catches.  His hope, he said, is to offer the tools that “from the get go will have them providing the finest fish to source conscious buyers.” Read fish labels  Global fish consumption has hit a record high, topping 44 pounds per capita for the first time. It is the result of improved and expanding aquaculture and reduced waste, according to the U.N.’s latest World’s Fisheries and Aquaculture report. Another first: people are now consuming more farmed fish than wild-caught fish. In 2014, a total of 580 species were farmed around the world, mostly finfish. The total number of fishing vessels in the world in 2014 was estimated at about 4.6 million, of which 75 percent hail from Asia. North America and Europe each accounted for just two percent of the world’s fishing fleets.
          In the U.S., all seafoods by law must be labeled as farmed or wild, and show their country of origin.
             If it’s farmed salmon from Chile, the biggest importer to the U.S., be advised that according to the National Service of Fisheries and Aquaculture, Chile used more than 1.2 million pounds of antibiotics last year to ward off a fish virus that has crippled the industry. To make matters worse, Intrafish reports that 50 Chilean salmon companies refused to disclose the amount and type of antibiotics they used, saying “such disclosure would threaten their business competitiveness.”   
            By comparison, Norway, the world’s biggest producer of farmed salmon, uses roughly 2,100 pounds of antibiotics, primarily for sea lice problems. Bloomberg reports that Norway’s largest grower — Marine Harvest — wants to start farming salmon inside huge cargo ships rather than at sea to further reduce antibiotic use. 
            A survey last year by global market researcher Mintel found that three-quarters of U.S. consumers prefer ‘free from’ foods, meaning free from antibiotics, preservatives, additives and GMOs. Of course, choosing wild fish is the safest bet. Otherwise, read those labels. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.  

Ninilchik Traditional Council sues for speedy approval of gillnet

As part of an ongoing lawsuit against the Secretaries of the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture, Ninilchik Traditional Council is asking that the authorities give it a community subsistence sockeye salmon gillnet permit before the sockeye runs peaks. NTC filed for a preliminary injunction on shortened time on July 13. The group said it is necessary to have an approved license in the next few weeks, as the sockeye run on the Kenai River will peak soon. “Prime fishing time for Kenai sockeye salmon is this week and next week, with the run steadily falling off after that time,” reads the motion. “The season will be a total loss if NTC waits to seek relief from this court after the July 28 FSB meeting. By the time there is a ruling, a permit issued, and the net, crew and fishing site set up, there will likely be only a few days left in the season occurring after the Chinook have completed their run and on the tail end of the sockeye run.” The Federal Subsistence Board allowed a subsistence gillnet for sockeye salmon in the Kenai River for NTC in January 2015 despite conservation concerns for king salmon and Dolly Varden trout, but denied the group the permit during the salmon season. State and federal biologists opposed the idea of the gillnet, and other Tribal groups from the same area have done the same, arguing that the gift of a subsistence gillnet to NTC would not be equitable to other groups. NTC’s plan for a sockeye gillnet on the Kenai River was denied last year by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service management, leading to the lawsuit. NTC filed their legal complaint after the Federal Subsistence Board turned down a special request that would have forced the service to issue the permit. This year, NTC has filed yet another special request for the same purpose to be heard on June 28. The Federal Subsistence Board instead scheduled the request for the July 26-28 board meeting, which NTC said would make the purpose moot. “NTC cannot wait and pin its hopes on a favorable FSB decision ordering a permit to be issued for the fishery after its meeting concludes on July 28." This year, conservation may not be as much of a concern. Managers of the state’s most popular river are expanding opportunities for both recreational and commercial fishermen. An improving run of king salmon on the Kenai River has prompted fisheries managers to loosen the lynchpin of the area’s commercial sockeye management, which ties king sport fishing to commercial sockeye. Bait is now allowed for king sport fishermen on the river, and commercial openings are expanding for what is an above-average forecast of sockeye salmon.  DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Bristol Bay reds late again; late run Kenai kings start strong

It’s the second late run in a row for the state’s most valuable salmon fishery, and the late run of king salmon in the state’s most popular river are showing up early in strong numbers. Bristol Bay, the world’s largest wild sockeye salmon producing region, experienced a massive late run of sockeye salmon last year, contributing with other market forces to drop the ex-vessel price of salmon to 50 cents per pound, or about half the historic average. This year, most signs point to a similarly late run. Late doesn’t necessarily mean below forecast. Last year, the historical midpoint of July 4 came and went with only 8.87 million fish harvested, about 35 percent less than the five-year average. All signs pointed to a Bristol Bay harvest of less than 20 million fish. By the end of the season, a late burst of sockeye produced one of the largest runs on record. This year, the midpoint has yielded even fewer fish than last. By July 4, fishermen harvested a total 7.3 million salmon of all species, according to daily harvest tables. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game forecast the Bristol Bay sockeye harvest to be 29.5 million, far less than the 2015 harvest of more than 36 million but still greater than the 20-year average of 23.2 million. This year, some signs are pointing to the same kind of late, strong run as in 2015. By July 11, the total run in Bristol Bay totaled 27 million fish, according to ADFG management biologist Tim Sands. Set and drift netters have harvested 17.7 million sockeye salmon, or 18.3 million salmon of all species. Sands, who oversees three of Bristol Bay’s districts, said he’s noticed several trends similar to last year including indices from the Port Moller test fishery, which is the region’s best in-run metric for run size and timing. “It’s definitely looking a lot like last year as far as run timing,” said Sands. “And the Port Moller indices are also similar in that regard. The biggest indices were on the 8th and the 9th (of July). Its certainly indicates it’s not normal run timing. Most of us watching this feel things are between 4 to 6 days late, and coming close to forecast. Without speaking for anybody else, I can say it looks similar to last year.” Sands said each of his three districts is both making escapement and providing plenty of commercial fishing opportunities. “Biologically speaking, I’m very happy for the districts I manage,” he said. Fred West, an ADFG fisheries biologist, said last year’s late run is coinciding with another of last year’s anomalies, small fish. In 2015 the average weight of a Bristol Bay sockeye salmon measured 5.12 pounds, smaller than the historical average and the 2014 average of 5.92 pounds. This year, depending on how much time they’ve spent in the ocean, some are even smaller. “So far, in 2016, the lengths for the two-ocean fish are bigger than last year but still below the average,” West said. “The three-oceans are slightly smaller than last year, and still well below average.” West said the average weight for all ages this year 5.3 pounds, about half a pound shy of the 1970-2015 average of 5.9 pounds. Kenai River late run kings As the state’s largest salmon fishery waits for its midpoint, managers of the state’s most popular river are expanding opportunities for both recreational and commercial fishermen. An improving run of king salmon on the Kenai River has prompted fisheries managers to loosen the lynchpin of the area’s commercial sockeye management, which ties king sport fishing to commercial sockeye. Beginning on July 9, ADFG allowed the use of bait in the Kenai River from its mouth upstream to 300 yards downstream of Slikok Creek. ADFG managers have typically left such restrictions in the last few years until later in the season in the face of statewide dwindling chinook production.  Paired restrictions between the king sport fishery and the commercial sockeye fishery require sockeye fishermen to have limited hours when kings are closed to bait. Managers place a no bait restriction on Kenai kings when it is projected fewer than 22,500 kings total will return to the river. This year, ADFG has forecast 30,000 kings in the late run, about half the average over the last 30 years but at the top end of the escapement goal of 15,000 to 30,000 fish. So far, the late run Kenai kings in 2016 have outperformed the last three years. As of July 11, 6,419 kings have passed ADFG sonar counters. The preceding three years produced an average passage of 3,262 by the same date. With expanding sportfishing for more kings comes expanded commercial fishing for more sockeye. The late sockeye run on the Kenai River looks better than prior years as well. ADFG has counted over 280,000 sockeye as of July 11, outpacing the most recent three-year average of 138,339. The ADFG forecasts a total run of approximately 4.7 million sockeye salmon to the Kenai River, or 1 million more than the 20-year average. For the Upper Cook Inlet area, ADFG forecasts 4.1 million fish will be harvested, 1.1 million more than the 20-year average.  Whether or not the fishermen will have the hours enough to catch them all remains to be seen. ADFG opens Mondays and Thursdays for 12-hour fishing openings for commercial fishing, and can only add 84 hours of extra time per week. Already, managers added an extra five hours onto a normal 12-hour fishery opening as of a July 11 order which extended commercial salmon fishing with set gillnets in the Kenai, Kasilof, and East Foreland sections of the Upper Subdistrict from 7:00 p.m. until 12:00 midnight on Monday, July 11, 2016. On July 12, managers announced a 15-hour additional fishing period for sockeye fishermen in those districts. Last year, the Kenai River commercial setnet sockeye fishery was restricted to 36-hour weeks until getting more fishing time starting July 25, when sport restrictions were also loosened to allow for retention and use of bait. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Fishing in full swing; study finds sunscreen is a coral killer

Salmon takes center stage each summer but many other fisheries also are in full swing from Ketchikan to Kotzebue. For salmon, total catches by July 8 were nearing 28 million fish, of which 10 million were sockeyes, primarily from Bristol Bay. Last week marked the catch of the two-billionth sockeye from the Bay since the fishery began in 1884. Other salmon highlights: Southeast trollers wrapped up their summer chinook fishery on July 5 taking 158,000 kings in just eight days. The chinook catch is strictly limited by a U.S. and Canada treaty, and for only the third summer in 15 years, trollers won’t get another allotment for an August opener. (The fleet is not happy.) Sockeye catches at the North Peninsula were so strong, the fleet was put on limits by Peter Pan Seafoods, the lone processor in the region. The harvest there topped 1.3 million reds last week. It’s been slowing going around Kodiak Island where the catch was approaching 700,000 fish, mostly sockeyes. The pace was picking up at Cook Inlet with a catch nearing 400,000, primarily of reds. At Prince William Sound, the harvest of chums, pinks and sockeyes topped 7.6 million fish. Copper River Seafoods saved the day for Kotzebue fishermen who originally were beached due to no salmon buyers. They will be out on the water this week tapping on a chum catch projected at 300,000 to 500,000 pounds, depending on air freight capacity. Chum catches also were adding up at the Lower Yukon, totaling 334,000 fish so far. Overall, Alaska’s 2016 salmon harvest is pegged at 161 million fish, down 40 percent due to an expected shortfall of pinks. In other fisheries: Southeast’s summer Dungeness crab fishery is going strong and fishermen are averaging $3.05 per pound, up slightly from last year. The fishery will run through mid-August with a fall opener set for October. The combined dungy fisheries are expected to yield just less than 3 million pounds. Norton Sound’s small boat, summer red king crab fishery opened on June 27 with a harvest limit of 440,137 pounds. The golden king crab fishery along the Aleutians opens Aug. 1 with a catch of about 6 million pounds. Alaska longliners have taken 55 percent of their 17 million-pound halibut catch, with Kodiak and Homer nearly tied for landings. Halibut is still fetching between $6 to $7 per pound at major ports. Sablefish catches also are at 55 percent of that fishery’s 20.3 million-pound quota. Increasingly popular lingcod fishing kicked off July 1 at Cook Inlet for jig and hand trollers with a catch of 202,000 pounds. At Prince William Sound, the lingcod catch limit is nearly 37,000 pounds. Lingcod can grow to five feet long and weigh up to 80 pounds. The average price to fishermen last year was $1.35 per pound. Trawlers are targeting Pacific Ocean Perch and two types of rockfish in the Western Gulf and around Yakutat. Rockfish prices for a dozen species can range from a low of 16 cents per pound for red stripes to $1.21 for yellow eye (red snapper). Vessels also are targeting pollock, cod and flatfish in the Bering Sea. The Gulf reopens to pollock fishing on August 25th. Groundfish gives big Throwing pies in the face of fish policy makers proved to be a windfall for needy folks in Kodiak. The event topped off the recent Groundfish Celebration that drew upwards of 2,000 people and raised $17,000 for the Brother Francis Shelter, which serves the homeless and working poor in Kodiak. The celebration, sponsored by a wide array of industry stakeholders, showcased the importance of cod, pollock, rockfish, flounders and other groundfish to Kodiak, which contribute nearly 85 percent of the town’s landings. It also is home to eight seafood companies, the most in Alaska, which employ the largest resident processing work force year round. “We are the working waterfront!” chanted workers from each of the plants, along with fuel and gear providers, transporters, vessel owners and others marching in a mile-long parade. Their message was aimed at visiting North Pacific Fishery Management Council members who are crafting a new management plant to reduce bycatch in trawl fisheries. As the nation’s No. 2 port for seafood landings, Kodiak wants to make sure any changes ensure the same amounts of fish keep coming into town. Bidding by wannabe pie throwers was fast and furious, some paying several thousand dollars for the privilege. Volunteers included Glenn Merrill, Assistant Regional Administrator for NOAA Fisheries, Duncan Fields, outgoing member of the council, and Joe Plesha, General Counsel for Trident Seafoods. Brother Francis Shelter director Monte Hawver said, “every dollar of the $17,000 donation will be put towards programs that help keep people sheltered, fed and housed.” Death by sunscreen All that sun block being slathered on by beach-goers around the world is causing major damage to ocean corals. A new study by the University of Central Florida reveals that the mix of 20 chemicals in even one drop of sunscreen can severely damage fragile coral reef systems. The researchers estimate that up to 10 percent of the world’s coral reefs are at risk of “death by sunscreen.” The study was done in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Hawaii and Israel and confirms research done a few years ago by Italian scientists in waters of Mexico, Indonesia, Thailand and Egypt. The World Trade Organization reports that 10 percent of world tourism takes place in tropical areas, with nearly 80 million people visiting coral reefs each year. That adds up to roughly 14,000 tons of sun block oozing into these sensitive areas. The most widely used sunscreen ingredient, oxybenzone, leaches coral of its nutrients and destroys the tiny algae that live within coral colonies and provide its vibrant colors. The studies showed that complete bleaching of coral occurred within 96 hours, and also disrupted the development of fish and other sea life. But sunscreens from beachgoers is just part of the concern. Anytime people wear the lotions, it ends up in waterways when they step into the shower to wash it off, just like harmful chemicals in household cleaning products are washed down drains and into sewage systems. As a result, some local businesses have started to ban the use of harmful sunscreen in their waters. The U.S. National Park Service for South Florida, Hawaii, U.S. Virgin Islands, and American Samoa recommend using “reef friendly” sunscreen made with titanium oxide or zinc oxide, which are natural mineral ingredients. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.  

Marine jobs the dominant sector for Kenai Peninsula

KENAI — The Kenai Peninsula’s economy depends even more on the ocean and rivers than is apparent on paper. Some are obvious: commercial fishing, shipping and marine fishing guiding all depend on the ocean directly. However, others — such as fish processing, oil and gas support services and fishing gear retailers — only “touch” the water and may not be counted in a cursory glance. When added together, about 3,400 people on the peninsula work in a maritime-related profession, the most of any sector in the region, according to the 2016 Situations and Prospects report from the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District. The annual report, which provides data and forward-looking estimates on the economy for the Kenai Peninsula, details a growing maritime sector that paid approximately $177 million in wages in 2014, the most of any industry in the region. Most of the employment is in commercial fishing — almost half the workers are self-employed commercial fishermen, as are the vast majority of the earnings, according to the report. The Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development would not classify some maritime-related professions, such as fish processing, as farming, fishing or agriculture — they are classed as manufacturing. That separates some of the data, said Rick Roeske, the executive director of KPEDD. Because the economy on the peninsula is relatively small compared to cities like Anchorage, KPEDD has to blend together some data for confidentiality purposes, he said. “You wouldn’t think that the peninsula manufactures a lot, but when you look at that data, 80 percent of it is fish processing,” Roeske said. Fishing is a major driver in the four largest cities on the peninsula — Homer, Kenai Soldotna and Seward. The three ports in Homer, Kenai and Seward landed 85.2 million pounds of commercial fish in 2014, with Homer leading. Homer commercial fishermen landed 74 percent of all pounds of fish that Kenai Peninsula residents harvested and earned 65 percent of the gross earnings that year, according to the report. However, other industries that depend on the sea are also growing. Cook Inlet is home to a vast number of seafaring boats, supporting a large boat service industry. More cruise ships are coming to Seward and Homer each year as well, bringing in tourism revenue and funds from the state’s commercial passenger vessel excise tax. City administrations in Seward and Homer are in the process of improving their ports. Homer recently finished a paving project to provide access to its deep water dock. The city is also in the process of conducting a feasibility study to expand the dock, which should be finished and sent to the Homer City Council for review in the fall, said Bryan Hawkins, the harbormaster. “There was a lot of survey and interviews with the customer base that use the dock now and expanding that out to other possible customers, to talk about Homer as a hub and connection point,” Hawkins said. The deep water dock currently serves as the port for the handful of cruise ships that come to Homer each summer as well as a dock for industry, as in the case of the jack-up rig Randolph Yost, which spent the month of May at the dock before Furie Operating Alaska moved it to its Kitchen Lights Unit near Nikiski to drill additional gas wells. Seward recently completed work on its harbor, replacing floats and installing lighting, said Matt Chase, the deputy harbormaster for Seward. The work was completed in April and replaced many older sections of the floats for the first time since the 1960s, he said. The city is also in the process of building a breakwater near the Seward Marine Industrial Center on the east side of Resurrection Bay, which will establish more harbor space for larger vessels, Chase said. In addition to the breakwater, the city has also been working on the uplands to lease out more space to businesses, and many have shown interest, he said. “When we started getting the permits and the rocks (for the breakwater) and the bids, it was like the gold rush was on,” Chase said. Homer and Seward saw more cruise ships arrive last year — 19 percent more for Seward and twice as many for Homer between 2014 and 2015, according to the Situations and Prospects report. Hawkins said the number of cruise ships varies from year to year but has been relatively consistent for the past few years; Chase estimated that approximately three cruise ships arrive per week in Seward. Tourism continues to grow on the Kenai Peninsula, with increasing visits and a predicted record-breaking year for 2016 amid an oil and gas downturn and a state budget crisis. Year over year for five years, guided water and land activities have increased, with sharp upticks in 2014 and 2015. Most of the industries that showed significant growth in 2015 were related to tourism, according to the report. Although guided land activities are included in those numbers, gross sales from guided water activities outpace them by more than 19 times — more than $65 million to approximately $3.4 million in 2015, according to figures from the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s finance office. The Situations and Prospects report works in complement with KPEDD’s submitted draft Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy plan, which encompasses five-year goals for the peninsula’s economy. KPEDD wants to provide information and collaborate with the various governments and organizations around the peninsula to work toward economic goals in the next few years, Roeske said. “Although we’re connected by the road and the internet, we’re all pretty focused on our own little areas,” Roeske said. “We’re going to try to get these silo groups to become more cluster groups.” Reach Elizabeth Earl at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Brexit causes uncertainty for Alaska seafood exports to UK, EU

The United Kingdom’s recent exit from the European Union — dubbed “Brexit” — has turned seafood trading on its head. For 43 years the UK has been a major part of the 28-country E.U., and what the pullout means for longstanding business arrangements is anyone’s guess. Last year the U.K. imported over $90 million dollars of Alaska seafood. “It’s still speculative, but anything that has a negative effect on currency values relative to the dollar hurts exports. I do expect we will continue to be strong trading partners with both with the U.K. and the E.U., I guess separately now,” said Tyson Fick, Communications Director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute Following the vote to leave the E.U., the value of the Euro, British Pound and the Yen all dropped significantly against the U.S. dollar, making our products more expensive for overseas customers. The hit could be especially hard on canned salmon sales, which make up nearly 70 percent of Alaska exports to the U.K. Canned sales last year were valued at $23 million for sockeyes and nearly $9 million for canned pinks. Alaska also saw big increases in sales of frozen pinks to the U.K. last year. The pull out also affects other Alaska seafood besides salmon. “Just the E.U. alone represents about 25 percent of our export market so that really all affects all species, notably pollock and cod, so it’s pretty concerning,” Fisk added. Brexit has caused some of the biggest currency moves in decades and that can wreak havoc with credit. “The same volatility that is causing buyers to be cautious because of uncertainty about currency costs also freezes liquidity for banks and financiers,” said market expert John Sackton. “They become more risk averse and in that climate, seafood businesses can fail to secure the financing they need for big deals. A retail analysis by the 90-year-old International Grocers Alliance added that “new terms of trade will likely be a key factor in post-exit outcomes for businesses and consumers” and that “leaving the E.U. might mean reduced access to markets and exclusion from special arrangements.” Still, customers’ seafood orders will still need to be filled. “A big positive is that European countries and the U.K. have long been strong trading partners and very invested in Alaska, and we hope to continue that with all parties,” Fick said. ASMI is active in 27 different countries and continues to expand markets for Alaska seafood, most recently in Brazil, Soviet satellite states and Southeast Asia. Fick added that the U.S. market continues to be a bright spot. “We feel really good about the domestic outlook,” he said. “One of the bright spots of unfortunately having lower prices last year was that we were able to run specials at retail that have turned a lot of people on to Alaska salmon, and we hope to continue that momentum throughout this year.” Fish bills Fishermen are set to get some big breaks from two bills that are moving their way through Congress. The first provides relief from new fishing vessel safety requirements set to be on the books next January and implemented by 2020. The new rules would apply to vessels that will be 25 years or older at that time, over 50 feet in length and operate beyond three miles from shore. The bill, spearheaded by Sens. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., passed out of the Senate Commerce committee last week following a letter of concern signed by 33 Senators and sent to U.S. Coast Guard Vice Admiral Fred Midgette. It stated, among other things, that the Coast Guard has released draft plans for the safety compliance program only for the Pacific region just eight months ahead of the 2017 deadline, and it was developed “behind closed doors” with little coordination from the fishing industry. The letter said the plan “is riddled with gaps,” lacks specifics for why some provisions were included and faults the USCG for not sharing methodologies, data and other information in developing the new safety standards. “We heard about this loudly from so many stakeholders, especially when I visited Kodiak,” said Sullivan in a phone interview. “The bill we passed essentially slides back the compliance deadline to three years after all the rules are promulgated, whenever that might be.” Sullivan said he will be meeting with Admiral Midgette this week to find out why the new safety program has had such difficulty moving forward. “When the Coast Guard Reauthorization Act passed in 2010, my understanding is that this law did not have the support of the industry, and may not have had the support of the Coast Guard. It was kind of forced on them and it was not something they were pressing Congress to do,” Sullivan said. Sullivan said he believes the Coast Guard will be very supportive of the Commerce bill because “it gives them a little bit of breathing time, and they don’t want to put our fishermen in a jam.” Another measure passed unanimously by the Commerce Committee will direct more marketing funds to the seafood industry. The money, mandated by the Saltonstall-Kennedy Act of 1954, comes from a fixed percent of tariffs paid to the U.S. Customs Service on imported seafood and ocean products. Congress set the figure at 60 percent of the transfer total, and decreed that the money be spent on improved technology, quality improvements, domestic and foreign market development and other seafood industry uses. But according to the Congressional Research Service, only token dollars have gone towards the fishing industry and more than 90 percent has instead been diverted each year by Congress into NOAA’s operating budget. Fishing industry members, led by advocate Bruce Schactler of Kodiak, have expressed outrage at the way Congress has ignored the mandate and diverted the tariff funds to NOAA. Sullivan said the Commerce bill strives to make sure that no longer happens. “Essentially it takes it back to the original intent of the legislation that requires those involved in determining where the marketing grants go will be fully engaged members of the fishing industry. It puts the people who matter most back in the driver’s seat,” Sullivan said. Another measure he is pushing would require the nation’s school lunch program to purchase seafood from American producers. “Alaska is the super power of seafood, but there are loopholes that allow a lot of foreign caught, Chinese processed fish sticks in our kids lunches that are frozen multiple times and loaded with phosphates and other stuff,” Sullivan said. “It ruins the kids’ desire to eat fish for a generation because it’s not very good stuff.” Scallop time Alaska’s scallop fishery got underway on July 1 with a fleet of just three to four boats dropping dredges from Yakutat to the Bering Sea. Weathervanes are the largest scallops in the world with a shell diameter averaging ten inches. It can take up to five years for scallops to reach market size, and they can live up to 20 years. Scallop boats drop big dredges that make tows along mostly sandy bottoms of strictly defined regions, and the fishery is closely monitored by onboard observers. “It’s a heavy cost at around $350-$400 a day. But it is mandatory and we accept that in order to go into the areas and make sure our bycatch and impact are minimal,” said boat owner Jim Stone. The scallopers catch, package and freeze the shucked meats aboard the boats, which can remain at sea until Thanksgiving. Scallop meats are the adductor muscle that keeps the shells closed and the popular delicacy can pay fishermen up to $10 per pound. Alaska’s catch this year has dropped from nearly 500,000 pounds of shucked meats to just over 286,000 pounds, the lowest harvest in nearly a decade. It’s pricey scallops that each year nudges Dutch Harbor out of the top spot for the nation’s most valuable seafood port. New Bedford, Mass., has held the lead for value for 15 years running, due to East coast scallop catches that can top 50 million pounds of shucked meats. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Kenai late run king management opens conservatively

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game will restrict sport and commercial fishing on the Kenai River to begin July based on total late run of king salmon forecast to be 30,000 fish. Sport fishermen will be restricted to an unbaited single hook on an artificial lure to ensure a cautious harvest approach and commercial setnet fishermen will likely be restricted to regular Monday and Thursday periods until a better estimate of the run size is available. The sport fishery opened Friday, July 1, but commercial setnet fishing has not yet opened on Kenai stocks. The Kasilof River section of the setnet salmon fishery opened June 29. Preseason forecasts for king salmon are below average but above the amount necessary to open the Upper Cook Inlet commercial sockeye fishery. To protect the still-sensitive run, managers want to remain conservative. King salmon have shown better numbers in Southcentral this season than the abysmal returns of the last three years, including the Kenai River. The early-run kings totaled 9,850 by the end of June — more than 3,000 above ADFG estimates. Pat Shields, the area commercial fishing manager for ADFG, said the early run hopefully means a healthy late run. “There is a relationship that most often comes true, that when the early run is better than expected, the late run is better than expected,” said Shields. However, the forecasts and estimates don’t stack up to real numbers. “Until we get enough data, we kind of want to back off these fisheries and be careful,” Shields said. “We want to start off both the sport and the commercial fisheries conservatively.” Forecasts for late-run kings are only just above the minimum for a full commercial and sport fishery.  “Based on the preseason outlook, the 2016 Kenai River late-run king salmon total run is expected to be approximately 30,000 fish,” reads an emergency order released by ADFG on July 1. “Expected harvest scenarios in a run this size without fishery restrictions risks not achieving the lower end of the sustainable escapement goal. Therefore, beginning on July 1, the Kenai River sport fishery will be managed conservatively under a provision of no bait, per 5 AAC 75.003.” Kenai River commercial and sport fisheries are managed in tandem. Based on the preseason forecast, paired restrictions require a no bait for the sport fishery and 36-hour weeks for the commercial setnet sockeye fishery if late run kings are projected to return to the Kenai River in numbers less than 22,500. ADFG estimates commercial setnetters will take 5,900 to 6,500 Kenai kings while targeting sockeye. “The 2016 preseason forecast for late-run Kenai River king salmon is for below average total run of approximately 30,000 fish,” according to the order. “This is approximately half of the 1986–2015 average total run of approximately 56,000 fish and is insufficient to provide harvest in an unrestricted sport, commercial, and personal use fishery without jeopardizing attainment of the sustainable escapement goal. Therefore, prohibiting bait in the sport fishery is warranted.” ADFG forecasts a total run of 7.1 million sockeye salmon, with a total run of approximately 4.7 million sockeye salmon to the Kenai River. Like the no bait sport fishery, the commercial fishery will be managed carefully to ensure both king and sockeye escapement. ADFG said it will almost certainly have emergency closures that restrict the normal commercial fishing open periods. Last year, the Kenai River commercial setnet sockeye fishery was restricted to 36-hour weeks until July 25. “Utilization of additional hours beyond Monday and Thursday regular 12 hour periods will be predicated upon achieving escapement objectives of both sockeye and king salmon stocks,” the report reads. “It is highly unlikely that all of the hours available in the sockeye salmon management plans will be used until inseason escapement estimates project goals will be achieved.” DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

After leaving IPHC, Kauffman calls violation ‘honest mistake’

An executive from a Community Development Quota group blamed a regulatory mix-up for the fishing violation that forced him to resign from the international commission regulating halibut harvests. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of Law Enforcement charged Jeff Kauffman and two other men in March with possessing more than 10,000 pounds of halibut over their combined quota limits for a violation that occurred in June 2012. Kauffman is the vice president of the Central Bering Sea Fisherman’s Association, the Community Development Quota group for the island of St. Paul. CDQ groups are six organizations representing 65 Alaska villages within 50 miles of the Bering Sea coast that receive 10.7 percent of the total Bering Sea groundfish quota annually. The charges resulted in a $49,000 settlement — about $13,000 less than original fine — and cost Kauffman’s Alaska resident seat on the International Pacific Halibut Commission. He resigned on June 22. The joint U.S.-Canadian body has governed halibut quotas and regulations by international treaty since 1923, and has three commissioners each from the U.S. and Canada. Kauffman chalked the violation up to a regulatory mix-up. The violation occurred around June 5, 2012, while Kauffman fished for halibut around St. Paul with Mike Baldwin and Wade Henley, the captain of the F/V Saint Peter. CBSFA owns 100 percent of the vessel. The attorney for the three men objected to Kauffman being charged along with Baldwin, the CBSFA board of directors chair, on grounds that the captain is solely responsible. In his resignation letter, Kauffman described the violation as an “honest one, and one of a low tier,” that resulted only in a civil charge, not a criminal charge, without damaging the halibut resource.  “The Notice of Violation and Assessment makes clear there was no intent to deceive or steal,” said Kauffman in a statement. “The quota holders held quota for every pound caught in each regulatory area. The Vessel Monitory System and the logbook were in perfect alignment.” Still, he acknowledged in his letter that he accepts the U.S. Department of State’s zero tolerance policy for violations among its appointed officials. IPHC commissioners are presidential appointments. Kauffman was only named to the IPHC in December to replace Don Lane of Homer. “I understand that my ignorance of the technicalities of the regulations is no excuse, and I am prepared to pay the consequences — in more than one way,” he said in his statement. The violation concerned holding halibut onboard from multiple regulatory areas. The IPHC sets limits for halibut removals in various regulatory areas and quota for the areas are issued through Individual Fishing Quota, or IFQ. The Bering Sea is Area 4, subdivided into sections labeled A-E. In 2012, the three men aboard the F/V Saint Peter fished 14,000 pounds of halibut in 4A. Kauffman and the other two men claimed they moved away from Area 4A when whales began eating the hooked fish from their gear, a common problem in longline fisheries. The F/V Saint Peter moved into Area 4D and fished another 10,000 pounds, then returned to Area 4A. According to regulations, one vessel fishing multiple areas cannot hold more halibut than the unharvested total all quota holders possess for a single regulatory area. “The difference between a violation and no violation in this instance is simply the order in which the areas were fished,” wrote Kauffman in a letter to the National Marine Fisheries Service. “Had we caught all the 4A IFQ before fishing in 4D, there would’ve been no violation because there was enough unfished 4D IFQ (40,000+ pounds) to cover the 14,000 pounds harvested in 4A. Instead, we fished 4A until the whales showed up, went to 4D and caught roughly 10,000 pounds and then returned to 4A to finish the trip. Because there was not enough unfished IFQ in 4A to cover the 4D quota previously harvested, a violation occurred.” Two different bodies oversee halibut removals in the North Pacific: the federal North Pacific Fishery Management Council and the International Pacific Halibut Commission. Kauffman also serves on the Advisory Panel to the North Pacific council, a 20-member stakeholder group that makes management recommendations to the council. Though the State Department cannot tolerate violations from its commissioners, Kauffman’s role on the Advisory Panel is less certain; council members have not yet discussed the matter. He remains certain about continuing on the panel though, and said he doesn’t plan to step down. According to the NOAA regulations, a vessel cannot retain more halibut than the “total amount of unharvested IFQ or CDQ, applicable to the vessel category and IFQ or CDQ regulatory area(s) in which the vessel is deploying fixed gear, and that is currently held by all IFQ or CDQ permit holders aboard the vessel, unless the vessel has an observer aboard under subpart E of this part and maintains the applicable daily fishing log prescribed in the annual management measures published in the Federal Register pursuant to § 300.62 of this title and § 679.5.” According to the 2012 Pacific Halibut Fishery Regulations, “halibut caught in more than one of the Regulatory Areas 4A, 4B, 4C, or 4D may be possessed on board a vessel at the same time provided the operator of the vessel has a NMFS-certified observer on board the vessel as required by NMFS regulations published at 50 CFR Section 679.7(f)(4); or has an operational VMS on board actively transmitting in all regulatory areas fished and does not possess at any time more halibut on board the vessel than the IFQ permit holders on board the vessel have cumulatively available for any single Area 4 regulatory area fished; and can identify the regulatory area in which each halibut on board was caught by separating halibut from different areas in the hold, tagging halibut, or by other means.” Kauffman said the F/V Saint Peter crew followed IPHC regulations to the best of their knowledge.  “Had we understood the technical difference between CFR Section 679.7(f)(4) and the language in the Halibut Fishery Regulation handbook, we would have simply finished fishing in 4A before moving into 4D,” explained Kauffman. Kauffman’s resignation happened four years after the violation occurred. It took over three years for NOAA to make an initial enforcement report. NOAA enforcement office Jerod Cook wrote the enforcement action report on Oct. 27, 2015, and transmitted the report to Henley on Dec. 29, 2015. The official Notice of Violation and Assessment, or NOVA, was filed March 1, 2016 by NOAA General Counsel enforcement attorney Brian McTague. The original enforcement action only named Henley. Only later were Kauffman and Baldwin added to the March 1 NOVA. In a letter to McTague, attorney Tom Wyrwich argued against including Kauffman and Baldwin in the NOVA, saying the captain’s decision shouldn’t affect the crew. “The only ‘person’ who chose to ‘retain’ or ‘possess’ the halibut in question is Mr. Henley,” reads a letter dated April 15. “It is unclear how Mr. Kauffman’s status as an officer in a corporate entity has any relevance, and we are unaware of any law that allows NOAA to pursue corporate officers for a vessel’s unintentional alleged violations of regulations.” Wyrwich also argued against the amount NOAA charged, initially $61,781 and settled for $49,000. “While St. Peter understands NOAA’s interest in deterrence,” wrote the Wyrwich, “the assessed penalty is grossly disproportionate to the alleged offense, which was indisputably not intentional, and the gross ex-vessel value bears little relationship to the ‘economic benefit’ of the actual violation.” Violations of this sort are not atypical, though they vary in volume of the fish in question and the ensuing fines. Several vessels in the first half of 2013 were given written warnings for the same violation, and similar violations in 2015 yielded fines from $1,000 to $3,000. NOAA bases these fines on the value of the halibut overage. The F/V Saint Peter fished and received payment for 24,600 pounds of halibut in 2012, worth $132,900 to processor that bought the fish. Of the total, 10,500 pounds were in excess of the unharvested Area 4A quota. At an average $5.40 per pound for halibut in ex-vessel price, the total harvest value of the fineable halibut came to $56,806. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]  

FISH FACTOR: Turning crab shells into cash; Bay nears 2B-salmon milestone

Turning crab shells into every day products is becoming a reality for the Tidal Vision team of eco-entrepreneurs from Juneau. The products are derived from chitin in the crab shells, the second most abundant biopolymer on the planet after cellulose. Chitin is found in fungi, plankton and the exoskeletons of insects and crustaceans and adds up to about 100 billion tons every year. The miracle substance can be spun into fabrics, filters, bio-plastics, bandages, stitches, even car coatings with self-healing scratches. Since the 1950s, chitin has only been produced in China and India, where the use and disposal of harsh extraction chemicals is less restrictive. Now, Tidal Vision’s proprietary method of obtaining chitin from crab shells in a closed loop, chemical-free method is a world first, making them the only maker of chitin-based products in the USA. As the team builds up stockpiles of chitin from Alaska crab shells and hones their equipment and methods at a pilot plant near Seattle, a first product to hit the market is Tidal Grow. “It’s an organic nitrogen source with 11 essential plant nutrients, it can be a pH adjuster for soil and reduce the need for other soil amendments, and it’s loaded with calcium,” explained Craig Kasberg, Tidal Vision’s “Captain” Executive Officer. Companies in Washington also are buying bags of dried chitin flakes to filter water going into Puget Sound. “Sometimes it is built into filters, but for storm water systems it’s used as a flocculent, meaning it’s mixed in with the water and bonds to toxic particles throughout the mixing process,” Kasberg said. In its liquid form, Alaska chitosan is serving another customer: wines. “The wine industry uses the same process to clarify it and settle out some of the solid particles in the wine as a finishing agent. It’s the same concept,” Kasberg explained. 
 Tidal Vision also has teamed with Floral Soil Solutions to make bio-based flower foams.
 “They make an all-natural foam for florists that is used in Whole Foods across the country and by several other big flower outlets to replace the petroleum-based screen foam that’s been the industry standard for about 40 years,” he said. Also in the offing: Tidal Scrub, a chitin-based kitchen sponge that naturally kills bacteria. “There is a common saying that there’s more bacteria in your kitchen sink than in your toilet. That grabs quite a few people’s attention as an example of how chitin can really make a difference in day to day life,” Kasberg added. 
 At the same time, Tidal Vision is perfecting its bacteria-killing ChitoSkin fabrics and working with Grundens’ product development team. 
 The ultimate goal, Kasberg said, is to bring Tidal Vison’s entire operation to Alaska within two years, including mobile plants that can extract chitin from crab shells in remote locations. Prices for chitin can range from $10-$30,000 a pound, up to $150,000 a pound for pharmaceutical grades. Chompin’ on chinooks Killer whales eat 375 pounds of food per day, and most of that is salmon. That’s the equivalent of salmon each day to what 200 Americans eat for a year, according to a write up in Science.
 The determination about diets was made using an analysis of fish DNA in killer whale poop.
Estimating the makeup of a killer whale’s diet helps scientists understand interactions between predators and prey, because observing what they eat directly is difficult. In this study, the authors used genetic analysis of fecal material collected in the whales’ summer range in the Salish Sea in the Pacific Northwest. They genetically sequenced 175 fecal samples collected from May to September from 2006-2011, which resulted in nearly five million individual sequences.
 The researchers found that salmon made up nearly 98 percent of the total sequences, which they concluded is the bulk of a killer whale’s diet. Non-salmon fish were rarely observed. Of the five salmon species, chinook salmon made up 80 percent of the sequences, followed by 15 percent coho salmon. They found that early in the summer their diet was dominated by chinook salmon and coho salmon was greater than 40 percent in the late summer. Billions in the Bay This summer at Bristol Bay the two billionth sockeye salmon will be landed in the 133rd year of the fishery’s history. That adds up to about 12 billion pounds of sockeye, according to fishery historian Bob King. It took 95 years for Bristol Bay to produce its first billion salmon, a milestone set on June 28, 1975, in the Nushagak River. The second billion will occur 38 years later and the three billionth sockeye salmon should be taken in 2054. Fishermen’s Almanac Highlighting the life and skills of fishermen is the theme of the Young Fishermen’s Almanac being compiled by the Alaska Marine Conservation Council and the Alaska Young Fishermen’s Network, and submissions are being sought for the first edition. “This is a book length publication that wwill feature stories, art and a wide variety of other information that is reflective of Alaska’s fishing traditions,” said Hannah Heimbuch, AMCC’s Community Fisheries Organizer, adding that the idea came from the Young Farmer’s Almanac developed by the Greenhorns in the Lower 48. “It will have a really wide variety of information — short stories, poetry, photography and other visual art. It also would be fun to have fishermen’s jokes, top ten lists, gear hacks, how to’s and favorite recipes,” Heimbuch said. The groups have reached out to the Young Fishermen’s Network to find a diverse group of men and women to help steer the project, but anyone is encouraged to share their experiences and knowledge. “Whatever people want to share is great,” she said. “All different kinds of artwork is welcome, or if people want to tell a joke or describe their worst or best days of fishing. The hope is that anybody could open to any page and find something interesting or quirky or funny that would be a good addition to their day.” Submit pieces to [email protected] Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.  

Council appointments approved, AP changes upcoming

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker announced the appointments of Buck Laukitis and Theresa Peterson to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council June 27, further strengthening Gov. Bill Walker’s fisheries management position on preserving local fisheries participation in coastal Alaska. The nominations will go into effect Aug. 11. Governors submit nominations to the Commerce Department, which must then be approved by the secretary. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council is the most economically powerful of eight regional councils that oversee federal fisheries between three and 200 miles off the U.S. coast. As of 2014, the North Pacific region accounts for 65 percent of the nation’s total seafood harvest value, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports. Peterson and Laukitis replace Duncan Fields and David Long, respectively. Fields, a Kodiak attorney and fisherman, finished his third three-year term in June 2016, the maximum terms allowed consecutively under the U.S. fisheries governing regulation, the Magnuson-Stevens Act. Long, a Wasilla resident and Bering Sea groundfish fisherman, served one three-year term and was not reappointed though he did submit his name for consideration. Peterson and Laukitis will fill two of six designated Alaska seats on the 11-member body. Fields had a reputation on the council for boosting a specific vision of fisheries. He emphasized local ownership and active participation rather than the more corporatized systems of fishing quota and leasing arrangements common in many rationalized Alaska fisheries. Walker’s positions, and his Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten’s, largely align with this view. Both Peterson and Laukitis, small vessel owners with conservation experience, fit into this mold, though both insist they hold no rancor for larger industrialized fisheries whose interests sometimes collide with the smaller operators. A Kodiak setnetter like Fields and small vessel operator, Peterson said small-scale fishermen are “the most underrepresented” voice in the council process. “I want the next generation of fishermen to have similar opportunities to commercial fish and work their way up to ownership,” Peterson said in a statement. “Small boat fishermen are the fabric of maritime communities around the state and their voices must be heard in the council arena along with large scale fisheries.” Like Peterson, Laukitis hails from coastal Alaska and fishes traditionally small boat species with his family. Laukitis holds salmon licenses and halibut quota as well as an inactive trawl permit for Gulf of Alaska groundfish. Both Peterson and Laukitis have ties to conservation group Alaska Marine Conservation Council, or AMCC, a non-profit that advocates for active coastal fisheries participation and conservation. Laukitis served as vice president of AMCC’s board of directors for eight years. Peterson currently serves as the group’s outreach coordinator. The leadership shift will open a spot for newcomers into the council process, and a fishing violation may open yet another. Peterson currently serves on the council’s Advisory Panel, or AP, a 20-member stakeholder group that makes management recommendations to the council. The North Pacific Council is accepting nominations from stakeholders for an AP member to replace Peterson. Because Peterson’s council nomination is effective in August, the new AP appointee will fill out the remainder of her term through December 31, 2017. The council asks for letters of interest and/or nominations to be sent to [email protected] along with a resume. Nominations close July 29. The AP could potentially have another new member depending on the council’s will during its October meeting. AP member Jeff Kauffman recently resigned as U.S. commissioner of the International Pacific Halibut Commission following a fishing violation that occurred in 2012 and settled in 2016. Though Kauffman has resigned from the IPHC after being appointed this past December, it’s still unclear as to whether or not he will maintain his position on the other. Kauffman himself said he has no plans to discontinue serving on the AP. The council maintains its own discretion in these matters, and hasn’t yet taken any action one way or another. Chris Oliver, executive director of the North Pacific council, said he can’t remember a council member or an Advisory Panel member having been ejected due to fishing violations, though he said Kauffman is by no means the first to have encountered one. As of June 28, Oliver hasn’t discussed the matter with council chairman Dan Hull, a halibut fishermen currently out on the water. “It’ll be up to the council as to whether or not to do anything about it,” said Oliver. “This’ll be something they have to do in executive session, and we don’t have another scheduled meeting till October. If they wanted they could all a special session, but I’m not expecting that. I don’t know where this falls on the spectrum of egregiousness.” DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]  

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