Fisheries

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]

2016 Copper River sockeye forecast

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game released the forecast for Prince William Sound and Copper River salmon. In Copper River, where sockeye salmon is the most harvested species, ADFG forecasts a run of 2.3 million sockeye salmon with a common property harvest of 1.7 million. The forecast fits squarely in the realm of average. “The 2016 total run forecast of natural and enhanced sockeye salmon (2.56 million) is similar to the recent 10-year average total run (2.60 million),” reads the forecast.  “If realized, the 2016 forecast total run would be the 11th largest in the last 36 years (since 1980).” The department does warn that the same issues that cause the late runs and small size of the 2015 season could still negatively impact the 2016 Copper River run. Returns of Copper River sockeye salmon that entered the ocean beginning in 2008 have had excellent survival so far, but the significantly warmer North Pacific waters in 2015 will increase the uncertainty in the 2016 run projection,” the report reads. “Copper River sockeye salmon in 2015 were the smallest in the 1966–2015 time series, and the continued warm ocean temperatures may affect growth and survival for the 2016 run.” In Prince William Sound where pink salmon is the major harvest, the forecast is less than average, a change of pace from the 2015 season that broke the 20-year record for largest harvest with 96 million fish. ADFG forecasts a total run of 3.8 million natural run pink salmon with a common property harvest will be 2.7 million fish. The total run size is less than the median for even years, where pink runs number far less than odd years. “If the 2016 total run forecast (harvest + escapement index = 3.84 million) is realized, it will be less than the median even-year return since 1960 (4.26 million),” the report reads. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

FDA: only Alaska pollock is 'Alaska pollock'

Alaska pollock is having a good 2016 so far, with boosted quotas, favorable certifications, and a federal rule that will give Alaska an edge over Russia. “I have long fought to resolve this issue, and I am thrilled that this change has been made to protect both our fisheries and consumers,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski in a statement. “Alaska is the gold standard of fish management. It is disingenuous and harmful to our fishing industry for Russian-harvested pollock to be passed off as Alaskan. Now consumers can be confident that pollock labeled as ‘Alaskan’ is caught only in our state’s healthy, sustainable waters. Pollock is the largest fishery in the U.S., producing 2.9 billions pounds and accounting for 11 percent of U.S. seafood intake. In the North Pacific management region, pollock accounted for $406 million worth of landings. The pollock season began Jan. 20 with an increased quota of 1.34 million metric tons, thanks to a December 2015 North Pacific Fishery Management Council aimed at curbing halibut bycatch in other groundfish sectors. This is 30,000 metric tons more than the year before. With more fish to catch and sell, Congress has now made Alaska’s highest volume fishery easier to market. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration put a change to seafood labeling laws in its Seafood List, ending an Alaska congressional fight to ensure that “Alaska pollock” is actually from Alaska. The FDA announced Jan. 21 that only pollock caught in Alaska waters can be labeled "Alaska pollock." Alaska waters are defined the Alaska-adjacent Exclusive Economic Zone three to 200 miles offshore, according to the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which governs U.S. federal fisheries. The Pacific Northwest had been pushing for the change in 2015. In Congress, Rep. Don Young and Rep. Jaime Beutler, R-Wash., introduced legislation on Oct. 22 to amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to change the term “Alaska pollock” to “pollock.” Meanwhile, Murkowski added a mandate in the fiscal year 2016 Omnibus Appropriations bill to force the FDA to make the change. The bill passed. Pollock nomenclature has an important economic impact in Alaska as the state’s largest fishery by volume and a key foreign export. The “Alaska” label signifies sustainability in marketing campaigns. According to a GMA Research consumer report, up to 40 percent of what is currently sold as “Alaska pollock” is in fact from Russia waters, which do not have the same controls and management frameworks as U.S. North Pacific fisheries governed by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, particularly concerning marine habitat protections and preventing overfishing. The U.S. pollock industry received another year of sustainable fisheries certification from the Marine Stewardship Council, or MSC. Pollock has received the certification since 2005. "The MSC’s vision is for oceans to be teeming with life for future generations,” said Brian Perkins, MSC regional director, in a release. “Alaska Pollock has successfully created and maintained new markets, especially in the U.S. and Europe, over the past decade. We are extremely pleased to see this fishery succeed in the MSC process yet again.” The MSC charges companies for its sustainability rating. European countries in particular prize the certification, and much of the seafood on the European market cannot move without it. Aside from U.S. consumption, Alaska pollock is a European favorite, particularly in Germany where it is the most-consumed fish in the nation. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Secretary of Commerce adopts halibut bycatch cuts

The Secretary of Commerce adopted Amendment 111 to the Magnuson-Stevens Act on Jan. 20, which cuts halibut bycatch limits for groundfish trawlers. The amendment aims to reduce the bycatch in Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands groundfish fisheries. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration believes the measure will reduce the overall amount of halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands by 361 metric tons compared to 2014, or nearly 800,000 pounds, freeing up more of the lucrative fish for the directed halibut fishermen in the central Bering Sea. Halibut stocks have been on the downswing, and more of the catch now goes to groundfish trawler bycatch usage than to the actual halibut fishermen. In June 2015, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council made a clutch of reductions to the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands groundfish fisheries. Overall, the groundfish fleet has a 21 percent reduction in bycatch limits to 3,515 metric tons, or about 7.75 million pounds. Each sector has different levels of cuts. The Amendment 80 sector, which is composed of a dozen catcher-processor vessels based in Seattle, has a 25 percent reduction. The trawl limited access sector has a 15 percent reduction along with the non-trawl sector. Community Development Quota programs, which give 10 percent of overall harvest to 65 Alaska villages within 50 miles of the coast, have a 20 percent reduction in halibut bycatch. The final rule will be in effect 30 days after appearing in the Federal Register, expected spring 2016. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Latest McDowell Group seafood report shows job growth

Harvesting Alaska seafood ranks between oil and tourism in economic impact, according to a new report detailing on the commercial fishing industry. The Juneau-based economics firm McDowell Group released an updated study on the economic impacts of the commercial fishing industry on Jan. 19. The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, a private-state collaboration designed to increase Alaska seafood’s worldwide value, contracted the report. According to the report, seafood created 41,100 full time equivalent jobs and $2.1 billion in labor income between 2013 and 2014; 17,600 of the total were Alaska resident commercial fishermen, who took a total ex-vessel income of $735 million in 2014. The report found a growth in seafood employment from 2010-14, with more resident fishermen, processors, and total earnings and harvest levels. In 2014, the state had 500 more seafood jobs than 2010, representing a $24 million payroll growth. Alaska is the country’s largest seafood producer, and hauling in fish, as well as processing and selling them, creates the largest source of direct private employment in the state. Fisheries data can be hard to nail down, with swings in employment and harvest from year to year. The updated report takes the yearly averages from both 2013 and 2014 to smooth the data. The report did not examine the economics of sport fishing or subsistence fishing. The North Pacific is home to some of the most verdant marine ecosystems in the world, and the proof lies in harvest statistics. Sixty percent of the nation’s seafood landings — more than every other state combined — come from Alaska waters. The state exports more seafood than any other product, renewable or non-renewable. If Alaska were its own country, it would rank sixth in the world for seafood exports. Production continues to rise. The 2014 seafood harvest totaled $1.9 billion in dockside prices. The resulting processed products raked in $4.2 billion on the wholesale market. The rising value comes mostly from the fisheries in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, or BSAI. “Harvest and wholesale values have risen substantially (27 and 24 percent, respectively) in the last five years in the BSAI region,” the reports reads, “by far the most of any region in Alaska. Without these increases, statewide values would be roughly flat over the time period.” The revenue has benefits for the state. “Commercial fishing and processing businesses pay substantial taxes and fees to operate in Alaska, including more than $138.6 million in 2014,” the report reads. The large-scale fisheries output isn’t localized only in the Last Frontier. Supply chains and retails operations add up to a sizable national economic base resting on North Pacific fisheries. Alaska’s seafood industry creates 111,800 full time equivalent jobs nationally, with $5.8 billion in labor income and $14.8 billion in total economic output. Salmon and pollock  run the show Alaska’s salmon is the ocean’s North Slope, as far as economic impact goes. “Salmon is still king in Alaska,” reads the report. “By all measures, salmon are responsible for the greatest economic impact (jobs, income, and total value) among all species in the Alaska seafood industry. Salmon’s total contribution to the national economy includes approximately 38,400 (full time equivalent) jobs and just under $2 billion in annual labor income.” On the opposite end of the price spectrum is pollock, which lacks salmon’s fine dining appeal but compensates with versatility and sheer volume; the fish is the largest volume seafood harvest in the nation. “As the largest single species U.S. fishery, by volume, Alaska pollock is a close second,” reads the report. “Much of pollock’s value is added through processing, which occurs both shoreside and at-sea. Pollock’s national economic impact includes an estimated 29,300 (full time equivalent) jobs and $1.5 billion in labor income.” Salmon and pollock make up the bulk of Alaska’s seafood value, but the expensive delicacies carry their weight in spite of lower volumes harvested. Alaska crab, which commands high prices in both domestic and international markets, accounts for 14 percent of the harvest value. Another 10 percent of harvest value owes to halibut and black cod.  Alaska’s top five seafood landings areas display the diversity of fishermen’s business operations. Dutch Harbor, the highest valued area, landed $450 million in wholesale value of groundfish and crab in 2014. Kodiak’s crab, groundfish, and salmon-based landings came in second at $284 million, and the largely sockeye-based Naknek processors — situated in Bristol Bay, the world’s largest sockeye run — third with $254 million. Cordova and Sitka netted $174 million and $129 million, respectively, of those area’s primarily pink, chum, and sockeye salmon, halibut, and black cod fisheries. Southeast Alaska has the largest private employment Fishermen can take a moment to feel pleased that BP’s layoffs and the state hiring freeze don’t touch the seafood industry. Oil and gas employ more people than the seafood industry because of the massive secondary impacts, but seafood employs more people directly than any other private industry in the state. One fifth of Alaska’s private sector economy is seafood-based, whether as crew for a fishing vessel, on a processor’s slime line, or at the retail level. Because fishing jobs are mostly seasonal, McDowell Group economists use the metric “full time equivalent” jobs to measure employment. In Southeast Alaska, fishing is the top job creator. In terms of workforce size – nearly 10,000 full time equivalent jobs – seafood is the largest private sector employer in the region. Southeast Alaskans own more commercial fishing vessels, and have more shore processors, than any other Alaska region. Salmon reigns in Southeast; 72 percent of the regions wholesale value comes from salmon. Southeast has more direct employment from fishing, but Southcentral has more resident commercial fishermen. One-third of Alaska’s resident commercial fishermen live in Southcentral, more than any other region with 7,000 full time equivalent jobs considering secondary impacts. In Southcentral, 86 percent of the total wholesale fisheries value is from salmon. Kodiak, which hosts 10 different processors for its diverse fisheries, is the third largest commercial fishing port in the U.S. by volume and ex-vessel value. 5,150 direct jobs in fishing, processing, and support come from the region, and 8,350 full time equivalent jobs total considering secondary impacts. The Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands region holds 10,300 full time equivalent jobs, half of which are related to the processing. 53 percent of the region’s value comes from pollock Bristol Bay totals 4,650 full time equivalent jobs, and is almost entirely dependent on salmon, with 96 percent of wholesale value in the region from salmon. The Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim area, as one of the lowest density areas in the state, has only 860 full time equivalent jobs related to commercial fishing.  

Restricting board-generated proposals among fisheries bills

Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, is proposing a change to the Boards of Fisheries and Game process that would put certain proposals back into public oversight under House Bill 103. “Notwithstanding another provision of this chapter,” the bill reads, “the boards may adopt, amend, or repeal a regulation only if that regulation, or the amendment or repeal of that regulation, was initially recommended by (1) an advisory committee established under AS 16.05.260; (2) a state agency; or (3) a person petitioning the boards under AS 44.62.220.” Wilson’s bill seeks to correct a perceived lack of public input. In 2015, the bill made it as far as the House Fisheries subcommittee before the session ended. Committee chairwoman Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, held the bill. The boards of Fisheries and Game rely on public proposal process to craft regulations. Members of the public submit proposal ideas to the board well in advance of the meeting so that other members of the public can express support or opposition in written comments to the board, or at least have time to review the proposals before the board hears public commentary. The Alaska boards of Fisheries and Game are also able to craft their own proposals. The board itself can ask for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to submit a proposal on the board’s behalf. Unlike public proposals, the boards’ proposals have no restrictions where timing is concerned, and often fly under the public’s radar. Wilson’s bill came largely as a response to the Board of Game’s passage of a board-generated proposal for Dall sheep management. Critics, including Wilson, charge that the proposal was crafted behind closed doors and slipped into the meeting without a chance for public review. According to Wilson, three members of the board got together in a “work group” to draft sheep management outside the public purview. Working groups, Wilson contends, are simply a way legislative bodies can step outside the public process. Public comment swayed in favor of the proposal. Robert Caywood, a member of the Anchorage Advisory Committee for the Board of Fisheries, said during the 2015 session that six members of the committee quit their positions over feeling circumvented by board decisions. Proposals to limit board-generated proposals have come before the legislature before. In 2012, the United Fishermen of Alaska filed a request with the Attorney General to review the Board of Fisheries’ usage of board-generated proposals to serve as undefined placeholders. In 2013, the boards drafted a sideboard that would allow for board-generated proposal only if the proposal were deemed to be in the public’s “best interest.” HB 220: Hatcheries for all Yukon River fishermen have said, “every fish counts” in talks of chinook salmon management, and Rep. Dave Talerico, R-Healy, wants to take the sentiment literally. Talerico’s HB 220 would create a permit system for fishery enhancement open to individuals, non-governmental organizations, tribes, and virtually anyone else with a plan for enhancing Alaska fish stocks. The Interior representative said he sees the bill as a “no harm, no foul” way to get more fish into Alaska’s rivers for subsistence, sportfishing, and commercial purposes. The bill has three main goals: put pressure on the farmed sockeye that competes with Alaska fishermen, ensure tourists hook a trophy, and boost subsistence harvest opportunities. Entities beyond non-profits have attempted enhancement programs in the past with limited success. The Chickaloon Village Traditional Council has been attempting a warm air incubator for Matanuska River king salmon since 2007, but funding has been problematic. Talerico said private investors may be more inclined to start their own similar projects if his bill passes. The permit, subject to Alaska Department of Fish and Game approval, would allow the holder “to remove fish from state water, collect gametes or fertilize and incubate eggs taken from the fish, and place the incubated and fertilized eggs or hatched fish in the same or other state water; to enhance habitat and augment nutrients in state water to aid the survival of fish; and subject to AS 16.10.375 - 16.10.480, to use technologies and tools to accomplish approved project activities.” Talerico said the bill intends to find a way for more private industry to get involved in restocking. Currently, stocking is done by state-sanctioned non-profit hatcheries. “I think folks were a little disappointed with hatcheries,” Talerico said. “Hatcheries are a great thing. But hatcheries are limited to non-profits.” Native organizations like Tanana Chiefs Conference, he said, are considering backing the measure out of concerns for subsistence community health of Upper Yukon River villages. Upper river villages feel the sting of low king returns, as the Alaska Department of Fish and Game limits chum salmon harvest opportunities to prevent incidental chinook catch. HB 241: Non-resident permits surcharges Rep. Charisse Millett, R-Anchorage, and Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka, have introduced a bill that would require non-resident fishermen to pay a surcharge to the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission if they do not qualify for a Permanent Fund Dividend. Fishermen would to provide proof they qualify for or have received a Permanent Fund Dividend in order to avoid the surcharge. HB 41: Angler guides A bill from the office of Rep. Kathy Tilton, R-Wasilla, HB 41 would renew licensing requirements for guided recreational anglers. Licensing requirements inadvertently sunset Dec. 31, 2014. The bill was passed in the House with amendments in 2015 but was held in the Senate Finance Committee until further consideration. Among other points of contention, the requirement for keeping a detailed logbook divides salt and freshwater fishermen. The bill does not address logbooks specifically but encompasses their reestablishment as a licensing requirement. Saltwater charter operators who largely depend on offshore halibut expressed support of the bill. Logbooks are important for halibut charter operators. More detailed logbooks contribute to larger quota allowances from federal halibut overseers. For freshwater guides, however, logbooks can be cumbersome. Kenai River guides opposed the bill, even with a carve-out provision that exempts Kenai guides from certain licensure requirement in the Kenai River Special Management Area. The area, which is managed by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, requires charter anglers to complete a specialized course in addition to the state-required licensure. HB 41 would exempt certain anglers from this requirement if forced to make an in-season hire, as DNR only offers these courses twice a year. HB 137: Raising license fees Sponsored by Rep. Dave Talerico, R-Healy, Rep. Cathy Munoz, R-Juneau, and Rep. Wes Keller, R-Wasilla, HB 137 would raise prices for resident and non-resident hunting, trapping, and fishing licenses. In 2015, the bill was approved by the House and sent to the Senate, where it stopped in the Resources Committee at the end of the session. The bill provides for “raising certain fees related to sport fishing, hunting, and trapping; relating to the fish and game fund; providing for the repeal of the sport fishing surcharge and sport fishing facility revenue bonds; replacing the permanent sport fishing, hunting, or trapping identification card for certain residents with an identification card valid for three years; relating to hunting and fishing by proxy; relating to fish and game conservation decals; raising the age of eligibility for a sport fishing, hunting, or trapping license exemption for state residents; raising the age at which a state resident is required to obtain a license for sport fishing, hunting, or trapping; and providing for an effective date.” With state budget crises cutting into the Alaska Department of Fish and Game budget drawn in part from unrestricted general funds, the bill’s sponsors argue that each license fee increase could add to the department’s shrinking coffers.  License fees would increase from as little as a $5 for a resident hunting license to $1,100 dollars for non-resident musk ox tag. The bill would also increase the age at which Alaska residents would require a license from 16 year old to 18 years old. HB 92, HB 258, HJR 28: Genetically engineered salmon Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, must have had a premonition in 2015. During the 2015 session, Tarr introduced a bill that would require labeling for all genetically modified food, touching on the issue of genetically modified salmon that would fill headlines in the latter months of 2015. On Jan. 19, Tarr dug further into her anti-GMO bill to specifically target a genetically engineered salmon with HB 258 and HJR 28. HB 258 would explicitly forbid the sale of genetically engineered salmon in Alaska. The joint resolution would oppose U.S. Food and Drug Administration actions and call for mandatory labeling of all genetically engineered salmon. In November, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved for human consumption AquAdvantage salmon, which splices salmon and ocean pout genes to grow a fish twice as fast as wild salmon. Alaska’s state representatives came out in broad opposition to the decision. In a series of releases, they expressed doubt over the FDA’s decision and called for a mandatory labeling requirement so consumers can distinguish between genetically engineered farmed salmon and the more expensive wild-caught salmon, one of Alaska’s most valuable exports and largest private employment sources. HB 92 localizes a battle Alaska’s congressional delegation is fighting in the national arena. Tarr’s bill would win the battle in Alaska, but most domestic sockeye consumption is in the Lower 48. Sen. Lisa Murkowski renewed vows to hold the nomination or Dr. Robert Califf as new FDA chief after a Senate panel approved him on Jan. 12. Murkowski’s office said the senator is adamant about keeping Califf off the FDA’s payroll until he makes assurances that genetically modified salmon be labeled as such. HB 110: Personal use priority Rep. Mark Neuman, R-Big Lake, will continue to move HB 110, which would create a personal use priority in the state’s fisheries. The bill moved out of the House Fisheries Committee and passed to the House Finance committee chaired by Neuman during the 2015 session. Neuman’s bill and Senate Bill 42, introduced by Sen. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, together titled the “Alaskans-First Fishing Act,” would direct the Board of Fisheries to place restrictions on sport and commercial fisheries before putting restrictions on personal use fisheries when the harvest of a stock or species is limited to achieve an escapement goal. The focal point for the act’s support and opposition are the popular Upper Cook Inlet personal use salmon fisheries in the Kenai, Kasilof, and Fish Creek rivers that fuel allocation and gear conflict battles in the Board of Fisheries process. The rationale behind the act is that personal use carries more urgency than commercial or sport fishing, as it was intended to provide Alaskans with equal shares of a common property for direct consumption. Subsistence, which currently receives first priority from the Board of Fisheries as per state law, would still trump personal use in the event of restrictions. The opposition’s rationale denies an equivalency between personal use and subsistence. Detractors of the bill say the personal use fishery was created by the Board of Fisheries in 1982 in order to distribute surplus fish in times of high abundance, and was not intended as a makeshift subsistence fishery. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]  

FISH FACTOR: Private hatchery, personal use fish bills pre-filed for session

A fish bill that has already been prefiled would let Alaskans take fisheries enhancement efforts into their own hands. House Bill 220 by Rep. David Talerico, R-Healy, would allow “fisheries enhancement permits” as a “tool to support Fish and Game.” The permits would allow people to take eggs, grow them into smolt and release them wherever they want into the wild. The permit also would allow groups or individuals to “enhance habitat and augment nutrients” in state waterways to support fish,” according to the bill language. If many smaller facilities can do the work of a handful of larger, more costly facilities, it will help Alaska’s budget, Talerico told the Juneau Empire. The enhancement permits also would be available to Native organizations and sportsmen’s groups, Talerico said, adding, “Those guys know how to raise money in a hurry.” Another tool intended “to help fish managers” will resurface this year – “The Alaskans-First Fishing Act,” which aims to give personal use fisheries a priority over sport and commercial users when restrictions are imposed to achieve a management goal. As it stands now, the three fisheries all are on equal footing in the eyes and actions of state managers. The bill, Senate Bill 42, has been introduced during each of the last seven legislative sessions by Sen. Bill Stolze, but has gone nowhere. (A duplicate law, HB 110, has been filed by Rep. Mark Neuman, R-Big Lake). The bill states, “one thing all Alaskans can agree on is that we should have a priority over people coming from elsewhere in the country and the world to utilize and harvest our fisheries resources. Fisheries that are restricted to residents only are meant to enable Alaskans to access their fisheries resources for their personal use and consumption.” The United Fishermen of Alaska’s position on the personal use issue has remained the same: the Legislature should leave prioritization of fishery allocations to the Board of Fisheries and management to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Fish price places The first thing any fisherman wants to know is fish prices. Usually, that information is tough to come by during a fishing season, as final prices aren’t settled until months after the catch is sold. That’s a tough way to run a business. There are some helpful price resources, albeit after the fact. Each April the state Department of Fish and Game provides dock prices for 85 different fish species for the previous year, by gear type and region. It’s called the Commercial Operator’s Annual Report, or COAR, compiled from inputs by Alaska fish buyers. Here’s a 2014 sampler of prices for many of the species people seldom hear about: The statewide average herring price was 11 cents a pound. Octopus averaged 61 cents. Lingcod fetched $1.27 at the docks. Those billions of pounds of pollock in Alaska’s largest fishery averaged 15 cents a pound. For 11 different kinds of flatfish, rex sole was the priciest at 32 cents a pound. Those pesky arrowtooth flounder paid out at 6 cents. For Atka mackerel, the average price was a dime, and 17 cents for perch. Big skates brought 45 cents a pound dockside, and wolf eels were 94 cents. Sea cucumbers averaged $4.02, and catches of smelt brought 46 cents. The state tracks 22 different kinds of rockfish, with yelloweye, or red snapper, the priciest at $1.31 a pound, and red stripe the cheapest at 14 cents. The lowest priced fish of them all were sculpin and yellowfin sole, each at 2 pennies a pound. The priciest Alaska catch listed was spot prawns paying Southeast Alaska fishermen $8.65 a pound. For salmon, the state Department of Revenue three times a year provides first wholesale prices (what processors receive when they sell the fish) for products including fresh, frozen, fillets, roe and canned for each Alaska region. It’s called the Alaska Salmon Price Report and is listed under the Tax Division Why should you care about fish prices if you’re far from the coast? With Alaska’s commercial catches coming in at between 5 to 6 billion pounds every year, adding just one penny per pound makes a difference of nearly one million dollars in landing taxes for the state and local governments each. Ice sightings wanted We’ve all seen images of fishing boats in the winter, where the rigging, wires and wheelhouse are literally turned into a solid block of ice. That freezing ocean spray and heavy icing can capsize a vessel in the blink of an eye. Weather forecasters are in the fourth year of a project to fine-tune NOAA’s Watches and Warnings about heavy freezing spray We’re trying to understand more about the dynamics and the atmospheric conditions, and even the types of boats that might be impacted by freezing spray,” said Lt. Joseph Phillips at NOAA’s Ocean Prediction Center in Maryland. “What we are learning is that freezing spray is a very difficult thing to forecast. A lot of it has to deal with what direction a ship is moving in, the size and shape of the ship, the wind conditions, you can have warm waters and cold temperatures and still get freezing spray.” Forecasters from NOAA and Environment Canada are asking mariners for help in reporting icing conditions in Alaska, the Northeast and the Great Lakes regions. “Right now we just want to hear if there is freezing spray or not. But more information like the icing conditions, ice accretion rate, air temperature, sea and wind conditions, relative humidity all that information is great,” Phillips told KMXT. “Then we can start tweaking and understanding why we’re not forecasting or over forecasting, maybe adjust the models we are using here and there. And that will translate into a better forecast and warning system for this condition.”   Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.  

Former Board of Fisheries nominee Maw charged with PFD fraud

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include information previously reported about Maw’s charges in Montana last February that led to his withdrawal from consideration for the Board of Fisheries. Roland Maw, a Kenai Peninsula commercial fishing advocate and the former executive director of the United Cook Inlet Drift Association, was charged with falsifying his Alaska residency on Wednesday. Maw is facing up to 17 charges. Of those, 12 carry a Class C felony designation, for unsworn falsification and theft with value between $750 to $24,999, related to falsifying records to apply for the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend. A Class C felony is punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $50,000. The remaining five carry a Class A misdemeanor designation, which is punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $10,000. He is charged with misdemeanors for unsworn falsification, related to falsifying other forms, according to online court records. The charges date back as early as 2008, with the most recent occurring in October 2014. Charges were filed in district court in Juneau. The Montana Department of Fish and Wildlife opened an investigation into Maw’s residency in February 2015 after he was found to be holding resident licenses in Montana while still drawing the benefits of Alaska residency. The investigation was announced shortly after Maw withdrew his name from consideration for a seat on the Alaska Board of Fisheries. Maw was charged with up to seven misdemeanors in Montana, carrying both fines and jail time. Maw, who owns property near Dillon, Mont., was charged with seven counts of affirming to a false statement in order to obtain a resident hunting license. The misdemeanor charges in Montana carried the possibility of fines up to $1,000, two to six months in county jail, and the loss of all hunting and fishing privileges. Alaska is one of several states who participate in a share program regarding these bans, so Maw will also lose his Alaska fishing and hunting privileges. Maw pled no contest to the charges a few months later. According to public records, Maw filed for an Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend check, or PFD, every year between 2002 and 2014. Over that span, the PFD has paid out $16,665.88. Between 1996 and 2003, he purchased resident class fishing, hunting, or combination licenses from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. In 2003, he qualified for and purchased a Permanent Identification Card, which is issued to Alaska senior residents for free hunting, fishing, and trapping. The card is void if the holder receives any benefits from another state, including resident licenses, voting rights, or tax breaks. Gov. Bill Walker named Maw to the Alaska Board of Fisheries on Jan. 20, replacing former Chairman Karl Johnstone, who resigned when Walker told him he wouldn’t reappointed following public and gubernatorial scrutiny of the board’s actions at the ADFG commissioner nominee selection meeting on Jan. 14. At that meeting, Johnstone and his fellow board members declined to deem Maw qualified to interview for the job of Alaska Department of Fish and Game commissioner. Maw unexpectedly withdrew his name from consideration for the Board of Fisheries on Feb. 20 following scrutiny from the media and Legislature, despite favorable public support and desirable credentials for Walker’s desired scientific fisheries management. The Montana investigation into Maw's resident permits become public soon after.  

IG finds no bias in EPA Bristol Bay assessment

The Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment is on the up-and-up, at least according to the Environmental Protection Agency Office of Inspector General. Based on “obtainable records,” an Inspector General report issued Jan. 13 found no bias in how the EPA conducted its lengthy assessment of the potential impacts of mining within Bristol Bay watershed. The agency’s assessment process also met requirements for peer review and public involvement and followed appropriate procedures for verifying the quality of the information in the assessment before 1,000-plus page document was released to the public in early 2014, according to the report. While the report absolves the agency of misconduct regarding alleged bias, it notes that 25 months worth of missing government emails from the retired employee believed to be retired ecologist Phillip North could not be recovered and evaluated. Further, the IG notes that North used nongovernmental email to comment on a draft 404(c) petition submitted to the agency from tribes before it was officially submitted to the EPA. “We found this action was a possible misuse of position, and the EPA’s senior counsel for ethics agreed,” the report states. “Agency employees must remain impartial in dealings with outside parties, particularly those that are considering petitioning or have petitioned the agency to take action on a matter.” The 17-month IG review of the agency began in May 2014 and focused on the process used to develop the assessment. Its conclusion contrasts with a recent report authored by former Secretary of Defense William Cohen that was critical of the EPA’s process, finding the agency to be cozy with scientific and local Alaska Native groups that oppose Pebble Mine.  “EPA is pleased that the Inspector General’s independent, in-depth review confirms that our rigorous scientific study of the Bristol Bay watershed and our robust public process were entirely consistent with our laws, regulations, policies and procedures and were based on sound scientific analysis,” EPA Region 10 Administrator Dennis McLerran said in a formal statement. “We stand behind our study and our public process, and we are confident in our work to protect Bristol Bay.” The Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment ultimately determined that large-scale mining in the region would irreparably harm Bristol Bay’s world-class salmon fisheries that currently support much of the areas economy. Subsequently, the EPA used the assessment as its basis for using its Clean Water Act Section 404(c) authority to prohibit a large mine in the watershed, a proposal that would effectively kill the prospect of developing Pebble Limited Partnerships premier copper and gold deposits. The 404(c) action is on hold as a federal court tries to determine what the IG’s office and former Secretary Cohen could not agree on: whether the EPA conspired with Pebble opposition to reach the conclusion in the assessment. Pebble sought and received an injunction to halt the EPA’s work until the court case is resolved. Pebble CEO Tom Collier called the IG report an “embarrassing failure” and a “whitewash” in a formal statement. “Based on a limited number of documents received through (the Freedom of Information Act), we were able to place in front of the IG incontrovertible evidence that EPA had reached final decisions about Pebble before undertaking any scientific inquiry; that it had inappropriately colluded with environmental activists; that it had manipulated the scientific process and lied about its intentions and actions to both us and to U.S. Congress,” Collier said. “Just as importantly, our record shows that these abuses reach to the highest offices within the agency.” Officials from the EPA’s offices of the Administrator, Region 10, Water, Research and Development and a retired Region 10 ecologist, presumably Phil North, were interviewed for the IG report. Additionally, more than 8,300 emails sent or received by agency officials between January 2008 and mid-May 2012 were reviewed. North, who retired from the EPA in April 2013, has received national notoriety for his involvement in the Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment. Pebble supporters and general EPA critics have zeroed in on him as the likely link for the alleged collusion with mine opponents. Attempts by the IG to access North’s personal email through subpoena were unsuccessful, as his whereabouts are unknown, the report states. Because the IG could not find North, the office issued a subpoena to North’s lawyer, who refused to accept service on behalf of North. North also did not surface when subpoenaed for deposition last November in Pebble’s ongoing suit against the EPA in federal court. The IG recommended to the EPA that the agency incorporate examples of “misuse of position” in its ethics training as well as mandatory tribal training to define appropriate parameters for Tribal assistance by agency staff. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Smaller budget means ADFG can’t fix faulty Susitna counts

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game cannot undo a set of Cook Inlet driftnet restrictions in place over the last 25 years. Cook Inlet driftnetters say restrictions unjustly keep them from millions of dollars of sockeye harvest based on faulty data. Protective measures for Susitna sockeye, a designated stock of concern, keep drifters in specific corridors in Cook Inlet from July 9 to 31. Fishermen say the decades have added up to thousands of available sockeye — and millions of dollars — they didn’t need to forgo.  The department, the fishermen believe, has no reason to continue the restrictions. ADFG managers say they have no money or resources to make the adjustments. “When they redid the sonar, they found out they were in effect, under harvesting those stocks and overescaping,” said Erik Huebsch, vice president of United Cook Inlet Drift Association, an industry group. “They knew they were managing way too conservatively based on that. Why didn’t they change the management to ratchet it up any more if they knew they were managing too conservatively?” The Alaska Department of Fish and Game, or ADFG, says the driftnetters’ concerns are well-founded. “They have a legitimate question and concern to have some restrictions removed when there’s going to be a surplus,” said Pat Shields, ADFG’s commercial manager for Upper Cook Inlet. However, apart from three lake-based escapement goals, though, Shields said there’s nothing on which to base new management. “Right now we don’t have a tool other than those three weirs. With the funding we’re looking at right now, we’re really challenged to find a new method.” The study A 2009 study presented to the Board of Fisheries discredited the basis for the drift fleet’s restrictions. In 1981, ADFG installed a Bendix sonar system at the mouth of the Yentna River, a Susitna River tributary. Susitna sockeye stock is particularly difficult to enumerate; the river is wide and murky, and a multitude of the other salmon species — pink, chum, coho, and chinook — fog the sonar numbers trying to pinpoint sockeye. To mitigate, ADFG based much of Susitna sockeye management on the Yentna River’s sockeye escapement, figuring the river accounted for roughly half the overall Susitna’s. Since the 1981 Yentna Bendix start date, the river’s measurements have always seemed off, frequently missing the sustainable escapement goal. During the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, the Cook Inlet drift fleet was closed by emergency order, but the Yentna sockeye escapement remained largely unchanged from other years. By 2006, five of the last nine years had failed to make the sustainable escapement goal of 90,000 to 160,000 sockeye. Eventually, the department got curious enough about the chronic underperformance to question the method. Using extra funds from various sources including the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association, the department stacked the Yentna with extra counting methods like fish weirs, DIDSON sonar, and mark-recapture studies, to compare the results to the Bendix sonar. The results punctured the decades of Yentna Bendix counts. “There is little confidence in the reliability of the Bendix sonar estimates,” the report reads. “Since 2006, when additional escapement studies began, Bendix sockeye salmon estimates have ranged from 56 percent to 76 percent of the DIDSON estimate, and just 31 percent and 32 percent of the Yentna River mark-recapture estimates in 2007 and 2008.” The board made a major change to the river’s management in 2008 by declaring Susitna sockeye a “stock of concern” just before the 2009 study came out. That year, the Bendix sonar counted 90,000 compared to more than 130,000 that both DIDSON sonar and weirs counted and well within the sustainable escapement goal. The stock of concern designation placed additional restrictions on the Cook Inlet drift fleet to protect the erroneously underestimated Susitna sockeye. After the report, ADFG changed the escapement goals from the Yentna River’s Bendix-based goal to a series of goals on nearby Chelatna, Judd, and Larson lakes. The stock of concern designation and its resulting drift restrictions, however, remained. “The department recommends Susitna River sockeye salmon remain classified as a stock of yield concern because: 1) five of the escapements (out of 15 total) have been below the minimum goal, and 2) harvests in Central and Northern districts from 2008 through 2013 were generally less than the long-term averages. Research studies are ongoing to better understand sockeye salmon abundance and distribution.” No change ADFG managers say they understand the frustration of the drift fleet, but that they have no workable solution to establishing a new management plan. Though the Bendix sonar has been discredited, they have no better system on which to base a new set of restrictions. “We just felt we couldn’t do it,” said Shields. “The Bendix sonar had a goal, and it became apparent that in some years those restrictions would not have been necessary because we were underestimating the escapement. We just didn’t have any way to come up with a correction factor.” The Bendix-challenging study was completed with extra-departmental funds, and ADFG’s budget is being reduced like many agencies in the fiscally embattled state. Without money for new DIDSON sonar or new weirs, the department doesn’t have any new information. Part of the issue is the lake-based escapement goals, derived from weirs on Chelatna, Judd, and Larson lakes. The lakes are far enough from the drift fleet — roughly two weeks, as the salmon swims — that day-to-day, adaptive management like the Kenai River’s would be impossible. Erik Huebsch, UCIDA’s vice president, said ADFG’s money problems offer a convenient scapegoat for apathy. It takes no money, he said, to delist Susitna sockeye as a stock of concern and remove Cook Inlet drifters from the consequent constraints. “The department gets stuck on these little tracks because they don’t want to do anything different,” Huebsch said. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Mariculture industry hits milestone as sales top $1M

Alaska’s mariculture industry has passed some big milestones, and is getting set to head into the weeds. Aquatic farming, which was ok’d by Alaska lawmakers in 1988, topped $1 million in shellfish sales for the first time ever in 2014, coming in at $1.2 million. “This is the highest sales we’ve had since the inception of the program which is pretty exciting,” said Cynthia Pring-Ham, Director of Mariculture for the state Department of Fish and Game, adding that shellfish production increased 27 percent. That’s an average of $7,049 in sales per acre of active farm, most of which average about five acres. Combined production overall hit 8.3 million oysters and geoducks in 2014, along with 10,000 pounds of blue mussels and little neck clams. Pring-Ham added that 73 percent of the sales came from shellfish produced at 56 farms, and the remainder from the state’s seven nurseries and two hatcheries that sell seed to the aquatic farmers. Seventy percent of the shellfish farms are located throughout Southeast Alaska, 23 percent are in Kachemak Bay near Homer and seven percent are in Prince William Sound. Aquatic farmers also fetched a higher price for their bivalves: $9.60 per dozen for oysters, $5.74 per pound for blue mussels and $8 per pound for little neck clams. Several other mariculture milestones also were recorded, Pring-Ham said, including an 11 percent increase in jobs. “Although small, we have about 185 positions working on aquatic farms in Alaska,” she said. Based on the shellfish crops and seed stocks in the water now, Pring-Ham sees lots of potential for more production. It takes two to four years for oysters to grow to slurping size, depending on water temperatures, and 14.5 million are set to come online, along with millions of mussels, geoduck clams, little necks, and most recently, cockles. And plans for growing weed in Alaska extends beyond marijuana. Farming seaweeds, especially various kelps, is seeing a surge of interest, notably as Outside interests target Alaska products. Seaweeds, which can be harvested on 6-12 month rotations, are used in everything from sushi wrappers to biofuels to face creams to frothy heads on beer. Seaweed growers from Maine and California both made business pitches at the Alaska Shellfish Growers Association meeting last fall to convince Alaska farmers to grow seaweeds experimentally, and eventually contract to grow for their companies. Maine’s production of primarily rockweed is valued at $20 million annually, according to a 2015 report for the Ocean Sciences National Center for Marine Algae and Microbiota. The report said 30 to 35 countries are producing 28 million tons of seaweed crops globally, valued at $10 billion. Japan’s nori production amounts to $2 billion annually and is one of the world’s most valuable crops. According to the Cape Times, 30,000 seaweed products have been launched in Europe in the past four years alone. Pring-Ham said partnerships are “blossoming” between Alaska aquatic farmers, entrepreneurs and educators to test the waters for local seaweeds. A two-year Alaska Sea Grant project is underway at Oceans Alaska in Ketchikan that will create kelp hatcheries and provide seeded longlines to farmers to submerge on their acreage. “It will introduce the entire seaweed farming business to Alaska on a pilot scale and collect growing data,” said Julie Decker, director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation. “And it will connect with buyers interested in purchasing seaweeds from Alaska.” Applications for aquatic farms are accepted by ADFG each year from January 1 through April 30 and Pring-Ham hopes more Alaskans will join the mariculture movement. “Alaska has a lot going for it in terms of aquatic farming,” she said. “We have clean waters, bountiful coastlines and one of the easiest regulatory processes for getting a permit to operate and utilize state lands in the country. This makes Alaska so appealing for anyone interested in starting this type of business and we will help people through every step of the process.” Fish on your dish Eating trends show some big plusses for wild seafood, but Americans are still eating far less fish than they should be. According to international market research firm NPD Group, the top trend going into 2016 is consumers want to know where their foods come from. The Group credits seafood for its improved traceability and move towards local sourcing, which will continue to boost sales. Good fats also are in. People now know that some fats are healthy, NPD said, such as those found in eggs, avocados and seafood. Consumers are seeking non-genetically modified foods “in droves” NPD said. Again, that will benefit wild seafood as people are demanding “authentic,” natural foods with fewer additives of anything, let alone genes. Watch for people to be reading labels like never before. Healthy and light entrees also are expected to grow at a faster rate through 2018, another opportunity for seafood. Technomic, another top market tracker, lists ‘trash to treasure’ fish as its #3 seafood trend, as more restaurants serve up bycatch and lesser known fish to appreciative diners. For decades more than 60 percent of Americans have eaten seafood while dining out, but market watchers said more are cooking fish at home. Maybe that will boost consumption, which has stalled in the U.S. at less than 15 pounds per person. A study last year by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture showed only one in ten Americans follow recommendations to eat seafood at last twice a week. The USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans released on Jan. 7 recommends eating at least eight ounces of a variety of seafoods with the aim to take in at least 250 mg per day of omega-3 fatty acids. Fish watch Hundreds of boats were braving harsh winds and high seas to bring home first of the year fish from the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska. Pacific cod starts the year off for fixed gears, meaning longlines, jigs and pots. The P-cod price is reportedly around 35 cents per pound, similar to last year. A lingcod fishery is underway in Southeast Panhandle; black rockfish is open there and at Kodiak, Chignik and the Alaska Peninsula. That tasty rockfish fetches closer to 45 cents for fishermen. Southeast trollers have taken about 30,000 winter kings at $7.23 per pound, according to fish tickets. Bering Sea crabbers are tapping away at a 35.5 million pound snow crab quota, 15 million pounds of Tanners and 6 million pounds of golden king crab along the Aleutians. Fisheries for trawlers targeting pollock, cod, flounders and other groundfish open Jan. 20. The state Board of Fisheries meets in Fairbanks Jan. 12-16 to take up Arctic, Yukon and Kuskokwim fish issues. On Sunday, Jan. 17 the joint boards of Fish and Game will meet again to hear more budget cutting ideas. All board meetings are streamed live on the web. The International Pacific Halibut Commission is holding its annual meeting in Juneau, Jan. 25-29. Alaska Sea Grant’s Sixth Young Fishermen’s Summit also will be in Juneau, Jan. 27-29 at the Baranof Hotel. Dates for the 2016 Alaska Symphony of Seafood are Feb. 10 in Seattle; Feb. 16 in Juneau and Feb. 19 in Anchorage, where all winners will be announced. See more at www.afdf.org. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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