Fisheries

FISH FACTOR: Optimism abounds after strong showing of snow crab recruits

Bering Sea crabbers saw upticks in crab recruits during a good fishery for the 2018-19 season, along with strong prices. The crab season opens in mid-October for red king crab, Tanners and snow crab, or opilio, and while fishing goes fast for red kings in order to fill orders for year-end markets in Japan, the fleet typically drops pots for the other species in January. Crabbers said they saw strong showings of younger crab poised to enter the three fisheries. Only male crabs of a certain size are allowed to be retained for sale. “For Bristol Bay red king crab the reports were very positive,” said veteran crabber Jake Jacobsen, director of the Inter-Cooperative Exchange that represents the majority of Bering Sea crabbers. “I got a lot of reports from people saying they saw a lot of recruitment around, a lot of females and small crab, but some boats didn’t see any. So, it depended on where you were. Overall, the catch seemed to go pretty fast and the fishing was good, it wasn’t scratchy at all for most of the boats.” The price also was good. The red king crab fetched $10.33 per pound, up from $9.20 last season, for a catch of 4.3 million pounds. Crabbers also saw good numbers of bairdi Tanners which had a harvest limit of 2.4 million pounds. Jacobsen said price negotiations are still ongoing for both Tanners and their smaller cousin, snow crab. “We should be close to record prices for opilio (snow crab),” Jacobsen said. The record snow crab price set in 2012 was $4.98 per pound; last season’s price was $4.04 per pound. Competing imports from Russia are up substantially, Jacobsen said, and they are trying to get rid of product held over from last season. “That’s brought the price down and I expect prices will start to climb again as people get a feel for availability of the resource and what the crab looks like,” he added. Snow crab is a bright spot for the Bering Sea fleet. A catch of 27.5 million pounds this season was a 47 percent increase after the 2018 summer survey showed a 60 percent boost in market-sized males and nearly the same for females. Bob Foy, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration director of science and research based at the Auke Bay lab in Juneau, called it “one of the largest snow crab recruitment events ever seen.” Jacobsen said that was consistent with what the crabbers saw on the fishing grounds. That has speculation running wild that the snow crab catch could double again for next season, but he added it’s best to wait and see. “I’ve been in the business too long to get excited about that kind of news because I’ve heard it before. It all depends on the summer survey and we’ve been trying to make some improvements in the stock assessment model. But it looks pretty positive,” he said. “What we’re looking for isn’t dramatic swings. We’d rather have a steady, fishable population but with nature that’s not always possible. Crab are very cyclic in their population numbers.” There’s been some tension between crabbers and managers in recent years over big differences in what crabbers are seeing on the fishing grounds and the numbers managers pull up in the summer trawl survey. “Apparently, the crab go on vacation somewhere else in the summertime because they haven’t been showing up in the survey recently,” Jacobsen added with a laugh. Last season the three Bering Sea crab fisheries were valued at $190 million for a fleet of about 85 boats. Wanted: Young fishermen The call is out for young Alaska fishermen who want training in career opportunities in fishery management, advocacy, research, marketing, conservation, business and much more. The Young Fishing Fellows Program, now in its third year, is an initiative of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council. The program this year will include five mentor groups across the state. “The Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association in Sitka, the North Pacific Fisheries Association out of Homer, and the Alaska Fishermen’s Network is hosting a fellow of our own this year to help us out with the Young Fishermen’s Almanac,” said Jamie O’Connor, director of the network, an AMCC program. “Also, Koniag, the Native (corporation) out of Kodiak, is doing a policy fellowship focused on fisheries access. And the N&N Cannery History Project is hosting a fellow and will focus on the history of canneries in Alaska and the folks who work in them.” O’Connor, who got the job at AMCC after participating in the first Fellows cohort, said the fellowships are open to fishermen 35 and under who are paid from $16 to $26 per hour for their work, depending on their experience. “It’s part time and usually ends up being about 10 hours a week for a few months in the winter. There’s a lot of flexibility built in so people can work around their winter schedule or jobs, and of course, the fishing seasons,” she said. Past Fellows have gone to work as legislative aides in Washington, D.C., and as part of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council advisory panel. One is a subsistence fishing advocate; another is doing research at the Kachemak Bay National Estuarian Research Preserve on adaptability for fishing businesses in a changing climate. “One of our mentors likes to say ‘if you’re not at the table you’re on the menu,’ and these fellowships teach people like myself and the others how to effectively be at the table, whether it be regulatory or direct marketing or whatever young fishermen might need to diversify their business,” O’Connor said. The fellowships begin this fall and the deadline to apply is May 26. “We are hoping to have enough applications to get everybody matched up before I go fishing,” O’Connor said. Learn more at www.akyoungfishermen.org. The Young Fishing Fellows Program is funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Edgerton Foundation. Salmon starts + fishing updates Alaska’s 2019 salmon season officially opens on May 16 with a 12-hour opener for sockeyes and king salmon at Copper River. Salmon openers in other Alaska regions will quickly follow. Trollers in Southeast began targeting spring king salmon starting May 1. Some Southeast areas opened to beam trawlers for side stripe and pink shrimp on May 1 and a pot shrimp fishery opens on May 15 with a catch of 39,500 pounds. Two areas remain open to golden king crab, and Panhandle divers continue going down for geoduck clams. At Prince William Sound a third opener for spot shrimp opens on May 14 for a fleet of nearly 70 boats who are competing for a catch of 68,100 pounds. A sablefish season is underway in the Sound with a 134,000-pound target. The recent Tanner crab fishery in Prince William Sound produced nearly 125,000 pounds for 14 fishermen who received $3.30 per pound. A one-day-per-week bait herring fishery is open at Upper Cook through May 31, and a small smelt (hooligan) fishery opened on May 1. Clammers also are busy at Alaska’s only razor clam fishery at beaches on the west side of Cook Inlet with a 400,000 pound limit. Kodiak’s roe herring fishery continues with a harvest set at just more than 1,400 tons. Togiak’s herring fishery closed May 3 with a record catch for seiners topping 23,060 tons. A herring bait fishery is underway near Unalakleet area and Norton Sound Seafood Products plans to buy about 40 tons. There is more than 6,000 tons for the herring quota this year, but no buyer interest for a roe fishery, which pays out much less than herring purchased for bait. Halibut landings have crept up to about 4 million pounds and 6 million for sablefish. Fisheries for cod, pollock, flounders, other whitefish and more are ongoing throughout the Gulf and Bering Sea. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Pebble mine critics cite concerns over dust from operations

Editor's note: In response to the statement below that "little to no baseline data on soil or sediments is presented in the draft environmental impact statement, or DEIS, compiled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers," the Pebble Partnership supplied the following links to appendices in the DEIS containing the baseline soil and sediments data: Appendix K3-14 discusses soils  Appendix K3-18 discusses sediments  Analytical chemistry database  EBD Chapter on Trace Elements  According to the Pebble Partnership, the appendices contain data from approximately 20,000 soil/sediment sample results collected from 150+ sites across several hundred square miles.  ORIGINAL STORY Bulldozers, blasters, excavators, vibrators, jaw crushers, drillers, graders, crushers, huge trucks and other heavy equipment are tools of the trade when building and operating large mines — and they all kick up a lot of dust. In the case of the Pebble mine, the project is expected to generate 8,300 tons of so called fugitive dust in its annual mining operations. Another 5,700 tons will come from building the 83-mile main road to Cook Inlet, and the 35 times daily round trips trucking mineral concentrates will churn out 1,500 tons of road dust each year. When it’s blowing in the wind, the dust will land on at least 1,500 acres of wetlands and 300 acres of lakes, ponds and streams, according to analyses done for the United Tribes of Bristol Bay, a tribal consortium representing 15 Bristol Bay tribal governments that represent more than 80 percent of the region’s total population. The dust will contain particles of the metals being mined, notably, copper, which when it leaches into water bodies, has been proven to be toxic to the olfactory system of salmon. “Increases in copper concentrations of just 2 to 20 parts per billion, equivalent to two drops of water in an Olympic-sized swimming pool, have been shown to impact the critical sense of smell to salmon,” said Dr. Thomas Quinn, a professor at the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington. “Salmon use smell to identify predators, prey, mates, and kin. And importantly, they use sense of smell to return to their natal streams.” But little to no baseline data on soil or sediments is presented in the draft environmental impact statement, or DEIS, compiled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that is currently undergoing public review. “One of the most eye-opening things was, when you’re looking at fugitive dust, you’re looking at it from the perspective of human health and there are 10 or 11 hazardous air pollutants that you must look at when you’re permitting for air quality. Copper is not a human health hazard, so that was completely omitted from any mention in the discussion on dust,” said Kendra Zamzow, an environmental geochemist with the Center for Science in Public Participation. Zamzow, who is from Chickaloon, has pored over thousands of supplemental documents to the DEIS called requests for information, or RFI, on behalf of the United Tribes. “They have a table in the soils chapter that lists how much they expect in concentrations of things like arsenic or cadmium or mercury increases over time in soils based on loading from dust. But there is no mention of copper. And this is going to be a copper mine,” Zamzow said. “We know from the element analyses they’ve done on concentrations in the ore and the waste rock that copper will be one of the top two components in the rock, and probably the highest of the trace metals. “And there’s absolutely no mention of the copper, which to me is really surprising because we know how copper is toxic to aquatic life, and everyone knows impacts to aquatic life is the entire reason that people are concerned about the Pebble mine.” The copper will inevitably leach into water bodies where fish and aquatic life in general will be exposed. “A lot of these particles could become available to the base of the food chain, the benthic feeders and zooplankton,” Zamzow said. The copper-saturated dust would blow from the mining area, whereas road dust would likely have a different composition. “The road dust is expected to impact a lot more waters than the mine site. But we don’t know to what extent concentrates could be making up part of the dust because it is not discussed at all. And mitigation mostly talks about watering the road,” Zamzow said. According to a 2014 Assessment of Potential Mining Impacts on Salmon Ecosystems at Bristol Bay by the Environmental Protection Agency, the transportation corridor in the Kvichak River watershed would cross approximately 64 streams and rivers of which 55 are known or likely to support migrating and resident salmonids, including 20 streams designated as anadromous waters. The corridor would run near Iliamna Lake and cross multiple tributary streams. Lower Cook Inlet also will get impacts from the Pebble dust as Amakdedori Creek in Kamishak Bay will be the export terminal to ship out the mined materials. Trucks from the mine site will transport the finely powdered concentrates to ice breaking barges for an 18 mile daily transit across Iliamna Lake, truck it on a 30-mile road to the coast, load it onto barges, then offload to a mothership 12 miles or more offshore. “They’re going to take 38-ton shipping containers off of trucks, lower them into a ship’s hold and turn them upside down to dump out the concentrates. And it will have very high concentrations of copper,” Zamzow said, adding that the DEIS says the transports will include nearly 630,000 tons of materials per year. Pebble’s mine site structures will include an open pit, a tailings storage facility, low grade ore and overburden stockpiles, quarry sites, water management ponds, milling and processing facilities, a 188-mile natural gas pipeline from the Kenai Peninsula to the site, a power plant, water treatment plants, camp facilities and storage facilities. “Building and powering a mine like Pebble or Donlin is like adding a new city to Alaska,” said Zamzow. “Dust is another example of how the Corps of Engineers has not done their job and is not holding Pebble up to a high standard of scientific rigor that Bristol Bay demands. And our decision makers are letting them,” said Alannah Hurley, United Tribes executive director. The public comment period for the Pebble Mine has been extended to June 29. Find more information at www.pebbleprojecteis.com. Expo No. 3 The third annual Bristol Bay Fish Expo is just weeks away as the region gears up for the world’s biggest sockeye salmon fishery. The event is a fundraiser for local childcare held in Naknek, the fishing hub for 10 major seafood processors and a fleet of nearly 1,000 boats. “There was no child care whatsoever in the community,” said Sharon Thompson, Expo co-organizer and board president of Little Angels Childcare Academy. The Expo so far has raised nearly $40,000 to open the doors and pay staff at the Academy, which received its state license last week to serve up to 15 children. “It has been the reason that Little Angels could continue existing while we got through the licensing process,” Thompson said. The Expo is on track to match or beat the 50 trade show vendors from last year. Other features include the premiere of The Wild, a film by Mark Titus and a visit from renowned sushi chef Taichi Kitamura who will be serving salmon dishes. Two of the biggest Expo hits are the Fashion and Wearable Art Show followed by an Auction featuring Bristol Bay fisherman and auctioneer Kurt Olson. (Donations are needed for the auction.) Invitations also have been sent to Alaska’s policy makers. “Those who are in public service and our politicians are forming the policies that will affect everything from our industry to our way of life. So, we are putting invites out to Sen. (Lisa) Murkowski, Gov. (Michael J.) Dunleavy, and a lot of others because it is an important part of our show,” Thompson said. The Expo theme this year is “feeding our families and fueling our dreams,” which Thompson said is exactly what the Bristol Bay salmon do. “We are just so grateful because our wild salmon resource is supporting all of this,” she said. “In times of budget crises, they’re putting food on our table, food in our freezers, and the wild salmon has provided a child care facility.” The Bristol Bay Fish Expo is set for June 9 and 10 at the Naknek school. See more at www.bristolbayfishexpo.com. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Fish economics updated; skins show healing power

Why should every Alaskan budget watcher care about the price of fish? Because when the price at the docks goes up by just one penny, it means more money for state coffers. In 2017, for example, the average dock price per pound for all Alaska seafood was 41 cents. If the price had increased to 42 cents, it would have added nearly $2 million more from fisheries landing and business taxes. That was one of the takeaways in an updated McDowell Group report presented last week at the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s spring board of directors meeting. It offers a good snapshot of the industry that spawned Alaska statehood and is now a seafood superpower. Here’s a sampler: Alaska’s seafood industry puts 60,000 people to work and supports at least $150 million a year in taxes and fees. More than 9,000 vessels are home-ported in Alaska and deliver fish to 87 large shoreside processing plants. Catches of nearly 6 billion pounds of seafood worth about $2 billion were the industry averages for 2016 and 2017. Pollock accounted for 57 percent of the volume caught and 22 percent of the value. Salmon ranked second for volume at 14 percent but was tops for Alaska seafood value at 34 percent. Cod catches were third and accounted for 11 percent of the value. Halibut, sablefish and crab each accounted for 1 percent of the total catch volume and 12 percent of the value. The U.S. is usually the largest market for Alaska seafood, followed by China, Japan, South Korea and the European Union. The export value over the past decade has averaged $3.3 billion, making seafood Alaska’s largest export by far. (By value, fishery products accounted for more than two-thirds of Alaska’s exports in the first quarter of 2017, according to the first quarter economic report by the state Department of Commerce.) Alaska’s top exports are pollock surimi and fillets (a combined $845 million) and frozen sockeye salmon ($313 million). Exports to China, which in 2018 comprised 32 percent of Alaska’s seafood sales and 23 percent of the value, dropped 20 percent due to ongoing trade spats with the Trump Administration. That included a 54 percent drop in Alaska salmon sales, a 49 percent decrease for crab and cod sales to China dropped 29 percent. In another trade hit: Imports to the U.S. of fresh Atlantic halibut from Canada have nearly doubled since 2012 to 8.8 million pounds last year. Looking at 2019, harvests of Alaska salmon, crab, halibut, sablefish and pollock are expected to increase, with declines for cod and rockfish catches. The market outlook for salmon is “stable to strong” said fisheries economist Garrett Evridge, who presented the report. “While there is optimism surrounding the harvest volume for the 2019 salmon season, we have been hearing reports of buyers pushing back against strong prices,” he said in an email message. Get skinny Those billions of fish skins tossed out each year could turn into a steady stream of more dollars for Alaska. Most recently, fish skins are making international headlines for their proven ability to heal burns. Last December tilapia skins treated the burnt paws of bears and mountain lions during the California wildfires. Earlier this year a tissue-like bandage created in Iceland from intact cod skins began use on burn patients in Europe and in the U.S. The fish skin product is called Kerecis Omega 3 Burn Treatment and when it is grafted onto damaged tissue, it builds up the body’s own cells to rapidly regenerate healthy tissue. Kerecis credits omega 3s for the healing power along with collagen. Fish skins contain the type of collagen protein that makes up most parts of human skin and bodies. Most has traditionally come from livestock and is used in a wide array of products. But the more remarkable properties of fish skins have experts pegging the value of marine collagen for the nutraceutical, cosmetic, food and medical market at $620 million in 2018 and nearly $900 million by 2023. Fish skins have extra appeal because they are available at a large scale and come with no religious constraints. “They’re fish — not beef or pork. So it satisfies kosher and halal dietary restrictions,” said Cindy Bower, a former U.S. Department of Agriculture food researcher at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Bower’s studies also showed that skins destined for collagen extraction can be stabilized with common drying agents to hold them prior to shipment and don’t need to be chilled. Dan Lesh, a senior economist with the McDowell Group, said with catch volumes for Alaska pollock averaging more than 3 billion pounds annually, that adds up to over 1.4 million pounds of skins, assuming a 5 percent yield. Skin yield percentages were similar for Pacific cod and in the 8 percent to 10 percent range for salmon. Studies show that the fish skins are loaded with collagen. Nearly 20 percent was extracted from salmon skins and 11 percent from cod, according to a 2017 Portuguese study. Alyeska Seafoods and one other processing company in Dutch Harbor have reportedly been extracting collagen from fish skins for decades for sale to the Japanese cosmetic industry. And there’s this: fried salmon skins are becoming a snack rage in England. A former chef created Sea Chips after diners called for more crispy salmon skins as garnishes on their meals. The chips come in three flavors and are being cranked out at 100,000 bags a week. They are being sold at major retailers in Britain and the makers expect sales to top $1 million over the next 18 months with 10 percent going to ocean charities. Don’t do drugs Customer backlash has Chilean farmed salmon producers promising to reduce their use of antibiotics by half by 2025. Members of the Chilean Salmon Marketing Council made the announcement last month at Seafood Expo North America in Boston. The group will work with the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program to secure a coveted better rating by that watchdog group. Chile is the world’s second-largest producer of farmed salmon after Norway and most of the farmed salmon that Americans buy comes from Chile. The country was court ordered three years ago to disclose its antibiotic use after 37 companies refused to give any details, saying it would pose a “competition and commercial risk.” Chilean salmon farmers use florfenicol, a common veterinary antibiotic, to kill a bacteria that kills the fish that are grown in crowded net pens near coastlines. The court case was filed by Oceana that showed that Chile was using more antibiotics than any other fish and livestock producers in the world: 950 grams to raise one ton of fish. In 2014, usage was 1.2 million pounds of antibiotics on 2 billion pounds of fish. In contrast, Norway uses just 0.17 grams per ton of salmon. The Chilean marketing council said it plans to spend millions in its effort to win over wholesalers, retailers and food service companies with its new “Promise of Patagonia” campaign. Meanwhile, U.S. salmon lovers can easily tell if the fish they are choosing is drug free. Country of Origin Labeling laws since 2009 require fish sold in the U.S. to be identified as to where it comes from and if it is wild or farmed. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Emerging mariculture industry seeks to streamline permitting

Alaska may be famous for its wild fish, but some are working to make room in the state’s waters for more shellfish, kelp and crabs on aquatic farms. Mariculture is a hot topic in fisheries right now. Essentially, mariculture can be defined as the cultivation of plants or animals in controlled saltwater environments, but in Alaska it doesn’t include finfish, as that’s illegal in the state. So mariculture farmers have stuck to primarily kelp and oysters so far, but they’re starting to get more adventurous. As of December 2018, 58 aquatic farms were operating in the state along with five hatcheries and seven nurseries, though only 41 of the farms documented production in 2017, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Oysters are still the most widely grown product, though kelp is gaining ground; after the first operations for kelp were permitted in 2016, four farms had produced 16,570 pounds of ribbon and sugar kelp by the following year. A major obstacle remaining, though, is the regulatory hurdle to get an aquatic farm permitted. A bill in the Legislature — House Bill 116 — would trim down some of that procedure with an eye toward getting more operations out the gate. The bill, sponsored by representatives Andi Story, D-Juneau, and Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka, would fast-track permit renewals for farms in good standing for their first renewal cycle, which covers 10 years. Story clarified in a hearing before the House Fisheries Committee on April 23 that it would make no changes for salmon hatcheries, which operate in the state largely without saltwater net pens. There’s been a recent surge in license applications to the state for aquatic farms, increasing the wait time, Story said. “Because of the recent increase in the number of aquaculture farm leases … it now takes on average 18 months or more to approve an aquatic farm lease,” she said. To obtain a permit, the applicant first has to apply to the Alaska Department of Natural Resources for the use of the tidelands, which requires a 30-day public review and comment period and may require a site survey by ADFG. After the public comments are compiled and evaluated, DNR and ADFG issue a final decision. If the permit is denied, the applicant can appeal; if it’s approved, the permit is good for 10 years. The DNR permit’s annual fees are $450 or $875 for the first acre and $125 for each additional acre, with a $2,500 minimum performance bond required and a commercial use requirement by the fifth year with $3,000 per acre or a $15,000 max per farm site. ADFG requires an annual operating report for each species cultured as well as permits to acquire and transport wildlife. On top of that, to harvest and sell food products, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation requires that the operator obtain a water qualify classification, conduct shellfish sampling for paralytic shellfish poison and obtain shellfish processing permits, according to documentation submitted to the Legislature. It can be expensive and time-consuming. Meta Mesdag, co-owner of Salty Lady Seafood Company in Juneau, told the committee members that it’s taken about $150,000 of investment so far for her family’s approximately 1-acre operation growing geoduck clams and oysters. “(Oysters) take about three years to grow, and the geoduck will take seven,” she said. “Unfortunately, we only have five years left on our lease so we won’t see any revenue from our geoducks before we have to go through the renewal process all over again.” The Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, which promotes the exploration and development of fisheries throughout the state, credited the work of the state Mariculture Task Force with the growth in interest. In a letter of support for HB 116, the foundation noted that the vetting process for renewing a permit slows down the process for new applicants. “HB 116 is important step toward efficiently developing a mariculture industry in Alaska,” wrote AFDF Executive Director Julie Decker in the letter. “HB 116 will allow for one renewal of an aquatic farm site through a simpler internal process which does not require public comment, if the lease is in good standing/compliance. However, the second renewal would still be required to go through the extended process similar to a new application.” The Mariculture Task Force, established by Gov. Bill Walker in 2016 after the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation obtained a federal grant in 2014 to fund its Alaska Mariculture Initiative, developed a strategy released in March 2018 aiming to make Alaska’s mariculture industry worth $100 million in the next 20 years. The industry produced about $1.5 million in sales annually in the state in 2017. In the future, the primarily revenue drivers would be oysters, seaweed and geoduck clams, with smaller markets in mussels, sea cucumbers and king crab, according to the group’s Mariculture Development Plan. The primary recommendations the group produced are securing seed supply through hatcheries, passing state legislation to help fund hatcheries through the mariculture revolving loan fund and allow shellfish enhancement and filling several research and coordination positions for mariculture, among other goals. Alaska is significantly behind the Pacific Northwest in mariculture development. Some farms in Washington operate thousands of acres and employ hundreds of people. Taylor Shellfish Farms, which has been operating in the Seattle area since the 1890s, employs about 500 people and holds leases on more than 10,000 acres of tidelands in Washington. Some commenters raised a concern about the size of farms in the future. DNR does not currently have a size cap, other than that a farm cannot take up more than a third of the bay or inlet where it is located. Though the DNR considers risks like navigation hazards when reviewing farm permits, the agency is starting to consider ways to address concerns about farm size, said Christy Colles, who manages the shore leasing program for the Division of Mining, Land and Water, during the House Fisheries Committee meeting. “These new farms at this magnitude are by and large new to the state,” she said. “We haven’t really had much of a chance to think about how we can address those.” “Large” is a relative term in Alaska compared to the enormous operations in the Lower 48, said Mark Scheer, who operates Premium Aquatics near Craig, farming kelp and Pacific oysters. Though he said his lease is for more than 100 acres, he doesn’t use all of it at once. “I think it’s important to recognize that this is a new transition for Alaska,” he said. “The relative scale of what we’re doing here is modest at best.” HB 116 was passed out of the House Fisheries Committee to the House Resources Committee, scheduled for its next hearing on May 3. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Cook Inlet setnet buyback program gains support

Cook Inlet fishermen are again pushing for a bill that would authorize a commercial set gillnet permit buyback, but with the budget battles ongoing, it may not advance this year. Senate Bill 90 is the latest version of the plan to set up a buyback program for setnet permits on Cook Inlet’s east side. About 440 permits exist on the east side, targeting primarily sockeye salmon with secondary catches of king salmon headed for the Kasilof and Kenai rivers. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, aims to permanently remove up to 200 permits and their shore leases from the fishery. The fishermen have been debating a way to reduce the fleet for about four years, surveying stakeholders for support and working with Micciche to authorize a program to do so. The latest version of the bill would require a confirming vote by the fishermen, a voluntary signup for the program and would seek funding other than the state General Fund. With a set price of $260,000 per permit, the whole program would cost $52 million. “There are some private endowments that have mentioned some interest because of the conservation; there are federal programs that participate in conservation efforts,” Micciche told the Senate Resources Committee in a hearing April 22. “This is going to take some time to be ready with the election and settling any of the appeals and whatever goes with it, but the state is not paying for any of this. This is going to come from other sources that we’re not sure of at this point.” The conflict between fisheries user groups in Cook Inlet is notorious statewide. The Kenai River draws thousands of anglers from all over the world for its salmon runs, while commercial fishermen ply both the beaches and the Inlet. Personal-use dipnet fishermen come from all over the state each summer for the fisheries at the mouths of the Kenai and Kasilof rivers. As king salmon runs declined and both commercial and sport fisheries have been restricted in response, the allocation conflicts have become more pitched. Micciche said this bill is intended to help reduce the allocation conflict, allow more king salmon to make it through to spawn and make the remaining setnetters more economically viable. In an example of rare cooperation, multiple groups have come together to support the effort, he said. If the Legislature approves the bill, the initiative would go to a vote among permit holders. If they approve it, permit holders could put their names into a lottery to be drawn for the buyback. The bill also redefines the areas of the buyback, sectioning off the Cook Inlet East Side setnetters as Upper Subdistrict fishermen that are distinct from setnetters in the Northern District or on the west side of the Inlet. In the past, the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association, which represents the East Side setnetters, has been wary of bills establishing a buyback program. After taking surveys and working with Micciche on the language, the association offered its support for Micciche’s version of the bill, said Andy Hall, the president of the association’s board. That doesn’t mean every person in the fleet supports the concept, but the survey brought back about 70 percent to 80 percent support, he said. The price tag for the buyout may seem high to some people, Hall said, but it’s based on 10 years of average earnings and was closed to adjustment at the end of December 2018. Removing gear from the fishery will likely have an immediate financial benefit for the fishermen who are left. “We’re not looking to be martyrs; we’re business people,” he said. “If we’re going to step away, we want to be remunerated for it.” One source of contention is how so many fishermen wound up on the east side of the Inlet to begin with. Commercial fishermen are issued permits for Cook Inlet in general, and though they were more widely distributed across the west side, east side and Kalgin Island before the 1980s, they began migrating to the east side because of the accessibility of the fishery and the proximity of processing facilities in Kenai, Kasilof and Ninilchik. Fate Putnam, the chair of the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission, told the Senate Resources committee that the days of the East Side fishery being highly profitable are gone, though. “I will say this: There was a time about 20 years ago that these fishermen were making about $100,000 (per permit),” he said. “Now they’re making about $11,000.” However, the Senate Resources committee members expressed some hesitation about forwarding the bill on. Senate President Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, who sits on the committee, proposed an amendment requiring anyone participating in the buyback to have held the permit for at least 10 years and have fished actively at least five of those years. Her goal was to prevent speculation or system-gaming, she said. Micciche said the amendment could effectively kill the program, as many of the fishermen who want to participate have held their permits for less than 10 years. Permits are swapped every year in fisheries; according to information provided by Putnam to the Legislature, an average of 58 setnet permits in Cook Inlet in general are transferred each year. The ratio of permits being transferred is similar to other fisheries and hasn’t changed much over the years, suggesting that there isn’t much speculation going on about the buyback, Putnam wrote in a memo to the Senate Resources Committee. Speculation may happen, but that’s normal in fisheries, Micciche told the committee. “People speculate on fishing permits. That’s what they do,” he said. “We don’t care which permits they are — we just want 200 out. And if you don’t pass the vote, you don’t get the buyback and you don’t get the extra fish in the rivers.” During an April 29 hearing, the Senate Resources Committee moved SB 90 out of committee after amending it to require anyone participating in the buyback to have held the permit for at least four years and have fished for two of those years. The new amendment, proposed by Giessel, was intended to be a middle ground to prevent speculation but to still allow the program to continue. Micciche said the adjustment better served the intention to prevent speculation, and the committee passed the amendment and the bill without objection. Ken Coleman, who fishes a setnet site near the Kenai River and is one of the proponents of the buyback program through the East Side Consolidation Association, said he hopes to see the bill climb through the Legislature this year, but it still has a long way to go through even the Senate before it goes to the House. Several committee members expressed concern about funding, and though Micciche said the fishermen have no intention to seek state funding, they need a program established by a bill first before they can apply for funding elsewhere. Konrad Jackson, Micciche’s chief of staff, said he plans to keep working to get the bill heard, but with less than three weeks left before the Legislature’s 121st day and major budget items still to be debated, it’s unlikely the bill will make it far this year. Coleman said they may be able to seek federal funding, even though the fishery is not in federal waters. “I’ve had several talks with the federal delegation about funding, and also had talks with (The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) about their capacity reduction program,” he said. “To the extent we can seek funding, we have to have a work product. I’ve been in discussion with the federal delegation, and they’re amenable to seeking funding, but we need a bill.” Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

UAF Blue Economy Center designed to develop marine resources

The University of Alaska Fairbanks recently established the Alaska Blue Economy Center to help advance new research, education and economic opportunities for Alaska. “I am thrilled to have this new center approved by UAF Chancellor White. This represents an opportunity to help spur innovation and technology development in Alaska’s burgeoning blue economy,” said UAF College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences Dean Bradley Moran. “The launch of ABEC comes at a critical time as the state seeks to diversify and grow its economy and workforce.” The term “blue economy” refers to the use of ocean resources for economic growth, including traditional sectors such as fisheries, coastal tourism and oil and gas exploration, as well as the rapidly growing areas of ocean technology development, renewable energy and marine biotechnology. With more than half of the nation’s coastline and roughly one-third of the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone, Alaska is well-positioned to be a leader in the blue economy. A central goal of ABEC is to help grow and diversify Alaska’s marine workforce. For example, the center will facilitate collaboration and innovation to address ocean economic challenges and opportunities. ABEC combines expertise in research, instruction and public engagement related to Alaska’s aquatic resources and ecosystems. “Alaska has the opportunity to add tremendous value to our fisheries resources, bringing needed dollars and jobs into Alaska,” said UAF Chancellor Dan White. In addition to supporting Alaska’s existing sectors, the center seeks to find sustainable options for growth that preserve and protect Alaska’s thriving marine resources. Researchers at the UAF College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, or CFOS, are already actively engaged in projects and activities that benefit Alaska’s fishery and aquaculture industries around the state. One current project investigates the reproductive rates of seaweed in Southcentral Alaska to help determine whether changes in regulations could make it easier to sustainably harvest seaweed near Homer. Another looks at the causes and consequences of whale predation on hatchery-released salmon in Chatham Strait near Sitka. Researchers at the Kodiak Seafood and Marine Science Center are developing a technique and recipe to process fish skins from seafood processors into dog treats, a unique and innovative way to eliminate seafood waste. These projects highlight the role of research in developing sustainable ocean industries to benefit the state of Alaska. UAF also supports Alaska’s blue economy in ways outside of its traditional research programs. One such avenue is through training the next generation of blue economy leaders. In 2018, UAF established the nation’s only online Blue MBA degree to provide leaders with the tools to work at the intersection of business and aquatic resources. The program, designed for students with a background in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, will give students the knowledge and skills needed to develop business models to ensure the sustainable use of marine and freshwater resources. ABEC will serve as the umbrella organization for these research and teaching activities, relying on strong collaborations with research and agency partners at UAF and around the state. “We look forward to partnering with CFOS to ensure that our blue economies and industries have the necessary ocean observations, data and information products they need to make wise decisions about the sustainable use of our ocean and coastal resources,” said Molly McCammon, director of the Alaska Ocean Observing System. CFOS has also partnered with the Bering Sea Fisheries Association and the Alaska Ocean Cluster to implement a new Blue Pipeline Incubator, a think tank geared at promoting ocean-related businesses that support the resiliency of coastal economies around the state. Based at the CFOS Seward Marine Center, the new program will seek out innovative leaders and businesses aiming to increase revenues, expand their workforce and mentor new programs around the state. In 2017, the CFOS Kodiak Seafood and Marine Science Center received a half-million-dollar federal grant to partner with Blue Evolution — a private company that cultivates and markets seaweed products — to improve methods of growing, harvesting and transporting farmed sugar kelp, a common edible seaweed. Seaweed farming is a multibillion-dollar industry worldwide that presents a new economic opportunity for coastal Alaska. ABEC aims to be on the frontlines in providing research and workforce opportunities to catalyze Alaska’s participation in this burgeoning industry. ABEC will help unify organizations that already advocate for sustainable use of marine resources, such as Alaska Sea Grant and the UAF Alaska Center for Energy and Power. “The very essence of the blue economy is to promote sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, jobs and ecosystem health, and this is a mirror of Sea Grant’s mission,” said Alaska Sea Grant Director Heather Brandon. “Essentially all the work of Alaska Sea Grant supports and grows the blue economy. The new center will amplify Alaska Sea Grant’s impact, and vice versa.” Gwen Holdmann, director of ACEP, said, “Access to affordable and reliable energy sources to support the blue economy, and tapping into the vast potential Alaska has in tidal and current energy as one possible growth area, is something the Alaska Center for Energy and Power is very interested in supporting.” These projects and programs represent UAF’s commitment to grow Alaska’s blue economy, spur innovation and sustain the marine and inland aquatic resources that Alaskans depend on. With the new Alaska Blue Economy Center, we will be better equipped to capitalize on Alaska’s coastal energy and environmental resources.

Reps apologize after last-minute charges sink Johnstone nomination

Editor's note: This story has been updated with a list of names provided to the governor by the Alaska Marijuana Industry Association for the Marijuana Control Board. Last Wednesday night was a strange one for the Legislature. In a joint session of the House and Senate on April 17, the members confirmed most of Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy’s nominees for state boards and commissions and all of his cabinet appointments. Seven appointees were not confirmed, though, with one not being voted on and six being rejected. Although some were rejected based on their resumes, last-minute accusations of sexual harassment against one blew up the confirmation process. Karl Johnstone, one of Dunleavy’s four nominees to the Board of Fisheries, was voted down 24-33 late that night. Earlier in the day, Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D-Anchorage, surprised the members of the Legislature when she said during her comments that she had received texts from two women alleging sexually harassing behavior from Johnstone during his previous service on the board. The allegations were not mentioned during multiple previous confirmation hearings, when hundreds of people testified for and against Johnstone based on his past service with the board. After Spohnholz’s comments, the Legislature voted narrowly to table Johnstone’s nomination but brought it up again later that night, at which point he was voted down. The allegations were a surprise to many in the room, and Spohnholz did not identify the two people who put them forward, nor were they identified later. No formal investigation was conducted into the allegations, and Johnstone did not have the opportunity to make comments on the record about any allegations. Andy Hall, the president of setnetting group the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association and a setnet fisherman, wrote public testimony to the Legislature opposing Johnstone’s nomination but said he was surprised by the process of the vote. “It would’ve been cleaner if it was a vote based on the testimony provided to the Legislature about him,” he said. “That last incident may or may not have changed things. I don’t know.” Hall and many others who testified to the Legislature against Johnstone offered anecdotes about intimidating behavior, both toward members of the public and toward Alaska Department of Fish and Game staff. Commercial fishermen opposed Johnstone primarily because of a record of voting for sportfishing interests and his public commentary about the need to prioritize sportfishing and personal use fisheries over commercial fisheries, particularly in Cook Inlet. The United Fishermen of Alaska, which does not usually oppose or endorse Board of Fisheries candidates, made a point to oppose Johnstone’s nomination because of his record. The UFA did not have any connection to the allegations of sexual harassment that arose, wrote Executive Director Frances Leach in an email. “We feel it was unfortunate timing that these allegations came out on the floor right before the vote as Mr. Johnstone was not provided time to respond,” she wrote. However, according to UFA’s tracking, it didn’t change the ultimate outcome. Political organizations regularly keep track of how legislators have said they would vote in a record called a chit sheet, and UFA’s chit sheets made before the joint session showed that Johnstone would have been defeated anyway, Leach added. In a statement to KTVA, Johnstone wrote that, “I believe that legitimate claims should be taken seriously and investigated. But let me be clear, I never made inappropriate sexual comments as stated by Rep. (Spohnholz) … I have thick skin and can take the hits, but it stings to know my four daughters have been hurt by this. My appointment to the Board of Fisheries is no longer at stake. My hope is that the truth comes out because the only thing at stake now is my reputation. All Alaskans should be concerned that the truth comes out. What happened to me can happen to anyone.” The vote left a bad taste in some mouths, even among those who did not vote for Johnstone. Reps. Sarah Vance, R-Homer, and Ben Carpenter, R-Nikiski, issued a joint apology to Johnstone and another appointee, Bob Griffin, for what they said was inappropriate behavior from the Legislature impugning nominees’ characters without giving them a chance to respond. Both Vance and Carpenter hail from the Kenai Peninsula, which is rife with fisheries conflict but home to most of Cook Inlet’s commercial fishermen, who heavily opposed Johnstone’s nomination. Both are members of the House minority. House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, and Spohnholz did not return calls for comment. “Neither Rep. Carpenter nor I voted to confirm Mr. Johnstone to the Board of Fish, but our decisions had nothing to do with the unfair accusations levied against him on the floor,” Vance said in a statement. “To wildly throw out such offensive accusations with a clear intent to derail someone’s nomination is a sick political stunt, and I hope Mr. Johnstone and Mr. Griffin will accept our apologies on behalf of the body.” Stiver shot down for Marijuana Board In a cleaner, but narrower, vote, the Legislature also turned down the nomination of Vivian Stiver of Fairbanks to fill a seat on the Marijuana Control Board. Members of the cannabis industry heavily campaigned against her based on her past participation in a campaign to ban commercial marijuana activity in Fairbanks and her lack of background in the industry. She was to replace Brandon Emmett, also of Fairbanks, who had represented industry on the board since its inception in 2015. The Legislature did confirm Dunleavy’s second appointment to the board, Alaska Wildlife Trooper Lt. Christopher Jaime of Soldotna. Stiver was turned down in a 29-30 vote, one shy of what she needed for a majority. Carey Carrigan, the executive director of the Alaska Marijuana Industry Association, said the members of the industry were relieved at the vote and that “common sense prevailed.” “We’re not trying to oppose people to oppose them,” he said. “(For) that second seat that everyone’s considering a public seat, I’d like to see two seats for industry on the board. To have two seats on the board representing industry on the board is not unreasonable.” The industry group has assembled a group of suggested individuals for appointment to submit to Dunleavy’s administration, Carrigan said, aiming for a person with industry background and knowledge, he said. That list, submitted Wednesday, includes Bruce Schulte of Anchorage, Joseph Martin of Anchorage, Rebecca Rein of Houston, Michael White of Anchorage and Gary Evans of Fairbanks. Schulte served on the board from 2015–2016, including as chairman, until former governor Bill Walker dismissed him. “I don’t know if there’s going to be any desire to accept our assistance,” he said. “I hope there is.” Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Salmon permit values rise on optimism; halibut shares sinking

Nearly all Alaska salmon permits have gone up in value since last fall and buying/selling/trading action is brisk. “We’re as busy as we’ve ever been in the last 20 years,” said Doug Bowen of Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer. “Boat sales are doing well and between IFQs (individual fishing quota) and permit sales, we’ve got a busy year going.” The salmon permit interest is fueled by a forecast this year of more than 213 million fish, an 85 percent increase over 2018. Also, salmon prices are expected to be higher. For the bellwether drift permit at Bristol Bay, the value has increased from around $165,000 and sales are now being made in the low- to mid-$170,000 range. Several good salmon seasons in a row pushed drift permits at Area M on the Alaska Peninsula to about $175,000 last fall, Bowen said “and if you can find one now, it’s going to cost you over $200,000.” At Cook Inlet, where salmon catches have been dismal for the drift fishery, permit values bottomed out at $28,000 and have climbed a bit to $38,000. At the salmon fishery’s peak in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Cook Inlet drift permits were traded at more than $240,000, Bowen said. “When Alaska’s salmon industry crashed in the early 1990s due to the flood of farmed fish, those permits dropped to under $10,000 and since then have been all over the map,” he added. The drift fleet at Prince William Sound also had one of its worst years last summer and that permit is one of the few that has gone down in value. “They were over $150,000 and the last one we sold was at $145,000,” Bowen said. For Prince William Sound seiners, who are expecting a good pink salmon year, the permit value is listed at $170,000, a $5,000 increase from last fall. At Kodiak, seine permits have held steady for several years in the $28,000 range. At Chignik, where seiners experienced the worst fishery ever last year catching just 128 sockeyes, there is little to no interest in permits. Salmon permit action in Southeast Alaska “is kind of a mix,” said Olivia Olsen at Alaskan Quota and Permits in Petersburg. For both buying and leasing, there’s less interest in power troll permits for a second year but prices “are holding at a respectable $27,000 to $28,000,” Olsen said. “The permit holders have a really positive outlook for all species except kings, so they don’t understand why the price isn’t going up,” she said, adding that there is little interest in hand troll permits. Southeast drift permit prices are up with expectations of good prices and lots of fish. “Last year they were selling for $79,000 to the low $80s and currently prices are at $95,000. So that’s been a hot permit,” Olsen said. “They are opening new fishing areas which they feel should thin out the herd and have plenty of fish for everybody.” Demand also is up for Southeast seine permits and the price has increased to $250,000, a boost of $25,000 since last fall. Both Olsen and Bowen agreed that Alaska salmon permit holders are looking toward a good year. “We’re seeing a lot of optimism pretty much across the board,” Bowen said. Halibut quota slump A slight increase in this year’s halibut catch and respectable dock prices haven’t done much to boost the value of IFQs. Halibut quota shares that topped $70 per pound in some regions took a 30 percent nose dive in 2018 and have remained there ever since. Now $63 per pound is the high for halibut IFQs in the Southeast fishing region, with most moving at the $52 to $58 range, said Olivia Olsen. In the Central Gulf of Alaska, quota is listed in the $35 to $45 per pound range, down from a high of $50 last November. The value per pound in the Western Gulf, is down by 50 percent from 2017. “It’s advertised at $27 and selling for less,” Olsen said. Last fall, halibut prices dropped by $2 per pound to the $5 range at the Alaska docks and boats sometimes couldn’t find buyers for their fish. The biggest hit was a flood of seven million pounds of cheaper Atlantic halibut from eastern Canada displacing Alaska’s fish in east coast markets. But things seem to be looking up. “This year there is an increased confidence level for halibut. There is some optimism that we’ll see better recruitment into the fishery,” said Doug Bowen, referring to strong year classes from 2011-12 that are showing up in the fishery. Olsen agreed. “The confidence level is up a bit in halibut after last year being our slowest selling year ever for IFQs,” she said. “Buyers are interested but at last year’s prices and it seems to be working. Considering that the IFQ prices were out of whack on the high end, perhaps it’s a good adjustment.” Baited fisheries Herring and smelt at Upper Cook Inlet are fisheries that pay out nicely for the few who participate, and both are open to all. Ten to 20 fishermen usually take part in the bait herring fishery that runs from April 20 to the end of May. A combined take of 150 tons can be taken from four areas by set or drift gillnets, although nearly all comes from the upper east side, said Pat Shields, commercial fisheries management coordinator for Lower and Upper Cook Inlet at the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game office in Soldotna. “It’s a pretty small quota but we’re not even reaching the quota of up to 40 tons on the east side,” he said, adding that all of herring goes into the bait market for halibut fishermen, either commercial or sport. The catch might be small, but it fetches big bucks as bait. “Currently the fishermen are selling that product for $2,000 to $3,000 a ton, or $1 to $1.50 a pound,” Shields said. In contrast, the average price for herring caught only for their eggs at places like Sitka, Kodiak or Togiak averages 12 cents per pound. Shields speculated the price is so high because there are so few bait herring fisheries in the state. Most Alaska fishermen purchase herring for bait from the east coast, often at about $1 per pound. The Cook Inlet herring is frozen and sold throughout the year and Shields said demand far exceeds the supply. Also at Upper Cook Inlet: A smelt fishery with a 200-ton limit will open from May 1 and run through June. Fewer than 20 fishermen participate in what Shields calls “one of the most interesting and challenging fisheries in the state.” “It’s done with dip nets at the mouth of the Susitna River. People usually take a drift boat across the mudflats. That’s eight or nine miles of a muddy mess that you have to navigate with winds coming in from three different areas: Knik Arm, Turnagain Arm and Cook Inlet. Some people refer to it as a cesspool because the waters are just swirling and it’s shallow,” Shields said. The boats come back to the Kenai River to offload their catches and the smelt is frozen, boxed up and shipped out. “Then it gets distributed primarily along the West Coast for human consumption, where Columbia River smelt fisheries are very restricted or closed,” Shields said. “It also goes into the bait market for the sturgeon fishery and the marine aquarium market.” Fishermen can get a nice price, twice: 25 cents to 75 cents per pound for their catch, and up to $2 per pound after it goes to market. Estimates from 2016 peg the annual smelt run to the Susitna River at 53,000 tons but Shields said the catch remains very conservative. “The reason for the small limit is that this is a beluga critical habitat area and this is a forage fish that is considered very important to that species,” he explained. Both the smelt and herring fisheries are open to anyone but require special permits. “Anytime you have an interest in what we call these smaller fun, interesting fisheries, please give us a call and we’ll do all we can to help you get involved in them,” Shields said. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Copper River opener to kick off salmon season in week of May 12

Every spring, Alaska commercial fishermen hold their breaths before taking the plunge of salmon season and the unpredictability of what the runs will bring. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game does its best to forecast what fishermen might expect, but as it’s a prediction, fishermen have to take it with a grain of salt. This year, ADFG is forecasting fairly average sockeye salmon runs, even in Bristol Bay. However, pink salmon and chum runs may help make up for some of the lackluster sockeye runs and still-struggling king salmon runs across the state. Prince William Sound, traditionally the first salmon fishery to hit the markets, is expected to open May 13 in the Copper River and Bering River districts, with the subsequent areas opening in June. The sockeye salmon are the most famous fish from the Copper River fishery, but the kings kick off the season with the annual airplane ceremonies in Anchorage and Seattle for the first king deliveries. The forecast for a return 55,000 Copper River kings is about 20 percent above the recent 10-year average run of 46,000 fish, according to the Prince William Sound 2019 forecast. The forecast for sockeye salmon in the Copper, which is regarded as the most accurate forecast in the region, is about 1.4 million wild fish and 98,000 hatchery fish, about 31 percent and 69 percent below the recent 10-year averages respectively. But ADFG warns caution there as well; last year, the summer brought about 1 million fewer fish than the forecast predicted and there were just a handful of openings for kings. “This forecast is uncertain and should be interpreted with caution as poor runs of many Gulf of Alaska sockeye salmon stocks in 2018 suggest there is considerable likelihood of over-forecasting in 2019,” the forecast states. Pink salmon may be a bright spot as the summer moves along for Prince William Sound, though. ADFG’s forecast projects about 23.5 million wild-run pink salmon to come back, largely based on good escapements in 2015 and 2017. That’s on top of an estimated 22.3 million pinks estimated to return to Prince William Sound Aquaculture Association facilities and an estimated 20.1 million to return to the Valdez Fisheries Development Association’s Solomon Gulch Hatchery. Pink salmon runs have been unreliable in recent seasons, though. The 2018 season was disappointing for salmon fishermen all over the Gulf of Alaska. Pink salmon catches were dismal and sockeye runs were late, if they appeared at all. The 2016 pink salmon season was disastrously poor for Gulf of Alaska fishermen as well, with the federal government appropriating disaster funds to help make up for some of the loss. Fisheries scientists have drawn possible connections between the poor pink salmon returns and persistent warm water conditions in the Gulf of Alaska through 2015 and 2016. Bristol Bay benefited from some of that downturn in sockeye salmon, though. While the rest of the Gulf of Alaska struggled to meet escapement goals and still allow for commercial fishing, Bristol Bay fishermen and processors could barely keep up with record-breaking sockeye salmon runs last year. Things might return to a little more normal this year, though. The 2019 projected total run of 40.18 million would allow for a commercial harvest of about 26.1 million to 27.6 million in Bristol Bay fisheries, according to Fish and Game’s forecast. For comparison, the total run in 2019 would be smaller than just the harvest in 2018; commercial fishermen hauled in 41.3 million sockeye in 2018, with a total estimated run of 62.3 million sockeye to all river systems. The dearth in sockeye elsewhere helped keep prices higher for Bristol Bay fishermen, who caught all those sockeye and were able to sell them for an average ex-vessel price of about $1.26 per pound, according to Fish and Game. “2018 prices were strong, Bristol Bay processors and fishermen were able to move a lot of product at a pretty high price,” said McDowell Group seafood economist Garrett Evridge. “Part of that high price came from weakness in other areas of the state, so that’s a factor. In terms of the 2019 price, the market appears to be pretty stable when you consider the level of inventory. We haven’t heard too many reports of significant existing inventory out there.” Salmon prices fluctuate wildly in-season, with prices typically starting higher early in the season and moving down as more fish hit the market. Before the season begins, processors work on contracts both domestically and internationally, and though ADFG clearly states that salmon forecasts are subject to change, they do affect markets and prices, Evridge said. “The bottom line is these forecasts can be off significantly and sometimes they’re right,” he said. “We should recognize that these are forecasts … Those Fish and Game forecasts are talked about at the highest level of negotiations and they do impact expectations.” Forecasts aren’t the only thing that impact prices. Internationally, farmed salmon production can also affect how consumers demand and purchase fish. Producers like Norway and Chile have not increased production dramatically in the last few years and struggle with pests like sea lice, but other countries are working on expanding their industries. Iceland, for example, has been taking steps to expand its aquaculture industry dramatically over the next decade. Evridge said outlook over the long term is for farmed salmon production to increase as high prices attract investment into aquatic farming. Trade conflicts between the U.S. and China and talk of new tariffs in the European Union on American seafood due to a trade dispute may also affect prices, though nothing is solidified. The issue with forecasting prices is that many factors affect them, and the bottom line is that it’s never a clear projection, Evridge said. “It’s just unknowable,” he said. “But I can say that in recent years we have seen strong prices basically because demand has been strong and demand has been stable. You have the industry that’s marketing and you have ASMI that’s investing significant time and resources into telling the story of Alaska salmon. We generally think that the Alaska name has value to the consumer. Thinking long-term, there are certainly challenges right now with salmon management, but we do have a robust, scientifically managed, sustainably harvested fishery. We are endeavoring to preserve these fisheries in perpetuity.” One bright spot this year may be an exceptionally large run of chum salmon, with a potential harvest of 29 million chums, potentially the largest in the state’s history. Last year brought huge numbers of chum salmon to Norton Sound, and this year may bring a burst of them to Southeast Alaska. Between the region’s hatcheries, an estimated 18 million chum may return. The Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association alone is forecasting almost 9 million chums to return, with just shy of 8 million available for commercial harvest. That may help make up for some of the other disappointing forecasts in Southeast. Pink salmon forecasts are weak, with only 18 million forecasted, and king salmon stocks in the Chilkat, King Salmon and Unuk rivers not even projected to meet their escapement goals. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Net recycling effort spreads to Southeast; almanac seeks stories

The Panhandle plans to be the next Alaska region to give new life to old fishing gear by sending it to plastic recycling centers. The tons of nets and lines piled up in local lots and landfills will become the raw material for soda bottles, cell phone cases, sunglasses, skateboards, swimsuits and more. Juneau, Haines, Petersburg and possibly Sitka have partnered with Net Your Problem to launch an effort this year to send old or derelict seine and gillnets to a recycler in Richmond, British Columbia. “We’re going to be working in a new location with a new material and sending it to a new recycler,” said Nicole Baker, founder of Net Your Problem and the force behind fishing gear recycling in Alaska. Baker, a former fisheries observer who also is a research assistant for Ray Hilborn at the University of Washington, jumpstarted recycling programs for trawl nets, crab and halibut line two years ago at Dutch Harbor and Kodiak quickly followed. The nets can weigh from 5,000 to 25,000 tons and can cost $350 to $500 per ton for disposal in landfills. The community/industry collaborations in both towns have so far sent 300,000 pounds of gear in seven vans to Europe for recycling. “Each fishing port will have its own special logistics plan but the general role is the same,” she said. “You need somebody to give you the nets, truck them around, load them and ship them.” No two plastics are the same, and the B.C. recycler opened the door for removals of seine and gillnets made from nylon. Baker said only gear that contains lead, such as longline gear or leaded lines, cannot be accepted for recycling. “The recycler I have been using in Europe told me it is illegal to import lead into the EU. So that is something that is still a bit of a struggle,” she said. “But as far as polyethylene and polypropylene trawl gear, or nylon seine or gillnet gear, I can recycle all of those at the moment.” The pace of the fishing seasons will determine the best time for the Southeast towns to begin collecting the nets from fishermen, Baker said, and she hopes to hear from other communities that have net pile ups. “If you are dealing with this issue please feel free to reach out to me because I am happy to try to establish the logistics for a program in your community,” she said. “My goal is to expand slowly but surely and add one new location every year while still continuing support for recycling efforts at the previous locations.” Baker will start off the Southeast tour in Haines during its Earth Day events on April 19. Hatchery numbers Salmon that got their start in Alaska hatcheries are maintaining a decade long trend of comprising one third of the statewide catch. In 2018, a hatchery harvest of 39 million salmon — mostly chums and pinks — was 34 percent of the total statewide take, valued at $176 million to Alaska fishermen. Forty-one million adult salmon returned to Alaska’s 29 hatcheries last year, shy of the 54-million fish forecast, and below the 61 million 10-year average. That’s according to the 2018 salmon enhancement report released each year by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Prince William Sound is Alaska’s largest hatchery salmon producer and last year’s catch of 19 million fish accounted for 76 percent of the region’s total, and 75 percent of the value to fishermen at $65 million. Southeast is the second biggest hatchery producer. The 2018 catch of about 8 million fish was 46 percent of the region’s harvest, and 59 percent of the value to fishermen at $63 million; $53 million of that was from chums. At Kodiak, just less than 4 million fish from two hatcheries made up 42 percent of the Island’s total catch last year. The fish were valued at $7 million, or 25 percent of the salmon value. At Cook Inlet, a catch of just more than a half-million hatchery salmon accounted for 26 percent of the total harvest and 30 percent of the dockside value of $5.3 million. About 70 percent of those fish were pinks. Nearly 1.8 billion tiny salmon were released to the sea in 2018 from pink and chum salmon eggs collected in 2017, and from chinook, sockeye, and coho eggs collected in 2016. Alaska hatchery operators forecast a return of about 79 million fish in 2019. This includes returns of 54 million pink, 21 million chum, 2.5 million sockeye, 1.5 million coho, and 109,000 king salmon. Almanac calls Personal glimpses that chronicle the fishing life make up the Alaska Young Fishermen’s Almanac and the call is out for submissions. The second version of the Almanac is in the works and sales of the first run last year were so good, it’s covering costs for the whole project. “People loved it. They’d ask which submission is yours. And you’d be eternally flipping to the picture of the fillets and peanut butter you fed your crew all summer,” said Jamie O’Connor, a Homer-based fishermen and head of the Alaska Young Fishermen’s Network for the Alaska Marine Conservation Council. “It’s a really fun way to communicate to people outside of this community about the culture of fishing, especially from the perspective of the young fishermen.” Last year’s 141-page Almanac featured nearly 60 items from almost every region of the state. “Everything from essays to recipes to photos, poems and art. There’s also a lot of useful stuff in there,” O’Connor said. “Plus, fun stories, a little bit of mischief, pro tips from more mature fishermen to people who want to get into the industry.” The Almanac is styled similar to a younger version of a publication for farmers that dates back to 1792. “It’s modeled after the Young Farmer’s Almanac as a way to share the culture and put out a touchstone every year that people can refer back to or share with their families,” O’Connor said. “That’s what we’re hoping to do for young fishermen as well.” “We’re looking for anything people want to send in. We’re hoping they really flex their creativity, she added. Deadline to submit to the Almanac is Sept. 1 at www.akyoungfishermen.org or via email at [email protected] Fishing watch Lots of April fishing is underway all across Alaska. One sad exception is the roe herring fishery at Sitka Sound where seiners have yet to wet their nets. Typically the fishery has come and gone by mid-March and the harvest this year called for a nearly 13,000-ton haul. The herring, which are valued for their eggs, are showing up but they are too small to call an opener. The last time a fishery was called off at Sitka Sound was in 1977. Golden king crab also has been slow going: 10 to 15 crabbers have pulled up less than 50,000 pounds out of a 76,000-pound limit. The crabs have paid out at $11 per pound, making each worth $70 to $80 to fishermen, reported KFSK in Petersburg. Southeast’s winter Tanner crab catch of 1.3 million pounds was the third-best in 15 years. The month-long fishery was valued at $4.2 million for a fleet of 69 crabbers. Divers are still going down for geoduck clams and Southeast’s spring troll fishery for chinook begins on May 1 in some districts. There’s lots of fishing action at Prince William Sound with a shrimp pot fishery opens April 15 to the 23. Ninety-nine boats will compete for 68,100 pounds of the popular prawns. A sablefish season also opens on April 15 for 134,000 pounds. And due to weather, the Tanner crab fishery was extended in parts of Prince William Sound to April 18. A one-day a week herring fishery opens at Upper Cook Inlet on April 20 through May 31, and a small smelt fishery opens on May 1. Kodiak’s herring fishery kicks off on April 15 with a harvest set at just over 1,400 tons. And spotters are already flying at Togiak looking for early herring arrivals there. That herring fishery, which should come in at around 23,000 tons, usually opens in May. Halibut and sablefish are still crossing the docks and fisheries for cod, pollock, flounders and other whitefish and more are ongoing throughout the Gulf and Bering Sea. Believe it or not, in just a few weeks Alaska’s salmon season will officially begin with runs of reds and kings to the Copper River in mid-May. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Salmon harvest projection takes big leap from 2018

Alaska fishermen could catch 85 percent more salmon this year (nearly a hundred million more) if state forecasts hold true. That’s good news for fishermen in many Gulf of Alaska regions who in 2018 suffered some of the worst catches in 50 years. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is predicting a total salmon catch of 213.2 million fish for 2019, compared to about 116 million salmon last year. The increase comes from expectations of another big haul of sockeyes, increases in pinks and a possible record catch of chum salmon. The harvest breakdown calls for 112,000 chinook salmon in areas outside of Southeast Alaska. The catch for the Southeast troll fleet, which is determined by a treaty with Canada, will be 101,300 kings, or an increase of 5,600 fish. For sockeyes, a catch of just less than 42 million is projected, about 9 million fewer than last year. A harvest of nearly 138 million pink salmon would be 97 million more that last summer, and a coho harvest of 4.6 million would be an increase of 900,000 over 2018. Chums could set a record with a projected catch of 29 million, a boost of nine million and well above the 25 million chum catch record set in 2017. Some highlights and lookbacks: Copper River’s commercial sockeye salmon catch for 2019 is pegged at 756,000 million and 31,000 for chinook (all fisheries). Managers said the forecast should “be interpreted with caution as poor runs of many Gulf sockeye stocks in 2018 suggest there is considerable likelihood of overforecasting.” Last year the Copper River drift gillnet catch of 47,000 reds was the second-fewest in 100 years. Southeast Alaska’s pink salmon run is predicted to be weak this summer with a catch of 18 million, half of the 10-year average. That follows on a catch of just more than 8 million pinks in 2018, which ranks 51st in harvests since 1962. Biologists said a big source of uncertainty is abnormally warm Gulf sea surface waters “may have a negative impact on the survival of pink salmon.” At Kodiak, the predicted 27-million pink salmon harvest is in the “excellent” category and compares to a catch of just 6 million pinks in 2018. The total salmon take last year at Kodiak of just nine million salmon compares to a 10-year average of more than 21 million. Upper Cook Inlet could see a slightly improved sockeye harvest of three million. The 2018 catch at UCI of 1.3 million sockeyes was 61 percent less than the 10-year average and the smallest harvest since 1975. At Chignik on the Alaska Peninsula where an astonishing 128 sockeye salmon were caught last year, a hopeful harvest of about 965,000 reds is projected this year. At Bristol Bay, a sockeye harvest of about 27 million compares to a catch of 41.3 million in 2018. That stemmed from a run of more than 62 million reds, the largest on record. It was the fourth consecutive year that the Bay’s sockeye runs topped 50 million. State salmon managers don’t produce formal forecasts for most salmon runs in the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim, or AYK, region, but they predict continued good returns to Norton Sound, Kotzebue and a half-million chum catch at the Lower Yukon. Salmon fishermen near Nome set records for coho and chum catches last year, and a 4,000 sockeye take was the second-most ever. Pink salmon runs also were stronger than expected but met with little interest from the one buyer. Fishermen at Kotzebue Sound caught a record 695,153 chum salmon in 2018 and managers said a 700,000-chum harvest would be possible if there was a market for the fish. The lack of a buyer will beach Kuskokwim salmon fishermen for the fourth year, although it’s not due to a lack of fish. For example, the weir on the 75-mile Kanektok River did not operate in 2018 due to a lack of funding, but aerial surveys showed the second-largest escapement of sockeye salmon on record. A fish plant at Platinum that bought salmon, herring and halibut starting in 2009 closed abruptly in 2015. According to owner Coastal Villages Region Fund, a group created to provide economic benefit for its 20 member communities, the plant “never became sustainable” and was a big money loser. CVRF has instead invested in five vessels, the largest at 341 feet, that fish for pollock, crab and cod in the Bering Sea, Three of the boats are homeported in Seattle. CVRF claims it “has grown to be the largest seafood owner/operator headquartered in Alaska.” Herring on hold Herring at Sitka Sound is still a waiting game in a fishery that’s usually come and gone by late March. Many seiners and tenders left on March 28, reported KCAW, along with the state research vessel Kestrel that does fish sampling. Most of the herring, which are valued only for their eggs or roe, have so far been too immature for an opener. By April 3, more than 21 miles of herring spawn had been mapped, usually signaling the beginning of the end for a fishery. But spotters were still flying and biologist Eric Coonradt at ADFG in Sitka said some seiners and processors were sticking around. “I feel like there’s still time left. Some years the larger versus smaller fish kind of split up. It’s just kind of a wait and see game,” he said. Seiners were hoping to haul in nearly 13,000 tons of roe herring after a total bust last year that produced just 2,800 tons. Sitka Sound’s latest herring fishery was April 15 in 2002. The last time there was no commercial fishery there was in 1977. Meanwhile, Alaska’s largest roe herring fishery at Togiak in Bristol Bay is expecting a big run and an earlier start as soon as mid-April. ADFG area manager Tim Sands told KDLG in Dillingham that unusually warm waters are making it tough to predict run timing. “This year there’s no ice anywhere near Bristol Bay and sea surface temperatures are much warmer. We have different models that worked relatively well when conditions were normal. But we’re so far from normal this year, we don’t have a lot of faith in our predictive ability,” Sands said. Budget cuts and a lack of aerial surveys for three years also have also contributed to the uncertainty and caused a more conservative approach to the Togiak herring fishery. “We retroactively introduced this idea of reducing the exploitation rate by 2 percent a year for years of poor data,” he explained. Togiak has a 2019 herring catch quota of 26,930 tons, up slightly from last year. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

ADFG proposes sweeping changes to Cook Inlet salmon goals

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s recommendations for salmon escapement goal ranges in Upper Cook Inlet are out significantly earlier than they have been in past years. Upper Cook Inlet, which reaches north from the Kasilof River, encompasses a number of heavily fished salmon stocks, including the Kenai and Susitna rivers. ADFG reviews the escapement goal ranges for the rivers every three years or so and makes recommendations before the Board of Fisheries takes up the proposals for the area during the in-cycle meeting. For several rivers in the Mat-Su Valley, ADFG is recommending decreasing the lower end of king salmon escapement goal ranges, meaning that fewer salmon would have to make it up the river before ADFG determines the goal had been met. On the Kenai and Russian rivers, the sockeye sustainable escapement goals would tick up slightly. The goals are recommended for the 2020 season, so the current goals would remain in effect for the 2019 season. The sustainable escapement goal for sockeye on the Kenai River, which is the largest sockeye salmon river in the region, would increase slightly to 750,000 to 1.3 million. The Kasilof River’s sockeye biological escapement goal would decrease slightly to 140,000 to 320,000 fish. The early-run sockeye goal for the Russian River — a popular sportfishing river on the Kenai Peninsula — would remain the same, but the late-run sustainable escapement goal would adjust to 44,000 to 85,000, which is an increase in the lower end but a decrease in the upper end. The sockeye salmon goals in the Susitna River drainage would remain unchanged. The king goals in the Susitna drainage would change substantially, though. ADFG is recommending consolidating and revising the Susitna River king stock escapement goals into four “sub-basins”: the Deshka River, the Eastside Susitna River, the Talkeetna River and the Yentna River. Consolidating the goals would have advantages over the current single aerial survey model as they are based on total escapement as opposed to an index, derived using stock-recruit analyses and could account for years in which surveys were not conducted, according to the memo. “Each sub-basin is unique in terms of geography, harvest and accessibility, and therefore the regulatory structure varies between areas; streams within each sub-basin tend to share the same set of regulations,” the memo states. The Deshka River would have a biological escapement goal of 9,000 to 18,000; the Eastside Susitna River would have a sustainable escapement goal of 13,000 to 25,000; the Talkeetna River sub-basin would have a sustainable escapement goal of 9,000 to 17,500; and the Yentna River sub-basin would have a sustainable escapement goal of 13,000 to 22,000. Alexander Creek and Chulitna River would keep their own separate sustainable escapement goals of 1,900 to 3,700 and 1,200 to 2,900 king salmon, respectively. The Little Susitna River arial survey goal would be lowered slightly to 700 to 1,500 kings, and the Crooked Creek king salmon goal would be increased slightly to 700 to 1,400 kings. The Kenai River’s king goals would remain unchanged. The coho salmon goal in the Deshka River would remain the same, while the Jim Creek and Little Susitna River coho goals would be lowered slightly; the Jim Creek goal’s upper end would increase, according to the memo. Escapement goals are complicated, with multiple types and methodologies for determining them. At its most recent meeting, the Board of Fisheries noted that there is significant confusion around how escapement goals are developed and why certain rivers have one type while others have another. The Upper Cook Inlet escapement goal memo was released several months earlier than originally intended, in part because of public requests for the goals to be released before proposals for the 2020 Upper Cook Inlet meeting are due. “The department recognizes the importance of releasing escapement goal recommendations earlier in the year so the public may submit proposals relative to goal recommendations before the deadline of (April 10),” the memo states. “Thus, department staff completed their review on an accelerated timeline, and developed recommendations for UCI salmon escapement goals.” Kevin Delaney, a former fisheries biologist for ADFG and currently a consultant for the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, said the early release of the escapement goal recommendations allows stakeholders to gather more information as they finalize their proposals and review them for the next year before the meeting in early 2020. “This is the first time ever (ADFG has) gotten them out before proposals were due,” he said. “That should be applauded.” The slight uptick on the Kenai River sockeye goal doesn’t necessarily shift any more fish toward the sportfishery, Delaney said. The recommended lower end of the goal is only 50,000 fish more than the current lower end, and the Kenai River can see 50,000 fish come through on a single day during the peak of the sockeye run. The lowering of the goal on the Kasilof River might be a concern, but the Kenai River is the major driver in the region for sockeye salmon, he said. “The big issue is the Kenai River, and 50,000 fish isn’t going to make a huge difference,” he said. The Kenai River’s sockeye salmon management plan is immensely complicated, with three management tiers based on the strength of the forecasted run and an in-river escapement goal as well as the sustainable escapement goal. The in-river goal is set at 900,000 to 1.1 million sockeye, which accounts for a sportfishery harvest of about 200,000 sockeye in the river above the sonar. The recommendation included in the escapement goal memo only updates the SEG; adjusting the in-river goal would be up to the Board of Fisheries, as that’s an allocative decision compared to escapement goals which are management decisions. Mike Wood, a Northern District setnet fishermen, said it was interesting how some goals decreased in the Susitna River drainage while others increased in the Kenai River drainage. The Susitna valley has struggled with decreasing returns in recent years, with closures for salmon fishing, and the users are concerned that not enough fish are making it past the commercial fisheries in Kodiak and central Cook Inlet to return to spawn. Wood said he was glad to see the department address goals in the Lewis, Theodore and Chuitna, smaller rivers on the west side, and noted that better genetics data from ADFG has helped the staff separate the Cook Inlet west side rivers into individual stocks. “I was glad to see that, because it does have implications,” he said. “They’ve kept the king salmon closed to anything above Tyonek for just about 20 years now to let more fish return to the Susitna River. It’s good to see the Chuitna is bouncing back, and it does make sense to lower it a little bit in the Theodore and not have it at all in the Lewis. The Lewis doesn’t even reach (Cook) Inlet anymore.” Lowering escapement goals for Susitna drainages is concerning, he said, in part because of the nature of the stream. Spawner-return analyses — which calculate how many offspring return on average per spawning salmon — have shown that the Susitna is not as productive as a river like the Kenai, and thus would need more spawners to produce the same volume of return, he said. Wood, who also chairs the Mat-Su Borough’s Fish and Wildlife Commission, said the group is looking at the recommendations and working on a Northern District management plan and how that connects to regulations on setnetters in the area. “Maybe things will come back they way they’re supposed to,” he said. “But just lowering our goals, our expectations, I don’t think is wise in general. I’m cautious of it. Does it mean that we should lower them and then allow people to kill more of them? I don’t think that that really works to the advantage of the fish.” Proposals for the Upper Cook Inlet meeting are due April 10. ^ Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

ADFG leaders tout $11 billion return on agency spending

Though it’s a relatively small percentage of the state budget each year, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game wants to show that it’s a worthwhile investment. Each year, the state spends in the neighborhood of $65 million to $70 million from the General Fund to pay for the department. Combined with user fees and federal grants and matches, the total budget clocks in at about $197 million. According to a number of studies conducted in-house and by the McDowell Group, that supports an economic return of about $11.8 billion annually. It’s not a huge surprise, even though the numbers are large, said ADFG Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang. Some of the wages estimated in the industries certainly do leave the state, but much of it stays as well, he said. The numbers are useful to the department as well as for the public to know what the spending is bringing in, he said. “(About) seven or eight years ago, I think the department slowly started realizing we needed to have a better idea of what our return on investment was,” he said. “I think the Sportfishing Division did a study looking at its benefit to the state of Alaska, then the Division of Wildlife Conservation … not too long after the Subsistence Division got into it, then of course commercial fisheries has been doing it for a long time.” Commercial fishing is the largest private sector employer in the state, with about 60,000 direct jobs provided by the industry. The vast majority of those jobs are in salmon — about 60 percent — followed by groundfish, halibut and crab, according to the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Sportfishing supports 15,879 jobs, while hunting supports 27,000, according to information provided by the department. Sam Rabung, the director of the Division of Commercial Fisheries, cited a McDowell report and noted that commercial seafood harvesting contributes about $5.2 billion in economic output to the Alaska economy annually in testimony to the House Finance Committee’s subcommittee on ADFG on March 14. “Managing our fish and wildlife resources comes at a cost that is dwarfed by the return on investment,” he said. “The comfish division’s budget is about $70 million annually, and about half of that is (general fund). But what that does for the state is the direct economic value of commercially harvested seafood contributing to the state’s economy.” Commercial fisheries contribute about $146 million annually in local taxes, fees and self-assessments while the sportfishing industry contributes about $246 million in taxes. Hunters and wildlife viewers paid a total of $3.87 billion in 2019 inflation-adjusted dollars. Roughly $35 million to $37 million of the taxes paid by commercial fishermen are directed back into the Commercial Fisheries Division, while the rest goes into the general fund or to pay for other services like aquaculture through a self-assessed fee, Rabung said during the House Finance Committee hearing. Anglers and hunters also draw down federal funds into the state through license purchases. In 2016, the Legislature passed a bill to increase hunting and sportfishing license fees in response to a stakeholder-led effort to do so, thus allowing the department to access more federal match funds through the Dingell-Johnson and Pittman-Robertson fund programs. According to ADFG, 281,823 Alaskans bought sportfishing or hunting licenses in 2018, or more than half of the state’s adult population. The department also enumerated the economic impact of subsistence resources. Alaskans harvest about 18,000 tons of wild food annually, according to the department. Calculated at about $6 per pound, subsistence provides between $200.8 million and $391 million in 2019 dollars each year, according to a 2014 report from the Division of Subsistence. Going into the fiscal year 2020 budget, ADFG received one of the smaller proposed reductions at about 5 percent. Vincent-Lang said he thought it showed that the department is already well-managed and provides a good return. “When you look at the department budget overall, we came out of the budget scenario largely intact,” he said. “We are having a good return on investment, and I think there was a good understanding by the governor’s office that commercial fishing, sportfishing and subsistence fishing as a key part of the Alaskan identity.” The department’s default is to manage more conservatively when less information is available to managers. However, cutting the management side can also cause the department to manage more conservatively, Vincent-Lang said. Significant reductions to the budget would certainly impact the economic benefit the department sees, but a significant increase doesn’t necessarily mean a significant increase either, he said. However, an increase in funding could result in increased opportunity in fisheries like herring or crab, which are currently conservatively managed, he said. Commercial fisheries are major drivers in communities across the state, especially in coastal communities where there are often not many other economic opportunities. Vincent-Lang said he is planning to work with processors to try to increase seafood processing capacity in communities like those around Norton Sound, where there have been harvestable surpluses of salmon in recent years but not very many processors to buy them. During the House Finance subcommittee meeting on March 14, Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, noted that the reductions to the department were concerning because the loss of funding could mean more conservative management, and thus lost opportunities for fishermen. “I would like to see you have not only a focus on the impact to the economy but the impact to the fishermen themselves,” Stutes said. “That should be the number one concern of this state: allowing these fishermen to go out and fully prosecute the fisheries. The state wins when that happens.” ^ Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Plan to end local fish tax split panned at Senate hearing

None of the members of the Senate Community and Regional Affairs committee lives near the sea, but at a hearing last week they were not impressed by Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy’s plan to pull millions of dollars in fish taxes from remote coastal towns. Bills submitted to the Legislature by the governor would remove the ability of towns to keep their share of local fisheries business and landing taxes. For decades, the taxes have been split 50-50 with the state. Dunleavy wants to take all of the funds for state coffers, meaning a combined loss of $29 million to fishing towns come October. More than 20 mayors, financial officers, harbormasters and fishermen testified against the tax grab at the CRA and outlined how it would devastate coastal Alaska. “The share of fish taxes is used to ensure sustainable communities,” said Nils Andreassen, executive director of the Alaska Municipal League. “They contribute to general funds, operate and maintain ports and harbors, many of which the state transferred in neglect to municipalities 10 years ago; they support education, hospitals, public works, solid waste, grants to local nonprofits and to replace gaps in state capital investment.” Yakutat City and Borough Manager Jon Erickson said the loss would likely close down the community’s lone fish plant. “What part of shutting down rural Alaska equates to Alaska is open for business?” he asked. Kodiak City Mayor Pat Branson called the tax loss “cost shifting and revenue grabbing” and a “quick fix to a long-term problem of the state budget deficit.” “Every municipality and every Alaskan should have in-depth research and analysis,” Branson said. “This budget approach lacks the understanding and awareness of the realities of living in a resource economy and in a geographically remote location.” “Moorage rates in Wrangell would increase from 43 to 57 percent to cover the loss of money dedicated to our harbors,” said Lee Burgess, financial manager of the City and Borough of Wrangell. “It’s an example of arbitrarily picking winners and losers and causing disproportionate harm to certain communities relevant to how much of their economic platform is made up by commercial fishing.” “Fisheries is our only industry and fish tax revenues make up 26 percent of our $31 million general fund revenues, over $8 million annually. We use fish and sales taxes to pay our own way,” said Frank Kelty, mayor of Unalaska/Dutch Harbor, the nation’s top fishing port for more than two decades. “If the state takes away the share of fish taxes, who will step up to assist communities across Alaska with projects needed to support the seafood industry, which is the economic engine of all fishery dependent communities?” “If you’re looking for money to run the state why not revise the oil subsidies to big oil that collect more profits per barrel than any other oil field in the world. We fish hard and pay our taxes. We deserve our taxes to benefit our communities,” said Shawn Dochtermann, a longtime Kodiak fisherman. “You took oaths to defend Alaskans,” said Jeff Guard, a Cordova city council member. “We are under attack and you have the power of the purse to defend us from these draconian budget cuts.” Fisherman Stosh Anderson of Kodiak closed his testimony with a haiku: “Fishermen pay tax, “Absconded by the government. “Infrastructure fails.” And so it went as Alaskans from Petersburg, Akutan, Bristol Bay, Adak, Homer, St. Paul, Kenai and more shared their concerns. Sens. Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks, Chris Birch, R-Anchorage, and Elvi Gray-Jackson, D-Anchorage, asked Department of Revenue Commissioner Bruce Tangeman if there had been any communication with communities about the fish tax loss, or any economic impact analyses done. The answer was no. Tangeman said the governor intends to share 50 percent of state alcohol tax revenues through a community assistance program to soften the loss, or about $20 million. Birch asked about the motivation behind allocating alcohol taxes to the fishing towns. “I don’t know what the policy call was,” Tangeman responded. (Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, and Dunleavy policy advisor John Moller both said they were unaware of the alcohol tax proposal at subsequent public meetings in Kodiak.) “The thinking behind this is we need to bring all our revenue streams together to benefit all Alaskans,” Tangeman said. “Obviously, these folks are seeing this from their backyards. I hope they can all appreciate the state is really struggling and we have a budget that is unsustainable.” “Is this bill a priority of the Dunleavy administration?” asked Bishop. “Yes, it is,” Tangeman said. “I want to tell you how much I appreciate and respect your comments that the state is struggling,” said Gray-Jackson. “But you can’t punish communities because the state is struggling. That is just not the way to handle this.” Halibut intel More halibut from Atlantic Canada and a shift in consumer preferences are two new drivers in the halibut market. The Pacific fishery opened on March 15 to prices similar to last year, where they’ve pretty much stayed: in the $6 per pound range to fishermen on the Alaska mainland; $5.50 to $6 in Southeast and in the $4.75 to $5.25 range at Kodiak. A major Kodiak buyer said the market is favorable for fish headed to fresh markets, but that won’t absorb all of the halibut coming out of Alaska. Contrary to preseason reports, just about every major packer is sitting on frozen inventory from last year, “a halibut hangover,” and buyers will be cautious about freezing more. The market for frozen halibut is really changing, he added. “Two of the largest buyers in the old steaking program, where they’d buy an 80-or 100-pounder, that’s just completely going away,” he said, adding that it’s tough to even move frozen halibut in the smaller sizes. What consumers want now is the convenience of vacuum-packed halibut fillets or chunks, either fresh or frozen. All market reports show that the biggest hurt in Alaska’s halibut market is coming from Atlantic halibut from eastern Canada. That could put more than 10 million pounds into the U.S. market this year compared to 300,000 to 400,000 pounds just six years ago. Alaska fishermen can catch 17.7 million pounds of halibut through Nov. 14. Salmon surprises An ambitious winter research trip to study salmon in the deepest waters of the Gulf of Alaska yielded some surprises. The five-week trip by an international team of 21 researchers docked in Vancouver last week. CBC News said researchers collected thousands of samples in their quest to learn more Pacific salmon survival in the open seas of the Gulf, a major feeding ground. “The main inspiration of this project is to increase our awareness of the challenges the salmon meet in the open ocean and in the coastal areas,” said Dr. Vladimir Radchenko, director of the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission with five member countries: the US, Canada, Russian, Japan and Korea. The Gulf project was a centerpiece of its International Year of the Salmon initiative, a five-year project to study salmon in the northern hemisphere as they face challenges from an off kilter climate. Aboard the research vessel Professor Kaganovsky the team trawled a span of nearly 5,000 miles in waters 200 miles from shore and collected salmon data at 60 locations. “Since during the winter all salmon species migrate off shore, the main spots of aggregation should be located beyond 200 miles in February and March,” Radchenko said. Researchers also pioneered a new DNA testing method to identify where the salmon hatched. The research led to some surprising discoveries. One of the most abundant species in their catches was coho, contradicting the belief that most coho overwinter in coastal areas. Pink salmon — the most abundant of all Pacific species — comprised only 10 percent of their trawl catches. The scientists also hope to learn if large releases of hatchery pinks and chums from Pacific Rim countries are impacting wild fish in the open ocean. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Legislators learn hatcheries are a self-sustaining salmon program

Commercial fishermen pick up the tab for just about anyone who catches a salmon in Alaska that started its life in a hatchery. That was a finding that wended its way to the surface during a hearing last week of the House Fisheries Committee on the state’s hatchery program. The program began in the mid-1970s to enhance Alaska’s wild salmon runs. Unlike meetings that are top heavy with fishery stakeholders, most of the committee members are not deeply familiar with many industry inner workings and their interest was evident. “Who funds the hatchery programs?” asked Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka, referring to the 25 private, non-profit associations that operate in Prince William Sound, Southeast Alaska, Kodiak and Cook Inlet. Turns out, it’s commercial fishermen. “In each region where there is an aquaculture association, commercial salmon permit holders have levied a salmon enhancement tax upon themselves from one to three percent,” said Tina Fairbanks, executive director of Kodiak Regional Aquaculture Association. Fishermen also catch and sell returning adult salmon to the hatchery, which operators use to pay operating expenses, a process called cost recovery. In 2017 cost recovery fish, which fetch a lower price for fishermen than selling to processors, accounted for 79 percent of hatchery income. There have been discussions about sport charter operators contributing, but it’s not really needed, said Steve Reifenstuhl, executive director of the Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association. “Because of the mechanism we have for doing cost recovery there is not really a need to bring in additional money,” he said. “That’s very refreshing to hear right now that you have adequate revenue. That is not something we hear very often,” said Rep Sarah Vance, R-Homer. “So thank you to all the fishermen who contribute and make it sustainable.” “The hatchery programs truly represent one of the most successful public/private partnerships in the state’s history,” Fairbanks said. “These facilities produce salmon for sport, subsistence, personal use and commercial fisheries at no cost to the state of Alaska. The revenues generated through commercial landings and fish taxes go back into the communities and state coffers and represent a great return on the state’s initial investment.” “It’s very uncommon,” said Dan Lesh, an economist with the McDowell Group. “It is quite impressive that it produces such large economic benefits with no cost to the state.” “It seems to me that the commercial fishing industry is paying out millions of dollars through foregone revenue in cost recovery and enhancement revenues that benefit Alaskans collectively,” responded Kreiss-Tomkins, adding that he would like to see an analysis done. “It’s paying for all Alaskans in a sense by underwriting this common benefit.” Alaska’s hatchery harvest in 2017 of 47 million fish accounted for 21 percent of the statewide salmon harvest valued at $162 million to fishermen, which was 24 percent of the statewide value. That was the lowest percentage of hatchery fish in the overall catch since 1995, and due largely to a wild stock harvest that was the third-highest in Alaska history. An additional 194,000 Alaska hatchery fish were caught in the sport, personal use and subsistence fisheries. Fish differences Americans have very different perceptions on wild versus farmed fish, and whether it is grown in fresh or saltwater. In a new report called Aquaculture/Mariculture, US Market Insights and Opportunities, food industry trackers Changing Tastes and Datassential surveyed 1,500 consumers and 400 restaurant operators about their preferences for America’s three favorites: salmon, tuna and shrimp. Nearly half of consumers and 40 percent of restaurateurs said they prefer wild fish and shellfish because it has better flavor, quality, texture, is free of antibiotics, pesticides and other chemicals. For salmon, 57 percent of consumers said they prefer wild caught; it was 64 percent for restaurants. Both believe less than half of the seafood we eat today comes from aquaculture. Overall, land based and near-shore aquaculture operations got much lower marks across the board. Water pollution and impacts on water quality were listed as the top concerns by 66 percent of consumers for land-based fish farms and 58 percent for near-shore. Water concerns jumped to 80 percent among buyers. The use of antibiotics and pesticides in fish farms ranked as the second concern by 64 percent of consumers and 68 percent for restaurant operators. Consumers and buyers believe a substantial amount of seafood is already farmed in the deep ocean, and one quarter believe that open ocean mariculture is better for the environment than wild capture fishing. The report concludes that as more Americans shift to eating seafood, the share with no established preferences for wild versus farmed increases. Fish bits Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy has nominated Nicole Kimball, vice president of Pacific Seafood Processors Association, and Cora Campbell, CEO of Silver Bay Seafoods, to seats on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. They would replace two current members whose terms expire this summer: Theresa Peterson of Kodiak and Buck Laukitis of Homer. The NPFMC oversees more than 25 fisheries in federal waters off Alaska, meaning from three to 200 miles out. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council meets April 1-9 at the Anchorage Hilton. On the agenda: Navy war game plans for May in the Gulf of Alaska. Comments on any items can be made through March 29. For its upcoming meeting cycle, the state Board of Fisheries is accepting proposed changes to subsistence, personal use, sport and commercial and statewide fisheries at Kodiak and Lower and Upper Cook Inlet through April 10. Tariffs on U.S. imports from China will continue indefinitely the Trump Administration announced last week. The trade war, which began last July, has hit the seafood industry on both sides. SeafoodSource reports that Trump said he plans to “leave them on for a substantial period of time.” ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

PWS Tanner crab fishery gives winter season a boost

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

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

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

Board votes down personal-use priority proposal

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

ADFG advances logbook repeal; OMB takes director salaries

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

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

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

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