Fisheries

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]

Vincent-Lang to focus on sustainability, trust and state control as commissioner

As the state administration turns over, most departments have a new face in the commissioner’s office. At the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, that’s only half true. Though Acting Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang is new to the commissioner’s office, he’s hardly new to the agency. He led the Division of Wildlife Conservation from 2012-14 and worked in various capacities with the department dating back to 1981. As soon as Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy was inaugurated, he named Vincent-Lang as his acting commissioner pending the approval of the joint boards of Fisheries and Game, who were scheduled to interview him on Jan. 16. Unlike other cabinet-level positions, commissioners of the departments of Fish and Game and Education must be recommended as qualified by the respective boards. Dunleavy is retaining Dr. Michael Johnson as the commissioner of Education. Although Dunleavy said he had “no clear preference” for commissioner, Vincent-Lang was the only applicant for the position. Should the board approve his candidacy, his name will be forwarded to the governor for confirmation by the Legislature. Stepping into the commissioner’s office isn’t necessarily a career move for Vincent-Lang, he said. “This is a challenging job,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the challenge. I have two new grandkids and I enjoy spending quality time with my grandkids … I hope to find the best work-life balance.” As the commissioner, all decisions boil down to sustainable management of animals, Vincent-Lang said. One of the biggest challenges moving forward will be how to continue the department’s operations and management with declining funds from the state general fund, he said. ADFG has not taken as steep a general fund cut as other departments, but as oil prices remain low and the Legislature turns down other revenue options, departments are having to get creative on maintaining operations. At ADFG, that has meant reducing surveys and research projects and reducing some staff positions. On the sport fishing and hunting side, that decline has been buffered some by an increase in hunting and fishing licenses, allowing the department to draw down more federal dollars to support operations like weirs and boat launch maintenance. Vincent-Lang was involved in the push to increase in sport hunting and fishing license fees in 2015 and 2016. The effort was unique because it came from the stakeholders themselves, he said; it saw little opposition because the users saw the need to increase funding for management. “As we move forward, we’re going to have to figure that out on the commercial fishing side,” Vincent-Lang said. In the long term, the department also faces the challenge of how to draw more young people into hunting and fishing, both on the commercial and sport sides. Millennials purchase fewer sportfishing and hunting licenses than their elders; the American Sportfishing Association found that sportfishing licenses sales nationwide declined among people 18 to 34 between 1980 and 2011. That decline has affected Alaska, too, which is something the department needs to consider for the future, Vincent-Lang said. That also applies to the commercial fisheries, which are broadly experiencing a “graying of the fleet” as the average age of permit holders increases because the financial threshold of entry is too expensive for young fishermen. The commissioner also holds the responsibility of connecting the department staff to the boards of Fisheries and of Game. In his application letter to the joint boards, Vincent-Lang wrote that he supports the boards’ role in management and their citizen Advisory Committees, ensuring that they have “the best available information to inform their resource allocation decisions” and not impact sustainability. He also wrote that while science plays an important role in management decisions, it is not the only consideration. “These are public trust resources,” he said. “We’re scientific experts, but we can’t do that in a vacuum without gaining people’s trust. It’s a two-way street.” To that end, Vincent-Lang has already delegated a staff member specifically to help build relationships with the public on sportfishing and hunting issues: Rick Green, widely known as Rick Rydell, a longtime conservative radio host and former Anchorage Advisory Committee member. A major theme that Dunleavy heard while campaigning was a lack of public trust and frustration with ADFG’s decisions. Green was appointed a special assistant to the commissioner to work on that problem, Vincent-Lang said. “(Green) has a lot of different people that he knows across the state,” he said. “(He’ll work on) trying to rebuild that trust.” On the hunting side, one major issue the department will continue to press on is state control over regulations on game management. The state sued the federal Interior Department in January 2017 over new regulations restricting certain hunting methods on federal lands in national parks and preserves and specifically on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. The state felt the rules interfered with the Board of Game’s ability to regulate game populations and, after pressure from Rep. Don Young in Congress in May 2017, the federal government began the process of reconsidering the regulations. If he’s confirmed as commissioner, Vincent-Lang said he would continue to press for state control over game management. “We are going to continue that battle, because we think they’re intruding on the state’s right to manage,” he said. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Cook Inlet sockeye forecast improves; kings closed in North

After two disappointing sockeye seasons in a row, the 2019 season may look up for Upper Cook Inlet commercial fishermen. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s sockeye salmon forecast, published Jan. 4, predicts a total run of 6 million sockeye to Upper Cook Inlet stream systems, with an expected commercial harvest of 3 million and 1 million for sportfishing and subsistence harvest. If the forecast proves true, the run will be nearly double the 2018 run of 3.1 million. The Kenai River, the largest sockeye-producing river in the region, is projected to receive a run of about 3.8 million sockeye, the majority of which are the 1.3 age class (one year in freshwater, three years in saltwater). The Kasilof River, the second-largest producer, is projected to see about 873,000 sockeye come back, with a slight majority in the 1.3 age class. The Kenai’s forecast is greater than its 20-year average of 3.5 million, while the Kasilof’s is behind its 20-year average of 979,000 fish. The Susitna River is forecast to see about 343,000 sockeye come back, while Fish Creek is forecast with a run of 124,000 sockeye, according to ADFG. The Susitna’s forecast is less than its recent 20-year average return of 377,000, while Fish Creek’s is significantly greater than its 20-year average of 83,000. In salmon, age correlates to the size and weight of the fish. In the Kenai, the predominance of the 1.3 age class-fish tracks with the 20-year average, while the Kasilof’s 20-year average has seen more fish in the 1.2 age class. For the Susitna and Fish Creek, the predominant age class is forecast to be 1.2-age class fish, which falls in line with the 20-year average trend for Fish Creek. The Susitna River’s 20-year average usually sees more 1.3-age class fish than 1.2, according to ADFG. The commercial harvest is projected to be about 200,000 more than the 20-year average, and more than triple last year’s harvest of 800,000 sockeye. If the forecast holds true, it’ll be good news for Upper Cook Inlet’s commercial fishermen, who largely depend on sockeye salmon as their commercial species and have had two disappointing seasons in a row. Despite a sockeye run that turned out greater than the forecast in 2017, the commercial harvest came in about 1.8 million, which was close to the forecast but about 37 percent below the historical average in the fishery. The next year, a below-average forecast proved to be even worse than expected in 2018, with more than half the run arriving after Aug. 1 and commercial fishing management openings misaligned with the timing of the runs. By the end of the season, commercial fishermen had landed about $11 million worth of salmon, about 67 percent less than the previous 10-year average, according to ADFG’s 2018 season summary. The one exception was silver salmon, which arrived in large numbers late in the summer. “All species-specific exvessel values other than coho salmon were significantly below average in 2018 in UCI,” according to the 2018 season summary. Most of the failing was in two specific age classes — the age class 1.3 and 2.3 fish, also called “three-ocean” fish because they’ve spent one or two years in freshwater and three years at sea. The 1.3 age class fish returned at 10 percent of the forecasted level, while 2.3 fish returned at 50 percent, according to the season summary. Northern Cook Inlet closures Though sockeye forecasts in Upper Cook Inlet are looking up, the king salmon season in Northern Cook Inlet isn’t. ADFG announced preseason restrictions on Jan. 7 on king salmon fishing for sport, commercial and subsistence fisheries across the region, largely based on poor projected returns to the Deshka River. “The department must make these closures and restrictions because of a recent pattern of extremely poor returns for king salmon stocks in the NCI area,” said ADFG Acting Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang in the announcement. “The outlook for this season is particularly worrisome with the Deshka River king salmon forecast well below the escapement goal.” The Deshka River is an indicator stock for king salmon in the region. The forecast projects 8,466 king salmon between age classes 1.2 and 1.4 to return to the river, far less than the lower end of the sustainable escapement goal of 13,000 to 28,000 fish. Like other rivers across Alaska, the Northern Cook Inlet streams have seen declining king runs in the last decade; the forecast is about half of the recent 10-year average of 16,647 kings and less than a third of the long-term average of 31,416 kings, according to Fish and Game. The Susitna River, Yentna River and Little Susitna River drainages will be closed to sportfishing for kings, as will the directed commercial salmon fishery in Northern Cook Inlet. Subsistence fisheries, which receive a management priority, will be restricted to two days per week during the respective subsistence fishery seasons, according to the announcement. ADFG will monitor the runs and provide more fishing opportunity should the run warrant it, Vincent-Lang said in the announcement. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Southeast purse seiners to hold another permit buyback vote

Southeast Alaska purse seine fishermen are preparing to vote on another permit buyback, with an eye toward making the fishery more viable in an era of more efficient vessels and smaller salmon runs. The National Marine Fisheries Service is scheduled to send out ballots to fishermen starting Jan. 15 asking whether the fleet should take on $10.1 million in federal loans to buy out 36 permits, removing them from the fishery forever. If successful, the move would reduce the number of permits in the fishery to 279, down about 100 permits since 2012. Like many things in the U.S. right now, the vote may be delayed as a consequence of the ongoing federal shutdown because most NMFS employees are on furlough. Pending the resolution of the budget battles in Congress, proponents of the buyback are hoping to get the ball rolling soon. This would be the second buyback since the loan program was authorized by Congress in 2006, and so far, it’s been successful from the perspective of the fleet, said Bob Kehoe, the executive director of the Purse Seine Vessel Owners Association. “I think it’s been successful; we’ve removed permits,” he said. “We’ve been able to generate more than enough revenue to service the loan. The service rate has been decreased.” The purse seine permit buyback program in Southeast is something of an outlier; it’s a federally authorized loan program to buy back state-issued fishery permits. The Southeast Revitalization Association, a group of stakeholders formed to pursue the buyback, worked with former Sen. Ted Stevens to pass the authority through Congress, establish a floor for the number of permits with the state Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission and communicate with permit holders. The first fleet capacity reduction buyback happened in 2008, outside the loan program, through a federal grant. In 2008, about 415 permits existed in the fishery, though only about 200 were fished, according to information in the Federal Register. The Southeast Revitalization Association used a reverse auction to purchase 35 permits in 2008, reducing the capacity to 380. After the buyback program was authorized, NMFS worked with SRA to request bids for permits on a $13.1 million loan, which the fleet approved to buy about 64 permits. Kehoe said the original interest in fleet capacity reduction was because of very poor prices for salmon. “There was a lot of (pink and chum) salmon available for harvest, but the prices were so low that it was hard for people to make a living,” he said. “There was very little competition among the processing sector, and so it worked fine for the processors having more capacity than was needed for harvest, but it wasn’t working for fishermen. Back in the early 2000s, there were some fishermen that couldn’t even find a market to sell their fish.” With about $10.1 million remaining on the loan authority after the first buyback, the SRA asked for other bids to further reduce the size of the fishery. In 2016, after receiving 22 bids and asking the fleet if they cared to move forward with the buyback, the fleet voted it down and sent the second round of the buyback back to the drawing board. Susan Doherty, the executive director of the Southeast Alaska Seiners Association, said the vote didn’t fail by much in 2016, but many ballots weren’t returned and communication efforts about the buyback were low. Neither the Purse Seine Vessel Owners Association nor the Southeast Alaska Seiners Association boards of directors chose to take a position on the 2016 buyback and thus didn’t reach out to permit holders about the vote. The vote also took place over the Christmas holiday when people may have been away from home and did not see the ballots. “Last time there were several issues with the process,” she said. “We didn’t do enough with encouraging folks to return their ballots. Anything that’s not returned is an automatic ‘no’ vote.” This would be the last buyback for the foreseeable future, given that it would use up the remaining loan authority, Doherty said. The 279 remaining permits would still be greater than the floor of 260 set by the CFEC, which is the level at which it would be too exclusive. For the fishermen, it’s primarily an economic decision, Doherty said — the average vessel earnings in 2016 was $65,000. For scale, the average permit value at the end of 2016 was $163,400, according to the CFEC. The fleet now has several seasons of extremely poor runs under its belt since 2016, so that may increase interest in voting for the buyback, said Dan Castle, a seine vessel owner and the president of the Southeast Alaska Seiners Association board. “I think this time, after a few more mediocre to poor years, we have a full slate of people willing to extinguish their permits, and it will also extinguish all the money,” he said. “I think we have a much better chance of making the case … it’s going to grab more than 10 percent of the fleet. That’ll be permits that are not going to be fished, whether they’re latent or not … it’s going to be better.” Castle said the buyback program was unique to start and required jumping through a “containerload of hoops to approve.” One of the effects of the program, though, has been to overall increase the quality of the fleet, he said. Older boats, ready to retire anyway, left the fishery, and other concerns that people brought up over the buyback have proved to be non-issues, he said. One motivation for permit holders currently fishing is the hope to keep opportunistic fishermen from returning and ballooning the size of the fleet again when the runs return to larger numbers, he said. Overall, he said he’s more optimistic about the vote this time. “We’ve dispelled a lot of myths over the years,” he said. “Everybody’s familiar with how the process works. We have a lot better understanding in the fleet. This is going to be it … People can see the benefits of squashing the fleet down a little bit. We’re so efficient now, compared to how it was when the first issued the permit program.” The buyback program works as a reverse auction, with each bidder asking a price to be bought out, but the average price per permit would be about $280,555 if the loan is approved. At the end of 2018, the average value for a permit was $195,000, down from an average value of $307,000 in 2014, according to the CFEC. Kehoe said the price is based on bids, but there may some speculation going on as permit holders try to maximize the return based on the loan amount available. “You’re asking people to give up a permit that has value forever and then the permits that will remain assuming the fishery bounces back will have a higher value,” he said. “People are free to put in their bid amount. These permit prices change constantly. It could be when we put this program together, the permit values were higher. If you look at the permit prices now, you’re just coming off two consecutive poor seasons. In order to make this work, you’re going to have to remove permits.” Doherty said the value of permits may also be pushed down currently because people aren’t eager to get into a fishery that’s been hurting for the past several years. Addressing concerns The Alaska Department of Fish and Game raised concerns to NMFS about the reduction in the size of the fishery just before the 2016 buyback vote, according to a letter from former commissioner Sam Cotten dated Dec. 6, 2016. The letter raised concerns about the lack of fishery impact analysis after the 2008 and 2012 buybacks and the buyback increasing the value of permits, making it harder for new fishermen to buy into the fishery, exacerbating the problem of high entry costs blocking younger fishermen entering the fleet, among other concerns. “We are troubled by the lack of analysis informing this process, the lack of objective and measurable goals with which to measure the relative success of these buybacks, the potential impacts of this action, and the commensurate constitutional implications,” Cotten wrote. Castle said that the SRA worked with the CFEC based on fleet size concerns and exclusivity, and if the fishery is judged to be too exclusive, the state can always issue more permits. To pay for the loan, fishermen pay a levy to processors at the dock, who then pay the federal government. So far, the ex-vessel value has also proved itself able to service the loans, with NMFS lowering the loan service rate because the applied rate was generating more revenue than needed. The vote is currently scheduled to run from Jan. 15 to Feb. 14. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Few problems so far for fisheries amid partial shutdown

The government shutdown has caused few problems so far in Alaska’s fisheries, but concern is growing as it enters a third week. The shutdown of nine out of 15 federal departments and agencies on Dec. 21 has furloughed about 800,000 workers nationwide, most with no pay, including fishery oversight and research jobs. In many cases, that means there’s no one to issue fishing permits, licenses or other documents and services required before setting out. “I have not heard of any problems, but that’s not to say that there aren’t any,” said Forrest Bowers, acting director of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Commercial Fisheries Division, referring to the cod fishery that opened on Jan. 1 and the ongoing Bering Sea crab fishery. State operations are not directly affected by the shutdown, but fisheries in Alaska waters intertwine and are closely timed with the federal ones. In the co-management case of Bering Sea crab, for example, the feds provide the surveys and science, the state does the rest. “The state sets the total allowable catch and we handle the in-season management of the fishery, including vessel registrations, observer coverage and harvest tracking,” Bowers said. The cod and crab boats had their paperwork in order prior to the shutdown, Bowers said, except for one straggler who needed the services of a furloughed electronic scale inspector and was stuck at the dock. “They haven’t been able to have that scale inspection done and it’s delaying them. We’re hoping we can get that resolved for them,” Bowers said, adding that other such “behind the scenes” unavailable services in the tightly regulated fisheries could cause problems as more boats come online this month. The shutdown also is causing a headache for federally contracted onboard fishery observers who collect stock data and track what’s coming and going over the rails. Regulators at NOAA are not holding debriefings for the observers when they return from a fishing trip, which are required before they can sign on to another. That’s sidelined five of her employees so far, said Stacey Hansen, program manager at Saltwater, an Anchorage-based company that provides observer services to the fleets. “I’ve got a group of people that are now stuck. They’re just sitting and waiting until they can get on with their lives,” Hansen told Alaska’s Energy Desk. Meanwhile, Alaska’s largest fishery, pollock, gets underway on Jan. 20 along with openers for flounders and myriad other whitefish. “I think there is uncertainty right now about what’s going to happen,” Bowers said. “Fortunately, we have a pretty sophisticated group of folks in the fishing industry in Alaska who are very professional and know how to do their jobs. It helps a lot when there is a good working relationship with the managers; it makes these uncertain times go more smoothly.” One is done Only one person applied for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game commissioner’s job and it’s the same one who’s holding it now. Doug Vincent-Lang was selected as acting commissioner in early December by incoming Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy. The governor said in a statement that he believed it was important to have someone managing the department while the boards of Fish and Game compiled a list of other potential applicants. State law requires that a new governor select a commissioner from nominees suggested by the joint boards and the group will fulfill that statutory obligation on the evening of Jan. 16 at the Anchorage Sheraton. It will be a quick meeting, said boards support executive director Glenn Haight. “For this particular year, we have one applicant so it’s a fairly simple task for the joint board to go through the review process,” Haight said. “Anyone could’ve applied, it’s up to the individuals. Sometimes in the past there’s been more than 10 names that have come into the department for consideration and sometimes there’s just five or so.” No testimony will be taken at the Jan. 16 joint board meeting but the public is invited to listen in. Vincent-Lang was director of the division’s wildlife department under former Gov. Sean Parnell and was assistant director of the sportfish division in the early 2000s. The ADFG commissioner oversees 1,700 employees at 47 offices across the state and manages approximately 750 active fisheries, 26 game management units and 32 special areas. The commissioner appointment must be approved by the Alaska Legislature at the end of the upcoming session. Got gas? Liquified biogas from dead fish and other organic wastes will soon power a fleet of luxury cruise ships as a way to save money and protect the environment. The 125-year-old cruise operator Hurtigruten, known for its trips to the Arctic, will operate at least six of its 17 ships using a combination of biogas, liquified natural gas and large battery packs by 2021. “While competitors are running on cheap, polluting heavy fuel oil, our ships will literally be powered by nature,” spokesman Daniel Skjeldam said in a statement. “Biogas is the greenest fuel in shipping and will be a huge advantage for the environment. We would love other cruise companies to follow,” he added. Concerns over the atmospheric impacts of high-sulfur fuel favored by the shipping industry led the International Maritime Organization to set a 0.5 percent sulfur limit on marine fuel by 2020. A 2017 report by the Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union in Germany claimed that a midsize cruise ship can use more than 100 tons of fuel a day, producing as much particulate as a million cars. The Norwegian cruise ship company is taking other steps to boost its green credentials: it has ordered three new hybrid-powered cruise liners, has banned single-use plastics from all its ships and plans on becoming carbon neutral. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Annual Picks and Pans closes 27th year of Fish Factor

This column that each week focuses on Alaska’s seafood industry will enter its 28th year in 2019. It began in the Anchorage Daily News in 1991 at the request of longtime former business editor Bill White and has appeared in the ADN ever since. Fish Factor also is featured in more than a dozen weekly papers across Alaska and nationally. The goal is to make all readers more aware of the economic, social and cultural importance of one of Alaska’s oldest and largest industries. Here are Fish Factor’s annual Fishing Picks and Pans for 2018 – a no holds barred look back at some of the year’s best and worst fishing highlights, in no particular order, and my choice for the biggest fish story of the year. • Biggest new industry potential: Mariculture. Growing shellfish and seaweeds could be a $100 million Alaska industry in 20 years, says a comprehensive state report. Kelp farms are cropping up around Kodiak and, along with food makers, the Department of Energy already has its sights on Alaska for biofuels from macroalgae. • Best fish sigh of relief: Many Gulf fishermen began using pots instead of hooks to keep whales from robbing their pricey sablefish catches, called “getting whaled.” • Best fish visionaries: Tidal Vision of Juneau, for their eco-friendly method of extracting chitin from crab shells, a first in the US. Uses for chitin range from fabrics to filters to pharmaceuticals. • Best Fish Legislators: Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, Rep. Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, Rep. Dan Ortiz, I-Ketchikan • Best fish knowledge sharers: Alaska Sea Grant • Best fish giver: Sea Share, over 225 million fish servings to food banks since 1994. The program began as a way to use bycatch caught in Bering Sea fisheries. • Trickiest fishing conundrum: Sea otters vs. crab and dive fisheries in Southeast Alaska • Most earth friendly fishing town: Kodiak, for generating nearly 100 percent of its electricity from wind and hydropower, and for turning its fish wastes into high quality oils and meals • Biggest fish WTF? Rick (Rydell) Green being chosen as a special assistant to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to “restore trust” in the department. Green has no education or experience in fisheries or wildlife and was a talk show host on KENI/Anchorage since 2001. • Scariest fish stories: Ocean acidification and warming oceans • Best daily fish news site: SeafoodNews.com • Best fish watchers: Cook Inletkeeper, Salmon Beyond Borders • Best new fish economist: Garrett Evridge, McDowell Group • Best go to bat for their fish: Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers; the fishermen funded/operated Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association • Best fish motivators: The Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association’s Alaska Ocean Cluster Initiative that promotes Blue Economy business ideas and entrepreneurs. • Best fish mainstream push: The Get Ugly crab campaign by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. Older crabs with shells that are discolored, scarred or covered with barnacles can comprise 30 percent of the catch in Bering Sea fisheries. The “ugly” crab can be a turn off to buyers. “It’s what’s on the inside that counts,” the campaign says, adding that the older crab often have better meat fills. • Biggest fish bust: 25 percent tariffs on nearly all U.S. seafood products going to and from China. China is Alaska’s biggest seafood buyer, purchasing 54 percent of our seafood exports last year valued at $1.3 billion. • Best Industry Entrepreneurs: Salmon Sisters of Homer • Best eco-friendly fish feat: The removal of hundreds of thousands of pounds of old fishing nets, lines and gear from Dutch Harbor and Kodiak by Nicole Baker’s “net your problem” program. The nets are shipped to Europe where they are recycled into plastic products. • Biggest fish fake: Genetically modified salmon, aka Frankenfish • Biggest fish raised eyebrows: Offshore fish farms being proposed by the Trump Administration. Backers that include Cargill, Pacific Seafood, Red Lobster, High Liner Foods, Sysco and Seattle Fish Company are pushing a bill in the U.S. Senate called Advancing the Quality and Understanding of American Aquaculture (AQUAA) Act that will streamline the permitting process for offshore aquaculture projects. • Best new fish writers: Elizabeth Earl, Alaska Journal of Commerce; Alistair Gardiner, Kodiak Daily Mirror • Worst fish travesty: Commercial and sport fishermen get cuts every year while nearly six million of pounds of halibut are allowed to be taken as bycatch in other fisheries. It’s getting better, but still a long way to go. • Best fish assists: Every person at ADFG and NOAA Fisheries/Alaska. • Best go to bat for its future fishermen: Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, Sitka • Best fish showoffs: Alaska Symphony of Seafood, hosted for 26 years by the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation. • Biggest fish uncertainty: Dunleavy administration • Best fish switch: Herring taken for its roe pays $100 to $350 per ton in a fading Japanese market; herring used for food and bait can fetch up to $2,000 per ton. (While many fishermen pay over $1 per pound for bait herring from the east coast.) Time for a management shift? • Biggest fish opportunity: Turning Alaska’s three billion pounds of fish heads, skins, internal organs and other “wastes” into pet foods, nutraceuticals, pharmaceuticals, etc. An Analyses of Alaska Seafood Specialty Products report by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute says using byproducts could be worth an additional $700 million or more to the industry. • Biggest fish disappointments: Salmon catches throughout the Gulf of Alaska were the lowest in 50 years in some regions. Likewise, catches of cod, halibut and Bering Sea crab also tumbled. • Best fish boosters: Alaska’s salmon hatcheries • Biggest fish story: Alaska Fish are changing their behavior in search of colder waters. No sea ice in the winter of 2018 in the Bering Sea led to the disappearance of the “cold pool,” a big tongue of bottom water that corresponds to the usual southward extent of the ice cover. That’s led to more than half of the cod biomass being found in regions north of the normal surveys, as well as a big plug of pollock. There also was a 20 percent shift in the density of Pacific halibut from a year ago in the northern Bering Sea. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Work continues on federal plan for Cook Inlet salmon

More than two years after a court ruling ordered the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to develop a management plan for the Cook Inlet salmon fishery, a stakeholder group has made a first set of recommendations. The council convened a Cook Inlet Salmon Committee last year composed of five stakeholders to meet and offer recommendations before the council officially amends the Fishery Management Plan, or FMP, for the drift gillnet salmon fishery in Upper Cook Inlet, which occurs partially in federal waters. The committee presented a report with three main findings: first, that the fishery be managed cooperatively with the State of Alaska; second, that the committee schedule another meeting before the April 2019 council meeting; and third, that fishery participants be prohibited from retaining groundfish. The council went into rewriting the FMP for Cook Inlet unwillingly. The whole battle began in 2012 when the council voted unanimously to pass Amendment 12 to the existing Cook Inlet FMP, which essentially delegated all management authority for the fishery to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, along with the management of two other salmon fisheries in Prince William Sound and the Alaska Peninsula. The Cook Inlet Fishermen’s Fund and the United Cook Inlet Drift Association, the trade group for the drift gillnet fleet in the area, sued the National Marine Fisheries Service to restore the FMP to the fishery. After losing in the U.S. District Court of Alaska, the groups prevailed at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in fall 2016. The ruling went back before the council in April 2017, at which point the council decided to move forward with developing an FMP for Cook Inlet first before dealing with the other two areas, whose trade representatives said the fishermen would prefer to remain under state management. The UCIDA plaintiffs have long argued that the state’s management through escapement goals and allocations among sport, subsistence and commercial user groups has led to overly restrictive fishing regulations and left large numbers of salmon harvested beyond what’s necessary for biological escapement. The management plans are created by the Board of Fisheries and implemented by the Department of Fish and Game. The groups expressed frustration at the state’s management regime, saying it violates the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act’s mandate to manage fisheries for the maximum sustainable yield by leading to foregone harvest and overescapement of salmon they argue reduces future returns. Some of the committee members agreed with UCIDA about the use of escapement goals, according to the committee’s report to the council. “Some members of the Committee objected to escapement based analyses in general and urged movement toward alternative methods, however, no scientifically viable alternative methods were identified,” the report states. “… There were comments about other environmental factors that could contribute to variation in numbers of recruits including diminishing habitat quantity and quality.” In general, the state manages salmon fisheries in Alaska. In many areas, they occur primarily around rivers or near land, placing them in state waters — those waters within three nautical miles of shore. Direct federal management of salmon fisheries, then, presents a number of thorny issues. A primary hangup was a clause in the MSA referring to managing a fish stock “throughout its range” — in the case of salmon, that means inland harvest on rivers. Additionally, unlike groundfish, salmon reproduce in freshwater, which is within state jurisdiction inland. In this case, the FMP would apply to federal waters only, not extending inland. During the committee meeting, the group pointed out that state and federal regulatory areas don’t align, either, so it would have to be clarified which catches were in federal waters and which were in state waters. Additionally, monitoring for salmon runs is largely done with in-stream sonar or weir systems administered by ADFG. In Cook Inlet, ADFG also operates an offshore test fishery near Anchor Point that measures abundance of salmon running into the inlet in the summer. The federal government managers would rely on that data, given that no other data measures are established for abundance, unlike the regular surveys done for other kinds of groundfish. In many federal fisheries, as well, observer coverage is required, which would be tricky and burdensome for many of the small boat fishermen that fish in the Upper Cook Inlet drift fishery. Some difficulty also lies ahead in determining a method for stock status determination for the Upper Cook Inlet salmon fishery, which is a mixed-stock fishery. Salmon stocks don’t work the same as many groundfish species, so determining harvest thresholds, stock status and other federal fishery guidelines will require some discussion, the report notes. The committee agreed to recommend that the council pursue cooperative management with the state, but plans to look into other options for recommendations, according to the report. “Some of these approaches may include indexes, CPUE (catch per unit effort), and historic catch,” the report states. “There was also interest in Committee review of Pacific Council management approaches for salmon.” To avoid additional permit complication and because the drift fishery is relatively “clean” — meaning the nets in general don’t catch many groundfish, which are the other federal managed finfish species in Cook Inlet — the committee agreed to also recommend prohibiting groundfish harvest in the fishery and to use eLandings, an electronic catch reporting tool. The council passed a motion noting the committee should meet again before the April 2019 council meeting, making recommendation on “appropriate recordkeeping and reporting requirements, standardized bycatch reporting methodologies, and to further develop its recommendations on status determination criteria at its next meeting.” UCIDA itself is not happy with the committee process. In a public comment submitted to the council on the topic, UCIDA President David Martin wrote that the committee’s membership is not structured the way UCIDA has been requesting for years, excluding the Cook Inlet Fishermen’s Fund entirely, and has been handed a “truncated” task that will not be meaningful. “UCIDA had hoped that the Salmon Committee might be a step in the right direction toward addressing the underlying problems in the fishery,” Martin wrote. “But the narrow task of the Committee and its limited composition preclude that result. UCIDA will participate in the Committee proceedings, but it does so with these fundamental objections clearly stated.” Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Costs rise while values fall; season starts uncertain during shutdown

Fishermen in Alaska who own catch shares of halibut, sablefish and Bering Sea crab will pay more to the federal government to cover 2018 management and enforcement costs for those fisheries. For halibut and sablefish, also known as black cod, the annual fee, which is capped at 3 percent, is based on dock prices from the March start of the fisheries through September and averaged across the state. For this year, bills went out to 1,834 holders of halibut and sablefish shares, down by 60 from last year. Their tab ticked up from 2.2 percent to 2.8 percent to cover additional costs to maintain information systems, and yielded $4.6 million, said Carl Greene, cost recovery coordinator for NOAA Fisheries in Juneau. The combined value to fishermen of the halibut and sablefish fisheries for 2018 was $161 million, Greene said, a 22 percent decrease from last year’s payout of $208 million. “The value of the halibut fishery was down 24 percent year over year, while sablefish was down 21 percent,” Greene said, adding that the decreases stemmed primarily from lower dock prices. The average halibut price of $5.35 per pound was down from $6.32; sablefish at $3.68 per pound was down from $4.84 in 2017. Federal fish managers don’t track dock prices for the various Bering Sea crab catches, only the total value of the combined fishery, which continues its year-over-year declines. The total value of crab to fishermen for the 2017-18 season was $164 million, down $24 million, or 13 percent, from the previous year. The coverage fee for the crab fisheries, paid by just 18 permit holders, increased slightly to 1.8 percent and yielded $3 million for enforcement costs, Green added. Another group of about 18 boats that in 2016 began paying for coverage costs of their fisheries includes Bering Sea trawlers, mostly Seattle-based, that fish for flounders, pollock and other whitefish, including vessels owned by Alaska Community Development Quota groups. “The fee for these programs was less than 1 percent and were used to cover about $2 million in enforcement costs,” Greene said. Fish shutdown shaft Hundreds of boats that are gearing up for the January start of some of Alaska’s largest fisheries could be stuck at the docks due to the government shutdown battle between President Donald Trump and Senate Democrats. Nine of the government’s 15 federal departments and several agencies were shuttered at midnight on Dec. 21 when U.S. senators reached a stalemate over Trump’s demand that $5.7 billion be included for a wall of “artistically designed steel slats” at the Mexican border. The inaction by lawmakers meant funding expired for the Agriculture, Commerce, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Justice, State, Transportation and Treasury Departments. The shutdown sent home 380,000 workers, while more than 420,000 employees deemed “essential” will continue to work without pay. Hardest hit will be the Department of Homeland Security, said the New York Times. “Nearly 54,000 Customs and Border Protection agents and 42,000 Coast Guard employees are projected to work without pay and, as travelers flood the nation’s airports and train stations, 53,000 T.S.A. agents will keep working, as will air traffic controllers and aviation and railroad safety inspectors,” the Times reported. Also included in the work without pay list are correctional officers, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents and Weather Service forecasters. Alaska’s federally managed fisheries from three to 200 miles offshore fall under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Commerce Department, which has furloughed 87 percent of its 47,896 workers. That likely includes some or all of Alaska’s fishery managers, license and permit issuers, fishery trackers, onboard observers, researchers and enforcement agents, but details are vague at best. In an untimely and unusual first, no one at NOAA in Juneau could speak about the impacts a government shutdown might have on the upcoming fisheries. All questions were referred “to the White House.” Calls and email messages to those headquarters were not returned. At NOAA Fisheries in Alaska, about 105 fishery regulators are located in Juneau, 15 in Anchorage, one in Kodiak and two in Dutch Harbor. Another 100 or so are employed in fishery research labs in Seattle, Kodiak and Juneau. Alaska’s cod fishery is set to open in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea on Jan. 1 followed on Jan. 20 by pollock, flatfish and other whitefish fisheries. The snow crab fishery, also federally managed, gets underway in mid-January. Meanwhile, no one is predicting how long the Trump shutdown will continue. On Dec. 22, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell adjourned the Senate until Dec. 27. Holiday seafood traditions For centuries seafood has taken a special spot on holiday tables all over the world and is served up with traditional meaning. One of the oldest stemming back to Roman times is the Feast of Seven Fishes, an Italian Christmas Eve celebration by Catholics to honor the birth of Jesus. The number seven is considered the perfect number and is repeated 700 times in the Bible, making the Feast of Seven Fishes a symbolic Christmas celebration. Dining tables can include seven or up to 13 different seafood dishes as a way to refrain from eating meat or milk on holy days, a long ago dietary taboo. One of the most famous dishes is baccalào or salted codfish; celebrants also feast on fried fish such as smelt and calamari. In other countries around the world: Eating lutefisk is a Christmas tradition in Norway and Sweden. It is made from dried whitefish, usually cod, that is prepared with lye in a long series of water treatments until the fish becomes jelly-like. Lutefisk dates back to the days of the Vikings. In Japan, consuming prawns on New Year’s Eve is to ensure long life, and eating herring roe is to boost fertility. Feasting on pickled herring at midnight in Germany, Poland, and parts of Scandinavia is done in hopes of bringing in a bountiful catch. In China a fish is served whole, symbolizing a good beginning and end in the coming year. One seafood that isn’t popular in holiday celebrations in many parts of the world is lobster — because it swims backwards. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Year in Review: A dismal year for salmon and halibut in the Gulf, Bristol Bay booms, battles over hatcheries

This summer was a disappointment for salmon fishermen across the Gulf of Alaska, both in the timing and in the numbers. Salmon fishermen from Kodiak to Southeast saw poor harvests and poor profits this year due to unexpectedly small runs of sockeye, king and pink salmon. Copper River fishermen rang the first alarm bells when unprecedentedly small sockeye catches were coming into the docks. In response to escapement concerns, managers shut down the fishery in June for a string of days. The fishery reopened in mid-July when the number of sockeye passing the sonar at Miles Lake was strong enough to merit it, and fishermen managed to scrape together enough of a harvest by the end of the season to avoid complete disaster. Not so for Chignik over on the Alaska Peninsula. The run to the Chignik River and Chignik Lagoon never really materialized, and for the first time, neighboring fisheries had to be restricted to control escapement to Chignik. The fishery only opened for a handful of hours, and those hours brought dismal fishing success. The preliminary harvest estimate for the area came to 128 fish, less than 1/10,000 of 1 percent of the average harvest. Before the summer was even out, the Board of Fisheries and Gov. Bill Walker had declared disasters for the fishery on Aug. 23, triggering state relief efforts for the area to help offset the losses. In Cook Inlet, too, the sockeye run baffled and frustrated all user groups. Poor sockeye returns to the Kenai River up through early July led to days of closures in the commercial fishery, restrictions and eventual closures in the sportfishery and the early closure of the Kenai River personal-use dipnet fishery. Then, for only the second time since the sonar was put in place, more than half of the Kenai River’s sockeye run came in after Aug. 1. Fishery management plans backfired because they were timed to dates, and though the run did eventually end the season within the escapement goal, commercial fishermen particularly were frustrated by the restrictions hampering their ability to harvest silver, pink and chum salmon still returning to the inlet. The Upper Cook Inlet drift fleet is seeking support for a disaster declaration as well. Though there’s no definitive data supporting it, fisheries managers and fishermen have pointed to the warm water anomaly in the North Pacific Ocean from 2015–17, nicknamed “the Blob,” as a possible factor in the poor sockeye and king salmon returns. No. 2: Records smashed in Bristol Bay, Norton Sound While their Gulf of Alaska colleagues nursed their hurting wallets, Bristol Bay and Norton Sound salmon fishermen were busy hauling in heavy net after heavy net, loaded down with historic high numbers of sockeye and pink salmon. Bristol Bay marked a total inshore run of 62.3 million sockeye, the largest run since 1893 and 69 percent more than the recent 20-year average. The total harvest of 41.3 million was the second highest on record, and the ex-vessel value of $281 million was more than 242 percent above the preseason forecasted value, in part due to much higher-than-usual prices. The only thing some Bristol Bay runs had in common with the Gulf of Alaska runs was that they were later than usual — about 10 days later, in some cases. That delay helped the processors keep up with such a high harvest. Farther north, Norton Sound area fishermen also smashed their harvest and exvessel value records. The total value of $4 million knocked out the previous record of $3.5 million, and the 260,000 silver salmon harvest set a new record. A total of 155 permits were fished in 2018 as well, up from a low of 12 in 2002 and the highest number since 1987. Unlike elsewhere in Alaska, the Nome River saw a massive run of pink salmon — 3.2 million, about double the previous record of 1.6 million. There isn’t much of a market for pink salmon there yet, though, so many of them weren’t harvested. No. 3: Hatchery battles at the Board of Fisheries Amid concerns about the sustainability of salmon runs across the Gulf of Alaska, salmon hatcheries had to repeatedly defend themselves before the Board of Fisheries as a group of stakeholders and sportfishing groups sought to limit their operations. The battles began in May, when a group of sportfishing groups led by the Kenai River Sportfishing Association sought to block a pink salmon egg take increase by the Valdez Development Fishery Association, citing straying concerns from Prince William Sound pink salmon into Lower Cook Inlet streams and carrying capacity in the Gulf of Alaska. The Board of Fisheries turned down a request for an emergency petition relating to the hatcheries, and again shot it down in July, saying it didn’t meet the criteria for an emergency petition. The Kenai River Sportfishing Association brought it back again at the board’s October work session, where the board heard hours of presentations from Alaska Department of Fish and Game staff about the function of hatcheries and ultimately decided not to act on the proposal but would continue to meet on hatcheries in the future. No. 4: Halibut hardships, falling quotas and prices Unable to agree on how to cut harvest, the International Pacific Halibut Commission ended its January meeting with no joint decision on quotas for the U.S. and Canadian halibut fisheries. Each country independently set its limits, with the caveat that they could not be higher than the previous year’s quota. The argument arose after a stock status report showed a precipitous decline in harvestable biomass in North Pacific Ocean halibut stocks, recommending that quotas be cut to preserve halibut stocks in the future from becoming overfished. That decline, more than 20 percent, comes after years of declining size and abundance of halibut. The stock status report for 2018, released at the commission’s interim meeting in December, showed yet another decline of about 7.5 percent across the entire survey area. The commission is due to meet in January in Vancouver to resume the discussion about what to do about halibut harvests. Halibut fishermen are feeling the pinch, both in volume in price. At the beginning of the season, fishermen were getting about $4.50–$5.50 per pound at the dock, down from about $7 at the beginning of the 2017 season. The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute connected the lower prices to existing supply, an increase of supply from Atlantic halibut fisheries and price fatigue among consumers. Most of Alaska’s Pacific halibut is consumed domestically, with some consumed in Canada, Europe and Southeast Asia as well. ^ Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Only one applicant for ADFG chief

Members of the boards of Fisheries and Game will meet jointly Jan. 16 to choose an applicant to forward to Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy for the commissioner’s seat, but it likely won’t be a long meeting with just one applicant. Doug Vincent-Lang, whom Dunleavy appointed as Acting Commissioner on Dec. 4, was the only person to submit an application to be the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. He previously worked with the department from 1999–2014, last serving as the director of the Division of Wildlife Conservation. In his application to the board, he outlined his wildlife management philosophy, including preserving fish and wildlife for public use, sustainable population management and maximum sustained yield. Maximum sustained yield is embedded in the state constitution, requiring fish and wildlife managers to manage populations for the maximum benefit of Alaska’s residents. “I would exert the authorities of the Commissioner and recognize and work within the authorities of publicly appointed Boards and Commissions,” he wrote. “I believe that sustained yield can have different targets depending upon the population. Many, if not most of, Alaska’s fish and wildlife populations should be managed for their maximum sustained yield, including many of our salmon and ungulate populations. “Other populations, such as rainbow trout and some predator populations, should be managed for some other level of optimized yield different from maximum sustained yield.” He also wrote that while officials should listen to the advice of ADFG scientists, scientists should not be making policy decisions. “In short, science would inform my decisions, but not make them,” he wrote. “I recognize that there are many other inputs into the decision process than science only.” Vincent-Lang has been involved in a wide variety of projects in his time with ADFG, including leading a research group on the since-scrapped Susitna River hydroelectric project, working on legislation to require sportfish guide licensing and leading a team that developed a strategic plan for the Division of Sport Fish. Leadership at the ADFG has historically been fairly contentious. In 2015, five people applied for the seat, with former governor Bill Walker’s choice Sam Cotten ultimately winning the Joint Board’s approval; in past years, more than a dozen people have applied. By law, the joint boards interview and vet the applicants, forwarding an applicant to the governor for his approval before the nominee is forwarded to the Legislature for confirmation. The joint boards are scheduled to meet in Anchorage on Jan. 16, with comments due Jan. 7. Because the Board of Game is meeting in Petersburg just prior to that, the members will travel to Anchorage in time for the meeting to begin at 7 p.m., or if weather delays their travel, the meeting will be delayed or rescheduled for a following day, according to the notice, issued Dec. 18. Meanwhile, as acting commissioner, Vincent-Lang made three key appointments on Dec. 14: Benjamin Mulligan as deputy commissioner, Edward Grasser as director of the Division of Wildlife Conservation and Rick Green as a special assistant to the commissioner. Mulligan previously worked for Fish and Game from 2010–15 as a special assistant and holds a bachelor’s degree in fisheries biology from the University of Wyoming. Most recently, he served as the vice president of the Alaska Chamber. He also previously worked on staff for former Mat-Su Rep. Bill Stoltze, including as chief of staff. Grasser has served as the vice president of the Safari Club International since 2013 and worked as a lobbyist and activist on Alaska wildlife issues for decades. He has also worked with the Alaska Outdoor Council, the Alaska Fish and Wildlife Federation and the Outdoor Heritage Foundation of Alaska. He previously worked in the department as a special assistant from 2005-06, and Vincent-Lang listed him as a professional reference in his application for commissioner. Green, who is better known as conservative radio host Rick Rydell, broadcast his program until accepting the program. He will be charged with outreach to stakeholders, according to the press release. “Green will work closely with the state’s hunters and fishers to improve communication and build trust,” the release states. ^ Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Alaska dominates annual fisheries landings report once again

Alaska is the nation’s super power when it comes to seafood. American fishermen landed just shy of 10 billion pounds of fish and shellfish last year valued at $5.4 billion, both up slightly. Of that, Alaska accounted for 61 percent of total landings (6 billion pounds) and 33 percent of the value ($1.8 billion). That’s according to the 2017 Fisheries of the US Report just released by National Marine Fisheries Service that covers all U.S. regions and species, recreational fishing, aquaculture, trade and much more. The popular annual report also includes the top 50 U.S. ports for seafood landings and values and once again, Alaska dominated the list. “The Alaska port of Dutch Harbor led the nation with the highest amount of seafood landings – 769 million pounds valued at $173 million – for the 21st year in a row,” said Ned Cyr, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration director of Science and Technology at a media teleconference. “New Bedford, Massachusetts, had the highest value catch for the 18th year in a row – 11 million pounds valued at $389 million with 80 percent coming from the highly lucrative sea scallop fishery.” The “Aleutian Islands” ranked second for seafood landings thanks to Trident’s plant at Akutan, the nation’s largest seafood processing facility. Kodiak bumped up a notch from fourth to third place. The “Alaska Peninsula” ranked 7th and Naknek came in at No. 9. Alaska ports rounding out the top 20 were Cordova, Sitka, Ketchikan and Petersburg. In all, 13 Alaskan fishing communities ranked among the top 50 list of U.S. ports for seafood landings. The report also highlights the growing role for aquaculture in the domestic seafood industry. U.S. marine and fresh water aquaculture was valued at $1.5 billion in 2016, equal to about 21 percent of the value of the nation’s combined seafood production, with oysters, clams and salmon generating the highest value. The U.S. still imports more than 80 percent of its seafood and federal overseers are intent upon turning that tide. “The Department of Commerce and NOAA are committed to addressing the U.S. seafood trade deficit through regulatory streamlining, increasing aquaculture production and creating a better, fairer trading system for all Americans,” Cyr said. Nearly six billion pounds of fish and shellfish were imported to the U.S. last year, up 1.6 percent, valued at $21.5 billion, a 10.4 percent increase from 2016. Shrimp, salmon and tuna continued to top the list of imports. In other report highlights: • Alaska pollock accounted for 28 percent of all fish landed in the U.S. and 17 percent of the value. • Alaska accounted for nearly 98 percent of the nation’s salmon landings. • The average dock price paid to U.S. fishermen last year across the board held at 55 cents per pound. • Sport fish enthusiasts made 202 million saltwater fishing trips last year with striped bass and blue fish being the biggest catches. Only 2 percent of the anglers went to the Pacific coast. Alaska data were not available for 2017. • The U.S. seafood industry’s contribution to the economy increased slightly, according to an accompanying fisheries economic report for 2016. Commercial fisheries generated $53 billion in sales, supported 711,000 jobs and added $28 billion to the nation’s GDP, all up by 2 percent. Eat more fish! Americans ate more seafood in 2017, reaching the highest level since 2008. Per capita consumption was 16 pounds, an increase of 1.1 pounds from the year before. That’s according to the top 10 list of favorites compiled each year by the National Fisheries Institute and based on data from the NOAA fisheries report. Shrimp remained at the top of the list of favorites with Americans eating 4.4 pounds per person last year. Salmon ranked second at 2.4 pounds followed by canned tuna, at 2.1 pounds. Rounding out the top 10 were pollock, tilapia, catfish, crab, cod, clams and pangasius. Fish watch Cod catches will decline next year in both the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea, while catches for pollock will be up in the Bering Sea and down in the Gulf. The 2019 numbers were set this month by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council for more than two dozen fisheries in federal waters from three to 200 miles offshore. The Bering Sea pollock catch got a 2.4 percent increase to nearly 1.4 million metric tons, or more than three billion pounds. Bering Sea cod catches were cut 11.5 percent to just more than 366 million pounds (166,475 mt). In the Gulf, pollock catches will be down 15 percent to 311 million pounds, a drop of 55 million pounds from this year. Gulf of Alaska cod catches will again take a dip to just over 27 million pounds, down 5.6 percent. Meanwhile, boats are still out on the water throughout the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea hauling up final catches of various groundfish for the year. The 4 million-pound red king crab fishery at Bristol Bay is a wrap, but crabbers are still tapping away at the 2.4 million-pound Bering Sea Tanner crab quota. Snow crab is open but fishing typically gets going in mid-January. Divers are picking up the last 35,000 pounds of sea cucumbers in parts of Southeast Alaska. About 170 divers competed for a 1.7 million pound sea cucumber quota this year; diving also continues for more than 700,000 pounds of giant geoduck clams. Southeast trollers are still out on the water targeting winter king salmon. Looking ahead: There will be no king salmon catches allowed next year at the Stikine and Taku rivers due to low run forecasts. A fishery for seven kinds of rockfish will open in Southeast on Jan. 5. The 55,000 pound quota can include yelloweye, quillback, canary, copper, China, tiger, and rosethorn rockfish. The 2019 Sitka Sound sac roe harvest has been increased slightly to 12,869 tons. This past season the fleet took just 2,800 tons out of the 11,128 ton herring catch. At the state’s largest roe herring fishery at Togiak, the harvest for next year will be 24,430 tons, a slight increase. The year-round cycle of Alaska’s fishing industry will begin on Jan. 1. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Tighter restrictions for charter halibut likely in 2019

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council approved preliminary regulations for the halibut charter sector in Southeast and Southcentral Alaska during its recent meeting in Anchorage, but the final rules still depend on what the International Pacific Halibut Commission decides about quotas. The council members approved measures to outline fishing time and retention in regulatory areas 2C and 3A, depending on the final limits determined by the International Pacific Halibut Commission this January. In area 2C, which encompasses Southeast Alaska, the proposed limit is a reverse slot limit of one fish per day either shorter than 38 inches or longer than 80 inches. In area 3A, which encompasses the Central Gulf of Alaska between Yakutat and the Alaska Peninsula, the restrictions will be a little looser than in Southeast. Charter anglers are allowed to keep two fish per day with a four-fish annual limit, with one fish capped at a maximum of 28 inches long. Additionally, there won’t be any fish retention on Wednesdays. While the Southeast charter sector was about 10 percent less than its allocation limit in 2018, the Central Gulf charter sector exceeded its limits, running about 4 percent over its allocation. Some of the restrictions proposed by the council are meant to help bring that sector back in line, such as closing additional Tuesdays. In an analysis provided to the council, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game outlined how halibut harvest would drop with each additional closed Tuesday — at the high end, if all Tuesdays were closed, it would drop about 8.2 percent. At status quo, charter operators would lose about six Tuesdays through the season, plus Wednesdays being entirely closed. However, even if management and effort stay status quo, total catch may still drop because all areas are showing a decline in harvest per unit of effort, or HPUE, according to the ADFG analysis. “The weighted average HPUE forecast for Area 3A overall is 1.18 halibut per angler-trip,” the analysis states. “Glacier Bay, Yakutat, North Gulf Coast, and Kodiak subareas had HPUEs of less than 1 halibut per angler-trip, reflecting the lower retention of second fish in the bag limit in those areas.” Due to falling halibut abundance in the Gulf of Alaska and near Southeast, the council has been adding more regulations and cutting allocations in an attempt to protect the stocks. This year, the International Pacific Halibut Commission’s stock status report showed yet another drop in biomass — 7 percent in the Gulf of Alaska and 15 percent in the Southeast area. The commission will meet in January to discuss final quota setting, but with decreasing biomass, fishermen may see yet another cut across both the charter and commercial sectors. Under the reference catch levels for 2019, all Tuesdays could be opened and there wouldn’t be a need for any other closed days, according to the analysis. The council’s Charter Halibut Management Committee supported the regulations the council ultimately adopted, noting that if the IPHC’s allocation came in ultimately greater than 2.023 million pounds, the managers could increase the lower end of the over-under limit to 30 inches from 28 inches. The committee also urged the members to opt for a more conservative management regime for area 3A than is technically necessary. The committee noted in its minutes that its members also recommended more conservative regulations for the area in 2018, which the council members did not ultimately approve. Many of those who submitted comments noted that while they didn’t love the additional restrictions, they understood the necessity for conservation. Multiple commenters touched on a frustration that the council has yet to address: the lack of comparable restrictions on private angler and subsistence halibut harvest. Matt Kopec, owner of Whittier Marine Charters and Whittier Boat Rentals and serves on the Charter Halibut Management Committee, noted that his area has seen a significant increase in private boat traffic. “From what I have seen, private boaters are far more successful in harvesting halibut than rental boat customers,” he wrote in a letter to the council. “They fish much more and they’ve simply gotten good at it. While I’m still not sure that current data suggests that any restriction is needed, they should be considered before stricter regulations are placed on guided anglers, especially if you’re looking at limiting the catch of anglers on rental boats. Perhaps a new ‘sport’ allocation for all sport anglers that is linked to abundance would be a clean and simple answer.” Noting those concerns from users, the council has discussed actions to regulate the halibut boat rental business, in which businesses rent boats to private anglers without a guide so they are not subject to the charter sector restrictions. A private angler may keep two fish of any size per day. The Alaska Division of Motor Vehicles already requires registration of motor boats, so the council members have debated whether to add more regulations to keep a closer watch on the sector, including aligning the bag limits on both. ^ Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Dismal outlook for Stikine, Taku king salmon continues in 2019

Poor king salmon runs predicted for the Stikine and Taku rivers in Southeast Alaska are prompting “extreme conservation” measures, likely resulting in less fishing time for commercial and recreational fishermen. The Stikine is expected to see a terminal run of 8,250 large fish, while the Taku is expected to see a run of 9,050 large fish, according to the forecast published by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game on Nov. 30. Neither run is large enough to meet the allowable catch by the U.S. or Canada and both are less than the lower end of the escapement goal ranges. On the Stikine, the escapement goal range is 14,000 to 28,000 large fish; on the Taku, it’s 19,000 to 36,000 fish. ADFG allowed a commercial opening in 2016 on the Stikine after years of struggling runs, held in May. The 2017 season brought restrictions but no full closures for sport fishing on the Stikine. The 2018 forecast again came out poor with no king salmon fishing allowed on either the Stikine or the Taku for kings. The Taku River king run has been struggling for years, hitting its record low in 2016. It was closed to directed fisheries from 1974-2004, until larger runs prompted openings in 2005, according to ADFG. Recent years have brought more low runs, leading to restrictions and closures for king salmon fishing across Southeast Alaska. ADFG managers could not be reached for comment as of deadline. The Taku and Stikine are two of the 12 “indicator” stocks listed by ADFG, or king salmon runs the department watches to track the regional health of king salmon runs in Alaska. The indicator stock project began as part of the Chinook Salmon Research Initiative, a massive statewide project that arose under Gov. Sean Parnell’s administration following major declines in king salmon returns starting around 2007. The program’s funding was eliminated as the state budget was cut since oil prices started falling in 2014. Both the Stikine and Taku are transboundary rivers, which begin in Canada and pass through Southeast Alaska on their way to the ocean. As such, their salmon runs are subject to the Pacific Salmon Treaty, negotiated between the U.S. and Canada. The fisheries are managed by abundance rather than by hard caps, allowing the managers to adjust for the size of the run. The two countries reached an agreement for another 10-year extension of the treaty Sept. 18, depending on both fleets allowing more king salmon through to Canada: a 7.5 percent reduction for Alaska and a 12.5 percent reduction for Canada. The final agreement was sent to both governments for final approval. Southeast Alaska fishermen have had several tough salmon seasons in a row. Record low abundances of king salmon led to early closures in 2017 and restrictions and poor fishing in 2018. On top of that, Southeast fishermen have had three poor pink salmon harvests in a row — 2016 brought disastrously low returns and 2017 was an off year with lower numbers. This summer, however, was even worse than 2016. Significantly less than preseason forecasts, the pink salmon harvest was the lowest in decades. The upcoming 2019 season is predicted to be a weak run as well, in part based on low numbers of juveniles in 2018 connected to poor survival among the 2017 brood year. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: More cuts to halibut harvest expected in 2019

Alaska fishermen are bracing for more cuts to their halibut harvest next year. Results of this year’s surveys showed that the Pacific stock from California to the Bering Sea continues to decline, and will likely result in lower catches. “We estimate that the stock went down until around 2010 from historical highs in the late 1990s. It increased slightly over the subsequent five years and leveled out around 2015 or 2016 and has been decreasing slowly in spawning biomass (total weight of mature fish to catch) since then,” said Ian Stewart, lead stock assessment scientist with the International Pacific Halibut Commission, at its interim meeting last week in Seattle. The IPHC oversees the Pacific halibut resource and sets annual catch limits for the U.S. and British Columbia. A summary of the 2018 data show that coastwide fishery landings were about 23.5 million pounds, a low for the last decade. For Alaska, the total halibut take was nearly 16.7 million pounds, 5 percent shy of the fishery limit. Total halibut removals by all users, including bycatch, added up to 38.7 million pounds in 2018. Sixty-one percent of the catch went to commercial fisheries; recreational users took 19 percent and 3 percent went for subsistence use. Halibut bycatch in other fisheries accounted for 16 percent. Halibut bycatch in the Central and Western Gulf totaled 2.1 million pounds, nearly all taken by trawl gear. In the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, halibut bycatch is projected at 3.5 million pounds, primarily by Seattle trawlers fishing for flatfish. The average price at the docks for Pacific halibut this year was $5.74 per pound, compared to $6.53 in 2017. Nearly 2,000 fishermen participate in Alaska’s halibut fishery. Catch limits for 2019 will be revealed by the IPHC in Vancouver in January. Warm water watch In recent years, IPHC scientists have included ecosystem impacts in their assessments of the Pacific halibut stock, such as how the fish are reacting to warming oceans. At the IPHC meeting, Ian Stewart referenced the massive, warm blob in the Pacific Ocean from 2014 through 2017 and said remains of it appear to be hanging around. “We’ve seen a continued presence of warm surface waters through the fall of 2018. It’s not quite the magnitude of the previous blob, but it is definitely different from what would be the norm in the North Pacific,” Stewart said. “Particularly of note, and relevant to halibut in Region 4 (Bering Sea), which means halibut across the entire coast because much of the coastwide recruitment likely comes from Region 4,” Stewart added, “is the fact that there was virtually no sea ice in the winter of 2018 in the Bering Sea. And that led to no cold pool in the summer, that being a tongue of cold bottom water that extends southward, generally corresponding to the extent of ice cover in the winter time.” The lack of that cold pool, he said, has caused big behavioral changes. “It’s led to more than half the cod biomass being distributed in the northern Bering Sea north of the normal survey grid, and a northward shift as well of pollock, although not quite as extreme,” Stewart said. “We saw a shift as well in Pacific halibut on the order of about a 20 percent increase in density between 2017 and 2018 in the northern Bering Sea.” The halibut scientists also track Pacific Decadal Oscillations that show recurring patterns of ocean/atmospheric climate variability. Stewart said the PDO is used as an index of halibut productivity. “A positive PDO tends to correspond to relatively warm and relatively productive conditions in the North Pacific. On average, this tends to be correlated with the level of halibut recruitment, historically,” he said. “We have seen a period starting in 2014 of relatively positive values, with 2018 moving back to almost a neutral value.” Salmon stats The average chinook salmon caught by Alaska fisherman this year weighed 11.6 pounds and paid out at nearly $70 per fish, or more than a barrel of oil. That’s just one of the interesting stats to come out of the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game’s 2018 salmon season wrap up. The fishery ranks as one of the most valuable on record to fishermen at nearly $596 million, and at just over 114 million salmon, one of the smallest harvests in 34 years. The average ex-vessel, or dockside, price per salmon in 2018 was $5.20 per pound, up more than $2 from 2017. The average salmon price paid to Alaska fishermen was 98 cents per pound. Each sockeye salmon was valued at $7 for fishermen, on average, and it was those fish that saved the day for a fishery that was a bust Gulf-wide. Sockeyes accounted for 44 percent of the total 2018 salmon harvest and nearly 60 percent of the value. Statewide, fishermen caught 50 million reds valued at $350 million. Fewer than 9 million of the fish came from non-Bristol Bay regions where catches were the worst in more than four decades. At Bristol Bay, a catch of over 41 million reds was the second-largest ever. It also was the most valuable catch for fishermen, topping $281 million. After bonuses and postseason adjustments are added in, that could climb to more than $335 million, said Andy Wink, director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association. Bristol Bay is home to the largest red salmon run in the world and the fishery accounted for 57 percent of global sockeye production this year. It’s the third year in a row that Bristol Bay has accounted for more than half of world supply. Alaska Salmon Price and Production Reports for the key sales months of July and August show a first wholesale value of Bristol Bay frozen and fresh sockeye products was 36 percent higher than last year. The average wholesale value increased from $4.01 to $4.51 per pound and sales volume increased 21 percent. Bristol Bay fishermen averaged $1.26 a pound for their sockeyes this summer, up from $1.02 last year, but 43 cents less than the average of sockeyes caught elsewhere. At Prince William Sound, sockeyes paid out at $2.71 per pound to fishermen; Cook Inlet averaged $2.27; Kodiak fishermen got $1.56 and sockeyes averaged $1.23 per pound at the Alaska Peninsula. Fishermen in other Alaska regions averaged $1.69 for their red salmon. Find more information about Alaska sockeye salmon at www.bbrsda.com. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Survey again shows drop in halibut stocks in Gulf of Alaska

Things aren’t looking good for many Alaska halibut fishermen next year, though official quota limit decisions are still to come. The 2018 stock status report presented to the International Pacific Halibut Commission at its interim meeting on Nov. 27 shows yet another drop in the biomass of Pacific halibut in the North Pacific — about 7 percent down from the 2017 fishery-independent setline survey. That doesn’t mean every single region dropped, as it’s an average, but Alaska’s three main areas of effort — 2C, the entirety of Region 3, and Region 4 excluding the western Aleutian Islands — all dropped. The most significant drop was in Area 2, which stretches from northern California to Southeast, falling 15 percent. Region 3, which stretches across the Gulf of Alaska out to the Alaska Peninsula, fell 7 percent. Halibut stocks dropped year-over-year from the late 1990s through 2011, when it appears to have stabilized, according to the report. “That trend is estimated to have been largely a result of decreasing size-at-age, as well as somewhat weaker recruitment strengths than those observed during the 1980s,” the report states. The spawning female biomass stabilized in 2011, increasing the stock through 2016, with a projected spawning biomass of 190 million pounds at the beginning of 2019. Researchers are linking the fluctuations with favorable ocean conditions in connection with the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, an ocean temperature trend correlated with fisheries regimes. Historically, conditions were favorable from 1978–2006 and poor from 2007–13, with more positive indications from 2014 through October 2018. However, that’s not the only variable playing into ocean conditions for halibut in the North Pacific. Sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Alaska jumped in 2015 and remained anomalously high for several years, earning the warm water mass the nickname “the Blob,” and wreaking widespread havoc on fish stocks and leading to uncertainty for forecasters. “Many other environmental indicators, current and temperature patterns have been anomalous relative to historical periods and therefore historical patterns of productivity related to the (Pacific Decadal Oscillation) may not be relevant to the most recent few years,” the report states. Though conditions have been favorable, the cohorts from 2006–10 were smaller than the prior few years, which will affect abundance as time goes on and those age cohorts become a more significant part of the fishery. The International Pacific Halibut Commission will set its quota limits at its annual meeting in January. Last year, when the stock status led to recommendations for significant cuts to harvest, the commissioners could not come to an agreement and decided to have the U.S. and Canada set their fisheries limits independently, though no higher than the previous year. The stock status report doesn’t make direct recommendations for fishing limits but projects how fisheries limits will impact the population. For all total constant exploitation yield amounts, or TCEY — all halibut mortality for fish longer than 26 inches, including bycatch and research kills — more than 20 million pounds, the stock is project to decline from 2019–21. At the status quo TCEY of 37.2 million pounds total, there’s a 30 percent chance of a stock decline of at least 5 percent in 2019 that climbs to a 79 percent chance by 2022, according to the report. Total mortality of Pacific halibut in 2018 was about 38.7 million pounds. The commercial halibut catch, though — about 23.5 million pounds — was actually an all-time low for the last 10 years, according to the report. Bycatch mortality fell to 6.1 million pounds, the lowest since the arrival of foreign fishing fleets in 1962. Mortality from recreational catches was down as well, about 5 percent lower than 2017. The International Pacific Halibut Commission is scheduled hold its full annual meeting from Jan. 28–Feb. 1 in Victoria, British Columbia. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Board of Fisheries to take closer look at Nushagak king salmon plan

The Board of Fisheries passed a proposal to take a chunk out of the king salmon management plan on the Nushagak River, with plans to form a work group to keep discussing user group conflict on the river. At its meeting in Dillingham dealing with proposals related to the Bristol Bay finfish fisheries on Dec. 2, the board members approved a proposal that amends the management plan for the king salmon run on the Nushagak and Mulchatna rivers. Several clauses in the plan link closures in the commercial sockeye salmon fishery in the Nushagak District, salmon fishing closures on the Nushagak River and limited subsistence fishing periods if the projected spawning escapement is less than 55,000 kings, the lower end of the river’s escapement goal. The updated proposal repeals a number of numeric escapement-based trigger points that close fisheries based on the king salmon passage in the river. The original proposal, submitted by Brian Kraft, would have limited commercial fishing openings in the Nushagak District to no more than 12 hours of fishing per day when the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Division of Sport Fish issues emergency orders restricting the sport fishery, among other restrictions. In his rationale, he wrote that the burden to conserve king salmon is currently on sportfishermen. “The impact on the number of chinook making it in river is immediately diminished when commercial openers happen,” he wrote. “This is not intended by the (commercial fisherman), but it happens. We need help in preserving the Nushagak chinook run. When the chinook run falls below acceptable escapement numbers, the sport fishery is restricted or potentially closed, yet (commercial fishing) openings remain aggressive. “The commercial fishery in the Nushagak district, although targeting sockeye, certainly has a by-catch or interception of chinook bound for the Nushagak.” The Nushagak River, which flows into Bristol Bay just south of Dillingham, hosts a vibrant king salmon sportfishery. Nearby, the commercial sockeye salmon fishery brings in on average 6.4 million sockeye each summer. This year, a banner year for Bristol Bay, the fishermen in the Nushagak District landed about 24.1 million salmon, according to ADFG. Adding to the complexity of managing the return is a noted inaccuracy in the sonar counter in the Nushagak River, which ADFG acknowledges. In public comments, Michael Link of the Bristol Bay Science and Research Institute noted that recent mark-recapture and acoustic tagging studies found that the sonar was undercounting king salmon by variable degrees. “In 2017, low early-season sonar-based king salmon passage estimates triggered restrictions on harvest opportunities; subsequent examination of all information suggested the estimates were probably about 50 percent lower than actual,” Link wrote in his comments. “Although the restrictions helped increase king salmon escapement, skepticism grew among users about misplaced certainty in the assessment information.” ADFG staff opposed the original proposal because it would tie the department’s hands, said Tim Sands, the area management biologist for the Nushagak District. The board amended the proposal to remove sections based on sonar passage numbers, which the ADFG staff then supported, said Forrest Bowers, the director of the Division of Commercial Fisheries. “There’s some work going on to refine the sonar project,” Bowers said. “We have some concerns about the accuracy of the count there, whether we’re accurately assessing the size of the Nushagak run. This plan has some prescriptive triggers that may not be warranted based on the accuracy of our assessment tool.” Board member Israel Payton noted that the proposal reduces complexity and gives the Division of Sport Fish more flexibility to protect king salmon stocks based on abundance. He also noted that members of the public had requested the Nushagak River’s king salmon management plan be revisited, especially as ADFG has not planned to reassess the escapement goal. “The plan has some arbitrary in-river trigger points that aren’t really biological; in my mind, they’re kind of an allocative trigger point,” he said. “It gets rid of those trigger points but still allows the department to manage for the sustainable escapement goal … once again, this doesn’t tie the hands of any commercial fish manager, and in my mind, allow a little more flexibility for the sport fishing manager, or all the manages.” Board member Robert Ruffner noted that the amendment to the original proposal arose from a board member and stakeholder meeting but that there would be further work on the issue. “Our anticipation is that over the next 18 months or so, we’re going to work on this, and there is the possibility of bringing something up out of cycle to further flesh this out a little bit,” he said. “That’s part of what we’re trying to work through here.” A charge statement submitted on Dec. 2 would create a temporary committee to review fisheries recommendations to the board “on a comprehensive solution.” In the meeting between board members and stakeholders, attendees recognized uncertainty in sonar data and restrictions in the sportfishery without restrictions in the commercial fishery as continuing issues. ADFG will work with a stakeholder-led study team to review data on the Nushagak River king salmon enumeration and work on updating the goal by March 2020, according ot the charge statement. The work group, which will consist of no more than nine members of the public and three members of the board appointed by board chairman Reed Morisky, will meet before the Board of Fisheries’ October 2019 worksession and help create any proposals to address the issue before the March 2020 statewide meeting. The board passed the proposal 5-0, with members Fritz Johnson and John Jensen — both commercial fishermen — abstaining for conflict of interest. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Dunleavy: no ‘preferred choice’ to lead ADFG

Newly-inaugurated Gov. Mike Dunleavy has tapped Doug Vincent-Lang to temporarily head the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and a spokesman said he intends to let the nomination process by the boards of Fisheries and Game lead the way to select a commissioner rather than announcing his own choice. Dunleavy announced the appointment just after his inauguration Dec. 3 in Kotzebue. Vincent-Lang, a veteran of the department, will serve as commissioner on an interim basis, replacing Sam Cotten. Vincent-Lang, who holds degrees in biology and biological oceanography, has previously served as a research biologist, as the director for the Division of Wildlife Conservation and as a special assistant and assistant director of the Division of Sport Fish. In a press release announcing the appointment, Dunleavy noted that “it is important that someone is in the position to manage the Department while the Joint Boards of Fish and Game go through their process of nominating potential commissioners.” “The Governor respects that process and looks forward to the recommendations from the Joint Meeting of the Board of Fish and the Board of Game,” the release notes. In response to a follow-up question, spokesman Jeff Turner said Dunleavy “does not have a preferred choice for commissioner of fish and game. The board determines the best person to fill the job.” That’s a departure from Dunleavy’s two predecessors, who named their pick to lead ADFG before a joint meeting of the boards. The boards, which are independent of the department, appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Legislature, will advertise for the position and will meet in January to take up the appointment, Turner said. Dunleavy is following a fairly normal process for appointment so far, according to Glenn Haight, the executive director of the Board of Fisheries. The joint boards will accept applications for the position before interviewing candidates at the special board meeting in January. The application period is open through Dec. 14 and requires that applicants submit a letter of interest with statements of and personnel management philosophy as well as a resume and references. Depending on the number of applicants, the joint boards may meet with all the members or may designate a subcommittee of a few members, Haight said. In the past, the number of candidates has varied, from more than 20 to just five or six, he said. The position is notoriously contentious and different from the process for other commissioners, who are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Legislature. ADFG and Education Department commissioner candidates are selected by their respective boards before they can be appointed by the governor to be approved by the Legislature. Dunleavy has already announced he intends to retain current Education Commissioner Dr. Michael Johnson. Former Gov. Sean Parnell nominated Cora Campbell to lead the department in 2010, and her name was ultimately forwarded to him after interviewing with the joint boards. The same was the case for former Gov. Bill Walker’s choice of Sam Cotten, who was likewise interviewed by the joint boards and deemed a qualified choice. Only one other candidate applied for the position in both cases after the governors made their preferences known. Defined by statute, the commissioner should be “a qualified executive with knowledge of the requirements for protection, management, conservation, and restoration of the fish and game resources of the state. The commissioner is the principal executive officer of the department, whose mission is to protect, maintain, and improve the fish and game resources of the state, and manage their use and development in the best interest of the economy and the well-being of the people of the state, consistent with the sustained yield principle.” Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Trident takes Symphony honors for pollock-based noodle

Protein Noodles by Trident Seafoods took top honors at the 26th annual Alaska Symphony of Seafood, winning first place in the retail category and the Seattle People’s Choice award. The winners were announced last week at Pacific Marine Expo. The refrigerated noodles are made from pollock surimi and touted as a high-protein, gluten-free alternative to traditional pastas. “All pastas are wheat-based and they don’t contain any protein and there’s not a lot of nutritional value,” said John Salle, Trident’s senior vice president of marketing, innovation and corporate accounts when accepting the awards. “Lots of carbs, lots of sugars. We think these pollock noodles will fill a void in the market. Just heat them up and add sauce!” Salle said the Protein Noodles will debut at Costco stores early in 2019. Trident also won first place in the Beyond the Plate category for its Alaska Natural Pet pollock oil, an omega-3 enriched additive for dog foods. In the food service category, Alaska Cod Dumplings from Tai Foong USA was the winner. The Symphony moves to Juneau on Feb. 19 where second- and third-place winners will be announced along with a Grand Prize winner. The winning products are entered into Seafood Expo North America’s new product competition in Boston in March. “That’s a really big deal,” said Keith Singleton, president of the value added division of Alaskan Leader Seafoods, which won the grand prize last year for its Alaska Cod with Lemon Herb Butter. The company also took a first place for its Cod Crunchies pet treats. “The exposure we got from the Symphony of Seafood, we used that in all of our marketing. We’re fishermen and for us as a company that’s pretty new at this, it was pretty impressive that we won. And we definitely have picked up a lot of new accounts,” Singleton added. “Anybody that’s out there who wants to compete in the Symphony, I strongly encourage them. It’s a lot of fun and it really gets your name out there. It’s really helped us as an industry for sure.” The annual contest is aimed at encouraging new products to increase the value of Alaska’s fishery resources to fishermen and communities. “It starts at the boat,” said Julie Decker, executive director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, host of the event. “The quality level that fishermen are producing has gone up tremendously over the past 25 years and it is directly related to the quality you can manufacture into new products. “You can do more things and they turn out much better. We are doing better as an industry across the board and that’s why we want to keep fishermen involved. They are important to the process because when they do better, everybody does better.” Seafood faces and places A Seafood, Sea Jobs video campaign is taking its message on trade to the people who make policy decisions. The project was launched by the National Fisheries Institute to show the trickle down effects of the steep tariffs on U.S. seafood in Donald Trump’s trade war with China. “It’s meant to showcase the faces and places of seafood jobs around America,” said Lynsee Fowler, NFI communications manager. “Whether it’s a fisherman or a processor, cold storage, sales and procurement, a restaurant server or a trucker, the seafood community has diverse impacts that not everyone knows about.” Fowler has traveled the country capturing people at work from coffee shops in coastal towns to truck stops and food making factories in the mid-west. “It’s a lot further down the supply chain where you see the impacts and a lot of those jobs are in the heartland,” she told SeafoodNews.com The project has produced 34 videos so far, which are delivered to policy makers and key opinion leaders on trade in Washington, D.C. “We want to make sure they are talking about seafood when they talk about industries that are hurt by tariffs,” Fowler said. A 25 percent tariff on U.S. seafood exported to China began in September; another 25 percent on seafood coming from China to the U.S. is set to hit in January. Fowler said NFI’s hundreds of member companies already are paying that rate. “It takes our members anywhere from 8 to 15 weeks to put in an order to China and get it here,” she said, “so they are operating under that 25 percent tariff and it has a big impact.” NFI is the nation’s largest industry trade group representing member companies from fishing vessel operators to seafood restaurants for nearly 75 years. Captain’s crab recollections Trying to outwit killer whales … fights aboard 300 foot factory trawlers … falling overboard … waves in the wheelhouse — lots of fish stories stem from a life at sea. A new book titled “Chronicles of a Bering Sea Captain” captures five decades of fishing in the Bering Sea. The motivation for the book came from a health scare 20 years ago at sea, said author Jake Jacobsen. “The thought struck me that I have six kids and they know very little about what I have done out at sea, and I wanted to leave some stories for them,” he said in a phone interview. Jacobsen began jotting down stories in fits and starts, put them down for about a decade, and became inspired again when he came upon old notebooks and photos. One of Jacobsen’s favorite stories describes trying to outwit killer whales, what he calls “the most organized and intelligent adversaries,” from robbing fish from longline hooks. “You try and develop strategies,” he said. “You cut your line, anchor it off, run away for a while and stop the engines and then come back. The whales leave sentries around at your strings, and then they call each other. So you can’t get very far hauling gear again because here come the whales.” Jacobsen said in writing the book he also wanted to correct misconceptions people might have about fishing the Bering Sea. “It’s hard and dangerous work and we are very competitive, but I want people to understand about sustainable fisheries,” he said. “When I tell these stories about staying up for three days in a row without sleep, we are not talking about decimating the resource. We are talking about a fishery that takes a small percentage of the available biomass, and it is all controlled by the best science available. In Alaska we are very proud of the sustainable seafood program we have.” Find Chronicles of a Bering Sea Captain at Amazon, and more information at www.beringseacaptain.com. 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 $90,000 will be allocated in grants that range from $2,000 to $15,000 each for projects that focus on hunger, housing, safety, education, research, natural resources and cultural activities. Since 1997 American Seafoods has given more than $1.5 million to Alaska organizations and programs through its grant program. Grant request forms are available online at www.americanseafoods.com or by contacting Kim Lynch at [email protected] or 206-256-2659. The deadline to submit applications is Dec. 10. The company’s Western Alaska Community Grant Board will select recipients on Dec. 19. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

State removes Kenai from ‘impaired’ listing, citing lack of data

The Kenai River has again escaped being labeled as an impaired water body because of turbidity, though there are other issues on the horizon. In the final report the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the state agency removed its initial recommendation for the lower 7.5 miles of the Kenai River to be listed as impaired based on turbidity levels. The additional data gathered over two weeks this July didn’t exceed acceptable turbidity levels and couldn’t verify the three years of data gathered from 2008-10. Turbidity, a measure of material suspended in the water, can be harmful to water quality for human consumption and for aquatic organisms. In the case of the Kenai River, which the neighboring communities do not use for drinking water, the primary concern is for the fish; the river supports the largest salmon and trout sportfishery in the state, including the popular Kenai River personal-use dipnet fishery in July. The listing, first announced in the public notice of the draft Integrated Water Quality and Assessment Report for 2014-16 in December 2017, sparked controversy among Kenai River users. The listing was not a surprise — the Kenai Watershed Forum, an environmental conservation nonprofit based in Soldotna, had been taking the readings nearly a decade before — but held implications for the sportfishing community in particular. The Kenai Watershed Forum’s readings found a significant uptick in turbidity in the lowermost reach of the river during July while the upriver readings stayed relatively level. The turbidity in the lower river was lower in June and dropped again in August, though the relative river velocity and temperature were similar. The area where the turbidity was read at a higher level, a popular area to fish for king salmon, also saw much more motorboat traffic at the time. However, things have changed since then, the DEC noted in its Nov. 2 transmittal letter to the EPA. “Public comments were received in opposition and support of the proposed turbidity listing; however, opposition statements indicating that motorized boating use and conditions in the lower Kenai River have changed substantially since 2010 warranted further investigation,” the letter states. “The 2018 turbidity data showed a reduction in overall turbidity levels and in difference between the upstream background site (river mile 23) and the downstream suspected impairment side (river mile 11.5).” Regulations on the river have changed significantly since 2008. In response to high readings of hydrocarbons in the Kenai River, the state required boat motors running on the river to be larger than 35 horsepower to switch to four-stroke engines or direct-injection two-stroke engines and set the maximum power to 50 horsepower, with exceptions for Kenai and Skilak lakes. The ban appeared to do the trick, with the hydrocarbon pollution levels dropping and the DEC’s listing of the Kenai as an impaired water body later removed. The salmon runs on the river have changed since 2008, too, changing fishing patterns. Years of poor king salmon returns have led guides and many private anglers to switch to targeting primarily sockeye salmon, moving to either bank angling or fishing further upstream, moving away from the lower river where the turbidity readings were taken. Fishermen pointed to this change in fishing effort as a reason to review the data for the determination. The DEC also funded a boat-count study in July 2018 to determine changes in boating patterns between two popular launches, the Pillars and Eagle Rock, appended to the turbidity monitoring. The agency noted in its response to public comments that many boats now launch from the Eagle Rock launch, downstream of the original turbidity sampling site at river mile 11.5, so in the future, the sampling site might need to be moved further downstream to capture those boats’ effect. The DEC is suspending classification of the river as a Category 5 impaired water body until “further information becomes available to reassess the condition of the river,” according to the letter to the EPA. Without the increase to a Category 5 impairment, the river reverts to its previous listing as a Category 3 water body, joining a long list of water bodies that the DEC “has insufficient information on” to make an impairment determination, according to the final report. “The Department will continue to work with local stakeholders on a watershed plan to prioritize emerging water quality issues on the Kenai River,” the letter states. Those “ emerging” issues include high fecal coliform bacteria near the mouth of the river — largely sourced to gulls, which flock to the rivermouth during the summer — indications of high copper and zinc readings on the lower Kenai River near the urbanized areas of Kenai and Soldotna. Copper and zinc readings are frequently connected to stormwater runoff and signs of urbanization. Stormwater runoff can be troubling for salmon health, as in the case of coho salmon, which have shown particular sensitivity to metals like copper. The DEC had not returned a request for comment as of deadline. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Poor pink runs forecast again; return to ‘normal’ in Bristol Bay

Next summer may be a slow one for Southeast and Bristol Bay salmon fishermen. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s annual salmon forecasts for the Southeast and Bristol Bay regions predict weaker runs for the 2019 season. In Southeast’s case, it’s the pink salmon predicted to come up short compared to recent averages; in Bristol Bay, it’s the sockeye. About 18 million pink salmon are predicted to be harvested in Southeast Alaska in 2019, placing the run in the weak range, or between 20 percent and 40 percent of the 59-year average in the history of the fishery. The forecasted number is about half the recent 10-year average of 36 million pinks, according to the ADFG forecast. If the forecast holds true, it will be the lowest odd-year harvest since 1987. The low number of juveniles in 2018 was unexpected, as the previous year’s escapements met goals. “This indicates that brood year 2017 pink salmon likely experienced poor freshwater and/or early marine survival,” according to the forecast. The forecast comes with an 80 percent confidence interval, but some uncertainty comes form the warmer-than-normal sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Alaska. An exceptionally warm body of water in the Gulf from 2013-16, nicknamed the “Blob,” appeared to have dissipated but has now returned. ADFG managers connected the disastrously low pink salmon returns in 2016 with poor marine survival due to warm conditions in the Gulf as well. “The return of anomalously warm sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Alaska may have a negative impact on the survival of pink salmon,” the forecast states. “Although the weak harvest forecast in 2019 is consistent with poor survival, the impact of Gulf of Alaska temperatures is unknown and adds uncertainty to the forecast.” In Bristol Bay, the total run is estimated to come in at 40.18 million sockeye salmon, with a commercial harvest of 27.6 million. That’s slightly less than the recent 10-year average harvest of 30 million reds, though greater than the long-term average of 34.2 million, and significantly less than this year’s harvest of 41.3 million. The majority of the run is expected to be age class 1.3 fish, or those that spend one year in freshwater and three years in the ocean. Of the five districts, the largest run is expected back in the Naknek-Kvichak district, with a forecast of 16.12 million sockeye. The second-largest is predicted to be the Nushagak district with 10.38 million, followed by the Egegik, Ugashik and Togiak districts. Forecasting the sockeye run in Bristol Bay presents a challenge, as nine different rivers contribute significant sockeye numbers to the total run from four different age classes. The numbers are presented in the forecast with an 80 percent confidence interval as well, based on historical contrasts between forecasts and runs. ADFG always provides a caveat in forecasts: they are primarily meant for planning purposes, not as a promise to the fleet on management. The managers will use in-season catch and escapement data as available to determine openings and restrictions where necessary as the run develops. Bristol Bay has had two strong sockeye years in a row, while Southeast Alaska has had three tough years for salmon fishermen. The 2016 salmon season brought exceptionally poor pink runs atop restrictions meant to protect troubled returning king salmon stocks; 2017 brought even more king salmon restrictions, forcing an early closure on the spring troll fishery, and 2018 again brought some disappointingly low pink salmon harvests — the lowest since the mid-1970s. The total harvest of approximately 7.8 million pinks, worth about $11.4 million, was less than a third of the 23 million forecasted harvest. The poor pink salmon returns have been roundly connected to the anomalously warm ocean temperatures in the Gulf of Alaska in fisheries around southern coast of the state. Poor sockeye returns across the Gulf in 2018 were pinned on the warm sea temperatures as well. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

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