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Gulf fishermen reel from seafood troubles

LAFITTE, La. (AP) — Gloom infects the hard-working shrimp and crab docks of this gritty fishing town as the second full year of fishing since BP's catastrophic oil spill kicks into high gear. Usually folks are upbeat and busy in May, when shrimpers get back to work in Louisiana's rich waters. This spring, though, catches are down, docks are idle and anxiety is growing that the ill effects of the massive BP oil spill may be far from over. An Associated Press examination of catch data from last year's commercial harvest along the Gulf — the first full year of fishing since the 2010 spill — reveals merit in the fishermen's complaints. According to the analysis of figures obtained through public records requests, seafood crops hit rock bottom in the Barataria estuary, the same place where some of the thickest waves of oil washed in when a BP well exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. Detailed data from "trip tickets" fishermen fill out when they unload at docks reveal steep drops in Barataria, though it's far from bleak everywhere along the Gulf Coast. Fishermen are making money that is pretty equal to before the spill, according to the 2011 data not officially released yet by the National Marine Fisheries Service. Part of the reason is that though the fishermen aren't hauling in as much, prices are up so people are paying more for seafood from the Gulf than other sources. In Barataria, the number of shrimpers in the water has remained steady, yet the fall season was off by about 7 million pounds from an average of 18.1 million pounds between 2006 and 2009. It wasn't a pretty picture for blue crabs either in Barataria: the crab catch was off by 2.7 million pounds from an average of 9.5 million pounds between 2006 and 2009, the data showed. Fresh water from a historically high Mississippi River could have been the culprit for some of the drop off in productivity, marine experts said. Another factor may be that some areas in the estuary were closed due to oil contamination. One such place is Bay Jimmy, where oil is still gooey and thick on the shores. Fishermen blame the spill. In Lafitte, they said the new shrimp season was off to a slow start. "I'm afraid that oil spill has ruined us," said Ken Lee, a shrimp dock owner. "We're hardly unloading any brown shrimp at all." For now though, a range of government officials, scientists and seafood experts say it's much too early to make any definite link between the oil spill and one-year declines in catches. Seafood harvests, while generally predictable, are subject to fluctuations even in the best of times. But Lee shook his head as he looked over a sheet tallying recent shrimp loads in the past few days. It was slim pickings. Moments before, an 18-wheeler pulled away from his dock with just seven vats of frozen fresh shrimp. The truck has room for more than 40, he said. "That's pitiful!" he said. "We usually load a truck full." While catches were off, though, prices were high. The Louisiana data shows fishermen actually made as much or more in 2011 than they had in previous years. The total values of the blue crab and oyster harvests were higher than the six-year average. Taken as a whole, the volume of seafood harvested last year in Louisiana for shrimp, crabs and oysters showed only modest drops from averages for 2003-2009, according to the AP analysis. Catches for 2010, the year of the spill, were excluded because much of the Gulf was shut down. Meanwhile, in Texas, the oyster and crab hauls were down slightly from 2003-2009 averages, the AP analysis showed. Drought could have been a cause there, a Texas official said. The state did not have figures on its shrimp catch. Florida's data showed no major swings in harvests of oysters, crabs and shrimp. Mississippi's shrimp haul was down about 13 percent from 2003-2009 averages and its small-scale crab harvest was down 52 percent. From the 2003-2009 average, Alabama's brown shrimp catch was off 12 percent, blue crabs were off 27 percent and oysters down by about 50 percent, the state's data showed. Fishermen say economic conditions were tough before the BP spill due to imports, high fuel prices and hurricanes. But now they say they've reached a low point since the blown-out well spewed more than 200 million gallons of oil. In Bon Secour, Ala., Mike Skinner, a third-generation shrimper whose entire family works in the business, said last fall was the worst season he had ever seen. "Hopefully it was a fluke thing. We'll find out this year," he said as he piloted his trawler across Mobile Bay. In Alabama, seafood sales are down about 10 percent to $146 million in the two years since the BP gusher, according to an Auburn University study obtained by the AP. The downturn represented nearly $16 million in lost sales and has left few fishing boats in industry hubs like the Bon Secour River. To ease the hardships, BP has given $48.5 million to Gulf states so they can market their seafood industries on websites, TV commercials, billboards and print ads that say the catch is healthy. BP spokesman Craig Savage said the Gulf seafood industry was strong. "The fact is, the data show that seafood from the Gulf of Mexico is safe and abundant, according to numerous government reports," he said. Truly identifying any effect of the spill — if any — on marine stocks won't be possible from landings data for several years, said Chuck Wilson, executive director of the Louisiana Sea Grant College Program, a university-based group of agents and researchers. Still, there's reason to be wary, said Olivia Watkins, a spokeswoman for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. "We are seeing a number of anomalies in the Gulf of Mexico," Watkins said. "We should not attempt to draw premature conclusions." The long-term prognosis for the Gulf's health remains uncertain. Recent studies have found higher numbers of sick fish close to where BP's well blew out and genome studies of bait fish in Barataria have identified abnormalities. Meanwhile, vast areas of the cold and dark Gulf seafloor are oiled, scientists say. And many fishermen are convinced something's amiss. "I think the oil can kill the shrimp eggs. That's why there was no shrimp to catch last year," said Tuna Pham, a 40 -year-old Vietnamese-American shrimper docked in Lafitte. He said the catch this year was bad again. "We was there to work, but couldn't," said Lawrence Salvato, 49, as he stopped for lunch on a dock where he moors a shrimp skiff he runs his wife, Lisa. "Usually people are excited and they can't wait to get out there. This year, there's no real incentive." He said he made about $10,000 in seafood sales last year compared to $75,000 in 2009. He said his family made do with a $40,000 interim payment they got from BP. Fishermen who haven't settled legally yet with BP over damages continue to survive on periodic payments from a $20 billion trust fund set up by BP. "We're afraid," Salvato said. "A lot of people are getting out of fishing. They're afraid."  

Grades out: Senate majority gets an 'F'

The Alaska Business Report Card was released today and not surprisingly, the group gave the Senate Majority an 'F'. The ABRC, which includes the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce, the Alaska Support Industry Alliance, Prosperity Alaska and the Resource Development Council, gave the Senate failing marks for its failure to move on the groups' legislative priorities of fiscal responsibility, oil tax reform, regulatory efficiency, litigation reform, general business climate and strategic infrastructure. The House Majority received an A-, the House Minority a D, and the four-member minority of the Senate an 'A', Gov. Sean Parnell got a 'B'. Read the press release here. See individual legislators' grades here, and here is the reasons behind the grades for the caucuses. The Journal will have more on this in our June 3 issue.

Alaska's redistricting plan draws opposition

JUNEAU — The Alaska Redistricting Board's latest attempt at redrawing the state's political boundaries has drawn opposition. The state Supreme Court must decide whether to approve the plan, or send it back to the board for another try. The candidate filing deadline is June 1. Earlier this month, the court ordered the board to redraw southeast Alaska districts, working off the second plan the board devised. The board's newest proposal has garnered a handful of challenges, including from the Haines Borough, which in court documents filed Friday describes the board's work as having "blown up" southeast Alaska. The borough, through its attorney, Brooks Chandler, said the plan "significantly disenfranchises" rural communities in the region. "Today these rural voices have a common platform from which to voice their unique social and economic concerns in the halls of the Alaska Legislature. Adoption of the proposed Amended districts will mute this perspective to the detriment not just of Southeast residents but of all Alaska," Chandler wrote in the filing. The board, in seeking to comply with an order that it redraw southeast Alaska based on state constitutional requirements, paired Republican Reps. Cathy Munoz, of Juneau, with Rep. Bill Thomas, of Haines. Taylor Bickford, the board's executive director, said no matter how the region is configured, at least one of Juneau's House districts must reach beyond the Juneau borough's boundaries to ensure a balance of population in the districts. "The demographics are such that there is no way to avoid pairing a more 'urban' population base from Juneau with a more 'rural' population base from Haines, Petersburg, or elsewhere," he said in an email Monday. Others in opposition include the two Fairbanks-area residents who were plaintiffs to the lawsuit over the first redistricting plan, the RIGHTS Coalition and Sealaska Corp. and the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska.  

Oil near seven-month lows at $91.50

NEW YORK (AP) — The price of oil is near seven-month lows following warnings of a "severe recession" in Europe and an apparent easing of tensions over Iran's nuclear program. The price of oil is near seven-month lows following warnings of a "severe recession" in Europe and an apparent easing of tensions over Iran's nuclear program. Benchmark U.S. crude lost $1.07 to $91.50 per barrel Tuesday in New York while Brent crude fell by 31 cents to $108.50 per barrel in London. Alaska North Slope crude is priced at $108 per barrel, the lowest level since February but ahead of its 52-week low of about $100 per barrel. Oil prices have declined almost every day this month as elections in Greece and France threatened existing plans to fix the eurozone economy. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said Europe, which consumes 18 percent of the world's oil, could fall into recession this year if leaders fail to stimulate the economy. If that happens, it would stunt growth in world oil demand at a time when supplies are expanding. Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Libya are producing and exporting more oil this year. And analysts say Iran's oil exports could keep flowing if it lets international inspectors into its nuclear facilities as part of a new deal announced Tuesday. Western leaders fear Iran is building a nuclear weapon. They've been trying to cut off Iran's oil exports this year to pressure the country to allow in nuclear inspectors. Many nations already have stopped buying Iranian crude and Europe is expected to embargo all oil imports from Iran in July. Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only, but it so far has barred independent inspectors. If it allows them in, Europe may reward Iran by canceling the embargo, said Michael Lynch, president of Strategic Energy & Economic Research. "If they don't end it, it could be significantly delayed," Lynch said. Fears of a protracted standoff with Iran had helped push benchmark crude near $110 per barrel in February. Prices have since fallen below levels of early November, when the United Nations first warned of a potential nuclear threat from Iran. Uninterrupted Iranian exports could boost world oil supplies to an average of 89.15 million barrels per day, according to the latest projections from the Energy Information Administration. That would be more than enough to meet world demand. At the pump, U.S. gasoline prices fell nearly a penny to $3.68 per gallon, according to auto club AAA, Wright Express and Oil Price Information Service. A gallon of regular unleaded has dropped by 25.6 cents since peaking this year in early April. In other futures trading, heating oil added less than a penny to $2.8668 per gallon while wholesale gasoline was flat at $2.9381 per gallon. Natural gas added 9.3 cents to $2.702 per 1,000 cubic feet.  

First Copper River Kings arrive in Anchorage

From left, Copper River Seafood's Bill Green, Bridge Restaurant partners Patrick Hoogerhyde and Al Levinsohn present one of the season's first Copper River King Salmon May 18 in Anchorage. The 30-pound king, along with a seven-pound sockeye were flown from the fishing grounds of Cordova. Bill Green, at left, presents one of the season's first Copper River King Salmon to the Bridge Restaurant partners Patrick Hoogerhyde, center and Al Levinsohn May 18 in Anchorage. The 30-pound king, along with a seven-pound sockeye were flown from the fishing grounds of Cordova. Chef Al Levinsohn gets a sniff of one of the the season's first Copper River King Salmon May 18 at Bridge Restaurant in Anchorage. The 30-pound king, along with a seven-pound sockeye were flown from the fishing grounds of Cordova, where they were caught the night before.  "When you can't smell anything, you know it's fresh," Levinsohn said.

EPA: Mining could affect quality of water, fish

JUNEAU (AP) — Failure of a large-scale mine planned near the headwaters of one of the world's premier salmon fisheries in Alaska could wipe out or degrade rivers and streams in the region for decades, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said in a draft watershed assessment released Friday. The report responded to concerns that have been raised about a large copper-and-gold prospect near the headwaters of Bristol Bay. It is a draft, with a final report that could affect permitting decisions due after public comment and peer review. The Pebble Partnership, the group behind the Pebble Mine project, has called the deposit one of the largest of its kind in the world, with the potential of producing 80.6 billion pounds of copper, 107.4 million ounces of gold and 5.6 billion pounds of molybdenum over decades. It has been the subject of a heated public relations battle for years. Supporters say it would bring much-needed jobs to economically depressed rural Alaska, but opponents fear it could fundamentally change the landscape and disrupt, if not destroy, a way of life. The report said that if water from the mine is not managed, contaminants would flow into streams. Even without any failures, the agency said there would still be an impact on fish, including eliminated or blocked streams, removal of wetlands and a reduction in the amount and quality of fish habitat due to the water used for mine operations. It offered no verdict on whether the Pebble Mine project should move forward. The report is not an in-depth assessment of any specific mine but rather as a look at the impacts of the kind of mining needed to successfully develop the deposit. It is based on a hypothetical mine scenario that the agency says draws in part on plans and studies put forth by the Pebble Partnership. Therefore, it acknowledges, it may not mirror the location and size of things like a mine pit or tailings storage facility. The review also could not quantify such things as the consequences of habitat degradation or loss on fish populations due to lack to quantitative information on salmon, char and trout populations. The assessment put the annual probability of failure for a tailings dam — the kind that could destroy more than 18 miles of salmon stream and degrade the habitat or more streams and rivers for decades — in the range of 1-in-10,000 to 1-in-1 million. The failures evaluated are those that EPA said have occurred at other large-scale mining projects and could occur during operations or after the mine is closed. Alaska Attorney General Michael Geraghty had fought EPA over the study, calling the agency's actions are premature and an overreach. Geraghty raised concerns that the assessment could lead to the agency vetoing mining activity. In a March 9 letter to EPA regional administrator Dennis McLerran, he said that if EPA were to invoke a section of the Clean Water Act that allows it to restrict or bar use of certain waters for dredge or fill materials, that could have the potential to "extinguish" the state's mineral rights and leases held by others.  

Alaska unemployment hits 6.9 percent

JUNEAU (AP) — Alaska's unemployment rate last month dropped to 6.9 percent, its lowest level since December 2008. The state labor department says the preliminary, seasonally adjusted rate is slightly lower than March, when unemployment stood at 7 percent. Unemployment in April 2011 stood at 7.5 percent. Alaska's rate hasn't been below 7 percent since December 2008, when it stood at 6.8 percent. The labor department says that while unemployment rates have declined both nationally and in Alaska in recent months, the U.S. rate, unlike that in Alaska, remains higher than before the recession. The department says Alaska also quickly recovered from what it calls mild jobs losses in 2009, and that preliminary estimates call for modest job growth in the state this year. The U.S. unemployment rate for April was 8.1 percent.

Parnell names Blumer labor commissioner

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — A special assistant to Gov. Sean Parnell has been named Alaska's new labor commissioner. Dianne Blumer replaces Click Bishop, who retired in March. Parnell, in a statement, called Blumer "profoundly competent" and says she'll provide steady leadership at the department. He also acknowledged and thanked David Stone, who has been acting as commissioner. The governor's office says Blumer has served as a special assistant to Parnell, advising him on regulation and policy for the departments of commerce, administration and revenue. His office says she has been in state service for more than 20 years, holding positions like director of the Division of Personnel and Labor Relations and deputy director for the Child Support Services Division.

Begich wants more resources for tsunami debris

JUNEAU (AP) — U.S. Sen. Mark Begich wants the federal government to provide at least $45 million to clean-up debris that will land on U.S. shores from last year's tsunami in Japan. In a letter to the president, the Alaska Democrat says the money should go to community groups to conduct clean-up work. Begich says he's disappointed by a lack of an administration-wide plan to respond. While the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has been tracking the problem, Begich says it has limited resources and cannot alone be expected to handle what he calls a "monumental crisis." Begich says the debris that's already washed ashore in Alaska is just the beginning of what he calls a "slow-motion environmental disaster that will unfold over the next several years."

Parnell makes smallest vetoes of term, signs $12B budgets

JUNEAU (AP) — Gov. Sean Parnell signed state budgets totaling $12.1 billion on May 14 after making $66.6 million in vetoes, the smallest cuts of his term and a figure he attributed to lawmakers sticking to a spending limit he’d set. In a speech to the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, Parnell thanked lawmakers for their work. His conciliatory tone came after a contentious special session that saw his plan to lower oil taxes pummeled before he ultimately pulled it from the session’s agenda. He said budgets are defined by sound investments in infrastructure, education, public safety and energy. At the urging of Parnell, House and Senate leaders worked to keep capital spending around the same level as the current fiscal year and wound up just over that amount, at $2.9 billion. That figure includes some spending for this fiscal year. Capital items for next year alone total $2.8 billion, Parnell’s budget director Karen Rehfeld said. That’s the same as this year. Parnell also signed an $8.9 billion operating budget. With fund transfers and savings, the package totals $12.1 billion. Parnell in 2010 cut more than $300 million in proposed spending, and in 2011 more than $400 million — a record — from what he considered to be bloated budgets. The bulk of the vetoed funding this time — $50 million — came from a one-time lump sum payment to the Judicial Retirement System that Parnell said he didn’t deem prudent in light of financial and economic considerations. He said the budgets honored annual payments to public employees, teachers and the judicial retirement systems. The Republican governor also cut additional funding of about $2.2 million for pre-kindergarten grants and a pilot program expansion, and $10.3 million for a substance abuse treatment program. Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, said he wasn’t happy with those cuts. “The governor should be cutting waste, but he cut opportunity instead,” Gara said. The spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year, beginning July 1, includes an increase of about $3.9 million, or 38 percent, in funding for early learning programs, according to the administration. In budget documents, the administration said the $4 million approved by lawmakers for pre-kindergarten grants represented a 47 percent increase over the current year. Parnell reduced that figure to $2.8 million and scrapped the $973,000 proposed to expand a pre-K pilot project. He also reduced proposed spending for the parents as teachers program, though he said funding for that initiative still more than tripled from the current spending year, to $1 million. Gara disagreed with Parnell’s decision and said that based on his reading of a fiscal note, it wasn’t immediately clear to him whether Parnell had actually vetoed more than he thought in connection with the program. But Rehfeld said the program will have $1 million. Parnell said there’s a need to look more holistically at how the state addresses early childhood learning issues. A reduction in additional substance abuse funding came because the Legislature didn’t have a plan for how to use the money, he said. Parnell asked the department of health and social services how the state could help the most vulnerable residents, such as pregnant women and families at risk, and what was reasonable to follow through on that approach. He said the response was $9 million over three years, which was included in the budget. He also approved an additional $1.3 million in the corrections department budget for treatment. The state currently spends more than $50 million a year on substance abuse programs for about 7,100 people, he said. Other vetoes include $1 million to the Alaska Moose Federation for moose rescue and relocation. Parnell said decisions on relocating adult animals belong to the state Department of Fish and Game and Alaska Board of Game, though he said he supported an increase in the orphaned calf rescue aspect of the federation’s work. Along with the budget, Parnell also signed a roughly $453.5 million bond package that voters will be asked to decide in November. The proposal includes 36 projects statewide, including $50 million for the Port of Anchorage expansion project.

Watershed Forum completes sampling on Kenai River

KENAI — Branden Bornemann, environment scientist for the Kenai Watershed Forum, contends there are a lot of river and aquatic systems in the Lower 48 that remain, for the most part, a mystery — and that’s unfortunate. On those rivers, scientists and decision makers “just don’t understand them enough and don’t have proper data to start making informed qualified decisions” about them. Bornemann said the opposite is true for the Kenai River and that’s all the more reason he’s glad to be a part of ongoing water quality testing, which was most recently completed on May 1 at 22 sites along the river from Cooper Landing to the river’s mouth in Cook Inlet. “To have that data, it can’t be overstated how valuable it is to our scientific community, our educators and the folks that will continue to use the river for years to come,” he said. For the last 13 years, Kenai Watershed Forum staff has been gathering samples of Kenai River water for analysis. That data creates a baseline setting for determining the health of the river. “It is setting a standard so we have something to reference year to year for changes that occur in the river based on those 13 years of statistics,” he said. “That’s really the strength of this testing is its longevity and its consistency.” In the spring the group measures for things like inorganic nitrogen, dissolved metals, total metals, fecal coliform, bacteria, total phosphorus and total suspended solids. It will test those again in the late summer in addition to sampling for hydrocarbon. In all, the watershed forum took about 120 water samples. “There are all sorts of different standards that we are looking at here,” he said. “We are basically using an analytical lab in Anchorage and when they analyze them ... it basically tells you that if you exceed this limit you have a problem.” The concerns could be wide-ranging and exceeding limits in certain areas could have consequences for fish, industries and water quality. However, the testing isn’t specifically looking for anything and isn’t yet solely driving management actions — it is important to continue to develop baseline readings to get the whole picture, Bornemann said. “High concentrations of certain metals might not mean much because we have high levels in the river currently, but that’s just kind of background normal levels that we’ve always observed,” he said as an example. The organization is focusing primarily on getting good, un-biased data, Bornemann said. “Unless we understand what the river naturally sits at, then other managing agencies like (Department of Environmental Conservation) and (Alaska Department of Fish and Game) can’t make confident and accurate judgments,” he said. “I have had a lot of inquiries about just basically how to access the data and agencies will take it and look at it however they want to see it, I guess.” But that’s not to say the data won’t play a role in the future, he said. “We are kind of transitioning into that next step where now we have enough data to make informed qualified judgments based on this decade-long collection of data, where we need to start focusing, some things that we need to start thinking about,” he said. Data is loaded into an Environmental Protection Agency database so it is accessible to anyone with a computer. That will allow researchers and other scientists to pull that data and build their own studies and plans, he said. One example of the testing in action is the watershed forum’s monitoring of hydrocarbon levels in the Kenai, which usually occurs in late July along with the second round of general baseline data gathering. “That sampling occurs during a very high-use time,” Bornemann said. “Right now there are basically no hydrocarbons or gasoline so there would not be a whole lot of use for that sampling right now since nobody is out.” In 2008, the water testing stopped returning “hits” on hydrocarbons in the Kenai, Bornemann said. Several factors including regulations requiring cleaner motors on the river and the watershed forum’s motor buy-back program, which helped people replace old two-stroke boat motors with four-stroke motors, assisting in cleaning the river up, Bornemann said. “Our hydrocarbon levels basically came up zero after the motor buy-back program was implemented,” he said. The river was placed on the impaired waters list in 2006 due to excessive hydrocarbon levels in July, but in 2010, it was removed from that list because it met water quality standards during two consecutive years. Bornemann said he expects more of the same “good news” this summer — no hits on hydrocarbons. Tuesday’s testing marked the first year Bornemann will oversee organization of the testing for the watershed forum. He said it was a worthwhile effort to help organize and coordinate the scores of volunteers. Each of the 11 different agencies that contribute manpower and money to the testing cause are represented by two or three volunteers. “It was really fantastic and energetic and the people doing it, their passion shines through,” he said. “... Really it was just a well-oiled machine that I just had to continue overseeing and running. My part is very small compared to what they do for us.”

ASMI board approves $21.3 million budget for 2013

The board of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute approved a $21.3 million budget on May 15 for the fiscal year starting July 1. It also indicated plans to release, by May 18, a definitive statement reconfirming the decision of producers accounting for most of the state’s annual salmon harvest that they have no intentions to continue as clients of the Marine Stewardship Council eco-label after the current certification expires this October. The statement is intended to squelch rumors — circulating mainly in Germany and other European markets — that the April announcement that the Seattle-based Purse Seine Vessel Owners Association would take over as the MSC’s client for its sustainability certification of the Alaska salmon fishery would renew processors’ use of the label. “I don’t think that’s going to be the case,” said Ray Riutta, ASMI executive director, after the board meeting. Eight processors, handling upwards of 75 percent of the annual Alaska salmon harvest, have declared their support for ASMI’s responsible fisheries management, or RFM, certification program, grounded in the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization’s code of conduct for responsible fisheries. Five of those companies, Trident, Icicle, Ocean Beauty and Peter Pan Seafoods and Kwik’Pak Fisheries, occupy the five processor seats on the ASMI board. The remaining three outfits, Alaska General Seafoods, E & E Foods and North Pacific Seafoods, plus many of the 34 other licensed Alaskan processors, are being marshaled to endorse the ASMI certification. Pending the statement by the larger group the ASMI board issued a “place-holder” statement on May 14 declaring that the RFM certification “is needed for competition in the marketplace to avoid a monopolistic lock by a single entity on what is and what is not a sustainably managed fishery. “ The monopoly reference was to the MSC because some German buyers have said they will only buy wild salmon products bearing its eco-label and because of its tactics. “Trade and (non-government organizations) are concerned of being attached by MSC,” said Mike Carroll, the US business manager for Global Trust, in a slide presentation at the ASMI board meeting. Based in Ireland, Global Trust manages ASMI’s RFM program and is one of several auditing companies available to MSC clients. ASMI board member Brian Wallace, a seine boat skipper from Juneau and member of the PSVOA, was headed to the group’s May 17 board meeting to, “get them to drop their role in the (MSC) clientship.” “What I intend to do at PSVOA is make sure that the board has all of the germane and pertinent information that I have about the rationale and reasonings for the RFM and why the State of Alaska is onside with a large majority of the salmon industry because of these facts,” he said. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game was the MSC’s client for its first certification of the state’s salmon fishery in 2000. It decided in 2008 to drop that role largely because of what was seen as attempts to interfere with its salmon management and, with the Parnell Administration, has become a vocal supporter of the ASMI initiative. Gov. Sean Parnell and ADFG Commissioner Cora Campbell have visited European buyers and delivered speeches at the International Boston Seafood Show and European Seafood Exposition, in March and April respectively, in support of the RFM certification. “I’m very, very proud of our state and the governor and the commissioner for their commitment to this industry,” said Joe Bundrant, ASMI board chairman and head of Trident Seafoods on May 15. “We just said we need your help and they have jumped in, both feet, and given 110 percent support making sure this message is communicated clearly and to make sure Alaska maintains control of its fishery management.” Riutta spent two weeks meeting European buyers before the expo there and the ASMI budget includes plans for a new three-year, $3 million promotional campaign that will include an indirect defense of the RFM certification. “It’s not a sustainability promotion, but as sustainability is going to be front and center it’s part of it,” Riutta said. “But we’re focusing on two specific markets. One of them is consumers in the U.S. and then the other is in Europe, primarily focused in the U.K. and Germany.” The promotion will include all Alaskan seafood products with two-thirds of spending in the U.S. market, with digital and print media. “Digital would be the anchor and that’s based upon the target audience,” said Steve Schiedermeyer, head of Schiedermeyer & Associates, ASMI’s contract advertising firm. ASMI’s total budget for fiscal year 2013 is $21.5 million, up from $19.8 million in the current year thanks to strong seafood prices. Total funding includes $10.56 million from producers of Alaskan seafood products, $7.8 million in state general funds, $4.5 million from the federal Market Access Program for international promotions, and $2 million from materials sales and other sources. Legislative appropriation of the monies included directions to hold $3.4 million in reserve. The domestic budget includes $2 million each for food service and retail promotions and $1 million for consumer advertising and public relations. International marketing, including industry matching funds and the federal dollars gets a total $7.7 million, down from $8 million in the current fiscal year because of cut in federal funding. Among the 21 countries where ASMI operates Japan tops the budget with $1.5 million, or 19.5 percent of the total. European spending totals $3.2 million, 43.3 percent, split among northern, southern, western and central regional efforts. Marketing in China will get $925,000, 12 percent with $500,000 for Brazil, where ASMI opened its first South American office last year. While not formally announced, news that Riutta is resigning after 10 years as ASMI’s executive director was also disclosed at the meeting. A retired U.S. Coast Guard admiral, Riutta will remain at his post through the end of this year. Advertising for a new director will begin immediately with himself, Bundrant and vice chairman Kevin Adams serving as a search committee, Riutta said. The full board will interview and chose from the finalists with the hope that a formal announcement of his replacement can be made at ASMI’s consumer advisory panel meeting in Kodiak in August.

Pentagon restricts F-22 flights, citing safety as concern

WASHINGTON (AP) — Facing a mysterious safety problem with the Air Force’s most-prized stealth fighter, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Tuesday ordered new flight restrictions on the F-22 and summoned help from Navy and NASA experts. Panetta endorsed Air Force efforts to figure out why some F-22 pilots have experienced dizziness and other symptoms of an oxygen shortage while flying, but his personal intervention signaled a new urgency. A secretary of defense does not normally get involved in a service-specific safety issue unless it is of great concern. The Air Force grounded its F-22s for four months last year because of the oxygen-deficit problem, and now some pilots are refusing to fly them. An Air Force advisory panel headed by a retired Air Force general studied the problem for seven months and reported in March that it could not pinpoint the root cause. It endorsed a plan keeping the aircraft flying, however, with pilots using special sensors, filters and other safety precautions. Panetta was briefed on the problem last Friday, just days after a CBS “60 Minutes” report featured two F-22 pilots who said that during some flights they and other pilots have experienced oxygen deprivation, disorientation and other problems. They cited safety concerns as well as the potential for long-term personal health issues. Asked why Panetta was acting now, Navy Capt. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, said the defense chief has been aware of the F-22 problem “for quite some time.” In light of the recent deployment of several F-22s to the Persian Gulf and because of pilots’ expressions of alarm, Panetta chose to “dive a little more deeply into the issue.” In a letter to Air Force Secretary Michael Donley, Panetta ordered that F-22 flights remain “within proximity of potential landing locations” so that pilots can land quickly in the event they experience an oxygen-deficit problem. Kirby said the specifics of those flight restrictions are to be set by individual F-22 pilots and commanders. Panetta also told Donley to accelerate the installation of an automatic backup oxygen system in each F-22. The first of those is to be ready for use by December, Kirby said. And the Pentagon chief ordered the Air Force to call on the expertise of the Navy and NASA in pursuit of a solution. Panetta’s actions have no immediate effect on U.S. combat operations, since the F-22 is not in Afghanistan. But Panetta said the plane would give up long-distance air patrol missions in Alaska until the planes have an automatic backup oxygen system installed or until Panetta agrees the F-22 can resume those flights. Other aircraft will perform those missions in the meantime. Panetta’s chief spokesman, George Little, told reporters that Panetta supports the Air Force’s efforts to get to the bottom of the problem. “However, the safety of our pilots remains his first and foremost concern,” Little said. Little did not rule out Panetta taking additional measures. Asked whether Panetta considered grounding the fleet again, Little said Tuesday’s less drastic moves are “the prudent course of action at this time,” adding that Panetta will keep a close eye on the situation, “and all options remain on the table going forward.” In a conference call with reporters, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., and Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., said they were briefed by the Air Force and told that the number of pilots who came forward with complaints has risen from two to nine. Warner called Panetta’s action a “step in the right direction” but said questions still remain. “This is a confidence issue that has to be addressed fully and transparently by the Air Force,” Warner said. The F-22 Raptor, which has never flown in combat, recently deployed to the United Arab Emirates for what the Pentagon called routine partnering with a Middle East ally. Little, the spokesman, told reporters that Panetta’s order to impose new flight restrictions would not affect flight operations during the UAE deployment. The plane, conceived during the Cold War as a leap-ahead technology that could penetrate the most advanced air defenses, is seen by some as an overly expensive luxury not critical to fighting current conflicts. The fleet of 187 F-22s — the last of which was fielded just two weeks ago — cost an average of $190 million each. Panetta’s predecessor as Pentagon chief, Robert Gates, persuaded Congress to cap production of the F-22 earlier than originally planned. He saw it as primarily of use against a “near-peer” military competitor like China, noting that the plane did not fly a single combat mission during a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. With its stealth design, the F-22 is built to evade radar and has advanced engines that allow it to fly at faster-than-sound speeds without using afterburners. It manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, describes the plane as “the only fighter capable of simultaneously conducting air-to-air and air-to-ground combat missions with near impunity.” The fleet of 170 F-22s is stationed at six U.S. bases: Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska: Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii; Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va.; Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.; Holloman Air Force Base, N.M.; and Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. F-22 pilots are trained at Tyndall. Flight testing is at Edwards Air force Base, Calif., and operational testing and tactics development is performed at Nellis.

Winners and losers in Medicare Advantage

Medicare beneficiaries in private health plans throughout the country get significantly different levels of extra benefits, and that disparity will continue with the implementation of the 2010 health law, according to an analysis released May 14 by the health care consultant Avalere Health. Moving forward, some extra benefits that seniors are getting in these plans are likely to diminish and some are likely to disappear altogether depending on where a senior lives, according to the report. In Florida, for example, beneficiaries with private plans got an extra $154 a month worth of benefits in 2010, while those in Alaska got none. One quarter of Medicare beneficiaries get their care through private Medicare Advantage health plans, which are mostly HMOs and PPOs. If a plan bids less in an area than a government benchmark for traditional Medicare, then it gets a rebate of 75 percent of the difference that it must pass along to seniors in extra benefits or lower cost-sharing. That can translate into lower prescription drug premiums, or it can provide benefits that traditional Medicare doesn’t cover, such as vision and hearing. The data are from 2010, and the health law changes the way that Medicare pays for seniors and the disabled in Medicare Advantage plans moving forward. However, it is likely that Medicare Advantage enrollees in areas receiving the most generous rebates will continue to see some benefit, said Bonnie Washington, senior vice president of Avalere. Already, as a result of the health law, the government is phasing in reduced payments to Medicare Advantage plans. In addition, by 2014, the rebates will change so that they are partially based on quality measures, called STAR ratings. By 2014, those plans with 4.5 or 5 stars (out of a total of 5), will get a 70 percent rebate. Those with 3.5 or 4 stars will get 65 percent, and those scoring lower will get only 50 percent. Starting in 2013, if a plan’s performance is below 3 stars for 3 consecutive years, it is booted out of the Medicare Advantage program altogether. “This kind of shows areas where Medicare Advantage has the most room to buffer payment cuts going forward,” said Jennifer Rak, senior manager at Avalere. “It’s also an indication of where the payment cuts might be harder for plans to deal with.” Rural states are most vulnerable, she said. Avalere compared the value of the extra benefits by state, although there can be variation within a state, as rates are actually set by county. The average nationally was $73 per month that must be passed along to each beneficiary, according to Avalere. Florida had the highest average rebate at $100 per beneficiary, while Alaska had an average of no rebate. States that exceeded the $73 average were California, Florida, Louisiana, Missouri, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, Texas, and Washington, D.C. Some of the smallest rebates in 2010 were in Delaware, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, South Dakota and Wyoming — with Alaskans on average receiving no rebate. This article was produced by Kaiser Health News with support from The SCAN Foundation. Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health policy research and communications organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

Enviros, Native group sue over Cook Inlet exploration

Environmental groups and an Alaska Native village filed a lawsuit May 16 in an Alaska federal court contesting a permit issued to Houston-based Apache Corp. to allow the company to conduct an offshore seismic survey in Cook Inlet over the next three to five years beginning this summer. The seismic work will endanger a small population of endangered Beluga whales in the Inlet, according to the action filed by the Natural Resource Defense Council, the Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Water Advocacy and the Native Village of Chickaloon. Chickaloon is on the Glenn Highway north of Palmer, about 75 miles inland from Cook Inlet. The small village does not normally engage in hunting the Beluga whales but its chief, Gary Harrison, said the village is still concerned about industry activity that may affect them. “Belugas are sacred to my tribe and part of our tradition,” Harrison said in the NRDC statement. Environmental groups typically recruit an Alaska Native group in lawsuits against industry to add credibility to their challenges. The permit issued to Apache by the National Marine Fisheries Services includes an Incidental Take Authorization, which will allow the company to conduct seismic operations that could affect the Belugas, according to the lawsuit. NRDC and its co-plaintiffs argue there are only 280 of the whales left. “Each year there are fewer and fewer of these whales left. Oil and gas activities expose Cook Inlet beluga whales to ear-splitting underwater noise that threaten their survival,” said Taryn Kiekow, a staff attorney with the NRDC, in a statement. The suit challenges Apache’s use of a marine airgun which generates high-intensity sound pulses of greater that 235 decibels at the source. The sounds will interfere with the whales’ own use of sonic calls to communicate and would affect foraging and other behavior, NRDC said the lawsuit. Apache Corp. spokeswoman Lisa Parker said the company has no comment on the lawsuit. Apache is engaged in an extensive multi-year onshore and offshore seismic survey of the Cook Inlet region that is intended to guide the company’s exploration of state oil and gas leases it owns. Apache has completed the onshore survey of west Cook Inlet leases it owns, plans to begin the offshore marine survey this summer and plans an onshore survey on the Inlet’s east side this fall and winter, company spokeswoman Parker said.

$107 million to be spent on Pebble permits

A Canada-based mining company eyeing development of a huge copper and gold deposit near one of the world’s premier salmon fisheries said May 15 that $107 million has been allocated to prepare the mine for permitting later this year. Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. said the Pebble Mine project should be ready for permitting this fall in a process that could take several years. The 2012 work project money will be used to provide a detailed description of the proposed project. Issues such as the mine’s power requirements, employment opportunities and strategies to mitigate any environmental impacts will be included, said Mike Heatwole, spokesman for the Pebble Partnership, the group behind the mine project. The mine is a joint venture between Northern Dynasty and Anglo American plc of the United Kingdom, which has spent approximately $400 million to advance the project. Public meetings will be held with stakeholders in the fall to discuss project details such as how mine waste will be handled and how Pebble will be able to coexist with Bristol Bay fisheries, Heatwole said. Pebble is one of the largest deposits of its kind in the world. The companies say it has the potential of producing more than 80 billion pounds of copper, more than 107 million ounces of gold and 5.6 billion pounds of molybdenum. The companies say Pebble also could provide an estimated 1,000 well-paying, full-time jobs. But opponents say the mine poses an unacceptable level of danger to salmon, the region’s valuable renewable resource. Tom Tilden, chief of the Curyung Tribal Council and a former mayor of Dillingham, is a commercial fisherman who supported the mine early on but now opposes it, in part because he said locals have been given too little information. The public doesn’t even know what type of mine is being proposed, whether it would be a strip mine or underground or a combination of both, he said. Heatwole said the Pebble Partnership will have technical experts at the fall meetings to discuss particulars. He said the mining companies are eager to share information. Northern Dynasty President and CEO Ronald Thiessen said the companies are focused on finalizing the project description, adding that it will meet and exceed both federal and state environmental regulations and permitting requirements. At the same time, Pebble will provide “significant benefits to the region, the state and the nation,” he said in a statement. Tilden said he likes the idea of good jobs in the Bristol Bay region but not at the expense of the salmon fisheries. He said he doubts that earthen dams to contain mining waste would not eventually leak in the earthquake-prone area. He said he looked into the geology of the area for the proposed mine and didn’t like what he found. “I found out the type of soil it is in and if you mix it with water, then it would basically be battery acid,” he said. Commercial fisherman Everett Thompson of Naknek said he recently attended one of Pebble’s environmental assessment meetings in which water flow and gravel composition was discussed. His concerns for the sulfide mine were raised when the discussion turned to an underground mine that would be below sea level and would require the exchange of enormous amounts of water. Thompson, a commercial fisherman for 29 years, said he can’t imagine how that would be good for fish. “How are you going to control that?” he asked.

N.D. passes Alaska to become No. 2 in US oil

North Dakota passed Alaska in March to become the second-leading state in crude oil production, trailing only Texas, according to figures released May 14 by officials from Alaska and North Dakota. It’s been a dramatic rise for a state that was behind seven other states in 2006 in oil production. North Dakota produced an average of 575,490 barrels of crude oil every day in March, another record, and up from 558,255 barrels a day in February, according to Lynn Helms, director of the state’s Department of Mineral Resources. The crude is coming from a record 6,636 wells, up from the previous record of 6,450 set in February. The number of rigs drilling in the state was at 208 on Monday, about where it’s been for eight months, including a record 212 drilling for a day or two earlier this month.   N.D. up, Alaska down North Dakota’s new record output of crude surpassed the steadily declining output of Alaska, which saw its production fall to 567,481 barrels per day in March, down nearly 15,000 barrels from February’s daily average, said Stephen McMains of the state’s Oil and Gas Conservation Commission on May 14. Meanwhile, Texas’ production has been rising by 12 percent since September, to 1.72 million barrels per day in February, the latest figures available from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, which tracks state and federal crude oil production. Meg Coleman, a geologist with the EIA, said preliminary figures make it appear Texas’ production increased in March. Fueled by the Bakken boom in the Williston Basin in the western part of the state, North Dakota’s oil production has nearly quadrupled since March 2007, when it averaged 118,103 barrels per day. In December, North Dakota’s crude production eclipsed California for the third ranking; California produced 540,000 barrels a day in February and it will remain about the same when March figures are released later this month, said Gordon Schremp of the state’s energy commission. The top four producing states — Texas, North Dakota, Alaska and California — accounted for 55 percent of the nation’s February total crude output of 6.144 million barrels a day, which also includes about 1.4 million barrels per day produced from federal off-shore wells, according to EIA.   Road conditions slowed April activity Helms said in an email to the Herald May 14 evening the North Dakota figures will be released in full today , showing March output right in line with the average month increase the past year in daily production of 16,500 barrels. Natural gas production also is at record levels. But he expects production in April and May likely slowed as weight restrictions imposed on thawing roads slowed down water hauling. The hydraulic fracturing — or “fracking” — done after a new well is drilled requires 1 million to 3 million gallons of water or more to break open the tight shale formations 2 miles below the surface in the Bakken and Three Forks formations. Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, said he was surprised when told that Alaska’s trend downward already appeared to have dipped below North Dakota’s five-year ascending production. “Holy cow, I didn’t think it would happen this fast,” he said.   Mild winter helped The warm, dry winter in North Dakota was a big contrast to the snowy, cold months Alaska experienced, Ness pointed out. Alaska has seen decreasing production for decades, since pumping out more than 2 million barrels a day in the 1970s. The rig count in North Dakota has remained relatively constant for the past eight months or more, Ness said. “I think we are seeing more of a transition from exploration into more of a development phase,” Ness said Monday. “I think we are settled in here where companies are really concentrating on efficiency and running drilling rigs off the pads, so you will see the rig count appears to be stabilized.” “We have seen a lot of companies coming in with new technologies . . . coming in from all over the world,” Ness said. The Petroleum Council, a nonprofit trade group, is nearing 400 member companies, up from about 160 five years ago, Ness said. The Council hosts the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference opening in Bismarck next week which will have between 3,500 and 4,000 people attend, filling hotels for a radius of 100 miles around Bismarck. “We had 100 new registrants today,” Ness said May 14.

User revenue up while total customers decline for ACS in 1Q

First quarter results for Alaska Communications System Group Inc. were mixed as decreases across all customer segments were largely offset by increases in billing averages from business broadband to wireless data use. Excluding out-of-period charges taken during the first quarter of 2011, first quarter revenue in 2012 increased by $4.5 million, or 5.5 percent, to $85.9 million in results released May 1. Net income for the first quarter was $1.13 million compared to $2.7 million in the 2011 first quarter. After three straight quarters of increases, the Alaska Communications consumer wireless base declined by about 400 customers to 117,156. In the broadband segment, consumer connections decreased by 294 and business connections by 67, but average revenue per user, or ARPU, increased in both areas. ARPU for consumer broadband was up by nearly $4, to $37.56 per month versus the first quarter of 2011, and business broadband ARPU has jumped from $126.66 to $141.60 year-over-year. Alaska Communications also saw a major shift in its wireless base after launching new prepaid plans last year. The prepaid customer base increased by about 3,500 customers year-over-year, to 11,023, while postpaid (contract) customers declined by more than 2,500 to 106,133 in the same period. That shift in prepaid customers drug down the ARPU for consumer wireless from $53.54 at the end of 2011 to $51.83 at the end of the first quarter. On the flip side, ARPU for wireless data increased year-over-year from $14.78 to $17.35. Capital expenditures continued to increase as Alaska Communications has been hard at work on a 4G LTE network rollout, which would be the first LTE in Alaska and position it to compete against Verizon Wireless’ 4G LTE when the company enters the market within the next year. Capital expenditures were $13.1 million in the first quarter, but the release of the Apple iPhone 4S on April 20 has pushed back the LTE rollout once planned for the second quarter as the latest iPhone isn’t LTE compatible. ACS is heavily subsidizing the iPhone 4S at a $50 discount, which will put more pressure on already squeezed margins that led the company to cut its dividend sharply in the fourth quarter of 2011. “Given higher equipment subsidies associated with this device we believe previous guidance on (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, amortization) and free cash flow will be impacted,” said Chief Financial Officer Wayne Graham. “Once we have a more extended selling period to make an accurate assessment, we will provide updated guidance numbers.” Alaska Communications cut its dividend to free up cash flow for debt retirement and cap-ex spending, and in response to the Federal Communications Commission slashing Universal Service Fund high cost support, which helps cover the cost of rural wireless networks. The FCC order is shifting $4 billion from USF high cost support to efforts to expand rural broadband access. That has put Alaska telecoms in a bind because it isn’t possible to reach rural areas without a largely wireless network. The GCI TERRA-Southwest network turned up in late 2011 reaches 65 Alaska communities as far as Emmonak, but the “wired” portion of the network only extends about 40 miles past Iliamna Lake before microwave repeater towers carry signals the rest of the way. USF high cost support declined by about $1.8 million year-over-year for ACS, which expects that revenue to be down by $4 million to $5 million in 2012. Alaska Communications continued to see increases in roaming revenue as it carries traffic for Verizon Wireless in the state — up by $2.6 million year-over-year — but that income will steadily decline once Verizon can move its customers to its own network by the middle of 2013. Investors haven’t reacted well to the dividend cut or the latest earnings report. ACS cut its quarterly dividend from 21.5 cents per share to 5 cents per share Dec. 21. The share price dropped to $5.60 in November when ACS revealed dividend cuts were being considered during its third quarter earnings call, and hit $3.14 per share on the Dec. 21 announcement of the cut. Shares declined another 7 percent the day after Alaska Communications released first quarter results, and were trading as low as $1.81 on May 16 after opening the day at $2.03. ACS shares have traded as high as $9.10 within the last 52 weeks.   Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

NOAA Report: Amid problems, US fish stocks rebound

BOSTON (AP) — A record number of fish populations have been rebuilt in U.S waters, even as problems continue to threaten the future of the high-profile New England fishing industry, according to a federal report released May 14. Six species that were once considered overfished have rebuilt to optimal population levels in waters from the Bering Sea to the Atlantic Coast, according to the annual report to Congress by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s fisheries arm. The report also said just 45 of 219 fish populations (21 percent) were considered overfished in 2011. Still, 13 of those stocks are in New England. That’s the most, by far, of any geographic region. Emily Menashes, acting director of NOAA’s sustainable fisheries office said, overall, the report shows, “We are turning the corner on ending overfishing.” But New England is defying the positive trends and it’s unclear how that can change, said NOAA’s Galen Tromble. “It’s a challenging situation and there aren’t any easy solutions,” he said. The report looks at fish populations on both coasts and off Alaska and Hawaii, using the most recent data, generally two to three years old, Menashes said. The six fish species now considered rebuilt include Bering Sea snow crab, Atlantic coast summer flounder, Gulf of Maine haddock, northern California coast Chinook salmon, Washington coast coho salmon and Pacific coast widow rockfish. In the last 11 years, 27 U.S. marine fish populations have been rebuilt, according to the report. Tromble said that reflects years of effort by fishery managers and sacrifice by fishermen to follow rebuilding plans started 10 or 15 years ago. “We’re starting to see the results of those,” Tromble said. Regulators on Monday also touted a dropping percentage of species where “overfishing” is occurring — from 16 percent in 2010 to 14 percent in 2011. That simply means fishermen are fishing too hard on fewer species now. It differs from the falling percentage of species considered “overfished,” which is down from 23 percent to 21 percent. The drop in that category means there are fewer fish populations in such poor shape that managers must devise a plan to protect them. Still, there’s not much good news in that category in New England. Its 13 overfished stocks in 2011 compare to six in the next highest region, the Pacific. The North Pacific (off Alaska) counts just 2 overfished stocks, and the Mid-Atlantic just one. Just this month, New England fishermen absorbed a 22 percent cut in the catch of cod in the Gulf of Maine and an 80 percent cut in the yellowtail flounder catch on Georges Bank. The lower catch limits present a huge problem for already stretched New England fishermen, because they prevent them from going after the more abundant fish the cod and flounder swim among. Fishermen have predicted catastrophe for the industry by next year unless something changes. Tromble said New England is unique because the fish off its coast have been under pressure for so long, both from the industry’s early beginnings and the foreign fleets who heavily fished its waters until the U.S. government kicked them out in the mid-1970s. Also, he said, fish reproduction on important stocks has recently lagged in New England, compared to other regions, and it’s unclear why. To many fishermen, the problem is flawed fishery science. Their doubts have recently been fueled by radical shifts in the population estimates. The cut in Gulf of Maine cod, for instance, came just four years after scientists said the species was robust. “It’s a dynamic environment out there and the data that we have from the fishery reflects that,” Tromble said. “So sometimes we get results that aren’t what we expect. We’ve just had an unusual amount of that in New England recently.”

Bulletin 5/20/12

SBA names Alaskan Prime Contractor of the Year Coldfoot Environmental Services Inc. has been selected as the U.S. Small Business Administration’s 2012 Region 10 Prime Contractor of the Year. The selection places Coldfoot in consideration for the prestigious SBA National Prime Contractor of the Year Award to be announced during National Small Business Week. The Anchorage-based business was nominated by Lucretia Teitzel from the 673rd Contracting Squadron Joint Base Elmendorf and Fort Richardson. Coldfoot Environmental Services, Inc. is a minority, 8(a), service-disabled veteran-owned small business specializing in environmental, construction, renovation and demolition work. It has been providing goods and services to the U.S. Air Force for over 11 years.   New Alaska Airlines aircraft offering more legroom Alaska Airlines and Recaro Aircraft Seating are launching an innovative main cabin seat that provides more legroom for air travelers. The award-winning seat will be installed on all of Alaska Airlines’ 22 new Boeing 737-900ERs scheduled for delivery in fall 2012 through 2014. Alaska Airlines’ version of Recaro’s seat includes custom enhanced-comfort cushions, a six-way adjustable headrest and the carrier’s standard three inches of recline. The lighter seat will save an estimated 8,000 gallons of fuel annually per aircraft. Alaska’s first class cabin on its 737-900ERs will feature a different premium Recaro seat with five inches of recline, an articulating seat bottom and a six-way adjustable headrest. The Germany-based manufacturer’s BL3520 seat model won Europe’s 2011 Crystal Cabin Award and the 2012 red dot design award.   United Way of Anchorage receives two international recognitions The United Way of Anchorage was recently recognized by two international organizations for effectiveness in creating community-wide change in education, and for efficiency, accountability, and transparency. United Way Worldwide recognized the United Way of Anchorage as a finalist for the inaugural United Way Common Good Awards at the United Way Community Leaders Conference in Nashville, Tenn. It scored in the top tier of candidates spanning more than 11 countries. United Way of Anchorage also received its third consecutive 4-star rating for sound fiscal management from Charity Navigator. The designation is based on strong financial health, accountability and transparency. United Way of Anchorage is one of only four charities in Alaska to receive the 4-star rating and the only one to receive three consecutive 4-star ratings.   Koniag acquires Michigan IT company Koniag Development Corp. has finalized its purchase of Open Systems Technologies, an information technology services company based in Grand Rapids, Mich. Founded in 1997, OST offers data hosting, application development and other IT services to clients in the healthcare, manufacturing, distribution, finance and insurance industries. It specializes in enterprise technology services through storing and managing data. The company has 100 full-time employees and 50 full-time contractors and operates satellite offices in Minneapolis, Minn., and Ann Arbor, Mich. Its client roster includes Boeing, NASA, Pfizer, Target, U.S. Bank, John Deere and Amway.   ASSE chapter honored The American Society of Safety Engineers has recognized Alaska’s Midnight Sun Chapter with the prestigious Small Chapter of the Year Award in recognition of its efforts to promote workplace safety, professional development, communication and service to safety, health and environmental professionals and ASSE members. The chapter was a co-winner with Region VII’s Kitty Hawk Chapter in Ohio. Since 1991, the Midnight Sun Chapter has hosted an annual Professional Development Conference. It’s also partnered with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Alaska General Contractors and the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary to advocate for safety both on the job and in the community. The Midnight Sun Chapter, which is part of ASSE’s Region I, was established as a formal ASSE chapter in 1996. It represents North Pole and Fairbanks. With 58 members, it’s one of ASSE’s five smallest chapters.

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