Fisheries

ADFG closes early Kenai kings

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game issued an emergency order on Feb. 18 closing the Kenai River early king salmon run to sport fisheries. The closure will be in effect May 1 – June 30.  The closure responds to a low forecast. Biologists forecast a return of 5,206 fish for the early king run. The optimal escapement goal for early-run Kenai River king salmon is 5,300 to 9,000. If the run does come in as forecasted, it will rank one of the lowest on record, 29th of the 31 years ADFG has been counting. ADFG said that the closure matches the standard for the previous year, and will be maintained unless the department makes more optimistic measurements during the season. “Since the 2016 total run forecast is similar to the 2015 run forecast when the fishery remained closed, and the forecast is less than the lower end of the optimal escapement goal, closing the fishery preseason is warranted until data from inseason assessment projects indicate that fishing opportunity can be afforded without jeopardizing achievement of the optimal escapement goal,” ADFG’s report reads. Low king runs have kept the early-run fishery closed since 2013 when it was open briefly to catch and release angling. The Kenai is part of a statewide decline in chinook salmon stocks. Low king runs will also affect the Kasilof River early king sport fishery. ADFG “prohibits the retention of naturally-produced king salmon except Tuesdays and Saturdays, and limits sport fishing gear to one unbaited, single-hook, artificial lure while sport fishing in the Kasilof River beginning 12:01 a.m. Sunday, May 1 through 11:59 p.m. Thursday, June 30, 2016.”   DJ Summers can be reached at daniel.summ[email protected]

Algal toxins found in Alaska marine mammals for first time

Algae toxins are creeping north, scientists say, and marine mammals could potentially pay the price. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a study Feb. 11 that used samples from more than 900 different marine mammals between 2004-2013 to test for toxic presence. The samples came from all over Alaska, from the Beaufort Sea to Ketchikan. Domoic acid and saxitoxin — two neurotoxins found in algae blooms — were found in a majority of the tested species. NOAA doesn’t attribute any deaths directly to the algal toxins, but points out more than 40 percent of marine mammal unusual mortality events come from toxic algae. Kathi Lefebvre, a NOAA scientist who spearheaded the study, said that number is fairly conservative. Domoic acid and saxitoxin move quickly through the body and resulting deaths are difficult to attribute. “I feel very confident that yes, there are likely deaths of marine mammals by toxins we cannot identify.” said Lefebvre. The report verifies that algae toxins are spreading northward. Reports have tied algal toxins to California sea lions since 1989 — more than 200 died or had seizures from algae toxins last year — but until now Alaska has had no documented domoic toxicosis and rare saxitoxin poisoning in its marine mammals. Last year, NOAA documented a sea lion seizing from algal toxins in Long Beach, Wash., the first time any such case had been recorded north of California. Lefebvre clarified that the study finds no causal link between toxic presence and marine mammal deaths. The future, she said, is the concern. “The risk is there,” Lefebvre said. “If we get increasing blooms, the risk will increase. That’s the concern. We know that warming waters and the loss of sea ice is more favorable for growth of algae.” Part of the concern is food security; marine mammal die offs could affect subsistence communities who depend on them. The study found the toxin levels far below regulatory limits for human consumption. Animals die long before muscle and blubber absorb enough toxins to affect humans. Some communities do harvest shellfish from mammal stomachs, however, which could cause problems. The Alaska Department of Health has made no changes in guidance to seafood safety. The study surveyed 13 species including humpback whales, bowhead whales, beluga whales, harbor porpoises, northern fur seals, Steller sea lions, harbor seals, ringed seals, bearded seals, spotted seals, ribbon seals, Pacific walruses, and northern sea otters. “Domoic acid was detected in all 13 species examined and had the greatest prevalence in bowhead whales (68%) and harbor seals (67%),” reads the report. “Saxitoxin was detected in 10 of the 13 species, with the highest prevalence in humpback whales (50%) and bowhead whales (32%).” Domoic acid, first documented in Alaska with Kachemak Bay razor clams in 1992, causes amnesic shellfish poisoning in humans. Saxitoxin causes paralytic shellfish poisoning. The two toxins have been documented in Alaska shellfish for decades, and the human effects of shellfish poisoning with them. Domoic acid and saxitoxin sneak into the mammalian food chain through algae-eating phytoplankton. Shellfish and plankton-eating fish like herring, pollock, some juvenile salmon, and sand lance, then pass the toxins to the marine mammals that eat them. The food chain explains certain variations in domoic acid and saxitoxin rates. Cook Inlet beluga whales, for instance, had relatively low rates of both domoic acid and saxitoxin due to a diet of chum and coho salmon and other non-plankton eating fish. NOAA found higher toxicity in mammals that prefer planktivorious fish.  “Bowhead whales feed on small zooplankton consisting mainly of calanoid copepods and euphausiids,” the report reads, “both of which consume phytoplankton and are likely the source of the high occurrence rates of (domoic acid) and (saxitoxin) in fecal samples.” Algal blooms and their accompanying toxins usually feel at home in tropical or temperate waters. Alaska’s sub-Arctic and Arctic waters aren’t so friendly. Warming ocean patterns, however, appear to be changing how much algae makes its way into the North Pacific. Bering Sea shelf waters have risen by as much as 3 degree Celsius in the last 10 years, the report says, and a patch of warm water crept through the Gulf of Alaska in 2015. Sea ice plays an additional role. Warming, ice-free waters allow more algae-friendly sunlight into the sea, and open shipping lanes through the Arctic. Cargo vessels can transport algal species into new waters through ballast water discharge. Several events in 2015 served as a prelude to the release of the NOAA study. The warm Gulf of Alaska water known as “the Blob” allowed a massive red algae bloom to move north from Pacific Northwestern waters. The algae led to toxin scare. Marine scientists at the time attributed no deaths to increased levels of algae toxins, but did see an increase in toxin levels in shellfish. Researchers and fishermen haven’t positively connected anything sinister to the warm water, but it coincided with an unusual mortality event, 40 percent of which Lefebvre said are caused by algal toxins. Dead whales cropped up near Kodiak, Chignik, Katmai, Seldovia, and False Pass during the summer, along with dead sea lions in Dutch Harbor and Amalik Bay. Dead puffins and other seabirds abounded along the Gulf, as well as washes of dead baitfish including sand lances and herring. “Those large whale die offs, we couldn’t get to them (to take samples),” Lefebvre said. “That investigation is still ongoing.” The study will continue. The next step is to analyze temperature variations, sea ice composition, and a host of other factors against the presence of algae toxins and link the two in a predictive model. NOAA will also continue to monitor subsistence harvests.  DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]  

FISH FACTOR: Small-scale fishermen and women get turn on reality TV

Fishing lives and fishing wives are set to be showcased for a national audience: one as a documentary and the other, on reality television. The first, an hour-long feature called “Last Man Fishing,” focuses on the lifestyles and challenges facing our nation’s small-scale fishermen. “We’re from Indiana and we realized there is a disconnect between the consumer and where their fish is coming from,” said JD Schuyler, who is co-producing the documentary with his wife, Kelley. “We want to bridge the gap of people appreciating seafood, while also understanding the struggles of the small scale fishermen.” The Schuylers, who have long been involved in the sustainable foods movement, first made the connection with fishermen/co-owners of Sitka Salmon Shares, a “boat to doorstep” seafood company with hubs in the Midwest. “Working with them allowed us to learn a lot about small scale fishing and see some of the struggles some have,” JD said. “With our historical connections with food and small-scale farming, it really connected with us and motivated us to start the project.  “We’ve learned a lot about how fisheries are being privatized, and how that keeps the younger fishermen from entering. It really makes it difficult for people to get into the trade.” The team has since filmed fishing lives in Kodiak, St. Paul Island, Maine, and the next stop is the Gulf of Mexico. “A lot of people are losing their livelihood and the coastal communities are losing families and generations of practices and culture,” echoed Kelley. On the flip side, the documentary highlights how many fishermen are now making their own inroads with direct sales to chefs and other consumers, and learning how to get the most value out of their fish. “We’ve seen that in Southeast Alaska and in Maine, and I think that is empowering small scale fishermen,” she added. To help tell their story, the filmmakers have launched a $35,000 Kickstarter campaign in hopes of getting “Last Man Fishing” on the national film festival circuit next year.  “This isn’t about us making money,” the Schuylers said. “It’s about us telling an important story that is so meaningful to fishermen and communities. We are thankful to be a part of it.” Learn more at [email protected] and on Facebook and Twitter. Fishing women wanted A nationwide search is underway for fishermen’s wives or fishing women who are willing to share their day-to-day lives with a film crew. “We want to find a community of women who work together, who help watch each other’s kids — who may not be related by blood, but they might as well be family,” said Amberlee Mucha, manager of talent development for Discovery Studios in Los Angeles. She added that most reality shows focus on men who fish, and it’s time to put women in the spotlight.  “In all of our research, we have found that fishing is a way of life and it takes a whole community to support it,” Mucha said. “So we are looking at it from another angle, how the women pull it all together to keep things going.”  “The fishing lifestyle is not just a job or career; it is a way of life. And the community supports the fishing and the fishing supports the community. We feel this is a really incredible thing and we would love to see a show that showcases that.” The producers are looking for a wide variety of personalities, she added, and most importantly, women “who can keep it real in front of the cameras.” No airdate is scheduled for the new program as the crew is still searching for the right fishing town and talent. Contact Mucha at [email protected] Signal saved Plans to pull the plug on a GPS signal still counted on by many mariners have been put on hold, thanks to an outpouring of comments from sea goers, mostly from Alaska. Claiming declining usage across the country, the federal government planned to shut down 62 Differential Global Positioning Systems, or DGPS, last month, leaving 22 sites available to users in coastal areas. Alaska has 15 DGPS sites; six were scheduled to close. The DGPS came on line in 1999 to supplement satellite-based GPS. The augmented signal provided better accuracy using land-based reference stations to transmit correction messages over radio frequencies. Many believe it has outlived its usefulness. “The technology for GPS satellites and receivers has increased so much, the need to have so many signals really isn’t there anymore,” said Petty Officer John Gallagher who serves aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Spar based in Kodiak. “A Federal Aviation Administration study in 2014 showed that GPS without the Differential antenna signal achieved accuracy of position of less than one meter, in most cases.” That’s fine for open seas, others argued, but operating in harbors, fjords and other tight spots prevents a line of sight. Most of the nearly 170 comments to the Department of Transportation argued in favor of keeping the backup system. A USCG memo said that given the range of comments received, DGPS will get a closer review. It added, “all lights remain on” for sites in Kodiak, Cold Bay, Kenai, Potato Point, Gustavus, Biorka Island, Level Island and Annette Island. One site — Cape Hinchinbrook — was lost due to an equipment failure. Council names More than a dozen names are in the hat for two upcoming seats on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. They would replace members Duncan Fields of Kodiak who has served a maximum three, three-year terms. David Long of Wasilla, whose first term also expires this year, could be reappointed. Also in the mix: Alan Austerman of Kodiak, a former Alaska legislator and Fisheries Policy Advisory to former Gov. Frank Murkowski. Linda Behnken of Sitka, is a commercial fisherman, director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association and a former council member. Julie Bonney of Kodiak is director of the Alaska Groundfish Data Bank and has helped shape fishery management structures in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska. Ed Dersham served eight years on the state Board of Fisheries, and was a former two–term council members. Theresa Peterson is a commercial fisherman, and Kodiak Outreach Coordinator for the Alaska Marine Conservation Council. Art Nelson is director of the Bering Sea Fisherman’s Association, based in Anchorage, and also serves on the Council Advisory Panel. Buck Laukitis of Homer is a commercial fisherman and past president of the North Pacific Fisheries Association. Paul Gronholdt of Sand Point represents the Aleutian/Pribilof Islands on the Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference. He is also a commercial fisherman. Rhonda Olivia Pitka of Beaver is a village chief and participated in a roundtable discussion with President Obama during his Alaska visit. Jim Sepel of Juneau is a retired Coast Guard commander who served on the Alaska Boating Safety Advisory Council under former Governor Parnell. Rebecca Skinner of Kodiak is an attorney, serves on the Borough Assembly and the Southwest Alaska Municipal Council. Emilie Springer of Homer is a fisherman holds a master’s degree in marine affairs from the University of Washington. Jed Whittaker of Anchorage has been active in Alaska’s Green Party and on various fishing and community-related programs. Gov. Bill Walker will soon make his recommendations to the Secretary of Commerce for final approval. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.  

Nonresidents pass residents in individual guide permits

KENAI — The number of guides and guiding businesses in Alaska is staying stable but the percentage of nonresidents is still climbing. Since the state saw a drop in guide participation in 2009, the numbers have stabilized, according to the 2014 license and logbook data published by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. In 2014, there were 1,805 licensed guides in Alaska and 132 licensed businesses, with 983 holding a combined license. The majority of licenses are in the Southcentral region. Nonresident individual licensed guides overtook resident individual licensed guides for the first time in 2014. Between 2010 and 2014, the number of licensed resident guides fell from 1,009 to 892, while the number of nonresident guides climbed from 702 to 913, according to the report. However, there are still significantly more residents who hold either combination or guiding businesses licenses than nonresidents. Of the 983 total combination licenses in 2014, 868 went to residents. Of 132 licensed businesses, 105 went to residents, according to the report. Overall, 63 percent of licensed guides were residents, while 37 percent were not. The percentage of nonresidents has been slowly increasing by about 3 percent every year, climbing from 33 percent in 2012 to 35 percent in 2013. In Southcentral Alaska, freshwater guiding remains dominant over saltwater guiding. The Southcentral region dominates the freshwater guiding market statewide; 81 percent of freshwater participation occurred in the region in 2014, according to the report. Sockeye, coho and king salmon were the most common species harvested, comprising 45 percent, 44 percent and 6 percent of the statewide harvest respectively. Out of a total of 95,003 freshwater guided angler-days in Southcentral, 8,123 were spent by residents, and 84,396 were spent by nonresidents. The remainder were compensated, crew or unknown, according to the report. The demographics of target species for freshwater guided trips are changing, too. With tightened king restrictions for the past several years, guides have had to change tactics to other species. Sockeye and coho are taking an increasingly larger role as target species for all guided trips, while kings are on the decline, according to the harvest data for 2012–2014. On the Kenai River specifically, the statistics are fairly similar to those statewide: of the 336 total registered guides in 2014, 32 percent were nonresident. That number has also steadily increased over the years, climbing from a 25 percent in 2010 to 33 percent in 2015. The total number of guides continues to fall, though — 2015 saw the fewest guides of any year since 1994, according to the registration records. The large number of guides on the Kenai River, especially of nonresident guides, has been a concern for some time for Kenai Peninsula locals. The Kenai River Special Management Area advisory board, composed of citizens and state agency representatives, has been discussing for some time whether to limit the number of guides on the river and how it could be done. At an open house for peninsula guides in November, some complained about the behavior of nonresident guides and asked if the state could charge nonresidents more in the guide registration process. However, others were more settled with nonresident guides. Courtesy on the river has improved since the implementation of the Kenai River Guide Academy, a mandatory class for guides on the river, said Mike Fenton, a guide with Fenton Bros. Guided Sportfishing Alaska in Soldotna. “I don’t see a lot of disparity in the quality of the nonresident guides,” Fenton said. “From a courtesy standpoint, I think all the guides that have gone through the course understand courtesy on the river.” Nonresident guides do have to pay steeper fees. They should be able to guide in Alaska if they want to, the same way Alaskan guides should be able to guide elsewhere if they choose, said Rod Berg, co-owner of Rod N’ Real Charters in Soldotna. “I know some of the public thinks it should be all resident guides, but if I want to go down to Washington or Oregon and guide, that’s my right,” Berg said. “I don’t care about nonresident guides. We have far more pressing issues.” Reach Elizabeth Earl at [email protected]  

Mat-Su mapping study doubles borough stream miles

A new study found 50,000 miles worth of streams in the Matanuska and Susitna valleys, or enough to encircle the world with room to spare, and 28,000 more miles than previously thought. Critically, the maps identify previously unknown salmon-spawning grounds. With more accurate information, authorities can make more informed habitat conservation decisions. In particular, wildlife managers now have better information about where to install culverts, as well as better flood management information. The mapping project cost $330,000, but spread between state and federal agencies and non-profits, undercutting the typical mapping project expense by a third. “The Mat-Su is the fastest growing area in the state by a large margin,” said Larry Engel of Palmer, a retired Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist and member of the Mat-Su Borough Fish and Wildlife Commission. “How do you conserve habitat if you don’t know where it is? You have to identify where your streams are and that’s what The Nature Conservancy’s new stream map does for the Mat-Su.” The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Mat-Su Borough, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and the U.S. Geological Survey contributed to the total cost. “These smaller streams are very important to salmon,” said Kacy Krieger, a geospatial scientist at the University of Alaska Anchorage who coordinates the state’s stream map database. “The new maps now coming online present a great opportunity for the people of Alaska and the Mat-Su to plan a future in which salmon and our communities will co-exist.” The Alaska Hydrography Technical Working Group oversaw the project. The group, which oversees all such projects, is comprised of technicians from state and federal agencies including the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, Alaska Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, Bureau of Land Management, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, and the University of Alaska. Alaska’s maps are behind the times, technologically speaking. Adding the latest methods gives planners a host of new information for borough matters, including storm water discharge permitting process and installation of habitat-saving culverts. In the valley, new information is crucial for managing woodlands alongside Alaska’s highest-growth area. The official National Hydrography Dataset, part of the USGS National Map, has already incorporated the new stream lines. USGS will release a set of revised 7.5-minute series topographic maps featuring the updated stream lines later this year. A similar project is already being planned for the Kenai River area, in part because of the cost savings the project’s collaborative model implements.   DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]  

Walker signs order merging CFEC duties with ADFG

Gov. Bill Walker signed an executive order on Feb. 16 that folds certain duties of the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission into the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. According to estimates, the streamlining move will save the state $1.3 million in administrative costs. Walker said in a release that he’s taking every opportunity to cut state expenses and “do more with less.” “With a $3.5 billion budget deficit, we are leaving no stone unturned as we look for efficiencies in state government,” said Walker. “By moving administrative functions of the Alaska Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission to the Department of Fish and Game, we will save over $1.3 million a year. While that alone will not solve our budget challenges, it is another step towards streamlining government and getting the most out of our public dollars.” The Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission, or CFEC, creates and licenses the limited entry commercial fisheries in Alaska state waters. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game, or ADFG, manages the fisheries in season and performs the scientific studies necessary to do so. The order will fold several of CFEC’s administrative duties into ADFG’s domain, including: licensing and permitting services (ministerial services only); information technology services; accounting services; payroll services; procurement services; and budget services. This administrative streamlining is a cost-saving measure, but follows to bill introduced in the last two years that would have dismantled CFEC altogether. During the 2015 Legislative session, Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, introduced a bill that would have completely disbanded CFEC and delegated it responsibilities to ADFG. The bill came on the heels of an ADFG report on CFEC released on Feb. 4, 2015, which was spurred by a similar bill in 2014. The report, completed by former Administrative Services director Tom Lawson, praised CFEC’s relationships with commercial fishermen, but criticized inefficiencies, including sluggish adjudication of contested permit applications and an outdated 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 early 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.   DJ Summers can be reached at daniel.s[email protected]  

NOAA study finds algal toxins in Alaska marine mammals

Algae toxins are creeping north, scientists say, and marine mammals could potentially pay the price. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a study Feb. 11 that used samples from over 900 different marine mammals between 2004-2013 to test for toxic presence. The samples came from all over Alaska, from the Beaufort Sea to Ketchikan. Domoic acid and saxitoxin — two neurotoxins found in algae blooms — were found in a majority of the tested species. NOAA doesn’t attribute any deaths directly to the algal toxins, but points out more than 40 percent of marine mammal unusual mortality events come from toxic algae. Kathi Lefebvre, a NOAA scientist who spearheaded the study, said that number is fairly conservative. Domoic acid and saxitoxin move quickly through the body and resulting deaths are difficult to attribute. “I feel very confident that yes, there are likely deaths of marine mammals by toxins we cannot identify.” said Lefebvre. The report verifies that algae toxins are spreading northward. Reports have tied algal toxins to California sea lions since 1989 — more than 200 died or had seizures from algae toxins last year — but until now Alaska has had no documented domoic toxicosis and rare saxitoxin poisoning in its marine mammals. Last year, NOAA documented a sea lion seizing from algal toxins in Long Beach, Wash., the first time any such case had been recorded north of California. Lefebvre clarified that the study finds no causal link between toxic presence and marine mammal deaths. The future, she said, is the concern. “The risk is there,” Lefebvre said. “If we get increasing blooms, the risk will increase. That’s the concern. We know that warming waters and the loss of sea ice is more favorable for growth of algae.” Part of the concern is food security; marine mammal die offs could affect subsistence communities who depend on them. The study found the toxin levels far below regulatory limits for human consumption. Animals die long before muscle and blubber absorb enough toxins to affect humans. Some communities do harvest shellfish from mammal stomachs, however, which could cause problems. The Alaska Department of Health has made no changes in guidance to seafood safety. The study surveyed 13 species including humpback whales, bowhead whales, beluga whales, harbor porpoises, northern fur seals, Steller sea lions, harbor seals, ringed seals, bearded seals, spotted seals, ribbon seals, Pacific walruses, and northern sea otters. “Domoic acid was detected in all 13 species examined and had the greatest prevalence in bowhead whales (68%) and harbor seals (67%),” reads the report. “Saxitoxin was detected in 10 of the 13 species, with the highest prevalence in humpback whales (50%) and bowhead whales (32%).” Domoic acid, first documented in Alaska with Kachemak Bay razor clams in 1992, causes amnesic shellfish poisoning in humans. Saxitoxin causes paralytic shellfish poisoning. The two toxins have been documented in Alaska shellfish for decades, and the human effects of shellfish poisoning with them. Algal blooms and their accompanying toxins usually feel at home in tropical or temperate waters. Alaska’s sub-Arctic and Arctic waters aren’t so friendly. Warming ocean patterns, however, appear to be changing how much algae makes its way into the North Pacific. Bering Sea shelf waters have risen by as much as 3 degree Celsius in the last 10 years, the report says, and a patch of warm water crept through the Gulf of Alaska in 2015. Sea ice plays an additional role. Warming, ice-free waters allow more algae-friendly sunlight into the sea, and open shipping lanes through the Arctic. Cargo vessels can transport algal species into new waters through ballast water discharge. Several events in 2015 served as a prelude to the release of the NOAA study. The warm Gulf of Alaska water known as “the Blob” allowed a massive red algae bloom to move north from Pacific Northwestern waters. The algae led to toxin scare. Marine scientists at the time attributed no deaths to increased levels of algae toxins, but did see an increase in toxin levels in shellfish. Researchers and fishermen haven’t positively connected anything sinister to the warm water, but it coincided with an unusual mortality event, the kind 40 percent of which Lefebvre said are caused by algal toxins. Dead whales cropped up near Kodiak, Chignik, Katmai, Seldovia, and False Pass during the summer, along with dead sea lions in Dutch Harbor and Amalik Bay. Dead puffins and other seabirds abounded along the Gulf, as well as washes of dead baitfish including sand lances and herring. “Those large whale die offs, we couldn’t get to them (to take samples),” Lefebvre said. “That investigation is still ongoing.” The study will continue. The next step is to analyze temperature variations, sea ice composition, and a host of other factors against the presence of algae toxins and link the two in a predictive model. NOAA will also continue to monitor subsistence harvests.   DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]    

Murkowski lifts hold on FDA nominee

The FDA could require mandatory labeling for genetically engineered salmon as soon as March. Sen. Lisa Murkowski has lifted a nomination hold on the nomination of Dr. Richard Califf as U.S. Food and Drug Administration chief, saying the administration has guaranteed mandatory labeling requirements for genetically engineered salmon. The FDA is not implementing its own guidelines, but providing Murkowski’s office with the necessary language to force it to require mandatory labeling. Murkowski’s office said it plans to introduce a bill in March adding the FDA’s language, and expects little resistance to its passage. “I placed my hold on Dr. Califf’s nomination until my concerns regarding labeling guidelines for GE salmon had been resolved,” said Murkowski in a release. “Since then, I have been working closely with the FDA to develop labeling guidelines, and I have received the assurances I need that the FDA is taking this matter seriously. Today I am officially lifting my hold on Dr. Robert Califf, and I look forward to working with him in the future for the health and well-being of Alaskans.” Last year’s omnibus package ordered the FDA to ban the genetically engineered salmon from the U.S. market until the FDA publishes final labeling guidelines. Currently, the FDA allows for voluntary labeling of genetically modified fish, but does not require it. The FDA legal department, however, said the omnibus’ language wasn’t strong enough to fulfill Murkowski’s intent of mandatory labeling. The FDA, as a show of good faith, worked with Murkowski’s office to provide them the language that would force mandatory labeling. The FDA approved genetically engineered salmon – manufactured by Canadian company AquaBounty – for human consumption in 2015. Alaska politicians doubt the science and fear the economic consequences. Alaska fishermen’s wild-caught sockeye will have to compete with genetically altered fish, which splice salmon and ocean pout genes to grow at twice the rate of wild salmon.

Cotten, council get earful from trawlers

PORTLAND, Ore. — An administrative push to keep fishing jobs in coastal communities is butting heads with the trawl industry claiming they provide the jobs in the first place. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council will continue studying a bycatch reduction plan unpopular with Gulf of Alaska trawlers. The option, known as Alternative 3, would allocate individual bycatch caps to groundfish vessels in the Gulf of Alaska rather than the target species. The council is making changes at the fleet’s insistence. The council passed a series of chinook salmon bycatch limits and halibut bycatch reductions in 2011 and 2012, leading to bycatch-related shutdowns of the trawl fleet. Following a two-day public comment marathon that spilled into an impromptu town hall-style meeting, the council approved an amended version of the original alternative. The amended Alternative 3 narrowly passed the council 6-5 along the state lines. All six Alaska members voted in favor of including the alternative, while members from Washington, Oregon, and the National Marine Fisheries Service Alaska Region voted against it. Even with changes, trawl industry representatives say Alternative 3 is the short route to crippling the Gulf of Alaska groundfish fleet. “If the goal of the council is to hamstring the trawl industry, then Alternative 3 it is,” said Bob Krueger, executive director of Alaska Whitefish Trawlers. Trawlers say the council process is skewed towards small boat Alaska interests, a disservice in their eyes, as the fishery is federal. Council members said that may be true, but Alaska plays the biggest role in the North Pacific. “The majority of the people that have LLPs (limited license permits) now don’t even live in Alaska,” said Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner and council member Sam Cotten. “But the fishery is prosecuted from Alaska ports. The fish are brought to Alaska harbors. The fish are processed in Alaska communities. There are people who live in these towns who are affected by fishery management plans. We’re gonna listen to them, too.” After the vote, trawl industry stakeholders clustered together to vent against what they said was harmful anti-trawl rhetoric that will shoot Alaska in the foot. “All my boats that are ported in Kodiak deliver to Kodiak for decades,” said Heather Mann, executive director of the Midwater Trawlers Cooperative. “They spend money in Kodiak. The fish is being processed in Kodiak. They’re buying groceries and fuel in Kodiak, and getting services in Kodiak. We’re as much a part of that economy as someone who was born and lives in Kodiak. To discriminate against us…harms Alaskans.” Cotten said the trawlers are right; Alaska interests, in his mind, are the council’s top priority. “If not us, then who will protect the economic interests of Alaska?” he said. Alternative 3 Roughly 85 percent of North Pacific groundfish fisheries are rationalized. A big chunk of the remainder is in the Gulf of Alaska. Rationalization assigns blocks of fish quota to individual vessels or to fishing cooperatives. Managers often pinpoint rationalization as the best way to ensure safety and to minimize bycatch; vessels with their own quota can harvest at their leisure instead of the derby style fisheries of the past, thus allowing more time to avoid prohibited species like chinook salmon and halibut. Coastal communities, however, have a bad aftertaste of some rationalization programs. When the council rationalized Bering Sea crab, the number of boats in the crab fleet shrank by two-thirds in one season and eliminated 1,000 crew jobs. Though not to the dramatic level as crab, halibut rationalization also produced some consolidation of vessels and harvest quota. Quota is also extremely expensive, which has limited the ability of new entrants to join the fisheries. In state fisheries, the Alaska limited entry permit system saw many rural permits migrate to urban areas.  “Those that live in the community are very concerned about duplicating and magnifying the negative experiences we’ve had in the past,” said council member Duncan Fields. “Our experiences create a very clear philosophical demarcation on the council.” Alternative 3 creates an individual quota system for bycatch, rather than for the target species. Trawlers say this does nothing to end the race for fish, as vessels will simply fish up to their individual bycatch limit instead of the fleetwide limit. Trawlers understand the fears of consolidation, but say their fishery isn’t analogous to crab or halibut. Groundfish are low-price, high-volume product not subject to the same harvesting or market structure as the higher-end seafood products. As evidence, they point to the Gulf rockfish fishery, which produced little consolidation when it was rationalized in 2007. Fewer than 40 trawlers currently operate in the Gulf of Alaska groundfish fishery, but potentially as few as 10 could harvest the whole quota. Fields said this is exactly the kind of consolidation Alternative 3 wants to avoid. Trawlers say an existing option, Alternative 2, already incorporates certain guarantees for preventing consolidation, including vessel usage caps. To prevent the kind of consolidation of the crab or halibut, each vessel would be restricted to hold no more than 1 or 3 percent of the total target quota – allowing for increased efficiency but preventing the fleet from shrinking below about 25 vessels. Among other concerns, trawlers also say Alternative 3 doesn’t recognize individual vessels’ or cooperatives’ historical take of prohibited species catch, or PSC, or of target species; they worry a PSC-only allocation will be a kind of redistribution of wealth to those entrants without their lengthy investment of time and finances. To fix this, Cotten amended the final Alternative 3 to recognize dependency, but not history, which trawlers said “molests” their concerns. Only recognizing dependency without history, they say, goes against the tenets of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which states the council must make allocations with history as a consideration. Cotten put in a concession to history: any allocation of history would use only the historical share from the year before. Trawlers say one year of bad fishing shouldn’t guarantee another. Both trawlers and the National Marine Fisheries Service, or NMFS, oppose Alternative 3, believing it doesn’t address the stated goal to make fisheries safer and lower bycatch. Merely adding it to the discussion, they said, will cost crucial time for the trawl fleet, which has had two bycatch-related shutdowns already and anticipates more. NMFS Alaska Region Assistant Administrator Glenn Merrill, who sits in place of Alaska Region Administrator Jim Balsiger on Gulf-related matters because Balsigers’s wife Heather McCarty works for the City and Borough of Kodiak on fisheries matters, voted against Alternative 3 and said analyzing the option will add up to a year’s more time to a final plan’s passage. Stakeholder input Trawlers heatedly testified against moving Alternative 3 forward, both in the Advisory Panel and in front of council. The AP, a group of 21 stakeholders who provide input to the council, almost passed a recommendation to the council to drop Alternative 3, but the motion failed on a 9-12 vote.  Virtually everyone affiliated with a trawl operation spoke against the option, most with the same criticism: only allocating bycatch caps will not encourage trawlers to slow their operations and avoid prohibited species. “I feel that time is the most effective and powerful tool to reduce bycatch,” said trawl captain Jason Chandler. “If only PSC is reduced, the fleet will continue to race upwards to the limit. I can’t honestly believe we’re even talking about a program that doesn’t take out the race for fish.” Most public comment was against the alternate with a few notable exceptions. Those who supported it spoke to the alternative’s ultimate goal: boosting coastal community stake in the fishery. “Everyone has figured out that owning a public resource is a really groovy tool,” said Alexus Kwachka, a Kodiak fisherman and AP member. “I don’t know if Alternative 3 would work, but I think it has merits to consider. I think there has to be some kind of happy medium. If we do it wrong in the Gulf, we wipe out other businesses.” Trawlers organized a voluntary stand down from Feb. 3-6 in order to testify and show solidarity. The masses hinted that the stand down was taken seriously, but Alaska council members probed to find out if the stand down’s timing was too convenient. Prior to the council meeting, pollock prices pushed trawlers to target non-pollock fish in the Gulf instead, leading to a halibut bycatch spike of 100 metric tons, or about 242,000 pounds, over the same period last year and spurring trawlers to stop targeting non-pollock species such as Pacific cod. Accounts for when the trawlers decided to stand down to participate in the council meeting differed; some said last year, others said earlier in January. “Are their any other reasons you would stand down,” asked Cotten, “perhaps because of bycatch?” Trawlers acknowledged the halibut bycatch spike, but said the two stand downs were purely coincidental. “I just want to point at that that agreement was entered prior to the beginning of our fishing season,” said Jason Chandler, a trawl captain. Alaska council members seemed to think the much-publicized stand downs skewed reality. There’s a critical distinction, they said, between the largely Seattle-based trawl industry and the actual residents of Gulf of Alaska towns like Kodiak, Sand Point, and King Cove. Few such residents testified before council or wrote letters of support. Trawlers, meanwhile, resented the implication that they aren’t community members, too. The council’s Advisory Panel wrote in its recommendation that “no industry” voiced any support for the alternative, earning a scolding tone from council member Duncan Fields. “Is the AP of the opinion that (supporting) written comments do not count as stakeholder input?” Fields asked AP co-chair Art Nelson. The letter Fields referred to came from the Sitka-based Boat Company, which describes itself as a “non-profit educational organization offering luxury eco-cruises through Southeast Alaska.” Of the 20-odd letters submitted to council, the Boat Company alone supported Alternative 3. The remaining letters came from processors, trawl captains and crew, or from industry groups. Some Kodiak residents within the council process had argued a similar point in the AP discussion preceding the council’s. Certain “community protections,” they said, are merely protections for trawlers and processors. “I consider myself a stakeholder as a resident of the community of Kodiak,” said Theresa Peterson. “I don’t see stakeholders as being limited to the stakeholders in the trawl industry. Granted, people not directly represented in the trawl industry have not shown up en masse, but I feel like the state was responsive to a lot of community concerns.” The council’s public comment period — spanning two days with more than 50 speaking — was highly charged, and the Benson Hotel’s conference room temperature rose. The sheer volume of public comment spilled into an impromptu town hall-style meeting with Cotten. Trawlers crowded the commissioner and some had trouble keeping voices below an on-deck volume. Paddy O’Donnell, a Kodiak resident and trawl owner who introduced the motion to scrub Alternative 3 out of the package as an Advisory Panel member, told Cotten he hates being treated as a second class citizen. Fixed gear fishermen, he raged in a brogue-soaked shout, are just as important to the Alaska economy — and the Alaska identity — as the more romanticized hook and line fisheries. “I’m branded because I’m a trawler. I’ve lived in Alaska for 26 years, longer than I ever lived in Ireland,” said O’Donnell. “I’ve got two kids going to school there. You are throwing out the future of my livelihood, the future of my kids, the future of the community of Kodiak.” Fishy politics Trawlers accuse the North Pacific council of letting itself be dominated by Gov. Bill Walker’s interests through Cotten, and weren’t shy about telling Cotten they felt betrayed by Alternative 3. “You, as commissioner to the State of Alaska, you’ve got a job to do, but you’re throwing me under the bus,” said O’Donnell. “You’re the guy we look up to, to protect us. You’re our man in Juneau, and you need to look after us.” Council members don’t necessarily disagree that the process is weighted for Alaskans; that’s the way it’s supposed to be, they said. Alaska was given the majority of the voting seats on the North Pacific council when the eight regional councils were created by the Magnuson-Stevens Act. Cotten introduced Alternative 3 in October 2015. Former commissioner Cora Campbell, who Cotten replaced following Walker’s election, had forwarded Alternative 2 to the council the year before. Trawlers support Alternative 2, which they said is still flawed but had the benefit of two years of substantial public comment. Trawlers said the council discriminates against them. The decision to move Alternative 3, opponents said, demonstrates an Alaska-stacked, philosophically anti-trawl council process. Cotten, they said, controls the majority of Alaska votes and has rearranged the council’s Advisory Panel to reflect anti-trawl interests. At its December meeting, the council removed Mitch Kilborn of Kodiak’s International Seafoods of Alaska and Anne Vanderhoeven, fisheries quota manager for Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp., a Community Development Quota, or CDQ, group. In place, the council appointed Ben Stevens of the Tanana Chiefs Conference and Angel Drobnica of the Aleutians Pribilof Islands Community Development Association, another CDQ group. Before the Portland meeting, the AP changed leadership roles, voting to replace Ruth Christiansen with Ernie Weiss of Aleutians East Borough as chair, with co-chairs Matt Upton from U.S. Seafoods and Art Nelson from Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association.  Only eight of the 21 AP seats come from outside Alaska. “This meeting just underlined how dysfunctional the council is becoming,” said Krueger. “People are not voting the way they really feel. We have council members up for reappointment. Voting contrary to the wishes of the commissioner would end any hope of being reappointed.” Council members disagree that the council bears hatred for trawl interests. Fields said the trawlers, more than any other group, began working the council process in 1976. The appearance of anti-trawler bias through increased regulation is more an example of long-absent equity between North Pacific user groups and stakeholders than some kind of targeted attack. “They structured fisheries that generally advantaged the trawl fleet and perhaps disadvantaged others,” said Fields. “There is a perspective on the council that the trawl fleet needs to be regulated in ways that minimize impact to other stakeholders.” Clem Tillion, a lobbyist for the city of Adak and Alaska political fixture, said the trawlers simply don’t like the taste of sour grapes. “They had everything going their way under (former Gov. Sean) Parnell,” he said. “Well, Walker won, and they’re having trouble facing up to that.” Walker’s limited involvement with fisheries has typically been in favor of Upper Cook inlet commercial fishing interests. He has repeatedly emphasized the importance of coastal and rural economies dependent on fishing. Julie Bonney, executive director of Alaska Groundfish Data Bank, submitted a letter to Walker on Feb. 5 and passed copies around to council members during public comment. “Your Administration’s proposal jeopardizes these benefits and yet does nothing to better manage bycatch and improve conservation,” the letter reads. “There is absolutely no support for this approach by the current participants in the fishery.” Cotten said Walker is aware of the council’s actions and supports them. Alternative 3 hits the main points of Walker’s objectives for Alaska fisheries, he said: the health of coastal communities and fish-first management. Other items The Gulf of Alaska bycatch issue took the majority of council’s time, but it also revisited several ongoing issues peripheral to halibut fisheries. Like the Gulf, the Limited Access Trawl Sector yellowfin sole fishery in the Bering Sea is not rationalized. New entrants have been coming into the fishery, leading to both economic concerns for the historical participants and to halibut bycatch concerns – yellowfin sole is one of the “dirtiest” fisheries for halibut bycatch, and the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands yellowfin grounds are nurseries for halibut.  The council’s discussion paper examined possibly closing off the fishery to new entrants. For trawl vessels in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, the council passed a motion that allows vessel in the partial observer category to voluntarily opt into full coverage. Also in the coverage category, a discussion paper examined the possibility of putting observers on tender vessels, which deliver fish from offshore vessels to onshore processors. The council will continue to review observer data and move forward a rule for tenders to file landings reports. The council’s next meeting will be held in Anchorage from April 4-12, where it is tentatively slated to hold an initial review of halibut Recreational Quota Entities, a discussion paper of salmon genetics, and another review of the ongoing halibut management framework. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: High-end black cod taken for research donated to hungry

Needy Alaskans are enjoying a rare taste of sablefish, thanks to a science project that kept research fish from going over the rails. Sablefish, more commonly called black cod, are one of the world’s priciest, high-end fish, and Alaska waters are home to the largest stocks. The deep-water fish are found at depths of 5,000 feet or more and can live to nearly 100 years. The Gulf of Alaska fishery, which has a catch total of about 20 million pounds this year (18.2 million in 2015) is usually worth more than $90 million to Alaska fishermen at the docks. But the population — as measured by the amount of spawning females — has been decreasing about 3 percent a year since 2004, and researchers aim to find out why. In December, a team from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Auke Bay lab in Juneau tagged 40 female sablefish with satellite tags that will release on a set date.  “Sablefish movements have been tracked for decades, but this tagging will give us a better idea of where and when these females are releasing their eggs,” said Katy Echave, chief scientist for the sablefish project. “Accurate estimates of the amount of mature fish will give us better estimates of the number of spawners. And we also will have a better understanding of what environmental conditions are causing this period of low recruitment, which is likely due to low survival in their egg and larval stages.” Samples of sablefish ear bones, ovaries and livers and other survey data are being scrutinized in Auke Bay labs, but it will be a few years before it yields results. The ultimate goal, Echave said, is to have better assessments of spawners to abet fishery management and catches long into the future. Meanwhile, needy Alaskans are enjoying the sablefish right now. By federal law, all research fish must be tossed overboard but a quick collaboration sent this boatload of fish instead to feed the hungry. “I cannot rave enough about the F/V Gold Rush, who we contracted to do the sablefish survey,” Echave said. “They came to me and said ‘instead of tossing this fish overboard, is there any way we can donate it?’ And the crew went about coordinating all the logistics for getting the fish processed by Trident, who donated their facility and staff time, and then getting it distributed it to the Kodiak food bank.” In all, 4,000 pounds of research fish went to local hunger relief programs. “It was just a very neat example of healthy relationships in Alaska with members of the industry and researchers, all trying to do the good thing here,” Echave said. The fish donors were able to “do the good thing” because it dovetailed with Kodiak’s “bycatch to food banks” program, which reclaims fish that by law would be dumped at sea. Last year trawlers from Kodiak, Sand Point and King Cove donated nearly 42,000 pounds of salmon, halibut and black cod taken as bycatch to local hunger relief efforts. The program began with Gulf fishermen and processors five years ago in collaboration with Sea Share, the only organization that is federally authorized to retain and distribute fish taken as bycatch for hunger relief. A similar program has been operating in the Bering Sea since 1993.  “We make it very clear that we are not asking for bycatch. These are some of the best fishermen who work hard to avoid it. But when they do catch it, they want to see something good done with it. They want to utilize everything that’s in the net, so they donate it to us,” said Jim Harmon, Sea Share director. Since its inception, the nonprofit has become one of the largest protein donors in the nation. It has reclaimed 4.2 million pounds of fish that would otherwise have been thrown overboard, and grown to include a network of 138 fishing vessels, 34 at-sea processors, 15 shore side plants and countless packaging, freight, cold storages and national receiving agencies. Sea Share has donated over 630,000 pounds of fish to Alaska hunger relief programs in Anchorage, Kenai, Nome and Kotzebue over the last 3 years. That equates to 2.5 million servings of high protein seafood, Harmon said, and plans are in the works to increase that amount.  “We are now working on a distribution project in Western Alaska,” Harmon said. “The plan is to install freezers in four or five hub villages, and to accept larger quantities shipped via surface freight. That will reduce costs and improve distribution of seafood, which is one of the biggest hurdles.” It costs about 42 cents a pound, he said, to get the fish into the hands of the hungry. February fishing Fishermen have been hauling in thousands of pounds of cod from the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea since the year began. Alaska’s biggest fishery — pollock — got underway on Jan. 20. More than 3.5 billion pounds of pollock will be taken in Alaska waters this year. A lingcod fishery of nearly one million pounds is underway in Southeast Alaska, along with a fishery for seven different kinds of deep-water rockfish. Divers are still going down for sea cucumbers, urchins and geoduck clams. Southeast trollers are still fishing for winter king salmon — each worth more than a barrel of oil. The region’s golden king crab and Tanner crab fisheries will open Feb. 17. The big crab fisheries are still underway in the Bering Sea. Crabbers have landed about 11 million pounds of a 36.5 million pound snow crab quota. And as soon as unstable ice conditions improve, the year’s first red king crab fishery will kick off at Norton Sound, with a catch topping a half-million pounds. Grants for good works American Seafood Company is again taking applications for community grants throughout Alaska. A total of $38,000 will be available to projects that address issues such as hunger, housing, safety, education and cultural activities. Most of the awards range from $500 to $3,000 per organization. Deadline to apply is Feb. 12. Recipients will be selected by a community advisory board on Feb. 23. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Bycatch spike, meeting spur trawl stand down

Gulf of Alaska trawlers are flocking to a meeting in Portland, leaving behind a halibut bycatch situation the North Pacific Fishery Management Council is attempting to fix. The trawlers have complaints with council process, but are also standing down from a halibut bycatch spike resulting from a pollock price dispute with area processors. Industry sources say the stand down was already underway prior to a letter from prominent Gulf of Alaska trawl organizations on Jan. 28 asking for the council-related stand down. Trawl industry representatives said the two stand downs are unrelated. Thirty-four Central Gulf of Alaska trawlers and 19 Western Gulf of Alaska trawlers have agreed not to fish from Feb. 3-6, showing solidarity with those trawlers traveling to Portland to testify at the council meeting. No pollock, lots of halibut Before the Jan. 28 letter, a pollock price dispute spun into high halibut bycatch. Processors set a low pollock price for the Gulf of Alaska this year; sources said processors are offering 8 cents per pound for pollock less than 800 grams (1.78 pounds) in weight compared to a more typical 12- to 15-cents range. These smaller fish, the majority of this year’s early catch, also have little roe for finished products, and those prices are relatively low as well. In response, trawlers who’d come to the Central Gulf for pollock fished for groundfish instead and their nets filled with halibut bycatch.  While fishing for non-pollock groundfish such as Pacific cod, the Central Gulf of Alaska groundfish fleet collectively caught 110 more metric tons of halibut this year than through the same period in 2015, or about 242,000 pounds. “Last week, they thought they were getting into some halibut and getting some high rates,” said Mary Furuness, a resource management specialist with the Alaska Region of National Marine Fisheries Service. “We were getting PSC (prohibited species catch) rates extrapolated to the rest of the fleet from the observers. So they decided to have a voluntary stand down and stop targeting non-pollock species.” Through Jan. 24, the fleet caught 118 metric tons of halibut compared to the same period in 2015 when they caught only 8 metric tons.  Gulf of Alaska processors say they are not taking deliveries for trawl-caught groundfish, though managers clarify it is a vessel decision not to fish, not a processor decision not to accept deliveries. Both the Kodiak Ocean Beauty and Kodiak Trident Seafoods, two of the region’s largest processors, have confirmed their fleets are standing down. Gearing down for Portland Julie Bonney, executive director of Alaska Groundfish Data Bank, said the stand down’s organizers set the current council-driven stand down date on Jan. 18, two days before the season began and the halibut bycatch rate spiked.  “This is really quite unique,” said Bonney. “Fishermen agreeing to stand down, essentially losing income, in order to make this trip to provide their input demonstrates just how important this change in management is to the fishing industry.” Each vessel will likely lose between $30,000 to $50,000 in total revenue, she estimated; vessels lose two trips worth of fishing over the four-day stand down. Similarly, the Gulf’s 1,500-odd processor workers could lie idle and payless in shoreside bunkhouses with no fish to scale and gut. Bob Krueger, executive director of Alaska Whitefish Trawlers Association, said the stand down’s organizers wanted to show unity. “We don’t want someone going out and fishing while other vessel crew are closing operations to go to Portland,” he said. “It’s a fairness issue for everybody.” Salmon and halibut bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska drives the council’s agenda for early 2016. The council has lowered the bycatch caps for halibut and set caps for chinook salmon for the Gulf fisheries in the last few years and will decide on an entirely new management scheme in 2016 or 2017. The 2016 halibut cap dropped 3 percent from 2015, and the council could potentially lower it further. On Jan. 29, the executive directors of some of Gulf’s largest trawler organizations circulated a second letter to media explaining the rationale behind the stand down, outlining criticisms of proposed bycatch management. The letter described a host of issues the fleet has with the council’s latest Gulf of Alaska options. The Gulf of Alaska groundfish fishery is one of the few fisheries in the North Pacific that has no quota system, which assigns individual vessels specific amounts of fish every season. Most other fisheries have such management, ending derby style fishing where the “race for fish” makes the occupation dangerous and unpredictable and results in greater bycatch rates. Trawlers also have high bycatch rates for halibut and chinook salmon. Both fish are in a low abundance state compared to previous decades. Managing bycatch is a top priority for the North Pacific council. New management has already proven problematic. In 2015, chinook salmon bycatch caps closed Western Gulf trawlers down prematurely; the council had to make an emergency shift of chinook salmon bycatch quota for the fleet to resume fishing. “The management structure we have right now just does not work,” said Krueger. “We’re set up to fail again unless we get another management structure. The last thing the state needs is to have the economy of the Gulf melt down.” Preferred alternatives Trawlers protest one alternative in the current management package, which they say didn’t have enough public input before an Alaska council member added it in October 2015. The trawlers’ preferred alternative, they said, came from former Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell after two hard years of public input throughout the council process. The Alaska ADFG commissioner holds one of 11 voting seats on the North Pacific council. In 2014, however, Gov. Bill Walker entered the governor’s mansion and brought new fisheries managers with him. He appointed Sam Cotten to fill Campbell’s commissioner position. During the council’s October meeting in Anchorage, Cotten forwarded a new option to the Gulf of Alaska bycatch management discussion, naturally without the same amount of input as Campbell’s. Gulf of Alaska trawlers say the option does nothing to help bycatch, and could damage the Gulf’s economy. Cotten’s option, Alternative 3, only creates an individual quota system for bycatch, rather than for the target species. Trawlers say this does nothing to end the race for fish, as vessels will simply fish up to their individual bycatch limit instead of the fleet wide limit. This would depart from other North Pacific area management, which gives quota for both bycatch and directed species. “Alternative 3 introduces a catch share program significantly different from those programs already implemented in other Alaska fisheries,” reads the trawlers’ letter to the council. “In fact, so far as we are aware, there are no programs in any fishery worldwide similar to that proposed under Alternative 3.” Further, Alternative 3 doesn’t have the same community protections against overconsolidation, such as port landing requirements for on shore processors and vessel use caps. “It is difficult to understand why the Council would pursue management measures that hamstring the industry’s ability to provide these economic benefits to Alaska’s fishery dependent communities while also meeting the Council’s bycatch reduction requirements,” reads the letter. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Walker gives Ruffner second shot at Board of Fisheries

Gov. Bill Walker announced three new nominees to the Board of Fisheries on Feb. 2, including one who lost a bruising confirmation fight to the same body in 2015. Walker once again put forward Kenai area habitat advocate Robert Ruffner for a seat on the board, but this time his nomination has been promised to go smoother after a campaign waged against him last year by sportfishing advocates that resulted in a 30-29 defeat in the Legislature. Walker had at least two openings to fill with the resignations of Bob Mumford and Tom Kluberton, but he also announced he is replacing Dillingham commercial fisherman and current board member Fritz Johnson, who was nominated to the board in 2013 by former Gov. Sean Parnell. Ruffner received the governor’s call on Feb. 1, and after a talk with his wife decided he was up for another round. In a telephone interview, he said he still has plenty to offer the board, though the nomination came as a surprise. “I don’t know how it’s going to turn out, I didn’t even think I was eligible for a year,” Ruffner said. “Nothing’s changed, I think I’d be good at doing the job. Hopefully there will be less drama this year.” Ruffner said believes this year won’t breed the same kind of ugly political fighting that led to his narrow Legislative defeat in 2015. “I have had the assurances that it won’t happen, and I hope it won’t,” he said. Ruffner’s “assurances” from the governor’s office are well-founded. Sportfishing industry representatives said they support all three of Walker’s appointments, including Ruffner. They don’t anticipate the same legislative fracas for Ruffner, as Walker is nominating him to replace a commercial fisherman on the board rather than a sportfishing seat. “We support all three of the governor’s appointments,” said Ricky Gease, executive director of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, which led the fight against Ruffner in 2015. Gease said the sportfishing industry’s issue with Ruffner last year concerned board composition, which isn’t an issue in the current board lineup. In 2015, Ruffner would have replaced Karl Johnstone, the former chair and a sportfishing industry representative on the board. Gease’s organization wanted to ensure that the sportfishing interests of the Anchorage area, which they emphasized are the state’s largest, were satisfied. “Those are satisfied with the appointments this year,” Gease said. “I think those issues are not going to be raised.” Gease, like Ruffner, said he interprets the nominations as a signal that Walker is willing to shake up the board’s customary user group and geographical designations. Fritz Johnson, a Bristol Bay commercial fisherman, was not reappointed, leaving the board without a Bristol Bay representative. Ruffner seemed pleased with Walker’s full nominee list. He said it indicates a willingness on the governor’s part to alter the current custom of stacking the board with equal numbers of competing interests. “It seems like with the list of names…he still has that idea, that the dedicated seat idea is not the right way to do this business,” said Ruffner. “Picking a candidate based on how much they’re opposed to another particular gear type isn’t the right idea. I think picking individuals with a balanced view is a better way to look at it.” “Most of the drama,” he said, comes from Upper Cook Inlet. He said he hopes he can “roll up his sleeves and go to work” on statewide issues. Besides Ruffner, Walker nominated Alan Cain and Israel Payton for seats on the board. Cain, of Anchorage, is a natural resources enforcement advisor and trainer, with 40 years of experience as an Alaska Wildlife Trooper, criminal justice planner, and private contractor. According to a release from the governor’s office, “During that time, he spent 15 years as an enforcement advisor to the Alaska Board of Fisheries” and “worked closely with the Alaska Department of Law, board members, and the public to develop clear and enforceable regulations for the Alaska Board of Fisheries.” Payton, of Wasilla, is currently a salesman for Airframes Alaska and has worked as a hunting and fishing guide in Southcentral and Western Alaska for 20 years. According to the release, Payton is from Skwentna and grew up living a subsistence lifestyle. He’s also a member of the Mat-Su Fish and Game Advisory Committee. With the 2017 Upper Cook Inlet meeting approaching, the nominations are sure to draw scrutiny from user groups and legislators in the area. The fight over Ruffner began last year after Walker ousted the previous board chair Karl Johnstone, a representative of the sportfishing users, and replaced him with commercial fisherman Roland Maw, previously of the United Cook Inlet Drift Association. Maw withdrew from consideration on Feb. 20, 2015, as he faced charges for illegally obtaining resident hunting and fishing licenses in Montana, leading Walker to nominate Ruffner, who was painted as too sympathetic to commercial interests and not representative of the state’s population center in Anchorage and the Mat-Su Valley. Maw was charged Jan. 13 by the State of Alaska with 12 felonies and five misdemeanors for illegally obtaining Permanent Fund Dividends and resident hunting and fishing permits in Alaska. After Ruffner lost his bid for confirmation, Walker eventually named Mumford to serve in the interim, but Mumford recently tendered a letter of resignation effective at the end of the current board meeting cycle in March. Walker also nominated Guy Trimmingham of Hope, a veteran hunting guide, and reappointed Nathan Turner, a wilderness trapper from Nenana, to the Alaska Board of Game.   Former fish board nominee pleads not guilty to fraud, theft By Rashah McChesney, Associated Press JUNEAU — A former Alaska Board of Fisheries nominee has pleaded not guilty to 17 felony and misdemeanor charges that he fraudulently obtained commercial fishing permits and Alaska Permanent Fund dividend payments. Roland Maw entered his plea Feb. 2 in court in Juneau to the 17 counts covering theft and unsworn falsification. Maw was charged on Jan. 13 with illegally collecting more than $7200 in dividends between 2009-2014. His lawyer, Nicholas Polasky, said his client declined to comment after the hearing. Gov. Bill Walker appointed Maw, a Cook Inlet commercial fishermen, in January 2015. He withdrew his name from consideration suddenly last February and faced criminal charges that he illegally obtained resident hunting and fishing licenses in Montana. He pleaded no-contest to the charges, paid more than $7,200 in fines and lost his privileges to hunt and fish in Montana and all of the Wildlife Violator Compact States, including Alaska.

FISH FACTOR: Rare optimism for halibut as IPHC boosts harvest quotas

Alaska’s halibut stocks are showing signs of an uptick and fishermen in all but one region will avoid slashed catches for the first time in nearly 15 years. The International Pacific Halibut Commission on Friday (Jan. 29) set the coast wide Pacific halibut harvest for 2016 at 29.89 million pounds, a 2.3 percent increase from last year. “This was probably the most positive, upbeat meeting in the past decade,” said Doug Bowen of Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer. “The feeling is the stocks are up and the resource is stabilizing and recovering, and it’s the first meeting in a long time that there weren’t any areas that are looking at double digit cuts.” “The bottom line for this year is that we can see some positive trends both in the data and in the stock assessment models,” said Ian Stewart, a scientist with the International Pacific Halibut Commission, or IPHC, which held its annual meeting last week in Juneau. The IPHC manages the catches and fishery research for west coast states, British Columbia and Alaska. “The stock appears to be stabilizing at a coast-wide level and the more years that we’ve see this play out, the more certain we become of that.” Alaska share of the total halibut catch was set at 21.45 million pounds, an increase of 200,000 pounds from last year. Southeast Alaska saw the largest halibut harvest gain for recreational and commercial users at 4.95 million pounds, a 6.1 percent increase over 2015. Scientists said based on survey data, the Panhandle again showed the most improvement in both fish catches and weights. Catches in the biggest halibut fishing hole in the Central Gulf (3A) were decreased by five percent to 9.6 million pounds, the only region to get a cut. Although the annual survey showed increased catches for the first time in nearly 12 years, scientists said they remain concerned that the fish are still showing slow growth rates. They also had questions about potential inaccurate accountings of halibut taken as bycatch in other fisheries. For the Western Gulf (3B) the IPHC scientists said they “are optimistic that 3B has hit bottom and is showing stabilization.” The other three halibut fishing areas in the Aleutians and Bering Sea also showed “strong signs” of holding steady. In other halibut news: The IPHC approved retention of halibut taken incidentally in sablefish pots in the Gulf of Alaska to reduce whale predation. A proposal to reduce the legal halibut size limit from 32 inches to 30 inches to reduce wastage of small fish failed. Likewise, a proposal to limit the maximum size to 60 inches to protect the large breeders also got a thumbs down. The 2016 halibut fishery will begin on March 19 and end on Nov. 7. The IPHC also selected David Wilson to replace Bruce Leaman as executive director as he departs after nearly 20 years. Wilson currently serves as secretary of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission, and was formerly head of the International Fisheries Section of the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resources Economics and Sciences. He will join the IPHC in August. Dr. Wilson is expected to join the IPHC staff in August 2016. Here are the 2016 Alaska halibut catch limits in millions of pounds, with comparisons to 2015 in parentheses: 2C (Southeast AK) 4.95m (4.65m) 3A (Central Gulf) 9.6m (10.1m) 3B (Western Gulf) 2.71m (2.65m) 4A (W. Aleutians) 1.39m (1.39m) 4B (Bering Sea) 1.14m (1.14m) 4CDE (Bering Sea) 1.66m (1.285m) Total: 21.45 million pounds (21.25m) Seafood showcase Canned smoked herring, salmon caviar, sockeye salmon candy – those are just a sample of the 18 new products to be showcased this month at Alaska Symphony of Seafood events in Seattle, Juneau and Anchorage. The Symphony promotes new, value-added products in four categories: retail, food service, Beyond the Plate and new this year, Beyond the Egg. “It’s a great event for the industry, but it also shows how much work and effort is going into developing new products,” said Julie Decker, executive director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, host of the Symphony for 23 years. “It is good for everyone because it creates more value for the resource, and in the case of Beyond the Plate, which focuses on fish byproducts, it is actually using more of the resources.” That category attracted several entries, including wallets, key fobs and other items made from salmon and halibut skin. Another is an anti-aging serum that uses omega-3 oils from ArXotica, a Bethel company Another attention getter is a product from Bambino’s Baby food of Anchorage called “Hali Halibut.” “It is a frozen, portioned product made with halibut and Alaska grown vegetables. It’s really cool!” Decker said. The new Beyond the Egg category attracted one salmon caviar entry, with several more set to debut at next year’s Symphony, she added. All items will be judged by an expert panel prior to a Seattle bash on February 10, with their choices remaining under wraps. That will be followed by a seafood soiree for Alaska legislators in Juneau on Feb. 16; then it’s on to Anchorage on Feb. 19 where all winners will be announced Top winners in each category get a free trip in March to Seafood Expo North America in Boston. See the full line up at www.afdf.org.  New life raft rules New safety rules for vessel life rafts go into effect on Feb. 26, meaning the use of commonly used flotation devices will no longer be acceptable. Smaller vessels will no longer be able to use life rings, rectangular red floats and other buoyant devices as their only form of survival gear, and instead must be equipped with a raft that ensures every passenger is safely out of the water in the case of a sinking.  “The big thing to remember is that it’s one thing to be wet and cold, it’s another thing to be immersed in cold water,” said Scott Wilwert, U.S. Coast Guard Fishing Safety Coordinator in Juneau. “On Feb. 26, survival craft requirements for commercial fishing vessels, as well as other classes of passenger vessels, will change in a way that if a vessel is operating beyond three miles from shore, they are required to have a survival craft that does not allow for an immersed segment of a person’s body,” he explained. “So the big change for any fishing vessel, regardless of length or the number of people on board, is that they have to step up to a survival craft that is called an inflatable buoyant apparatus or a full life raft.” Even those who got their mandatory dockside safety exams last fall will need to recheck their survival gear to comply with the new regulations, Wilwert said.  “If you know that the new rule affects you, I would definitely start working with a local marine supplier and get one coming your way.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Halibut quota up 2.3 percent overall, dips for Central Gulf

The International Pacific Halibut Commission raised halibut quota for the second time in as many years, adding a glimmer of hope to a fishery troubled by stock declines and political squabbles. Overall, the commission raised the Pacific halibut catch limits in all except one region: the Central Gulf of Alaska, also known as Area 3A. In particular, it gave a much-welcomed boost to the Central Bering Sea – from where the commission’s newest member hails and holds commercial halibut quota. “We’re very excited about it in St. Paul,” said Simeon Swetzof, mayor of St. Paul in the Pribilof Islands, a Central Bering Sea island whose economy depends in large part on small boat halibut fisheries. “We want to continue to be excited later.” The commission, comprised of U.S. and Canadian commissioners, oversees the quota-setting process for U.S. and Canadian halibut fisheries in the Pacific from Northern California to the Bering Sea. The commission divides the overall halibut fishery into specific areas and allocates quota to each area. In total, the commission set the overall halibut harvest for the 2016 season at 29.89 million pounds, a 2.3 percent increase from 2015. This is also an increase from the catch limits recommended at the commission’s 2015 meeting, called the “blue line” limits. The 2016 limit exceeds the blue line by more than 3 million pounds. The increase looks good for communities represented by Jeff Kauffman, CEO of the Central Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association. Kauffman was recently appointed as one of the commission’s three U.S. commissioners, taking over for Don Lane of Homer. The Central Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association is a Community Development Quota group for St. Paul, a Central Bering Sea island whose economy depends in large part on small boat halibut fisheries. The Central Bering Sea, termed Area 4CDE by the commission, has been the one of the commission’s biggest focal points in 2014 and 2015. Halibut fishermen in the area have been faced with shrinking allocations, leading to several large-scale management decisions from the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. Officials including the Secretary of Commerce implored the commission to set quota at a bare minimum of 1.285 million pounds for the area, which it did in 2015. This year, the area’s quota rose. The Community Development Quota program gives 10 percent of federal fishing quota to 65 Alaska villages within 50 miles of the coast. Kauffman also sits on the Advisory Panel for the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which sets halibut bycatch limits and management, as well as the split between sportfishing groups and commercial users. Kauffman has been a vocal proponent for cutting halibut bycatch caps for Bering Sea groundfish trawlers in 2015, during which the North Pacific cut bycatch caps for the groundfish fleet by a 25 percent. Swetzof said he recognizes that his area’s quota bump in part comes from a reduction in bycatch from Bering Sea groundfish trawlers, the majority of who are concentrated in the so-called Amendment 80 fleet based in Seattle. “The Amendment 80 guys, they put halibut on the table for us,” said Swetzof. “I really appreciated Amendment 80 doing what they did last year, and this year. They left 900,000 pounds on the table.” Each area either received an increase in quota or an equal amount to the 2015 season, except Area 3A, the Central Gulf of Alaska. The Southcentral Alaska charter halibut fishery has been saddled with steadily tightening restrictions, which charter industry stakeholders make Alaskans lose interest in the fishery. Guided halibut anglers in Area 3A can still keep two fish per day but can catch fewer per year. Anglers can only catch four per year instead of the five they were allowed in 2015, though the council kept the two-fish daily bag limit with a 28-inch size restriction on one fish. Weekly day closures, which the council first added last year, will be held on Wednesdays for Southcentral. Andy Mezirow, captain of Crackerjack Charters in Seward and a member of the North Pacific council, said the Southcentral charter fleet isn’t surprised by the quota reductions for his area given the still-shaky biomass for Pacific halibut. “It looks like the commissioners pretty much followed the science,” said Mezirow. “If there continues to be a downward trend, we’ll have to come up with some innovative solutions to keep it viable.” Mezirow said charter captains have not yet seen a precipitous drop in business. Southcentral restrictions may have a negative impact on Alaska resident charter clients, but overall the fishery is maintained by an increase in Alaska tourism despite quota drops, he said. To Mezirow, this is a mixed blessing. “To me, making up for a loss of access to residents with more tourism isn’t exactly healthy,” said Mezirow. Each area’s 2016 harvest exceeds the blue line harvest limit. Area 2A, Pacific Northwest coast: 1.14 million pounds, 200,000-pound increase from 2015. Area 2B, British Columbia: 7.3 million pounds, a 240,000-pound increase from 2015. Area 2C, Southeast Alaska: 4.95 million pounds, a 300,000-pound increase from 2015. Area 3A, Central Gulf of Alaska: 9.6 million pounds, a 500,000-pound decrease from 2015. Area 3B, Western Gulf of Alaska: 2.71 million pounds, a 60,000-pound increase from 2015. Area 4A, Central Aleutian Islands: 1.39 million pounds, the same as 2015. Area 4B, Western Aleutian Islands: 1.14 million pounds, the same as 2015. Area 4CDE: Central Bering Sea: 1.66 million, a 375,000-pound increase from 2015. Area 4C: 733,600 pounds, up from 559,000 in 2015. Area 4D: 733,600 pounds, up from 559,000 in 2015. Area 4E: 192,800 pounds, up from 92,000 pounds in 2015. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]  

Mumford resigns from Board of Fisheries

Bob Mumford tendered a letter of resignation to Gov. Bill Walker's office on Jan 29 resigning from his seat on the Alaska Board of Fisheries, according to board director Glenn Haight. The board has seven members who serve three year appointments. Mumford will make the third seat the governor will have to replace this year.  Mumford will continue this cycle and put in his final day on March 14, 2016, making himself available for the board’s Alaska Peninsula finfish meeting in February and the statewide finfish meeting in March. Mumford is resigning without having been confirmed for the position by the Legislature. Walker appointed him after the Legislature’s 2015 confirmation hearing session after three previous attmempted appointments withdrew or were not confirmed by the Legislature. Board chairman Tom Kluberton, whose second three-year term ends in June, will not submit his name for reappointment, opining in an email that the position’s stress is no longer worth the investment of time. Fritz Johnson, whose term also expires in June, has not yet publicly stated whether he will submit his name for reappointment. This is a developing story. Check back for updates. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

FDA bans GE salmon imports

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration forbade all genetically engineered salmon from entering the U.S. marketplace on Jan. 29. The ban applies only to fiscal year 2016. Sen. Lisa Murkowski has been pushing for labeling requirement for genetically engineered salmon, even threatening to withhold the nomination of Dr. Robert Califf as chief until something is done. She said in a release she hopes the FDA’s import ban is a harbinger for action. “This is a huge step in our fight against ‘Frankenfish’. I adamantly oppose the FDA’s misguided decision to allow GE salmon to be placed in our kitchens and on our tables, and I firmly believe that mandatory labeling guidelines must be put in place as soon as possible so consumers know what it is they are purchasing,” said Murkowski. “It seems that the FDA has begun to listen, and I hope this is a sign that the agency plans to develop these necessary guidelines.” "During FY16 the FDA shall not allow the introduction or delivery for introduction into interstate commerce of any food that contains genetically engineered salmon," the mandate reads, "until FDA publishes final labeling guidelines for informing consumers of such content." The mandate promises guidelines only; Alaska's Congressional delegates want a clearly defined requirement to label all genetically engineered salmon. The FDA approved genetically engineered salmon for human consumption, but Alaska politicians doubt the science and fear the economic consequences. Alaska fishermen’s wild caught sockeye will have to compete with genetically altered fish, which splice salmon and ocean pout genes to grow at twice the rate of wild salmon. Last year’s omnibus package included language that orders the FDA to not allow the genetically engineered salmon into the market until the FDA publishes final labeling guidelines. Currently, the FDA allows for voluntary labeling of genetically modified fish, but does not require it.   Murkowski and others say the FDA should require that genetically modified salmon be labeled as such; customers, they say, won’t be able to tell the difference between genetically modified salmon and wild salmon if laid beside each other on a retail rack.  DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Gulf of Alaska trawlers call for four-day stand down

Gulf of Alaska trawlers are calling for a Gulf-wide stand down in the midst of the season so that fishermen can show solidarity in Portland. Crew and captains are leaving Alaska to testify at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s meeting, where it plans to review Gulf of Alaska bycatch management on Feb. 4. The voluntary stand down will run Feb. 3-6. “This is really quite unique,” said Julie Bonney, Executive Director of the Alaska Groundfish Data Bank based in Kodiak. “Fishermen agreeing to stand down, essentially losing income, in order to make this trip to provide their input demonstrates just how important this change in management is to the fishing industry.” Bonney said 29 vessels have agreed to stand down so far, and she expects the number to rise to about 50 in total. Each vessel will likely lose between $30,000 - $50,000 in total revenue, she estimated; vessels lose two trips worth of fishing over the four-day stand down. Similarly, the Gulf’s 1,500-odd processor worker could lie idle and payless in shoreside bunkhouses with no fish to scale and gut. Bob Krueger, executive director of Alaska Whitefish Trawlers Association, said the stand down’s organizers ask that all Gulf of Alaska trawlers remain in port between Feb. 3-6, even those not sending representatives to Portland. “We don’t want someone going out and fishing while other vessel crew are closing operations to go to Portland,” he said. “It’s a fairness issue for everybody.” The Gulf of Alaska groundfish fishery is one of the few fisheries in the North Pacific that has no quota system, which assigns individual vessels specific amounts of fish every season. Other fisheries have folded such systems into other fisheries’ management, ending derby style fishing where the “race for fish” makes the occupation dangerous and unpredictable. Trawlers also have high bycatch rates for halibut and chinook salmon. Both fish are in a declined state compared to previous decades. Managing bycatch is a top priority for the North Pacific council. In 2015, chinook salmon bycatch management closed Gulf trawlers down prematurely; the council had to make an emergency reallocation of chinook salmon bycatch quota from one sector to the groundfish industry for them to resume fishing. “The management structure we have right now just does not work,” said Krueger. “We’re set up to fail again unless we get another management structure. The last thing the state needs is to have the economy of the Gulf melt down.” Trawlers, however, are concerned about the North Pacific council’s options for bycatch management in the Gulf. They say one alternative in the current management package didn’t have enough public input before the board added it in October 2015. The trawlers’ preferred alternative, they said, came from former Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell after two hard years of public input throughout the council process. The Alaska commissioner holds one of 11 voting seats on the North Pacific council. In 2014, however, Gov. Bill Walker entered the governor’s mansion and brought new fisheries managers with him. He appointed Sam Cotten to fill Campbell’s commissioner position. During the council’s October meeting in Anchorage, Cotten forwarded a new option to the Gulf of Alaska bycatch management discussion, naturally without the same amount of input as Campbell’s. Gulf of Alaska trawlers say the option does nothing to help bycatch, and could damage the Gulf’s economy. Cotten’s option, Alternative 3, only creates an individual quota system for bycatch, rather than for the targeted groundfish. Trawlers say this does nothing to end the race for fish, as vessels will simply fish up to their individual bycatch limit instead of the fleet wide limit. Further, Alternative 3 doesn’t have the same community protections against overconsolidation, such as port landing requirements for on shore processors and consolidation caps.   DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Fisheries battle budget cuts and new taxes in Legislature

A single chinook salmon is worth more than a barrel of oil. The winter kings being caught by Southeast Alaska trollers are averaging 10 pounds each with a dock price of $7.34 a pound, according to state fish tickets. That adds up to $73.40 per fish, compared to $26 per barrel of oil. Those who depend on fishing for their livelihoods want to make sure that budget cuts combined with any new fishery taxes don’t cut core services that result in missed fishing opportunities.  “Not all cuts are equal, and if there are cuts that interfere with the science needed for responsible and sustainable fish harvesting, many times in the absence of information, it will throttle down fisheries and reduce opportunity,” said Mark Vinsel, Executive Administrator for United Fishermen of Alaska. UFA is the nation’s largest commercial fishing trade organization, with 35 member groups.  “When we are able to count fish and make sure enough get up stream, then people can harvest them, get them to market and bring the revenue back to their communities and to the state general fund through taxes. So we have to be careful that we don’t put a tax on something or increase taxes while the overall opportunity goes down. That can be a net decrease,” Vinsel added.  “We are willing to listen to any proposal,” said Jerry McCune, UFA president. “If there is going to be raises in the taxes we would like to see it across the board to be fair for everybody.” Gov. Bill Walker has proposed a 1 percent surtax on both the Fisheries Business Tax and the Fisheries Landing Tax, which would raise an estimated $20 million. A resolution provided to each legislator states: “Budget cuts, though equal in value, are not equal in impact to industry or represent the same overall loss to the State of Alaska in terms of lost revenue and benefit. Emphasis should be given to find efficiencies without reducing economic opportunities for industry.” A second UFA resolution urges that the state “should not further reduce the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s budget in a manner that negatively impacts the department’s delivery of core/essential services.” The ADFG now has an operating budget of $200 million; the Commercial Fisheries Division gets the largest chunk at $73.3 million. Another UFA resolution supports the existing Division of Investments’ Commercial Fisheries Revolving Loan Funds and continuation of other financing programs that “bring benefits to Alaskans and the economy of the State of Alaska in perpetuity.” UFA also sent a letter to Walker saying it “supports the recommendation of the legislative audit that CFEC remain as an independent agency, separate and distinct from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.” McCune said UFA is working closely with Rep. Kreiss-Tomkins regarding a bill he plans to introduce that would create permit banks to help reverse the trend of salmon permits migrating out of the state. The bank would buy nonresident permits and lease them to young fishermen who otherwise could not afford them. A permit bank would not cost the state any money, according to Kreiss-Tomkins, because it would fall to local communities to raise the money. “I think it’s a noble idea, but we have some fears,” McCune said. “There are concerns with an entity holding a permit and giving loans and being able to take them back, and there are IRS and constitutional considerations. We will continue to work with the bill sponsor to make sure our concerns are considered and that we are within legal rights of the Limited Entry Act.” Regarding the bill that would allow “fisheries enhancement permits” for groups and individuals (HB 220), McCune said UFA has been assured by ADFG that “safeguards are in place.” “You can’t move one stock to another area, and you must go through all the things that a normal hatchery operator or anyone who wants to do fishery enhancements is required to do,” McCune said. “You can’t just willy-nilly run out and start a hatchery and not have any consideration for wild stocks where it’s going to located and things like that. I don’t think it will move until some things are fleshed out.” Other fish issues and bills will surface as the Alaska legislature gets into full swing. “It’s a bit agonizing for everyone waiting to see what will happen,” McCune said. “But you’ve got to work the process. It’s not going to be up to just UFA, but different groups and individuals are going to have to weigh in on different issues. My message to all the fishermen in the state is pay attention to what’s going on and make sure you have your say.” Bycatch begone! A new fishery management plan will reduce halibut bycatch by 21 percent in Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands trawl and longline groundfish fisheries to 3,515 metric tons (7.73 million pounds). The plan was approved by federal managers prior to the season opener for trawlers on Jan. 20. Managers now are moving towards similar measures for chinook and chum salmon bycatch in the Bering Sea pollock fishery, and they want input from the public. The pollock fishery now has separate programs to account for takes of the two salmon species.  “We want to improve the functioning of these programs so they are integrated,” said Gretchen Harrington, National Environmental Policy Act coordinator for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Alaska Region and leader for the salmon bycatch project. The goal, she said, is to enable the fleets to operate under one incentive agreement.  “The incentive plan agreement is a document created by the pollock fishermen that explains exactly how they are going to provide incentives for each vessel to avoid chinook and chum salmon bycatch through the tools they already are using,” Harrington explained. “There also is a provision in the proposed rule that adjusts the allocation of pollock between the A season (winter) and the B season (summer) to provide five percent more pollock in the A season, so it can be harvested when there is less chance for bycatch. A new key piece of the agreement includes adjusting chinook bycatch limits downwards whenever the state forecasts low abundances for a following year. Currently, a 60,000 bycatch limit is in place for chinook salmon; the bycatch last year was 18,330. For chum, the bycatch take was 237,795 fish. After going through the rule making process, Harrington said the new pollock program should be in place by next year. Public comments on the salmon bycatch reduction plan are accepted through March 8. Fish correction The number of salmon fishing permits held by non-locals or nonresidents at Bristol Bay is 38.3 percent, not 81.1 percent. A total of 61.7 percent of all permits are held by local residents near the fishery. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Gov’s foray into ‘fish war’ ill-fated as Maw faces felonies

Gov. Bill Walker’s early foray into the Cook Inlet fish conflict soon after taking office has turned out to be ill-fated as Roland Maw, his one-time nominee to the Board of Fisheries, was charged with residency fraud just a week after a meeting with Walker and the United Cook Inlet Drift Association. Walker met with UCIDA and Maw, the former executive director of the commercial fishing group, on Jan. 6. On Jan. 13, Maw was hit with 12 felony charges and five misdemeanors for claiming Alaska residency to obtain Permanent Fund Dividends and resident rates for hunting and fishing permits. Soon after Maw withdrew his name for consideration to the board last February, the State of Montana pressed similar charges against him a month later and he pled no contest in May 2015. Walker says advisors have told him to stay away from fisheries politics, but from his perspective there are still ideas to discuss and people to see. In a Jan. 26 interview, Walker said he’s been advised to steer clear of the so-called “fish wars” in Cook Inlet in particular, and to an extent he agrees, but said he still has two cents to throw into the Kenai River. “With all that’s going on I should probably stay away from this issue in some respects, all that’s going on in the state as far as the deficit and the budget stuff, but this is a big issue,” said Walker. “When I see this kind of angst among different groups, that’s a process I want to focus on.” Maw’s history with Walker predates his failed nomination to the Alaska Board of Fisheries in 2015 when Walker ousted board chair Karl Johnstone and named Maw as his replacement just days later on Jan. 20. Maw supported Walker in his election campaign, both in fundraising capacity and in direct contributions. He, along with UCIDA president Dave Martin and several UCIDA board members, donated to Walker’s campaign, and was present at a Walker fundraiser in Kenai two days before the Nov. 4, 2014, election. Between 2013 and 2014, Maw donated a total of $1,250 to Walker’s campaign. Walker’s campaign reimbursed Maw $150 on Sept. 29, 2014, for a pair of tickets to the United Fishermen of Alaska annual banquet and $100 for a non-monetary contribution of refreshments for a fundraiser on the Kenai Peninsula two days before Walker’s election according to public disclosures. Due to Maw’s pending charges, Walker’s office said he could not comment on him. “Because of the Department of Law’s charges against him, it would be inappropriate to discuss Roland Maw,” said Katie Marquette, Walker’s press secretary. Apart from meeting with the Walker, Maw was present for an editorial meeting between the board and the Journal in October 2015 at UCIDA’s office in Soldotna. The cover photo on UCIDA’s Facebook page is a photo of Walker and the UCIDA board along with Maw that was posted on Sept. 25, 2015, four months after Maw pled no contest to residency fraud in Montana. UCIDA said Maw has no relationship with the board. He no longer serves as executive director of the board or in any kind of consultant capacity to the board. UCDIA president Dave Martin said Maw only came “as a concerned fishermen” and holds no formal relationship with the organization. “I think everyone is forgetting that the law says innocent until proven guilty, and that’s how people should treat him,” Martin said. Walker said in a telephone interview he’s held dozens of meetings with fishing groups since entering office, as he wants to be equally accessible to all groups in order to facilitate discussion and solutions. “We’ve met with anybody who wants to meet with us on fishing,” Walker said. “I’ve never turned down a request for a meeting on fish issues. I’ve met a lot of people in different positions with different positions. It’s been an open door for me.” Board of Fisheries flap The governor’s public involvement with Maw goes back to a choppy Board of Fisheries appointment process in 2015 that eventually revealed Maw’s Montana licensing charges and exposed gaps both in the vetting process and Walker’s knowledge of fish politics nuance. The seven-member Board of Fisheries has a precarious balance; traditionally, three members represent the commercial fishing industry, three represent the sport fishing sector, and one represents the subsistence fishing community. Walker turned that balance on its head by replacing a sport representative, Johnstone, with a commercial representative in Maw. Cook Inlet fish battles continue to rage about the board’s balance and its political agenda. Commercial advocates allege that sportfishing interests hold too much sway in setting allocations and management. Sportfishing industry voices say it’s only a perception, because the sportfishing sector is the relative newcomer to the Alaska fishing scene previously dominated by commercial interests. Walker’s appointment of Maw in early 2015 split the political schism wide open. In a joint meeting Jan. 14, the Boards of Fisheries and Game voted 7-7 against moving Maw forward to an interview for Department of Fish and Game commissioner. The Board of Game voted unanimously that Maw was qualified to interview for the position, while the Board of Fisheries chaired by Johnstone voted unanimously that he was not qualified. Public outcry followed, alleging that anti-commercial fishing politics had swayed the board to deny a qualified candidate an interview for the top job at ADFG. Walker expressed outrage, drafting a letter to legislative leaders scorning the board’s failure to deem Maw qualified as a potential commissioner even though Walker had already made his preference known when he took office by naming Sam Cotten the interim ADFG commissioner. “Today, I spoke with Chair Karl Johnstone and expressed my sincere disappointment in the recent lack of process demonstrated by the Board of Fisheries,” wrote Walker in a letter to House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski. “I expect the Board of Fisheries to hold a fair, transparent, and public process when selecting candidates... It is apparent to me that it is time for a change on the Board of Fisheries.” Walker told Johnstone he wouldn’t renew Johnstone’s appointment, which was set to expire June 30, 2015. Johnstone resigned instead of waiting for his term to end, and Walker quickly filled his absent position by appointing Maw to the seat, subject to Legislative confirmation. The appointment backfired. Maw mysteriously withdrew his name from consideration on the day he was scheduled for a confirmation hearing on Feb. 20, only a few days before it became public that Montana was investigating him for hunting and fishing license fraud. He pled no contest to the charges in May 2015, paid a grip of fines, and had his hunting and fishing privileges revoked in Montana. Montana is part of a network of Wildlife Violator Compact states, which honor such bans among them when implemented in another state. Alaska is a member of the compact. With Maw withdrawn, Walker had to take a second crack at filling the board seat. Walker nominated Robert Ruffner, a Kenai area conservationist and director of the Kenai Watershed Forum, a habitat restoration group. As with Maw, segments of the fishing world said the nomination disturbed the board’s balance of three commercial industry representatives, three sportfishing representatives, and one subsistence representative. Sportfishing interest groups campaigned to paint Ruffner as sympathetic to the commercial fishing industry. The campaign was a success. The Legislature voted against approving him by a 30-29 vote, again to public outcry over the contentious politics of the Board of Fisheries. On his third try, Walker’s office planned to make another board appointment the administration has not acknowledged. Days before the a board nomination was due, commercial fishing group United Fishermen of Alaska forwarded an email to members asking that they call Walker’s office to protest the pending nomination of Bobbi Quintavell. Quintavell is the former senior vice president and chief operating officer of Alaska Native regional corporation Doyon Ltd., and past president and CEO of Arctic Slope Regional Corp. Quintavell’s fishing involvement is limited to her appearance in a Kenai River Sportfishing Association promotional video advocating king salmon conservation entitled “Save Our Kings.” Walker’s office denied that it planned to nominate Quintavell to the position, but former Walker administration employees said the denial covers a hasty decision and an administration leak. Karen Gillis resigned as director of the governor’s Boards and Commissions office, insisting she did it specifically because Walker intended to nominate Quintavell to the board over Gillis’ objections she lacked fisheries experience.  On his fourth try, Walker nominated Bob Mumford, a former Board of Game member with no overt commercial or sportfishing fishing affiliations. Mumford has been serving on the Board of Fisheries ever since and is currently awaiting the approval of 2016 Legislature to continue the post. Board vetting Each governor, and each governor’s Boards and Commissions director, has a different method for vetting applicants. The process of digging into candidate part is largely case-by-case, according to several sources. Gillis served as Walker’s Boards and Commissions director when Maw was nominated to the Board of Fisheries. Gillis did not respond to Journal requests to verify her vetting process at the time. The current Boards and Commissions nomination process is largely subjective, according to Walker’s office, with no defined code or rubric for how appointees’ backgrounds are vetted. Walker’s Deputy Chief of Staff, John Hozey, who took the job in August 2015, months after the Board of Fisheries appointment fiasco, said the governor’s office usually checks a handful of open sources for boards and commissions appointments, including Courtview and social media. There is no concrete red flag that would prevent a nominee’s progress in moving forward; rather, staff judge each nominee individually.  “If someone were an axe murderer, I wouldn’t forward their name,” said Hozey. “It’s so subjective.” Hozey said the office looks for “ anything that might indicate a lack of judgment,” or indicate a position the governor wouldn’t agree with. “We don’t want anything coming up that’s going to embarrass the administration or the Legislature.” The office does not generally check board and commission applicants’ PFD histories or criminal backgrounds from previous states of residency. Walker’s fisheries involvement; Kluberton off the board Walker’s public interactions with Alaska’s fishing world have been limited. For fisheries knowledge, he leans in large part on Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten, whom Walker appointed in 2015, and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallot. At this point, he said he wants to be a facilitator for communication between user groups, particularly in Cook Inlet. Walker said he has no concrete plans for fisheries, but that he has interest in establishing some kind of informal multi-user group fisheries advisory group similar to the federal Tongass Advisory Committee. The committee advises the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service in young forest management, “emphasizing the need for collaborative, creative and publicly owned solutions to forest management on the Tongass,” according to the USDA website. “I have a lot of faith in Alaskans being able to work things out amongst themselves,” said Walker. “Now is an appropriate time to look at these issues. If I can be a facilitator in some way, I think I’m willing to do that. I’m stepping into areas there’s a lot of passion.” Walker’s “open door” policy means he’s met with dozens of fishing groups, but he said he seems to have had more meeting requests from commercial fishermen than other user groups. “It would appear there’s been more interest as far as contacting me from some of the folks in the commercial groups, but they all have equal access to me.” Apart from the Board of Fisheries flap in early 2015, the only official action he’s taken has been to write a letter to the Board of Fisheries asking that it move the 2017 Upper Cook Inlet board meeting from Anchorage to the Kenai Peninsula. Since then, he said his insistence on the meeting’s location has shifted to “broader solutions.” Walker wrote a letter to the board Oct. 21, 2015, asking it to consider changing the location and promising to attend if it were held on the Peninsula. “There has been much attention given to the controversies surrounding the Cook Inlet fisheries, and I feel we should attempt to improve the communication and exchanges among the many interested parties,” wrote Walker. “Holding a meeting on the Peninsula, possibly Soldotna, may show a willingness to consider points of view from local residents who may not have been able to participate over the past five board cycles.” Walker promised during his election campaign he would not renominate any Board of Fisheries member who voted against moving the meeting to the Kenai Peninsula. When asked if he plans on following through, Walker didn’t renew his promise, but referred back to his removal of Johnstone as board chairman. “Certainly I removed an individual who was lobbying against moving the meeting to the Kenai Peninsula,” said Walker. He said he has since changed his mind about the geographical importance of the meeting; public process is more important. “What I have learned is where a particular meeting is held isn’t as important as people feel that the process is fair,” he said. Walker’s promise to deny reappointment to Board of Fisheries members will have no conclusion, as a board member says he is stepping down voluntarily. Tom Kluberton, a sportfishing representative and board chair, was among those who voted against moving the 2017 Upper Cook Inlet meeting to the Kenai Peninsula at a December 2015 board meeting. Along with commercial fisherman Fritz Johnson, who voted to move the meeting, Kluberton’s three-year term expires in June. Kluberton confirmed in an email that he would not be resubmitting his name for another appointment. The $10,000 per year stipend isn’t worth the “mild PTSD” that can come from a single board meeting packed with impassioned fishermen, he wrote in an email. With the marathon Upper Cook Inlet meeting coming next year for whoever Walker names to replace Kluberton, all stakeholder groups will be watching closely. “I am proud to have contributed to the task but cannot fit that much effort, for so little compensation, into my life without feeling the effects of the sacrifice on my family and myself,” wrote Kluberton. “My second term ends this spring. I feel I earned my little bit of money; I have never worked harder, or withstood more stressful situations for less. I’m done.” DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

North Pacific council keeps up work on Gulf bycatch plan

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council will meet in Portland, Ore., Feb. 1-9 to discuss changes to Gulf of Alaska bycatch management, Bering Sea yellowfin sole management, and halibut management framework. The council is one of eight regional fishery councils oversees federal fisheries within three to 200 miles from the coast. The council will only take final action on two items. The first will set overfishing limits and acceptable biological catches for the Norton Sound red king crab fishery. The second, more involved, will make changes to observer coverage requirements on Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands catcher vessel owners and operators in order to reduce their financial burden. The Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands limited entry trawl catcher vessel fleet has requirements to document halibut bycatch on an individual vessel level. Some vessels, however, are still in the partial coverage category, and even if selected for voluntary full coverage must pay both a partial observer fee and a full coverage fee. Observers employed by the National Marine Fisheries Service live onboard vessels and monitor the amount, size and species of bycatch taken. “Through this action, the council is seeking to provide relief to trawl catcher vessels owners who have voluntarily paid for full observer coverage in addition to the partial observer coverage fee in order to better manage bycatch while complying with existing Observer Program regulations,” reads the council’s report. In an ongoing method to streamline halibut management, the council will also review its Scientific and Statistical Committee’s report on halibut management framework. Halibut are co-managed by the council and the International Pacific Halibut Commission, or IPHC. The council regulates halibut bycatch and sets the harvest split as a percentage between commercial and charter fishermen in the Central Gulf of Alaska and Southeast. The IPHC sets the overall harvest level among regulatory areas from Northern California to the Bering Sea, which includes the directed harvest, bycatch, wastage and sport take by both charter and unguided anglers. The co-management has proven problematic, creating a situation in which more halibut are taken as bycatch than by the actual halibut fishermen in the face of a shrinking supply of legally harvestable fish. In an effort to reduce this bycatch and provide for halibut fishermen, the council is reviewing ways to better cooperate with the international commission. The halibut management framework looks to identify each governing body’s scientific methods, fill gaps between council and commission process where the methods are not consistent, and potentially create a loose collaborative process to improve communication channels. The council will also review a discussion paper for the Gulf of Alaska’s groundfish fisheries.  The discussion paper includes several alternatives to lower bycatch in the Gulf. Creating some kind of vessel and processor cooperative system in the Gulf is the council’s preferred alternative. Cooperatives are thought to share information about high bycatch areas than individual vessels, theoretically leading to lower overall bycatch rates. In the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands fisheries, groundfish fishermen are encouraged to belong to a cooperative rather than fish alone; the council engineers the cooperatives to incentivize bycatch reduction by giving them more flexible management than individual vessels. Vessels that choose not to participate in an incentive plan agreement through cooperatives receive a smaller bycatch allocation than those who do. Other options would create a system of shoreside processor allocations based on fishery dependency, among other factors. Some would install safeguards against overconsolidation of groundfish and bycatch quota. Shoreside processors, the lifeblood of many Gulf of Alaska coastal communities, are concerned that bycatch management could limit the amount of groundfish they process by closing fisheries before the full harvest is taken. Preventing overconsolidation of the fishing fleets is of particular concern to Kodiak, which was particularly devastated by the rationalization of the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands crab fishery. The fleet shrunk by two-thirds in the first season as quota was consolidated to fewer vessels and some 1,000 crew jobs were wiped out. The paper also includes options to allow trawlers to fish at slower speeds. Shorter seasons for certain groundfish lead trawlers to race to catch as much as possible, lowering the caution in regards to bycatch. In several of the options, the council would require 100 percent observer coverage for all Gulf of Alaska trawlers. In the case of catcher-processors, the council could require two observers per vessel as is in place for catcher-processors in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands fisheries. A discussion paper on the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands yellowfin sole fishery will determine whether the fishery will be reserved for a predetermined group of historical participants. In the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, the yellowfin sole fishery stands as one of the last remaining fisheries without a comprehensive limited entry system. The paper examines the effects of creating a limited entry system for the offshore yellowfin sole fishery in this area. The closure of the area to new participants has both economic and environmental implications. In 2015, several yellowfin sole vessels told the council new entries to the fishery were downsizing their historical harvest rates and contributing to a greater halibut bycatch level. Yellowfin sole, a groundfish, has one of the highest rates of halibut bycatch in the North Pacific. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - Fisheries