FISH FACTOR: Bycatch donation program grows; Webber develops netwasher

The decades-old “bycatch to food banks” program has grown far beyond its original Alaska beginnings. Today, only 10 percent of the fish going to hunger relief programs is bycatch of primarily halibut and salmon taken accidentally in other fisheries. The remainder is “first-run” products donated to Sea Share, the nation’s only non-profit that donates fish through a tight network of fishermen, processors, packagers and transporters. Sea Share began in 1993 when Bering Sea fishermen pushed to be allowed to direct fish taken as bycatch to food banks instead of over the rails, as required by law. 
 “Back then that was the only thing that we were set up to do, and we are the only entity authorized to retain such fish. It became a rallying point for a lot of stakeholders, and from that beginning we’ve expanded to the Gulf of Alaska, and grown to 28 states and over 200 million fish meals a year,” said Jim Harmon, Sea Share director. Some seafood companies commit a portion of their sales, or donate products or overages. Vessels of the At-sea Processors Association have donated 250,000 pounds of whitefish blocks each year for 15 years, which are turned into breaded portions. Sea Share’s roster also has grown to include tilapia, shrimp, cod and tuna and other canned and frozen seafood products.
 Over the years, Sea Share has ramped up donations in Alaska where halibut portions from Kodiak fisheries are used locally, at Kenai and flown to Nome and Kotzebue, courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard. A new freezer container has been stationed at the Port of Dillingham holding 8,500 pounds of fish and several more are being added to hubs in Western Alaska, Harmon said. 
 “I think we’ll probably do 250,000 pounds in the state this year,” he added. A donation last week by Walmart will bring more seafood to hungry mouths in Washington. Sea Share was one of seven recipients to share grants from the corporation totaling $400,000 for community programs. “We’re trying to reach out beyond the seafood industry to larger foundations as well as the public at large,” Harmon said.
 He pointed out that giving fish to the needy also broadens a customer base to people who wouldn’t otherwise get it.
 “Food bank recipients aren’t the chronically homeless or unemployed, it’s the under employed, those between jobs who might access the bank for a few weeks,” Harmon said. “And if we give those people a great experience with seafood, when they are back on their feet again or they get that next job, they’ll start buying more seafood. It really is a win win.” Nice nets! A simple onboard net washing system is one of the latest quality boosting tools to come out of Cordova. 
 “There’s nothing that catches fish better than a brand new net. If you can maintain a clean net, you’re fully optimizing your ability to catch,” said Bill Webber of Webber Marine and Manufacturing in Cordova. For over 40 years, he has specialized in gear for primarily salmon gillnetters; the net washer is one of the newest tools to come out of his shop. 
 “It has vertical water chambers that weld onto the outboard sides of the rollers,” he explained. “The rollers still function as intended as the net goes through them. On the front and the back of a level line there’s vertical water jet holes that spray through the net as it goes through the lines.” Webber, who is fishing his 49th season at the Copper River, said he is fine tuning the net washer out on the water now and hopes to make them available this winter. Other Webber inventions include hydraulic rotating turrets for net reels, automated sea water chlorination systems and an electronic intravenous pressure process that bleeds a fish in about 30 seconds. 
 “I like building a better mouse trap, if you will,” he said.
            All of his inventions are designed to optimize salmon quality and were born out of necessity when Webber revamped his business model 20 years ago from fisherman to “Harvester-Direct.” He was one of the first to vertically integrate his operation by becoming both a catcher and a processor onboard his gillnetter, and directing each salmon into the hands of high end chefs and buyers. Today, Webber sells more than 95 percent of his salmon catch privately under his Gulkana Seafoods brand. 
            “Being the first owner in the supply chain, I control every aspect of my product’s existence,” Webber said. “I have developed specialized tools and very stringent handling standards and processing techniques that allow my harvest to be as Mother Nature intended. So many Americans have lost the connection to their food sources and I am their personal Alaska fisherman.” 
            Webber makes presentations around the nation advising fishermen on how they can reclaim more value for their catches.  His hope, he said, is to offer the tools that “from the get go will have them providing the finest fish to source conscious buyers.” Read fish labels  Global fish consumption has hit a record high, topping 44 pounds per capita for the first time. It is the result of improved and expanding aquaculture and reduced waste, according to the U.N.’s latest World’s Fisheries and Aquaculture report. Another first: people are now consuming more farmed fish than wild-caught fish. In 2014, a total of 580 species were farmed around the world, mostly finfish. The total number of fishing vessels in the world in 2014 was estimated at about 4.6 million, of which 75 percent hail from Asia. North America and Europe each accounted for just two percent of the world’s fishing fleets.
          In the U.S., all seafoods by law must be labeled as farmed or wild, and show their country of origin.
             If it’s farmed salmon from Chile, the biggest importer to the U.S., be advised that according to the National Service of Fisheries and Aquaculture, Chile used more than 1.2 million pounds of antibiotics last year to ward off a fish virus that has crippled the industry. To make matters worse, Intrafish reports that 50 Chilean salmon companies refused to disclose the amount and type of antibiotics they used, saying “such disclosure would threaten their business competitiveness.”   
            By comparison, Norway, the world’s biggest producer of farmed salmon, uses roughly 2,100 pounds of antibiotics, primarily for sea lice problems. Bloomberg reports that Norway’s largest grower — Marine Harvest — wants to start farming salmon inside huge cargo ships rather than at sea to further reduce antibiotic use. 
            A survey last year by global market researcher Mintel found that three-quarters of U.S. consumers prefer ‘free from’ foods, meaning free from antibiotics, preservatives, additives and GMOs. Of course, choosing wild fish is the safest bet. Otherwise, read those labels. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.  

Ninilchik Traditional Council sues for speedy approval of gillnet

As part of an ongoing lawsuit against the Secretaries of the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture, Ninilchik Traditional Council is asking that the authorities give it a community subsistence sockeye salmon gillnet permit before the sockeye runs peaks. NTC filed for a preliminary injunction on shortened time on July 13. The group said it is necessary to have an approved license in the next few weeks, as the sockeye run on the Kenai River will peak soon. “Prime fishing time for Kenai sockeye salmon is this week and next week, with the run steadily falling off after that time,” reads the motion. “The season will be a total loss if NTC waits to seek relief from this court after the July 28 FSB meeting. By the time there is a ruling, a permit issued, and the net, crew and fishing site set up, there will likely be only a few days left in the season occurring after the Chinook have completed their run and on the tail end of the sockeye run.” The Federal Subsistence Board allowed a subsistence gillnet for sockeye salmon in the Kenai River for NTC in January 2015 despite conservation concerns for king salmon and Dolly Varden trout, but denied the group the permit during the salmon season. State and federal biologists opposed the idea of the gillnet, and other Tribal groups from the same area have done the same, arguing that the gift of a subsistence gillnet to NTC would not be equitable to other groups. NTC’s plan for a sockeye gillnet on the Kenai River was denied last year by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service management, leading to the lawsuit. NTC filed their legal complaint after the Federal Subsistence Board turned down a special request that would have forced the service to issue the permit. This year, NTC has filed yet another special request for the same purpose to be heard on June 28. The Federal Subsistence Board instead scheduled the request for the July 26-28 board meeting, which NTC said would make the purpose moot. “NTC cannot wait and pin its hopes on a favorable FSB decision ordering a permit to be issued for the fishery after its meeting concludes on July 28." This year, conservation may not be as much of a concern. Managers of the state’s most popular river are expanding opportunities for both recreational and commercial fishermen. An improving run of king salmon on the Kenai River has prompted fisheries managers to loosen the lynchpin of the area’s commercial sockeye management, which ties king sport fishing to commercial sockeye. Bait is now allowed for king sport fishermen on the river, and commercial openings are expanding for what is an above-average forecast of sockeye salmon.  DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Bristol Bay reds late again; late run Kenai kings start strong

It’s the second late run in a row for the state’s most valuable salmon fishery, and the late run of king salmon in the state’s most popular river are showing up early in strong numbers. Bristol Bay, the world’s largest wild sockeye salmon producing region, experienced a massive late run of sockeye salmon last year, contributing with other market forces to drop the ex-vessel price of salmon to 50 cents per pound, or about half the historic average. This year, most signs point to a similarly late run. Late doesn’t necessarily mean below forecast. Last year, the historical midpoint of July 4 came and went with only 8.87 million fish harvested, about 35 percent less than the five-year average. All signs pointed to a Bristol Bay harvest of less than 20 million fish. By the end of the season, a late burst of sockeye produced one of the largest runs on record. This year, the midpoint has yielded even fewer fish than last. By July 4, fishermen harvested a total 7.3 million salmon of all species, according to daily harvest tables. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game forecast the Bristol Bay sockeye harvest to be 29.5 million, far less than the 2015 harvest of more than 36 million but still greater than the 20-year average of 23.2 million. This year, some signs are pointing to the same kind of late, strong run as in 2015. By July 11, the total run in Bristol Bay totaled 27 million fish, according to ADFG management biologist Tim Sands. Set and drift netters have harvested 17.7 million sockeye salmon, or 18.3 million salmon of all species. Sands, who oversees three of Bristol Bay’s districts, said he’s noticed several trends similar to last year including indices from the Port Moller test fishery, which is the region’s best in-run metric for run size and timing. “It’s definitely looking a lot like last year as far as run timing,” said Sands. “And the Port Moller indices are also similar in that regard. The biggest indices were on the 8th and the 9th (of July). Its certainly indicates it’s not normal run timing. Most of us watching this feel things are between 4 to 6 days late, and coming close to forecast. Without speaking for anybody else, I can say it looks similar to last year.” Sands said each of his three districts is both making escapement and providing plenty of commercial fishing opportunities. “Biologically speaking, I’m very happy for the districts I manage,” he said. Fred West, an ADFG fisheries biologist, said last year’s late run is coinciding with another of last year’s anomalies, small fish. In 2015 the average weight of a Bristol Bay sockeye salmon measured 5.12 pounds, smaller than the historical average and the 2014 average of 5.92 pounds. This year, depending on how much time they’ve spent in the ocean, some are even smaller. “So far, in 2016, the lengths for the two-ocean fish are bigger than last year but still below the average,” West said. “The three-oceans are slightly smaller than last year, and still well below average.” West said the average weight for all ages this year 5.3 pounds, about half a pound shy of the 1970-2015 average of 5.9 pounds. Kenai River late run kings As the state’s largest salmon fishery waits for its midpoint, managers of the state’s most popular river are expanding opportunities for both recreational and commercial fishermen. An improving run of king salmon on the Kenai River has prompted fisheries managers to loosen the lynchpin of the area’s commercial sockeye management, which ties king sport fishing to commercial sockeye. Beginning on July 9, ADFG allowed the use of bait in the Kenai River from its mouth upstream to 300 yards downstream of Slikok Creek. ADFG managers have typically left such restrictions in the last few years until later in the season in the face of statewide dwindling chinook production.  Paired restrictions between the king sport fishery and the commercial sockeye fishery require sockeye fishermen to have limited hours when kings are closed to bait. Managers place a no bait restriction on Kenai kings when it is projected fewer than 22,500 kings total will return to the river. This year, ADFG has forecast 30,000 kings in the late run, about half the average over the last 30 years but at the top end of the escapement goal of 15,000 to 30,000 fish. So far, the late run Kenai kings in 2016 have outperformed the last three years. As of July 11, 6,419 kings have passed ADFG sonar counters. The preceding three years produced an average passage of 3,262 by the same date. With expanding sportfishing for more kings comes expanded commercial fishing for more sockeye. The late sockeye run on the Kenai River looks better than prior years as well. ADFG has counted over 280,000 sockeye as of July 11, outpacing the most recent three-year average of 138,339. The ADFG forecasts a total run of approximately 4.7 million sockeye salmon to the Kenai River, or 1 million more than the 20-year average. For the Upper Cook Inlet area, ADFG forecasts 4.1 million fish will be harvested, 1.1 million more than the 20-year average.  Whether or not the fishermen will have the hours enough to catch them all remains to be seen. ADFG opens Mondays and Thursdays for 12-hour fishing openings for commercial fishing, and can only add 84 hours of extra time per week. Already, managers added an extra five hours onto a normal 12-hour fishery opening as of a July 11 order which extended commercial salmon fishing with set gillnets in the Kenai, Kasilof, and East Foreland sections of the Upper Subdistrict from 7:00 p.m. until 12:00 midnight on Monday, July 11, 2016. On July 12, managers announced a 15-hour additional fishing period for sockeye fishermen in those districts. Last year, the Kenai River commercial setnet sockeye fishery was restricted to 36-hour weeks until getting more fishing time starting July 25, when sport restrictions were also loosened to allow for retention and use of bait. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Fishing in full swing; study finds sunscreen is a coral killer

Salmon takes center stage each summer but many other fisheries also are in full swing from Ketchikan to Kotzebue. For salmon, total catches by July 8 were nearing 28 million fish, of which 10 million were sockeyes, primarily from Bristol Bay. Last week marked the catch of the two-billionth sockeye from the Bay since the fishery began in 1884. Other salmon highlights: Southeast trollers wrapped up their summer chinook fishery on July 5 taking 158,000 kings in just eight days. The chinook catch is strictly limited by a U.S. and Canada treaty, and for only the third summer in 15 years, trollers won’t get another allotment for an August opener. (The fleet is not happy.) Sockeye catches at the North Peninsula were so strong, the fleet was put on limits by Peter Pan Seafoods, the lone processor in the region. The harvest there topped 1.3 million reds last week. It’s been slowing going around Kodiak Island where the catch was approaching 700,000 fish, mostly sockeyes. The pace was picking up at Cook Inlet with a catch nearing 400,000, primarily of reds. At Prince William Sound, the harvest of chums, pinks and sockeyes topped 7.6 million fish. Copper River Seafoods saved the day for Kotzebue fishermen who originally were beached due to no salmon buyers. They will be out on the water this week tapping on a chum catch projected at 300,000 to 500,000 pounds, depending on air freight capacity. Chum catches also were adding up at the Lower Yukon, totaling 334,000 fish so far. Overall, Alaska’s 2016 salmon harvest is pegged at 161 million fish, down 40 percent due to an expected shortfall of pinks. In other fisheries: Southeast’s summer Dungeness crab fishery is going strong and fishermen are averaging $3.05 per pound, up slightly from last year. The fishery will run through mid-August with a fall opener set for October. The combined dungy fisheries are expected to yield just less than 3 million pounds. Norton Sound’s small boat, summer red king crab fishery opened on June 27 with a harvest limit of 440,137 pounds. The golden king crab fishery along the Aleutians opens Aug. 1 with a catch of about 6 million pounds. Alaska longliners have taken 55 percent of their 17 million-pound halibut catch, with Kodiak and Homer nearly tied for landings. Halibut is still fetching between $6 to $7 per pound at major ports. Sablefish catches also are at 55 percent of that fishery’s 20.3 million-pound quota. Increasingly popular lingcod fishing kicked off July 1 at Cook Inlet for jig and hand trollers with a catch of 202,000 pounds. At Prince William Sound, the lingcod catch limit is nearly 37,000 pounds. Lingcod can grow to five feet long and weigh up to 80 pounds. The average price to fishermen last year was $1.35 per pound. Trawlers are targeting Pacific Ocean Perch and two types of rockfish in the Western Gulf and around Yakutat. Rockfish prices for a dozen species can range from a low of 16 cents per pound for red stripes to $1.21 for yellow eye (red snapper). Vessels also are targeting pollock, cod and flatfish in the Bering Sea. The Gulf reopens to pollock fishing on August 25th. Groundfish gives big Throwing pies in the face of fish policy makers proved to be a windfall for needy folks in Kodiak. The event topped off the recent Groundfish Celebration that drew upwards of 2,000 people and raised $17,000 for the Brother Francis Shelter, which serves the homeless and working poor in Kodiak. The celebration, sponsored by a wide array of industry stakeholders, showcased the importance of cod, pollock, rockfish, flounders and other groundfish to Kodiak, which contribute nearly 85 percent of the town’s landings. It also is home to eight seafood companies, the most in Alaska, which employ the largest resident processing work force year round. “We are the working waterfront!” chanted workers from each of the plants, along with fuel and gear providers, transporters, vessel owners and others marching in a mile-long parade. Their message was aimed at visiting North Pacific Fishery Management Council members who are crafting a new management plant to reduce bycatch in trawl fisheries. As the nation’s No. 2 port for seafood landings, Kodiak wants to make sure any changes ensure the same amounts of fish keep coming into town. Bidding by wannabe pie throwers was fast and furious, some paying several thousand dollars for the privilege. Volunteers included Glenn Merrill, Assistant Regional Administrator for NOAA Fisheries, Duncan Fields, outgoing member of the council, and Joe Plesha, General Counsel for Trident Seafoods. Brother Francis Shelter director Monte Hawver said, “every dollar of the $17,000 donation will be put towards programs that help keep people sheltered, fed and housed.” Death by sunscreen All that sun block being slathered on by beach-goers around the world is causing major damage to ocean corals. A new study by the University of Central Florida reveals that the mix of 20 chemicals in even one drop of sunscreen can severely damage fragile coral reef systems. The researchers estimate that up to 10 percent of the world’s coral reefs are at risk of “death by sunscreen.” The study was done in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Hawaii and Israel and confirms research done a few years ago by Italian scientists in waters of Mexico, Indonesia, Thailand and Egypt. The World Trade Organization reports that 10 percent of world tourism takes place in tropical areas, with nearly 80 million people visiting coral reefs each year. That adds up to roughly 14,000 tons of sun block oozing into these sensitive areas. The most widely used sunscreen ingredient, oxybenzone, leaches coral of its nutrients and destroys the tiny algae that live within coral colonies and provide its vibrant colors. The studies showed that complete bleaching of coral occurred within 96 hours, and also disrupted the development of fish and other sea life. But sunscreens from beachgoers is just part of the concern. Anytime people wear the lotions, it ends up in waterways when they step into the shower to wash it off, just like harmful chemicals in household cleaning products are washed down drains and into sewage systems. As a result, some local businesses have started to ban the use of harmful sunscreen in their waters. The U.S. National Park Service for South Florida, Hawaii, U.S. Virgin Islands, and American Samoa recommend using “reef friendly” sunscreen made with titanium oxide or zinc oxide, which are natural mineral ingredients. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.  

Marine jobs the dominant sector for Kenai Peninsula

KENAI — The Kenai Peninsula’s economy depends even more on the ocean and rivers than is apparent on paper. Some are obvious: commercial fishing, shipping and marine fishing guiding all depend on the ocean directly. However, others — such as fish processing, oil and gas support services and fishing gear retailers — only “touch” the water and may not be counted in a cursory glance. When added together, about 3,400 people on the peninsula work in a maritime-related profession, the most of any sector in the region, according to the 2016 Situations and Prospects report from the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District. The annual report, which provides data and forward-looking estimates on the economy for the Kenai Peninsula, details a growing maritime sector that paid approximately $177 million in wages in 2014, the most of any industry in the region. Most of the employment is in commercial fishing — almost half the workers are self-employed commercial fishermen, as are the vast majority of the earnings, according to the report. The Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development would not classify some maritime-related professions, such as fish processing, as farming, fishing or agriculture — they are classed as manufacturing. That separates some of the data, said Rick Roeske, the executive director of KPEDD. Because the economy on the peninsula is relatively small compared to cities like Anchorage, KPEDD has to blend together some data for confidentiality purposes, he said. “You wouldn’t think that the peninsula manufactures a lot, but when you look at that data, 80 percent of it is fish processing,” Roeske said. Fishing is a major driver in the four largest cities on the peninsula — Homer, Kenai Soldotna and Seward. The three ports in Homer, Kenai and Seward landed 85.2 million pounds of commercial fish in 2014, with Homer leading. Homer commercial fishermen landed 74 percent of all pounds of fish that Kenai Peninsula residents harvested and earned 65 percent of the gross earnings that year, according to the report. However, other industries that depend on the sea are also growing. Cook Inlet is home to a vast number of seafaring boats, supporting a large boat service industry. More cruise ships are coming to Seward and Homer each year as well, bringing in tourism revenue and funds from the state’s commercial passenger vessel excise tax. City administrations in Seward and Homer are in the process of improving their ports. Homer recently finished a paving project to provide access to its deep water dock. The city is also in the process of conducting a feasibility study to expand the dock, which should be finished and sent to the Homer City Council for review in the fall, said Bryan Hawkins, the harbormaster. “There was a lot of survey and interviews with the customer base that use the dock now and expanding that out to other possible customers, to talk about Homer as a hub and connection point,” Hawkins said. The deep water dock currently serves as the port for the handful of cruise ships that come to Homer each summer as well as a dock for industry, as in the case of the jack-up rig Randolph Yost, which spent the month of May at the dock before Furie Operating Alaska moved it to its Kitchen Lights Unit near Nikiski to drill additional gas wells. Seward recently completed work on its harbor, replacing floats and installing lighting, said Matt Chase, the deputy harbormaster for Seward. The work was completed in April and replaced many older sections of the floats for the first time since the 1960s, he said. The city is also in the process of building a breakwater near the Seward Marine Industrial Center on the east side of Resurrection Bay, which will establish more harbor space for larger vessels, Chase said. In addition to the breakwater, the city has also been working on the uplands to lease out more space to businesses, and many have shown interest, he said. “When we started getting the permits and the rocks (for the breakwater) and the bids, it was like the gold rush was on,” Chase said. Homer and Seward saw more cruise ships arrive last year — 19 percent more for Seward and twice as many for Homer between 2014 and 2015, according to the Situations and Prospects report. Hawkins said the number of cruise ships varies from year to year but has been relatively consistent for the past few years; Chase estimated that approximately three cruise ships arrive per week in Seward. Tourism continues to grow on the Kenai Peninsula, with increasing visits and a predicted record-breaking year for 2016 amid an oil and gas downturn and a state budget crisis. Year over year for five years, guided water and land activities have increased, with sharp upticks in 2014 and 2015. Most of the industries that showed significant growth in 2015 were related to tourism, according to the report. Although guided land activities are included in those numbers, gross sales from guided water activities outpace them by more than 19 times — more than $65 million to approximately $3.4 million in 2015, according to figures from the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s finance office. The Situations and Prospects report works in complement with KPEDD’s submitted draft Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy plan, which encompasses five-year goals for the peninsula’s economy. KPEDD wants to provide information and collaborate with the various governments and organizations around the peninsula to work toward economic goals in the next few years, Roeske said. “Although we’re connected by the road and the internet, we’re all pretty focused on our own little areas,” Roeske said. “We’re going to try to get these silo groups to become more cluster groups.” Reach Elizabeth Earl at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Brexit causes uncertainty for Alaska seafood exports to UK, EU

The United Kingdom’s recent exit from the European Union — dubbed “Brexit” — has turned seafood trading on its head. For 43 years the UK has been a major part of the 28-country E.U., and what the pullout means for longstanding business arrangements is anyone’s guess. Last year the U.K. imported over $90 million dollars of Alaska seafood. “It’s still speculative, but anything that has a negative effect on currency values relative to the dollar hurts exports. I do expect we will continue to be strong trading partners with both with the U.K. and the E.U., I guess separately now,” said Tyson Fick, Communications Director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute Following the vote to leave the E.U., the value of the Euro, British Pound and the Yen all dropped significantly against the U.S. dollar, making our products more expensive for overseas customers. The hit could be especially hard on canned salmon sales, which make up nearly 70 percent of Alaska exports to the U.K. Canned sales last year were valued at $23 million for sockeyes and nearly $9 million for canned pinks. Alaska also saw big increases in sales of frozen pinks to the U.K. last year. The pull out also affects other Alaska seafood besides salmon. “Just the E.U. alone represents about 25 percent of our export market so that really all affects all species, notably pollock and cod, so it’s pretty concerning,” Fisk added. Brexit has caused some of the biggest currency moves in decades and that can wreak havoc with credit. “The same volatility that is causing buyers to be cautious because of uncertainty about currency costs also freezes liquidity for banks and financiers,” said market expert John Sackton. “They become more risk averse and in that climate, seafood businesses can fail to secure the financing they need for big deals. A retail analysis by the 90-year-old International Grocers Alliance added that “new terms of trade will likely be a key factor in post-exit outcomes for businesses and consumers” and that “leaving the E.U. might mean reduced access to markets and exclusion from special arrangements.” Still, customers’ seafood orders will still need to be filled. “A big positive is that European countries and the U.K. have long been strong trading partners and very invested in Alaska, and we hope to continue that with all parties,” Fick said. ASMI is active in 27 different countries and continues to expand markets for Alaska seafood, most recently in Brazil, Soviet satellite states and Southeast Asia. Fick added that the U.S. market continues to be a bright spot. “We feel really good about the domestic outlook,” he said. “One of the bright spots of unfortunately having lower prices last year was that we were able to run specials at retail that have turned a lot of people on to Alaska salmon, and we hope to continue that momentum throughout this year.” Fish bills Fishermen are set to get some big breaks from two bills that are moving their way through Congress. The first provides relief from new fishing vessel safety requirements set to be on the books next January and implemented by 2020. The new rules would apply to vessels that will be 25 years or older at that time, over 50 feet in length and operate beyond three miles from shore. The bill, spearheaded by Sens. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., passed out of the Senate Commerce committee last week following a letter of concern signed by 33 Senators and sent to U.S. Coast Guard Vice Admiral Fred Midgette. It stated, among other things, that the Coast Guard has released draft plans for the safety compliance program only for the Pacific region just eight months ahead of the 2017 deadline, and it was developed “behind closed doors” with little coordination from the fishing industry. The letter said the plan “is riddled with gaps,” lacks specifics for why some provisions were included and faults the USCG for not sharing methodologies, data and other information in developing the new safety standards. “We heard about this loudly from so many stakeholders, especially when I visited Kodiak,” said Sullivan in a phone interview. “The bill we passed essentially slides back the compliance deadline to three years after all the rules are promulgated, whenever that might be.” Sullivan said he will be meeting with Admiral Midgette this week to find out why the new safety program has had such difficulty moving forward. “When the Coast Guard Reauthorization Act passed in 2010, my understanding is that this law did not have the support of the industry, and may not have had the support of the Coast Guard. It was kind of forced on them and it was not something they were pressing Congress to do,” Sullivan said. Sullivan said he believes the Coast Guard will be very supportive of the Commerce bill because “it gives them a little bit of breathing time, and they don’t want to put our fishermen in a jam.” Another measure passed unanimously by the Commerce Committee will direct more marketing funds to the seafood industry. The money, mandated by the Saltonstall-Kennedy Act of 1954, comes from a fixed percent of tariffs paid to the U.S. Customs Service on imported seafood and ocean products. Congress set the figure at 60 percent of the transfer total, and decreed that the money be spent on improved technology, quality improvements, domestic and foreign market development and other seafood industry uses. But according to the Congressional Research Service, only token dollars have gone towards the fishing industry and more than 90 percent has instead been diverted each year by Congress into NOAA’s operating budget. Fishing industry members, led by advocate Bruce Schactler of Kodiak, have expressed outrage at the way Congress has ignored the mandate and diverted the tariff funds to NOAA. Sullivan said the Commerce bill strives to make sure that no longer happens. “Essentially it takes it back to the original intent of the legislation that requires those involved in determining where the marketing grants go will be fully engaged members of the fishing industry. It puts the people who matter most back in the driver’s seat,” Sullivan said. Another measure he is pushing would require the nation’s school lunch program to purchase seafood from American producers. “Alaska is the super power of seafood, but there are loopholes that allow a lot of foreign caught, Chinese processed fish sticks in our kids lunches that are frozen multiple times and loaded with phosphates and other stuff,” Sullivan said. “It ruins the kids’ desire to eat fish for a generation because it’s not very good stuff.” Scallop time Alaska’s scallop fishery got underway on July 1 with a fleet of just three to four boats dropping dredges from Yakutat to the Bering Sea. Weathervanes are the largest scallops in the world with a shell diameter averaging ten inches. It can take up to five years for scallops to reach market size, and they can live up to 20 years. Scallop boats drop big dredges that make tows along mostly sandy bottoms of strictly defined regions, and the fishery is closely monitored by onboard observers. “It’s a heavy cost at around $350-$400 a day. But it is mandatory and we accept that in order to go into the areas and make sure our bycatch and impact are minimal,” said boat owner Jim Stone. The scallopers catch, package and freeze the shucked meats aboard the boats, which can remain at sea until Thanksgiving. Scallop meats are the adductor muscle that keeps the shells closed and the popular delicacy can pay fishermen up to $10 per pound. Alaska’s catch this year has dropped from nearly 500,000 pounds of shucked meats to just over 286,000 pounds, the lowest harvest in nearly a decade. It’s pricey scallops that each year nudges Dutch Harbor out of the top spot for the nation’s most valuable seafood port. New Bedford, Mass., has held the lead for value for 15 years running, due to East coast scallop catches that can top 50 million pounds of shucked meats. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

Kenai late run king management opens conservatively

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game will restrict sport and commercial fishing on the Kenai River to begin July based on total late run of king salmon forecast to be 30,000 fish. Sport fishermen will be restricted to an unbaited single hook on an artificial lure to ensure a cautious harvest approach and commercial setnet fishermen will likely be restricted to regular Monday and Thursday periods until a better estimate of the run size is available. The sport fishery opened Friday, July 1, but commercial setnet fishing has not yet opened on Kenai stocks. The Kasilof River section of the setnet salmon fishery opened June 29. Preseason forecasts for king salmon are below average but above the amount necessary to open the Upper Cook Inlet commercial sockeye fishery. To protect the still-sensitive run, managers want to remain conservative. King salmon have shown better numbers in Southcentral this season than the abysmal returns of the last three years, including the Kenai River. The early-run kings totaled 9,850 by the end of June — more than 3,000 above ADFG estimates. Pat Shields, the area commercial fishing manager for ADFG, said the early run hopefully means a healthy late run. “There is a relationship that most often comes true, that when the early run is better than expected, the late run is better than expected,” said Shields. However, the forecasts and estimates don’t stack up to real numbers. “Until we get enough data, we kind of want to back off these fisheries and be careful,” Shields said. “We want to start off both the sport and the commercial fisheries conservatively.” Forecasts for late-run kings are only just above the minimum for a full commercial and sport fishery.  “Based on the preseason outlook, the 2016 Kenai River late-run king salmon total run is expected to be approximately 30,000 fish,” reads an emergency order released by ADFG on July 1. “Expected harvest scenarios in a run this size without fishery restrictions risks not achieving the lower end of the sustainable escapement goal. Therefore, beginning on July 1, the Kenai River sport fishery will be managed conservatively under a provision of no bait, per 5 AAC 75.003.” Kenai River commercial and sport fisheries are managed in tandem. Based on the preseason forecast, paired restrictions require a no bait for the sport fishery and 36-hour weeks for the commercial setnet sockeye fishery if late run kings are projected to return to the Kenai River in numbers less than 22,500. ADFG estimates commercial setnetters will take 5,900 to 6,500 Kenai kings while targeting sockeye. “The 2016 preseason forecast for late-run Kenai River king salmon is for below average total run of approximately 30,000 fish,” according to the order. “This is approximately half of the 1986–2015 average total run of approximately 56,000 fish and is insufficient to provide harvest in an unrestricted sport, commercial, and personal use fishery without jeopardizing attainment of the sustainable escapement goal. Therefore, prohibiting bait in the sport fishery is warranted.” ADFG forecasts a total run of 7.1 million sockeye salmon, with a total run of approximately 4.7 million sockeye salmon to the Kenai River. Like the no bait sport fishery, the commercial fishery will be managed carefully to ensure both king and sockeye escapement. ADFG said it will almost certainly have emergency closures that restrict the normal commercial fishing open periods. Last year, the Kenai River commercial setnet sockeye fishery was restricted to 36-hour weeks until July 25. “Utilization of additional hours beyond Monday and Thursday regular 12 hour periods will be predicated upon achieving escapement objectives of both sockeye and king salmon stocks,” the report reads. “It is highly unlikely that all of the hours available in the sockeye salmon management plans will be used until inseason escapement estimates project goals will be achieved.” DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

After leaving IPHC, Kauffman calls violation ‘honest mistake’

An executive from a Community Development Quota group blamed a regulatory mix-up for the fishing violation that forced him to resign from the international commission regulating halibut harvests. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of Law Enforcement charged Jeff Kauffman and two other men in March with possessing more than 10,000 pounds of halibut over their combined quota limits for a violation that occurred in June 2012. Kauffman is the vice president of the Central Bering Sea Fisherman’s Association, the Community Development Quota group for the island of St. Paul. CDQ groups are six organizations representing 65 Alaska villages within 50 miles of the Bering Sea coast that receive 10.7 percent of the total Bering Sea groundfish quota annually. The charges resulted in a $49,000 settlement — about $13,000 less than original fine — and cost Kauffman’s Alaska resident seat on the International Pacific Halibut Commission. He resigned on June 22. The joint U.S.-Canadian body has governed halibut quotas and regulations by international treaty since 1923, and has three commissioners each from the U.S. and Canada. Kauffman chalked the violation up to a regulatory mix-up. The violation occurred around June 5, 2012, while Kauffman fished for halibut around St. Paul with Mike Baldwin and Wade Henley, the captain of the F/V Saint Peter. CBSFA owns 100 percent of the vessel. The attorney for the three men objected to Kauffman being charged along with Baldwin, the CBSFA board of directors chair, on grounds that the captain is solely responsible. In his resignation letter, Kauffman described the violation as an “honest one, and one of a low tier,” that resulted only in a civil charge, not a criminal charge, without damaging the halibut resource.  “The Notice of Violation and Assessment makes clear there was no intent to deceive or steal,” said Kauffman in a statement. “The quota holders held quota for every pound caught in each regulatory area. The Vessel Monitory System and the logbook were in perfect alignment.” Still, he acknowledged in his letter that he accepts the U.S. Department of State’s zero tolerance policy for violations among its appointed officials. IPHC commissioners are presidential appointments. Kauffman was only named to the IPHC in December to replace Don Lane of Homer. “I understand that my ignorance of the technicalities of the regulations is no excuse, and I am prepared to pay the consequences — in more than one way,” he said in his statement. The violation concerned holding halibut onboard from multiple regulatory areas. The IPHC sets limits for halibut removals in various regulatory areas and quota for the areas are issued through Individual Fishing Quota, or IFQ. The Bering Sea is Area 4, subdivided into sections labeled A-E. In 2012, the three men aboard the F/V Saint Peter fished 14,000 pounds of halibut in 4A. Kauffman and the other two men claimed they moved away from Area 4A when whales began eating the hooked fish from their gear, a common problem in longline fisheries. The F/V Saint Peter moved into Area 4D and fished another 10,000 pounds, then returned to Area 4A. According to regulations, one vessel fishing multiple areas cannot hold more halibut than the unharvested total all quota holders possess for a single regulatory area. “The difference between a violation and no violation in this instance is simply the order in which the areas were fished,” wrote Kauffman in a letter to the National Marine Fisheries Service. “Had we caught all the 4A IFQ before fishing in 4D, there would’ve been no violation because there was enough unfished 4D IFQ (40,000+ pounds) to cover the 14,000 pounds harvested in 4A. Instead, we fished 4A until the whales showed up, went to 4D and caught roughly 10,000 pounds and then returned to 4A to finish the trip. Because there was not enough unfished IFQ in 4A to cover the 4D quota previously harvested, a violation occurred.” Two different bodies oversee halibut removals in the North Pacific: the federal North Pacific Fishery Management Council and the International Pacific Halibut Commission. Kauffman also serves on the Advisory Panel to the North Pacific council, a 20-member stakeholder group that makes management recommendations to the council. Though the State Department cannot tolerate violations from its commissioners, Kauffman’s role on the Advisory Panel is less certain; council members have not yet discussed the matter. He remains certain about continuing on the panel though, and said he doesn’t plan to step down. According to the NOAA regulations, a vessel cannot retain more halibut than the “total amount of unharvested IFQ or CDQ, applicable to the vessel category and IFQ or CDQ regulatory area(s) in which the vessel is deploying fixed gear, and that is currently held by all IFQ or CDQ permit holders aboard the vessel, unless the vessel has an observer aboard under subpart E of this part and maintains the applicable daily fishing log prescribed in the annual management measures published in the Federal Register pursuant to § 300.62 of this title and § 679.5.” According to the 2012 Pacific Halibut Fishery Regulations, “halibut caught in more than one of the Regulatory Areas 4A, 4B, 4C, or 4D may be possessed on board a vessel at the same time provided the operator of the vessel has a NMFS-certified observer on board the vessel as required by NMFS regulations published at 50 CFR Section 679.7(f)(4); or has an operational VMS on board actively transmitting in all regulatory areas fished and does not possess at any time more halibut on board the vessel than the IFQ permit holders on board the vessel have cumulatively available for any single Area 4 regulatory area fished; and can identify the regulatory area in which each halibut on board was caught by separating halibut from different areas in the hold, tagging halibut, or by other means.” Kauffman said the F/V Saint Peter crew followed IPHC regulations to the best of their knowledge.  “Had we understood the technical difference between CFR Section 679.7(f)(4) and the language in the Halibut Fishery Regulation handbook, we would have simply finished fishing in 4A before moving into 4D,” explained Kauffman. Kauffman’s resignation happened four years after the violation occurred. It took over three years for NOAA to make an initial enforcement report. NOAA enforcement office Jerod Cook wrote the enforcement action report on Oct. 27, 2015, and transmitted the report to Henley on Dec. 29, 2015. The official Notice of Violation and Assessment, or NOVA, was filed March 1, 2016 by NOAA General Counsel enforcement attorney Brian McTague. The original enforcement action only named Henley. Only later were Kauffman and Baldwin added to the March 1 NOVA. In a letter to McTague, attorney Tom Wyrwich argued against including Kauffman and Baldwin in the NOVA, saying the captain’s decision shouldn’t affect the crew. “The only ‘person’ who chose to ‘retain’ or ‘possess’ the halibut in question is Mr. Henley,” reads a letter dated April 15. “It is unclear how Mr. Kauffman’s status as an officer in a corporate entity has any relevance, and we are unaware of any law that allows NOAA to pursue corporate officers for a vessel’s unintentional alleged violations of regulations.” Wyrwich also argued against the amount NOAA charged, initially $61,781 and settled for $49,000. “While St. Peter understands NOAA’s interest in deterrence,” wrote the Wyrwich, “the assessed penalty is grossly disproportionate to the alleged offense, which was indisputably not intentional, and the gross ex-vessel value bears little relationship to the ‘economic benefit’ of the actual violation.” Violations of this sort are not atypical, though they vary in volume of the fish in question and the ensuing fines. Several vessels in the first half of 2013 were given written warnings for the same violation, and similar violations in 2015 yielded fines from $1,000 to $3,000. NOAA bases these fines on the value of the halibut overage. The F/V Saint Peter fished and received payment for 24,600 pounds of halibut in 2012, worth $132,900 to processor that bought the fish. Of the total, 10,500 pounds were in excess of the unharvested Area 4A quota. At an average $5.40 per pound for halibut in ex-vessel price, the total harvest value of the fineable halibut came to $56,806. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]  

FISH FACTOR: Turning crab shells into cash; Bay nears 2B-salmon milestone

Turning crab shells into every day products is becoming a reality for the Tidal Vision team of eco-entrepreneurs from Juneau. The products are derived from chitin in the crab shells, the second most abundant biopolymer on the planet after cellulose. Chitin is found in fungi, plankton and the exoskeletons of insects and crustaceans and adds up to about 100 billion tons every year. The miracle substance can be spun into fabrics, filters, bio-plastics, bandages, stitches, even car coatings with self-healing scratches. Since the 1950s, chitin has only been produced in China and India, where the use and disposal of harsh extraction chemicals is less restrictive. Now, Tidal Vision’s proprietary method of obtaining chitin from crab shells in a closed loop, chemical-free method is a world first, making them the only maker of chitin-based products in the USA. As the team builds up stockpiles of chitin from Alaska crab shells and hones their equipment and methods at a pilot plant near Seattle, a first product to hit the market is Tidal Grow. “It’s an organic nitrogen source with 11 essential plant nutrients, it can be a pH adjuster for soil and reduce the need for other soil amendments, and it’s loaded with calcium,” explained Craig Kasberg, Tidal Vision’s “Captain” Executive Officer. Companies in Washington also are buying bags of dried chitin flakes to filter water going into Puget Sound. “Sometimes it is built into filters, but for storm water systems it’s used as a flocculent, meaning it’s mixed in with the water and bonds to toxic particles throughout the mixing process,” Kasberg said. In its liquid form, Alaska chitosan is serving another customer: wines. “The wine industry uses the same process to clarify it and settle out some of the solid particles in the wine as a finishing agent. It’s the same concept,” Kasberg explained. 
 Tidal Vision also has teamed with Floral Soil Solutions to make bio-based flower foams.
 “They make an all-natural foam for florists that is used in Whole Foods across the country and by several other big flower outlets to replace the petroleum-based screen foam that’s been the industry standard for about 40 years,” he said. Also in the offing: Tidal Scrub, a chitin-based kitchen sponge that naturally kills bacteria. “There is a common saying that there’s more bacteria in your kitchen sink than in your toilet. That grabs quite a few people’s attention as an example of how chitin can really make a difference in day to day life,” Kasberg added. 
 At the same time, Tidal Vision is perfecting its bacteria-killing ChitoSkin fabrics and working with Grundens’ product development team. 
 The ultimate goal, Kasberg said, is to bring Tidal Vison’s entire operation to Alaska within two years, including mobile plants that can extract chitin from crab shells in remote locations. Prices for chitin can range from $10-$30,000 a pound, up to $150,000 a pound for pharmaceutical grades. Chompin’ on chinooks Killer whales eat 375 pounds of food per day, and most of that is salmon. That’s the equivalent of salmon each day to what 200 Americans eat for a year, according to a write up in Science.
 The determination about diets was made using an analysis of fish DNA in killer whale poop.
Estimating the makeup of a killer whale’s diet helps scientists understand interactions between predators and prey, because observing what they eat directly is difficult. In this study, the authors used genetic analysis of fecal material collected in the whales’ summer range in the Salish Sea in the Pacific Northwest. They genetically sequenced 175 fecal samples collected from May to September from 2006-2011, which resulted in nearly five million individual sequences.
 The researchers found that salmon made up nearly 98 percent of the total sequences, which they concluded is the bulk of a killer whale’s diet. Non-salmon fish were rarely observed. Of the five salmon species, chinook salmon made up 80 percent of the sequences, followed by 15 percent coho salmon. They found that early in the summer their diet was dominated by chinook salmon and coho salmon was greater than 40 percent in the late summer. Billions in the Bay This summer at Bristol Bay the two billionth sockeye salmon will be landed in the 133rd year of the fishery’s history. That adds up to about 12 billion pounds of sockeye, according to fishery historian Bob King. It took 95 years for Bristol Bay to produce its first billion salmon, a milestone set on June 28, 1975, in the Nushagak River. The second billion will occur 38 years later and the three billionth sockeye salmon should be taken in 2054. Fishermen’s Almanac Highlighting the life and skills of fishermen is the theme of the Young Fishermen’s Almanac being compiled by the Alaska Marine Conservation Council and the Alaska Young Fishermen’s Network, and submissions are being sought for the first edition. “This is a book length publication that wwill feature stories, art and a wide variety of other information that is reflective of Alaska’s fishing traditions,” said Hannah Heimbuch, AMCC’s Community Fisheries Organizer, adding that the idea came from the Young Farmer’s Almanac developed by the Greenhorns in the Lower 48. “It will have a really wide variety of information — short stories, poetry, photography and other visual art. It also would be fun to have fishermen’s jokes, top ten lists, gear hacks, how to’s and favorite recipes,” Heimbuch said. The groups have reached out to the Young Fishermen’s Network to find a diverse group of men and women to help steer the project, but anyone is encouraged to share their experiences and knowledge. “Whatever people want to share is great,” she said. “All different kinds of artwork is welcome, or if people want to tell a joke or describe their worst or best days of fishing. The hope is that anybody could open to any page and find something interesting or quirky or funny that would be a good addition to their day.” Submit pieces to [email protected] Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.  

Council appointments approved, AP changes upcoming

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker announced the appointments of Buck Laukitis and Theresa Peterson to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council June 27, further strengthening Gov. Bill Walker’s fisheries management position on preserving local fisheries participation in coastal Alaska. The nominations will go into effect Aug. 11. Governors submit nominations to the Commerce Department, which must then be approved by the secretary. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council is the most economically powerful of eight regional councils that oversee federal fisheries between three and 200 miles off the U.S. coast. As of 2014, the North Pacific region accounts for 65 percent of the nation’s total seafood harvest value, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports. Peterson and Laukitis replace Duncan Fields and David Long, respectively. Fields, a Kodiak attorney and fisherman, finished his third three-year term in June 2016, the maximum terms allowed consecutively under the U.S. fisheries governing regulation, the Magnuson-Stevens Act. Long, a Wasilla resident and Bering Sea groundfish fisherman, served one three-year term and was not reappointed though he did submit his name for consideration. Peterson and Laukitis will fill two of six designated Alaska seats on the 11-member body. Fields had a reputation on the council for boosting a specific vision of fisheries. He emphasized local ownership and active participation rather than the more corporatized systems of fishing quota and leasing arrangements common in many rationalized Alaska fisheries. Walker’s positions, and his Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten’s, largely align with this view. Both Peterson and Laukitis, small vessel owners with conservation experience, fit into this mold, though both insist they hold no rancor for larger industrialized fisheries whose interests sometimes collide with the smaller operators. A Kodiak setnetter like Fields and small vessel operator, Peterson said small-scale fishermen are “the most underrepresented” voice in the council process. “I want the next generation of fishermen to have similar opportunities to commercial fish and work their way up to ownership,” Peterson said in a statement. “Small boat fishermen are the fabric of maritime communities around the state and their voices must be heard in the council arena along with large scale fisheries.” Like Peterson, Laukitis hails from coastal Alaska and fishes traditionally small boat species with his family. Laukitis holds salmon licenses and halibut quota as well as an inactive trawl permit for Gulf of Alaska groundfish. Both Peterson and Laukitis have ties to conservation group Alaska Marine Conservation Council, or AMCC, a non-profit that advocates for active coastal fisheries participation and conservation. Laukitis served as vice president of AMCC’s board of directors for eight years. Peterson currently serves as the group’s outreach coordinator. The leadership shift will open a spot for newcomers into the council process, and a fishing violation may open yet another. Peterson currently serves on the council’s Advisory Panel, or AP, a 20-member stakeholder group that makes management recommendations to the council. The North Pacific Council is accepting nominations from stakeholders for an AP member to replace Peterson. Because Peterson’s council nomination is effective in August, the new AP appointee will fill out the remainder of her term through December 31, 2017. The council asks for letters of interest and/or nominations to be sent to [email protected] along with a resume. Nominations close July 29. The AP could potentially have another new member depending on the council’s will during its October meeting. AP member Jeff Kauffman recently resigned as U.S. commissioner of the International Pacific Halibut Commission following a fishing violation that occurred in 2012 and settled in 2016. Though Kauffman has resigned from the IPHC after being appointed this past December, it’s still unclear as to whether or not he will maintain his position on the other. Kauffman himself said he has no plans to discontinue serving on the AP. The council maintains its own discretion in these matters, and hasn’t yet taken any action one way or another. Chris Oliver, executive director of the North Pacific council, said he can’t remember a council member or an Advisory Panel member having been ejected due to fishing violations, though he said Kauffman is by no means the first to have encountered one. As of June 28, Oliver hasn’t discussed the matter with council chairman Dan Hull, a halibut fishermen currently out on the water. “It’ll be up to the council as to whether or not to do anything about it,” said Oliver. “This’ll be something they have to do in executive session, and we don’t have another scheduled meeting till October. If they wanted they could all a special session, but I’m not expecting that. I don’t know where this falls on the spectrum of egregiousness.” DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]  

Kauffman resigns from IPHC after fishing violation leads to $49K fine

Jeff Kauffman resigned as the Alaska resident member of the International Pacific Halibut Commission on June 22, shortly after he and two fellow fishermen agreed to a $49,000 fine for harvesting more than 10,000 pounds of halibut over their combined quota limit in June 2012. The settlement the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of Law Enforcement was nearly $13,000 less than the original Notice of Violation and Assessment of $61,781 issued on March 1 of this year. Kauffman, who is the vice president of the Central Bering Sea Fisherman’s Association, or CBSFA, and a member of the Advisory Panel to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, did not respond to a request for comment. Linda Behnken, executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, will replace him as interim commissioner, NOAA Fisheries announced June 22. "During his short tenure as commissioner, Mr. Kauffman has well served the U.S. interests on the IPHC, and we thank him for his service," said Jim Balsiger in the announcement from NOAA Fisheries. Balsiger is the NOAA Fisheries Alaska Region Administrator and is married to Heather McCarty, who works as a lobbyist for Central Bering Sea Fisherman’s Association. Balsiger is also the federal member of the IPHC that manages North Pacific halibut harvests between the U.S. and Canada. Each nation has three seats on the commission. Neither Kauffman or McCarty were present at the June meeting of the North Pacific council in Kodiak. McCarty also represents the City and Borough of Kodiak on fisheries matters. CBSFA is the Community Development Quota group, or CDQ group, for the island of St. Paul. CDQ groups — six organizations representing 65 Alaska villages within 50 miles of the Bering Sea coast — receive 10.7 percent of the total Bering Sea groundfish quota annually. CBSFA owns 100 percent of the F/V Saint Peter, which Kauffman was aboard on or around June 5, 2012, with Mike Baldwin, CBSFA’s board director, and Wade Henley. The violation occurred in 2012, but the NOAA Office of General Counsel did not file charges until March 1, 2016, following an investigative report from the NOAA Office of Law Enforcement. It was not immediately clear why the violation nearly four years ago was just now coming to light. “On or about June 5, 2012,” the charging document reads, “Wade Henley, the operator of the F/V Saint Peter, and Jeff Kauffman and Mike Baldwin, members of the crew and Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) permit holders, acting for themselves and on behalf of Saint Peter, LLC, owner of said vessel, did retain halibut in Regulatory Area 4A in an amount that exceeded the total amount of unharvested IFQ currently held by all IFQ permit holders aboard the vessel for the regulatory area in which the vessel was deploying fixed gear, to wit: they retained about 24,600 lbs. of Halibut in Area 4A and held only about 14,085 lbs. of Area 4A IFQ.” The original charge specified a penalty of $61,781 for the violation, but the group settled out of court for $49,000. IPHC appointment Kauffman’s was named an interim commissioner to the IPHC in December 2015, replacing Don Lane of Homer. Under a bilateral treaty, the IPHC sets the quota for both U.S. and Canadian halibut fishermen. Bob Alverson of Seattle is the non-Alaska resident member of the U.S. delegation. In a letter to the nominees in December 2015, Balsiger clarified that official presidential appointments are hard to predict. "The presidential appointments will be pursued for both of you,” Balsiger said, “but that timeline is difficult to anticipate in the present politics of Washington D.C.” The present politics were evidently unfavorable to a speedy appointment. The president had not confirmed Kauffman’s interim appointment as of his resignation from the position. Kauffman’s commissionership coincided with an increase in all but one regulatory area’s quota limits at the commission’s 2016 meeting in January. In total, the commission set the overall halibut harvest for the 2016 season at 29.89 million pounds, a 2.3 percent increase from 2015. This is also an increase from the catch limits recommended at the commission’s 2015 meeting, called the “blue line” limits. The 2016 limits exceeded the blue line by more than 3 million pounds. Each area either received an increase in quota or an equal amount to the 2015 season, except Area 3A, the Central Gulf of Alaska. Each area’s 2016 harvest exceeded the blue line harvest limit. Officials including the Secretary of Commerce had asked the commission to set quota at a bare minimum of 1.285 million pounds for the Central Bering Sea regulatory area adjacent to the island of St. Paul, which it did in 2015. The quota rose again in 2016.  CBSFA and the 2015 Halibut Wars Halibut monopolized the North Pacific council’s entire year in 2015, with CBSFA driving much of the discussion. Harvestable halibut stocks dropped sharply in the last decade, thought numbers have improved recently. In 2004, the coastwide Pacific halibut catch limit was 76.5 million pounds. By 2014, that had been cut 64 percent to 27.5 million pounds. Simply put, the halibut pie is smaller than before, and the directed fishery only gets a small piece. In 2014, over two-thirds of halibut removals were bycatch, not directed removals. Central Bering Sea fishermen made the case that their situation was the most dire, as employment options on the island are extremely limited to fishing. The trawl industry fishing Bering Sea groundfish has had a relatively stable bycatch limit for 20 years. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council governs bycatch while the International Pacific Halibut Commission governs the directed fishery quota. The two bodies haven’t coordinated the halibut biomass decline to work on the same system. The six Alaska member of the North Pacific council asked the Department of Commerce to make an emergency 33 percent cut to the Bering Sea bycatch quota. The Department of Commerce then asked the IPHC to parcel more than recommended to the Central Bering Sea fishermen. The commission agreed and set the Central Bering Sea harvest limit at 1.285 million pounds of halibut. CBSFA specified this amount as the minimum needed to survive. At its June 2015 meeting, the North Pacific council took a further step and slashed the Bering Sea and Aleutians Islands trawl fleet’s bycatch limits by 25 percent, which was too much for trawlers and too little for CBSFA. Following the vote, CBSFA scoffed at the council’s motion and board chairman Myron Melovidov said, “We got screwed.” DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Seattle pushes Herring Week; Alaska salmon prices improve

There’s much more to Alaska herring than roe and bait. To prove that point, nearly 40 of Seattle’s finest restaurants and retailers will celebrate Northwest Herring Week as a way to re-introduce the tasty, healthy fish to the dining scene. “There’s more herring eaten all over the world than you can imagine. Some years there’s as much as four million tons harvested in the world. You can have a year when the herring fishery is as large as the whole Bering Sea pollock fishery,” said Bruce Schactler of Kodiak, a longtime fisherman and director of the Food Aid Program for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. He is helping to coordinate the weeklong event as part of ASMI’s Alaska Herring Development Project. Featured in the fine dining showcase will be 5,000 pounds of herring fillets from this year’s Togiak fishery, donated by North Pacific Seafoods at Naknek. Herring long ago disappeared from American menus, although the fish has a mild flavor, similar to trout, and is loaded with healthy omega-3s. Herring week will showcase recipes ranging from smoked, pickled, pates and fancy fillet entrees. Schactler said he was “shocked” when he first tried the dishes at the first Herring Week last year, which only included eight restaurants. “I didn’t know what to expect. You walk into one of these restaurants and they set these beautiful dishes in front of you and by the time you’re done eating, you’re saying I’ll have another,” he said with a laugh. Each year in Alaska more than 40,000 tons of herring are harvested from Southeast to Norton Sound. Nearly all of it is valued for the roe-bearing females, with most of the male fish getting ground up and discarded. Smaller amounts of Alaska herring are used as bait. “Having one of our major processors come up with a customer to supply herring in any other way than bait or roe — I think it’s maybe the first time ever herring has been filleted for food for a commercial market in the state of Alaska. I think it’s a big step forward,” Schactler said. A McDowell Group study several years ago showed that Norwegian fishermen fetch over $1.40 per pound for herring. That compares to Alaska prices last year that averaged 18 cents per pound for bait fish and just 6 cents for roe herring. The study said if just Togiak and Kodiak expanded beyond those two products, the combined value of the two fisheries would be $15 million. The Togiak fishery this year, which yielded about 26,000 tons, was valued at $1.5 million. “The market now is in Europe and when you’ve got several million tons being harvested year round right on the doorstep of that primary market, it’s pretty hard for us to ship it half way around the world and compete,” Schactler said. Things could be changing. Deckhand Seafoods took top honors in Food Service for its canned smoked herring at this year’s Alaska Symphony of Seafood, and Ocean Beauty Seafoods has produced canned herring for hunger relief programs, said Tom Sunderland, vice-president of marketing and communications. Meanwhile, Schactler is hopeful that by next year, Northwest Herring Week might put out a call for even more Alaska herring as the program expands along the Pacific Coast. “I can at least help set the table with this development program to where the opportunity is there if any of the Alaska businesses want to take advantage of it,” he said. Northwest Herring Week runs from June 20 – 26. Salmon upswing As predicted, global market conditions are far more favorable and Alaska salmon prices are on an upswing. Unlike most years, many salmon fishermen will actually know how much they will get paid even before they set out their nets. At Kodiak, a base price of 95 cents a pound for sockeyes is posted around town, with a nickel more for refrigerated fish. That compares to an average of 65 cents last year. Icicle Seafoods, newly acquired by Canada’s Cooke Aquaculture, has posted a base of $1.15 for sockeyes at its remote Larsen Bay plant on the west side of Kodiak Island. At Bristol Bay, Copper River Seafoods has already posted a base price of 75 cents per pound at its two Bay plants for “excellent” sockeyes, with an extra 15 cents for chilled fish, 10 cents more if the fish is bled, and an additional 25 cents more for reds shipped out fresh. That compares to an average of 63 cents per pound in the Bay in 2015. Plant manager Vojtech Novak told KDLG in Dillingham that the owner of Copper River Seafoods “was a fisherman and always dreamed of knowing the price before going fishing.” He said the company plans to post salmon price information at both plants every Sunday. No word yet from other Bristol Bay processors. Elsewhere, the price for Copper River reds dropped to $2.75 per pound depending on various incentives, down from a whopping $6.50 for fish from the first opener in mid-May. Find more market news from dock to dinner plate in the Sockeye Market Analysis compiled by the McDowell Group for the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association. It includes markets for other species as well. Skate study Skates make up a huge biomass throughout the North Pacific. In Alaska, there have been targeted skate fisheries in the past, but they are mostly taken as bycatch and discarded. The various skate species can live up to 50 years and they have life history characteristics that make them very vulnerable to fishing pressure. A new study aims to find out how many of them die when they are caught and released. “Currently, management assumes 100 percent mortality, whether the skates are retained or discarded. We have anecdotal evidence that’s an exaggeration and it’s likely less,” said Daniel Michrowski, a researcher assistant at the School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks. Michrowski aims to get better numbers on how many skates die after being caught on longlines, which account for about 70 percent of skate bycatch in the Bering Sea. About 60 million pounds of skates are allowed to be taken incidentally in those waters. “We’ve seen skates coming up with their mouths mangled but they obviously have healed, and you see scar tissue and regrowth in certain areas. So just as halibut can survive with possibly losing part of their jaws, we imagine skates can as well,” he explained. Michrowski said he learned aboard Bering Sea longliners that handling by the crew is one of the biggest factors. Now he plans to compare rough and careful handling outcomes, and monitor injury recoveries with skates taken in the eastern Gulf. He has compiled data on injuries caused by skates being gaffed, ripped off the lines or from automatic hook removers called crucifiers. “Now we are looking to get some skates that are handled more carefully, as you would with halibut,” Michrowski explained. “We want to get both of those groups of skates into the lab to monitor their injury recovery. We are going to take video recordings of their eating attempts to see if there is any impairment — if it takes them longer to feed, if they’re eating less, or if there is a time delay between after they are injured till when they start feeding again. “We hope to get a better picture of how those injuries correspond with mortality, and then we can get a rate based on the injury severity as a general mortality rate.” A commercial longliner is needed to capture live skates in Southeast Alaska waters in short stints throughout the summer. They’ll be transported to NOAA’s Auke Bay lab in Juneau and monitored for three months. Michrowski said fishery managers will incorporate the results of the skate mortality study into future stock assessments so that future estimates of catch and retention can be more accurate. The skate study is funded by the Pollock Conservation Cooperative. Questions? Contact Michrowski at [email protected] or 907-796-5461. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

Council adds guidance to Gulf alternatives

KODIAK — Many words created few changes to the Gulf of Alaska bycatch reduction package the North Pacific Fishery Management Council is pondering. At its June meeting in Kodiak, the council held another session dedicated to the plan, which would enact one of several options aimed at reducing the amount of halibut and chinook salmon bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska groundfish fishery. Groundfish includes pollock and non-pelagic species such as Pacific cod, Arrowtooth flounder and rockfish. Council member and Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten also added an “overarching goals and objectives” section to the plan, intended as guidance along with the existing purpose and needs statement. The council moved three alternatives into a public scoping process but before making adjustments to alternatives, the overarching goals and objectives debate spurred a two-hour word battle among members that the chair found unproductive. “Yes, words do matter,” said Dan Hull, a Cordova halibut fisherman and council chairman. “We have wrestled with some specific language. While words matter, we’re spending an awful lot of time on goals and objective, but…the trawl fleet is looking for some meaningful progress on the structure of the program. I’m concerned we get wrapped around the axle so much that we forget about the other elements of this package.” Cotten and the Alaska council members want more in the management plans than just raw economics. The new language adds a cultural ingredient to the mix. Not only should the plan reduce bycatch, as the purpose and needs statement says, but should also “promote increased utilization of both target and secondary species while minimizing economic barriers for new participants and limiting harvest privileges.” The council lingo is meant to protect new entrant fishermen from consolidation and overwhelming entry costs to purchase fishing quota. Opposing council members from Washington and Oregon felt the new language added too much new focus and detracted from a clear goal to reduce bycatch by the best means available. Only council members Bill Tweit of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Roy Hyder of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife voted against the language addition. Supporters argued that the plan needs to avoid some of the negative results of catch share plans with crab and halibut that caused job losses, fleet consolidation and a high entry cost driven by exorbitant quota prices. Eighty-five percent of North Pacific federal fisheries have some kind of catch share system. “Management efficiency can’t be our main driver,” Cotten said. The newly revised options will now head back to council staff for a preliminary analysis of the alternatives’ impacts. The National Marine Fisheries Service will publish a public scoping document in the Federal Register on the new alternatives and objectives and goals statement. The council will take action as needed on the issue at its Anchorage meeting Dec. 6-14. Kodiak’s future For Kodiak, a town a built on fish, catch shares are seen as either savior or slayer. The Gulf of Alaska, with Kodiak as its hub, has some of the most diversified fisheries in the state. Groundfish trawlers, halibut longliners, and skiff-sized salmon seiners share Kodiak’s St. Paul and St. Herman harbors. Alaska and the U.S. government issued 1,179 commercial fishing permits to Kodiak in 2014, with 845 Kodiak resident crew licenses. 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. Kodiak has already seen its fisheries participation shrink. 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. Much ado about trawling The trawl industry has hammered Cotten, the leader of the six-member Alaska delegation on the council, over his proposed Alternative 3, which they believe wasn’t thoroughly vetted before he introduced it in October 2015. In their eyes, the council is playing with untested social experiments while bycatch limit cuts reduce their groundfish harvest. “We are operating on the edge of disaster in this fishery,” Bob Krueger told the council. Krueger is executive director of the Alaska Whitefish Trawlers Association, a Kodiak-based industry group of groundfish trawlers. Krueger and Julie Bonney, Kodiak resident and executive director of the processor and trawler group Alaska Groundfish Data Bank, have opposed Cotten’s Alternative 3 because it does not have individual fishing quota; it only assigns bycatch quota. They and others organized fishing stand-downs, letter-writing campaigns to Gov. Bill Walker’s administration, and during the Kodiak meeting a parade and festival celebrating the trawl industry. The trawlers are supporting Alternative 2, which would allocate quota for both the directed species and for bycatch. 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 most outspoken of the council’s Alternative 3 supporters and critics of catch share programs. Amid a dockside crowd of hundreds munching free pollock burgers, Fields took his cap off for a charity pie-throwing contest. Heather Mann, executive director of Midwater Trawlers Cooperative, and Joe Bundrant, CEO of Trident, paid a combined $2,500 for the privilege. NMFS Alaska Region Assistant Administrator and alternate council member Glenn Merrill and Trident legal counsel Joe Plescha donated as well, collectively raising $7,000 for Kodiak’s Brother Francis Shelter.   The festival’s levity somewhat broke a longstanding hostile aura present since the council’s Portland meeting in February, when fuming trawler crew had a shouting contest directed at Cotten following one session.  Cotten appeared to extend an olive branch to Krueger during session, acknowledging the trawl industry’s backlash and asking to work together for an option all stakeholders can live with. “We do need your help,” said Cotten. “We’re trying to find some way to accommodate our concerns and yours. I’d like to make that offer to you again.” The raised voices were absent, but the issue remains contentious and raised a crowd. The council blocked days for the one agenda item and still needed overtime to keep schedule. Breaking roughly in half for and against catch shares, more than 70 people signed up for public testimony, from 20-year-old deckhands in Kodiak Brewing Company hoodies to well-scrubbed CEOs. Some testified as groups, including a Filipino family of processor workers brought in by Bonney who asked the council in broken English not to harm the trawl industry that keeps them working. “There are fewer and fewer economic opportunities for young people entering the workforce and more and more fish barons who now 100 percent control resources that were once public,” said Robert Carter, a 32-year Kodiak resident who jigs and longlines for cod from his F/V Faith, in speaking against issuing catch shares. “They own them now and forever. They own rights to fish that aren’t even born yet. They get rich while the rest of us work twice as hard for half as much.” Others supported catch shares as a proven method for bycatch management and regional economic stability. “The GOA (Gulf of Alaska) is surrounded by catch share plans, based on history in the fishery, that have been overwhelming successful in accomplishing their original goals,” said Tom Evich, owner and operator trawler/seiner based in Sand Point. “The cornerstone of all those plans was to stabilize the economic health of the fishing boats and the processing sector.” Alternative 3 seeks community protections, but the trawl and processing industries said they already protect the community. In each of the alternatives, vessel cooperatives would be connected to processor, ensuring that the shoreside plants keep money flowing into coastal towns. Alternative 2 has options to prohibit any processor from receiving or processing more than 10 percent, 20 percent or 30 percent of the total target quota. Alternative 3, in contrast, would only establish regional vessel cooperatives that could deliver to multiple processors. Representatives from the processing sector said Alternative 3 should incorporate some kind of processor linkage. Regardless of proposed caps, Trident now controls 50 percent of the total groundfish volume in Kodiak after buying Western Alaska Fisheries’ assets from Japan’s Maruha Nichiro in 2014. In the Alternative 2 language, any company that currently processors more than the 10 percent to 30 percent range would be grandfathered into the new program. Fields asked Trident CEO Bundrant why the council shouldn’t be concerned a single company might cement a 50 percent market share. Bundrant, who paid $1,250 to squash a chocolate cream pie into Fields’ face night before, said the council shouldn’t be concerned that processor consolidation could hurt Kodiak’s community or the fishing industry. “I believe we’ve been a leader in looking out for this industry,” said Bundrant. “Think of the contributions and investments we’ve made. We wouldn’t be at 50 percent if we weren’t doing this right, if we weren’t taking care of our employees.” The alternatives The alternatives aim 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. Alternative 3 would only create quota for bycatch, not for the target species. The alternatives would handle the quota differently, however. In traditional catch share programs and Alternative 2, quota would attach to the fishing license itself. The newly amended Alternative 3 will give the bycatch quota to cooperatives instead, theoretically stopping a few persons or vessels from holding several licenses with masses of quota. The alternatives have some similarities. Both alternatives would require all trawl vessels in the fishery to carry an observer contracted by the NMFS or to have electronic monitoring capability 100 percent of the time. Current observer coverage rates for Gulf vessels are less than 20 percent. Both would change the four season dates for pollock and cod, and shift more of the quota to the earlier seasons to avoid the halibut caught later in the year. Both alternatives could reduce the chinook salmon bycatch limit for the GOA pollock fishery by 25 percent, relative to its current cap of 25,000 and proportionate to the Western and Central Gulf areas where it is subdivided. Both alternatives would also lower halibut bycatch caps for the GOA non-rockfish trawl fishery, relative to the current 1,515-metric ton limit. The council could lower the cap by as much as 25 percent or as little as 10 percent. Both would encourage vessels to be members of a cooperative with each cooperative linked to an onshore processor. Both would divide the Gulf PSC limits between catcher processors, which process and catcher vessels. Catcher vessels in the Central Gulf take the most halibut bycatch, 68 percent of the total bycatch between 2003-15. Because the onshore sector takes this much, a bycatch cap reduction would mean catcher processors would have to improve performance if it wants to keep catching as much groundfish. “It is expected that the CP sector would need to improve its PSC usage rates in order to harvest GOA groundfish at historical levels under all the proposed options,” reads the paper. Council staff recommended tight rules from the onset to prevent over-consolidation of the fleet. The Gulf rockfish program — the only catch share program including trawlers in the region — has a vessel use cap of 4 percent that ensures at least 25 vessels will participate in the fishery. “It is likely better to begin the program with rules that more aggressively prevent consolidation, and loosen the rules as appropriate,” staff wrote in the discussion paper of the alternatives. “Tightening consolidation rules after the fact would be less effective, in part because consolidation will already have occurred.” Some of the new changes to Alternative 2 strengthen protections against consolidation. Vessels could be forbidden from transferring more than 5 percent to 40 percent of their overall quota, and be prohibited from making any transfers for two years after the program begins. A third alternative would create either one Gulfwide or two regional Community Fisheries Associations, or CFAs, to hold five percent to 15 percent of the available quota to dole out to qualify license and vessel holders in the community.  The governor would appoint the associations’ board members. Kodiak, Homer, Seward, Whittier, Valdez, Cordova, and Community Quota Entities in the Western and Central Gulf would qualify for membership in the CFA. The council recognized during the meeting that the CFA structure is only compatible with the catch share program in Alternative 2. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]  

Fields’ voice never louder as he ends nine-year council run

KODIAK — Duncan Fields ended his nine years on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in signature style at his final meeting in his hometown. In talks over Gulf of Alaska bycatch measures and catch shares, he tried to set aside some proposed groundfish quota for owner-operators only. The council didn’t take up the motion. Nobody would second it for a reading. From the onset, he’s had a particular vision for how North Pacific federal fisheries should look, and he’s lost a lot of votes along the way. As time has passed, though, the State of Alaska has come closer and closer to it.  Although he’s leaving the council, he isn’t leaving the public arena and is running as an independent for the Alaska House of Representatives challenging Kodiak Rep. Louise Stutes. Fields counts his greatest successes — and failures — as somehow related to active participation in fisheries. “Duncan has a reputation not being afraid to take an unpopular position and lose a vote 10-1,” said fellow council member and Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner SamCotten. An attorney and salmon fisherman in Kodiak, Fields had already served on the council’s Advisory Panel for seven years when Gov. Sarah Palin appointed him to the council along with current Cotten in 2007, replacing Doug Hogel and Stephanie Madsen. Gov. Sean Parnell renominated him in 2010 and again in 2013, maxing out the statutory three consecutive three-years terms council members are allowed under the Magnuson-Stevens Act. Wasilla fisherman David Long also served his last day on the council after a single term. “I stepped in to the council room nine years ago ready to fight,” Fields said. “Gerry Merrigan was there ahead of me, he was equally conversant, and we were the two young kids on the block. We were ready to change the world.” Changing the world meant something specific. Fields brought two priorities to the council. “One, protecting rural Alaska fishing within the communities and providing access to marine resources,” Fields said. “The number two priority is to have people with an ownership interest that are actively engaged in fishing being able to obtain the rewards from their fishing.” Community Quota Entity programs, which give fishing quota to coastal groups rather than to persons, became a pet project of his. He and the council carved out six amendments to the program and eventually implemented the new entities. Fields similarly counts the abolition of hired skippers in the halibut fishery in his win column. In 1993, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council created an Individual Fishing Quota, or IFQ, program for halibut and sablefish in the North Pacific. The program assigned quota shares to fishermen based on their historical participation in the fishery, and allowed share transfers among fishermen. The North Pacific council passed a rule in 2013 that prohibited the use of hired masters to harvest any quota acquired after Feb. 12, 2010. A U.S. District Court has since ruled that the rule broke administrative laws, however, and a ruling on a motion to overturn it is pending. Not all attempts to ensure active participation were successful for Fields. “The second thing I was very interested in because of its impact in Kodiak was making adjustments to the Bering Sea crab program to create active participation requirements for anybody with quota shares,” he said. “While we looked at that over a long period of time, I and the council were largely unsuccessful in changing that program for any substantive good.” Along with three governors, Fields has worked on the council alongside their three different commissioners of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game – Denby Lloyd, Cora Campbell, and Cotten, appointed by Gov. Bill Walker in 2014. Commissioners are expected to lead the six Alaska voting council members and steer votes towards goals that align with the administration. Fields said his relationships with commissioners were always cordial, but some possibly more productive than others. “The ability to affect change ebbs and flows with your co-council members,” Fields said. “I’ve enjoyed good relationships throughout the three commissioners over a nine-year period of time. A couple of the commissioners I had deeper and more personal relationships with, and perhaps a greater ability to build a coalition for change.” Participation in fisheries forms the core of Gulf of Alaska bycatch management measures, Fields’ last large-scale regulation package. Different commissioners have taken different routes to address the halibut and chinook salmon bycatch issues in the Gulf of Alaska groundfish fisheries. Lloyd didn’t want to take up the issue at all. Fields said he likely didn’t relish the time and expense. Campbell introduced the idea of catch shares. Cotten took the last step to Fields’ position, recognizing that catch shares can have unwanted blowback. “I think the state’s goals about the Alaska coastal communities have largely remained the same,” said Fields. “I think there are different ideas about the tools or the means to the common end, but the end in and of itself really doesn’t change from one commissioner to another.” Cotten agreed. “Duncan’s been pretty consistent,” said Cotten. “The administration’s positions have changed. None of the administrations have ever been interested in limiting access to fisheries, but Duncan and I both felt that if you did this rationalization wrong, it would really damage some of these communities.” Mike Szymanski, a government affairs coordinator with Fisherman’s Finest and council attendee for the last 25 years, said Fields finds himself now more closely aligned with the administration’s goals, but that his voice hasn’t shifted with the times. “From the day he took office I’ve watched his ability to represent Kodiak and his sector. He’s been effective,” said Szymanski. “He’s been a voice people listen to. His description of his philosophy is that his job on the council is not only to represent those who testify, the lobbyists…but the voices of the people who did not testify. I sincerely believe Duncan will go down as the best single representative of that voice I’ve seen.” The council, he said, rarely has a member with Fields’ ability to digest information and willingness to press it on the council. Even fellow Alaskans on the council disagreed with some of his motions. Like Szymanski, Cotten said Fields’ effectiveness only improved with time. The council valued his attorney’s skill to mine documents for information, his memory, and his loquacity “I think his effectiveness has become better,” said Cotten. “He became an expert mechanic. We may disagree on some things, but he’s pushed me to be more substantive in my own arguments.” Cotten has high praise for Fields’ and Long’s replacements: Theresa Peterson, who also hails from Kodiak, and Buck Laukitis. Still, he said the council will lose a valuable asset with Fields. “I voted against what he had to say a lot of times, but I did end up admiring and respective his unabashed advocacy and his tenacity,” said Cotten. “That experience and ability to make motions and have the historical perspective to remember something that happened on Amendment 91 from six years ago. Certainly experience that he brought won’t be there anymore.” Fields now makes the fourth former council member on his street in Kodiak, neighboring Kevin O’Leary, Doug Hodel, and Stosh Anderson.   DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Report: Temper expectations for sockeye price increase

The message on prices for Alaska’s sockeye fishermen from Juneau economics firm McDowell Group this season is good, but not great. “Despite some positive developments, fishermen should have tempered expectations about sockeye market conditions heading into the 2016 season,” reads the report, commissioned by the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association. Though prices will be better than in 2015, “analyses conducted for this report and expert interviews suggest it is unlikely that prices will jump back to pre-2015 levels this year.” The report builds on an April McDowell report commissioned by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute that touched on some of the new report’s points. Bristol Bay sockeye salmon production is forecast to dip this year, which will solve some of the oversupply issues the market faced in 2015. Meanwhile, farmed Atlantic production is down due to a massive algae outbreak in Chile. The U.S. dollar has weakened against key export currencies. Processors are recovering from low revenue. Prices are already looking better than last year. According to a June 12 KDLG article, the base price at a Copper River Seafoods plant in Bristol Bay is 75 cents per pound, with bonuses available up $1.25 per pound. Processors are geared for a big season. According to an ADFG processor survey, processors intend to purchase 35.5 million fish in 2016, which is 20 percent higher than the forecast harvest of 29.5 million fish. Processors could work 2.6 million fish per day for about 17 days. The Bristol Bay sockeye fishery opened June 8, but the fish have yet to come back in viable amounts to justify heavy fishing. Last year, a total supply of Bristol Bay sockeye produced a 10-year low of 50 cents per pound in dockside pay for fishermen, later revised to 63 cents per pound. Of the five major sockeye-producing Alaska regions including Prince William Sound, Cook Inlet, Kodiak and the Alaska Peninsula, only Bristol Bay had this low a price. Two-thirds of the world’s wild sockeye came from Alaska on average between 2011-14. Bristol Bay produced 38 percent of the world’s wild sockeye supply last year, more than any other region. Another 25 percent came from other Alaska areas. Much of price decline came from a spike in supply in 2014 and 2015. From a 10-year low of 301 million pounds in 2013, harvests went up 78 million pounds in 2014, the largest production figure since the mid-1990s. In 2015, the numbers shot up even more with about 36 million sockeye harvested in Bristol Bay. “Preliminary estimates suggest sockeye harvests increased by approximately 18 million pounds in 2015, with Bristol Bay accounting for nearly half of worldwide sockeye production,” according to the report. Bristol Bay wild sockeye salmon competes with farmed Atlantic salmon in both domestic and foreign markets. Last year, farmed production from Norway, Chile, and Canada was high, further deadening sockeye prices. This year, McDowell Group expects farmed Atlantic production to drop 6 percent and Chilean coho production to be down 20 to 30 percent, both due to a toxic algae bloom in Chile. Norwegian salmon producers have also experienced a dreaded sea lice outbreak that will hurt their production numbers along with Chile. During the low price slump in 2015, retail prices remained steady. Fishermen had concerns that retailers and processors were sticking them with the overstock price slump, but the study said retail sales shared the burden. Retail prices did fall later along with ex-vessel price. The average U.S. retail prices on sockeye fillets fell 9 percent to $9.98 per pound during the 2015 sales cycle.  “U.S. retailers have passed on most of the savings from lower raw material (i.e. ex-vessel) prices, though not all,” reads the report. “Retail sockeye fillet prices fell approximately $1.03/lb. during the 2015 sales cycle (compared to the previous cycle). Meanwhile, the cost of raw material (i.e. ex-vessel cost) included in a one-pound sockeye fillet fell from approximately $2.89 to $1.52 — a difference of $1.36/lb. However, this type of retail pricing behavior is not uncommon.” Exchange rates also influenced price. Typically, when the U.S. dollar is strong against the yen and euro — currencies to key export markets — sockeye prices will lag as exports become more expensive. In 2015, sockeye prices were at their strongest relative to these currencies since 2003 at a time when prices were at their lowest anyway. Exchange rates have improved slightly since then. The dollar’s value dropped 1.7 percent against the euro from May 2015 to May 2016. For the same time period the dollar declined against the Japanese yen by 10.3 percent. The study suggests several marketing strategies to prevent the same kind of pricing issues in later seasons, including emphasis on quality, increased marketing efforts for canned salmon, and even creating a subset of Bristol Bay wild sockeye to exist on its own to help strengthen prices. “Bristol Bay sockeye are typically marketed to consumers as ‘Alaska sockeye’ or simply ‘sockeye salmon,’” the report states. “It is possible that by differentiating Bristol Bay sockeye from other sockeye/salmon varieties, value could be added to the product. “BBRSDA has already committed to testing this hypothesis by funding a branding pilot project in Boulder, Colorado.” DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

After 10-year crab review, council seeks social impact information

KODIAK — Statistics help explain economics, but fisheries managers want to find a way to put number to cultural impacts as well. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council approved a 10-year review of rationalization on June 10, the program that ended derby-style crab fisheries in 2005 and gave quota shares to vessel owners, captains and processors. The aim was to reduce overcapitalization and create a safer fishery by allowing crew to fish slower with a guaranteed quota allocation compared to the previous free-for-all. The program mandates reviews every five years. The next is scheduled for 2020. The council voted to approve the review for publication, but allowed the Scientific and Statistical Committee to pepper additional points beforehand, including an extended summary and conclusion section and more context for the social impacts that accompanied fleet profile changes. At the committee’s suggestion, the council also voted to explore creating a working group dedicated to social impact studies. The study The 10-year review charted a continuation of trends found in the five-year review. Crab stocks rebounded from their mid-1980s dive, and have been rebuilt in some cases. Half as many crew and vessels now make twice the money as before the program began. Non-captain crew members remain roughly as Alaskan now as in 2005. Vessel consolidation continued along with quota consolidation, but both somewhat stabilized in the last five years. Fewer people hold quota than before. Each individual quota holder, naturally, holds more quota now than in 2004; 53 fewer people hold Bristol Bay red king crab crew shares now than in 2005. In the two years following rationalization, the crab fleet shrank from 256 vessels in 2004 to 91 in 2006. “In subsequent years, the aggregate number of participating vessels has varied between 75 and 88 vessels, with marginal increases in some years, but continuing a general declining trend,” reads the report. “The smallest active fleet of 75 vessels occurred in 2013/14, concurrent with the lowest aggregate catch of 63.75 million pounds across all fisheries since 2009/10 season. “ Vessel revenues increased as well. Per vessel, crabbers raked in $1.22 million to $3.38 million in the last 10 years — seven times the average from 1998, 2001 and 2004, the references years the council used. Council staff said it’s nearly impossible to compare pre-rationalization employment to post-rationalization, and to link a shrinking participation directly to quota shares.  “While crew employment and remuneration were clearly substantially changed following the transition to rationalized management, to what degree those changes were caused by the implementation of IFQ, per se, as opposed to the mitigation of overcapitalization generally, and of derby conditions specifically, is likely not possible to ascertain.” There were roughly 1,300 non-captain crew positions in the three pre-rationalization reference years. By 2006, this number was halved to 640. Vessels also fish far longer seasons and catch more crab. Over the 2006-14 period, average catch per vessel was 1.047 million pounds, 123 percent higher than during the reference years. Per person, a crew member made an average $57,000 between 2006 and 2014, about twice the $28,500 from pre-rationalization. Processors followed roughly the same route, halving in the 10 years after rationalization but each taking on double the pre-rationalization workload with the accompanying revenue. Crew has stayed as Alaskan as it was when rationalization began. Of the 584 commercial crew license holders in 2014, 34 percent were Alaska residents. This number of Alaska crew has remained steady since 2006 when it was first tracked. Between 2006 and 2014, the percentage of Alaska crew has stayed within the 36-34 percent range. Crew numbers have gone as high as 631 and as low as 515. The Alaska residency of gear operators has dropped five percent from 1998. The total number of gear operators has dropped from 349 to 92. During the first five years of the program, vessels in the two highest landings quartiles — meaning volume of landings — consistently paid both captain and crew members at lower rates per pound than vessels in the two lower volume quartiles. This disparity has smoothed since 2010. “In the most recent seasons, however, this has shifted in part, with vessels in the highest and lowest quartiles paying between 10.0 and 11.9 percent of gross revenue to captains, while crew member gross percentage shares continue to be highest (3.0-3.3 percent) on the vessels with smallest volume of landings, but nearly equal levels prevail across the other three quartiles (from 1.8 to 2.2 percent).” Stocks have recovered from their early 1980s collapse, but in some cases declined since rationalization began. Total biomass of Bristol Bay red king crab fell from 698 million pounds to 76.1 million pounds in 1985, but increased to 207.01 million pounds in 2007, and subsequently declined to 156.1 million pounds in 2015. Other stocks followed a similar route. Stocks that had been previously classified in danger rebounded. Several have been a classified as “rebuilt” since rationalization. Fishing above the total allowable catch stopped entirely. “Between 2000 and 2004, the (guideline harvest limit) for Bristol Bay red king crab was exceeded in 2 out of 5 years; the GHL for Bering Sea snow crab was exceeded in 5 out of 6 years; and the GHL for Aleutian Islands golden king crab was exceeded in 2 out of 5 years. “Since the implementation of the Crab Rationalization Program, the (total allowable catch) for these target fisheries has never been exceeded.” Mixed signals The Scientific and Statistical Committee and certain council members want catch share reviews to have more cultural studies in the future, leading to concerns about time management and labor costs for the council staff. The committee gave somewhat mixed messages about whether the 10-year review is ripe for publication in the Federal Register, confusing council members who wanted a clear-cut yes or no. “The SSC finds the document to be a satisfactory broad and comprehensive review of the crab rationalization program,” wrote the SSC in its recommendation to council. “The document presents the best data available on a broad range of measures affected by crab rationalization, and is summarized in a fashion that is useful for identifying ‘red flags’ in program performance.” Later in the minutes, the SSC said the opposite. “The SSC determined that the framework and format for this document falls short of the scientific standard for analysis that is mandated for a 10-year review,” reads the briefing. “This review did not identify program impacts separate from other causes and trends, or evaluate them against the goals and objectives laid out in the Council’s problem statement.“ The SSC referred to a letter written to U.S. Congress by then-chairman Dave Benton, outlining the expected impacts of crab rationalization, in particular community protections and the economic health of crew. To get the best information about these social impacts, the SSC wants the review, and further reviews, to give a quantitative weight to social studies. These would a need to reinstate fieldwork funds for the social impact assessment in the next program review, a description of active participation by quota holders, and methods to characterize how access and upward mobility has changed. The SSC already has a meetings scheduled for June to discuss social impact studies. Council members and the executive director fear the workload could distract from the myriad management duties it has elsewhere. “If we were to attempt what they were suggesting, it would take all of our staff,” said Chris Oliver, the council’s executive director. “With the various catch share programs we have…we would be doing nothing but program reviews for the rest of this council’s eternity.” Others believed fisheries management will depend more and more on such studies, and the council should at least examine what such a workgroup’s duties and contributions might look like.  “I believe social science plan teams are something that will be incorporated on a national level,” said member Duncan Fields, who introduced the motion. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]  

State fix on groundfish tax collection still a work in progress

Editor's note: this story has been updated with exact numbers provided by Kurt Iverson. KODIAK — A fishing tax rate glitch has new data that will increase state revenue in 2016, but the fix still needs work. “I don’t think this issue’s going to go away,” said Kurt Iverson, a research analyst for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Iverson said 2015 data has raised the price for formerly undervalued fish. The state won’t make the millions it believed the fishery is worth, but the aggregate tax increase is worth more than a half-million dollars. “The state was thinking the loss was in the neighborhood of $1-$2 million, but it’s closer to something like $600,000,” said Chris Woodley, executive director of Groundfish Forum, an industry group comprised of the flatfish catcher-processors that target the species in question such as yellowfin flounder and Atka mackerel. Following the June 15 publication of this article, Iverson had more specific numbers.  "The bottom line is a $787,295 increase," wrote Iverson in an email. "Most of that ($626,960) was yellowfin sole.  Then mackerel was $166,825.  Rock sole went down by about $54,000 because the price dropped; flathead sole stayed the same; and turbot went up by about $40,000." Though the payments have risen for 2015 based on the new prices, Woodley agrees with Iverson’s outlook for a final plan to fix the rate for good. “It’s a work in progress,” he said. Woodley was one of several industry leaders with whom the state consulted to fix a tax glitch discovered in late 2015. According to state research estimates at the time, the state had lost out on $1.8 million to $2.5 million per year, or more than $10 million over the last five years. The fishery resource landing tax levies a tax on fish that are landed in Alaska communities. Half the tax goes to the state and half to the community where it was landed.  The value, however, is based on ex-vessel price, or what fishermen receive at the dock from processors. Processors turn much of the flatfish caught as bycatch into low-value fishmeal, so the only known ex-vessel price for certain flatfish species is artificially low. “The federal government faces the same issue when tries to come up with economic analysis for the (North Pacific Fishery Management) Council,” Iverson said. “So they developed a formula to back calculate from the wholesale price.” The state, Iverson said, submitted this formula to the Department of Revenue and was in the process of notifying industry when the Commercial Operator’s Annual Reports came out in April with the increase in ex-vessel flatfish value. “Those former values were based on incidental instances of these species coming in and being ground up for fishmeal,” Iverson said. “The actual transactions for 2015 were not arm’s length transactions and the final products when into headed and gutted and frozen form that reflects the majority of the market. So prices went up.” According to Commercial Operator’s Annual Reports, or COAR reports, processors paid an average of two cents per pound for yellowfin sole in 2014, and only a penny per pound in 2013. Atka mackerel must have had more shoreside action to raise its price from fishmeal, but still came in very low at 10 cents per pound in 2014 versus 2 cents per pound in 2013. In 2015, these prices rose. Yellowfin sole sold for 9 cents per pound, and Atka mackerel sold at 19 cents per pound. Last year’s ex-vessel prices reflected more dockside information, but that kind of activity is rare in the flatfish fishery to the extent seen last year.   “What if these transactions that increased the ex-vessel value don’t occur again?” said Iverson. “How do you prepare for that?” The fallback, he said, will be to use the imputation formula derived from wholesale data the federal government uses. The calculation uses the total first wholesale product value, total round weight harvest, and a value reduction system of 0.4 percent to calculate true value. The landings tax issue formed a backdrop to fisheries tax discussions in the House Finance committee. Fishermen leery of proposed industry tax hikes said the state should maximize revenue where it can. Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, who chairs the Fisheries Committee, said her committee would watch closely to see the matter is resolved. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]  

FISH FACTOR: Clean Boating program expands outreach with Discount Cards

Boaters from Homer to the Mat-Su valley can help protect salmon and other aquatic creatures and get discounts from popular businesses by doing so. A pilot program launched this spring is an offshoot of Cook Inletkeeper’s Clean Boating program that began in the Valley five years ago. “It all started with oil and gas pollution in Big Lake,” said Heather Leba, director of the group’s Clean Boating Discount program.” The Department of Environmental Conservation was doing water quality testing in 2006 and they determined that Big Lake was an “impaired water body” due to oil and gas pollution, and it exceeded levels allowed under the Clean Water Act.” “People were upset and shocked, so the community came together and developed an action plan, and within it was a stipulation for education and outreach. And that’s how Cook Inletkeeper got involved,” she added. In times of high recreational boating, large amounts of oil and gas pollution, primarily from older, carbureted two stroke engines, concentrate mainly around boat launches. “The pollution stays in the water column for a few days and can evaporate over time,” Leba explained. “But if you have constant boat traffic over holiday weekends, of if the weather is really good, that pollution persists and can then start to harm aquatic life.” Other DEC “water bodies of concern” include the Little Susitna River, due to high levels of turbidity — the influx of silt and other particulate matter which can make it difficult for salmon and other fish to breathe. Also being monitored is the Deshka River. “Everybody loves to fish king salmon on the Deshka and there are a lot of recreational and commercial guiding boats there. That river is not impaired, it’s just a river to watch, so we’ve been doing outreach to increase knowledge about oil and gas pollutions to boats in the Valley,” Leba said. To get people engaged in protecting local lakes, rivers and coastal waters, Inletkeeper has partnered with local businesses to offer incentives for becoming cleaner boaters. The outcome is the Clean Boating Discount Cards program. To participate, boaters take a free and fun online boating course through the Boat US Foundation. That’s followed by a quick survey, and then simply signing up for the discounts. “I get all that information and then mail you a packet with your card and the list of businesses, more discount coupons, and you can start using them right away,” Leba said. Fifteen businesses have signed on so far, and each has the freedom to participate in ways that work for them. Sportsman’s Warehouse, for example, gives 10 percent discounts on all fishing department items in stores statewide. Denali Brewing Company, Cabela’s, Kaladi Brothers and NAPA offer various coupons, and the list goes on. Leba said there is growing boater awareness that minimizing oil and gas pollution will result in healthier salmon and cleaner waters throughout Cook Inlet, but added one caution. “I think the hydrocarbon pollution is not going to go away,” she said, “unless two-stroke engines are either banned or become obsolete.” About 25 boaters have signed up so far for the Clean Boating Discount Cards. Learn more about the program at the Cook Inletkeeper website. A mighty wind Chinook salmon are returning to the Yukon River, and while low numbers mean no commercial fishery again this year, the king counts are becoming more encouraging. Even with 55 years of Yukon data, it’s a tough run to track because the timing is so unpredictable, said Phil Mundy, Director of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Auke Bay lab in Juneau. Mundy has been studying Alaska salmon since the 1970s, but said it was Yukon elders who taught him how to fine-tune the run timing. “They told me ‘the wind blows the fish in the river; everyone knows that, young man.’ And I wondered how that works,” he said, adding that Cook Inlet fishermen told him the same thing about sockeye salmon. “They said, ‘it’s when the wind blows and you get the biggest tide closest to July 17. Everyone knows that.’ But we couldn’t figure out exactly how the wind was doing what it did. I didn’t think the fish put up their dorsal fin like a sail to blow into the river, but there had to be something because they seemed to be right,” Mundy mused. “I used to count fish from airplanes, and I’ve seen this at Cook Inlet and at Bristol Bay where you get the river water piling up against the marine water on the river plume. Then you’ll see the salmon weaving in and out along the edge of the front between the fresh water and the salt water. They will pile up if there is no wind to mix that fresh and salt water to make it brackish. They will mass up on that front until some other trigger, which we probably don’t understand, sends them all in.” In 2006 Mundy saw a scientific article that focused on how salmon make the change from fresh to salt water and vice versa. “There’s this thing called a calcium ion switch, and it is triggered by alternating exposure to different salinities,” he explained. “Young salmon can’t swim straight into salt water because it will kill them, and it’s the same for adults in the ocean returning to their fresh water home streams. They have to have alternating exposure to different salinities.” At the Yukon, Mundy said the wind mixing the water even trumps early ice melts as the best indicator of the salmon arrivals. He added that today satellites from the Alaska Ocean Observing System make the salmon run predictions easier and more reliable. Saint Salmon As Alaska’s salmon season gets fully underway, it is fitting to acknowledge the patron saint of salmon: Saint Kentigern of Scotland. Born in 518, Kentigern was the illegitimate son of a king’s daughter. He trained as a priest at a monastery, where his pending sainthood evolved around a dangerous love-triangle. Legend has it that King Riderchof Strathclyde suspected his wife, Queen Languoreth, of having an affair, because she had given one of her favorite rings to a court favorite. When the alleged paramour was sleeping, the king took the ring and threw it far out into the River Clyde. Then he angrily demanded that his wife show him the missing ring and threatened her with death if she could not produce it. In her misery, the queen beseeched the priest Kentigern to help her. Kentigern took a fishing rod to the spot where the ring had been flung into the river. He quickly caught a salmon and cut it open. Amazingly, the ring was found in the salmon’s belly. The queen was able to deliver the ring to her doubting husband and peace was restored. From the time of his death in 603, Kentigern was regarded as Scotland’s patron saint and the cathedral at Glasgow was built in his honor. To this day, Kentigern’s figure and symbols, including a salmon, make up Glasgow’s coat of arms. So who knows? Perhaps a quick prayer to the patron saint of salmon will lead more fish to your nets. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.  

Early-run Kenai king fishing opened for first time since 2012

After years of depressed stocks and depressed fishermen, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has opened the early king salmon sport fishery for the first time since 2012. This accompanies several other early king runs throughout Southcentral and in the Arctic, correlating with warmer marine temperatures. “We’re seeing stronger numbers of early-run kings returning to the Kenai,” said Robert Begich, the area management biologist in Soldotna, in a release. “This has allowed us to ease pre-season restrictions, and provide opportunity for anglers to fish for early-run king salmon.” Sport fishing for king salmon in the Kenai River will be from its mouth up to an Alaska Department of Fish and Game regulatory marker at the outlet of Skilak Lake. Fishing will be restricted to catch-and-release from June 4 through June 30 using only one, unbaited, barbless, single-hook, artificial fly or lure. Numbers for the early run have been promising. On the Kenai River, sonar has counted 3,658 fish as of June 6 — nearly double the 2,068 fish seen at the same time last year. ADFG closed the Kenai River early king salmon run to sport fisheries on Feb. 18 due to a low forecast. Only 5,206 fish were expected, which would rank 29th of the last 31 years ADFG has been counting. The optimal escapement goal for early-run Kenai River king salmon is 5,300 to 9,000. “Things are looking very promising right now,” said Jason Pawluk, Kenai area assistant management biologist, in a May 29 interview. “The question is it a really early, below average run, or is it a big run? That’s the ultimate question right now.” Other oddities are popping up with the early run. Pawluk said the returning fish are younger than usual. ADFG uses size measurements as a proxy for age. By these measurements, Pawluk notes more two-ocean and four-ocean fish than typically return this early. On other rivers, king salmon have seen promising numbers. The Deshka River’s weir counted 7,822 king salmon by June 6, an improvement over the 4,149 and 1,903 counted by the same date in 2014 and 2013, respectively. On the Anchor River, video weirs counted 2,326 by June 6, slightly less than last year’s measure of 2,728. Kings and chums are also coming back early farther north on the Yukon River, according to Kwik’Pak Fisheries sales manager Jack Schultheis. “We’ve been catching fish here for the last two weeks,” Schultheis said. Environmental changes accompany, and may explain, the early runs. In the Gulf of Alaska, surface temperatures average one degree Celsius above the average temperature. This is a leftover effect of the Gulf’s infamous Blob in 2015, which warmed Gulf of Alaska surface temperatures two degrees Celsius and ushered in a red tide of toxic algae. On the Yukon River, ice floes have vanished already with the same early run effects as in Southcentral, as predicted by ADFG in an earlier forecast. “This is a very unusual year, for the ice to go out as soon as it did,” said Schultheis. In 2013, for example, he said ice was still present on the river on July 10. “Then we got into this pattern lately when it would go out the 27th or 28th of May,” he said. “Now it’s going back to earlier breakups. Fish come in right after the ice goes out.” At the Pilot Station sonar counter on the Yukon River, 8,408 chinook have passed, nearly four times more than the amount passed the year before by June 6. The fish could be returning earlier to beat the heat. Anecdotal evidence of warming trends adds up. “We monitor Hidden Lake when the ice goes out,” said Pawluk. “This year, we went on April 7, but it was completely open. Jean Lake was open. It went out between April 1 and April 7. Typically it goes out the first week of May.”  Pawluk said ADFG has been monitoring stream temperatures as well. On the Russian River, he said temperature readings in April read between eight and nine degrees Celsius instead of the typical five degrees. For other Southcentral rivers not so sensitive to environmental changes, runs are decidedly slower. On the Copper River, sockeye returns are only a third of what they were at the same point in the last two years, and the early king salmon run is lackluster as well. “Our king salmon harvest was low,” said Jeremy Botz, the Copper River area management biologist. “Through Tuesday (May 31), we’ve got close to 9,000 harvested. The last five years we’ve had really small runs. Typical for this time period we had twice that. We would’ve wanted 13,400 by this time.” The Copper River, however, lacks the same environmental vulnerability its sister Southcentral rivers display. Glacial runoff forms the Copper River. When waters warm, the glacier simply pours more cold water into to the river to correct the imbalance. “That’s why the Copper River runs are so consistent,” said Botz. “A lot of it has to do with that regulation.” The boost in king salmon performance is not consigned only to Upper Cook Inlet, though Southeast kings have yet to come back in force. Further south, Kodiak’s chinook runs are performing better than the last two years. The Karluk River counted 315 by June 6, up from the 100-odd kings counted by the same time in 2015 and 2014. On the Ayakulik River, 597 kings have returned as of June 6, three times more than each of the preceding three years. Southeast Rivers have different timing than Southcentral’s. According to ADFG Division of Sportfish director Tom Brookover, chinook in Southeast rivers like the Taku and Stikine rivers are returning more slowly than their northern brethren. Unlike the Kenai River, Southeast Alaska managers have restricted king fishing on the Taku River, citing below average catches. “These regulations are in place because Taku River king salmon production is low at this time,” reads an ADFG report. “More liberal regional bag limits, set under the Southeast Alaska King Salmon Management Plan are not appropriate in areas where local king salmon stocks are in a period of low productivity.” DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]    

Judge allows part of Kenai subsistence suit to proceed

The Ninilchik Traditional Council’s battle for a Kenai River subsistence gillnet will run into the 2016 salmon season, with a lawsuit over last year’s operational plan potentially brushing up against this year’s plan.  The road to a Kenai River gillnet has been rocky for the Ninilchik Traditional Council. The federal fishing manager wouldn’t approve it in 2015 because of conservation concerns. State and federal biologists advised against it. Alaskans broke volume records begging the board to reconsider it. Other subsistence groups chimed in April to ask the Federal Subsistence Board to repeal it entirely. The Ninilchik Traditional Council filed a complaint against Federal Subsistence Board Chair Tim Towarak, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell in October 2015, saying both the Federal Subsistence Board and federal wildlife manager erred in not approving the 2015 gillnet operational plan for the Kenai River. In March, the federal defendents asked the judge to dismiss the case. He did so partially after an April 14 hearing, leaving certain elements of the complaint to be further considered. NTC intends to file an amended complaint against federal management now that the suit’s scope has been narrowed. The remaining complaints will examine whether or not Kenai National Wildlife Refuge manager Jeff Anderson acted legally when he did not approve the Kenai River gillnet operational plan in 2015. The defendants asked Judge John Sedwick to dismiss the case, saying the NTC has no legal standing to sue and that its claims are “unripe.” Among other arguments, the defendants said the decisions regarding the Kenai River gillnet are not final. More than 700 Alaskans submitted requests for reconsideration to the board; until these are resolved, the feds say the matter is not final and therefore unripe for a legal challenge. Sedwick disagreed, saying the law “does not state that a board action is not final until all third-party requests for reconsideration are resolved. It states that if a party requests reconsideration and the board denies that request, the board’s denial ‘represents the final administrative action’ on that specific request.” Because the matter is ripe, Sedwick said portions of NTC’s complaint fall under the court’s jurisdiction and give NTC standing to sue. Some portions of what NTC requests do not fall under the court’s authority. Sedwick said the court has authority to examine whether Anderson’s decision to not approve the gillnet was appropriate under the Administrative Procedures Act, but not to force Anderson or the board to approve the gillnet. “The court lacks jurisdiction over NTC’s request for an order compelling defendants to issue the Kenai gillnet permit because nothing in the (regulation) requires the in-season manager to issue that permit,” reads the ruling. “Instead, the regulation gives the in-season manager discretion to determine whether an operational plan is meritorious.” Many of NTC’s claims concern the subsistence section of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, Section 804. The act, or ANILCA, established conservation mandates for 100 million acres of Alaska land, including outlines for federal subsistence management. Sedwick notes nothing in ANILCA Section 804 can force the board to rescind Anderson’s order, as NTC originally requested last October. “NTC’s complaint alleges that Anderson has made several decisions that violate Section 804, in particular his decision to ‘close the fishing season for chinook salmon on the Kenai River before it began, and keep it closed throughout the season’ and his decision not to issue a Kenai gillnet permit.” NTC has requested an administrative record from the defendants in order to file an amended complaint about Anderson’s decision. The Federal Subsistence Board approved the Kenai gillnet in January 2015 to a statewide wave of vocal criticism. State and federal biologists opposed both the Kenai net and the Kasilof River net. Gillnets are a non-selective gear type, and could possibly snag precious king salmon when sockeye are the target species, they said. The board voted 5-3 in favor. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service representative on the board — which controls the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in question — voted against it. Both nets must have an operational plan, however, approved by area manager Anderson. Anderson approved the Kasilof plan, but did not approve the Kenai plan. Instead, Anderson closed the river to king fishing entirely last summer, even as escapements were enough that the Alaska Department of Fish and Game liberalized king salmon fishing rules to allow retention, as well as additional commercial fishing time, in the final week of July. NTC asked the board to overturn Anderson’s closure and rewrite regulations to take them out of federal fishing management scope, or to force the federal manager to approve their operational plan. The board shot down NTC’s requests; each failed by a tie vote. In response, NTC filed the lawsuit in October. In April, the Cooper Landing and Hope Federal Subsistence Community filed for a change in the 2017-2019 Federal Subsistence Board proposal book that would eliminate the Kenai gillnet. The gillnet, the Cooper Landing and Hope filers said, has a negative direct impact on them. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]


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