DJ Summers

Americans are eating exactly as much seafood as they always have

Though the U.S. government promotes seafood as an omega-3 fat-packed ambrosia deserving two meals a week, consumers aren’t biting. Despite being the second-largest seafood consuming nation, Americans eat overwhelmingly more of every other protein — peanuts, eggs, pork, beef, lamb and poultry — than they do of seafood, according to a 2014 U.S. Department of Agriculture report. Seafood did beat out tree nuts, dried beans and lentils. Seafood consumption rates, however, are up from last year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Despite cheery headlines and nutritionists praising Americans’ dietary habits in recent weeks, the poundage boost doesn’t mean anything except a break from a 30-year historic low point. According to a Fisheries of the U.S. report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. seafood consumption increased from 14.6 pounds in 2014 to 15.5 pounds in 2015. This seems like good news, but in reality it’s only a recovery. American seafood consumption hasn’t been as low as the last few years since the 1980s, according to the NOAA report. The levels last year merely broke a low spell of 14.4, 14.5 and 14.6 pounds per person in 2012, 2013 and 2014, respectively. This year’s “spike” in seafood consumption gets the nation back to average. Since 1990, Americans ate an average 15.3 pounds per person. Putting it in perspective Still, a pound per person per year is a statistically meaty jump and a signal of better times for an industry struggling under excessive supply and a nasty foreign export market driven by the U.S. dollar’s strength in key markets. Nobody knows why the consumption levels jumped nearly a full pound in a year. During a media call, NOAA statistician Alan Lowther chalked up the increase to a “larger amount of fish available for fresh and frozen consumption,” but said any information beyond that would be a guess. NOAA itself doesn’t know what species made up the largest part of the increase. “The model that we have does not allow us to break out individual species or products; rather the model groups products together in broad classes,” explained John Ewald, a NOAA public affairs coordinator. According to the NOAA report, per capita consumption of fresh and frozen products rose 0.6 pounds from 2014. Without a species breakdown, giving Alaska’s seafood industry credit for U.S. seafood consumption can be difficult. Ewald agreed with Lowther that the bulk of the growth was an across the board rise in fresh and frozen salmon products. Other studies point to salmon as the main driver, but the numbers don’t match up with NOAA’s. For example, the National Fisheries Institute released a Top 10 report detailing the most heavily consumed species. Shrimp tops the list. Salmon, which comes in second, increased from 2.3 pounds to 2.9 pounds between 2014 and 2015. These numbers come from the NOAA Fisheries of the U.S. report, according to the institute, though NOAA statisticians themselves didn’t have any species detail. In a response to a Journal inquiry, Gavin Gibbons of the NFI said via e-mail the NOAA does not do the work to break down each species (or even the top ten) by consumption. “They have access to the data, they just don’t break it down. We compile our top ten list from import data and FUS (Fisheries of the U.S.) data then use a disappearance model coupled with specific yield ratios to determine actual consumption,” he wrote. In the can “A third of the increase was attributable to increases in consumption of canned products, particularly canned salmon,” Ewald wrote. “This may be reflecting an increase in supply from the biennial pink salmon runs. A portion of this consumption could be reflecting warehoused supply rather than immediately consumed product.” Consumption of canned fishery products was 3.7 pounds per capita in 2015, up 0.3 pounds from 2014, according to the report. This number could make it look like canned seafood consumption is growing, but over the long term U.S. consumers have been buying less and less of it. Americans ate 0.3 pounds more canned seafood in 2015 than in 2014, but that’s a pound less than in 2000 and a 1.4 pounds less than in 1990. Most of that decline was due to a drop in demand for canned tuna, while canned salmon demand has hovered around 0.3 pounds. In the canned category, U.S. buyers consumed 0.3 pounds of salmon in 2015 — which is the average yearly consumption rate going back to 1985. The increase in canned salmon consumption coincides with a 2014 pink salmon season of such epic proportion that the USDA spent $13 million on canned pink salmon in order to bail out overstocked Alaska seafood processors. This amounted to 8.2 million cans of product. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Did the new Blood Bank cost too much?

Employees and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration aren’t the only ones with questions for the Blood Bank of Alaska. Blood Bank of Alaska leadership is planning to meet with the Rasmuson Foundation in the next few weeks, according to foundation President Diane Kaplan. Reports in the Journal about employee complaints mainly centered on potential blood shortages caused by a recent export contract signed with a California blood bank to the FDA has the longtime Alaska grant maker troubled. “I’ve read what others have read,” Kaplan said. “We do have concerns.” The public is still awaiting the results of BBA’s internal investigation to its own complaints along with whatever results will come from an FDA investigation, on which the federal agency cannot comment. Countering the claims of former and current employees, the Blood Bank of Alaska insists it isn’t exporting blood for any other reason than proper blood management. “Blood Bank of Alaska has never collected blood specifically for export and never will,” wrote CEO Robert Scanlon in an opinion piece published on Oct. 27 in the Alaska Dispatch News. “Blood collection is determined by senior level, professional blood bankers here in Alaska who constantly monitor and modify collections based on need.” Nearly all the hospitals and medical centers in the state get their blood from BBA, with the exceptions of a few Southeast Alaska hospitals that get their blood from Seattle. BBA moved into its new 57,000 square foot, $45.7 million building early this year at the tail end of an underwhelming fundraising campaign and into an era of depressed state budgets, stagnating Alaska population and a decline in demand for blood products both in the Lower 48 and in Alaska. The Blood Bank of Alaska had pushed for a new building since the mid-2000s. In 2008, the Legislature gave it the first appropriation of $66,100 for development. By 2016, the state had forked over $33.2 million to the organization, including $17.8 million in fiscal year 2015 and $775,000 in fiscal year 2016. The new building is double the floor plan size of the previous operations. The land and construction costs totaled approximately $800 per square foot, which according to Alaska real estate professionals is roughly twice the cost of similar Midtown buildings. The Blood Bank of Alaska’s new building required an $8.5 million loan from the Alaska Industrial and Export Authority, or AIDEA, to complete construction after fundraising and state appropriations came up short. The monthly repayment on the loan began when BBA moved into the new building in 2016. Around this time, BBA entered an export agreement with California blood center LifeStream for 100 units of blood per week. The original contract was for May through September and was recently extended through December. Funding troubles Linda Soriano, the blood bank’s former grant writer who resigned after filing a complaint with the FDA, said BBA’s capital campaign had a “toxic cloud” hanging over it from the beginning.  Former Gov. Sean Parnell used his line item veto to reduce proposed capital budget appropriations for the BBA building by a total of $10.8 million over two of the five fiscal years it was funded. The Rasmuson Foundation, the largest of Alaska grant writers, did not award the blood bank the $3 million requested in 2010. By the end of the capital campaign, Rasmuson agreed only to a $500,000 grant that BBA can’t request payment on until April 2017. According to Kaplan, the foundation’s president, the project seemed too grand. “We did give a grant, what is in reality a big grant for us,” she said of the $500,000 Rasmuson gave to BBA. “We did feel given the state environment that it was very ambitious in terms of its size. We really felt it was too much of a stretch for the organization.” Kaplan explained that there is a limited amount of capital money to be had from private sources in Alaska. Aside from her foundation, the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust and grants from federal programs like Indian Health Services and Indian Community Development block grants, most of the private money has dried up. Rasmuson therefore carefully vets its projects to ensure money is going where it’s most needed. “We have had concerns about the scope of the project specifically because when we fund capital we really try to make sure whatever is being built is the right size and sustainable,” Kaplan said. “Capital projects, if they’re not done the right way, can have a very negative, if not fatal, effect on these organizations. They can get over-extended. They take on too much debt.”  Without the requested funding from the Rasmuson Foundation, the blood bank had to look elsewhere, eventually securing several million in grants and gifts from private donors and an $8.5 million loan from AIDEA. The BBA board of directors chairman told the Journal in a previous interview that nobody had ever advised the board to halt construction. On the contrary, before all the funding could be completed, the State of Alaska told BBA to get to work. “The State insisted the BBA begin using the funds allocated,” according to a June 25, 2015, memo from executive director John Springsteen to AIDEA board members. In its loan application to AIDEA, the Blood Bank said it would establish a donor testing facility in the new building as a revenue generator. BBA currently has to ship samples of its blood to Minneapolis for testing, leaving a two-day testing lag from the time of initial donation. With an in-house facility, the bank could test its own blood as well as host other tests for hire. “The donor-testing lab would open up new sources of revenue for BBA by potentially serving blood banks in Hawaii and the Pacific Rim countries,” according to a whitepaper presented by the Blood Bank of Alaska in 2016. “Testing services for one additional blood bank would create annual revenue in the amount of approximately $700,000-$1,000,000.” The Blood Bank has not yet bought this equipment nor begun hiring staff for its management. Scanlon said the state donor testing facilities are in the works, and that they were not a deciding factor for any of the grants or loans BBA received. “That was not the intent from the very beginning,” Scanlon said. “When we went to the Legislature we explained that to them. The building facilitates us having our own donor testing facility in house. We’ve already had discussions on that. “We’ve also met with industry. We’ve pretty much decided on the first platform we will purchase in order to facilitate being an in-house testing facility. The effort kicks off in November. We’re very rapidly moving to bringing the donor testing and getting it up and running. From start to finish, anywhere from a year and half to two years to get that up and running.” Less demand for blood The national blood industry ran into problems in the middle of BBA’s pursuit of a new building. Blood demand nationally and in Alaska appeared to be falling. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released a report in the summer of 2013 that found blood transfusions had dropped 8 percent since 2008. In August 2014, the New York Times published an article detailing the industry’s troubles. Advanced surgical techniques and technical improvements have made blood transfusions less necessary, leading to a nationwide drop off in blood demand and a corresponding drop in blood prices at hospitals. “Transfusions are down almost one-third over the last five years, to about 11 million units last year from about 15 million units, according to the American Red Cross, which has about 40 percent of the market,” reported the Times. “With ‘minimally invasive’ techniques like laparoscopic surgery and other shifts in medicine, demand for blood continues to drop despite population growth and a soaring number of people over 65, who have the most surgeries requiring blood. “Blood bank revenue is falling, and the decline may reach $1.5 billion a year this year from a high of $5 billion in 2008.” Scanlon wrote a response, published in the Alaska Dispatch News, saying that the blood banking industry’s Lower 48 troubles do not “accurately depict the situation in Alaska.” Scanlon did not directly rebut the American Red Cross numbers with any Alaska specifics. He wrote that several types of surgeries still demand blood. What looks like a decline in demand is actually pent up demand from aging Baby Boomers waiting for surgery, he said. “Blood is still needed, and that will not change,” Scanlon wrote. “In fact, in Alaska demand has increased for certain blood products.” The alleged increased demand for blood products featured prominently in grant requests. In a grant request to the Rasmuson Foundation, BBA asserted that “BBA projects an increasing demand for blood products due to the expansion of transfusion medicine to include therapeutic applications that elevate the level of care available in-state, especially for patients with late-stage cancers.” According to figures obtained from a former employee, BBA’s sales had in fact been on a steady decline over the last half-decade, matching the national trend documented by the American Red Cross. BBA sales of red blood cells, the industry’s main product, peaked at 24,000 in 2008, but dipped to just more than 20,000 units in 2014, the year the new building broke ground. Sales of blood platelets peaked in 2010 with approximately 12,500 units and dropped to approximately 2,500 units by 2014. Only sales for cryoprecipitated antihemophilic facto, or cryo, went up between 2008 and 2014. Cryo is a frozen plasma product used mainly to treat hemophilia and Von Willebrand disease rather than surgeries or traumas. BBA is a 501(c)3 nonprofit. All tax exempt nonprofits must file a yearly Form 990 with the Internal Revenue Service. According to its Form 990s, BBA’s financials match the drop in blood product sales. Revenue from blood product sales, blood services and bone marrow dropped from $11.4 million in 2011 to $10.6 million in 2014. Blood product sales netted $11.2 million in 2011, but only $10.4 million in 2014. The blood bank’s Form 990 for 2015 is still not available. McDowell Group also factored Alaska’s population into the new building’s need. “The population of Alaska is estimated to exceed 750,000 by the end of 2015, rising to 850,000 people during peak tourist season,” according to an analysis published in April 2014. “In the event of a disaster, the Blood Bank will be relied upon to treat trauma patients. With the expanded facility, blood will be stored longer and in greater quantities, enhancing their emergency preparedness.” According to the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Alaska’s population as of July 2015 was 737,625, the third year in a row of no growth. Construction jobs Typical for state-funded construction projects, one of BBA’s selling points was construction jobs. McDowell Group estimated 133 workers earning $14 million in direct labor income in Alaska, and a total economic impact of $66 million from the construction of the new building. The blood bank’s new building was designed by architectural firm Livingston Slone, managed by Cook Inlet Housing Authority, and built by contractor Neeser Construction. Lobbyist Robert Evans has worked for both the Blood Bank of Alaska and Neeser Construction since 2010. Evans also worked in 2010 as a lobbyist for Cook Inlet Housing Authority. Former blood bank employee and once-acting CEO Margaret Baker now works for Livingston Slone. Former BBA board chairman Bob Petersen, president of home construction company The Petersen Group, has partnered with Cook Inlet Housing Authority for various housing developments. The blood bank is only the latest in a series of state-funded Neeser projects criticized for size and expense. Neeser is one of the largest general contractors in the state and for the state. Since 2008, the company has received nearly $87 million in direct payments from the Legislature while managing hundreds of millions worth of projects such as the state crime lab and the Goose Creek prison. The total doesn’t count payments from institutions the Legislature funded directly and in turn paid Neeser, like the Blood Bank of Alaska. It also does not include federally funded projects like the $90.4 million contract it landed Aug. 19, 2016, in collaboration with Bering Straits Native Corp. for the Norton Sound Regional Hospital in Nome, or the Anchorage headquarters for the Bristol Bay Native Corp., where Blood Bank of Alaska’s current board of directors chairman Ryan York works as chief financial officer. Neeser built much of Alaska’s state and federally funded educational, health, and Alaska Native infrastructure, including Central Peninsula Hospital specialty clinics building, University of Alaska Anchorage School of Engineering and Industry Building, Norton Sound Regional Hospital, the Department of Public Safety Alaska Scientific Crime Detection lab, Goose Creek Correctional Facility, among many others. As a private business, BBA submitted a request for construction bids in 2011. In a grant application to the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, BBA emphasized that the Neeser contract could not be renegotiated.  “Is the pricing for the project items up-to-date and firm, or will re-bidding, especially for the electrical facility construction, if construction had not begun?” asked Murdock. “Project pricing is firm,” BBA wrote in response. “In December 2013, BBA entered into an agreement with the general contractor, Neeser Construction, to construct the building, including the electrical facility, for a lump sum amount.” Neeser began asking for subcontractor and supplier bids for the project December 2012, a year before the agreement, with a legal ad in the Anchorage Daily News. High-priced projects BBA’s building apparent excessive cost is a trait shared in common with the Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory in Anchorage, an $87 million state-funded project completed by Neeser in 2012 with designs drawn up by Livingston Slone. The new lab is four times the size of the old one. The 84,400-square-foot crime lab, built at roughly $1,000 per square foot, came at a time when advancing technology and declining crime rate required less testing, not more. After criticism from media and in the Legislature went ignored about the new lab’s size, former lab director Chris Beheim published a lengthy critique of the design in 2010 in collaboration with the Alaska Policy Forum. “We found that the Department of Public Safety did not consider lab sizing and design in light of rapidly emerging DNA analysis technologies that will render large portions of the new facility unnecessary in only a few years,” reads the critique summary. “We found the construction plans to be extravagant with nonessential architectural components adding substantial cost to the project. “The decision to build the laboratory on an oversized 15.5-acre wetland-affected parcel appears to be a mistake. We found that there were more reasonably sized suitable building sites available near the existing laboratory that would not have required wetland mitigation. With this in mind, we believe the proposed laboratory is far larger and more expensive than what is needed to provide high quality forensic science support for Alaska’s limited population.” In 2015, several former and current lab employees contacted Sen. Berta Gardner alleging that the new building went largely underused. “People that contacted me said that we actually have fewer, not more resources for evidence testing, and that a lot testing of evidence is sent out of state for testing,” she said in a 2015 interview with KTVA. A similar scenario surrounded the $240 million, 435,000 square foot Goose Creek Correctional Center in the Mat-Su Borough, another Neeser project. The prison was opened in 2012 after criticism about its costs. Formerly, Alaska housed some of its prisoner population in Colorado. Cost estimates said the new prison, however, cost $30 per inmate per day more than the Colorado prison. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

At long last, Alaskans can buy legal marijuana

On Oct. 29, nearly two years after Ballot Measure 2 legalized adult use cannabis in Alaska, the retail store Herbal Outfitters opened in Valdez, a small town a half day’s drive from Anchorage. This marks the first retail store opening. Fairbanks’ Pakalolo Supply Co. made a ceremonial legal cannabis sale the day before. Those who braved the chill and drizzle to cluster around the store's entrance said two years was worth the wait. “I’ve been waiting 46 years,” said Michael Holcombe, a Valdez retiree who can still remember blowing pot smoke at cops while waiting in line for the Rolling Stones and Stevie Wonder. Holcombe was the first in the store to make a purchase. Others caravanned through Alaska’s mountains and icy October roads to see history in the making. “We wanted to be part of the crowd that bought the first legal weed in Alaska,” said Christopher Front, who traveled from Anchorage with his wife Hannah and dog, Daisy. “She wanted to be the first dog,” he added. For Alaska’s first sale to happen in Valdez, instead of population centers like Anchorage or Fairbanks, surprised even the owners. “We never anticipated that we’d be the first legal sale,” said Derek Morris, Herbal Outfitters’ general manager. “That’s still a little bit of a shock to us.” Valdez’s previously claim to fame, beyond its small town charm and scenic beauty, was as the site of the infamous Exxon Valdez oil spill. That spill funneled federal disaster relief funding into Alaska at a time when the state was undergoing an oil-driven economic recession worse than but similar to the one Alaska is in now. Now, Valdez will mark the beginning of an industry that has raked in hundreds of millions of states taxes in Colorado, Washington and Oregon. Bluntly speaking The road to the first legal joint has been a stony one. What is a blazing new industry in the Lower 48 has strained to grow in Alaska. Lack of capital and banking restrictions have given industry little financing with which to get rolling. Local authorities have not always been kind, with several ongoing municipal and borough wide bans causing chronic political battles. Budding entrepreneurs have taken a hit in their pocketbooks due to zoning restrictions and local regulations that demand fat up front investments before sales even spark up. Like other Alaska businesses, Morris said the company had a sticky time getting onto its feet since first applying for a license in Feb. 2015, though he insists the local Valdez government and citizens were more welcoming than in other areas. “It’s been a bumpy road,” said Morris. “There were a lot of zoning and ordinance laws, particularly with regulations in the store… but the local community’s been very supportive.” Morris formerly worked in Colorado’s legal industry managing Maggie’s Farm, one of the state’s largest suppliers. He said he came to Alaska for a change of scenery and a change from what he saw as too much greed in the Colorado scene. Even for someone as experienced as Morris, the first sale has an emotional impact. “Our nerves are a wreck,” he said. “Our anxiety is high. But our hearts are full.” Herbal Outfitters carried two merchandise from two cultivators: Greatland Ganja from Kasilof and Green Rush from Sterling. Arthur Able, one of Greatland Ganja’s owners, said the first sale is a milestone. “I’m just ecstatic,” he said. “Super excited about the actual beginning of the industry. After this everything gets better. Every transaction will get smoother. The grows will get more streamlined and better quality.” 4/20 friendly, $420 not so friendly Legal Alaska pot isn’t cheap — yet. Patrons pay $420 per ounce or $22 per gram at Herbal Outfitters — a cute price considering the product, but also roughly $100 dollars more than what the black market charges for similar mid- to high-grade merchandise. This high price reflects an incomplete supply chain, not a new status quo of expensive product feared by some medical marijuana activists before Colorado legalized in 2014. With only one retail store open and only one Anchorage tester funneling cannabis into a limited number of ready-for-market stores, the price point starts off high. Prices sink dramatically as cultivators and retailers become more established and the consumer demand funnels into stores away from the black market. When Colorado opened legal adult use sales in 2014, Denver metro area prices averaged $323 per ounce or according to survey performed by Colorado Pot Guide. Outside the Denver area, the price rose to $367 per ounce. By October 2016, that price cut roughly in half. A similar scenario played out in both Washington and Oregon. When Washington sales opened July 2014, the average statewide price per a gram was $25 to $30. That number fell to $10 per gram by 2016. Able said he expects product to get cheaper over the next year. “Definitely in the first year,” he said. “The factor is going to be more related to the amount of grows coming online than the timeline.” DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Processors working with harvesters on budget plan

Fish harvesters and processors might not agree on much, but everyone hates taxes. Commercial fishing stakeholders took turns in 2016 tearing apart a commercial fisheries tax plan from Gov. Bill Walker that the Legislature batted around during the marathon session but eventually dropped. The industry has such diverse needs and complex features that the bill couldn’t hit the revenue target without hurting one industry segment more than another. Stakeholders also objected to a holdup with a range of other industry taxes introduced by Walker. As none of the other taxes moved out of committee, House Fisheries Committee Chair Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, tabled the fishing taxes until she could be sure the industry wouldn’t take a hit none of the other industry’s would face. Months later, Walker bundled the fisheries tax into a bill with mining and fuel taxes. The bill stalled. Fisheries stakeholders might have a fix. At an October meeting of the United Fishermen of Alaska, the state’s largest harvester group, fishermen decided to knock heads together instead of against the legislative wall. “(Pacific Seafood Processors Association) and UFA have agreed to sit down and work together to address the tax issue that’s being put before the Legislature,” said Glenn Reed, president of the Pacific Seafood Processors Association, or PSPA. PSPA is an industry group that represents companies which control a sizable chunk of the processing facilities that ring Alaska’s coastline and serve as the harvest’s first point of market entry. PSPA was one of the more vocal critics of a commercial fisheries tax plan. Major sticking points for PSPA included a canned salmon tax that would put a dent in export business. Reed said the meeting hasn’t taken place yet pending PSPA’s own schedule needs. “I was invited to UFA’s annual meeting to talk about the tax plan we had last year and a response to the governor’s proposals,” Reed said. “In the context of that response, we and UFA committed to working together on a tax program this coming session. “The steps that need to be taken as I understand them, UFA board is going to appoint a committee, four to seven people, a handful of people, and let me know when they get that done and we’re going to start sitting down and having some discussion.” Reed clarifies that neither group is looking for increased taxes, per se. “We sat down and said, ‘What we’d really like is a world without taxes,’” he said. “But that’s not a possibility.” UFA representatives confirmed the plan and place the meeting tentatively in the first weeks of November. New fisheries taxes aim to grow roughly $15 million in new revenue. For the fishing industry, funds are a matter of survival for both ADFG, which manages fisheries, and the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, which promotes Alaska’s seafood. Walker will submit his fiscal year 2018 budget in December. That budget will include another round of cuts for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Walker hinted during bill signing in Kodiak that he was looking at corporate income tax in addition to the industry taxes. So far legislators haven’t hinted at what taxes might make their way onto the floor. In the last few years, ADFG’s budget has plummeted $15 million dollars — a 30 percent decline from $50 million in fiscal year 2015 to $35 million in fiscal year 2017. Forrest Bowers, the deputy director of the Commercial Fisheries Division of ADFG, said the department has been told to brace for another 10 percent to 14 percent cut in Walker’s upcoming budget proposal, bringing the total unrestricted general fund allotment for ADFG to less than $30 million, nearly 40 percent less than just three years ago. ASMI cobbles together revenue from a mixture of matching state general funds and private industry payments and federal receipts. In the same timeframe, ASMI’s state funding has dropped along with ADFG’s. In fiscal year 2013, the legislature appropriated $7.8 million. In fiscal year 2017, the Legislature appropriated $2 million — slashed down from $3.8 million proposed by Walker — along with a note asking the institute to wean itself off state funds. “It is the intent of the Legislature that the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute develop a plan to phase out reliance on unrestricted general funds for seafood marketing by fiscal year 2019 and continue marketing on industry contributions,” the note reads. “Further, it is the intent of the Legislature the plan includes consideration of increasing revenue from industry contributions to maximum allowed by law and deliver a report to the Legislature not later than Jan. 1, 2017.” DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Anchorage zoning laws force cannabis shops to cluster

Legal cannabis sales are about to happen in Alaska, maybe even within the week. Flower and bud and wax and shatter won’t have a wide city network to start, though. The municipal process takes time and has already backfired, as Anchorage residents object to the denseness of pot businesses. Greatland Ganja, a Kasilof cultivator, dropped off samples at recently approved testing lab CannTest LLC on Oct. 24. Several Anchorage retail shops are near operational — one, Arctic Herbery, has already started handing out samples — and will have a flow of tested product as soon as CannTest clears it. Valkyrie Security and Asset Protection is trucking a bundle of samples to CannTest from Fairbanks later in the week, and Valdez retailers say they could open by Saturday, Oct. 29. The marijuana industry, unable to access banking and without any current sales to replenish the thousands in rent, construction, legal and license fees they’ve paid in the last year, views municipal rules as a needless constraint. Besides considering it unnecessary, industry stakeholders think the Municipality of Anchorage rules are indirectly leading to public backlash against marijuana businesses by concentrating them into green-friendly clusters. Erika McConnell, the Anchorage municipality’s marijuana land use planner, said industry members are reading the cause and effect of zoning requirements accurately. “There’s a limited number of zoning districts in which these businesses can be established,” she said. “You kind of end up having certain areas of town where you find spaces.” Jana Weltzin, a cannabis business attorney, describes the municipal land use requirements as “overly burdensome,” and said they cost both city staff and businesses time and money. “A cannabis production company would make better business sense in other parts of the state, unfortunately,” wrote Weltzin. Principals with principles Ballot Measure 2 legalized recreational adult use cannabis in Alaska, but allowed local governments to opt out of legal cannabis or create their own rules. Municipalities have taken different views on how regulations should go. To date, Anchorage’s process has been the most problematic. It requires licensees to have a license application deemed complete by AMCO before before the Anchorage Assembly will review licenses, rather than approving the city license before or concurrently with the state license. It has more restrictive hours of operation than the state and more restrictive zoning rules. The Anchorage Assembly passed an amended land use ordinance requiring setbacks between marijuana business and schools, churches, recreational facilities, and child-centered facilities. The land restrictions create pockets of proper zoning in B-3 business zones for retail and industrial zones for cultivation facilities, largely concentrated in Midtown-Spenard and South Anchorage. Some neighborhood tensions boiled over on Oct. 17 as a result. That afternoon, Campbell Elementary School made a robo call announcement to hundreds of parents imploring they attend the Oct. 18 Anchorage Assembly to protest several marijuana business license applicants that had passed through the process “without public input.” In a letter to the Anchorage Assembly, Campbell Elementary School principal Michelle Johansen told assembly members she had learned at a Taku-Campbell Community Council meeting that there were five marijuana businesses vying for space near Campbell Elementary. Johansen demanded that the Assembly move one of the agenda items, approval of Raspberry Roots cultivation facility, up further on the agenda so parents could protest. “The Campbell community vehemently opposes another marijuana business so near our school, for what we hope are obvious reasons,” wrote Johansen. “We are disappointed that Raspberry Roots is the last item on your agenda for tomorrow evening. I respectfully request that the item be moved up the agenda so that community members, who have children to put to bed, can participate in the discussion.” Each of the proposed businesses scheduled for hearings that night — cultivator Raspberry Roots and retailers Alaska Buds and Enlighten Alaska — passed assembly approval, having undergone extensive contact with their respective community councils. While the elementary school dominated headlines, industry leaders heard directly from the public at large. Nick Miller, a member of the Marijuana Control Board and president of the Anchorage Cannabis Business Association, said his phone blew up with angry calls from the general public after the Campbell Elementary fiasco. “I got a lot of calls from the public just upset that all the businesses are bunched up,” Miller said. “My phone was ringing of the hook.” Miller said he sympathized, but also that his hands were tied. “If the public’s concerned about these businesses being so bunched up they need to contact their assembly representatives,” said Miller. “There’s only so much we can do as an industry.” Parks and recreational marijuana Public outcry could worsen if the assembly chooses new rules that would put the screws on cannabis businesses even further. “Anchorage definitely has the most restrictive regulations in the state,” said Miller. “The other municipalities have been friendlier. And as far as I can, tell none of them are revisiting the regulations. We don’t even know how the process is going to work yet and they’re already revisiting the regulations.” An Anchorage Assembly Economic and Community Development Committee has been talking about adding dedicated parks to the protected land use list and expanding dedicated parks areas, an idea which came before marijuana legalization but could have an impact all the same. Protected zones now include playgrounds and athletic areas. With tens of thousands of acres of public land that could be designated as dedicated park space, Anchorage could potentially ratchet down the allowed area even further. “That would add more locations that are then unavailable,” said McConnell. “If you take the set of properties that are available for marijuana business, it would shrink that set. I can’t say exactly how or by how much, we’d have to look at maps, but it would shrink it.” Other buffer zone regulations could change to be stricter or more lenient. One of the more contentious buffer zone issues relates to how the city will measure the distance between a marijuana business and a protected area. State law bans all cannabis businesses from being within 500 square feet of protected areas. Anchorage follows suit but has been interpreting the law in such a way that several businesses, which have paid building rent for months, might be in violation of the rule. “The thing most contentious is how would one measure in terms of crossing streets,” said McConnell. Under current regulation, businesses could be measured 500 feet from a protected area even if the two are separated by a major arterial road. Stakeholders are requesting the Assembly change the rules so that the distance must be measured to include the nearest labeled crosswalk. Rules on rules As Anchorage municipal rules box businesses in, other local rules lean to more leniencies. In Fairbanks, businesses don’t have to have a fully approved state license before the local authorities green light the local license. The borough assembly has already approved dozens of marijuana businesses while the Anchorage Assembly chips away at handfuls every two weeks.  While Fairbanks makes businesses stay 500 feet from the state-specified zones — K-12 schools, playgrounds, correctional facilities and public housing — it only requires 200 or 100 feet of distance from other areas for which the Anchorage rules require 500 feet of distance. Other locales open up entire districts to what Anchorage forbids. The Juneau Assembly lets limited cultivators with grows under 500 square feet operate in residential areas with certain restrictions, while residential grows are strictly off limits for Anchorage limited cultivators. Not all cities have stricter rules. The Kenai City Council requires 1,000 feet from schools, matching the federal Drug Free Zone standard. However, the 1,000-setback distance is alive and well in Chugiak and Eagle River, which have special carve outs in city regulations not only for schools but for every other protected zone. Only two areas — blocks of industrial land near airports without key utilities — are green friendly in the entire Chugiak and Eagle River area. The local versus state dynamic has bred some surprising flip-flops, twists and tensions in a case study of local civic involvement. The Mat-Su Borough has had a reputation as Alaska’s black market green belt for decades, and in 2016 the politics have matched the strength of the strains. Mat-Su cities Palmer and Wasilla both banned commercial cannabis inside town limits, while Houston invites the potential tax base with open arms. For most of 2016, the cannabis business community rallied to defeat a proposed borough-wide ban on commercial cannabis, which reopened dozens of Mat-Su licenses the state Marijuana Control Board had previously tabled. The Kenai Peninsula Borough has a similar proposed ban, for which a registered signature gatherer was Peter Mylnarik, Chief of Police in Soldotna and the Marijuana Control Board’s chairman. Because ballot signatures didn’t come in until late, it’s still an open question on whether the borough assembly will take the ballot up in a special session or bump it back to the 2017 election season. In Fairbanks, a group of anti-cannabis advocates have gathered enough signatures to put a borough-wide commercial cannabis ban onto the 2017 ballot. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Who can work in a marijuana shop?

A hip new industry is attracting excited workers, but ongoing regulations might block some from the new field. To work in a licensed cannabis business in the state of Alaska, employees have to pass a training course for a marijuana handler’s permit. Proposed permit requirements, though, are causing some friction for marijuana industry hopefuls who say the potential rules are “unreasonably impracticable.” If a new draft is accepted, Alaska marijuana handler card requirements would be the strictest in the country and be inconsistent with similar Alaska alcohol employee permits. “I believe the current regulations being proposed for occupational licensing in the cannabis industry are incongruent with the voice of the people and unfair,” said Steven Cehula, who plans on working in the industry. “This is limiting opportunities for employment without any tangible benefit for the state or city. Disqualifying potential cannabis workers for something that would not preclude them from working in the alcohol or tobacco industry simply doesn’t make sense.” According to draft regulations, Alaskans will not be able to obtain a marijuana handler’s card if they have a felony conviction in the last five years, been convicted of selling alcohol without a license in the last five years, or convicted of a misdemeanor crime involving violence, weapons, dishonesty, or a controlled substance other than a Schedule VI controlled substance. Marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance, the most restricted rating in the U.S. Controlled Substances Act. These restrcitions mirror exactly those placed on the actual license applicants for marijuana businesses.  The proposed regulations have drawn criticism from industry organizations including the Anchorage Cannabis Business Association, as well as individual applicants.The Marijuana Control Board hasn’t adopted the regulations just yet, however.   “It’s still in draft form,” said Peter Mlynarik, the board's chairman. “We’ll have to see how it plays out at the end.” Mlynarik said the board’s intent is not to stifle the marijuana industry from making new hires, but to ensure new entrants have some kind of background check. The board's next meeting will take place Oct. 27 in Nome and Oct. 28 in Anchorage, where it will review the handler card matter. The Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office will be accepting public comment on the draft until Oct. 24 State by state, product to product States with legal adult use marijuana have different occupational licensing practices. Colorado has an occupational license requirement for any employee of a licensed business. The application says the state will deny any applicant with any conviction for a controlled substance-related felony over the last 10 years or any felony over the last five years. The application also asks for criminal convictions of any type in the last 10 years, but does not automatically exclude those with convictions from holding an occupational license. In contrast, the Alaska draft will explicitly exclude an applicant if there are certain misdemeanors. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission is more lenient. It may refuse to grant a marijuana worker permit if the applicant has been convicted of a felony involving controlled substances, felony marijuana offences, violence, theft, fraud or forgery in the last three years. Oregon only tracks one misdemeanor for marijuana workers, with unlawful delivery of marijuana in the last three years, which is a class A misdemeanor. The state of Washington is most lenient of them all. The Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board doesn’t require workers in the marijuana industry to have any occupational licensing whatsoever. Alaska’s occupational licensing for marijuana differs from alcohol regulations.To work in an alcohol business in Alaska, employees must complete training for Alcohol Professionals, or TAP, card. Unlike the marijuana draft, an applicant for TAP card has no criminal restrictions at all, according to Kirsten Myles, vice president of operations for the Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant, and Retail Association, or CHARR, a lobbying organization representing alcohol and hospitality business interests in Alaska. The only possible restriction on a TAP card is a red stripe on a driver’s license. The state uses the red stripe to ban certain criminal offenders from buying alcohol or entering an alcohol establishment, but doesn’t necessarily prevent an alcohol licensee from hiring a red striped person as an employee, according to Myles. From Myles’ perspective, narrowing the marijuana employment pool is a bad idea. “It doesn’t make any sense,” said Myles. “It’s hard enough to find good employees for any business.” With over 300 marijuana licenses statewide, the marijuana industry will provide some employment opportunity, but economists so far haven’t made any solid projections for workforce size. A recent report from the Department of Labor states: “With the recent legalization of commercial marijuana in Alaska, farm workers and laborers (crop, nursery, and greenhouses), and inspectors (testers, sorters, samplers, and weighers) are expected to increase, but projecting marijuana-related jobs is especially uncertain. The industry is new and we don’t yet know how many of its workers will be self-employed, among a variety of other unknowns.” Other states can give some guidance to employment numbers. By the end of 2015, Colorado issued nearly 27,000 occupational licenses. These numbers only include businesses that deal directly with the product. Support Industry numbers aren’t counted. According to estimates from Marijuana Business Daily, the numbers of employees in the industry nationwide is between 100,000 and 150,000. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Budget cuts take big bite out of herring harvest

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is buckling under deep budget cuts, and now the state’s largest herring fishery is feeling the squeeze. ADFG has canceled vital abundance studies and surveys for several fisheries, meaning fishermen won’t get to prosecute the full amount of otherwise healthy stocks. Last year, based on 17,337 tons harvested in all Togiak herring fisheries and an average price of $100 per ton, the total ex-vessel value for the Togiak herring fishery was $1.52 million. The season allowed for a harvest of over 32,000 tons. This year’s harvest will be less. ADFG will allow for a harvest of 26,170 tons, or 57.6 million pounds, of a forecasted biomass of 287.9 million pounds. Al Chaffe, a processor working herring in the region since 1985, laments that what looked like healthy season was curtailed. “Things look fine,” he said. “It probably should be 15, 20, 25 percent higher. It’s cyclical, but it seems that survival in the Bering Sea is just strong.” The harvest would have likely been larger, but budget cuts forced ADFG to trim it. Typically, ADFG uses an age structure assessment model to estimate herring biomass. “Because that data is no longer available to us, we forecast the 2017 biomass as the average spawning biomass for all years for which we have data (1978-2015) less 10 percent in order to be conservative,” according to an Oct. 10 ADFG release. Across the state, herring fishermen should get used to the adjustment. “Statewide, except for Sitka, all herring monitoring funds have been cut,” said Bert Lewis, ADFG’s Bristol Bay and Prince William Sound salmon/herring fisheries management coordinator. “For Togiak, that means out aerial survey budget was cut. “That was used to document the aerial biomass, that determines whether we have the fishery, and it also cut our age and size data collection, which is what goes into the model that tells us the forecast. So we don’t have the age composition and the size at age data anymore.” By regulation, herring fishermen are allowed 20 percent of the biomass as estimated by the age composition studies. This year’s measurement of the long-term biomass average — minus 10 percent as a conservation buffer — will be less than normal. “Ultimately, this will mean over the long term that less fish will be harvested, I think it’s safe to say,” said Lewis. “And next year we will be coming up with some kind of recommendation on how to prosecute this fishery at some lower level we’ll feel comfortable with but there will probably have to be some regulatory change.” Budget cuts The Alaska state budget deficit of more than $3 billion is hitting Alaska’s fisheries where it hurts most: surveys and abundance estimates. More, and more valuable, fisheries than herring will feel the sting. ADFG operates mostly on unrestricted general funds from the state coffers, explained Department of Revenue Tax Division Director Ken Alper. In the last few years, ADFG’s budget has plummeted $15 million dollars — a 30 percent decline. In fiscal year 2015, ADFG’s general fund allocation was $50 million. In fiscal year 2016 that number dropped to $40 million, then to $35 million in fiscal year 2017. The number will likely fall again next year. Forrest Bowers, the deputy director of the Commercial Fisheries Division of ADFG, said the department has been told to brace for another 10 percent to 14 percent cut in Gov. Bill Walker’s upcoming budget proposal, scheduled for release in December, bringing the total unrestricted general fund allotment for ADFG to less than $30 million, nearly 40 percent less than just three years ago. Along with herring abundance estimates, 75 different ADFG projects took cuts totaling $3.5 million in fiscal year 2017, including several salmon related projects These cuts include: Susitna River weirs, $52,500; Upper Cook Inlet offshore test fishery, $71,300; Salmon River weir in Aniak, $129,000; regional sonar support for Central region, $74,000. For salmon fisheries, the Igushik and Togiak weirs in Bristol Bay and the Coghill weir in Prince William Sound have been cut. Partial salmon aerial surveys in Southeast Alaska — a $119,000 cut — were offset with transfer funds. Some of the slashed projects have supplements attached to them. Bristol Bay catch sampling moved to a cost recovery model. Budget Band-Aids Without an increase in legislative appropriations for ADFG, stakeholders like Chaffe fear a slippery slope in which direct industry funding misleads legislators into further and further cuts. Still, he can’t see another way. “ADFG has to be funded, be it by the stakeholders or the government, one or the other,” said Chaffe. There are no funds that go directly to the broad purpose of fisheries management for the Commercial Fisheries Division. “The majority of our cuts are from the general fund,” said Lewis. “There’s very little tax on fisheries. If it goes into the general fund, it doesn’t mean it’s going back to ADFG. There may be taxes on fish, but it does not mean the department is gaining or losing. There’s no guarantee the (Legislature) is going to allocate back to the department.” This is unlike other divisions in ADFG, which have direct funding sources. “Sportfish and wildlife both get these designated funds from license fees. The commercial fisheries doesn’t have any comparable linkage to the state’s commercial fish taxes,” said Alper. “The other fish- and game-related taxes are all designated — the enhancement tax, the marksman tax, the fisheries assessment tax — these are taxes that for the most part users have accepted voluntarily and goes towards some specific function.” Even without a guarantee of return, new taxes on the fishing industry are uncertain. Alper said Walker hasn’t yet proposed a new commercial fisheries tax increase bill as he did in the 2016 Legislative session, though he did mention the administration expects such bills from individual legislators.   Lewis acknowledges that ADFG managers have no real options except cost recovery fisheries, in which processors catch fish and funnel the money directly back to ADFG, or direct support from the industry. The former is not popular. “We’re basically harvesting fish that otherwise would be available to the common property fishery,” said Lewis. “We do not relish doing it.” In addition to being an unpopular option, herring isn’t the most lucrative of catches and may not even help the budget situation. “It really doesn’t work out in the herring fishery because of the economics,” said Chaffe. “You can’t afford to pay the state and the fishermen both.” Direct industry support, however, has provided some relief in certain fisheries. Processors banded together in 2016 to pay for ADFG’s slashed aerial herring survey so managers could prove there were enough fish to open the season at all. In Prince William Sound, the Coghill weir was funded by private parties. “We put out a ($250,000) bid to processors, and last year we did not have to fill that bid because (the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association) stepped up and paid that. They determined that those fish were better left harvested by the fleet and just paid it rather than have the process pay for harvesting projects through a bid process,” Lewis said. If the money keeps bleeding out of ADFG’s budget, though, industry isn’t happy about being stuck with the bill. “It just goes back to the slippery slope,” Chaffe said. “User fees, I guess. As we all know, the real problem is in the Legislature. Or we’ll have more situations like this.” DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Crabbers holding out hope for high prices after cuts

Despite a grim beginning to the season, members of the crab industry are holding out hope for high prices and a late fishery. The Alaska Board of Fisheries hasn’t yet decided whether to review harvest guidelines for Eastern Bering Sea Tanner crab and potentially open the season in January or earlier, or leave the fishery closed entirely for the next two years. Meanwhile, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game cut the quota for snow crab by 50 percent and for Bristol Bay red king crab by15 percent. Despite the cuts, crab industry stakeholders say the season for Bristol Bay red king crab is moving along at more than a healthy clip. “Some good news from the grounds, the crab look good. They’re heavy. There’s a lot of small crab, females. Folks are seeing pots just plugged with crab — so full they can’t get another one in,” said Jake Jacobsen, director of the Inter-Cooperative Exchange, a crab harvesting cooperative with 188 members that together harvest 70 percent of Alaska’s crab. Jacobsen said that given the density of the fishing, he wonders why the surveys that measure abundance didn’t pick anything up.“The reports I’ve got, maybe the people who aren’t doing so well don’t say anything,” he said. “There’s a lot of very optimistic reports from the grounds. I’m not sure what happened with the survey last summer.” Prices Always a costly product, the sharply reduced Alaska crab quota will surely raise prices, though nobody will know by how much until the season wraps up and processors set prices. The average dockside price paid to fishermen for bairdi Tanner, snow crab, and Bristol Bay red king crab from 1985 to 2015 is $2.17, $1.37 and $5.08 per pound, respectively, and have been rising for snow and red king crab over the same timeline. Wholesale and retail rates climb higher.  Jacobsen said, “we are looking forward to what will be record prices for king crab,” which would be more than the $10 per pound received in 2011. Tyson Fick, communications director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, said he expects prices to rise due to such a supply cut, but that he isn’t sure to what extent. Due to the lower quota, crabbers will have trouble making the fishery fiscally solvent. Even with a big spike in prices, the ex-vessel prices paid to crabbers won’t likely make up for the quota declines. “People are certainly expecting strong pricing,” Fick said. “It’s a substantial hit…but it would take a pretty amazingly strong price to make up for that.” However, Fick said the Alaska brand won’t suffer under the high prices justified by premium quality. “I will say this about high prices, and we’ve seen this with other species,” said Fick, “when the fish goes in to the market at higher prices, all our consumer polling shows that people don’t really remember paying a high price, they remember the quality experience.” Prices could fluctuate in response to foreign crab as well. Unlike the U.S., Russia increased its crab quota 20 percent to 30 percent for the 2017 season. The U.S. market not only still imports Russian crab, but much of the domestic product marketed in the U.S. as Alaska crab is in fact repackaged illegal, unreported or unregulated crab from Russian waters. Survey questions Bristol Bay red king crab are one of a trio of main North Pacific crab stocks, and by far the most valuable on a per pound basis at the dock. Jacobsen’s puzzlement regarding the red king crab survey is a toned-down version of an ongoing dialogue about survey methods for opilio, or snow crab, and bairdi Tanner crab, the other two large crab stocks. “The models need to be scrutinized pretty closely,” Jacobsen said. “I’m not sure how valid they are. We’d like somebody to take a good hard look at the models and make sure they’re appropriate for what we’re doing.” Unlike red king crab, which has stayed at a fairly steady harvest level over the past half decade, snow crab harvests have varied wildly from year to year, from a height of 89 million pounds in the 2012 season to 40.6 million pounds last year and 20 million this year. Crab is jointly managed between the federal and Alaska governments. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, performs abundance surveys each summer before the winter crab fishery begins. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which oversees federal fisheries from three to 200 miles offshore, approves the over fishing limits and acceptable biological catches for each of six crab stocks based on the conclusions of the council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee, or SSC. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game then sets the total allowable catch, or TAC, and manages the fishery directly. It cannot set harvests above the limits established by the North Pacific council, but can and has set them lower than what has been approved by the SSC. This year, the federal survey looks screwy to the crabbers, particularly with the more geographically and biologically complex snow crab. Warming ocean temperatures and other factors could be creating a situation in which there could potentially be more crab to fish than allowed for by federal and state managers. “The question is, and the question we had across all of our stocks, was whether or not these extremely warm temps are affecting our abundance estimates,” explained Bob Foy, the laboratory director for the Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Kodiak, a research arm of NOAA. Temperature trends have gone up and down in the North Pacific. The fluctuation matches patterns in snow crab abundance. “We had the coldest year on record in 2012,” said Foy. “We had one of the warmest years on record in 2016. We’ve had steady warming between then, so the question is there any trend in all of our stocks? “With snow crab, in particular, we saw an increase in stock biomass just after the cooling years and a steady decrease in the last few years.” Snow crab survey sites straddle a border in the central Bering Sea near St. Matthew Island. The warmer water could be pushing the cold-loving crab north of the survey sites, leading to something like a false positive for declining abundance. Foy said he understands crabbers concerns about cuts in the face of what could be healthy abundance, but also said they probably aren’t missing much. Colder waters often produce crab smaller than the legal harvestable size anyway, and much of them are buried beneath ice sheets crabbers can’t get through. “I don’t think that when it comes to setting our quotas that we’re missing a bunch of crab,” Foy said. “We know that they’re not in deeper waters because we did a survey this year on the slope and we did not see a bunch of missing snow crab.” In the coming year, Foy said NOAA plans to study the issue more closely. “Next year we’re starting a new survey that will extend our existing survey all the way through the Bering Sea to St. Lawrence Island,” he said. “That will occur every other year for awhile. That will ultimately let us know who’s on that border, who’s over the border, and whether or not it affects our mature biomass.” Harvest guidelines Crabbers place some of the snow crab quota cuts at the feet of the federally-managed abundance estimates, but with Tanner crab they take issue with the state. Tanner crab was one of two stocks the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration charted as having a decline in biomass. In 2015, the biomass prediction for tanner crab was 163 million pounds. This year, surveys charted a drop down to a biomass of 100 million pounds. It is the female crab abundance that cancelled the fishery, rather than the overall biomass directly. According to the survey, there isn’t enough female crab in the sea for the Tanner crab fishery to open, despite the fact that the overall Bairdi stock itself is not overfished or experiencing overfishing, according to federal definitions. This is a marked departure form last year’s increased quota. In 2015, a total of 19.67 million pounds of Tanner crab was harvested, compared to 15.1 million pounds in 2014. However, the crab industry thinks ADFG’s harvest policy is an outdated holdover from a stock rebuilding program that is no longer relevant. In a Sept. 8 emergency petition to the Alaska Board of Fisheries, industry stakeholders requested that the board revisit the harvest policy so the Tanner crab fishery can open. Unalaska Mayor Shirley Marquardt, St. Paul Mayor Simeon Swetzof, and Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers science advisor Ruth Christiansen signed the petition. Among other proposed changes to the harvest policy, stakeholders argue that the Tanner crab fishery is the only crab stock tied to the biomass of mature females, while the other stocks chart a combination of male and female. “A female-only threshold makes little sense for commercial fisheries specifically designed and executed to harvest only mature male crab,” the petition states. Further, stakeholders think the survey results themselves do not accurately reflect biomass, as static survey results taken during the warm summer months do not match the winter-driven catches of the mobile crab fleet, which has seen a rising amount of Tanner crab per pot in recent years. Managers also divide the Bering Sea Tanner crab fishery into eastern and western sections, which crabbers say is inconsistent ADFG Commissioner Sam Cotten denied the petition, saying the situation does not meet the criteria for an emergency, which requires a conservation concern. An emergency criteria can also be met if a harvestable surplus will go uncaught because of a regulation, such as the state strategy for Tanner crab. Christiansen sent a second letter directly to Alaska Board of Fisheries Executive Director Glenn Haight with another emergency request, appealing Cotten’s decision. Late Tanner fishery? If two board members agree to take up the matter at the next board meeting in October, and if it decides to grant the petition, the Tanner crab fishery could potentially open late. If not, the fishery will stay closed for the next two years. Crab stock has to meet the minimum threshold for two consecutive years before managers can open the fishery again. Crab industry stakeholders requested ADFG rewrite the harvest plan, but without a conservation concern ADFG commissioner Sam Cotten denied the request. In an appeal, the crabbers wrote a second emergency request directly to the Alaska Board of Fisheries, asking the board revamp the plan. “There is some hope still that there could be a fishery, a curtailed fishery, for bairdi (Tanner) crab,” Fick said. That hope, however, hasn’t come to life just yet. Haight, the executive director of the Board of Fisheries, said board members haven’t moved on the issue. “None have asked me to call a meeting yet,” he said. “I haven’t heard from anything on it.” Depending on the board’s will, it could call an emergency meeting or potentially take up the issue at a regular board meeting. Aside from an Oct. 18-20 work session in Soldotna, the board will hold its next meetings Nov. 30-Dec. 3 and again Jan. 10-13 to discuss Lower Cook Inlet and Kodiak finfish, respectively. Jacobsen still has faith in a late season opener, though he hasn’t heard anything definite yet. Swings are the norm in Alaska crab fisheries, and he’s learned to roll with the waves. “I’ve heard different things from industry,” he said. “There’s some optimism there, and hopefully it’s well founded optimism. There’s still hope. We always have hope. We’ve certainly experiences setbacks before. It’s nothing new. We’ve had closures of seasons before. In the long term we’re pretty optimistic. That’s why we keep doing it, I guess.” DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Cook Inlet fishermen wait for direction

Concerned fishermen gathered at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s October meeting in Anchorage to discuss a recent federal court decision that turns control of salmon fisheries in Cook Inlet, Prince William Sound and the Alaska Peninsula over to state management. Though stakeholders brought their suggestions, the council did not direct its staff to any action related to the subject of a salmon FMP. Instead, the council reiterated that the decision will be remanded back to the lower court where it could either be appealed or produce a directive for the council to write a salmon FMP.  The North Pacific Fishery Management Council governs federal fisheries, which take place from three to 200 miles offshore. In 2013, industry group United Cook Inlet Drift Association, or UCIDA, filed a lawsuit  to repeal a 2011 council decision, which became Amendment 12 to the Alaska salmon fishery management plan, or FMP. The initial suit was rejected by U.S. Alaska District Court Judge Timothy Burgess in September 2014. A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit unanimously remanded the case back to Burgess with instructions to find in favor the plaintiffs. Dave Martin, president of UCIDA, pressed for a committee of salmon stakeholders to help draft a salmon FMP. “I think it’ll work here as far as getting the plan developed, and the parties involved, we’d gladly be involved in this process. We need to have people on there that are sincere about the management plans,” said Martin.“In the interim, we’ll probably have to come up with something between now and next season.” “We’d like to work with you to make sure there are no negative, unintended consequences of this decision,” said ADFG commissioner Sam Cotten in response. Cotten insists the state doesn’t need federal guidelines for what is a fishery prosecuted mainly by Alaska fishermen. The state’s drift fishermen show little faith in the state’s ability to run the fishery. “Over the past four years, there have been major fishery disasters declared in Alaska: Yukon & Kuskokwim Chinook, Cook Inlet Chinook as well as Prince William Sound, Lower Cook Inlet, Chignik and Kodiak Pinks,” wrote John McCombs, president of Cook Inlet Fisherman’s Fund, which co-filed the lawsuit with UCIDA.  “Collectively, the chinook and pink salmon disasters cover the majority of the state-managed fisheries. There is simply no justification for these systemic, state-wide salmon fishery disasters. The notion that the State of Alaska is doing a great job of managing salmon is hollow and is not supported by these reoccurring salmon run disasters.” Cook Inlet fishermen unconnected to the lawsuit offered similar testimony. Arni Thompson, executive director of the Alaska Salmon Alliance, agreed, and said the state needs federal guidelines to revive fisheries. “State management plans in Cook Inlet now result in only about two percent of pink salmon stocks being harvested, about six percent of chum salmon stocks being harvested and about 10 percent of coho stocks being harvested,” wrote Thompson in a letter of public comment. “Surplus Chinook and sockeye are harvested at a higher rate but there is an unharvested surplus of all stocks that could generate additional tens of millions of dollars annually to the regional and state economies.” Others came before the council not for commercial fisheries purposes but for ecological concerns. Bob Shavelson, executive director of habitat conservation non profit Cook Inlet Keeper, used the opportunity to tell the council it could use a salmon FMP to protect the Cook Inlet watershed from the “death by a thousand cuts that’s resulted in the demise of fisheries in other places.” “I think there’s wonderful opportunity for public engagement,” Shavelson said. “Where I see people coming together is around the issue of habitat. Without habitat you don’t have an allocation.” The Magnuson-Stevens Act, or MSA, requires all federal fisheries to follow a series of guidelines, called the National Standards. The council has to consider factors like best available science, the economic health of coastal communities, and a principle called maximum sustainable yield. Several fisheries meetings at the state and federal level will take place between now and the beginning of the 2017 salmon season. If the North Pacific council decides not to appeal, it will need an operational FMP by the beginning of the 2017 salmon season and will likely need to collaborate with the Alaska Board of Fisheries, which manages fisheries within three miles off the Alaska shore. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Candidates talk fish in Kodiak

At a forum sponsored by some of the North Pacific’s most powerful fishing trade organizations, four congressional hopefuls lined up in Kodiak on Oct. 12 to field questions on the commercial fishing industry. For incumbent Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, it served as an opportunity to remind fishermen that she knows their complex and often fractured industry, and reiterate that the United Fishermen of Alaska, the state’s largest industry group, has long backed her campaign. The UFA continues to endorse her in the current cycle, though the organization itself made no donation to her campaign fund. Her opponents, Independent senate candidates Breck Craig and Margaret Stock, along with Democratic challenger Ray Metcalfe, admitted they were less familiar with the topics and instead spoke about issues on a general level, without specifics. Kodiak Republican Sen. Gary Stevens moderated the event and fielded question from three fishing industry representatives: Julie Matweyou of Alaska Sea Grant; Julie Bonney, executive director of the Alaska Groundfish Data Bank; and Jeff Stephen, director of the United Fishermen's Marketing Association. Alaskan Leader Fisheries, Pacific Seafood Processors Association, Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, At-Sea Processors Association, Groundfish Forum, UFA, City of Kodiak and the Kodiak Island Borough sponsored the event. Catch shares and the graying of the fleet Fisheries are expensive to enter, and fishermen wanted to know how to bring more young fishermen onto the deck. Candidates were asked how they would encourage more involvement from young fishermen, an issue that looms large in the minds of Alaska fishermen who fear more and more the so-called “graying of the fleet” — a phenomenon in which the average Alaska commercial fisherman is getting older and older. Craig, Stock and Metcalfe all seemed to place much of the blame on catch shares, a hot topic in the Gulf of Alaska. Federal fisheries managers there are currently arguing over whether or not to apply a catch share system for Gulf of Alaska groundfish — an idea the city and borough of Kodiak have supported alongside several of the event’s sponsors. Most federal fisheries operate under a quota program of some kind, but not without backlash. Some coastal communities and lower-level fishermen have a strained relationship with catch shares. Many believe quota systems create sharecroppers, concentrating the resource into the hands of the deep-pocketed and preventing young fishermen from entering the industry as owners and operators of their own boats. Except Murkowski, the candidates each expressed some desire to give quota systems a face-lift or at least soften their perceived effects. “There are things we could together do to prevent our fisheries from turning into a giant, multinational corporate conglomerate and wiping out our local fisheries communities,” said Stock. Metcalfe and Craig both favored taking a hard look at catch shares or eliminating them entirely. “I think we need to rethink the whole quota system,” said Craig. “This is not conducive to young people getting into the business.” Metcalfe showed a deep anti-corporate streak, arguing that Alaska’s resources “are not being properly shared,” and that “there’s something wrong with putting corporations in front of people.” He later implied that he thinks the Magnuson-Stevens Act - the central federal fisheries law - should be amended to overhaul catch shares. “When you privatize and enable catch shares, there will come a day when people who live here in Kodiak who don’t own any of the fish they’re fishing,” Metcalfe said. “I think we need to get back to the common ownership of the commonly held resource.” Murkowski had a more nuanced answer on how to stop the graying of the fleet. She said young fishermen need whatever boost they can get from the federal government, in particular that young fishermen should “have access to the same loans a farmer would.” The questioners also wanted to know what kind of faith each candidate placed in the North Pacific Fishery Management Council that governs all federal fisheries from three to 200 miles offshore, asking whether they favor letting the council do its job or having more congressional involvement ion federal fisheries. Candidates each spoke on their support of the North Pacific council operate largely without congressional impediments except Metcalfe, who said the council needs a “legislative referee” from time to time to force actions they otherwise wouldn’t take. The Magnuson-Stevens Act, which established U.S. fisheries in an Exclusive Economic Zone in 1976, is up for reauthorization this year, and fishermen wanted to know what, if anything, each candidate would change in the new draft. “Frankenfish is bad. We hate it.” Murkowski touted a long list of Congressional actions, including her withholding approval of a new U.S. Food and Drug Administration chief until the FDA required labeling for all genetically engineered fish. Murkowski was blunt about the new fish, which grows twice as fast as wild salmon — a multimillion-dollar Alaska-based fishery at the core of the state’s marketing arm, the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, which is designed to pump up the Alaska wild seafood brand in the U.S. and abroad. “Frankenfish is bad. We hate it,” she said. The other candidates want labeling requirements as well. Metcalfe said “the people who regulate labeling should be given absolute authority,” while Stock gave a less intense answer about Alaska having “better fish” and wanting to see labeling. International markets Candidates didn’t have substantial answers to questions about two key Alaska seafood export markets in politically knotty places: Russia and the United Kingdom. In response to economic sanctions, Russia banned U.S. seafood imports in 2014. Meanwhile, U.S. markets still import Russian products including pollock and crab. Both are often mislabeled as Alaska products, while Russian crab is often illegal, unreported or unregulated. Candidates were asked whether the U.S. should ban Russian seafood imports in return. Murkowski evaded the question and instead pointed to her success in passing a mandate that forbids the use of the “Alaska pollock” label for anything outside Alaska waters and said she has a similar provision in the works for golden king crab. Stock attacked Murkowski’s real effectiveness on the Russian issue, saying “the current Alaska Congressional delegation has not made any progress on it,” but also not directly answering the question. Candidates were also asked about the United Kingdom, which recently left the Europeans Union by a ballot vote most commonly called “Brexit.” The UK is a key export market for canned Alaska salmon, and questioners wanted to know how each candidate would prioritize trade agreements industry had with the EU, in danger of dissolving after the Brexit vote. Murkowski acknowledged the problem, said that the Alaska Congressional delegation and the U.S. needs to “make (trade agreements) a priority,” but had no answer for how. Stock said the fallout from Brexit supporters, who she characterized as uninformed, would give the U.S. time to figure out the issue, but like Murkowski had no specifics. Metcalfe called Brexit a “big mistake” and a move “backwards in terms of the evolution of society,” but had nothing to say about the specific trade agreements. Craig acknowledged he was “not intimately familiar with the subject.” Murkowski and fish politics This marked her second fish-centric appearance in the state in as many weeks. During an Oct. 6 speech to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, Murkowski said “nothing is more political than fish,” a truism downplayed by candidate Craig when he commended the North Pacific council process for “taking(ing) the political out of the process.” Murkowski has the background, connections and donations to prove it. Murkowski does see funds from other groups, though, having received in the neighborhood of $125,000 in donations from seafood companies, industry groups, lobbyists and individual fishermen in 2015 and 2016, according to contribution reports. The same groups that sponsored the Kodiak debates are also Murkowski’s most generous fish-related campaign donors. Pacific Seafood Processors Association dumped $23,500 into Murkowski’s campaign, Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers $9,000, Trident Seafoods $20,100 and At-Sea Processors Association $5,000. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Yukon kings are on the rebound

Yukon River chinook stocks are on the upswing, according to a season summary, though not everybody is fishing for the surplus. Holly Carroll, the area management biologist for the Yukon River section of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said the painful restrictions on subsistence harvests have paid off. “We wouldn’t have made escapement goals at all if we hadn’t restricted harvest,” Carroll said. “We have to restrict the harvest just to meet the bare minimum for sustaining the run. The restrictions in the subsistence fishery have helped to build the numbers back up.” With 176,895 fish past the sonar counter at Pilot Station, the 2016 chinook run has nosed back up to the most recent 20-year average of 178,000. Along with total run numbers, the amount of chinook into Canada is improving. However, First Nations communities and Canada fisheries managers have different ideas than Alaska, and much of the run sent over the border went unharvested. A major goal of ADFG Yukon River management aims to send between 42,500 and 55,000 chinook salmon over the Canadian border at Eagle as per the Pacific Salmon Treaty. The Eagle passage numbers are not yet final, but preliminary counts say at least 72,300 salmon have crossed the border, which meets the additional 20 percent to 26 percent of the total allowable Yukon catch the treaty requires for the Canadian harvest. Canadian fish comprised greater than average percentage of the overall run than ADFG normally sees in even years. For the latest-returning salmon, measured June 26 to July 6, the percentage of Canadian fish was the highest since ADFG began measuring in 2005. Canadians fish less There is a tension between Canadian management and Alaska management that plays into the restrictions for subsistence users on the Yukon River. “There’s a little bit of a different take between the two different managements and what that looks like,” said Carroll. The Canada Department of Fisheries and Oceans, or DFO, has extra steps in chinook management that include First Nations communities on the Yukon River. Like Alaska, Canada’s Natives live under a lands claim agreement similar to the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971. The Canadian land act established the Yukon Salmon subcommittee which takes input from First Nations communities and the public at large and makes a recommendation to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans. According to Mary Ellen Jarvis, Resource Manager of Treaties and Fisheries for DFO, the minister typically follows the salmon subcommittee’s recommendation. Individual First Nations governments may formulate and implement and monitor individual harvest plans in their own communities as long as they’re meeting the conservation objectives outlined in the plan. In recent years and in 2016, the Canadian subcommittee has wanted to keep sex ratio into consideration, a factor ADFG notes in its studies but doesn’t use in management. “This year, we did see a lower than normal sex ratio coming across the border at Eagle, hence we maintained a precautionary approach despite having what was considered a better than expected border escapement,” said Jarvis. “Not only the salmon subcommittee but the communities themselves are quite aware of and quite concerned about it. “If we have a weaker than expected return of females or a really skewed age structure in the run, that is always a bit of flag for us to say perhaps we should not get too excited just about the numbers.” So although the border passage numbers were better than recent years, DFO cancelled all commercial, recreational and domestic chinook fisheries due to the lower female abundance. The fishing communities themselves acted similarly. Though they had the option to harvest their full subsistence amount, Yukon River First Nations opted to keep a heavily restricted subsistence fishery in 2016. Jarvis said only 2,200 salmon were caught throughout the season. Alaska’s subsistence communities have been hurting for the last decade, but things appear to be improving for the Yukon chinook run. Between 2004 and 2008, the Yukon River had plenty of kings and little to no subsistence restrictions. During those years, the average river-wide subsistence harvest was 51,600 fish. When chinook stocks started crashing, management tightened. In 2015, Yukon villagers harvest 7,600 Chinook salmon, 85 percent less than the average during unrestricted years. Because there were more salmon than expected this year, Carroll said she hopes to see at least double the harvest in 2016, when the final numbers are available in December. Looking up Chinook on the river have rebounded somewhat relative to the lowest return years in 2012 and 2013. In 2016, the chinook salmon escapement counts at the Pilot Station sonar counter surpassed the preseason outlook and the returns from the previous half decade. By Aug. 31, the sonar counted 176,895 fish, which is 30,000 more than last year and more than the preseason forecast of 130,000 to 175,000 fish. This number matches the most recent historical average of 178,300, which accounts for the years between 1995 and 2014. The river came to life early in 2016, matching observations around the state of off-timing for salmon of several species. The first chum salmon arrived two weeks earlier than average, the first subsistence chinook was caught two weeks earlier than average, and the chinook run itself peaked two days later than average. The timing coincides with changing environmental conditions. “Ice break-up at the mouth of the Yukon River (near Alakanuk) occurred on May 3, which was more than two weeks earlier than the average break up date of May 22 (based on the years 1995–2015).” The summer chum salmon run — the river’s commercial crop — came in above average and early. An estimated 1.9 million summer chum salmon passed the Pilot Station by the season’s end, more than the historical median of 1.7 million fish. ADFG said each pulse of the chum run matched the normal pattern for an early run timing. Forecasts for pink salmon were off, but ADFG’s Yukon River chinook forecast predicted accurately for the year. For commercial fisheries on the Yukon River, the season was a success. The Lower Yukon River, which is has the largest commercial fishery, netted $1.9 million in dockside pay for chum salmon and $54,800 from a new pink salmon fishery. Per person, fishermen made $4,502 apiece, nearly twice last year. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Medicaid reform improves access to healthcare for Alaska Natives

Improving Alaska Native access to healthcare is a key result of the Medicaid reform bill signed by Gov. Bill Walker on June 21. About 150,000 Alaskans covered under the Alaska Tribal Health Compact will move one step closer to expanded specialized care coverage as care centers expand in rural areas. The omnibus healthcare and Medicaid reform bill was one of the few items to survive a contentious and grueling 2016 legislative session. Walker’s signature put its dozens of changes into law. Among the bill’s changes, the most potential cost savings come from shifting more Alaska Native healthcare expenses to federal dollars. This includes a change that allows full federal reimbursement for Native travel and for Native care in non-Tribal facilities. The policy change in SB 74 would take advantage of the new 100 percent Medicaid reimbursement to Native patients referred to non-Tribal providers. The Department of Health and Social Services estimates the changes to the Medicaid system in SB 74 would save the state more than $31 million right away in fiscal year 2017 starting July 1. Those savings are expected to increase to nearly $114 million per year by 2022 as the programmatic reforms are fully implemented. Like many of the Legislature’s cost-shaving plans, some of SB 74’s changes try to fund more services with federal dollars to reduce state spending. By far the most of the forecasted savings to be wrung from SB 74 — $29 million in 2017 growing to $97 million in 2022 — would come from getting more Medicaid services for Alaska Natives fully covered by the federal government. Under federal law, Medicaid provides for 100 percent reimbursement for all Indian Health Services beneficiaries under certain circumstances, but the criteria are often difficult to fulfill for 100 percent coverage. “It tends to be a rather narrow definition,” said Jon Sherwood, deputy commissioner of the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. Under the current system, care provided for IHS beneficiaries in non-Tribal or non-IHS facilities is only eligible for 50 percent reimbursement by Medicaid. In order to get 100 percent reimbursement, three conditions must be met. The recipient must be an Alaska Native or American Indian, must be treated at an Indian Health Services or tribal facility, and must be Medicaid eligible. This narrow criteria leaves some kinds of care more difficult for rural and Tribal healthcare recipients to access. Indian Health Service, or IHS, is an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It provides healthcare for every federally recognized Tribe in the nation. The Alaska Area Indian Health Services provides healthcare services for just less than 150,000 Alaska Natives and American Indians, according to the Center for Medicaid Studies. There are 228 federally recognized Tribes in the state, each of them incorporated into the Alaska Tribal Health Compact. There are IHS-funded, Tribally managed hospitals in Anchorage, Barrow, Bethel, Dillingham, Kotzebue, Nome, and Sitka. Statewide, there are 58 Tribal health centers, 160 tribal community health aide clinics and five residential substance abuse treatment centers. Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage is the only statewide IHS facility, and the facility that serves as the focal point for specialty care. Not all, or even most, of these facilities have specialty care or often MRI capability. An IHS recipient may have hard luck finding a gastroenterologist within the IHS network, and need to be referred outside the Tribal system to find the necessary care. This puts financial strain on IHS beneficiaries who need specialized care. On the surface, the change seems like a win-win for providers and recipients. For healthcare recipients, this means increased access to specialist services unavailable in tribal facilities. For providers, it means full reimbursement for care. To implement the changes, DHSS will have to work with Tribal and non-Tribal healthcare providers to compile lists of recipients to share among them. “From our perspective,” said Sherwood, “we’re going to have to work with Tribal and non-Tribal providers to make sure the sharing is in place. We’re going to have to develop an adequate tracking system to ensure we have the ability to identity claims that would be eligible.” The policy change allows rather than commands involvement. Neither the state nor the federal government can force private healthcare providers join the program, so the new system will require a new network of participating providers. “This is voluntary,” Sherwood said. “The state can’t impose this onto either provider or individual recipients. This has to be a cooperative effort.” Providence Medical Center, the state’s largest non-Tribal healthcare facility, said it plans to participate in the change, though representatives say it’s too early to discuss any particulars. IHS changes come during a wave of land and construction agreements for Alaska Native medical centers across the state. The Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp., or YKHC, signed a joint venture agreement with IHS on March 29. The agreement secured increased funding for additional provider and a new primary care clinic, the 188,000 square foot Dr. Paul John Calricaaraq Project, as well as a remodel of Bethel’s existing 105,000 square foot hospital. Expanding populations in areas like Bethel make the existing healthcare structures somewhat outdated. The YKHC hospital in Bethel received about 88,000 patient visits in the early 1990s. The number has nearly doubled to 150,000 by 2015. This follows an October 2015 grant for the same project. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development agency made a funding commitment for $165 million in low interest loans to YKHC for the Dr. Paul John Calricaaraq Project in October 2015, the most the agency has ever given to an organization nationwide. At the federal level, Alaska’s congressional delegation is securing Alaska lands for Native health purposes. On April 27, U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs passed legislation introduced by Alaska U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan directing the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to give property to both the Tanana Tribal Council and Bristol Bay Area Health Corp. The land transfers allow the Tanana Tribal Council to develop a Community Wellness Center and the Bristol Bay Area Health Corp. to expand a dental clinic. Editor’s note: This is an updated story that first appeared on May 4. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Coming season is going for hurt for Alaska crabbers

Cuts and cancellations are causing anxiety for crab fisheries. “I’m scared,” said Simeon Swetzof, mayor of St. Paul, a central Bering Sea island with considerable crab dependence. “I don’t know what’s going to happen.” The Alaska Department of Fish and Game closed the 2016-17 Bairdi or tanner crab season on Oct. 5, following a 15 percent cut in the harvest quota for Bristol Bay red king crab and a 50 percent cut in the snow crab fishery. Without intervention from the Alaska Board of Fisheries, requested by tanner crab stakeholders, the millions of pounds and millions of dollars of Bairdi will remain in the sea. Last year, the fishery’s total ex-vessel value was $45.3 million. Crab stocks are managed jointly between the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. The North Pacific council, one of eight councils that manage fisheries from three to 200 miles off the coast, sets the overfishing limits and annual catch limit for crab. ADFG then sets the total allowable catch, or TAC. Tanner crab was one of two stocks the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration charted as having a declined biomass. In 2015, the biomass prediction for tanner crab was 163 million pounds. This year, surveys chart a drop down to a biomass of 100 million pounds. It is the female crab that cancelled the fishery, rather than the overall biomass directly. According to the survey, there isn’t enough female crab in the sea for the tanner crab fishery to open, despite the fact that the overall Bairdi stock itself is not overfished or experiencing overfishing, according to federal definitions. “The 2016 area-swept survey estimate of mature female biomass (8.067 million pounds)is below the minimum regulatory threshold of 9.832 million pounds necessary for a fishery opening,” reads the announcement. “Therefore, the Bering Sea Tanner crab fisheries east and west of 166° W long will be closed for the 2016/17 season.” This is a marked departure form last year’s increased quota. In 2015, a total of 19.67 million pounds of tanner crab was set, compared to 15.1 million pounds in 2014. However, the crab industry thinks ADFG’s harvest policy is an outdated holdover from a stock rebuilding program that is no longer relevant. In a Sept. 8 emergency petition to the Alaska Board of Fisheries, industry stakeholders requested that the board revisit the harvest policy so the tanner crab fishery can remain open. Unalaska Mayor Shirley Marquardt, St. Paul Mayor Simeon Swetzof, and Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers science advisor Ruth Christiansen signed the petition. Among other proposed changes to the harvest policy, stakeholders argue that the Bairdi crab fishery is the only crab stock tied to the biomass of mature females, while the other stocks chart a combination of male and female. “A female only threshold makes little sense for commercial fisheries specifically designed and executed to harvest only mature male crab,” the petition reads. Further, stakeholders think the survey results themselves do not accurately reflect biomass, as static survey results taken during the warm summer months do not match the winter-driven catches of the mobile crab fleet, which has seen a rising amount of Bairdi crab per pot in recent years. Managers also divide the Bering Sea tanner crab fishery into eastern and western sections, which crabbers say is inconsistent ADFG commissioner Sam Cotten denied the petition saying the situation does not meet the criteria for an emergency, which requires a conservation concern. Christiansen sent a second letter directly to Alaska Board of Fisheries director Glenn Haight with another emergency request, appealing Cotten’s decision. “We have yet to hear from two board members,” Haight said. If two board members agree to take up the matter at the next board meeting in October, and if it decides to grant the petition, the tanner crab fishery could potentially open late. If not, the fishery will stay closed for the next two years. Crab stock has to meet the minimum threshold for two consecutive years before managers can open the fishery again. The closure comes at a time when the other main crab stocks are dropping in biomass and harvest quotas are declining. Cuts and Quotas Apart from an entirely canceled fishery, the other two main crab stocks have declining catch quotas. Bristol Bay red king crab is taking a 15 percent cut. The 2016-17 crab season, which runs from Oct. 15 through Jan. 15, will allow a total allowable catch of 8.5 million pounds, which matches the quota from 2014. The downturn in quota ends a two-year streak of nearly 10 million pound catches. Last year, crabbers were allowed to take 9.97 million pounds of Bristol Bay red king crab. In 2014, the Bristol Bay red king crab total allowable catch, or TAC, is 9.98 million pounds. That’s up from the 2013 limit of 8.6 million pounds. Biomass for Bristol Bay red king crab has declined. Legal size males dropped from 61 million pounds in 2015 to 53 million pounds for the 2016 season. For snow crab, ADFG set the total allowable catch to 21.57 million pounds, nearly half the 40.6 million pounds allocated last season. For snow crab, an allowable biological catch of 137.4 million pounds in 2015 dropped to 47 million pounds this year. “The lower 2016/17 TAC reflects continuing declines in survey biomass for both mature male and female snow crab and the high proportion of old shell crab in the exploitable population,” reads an ADFG announcement. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Disastrous harvest for pink salmon

Around the state, biologists are unsure of what led to the lowest pink salmon harvest since the 1970s in a season that led Gov. Bill Walker to seek a disaster declaration from the federal government to bail out beleaguered pink fishermen. “We caught 39 million pinks this year,” said Forrest Bowers, the Commercial Fisheries Division director for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The department forecasted a harvest of 90 million fish between. Bowers said he had to comb records back to 1977 to find a year that bad. “Certainly one of the worst harvests we’ve had in the last 35 years,” he said. In terms of overall value, pinks salmon pale beside sockeye, Alaska’s most valuable salmon species. In Bristol Bay, the world’s largest natural sockeye run, fishermen in 2016 harvested an estimated ex-vessel value of $156.2 million, which is 40 percent above the 20-year average of $111 million. Walker, urged on by Kodiak Rep. Louise Stutes, requested that U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker declare the season a disaster. This would pour millions in disaster relief funding for Kodiak, Prince William Sound, Lower Cook Inlet and Chignik, all areas with high dependence on pink salmon. Prince William Sound is almost entirely hatchery-produced pink salmon while the other fisheries saw their wild pink salmon runs decline. ADFG biologists note that inaccurate pink salmon forecasts are common. “If you look back historically, ADFG has a really poor track record forecasting pink salmon,” said Andy Piston, a biologist at the ADFG Ketchikan office. “The bottom line is they never worked well.” Unlike sockeye salmon, pink salmon have less predictable migration patterns and life cycles. “One of the big problems with pink salmon is they’re all the same age. They all go out to sea at the same time and come back at the same time,” said Piston. This makes estimating returns difficult. Biologists can determine age and sibling relationships between which sockeye salmon return to spawn in a given year and how many will come back in a following year. “For pink salmon, I think that’s why there’s a very long track record of very poor forecast,” said Piston. The life cycle and age composition of pink salmon create the even/odd year split pinks are known for. In North America, pink salmon return in force every odd year — both 2013 and 2015 set records for pink salmon returns of both hatchery and wild stocks. This pattern could be at the root of 2016’s abysmal return, according to ADFG biologist Leon Schaul. Available literature points to variations in the intensity in these cycles. “In Puget Sound, there are hardly any pink salmon in even years,” said Schaul. “In the Kamchatka Peninsula, the east side is extremely odd year dominant. On the west side, it used to also be odd year and it switched in the early 80s. Those are huge producing areas. “The east side had a larger pink catch than all North America. Pink salmon generally in the (Gulf of Alaska), used to be even year dominant in the 1960 and ‘70s. They switched in the late ‘70s. Both cycles were strong in the ‘90s. In the last few years the odd year dominance has intensified. So that’s kind of a background factor, it being an even year now.” Most agreed that some kind of marine condition is the likely culprit for the miserable pink salmon return in 2016. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration performs studies on pink salmon that show a steady correlation between how many fry swim out to ocean and how many return two years later. “It kind of points to something a little more off shore,” said Schaul. “The NOAA surveys have been amazingly accurate as far as surveys go.” Schaul does consider that warmer ocean temperatures in the Gulf of Alaska have something to do with poor returns, but pinks have been performing better in warmer water since the turn of the millennium. “Pink salmon have been generally thriving under warmer conditions,” Schaul said. “Pink salmon, across the Pacific, have been getting more abundant. Even as the general climate pattern changed…they’ve been doing quite well, with two of the biggest returns in history in 2013 and 2015.” Warmer waters could mean changes in food chain or any one of a thousand different variables. There are simply too many to consider, and the kind of work NOAA performs may not be an option for ADFG. Offshore work is expensive. In desperate budgetary times, the comparatively meager commercial value of pink salmon simply doesn’t warrant the kind of money it would take to learn more about marine conditions. “Trying to pinpoint what exactly the factor is probably impossible without spending more money than all the governments of the world have combined,” Piston laughed. “The NOOA program…It is expensive. But that’s the kind of thing you have to do. In this budget situation, the idea that we’re going to start some millions of dollar ocean research program is fairly unlikely.” Piston cautioned that although the harvest numbers are terrible for the last few decades, if you stretch them over time they bend closer to normal. “The overall harvest for Southeast is 18 million,” said Piston. “It seems pretty terrible, but the average harvest in the 1960s was 13.5 million. In the 1970s was 10.3 million. Then it goes to 30 million in ‘80s, 50 million in the ‘90s. Since statehood, it’s about 22 million. So this year, it’s terrible for the last few decades, but if you look at the entire time series since statehood, it’s average to poor.”

Another FDA complaint filed against Blood Bank of Alaska

A Blood Bank of Alaska employee has filed a second complaint to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration about “activities that are unethical, dangerous to donors, and illegal.” The employee, who has since been placed on administrative leave, was one of the original six who collaborated on a complaint to the FDA in August. Unknown to the original complainants, the unnamed employee provided another more detailed complaint to the FDA shortly after the first. The Journal could not obtain records of the complaint’s supporting documentation, but according to correspondence between the employee and the Blood Bank of Alaska board of directors, the complainant had brought several of her concerns to BBA leadership and CEO Bob Scanlon before sending the complaint on Sept. 7. She claims she has been subjected to retaliatory treatment as a result, including harassment and threats of termination. Among other issues, the employee details that untrained receptionists are giving blood-draw targets to phlebotomists, leading to a situation in which an 84-time donor with a history of single unit donations was given a two-unit blood draw. By way of explanation, leadership told her each of the blood units was smaller than normal in order to collect more total units, according to a correspondence between her and the board. Centrally, the complaint criticizes the Blood Bank’s collections practices and worries that an increased demand for blood is backfiring. “Most importantly for the health and safety of Alaskans, the near constant ‘critical’ appeals for blood have cost BBA many long time donors,” according to a letter to the BBA board of directors dated Sept. 27. “I can demonstrate to any board member willing to observe the data in (donor collection software) that the donor base is being decimated by the extremely intense level of donor contact. “Alaska does not have a population base that is adequate to replace our many lost donors. Due to these extreme practices, I no longer believe that BBA would be able to generate sufficient donations to respond in a real emergency.” BBA board vice chairman Dr. Ian Van Tets, a University of Alaska Anchorage professor, asked for the materials submitted to the FDA for each of the complaints to aid the board’s own investigation of employee allegations. Linda Soriano, the filer of the first complaint, in response, said the FDA advised against sharing the information. “Regarding your request for the details of the FDA complaint that I developed in collaboration with…current BBA employees, I must decline,” she wrote. “After several conversations with the FDA, it is clear that they do not want us to release any additional information related to the complaint.” BBA board chairman Ryan York said the board has filed to get the complaints directly from the FDA. “We believe the FDA is a federal agency, and it has a responsibility under the FOIA (Freedom of Information) Act to share the information it has,” York said. “We’ve had a FOIA request to get a copy of the compliant. If someone says very damaging things about you, it’s only natural in my mind to want to know what was said.” York said the Blood Bank doesn’t yet have the information to verify any of the allegations listed in the complaint, but that the effort has been ongoing for two weeks in response to the first complaint that was first reported by the Journal on Sept. 14. “We don’t know a lot yet. We formed a special committee of the board. The allegations are fairly serious,” he said. “There is no group of people who want to get to the bottom of this worse than the board of directors, I can assure you.” The board has not decided yet whether to make the results of its investigation public, according to York. “That conversation still needs to happen,” he said. “As of yet, pending results, we are satisfied with the way we’ve acted in the past. Our role is to provide governance, not to provide management.” York would not comment on the allegations of harassment. “If there were internal issues like that, they’d be internal. I cannot comment on whether or not any of those issues exist or don’t exist,” he said. Employee complaints have come from the Blood Bank of Alaska since July following a blood export agreement that began May 1 and reports detailed in the Journal of dangerous shortages at major Anchorage medical centers. After moving into its $45.7 million, 57,000-square foot building earlier this year, the Blood Bank of Alaska entered an agreement with LifeStream, a California blood center, to export 100 units of blood per week, all the while ramping up recruitment for more donors in Alaska. The building was funded with $32.8 million from the state capital budget, an $8.5 million loan from the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, and a $3 million donation from ConocoPhillips. In September, a group of Blood Bank of Alaska employees filed the first complaint with the FDA charging the BBA leadership with mismanagement and financial impropriety leading to dangerous donor conditions and blood shortages. Linda Soriano, the Blood Bank’s former development manager, linked mismanagement to the costs of BBA’s new building in the first FDA complaint. In prior interviews, Blood Bank board members and CEO Bob Scanlon have insisted that such export agreements are commonplace in the industry. No Alaska hospitals, they said, have been shorted on blood supply. They said the blood export agreement with LifeStream has no connection to the building’s finances, but is simply a way for the BBA to more effectively manage blood to maximize efficiency. BBA leadership responded to the first complaint with a statement on Sept. 16 that it would launch its own investigation, insisting it takes the allegations seriously. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Cannabis testing labs set to open this month

For all the frustrations of the regulatory process, the cannabis supply chain is starting to connect. Retail operations are cobbling together their final plans after having their state licenses issued, the Anchorage municipality has approved its first retail license and will review more in the coming months, a handful of cultivators have harvested or are getting ready to harvest their first batches of legal product, and security companies are standing by to make deliveries. Testing labs — the central piece of the supply puzzle and the gateway to legal sales — should be ready within weeks, owners say. “I’ve been telling people mid- to late October,” said Mark Malagodi, CEO of CannTest, one of two licensed testing labs in Alaska. By regulation, all cannabis products must undergo testing for potency, residual solvents and microbials. Without the lab results, retail shelves will stay empty. CannTest and AK Green Labs in Anchorage are the only two testing facilities in the state to be granted a license by the Marijuana Control Board on June 9, but others are in the wings waiting to offer services to Alaska cannabis businesses both on and off the road system. Alaska Herbal Analysis LLC in the Mat-Su Borough dropped out in the face of a proposed Mat-Su Borough commercial cannabis ban, but the ban was voted down on Oct. 4 and will likely reignite several tabled borough license applications. Danish Gardens LLC has initiated a testing lab license for Anchorage alongside another Chugiak operation. Juneau’s cannabis producers will not have to ship product to Anchorage for testing after one of several lab licenses opens. Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office staff is currently reviewing the license application for Southeast Alaska Laboratories LLC, and Glacier Analytics LLC has initiated a license application as well. For the first batch of sellable marijuana in October and November, however, the Anchorage labs will likely be the only operating facilities. Both have a clutch of regulatory obligations to fill before they can accept deliveries from cultivators, but the timeline is relatively short and should coincide with the first retail operations openings. Malagodi said on Oct. 3 that CannTest will have the final state inspection completed within the week, and city inspections shortly after.  “Right now we’re waiting on a letter from the (Municipality of Anchorage) that will allow us to get our special land use permit,” said Malagodi. “Once we get the special land use permit we can request an inspection from I assume the fire marshal. That should finish off the muni requirements.” Apart from municipal and state inspections, labs must also secure approval from a third party contracted by the State of Alaska. The American Association for Laboratory Accreditation, or A2LA, performs this service for Alaska. Malagodi said CannTest has received a visit from A2LA representatives and been given a small list of documentation-related fixes to make for regulatory compliance, along with equipment demonstrations. AK Green Labs is slightly more behind on the timeline due to procedure. The state granted both facilities their licenses in June, but AK Green Labs signed an intellectual property licensing agreement with Steep Hill Labs Inc, a California-based company, shortly afterward. Because AK Green Labs received its license in June, the Steep Hill agreement bumped back the timeline slightly. AK Green Labs will now have to resubmit standard operating procedures to the Marijuana Control Board for approval, as the standard operating procedures are contained with the “operational plans” and must be reviewed by the board by regulation.  The board’s next meeting is Oct. 26-27, so AK Green Labs won’t have full approval until after that date. Further, the operators will be traveling to California to complete training for the Steep Hill process. “(October to November) generally match the estimates the testing facilities provided to me, except that Green Labs may be more the middle of November due to internal training they are doing before A2LA comes up to approve them,” wrote Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office director Cynthia Franklin in an email. Brian Coyle, AK Green Labs’ owner, said Franklin plans to work with the board to hurry the process along, potentially asking the board to delegate the approval of new operating plans to her. This delegation authority, granted to the board by statute, has been used with other license applications but not with testing labs. In the future, as labs change standard operating procedures to accommodate best practices and equipment calibration, Coyle said such delegation may be a more common tool. “This is an example of something we worked out,” he said. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Fish and Game cuts Bering Sea crab quota

The day before the North Pacific Fishery Management Council will review drastically declining snow and tanner crab stocks, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game cut Bering Sea red king crab stocks by 15 percent. The 2016-17 crab season, which runs from Oct. 15 through Jan. 15, will allow a total allowable catch of 8.5 million pounds, which matches the quota from 2014. The downturn in quota ends a two-year streak of nearly 10 million pound catches. Last year, crabbers were allowed to take 9.97 million pounds of Bristol Bay red king crab. In 2014, the Bristol Bay red king crab total allowable catch, or TAC, is 9.98 million pounds. That’s up from the 2013 limit of 8.6 million pounds. Biomass for Bristol Bay red king crab has declined. Legal size males dropped from 61 million pounds in 2015 to 53 million pounds for the 2016 season. While king crab remains on the long-term level, the other two main crab fisheries are on a downswing. Stocks for both snow crab and Bairdi Tanner crab were down according to surveys in 2016, and stakeholders are holding their breath to see if the Alaska Department of Fish and Game will need to close fisheries if abundance doesn’t meet the department thresholds. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Cook Inlet salmon falls short of forecast

The Upper Cook Inlet’s 2016 harvest came in beneath expectations. According to season summary released by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game on Thursday, the season brought in fewer fish than average and carried a value less than average. “The 2016 Upper Cook Inlet commercial harvest of approximately 3.0 million salmon was 12 percent less than the recent 10-year average annual harvest of 3.5 million fish,” the summary reads. “The estimated exvessel value of the 2016 harvest of approximately $22.3 million was 23 percent less than the previous 10-year average annual exvessel value of $28.9 million.” Sockeye salmon, which make up 93 percent of the overall Upper Cook Inlet harvest value, contributed the most to the drop in value from the average, though all Upper Cook Inlet salmon runs returned in numbers less than average. ADFG forecasted 7.1 million fish for the total UCI sockeye run, but 5.2 million fish returned, or 27 percent less than forecast. At an average $1.50 per pound, Upper Cook Inlet fishermen earned a total ex-vessel value of $21 million for the season. Despite sub-average numbers, gear groups kept roughly the same catch percentage relative to the overall harvest. “The 2016 total sockeye salmon harvest breakdown between set and drift gillnet gear was very close to the previous 10-year average,” the report reads. “Drifters harvested 1.3 million sockeye salmon or 53 percent of the total harvest, compared to the previous 10-year average of 51 percent…while setnetters harvested 1.15 million or 47 percent of the total sockeye salmon harvest compared to their previous 10-year average of 49 percent.” King salmon comprised only 2 percent of the total value, less than average. “In all of UCI, approximately 9,613 king salmon were harvested in 2016, which was 6 percent less than the previous 10-year average annual harvest of 10,227 fish. Using a price of $2.50 per pound for king salmon, the estimated exvessel value of the 2016 harvest was $447,000. This value was approximately 2 percent of the total UCI commercial fishery.” Pink salmon made a negligible 1.4 percent of the area’s total harvest value and small numbers at 379,000, which was slightly more than the 10-year average of 373,000 fish. However small a portion of the commercial harvest, the pinks reveal an interesting trend. The most recent 10-year average pink salmon weight for Upper Cook Inlet is 3.6 pounds. This year, the average was 5 pounds, the largest average weight for pink salmon on record. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]  

It's time to talk crab season projections

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council will meet in Anchorage from Oct. 5-11 to overview crab season projections, hear further discussions of halibut management, and decide what to do about a recent federal appeals court decision that will require more attention to salmon management. The council will approve catch limits for the 2016-17 crab fisheries and review the stock assessment for the last year. Stocks for both snow crab and Bairdi Tanner crab were down according to surveys in 2016, and stakeholders are holding their breath to see if the Alaska Department of Fish and Game will need to close fisheries if abundance doesn’t meet the department thresholds. The crab fishing management plan, or FMP, requires federal scientists to set an overfishing limit, or OFL, and an acceptable biological catch, or ABC. Based on these numbers, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game will determine a total allowable catch, or TAC, under its joint management with the council. Commercial snow crab landings were 40.61 million pounds last season, a 40 percent decline from 67.9 million pounds the previous year. The snow crab TAC in 2016 of 40.6 million pounds was based on an ABC of 137.4 million pounds. This corresponds to a sharp drop in the total amount of legally harvestable male crab. From a projection of 302 million pounds last year, the amount of legal sized males has declined to 202 million pounds. The TAC for the 2016-17 season will be much lower, as the acceptable biological catch is 47 million pounds. Similarly, Tanner crab stocks appear to be in decline. In 2015, the biomass prediction for tanner crab was 163 million pounds with a TAC of 19.67 million pounds. This year, surveys chart a drop down to a biomass of 100 million pounds. Biomass for Bristol Bay red king crab has also dropped, though not as precipitously as that of snow crab and Tanner crab. Legal size males declined from 61 million pounds in 2015 to 53 million pounds for the 2016 season. Halibut Responding to years of halibut allocation fights among direct harvesters and trawlers who take the fish as bycatch, the council will present a discussion paper on linking prohibited species catch limits to halibut abundance. Currently the International Pacific Halibut Commission manages the directed halibut fishery, shifting catch limits with abundance. The North Pacific council manages halibut bycatch, which has been reduced but still uses a static number that does not fluctuate with abundance. Notably, this led to a situation in 2015 during which halibut fishermen in the Central Bering Sea received a smaller amount of the total halibut quota than the groundfish trawl fleets, which take large amounts of halibut incidentally in pursuit of other groundfish.  Shifting halibut bycatch limits with abundance would distribute the pain of stock decline evenly between directed halibut users and bycatch users. Halibut fishermen say the stocks depend on more cooperation between the two bodies. Such cooperation, though, would require a heavy workload for the council. “Changing PSC limits or metrics (i.e., halibut mortality in weight or numbers of halibut) would require changes in the existing regulations for and administration of the groundfish fisheries by changing the catch accounting system, in-season management, and other issues that would need to be explored in future discussion papers and analyses,” states the paper. The discussion paper outlines different models the council might use to determine abundance. Key to the discussion is the difference in survey methodology and science used by the North Pacific council and the IPHC. The paper has recommendations on how to bridge these differences as well as how to change rules to allow the council and commission to operate in tandem. Salmon court decision impact The council will also hold a discussion on a recent federal court decision that could potentially heavily impact its workload over the next few meetings leading up to the 2017 salmon season. Industry group United Cook Inlet Drift Association filed a lawsuit in 2013 to repeal the council’s 2011 decision, which was officially Amendment 12 to the Alaska salmon FMP. The council removed three historical net salmon fisheries from the FMP, delegating salmon management entirely to the state of Alaska and removing that management from the rigors of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the central piece of federal fisheries law. The initial suit was rejected by U.S. Alaska District Court Judge Timothy Burgess in September 2014. The 9th Circuit remanded the case back to Burgess with instructions to find for the plaintiffs. Federal fisheries policymakers and state managers will now have to work together on a suitable FMP, which the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had hoped to rid itself of in 2011 by passing Amendment 12 in the first place. Installing an FMP before the next salmon season will be critical. Representatives from UCIDA are asking the council to create a committee to help in the process. “The purpose of committee would be to consider the scope of alternatives, and as appropriate, to initiate and expedite the development of a salmon FMP for Cook Inlet,” wrote Dave Martin, UCIDA’s president. “We recommend that the salmon committee includes two individuals representing the Cook Inlet salmon drift and setnet fisheries, a member representing the seafood processing and marketing sector and additional salmon committee members as the Council deems appropriate.” DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

State, federal managers unsure of next move after salmon decision overturned

State and federal managers don’t yet know what to expect after the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a 2011 decision by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to remove several Alaska salmon fisheries from federal management plan. With several regulatory meetings on the schedule before the start of the 2017 salmon season, fisheries managers will have opportunities to plot courses of action. Industry group United Cook Inlet Drift Association, or UCIDA, filed the lawsuit in 2013 to repeal the council’s decision, which was officially Amendment 12 to the Alaska salmon fishery management plan, or FMP. The amendment formally turned over control of salmon fisheries in Cook Inlet, Prince William Sound and the Alaska Peninsula to state management. The initial suit was rejected by U.S. Alaska District Court Judge Timothy Burgess in September 2014. A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit unanimously remanded the case back to Burgess with instructions to find in favor the plaintiffs. For some of the fishermen concerned, the court’s ruling was a momentous victory, while state and federal fisheries regulators resent it. “It’s going to develop salmon management plans under the law that use the best available science and protects the habitat and harvests the surplus,” said Dave Martin, president of UCIDA, one of two groups that filed the lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Commerce, which ultimately signs off on the decisions made by the North Pacific council. “That’s a win for the resources of the state, and for the people dependent on those resources and the economies. Even the state itself, the tax they generate, the raw fish tax and processor tax, if you’re harvesting the surplus, it benefits everybody. It takes the political management out of it.” State managers balk at the idea. “We do not need the U.S. government’s help in salmon management,” said Alaska Department of Fish and Game Sam Cotten. “We obviously have to get this resolved. The U.S. doesn’t want to manage salmon in those waters.” Julie Speegle, the communications officer for the National Marine Fisheries Service Alaska Region, said the agency is currently reviewing the court’s decision and doesn’t yet know what actions it will take. Several fisheries meetings at the state and federal level will take place between now and the beginning of the 2017 salmon season. If the North Pacific council decides not to appeal, it will need an operational FMP by the beginning of the 2017 salmon season and likely need to collaborate with the Alaska Board of Fisheries, which manages fisheries within three miles off the Alaska shore. Glenn Haight, the executive director of the Alaska Board of Fisheries, said he doesn’t yet know what the board will need to consider until the National Marine Fisheries Service reviews the decision and decides whether to appeal or to move forward with a federal FMP. “I’m not sure what’s going to happen for the board. As I understand, there’s the option to appeal; it’s getting sent back to the lower court for its final decision work,” Haight said. “It’s going to be a lot of work to the council. Trying to get the two systems to mesh would be a huge pull. It’s a big question mark.” The North Pacific Fishery Management Council will meet Oct. 5-11 in Anchorage. NMFS could indicate its intentions at that meeting, he said, which could in turn change both an upcoming Oct. 18-20 Alaska Board of Fisheries working group meeting along with the 2017 Upper Cook Inlet Board of Fisheries meeting in February. “I’d hope the board would be attuned to making decisions based on the science and biology and the 10 National Standards the court has laid out that management has to follow,” said Martin. “That’s kind of what the job is.” State managers are less enthusiastic. Cotten said on Sept. 23 that he fears federal management would be redundant and could potentially backfire. “I understand the interest on part of the plaintiffs in trying to improve their situation, but I was never convinced that even if they won it would improve their situation,” he said. “What we don’t want to have happen, is a situation could come up where you would have to close those waters, and the very people asking for this decision would be impacted the worst by it.” FMP history The lawsuit responded to a 2011 decision by the North Pacific council, one of eight councils established by the Magnuson-Stevens Act in 1976 to oversee federal fisheries between three and 200 miles off the U.S. shore. The act, or MSA, contains 10 guidelines called the National Standards. All federal FMPs must meet the National Standards that require fisheries managers to consider optimum yield, best available science, equitable allocations and community health among other factors.  Historically, the federal government has ceded salmon management to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game since 1979, not long after the MSA was passed in 1976. At the time the council passed Amendment 12, the council had not even reviewed the federal salmon FMP since 1990. When the MSA was reauthorized in 2006, it required every federal FMP to be updated by 2012, leading to the council’s decision to officially hand over control to the state for the three fisheries, while keeping the Southeast troll fishery under federal management because of the Pacific Salmon Treaty with Canada. NMFS and the council heard widespread frustration with state salmon management in Cook Inlet from both drift and setnet fishermen and a desire for a federal FMP subscribing to the National Standards. State management, some said, is lacking. “The current Board of Fish is … dysfunctional, unprofessional, unqualified, and wrought with special interest influence,” said Paul Shadura, executive director of the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association, in 2011. Dave Martin testified that the state’s management directly contradicts the National Standards. FMPs require annual catch limits and accountability measures to prevent overfishing, while Alaska manages to a sustainable escapement goal that commercial fishermen said robs them of harvesting opportunity.  “Management plans restrict us out of the (Exclusive Economic Zone) and forego real-time abundance-based management because of mandatory time and area restrictions,” said Martin to the council. “These plans result in loss of harvestable surplus of 33 percent for sockeye, 98 for pinks, 96 percent for chums and 40 percent for coho. “This results in gross overescapement, reduces future returns and economic loss. This is far from Magnuson compliance.” The council went ahead with the move and approved it unanimously. “The State has managed the salmon fisheries since statehood in 1959, and the Council has relied on State management of the salmon fisheries in the EEZ since 1979,” stated the final rule published in the Federal Register. “State salmon management is consistent with the policies and standards of the Magnuson-Stevens Act…The State actively manages Alaska salmon stocks in every region of the State through its use of escapement-based management. Escapement-based management takes into consideration the unique life history of Pacific salmon and escapement goals maintain spawning levels that provide for maximum surplus production. The State has the expertise and infrastructure to manage Alaska salmon as a unit in consideration of all fishery removals and to meet escapement goals.” Alaska’s history of salmon management, the council believed, set it up to run the fishery without the feds. However, the 9th Circuit disagreed and said the council could not get out of having an FMP that meets the National Standards simply by declaring that it does. “The panel held that the National Marine Fisheries Service cannot exempt a fishery under its authority that required conservation and management from an FMP because the agency is content with state management,” the decision states. “The (Magnuson-Stevens Act) requires a regional fishery management council to create an FMP for each fishery under its authority that requires conservation and management.” DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]


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