Fisheries

Federal Subsistence Board keeps state Y-K management

With the January approval of subsistence gillnets on the Kenai River looming in the background, state and federal workers expressed a desire to cooperate to stave off a clutch of wide-ranging proposed federal fishery management takeovers. Yukon River salmon fisheries will remain under state management following a Federal Subsistence Board work session April 16 in Anchorage. The board voted unanimously against a special action request to move all Yukon River salmon stocks into federal management. Some board members and villagers argued that the state’s current management was effective, and that a federal closures and management would be unnecessary. The board also unanimously voted to take no action on five related special action requests on Yukon salmon, including a request to close chinook salmon fishing to all non-federally qualified subsistence users. Alaska Department of Fish and Game commissioner Sam Cotten was in attendance, and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallot called the board directly to speak of a desire to work with the federal government on subsistence issues. “We do want to work together,” said Cotten. “It’s a new administration. We’re interested in cooperation.” Board member Wayne Owen, who represents the U.S. Forest Service, said “I think the state and federal have gotten better about talking things out and trying to communicate better so that problems and disagreements don’t get inflated.” Similar requests for federal salmon management on the Kuskokwim River were deferred until the board’s June meeting, along with an examination of Red Sheep and Cane creeks subsistence hunting regulations. The Federal Subsistence Board oversees subsistence hunting and fishing on federal lands and navigable waterways in the state, or about 230 million acres and 60 percent of Alaska. The board makes decisions in yearly cycles, alternating between fish and game. It completed the fishing cycle with its January meeting, during which it made a controversial decision to open a sockeye salmon subsistence gillnet fishery for the Ninilchik Traditional Council on the Kenai and Kasilof rivers. Special action requests, or SARs, can be submitted to make out-of-cycle changes to season, harvest limit, or harvest method, pending “unusual situations” like unanticipated changes in resource abundance. Six special action requests from tribal organizations and villages in the Y-K region asked the board to assume management of all Yukon and Kuskokwim salmon stocks in 2015, limit 2015 Yukon and Kuskokwim chinook salmon fisheries to federally qualified subsistence users, conduct an analysis to determine customary and traditional subsistence uses of salmon, and implement an allocation strategy between federally qualified subsistence users in the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers drainage. Public comment from visiting Yukon River villagers heavily opposed federal management of salmon stocks and closure to all non-federally-qualified users. They cited the negative impact to the commercial fishing industry in the lower Yukon, potential inability for returning non-rural family members to help subsistence harvest, and satisfaction with state management as the primary reasons. “The lower Yukon area is one of the most impoverished areas in the state and in the country,” said Gene Sandone, former Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim commercial fishing supervisor and current consultant for Kwik’Pak Fisheries, a subsidiary of Yukon Delta Fisheries Development Association, one of the six Community Development Quota groups in Western Alaska. “There is very little income beyond the commercial fishing. Income derived from these commercial fisheries is necessary for these residents to live a subsistence lifestyle.” In 2014, there were 405 commercial fishing permit holders in the Lower Yukon. Commercial fishermen caught 60,044 pounds of pink salmon and 1.7 million pounds of chum salmon. Lower Yukon River ex-vessel value was estimated to be $1.7 million. The estimated average income for Lower Yukon Area fishermen in 2014 was $4,071. Yukon villagers testified that they thought highly of state management, and that federal management would introduce unnecessary complications without a measurable impact on the number of dwindling chinook salmon in the river. Though the conservation of chinook would meet some requirements for a federal closure required by the Alaska National Interest Lands Claim Act, board members declared healthy chum salmon runs sufficient to meet subsistence needs. “We are able to fish because we work so closely with (the Alaska Department of Fish and Game),” said Anchorage resident and Yukon native Marilyn Charles. “Switching from state to federal management isn’t just going to go ‘poof,’ there they are, there’s more kings.” Villager Nicholas Tucker Sr. said, “I believe the current working relationship with the state, Canada, TCC, is working well. We don’t want to fix something that’s not broken. We are not ready to take full federal management.” While the Yukon villagers spoke largely against federal management, the Kuskokwim River villagers and representatives in attendance wanted more. “The experience with federal management was very positive,” said Mark Leary, member of the Kuskokwim Intertribal Fish Commission steering committee. “(Salmon) need to be managed cautiously so they don’t go down. The people trust U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to do this.” Geoff Haskett, the board member representing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, offered a motion to revisit special action requests for federal management of the Kuskokwim in mid-June as needed, to allow the in-season state fishery manager time to address concerns without federal oversight. The motion passed unanimously. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Pinks to lead Southeast salmon harvest again in 2015

JUNEAU — In 2013, pink salmon returns in Southeast Alaska broke records, leading commercial fishermen to catch more than 100 million salmon from all five species for the first time ever in the region. Biologists don’t expect this year to be quite as stellar, but pinks, which tend to run in odd year cycles, are expected to carry the year for commercial fishermen once again. For Southeast Alaska, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game predicts a total harvest of a little more than 1.1 million sockeye, 2.9 million coho, 58 million pinks, and a little less than 9.3 million chum (including 7.4 million hatchery chum) for a total, excluding chinook, of 71.3 million salmon caught in Southeast Alaska. In Alaska as a whole, it predicts 54,000 chinook (excluding Southeast and Yakutat; as of press time the Pacific Salmon Commission hadn’t yet published the area’s quota), about 58.8 million sockeye, 4.9 million coho, 140.3 million pinks, and 17.2 million chum.  Forecasting The ADF&G report stated that forecasting the 2015 pink salmon harvest in Southeast “was made exceptionally challenging” by the banner 2013 catch for the fish. That year’s catch of 95 million pink salmon was “nearly 20 million fish higher than any other pink salmon harvest since commercial fisheries began in Southeast Alaska in the late 1800s,” the report said. “The 2013 harvest was way outside the range of anything we’d seen before,” said Ketchikan-based regional research biologist Steve Heinl, who contributed to the forecast. “That gives us a lot of uncertainty about using our information to come up with a forecast … sometimes it’s prudent to be cautious.” In 1999, pinks also had a very big run, leading to the previous record, he said, but 2001 did not have a run close to that. “Big huge runs like that are sometimes a bit of an anomaly,” he said. “Forecasting is a sucker’s game.” In general, he said, people have a poor track record predicting pink salmon runs. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Auke Bay Laboratories’ and fish biologist Joe Orsi’s counts of juvenile salmon have “greatly improved our ability to forecast pink salmon harvests in Southeast Alaska,” Heinl and Pink and Chum Salmon Project Leader Andy Piston wrote in the report. The 10-year average harvest of pinks is 41 million, they said. “A harvest of (the predicted) magnitude would be in the top 10 harvests since 1960,” they wrote. The department doesn’t make a formal forecast for chum salmon, as the majority of chum caught in Southeast Alaska start their lives in hatcheries, Heinl said. “One thing we have noted is the last couple of years, chum salmon runs have been below normal,” he said. “They didn’t meet escapement objectives in some parts of Southeast.” Outlooks for the Stikine and Taku rivers, both of which, as transboundary rivers, are managed separately from the overall chinook quota in Southeast, are average to a little worse than average, biologists said.  Taku Juneau Area Management Biologist for commercial fisheries Dave Harris said the Taku’s chinook forecast is for 26,100 king salmon, which is “pretty similar to what we saw last year, but definitely on the low side of things.” This is a low production period for kings in the Taku, he said, with the 10-year average at 34,900 fish. They predict sockeye will have an above average return of 216,000 on the Taku; an average return is 175,000. They’re predicting a run size of 158,000 for coho, which is below the long term average but similar to the last 10 years. They don’t generally make forecasts for pink and chum on the Taku River.  Stikine Troy Thynes, Petersburg/Wrangell area management biologist for commercial fisheries, said chinook predictions for the Stikine River are 30,200 fish, which is higher than the last two years, lower than the forecast in 2012, and generally in keeping with recent patterns. “It’s kind of a mediocre forecast,” he said. The preseason forecast for sockeye is 171,200, he said, which is better than it’s been since 2011, but just a little below the 10-year average. That average, he said, includes a few big years. The Stikine River supports two gillnet fisheries; the chinook forecast is enough for a bit of allowable catch, but not a commercial fishery, he said. There is no official forecast for coho salmon, which are also managed under the treaty provisions, he said. “As we get in-season information and forecasts, we’ll base any management decisions (off of that),” he said. The forecasts for chinook and sockeye should be coming in toward the end of May.  Outlook for local sport fishermen The Pacific Fishery Management Council is deciding chinook quotas this week, though their website states “the news is good, with strong stocks up and down the coast.” NOAA Fisheries Science Center’s predictions are a little more muted, saying warm waters out in the Gulf of Alaska could negatively affect both returning chinook and coho salmon. Daniel Teske, Juneau area management biologist for the Division of Sport Fish, said right now anglers are allowed a bag and possession limit of one king salmon 28 inches or longer. That number, noted in an April 1 news release, is because of poor Taku River king salmon production. As most sport fishermen know, the department has three king salmon hatchery release sites in the Juneau area — Douglas Island Pink and Chum, or DIPAC; Fish Creek on North Douglas and at the mouth of Auke Creek. At those designated terminals in June, July and August, anglers will be able to catch four king salmon of any size. Those regulations will come out in an emergency order and news release in late May, Teske said. Teske expects the coho return to be “fairly decent” both for wild and hatchery salmon.

Coastal legislators support halibut bycatch cuts

The Alaska legislature's coastal representatives sent a letter to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council expressing support for 50 percent halibut bycatch cap reductions for the groundfish fleet in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands. "Over the past decade," the legislators wrote, "more than 62 million pounds of halibut has been caught, killed, and discarded as bycatch in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands. During the same period, landings of halibut as the target species have declined from an already alarmingly small 52 percent of the total removals to only 34 percent of removals. This startling dynamic, in an ever worsening state, has continued for too long." The letter was signed by Sens. Lyman Hoffman, Donny Olson, Dennis Egan, and Peter Micciche, along with Reps. Bryce Edgmon, Bob Herron, Neal Foster, Cathy Munoz, Paul Seaton, Dan Ortiz, Jonathon Kreiss-Tompkins, and Jim Colver.  The North Pacific council voted on Feb. 8 to release an amended table of halibut bycatch reduction options for public review. The council will take final action on the reduction proposals in their June 2 meeting in Sitka. The motion added 40 percent, 45 percent and 50 percent options to each of the originally proposed reductions and was part of a larger package of halibut bycatch reduction proposals and studies that received no action. It was introduced by council member Duncan Fields of Kodiak and passed with a 9-2 vote. Directed halibut in the North Pacific is managed by the International Pacific Halibut Commission. Bycatch is managed by the North Pacific council. As the biomass of legally harvestable biomass in the North Pacific has declined, the allocations for the directed fishery have dipped to low levels as well, while the bycatch remained static. The Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands groundfish fleet now takes the the bulk of halibut removals.

Legislature confirms most, but not all, of Walker's nominees

The state Legislature approved all of Gov. Bill Walker’s cabinet appointees in a joint-session Sunday afternoon while rejecting a few board appointments. Most commissioners drew no objections, with unanimous vote margins of 59 in favor and with one lawmaker, Rep. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, absent due to family reasons. In the most controversial board appointments Walker has made, the Legislature confirmed former Senate President Rick Halford as a member of the Alaska Gasline Development Corp. board but rejected the nomination of another former senator, Joe Paskvan. Halford was approved by a 35-24 vote and Paskan was defeated by a vote of 28-31. The Legislature also voted 29-30 against confirming Board of Fisheries appointee Robert Ruffner. In 2013, Board of Fisheries nominee Vince Webster was also voted down by a 29-30 vote. Allocations among different user groups were at the forefront of Ruffner's nomination. Criticisms during the confirmation session came largely from Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, and other legislators who have recently attacked Ruffner's suitability for supposed allegiance to the commercial fishing industry and lack of representativeness of the Anchorage personal use and dipnetting user base. The seat Ruffner was nominated for previously belonged to Karl Johnstone, who resigned after Walker announced he would not be nominated for a new term later this year. Johnstone represented sport fishing interests. Walker had nominated Ruffner to the position following the withdrawal of Roland Maw for consideration. Maw, who is currently being charged with criminal license violations in Montana, faced similar scrutiny over commercial interests. Other “no” votes for cabinet officials came with the confirmation of state Attorney General Craig Richards which had been expected but who was confirmed in the end by a vote of 36-23. There were also “no” votes for Revenue Commissioner Randy Hoffbeck, however, which came as a surprise, although he was also confirmed by a vote of 47-12. Opposition to Richards’ appointment arose mainly over his close relationship with Gov. Bill Walker as a former law partner, although there was no discussion before the joint-session vote. In Hoffbeck’s case, Sen. Anna MacKinnon, R-Eagle River, rose to speak against Hoffbeck, and cited a recent decision over $2 billion in state investments after only consulting with Department of Revenue investment staff, and not outside financial advisors. “This may have been an appropriate decision but I am concerned that he didn’t reach out and lost the opportunity,” for advice from outside state government, MacKinnon said. Among board appointments, Michael Gallagher was turned down in his bid to be appointed as a commissioner to the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. Rep. Mike Hawker, R-Anchorage, spoke against Gallagher’s confirmation, arguing that his experience in labor law and contracting, even though in the oil and gas industry, did not fit well with the highly-technical regulatory decisions needed at the oil and gas conservation commission. The final vote for Gallagher was 26-33.

Federal Subsistence Board rejects, defers Y-K special action requests

Yukon River fisheries will remain under state management following a Federal Subsistence Board work session on April 16 in Anchorage.  The board voted 7-1 against a special action request to move all Yukon River salmon stocks into federal management. Wayne Owen, the board's representative from the U.S. Forest Service, was the only dissenting vote. The board also unanimously voted to take no action on five related special action requests on Yukon salmon, including a request to close chinook salmon fishing to all non-federally qualified subsistence users.   Public comment from visiting villagers heavily opposed federal management of salmon stocks and closure to all non-federally-qualified users. They cited the negative impact to the commercial fishing industry in the lower Yukon and potential inability for returning non-rural family members to help subsistence harvest as the primary reasons. Yukon villagers testified that they thought highly of state management, and that federal management would introduce unnecessary complication. Six identical special action requests were filed by tribal organizations and villages for similar federal management of Kuskokwim River salmon. The council voted unanimously to defer action on these requests to a later date. The board's next meeting is set for June. The Federal Subsistence Board oversees subsistence hunting and fishing on federal lands and navigable waterways in the state, about 230 million acres and 60 percent of Alaska. The board makes decisions in yearly cycles, alternating between fish and game. It completed the fishing cycle with its January meeting, during which it made a controversial decision to open a sockeye salmon subsistence gillnet fishery for the Ninilchik Traditional Council on the Kenai and Kasilof rivers. Special action requests, or SARs, can be submitted to make out-of-cycle changes to season, harvest limit, or harvest method, pending “unusual situations” like unanticipated changes in resource abundance. The six special action requests detailed in each letter ask the board to assume management of all Yukon and Kuskokwim salmon stocks in 2015, limit 2015 Yukon and Kuskokwim chinook salmon fisheries to federally qualified subsistence users, conduct an ANILCA 804 analysis to determine customary and traditional subsistence uses of salmon, and implement an allocation strategy between federally qualified subsistence users in the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers drainage.

Bering Sea salmon bycatch caps are cut

The most iconic Alaska fish is in puzzling decline, and the mission for both state and federal fisheries managers is to spread the pain as evenly as possible. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council voted unanimously on April 11 to pass an amended package of chum and chinook salmon bycatch avoidance measures, including reductions in the performance standards and hard caps for chinook bycatch in the Bering Sea pollock fishery in years of low in-river abundance. The cuts of 25 percent and 30 percent for the pollock industry’s performance standard and hard caps struck a middle ground that was too much for one group and not enough for the other. Fleet participants who sign incentive plan agreements, or IPAs, are currently allocated a percentage of 60,000 chinook salmon, which is the “hard cap.” Those who opt out of IPAs receive a bycatch allocation from the “performance standard” of 47,591. If the fleet as a whole exceeds the hard cap of 60,000 salmon in any two of seven years, the bycatch limit reverts to the lower number, the performance standard, for all participants. The council’s unanimous decision was to reduce the hard cap from 60,000 to 45,000, and the performance standard from 47,591 to 33,318 in low abundance years. Low abundance will be defined as less than 250,000 salmon in a three-river index of run reconstructions on the Upper Yukon, Kuskokwim, and Unalakleet rivers stock groupings. In the pollock season following such a year, the bycatch reductions will be enacted. Western Alaska subsistence users from the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim villages, squeezed by record-low chinook runs, pleaded for cuts up to 60 percent. The pollock industry, already doggedly working to reduce its chinook bycatch levels, bucked at cuts altogether. Council gave support for the final amended motion only after a lengthy and contentious amendment-making process with a split vote, emotional public comment, and fractious Advisory Panel recommendation. The original motion, proposed by Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten, would have reduced the hard cap from 60,000 to 40,000 and the performance standard from 47,591 to 31,000. Council member Bill Tweit, a Washington representative, introduced an amendment to raise the hard cap to 45,000 and the performance standard to 33,318. An amendment to Tweit’s amendment, introduced by Duncan Fields of Kodiak, would have lowered the performance standard to 31,000. Fields’ amendment failed 4-6, with Simon Kinneen recused for conflict of interest. Kinneen is the vice president and quota and acquisitions manager of Norton Sound Economic Development Corp., one of the six Western Alaska Community Development Quota, or CDQ, groups that earns the majority of its income from the Bering Sea pollock harvest. Alaska representatives Cotten, chairman Dan Hull, Fields, and David Long voted in favor of Fields’ amendment. Glenn Merrill, Tweit, Roy Hyder, Craig Cross, and Kenny Down voted against joined by Alaska sportfishing representative Ed Dersham. Tweit’s amendment passed 6-4 along the same lines as Fields’ failed amendment. The final amended package passed 10-0. “I think we’re setting great precedent here setting bycatch relative to years of low abundance,” Fields said. “This is a huge gain not only for Western Alaska but for the pollock industry in terms of the huge cuts that could have been undertaken.” Despite council optimism, neither the pollock industry nor advocates for Western Alaska villages were pleased with the final motion. “No good deed goes unpunished,” said Brent Paine, executive director of United Catcher Boats. “That handful of fish is extremely important, but it’s going to come at the cost of the 30 to 40 boats.” “This is better than status quo, but it doesn’t go nearly far enough,” said Becca Robbins Gisclair, senior fisheries policy advisor for the Yukon River Drainage Fisheries Association and also the chair of the council Advisory Panel. “It still allows for 45,000 chinook salmon to be killed as bycatch, and any year when there’s no subsistence fishing and we’re not making escapement goals, that doesn’t provide enough protection.” The regulation and AP motion The council voted to reduce the hard bycatch cap from 60,000 to 45,000 chinook salmon and the performance standard from 47,591 to 33,318 chinook salmon in years of low abundance. The action will eliminate Amendment 84 of the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands groundfish fishery management plan and fold chum bycatch avoidance measures into Amendment 91, which currently governs chinook salmon bycatch for the Bering Sea pollock fleet. The existing incentive plan agreements, or IPAs, will require restrictions or penalties for vessels who fish consistently higher levels of chinook bycatch relative to other vessels. Vessels must all enter a fishery-wide bycatch data sharing agreement. Vessels will be required to use salmon excluder devices during the “A” season from Jan. 20 to March 31, and from Sept. 1 until the end of the “B” season on Oct. 31. A rolling hotspot closure program will be required for both seasons. Salmon savings credits will last for a maximum of three years. Restrictions will be undertaken to assure that October chinook bycatch is not higher than other months. In passing the reductions, the council disregarded Advisory Panel, or AP, recommendation, which included other alternatives but not the reductions in the performance standard and hard cap. AP debate on the measure was narrowly divided over whether to pass a recommendation to the council that included bycatch cap reductions. The original motion only included changes to incentive plan agreements and season date changes. During deliberation, AP panel member Chuck McCallum, executive director of the Alaska Coastal Communities Coalition, introduced an amendment to add the cuts back into the motion. The panel’s opinion was sharply divided between concern for subsistence villages and an acknowledgement that the pollock industry’s effect on in-river salmon abundance is not as sizable as previously thought. The primary causes of the dip in chinook stocks are not fully understood by state or federal biologists. Once thought to be a major contributing factor, the pollock fleet’s chinook bycatch has been minimal in recent years. According to council analysis, at the current pollock fleet chinook bycatch level of 15,000, the impact to the Y-K region’s waterways is only 2 percent. The potential discomfort for the pollock fleet, to some, is simply not worth such a low rate of return for the villages, a theme that industry proponents reiterated consistently through the council process. “We’ve got to follow the science, and the science says cap reductions don’t help that river system,” said panel member Mitch Kilborn, with whom several other members agreed. The amendment failed on a 9-11 vote. The final motion, gutted of bycatch cap reductions, passed 12-8. Andy Mezirow, recently nominated by Gov. Bill Walker to replace Ed Dersham on the North Pacific council following Dersham’s term expiration in July 2015, “reluctantly” voted in favor of the amendment and against the final motion’s action. Ben Stevens, executive director of the Council of Athabascan Tribal Governments, testified before the AP that every single fish matters. Stevens said he thought the panel’s decision amounted to a legitimate moral failure. “If Grandma on the river can’t get one fish, I find it offensive to be talking about bycatch of 40,000,” Stevens said. “I can’t even understand their way of thinking.”  No kings for the villages The pollock industry’s chinook bycatch grates Western Alaska villagers, who feel like they’re losing an age-old cultural lynchpin as fewer king salmon end up on dinner tables and entire seasons are closed off to fishing. “Does the life, culture, and tradition of one group of people have to die for another group to make a lot of money?” Myron Naneng, president of the Association of Village Council Presidents, asked the council. “The trawl industry and CDQ groups are interested in the bottom line, while the Tribes are interested in putting food on the table.” Naneng was one of a dozen villagers who traveled from Y-K villages to tell the council about the limp king nets and general inaccessibility of grocery stores that are depressing the villages’ dietary needs. “People are living on Top Ramen,” said Tim Smith of the Nome Fishermen’s Association. “So many people leave the village because they can’t survive there, but it’s hard to live (in Anchorage) and they end up broke and coming back to the village worse off than before. It happens all over the world when industrial societies push out hunter-gatherer societies. I expect a lot of better from the United States and the state of Alaska.” “We do appreciate industry effort,” said Gail Vick, former executive director of the Alaska Coastal Communities Coalition, “but we’re paying a cost disproportionate to the industry. In these areas, 30 percent of your diet is salmon. Despite what you hear about the 2 percent figure, in the river we’re counting fish by the one.”  Several reminded the council that the federal government has a trust responsibility to subsistence groups to preserve the lifestyle, as provided for in the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, or ANILCA. Some Tribal representatives even suggested the pollock industry undertake a one-year moratorium on its fishery to help stocks recover. Currently, Y-K area villages are pushing for the Federal Subsistence Board to take over management of salmon stocks on both rivers to provide for subsistence users and establish an intertribal commission to co-manage the resource with state and federal management bodies. Declining runs of Y-K chinooks have been troublesome for years now as king salmon stocks in Western Alaska have plummeted to historic lows. On the Kuskokwim, total run estimates for kings in 2010, 2012, and 2013 are the lowest on record. The preliminary estimate for the 2014 total run of Kuskokwim River chinook salmon is 130,000 fish. While this indicated run size is an improvement over the 2012 and 2013 returns, it is still considerably smaller than the 25-year average run size of 243,000 fish. The 2015 chinook salmon forecast for the Kuskokwim River is 96,000 to 163,000 fish. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has warned that if the run comes back near the low end of that range, both subsistence and escapement goals could fall short. Subsistence groups have been hurt by the chinook declines and the ensuing conservation measures. The Yukon River has seen similarly low king salmon runs since 2007. ADFG anticipated a record low 2014 chinook run and closed the chinook fishery entirely, although escapement goals were eventually met for the U.S. and Canadian sides of the border. On March 27, the Alaska Court of Appeals ruled against 13 Yup’ik Eskimo fishermen who had been convicted of illegal subsistence fishing on the Kuskokwim during a closed period in the 2012 season. The court declared that conservation for the stock itself trumps subsistence rights. The pollock industry The pollock fishery in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, or BSAI, takes substantial, but declining, amounts of chinook and chum salmon. The total Bering Sea chinook bycatch by the pollock fleet in 2014 was 15,031 salmon, far less than the 60,000 fish hard cap and 47,591 performance standard. For every Western Alaska villager at the council there was an equivalent pollock trawler representative, many of whom were crew and captains, who explained the laborious efforts they undertake to minimize chinook bycatch. Test tows, intensive season planning, the use of salmon excluders, hot spot closures, and strong intrafleet peer pressure all made the pollock industry’s feeling unjustly blamed for a problem they only minimally contribute to. Even while asking for cap reductions, most advocates acknowledged the accomplishment of the Bering Sea pollock fleet’s strategy under Amendment 91. “I’d like to applaud the pollock industry’s successes,” said Jeff Kauffman, CDQ representative for the Advisory Panel, immediately preceding support for a bycatch cap reductions. Fleet bycatch is at it current low level in large part because of the depressed stock itself. Pollock industry representatives worry that reduced bycatch caps will force closures when chinook stocks rebound and crowd the Bering Sea pollock schools. “The question has been asked, why can’t we reduce?” said Donna Parker of Arctic Storm Management Group. “Because we’re in years of low abundance. In years of high abundance, it’ll shut us down.” The IPAs are delicate, said other pollock fishers, and lowering the bycatch cap will put undue pressure on the smaller shore-based vessels who don’t have the capacity to travel away from areas of high chinook encounters and will have only a handful of chinook to catch before closures fall into place. “Hundreds of people in small boats on the Bering Sea will bear that burden,” said the AP’s John Gulver. “Not billionaires, hardworking young men who go on 100-foot boats to try to pay the house off. The 2 percent that gets saved here…to accomplish that margin, we’re going to put a lot of hard-working young men out of work.” CDQ groups and shoreside processors sided with the pollock fleet. “Between 65 to 70 percent of our general revenue comes from landing taxes,” said Frank Kelty, natural resources director for the city of Unalaska. “With the lack of revenues the state has, we have no backup for capital projects, school funding. That makes revenues from the fishing industry critically more important. Amendment 91 is working. It’s been doing an incredible job. I don’t know if it’s a good idea to start making major changes.” DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Black cod pots approved, buildup for halibut action in June

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council passed a motion to allow for sablefish, or black cod, pots in the Gulf of Alaska fisheries. The final motion was a complicated array of suboptions and amendments intended to strike a compromise. Regulations attempt to allow for the areas of the worst whale predation to use pots while also minimizing the conflict between longline gear, which formed the basis for most of the opposition to a sablefish pot allowance. To minimize gear conflict and prevent overconsolidation of sablefish quota into pot vessels, the council established pot limits. In the Western and Central Gulf of Alaska, vessels will be limited to 300 pots. In West Yakutat and Southeast Outside, vessels are limited to 120 pots per vessel. Pot tags must be attached to the vessels before leaving port, and pots registered to one vessel must be returned to port before transferring registration to another. Pot gear cannot be left to soak for more than five days in the Central Gulf of Alaska and no more than seven days in the Western Gulf of Alaska. Vessels in Southeast Alaska cannot leave gear while making a delivery to port. All gear must be removed prior to the end of the season and cannot be set before the beginning of the season. All pot longlines must be marked with buoy clusters that display “PL” (pot longline) and Alaska Department of Fish and Game and vessel identification. Lastly, the council requires that all halibut bycatch be retained, if the fisher holds halibut individual fishing quota, or IFQ. Sablefish is also allocated with IFQ. Killer whales and sperm whales feast on halibut and sablefish hook-and-line catches as the crew reel them in. Fishermen lose catch, wait out whales in the area before hauling gear, or spend time and fuel relocating to avoid whales. Allowing pot gear could be a way to reduce whale and sea bird encounters and lost revenue. Some fishermen testified to council that they incur between 30 and 40 percent revenue loss from the whale depredation. According to a study of six longlines in the Western Gulf of Alaska in 2011 and 2012, killer whale depredation resulted in “$980 per vessel-day for additional fuel, crew food and the opportunity cost of lost time.” “Our members believe there’s a direct correlation between whale depredation and declining black cod (total allowable catch),” said Jan Standaert, vice president of the Deep Sea Fishermen’s Union. Though most acknowledged that pot fishing is both an effective deterrent for whale depredation and a low-bycatch method, the potential for losing lightweight hook and line gear to the massive pot cables could cause problems between vessels fishing on the same grounds if they become tangled. IFQ holders from Southeast Alaska, with a higher concentration of smaller vessels and more concentrated fishing grounds, comprised most of the opposition. Linda Behnken, executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, brought a bag full of fishing gear to show the council during public comment, illustrating the difference between the quarter-inch line used in longline fisheries and the fat, high-tensile rope used for pots. “In any gear conflict between the two, it’s obvious the pots will win,” said Behnken. “Whales take fish, but pots take fish and gear. We’d rather deal with the whales.” Other actions The council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee, or SSC, conducted a review of the Magnuson-Stevens Act National Standard One guidelines. The MSA has 10 national standards that serve as guidelines for federal fisheries management plans. National Standard One states: “Conservation and management measures shall prevent overfishing while achieving, on a continuing basis, the optimum yield from each fishery for the United States fishing industry.” The act, or MSA, governs all federal fisheries from three to 200 miles off the U.S. coast. It was first passed in 1976 and reauthorized in 2006. Rep. Don Young introduced a current reauthorization bill to the U.S. House of Representatives on March 4 with three regional cosponsors: Reps. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, Bradley Byrne, R-Ala., and Amata Coleman Radewagen, R-American Samoa. The revised act has several amendments regarding stock rebuilding protocols, council transparency, catch limits, pollock cooperative quota limits, the definition of “overfished” or depleted stocks, data collection, MSA authority in relation to other federal responsibilities, and the definition and role of subsistence. The SSC recommends adding language to National Standard One that would require regular reviews of fishery management plans and consideration of social and economic factors. To provide input and review potential legislative actions that might affect it, the council will form a four or five person legislative committee to be chaired by North Pacific council chairman Dan Hull. Council also heard an initial review of proposed coverage for small catcher processors. Under current restrictions, all catcher processors are under full coverage unless they meet certain partial coverage allowances like catch thresholds or whether it takes place in a bycatch controlled fishery. National Marine Fisheries Service estimates that 15 entities could be affected by the move to full coverage. Small catcher processors worry that they’ll be unable to afford such coverage. Getting ready for halibut The council is gearing up for another sweeping bycatch reform scheduled for its June meeting in Sitka, and the issue has dominated council attention in 2015. As halibut stocks have declined over the last decade, the groundfish fleet in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands has been taking more in bycatch than the internationally-managed directed halibut fishermen. The council has a package of up to 50 percent cuts in the fleet’s bycatch allowance. There is enormous public comment for the issue, and in Sitka, home of many halibut fishermen, the council expects a sizable flow of testimony. Council Executive Director Chris Oliver had scheduled several other actions at the Sitka meeting, but the other council members each expressed doubt that time would allow for all of them. “Some decisions will have to be made about what to cut from the schedule,” said chairman Dan Hull. “They will be hard decisions but we will make them.” DJ Summers can be contacted at [email protected]

North Pacific council reduces Bering Sea salmon bycatch caps

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council voted unanimously on April 11 to pass an amended package of chum and chinook salmon bycatch avoidance measures, including reductions in the performance standards and hard caps for chinook bycatch in the Bering Sea pollock fishery. The council voted to reduce the hard bycatch cap from 60,000 to 45,000 chinook salmon and the performance standard from 47,591 to 33,318 chinook salmon in years of low abundance. Low abundance will be defined as less than 250,000 salmon in a three river index of run reconstruction on the Upper Yukon, Kuskokwim, and Unalakleet rivers stock groupings. Following such a year, the bycatch reductions will be enacted. The action will eliminate Amendment 84 and fold chum bycatch avoidance measures into Amendment 91, which governs chinook salmon bycatch for the Bering Sea pollock fleet. The existing incentive plan agreements, or IPAs, will require restrictions or penalties for vessels who fish consistently higher levels of chinook bycatch relative to other vessels. Vessels must all enter a fishery-wide bycatch data sharing agreement. Vessels will be required to use salmon excluder devices from Jan. 20 – March 31, and from Sept. 1 until the end of the B season. A rolling hotspot closure program will be required for both seasons. Salmon savings credits will last for a maximum of three years. Restrictions will be undertaken to assure that October chinook bycatch is not higher than other months. In passing the closures, the council disregarded Advisory Panel’s recommendation, which included all other alternatives but not the performance standard and hard cap reductions. The cap reductions fueled the conversation around Bering Sea salmon bycatch and bitterly divided stakeholders. The AP itself only narrowly passed the gutted recommendation by a 12-8 vote. An earlier amendment to reintroduce the cap reductions into the motion failed 9-11. The pollock fishery in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, or BSAI, takes substantial, but diminishing, amounts of chinook and chum salmon as incidental catch, known as bycatch. Industry representatives urged council to let them use the best available tools and strategies to continue to successfully manage bycatch, and feared a negative impact on the delicate cooperative fleet system used by different sectors in the pollock industry. Western Alaska representatives argued that the federal government, represented by the North Pacific council, has a trust responsibility to ensure Alaska tribes’ continued subsistence, and that the pollock industry’s bottom line cannot exceed the importance of their survival. 

Lower salmon prices may mean more markets

Too much red and pink salmon could be a blessing in an ugly disguise for 2015.  Industry has a pessimistic outlook for the price of Alaska salmon in 2015, due in large part to one of the largest pink and sockeye salmon run forecasts in 50 years. A healthy U.S. economy is driving a strong dollar, which can harm exports, and key markets have vanished. Like sinking oil prices, however, the value squeeze could open new domestic market positions as more consumers get a taste of wild-caught Alaska salmon in a market flooded with foreign farmed fish. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game projects a commercial salmon harvest of 221 million fish for the 2015 season, following a 2014 season that exceeded expectations and left storehouses stocked with canned and frozen 2014 salmon that has yet to move off shelves. Prices in 2014 dipped slightly in response to healthy salmon runs. The ex-vessel prices decreased from $4.27 per pound in 2013 to $3.95 per pound in 2014 for chinook; from $1.29 per pound to 96 cents per pound for coho; from $1.78 per pound to $1.59 per pound for sockeye; and from 42 cents per pound to 27 cents per pound for pink. Only chum salmon increased value, from 54 cents to 55 cents per pound. The 2015 total commercial salmon catch (all species) projection of 220.9 million is expected to include 54,000 chinook salmon in areas outside Southeast Alaska and Bristol Bay, 58.8 million sockeye salmon, 4.6 million coho salmon, 140.3 million pink salmon, and 17.2 million chum salmon. The projected pink salmon harvest is about 46 percent higher than the 2014 harvest of 95.8 million. The projected sockeye salmon harvest is about 14 percent higher than the harvest in 2013, and 33 percent higher than the harvest in 2014; the projected chum salmon harvest is expected to be about 52 percent higher than the harvest in 2014. The Alaska all-species salmon harvest for 2014 totaled 157.9 million, which was about 25.3 million more than the pre-season forecast of 132.6 million. This combined harvest was composed of 487,302 chinook salmon, 44.1 million sockeye salmon, 6.3 million coho salmon, 95.8 million pink salmon, and 11.3 million chum salmon. Price predictions can be as ephemeral as run forecasts, and many Alaska seafood marketers hesitate to guess, but Northrim Bank CEO Joe Beedle said it’s simple enough. “Fishermen will get 25 percent less this year because of the strength of the dollar and the high supply,” said Beedle at an editorial board meeting on April 2. Farmed fish and export troubles Increased competition from foreign farmed salmon, which is also projected to rise this year, will cut into the Alaska wild salmon market.  Fishing industry publication Undercurrent News reported that Norwegian salmon farmers are harvesting salmon an average of 5 percent greater in weight than the 2014 average, and 4 percent above the average norm. The weight will correspond to higher volume. In response to Russian seafood export bans, Norway authorized salmon farmers to keep greater biomass levels for the first quarter of 2015. In August 2014, Russia enacted a ban on seafood imports from the U.S., European Union, Canada, Australia, and Norway in retaliation for U.S. sanctions against the Russian Federation. Ukraine, in the midst of the conflict that caused the sanctions, also has less to spend on imports. Russia and Ukraine, at the height of consumption in 2013, purchased nearly 10 percent of the total $1.1 billion of Alaska salmon exports. Russia imported $46.6 million worth of Alaska roe. Ukraine imported $31 million of roe and $15 million of fresh and frozen pink salmon. The strong U.S. dollar will also weaken the remaining markets for salmon. Japan, Alaska’s second-largest single seafood market behind China, imported $132 million worth of Alaska salmon in 2014. As of March 2015, the Japanese yen’s value has fallen 18 percent against the U.S. dollar since March 2014. Chile, which produces roughly one third of the U.S. farmed salmon imports, has also seen the value of its currency, the Chilean peso, drop 13 percent against the U.S. dollar from March 2014 to March 2015, giving the U.S. greater purchase power. In Norway, which produced another third of U.S. farmed salmon, the Norwegian kroner dropped 33 percent against the U.S. dollar. More fish, more food, more business Downward price pressure could affect salmon fleet bottom lines, but marketers believe the year’s revenue loss will be an investment, not a curse. “The challenges are creating opportunities, because we’re putting more Alaskan salmon in consumers’ mouths,” said Cassandra Squibb. Squibb is chief business development office of Copper River Seafoods, a marketing cooperative focused on wild-caught Alaska salmon, particularly from Prince William Sound. Like falling oil prices, lower salmon prices means less capital return for the producers but more availability for the consumers. The market for relatively pricier wild-caught Alaska salmon, according to Squibb and other Alaska seafood marketers, is largely confined to coastal, upscale consumers from retail outlets like Whole Foods. The McDowell Group, an Alaska market and economic research firm, works with the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, or ASMI, on fisheries analysis. Seafood market analysis project manager Andy Wink said that lower 2015 salmon prices could be an entry point for lower-expense markets. If wild-caught Alaska salmon is truly superior to farmed salmon, as ASMI consumer research suggests, then courting consumers with lower prices hook them on Alaska salmon and, hopefully, keep them buying when prices go back up. “Prices may be lower, but the volume of pink and sockeye will likely increase,” wrote Wink in an email. “Even if fishermen do not make much, if any, lower prices driven by supply benefits the industry in the long run because it increases consumption. Generally that demand carries over for some time.” DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Council ready for final action on Bering Sea bycatch package

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council will hold its second meeting of 2015 from April 8-14 at the Anchorage Hilton. The council’s biggest agenda item will be final action on measures to reduce chinook and chum salmon bycatch in the Bering Sea pollock fishery. The alternatives, introduced for public review in December 2014, include both voluntary and regulatory controls to shorten seasons, provide incentives, and reduce bycatch caps. The pollock fishery in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, or BSAI, takes substantial amounts of chinook and chum salmon as incidental catch, known as bycatch. The total Bering Sea chinook bycatch by the pollock fleet in 2014 was 15,031 salmon. The council acknowledges that chinook bycatch management has been effective at keeping the level below limits, but would like to affect vessel behavior in times of low salmon encounters for both chum and chinook while still allowing flexibility to the pollock fleet. The council will need to find the solution that accomplishes all three goals. The first option would combine a chum salmon avoidance agreement with the current chinook incentive plan, and penalize vessels that don’t participate. The pollock industry favors the alternative that would simply change the voluntary avoidance measures already in place. “Hard caps just provide fisheries a race to fish up to the hard cap,” said Washington council member Bill Tweit during the council’s initial review in December 2014. “A purely regulatory approach will not be good for anybody. Incentives are a much more effective way to manage it.” The Chinook Salmon Bycatch Management Program, or Amendment 91, currently controls for chinook bycatch and avoidance for the BSAI pollock fleet. The amendment establishes incentive plan agreements, or IPAs, to encourage the pollock fleet to maintain low chinook bycatch. Members share information on areas of high chinook incidence, enact area closures for vessels with poor bycatch performance, and close certain areas during each of the two pollock fishing seasons. The “A” season runs from Jan. 20 to June 9. The “B” season runs from June 10 to Nov. 1. Fleet participants who sign IPAs are allocated a percentage of a higher cap of 60,000 chinook salmon. Those who opt out of IPAs receive a bycatch allocation from the lower cap of 47,591. If the fleet as a whole exceeds the cap of 60,000 in any two of seven years, the cap reverts to the lower number for all participants The alternative would change IPAs to add more restrictions and penalties on high-bycatch vessels, require the use of salmon excluders, require high encounter area closures, and tighten restrictions in October. A related alternative would focus on the timeframes of heaviest bycatch and shorten the B season, when trawlers encounter higher numbers of chinook in September and October. A suboption would reallocate the pollock catch to 45 percent in the A season and 55 percent in the B season, or 50 percent for both. Trawlers insist that voluntary measures work best. Stephanie Madsen, executive director of the pollock catch-processor representative group At-Sea Processors Association, delivered the fleet’s initial draft of a yearly chinook bycatch avoidance report to the Alaska House Fisheries Committee on March 24. Madsen’s report stated the catcher-processor pollock fleet caught 5,254 chinook as bycatch in 2014, far fewer than the performance standard catcher-processor limit of 13,516. The regulatory alternative would make a more immediate and hard-nosed decision to lower bycatch performance standards in years of low abundance, defined as 250,000 or fewer salmon in a post-season in-river survey of the Unalakleet, Yukon, and Kuskokwim river chinook runs. Sectors that go beyond the performance standard three out of seven years would be confined to either 25 percent or 60 percent of the 47,591 hard cap. Salmon excluder devices, genetics A large part of the salmon decisions concerns stock origin, as Western Alaska is the area most economically affected by sinking stocks. The council will hear a National Marine Fisheries Service report on the genetics of chinook and chum salmon bycatch in Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska pollock and groundfish trawl fisheries. The study, completed by J.A. Whittle, S.C. Vulstek, C.M. Kondzela, and J.R. Guyon of the Alaska Fisheries Science Center, used a systematic random sampling protocol to collect the genetic markings of 1,246 chinook and 3,880 chum caught in the 2013 BSAI pollock fishery. The report confirms fears that Bering Sea salmon bycatch plays a part in the declining king salmon runs in Western Alaska. Coastal Western Alaska kings made 50 percent of the bycatch, with smaller contributions from British Columbia at 16 percent, North Alaska Peninsula at 14 percent, and West Coast U.S. at 7 percent. In contrast, 45 percent of BSAI chum bycatch is northeast Asian stock. Fewer came from Western Alaska at 18 percent, Southeast Asia at 15 percent, Eastern Gulf of Alaska/Pacific Northwest at 15 percent, Upper/Middle Yukon River at 6 percent, and Southwest Alaska at 1 percent. In both the Gulf of Alaska pollock and groundfish fisheries, the majority of chinook bycatch came from British Columbia and the U.S. West Coast. None came from Western Alaska. Part of the council’s bycatch avoidance will involve salmon excluders, which pollock trawlers use to allow salmon to swim out of the net. John Gauvin and John Gruver of the North Pacific Fisheries Research Foundation and Katy McGauley of the Alaska Groundfish Data Bank Inc. conducted a study over the efficacy of different types of salmon excluders in the Central Gulf of Alaska. The report says “recent Bering Sea salmon excluders have been shown to reduce chinook bycatch by 25-34 percent, with less than 1 percent pollock escapement.” Experimental permits in the Gulf of Alaska yielded positive results for the over/under design of salmon excluder. “While both vessels had good results for all tests of the O/U design,” the report reads, “the F/V Caravelle in the fall 2014 achieved a salmon escapement rate of 54 percent, pollock escapement of less than two percent, and consistent escapement results on a haul to haul basis.” Longline pots for GOA sablefish The council will also hear a NMFS report and take final action on a proposal to allow longline pots in the Gulf of Alaska sablefish IFQ fishery. Sea birds, killer whales, and sperm whales feast on halibut and sablefish hook-and-line catches as the crew reel them in, and allowing pot gear could be a way to reduce whale and sea bird encounters and lost revenue. Fishermen have voiced concerns of gear conflict, consolidation, and the expense of outfitting their ships with heavy-duty hydraulics required to operate longline pot gear. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Bill to eliminate CFEC moves out of Fisheries Committee

According to Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission gets too much money for too little work that is does poorly anyway. A bill introduced by Stutes passed out of the House Fisheries Committee on March 26 that would repeal the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission and fold its responsibilities into the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the Office of Administrative Hearings. The commission’s revenue, $7.8 million in 2014, would go to the ADFG Division of Commercial Fisheries. The bill was recommended to Resource and Finance committees. The Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission, or CFEC, was established in 1974 to create limited entry fisheries. Three commissioners serve as judges; they decide who’s eligible for permits, oversee the permit transfer process, and handle appeals for those fishermen who are denied. Stutes’ bill, House Bill 112, would blend CFEC’s 30-person staff into Alaska Department of Fish and Game, or ADFG, where they would simply continue the permitting process without commissioners. Currently, the commissioner positions are held by attorneys Bruce Twomley, Benjamin Brown, and Verne Rupright. The disbandment is, in part, a cost-saving measure for the beleaguered state coffers. According to Stutes, repealing the CFEC would save Alaska $425,000 per year through administrative streamlining. Each of the three CFEC commissioners has a salary around $130,000, with another $70,000 worth of benefits. Committee member Craig Johnson, R-Anchorage, noted during a March 26 House Fisheries Committee public comment that action is only fair considering the state’s financial woes. “Anyone who expects the same level of service in Alaska tomorrow as they get today is not awake,” said Johnson. Commercial fishing industry representatives oppose the bill almost unanimously, opting instead to let CFEC fix its inefficiencies on its own. During the 2014 legislative session, Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, introduced a similar bill to Stutes’s. The bill died but spurred a legislative audit of the CFEC, scheduled for release in June. Commercial stakeholders think the legislature is acting in haste without its own report. “We feel they can make the changes necessary to not warrant bringing the CFEC in to ADFG,” said Julianne Curry, executive director of the United Fishermen of Alaska. “Our main concern is that we’re taking action to eliminate a commission without the due process of an audit.” The commercial industry views CFEC’s role in the same political purpose as the U.S. Supreme Court — resistent to changing political currents, with lengthy commissionerships held by specialized legal minds dedicated to a singular purpose. Folding CFEC into what fisherman Paul Shadura called a “schizophrenic” ADFG, in industry’s opinion, would rob the limited entry program of its sovereignty and compromise the objectivity of the licensing and permitting process. “We don’t want CFEC being blown about in the political winds of the day,” said Martin Lundy of the Southeast Alaska Seiners Association. “There’s a special place for Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission, and it is on its own.” “The potential for politicizing the entry process is enormous within the ADFG,” said Jamie Ross of the Alaska Herring Seiners Association. “This bill could be the worst thing that ever happened to the commercial fishing industry.” During an animated March 26 public comment hearing in the House Fisheries Committee, committee member Rep. Charisse Millett, R-Anchorage, hotly denied wanting to eliminate CFEC altogether. “This is not an easy thing for me to do, to slice jobs,” Millett said. “I’m not trying to destroy an agency. Your workload has diminished greatly. It’s a huge budgetary item. I’m merely looking for ways to streamline government here in the state of Alaska.”  Millett also bristled at the notion the bill was poorly planned, and that ADFG would be any more politicized than CFEC, whose commissioners are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Legislature. “I think it’s ridiculous to infer that ADFG can’t see where conflicts would arise,” said Millett. Stutes and the bill’s supporters have administrative and fiscal complaints against the CFEC, not philosophical ones. They question the commission’s usefulness, considering the laggard pace of current adjudications and dwindling need for new limited entry fisheries. ADFG report The Alaska Department of Fish and Game released a report on Feb. 4, 2015, detailing CFEC’s overall performance. The report, completed by former Administrative Services director Tom Lawson, praised CFEC’s expertise and helpfulness in its relationship with commercial fishermen, but also criticized several inefficiencies, including sluggish adjudication of contested permit applications and an archaic licensing system. CFEC has since sent a rebuttal to several of Lawson’s findings with detailed explanations for various inefficiencies. Between the 1980s and the early 2000s, the CFEC churned through permit adjudications at the rate of a 75 to 100 per year, according to the Lawson report. In the late 2000s and 2010s, the pace slowed to a crawl. “In each of the last two years, the commissioners adjudicated only three permit applications,” reads the 2015 report, “which is an unprecedented low number and five in 2011. From 2006 through 2013, the commissioners averaged 23 permanent and emergency transfer cases per year. Among all adjudications, on average these are the most simple and typically consist of an administrative review of a hearing officer’s decision.” The Supreme Court chastised the CFEC in 2006 over the “glacial pace” of Henry Brandal’s limited entry permit adjudication that began in 1978 and stretched 22 years, though the commission did win that particular case. In 2014, the Supreme Court made a similar statement about yet another lengthy adjudication for Mark Fitzjarrald. “The case threatens to become a fisheries version of Jarndyce v. Jarndyce, Dickens’ version of endless litigation,” the court wrote. “Judges and commission members have retired, the original hearing officer has died, and still this court is trying to glean information from a sparse record of a twenty year old hearing.” According to Lawson, the CFEC has a backlog of 28 permit applications, most of which have been in the adjudication stage for 15 or more years. Along with the lengthy appeals process, proponents of CFEC dissolution argue that the commission has simply outlived its usefulness. Lines are drawn in the commercial world. Alaska has 68 current limited entry fisheries, most of which were established by CFEC in the 1980s and the last of which was established in 2004. The commissioners recognize the importance of the speedy permit adjudications and permit transfers so critical to the commercial fleet. In a House Fisheries Committee March 19 hearing, Commissioner Twomley used this point to argue against dismantling the CFEC. The specialized knowledge needed for transfers would be too cumbersome for anyone but the commission, especially the Office of Administrative Hearings, or OAH, which has a longer window of time in which to operate. “If (transfers) can’t be handled very quickly,” said Twomley, “fishing time is lost. We can turn those around in a matter of days, instead of the OAH 120-day allowance.” The proposed system, however, would only throw transfers to the OAH as a last resort, according to the bill’s author, after paralegals and directors have already worked through them. Speed wouldn’t be compromised. ADFG Deputy Commissioner Kevin Brooks says the department has no formal position on the bill, and would make whatever adjustments necessary. “I can’t foresee every new complication,” Brooks told the committee. “We don’t have a crystal ball here. We do have the body of their work that exists and the willingness to make it work.” DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Legal arguments filed against Subsistence Board actions

The target on the Federal Subsistence Board’s back keeps getting bigger. A Kasilof attorney and fisherman has brought a string of new accusations against the Federal Subsistence Board in both a request for reconsideration and a request for special emergency action from the U.S. Department of the Interior. He submitted his request for reconsideration on Jan. 29, and his special action request on Feb. 23. By now, the board has received about 50 public comments regarding its January decision to allow for a subsistence gillnet on a portions of the Kenai and Kasilof rivers. Of the 50, four have met the criteria for requests for reconsideration, or RFRs, which the board will consider within 60 days of the new regulations being published in the Federal Register. Neither has yet appeared as of March 24, though they are expected to be published in late March. Kasilof attorney Kenneth Manning’s argument goes beyond the majority of comments over the Kenai River decision, which typically focus on the conservation of king salmon. Though Manning makes the same objections about the non-selective nature of gillnets, he also charges the federal board with legal and procedural wrongdoing. The board made the controversial vote Jan. 21 to add a subsistence gillnet for the Ninilchik Traditional Council along federal segments of the Kenai and Kasilof rivers in pursuit of sockeye salmon. State and federal biologists recommended against the measure on conservation concerns for the chinook salmon and trout that will inevitably be caught in the non-selective gear type. The Kenai measure narrowly passed with a 4-3 vote; the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Forest Service opposed the motion on conservation grounds. State Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, began the flood of RFRs, citing the same conservation concerns for chinook salmon biologists did during the board’s January meeting. Specifically, Manning claims the board exceeds its enabling legal authority under the Alaska National Interest Lands Claim Act, or ANILCA, which governs federal land and subsistence in the state. The Ninilchik Traditional Council’s request hinged on an appeal to subsistence priority. According to both state and federal bylaws, subsistence concerns take priority over both commercial and sport fishing and hunting, which has proven fertile grounds for legal challenges over the 35 years since ANILCA’s passage in 1980. The enabling authority for the Federal Subsistence Board to prioritize subsistence comes from ANILCA Section 804. The law reads: “Whenever it is necessary to restrict the taking of populations of fish and wildlife on such lands for subsistence uses in order to protect the continued viability of such populations, or to continue such uses, such priority shall be implemented through appropriate limitations based on the application of the following criteria: customary and direct dependence upon the populations as the mainstay of livelihood, local residency, and the availability of alternative resources.” Manning believes the federal board violated most of the provisions in ANILCA 804, which serves as the basis for his request for a special action emergency review. First and foremost, he argues that because there is no conservation concern for sockeye salmon on the Kenai or Kasilof rivers, there is nothing to give priority. The Kenai River sockeye salmon forecast for 2015 is approximately 3.6 million fish, which is only 0.2 million fish less than the 20-year average run for this system of 3.8 million. Further, Manning argues that a =gillnet is not an example of traditional, customary, or “long-established, consistent pattern of use” for the Ninilchik Traditional Council. By this rationale, the board established a new fishery rather than gave priority to an existing one. Similar legal challenges have been leveled against the federal board after it made a decision at the same January meeting to close waters around Maknahti Island in Sitka Sound to all but federally-qualified subsistence users. Under Section 815 of ANILCA, the board has the right to restrict fisheries in public waters to federally qualified subsistence users, but only if there is sufficient evidence of conservation necessity. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game holds that the board acted outside its authority with its Maknahti Island herring closure, because available science suggests no conservation concern for herring in Sitka Sound. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Former Board of Fisheries nominee charged

Roland Maw has been charged in Montana following an investigation regarding residency issues. Jim Kropp, Chief of Law Enforcement for Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, confirmed that the state has charged Maw, who owns property near Dillon, with seven counts of affirming to a false statement in order to obtain a resident hunting license. Maw’s son faces three similar charges. Montana law enforcement says the charges were brought against Maw late last week. On March 23, Gov. Bill Walker nominated Robert Ruffner of Soldotna to the vacant Board of Fisheries seat to which Maw had been nominated before he abruptly withdrew his name Feb. 20. The misdemeanor charges carry the possibility of fines up to $1,000 each, two to six months in county jail, and the loss of all hunting and fishing privileges. Alaska is one of 44 states that belong to the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact, under which each state honors the others’ suspensions. Maw’s revocation of hunting and fishing privileges in Montana will be mirrored in Alaska under the compact. Maw, the former executive director of the United Cook Inlet Drift Association, could also face charges in Alaska for residency fraud. Tim DeSpain, the supervising information officer for the Alaska Department of Public Safety, said they have no comment on Maw at this time. According to public records, Maw has filed for an Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend check, or PFD, every year since 2002. Between 2002 and 2014, the PFD has paid out $16,665. Between 1996 and 2003, Maw purchased resident class fishing, hunting, or combination licenses from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. According to the Associated Press, he also had resident commercial fishing permits. In 2003, he qualified for and purchased a Permanent Identification Card, which is issued to Alaska senior residents for free hunting, fishing, and trapping. The card is void if the holder receives any benefits from another state, including resident licenses, voting rights, or tax breaks. Walker named Maw to the Alaska Board of Fisheries on Jan. 20, replacing former Chairman Karl Johnstone, who resigned when Walker told him he wouldn’t reappointed following public and gubernatorial scrutiny of the board’s actions at the ADFG commissioner nominee selection meeting on Jan. 14. At that meeting, Johnstone and his fellow board members declined to deem Maw qualified to interview for the job of Alaska Department of Fish and Game commissioner. Roland Maw unexpectedly withdrew his name from consideration for the Board of Fisheries on Feb. 20 following scrutiny from the media and legislature, despite favorable public support and desirable credentials for Walker’s desired scientific fisheries management. The Montana investigation into Maw’s resident permits become public soon after. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Applications open for Cook Inlet salmon disaster relief

The Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission is now accepting applications from sport fishing businesses in Cook Inlet for $4.6 million in disaster relief funds from the 2012 salmon season. The commission has $4.6 million to be distributed to sportfishing related businesses showing losses during the disaster period. Examples include guides, lodging, restaurants, and sport fishing gear retail businesses. The commission will also dispense $700,000 to commercial fish buying stations and processors showing losses during the disaster period, and another $1.1 million for chinook related research in Upper Cook Inlet. Susan Anderson of the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission said the organization mailed 3,200 applications between March 5-9 to business and individuals based on the Alaska Department of Fish and Game or State of Alaska licenses. Applications must be returned to the commission and postmarked no later than May 29, 2015, to be considered. Anderson said payments will be made the first week of July at the earliest. Each recipient will receive an equal percentage of the $4.6 million. All who did not receive an application are welcome to contact the commission to request one. The commission administers the payments of the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, who in 2012 declared federal fishery disasters for the 2012 Upper Cook Inlet salmon fisheries, the 2010-12 Yukon River king salmon runs and 2011-12 Kuskokwim king runs. In 2014, Congress appropriated $75 million for those disasters and others throughout the country. Since February, the federal fishery managers have been working with the state and others to develop a plan for distributing Alaska’s appropriation of $20.8 million, $7.8 million of which was distributed to commercial salmon fishermen in August 2014. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration collaborates with the State of Alaska to determine which groups will be eligible to receive the grant money. Cook Inlet, Yukon and Kuskokwim commercial fishermen received payments last fall as the first part of the fishery disaster relief funding. Eligible Cook Inlet fishermen received a $2,000 fixed payment, plus a percentage based on their landings history from 2007 to 2011, according to National Marine Fisheries Service spokeswoman Julie Speegle. According to information provided by NMFS, an estimated 443 permit holders from Cook Inlet’s East Side setnet fishery were eligible to apply for payments, as will an additional 96 Northern District fishermen. Yukon River fishermen received an estimated $4,952, with 631 permit holders eligible to apply, Speegle wrote in an email. That accounts for about $3.1 million of the total $3.2 million for Yukon and Kuskokwim permit holders. An estimated 489 Kuskokwim River fishermen were eligible for $165 payments, according to Speegle. The first payment to the commission was for $7.8 million. This grant provided direct payments to commercial fishermen in both the Cook Inlet and Yukon-Kuskokwim regions; $3.2 million went to the Y-K and $4.6 millions to the Cook Inlet. The remaining $13 million, approved by NOAA in January, will distribute $4.5 million to the recreational fishing sector and related businesses for loss of income, $6.4 million for salmon research in the Yukon/Kuskokwim region, $1.1 million for research in Cook Inlet, and $700,000 to salmon buyers in the Cook Inlet area. So far, $1.2 million has been distributed to subsistence fishermen on the Yukon River, and $1.2 to subsistence fishermen on the Kuskokwim River, both sums to include enhancing protection and restoration of king salmon stocks. The funds gave $1 million for development of comprehensive restoration plans for the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers, and $3 million for chinook related research through the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim Sustainable Salmon Initiative. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Shorthanded board maintains Bay goals, Inlet clam rules

The Alaska Board of Fisheries finished its second short-handed meeting on March 20 in Anchorage, where it considered statewide Dungeness crab, shrimp, miscellaneous shellfish, and supplemental issues. The board is down to six voting members after the resignation of chairman Karl Johnstone in January and the subsequent withdrawal by replacement nominee Roland Maw in February. In its miscellaneous issues segment, the board extended the deadline for public proposals for a state pollock fishery. Proposals will now be accepted until late September rather than April 10, which will give only a small window before the statewide pollock meeting scheduled for October. The state is considering establishing a state waters pollock fishery to preemptively address predicted issues from the impending rationalization of the Gulf of Alaska federal pollock fishery. A limited entry pollock fishery for non-trawl gear has seen mixed results. Experimental fisheries opened in 2014 for non-trawl gear in Kodiak, Chignik, and Cook Inlet state waters. According to Alaska Department of Fish and Game, or ADFG, the experimental non-trawl fisheries yielded a total of just more than 65,000 pounds of pollock, a small catch compared to the trawlers and the harvest allocation of more than 220,000 pounds. The United Chignik Salmon Fishermen submitted public comments requesting that trawl gear be banned from the potential state pollock fishery. Chignik, they argue, has no trawl gear users in its commercial fishing community, so limiting the proposed fishery to seine and pot gear would ensure their continued access to the fishery. Chignik representatives have doubts about the impact of mid-water pollock trawls on the marine environment that produces Chignik’s target species. “It is our observation that trawl gear, including pelagic (midwater) trawls, too often produce catches that often indicate that the gear has been dragging or ‘fishing’ benthic habitat,” according to a letter to the board from the United Chignik Salmon Fishermen. “We do not need habitat destruction or a bycatch of halibut, feeder chinook salmon or Tanner crab from trawl gear.” Bristol Bay escapement goals remain status quo The board voted unanimously to adopt the ADFG’s recommendation to keep sustainable escapement goals for Bristol Bay following a two-year study of optimum escapement goals. The board, at its December 2012 meeting, generated a proposal to study whether it should add optimum escapement goals to Bristol Bay, and tabled the decision until a proper study could be completed. Sustainable escapement goals, or SEGs, are based on reconstructed runs size and other biological factors, and are set by ADFG. Optimum escapement goals, or OEGs, are set by the board itself, and take into account social, allocative, and economic goals as well as biological. The board must accept the ADFG recommendations for SEGs, and cannot set goals lower than the minimum goal of the SEG. The board put together a task force to examine the current SEGs and whether or not OEGs would be appropriate. The Bristol Bay Science and Research Institute completed the study and reviewed the results in Seattle on March 5. Michael Link, the institute’s chief scientist and project manager for the Bristol Bay study, delivered a presentation to the board on March 18. The results compared the biological and economic implications of various escapement goal models and concluded that OEGs were not necessary, as adjustments to the current SEGs could effectively contribute to the fishery’s economic success. Link’s study found that in high abundance sockeye runs, the overall value of the fish drops as processors get more and more backlogged. Unable to spend the time to cut the salmon into high-value fillets, processors will opt for lower-value products like head-and-gutted salmon or canned salmon. Managing for higher escapement goals for high abundance years and lower goals for low years will keep the finished product at the optimal economic value. Before the study was released a mere two weeks before the board’s meeting, the public had little time to review the proposal. Bristol Bay fishermen wondered why the board would want to limit the escapement goals when runs are large enough to choke the river with sockeye. Both board and audience were impressed by the presentation’s conclusion, which addressed most concerns. “We got a lot of answers today,” said Randy Alvarez, a Lake and Peninsula Borough assembly member. “This is a textbook example of the scientific principles of the sustainable salmon policy,” said acting board chairman Tom Kluberton. Cook Inlet clams A crash in razor clam population on the east side of the Cook Inlet prompted Alaska Department of Fish and Game managers to restrict and ultimately close 50 miles of Kenai Peninsula beaches in February. The closures also prompted a Ninilchik man, Ivan Encelewski, to ask the board to consider setting a limit of 60 clams per day with up to 120 clams in possession for the inlet’s west side beaches. The board considered that proposal and others, which would have further restricted the ailing east side beaches, during its statewide Dungeness, shrimp and shellfish meeting in Anchorage from March 17 to March 20. While several Fish and Game Advisory Committee members voted or testified in favor of restrictions on both beaches, the board ultimately decided to take no action on any of the proposals, in effect, leaving management of the east side beaches up to ADFG biologists and the west Cook Inlet beach an unlimited source of clams for those who can reach it. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected] Peninsula Clarion reporter Rashah McChesney contributed to this article.

Walker nominates Hull, Mezirow for North Pacific council

Alaska’s federal fisheries will have a new recreational fishing voice, but the subsistence representation will stay as is. Gov. Bill Walker announced on March 13 his nominations for two North Pacific Fishery Management Council seats, which expire Aug. 10 of this year. Ed Dersham’s recreational seat may pass to Seward charter operator Andy Mezirow in spite of Dersham’s request for reappointment. The two seats up for nominations are those of council chairman Dan Hull and Dersham, whose second terms on the council expire in August. Council members serve three-year terms, and may be reappointed to serve up to three consecutive terms. For Hull’s seat, which traditionally represents Alaska small boat commercial interests, Walker has renominated Hull along with Buck Laukitis, and Paul Grondholt. Governors are required to submit multiple names to the U.S. Department of Commerce for council seats, with the Secretary making the official appointment. For Dersham’s seat, traditionally representing Alaska sportfishing interests, Walker has nominated Mezirow along with Richard Yamada and Art Nelson. Walker stated in his letter to Brian Fredieu, the assistant administrator for fisheries of the National Marine Fisheries Service, or NMFS, that his preferred nominations are Hull and Mezirow. “The nominees provide balanced and insightful experience for the NPFMC and will contribute greatly to fisheries management and conservation in the North Pacific,” arote Walker in the letter. Each year, the Secretary of Commerce selects approximately one-third of the total of 72 appointed members to the eight regional councils that govern all federal fisheries under the Magnuson-Stevens Act. The Magnuson-Stevens Act, or MSA, regulates management of federal fisheries from three miles to 200 miles offshore. NOAA Fisheries annually solicits nominations from the governors of fishing states and oversees the annual appointment process. The Secretary selects council members from the list of nominees provided by the governors to fill at-large seats that have become available due to an expiring term, a resignation or other reasons. On the 11-member North Pacific Council, four of the seats are designated to be filled by state government representatives from Alaska, Oregon and Washington and a federal representative for the Alaska Region of NMFS. Alaska is given five additional at-large seats filled by political appointment, representing a majority of the votes on the council. The commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has an obligatory seat, filled now by Sam Cotten, who was nominated by Walker as interim commissioner in 2014 to replace Cora Campbell following Walker’s election.  Recently, there has been some discussion, both publicly and privately, about placing a subsistence representative in the non-commercial fishing position, or at least finding a sport fishing representative with a relative wealth of subsistence experience or Tribal ties. Tribal organizations submitted letters requesting more council representation. In May 2014, Rep. Don Young added amendments to the Magnuson-Stevens Act asking for greater subsistence representation in the federal management of Alaska fisheries, proposing that a subsistence member be added to the North Pacific council. Alternate Walker nominee Nelson serves as executive director of the Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association, which represents the interests of Western Alaska subsistence and commercial fishermen, and is also Young’s son-in-law. Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, a Tlingit tribesman and former executive director of the Alaska Federation of Natives, serves as Walker’s fisheries adviser. Mallott said in a telephone interview he had been involved in discussions to choose a candidate with subsistence familiarity. “I had been conferring with the governor and the commissioner (Cotten) about nominations,” said Mallott. “We are certainly trying to get people involved in the council process and on the advisory panel, rural folks who have a perspective on not just subsistence with but with rural issues that affect community development.” In 2014, former Gov. Sean Parnell nominated Simon Kinneen to the council to replace former chair Eric Olson, who had reached his three-term limit. Kinneen currently serves as vice president of the Norton Sound Economic Development Corp., the Community Development Quota group for several Northwestern Alaska communities. Community Development Quota, or CDQ, is a program that gives shares of commercial fishing quota to 65 Alaska communities within 50 miles of the Bering Sea coast. Parnell said he nominated Kinneen in part because of subsistence experience. “Simon’s strong background and experience with subsistence, sport fishing, and commercial fishing, will make a great contribution to the NPFMC,” Parnell said at the time. Dersham said he wasn’t surprised that he wasn’t renominated. “I expected this,” Dersham said. “There were rumors that I wasn’t going to be nominated.” Dersham also said he had been aware of tentative plans to put more subsistence representation on the council. “There was a lot of talk about either appointing a Tribal member or subsistence user, but when you try to define subsistence in Alaska, every resident is allowed to participate in personal use fisheries, and subsistence is defined by rural status and not Tribal status,” he said. “I think what they were actually looking for is a bush Tribal member. That was the push there.” There had been uncertainty over Dersham’s health leading to questions about his tenure, but Dersham says a kidney transplant in December has rejuvenated him and he had been prepared to go another round on the council. “I’m in tremendous health,” Dersham said. “I’m in the best health I’ve been in 15 years.” Walker’s preferred name for the recreational seat, Mezirow, has been one of the more politically involved recreational fishermen at the federal level. He has operated Crackerjack Sportfishing Charters out of Seward since 1996 since moving to Alaska from New England. He also has commercial halibut Individual Fishing Quota, giving him a unique perspective on the two sectors that have battled for years over allocations. If confirmed, this will be his first time serving on the North Pacific council, but Mezirow has a lengthy history of experience. He currently serves on the North Pacific council Advisory Panel and the Charter Management Implementation Committee, which is chaired by Dersham. Mezirow will chair that committee if appointed to the council. “I’m the last one of these original guys that started in 1995 going to these meetings,” said Mezirow. “I started off going to the charter implementation meeting, when they really didn’t know better, to now when we know how to navigate the process. It has taken me many years to realize how you’re supposed to cement yourself in the process. I think now we’re able to discuss solutions in a much more civil way.” Mezirow received broad and vocal public support for the position from most Alaska industry sectors, in no small part because of his history of engagement with fishery policy and reputation for fair-mindedness. Karen Gillis, the director of the governor’s Office of Boards and Commissions, said in an earlier interview that the office had received numerous letters expressing support for Mezirow. Southeast Alaska Guides Organization President Tom Ohaus, and Seward City Manager Jim Hunt sent letters praising Mezirow’s fishing and council experience. Mezirow said that even groups with conflicting interests gave support based on his familiarity with council process. “The people who offered a lot of support are people who’ve served on the council before or had lots of experience with council process,” said Mezirow. “Some of the longline people were very supportive. I had positive feedback from Linda Behnken and Tom Gemmell (of the Halibut Coalition). I talked to some trawlers like Stephanie Madsen and Lori Swanson, some CDQ folks like Ernie Weiss and Jeff Kauffman. Coming from people who’ve been around the process for so long, (the support) meant a lot.” Mezirow says he plans to look after sustainability first and foremost, but that the only plans he has are to ensure a profitable fishery for all sectors. “I’m not really coming in with an agenda, to try to get something past anybody,” said Mezirow. “I want to try to do what’s right for Alaska. I think everyone agrees there’s enough fish in the ocean for everyone to make a living.” DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]  

IMO lists Aleutian buffer zones

U.S. and international governments are giving attention to marine matters for conservation, safety and economic reasons. The United Nations International Maritime Organization approved on March 13 a series of five cargo transport buffer zones in the Aleutian Islands as the result of the M/V Selendang Ayu crash and fuel spill that resulted in six deaths in 2004. The buffer zones, called Areas to be Avoided, or ATBAs, aim to limit the potential for fuel and oil spills, human casualties, and negative impacts on marine and coastal wildlife and human communities. The ATBAs, extended 50 nautical miles from Aleutian Islands shorelines except where necessary to pass through a channel, and apply to all ships of 400 gross tons and above that are solely in transit. The plan also calls for an on-call rescue tug to help damaged or stranded vessels more safely reach the nearest Coast Guard port for necessary repairs, in order to prevent them running aground. The Maritime Safety Committee will meet in June to adopt the final proposal, which will go into effect six months later. In 2004, Malaysian bulk cargo vessel M/V Selendang Ayu ran aground on Unalaska Island while carrying China-bound soybeans through Unimak Pass, eventually splitting in half and spilling 350,000 gallons of bulk fuel and diesel fuel. The vessel’s owner paid a fine of $9 million for the spill and more than $102.5 million to cover the cleanup costs. The International Maritime Organization, or IMO, is a United Nations agency that specializes in creating international shipping measures. Following the M/V Selendang Ayu disaster, the United States delegation to the IMO introduced the groundwork for a shipping risk assessment of Unimak Pass in the eastern Aleutian Islands using the $3 million from M/V Selendang Ayu’s settlement payments to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Members of the advisory panel included representatives from transportation sectors, non-governmental organizations, and the fishing industry to examine the economic and ecological impacts of the buffer zones on nearby communities and industries. This included Alaskans Frank Kelty, natural resources director for Unalaska, Tom Gemmell, former deputy director of the Marine Conservation Alliance, and Brent Paine, executive director of United Catcher Boats Association. Unimak Pass is a nine-mile wide channel situated between Unimak Island and Ugamak Island, just east of Unalaska in the eastern Bering Sea. Because of the curvature of the earth, the shortest shipping route between the high-volume Northwestern U.S. and Canadian cargo terminals and East Asian destinations, called the North Pacific Great Circle Route, cuts through Unimak Pass. This makes the pass one of the most heavily trafficked cargo channels in the world, according to the IMO proposal. “In 2012, the Marine Exchange of Alaska’s Automatic Identification System (AIS) recorded 1,961 large vessels making 4,615 transits through Unimak Pass, which narrows to 10 nautical miles at the southwest end of Unimak Island and Ugamak Island,” reads the IMO proposal. “Additional transits not captured via AIS skirted the island chain to the south. Most of these vessels were non-tank vessels: 60 percent of the individual vessels recorded were bulkers, 24 percent container ships, and 13 percent other non-tank vessels. Fifty-two vessels, or 3 percent of the total individual vessels recorded, were tankers.” The UN group anticipates the number of cargo through Unimak Pass to increase in the next 25 years following proposals to increase fossil fuel exports from the Pacific Northwest and continued expansion of U.S. trade with Asian markets. The IMO has instituted similar areas in U.S. federal and state waters, largely corresponding to areas of sensitive environmental designations, including off he northern Washington coast’s Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary and around the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in the northwest Hawaiian Islands, and portions of the Florida Keys. Combating IUU For fisheries, the federal government is taking its final step toward an internationally cooperative approach against illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, or IUU. A presidential task force on IUU fishing released its final action plan on March 16. The plan outlines the international coordination, enforcement strategies, governmental and non-governmental partnerships, and traceability programs designed to crack down on the international illicit seafood market. The task force, co-chaired by the Departments of Commerce and State, was established in 2014 to come up with a series of proposals within six months. The U.S. Coast Guard estimates that IUU fishing annually drains $10 billion to $23 billion away from the legitimate seafood industry worldwide. The Bering Sea crab industry alone lost $560 million to Russian IUU crabbers between 2000 and 2010, according to United Fishermen of Alaska, or UFA. One of the key points of the IUU task force’s action plan involves keeping IUU out of ports, and thus off the market. The Port State Measures Agreement would require that each nation under the agreement require foreign vessels delivering seafood to provide highly detailed reports in advance of port entry. To pass as an international measure, the agreement needs to be ratified by 25 countries. Currently, 11 have ratified, and the task force has adopted the end of 2015 as tentative timeline for successful total ratification. Other key points establish international trade agreements that would cut into the IUU market. The successful 2015 completion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, a regional agreement that includes four of the top 15 global producers of marine fisheries products by volume, would eliminate large fishery subsidies as part of its environmental provisions. The task force also hopes to establish an international set of best practices for fisheries. Enforcement and traceability will involve defining how species, geographic origin, and means of production will be shared with consumers, producers, and ports. By 2016, the task force hopes to expand the program into all seafood coming into U.S. markets, depending on success rates determined by public stakeholders and agencies. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]  

GUEST COMMENTARY: Remembering Stevens in renewing namesake fisheries act

Almost 40 years ago, without regard for the conservation of our fisheries or the needs of the Alaskan people, foreign fishing fleets dominated the waters off Alaska’s shores and took anything and everything in their reach. Ask anyone familiar with the times, deck lights of foreign vessels — dozens if not more — could be seen just miles off the coast of Kodiak and other coastal communities. Recognizing the need for change, countless Alaskan fishermen came to Congress to ask for help in pushing the foreign fleets out. Sen. Ted Stevens and I knew that Alaska’s and America’s interests needed protection and we immediately began working to spearhead common sense fisheries reforms through Congress. Reforms weren’t easy, but partnerships and friendships were formed — with Representatives and Senators across state and party lines – to convince our colleagues it was the right thing to do. After years of work, the foundation of our domestic fishing fleet was born, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, or MSA. Along with the creation of the 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone that pushed foreign fleets further from our shores, the MSA “Americanized” our fisheries and created wealth and certainty for our State and fishermen. Alaska is now home to the strongest, most sustainable fisheries in the world. All across the North Pacific, from Dutch Harbor to Ketchikan, our fishermen and coastal communities have thrived under the policies developed in the MSA. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Alaska’s seafood industry now contributes nearly 80,000 jobs to our local economies; is home to 11 of the nation’s top 20 most valuable commercial fishing ports; and harvests more than 60 percent of the nation’s seafood. As Alaska’s fisheries continue to flourish, with healthy communities and jobs at sea and on shore, there ultimately comes a time when our laws — even those that are working well — must be reviewed and updated. Just as our fishermen and fisheries must adjust to new dynamic challenges, our laws must also be reviewed to keep pace with changes in our industry and ensure they are being implemented as intended by Congress. After more than two years of reviewing the MSA, I have been asked by the House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop, R-Utah, to once again put my fisheries experience to work by leading the charge on reauthorizing this important legislation. In an effort to ensure a proper balance between the biological needs of our fish stocks and the economic needs of our fishermen and coastal communities, I have introduced legislation with a number of regional cosponsors to reauthorize and strengthen the MSA. H.R. 1335, the Strengthening Fishing Communities and Increasing Flexibility in Fisheries Management Act, provides a number of modest but necessary reforms, including efforts to: provide fisheries managers with increased flexibility and transparency; allow for improved data collection through the use of electronic monitoring; increase accountability for our federal agencies; and create predictability and certainty for coastal communities that depend on stable fishing. In many ways, the MSA continues to support Alaska fishermen and protect our fishery resource as envisioned. But as I’ve learned in Congress, our laws are not written in stone and we must constantly review them, listen to our constituents and make changes when necessary. As we move forward on this important legislation and take up separate efforts to address Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing by foreign vessels, I look forward to once again hearing from the countless Alaskans and Americans who helped us develop these positive reforms. While I will miss teaming up with Senator Stevens again during this process, as we did for the first time in 1976 and for the last time in 2006, I will remember him fondly as we work to update the law bearing his name.

ADFG online store offering print-and-go fishing licenses

Print your licenses at home and go fishing! The Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s revamped Online Store is the go to place for all fishing (and hunting) licenses and it now offers two new features. “Fishermen, both sport and commercial, can now print their licenses at home. They can purchase it online, immediately print it and go out fishing,” said Michelle Kaelke, Financing and Licensing Supervisor for the department. “They can buy it before they go out to the fishing grounds, or if they’re traveling from Seattle or wherever, they can have everything ready for when they head up to Alaska,” she added. Another first: printing out multiple licenses. “Now you can buy for your whole family in one transaction, with different options,” Kaelke explained. “One can have a fishing and a hunting license, or a commercial crew license, and one can just have a sport fish license or a big game tag.” The print-and-go licenses will also be a huge plus for Alaska seafood processors. “They will buy their crew member licenses and they’ve had to do it one at a time, or they mail us paper applications,” Kaelke said. “So now they can do it right from their office and print all their licenses and give them to their crew and off they go.” All transactions are followed up by an email with licenses attached for future use or printings. The print at home procedure also is the same for sport fish guides and anglers, hunting, trapping, or getting king salmon or duck stamps. The department knows people will appreciate the easy new system, Kaelke said, adding that she does, too. “Getting this information right away, we can know what our license sales are, and we don’t have to sit and enter paper licenses into our system. That can be really difficult because people don’t always have the best handwriting,” she said with a laugh. “Now we can immediately have the statistics, and it’s far more accurate and we can quickly get it out to our managers.” Coming soon: electronic license printing setups for vendors across the state and perhaps, licenses to go. “We’re hoping that the legislature this year will give us the ability to allow people to carry licenses on their cell phone and mobile devices,” Kaelke said. Call for future fishing guides A few openings remain for students who want to get schooled on a river. About one dozen students are accepted each year by the Bristol Bay River Academy to participate in its unique to Alaska, place-based curriculum that teaches youths ages 14 to 24 how to make the grade in the guided sport fish business. Now in its seventh year, the free, week long course teaches students the basics of fly fishing, along with customer service skills and the realities and demands of the guiding and hospitality business out in the Bay. A third part of the curriculum is river ecology and what keeps trout and salmon healthy. The training rotates each year throughout the Bristol Bay region and this summer will take place at the Kulik Lodge in Katmai National Park. So far 58 students have graduated from the Academy and many have gone on to good jobs as sport fish guides. “Several of our students have worked multiple seasons in lodges in Bristol Bay; it is a great opportunity and perfect fit for many of these young people,” said Nelli Williams, program coordinator for Trout Unlimited, which sponsors the Academy along with a host of local supporters. For decades, fishing guides were brought in by lodge owners from other states, usually college students. Now, the local guides are the most requested, Williams said. “There is so much value in recruiting locally,” she said. “They know the rivers in and out. They know that July on the Kvichak can be as cold and nasty as in October. So there is a lot of benefit, both from the job opportunities for local young folks as well as the businesses that are thriving out there.” Halibut scholarships The International Pacific Halibut Commission funds several Merit Scholarships to support undergraduate university, technical college, and other post-secondary education. The fund is targeted to Canadian and U.S. students connected to the halibut fishery and industry. The scholarships are for $2,000 per year for four years. Find applications for fall 2015 at the IPHC website, or call Tamara Briggie at (206) 634-1838 (ext. 7660). Deadline to apply is June 30. ‘but’s up! Alaska’s 2015 halibut season opened on March 14 and runs through November 7. The catch to be shared by more than 2,000 Alaska longliners increased 6.5 percent this year to 21.2 million pounds. The sablefish (black cod) fishery runs concurrently with halibut and also is harvested by the longline fleets. That catch quota this year is 10,522 metric tons, similar to last year. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.  

Charter group proposes plan to acquire commercial quota

As halibut bycatch cuts of 50 percent or more loom for the Bering Sea flatfish trawlers, charter halibut fishermen are pitching a plan to acquire a bigger piece of the fishery on the other side of the Alaska Peninsula. During its February meeting, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council finalized a working group to complete an initial analysis of CATCH, a program that would potentially replace the current halibut quota transfer program in Southeast and Southcentral Alaska. Catch Accountability Through Compensated Halibut, or CATCH, has been developed as a way to efficiently transfer quota between the commercial and charter halibut sectors. This takes place under a regional catch-sharing plan instituted in 2014 that replaced a guideline harvest level for charter vessels with a percentage of the overall harvest. 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. The charter sector exceeded its allocations under the 2014 catch-sharing plan, which has led to tightening restrictions on the trip, bag and size limits in 2015. The workgoup will consist of North Pacific council member Ed Dersham as chairman, charter operators Ken Dole and Richard Yamada representing Southeast Alaska, or Area 2C, and charter operators Andy Mezirow and Martin Spago representing Southcentral Alaska, or Area 3A. Bruce Gabrys will represent Area 3A longliners and council member Duncan Fields will represent Community Quota Entities. Steve MacLean, halibut fishery analyst for the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, says one name has been submitted to represent Area 2C longliners, but not yet appointed to the position. CATCH would either replace or run concurrently with the current Guided Angler Fish transfer program, or GAF. GAF allows individual charter guides in Areas 2C and 3A to lease commercial Individual Fishing Quota, or IFQ, from commercial shareholders to allow their clients to harvest halibut in addition to or instead of the daily bag limit while keeping the charter sector within its annual allocations. Individual Fishing Quota, or IFQ, assigns an individual level of halibut quota to commercial permit holders based on their historical harvest levels and involvement in the fishery. Southeast Alaska charter guide Yamada authored the CATCH proposal, which was introduced to the North Pacific council in October. The workgroup will put together an initial analysis of CATCH, tentatively scheduled for the council’s June meeting in Sitka. “The object is to match up willing buyers with willing sellers,” said Yamada, a board member of the Alaska Charter Association. “This is a market-based solution to allocation problems.” The CATCH program would differ from GAF in that charter operators could purchase, rather than simply lease, quota from commercial users. They program would also be sector-wide rather than individual; purchased quota would be held in a common pool for all charter vessels to draw from as needed to stay within their allocation. The current industry quota transfer program, GAF, has only been in place for a year, since the beginning of the 2014 halibut season. National Marine Fisheries Service fishery management specialist Julie Scheurer says GAF usage exceeded expectations. “As of September 15, 2014, NMFS Restricted Access Management Program processed 111 transfers totaling 41,152 (pounds) of IFQ to 43 different charter halibut permit holders,” reads a National Marine Fisheries Service, or NMFS, report on GAF usage. “These transfers allowed the harvest of up to 2,027 additional halibut as GAF by charter vessel anglers. Overall, nearly 20 percent of all GAF transfers were ‘self-transfers,’ i.e., the same person held both the IFQ and the charter halibut permit and transferred the IFQ to himself.” According to NMFS, Area 2C transfers totaled 29,498 pounds of halibut IFQ at an average price of $5.62 per pound. Area 3A transfers totaled 11,654 pounds at an average $5.01 per pound. CATCH would rely on the establishment of Recreational Quota Entities, or RQEs, to make the quota purchases and hold them for communal charter use. Similar organizations exist in the form of Community Quota Entities, or CQEs, which perform the same task on behalf of small fishing communities, but are infrequently used due to the expense of halibut quota. The expense of halibut quota fuels the discussion around CATCH. Shares are currently selling for about $50 per pound, far greater than the cost of leasing. The biggest question is exactly how the charter industry would fund the RQEs to make quota purchases. Yamada says there are several possibilities for funding, but the most likely is some form of state-issued halibut conservation stamp, which would require legislative approval and be paid for by charter customers. The plan addresses several concerns the halibut charter industry had moving into a catch-sharing program they don’t feel GAF adequately addresses, the foremost of which is absence of publicly accessible IFQ trading platform. “There’s no mechanism to make this GAF available,” Yamada said. “If you’re a charter operator and you want GAF, there’s no marketplace. You have to know a commercial IFQ holder who’s willing to sell.” Yamada also says the usage caps on IFQ holders hold back many charter operators, as the 10,000- to 15,000-pound block requirements cause charter operators to lease more IFQ than needed and wind up stuck with the remainder. A common pool would allow each to draw as needed instead of lose capital investment on quota overstock. Lastly, Yamada is afraid GAF will price smaller charter operators out of business as customers justify the price of the GAF purchase with fishing for larger and larger halibut, known as high-grading. The average weight of a GAF halibut in Southeast Alaska was 26 pounds in 2014. At an average 2C transfer price of $5.62 per pound, that one fish cost $146. Anglers will likely only pay that much extra for a trophy-size fish, which will inflate the average GAF weight. NMFS projects that the average GAF weight for Area 2C in 2015 will be 68 pounds, making single GAF fish $382 for the angler who buys it. Yamada says he worries that high grading could lead to GAF fish of 90 or 100 pounds that could cost as much as $600. Larger, deep-pocketed lodges may have the clientele wealthy enough for that, but the smaller operators and their blue-collar clientele will be effectively priced out of the GAF program, according to Yamada. The commercial opposition to CATCH worries about a similar negative impact on coastal communities and entry-level commercial halibut fishermen if Outside money floods the IFQ market in pursuit of trophy fish and raises the price of entry into the halibut industry.  “The halibut stamp funding mechanisms proposed for CATCH threatens to distort the market,” reads a letter from Tom Gemmell, executive director of the Halibut Coalition, which is made up of commercial and subsistence fishing members, “requiring individual commercial fishermen to compete for quota against a purchasing entity (the RQE) that is fed by an external revenue stream.” Further, the Halibut Coalition questions the motivation for Outside quota buyers to harvest halibut responsibly. “The investment required of commercial quota share purchasers creates a long-term commitment to sustainable harvest— ‘skin in the game’ means the quota share holders pay attention to safeguarding the resource.” The Halibut Coalition supports the idea of quota transfer with options to lease and to purchase, but feels GAF adequately addresses the concerns of the charter halibut industry or could be modified to do so as more time passes. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

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