Fisheries

PWS Tanner crab fishery gives winter season a boost

A rejuvenated Tanner crab fishery in Prince William Sound is showing positive signs of finishing out its second season in 30 years. The fishery opened for the first time since 1988 in 2017, operating on commissioners permits. A test fishery operated as an information-gathering pot fishery in the area in 2016 to a limited number of vessels. Based on Alaska Department of Fish and Game survey data, the stocks were good to go for another season this year, opening March 1 and closing either by EO or on March 31. So far, 11 vessels have landed about 16,850 Tanner crabs, totaling about 28,699 pounds. Harvest has been better than expected in two areas, said Jan Rumble, the area management biologist for commercial shellfish fisheries in Prince William Sound. One, in federal waters off of Cape Puget, had a harvest of 14,754 pounds and the Icy Bay/Whale Bay area harvested 7,042 pounds. “Fishing for the first week of the fishery has been more spread out than last year, and not as focused in one statistical area, with 10 statistical areas fished to date,” she wrote in an email. Fishermen in the area are feeling fairly optimistic about the catches and catch per unit of effort so far, said Chelsea Haisman, the executive director of Cordova District Fishermen United. “The weather has been the biggest buzzkill,” she said. “(One fisherman has) sat out 11 days so far. It’s been hardly any fishing at all. It’s part of the game, I guess.” There was enthusiasm on the docks when the fishermen first came in with the crab in Whittier, Seward and Cordova, she said. The catch provides a new seafood opportunity for residents before the summer fishing season kicks into gear. It also fills in some of the space for the Prince William Sound fleet before the summer salmon season starts — there are several quiet months right now around December and January, and the salmon season doesn’t start in earnest until early May, she said. “It sounds like right now, the fishery can keep going as long as the biomass is there,” she said. “The fleet is seeing some smaller crabs that they are releasing back.” Deliveries have been made in Whittier, Seward and Cordova, she said. Tanner crab, often marketed as its cousin the snow crab, is a fairly valuable product for fishermen. In 2017, the average ex-vessel price was $3.53 per pound, the highest price since 1994, according to ADFG records. The scientific species name of Tanner crab is C. bairdi, though another species of crab — C. opilio — is also often marketed as snow crab and sold for more than $4 per pound at the dock in 2017, according to ADFG. The commercial Tanner crab fishery in Prince William Sound boomed from 1968 until the late 1970s, when the catch began to decline before the fishery was closed in 1988. At its peak, fishermen brought in 13.9 million pounds, according to a March 2017 memo from Fish and Game. That was before the minimum carapace width of 5.3 inches was set, though. By 1988, fishermen only brought in about a half-million pounds, with little to no harvest in the Eastern District because there were fewer legal males available. The collapse of the stock could be due to overharvesting and changes in environmental conditions, according to the memo. The early fisheries on legal-size males were limited by season rather than by Guideline Harvest Level, which is the current limit set by the Board of Fisheries for Tanner crab fisheries. “Handling mortality of undersized and female crab may have contributed to the decline, particularly during fishing seasons of seven months duration, which encompassed some of the molting and mating seasons,” the memo states. “Changes in environmental conditions, documented on a Gulf of Alaska-wide basis, may have caused high mortality of Tanner crab larvae, impaired growth and reproduction, and coincided with increased production of crab predators such as gadoid fishes.” The fishery depends on daily call-ins from fishermen on the grounds for tracking and port sampling of the catch. At the beginning of this season, ADFG asked fishermen to call in faithfully to provide accurate information so the fishery can stay open. In the face of less information, ADFG tends more conservative in its management in the best interest of stocks. So far, fishermen have been providing regular reports, Rumble said. “The mandatory call-in compliance has been good and has allowed harvest and effort tracking by the statistical area; harvest has been relatively stable,” she said. “The fishery will continue to be closely monitored via the call-in reports and deliveries for the next weeks to determine if any management action is necessary.” At this point, Fish and Game feels confident enough in its information that there are no immediate plans to close the fishery early, she said. Without early intervention from Fish and Game, the fishery will close March 31. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Groups collaborate to launch fishermen’s loan fund

A new lender is offering loans to young Alaska fishermen who want to buy into the halibut and sablefish fisheries, and repayment is based on their catches. The Local Fish Fund opened its doors this month to provide alternative loan structures to young fishermen as a way to help turn the tide on the trend called the “graying of the fleet.” The average age of an Alaska fisherman today is 50 and fewer recruits are choosing the fishing life. A big part of what’s turning them away is the cost to buy into fisheries that are limited through permits, or in the case of halibut, catch shares that can cost up to $75 per pound. The high values have made conventional loans unobtainable, especially for crewmen who may know how to catch fish but have little collateral. “The cost and risk involved in accessing Alaska’s quota share fisheries are comparable to purchasing a hotel as a first step in home ownership,” said Linda Behnken, founder of the Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust and director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association in Sitka. “We’re looking for ways to help the next generation of fishing families get that start and build sufficient equity to eventually access conventional loans.” The Trust is among a group of entities that collaborated on the unique lending concept for more than a decade. They include The Nature Conservancy, Craft3, Rasmuson Foundation, Catch Together, Oak Foundation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The Local Fish Fund was jump started with $1.5 million from Catch Together and the Rasmuson Foundation and will be centered for now on fisheries in Southeast Alaska. “We’re hoping to build the fund to be available more broadly and capitalize at a higher level,” Behnken said. The Fund’s flexible “revenue participation” approach will let fishermen repay their loans according to the ups and downs of fishing. “Part of what has made it really challenging to buy into the fisheries is the uncertainty and how that will affect their ability to make fixed payments that don’t fluctuate as catches or fish prices drop,” Behnken said. “We share and reduce that risk so the payments are based on what fishermen are paid at the dock. If the price falls, so does the payment; conversely, if they go up, it’s a bigger share.” The Local Fish Fund comes with another good catch. Fishermen are encouraged to participate in local resource conservation projects, such as electronic monitoring or networking to keep whales away from fishing gear. They are given a 1 percent break in their loan interest if they do. “Part of our goal is to involve more fishermen in conservation research and fisheries management. Our perspective has always been that fishermen are the best problem solvers and when we engage them, we find solutions,” Behnken said. “Some of the partners we’re working with are coming specifically from that impact investment sector that is trying to obtain conservation goals through innovative lending,” said Dustin Solberg of The Nature Conservancy in Cordova. “There are great opportunities for fishermen and scientists to team up to get a better understanding of our fisheries and the ocean environment.” Get more information at LocalFishFund.org or [email protected] Halibut starts The Pacific halibut fishery started on March 15 with more fish to catch and favorable market conditions. The coastwide catch limit from California to the Bering Sea is just less than 30 million pounds, an 8.2 percent increase over 2018. Alaska’s share of the halibut catch is 22 million pounds, up 1.5 million pounds, with increases in all fishing areas except the Western Gulf of Alaska. Market conditions are more favorable this year, due mostly to fewer fish in the freezers. SeafoodNews.com reports that less carry over going into the new season has renewed interest in halibut, especially during Lent which runs until April 20. Buyers pulled back on halibut purchases last year after years of high prices and a sudden flood of cheaper fish from eastern Canada sucked the wind out of the Pacific market in 2017. The Canadian fishery, which operates year round, has recently been putting up to 11 million pounds of halibut into U.S. markets. Starting prices to Alaska fishermen last year were in the $4 to $5 range, down $2 on average from previous years. Prices ticked upwards during the season but never reached the levels of a few years ago. Roughly 2,000 Alaska longliners hold quota shares of halibut, which they can fish through Nov. 14. ComFish at 40 Hundreds of visitors will flock to “the Rock” to celebrate the 40th ComFish Alaska trade show March 28-30 at Kodiak. Joining all the vendors and exhibits at the downtown convention center will be U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, who reportedly plans to stay a few days. From the governor’s office, special advisor John Moller and Rachel Baker, deputy commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, will hold open meetings, as will Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak. Trending topics on the ComFish agenda also include a Q &A with Mark Lester, president of Alaska Aerospace Corp., which has over 30 rockets planned for the Kodiak launch pad that could curtail fishing. Also, updates on the Pebble mine, seafood marketing, “throw me a rope” safety tips, fish stories and sea songs, legal advice, net recycling and much more. Recognizing Kodiak’s processing workers has become a ComFish Saturday tradition and teams from different companies compete in skill competitions. This year includes a shark dissection, a new Fish in a Box contest where a line up must be identified by touch and/or tail, and a fish toss. A contest to showcase the most able fisherman will bring ComFish to a close. Alaska Airlines is offering a 7 percent off ComFish special for Kodiak flights. See the full line up of ComFish events at www.kodiakchamber.org and on Facebook. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Board votes down personal-use priority proposal

The Board of Fisheries has voted down a controversial proposal that would have given personal-use fisheries priority in its allocation criteria as well as two proposals to change the way the Alaska Department of Fish and Game sets and manages escapement goals. All three proposals attracted testimony from stakeholders across the state, both for and against, during the board’s Statewide Finfish and Supplemental Issues meeting in Anchorage from March 9-12. Though the board turned down several proposals related to escapement goals and allocation priorities, the members indicated they’d be open to longer discussions on those subjects in the future. Proposal 171, submitted by the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, would have changed the criteria in the board’s allocation policy to include a priority for personal-use fisheries. The personal-use fisheries in the state, most notably the Chitina, Kenai River, Kasilof River and Fish Creek dipnet fisheries, attract thousands of participants every year. Because they do not have participation limits and harvest sockeye, a valuable species to the other user groups, they are a frequent source of allocation conflict, especially in Cook Inlet. The Board of Fisheries uses the allocation criteria as a checklist for considerations when making allocative decisions about fisheries issues. Subsistence users always get a priority, but in nonsubsistence areas, the board can weigh the different user groups and factors equally. In its proposal, KRSA asked that the board rewrite its allocation criteria in nonsubsistence areas with a number of changes, including considering the number of residents and nonresidents participating in the fishery, the importance of each fishery to provide residents with fish for personal and family consumption and the history of the fishery within the last 20 years. During public testimony at the meeting, KRSA fishery biology consultant Kevin Delaney told the board that the criteria does not block the board from making decisions in favor of other user groups but would add weight to the criteria when making allocative decisions in nonsubsistence areas. “If the desire is to prioritize historical use as it has been, rather than generating broad public support and maximizing economic value, that decisions would still be possible,” he said. “It would just be transparently obvious that that’s the reason.” Large numbers of commercial fishermen, particularly from Cook Inlet, came out to oppose the proposal. Many cited feelings of being marginalized by regulations in Cook Inlet, where families have generations of commercial fishing history, while others cited concerns about the biological wisdom of prioritizing the personal-use fisheries. Duncan Fields, who represented the communities of Ouzinkie and Old Harbor on Kodiak and as the chairman of the Kodiak Salmon Workgroup, testified against proposal 171, saying it would tie the hands of future boards on allocation decisions and that it would set a precedent for allocation based on the number of users. “That goes to the very heart of what we believe in as Americans with a constitutional government where we protect aspects of minority rights, people who are not in the majority,” he said. “We have a common use clause, which means that the resources are to be used for the good of all the people, not just those who happen to have a majoritarian point of view. I think I’m most offended by the change in language that would change your criteria based on sort of a numerical hierarchy.” The board voted down the proposal 2-5, with members Israel Payton and Reed Morisky supporting it. Payton, who lives in the Matanuska Valley, said many people in the area have “given up” on policies improving the quality of their fisheries. The board is charged with making allocation decisions, which are difficult, but it’s important to consider the needs of a growing population in Cook Inlet, he said. “I sympathize with commercial fishermen in Cook Inlet who have a long history in commercial fishing that feel like they’re getting squeezed out,” he said. “But the population has grown … we’re not providing the opportunity for that growing need.” Board member Fritz Johnson noted there are biological issues in the Susitna River impacting salmon returns there as well, and there are ways to remedy that using board processes, but said he would oppose the proposal because of the majority of users being against it. Both Morisky and board member Robert Ruffner noted that they would be willing to discuss the issue further in the future, as it’s a common issue brought up between user groups. It continued the thread of the meeting, as the board held an entire special meeting Friday to discuss issues related to hatcheries. No regulatory action was taken, but the board listened to public comment and information from ADFG about current hatchery programs and research to gather more information after several years of the public raising concerns about hatchery operations in the state. Two other proposals, 169 and 170, also raised long-term issues. Both dealt with the way ADFG sets salmon escapement goals in rivers, which impact how managers are able to open fishing and regulate harvest. The department sets a variety of different types of goals, including sustainable escapement goals, or SEG, biological escapement goals, or BEG, and optimum escapement goals, or OEG, and develops them based on the data available. Proposal 169 would have rewritten the state’s policy for developing escapement goals and required the department to release them earlier, before in-cycle Board of Fisheries proposals are due, and proposal 170 would have changed how escapement goals are set and required management targets based on maximum sustained yield. The board turned down both proposals unanimously, but several members noted that the escapement goal setting process may be due for a review. Currently, the department reviews and sets escapement goals, presenting information to the board at each three-year meeting cycle, but the board does not necessarily vote on setting individual escapement goals. Ruffner noted that the process of how Fish and Game decides whether to set an OEG, BEG or SEG can be confusing and could use clarification. “I think if we ignore this, I think in a couple of years we’re going to be right where we are with hatchery issues, where we have to do something,” he said. “I’d much prefer to get ahead of that now with a committee process or something.” Jensen said he agreed with Ruffner about the long-term considerations on the escapement goal policies. Payton said he thought the escapement goal policy is one of the stronger documents the department has but there could be some improvements to the board’s action on goals. “Process-wise, I think we could work on some things,” he said. ^ Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

ADFG advances logbook repeal; OMB takes director salaries

Alaska Department of Fish and Game officials want input on a proposal to repeal rules requiring sport fish guides to report their clients’ catch. ADFG issued a public notice March 7 requesting public comments on eliminating the Freshwater Sport Fish Guide Logbook program. The department currently mandates all fishing guides and charter operators to complete detailed summaries of each fishing trip they run in logbooks provided by the department. Freshwater guides are required to record the time and location of each trip; the number of each species caught and harvested or released; as well as the sport fishing license number of each guide and client that participated in a given outing. Those logbooks must then be turned in to the department each week during the fishing season. Saltwater fishing guides would still be required to record their trips in the state logbooks. While ADFG monitors fish stocks in many popular commercial and sport fisheries across the state with fish weirs, sonar, and various other survey methods, many other fisheries, even on large, heavily used waters, are not tracked. The logbooks offer fisheries managers a frame of reference for how fisheries typically not actively managed in-season are performing by tracking catch rates and angler effort. Logbook data can also be used in gathering other harvest information as well. The popular Kenai River coho fishery, for example, largely occurs after the sonar focused on enumerating the river’s sockeye run is pulled in mid-August. Questions about the reasons behind repealing specifically the freshwater logbook requirement were referred to the Office of Management and Budget despite being a regulatory proposal and were not answered in time for this story. Acting Fish and Game Administrative Services Director Samantha Gatton told the House Fish and Game budget subcommittee March 5 that repealing the program would save approximately $100,000. Gatton previously said the overall saltwater and freshwater logbook program costs the state $650,000 to $690,000 per year. Overall, the department is facing a $4.5 million cut from a roughly $200 million budget under the Dunleavy administration’s proposal. Incoming Kenai River Sportfishing Association Executive Director Ben Mohr said the group is fairly ambivalent about the proposal to repeal it. The freshwater logbook program is scheduled to sunset in October and, according to Mohr, has not been used for in-season management as much as intended. On March 12 ADFG Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang also clarified in response to questions from legislators on the House budget subcommittee that the department is cutting the Habitat and Subsistence Division director positions so the PCNs, or position control numbers, can be transferred to the Office of Management and Budget for director-level positions there. He stressed that the department will continue to operate the Habitat and Subsistence aspects of its work as it has done; the difference will be that division operations managers leading each area will report to a deputy commissioner. The Habitat and Subsistence director positions are vacant and not required by statute, according to Vincent-Lang. “I’d rather not lose two permitters; I’d rather lose a vacant director and figure out how to oversee that division by a deputy commissioner,” he told the committee. Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, questioned the plan for putting science-based permitting decisions on an appointee-level position. Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka, said OMB needs to explain the rationale behind transferring the positions out of Fish and Game. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Trade war takes big bite out of Alaska seafood sales

So how’s that trade war with China going? Up until last July, China was Alaska’s biggest trading partner for seven years running. In 2017, China bought 54 percent of Alaska’s fish and shellfish products, valued at $800 million. The initial U.S. tariffs on Chinese imports were followed by a retaliatory 10 percent tariff from China last September that included U.S. seafood exports; U.S. tariffs against $200 billion worth of Chinese imports were to increase to 25 percent on March 2, but that deadline was extended by 60 days late in February as trade negotiations continue. All the tariff tit-for-tat has taken a big bite out of Alaska’s seafood market share and sales continue to sink. The new taxes have tamped down Alaska seafood sales to China by one-fifth through 2018, said Jeremy Woodrow, acting director of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. In a presentation this month to the House Fisheries Committee, Woodrow said “sales so far this year are off by more than 20 percent and we expect to take a big hit from China this year.” Woodrow said a survey of Alaska processors and industry stakeholders revealed that “65 percent reported they had immediately lost sales from the increase of these tariffs, 50 percent reported delays in their sales, and 36 percent reported they lost customers in China. Another 21 percent said they had unanticipated costs because of the trade conflict.” He added that the taxes have caused inventories to pile up in freezers as Alaska seafood sellers seek markets to fill the China shortfall. Sales inroads are being made in other countries like Spain and Brazil, Woodrow said, but the loss of China would leave a lasting hurt. Meanwhile, state general fund dollars have been zeroed out for ASMI’s budget by the Dunleavy Administration and its travel budget slashed by more than half to $158,000. Other trade impacts A new report by economists from Columbia, Princeton, and the New York Federal Reserve explores the impacts of the Trump Administrations trade policy on prices and pocketbooks. In the short term, it says the U.S. has experienced substantial price increases, large changes to supply chain networks, a drop in the availability of imported varieties, and complete passthrough of the tariffs to domestic consumers. While the long-run effects are still to be seen, the economists said, “we also see similar patterns for foreign countries who have retaliated against the U.S., which indicates that the trade war reduces real income for the global economy as well.” Seaweed to the rescue “They are coming to take our cows away!” yelped critics of the proposed Green New Deal that’s cropped up in Congress. The deal calls for major investments in clean-energy jobs and infrastructure to help the U.S. transform to a more earth friendly economy. The GND is making farmers uneasy because fingers are pointing at cows as big polluters from the methane gas they pass. Most of the gas is actually belched from the cow’s mouth and not released from the back end. Cow burps account for 26 percent of the nation’s total methane emissions according to the EPA. Seaweed can help put the brakes on all those burps. Researchers in Australia started investigating after a dairy farmer noticed cows that grazed on washed-up seaweed along the shore were healthier and more productive than those in the field. Another study five years ago confirmed those results and 20 different kinds of seaweed were tested in cow feeds. Overall, they reduced methane production by up to 50 percent but required high doses of seaweed, almost 20 percent by sample weight. Enter Asparagopsis, a red seaweed found throughout the Pacific. The Queensland researchers found that adding less than 2 percent of that particular seaweed to a cow’s diet reduced its methane output by up to 99 percent! The cows have good taste; asparagopsis is one of the most in Hawaiian cuisine and used traditionally in poke. The problem now is producing enough of the methane suppressor. Wild harvesting is not sustainable, the researchers said, and it will take financial and industry backers to cultivate production to an industrial scale. Meanwhile, that dairy farmer has sold his farm and is selling kelp and rockweed infused livestock feed full-time with a Prince Edward Island company called North Atlantic Organics. Fish gals on the job Women at work in the seafood industry is the focus of an international video competition that’s now open for entries. The scope includes all segments of the industry: fishing on boats, fish farming, processing, selling, managing, research, monitoring, teaching and any related services. It’s the second round for the contest that was launched last year by the Paris-based group Women in the Seafood Industry. “Women are very numerous in the industry, but not very visible,” said Marie Christine Monfort, WSI president and co-founder. Studies show that one in two workers in the seafood industry is a woman, but most are over-represented in low skilled, low paying positions. Montfort said women account for less than 10 percent of company directors and just 1 percent of CEOs. A WSI international survey last year revealed that 61 percent of women reported perceptions of gender inequality in the seafood industry compared to 48 percent of men. Raising awareness of gender biases is the first step towards making positive changes, Montfort said. And that is what the film contest is all about. Last year’s winner showcased women who mend nets for a living in Vigo, Spain. Second place went to a film about California women who formed a clam farming cooperative. Tied for third place were films about female fishing mentors in Newfoundland and women in India who started food trucks to sell their husbands’ catches. One entry from Alaska called Copper River featured veteran Cordova fisherman, Thea Thomas. Individuals and groups are invited to contribute videos of up to four minutes showing women at work in the industry. Winners receive 1000 euros along with two 500 euro prizes. Deadline to enter is Aug. 2. Learn more at womeninseafood.com. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Genetically-engineered salmon cleared for US sales by FDA

The Food and Drug Administration last week cleared the way for genetically engineered salmon to be sold in the U.S. The agency on March 8 deactivated a 2016 import alert on such salmon, FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement. That ban restricted the sale of genetically engineered salmon in the U.S. until the agency issued labeling guidelines. The change has alarmed some in Alaska about what genetically engineered salmon on the market might mean for Alaska’s salmon industry, which harvests wild fish. Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican, pushed back in December 2015 against the market introduction of genetically engineered salmon and called for stricter labeling requirements on such products. The import ban was put in place the following month. “I’m extremely disappointed in the FDA’s shortsighted decision,” Murkowski said in a statement Friday. “It is wrong-headed and a bad idea, simple as that. I am not going to back down and will continue my fight to ensure that any salmon product that is genetically engineered be clearly labeled.” At the end of last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture put out rules for genetically engineered foods, Reuters reported, and “consumer groups criticized the USDA for saying companies need to use the term ‘bioengineered’ rather than the more commonly used terms ‘genetically engineered’ or ‘GMO.’” The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute supports Murkowski’s position, said Jeremy Woodrow, the institute’s communications director. The group’s research shows that consumers “want to know where their seafood comes from,” he said. Alaska Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan also opposed the change. The FDA’s decision “to allow genetically modified ‘salmon’ for sale to everyday consumers without clear, discernible labeling is wrong and totally unjustified,” he said in a written statement. “American families deserve to know when they’re serving their families wild Alaskan salmon versus some genetically tampered fish.” It’s not yet clear what genetically engineered salmon could mean for Alaska. The way that such products may affect pricing for Alaska salmon has yet to be seen, Woodrow said. “That would be the concern: If you can raise a salmon faster and be able to deliver this product for potentially less overhead, is that going to affect the price of salmon in the marketplace?” Woodrow said. “And that is something we will continue to watch.” In 2015, the FDA approved an application related to genetically engineered salmon from a Massachusetts company called AquaBounty Technologies. But the import alert prevented the company’s products from entering the U.S. Lifting the ban means the company’s AquAdvantage salmon eggs “can now be imported to the company’s contained grow-out facility in Indiana to be raised into salmon for food,” the FDA said. The company has a facility in the province of Prince Edward Island in eastern Canada, where the salmon eggs are produced, according to the FDA. AquaBounty’s technology integrates a chinook salmon growth hormone gene into the genome of Atlantic salmon, resulting in a fish that grows faster than a standard Atlantic salmon, according to the company’s website. The FDA determined in a 2015 review that the fish is safe to eat. With its technology, AquaBounty wants to “spur a radically more responsible and sustainable way of farming Atlantic salmon,” its website says. The product is already sold in Canada. The United Fishermen of Alaska referred to the genetically engineered salmon as “frankenfish” in a statement March 8. The group said the FDA lifting the ban without requiring clear labeling for the product is a “disservice” to consumers and a blow to the state’s fishing communities. It’s not clear when genetically engineered salmon might hit the market, said Woodrow. A phone call and email to AquaBounty were not returned March 11. Instead of mandatory labeling for genetically engineered salmon, Murkowski’s office said, producers will be allowed to use QR codes or 1-800 numbers that would refer customers to more information. “So let’s say you’re in a grocery store and you see a 1-800 number. Are you going to pick up a phone and call that 1-800 number before you check out?” said Karina Borger, a spokeswoman for Murkowski. “The senator has been pushing for clear labeling from the get-go.” Another one of Murkowski’s concerns, Borger said, is about a man-made fish that could outgrow natural stocks. The senator has introduced legislation over the years to mandate the labeling of genetically engineered salmon. “When we talk about GE salmon, it’s separate from the larger GMO debate,” Borger said. “Genetically engineered animals are not crops.” Frances Leach, executive director of United Fishermen of Alaska, is concerned that genetically engineered salmon on the market could potentially mean consumers will buy less Alaska salmon. “The consumer … is going to see wild Alaska salmon and this other salmon that they don’t know what it is. They just know it’s salmon, and likely it’s going to be cheaper because they can create these GMO salmon for cheaper than we go out and fish for salmon,” she said. ASMI won’t be specifically targeting marketing efforts against genetically engineered salmon, Woodrow said. ASMI sees it as another farmed product to which wild-caught Alaska salmon is superior. “In the retail space or food service space, it’s another farmed salmon product, and we’ll be competing against this product like we have with other farmed salmon,” he said.

FISH FACTOR: Trident’s pollock noodles sweep Symphony of Seafood awards

Push that pasta aside. Noodles made from Alaska pollock are poised to become a center of the plate favorite. Alaska Pollock Protein Noodles from Trident Seafoods swept the awards at the 26th annual Alaska Symphony of Seafood new products competition in Juneau. The low carb, “flavor neutral” noodles contain 1O grams of protein per serving and can be swapped with any pasta favorites. The ready to eat item drew raves from judges and samplers from Seattle to Southeast who gave the noodles quadruple awards at the Feb. 20 bash. “That’s never happened before,” said Julie Decker, executive director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation,” host of the Symphony event. “It really blew everything out of the water.” The new products played to a packed house as part of United Fishermen of Alaska’s annual legislative reception where everyone gets to sample and vote on the goods. “It’s a great chance for policy makers to mix with people in Alaska’s statewide seafood industry,” Decker said. “Sen. Murkowski gave away the grand prize. Lots of legislators were there and a number of them presented awards. A number of people from the governor’s office also attended.” The annual competition kicks off at Pacific Marine Expo in Seattle in November where the new products are judged and first place winners in three categories are announced. All other winners are kept under wraps until the Juneau event. Trident’s protein noodles took top honors in the retail category, People’s Choice awards in Seattle and Juneau and the overall grand prize. Second at retail was Wild Alaskan Salmon Jerky by Fishpeople Seafood of Portland, Ore.; Smoked Sockeye Salmon Chowder by Heather’s Choice of Anchorage took home third place. First place in the Food Service category was awarded to Alaska Cod Dumplings by Tai Foong USA, followed by Trident’s Entrée Redi pollock fillet portions. The winner in the Beyond the Plate category, which features items made from seafood byproducts, was Wild Alaska Pollock Oil by Alaska Naturals Pet Products. Second place went to Tidal Vision’scrab shell based Tidal-Tex Odor Preventer that “de-funks” footwear, camp gear and pet beds. Top winners are automatically entered into the Seafood Excellence competition at the Seafood Expo North America March 17-19 in Boston. Fishing updates Hundreds of boats are out on the water all winter throughout the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea targeting pollock, cod, flounders, other whitefish and more. The Bering Sea snow crab fishery is still ongoing as are openers for their bigger cousin, bairdi Tanners, in Southeast Alaska. The Tanner harvest should top 1 million pounds. Southeast crabbers also are finishing off a golden king crab fishery that has a catch limit of 76,000 pounds. A fishery for seven types of rockfish will remain open in outside waters of Southern Southeast until March 14 or until the fleet takes the nearly 112,000-pound quota, whichever comes first. A Tanner crab fishery opened in Prince William Sound on March 1; Norton Sound’s red king crab fishery opened on Feb. 25 with a winter harvest limit of 12,048 pounds. The Pacific halibut fishery opens on March 15, soon to be followed by herring fisheries. Love wild? Eat wild Fish farming does little if anything, to conserve wild stocks. In fact, aquaculture has failed to reduce the pressure on the world’s fish stocks, it has not advanced fishery conservation, and should focus more on species lower in the food web, such as clams and other bivalves. Those are the conclusions of a study published in Science Daily by researchers at the University of North Carolina, who base their findings on historical data from the World Bank and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization from 1970 to 2014. Yet the push to convince consumers that eating farmed saves wild has gotten new life by meal kit makers LoveTheWild. The Boulder-Colorado based group, which launched its oven-ready farmed salmon, trout and barramundi offerings in 2014, has announced they will be available at Whole Foods stores nationwide this month. Among their investors is actor Leonardo DiCaprio who claims that “the exploitation of our oceans has left many marine ecosystems on the brink of total collapse” and that LoveTheWild is “empowering people to take action on the crisis in a meaningful way.” LoveTheWild omits the fact that meals and oils made from wild fish are used to feed farmed fish, thereby removing more from the ocean, not less. Also, many fish are grown in packed net pens and are routinely doused with additives, antibiotics and pesticides. “There are some perceptions in the consumer market on the production and management of our wild fisheries that are misconstrued and quite frankly, wrong,” said Michael Kohan, Seafood Technical Director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. “Alaska’s fisheries support over 60,000 jobs by people whose livelihood is putting wild fish on the market for people to purchase. You support wild fish by eating wild fish.” Andy Wink, director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, called the farmed saves wild push “misplaced.” “Their hearts might be in the right place but I don’t think they are thinking it through,” Wink said. “When you buy fish from a sustainably managed fishery, you’re voting with your dollars to support those who are doing things right.” Fish funds American Seafoods has issued a call for grant applications targeting community programs in Kodiak, the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands, Western Alaska Peninsula, Bristol Bay, Lower Kuskokwim, Lower Yukon, Norton Sound and regions north. A total of $45,000 will be allocated in grants that typically range from $1,000 to $7,500 each for projects that focus on hunger, housing, safety, education and cultural activities. The deadline to submit a request is April 10; the company’s Western Alaska Community Grant Board will select recipients on April 25. Grant request forms are available online at www.americanseafoods.com or by contacting Kim Lynch at [email protected] or 206-256-2659. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Board of Fisheries to reconvene committee on hatcheries

For the first time in about a decade, the Board of Fisheries will reconvene its committee focused on the state’s salmon hatcheries. The Hatchery Committee — which actually consists of all the members of the board — is set to meet March 8, the day before the board begins its Statewide Finfish and Supplemental Issues meeting in Anchorage at the Sheraton Hotel from March 9-12. Rather than making regulatory policies, the committee meeting will focus on receiving reports from staff and hearing from the public on hatchery issues. Glenn Haight, the board’s executive director, said the committee will base its activities on a joint protocol on hatcheries developed in 2002. “The agenda shows that the department will provide a number of reports and then they were just going to open discussions not unlike Committee of the Whole,” he said. “It’s not clear to me what will come out of it. It’s an information session.” The Joint Protocol on Salmon Enhancement, signed in 2002 by the chairman of the Board of Fisheries and the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, outlines the authorities of the department and the board and outlines the board’s intention to hold meetings “on a regular basis wherein the department will update the board and the public on management, production and research relating to Alaska’s salmon enhancement program.” Most hatcheries in the state are run by private nonprofit organizations, funded in part by taxes paid by commercial fishermen as well as cost recovery revenue from harvests; the state also runs two sportfish hatcheries in Anchorage and Fairbanks. Their permits for egg-takes and salmon releases are administered by the state and vetted through the Regional Planning Team process. The board has the authority to regulate harvest on those returning salmon and to modify hatchery permits relating to the source and the number of eggs harvested. Sam Rabung, the director of Fish and Game’s Division of Commercial Fisheries and the former section chief for the division’s Statewide Aquaculture, Permitting and Planning office, said the committee met annually until 2008 or so. “Quite frankly, I think the board at that time just lost interest because there was nothing new or exciting happening,” he said. “In the 10 years that went by, there wasn’t an opportunity for the public to receive information, and because that information wasn’t being made available in public formats, it kind of created an information vacuum.” In a series of meetings in 2018, the board considered petitions and Agenda Change Requests from the public raising concerns about hatchery production — particularly about pink salmon production in Prince William Sound. The Kenai River Sportfishing Association, a Soldotna-based organization which advocates for sport anglers, connected its concern to an ADFG analysis showing that unexpectedly large numbers of hatchery-origin Prince William Sound pink salmon were straying into streams in Lower Cook Inlet in 2016 and 2017. The organization submitted a number of scientific papers connecting pink salmon abundance in the Gulf of Alaska to concerns about the Gulf’s carrying capacity for fish as well. Hatchery representatives and commercial fishermen countered these papers, submitting their own review saying many of the studies were flawed or incomplete, and asking the board to have a broader discussion on hatcheries before modifying permits or capping production. Division of Commercial Fisheries Chief Fisheries Scientist for salmon Bill Templin presented an analysis of the papers as well, saying many of the papers either had flaws or lacked context. The board members repeatedly voted down the requests to cap hatchery production or modify current hatchery permits, but agreed to reconvene the committee on hatcheries to open up the opportunity for more public forum on hatchery production and impacts. Hatcheries are important to many commercial fishing communities, enhancing the salmon returns to many areas. The cities of Juneau, Valdez and Craig all submitted letters in support of hatchery programs in the state, as well as a number of Native corporations and commercial fishermen in various regions. The Afognak Native Corp. submitted comments for the meeting supporting hatcheries and the reconvening of the committee, calling the Kodiak Regional Aquaculture Association’s work “critical contributions.” “We specifically request that the State support the convening of the Salmon Hatcheries Committee Meeting and Joint Protocol on Salmon Enhancement,” executive director Alisha Drabek wrote in the letter. “This Joint Protocol is particularly essential as it provides a forum for open discussion on hatchery topics to improve dialogue and transparency between the Board of Fisheries, ADF&G, fisheries stakeholders, and the public to generate statewide perspectives on issues associated with hatchery production of salmon.” Conservation and sportfishing groups submitted comments asking the board to take action with concerns about the effect of pink salmon on the ecosystem of the Gulf of Alaska. The Homer-based Kachemak Bay Conservation Society criticized Templin’s analysis of the scientific papers on the effects of pink salmon on the Gulf in its comment, saying ADFG staff menbers are not able to act in an unbiased manner on hatcheries. The group calls for an independent Hatchery Impacts Advisory Group to advise the board’s Hatchery Committee. “An independent Hatchery Impacts Science Advisory Group must be formed to determine whether release sized need to be limited by the board and/or sanctuaries for significant wild stocks need to be created,” wrote Kachemak Bay Conservation Society board president Roberta Highland in the letter. The Hatchery Committee is scheduled to meet on Friday, March 8, starting at 8:30 a.m., followed by the Statewide and Supplemental Finfish meeting starting Saturday at 8:30 a.m. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Administration tight-lipped on budget; UFA promotes priorities

Alaska’s new slogan is “open for business” but good luck trying to find out any budget details when it comes to the business of fishing. The Dunleavy administration has a full gag order in place at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and all budget questions, no matter how basic, are referred to press secretary Matt Shuckerow. Likewise, queries to the many deputies and assistants at the ADFG commissioner’s office are deferred to Shuckerow, who did not acknowledge messages for information. “It isn’t just the media or Alaskans. Legislators are faced with that same gag order,” said Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak. “I don’t know if the administration is just trying to settle in and thinks that the Legislature is their worst enemy and they want to keep people at bay or what,” she added. “Hopefully, they will realize that we have to work together and the sooner we do it, the better relationship we’re going to have.” Stutes, who is the majority whip in the House and also chairs both the House Fisheries and Transportation Committees, said that “the governor has made very few appearances and nobody can get an appointment with him.” She confirmed that anyone who meets with Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy must relinquish cell phones, Apple watches and any recording devices. The executive committee of the Alaska Municipal League was able to meet briefly with the governor during its annual meeting last week in Juneau, said Pat Branson, a committee member and mayor of the City of Kodiak. The AML includes 165 cities, boroughs and municipalities that represent more than 97 percent of Alaska’s residents. “We were grateful to meet with the governor because he did not come to any of the AML meetings,” Branson said. “All we heard was that he’s all ears. I told him that we are problem solvers and it is something we do every day. We’re all aware that the state’s fiscal plan has not been in order for many years. How can we maintain our services and work through a plan that meets our community needs?” Branson said the AML is “shocked and upset” at the drastic cuts in the governor’s proposed budget and the way it came about. “It was done without any communication with municipalities, school boards, or boroughs and, I believe, without any care or understanding of how things work in Alaska, or the importance of the marine highway system or fisheries to local communities or how it will affect Alaska’s overall economy,” Branson said. “Why would people want to come or stay here? We’ve never seen a budget come forth from an administration like this. It’s just not acceptable.” AML members plan to hold town hall meetings, Branson said, and return to Juneau with ideas to present to the legislature and the governor. “We, as elected officials, are just getting a grasp on this budget. I don’t know if Alaskans understand the degree that these cuts affect them individually,” Branson said. “We want to bring in a neutral party to explain the cuts and how it affects our communities. We’re hopeful the governor will listen to some alternative solutions from Alaskans.” Fish committee The House Fisheries Committee has several new faces among its members that include Stutes, Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon of Dillingham, and Reps. Geran Tarr, Chuck Kopp and Lance Pruitt of Anchorage, Sarah Vance of Homer and Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins of Sitka. “We are going to focus on fish, fish and more fish, and how important and critical it is that we sustain our fisheries in a healthy manner. And part of that equation is making sure that the Department of Fish and Game is fully funded,” Stutes said. Frances Leach, executive director of United Fishermen of Alaska, said she is excited about the make-up of the committee. UFA is the nation’s largest fisheries trade organization with 35 diverse member groups. “Stutes as the chair really knows how to run the show and I think it’s going to deliver some great benefits,” Leach said. She agreed with the committee’s main focus to educate people in the capital about how critically important commercial fisheries are to the economic stability of Alaska. “UFA is proud of the fact that commercial fishing is the number one private sector employer in the state of Alaska employing over 60,000 men and women and I think that’s often forgotten,” Leach said. Both UFA and the Fisheries Committee will continue to push for HB 35, an act relating to participation on the Boards of Fisheries and Game that resolves conflicts of interest. “This bill will ensure that people who are sitting on the boards have an opportunity to participate in the discussion even if they can’t vote,” Stutes said. “That’s why they are there, because of their expertise, and right now they are conflicted out.” UFA also is focused on shellfish enhancement bills that were reintroduced this year. “We’re really excited because if it all goes through, in 20 years Alaska mariculture could be a $100 million industry,” Leach said. UFA also will strongly support the state’s hatcheries and “urge use of good science and facts to guide the future of the program,” Leach said. UFA is opposed to the governor’s proposal to divert $28 million in fisheries landing and business taxes from local towns to state coffers. “We’re very concerned and believe it will cause a lot of hardship for coastal communities,” said Leach. “Not just for fishermen, but for the towns that use that money for education and infrastructure. It impacts everybody.” Budget bits Dunleavy’s proposed budget for the state’s Commercial Fisheries Division is $69.45 million, a $1.64 million reduction, according to Stutes’ office. Details are sketchy but it aims to reorganize and consolidate the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission into the Commercial Fisheries Division. Also, the directors of the Habitat and Subsistence divisions would be moved from ADFG to the Office of Management and Budget. The travel budget for all state departments would be cut by 50 percent, which will be difficult for the Boards of Fisheries and Game to hold meetings in constituent regions. A proposed 16.3 percent increase to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute was removed and ASMI will receive zero from the state. Fish meetings A push for a personal use fishing priority over all other users in Cook Inlet will be among 16 proposals before the Board of Fisheries at its meetings on March 9-12 at the Anchorage Sheraton. Dubbed “Help Move Alaskans Up the Food Chain,” proposal 171 by the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, would “require the BOF to consider Alaskans’ food needs and use of fisheries by Alaskans when setting fishery allocations. The current allocation method prioritizes the export of Alaska’s fish for consumption by outsiders over the need of Alaskans.” On March 8 the board’s Hatchery Committee also will hold a special meeting. All meetings are open to the public and available via live audio at www.boardoffisheries.adfg.alaska.gov. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Board adjusts some Chignik plans after 2018 fishery failure

Editor’s note: The original version of this story omitted two changes that altered some fishing opportunity for seiners near Dolgoi Islans and changing the opening schedules for setnetters in the area. The story has been updated to include these changes. With a year of poor sockeye runs, unfavorable ocean conditions and allocation fights before them, the Board of Fisheries chose to change part of the season for some nearby commercial fisheries to improve passage of sockeye salmon to Chignik. After a long debate, the board voted down some proposals to change the allocation in the Chignik management area at its meeting in Anchorage, but later passed two proposals to realign setnetting time and to close seining in June in parts of the Southwestern, Southeastern and Southcentral districts of the South Unimak and Shumagin Island fisheries. The proposals before the board were submitted before the 2018 season, when a disastrously poor sockeye run kept Chignik fishermen on shore for virtually the entire season, but they still scratched at an allocation itch between the terminal fishermen at Chignik and the commercial fishermen along the Alaska Peninsula.  During the public comment period, speakers oscillated between Chignik residents pleading with the board to restrict fishing to restrict offshore fishing so the fishermen in Chignik can harvest more sockeye and commercial fishermen pleading with the board to leave regulations as they are so the fishermen can make a living. “Sockeye salmon is the main and only industry in Chignik,” said Alana Anderson, a Chignik City Council member. “The city’s operating budget relies heavily on fish taxes … Chignik is a small fishery.” At the same time, further restrictions to harvest in other management areas — to the west and east of Chignik, respectively — would cut into the profit margins of the fishermen who have invested in boats and permits to fish in those areas. Multiple fishermen from Sand Point and Area M asked the board to leave regulations at status quo. The management plans of the Chignik area are complicated and rely on allocation percentages of the salmon passing through. The proposals the board considered were submitted before the 2018 season, but the poor runs last year played into board members’ discussion because of how significantly the Chignik economy depends on a single fishery. Within its allocation criteria, the Board of Fisheries includes a consideration for the importance of a fishery to a local economy. Board member Al Cain said during a debate over a proposal that would have changed allocation percentages that based on discussion with stakeholders in the area, he didn’t want to change allocation much during the meeting. “It seems there’s two very valid sides to every coin we’re looking at,” he said. “Both sides of the equation have valid points … it’s hard to make a decision when one side or the other may benefit or one side or the other may have something removed from them. The economy of the local area is very high in my decision.” The board members spent significant time debating the allocation percentages in the area, with several proposals failing on narrow vote margins. Board members Israel Payton and Fritz Johnson both suggested multiple changes based on one proposal to the Southeastern District Mainland management plan, which focuses on an area southwest of Chignik. Payton’s version of the proposal focused on changing some of the harvest patterns for seiners in Area M, reducing some of the harvest pressure on eastern-bound sockeye stocks. He noted that changes made to the management plan in 2004 resulted in increased harvest on eastern bound stocks, based on Alaska Department of Fish and Game data, and wanted to shift more of the harvest back to the west. “If you just add up all the harvest rates … it takes a pretty big chunk out of eastern-bound stocks,” he said. “Given the pressure, I think it is fair to shift the burden to the seiners.” With board member Al Cain absent from the debate on Payton’s amended proposal, the six remaining board members split 3-3, resulting in the proposal failing. During the debate, board member Robert Ruffner said he wanted to be cautious to make any major changes to fisheries that would result in shifting effort. Moving effort reactively based on one year’s poor run could result in damage to another stock in the future, he said. Plus, the poor sockeye runs in 2018 were most likely due to environmental conditions in the Gulf of Alaska, based on the fact that sockeye runs were poor everywhere from the Copper River to Chignik. “If we look at harvest and we think that this is going to solve those problems that are out in the Gulf that are apparent in all these stocks, I don’t’ think this is going to do it,” he said. “I’m just not confident enough at this point with what I know to think that we should start changing this allocation plan.” Board members John Jensen and Orville Huntington agreed with Ruffner and voted against the proposal. Payton replied that while the Gulf of Alaska conditions certainly had an effect, the board was obliged to do what it can. “What we catch is in our control,” Payton said. “That’s what we do. We control what we can. We can blame all these things, and kick the can, but this board is tasked with controlling harvest.” Later, the board moved to amend and passed proposals to limit commercial fishing time in sections of the fishery in the South Unimak and Shumagin Islands near Dolgoi Island. Proposal 138, which originally asked to reduce commercial salmon fishing time to 75 percent of the current level; the Board of Fisheries amended it to close the Dolgoi Island area to seiners throughout June. Ruffner noted that data showed that many of the salmon passing through the area in June are headed for Chignik and that removing the seine fleet could help the Chignik fishermen and the escapement to the river. “This would take the seine fleet out,” he said. “I know people want more, but if there’s one thing that we could do that according to the genetics data that we have, it does suggest … that this would be the most effective thing that we could do as one action to help.” On the proposal to shift setnet fishing schedules, the board amended the proposal to align the hours with the other commercial fishermen in the area. The final language allows setnets in the South Unimak and Shumagin Island fisheries to begin June 6 at 6 a.m. and fish for 64 consecutive hours instead of the previous 88, and then will open for 88-hour consecutive periods beginning June 10 until June 28. The board approved both the amended proposals unanimously. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

ADFG cuts aim at logbook program, division directors

Sportfishing guides on Alaska’s rivers and lakes would no longer have to submit logbook records of what their clients catch if the cuts proposed in Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy’s fiscal year 2020 budget come to fruition. The elimination of the freshwater sportfish guide logbook program is just one of a handful of changes proposed for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to save money. A letter from acting Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang to staff sent out on Feb. 13 detailed some of those cuts to accommodate the approximately 4.3 percent proposed cut in the department’s budget. “As we all know, the state continues to face fiscal challenges in the wake of low oil prices,” Vincent-Lang stated in the letter. “I, along with our budget team and the staff at the Office of Management and Budget, have worked diligently over the last six weeks to align our programs with our core services and identify areas of opportunity for efficiencies.” Those cuts include moving the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission into the Division of Commercial Fisheries, eliminating the director positions for the Habitat and Subsistence divisions, a 50 percent travel reduction for all divisions, eliminating General Fund support for Special Wildlife Viewing Areas as well as eliminating the logbook program. Currently, sportfishing guides have to meticulously record the fish their clients catch and submit them in a timely manner to the state so biologists can get a better idea of harvest rates and some survey information on stocks that may not be monitored. The department enumerates and tracks many runs of fish, especially salmon, using weirs and sonars, but the expense makes it impossible for all species on all rivers. Even some major stocks, such as coho salmon on the Kenai River, are not tracked by sonar or weir every year, though the department conducts periodic assessments in the river. This applies to guides both in freshwater and saltwater. Guides on the ocean would still have to record and submit logbooks, but the freshwater program would go away entirely, said Samantha Gatton, the acting director of administrative services for ADFG. Together, the salt and freshwater guide programs cost between $650,000 to $690,000 annually, she said. “(The freshwater logbook program) would just go away,” she said. “That doesn’t mean we don’t have fisheries biologists out in the field.” ADFG biologists regularly travel to remote locations all over the state in a variety of vehicles to monitor fisheries and wildlife, from periodic aerial salmon surveys to diving surveys for clams to moose collaring. Beyond just the staff, members of the regulatory boards of Fisheries and Game travel from their respective regions to where the regulatory meetings are being held. A 50 percent travel reduction would impact the entire department, including the boards. Gatton said the goal is to eliminate unnecessary travel. The department leaders also want to find ways to use technology instead of flying for some meetings, for example, which could save the time and expense for the boards. It might also improve logistics, she said — travel in Alaska can often be unpredictable. The changes to the CFEC aren’t coming from nowhere; former governor Bill Walker’s administration also tried to consolidate some of the agency’s functions into Fish and Game through an administrative order issued in early 2016. The CFEC, which administers the limited entry permit system for Alaska’s commercial fisheries, has been plagued by complaints of inefficiency in both expense and permit adjudication. A judge blocked the implementation of the administrative order in August 2016 and the Walker administration put the action on hold to consult more stakeholders. In the case of Dunleavy’s budget, the consolidation of the CFEC would have to be done through statute approved by the Legislature, Gatton said. Though contained within ADFG, the CFEC would retain independence in functions like permit adjudication, but sharing services and other expenses like office space could result in savings, Gatton said. “They would be creating efficiencies,” she said. “You’re kind of duplicating a lot of services right now.” Of all the state departments, ADFG is proposed to take one of the smallest cuts. That may be in part because the department has been working to shift away from its dependence on the General Fund to operate, Gatton said. When the Legislature authorized the department to raise its fees for sportfishing and hunting licenses, that helped access more federal funds and split the cost between user fees and federal dollars rather than relying on the state. The Division of Commercial Fisheries did not shift at the same time, so has experienced more general fund cuts as the Legislature has cut the budget over the past three years, she said. The specific cuts to the department were made in “a collaborative effort” between the Office of Management and Budget and ADFG, Gatton said. “The goal here at Fish and Game is to continue to do our core functions … while learning to operate within what we’re given,” she said. ^ Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: FCC issues warning on fishing gear beacons

Small electronic beacons that are being widely used by increasing numbers of fishermen could net them big fines. Automatic Identification Systems, or AIS, are easily attached to nets, longlines and pots and signal the locations of the gear via a vessel’s navigation system, laptops, or even cell phones. The inexpensive buoys, which range from $47 to $199 from most online retailers, are regarded as a Godsend by fishermen in the way they help locate gear as well as being a potential money saver. “If you’re not sitting on your gear with your vessel either on radar or on AIS, somebody can come along that doesn’t think there’s any gear in the water in the absence of an AIS marker and set over the top of you. Or a trawler could potentially come and nail your gear and it could result in substantial financial loses,” explained Buck Laukitis, a Homer-based fisherman and a member of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. AIS is required for boats longer than 65 feet and in certain shipping lanes, said Jerry Dzugan, director of the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association. But warning bulletins are advising that other users and sellers are subject to fines of more than $19,000 to $147,000 per day for those who continue to use them. A Federal Communications Commission bulletin says “anyone advertising or selling these noncompliant fishing net buoys or other noncompliant AIS devices should stop immediately, and anyone owning such devices should not use them. Sellers, advertisers, and operators of noncompliant AIS equipment may be subject to substantial monetary penalties.” The reason for the severe warning? The systems being used on fishing gear are not authorized by the Federal Communications Commission nor the U.S. Coast Guard. The small AIS buoys transmit a strong signal without essential navigational safety information and can interrupt or obscure the situational transmissions of other boat operators. “In crowded areas, the signals create a lot of clutter for vessels to navigate around — is it a vessel they are seeing on their plotter or just a buoy?” said Dzugan. “It’s especially problematic for large vessels or tugs with a tow that can’t maneuver quickly.” He added that the cheaper, small units coming from China also do not have proper standards for signals, which cause more identification problems. The FCC seems very committed to getting AIS fishing gear buoys out of the water and off the market, said Michael Crowley of National Fishermen. “Even if you have a certified AIS device, it shouldn’t be used for a fishing buoy because its purpose is vessel safety or personal rescue,” he wrote. “Equipment for tracking nets is authorized only when it operates in the 1,900 to 2,000 KHz band, not AIS frequencies, and they cannot be advertised as AIS approved.” Alaska’s congressional delegation sent a letter last month to the FCC requesting reconsideration for AIS use by fishermen, Laukitis told radio station KMXT in Kodiak. Meanwhile, he advises fishermen to forego the beacons. “I don’t think the word’s really gotten out, but we’re kind of in a pickle for this summer,” he said. “Fishermen are definitely not going to want to use these AIS beacons given the FCC’s warning. That means we’re probably going to have a lot more conflicts on the fishing grounds.” Tanners round two Crabbers are gearing up for another Prince William Sound Tanner fishery next month. It will be the second go for Tanner crab after last year which was the first opener since 1988. “The fishery will open March 1 in the western and eastern districts of Prince William Sound, which covers the southwest area of the sound and wraps around to the outside,” said Jan Rumble, area manager for Prince William Sound and Cook Inlet shellfish and groundfish at the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game office in Homer. Last March 14 boats dropped pots for Tanners and hauled up 82,000 pounds of crab with average weights of just under two pounds, or about 44,000 animals. Rumble said summer trawl surveys and a first ever pot survey last November came up pretty scratchy. “In our trawl survey it was pretty much half of the legal males we saw the previous year, so we are not opening the Northern and Hinchenbrook part of the Sound based on those results,” she explained. “In the pot survey we saw some crab, but it was not as good as we hoped so we will be monitoring each area throughout the fishery to make sure we are comfortable keeping it open.” Crabbers are required to get a Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission card, a commissioner’s permit and pot tags, which have been reduced to 25 due to the expected number of participants. Also mandatory: daily call-ins by 3 p.m. from the fishing grounds. “There was a mandatory call in last year but the compliance was pretty low,” Rumble said. “We’re really encouraging fishermen to call in because low compliance will result in our being more conservative. We want to work with information that’s coming from the grounds and not try to speculate on what’s going on out there.” Depending on catch rates, the fishery could remain open through March 31. The deadline to register for the Tanner crab fishery is Feb. 15. Bivalves help beat diseases Shellfish such as oysters, clams and mussels may hold clues to fighting flu and cancer in humans, as well as aiding in bone regeneration. In studies at the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Science in Maine, oysters were exposed to human bacteria and viruses and fought off the pathogens without antibodies, the proteins that immune systems in mammal use to attack disease. Likewise, clams could contract a contagious cancer, but also cured themselves without antibodies. “Clams don’t have chemotherapy or radiation, and somehow they are able to get rid of cancer,” said Jose Robledo, lead author on the study that was published in the journal Developmental and Comparative Immunology. “How on earth do they do it? Their strategy can give us clues about how to fight cancer in humans,” he told the Bangor Daily News. Studying immunity in bivalves could help researchers find an alternative to antibiotics, which are becoming more resistant to pathogens. And mimicking the antimicrobial compounds that mussels produce may yield new drugs for both humans and livestock, Robledo added. Along with helping humans, the research could also benefit the shellfish industry. Robledo plans to develop recommendations to guide farmers and hatcheries in breeding bivalve stocks for resistance to disease, and for development of strong shells and rapid growth. The bivalve study was funded by grants from the Saltonstall-Kennedy Foundation, the National Science Foundation, and the National Institute of Health. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Council takes first step toward rationalizing P-cod fishery

Pacific cod fishermen in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, one of the last remaining unrationalized federal fisheries in Alaska, may finally have to cross that bridge. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council passed a motion at its meeting Feb. 9 to take action on the Pacific cod fishery, which is facing a number of issues in abundance, processing and participation. Depending on public review and the council’s action at the next several meetings, the Pacific cod fishery could see significant changes to seasons, limits and vessel participation. The motion hinges around an analysis developed on the trawl catcher vessel fishery and releases Alternatives 1, 2, 3 and 6 for public review separate from the rest. Rationalization, also known as catch shares, refers to a system in which set amounts of the harvest are issued as quotas to various gear and vessel types, typically based on participation history in the fishery. Halibut and sablefish were the first fisheries to be rationalized in Alaska in the early 1990s, followed by Bering Sea pollock later that decade and Bering Sea crab fisheries in the mid-2000s. Proponents tout the benefits of such programs for ending the dangerous, “derby style” races for fish and curbing bycatch; opponents point to the high cost of entry for newcomers to purchase quota shares, consolidation of effort and the accompanying loss of jobs. The council’s Advisory Panel, made up of fishing industry stakeholders, unanimously supported the move to release some alternatives sooner, in part because of the urgency of the problems in the fishery. The shortened season was a particularly painful point for many: the 2018 Bering Sea trawl cod season was the shortest in the fishery’s history at just 13 days. “The (Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands) trawl catcher vessel Pacific cod fishery is facing multiple issues simultaneously that are negatively impacting the sustained viability and rational prosecution of the fishery for all its participants,” the council motion states. “These factors include: decreasing Pacific cod TACs (total allowable catch), an increase in the number of participating LLP licenses, the potential for additional new participants, a race among existing participants (often in unsafe conditions), and an increasingly shortened season.” Pacific cod are managed by both the state and the federal government, with some fisheries allowed in state waters. In recent years, participation has been growing, both in the state and federal fisheries. The state Board of Fisheries recently created a new cod fishery for pot gear for small vessels near Dutch Harbor, gaining record-high participation in the fishery this January. Pacific cod is a valuable fishery in Alaska. Most of that value goes to out-of-state residents. In 2016, $76 million in ex-vessel value went to Alaska residents; $117.7 million went to out-of-state residents, according to a December 2017 report to the council. The harvest of Pacific cod was cut by 80 percent in the Gulf of Alaska last year, and by nearly half in the Bering Sea. That’s attracting more boats to the open access state waters fishery, where the harvest comes out of the overall TAC. In its report, the Advisory Panel also pointed to an increase in mother-shipping by catcher-processors in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, pushing down shoreside processing and thus tax revenue for the Bering Sea communities. Those communities have long depended on the economic base provided by shore-based processors to sustain economies in incredibly remote, meteorologically hostile areas. During the council’s hearing, more than a dozen stakeholders offered testimony in person and by letter, and one by voicemail. Most testified in favor of the Advisory Panel’s motion and spoke about the danger of the fishery without changing the race for fish and the impact of the painfully short season this year. “Unfortunately, the season was so short this year that it allows me to be here to testify,” said Chris Cooper, who fishes on the F/V Perseverance. “…One thing that has not changed is our participation and commitment in this fishery. In the past, we’ve relied on the fishery for as much as half of our income … We’ve watched a two-and-a-half month to three-month season go down to under two weeks this year. To say that we’ve been directly affected by this change is an understatement.” The halibut bycatch is a perpetual problem for the trawl fisheries. The Pacific cod fishery, like other groundfish fisheries, have bycatch caps after which the fishery will close to protect non-target stocks. Brent Paine, the executive director of stakeholder group United Catcher Boats, said the halibut are victims of the race for fish; when fishermen are racing against the clock, they may not move to a new fishing area when they encounter large numbers of halibut in the bycatch. “In a 15-day fishery where these boats are racing for fish, you can’t exclude halibut bycatch. It doesn’t work,” he said. “We don’t like to compete. We can rationalize this fishery … if you just look at a catch share program.” The areas included in the fishery are often subject to poor weather, and with a breakneck race for fish before the managers close it, safety can go out the window. “The cod fishery has turned into a dangerous, irrational fishery recently here,” said Robert Smith, who said he owns and operates a trawler for cod and pollock. “We need to move forward with some kind of a rationalization program. The safety sometimes gets overlooked here. In these nice, warm rooms and stuff, I wish we could somehow convey how bad this weather can be up there at times.” Opposition came from the floating catcher-processors, who said implementing the rules suggested by the advisory panel would push them out of the area. Changing the rules on mothership deliveries would upset a large part of the fishery, said Matt Upton, representing U.S. Seafoods. “If you change it on us now, it’s basically jeopardizing our entire business operation,” he said. “We support the AP motion — it’s a wide range of alternatives for you to consider.” Shoreside processors said it’s important for the their sector to have a fair shot, as they support the communities that often depend on the economic support of the processors. Nicole Kimball, representing the Pacific Seafood Processors Association, said the council motion should not affect the Amendment 80 fleet, either, which is a group of Seattle-based groundfish catcher-processors. The council batted amendments back and forth but ultimately unanimously supported releasing the separated alternatives of the analysis. Council member Andy Mezirow said he hoped the federal process would not bog down the council’s ability to make progress on the changes before the next Pacific cod season, based on the concerns the members heard. “Hopefully, even though our schedule Is fairly jammed up here … hopefully in the three-meeting outlook we can get this moving,” he said. Council member Craig Cross encouraged members of the public to begin meeting and looking at the alternatives. Unlike other council actions, which start with an abstract discussion paper, this is further along in the process, he said. “I think this is further along and I think the public should understand that this is further along than a discussion paper, and it has intent,” he said. ^ Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Concerns raised over increase to Pacific halibut harvest

Contrary to all expectations, commercial catches of Pacific halibut were increased for 2019 in all but one Alaska region. The numbers were revealed Feb. 1 at the International Pacific Halibut Commission annual meeting in Victoria, British Columbia. The reason was due to increased estimates of the overall halibut biomass based on expanded surveys last summer from Northern California to the Bering Sea, said Doug Bowen who operates Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer. “There’s a couple of strong year classes from 2011 and 2012 that are just starting to show up in the commercial catches and I think the scientists are cautiously optimistic that we could see some better harvests as a result of those halibut entering the fishery,” he said in a phone call as he was leaving the meetings. The coastwide commercial catches were increased to nearly 25 million pounds, almost 6 percent higher than 2018. Alaska’s share will be just less than 20 million pounds, a boost of about 3 million pounds. Southeast Alaska’s catch was upped by just more than 1 percent to 3.6 million pounds; the Central Gulf gets a nearly 10 percent increase to more than 8 million pounds. The Western Gulf is the only Alaska region to get a halibut reduction; a catch of 2.3 million pounds is a drop of more than 11 percent. Halibut harvests at the two Aleutian Islands regions were increased to more than 1 million pounds and the Bering Sea catches went up by nearly 30 percent to top 2 million pounds. Bowen said the increases came despite concerns by IPHC executive director, Dr. David Wilson. “He feels that any coastwide catches over 20 million pounds will result in declines in the biomass. So, it is interesting that the catch limits are going up in light of the fact that we do have both declining recruitment and harvest rates coastwide,” Bowen said. The halibut fishery will open on March 15 and run through Nov. 14, said Malcolm Milne, president of the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association. And in more good news for Alaska, Milne added that next year’s IPHC annual meeting will be held in Anchorage. Deckhands wanted The call is out for Alaskans interested in learning firsthand about commercial fishing. It’s the second year for the Crewmember Apprenticeship program hosted by the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association in Sitka. More than 100 applied last year from all over the country, over half were women, and 13 were placed on local boats. “It’s very exciting to see so many young people interested in entering the industry,” said Tara Racine, ALFA communications and program development coordinator. “You always hear about the graying of the fleet but it shows that the interest is out there. Young people just need these resources to explore and get involved.” ALFA received a $70,000 matching grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to launch the program last year and to help support expansion of similar apprenticeships in Alaska. “We are hoping to share any information and lessons that we’ve learned and materials we’ve created from this program and give it to anyone interested in doing a program like this,” Racine said. Most of the recruits last year went out on longline and troll vessels and plans include expanding to seiners and gillnetters in a flexible fishing schedule. “We have short and long term programs,” she explained. “It could be just a couple of days for people who just want an introduction to fishing. We also have plenty of individuals who go out for the entire season or several weeks at a time.” The rookies are paid for their work and Racine said skippers are eager to show them the ropes. “The skippers that are interested are looking for reliable crew and want to mentor the next generation of resource stewards and skilled fishermen,” she said. “So not only are they training a pool of young people as deck hands, they also are ensuring the life of this industry that they love and is so important to our coastal communities.” Longtime salmon troller Eric Jordan has mentored over 40 young fishermen aboard his vessel, the I Gotta. Out on the water, he teaches them the intricacies of commercial trolling and encourages a strong conservation ethic. He calls the apprenticeship program “a win-win for the crewmembers and the skippers.” “The future of our fisheries is dependent on young fishermen learning to love and care for the fish we harvest and the habitat essential to their well-being,” said Jordan. “Finding crew with some experience is critical for individual businesses and the industry as a whole. Our generation’s legacy will be defined how we, as Alaskan fishermen, rebuilt and enhanced our fisheries, and how we mentored the next generation.” Applicants must be 18 or older to apply and the deadline is Feb. 28. Sign on at www.alfafish.org/apprenticeship. Fish farm fans The push for industrialized offshore fish farms is gaining steam among American lawmakers. Farming fish is banned in Alaska waters, but the Trump administration proposes to put net pens in federal waters, meaning from three to 200 miles out. The farms are being touted as a silver bullet to boost seafood production, provide jobs and reduce the nation’s $15 billion seafood trade deficit from importing more than 85 percent of its seafood. Since last June a coalition called Stronger America Through Seafood, or SATS, has swelled from 14 to 21 large companies, including Cargill, Red Lobster, Sysco, Pacific Seafoods and Seattle Fish Company. Currently there is only one offshore farm operating in U.S. waters, a mussel farm called Catalina Sea Ranch six miles off the coast of Los Angeles. At a U.S. Commerce Department hearing in Juneau last September, spokesperson Margaret Henderson said that Alaska’s stance is a sticking point. “We in no way mean to impede a state’s authority to manage their own waters, but when it comes to managing federal waters outside the state line, we think that there’s a balance to be had there, that there’s room for both,” she said. Undercurrent News reported last week that SATS has begun collecting signatures to support legislation to streamline the permitting process for offshore fish farms and plans to submit its petition to Congress on February 6. An earlier effort failed, but the Advancing the Quality and Understanding of American Aquaculture Act will be reintroduced soon in the U.S. House and Senate by lawmakers from Mississippi, Florida and Minnesota. At the Alaska hearing, Undersecretary of Commerce Timothy Gallaudet cited climate change in his pitch for the push. “Changes in the environment are affecting fish stocks,” he said. “They are either moving or they’re not thriving and so this aquaculture, done the right way and scientifically based, provides a means for employment of fishermen who are losing some of their gain through these changing conditions.” A group of about 140 small-scale fishermen and fishing groups has formed to fight the effort. At the Juneau hearing, Sam Rabung, new director of Alaska’s commercial fisheries division, also spoke out against offshore fish farms. “I think it’s safe to say that we’re going to fight pretty hard to maintain the state’s opt-out option and maintain the ability to prohibit finfish farming off of Alaska.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

US, Canada agree on 2019 halibut harvest limits

American and Canadian halibut fishermen finally have an approved set of catch limits for the 2019 season. With the discord of its last annual meeting hanging in the air, the International Pacific Halibut Commission agreed on a set of total allowable catch limits for Pacific halibut in American and Canadian waters during its meeting from Jan. 28 to Feb. 1. The overall catch limit of 38.61 million pounds is slightly up from the 2018 quota — about 1.4 million pounds more. That’s up from 29.9 million pounds in 2016 and from 31.4 million pounds in 2017. Total removals in 2018, including bycatch in nontarget fisheries, added up to about 38.7 million pounds. By area, the total constant exploitation yield, or TCEY, limits are as follows in millions of pounds: Area 2A (West Coast): 1.65 Area 2B (Canada): 6.83 Area 2C (Southeast Alaska): 6.34 Area 3A (Central Gulf of Alaska): 13.5 Area 3B (Western Gulf of Alaska): 2.9 Area 4A (Aleutians/Bering Sea): 1.94 Area 4B (Aleutians/Bering Sea): 1.45 Area 4CDE (Bering Sea): 4 Last year, the commissioners from the U.S. and Canada could not come to an agreement about how to reduce halibut catches in Pacific waters and adjourned their meeting with no agreement. Each individual country handled its catch limits, as long as they were no higher than the 2017 limits the commissioners last agreed on. The commissioners noted multiple times that they needed to work together this year. “America and Canada have been partnering for 100 years,” said commissioner Paul Ryall of Canada at the beginning of the meeting. “Though we did come to an impasse we hope we can work together for a productive future.” The commissioners met about eight times between the last annual meeting and this year’s, Ryall said, with “good” discussions but no agreements in the interim. The combined value to fishermen of the halibut and sablefish fisheries for 2018 was $161 million, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service, a 22 percent decrease from $208 million in 2017. The average halibut price of $5.35 per pound in 2018 was down from $6.32 in 2017. The increase in the overall catch limit follows a trend of the commission increasing the quotas, despite warnings from the IPHC researchers that the halibut surveys indicate that the stock is decreasing and reductions in the fishery levels are necessary for sustainability. The researchers noted in their survey data that the stock is projected to decline from 2019-22 for all TCEYs set greater than 20 million pounds. The 2019 TCEY is nearly double that. The 2018 setline survey data showed yet another decrease in the stock across its range: 7 percent down in the Gulf of Alaska and 15 percent down in Southeast. However, the commissioners have previously noted doubt about the survey data’s accuracy. The researchers also noted at the 2017 meeting that their conclusions were based on incomplete data and that they were working on a new model to account for current stock dynamics. Former North Pacific Fishery Management Council Executive Director Chris Oliver, the administrator for the National Marine Fisheries Service and a U.S. commissioner to the IPHC, thanked the Canadian delegation for its cooperation and said he has gained a deeper understanding of the halibut fishery after working through the year on the IPHC issues. “Based on our inability to reach consensus last year and coming into this meeting based on some of the preliminary meetings we had, I was somewhat fearful, skeptical that we would be able to reach a conclusion in this meeting,” he said. “I was eager to do so, because I feel like if we came out of this meeting with an inability to reach consensus it would be extremely negative to the reputation of this international management body.” He added that in its process of setting catch limits, NMFS reshuffled some of the halibut quota and moved it to Southeast from the other U.S. areas to avoid a significant drop that would have resulted from going directly with the apportionment model. “We opted to move some of the fish from the other U.S. apportionment areas back into 2C to get it where it was last year,” he said. “(For consistency) we felt it was appropriate to move a little fish out of 3A, out of 4B, a small amount of 4C, in order to get area 2C to a level of 6.34 million pounds.” Halibut bycatch, a perennial issue, took center stage at the meeting as well. The commission unanimously approved a recommendation to redefine TCEY to include the bycatch of halibut less than 26 inches long, or U26 bycatch. Nontarget commercial fisheries, notably the commercial trawlers, catch a significant number of halibut as bycatch each year, which managers and fishermen have been trying to figure out how to address. Several people at the IPHC noted work currently under progress at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to manage Bering Sea halibut bycatch by abundance. Heather McCarty of the Central Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association urged the IPHC to get involved with the council’s efforts there. “You now have an opportunity to participate in a very meaningful way in what some of us believe is the best way to manage halibut bycatch,” she said. The commissioners rebalanced the allocation as well, with 17.7 percent of the total catch going to Canada and 82.3 percent going to the U.S. Canada’s allocation would be slightly up from 2018, when it was suggested at about 15 percent. The allocation between countries was a big hangup at the last meeting. In a press release issued Feb. 4, Oliver said the 2019 quota still conserves stocks, though it is higher. “While the overall quota for 2019 is a slight increase over 2018, the catch limits agreed to at the meeting reflect a sensible, conservative approach that will secure the future of this iconic and economically important species,” he said. The commission agreed on a halibut season of March 15 to Nov. 14. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Sablefish season to open with slight increase, along with uncertainty

Alaska’s sablefish fishermen will go into the 2019 season in March with no change to their overall catch limit but some debate about the state of the stock. Sablefish, also known as black cod, regularly opens to fishing in Alaska in March, at the same time as the halibut fishery. Commercial fishermen in the Bering Sea, the Gulf of Alaska and Southeast Alaska catch them using trawls, longlines or, in some areas, pots. Fishermen landed about 13,956 metric tons of them last year between the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands fisheries. (A metric ton is 2,204 pounds, making the catch last year about 30.7 million pounds.) The North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which manages the species, voted to slightly increase the sablefish total allowable catch in the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands — from 11,505 to 11,571 metric tons in the Gulf, from 1,464 to 1,489 metric tons in the Bering Sea and from 1,988 to 2,008 metric tons in the Aleutian Islands. The increases were recommended by the council’s advisory panels, based on an observed increase in the fishery surveys conducted in 2016 and 2017. Researchers noted a 14 percent increase in the longline survey index from 2016-17, which built on a 28 percent increase from 2015–2016. The spawning biomass is expected to “increase rapidly from 2018 to 2022, then stabilize,” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s 2018 assessment of the sablefish stock. Alaska’s sablefish are a high-value species, but with a caveat — they’re far more valuable when they’re large. Fishermen can make $7 to 8 per pound when the fish is greater than a certain weight, but for small fish, they make less per pound. That’s driven by consumer preferences, said Garrett Evridge, an economist with the McDowell Group who tracks seafood markets. Consumers in Europe, China and, increasingly, Middle Eastern countries like Dubai and the United Arab Emirates, are beginning to demand sablefish. However, Japan is far and away the biggest market for sablefish, 70 percent of which comes from Alaska, Evridge said. Japanese fishermen pioneered the fishery in Alaskan waters after World War II, and new generations have grown up developing a taste for sablefish. “When we talk about sablefish, it’s all about Japan,” he said. “Japan continues to value that larger fish.” Demand definitely weakened in 2018, pushing prices down after a peak year in 2017, Evridge said. Remaining inventory and high retail prices repressed demand last year, pushing down prices for fishermen in 2018. With roughly the same catch limit and relatively stable demand, the price trend should remain relative stable for the fish, he said. International currency strengths also play a role — when the dollar is stronger against the yen, it makes things more expensive for Japanese consumers. The slight TAC increase in 2019 follows an increase of about 14 percent from 2017-18. The surveys have continued to show an increasing abundance, with focus on the 2014 age class entering the spawning biomass. However, it doesn’t mean the news is completely rosy. In the survey summary for 2017, the researchers recommended an acceptable biological catch, or ABC, less than the maximum permissible, albeit 14 percent higher than in 2016. That was because of uncertainty regarding the strong 2014 age class and the existing spawning biomass. “While there are clearly positive signs of strong incoming recruitment, there are concerns regarding the lack of older fish and spawning biomass, the uncertainty surrounding the estimate of the strength of the 2014 year class, and the uncertainty about the environmental conditions that may affect the success of the 2014 year class,” the survey states. “These concerns warrant additional caution when recommending the 2018 and 2019 ABCs.” Despite high numbers turning up in the surveys, some fishermen have reported seeing the opposite out on the fishing grounds. During the North Pacific council’s deliberations in December, two groups submitted public comments asking the council to keep the TAC at the current level because of concerns about the sustainability of the stock into the future. Sablefish can be long-lived — the maximum recorded age is 94 years old, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service — with 40-year-old fish caught frequently in the commercial sector. They mature at approximately 5 to 7 years old, spawning annually after that, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, a group of stakeholders in the small-boat longline fleet, requested the council set the 2019 TAC equal to 2018. Because of the concern about the uncertainty of the incoming age class and the decline of mature spawning biomass, the group asked the council to limit increases to fishing for the coming year. The North Pacific Fisheries Association, a commercial stakeholder group based in Homer, raised similar concerns in a letter to the council. Erik Velsko, a board member, said the catch per unit of effort where he fishes out of Homer has recently increased significantly, even in areas that were historically excellent fishing grounds. Other fishermen have said they’re seeing large numbers of juvenile sablefish, he said. “I think it’s true, that age class is there, it’s just a question of whether those fish are going to grow up enough (to be part of the spawning biomass),” he said. One of the major issues the council and fishermen are still dealing with in the sablefish fishery, though, is whale depredation. Longliners have long been frustrated by orcas and sperm whales arriving as they begin hauling in lines and stripping the fish from their hooks, causing them to lose hours of effort and thousands of dollars. The federal surveys and recommendations account for whale depredation as part of the fishery now — based on existing data, researchers estimated the total whale depredation on the fishery in Alaska at 371 metric tons, according to the 2017 survey. To combat the problem, some fishermen have begun switching to using pots to catch sablefish instead, which the whales reportedly have not been able to break into yet. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Alaska management untouched under revised Modern Fish Act

Though a landmark piece of fisheries legislation will affect how many Lower 48 federal sportfisheries are managed, there won’t be many changes for Alaska. President Donald Trump signed the Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Act — known as the Modern Fish Act — into law on Dec. 31, 2018. The law revises the management framework for recreational fisheries in federal waters, heralded by supporters as a way of differentiating sportfishing from commercial fishing and providing more fishing opportunity in the recreational sector. In Alaska, though, the act won’t have much direct impact. Mike Leonard, the vice president of government affairs for the American Sportfishing Association, said it’s fair to say the provisions in the bill don’t herald many changes in the Pacific Northwest saltwater sportfisheries. The final version of the bill itself removed some of the particular provisions directly changing management strategies, but the essential purpose of the bill remains, Leonard said. “The passage of a bill itself that is focused on saltwater recreational fishing … I don’t know that Congress has ever done that,” he said. “The motivations behind this were to get a recognition within the (Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act) that recreational fishing is important but that (commercial and sport) are fundamentally different activities.” The bill inserts language into the existing MSA stating that recreational and commercial fisheries are “different activities” and science-based management approaches should be developed for both. It also instructs the federal Comptroller General to conduct a study of the allocations within the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico fisheries and that the National Academy of Sciences shall study the limited access privilege programs in all council-governed fisheries except for two — the Pacific Fishery Management Council and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which governs Alaskan federal fisheries, is specifically exempt from parts of the law, in part because the catch share plans that partition the allowable catch of halibut each year are already established. Those catch share plans are working well in large part, said Andy Mezirow, a member of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. “I think the problem with catch share plans is when there isn’t enough of the resource, which is the case in many places, or they didn’t build a catch share plan based on other ones … and then you end up with these impossible structures,” he said. “Even though we have our own challenges, they’re very different than those that gave rise to the Modern Fish Act.” Mezirow signed onto a letter raising concerns about the initial draft of the act, in part because of the act’s intention of shifting away from catch shares. In affected fisheries, the intent is to allow recreational fishery managers to allow sportfishing even without new available survey data. Advocates said this was to allow the sport sector — which they argue is an inherently different activity than commercial fishing — to continue operating when survey data is deficient. The initial version of the bill required mandatory five-year reviews of the catch share program and prohibited the establishment of more limited access privilege programs, but both requirements were toned down in the final version of the bill. The initial design of the bill would have also allowed recreational fishery managers who lacked survey data to step away from catch limits, providing more recreational opportunity. “The part that we really objected to was a component that was removed from it,” Mezirow said. “The problem was that there was some provisions in the Modern Fish Act that if they were applied to the federal fisheries in Alaska, they would create a lot of chaos. And that was the desire to step away from a catch share plan … That didn’t really resonate with us … the idea that you would do less science and give more fish away.” In Alaska, halibut is managed by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council with input from Canada via the International Pacific Halibut Commission. The way the recreational halibut fishery is managed already contains some of the principles the authors of the Modern Fish Act aimed for, including more flexibility on catch limits, Mezirow said. For example, the Gulf of Alaska charter sector has gone over its allowed quota for the past several years, but the fishery is not closed as soon as the catch limit is reached — in part because it would be a harsh restriction on the fishery, and in part because there is no in-season management for the recreational sector. The commercial sector groups largely removed their objections to the Modern Fish Act when the mandatory allocation review requirements were removed and the language allowing “alternative management measures” was refined, said Linda Behnken, the executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association. “(The Modern Fish Act) as first floated or introduced had a plan or included language to allow ‘alternative management’ measures in the recreational sector,” she said. “It left wiggleroom for ‘alternative’ to mean overfishing by the recreational sector. That was our primary concern with (the bill). No one was opposed to designing management measures for the recreational sector that are more well suited to their fishing, but no one supports overfishing.” Several groups in the commercial sector worked together to educate legislators and the public about the impacts of the original bill as drafted, Behnken said. The commercial sector’s main concern was if the recreational sector was not held to the same scientific data-based management that commercial fishermen are, which could endanger fishing stocks for all users. “That was where the real hue and cry came from the commercial sector,” she said. “We are all very committed to conserving this resource in the long term. That’s been a bipartisan commitment over the years to manage our fisheries with that as the highest standard.” The Modern Fish Act amends the Magnuson-Stevens Act, but does not reauthorize it. Behnken said she hopes the Senate will continue the reauthorization process in the upcoming session. Leonard said the American Sportfishing Association found the process of working with various groups on the Modern Fish Act “interesting,” as it gave stakeholders of all groups a chance to scrutinize a bill that focused solely on recreational fishing as opposed to fishing in general. The group is looking forward to working with the Senate on the MSA reauthorization in the future, he said. “This is a good start,” he said. “There were several provisions in the original Modern Fish Act that got left behind, just through the nature of working through the legislative process… I think that would likely need to get done through the MSA.” Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Smaller crab fisheries give winter business boost

When most people think of Alaska crab, they envision huge boats pulling up “7-bys” for millions of pounds of bounty in the Bering Sea. (“7 bys” refers to the 7 foot-by-7 foot-by-3 foot size of the crab pots.) But it is the smaller, local crab fisheries that each winter give a big economic boost to dozens of coastal communities across the Gulf of Alaska. They occur at a time when many fishing towns are feeling a lull while awaiting the March start of halibut and herring openers. The gearing up means a nice pulse of extra work and money for just about every business tied to fishing. High winds and overall snotty weather delayed Kodiak’s Tanner crab fishery, but 83 boats dropped pots a day late on Jan. 16. They will compete for a 615,000-pound catch quota, an increase from 400,000 pounds last season. At an average weight of 2.2 pounds, that will yield about 280,000 crabs. The fishery will go fast, said Natura Richardson, assistant area manager for shellfish at the Department of Fish and Game office at Kodiak. “It could be as quick as a couple days but it’s looking more like four to six days, something like that,” she said, adding that the mid-winter crab season picks up the pace at work. “Oh yeah, there’s a lot of activity with all the registrations and figuring out who’s going where. There’s a lot of excitement in the office. It’s fun,” she said. Reports of prices starting at $4.65 per pound also were exciting, an increase from $4.50 last year. That could mean a payout of nearly $3 million to Kodiak fishermen. Crab fisheries for Tanners and golden king crab will open throughout Southeast Alaska in mid-February. A fleet of about 60 boats typically participates each winter for a harvest of less than one million pounds of Tanners; around 30 boats fish for golden king crab which has a harvest guideline of about 70,000 pounds. Southeast’s Dungeness crab fishery, which occurs in the summer and late fall, is one of the region’s most lucrative fisheries. In the 2017-18 season, a fleet of about 200 boats took just less than 2 million pounds (937,701 crabs) valued at nearly $6 million to local fishermen. Processor reports for 2017 show that they paid $194 million for total crab purchases from Alaska fishermen and sold it to customers for nearly $252 million. Fish stats One click will take you to a site where you will find all you need to know about prices and landings for nearly every Alaska fish species, where they were caught, how much of each was processed and into what products, and what processors sold it all for. It’s called Commercial Fisheries Statistics and Data from the Department of Fish and Game and it extends back to the early 1980s. For salmon, charts and graphs show historical harvest rankings by the number of fish, the total poundage and average prices for each species by Alaska region and more. It shows that at Cook Inlet, for example, the highest sockeye price ever paid was $2.54 per pound in 1988, the lowest price was 56 cents in 2002. The best sockeye price to fishermen at Kodiak was $1.83 paid in 2014. At Bristol Bay, the lowest sockeye price was 42 cents a pound paid in 2001. The highest price for chum salmon at Southeast was $1.03 per pound in 1988; in Prince William Sound the low for pinks was 9 cents in 1996, the high was 82 cents in 1988. Click on herring and you’ll see that for Southeast Alaska’s sac roe fishery, the average price in 2017 was 38 cents per pound and 51 cents for food and bait herring. The shellfish data includes octopus, shrimp and all crab taken in state waters, meaning out to three miles from shore It also covers aquatic farming and shows that through 2017, 35 farms in Alaska were producing shellfish and sold nearly 2 million oysters in 2017. The first harvest ever of seaweed (from Kodiak) that year totaled nearly 17,000 pounds. The dive fisheries are included, as are harvests of lingcod, pollock, cod, rockfish and other whitefish. Data from Alaska processors are compiled in Commercial Operator’s Annual Reports, or COAR, and show how much fish was processed into frozen, fresh, canned and other forms, plus the wholesale poundages and values by species and area going back to 1984. For sea cucumbers from Southeast, for example, processors purchased 1.3 million pounds in 2017 and sold them to customers for nearly $12 million dollars. At the Alaska Peninsula, nearly 17 million pounds of cod were processed valued at $27 million to local processors. Find the statistics and data pages at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game website on the left sidebar under fishing. WA is big AK fish winner Each year United Fishermen of Alaska updates its Fishing Facts that provide snapshots of coastal communities and municipalities throughout Alaska, plus the west coast. The numbers show that is where most of the fish bucks flow. The latest data show that just less than 9,000 permit holders fished in 2017, of which 70 percent were Alaska residents. Nearly 22,000 crew licenses were purchased, split almost evenly between in-and out-of-state residents. The 2017 Alaska harvest totaled 6.4 billion pounds valued at $1.8 billion in gross dockside earnings for fishermen. The seafood industry provided more than 64,000 direct jobs making it Alaska’s largest private-sector employer, and it contributed more than $245 million in taxes and fees to the state and over 50 local municipalities. Permit holders live in 214 Alaska communities and every U.S. state except for West Virginia. Fishing vessels registered to California owners totaled 1,423, which harvested 160 million pounds of seafood valued at $36.6 million. There were 2,723 vessels registered to Oregon owners who landed 576 million pounds valued at $136 million at the Alaska docks. It’s the state of Washington that takes home the bulk of the benefits from Alaska’s fisheries. A total of 1,713 fishing vessels plying Alaska’s waters in 2017 were registered to Washington owners. Permit holders plus crew from Washington who fished in Alaska added up to 6,707. And it was those fishermen who took home most of Alaska’s catch and paychecks. Of the 6.4 billion pounds landed in Alaska, just less than 4 billion pounds were taken by Washington residents. And of the total $1.8 billion dockside seafood value, $873 million went to Washington. United Fishermen of Alaska is the nation’s largest commercial fishing trade organization with 35 member groups ranging from small skiff operators to huge at-sea catcher processors. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

In surprise reversal, Board of Fisheries moves Upper Cook Inlet meeting

The Kenai Peninsula fishermen who want to speak to the Board of Fisheries at the 2020 Upper Cook Inlet meeting will have to pack their bags after all. In a surprise deliberation and vote, the Board of Fisheries voted 4-3 to relocate the Upper Cook Inlet 2020 regulatory meeting from the Kenai-Soldotna area to Anchorage. The meeting was originally scheduled to take place in Anchorage, but the board reconsidered the decision in March 2018 and voted 4-2 to hold the meeting on the central Kenai Peninsula. The reversal vote, which took place on Jan. 18 during the board’s Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim finfish meeting, moved the Upper Cook Inlet meeting back to Anchorage. Board chair Reed Morisky said there was interest in revisiting the decision in part because the board had voted on it several times in the past two years; board member Israel Payton said there had been “political pressure” from former Gov. Bill Walker’s administration. Morisky reiterated points the board has discussed before about why to have the Upper Cook Inlet meeting in Anchorage, including that Anchorage is central, is home to many fishery participants and has many hotels and meeting spaces. Board members John Jensen and Payton agreed that Anchorage was a neutral location, and were joined by Morisky and Orville Huntington in approving the move; members Robert Ruffner, Al Cain and Fritz Johnson voted against it. “The reason I vote to have the meeting there is it is a centrally located area,” Jensen said. “It’s halfway between Soldotna and the Wasilla area up above. You have to remember there’s a lot of people who live in the Anchorage area, both sport and commercial.” Ruffner, who lives in Soldotna, contested the process through which the board was reconsidering the location. No formal notice was issued, nor was the discussion brought up during the board’s “miscellaneous business” agenda, typically addressed at the end of a meeting. No formal notice was given in the meeting documents, and because the meeting was dealing with Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim fishing issues, Upper Cook Inlet stakeholders would have been unlikely to attend. “To me, it’s patently unfair,” Ruffner said. “My community has been asking this meeting for over a decade. People have gone from diapers to college and not been able to weigh in in their community. I apologize to you in the audience who have to listen to this because it’s garbage.” Morisky said he did offer notice that the discussion would take place, and that the board does note in its tentative agenda that items are subject to change. On Tuesday, Jan. 15, as the board was beginning its discussions for the meeting, he stated briefly that the board would be discussing the Upper Cook Inlet meeting location later in the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim meeting. “Regarding reasonable notice, this decision to take this up again was discussed early on in the meeting that this would be talking about this later,” he said. “This is later.” Seth Beausang, the legal counsel for the board, said the process most likely had not violated the Open Meeting Act, as the meeting location decision was a nonregulatory decision and could fall into the miscellaneous business agenda. Jensen said he had asked for the discussion to be held Friday because he had to be absent for the last day of the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim meeting on Saturday and wanted to weigh in on the Upper Cook Inlet meeting location. Huntington said that while he sympathized with the Kenai Peninsula fishermen, he would support having the meeting in Anchorage in part because of his health. Johnson contested the argument that the meeting should be held in Anchorage because of the number of stakeholders that live in the region. “If we were to make these decisions based on sheer numbers (of permit holders), we might as well hold the Bristol Bay meeting in Seattle,” he said. “Just because of what the board would gain by being in those communities … I don’t think we get a proper sense of what’s going on in those communities without being there.” During the March 2018 discussion, Cain proposed a rotating schedule that would move the meeting between Anchorage, Kenai-Soldotna and Palmer-Wasilla on a nine-year rotation. At regional meetings, he said he’s seen more young people attend and hopefully absorb some of the board process. The location of the Upper Cook Inlet regulatory meeting is always contentious. During the regulatory meetings, stakeholders are invited to comment on proposals and to participate in committees offering advice. There are also last-minute amendments and changes to proposals that can drastically alter fisheries. However, the agenda is frequently subject to change and no firm deadlines are given, so fishermen who have to travel out of their community frequently have to do so for days at a time, incurring hotel, food and travel expenses. The Upper Cook Inlet board meetings commonly last at least 14 days. Central Kenai Peninsula stakeholders have been asking for a meeting in their community for two decades. In 2018, most of the local governments of the central peninsula as well as community organizations jointly submitted documents requesting a meeting in the community with an offer of free venue space, free IT services and free ground transportation in an effort to reduce cost as a consideration. Upon hearing that the board planned to reconsider its meeting location, officials from Kenai and Soldotna traveled to the meeting on Friday. When they arrived, they spoke to a number of board members who told them that the vote would not happen Friday, said Kenai Mayor Brian Gabriel. He and his wife then turned around at noon and drove three hours back to Kenai. The board took the issue up immediately after its recess for lunch, around 1:45 p.m. Friday. “This to me isn’t about a particular user group getting a leg up — it’s about bridging the geographic divide,” Gabriel said. “This was flat-out wrong, the way this went down (Friday). The way it was handled was disrespectful. It doesn’t do much for bridging the geographic divide in this state.” The city managers of Kenai and Soldotna submitted record copy comments saying they had been planning for months to host the board on the peninsula and were committed to providing venue and IT services to the board at no cost, in part to prove the communities could host the event well and encourage the board to return on a rotation. Morisky said in the meeting that he took responsibility for the misunderstanding — he had told the city representatives from Kenai and Soldotna that it wouldn’t be taken up Friday, but then the schedule had changed. The Kenai Peninsula Fisherman’s Association, an industry coalition representing Cook Inlet east side set gillnet fishermen, called the move disenfranchising. “KPFA’s position is that Morisky knows it’s easier to disenfranchise people when he doesn’t have to look them in the eye,” the group said in a statement. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Disaster declarations, relief in limbo for multiple fisheries

The last few years of commercial fishing for Alaska have turned up poor for various regions of the state, resulting in disaster declarations and potential federal assistance. The 2018 season proved no different, with at least two disaster requests in the works at the state level. A third is in process at the federal level, and yet another is finally distributing money to affected fishermen from the 2016 season. The three in process still have to be approved before going to Congress, where funds can be appropriated to assist fishermen. The process is affected by the federal government shutdown, as most of the National Marine Fisheries Service employees are furloughed until a resolution is reached. The pink salmon disaster, which was requested in 2016 after catches across the Gulf of Alaska came in dismally below expectations, is awaiting a finalized plan for distributing $56 million in relief funds. The plan is currently being reviewed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration before the fund distribution is coordinated by the Pacific State Marine Fisheries Commission, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Chignik The fishermen in the communities of Chignik Lagoon, Chignik Bay and Chignik Lake sat on the docks for the majority of the summer watching dismally as the sockeye salmon run to the Chignika River failed to materialized. The fishermen that normally catch more than a million sockeye among them walked away with 128. Former Gov. Bill Walker declared an economic disaster for the fishery on Aug. 23, 2018, to start the process of distributing relief to the area’s residents. The three villages on the Alaska Peninsula are subsistence-dependent and obtain most of their cash income as well as winter food supplies from the fishery and wrote in deep concern for the residents this winter. Walker’s initial disaster declaration stated that relief would be distributed in the form of capital projects in the village and hiring preference for locals. That didn’t solve the villagers’ immediate concerns, according to a letter from the Chignik Coalition to Walker’s administration in October. “While we appreciate and look forward to building much needed infrastructure in our region, we are in dire need of immediate relief,” the letter states. The letter stated that the coalition requested a refund of permit renewal fees for 2018 from the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission, a deferment on payments to the state’s commercial fisheries revolving loan program and a declaration of a federal disaster to make assistance available. The CFEC planned to send out letters to individual fishermen for potential refunds in November after reviewing the fishery circumstances, according to the Native Village of Chignik Lagoon’s website. A representative from Chignik could not be reached by press time for comment. Upper Cook Inlet The fishermen of Upper Cook Inlet’s drift gillnet fishery are also seeking assistance for their poor sockeye salmon harvest in 2018. Though the run met its escapement goals and the fishermen did have a number of openers, they walked away with only about a third of the average ex-vessel value. Fishermen in the drift gillnet fleet complained of not being able to make boat or loan payments, adding another poor year atop two below-average sockeye salmon years in 2016 and 2017. Though the fishermen haven’t received a disaster declaration from the governor’s office, they’ve found support with local governments on the Kenai Peninsula. The city councils of Homer and Kenai have both passed resolutions supporting a disaster declaration for the drift gillnet fishery, as has the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly. The request was sent to the governor’s office before the transition between administrations, but the fishermen haven’t heard anything about it since, said Erik Huebsch, the vice president of the United Cook Inlet Drift Association board. “It sounds like that was pushed forward in the last few days or weeks of the Walker administration,” he said. “We’re working on that, waiting to see if it fell through the cracks somewhere.” Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy’s office had not returned a request for comment by press time on the disaster declaration request for Upper Cook Inlet. Pacific Cod Walker’s administration filed a request for a federal disaster declaration in the Gulf of Alaska’s 2018 Pacific cod fishery in March 2018. A drastic cut in the quota due to a forecasted decline in abundance in the gulf led the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to cut the fishery’s quota by about 80 percent between 2017 and 2018. Others were closed outright, and the remaining fishery performed poorly. “Throughout the Gulf of Alaska, direct impacts will be felt by vessel owners and operators, crew and fish processors, as well as support industries that sell fuel, supplies, and groceries,” Walker wrote in his request letter to the Department of Commerce. “Local governments will feel the impact to their economic base and the state of Alaska will see a decline in fishery related tax revenue.” As of Jan. 15, no determination had been made on the Pacific cod fishery disaster request. Some disaster determinations take longer than others; while the 2016 Gulf of Alaska pink salmon disaster declaration only took three months until a determination was granted, the Washington state coho and pink salmon 2015 tribal disaster request was filed in 2016 and took more than two years to attain a determination of disaster. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

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