EDITORIAL: University of Alaska isn’t to blame for state budget woes

Last week, the University of Alaska faced a barrage of skepticism from legislators unlike any the institution has seen in years. In hearings by the House Finance Committee’s subcommittee on the university budget, chairwoman Rep. Tammie Wilson put forth a mammoth cut that would have represented a loss of nearly a fifth of all state funding. She and other members of the majority told university officials to justify the state money being spent on all university functions outside of basic classroom instruction. Their explanation must not have been satisfactory, as the subcommittee voted to send forward a university budget with $50 million in cuts from last year’s funding level, an amount that would hit the institution like a sledgehammer as it enters its 100th year. In the hearings, Rep. Liz Vazquez said the university hadn’t done enough in its budgeting to prepare itself for the oil price collapse now hampering state revenues. But if legislators want an answer for why the university wasn’t better prepared for less funding, they need look no further than the nearest mirror. The governance of Alaska’s university has long been an arrangement causing friction in the halls of the Legislature. The Alaska Constitution established the Board of Regents as the governing body of the University of Alaska. But in practice, the Legislature holds considerable sway over the university’s direction, because it holds the purse strings for the state funding that makes up close to half the institution’s budget. What’s more, legislators have often included intent language in the university’s budget allocation in a bid to restrict or control how some funds can be used. The university has been forced to rely on state general funds far more than it should have in the decades since statehood, as legislative misadventures from 1959 onward resulted in the institution never receiving more than a fraction of the land grant that would help it be a self-sustaining organization. Even the land grant travesty and the Legislature’s control over a substantial chunk of the university budget would be far less problematic were it not for legislators’ tendency to micromanage the university’s mission. Certainly, oversight and direction can be beneficial. One example of this was the Legislature’s recognition in the mid-2000s that the state was in need of more nurses and engineers, when they directed the university to focus resources on producing more of each. Accordingly, the Fairbanks and Anchorage campuses expanded the pre-medical nursing program and engineering programs. The university was successful in attracting students to the programs, which — particularly in the case of engineering — highlighted the need for new and expanded facilities to provide a modern education. In pursuit of the goal of producing more engineering graduates, the Board of Regents planned for new engineering buildings in Fairbanks and Anchorage. The state’s burgeoning oil wealth and the concentration of legislators in Anchorage made the $78 million UAA engineering building a relatively easy sell — its construction began in 2013 and was finished two years later, complete with an enclosed skybridge to the adjacent Health Sciences building. The Fairbanks facility, however, was another matter. Legislators chose to allocate $109 million to an Anchorage sports center the Board of Regents didn’t see as needed or wanted — thanks to an existing deferred maintenance backlog of hundreds of millions of dollars, the regents were painfully aware of the ongoing operating costs a new building entailed. The Legislature opted for the sports arena anyway, fully funding it and providing piecemeal funding to the much-needed UAF engineering building. When the oil crash hit, construction of the half-finished engineering building stalled; the UAA arena was already complete. The Legislature has made no plan to provide funds to finish the engineering building, an asset that could help students immensely. Now, with budget pressure coming from all directions, some legislators are heaping scorn on the university for not being more prudent with its funds. The truth of the matter is that the Board of Regents’ priorities have been far more prudent than those of the legislators who now, in an ironic twist, are cutting university athletics funding, threatening to shutter the costly sports center that they so eagerly voted to fund only a few years prior. Legislators should know better than to give the university lectures on fiscal responsibility.

The Bookworm Sez: Simple steps to success for newbies

Your to-do list doubled overnight. That seems to happen once or twice a week, and it never gets any better. Tasks are finished and something else replaces them, which is what you’re told happens when you’re an entrepreneur — but if you read “The 100” by Tom Salonek, it might help you keep the list to a manageable status. If only your business grew as quickly as your to-do list, right? When you’re running a new company, there’s always something to remember, which is where Tom Salonek can help: since starting his Minneapolis business in 1991, he’s been keeping track of things that work to make a business operate successfully. At the top of the list is happiness. While you’re undoubtedly putting in a lot of hours now, it’s important to have a work-life balance that makes you happy. Step away occasionally to reassess yourself, and be sure to offer the same happiness opportunities to those who work for you. Learn the power of doing less, which is really just a method of time management. This book can help you have more effective meetings, and it can help you with employee retention. Two keys to the latter are knowing the difference between engagement and silly perqs, and giving employees a bit of scheduling autonomy. Use this book to know exactly how to get new hires up to speed faster. Then, show them the way to strong job satisfaction through encouragement, guidance, and praise for a job well done. Hire smart, hire slow, but fire fast when you need to. That goes for employees, as well as for vendors. Once you’ve got your best team, ask them for input on the important aspects of your business. Hold internal town-hall sessions, and determine your business’ core values, so you can help your employees to fully embrace them. Finally, relax. Use each point of this book individually, piecemeal, slowly. You’re in this for the long haul. Take your time to get there. “The 100,” I have to say, is a little rough around the edges. Author and Intertech owner Tom Salonek jumps into his list with no fanfare, save but a quick introduction that doesn’t really help set the tone of what’s to come and causing not just a little confusion. There’s a lot of repetition here, a lot of too-enthusiastic U-Rah-Rah-ing, plenty of commonsensical advice, and many things that will make established businesspeople roll their eyes. But that’s okay. This book doesn’t seem to be for them anyhow. The real appeal here, I think, is for business newbies who need bullet-points to guide them through the storminess of start-up. “The 100” is very methodical, it covers lots of steps in small bites, the final chapter consists of a list of helpful websites, and it’s relatively quick to read. That all adds up to a book that seasoned businesspeople will probably find redundant in their work lives, but that entrepreneurs may need to live by for awhile. And if you lean toward that second category, then put “The 100” on your growing to-do list. Terri Schlichenmeyer is the author of The Bookworm Sez, which is published in more than 200 newspapers and 50 magazines throughout the U.S. and Canada. Schlichenmeyer may be reached at [email protected]

GUEST COMMENTARY: Time for another approach on gasline fiscal certainty

Alaskans have just been told that gasline contract negotiations have not progressed satisfactorily and thus there is no time left to get a constitutional amendment allowing a vote on fiscal certainty on the 2016 ballot. The proposed constitutional amendment would provide the producers with the necessary assurances that the State would not arbitrarily increase the tax rate over the life of the LNG project. The producers have told the state for years that unless they had fiscal certainty on taxes they would not spend the large sums of many (around $4 billion) required for front- end engineering and design, or FEED. Putting off fiscal certainty until the 2018 elections and the resulting delay in beginning FEED should be unacceptable to all parties — both the state and the producers. To suggest that there may be another market for Alaska gas overlooks the fact that a good portion of Alaska gas has been leased to the producers. Any effort to take it back will result in extended litigation and more delay. A few months ago, I proposed a solution which I sent to each legislator and the Alaska media. I believe my proposal has merit and if adopted addresses the two major concerns of each of the parties. Certainly for the producers as well as neutralizing the risk to the state if the pipeline is never built. In 2005-2006 when my administration was negotiating with the producers on the natural gas line fiscal certainty was a major issue and a “must have” for the producers. We did not seek a constitutional amendment regarding Alaska’s tax alienation authority because we were not turning over Alaska’s taxing authority to someone else. We were simply entering into a good faith contract “fixing the tax rate for the life of the project (subject to certain escalation based on inflation) etc. We agreed that the state and the producers could rely on that part of the Alaska Constitution that protects the “sanctity of contracts” and each side would be bound by its terms. In order to avoid the threat of a constitutional challenge to such a contract the Legislature could require that any constitutional challenge would have to be brought directly in the Supreme Court within 90 days of the Legislature’s approval of the contract. Why not agree to similar contract terms and move on? It was satisfactory then, why not now? With the delicate state of the Alaskan economy, we must take advantage of every opportunity to market our resources in a sound and prudent manner in the best interest of all our citizens. It is not in the interest of the state or the producers to delay. Frank Murkowski served as Alaska’s governor from 2002-06, and as U.S. senator from 1981-2002.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Completing Port Mac rail extension will expand economy

I’m sure columnist Charles Wohlforth felt a genuine lump in his throat as he pedaled for miles on the Port MacKenzie Rail embankment, worried about the sinking Alaska economy and casting blame on an unfinished rail project in his Feb.1 column. On his bike seat, overlooking an arm of Cook Inlet, he retreated to the safety of income taxes as a solution for our fallen oil prices and state deficit, rather than to what needs to be done: diversifying the economy beyond oil. Resource development is going to return hundreds of millions annually to the state of Alaska. The quicker we are to develop the natural resources, the quicker we generate revenue. We share his earnest concern for our state’s future. But our views diverge there. Where Wolhforth saw a railroad ending in forest, consuming dollars, we see a rail embankment 75 percent complete, awaiting steel wheels on iron rail, the most efficient and affordable transportation for bulk materials since the Industrial Revolution. We see investment in transportation infrastructure — a fundamental requirement for resource development and economic growth — just as the building of the Parks Highway was an investment in the ‘70s. It connected Southcentral Alaska with Fairbanks and brought economic opportunity to towns and businesses along the corridor. Port MacKenzie Rail will shorten the trip of a 100-rail-car train between tidewater and the mineral wealth of the Interior. Each Alaska port has its valuable role to play in Alaska’s economy. Port Mackenzie — with rail — will be the least expensive path for exporting natural resources to tidewater. Here’s why: • When finished, Port Mac Rail is 32 rail miles closer to water from the Interior than the port of Anchorage, and 140.7 rail miles closer than the port of Seward. The dollars saved per ton-mile can be the tipping point to development for projects with narrow profit margins such as mineral development. Saving a million dollars per shipload can determine whether a company exports at all. • It has 14 square miles of staging grounds. There’re no constraints on space at Port MacKenzie. The laydown area for large projects is massive. • A 100-rail-car loop will provide the longest industrial loop in the State with efficient handling of bulk materials. Trains will offload materials and circle a mile around for the trip north. Trains do not have to be broken apart. • It connects to a port with deep waters, 60 feet at low tide, that accommodate the largest ocean-going vessels in the world. Bigger ships mean lower export costs for bulk materials. • It avoids costly and unsafe congestion of road crossings on the mainline. Longtime Alaska prospectors like Ed and Ann Ellis know the importance of cheaper transportation. Their company, Diamond Gold Corporation, just put Port Mac Rail in their operating plan with the Alaska Department of Natural Resources. For 19 years, they’ve been developing a gold-silver-copper deposit and gems in Yenlo Hills, 45 miles northwest of Willow. Ed Ellis plans to export super sacks of sand-like concentrate of precious metals to a smelter in Asia. Port Mac Rail’s role in Ellis’ profit margin is “huge,” he said. Exporting by truck costs three times as much. Will it pan out? We don’t know yet, but we do know that transportation is at the heart of success for this company and for larger ones. Columnist Wohlforth ignored how critical rail is to mineral development. In fact he made fun of rail, calling it a “white elephant.” If the builders of the Transcontinental Railroad had shared that opinion, the West would not have been opened up until long after the Civil War. Wolhlforth is the author of several books, so it’s strange that he saw no opportunity in transportation infrastructure when he wrote: “In 1915, the Alaska Railroad itself was expected to open vast new mineral and agricultural development, which never happened.” In his column, Wohlforth forgot about Fairbanks, a town built on mining and the railroad. He forgot about Fort Knox Gold Mine, which could not have happened at low gold prices if it weren’t built close to rail. The Interior has produced more than 18 million ounces of gold. Pogo Mine, alone, has yielded more than three million ounces of gold. Fort Knox has paid some $2 billion to the Fairbanks’ economy over 19 years. In 2014 alone, Kinross Gold, the owner of Fort Knox, paid $17.1 million in state taxes and fees. Both those companies—Kinross at Fort Knox and Pogo’s Sumitomo Metal—have written letters of support for Port MacKenzie Rail in previous years. Fort Knox spends some $5 million on transportation costs annually. Reducing the costs of importing materials, they say, will help them be more competitive and give better opportunities for expansion and longevity. Right now, there’s exciting news on two large mineral occurrences near Fairbanks, a promising copper, molybdenum, gold accumulation at Shorty Creek, some 70 miles northwest of Fairbanks. Recent drilling results cause UAF Geological Engineering Professor Paul Metz to think that this single mine could yield $385 million per year to the State in taxes, royalties, and fees because it’s potentially a high grade, large deposit. There’s also a large gold occurrence near Fort Knox Gold Mine, and a gold deposit, Money Knob, near Fairbanks. Port MacKenzie Rail would help those projects increase profit margins. The mines would need to haul in by rail hundreds of millions of dollars in freight. The low grade gold needs cheap transportation for operating materials. The copper mine would haul out copper concentrates, first by truck, then by rail to Port MacKenzie, where the sand-like material would be loaded onto large ships for smelting and refining overseas. Mining does take years to get off the ground, but so does the Alaska LNG Pipeline. Both are worthy investments critically linked to rail. In addition to mining, Port Mac Rail provides infrastructure for these large projects: •  Moving Cook Inlet gas to Fairbanks via rail. The Alaska Railroad recently became the first railroad in the nation allowed to transport LNG. Salix, Inc. is vying to be AIDEA’s pick for an LNG plant with expansion capability of up to 400,000 gallons of liquefied natural gas per day. If chosen, the company could connect to Port Mac Rail at Ayrshire Road. • Providing construction support to the Alaska LNG Project. Port Mac Rail would save the project $100 million over other ports by staging and transporting pipe north by rail through the closer Port MacKenzie. • Hauling low-sulfur diesel to Fairbanks by Central Alaska Energy, a company leasing property with completed pad, seeking funding for construction of a tank farm at Port MacKenzie • Moving supplies to support continued petroleum activity at Prudhoe Bay • Hauling limestone from Globe Creek’s 1.6 billion ton deposit near Livengood, as agriculture lime and for mines such as Red Dog or the proposed Donlin Creek Mine and ultimately cement exports • Exporting liquefied natural gas from Port MacKenzie to Japan. The natural resources development company, REI, is doing due diligence on a $1 billion liquefaction facility and power plant at Port MacKenzie. The Japanese company would export Cook Inlet gas to Japan. REI Vice President Mary Ann Pease calls Port MacKenzie “the best port in Upper Cook Inlet for LNG exports to Japan in a timely manner.” REI is still committed to a 2020 timeframe for exports to begin. The next year or more is going to be challenging. But now is not the time to let our entrepreneurial muscle atrophy as Wohlforth suggests. The returns on resource development and on infrastructure like Port MacKenzie Rail will be far more than the original investment. Let’s get to it. Vern Halter is Mayor of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and a dog musher who took first in the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race in 1990 from Fairbanks to Whitehorse, Yukon.

INSIDE REAL ESTATE: Anchorage’s mixed-use rules reflect mixed-up priorities

During the 10 years of negotiation and conflict over the new Title 21 land use regulations which finally became ordinance in January 2016, the Municipality of Anchorage planning department held firm on their vision of encouraging mixed-use development by creating new zoning categories as one avenue to solving Anchorage’s housing shortage. However, what works on paper and theory isn’t necessarily financially feasible in reality. In other words, mixed-use in Anchorage has yet to be “ground tested” on new, non-subsidized, vertically-integrated projects. Traditionally, mixed-use development has been developed as vertical construction with retail and offices on the ground and lower level floors and residences above. The best local example of this is the Petersen Towers that has retail on the first floor, several floors of offices above, and three top floors — each with six units — of luxury condos. At the time it was built in the early 1980s, Petersen Towers was a ground-breaking building with unobstructed inlet and mountain views. Since then, to my knowledge, there has been no vertical mixed-use development on that scale, although small, older buildings with grandfathered rights have seen some mixed-use conversions. Fire Island Bakery in South Addition shares space in a building with apartments and offices. Celestial Sweets on Spenard Road is located on a ground floor in a small building with apartments above it. Some older two-story buildings in the downtown corridor also have a handful of apartments above their retail space. New mixed-use developments include Cook Inlet Housing Authority’s projects in Mountain View and plans for a larger, mixed-use development on Spenard Road. The popular Rustic Goat restaurant on Northern Lights is considered a mixed-use project with detached apartments located on the back alley. These small mixed-use developments fit in well with local neighborhoods and contribute to economic and social diversity. However, higher density development as advocated by the MOA has many issues. According to Seth G. Weissman, a real estate attorney presenting to the Georgia Planning Association, “mixed-use works best in highly urbanized areas where the project (particularly the retail) can be woven into the fabric of an existing urban center. Mixed-use cannot survive without the density to support it.” Weissman goes on to explain that the residential housing component in mixed-use works best as a high quality rental product but still must be surrounded by density and local government contributions for alleyways, parks, and other destination amenities. Anchorage’s housing shortage is now a well-recognized and much-discussed fact. We are short hundreds of housing units. The solution, however, is not in high density vertical mixed-use where talk is cheap and construction is over $350 per square foot. Rather, the MOA should look at ways to encourage more affordable housing such as a small lot ordinance or low density neighborhood mixed-use through the use of variances and overlay districts. Connie Yoshimura is the broker/owner of Dwell Realty. Contact her at 907-646-3670 or [email protected]

GUEST COMMENTARY: Alaska’s second-hand economy funds itself and heals society

The new millennium has introduced many new ways of spending, saving, and earning money. We have the sharing economy, the gig-economy, the on-demand economy. The Salvation Army specializes in what is often referred to as the second-hand economy, an increasingly important part of the larger, mainstream economy. The second hand economy is just what it sounds like: the buying and selling — or donating — of durable goods and services. Craigslist, yard sales, thrift stores. Our Thrift Stores are one of the most visible functions of The Salvation Army. You can see the familiar red shield over storefronts all over the world and in 14 communities around Alaska. The second-hand economy is worth billions of dollars. A recent study in Canada found that it is currently responsible for contributing nearly $34 billion dollars to our neighbor nation’s GDP. This is about 15 percent of the value of new goods purchased. There are many benefits of the second-hand economy. For one thing it keeps local money in local pockets. Every dollar that a consumer uses to purchase an item from someone nearby on Craigslist or, say, from their local Salvation Army thrift store, is a dollar that doesn’t go to an Outside vendor. Similarly, every item that is purchased at a garage sale, or your local Salvation Army thrift shop, is an item that doesn’t need to be barged in. This again saves money and time for the consumer but has the added benefit of reducing the potential for environmentally harmful waste. Likewise, that which doesn’t have to be shipped in doesn’t need diesel oil to be burned on its way to purchase here. The potential for job creation is enormous. In Canada, some 300,000 jobs can be traced to the second-hand economy. Here in Alaska, hundreds of people work in thrift stores around the state including those operated by The Salvation Army. There is an extra economic value added when people shop for or donate goods at a Salvation Army thrift shop. In Anchorage, Salvation Army thrift store proceeds fund homeless and rehabilitation services. Alaska spent over $217 million in 2010 on drug- and alcohol-related criminal justice services. Every purchase and donation to a Salvation Army thrift store goes towards keeping someone away from a dangerous substance and defrays the direct cost to society of their rehabilitation. Outside of Anchorage and Wasilla, Salvation Army thrift store proceeds support the local Corps Community Centers in towns throughout Alaska. Services like food pantries, after-school programs, meal deliveries, senior services, and emergency disaster response are all made possible in communities throughout urban and rural Alaska through thrift store sales. So that ironic t-shirt you bought at your local Salvation Army thrift store helped provide someone in your town with a job, protect the environment, boost your local economy, lower state spending, and save someone’s life. Congratulations. And thank you. Thomas Brown is the Communications Manager for The Salvation Army Alaska Division. The Salvation Army has been in Alaska since 1898. More information about The Salvation Army in Alaska can be found at their website: http://www.salvationarmyalaska.org.

EDITORIAL: Liberal lockstep on Court will sink Obama’s nominee

The Wall Street Journal   With the death of Antonin Scalia, Democrats and the media are graciously offering Republicans an ultimatum: Give them control of the Supreme Court now, or they’ll use the vacancy as a political club to hold the White House and retake the Senate. False choices don’t get more false than that. The reality is that no one President Obama is likely to nominate for the Court this year has a chance to be confirmed in a GOP Senate. Republicans could vote for José Cabranes of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, but he’s 75 years old and too independent-minded for Democrats. Conservatives would revolt if Republican Senators voted to confirm any other Obama appointee. And well they should. The stakes are simply too great with the high court now split 4-4 on so many legal issues. The most important aren’t even the social issues like abortion and gay marriage that preoccupy the media. Roe v. Wade isn’t going to be overturned by replacing Justice Scalia, so the disputes would be over laws that regulate abortion in late term or to protect the health of the mother. Same-sex marriage won’t be overturned either. The more consequential cases are over the Bill of Rights and the separation of powers that President Obama has so abused to serve his political goals. Take the First and Second Amendments. The Friedrichs case on coerced union dues that the Court is scheduled to rule on this year is probably now a 4-4 tie. That would let stand the mistaken Ninth Circuit ruling that denies workers their right not to support political causes they oppose. The Little Sisters of the Poor are also now likely to lose their religious-liberty challenge to ObamaCare’s coerced subsidies for abortion. A new 5-4 liberal majority would also take aim at the conservative precedents of recent years. These include the 5-4 rulings upholding individual gun rights in D.C. v. Heller and McDonald v. Chicago. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who read her Heller dissent from the bench, gave a speech saying she expected that a future Court would overturn Heller. Also in peril would be Citizens United and other rulings that struck down limits on financing political campaigns. The lawyer for the Obama Administration said during oral argument for Citizens United that even books could be banned as an independent campaign expenditure. Mr. Obama and Hillary Clinton say they want to rewrite the First Amendment to limit campaign donations, and it would take a brave liberal to buck that pressure. Justice Scalia’s death also means the Court lacks the votes to correct Mr. Obama’s illegal expansions of executive power. These include the House challenge to his rewriting of ObamaCare and the Texas case against his unilateral legalization of four million illegal immigrants. If the Court ties 4-4 on immigration, as it probably will, the Fifth Circuit’s stay on Mr. Obama’s order will continue until the courts rule on the merits. But a 5-4 liberal majority is all but certain to uphold anything a Democratic President does on so political a subject. We know this because this is how all Democratic Justices have voted for more than a generation. Not since Byron White retired has any Democratic appointee broken with the liberal lockstep on issues that truly matter to the left. Justice Stephen Breyer provided a rare sixth vote after the Sixth Circuit said the people of Michigan couldn’t ban racial preferences (Schuette, 2014), but the liberals had already lost that case. Otherwise the four current liberals are a solid bloc that never breaks. Among Mr. Obama’s appointees, Elena Kagan is a more nuanced thinker than Sonia Sotomayor, but on big cases they vote the same. By contrast, Republican appointees Harry Blackmun, John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Sandra Day O’Connor, Anthony Kennedy and John Roberts all broke with conservative political preferences on major legal issues. For that matter so did Justice Scalia, albeit for more principled legal reasons. The larger point is that progressives have made the Court so political that it’s understandable that Republicans want to let the next President fill Justice Scalia’s vacancy. A GOP Senator who voted to confirm an Obama nominee would demoralize his own supporters. Meanwhile, the outrage among Democrats over being denied a vote is entirely synthetic as they use the issue to mobilize their own partisans. (See Chuck Schumer nearby.) Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley are right to say that the Senate should refuse to consider any nominee this year. An election-year hearing and vote would only politicize the Court more and be unfair to the nominee. So ignore any complaints you read about “unprecedented” GOP “obstruction.” As Justice Scalia warned (our Sunday editorial on his legacy can be found on wsj.com), legal progressives made the Court a partisan cause by making value judgments that are best left for voters to decide. One result is that Democrats will have to fight and win an election in 2016 to replace the greatest contemporary Justice.

FISH FACTOR: World market continues to squeeze Alaska sockeye

Early signs point to continuing headwinds in world markets for Alaska salmon. Global currencies remain in disarray, the ongoing Russian seafood embargo is diverting more farmed salmon to the U.S., and tons of product remains in freezers from back-to-back bumper sockeye runs. (The majority of Alaska’s salmon goes to market in frozen, headed and gutted, or H&G, form.) One plus: aggressive market promotions have kept reds moving briskly at retail outlets at home and abroad and removed some of the back log.  “What the Alaska industry really needs is to move that product through the supply chain — clear the decks — so we are not continuing to deal with that overhang in the following year. Whether we are there yet or not, is hard to say,” said Andy Wink, a fisheries economist with the Juneau-based McDowell Group.  “When the supply increases as much as it has over the last few years, especially from Bristol Bay, it has a big impact on what the distributors, secondary wholesalers and retailers are willing to pay to processors who are buying from the fishermen,” he said. And in the case of salmon, size does matter. In the past two years at Bristol Bay, most of the fish have been on the smaller, two- to four-pound size, meaning they are worth dramatically less than larger fish. Luckily, sales of smaller sockeyes to Japan have moved well, primarily because of the lower prices, and their use of cut-up fish in various dishes makes it less of an issue. “We have seen good sales volume through the supply chain in the past year,” Wink said, adding that Alaska sellers were surprised at the amounts that went to Japan and Europe, due to the global currency situation. The continued strong value of the dollar means it is more expensive for overseas customers to buy U.S. seafood. “We’ve seen things move a lot faster, and while the currency situation is still terrible, at least it’s been terrible now for a while,” he added. “People are more adjusted and markets have a better grip on where it’s at. Hopefully, they can figure out what everyone needs to operate at these currency levels.” Alaska salmon also will face even more competition from farmed fish. Russia’s ongoing seafood embargo against several countries has displaced record amounts of Norwegian salmon and imports to the U.S. have doubled. “It’s been a big shift and the whole supply chain is adjusting to that. But there is reason to think that we are getting to a more stable environment where there is not so much uncertainty,” Wink said. Alaska processors will get a good sense of demand when they meet with their customers next month at Seafood Expo North America in Boston and Seafood Expo Global in Brussels in April. “They’ll get a very good sense of how hungry those customers are for product. If they haven’t done very well moving these large sockeye volumes, they won’t be as aggressive. If they have been having good luck with their sales promotions they’ll likely come back eager for more,” Wink said. All combined, early signs don’t point to any big price boosts this year for Alaska salmon. “There’s still a lot of headwinds, a lot of unknowns. It’s just kind of hard to see how the price takes any significant jump,” Wink said. “We’ve got a lower forecast so we’ll see how the market responds to that. But so much depends on how much product has moved through the system, and how well inventories have been absorbed.” Marine debris redux Money from the Japanese government is continuing to fund marine debris removal from Alaska coastlines. An influx of debris, especially polystyrene foam, continues to wash ashore from the tsunami that devastated parts of Japan in 2011. The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, or DEC, recently received $950,000 from Japan for tsunami marine debris collection, removal, and disposal projects for the 2016 field season. Specifically, this funding is intended to support a single large-scale project covering Kayak and Montague Islands, which have some of the highest debris densities Since 2012, Alaska has received the majority of a $5 million dollar gift from the Japan to the United States for aerial surveys and coastal cleanups in the Gulf of Alaska, Southeast Alaska, and the Kodiak Island area. Last July, a large scale, three-week project used 1,176 helicopter airlifts to sling 3,397 “super sacks” and 717 bundles of marine debris on to a 300-foot barge from 11 locations. The debris was transported to the Lower 48 for disposal and recycling. To date, over one million pounds of marine debris have been collected and removed from Alaska using the funds provided by the Japan and administered through DEC. The agency plans this month to issue a Request for Proposal (RFP) for the 2016 field work. Qualified contractors should monitor the Alaska Online Public Notice website for updates. Find more information on marine debris cleanup efforts in Alaska at dec.alaska.gov/eh/marine-debris/ Climate comments National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries has just released a draft climate science action plan for the southeastern Bering Sea that will assess the vulnerability of 18 commercially important fish species. The plan identifies key information needs and actions that the agency will take over the next three to five years to implement the NOAA Fisheries Climate Science Strategy, released in August of 2015. The plan will look first at the southeastern Bering Sea because it supports large marine mammal and bird populations and some of the most profitable and sustainable commercial fisheries in the nation. The plan builds on work the Center has been doing for more than 20 years as part of a Bering Sea Fisheries Ecosystem Plan, said AFSC program leader Mike Sigler. The center has completed a number of studies on the potential effects of climate change on three fish species — pollock, red king crab and northern rock sole. “We expect climate change to lead to smaller populations of walleye pollock and red king crab, but have little effect on northern rock sole,” Sigler said. NOAA is asking the public to provide feedback on the draft plan, to be finalized this fall. See more www.st.nmfs.noaa.gov/ecosystems/climate/national-climate-strategy Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

AJOC EDITORIAL: No news is bad news for AK LNG Project

It was the Seinfeld of press conferences. One might think that a gathering of the five most influential figures in the massive Alaska LNG Project would have had more news to share, but in the end it was a press conference about nothing. And that’s bad news for everyone involved. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the state’s project partners whose taxes he’s proposing to raise dramatically at a time when their costs are nearly double the price per barrel, Gov. Bill Walker had no answers for where AK LNG is headed. As the Journal first reported Feb. 10, the project is now officially off schedule and most likely delayed from undertaking the more advanced work for at least two years. The state and its producer partners will finish the preliminary-front-end engineering and design, or pre-FEED, this year as planned but there will be no vote on a constitutional amendment in November because there will be no fiscal contracts to present to the Legislature for approval. The next time the state’s residents could vote on an amendment to set tax policy for the project will be 2018. Ostensibly, the delay in the project is related to the failure among the three North Slope producers who own differing shares of the gas at Prudhoe Bay and Point Thomson to reach the lynchpin gas balancing agreement governing offtake from the two fields once the project goes into production. But the “elephant in the room,” as Walker put it, is the price per barrel that has hovered in the mid-$20s or low $30s since the start of the year. As anyone who’s been following along knows, the oil companies on the Slope and around the world are hemorrhaging cash in the current price environment. Contemplating a spend of $2 billion or more among the state and its three partners for the full front end engineering design, or FEED, stage is simply not a viable option. ConocoPhillips, for example, burned through $2.7 billion of its $5 billion in cash during 2015 and was compelled to slash its dividend by two-thirds from 74 cents per share to 25 cents per share. From this vantage, then, the best way to slow-walk the project without obviously slow-walking the project is to hold off on sealing the deals that would force the companies to make the FEED decision sooner than is fiscally responsible to their shareholders. That is certainly disappointing to Alaskans who have seen the concept of commercializing North Slope gas advance further than it ever has, but with the state in deficit spending with a budget hole approaching $4 billion it doesn’t exactly have a lot of cash to throw around either. Between the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act subsidies to TransCanada, the subsequent buyout of that company’s interest in AK LNG this past November, and the state’s obligations for its share of pre-FEED spending, Alaska is blowing past a half-billion dollars spent on its last two efforts to monetize North Slope gas. The state does have more to show for its money in the current effort, with export permits in hand and a refined cost estimate to result from pre-FEED, but anything would look good compared to what Alaska got out of AGIA. With a desperate need to hold this project together through a brutal price cycle nobody saw coming, Walker must rethink his proposals to hike taxes on our project partners. Walker wants to raise the tax floor from 4 percent to 5 percent, and restructure the system so that producers are always paying taxes even when they are losing money. Walker cannot have it both ways. He cannot endlessly repeat that Alaska should act like an owner state while expecting to be insulated from depressed markets. It has always been well known that such a capital-intensive project with much thinner margins would require a healthy oil business to support it, yet Walker is proposing to drain the Slope producers’ cash at a time when they have none to spare. With or without AK LNG, the state and the Slope producers are in this boat together. We shouldn’t be the ones trying to sink it by weighing our partners down with more taxes.

COMMENTARY: Alaska transboundary fisheries deserve strongest protections

A catastrophic failure at the Mt. Polley mine in central British Columbia on Aug. 4, 2014, resulted in one of the worst mining disasters in Canadian history. The breach dumped over 6 billion gallons of toxic water and sludge into a tributary of the Fraser River, threatening subsistence and other fishing opportunities that the economies of nearby communities depend upon.   That spill was all over the news for weeks but what happened more quietly was when B.C.’s Chief Inspector of Mines blamed the disaster on poor mining practices but made no recommendations that any penalties or even claims of wrongdoing or non-compliance should be levied against the mine owner, Imperial Metals, according to an Investigation Report released Nov. 30, 2015. It defies common sense that B.C. lets mining companies like Imperial Metals off the hook in the face of major disasters. What’s more, it leaves Alaskans downstream anxiously asking ourselves what is next and when will this impact us. In Alaska and the North Pacific, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and National Marine Fishing Service take commercial fishing regulations and enforcement very seriously. In Alaska, most fisheries are monitored on a regular, almost daily basis. If violations are observed, citations are issued to the skipper, who can be slapped with a fine, or worse. Over the years we have seen violations result in the loss of fishing privileges, catch and vessel confiscation, fines of hundreds of thousands of dollars and even jail time. Although commercial fishing violations can be extremely serious, they never come close to causing the devastating habitat destruction and pollution that result from a mining disaster, or even seemingly smaller mining impacts that build slowly over time and are not regulated. Given this, we can’t help but demand B.C. provide the same level of regulation, oversight, and penalties for their mining industry as we do for the commercial fishing industry in Alaska since the Transboundary Rivers (Taku, Stikine and Unuk) that our billion-dollar fishing industry depends upon, begin within their borders. As with any resource extraction industry, if you can’t do it right, you shouldn’t do it at all. However, they know the impacts are miles downstream and across an international border. They are shielded from the risks and damages — at least for now. Southeast Alaskans find no comfort in hollow pronouncements of B.C. politicians about their formidable mine safety standards when the reality is quite the opposite. Mine safety standards need to protect our water and prevent large-scale disasters like Mount Polley, plain and simple. As B.C.’s sole downstream neighbor, Alaska must not settle for anything less. Although this seems simple, the State of Alaska has appeared trusting of its working relationship with B.C. by signing onto a Memorandum of Understanding and proposing a Statement of Cooperation that provide no enforceable protections or binding recourse for clean up or financial compensation if and when something goes wrong. Knowing that our fisheries are too important to risk, I find this to be woefully inadequate. Admittedly, the State of Alaska does not have the authority to enter into a binding agreement with British Columbia as the international border and the Boundary Waters Treaty makes this an issue between U.S. and Canadian federal governments. That is why the majority of Southeast Alaska communities, Tribal and commercial fishing organizations, and thousands of Southeast Alaska residents are pursuing the U.S. Department of State and International Joint Commission involvement on this issue, and the clock is ticking. Alaskans must continue to demand the highest level of input and a seat at the table with B.C. to ensure we have enforceable protections against Canadian mines impacting our fisheries, jobs and way of life in Southeast. I call on the State of Alaska and congressional delegation to represent Alaskans and move forward to fully protect the priceless resources of our transboundary rivers of Southeast Alaska.   Brian Lynch lives in Petersburg and is a retired commercial fisheries management biologist with 30 years experience with Alaska Department of Fish and Game in southeast Alaska.  

EDITORIAL: Omnibus energy bill a chance for bipartisan progress

Since becoming chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Sen. Lisa Murkowski hasn’t been sitting on her hands. In addition to routine legislation and a host of bills on priorities of the day, she has spent much time crafting a gargantuan omnibus energy bill that, if passed, would be the first such successful legislation in almost a decade. As it stands now, the bill is in a holding pattern after Michigan senators blocked it due to a lack of action on resolving the Flint water crisis. Both the energy bill and the situation in Flint are worthy of the Senate’s attention, but using one to block the other will serve the country only if both are resolved. The omnibus energy bill, on which Sen. Murkowski has worked with the help of Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., is a landmark piece of legislation and the product of many months’ heavy lifting by both senators. Before even passing the bill from committee, Sens. Murkowski and Cantwell invited members to submit any and all amendments they wished to have become part of the bill so they could be heard and debated, even if many ultimately didn’t pass muster. In an attempt to ensure bipartisan support for the bill, the senators made sure to avoid loading it up with pork, controversial legislative agenda items or state-specific benefits. That means it doesn’t address hot-button issues such as the proposed Keystone XL pipeline or state priorities such as funding for Alaska’s LNG line from the North Slope. What it does include, however, is plenty important for the Last Frontier and the rest of the U.S. Energy efficiency and weatherization programs are a major focus of the bill, as well as funding for alternative energy options such as microgrid hybrid power systems of the type common in Alaska villages off the road system. There are funds for extending and expanding federal geothermal energy research, from which Alaska — located as it is along the geological “Ring of Fire” — could see great benefits. And though there isn’t money included for the LNG line, the bill would speed up LNG permitting. And when it comes to major infrastructure projects of the sort Alaska LNG would be, time can be a far more valuable resource than money. The bill passed out of the energy committee late last year and looked like it had momentum to succeed on the Senate floor, but its prospects got a bit cloudier when it ran afoul of the water crisis in Flint, Mich. The energy bill as passed from committee doesn’t relate directly to Flint’s situation, of course, but its progress is being blocked by Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters of Michigan. The Michigan senators, both Democrats, want to see funds included to deal with the water crisis for their state’s city and others similarly effective. It’s a worthy priority, and Sens. Murkowski and Cantwell recognize that. When the Flint issue blew up a cloture vote on the omnibus bill last week, the two senators worked through the weekend to try to resolve the situation. As late as Feb. 8, there had been no resolution, leaving little time left on the Senate calendar to move the important legislation. Both the omnibus bill and Flint’s water plight deserve consideration, and it smacks of cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face to potentially torpedo one over a debate with the other. The Senate energy omnibus bill should pass — after nine years without one, it’s time to show that Washington, D.C., doesn’t always have to be the broken morass residents have come to feel it is.  

FISH FACTOR: High-end black cod taken for research donated to hungry

Needy Alaskans are enjoying a rare taste of sablefish, thanks to a science project that kept research fish from going over the rails. Sablefish, more commonly called black cod, are one of the world’s priciest, high-end fish, and Alaska waters are home to the largest stocks. The deep-water fish are found at depths of 5,000 feet or more and can live to nearly 100 years. The Gulf of Alaska fishery, which has a catch total of about 20 million pounds this year (18.2 million in 2015) is usually worth more than $90 million to Alaska fishermen at the docks. But the population — as measured by the amount of spawning females — has been decreasing about 3 percent a year since 2004, and researchers aim to find out why. In December, a team from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Auke Bay lab in Juneau tagged 40 female sablefish with satellite tags that will release on a set date.  “Sablefish movements have been tracked for decades, but this tagging will give us a better idea of where and when these females are releasing their eggs,” said Katy Echave, chief scientist for the sablefish project. “Accurate estimates of the amount of mature fish will give us better estimates of the number of spawners. And we also will have a better understanding of what environmental conditions are causing this period of low recruitment, which is likely due to low survival in their egg and larval stages.” Samples of sablefish ear bones, ovaries and livers and other survey data are being scrutinized in Auke Bay labs, but it will be a few years before it yields results. The ultimate goal, Echave said, is to have better assessments of spawners to abet fishery management and catches long into the future. Meanwhile, needy Alaskans are enjoying the sablefish right now. By federal law, all research fish must be tossed overboard but a quick collaboration sent this boatload of fish instead to feed the hungry. “I cannot rave enough about the F/V Gold Rush, who we contracted to do the sablefish survey,” Echave said. “They came to me and said ‘instead of tossing this fish overboard, is there any way we can donate it?’ And the crew went about coordinating all the logistics for getting the fish processed by Trident, who donated their facility and staff time, and then getting it distributed it to the Kodiak food bank.” In all, 4,000 pounds of research fish went to local hunger relief programs. “It was just a very neat example of healthy relationships in Alaska with members of the industry and researchers, all trying to do the good thing here,” Echave said. The fish donors were able to “do the good thing” because it dovetailed with Kodiak’s “bycatch to food banks” program, which reclaims fish that by law would be dumped at sea. Last year trawlers from Kodiak, Sand Point and King Cove donated nearly 42,000 pounds of salmon, halibut and black cod taken as bycatch to local hunger relief efforts. The program began with Gulf fishermen and processors five years ago in collaboration with Sea Share, the only organization that is federally authorized to retain and distribute fish taken as bycatch for hunger relief. A similar program has been operating in the Bering Sea since 1993.  “We make it very clear that we are not asking for bycatch. These are some of the best fishermen who work hard to avoid it. But when they do catch it, they want to see something good done with it. They want to utilize everything that’s in the net, so they donate it to us,” said Jim Harmon, Sea Share director. Since its inception, the nonprofit has become one of the largest protein donors in the nation. It has reclaimed 4.2 million pounds of fish that would otherwise have been thrown overboard, and grown to include a network of 138 fishing vessels, 34 at-sea processors, 15 shore side plants and countless packaging, freight, cold storages and national receiving agencies. Sea Share has donated over 630,000 pounds of fish to Alaska hunger relief programs in Anchorage, Kenai, Nome and Kotzebue over the last 3 years. That equates to 2.5 million servings of high protein seafood, Harmon said, and plans are in the works to increase that amount.  “We are now working on a distribution project in Western Alaska,” Harmon said. “The plan is to install freezers in four or five hub villages, and to accept larger quantities shipped via surface freight. That will reduce costs and improve distribution of seafood, which is one of the biggest hurdles.” It costs about 42 cents a pound, he said, to get the fish into the hands of the hungry. February fishing Fishermen have been hauling in thousands of pounds of cod from the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea since the year began. Alaska’s biggest fishery — pollock — got underway on Jan. 20. More than 3.5 billion pounds of pollock will be taken in Alaska waters this year. A lingcod fishery of nearly one million pounds is underway in Southeast Alaska, along with a fishery for seven different kinds of deep-water rockfish. Divers are still going down for sea cucumbers, urchins and geoduck clams. Southeast trollers are still fishing for winter king salmon — each worth more than a barrel of oil. The region’s golden king crab and Tanner crab fisheries will open Feb. 17. The big crab fisheries are still underway in the Bering Sea. Crabbers have landed about 11 million pounds of a 36.5 million pound snow crab quota. And as soon as unstable ice conditions improve, the year’s first red king crab fishery will kick off at Norton Sound, with a catch topping a half-million pounds. Grants for good works American Seafood Company is again taking applications for community grants throughout Alaska. A total of $38,000 will be available to projects that address issues such as hunger, housing, safety, education and cultural activities. Most of the awards range from $500 to $3,000 per organization. Deadline to apply is Feb. 12. Recipients will be selected by a community advisory board on Feb. 23. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

COMMENTARY: Cutting through clutter, buying LIO cheaper than Atwood move

The Legislative Information Office, or LIO, in Downtown Anchorage has become an easy target for those eager to find a scapegoat for excessive government spending in tough economic times. These attacks ignore the significant history of the LIO in Anchorage, and overlook potentially devastating financial implications for our State should a satisfactory solution not be reached. While breaking the lease and moving the Legislature elsewhere may be a popular or “easy” decision, truly independent economic analysis demonstrates that this “easy solution” would inevitably be a woeful mistake. As oil prices have rapidly plummeted, my partner and I have been actively working with the state to find a pathway to savings. We understand that we are in a different economic climate than when the Legislature opted to renovate the existing LIO. We have diligently explored numerous options and are willing to meet the Legislative Council’s request to purchase the facility at a cost below market value, which allows the state to finance at tax exempt rates.    The independent professional analysis by the Alaska Department of Revenue also shows purchasing the LIO provides savings compared to moving the Legislature to the Atwood building. We recognize the fiscal situation facing lawmakers and have worked with our bankers to allow lower rent payments until a purchase is completed, saving the state more than $230,000 a year. An analysis prepared by Legislative Affairs Agency staff and reported in the media recently suggests substantial savings if the Legislature moves into the Atwood Building. That analysis is neither independent, nor was it conducted by a real estate or finance professional. It does not include the cost of parking, ignores the significant value of owning the building and simply shifts the cost of financing the Atwood building to a different line item in the state budget. The last time Legislative Affairs staff prepared an analysis on the cost of Atwood versus LIO, it was thoroughly dismissed by third party analysis. Here is some history missing from the recent discussion. The LIO renovation was the result of 12 separate procurement efforts and 35 separate proposals since 2002. None of them were deemed acceptable. Then in 2013, the State issued one last procurement attempt, its 13th, to find an adequate space for the LIO. When that failed they asked us for proposals to renovate their existing space on 4th Avenue. As requested, we offered three distinct options: A) new carpet, paint and minor upgrades with the lease rate remaining at its then current rate, B) new carpet, paint, minor upgrades and several technology improvements; resulting in a slight increase in the lease rate or C) a full remodel – modernization and expansion. The Legislative Council voted unanimously on multiple occasions and directed us to complete option C. We then delivered the project that the Legislature chose — on time and within budget. Several independent appraisals were completed on the LIO by financial institutions, including construction lenders Northrim Bank and Wells Fargo at $44 million, Alaska Housing Finance Corp. valuation for the state at $48.5 million and long-term financing lender EverBank of Redmond, Wash., at $44 million. The proposal we have offered is to sell the LIO at the same cost that the Legislature certified was the true and accurate cost before we undertook the work to complete their requested improvements. We specifically refused to move forward unless they certified in writing that they agreed with the costs and that the procurement was legal. The certification, signed by Executive Director Pam Varni on Sept. 19, 2013, states: “The annual rental payment will be $281,638 per month or $3,379,656 annually, exceeding the 10 percent reduction in market rental value as required by AS 36.30.083. Our annual savings will be $528,342.” The offered certified sale price of $37 million is what was actually spent — it will mean no profit for us. But given the circumstances, we are willing to help. This offer is a price that is $11.5 million below the state’s own independent appraisal. The bottom line is that moving to the Atwood building costs more per square foot than buying the LIO. My partner and I have met the December request of the Legislative Council to show competitive cost on a “useable square foot basis” and we look forward to discussing this with Legislative Council. (Editor’s note: a hearing before the Council is scheduled for 5 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 11) Lastly, in an effort to focus on a solution to the LIO, we have worked with our neighbor Jim Gottstein and the Alaska Building Inc. for a voluntary dismissal of the claims of damage to his building and the claim that the lease extension violated the state procurement code. In order for the dismissal to be effective, we must complete the terms of the agreement no later than 5 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 12, 2016. We have agreed with Mr. Gottstein to end the litigation so that all parties can move on and do what is best for Alaska. All eyes are on what happens next. This LIO negotiation is being monitored well beyond the Last Frontier. National coverage of the potential negative impact of the state breaking the LIO lease appeared this week in the Wall Street Journal and a few weeks back on CNBC. It is time for the Legislature to make a decision. Sometimes, what may appear to be the least popular choice is actually the right one. Mark Pfeffer is a longtime Alaskan focused on improving and reenergizing our community through real estate development. His focus over the past three decades and today is renovating and reviving numerous blighted properties in downtown Anchorage. His projects include Historic City Hall for Visit Anchorage, transforming the Hub Bar property for Fire Station No. 1, remodel of the Unocal/Chevron building for NANA Development Corporation and the recently opened Williwaw. He was one of the partners who completed the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center and the Atwood Building parking facility.  

AJOC EDITORIAL: Moda’s big Obamacare bet goes bust

Moda Health went all in on Obamacare, and it is now short-stacked and heading for the rail. On Jan. 29, the Alaska Division of Insurance followed suit of its counterpart in Oregon by suspending Moda from operating in the state due to its rapidly deteriorating financial condition caused by massive losses incurred operating in the health insurance exchanges created by the ill-named Affordable Care Act commonly known as Obamacare. Moda’s suspension leaves Alaska with only Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield offering individual health insurance policies. The Oregonian reported this past October on Portland-based Moda pulling out of the insurance markets in Washington and California after the company announced it would receive only $11 million of the $90 million it was expecting from the federal government to cover its losses from the exchanges. As the company sought a 25 percent premium increase in Oregon, it had also asked for and received a 39.6 percent increase for its Alaska policies. Premera received approval for a similarly large increase of 38.7 percent for 2016, citing losses from the policies sold in the state. In 2014, Premera lost $9 million serving the individual Alaska policyholders, and a similar loss of $9 million was projected for 2015 based on claims cost data in the first three months. “The bottom line is that we see another year of significant losses,” Premera spokeswoman Melanie Coon told the Journal last August. “It’s not getting any better.” Insurers across the country are warning they will consider pulling out of the insurance exchanges next year if the situation does not improve. The nation’s largest, UnitedHealth Group, is among those, and Aetna recently reported that it lost $100 million last year from its exchange business. Herbert Stein’s Law states: “That which cannot continue, won’t.” Insurers are not going to sit back and continue to lose hundreds of millions of dollars, which should be of grave concern in a state with one company that is currently losing money in the Obamacare exchanges. So what’s going on here? It starts with the way the Obama administration got insurance companies to buy in to the law in the first place. The ACA created a “risk corridor” by which the companies agreed to pay the government for profits in excess of their estimates for the year and if they lost money, the government would bail them out. Remember, Obamacare was sold as deficit-neutral at worst, and a deficit-reducer at best. Over and over we heard the pitch that it was going to save the country money (part of those “savings” came from the government taking over the student loan business, but that’s a whole ‘nother column). Well, Republicans in Congress led by presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio inserted language into the 2015 and 2016 spending bills that prohibited the Department of Health and Human Services from using discretionary funds to bail out insurance company losses from the exchanges. In other words, they held the Obama administration to its pledge that the ACA would not add to the deficit. Here’s how the Fiscal Times reported the results in December: “Last year, the insurance companies paid just $362 million into risk corridor program while submitting $2.87 billion in claims for reimbursement … The fiscal 2015 budget package approved last year specified that payments made to insurers under the risk corridors could not exceed collections. That is why the (DHHS’s) payouts this year were equivalent to just 12.6 percent of the claims.” President Barack Obama signed every bill with these spending restrictions, so while he may have vetoed the bill to repeal his namesake law, he did sign the bills that may have started its death spiral. Moda entered the Oregon market with the lowest premiums in 2014, betting on getting its losses covered by the federal government and gaining 100,000 customers in the process. It even signed a 10-year, $40 million naming rights deal for the basketball arena in Portland just a couple years after only clearing $10.4 million in net income. Barely two years later its bet went bust. Moda may be one of the biggest losers so far to gamble on Obamacare, but it will surely not be the last. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

AJOC EDITORIAL: Market slide shows risks of counting on Fund earnings

Since oil first started gushing through the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System nearly 40 years ago, the Alaska has repeatedly failed to learn the lessons from the troughs in the price cycle. Now facing a yawning budget gap nearing $4 billion annually with crude collapsing to less than $27 per barrel as of Jan. 20, there is near-unanimous support to shift from oil income to tapping the investment earnings from the Permanent Fund to bridge the gap. Gov. Bill Walker’s proposal to use a so-called “sovereign wealth model” using the Earnings Reserve where the Fund income flows anticipates an annual rate of return of 6.7 percent essentially in perpetuity allowing yearly draws of more than $3 billion to pay for state government. At the beginning of the fiscal year, the value of the Permanent Fund was just more than $55 billion. As of Jan. 18, the value of the Fund was $49.2 billion. Rosy predictions of future returns are how governments get into trouble, particularly when they are facing looming unfunded liabilities such as pension obligations — of which the state has more than $12 billion — or budget deficits. After yet another rout on Wall Street Jan. 20 as the markets are off to their worst ever start to a year, we are now officially in a correction, which is defined as a drop of 10 percent or more from the high point in the indices. It wasn’t that long ago, back in 2009, when the Permanent Fund lost money for the year as the Dow dropped into the 6,000 range. The markets nearly tripled since then, creating a situation where the state was earning more money from its investments than from its oil income. Now that the bulls ran for more than half a decade, the bears are roaring back. Multiple investment firms are forecasting oil could keep dropping to less than $20 per barrel, some as low as $10 according to a Jan. 12 article in The Telegraph, as OPEC refuses to cut back production and Iran has stated it intends to start pumping 500,000 barrels per day into the market now that it has been relieved of sanctions. While there is consensus that oil prices will keep falling, whether the United States will enter a recession is still being debated. There can be no doubt, though, that the reeling energy sector that fueled so much of the economic expansion will drag down growth. More than 70,000 oilfield workers have been laid off — including hundreds so far here in Alaska — and more pink slips are coming. Hundreds of rigs have been idled and the ripple effects through the broader economy will be felt from everyone to contractors to homebuilders. There is also no doubt that lower fuel prices benefit multiple sectors of the economy, but industrial output is dropping as well. This from a Dec. 16 Reuters  report: “U.S. industrial production saw its sharpest decline in more than three and a half years in November as utilities dropped sharply, a sign of weakness that could moderate fourth-quarter growth. “Industrial output slipped 0.6 percent after a downwardly revised 0.4 percent dip in October, the Federal Reserve said on Wednesday, marking the third straight month of declines.” Alaska’s great gasline hope for economic growth and new revenue will also face major hurdles beyond the enormous cost. Prices in Asia have been halved since 2013, and current demand forecasts are being revised downward. Since shutting them down after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, Japan has restarted nearly all of its nuclear reactors and is actually reselling LNG shipments; ditto for China amid its own economic growth slump. Korea is also lowering its demand forecasts as nuclear power is still a cleaner alternative when it comes to meeting lower carbon emission commitments. To say it’s rough out there would be the understatement of the year. Strong leadership from the governor and legislators is critical right now, but even if the competing sides can come together with a fiscal plan they must do so knowing that the fight for Alaska’s future is far from over — and that putting our faith in investment earnings may be just as risky a bet as counting on oil prices.

Budget challenge makes it time to put our wealth to work

By now, most of you know we have a budget challenge: Over the past two years, Alaska’s oil revenue has plummeted by 88 percent, mainly due to a sharp drop in oil prices. We’ve cut the budget from $8 billion in 2012 to $4.8 billion. Despite these reductions, our deficit amounts to more than half our annual budget. If we do nothing, we’re on a course to drain the constitutional budget reserve within two years — and the permanent fund earnings reserve within another two years. Dividends would likely end within four years, and we’ll be left with no source of funding for public services like troopers, teachers, and transportation. Here’s the good news: We don’t have a wealth problem, we have a cash-flow problem. And we have a plan. When oil started flowing through the trans-Alaska pipeline, the late Governor Jay Hammond and others recognized that oil wouldn’t sustain us forever. They created the Alaska Permanent Fund as a means to turn a temporary oil boon into a permanent income generator. Gov. (Jay) Hammond said, “I wanted to transform oil wells pumping oil for a finite period into money wells pumping money for infinity.” And he succeeded. We’ve reached a crossover point where our savings earn more income than our oil. It’s time to put our wealth to work. One of the problems that has plagued Alaska is our dependence on a volatile revenue source. We feast when oil revenue goes up, and it’s famine time when oil goes down. We need to get off the boom-and-bust cycle — we need to put government on an allowance, provide stability for our economy, and give investors confidence in our future. That’s what my proposal aims to do. A key piece of my plan is the Alaska Permanent Fund Protection Act. Instead of putting oil revenue into the general fund, the legislation puts most oil revenue in the Alaska Permanent Fund, which is big enough to absorb the revenue volatility. A set portion of the earnings would be used each year to support government services. That amount would go up (or down) with inflation – rather than with the price of oil. But first, half of all royalty revenue would be set aside for distribution to Alaskans as dividends. The first year, my bill provides a fixed dividend of $1,000. Future dividends are expected to be around $1,000 based on current projections. If and when new resource development comes on line, dividends will increase. The Alaska Permanent Fund Protection Act reduces the need for taxes. It does not touch the principal of the fund. Rather, my bill diverts more income to the fund, and sets up stable and sustainable use of earnings. This plan makes the Permanent Fund permanent. This gets us most of the way toward closing the budget gap. I am proposing other measures to get us the rest of the way there: oil tax credit reform, modest broad-based taxes, and other targeted tax increases. All who benefit from our great state — including nonresident workers — are part of the solution. The other key part of our plan is continuing to bring down state spending. On top of $900 million in cuts last year, we’re proposing more than $100 million in reductions in the coming year. We’ve instituted statewide travel and hiring restrictions. We’re establishing shared services agreements to reduce government overhead. We’re consolidating divisions. We’re doing away with some programs. This is just the beginning of a long-term effort to reduce the size of government without harming Alaskans or our economy. The question we’ve asked over and over as we’ve crafted this plan is, “Is it fair? Is it balanced?” We can and no doubt will debate what’s fair and what’s balanced. I welcome that debate. This plan is written in pencil, not pen. The only truly unacceptable course is to do nothing. Our credit rating was recently downgraded, and credit agencies have warned that we must take action this year to close the gap between our spending and revenues to avoid further downgrades. Lower credit ratings mean higher costs of borrowing for critical projects, and can have a chilling effect on investment. Ultimately, a balanced budget is just a means to an end. Alaskans have dreams and goals. Most of us want to live in a community that feels safe and healthy, where our children can get a good education, where there are jobs and opportunities – where our families can thrive. It’s hard to do that when the budget is so off-kilter and uncertainty looms large. Let’s roll up our sleeves and pull together to solve our budget challenge so we can move on to the goals and visions we carry for ourselves, for our families, and for our state.

EDITORIAL: Bundys, and the feds, need to be reined in

As the FBI seeks to end the citizen takeover of Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, it’s worth reflecting on what is behind the rising civil disobedience in the American West. The armed occupation of federal buildings is inexcusable, but so are federal land-management abuses and prosecutorial overreach. Activists on (Jan. 2) broke into an unoccupied building on the 187,000-acre federal refuge in eastern Oregon to protest the imprisonment of two Oregon ranchers. The group’s spokesman is Ammon Bundy, son of Cliven Bundy, a Nevadan who in 2014 came to national attention over his standoff with the Bureau of Land Management. The younger Bundy is a political grandstander, and many in Oregon oppose his illegal siege. The drama is bringing attention to legitimate grievances, especially the appalling federal treatment of the Hammond family. The Hammonds’ problems trace to 1908, when Theodore Roosevelt set aside 89,000 acres around Malheur Lake as a bird refuge. The government has since been on a voracious land-and-water grab, coercing the area’s once-thriving ranchers to sell. The feds have revoked dozens of grazing permits and raised the price of the few it issues. It has mismanaged the area’s water, allowing ranchlands to flood. It has harassed landowners with regulatory actions that raise the cost of ranching, then has bought out private landowners to more than double the refuge’s size. The Hammonds are one of the last private owners in the Harney Basin, and they have endured federal harassment over their water rights, the revocation of their grazing permits, restricted access to their property, and prosecutorial abuse. In 2001 the family told authorities it planned to set a managed fire on its land to fight invasive species. The fire accidently spread over 139 acres of public land before the Hammonds extinguished it. In 2006 the family tried to save its winter feed from a lightning fire by setting “back fires” on its property (a common practice), which burnt an acre of public land. Years later, in 2011, the feds charged Dwight Hammond and his son Steven with nine counts under the elastic Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. A federal jury found them guilty only of setting the two fires they had admitted to starting, and federal Judge Michael Hogan sentenced the father to three months and the son to a year in prison. He said the federal minimum of five years would not meet “any idea I have of justice, proportionality” and would “shock the conscience.” The feds appealed the sentence and another judge ordered both Hammonds to serve the full five years. They also owe $400,000 in supposed fire-related costs. Many in rural Oregon view this as a government vendetta. Rusty Inglis, who worked for the Forest Service for 34 years and now runs a local Oregon farm bureau, recently told a trade magazine that it’s “obvious” that “the BLM and the wildlife refuge want that ranch.” The Oregon Farm Bureau called the sentences “gross government overreach.” The ideology of “national” land has become the club to punish private landowners who are the best source of economic stability and conservation. The Bundy occupation of federal land can’t be tolerated, but the growing Western opposition to government harassment of private landowners ought to be a source of political concern. Ted Cruz and others are right to caution the occupiers against their sit-in, but the federal bureaucracy also needs to be reined in.

FISH FACTOR: Mariculture industry hits milestone as sales top $1M

Alaska’s mariculture industry has passed some big milestones, and is getting set to head into the weeds. Aquatic farming, which was ok’d by Alaska lawmakers in 1988, topped $1 million in shellfish sales for the first time ever in 2014, coming in at $1.2 million. “This is the highest sales we’ve had since the inception of the program which is pretty exciting,” said Cynthia Pring-Ham, Director of Mariculture for the state Department of Fish and Game, adding that shellfish production increased 27 percent. That’s an average of $7,049 in sales per acre of active farm, most of which average about five acres. Combined production overall hit 8.3 million oysters and geoducks in 2014, along with 10,000 pounds of blue mussels and little neck clams. Pring-Ham added that 73 percent of the sales came from shellfish produced at 56 farms, and the remainder from the state’s seven nurseries and two hatcheries that sell seed to the aquatic farmers. Seventy percent of the shellfish farms are located throughout Southeast Alaska, 23 percent are in Kachemak Bay near Homer and seven percent are in Prince William Sound. Aquatic farmers also fetched a higher price for their bivalves: $9.60 per dozen for oysters, $5.74 per pound for blue mussels and $8 per pound for little neck clams. Several other mariculture milestones also were recorded, Pring-Ham said, including an 11 percent increase in jobs. “Although small, we have about 185 positions working on aquatic farms in Alaska,” she said. Based on the shellfish crops and seed stocks in the water now, Pring-Ham sees lots of potential for more production. It takes two to four years for oysters to grow to slurping size, depending on water temperatures, and 14.5 million are set to come online, along with millions of mussels, geoduck clams, little necks, and most recently, cockles. And plans for growing weed in Alaska extends beyond marijuana. Farming seaweeds, especially various kelps, is seeing a surge of interest, notably as Outside interests target Alaska products. Seaweeds, which can be harvested on 6-12 month rotations, are used in everything from sushi wrappers to biofuels to face creams to frothy heads on beer. Seaweed growers from Maine and California both made business pitches at the Alaska Shellfish Growers Association meeting last fall to convince Alaska farmers to grow seaweeds experimentally, and eventually contract to grow for their companies. Maine’s production of primarily rockweed is valued at $20 million annually, according to a 2015 report for the Ocean Sciences National Center for Marine Algae and Microbiota. The report said 30 to 35 countries are producing 28 million tons of seaweed crops globally, valued at $10 billion. Japan’s nori production amounts to $2 billion annually and is one of the world’s most valuable crops. According to the Cape Times, 30,000 seaweed products have been launched in Europe in the past four years alone. Pring-Ham said partnerships are “blossoming” between Alaska aquatic farmers, entrepreneurs and educators to test the waters for local seaweeds. A two-year Alaska Sea Grant project is underway at Oceans Alaska in Ketchikan that will create kelp hatcheries and provide seeded longlines to farmers to submerge on their acreage. “It will introduce the entire seaweed farming business to Alaska on a pilot scale and collect growing data,” said Julie Decker, director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation. “And it will connect with buyers interested in purchasing seaweeds from Alaska.” Applications for aquatic farms are accepted by ADFG each year from January 1 through April 30 and Pring-Ham hopes more Alaskans will join the mariculture movement. “Alaska has a lot going for it in terms of aquatic farming,” she said. “We have clean waters, bountiful coastlines and one of the easiest regulatory processes for getting a permit to operate and utilize state lands in the country. This makes Alaska so appealing for anyone interested in starting this type of business and we will help people through every step of the process.” Fish on your dish Eating trends show some big plusses for wild seafood, but Americans are still eating far less fish than they should be. According to international market research firm NPD Group, the top trend going into 2016 is consumers want to know where their foods come from. The Group credits seafood for its improved traceability and move towards local sourcing, which will continue to boost sales. Good fats also are in. People now know that some fats are healthy, NPD said, such as those found in eggs, avocados and seafood. Consumers are seeking non-genetically modified foods “in droves” NPD said. Again, that will benefit wild seafood as people are demanding “authentic,” natural foods with fewer additives of anything, let alone genes. Watch for people to be reading labels like never before. Healthy and light entrees also are expected to grow at a faster rate through 2018, another opportunity for seafood. Technomic, another top market tracker, lists ‘trash to treasure’ fish as its #3 seafood trend, as more restaurants serve up bycatch and lesser known fish to appreciative diners. For decades more than 60 percent of Americans have eaten seafood while dining out, but market watchers said more are cooking fish at home. Maybe that will boost consumption, which has stalled in the U.S. at less than 15 pounds per person. A study last year by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture showed only one in ten Americans follow recommendations to eat seafood at last twice a week. The USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans released on Jan. 7 recommends eating at least eight ounces of a variety of seafoods with the aim to take in at least 250 mg per day of omega-3 fatty acids. Fish watch Hundreds of boats were braving harsh winds and high seas to bring home first of the year fish from the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska. Pacific cod starts the year off for fixed gears, meaning longlines, jigs and pots. The P-cod price is reportedly around 35 cents per pound, similar to last year. A lingcod fishery is underway in Southeast Panhandle; black rockfish is open there and at Kodiak, Chignik and the Alaska Peninsula. That tasty rockfish fetches closer to 45 cents for fishermen. Southeast trollers have taken about 30,000 winter kings at $7.23 per pound, according to fish tickets. Bering Sea crabbers are tapping away at a 35.5 million pound snow crab quota, 15 million pounds of Tanners and 6 million pounds of golden king crab along the Aleutians. Fisheries for trawlers targeting pollock, cod, flounders and other groundfish open Jan. 20. The state Board of Fisheries meets in Fairbanks Jan. 12-16 to take up Arctic, Yukon and Kuskokwim fish issues. On Sunday, Jan. 17 the joint boards of Fish and Game will meet again to hear more budget cutting ideas. All board meetings are streamed live on the web. The International Pacific Halibut Commission is holding its annual meeting in Juneau, Jan. 25-29. Alaska Sea Grant’s Sixth Young Fishermen’s Summit also will be in Juneau, Jan. 27-29 at the Baranof Hotel. Dates for the 2016 Alaska Symphony of Seafood are Feb. 10 in Seattle; Feb. 16 in Juneau and Feb. 19 in Anchorage, where all winners will be announced. See more at www.afdf.org. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

AJOC EDITORIAL: Time for Penney to drop vendetta against setnetters

Bob Penney is now 0 for 2 at the Alaska Supreme Court in his efforts to reallocate Cook Inlet salmon stocks at the ballot box, but he’s not giving up the fight against commercial fishermen. It’s past time that he did after some three decades of dividing the community with his nonstop efforts to drive his neighbors out of business and turn the Kenai River into his personal playpen. After the court emphatically rejected his ballot initiative that would ban setnetting from Cook Inlet beaches on Dec. 31, Penney released a statement that, “Maybe it’s time the federal government looked into this issue.” Later, Clark Penney, the executive director of the Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance started by his grandfather to push the initiative back in November 2013, said the group is looking into pursuing an Endangered Species Act listing for Kenai River king salmon. Anyone can petition for such a listing, but AFCA will have no better luck with the ESA than it had at the Alaska Supreme Court. Abundance of the late run of Kenai River kings is no doubt at a low point, but the stock has never failed to meet its escapement goal and in fact returned in strong enough numbers to allow all user groups more liberal harvest opportunity in 2015. The early run of Kenai River kings, on the other hand, has failed repeatedly in recent years to meet minimum escapement goals and was closed to all sportfishing in the past two years. Notice it hasn’t been closed to commercial fishing. That’s because commercial fishermen haven’t been in the water during the early run for decades as the stock abundance cratered under heavy pressure from the guided angler industry. That’s something Penney and his like-minded friends don’t ever talk about because they can’t blame it on commercial fishing. Oh, but they can spin a fish tale, though, and never was Penney’s win-at-all-costs mentality more evident than last legislative session when his advocacy outfit led a misleading smear campaign against a well-respected member of the Kenai Peninsula community who’d been nominated to the Board of Fisheries. The successful effort by the Kenai River Sportfishing Association to defeat Soldotna habitat advocate Robert Ruffner by a single vote based on a made-up criteria about not living in Anchorage and a ridiculous accusation that he was some kind of Manchurian candidate of the commercial fishing industry was the last straw for many in the community who saw his candidacy as an opportunity to break up what had become a polarized board dominated by factions instead of facts. KRSA, which is based in Soldotna, claims to be a conservation organization. The words “Kenai River” are in its name. Yet they waged a public relations war against a neighbor and conservationist despite his widespread endorsements from the local legislative delegation, municipal governments, and chambers of commerce. And they won, as they often have in the Cook Inlet fish wars they keep fueling. A similarly dishonest campaign was waged two years earlier, and succeeded in getting board member Vince Webster booted by an identical 30-29 vote. At both the 2011 and 2014 Upper Cook Inlet meetings, KRSA was able to essentially write the management plan for the Kenai River. In 2011, the group’s proposal severed the historical split between setnetters and drifters, turning what had typically been a 50-50 ratio into a 2-1 gap amounting to millions of dollars in reallocation. In 2014, KRSA was able to go further, getting the board to adopt a plan that removed almost all discretion from the day-to-day fishery managers in favor of the arbitrary hours and so-called “paired restrictions” designed to render setnetting uneconomic. One of the most damaging provisions KRSA was able to push through was a rule that after Aug. 1 the Department of Fish and Game must still restrict commercial fishing if the king salmon escapement is projected to be less than 22,500. That is the mid-point of the escapement goal, or 50 percent above the minimum. Last year, with the king salmon escapement goal ensured of being met, the sockeye run showed up in force at record late dates, and millions of dollars worth of fish went unharvested in August because of a rule in the management plan that has no basis in science but instead reflects the political muscle of KRSA to get what it wants at the Board of Fisheries. Penney couldn’t influence the Supreme Court with campaign donations and a Kenai River Classic perk package, though, and this time he’s going to have to take “no” for an answer. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Annual best and worst of the past year in state fisheries

2016 marks a quarter of a century for this weekly column that targets Alaska’s seafood industry. At the end of every year, I proffer my “no holds barred” look back at the best and worst fish stories, and select the biggest story of the year. The list is in no particular order and I’m sure to be missing a few, but here are the Fishing Picks and Pans for 2015: Most eco-friendly fish feat: The massive airlift/barge project led by the Department of Environmental Conservation that removed more than 800,000 pounds of marine debris from remote Alaska beaches. Best new fish service: “Print at home” fishing licenses (and more) by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Biggest fish fake: Genetically modified salmon — Frankenfish Best fish financial potential: Mariculture for more shellfish, sea “vegetables” —shrimp? Worst fish kick the can: The Department of Natural Resources’ stall on a salmon vs. coalmine water rights decision at the Chuitna watershed in Upper Cook Inlet. DNR awarded a small reservation to protect salmon while allowing more time for PacRim coal to prove that building Alaska’s largest coal mine won’t hurt salmon and the ecosystem. Biggest fish raised eyebrows: Pacific Seafoods Processing Association among the appellants in a lawsuit against DNR’s decision to grant water reservation rights for the first time to a private entity, the Chuitna Citizens Coalition (See above) Biggest fish hurry up: Electronic Monitoring Systems to replace fishery observers on small boats. Not much extra bunk space on a 40 footer. Biggest fish phonies: Kenai-based sportfish enthusiasts bankrolling an effort to ban setnet gear in “urban” areas in the name of conservation. Their claims that setnets are an “outdated gear and devastating, indiscriminate killers” ignore 10 years of ADFG data showing that 99.996 percent of setnet harvests is salmon. Best fish quick fix: The JDBeltz, by Anne Morris of Sand Point — a horizontal Vicky knife holder that prevents leg pokings. Best fish sigh of relief: Federal fish managers allowing the use of pots, instead of longlines, to catch black cod. The gear shift prevents whales from stripping the pricey fish from hooks, leaving only the lips. Fishermen call it “getting whaled.” Best fish visionary: Tidal Vision LLC of Juneau, for their eco-friendly method of extracting chitin from crab shells, a first in the USA. Uses for chitin range from fabrics to pharmaceuticals and are too numerous to mention. Best fish fighters: The Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers, or GAPP, for fighting tirelessly to get tasty, “kid approved” fish meals into school lunch programs, and for getting the pollock name corrected on federal food lists to guarantee the fish is top quality. Best fish energy booster: Bob Varness of Juneau for the first in the nation electric powered passenger boat, the E/V Tongass Rain, set to be out on the water doing eco-tours this summer. Next up: all electric fishing boats. Best fishing career builders: University of Alaska/Southeast, Kodiak College for low cost courses in vessel hydraulics, electronics, maintenance and repairs, fish technicians and more — most are available on-line; Alaska Sea Grant’s Marine Advisory Agents. Best Fish Givers: SeaShare, on its way to donating 200 million fish meals to food bank networks since 1994. Trickiest fishing conundrum: Sea otters vs. crab and dive fisheries in Southeast Alaska. Best fish boosters: Juneau Economic Development Council for ramping up visibility of the local fishing/processing sector, and envisioning big opportunities in mariculture and fish “co-products.” Fondest fish farewell: Ray RaLonde, who retired from Alaska Sea Grant after decades of creating and nurturing the state’s fledgling mariculture industry. Best fish informer: Julie Speegle, Communications Director, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries/Juneau Saddest fish story: The sudden and untimely death of Greg Fisk, fisheries advocate and newly elected Juneau mayor. Most earth friendly fishing town: Kodiak, which generates nearly 100 percent of its electricity from wind and hydropower. Kodiak also turns its fish wastes into oils and meals at a “gurry” plant owned by local processors, and the city plans to turn its sludge water into compost. Best fish gadget: SCraMP iPhone app with vessel stability indicators. It’s free. Most encouraging fish pols: Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka Scariest fish story: ocean acidification. The corrosion of crab/scallop/oyster/snail shells is documented and happening fastest in Arctic waters. Biggest fish brush off: Alaska’s Congressional delegation, which has voted to tank every climate change/clean air/clean water measure that has come before Congress in favor of fossil fuels. No comments on the 200+ nation climate accord in Paris. How will that play in Kivalina? Best fish to kids project: The fabulous Fish to Schools Resource Guide by the Sitka Conservation Society. Best fish ambassadors: Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, or ASMI. Best global fish story: The U.S. and other nations cracking down on Illegal, Undocumented and Unreported, or IUU, catches by fish pirates—more 20 percent of the global fish harvest. Best daily fish news site: Seafood.com; Pacific Fishing Magazine’s Fish Wrap Best fish watchers: Trustees for Alaska, Cook Inletkeeper Best new fish writer: DJ Summers, Alaska Journal of Commerce Best fish economists: Gunnar Knapp, ISER; Andy Wink, McDowell Group Worst fish travesty: Halibut catches for commercial and sport users slashed every year while fishing fleets take millions of pounds as bycatch. It’s getting better, but still a long way to go. Best fish assists: Every person at ADFG and NOAA Fisheries offices in Alaska. Best go to bat for fishermen/fishing towns: Alaska Marine Conservation Council, for its Caught by Alaskan for Alaskans programs which aim to expand statewide. Most ambitious fish dilemma: The plan to reduce bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska, which will include apportioning 25 different types of groundfish among all user groups. Tastiest new family fish products: Trident’s Ultimate Fish Sticks, Pickled Willy’s Smoked Black Cod Tips Best fish partnership: Golden king crabbers and state biologists teaming up to do the first stock surveys that span 800 miles along the Aleutian Islands Best fish show offs: Alaska Symphony of Seafood, hosted for 23 years by the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation. Biggest fish story of 2015: 50 cents for reds at Bristol Bay and a nearly 70 percent drop in Alaska salmon prices across the board. The perfect storm of adverse global currencies, big inventories and record U.S. imports of farmed salmon could stoke a similar trend in 2016. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.


Subscribe to RSS - Opinion