EDITORIAL: Flint Hills needs full attention

Anyone who thought the announcement that Flint Hills was going to cease production at its North Pole refinery was just a ploy got a smack of reality on May 1. That’s when, just past midnight, production of gasoline ended. It was step one in the shutdown process, which was announced in February. The refinery’s crude production unit will shut down next, no later than June 1 and ending production of jet fuel and other refined products. About 80 jobs are expected to be lost as a result. Flint Hills is more than jobs in this town, however. It sponsors events and supports charitable organizations, lending its name and providing financial support. On April 30, the company once again hosted its annual Golden Heart Heroes luncheon in the Westmark Fairbanks Hotel’s largest conference room to honor several hundred volunteers for their work at numerous organizations. This shutdown is real, and its impact will be great. This wasn’t the first announcement about a shutdown at the refinery, however. It was in April 2012 that Flint Hills announced it was idling one of its two operating refinery units. That was to lead to the layoff of about one-quarter of the company’s local workforce at the time. In a news release about that 2012 shutdown, the company said the decision was based on “challenging economics and rising crude prices.” The situation didn’t change for the better in the subsequent two years. It was compounded, according to Flint Hills officials, by the rising cost of dealing with a groundwater contamination problem that occurred before Flint Hills bought the refinery. Responsibility for the clean up of that mess, which has affected the water of hundreds of homes in the North Pole area, has yet to be resolved. Litigation is under way, but there has been talk of discussions regarding a settlement, which would include the state of Alaska. Ideally, the refinery would be purchased and kept in operation before the shutdown of the crude production unit occurs. Gov. Sean Parnell indicated previously he would not hold a buyer of the plant liable for cleanup costs, a decision that increases the opportunity for a sale. But the clock is clearly running. The shutdown has begun. Any efforts to prevent its finality should take on a heightened effort. This is real.

EDITORIAL: The true Obamacare numbers reveal a failure

On the afternoon of April 1, President Barack Obama pulled out the pom-poms and assumed the role of cheer captain at the White House Rose Garden to celebrate the great Obamacare victory. The Affordable Care Act had reached its purported goal of 7 million sign-ups, and by the March 31 deadline, no less. Not 7 million paid consumers. Not 7 million who were previously uninsured, which we were told was the primary objective of the law. Just 7 million people who at least chose a plan via healthcare.gov or the state exchanges. It was fitting that this pep rally was held on April Fool’s Day. The Obama administration continues to demonstrate an extreme lack of transparency on the president’s signature legislation, particularly with regard to paid enrollment and the number of sign-ups who were previously uninsured. The sad truth about Obamacare: It largely has resulted in a churning of the insured. The law forced the cancellation of coverage for millions of people, who were then forced to buy a new, more expensive, Obamacare-compliant policy. An extensive study released April 8 by Rand Corp. backs that up, estimating that only about one-third of exchange sign-ups were previously uninsured. The Rand study also estimates that, through March 28, 3.9 million people were covered through the federal and state Obamacare exchanges. That’s not exactly 7.1 million. Granted, the study doesn’t include a deadline surge of enrollees, but if it took from Oct. 1 until March 28 to get 3.9 million sign-ups, it stands to reason that there is no way an additional 3.2 million signed up between March 28 and March 31. As for paid enrollees, Forbes.com’s Avik Roy used the Rand study and a report last month from management consulting firm McKinsey to determine that 76 percent of those who have paid their first month’s premium were previously insured, while just 24 percent were previously uninsured. A separate Forbes report estimates that 15 to 20 percent of enrollees haven’t paid. It’s safe to assume that many Americans who visited an exchange and selected a plan left it in their online shopping cart with no intention of ever purchasing it because the premiums, deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs were astronomical. This was not what was promised. As Roy rightly notes, the Congressional Budget Office, in its original estimates, predicted that the vast majority of those eligible for subsidies on the exchanges would be previously uninsured individuals. Instead, the vast majority are previously insured people. The only notable achievement of Obamacare thus far is the expansion of Medicaid (5.9 million added, per Rand), which could have been accomplished without the law. For Americans who had become uninsurable because of disease or a debilitating condition, Obamacare is working. Now they can get health insurance at a reasonable price. But Congress could have helped these people obtain coverage without ruining health care for everybody else. Yet the celebration goes on. With the dubious sign-up goal of 7 million reached, President Obama immediately latched onto the idea that vindication is here, debate is over and repeal is unworthy. The reality is that the Obama administration has made health insurance dramatically more expensive while reducing choice and not substantially reducing the number of uninsured. That’s worth repeal right there. No fooling.

EDITORIAL: Proof that production isn't a priority for Obama

More evidence came out April 18 that President Obama and his administration aren’t big fans of oil and natural gas development. It came in the form of an indefinite delay in a decision from the State Department regarding approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would allow oil from the tar sands in Alberta, Canada, to be delivered to Gulf Coast ports and would create numerous jobs in the U.S. The Keystone review process has gone on for more than five years. Even so, the State Department announcement said more time is needed for the review of comments and documents. People in oil-producing states such as Alaska have long been suspect of this administration, which through this latest action on Keystone shows it isn’t terribly interested in pressing hard on oil and gas development. Now there’s fresh data to back up that assessment. The April 18 Keystone announcement comes a week after the Congressional Research Service, a non-partisan agency of Congress, issued a report about oil and gas development on federal and non-federal lands. The report shows that the federal government is mostly a bystander these days when it comes to oil and gas development. Oil production from federal lands has fallen nearly 11 percent in recent years, from 33.8 percent of total domestic production in 2009 — the first year of the Obama administration — to 23 percent in 2013. The drop is significant and caused not by a sharp drop in production on federal lands but by a boom in activity on private or state lands. The actual number of barrels produced on federal land did fall, though only slightly, by about 110,000 barrels per day from the 1.77 million barrels daily in 2009. Why didn’t federal lands see a production increase like that on private and state lands? One clue comes from the permitting process, which the Congressional Research Service report says has grown lengthier in recent years but is showing some signs of improvement. Still, it doesn’t compare to what can occur at the state level with permitting for drilling on private land. The report notes “the relative ease of leasing from private parties.” Easing the federal permit process while safeguarding the environment is something that Congress needs to tackle and that the White House — not those now in it, most likely — should champion if the U.S. is to further strengthen its status as a leading oil and gas producer. The Keystone announcement, meanwhile, brought a cascade of criticism, especially from the U.S. Senate, where the denouncement of was bipartisan. Alaska’s two senators — Republican Lisa Murkowski and Democrat Mark Begich — each had biting words for President Obama. Sen. Murkowski, who is ranking Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee: “The administration’s choice to delay indefinitely a decision on extending the Keystone XL pipeline is nothing short of a stunning act of political cowardice. .” Sen. Begich, who is up for re-election and is one of the keys to Democrats’ hopes of retaining control of the Senate: “I am frankly appalled at the continued foot-dragging by this administration on the Keystone project.” The Obama administration won’t be listening, however. And they won’t be paying attention to the Congressional Research Service’s oil and gas report either. “Hope and change”? That’s what candidate Obama pitched prior to the 2008 election. Yes, we do hope things change for oil and gas production on federal lands, here in Alaska and elsewhere. But it will fall to others to make it happen.

EDITORIAL: FAA needs to expedite rules for unmanned aircraft

When Amazon founder Jeff Bezos dazzled “60 Minutes” interviewer Charlie Rose a while back with his supposed plan to deliver products with drone aircraft, he glossed over the obstacles that stand in his way. “There’s no reason they can’t be used as delivery vehicles,” he said at the time. Then he acknowledged that it won’t happen before 2015 because that’s the earliest the Federal Aviation Administration will set the rules. And that, he added, may be a little optimistic. Amazon isn’t the only commercial company that’s eager to put drone aircraft to work. So would other cargo carriers such as UPS and FedEx, but so also would any business that currently sends people to check on pipelines, cell towers and other infrastructure. The fact is, the United States lags the rest of the world when it comes to letting unmanned aircraft deploy in the service of commercial business. Only now is the FAA setting up test ranges where operators can fly drones in commercial airspace. At this pace, it will be years before business owners can add them to their management toolkits. It doesn’t have to be this way. The government can accelerate the pace of commercial deployments, while continuing to protect public safety, as it does with commercial aviation. A group of pilotless aircraft companies and advocates called for expedited rulemaking on commercial drone flights by the FAA. “The current regulatory void has left American entrepreneurs and others either sitting on the sidelines or operating in the absence of appropriate safety guidelines,” they said in a letter to the agency. The FAA moves slowly because, like other federal agencies from the Patent Office to the Food and Drug Administration, it isn’t built to keep up with the pace of innovation. Its plan to roll out test ranges had to be imposed upon it by Congress, which ordered the agency to produce a set of rules governing the use of drones by September 2015. Another wrinkle: A National Transportation Safety Board arbitrator has called into question whether the FAA even has the authority to regulate commercial drones. The FAA has appealed his ruling, which threatens to throw open the doors to unfettered commercial use. That would probably be too much, too soon. To be sure, there are a multitude of issues that must be resolved or at least framed before drones fly freely in urban areas. When drones are deployed by law enforcement agencies, for example, the public should be informed of where they are and how they are used. It would be entirely appropriate to set rules limiting their ability to observe and collect data on law-abiding citizens. But this is a time when the technology is available and the customers are ready to use it. There’s more to be gained than lost by moving more quickly to let it happen. The FAA should drive the regulatory process, rather than be driven by it.

EDITORIAL: Resolution of damages necessary 25 years after Valdez

March 24 marked the 25th anniversary of the soiling of Alaska shores and waters by the oil of the Exxon Valdez. The environmental disaster — those words fall so short of describing the carnage — recast how the nation looked at the transport of oil. Suddenly it was something to be concerned about. Today we are still looking at how that oil, on that day 25 years ago, was being transported recklessly by a captain in a vessel type that was shown to be less than secure and without proper escort on a potentially risky route. Advances in oil transport have been made. Many lessons have been learned. Progress has been made at restoring some of the damage caused to Prince William Sound’s shores, communities, fish and wildlife. But much work remains, according to researchers and government agencies. Damage caused by the spill lingers, however, some of it discovered after Exxon Corp. reached a settlement with the state and federal governments in October 1991. Exxon agreed to pay a $900 million civil penalty, criminal restitution of $100 million and a fine of $25 million. That 1991 agreement also included a clause known as the “Reopener for Unknown Injury.” This required Exxon to pay up to an additional $100 million as needed for restoration that “could not reasonably have been known, nor anticipated” at the time of settlement.” The state in 2006, during the term of Republican Gov. Frank Murkowski, found that substantial additional damage had, in fact, occurred because of the spill. Later that year, the state and federal governments presented Exxon with a restoration plan and a request, under the reopener clause, for an additional payment of $92.2 million. Exxon has declined to pay. Neither the state nor federal government has taken Exxon’s refusal to court to force payment, though the two sides have been arguing in court about the intent of the clause. Exxon argues that the $92 million the state wants is for cleanup work and that it is no longer responsible for cleanup. Exxon in 2012 asked a judge to declare the governments’ request for additional funds a violation of the 1991 settlement, but the judge declined, saying the governments hadn’t presented a formal claim. Meanwhile, implementation of the plan for restoration of the later-discovered damage is several years behind its planned start-up date. The Senate Judiciary Committee on March 24 — certainly no coincidence that it falls on the 25th anniversary of the spill — [held] a hearing on a resolution asking the state Department of Law and the U.S. Department of Justice to file suit over Exxon’s non-payment. Senate Joint Resolution 25, by Sen. Berta Gardner, D- Anchorage, also asks that the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council to immediately begin the additional restoration work by using existing funds. Whether or not Exxon, now Exxon Mobil, is responsible under the 1991 reopener clause is a long-running bipartisan issue in need of resolution. Perhaps going to court will force all parties to come to a settlement.

FISH FACTOR: Record 2013 salmon return was 36 percent hatchery fish

Alaska’s salmon catch of 273 million salmon set a record last year — and so did the number of salmon returning home to state hatcheries. The 2013 Fisheries Enhancement Report by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game shows that a return of 112 million hatchery-reared salmon contributed to 36 percent of the state’s total salmon harvest. The breakdown by species was 63 percent for chum salmon, 38 percent for pinks, 23 percent for chinook salmon, 22 percent for cohos and 5 percent of Alaska’s sockeye salmon catch can be credited to hatchery returns. Unlike farmed fish, which are crammed into nets or pens until they’re ready for market, Alaska salmon begin their lives in one of 35 state and/or privately-run hatcheries and are released as fingerlings to the sea.  Prince William Sound has the greatest amount of hatchery action — last year 80 percent of the Sound’s salmon catch was hatchery produced, including 88 percent of the chums, 80 percent of the pinks and 45 percent of sockeye. The hatchery catch was worth $113 million to PWS salmon fishermen, 68 percent of the total value. Kodiak outpaced Southeast for hatchery catches last year. Fish returns to the island’s two hatcheries accounted for 35 percent of Kodiak’s total salmon catch, nearly triple from 2012. The value of $16 million was 26 percent of total ex-vessel value, an increase of $10 million. The hatchery catch breakdown was 12 percent chums, 20 percent coho, 15 percent sockeye and 38 percent pink salmon. At Southeast, hatcheries contributed 10 percent of the total salmon catch last year valued at $52 million, or 21 percent of the dockside value. The breakdown was 81 percent of chums, 32 percent of chinooks, 26 percent of cohos, 14 percent of sockeyes and 2 percent of pinks. Nearly 761,000 hatchery-reared coho salmon returned to Southeast, the largest ever. At Cook Inlet, just one percent of both the sockeye and pink salmon harvests were hatchery produced, valued at under $500,000. This year nearly 52 million hatchery-produced fish are projected to return to Alaska. Crab crunch Lots of tanner crab is coming out of Alaska this winter, popular in buffets and casual-dining restaurants throughout the country. Southeast Alaska wrapped up its best fishery in a decade with 80 crabbers hauling up 1.25 million pounds in 11 days. At an average fishermen’s price of $2.70 per pound the tanner fishery is worth more than $3 million to the region. The snow crab coming out of the Bering Sea is a smaller cousin in the tanner family — at one to two pounds, it is half the size of the Southeast crab. With no ice problems this year, the Bering Sea snow crab catch of 54 million pounds could be hauled up in a couple of weeks. The base price for snow crab of $2.15 per pound is similar to last year, worth nearly $120 million to the 46 boats in the fishery. Alaska snow crab will soon face a bigger competitor than its archrival Canada, which already produces double the Bering Sea volume. Now all signs are pointing to a huge, untapped snow crab supply in the Barents Sea. The Norway Marine Institute projects yearly snow crab catches of 25,000 metric tons to 75,000 mt in the next 10 years, and possibly higher — that equals 55 million to 165 million pounds. Seafood.com reports that crabbing is underway and Norway and Russia are devising a management plan for the new snow crab fishery. Trident book out Trident Seafoods is a uniquely American story; one of hometown boy makes good, claims John Van Amerongen, author of Catching a Deckload of Dreams. It’s the story of Chuck Bundrant founder and CEO of Trident Seafoods. “Think of a guy who hops into a ’53 station wagon in the middle of winter in Tennessee and stops by to say good bye to family in Indiana and heads west,” Van Amerongen said in a phone interview. “That was in 1961 and I like to say he didn’t know the pointy end from the square end of a fish or a fishing boat. He had just heard that you could make enough money fishing in Alaska to pay your way through college which was very important to him at the time.” Trident is now the largest source-to-table seafood company in North America. Pretty good for a guy who got his start in fish holds at Adak.  “Literally that is where he got his start. So if you look at a beginning like that and see where he wound up, it’s a pretty amazing journey. So there was a great story there,” Van Amerongen said.  The Bundrant family asked John “Van Am,” as he is known in the industry, to write Chuck’s story. Van Am was the voice behind the Alaska Fisherman’s Journal for over two decades. His goal with the book, he said, was to give readers a seat at the table. “When I was a young journalist and editor at Alaska Fisherman’s Journal, there was always a special table at a bar or restaurant where the highliners or captains of industry were spilling a few drinks and letting the stories pour out, too. And I’d be sitting at the reporters stool at the end of the bar. I finally got asked to join the table once in a while. And my goal was to create a seat at the table for readers.” Find “Catching a Deckload of Dreams” at the Trident Seafood website. Fish bits The Sitka roe herring fishery started March 20 and seiners took 5,000 tons in little more than two hours. Three more openers are expected to catch the total herring harvest of 16,333 tons. The sales outlook for seafood is good for 2014. Progressive Grocer’s annual review of U.S. retail counters said that for the first time in 20 years, not a single retailer projected decreased seafood for sales this year. Other positives were stronger demand for wild fish, certified sustainable and seasonal seafood choices. April 1 starts registration for take-at-home Fish Tech classes through the University of Alaska Southeast at Sitka. Technicians are badly needed in jobs throughout the state, and internships and scholarships are available. For more information go to www.uas.alaska.edu/career_ed/fisheries. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

EDITORIAL: Lawsuit over denied ANWR plan is the right move

Gov. Sean Parnell has taken the next step in the long-running, slow-moving effort to tap the energy resources of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s coastal plain, an area that Congress decades ago recognized as having high oil and gas potential. The governor on March 14 announced that the state has filed suit against the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over those agencies’ refusal to consider the state’s plan for exploratory oil and gas activity in the 1.5-million-acre coastal plain of ANWR as required by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980. It’s a good move and shows that the ANWR battle, although quieted nationally by an unfavorable White House and Senate, is far from over. The source of the disagreement between the state and the federal agencies stems from a 2010-2011 Fish and Wildlife Service revising the 1988 ANWR comprehensive conservation plan, which deferred handling of the coastal plain to a 1987 ANWR resource assessment report that recommended Congress approve an oil and gas leasing program for the coastal plain. The revision put forward by Fish and Wildlife officials didn’t include an oil and gas option but did include two options for Congress to declare the coastal plain as wilderness. That, rightly, set off some alarms in Alaska. The state submitted an oil and gas exploration plan in 2013 but was rejected by Fish and Wildlife. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said authority for approving a plan expired with completion of the 1987 resource assessment report required by ANILCA. The big flaw in the secretary’s argument, however, is that ANILCA contains no expiration date for the authority to approve a plan. The process outlined for approval of a plan of exploration activity remains on the books. So the secretary must follow through with the process, which requires that any exploration plan submitted for approval and meeting the guidelines get at least one public comment hearing in the state and then be approved. That hasn’t happened. Section 1002 of ANILCA authorizes “exploratory activity within the coastal plain.” It defines the activity as “surface geological exploration or seismic exploration, or both, for oil and gas within the coastal plain.” And that’s what the plan submitted to the Interior Department by Gov. Parnell proposes: 3-D seismic testing to obtain up-to-date information about the coastal plain, which the U.S. Energy Information Administration describes as “the largest unexplored, potentially productive onshore basin in the United States.” It is hoped, of course, that fresh and fuller information about ANWR’s oil and gas potential will convince Congress and a future president —President Obama will never do it — to allow oil and gas development in the coastal plain. We’re arguing over an area that Congress has already recognized as having high energy potential. Refusal by the Interior Department and the Fish and Wildlife Service to follow a process that exists in law cannot go unchallenged. The state seems to have a good case to make. Alaskans — Republicans, Democrats and others — should support the governor in this action.

FISH FACTOR: Researchers looking for other uses for pollock products

Co-products is the big new buzz word in the seafood industry as more companies move toward “head to tails” usages for fish. “For instance, the oils we are producing now from pollock livers has become so valuable in capsules and other human nutraceutical products, it makes no sense to call the livers a ‘byproduct’ of the fillets or surimi. All of it is important in the puzzle of how to maximize the value of each fish caught,” said Alex Oliveira, a food specialist at the Kodiak Seafood and Marine Science Center, or KSMSC, a satellite campus of the University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences. Oliveira specializes in marine lipids (fats) and food flavor chemistry. The pollock oil supplements she helped develop in partnership with American Seafoods Company are marketed under the 54°N label. Her research also has spawned powdered products made from pollock milt and roe that are popular in Asian markets, and she helped launch the first freeze-dried Alaska sockeye salmon bites for NASA astronauts.   Now, armed with a grant from the Alaska pollock industry, Oliveira is rolling up her sleeves to turn pollock skins into pet treats. “It will be a nutritious, low fat treat from a marine source, instead of a land animal byproduct,” she said, adding that two products will be tested: slices and skin roll ups. It’s a lengthy process getting any new food item to market, for pets and people. “We have to know the nutritional values and shelf life limitations — that it is not undergoing undesirable chemical changes over storage. And there has to be a process for production of a good, safe product,” Oliveira explained. “Plus, nobody wants a pet treat that crumbles all over the carpet and makes your house stink, or leaves your pet’s breath smelling like dead fish,” she said with a laugh.  In a couple of years, the research will show which product has a better chance in the market. Then comes testing for acceptance by pets, and more importantly, their owners. “The pets are generally the easy ones, at least for dogs,” Oliveira said, “but the owner has to want to buy it.” Another Alaska pollock study underway at the Center is measuring the freshness and nutritional values of every part of the fish the moment it is caught. That project also is funded by the Pollock Conservation Cooperative Research Center, which since 2000 has contributed $13 million toward research on North Pacific fisheries, habitat and marine mammals.  Alaska food gurus All foods need the same kinds of scientific scrutiny to make sure they are nutritious, tasty and safe to eat. Alex Oliveira and her colleagues at the KSMSC are the only research specialists in Alaska who investigate the physical, microbiological and chemical makeups of food. Their stamp of approval also ensures that foods meet the stringent state and federal safety requirements for sale in the U.S. and abroad. Seafood plays a big role at the Kodiak-based center, but the research and testing done there applies to all Alaska food products — berries, fruit bars, candies, wild game or sauces. Any food producers can avail themselves of the center’s expertise and services — from a “mom and pop” shop to a major company. The KSMSC also houses Alaska’s only real world, mini-processing plant for “up to your elbows” testing and packaging of any food products. The staff also train and mentor Alaska’s next generations of food scientists. (see more at www.sfos.uaf.edu/ksmsc) Getting’ jiggy For the first time, the jig fleet can pull up a two-fer in the state water fishery that’s just gotten underway in the Gulf of Alaska: pollock along with their cod. Jigging for pollock has been open before in federal waters but with little to no effort. “Currently those federal pollock seasons occur in the winter or when the weather is poor. So this test fishery will provide them an opportunity during a period when they are actively fishing,” said Trent Hartill, a state groundfish biologist at Kodiak. “The jig fleet expressed a lot of interest in being able to have the extra opportunity to harvest pollock.” “This will give them a chance to determine how to catch pollock and at what levels, and also to test the market to see what the processor interest is in buying the fish during different times of the year,” added biologist Mark Stichert. “In Kodiak pollock is harvested by trawl vessels and it usually comes in at a couple specific times of the year at vary large volumes. So it might be unique for processors to buy smaller volumes of pollock delivered in a different sort of way.” Where they catch the pollock, when and how much is what the managers said they will be watching in the test fishery to see if it is viable.   ‘But watch Blustery weather kept most boats tied to the docks during the first week of the halibut fishery. Sixty-five deliveries brought in just over 400,000 pounds since the opener on March 8. Prices to fishermen topped $7 per pound for 40-ups at Homer, $6.50 for all sizes at Southeast and in the $6 range at Kodiak. The prices are similar to the start of the season last year, when demand is high for the first fresh fish.  Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

EDITORIAL: EPA goes too far on Pebble mine

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy on Feb. 28 did what supporters of the proposed Pebble mine feared she would do: initiate a review process that could preemptively prevent the mine project from proceeding. The action isn’t just one that the mine project’s supporters feared, however. It’s also an action that riles those who believe a project should at least be presented in full through a permit request before running the risk of being squashed by the government. The Pebble Limited Partnership has not sought a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers, which is now prohibited by the EPA administrator’s action from even approving one if it were to be submitted. The EPA administrator initiated the rarely used process under section 404 of the Clean Water Act. A letter to the affected parties from the director of the agency’s Region 10 says that the agency will conduct a review, “consistent with the law and the best scientific information available,” that could lead to restrictions. The letter clearly carries a tone that suggests that the agency has already determined that it won’t allow Pebble to proceed. Yet the EPA itself doesn’t even seem certain of the level of impact from the proposed mine. This is indicated by the wording of the agency’s news release announcing the administrator’s decision. The news release says the agency’s process will be looking for options to protect the Bristol Bay salmon fishery from “the potentially destructive impacts” of Pebble. It says Pebble “has the potential to be” one of the largest open pit copper mines ever developed and that it “could threaten” the salmon fishery. But the agency also claims, in the same news release, that Pebble “would likely result in significant and irreversible harm to the salmon and the people and industries that rely on them” and “would likely cause irreversible destruction of streams.” Which is it? Is it potential damage or is it likely and irreversible damage? This is precisely why the EPA shouldn’t act until a permit request has been made. At that time, the Corps of Engineers and the EPA will have a detailed proposal on which to pass judgment. To date, that hasn’t been the case. Whether the Pebble mine is good for Alaska isn’t the issue today. It may not be good for the state and specifically for the Bristol Bay region. What is the issue, though, is how the government treats a proposal. If ever there is an example of overreach by a federal agency, the EPA administrator’s decision to go out of her way to put up a major roadblock in front of the Pebble mine at this early stage is it.

AJOC EDITORIAL: Dems hooked on OPM — Other People's Money

Democrats, whether at the state or national level, have a problem: they are addicted to OPM, otherwise known as Other People’s Money. Whether it is whining about private organizations and individuals who choose to spend their money engaging in the political process, or attempting to use the force of the government to extract punitive taxes from industries they don’t like while pouring subsidies into those they do, Democrats have appointed themselves as the ultimate arbiters of the best ways to spend OPM. They have no problem using OPM to pay for something they agree with such as abortion, but are fiercely adamant that none of OPM can be used for something they don’t agree with such as allowing parents to make a choice about where their children go to school.  OPM for me, not for thee, is their motto. If the Koch Bros. want to spend some of their money on political ads, that’s bad. But the Democrats suddenly discovered a value for the Koch Bros. by demanding they keep open the Flint Hills refinery. Look beyond Flint Hills to the North Slope to see further evidence of this. To Democrats, it doesn’t matter how much they tax or demonize the producers, the companies should shut up and take it and keep spending money even though the state and feds took $2 of every $3 they made under the  tax system the Democrats want reinstated. To the Democrats, the oil producers spending $2 billion on the Slope isn’t nearly as much fun as them getting to spend $2 billion in Juneau. The producers are trying to expand their business. Democrats want to expand the government. Democrats also love Outside OPM if it is supporting them; not a big fan when it’s spent against them. Despite their incessant caterwauling about Outside money being spent against Sen. Mark Begich, they hope no one will notice that an Alaska-based company (GCI) doesn’t show up until No. 14 among the employers of his top 20 contributors, according to The Center for Responsive Politics. In fact, small individual donors make up just 4 percent of the $5.6 million Begich has raised from 2009 to 2014. Beyond the shameless hypocrisy, the greatest proof of the Democrats’ unhealthy addiction to OPM is the lack of results it has produced going back to the Great Depression. FDR’s policies did not end the Depression, LBJ’s policies have hardly ended the War on Poverty, and the 2009 “stimulus” act produced the worst economic recovery since World War II. It’s a “recovery” that nearly three-quarters of Americans still call a recession, that has seen record numbers added to the food stamp, disability and unemployment rolls, and that would have a jobless rate of nearly 11 percent if the labor participation rate was the same as in 2009. Not that it matters to Democrats. They just want another hit of OPM.

EDITORIAL: Mayors make a good case for a seat in property tax talks

Property taxes are the underpinning of the operation of the Fairbanks North Star Borough and other local governments. Therefore, anything that could have a detrimental impact on that revenue will most likely catch the attention of elected officials. And that’s precisely what has happened with regard to the natural gas pipeline agreement reached among the state, the major oil companies operating on the North Slope, and pipeline builder TransCanada. Mayor Luke Hopkins of the Fairbanks North Star Borough and the mayors of the Kenai Peninsula Borough, the North Slope Borough and the city of Valdez sent a letter to Gov. Sean Parnell earlier this month expressing deep concern about the potential impact the agreement could have on local property taxes. The oil companies that hold the leases to the North Slope gas leases say they want fiscal certainty on oil and gas fiscal terms in order to go forward on the gas pipeline. And fiscal certainty with regard to the gas pipeline would surely mean a stable, flat tax payment, a system called “payment in lieu of taxes.” That differs from the tax fluctuations that the rest of us see as a result of annual increases and decreases in property values. But it’s the local governments that have taxing authority over property located within their borders. And they should be involved. Large projects and buildings bring in a large portion of a government’s total tax revenue. The trans-Alaska oil pipeline is the biggest example in the Fairbanks area and has been the subject of repeated taxation disputes, one of which, for the year 2006, was won this week by the Fairbanks borough when the case went to the Alaska Supreme Court. That victory means $9 million in taxes for the borough. With such large amounts of tax revenue at stake, it is right that leaders of the local governments strenuously express concerns at the earliest opportunity. The mayors’ concern, as stated in their letter to the governor, is that they will be excluded from the negotiations about local taxes on existing oil production and pipeline property and future gas production and pipeline property. Will, for example, the state somehow change the tax structure on existing oil-related property to a flat annual rate from the current value-based system? Will a flat, or payment in lieu of taxes, system be imposed for a gas pipeline? And how would that affect Fairbanks and the other pipeline communities? Mayor Hopkins says he’s heard virtually nothing from state officials on this. He and the other mayors expressed that frustration in their letter to the governor: “We have become concerned about the lack of information provided to municipalities regarding the impacts of the ongoing negotiations.” The mayors don’t just want to be advisers in the process. They — and, through them, the communities they represent — want to be active participants who can have the ability to shape the eventual outcome of decisions. The mayors and Alaskans in general want to see a natural gas pipeline built. But the mayors are acting responsibly by looking out for their respective communities and are deserving of meaningful inclusion by state officials and the oil companies.

EDITORIAL: Raising minimum wage not the way to American Dream

Everyone wants to make more money. It’s the reason why millions of people decide to invest their time, money and energy in higher education and specialized training. Nobody wants to be at the bottom of the pay scale, and one could argue that minimum wage in and of itself is motivation for U.S. workers to aim higher and strive to achieve more than the earning $7.25 per hour ($7.75 in Alaska). As cost of living increases nationwide, minimum wage should also be adjusted to reflect the change, but micro-managing and over-regulating the business sector isn’t good for private and small businesses. If not kept in check the repercussions could be more far-reaching than expected. What President Barack Obama proposed in his State of the Union address last year, raising minimum wage to more than $10 an hour over the next few years, is a one-size-fits-all approach that will force every American business owner, big and small, to adapt to a government-induced spending plan. A cost of living increase is a good thing, but government meddling in private businesses’ affairs by guaranteeing wage increases for years to come goes too far. Businesses and consumers alike know that you get what you pay for. If a business pays its employees too little, it will constantly be forced to deal with high turnover, unmotivated workers and in the end its bottom line will feel the impact. Businesses that aren’t well managed and staffed struggle to stay competitive. On the flip side, if government forces businesses to pay under-skilled employees above market value for that skill set, business owners will have no choice but to hire fewer employees or raise prices, which in turn will change the quality and number of services offered. Those factors have a negative impact on well-managed, local businesses that are trying to stay competitive. And let’s not forget about the federally-mandated health care that businesses are now required to provide to employees. The term “free market” is becoming an oxymoron. A push by voters in SeaTac to increase minimum wage for airport employees to $15 an hour is an example of what we don’t need to see happen in Alaska. Washington already boasts the highest minimum wage in the country at $9.32 per hour. If minimum wage were raised by more than 50 percent there, the message being sent to its younger generation could be that there’s no need to attend college or trade schools because they can make almost as much money but without the diligence and ambition to strive for something better. The initiative being pushed in Alaska would increase minimum wage by $1 to $8.75 per hour in 2015, and then to $9.75 per hour the following year. From there Alaska’s minimum wage would stay ahead of the nation’s minimum by $1. The increase to $8.75 per hour is reasonable, but Alaska shouldn’t be making guarantees beyond that. Alaska businesses could find themselves in deep water should the federal government decide in the next year or so that $10, or perhaps more, should be the minimum. Most minimum wage jobs are filled by teenagers, those wanting only part-time work or extra money on the side, and individuals who have not taken steps to increase their skill set or value in the workforce. Minimum wage jobs aren’t intended to be long-term career choices. And even those who can’t find a better paying job still have the opportunity to work up the ranks. That’s not to say it’s easy — hard work and dedication are required — but it’s hard work and dedication that built this country. Bumping up minimum wage won’t incentivize the potential in workers to rise above the minimum and strive to achieve the “American Dream” of going from rags to riches. Minimum wage may be where some people have to start, but the American way is to work hard, move up the career ladder and to never stop striving for something greater.

EDITORIAL: AGIA is buried, but the pipeline dream lives on

The Alaska Gasline Inducement Act is dead, six years, 10 months and 14 days after the publication of this column by then-Gov. Sarah Palin, who put forward the act three months after taking office: “We are confident that the AGIA will induce a project. We have done the homework, we have done the legwork, and now we are ready to roll up our sleeves and work with the Legislature to get this process moving.” AGIA didn’t work. Gov. Sean Parnell, who was Gov. Palin’s lieutenant governor at the time, announced on Jan. 10 that the state and pipeline-builder TransCanada have agreed to terminate their working relationship under AGIA but remain engaged in pursuit of a pipeline. TransCanada was the winning company chosen under the AGIA process, which was approved overwhelmingly by the Legislature — 37-1 in the House and 20-0 in the Senate. Rep. Ralph Samuels, the Anchorage Republican regarded as knowledgeable on oil and gas issues in the Legislature, was the only dissenter in the AGIA tidal wave. He now looks pretty prescient. Mr. Samuels, no longer in the Legislature, remained critical of AGIA in a 2010 column during his campaign for governor. Here’s how he saw it then — and presumably still sees it today: “The path we are now on under AGIA is based on the notion that government can dictate the terms of construction, shipment and economics of a gas pipeline through Canada to Lower 48 markets. The current governor says AGIA is the answer. I believe it is a dead end. “Now, three years after that vote, we find ourselves in a starkly different energy world. Technology has vastly improved the opportunity to develop shale gas. There are large shale gas formations across the United States, Europe and China. The world is now awash in gas and prices have fallen dramatically. “This is bad news for Alaska.” Gov. Parnell, who for years was a faithful public supporter of AGIA, has turned the page. The project that it was designed to induce — a gas line from the North Slope and into Canada, where the gas would then find its way into a network to the Lower 48 — has fallen out of economic favor. ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil and BP, which hold the North Slope gas leases, never liked AGIA and opposed it in the Legislature. The companies have since lined up, at Gov. Parnell’s prompting, behind a project capable of exporting liquefied natural gas, but they haven’t fully committed to it. This pipeline would run from the North Slope to a point in Southcentral Alaska and could cost $45 billion to more than $65 billion. Of some irony here is that Gov. Parnell is proposing that the state become a part owner in the project. Gov. Frank Murkowski, during his term from 2002-2006, proposed the state take a 20 percent equity share in a gas pipeline. Gov. Murkowski reached a pipeline agreement with ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil and BP in 2006 that included the equity share, but the proposal came under heavy public criticism over its tax provisions. The Legislature declined to act on the agreement, and Gov. Murkowski was defeated in the Republican primary later that year — by Sarah Palin. Alaska’s leaders have been talking up a natural gas pipeline for decades. We all need to hope that Gov. Parnell’s burial of the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act and his ideas for how to proceed ultimately bring to fruition the pipeline we dearly need.

FISH FACTOR: Alaskans give Walmart full-court press on sustainable salmon

Walmart reps were in Juneau last week to learn more about Alaska’s salmon fisheries, and to make sure management is up to snuff with the company’s sustainability criteria. Alaska’s salmon industry opted out of the high-priced certifying program that Walmart uses as its seafood purchasing standard, the London-based Marine Stewardship Council. Alaska instead adopted the UN-sanctioned Responsible Fisheries Management, or RFM, program for “well managed” certification, a label that has become practically a requirement in most seafood buying and selling today. That put Walmart in the problematic position of finding Alaska salmon outside the bounds of the company’s seafood sourcing guidelines. When word spread last summer that Walmart might not stock it on its shelves, Alaskans went ballistic. Thus, the trip to Juneau. Seven Walmart officials met for several days with Gov. Sean Parnell, state officials and seafood industry experts and scientists. The mood was friendly, said John Renner, vice president of Cordova District Fishermen United, who spent time with the group. “All parties want to get something done. And Walmart wants to get itself out of the box it got itself into,” Renner said. “They were eager to learn and impressed by what they saw. I really got the impression that they came away with a better understanding of Alaska’s management and the fisheries themselves.” Renner said he came away with “a positive feeling that something will happen shortly after a couple of tweaks are made to the written criteria and allow others besides the MSC.” Parnell said he welcomed the company’s pledge to work toward a policy that supports Alaska’s commitment to sustainability, rather than a particular brand of seafood certification. David Baskin, Walmart’s vice president of meat and seafood, said the company “remains committed to buying Alaska seafood, and we’re excited that the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute has agreed to work with us to ensure the RFM standard meets the principles for credible sustainable fisheries programs as developed by The Sustainability Consortium. The Consortium is expected to release its principles in the coming days.” Along with the lessons in good management, the Walmart group also took home the message that they are dealing with thousands of independent small fishing businesses, said John Renner. “Everyone in Alaska rallied as one,” he said. “This was the first time in these kinds of battles we’ve seen such a coming together of processors, fishermen, the state and congress got behind what it saw as a major threat to our salmon market and took steps to alleviate it.”  Fish angst Any child’s chemistry set will show that our oceans are becoming more corrosive. It stems primarily from the ocean’s absorbing larger amounts of carbon dioxide caused by the global burning of fossil fuels for energy, especially coal. The increasing acidity prevents shells and skeletons from growing on marine creatures. Now scientists have found that ocean acidification,  or OA, also changes fish behavior. Normal fish are used to moving between the shaded and light parts of a kelp forest, for example, looking for food or interacting with other fish. Studies by Martín Tresguerres, a marine biologist at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in California, show that OA affects their neurons in a way that makes them feel more threatened, and they prefer to stay more sheltered. Tresguerres’ team studied the brains of juvenile rockfish living in acidic waters. Rockfish have predictable behaviors, he said, so it’s easier to detect changes. When placed in a tank with one dark and one white wall, a rockfish exposed to the corrosive waters stayed close to the dark wall, as did a fish that had been given an anxiety-inducing drug. That might not sound like a big deal, but it is. “Depending on the species, if they normally go offshore at a certain period of time, or they might go to a certain area to spawn and reproduce, it might affect the way they interact with other fish. So the potential implications are pretty big,” Tresguerres told KUCB/Unalaska. The behavior changes could eventually shift the entire ecosystem, said study co-author Trevor Hamilton. “What could end up happening is the fish will spend less time leaving their safe environments,” Hamilton said. “So there is potential for them to get caught by fewer nets and get eaten by fewer predators. It could have an effect all the way up the food chain, as well as for general fishing for humans.” On a related note: An Australian study showed that increased acidity affected the sense of smell in clownfish. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

The Bookworm Sez: Reset your attitude on the job hunt

You haven’t had to hit the alarm for quite a few months now. You haven’t had a whole lot of reason to look presentable, either; sweats and Ts are just fine. You’re not even sure your office attire fits anymore. Retired? You wish it were that simple. No, you’ve been downsized, laid off, fired, let go, and it’s starting to wear on you. But after you’ve read “Reset: How to Beat the Job-Loss Blues and Get Ready for Your Next Act” by Dwain Schenck, you might be inspired to hit the streets again. Dwain Schenck was part of an inherited staff. (You know where this is going.) He’d been hired for a job he loved by a man for whom he truly enjoyed working. When that guy left, the woman who took over was amazing. She let Schenck interview the man who would eventually become his third boss, the guy who made Schenck uncomfortable and who ultimately let him go. At first, Schenck was filled with “fake bliss.” He was “too good for (that) company anyhow” and he figured it wouldn’t take him long to find a job. He had a few months’ severance, great ideas, and tons of experience. He’d be fine. But as the weeks passed, it became apparent that the search wouldn’t be easy at all. Schenck went on interviews that seemed to go well, only to end in silence. He endured “courtesy interviews” set up by former colleagues and contacts, in which it quickly became apparent that there was no job to be had. He obsessively searched online and even applied for positions for which he was extremely overqualified. The lack of job-hunting success made Schenck depressed and his family life suffered. Through this experience, though, Schenck learned several things, and he shares the advice he discovered: Upgrade your resume and “make sure (it) doesn’t read like an obituary…” then utilize the internet (including LinkedIn) by tweaking it to maximize search engines. Become a “networking machine.” Be “transparent” about your age and experience, have a strategy for all interviews, and practice what you’ll say before you leave the house. Send thank-you notes following interviews. Be resilient. And finally, “Don’t go it alone,” says Schenck. That’s the worst mistake you can make. At the risk of being a spoiler, I should tell you that “Reset” ends on a nice up-note… but wow, is it harrowing to get to that point. Author Dwain Schenck gives readers his story, warts and all. We’re privy to the embarrassments, the aggravations, the outrageousness, the highs, and the bottom-of-the-barrel moments including envy and consuming bitterness. The ferocity of the latter is quite disquieting, but not without reason; Schenck’s experiences as a job-hunter were often soul-crushing and, sadly, common — and on that note alone, his book offers lessons and tips all around. Definitely, this is a book for job-seekers but there’s plenty here for upper management, CEOs, and anyone along the job spectrum who knows that, well, you never know. If that’s you, then “Reset” is a book to hit. Terri Schlichenmeyer is the author of The Bookworm Sez, which is published in more than 200 newspapers and 50 magazines throughout the U.S. and Canada. Schlichenmeyer may be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Strong crab catches, prices seen in Southeast, Bering Sea

Salmon will always be the heart of Alaska’s fisheries. That’s why many people think of summer as “the fishing season.” But that’s not the case. The deep of winter is when Alaska’s largest fisheries get underway each year. On Jan. 1, hundreds of boats with hook and line gear or big pots will begin plying the waters of the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska for Pacific cod, rockfish and other groundfish. Then on Jan. 20, trawlers take to the seas to target Alaska pollock, the world’s largest food fishery with harvests near 3 billion pounds. Crab boats are also out on the water for golden kings along the Aleutians and snow crab in the Bering Sea, Alaska’s largest crab fishery. Early March sees the start of the eight-month long halibut and sablefish seasons. March also marks the beginning of Alaska’s roe herring circuit at Sitka Sound, and those fisheries continue for several months all the way up the coast to Norton Sound. And while fresh Alaska king salmon is available from Southeast trollers nearly year round, mid-May marks the official start of Alaska’s salmon season with the runs of kings and reds at the Copper River. Salmon fisheries take center stage all summer and into the fall. Mid-October brings another of Alaska’s fishing highlights — red king crab from Bristol Bay... and so it goes, on through the end of each year, along with too many other fisheries to name. Crab updates Southeast crabbers ended one of their best fall/winter Dungeness fisheries ever. The fishery, which began in October, produced 1 million pounds for the season, even with less gear on the grounds. “The last two years, the catch has come in at half that,” said Adam Messmer, state assistant shellfish manager for Southeast, adding that 87 permits fished for fall Dungies. The price averaged $2.53 per pound, similar to last year, bringing the value of the catch to over $2.5 million. The Dungeness harvest from the fall and summer fisheries totaled 2.6 million pounds, well above expectations. Switching to the Bering Sea — snow crab pots are being dropped earlier than usual. The fishery traditionally gets going in mid-January. Two reasons: crabbers want to avoid getting closed out by sea ice — and strong demand for less crab is pushing the highest prices ever. Contract prices for snow crab on its way to Japan were reported at $5.50 to $5.60 for smaller sizes and $6.10 for large crab. Alaska’s total catch is 54 million pounds, down 20 percent from last year. Prices to crabbers were still being negotiated, said Jake Jacobsen of the Inter-Cooperative Exchange, a trade group. Fish shots Your fishing photographs could help promote Alaska seafood around the world! The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute is again calling for images from Alaskan fishing families and fans that showcase our people, scenery and seafood. Winners will be selected via ASMI’s Facebook “likes” in seven categories: Best Family or Kids photo, Old-school or Throwbacks, Fish, Scenic, Boat, Humor and Best Action photo. Top winners receives an Apple iPad, and an overall grand prize “Fan Favorite” wins a trip for two anywhere Alaska Airlines flies. ASMI hopes to use the photos in its marketing to provide an intimate glimpse of life in the Alaska seafood industry, and showcase the natural beauty of our state. “Who better to capture this environment than those who are immersed in it?” said Tyson Fick, ASMI’s communications director. The deadline to enter is Feb. 2; winners will be announced Feb. 17. Get more info and upload submissions at http://photocontest.alaskaseafood.org or contact ASMI at [email protected] or (800) 478-2903. Fish business tally NOAA Fisheries plans to survey all U.S. seafood processors and bait-and-tackle shops during 2014. Responses from mail-in surveys will be used to measure the economic impacts of these fishing businesses. According to notices in the Federal Register, more than 2,500 tackle shops and 2,000 seafood businesses will be surveyed. Owners of tackle businesses will be asked to “characterize and quantify their operational costs and sales revenue, in addition to describing their clientele.” Seafood processors will be asked for “plant characteristics, plant ownership, operating costs, capital costs, labor and revenue.”

GUEST COMMENTARY: Alaska added jobs in 2013, growth will continue in 2014

The Parnell administration remains committed to growing opportunity for Alaskans. As we look ahead to 2014, our economists forecast Alaska adding 1,500 jobs to 2,400 new private sector jobs, diminished some by a decline of 900 government jobs. Alaska added more than 1,500 jobs through the first half of 2013, and Alaska is one of just a handful of states that has recovered all of the jobs lost during the recent recession. Alaska’s unemployment rate has been below the national rate for a record 61 consecutive months as of November. A recent Washington Post article claims that Alaska is the only state that lost jobs in 2013 – a claim that warrants a clarification with facts. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers used in the article are suspect because they are preliminary and have been subject to very large revisions in recent years. For example, numbers reported from that same data set in July of last year showed a loss of 3,400 jobs, but revised final numbers showed a gain of 4,300 jobs. Similarly, November 2012 numbers showed growth of just 300 jobs, but those numbers were later revised to show growth of 3,100 jobs. State economists, who work closely with the BLS to produce jobs numbers and unemployment rates for Alaska, estimate that when the revisions are complete, Alaska’s job numbers will be in the plus column — and 2013 will be the state’s fourth straight year of job growth since the 2009 economic downturn. Additionally, thanks to legislation championed by Gov. Sean Parnell, Alaskans will see a 22 percent reduction in unemployment insurance tax rates — a savings of $89 million in 2014. Unlike Alaska, 36 states have borrowed from the federal government to keep their unemployment trust funds solvent, and about a dozen continue to do so. Also, because of Alaska’s low unemployment rate, our state is no longer classified as a single zone of underemployment for public construction jobs. The critical take-away on this reclassification is that it was based on the fact that Alaska has a healthy economy, and the Parnell administration continues to strongly support and encourage Alaska hire throughout the state. Alaska’s future is especially bright with the passage of the 2013 More Alaska Production Act. Already, we’re seeing new opportunities as billions of dollars in new investment on the North Slope create new jobs and increase economic activity. We expect more good news to follow, and continued growth in Alaska’s oil and gas industry. For much more detailed information on our 2014 jobs outlook, look for the January 2014 issue of Alaska Economic Trends online at Labor.Alaska.Gov. Dianne Blumer is commissioner of the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

FISH FACTOR: Reviewing 2013, annual Alaska fisheries 'Picks and Pans'

Alaska’s seafood industry worked hard again in 2013 to ramp up its message to policy makers, most of whom still tend to overlook the industry’s economic significance to the state and beyond. What is that message? That “the industry” is made up of thousands of small businesses — the fishing boats that each supports one or several families. That the seafood companies in coastal towns provide one of the state’s biggest tax bases. And together, fishing and processing provide more jobs in Alaska than oil/gas, mining, tourism and timber combined. Seafood also is Alaska’s top export, far exceeding all other natural resources. Here are fishing notables from 2013, in no particular order, followed by my annual “fish picks and pans”: Thousands of tiny red king crab raised at the Kodiak Fisheries Research Center were released into island waters, marking the first time hatchery-raised Alaska crab have been introduced into the wild. Divers will return to the stocking site to see how well they survive and thrive. Halibut fishermen were again put on notice to expect a 21 percent coast wide catch reduction for next year. That adds up to catches being slashed more than 70 percent over five years due primarily to slow growth rates. Also down by a dollar were dock prices as “halibut fatigue” finally hit the market over the skyrocketing costs and buyer scrambles for the dwindling fish. Meanwhile, the cost for halibut quota shares rose topped $50 per pound in prime areas. The EPA concluded that developing one of the largest mines on earth at the headwaters of Bristol Bay would indeed put the world’s biggest sockeye salmon resource at risk. The agency will decide in early 2014 whether to use its authority to stop the issuance of Pebble Mine permits under the Clean Water Act. Anglo American pulled out of the Pebble Mine project, leaving Northern Dynasty of Canada as sole owner. Mine opponents said they will remain vigilant at the prospect of another investor signing onto the project. The first ever salmon dip net fishery on the Lower Yukon River was a resounding success for 90 fishermen. The nets were allowed as a way to fish for a good run of chums while protecting the Yukon’s dwindling numbers of king salmon. Harsh restrictions were imposed again on Kenai River sport and commercial fishermen due to continuing record low returns of king salmon. To find clues and solutions to the disappearing king salmon, Gov. Parnell included $10 million in the budget as a first installment of a five-year, $30 million research initiative focusing on 12 streams statewide. An oversupply of cod in world markets caused prices to drop to a point where many fishermen stayed tied to the docks (21 cents). Going into the new year, reports indicate big improvements with strong demand and higher prices. Cod accounts for 11 percent of Alaska’s total fish landings, most of which goes to China to be reprocessed. A superior court judge ruled that the state Department of Natural Resources violated its own rules by denying Alaskans’ their right to keep water in streams to protect wild salmon runs, in this case, at the location of the proposed Chuitna coal mine. Basketballs and mounds of buoys, Styrofoam and other marine debris continued to wash ashore in Alaska from the massive 2011 tsunami in Japan. The worst is reportedly yet to come, but it remains a head scratcher as to who picks up both the debris and the tab. At least 750,000 tons of debris is expected to hit Alaska’s coastline. Canada gave the go ahead for AquaBounty, the company producing a genetically modified salmon, for commercial production of GMO eggs at a Prince Edward Island hatchery. That marks the first time any government has given the go ahead to commercial scale production involving a GM food animal. That means Frankenfish is most likely poised to be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, despite outpourings of opposition from constituents and a full on assault by Alaska’s Murkowski/Begich/Young. Next up: making sure the manmade salmon is labeled for consumers. Federal fishery managers began their move towards a “bycatch mitigation” plan for groundfish trawlers in the Gulf of Alaska, which will include some form of catch sharing. Fishing towns like Sand Point and Kodiak are making sure any new program protects their access to local resources and sustains, instead of drains, their communities. Alaska salmon got dumped on by Wal-Mart, the U.S. Park Service, and Sodexo (global food contractor) for not using their choice of an eco-label that ensures the fishery is sustainably managed. The salmon industry opted out of labeling programs run by far away big wigs, believing the “Alaska” brand trumps a high priced eco-logo. Domino’s Pizza also took heat from Alaska for dissing halibut. Bristol Bay had a lackluster sockeye fishery after the bulk of the red run came and went eight days early. Quality improvements really started paying off with a base price of $1.50 a pound, an increase of 50 cents. Bristol Bay remained home to Alaska’s single most valuable salmon fishery, with Bay sockeyes totaling $138 million at the docks this summer. Brokers reported lots of great buzz for Bristol Bay driftnet salmon permits. Data show the value has increased steadily since 2010, most recently topping $135,000. (That compares to $20,000 in 2002.) Seas otters continued wreaking havoc for Southeast Alaska crabbers and divers. Most of the initial Dungeness fishermen have sold out and new entrants are buying dungy permits at basement prices. The Alaska Cam Sled began sending a live stream of non-invasive, high resolution images of the ocean bottom while being towed by a research vessel. The Cam Sled, built and based at Kodiak ADFG, was dubbed “a really stupid robot that does one job really well.” Americans ate slightly less seafood last year at 14.6 pounds per person, compared to 15 pounds the year before. One bright note: Each person ate just more than two pounds of salmon, a 3.5 percent increase. Alaska’s 2013 salmon catch was one for the record books at nearly 270 million fish, powered by a mindboggling pink haul of 216 million humpies. The previous catch record of 221 million salmon was in 2005. The value of the 2013 catch ($691 million at the docks) also is likely to set a record when all the numbers are officially tallied. For the second year running, Southeast claimed the title for the Alaska region with the highest salmon volumes and value. Fishermen there caught more than 100 million salmon for the first time ever, valued at nearly $220 million at the Panhandle docks. For the 16th year in a row, Dutch Harbor ranked as the nation’s top fishing port with 752 million pounds delivered, valued at $214 million. The Bristol Bay red king crab fishery was stalled by the government shutdown, when federal workers were furloughed and couldn’t compute how much crab each boat was allowed to catch. The chitin in shells of crabs, shrimp, lobsters and other crustaceans in Norway were being turned into bio-plastics for food packaging. Chitin, also found in insects and fungi, is one of the most abundant biodegradable materials in the world. Alaska’s coastal zone management program bit the dust when it failed to be extended by the legislature. That leaves Alaska as the only coastal state where citizens have no say on federal development decisions that could affect its 34,000 miles of coastline, more than all the other U.S. states combined.  2013 Fish Picks and Pans Biggest fishing adjustment: The expanded observer program that includes onboard coverage for the first time of the 1,500-vessel halibut longline fleet. Best new fish dish: Alaskan Leader Seafoods cod dinners. From the freezer to the oven, in a half hour you will have a cod dinner for four, complete with choices of Thai Curry or six other sauces. All caught and made in the USA! Best Fish Feeders: SeaShare, a partnership of fishermen, processors, transporters and others who have provided over 180 million fish meals to Feeding America’s food bank network since 1994. Dirtiest fish story: Dilution is the solution to pollution! The State aggressively led the charge to discard a 2006 law (passed by citizen initiative) and allow cruise ships to discharge wastewater and sewage into “mixing zones” in any Alaska waters through which they are traveling. The public’s right to know where these zones are located was also dumped. Best go to bat for Alaska fish: Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich. Most outstanding fishing town: No town highlights its local fisheries and supports its future fishermen like Sitka. Most earth friendly fishing town: Kodiak, which now generates most of its own electricity from wind and hydropower. Best fish gadget: salmon locator mobile apps for Copper River and Bristol Bay salmon. Biggest fish high five: To the Aleutian Islands which jumped to third place on the top 10 list of U.S. ports for fish landings. Nearly half a billion pounds of mostly groundfish was delivered to Trident’s plant at Akutan. (It dropped Kodiak to No. 4). Biggest fish research backers: The Pollock Conservation Cooperative for its ongoing $1 million annual research donations to the state university. Best fish caretakers: State and federal fishery managers, under whose stewardship Alaska’s stocks remain a model for sustainable management and the envy of fishing nations around world. Biggest gives back fish bucks: American Seafoods Co., Alaskan Leader Foundation Biggest fish blunder: Setting a State legal precedent by letting 11 miles of productive salmon stream be lost to a low grade coal mine. Coal is so yesterday, PacRim. Scariest fish story: ocean acidification. See above. Best fish ambassadors: Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute Worst global fish story: Illegal, Undocumented and Unreported catches by fish pirates. UN estimates say IUU catches amount to 20 percent of the global fish harvest. Best fish advocates:  Alaska Marine Conservation Council, Fish Basket Coalition Best fish-crats: Nicole Kimball, state Federal Fisheries Coordinator; Geron Bruce, Deputy Director of Commercial Fishing, ADFG; Duncan Fields, North Pacific Fishery Management Council Biggest consumer fish snub: No labeling required for genetically modified salmon. Best bivalve advocate: Ray RaLonde, Alaska Sea Grant aquaculture specialist Trickiest fishing conundrum: What to do about sea otters vs. fisheries in Southeast Alaska. Biggest fishing industry enthusiast: Bob Foy, director of the NOAA Fisheries Research Center at Kodiak Best fishing career builder: Paula Cullenberg, director of Alaska Sea Grant Biggest fish story: Taking the “stream” out of “streamlining.” A bill, introduced this year by the governor, is intended to expedite permitting and changes the way state lands and waters are managed. HB 77 will ax all laws calling for in stream flow protections to ensure salmon have enough water to survive before other uses are permitted. Say so long to public comment periods on resource decisions and the same to any public appeals. The bill gives unprecedented decision-making power to the Department of Natural Resources commissioner. Color this a huge change in citizen participation in government! HB 77 will be revisited when the Alaska legislature convenes in mid-January. This marks the 23rd year for this weekly column that focuses on Alaska’s seafood industry. It began in the Anchorage Daily News, and now appears in over 20 newspapers and web sites, including the U.K. A daily spin off – Alaska Fish Radio – airs weekdays on 30 radio stations in Alaska. The goal of both is to make all people aware of the economic, social and cultural importance of Alaska’s seafood industry, and to inspire more Alaskans to join its ranks.

AJOC EDITORIAL: Jewell delivers lump of coal to King Cove

The Dec. 23 announcement from Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to uphold the denial of a road between King Cove and Cold Bay couldn’t be less surprising. The road, as you probably know, would pass through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge and provide King Cove residents with emergency land access to the all-weather airport at Cold Bay. Former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar refused to reverse the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service denial of the road before he left office, but made a concession on the way out the door to allow a review of the decision by his successor, who in turn received the votes of both Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich on April 10. Murkowski, you see, had threatened to use “every tool in the toolbox” to hold up Jewell’s nomination over Salazar’s decision to reject the road to Cold Bay. But she was placated with the promise of a review, and Jewell’s commitment to visit King Cove as part of that review. This is our Year in Review issue, so here’s what I wrote back in February: “We understand Murkowski, as one of the most collegial members of the Senate, will generally defer to Obama on nominations. We also understand Begich needs to stay in his party’s good graces even as he prepares for his 2014 re-election campaign here at home. “But when you consider the ridiculous and life-threatening decision made by outgoing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s department to deny the road from King Cove to Cold Bay, it’s hard to see where all this congeniality and deference has gotten Alaska. “Murkowski may not want to sacrifice some of her moderate credentials by opposing Jewell, and Begich surely doesn’t want to risk a backlash from his party leadership. And yes, I’m sure Jewell will say all kinds of nice things about having an open mind about Alaska, blah, blah, blah. “Such considerations are moot at this point, and we’ve heard all that claptrap before. It’s time to play hardball. Supporting Jewell or letting her nomination advance is bad for Alaska and our senators should be united in opposing her.” It didn’t take Jewell long to live down to the expectations of her tenure. Barely a month after being confirmed she rejected out of hand a request by the State of Alaska to conduct new seismic exploration of ANWR despite a clear legal requirement to allow it. Responding to the Interior Department’s hollow reasoning for denying the Alaska exploration plan, I wrote in a July editorial that it was but foreshadowing for what she would do on the King Cove road: “But hey, at least our senators extracted a promise that Jewell would visit King Cove before giving her their confirmation vote. I’m sure that will make a huge difference before she goes back to D.C. and tells Alaskans to stick it again.” Sure enough, Jewell told the Aleuts of the Alaska Peninsula and our Senate delegation that voted for her to stick it. Murkowski on Dec. 23 called Jewell’s decision “heartless,” “a slap in the face,” and “offensive.” She also said she was “angered” and “disappointed.” Begich weighed in as well, calling it “the same sad story — a federal agency that doesn’t listen to Alaskans.” He at least acknowledged the predictability of Jewell’s action, calling it “disappointing but unfortunately not surprising.” No, it isn’t surprising, and that’s why the concession on King Cove should have been secured before Jewell got a vote, and through the use of a “hold,” either Murkowski or Begich could have stopped her nomination until common sense prevailed over the radical environmentalists who don’t care a whit about Alaska Natives unless it fits their agenda. On Pebble, they lean on Alaska Natives and the subsistence lifestyle to make their case against it.  But when it comes to building a road through a reserve the residents know a lot more about than Lower 48 greenies, or fishing a pollock allocation in the Aleutians or drilling on the North Slope, these groups will make a defendant out of Alaska Natives just as quickly as they’ll go after Shell or ConocoPhillips. Trading a confirmation vote for an empty visit wasn’t nearly enough given the leverage our delegation could have brought to bear. Here’s a safe prediction for 2014: Jewell will never, ever make a decision regarding Alaska that goes against the wishes of the Democrats’ extremist environmental base. So good luck, Shell, with those Arctic drilling plans in 2014. This should serve as yet another lesson that the Obama administration cannot be trusted, and a reminder that the Senate role on executive nominations is to advise and consent, not to assent and concede.

AJOC EDITORIAL: Budget reflects Dems' worst nightmare: reality

State Democrats should be thanking Gov. Sean Parnell after he released his proposal for the fiscal year 2015 budget. If they didn’t have Senate Bill 21 to kick around as a convenient cover for falling oil prices and production, they might have to explain why Alaska is not only nearing a financial day of reckoning under the tax regime known as ACES they hold near and dear, but why they didn’t do anything about it. Instead, they get to do what they do best: put out hysterical press releases claiming that Parnell’s push to stem the production decline through lowering taxes hasn’t worked, never minding that it hasn’t even gone into effect yet. The state rakes in cash when prices are high even as production declines, but that same progressivity formula in ACES that escalates the take bites the state in the rear as prices drop and increasing capital expenditures reduce the taxable net income. The Democrats love to have it both ways when it comes to those capital expenses on the North Slope. On one hand, they claim that Slope spending is at an all-time high under ACES as proof that the regime works. But when it’s time to pay the piper through reduced tax revenue because those capital expenditures come at a cost to the state, suddenly Democrats don’t trust the numbers and suggest that companies are overinflating them to reduce their tax liabilities. It’s the height of either hypocrisy or cognitive dissonance to claim ACES has resulted in increased spending while also claiming that the numbers from the producers are being fudged depending on what day it is. That’s a feature of ACES, not a bug, and it’s a well-documented result of highly progressive tax systems. Another popular argument among the Democrats against SB 21 is that the projects now being touted by the Parnell Administration were underway before tax reform was passed and would have happened anyway. It is certainly true that ConocoPhillips’ Colville Delta project, CD-5, in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska predates SB 21 by several years. It’s also true that CP has plenty of other options worldwide to spend its capital. As a company’s board of directors decides where to spend its cash in an upcoming year, it doesn’t hurt that the party that sounds like South American Socialists is no longer running the show in Juneau. The revenue picture is not great at the moment for Alaska, but it is also true that private spending funding Alaska jobs is poised to fill the gap of less public spending in the capital budget. CD-5, Point Thomson now in a second construction season, additional investment from BP on the way and ongoing exploration and development by Repsol and Brooks Range will total billions of dollars and hundreds if not thousands of jobs for the future. South to Cook Inlet, ConocoPhillips is seeking to restart LNG exports, Agrium has begun the process of resuming business at its Peninsula fertilizer plant and Furie Operating Alaska is planning to build the first Inlet production platform in nearly 30 years thanks to past state investments that are now paying off with an improved gas supply picture. While only the producing companies’ bottom lines stand to benefit directly from tax reform — and the recent Revenue forecast suggests it’s a wash at current prices under either formula — there is a reason that every business organization in the state along with Alaska Native corporations are backing Parnell on SB 21. They know doing nothing has a cost, and that talk isn’t always cheap. They also know making money is a lot harder than spending money, and that’s a reality Alaska Democrats still can’t come to grips with. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]


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