Jim Paulin

Aleutians borough seeks subsidies for ‘copter service to Akun airport

UNALASKA — After four years in storage, the hovercraft that shuttled to and from Akun Island has been sold to a buyer in Kazakhstan and replaced by helicopters for the ride to the new airport. Now, the Aleutians East Borough wants federal funding for the helicopter service to end a unique situation where the subsidies terminate short of the final destination in the federal Essential Air Service program. No doubt about it, Alaska is unique and so is the way the Essential Air Service operates subsidized passenger service in the state, especially because it’s the only state in the nation where the program ends one island short of the final destination, in Akutan, leaving a local government stuck with a helicopter bill. That’s according to the program’s top administrator Joel Szabat, the deputy assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Transportation Office of Aviation and International Affairs. Szabat, a career federal administrator, repeatedly remarked on Alaska’s unique transportation situations, compared to the Lower 48 where state transportation departments plow snow off roads and not airport runways. Szabat visited Unalaska on his way to his program’s most unique destination, Akutan, where federal funding ends six miles across the water from the six-year-old airport on Akun, where a hovercraft formerly completed the trip. That spendy machine was finally sold earlier this year to a Kazakhstan company, Circle Maritime Invest, after about four years of indoor storage in a hanger in Akutan. Now, the Aleutians East Borough wants the federal government to step up to the plate and fulfill its responsibilities to an isolated community with unique circumstances, where it was too expensive to carve a runway out of the side of a mountain. So instead the state built the first airport on land across the bay on the smaller, but more importantly flatter, island of Akun in 2012. The project was not inexpensive, but was within the budget of about $50 million on the island that’s uninhabited except for cows and horses and a borough-operated hotel for weathered-in passengers originally built for the construction workers building the airport. Szabat couldn’t commit either way to a helicopter subsidy, saying it’s neither allowed nor forbidden by federal law, but repeatedly remarked on Akutan’s unique place in the EAS program, because it doesn’t get passengers where they’re going, and instead deposits them on another island, with the borough providing the subsidies for the helicopter ride from Maritime Helicopters at substantially less cost than the hovercraft but still not cheap. The EAS program currently subsidizes the airplane ride to Akun from Unalaska/Dutch Harbor, about 40 miles away, via Grant Aviation. The hovercraft was finally sold in February, for $4.4 million, to Circle Maritime Invest, in the Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan according to Aleutians East Borough Manager Anne Bailey. In May, the borough assembly decided to spend hovercraft sales proceeds on transportation expenses, including $2.5 million for the Akutan-Akun link, $1.3 million for the King Cove Access Project, and expenses involved in the sale of the watercraft. The hovercraft was originally used for a few years in King Cove for travel to the all-weather airport in Cold Bay, as an alternative to the controversial road proposed through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge opposed by environmental groups. The hovercraft, named Suna X, was purchased with $9 million in federal funds before eventually relocating to Akutan where it rode above the water on an aircushion, before the borough decided it was too expensive and frequently unable to operate because of rough weather. In Kazakhstan, hovercrafts shuttle between shore and oil rigs in the Caspian Sea, and one Alaskan company, Cruz Marine, nearly bought the Suna X for North Slope oil field support, but backed out when oil prices collapsed four years ago, according to former borough manager Rick Gifford. The hovercraft was replaced with another “extremely expensive” way of getting from the airport at Akun to the main island and village of Akutan, Bailey said. Akutan is also the site of a Trident Seafoods plant with around 1,000 workers. Helicopter service costs $1.7 million a year, with only $400,000 from ticket sales at $100 for a one-way flight. The borough pays the balance of $1.3 million, Bailey said. The borough is now in the early stages of planning a small boat harbor and breakwater at Akun, she said. U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan told borough officials at an assembly meeting this year that he strongly supports federal funding for the proposed Akun harbor project. Troy LaRue, a top administrator of the Alaska Department of Transportation from Anchorage, accompanied Szabat in Unalaska, and said a water link to Akun may help the airport “maximize” its economic potential, if Trident Seafoods can get seafood onto aircraft economically, which was feasible with a hovercraft, but is too expensive to ship fish even a short distance with a four-passenger helicopter. LaRue also said that Akutan is looking at building homes on Akun, within city limits. Another way Alaska is unique in the EAS program is with airports operated by the state government, unlike Lower 48 states where roads and highways, but not aviation, keeps state transportation departments busy, Szabat said. Szabat praised the Alaska DOT for keeping the feds informed of airports that shouldn’t be on list of EAS-eligible communities, and were removed this year. Szabat said holding down costs is a top priority, and in 2011 the program was limited to existing communities LaRue said those three were Funter Bay and Chatham, both in Southeast, each with no more than two residents, and Aleknagik, near Dillingham, where the airport hasn’t been used for airline service since a bridge was built across the Wood River. Yet now another isolated rural community wants to join the program. Aleutians East Borough Assembly Advisory Member Justine Gunderson of Nelson Lagoon wants her community added to the EAS list, although borough staff said it would take an act of Congress for the Alaska Peninsula village to qualify. Szabat said Unalaska doesn’t get at EAS funds because it doesn’t need them, as commercial airlines operate profitably because of the large volume of passengers due to the seafood industry’s large presence. Former Unalaska city councilor, ex-bookstore owner, and retired city employee Abi Woodbridge protested spending taxpayer dollars on aviation improvements benefiting the little village of Akutan and one seafood company, ridiculing the millions spent building the Akun airport as a “boondoggle,” she told Szabat at the October meeting at Unalaska City Hall. She said she believed most Unalaskans shared her view that the Akun project was wasteful. Prior to the airport at Akun, passengers from Anchorage flights were flown to and from Unalaska directly to Akutan on Peninsula Airway’s amphibious antique Grumman Goose which landed on the water in front of the village. Pen Air eventually sold the Goose, citing the high cost of maintaining the plane built in the 1940s. LaRue said that since the Akun airport opened, more people are arriving in Akutan by air, and fewer on Trident’s fishing vessels from Unalaska. While the helicopter is presently the only way to the airport, some Akutan residents would rather avoid the flying machine altogether, and instead wait for seasonal arrivals of the state ferry Tustemena for travel to Unalaska and connecting flights to Anchorage. Szabat said he was touring Alaskan communities at the request of Sullivan. Szabat was formerly the executive director of the federal Maritime Administration, and said his previous aviation experience was limited to rebuilding airports in war-torn Iraq. Presidents always try to kill the EAS program, which serves 160 communities, a third of them in Alaska, Szabat said, but Congress always refuses to go along, and saves the $300 million annual federal Essential Air Service subsidy program that provides passenger service to communities where it’s not otherwise affordable. Half the funding is from special taxes on airlines, and the other $150 million comes directly from the federal budget, he said. Jim Paulin can be reached at [email protected]

Major dredging project pitched to modernize Dutch Harbor

UNALASKA — The big container ships and tankers will move in and out of Unalaska easier if the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers blasts and scoops 16 feet from the bottom near the Dutch Harbor Spit in a proposed $29 million project that’s at least four years away. And bigger ships will be coming, even though that’s not the purpose of the project aimed at eliminating what is already a tight squeeze for cargo vessels loaded with fish and fuel moving across the rocky underwater reef. “Our proposed project won’t accommodate anything deeper than what’s already coming to Dutch Harbor,” but it will allow the safer and more efficient movement of the vessels, fully loaded more often,” said Ronnie Barcak, project manager of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ proposal dubbed the Unalaska (Dutch Harbor) Channel Navigation Improvements. “Right now you can’t do 44-foot vessel safely or efficiently,” especially since 44 feet is the depth rating now, and the bar is 42 feet deep, according to Barcak, who said the ships now enter with less than full loads so as not to hit the bottom. And often the ships have to wait offshore for waves and winds to lessen, to get in safely. The improvements will allow for operations 24 hours a day, seven days a week, he said. But the study’s parameters are something of a technical point, because the deeper channel actually will mean bigger ships showing up, according to the city ports director and a marine pilot, in an era where ships are continually getting bigger to accommodate growing international trade. “We’ve had lots of inquiries” from representatives of larger vessels now transiting the area on the Great Circle Route, between Asia and North America, said Unalaska Ports Director Peggy McLaughlin. But another limiting factor will change if the bar is deepened, because the city will then dredge in front of its dock at the Unalaska Marine Center, from the present depth of 40 feet to 45 feet. Presently, according to the Corps, only three docks in Unalaska can accommodate the big ships now: the UMC, also called the “city dock”, the American President Lines container terminal, and the Delta Western Fuel Dock, There are no plans for APL or Delta Western to deepen the water near their docks, according to the Corps. “It’s a good thing for Dutch Harbor,” with ship sizes continually increasing, said Bill Gillespie, president of the Alaska Marine Pilots Association, which brings ships into local waters. He said the proposed dredging is a positive step towards port modernization, and will help tankers that now transfer fuel onto fuel barges at anchor in Broad Bay, across the water from town. “They’ll be able to bring tankers right straight to the dock on a more regular basis,” said Gillespie, who added that container ships now arrive “light loaded” to cross the bar in the nation’s top fishing port by volume where thousands of metric tons of frozen fish are loaded onto container ships and barges night and day. The Corps’ team of dredging experts returned to Unalaska in October to update city officials and the public on dredging plans two years after their last visit on the proposed project endorsed by the Unalaska City Council. The extra depth, if the U.S. Congress comes up with funding matched by the city, will allow the ships more maneuverability in the waters of Unalaska Bay in the eastern Aleutian Islands. The project will require blasting prior to excavation, and hopefully with no explosive surprises from legacy military weapons in its ultimate quest to deepen the water level from 42 to 58 feet at the lowest average daily depth known to mariners as mean lower low water. According to the Corps, the water really only needs deepening to 56 feet, but an extra two feet is added because it’s not always possible to dredge the bottom perfectly level, and the contractor, paid by the cubic yard, is happy to oblige by creating an extra two feet of clearance just in case. The Corps want to see if 14 unidentified metallic objects are explosive by taking a closer took with an underwater remotely operated vehicle, before dredging the 600-by-600 foot underwater area, to deepen shallow water caused by a shoal from a moraine deposited by an ancient glacier just offshore of the Dutch Harbor Spit. The one-year project would be completed at the earliest in 2022, if Congress approves the funding. Unexploded munitions have been found in the area, left behind by the U.S. military during the Aleutian Campaign in World War II, and the Corps displayed photos of rusted landmines and projectile bombs previously encountered in local waters. The 14 mysterious ferrous objects were detected with a metal-detecting gradiometer, which did identify abandoned crab pots by their familiar shape, while old military explosives might look like rusted globs of iron. The shoal, commonly called a bar, is very hard and will first require loosening up with explosives packed into drill holes, and will require an “incidental harassment permit” because of the likely presence of marine mammals including sea lions, sea otters, seals and humpback whales. There are so many marine mammals in the area that it would be impossible to blast the hard-packed underwater ridge without potentially impacting them, said George Kalli of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, saying the project couldn’t go forward without the federal environmental permits for disturbing marine mammals. The dredging project is expected to require only a federal environmental assessment, and not a more detailed and time-consuming environmental impact statement, he said. The public comment period on the proposed dredging project remains open through February of 2019. The present cost estimate of $29 million is expected to change, Kalli said, though he couldn’t predict if the price would go up or down for the project that only affects large cargo vessels and not fishing boats. The Corps held three community events during the recent visit by six federal employees from Anchorage. Local resident Suzi Golodoff was concerned that the dredging of 16 feet of sea floor, from the present depth of 42 feet down to 58 feet, could cause erosion on the Front Beach along Bayview Avenue, where hers and other homes are located in the historic downtown area of Unalaska, by removing a natural underwater breakwater. Corps officials said that was unlikely and that the project would have minimal impact on the Front Beach. The route for the deeper channel was studied with a vessel movement simulator at the Corps’ research facility in Vicksburg, Miss., using a simulation of a container ship that stops in town regularly while sailing from the U.S. West Coast to Asia with seafood cargo, the APL Holland, as the Post Panamax “design vessel”, with input from two local marine pilots who participated in the indoor simulation exercises in an interactive movie theateresque high tech setting. Barcak said 44 feet is only a “reference point” for ships that might draft between 40 and 48 feet, depending on the weight of the load. The project would involve the removal of 182,000 cubic yards of material from the seafloor, and local resident Travis Swangel saw an opportunity to recycle the material for new landfill docks in Captains Bay, but Kalli said that would cost the government extra for the cost of barging the material, and suggested he’d get a better deal from a local quarry business, Bering Shai Rock and Gravel. Corps officials are planning to dump the material elsewhere offshore near the bar, in deep water, spread out evenly on the bottom, although Vice Mayor Dennis Robinson said an underwater mound could create attractive new habitat where fish would congregate. Jim Paulin can be reached at [email protected]

Snow crab up, king crab quota down in Bering Sea

UNALASKA — It’s not much, but there is a red king crab season. And snow crab is up 45 percent, and Tanners are down slightly, but at least that one will go forward due to a revised harvest strategy. Bering Sea commercial crabbing started Oct. 15, with the smallest quota for Bristol Bay red king crab in more than 30 years of 4.3 million pounds, a 35 percent decrease from last year’s 6.6 million pounds. The last time there was such a low number when a fishery was held was in 1985, at 4.1 million pounds, according to Alaska Department of Fish and Game Assistant Area Management Biologist Ethan Nichols in Unalaska. Nichols expects fewer boats fishing this year, with fishermen combining quotas onto one boat that otherwise would have been fished by two vessels, because of the harvest reduction leading to the efficiency move. At least there is a red king crab season, despite earlier fears of a complete cancelation, according to Unalaska Mayor Frank Kelty. “We wish it was more, but we’re happy there’s a king crab season,” said Jake Jacobsen, executive director of the Seattle-based Inter-Cooperative Exchange, which negotiates prices for the crab fishing fleet. The season began Oct. 15 with red king crab, with snow and Tanner crab typically fished in the winter. On a brighter note, the snow crab quota of 27.6 million pounds is up 45 percent from last year’s 19 million pounds. And there will be a Tanner crab fishery in the western district, which wouldn’t have happened two years ago. That’s because of a major lobbying effort led by Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, the political arm of the Inter-Cooperative Exchange, with the support of Fish and Game, adopted in May 2017 by the Alaska Board of Fisheries, following the closure of both districts the prior year. “Both the eastern and western Bering Sea Tanner crab fisheries would have been closed for 2018-19 using the old harvest strategy due to being below the female threshold,” according to Nichols. The Tanner quota is 2.4 million pounds, a 2 percent decrease from last year’s 2.5 million pounds in the western district, west of 166 degrees west longitude between Unalaska and Akutan islands. The eastern district remains closed. Jacobsen said the trade war between the U.S. and China will have little effect on the crab fishery, since most of the product goes to domestic markets and Japan, although Chinese consumers will pay more because of the tariffs imposed by China in retaliation for President Donald Trump’s new taxes imposed on imports from China. The U.S. import taxes don’t matter, because Alaskan crab is not re-exported back to the United States from China, he said. Various groundfish and salmon from Alaska are re-exported back to the U.S. following processing by low-wage Chinese labor. Jim Paulin can be reached at [email protected]

Battle breaks out over growth of ‘Super 8s’ in state cod fishery

UNALASKA — The success of the state waters Dutch Harbor Pacific cod fishery in the Bering Sea is scaring both the industrial trawl and longline fleets, and even a local Unalaska fisherman who says a new breed of small boats known as Super 8s are catching way too many fish. In 2014, the new fishery opened with 3 percent of the total Bering Sea cod quota, and two years later it more than doubled to 6.4 percent, by votes of the Alaska Board of Fisheries to promote small boat fisheries. And it may get a lot bigger, as the board will soon hear proposals for growing the fishery to 8, 10 or as much as 20 percent of all the cod available to fishermen in the Bering Sea. Already, the boats less than 60 feet long have caught 10 times the average catch before the new rules took effect in 2014, according to opponent Chad See, executive director of the Freezer Longliner Coalition, representing factory boats that harvest cod with baited hooks anchored to the ocean floor. See called for observers monitoring the catch on the vessels, saying “there is no observer requirement in the state waters fishery.” He also cited conservation concerns, noting that while the Pacific cod decline in the Bering Sea is not as bad as in the Gulf of Alaska at 79 percent, it’s still significant, dropping 45 percent since 2014, according to the federal trawl survey. “Any increase to the state water fishery increases the amount of cod that is unobserved,” See said, adding that while most of the Area O cod are Bering Sea fish, there is some overlap with Gulf fish, especially around Unimak Pass in the Aleutian Islands. As ocean waters heat up, so do the politics of Pacific cod. Complaining that wide-body “Super 8” 58-foot fishing boats aren’t really small boats, the Unalaska/Dutch Harbor Fish and Game Advisory Committee wants them to carry less than capacity, with limits of 150,000 pounds of Pacific cod in the Dutch Harbor state waters fishery, supporting a proposal before the Alaska Board of Fisheries when it meets in downtown Anchorage Oct. 18 and 19 at the Egan Convention Center. “It does not resemble a small boat fishery, and is completely out of control,” said Dustan Dickerson, owner of the F/V Raven Bay, which he said can only pack 50,000 pounds, compared to a quarter-million pounds for a Super 8, at the Sept. 12 committee meeting at the Unalaska Public Library. Dickerson described the Super 8s as “a 120-foot boat cut in half,” and Don Goodfellow, the plant manager of Alyeska Seafoods, said the vessels are 22-feet wide, resembling “a barge with a wheelhouse.” Dickerson proposed limiting the amount of cod allowed on board to either 50,000, or 100,000 pounds of cod, but ultimately joined in the 7-0 vote to support Proposal 15 on the fish board agenda, submitted by Andrew Wilder. Wilder called for the onboard limit in the growing Dutch Harbor subdistrict Pacific cod fishery, now in its fourth year, with 6.4 percent of the federal cod quota in the Bering Sea. With quotas slashed in the neighboring Gulf of Alaska, the Dutch Harbor cod fishery saw an influx of boats from the Gulf. Goodfellow said the big winner is boatbuilder Fred Wahl Marine Constructioon, of Reedsport, Ore., and fishing crews from Oregon. But he predicted that even if onboard capacity is limited, the fishing industry will always look for an angle and loophole, like maybe hiring tenders to shuttle fish to the plants from the fishing grounds. He compared the “arms race” shaping up in the cod fishery to the longtime tendency to build wider and deeper boats in Bristol Bay where salmon gillnetters are limited to 32 feet in length. The fish board regulates fishing in state waters up to three miles from shore, and the new Dutch Harbor small boat fishery is increasingly attracting boats from the Gulf of Alaska, were the cod quota was down 80 percent in the past year. The decline of cod in the Gulf is blamed on the warm water “blob.” The committee also rejected proposals to increase the state waters cod fishery to 10 and 20 percent, to protect the trawl fleet that delivers larger quantities of cod to local plants. “This is way too big of a bite at one time,” said committee chair Frank Kelty. “This is a big hit,” said Brent Paine, executive director of United Catcher Boats, via teleconference. The committee also opposed a smaller request, for 8 percent, from Ernie Weiss of the Aleutians East Borough. The committee also rejected a proposal, by a 6 to 1 vote, to close trawling in state waters during the pot cod fishery in Dutch Harbor, proposed by Robert Magnus Thorstenson Jr. “Our boats continually lose pots to draggers in the Bering Sea pot cod fisheries,” he said in the written proposal, adding “there should be no trawling in state waters while our fishery is being prosecuted.” “We do not want to catch pots,” said trawler advocate Paine, saying that the trawl and pot fleets coordinate by sharing information to avoid such entanglements, although he admitted it still occasionally happens. The lone dissenter was Steven Gregory, who repeatedly complained the committee prioritizes economics over conservation. Thorstenson wrote that pot cod fishing is a cleaner fishery that “negates the bycatch impact” of cod caught with other gear types. Dickerson said the Super 8s are a conservation menace when they rapidly harvest large quantities of fish, and said the fishing effort should be spread out in space and time. In an effort to gain a local voice amongst the Super 8s, the Unalaska Native Fisherman’s Association decided to join a new small boat advocacy group, the Under Sixty Cod Harvesters, by buying a membership for Dickerson’s boat. The Under 60 group, in its proposal for 10 percent of the state waters cod quota, said their fleet is “largely comprised of vessels that are owned, crewed and maintained by Alaskans.” The portrayal of trawlers as non-local was challenged as a “myth” by At-Sea Processors Association Executive Director Stephanie Madsen, via teleconference, citing the ownership of factory trawlers by Alaska Community Development Quota groups. Kelty said cod landings in 2017 in Unalaska totaled 70 million pounds, worth $22 million at 30 cents per pound, in combined pot cod and trawl-caught fish, with the highest percentage from the trawl sector, paying $1.1 million in state and local taxes. Jim Paulin can be reached a [email protected]

Ferry makes extra stop in Chignik after salmon fishery failure

The salmon didn’t show in sufficient numbers to allow any significant commercial fishing, with just 128 sockeyes landed. The state ferry made an extra stop as if to evacuate refugees. And now the Chignik salmon fishery has been officially declared a disaster. Gov. Bill Walker declared an economic disaster for the Chignik fisheries region on Aug. 23, including Chignik, Chignik Lagoon, Chignik Lake, Perryville, and Ivanof Bay, which depend on salmon for both subsistence and commercial harvests. “Chignik is used to catching more than a million sockeye every year. This year, they caught 128 fish,” said Walker. “Salmon is the economic and subsistence staple in these communities and the failure of this year’s fishery is a one-two punch. It is critical that we do what we can to support them as they work to recover. That’s what we’re here for.” The request for a disaster declaration from the Bristol Bay Native Association warned of winter hardship. “Without the salmon returning, they will not be able to purchase home heating fuel, electricity, gasoline, propane, basic food necessities, mortgage payments, boat expenses, and financial obligations to the state,” according to BBNA. Last year, Chignik fishermen caught a total of about 1 million sockeye, accounting for 45 percent of the total paid to salmon fishermen of $15.8 million, with 41 percent of the ex-vessel dollars paid for pink salmon. The 67 permit holders fishing in 2017 earned an average of $236,000, including kings, chums and coho, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. In June, ADFG Commissioner Sam Cotten said the salmon run was the worst since Alaska became a state in 1959. A few weeks later, it improved but not by much, upgraded to the worse since the 1960s, according to ADFG Biologist Lisa Fox. “I haven’t put my net in the water once,” said Unalaska purse seiner Roger Rowland in June, lamenting the failure of the first run of salmon. “It’s literally the worst run ever.” While he still had hopes for the second run, the fish counted swimming through the Chignik River weir provided the same sad story as the first run to a different lake in the two-lake spawning grounds. In the only fishing period on July 7 and 8, fishermen landed a paltry 128 sockeyes, 124 chums and 6 pink salmon, according to Lucas Stumpf of ADFG. “It’s pretty sad. It’s a terrible year,” he said. That opener was aimed at pinks and chums, and only six vessels participated. There were no fishing periods targeting sockeye. As the Chignik salmon disaster continued, the Alaska Marine Highway System doubled the stops on the Aug. 8 -14 Aleutian Islands trip on the state ferry Tustumena, as fisheries workers departed early. The ferry was originally scheduled to stop only once in the Alaska Peninsula community while southbound to Unalaska/Dutch Harbor. An additional Chignik stop was added on the return trip to Kodiak, according to ferry spokeswoman Aurah Landau. ADFG biologist Dawn Wilburn said in a normal year, fishing continues the whole month of August. And in more bad news, she said the pink salmon run also failed. Warmer ocean temperatures are a suspected cause, she said. While subsistence salmon fishing was available, the harvests were small, though the numbers won’t be known until early next year, after the deadline for subsistence catch figures to be sent to Fish and Game, Wilburn said. And even as the season wound down with next to nothing, the salmon-counting weir had to be pulled early, as it had started washing away in the rain-swollen Chignik River, Wilburn said. The economic disaster declaration allows the state Legislature to appropriate money for assistance grants and allows the governor to make budget recommendations to accelerate the region’s existing capital projects and provide funding for new ones. It also waives specific provisions of Alaska statute and regulations relating to capital project requirements, employment, and contractor preference. In addition to the disaster declaration, Walker directed the Division of Economic Development to commit as many resources as possible to assist salmon permit holders who participate in the Commercial Fishing Revolving Loan program and may be unable to meet the terms of their loans because of Chignik’s low harvest. With a preliminary harvest count of 128 sockeye salmon, the 2018 sockeye harvest was only .00922 percent of the prior 10-year average. Escapement counts for 2018 for all salmon in the Chignik Management Area (as of July 29) are 54 percent of what they were on the same date in 2017, according to the governor. Additional support for Chignik area residents is available from the Division of Public Assistance, which provides food relief and financial assistance to Alaskans in need. The division offers programs such as the Heating Assistance Program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and the Alaska Temporary Assistance Program. For information about the Division of Public Assistance, visit dhss.alaska.gov/dpa. More information about the Division of Economic Development is at commerce.alaska.gov/web/ded. Jim Paulin can be reached at [email protected]

FCC commissioner gets earful on internet service in Unalaska

UNALASKA — Even with the present low level of service, the internet is critically important to commerce and medicine in the Aleutian Islands, and maybe even the military if conflict ever heats up with nuclear-armed North Korea. War has struck the Aleutians before and it potentially could happen again, according to Unalaska residents who want the Department of Defense to step up to the plate and help fund improvements to the internet service in a remote yet strategically important location. At the Iliuiliuk Family and Health Services, telemedicine couldn’t happen without federal funding, according to executive director James Kaech who said the Unalaska clinic receives about $1 million in Rural Health Care funding, allowing local medical providers to consult with specialists at Providence Alaska Medical Center in an emergency situation involving life-threatening injuries. “Without it, we would not be able to afford the cost, and without it we would not be able to be online,” Kaech said. The clinic receives internet service through Alaska Communications Systems, and at one point a $100,000 shortfall in federal reimbursements left medical providers worried if the service could continue, although the funding did eventually come through. Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr couldn’t hear enough bad things about the poor quality of internet service, during a community meeting Aug. 7 in Unalaska/Dutch Harbor, the nation’s busiest fishing port, as part of a statewide tour. There wasn’t enough time. Help is on the way, he said, cautioning there’s no “silver bullet.” “Broadband is critical” to the success of the fishing industry, he said. “This is a place that’s on our radar. We have to do a better job,” he told the crowd of about 40 at Unalaska City Hall. The federal government plans to send more of the $10 billion Universal Service Fund to Alaska, he said, which includes the Rural Health Care Funding. Vice Mayor Dennis Robinson said that even if a subsea fiberoptic cable finally brings fast internet to Unalaska, it it is still prone to disruption if the cable breaks along the rugged coast on the south side of the Alaska Peninsula, and asked a telecom executive in the audience about plans for “redundancy,” or a backup system. GCI Vice President Dan Boyette said the subsea fiberoptic cable is still at least two years away, and the company still hasn’t committed to the project to connect the town from Kodiak. While land systems have more redundancy, that isn’t available underwater, and the only backup is slow satellites, which he said his company will still maintain in addition to the underwater cable. Subsea cables break once every seven years, on average, and Boyette said it usually takes a week for ship to arrive and repair the rupture, once the damage is located. Robinson said it could take over two weeks, between the time it takes a ship to arrive and then locate the problem. Boyette said the south side route is advantageous because it is ice-free year round, easing vessel access. The company had previously considered a more economical route along the peninsula’s north side, from Levelock. Various commentators said they really didn’t want to engage in any unnecessary “GCI bashing,” but then proceeded to unload their frustrations. Optimera owner Emmitt Fitch said none of the complaints were coming from the customers of his start-up internet business. Carr said the FCC is working to increase broadband capability through regulatory reform to allow a network of thousands of low-orbiting satellites, plus wide distribution of small backpack-size antennas on buildings and utility poles supplementing the existing 200-foot towers. Local business officials complained about the difficulties with local cell phone service. Mike Lloyd said the what while the price of cell phone service has dropped, the greater availability of low cost plans make it hard to make calls. When the busy fishing season ends, and most workers go home, it’s a lot easier to get through, he said. Before GCI introduced economical plans making cellphones more affordable, Lloyd said he spent between $1,500 and $4,000 monthly on phone calls, when he worked for his former employer, Samson Tug and Barge. Lloyd estimated that lousy cell service has cost his shipping logistics business between $100,000 and $150,000 in lost business in the last five years. Unalaska Harbor Officer Tim Mahoney said cellphones were barely functional during a recent tsunami alert, when the community scrambled to high ground, producing “gridlock” on the network and a “perfect storm” of cellular dysfunction. “In an emergency we’re at our worse. We have no connectivity. Everything’s jammed up,” Mahoney said. No giant waves appeared, and the alert was eventually canceled. Unalaska Ports Director Peggy McLaughlin suggested finding funding from the U.S. Department of Defense, considering the town’s strategic location, in the middle of international shipping lanes and increasing international tensions. Unalaska Librarian Karen Kresh said the internet is so slow that at times it’s “almost unusable” at the public library where customers need it for online classes and job applications, adding that internet costs make up about 25 percent of the library’s operating budget. Alyssa MacDonald of Mac Enterprises said her office staff wastes about 25 percent of daily work time waiting for the internet to load, and otherwise struggling with the poor service, “stifling our growth.” “It would definitely be a game changer for us,” if fast internet arrived, said Unalaska City School /District Supt. John Conwell. He complained of a lack of access to federal internet funds because of the school system’s low enrollment and high income levels in the nearly full-employment industrial fishing port. He said grants should be awarded based on the unique needs of individual sites. “We need connectivity to be able to reach the East Coast without your call being dropped 57 times,” said local resident Lori Gregory. She cited the area’s military importance, past and present, from World War II to today given the Aleutian archipelago’s proximity to Asia and simmering international hostilities. Carr said rural America suffers even in the Lower 48 from slow internet speeds. He mentioned farmers in Indiana, with great amounts of their own digitized agriculture data, stored on thumb drives, sitting uselessly in coffee cups, as weak connectivity blocks access to “the cloud,” or offsite data processing locations. Carr visited Alyeska Seafoods, the school and clinic and historic sites during his tour of Unalaska. Carr said he visited Alaskan at the prompting of Alaska Sens. Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski. He planned to visit Barrow and Wainwright on the Arctic Ocean on Aug. 9, and return to the southwest on Aug. 10 for a visit to Dillingham. Jim Paulin can be reached at [email protected]

Municipalities may try to collect online sales tax revenue

Local governments in Alaska see gold in a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing states to collect sales taxes from online purchases from Amazon and other retailers. Unalaska City Manager Thomas E. Thomas cited the June 21 decision in South Dakota vs. Wayfair that said states can require online retailers to collect sales taxes. Now, he hopes it applies to local governments. It’s a matter of fairness to the local “brick and mortar” businesses that invest in communities and hire local residents, said City of Kenai Finance Director Terry Eubanks. “We’d like to see that all retailers are treated the same,” said Eubanks, saying the online retailers’ tax-exempt status gives them an advantage over local businesses collecting a 6 percent sales tax, half for the city and the other half for the Kenai Peninsula Borough. The decision “could be one of the of most significant cases to impact Alaska cities in recent years,” said Thomas, who is pursuing the new funding source along with the city attorney. “We are working on recommendations to bring to city council regarding how to legislatively address this issue locally and at the state level, if needed,” he said. Unalaska’s city attorney, Brooks Chandler, in Anchorage, said other local governments with sales taxes are interested, and while the Supreme Court decision specifically applies to state taxes, the principle is likely the same. “The underlying reasoning and logic would appear to apply to a local sales tax as well,” Chandler said. For municipalities with a sales tax already in place, a new online sales tax does not require a vote of the people, Chandler said. But if the state’s biggest city wanted to tax Amazon sales, that would require referendum approval, because Anchorage does not have a local sales tax, he said. Alaska Municipal League Executive Director Nils Andreasson said nearly every local government in the state is interested, but there are “a lot of unknowns.” “There’s a lot of information gathering yet to be done,” including financial figures on how much Alaskans spend online, Andreasson said. AML’s finance directors’ association is working closely on the issue, he said. AML lobbies the state Legislature on behalf of its member city and borough governments, and is the umbrella group for associations of specialized local officials including harbormasters, city clerks and finance directors. At a June City Council meeting, Unalaska Mayor Frank Kelty noted that an online purchase tax would add to the costs local residents pay when shopping online. Amazon is a popular shopping choice in the Aleutian Islands community, as evidenced by the empty cardboard boxes discarded at the Dutch Harbor Post Office, and customers leaving the building carrying stacks of boxed online purchases of a wide variety of products. Thomas said that while Alaska has no state sales tax, Unalaska has a 3 percent local sales tax which was applied to $7 million in purchases in the last calendar year. “Recently, I discovered that Unalaska generated $3.2 million in online sales last calendar year. We are getting no sales tax from these purchases,” Thomas said. At the 3 percent tax rate, that would have meant $96,000 in local revenues. In overturning the ban on states collecting taxes from companies without a physical in-state presence, the Supreme Court’s majority opinion cited the “internet revolution” in rejecting an “artificial, anachronistic rule that deprives states of vast revenues from major businesses,” according to the decision viewed online at supremecourt.gov/opinions. In the 5-4 majority were justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Dissenting were Chief Justice John Roberts, Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayer and Stephen Breyer. Jim Paulin can be reached at [email protected]

Salmon struggles extend to unprecedented restrictions at Chignik

A tough sockeye salmon commercial fishing season is shaping up in the Gulf of Alaska, from the Copper River across to Kodiak Island and back to the mainland at Chignik. And the Yukon River is seeing dismal chinook salmon returns, although the summer chum run is strong. “I haven’t put my net in the water once,” complained Chignik purse seiner Roger Rowland on June 26. “It’s literally the worst run ever.” Rowland commented from the fishing district on his cellphone, via teleconference in an Unalaska City Council meeting, about 300 miles to the southwest where he lives, during a break between votes. Rowland, a longtime seiner, city councilor and boat repairman, said he was hoping for better results from the second lake in the river system. Earlier in the month, the Chignik crisis prompted an unprecedented emergency order restricting a neighboring fishery from Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten. “Since statehood there has never been this low of an escapement of sockeye salmon at this time through the Chignk weir,” Cotten wrote on June 18. That’s nearly 60 years ago, since Alaska became a state in 1959. ADFG tracks fish passing though the two-gated weir in the river, using video cameras, counted for 10 minutes of every hour by ADFG staff viewing indoor monitors at the remote site on the western side of the Alaska Peninsula. Cotten’s emergency order slashed the hours for commercial fishing in neighboring Area M/South Alaska Peninsula, including Sand Point, King Cove, and False Pass, because Chignik salmon migrate through those areas, traveling northeast back to where they were born about four years earlier in freshwater. “That’s never been done before,” said ADFG Biologist Lisa Fox in Sand Point. Fishing periods in the South Peninsula waters were reduced to 40 hours, down from the normal 88-hour openers, as conservation measures to protect Chignik salmon. While the Area M fleet is catching fish this year, it’s nothing like the amazing previous season. “Last year was a pretty phenomenal year for sockeye, for everything, really,” said Fox. In 2017, the seiners, gillnet boats and setnetters landed 1.76 million sockeye, well above the 10-year average of 1.19 million. As of June 25, the catch stood at 671,000 reds, substantially below average. “This year’s sockeye harvest has been very low,” Fox said, although the chum salmon harvest is strong. The sockeye harvest total increased a few days later to 877,640 on June 28 for Area M. According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s commercial harvest strategy for 2018, the Chignik River watershed is managed with an early run to Black Lake, and a late run to Chignik Lake. The early run to Black Lake, in the interior of the peninsula, was forecast at 844,000 sockeye, or red, salmon. The harvest was projected at 448,000 reds. The Chignik harvest strategy document, written by state fisheries biologist Dawn Wilburn, said the early run typically peaks in late June. The late run goes to Chignik Lake, closer to the ocean, with a forecasted run of about 900,000, and a projected catch of 563,000 fish. Last year, Chignik fisherman caught a total of about 1 million sockeye, accounting for 45 percent of the total paid to salmon fishermen of $15.8 million, with 41 percent of the ex-vessel dollars paid for pink salmon. The 67 permit holders fishing in 2017 earned an average of $236,000, including kings, chums and coho. “It’s all hypothetical, but it’s probably related to the warm ocean conditions,” Wilbur said. Earlier this salmon season, disappointing sockeye and chinook salmon returns were reported at another Gulf of Alaska salmon fishery, Copper River, on the east side of the gulf, about 500 miles away. Sport, dipnet and commercial fishing were all closed in response. The poor returns were attributed to the “blob” that raised water temperatures several degrees between 2014 and 2016, the same phenomenon linked to an 80 percent cut in the Pacific cod commercial fishing quota in the gulf this year. The Copper River harvest, limited to just three fishing periods in mid-May before being shut down, is the second-lowest in the past 50 years. In Kodiak, the major river systems had met escapement goals, but commercial salmon fishermen weren’t catching very many fish despite the same amount of boats as usual, according to biologist Jeff Spalinger, who called any link to water temperatures “speculative.” On June 27, ADFG reported a sockeye harvest of 102,000 thousand, and in a normal year the Kodiak catch would be closer to a half million. The Yukon River is closed to commercial king salmon fishing, and subsistence times have been reduced, in a run that’s looking like the poor season of 2015. “It looks like a weak run at this point,” said Wayne Jenkins, of the Yukon River Drainage Fisheries Association. But in a bright note, the summer chum salmon run is “very robust,” he said. The 2015 season had the second poorest Yukon king harvest on record, and the worst catch was the year before, in 2014, according to Holly Carroll of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Emmonak. “The return is below average, and it appears to be below the preseason forecast,” Carroll said. ^ Jim Paulin can be reached at [email protected]

GCI seeks customers as it considers Aleutians fiber network

UNALASKA — Whether undersea or underground, the mixture of water and telecommunications is a continuing challenge for GCI’s TERRA Aleutian Program, aimed at improving internet and cellphone service in one of the most remote areas of Alaska. The telecommunications company is proposing an 869-mile underwater fiber optic cable route, along the south side of the Alaska Peninsula, stretching from Kodiak to Chignik and ending in Unalaska/Dutch Harbor. TERRA stands for Terrestrial for Every Rural Region in Alaska, and the company has completed its Southwest and Northwest projects that have connected 45,000 residents in 84 towns and villages. Bringing in Akutan, Cold Bay, False Pass, Chignik Lake, Chignik Lagoon, Sand Point and King Cove, the new route connects more people to high speed internet, compared to the former plan offshore of the north side of the peninsula, according to GCI Vice President Dan Boyette, the general manager of the TERRA Aleutian Program. The southern route, crossing the Shelikoff Strait from Kodiak Island’s Larsen Bay to the mainland at Chignik, is spendier than the $40 million previously proposed for the northern path leaving the mainland in Levelock, and top corporate officials still haven’t committed to laying hundreds miles of sunken cable. Kodiak gets the internet by subsea cable from the Kenai Peninsula, a more reliable delivery system than the satellites up in the air over the Aleutian Islands. It would bring significantly faster Internet connections, compared to the pokey satellite-based system now in place. “Backups and updates will take minutes, not days,” according to Anchorage-based GCI. Whether TERRA Aleutian pencils out is still unknown, though promising. “We don’t have the go-ahead yet,” Boyette said of the plan to greatly increase bandwidth. “We’re still in the approval process.” Already, GCI has spent $2.5 million planning the TERRA Aleutian project. Boyette said he is seeking five-year commitments from potential customers in the fishing and transportation industries. Already, seafood companies Unisea and Trident have pledged support, he said, among 15 businesses operating in the region between Chignik and Unalaska/Dutch Harbor, he said. If the project finds enough support, onshore work would start this year, and offshore cable laying would follow for the next two years. The planned completion date is Sept. 30, 2020. And with those commitments, the business plan is advancing into its final stages, he said. The latest big challenge is working with the Federal Communications Commission on internet services for rural health facilities, he said, and hopes that regulatory issue will be completed by the end of summer. 4G LTE activated Meanwhile, absent the subsea cable, faster service has come to Unalaska, even with satellites, from new antennas and towers bringing 4G LTE service. With 4G LTE, customers can access the internet on cellphones, a big improvement over the old 2G system, limited to voice and texts. But with 4G LTE up and running, that should take some pressure off the 2G service, leading to better voice communications, he said. But even on land, water is still a problem. The proposed cell tower in Unalaska Valley has been delayed again and again. This time it’s groundwater too close to a city drinking water supply. Last time it was neighborhood complaints on Stewart Road, for health concerns involving radio waves which are not grounds for denial per federal law, though impacts on nearby property values are a valid reason for local authorities to nix a cell tower, which the city council did on an appeal of the planning commission’s approval last year. Local resident Rufina Shaishnikoff opposed the tower adjacent to her property. The replacement site presented its own problems, with health concerns outside the jurisdiction of the Federal Communications Commission, but within the range of veto power of local authorities backed up by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. GCI had to redesign the foundation for the tower on the city pipeyard site on East Broadway, because it’s within 200 feet of a city water well, according to Unalaska Department of Public Works Director Tom Cohenour. The new foundation would have been shallower than originally proposed, when it descended 19 feet to bedrock, below the water table eight feet down from the surface. The shallow foundation would have employed a 40 by 40-foot layer of buried geofoam, secured on the surface by big concrete weights. And now even that’s site been abandoned, because of the watery subsurface conditions. City Engineer Robert Lund informed GCI of the city water utility’s fears of contamination of the “relatively shallow” well. “Their concern is surface water intrusion where deep or driven pile foundations could act as a preferential pathway for surface waters or drilling fluids to enter Well 1A,” Lund wrote in a Nov. 22 memo. DEC’s Daniel A. Reichardt agreed, saying digging down to bedrock “presents a significant temporary risk of contamination of the aquifer.” He recommended that the well not provide drinking water during construction activities. The site was located across the street from the Unalaska Department of Public Works, on land leased from the city. And now, that site won’t work at all because the water table remains too high for a tower foundation. “We’ve decided to skip it, and we’re back to the drawing board looking for another location,” Boyette said on June 13. The new site will once again be in the residential neighborhood of Unalaska Valley, where GCI hopes to finally find a third site where a tower can finally rise. The issues with with the Valley site near the city drinking water well could have shutdown the seafood processing industry in the nation’s top volume fishing port, according to a scenario Cohenour spelled out in a letter to GCI. Basically, he described a perfect storm situation, with wind stirring up mud in the Pyramid Valley reservoir, in a region with the some of the world’s strongest winds, the Aleutian Islands, known as the “cradle of storms.” “During the seafood processing seasons a simultaneous shut down of well 1A and the Pyramid Valley System will shut down fish processing. Wind events regularly cause temporary shutdowns of the Pyramid Valley System due to high turbidity. If well 1A is is compromised the only solution is to replace it or install filtration and unknown impacts to the seafood industry,” he wrote in a Jan. 17 letter to GCI’s Cyndi Coughlin. But other 4G LTE tower projects are going well, Boyette said. That’s the new structure on Captains Bay Road at the private dock operator Offshore Sytems Inc., and new equipment on the existing tower on Haystack, a prominent hill overlooking the community. Unalaska is working with GCI as it seeks to install an underground wiring network. Boyette said GCI plans to develop a cable television service for residents, and that will mean the company will have a higher profile locally with trucks and more workers. Jim Paulin can be reached at [email protected]

Fight over America’s Finest vessel part of bigger processor battle

UNALASKA — The mothershippers are fighting with the groundfish shoreplants in a politicized Bering Sea commercial fishing tussle reaching all the way to Washington, D.C. The battle over Pacific cod pits the factory trawlers of the Amendment 80 fleet against Alaska shoreplants and local governments. And in February, it pitted two local governments against each other. A delegation of municipal and business leaders from Anacortes, Wash., traveled to the Aleutian Islands to ask the Unalaska City Council to reverse itself but didn’t change anybody’s mind. The brand spanking new factory trawler America’s Finest remains stranded in an Anacortes, Wash., shipyard, unable to fish in the United States because it hasn’t received a waiver from the Jones Act. The ship was built with too much foreign steel in its hull, a Jones Act violation, and it may be sold at a loss, probably to Russia. The Jones Act, which is intended to protect American ship-building and jobs, allows for no more than 1.5 percent foreign steel in a vessel. The America’s Finest has 7.5 percent. The visitors from Washington state asked the Unalaska City Council to stop asking the U.S. Congress to prohibit the stranded factory trawler from buying cod at sea in a practice known as mothershipping. Earlier, Unalaska Mayor Frank Kelty sent the Alaska congressional delegation a letter urging “sideboard” restrictions on offshore cod deliveries from catcher vessels attached to any Jones Act waiver. Now, the state-of-the-art $74 million flatfish factory trawler commissioned by the company Fishermen’s Finest can’t fish in the U.S., unless it gets a waiver. If the vessel can’t fish in the U.S., the fishing company won’t pay, leaving the shipyard with a huge loss and major negative impacts on the Anacortes economy, especially the 375 “family wage” welder and other skilled jobs in Anacortes. The visiting delegation included the mayor of Anacortes, Laurie Gere; the president of Fisherman’s Finest, Dennis Moran; and Dick Nelson, the owner of the shipyard Dakota Creek Industries. Nelson said the error occurred after shipyard officials overlooked “fine print” in federal rules that he said were “almost impossible to find.” Mayor Gere said Unalaska and Anacortes share a common bond in the boat business, citing the various vessels that work in the Bering Sea that were built in Anacortes, including the Aurora, Auriga, Nordic Viking, and Starbound. “We truly are connected,” she said. Moran said that Unalaska’s request for cod restrictions could block the waiver. He asked the city to reconsider, and allow the issue to be worked out at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. The floor of the U.S. Senate, he said, is a bad place to solve fisheries problems. Bigger battle The America’s Finest’s problems are part of a bigger “food fight,” as shoreplants and communities including Unalaska and the Aleutians East Borough oppose the fleet of about 17 Amendment 80 factory trawlers acting as motherships, buying cod from catcher boats offshore at the expense of local government revenues and shoreplant profits. (The groundfish fleet is known as the Amendment 80 fleet for the amendment in the Bering Sea fishery management plan that divided up the harvest for the many species among the bottom trawlers that target them.) The Amendment 80 flatfish factory trawlers are different from the larger American Fisheries Act pollock factory trawlers. The shoreplants were well represented at the city council meeting, sending in delegations of top officials and subordinates from Unisea, Westward, Alyeska and Trident. Don Goodfellow of Alyeska Seafoods in Unalaska said that he was sympathetic to Anacortes, but wanted to close a “loophole” in the American Fisheries Act to stop factory trawlers from mothershipping cod. Chris Riley of Trident Seafoods said the factory trawlers are already benefiting from rationalization through Amendment 80, which limits access into their fisheries. They harvest yellowfin sole, rex sole, Greenland turbot, Atka mackerel, Pacific Ocean perch, and idiots and other rockfish. He said rationalization programs aim to curb abuses of overcapitalization, now being perpetrated by the mothershippers. He said Trident strongly supports Congressional restrictions. “We think it needs to be done now,” Riley said. Sinclair Wilt of Alyeska Seafoods complained of cod catcher vessels stopping deliveries to shoreplants mid-season, and delivering offshore. That caused shoreplants to shut down cod processing lines early, he said. Speaking in support of the America’s Finest were Mark Horn of Sundance Stevedoring, of Unalaska, and Layton Wolf of Coastal Transportation, which operates a fleet of freighters with a big local dock. Wolf said Dakota Creek Industries is vital to maintaining the Bering Sea fishing fleet. Fishermen’s Finest Chief Vessel Officer Kristian Uri praised the new high-tech factory trawler as a necessary upgrade to the company’s aging two-boat fleet. Fisherman’s Finest owns two aging factory trawlers, the U.S. Intrepid and the American No. 1. The America’s Finest was intended to replace the two aging vessels, each about 40 years old, according to the company, which complains that Trident Seafood is in weak position to criticize Jones Act waivers. Both the company and Horn said Trident’s yacht, the Annandale, received a Jones Act waiver. The company calls the pleasure craft a “lobbying vessel.” Unalaska Mayor Kelty, with the city council’s approval, sent the state’s congressional delegation a letter urging “sideboard” restrictions which would keep the America’s Finest from receiving at-sea deliveries of Pacific cod from catcher vessels. “Alaska’s fishery dependent communities depend on catcher vessel deliveries to shoreplants,” Kelty wrote. During the pollock battles of the 1990s, the onshore and offshore sectors would encourage their various vendors and contractors to provide lobbying support. The pollock inshore-offshore battles ended with the passage of the American Fisheries Act, which established permanent quotas for the various sectors and guaranteed 50 percent of the pollock harvest would be delivered to shoreside plants. In a case of history repeating itself, one of Fisherman’s Finest’s local contractors in Unalaska is stepping up to the plate for the company. Horn, owner of Sundance Stevedoring, said the company is a major customer of his Unalaska cargo handling business. Horn said he’s spent $250,000 on new equipment to offload the state-of-the-art vessel. He views the restrictions sought by Kelty as part of an attempt to stifle competition by the big processing companies onshore. Unalaska Vice Mayor Dennis Robinson urged the denial of any waiver, saying the Jones Act protects communities. Horn countered that the community of Anacortes stands to lose big if the Dakota Creek shipyard fails should the vessel not be allowed to fish in the U.S. Horn said he’s been lobbying Congress in support of the America’s Finest. More recently, Horn, a Wasilla resident, said he plans to run for U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan’s seat, because of the factory trawler issue. The factory trawler company has recently posted vessel jobs on local bulletin boards in Unalaska. The same proposed sideboard restrictions favored by shoreplants opposed to Amendment 80 factory trawlers serving as cod motherships are also under consideration by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. Fishermen’s Finest fires back Unalaska opposes a loss of local fish tax revenues from offshore cod processing. Kelty is also angry about Fisherman’s Finest’s efforts to repeal the state’s resource landing tax, a 3 percent tax imposed on factory trawlers and split between the state and local governments. “This tax has been very important to communities such as Unalaska that are impacted by the offshore fleet’s use of area jobs, roads, docks, airports, clinic and jails,” Kelty said in the letter to Sullivan, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, and U.S. Rep. Don Young. Fisherman’s Finest complained that their tax appeal was leaked to the news media in a statement from a Seattle public relations firm. “Regarding the tax issue, Fishermen’s Finest’s engagement with the Alaska Department of Revenue is, like all tax cases, confidential and not subject to public disclosure under Alaska statutes, and disclosure of any such information by an agent of the state subjects the perpetrator to a punishment of two years in prison and $5,000 fine,” the company stated. “Mayor Kelty knows this. Further, Mayor Kelty knows full well that he is using confidential tax documents that were illegally stolen from the files of the Alaska State Department of Revenue to unfairly advance his personal position on this issue. The entire matter is still subject to a protective order and Mayor Kelty knows perfectly well he should not be discussing it.” But the company does have its issues with the fish tax. “However, on the general subject of fish taxes: Mindful of the importance of the revenue from the landing tax to the State of Alaska, Fishermen’s Finest has advocated that the Fisheries Landing and Business Taxes be repealed in favor of a single Commercial Fisheries Marine Fuel Tax,” the company stated. “The current fisheries landing and business tax structure has deep flaws, including exorbitant compliance cost, rampant cheating, uncertain revenue due to variable fish pricing, and the fact that very little of the revenue actually goes to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to pay for fisheries management costs.” The statement went on to call the shoreside plants and the vessels the companies own a “cartel.” “The America’s Finest is an Amendment 80 replacement vessel and Amendment 80 is a rationalized fishery. These vessels are prohibited by existing law from mothershipping pollock in the Bering Sea, cod and pollock in the Gulf of Alaska. In any case, mothershipping requires the cooperation of independent catcher vessels. Eighty-three percent of the catcher-vessel fleet is either owned or controlled by foreign-owned and Seattle-based shoreside processor companies who would never deliver fish to an Amendment 80 mothership. “That means we’re only talking about 20 independent vessels, so there is no real threat to shoreside Alaska communities. The sideboards would force these vessels to deliver to the shoreside cartel, at lowball prices dictated by that cartel.” Jim Paulin can be reached at [email protected]

Pollock and salmon projected for big year in 2018

Next year is looking like another big one for pollock in the Bering Sea and sockeye salmon in Bristol Bay. But times are tough for cod fishermen, especially in the Gulf of Alaska. At its December meeting in Anchorage, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council increased the already huge Bering Sea pollock quota to 1.345 million metric tons for 2018, up from 1.34 million mt in 2017. That’s good news for the pollock-dependent community of Unalaska for local revenues and jobs. Pollock is the fish that annually makes the Aleutian Islands community the nation’s No. 1 port in volume. For the 20th year in a row, Unalaska/Dutch Harbor was the nation’s top fish port with 770 million pounds of seafood landings in 2016, primarily pollock, which accounted for nearly 90 percent of that total, according to a Nov. 1 report from the National Marine Fisheries Service. In the Gulf of Alaska, the cod quota declined by 85 percent, from 64,442 metric tons in 2017 to 13,096 mt for 2018. That greatly impacts Kodiak, and King Cove and Sand Point in the Aleutians East Borough. The Gulf pollock quota is also down significantly, from 208,595 metric tons, or mt, in 2017, to 166,228 mt in 2018. Pacific cod also declined in the much larger Bering Sea fishery, from 239,000 metric tons this year to 188,136 mt for 2018. Cod trawlers are complaining of a race for fish, and some now want to restrict entry into the catcher vessel fishery. Atka mackerel stocks are up in the Bering Sea, a commercially important species to the factory trawlers in the Amendment 80 bottom trawl fleet. The quota for the little striped fish was set at 65,000 mt in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands in 2017, but will see an increase in 2018 to 71,000 metric tons. In another big Bering Sea fishery targeting rather small flatfish, the yellowfin sole quota is unchanged at 154,000 mt for the Amendment 80 boats. Atka mackerel and yellowfin sole are shipped mainly to Asian markets. Cod crash The Pacific cod quotas for 2018 are down in the Bering Sea, but the decline is not nearly as drastic as in the Gulf of Alaska, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. It’s the difference between a 16 percent drop in state waters in the Bering Sea, and an 80 percent decline in the Gulf’s nearshore fishery. State waters extend to three miles offshore. Last season, 24 vessels 58 feet long or less fished for Pacific cod with pots in the Dutch Harbor subdistrict, where there’s no limit on the number of boats. Expect more when the season opens early next year, according to Miranda Westphal, of ADFG in Unalaska/Dutch Harbor. “We’re expecting to see more boats fishing in the Aleutian Islands and Dutch Harbor subdistrict fisheries,” Westphal said. The Dutch Harbor quota is 28.4 million pounds, and the Aleutian Islands’ is 12.8 million, for a total of about 41 million pounds in state waters, according to the Dec. 14 announcement. That’s more than the entire 2018 Gulf-wide quota of 9.8 million pounds for small cod boats, an enormous drop from 48.4 million pounds in 2017. ADFG Biologist Nathaniel Nichols in Kodiak said the cod crash is probably the worst in the history of relatively-recent state waters fisheries, which date back to the 1990s. The alarming Gulf cod numbers prompted an outreach message to fishermen from the North Pacific council. “The Pacific cod stock in the Gulf of Alaska has drastically declined. Scientific information suggests that this decline is the result of an unusually warm mass of water (the ‘blob’) that persisted from 2014 through 2016. The warm water increased the metabolism of cod while reducing available food, resulting in poor body condition and increased mortality,” according to the council. “The warm water also impacted cod egg production and larval survival, greatly reducing recruitment during these years. The lower number of adult and juvenile cod will affect the population and fishery for several years to come. Management of Gulf of Alaska cod is now focused on maintaining the spawning stock and increasing the likelihood that the fishery will remain viable in the future. Accordingly, catch limits for Pacific cod were set at very low amounts for 2018 and 2019.” The council sets the federal offshore quota, using the same information that determine state waters quotas. Bristol Bay megaharvest? Sockeye salmon gillnetters with boats and setnets are looking at another big year, with a Bristol Bay run forecast at 51.3 million sockeye and harvest levels of 37.6 million fish for the bay’s five commercial fishing districts, and another 1.5 million for the South Peninsula, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The catch is projected at 35 percent above the average recent 10-year average of 28.9 million fish. One of the five districts, the Nushagak, near Dillingham, had a record-breaking year in 2017, with 12.3 million sockeye harvested from a run of 20 million fish, far exceeding the forecast of 8.4 million. The fish flood swamped both Nushagak boats and buyers. Four boats, heavily laden with salmon, partially submerged during a storm. And the overwhelmed processors limited the size of salmon deliveries from boats, limiting fishermen’s incomes. The Nushagak is projected as Bristol Bay’s biggest producer in 2018, with a run of 21.8 million and a catch of 18.5 million red salmon, a result again of the extremely productive 2013 brood year. The second-biggest catch of 8.9 million fish is forecast for the Naknek-Kvichak District, in the Bristol Bay Borough, from a projected run of 16.6 million fish. In the Egegik District, the waters of Lake Becharof are expected to produce a run of 9.12 million, with 7.45 million to fishermen. The Ugashik District run is prognosticated at 2.87 million fish, with a catch of 2.06 million. Togiak’s run is projected at 860,000 reds, with a harvest of 610,000. These, of course, are just predictions, as the Nushagak’s stunning performance attested last year. “Forecasting future salmon runs is inherently difficult and uncertain,” according to the authors, ADFG researchers Greg Buck and Katie Sechrist. Jim Paulin can be reached at [email protected]

Bering Sea cod conflict brewing between on and offshore buyers

“Cod Alley” is getting crowded, and some fishermen want to limit the boats in the narrow congested fishing area in the Bering Sea. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council is looking at changes, including restricting flatfish factory trawlers from buying cod offshore. The Pacific Seafood Processors Association is pushing for restrictions on factory trawlers to protect its members’ shore plants in Unalaska, Akutan, King Cove and Sand Point. According to the PSPA’s Nicole Kimball, seven factory trawlers bought cod from 17 catcher boats in 2017, up from just one factory trawler that traditionally participated in prior years. The Amendment 80 factory trawlers act as motherships, processing but not catching the Pacific cod. “The share delivered to motherships increased from 3.3 percent in 2016 to 12.7 percent in 2017, while shoreside processors had a reciprocal decline. This is a meaningful shift. At this point it is open-ended, and there is nothing to prevent future growth in this activity,” Kimball testified at the council’s December meeting in Anchorage. Local government representatives shared the shoreplants’ concerns, citing a loss of tax revenues needed for schools and other services. On a smaller scale, it’s reminiscent of the inshore-offshore battle in the pollock fishery about 20 years ago. “This is a big deal,” said Unalaska Mayor Frank Kelty. “It looks like we’ve got trouble coming down the road again.” Cod is Unalaska’s second-most important product, behind pollock, he said. From 2013 to mid 2017, Kelty said Pacific cod landings brought in $4.8 million in taxes to Unalaska-Dutch Harbor. That includes $1.9 million in local sales taxes, and $2.9 million in state business taxes shared with the city. The average price-per-pound averaged between 24 cents in 2015, to a high of 33 cents in 2014, according to Kelty’s figures. The most recent price was 31 cents per pound. Ernie Weiss, the natural resources director of the Aleutians East Borough, said he wanted every pound of fish to cross the docks in the borough, which includes King Cove, Akutan, Sand Point, and False Pass. “We fully support the onshore processing of Bering Sea Pacific cod,” Weiss testified. The Amendment 80 fleet comprises the bottom-trawl factory trawlers that don’t target pollock, but instead net sole, perch, and Atka mackerel. Defenders of the offshore buyers included Jim Stone, owner of the catcher vessel Ocean Hunter. “Motherships offer another market,” he said, saying the onshore sector is dominated by three major buyers. Two of the cod-buying factory trawlers are owned by Fisherman’s Finest, and company official Annika Saltman said they help preserve a competitive market. One catcher vessel temporarily delivered to a mothership only because a shoreplant’s cod facility was closed for renovations, but will return to the onshore sector, Saltman testified. Kimball said the shoreplants also provide a competitive cod market. Trident Seafoods’ Joe Plesha complained the rationalized Amendment 80 fleet “disrupts other fisheries” by buying cod offshore. Various ideas were floated for limiting catcher vessel participation in the Bering Sea cod fishery, including controversial catch shares or individual fishing quotas. Weiss said he was “not a big fan” of catch shares. IFQs are not among the alternatives the council will consider next year. The purpose and need statement, approved unanimously, includes limiting cod trawling to vessels actually fishing in various years between 2010 and 2017. Essentially, this would create a limited entry program within a limited entry program. Bering Sea cod fishing is already limited to boats with fishing licenses. Some of those boats don’t usually participate, but can when prices are high or stocks are low in their usual fisheries. Brent Paine, the executive director of United Catcher Boats, said something needs to be done to regulate fishing in the congested area with increasingly shorter seasons. He predicted a three-week season in 2018. “This is the last unrationalized fishery in the eastern Bering Sea,” Paine said. “If you don’t do anything, we’re all going to be losers.” However, Paine said his group is not opposed to the Amendment 80 fleet buying cod offshore. While the shoreplants are actively opposed, the factory trawler fleet’s trade association, Groundfish Forum, is staying out of the fish fight. Executive Director Chris Woodley said his members don’t all agree on the issue, so the group is neutral. The Forum represents five companies owning about 17 factory trawlers. The crowded cod fishing grounds known as “Cod Alley” and the “Breadline” are located off the northern coast of Unimak Island. Paine said the active fishing area is 1.5 miles long by 40 miles wide. Cod fisherman Steve Beard of the fishing vessel Golden Pisces said his revenues are down 50 percent in the past two years, because of the competition. “I don’t want to be a Walmart greeter. I just want to fish cod,” Beard said. His passion for cod was acknowledged by two council advisory panel members, Jerry Downing and Sinclair Wilt, who each said he’s known as the “Codfather.” Twice, Beard said he’s entangled his fishing gear with other vessels. He called on the federal regulators to “stop the Olympic-style fishery that’s going on, and try to control it.” “It’s turning into a parking lot,” said council member Craig Cross. Fisherman Dan Martin of the trawler Commodore described the fishery as chaotic. But one council advisory panel member accepts chaos. “Chaos in the fishery, that’s competitive fishing,” said Patrick O’Donnell. After much discussion, the council established “a control date of Dec. 31, 2017 that may be used as a reference date for a future management action to limit catcher processors from acting as motherships in the Bering Sea Aleutian Islands trawl catcher vessel Pacific cod fishery.” Jim Paulin can be reached at [email protected]

Fiber-laying ship calls on internet-starved Aleutians

UNALASKA — Though the historic underwater fiber optic cable in Alaska’s Arctic Ocean was ceremonially acknowledged earlier this year, one more link awaits. And a big ship from France is on its way to finish the job, delayed by sea ice last year. In April, the Alaska congressional delegation of Rep. Don Young and Sens. Lisa Murkowksi and Dan Sullivan attended a ribbon-cutting hosted by Quintillion in Deadhorse on the North Slope celebrating 92 percent completion. Later this year, by Dec. 1, the Anchorage-based fiberoptic cable company plans to actually complete the project’s Phase 1, to bring fast internet to northern coastal communities including Barrow, Kotzebue and Nome. The data travels at the ultra-fast rate of 30 terabits per second. Quintillion spokesman Tim Woolston said just 8 percent of the connection to Nome remains to be completed with the laying of fiber optic cable from Point Oliktok just offshore from Prudhoe Bay to a connection 40 miles out in the Arctic Ocean. That’s where internet cable already laid on land from Fairbanks will finally connect with the round-the-horn of northern Alaska subsea cable project. Phases 2 and 3 in future years will make history as the first intercontinental cable, nearly 10,000 miles between England, North America and Japan. The final product will realize a hope for transcontinental underwater communications dating back two centuries, according to Anchorage historian Mike Dunham. “In a way it’s completing William Seward’s dream from the 1860s of connecting Alaska, Asia and Europe by telegraph line. Wait long enough and the wildest notions of the prescient can become real,” observed Dunham, the author of a recent book on Seward, a major figure in Alaska’s history as the architect of the state’s purchase from Russia. Farther south, in the Aleutian Islands, they’re still waiting for internet that’s significantly faster than a telegraph wire. Once again a big fiber optic cable-laying ship stopped over in Unalaska-Dutch Harbor for crew changes and refueling, on its way to the Arctic. And maybe, just maybe, Unalaska might get hooked up in a future year. In late June, the cable ship Ile de Batz was in Unalaska operated by the French telecommunications firm Alcatel Lucent, which manufactured the cable in France. It’s the same as the two sister ships that called last year at the nation’s busiest fishing port in the Aleutian Islands. Representatives of Quintillion and its partners, Arctic Slope Regional Corp., Alaska Directional Drilling, and Alaska Communications Systems, took the vessel tour after flying 800 miles from Anchorage. Unalaska City Manager David Martinson, who has toured all three vessels, said he is “cautiously optimistic” Quintillion will bring subsea fiber optic cable to Unalaska. Quintilion is reviewing potential new sites in Alaska, and Unalaska is among them, said Quintillion Vice President for External Affairs Kristina Woolston, during the vessel tour. She said she hopes a decision will be announced later this year. The Alaska phase is just the start of Quintillion’s ambitious tri-continent cable project. The Alaska-based company next plans to lay cable east to England and west to Japan. An earlier scenario called for a spur to Seattle from the Asian route, with cable headed east from the vicinity of Attu Island. An Unalaska cable might split off from the Seattle line, directly south of the island. While that potential route to Unalaska would cross the depths of the Aleutian Trench, a Quintillion subsea engineer said it’s a simple matter of laying enough cable up and down the trench. Internet speeds in Unalaska are so painfully slow that the best computer code describing the agony is the old-school print media substitute for bad language, as in %#*)&@!!!! And yet there it was, like looking at something nice through a store window that you can’t afford: The solution, all wound up and ready for installation someplace else, way up north, on display in Unalaska-Dutch Harbor for two years in a row inside a huge, 400-foot-plus ship carrying miles of fiber optic cable. Martinson is determined to find a way to bring fast broadband internet service to the Aleutians, where he said last year that the speed is so slow as to prevent encryption, which enables secure electronic messaging. His goal, he said, is to connect Unalaska to Quintillion’s network, though that depends on their business plans. Quintillion CEO Elizabeth Pierce acknowledged Martinson’s interest and familiarity with the technology. “He can now give the tour on the vessel,” she quipped last year. Last summer, Quintillion laid about 1,100 miles of subsea cable from Prudhoe Bay to Barrow, Wainwright, Point Hope and Kotzebue south through the Bering Straits to Nome. On the ocean floor, a plow digs a narrow trench, which self-seals when dirt collapses over the cable. The remote-controlled plow is slowly towed from the ship at less than a mile an hour, a half knot or slower. It looks like a giant sled from a science fiction movie, about 35-feet-long and weighing 35 tons. For underwater maintenance, a tracked, remotely operated vehicle is guided by shipboard technicians monitoring screens. The proposed Asian route was an issue at the December 2015 meeting of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, when fishing industry officials worried about trawl nets and other fishing gear snagging subsea cable in the Bering Sea. Fishing gear causes the “vast majority” of damage to underwater cable, Quintillion’s subsea cable engineer told the fishing industry representatives, adding that the burial of the cable several feet under the sea floor should keep the two industries from getting fouled up. Pierce said that in Alaska, ice scouring is a much bigger issue than fishing gear hitting the cable. The fishing industry voiced concerns at the Anchorage Hilton meeting two years ago, with advocates from the various sectors seated side-by-side at the testimony table, including Stephanie Madsen of the At-Sea Processors Association, freezer longliner representative Chad See, and Brent Paine of United Catcher Boats. Seattle fisheries attorney James Mize organized the industry presentation. A big selling point for the Arctic route is the absence of war in the peaceful region, and while Pierce said sometimes cables are damaged deliberately by sabotage, that’s more of a problem in the Middle East. Shipboard project manager Per Lundgaard led last month’s vessel tour, including a visit to the “jointing room,” where thin strands of fiber optic cable are spliced together. “I’m still amazed at what can go through a fiber,” he said marveling at the data capacity. As a technician carefully wiped the fibers with alcohol cleaning fluid, Lundgaard said, “that’s the only alcohol on board, by the way.” The project, Pierce said, is destined for a television audience on the History Channel, sponsored by the producers of Modern Marvels. Last year, a videographer was onboard a cable ship for the documentary movie. Jim Paulin can be reached a [email protected]

Unalaskans react to Shell decision to quit Arctic

UNALASKA — No more Shell, no more oil rigs passing through Unalaska after this year, at least for a while. The local reactions were disappointment, delight and indifference, after the oil giant announced it was canceling offshore oil exploration in the Arctic Ocean for the “foreseeable future.” Shell’s boats and rigs have been stopping over in the Aleutian Islands port as they traveled back and forth during the summer drilling seasons. Shell announced its decision Sept. 27, following disappointing results from its one drill hole, the Burger J well in the Chukchi Sea north of Barrow, more than 1,000 miles from Unalaska. “As far as the City of Unalaska goes, Shell is just another customer here,” said Unalaska City Manager Donald Moore. Moore said the city earned some extra money with a $6,000 monthly airport lease, plus an undetermined amount of port revenues when the oil fleet tied up at city docks. Moore compared Shell’s impacts to the cruise ship Celebrity Millennium two weeks ago, when thousands of passengers and crew surged into town. They came, they spent money, and they left. “We’ll just adjust accordingly,” he said. Unalaska city officials are now calling the subarctic town an “Arctic portal,” a verbal retreat from when their angry pontifications about not being considered an “Arctic port” for federal funding purposes. “It’s a little bit disappointing for a lot of people,” said Unalaska city council member and Unisea President Tom Enlow. Enlow was referring to various support sector businesses that were looking forward to making a lot more money if Shell had a successful drilling season and especially landlords looking to triple their rental rates if large numbers of oil workers moved to town, squeezing an already tight housing market. On the other hand, it’s a relief to tenants who worried about not have any place to live, if rents shot sky high, he noted. “It’s kind of a mixed bag,” Enlow said, with some hoping for big money, while others feared Big Oil’s impact on the “character of the community.” At the Grand Aleutian Hotel, owned by Unisea, Shell rented a block of about 40 hotel rooms long-term, so they’d be available whenever needed. But if they weren’t needed, the company allowed them to be rented to other customers, he said. One local environmentalist saw divine intervention. “It pays to pray,” said Rufina Shaishnikoff, who said she prayed for “protection of the ocean and all that live in it.” “There’s plenty of oil in other places. We don’t need to be messing up there,” in the Arctic, she said. As for the local economy, it’s doing well because of the fishing industry, she said. And the oil will still be there 20 years from now, when improved technology could allow safer drilling, she said. Another resident thought the aborted drilling plans had more to do with money, saying that a return to $100 per barrel oil prices would bring Shell back in a hurry. Shell also blamed the regulatory climate, which Enlow described as “unfriendly.” The oil company had its own problems, too, keeping its rigs away from beaches. The rig Kulluk ran aground near Kodiak, while transiting from Unalaska to Seattle in 2012. The Noble Discover drifted perilously close to shore near the Dutch Harbor Post Office earlier that year. The support vessel Fennica hit something underwater this summer in Unalaska Bay, gashing its hull. At one major local Shell subcontractor, Offshore Systems Inc., company spokesman Jim Butler, in Kenai, was circumspect about the surprising announcement from Shell, and said he was taking a wait and see approach. “My reaction was, this is early information, and we’ll probably learn more in the next days or weeks,” Butler said. “It’s premature to come up with a concrete impression.” Shell vessels were busy at OSI docks throughout the summer, and more activity is expected soon as the oil fleet demobilizes up north, and passes through Unalaska, according to Butler. He emphasized that Shell is but one customer of OSI, which also services the fishing and marine logistics industry. For instance, OSI services Trident Seafoods’ factory trawlers at its busy site on Captains Bay Road where forklifts are nearly as common as eagles and ravens. “OSI has always been a longterm player,” accustomed to the ups and downs of the industries it serves, Butler said.  As for plans to expand to Adak, Butler said that hasn’t happened yet, but that OSI continues to explore the possibility with The Aleut Corp., which owns much of the island and its former military base about 400 miles west of Unalaska. At a recent city council meeting, Moore said the demobilization will be a little different than the northbound mobilization in early summer, because the southboand boats and rigs won’t surge into town in a short period, but will travel through more gradually.

Unalaska City Council takes informal action on halibut bycatch cuts

UNALASKA — Even without a formal resolution, the Unalaska City Council does agree with the mayor that any cuts to halibut bycatch allowed to trawlers should not exceed 10 percent, according to Mayor Shirley Marquardt. Last week's Journal (May 31 edition) incorrectly reported that she failed to win the city council's support on the issue. The city council unanimously voted April 28 to send her to the June meeting of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in Sitka. The mayor also asked the council to endorse a letter to the NPFMC on the bycatch issue, which she said they did informally later in the meeting, by nodding their heads in agreement. The bycatch issue was not mentioned in the meeting's agenda, and the issue arose during the mayor and council travel agenda item. “It has always been informal. It does not require a resolution,” the mayor said. Said council member Tom Enlow at the meeting, “I'm confused. The motion is to authorize travel, and we've got this letter mixed in with it. If the city wants to make a comment on it, that's great. But I think we should get back to authorizing some travel here, and not get bogged down with the content of response on a particular issue. Some representative of the city has always been at a council meeting.” However, a city representative probably won't attend the Sitka meeting. Marquardt said she's unable to attend due to a scheduling conflicts. And city natural resources analyst Frank Kelty, who usually goes, said he can't attend, as all the hotel rooms are sold out in Sitka.The NPFMC meets June 1 through June 9 in the Southeast Alaska town. At the April 28 meeting, Marquardt called for a halibut bycatch reduction of no more than 10 percent, versus the 50 percent supported by a group of Alaska state legislators. The contentious issue pits small boat fishermen with halibut individual fishing quotas against much larger vessels targeting flounders and cod, but which also catch unintentionally catch halibut which they are not allowed to keep. Much of that halibut bycatch is returned to the ocean dead. The city council did vote to pay her way to the meeting, but avoided the halibut bycatch issue. Alaska state legislators are requesting a 50 percent bycatch reduction aimed at helping small boat halibut fishermen, according to a letter sent last month to the NPFMC,signed by three southwest Alaska politicians, including Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D, Bethel, Rep. Bryce Edgmon, D, Dillingham, and Rep. Bob Herron, D, Bethel, and others. Marquardt and Kelty both warned of a damaging effect on the local economy, if the fish council cuts the Bering Sea halibut bycatch allowance by what Kelty called an “extreme percentage,” with potential impacts in the “millions of dollars.” The fish versus fish battle puts halibut one side, facing off against yellowfin sole and rock sole and turbot and other flatfish, and Pacific ocean perch and Atka mackerel, sold mainly in Asia by the Seattle-based distant water fleet. Kelty said the city had received written requests for support from the Groundfish Forum, representing flatfish factory trawlers, and Fisherman's Finest, the owner of the factory trawlers American No. 1, and U.S. Intrepid.. According to Marquardt's letter addressed to the NPFMC, “If the level is set over a 10 percent reduction, we are very concerned about the impact to the many support sector businesses here in Unalaska as well as a significant drop in our fish tax and sales tax revenues, so critical to our continued economic stability here in the Aleutian Islands.” Marquardt also said the trawlers have already taken significant steps to reduce halibut bycatch, and want to do more. But city council member and small boat fisherman Roger Rowland said halibut fishermen are suffering from declining quotas. “The halibut fleet has done all the conservation,” he said. Marquardt said the issue affects the Amendment 80 fleet of factory trawlers, the freezer longliners which hook and freeze Pacific cod at sea, and cod catcher vessels. “A substantial change in the halibut allowable bycatch numbers for these vessels could be extremely negative to a coastal community that depends on a stable, year round fishing effort. The result of putting at significant risk our current level of local businesses, jobs, and revenue is of great concern to us,” she wrote. The halibut bycatch issue arose earlier at the NPFMC, during the December meeting in Anchorage, with much of the concern coming from small boat halibut fishermen in the Pribilof Islands. Halibut fishermen complained that trawlers are allowed to waste more halibut as bycatch than the small hook and line IFQ boats will be allowed to catch and sell, a policy called “unacceptable” by St. Paul Mayor Simeon Swetzof. Jim Paulin can be reached at [email protected]
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