Fisheries

Justice Dept. files allegations in $350M Jones Act seafood case

Attorneys with the U.S. Department of Justice are accusing companies Kloosterboer International Forwarding and Alaska Reefer Management of secretly using a specially built rail track in Canada for years, in order to evade the requirements of a maritime shipping law called the Jones Act. The accusation surfaced in a filing submitted Sept. 17 in a case involving the two companies, which help transport Alaska seafood to the East Coast. The companies potentially face massive fines, imposed by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The government’s 43-page response is its first public explanation in the case brought by Kloosterboer and Alaska Reefer Management early this month in U.S. District Court in Anchorage. The two companies provide transportation and logistics services as part of the American Seafoods Group family. The companies are suing the Department of Homeland Security and its division, Customs and Border Protection, to stop the large penalty notices, which they say arrived without warning. The penalties for Kloosterboer alone total $25 million, the companies’ complaint says. Numerous other companies in the plaintiffs’ supply chain have also received notices totaling more than $325 million, their complaint says. The companies argue that the seafood has been properly shipped from Dutch Harbor in Western Alaska to the Eastern U.S. for more than 20 years, passing through the port of Bayside in Canada near the border with Maine. The companies say the penalty notices have threatened the distribution of that seafood — typically pollock caught in the Bering Sea, bound for fast-food restaurants and other outlets. Kloosterboer and Alaska Reefer say they comply with the Jones Act. The Jones Act requires that vessels carrying goods between two U.S. points be American-made and American-flagged. The companies use foreign-flagged vessels. But they say they meet a Jones Act exemption because the seafood travels briefly by rail in Canada. At issue is the rail line used to meet that exemption. The U.S. Department of Justice says “all was good” before 2012. In those years, the companies complied with the Jones Act by using the New Brunswick Southern Railway to transport their seafood in Canada, a journey of more than 30 miles, the federal response says. But in 2012, the companies “radically” altered the movement of the seafood because they believed using the New Brunswick railway was too expensive, the federal response says. Instead of using the established New Brunswick railway and moving product from one destination to another using a “through route,” the companies decided to use “a specially-built mini-railtrack, approximately 100 feet in length, that goes nowhere,” the federal government argues. That rail line is called Bayside Canadian Railway. The seafood is loaded into trucks that travel on a flat rail car, back and forth on the track, for a total of 200 feet. It’s then driven into the U.S. The “actions were not a one-time error or oversight, but rather part of a calculated and secret scheme to find a loophole in the Jones Act, which was only revealed when the government received a tip from a third party,” the federal government argues. Officials with Kloosterboer and Alaska Reefer declined a request for an interview, citing the ongoing litigation. According to a 48-page response filed on Wednesday, Kloosterboer and Alaska Reefer say the newer Bayside Canadian Railway meets the Jones Act exemption and complies with Customs and Border Protection ruling letters. The rail line is “indisputably a registered Canadian rail line; the goods are loaded onto it and travel a short distance,” the companies say. Customs and Border Protection has never said the rail line must be a certain length or connect two distant points, the companies argue. The line is part of the “through route” from Dutch Harbor to the Eastern U.S., the companies argue. “There is no practical difference between the (original railway and the newer one),” the companies argue. The only difference is the location and length, they say. The federal government says the prior ruling letters from Customs and Border Protection predated the existence of the Bayside Canadian rail line and “never sanctioned” it. It asserts that the companies did not provide adequate documentation to note the change in rail lines. The companies say they have “been transparent” about the rail line’s use. They say Customs and Border Protection has been “on notice” about the newer line since 2012. Receipts provided to the agency during those years have described thousands of shipments along the rail line, the companies say. The companies say the penalty notices themselves are unjustifiably large and were issued without proper notice. The federal government argues that the penalty notices are the size they are in part because of the length of the violations. The companies can challenge the penalty notices and explain their position through an administrative process, the federal government says. A spokesperson with Customs and Border Protection said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.

FISH FACTOR: Huge Tanner crab cohort good news for Gulf of Alaska

Unlike in the Bering Sea, there’s good news for crab in the Gulf of Alaska. A huge cohort of Tanner crab that biologists have been tracking in the Westward region for three years showed up again in this summer’s survey. “We were optimistic and we did find them again. Pretty much all the way across the board from Kodiak all the way out to False Pass we found those crab and in good quantity,” said Nat Nichols, area manager for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game at Kodiak. The bairdi Tanners are the larger cousins of snow crab (opilio Tanners) found in the Bering Sea. “The very, very rough preliminary numbers look like we’ve at least hit the minimum abundance thresholds in all three areas of Kodiak, Chignik and the South Peninsula,” Nichols said. “So we’re excited about that.” The last Tanner opener was in 2020 for 400,000 pounds, the minimum abundance number for a district to have a fishery. A fleet of 49 boats participated in that fishery and averaged more than $4 per pound for the harvestable male crabs that typically weigh between 2 to 4 pounds each. “A Tanner crab is getting to be legal-sized around age four or five, and then they start to die of natural causes or age out of the population by around seven or eight,” Nichols explained. “Once they start to become legal, we can expect them to hang around for potentially three years, and there’ll be more small crab behind them so you can kind of think of this as the front edge.” The new cohort, Nichols said, is one of the largest ever. It appears to be made up of two big year classes with a broad range of sizes that could support several years of fishing. “In 2019 the estimate was 223 million and then in 2020 it was down to 108 million. Every year, that number gets smaller, because there’s pretty high mortality on smaller crab. Anybody who’s cut open a halibut stomach knows that,” Nichols said. “And a lot of those are females so they won’t be in the fishery. But the male crab are getting bigger and approaching legal size. So even though you’re seeing estimates go down quite a bit, it’s still going to turn into a pretty good number of legal grab in the water.” Several more regulatory calculations must still be met as managers move their way through the survey data before a 2022 Tanner fishery gets a green light. “But based on meeting the minimal abundance thresholds it at least opens the door for a conversation about six different fisheries,” Nichols said. “And that doesn’t even include the Semedi Islands overlap section of the Kodiak District which would be open also. Under that scenario, that would be seven different sections open.” A Tanner announcement will be made in early November for the fisheries which open in mid-January. By the way, Tanner crab is always spelled with a capitol “T” because it is named after discoverer Zera Luther Tanner, commander of the research vessel Albatross which explored Alaska waters in the late 1800s. Fishing updates Alaska’s 2021 salmon catch has topped 219 million fish, which is 15 percent better than the preseason forecast of 190 million. The two biggest moneymakers exceeded expectations the most. The sockeye haul came in at 54 million compared to the predicted 46.5 million reds. Similarly, the pink salmon catch of nearly 151 million swamped the projection by 27 million. And although the run of chum salmon was disappointing, falling about 4 million short of the 15.3 million projection, nearly 5 million chums were caught since Aug. 1, “making it one of the three largest chum harvests in the last decade,” according to fishery economist Dan Lesh at the McKinley Research Group who compiles weekly tracking reports for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. The coho catch of nearly 2.3 million is 1.6 million shy of the forecast and a harvest of 244,000 chinook salmon is 25,000 less than expectations. But despite the overall bigger salmon catch, smaller fish sizes will lead to less impressive harvest totals and revenues to Alaska fishermen. Yet, with higher dock prices across the board, it will still produce a good payday. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game will release the catch totals, fish prices and overall revenues by region in early October. As salmon season draws to a close, many other fall fisheries are underway or gearing up. At Southeast, beam trawlers are on the grounds for a third go at northern pink shrimp totaling 650,000 pounds in two districts. The spot shrimp fishery opens on October 1 for 457,300 pounds, and the Dungeness crab reopens that same day for a two month fishery. Southeast’s sea cucumber fishery opens to divers on October 4 with a catch of nearly 1.9 million pounds. Diving for red sea urchins also opens with a harvest set at nearly 3 million pounds. At Prince William Sound, cod opened on Sept. 1 for pot and longline gears on boats less than 50 feet, and a fishery is ongoing for 32,600 pounds of lingcod. Chignik opens to sea cucumber divers on Sept. 20 with a 15,000 pound harvest limit. Kodiak opens for cukes on Oct. 1 with a 120,000 pound catch quota, and for 20,000 pounds at the South Peninsula. Kodiak crabbers are still pulling up Dungeness crab through the end of October. That catch is at 1.3 million pounds so far. Alaska halibut fishermen have taken 70 percent of their nearly 19 million-pound catch limit with less than 6 million pounds left to go. Homer, Seward, Kodiak and Juneau are the top ports for landings and dock prices remain at over $6 per pound, topping $7 at Homer reflecting continuing high demand for fresh fish. Alaska and West Coast catches aren’t satisfying American’s appetites for halibut and trade data show that the U.S. has imported 10.3 million pounds of Atlantic halibut from Eastern Canada so far this year valued at nearly $77 million. For sablefish, just more than half of the more than 43 million-pound catch has been landed. Fishing for pollock, cod, flounders and other groundfish continues throughout the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska. The Gulf pollock fishery reopened on Sept. 1. Proposed catches for 2022 groundfish is on the agenda of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council when it meets via Zoom Oct. 6-15. Foregone fish bucks As Alaska struggles to find new sources of revenue, its leaders might look to reining in the losses from fish and crab taken in federal waters (three to 200 miles out) of the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea that goes elsewhere. Data compiled by NOAA research economists at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center provide a breakdown of the shares of groundfish and ex-vessel (dock side) values by vessel owner state of residency. For all groundfish taken in Alaska in 2020, a 0.78 share went to non-Alaska vessels. Examples by species show that a 0.76 share of all flatfish was taken by non-Alaska vessels, a 0.69 share of Pacific cod, 0.88 for pollock, 0.69 for all rockfish, and 0.38 for sablefish (black cod). For the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, 0.83 of all groundfish was taken by non-Alaska vessels; including a 0.70 share of cod, 0.91 of pollock and 0.71 of sablefish. The 2020 ex-vessel value of the Bering Sea groundfish catches totaled $718.2 million. It’s less of a loss in the Gulf of Alaska where in 2020, a 0.4 share of all groundfish was taken by Outside vessels including 0.4 of all flatfish, 0.15 of cod, 0.47 of Gulf pollock, and 0.34 of sablefish. The out-of-state information plus an incredible array of user friendly data is amassed by the Alaska Fisheries Information Network APEX reporting system with annual inputs from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission and NOAA Fisheries. It includes Stock Assessment and Fishery Evaluation reports for all groundfish and crab species, numbers and types of vessels, wholesale and dockside values and prices, landings and values by fisheries, distributions of quota share holdings, harvesting and processing employment data and much more. Find it at akfin.psmfc.org/ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Unobserved crab mortality unaddressed as survey shows stock crash

Alaska’s Bering Sea crabbers are reeling from the devastating news that all major crab stocks are down substantially, based on summer survey results, and the Bristol Bay red king crab fishery will be closed for the first time in more than 25 years. That stock has been on a steady decline for several years and the 2020 harvest dwindled to just 2.6 million pounds. Most shocking was the drastic turn-around for snow crab stocks, which in 2018 showed a 60 percent boost in market-sized male crabs (the only ones retained for sale) and nearly the same for females. That year’s survey was documented as “one of the largest snow crab recruitment events biologists have ever seen,” said Dr. Bob Foy, director of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s Crab Plan Team. Again in 2019, the “very strong” snow crab biomass was projected at more than 610 million pounds, and the catch was set at a conservative 45 million pounds for the 2020 fishery. No Bering Sea crab surveys were done that year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the 2021 results indicated the numbers of mature male snow crab had plummeted by 55 percent. The stock “seems to have disappeared or moved elsewhere,” said Jamie Goen, executive director of the trade group, Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers. The snow crab catch for the upcoming season could be down by 70 percent and the stock could be classified as “over-fished,” she said, adding that no decisions will be made until the data undergo more scrutiny by plan team and council scientists. ABSC estimates the closure of the red king crab fishery and a reduced snow crab catch could cost harvesters far more than $100 million. The hit will be felt by roughly 70 vessels, more than 400 fishermen, and the processors and fishing communities that rely on the Bering Sea crab revenues. The crabbers want “bold action” from federal fishery managers. They are calling on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council and NOAA Fisheries to conserve crab habitat and spawning grounds highlighted by scientists more than 10 years ago with little resulting action. The crabbers also want managers “to create meaningful incentives to reduce crab bycatch in other fishing sectors, to reduce fishing impacts on molting and mating crab, and to estimate unaccounted for bycatch from unobserved fishing mortality from bottom and pelagic (mid-water) trawl nets, as well as pot and longline gears.” Boats fishing the Bering Sea are required to have 100 percent observer coverage to track what is retained and what is tossed over the side, but it’s what is not observed that most concerns the crabbers. And what goes unseen is not factored into stock or bycatch assessments. The Magnuson-Stevens Act, the primary law governing marine fisheries management in federal waters (from three to 200 miles out), defines unobserved mortality as “fishing mortality due to an encounter with fishing gear that does not result in capture of fish.” In a February letter to the NPFMC, ABSC highlighted studies showing “that 95-99 percent of crab in the path of trawl gear go under the footrope escaping capture and some portion of those likely die after contact with the fishing gear. Given this number compared to what is observed as bycatch, the potential for unobserved mortality of crab could be millions of additional pounds of dead crab bycatch.” A February report by North Pacific council scientists, which (unsuccessfully) proposed an amendment to the management plan for crab bycatch in the Bering Sea groundfish trawl fisheries, stated: “Crab may actively escape capture from trawl gear, as they can slip under the trawl itself, or over the sweeps, but the damage from the gear results in mortality or delayed mortality due to injuries. The potential for unobserved mortality of crabs that encounter bottom trawls but are not captured has long been a concern for the management of groundfish fisheries in the Bering Sea.” (Witherell and Pautzke, 1997; Witherell and Woodby, 2005). The report said that “the majority of trawl caught crab PSC (prohibited species catch) occurs when vessels are targeting yellowfin sole. This is the case across all crab species.” Yellowfin sole is one of six groundfish species targeted by a cooperative of 18 to 20 bottom trawlers called the Amendment 80 fleet that includes seven vessels owned by Alaska Native Community Development Quota, or CDQ, groups. No CDQ trawl vessels have made shoreside deliveries in Alaska in the past ten years. The Amendment 80 boats, all of which are homeported in Seattle, range in length from 200 to more than 300 feet and contain processing facilities. They usually fish from late January through the fall and last year caught nearly 300 million pounds of yellowfin sole valued at 9 cents per pound. Each of the A80 boats employs six fishing crew, approximately 24 processing workers and seven other staff including officers, engineers and cooks. The council report said 69 percent of the crew (not including processing workers) reside in or near Seattle. Direct wages paid during 2018 were $46 million and $52 million to the state of Washington overall. In contrast, Alaska residents accounted for 3 percent to 8 percent of A80 crews and took home $2 million in direct wages. The Crab Plan Team met Sept. 13-16 to discuss the Bering Sea crab stock assessments and catches for the 2021-22 season will be announced prior to the Oct. 15 start of the fisheries. Reducing crab bycatch is not on the agenda. The NPFMC meets via web conference from Oct. 6-10 when it will set preliminary catch and bycatch levels for 2022. Dungeness update Southeast crabbers wrapped up an “average” Dungeness season for a two and a half month summer fishery that ended in mid-August. Preliminary numbers indicate the catch came in at half of last summer’s level, said Adam Messmer, Alaska Department of Fish and Game assistant manager for the region. “We ended up with just over 3 million pounds this season, which is right around our 10-year average. Last year was our second biggest year ever. We were kind of expecting a little bit more than what we caught this year. But we had a quite a bit of soft shell crab (newly molted) at the beginning of the summer. That accounts for the missed poundage,” he said. The 2020 Dungie catch of 6 million pounds was valued at nearly $10 million at the docks. Despite a smaller catch this summer, the harvest of the two-pounders was worth much more to the fleet of 205 permit holders. “Yep, it was our highest price ever averaging $4.27 per pound. That came out to almost a $13 million fishery. So that pencils out to about $63,000 per permit,” Messmer added. Southeast crabbers get another go when the Dungeness fishery reopens on Oct. 1. Dropping pots for Dungeness is ongoing around Kodiak and the Westward region until the end of October. Around 1.5 million pounds is likely to be the tally for 20 Kodiak boats, down about one million from last year. But the outlook is fairly optimistic said Nat Nichols, area manager for ADFG. “Here in Kodiak that makes three seasons in a row of over a million pounds. And I’ve heard some reports that there’s a lot of crab measuring going on and there’s a lot of crab that are just a little bit short of the stick. So that sort of gives optimism for next year,” he said, adding that fishermen also are encountering a lot of soft shell crab that are returned to the water. Over 415,000 pounds of Dungies have been hauled up at Chignik and Alaska Peninsula fishermen are having the region’s best catches, now at 1.3 million pounds. The Westward price is $4.35 per pound on average. Salmon watch Alaska’s salmon catch by Sept. 11 was on its way to 219 million fish, well greater than the forecast of 190 million. Pinks pushed up the number with a total harvest so far of nearly 151 million. Nearly 65 million were from Prince William Sound and over 45 million humpies were harvested at Southeast and over 26 million at Kodiak. The statewide sockeye salmon catch has topped 54 million; chums were nearing 11.5 million, cohos at 2.1 million; and 243,000 chinook salmon. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Bristol Bay king crab fishery closed for first time since ‘95

As crab numbers for most major stocks fall across the Bering Sea, the Bristol Bay red king crab fishery will be closed for the first time in decades. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game, which manages the fishery cooperatively with the National Marine Fisheries Service, announced the closure on Sept. 3. The survey numbers in 2021 estimated that the red king crab stock in Bristol Bay is below the threshold required for a fishery, following the trend during the last decade. NMFS released its 2021 survey data on Sept. 3, showing the Bristol Bay district red king crab estimated mature male biomass at 12,559 metric tons, or about 27.7 million pounds. That’s higher than 2019, but less than half of the recent 20-year average, continuing the trend of a decline in the region. “Fifty percent of legal-sized males were new hardshell crab, a decline from the 62 percent of legal-sized males that were new hardshell in 2019,” the report says. The Bristol Bay red king crab stock, the largest in the state, has been declining for years. Surveys were cancelled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but in the last year of survey data in 2019, the stock declined and forced managers to cut the total allowable catch, or TAC, by 12 percent to 3.8 million pounds. The stock and harvests have been declining consistently since 2013. At the same time, red king crab has remained an incredibly valuable fishery. NMFS estimated that in 2020, fishermen landed 8.5 million pounds of king crab in the state, with an estimated $50.2 million value. That number includes all species of king crab, though, not just Bristol Bay red kings. Disentangling the economic impact of the red king crab fishery is somewhat difficult without further research, said Andy Wink, the executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association. It will definitely negatively impact on the participating boats in the crab fleet, but impacts on secondary effects—such as indirect and induced jobs supported by the fishery—are harder to predict. “The specific economic impacts of this fishery closure would take more study,” he said. The 2020-21 TAC issued for the Bristol Bay red king crab fishery was the lowest on record since the 1995-96 closure, according to an economic report on the 2019 fishery presented to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. Managers and surveyors had been saying the stock was approaching its threshold for closure, with reasons for the decline somewhat unclear. The survey from NMFS says that some possible reasons for movement in the stock in the past have been due to water temperature changes or fishery pressure, though the more recent movements seem to indicate water temperature being more likely. The economic decline in the fishery was already beginning to show in the employment figures as well. According to the economics report, hours worked by processing employees in the fishery declined about 15 percent and wages fell 5 percent between 2018 and 2019. That generally tracks with lower volumes produced. The harvest sector actually increased in 2019 by one vessel, to 56 active vessels, with about 370 active crew. Most crab stocks across the Eastern Bering Sea this year fell markedly, according to the survey data. That decline was most notable for snow crab, where mature male estimates fell by 55 percent and females by 70 percent from 2019. That was a surprise for some; TACs for snow crab increased in the Eastern Bering Sea in 2020. The results for immature snow crab are even worse: a 96 percent decline in immature females and a greater than 99 percent decline in males. “Total mature male biomass of commercial crab stocks in the eastern Bering Sea in 2021 was the lowest on record and 2021 biomass estimates continued a declining trend that began in 2015,” the survey states. Other stocks didn’t show “similar dramatic changes” since 2019, according to the survey, but the St. Matthew Island blue king crab continued to decline and Pribilof Island red and blue king crab estimates remained low. The only bright spot was Tanner crab, for which the mature female stock estimates increased. However, male mature biomass declined, especially for industry-preferred size crab, and immature Tanner crab biomass declined generally, except for those east of the 166-degree latitude line. Crab and shellfish abundance generally have been noted to be declining in recent years compared to high harvest records in the 1980s and ‘90s, with scientists still unsure about the exact cause. King crab is an iconic species for Alaska, selling for a premium and carrying a chunk of the state’s commercial fishing identity with it. Its decline parallels that of the decade-long downward slide of king salmon abundance in rivers across the state, pushing out most large-scale commercial fishing for kings. Wink noted that the Bristol Bay red king crab closures are difficult, but attest to the sustainability-focused management systems in the state. “It stings that these two iconic Alaska species (king crab and king salmon) are much less abundant than they used to be, but the strict reductions in harvests of those species is proof that Alaska walks the walk when it comes to sustainability,” he said. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council is set to meet starting Oct. 6, with committee and advisory meetings beginning Sept. 30. All the meetings are virtual. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Seafood logistics groups sue to halt $350M in Jones Act fines

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has issued more than $350 million in penalty notices to several companies involved in shipping seafood from Dutch Harbor in Western Alaska to the eastern United States, according to a complaint filed in court from two of those companies. The federal agency is alleging violations of the Jones Act, according to documents filed in the case. The law requires that vessels carrying goods between two U.S. points be American-made and American-flagged. Kloosterboer International Forwarding and Alaska Reefer Management, providing transportation and logistics services as part of the American Seafoods Group family, filed the 35-page complaint in U.S. District Court in Anchorage on Sept. 2. The two plaintiffs are suing to stop the penalties. They contract with ship owners, cold storage operators and trucking and fishing companies to transport frozen seafood. American Seafoods is a frozen-at-sea processor of Alaska pollock and other fish. The supply chain works like this: The frozen fish leaves on ships from Dutch Harbor to the Lower 48, traveling through the Panama Canal to a port in eastern Canada near the U.S border. From there, the fish is loaded onto trucks that are temporarily loaded onto flat rail cars along 100 feet of track before they drive into Maine. The seafood eventually reaches fast food restaurants and other outlets in several states. The East Coast supply chain uses foreign-flagged vessels to deliver the seafood. But the companies claim they comply with the Jones Act because of a provision allowing an exemption, in part because the frozen seafood makes the brief trip from Canada by rail before it reaches Maine, the complaint says. However, penalty notices have apparently been issued because the Canadian rail route is used, even though the agency has supported the route in its published interpretative rulings, the complaint says. The suing companies say the notices threaten that long-established supply chain and jobs in Alaska and the Lower 48, according to the complaint. “CBP’s penalty notices effectively have shut down a critical shipping route that — for over 20 years — has been approved by CBP as complying with the Jones Act, and which is essential to the delivery of frozen seafood to consumers, fast food chains, and school lunch and food bank programs throughout the United States,” the complaint asserts. Customs and Border Protection “does not comment on matters under litigation,” the agency said in an emailed statement. “Nonetheless, lack of comment should not be construed as agreement or stipulation with any of the allegations,” the statement said. The penalties for Kloosterboer alone total $25 million, the complaint says. Numerous other companies in the plaintiffs’ supply chain have also received notices totaling more than $325 million, the complaint says. “We are reeling from crippling penalties, Customs has not been forthcoming to share specifics, and Customs’ long-standing guidance tells us we are operating in compliance,” said Per Brautaset, president of Alaska Reefer Management, in a prepared statement on Sept. 2. “We just didn’t have a choice but to try and save our business and our partners’ businesses, and all the jobs in Alaska and other communities that will be lost.” The fines are large, more than twice the annual value of frozen Alaskan seafood transported through the Bayside port to U.S. destinations, the statement said. Dutch Harbor, in the Aleutian Islands, is home to the nation’s top fishing port in terms of landed volume. Close to 800 million pounds of fish, valued at $190 million, were landed there in 2019. “This unjustifiable agency overreach is crippling and threatens to destroy plaintiffs’ businesses, along with an entire supply chain transporting frozen seafood from Alaska to the eastern United States through (the port of Bayside in New Brunswick, Canada),” the complaint says. “Moreover, the penalty notices are threatening hundreds of jobs in Alaska and throughout the U.S. in the frozen seafood shipping industry, and unless they are withdrawn, will likely result in higher prices and shortages of frozen seafood across the eastern United States.” The companies are suing the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the border protection agency, which falls under Homeland Security, and Troy Miller, acting commissioner of border protection.

Peter Pan latest processor to announce COVID-19 vaccine mandate

After two seasons of closed campuses, rigorous COVID-19 testing and masks, Alaska’s seafood processors are increasingly turning to vaccine mandates for employees in a bid to keep their facilities open. The latest is Peter Pan Seafood Co., which announced its vaccine requirement for employees on Sept. 1. The requirement won’t go into effect for most employees until Oct. 1, with an extension for King Cove facility employees after that. Peter Pan operates facilities in Valdez, Dillingham, Port Moller and King Cove, but only the King Cove facility is open year-round. The requirement would not apply to the fishing fleet, though Peter Pan said in its announcement that it encouraged fishermen to be vaccinated and has provided the opportunity since April 2021. The company estimates that about 95 percent of its approximately 1,800 employees are already vaccinated, and that it will honor religious and medical exemptions. Rodger May, the president and chief growth officer for Peter Pan, said the decision was one of the most difficult he’d had to debate. “People are right on both sides of (the vaccine),” he said. “I’m hoping that the religious and medical exemptions fill all the gaps.” May said the major driving factor behind the decision is to continue to be responsible to employees and the communities in which Peter Pan operates. Even with the vaccine requirement in place, the company plans to continue its closed-campus and masking policies for workers. Peter Pan has been lucky and not experienced an outbreak at its facilities, he said, but if one happened, it could be devastating for the company and for the employees. “If for some reason you’re shut down for 20, 25 days, that could be 25 percent of their paycheck for the whole summer,” he said. “They didn’t sign up for that.” Alaska seafood processors rely heavily on workers from the Lower 48 and internationally to staff their plants, particularly the seasonal ones. That means many have to enter the state as the season ramps up, and the companies have had to bear the brunt of the cost of mitigating COVID-19 risk in that process, including testing workers frequently, paying for PPE, quaranting them in hotels and trying to social distance where possible in facilities that are normally densely crowded with workers. They received some federal relief funding meant to help offset that cost, but not all of it, and it posed a significant expense for many. To date, processing plants have experienced a number of outbreaks statewide, including several complete plant shutdowns. In July, Camtu’s Alaska Wild Seafoods in Cordova had to shutter briefly in response to an outbreak among workers, and in January 2021, two of the state’s largest processing plants — owned by Trident and UniSea — had to close at the beginning of the crab and pollock seasons. Between spring and fall 2020, 13 COVID-19 outbreaks occurred in Alaska seafood processing facilities and on vessels, with 539 cases that counted as spread among workers, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Until “high rates of vaccination” can be achieved in the seafood processing workforce, the recommendations are to keep quarantine groups to less than 10 people, test workers prior to transfer and perform serial testing to prevent outbreaks. Multiple processing companies have now announced that they will require vaccines for employees, including Trident Seafoods and OBI. American Seafoods states in its information for applicants that it requires new crew members to “undergo COVID-19 tests, pass a fit-for-duty exam, show proof of COVID-19 vaccine, exemption, or obtain vaccination through us, and receive this year’s flu shot.” Trident says its requirement is meant to help alleviate some of the difficulties about where and how it operates. “Our facilities and vessels require employees to work and live in close quarters, there are limitations on the medical services we can provide in remote locations, and it is not reasonably practical to evacuate from remote locations or shut down operations in the event of another outbreak,” the company’s website states. May said the majority of Peter Pan’s employees are already vaccinated, so the remaining few will be able to decide whether they want to receive the shot or seek employment elsewhere. In the case of those who would prefer not to obtain the shot or an exemption, the company will help place them at another processing facility. The timeframe for the company’s requirement will help facilitate that, he said. “We’re not talking a huge amount of people,” he said. “(The King Cove facility) is still very busy, and I didn’t want to put a gun to their head. The goal isn’t to terminate somebody and send them on their way.” He said Peter Pan has been blessed so far that it has not had a facility shutdown due to an outbreak, but if it fell in a high-volume time, there would “literally be no recovering.” In Port Moller and King Cove, Peter Pan is the only processors in the immediate vicinity, but even in Bristol Bay, a shutdown would impact the fleet because the other plants are already operating at capacity. Hiring is competitive, but May said he didn’t expect the requirement to create an issue for Peter Pan in finding employees. In its requirements, the company states that it defines “fully vaccinated” as having two doses of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or a single doze of the Johnson &Johnson vaccine. The CDC has not provided guidance about recognition of foreign-developed vaccines, though President Joe Biden’s administration said in early August that it was working on guidance on verification of international vaccines for tourists. This year is Peter Pan’s first full calendar year operating after the reorganization in 2020. May said he thought the company is headed in the right direction, and that the vaccine decision is a leadership decision he hopes others can learn from. “There’s no right answer here,” he said. “We hope that people learn from it—we’re sure learning from it. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Lodge owner, salmon drifter tapped for overdue Board of Fisheries vacancy

Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s latest appointment to the Alaska Board of Fisheries believes his ties to both the commercial and sport industries can help bridge the divide between user groups regularly at odds over often contentious allocation decisions across the state. “I have friends on both sides of the sport-commercial; I see both sides; I financially benefit from both sides so there’s no reason why the two sides shouldn’t be able to work together,” appointee Indy Walton said in an interview Sept 7. For Walton’s part, he said he’s not interested in the politics that can muddy the board’s decision. “Fish politics is an ugly business and it’s sad that it is that way,” Walton. Originally from Fairbanks, Walton describes himself as a third generation fisherman who spent his formative summers at a remote Kodiak Island fish camp and now fishes in the Bristol Bay drift gillnet sockeye fishery. In total, he’s fished commercially for 38 years. The Walton family also owns Last Cast Lodge, a restored sport fishing operation on the Kvichak River in the Bristol Bay region. Walton said trust has been the key to success in his parallel career as a financial advisor in Soldotna and will be imperative when making difficult decisions on the Board of Fisheries. He added that he applied for the seat because he wanted to help protect special places such as the Kenai Peninsula and Bristol Bay where he has had the opportunity to fish. Dunleavy appointed Walton Sept. 4 to a seat on the seven-member board traditionally held by a commercial fishing stakeholder from the Bristol Bay region. The governor’s first appointment to the seat, Abe Williams, was roundly rejected by legislators in a mid-May confirmation vote on his appointment. In addition to participating in the Bristol Bay sockeye fishery, Williams is also the regional affairs director for the Pebble Partnership. Many legislators opposed to the mine said they didn’t believe he belonged on the board that regulates the state’s vast fisheries while also working on a mining project that could disrupt the region’s iconic salmon runs; others disagreed with his views on de-regulating the Bristol Bay fishery. Walton’s appointment also ended a nearly four-month vacancy on the Board of Fisheries since the May confirmation vote, during which time Dunleavy violated a requirement in state law for him to appoint Williams’ replacement within 30 days after the vacancy arose. Dunleavy advocated for sport fishing interests while a state senator from Wasilla and Kenai River Sportfishing Association founder Bob Penney donated heavily to an independent expenditure group formed for Dunleavy’s first gubernatorial campaign. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game under Dunleavy also refused to manage Cook Inlet’s salmon fisheries with federal oversight late last year after the 9th Circuit ordered the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to create a fishery management plan under the Magnuson-Stevens Act. The decision backed by the state at the North Pacific council was to instead entirely close the federal waters to salmon fishing in a move that will drastically curtail the Cook Inlet drift gillnet fishery if it is approved by the Secretary of Commerce and upheld by the 9th Circuit overseeing the case. Records officials in the governor’s office also did not respond to a formal request made in early August for copies of the Board of Fisheries applications since Williams was rejected within the 10-day statutory window and did not provide the applications following subsequent requests for the documents until shortly after a Journal story outlining the situation was published Sept. 3. Rep. Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham represents the Bristol Bay region in the state House and said he urged for an appointee who lives there year-round for a true local perspective from the area that supports some of the state’s largest and most iconic commercial salmon and sport fisheries. While he does not meet that criteria, Edgmon noted that “it clearly looks like he has impressive credentials” for the board based on his resume and added that it’s the governor’s prerogative to make such appointments. As for the timing of the appointment, Edgmon said it was the first time in his nearly 15 years in the Legislature that he can remember a governor going substantially beyond the 30-day appointment deadline. “I think it’s highly inadvisable and obviously the wrong precedent to establish,” Edgmon said in an interview. Officials in the governor’s office previously avoided questions regarding the 30-day statutory appointment deadline but Dunleavy’s spokesman Jeff Turner said after Walton was named that the governor simply took his time to fill an important seat. “He picked the candidate he felt was best for the position,” Turner said. Walton’s application was submitted June 3, according to a time stamp on a partially redacted copy of the document provided to the Journal by the governor’s office. United Fishermen of Alaska Executive Director Frances Leach wrote via email that Walton’s direct background in commercial fishing and the fact that he still actively participates in the Bristol Bay fishery makes him qualified to fill a historically “commercial” seat on the board. “He understands commercial fishing — which is integral,” Leach wrote. “Additionally, the little I have interacted with Indy gives my the impression he will be a fair voice on the board and be open and willing to listen unbiasedly to all user groups (be it sport, subsistence or commercial), as well as traditional knowledge and science — which is really what makes for a superior board member on the BOF.” Ben Mohr, executive director of the Soldotna-based Kenai River Sportfishing Association, said in an interview that he does not know Walton personally and many longtime players in Alaska fish politics aren’t familiar with him, either, but people Mohr has talked to around the Kenai Peninsula have consistently said Walton is “very well-reasoned, very well-respected. He’s known in town as being reasonable and thoughtful.” Mohr added that more representation from the Kenai Peninsula — home to the state’s most bitter fish allocation fights — on the board is a positive from his perspective “He’s got a big learning curve in front of him and I wish him well,” Mohr said. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Vacancy remains at Board of Fisheries months after Williams rejected

Gov. Mike Dunleavy has gone nearly three months past a statutory deadline without appointing a new member to the critical Board of Fisheries and officials in his office are refusing to address it. The Legislature rejected Abe Williams, Dunleavy’s original appointee to hold a seat on the seven-member board traditionally reserved for commercial interests, during a lengthy joint session May 11. Williams participates in the Bristol Bay sockeye fishery and is also the regional affairs director for the Pebble Partnership. Many legislators opposed to the mine said they didn’t believe he belonged on the board that regulates the state’s vast fisheries while also working on a mining project that could disrupt the region’s iconic salmon runs. Others disagreed with his views on de-regulating the Bristol Bay fishery. Alaska law states that if a seat on the Board of Fisheries suddenly becomes vacant “the governor shall, within 30 days after the vacancy arises, appoint a person to serve the balance of the unexpired term and submit the name of the person to the Legislature for confirmation.” It has been more than 110 days since the Legislature rejected Williams’ appointment. Officials in the governor’s office have twice announced large groups of appointments to the state’s various boards and commissions since Williams was shot down but Dunleavy has not named his replacement. When asked why he hasn’t made the appointment so far, Dunleavy’s spokesman Jeff Turner wrote via email that the governor would appoint a new Board of Fisheries member before the board’s busy winter meeting schedule starts in late October. Senate President Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, said he began discussing the appointment shortly after Williams was rejected and has suggested a couple of names to administration officials as well. “I know there are qualified Alaskans who want to serve on the Board of Fisheries,” said Micciche, who holds a Cook Inlet commercial salmon permit and characterizes his district as split 50-50 sport and commercial. Micciche said he is aware of several people from different user groups who have applied in recent months but his queries to administration officials about their names have not been answered. He encouraged the administration to better meet statutory deadlines and also stressed the need for balance on the board that continuously deals with contentious issues that directly impact the livelihoods of thousands of residents. “I think the public, who already struggles with the decision of the board of fisheries — depending on which user group they belong to — will have less and less faith in the decisions if there is not balanced representation for the user groups.” Dunleavy advocated for sport fishing interests while a Wasilla senator and Kenai River Sportfishing Association founder Bob Penney donated heavily to an independent expenditure group formed for Dunleavy’s first gubernatorial campaign. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game under Dunleavy also refused to manage Cook Inlet’s salmon fisheries with federal oversight late last year after the 9th Circuit ordered the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to create a fishery management plan under the Magnuson-Stevens Act. The decision backed by the state at the North Pacific council was to instead entirely close the federal waters to salmon fishing in a move that will drastically curtail the Cook Inlet drift gillnet fishery if it is approved by the Secretary of Commerce and upheld by the 9th Circuit overseeing the case. Dunleavy’s Director of Boards and Commissions Courtney Enright did not respond to emailed questions about the applicants and calls to Enright were referred to Turner, the governor’s spokesman, who said the Dunleavy is reviewing the applicants and is committed to making an appointment prior to the next board meeting that starts Oct. 20. Records officials in the governor’s office also did not respond to a formal request for copies of the Board of Fisheries applications since Williams was rejected within the 10-day statutory window and did not provide the applications following subsequent requests for the documents. Micciche said he believes the applications should be publicly available records. Former board member Fritz Johnson of Dillingham said in an interview that he applied once Williams’ seat became vacant and discussed the appointment briefly with administration officials. “I haven’t heard anything back, though I understand there’s a handful of people who have expressed interest,” Johnson said. “It makes sense to have as much expertise on the board as possible.” Dunleavy originally appointed Williams to replace Johnson in 2020. United Fishermen of Alaska Executive Director Frances Leach said the statewide commercial fishing group has twice provided names to the governor’s office upon request since Williams left the board and has generally been encouraging commercial fishermen to apply as well. “It’s concerning because right now the Board of Fish is definitely stacked against commercial fishermen. It has very strong support of sport and personal use and lacking in subsistence and commercial fishing,” Leach said. The board rejected an emergency petition from Cook Inlet setnetters on a 4-2 vote Aug. 2. She added that the critical nature of the appointment process regularly discourages qualified applicants. “It would be great to see some actual commercial fishing representation on the board,” Leach said. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Court case is final hope for Inlet drifters

Editor’s note: This is the third and final story exploring the Cook Inlet commercial salmon fishery. You can read part 1 here and part 2 here. A late-season bumper run of sockeye salmon has pushed the Kenai River to its highest escapement in more than a decade. Unfortunately for the commercial fishermen in Upper Cook Inlet, they have had to watch many of them go by. Over the course of the season, Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists upgraded the estimate for the run’s escapement multiple times, upping the in-river bag limits for the sportfishery and opening some additional time for the drift gillnet fleet. With the setnet fleet out of the water after July 20 because of poor king salmon returns to the Kenai, controlling sockeye escapements to the Kenai and Kasilof fell on the drift fleet and on the in-river dipnet and sportfisheries. Both rivers are ending their seasons significantly greater than the upper end of their escapement goals. ADFG is projecting a final escapement in the Kasilof of 519,000 sockeye compared to the top end of the escapement goal of 320,000; the sustainable escapement goal for the Kenai River has a top end of 1.3 million and ADFG is projecting an in-river run of about 2.4 million sockeye. Unless something changes, the drift fleet is likely to lose a major chunk of their fishing area at the end of this year, too. The National Marine Fisheries Service is currently working its way through the regulations review process for a new fishery management plan amendment that will close the federal waters of Cook Inlet to salmon fishing. That section, known as the Exclusive Economic Zone or EEZ, covers the section of Cook Inlet that’s three nautical miles and farther offshore; drifters typically harvest half or more of their salmon from there during the season. “For most of the fleet, the EEZ is the preferred area for fishing,” said Erik Huebsch, a drifter and vice president of the United Cook Inlet Drift Association. “Without access to the EEZ, the drift fleet cannot harvest enough salmon to meet expenses and cannot afford to operate. “Without the drift fleet harvest, the seafood processing companies cannot afford to operate and will close their businesses. This is not speculation; this is exactly what has already been happening in the Cook Inlet salmon fishery.” NMFS opened public comment on the proposed regulations through July 5 this year. If the regulations are finalized and approved by the Secretary of Commerce, the EEZ could be closed by Dec. 31. The closure The fight over federal management of salmon in Cook Inlet goes back to 2012 and, some might argue, back to statehood itself. One of the reasons Alaskans voted to pursue statehood in 1959 was to gain more localized control over fisheries management, wresting control away from the out-of-state processing companies and federal government. Alaska has primary management control over fisheries in state freshwater and in marine waters out to three nautical miles offshore. After that, the federal government assumes primary management through the National Marine Fisheries Service. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council develops fishery management plans, or FMP, for the fisheries in Alaska and the West Coast for the federal government, and historically has delegated or shared some of that management with the state. Yukon River and Southeast salmon management, for example, are managed under federal authority of a treaty with Canada; Bering Sea crab fisheries are also jointly managed by the state and federal governments. In Cook Inlet, that historic but informal delegation of authority to the state included the management of salmon fisheries. In 2012, the council made that formal by excluding the federal waters of Cook Inlet from its FMP through an amendment that permanently delegated management to the state. The United Cook Inlet Drift Association, or UCIDA, sued and won at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2016, arguing that the federal government had to manage federal waters to comply with the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. The council again took up the debate in response to the court order, and in December 2020 voted to support an option for a new amendment that will include Cook Inlet into the Western area salmon FMP and will close the EEZ to commercial salmon fishing. NFMS approved the amendment on Aug. 12, according to a letter from Alaska Region administrator James Balsiger. The controversy UCIDA argues that the adoption of the new amendment to close the EEZ is illegal because of the State of Alaska’s actions. During the December 2020 meeting, Fish and Game Deputy Commissioner Rachel Baker told the council that the state would refused to accept delegation of authority with oversight from NMFS. In a November 2020 email obtained by UCIDA and submitted to the court, Fish and Game Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang told Ben Stevens, former chief of staff to Gov. Mike Dunleavy, that UCIDA and others were “lobbying hard” to require annual federal review of state management of Cook Inlet fisheries to ensure compliance with federal laws. “John [Moller, former commercial fisheries advisor to Dunleavy] and I feel that opening our management to federal and outsider influence is the wrong choice, especially that it could potentially create a domino effect that would spread to other salmon fisheries across Alaska,” Vincent-Lang wrote. “It would shift the allocation fight into federal bodies which will lead to calls for sport and personal use representation on the Council and take time away for state issues of priority at the council.” UCIDA argues that this was in bad faith and undermined everything the stakeholders and NMFS had been trying to work on for several years. Among multiple briefs filed Aug. 20, Huebsch wrote in a declaration filed with the 9th Circuit Court on that the members of the Cook Inlet salmon FMP committee, which included stakeholders and NMFS representatives, worked on three options to integrate federal management into the Cook Inlet salmon fishery. “The Salmon Committee has significant interaction with NMFS and Council staff,” Huebsch wrote. “The Salmon Committee was never informed that the state would not accept a delegated program, or that Alternative 2 was infeasible. Had I been so informed, I would not have spent further time on Alternative 2, and instead would have worked on developing Alternative 3, which involves federal management of the fishery.” UCIDA argues that the state had been planning to refuse delegation of authority long before the meeting in December 2020 and did not disclose it publicly, tying the hands of the council on the preferred alternative of most of the stakeholders, which would have been delegated authority with federal oversight. The state argues that UCIDA’s requests — which involve federal oversight of salmon fisheries that reaches up into spawning beds and includes management of salmon escapement — are an overreach and undermine the state’s ability to manage its resources. Several other emails submitted by UCIDA to the court show correspondence between NOAA and Fish and Game about the state’s preference for Alternative 4 to close the EEZ and between Baker and council member Andy Mezirow when Mezirow asked for “rationale points” about why he supported the state’s position. Both are dated before the Dec. 7, 2020, council meeting. A Dec. 3, 2020, email from Baker to Vincent-Lang relayed the input from NOAA General Counsel that the “the main outstanding issue is the need to identify conservation benefits that outweigh costs of closing the EEZ to commercial fishing participants.” The consequences The closure is likely to result in the loss of most fishing opportunity for the drift fleet. Many say they won’t be able to afford the startup costs of fishing in the Inlet without the promise of the harvest in the EEZ, and the rest say that it may not be worth it because the processors may not be there to buy the fish even if they do. In the 2020 season, the average drifter in Cook Inlet made about $7,102, according to the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission. That was the worst year in recent memory; a decade ago, in 2011, the average gross earnings were $65,753. “I fish the lower part of Cook Inlet, specifically the EEZ area set to be managed by closing these waters,” wrote Robert Wolfe, a drifter in Lower Cook Inlet. “If this action goes forward my business will have to shut down due to the distance I would have to travel to Where (???) [sic] the State of Alaska chooses where we will fish. At this point we in Cook Inlet have no idea how future fishery will be conducted next year.” There are currently two major processors with operations in Cook Inlet: Pacific Star Seafoods and Copper River Seafoods. Huebsch notes in his filing with the court that the loss of potentially 50 percent of the drift harvest is certain to affect their ability to make a profit in Cook Inlet for the season. The 2021 season highlights the effect of the management regime, he said, with the drifters restricted to the expanded corridors away from the federal waters and the setnetters closed. “This situation is untenable; processors are going bankrupt and commercial fishers face insolvency, all the while the state plugs the rivers with harvestable surplus salmon and NMFS and the Council do nothing,” he wrote. The City of Kenai and state Rep. Sarah Vance, R-Homer, both submitted comments on NOAA’s proposed rulemaking change this summer opposing the adoption of the closure. UCIDA is asking for the court to block the amendment or any other that would close the EEZ, order NMFS to prepare an FMP that addresses “the entire Cook Inlet salmon fishery, including state waters,” appoint a special master to oversee the proceedings and to award the organization all its legal fees. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Bambino’s features Bristol Bay in latest offerings

Nutrition, Native ways and knowing where your fish comes from. That multi-message forms the nexus of a new partnership of the Bristol Bay Native Corp., salmon fishermen and Bambino’s Baby Food of Anchorage. Bambino’s launched the nation’s first subscription service with home delivery of frozen baby foods in 2015, and was the first to bring the frozen option to U.S. retail baby food aisles (devoid of seafood). Wild Alaska seafood has always been front and center on the Bambino menu since the launch of its baby-sized, star-shaped Hali-Halibut portions, sockeye salmon bisque and fillets in 2015. Sockeye salmon teething strips are the newest addition. Those items became an instant hit and are shipped to customers in U.S. and in Canada. Each outgoing box now contains recipes from the people of Bristol Bay, stories of how traditional foods are rooted in Alaskan culture and other information about the region provided by the new outreach network. “We’re looking forward to partnering with Bambino’s and (Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association) to share the stories of why salmon is so crucial to our region and our shareholders,” said Jason Metrokin, president and CEO of Bristol Bay Native Corp. “Salmon is a fundamental part of our cultures and our values, from protecting the waters they spawn in to ensuring our shareholders are able to fill their freezers every year.” “We want to ensure that people everywhere and of all ages not only reap the nutritional benefits of Bristol Bay sockeye salmon but are also aware of the origin and sustainability of the region,” said Lilani Dunn, marketing director of BBRSDA, operated and funded by the fleet of nearly 1,800 driftnet fishermen by a 1 percent tax on their catches. “Bambino’s has really built up her business and her brand and it was no secret that her sockeye product was performing really well. And we saw a huge opportunity to tell our stories focusing on the Native families and culture of Bristol Bay and for ourselves in the marketing program,” Dunn said. “I feel very passionate, along with our partners, about the nutritional benefits of sockeye salmon, especially in young infants and toddlers.” “The beautiful nature of all of this is that we all care about our environment and the health and wellness of our families, and we all want to know where our food comes from,” said Bambino’s founder and CEO Zoi Maroudas. “It just brings a lot of depth to the Bristol Bay region to have the synergy between BBNC and ourselves and to work with an Alaska company,” added BBRSDA’s Dunn. “It’s definitely something special and I’m really excited for it.” Bambino’s was selected as Alaska Manufacturer of the Year in 2018. All of its products are produced in Anchorage and can be found at Carrs/Safeway and other grocers throughout Southcentral Alaska and on Amazon. Good news for Gulf sea creatures Results from the most detailed, long-term cruise by researchers at the University of Alaska Fairbanks showed the largest concentrations of phytoplankton ever seen in nearly 25 years of sampling in a vast portion of the Gulf of Alaska. Phytoplankton (microalgae) is the base of marine food webs and the massive bloom was spotted in May through September along the Seward Line, a transect of survey stations that begins at the mouth of Resurrection Bay and continues south to the outer edge of the continental shelf. A funding boost from the National Science Foundation added additional lines from the Copper River to beyond Middleton Island, and from Kodiak’s Albatross Bank to offshore waters. The researchers use chlorophyll, the green pigment found in plants, as an indicator of phytoplankton abundance, explained Russ Hopcroft, professor and Chair of the Department of Oceanography at UAF’s College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences. “It is the peak production in this system that the whole biology of the Gulf kind of cascades off of, that big infusion of energy and matter into it,” Hopcroft said. “Normally the shelf kind of lights up in terms of algal concentration briefly and sporadically. But this past year, the whole shelf was lit up with high chlorophyll for several weeks continuously, which means that there should have been lots of food available for the things that feed upon the plankton, the fish that feed upon that and then the bigger fish, marine mammals and seabirds that use them. We’ve never seen this kind of concentration of the phytoplankton in the system.” “In the Gulf, because it’s such a seasonal environment, several of the main species rely on this bloom to grow rapidly and store fat up in their bodies, just like bears do. And then they descend deep in the ocean to wait for the following spring to start their life cycle when they lay eggs. And those babies swim up toward the surface and start the whole process over again.” Alaska’s cooler weather this spring and summer can lead to a prolonged bloom, and extra rain provides fresh water at the ocean surface that helps phytoplankton remain closer to the light and build up higher concentrations. Hopcroft said this year “looks like it should translate to a lot of energy into the system” and hopefully allow a few things to bounce back that were impacted by the extreme marine heatwave several years ago that caused, for example, Gulf cod stocks to collapse. “I think our expectation would be that the success of animals released into the Gulf system this year will be higher than what we’ve seen during some of these warmer periods,” he said. “One would hope that we would see that translate into recruitment of various types of fisheries in the next couple of years.” Fake fish update Long John Silver’s is the first major national seafood chain to put plant-based seafood analogs on its menu, and calls it the “next big wave” after seeing the success of plant-based burgers and chicken. Analogs are manufactured substances that are used in place of the real thing. Last month the company, operator of over 700 restaurants in the U.S., announced a partnership with Good Catch to test its plant-based Breaded Fish-Free Fillet and Breaded Crab-Free Cake at restaurants in California and Georgia. “Our plant-based options are slightly more expensive than the crab cakes and sustainably sourced wild-caught cod, pollock, and salmon that make up our core menu options,” LJS Chief Marketer Stephanie Mattingly told SeafoodSource, adding that the plant-based seafood market is projected to grow $1.3 billion over the next decade. Whole Foods Market, owned by Amazon, said that nearly half of U.S. consumers are looking for plant-based products, and fish alternatives are on its first ever list of trend predictions. One is Upton’s Naturals Banana Blossom, large, purple-skinned flowers that grow at the end of a banana bunch. Their neutral flavor and flaky texture make it an ideal fish substitute. Another predicted favorite is Good Catch Fish-Free Tuna made of a blend of peas, chickpeas, lentils, soy, fava beans and navy beans. Samuels and Son Seafood of Philadelphia is the first company to publicly admit that it is selling a genetically tweaked Atlantic salmon made by AquaBounty Technologies of Massachusetts. The wholesale restaurant supplier services several chains including McCormick and Schmicks, Morton’s Steakhouse and The Hard Rock Café. The fish, which grows roughly three times faster than normal salmon, is the first genetically modified animal to be approved by the federal government for human consumption. More than 80 food companies including Safeway,Kroger, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods have said they will refuse to carry it. Federal labeling law “directs” companies to disclose genetically modified ingredients through use of a QR code, on-package wording, or a symbol. Mandatory compliance takes effect in January 2022, but the rules don’t apply to restaurants or providers of meals away from home. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Last chance? Cook Inlet setnetters look to buyback as a way to save fishery

Editor’s note: This article is the second of a three-part series about the Upper Cook Inlet commercial fishery. Click here for the first part. The next article will be about the proposed closure of the federal waters to salmon fishing in Cook Inlet. In some ways, Cook Inlet’s East Side setnet fishery is the most desirable of commercial fisheries to get into: instead of having to fish remote sections of muddy beach, far from roads or towns, commercial fishermen can finish their sets for the day, jump up to the top of the bluff, and go to town for the night. The ones who live on the Kenai Peninsula can even go home, if they want to. In other ways, it’s one of the worst fisheries to be in. With unexpected closures and constant conflicts over salmon allocation, it’s not uncommon to find fishermen poring over the specific wording of management plans or frantically checking fish counts in the nearby Kenai River to see if they’ll be open. Many of them also listen in to the Board of Fisheries meetings, asking the members and department for changes or adjustments to management. That’s where Ken Coleman has found himself every three years since the 1980s: in the chairs at the Board of Fisheries meetings. A north Kalifornsky Beach, known as K-Beach, setnetter, Coleman said he’s watched the fishery ratchet back, with setnetters losing first the early season, then the late season, then gear, then time. “It just boggles your mind,” he said. Over time, it’s resulted in a fishery that can barely sustain itself. In 2020, the 468 permits that fished in the setnet fisheries around Cook Inlet earned a total of $3.1 million, or about $6,742 per permit, according to the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission. Last year was the worst year in recent memory; in 2019, average gross earnings came back around $22,831 per permit, and at $10,886 in 2018. That includes all setnets in Cook Inlet, though, not just the East Side. With the seasons cut short and seemingly no management fix in sight, some of them are looking to a more long-term fix: asking the state to buy them out. Shortened seasons, shortened earnings Like the rest of Alaska, many of the fishermen are aging, and they’re working with their children and hired crew to man their sites each year. This year in particular was expensive; crew were harder to find, COVID-19 mitigations had to be put in place, gear to supply the sites was more expensive, and fuel prices had increased. Then, the entire fishery had an early closure on July 20. Despite plenty of sockeye jumping in the waters and entering the Kenai and Kasilof rivers, not enough large late-run king salmon are returning to the Kenai River. The setnet openings are tied to the in-river sportfishery restrictions on king salmon, so when the Alaska Department of Fish and Game closed the king salmon sportfishery, setnets closed, too. Two setnetters petitioned the board to reopen them on a limited basis, but the board denied the petitions on the grounds that they did not qualify as emergencies. Coleman says north K-Beach, which stretches from the mouth of the Kenai River southward, had nine openers this year, none of which had a full complement of gear. Chris Every, who also fishes on north K-Beach, was one of the petitioners to the board. He said the board and Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang ignored data showing that the limited fishery the setnetters argued for caught very few kings and chose to keep them closed anyway. The late run of king salmon has missed its optimum escapement goal in the Kenai River three years running, and with the management structure for setnets pinned to that goal, many of the commercial fishermen fear this year is a harbinger of seasons to come. Every points to the declining number of processors in Cook Inlet. The once-competitive market of processors at the mouth of the Kenai has dwindled to two major players: Pacific Star Seafoods and Copper River Seafoods. Seattle-based E&E Seafoods, which owns Pacific Star, purchased Inlet Fish Producers from North Pacific Seafoods in 2020, adding that Kenai plant to its existing facilities there. “That’s the future of this fishery,” Every said. Coleman said he bought into the fishery when it was productive and has paid off his permits and lived off the earnings from the fishery for years. It’s hard to watch the young fishermen struggle by on the meager earnings from the fishery today, he said. “Paying my sites off were something I readily did because all my future was before and it seemed like the right thing to do,” he said. Dean Osmar, who has been fishing setnet sites near Clam Gulch for nearly five decades, said he remembers opening in late May and fishing into October, when there was no defined end to the season. “Because of the early ending of the set net season the past couple seasons, we have lost (approximately) 50 percent of our catch,” he said. A buyback plan There are approximately 440 setnet permits registered to the East Side out of the 732 setnet permits Inlet-wide. Though the East Side is a distinct subdistrict, a Cook Inlet setnet permit can be fished anywhere in the area. That means that, given the chance, setnetters can move their operations to regions which are more productive within Cook Inlet. The Kenai and the Kasilof rivers are the most productive sockeye systems other than the Susitna River, and after they started spiking in production in the 1980s and ‘90s. Some setnetters have been looking at possibilities of a permit buyback since the early 2000s. The first effort through the Cook Inlet Revitalization Association fizzled out, but a more recent effort is working its way through the Legislature now under Senate Bill 29. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, does a few things to set up the opportunity for a buyback. First, it splits off the Upper Subdistrict—the official management name for the East Side setnet fishery—into an exclusive zone. Other Cook Inlet setnetters would not be eligible for the buyback. Second, it sets up a program that would allow qualifying permit holders to enter a lottery to have their permits bought back. That lottery would allow about half of the permits to be bought back at a fixed price of $260,000 per permit. To prevent speculation, permit holders have to have owned the permit since at least Jan. 1, 2018, and fished the last two years. The bill proposes using federal funding to finance the program. Coleman, who has been working closely with Micciche and advocating for this program for the past six years, said that number was derived from an average of several years of earnings for setnetters. The state is buying out businesses, which benefits the other participants in the fishery, he said, and gets the fishermen out “with a little monetary dignity.” On average, permit values have dropped since the fishery’s heyday in the early 1990s. Data from the CFEC shows that the value of Cook Inlet setnet permits peaked at about $100,000. They bottomed out in 2004 at about $7,000 and have inched back up to just less than $18,000 as of April 2021. The last thing the buyback program would do is close the tidewater lease associated with the purchased permit. The intent is to prevent other permit holders from just moving into the spot and defeating the purpose. The program has garnered support from some sportfishing groups, including the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, in the past. Setnets are not perfectly efficient; with gear reduced, more salmon will likely pass the commercial fishery and escape into the river. That benefits the sportfishery and personal use fisheries on the Kenai, which target both kings and sockeye. There are constitutional questions from past efforts, though. In 2008, the CFEC issued a memorandum outlining some potential legal ramifications about a salmon permit buyback program under the Limited Entry Act. Specifically, it notes that buybacks should be focused on the sustainability and economic health of a fishery, as well as the long-term well-being of its participants. However, it notes that “if the fishery were to become too exclusive under the Alaska Constitution, the State would have an obligation to put more permits back into the fishery.” SB 29 is currently in the Senate Finance Committee, and does not have a companion bill in the House. To go or to stay The buyback program is entirely elective. The fleet has to approve it, and entering the lottery is optional. The cabin on Sarah Frostad-Hudkins’ site on the Salamatof beach north of Kenai is a work of history. The cabin itself is built partially from wood reclaimed from the fish traps that lined the Cook Inlet coast in the 20th century; on the rafter hangs every commercial fishing permit the site has used for decades. Family pictures include one of her grandfather Ole Frostad who immigrated to Alaska and started fishing the site in the 1920s with a determined look on his face as he makes sourdough pancakes on a small stove. The same stove stands in the corner of the kitchen. Frostad-Hudkins said setnetting is a major part of her family’s lives; they have spent every summer for generations on the beach, hauling up salmon. They haven’t decided, but they don’t think they’ll go for the lottery themselves if it were approved. “We’ll probably just keep fishing,” she said. South of the Kenai, Every said he probably will. “Do you want to be bought out, or do you want to walk away one day and let it all rot on the beach?” he said. Not everyone in the fleet supports the program in its current form. Paul Shadura II, who fishes in the Kasilof region, said he was involved in the early 2000s effort and said he doesn’t care for this version of the buyback with the closed waters and the exclusivity of the Upper Subdistrict. “If that wasn’t in this bill particularly, I would be 100 percent supportive of it,” he said. Coleman said he’s heard a lot of support among the fleet for the buyback, though there are still a few who oppose it for various reasons. Without it, though, there doesn’t seem to be much of. future for the fleet. A gear reduction would allow the ones who stay to be more prosperous, supporting a commercial fishery in the future, he said; without it, they’ll have to struggle on the way they are and likely be starved out. “I want to see this survive into the future,” he said. “It has a rich history. It’s one of the oldest organized fisheries in the state. It’s highly emotional to me; I want to see my sons be able to fish it.” Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: New tech shows promise against bycatch; more relief grants open

Bycatch gives Alaska’s otherwise stellar fisheries management its biggest black eye. The term refers to unwanted sea creatures taken in trawls, pots, lines and nets when boats are going after other targeted catches. Bycatch is the bane of existence for fishermen, seafood companies and policy makers alike, yet few significant advances have been found to mitigate the problem. A simple fix has recently shed light on a solution. “Ten underwater LED lights can be configured to light up different parts of the fishing gear with six different colors, intensity and flash rates to attract, repel or guide fish through the gear while retaining the target catches,” said Dan Watson, CEO and co-founder of SafetyNet Technologies based in the U.K which provides its Pisces light system to fisheries around the globe. “The different light characteristics affect different species in different ways,” he added. “For instance, green light is really effective for reducing turtle bycatch in gillnets. Blue lights flashing at a particular rate can deter haddock and drive them away. This programmability means that you can use it for a number of different species and in different circumstances as well.” The Pisces lights are powered by a wireless charger, require no plugs or batteries, automatically turn on underwater only when needed, and they do not weaken or weigh down nets. Watson began working on the lights in 2009 when he was a student at Glasgow University and doing research with the Aberdeen Marine Laboratory. “They had a paper that had been in their library for about 40 years from a researcher who had been shining flashlights into fish tanks and seeing that some species would react quite strongly, some would come towards them, some would move away, and others just weren’t bothered at all,” he said. After working in partnership with scientists and fishermen, the first batch of Pisces lights was tested in 2015 in fisheries in Europe and the and usage has since spread to the U.S. and other regions. A 2015-18 study on small-scale fishing vessels in Peru, for example, showed that LED lights on gillnets reduced bycatch of sea turtles in gillnet fisheries by more than 70 percent and over 66 percent for dolphins and porpoises, while not reducing the take of target species. The lights also reduced bycatch of seabirds in gillnets by about 85 percent. The study, by the University of Exeter and the conservation organization ProDelphinus, concluded that “Sensory cues — in this case LED lights — are one way we might alert such species to the presence of fishing gear in the water.” In the scallop fishery in the Irish Sea, use of Pisces lights reduced bycatch of haddock by 47 percent and flatfish by 25 percent with no effects on the take of scallops. A 2020 study by Mark Lomeli of the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission in collaboration with the Northwest Fisheries Science Center showed that lights directed chinook salmon to escape panels in trawl nets in the Pacific hake fishery, the largest groundfish fishery on the West Coast. Eighty-six percent of escaped chinook used the well-lit, LED-framed openings and the data suggest the lights can increase salmon escapes overall. And since 2018, the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission has required the use of lighting devices on the footropes of shrimp trawls. Sea trials showed that bycatch of eulachon was reduced by over 90 percent by weight, juvenile rockfish takes dropped by 78 percent, flatfish bycatch was reduced by nearly 70 percent and the loss of targeted shrimp was statistically non-significant at 0.7 percent. “You don’t need the lights to cover the entire panel on a massive net, it might be that you put them along the foot rope or the headline or even potentially in the wings,” Watson explained. “We generally supply fishing vessels with around 10 lights and a couple of charging cases to keep them going. Rather than hundreds of lines, we’re talking in the order of 10s, so that you can cover a sufficient area in the right place for it to be effective.” Watson believes the lights will eventually be mandated in other fisheries around the world. “In Europe we’re working with agencies to try and get the required scientific evidence for them to start to legislate the use of lights,” he said. “It’s still sort of in the early days in that respect despite really compelling results since 2015. It takes a while to get into that adoption phase and that’s where we’re working at the moment. “I think the fishing sector has a massive part to play and how it’s shaped and actually introduced. We’re increasingly seeing that as technology is being developed and becoming more accessible, fishing crews are coming up with really great ideas to change how their fisheries are operating, and working collaboratively with science as well.” Since May, the SafetyNet Tech team has been collaborating with the Alaska Ocean Cluster, or AOC, a project of the Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association, to identify captains and vessel owners interested in bringing the light show to Alaska, particularly aboard Bering Sea trawlers. “They’re an amazing representative for us in Alaska, because not only can they help us learn more about the fishing industry there but introduce us to people and start those relationships going,” Watson said. “It’s kind of like having two extra people on our team, which is amazing when you’re a startup because we’re always looking for extra support and they’ve definitely offered it.” “SNTech is a great example of the opportunities we’re seeing across the seafood and marine technology landscape,” said Garrett Evridge, AOC managing director of research and administration. Taylor Holshouser, AOC managing director of business development, echoed that enthusiasm adding, “We’re excited to see what Dan and his team can do to help fishermen reduce fuel costs, save time, and reduce bycatch, particularly in the Bering Sea.” Questions? Contact [email protected] or [email protected] More COVID-19 funds Alaska fishermen and other businesses can soon apply for a new $90 million pool of COVID-19 pandemic money that will be distributed by the state. Grant money for the program comes from the federal American Rescue Plan Act. The Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development announced last week that applications will open sometime this fall and recipients will be chosen “based on demonstrated need.” Eligible fishing businesses include commercial fishermen who held a limited entry permit or interim entry permit in 2019 and 2020. Applicants must be based in Alaska, have revenue between $10,000 and $50 million in 2019, filed taxes in 2019 and 2020, and be able to show they lost at least 50 percent of their net income as a result of the pandemic. Nonprofits are not eligible to apply. Applications will be split into three groups, based on the size of their businesses. Each group will be eligible for up to 80 percent of their documented income loss, up to $250,000, $500,000 or a cap of $1 million. All applicants will be required to say how they intend to spend the money, which will be distributed as a grant that does not have to be repaid. The funds must be spent on past, current, or future business costs and may not be retained or invested. Grant recipients also will be required to spend the funds by a certain unspecified date, likely by next fall, or return any unused money. Initial proposals called for a larger grant program, reported the Anchorage Daily News, but the Alaska Legislature instead used money from the act to fund infrastructure projects and make more money available for the 2021 Permanent Fund dividend, the amount of which has yet to be determined. Find more information at the state Commerce Department website. Fish board line up The state Board of Fisheries is planning on in person meetings this fall after months of delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic. By this past March, the board was scheduled to have finished up 275 proposals for Southeast Alaska, Prince William Sound and statewide shellfish fisheries. The meeting cycle addresses management issues for commercial, sport, subsistence and personal use fisheries in state waters for specific regions every three years. A work session is set for Oct. 20-21 at the Anchorage Egan Center, followed by a week-long meeting focusing on Prince William Sound and Upper Copper and Susitna Rivers from Nov. 30 to Dec. 6 at the Cordova Center. The Fish Board will move to Ketchikan from Jan. 4-15 to address Southeast and Yakutat fish and shellfish issues. It’s back to Anchorage for a March 10 hatchery committee meeting. The Board will conclude with a March 11-16 meeting on Cook Inlet, Kodiak, Westward and Arctic Shellfish, and Prince William Sound shrimp. The March meeting locations have yet to be announced. The deadline to make agenda change requests to the Board of Fisheries is Aug. 23. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

‘Bleeding out’: Inlet setnetters feel pain of early closure as sockeye continue pouring in

Editor’s note: This story is the first of a three-part series about the Cook Inlet commercial fishery. Every few seconds, a bright salmon throws itself out of the water on the beaches of Cook Inlet and splashes back. Normally, that would be a sight to celebrate for the hundreds of commercial fishing sites up and down the west side of the Kenai Peninsula, but not this year. “I can’t even go to the bluff,” said Ted Crookston, who setnets on the Salamatof beach just north of the mouth of the Kenai River. Looking at the fish flopping in the water, unharvested, is too painful, he says. All the sockeye headed up the river past where setnets are usually harvesting them translates to thousands of dollars not going into a commercial fishery that has been bleeding out economically for more than a decade. He says he’s been fishing the beach for nearly six decades. This season is the earliest closure he remembers, with the last day of fishing on July 20. Since then, the East Side setnetters from Boulder Point north of Nikiski down to Ninilchik have been sitting on the beach, with many giving up and pulling their gear out for the season. The Salamatof fishermen say they had five openers in their whole season. It all hinges on king salmon, which aren’t coming back to the Kenai River in enough numbers. For the past three years, the late run of Kenai River king salmon has been too small to meet the lower end of its escapement goal, which means Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists place restrictions on both the in-river sportfishery and the East Side setnets, also known as the ESSN, which operate close to shore. This management structure is known as paired restrictions, which scale back setnetters’ time and gear as the sportfishery’s gear is restricted. The Board of Fisheries said the structure was justified because the setnet fishery harvests more kings than the drift fishery, tying it to the sportfishery if in-river fishermen are restricted. The problem is that many setnetters say they have tools available to harvest sockeye without taking kings, and ADFG isn’t using them. The 600-foot fishery On July 20, East Side setnetters fished their last day for the season, restricted to the 600-foot fishery from Boulder Point to Ninilchik. In the 12 hours that day, they harvested 36,668 sockeye and 72 kings. According to ADFG estimates, 11 of those kings were large late-run Kenai River kings. Chris Every, a north K-Beach setnetter, said the fishermen in his area have been pushing for the 600-foot nets as a tool to allow the fishery to remain open when the king salmon run is low for years. “We have data from the last four years with the 600-foot fishery,” he said. “It’s been fished between the rivers, and it continually shows the data that we’re trying to prove.” He submitted a petition to the Board of Fisheries asking for ADFG to be allowed to reopen the setnetters to just the 600-foot fishery this summer, letting them continue to fish in a restricted manner while the in-river king salmon fishery is closed. The board rejected his petition 4-2, saying that the situation doesn’t qualify as an unforeseen emergency. ADFG Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang wrote in his finding that this year is not an emergency because it has happened before and the board specifically made the regulation that provided for it. “Closure of the ESSN fishery has occurred in the past and is also not an unforeseen event,” he wrote. Several board members said they felt as though they hadn’t fully understood the implications of the regulations they made nor had the data on the small king harvest from the 600-foot fishery. The board ultimately voted down Every’s petition 4-2 and took no action on the other, a petition from the South K-Beach Independent Fishermen’s association, an ad-hoc advocacy group. Paul Shadura II, who submitted the petition on behalf of SOKI, said he felt slighted that that board didn’t discuss the petition, which differed in specifics from Every’s request. He said the group is interested in putting in an agenda change request, or ACR, this fall to the board related to this issue, but that doesn’t help the situation with all those sockeye headed up the Kasilof River now, which the fishermen think will end up damaging the sustainability of the run long-term. “(It’s hard) to watch hundreds of thousands of potential dollars go into the system that do nothing for the future,” he said. “The annihilation of the East Side setnet fishery takes out another component that’s been here since at least the 1940s.” The data Every contends that the commissioner’s decision does not take the new data into account. ADFG opened the 600-foot fishery five times this season, though the four previous openings were in the Kasilof and North K-Beach areas. Each time, the harvest of large Kenai River late-run kings was less than 10 fish. With that data in hand, the advocates argue, the tradeoff of kings for sockeye is a fair one. The other user groups are able to be in the water, while the setnetters lose all their opportunity. “I never want to be sitting here when the dippers are dipping, the flossers are flossing, and the drifters are drifting,” Every said. “We are a group of people that is being bankrupted.” Some of the setnetters also argue that the king goal is unreachably high. Andy Hall, a Kasilof-area setnetter and the president of the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association, said watching the goal increase while watching the setnetters’ fishing time be cut to achieve an escalating goal is frustrating. “The paired restrictions are not equitable,” he said. “The concept of managing a sockeye fishery based on its absurdly low exploitation rate on a struggling king stock that has had the highest escapement goal in 25 years placed upon it is profoundly flawed. The only comparable paired restriction would be if all (personal use) and sport fisheries on both the Kenai and Kasilof rivers were closed when a single targeted fishery was closed. I am not endorsing that by any means. It would be ridiculous, almost as ridiculous as the way the ESSN is managed.” During the Board of Fisheries meeting, Vincent-Lang said the data presented by the setnetters about the 600-foot fishery’s impact might be one instance, but may not accurately capture the exploitation rate on kings if it were prosecuted for more days and when more kings were in the water. During the meeting, no members of the Division of Commercial Fisheries were identified as being able to answer questions for board members; Forrest Bowers, assistant director of the division, said that was because he was traveling. Other staff were monitoring the meeting and able to answer questions, he said. Ben Mohr, the executive director of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, agreed; the setnets may have a lower catch rate on kings when there are fewer kings moving through the water, but it may go up when there are more kings moving through the area. While the 600-foot fishery may have merit and he said he understands the pain the setnetters are going through, the middle of the season may not be the best time to make decisions about management strategies. “I think it’s really important that all sectors come together to talk about what we can do to come up with more selective harvest techniques,” he said. “I don’t think in the middle of the season is the time to do that. I don’t think in the middle of the season is the time to immediately call for experimentation.” The other side of the coin about the king goal is the coast-wide trend of king salmon declines. This year, several other large king salmon producing systems— the Yukon, the Nushagak, and the Copper rivers — all struggled to meet their king salmon escapements as well. Mohr noted that all three of those rivers have very little development along them, and they seem to be having the same trouble as the Kenai; that points to a problem in the kings’ ocean life component. Setting the king salmon goal higher can help provide differential levels of escapement in such a heavily used fishery, too, he said. If the goal is moved lower and lower, then the criticism might be that managers are just chasing a failing run down to make it look like they are meeting their goals. The closure costs the in-river guides as well; while some can rebook trips, king fishing trips are the most lucrative. The guides, and many in-river anglers, have gone to catch-and-release all the time for kings as a personal move to conserve the fish, too. “I don’t think anybody would want to be accused of catching the last king,” Mohr said. The future East Side setnetters, like most fishing user groups, aren’t a monolith. They vary in opinion from district to district, and sometimes even site to site. The Salamatof fishermen’s opinions about what should be done may come into conflict with the K-beach fishermen, and so on. One thing they all seem to agree on, though, is that this can’t go on without bleeding them dry. Crookston said the early closure has cost his site “hundreds of thousands of dollars.” “It is just horrible, what is going on,” he said. “There is tens of millions of dollars being squandered. To have opened the fishery would have been nothing. Everybody would have plenty of fish… there is no downside, only upside, and (Doug Vincent-Lang’s) true colors came out. We present you with a tool you say you want: harvest reds without harvesting kings.” Sarah Frostad-Hudkins’ family has been fishing the Salamatof Beach since the 1920s, when her grandfather Ole Frostad arrived there. In the past, the fishing has stretched from late May into September, or as her husband Jason Hudkins said, “until the nets froze.” Over the years, the season has been trimmed back into about six weeks. This season, their crew pulled their nets and stored their skiffs on the hill above the site just as July faded into August, after five openers total. “I feel like grieving is a good word (to describe the season),” she said. “We always grieve the end of the summer … this one is just earlier.” The next part in this series will cover the economic aspects of the closure of the Kenai River king salmon sportfishery, the East Side setnet fishery and the proposed buyback program for permits in the east side setnet fishery. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Pinks peaking, but chum runs mostly dismal around state

Alaska’s salmon landings have passed the season’s midpoint and by Aug. 7 the statewide catch had topped 116 million fish. State managers are calling for a projected total 2021 harvest of 190 million salmon, a 61 percent increase versus 2020. Most of the salmon being caught now are pinks with Prince William Sound topping 35 million humpies, well better than the projection of 25 million. Pink salmon catches at Kodiak remained sluggish at just more than 3 million so far out of a forecast calling for more than 22 million. Southeast was seeing a slight uptick with pink catches nearing 14 million out of a projected 28 million. The pink salmon harvest usually peaks in mid-August and the statewide catch was more than 57 million out of a projected 124 million humpies for the season. For chum salmon the harvest remains bleak with Prince William Sound and the Alaska Peninsula the only regions tracking well for catches. The statewide catch had barely topped 6 million out of a projected 15.3 million fish. The coho peak is typically in early September and harvests are climbing steadily, but at a pace less than half the five-year average. Just less than 700,000 cohos had crossed the Alaska docks, or about 14 percent of the projected catch of 3.8 million silver salmon. Alaska sockeye salmon catches of nearly 52 million so far have blown past the forecasted 46.6 million. More than 40 million are from Bristol Bay and more than 6 million from the Alaska Peninsula. The statewide chinook harvest had reached 173,000, or 64 percent of an expected 269,000 kings. Salmon slump No Alaska region has been hit harder by dismal salmon returns this summer than communities on the Yukon River, where the summer chum run of just 153,000 is the lowest on record. “This is really quite scary for everyone. These runs are low enough that no one on the river is subsistence fishing, and so it’s very dismal. Everybody in the communities on the full river drainage, are feeling the hardship,” Serena Fitka, director of the Yukon River Drainage Fisheries Association, told KYUK in Bethel. Nearly 10,000 pounds of chum and king salmon have been donated by Bristol Bay fishermen and processors with logistical assists by SeaShare and Kwik’pak Fisheries in Emmonak to send salmon to 11 villages. Kwik’pak, typically a top employer each summer, has been able to put only a handful of people to work for a few days helping with the distribution said General Manager Jack Schultheis. Gov. Mike Dunleavy also directed an additional $75,000 to purchase more salmon from Alaska processors for donations. The Tanana Chiefs Conference and the Association of Village Council Presidents are helping with distribution. More fish action As always, lots of other fisheries are going on across Alaska besides salmon. At Southeast, about 160 crabbers will wrap up a two-month Dungeness crab fishery on Aug. 15. State managers expect the catch to top 2.25 million pounds with another opener set for Oct. 1. A sablefish fishery opens in Northern districts on Aug. 15 for 73 shareholders with a catch of 1.13 million pounds. The Panhandle’s spot shrimp fishery remains open in some regions through Aug. 30 with a 400,000-pound harvest limit. At Prince William Sound, a sablefish fishery is ongoing through Aug. 30 with a 208,000-pound catch limit. Likewise, a lingcod fishery continues through year’s end with a 32,600-pound harvest. It’s been slow going for Prince William Sound’s shrimp fishery that opened in April and has been extended to Sept. 15. That catch limit is 70,000 pounds. Pot hauls for Kodiak’s Dungeness crab fishery were nearing 962,000 pounds by a fleet of 19 boats. Crabbers are dropping pots for nearly 6 million pounds of golden king crab along the Aleutian Islands. Alaska’s halibut landings are slightly ahead of last year at this time with nearly 9.9 million pounds crossing the docks by Aug. 7. That’s 53 percent of the roughly 19 million-pound catch limit. Halibut prices usually tank during the summer but that’s not the case this year and fishermen are fetching near or more than $6 per pound at most ports. Payouts at Homer were $7.25, $7.65 and $7.85 depending on halibut size, with Seward buyers paying a nickel less. Sablefish catches had topped 19 million pounds, or 44 percent, of the 43.4 million-pound quota. Homer also was paying the most for black cod with prices ranging from $1.10 for under two pounders to $6.25 for 7-ups with Sitka not far behind, according to the Fish Ticket by Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer. Fishing for scallops continued in regions from Yakutat to the Bering Sea where 345,000 pounds of shucked meats (the adductor muscle that keeps the shells closed) could be harvested this season. Fishing continued for cod, flatfish, pollock and more in the Bering Sea. Pollock fishing will reopen for Gulf of Alaska trawlers on Sept. 1. Mariculture means money Ninety new founding members responded to the call to help shape the new Alaska Mariculture Alliance, a private non-profit successor to a five-year task force formed in 2016 by former Gov. Bill Walker. Their goal is to create a sustainable industry for growing shellfish and seaweeds to benefit Alaska’s economy and communities. The group represents a diverse range of experienced growers to newcomers, said Julie Decker, executive director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, which administrated the task force and is doing the same for the AMA. It also includes reps from Alaska Native corporations, salmon hatcheries, the Central Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association and the Aleutian Pribilofs Community Development Association. Along with boosting shellfish and seaweed farming, a priority will be getting the Alaska Legislature to pass a bill to allow for more large-scale shellfish enhancement that models the state’s successful salmon hatchery programs. “There’s been some efforts looking at restoring and enhancing king crab, geoduck clams, sea cucumbers and razor clams but they’re mostly at an experimental level. And they’re not allowed to do larger scale projects until a regulatory framework is put into place,” Decker explained. “We’re very close to getting the bill passed and we’re hoping that it will be one of the first bills taken back up and moved along over the finish line in the next session. Sen. (Gary) Stevens of Kodiak and Rep. (Dan) Ortiz of Ketchikan have been very helpful with that.” Policy makers are starting to talk more about the positive potential for Alaska mariculture, Decker said, and she believes “we have turned a corner” as proven by several new state and federal hires. NOAA Fisheries has hired Alicia Bishop as its first ever Aquaculture Coordinator for the Alaska Region along with Jordan Hollarsmith as research lead, both based in Juneau. And the University of Alaska/Fairbanks has hired seaweed research specialist Schery Amanzor as a professor at its College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences to provide even more expertise. The state also has added two positions to the Department of Natural Resources to review new mariculture lease applications to reduce the backlog. “They have now gone from an average review process of 572 days down to 274 days,” Decker said. There are 76 active aquatic farm and nursery permits in Alaska, plus 35 pending new applications that add up to over 1631.32 underwater acres. Only 28 growers are making sales so far. The ultimate goal of the AMA is to facilitate a $100 million mariculture industry by 2038 and many believe that’s very conservative due to increasing demand, especially for seaweeds. The North American market for commercial seaweed will exceed $9.5 billion by 2026 due to rising commercial seaweed consumption and demands in the pharmaceutical industry, while global revenue is projected to top $85 billion, predicts Global Market Insights Inc. Check out the new Alaska Mariculture Map launched in partnership with the Alaska Ocean Observing System, Axiom Data Science, APICDA Corp., The Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, Alaska Sea Grant and The Nature Conservancy/Alaska. Fish boosters The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute is seeking members for its advisory committees to help develop global strategies for the Alaska seafood brand. Committees include Salmon, Halibut-Sablefish, Whitefish, and Shellfish, International Marketing, Domestic Marketing, Communications, Customer Advisory Panel and Seafood Technical. Deadline to apply is Sept. 24. Questions? Contact [email protected]/ Aug. 13 is the deadline to nominate small- and medium-sized seafood businesses to help shape a new National Seafood Council. Six to 8 seafood companies whose annual revenues are less than $20 million will be selected for cash scholarships based on their incomes. Apply at seafoodnutrition.org/ The call is still out for candidates for the state Board of Fisheries. The vacancy stems from the Alaska Legislature’s rejection on May 13 of Dunleavy’s appointment of Abe Williams, a regional affairs director for the Pebble Mine. According to Alaska statutes, Dunleavy was required to name a replacement within 30 days. Deputy Director of Communications Jeff Turner wrote in an email that, “The Governor is taking additional time to receive input from all stakeholders before making a selection” and that “he has committed to filling the seat before the next Board of Fish meeting in October.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Board of Fisheries denies setnetters’ emergency petitions

Kenai Peninsula setnetters are likely to remain closed for the rest of the season after the Board of Fisheries denied two emergency petitions seeking a partial reopening. In an emergency meeting held Aug. 2, the Board of Fisheries voted 4-2 to deny a petition seeking a limited reopening of the East Side setnet fishery in Upper Cook Inlet. The petitioner, Chris Every, asked the board to reopen the East Side setnets within 600 feet of mean high tide, known as the 600-foot fishery. “We believe by utilizing the 600-foot fishery we can reduce both the economic and biological impact while conserving chinook salmon, which is our ultimate goal with this 600-foot fishery,” he wrote in the petition. The setnetters had a foreshortened and significantly restricted season because of low late-run king salmon returns to the Kenai River. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game estimates that 6,420 large kings have passed the sonar on the Kenai River since July 1, significantly less than the lower end of the escapement goal of 15,000 large kings. In response, the department placed progressively stronger restrictions on the sportfishery, going from no bait to catch-and-release, and finally to a complete closure. Because of the paired-restriction model the Board of Fisheries placed on the East Side setnetters, when the king salmon sportfishery is completely closed, they are too. Setnetters have not been in the water since July 20, and they have watched the peak weeks of the Kenai River sockeye run swim past. Aug. 2 saw the highest daily passage to date: 151,525 sockeye passed the sonar, according to ADFG. Every cited harvest data from ADFG showing that when the entire East Side was open to the 600-foot nets only on July 20, only 11 late-run large Kenai River king salmon were harvested. “We believe that the amount of kings that are impacted by the east set-net 600 foot fishery is equal to or less than the other user groups,” he wrote. “The total chinook harvest in each one of the 600-foot openers is very low.” Board of Fisheries member Gerad Godfrey, one of the members who called for the emergency meeting after hearing from stakeholders, said those numbers were what convinced him the situation is an emergency. “I may not have caught all this in public comment or deliberations,” he said. “That was obviously a very intense meeting with a lot of data.” Board policy makes it hard to qualify something as an emergency. It must be an unforeseen effect of regulations, an immediate threat to the stock or include new information that the board or department did not have on hand when making regulations. The setnetters argue that the harvest data on large kings qualifies as new information, quantifying their exact impact on the run. ADFG Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang issued a response to the petitions over the weekend, just before the board meeting took place, finding that the situation didn’t qualify as an emergency because it was not unforeseen nor new information. During the meeting, he said the board instructed the department to prioritize meeting the lower end of the late-run king salmon escapement goal over keeping the sockeye run within its escapement goal range. The data from the 600-foot fishery on July 20 does show a small number of large Kenai River kings harvested compared to the approximately 36,000 sockeye harvested on the same day in the East Side setnet fishery, according to ADFG data. Vincent-Lang said that one day’s data may not be demonstrative of the effect of a 600-foot fishery long-term. “That 11 (king salmon) harvest is indicative of that day of fishing, but it may not be indicative of what you can expect in the harvest in the 600-foot fishery that is prosecuted in the area depending upon when king salmon are passing and how big of a run you have going by that site,” he said. Godfrey called the king harvest “de minimis” and said he felt he didn’t think he foresaw the full effect of the board’s actions on the setnet fishery while other fisheries remained open. Member John Wood agreed, saying he would like to see a temporary fix to allow the fishermen to harvest some of the sockeye run, but let the action expire after 120 days and consider permanent fixes in the future. However, the other board members did not agree. Member John Jensen said he thought the situation was serious in allowing that many fish to go by, but agreed with Vincent-Lang’s finding. Member Israel Payton said he agreed as well and cautioned against risking king runs for the sake of harvesting sockeye. “We don’t want to miss a goal more than three, four years in a row, because then it goes into stock of concern, and then we really have to take drastic measures,” Payton said. “My philosophy hasn’t changed that yes, my comfort level is more toward making a goal than exceeding a goal.” The board voted 4-2 to deny the emergency petition. There was a second petition from Paul Shadura II, a south Kalifornsky Beach-area setnetter, asking for openings in the Kasilof section, in the 600-foot fishery, and in the Kasilof River Special Harvest Area. The board voted to take no action on the petition without any further specific discussion. Shadura, who submitted the petition on behalf of the ad-hoc group the South K-Beach Independent Fishermen’s Association, said he felt “slighted” that the board had not taken up the Kasilof petition. He said he felt the board didn’t discuss any of the serious underlying issues in the situation, including overescapement of sockeye into both impacting the future of the runs and the increased amount of large king salmon in the Kenai being unattainable. “There’s a lot of discussion among folks,” he said. “We really have our doubts about the credibility of the escapement number. The target range for the kings in the Kenai River may at this current level exceed what was historically available in the first place.” Shadura has been participating in the Board of Fisheries process for years and commented in the 2017 meeting, when the Kenai River king salmon goals were converted from all fish to large fish only, that it would result in more closures of the setnet fishery. He said this result is not surprising to him, though the results are devastating to the local economy. Most Kenai Peninsula setnetters live in Alaska. “And to the processing industry, who’s really, from COVID … trying to survive in this situation with a reduction in harvest capacity,” he said. “All those fish that go up to the river are potential processing dollars that help the local community in multiple ways, and the national economy. It’s very, very shortsighted and the management system is not doing anything for the repair of our COVID economy.” The setnetters can submit an agenda change request, or ACR, ahead of the board’s October work session to be included in the upcoming cycle of regular meetings, with the hope that board members will accept any proposal under ACR requirements. Otherwise, they will have to wait until the Upper Cook Inlet cycle meeting, which is currently scheduled for 2024. The Upper Cook Inlet drift fleet is currently harvesting sockeye headed for the Kenai and Kasilof rivers, and so far has harvested about 668,269 sockeye. Across the area, commercial fishermen have harvested about 1.2 million salmon total. However, the United Cook Inlet Drift Association has also submitted an emergency petition to the Board of Fisheries, asking the board to suspend area restrictions during the first two weeks of August as well as the one percent rule. The petition states that the request is to help control escapement, which is increasingly coming in after Aug. 1, and the sockeye escapement goals in both the Kenai and Kasilof rivers have been achieved. ADFG is currently reviewing the petition. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Alaska crab shells displacing man-made chemicals

Most people are unaware that the yarns and fabrics that make up our carpets, clothing, car seats, mattresses, even mop heads, are coated with chemicals and metals such as copper, silver and aluminum that act as fire retardants, odor preventers, antifungals and anti-microbials. Now, crab shells from Alaska are providing the same safeguards in a bio-friendly way. The metals and chemicals are being replaced by all-natural Tidal-Tex liquid treatments derived from chitosan molecules found in the exoskeletons of crab shells. The bio-shift stems from a partnership between Leigh Fibers of South Carolina and Tidal Vision, the proprietary maker of the crab-based product that it began making in a 20-foot Conex van in Juneau six years ago. The company, which now operates near Seattle and has 22 full-time employees in three production facilities, expects to put up to 60 people to work within two years. In July, Tidal Vision opened its newest facility within Leigh Fibers’ headquarters, bringing its earth-friendly technology into the heart of the U.S. textile industry. Leigh Fibers is one of North America’s largest textile waste and byproduct reprocessing businesses that dates back to 1866 and now services 25 countries. “Partnering with Tidal Vision is a win-win for our company, our customers, and the environment,” said Eric Westgate, senior vice president. “Their Tidal-Tex product line delivers the key benefits that our customers look for in textiles at a lower price and is made from sustainable materials in the USA. At Leigh Fibers, we’re committed to advancing sustainable innovation and repurposing textiles for a cleaner, healthier planet.” “Having a partnership with Leigh Fibers was really strategically advantageous for us because they produce the fibers that then get turned into yarns that then get turned into all sorts of woven or non-woven textiles for everything from the automobile industry to the carpet industry to the acoustic sound insulation industry to the mop head industry to the furniture industry. They are at the top of the supply chain and treating those fibers was the easiest way to have the biggest impact in the textile industry,” said Tidal Vision CEO Craig Kasberg. Most of the raw product comes from snow crab and red king crab delivered to St. Paul Island in the Bering Sea where they are processed into frozen leg clusters. The shells are transported to the mainland where they are put through Tidal Vision’s zero waste, proprietary extraction process that produces chitosan in a flake form and is then made into the ready to use, liquid Tidal-Tex product. Kasberg said it provides the same fabric protections as the manmade agents at far less cost. “Our costs are minimal. They’re basically just tied to the logistics and some of the freezer storage costs but it’s nearly a free input material,” he said. All crustaceans have chitosan, a polysaccharide that is the second-most abundant organic compound in the world next to cellulose. Because of its unique molecular makeup, Kasberg calls it a “turnkey chemistry solution” to displace often toxic synthetic methods. “All these heavy metals need to be mined and refined, and then modified into these metal-based chemicals. Whereas we’re taking an abundant and even problematic byproduct from the seafood industry and with a really low cost extraction method, producing a biochemistry solution that can provide the same properties in these industries. Our inputs are tied to a byproduct,” Kasberg said. Tidal Vision has tested a lot of crustacean “inputs,” Kasberg said, but Alaska crab shells pack the best chitosan punch. “The starting molecular weight of the chitosan is higher,” he said. Tidal Vision hopes to build more partnerships and expand to other countries within the next few years. The company also features a line of other chitosan-based products including water clarifiers and a game animal spray that prevents spoilage and keeps insects away. “Our goal as a company is to create positive and systemic environmental impacts with our chitosan technologies,” Kasberg said. “We’re still on the ground floor of Tidal Vision’s potential today.” Seafood scholarships Scholarships are being offered to small- and medium-sized seafood businesses to help shape and launch a new National Seafood Council. Its mission is straightforward: to provide a unified voice for the industry to encourage Americans to eat more seafood. A task force was formed in April 2021 led by the Seafood Nutrition Partnership to get things underway. “Some of the tasks include designing the governance of the National Seafood Council and the makeup and responsibilities of the board members. We want to make sure that the task force is representative of size of companies, gender, geography around the U.S. and points all along the supply chain,” said Linda Cornish, SNP president. Nominations are wanted from 6 to 8 seafood-related companies whose annual revenue is less than $20 million. The scholarships, backed by the Walton Family Foundation, will be based on those revenues multiplied by 0.00025. A National Seafood Council was created in 1987 as part of a Fish and Seafood Promotion Act but fizzled after five years. In May 2021 a group of over 60 U.S. fishing companies, groups and medical professionals asked Congress to provide $25 million in seed money to revive the group to develop a national seafood marketing and education program. The seafood council would eventually become industry funded, similar to other food industries. “Seafood is probably one of the healthiest foods that people can eat and there’s just not enough funding to get that message out,” Cornish said. “The milk industry has about $300 million a year to market their product, pork about $70 million a year, avocados about $50 million. Seafood doesn’t have that. “So for us to tell our story to the consumers in a more cohesive and unified way, we need some help to get this council started, and provide that resource to have a marketing campaign to do the same as other food groups have.” Cornish said the idea has been well received in Congress. “Right now we’re looking for some champions in Congress to spearhead that request on this group’s behalf,” she added. “There’s a lot of priorities being discussed on Capitol Hill and we need to make sure that the needs of this National Seafood Council are heard by Congress.” Americans overwhelmingly turned to seafood during the COVID-19 pandemic and Cornish said the time is right to advance the health message. “We’re still fighting this COVID-19 pandemic and seafood supports immune health and also is great for brain development and heart health,” she said. “I think the industry is ready to work together in a more collaborative way to get this unified message out to the consumers. And I really think we have the right window of time to do so.” Eating seafood also tops the list in new U.S. dietary recommendations that Americans eat two servings per week, starting with kids at six months. Deadline to apply for a task force scholarship is Aug. 13. Find links at seafoodnutrition.org. Bristol Bay breaks it! The reds are still rolling in at Bristol Bay where a run topping 64 million has officially broken the record for all time sockeye returns since 1893. The previous record was set in 2018 at 62.9 million fish. “Large numbers can be hard to comprehend, so consider this,” wrote Andy Wink, executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, which is funded and operated by driftnet fishermen. “If lined up nose-to-tail, this year’s Bristol Bay sockeye run would stretch on for roughly 20,000 miles, enough to encircle all the Lower 48 states… twice!” It’s natural abundance on a truly epic scale, Wink added: “It’s important to highlight just how special the Bristol Bay salmon resource is. These records aren’t being set while overfishing. All escapement goals were met to propagate strong future runs. Despite all the bad news about environmental degradation and destruction, Bristol Bay is a shining example that healthy eco-systems can and still do still exist. It’s really an ecological treasure. We ask that state and federal government protect Bristol Bay salmon and the natural habitats that allow it to thrive.” Processors have increased the base price at Bristol Bay to $1.25 per pound. At an average fish weight of 4.5 pounds and a catch so far at nearly 39.5 million fish, back of the envelope calculations put the value of the sockeye haul to fishermen so far at more than $222 million. Bristol Bay sockeye currently represents 82 percen tof the statewide sockeye landings of nearly 49 million and 56 percent of all salmon harvested so far across Alaska (80.4 million). “The boats aren’t even dry yet and interest in Bristol Bay drift permits is beginning to trickle in. Permits are popping up for sale, with preliminary asking prices between $200,000 and $240,000,” said the Fish Ticket report by Alaska Boats &Permits in Homer. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

DNR keeps ‘quiet period’ with water rights revisions pending

Mum’s the word from Department of Natural Resources officials regarding their plan to fundamentally change the state’s water rights system. House Fisheries Committee chair Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, said DNR representatives declined to attend a July 27 hearing on the agency’s proposed changes to in-stream flow reservations and other water regulations because she was told they are in a “quiet period” while they respond to public comments from the extended period that closed April 2. Tops among the changes first suggested by the Division of Mining, Land and Water in mid-January is adding new language to water reservation regulations stating that water reservation certificates currently issued to private parties would instead be held by DNR, which adjudicates water rights and reservation applications. Resource development advocates insist the change is needed so control of a public resource is kept within a public agency and to prevent opponents of a given project from attempting to impede development by chasing water rights. For their part, conservation groups insist the change would strip Alaskans of their rights to protect the fish — another public resource — in waters vulnerable to development. Alaska’s current system of water rights is generally viewed as one of the most open in the country; it allows anyone to apply for temporary water use authorizations as well as water reservation, or in-stream flow, rights to maintain sufficient stream flows for fish and other wildlife. Reviewing water reservation applications often takes DNR years in coordination with the departments of Fish and Game and Environmental Conservation, a situation Bob Shavelson, advocacy director for the Homer-based conservation group Cook Inletkeeper, said in the hearing is the result of traditionally pro-development state administrations prioritizing water rights, or use, authorizations over flow reservations to protect habitat. Currently, the Department of Fish and Game holds the vast majority of flow reservations; another handful is held by federal resource agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Nature Conservancy is one of the few private entities to hold water reservations. It secured four flow reservations near the Pebble deposit in 2017. DNR officials also said during the public comment period that they could not comment specifically on the proposed regulations. At the time, they cited a section from the Administrative Procedures Act that state’s agency officials proposing a regulatory action “shall make a good faith effort to answer, before the end of the comment period, a question that is relevant to the proposed action, if the question is received in writing or at least 10 days before the end of the public comment period.” The section of the APA goes on to state that common questions can be answered in a consolidated form on the Alaska Online Public Notice System. State officials have historically discussed proposed regulatory changes and officials in other agencies have as well during the Dunleavy administration. Water Section Chief Tom Barrett said more broadly that flow reservations are “significant” in that they can impact other water users in a January interview. He added that the state is not trying to withhold water rights for any one group, noting the DNR commissioner — who approves water reservations — currently has the discretion to discontinue them as well. According to such answers posted by Mining, Land and Water officials, the changes are meant to better distinguish water reservations from more traditional water right appropriations. “Traditional water right certificates are issued to persons for a specific beneficial use. Reservations of water are a reserved level or flow that is reserved for a specific public purpose, not the sole use or benefit of the applicant.” Barrett wrote via email to the Journal on July 27 that it’s unclear exactly when DNR leaders plan to finalize the water regulations but it probably won’t happen for several months. The proposed regulations are a continuation of an attempt by former Gov. Sean Parnell’s administration to overhaul the water reservation structure, according to Shavelson. House Bill 77, which drew strong public opposition and died in the Senate in early 2014, would have limited water reservations to public agencies among many other revisions to state resource policies. While development advocates have long advocated for changes to Alaska’s water use regulations and statutes, one of the state’s largest pro-development lobbying groups is against the current regulations proposed by the Dunleavy administration because they don’t go far enough. Natural resources attorney Eric Fjelstad testified on behalf of the Resource Development Council for Alaska that the new proposed language also gives the in-stream flow reservation applicant legal standing to manage the reservation, even if DNR is technically the certificate holder. “We think (in-stream flow reservations) should be a limited tool held by DNR and state subdivisions,” Fjelstad said. The state’s multilayered process for permitting large development projects addresses the concerns of many who are concerned about the impacts of development on water bodies and fish, notably salmon and the place for instream flow reservations is in a more subtle situation, according to Fjelstad. He suggested several small water withdrawals along a stream or river is a more likely scenario to result in cumulative damage to the watershed and its inhabitants. “If you don’t have that large project permitting you can have water withdrawals that aren’t accounted for,” he said. RDC Executive Director Marleanna Hall wrote in official comments to DNR that giving legal standing to private parties potentially managing in-stream flow reservations “an even more powerful tool for those who oppose development from Alaska. This provision should be removed from the regulations.” Shavelson contended the insistence by RDC and other development advocates that private parties should not be able to hold in-stream flow reservations as a means for protecting fish habitat is inherently hypocritical because developers, and other private groups, can hold water rights and temporary water use authorizations to divert water out of a lake or stream. “A Canadian mining company could hold rights to take water out of a salmon stream but Alaskans couldn’t hold the reservation to keep water in the stream and that’s the crux of it,” Shavelson said. “The DNR proposal really takes a government knows best approach to water reservations.” He urged lawmakers to amend the Alaska Water Use Act to mandate DNR to apply a corresponding water reservation sufficient to preserve fish and wildlife populations — which varies in each water body — to counter each water withdrawal authorization. “This would be the Alaska Legislature looking at the Water Use Act and making some simple but common sense changes,” Shavelson said. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Salmon fisheries turn to chums, pinks as sockeye runs wind down

While the sockeye fisheries in Southcentral and Western Alaska are tapering off after seasons of varying success, the chum fishery statewide is turning out to be pretty dismal. Statewide, chum harvest is actually ahead of 2020’s final catch, almost entirely because of landings in Prince William Sound and the Alaska Peninsula. However, the total volume is still down; as of July 17, the harvest of about 4.4 million fish was about half of the typical volume at that time, according to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. Across Southeast, through July 17, chum harvest was 35 percent less than what it was in 2020. The Southeast troll fishery is seeing both fewer fish and smaller ones in the chum fishery. As of July 23, the trollers had landed 6,900 chums, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, with an average weight of 6.4 pounds per fish, about 2.7 pounds less than the recent 5-year average and about 1.4 smaller than last year’s average weight. “Hatchery produced chum salmon runs throughout Southeast have been variable to date, but harvests have generally been below average as forecasted,” managers wrote in the weekly update July 23. The Southern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association, which tracks in-season returns of its summer chum, is showing that the actual return is tracking better than the lower end of its forecast. Up until statistical week 28, the run was tracking less than the forecast, but moved up by week 29 to between the lower and mid-ranges of the forecast. Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association, however, is reporting poor returns at its sites. “Returns of summer chum to NSRAA remote release sites through stat week 29 continues to be poor and all indications to date are that we will be at or well below the low range of our preseason summer chum forecast,” the association wrote in its update on July 19. In Prince William Sound, 2.4 million chums have been harvested as of July 25. Harvest is better than last year, which ended at about 1.2 million chums. Dan Lesh, a fisheries economist with the McKinley Research Group, said chum salmon are marketed for both roe and fillets, with the U.S. being an important market for fillets while the roe is often consumed in Asia. Alaskans may think primarily of sockeye and kings in the salmon market, but chum and pink usually provide large amounts of product to serve the markets. “One way to think about it is just volume,” he said. “In certain markets you need a lot of volume, and pink and chum are where we have the volume. Pink and keta are both affordable ways to provide really high-quality protein to people who aren’t tracking salmon closely.” Salmon fisheries are beginning to turn toward pinks. Prince William Sound fishermen have so far landed 22.6 million of them, which are a mixture of hatchery stocks and wild stocks. It’s a surprise, given that these fish would have been born in 2019, when a drought and record-breaking temperatures seared Prince William Sound. “Wild stocks are returning stronger than anticipated given the uncertainty about spawning success from the 2019 parent year that was assumed to be negatively impacted by drought conditions,” managers wrote in the weekly update. The Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corporation is forecasting about 6.6 million pinks to return to the Wally Noerenberg Hatchery this year. They are just starting to show up and are not yet in enough numbers to report, according to the hatchery organization. Cost recovery harvest began on July 26 at the Armin F. Koernig hatchery, which is expecting 5 million pinks to return, and planned to start on July 27 at the Cannery Creek hatchery, which is forecasting 6 million pinks to return. Pink season is still just getting going elsewhere. Southeast has harvested about 3 million total so far, while Kodiak has harvested about 1.2 million and the Alaska Peninsula has harvested about 4.5 million. The Alaska Peninsula is ahead of its recent-year averages, while Kodiak was reportedly slightly behind. Cook Inlet is starting to see some pink harvests mixed in among sockeye, but reds are still the main harvest. Last week saw the Upper Cook Inlet East Side setnetters closed entirely due to poor king salmon returns to the Kenai River, leaving the drift fleet and West Side setnetters as the only commercial harvesters in the upper Inlet. The Lower Cook Inlet fleet is primarily harvesting hatchery pink salmon bound for Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association’s two hatcheries on Kachemak Bay, and so far have landed about 139,000 pinks. Bristol Bay is mopping up the last of its sockeye harvests for the season, but all preseason estimates have shown that this season set a new record at just shy of 40 million sockeye harvested and a total estimated run of 64.2 million. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Adak stakeholders protest denial of proposed cod allocation

Stakeholders of an isolated Aleutians fish plant contend state appointees on the federal fisheries management board have ignored calls for help to keep more of the area’s large Pacific cod catch in Alaska despite a court order that shot down the first attempt to do so. Representatives from Aleut Corp., which owns the fish processing plant in Adak through a subsidiary, and Peter Pan Seafood Co., have said they need to be able to rely on a foundational allocation of cod from federal fisheries to reopen the currently shuttered plant. It’s believed a reliable allocation of roughly 5,000 metric tons of Pacific cod to the plants in Adak and Atka, where a plant is also currently closed, would provide a base volume of fish that would allow an operator to keep it open year-round with purchases in the state waters cod and other fisheries throughout the year. Doing so could provide the ultra-remote community of approximately 300 residents with nearly 200 jobs during peak activity and several dozen steady positions if the plant were operated year-round, they estimate. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council that oversees the largely Seattle-based trawl cod fishery is in the process of reforming those allocations amidst other regulatory changes. Of the 11 voting council members, six are appointed by Alaska’s governor, in theory giving the state bloc control over council decisions and the business interests as well; those with more personal ties to the former Naval base community are wondering why, as they put it, the administration is not supporting the interests of a rural Alaska community over the trawl industry. Peter Pan Executive Vice President Jon Hickman wrote in public comments submitted prior to the council’s mid-June meeting that the company supports a harvest split with up to 30 percent of the qualifying shares going to eligible processors, contending that it would create a competitive, but not exclusive, market for the cod. For Peter Pan, it would likely provide the market stability the company needs to make investments in value-added cod products at Adak, according to Hickman. Peter Pan’s message on the issue was backed by the Pacific Seafood Processors Association, which feels a dedicated shore-side allocation recognizes the investments made in the fishery and the changes that have occurred due to rationalization and other factors, according to testimony from PSPA President Chris Barrows. Excess floating processing capacity left over after the rationalization starting in the mid-2000s of crab and other Bering Sea fisheries was moved south to participate in the federal Aleutians cod fishery among others, which challenged the community of Adak after the first time the plant closed in 2009, according to Adak Community Development Corp. board member Dave Fraser. “All that excess capacity flowed out into the Aleutians and shortened the seasons,” Fraser said. That 5,000 metric-ton mark is what was set aside by the council in 2016 under what is known as Amendment 113 for shore-based plants from the area’s federal Pacific cod fishery for several years as a means to direct resources to the communities that would otherwise be sent to floating processors. It was the council’s response to mitigate the impacts of its prior actions in other Bering Sea fisheries on Adak and other Aleutian communities. Offloading at shore side facilities means the large catcher vessels must pay the 3 percent state fish landing tax and adds other expenses to their operation. So in turn, several Seattle-based trawl industry groups and vessel owner companies sued the council in late 2016 in an attempt to have Amendment 113 overturned. They argued in part that the Magnuson-Stevens Act does not give the council the authority to allocate harvest to shore-based processers and that the council did not provide a rational explanation for the regulatory change, thus violating the Administrative Procedures Act that is at the core of many federal regulatory disputes. D.C. Federal District Court Judge Timothy J. Kelly sided with the trawl coalition in a March 2019 order in which he concluded the harvest set-aside for a pair of plants — but practically just Adak — violated national standards under the MSA that prohibit the council from discriminating between residents of different states in allocation issues. Sen. Dan Sullivan subsequently attached a rider to the 2019 Coast Guard reauthorization bill that largely would have made Amendment 113 law and bypassed the council; however, Washington Democrat Sen. Maria Cantwell gathered opposition sufficient to prevent Sullivan’s amendment from getting the requisite 60 votes on the Senate floor. According to data submitted by Peter Pan to the council prior to its recent June meeting, cod deliveries from the federal trawl catch to Adak in 2018 and 2019 when Amendment 113 was in effect accounted for 12 to 13 percent of the total Bering Sea and Aleutians trawl cod allocation. Brent Paine, executive director of United Catcher Boats, one of the plaintiffs in the Amendment 113 suit, wrote to the council that the group believes the concept of allocating harvest shares to processors is meant to provide stability in the catcher-processor relationship and a new catch-share program should strengthen that relationship, not weaken it. United Catcher Boats supported a processor allocation range of 10 to 20 percent in June when the council was deliberating its preliminary preferred alternative on the matter, versus Peter Pan’s 30 percent request. “By narrowing the range the council will help the public focus its attention on a fair and reasonable allocation percentage at this time,” Paine wrote in reference to the national fisheries standard requirements. Peter Pan Business Development Manager Steve Minor said in testimony after the council selected a preliminary alternative that would allocate about 2,000 metric tons of cod per year to Adak that the company is suspending its work to restart the Adak plant as a result of the decision. “There are many problems associated with this (preliminary preferred alternative), but let me close by saying that by selecting this PPA, the council ignored the unanimous agreement between all of the major Adak stakeholders about the most reasonable option to restore Adak’s economy,” he said. According to a written statement from Peter Pan after the council’s preliminary Adak decision, which was approved 10-1 as part of a broader regulatory package, there is a significant amount of work that needs to be done to the plant before it can be operated consistently. “Adak’s economic future, its school and small businesses are all tied to the success of the seafood plant, and we hope that the council ultimately supports the Adak community and the harvesters that helped pioneer this remote fishery,” Peter Pan’s statement reads. Council members who responded to questions from the Journal said the council rejected the allocation proposal because it would have allowed the fish to be transferred to other communities, such as King Cove or Unalaska, where Peter Pan and others have active facilities, and required a cash payment to Adak instead of generating real economic activity in the community, which state officials wanted to preserve. Officials in the Governor’s Office and the Department of Fish and Game did not respond to questions and interview requests for this story. They also said the 5,000-ton “set aside” for one group is far too much considering the annual total allowable catch, or TAC, for Pacific cod is in steep decline. It would create a situation where one user is provided a fixed quantity of a resource, with the rest are subjected to the swings in abundance. Adak Community Development Corp.’s Fraser said he hopes the council can come up with a way to support Adak’s economy that will get broader buy-in from stakeholders before finalizing the allocations; the council’s next meeting is scheduled for Oct. 11-16. If the plant remains closed, regardless of the reason, it’s likely the school will close, which would be another major blow to the community, he said. Adak’s economy shrunk rapidly after the first time the plant closed for two years starting in 2009, according to Fraser. “Each time that happens, that somebody opens and then closes the plant again you lose more and more people out of the community and the ability to maintain a small business in Adak is reduced,” he said. “It is literally a matter of life and death for the community to have access on a sustainable basis to the resources that are right on its doorstep.” Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Cook Inlet setnet, sport king fisheries closed; Bristol Bay breaks record

While Bristol Bay has broken its all time record for sockeye, Cook Inlet’s setnetters are already out of the water for the season because of low king salmon numbers. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game issued an emergency order July 19 that closes the Kenai River king salmon sportfishery entirely, as well as the Kasilof River and Upper Cook Inlet saltwaters. The run has been disappointing so far, and looks likely to come in at around 10,000 large fish; that is far short of the lower end of the current optimal escapement goal of 15,000 to 30,000 large fish. “The 2021 king salmon late-run to the Kenai River is significantly below preseason expectations, without further restrictions the escapement goal for Kenai River late-run king salmon is not expected to be achieved,” said sportfish area management biologist Colton Lipka in the announcement from ADFG. The managers started the late run on July 1 with a fishery open to retention, but no bait allowed. Through the paired restrictions on setnetters, that meant they had only up to 48 hours per week to fish and limited gear: only two 29-mesh nets or one 45-mesh net per permit, compared to the three 45-mesh nets per permit they’re allowed to have without the paired restrictions. Then, last week, ADFG went to catch and release, which pulled setnetters back to no more than 24 hours per week. The move to close the river to king fishing closes the East Side setnets entirely. The drift gillnet fleet is still able to fish, as are the West Side setnets. As of July 15, setnets had harvested a total of 138 large late-run Kenai River king salmon, according to ADFG. For all sizes and stocks, east side setnets had harvested 955 king salmon. The paired restrictions have been a point of pain for East Side setnetters since 2014, when the Board of Fisheries enacted them with the stated goal of spreading the burden of king salmon conservation between the in-river and commercial fisheries. The Kenai River king salmon run has been struggling for more than a decade, and the paired restrictions have led to early shutdowns or significant restrictions for setnetters multiple times since 2014. Andy Hall, a Kasilof-area setnetter and president of the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association, said July 19 that setnetters had been expecting the decision but were disappointed. The paired restrictions fall disproportionately on them, he said, because in-river guides, dipnetters, and sportfishermen can continue to fish for other species, but setnetters are on the beach. “The paired restrictions are not fair,” Hall said. “They never have been. We’re going to be the only group in the Inlet that’s not fishing now; guides will be guiding, dipnetters will be dipnetting, drifters will be drifting, sportfishermen will be sportfishing, and we’re going to sit on the beach. And we took a fraction of the big kings taken this year.” Since the 2017 Board of Fisheries meeting, managers have only counted large kings—those 75 centimeters from mid-eye to tail fork or longer—toward the river’s escapement goal. The goal has also been increased numerically several times. In 2016, a department analysis recommended a sustainable escapement goal of 13,500 to 27,000 large late-run Kenai kings. The board members chose a higher goal, set as an optimal escapement goal, of 15,000 to 30,000 large fish. Hall said the setnetters have been watching the goal increase and shift to large kings-only as they lose more fishing time, and that the result has been to allow more sockeye into both the Kenai and Kasilof rivers than the sockeye escapement goals recommend. “The paired restrictions are not equitable. The concept of managing a sockeye fishery based on its absurdly low exploitation rate on a struggling king stock that has had the highest escapement goal in 25 years placed upon it is profoundly flawed,” he said. “The only comparable paired restriction would be if all (personal use) and sport fisheries on both the Kenai and Kasilof rivers were closed when a single targeted fishery was closed. I am not endorsing that by any means. It would be ridiculous, almost as ridiculous as the way the ESSN (East Side setnet) is managed.” KPFA sent a letter to Fish and Game Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang on July 2, predicting that the department would find itself in this position of whether to shut down king salmon fishing, and thus setnets, by late July. The letter asks Vincent-Lang to consider the impact of shutting down the commercial fishery on the local economy and to evaluate whether it is worth “sacrificing some very small number of large kings to prevent yet another year of dramatic sockeye overescapement and the peninsula-wide financial impacts that foregone sockeye harvest leaves in its wake.” Rick Green, special assistant to the commissioner, said Vincent-Lang did receive the letter and called KPFA to thank them for their input. “We are sympathetic to the economic impact of every decision we make, especially on a fully allocated resource like Cook Inlet fish,” Vincent-Lang said in a statement. “However, we are following the management plan agreed on by the Board of Fisheries on how to manage these mixed stock runs. Our primary mission is for sustained yield and we have projections that say we have no kings to spare.” So far, Upper Cook Inlet commercial fishermen have harvested a total of 649,715 salmon, 90 percent of which are sockeye. The pink salmon harvest has been increasing, and so far, they’ve harvested 28,036 of them. Bristol Bay booms On the other side of the Alaska Peninsula, Bristol Bay has tipped over the edge of its all-time record. Counts on Tuesday confirmed an estimated of 63.2 million sockeye, surpassing the 2018 bay-wide record of 62.95 million.The Nushagak District in particular has blown by forecast expectations, with a total run of 27.2 million sockeye and about 17.5 million sockeye harvested so far. It also boasted two record harvest days, with 1.7 million and 1.8 million fish each day. West Side area management biologist Tim Sands said the forecast was for about 12 million sockeye to be harvested from there. The escapement into the Nushagak District rivers is about 9.7 million total. Sands said there were hampering factors that prevented some extra harvest. “Certainly (escapement is) higher than we would need or like, but with all the tough weather we’ve had this year and the breaks early on for king conservation, we had a lot more fish going by,” he said. However, the banner harvest numbers may be slightly tempered by decreased fish size. ADFG samples have been showing that the average sockeye weight is down about three-quarters of a pound from historical averages, or about 4.5 pounds average this year. Stacy Vega, an ADFG biologist who runs the sampling program in Bristol Bay, said that may be in part because the average age of fish returning to the bay is declining. The fish may also be smaller because of the very large runs returning this year, increasing competition for resources. “When you have a lot more fish, they tend to be smaller, because there’s just less resources out there for them,” she said. The smaller weights may impact the ending-season value of the catch, despite record numbers. Dan Lesh, a fisheries economist with the McKinley Research Group, said those smaller sizes result in smaller fillets, which in turn affect the market value. “When you try to translate to value, that bump of harvest gets watered down quite a lot,” he said. “I think reporting on the numbers of fish in Bristol Bay should be tempered by the size issues.” The decrease in size may not affect the fishermen too drastically, as they are paid by the pound at the dock. This year, base prices are also higher than they have been in recent years. Last week, OBI Seafoods announced a base price of $1.25 per pound, and Peter Pan matched it, up from its own preseason base price of $1.10 per pound. Lesh noted that the prices still down from their high points several years ago, but that the increase is good to see for fishermen. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

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