Judge tosses felony charges against former fish board nominee

Three months after a U.S. appeals court sided with a group of Cook Inlet drift fishermen contesting the delegation of most salmon management from federal officials to the State of Alaska, the former leader of that group had a dozen felony charges dismissed related to allegations of illegally receiving Permanent Fund Dividends. Alaska Superior Court First District Judge Louis Menendez dismissed most of the charges against former United Cook Inlet Drift Association Executive Director Roland Maw on Jan. 3, capping a fisheries politics fiasco stretching back to Gov. Bill Walker’s first days in office in early 2015 that included the ousting of former Board of Fisheries chairman Karl Johnstone, a chaotic confirmation cycle to replace him and the resignation of Walker's Boards and Commissions Director Karen Gillis. Maw said the ordeal has not only drained him financially but left a sour taste in his mouth about his treatment from the State of Alaska, which he said was unfair and has resulted in damage to his reputation. “I’m a little cranked,” he said. “You’re darned right I am.” On Jan. 13, 2016, the State of Alaska hit Maw with 12 felony charges and five misdemeanors for claiming Alaska residency to obtain Permanent Fund Dividends and resident rates for hunting and fishing permits while claiming residency for similar licenses in Montana. The State of Montana filed similar charges against Maw in March 2015, less than a month after he withdrew his name from confirmation for the Board of Fisheries, and he pled no contest to those charges in May of that year. Yet on Jan. 3, the Alaska Superior Court threw out Maw’s felony indictments by the State of Alaska. The prosecution by Lisa Kelley didn’t properly present the hearsay evidence to the grand jury, according to the ruling. “A plain and simple reading of the law is that the reasons for presenting hearsay evidence shall be stated on the record at the grand jury, and not at some later point in time,” the ruling reads. “That did not happen in this case and the near entirety of the evidence heard by the jury did not comply with Alaska law.” According to the ruling, the state did not authenticate the records until nine months after they were presented to the grand jury. The ruling goes further, saying Maw couldn’t have gotten a fair trial as a result. “The issue is whether or not the exhibits were properly presented to the grand jury,” it reads. “The court finds that they were not and indictment should be dismissed because of the prejudice suffered by Mr. Maw as a result.” However, the state has not dropped five misdemeanor charges of unsworn falsification in second degree. The prosecution for these charges will continue as planned. Maw said he hopes those charges may go away in light of the ruling, though, as the Superior Court ruling finds all the admissible evidence insufficient to support the felony indictments. “Even if the court were so to find the remaining evidence is sufficient to support the indictment, the probative force of the admissible evidence is so weak and the unfair prejudice to Mr. Maw is so strong that it appears very likely that the improper evidence was a factor in the grand jury’s decision to indict,” according to Menedez’s ruling. The state now has three options regarding Maw’s felony indictments. Prosecutors can choose not to file the charges again, try to get a new grand jury indictment or pursue a plea agreement with the ongoing misdemeanor charges.  Maw said he hasn’t heard anything from the state regarding its intent, and Kelley said the state has not plotted a course of action yet. The now-dismissed indictment is tangled in a political situation at the beginning of the 2015 Legislative session. Although Walker had already nominated Sam Cotten for the position, Maw also applied for the job of Alaska Department of Fish and Game commissioner. Under state law, the Board of Fisheries must interview and forward a list of qualified commissioner candidates from which the governor may choose. The board, then chaired by Karl Johnstone, unanimously deemed Maw unqualified to be interviewed for the job. In response to criticism of the board action by UCIDA and then-House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, Walker chastised the Board of Fisheries and told Johnstone he wouldn’t be reappointed with his term about to expire June 30, 2015. Johnstone resigned on Jan. 14, and Walker appointed Maw to replace him on the board on Jan. 20, 2015. Maw dropped out of consideration soon after on Feb. 20, 2015, shortly before the investigation in Montana became public knowledge. Walker’s next choice, Kenai-area habitat advocate Robert Ruffner, was torpedoed in the Legislature by a 29-30 vote after sportfishing groups organized against him. Walker then appointed Bob Mumford, who later resigned after only a year on the board rather than seek confirmation for the seat. In 2016, Walker then chose not to reappoint Fritz Johnson of Dillingham, and chairman Tom Kluberton announced he was not interested in another three-year term on the board, citing the political burnout from the contentious job. That created three openings for the board, and all three of Walker’s choices, including a second shot for Ruffner, were unanimously approved by the Legislature. Maw said he never wanted the situation to play out as it did, and has no further plans to seek any board position. “I’ve scratched that itch,” he said. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Study: New North Pacific fleet would cost $11.6B

Rejuvenating Alaska’s large vessel fishing fleet could be nearly an $11 billion boon for Outside shipyards, according to a new McDowell Group report. The Alaska-based research firm pegged $11.3 billion as the cost to completely replace the 414 fishing and processing vessels longer than 58 feet that participate in North Pacific fisheries off the coast of Alaska in a study commissioned by the Port of Seattle and the Washington Maritime Federation. Regulations generally require boats in Alaska’s salmon fisheries to be less than 58 feet, which makes that length the common delineator between smaller boats focused on near shore fisheries and larger vessels that fish and process catch in federal waters at least three miles offshore. Additionally, most of the more than 5,000 smaller commercial fishing boats that operate in Alaska homeport in the state and nearly all of the larger vessels in federal fisheries have Puget Sound addresses for a host of reasons. While the $11.3 billion baseline figure includes the cost to eventually replace a dozen vessels among the 414 built since they year 2000, according to McDowell Group the fleet averages 40 years old and 87 percent of the vessels were built before 1990. To that end, the study estimates it would cost nearly $9 billion to replace all of the North Pacific fishing vessels more than 30 years old and about $4.4 billion for those at least 40 years old. There was no way for vessel owners to replace much of the fleet until federal regulators in 2012 and 2014 lifted restrictions on transferring vessel-tied fishing permits in acknowledgment of the aging fleet. The most expensive vessels to replace are naturally the largest in the North Pacific fishing fleet: the three, 300-plus foot processors at $170 million apiece and 16 dual-purpose catcher-processor vessels that average 285 feet at a cost of $130 million each. These vessels are primarily focused on pollock, the small whitefish that comprises the bulk of the offshore Alaska catch. Replacing the vessels that make up most of the fleet would cost $15 million to $18 million apiece for the smallest crab and trawl boats and up to an average of $78 million for smaller — generally less than 200 feet — catcher-processors that are part of the Bering Sea-Aleutian Islands “Amendment 80” groundfish trawler fleet, according to the study. How quickly the North Pacific fleet gets new additions depends on a host of factors, some of which are nearly as variable as any one fish’s location in the immense Gulf of Alaska. Modern engines and hull designs can improve fuel efficiency by up to 30 percent on new vessels, according to the study, and a strong impetus for new construction, as is the ability to integrate value-added processing equipment on new vessels. However, vessels participating in fisheries such as crab that have few on-board, value-added possibilities are much less likely to be replaced, the McDowell authors concluded. For these reasons, seafood companies that own multiple vessels may be inclined to build one efficient boat to replace two that are of age, which the study states is the circumstance for at least one Amendment 80 trawler currently being built. Conversely, some catcher-processor companies indicated a desire to not consolidate because more vessels fishing naturally means more opportunities to find fish, according to the study. The need to swap out old for new can also depend largely on the maintenance history of individual vessels, the authors acknowledge. “Despite the regulatory and financial benefits of operating new vessels, many owners of well-maintained, older vessels are hesitant to commit to reinvestment,” the study states. The ability of vessel owners to obtain financing with preferable terms — as is the case with nearly all multimillion-dollar construction projects — will also play a large role in how quickly the North Pacific fishing fleet is upgraded. According to McDowell Group, lenders view fishing vessels similar to real estate projects with the addition of some potentially challenging variables. First, the financing need could range from about $10 million for smaller, single-owner vessels to more than $100 million for processors owned by large companies. The one-off nature of large fishing vessels, each with an individual design to meet specific gear type and other ranging needs, is a large risk to ensuring a project can be done on time and within budget. Interest rates between 2 percent and 3.5 percent above the going prime rate are common in fishing industry loans, the report states. A trend in federal North Pacific fisheries towards “rationalizing” the harvest — in which vessel owners are allocated a set quota as opposed to historical derby-style fishing — has helped mitigate some lenders’ concerns about prospective revenue to offset loan payments because the owner is more or less guaranteed a portion of a given harvest. The report notes that harvest quota in rationalized fisheries can often be used as loan collateral, too. Still, the biggest impediment to paying for most new fishing vessels is the “financing gap” that often exists in the industry with very high overhead, the authors conclude. Repaying a no-interest loan for the full cost of a new vessel over the common maximum term of 12 years for commercial loans would in most instances require at least half of the vessels gross annual earnings to go towards loan payments across all North Pacific fishing vessel types, according to the report. To that end, the authors add that the average annual net earnings for the Amendment 80 fleet — the funds a loan would actually be repaid from — were just 15 percent to 28 percent of gross earnings from 2008 to 2012. The end result is a need for substantial down payments to close the financing gap, the report states. Despite the challenges, McDowell Group projects the need for modernizing the North Pacific fishing fleet will lead to 37 new vessels being built over the next decade at a total cost of more than $1.6 billion. Comparatively, 19 new vessels have joined the fleet since 2002. Those figures do not include a number of vessels that have been — or will be — retrofitted or otherwise significantly modified but not replaced. Looking further, the authors estimate three to five new North Pacific fishing vessels per year will be built each year after 2026. They also expect fleet consolidation to continue barring major increases to seafood prices or harvest limits, which could impact the rate of vessel replacement. “The primary driver of this consolidation will be transferrable quota, which will tend to concentrate in the hands of the most successful companies and therefore require fewer vessels to harvest,” the report states. While just more than one-third of historical North Pacific fishing vessel projects have been done by Puget Sound shipyards, McDowell Group estimates that market share will increase to about 50 percent in the near-term, assuming the region’s industry can maximize the benefit of local construction. According to the report, “Puget Sound shipyards are viewed favorably by the commercial fishing industry for their high-quality work.” Additionally, there are inherent benefits for Seattle-area owners in having their vessels built locally, such as the ability to closely monitor the project during construction and a “shipyard and crew familiar with a vessel are well-positioned to provide cost-effective maintenance and repair services in the future,” the report states. Capturing half of the new vessel projects through 2026 would likely result in up to 750 direct and indirect jobs for the Puget Sound region, according to McDowell Group. The primary competitors for the projects are Gulf Coast shipyards Southern states. Gulf Coast shipyards benefit from labor costs — up to half of the cost of a new vessel — that are about 30 percent less than those in Washington and about 45 percent less than Alaska. Also, Alaska currently has just one shipyard capable of building large fishing vessels. Portland, Ore.-based Vigor Industrial’s Ketchikan Shipyard finished the F/V Arctic Prowler in 2013, a 136-foot freezer-longliner and the first large fishing vessel built in the state. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Effort continues to replace humans with cameras on fishing boats

Several years into the controversial effort to bolster Alaska’s fisheries observer program, a top federal fisheries official defended the work at a Seattle gathering of fishermen. Eileen Sobeck, the NOAA Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, took the stage this past Nov. 18 to talk to fishermen gathered for the annual Fish Expo event to recap the program. Observers are the eyes and ears on boats, collecting a range of data, she explained. “We have been monitoring fisheries for decades, and we do it in a lot of different ways,” Sobeck said. But the details of the program have been under fire over the past few years. Federal efforts to put a human on smaller boats was met with concerns about safety and efficiency, and fishermen’s requests to use cameras have had logistical difficulties. Over the past few years, the effort to use cameras has increased nationwide, and the National Marine Fisheries Service has been tasked with sorting out how to make that work, both logistically and cost-wise. Over 10 years, the National Marine Fisheries Service has helped fund more than 30 electronic monitoring, or EM, pilot programs. Expenses include the cost of cameras, the cost to install them, and the cost of going through the immense amount of data they can collect. “We have, collectively, an interest in being as cost-effective as we can possibly be,” Sobeck said. That effort has translated into regional electronic monitoring plans that were finished more than a year ago, and are now being implemented with plans for regular reviews, said George LaPointe, one of the point people on the project. Although monitoring in some fisheries has developed successfully, like in the groundfish fisheries, LaPointe said, the agency is still working toward certain implementation, such as in Alaska’s small boat fixed gear and pot fisheries, where the target date is 2018. That fleet includes about 630 vessels right now, with a much smaller number that have opted in for 2017. The EM development effort has taken several years, from the 2013 decision to restructure the observer program, to 2016, when 51 vessels participated in a pre-implementation program. This year, the agency is hoping that 120 of the smaller fixed gear and pot boats will be on board with the program, preparing for 2018 implementation. For 2018, the vessels that are required to have some monitoring, but not be covered full-time, will have the option of electronic or human observation. As the agency has worked on implementation, several challenges have arisen, LaPointe said. “We can put cameras on boats. And we can get the data out of those. But it’s expensive,” he said. Now, work is underway to find a more efficient way to review the camera-collected data. Ideally, the agency wants accurate fish identification from computers, rather than requiring humans to review the data. While the agency is helping fund EM for now, LaPointe said they eventually want to transition to funding the program on its own. The agency is looking both at regular cameras, and stereo cameras, mostly testing those on longline boats. Those are machine vision systems, which ideally can process the imagery as fish come on board, limiting the time it takes to process images, as well as the cost. But it’s still in testing phase. The agency has heard years of critiques on the program, from costs to the logistical difficulties boats face in carrying an observer or camera. But in the November discussion, the first question was about fishermen who want to help test EM. “There are some remote places that would like to try this stuff,” Doug Rhodes, a longliner out of Prince of Wales, told the agency. He said in past years, he hadn’t been to a port where he could get a camera to try, but thought that many rural fishermen would give it a shot if there was a way to let them install it or get it installed at a closer port. Although that’s not yet possible, Suzanne Romain from the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission said the ultimate goal is to make the technology open source. Eventually, they want a system that fishermen can install themselves, she said. That’s one way to keep the cost down, and ultimately, minimizing the cost of the program is a primary goal. Fishermen in the North Pacific, unlike their Atlantic counterparts, have borne much of the cost of observation, although the agency has helped with costs of testing pilot electronic monitoring programs, and have said that it’s too much added expensive, particularly for small boat, lower-margin fisheries. Addressing that is a goal, Sobeck said. “We are trying to be innovative,” Sobeck said. “We are trying to find cost savings.”

Council cracks up over catch shares

Everyone in the Gulf of Alaska agrees on one thing: it was the other side’s fault. Depending on who you ask, catch shares are evil incarnate or an angel of good management. Depending on who you ask, they’ll either save Kodiak or kill it. Depending on who you ask, it’s either the State of Alaska’s fault or its credit for not allowing catch shares in the Gulf of Alaska’s groundfish fishery.  And depending on who you ask, they’ll either come up again or get sliced up into a handful of other little nibbles at the Gulf of Alaska bycatch problems. Either sighs of relief or defeat leaked from every mouth in the room on this past Dec. 12 when the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which oversees all federal fisheries from three to 200 miles off the Alaska coast, indefinitely tabled a complex range of options for the Gulf of Alaska groundfish fisheries. The tabled program has a long history of stops, false starts, foibles and thrown stones. This time, Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten charged the processor and trawl industry with refusing to bend — the same charge leveled at the state by the trawlers and processors. “Had elements of the program not been so focused on privatizing and monetizing the fishery, there could have been the broad structure of a plan. But there was no acceptance for compromise,” said Jeff Stephan, a Kodiak fishermen and one of the council Advisory Panel’s most outspoken opponents of catch shares. It was the state’s fault, others said. “I seriously question how dedicated the state was to an outreach effort, as was pledged in Kodiak, when they never came prepared to talk about any changes they wanted to see to a proposed program,” said Heather Mann of the Midwater Trawlers Cooperative, a staunch catch share advocate. Gulf of Alaska groundfish fisheries — Pacific cod, pollock, and flatfish — are one of the only groundfish fisheries in the North Pacific without a catch share or rationalization program. Catch share programs involve issuing fishing quota, or shares, to eligible fishermen based on factors such as history in the fishery. The goal is to end so-called “derby style” fishing also known as the “race for fish” in an open access environment. Such conditions often led to risky behavior chasing the harvest, particularly so in the Bering Sea crab fisheries that inspired the name for the TV show “Deadliest Catch.” Halibut and sablefish were the first to be rationalized in Alaska in the early 1990s, with similar programs created for crab, pollock, and flatfish in the Bering Sea. Like the Bering Sea, the Gulf of Alaska also has pollock and flatfish fisheries that are known for heavy amounts of bycatch of crab, halibut and salmon, which are taken while in pursuit of the target species. While Gulf trawlers do not have the catch shares of their Bering Sea counterparts, they do have halibut and chinook salmon bycatch caps that if met lead to the closing of the fisheries. Chinook bycatch caps were adopted in 2011 and 2012, respectively, and the halibut bycatch cap was lowered by 15 percent in 2012. Trawlers and processors have said for years they need better bycatch management tools than what the council offers and that catch shares are the best way. They aren’t wrong, in that catch shares are linked to effective bycatch management and reductions in other fisheries, including the six programs in the North Pacific. But the possible negative impacts of these programs — fleet consolidation, loss of crew jobs, and the death of the coastal Alaskan tradition of owner-operators — are also linked to catch shares, and hang like a cloud over the heads of coastal residents like Stephan. To him, the culture is at stake. “If you can design fisheries in a manner that are efficient as can be without damaging the social and cultural and economic characteristics of these communities…I think that there’s something that can be done there,” he said. The meeting Trawlers say they made every attempt to address the state’s concerns about community impacts. Such attempts included vessel harvesting caps, ownership caps, active participation requirements, port landing requirements for Kodiak, and other assorted bells and whistles to prevent the kind of behavior that turned some crab and halibut fishermen into what are known derisively as “mailbox fishermen” who lease their quota for rates anywhere from 50 percent to 70 percent or more with their fees coming out of the pockets of working crew that neither own or have any stake in the resource. But in the end Cotten said their solutions weren’t good enough. “The advocates just weren’t going to offer any compromises or any concessions,” Cotten said afterward. “We are in a different place now. I’m hopeful people will reconsider their stances, and we will too.” Heather McCarty, who lobbies for the City and Borough of Kodiak, said several fisheries working group meetings yielded the same thing. “We’ve been also hearing meeting after meeting that if there’s going to be a catch share program, there needs to be mitigation of some of these impacts,” she told the council. “I think there’s general acknowledgment that there’s a problem in the trawl sector. I don’t think there’s a common understanding of how that should be addressed.” Cotten ended the showdowns, at least for now, by making a motion to table the options indefinitely on Dec. 12. Catch shares are simply too large an issue not to have more support. “It’s clear both the council and the public are deeply divided on this issue, and something more closely resembling consensus is needed,” said Cotten. “Moving to a catch share program like this would be a major policy shift, and one of this magnitude should enjoy broader public support. “When the crab rationalization program was approved in 2003, the council vote was 11-0. I think we should look for boarder support and more consensus.”  Though divided on the subject of catch shares, most council members agreed with Cotten, voting 8-3 in favor of the motion in spite of hesitations. “I’m of quite mixed mind on this,” said Bill Tweit of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Though he hated the idea of staying in “limbo,” Tweit said Cotten’s motion was pragmatic. “I think we have to be smart of how we use our resources,” Tweit said. “I think the commissioner’s motion responds to that.” Others echoed Tweit’s reluctant yes vote. “This is not our finest hour,” said Roy Hyder of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. “We’re going to have to find a way to go forward, nibble around the edges, but as far as putting together a comprehensive plan … we’re not gonna get there. I’m going to support the motion, because we’re stuck.” Others disagreed, saying the council’s inaction amounts to a failure after all the meetings and infighting and collaboration. “This is the fourth time I’ve dealt with GOA ratz,” said council member Craig Cross, using the acronym for Gulf of Alaska and shorthand for rationalization. “Every time we get to the end something happens — a new governor, a new administration, a new philosophy. It’s getting very difficult and frustrating that we can’t help these fishermen. “If we take this and postpone it indefinitely, we are at status quo. You can call it what you want, but we’re going to continue to have a race for fish.” 15 years chasing catch shares The latest try at a comprehensive program ended in 2016, but since 2001 the Gulf of Alaska rationalization talks have encapsulated gubernatorial cancellations, rebrandings, surprise alternatives, accusations of political intrigue in Washington, D.C., stand downs, emergency season openings and closures, protest parades and even a pie throwing contest. The quest for a Gulf of Alaska groundfish rationalization program started in 2001 when Congress directed the North Pacific council to “examine the fisheries under its jurisdiction, particularly the Gulf of Alaska groundfish and Bering Sea crab fisheries, to determine whether rationalization is needed. In particular, the North Pacific Council shall analyze individual fishing quotas, processor quotas, cooperatives, and quotas held by communities.” The plan developed over the next half decade until former Gov. Sarah Palin saw the crab fleet shrink by two-thirds in the first year of rationalization and lose 1,000 crew jobs in a devastating blow to Kodiak and other small communities such as Cold Bay. Palin instructed the council to drop efforts to create a Gulf program after she took office. Alaska holds six seats on the 11-member council, meaning the state can effectively control the outcome. After the council passed a series of chinook salmon bycatch limits and halibut bycatch reductions in 2011 and 2012, the council took up the matter again, this time focusing on bycatch management that would do more than simply cap the allowed amount. Through Gov. Sean Parnell’s term, former Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell worked closely with groundfish trawlers and processors to craft the industry’s preferred alternative. One of the first appointments made by Gov. Bill Walker after being elected in 2014 was to replace Campbell with Cotten, who advanced another alternative at the council’s October 2015 meeting that would give trawlers bycatch quota, but no quota for the directed species. The ADFG commissioner is mandated to have a seat on the council and typically sets the direction for the Alaska delegation. Trawl and processing industry representatives lambasted the option as another race for fish — this time a race for bycatch — and accused Cotten of introducing it without the same public input that had gone into their own preferred alternative. The arguments between trawlers supporting Campbell’s alternative and Cotten’s motion boiled over during the council’s February 2016 meeting in Portland, when Cotten stood in hotel room surrounded by shouting trawlers accusing him of abusing the process. Only days before, the same trawlers had a spike of halibut bycatch after targeting non-pollock species. Rather than fish for the low prices being offered for small-sized pollock, trawlers went after groundfish and ended up taking 110 metric tons more halibut than they had in the same period a year earlier. During this time, Julie Bonney of the processor and trawl representative group Alaska Groundfish Data Bank organized a stand down specifically for trawl operators to travel to Portland in protest of Cotten’s motion.  Rumors later surfaced that Bonney and others were pressing Washington Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler to draft language to get their preference into a congressional appropriations bill, which Herrera Beutler denied. They later organized letter-writing campaigns to Gov. Bill Walker’s administration, and a parade and festival celebrating the trawl industry during the council’s June meeting in Kodiak. Processing workers and trawl crew marched through downtown Kodiak sporting signs reading, “Gov. Walker, don’t take our jobs” and “Don’t destroy what you don’t understand.” Red baseball caps with the words “Make Trawling Great Again” were de rigueur for attendees — even for Duncan Fields, one the council’s most outspoken critics of catch share programs, who later took a pie to the face for charity toward Kodiak’s Brother Francis shelter. Joe Bundrant, CEO of Trident Seafoods, which controls roughly 50 percent of the Gulf of Alaska groundfish harvest, and Heather Mann, executive director of the Midwater Trawlers Cooperate, paid $2,500 between the two to hit Fields with the pie. Between then and the December meeting, groundfish industry representatives like Bonney and Pacific Seafood Processors Association executive director Glenn Reed met with Cotten, Department of Commerce, Community & Economic Development Commissioner Chris Hladick, and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott. Catch shares and Kodiak As policy, two of the most direct means of reducing bycatch are catch share programs and straightforward bycatch caps. Modern catch share programs took hold as a management tool starting in the 1970s, but the U.S. saw its first catch share program in 1990 with the Mid-Atlantic Surf Clam and Ocean Quahog Fishery. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has 16 catch share programs spread among six of the eight regional fishery management councils that govern U.S. federal fisheries, which take place between three and 200 miles off the coast. Over 40 countries now use the programs for a variety of goals, including lowering fishing mortalities, consolidating over-capitalized fleets, reducing bycatch, extending season lengths, reducing fishermen’s cost of operations, and steadying supply for wholesalers and retailers. Catch shares accomplish these goals in theory by ending the “race for fish” in fisheries that only established a fleet-wide harvest limit and a season length. Fishermen could catch however much they could handle within the season limits and stop when the fleet reached the overall cap. Under a rationalized program, individual fishermen start the season with a set quota and fish until they catch their share, theoretically allowing a slower, safer pace to avoid prohibited species. Managers and conservationists tout the positives of catch share programs. Fishermen can more effectively plan their trips, deliver fish according to market demands, fish more carefully, deploy their gear more selectively and take greater pains to avoid fishing in sensitive habitats. Coastal communities, however, fear the “economic efficiencies” catch shares establish. For Kodiak, a town a built on fish, catch shares are seen as either savior or slayer. Most of Kodiak’s seafood landings value — $41 million in 2014 — comes from groundfish, according to Juneau economics firm McDowell Group, which contracted with the City and Borough of Kodiak in 2015 for a study on the community’s fisheries dependence. The island has 10 active processors, five of which are among the city’s 10 largest employers with more than 1,300 Kodiak resident employees. Together the 10 make more than two-thirds of their revenue from federal fisheries. Of this, 58 percent of the total dockside value comes from federal groundfish. Once touting itself as the “Crab Capital of the World,” there is also no shortage of hard feelings toward trawlers as fishermen have seen crab fisheries closed and halibut harvests cut while trawl bycatch continues unabated and often unobserved because of limited coverage on their boats. Kodiak has already seen its fisheries participation shrink, and community advocates wish to see it shrink no further, especially if caused by enriching trawlers with harvest shares. In Kodiak, cost of entry into fisheries has risen, and local participation has fallen. Between 2000 and 2010, Kodiak’s locally held Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission permits dropped from 1,646 to 1,279; halibut quota holders from 304 to 224; active crew licenses from 1,263 to 884; and locally owned vessels from 719 to 452. Some fear the statistics from other catch share programs, given Kodiak’s delicate fishy tightrope walk. Crab rationalization took place in 2005, but the outcomes had, and still have, certain Alaska coastal communities and fishermen reeling. Consolidation, one of rationalization’s most feared impacts and the biggest warning repeatedly given to the council, shrunk the crab fleet by 200 vessels in one season and eliminated 1,000 crew jobs overnight. Halibut rationalization also produced consolidation of vessels and harvest quota, shrinking the fleet from more than 3,000 vessels in 1992 to just more than 1,000 in 2012. Although the shares are classified as fishing “privileges” under the law, the issuance of quota is essentially permanent — and extremely valuable. The philosophical argument against rationalization is that it privatizes a public resource by gifting the right to a fish to a select few while cutting out the Americans who own it. Catch shares have often been promoted as investment tools and foundations run by Intel founder Gordon Moore and retail giant Walmart only drive the suspicion that a well-funded fish grab is underway in the guise of conservation. The issuance of halibut, sablefish and crab quota made a select group of vessel owners incredibly wealthy which in turn reduced working crew compensation and created a class of stakeholders who no longer needed to fish to make money from the fisheries. Quota is extremely expensive — halibut shares cost more than $60 per pound in 2016, which limits the ability of new entrants to join the fishery. At least one catch share progam hasn’t caused as many problems. In the Gulf of Alaska rockfish program, started in 2007 and reauthorized in 2012, the fleet has only lost two vessels since the program started, and halibut bycatch dropped 80 percent in the first year. The council made several changes when it reauthorized the program after a five-year review designed to correct mistakes in prior attempts. Among them were severing the ties requiring delivery to certain processors, effectively cutting processors out of the program as non-fishermen, and instituting a 4 percent vessel use cap that ensures a minimum of 25 vessels will always be in the fleet. Similarly, a 30 percent cap was put on processors, ensuring at least four plants could take deliveries. Trident lost a lawsuit challenging the revised rockfish program for cutting out processors, which are included in the Bering Sea pollock and crab programs, arguing they were having to pay higher prices to fishermen because the company had to compete for deliveries rather than have vessels tied to them based on history. Cotten predicts the trawlers are simply waiting until a new governor comes along to usher the issue back onto the council’s agenda. Gulf rationalization may be tabled once again, but the urgency for a solution won’t be until one is finally found. DJ Summer scan be reached at [email protected]  

NOAA plan: set aside more salmon for belugas

Cook Inlet could have a new group of salmon users joining recreational, commercial, subsistence and personal use fishermen: endangered beluga whales. The National Marine Fisheries Service, or NMFS, wants the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to start considering the dietary needs of Cook Inlet beluga in management plans, part of a nationwide Species in the Spotlight project aimed to boost eight different species to the point of delisting them from the status as a threatened species. In a release, ADFG called the plan “unrealistic,” and the criteria for recovery “untenable.” The department stated the criteria would make the recovery plan, and the acceptance of the plan by stakeholders, impossible to achieve. “Under the NMFS recovery plan, Cook Inlet belugas would be down-listed to threatened status when the population reaches 40 percent of their historic environmental carrying capacity (estimated in the plan as 1,300 whales) and delisted when numbers reach 60 percent carrying capacity,” reads the release. “These demographic criteria are problematic because the number of animals in a population is not necessarily an indication of the risk of extinction. Further, the plan includes threats-based recovery criteria that are not measurable and impossible to meet.” Cook Inlet beluga whales — one of five distinct beluga stocks in Alaska waters — have been on the downswing for decades. Alaska Natives used to harvest an average 77 a year until a big drop in stocks from 1994 to 1998 spurred NOAA to strictly rein in subsistence harvest. When stocks didn’t rebound as expected, NOAA listed them as endangered in 2008 and designated a critical habitat for them in 2011. Currently, NOAA Fisheries estimates there are 340 Cook Inlet belugas, down from the 1,300 estimated in 1979. The recovery plan has a range of goals, including better surveying and science. Ensuring more access to what they eat could be critical. Pointedly, Cook Inlet belugas like salmon even more than Alaskans. According to data gathered by NOAA between 2002 and 2010, salmon had a 67 percent occurrence rate in the stomachs of 28 dead beluga stomachs, a greater percentage than any other species and more than pollock and cod, beluga’s next favorite fish with a 39 percent occurrence rate. According to a plan, fisheries managers might have to start factoring more escapement into management plans to account for the salmon beluga eat. The plan calls for managers to “ensure fisheries management (e.g., escapement goals for CI beluga prey species) adequately accommodates CI beluga prey requirements, and if necessary, expand the number of species with escapement goals.” Currently, salmon escapement goals in Cook Inlet don’t explicitly account for whale predation. They are included in the “natural mortality” metric used by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to calculate salmon populations. “ADFG should ensure the management of anadromous species considers CI beluga dietary needs, particularly in a way that provides for a sustained abundance, density, and temporal availability of returning fish as prey in CI beluga feeding areas,” reads the report. “This may require review of the models being used to manage fisheries in Cook Inlet to gain insight about the potential effects of these fisheries on the Inlet’s ecosystem.” The endangered beluga rejuvenation plan also contains several mentions of the negative impacts of oil and gas development on habitat. Belugas live mostly in near shore waters, near human activity. “Concern is warranted about the continued development within and along upper Cook Inlet and the cumulative effects on important beluga whale habitat,” reads the plan. “Ongoing activities that may impact this habitat include: (1) continued oil and gas exploration, development, and production; and (2) industrial activities that discharge or accidentally spill pollutants.” Oil and gas drilling are also listed as a threat as a source of noise, which may interrupt the movements of prey. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Annual picks and pans from the year that was in Alaska fisheries

The start of 2017 marks the 26th year for this weekly column that targets news for and about Alaska’s seafood industry. The goal is to make all readers more aware of the economic and cultural importance of our state’s first and oldest industry. Today, Alaska fishermen and processors provide 65 percent of our nation’s wild-caught seafood; it is also Alaska’s most valuable export to more than 100 countries around the world. The seafood industry puts more people to work throughout Alaska than oil/gas, mining, timber and tourism combined. The bulk of Alaska’s fishing fleet of nearly 10,000 vessels is made up of boats under 50 feet. Each is a small business that supports several families. For fishing towns like Kodiak, Cordova and Homer, where 500 to 700 vessels are home ported, those boats are the majority of our downtown storefronts. I call it a mall in a marina. Here are my Fishing Picks and Pans for 2016 – a no holds barred look back at the best and worst fish stories of 2016, in no order, and my choice for the biggest story of the year. Biggest new industry potential: Seaweeds. Kelp alone is a $5 billion global industry. A task force has one year to provide Gov. Bill Walker with a statewide mariculture plan for producing more seaweeds and shellfish. Canada, California and Maine have already come knocking. Biggest fish hurry up already: Getting Electronic Monitoring Systems to replace fishery observers on small boats. Credit Saltwater, Inc. of Anchorage, Kenai Peninsula Fisheries Association and Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association of Sitka for getting EMS onboard in 2017. Best Fish Entrepreneurs: Salmon Sisters of Homer. Best fish sigh of relief: Gulf fishermen can use pots instead of hooks to keep whales from robbing their sablefish catches. At fish prices ranging from $4 to more than $9 a pound, depending on size, “getting whaled” makes for a payday bust. Best fish visionaries: Tidal Vision LLC of Juneau, for their eco-friendly method of extracting chitin from crab shells, a first in the USA. Uses for chitin range from fabrics to pharmaceuticals and are too numerous to mention. Best Fish Legislators: Rep. Louise Stutes (R) Kodiak, Rep. Bryce Edgmon (D) Dillingham Best fishing career builders: University of Alaska/Southeast, Kodiak College for “on the go” courses in boat hydraulics, electronics, repairs, fishery technicians and more. Best fish knowledge sharers: Alaska Sea Grant’s Marine Advisory Agents. Best Fish Giver: Sea Share, 225 million fish servings to food banks since 1994 Trickiest fishing conundrum: Sea otters vs. crab and dive fisheries in Southeast Alaska. Most earth friendly fishing town: Kodiak, for generating nearly 100 percent of its electricity from wind and hydropower, and for turning its fish wastes into oils and meals at a plant owned by local processors.  Biggest fish WTF? Recreational Quota Entities that will let halibut charter operators buy commercial shares of the catch – up to 15 percent from Southeast and 12 percent from the Central Gulf, making the RQE the largest halibut shareholders in the N. Pacific within 10 years. Scariest fish story: ocean acidification. The corrosion of crab/scallop/oyster/snail shells is already documented in Pacific waters. Best fish ambassadors: Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) Best global fish story: The US and other nations cracking down on Illegal, Undocumented and Unreported (IUU) catches by fish pirates—more than 20 percent of the global fish harvest. Best daily fish news site: Best fish watchers: Cook Inlet Keeper, Salmon Beyond Borders Most encouraging fish talks: Alaska and British Columbia officials meeting for the first time to implement cooperation aimed at protecting transboundary waters in Southeast from mining accidents up stream Best fish economist: Andy Wink, Senior Seafood Analyst, McDowell Group Best go to bat for fishing: The fishermen-funded Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association and eight processors for ponying up $250,000 to cover salmon management budget shortfalls. Otherwise, more than 1.6 million sockeye salmon would have been taken as “cost recovery” from the fishery to fund counting stations, weirs and other required oversight. Biggest fish flop: Putting the onus on fishermen to cover the research and management costs of going fishing (see above) Best fish connectors: Alaska Marine Conservation Council, for its Caught by Alaskan for Alaskans program. Best fish mainstream push: Alaska herring showcased as smoked, pickled, pated and filleted by 40 Seattle restaurants for Northwest Herring Week. Credit Bruce Schactler of Kodiak and ASMI’s Herring Development Project. Most ill timed fish story: U.S. Navy war games held again in May as Alaska’s salmon season gets underway. The area covers 60,000 square miles off the tip of the Kenai Peninsula. Requests to move the war games to September have been dismissed. Biggest fish bust: The no show of pink salmon was the worst since the 1970s to major regions and prompted a call for emergency relief from Uncle Sam. Biggest fish booboo: Forty-four percent of Bristol Bay’s 1,500 active drift netters still don’t chill their salmon. That pushes down fish prices in the Bay and beyond. Fish story of the year: On the final day of its December meeting, the North Pacific Council turned its back on plans to reduce chinook salmon and halibut bycatch taken by trawlers in the Gulf of Alaska. The program, under discussion for years, aimed to slow the race to catch up to 25 different kinds of whitefish (cod, pollock, flounders, etc.) that comprise more than 80 percent of Kodiak’s annual landings. Stakeholders were pushing for a mix of catch shares and cooperatives to help them avoid bycatch while catching their full quotas. Now, trawlers face strict bycatch caps that shut down various fisheries when the caps are reached. The closures result in an idled waterfront and no steady, year round work for Kodiak’s large seafood processing workforce. But calling it “too divisive,” the council, led by Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten, tabled the entire program and just walked away, bycatch and whitefish landings be damned. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

Ringing in new round of ‘fish wars’ as ADFG manages budget

In the face of yet another round of budget cuts, Alaska’s largest private employer, the seafood industry, will have entirely new management schemes to sort out and live under in 2017 alongside status quo projections for harvest in key fisheries. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game will take another budget cutback responding to the state’s multi-billion dollar deficit that has yet to be patched. Gov. Bill Walker released a proposed fiscal year 2018 budget on Dec. 15. Among other cuts, Walker proposes a budget of $28.9 million for ADFG. This is a 36 percent reduction from the fiscal year 2015. ADFG will have to find ways to deal with budget cuts to monitor key fisheries stocks, including the iconic king salmon that has fallen in abundance beginning in the late 2000s. Further, commercial fisheries management programs will suffer, including the sonar and other survey methods used by the department to gauge incoming stock. Without robust programs and the information they yield, fisheries managers take conservative harvest approaches that could harm commercial fishermen’s bottom lines. That’s already happened in the Togiak herring fishery, as sampling surveys were not done in 2016 and leading the department to set a harvest at an average level reduced by a conservation buffer. Fish wars renewed As usual, much of Alaska’s year will center around salmon. Among the biggest items for Alaska’s state fisheries will be the two-week 2017 Upper Cook Inlet meeting of the Alaska Board of Fisheries. This meeting, held once every three years, pits the often-conflicting interests of sportfishermen, commercial fishermen, personal use and subsistence fishermen all vying for a limited supply of salmon. The proposal book, now under review, is stuffed with 499 pages that largely carry over the battles fought in the 2014 meeting, when the Board of Fisheries marathon gave way to new rules for the Kenai River management plans. The book is currently under review for the 166 proposals submitted. More than a dozen proposals look to modify or entirely repeal the Kenai River Late Run King Salmon Management Plan and the Kenai River Late Run Sockeye Salmon Management Plan. The current late run king salmon plan include restrictions on commercial sockeye fishing and sport fishery bait usage when the department projects an in-river run of less than 22,500 fish. The late run sockeye plan, which begins after the sport fishery closes on July 31, restricts the commercial setnet fleet to 36 hours through Aug. 15 if the Alaska Department of Fish and Game projects a king salmon escapement of less than 22,500 fish. Commercial fishermen largely resent the August sockeye rules and have been restricted by them to some degree in each of the last three years since they were adopted in 2014. Not helping matters for the meeting is that the Upper Cook Inlet forecasted commercial harvest of just 1.7 million sockeye is 1.2 million less than the recent 20-year average harvest. The matter will be further complicated by a court decision that will change the area’s salmon management entirely. The U.S. 9th Circuit Court overturned a decision made by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in 2011 to remove Cook Inlet salmon from the federal fishery management plan, or FMP. Cook Inlet’s salmon fisheries will now require an FMP that conforms to the 10 National Standards laid out in the Magnuson-Stevens Act. The council has not yet started on an FMP, but the Board of Fisheries will need to take the court ruling into consideration. Halibut headaches Halibut will continue as one of the biggest discussion points in the North Pacific’s federal fisheries. The International Pacific Halibut Commission will adopt harvest limits for commercial and charter halibut fishermen in late January 2017. These allocations will carry a new undercurrent due to a recent North Pacific Fishery Management Council decision that will allow charter halibut guides to purchase commercial halibut quota through a recreational quota entity. Developing the structure of the recreational quota entity, and potentially seeing its first sale, will be on fisheries managers agenda for 2017. Bristol Bay can look forward to a regular season in 2017 after two years of hard work, if the forecast is to be believed. Alaska’s largest sockeye run has blown past projections the last two years, but next year the Alaska Department of Fish and Game predicts an average harvest. A total of 41.47 million sockeye salmon (a range of 31.2 million to 51.7 million) are expected to return to Bristol Bay in 2017, according to an ADFG report released Nov. 15. This is virtually identical to the most recent 10-year average of Bristol Bay total runs (41.4 million) and 27 percent greater than the long-term mean of 32.76 million. For commercial fishermen, this means next year’s harvest will also be average, with a commercial harvest of 29 million. It’s anyone’s guess whether or not Bristol Bay’s fishermen will receive more than the last two years relatively depressed ex-vessel prices, which were 50 cents and 76 cents per pound, respectively. Reports from research firm McDowell Group say the salmon market has eased some of the back stocked salmon from processor shelves, which should raises prices for fishermen. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Year in Review: Fisheries

After a hectic fisheries year in 2015 involving felony charges, forced retirements and resignations, the 2016 Board of Fisheries confirmation cycle was mild, with few of last year’s inflamed arguments. This board shakeup precedes the Board of Fisheries Upper Cook Inlet finfish meeting in early 2017, which is held once every three years and is highly charged by the conflicts between user groups. The last two years took a toll on fisheries leadership, including one botched interview, one forced resignation, three failed nominations, a fistful of felony charges against one of those nominees, and two recent resignations — one by chairman Tom Kluberton who cited political burnout and stress, the other by Bob Mumford, coming before he even had the chance to be confirmed by the Legislature. Unlike 2015, Board of Fisheries appointees had no trouble being confirmed in a rare occurrence for the Legislature. In April 2016, the Legislature unanimously confirmed Al Cain, Israel Payton, and Robert Ruffner to the Board of Fisheries, replacing Mumford, Fritz Johnson and Kluberton. Last year, Ruffner’s confirmation hearing went especially wrong after a sustained campaign by sportfishing groups to characterize him as holding commercial fishing sympathies. The Legislature failed to confirm him on a 29-30 vote in 2015 but unanimously approved him in 2016. No. 2: Drifters win lawsuit challenging Cook Inlet salmon management A federal court tossed a North Pacific Fishery Management Council rule that will change the tenor of the upcoming Upper Cook Inlet Board of Fisheries meeting in February 2017. A three judge panel of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with commercial fishing groups against a 2011 decision by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to remove several Alaska salmon fisheries from the federal fishery management plan, or FMP. Industry group United Cook Inlet Drift Association filed the lawsuit in 2013 to repeal the council’s decision, which was officially Amendment 12 to the Alaska salmon FMP. The initial suit was rejected by U.S. Alaska District Court Judge Timothy Burgess. The 9th Circuit remanded the case back to Burgess with instructions to find for the plaintiffs. Federal fisheries policymakers and state managers will now have to work together on a suitable FMP, which the council had hoped to rid itself of in 2011 by passing Amendment 12 in the first place. In December 2011 the North Pacific council, one of eight councils that oversee fisheries in federal waters from three to 200 miles offshore, gave the Alaska Department of Fish and Game management authority of Cook Inlet, Prince William Sounds, and Alaska Peninsula salmon fisheries, removing the historic fisheries from the federal oversight. Only Southeast Alaska remained under direct federal oversight due to the Pacific Salmon Treaty with Canada. No. 3: Another Bristol Bay bumper crop; salmon markets start to improve For the third season in a row, the world’s largest sockeye salmon run featured above-average numbers, a late run, and sub-average prices for the fishermen. Unlike last year, however, the fishermen’s pockets so far aren’t as empty in 2016, and the overall market outlook seems to have improved. In terms of output, the summer of 2016’s 51.4 million fish run blew previous sockeye seasons out of the water, second only to last year’s run of 59 million. Along with being an above average run, the 2016 Bristol Bay sockeye harvest surpassed ADFG forecasts. The 37.3 million sockeye salmon taken in the commercial harvest was 26 percent greater than the 29.5-million preseason forecast. The 2016 season repeated that of 2015 not only in quantity, but also in run particulars that made last year’s harvest so strange, including late timing and smaller fish size. The ex-vessel price for the salmon — what processors pay the fishermen — was above the final price for the 2015 season but still 25 percent below average. Processors paid 76 cents per pound for Bristol Bay sockeye. The run’s volume drove the overall value. ADFG estimates the ex-vessel value at $156.2 million, which is 40 percent better than the 20-year average of $111 million. A new market analysis had an optimistic outlook for the 2016 salmon season — and goes a long way in explaining why Bristol Bay sockeye salmon received a low dockside price for last year’s catch. Juneau-based economics firm McDowell Group completed the report under contract from the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. The report says processors simply had less capital to spread to fishermen in 2015, as they were beset by a host of negative market factors. Strong U.S. currency values lessened purchasing power for key foreign export markets, important export markets vanished, and massive supply caused led to a decrease in overall value. No. 4: Pinks miss forecast in big way Sockeye salmon mostly had a good year in 2016, but pink salmon performed miserably. Around the state, biologists are unsure of what led to the lowest pink salmon harvest since the 1970s in a season that led Gov. Bill Walker to seek a disaster declaration from the federal government to bail out beleaguered pink fishermen. “We caught 39 million pinks this year,” said Forrest Bowers, the Commercial Fisheries Division director for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The department forecasted a harvest of 90 million pinks. Bowers said he had to comb records back to 1977 to find a year that bad. In terms of overall value, pinks salmon pale beside sockeye, Alaska’s most valuable salmon species. Walker, urged on by Kodiak Rep. Louise Stutes, requested that U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker declare the season a disaster. This would pour millions in disaster relief funding for Kodiak, Prince William Sound, Lower Cook Inlet and Chignik, all areas with high dependence on pink salmon. Prince William Sound is almost entirely hatchery-produced pink salmon while the other fisheries saw their wild pink salmon runs decline. ADFG biologists note that inaccurate pink salmon forecasts are common. Unlike sockeye salmon, pink salmon have less predictable migration patterns and life cycles. No. 5: Crab cut way back Cuts and cancellations are causing anxiety for Alaska’s valuable crab fisheries, and even though prices will rise they will not likely make up for the sinking quota. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game closed the 2016-17 bairdi, or Tanner, crab season on Oct. 5, following a 15 percent cut in the harvest quota for Bristol Bay red king crab and a 50 percent cut in the snow crab fishery. Without intervention from the Alaska Board of Fisheries, requested by Tanner crab stakeholders, the millions of pounds and millions of dollars of bairdi will remain in the sea. Last year, the fishery’s total ex-vessel value was $45.3 million. Crab stocks are managed jointly between the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. The North Pacific council sets the overfishing limits and annual catch limit for crab. ADFG then sets the total allowable catch, or TAC. Tanner crab was one of two stocks the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration charted as having a declined biomass. Always a costly product, the sharply reduced Alaska crab quota will surely raise prices, though nobody will know by how much until the season wraps up and processors set prices. The average dockside price paid to fishermen for bairdi Tanner, snow crab, and Bristol Bay red king crab from 1985 to 2015 is $2.17, $1.37 and $5.08 per pound, respectively, and have been rising for snow and red king crab over the same timeline.  

Charter rules set for halibut anglers

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council adopted charter management rules for the guided anglers of Alaska’s coastline. The actions follow several years of tightening restrictions for the fleet in the face of a declining biomass of legally sized halibut. This year continued the trend. In Area 2C, or Southeast Alaska, the Council recommended an array of management measures, all of which carry a one-fish bag limit. The options will depend on what actions the International Pacific Halibut Commission takes in January. The joint U.S.-Canada commission that sets halibut allocations came up with a recommended number, or blue line, during its interim meeting in November. The charter options will depend on whether the commission adopts the blue line or sets allocations less or greater than that number. If the halibut charter allocation is at the Blue Line, Area 2C will have a reverse slot limit of one fish of 40 inches or less or one longer than 80 inches, a two-inch loss from last year’s management set, with an annual limit of three halibut with a recording requirement. If below the blue line, there will be an annual limit of three fish and a reverse slot limit with a maximum size limit of 80 inches. If above the blue line, there will be a reverse slot limit of less than 40 inches and over 80 inches with an annual limit of five fish. In 3A, or Southcentral Alaska, anglers can take two fish per day a two fish bag limit with a maximum size limit of one fish of 28 inches, one inch less than last year. Anglers can take four fish per year, the same as last year. Wednesdays will be closed all year. The council also adopted a rolling closure of Tuesday in addition to the mandatory Wednesday closures. Between late June and early August, if the projected charter halibut harvest in Southcentral Alaska is over certain projections, managers will close as many as eight Tuesdays to charter anglers. Guided anglers in Southcentral Alaska went over their allocation by 8 percent in 2016. Groundfish quotas The council adopted the catch limits for groundfish in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, dropping the limits for the two largest harvests in the North Pacific. Groundfish — which includes pollock, Pacific cod and flatfish — makes the bulk of the volume pulled from the federal waters off Alaska’s coast. Harvest quotas totaling two million metric tons of those species are set each year in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands fisheries. Pollock, the largest groundfish harvest and the greatest volume of North Pacific fisheries landings, will maintain a relatively unchanged 1.35 million metric tons in the Eastern Bering Sea. Pacific cod, the second most voluminous species in the groundfish fishery, took another cut after moving from 240,000 metric tons in 2015 to 238,680 metric tons in 2016. For 2017, the BSAI Pacific cod harvest will be 223,704 metric tons. Some of that tonnage will be made up for with other species. Atka mackerel will increase from 55,000 metric tons to 65,000 metric tons in the Bering Sea. Arrowtooth flounder maintained a 14,000 metric ton limit, same as in 2016.  Northern rock sole dropped 10,000 metric tons from last year, from 57,100 metric tons in 2016 to 47,100 metric tons this year. Yellowfin sole increased limits from 144,000 metric tons in 2016 to 154,00 metric tons in 2017. Flathead sole went from 21,000 metric tons to 14,500 metric tons. In the Gulf of Alaska, groundfish harvest limits dropped from 727,688 metrics tons to 667,877 metric tons. However, pollock quota took a larger hit in the Gulf of Alaska, moving from 248,000 metric tons to 199,000 metric tons. This follows a season where Gulf of Alaska pollock fishermen only harvested 175,000 metric tons of their harvest limit. The pattern followed suit in the Gulf of Alaska, where the TAC dropped 10,000 metric tons from 98,600 metric tons to 88,300 metrics tons. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]  

Gulf rationalization dies a quiet death

Gulf of Alaska groundfish will remain an open access fishery indefinitely after the North Pacific Fishery Management Council tabled a policy package that has enraged fishermen of all stripes over the last year. Depending on who is asked, the council acted at either its best or its worst with the decision. “The council process didn’t work. They didn’t solve the problem,” said Julie Bonney, executive director of the Alaska Groundfish Data Bank, an industry group of trawlers and processors. “They just took the political part first and ignored the management. I have to keep reminding myself, this isn’t about management. It’s about politics.” Others said the council did exactly what it should have done in the face of so many contentious decisions on which so many people expressed opinions. “I think this is actually the best illustration of council process, rather than the worst,” said Duncan Fields, a Kodiak attorney and former council member who was among the most vocal on this subject. “It shows that one gear group with a particular ideology and particular economic interest with very good advocates can’t just jam something through the council,” he said. “The council allows other participants, small boat fishermen, community, stakeholders to also have a voice, and that voice has said a catch share program is not the best public policy. You don’t always get the result you want.” Sam Cotten, the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, advanced the motion to table the package. Cotten said he didn’t have much of a choice considering how intensely divided Gulf of Alaska fishermen and community members were on the issue. “I think we had to make or break to inspire recognition that we’re divided, that we need to consider a different direction,” Cotten said. “The advocates just weren’t going to offer any compromises or any concessions. We are in a different place now. I’m hopeful people will reconsider their stances, and we will to.” Gulf of Alaska rationalization The plan would have enacted one of several options to reduce the amount of halibut and chinook salmon bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska groundfish fishery. Groundfish includes pollock and non-pelagic, or bottom-dwelling, species such as Pacific cod, Arrowtooth flounder and rockfish. In the end, the plans satisfied no one. Cotton introduced the motion to table after another marathon session of grievances from trawlers, processors, Kodiak residents, Southeast Alaska residents and various small boat fishermen. The plan aimed to fix a bycatch issue in the Gulf of Alaska. Bycatch happens when groundfish fishermen pulling up Pacific cod, pollock, and flatfish haul in non-target species. In the Gulf groundfish fisheries, chinook salmon and halibut are the main species taken as bycatch, also known as prohibited species catch, or PSC. Conservation concerns led the council to lower the halibut bycatch limits by 15 percent in 2012; the council created chinook salmon bycatch caps for the pollock and non-pollock trawl fleets in 2011 and 2013, respectively. Hitting limits ends fishing, which happened to the non-pollock fleet in the Western Gulf last year, leading to an emergency council action to allocate some salmon bycatch from the pollock fishery to the non-pollock fishery to allow fishing to continue. Groundfish fishermen from the trawl sector argue in favor of quota systems, which they say will slow the “race for fish” that makes it difficult to reduce bycatch. Alternative 2 resembles a traditional catch share program, where fish are divvied out to fishermen in the form of quota. Small boat fishermen fear the effects of catch share programs, as they have a documented tendency to consolidate quota into the hands of better-capitalized fishermen. Alternative 3 would have only created quota for bycatch, not for the target species. Without a fix for the bycatch issue, trawl representatives say they have to wait until either a new governor and new commissioner of Fish and Game, or for their fishery to continue closing over bycatch concerns. “The fishery structure is broken and the council just couldn’t find a solution,” said Bonney. “Either you have a change in the administration or you have some kind of economic disaster. Those are the two things that would promote change. I can’t guess (which would happen first).” DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]  

Council allows sport guides to buy commercial halibut quota

Culture shifts, as does policy. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council, master of the nation’s most valuable fishing region, decided on Dec. 10 to implement a new plan that in some ways reflects changing attitudes and economies in the North Pacific and in Alaska. The plan involves allowing guided recreational halibut fishermen to buy up commercial quota through a system called an RQE — a recreational quota entity. This differs from an existing program that allows sport guides to lease, but not buy, commercial quota. Commercial fishermen don’t welcome the change, and in fact see it as one more nail in the coffin of a historical Alaskan enterprise that is more expensive and more difficult to enter that it ever has been. Commercial fishermen think the RQE will usher in the absolute death of Southeast Alaska coastal village fleets in a matter of five years, all at the hands of the tourism behemoths that control more and more of the island economies. “This is the death of a small boat, owner-operator fishery. It’s over,” said Clem Tillion, a North Pacific fisheries fixture and longtime advocate for coastal quota ownership. “Holland America and Carnival (Cruise Line) will buy the quota and hired hands will fish it, and the small boat fleet out of villages is gone.” Tillion has a dim view of human nature. Though nobody is forcing commercial fishermen to sell their quota in this new program, or forcibly giving to another group of users, he says the temptation of money might as well be force. “I watched the Natives who had all that salmon quota, and they sold to the highest bidder without giving it to their kids,” said Tillion. “The temptation of selling to Carnival will be too high. Mankind is a weak animal.” Guides, meanwhile, said the RQE is an innovative economic means to loosen up quota — one the rest of the country and the North Pacific might use more often as recreational fisheries grow. “The North Pacific council provides guidance to the rest of the country about how to provide allocations between different sectors,” said Ricky Gease, executive director of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association. “The complaint at many councils is that many allocations have been frozen shut. This provides a market-based approach for willing sellers, willing buyers, to bypass the deadlocks that are common in allocation issues across the country.” Andy Mezirow, a council member and charter captain in Seward, agreed. “It’s a sign that our sector is growing up,” he said. Shrinking halibut availability Halibut was at the center of nearly every touchy issue the North Pacific council dealt with over the last two years. The never-ending stew of halibut-born conflict is understandable. Halibut is one of the most valuable fish in the sea — even though only 2 percent of fisheries landings are halibut, 18 percent of the total value of North Pacific’s fish value comes from the fish. Scarcity has added to the value. Due to either natural fluctuation or environmental issues, halibut catch limits took a nosedive between 2004 and 2014, from 76.5 million pounds to 27.5 million pounds. Sharing is hard. Along with holding the most value per pound, halibut, alongside salmon, has one of the most diverse groups of fishermen looking to catch it. The commercial halibut fishermen who put the fish onto menus and high-end stores share the harvest with guided charter vessels, non-guided recreational fishermen, subsistence users and non-halibut fishermen, mainly trawlers, who incidentally catch halibut in the process of fishing their own quota, known as bycatch. Recreational quota entity The council’s 11 voting members approved the RQE plan 8-3, with only Roy Hyder of Oregon, Kenny Downs of Washington, and Buck Laukitis of Alaska opposing. Southeast charter lodge owner Richard Yamada planned RQEs to keep the charter fleet within its yearly allocations, as a “market based solution” that matches up willing buyer with willing sellers. Under the plan, a recreational quota entity, or RQE, can buy commercial quota to be held in a common pool for charter operators to draw from as needed if they’re in danger of fishing over their harvest limit. Prices for quota typically run about five times or more the current ex-vessel value per pound, making purchases particularly expensive — a fact not lost on the commercial fleet. This would differ from the current Guided Angler Fish, or GAF, program, which only allows charter permit holders to lease commercial quota rather than buy it. Under the plan passed by the council, the RQE can hold 10 percent of the total commercial quota pool in Area 2C, or Southeast Alaska, and 12 percent of the total commercial quota pool in Area 3A, or Southcentral Alaska. The latter was bumped down from 15 percent. This would take 10 years to happen — Southeast Alaska can only transfer 1 percent per year, and Southcentral 1.2 percent. If the RQE can find commercial quota holders willing to sell, these quota pound transfers will eventually allow the charter fleet to regain some of the size restrictions they’ve lost, potentially going back to one fish of any size in Southeast Alaska. It will also make the RQE the single largest halibut-holding entity in the North Pacific. Stakeholders still don’t know where the RQE will get the money to make purchases in the first place. Estimates place the cost of the necessary quota up to $25 million. Several self-funding options like a halibut stamp from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game exist alongside publicly funded options like a voluntary tax.  Opportunity lost, opportunity gained Well-worn arguments ping-ponged back and forth throughout the council’s Advisory Panel hearing and the council’s own public testimony. Like all halibut fishermen, both charter operators and commercial operators have felt the sting of increased restrictions. In Southeast Alaska, available commercial halibut quota dropped 78 percent over an eight-year period — too big a decline for the fleet to handle even if prices had risen another 38 percent in the same time. The commercial fleet’s profile shows the impact. Between the start of the IFQ program and 2014, the number of commercial vessels and crew dropped by half. For commercial operators, the entire concept of an RQE smells like a week-old slime line, a fancy acronym to disguise a hostile reallocation of valuable halibut quota. If we suffer, they said, charter fishermen should suffer too. “Who in the industry at low levels of abundance doesn’t experience additional restrictions?” asked Linda Behnken, executive director of the Alaska Longline Fisherman’s Association. “Does making the charter sector whole again, making the charter sector great again…justify the impact this would have on other sectors of the industry?” The so-called graying of the fleet looms large in halibut fishermen’s minds as well. The term refers to the climbing average age of Alaska’s quota holders. Young fishermen looking to follow in the family footsteps incur greater and greater expenses purchasing quota and boats, leaving fisheries managers looking for ways to encourage new participation. The RQE could worsen the situation if it drives up quota prices even further. “RQE would be a new entry to an industry that’s already competitive,” said Carina Nichols, a 28-year-old fisherman from Sitka. “I find the idea of individuals such as myself competing with a publicly funded entity concerning.” Guides are in a similar boat, and say they have every bit as much at stake as the commercial fishermen and contribute every bit as much to the economy. Functionally, charter captains in Southeast and Southcentral Alaska are trying to maneuver to get back to normal days. Southcentral guides have every Wednesday closed to fishing now, which they say is a mathematically simple cut in their business — one-seventh of their days are no longer viable. They also have size restrictions, which they say can make or break a client’s decision to book a charter trip in the first place, or end a trip when they have to call a booked client with the regulatory news. Ben Martin, a second-generation Homer-based charter captain of an age with Nichols, said he’s sunk upward of $65,000 into his operation in the last few years. Mel Grove, a Valdez guide, spoke of several suicides in his social circle due to a worsening economic outlook in the small Alaska town. “We’ve gone from 9,000 anglers days to barely over 3,000,” he said. “When times are tough, people take drastic measures. It’s those folks in town that are really seeing the greatest impact.” Everybody vs. everybody Fishing conflicts in the North Pacific reflect Alaska’s economic and cultural development in some ways. Tourism has always been a part of Alaska’s economy, but it continues to grow. In 2015, Alaska had a record 2 million visitors come to the Last Frontier. Meanwhile, recreational fishing grows. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Commerce that control the North Pacific council along with seven others, has begun detailing the billions in economic impacts of recreational fisheries in its annual reports. In 2014, 301,000 marine recreational anglers took more than 583,000 trips and caught a total of nearly 2.3 million fish. Samantha Weinstein, executive director of the Southeast Alaska Guides Organization, told the North Pacific council the battle is really about staying on top of the halibut heap. Times change, and the fish is good for more than just eating, she said. “Much of the opposition to the RQE Program is based on the primacy of the commercial sector in Alaska history,” she said. “Essentially, we’re seeking to buy something another group feels a historical right to hold.” Halibut’s current regulatory system, the Individual Fishing Quota or IFQ program, started in 1992, though commercial halibut fishing in Alaska dates back to the 19th century. Like most North Pacific fish, halibut used to be a derby fishery, where whoever wanted to try his luck could catch as much as possible in the season window. Also like most North Pacific fish, halibut management had to switch to a so-called “catch share” system, where fisheries managers gave blocks of quota to historically dependent halibut fishermen. By comparison, guided anglers are relative newcomers of the last 30 or so years. Guides have their own arguments for Alaska’s coastal health. Halibut is worth $7 per pound to a commercial fishermen, but guide businesses multiply that, they say. Outsiders looking for a trophy stay in town and spread money around, feeding a bustling tourism industry in Southeast Alaska towns like Ketchikan, Sitka and Juneau. “Buying halibut off the shelf is not the only way people want to get it now - they want to visit Alaska for the halibut fishing experience of a lifetime,” said Weinstein. “Fisheries management needs to take actions that recognize this.” DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Federal judge tosses another fisheries management rule

Federal judges keep smacking down the North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s decisions. For the second time in the last three months, a federal court has overturned a management decision made by the North Pacific council and enacted by the National Marine Fisheries Service, or NMFS. The United States District Court of Washington overturned a 2011 decision relating to halibut quota shares harvested by hired skippers on Nov. 16. Federal courts have overturned several council decisions in recent years. In September, a the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the council’s 2011 decision to remove Cook Inlet, Prince William Sound and Alaska Peninsula salmon fisheries from federal oversight.  In this case, the North Pacific council made a decision in 2011 regarding which halibut quota holders can use a hired skipper instead of being required to be on board the vessel. Due to the court’s ruling, NOAA will have to open that group back up after limiting it in 2011.  Julie Speegle, the NMFS Alaska Region spokesperson, said the agency will change the impacted halibut fishermen’s quota shares to reflect the court’s ruling and that the council itself will review the issue. “The court order does not require any immediate change to regulations,” wrote Speegle. “NOAA Fisheries is in the process of modifying those halibut QS permits to allow the use of hired masters for any halibut QS acquired before July 28, 2014. NOAA Fisheries is also considering how to respond to the court’s order to assess the rule’s consideration of the national standards. The (North Pacific) council and NOAA Fisheries will have further discussions on the order at its December council meeting.” The ruling relates to halibut quota. The halibut and sablefish Individual Fishing Quota program, or IFQ program, was approved by the North Pacific council in 1992. Managers assigned quota shares to fishermen who commercially fished halibut or sablefish between 1988 and 1990. The program allowed for shares to be transferred. The program has certain limits on the use of hired masters — people who don’t own the halibut quota themselves but who man the vessel on behalf of the people who do. Concerned about consolidation of quota and desirous to maintain an owner-operator fleet, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council approved changes to the hired master regulations in 2011; NMFS published the final rule in July 2014, effective that Dec. 1.  Under the council’s rule, quota holders couldn’t use a hired master for fishing any quota they acquired after February 2010. The rule hurt certain fishermen who didn’t make the cutoff and had warned the council that the rule wouldn’t follow several of the 10 National Standards of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the law of federal fisheries. Fairweather Fish Inc. and Captain Ray Welsh filed a lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Service. Fairweather got halibut quota in 1995 when the IFQ program began and relies on a hired master to harvest its fish; the company also purchased additional quota after February 2010. Welsh, an Anchor Point resident, also received halibut quota when the program was instituted and in July 2010 sold it and received sablefish quota by transfer. Welsh has physical disabilities and relies on hired masters to fish his quota. Because the rule affected only a small number of fishermen, it’s unknown what kind of impact the court’s ruling will have. The court ordered that any quota shares transferred before July 28, 2014, could be fished under the previous hired skipper rules. Bob Alverson, a commissioner on the International Pacific Halibut Commission, said the ruling means very little for the fishery itself. “I think it’ll have very little impact, myself,” he said. “It’s so far down the road. It’s down to a very small minority of people, a few people that may have a problem with what the council decided.” The real issue, he said, is the council itself. Alverson said the decision was hasty, as it ignored the guidance of its Advisory Panel and members of the public who wanted a different cutoff point known as a control date. “They hurt some people that didn’t need to be hurt,” he said. “There’s that old adage: Don’t inflict pain without gain. I think some people were unnecessarily injured in this, and that’s why you got the lawsuit.” Chris Oliver, the North Pacific council’s executive director, was unavailable for comment. This is the latest in a string of federal judicial decisions overturning council decisions. In September, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a 2011 decision by the council to remove several Alaska salmon fisheries from federal oversight, which is required by the Magnuson-Stevens Act for all federal fisheries. United Cook Inlet Drift Association, or UCIDA, filed the lawsuit in 2013 to repeal the council’s decision, which was officially Amendment 12 to the Alaska salmon fishery management plan, or FMP. The court ruled that the council must have an FMP for the Alaska salmon fisheries and it could not ignore the Magnuson-Stevens Act by turning over total control to the state. In 2012, the State of Alaska and several fishing groups won a lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Service for improperly imposing fishing closures in the Aleutian Islands to protect food sources for Steller sea lions. In that case the North Pacific council was bypassed by NMFS to create the closures through emergency action. In 2014, another federal court ruled that NMFS did not use the best scientific information and therefore violated the Administrative Procedures Act in the implementation of a revised observer program that did not account for loss of data quality when coverage on trawl vessels dropped to 13 percent from 30 percent under the previous program. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Halibut stock stable, flat harvest likely

Stocks have stabilized and bycatch is as low as it’s been since 1960, however the halibut quota for next year will edge down after being raised for the first time in years in 2016. The International Pacific Halibut Commission held its interim meeting in Seattle Nov. 29-30 to review the 2016 catch, status of the stock, and to recommend how much halibut fishermen will be able to take in 2017. Overall, biologists and managers gave a view of a responsible group of users responding well to a trough in the historical ups and downs of halibut abundance, which has flattened after a decade of downward movement. IPHC biologist Dr. Ian Stewart painted a more secure picture of halibut than the last two years have seen, emphasizing decreased bycatch and a firm outlook for abundance. “I think it’s pretty clear that we’ve seen the stock stabilize,” Stewart said. The commission set a recommendation, called the blue line, of 26.1 million pounds, a slight decrease from last year’s blue line of 26.7 million pounds. The commission will meet again in January to adopt official limits, which may or may not match the blue line. In 2016, the IPHC adopted official limits of more than 3 million pounds beyond that of the blue line. Fishermen have, for the most part, been responsible in the pursuit. Commercial halibut fisheries in each of the regulatory areas in Alaska collectively caught 3 percent less than their catch limit. Guided anglers in Southeast Alaska, or Area 2C, caught 13 percent less than their limit, while the guided anglers in Southcentral Alaska went over their allocation by 8 percent. Reports detailed that overall landings have been fairly static over the last three years, with a total landing of 32.2 million pounds in 2016. Only Area 2A, the West Coast between California and Washington, went over the combined catch limit for all user groups, by 1 percent.  Halibut has persisted as a fisheries politics hot button as more users than ever split the resource. Commercial halibut fishermen share the harvest with guided charter vessels, non-guided recreational fishermen, subsistence and non-halibut fishermen who incidentally catch halibut in the process of fishing their own quota, known as bycatch. The overall removals are more divided among user groups than they have ever been, Stewart said, with only 60 percent of removals going to the directed commercial fishery, while guided recreational fisheries and bycatch each made for 17 percent apiece. The remaining halibut was divided amongst subsistence users.  Notably, the hotly argued issue around halibut bycatch could ease as the bycatch rates for groundfish trawlers drop. Since 2014, bycatch has dropped nearly two million pounds. “We’ve seen a substantial reduction in bycatch from almost 9 million pounds in 2014 to just over 7 million pounds in 2016, Stewart said. “That pattern in 4CDE (Central Bering Sea) is what’s driving the overall reduction in bycatch.” Regulatory Area 4CDE became the focus of IPHC and North Pacific Fishery Management Council action in 2014 over the amount of bycatch taken in that area by groundfish trawlers. The directed halibut fishermen in the Central Bering Sea begged the council to lower bycatch caps for the trawlers so more halibut could go to the small Pribilof Island communities whose economies rely on fisheries. The council took regulatory action, but Stewart pointed out that the area’s bycatch rates dropped 1.5 million pounds from 2014 to 2015 — before the regulatory actions even kicked in for the groundfish fleet. The recent drop in bycatch is part of a larger trend. Bycatch in non-halibut fisheries has fallen steadily from a height of 20 million pounds in 1990 to the present level of 7 million pounds — the lowest bycatch level on the chart Stewart presented, which dated back to 1960.   The IPHC divides the Pacific into several regulatory areas. The areas in the central Gulf of Alaska will see increases, as biologists observe more halibut in those regions, while those regions hugging the U.S. and Canada coast will see theirs drop slightly.  Area 2A (West Coast): 750,000 pounds, down from 1 million pounds last year Area 2B (British Columbia): 4.72 million pounds, down from 5.22 million pounds last year Area 2C (Southeast Alaska): 4.08 million pounds, down from 4.62 million pounds last year Area 3A (Central Gulf of Alaska): 9.41 million pounds, up from 9.27 million pounds last year Area 3B (Western Gulf) – 3.08 million pounds, up from 2.71 million pounds last year Area 4A (Aleutians): 1.28 million pounds, down from 1.3 million pounds  Area 4B (Eastern Bering Sea): 1.12 million pounds, up from 920,000 pounds Area 4CDE (Central Bering Sea): 1.69 million pounds, up from 1.64 million pounds. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]  

2017 Bristol Bay sockeye forecast in line with recent average

Bristol Bay can look forward to a regular season in 2017 after two years of hard work, if the forecast is to be believed. Alaska’s largest sockeye run has blown past projections the last two years, but next year the Alaska Department of Fish and Game predicts an average harvest. “A total of 41.47 million sockeye salmon (range 31.20–51.73 million) are expected to return to Bristol Bay in 2017,” according to an ADFG report released Nov. 15. “This is virtually identical to the most recent 10-year average of Bristol Bay total runs (41.39) and 27 percent greater than the long-term mean of 32.76 million.” For commercial fishermen, this means next year’s harvest will also be average, with a commercial harvest of 29 million. “A Bristol Bay harvest of this size is 2 percent lower than the most recent 10-year harvest which has ranged from 15.43 million to 37.53 million, and 34 percent greater than the long-term harvest average of 20.52 million fish (1963 to present),” the report states.  The forecast predicts an average run and average harvest, but the last two years have put a stain on forecasting accuracy. In 2014, 2015 and 2016, the Bristol Bay sockeye run has returned in massive numbers past those predicted by ADFG. In 2016, commercial fishermen harvested 26 percent more than what the department predicted. In 2015, ADFG predicted 14 percent less fish than what ended up returning. In 2014, fishermen caught 11 million more than forecasted.  Bristol Bay fishermen familiar with the region’s ups and downs expressed little surprise that the forecasts were off during the last two years of massive sockeye hauls. The history of ADFG Bristol Bay forecasting shows that the methods are usually off by a fair margin.  “Historically, sockeye salmon runs to Bristol Bay have been highly variable,” ADFG reported. “Forecasting future salmon returns is inherently difficult and uncertain. We have used similar methods since 2001 to produce the Bristol Bay sockeye salmon forecast.  “These methods have performed well when applied to Bristol Bay as a whole. Since 2001, our forecasts have, on average, under-forecast the run by 10 percent and have ranged from 44 percent below actual run in 2014 to 19 percent above actual run in 2011. Forecasted harvests have had a mean absolute percent error of 15 percent since 2011.” Depending on the size of the actual harvest, the 2017 Bristol Bay run could either ease or intensify an ongoing pricing situation. Ex-vessel prices for commercial fishermen have dropped while retail prices have remained largely the same due in part to a supply glut from the massive runs in 2014 and 2015. Processors still had stores of salmon products to unload when the large harvests came in, leading to a disparity in ex-vessel price versus retail prices. In 2015, area fishermen received 50 cents per pound, half the average, though this price was later adjusted to 99 cents per pound in the postseason. In 2016, they received 76 cents per pound, and are still waiting to hear what the postseason adjustment will be.  DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]  

The next generation of ocean specialists

Alaska’s university system is ramping up programs to train the next generations of fishery and ocean specialists — and plenty of jobs await. Since 1987, the College of Fisheries and Ocean Science, or CFOS, at the University of Alaska Fairbanks has offered undergraduate and graduate degrees in Fisheries Science, complete with paid internships to help prepare them for positions in the state’s largest industry. “It’s a degree path preparing students for what I call fish squeezers — they’re going to go to work for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, or NOAA, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or some other type of agency where they’re going to be primarily out doing field work, traditional fish biologist types,” said Trent Sutton, a Professor of Fisheries Biology and Associate Dean of Academics. Due to student interest, the college broadened the fisheries degree this fall to include ocean sciences, and opened more oceanography and marine biology classes to undergraduate students. The new degree combo program attracted 53 students, Sutton said. The college also is a center for ocean acidification studies, which is a big student draw. “You hear all the concerns regarding climate change and marine mammals and fisheries and sea ice — all of those garner interest from students because there are job opportunities down the road to deal with these issues,” Sutton explained. The CFOS also is the only school in the nation to offer a Bachelor of Arts degree in fisheries for students interested in seafood sciences and technology, and marine policy. Another focus of the B.A. track is in rural and community development where students can get the degree at home. “A student in Bethel or Dillingham can stay home and take 100 percent of their courses either through video conferences or online or by some other distance delivery technology. They can get a degree that is tied to fisheries and it will help them have a good career and become leaders in their communities,” Sutton said. Starting next fall, CFOS plans to offer the degree programs in partnership with the University at Southeast Alaska, or UAS, and eventually to the Anchorage campus and other regions. A shorter career track for fisheries technologists also is offered through UAS/Sitka to train students for jobs as fishery observers, surveyors, culturists and hatchery technicians. Fish tech certification and associates degree courses are offered remotely, with classes fully loaded onto iPads and no internet is required. There is a dire shortage of fish techs in Alaska and that trend is expected to continue for at least a decade, according to university data. In fact, good careers await fisheries and ocean science grads in Alaska, as state agencies are steadily losing workers to retirement — 20 percent from ADFG alone over the next few years, and a similar amount from federal fisheries agencies. Of the nearly 700 graduates the College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences has produced over 30 years, nearly half have gone on to careers at ADFG and NOAA Fisheries, Sutton said. “These students are not only staying in the state,” he said, “but they are working for the agencies that are making the management and policy decisions that impact our fisheries and marine resources.” Bait bites Baits are critical to most fishermen’s catches and it can be a scramble to find ample supplies that change with the times. “Things change over the years. We always try to find what is the new best thing and try and stay ahead of the curve,” said Justin Hackley, vice president of sales and marketing for International Marine Industries of Newport, Rhode Island, a global bait provider for over 30 years. Alaska is one of Hackley’s biggest customers and bait favorites have shifted due to changing weather patterns and cyclical availabilities of the fish. For decades it was east coast herring that kept Alaska fleets out fishing — until a better fish surfaced. “It was herring for halibut or black cod longlining, or for crab or pot cod until a cheaper alternative came around — Pacific sardines caught off the coast of Astoria. That fish had fat content at 18 percent, way higher than you can get out of east coast herring,” Hackley said. But the Pacific sardine fishery closed three years ago, and Hackley scrambled to find another bait replacement. It took some convincing, but last year Kodiak fishermen and processors agreed to bite. “Pacific saury is the new up and coming bait that last year we got them to take, and it’s been quite successful,” he said. Saury will be soaking in Tyler O’Brien’s pots when he sets out on the 58-foot Odin’s Eye for cod in January. At $1.00 a pound (up from 50 cents last year), he estimates the bait cost will be $4,500 for each three-day fishing trip. Fishermen use different baits depending on the fishery, and often mix up their own blends from scraps to save money, O’Brien said. “For crab we’ll catch and use fresh herring or cod and salmon roe. In the fall, we’ll get pink salmon discards from processors for halibut bait. We try and follow the seasonal tastes of the fish,” he explained. Pacific saury already is feeling pressure from increasing demand, Hackley said, and bait prices for short supplies of squid have increased to $1.35 a pound at Dutch Harbor, up from 85-90 cents a year ago. “Prices can double or triple in a year and some guys are buying 10.5 million pounds of squid for a calendar year,” he added. A newer bait alternative gaining traction in Alaska is pollock. “I used to sell a lot of longline herring to halibut guys and everyone seems to want pollock now,” he said. So why aren’t Alaska fisheries using local species as bait? In the case of herring (65 cents a pound) for halibut, at least, Hackley said size matters. “These longliners want a certain size. Typically, herring from Sitka is too small and the Dutch Harbor herring is too big. But it is good for the pot guys,” he said. Hackley credits Alaska for its sustainable management practices and believes he’ll have a good customer long into the future. “As long as people are out there fishing and pots and hooks are going in the water,” Hackley said, “I’ll be there throwing frozen bait at ‘em.” Fish watch The total salmon harvest for the 2016 season came in at 112 million fish, based on preliminary numbers from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The value to fishermen of $406 million is the lowest since 2002. The 2017 catch of sockeye salmon at Bristol Bay is pegged at 27.5 million; that compares to a harvest of 37.3 million reds this year. State managers predict Upper Cook Inlet fishermen will see a much lower commercial harvest of just 1.7 million sockeye salmon next summer, one million fish below the 20-year average. The forecast for pink salmon in Southeast Alaska is for a “strong” catch in the 43 million range; that compares to just 18 million pinks taken in the region this summer. The halibut industry will soon get a glimpse of next year’s potential catches when the International Pacific Halibut Commission meets Nov. 29-30 in Seattle. The IPHC also will take up 13 requests for management changes to the fishery, including whether it will be legal to catch halibut with pots in 2017. The fishery will reopen in March. The state Board of Fisheries meets in Homer November 30-December 3. The focus is on commercial, sport, subsistence and personal use fisheries in Lower Cook Inlet. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

King crab harvest was fast, but cuts make crabbers furious

It was fast and furious for Alaska’s premier crab fishery with the fleet catching the nearly 8 million-pound red king crab quota at Bristol Bay in less than three weeks. The overall take was down 15 percent from the 2015 fishery and will likely fetch record prices when all sales are made. “The only price we have is an advance price so fishermen can pay fuel, bait and other trip expenses. The final price will be determined from now to January,” said Jake Jacobsen, executive director of the Inter-Cooperative Exchange, which represents 70 percent of the Bering Sea crab harvesters. Crabbers fetched an average price of $8.18 per pound for their king crab last year and the fishery was valued at over $81 million at the docks. The hauls since the fishery got underway on Oct. 15 averaged 37.4 red kings per pot, compared to 32 crabs last year, Jacobsen said, adding that some boats were catching 60 to 70 crab per pot, even as the fishery was coming to a close. That’s where the furious comes in — the crabbers believe there are lots more crab on the grounds than were revealed in the standardized summer survey upon which the catch quotas are based. “It’s not one of those things where we don’t think the crab is there, it’s a result of the survey not being able to find them,” said Ruth Christiansen, science adviser and policy analyst for the trade group, Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers. Jacobsen agreed, saying, “Fishermen were very pleased with the good fishing and at the same time furious that the catch could be so low when the resource is more abundant than they’ve seen in many a year.” He added that they also saw high numbers of female and undersized crab, which bodes well for next year. Only legal-sized males are allowed to be retained for sale. The Bering Sea crab fisheries are co-managed by the state and the federal government. Federal biologists conduct the annual summer surveys and calculate the catch quotas; the state Department of Fish and Game manages the crab fisheries in-season.  Trump takedowns What might the election of Donald Trump mean for the seafood industry? Economic reports already are pointing to his platform of opposing trade and pulling out of the North America Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, a stance that goes against more than 30 years of American policy under presidents of both parties. NAFTA connects trade between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, and Trump has pledged to impose trade barriers that could reduce markets for seafood and other U.S. exports and drive up the cost of imports, causing banks to restrict lending, according to the New York Times. It also is a foregone conclusion that he will tank the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership. If Trump does implement trade protectionist policies, it could tip the economy into a recession, cautioned global economists. Trump also has vowed to place a 45 percent tariff on Chinese imports and declare China a currency manipulator on his first day in office. How this will affect the millions of pounds of Alaska seafood that are sent to China for reprocessing and then shipped back for sales in the U.S. is anyone’s guess. The Wall Street Journal said Trump’s victory could begin “an era of U.S. combativeness” with two of our biggest trade partners — China and Mexico — and prompt trade wars and stall international growth. Tom Sunderland, vice president of marketing and communications Ocean Beauty Seafood agrees. “But it’s far too early to speculate on what any of this might mean. We will just have to wait and see, and deal with any changes as they come, he said.” While Trump’s positions might not pose any direct changes for U.S. fisheries, his vision to “explode fossil fuel development across the nation, including coal” will have a long-term impact on our oceans. Trump has widely claimed that the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive. He has called for gutting the Environmental Protection Agency and is likely to name a top climate skeptic, Myron Ebell, to lead the charge. Like Trump, Ebell calls climate change “bullsh*t,” and both have vowed to “cancel” the Paris global warming accord signed by nearly 200 nations that sets targets to reverse the worst effects of global warming. Scientific American reports that Ebell has called President Obama’s Clean Power Plan for greenhouse gasses “illegal” and boasts that he has been dubbed a “climate criminal” by Greenpeace. The topic is likely to dominate discussions during a special Friday afternoon seminar at Fish Expo. Terry Johnson, a Fisheries Professor and Sea Grant Marine Advisor in Anchorage, will present the most current science on a warming world and off kilter ocean chemistry.  A main focus is to hear ideas from fishermen and coastal community reps on how they plan to adapt to the inevitable. Changes could include things like moving towards bigger, multi-fisheries vessels that allow for more flexibility, and modifying regulatory regimes that lift some of the restrictions on moving from one fishing area to another. “We have seen a number of climate related changes but they are more results of temporary climate variations, such as El Niño’s and regime shifts on the order of a year or a decade or more. But in the long term, things have not yet been sufficiently dramatic so industry has had to make big changes yet,” he said.  Meanwhile, Johnson said he is very concerned that a Trump administration will slash climate change science. “Federal scientists and others are doing very important work that will eventually help inform us about how to adapt to climate changes — if that funding is cut off, we’re going to be working in the dark,” he said. The Expo runs from Nov. 17-19 in Seattle.  Sea a Cure A campaign to raise money for cancer research has been relaunched by Orca Bay Seafoods and members of the fishing industry. The effort began in 2006 when Orca Bay vice president Trish Haaker was diagnosed with breast cancer, and since then more than $40,000 has been raised for research. The company now has enlarged its mission. “We are adding the nutrition messages of seafood and its health benefits, and how it can help during cancer treatments and lead to an overall healthier lifestyle,” said Lilani Estacio, Orca Bay’s Marketing and Communications Manager. All proceeds go to City of Hope, a global leader in cancer research, along with diabetes, heart disease and HIV. “We are a united industry, and we have a product that benefits not just the livelihood of many, but everyone,” Estacio said. “If we could all gather around and help educate Americans about the benefits of eating seafood — that is our ultimate goal.” Learn how you can donate at Sea a Cure on Facebook.  Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

ADFG predicts lowest sockeye salmon harvest in 15 years

Forecasts for Upper Cook Inlet sockeye salmon have dropped precipitously, just in time for the state’s fishermen to have another beef with Alaska’s fisheries managers in a few months. “In 2017, a run of approximately 4.0 million sockeye salmon is forecasted to return to UCI with a commercial harvest of 1.7 million,” reads an Alaska Department of Fish and Game release. “The forecasted commercial harvest in 2017 is 1.2 million less than the 20-year average harvest.” The Upper Cook Inlet sockeye salmon harvest of 2.4 million, which was 17 percent less than the recent 10-year average, fetched an ex-vessel price of $1.50 per pound for a total value of $21 million. With an average weight of 5.8 pounds per fish, 1.2 million sockeye are worth $10.4 million in 2016 prices. For commercial Upper Cook Inlet sockeye fishermen, the forecast plays into a long-standing management feud the Alaska Board of Fisheries will have to pick up at the beginning of 2017, largely concerning whether or not management policies have been harming the sockeye stocks — and fishermen — by allowing too many to escape to their spawning grounds. Managers predict the overall size of the expected run, then chip away how many spawning fish they need to send back up the river, then divide the rest between commercial, sport fishing, subsistence and personal use fisheries. For all users, the forecast is 2.6 million fish, about 21 percent below average and among the lower third of harvest forecasts going back to 1985. Eight of the last 27 years have had forecasts as low or lower. The commercial harvest expectation is 1.7 million. If the fleet harvests that much, it will be the lowest harvest since 2000 and 1998, when Cook Inlet fishermen harvested 1.3 million and 1.2 million sockeye, respectively. Prior to that, the harvest hadn’t dipped below 1.7 million fish since 1981. “It’s gonna be pretty tricky,” said Aaron Dupuis, the assistant area management biologist for the commercial section of the Upper Cook Inlet ADFG office. “Things will be much more restrictive.” This small of a forecast triggers the most tightly controlled management tiers. Sockeye setnetters will only have 24 hours to fish in addition to their normal Monday and Thursday 12-hour openings. Drift netters will have to stay within certain sections, instead of fishing in the middle of Cook Inlet. Commercial fishermen aren’t happy with the forecast. “It’s pretty alarming,” said Andy Hall, a sockeye setnetter and president of the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Coalition. Hall said he can’t remember off the top of his head the last time a season forecast gave his fleet so little. “I had a couple fishermen write to me and say they’re alarmed. It’s going to color how we respond to some of the proposals that go to the Board of Fisheries this year.” ADFG biologists acknowledge that high escapements might be a part of the low forecast, but say the situation is still too complex and murky to know for certain. “Yeah, it’s possible (that overescapement led to a small forecast),” said Dupois. “We won’t really know until we have complete brood information for the most recent escapements. It’s definitely a possibility.” Pat Shields, the commercial fishing management biologist for the Kenai area ADFG office, went into more detail about the causes of next year’s small forecast. Large escapements, he said, tend to produce smaller fry — the baby salmon waiting in river systems to swim out into the ocean to grow up. If fry survival drops, it could intensify low returns. “There can be multiple reasons,” he said. “It appears ocean conditions have not been as favorable in the last couple years. I know it’s not satisfying for even me to say that…but there are different things that affect that.” Water temperatures for the Gulf of Alaska and its river systems have been rising in certain areas, leading in 2015 and 2016 to a patch of water 2 degrees Celsius over the average, called “the Blob” by scientists. This warmer water, said Shields, looks to be a contributing factor to salmon marine survival. Rising temperatures only mask the problem of overescapement, according to Dave Martin, president of the industry group Upper Cook Inlet Drift Association. Martin said the forecast validates the group’s long held claim that ADFG and the Board of Fisheries have let too many sockeye salmon escape over the years, which both hurts the fleet’s bottom line and future salmon returns. “It kind of goes along with what we’ve been saying all along,” he said. “You keep grossly overescaping the systems then it’ll produce smaller returns. If we managed the fishery scientifically, we wouldn’t have these ups and downs.” By “scientifically,” Martin means managing to the federal fisheries standard of maximum sustainable yield, a different metric with more economic considerations than in state management. Hall agreed. “We’ve been overescaping these rivers year after year, and you have to wonder,” he said. “I’m not a scientist, but I’ve spoken with former and retired ADFG biologists who say, ‘we can’t keep doing this, this is going to come back on us one of these days.’” Both Martin and Hall want the Alaska Board of Fisheries, which sets management playbooks for Alaska’s in-state fisheries within three miles of the shore, to use this forecast as an example of failed, allocation-driven policy making. “It’s frustrating to see this happening,” said Hall. “I just wish all these political proposals weren’t there and the biologists could just manage. But a lot of what’s happening isn’t driven by science. It’s driven by politics.” The Board of Fisheries will hold a meeting in February for Upper Cook Inlet finfish, which includes salmon. These meetings, held once every three years, are typically among the most combative and political in the state’s fisheries, and have already been the subject of heated discussions in 2016 simply around where the meeting will be held. In 2017, the Board of Fisheries will also have to deal with a recent federal court decision that will require state managers to have a federal fishery management plan and stick to the standards required by federal law. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Obama to appoint Behnken to International Pacific Halibut Commission

In a final round of appointments before his second and final term comes to a close, President Barack Obama announced on Nov. 3 his intent to appoint Linda Behnken to the International Pacific Halibut Commission. Behnken is an Alaska fishing fixture and has served as an interim commissioner since July. The commission’s upcoming Nov. 29-30 meeting will be her first. She currently serves as executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, an industry group that promotes the interests of Alaska’s small boat fishermen, and formerly served three terms on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council that handles all federal fisheries from three to 200 miles off the Alaska coast.  Behnken has a full schedule ahead of her, as halibut management is complex and has several issues needing fixes. “My goal there is to work with other commissioners and stakeholders to update the harvest policy for the directed fishery, rebuild stocks, and reduce bycatch,” she said in an interview with the Journal. Among other priorities, Behnken said she wants to revisit the harvest policy for halibut fishermen by expanding the range of information factored into harvest guidelines. She would prefer a harvest policy that accounts for fish of all sizes and ages instead of the current focus on fish over 32 inches, and accounts for mortality of all sizes and ages of fish. Alaska halibut stakeholders say they have high hopes for Behnken’s commissionership. “I think the industry is pretty pleased,” said Tom Gemmell, executive director of the Halibut Coalition. “She’s been a long time advocate for the industry.” Gemmell praised Behnken’s grasp of management science, and in particular her involvement with an ongoing policy overhaul involving abundance-based halibut bycatch management. “She’s always had a good grasp of the numbers,” said Gemmell. “I know she’s pretty engaged with the council process in this idea for abundance-based management and fixing this whole problem in the Bering Sea. It’s going to be a long-term process. But I think she’s got a good handle on that.” The commission, or IPHC, is a joint Canadian-U.S. body that governs halibut management in the Pacific. Three commissioners from each country sit on the commission to set quota levels for halibut fishermen and perform the science necessary to run the fishery. Obama announced Behnken’s appointment along with that of Charlie Swanton as a commissioner of the U.S. Pacific Salmon Commission, which jointly manages Canadian and U.S. salmon in Southeast and the Yukon River. “The talent and expertise these individuals bring to their roles will serve our nation well,” wrote Obama of the appointments. “I am grateful for their service, and look forward to working with them.” Behnken was already serving as interim commissioner after another halibut fisherman left the post. She took the job after commissioner Jeff Kauffman resigned. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration law enforcement had charged him with a halibut fishing violation, settled out of courts for $49,000. This is Obama’s second honor for Behnken in 2016. In October, Behnken was named a “Champion of Change” for her work “promoting sustainable fishing and improving the lives of fishermen in Alaska and around the nation.” Behnken’s appointment comes at a time when halibut managers are looking for solutions. The North Pacific fishing world has focused heavily on halibut the last several years. Stakeholders have scrutinized the dual management of halibut between the IPHC and the U.S. North Pacific Fishery Management Council as clumsy and problematic. Groundfish trawlers take halibut as incidental catch, or bycatch. Groundfish includes pollock and non-pelagic species such as Pacific cod, Arrowtooth flounder and rockfish. The North Pacific council sets the caps for how much halibut the groundfish trawlers can take, while the IPHC sets the caps for how much the directed halibut fishermen can take. The IPHC’s caps shift according to how many halibut they predict are in the sea, but the North Pacific council’s caps stay largely the same from season to season. This led to a situation in 2015 in which halibut fishermen ended up taking less halibut than the groundfish trawlers, who aren’t allowed to sell the incidentally caught fish. Behnken was one of the most vocal proponents of slashing the groundfish bycatch caps so the directed halibut fishermen could get more harvest.  The IPHC and the North Pacific council are currently working towards a solution where their management methods are more in sync and the bycatch limits will be set according to halibut abundance as the directed harvest caps are. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Halibut share prices soar

As Alaska’s iconic halibut fishery wraps up this week, stakeholders are holding their breath to learn if catches might ratchet up slightly again in 2017. Meanwhile, prices for hard to get shares of the halibut catch are jaw-dropping. The halibut fishery ended on Nov. 7 for nearly 2,000 longliners who hold IFQs, or Individual Fishing Quota, of halibut. The Alaska fishery will produce a catch of more than 20 million pounds if the limit is reached by the fleet. Last year, the halibut haul was worth nearly $110 million at the Alaska docks. For the first time in several decades the coastwide Pacific halibut harvest numbers increased this year by 2.3 percent to nearly 30 million pounds. Along with Alaska, the eight-month fishery includes the Pacific coast states and British Columbia. The feeling that the halibut resource is stabilizing and recovering after a long decline has upped the ante for shares of the catch. The fact that the dock price again hovered in the $6 to $7 a pound range all season at major ports also has fanned interest. It holds especially true for shares of Southeast Alaska fish. “Fishermen say they’re seeing some of the best fishing they’ve ever seen in their lives there, bigger fish, better production and you see that reflected in IFQ prices,” said Doug Bowen of Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer. The quota shares are sold in various categories, and the asking price for prime shares in Southeast waters has reached $70 per pound! IFQ asking prices for shares in the Central Gulf, the largest halibut fishing hole, also have increased to $60 per pound, according to several broker listings. But the buying there is not as aggressive as in the Panhandle. “They took a 5 percent cut; it’s the only area in the entire coast that didn’t stay the same or have an increase. There is still quite a bit of concern about the resource there,” he said. “And there’s still a lot of concern about other removals and possibly inaccurate accounting of bycatch.” Halibut shares in the Western Gulf sold for a record $48, Bowen said. Shares in regions of the Bering Sea were listed mostly in the mid-$20 range. The halibut fishery falls under the stewardship of the International Pacific Halibut Commission, which has set the annual coastwide catch limits based on surveys since 1923. Stakeholders will get a first glimpse of recommended catches at an upcoming IPHC meeting Nov. 29-30 in Seattle. Mum’s the word so far on any numbers for 2017. “They won’t reveal any information about how their surveys went, for better or worse, and I give them a lot of credit for that,” Bowen said, “because it would only fan the flames of speculation in the IFQ market.” On a related note: Linda Behnken of Sitka has received a presidential appointment as a Commissioner to the International Pacific Halibut Commission. Behnken has been a commercial fisherman for over 30 years, and since 1991 has been Executive Director of the Alaska Longline Fisherman’s Association.  Expo time!  For 50 years, it’s been the most popular West Coast trade show for anyone who makes their living on the water. Pacific Marine Expo, dubbed Fish Expo, has bragging rights as one of the nation’s top trade shows, and it’s even bigger this year. “We are going to be 522 companies strong and 90 of them are brand new to the show. It just continues to grow,” said Denielle Christensen, Expo Director, adding that in this day of internet shopping, nothing replaces the “hands on” and networking of a real event. New to the show floor are 11 safety workshops, a Job Fair and a fishermen’s lounge. “It’s an amazing space where people can come in and see art and history and take a break from the floor,” Christensen said. Seminars include selling your own catch, emergency crew duties, marine connectivity, salmon habitat and the importance of bait. The event also feature’s National Fisherman’s popular Fishermen of the Year competition and Highliner awards Pacific Marine Expo takes place Nov. 17-19 at the Century Link Field in Seattle. Pot cod goes EM  Boats that catch cod with big pots are in the pre-implementation stage of making electronic monitoring a reality. That’s due to a steadfast push for three years by the Homer-based North Pacific Fisheries Association, or NPFA, and Saltwater Inc. of Anchorage, a leader in data collection since 1988. The EM systems can replace or augment onboard observer coverage which can cost boat owners $400 per day or more. Armed with funding by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the partnership proved that pot cod is a fishery that fits the bill because of the way the fish is brought on board. Starting in 2013, the pot codders set out to prove that using video cameras aimed at the catch could be cost effective and clearly show what’s coming aboard. “From 2013-2015 we had up to five boats and 13,000 pot hauls. Saltwater data reviewers were able to identify 99.6 percent of the more than 55,000 catch items to a species or a species group level. It was like, wow, this works. That really caught the managers’ attention,” said Nancy Munro, Saltwater founder and president. To get required weights of both catch and discards, the fishermen devised measuring grids on their sorting tables and Saltwater created a digital ruler that snaps nose to tail images of the fish, along with software that calibrates each to length and weight. On the basis of that work, federal managers gave the go-ahead for the pot cod fleet to begin EM pre-implementation starting Jan. 1. Boats are needed to test out EM systems; all costs will be covered by the grant money. Questions? Contact Saltwater Inc. or the NPFA. Giving back  American Seafoods Company is again offering grants totaling $38,000 for community projects that address hunger relief, safety, housing, research, natural resources and cultural activities. The majority of awards range from $500 to $3,000 per organization. The deadline to submit applications is Nov. 16. The awards will be announced by a community advisory board on Dec. 1. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

Salmon permit values take a nosedive after poor year in ‘16

Values of Alaska salmon permits have taken a nosedive after a dismal fishing season for all but a few regions. “No activity for drift gillnet or seine permits in Prince William Sound…No interest in Southeast seine or troll permits…Nothing new in Area M (the Alaska Peninsula),” wrote Mike Painter of The Permit Master. And so it goes. “With the lone exception of Bristol Bay and Area M it was a pretty grim season for salmon fishermen all over the state, and we are seeing that reflected in the declining prices for salmon permits and very low demand,” said Doug Bowen of Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer. On the upside, Bristol Bay drift permits have rebounded to the $135,000 range after reaching a low of around $90,000 last fall and spring. But at this point, there’s not much interest. “I believe there are fishermen who would like to switch out, say from Cook Inlet and go to the Bay, but it’s tough to make that move,” he said, adding that “Cook Inlet drift permits aren’t selling; there are lots of them on the market for around $50,000 and no action there.” A few years ago, Prince William Sound drift gillnet permits were fetching up to around $240,000, but recent sales were in the $130,000 range or lower. “Those permits have dropped about $100,000 in a year because they’ve had a couple of bad years in a row,” Bowen said. The story is similar for seine permits in the Sound, following a disastrous pink salmon year that came in less than 25 percent of the forecast. “The market there is around $150,000 and they were up over $200,000 last year,” he added. “We don’t see much action on those, and there is no interest for Kodiak seine cards. You can see them listed in the low $30,000 range but what it would take to actually sell one – my guess is it’s something under $30,000.” In Southeast, some permit values are not down quite as much as in other areas. Drift gillnets were priced at $95,000 to $100,000 last year, with recent sales at around $80,000. Southeast seine permits, which a couple of years ago approached $325,000, recently sold at $160,000.  Bowen says it all adds up to very little optimism. “Several of these areas have had bad years back to back,” he said. “If you add it all up, there’s likely a couple hundred million dollars that did not show up in salmon this year. There’s not money floating around in the industry to buy permits, so we’re seeing a depressed market in general.” He added that many stakeholders are worried about the future of Alaska salmon fishing. “You hear people talking about the water temperature is too warm and the fish are swimming deep and going under the nets and around them, and there seems to be a lot of concern about the future, even in the near term,” Bowen said. One bright note: salmon markets are going strong so far and that could help to turn the tide. “Sales have been brisk this fall,” said Tom Sunderland, Vice President of Marketing and Communications for Ocean Beauty Seafoods. “We expect inventories to be low as we head into next season, and that should create some good market opportunities.” Bowen added that with low prices now for permits nearly across the board, it’s a good time to buy. Farmed salmon flop  Wild salmon is less nutritious because it burns up all its good fats and oils on its long journey to spawn. That’s the startling claim by professors at Stirling University in Scotland in a study showing declines in omega-3 levels in farmed salmon due to increased use of plant-based feeds. The statement brought a quick reaction from one Alaska expert. “I laughed. It’s a silly remark,” said Scott Smiley of Kodiak, a retired professor and noted zoological expert in cell and developmental biology. “A friend who is a fish nutritionist asked if the Scottish researcher was a professor of medieval literature,” he added with a laugh. Smiley added that farmed salmon, like other living creatures, are what they eat. “You can adjust the diets of farmed fish so that they have much more omega-3s. It’s just a question of cost and it is relatively expensive to do,” he explained, adding that most fish farmers now balance plant-based feeds with fish meal at critical times in the salmon’s development. Catching wild fish to feed farmed fish has fallen out of favor over the past decade, and that’s forced fish farmers to find feeds sourced from plants or synthetics. The Scottish report said that in 2006, 80 percent of the average farmed salmon’s diet in the U.K. was made up of oily fish; now it is just 20 percent. But even with the lower omega levels, farmed salmon is still better for you than wild, the Scottish researchers concluded. One million smoked salmon meals are eaten in the U.K. every week, and salmon purchases there have increased 550 percent, according to the report that is in the journal Scientific Reports. It’s hard to tell which fish overall has the highest amount of omega-3 oils because levels vary by local populations, Smiley said. “Herring off of Kodiak may have very high levels of omega-3s, but herring from some other place may have half of that. There is variation in natural populations that is really intense. And it totally depends on what they eat,” he explained. Farmed seafood is slowly gaining dominance over wild in Japan’s retail stores and are now the centerpieces of the seafood section, according to Seafood Source. The shift is driven by national supermarket chains that want to plan large-scale promotions in advance. The food service industry has long preferred farmed seafood because costs and supply are more stable, allowing for more consistent menuing and prices. Now, Japanese retailers also want that stability. Top fishing ports and fish favorites Alaska claimed the top three fishing ports for landings again last year, and in fact, led all US states in terms of seafood landings and value at six billion pounds and $1.8 billion, respectively. That’s according to the annual Fisheries of the US report for 2015 released yesterday by NOAA Fisheries. For the 19th consecutive year, Dutch Harbor led the nation in the highest amount of seafood landed at 787 million pounds valued at $218 million. And New Bedford, Mass., again had the highest valued catch — $322 million for 124 million pounds. Most of that was due to the high price of sea scallops, which accounted for 76 percent of the value of the landings in New Bedford. Kodiak ranked second for landings and the Aleutian Islands was number three, thanks to Trident’s plant at Akutan, the nation’s largest seafood processing facility. In all, 13 Alaska ports made the nation’s top 50 list for landings and six were in the top ten, including the Alaska Peninsula, Naknek and Cordova. In other highlights: Alaska accounted for nearly 98 percent of all wild salmon landings, with West Coast states making up the rest. The average dock price per pound for all salmon species in Alaska was 40 cents last year, down by half from 2014. For halibut, the Pacific fishery accounted for all but 216,000 pounds of the total halibut catch. Average price to fishermen was $4.86 a pound, compared to $4.94 the previous year. U.S. landings of king crab were 17.5 million pounds, valued at nearly $99 million, increases of 5 percent and more than 15 percent, respectively. Alaska is home to the most seafood processing plants at 151, which employed more than 10,000 people. And for the third year in a row, Americans ate slightly more seafood at 15.5 pounds per person, adding nearly one pound to their diets. That’s according to the National Fisheries Institute, which each year compiles the Top 10 list of favorites based on the NOAA report that was released this week. The favorites remain pretty much the same, with shrimp topping the list — but consumption of that item has remained static at four pounds per capita. Salmon again ranked second and Americans increased their intake by more than three percent to just less than three pounds per person. That’s due in large part to more availability and lower prices at retail. Canned tuna held onto the third spot at 2.2 pounds, followed by farmed tilapia at nearly 1.4 pounds per person. Alaska pollock ranked at number five at just under one pound per capita, slightly less than in 2014. Rounding out the top ten were Pangasius, cod, crab, catfish and clams. The upward eating tick in the U.S. is good news from a public health perspective. Only one in 10 Americans follows the federal dietary guidelines to eat seafood twice a week. The global annual seafood consumption average is 44 pounds per person. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.


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